Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Soulster and Morality

Yesterday, I left a comment for Soulster at Philaletheia, asking him about his thoughts on The Euthyphro Dilemma. Soulster posted a blog entry today, responding to me and sharing his thoughts on the matter.

My trust in Soulster's intellect is well founded. Soulster quickly grasped the dilemma, and even asked me to interject if I thought he was misinterpreting the issue. I don't think he was.

Having said that, I must note that I respectfully disagree with his conclusions. This itself isn't a surprise, since he is a Christian and I am an atheist. But what did surprise me was the kind of response he gave considering his Christian worldview. Although his response was surprising to me, this was not a bad thing. Indeed, it was refreshing, even if it was a bit relativistic:

So my answer to the question “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it's commanded by God?” is this:

1. Some of what is moral is moral because it is defined within a culture. That does not insure that such a thing would be moral to every person or to God. For example, some premodern tribes in Southeast Asia practice ritual rape and consider it moral because it is "demanded by the spirits." I would not consider it moral, along with many other people, and I do not think God would consider it moral.

2. Some of what is moral is moral because it is judged to be so by a person. I may not agree with the morality of my culture on an issue, but I generally agree there are morals and hold to some and agree to hold others in common with groups. A personal God would also make such judgments with regards to human behavior and his own behavior towards humans, but such judgments are meaningless outside of that context. (For example, can you do something immoral to a rock?) Where people disagree in this case, the solution is rhetorical and relational, but not absolute.

3. Some morality is commanded by God in his interaction with culture and individuals, just as certain morals are commanded by any authority in interaction with humans. For example, God did not originally command against nudity in Genesis. The prohibition of nudity was the invention of humans who had taken the responsibilty of judgment upon themsevles apart from God (human judgment outside divine relationship). However, much later in the Law God does make at least one rule concerning nudity and underpants for temple priests. Likewise, there are rules of modesty throughout the Bible. The conclusion that I see is that God is working with this moral because it matters to us and has real consequences, not because it is an absolute. To claim modesty is an absolute simply because God commanded it in interaction is neither necessary nor reasonable, just as God's interaction does not imply or require himi to be the originator of the more.


Soulster's first point (1) is refreshing in that he bases morality (or "some" morality) on humans rather than God. Soulster is the first Christian I've ever encountered that doesn't assign all moral foundations to "God says so," and in that regard, I am both surprised and encouraged. Soulster may not like to hear me say this, but I believe that founding morality on humans, or founding it on anything other than God, is an un-Christian thing to do.

But nevertheless, I disagree with Soulster when he says, "Some of what is moral is moral because it is defined within a culture." My moral framework is composed of universal principles that apply equally to everybody, and those principles are derived from axioms. Most importantly, the axiom of self-ownership. Rape is wrong because it violates another’s sovereignty, or their self-ownership and self-determination. No amount of popular opinion (like justifying rape in a cultural ritual) can make the violation of self-ownership moral or just. Like gravity, morality is what it is regardless of our ability or inability to understand or abide by it.

The second part (2) of Soulster's answer is similar to the first part, but this time instead of a culture defining morality, Soulster states that an individual may define morality. Again, I am refreshed and surprised by his answer, as it seems to me to be un-Christian and full of independent thought. Again, I appreciate Soulster’s independent and critical approach to the whole issue, even if I don't agree with him.

In the Second part of Soulster's answer, he says, "A personal God would also make such judgments with regards to human behavior and his own behavior towards humans, but such judgments are meaningless outside of that context. (For example, can you do something immoral to a rock?)" Now, I definitely agree with Soulster that moral judgments are meaningless outside of a proper context, and his question about the rock illustrates this point. Morality is not arbitrary nor is it relative, but it is definitely contextual. What that means is that it is only relevant when applied to conscious human agents. Well, a Christian would like to include God in that category too, but since I don't believe in God, I don't include him. However, I could grant the inclusion for the sake of argument.

But getting back to the rock and the context, could I do something immoral to a rock? No. But I could do something immoral to a person using the rock as a method. For example, let's say that Soulster owns a rock. If I take it from him, then I just did something immoral. Not to the rock, mind you, but to Soulster. I stole his property and violated his self-ownership. Stealing property is a violation of self-ownership because one's property is a result of their time and energy, so in a way I would be stealing a piece of Soulster, or more specifically, I would be stealing some of his time and energy.

