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Angra Mainyu
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Jacques, As I explained, I don't think my approach is as you say, but let me address your points: (1) Regarding "grounding" I am explaining that I find the term pretty obscure. The reason is that it's a technical term - rather than one used colloquially -, and I've not seen a sufficiently clear explanation of what it means, or a definition, and usage by philosophers seems to be in my assessment quite variable. Now, perhaps there is a pretty good definition and I failed to understand it. I'm not saying people are making a mistake for using the term. But I'm explaining why I try to address the matter without addressing grounding, or addressing it indirectly (i.e., I might say something along the lines of 'if grounding is required for successful talk about a matter, then how about matter X? If it's not required, then...', or things like that). I am however willing to use the word as long as my interlocutor clarifies what they mean enough for me to understand it. Else, I address other points that I do understand. Now you ask me why I'm entitled to terms like "meaning", "reference" and "true". Well, I think you're entitled to use "grounding" as well (or any term of your choosing). We will just have difficulty communicating. As for the terms you bring up, "true" should not be a problem at all. I just mean by that what people regularly mean what they say "true" about a statement. This is not to say that theories of truth are easy. That's a difficult matter. But understanding the ordinary term "true" is not. This is usually the case, by the way. Metaethics (including theories about the meaning of moral terms) is pretty difficult, but understanding words like "immoral", "morally good", etc. (at least, basic moral terms) isn't. The same for color, etc. What about "reference", and "refer". Those are technical terms, and while I do find those terms generally useful, given that you say you find them mysterious, I will try to leave them aside, for the purposes of successful communication. I could try to do the same with "meaning", "mean", etc., but if I do that, I'm not going to be able to address your points, so I will try to use it for now. Let me know if you prefer to taboo them as well (i.e., stipulate that they are excluded from the vocabulary to be used). Now, let's address color. I have to say that I used it as an analogy in part because usually, theists who argue that there would be no moral obligations, rights, etc., without God, do accept color statements (e.g., William Lane Craig uses this in his metaethical argument), and in part because in a number of ways, they're relevantly analogous, so they come in handy, at least when talking to someone who accepts that there are red things, blue things, etc. Do people mean to ascribe a property to the fire hydrant? I cautiously agree (there is a slight risk we might not be the same by "property"!), but on the other hand, I think there is in this case, and generally whenever we define things by ostension, very weak demands on what that property would be, other than whatever "one of those" (points at a red object), but "not one of those" (points at an object that isn't red) has in common and is guiding our judgments. Now, I'm not saying there are no demands at all, but they seem to be very weak, and in general, it would be pretty difficult to make conditions for ordinary terms not be fulfilled, so any claims in that regard have a very low prior, and so the burden on the person making the claim is very heavy. But let's consider the color case. Bob is given a ticket for running a red traffic light: Bob: Your honor, I did not run a red traffic light, because there is no red. A color error theory obtains. Judge: Excuse me? Bob: You see, the word "red" in traffic laws does not have a specific technical meaning. On the contrary, the law is meant to be understood easily by the public, so the meaning is the ordinary one. But as it turns out, our colloquial talk of color is in error. And punishments may not constitutionally be applied by analogy, so in light of that, I have no legal obligation to pay a fine. Judge: If you claim that nothing is red, well the burden is on you. Bob: Why? Judge: You're going up against common sense beliefs. Now common sense might be mistaken, but unless that is argued for in the specific case, I would hold that it's beyond a reasonable doubt that it's not, and in particular, that there are red traffic lights. Bob: Well, I only need to create reasonable doubt. There are very intelligent philosophers who argue against color. That's enough to create reasonable doubt, so it's not beyond a reasonable doubt that I ran the red light. Judge: I'm afraid the burden is still on you. I'm pretty sure the judge is right. Furthermore, I would say that even if Bob presents a philosophical argument for an error theory, he fails to create sufficient doubt. The problem with this sort of arguments is that they seem to assume a heavy ontological commitment in our color terms. By this I mean that they seem to assume that when we ascribe color properties, we put conditions on the sort of properties that they might be that are not met by things in our universe. But I don't see any good reason to think that. I'm with the judge on this. Moreover, this isn't about color. Let's consider - say - the water analogy. When people ordinarily talk about water (even today, even more so in the past) they generally do not mean anything involving hydrogen or oxygen. But that's not the issue. The word "water" does not seem to impose conditions on whether water is a simple substance or a compound, or even whether it has the same basic composition (save for impurities) in all ordinary cases. And the fact that people do not generally know anything about H2O does not support an error theory about watery talk. My point is that this is generally the case, whether we're talking about water, color, cats, dogs, kindness, cruelty, etc. That also holds about time: most people (historically, and even today) believe time is absolute, but the absoluteness of time does not seem to make it into the meaning of temporal terms, as a constraint So, I think if someone argues this is not so in the case of morality and there are heavy constrains, and in particular constrains that require the existence of God - despite the fact that there are plenty of human societies with no concept of God, but no known human societies with no basic moral concepts -, that seems to place a heavy burden on the person making the claim. (2) While I agree that we're assigning some kind of property (with the caveat above, but still, I think we can agree on that, at least pro tanto), the property would be the property "moral wrongness" (or "immorality"; I think that's the same). I'm not sure it's the property "not-to-be-done-ness", though that might depend on what you mean by that. Granted, in a moral sense of "should", people should not behave immorally, but that seems tautological. In a moral sense of "should", "Agent A should not X" seems to mean that something like "doing X is immoral", or maybe something like "If A is not to behave immoral, then A should not do X". Now in a means-to-end sense of "should" that is not considering the goal of not behaving immorally, but other goals the agent might have, it's not necessarily the case that the agent should not behave immorally, at least as far as I can tell. Now, it might be that for any moral agent, it is irrational overall (i.e., given the agent's evaluative function, which varies from agent to agent) to behave immorally. I think, however, that this is improbable. As for a purely physical world, I think a first question is: are there minds? Do minds require something nonphysical? I'm not claiming one way or another, because I also find "physical" obscure! My points are about morality without God, and for that matter without souls if you like, but not without minds. If there are no minds, I don't think anything in that world is immoral, but then, that is not our world. If there are minds, then sure, why could there not be immoral behavior without God? I mean, what's even the connection? At least, the meaning of the terms does not seem to require it at all, because: a. There are societies without the concept of God, but not known societies without moral terms. b. When you say "God exists", you're saying there is something with some properties - yes, some philosophers would say God is not a being but Being, etc., but at any rate, you are ascribing properties to some (hypothetical) person. One of the properties is that of moral perfection, and thus in particular moral goodness. So, it seems to me it's pretty intelligible to understand the word without God. In fact, I already sketched how I think this might happen. I made a parallel with color that you might not agree with (given your color skepticism), but I don't think it's bizarre at all. In fact, one would expect social animals who evolve big brains to have species-specific rules of behavior, and one would also expect that if those animals eventually evolve a language capacity and begin to talk, some of their terms will pick up those rules. Now, perhaps the rules are not rock bottom. Perhaps, the mental properties associated with them are, so "moral obligation", "moral right", etc., are less basic than "immoral behavior", "morally praiseworthy behavior", "morally neutral behavior", etc. But regardless of how it goes, I would say that that would be enough, as long as we do have a moral sense that can generally track those rules. I think we do have it: the best counter argument I'm familiar with is from moral disagreement (or disputes, if "disagreement" settles the question of meaning in some way), but while I used to think a long time ago that it was strong, now I think it's very weak. I offer to discuss it if you like. Anyway, I'm not saying rules are all there is to morality. I'm saying that as long as they worked as sketched, they'd be good enough for moral obligations/rights (given nothing preventing that talk from being successful, anyway; I don't think there is anything like that, but I'm willing to discuss arguments for the opposite conclusion). Moral goodnes, praiseworthiness, etc., seems to require tracking some mental properties (or other mental properties, if the rules are actually at bottom some mental properties), but I also think we have that - and unsurprisingly so, given evolution. Side note (or not, given the sketch I'm trying to make): If, say, smart aliens evolved from something like squid on a distant planet (let's call them 2-squid), and they eventually got language, science, technology, etc. (they'd