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Comment Re: most researched subject in the field. (Score 1) 285

At best, an adherent to your system could say “according to how the majority of people’s appetites seem, it is probably wrong to murder.”

Not at all, in several ways. One, majoritarianism doesn't matter. Nobody gets to tell anybody else that their appetites are aberrant and don't count; the objective good must account for all appetites, just like the objective truth must account for all observations.

Second, this seems to confuse what an appetite is: I can't have an appetite about whether or not it is wrong to murder you, so it's not like it would be possible to even have a unanimous-minus-one consensus of appetites that murdering the one objector is good; appetites aren't desires, or intentions, they're experiences. The most relevant appetites in determining that matter are those of the would-be victim, and the job of the rest in trying to answer the question of whether murdering them is OK would be to consider what it's like to be murdered and it that seems good or bad according to their hypothetical appetites as the hypothetical victim. In more contentious cases you'd want to actually go and experience the thing someone else experiences and see if that feels good or bad to you in those circumstances, but with something like there's experience enough to draw from to make that inference without further testing -- we've all been injured at some point or another, to some extent or another, and we know whether that feels good or bad, and since murdering someone would involve injuring them we can conclude a lot about it without having to be murdered ourselves, obviously.

Third, there don't have to be broad absolute rules for things to be objectively true or false, so the conclusion wouldn't even need to be "murder is (probably) wrong", but more along the lines of "it is usually wrong to murder"; it might be (though in the case of murder, it isn't) the case that some times a thing is right to do and some times it's wrong, but each particular case is objectively right or wrong, even though there isn't a pattern to them -- or rather, even though that pattern isn't the one that applies to them.

On top of all that it assumes uniformity of nature when your system can’t provide an absolute basis for that either. You have to accept it as an axiom to even begin to use your system.

Every system must take some things as axioms. I actually kind of misspoke when I called it an axiom of my system earlier though, as it's not taken without any justification, it's taken as a consequence of even more fundamental principles. Even these aren't really the ultimate starting point, but those more fundamental principles are essentially: we ought to try to figure out what's true and false, good and bad, etc; and to try try anything, we must assume neither success nor failure is inevitable. Denying uniformity of nature would mean failure at figuring out what's true and false was inevitable, so consequently we cannot deny it. (The deeper principles still answer the question of why we ought to figure out what's true or false, good or bad, and the answer to that is essentially that no matter what we do, we're attempting in one way or another to employ truths as means to achieve good ends, so no matter what we do it behooves us to figure out what's true and false, good and bad).

I believe that a consistent materialist worldview does reduce to skepticism.

It's interesting that you read my Codex, because just the other day I was thinking "wow, this guy is a walking almost-self-admitted example of my contention in the Codex that fideists are just nihilists hiding behind God, and nihilists are just godless fideists". (Of course that last part isn't very new, Neitzsche concluded more or less that, but that's not well-known about him). You and a nihilist (or radical skeptic if you like) share so much philosophical framework in common, and it all looks equally faulty to me; it hardly makes any difference that you believe in God and a nihilist doesn't, because introducing God into the picture doesn't fix the problems with the underlying philosophical framework. Take ethics for an example. Even supposing God exists, and that we have any way to know that, how does that ground morality? I ought to do something... because a book says that God commands that I do so? First of all how do I even know that book accurately conveys the word of God? God says it does? According to whom? The book in question? But even supposing the book can be taken as reliably reporting the commands of God: why should I do what he says? Why is that good? Should I just do whatever anybody says? If not, what's special about God? Is it because God is all poweful and will punish me if I disobey? Should I do anything that anyone sufficiently threatening says, in that case? (Also, in that case you've reduced your morality to egoism, and as just appealing to my own self-interest now). Or is it because God supposedly created me and I owe it to him? Well for one, owing is a moral concept, so how are you grounding that? And furthermore, my parents were at least intermediary creators of me, does that makes me beholden to their every command (so long as it doesn't contradict God's, I guess)? Or is it rather because God is all good and it's contrary to his nature to issue bad commands? Setting aside how we would know that, what does it mean to say that "God is all good" if "good" just means "in accordance with God's commands"? Is it just that God is consistent with himself? Should I then obey the commands of anyone who's consistent with themselves? No? Why not? (And even if it were yes, still I'd ask: why?) If God is good by some other standard besides just obedience to his own commands, then that standard is where you've really grounded your notion of morality, and God is just an intermediary conveying truths about that to you. And then we're back to where we started: where does that standard of morality come from? And at that point, why do we need God for it anymore? If we're evaluating God himself by that standard, it's clearly independent of him.

And so you end up in what seems more like blind faith because you don’t want to be a skeptic.

That's a lot coming from a theist, especially one whose theism is so central to their entire philosophy and not merely incidental. But to the extend that there's any truth to that claim, if I have "blind faith" in anything, it is "faith itself", though I'd rather say "hope itself" to avoid other connotations of the word "faith". My personal motto is "fortasse desperato sed conor nihilominus", which is Latin for "it may be hopeless, but I'm trying anyway". It all boils down to that pragmatism. We're alone in the dark -- or at least we might be, we have no sure way to tell -- and we have no idea whether there is any truth or falsehood, goodness or badness, or if everything is just a meaningless amoral chaotic figment of our own possibly-non-existent imaginations. Maybe there's no sense at all to be made. Ab initio we have no idea, and no way of even trying to get an idea; from that place of absolute nothingness (which we can arbitrarily plunge anyone into with an infinite regress argument), there's no way possible to prove, one way or another, even whether it is possible to prove things one way or another, much less if there is anything to be proven one way or another. We just don't know, at all, and have no way of knowing, and all we can do to start with is assume; everything else, if there is anything else, follows from those first assumptions. We could assume certain answers at random, and dust off our hands and call it done, but then we might be wrong on our first guess and never correct ourselves. We could assume there are no answers at all, and give up, and sit in the dark moping in despair, or thrashing about meaninglessly. Or we would assume that there are some answers, but admit that we have no idea what they might be, take a stab in the dark at what they could be, try as best as we can continually forever to find and fix and faults in those guesses, and hope that in time we make progress at figuring things out. We're going to assume something or another, all equally with no basis. So why make any assumptions other than the ones that, if acted upon, give you some hope, some chance of success, if there is any chance to be had. There might not be, you might just be fucked anyway, but that's not the way to bet.