The third part (3) of Soulster's answer falls into the arbitrary category. Can a non-human conscious agent (or even a human one) dictate moral rules to humanity? I don't think so. Just like gravity, morality is what it is, regardless of the decrees of any conscious agent. But if God invented morality, like he invented the universe, (assuming he exists), then morality truly would be defined by God. However, it would be arbitrary, just like gravity. In this case, we fall into the problem of the Cartoon Universe, a term that was coined by the esteemed Dawson Bethrick. See here and here for details on the Cartoon Universe.

There is only one way to have a morality that is not arbitrary, nor relative. There is only one way to have a morality that is firmly grounded. And that is to have morality based on facts of reality, not on decrees by conscious agents (omnipotent or otherwise). The axiom of self-ownership, of the sovereignty of the individual, is the only firm ground with which to base morality upon.

Indeed, we already do so, even if we don't always realize it. While a pre-modern Asian tribe may endorse cultural rape rituals due to their cultural traditions, if I were to simply waltz in to their territory and steal their food, they would surely recognize my action as immoral. And while a Christian, due to his or her doctrine, may think that it is good to punish an innocent man (Jesus Christ) for the wrongs of others, if I were to put an innocent 6 year old in death row for the crimes of a homicidal adult, surely no Christian would see that act as moral.

Sometimes, cultural traditions or beliefs will obscure the natural sense of right and wrong. This occurs when people give undue reverence for traditions, or cultural beliefs, by mere virtue (or pseudo-virtue) of "culture" and "tradition" itself. But when the fog of culture or tradition is cut away, the sovereignty of the individual is automatically recognized, even subconsciously so, and people will act with appropriate outrage when that sovereignty is violated, even if they don't understand that they are relying on the axiom of self-interest. A baby need not understand the axiom of self-ownership to know that it has been wronged when candy is snatched away from it's chubby little palm.

There is one more thing I would like to address before I post this blog entry, and that is the comment left at Philaletheia by Ben. Commenter Ben had this to say:

Calling something immoral is basically an appeal to a higher power: Someone with more authority than you and me doesn’t like what we’re doing.

If we can speak of morality at all, then what is moral is moral because it is commanded by God.

I don’t see any other basis for calling something immoral or not. Immoral to whose standards? If there’s no God, then I don’t see how anyone can set up any kind of standard and expect that it should have authority. This is part of the reason I’ve never understood atheist attempts to define a general morality apart from God: “Sez who?” (This is not to say atheists are immoral, simply that their morality, ultimately, is simply their personal preference, and is not binding or authoritative to anyone beyond the individual holding that morality.)

Perhaps some of the atheists can enlighten me on this.


Now Ben has it half-right when he says that calling something immoral is an appeal to a higher power. The problem is that Ben incorrectly identifies that higher power as God. To correctly appeal to morality, one must appeal to a firm foundation. Namely, an axiom, or a principle derived from it. So to appeal to the axiom of self-ownership would be the correct appeal "to a higher power," while appealing to God would be an appeal to a cosmic cartoonist, a completely arbitrary source.

Ben speaks of atheists as having no solid standard with which to base their morality on. Ben is incorrect, and this is due to his erroneous worldview. He believes that consciousness has primacy over existence, mostly because he believes that conscious entity created the universe, and therefore the universe is subject to said entity's slightest whim (think: Cartoon Universe). But even if there were a God who created everything from you, to me, to morality, and even gravity, it would still be an arbitrary "higher power." I don't know if it ever occurred to Ben that the only solid foundation that one can appeal to is the nature of existence itself? No conscious entity required! We don't need God to provide "intelligent falling," for we can demonstrate the natural property of matter, and it's accompanying property, gravity. Similarly, we don't need God to provide a moral framework, for we can attain a superior and firmer framework from the properties of entities themselves, namely their identity or self-ownership.

In all universal principles, the "higher power" or "higher authority" is a natural property, not a conscious entity making decrees. People often make this mistake by failing to recognize the primacy of existence over consciousness, and that the universe has a definite nature, not an arbitrary cartoon nature. Allow me provide some examples of an appeal to a true "higher authority":

Bodies of mass attract because of the natural law of gravity, not because of "intelligent falling" or of God's constant pushing of bodies of mass towards each other.

