Showing posts with label Consequentialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Consequentialism. Show all posts

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 2: Natural Law)

Natural law

I really suspect, at some level, that religion for many people today exists primarily as a means to justify their desire to control other people's sex lives and social interactions. It seems as if all the previous chapters and arguments were really just to lay the foundation for natural law ethics, whose proponents are totally obsessed with sex, as is the Catholic Church historically (and many religions in general). But first, Feser scoffs at Richard Dawkins' molestation incident when he was a boy and the "truly creepy vibes" he gets from a possible secular education standard which might be led by Dawkins' totally normal yet "blasphemous" views on sex that say, in part, "Enjoy your own sex life (as long as it damages no one else)". Oh my! How "creepy" of Dawkins to advocate for guilt-free consensual sex! The horror! No. The truly "creepy" views on sex are of course best exemplified by Feser's Catholic Church, given its obsession with chastity, homosexuality, and its massive pedophilia scandal. But anyway, to the heart of it:

The "nature" of a thing, from an Aristotelian point of view, is, as we've seen, the form or essence it instantiates. Hence, once again to hail in my triangle example, it is of the essence, nature, or form or a triangle to have three perfectly straight lines. 
When it comes to biological organs, we have things whose natures or essences more obviously involve certain final causes or purposes. So, for example, the function of final cause of the eyeball is to enable us to see. But suppose someone's eyeballs are defective in some way making his vision blurry. In that case, to wear sunglasses isn't contrary to the natural function of eyeballs; rather, it quite obviously restores to the eyeballs their ability to carry out their natural function. 
...whether homosexuality has a genetic basis the question is largely irrelevant. For it is quite obvious that the existence of a genetic basis for some trait does not by itself prove anything whether it is "natural" in the relevant sense. To take just one of many possible examples, that there is a genetic basis for clubfoot doesn't show that having clubfeet is "natural." Quite obviously it is unnatural, certainly from an Artistotelian sense of failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing. And no one who has a clubfoot would...find it convincing that the existence of a genetic basis for his affliction shows that it is something he should "embrace" and "celebrate." Nor would it be plausible to suggest that God "made him that way," any more than God "makes" people to be born blind, deaf, armless, legless, prone to alcoholism, or autistic. God obviously allows these things, for whatever reason; but it doesn't follow that He positively wills them, and it certainly doesn't follow that they are "natural." So, by the same token, the possibility of a genetic basis for homosexual desire doesn't by itself show that such desire is natural...Even if it is established beyond a reasonable doubt that there is such a basis, with respect to the question of naturalness of homosexuality, this would prove exactly zip. (133-134)

Whew. Couple of thoughts. Why wouldn't a genetic basis for something be natural? If failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing makes it unnatural, then almost everything we do and have is unnatural. The whole problem once again is trying to argue what you can do for triangles, for humans. Triangles are simple shapes defined a certain way. Humans are much more complicated and irregular to be compared in such a way. What is the perfect form, essence, or nature of a human being? David Hasselhoff? Brad Pitt? Michaelangelo's David? Joseph Smith? The Islamic prophet Mohammad? Or is it Jesus? He was supposedly celibate. Does that mean all sex is unnatural? No Catholic says that, but it would seem to conclude from the concept. Of course, I reject the whole conception of "natural" in this sense and many of us do too. "Natural" means of nature; it means existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind. There's a simple logical argument to show how god cannot merely allow natural defects, he must cause it, and whatever he causes he must positively will since god cannot cause something he doesn't will:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Is God A Consequentialist?

Whenever I come up dry for material for this blog I can always turn to William Lane Craig bashing for inspiration. I get such great pleasure from deflating his dubious arguments. His new Q and A has him arguing that god isn't a consequentialist, when the record clearly indicates that he is. You can see the question here, I will focus on his answer below.