You don't have to have faith in the supposed truth of some specific answer just to trust that there is some answer or another out there to be found and then go about looking for it.

Comment Re: most researched subject in the field. (Score 1) 285

To say that something seems good or seems evil implies that goodness or evilness exists. Though moral judgments can be made prescriptively, you have used these terms descriptively through this conversation. If you claim it exists...

This is the fundamental thing that I think is at the root of a lot of philosophical issues, ethics especially. The truth of a proposition only implies anything about the existence of something if the proposition is saying something about what does or doesn't exist, and not all propositions do that. We casually use the word "exist" in modern English in places where strictly speaking we probably shouldn't, and to avoid obnoxious circumlocutions I let myself do that too, like I have been in this conversation. But in an ideal language we wouldn't do that.

For analogy, consider the proposition that 2+2=4. Where is the number two? Where is the number four? Do numbers "exist", at least in the same way that rocks and trees and tables and chairs do, and if so, where, or what other objects constitute their existence? Does there need to be some singular cosmic table of addition somewhere out there to make propositions about addition true? It seems kind of a nonsense question. We can say true things about the relations between different quantities of things without there needing to be a, or the, number two out there somewhere. Because despite the superficial grammatical appearance of it, the proposition 2+2=4 isn't attempting to describe concrete facts about the world, but rather just the relations between concepts, that might or might not apply to any things that actually exist. Mathematicians can and frequently do just make up conceptual structures that so far as anyone knows have no bearing on reality, and then figure out true statements about those structures' relations to other structures.

I'm not saying that ethical propositions are the same kind as mathematical ones, but just that, like mathematical ones, they're not the same as the kind of propositions as those that that tell us things about real rocks and trees and tables and chairs and the like. Mathematical propositions are just an example of another kind of proposition that isn't like that, and doesn't depend on things actually existing to be true, even though we casually use the word "exist" when talking about them.

Of course there are mathematical Platonists who think that there really is such a thing as the number 2 that actually exists in some immaterial realm of forms, but I think that's just another prime example of this kind of confusion. Not all sentences have to be reduced to descriptions of the world to be able to be true or false.

Reductive materialists take all propositions to be trying to describe what exists, then say that only that matter exists, which gives absurd results. People like you do the same reduction of all propositions to descriptive ones, and then appeal to all kinds of immaterial things existing to avoid that absurdity, just falling into a different one instead. I say not all propositions reduce to descriptive ones -- when it comes to descriptive ones, yeah, the only kind of stuff that exists is "material", broadly speaking (physical), but there's lots of important things to talk about besides what does or doesn't exist.

How do you objectively ground prescriptive statements?

How do you objectively ground descriptive statements? This is a major point here and maybe I breezed past it too quickly before. People disagree about what is or isn't real, all the time -- maybe a little less now in the scientific era, but in ancient times especially, look at conflicting creation stories from different religions for a great example. Religions aside, people look at things with their subjective senses and make immediate subjective judgements about what is or isn't true based on those. People aren't even born with the concepts of object permanence and three dimensional space -- young children actually have to learn over time the idea that when a ball disappears behind a chair it hasn't ceased to exist, that the world is not just the flat 2D sensory impression that they see right now at this moment but that it extends in space and time and that the parts that they see right now aren't thereby more real than the parts that other people in other places and times can see. And then even when they have that, it takes even adults quite some time and effort to get used to the idea that their immediate judgements about what is or isn't true based on what they have senses so far are not indisputable. (The parable about the three blind men and the elephant illustrates this well, I think; the one touching the trunk thinks it's a snake, the one touching the tail thinks it's a rope, the one touching the leg thinks it's a tree, because from the limited amount of sensory information they have about it, it sure seems like those things to each of them -- and they're all right, each part of it sure seems that way; now what could possible seem that way to all three of them at once? Maybe an elephant?) And then it's taken all of humanity thousands of years to figure out a way to reliable mediating the disputes that arise out of that realization. And still hardly anyone, even philosophers who study this stuff, can put forth a better rebuttal to infinite regress arguments than "if you keep asking questions of things you don't honestly doubt then you're just being an asshole, stop it".

That last bit is also really important. Say you tell me something is true, about the world and what exists in it. I question your assertion, ask you why would you believe it; why should I believe it? So you tell me something else, and say that that something else implies the first thing. Assuming your inference is valid and I've nothing to question there, I can still then ask of that something else, why do you believe that, or why should I believe it. You can tell me something else to justify that, but I can keep doing this forever. At some point I start to sound like an obvious troll doing this just to be a pain, because at some point you get down to screams of exasperation like "just look at it! you can see it for yourself!" but I can still say "why should I believe my eyes?" and things like that, and carry it on to whatever level of absurdity I want. You need an unquestionable (or at least unquestioned) descriptive proposition to start from to build a justification for any other descriptive proposition (just like you need a prescriptive or moral proposition to start from to build a justification for any other prescriptive or moral proposition). If we were to say that we shouldn't believe anything unless we can justify it from the ground up, then this problem would leave us concluding that we shouldn't ever believe anything at all, because justifying anything from the ground up is impossible, there is no ground, it's turtles all the way down.

