Sam Harris on Science and Morality

Warning: The attached link to Sam Harris’ video includes some fairly small ‘magazine images’ to demonstrate Western views on the female body. He does not condone western views as morally correct, and in fact I think his point of view is in alignment with our values. But I was not comfortable including the video directly on a Mormon website where people might click on it and watch it without realizing what they were about to see.  

Sam Harris’ speech on science and morality made the rounds amongst Internet circles a while back. A non-LDS friend brought it to my attention and was curious what I thought of it. He later told me that he found it enlightening, but felt there was something wrong with it, though he couldn’t put his finger on it.

The idea that “science” (and by that we really mean scientific epistemology of conjecture and refutation) has the ability to explain and answer questions of morality is very appealing to me because it fits properly into my view of an explainable reality, including an explainable God.

I believe that this first part of Sam Harris’ presentation is spot on. I agree with him that “Values are facts about well being of conscious creatures.”

Can Science Define Morality?

Morality isn’t some otherworldly thing. It is not even meta-physical. Morality is a simple statement of facts and thus we should expect these facts to be explainable and rational. Even as a theist, I find myself agreeing with this militant self-proclaimed atheist’s views; for morality to mean something, it can’t just be an arbitrary set of choices made by God. It must exist for a rational reason.

I too, look forward to the day when science really can begin to answer questions on morality. Indeed, in a limited fashion, it had already begun to. Psychology has been working on serious questions of morality for decades already.

Harris also asks, “How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view worth considering?” He then goes on to assert: “We can no more respect and tolerate vast differences.”

Again, I agree with him. Surely every culture brings some value worth considering. But such a statement misses the point that all cultures are not morally equal. Harris here is stating what to me is obvious: either morality does exist objectively or it’s just a preference. If it’s just a preference, then we have no right to judge others moral views. Yet holding a moral view is by definition to judge other’s moral actions or views. Therefore, subjective morality is really a self contradiction.

If you are judging another’s moral views – let’s say judging 19th century slavery to be immoral – then you are already tacitly admitting you believe morality to be objectively real. And if that is the case, then accepting each other’s moral views when they conflict with our own is, by definition, to be immoral.

So as far as Sam Harris’ main thesis, I am in complete agreement.

If Morality Can Be Defined, Can Atheism Be True?

But this thesis seems to me to undermine Sam Harris’ own atheism. Nothing shows this more than his treatment of Muslim women choosing to wear veils.

I particularly enjoyed how Harris here shows some real balance, contrasting how the Muslim world’s practice of completely covering up women and the Western world’s practice of completely uncovering them is more or less cut from the same moral fabric.

But Harris’ weakness in presentation is that he emphasizes the use of legal violence and force to justify his anti-religiousness.

I think we can all agree that the fact that in many Muslim countries there are laws that force women to cover up under penalty of violence (for that is what law is, a legal monopoly on violence) is morally wrong.

But what about when the woman actually chooses to wear a veil for religious reasons? Harris’ assures us that he has no issue with a woman choosing on her own to wear a veil any more than he chooses for them spike their hair, wear a mohak, or a tattoo.

But the telling exchange is when a questioner asks Harris about how a Muslim woman might herself look at wearing a veil. As he points out, Muslim women often seem to sincerely believe that it enhances her womanhood and that she is herself choosing to wear the veil.

Harris responds:

What is voluntary in a context where men have certain expectations… and your guaranteed to be treated in a certain way if you don’t veil yourself…? We have to be honest about the constraints these women are placed under. We shouldn’t be so eager to always take their word for it.

He goes on to make the claim that one day science will be able to understand all the positive and negative qualities about our beliefs, and therefore prove or disprove if the various Muslim arguments in favor of veils are sincere or just a lie.

At this response, the questioner asks:

And if the results come out that actually, the do, are you prepared to shift your instinctive current judgment on some of these issues?

Harris responds is interesting. He say that it is possible to love someone within the context of a truly delusional belief system.  He uses a made up example of a father loving his gay son by chopping his head off so that he won’t go to @#!*% .

This exchange shows the irrationality of Harris’ position. He apparently still has a problem with a woman choosing to wear a veil if it’s for religious reasons because religion is, in his view, just a delusion. Apparently only western raised women who choose veils for non-religious reasons can do so morally in Harris’ view.

None of which surprises me in the least about Harris, for Harris is not really an atheist at all, but a half-theist.

Is There One Morality, or Multiple Moral Preferences?

To understand why this exchange proves this we must all, for a moment, accept for the sake of argument that Harris is correct that morality isn’t just an arbitrary set of choices made by God but exists as factual statements about the well beings of conscious beings. (Remember, I personally agree with him, but if you don’t agree, I’m only asking you only to accept it for the sake of argument.)

Consider his example of the Dali Lama and Ted Bundy. Harris’ argument is that the Dali Lama is an expert in morality and Ted Bundy is not, thus we can ignore Ted Bundy’s view for the same reasons Physicist can ignore Harris’ own views on String Theory, which he admits he knows nothing about.

Now, granted, we all know science is authority based. (I’m joking.) But that isn’t even the real problem with Harris’ argument. The real problem is that his argument is a tautological argument. He is choosing upfront to define “morality” as “what the Dali Lama believes.” Given this definition, yes, it is true that the Dali Lama is an expert and Ted Bundy’s views should be ignored. But this only pushes the real question back: Why should Ted Bundy care? If it makes Ted Bundy happier to kill people instead of being compassionate to them, so what? Doesn’t he have every right to make up his own moral preference?

Given any specific arbitrary view of morality like this, science can test it, I agree. But Harris’ own professed views are insufficient to establish even one view of morality other than arbitrarily. So why does he assume his understanding is the sole and only correct one? How could he possibly rationally justify that view out of his professed atheist worldview?

Let’s, for a moment, suppose that Ted Bundy has decided that even though he’s well aware of the societal norms of morality, he has decided that life for him isn’t worth living unless he gets to kill and rape people. Furthermore, Ted Bundy assumes that morality is just an illusion anyhow. It’s an evolution derived survival mechanism that could just as easily have been ignored just as we often override our natural impulses for the sake of morality. It’s just a choice and Bundy has decided to not assume the moral choice is better or worse than the alternative.

Given this scenario, is it still possible to defend moral decisions rationally? If so, how?

Muslim Women Being Brainwashed?

This same problem repeats with the Muslim women choosing to wearing veils. Harris’ argument that delusions should be ignored, giving the example of a religion person beheading a homosexual, is intentionally misleading: he is comparing one person imposing their will on another to a person choosing to wear a veil due to religious beliefs. So Harris’ analogy is impotent here.

That’s what makes the questioner’s question so interesting. He hypothetically assumes that this can be show to be benefical to a woman’s well being, yet Harris still can’t accept it. But the truth is, that our moral intuition is still bothered by this, isn’t it? But why? What is the rational reason for us feeling that even a Muslim woman choosing to wear a veil is somehow wrong whereas a western woman choosing to wear a veil for non-religious reasons is okay?

One common argument is that the Muslim woman is brainwashed. But for a professed atheist like Harris, this is a useless argument. If we are going to start with the assumption that anything a person taught since childhood is brainwashing, then all is brainwashing.

This is really just begging the question anyhow. The argument that the woman would be better off if she had been raised differently simply can’t be justified from an atheist/materialist worldview. If we are presupposing that there is no spirit in the woman and no life after death, can Harris’ view of morality ever be justified? It seems not. For if “I” comes from a group of chemical elements organizing themselves through evolution, and nothing more, than we see that “if raised differently” is synonymous with “if she were a different person.” 

So that argument tells us nothing. If we can show she is better off staying indoctrinated (as Harris supposes) as a Muslim then that’s the end of the story.

Delusion and Well Being

Likewise, positing that “religious delusions” should not count is to merely miss the point: a person can be happier with a delusion. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that our brains are wired for certain types of self-delusions precisely because delusion is often better than reality for our well being. So why does Harris’ moral world view assume that truth trumps delusion? The idea that the truth trumps delusions pre-supposes an afterlife where the truth will be known, so Harris doesn’t get to use this Theistic argument if he wishes to coherently claim to be an atheist.

The main point here is that there is no possible rational way to justify Harris’ (and our) moral intuition that it’s wrong to raise Muslim woman from birth to believe in veils without first positing a non-atheist worldview. Likewise, there is no possible rational justification to elevate someone that chooses morality over immorality, no matter how we choose to define morality, without first positing an afterlife and therefore a God. It would seem you can’t coherently delink objective morality, afterlife, and God.

Do Atheists Have Delusions?

So then we must ask, is Harris being delusional about his moral view? After all, isn’t he also refusing to justify his moral worldview rationally — including a belief that truth trumps delusion – yet he’s continuing to adhere to his moral intuitions as if objective fact?

His view that science can answer moral questions is correct, but only for an arbitrarily chosen moral standard. Isn’t he just refusing to accept the truth that morality doesn’t exist except as an arbitrary standard? (Be it societal or evolutionary, it matters not.)

This is why I call Harris a half-theist. He organizes his life around his moral worldview, yet this moral worldview is treated as absolute rather than a preference. His whole argument is that it is not relative and it’s factually defendable. If he is wrong, and it’s just a preference, then his own life is a lie. Furthermore, when confronted with even a hypothetical situation where factual justification goes against his moral intuition, than Harris chooses his moral intuition, thereby undermining his point. It’s a vicious circle.

We must therefore either assume that Harris worldview is just as delusional as a Muslim woman’s, or we must accept that his moral view is right but that there is no possible way to rationally justify it within a non-faith based worldview. In other words, he’s a faith based Theist. In short, he’s a half-theist not an atheist. He is merely switching between the two views on an as needed basis.

Morality and the Meaning in Life

I’m struck by how important morality is to Harris’ He’s made pursuit of atheist morality (and religious immorality) the focal point of his life.