A prosperous economy is based on free trade where the invisible market hand of capitalism naturally sets prices and controls supply and demand, not by price and production quotas dictated by some president or minister of economy.

An action is moral or immoral through its adherence to the axiom of identity, or self-ownership. An action is not moral or immoral because of the decree of any conscious agent, or tradition, or cultural norm (traditions and cultural norms are invented by conscious agents anyway). I can act morally on my own values, but I cannot morally force another to act on my values. At best, I can ask them if they want to share my values, and let them choose whether or not to act within my (or rather, our) values.

One contention that I anticipate from the theist side runs along these lines, "God is eternal and never changes, so He is not arbitrary, and basing morality on Him is as solid as it gets." Well I have are two main responses to this nihilistic objection:

1. Whether or not God will change bears no relation to whether or not he can. Without getting too far into the Cartoon Universe argument (refer to the Dawson Bethrick links earlier in this post), the truth is that a conscious entity, by definition, makes decisions, and can potentially change his mind at will. To base a universal principle on a conscious entity is folly, for the conscious entity is always arbitrary by the very nature of a singular consciousness.

2. Occam's Razor would prefer the principles that are based on properties of the natural universe rather than the decrees of a conscious agent. This is because of the fact that basing a principle on a property of the natural universe guarantees a constant and universal nature. The law of gravity, for example, does not have the potential to "change its mind." The axiom of self-ownership does not have the potential to "change its mind." And even if we have a God who will not change his mind, and will, in effect, be as reliable of a foundation as a property of the natural universe, at best this God based morality will only equal the performance of the morality based on the natural universe. And when two possible answers are possible, both being equal in all other matters, the simpler one is the preferred choice. Cut out the middleman.

Natural law inherently provides a superior, non-arbitrary performance. The best that a conscious agent can do, even in the most unrealistically ideal scenario (like a consistent God), is merely to match the performance of a natural law based moral framework, but not best it. Plus, the necessarily arbitrary nature of conscious agents always leaves a hole open - a potential - to perform less consistently than the natural law does. Combine this with the fact that a God or conscious agent based moral system is unnecessarily complex (for the simpler natural law morality performs just as well or better with less components), and it becomes clear that the conscious agent based moral frameworks are all inferior choices.

Cultural norms, traditions, and even decrees from a God cannot hope to match the consistent and excellent performance of a moral framework based on natural axioms.

I hope that my response helps Ben understand my side of the argument. I would like to note however that not all atheists agree with my take on morality. Since atheism is itself a negation, it does not offer a morality of its own. But my moral framework is perfectly compatible with atheism, and materialism, etc. I would like to see it more recognized among atheistic circles, but just because you’re and atheist doesn't mean you will understand a self-ownership moral framework.

Getting back to Soulster, while he and I may disagree, I think we are both working together to discover the truth. Soulster's desire to question and critically examine even his own faith is admirable, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity to dialogue, and disagree, with him.

22 comments:

Ben said...

"I don't know if it ever occurred to Ben that the only solid foundation that one can appeal to is the nature of existence itself? "

This is called natural law theology and is and has been the cornerstone of Catholic moral theology for the last 1500 or so years, at least.

The idea is that the universe, created by God, has the moral law already written into it.

The problem with your moral system is that it's not a firm foundation at all, but only a very good but still very arbitraty selection by a subjective being (i.e. you).

Conciousness is prior to our existance--and you're right, the reason I belive this is because God exists prior to his creation.

By the way, the Cartoon Universe metaphor is itself a bad cartoon of theology. It's pretty far off the mark as far as what most theists believe about the way God works.

soulster said...

Interesting post, Aaron.

I also have tremendous respect for you fair-mindedness in our dialogue. We do, however, disagree perhaps on the nture of reality to some degree, namely that I am more relativistic, as you correctly pointed out, especially when it comes to humans.

One thing I should clarify is my usage of 'moral'. I am using it, most of the time, in the anthropological sense. Then it relates to 'mores' which are culturally defined rules. Based on this definition, we would differ on how universal morality could be. I would say it can only be universal as cultures are similar.

Have you considered that basing a moral system on self-ownership is cultural in itself? Someone might point out that Western Individualism holds the individual over the group, thus our social theory is based primarily on publics, but this is by no means universal. For example, I married into an Asian family. In most Asian cultures, the basic moral principle is what is good for the group (which is only a subset of a self-ownership structure). Recent scientific discoverys on how much humans are social animals might show that group benefit and not self-ownership is a deeper natural axiom.

