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Posted by on Jul 4, 2014 in Atheism, Featured, Secularism | 18 comments

Secularism breeds equality

In debating whether religion is a cause of or an excuse for violence, moral wrongdoing and problems in the world (in a discussion on facebook), it is worth noting that:

Secularism breeds equality, because, philosophically speaking, it is hard to establish an objective fact that one group has more value than another.

Even if religion is an excuse and not a cause, it is good to rid the world of bad excuses so we can clearly work on the causes.

Short, but sweet.

 

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  • Luke Breuer

    I wouldn’t be so quick. One way to ensure equality is to go out into the field of wheat and cut off all the shoots that are above average. I hear that is what Socrates did and part of what got him executed—I can find the source if you’d like. One could also look at the Cultural Revolution. So the mere fact that equality is obtained says absolutely nothing about whether the method is a good one.

    I also suggest UCSD law prof Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, which I found via NYT op ed Are There Secular Reasons? After all, if isought, then there are no secular reasons. There is no guaranteed Rawlsian overlapping consensus. Smith does a wonderful job destroying the so-called “harm principle”—when one attempts to make law from it, it turns out that one gets rights and a very odd definition of ‘harm’ that militates against one’s intuitions.

    What really is happening here is the destruction of distinction. Why? Because it is feared that distinction will breed “better-than”. So, instead of having sharp knives but using them responsibly, what is being suggested is that we just do away with all sharp knives. Cut off all the stalks of wheat which reach too high. Yeah, this will be great for society.

    • Andy_Schueler

      I also suggest UCSD law prof Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, which I found via NYT op ed Are There Secular Reasons?

      This seems to be based on nothing but circular reasoning – “meaning, purpose etc.pp. must be religious because they must be religious”.

      After all, if is ⇏ ought, then there are no secular reasons.

      I think you are misunderstanding the is-ought problem. Can you briefly explain what you think the is-ought problem is in your own words and give one specific example for an “ought” claim that is not grounded in any “is” claims?

      What really is happening here is the destruction of distinction. Why? Because it is feared that distinction will breed “better-than”. So, instead of having sharp knives but using them responsibly, what is being suggested is that we just do away with all sharp knives.

      ?????? So secularism fears “better than” as the result of “distinction” and therefore, secularists want to “do away with sharp knives”? What does that mean?

      • Luke Breuer

        This seems to be based on nothing but circular reasoning – “meaning, purpose etc.pp. must be religious because they must be religious”.

        Please explain how you reasoned to this conclusion. I don’t know what you mean by “religious”. If you’re going to continue using the word, please define it in your own words.

        I think you are misunderstanding the is-ought problem. Can you briefly explain what you think the is-ought problem is in your own words and give one specific example for an “ought” claim that is not grounded in any “is” claims?

        What people see themselves as supposed to be doing in life is a computation that includes internal, private state, not coming from any other human, nor coming from any empirical observation of reality outside of one’s thought-life. No amount of empirical observation (what I sometimes call ‘is-evidence’) will change that “internal, private state”. As Alfred Pennyworth said to Bruce Wayne, “Some men, just want to watch the world burn.”

        “You ought to value and promote life” is an example of an ought-claim that cannot be derivable from any is-claim. For example, Andy, the way you interact with my ideas is well-modeled by me as you attempting to kill them, to prove them wrong at all costs.That is the effect of your chosen means of interaction. Nothing I can do will necessarily cause you to change this behavior—indeed, you may self-justify and say that because you do not mean to have this effect, it is I who am wrong for it seeming that way.

        I have attempted to give you ways I think are better at fostering life in ideas (and thus more likely to discover more true things); you have demurred. What I perceive as the effect of your discussions with me is to attempt to coerce me into accepting the same unarticulated background. If you accepted the maxim “You ought to value and promote life”, you would be open to when your actions are falling short of that standard. But there is actually no fact I can present you which will automatically get you to change how you behave on this matter.

        So secularism fears “better than” as the result of “distinction” and therefore, secularists want to “do away with sharp knives”? What does that mean?

        Religion is dangerous. It can lead to people going on jihad, thinking their ideas are better than the other guy’s. So let’s destroy religion to make sure that doesn’t happen.

        • Andy_Schueler

          Please explain how you reasoned to this conclusion.

          We already argued about this very article, but I´m too lazy to go through my DISQUS history to find it.

          “You ought to value and promote life” is an example of an ought-claim that cannot be derivable from any is-claim.

          So what makes it true then? Note that referring to anything like platonic forms, ideal observers, divine will or divine commands etc.pp. would all be is-claims, so I am really very curious how you attempt to ground that claim.

          For example, Andy, the way you interact with my ideas is well-modeled by me as you attempting to kill them, to prove them wrong at all costs.

          And that would be a terrible model of what I do. “At all costs” implies that I would sacrifice something in order to cast doubt on one of your ideas, for example accept that some ideas that I “like” go down as well as “collateral damage” or some other “cost” like that, yet I never do that.
          You are simply incredibly thin-skinned. Your ideas re moral entropy for example are outrageously offensive and dehumanizing – yet I evaluated them completely soberly and never once personally insulted you for coming up with this idea, you however are so offended from nothing but having your ideas criticized that it´s really not funny anymore.
          Seriously, you happily advance an idea that entails that non-christians are less moral than christians on average and that this disparity can only become more pronounced over time because moral views can only become more and more “disordered” without a source of “moral energy” like Jesus, and YOU are offended when someone evaluates this idea and finds it to be flawed, without personally insulting you in any way? Think about that.

          Religion is dangerous. It can lead to people going on jihad, thinking their ideas are better than the other guy’s. So let’s destroy religion to make sure that doesn’t happen.

          You are not talking about secularism, you are talking about cultural relativism, and atheists / secularists tend to be strongly opposed to cultural relativism.

          • Luke Breuer

            So what makes it true then?

            I will first respond obliquely: one can pick between a culture which truly accepts “You ought to value and promote [all] life”, and a culture which only accepts “You ought to value and promote [some] life”. I’m not sure one culture is “more true” than the other; the only difference I can point to is that perhaps one culture will survive while the other will die. It would be as if one conception was unstable, kind of like a radioactive atom: existing for a time, but completely gone after.

            The truth-value comes not just from “You ought to value and promote [all] life”, but also from a prediction that this will be ‘good’, which generally seems to include a component of it lasting. It’s really the predict-test loop which seems to offer anything close to truth-values. An example prediction is that something, when realized, will be precisely as ‘good’ as you think it will be. Affective forecasting is one way of exploring failures in prediction.

            And that would be a terrible model of what I do.

            Not from my perspective. Very rarely do you come across as wanting to see if my ideas can make sense. This creates an environment of people not wanting to present raw ideas to you. This is what Saul Bellow stated in his preface to The Closing of the American Mind:

            A piece of writing is an offering. You bring it to the altar and hope it will be accepted. you pray at least that rejection will not throw you into a rage and turn you into a Cain. (15)

            Your attitude toward ideas is really “false until proven true”. That’s how you come across, to me. If you want to gather more data, ask how other theists perceive your interactions with them. Maybe I’m an outlier. But what you’re doing, right now, is saying that my perception of what you model yourself as doing is wrong. This says that your view of reality is more accurate than mine, in the emotional/teleological realm. It’s very interesting that you’re appealing to truth-value, there.