Now it seems to me that this implies that his moral sense imparts a sense of meaning to his life. But if morality is just an evolutionary adaption and nothing more, than there can never be any impulse, moral or immoral, that can be raised one above the other except – perhaps – on whether or not it helps replicate your own selfish-genes. But if that is our “best” impulses, then Genghis Khan is the most moral man to ever live. As Barbara Oakley points out in her book, Evil Genes,

From the Great Khan’s six Mongolian wives, as well as the many daughters of foreign rulers that he also took on as wives, and the great numbers of beautiful women he demanded as his due from conquered territories, the Great Khan is thought to have sired an enormous number of children. … The fact that so many men are direct descendents of either the Great Khan or one of his near paternal ancestors indicates that virtually everyone on the Asian steppes is, through some line of descent, carrying the DNA of the Great Khan’s family. (p. 267)

Oakley also points out that, a monster of a man that rapes a woman who then raises his child was morally “successful” from an evolutionary standpoint.

Evolution tells us nothing about true morality. It can only help us understand why we have a biological intuition for it. But evolution itself is the prime directive, not morality. And usually the two are at odds with each other.

For morality to “be factual” it must be a fact that even if Ted Bundy was never caught, one day he would have regreted his actions. It must be that death wasn’t an escape for him after all. For no world that ends at death can ever have objectively real morality, only subjectively chosen ones.

But in a world with only subjective morality, it would perhaps be better to learn to accept that there is nothing in life to live for but delusion, so our delusions are paramount to us.

For in a life without inherent meaning, everything meaningful in life is a delusion by tautology.

Given that assumption, it is therefore wrong (or at least not meaningfully “right”) to elevate a western woman’s choice to wear a veil over a Muslim woman’s or to elevate the Dali Lama’s choices for happiness over Ted Bundy’s. It just is what it is, and nothing more. Even turning Bundy into a monster becomes little more than a strategy to brainwash or constrain others into not following the dictates of their own conscience.

If we start with the assumption that it’s wrong to raise a Muslim girl to believe wearing a veil enhances her womanhood on the grounds that we are “forcing” her through brainwashing, then morality itself becomes equally questionable for the same reason.

Can Objective Morality Be Saved?

If we wish to save morality from meaninglessness, and life’s meaning along with it, then we do have to assume that morality is meaningful because it’s always – without exception – true. Ted Bundy should not kill people because there is an afterlife where he will regret it and have to hellishly pay for it. The Muslim woman is wrong to believe she should wear a veil because the Muslim religion is a delusion and some other religion (or belief system) is not – therefore, she should give up the practice of the veil because in the afterlife she’ll have to anyhow to accept the one true belief system. Therefore religion isn’t just a preference.

There seems to be no other possible way to rationally justify our moral intuitions.

97 thoughts on “Sam Harris on Science and Morality

  1. For morality to “be factual” it must be a fact that even if Ted Bundy was never caught, one day he would have regreted his actions.

    What if this doesn’t come to pass…even with an afterlife? What if, after judgment, Ted Bundy does not regret his actions? What if, for example, he regrets instead that God so disagreed with his actions, but not about the actions in themselves? I mean, when people go to jail or are otherwise punished, does that mean they regret their actions?

    It seems to me that with free agency, you can’t get what you are wanting. “She should give up the practice of the veil because in the afterlife, she’ll have to anyhow to accept the one true belief system.” Who’s to say that Muslim woman has to accept the one true belief system?

    If people will have to accept these things, then I guess the question that comes to my mind is — well, then who’s to say that they aren’t different people (as you raised earlier in response to Harris’s brainwashing claim)?

  2. “What if this doesn’t come to pass…even with an afterlife? What if, after judgment, Ted Bundy does not regret his actions? What if, for example, he regrets instead that God so disagreed with his actions, but not about the actions in themselves? I mean, when people go to jail or are otherwise punished, does that mean they regret their actions?”

    You just described hell. It’s a choice.

    And you are correct. My take showed my universalist bent. I personally believe that given infinite time, all accept the truth. You are positing that that isn’t the case.

    But what you’ve really posited is the existence of an Eternal Hell.

    So the difference here is not (as I originally said) that they come to regret their actions. The real difference is that a life that ends with death can (and often do) avoid consquences. An immortal life can’t and must accept all consquences.

  3. But how does that make morality a “fact.” He doesn’t regret his actions. Hell cannot even do that.

    here’s the issue. I think you were trying to respond to Harris’s claim that it would be “delusional” for the Muslim to honestly choose to wear the veil. You get around this by saying that an afterlife where truth will be known would rationally justify harris’s belief in truth over delusions.

    But what such truths will be known? That veils are wrong?

    No, that is not established.

    You wrote, as I quoted you:

    For morality to “be factual” it must be a fact that even if Ted Bundy was never caught, one day he would have regreted his actions

    The truth that must be known is that Ted Bundy would have regretted his actions. But what if he didn’t?

  4. “But how does that make morality a “fact.” He doesn’t regret his actions. Hell cannot even do that.”

    Hell doesn’t have to. Hell is, by definition, not yet fully regreting your actions.

    If there is such a logically possible person as you are hypothesizing (I doubt it) then this person must live with the consquence of their actions. All know what a monster they are, and they live with that (presumably out of society) forever.

    You are going one step further and claiming that such a person might not care. But so what? The point of hell isn’t in and of itself to punish, but to change. Again, if such a person can logically exist (and I again, I’m skeptical that they can exist) I still see no problem at all. Things are as they should be.

    Given this slightly different set of assumptions, the end result is that morality is defined by either over coming your falsehoods or immoralities OR living with the consquences of never doing so.

  5. “Hell is, by definition, not yet fully regreting your actions…”

    …so, are you saying that everyone will eventually regret their wrong actions?

    It seems to me though that regretting actions (or, alternatively, not regretting them) is not something that one voluntarily chooses to do. There are consequences that must be accepted, but regret isn’t necessarily a certain consequence of certain actions. This is, I think, why the talk of moral preferences comes into play in the first place. We want to insist that deep down inside, everyone knows that vanilla is the one true flavor (or will know), but people don’t. Even with things that are absolutely true (certain mathematical facts, not flavors of ice cream), people can nevertheless not comprehend or grasp these truths. So, a proof will do nothing to change the (incorrect) intuition of someone.

    I guess I don’t understand what you mean, since you seem to doubt that such a person is “logically possible,” when it seems to me that these people are not simply “logically possible” but actual.

    When one is an outsider, an alien, then sure, sure, one must accept being an outsider. One must accept that everyone else will know them to be a monster, and then they will live outside of society, reviled, forever.

    But this doesn’t mean they will see themselves as a monster. This doesn’t mean that they will accept the other individuals’ perceptions. Because at the end of the day, they have to live within themselves — and with no one and nothing else. If you are a sellout, you may be accepted by others, but you will feel terrible to *yourself*. If you live by your own values, then you may be despised by others, but you will have peace within *yourself*.

  6. Andrew S,

    By the way, it’s been a long time since we interacted. I’ve missed talking with you. You are by far and away the most tolerant and opened minded self-proclaimed atheist I’ve ever had the pleasure to have dialog with.

    Here is the thing. I don’t think you yet realize that you are not arguing with what I actually said. My argument is limited to the claim that objective morality is impossible in a finite life — contrary to what Harris claims. As far as I can tell, you are *agreeing* with me that that is correct but with the added point that you believe even given an afterlife objective morality is impossible.

    At least for the first part, I am agreeing with you entirely. Given only a finite life, I can think of no set of logical assumptions that allows for objective morality to exist. Harris’ view is contradictory.

    Even *given* an afterlife, you still have to pick your assumptions carefully to come up with objective morality. (That’s not entirely true. I suspect that most or all sets of assumptions that allow for both an afterlife and also subjective morality are actually contradictory. But I can’t prove that because, obviously, I can’t possibly think of the set of all possible such assumptions. Let’s just say I’m currently unaware of any.)

    “I guess I don’t understand what you mean, since you seem to doubt that such a person is “logically possible,” when it seems to me that these people are not simply “logically possible” but actual.”

    I’m going to object here that there are no actual persons that you have ever met that given infinite time and the availability to know a truth will forever choose to not accept it. You could only “actually know” such a person in an afterlife (that you are not currently in) and even then you have to wait “forever” to find out. This is like the halting problem. It is not possible to know such a person in actuality contrary to your claim.

    I think what you meant here is that you know people *in this finite life* that will choose to never change. I am in complete agreement with you. That was my point, wasn’t it?

    “This is, I think, why the talk of moral preferences comes into play in the first place. We want to insist that deep down inside, everyone knows that vanilla is the one true flavor (or will know), but people don’t”

    If what you are trying to do is come up with a set of assumptions that allows for both an afterlife and also subjective morality, that’s fine, go ahead. Those aren’t either my or Harris’ assumptions and deserve their own entirely unrelated thread. They are “off topic” if you will.

    But what does this have to do with my argument that Harris’ is trying to believe a contradiction: objective morality without an afterlife. You are essentially saying that you agree with me Harris is wrong. I am making the claim that objective morality is impossible within a finite life.

    I am not sure yet, but I *think* you are making the argument that it’s not even possible with an afterlife.

    *IF* this is what you are trying to say, I would have to completely disagree with you. Objective morality is not logically impossible. But it requires a different set of assumptions than either you are Harris are using.

  7. I’m going to object here that there are no actual persons that you have ever met that given infinite time and the availability to know a truth will forever choose to not accept it. You could only “actually know” such a person in an afterlife (that you are not currently in) and even then you have to wait “forever” to find out.

    Can’t really fight that. As you pointed out, I’m really still just talking about finite, mortal people but then I’m extrapolating that to the afterlife, based on scriptures that suggest that the same spirit that we have here will have power to possess us in the afterlife. Even without the scriptures, if we are going to be the same person in the afterlife, then it seems we have to have this kind of continuity of identity. I think you have to break down this continuity to get the change you want — whether through time (infinity) or whatever else. But then you don’t really have the person. I think this was a discussion on ZD. If polygamy is a celestial law, will women opposed to it be barred from the celestial or be “changed” so that they are ok with it? (I may be paraphrasing this terribly). If they are changed, then who is really enjoying the celestial kingdom? It’s not that person.