Aaron Kinney said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for the response!

You said:

This is called natural law theology and is and has been the cornerstone of Catholic moral theology for the last 1500 or so years, at least.

Ummm, this is confusing to me. You see, I am currently pawing through the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the PJPII version), and its basically saying that morality is defined by God, as revealed in scripture and as transmitted through the living church.

Where can I find info on Catholicism basing morality on natural law?

And more importantly, since Catholicism states that God created the universe, then isnt this just a proxy foundation, and that the REAL catholic morality fondation is in Gods decree?

The idea is that the universe, created by God, has the moral law already written into it.

A cartoon universe, yes. This statement falls into the arbitrary trap.

The problem with your moral system is that it's not a firm foundation at all, but only a very good but still very arbitraty selection by a subjective being (i.e. you).

I didnt "select" it. Humans, at best, can only discover natural laws, not select or make them. Is gravity arbitrary just like my allegedly abritrary morality is?

Conciousness is prior to our existance--and you're right, the reason I belive this is because God exists prior to his creation.

God existed prior to existence, huh? Im sorry Ben, but I must respectfully state that you have it exactly backwards.

By the way, the Cartoon Universe metaphor is itself a bad cartoon of theology. It's pretty far off the mark as far as what most theists believe about the way God works.

Of course its off the mark as far as what most theists believe about the way God works. But that is irrelevant, because ones beliefs, or even the popularity of those beliefs, have no bearing on the actual facts.

And the fact is that if a conscious entity created all of existence, then the universe is nihilistic in nature and subject to the creators every whim. Do you deny this?

Aaron Kinney said...

I must say, it is rather unusual to insist that natural laws are arbitrary and that only by basing ones framework on a conscious acting agent can one avoid the arbitrary trap. Dont you think so Ben?

Aaron Kinney said...

Soulster,

Interesting post, Aaron.

Thanks! Ill take that as a compliment :)

I also have tremendous respect for you fair-mindedness in our dialogue. We do, however, disagree perhaps on the nture of reality to some degree, namely that I am more relativistic, as you correctly pointed out, especially when it comes to humans.

Totally. At least we can agree to disagree in a respectful fashion... its so rare nowadays with this whole theism vs. atheism war thats raging. Im trying to be as fair minded as possible with you, because you are so fair minded yourself. Im big on reciprocity :)

One thing I should clarify is my usage of 'moral'. I am using it, most of the time, in the anthropological sense. Then it relates to 'mores' which are culturally defined rules. Based on this definition, we would differ on how universal morality could be. I would say it can only be universal as cultures are similar.

Ahhhh, thank you for pointing that out. Ill have to keep that in mind, since usually when Im talking about morality its not in an anthropological sense.

Have you considered that basing a moral system on self-ownership is cultural in itself?

Ive considered it, but I eventually rejected it. Accepting a spherical earth, or the law of gravity, is not a culturally-relative thing to do in my opinion. Learning the rules of math, and discovering htat addition equals the sum of all sperate numbers, is not culturally relative in my opinion.

Someone might point out that Western Individualism holds the individual over the group, thus our social theory is based primarily on publics, but this is by no means universal.

I agree that culturally, it is not universally recognized. But a little over a year ago I learned that only individuals exist as acting, conscious agents. Let me put it this way: a group doesnt act, or get hurt, or think, or feel emotions. The Baptist Church doesnt feel pain, or want things, or have values, or make decisions and commit to actions. Rather, it is individuals cooperating on these desires, actions, and thoughts. But a collection of individuals is not a singular, conscious, acting entity. It is merely a collection of individual, singular, conscious, acting entities.

Bottom line is that groups are concepts and categories, nothing more. Morality can only be applied to acting agents, which are individuals.

Can one logically convict "Ford Motor Company" of a crime? Legally, yes, but logically, no. Maybe the CEO, or maybe many FoMoCo. representatives, but you cant put "Ford Motor Company" in jail. You cant put "Ford Motor Company" in handcuffs. It exists only legally, and even then only for convenience. It is, for the most part, just a categorical concept used to identify individuals who are cooperating on making cars and raking in dough.

For example, I married into an Asian family.