            You are simply incredibly thin-skinned.

            Really? Or is it the case that few people advance ideas as undeveloped as my “moral entropy”? It is my experience in life that people are extremely reticent to advance “raw” ideas, for the very reason that they frequently get trampled. This is not just my observation; a Caltech professor has made the same observation, and specializes in interacting well with very “raw” ideas. One result of this is that he can investigate the hypothesis-formation phase of science much better than people who jump to critiquing, like you do.

            Your ideas re moral entropy for example are outrageously offensive and dehumanizing

            I have no idea how this is the case; from your perspective, I’m appealing to a non-existant infinite standard when all I have is the same finite standard that you do. Is it offensive to posit a “much better-than”?

            Seriously, you happily advance an idea that entails that non-christians are less moral than christians on average

            I have no recollection of ever advancing such an idea. Please precisely draw out the entailment. To push back, Jesus praises the man who admits he is in need of God, the man who admits his terribleness, not the Pharisee who is assured of his righteousness. My only claim is that becoming morally better requires connecting to a source which can and will aid that ‘becoming’. This results in absolutely zero comparison of moral attainment between individuals.

            and that this disparity can only become more pronounced over time because moral views can only become more and more “disordered” without a source of “moral energy” like Jesus

            And yet, all you have to claim is that I have no ontic Jesus-source. You can ask for evidence, and point to the lack thereof as evidence that Jesus doesn’t exist in a way that matters.

            You are not talking about secularism, you are talking about cultural relativism, and atheists / secularists tend to be strongly opposed to cultural relativism.

            No, I’m actually not, but given your unwillingness to spell out your criticisms or find previous Disqus conversations of them, I think it’s best to let this tangent die.

          • Andy_Schueler

            The truth-value comes not just from “You ought to value and promote [all] life”, but also from a prediction that this will be ‘good’, which generally seems to include a component of it lasting. It’s really the predict-test loop which seems to offer anything close to truth-values.

            Then you are grounding the truth of moral propositions / ought-claims in is-claims, based on a consequentialist framework to be precise.

            Your attitude toward ideas is really “false until proven true”. That’s how you come across, to me.

            Funny, “false until proven true” is what you thought of my “christianity being a human invention is the model that makes most sense of christian history” idea, how dare you? Being skeptical is EVIL!

            My only claim is that becoming morally better requires connecting to a source which can and will aid that ‘becoming’.

            That is wrong. Beyond that, you advanced the claims that a) Jesus is that source, that b) “moral disorder” behaves like phyiscal entropy in that “decays” in a closed system which means that c) people “without Jesus” can only become more and more morally “disordered” while christians can become more morally “ordered”.

            And yet, all you have to claim is that I have no ontic Jesus-source.

            False, I explained in great detail and several times how your idea is on some levels completely illogical and on others just mere assertions, you ignored it completely and instead resort to ad hominem attacks (specifically, you use your claims of me being a dick who is just out to kill your ideas as an excuse to ignore all substantial criticism of your ideas).

          • Luke Breuer

            Then you are grounding the truth of moral propositions / ought-claims in is-claims, based on a consequentialist framework to be precise.

            Is that necessarily consequentialism? Does merely the introduction of the claim that ought-claims can be tested against reality make one irrevocably consequentialist? I never said nor implied “successful prediction” ⇒ “good morality”. Nowhere do I recall saying or implying that “normative properties depend only on consequences”, per SEP: Consequentialism.

            Funny, “false until proven true” is what you thought of my “christianity being a human invention is the model that makes most sense of christian history” idea, how dare you? Being skeptical is EVIL!

            Where was this? Perhaps I was wrong to approach your idea as I did. I recall a snippet from TNG The Drumhead, where Picard is forced to reconsider whether he ought take action to curtail crewmember movements solely based on counselor Troi’s Betazoid feelings: he decides that this is wrong. Jesus got this one right: problems can seem much worse when others do them than when you do them yourself. Maybe I was wrong to treat you how you are treating me. If so, I will apologize and ask forgiveness.

            That is wrong.

            Ok, then from whence comes the better and better moral conceptions, given that isought? Do we just magically intuit better and better moral conceptions, from randomness? Or is there no absolute moral standard, such that “better” is merely 100% subjectively defined, with no convergence as t → ∞?

            False, I explained in great detail and several times how your idea is on some levels completely illogical

            The response of “False” does not make sense; I gave you an easier route to argue, one which you already agree with. Yes, you can argue multiple routes; I gave you one in addition to what you’ve already stated. If Jesus does not exist, then nobody has advantage over anyone else in the “moral source” realm, regardless of whether it makes sense.

            (specifically, you use your claims of me being a dick who is just out to kill your ideas as an excuse to ignore all substantial criticism of your ideas)

            Give me a better model: tell me one substantial thing that you’ve learned from me. Prove that you’re in this for more than just demonstrating that another theist is wrong and full of shit. If you haven’t learned anything substantial from me in all our time discussing, then I can provide no respectable motive for you to keep going—can you?

            EDIT: actually, it´s even worse than that – you are completely misrepresenting my case against your “moral entropy” idea, I had plenty of arguments against your idea, but “you have no evidence for Jesus being real” was not even among those.

            Where did I claim it “was… even among those”? There is some sort of misrepresenting, but I think it goes the other direction. I was giving you a simple, straightforward way to make my argument not-insulting. I never said you made this argument.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Is that necessarily consequentialism? Does merely the introduction of the claim that ought-claims can be tested against reality make one irrevocably consequentialist? I never said nor implied “successful prediction” ⇒ “good morality”.

            This is what you said:
            “The truth-value comes not just from “You ought to value and promote [all] life”, but also from a prediction that this will be ‘good’, which generally seems to include a component of it lasting. It’s really the predict-test loop which seems to offer anything close to truth-values.”
            => You assert that there are truth-values for moral propositions (or at least something “close to” truth values for moral propositions) and you specifically say that this is connected to how those propositions translate into a future change of “the good”. This is consequentialism through and through.

            Where was this? Perhaps I was wrong to approach your idea as I did.

            No, what you did is ask me for arguments and evidence in support of my claims instead of just accepting my claims without any such evidential basis. I do not consider that to be wrong at all, you however seem to.

            Ok, then from whence comes the better and better moral conceptions, given that is ⇏ ought? [1] Do we just magically intuit better and better moral conceptions, from randomness?[2] Or is there no absolute moral standard, such that “better” is merely 100% subjectively defined, with no convergence as t → ∞?[3]

            1. Mere assertion, you have not established that the claim that “what oughts to be cannot be grounded in what is” is most likely false, you have not even established that it is likely to be false. And to make it worse, you cannot even hypothetically tell me any ought claim that is NOT grounded in what is, not even hypothetically (feel free to prove me wrong)

            2. “magically,… from randomness”, srsly? This is question is so loaded that it makes no sense to address it..

            3. False dichotomy. You yourself are talking about one moral position that is not covered by this dichotomy – consequentialism, which per se does not rely on any “absolute moral standards” and is also not subjective, true moral propositions amount to objectively true mind-independent facts under consequentialism.