    If what you are trying to do is come up with a set of assumptions that allows for both an afterlife and also subjective morality, that’s fine, go ahead. Those aren’t either my or Harris’ assumptions and deserve their own entirely unrelated thread. They are “off topic” if you will.

    Uh, I see. I’m just trying to suggest that you actually do accept these assumptions, and that they aren’t controversial assumptions. E.g., people’s personalities and identities. They would have to necessarily still exist in an afterlife situation. That’s kinda the point. Harris’s assumption is that they don’t after death. Yours is that they do. But I don’t see why this difference makes THE difference relating to objective morality. It seems to me that the same problems to Harris could happen with an afterlife. So, that’s why I can’t really see your point (or, as with the LAST discussion, I can’t really see where we agree? :D)

    …I am not entirely sure what I am saying. I admit that I’m a philosophical lightweight. That is why I simply asked a “what if,” after all. As you point out, you can say, “Well, I don’t think that is, so it doesn’t matter.”

  8. This has been interesting for me. I like it when two people who are way smarter than me disagree with each other.

  9. “I’m just trying to suggest that you actually do accept these assumptions, and that they aren’t controversial assumptions. E.g., people’s personalities and identities”

    Oh, I see. Your approach makes sense to me now. I think where we disagree is that apparently I don’t agree with your non-controversial assumptions. ;)

    That or else I’ve just misunderstood. Please try to explain further if I’m not understanding you.

    “It seems to me that the same problems to Harris could happen with an afterlife.”

    I can’t think of a quick or easy way to address all possible assumptions about the afterlife. So I’m limiting myself to the following claims:

    1. It is possible to dream up a hypothetical scenario where morality is objectively real as math.
    2. All such hypothetical scenarios require an afterlife, as far as I am currently aware. I don’t even seen how, in principle, it’s possible to dream up a scenario of where morality is as objectively real as math with no afterlife.

    I am also making this related claim:
    1 . All views of subjective morality are self contradictory and therefore just a delusion — by definition.

    You seem to be in complete agreement with me on that last point. We can always, not only imagine, but find actual examples of people that have differing moral views that are mutually exclusive, yet “[both] want to insist that deep down inside, everyone knows that vanilla is the one true flavor (or will know)…”

    Given my three assumptions above (you’ll have to assess for yourself if I have adequetly supported the first two) we are left with only two logically possible choices:

    1. Morality is a delusion
    2. God exists and there is an afterlife.

    Note: I am not like C.S. Lewis. I do not believe this proves the existence of God. I think it either proves *either* the existence of God *or* the non-existence of morality and meaning in life (outside of delusions of course.)

    You make an interesting point about continuity of a person. None of us is truly the same person from moment to moment. We experience things and change. So a Ted Bundy that exists in a post purgatory state is *not* the same Ted Bundy that killed people in a sense. Yet, there is still continuity between the two Ted Bundy’s in exactly the same sense there is continuity between myself now and myself at age 10.

    Whether or not myself now and then are the same “person” or not is purely semantics. There is a sense we are and a sense we are not the same person.

    Picking the right semantics, we could argue that the original Ted Bundy never regreted his actions and it’s only a different Ted Bundy that did. Fair enough. Just assume I’m using different semantics for “person” here.

    Likewise, picking a different set of assumptions than I am picking, you might be able to come up with a scenario where there is an afterlife and yet no morality. (Again, I have my doubts, but I’m not saying you can’t.) But it seems to me that this too simply confirms my either/or point.

  10. “Even without the scriptures, if we are going to be the same person in the afterlife, then it seems we have to have this kind of continuity of identity. I think you have to break down this continuity to get the change you want — whether through time (infinity) or whatever else.”

    By the way, I am accomating your point of view here. In the LDS Church we teach of Sons of Perdition. The majority view is that Sons of Perdition do not change and forever refuse to change.

    I am entirely open to the possiblity that Sons of Perdition exist and refuse to change. (Though I tend to me more in the speculative camp that even Sons of Perdition can eventually change). But as noted above, this requires only a slight tweak to what I said and we still have objective morality as objectively real as math.

    But here morality encompasses the idea that a Son of Perdition stays in hell forever because he doesn’t not *want* to repent and never chooses to. He is *happier* living forever around other Sons of Perdition and being removed from ‘heaven’ (which he would personally find hellish).

    Therefore, yes ,it is possible to define ‘morality’ in such a way that this Son of Perdition is just ‘being true to himself’ and not ‘selling out’ if you wish. But again, we’re talking only about semantics. I’m choosing to use different semantics.

  11. A fact about the well-being of conscious creatures (the operational criteria for objective morality) does not depend on an afterlife. The presence of an afterlife does not, by itself, change these facts.

    The problem with subjective morality is not that it doesn’t (or cannot) relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures, but that it suggests that conscious creatures can have different facts about the well-being of conscious creatures. For some reason, we have a problem with this. Or at least Harris does.

    …but these different facts are not necessarily reconciled by an afterlife.

    The real problem I have with this is that morality must ALWAYS be different than something like math because of how we define it. So, Harris’s proposition of an objective morality doesn’t seem to work, and your position of an afterlife doesn’t save it.

    The thing about math is that math describes facts that hold regardless of the perception of an individual. That’s what objectivity is about. So, a mathematical truth is true despite, say, its unintuitiveness to an individual.

    But if morality concerns itself with facts about the *well-being of conscious creatures*, then you can’t really have a fact that will hold regardless of the perception of an individual. In fact, the “objective” truths you get about posited facts, is something like, “It is true that regardless of whether you perceive it or not, some conscious person perceives something as having x impact on his well-being.”

    You instead have to hope that all conscious individuals will perceive things the same (so that facts describing that perception will be the same). You say that this will happen in the afterlife. Just throw enough time at it, and then everyone will feel regret for immoral actions, and everyone will appreciate moral ones.

    So, I don’t get it.

    It seems like you could say “just throw enough brainwashing and genetic engineering, and then everyone will feel regret for their immoral actions, and everyone will appreciate it,” but this doesn’t suggest an objective morality (over a shared subjective morality) any more that eternity and an afterlife.

    Let’s take your following comments with the Sons of Perdition.

    If someone can choose to stay in Outer Darkness forever because Heaven would always seem a personal Hell to him, then how is this different from Ted Bundy, who chooses to murder because it makes him happier than being compassionate? It still faces the “So what?” problem that you originally wanted to correct with an afterlife, whereas another option — where Ted Bundy chooses not to murder because it really does make him feel terrible rather than feel compassionate — could be the case even *without* an afterlife. [It just faces problems with real life, which I tried to raise earlier. I think these problems persist throughout an afterlife, unless you change people in a critical way.]

  12. It sounds like a bait-and-switch tactic. The greatest evils of the 20th Century had scientific backing.

    Atheism trying to appear as moral, is the wolf putting on sheep’s clothing.

  13. If moral realism is wrong, then morality is whatever God says it is. If morality is whatever God says it is the atonement and the plan of salvation are meaningless.

    Wickedness never was happiness? Why not just revoke that decree and make it so that wicked people are truly and lastingly happy? Or simply decree that evil has no consequences, personal, intra-personal, cosmic or otherwise? Just legislate evil out of existence. Make it a meaningless term.

    In other words, if there isn’t an objective basis to right and wrong of the sort available to avowed atheists, LDS theology makes no sense, to say nothing of most other forms of Christian theology.

  14. Mark, the problem is that many theists argue that objective morality *is* whatever God says it is. Wickedness never was happiness because that’s what God said. Since God cannot abide by certain things, those are sins. Those are wickedness.

    The argument is that since God is the ground of all creation, he is the most objective thing that exists.

    In fact, there is a long-standing philosophical problem relating to morality and god. If God does not define morality, but morality exists independently of God, then God is limited in a certain way. However, if God does define morality, then the problems that you mention arise (e.g., couldn’t God *conceivably* change his mind?)

    And in fact, in LDS scriptures (not to mention other scriptures), we do see that God can just say what is good and what is not, and he can change his mind. Is it ok for Nephi to kill Laban and steal the plates from him? Well, apparently, it is better for one man to die than for a nation to dwindle in unbelief (so, I guess God is more utilitarian than Kantian?) Is it ok to commit genocide to an entire group of people? The Old Testament god seemed to deem these things not only appropriate, but necessary for Israel. These kinds of things chafe at our modern sensibility of morality (at best) or cause us to have enduring struggles (at worst). What would we do if God told us to sacrifice our son? Would we reject that God could give such a commandment? What was the purpose of such a command? What was the trial for Abraham SUPPOSED to be? We have many different hypotheses about what it could mean, but it’s challenging, nevertheless, for us.

    It does not follow that if morality is created by God, then God *should* legislate evil out of existence. But then, the question is, “Why not?” And that makes another philosophical dilemma…is God willing, but unable? Able, but unwilling? And so on.

    I guess many forms of LDS theology sidestep this issue by not adopting a triply omni- god. But still…it’s a big thing to consider

  15. Andrew:

    “Triply omni-God”, I like that. But what’s the third “omni”? Omniscient, omnipotent and … ?

  16. Andrew S,

    It’s difficult to see where we are missing each other, though clearly we are.

    Let me just clarify again that I wasn’t trying to make some sort of statement about reality. I was merely showing a way (one possible way out of many) whereby the concept of objective morality could be saved. I was too muddled initially and didn’t make it clear it was only one possible way. But I have corrected that in my comments.

    Sometimes it seems like you are merely arguing that you disagree this way is the truth. But this is just a thought experiment, so that shouldn’t matter. I’m not even sure I believe 100% of everyone eventually repents, though if that were true as in my hypothetical scenario, I think morality is now definable as objectively real like math.

    Here are examples where you seem to be arguing that it’s not real rather than dealing with the thought experiment directly:

    I think these problems persist throughout an afterlife…

    but these different facts are not necessarily reconciled by an afterlife.

    The problem with the first quote is that it’s just a counter assumption to the ones I’m suggesting we consider. So it’s not really an argument at all. It’s just a different thought experiment.

    The problem with the second one is that you are totally correct, it is not necessarily true that an afterlife removes the problem. I am only asserting that a certain type of one does.