Craig starts out making a point he often makes in his writings and in his debates:

... on my view God has no moral duties to fulfill. Moral duties arise in response to imperatives issued by God. Since God does not issue commands to Himself, God has no moral duties. Rather God’s acts must simply be consistent with His perfectly good nature. So consequentialism cannot apply to God, having as He does no moral duties. His actions, such as permitting some evils in view of overriding goods, must simply be consistent with His being all-loving, punishing evil, etc.

If god's actions must be "
consistent with His perfectly good nature," and god's nature is perfect goodness, then why is god admittedly jealous and wrathful? Why can he essentially do what he wants and cause suffering and take life as he pleases? It seems to me that theists like Craig admit that their god is a god who can do whatever he wants because he "does not issue commands to Himself." In that case, if god's actions can violate his own commandments to us - commandments which are supposed to reflect his "perfectly good nature," then god cannot logically be perfectly good and all-loving. In other words, if my commandments are perfect, and I violate my own commandments, I cannot be perfect.

This upends the core of divine command theory since according to Craig, "it grounds objective moral values in God as the paradigm and source of moral goodness." If this supposed source of all moral goodness can act in ways contrary to his own commands of perfect moral goodness, the source cannot be perfectly good. Hence god plays a sort of "do as I say, not as I do" ethic. 

But it seems Craig fails to get this. He says:

God’s having no moral duties does not imply that He can do just anything; rather His actions must be consistent with His own nature.

Let's see what god can do. He can command child sacrifice, genocide, slavery, the killing of adulterers, witches and homosexuals, and he can take his anger out on people for not worshiping him properly and for offering inadequate sacrifices. Sounds to me like god can pretty much "do just anything." If all those things I mentioned above are consistent with "good nature," then I'd hate to see what bad nature is.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meta-ethics: Moral Realism Vs. Divine Command Theory

Meta-ethics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic and psychological presuppositions and commitments of moral theory and practice. It can be nicely described visually in the following chart:

I personally lean heavily towards moral realism and so my ethical theories fall under cognitivism. The divine command theory of ethics, which in some ways is the antithesis of moral realism, also falls under cognitivism, but is actually sub-categorized under subjectivism, despite its claims to be universal. Let me quickly compare and contrast the two.

Cognitivism is the thesis that moral statements are propositions in that they express beliefs that are either true or false. Let's define moral realism and ethical naturalism along with subjectivism and divine command theory.

Moral Realism:
  • Moral realism is the claim that there are objective moral facts.
  • Ethical naturalism states that moral facts are knowable through and reducible to non-moral facts about the universe and can be determined or understood through empirical observation. 
  • Moral subjectivism states that moral facts exist but they are dependent on subjective minds. 
  • Divine command theory states that moral facts are determined by the commandments of god.
Each of these theories has their pros and cons, as do all ethical theories. Let me highlight some of them for each.

Ethical naturalism:
  • Pro: Provides an objective foundation for morality
  • Con: Needs to solve the Is/Ought dilemma and the open question argument
Divine command theory:
  • Pro: Tries to establish moral facts without the problem of moral realism (Is/Ought and the open question argument)
  • Con: Epistemic problem (who can know for sure what god's commands are?), the Euthyphro dilemma, and god's existence is not observable. 

Moral Realism

OK. So now that we've defined each ethical theory and outlined some of their pros and cons we can compare and contrast the two. Under the ethical naturalism branch of moral realism, in order for a moral to truly be objective, it must be based off of facts that are independent of anyone's opinion. So no one's opinion, whether it come from a human mind, the mind of an advanced species of extra-terrestrial alien life, or god's mind, can determine an objective moral fact independently of the motives and consequences of the moral in question. Morality is founded in nature itself, in the real experiences that affect conscious beings, and where our intentions and the effects of our moral actions hold the objective foundation.