have to become somewhat more social along the way), I would expect them to have some 2-squid-moral language that would pick properties like 2-squid-moral wrongness, 2-squid-moral goodness, etc., not to be confused with the moral counterparts (which are ours). Generally, I would expect advanced social aliens to have something akin to morality, but not quite the same, and also talk (successfully, and species-wide save for very sick individuals, very young, etc.) assigning moral-like properties, etc. If the universe is sufficiently big, there would be some aliens that would have morality as we do, but I would expect that future humans or post humans will never find any of them, if they ever find aliens (way too rare; fictional aliens like Klingons, Vulcans or Mimbari are essentially odd-looking humans with some behavioral quirks, and should count as humans for the purposes of this discussion. Actual aliens would likely be very different from them). Now, you might ask, but if that's the story, why should a human being follow the rules in question? Well, not following them is morally wrong, so in a moral sense of "should", it's a tautology that he should. But if you're asking means-ends, or overall means-to-ends given an individual human being's evaluative function, we can discuss it. I would advance this: in the vast majority of cases, I would expect immoral behavior not to be rational when counting overall means-to-ends, though I also think sometimes it would be rational in that sense (philosophers disagree on whether this is possible, I know, if you like, we can discuss it). (3) The idea of equal moral worth might not be a good way of supporting equal rights. I think rights and obligations might be about rules, not about value. Or not, but it's a difficult matter, even though the usual philosophical position today is to at least closely link them, if not conflate them. But I'll play along, and consider both the claim of equal moral worth and the claim of equal moral rights, and in particular, the right not to be enslaved. Before I go on, a comment on your claim it's more likely under theism than atheism. Of course, under theism, it follows that there are moral properties by definition (i.e., from the definition of God and the claim that he exists), so I guess in that sense, that would make it more probable all other things equal. But I think given the available info, atheism+moral properties is far more probable than theism. In any case, I would like to address your specific example, namely that each human being is equally loved by God for reasons that we can't understand in all cases. But why would that make it more likely that there is a right not to be enslaved? Would that also make it more likely that, on theism, there is a right not to be, say, imprisoned, regardless of what one did? But regardless, I'm going to tackle the matters in a more straighforward manner. First, I say the claim that all human beings have equal moral worth is false. I will present hypothetical scenarios that support my claim: S1: Let's say that Bob and Kim are drowning. Paul sees them, but Paul can only save one, and can do so without taking any significant risks (e.g., he has a boat and can go and save one, but the boat can't hold 3 people, and there is no time for the other; if this does not work, please adjust the scenario as you see fit, so that Paul properly reckons he can save one without significant risk to his own wellbeing, but just can't save both). Paul properly reckons that Bob is a generally nice guy, not a hero or anything, but not a bad person. On the other hand, Paul also properly reckons that Kim is a serial killer, who kidnaps, rapes and then murders teenage girls, purely for fun. I would say that, all other morally relevant things equal (in particular no one else is drowing, no bad thing can be expected from Bob's survival, etc.): I. Paul has a moral obligation to save Bob. II. Regardless of whether I'm wrong about I (but I'm not:)), the action of Paul is morally better if he saves Bob than it is if he saves Kim. III. If Kim drowns but Bob does not, what happened is better than Kim's surviving and Bob's drowing. Points III. supports the assessment that Kim's and Bob's moral worth is not equal. I. and II. also support that if we insist on (or stipulate for the sake of the argument) linking moral value with obligations in such a tight manner (if not, then the argument from allegedly equal worth to equal rights also becomes weaker). You might protest that Kim is morally guilty, so his moral worth went down because of his own fault. But even if that's true (I'll come up with more cases below), the fact remains that their moral worth is not the same. Of course, you might disagree with my moral assessments I-III. If so, please let me know. S2: Side note: I don't think embryos are human beings, even if they're human organisms. I don't think the term "human being" picks any human organism. But no matter, if you think they are (if not, please disregard this case), here's the scenario. Imagine there is a burning building. Roger can save 10 years old Tommy without significant risk to his own life, but the frozen embryos in the other room will burn. Or he can save the 100 frozen embryos, leaving Tommy to die. As it happens, Tommy is under total anesthesia, so he Roger reckons rationally that he would not suffer. Roger has no personal relation to him, and no connection to the embryos or their progenitors, either. I would say: IV: Roger has a moral obligation to save Tommy. V: If Tommy burns to death, what has happened is worse than the alternative of the 100 frozen embryos burning. This supports also that Roger has greater moral worth than each of the 100 embryos. Regarding the right not to be enslaved, imagine a preindustrial society where there are no prisons - they simply do not have the technology or generally resources to imprison people. In this society, serial killers are condemned to force labor for life (i.e., they're enslaved). Would that be immoral? I don't know. Even if it is (but I doubt it), it's much less immoral than enslaving normal people. Now, serial killers do have the right not to be enslaved; at least, it would be immoral to enslave them just for profit (rather than as a proper punishment). But they don't have the right not to be enslaved as a punishment. Now, in a sense, it might be said that they still have equal rights, as no one has the right not to be enslaved as a punishment when that punishment is proper. But if that's what one means by equal rights, then why is it surprising that they would be equal without God? (well, actually, I think it's not surprising in any circumstances, but that aside). So, it seems to me that there is no absolute right not to be enslaved, and there is no equal moral worth, either. Granted, you might still ask about "natural slaves"? Well, we can tell by our own moral sense and reason that it's immoral to enslave people for profit. Would such a sense be surprised among humans? No, I don't see why. In social animals with the sort of social organization humans tend to have (and had in the ancestral environment), it's unsurprising that trying to enslave someone would be a norm violation, and it's hardly relevant their level of intelligence. Smart aliens might be different. What do I know? Granted, I don't have the full story of why it developed in that way. I'm not arguing that I can tell how evolution gave us the moral sense we have, instead of some analogue. But I'm not using evolution to make moral assessments. I'm using reason and my moral sense for that. I'm saying that nothing seems particularly surprising - let alone bizarre or impossible - about us having the sense we have.
Jacques, I have to go now, so I don't have time to address most of your points. I will do so later today or tomorrow as time permits. But I wanted to briefly say that that is not my approach, for the following reasons: a. I gave an argument explaining why usually when we define things by ostension, we do make successful statements, our terms have referents, etc. On the basis of that, I argued that that is enough to give a presumption of success in this case, and so claims to the contrary require some argumentation. So, yes, I'm saying the burden is on the side saying that there would be no morality without God, but I'm also arguing for it. Still, I think it would have been proper to just say that the burden is on the side saying that there would be no morality without God, but it would not have been conducive to having a conversation here. I gave those arguments precisely because I wanted to discuss the issue, but of course without taking up too much of a burden I consider improper - at least, not without arguing first why I consider it improper in the first place. That said, I will try to give more details (more below). b. I sketched how things could go, in the last part of my previous reply to you, in which I compare it to color. That would give you and others who disagree with me a target to start giving arguments if you so choose. c. I addressed some specific arguments presented by Conan (i.e., I'm not just offering to address arguments, I'm addressing them). d. I'm not demanding that anyone give arguments; I'm offering to address arguments :), but perhaps more importantly, it's not about every assumption that others find plausible. If others say that they are making an assumption, then I would just say I see no good reason to make it. If, on the other hand, they find it intuitively plausible that there would be no morality (in the sense already explained) without God for some reasons (not by an assumption, or by an intuition not based on other, previous assessments), I offer to take a look at the reasons and address them, if they want to. That said, I will try to give more of a positive account if you want me to, though I have to say I do not have anything specific - much like in the case of color, no one seems to have had anything specific and correct for most of history, and I think morality is much more complicated than color. So, when by "a positive account", I mean to explain more how some things might happen in an evolutionary context, but without taking a stance on matters such as - for example - rights and obligations are secondary and derived from more basic things (such as immorality, moral goodness, etc.), or - perhaps equivalently - whether we're tracking a system of rules in addition to some mental attitudes, character traits, etc., or the rules are derived from them, etc. Before I do that, though, I will address your points (1), (2), and (3) the best I can, so that we can see if we have enough common ground for a successful conversation (hopefully so!), so please stay tuned.