            The response of “False” does not make sense; I gave you an easier route to argue, one which you already agree with. Yes, you can argue multiple routes; I gave you one in addition to what you’ve already stated. If Jesus does not exist, then nobody has advantage over anyone else in the “moral source” realm, regardless of whether it makes sense.

            And if Jesus does exist, which you propose, then christians and only christians can advance morally while non-christians become less and less moral over time, and inevitably so, assuming that your claims re moral entropy are sound.

            Give me a better model: tell me one substantial thing that you’ve learned from me. Prove that you’re in this for more than just demonstrating that another theist is wrong and full of shit.

            Example: one of my favorite arguments against christianity is the “christianese relationship” thingy – and you are the only one so far who tried to argue against it, which in turn forced me to think about how to express what I mean in a clearer fashion and anticipate objections like those that you came up with etc.

          • Luke Breuer

            This is consequentialism through and through.

            Tell me how to test the validity of any other meta-ethical system, outside of making predictions and verifying/falsifying them. Take virtue ethics, for example. I am told that acting some way is what a virtuous person would do. I seem to have three options:

                 (1) take the claim on authority
                 (2) test the claim entirely in my own mind
                 (3) test the claim against reality

            Are you saying that under everything but consequentialism is denied (3)?

            No, what you did is ask me for arguments and evidence in support of my claims instead of just accepting my claims without any such evidential basis. I do not consider that to be wrong at all, you however seem to.

            Do you not realize that there are different ways to talk about claims that have yet to be supported by the evidence? One way is to just continually disbelieve and be skeptical, and force your interlocutor to advance evidence at every stage, refusing to participate except as a skeptic. This, I call the “kill the idea” method. It expresses a refusal to try and make the idea work. Another way is to try and figure out what it would take to make the idea ‘live’. This means taking your interlocutor’s idea and subjecting it to the minimal modifications required in order to make it work in your own mind. You can then explain this, and request comment. This is the “grow the idea” method.

            I’m at a loss as to describe the different ways of treating nascent ideas in a better way. I could ask the professor who elucidated this. When he did, it immediately clicked with me, why I much prefer talking about nascent ideas with some people more than others. It really does seem like some people feed off of proving ideas wrong. They appear to extract a joy from it. It is very similar to the erotic release that Dexter got whenever he killed a person. The TV show Criminal Minds portrayed some serial killers as experiencing a release upon every person murdered.

            In contrast to “kill the idea”, “grow the idea” takes serious effort. You have to really try and get inside the mind of the other person, not just to empathize, but to understand, well enough that you can simulate him/her with fidelity that he/she can affirm. This requires a mutual creativity that seems, sadly, extremely rare, these days. Too easily people slip into one of the following modes:

                 (A) echo chamber
                 (B) it must be wrong if I didn’t think of it

            I’m sure I do these as well, although fortunately I’m more immune to (A) than most people. This is why I post so much on atheist-predominated sites, and when I post on theist-predominated sites, I rarely get upvotes. I have no interest in merely stating things with which lots of other people already agree. When it comes to (B), I’ll bet I’m a lot more susceptible to doing it. After all, one learns to imitate the people with whom one spends much time.

            1. Mere assertion, you have not established that the claim that “what oughts to be cannot be grounded in what is” is most likely false, you have not even established that it is likely to be false. And to make it worse, you cannot even hypothetically tell me any ought claim that is NOT grounded in what is, not even hypothetically (feel free to prove me wrong)

            I’m confused; I am arguing under the assumption that isought; do you disagree with that?

            2. “magically,… from randomness”, srsly? This is question is so loaded that it makes no sense to address it..

            Then rephrase it: “Do we just somehow intuit better and better moral conceptions?”

            3. False dichotomy. You yourself are talking about one moral position that is not covered by this dichotomy – consequentialism, which per se does not rely on any “absolute moral standards” and is also not subjective, true moral propositions amount to objectively true mind-independent facts under consequentialism.

            Does consequentialism allow for the possibility of successive approximation ad infinitum, as science appears to allow for? I’m still not convinced that what I’ve presented can be well-labeled by “consequentialism”, but I’m still interested in your answer to this question.

            And if Jesus does exist, which you propose, then christians and only christians can advance morally while non-christians become less and less moral over time, and inevitably so, assuming that your claims re moral entropy are sound.

            What’s your point? You can simply say that you see no such moral advancement. At least, that’s what I’d say. I’d present the Gandhi objection.

            Example: one of my favorite arguments against christianity is the “christianese relationship” thingy – and you are the only one so far who tried to argue against it, which in turn forced me to think about how to express what I mean in a clearer fashion and anticipate objections like those that you came up with etc.

            So basically, I was wrong, but wrong in a more interesting way than anyone else. Has anything you’ve learned from me been both (a) substantial; (b) not just of this form?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Tell me how to test the validity of any other meta-ethical system, outside of making predictions and verifying/falsifying them.

            Assuming thomistic morality, you would test moral propositions completely by a priori reasoning, you don´t need to know anything about the consequences that actions will produce to know whether they would be morally right or not. Assuming divine command theory, you again wouldn´t need to know anything about the consequences that certain actions will produce, because moral propositions derive their truth value from divine commandments – so your “tests” would rather be based on ways to better understand what these “divine commandments” are, things like prayer, meditation, bible study etc.pp.

            Take virtue ethics, for example. I am told that acting some way is what a virtuous person would do. I seem to have three options:

            (1) take the claim on authority
            (2) test the claim entirely in my own mind
            (3) test the claim against reality

            Are you saying that under everything but consequentialism is denied (3)?

            In some sense, yes, you assume the validity of consequentialism when you do 3) and that would cause many moral frameworks to logically implode (assuming that you actually think it through and strive for consistency, which you obviously do not have to and which many people don´t).
            It is remarkably hard to never engage in any consequentialist thinking (Edward Feser tries his best and he comes close to achieving it afaict), most people do it at least some times but for many of those people, it contradicts some of their other beliefs about what morality is and how moral truth can be known.

            I’m confused; I am arguing under the assumption that is ⇏ ought; do you disagree with that?

            In the trivial sense, is ⇏ ought is of course true – naively translating any random is claim into an ought claim makes no sense, just because apples tend to fall down (is) doesn´t mean that we ought to push people from high buildings (ought). More specifically however, I certainly do believe that a true ought claim must be based in what is – and I am positively certain that every moral cognitivist has to agree with this. If you disagree, give me an example for true ought claim that is not grounded in what is (even a hypothetical ought claim with a hypothetical grounding would be fine).

            Then rephrase it: “Do we just somehow intuit better and better moral conceptions?”

            You have thousands of years of human history as potential examples, just pick out some specific examples of moral progress – be it the civil rights movement and its impact on society or the transition from retributive to restorative justice or whatever, and try to identify what made these transitions work.

            Does consequentialism allow for the possibility of successive approximation ad infinitum, as science appears to allow for? I’m still not convinced that what I’ve presented can be well-labeled by “consequentialism”, but I’m still interested in your answer to this question.