    Other times it seems like you are arguing that assumptions I’m taking as hypothetical do not amount to objective morality or amount to a logical contradiction, though I can’t see how you are deriving that stance. Here is the best example of this:

    You instead have to hope that all conscious individuals will perceive things the same (so that facts describing that perception will be the same). You say that this will happen in the afterlife. Just throw enough time at it, and then everyone will feel regret for immoral actions, and everyone will appreciate moral ones. So, I don’t get it.

    But as I read through your arguments, I think I possibly understand what you are really trying to say. I think what you are really trying to say is that you are personally offended by the scenario in my made up afterlife scenario where 100% of everyone, given sufficient time, eventually voluntarily repents and changes and admits they’ve done wrong.

    In fact, I suspect that you are really making the following argument:

    1. Bruce, you are saying one scenario where morality can be considered objectively real is if in the afterlife everyone voluntarily eventually changes and accepts their immoral actions as immoral, thereby making morality no longer a subjective perception.
    2. But I don’t like the idea of having to change and I think many or most people would agree with me. We would, in fact, find it very offensive — even immoral. We’d no longer “be our own man” so to speak.
    3. Even if you were right about this, we might as well consider those people who changed (which is everyone) as “selling out” and “being brainwashed.” (I.e. you are using words that imply personal offense.)
    4. Therefore, I personally see this argument as illogical because it strikes me as immoral, thereby undermining it’s premise.

    Is this what you are trying to say? This is the only way I can read you that would make sense at this time. Please be kind, I really am trying to understand where you are coming from.

  17. Andrew writes, ‘If God does not define morality, but morality exists independently of God, then God is limited in a certain way. However, if God does define morality, then the problems that you mention arise (e.g., couldn’t God *conceivably* change his mind?)’

    I would say (as a Catholic) that the objective standard of morality is God, but that doesn’t have to make morality arbitrary on God’s part. He himself simply is the definition of goodness, and so to be good is to conform oneself to his nature. Without God goodness simply would not exist (nor would anything else).

    God doesn’t sit there weighing the possibilities, going with whatever happens to amuse him at the moment. Along with his being identified with goodness, goes his unchangeable nature: He always was and always will be, and further he always was and always will be the same.

    Changing thoughts, opinions, whims, implies a lack of perfection, since one changes one’s mind in order to make it more correct than it was before. But God’s mind was never uncorrect, therefore he never needs to change it.

    Alternatively, you could say that changing opinions, thoughts and whims is a result of changing circumstances. But for God all things are present; from his perspective nothing changes. Therefore he has no need to change his mind based on having learned of changed conditions.

  18. Bruce,

    Again, I don’t really fully know the extent of what I’m trying to say…all I can say is that your “dichotomy” doesn’t pass a certain smell test. So, I don’t feel like I’m only disagreeing that this is the way things actually are. I’m really caught up on whether this is a way things *could be*. I’m not caught up on the actuality of one or the other of your dichotomy. Rather, I’m caught up on the dichotomy you’ve set up — what you say are the two only logically possible answers.

    1. Morality is a delusion
    2. God exists and there is an afterlife.

    But, let me try to address your last part about the argument you think I’m making.

    1) Uh, I guess this is what I would say I think your argument is.
    2) It’s not so much, “I don’t like the idea of having to change” or “I am personally offended by the idea of having to change,” but more:

    a) I don’t think the change YOU need for objective morality (e.g., where people choose to view their immoral actions as immoral) would be possible. I think you kinda address why I think that (perhaps in 3?). Even if we changed our *behavior* and *action*, we wouldn’t necessarily change our rawest, I dunno…”instinctual” and “primal” thoughts. These rawest, “final” thoughts are our initial reactions to things like morality, goodness, badness, desireability, undesirability. We do not consciously choose them. We do not consciously change them. They can change, yes, but it’s not something that we consciously decide to change. Does a child truly feel remorse for his actions after being sent to time out, or maybe, does he moreso feel regret that he was caught, and then want to play along so that he will get out of time out? Or does he moreso feel — even as he sits — that his punishment was injust, not his action? It seems that changing the length of timeout doesn’t necessarily change this reaction.

    and

    b) Even if we could grant such a change to be possible, I don’t think this would establish objective morality at all. This is more a jab back at 1, but I didn’t address it there because I think that if I had to summarize your argument, I think that’s what you are saying objective morality would be established by. But really, I think this is at best a tyranny of the majority (in the case, a majority of everyone). It is a tyranny of subjects who vote with their subjectivity, not objectivity. This does not require an afterlife or god, although it may require more social, genetic, psychological or cultural engineering than we feel acceptable employing now. And if it smacks of brainwashing or selling out in a human/mortal context, it still has such context in a divine context. If it smacks of people needing to “be a different person” in a human/mortal context, it still smacks of that in a divine context.

    3) I don’t mean to imply personal offense here. I mean to imply that — to the extent that these things would make delusions out of earthly claims of objective morality — they would just as well make delusions out of heavenly claims. If Sam Harris takes personal offense at someone being coming to GENUINELY believe the veil is good for them…and believes that this happened not because (novel idea!) the veil is good for them, but because they live in a culture of delusion, or if you agree with this line of reasoning, then what I am saying is that there isn’t much reason not to also suppose this about an afterlife scenario you pose. (Well actually, there is a reason…the same reason Harris doesn’t bat an eyelash twice at his own morality system…because of course, it seems kosher to him). This is just one of many things when I say that your dichotomy does not seem to address even the right sort of thing.

    4) Not quite. I simply don’t think that the argument achieves to set out what it wants to do — to provide a possible framework for a dichotomy of objective morality or delusion.

  19. Agellius:

    This is indeed a traditional Catholic way of trying to sidestep the dilemma…but it doesn’t quite do it. For one, it just backs things up one stage…why is God good?

  20. I think a Catholic might say your question is kind of a tautology, “good” being a description of God. It’s like asking “why is God God?” or “why is good good?”

    If morality is objective, anchored in God’s nature, then “good” is just a word we apply to our observations of what God does. I think.

  21. Andrew writes, ‘This is indeed a traditional Catholic way of trying to sidestep the dilemma…but it doesn’t quite do it. For one, it just backs things up one stage…why is God good?’

    I don’t agree that it sidesteps the dilemma, nor that it backs things up a stage (backs them up from what?). But even granting that it does, the thing is, at some point you can’t go back any further. There has to be a cause that causes other things without itself being caused.

    Why do things exist instead of nothing existing? The idea of “nothing” existing is inconceivable. Which means that existence is necessary. Yet the existence of individual things is not necessary: We can easily conceive of existence without me, or you, or the sun, or even the universe. But we can’t conceive of nothing whatsoever.

    What would nothing be? Blackness? But blackness is the absence of light, and there would be no light of which there could be an absence — the very concept of blackness depends on a concept of light. But if there were nothing then there would be no concepts.

    Similarly the concept of evil proves that goodness exists. You can have good without evil but you can’t have evil without good. (No disorder without order, no illogic without logic, no evil without good.)

    If all were evil then “evil” would just be reality — but actually, it would be impossible for everything to be evil. Imagine *everything* being evil: What would life be like? You would wake up in the morning — well, waking up is good because that means you’re alive. You might argue that being alive is bad because you would only suffer all day. But on the contrary, being alive is the good on which the bad is inflicted.

    Goodness is the canvas on which badness is painted: you have to start with something good and do something bad to it. So you start with a living being with a mind and a sensible body, and inflict pain on it; you give the mind a concept of hope, then deprive it of the opportunity of attaining the thing hoped for, resulting in hopelessness.

    Goodness is the default mode of existence: Existence is in fact good. And God, in fact, is the source of existence. And therefore the source of good. If he is the *source* of good, you don’t ask what makes him good. Just as if he is the source of existence, you don’t ask what gives him existence. Existence simply exists — necessarily exists, since nothing is inconceivable.

    It’s certainly the case that if nothing ever existed at any time, then nothing would continue existing now. But since things exist now, there was never a time when nothing existed. Which means that existence has always existed. And existence being good, goodness has always existed. And God being the source of both, God has always existed and has always been good.

    If I’m wrong to push the question back a stage, then it’s more wrong to push it back even further. When you find the source of a river, you can proceed to look for the source of the source. But you can’t go on that way forever: At some point you have to hit a wall, which is the source of other things because it just IS.

    Just as in Logic, you have to have certain fundamental first principles, without which reason is impossible. For example, that a whole is greater than any of its parts. That’s a self-evident principle, and you can’t go back any further and prove it logically: As soon as you understand what “whole” and “part” mean, you know the statement is true. It just is, and you can’t push it back any further than that.

    You can disagree with this, but complaining that I have pushed it back a step and refuse to push it any further, is not a valid argument against it.

  22. Syphax, I think that is the case…

    Agellius, the original idea of the question is something like, “is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because the gods love it?” To say something like, “God loves the pious because He is pious.”

    This just takes thing up a further step. “Well, why is he pious/what does it mean for God’s nature to be moral/good? Does it mean that anything God is…is good? Or does it mean that there is a standard of goodness somewhere and God simply perfectly and completely aligns with it? If the latter, where did that standard come from?” etc.,

    You contest, saying, “You don’t ask what makes him good.” Well, that’s apparently the problem. People *do* ask that. His goodness is not apparent to everyone. People have very different ideas of what is good or what is bad. To just say, “well, he is good” doesn’t really quell any questions or satisfy them.

    (this is a bit of a side step, but getting back on your conversation on “nothing” and whether that is conceivable or not. I think this shows the huge impact of subjectivity. The reason nothing is inconceivable is not because of anything about *nothing*. Rather, it’s all about *us*. Since we have to use subjectivity to conceive in the first place [humans conceive because we can perceive...a rock does neither], to conceive of anything without conceivability at all would be problematic. I’d actually argue this means we cannot easily conceive of our own non-existence, countering what you have said. And in fact, we don’t easily conceive of our own non-existence. Always, our consciousness wants to get in the way…because our consciousness is the tool we use to perceive things…)

    The concept of evil doesn’t prove that good exists. The concept of evil proves that the concept of good exists. (No one is doubting such). The question is whether or not we can have a concept of good without an actual good.