Hi Jacques, Long time no see. Here's my reply to your points: No, it's not enough if your goal is to answer the question Bill was asking. The question is what there could be in reality that grounds--explains, makes true--our claims about moral rights, equal rights, etc. Bill was raising several points, and "addressing how it is that we can have words like "moral obligation', 'moral rights', 'immoral behavior', etc., that have referents in the actual world, and how we can make successful statements about that" is enough to address his concern about an alleged vacuity of rights talks, if God does not exist. More to the point, Bill said Suppose there is no God. Then talk of equal rights is empty. We may continue to talk in those vacuous terms, somehow hiding the vacuity from ourselves, but then we would be 'running on fumes.' People may continue to believe in equal rights, but their belief would be groundless. Well, I'm arguing that without God, talk about rights, obligations, etc., need not be empty, there could be referents - and, in fact, there are -, and so on. I don't need to address the specific point of what would ground rights, in detail - though given your explanation of the question, it seems to be I indirectly addressed it. I will get into more details later, but first, I'd like to say that I find the word "grounding" very obscure, but Bill's statement above suggests that without grounding, talk about equal rights (or generally, talk about rights, obligations, and generally moral talk) would be "empty", which clearly indicates that there would be no referent, an error theory would hold, etc. But I'm arguing that none of that happens. If that (i.e., that not happening) requires grounding, then I would say that our talk is grounded, regardless of God. In fact, in light of your explanation that grounding is like truth-making, I would say this: However, much like color talk, I don't need to know what grounds something in order to know it's grounded. For example, I do not know what grounds color talk. But I do know that if it is something that has to do with frequencies, wavelengths of light, and the like, no one ever knew what grounded color talk during most of history, and most people do not know it today. But that's not a good reason for them to doubt that color talk has some referent, is not empty, no color error theory obtains, etc. Finding the specific grounding is a complicated philosophical task, and at least throughout most of history, it was not known for color (unless it's grounded in something else? I'm listening to suggestions), but not knowing what grounds them is not a good reason to think they're groundless. What I'm arguing (more precisely, part of what I'm arguing) is that there is no good reason to think that in the case of rights, obligations, etc., either, even assuming no God, and I'm arguing that by arguing that the way language usually works when defining terms ostensively would allow for there to be something - whatever it is - that grounds them. Here is an analogy: If I were an atheist I could offer some kind of story like yours about how it is that English words like "sacred" or "holy" or "demonic" had referents in the actual world. When people use words like "holy" they are often referring to things. But it's a further question whether any of the things they are referring to really are sacred, holy, demonic, etc. But this depends on how a word is defined. Is it defined by ostension, or in some other manner? If someone defines "sacred" as, say, "something important to God" (or whatever), then of course, the fact that people claim that things are sacred does not provide strong evidence that they are. I would argue that nothing would be sacred, in that sense. Similarly for "demonic". That word is derived from "demons", so what are demons? If people define "demon" as, say, the fallen angels defined in the Bible, then I would say there are no demons or demonic things, etc. But again, that's not an ostensive definition. In fact, I think in such senses, those words would have no referent. Statements like "that's sacred", or "that's demonic" would be false. Of course, we can still get information from them, because we may well know what sorts of things the claimaint believes to be sacred, demonic, etc. But they would not have referents. Even if naturalism were true there could be explanations like yours for facts about the use of religious or non-naturalistic language. So if a religious person were to ask "Is there anything in the world that 'grounds' our religious beliefs?" that would not be the same as asking "Are there facts about our linguistic practices that explain how are able to refer to things with our religious language?" I don't think that that sort of language refers. I think it provides information in context (in particular, because we know what people believe). But we do not need to settle the question of whether it refers here for the following reason: let's say that you're right and those things would still refer. Then, I'm in error about part of what it takes for a statement to refer, but no matter, the arguments I'm giving in my replies to Bill and Conan go further than that: I'm arguing that claims that someone behaved immoral, or has a moral rights, or moral obligations, etc., often would be true. I'm arguing that this is so by making a parallel with other terms we define by ostension (or how else do you think moral language is defined?), pointing out that there is something that the things we're picking have in common, and in general that's enough. Of course, even if it's enough in general, there might be exceptions. It might be argued that moral language includes some ontological commitments that would make the statements empty, etc. I'm familiar with several (or many, if you count variants) such arguments. I don't find them persuasive, but I'm willing to discuss them. But I want to point out that that would be the exception. Also, in addition to the matter of referent, I said that we can make successful statements, but I see from your reply that that wasn't clear, and there's been a misunderstanding. So, let me address that too: The situation with respect to moral language is the same. Even if there were no moral reality but merely a bunch of (false) moral beliefs or intuitions, it could still happen that people use moral language to refer to things. Even if no one has any rights, there could still be "rights" talk and it could be "successful" in some weak sense. I didn't mean "successful" in a weak sense. I meant that statements assigning moral rights, obligations, blame, etc., would often be true. Sorry if that wasn't clear. Do you think that that would still not address his question? Granted, you might think I haven't given a good argument for that, so we would disagree, but that's another matter. I offer to discuss it. Thus, merely to explain how that might plausibly happen is not relevant to the question Bill asked. It would be roughly similar to answering the question of whether God exists by explaining how some people are able to refer to a certain Jewish man when they use descriptions like "God incarnate" or "the Son of Man" or "The Lord". I think that depends on how they use the word, but generally, I would say they fail to refer. For example, suppose that someone says: "God incarnate prohibited divorce and remarriage". I think that the statement, at least in most contexts, would be false even if a certain Jewish man whose life part of the Gospel is based on, actually made that claim. And I think "God incarnate" fails to refer, even if the fact that someone makes such a claim may well (alongside other pieces of information) give us information that might be useful (e.g., about the beliefs of the person making the claim). But as before, if I'm mistaken about referent, that does not imply I'm not addressing Bill's question, since I'm arguing that moral statements can generally be true. So, how can they be true? Well, I'm saying, it's the same it's usually the case with words defined in that manner: people would say "wrong" (pointing at immoral behaviors), "good", "praiseworthy", etc., pointing at different behaviors. Now I'm saying that as long as we have a system tracking some feature of reality associated with those words, then we have successful (in the strong sense) statements, unless - unusually - when we start pointing at things, we are adding some ontological commitments that are not met by the things we're pointing at. But that would be unusual, and would have to be argued for. The default case is success in referring, and in making true statements about the stuff in question in case that requires more than successful reference. Of course, that has been argued for, at length, by many theists. I'm saying I don't find any of the arguments I've seen persuasive (and I've read several, including the most common ones); I'm also offering to address any that Bill or anyone else posting here might want to raise (as time permist; I can't dedicate several hours a day for months to this, but I am willing to dedicate a considerable amount of time), and I have already addressed some such arguments (see my previous reply to Conan). But why would moral language not be culturally variable, as it happens with many things we define by ostension? Well, I think that is because of human nature. I do not think intelligent, language-capable aliens would have moral language, but probably something similar (species-specific moral-like language), and they would also make successful statements, but not about the same things we do (of course, if the universe has infinitely many galaxies, there would also be aliens with moral language, and also if it's finite but sufficiently big; but I would not bet on the successor of our civilization ever running into any such aliens. They would run into aliens with analogues to moral language). To be clear, I'm not suggesting we're somehow an oddity because we got the moral language and aliens would get moral-like language. Different species would get similar but not the same language, and "moral" language is ours. Likewise, if we came to believe that the best explanation for moral discourse has nothing to do with any moral reality corresponding to our moral beliefs, that should undermine our moral beliefs. Indeed. But on that note, I think color statements come in handy. What's the best explanation for color discourse? Very roughly (there are differences between languages, so it's not a perfect analogy in that regard, but it will do hopefully for the purposes I have in mind; else, I'll go with illness and health). Well, humans have a visual system that can pick up some differences in the reflective (or emitting, depending on the case) properties of objects. And so some humans found it useful to use different words when they saw those things with different properties. And bingo, we have color language, we succesfully make true color statements, etc. What if something like that happened with moral discourse? Let's say that also as a result of evolution, humans normally do care considerably about some of properties. And different societies coin words that they use when they reckon someone is exhibiting those properties (e.g., "morally wrong behavior", "morally praiseworthy behavior", "morally bad person", etc.). This is of course an oversimplyfication. There is also moral obligations and rights, which might be derivative from the basic ones (maybe "bad person", "immoral behavior", etc.), or maybe it's that humans have a species-wide set of rules, and of course a corresponding system to detect rules violations, etc., which is generally reliable but far from perfect, and of course it's subject to errors resulting from errors in assessments about what a person intends, believes, knows, cares about, and a long list. Now, this is not to say that those words mean something about human evolved rules, etc.; neither do color statements mean anything like that. But in general, that way of picking properties and coining words succeeds. I offer to address any arguments to the conclusion that they does not succeed (strong sense; see above) in the case of morality (rights, obligations, immorality, or whatever one prefers) unless God exists.