            The münchhausen trilemma applies to moral propositions under any consequentialist view just as it does apply to science. Meaning that even if there would be “absolutely true” moral claims, you could never know whether any claim is “absolutely true” with absolute cerrtainty.

            What’s your point? You can simply say that you see no such moral advancement.

            No, because you coupled this with the idea that morality can be by modelled by something analogous to physical entropy and baselessly asserted that morality thus inevitably becomes more and more disordered.

          • Luke Breuer

            Assuming thomistic morality, you would test moral propositions completely by a priori reasoning,

            Do you really believe that Thomist folks make absolutely no reference to contingent reality in their reasoning? It strikes me that if this is the case, that they cannot understand why God would issue divorce certificates via Moses, than claim that this was never meant to be how things were to be. It strikes me that this description of Thomist morality prohibits theological accommodation/condescension. I have a hard time believing that a Thomist would happily go forward with a morality that resulted in massive suffering, and not care. And if such a Thomist were to be found, I would suppose something very wrong, very un-Christlike in him/her. After all, Jesus said “By their fruit you will recognize them.”

            Assuming divine command theory, you again wouldn´t need to know anything about the consequences that certain actions will produce,

            It’s very interesting that you say this, given Deut 4:1, Deut 6:20–25, and Ezek 18, all of which seem to connect following YHWH’s commands with life. That is, the consequences are very blatantly given. Deut 6:20–25 is how the Israelites were supposed to explain YHWH’s commands to their children—it’s basic teaching. It may be worthwhile to read IEP’s Divine Command Theory; the term is actually wider than most people realize.

            I will note that the verses above depend on conceptions of “for our good always” and “so that you may live”. If we go off of Thoreau’s “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”, we can surmise that not all human activity ought to be called “life”. The use of “our good” conjures up a “right ordering of society” model of justice (per Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs); this threatens to abridge the rights of individuals. However, instances such as Nathan’s rebuke of King David for his rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah militates against this; according to Peter Berger in A Far Glory, kings at the time had the right to do precisely what David did. Furthermore, it may be very important to note two things that may be unique about the OT, in its time period: (a) zero noble–commoner distinction; (b) a return of bought land to original families every 49th year.

            In some sense, yes, you assume the validity of consequentialism when you do 3) and that would cause many moral frameworks to logically implode

            This is an utterly fascinating claim to me. It also doesn’t seem to match up to e.g. IEP: Consequentialism, which starts out: “Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.” The emphasis is original, and it seems to militate against your claim, here. I don’t understand why one cannot care both about the consequences, as well as the kind of person one is becoming. Furthermore, I don’t see why the creator of a reality cannot give guidance as to what beliefs and actions will contribute toward a particular definition of ‘life’.

            Does this shed any light on why I think that virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequentialist ethics need not be contradictory? Each, all by itself, has many degrees of freedom. Forcing each to match up with the others seems to me to decrease the degrees of freedom, but not so much that one is left with the null set. I view the above as a kind of reductio against your claim that (3) can only be done under consequentialism. Such a claim seems utterly lethal to everything but consequentialism in this day and age—and for good reason! Such a claim makes Jesus a consequentialist, it would seem—I’ll throw in Mt 25:31–46.

            (assuming that you actually think it through and strive for consistency, which you obviously do not have to and which many people don´t)

            From Emerson’s Self-Reliance: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statement and philosophers and divines.” Too much value on consistency makes you a rationalistic philosopher, replete with all the problems of that (see, e.g. William James’ Pragmatism: rationalistic philosophers tend to have beautiful theories that well-match reality in some places and not at all in others). Too much value on empirical matching makes you an empiricist philosopher, with the problems that go with that: failure to unify knowledge. (See, e.g. SEP: The Unity of Science.)

            My goal is consistency, but how do I achieve it, if I am open to reality being infinitely complex in description (i.e. under foundationalism, the axioms are not a recursively enumerable set). I’m also committed to a deeply rational reality, such that jump discontinuities (like the Big Bang singularity having no structure, and then magically gaining structure at t > 0) are anathema. Francis Schaeffer points out (I think in He Is There and He Is Not Silent) that many philosophies explain some stuff, and then relegate the rest to irrationality. I think that some scientists today have done precisely that, with regard to e.g. the universe fluctuating into existence and quantum fluctuations being uncaused.

            More specifically however, I certainly do believe that a true ought claim must be based in what is – and I am positively certain that every moral cognitivist has to agree with this. If you disagree, give me an example for true ought claim that is not grounded in what is (even a hypothetical ought claim with a hypothetical grounding would be fine).

            Doesn’t cognitivism imply realism? SEP: Cognitivism says “no”, but in a boring way: there can be cognitivists who say all moral statements are false. Suppose that there are moral properties of people/things. What causes them to be binding for a given person? It strikes me that without a proper binding, whether or not the properties have been correctly identified is up for debate.

            Here’s an example ought claim that I’d like to see grounded in what is:

                 (1a) we ought to promote life
                 (1b) where life is defined thus and so

            Given that there have been many competing formulations offered for the concept of “human thriving”, I hope you can see the necessity of (1b). If you’re talking to a rational serial killer, how do you argue (1)?

            You have thousands of years of human history as potential examples, just pick out some specific examples of moral progress – be it the civil rights movement and its impact on society or the transition from retributive to restorative justice or whatever, and try to identify what made these transitions work.

            I’m honestly not sure about how much of that “moral progress” is anything other than sweeping the dust under the rug. My discussion of charity (B.) seems unqualifiedly good, although I haven’t researched it much. But if I look at the world today, I see the failure to understand and thwart Hitler as a huge moral failing, a gigantic one. The same goes for the mass starvations in Communist countries. Furthermore, I see two-tiered societies re-emerging in the UK and US, via gross inequalities in K–12 education. I see consumerism and “vicarious entertainment” (e.g. living vicariously through professional sports figures/teams) as distinctly worse than what came before. I see the US as deeply invested in what Josef Pieper calls “total work” in his Leisure: The Basis of Culture, which U. Washington school of information professor David Levy introduced me to via his Google Tech Talk “No Time to Think” (paper version).

            Take a look at Rwandan Genocide § United States: the US knew of a “final solution”, sent to them by a high-up Hutu in the government whose conscience started screaming. The US refused to intervene. Moral progress? Hah!

            The analogy to physical entropy is quite apt, here. We make gains in some areas, and experience grave losses in others. We prefer cheap goods to punishing countries which abuse human beings via not purchasing from them. I myself am struggling with what to do as a result of How many slaves work for you? Our conception of “human thriving” these days seems pretty piss-poor.

            Meaning that even if there would be “absolutely true” moral claims, you could never know whether any claim is “absolutely true” with absolute cerrtainty.

            Fine, but this is not what I asked. Science can make progress via successive approximation even though it cannot have unfiltered access to objective truth about nature. So can the same be done in the realm of morality—successive approximation, moving from ‘wrong’ → ‘less wrong’? If so, how does this work; how does one decide that A is ‘less wrong’ than B?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Do you really believe that Thomist folks make absolutely no reference to contingent reality in their reasoning? It strikes me that if this is the case, that they cannot understand why God would issue divorce certificates via Moses, than claim that this was never meant to be how things were to be. It strikes me that this description of Thomist morality prohibits theological accommodation/condescension. I have a hard time believing that a Thomist would happily go forward with a morality that resulted in massive suffering, and not care. And if such a Thomist were to be found, I would suppose something very wrong, very un-Christlike in him/her. After all, Jesus said “By their fruit you will recognize them.”