Hey, thats awesome! You may not believe this, but just last Saturday night I confessed to my Japanese girlfriend that I had fallen in love with her. :)

In most Asian cultures, the basic moral principle is what is good for the group (which is only a subset of a self-ownership structure). Recent scientific discoverys on how much humans are social animals might show that group benefit and not self-ownership is a deeper natural axiom.

Maybe, but I would likely contend those kinds of findings. Truly, what is good for a group can ONLY be good for it if it is good for all the individuals in that group. Ever hear the analogy of the bundle of sticks? Or the analogy of the chain?

A stick alone is weak, but bundled together, they are strong. And a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

So how do we give groups strentgh, legitimacy, and cohesiveness? By securing the FOUNDATION that those groups are comprised of, or based on. Namely, the individuals. You cant have a secure group if, to attain it, you sacrifice the security of the individuals.

So why is the American "group" of people so much stronger than the Chinese "group" of people? Because America did relatively more to secure the basic building blocks of the "group": the individuals.

Make each link in the chain strong. Links come first, the chain comes later. Individuals come first, or the group doesnt come at all.

cay said...

This is your strongest post ever, Aaron. People who argue for cultural relativism as proof that atheists can't have a true moral order have never considered why secular humanism works in terms of morality. Self-ownership does not mean selfishness. Of course we must work together to survive, but if we're not free from some arbitrary set of rules descended from humans 2000 years ago, we will still have slavery and other atrocities, won't we? If we think and judge for ourselves, won't it be an improvement on what's been going on up until now in terms of our moral sensibilities? We can only get better. Look at the past (and please leave political decisions in terms of war out of this)...

soulster said...

So why is the American "group" of people so much stronger than the Chinese "group" of people? Because America did relatively more to secure the basic building blocks of the "group": the individuals.

I'm not sure this helps your case. For one thing, some might accuse you of ethnocentrism (or if they are exagerators, racism). While you might get away with it in a nationalistic case, it would be easy for someone to say your making a comparison like " value ______ is why Anglos are stronger in America than Latinos and African-Americans." People will condemn your argument without consideration if they think you are saying something even remotely similar to this.

Second, the idea that America is "stronger" is no absolute, so it is not a good idea to use it as a proof for an absolute axiom. First, 'stronger' is interpretive, but rarely factual. Likewise, 'stronger' could be temporary, situational, or categorical. For example, suppose someone based a rule on the strength of the British Empire. Would that rule stand now that the Empire is in decline? What if some day China becomes "stronger" as far as global dominance, military, and economy as some political projections seem to indicate? Would that mean that your rule would give way?

It might also be hard to prove individualism is the source of American strenth. Many social theorists attribute our dominance to other causes -- some to the Protestant work ethic that is much more community-oriented then the American idea of individuals and publics.

Not that this causes you argument to colapse. It just gives your critics a foothold. I think it is stronger without it.

I think too, that it might be interesting for you to experiment with the terms 'community' and 'publics.' Some social theorist define a community as a group of people that consider the group the primary entity and see the self as the servant of group needs and social consciousness. It is required for the members to know each other intimately, share value and belief systems, etc. Publics, on the other hand, are aggregates that join forces to advance individual interests using group power and resources. It is not required for the members to know each other (though they might), association is usually voluntary, and values and beliefs are inconsequential unless they affect individual interests. You might say that most groups operate as publics in self-ownership. You might also go so far as to say you are skeptical of the reality of this definition of community.

paulkman said...

I really enjoyed this post. It really got me thinking, which is really what this is all about, isn't it?

My question for you is this: On what basis are you, a single conscious entity, choosing your basis for morality.

You stated quite clearly that if there is a god, then he, as a single conscious entity would be arbitrary by nature of his consciousness. You claim, however, that your choices are not arbitrary, despite the fact that you are in the same category as a god would be.

I'm quite happy with my arbitrary and culturally defined morality.

ryan maddox said...

Aaron, great post. This one especially interests me, because the last idea I dismissed before going atheist was that: morality doesn't exist with out God.

Paulkman, I can only speak for myself, but I think I answer your question with another.

Would you define mathematics, the scientific method, cosmological principles to be arbitrary?

Intergalactic Hussy said...

Morality comes from within the person. "God" isn't moral. Look at all the horrible things he lets get carried out in his name, all the terrible things he's just let go by. All the mass killings, etc. And god isn't even opposed to rape or slavery! I find god terribly immoral.