Conan, I'm an atheist, but not committed to any sort of metaphysical materialism/naturalism, at least as far as I can tell. In fact, I find the words "materialism" and "naturalism" particularly obscure, if defined by stipulation. Moreover, I have not seen any stipulation that results in the sort of thing people want to debate about. If, on the other hand, they are defined by ostension, they're probably too imprecise for the sort of metaphysical work they're supposed to do. But in any event, I am not committed to any of them - at least, in the ostension cases and the stipulations I can understand; if there is some concept of "materialism" or "naturalism" that I can't understand, I do not know whether I fall under the classification in question. As for whether God would be outside a space/time continuum, that's difficult to tell in particular with respect to time, though apparently he'd be outside space, or something (is there an outside)? At any rate, my atheism is not based on anything like materialism or naturalism of any sort. I might as well stipulate for the sake of the argument that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, unembodied person. Under that stipulation, I reckon God does not exist (the creator fails to be morally perfect, or even morally good). But we don't need to settle the question of whether God exist. Let's just assume the falseness of materialism, naturalism, or whatever, and it's fine with me. That aside, you say that natural rights are not very empirically accessible either. We haven't seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched a right. Nor have we every bubbled one out of test-tube or glimpsed a right's atomic structure through a microscope". We have never heard, smelled, tasted or touched a right, or a moral obligation, or an immoral behavior, but we have seen, heard, touched, etc., morally good or morally bad people, people who behaved immorally, etc. Similarly, we have never heard, smelled, tasted or touched cruelty, kindness, sexual attraction, pain, fear, suffering, bravery, etc., even if we have seen, heard, probably touched, etc., cruel or kind people, people who are sexually attracted to others, people who are in pain, or suffering, or fear stuff, or are brave, etc. Similarly, we have never heard, smelled, or touched a mental illness, or generally any illness, though we have seen, heard, etc., ill people, including but not limited to mentally ill people. For that matter, we have not even seen blueness or redness, but blue things, red things, etc. I don't see why not being able to touch, smell, etc., those things is somehow a problem for empirical access. You might say that those things I mentioned are different from rights, obligations, etc., in some other sense. Of course they are, they're also different from each other, since they're different things! But they are not different from rights, obligations, etc., in the sense that we cannot smell, touch them, see them, etc., which is the relevant matter in the context of the argument for queerness you're advancing. Thus, I reckon that the argument that rights are because of our not being able to smell them, touch them, etc. (rights or obligations, or immoral behavior, etc.) does not succeed. The same goes for attempts to use other detection means like sensors, microscopes, etc. in an argument. This sort of argument is not going to succeed at linking rights or generally morality to theism, since it's based on the mistaken idea that rights are like God and unlike other, ordinary stuff, on matters one which rights, obligations, immorality, etc., are in fact like all sorts of other ordinary stuff, some of which I listed above. Now, granted, you might think that perhaps some other property of rights, obligations, etc., sets them apart from other things in a way that supports the existence of God - or the nonexistence of rights, obligations, etc., without God. If you (or other readers) think so and want to discuss it, I offer to address any other arguments as well, but so far, I have read several theistic metaethical arguments, studied them the best I could, and reckoned that all of them fail. Whatever rights are, they seems to be "queer" objects in a similar way God is. For the reasons I've been explaining, I don't see why that would be so, just as I don't see cruelty, kindness, pain, suffering, love, etc., as queer either. I've given the details above. Both elude detection by our most sophisticated scientific instruments and empirical methodologies. Do morally bad people avoid detection? How? And if so, do cruel people avoid detection as well? Mentally ill people? Red apples? Sure, you can build a machine that detects red objects, if you calibrate it using the human visual system as a template. Potentially, the machine could detect red objects - or generally classify objects by color - even better than humans (e.g., by being able to see with less light, or avoid optical illusions, etc.), but for that matter, at least potentially, I don't see why future AI would not be able to also detect cruel people, or morally bad people, or people in love, or people in pain, or whatever, on the basis of their behavior. As in the other cases, you would need humans to teach the machine how to find the categories, or at least the machine could learn by looking at how humans do the classifying, and then the machine could do so as well. You might say: but how can you get the advanced future machine to tell right from wrong without using a human moral sense as a compass, at least initially, directly or indirectly? The answer is that you can't, but then, one can ask: How can you get the machine to tell red from green without using a human visual sense as a compass, at least initially? The answer is also that you can't (and the same for the other things, e.g., cruel behavior, etc.). Yet, you seem skeptical about God's existence. Are you also skeptical about the existence of rights? I deny God's existence. I affirm the existence of bad people, cruel people, good people, red apples, and rights as well - though I don't know that they are basic properties; they may be derivative properties, reducible to simpler moral properties, like obligations, or just immorality. In any case, I take no stance on that. In fact, I suspect the language of rights makes moral matters usually more obscure, rather than clearer (but I take no stance on this; I just suspect it). The problem with this is that this hardly seems robust enough to account for the rights and or equality of rights we talk about in moral discourse. For the reasons that I have not to just treat you as a means to my ends instead of an end in itself seem only prudential. I don't harm you because negative things are likely to happen to me because society is built in such a way where I would face repercussions for whatever dark action I took against you. But if I could get away with it, what's to stop me? Some actions are cruel, and some actions are immoral. Maybe nothing will stop you from doing any of those. But that does not make them non-existent, or gives us any reason to think they are. All we have is a mutual non-aggression pact. If I foresee no consequences, why wouldn't it be in my best interest to "Crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women"? That's a good question. I think the heart of the matter is what it means for something to be "in your best interest". The fact is that you care about not being the sort of entity that does that. You care about the suffering of others, at least to some extent, and definitely you care about not being the one causing that sort of suffering. At least, you care if you're an adult human with a normally functioning mind. But what about a psychopath? Does he care? He may well not care. But psychopath is mentally ill. Would it be in his best interest do act in a way that serves only the goals he has due to his mental illness, or would it be in its best interest to do whatever goals he would have if he were not mentally ill? Perhaps, the expression "best interest" is not precise enough for the work you want to use it in this context. But at any rate, this does not seem to be about the existence of rights, obligations, etc., but if you think it is and you can elaborate on this sort of objection, I'm listening (briefly: I don't think it succeeds, either, because I've studied similar objections, but I do think it leads to a more interesting discussion than the arguments involving not being able to see, tough, smell, detect with microscopes, etc.) You may decry what I would be doing as wrong. However, as a relatively clever hairless ape among all the animals that ever existed on this planet, a rock that just cooled in a solar system barely out of its diapers in an indifferent billions-of-years-old universe spinning its way to heat-death, it would really seem what I'm doing is no more wrong or a violation of rights than the male lion that slaughters the cubs of his ousted predecessor so he can mate with his newly won harem of females. That does not follow. Nor is it made more probable by your arguments (or Craig's, some of which are very similar). It seems in fact it goes against our obvious assessment. It's pretty clear that some human behaviors are morally wrong. The lion does not have the sort of mind that can behave immorally. For that matter, we don't need moral concepts to make such differences: a crocodile cannot be cruel (not the right sort of mind), I'm not sure a lion can; a chimp very probably can be cruel, and a human can. A mosquito can't feel envy, but a chimp very probably can. The point is that we have concepts describing mental properties, actions, etc., that some sort of minds can have, do, etc., and others can't. From that, nothing seems to follow about the nonexistence of cruelty, envy, etc., withoug God - in fact, God does not seem to enter the picture here. Might makes right, and the law of the jungle reigns. The people who say that it doesn't and insist on all of us being equal are weaklings covetous of the greatness of others. They should face reality: God is dead. Rights are just the secularized leftovers of a religion--the foundation of which no one believes in anymore--that is centered on unhealthy self-flagellation and deference to the unextraordinary... ...Unless you have a way of securing our equality and our rights that doesn't require God's resurrection --> I believe it was for this puzzle that our gracious host was looking for an answer. I'm doing my best to address Bill's question, at least as much as time permits. I'm arguing that rights, obligations, immoral behavior, etc., are some of the things that our moral terms pick, just as our color terms pick some other properties of things, perhaps reflective ones, just as our language about illness or disease, about other mental properties, etc., pick different stuff. There is no good reason in any of the theistic arguments I've seen to link any of this to the existence of God. Here I have addressed your argument about what we can see, touch, etc., or detection methods, but I have considered many other theistic arguments, and I'm willing to discuss any of your choosing, or any that Bill might choose. Other than that, rights are not leftovers of a religion, either. Human moral concepts, at least the basic ones in case rights aren't among them, are older than any present-day religion. As are, for that matter, the human concepts of pain, suffering, illness and health, sexual attraction, kindness, bravery, fear, cruelty, etc.