When it comes the is Is/Ought dilemma we do have to grant an extra premise to come to the conclusion that an action is moral. For example, consider the following syllogism:

P: Torture is harmful
C: Therefore, torture is wrong

The premise states a fact about the action of torture that it is indeed harmful. That is the non-moral fact that the conclusion is founded on. But how can we conclude that something is morally wrong just because it is harmful? To address the Is/Ought dilemma, we must rationally justify the conclusion by positing another premise. In this case, to conclude that torture is wrong because it is harmful, we must grant that harming someone is wrong. This goes without saying, but you can reach the conclusion that harming someone is wrong by knowing whether or not that person consented to being harmed and whether it will negatively affect them. So now consider the following addition:

P1: Torture is harmful
P2: Harming someone is wrong 
C: Therefore, torture is wrong

The open question argument says that moral facts cannot be reduced to natural properties (i.e. torture is harmful) because any attempt to conclude morality with a set of observable natural properties will always be an open question. So for example consider the syllogism:

P1: If X is good, then the question "Is it true that X is good?" is meaningless.
P2: The question "Is it true that X is good?" is not meaningless (i.e. it is an open question).
C: X is not (analytically equivalent to) good.

The objective morality found in ethical naturalism is not necessarily known a priori, it requires meaningful analysis. The open question argument assumes that "X is good" is knowable by definition. So for example, let's replace "X" with "kindness". 

P1: If kindness is good, then the question "Is it true that kindness is good?" is meaningless. 

I disagree. We cannot know if kindness is good without a meaningful analysis of its intentions and effects. Therefore the first premise of the open question argument might be analytically equivalent to good, and asking whether it is good can be meaningful. 

Divine Command Theory

Now let's turn to divine command theory. According to the theory, god, existing outside time and space reveals to us his moral commandments that determine what is morally right and wrong. Although this theory is classified under subjectivism, proponents claim that it provides a clear objective foundation for moral values and duties that bypasses the Is/Ought dilemma and the open argument dilemma. But it does have several of its own problems. Let's examine them.

The first problem is the epistemic problem. How can we know for sure what god's commands are? There are many competing religions each making their own truth claims, and there are many ways to interpret religious scripture. Also, texts were transcribed through many languages and many bare contradictions and signs of editing. People also claim to hear revelations from god all the time and we have no empirical way to validate any of them. 

Divine command theory proponents would all say that their religious scriptures are the only true messages of god and the others are either partly or wholly fabricated. It is possible to assess a probability factor to all religious texts based on their internal consistency, their metaphysical claims compared to current scientific knowledge, and their historicity compared to archaeological records, but all religious texts essentially fail a validity test on this standard.

Then there's the Euthyphro dilemma. A modern iteration of it asks, "Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it is good?" Neither the former or the latter are particularly welcoming to the theist. The former implies that good is arbitrarily determined by god, and the latter implies that good exists external to god, and god is just a mere messenger of the good. 

The most common response to avoid either horn of the dilemma is to say that god is good. The problem with that is that it fails to demonstrate that goodness cannot exist independent of god. For example, an intrinsic property of fire is hotness, but hot can exist independently of fire (i.e. microwaves, friction). Likewise, if goodness is an intrinsic property of god, that doesn't prove that goodness cannot exist independently of god. Also, if god can command something that would otherwise be wrong (i.e. to sacrifice one's first born), then the only factor determining the action's rightness or wrongness is god's commandment at that moment. That would mean that goodness is arbitrarily determined by god's commandments. 

There seems to be no way out of the Euthyphro dilemma, no matter how hard one tries.

Finally, god's existence is not observable and not verifiable. We must take his existence on at least some amount of faith. Unlike moral realism, which is based on observable and analytically verifiable facts, divine command theory might guide us towards values that are not corroborated with facts, and may even run counter to what we know benefits us. And we will be asked that we obey them essentially on faith, which we all know is fraught with problems. 

There seems to be no way to reconcile these problems when judging morals on a case-by-case basis under the divine command theory.

Now is this a totally fair and unbiased analysis of these two ethical theories? No, of course not. I admitted right from the get-go that I'm a moral realist. I've addressed the problems of moral realism and presented some arguments for divine command theory but my conclusion is that given the arguments against each theory, moral realism fairs better overall.