One important response to that is the one taken by Kant, echoed somewhat by Popper but largely ignored even (or especially) by lots of self-proclaimed rationalists: you don't have to justify your beliefs. Believe whatever you want, and that's fine, by default. Ab initio anything is possible so every belief is epistemically permissible. But even then, to retain any degree of rationality and not be reduced to effective nihilism by another route -- the nihilism of saying, rather than "no beliefs are true", instead saying "all beliefs are equally true", which is to say "not really true at all, they're just opinions, all equally baseless" -- we need some way of saying, even if all beliefs are justified by default, that some of them can be shown to be unjustified, or maybe it'd be better to say "dis-justified"; disproven, falsified, even if nothing can be positively proven or verified. In doing that, the burden is on whoever wants to change someone else's mind, and say that their prior beliefs are false; and the only ground they need to do that is common ground. Sometimes a lot can be done without any common ground just by showing that even if you shared all of your interlocutor's assumptions, you could use some of those assumptions to show the others (or some conclusions) to be false; disproof by contradiction. But beyond that, you just have to appeal to something you both agree on, and show how that implies things contrary to what they believe. It doesn't matter how fundamental that level of agreement is. But if the disagreement is wide enough, or your interlocutor is just contrary enough, you may end up having to go very, very deep, and the deepest you can get is down to the sensory level: ask them whether certain very basic things just seem true or false to their own senses, in the same circumstances, etc etc as I described before, and whatever agreement you can find there, that is what you ultimately have as common ground to build on, nothing more. And if they still say "yeah it seems that way to me but I don't believe it!" then they're just giving up on any hope of discerning truth from falsehood and retreating into their own fantasy land where you'd be right to ignore them. If they don't give up but just say that no, it really doesn't seem that way to them on that most fundamental level, then you've got a really thorny problem to solve, but that brings us back to the pragmatic issue: do you assume that this is an insurmountable problem, and give up, and guarantee you never solve it, or do you assume it's mere a problem you haven't solved yet and keep trying to figure it out?

The point of all that being, descriptive matters face all the exact same problems as prescriptive ones. Yet most people think the obviousness of reality's objectiveness is unquestionable except by the most pedantic of philosophical trolls, and still many of those same people happily apply the exact same troll logic to try to question the equally "obvious" objectivity of morality. No duh, most people will say, the world you see with your eyes and such is real, and not just your subjective perception of it. But how is not equally "no duh" that suffering is bad and flourishing is good? In some sense neither of them is a "no duh" -- there wouldn't be need for all this philosophizing about it if they were -- but to the extent that either is problematic, so is the other, and to the extend that one is a "no duh" matter, so is the other. And if the problems one faces are surmountable, so are the problems the other faces.

What makes a certain appetite seem good or bad?

The appetite is the seeming-good-or-bad experience. Pain is the quintessential example: pain just can't help but seem bad. In a very fundamental way, painfulness is kind of the essence of badness.

Why should we pay attention to flourishing and suffering?

Why should we believe our eyes?

You even state “never positively affirming one specific model to be the absolute indisputably correct one, but continually and forever narrowing in on a smaller and smaller set of models that might be correct.” This system is not a reasonable basis to make objective claims about morality

You're confusing certainty with objectivity. We don't have to be able to say that some specific thing is, with absolute certainty, the right thing, to be able to say that there is some right thing or another, whatever it may be. You can't even have an argument over what it might be if you deny the latter. Then again you can't even have an argument about what it might be if you assume with certainty what it is, either. Which is sort of another way of framing my whole philosophical paradigm. We need to be able to argue about what's right or wrong, true or false, good or bad, in order to figure out the answers to those questions, and if we either assume some specific answer or that there is none, then we won't, and we can't. The cost of that is that we can never, ever be absolutely certain, but we can get continually more and more certain, closer and closer to the right answers, which is a lot better than being stuck with however right our wrong the first conclusion we jumped to happened to be, or worse still, be guaranteed wrong by rejecting all conclusions.

Comment Re:Non sequiturs? (Score 3, Insightful) 126

The unnecessary use of at best slightly applicable philosophical terms made me do a double-take too, but after applying the principle of charity (another philosophical concept: try to interpret a text in such a way as it makes the most sense possible) I think that they were going for is "positivism" as in "verificationism" as in "only the things we can (easily) measure matter" as in "all we care about are the numbers (that we've chosen to care about, e.g. the number of people on our mailing list, and not any of that hard-to-quantify-but-maybe-more-important stuff)", and then "utilitarianism" as in "the ends justifies the means" as in "it doesn't matter what else (e.g. that hard-to-quantify stuff) we have to sacrifice, we'll do anything to get our special chosen numbers higher!"

Comment Re: Is that treason yet? (Score 1) 1005

It does not protect you from the consequences of that speech

It absolutely does protect from certain specific consequences. That is what freedom is: protection from certain consequences of action.

Sure, it doesn't protect from all consequences, but it protects you from government retaliation, and from violent retaliation by private parties, and a broad assortment of such consequences. If it didn't, and the government or private parties could punish you without limit for speaking, then there wouldn't be any sense in which speech was "free".

Sure, it doesn't protect from all consequences, but that just means that speech is not absolutely free.