            Thomists happily do go forward with morality that results in massive suffering – by condemning any form of contraception as a grave sin that is not permissible under any circumstances, to name just one example. What this condemnation actually leads to in practice is completely irrelevant for the moral status of contraceptives under a thomist framework.

            It’s very interesting that you say this, given Deut 4:1, Deut 6:20–25, and Ezek 18, all of which seem to connect following YHWH’s commands with life.

            But given divine command theory, this is completely irrelevant for whether doing “Gods will” is a “moral duty” and “good” – if God says murder your son, then murdering your son becomes a moral duty and a “good” action by definition(!) – IF the premisis of DCT are true and IF God in fact did command that.

            This is an utterly fascinating claim to me. It also doesn’t seem to match up to e.g. IEP: Consequentialism, which starts out: “Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.” The emphasis is original, and it seems to militate against your claim, here.

            Your words:
            “The truth-value comes not just from “You ought to value and promote [all] life”, but also from a prediction that this will be ‘good’, which generally seems to include a component of it lasting. It’s really the predict-test loop which seems to offer anything close to truth-values.”

            I already explained how that is consequentialist through and through, see my earlier comments, the IEP doesn´t contradict my assessment of your words here in any way.

            I don’t understand why one cannot care both about the consequences, as well as the kind of person one is becoming.

            You can, who is stopping you?

            Does this shed any light on why I think that virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequentialist ethics need not be contradictory?

            Look up what I said regarding this possibility at earlier times, I have nothing to add to it.

            Doesn’t cognitivism imply realism? SEP: Cognitivism says “no”, but in a boring way: there can be cognitivists who say all moral statements are false.

            When I ask you to provide some grounding for a moral claim, I obviously presuppose that this is in principle possible. And it was a rethorical question because I knew in advance (or rather: was almost certain) that you will be unable to provide any grounding for any ought claim given any moral framework, that does not rely on what IS – if oughts can be grounded in anything, they will be grounded in something that is, different moral frameworks only differ wrt what that “is” is and how you can know this.

            Given that there have been many competing formulations offered for the concept of “human thriving”, I hope you can see the necessity of (1b). If you’re talking to a rational serial killer, how do you argue (1)?

            I wouldn´t – “serial killer” kind of implies that the person is a psychopath, and that in turn implies “moral blindness”, talking to them about “human thriving” is about as productive as trying to explain what the color orange looks like to a person who is color blind.

            I’m honestly not sure about how much of that “moral progress” is anything other than sweeping the dust under the rug.

            If you rape your wife, this would be both a) a crime and b) something that the vast majority of your peers find morally atrocious. I consider that to be progress – pointing out that we made no progress in other fields or even made it worse might well be true, if that is all you have to contribute however, then you are not helping – quite the opposite actually.

            The analogy to physical entropy is quite apt, here. We make gains in some areas, and experience grave losses in others. We prefer cheap goods to punishing countries which abuse human beings via not purchasing from them. I myself am struggling with what to do as a result of How many slaves work for you? Our conception of “human thriving” these days seems pretty piss-poor.

            If you had the option right now to take your family with you and travel 900 years back in time to medieval London and start a new life, would you do it? Yes or no? Srsly – yes or no? And don´t just call it a “did you stop beating your wife recently question” – if you think it is a loaded question, explain WHY it is one. If you can´t, answer:
            Yes or no?

            Fine, but this is not what I asked. Science can make progress via successive approximation even though it cannot have unfiltered access to objective truth about nature. So can the same be done in the realm of morality—successive approximation, moving from ‘wrong’ → ‘less wrong’? If so, how does this work; how does one decide that A is ‘less wrong’ than B?

            That depends on what your moral framework is.

          • Luke Breuer

            Thomists happily do go forward with morality that results in massive suffering – by condemning any form of contraception as a grave sin that is not permissible under any circumstances, to name just one example. What this condemnation actually leads to in practice is completely irrelevant for the moral status of contraceptives under a thomist framework.

            Yep, I have no idea how Thomists deal with the fact that Moses issued divorce papers. After all, it was never meant to be this way, says Jesus. And yet, God condescended. Thomists seem 100% unable to deal with condescension. From your description, Thomists seem to be idealists who will likely share the fate of other idealists in their limited positive impact on the world, plus incredible feelings of guilt that rise not from failing to meet an infinite standard, but failing to measurably draw closer to an infinite standard.

            But given divine command theory, this is completely irrelevant for whether doing “Gods will” is a “moral duty” and “good” – if God says murder your son, then murdering your son becomes a moral duty and a “good” action by definition(!) – IF the premisis of DCT are true and IF God in fact did command that.

            Once again, this is narrower than IEP: Divine Command Theory, which I shall quote this time around:

            Roughly, Divine Command Theory is the view that morality is somehow dependent upon God, and that moral obligation consists in obedience to God’s commands. Divine Command Theory includes the claim that morality is ultimately based on the commands or character of God, and that the morally right action is the one that God commands or requires. The specific content of these divine commands varies according to the particular religion and the particular views of the individual divine command theorist, but all versions of the theory hold in common the claim that morality and moral obligations ultimately depend on God.

            Five months ago, I commented upon Jonathan’s The Problem with Divine Command Theory #1, arguing that it could be the case that:

            LB: (1) chosen physical laws ⇒ moral laws

            If this is the case, then morality would indeed depend on the creator of the physical laws (fulfilling a requirement of DCT, per the IEP), but not in a way that makes morality un-discoverable outside of hearing from the creator. One could come up with the correct definition of ‘life’, and then derive the laws of morality. The result would be identical to God telling explaining the laws of morality. The two approaches would converge. You don’t seem to want to allow this, and I don’t understand why.

            I already explained how that is consequentialist through and through, see my earlier comments, the IEP doesn´t contradict my assessment of your words here in any way.

            If this is true, then you appear to be calling Jesus a consequentialist, which seems insane.

            You can, who is stopping you?

            You are arguing that I care primarily about producing the right consequences, while I said that it is hard to know the truth-value of moral propositions outside of the predict-test loop. Perhaps it is not clear to you that the predict-test loop necessarily requires the intellect (which, according to you, Thomists rely on solely); it simply requires more than only the intellect. It requires reference to an external reality, one which is not accessible solely via the intellect.

            I wouldn´t – “serial killer” kind of implies that the person is a psychopath, and that in turn implies “moral blindness”, talking to them about “human thriving” is about as productive as trying to explain what the color orange looks like to a person who is color blind.

            Suppose the serial killer is not a psychopath.

            If you rape your wife, this would be both a) a crime and b) something that the vast majority of your peers find morally atrocious. I consider that to be progress – pointing out that we made no progress in other fields or even made it worse might well be true, if that is all you have to contribute however, then you are not helping – quite the opposite actually.

            I don’t know what you mean by “if that is all you have to contribute”. What I am saying is that progress in some areas countered by regress in other areas can be well-compared to total entropy not decreasing: this can hold true while entropy in some areas increases and entropy in other areas decreases. If one does not look at the total, one will fail to observe very important facts.

