The definition of goodness

Let’s start with an analogy: a river flowing across the countryside. Where the slope is nearly flat, the river meanders, wandering here and there according to the influence of various local factors. Where the slope is more pronounced, the river follows a definite course. With a bit of effort, a primitive farmer can use the river for irrigation. Lacking any kind of pump, though, he’s going to find that not all attempts to harness the river will be successful, and that the most successful approaches all have one factor in common: remembering that water flows downhill.

Morality is like the river, in that there are some circumstances where it is fairly easy to make it become what we want it to be, as well as other circumstances where, do what we will, the “water” is going to follow its natural downhill flow. But if morality is like the river, then what is the landscape that shapes its natural course, and what force of “gravity” pulls it downhill? That one is a little more complicated to explain.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Realism. 16 Comments »

Ontological perfection

Nick seems to have made himself scarce around these parts lately. It’s a shame. I was really looking forward to hearing some of his answers to the questions I raised. Maybe we can tempt him into coming back if we started discussing ontology and related topics, though, so let’s have a look.

Nick is quite right: your definition of “existence” will have a significant influence over whether goodness exists independently of our perception of it. So let’s ask the questions Nick alludes to. What do we mean when we say something exists, and what does this tell us about the reality and nature of things?

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Posted in Realism. 4 Comments »

In which I am disappointed

Last week I pointed out to Nick a fairly serious logical flaw in C. S. Lewis’ argument for Moral Law, as presented in Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity.

By asserting the existence of a disobeyable Law, therefore, Lewis is implicitly assuming, in his premise, the existence of the intentional law-giver that is the goal of his conclusion… By incorporating the assumption of an independent Observer/Participant into his definition of “law,” he biases the fundamental vocabulary of the discussion, and makes it difficult or impossible to argue the case, using his terms, without being led inevitably to the predetermined conclusion.

This is a very serious logical fallacy which, if unaddressed, undermines the validity of all subsequent Thomistic argumentation regarding natural law. I then posed a fairly simple question for Nick:

My main question is about Mere Christianity, and about Lewis’ apparent failure to produce a logically valid introduction to Thomistic thought. A sound and correct philosophical foundation should have made it easier for Lewis to produce a coherent and non-fallacious summary, albeit a potentially incomplete one. How then do you account for this discrepancy…?

I was frankly looking forward to Nick’s reply, given his extensive readings (especially as compared to my own). How would he address this problem? Would he agree that Lewis was presenting an unsound argument, and try to excuse him on the grounds that he was summarizing something much more complex? Would he try and make a case for the existence of a disobeyable law independent of any Observer with opinions and preferences about our behavior? Would he admit that “disobeyable law” already assumes the existence of a Divine Law Giver, and plead that in this special case it’s ok to assume one’s conclusion?

I was very interested in seeing how he would reply, but I didn’t expect him to reply like this:

I believe the question, if I’m understanding it rightly, concerns if Lewis is contradicting himself about a law of nature that cannot be broken supposedly and a law of morality that can.

Also, it concerns why we should believe if it cannot be measured or is not tangible in some way.

As they say in lolspeak, I am disappoint.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Realism. 10 Comments »

A question for Nick

I’m glad to see that Nick shows no signs of being a hit-and-run commenter, nor is he here to harass us with mere thoughtless trollery. He is engaging in real issues, he’s giving forthright answers, and when he speaks he does so with care and thoughtfulness. His tone may strike some as, shall we say, disrespectful, but in my opinion he is absolutely and 100% entitled to it, and he is welcome to continue. We will gain his respect only when and if we earn it.

In the interests of focusing on the heart of the issue rather than on tangents, let me begin by conceding that Nick has read more books on the subject of the ontology of good, Thomist philosophy, and so on, than I have. He has recommended Budziszewski, so I will give him a go. (Nick, would Written on the Heart be a reasonable starting place? When you have kids in college, the $10 book has certain attractions over the $70 hard cover, which is what Amazon is charging for The Line Through the Heart.)

Meanwhile, I do have an on-topic question for Nick, which might open up some common ground for fruitful discussion.

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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Realism. 29 Comments »

Encore: Reality-based faith vs. superstitious faith

[Originally posted on August 21, 2007]

A commenter writes:

Belief in the existence of God or belief that there is no god requires faith.

Yes, and I’ll take it a step further: belief in reality requires a stronger and better faith than belief in superstition. And those who embrace the truth have a stronger and better faith than Christians do, because Christian faith is mere gullibility, whereas genuine faith is based on real-world truth.

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Posted in Comment Rescue, Encore, Realism. 1 Comment »

How great a loss!

In response to “Our Unicorn Overlords,” ThatOtherGuy writes:

I do notice, DD, that you’ve moved away from the “both are equally UNjustified” stance a bit… though I think the usage of parsimony covers your bases on that one, don’t be surprised if SOMEONE mentions the shift.