Comment Re: most researched subject in the field. (Score 1) 285

It's my birthday and I don't want to spend a lot of time responding (and I expect next week to be terribly busy so I probably won't want to continue after that), but there's a handful of things I do want to respond to in here.

I'm saying that it is not possible for multiple systems to be objective. If there is an objective system then all differing systems must be false and therefore not objective. You said “most ethical systems employed by most philosophers, such as deontology and utilitarianism, are both non-theistic and objective.” Calling two differing systems objective makes no sense.

There's two different senses of "objective" being conflated here. One, the sense I meant when I said that there are many different kinds of secular objective morality, is the sense whereby a given point of view or ethical system considers the answer to the question "are there objectively right and wrong moral assertions?" to be "yes". The other, that you're conflating with it, is whether a given point of view or ethical system is the objectively correct one to use.

My initial point was that there are plenty of logically possible, non-contradictory stances one can take where ones believes some things are objectively right and wrong (morally) without believing in God; it doesn't follow from the rejection of God that one must reject morality, unless one also holds onto religious assumptions about morality, which most people who reject God don't. (Some do, and they become nihilists, and even people like Nietzsche argued that that is something to be overcome, a lingering vestige of the religious worldview, and not a good thing that people should strive for).

Which of those stances is the objectively correct one to take epistemically is disputed between them, but that doesn't mean that none of them is correct, any more than the existence of disputes between religions means none of those religions is correct. "What in particular is morally right and wrong, and how can we tell?" is a different question from "is anything actually morally right or wrong, objectively?", and there are lots of secular viewpoints who agree (along with most religious viewpoints) that the answer to the latter is "yes", even though they disagree about answers to the former question (as do different religions).

So if you reject dualism can I deduce that you are a materialist? If all that exists is matter, where does morality come from? Is it matter? How do you account for it? You claim it is universal so it can't be only in my mind. You have rejected that things have moral properties. What is it?

I'm not strictly speaking a materialist, but I'm probably close enough to what you mean by that. I'm a physicalist, which is different from a materialist in that there are physical things besides just matter, and that I reject that there are ontological material substances distinct from their attributes, and I'm also a little unusual (but not alone) amongst physicalists in that I'm also a panpsychist; there are no non-physical mental substances, nor are there even non-physical mental properties of otherwise physical things, but there is a mental way of looking at the same physical properties of physical things.

(This isn't really related to the moral issue to I'll be short about this: basically, what fundamentally exists is a web of interactions, which you can visualize as a graphical web of lines connecting at nodes. The objects that exist in reality are those nodes, which are defined entirely by the lines connecting to them -- there's no such thing as a point connected to no lines. The attributes of a thing are those lines -- the attributes of a thing are the ways that it interacts with other things. Mental experience is then what the lines connecting to the node that is you seem like to you; they are the reciprocal of the attributes you seem to have to the rest of the world, the other half of the equation of how you and the world interact with each other. Every object thus looks to us from the outside, in the third person, like a bundle of attributes, but it, from the inside, in the first person, experiences those very same attributes -- which are really interactions -- as a bundle of experiences of the rest of the universe. That is "phenomenal consciousness", the subject of the so-called "hard problem of consciousness", and is not actually a very interesting thing; rocks have it, electrons have it, but there's not much to say about theirs because the quality of that kind of phenomenal consciousness is defined by the function of the object that has it, and those objects have such simple functions; their behavior is simple, and so is their experience. On the other hand "access consciousness", the subject of the so-called "easy problem of consciousness", is a specific kind of complex function that humans do, which gives us not only complex behavior but also complex experience. But that's a long tangent: back to ethics).

I think that trying to ask about ontology (the kind of stuff that exists or not) to ground ethics is misplaced, because ethical questions are non-descriptive, and so descriptive answers, answers that say something about what or what doesn't exist, have no bearing on ethical questions. You've probably heard a version of this called the "is-ought problem": no "ought" can ever be soundly inferred from an "is". What is or isn't the case has no bearing on what ought or ought not be the case, so it doesn't matter whether the universe is entirely physical or nonphysical or anything like that; moral questions aren't about that at all. But unlike Hume, who coined the is-ought problem, I don't thereby conclude that there just is no objective grounding of "ought" statements, and that they're mere expressions of sentiment. I instead ask: why exactly do we think there are objective answers to "is" questions (even though people disagree about those too), how do we go about finding out what they are, and what would be the analogue of that for "ought" questions?

The scientific method relies on the uniformity of nature. How do you know that the future will be like the past? Do you have an answer for Hume or Russel?

Good question. The uniformity of nature must be taken as an axiom for the same reason that realism in general must be: to do otherwise is simply to give up on even trying to answer questions about what is real, which in turn would guarantee that we will never find any answers, even if we could had we tried. (Causes, like substances, numbers, universals, space, and time, are part of the structure we must assume -- what Kant would call "categories" -- in order to divide up the mish-mash of our experience into comprehensible patterns, and not directly a part of that experienced reality itself). Even in the face of apparent non-uniformity of some class of phenomena, the scientific method is to assume that that's something we merely don't understand yet, not that it's something that cannot be understood, and to then continue trying to understand it despite any lack of success so far. That's why science gets the results it does: it tries, always, doggedly and determinedly, and so wherever success is possible, it actually has a chance of finding it, unlike alternatives that either assume success or failure is inevitable, and so don't try, and so guarantee failure.

Can you clarify this? Perhaps with an example?

This is the real reason I wanted to reply; I kinda got carried away with littler stuff above.