Great post, Aaron. Very insightful!

Agnosis said...

Aaron,
Thanks for an interseting article. Your interaction with Soulster and the civility of you both is something I greatly appreciate and strive for.

As ryan's experience and ben's approach demonstrate, morality is one of the great (if not last) pillars of God's existence. In addition to your distinction between conscious agent and existence, one between authority and absoluteness might be beneficial also. This may be similar to the Cartoon Universe analogy, and I apologize if so.

Even if God, as a conscious agent, were the "foundation" of morality, what we have is still only authority, and authority is subjective. It's a power game. If one wants to argue morality on natural law or absolutes, you still have existence as the basis. This position eventually boils down to Deism, not modern christian theism.

I wonder if a non-theistic morality could be built on a theory of valuation instead of self-ownership. I know this has been written about and discussed plenty before, so I apologize in advance for my naivete. Self-ownership seems to be material/object oriented, and some morals not be very material/bject oriented.

As an illustration, it's a pretty moral thing to help an old lady across the street and somewhat "immoral" to push her into a puddle of water instead. A theory of morality based on valuation might better explain the different moral conclusions, especially if the old lady didn't get hurt but just wet.

The axiom of this type of system might be the reality of humans as valuative beings. That is a pretty universal reality, even if it takes on various forms. What say you?

Agnosis

Aaron Kinney said...

Cay,

This is your strongest post ever, Aaron.

Wow, thank you!! That means a lot to me! :)

Aaron Kinney said...

Soulster,

I'm not sure this helps your case. For one thing, some might accuse you of ethnocentrism (or if they are exagerators, racism). While you might get away with it in a nationalistic case, it would be easy for someone to say your making a comparison like " value ______ is why Anglos are stronger in America than Latinos and African-Americans." People will condemn your argument without consideration if they think you are saying something even remotely similar to this.

Well some people may jump to conclusions like this regarding what I said, but I think I can explain it a bit better. I oversimplified, but my statement was a cultural/ideological one.

And note that I said Chinese, not "asian." South Korea and Japan and Hong Kong are relatively more individualistic than China, and look at how much better their average citizen is prospering. This ties in to capitalism, which is individualistic in nature.

Second, the idea that America is "stronger" is no absolute, so it is not a good idea to use it as a proof for an absolute axiom. First, 'stronger' is interpretive, but rarely factual. Likewise, 'stronger' could be temporary, situational, or categorical. For example, suppose someone based a rule on the strength of the British Empire. Would that rule stand now that the Empire is in decline? What if some day China becomes "stronger" as far as global dominance, military, and economy as some political projections seem to indicate? Would that mean that your rule would give way?

I totally agree here. Again, I was oversimplifying. "Stronger" was meant in terms of average citizen prosperity and social security. One day, China could eclipse the US in this regard. But what could cause it to do so? Individualism and capitalism. Indeed, those are the two things that are making China climb up the economic and social status ladder right now.

All in all, your brought up good points Soulster in that comment and I mostly agree with you there.

Aaron Kinney said...

Paulkman,

I really enjoyed this post. It really got me thinking, which is really what this is all about, isn't it?

Yes, it is. Helping people think is a frequent pleasure of mine :)

My question for you is this: On what basis are you, a single conscious entity, choosing your basis for morality.

The fact that I AM a singular conscious entity, and that I own myself, just like all other singular conscious entities own themselves. This of course means that I dont own anybody else, and nobody else owns me.

In a nutshell, acting in accordance with the universal principle of self-ownership = moral, while violating it = immoral.

In actuality, I am not "choosing" my morality, but merely recognizing it. We dont "choose" for gravity to affect us, we recognize that it does.

You stated quite clearly that if there is a god, then he, as a single conscious entity would be arbitrary by nature of his consciousness.

Yup! Because he would be defining morality according to whatever whim he had.

You claim, however, that your choices are not arbitrary, despite the fact that you are in the same category as a god would be.

But I am not the creator of existence, of the universe, nor of logic. Similarly, I did not create the principles of morality, but merely recognized them in the same way that I recognize any property of the universe or rule of logic.

I'm quite happy with my arbitrary and culturally defined morality.

Your morality is not truly arbitrarily or culturally defined, although you may perceive it to be so, and act as if it is so. Paulkman, you cannot avoid the fact that you are a singular conscious self-owning sovereign entity. Any attempts by you to violate this truth through a culturally defined morality will fail; it will lead to harm.