So in conclusion, we must all admit that every ethical theory contains its pros and cons. I certainly believe that moral realism faces challenges, but on analysis, I think its problems are more easily reconcilable than those of the divine command theory.

*I want to give special thanks to Nykytyne2 who made the following video here that helped inspire this blog posting and whose work I based much of this posts information off of, along with the help of Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good From God?"

In 2011, author and neuroscientist Sam Harris debated evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig on the topic of morality and god entitled, “Is Good From God?” The debate, largely was an attempt by Dr. Craig to critique Dr. Harris’ book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. As you may know, I have a bone to pick with Dr. Craig regarding his attempts to rationalize the more troubling aspects of his Christian faith, and in the debate he offers several examples which I will criticize.

Dr. Craig opens the debate with his two primary contentions. First, that if god exists, he offers a sound foundation for the existence of objective morals and duties, and second, that if god does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral duties and values. Dr. Craig defines “objective” morality as being valid and binding, independently of human opinion. Both Dr. Craig and Dr. Harris assert the existence of objective morals and duties, and only disagree with what is its foundation. On my blog, I have written repeatedly about how I believe there is exists a certain core of values that are objectively true, and are not relative to anyone’s opinion. And I have argued against the idea that the existence of god is what these objective values are founded in. What I want to do is critique line by line, the objections that Dr. Craig makes against Dr. Harris’ argument that science can offer us a foundation for objective values.

Right off the bat in Dr. Craig’s opening remarks he asserts the ontological foundation for goodness:

11:20 On the theistic view objective moral values are grounded in God. As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good. Indeed, He is not merely perfectly good, He is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured. He is by nature loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth. Thus if God exists, objective moral values exist, wholly independent of human beings.

One of the problems I have with this statement is the fact that the greatest conceivable being is a highly subjective expression. For example, Muslims and Christians have distinct beliefs on the nature of god. Muslims disagree with Christians that god had to rest on the seventh day after he created the universe because resting is not a property of an omnipotent god. If a god who needs to rest is less great than a god who doesn’t, than it follows that the Muslim concept of god may be better than the Christian concept. So a greatest conceivable being to a Muslims, is different than that of a Christian. And what if a psychopath’s idea of the greatest conceivable being would be that of a sadistic dictator? Could the greatest conceivable being then an aggregation of all these diverse concepts by taking the best from each? God’s nature consists of many things and jealousy is one of them. He is also wrathful, and capricious. Are these the characteristics of greatness?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Short Disgression on Moral Epistemology

I have written a lot on many past blogs about the topic of morality. I have affirmed that morality certainly does not come from god, and that I consider divine command theories concerning ethics to be morality repulsive. My favorite argument against this is the Euthyphro Dilemma, and I rest my moral semantics of the second horn of the Euthyphro, that there is an external set of moral standards objective to all of us, including god, if he exists. But I want to explain further, where I get my moral epistemology, or how I acquire my moral understanding. Here I am concerned with ethics and how I decide what is moral and what is not.

There are 3 major branches of ethical philosophy: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Consequentialism evaluates morality based on its consequences. Deontology emphasizes the act itself regardless of the consequences, based on duties, rules and obligations. Emmanuel Kant is considered one of the most widely known deontologists. Virtue ethics on the other hand, puts emphasis on one's inner character on having desirable characteristics. Their actions would therefore not be moral or immoral based on their consequences or intentions. Aristotle was one of the more famous virtue ethicists. Finally, there is a forth branch, utilitarianism, which borrows somewhat from consequentialism. Utilitarianism determines what is moral by whether it produces the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number.

A divine command theorist would probably lay in the school of deontology because it says that there are moral absolutes and duties that one must adhere to regardless of the outcome. So if god says lying is wrong, then it is always wrong even it it will save human lives. After schooling myself in ethical philosophy, not to the level or professionality, but to a level of post-novice understanding, I have arrived closer at my ethical philosophy. Considering how all these branches of ethics contradict each other, no one school of thought is perfect. One must in some way, pick and choose from more than one in order to have a well rounded ethical philosophy. And so it is here that I have arrived closer to where I take my moral epistemology.