With regards to descriptive questions, that is to say, questions about reality, the relevant aspect of our experience is what we would call sensation. Certain experiences, like of sight and touch etc, make certain things just seem true or false; "seeing is believing" as they say. Except it's actually not, not directly; sensation per se, as the term is used in psychology, is the unmediated, uninterpreted stream of data from our senses; the raw colors of light, pitches of sound, etc. Perception is then the automatic, first-order interpretation of that sensation into descriptive propositions: rather than just seeing a pattern of colors, I see that my phone is on the desk next to me, for example. Belief is then assent to that proposition; sometimes, you don't believe your perceptions, and sometimes you shouldn't. But when trying to figure out what to believe, we should look past those perceptions and attend to the raw sensations -- which, in discussing science, is more generally called observation. And more than just our own sensations or observations, we should listen to the reports of others, and then try to replicate those reports by placing ourselves in the same circumstances and seeing if we sense or observe the same things. If we don't, we should try as hard as possible to figure out what could possibly be different about us two different people or the circumstances of our observations to see if there's any way we can account for that difference, and some to agreement on what seems to be true or false to the senses of everyone. Importantly, we are not just asking people what they perceive, and we're especially not asking them what they believe. We're asking what their senses say, what, on the most fundamental level, just can't help but seem true or false to everyone, and then we can reason about possible higher-level models that accord with that raw data, testing those models against further data collected in the same way, which never directly tells us that any particular model is the ultimate absolute indisputable truth, but continually and unendingly narrows the range of models that might possible be true to a smaller and smaller set.

With regard to prescriptive questions, that is to say, questions about morality, the relevant aspect of our experience is what I call "appetites", for lack of a better-recognized English word for this category of experiences. Things like hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, etc, that make certain things just seem good or bad. To get my moral analogue of science, just substitute these in place of sensations or observations, and likewise substitute desires in place of perceptions, and intentions in place of beliefs: desires are an automatic first-order interpretation of appetites into prescriptive propositions -- rather than just a pattern of feelings in my skin, I feel like I ought not to touch that hot pan -- and intentions are then assent to those propositions, which we don't always and shouldn't always give; just because I feel like I ought to eat that cake, doesn't mean that I agree with that feeling and intend to eat that cake (though since it's my birthday, in this case I do intend just that). When trying to objectively answer "ought" questions, then, just like science we don't ask people what they intend or even what they desire, but we attend closely to our appetites, paying attention to what brings us flourishing or suffering, what, on an undeniable fundamental level, just can't help but seem good or bad. And like with science, we don't just pay attention to our own appetites, especially not just our own appetites at the instantaneous moment but at the very least the pattern of our appetites over time in different circumstances (just like we account for our changing sensations over time and don't just believe in a static two-dimensional world that appears to us at any given moment). But also, importantly, to each other's appetites, confirmed by placing ourselves in the same circumstances as them -- "walking a mile in their shoes" if you will -- and seeing if those things really do just seem good or bad, on an appetitive level, to us in those circumstances; and, just like with science, trying really hard to account for any differences that appear when we do try that, seeing what are the differences between the two people with differing reports of how they experience the same circumstance, and if it really is exactly the same circumstance and didn't differ somehow, until we come to agreement on what seems to be good or bad to the appetites of everyone, and then building higher-level models that accord with that raw data, and testing them against further data collected in the same way, never positively affirming one specific model to be the absolute indisputably correct one, but continually and forever narrowing in on a smaller and smaller set of models that might be correct.

Comment Re:Somebody didn't get the memo... (Score 1) 285

This whole problem could have been avoided if we had just done the sensible thing in the first place:

When you have a group of extant species, and then you discover that there are a whole lot of extinct species that are more commonly related to that group of extant species than to anything else, you generally say that you've discovered a bunch of extinct members of that extant group.

So when we discovered the relationship between e.g. Stegosaurs and Finches, rather than saying "we've discovered that birds are dinosaurs", we should have said "we've discovered that dinosaurs were birds".

Comment Re: most researched subject in the field. (Score 1) 285

love cannot exist without free will, and free will involves the possibility of evil

That's still assuming the incompatibilist conception of free will. On a compatibilist conception of free will, it is possible for God to guarantee that evil does not occur, even in a world with free-willed people, and so the possibility of love cannot justify allowing evil because you don't have to allow evil to get the possibility of live.

Comment Re: most researched subject in the field. (Score 1) 285

I'm interested in hearing which arguments you believe are the strongest, yet fall short of the mark.

Plantinga's free will theodicy, which falls short of the mark because it misconstrues what free will even is (randomness is not freedom), and so falsely concludes that allowing free will means giving up the ability to eliminate all evil from the universe by design.

I'm also not even convinced that free will is so valuable that, even if it did necessitate allowing evil, it would be worth it. If freedom is just the freedom to err, I'd rather just automatically always do the right thing and enjoy the benefits of that. I don't really want to be made in such a way that I sometimes screw up just because (in fact I make enormous efforts not to be like that), and I definitely don't want other people to be that way and then suffer the consequences of it.

No other theodicy I'm familiar with even warrants a response IMO.

If an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God must stop evil, such a being possesses less free will than His human creations.

Firstly, this still assume the incompatibilist conception of free will, that to be free means to be undetermined, or in other words, to be random. I disagree with that, for reasons I've argued all over this thread already. And, like above, its far from established that God would be better for having that kind of so-called "freedom"; I'd consider the absolute inability to err a virtue, even if it did mean less "freedom" somehow.

Furthermore, even if an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God could allow evil if he felt like it, him ever feeling like it would make him not-all-good; and if somehow he randomly did it despite not feeling like it, that would make him not-all-powerful.