What IS arbitrary and culturally defined, are values. Everybody has different values. You might like chocolate ice cream, and I might like strawberry. Those are values. But it is immoral for me to force you to eat strawberry ice cream just like its immoral for you to force me to eat chocolate ice cream, because it would be a violation of self-ownership. The violation of self-ownership occurs when one tries to force their values onto another.

Now lets look at a culturally defined "moral" decree. Christians mostly believe that homosexuality is immoral. Well, they are wrong. They dont get to "choose" what is moral or immoral. Homosexuality is not immoral, period. Why? Because it does not inherently bring with it the violation of self-ownership. Rape, however, IS immoral, and no culturally defined legitimization of rape is valid. Why? Because it is the violation of self-ownership.

Culturally and arbitrarily defined moral rules are by their nature incorrect. They are lies. They are someone else tryingto FORCE their values onto others. What if I were to declare chocolate ice cream "immoral" and outlaw it? That would, in itself, be immoral, but eating chocolate ice cream would never be immoral, no matter how many decrees were passed declaring it to be so. The only thing that could ever be immoral is the forcing of ones values onto another. Forcing people to accept anothers values (ice cream flavors, gay sex, straight sex, etc...) is immoral.

And those are the facts, jack :)

I hope that helps explain it for you. Got questions? I got answers!

Aaron Kinney said...

Agnosis,

Thanks for an interseting article. Your interaction with Soulster and the civility of you both is something I greatly appreciate and strive for.

Thanks! I couldnt do it without Soulster. Hes a very nice guy :)

As ryan's experience and ben's approach demonstrate, morality is one of the great (if not last) pillars of God's existence.

True. I think that it needs more attention from the atheist camp in order to further the hemmorhage of faith taking place in the West.

In addition to your distinction between conscious agent and existence, one between authority and absoluteness might be beneficial also. This may be similar to the Cartoon Universe analogy, and I apologize if so.

Even if God, as a conscious agent, were the "foundation" of morality, what we have is still only authority, and authority is subjective. It's a power game. If one wants to argue morality on natural law or absolutes, you still have existence as the basis. This position eventually boils down to Deism, not modern christian theism.


I likes!

I wonder if a non-theistic morality could be built on a theory of valuation instead of self-ownership. I know this has been written about and discussed plenty before, so I apologize in advance for my naivete. Self-ownership seems to be material/object oriented, and some morals not be very material/bject oriented.

As an illustration, it's a pretty moral thing to help an old lady across the street and somewhat "immoral" to push her into a puddle of water instead. A theory of morality based on valuation might better explain the different moral conclusions, especially if the old lady didn't get hurt but just wet.

The axiom of this type of system might be the reality of humans as valuative beings. That is a pretty universal reality, even if it takes on various forms. What say you?


Im not sure if a valuation theory of morality could be developed that would actually function properly in society. If values trump all, then murder becomes okay, as long as I value it, right?

Morality is about what is or is not a good action. Actions are committed by agents. We are agents. Agents commit actions based on their values. So it seems to me that having a value based moral framework, instead of an agent based moral framework, would be like putting the cart before the horse or something?

I mean, values dont act. They dont cause things. Agents act. So agents, not values, are responsible for the morality of their actions. Values have no actions of their own to be responsible for!

I guess I would need to see more fleshing out of a value based moral framework to give a better analysis of it, but at the moment it seems to me that logically we need to have a moral framework based on the natural, material properties of acting agents. They are individuals with specific identities and they are self-owning.

Agnosis said...

Aaron,
Thank you for your reply. Your answer to Paulkman was also very instructive.

AK: I guess I would need to see more fleshing out of a value based moral framework to give a better analysis of it

I'll try to do this for you. At the moment it is still very amorphous and experimental in my own mind. Ethics and moral philosophy are extremely important to me currently as a recent deconvert.

Before I do any fleshing out, could you answer one question? Why is the violation of self-ownership "immoral?" It seems to me primacy of sefl-ownership is a valuative concept. I'm curious what are the materialistic axioms or foundations of such a conclusion. I'm assuming the universality of self-ownership has some objective qualifications. I may be thinking upside down on this, not sure.

