This post is just a placeholder to continue this discussion from the now-defunct Common Sense Atheism blog, should any of the participants or onlookers be interested.
Episode 14 of Luke and Alonzo’s oddly named Morality in the Real World is up, and despite its length, I don’t think it said much. Sure, it’s important and commendable to distinguish between the facts of reality vs. the words we use, but they could have accomplished that in a few short sentences. In the positive, the student is starting to surpass–or at least show genuine skepticism towards–the teacher. I find that very encouraging. Though one could argue that it has simply transferred to Yudkowsky, Luke’s infatuation with Alonzo Fyfe seems to be waning. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the episode, I suggest doing so, else my post might not make as much sense as it could.
Enter Alonzo Fyfe:
Ultimately, when we think about “meaning” and “permanence”, I invite you to think of a woman devoting huge amounts of time each day to the care of sick and abused children, providing them comfort and love, seeing that they are well fed and protected.
Then, I want you to imagine pulling back a bit from this image and seeing that woman merely going through the motion of caring for children in a large and empty room. While she insists that the children she comforts, protects, feeds, and teaches are real, they are figments of her imagination.
This illustrates the “meaning” that we find in a life devoted to the service of a God. There are those who look at this and see that it provides no meaning at all. Yet, when one comforts, protects, feeds, and teaches a real child and improves the quality of a real human life, this has real meaning and real purpose.
You cannot get real value from an imaginary God.
Compared to this, the rabbit has a more meaningful and fulfilling life. The bunnies that it raises and protects are real. [-Alonzo Fyfe]
Aside from the obvious bigotry against believers, Alonzo’s “argument” uses the same fallacious reasoning as William Lane Craig’s we addressed yesterday. The only difference is that they’re on opposite sides of the same coin: Craig argues that atheists can’t have real meaning or purpose in life without God. Fyfe argues that theists can’t have real meaning or purpose with God.
Luke Muehlhauser claims that desirism is an objective moral theory. I think it’s quite easy to demonstrate that this is an incoherent claim. Recall that Luke defines “objective moral value” thus:
…usually, the phrase “OBJECTIVE moral value” means something like “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” Right? If what you’re calling “moral value” is just based off somebody’s personal attitudes, that’s called SUBJECTIVE morality. [source]
I meant to post this a while back when the conversation was actually fresh, but it fell by the wayside. I found it while doing some housecleaning around here. You know, some “getting ready for next year” type of stuff. Anyways, Al Moritz is biochemist who’s written articles for TalkOrigins and also comments now and again at Common Sense Atheism. He’s also a theist, of the Roman Catholic variety. Recently, CSA’s commenters tackled some arguments of his in this post. Al wrote:
Here and here, I argued that Luke Muehlhauser misled the audience at Colorado State University by declaring as subjective a God-based morality William Lane Craig does not actually endorse [a.k.a., refuting a strawman].
Luke’s response was to attack my character by labeling me a troll in his 7-point rejoinder, which I believe I successfully rebutted. Now, instead of responding to that rebuttal, Luke has declared in some sort of odd, melodramatic exit stage left that he’s “finally given up” on me. I won’t tire you with why I think that’s not a move a person with good desires would make. I’d rather dig a little deeper into one of the counterarguments I made in my aforementioned responses.
I kid you not, in no less than twenty minutes of posting my critique of his speech, Luke Muehlhauser fired off two admittedly hurried responses here and here, the former of which contains a personal attack. He labeled me a “troll” when all I did was write a critique of his speech on my own blog! Do those sound like acts a person with a desire for careful and rigorous philosophy would perform? To contrast, I took two hours crafting my critique, let it settle for three more, and then proofread it three times. Nonetheless, let’s see if we can refute some or all of Luke’s claims without resorting to the unprofessional insults and distortions he’s growing unusually fond of.
Well. I hopped over to Common Sense Atheism today, where I found the transcript from Luke’s talk at Colorado State University, titled The Science Of Morality: No Gods Required.
First off, I wondered how it came to be that Luke – a newbie atheist who was a self-described irrational Christian just a few years ago – was granted the authority to educate students at a major university. What are his credentials? Should anybody with a popular blog be allowed to educate the populace in our public institutions? Lest any hasty inductors be tempted to cry ad hominem, allow me to clarify.
Continuing to explore the concept of intrinsic value, Luke Muehlhauser of Common Sense Atheism writes,
LUKE: Okay, Alonzo. Enough, now. Anyway, one of our commenters, Kip, pointed out that another meaning of the phrase ‘intrinsic value’ is ‘value as an end’, whereas ‘instrumental value’ would be ‘value as a means.’ For example, money has value to me, not because I care about money itself, but because money is a means toward getting things I really do care about: sex, for example. So we might say that money has ‘value as a means’ for me, but sex has ‘intrinsic value’ or ‘value as an end’ for me.
I advise against that, on the grounds that they’re likely to introduce more confusion over an already-confused and equivocated-upon term: intrinsic value. Why not just drop “intrinsic value” entirely and use “desire-as-ends” or “desire-as-means” wherever appropriate? Personally, I find those terms much clearer and easier to work with. I have difficulty following along when Luke and Alonzo use different definitions of “intrinsic value” in different podcasts.
Though no previous objections seem to have been resolved, CSA’s ongoing Morality in the Real World podcast took a turn for the better in Episode 9, where Luke and Alonzo ponder the quantification of desires. For what it’s worth, Alonzo has written on willingness to pay before.
Early in my foray into desirism, I decided that an empirical schema for measuring desires was absolutely necessary in order for the theory to have any practical, real-world import. How else can we check against intuition? If desirism is indeed an empirical, objective theory as its defenders assert, then why not cut all the moralspeak and crunch some numbers? I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I believe my method – while certainly rudimentary and in need of further work – is a far better tool for quantifying desires than the overly simplified analysis Luke and Alonzo used in Episode 9.