Comment Re: most researched subject in the field. (Score 1) 285

You seem to be putting the full weight of moral responsibility on God because he does not always act to stop it. Don't forget that the individual is still morally responsible for the action. Also, victims are sinners. Scripture teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Suffering and death are the penalty of sin. No one is good. Why should we be entitled to mercy? God needs a monumental excuse for being just and allowing people to receive the penalty of sin? What is amazing is that God comes into the world, lives the sinless life we fail to, and then takes the penalty upon himself for all those who believe in him. We are certainly not entitled to mercy and yet he provides a way to receive mercy.

If God is all-powerful then he could have made a universe full of people who are not sinners. He chose to, at the very least, allow sin to randomly come into the world, if it wasn't deliberately part of his plan. If he's all-powerful, then everything that happens, including people sinning, happens either because he wanted it to, or because he rolled a metaphorical die, shrugged and said "ok, I'll allow it".

Free will theodicies of course argue that free will is such a good thing that it would be worse to deny it than to allow its consequence, namely (they argue) the possibility of sin randomly (i.e. by nondeterministic so-called "free will") coming into the world. IIRC you've already said you reject such free-will theodicies (can I assume you're probably a Calvinist?), but even if not: those fail because they misconstrue what free will even is (randomness is not freedom), and so even if free will is an overriding good that could justify allowing the horrors that exist in the world if those were a necessary concession to it, they're not; if there were an all-powerful God, he could have made a universe full of free-willed people who were born as perfect saints and would never choose to sin, even though they could choose to sin if they had any reason to want to do so, which they wouldn't.

Creating known-defective living creatures and then letting them suffer from their defects or worse still, actively punishing them instead of just fixing them, is not the act of an all-good, all-powerful being. It sounds like the kind of thing an evil being would do, though it could maybe be the best that a less-than-all-powerful being could do (or an unfortunate oversight by a less-than-all-knowing being), but then in any of those cases that being wouldn't count as God.

Edicts are not what I base morality on. The absolute standard for morality that a Christian holds to is God himself. Not an edict. That is completely different than a moral system chosen arbitrarily as you seem to be suggesting.

How do you know what God is like, what he wants, or what he says is moral, and how do you reconcile what you think you know in that regard with people of other religions who think they know that God is/wants/says something different? How is your religion not just as "arbitrarily" chosen as any non-religious ethical system? People, including religious people, have to pick, somehow, for whatever reasons, what they think is the right way to tell good from bad. None of them think their choice is arbitrary -- they all have their reasons -- and all of them think they've got the right answer, even though others disagree. Anyone who's not a moral nihilist will agree that at least one of them might have the right answer, even though others disagree.

The moral nihlist of course will say that their disagreement is evidence that none of them, religious or otherwise, have the right answer, because (they say) no answer is right or wrong, they're all just arbitrary choices, including the religious views. But you and I both disagree with that. All I'm saying is that there are some views, chosen from among the various differing views (including the different religions), according to which some things are objectively right and wrong regardless of whether or not any gods exist. It doesn't follow of logical necessity from the rejection of God's existence to the rejection of objective morality; there are other alternatives. There's disagreement about which alternative is right, sure, but there's disagreement among the religious about which religion is right too, and that's not automatically proof that they (either religions or secular ethical systems) are all wrong.

You are right that I am arguing for moral nihilism as the only system an atheist can hold to and be philosophically consistent.

That's not what I said. I said you're arguing for moral nihilism, period; albeit unintentionally. If you say "look, there's disagreement, therefore nobody's right or wrong about it" then you're arguing against all religious morals too because there's disagreement there too. I know you're not trying to do that, which is why I point it out; your argument leads to conclusions you would object to, therefore you should abandon the argument.

In a naturalistic worldview, all we are is matter in motion. Why is it wrong for matter to put holes in other pieces of matter? Morality is immaterial. Its absurd to argue for morality when you are standing on a platform that says all that exists is matter. You have no basis to call one way more correct than another. They are just different and meaningless. I agree that most people believe that morality exists. But that doesn't mean it makes any sense in your system. In fact it is a deep problem for atheism. You know it exists so you have to contradict your worldview to account for it. It only makes sense in a biblical worldview.

First of all, atheism is not equivalent to materialism, though I'll grant they're often found together. But there are all kinds of different answers proposed to this question. I can't teach you the entire field of meta-ethics, but I can give you a brief overview of it, building out from your own divine command theory:

Divine Command Theory is a form of universalist ethical subjectivism. Universalism means what we've been calling "objective" or "absolute" so far here: it applies to everyone everywhere always. Subjectivism means that it holds what's good or bad to be contingent on the wants, beliefs, intentions, commands, etc, of some kind of person or agent. In this case, that person or agent is God. What it means for something to be good, according to divine command theory, is to be commanded by God; and to know what's good or bad, you just look up what God commanded, in the book(s) that he dictated.

The most similar theory is another form of universalist ethical subjectivism, Ideal Observer Theory. This hold that what it means to be good is to be consistent with what a hypothetical Ideal Observer, a perfectly rational and perfectly knowledgeable person (sometimes said to be perfectly empathic, sympathizing with all points of view) would intend or command, if such a being existed. You might think of this as "good is what God would command, if he existed"; and to know what's good or bad, you have to gather as much knowledge (and consider all points of view) and think as rationally as possible about it, meaning that we can at best approximate what might be good or bad, but never know it with certainty. Still, something either is good or bad, objectively, on this view, even if we're not entirely sure what is which. I'm slightly sympathetic to this, but more for its picture of moral epistemology (how we find out what's good or bad) and kind of a poetic gloss of my true view, than as a definition or ontology of morality per se.

