Religion Contorts Morality? Oh Please!

So Greta Christina has a post titled How Religion Contorts Morality, and I think that’s nonsense. First off, we have a category error: “religion” is not an agent such that it can contort anything. Only people can contort morality, if such a thing called “morality” actually maps to the real-world in the first place. You might be tempted to think this is just semantics, but it’s not. Speaking precisely minimizes error and misunderstanding. Of course, “Why I Think Religious Person X Is Wrong About Morality” is nowhere near as provocative a title, so I guess I see where she’s coming from there.

Anyways, I’ve seen some pretty contorted “morality” from atheists, too. For example, Tommykey, who apparently thinks it’s wrong to torture terrorists for information, but okay for a woman to kill her unborn child simply because the father possesses unsavory characteristics, or because she thinks she might have a tough time coping with the burdens of parenthood.

In my opinion, that’s about as contorted as can be – but it has nothing to do with atheism, because atheism can’t contort anything.

How Would I Present Desirism?

When considering a redesign for some client’s website, I often ask, “How would I have coded this thing?” A while back, I got to thinking about desirism in the same way.

This is no offense to Alonzo, but in my honest opinion, he presents desirism ambiguously, from key tenets right down to the original name, desire utilitarianism. I may be way off here, but I get the feeling Alonzo doesn’t want the heavy burden that typically falls to those making moral claims, and that this may influence him to equivocate on select terms. Most discouraging is that regarding conventional definitions, he claims “moral terms are being used in substantially the same way that moral terms had been used.”

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The New Moral Crusaders?

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.

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On “Beneficial Lies”

I don’t believe what I’m about to say in the following thought example, but suppose that news of bin Laden’s death restores the economy to as good a state as it’s ever been in. Then suppose that his “death” was actually a lie concocted by economists and politicians because they knew–with reasonable certainty based on seemingly airtight calculations–that this lie would spur economic growth. Now, if there was an instance where desirism’s broad “people generally” statement can be made confidently, this is it. Certainly, “people generally” have reason to promote that which spurs economic growth, right?

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On Galen Strawson’s Basic Argument

woodchuck64 recently said that “Logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility via something like Galen Strawson’s basic argument.” I replied that I felt this was false, and asked for elaboration, which he supplied by linking to this PDF.

The Pessimist’s argument woodchuck64 cited seems the same as Strawson’s basic argument outlined here:

The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed. (1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself. (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects. (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible.

I agree with woodchuck64 that most who reject this argument do so out of aghast reaction to it’s ramifications as opposed to sound refutation of one or more premises. While I won’t go that route, I can’t help but ponder these ramifications. Hitler’s actions become equivalent to the Japanese tsunami in Strawsonian morality: ultimately blameless events necessitated by prior causal interactions. More revoltingly, if true, Strawson seems to have successfully proven the illusion of rationality. Perhaps most revoltingly of all, if true, Strawson has proven that the very foundation of law-abiding civilization is an illusion. What does this mean for legislation founded on illusion? Interesting thoughts, but let’s cut to the chase.

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Desirism, Doughnuts & Red Curbs

In discussions of morality, attempts to define good can get downright maddening once one applies themselves duly to the task. Yet, it seems so simple. We all know what good means, right? The problem is, my “good” might actually be your “bad,” so how might we deal with that?

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Desires Cannot Fulfill Or Thwart Other Desires

In his post Living Without A Moral Code, part 3, Luke Muehlhauser writes,

Now, it seems straightforward that my carnivorous desires are immoral. Surely my desire to eat meat tends to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills. It certainly thwarts the desires of the animals I eat, both by way of their death and by way of their horrifying lives packed into factory farms.

That is incorrect. Desires cannot fulfill or thwart other desires.

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Is Desirism An Objective Moral Theory?

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]

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Can Theistic Morality Be Objective?

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.

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