It’s not actually a shift, per se. What I’m saying is that IF two theories predict exactly the same real-world consequences, then we are equally UNjustified in preferring one over the other. (We’re free to do so if we wish, there’s just no justification for it.) But if we take a step back, and take a critical look at that big IF, we find that, in fact, there is good reason to believe we’ll never have that problem.

A true hypothesis, by definition, is one that is consistent with the truth. A false hypothesis, by definition, is not consistent with the truth. That’s what “true” and “false” mean. Two hypotheses that contradict one another are not going to both be true, because truth is consistent with itself. At most one of them is going to be consistent with the truth. Thus, the only way two hypotheses can contradict each other AND both be equally consistent with the facts is if they’re both false and are equally INconsistent with the facts. Hence my remarks about why we are equally UNjustified in believing either one.

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Posted in Loser's Compromise, Realism, Unapologetics. 11 Comments »

Why “Loser’s” Compromise?

[Update: I forgot to include the link back to Lifeguard’s original comment; fixed now.]

Well, I’m back, sort of, and from the looks of things you guys didn’t miss me too much. I don’t suppose I’ll ever catch up on the comments backlog, but I’m sure you will let me know if there are any important points I’ve missed in my quick skim.

Meanwhile, I did notice this interesting comment (stuck in the moderation queue) from a commenter by the handle of “Lifeguard.”

I guess what I’m struggling with here is what the exact difference is between the Loser’s Compromise and simply acknowledging the very real possibility that despite the certainty of your beliefs you may be mistaken about which conclusion is the most justified, the best of the bunch, to say nothing of absolutely proven to be true?

That’s an excellent question, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to explain this further.

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Posted in Comment Rescue, Loser's Compromise, Realism, Unapologetics. 27 Comments »

The Loser’s Compromise (cont.)

In my post on “Victoria and Holmes,” I wrote the following:

There’s a particular approach to the truth that I call the Loser’s Compromise, and it goes like this: “We can’t know the truth about X, so let’s just agree that different people are equally justified in believing whatever they like about it.” Considered superficially, it sounds open-minded and fair, because it appeals to a certain live-and-let-live quality that avoids putting anyone in the wrong. In reality, though, it’s a deceptive rationalization, and an excuse for avoiding the truth instead of embracing it.

The rest of the post explained this and gave some illustrations, but there’s just a point or two more that I’d like to add to try and clarify why this is indeed a Loser’s Compromise.

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Posted in Loser's Compromise, Realism. 95 Comments »

Inquiry versus rationalization

One advantage of comparing two hypotheses by measuring their consequences against real-world fact is that this approach allows us to make a clear, functional distinction between honest, unbiased inquiry and mere rationalization. The honest inquirer’s goal will be to zero in on the areas where the consequences are clearly and significantly different between the two hypotheses, maximizing the assurance with which we can draw conclusions about which hypothesis is more consistent with real-world truth. The rationalizer, by contrast, does not want the truth revealed, and so will have a contrary goal: to deprive us of the means of distinguishing the consequences of a true hypothesis from a false one, either by denying us access to the evidence or by obscuring the differences between the consequences each hypothesis would produce.

Commenter cl gives us a couple of scenarios, one hypothetical and one drawn from painful experience, that give us an excellent chance to exercise our reason, and gain some valuable experience of our own in understanding how to apply the techniques of valid hypothesizing to questions of real-world truth.

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Posted in Realism. 17 Comments »

Thursday Theology: Not “amen,” but “of course!”

In John 14:6, Jesus claimed to be The Truth. He lied, unfortunately. He was not the Truth, but was merely a Belief asserting the superiority of selfish perceptions over the harsh constraints of real life, and his legacy ever since has been one of confusion, self-contradiction, and self-righteousness.

What Jesus promised, however, Alethea fulfills. One of the great joys I experienced in converting from Christianity to Alethianism was the unexpectedly profound pleasure of discovering how exceedingly self-consistent She really is. Where before I had to work to create patterns of consistency in my beliefs, by harmonizing and rationalizing facts that resisted reconciliation, I now find that the puzzle pieces not slide together more easily, but that they are already assembled and interlocked, even before I became aware of them.

My experience as a Christian was “Amen” (i.e. “may it be so”), but my life as an Alethian is a continual and intellectually satisfying “of course!” The truth is consistent with itself in ways that not only fulfill my expectations, but anticipate them. And only Alethea can really offer this. Jesus cannot: he is dead and gone, and his followers are so divided that none of them can say confidently and authoritatively what his “truth” even is, since it is not based on observable reality. Only Alethea can rightly and truly claim to be the perfectly self-consistent and coherent Truth.

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Posted in Realism, Thursday Theology. 7 Comments »