Bill, The grounding question seems pretty obscure to me, as any "grounding" question (I find that term quite obscure). However, I was trying to address your claims or implications that right claims were a problem without God, and trying to discuss the matter, not to give a theory about "grounding". I don't see why one would need to address grounding. I don't have a theory of grounding color, or sickness, or for that matter anything. Is it not enough that it would be immoral to enslave you because of your nature, regardless of theories about grounding? But why would it be immoral, you might ask? It seems to me it's intuitively clear, once we consider the sort of mind that you have - or rather, it would be immoral in most scenarios. I can imagine scenarios in which enslaving a person would be morally praiseworthy, if the enslavers does it as the only available means to save the victim from a far worse fate. It's not so difficult to construct scenarios like those, if you want to - but I suspect you don't want me to do so, but to provide some theory of grounding not involving God? I'm not sure about grounding, but I was getting at the issue of morality, and was asking for your take on the two analogies first in order to see what your objection in the moral case was. Still, I can develop the moral case as well. 1. Color: Some humans coin words like "red", "blue", etc. Those terms pick some properties of some sorts of things (e.g., trees and cats, but not human minds, laws or songs), perhaps reflective properties, but that's speculative: whatever the properties are, we have a reasonably effective means of picking them. 2. Health, etc.: Some humans coin words like "ill", "healthy", and synonyms. Those terms pick some properties of things (e.g., trees, cats and human minds, but not games of chess or Go, or buses). We have a reasonable effective means of picking the properties "healthy" and "sick", and their different degrees. What those properties are we could speculate, but what I'm saying is that God does not seem to be required at all for our terms to have referents, or for our having the ability to make successful statements about whether something is ill, etc., 3. Moral obligations, moral rights, moral wrongness, etc.: this works as the previous cases. I don't see why God would be required. But I could speculate about what sort of properties they are: the property of being immoral (or morally wrong) seems to be a mental property: it's a property of the mind of the perpetrator. It's not a property of the behavior as can be observed from outside. The same applies to moral obligations. Moral rights are a bit more difficult, but but they seem to be either properties of the mind of the person having them. So, how does your nature as an animal give you the right not to be enslaved? My answer would be that the actions of enslaving a being with your kind of mind (or more precisely, attempting to enslave a being that, on the basis of the available evidence, has that sort of mind) falls under the category "immoral", that the words coined as sketched above picks. I don't have a full description of the category, but what I'm saying is that nothing else seems to be needed for our moral terms to have referents, or for our successfully making claims of existence of rights, obligations, etc.. At least, that seems to be the usual way in which our language works (as in the case of color, or illness), and I don't see any good reason to believe this would fail in the moral case - though if you'd like to make an argument, I would be willing to address it. Now, perhaps you think that that does not address your question about grounding. I admit I don't know for sure, since I find the concept of "grounding" pretty obscure. But I am addressing how it is that we can have words like "moral obligation", "moral rights", "immoral behavior", etc., that have referents in the actual world, and how we can make successful statements about that. Is that not enough? (and perhaps, that is "grounding" them; I just don't claim that it is or that it is not, due to the (in my view) obscurity of the concept of grounding). Of course, you may well disagree with my assessment that the above is enough for there to be rights, obligations, etc. But since it is enough with our usual terms (from "red" and "blue" to "sick" and "healthy", to "water", "cat", and "human"), I would ask for some argument that would make moral terms different in a sense that is relevant. If you disagree, as I said, I'm willing to discuss it, though honestly, I fear there is a communication problem here, perhaps due to our having views that are very different on the subject and a number of related subjects. Your earlier reply indicates that perhaps there is a misunderstanding going on. If that's what's happening, I offer to go sketch why I think aliens with language would likely have moral-like language, but their words would have actually different meanings and referents from ours (even if with a big overlap in the actual world, in some cases), and they would successfully generally make statements about something similar to rights and obligations, but not quite the same. That might clarify some of my points sufficiently, but I'm going to ask you before I go on, because perhaps you will think it's also not relevant, or not addressing your question, etc.
Hi Bill, I don't see why God would be needed for rights, and if there is a problem with rights without God, I don't see how God would be an explanation, so I would like to address some of the points you raise. In particular, you say One could just insist that rights and norms are grounded in nature herself. But that would be metaphysical bluster and not an explanation. I don't see how God would be an explanation rather than metaphysical bluster is grounding in nature is metaphysical bluster. Then again, for all I know maybe all "grounding" theories are metaphysical bluster - or at least, present-day ones. In any case, let me briefly consider briefly 2 different cases, before getting to morality, because I'd like to ask whether you think there is trouble for the two others (especially the second) if God does not exist. 1. Color. We make color statements very often, and I don't see why one would need God to ground color. There are people who believe God is required to ground everything, so I guess also color, but I don't see anything persuasive about those arguments. More to the point (because the term "grounding" is also rather obscure), I don't see why we would need God for our color statements to be generally true. Do you think there is any problem with color without God? I would say that the meaning of words like "red" is determined by usage, and there is a sense in which human nature plays a role. There are some differences in color terms across human languages, but still, in general the differences in color vision are minor, there are ways of translating (if needed, by definining new terms), and there is objective color in the sense that, in the usual sense of the words, there is an objective fact of the matter as to, say, whether the driver ran a red light, or a tree's leaves are green, etc. Btw (and this might or might not be a side issue, depending on your reply), I would not expect aliens (advanced, with language, etc.) from another planet to have the same or very similar categories to ours, as their color-like vision (much like the vision on nonhuman animals on Earth) would likely be considerably different from ours, their perception of the world would be in that regard pretty different from ours, etc. 2. Health and sickness. We also make statements about these things very often. I don't see why we would need God for those statements to be generally true any more than in the case of color. Just as we have color vision, we have a mechanism that allows us to tell the sick from the healthy. That mechanism is fallible of course, but generally reliable. Other animals generally can tell the different too (though their categorization might be somewhat different). Btw, I would expect a greater degree of similarity (probably!) between some alien language and our human languages in this regard than in color (as we can see when we look at different species here on Earth), though probably their language would not have words with the same referent (thus, nor with the same meaning) as "sick" or "healthy"...just a very similar referent. Now, I don't have a theory about "grounding" of either redness or sickness. But I don't see how God would play a role in making the statements true: we talk about stuff around us, communicate information, etc.; I just don't see any role for God there. As I see it, generally it's enough that we have a generally reliable means of classifying stuff (e.g., "red", "blue", "green", or "healthy", "ill", "very ill", etc.) and the ability to speak in order to coin terms and make statements that are generally true about those categorizations. We do that not by stipulative definitions, but generally by ostensive ones, and that seems to work. I do not know why "morally wrong behavior", "morally praiseworthy behavior", "morally bad person", etc., would not work just as well. Granted, there are cases in which the categories are widely variable from language to language. The concept of a motorcycle did not exist in Latin in the Roman Empire, for example. But as long as there is a species-wide, generally reliable system that can pick categories like that, why would the words we coin fail to refer in the absence of God? A common retort is that normativity allegedly makes a difference. But as with the concept of "natural", that's not a clear term, and in any event, the arguments I'm familiar with do not succeed in my assessment, though if you'd like to make an argument (on the basis of normativity or something else), I'll gladly consider it. Another reply is that evolution would not result in a species-wide sense that picks up some properties. I don't agree with that; it seems to me it clearly depends on the conditions on which the species evolves, but for a social species, it seems very probable that they will at least have a species-wide system of rules. All that aside, and to be clear, I'm not claiming or implying the meaning of moral terms and expressions can be reduced to something stated in non-moral terms (by "moral terms and expressions" I mean here things like "immoral", "moral obligation", "morally good person", etc.), but then, I don't see how color terms and expressions (similarly defined) would be more readily so reduced, or for that matter terms like "healthy", etc. I'm taking no stance on whether there is any such reductions, even if I'm lean against it.
Bill, Here's a modification that avoids the hangover issue: A just forgets to set his alarm clock, and oversleeps. The tank is full. Does he have a moral obligation to take B to the airport? I would consider 2 different (sub)scenarios, and my assessment of them: S1: A wakes up 1 hour before the flight. He knows that B has to be at the airport 1 hour before the flight to check in, and the trip would take roughly 2 hours. In this case, A does not have any obligations to take B to the airport. He already did something wrong - he was negligent in not setting his alarm clock -, and he should apologize. But there is no further wrongdoing in not taking B to the airport. S2: A wakes up 3 hours before the flight. He knows that B has to be at the airport 1 hour before the flight to check in, and the trip would take roughly 2 hours. A reckons that depending on traffic, they have about a 50% chance of making it on time, and his assessment is epistemically rational given the information available to him. In this case, A does have an obligation to try to take B to the airport. However, it's not the case that he incurs further blame if due to traffic (normal for that hour, though it might have been less) they don't make it. In fact, as long as A does his best to get there, he is only to blame for forgetting to set the alarm clock the previous night, and nothing more. Now, B is human, so there is a good chance he would be more upset and more angry with A if they don't make it than if they do, but that isn't because A's behavior was more immoral in one case than in the other. Rather, that's because humans do tend to care more about wrongful behavior when they or those close to them suffer negative consequences. So, I think those variants also fail to present a successful counterexample. Side note: Some (maybe many) people believe that sometimes, immoral behavior is not blameworthy but excusable. I don't believe this is so - I believe that necessarily, a behavior that is blameworthy if and only if it's immoral. But on the view that sometimes behavior is immoral but not blameworthy, it's hard to test whether ought implies can. For example, as far as I know, even a carjacking might not absolve A of a moral obligation, but only make him not blameworthy if he fails to meet his obligation. Under the assumption that there is immoral behavior that is not blameworthy, I think the principle one could test would be whether blameworthiness in case of failure implies can (i.e., the principle analogous to OC, but using blameworthiness instead of "ought").