    Well, the problem is, since our concepts of good vary so much, I don’t think we can tell that it does point to an *objective* good. However, it points very much to subjectivity and subjective perception of such. Is that enough? Apparently not, for many people.

    Or at the least, if there is an actual good, we don’t have any idea that any of our concepts of it align with it. This is problematic for someone who wants to assert that something called “God” (and a particular form of such) is good…how can you say your concept of good is in fact, good?

  23. Andrew S,

    Once we get down to “smells” we’ve probably reached the bottom of what can be discussed since we are probably now agreeing to disagree. ;)

    But I see your arguments as problematic on so many level. May I make one more attempt to explain why I don’t really understand your arguments?

    First, we are talking about a hypothetical scenario that is an extension of reality. I am hypothesizing a fantasy world where we all are able to grow and change and mature into infinity, just as a child starts out immature and, with time, changes and grows to a man or woman finitely. My fantasy scenario merely attempts to extend forward the natural growth process.

    Real changes happen to almost all of us as we grow to adulthood. But it’s a messy and painful process, though a natural one. It involves wanting “your way” and then finding out the natural consequences of not considering others. You come to realize that maybe what you really wanted was something else. You slowly decide that you wish to be different than you are, and changes voluntarily takes place. I think of my own children here, who sincerely think they want what they want until they get it.

    In real life, this process never goes past a certain point. For one, we don’t really live that long at 70-80 years. For another, there is always temptation to ‘cheat’ and then avoid moral consequences by merely outliving them. If death is the end for everyone, then this is a realistic scenario. Therefore, in mortal life, we will never find that everyone can come to agree upon any single moral standard. It’s impossible.

    I admit I do not know why you are taking that whole maturing process and calling it ‘an extended timeout.’ This seems like a poor analogy to me for many reasons. I suppose I can see that in a sense it’s a ‘punishing process’ where we face consequence of our actions and learn and grow from them. But other than this very basic similarity, I must object to you characterizing human maturation to an extended timeout. This fails my own smell test.

    Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter what we call it. You are free to call it what you will, even choosing negative value-laden words for it.

    In any case, you go on to argue that just as a timeout doesn’t change a child’s inner person but only his outer actions, so will this maturation process fail to cause real change in people. But since this is contradicted by empirical evidence — people really do grow up to be adults and improve their moral desires with time — I do not understand this argument.

    So instead, I wish to concentrate on what I see as the key problem with your argument — the fact that you call the maturation process “a tyranny of the majority.”

    Again, at a basic level, I suppose I can see what you are saying. My children “what their own way” and then find out that maybe there are hurtful consequences from demanding their own way. Their initial reaction is to feel like ‘other people are out to force them to be different.’ But, over time, they grow and change on their own and come to see the value of ‘being different’ from their childhood self. But is this really a tyranny of the majority as you are suggesting? Again, this fails the smell test for me.

    But just as “an extended timeout” is a value-landed way to explain a maturation process, so is a “tyranny of the majority.” You might have called this process something value-positive, like ‘ethical growth.’ Or you might have called it something value-neutral, like ‘the process of becoming integrated with society.’ But instead you are choosing a value-negative label: tyranny of the majority.

    But this, to me, proves my point. For ‘value-laden’ is merely a fancy way of saying “moral judgment.”

    So to support a subjective moral worldview, the first thing you had to do was make an objective moral judgment against objective morality.

  24. Andrew:

    Interesting discussion.

    You write, ‘[T]he original idea of the question is something like, “is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because the gods love it?”

    But “gods” is conceived of in a very different sense from how God is conceived of by the Catholic.

    You write, ‘”Well, why is he pious/what does it mean for God’s nature to be moral/good? Does it mean that anything God is…is good? Or does it mean that there is a standard of goodness somewhere and God simply perfectly and completely aligns with it? If the latter, where did that standard come from?” etc.,’

    It doesn’t mean “anything God is is good”, it means “God is good”. He is only one way, and that way is good. He has always been that way and he is unchangeable. He is the standard of good, and there is nothing outside himself to which he aligns himself.

    You write, ‘You contest, saying, “You don’t ask what makes him good.” Well, that’s apparently the problem. People *do* ask that. His goodness is not apparent to everyone. People have very different ideas of what is good or what is bad. To just say, “well, he is good” doesn’t really quell any questions or satisfy them.’

    Of course I realize that. I was not claiming to have answered everyone’s questions to their own satisfaction, I was merely giving (what I understand to be) the Catholic answer. Further, I contend that it is a satisfactory answer within its own context, i.e. it is internally consistent and nothing is left unanswered. People still may wonder how God can be good, or for that matter why he is unchangeable, etc. But people wondering about something is no argument against it.

    You write, ‘(this is a bit of a side step, but getting back on your conversation on “nothing” and whether that is conceivable or not. I think this shows the huge impact of subjectivity. The reason nothing is inconceivable is not because of anything about *nothing*. Rather, it’s all about *us*. Since we have to use subjectivity to conceive in the first place [humans conceive because we can perceive...a rock does neither], to conceive of anything without conceivability at all would be problematic.’

    I don’t understand your statement that “we have to use subjectivity to conceive”. It seems to assume that what we conceive is only within our own minds. While it’s true that only intelligent beings can conceive things, that doesn’t mean that what they conceive must have merely subjective validity.

    The reason nothing (by which I mean “the nonexistence of anything whatsoever”) is inconceivable is because it objectively cannot be conceived, by any intelligent mind that exists or ever could exist. It is impossible of conception. You may think that reflects nothing about reality, but to my mind it does: Nothing inconceivable can exist, therefore nothing cannot exist. Everything that exists is conceivable. It was in fact conceived — by the mind of God the Creator. God can’t make a square triangle because such a thing is inconceivable. But he can make any conceivable triangle whatsoever. God can’t make reality into nothing because nothing is inconceivable. Existence is necessary. There never has been nothing and there never will be.

    You write, ‘The concept of evil doesn’t prove that good exists. The concept of evil proves that the concept of good exists. (No one is doubting such). The question is whether or not we can have a concept of good without an actual good.’

    And I suppose the concept of disorder doesn’t prove the existence of order? But how could one conceive of disorder unless he had experienced order? Or conceive of illogic without having experienced logic?

    It seems to me that your doubts on the objective existence of good and evil are based on a philosophical skepticism. You think that because something exists only conceptually, but not physically, its objective existence is unknowable. About that I will just say that there is a lot more evidence for objective good and evil than for philosophical skepticism.

    You write, ‘if there is an actual good, we don’t have any idea that any of our concepts of it align with it. This is problematic for someone who wants to assert that something called “God” (and a particular form of such) is good…how can you say your concept of good is in fact, good?’

    I must ask you to speak for yourself, Sir. : ) I can say that my concept of good is in fact good, just as I can say that my concept of truth is in fact true, and my concept of reason is in fact reasonable. How I arrived at these conclusions is another question and would be hard to explain in a blog comment, since they are intertwined with my whole concept of reality. But in a nutshell, I would say that I can know it because I am a realist: I believe that my senses perceive reality and that my thoughts are capable of arriving at objective truth. If you ask me to prove that, I will ask you to prove that a whole is greater than any of its parts. At some point you just have to act on what you see around you, which is what everyone does in real life anyhow, no matter what they may profess philosophically.

    By the way as enjoyable as this is, we may be straying from the topic of the original post. If you like, I would be glad to continue it by private email, at agellius 1 at gmail dot com.

  25. Bruce,

    Again, at a basic level, I suppose I can see what you are saying. My children “what their own way” and then find out that maybe there are hurtful consequences from demanding their own way. Their initial reaction is to feel like ‘other people are out to force them to be different.’ But, over time, they grow and change on their own and come to see the value of ‘being different’ from their childhood self. But is this really a tyranny of the majority as you are suggesting? Again, this fails the smell test for me.

    People do change over time, yes. But they don’t converge onto one kind of person, or one kind of thing. You need convergence. What I’m saying is 1) convergence seems unlikely, and infinite amount of time seems like a copout, and 2) even convergence doesn’t = objectivity.

    So to support a subjective moral worldview, the first thing you had to do was make an objective moral judgment against objective morality.

    I ultimately don’t get this. You say I have to make an objective moral judgment against objective morality. That’s silly. That’s like saying the Muslim who loves the headscarf is making an objective moral judgment. But the entire point is that just what people internally understand as morality does not an objective morality make.

    So, when you want to posit an objective morality, it makes sense to say something like, “the first thing you had to do was make a subjective moral judgment against objective morality.” It then makes sense to say, “But your subjective moral judgment is wrong/”delusional”/short-sighted.”

    But it doesn’t even make sense to say, “The first thing you had to do was make an objective moral judgment against objective morality.”

    How can a subject make an objective moral judgment? How can a subject make an objective moral judgment? What each of these emphasized words implies seems to destroy the very concept.

    (If you want to say, “The first thing you had to do was ascertain/discover/perceive an objective truth claim against objective morality,” then things might make sense…but this in itself doesn’t equate to what you want to say.)

  26. Agellius:

    Of course I realize that. I was not claiming to have answered everyone’s questions to their own satisfaction, I was merely giving (what I understand to be) the Catholic answer. Further, I contend that it is a satisfactory answer within its own context, i.e. it is internally consistent and nothing is left unanswered.

    …the context is circular/tautological.

    The reason nothing (by which I mean “the nonexistence of anything whatsoever”) is inconceivable is because it objectively cannot be conceived, by any intelligent mind that exists or ever could exist.

    I already just said that. It objectively cannot be conceived because, to be conceived would require a subjective mind that would not exist to conceive it.

    And I suppose the concept of disorder doesn’t prove the existence of order? But how could one conceive of disorder unless he had experienced order? Or conceive of illogic without having experienced logic?

    Say someone has experienced “good.” But the good that he has experienced is something that we are to believe is actually evil. So, let’s say it’s the Muslim woman who genuinely believes the headscarf is “good.”

    How can she conceive of the badness of not wearing a headscarf unless she had experienced the goodness of the headscarf? But does the goodness of the headscarf say anything about goodness in general to you, to Bruce, Sam Harris?