The next most similar theory is cultural relativism, which is a relativist (non-universalist) form of ethical subjectivism that holds that what it means to be good, relative to a given community, is to be consistent with the consensus will of that community. Being a form of relativism, this doesn't really help us here though, so let's skip it. The next most similar theory is individualist ethical subjectivism, which is a relativist form of subjectivism that holds that what it means to be good, relative to an individual, is to be consisted with that individual's will; but this is even worse for our purposes so let's skip it too.

Moving out of subjectivist theories into objectivist theories (those which hold good and bad to be independent of what anyone thinks/commands/etc, which are thus necessarily also universalist, holding that the same thing is good or bad everywhere always), there's ethical naturalism, which holds that "goodness" is some kind of natural property; usually, something like the utilitarian definition of the greatest pleasure for the greatest number. That's just what it means for something to be good, according to them, and we know what is good or not by observing the pleasure that it brings to people (and inferring from that about how much pleasure other things might bring to other people).

This, however, faces the kind of challenge you seem to be raising, which is called the "open question argument": if they say that something is good because it causes more pleasure to more people, you can then ask "but why is causing pleasure to people good?" Usually, adherents argue "...it just is, obviously, duh! how could you think otherwise, that bringing pleasure to many people is bad!?!?" and honestly it does kind of seem that obvious to me, but I'm not strictly an adherent to this view because it really is an open question, and one that could very well be turned on Divine Command Theory too: "you say that this is good because God commands it, but why is obeying God's commands good?"

The alternative posed by the originator of the Open Question Argument is called ethical non-naturalism, which is still an objectivist view (holding morality to be independent of anyone's thoughts/commands/etc), which posits that there are non-natural moral properties of events. These don't necessitate the existence of God, but this does run afoul of eliminative materialism, and turns into, at best (for the materialist) some kind of property dualism: even if only material things exist, they have properties other than their physical ones, namely moral ones. There are two epistemic stances within this view, about how we know those moral properties: one is "intuitionism", which holds that we have some innate, intuitive, intellectual grasp of what moral properties go with what kinds of things; and the other is "moral sense theory", which holds that we have some kind of nonphysical senses that can detect moral properties. I don't really buy this; too much spooky weirdness, raising more questions than it answers.

Ethical rationalism is hard to categorize but definitely still within the umbrella of objectivism. It holds that moral statements are true and false in the same sort of way that logical or mathematical ones are. They don't require any kind of moral substances, physical or otherwise, to be there to make claims about morals true or false, as they're more like relations between ideas that just have to be true or false in any possible universe, by the sheer structure of the concepts involved. Immanual Kant is the big proponent of this with his deontology, holding morality to be just about being self-consistent with your will, and I have some strong sympathies here, but don't fully buy this as a moral ontology exactly, though it's close.

All of the above falls within the umbrella of cognitivism or descriptivism (those are technically slightly different, which we'll get to in a second), which holds that moral assertions are claims of fact, the subject of beliefs, that can be true or false; that there is something in reality (broadly construed, to include things like God for those Divine Command Theorists who think he's real) that is a moral fact, which moral assertions are trying to correctly describe. All of them so far claim that there are some moral facts which are true. The last kind of cognitivist or descriptivist theory, on the other hand, moral error theory, claims that that is indeed what moral assertions are trying to do, but since there's no such thing as a moral fact (they say), all of them fail at it: all moral assertions are just false. This of course leads to nihilism, which is no use to use here so let's skip it.

Contrary to cognitivist (or descriptivist) theories like all of the above, there are non-cognitivist (or non-descriptivist) theories that claim that moral assertions aren't trying to describe things, the way sentences like "that elephant weights 1.5 tons" are, but are performing a different kind of speech-act. Most of these are relativist to the point of nihilism and thus no help to us: emotivism and expressivism claim that things like "murder is wrong" are really just expressions of emotion like "boo murder!", and imperativism says that something like "murder is wrong" just means "don't murder"; things that aren't the sort of thing that can even be true or false because they're not making descriptive claims in the first place. That's useless so let's move on.

Last but not least, there is a universalist form of non-descriptivism (but technically cognitivism) view called universal prescriptivism, which claims something like this: moral assertions are not trying to describe anything, but are rather prescribing things, functioning very much like imperative sentences, but with an important difference. Normal imperatives have the implied subject of "you", always. "Don't murder" means "you, don't murder!", and on this view would be equivalent to "you ought not murder". Broader moral claims like "murder ought not be done" then translate into imperative-like things that we don't quite have grammar for in modern English: something very similar to the expression "saints be praised!", which is an imperative ordering praising of saints, but not addressed to anyone in particular, not like "you, praise the saints!"; it's exhorting anyone, anywhere, always to praise the saints. This part is my own invention, but I would actually argue that substituting "be" for "is" (or "are", etc) in a descriptive sentence turns it into the imperative equivalent of a moral sentence. With that established, that moral assertions are hidden universalized imperatives, the question is then how do we privilege some imperatives over others; imperatives can't be true or false, technically, but they might be good or bad, expressing intentions either to be adopted or not, the way that descriptive sentences express beliefs to be either adopted or not. Some of these can be worked out via a priori reasoning, just seeing if it's the kind of thing that could be universally prescribed without contradiction, and in this way it's a lot like Kantian ethical rationalism.

But then there's further consideration to take beyond just those broad be-logically-consistent-in-your-universal-prescriptions ones, much akin to how a priori logic can tell us a lot about ways the universe can or can't be, but then there's a lot of further questions that need to be settled empirically. We're venturing into my own philosophy here now, but... oh hell, I'll just give you a really quick gloss of my own views because goddamn time flew and it's late and this took way more time than it felt like to write.