Hi Bill, I think a key question is: did the person who made the promise (say, A) incur moral blame (related to the matter at hand, of course) after he was already incapable of taking the other person (say, B) to the airport on time? If the answer is negative, then it seems to me this isn't a counter example to the (proposed) principle. I think the answer is negative, because in the scenario, A's immoral behavior consists in: 1. Getting drunk the previous night. He should have known that there was a significant risk that he would not be able to deliver his friend to the airport (apart from other potential reasons this might be wrong). 2. Driving while hungover. A does not know what the level of alcohol is, so based on the information available to him, driving might or might not be a crime. But he knows or should know there is a risk that it is. More importantly, aside from the morality of risking breaking the law, he knows or should know it's dangerous: even if he hasn't read any studies on the subject, he surely can feel the hangover. So, it seems to me once A woke up hungover, A did not have a moral obligation to drive B to the airport, but rather, a moral obligation to refrain from driving until he felt better. He also had a moral obligation to call B to apologize and tell him that he was in no condition to drive safely, due to his own wrongful behavior the previous night. We could modify the scenario and say it happens 20 years into the future, and A has a safe, fully autonomous car. But then, the car would let him know that there is insufficient fuel - or much more likely, that the batteries need to be recharged -, so that's not going to work, either. There are plenty of other potential variants, but I haven't found one that works. Granted, it might look as though this is a way to block the (purported) counterexample without addressing the crux of it, but at least in the cases of the purported counterexamples I've encountered, there is always one factor or another that makes the counterexample fail, so there might be something to that. In any case, I think the question I mentioned in the beginning would very likely be an effective way of testing any such scenarios.
Bill, Alright, so I think cases of biological immortality would count as actual counterexamples to c, at least if they might avoid some death by universe ending so to speak. While as far as I know more research is needed so this is not certain, there might be some organisms (including some animals) that do not age, and only die when they're killed by something. Those animals are mortal, but they would remain mortal if nothing happens to ever kill them. Now, there is the question of whether it's possible given the laws of our universe that something will in fact remain alive forever. For example, after the Earth is gone, those animals would have to be taken somewhere else, and then the stars would be gone but there are black holes, etc. So, it seems that the question of whether it's nomologically possible for an animal to live forever is still open, though there are quantum considerations that might change that, but also considerations about whether the universe is finite in size, etc., and I'm not in a position to fully address those questions. What is clear to me is that all animals are mortal, regardless of whether any of them will happen to live forever. For now, I think we should not accept any definitions of mortality that depend on actual future death (tenseless or not), since we do not know whether it's nomologically possible (even if very improbable) that an animal actually will live forever. I don't know whether any human at this point knows the answer: on one hand, it seems it's not known to science whether anything is biologically immortal, but on the other hand, maybe (or maybe not) enough is known about the future of the universe to give an answer. >>Well, agency ought not be brought into it. I am not much of an agent when in a deep sleep or a comatose patient in a hospital bed. << Hmm...I think you're a temporarily disabled agent. Maybe we use the word "agent" slightly differently. I chose "agent" because it was actually broader than the original "man", and didn't want to use something like "organism" because I think if a person's brain is dead (or the relevant parts) the person is dead, even if other parts of the body are kept alive by a machine (for example). But going by your reply, we can fix that problem by substituting "organism" for "agent" in the proposed definition. >>It is true that a mortal being A can be killed, but it needn't be by a distinct being B. A man can kill himself. << Right, but I stipulated that B need not be different from A in c', so that's not a problem. >> I am also wondering whether your definition is circular.<< That might or might not be so, as I was trying to capture the meaning of the term, but I'm just not sure I did capture it (maybe the definition can be improved upon, given the issues I raised and others). But I see that you were looking for something else, and I'm afraid I don't have a candidate.
Toggle Commented Mar 4, 2018 on Is a Dead Man Mortal? at Maverick Philosopher
Finding exception-less nontrivial definitions is very difficult and I don't have a candidate, but I think we can approach the concept better than c. at least, by modifying it to avoid many counterexamples. For instance, in fiction, there are examples of characters who do not grow old (in science, there is also a concept of biological immortality, though of course humans aren't biologically immortal), but can be killed by a number of different weapons. Those characters are metaphysically possible (some of those are, anyway) and they would be mortal even if nothing were to ever kill them. So, I think biological immortality provides possible counterexamples to C (I think there may be more than one usual concept of immortality, but biological immortality isn't one of them). One way to avoid those counterexamples would be: c': An agent A is immortal if and only if there is some thing B that can kill A. In c', "thing" is construed in its broadest sense, so whatever the correct metaphysics is, it applies to any beings, substances, agents, etc. (regardless of how those categories might overlap), as well as groups of more than one of them. Also, B need not be different from A. I think C' probably can be improved upon, but also, as I mentioned there may be more than one common usages of "mortal" in common speech, and if so, more than one definition would be needed. For example, can something immortal become mortal? In a sense I think the answer is "yes", because it would make sense to write a fictional story in which an immortal being chooses to give up his immortality, so there probably is a limited sense of "immortal" that is used commonly. But I think there is a stricter sense in which the answer is "no", so if - say - A1 can bring about X, and then some A2 can kill A, then A is not immortal. So, a correct definition would depend on which concept of immortality one is trying to capture. That aside, I think Christians would likely reject d. (e.g., Lazarus died twice, according to at least most Christian denominations), and while I think d. is actually true, it's not conceptually so, and I'm not sure it's necessarily so.
Toggle Commented Mar 4, 2018 on Is a Dead Man Mortal? at Maverick Philosopher
Bill T., Even if Plyler v. Doe is legislation from the bench, the reason I brought it up is because it (and other rulings) hold that illegal immigrants have some constitutional rights. Since you had said they had "in short, none" according to the SCOTUS, that seemed to contradict your claim, though as I said, I thought maybe there was a misunderstanding and you did not mean to claim they had essentially no constitutional rights (other than the minimum due process you mentioned, in order to determine whether they are illegally in the US). Given your reply, I think there probably is a misunderstanding. For example, you say that there is "bedrock case law that illegal aliens are "persons" only for the purposes of the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.". But that does not challenge what I'm saying. I made no claim for or against their having more rights than those two according to SCOTUS, but that is already a considerable amount of protection - how much is debatable, given the different takes on due process and equal protection in different rulings. The rest of your points also suggest miscommunication. I did not mean to suggest that SCOTUS had limited the federal government's authority to deport illegal immigrants promptly [which you seem to have noticed given your comment about my later post], or that they were not subject to immediate detention and deportation. So, I'm not sure what our disagreement actually is about, regarding the position of the SCOTUS (in context, I suspect there might be some disagreements about some of the moral questions involved, but that is another matter).
Bill, I didn't mean to comment on whether illegal immigrants have freedom of assembly according to the US Constitution (or generally, US laws). I'm not sure whether they do, though I think probably so, albeit in a limited fashion. Of course, since they do not have the right to remain in the country, that restricts severely any freedom of assembly (because even when they are trying to assemble, they could be lawfully be arrested and later deported). However, I think this is an indirect restriction. To go to the heart of the problem, I think one should ask questions such as: If Congress were to pass a law making it a felony for illegal immigrants to peacefully assemble, would that be a violation of the First Amendment? Tentatively, I'm inclined to think probably so, but I'm not an expert on the matter, and there seems to be no case in point (at least, I haven't been able to find one after a reasonable amount of searching).
Bill T., I'd like to ask which SCOTUS ruling(s) you have in mind. In Plyler v. Doe (source: ), they ruled that "Whatever his status under the immigration laws, an alien is a "person" in any ordinary sense of that term. This Court's prior cases recognizing that illegal aliens are "persons" protected by the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which Clauses do not include the phrase "within its jurisdiction," cannot be distinguished on the asserted ground that persons who have entered the country illegally are not "within the jurisdiction" of a State even if they are present within its boundaries and subject to its laws." One may agree or disagree with the SCOTUS, but it seems clear that according to the Court, illegal immigrants do have significant Constitutional rights. Later cases (in particular, Kerry v. Din) do not seem to have reversed previous law in that regard, even if they rejected the specific claims made by some illegal immigrants. Do you think they did reverse it? That aside, when illegal immigrants are accused of a crime, it seems to me they have the right to due process even if it has already been established that they are in the US illegally. They can't lawfully be sentenced to death, imprisonment, etc., if they get accused of armed robbery or murder without previous due process to establish whether they committed armed robbery or murder; establishing that he is an illegal immigrant is not enough. I could give other examples, but I'm thinking perhaps there is a misunderstanding, and you meant to talk about some specific set of protections?