    I can say that my concept of good is in fact good, just as I can say that my concept of truth is in fact true, and my concept of reason is in fact reasonable. How I arrived at these conclusions is another question and would be hard to explain in a blog comment, since they are intertwined with my whole concept of reality. But in a nutshell, I would say that I can know it because I am a realist: I believe that my senses perceive reality and that my thoughts are capable of arriving at objective truth.

    The Muslim woman’s concept of good is in fact good, just as she can say that her concept of truth is in fact true, and here concept of reason is in fact reasonable. How she arrived at these conclusions are another question and would be hard to explain in a blog comment, since they are intertwined with her whole concept of reality. Needless to say, Muslims and Catholics and Mormons and Hindus and all manners of every kind of belief about reality argue and bicker incessantly about how they have arrived at certain conclusions and each holds that their concepts are in fact good, in fact true, in fact reasonable, and believe to have arguments that decisively show the others to be false.

    At some point you just have to act on what you see around you, which is what everyone does in real life anyhow, no matter what they may profess philosophically.

    No, I fully agree with you, with one exception. Instead of saying “no matter what they may profess,” I would put “and this leads to what they may profess.” Everyone just has to act on what they see around them, but what seems intriguing is how everyone else is seeing different stuff. They are truly, genuinely seeing different stuff. We want to say that others are being deceived and we have the truth, or others are in delusions and we are undeluded, or others are not living out their philosophies truly (but we are), but at the end of the day, people do not converge on one view.

    By the way as enjoyable as this is, we may be straying from the topic of the original post.

    I agree. I’ll throw in the “agree to disagree” towel on all points (the points relating to Bruce’s and your points), and I think I’ll be on my very way.

  27. “People do change over time, yes. But they don’t converge onto one kind of person, or one kind of thing. You need convergence”

    First of all, people do largely converge on what morality is, if not the facts of a given situation. That was Harris’ point and I agree with him. No, it’s not everyone. But there is a huge overwhelmingly emperically based convergence as to what morality is. The general disagreement is usually over the facts. i.e. abortion is wrong because it’s a baby vs. abortion is not wrong because it’s the woman’s body — there is a convergence of moral principles here if not on facts. Is it really that hard to believe that someday we’ll solve the facts based problem here and all will come to agree on this point? I think not.

    Also, we seem to have swung back to an argument now on whether or not our hypothetical is real, which is besides the point.

    In any case, we are hypothesizing as a base assumption that given enough time such a convergence naturally takes place. Then I am drawing a conclusion that given this convergence happens (by assumption) and that it’s natural and voluntary (again by assumption) that we have established a basis for objective morality.

    We are not claiming this is true in real life. We are only taking it as a given for the sake of argument. You now seem to be arguing that such convergence does not take place. So what? Given a new and different assumption — that moral convergence does not take place given any amount of time — I’d have to agree with you that objective morality could never exist. I grant this and have from the beginning. If this is your argument, we are not arguing.

    “You say I have to make an objective moral judgment against objective morality. That’s silly.”

    Does deciding that human ethical growth is equivalent to tyranny of the majority presuppose that it’s possible to make an objective moral judgment about the process? It seems to me it does. If what you meant to say was “I don’t personally prefer it” than what need is there to apply a moral judgment to it by calling it ‘tyranny of the majority?’

  28. Does deciding that human ethical growth is equivalent to tyranny of the majority presuppose that it’s possible to make an objective moral judgment about the process? It seems to me it does. If what you meant to say was “I don’t personally prefer it” than what need is there to apply a moral judgment to it by calling it ‘tyranny of the majority?’

    It doesn’t seem that way to me.

    If morality = “statement about well-being of conscious creatures,” then this doesn’t imply objectivity (because the well-being of conscious creatures, as perceived by those conscious creatures, is subjective). And if it is such, then “I don’t personally prefer it” *is* a statement about well-being of a conscious creature. It is, in other words, a moral judgment.

    The thing is, “I don’t personally prefer it,” doesn’t necessarily mean, “so mum’s the word to anyone else.” As people, we communicate. Even when we disagree. *Especially* when we disagree. So, moral judgments should easily be seen as, “I don’t personally prefer it, and I don’t think you should either.” The issue is, whether through persuasion or through force (or through a lot of time), we *aren’t* achieving something objective.

  29. “I don’t personally prefer it, and I don’t think you should either.”

    The argument is that if given enough time, everyone of their own free will and choice converges upon an agreement on a certain moral choice, does that (at least on that choice) constituted objective morality. (Mind you, I mean *everyone* that has ever lived.) I’m saying yes.

    You aren’t arguing the point one way or the other as of yet. You’ve instead concentrated all your efforts on arguing against the assumption itself — that such a convergence is possible in the first place. I am not arguing with you over this. You may or may not be right, I don’t know and that’s an argument for another thread.

    You seem to me to be further arguing that it’s perfectly acceptable for you to try to convince me that a moral preference of your own — in this case subjective morality — is better than mine — belief in objective morality. So, what happens if you succeed beyond your wildest dreams? What if you ‘win’ this argument and convince everyone that has ever lived that you are right?

    Since I see this victory as synonymous with a positive proof of an objective moral, I’m saying that this would mean that you proved subjective morality as correct by establishing it morally superior objectively.

    In other words, you would have disproven yourself via contradiction. So we would have established the moral superiority of subjective morality as false via reductio ad absurdum.

    [snip. making this shorter]

    One thing we seem to be talking past each other on is that you seem to think I think the existence of an objective morality would therefore mean all things we currently call moral preferences would therefore have to be objective. But this isn’t the case.

    To use a silly example, let’s say that in our hypothetical future time (where morality converges to a single objective morality) that we have some people that choose to live monogamously and some that choose to be part of free love colonies. Today we say marriage vs. free love as a ‘moral difference.’ But in this hypothetical future, we would no longer think of this as a ‘moral choice’ at all because we now know that it’s just a preference. Choosing marriage over free love would literally be shown objectively as being no more a moral choice than choices of ice cream flavor. Our moral labeling *on that issue* would itself have been proven wrong.

    [snip. too long.]

  30. The argument is that if given enough time, everyone of their own free will and choice converges upon an agreement on a certain moral choice, does that (at least on that choice) constituted objective morality. (Mind you, I mean *everyone* that has ever lived.) I’m saying yes.

    You aren’t arguing the point one way or the other as of yet

    No, I have said at several times, “no. This wouldn’t necessarily establish or suggest objective morality.”

    You seem to me to be further arguing that it’s perfectly acceptable for you to try to convince me that a moral preference of your own — in this case subjective morality — is better than mine — belief in objective morality. So, what happens if you succeed beyond your wildest dreams? What if you ‘win’ this argument and convince everyone that has ever lived that you are right?

    Since I see this victory as synonymous with a positive proof of an objective moral, I’m saying that this would mean that you proved subjective morality as correct by establishing it morally superior objectively.

    But what I’m saying is that this *wouldn’t* establish an objective morality. To convince someone, it wouldn’t be by establishing it morally superior objectively.

    So again, I don’t think your dichotomy works.

    at best, I can say merely the obvious dichotomy.

    1) Either objective morality exists
    or
    2) it doesn’t, and all the moralities we present are delusions

    But I don’t think 1 comes from “an afterlife and God”.

  31. Andrew S,

    I honestly can’t see where you have done anything but attack the assumption itself. I’m sorry if I have misunderstood you, but I can’t see it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with attacking the assumption itself. It’s not the point of the thread, but it’s related enough it seems to warrant it’s own discussion.

    But I read through what you’ve written and I don’t see a single argument you’ve made that isn’t an attack of the assumption itself.

    If someone were to ask me “Why does Andrew S believe that even if you had 100% convergence of moral beliefs of all people that this does not constituted objective morality?” I honestly could not answer the question.

    I could mention that you think this is somehow a tyranny of the majority or brain washing, but this is not a response to the question. It simply means you morally object to the existence of a convergence (which is silly because you’d be – by assumption — part of the convergence and would look upon your current view as flawed morality.)

    I could mention that you believe people can’t really converge in this way. But this isn’t a response to the question either.

    I simply see no where that you’ve answered the question as why convergence of moral understanding “wouldn’t necessarily establish or suggest objective morality”

    Indeed, given the fact that you are saying you do not accept 100% convergence of moral understanding as being objective, I’d like to know how you do define the phrase ‘objective morality.’

    I’d have to venture a guess that most likely you are intentionally defining objective morality out of existence. You are saying that ‘objective morality’ is impossible because “objective” and “morality” are impossible to place next to each other in the first place. If this is your argument, then you are saying it’s as absurd to believe in “objective morality” as it is to say something is “a completely blue shade of perfect green.”

  32. If someone were to ask me “Why does Andrew S believe that even if you had 100% convergence of moral beliefs of all people that this does not constituted objective morality?” I honestly could not answer the question.

    My answer would be: because 100% convergence of any sort of belief of all people does not constitute objectivity.

    If the universe were made last Thursday, but appeared to be billions of years old, then let’s say that people argued fervently that the universe was billions of years old. Even if everyone were to converge on the belief that the universe was billions of years old, this would not constitute objectivity (or, for that matter, correctness.) To the extent, however, that this could imply delusion, or brainwashing, or tyranny of the majority, this precisely answers the question that total convergence doesn’t necessarily constitute objectivity.

    (At the same time, regardless of our collective ignorance, the universe would have been made last Thursday).

    To get to something about objective morality, it would have to be, in keeping with our talk about morality but adding in the objective dimension — a fact about the well being of conscious creatures that holds regardless of the perception and acceptance of those conscious creatures. Not “a fact about the well-being of conscious creatures that holds because of the perception and acceptance of those conscious creatures.”

    To this extent, it is not the case that objective morality is “defined out of existence.” Rather, it exists the same as that “fact” of the universe’s creation last Thursday. Nevertheless, the appearance of an older universe would seem so much more entirely relevant than the objective age, and in a similar sense, the appearance of a hypothetically shared morality would seem so much more entirely relevant than the objective morality.

    But this is a pretty convoluted scenario, ragh. I think in a general sense, I can see now that I’m really just arguing against the assumptions.