I am largely a consequentialist when it comes to ethics. Now I am well aware of the criticisms of consequentialism and I agreed that it has its flaws, but that is the great thing about philosophy-it's not dogma. One is free to pick and choose bits and pieces from each branch as long as they do not heavily contradict each other. With my philosophy I combine a little consequentialism with a little deontology and a little ethical egoism, and perhaps some utilitarianism. Virtue ethics I am not too concerned with, because one's desirable characteristics, in certain societies, can have negative consequences for those in it.

I believe we all consider the consequences of our actions when determining what is ethical to a degree. Torturing and killing people for fun for example, is considered wrong on a near-universal spectrum because of the needless human suffering involved. In other words, it is wrong because it has negative consequences to sentient beings. Kindness and compassion are good actions because they help others in need, and we are all in need of help at times in our lives. Consequentialism's main flaw is that is does not consider the intentions behind the action. One can intend to do good and have negative outcome, or intend to do harm and it could result in positive consequences. A careful balance between the intentions behind and consequences of one's actions, is needed in my view, for a sound moral framework.

But back to consequentialist ethics, we cannot always know the consequences of our actions immediately, and somethings that have negative consequences at first have good consequences in the long run. And somethings that have negative consequences for some, have good consequences for others. The questions then arises: consequences for who? This is where consequentialists must tread carefully. When faced with an innumerable palate of ethical dilemmas, we must often make difficult decisions. One must sometimes be faced with choosing the lesser of two evils. When we do know the true outcome of the consequences of our actions we must make it based on the best possible knowledge one has at the time. They may be wrong, but at least an informed decision should be made. When it comes to long term versus short term gain, the balance must be considered by how harmful the short term suffering would be for the long term gain. So, if we are faced with the prospects of bliss for a majority of us 5 years from now, but the price will be that until then a minority of us must suffer dire consequences, and even give their lives we must use logic and reason to deduce whether it is worth it. A well rounded ethical position should always image one as the sufferer, the one "sacrificed" for the greater good of humanity. Utilitarianism comes to play in such a dilemma. For the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people should weigh in if one must choose between several bad prospects.

This brings up the famous trolley experiment: You are at a rail crossing and you see a trolley speeding out of control. On one track there are 5 people, on the other track there is only one. The trolley is speeding on the track with 5 people on it. You stand near a rail switch that can divert the out-of-control trolley to the track with only one person, killing him, but sparing the other 5. Do you pull the switch? Utilitarians and consequentialists say yes, because 5 being killed is worse than 1 being killed. I've thought about this experiment and I am not sure what I would really do in that situation, but I think I would not pull the switch, despite being a consequentialist. I'd probably feel a lot better with myself if my hands were not responsible for anyone's death. This might be from my slight deontological streak. I also would consider the people on the tracks if possible. What if the 5 were escaped convicted murderers from prison, and the one was Barack Obama? Wouldn't then we consider the life of one more important than the many? What if the one on the track was someone you love deeply, wouldn't their life be worth more than the other 5 or 10 people on the track or however that many? An infinite number of monkey wrenches can be thrown into ethical dilemmas to challenge our perceived ethical notions. In the trolley scenario however, you know nothing of the people's lives and characteristics and have mere seconds to decide whether to pull the switch or not. Given such an opaque perspective, I stand by my decision to no pull the lever.

So with moral growth and understanding I feel I have a very good head on my shoulders on the virtue and semantics of ethics. I love probably more than anything else, to debate morality with people because it is such a fascinating and personal topic, as we are all affected by it. It makes for one heck of a good intellectual conversation. "An intellectual conversation, is the only conversation worth having", as I like to joke around. And, as the great Greek Philosopher extraordinaire Socrates said "the unconsidered life, is not worth living". Continue the conversation when I'm long gone.


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