Bill, I tend to agree with your assessment that donations are supererogatory (at least usually). On the other hand, I think if, say, I see an accident and a victim appears seriously injured and incapacitated and no one else is helping, I have (other things equal, no other emergencies, etc.) an obligation to at least call 911 (or do more, if I know how to), so I think there are some obligations to help in some cases, even without previous agreement or promise. But I generally don't think giving to charity is among those (though that might depend on your resources; perhaps, if you are a billionaire, you have an obligation to give something). Also, in the case of water or food, I think the obligations of one party do not always correspond with those of the other. For example, if someone asks for some of your food and say that they or their children are actually starving, depending on the circumstances I think you might not have an obligation to give it to them. In fact, you might not even have good reason to believe that their situation is as they say. However, they might also not have an obligation not to take it from you if they can without harming you. I think this partly is due to the differences in availability of information to different parties, and partly due to different obligations to third parties (e.g., one's children, elderly parents, etc.). I do agree it's a difficult question(s). Regarding thinking of immigration in economic terms, Huemer does address the matter of cultural preservation and other non-economic issues. I think he goes wrong in that he underestimates the likelihood of some of the negative consequences of generally unrestricted immigration (though he does propose moving gradually towards open borders rather than quickly. But I don't think that would not resolve the problem, even if it would be less bad than quickly).
Thanks for the replies and the link. In the full version of his argument (, Huemer he goes to considerably greater lengths to defend his claims, even against several objections raised in the comments of your previous post. But I think a significant problem with unrestricted immigration is the predicted consequences in terms of social change in the country to the recipient country, since massive waves of immigrants are very likely to take much of their social practices with them rather than adapt, and life in many places is much worse than in other precisely as a result of some (many) of the social practices in those places. That, I think, justify many restrictions (there are other reasons too). In short, the recipient country is likely to get a significant increase the social illnesses suffered in the countries of origin. As an aside, I don't think that a person who would otherwise likely die of thirst has a moral obligation not to take some of your water if you have more than enough of it for yourself, even if she is in that situation due to her own mistakes (and if her children would otherwise likely die of thirst, I think she has a moral obligation to take your water if she can do so without inflicting serious injury on you, even if their predicament is the result of her negligent behavior). Perhaps, this or other similar differences in intuitions explain why you find Huemer's argument weaker than I do, even if ultimately I also don't find it persuasive.
Hi Bill, I agree this argument is clearly unsound (even if the premises are unclear, because on any reasonable interpretation, one or the other or both are false). The best argument I've seen against most limits on immigration (though not entirely against borders, since it's not against, say, preventing gang members from entering a country to commit crimes) is Huemer's. I don't think it succeeds, but if you're looking to engage your opponents' strongest arguments on this matter, I would suggest that one.
Hello, My take on the issue of intrinsically wrong actions is that some actions are intrinsically wrong as long as we include some of the agent's mental states (like what a person intends, or has information about, etc.) in the description action. For example, I hold that torture for fun is intrinsically wrong (at least, when the torturer is human, or similar enough; I'm not sure about radically alien agents, because they might not be moral agents at all), but not that torture simpliciter is intrinsically wrong - just that it actually usually is (by the way, I think waterboarding is torture and usually wrong, though I don't think torture is intrinsically wrong). On the God issue, many people believe we do know that God exists or does not exist (I believe the latter, as long as "God" is defined in any sense that entails omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection), but leaving that aside, it seems to me that the introduction of God or an afterlife does not prevent raising similar issues. For example, let's say that Harry Truman had a crystal ball and knew the future with certainty and saw that the Allies would have lost had they not used the methods they used, and that the whole world would have been been plunged into a Dark Age for two centuries, with nearly all (not all) people being raised as Nazis or as slaves coerced into doing evil themselves, never knowing about Christianity, never confessing their sins, etc. If he still had a moral obligation not to use those methods, then if he chose not to behave immorally, billions of people would end up in Hell as a result. So, by doing the right thing, he would be sacrificing nearly all of humanity either to a life of evil, or worse to Hell, for the sake of doing what is morally right - not even to save his own soul, since he could probably do evil, later repent and confess his sins, and not go to Hell (while Catholicism would consider that sort of calculation also immoral, the option of confessing and being saved from Hell would remain available on Catholicism, even after having planned that, and as long as he sincerely repented). Granted, according to Catholicism, it would also be their own fault if they ended up in Hell, so it might be argued that Truman would not be sacrificing them, as they can still make choices. But the point would remain that the person making the decision (Truman in the example) would have a moral obligation to take a course of action such that nearly everyone born in the next two centuries would end up in Hell. There are other complications involving non-Catholic variants of Christianity, or involving Islam, etc., but generally, if what matters most is salvation, one can construct hypothetical scenarios in which an agent can only prevent others from being damned by behaving immorally, or even by damning himself. By the way: If targeting civilians is always immoral, then what if ancient Israelites targeted civilians (e.g., children, women not involved in the fight, etc.) as commanded in the Bible? Doesn't Catholicism hold that OT Law was obligatory to the people it was intended for? (i.e., ancient Israel, at least for several centuries).
Thomas, I'm not a philosopher, but I'm interested in a number of philosophical issues, and this blog has allowed me to learn about free will and a number of related topics, both by reading the posts and by discussing the matters at hand with philosophers who specialize on them. So, thank you.
Toggle Commented Dec 9, 2016 on Moving Upward, not Forward? at Flickers of Freedom
Bill, I'm not denying that they're all generic, but saying that I'm not sure that the term "generic" denotes a category with enough similarities that warrant study them together (e.g., searching for truth-makers), as opposed to dealing with specific cases. I'm not denying it, though, but more tentatively doubting it.
Toggle Commented Nov 16, 2016 on Generic Statements at Maverick Philosopher
Hi Bill, I don't have a theory about truth makers, but I'm also not convinced these statements make up a single philosophically significant category, or even that there is not considerable variation in the meaning of your examples, depending on context (in actual cases, not just possible ones). In some cases, they might describe some kind of prototypical individual of some kind (e.g., a prototypical lion, or a prototypical human), but the prototype varies depending on context, or describing some specific type of individuals in a certain category (some subcategory, perhaps), who/which aren't explicitly specified, but that also might be widely variable. As for some of your examples: * The lion has a mane. Tsavo lions either do not have a mane, or have a very small one, and they're not sick. In fact, I wouldn't be inclined to say that those are abnormal lions. Maybe "The lion has a mane" is sometimes a false statement about normal lions, or healthy lions, and sometimes a statement either describing some sort of prototypical lion (not explicitly identified), or some specific kind of lions (also, not explicitly identified), and/or sometimes a statement that most lions (presently) are like that, etc. * Blacks are not good at deferring gratification. * Blacks are more criminally prone than whites. Those might be unwarranted statements about some alleged genetically-based predisposition. Or they might be descriptions of an alleged but unrealistic prototypical Black person. Or false universal statements, etc. The meaning might just vary considerably, depending on the context of utterance. * Conservatives are racists. That might be a false universal statement, or a false statement about some prototypical, or usual, conservative. It's probably statement about non-defective conservatives, but also the meaning might vary considerably depending on context of utterance (in actual cases). * Women are nurturing and better with children. That might be a statement about normally functioning, non-defective women. Or it might be a statement comparing most women to most men. The meaning might also vary from case to case. * Man is bipedal. That might be a statement about all normal humans, or about all humans that are normal foot-wise.
Toggle Commented Nov 16, 2016 on Generic Statements at Maverick Philosopher
Bill, I would agree that some leftists refuse to behave civilly (so do some rightists, by the way). But not all leftists do so. Also, my suggestion to refrain from attributing to one's political opponents beliefs, intentions, etc., without good evidence that they have them, to make an effort to understand other people's views before attacking them, etc., applies also to those who refuse to behave civilly. While calling them on their uncivil behavior may be appropriate, I still think it's better to try not to misconstrue their views. For example, Matt's claim "We would have shown ourselves a soulless and heartless people, beyond hope, beneath contempt." is neither warranted nor true. Realistically, a Clinton victory have merely shown that there were a bit more voters in some states for Clinton than there actually were, and/or somewhat fewer Trump voters. It might just have gone that way, without any difference in the makeup of the US, if a small percentage have chosen whether to stay home and/or go to vote differently from the way they did. Moreover, the vast majority of Clinton voters, just as the vast majority of Trump's voters, are not soulless or heartless (well, I actually do not believe in souls, but that's surely not what he's talking about). Regarding Marxism, formal Marxist theory may be contradictory, but the vast majority of Clinton voters - including Americans further to the left than Clinton - are not Marxists, even if they agree with some aspects of Marxist theory. In particular, most American philosophers supported Clinton (if not because they liked her, as the lesser evil), and they are in several ways considerably to your left, but aren't moral error theorists, and/or Marxists.