  33. “But this is a pretty convoluted scenario, ragh. I think in a general sense, I can see now that I’m really just arguing against the assumptions.”

    Fair enough.

    Mind you, arguing against the assumption is a fair point by itself. And one worth hashing out. I’m glad you did it.

    This reminds me of Battlestar Galactica where Commander Adama asks a character “did you love her?” And he answers “I thought I did.” To which the commander says “but love is just thoughts. So thinking you love someone is the same as loving them.”

    This is where I believe I was really disagreeing. If morality is facts about our well being, but well being is defined by the individual, then taking a finite point of view, it can never be said to be objective. But if there is a factual future convergence (however unlikely or impossible that may be), then it can be.

    So why does mere convergence make it an objective fact where as with your universe example it does not? Because we’re talking about facts about our long term perceptions, not our short term ones. Therefore convergence of long term perceptions about our well being is the same as objective fact about our well being. This is a case where convergence of perception makes it an objective fact by definition.

    Andrew S, as always, you are a scholar and a gentleman. I hope you see dialog like this as productive as I do.

  34. Agellius,

    I think you and Andrew S both did fantastic in your discussion with each other. And (being biased to Theism) I agreed with you.

    However, I would like to see you address the apparently contradiction (I emphasize the word “apparent”) between posts #22 and #18.

    In #18 you state that God is not arbitarily choosing morality but has reasons for it.

    But in #22 you more or less state that morality is not a choice at all but was the only logically possible choice.

    It seems to me that these two points of view collectively do not jive with each other without some additional missing piece. It also seems to me that they do not jive with the idea that morality stems from God. That doesn’t seem to be the case in either post.

    If God has reasons for choosing morality, then those reasons exists without God and so does morality. If morality is the only logical choice possible, then it also seems that it exists without God in a logical sense and God creating the universe merely made it a functioning reality.

    Again, I am not personally disagreeing with you. I think you don’t yet realize I completely agree with you on this. But I also think you have a missing piece to your explanation.

  35. Bruce:

    You write, ‘I think you and Andrew S both did fantastic in your discussion with each other.’

    It’s nice to have you finally say something nice to me. Just joking. ; )

    You write, ‘In #18 you state that God is not arbitarily choosing morality but has reasons for it.’

    I don’t say God “has reasons” for morality in no. 18.

    You write, ‘But in #22 you more or less state that morality is not a choice at all but was the only logically possible choice.’

    I don’t say that morality is “the only logical choice” in no. 22.

    Since I didn’t say the things that you say contradict each other, all I can say is that I haven’t contradicted myself.

    I don’t know how to prove that I didn’t say those things, since I don’t know why you think I did. Maybe you should quote the parts of 18 and 22 that you believe say what you say they say.

  36. Agellius,

    Sometimes communication on the internet seems like the twilight zone to me. I think part of the problem is that we are all big readers and we like to indirectly utilize arguments we’ve read elsewhere but that we don’t always fully comprehend them or realize their logical ramifications.

    The fact is that your #18 and #22 both seem like brilliant but possibly mutually exclusive arguments to me. But apparently you understand them so different from the way I read them that I now have to question whether or not one of us maybe didn’t understand what you said. ;)

    Take, for example, #18. You said in it: “I would say (as a Catholic) that the objective standard of morality is God, but that doesn’t have to make morality arbitrary on God’s part”

    I was taking the word “arbitrary” to mean “not having a reason beyond his own discretion.” (Looking this word up, this seems to be correct.)

    Therefore, your asserting that morality is not arbitrary on God’s part would seem to mean that God “had reasons beyond his own discretion” for moral rules. If this isn’t what you meant, I question whether you said anything meaningful in #18 at all. Please explain what you meant further, because I am obviously not understanding your intent.

    #22 is a little bit more complex, but the same problem plays out. #22 is a, in my opinion, brilliant way of demonstrating why morality is the way it is — because nothing else is actually possible. In essence the argument (it seemed to me) was that imagining some other form of “goodness” is really not possible. Therefore “goodness” (or morality) is the only logical possibility in the first place.

    Yet, here again, when I state that summary back to you, you think you didn’t say that. I’m perplexed.

    Now, obviously, if you had in fact said in #18 that God has reasons for picking morality and in #22 you said morality was the only logical possibility, then obviously a further explanation between the two is necessary because it is a paradox. And both arguments might imply morality as not being created by God so more explanation would be needed here to.

    I but if you intended neither of these, I can certainly understand why you don’t own my supposed ‘summaries’ of what you said.

    Yet, I honestly can’t see any other possible way to comprehend your words at the moment. If you didn’t just claim in #18 that God has reasons for how He defines morality and you didn’t just argue in #22 that we can’t really logically imagine a different set of rules for morality, then I will need you to clarify yourself a lot more than I originally thought.

  37. Bruce:

    You write, ‘I was taking the word “arbitrary” to mean “not having a reason beyond one’s own discretion.”‘ Therefore, your asserting that morality is not arbitrary on God’s part would seem to mean that God “had reasons beyond his own discretion” for moral rules. If this isn’t what you meant, I question whether you said anything meaningful in #18 at all.’

    The definition you provide for “arbitrary” assumes a certain context: It assumes an action or a decision has been made by someone, and then proceeds to describe the action or decision as having been made for “no reason beyond [the person's] own discretion”.

    When I said the objective standard of morality is God, but that doesn’t make morality arbitrary on his part, I meant that the context assumed in that definition doesn’t exist: God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality. It’s not a decision he makes (and therefore is not arbitrary) but is based on attributes of his very nature. I think this is made clear in the next sentence when I say, ‘He himself simply is the definition of goodness, and so to be good is to conform oneself to his nature.’

    You write, ‘In essence the argument (it seemed to me) [in #22] was that imagining some other form of “goodness” is really not possible. Therefore “goodness” (or morality) is the only logical possibility in the first place. Yet, here again, when I state that summary back to you, you think you didn’t say that. I’m perplexed.’

    No. 22 is basically an elaboration on 18: Explaining that morality has no other cause or standard than the attributes of God’s own nature.

    But before going any further, let me say what I think morality is. I have said it before but I’ll reiterate in this context: Morality is the rules governing the conduct of beings with minds, or in other words, spiritual beings. The moral law is the law governing rational beings insofar as they are purely rational. It has nothing to say to the non-rational parts of any being, but only to his mind.

    Morality does not govern God since God is its source, any more than my rules regarding my kids’ bedtime govern myself. The difference is that the standard for my kids’ bedtime would be some external concern, such as their health and mental acuity in school. The standard for morality is an external concern from man’s perspective, namely the concern for being good, which means nothing more than conforming his nature to God’s.

    But the concern for being good is not an external concern from God’s perspective: There is nothing outside God that makes God want to be good. There is not another god who acts as the standard to which God needs to conform his conduct in order to live and be happy. There is in fact nothing external to himself whatsoever which acts as a check on his conduct, or a standard or goal towards which he strives to raise himself. (He is, after all, perfect.)

    No. 22 uses a few examples to illustrate the point that you can’t go on demanding cause after cause, ad infinitum, because some things just ARE. For example goodness just is, and logic, and existence, and these things cannot conceivably be otherwise. Which in turn (I may not have spelled this part out) leads to the conclusion that their source is God, who himself just is, being the ultimate cause and source of everything else.

    Remembering of course that I was writing in answer to his question, whether good is good because God arbitrarily decides it is, or God decides it’s good according to some external standard. My answer is that it’s neither: neither arbitrarily decided upon, nor judged by him according to some external standard, but simply inherent in the nature of reality — the nature of reality of course being God’s own nature, who holds all things in existence.

    Because God is mind, logic exists. Because God exists, existence exists. Because God is good, goodness exists, and existence is good. They just are, and there is no further explanation beyond God himself. Andrew argued that there needed to be a further explanation to avoid the charge of copping out, and I argued that further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.

  38. Agellius,

    Thank you for the further explanation. If you personally allow for ‘arbitary’ to not apply to something that “just is that way” then I can see how you actually intended your comments and why I would never have been able to understand you without further explanation.

    However, I think this weakens your argument considerably. I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words. Guess AndrewS will have to speak for himself.

    But I can certainly see what you originally meant now.

  39. Bruce:

    You write, ‘If you personally allow for ‘arbitary’ to not apply to something that “just is that way” then I can see how you actually intended your comments and why I would never have been able to understand you without further explanation.’

    To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.) God is the only thing that necessarily exists and cannot be other than he is. Goodness exists as an attribute of God’s. Morality, or the moral law, is that which tells us — us rational creatures — what is good and what isn’t.

    As such, the moral law would not exist if we (rational creatures) did not exist. God doesn’t need to be told what is good and what isn’t since he simply is good by nature — in fact goodness itself and the source of goodness in other things.

    In short, morality “just is that way” in the sense that it could not be otherwise, since goodness could not be otherwise (as I argued previously and with which you seemed to agree). But it doesn’t have to exist at all, since we don’t have to exist at all.

    You write, ‘However, I think this weakens your argument considerably. I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitary’ I would suspect he meant ‘it just is that way’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it.’

    I deny that I haven’t given a viable explanation of morality. And I don’t see how my argument is weakened — although I wasn’t really making an argument, but just explaining the Catholic view of the source of morality as I understand it. That view is either true or false. Complaining that one would wish for a further explanation is not a logical argument against it. One could also demand a further explanation of how we know that a whole is greater than any of its parts, but that wouldn’t make the principle any less valid.

    In any event, as I said before, the question I was answering is “whether things are moral because God says so, or God says so because they are moral”. I said that my answer is “neither”. I have not seen that answer refuted thus far.

  40. To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.)

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality. It’s not a decision he makes…

    Goodness exists as an attribute of God’s. Morality, or the moral law, is that which tells us — us rational creatures — what is good and what isn’t. As such, the moral law would not exist if we (rational creatures) did not exist.

    I do not believe that you responded to my original point. Instead I believe you went for a “word-offense” attack, in my opinion. Word-offense is when a person argues that the other person used the wrong word rather than just taking his meaning and responding to his actual point.