            If you had the option right now to take your family with you and travel 900 years back in time to medieval London and start a new life, would you do it? Yes or no? Srsly – yes or no?

            I don’t know enough to say. The temptation to actually try and foster moral improvements back then is tempting. Many people love to say that they could come up with a better morality than existed in the OT; the ultimate test would be to send them back to OT times and see if they can actually make things better than they otherwise would be. And so, there is something in me that wants to do this with your 900 years back scenario, despite all the dangers which existed back then. Furthermore, there is an extreme shallowness to much life these days. I do long for a society where there is more deepness and more real, non-instrumental connection between people. I am trying to figure out how to build such a society today, but having the option to just go to one is tempting.

            That depends on what your moral framework is.

            Is it too onerous to give answers for your particular preferred moral framework, plus perhaps the major ones?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Yep, I have no idea how Thomists deal with the fact that Moses issued divorce papers. After all, it was never meant to be this way, says Jesus. And yet, God condescended. Thomists seem 100% unable to deal with condescension. From your description, Thomists seem to be idealists who will likely share the fate of other idealists in their limited positive impact on the world, plus incredible feelings of guilt that rise not from failing to meet an infinite standard, but failing to measurably draw closer to an infinite standard.

            Thomism sounds great on paper but has pragmatically many severe problems, things like moral compromises / the lesser evil / doing something morally questionable for the greater good – are all strictly impossible given thomism. Under thomism, actions are intrinsically good or bad and it is logically impossible to achieve a “greater good” by doing something that is “intrinsically evil” (example: if a woman is five weeks pregnant, and she will certainly die without an abortion because she has a severe heart condition, while the embryo cannot possibly survive this in any case – then an abortion would still be absolutely not permissible (it would be murder!), the morally right choice would be unambigiously to let the woman AND her embryo die).

            If this is the case, then morality would indeed depend on the creator of the physical laws (fulfilling a requirement of DCT, per the IEP), but not in a way that makes morality un-discoverable outside of hearing from the creator. One could come up with the correct definition of ‘life’, and then derive the laws of morality. The result would be identical to God telling explaining the laws of morality. The two approaches would converge. You don’t seem to want to allow this, and I don’t understand why.

            Under DCT, moral truth depends on divine will – if the mind of God were knowable by studying what nature is like, then it could be that moral truths are discoverable without divine revelation. That would in principle be possible given DCT, but what grounds the truth of true moral claims is strictly divine will and only divine will, observations about nature could only reveal that to the degree in which they reflect what the divine will is like.

            Also note – none of this is about me “allowing” anything, I am merely paraphrasing my understanding of what DCT does and does not entail about moral truths are and how they can be known.

            You are arguing that I care primarily about producing the right consequences, while I said that it is hard to know the truth-value of moral propositions outside of the predict-test loop.

            I didn´t say that this is all you care about, I said that this is how you ground the truth of true moral propositions – and that is a consequentialist position.

            Suppose the serial killer is not a psychopath.

            Then you have to be more specific. Why does he kill? Is it a guy that kills abortion doctors for example because he beleives that killing is justifiable to “defend the innocent”?

            I don’t know what you mean by “if that is all you have to contribute”. What I am saying is that progress in some areas countered by regress in other areas can be well-compared to total entropy not decreasing: this can hold true while entropy in some areas increases and entropy in other areas decreases. If one does not look at the total, one will fail to observe very important facts.

            I´ll grant you for the sake of the argument that overall, the ancient Babylonians, Inca and Vikings were just as moral as contemporary Norwegians (I see no non GIGO way to calculate such a “just as” and I find this absurd on the face of it but what the hell).

            Now, if it were true what you say here, then moral progress (e.g. a societal acknowledgment of the universal right to bodily autonomy for men AND women) must inevitably be counterbalanced by moral regress in a different area – and how could that possibly work? What conceivable mechanism could possibly couple moral progress like the one mentioned above in a way that it causes simultaneous and equally significant moral regress in a different area?

            Furthermore, there is an extreme shallowness to much life these days. I do long for a society where there is more deepness and more real, non-instrumental connection between people.

            And what was that “deepness” for the average Joe and Jane back in those days? It was “deepness” like an existential fears – fear that your newborn baby will not survive more than a few days or weeks, fear that your pregnant wife will not survive pregnancy, fear that you will become sick and can no longer make ends meet – with no safety net to take care of you and your family in your time of need, fear that the harvest will be bad and that many of the young and elderly will not survive the winter. And your only distraction from this fear was working your hands bloody to make ends meet – all day long. Things like sitting down with friends and discussing how to make the world a better place would be an obscene luxury that only a tiny handful of those born with a silver spoon in their arses could engage in. I think it is rather bold to say that you are not incredibly privileged to be born now instead of thousand years ago.

            Is it too onerous to give answers for your particular preferred moral framework, plus perhaps the major ones?

            That would make a long comment – have you read Singer´s The Expanding Circle perchance? (I´m not a utilitarian strictly speaking, but I agree with Singer on a great many issues regarding morality, both pragmatically and philosophically)

          • Luke Breuer

            Thomism sounds great on paper but has pragmatically many severe problems, things like moral compromises / the lesser evil / doing something morally questionable for the greater good – are all strictly impossible given thomism.

            Do you know how Thomists deal with the fact that Jesus claims YHWH had Moses give divorce certificates “due to the hardness of your hearts”? It seems like they would have to pretend that Jesus never said this!

            Under DCT, moral truth depends on divine will – if the mind of God were knowable by studying what nature is like, then it could be that moral truths are discoverable without divine revelation. That would in principle be possible given DCT, but what grounds the truth of true moral claims is strictly divine will and only divine will, observations about nature could only reveal that to the degree in which they reflect what the divine will is like.

            Well, Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability argues that all in principle knowable truths are in fact known, so I’m not sure there’s actually a problem, here. To my knowledge, weakening Fitch’s paradox inescapably heads toward radical skepticism, but I am not an expert on it. Either there is a fixed, true, morality, or there is no single morality unless you kill off all the other guys. My answer to the Phil.SE question Is C.S. Lewis argument for absolute morality valid? is probably relevant.

            Also note – none of this is about me “allowing” anything, I am merely paraphrasing my understanding of what DCT does and does not entail about moral truths are and how they can be known.

            All I can say is that sometimes the way you speak indicates the presence of idea-attractors and idea-repellors. Some things you tend to steer towards, and other things, you tend to steer away from. This is, however, just my model of you; it is not the thing, but just a picture which I drew. If you wish, I can attempt to refrain from communicating such pictures. I believe they give you useful access to my internal state, but perhaps you do not wish such access; perhaps it adds more noise than signal.

            I didn´t say that this is all you care about, I said that this is how you ground the truth of true moral propositions – and that is a consequentialist position.

            I was in error. When I said:

            LB: The truth-value comes not just from “You ought to value and promote [all] life”, but also from a prediction that this will be ‘good’, which generally seems to include a component of it lasting. It’s really the predict-test loop which seems to offer anything close to truth-values.