Hi Bill (if I may), I'm afraid I do not have a solution to offer. I could make a suggestion as to how each person can contribute (just as a person can sometimes contribute a little bit by voting, they can sometimes contribute a little bit by implementing other personal policies). Some ways of contributing are to make an effort (if needed) to refrain from attributing to one's political opponents beliefs, intentions, etc., without good evidence that they have them, to make an effort to understand other people's views before attacking them, etc., and to try to think about the matters over which there are deep divisions without being angry with those holding opposite views - getting angry makes people generally more prone to reasoning errors, jumping to conclusions, etc.; if they want to get angry, they should at least do so at some other times, but not when analyzing the matters at hand, etc. Now, if most people were to do that, things would likely improve to a considerable extent, even if they wouldn't be resolved. But it's not realistic to think that a significant number of people will do that, so this is just a suggestion for some very small improvements. At least, it's realistic to think that most persons who participates in debates, etc., can implement this kind of measures (i.e., each person can do so at an individual level) if they so choose - even if, unfortunately, nearly all will in fact not choose to do so. Regarding Marxists, I'm not sure about that; are you talking about Marxist theory, or the practices of actual Marxists? In any case, I would say that nearly all leftists (usually not Marxists) in the US (and everywhere else) do care about right and wrong, good and evil, etc. They just disagree with conservatives about morality. Purely for example, one can take a look at the New Yorker's article you consider in your OP. David Remnick's comments are full of moral assessments, even if he doesn't use the words "moral", "ethical", "wrong", etc. If one prefers articles or discussion in which words like "blameworthy", "wrongdoing", or "immoral", "duty", etc. are used, one can find them at Daily Nous, or other left-leaning philosophy blogs, or read the replies from some left-wingers at rightlyconsidered, etc.
Hello, I think Haidt's proposal would work if everyone were to be epistemically rational about the matters under discussion, consider the opposite points of view carefully, rethink their own, etc., and decided to refrain from any immoral behavior (epistemic rationality and consideration of different points of view would very probably vastly reduce moral errors). The problem is that it's not realistic to think most or even many people will behave in that ways. But I think also this alternative proposal doesn't realistically have a chance of implementation and success. Some reasons are: 1. A government restricted to essential functions. But there is vast disagreement about what those functions are. Moreover, there are plenty of people who want a bigger government, UHC, etc. Granted, under GOP control of Congress and the Executive, government size *might* be reduced at a federal level, but it's unclear for how long the GOP could remain in power. Clinton won the popular vote, and her voters aren't going away. Moreover, she won by much larger margins among Latinos, who will probably make up an increasingly large portion of the US population (even if immigration stops), and who have traditionally leaned towards bigger government. Additionally, even if the federal government is reduced, some state governments are likely to keep growing. 2. Voluntary segregation. There is plenty of people who will not want it, and so they will voluntarily segregate. Others might want it, but can't afford it. Still, this might temporarily reduce friction to some extent, but the disagreement would remain there, and would eventually come out, when it comes to decided on government action related to the disagreement in question (whether at a federal or at a state level). 3. A return to federalism. Part of the big disagreement is whether more power to the states (as opposed to the federal government) is a good idea - not to mention the issue of the electoral college. But let's say that the states gain more power. There would still be vast disagreements at a state level. Granted, people are legally free move from state to state. But moving from one state to another is quite expensive, and chances are most people will prefer to live with the disagreement. At least, that's what's happened so far: we don't see massive movements from state to state. If people to some extent self-segregate, they tend do so within the borders of their state for the most part. 4. A total stoppage of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration can be reduced, but even a wall and more deportations will not stop it, and there will be serious opposition to deportation of all illegal immigrants at nearly all levels, from Congress to people on the streets. But even if this point is achieved, I don't think this will significantly resolve the problem of vast disagreement. 5. A reform of current immigration law to favor people who share our values. There is the issue of whose/which values are those, given the abysmal depth of disagreement. Maybe there will be wide agreement against Sharia-supporting Muslims, but what about non-Muslim big-government supporters? There are plenty of those in Latin America and in Europe.
Andrew (if I may), Swinburne claims that homosexuality is a disability, but doesn't claim that homosexual sex is immoral because of it. Rather, he claims homosexual sex is immoral because God forbids it. He further claims that assuming that (contrary to his assessment) people aren't more likely to become homosexual because of what others do (i.e., social acceptability, etc.), then he's mistaken about God's reasons to ban homosexual sex, but it's still immoral because God bans it - and he believes his assessment that God bans it is proper. This is speculative, but I think he'd probably say that even granting homosexuality is not a disability, he has independent reasons to think God forbids homosexual sex; that would be in line with his assessment on the matter of the causes of homosexuality. That aside, his claim that homosexuality is a disability is based on the claim that homosexual people "cannot beget children through a loving act with a person to whom they have a unique lifelong commitment." The "loving act" here has to be a sexual act, ruling out other loving acts. It's a weird argument, but by "disability" he seems to mean something like "illness" (in his book "Revelation..." that's more clear), so someone might just say on intuitive grounds that it's an disease. That raises the issue: how does one go about telling whether something is an disease? In any case, I think another reply to Swinburne is that even granting it's a disability/disease, his moral assessments based on that are unwarranted (leaving aside the God claims, he makes some moral assessments on the matter), and he has no good reason to think God forbids homosexual behavior (though of course Christians, Muslims, etc., won't be persuaded).
Hi Alex, Leaving aside other issues (some of which I will address later), I think that order effects when it comes to difficult moral issues, on their own, are not a problem for the claim of expertise, because our intuitions sometimes change over time, after we think about the matters in question more carefully, consider analogies, talk to other people, etc., but that plausibly is because our preliminary intuitions were wrong, and after further consideration, we got better intuitions on the matter. It might be that, after considering the six-options cases, philosophers got more scenarios and more experience thinking about matters that are related to the two-options scenario (such as the principles behind the choices), and then they made a better assessment (however, in this case, that seems less likely given that experts might be very familiar with these sort of scenarios; do you know how familiar they were with similar trolley/train problems?). Ultimately, it seems to me the way to decide would be to first ascertain what the correct answer is, and then see whether philosophers improved or got worse. Of course, there will be disagreement on that issue, so that can be problematic, but isn't there disagreement on many other cases? Would it be a greater problem in this case? In my assessment (with a caveat that I'll explain below), to do nothing is the morally better option of the two, by far. But it seems that when the 6-options alternative was presented first, the number of philosophers who picked the wrong option went up from 32% to 55% (if I'm reading the chart correctly; please let me know if I got that wrong), which is a serious problem. The caveat is that I think the stipulations of the scenario may be unrealistic in a wrong kind of way. More precisely, it's easy to imagine the trains, the people on the tracks, etc., and make a moral assessment on the basis of that, despite the fact that in real life we would not face a situation of that sort. So, that's unrealistic, but I don't think in a wrong way. On the other hand, it might not be easy (or even psychologically doable) to rule out plenty of alternative courses of action that are not intuitively ruled out by the specific features of the scenario that we can imagine. For example, I find myself assessing immediately that it's (very probably) epistemically irrational on Carl's part to conclude that the heavy worker would stop the train if pushed on the tracks. I reckon it's even more irrational to add to that assessment that Carl's ramming the train head-on running at full speed will not also have a good chance of stopping the train. Maybe that's so; maybe the worker somehow sticks to the ground so well that that makes a big difference, etc. But Carl very probably wouldn't be able to tell in so little time. Moreover, assuming that there is a solution (e.g., Carl cannot get to the tracks in one piece and run), if the heavy worker actually has a reasonably high probability (on an epistemic probabilistic assessment correctly made by Carl on the basis of the info available to him) to stop the train, that probability will very likely rise significantly if both the heavy worker and Carl are on the train's path, and Carl surely can choose to push the heavy worker and then jump (which I think would still be immoral, but less so than just pushing the other guy, at least under some "all other things equal" condition that the scenario does not seem to exclude). There are a number of other issues. Granted, I can choose to consciously ignore all of that, and assume as the scenario says that the worker will stop Carl, etc., but I'm not at all sure that, at some unconscious level, I'm not still assessing that Carl is being very probably epistemically irrational. Maybe experts are better at avoiding that kind of unconscious assessment than I am, though I'm not convinced that that is plausible. All that aside, it may well be that professional philosophers are not experts concerning the intuitive evaluation of thought experiment cases, when it comes to some (many) cases. After all, there seem to be deep disagreements among professional philosophers on such cases (e.g., abortion, meat eating, gun control, war, immigration, race, effective altruism, etc.). It seems we can establish that at least non-negligible percentages of professional philosophers are very wrong on a good number of moral matters, even if we don't know who's right (with regard to the data from your experiment, maybe most of the philosophers who disagree on whether it's morally better to push still agree that it's only slightly better or worse, so the disagreement is not so deep. Or maybe it is very deep, but we can't tell on the basis of the results, I think).