The scientific method is the correct method of adjudicating disagreements on matters of description, of belief, of facts, and it proceeds from these axioms: there is some correct answer or another to be had (anti-nihilism, or objectivism, which in this case means realism -- if it's true, it's true for everyone), but nobody's answer is privileged or authoritative as the special correct-by-default or beyond-question answer (anti-fideism, or criticism), so anybody's answer might be correct until it can be ruled out (liberalism), and besides showing self-contraction, the only way left to rule things out, without any authority to turn to, is by appealing very carefully and thoroughly to our common, shared experiences (phenomenalism, which in this case means empiricism, in the sense that "it sure looks false" is, broadly speaking, evidence that something's false), slowly and forever narrowing in closer and closer on the universal truth.

The moral analogue of that, the correct method of adjudicating disagreements on matters of prescription, of intention, of norms, proceeds from analogous axioms: there is some correct answer or another to be had (anti-nihilism or objectivism again, in this case meaning altruism -- if it's good, it's good for everyone), but nobody's answer is privileged or authoritative as the special correct-by-default or beyond-question answer (anti-fideism or criticism again), so anybody's answer might be correct until it can be ruled out (liberalism), and besides showing self-contradiction, the only way left to rule things out, without any authority to turn to, is by appealing very carefully and thoroughly to our common, shared experiences (phenomenalism, which in this case means hedonism, in the sense that "it sure feels bad" is, broadly speaking, evidence that something's bad), slowly and forever narrowing in closer and closer on the universal good.

Liberalism and phenomenalism follow pretty trivially from objectivism and criticism jointly, but I have a special argument for objectivism and criticism; or rather, equivalently, against nihilism and fideism. In any endeavor, if you don't try, you will probably fail. You might be doomed to fail anyway, but if there were any chance to succeed, to seize that chance you must try. If you assume that success is impossible, you won't try; so, if you don't know whether or not success is possible, if you're starting out in complete ignorance, you have to assume success if possible or else you almost guarantee, by not trying, that it won't be, even if it could have been had you tried. Conversely, if you assume that success is inevitable, you won't try -- why bother, it's going to happen anyway -- and so, perversely, you will almost guarantee failure. In matters of trying to adjudicate between differing opinions, be they descriptive or prescriptive, if we start out in complete ignorance (or wind up there via an infinite regress, just saying "prove it" to each other forever every time one another offers a justification for the previous thing challenged), if we want to have any hope of figuring out what is the right answer, we have to try to figure it out, which can only be done by assuming that there is some correct answer to be found -- contra nihilism -- but not assuming that any particular answer is already the right one -- contra fideism. That gives you objectivism and criticism, which give you liberalism and phenomenalism, which together break down along descriptive/prescriptive lines into the critical empirical realism that is the scientific method, and its moral analogue, liberal hedonic altruism.

Neither of which depend on appeals to God (or any other authority).

Man that was a long-ass tangent. Anyway...

As for the nihilist, when he states the problem of evil, he is implying that he knows there is an absolute basis for morality. Yet he rejects it with his philosophy. Without an absolute basis for morality, the argument is meaningless. No. It shows deep down he does know morality because God made him that way.

I don't need to convince the nihilist that theres such a thing as good and evil. He already knows it and betrays that when he makes the problem of evil argument.

You still misunderstand. The moral nihilist doesn't have to agree that there is such a thing as evil to use the argument, only to point out that your belief in evil in the world contradicts your belief in an all-good (and all-knowing and all-powerful) God. The moral nihilist might very well concede that there's some kind of all-knowing all-powerful thing, that does whatever it wants and that's whatever because there is (he says) no morality at all, but then he hears you talking about your version of that thing being all-good, and yet also talking about things in the world being evil, and he says to you "Wait, if you think this all-knowing all-powerful thing is all-good, how can you think that anything is evil? Wouldn't everything have to be good, if there was such a being? So either everything is good, or your God isn't all-good, or maybe he's not all-powerful and just couldn't help it... or he's not all-knowing and doesn't know there's a problem... or, you know, there's no such thing as good and evil. But either way, you're wrong."

Comment Re:Consciousness is not the same thing as free wil (Score 1) 285

Thank you; and, even with an exact solution governing it's behavior (and the exact details of the initial condition), computing the evolution of increasingly more chaotic systems is increasingly more time consuming, to an eventual limit that some systems' evolution cannot even in theory be computed faster than the systems actually evolve.

Taking a step back, it should be pretty obvious that it would be impossible in principle to compute the evolution of the universe faster than the state of the universe evolves, because the mechanism doing the computation is a part of the universe, and the act of computation is a part of the universe's evolution. The physical limits of the universe therefore impose physical limits on the speed of computation, and at some point you reach a maximum theoretically-possible computation efficiency, and a maximally-efficient computer of a given size can only compute some maximum complexity of system faster than that system itself evolves; to predict a larger system you need a larger computer, and to predict the entire universe you would need to turn the entire universe into a computer... that then emulates its old self. And still more slowly than its old self would have just evolved on its own.

Comment Re: Consciousness is not the same thing as free wi (Score 1) 285

Only if by "such a thing" you mean incompatibilism, not just free will.

There are lots and lots of people who believe free will exists and can be (or even has to be) deterministic. They're called compatibilists and for centuries until very recently they were the dominant school of philosophy (and are still fighting a strong fight against a recent insurgence of incompatibilism).

Look up Harry Frankfurt and Susan Wolf for some notable contemporary examples.

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