            , I should have said that this is how we gain experiential access to truth-values. I conflated the truthmaker with how the truthmaker is accessed/how he/she/it communicates.

            Then you have to be more specific. Why does he kill? Is it a guy that kills abortion doctors for example because he beleives that killing is justifiable to “defend the innocent”?

            We can try that out as a particular of my universal. I’m not entirely sure that it is a valid particular (and perhaps you are asking whether any particulars are instances of my universal—it is a good question), but it’s worth a shot.

            Now, if it were true what you say here, then moral progress (e.g. a societal acknowledgment of the universal right to bodily autonomy for men AND women) must inevitably be counterbalanced by moral regress in a different area – and how could that possibly work? What conceivable mechanism could possibly couple moral progress like the one mentioned above in a way that it causes simultaneous and equally significant moral regress in a different area?

            If being is a conserved quantity, then no individual can gain more being without taking it from another being. The Lion King‘s Circle of Life song comes to mind. Something must die for something else to come alive, or increase in life. It is important to distinguish between ‘true’ life—whatever that is—and what is clearly ¬life, like lots of Turing machines all in infinite loops whereby there is Poincaré recurrence. I am partial to the definition of ‘life’ as “a continual local decrease in entropy”, but there may be others.

            One way to see this intuition of mine is in the Idea of Progress. We in the West generally don’t want to think of reality as an eternal recurrence; we want to be moving forward somehow. I claim that the only useful way to describe moving forward is growth in knowledge. And yet, whence comes growth in knowledge? Suppose I know something to the extent that there is a homomorphism between my brain and the thing. How do I not increase the entropy of the thing when I measure it, such that I partially destroy it in the process? After all, if enough people do this, the thing disappears. If my communication to the next person also involves an increase in entropy, the very ability to communicate the thing decays. At some point, all knowledge of the thing is guaranteed to be destroyed!

            So either knowledge subject to the laws of entropy, or there is some outside source, a cause outside of the system. Am I making sense so far? Note that I do not claim to have fully answered your questions; I need some back-and-forth before I can.

            And what was that “deepness” for the average Joe and Jane back in those days?

            I don’t have enough particulars to give you a good picture; I can only reference claims of shallowness in books like Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self and The Malaise of Modernity, and Peter Berger’s work on modernity (e.g. A Far Glory, Facing Up to Modernity). Well actually, there’s also the following on friendship, from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue:

            This notion of the political community as a common project is alien to the modern liberal individualist world. This is how we sometimes at least think of schools, hospitals or philanthropic organizations; but we have no conception of such a form of community concerned, as Aristotle says the polis is concerned, with the whole of life, not with this or that good, but with man’s good as such. It is no wonder that friendship has been relegated to private life and thereby weakened in comparison to what it once was.
            […]
            ‘Friendship’ has become for the most part the name of a type of emotional state rather than of a type of social and political relationship.

            I long for this kind of friendship, friendship which I believe depends on communion of souls, as I have described to you elsewhere. Such friendship depends on holding something like Platonic Forms in common with other. Since all Forms are subsumed under The Form of the Good, friendship can increase in depth as more and more Forms are held in common. One way to do this is via ‘tradition'; see Alasdair MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Enquiry in Polanyian Perspective and Michael Polanyi, Alasdair MacIntyre, and the Role of Tradition. Here, we can see that the term communion of the saints (a reference to Heb 11–12:1, emphasis on 12:1) can make sense, of ‘saints’ are merely participants in a tradition. Note here that MacIntyre emphasizes that ‘tradition’ need not ossify, or to use a Jewish term, “become hard-hearted”.

            That would make a long comment – have you read Singer´s The Expanding Circle perchance?

            No, only parts of Practical Ethics. Just from the title though, you might like a blog post I came across this morning: Infinitary Species.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Do you know how Thomists deal with the fact that Jesus claims YHWH had Moses give divorce certificates “due to the hardness of your hearts”? It seems like they would have to pretend that Jesus never said this!

            I´m the wrong person to ask here because my knowledge of what thomists believe is too superficial, but afaict, thomists don´t talk very much about the Bible at all (my suspicion is, that they are a little embarrassed of the Bible, maybe even just subconsciously, because the God of Thomism is much greater and much less “personal” than the God of the Bible).

            Either there is a fixed, true, morality, or there is no single morality unless you kill off all the other guys.

            That is a transparably false dichotomy. Someone could easily come up with at least a dozen additional alternatives than the ones you mention here. I´ll give you one – moral truths are objectively true but mind-dependent facts, and they are changeable / evolvable to the same degree that the minds of moral agents are changeable / evolvable (I´m not saying that this is my view, merely pointing out that it is trivial to demonstrate that you are putting forth a false dichotomy here)

            I should have said that this is how we gain experiential access to truth-values. I conflated the truthmaker with how the truthmaker is accessed/how he/she/it communicates.

            So your views re moral epistemology are consequentialist and your views re moral ontology are not consequentialist – alright.

            If being is a conserved quantity[1], then no individual can gain more being without taking it from another being. The Lion King’s Circle of Life song comes to mind. Something must die for something else to come alive, or increase in life[2]. It is important to distinguish between ‘true’ life—whatever that is—and what is clearly ¬life, like lots of Turing machines all in infinite loops whereby there is Poincaré recurrence. I am partial to the definition of ‘life’ as “a continual local decrease in entropy”, but there may be others.

            One way to see this intuition of mine is in the Idea of Progress. We in the West generally don’t want to think of reality as an eternal recurrence; we want to be moving forward somehow. I claim that the only useful way to describe moving forward is growth in knowledge. And yet, whence comes growth in knowledge? Suppose I know something to the extent that there is a homomorphism between my brain and the thing. How do I not increase the entropy of the thing when I measure it, such that I partially destroy it in the process?[3] After all, if enough people do this, the thing disappears. If my communication to the next person also involves an increase in entropy, the very ability to communicate the thing decays. At some point, all knowledge of the thing is guaranteed to be destroyed!

            So either knowledge subject to the laws of entropy, or there is some outside source, a cause outside of the system[4]. Am I making sense so far? Note that I do not claim to have fully answered your questions; I need some back-and-forth before I can.

            1. Asserted without evidence and in my view transparently false – how much sentient life there is in the universe is clearly something that can change over time. And if how much sentient life there is, is not what you mean by “quantity of being”, then you would have to define it first and demonstrate that such a thing in fact exists.

            2. That is often the case, millions if species had to die out completely for human life to be possible, but saying that this is always the case is absolutely false – a very obvious counterexample would be the origin of life and the successive filling of aquatic niches and the cambrian radiation filling many terrestrial niches that previously were not occupied by other lifeforms. Another completely obvious counterexample would be the hypothetical terraforming and colonization of a planet that had no life before (has never happened, but is pretty much universally agreed on to be possible).

            3. I assume that you are talking about physical entropy now, and pretty much all scholarly inquiry boils down to processes that decrease entropy on this planet (counterbalanced by an increase in entropy in the sun), building an experimental apparatus is a decrease in entropy, collecting samples decreases entropy, writing a book decreases entropy etc.pp. – please give specific examples of scholarly inquiry per se increasing entropy (the “per se” is important, the entropy of the universe as a whole obviously increases).
            4. We do require the sun as an outside source, entropy on earth could not decrease (as it does in organismal reproduction for example, or in building an ant colony or a beehive or a human city or whatever) without entropy increasing in the sun. This is physical entropy which per se has nothing to do with the norms and values of sentient beings, you want to give this a moral dimension, how do you want to do this?