AK: I mean, values dont act. They dont cause things. Agents act. So agents, not values, are responsible for the morality of their actions. Values have no actions of their own to be responsible for!

I mostly agree with you regarding this. My intended point was that I wasn't sure if self-ownership could satisfactorily explain all actions which are considered im/moral. But even though it is agents who act, it may be that they act primarily as valuative beings. So in some sense, values act through agents. I don't claim any universality to any values (yet), only to valuation itself. This would probably be the natural axiom of a value based morality.

Once again, thank you for the clarifications.

soulster said...

Aaron,

You clarifications make your argument better. I'm thinking a bit about captialism and individualism, and whether they do produce a stronger society. I'm not very fond of them right now myself, but others keep telling me they are the best thing going out there. Hmmm....

I'm also wondering how you can build a entire ethical structure on self-ownership. I'll think more about it. You construct is welcome as well.

I'm also wondering how self-ownership evolves socio-culturally (is it really natural). It seems that self-ownership is a late-comer on the cultural scene. All systems pre-modern and some modern seemed to think the person was owned by someone else (god, king, community, etc).

Anonymous said...

All "morality" is bullshit. Every moral axiom must either be derived from other moral axioms, or just be arbitrarily made up. Just because we intuitively consider certain morals as self evident, such as autonomy this does not mean that they really are true, just that we have an urge to consider them such. We also have other urges such as sexual lust, which are not considered the foundations for morality. Why give preference to morals such as autonomy, or the golden rule? Being internally consistent does not make any moral system more valid either. Also, utilitarian arguments do not work, for actions to benefit the greater good, greater good must be defined. Good must also be based upon objective claims, which are also impossible to come by. Having a moral system is fine, but it must be realized that it is illogical, since it is based upon unproven claims. Nihilism is the natural extension of atheism!

say no to christ said...

I love that you just get it, Aaron. And congrads on the love confession, that is so sweet.

Anonymous said...

I wish everyone would just shut up about morals. There are none. They're just a matter of taste, like opinions. You can't make an ultimate decision about whether Taylor Hicks is or is not better than Katharine McPhee* just as you can't make an ultimate decision about whether masturbation is wrong or not**.
Anyone who thinks that there are moral absolutes should see Woody Allens' Crimes and Misdemeanors.
SPOILER ALERT- DON'T READ THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH IF YOU PLAN TO SEE CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS!!
One of the plots involves a man who kills a woman. The man than faces a question, if a man (or a woman) kills somebody, doesn't get caught and doesn't choose to be bothered by the "morals" of it is it bad that he murdered somebody?
The movie answers this question with a "No."*** This really isn't too shocking since Woody Allens' an Atheist (like me).
Here's my version of "morality":
1) The ultimate goal of every human being is happiness. In other words, be happy, no matter what. Try to find the good in all situations and be grateful for what you have. Happiness is the mother of success.
2) Humans are selfish, you can't escape it. Even seemingly selfless acts are selfish.
3) Humans can be kind without a god. This is because kindness will attract more friends.
4) Be yourself. If you are you are more likely to attract people who are like you. Besides that being yourself is much more freeing than being a fake.
5) If you're going to commit a crime be sure that you'll be able to deal with the negative consequences that may come if you're caught.
As you can see my version of "morality" is based on what ultimatly benefits the self, in other words selfishness. I think all morality should be based on that. I got this idea from Anton Szandor Lavey's archetypal "Satanism". I think all atheists should read up on archetypal Satanism. You don't have to become one but it certaintly is interesting and a good luck at morals.

*I think Taylor Hicks is better.
**I don't think masturbation is wrong. Humans have needs, it doesn't hurt anybody if you masturbate.
***I agree.

Sorry for the long post.

-Loi P

runk said...

If God was only one being his morality might be arbitrary and his intent on creating other conscious beings would be in question too. But since God is 3 infinite persons, his morality is not arbitrary. 3 eternal, infinite persons. Your right, morality does come from the objective interactions between persons. If any one of the persons of God was in disagreement or selfish or what not, then he would not longer be one unified entity. But God is the metaphysical necessity.

Aaron Kinney said...

Runk,

You miss the point. Arbitraryness of morality is about a conscious rule giver dictating the rules. Trinitarianism does nothing to solve this dillema.

Whether its 1 person, 3 persons, or 5 billion, it matters not. Whether they are eternal or temporal also matters not.

Try reading this.