            I long for this kind of friendship, friendship which I believe depends on communion of souls, as I have described to you elsewhere.

            Looking for friendship doesn´t become easier when most of your potential friends are killed by war, famine and disease. Friendship also doesn´t exactly become easier if you have to work your hands bloody 24/7 to provide for your family.

          • Luke Breuer

            (my suspicion is, that they are a little embarrassed of the Bible, maybe even just subconsciously, because the God of Thomism is much greater and much less “personal” than the God of the Bible)

            Makes sense; they want to put God in a box, and have done so. You might like Nicholas Wolterstorff, who explicitly refuses to do what Thomists have done (according to you, and some hearsay I have encountered myself); I heard him attest to this in person at a conference at Biola at which he and Plantinga spoke, among others. I even got a nerd-picture of myself with Plantinga; now I wish I had got one with Wolterstorff, too! Anyhow, in addition to that earwitness testimony, Wolterstorff rejects YHWH being timeless in God & Time: Four Views, based on that being only supportable by one interpretation of one verse. I took pictures of the relevant bits; I could put them somewhere if you’d like.

            That is a transparably false dichotomy. Someone could easily come up with at least a dozen additional alternatives than the ones you mention here. I´ll give you one – moral truths are objectively true but mind-dependent facts, and they are changeable / evolvable to the same degree that the minds of moral agents are changeable / evolvable (I´m not saying that this is my view, merely pointing out that it is trivial to demonstrate that you are putting forth a false dichotomy here)

            Assuming you hold to a block universe—tell me if you don’t—you’ve made morality relative to some of the state of a local area of spacetime, plus perhaps parts of its backwards in time light cone. Given that a block universe presumes that all of this is undergirded by an invariant, morality is still, ultimately, fixed. The ultimate question here is whether there is, ultimately, a unity back to which you can trace. That unity is what provides commonality. If one needs the moral version of a Lorentz transform to map morality between two different bits in spacetime, no matter.

            So your views re moral epistemology are consequentialist and your views re moral ontology are not consequentialist – alright.

            I still chafe against that, so perhaps what I have said is wrong. For example, my empiricism in this domain could fall apart like Jonathan’s “I” falls apart (“discontinuous ‘I'”, The “I”, personhood and abstract objects). Really, I should respect Quine’s Two Dogmas and say that one needs a rational system as well as empirical observations, co-germinating, to discover morality.

            1. Asserted without evidence and in my view transparently false – how much sentient life there is in the universe is clearly something that can change over time.

            Potentiality can certainly be turned into actuality. But this isn’t a problem; in some models I can steal the potentiality which was meant for another being. As to “asserted without evidence”, I’m not sure why you expect evidence in this situation. I’m espousing a way to interpret the evidence.

            2. That is often the case, […] a very obvious counterexample

            I was exegeting the Lion King song. Of course there are many unfilled niches; the Tower of Babel story is pretty clearly God getting ticked that mankind was not filling the unfilled niches. But surely there are finite niches?

            please give specific examples of scholarly inquiry per se increasing entropy (the “per se” is important, the entropy of the universe as a whole obviously increases).

            Unless the thing being observed is life as defined by consuming outside entropy to decrease inside entropy, it will be eroded by observation even if there is no e.g. impersonal weathering (i.e. uniformitarianism), sun or no sun. The endeavor to gain knowledge requires life to consume for the endeavor to succeed over sufficiently long time periods. This is analytically true [given presuppositions you ostensibly hold]; there is no need for evidence or particular example.

            What I’m saying here is that the increase in knowledge can run out of gas well before heat death of the universe. I claim that therefore, it is useful to talk about a different entropy than the entropy of the entire universe.

            Looking for friendship doesn´t become easier when most of your potential friends are killed by war, famine and disease. Friendship also doesn´t exactly become easier if you have to work your hands bloody 24/7 to provide for your family.

            Well, YHWH promised respite from disease to the Israelites in the Exodus. He promised protection from war and fruitfulness of field. And the Sabbath, one of the Ten Words which I have seen atheists call “obsolete” (I don’t have a link handy), was to be enjoyed by human and beast, with no distinction made between freeman and slave. Josef Pieper was worried that Germany would enter a permanent era of “total work” during reconstruction, and thus wrote Muße und Kult in 1948, which was translated to Leisure: The Basis of Culture. I found this via U. Wash. David Levy’s No Time To Think (my notes on the Google Tech Talk). I would claim that a not-insignificant portion of the West is entering a world of “total work” + “inane entertainment”; I suggest Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age. Ellul has also written on this; his La Technique ou l’Enjeu du siècle (The Technological Society) is on my reading list.

            So are we actually advancing as a world? Well, according to Steven Pinker, yes; see his The Better Angels of Our Nature, as well as his TED talk The surprising decline in violence. But there are two ways to reduce violence: help people be more tolerant of differences, or sandpaper the differences. One way of doing the latter is to prohibit the differences from appearing outside of the private sphere; this is what the French are doing with Muslim headcoverings. According to a recent EU Court ruling upholding that, this restriction is required for, among other things, “the promotion of social harmony”. You know all that discussion we’ve had about unity & diversity, or at least me yawning on about it? Yeah, this shit’s real! One way to get humans to live together is to pussify them.

          • Andy_Schueler

            But surely there are finiteniches?

            That would follow from the universe being finite.

            The endeavor to gain knowledge requires life to consume[1] for the endeavor to succeed over sufficiently long time periods. This is analytically true [given presuppositions you ostensibly hold]; there is no need for evidence or particular example[2].
            ….
            What I’m saying here is that the increase in knowledge can run out of gas well before heat death of the universe[3].

            1. Please define what “life to consume” means.
            2. If it is analytically true, then provide the syllogism for it, alternatively, show examples.
            3. And why is that supposed to be the case?

            But there are two ways to reduce violence: help people be more tolerant of differences, or sandpaper the differences. One way of doing the latter is to prohibit the differences from appearing outside of the private sphere; this is what the French are doing with Muslim headcoverings. According to a recent EU Court ruling upholding that, this restriction is required for, among other things, “the promotion of social harmony”. You know all that discussion we’ve had about unity & diversity, or at least me yawning on about it? Yeah, this shit’s real! One way to get humans to live together is to pussify them.

            Do you think that parents should be allowed to hire someone who will surgically remove the clitoris and labia of their teenage daughters (with her consent being completely optional), if this practice follows from their “sincerely held religious beliefs”?
            If you do not, then there is no qualitative difference between your views re “diversity”, you´d merely draw the line somewhere else.
            Regarding the headcoverings, a headscarf or so is completely fine of course, but please think for a moment about what a full veil actually means in practice – I can give you one real life example: I supervised an exam where a female student was fully veiled and she refused to take her veil off, so how the fuck am I supposed to know whether she even is who she claims to be based on her student ID instead of for example a friend who already passed this exam before?