    I get your point that you believe “morality” could not have existed because human’s didn’t have to exist but that “goodness” does have to exist as an attribute of God. And I’ll grant you “clever points” for deciding to make a split between “goodness” and “morality” for the sake of taking word-offense against what I said rather than respond to the actual meaning of the point being made. :P

    But as the quotes above prove, you know plain well that “goodness” and “morality” can also be used as synonyms and in fact used it that way yourself. So I know you understood my real point and would respectfully ask that you respond to that actual meaning of my words instead of redefining what I said first and then responding to that strawman. ;)

    Complaining that one would wish for a further explanation is not a logical argument against it.

    Well, actually, yes and no. From a Catholic point of view, I can see how you take “goodness just is” as a viable “explanation” after a fashion. Therefore, given that position, you are logically unassailable for certain because all you have to do is deny all other possible explanations.

    But I see where AndrewS is coming from too (I think). “Morality” (or “Goodness” if you prefer) is a complex phenomenon that seems to be in want of a viable explanation. It is nothing like, say, Euclid’s postulates that do not seem to be in want of an explanation. So it seems unfair to compare something that seems complex and in want of an explanation to things that do not seem to be in want of an explanation and then merely say “see, not everything needs an explanation.”

    You are defining “morality (or goodness if you prefer) by claiming it’s explanation is that it’s a necessary attribute of a necessary being, so no other explanation is possible or warranted. Note how this fits the pattern of being a “negative” definition. It claims no definition or explanation is possible.

    But as Sam Harris proved, it is possible to come up with a pretty good explanation for what “morality” or “goodness” is. (He used “facts about the well being of conscious beings” which is imperfect, but gets us a long way there, if not all the way there.)

    So the question becomes, why does a phenomenon that needs no explanation seem to have one? (At least for the vast majority of cases.) To me, this undoes the “it’s a postulate” argument I feel you used. But I can also see why you’d feel your argument is still solid. In a sense, it is. All you ever have to do is ignore viable explanations as they come along and you can continue to believe no explanation is needed. But it doesn’t surprise me that AndrewS was unwilling to live his life that way.

    This is what I think AndrewS was really getting at when he asked about if morality is arbitrary. Morality screams out as if it has a ‘purpose’ and ‘explanation’ behind it. Merely denying that it does – even on the grounds of it being a necessary attribute of a necessary Being – doesn’t really address the original concern. It just restates it and denies it’s a problem.

    But I agree with you that from your point of view, none of this is really a counter argument either. It just explains why it seems like a real problem still to anyone that doesn’t already hold the same assumptions as you.

    [Edit: Let me put this more succinctly. I believe AndrewS sees morality from a Catholic view point as 'arbitrary' because he sees morality as a complex phenomenon in want of an explanation. Your counter argument was to take the word 'arbitrary' and prove that it's possible to define it 'just so' such that morality from a Catholic view is not 'arbitrary' after all. This may well be true, but I do not believe that addresses his original concern at all. I think it's merely word-offense over what words he used.]

  41. Bruce:

    You write, ‘Word-offense is when a person argues that the other person used the wrong word rather than just taking his meaning and responding to his actual point.’

    Which in turn assumes that the other person knows what you mean regardless what words you use.

    You write, ‘… as the quotes above prove, you know plain well that “goodness” and “morality” can also be used as synonyms and in fact used it that way yourself. So I know you understood my real point and would respectfully ask that you respond to that actual meaning of my words instead of redefining what I said first and then responding to that strawman. ;)’

    In keeping with the tone of bluntness which you have introduced into the conversation: You’re failing to grasp my meaning does not automatically translate to my being deliberately deceptive or evasive. Further, since I don’t know that I grasp your “real point”, I wonder how you know that I grasp it. I responded to the points in your post that I understood and disagreed with. If those turned out not to be your “real point”, then it’s just possible that I missed it (whether that was my fault or yours is another question).

    If you find it hard to believe that an intelligent man could have missed your “real point”, due to its being perfectly obvious and clearly expressed, then I request that you believe that I’m stupid rather than disingenuous. At least that might lead to your responding with sympathy and an attempt to help me understand you better.

    You write, ‘So the question becomes, why does a phenomenon that needs no explanation seem to have one? … To me, this undoes the “it’s a postulate” argument I feel you used.’

    Not “it’s a postulate”, but rather, “it’s divinely revealed”. Naturally this answer will be unsatisfying to those who don’t believe in revelation, particularly Catholic revelation.

    You write, ‘This is what I think AndrewS was really getting at when he asked about if morality is arbitrary. Morality screams out as if it has a ‘purpose’ and ‘explanation’ behind it. Merely denying that it does – even on the grounds of it being a necessary attribute of a necessary Being – doesn’t really address the original concern.’

    It does have a purpose and explanation, which I have already given: Its purpose is to let rational creatures know what is good and what isn’t, so they can adhere to the good and thereby gain life and happiness. Its explanation is that God’s nature is good and he makes rational creatures in his image, therefore in order for them to live and be happy they need to conform themselves to his nature. I’m guessing Andrew finds these answers unsatisfying not because of any logical defect therein, but mainly because he doesn’t believe in God.

  42. Angellius,

    Sorry I’m late to the conversation. I’ve been reading your discussion with Bruce and something you said sparked a curiosity.

    “Because God is mind, logic exists. Because God exists, existence exists. Because God is good, goodness exists, and existence is good. They just are, and there is no further explanation beyond God himself. Andrew argued that there needed to be a further explanation to avoid the charge of copping out, and I argued that further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.”

    This is an interesting argument to me, however it leaves me with a couple of obvious questions:

    1.) Is God capable of only doing good or is it possible for Him to be responsible for evil?

    2.) If God can only do good, then what is the corollary for evil in the world? I like the poetic approach to this definition chain (not sure what the precise word is here).

    Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide from a Catholic point of view.

    Bruce, say hi to the family for me. :o)

  43. Doug:

    I’m glad it was interesting to someone besides me and Bruce!

    You write, ’1.)  Is God capable of only doing good or is it possible for Him to be responsible for evil?’

    God is capable of doing only good. Whether he is “responsible” for evil depends how you look at it. He is responsible for it in the sense that he created all beings who are capable of committing evil and suffering evil. If he had created nothing, then evil would not exist.

    He is not responsible for it in the sense of being an agent who decides to commit evil. He creates agents who can decide to commit evil, but is not such an agent himself.

    You write, ’2.)  If God can only do good, then what is the corollary for evil in the world?’

    I don’t know what “corollary for evil” means. If you mean, “why is there evil in the world”, I would just reiterate that God creates beings who are capable of committing evil and suffering evil.

    You write, ‘Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide from a Catholic point of view.’

    As much as I would like to be capable of speaking for the Catholic Church, let me just say that this is my understanding based on my beliefs as a Catholic, but I can’t swear that it’s an accurate understanding. Any errors are my fault, my fault, my own stupid fault. : )

  44. Agellius,

    I value your friendship and I feel bad when I hurt your feelings like this. I certainly don’t want to accuse of you being disingenuous or deceptive in any way. So in so far as my words cause you pain, I apologize.

    That being said, I disagree I accused you of either being disingenuous or deceptive. I do not see where this was in any way implied in my comment. I am not entirely sure why you think I did accuse you of this.

    I did make an accusation against you, of sort, but there is nothing that I said that implies dis-ingenuity nor deception.

    What I did accuse you of equivocating on the word ‘morality’ and therefore not responding to my point. Is this the same as accusing you of being evasive? I guess that depends on what you mean by evasive.

    Even reading your answer over again, I honestly do not see where you responded to my question. But I do see where you define the term ‘morality’ differently then even how you used the term and your argument seems to rely on that equivocation.

    I’m sorry if this is all just a big misunderstanding. Nevertheless, it is a sincere misunderstanding on my part and your jumping to conclusions as to my hidden motives did nothing to help sort it out.

    Furthermore, I disagree with you that I didn’t “attempt to help [you] understand [me] better.” I think I quite specifically listed out where you had seemed to contradict yourself and explained that this seemed problematic to me.

    I gather that you thought my accusation of not having answered the question somehow implied intention. I don’t know why you jumped to this conclusion. Not answering a question (even if being evasive) does not imply one intention or another. Someone might ‘evade’ a question for many reasons, some that we might call ‘good’ and some that we might call ‘bad.’ It could be deception, as you assumed, or it might be a good reason like not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or feeling like the question isn’t valid. Or it could just be a mistake or a misunderstanding.

    When I have a moment, I’ll say more and try to clarify what I actually meant.

  45. Agellius,

    I’m going to make one more attempt to explain why I felt you had gone back on what you had previously said via equivocation. Reading through it again, I’ve tried to come up with other ways to ‘read meaning’ into your words and see if I just misunderstood you. I admit it is possible I did misunderstand you.

    If we still can’t come to any sort of agreement, we’ll just have to agree to disagree instead, because I’m not going to get into an extended argument with you over whether or not I understood you or what my motives are. If you think I’m attacking your good name, I’ll disagree with you that I am and we’ll be done. Likewise, if you continue to claim that you never said, in essence, that ‘morality is just that way’ then I’ll continue to claim you did and you can claim you didn’t and we’ll be done too.

    But give me one more chance to explain how I understood you just in case this is all just a bid misunderstanding.

    You, at one point, said the following:

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality.

    Here you have defined ‘morality’ as in some sense *being* God. I don’t believe I have misunderstood you here. I know you don’t mean literally ‘morality’ is ‘God’ in the same sense a liberal Christian might understand it. I took your meaning here to be that you see ‘morality’ as being an aspect of God’s Eternal nature and a synonym for ‘goodness.’

    You also said the following:

    At some point you have to hit a wall, which is the source of other things because it just IS.

    They [mind, logic, God, goodness] just are, and there is no further explanation beyond God himself. Andrew argued that there needed to be a further explanation to avoid the charge of copping out, and I argued that further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.

    So naturally I took your meaning to be that morality, as an aspect of God, is ‘just that way’ and has no other possible logical explanation.

    I, in part, responded to this saying:

    Thank you for the further explanation. If you personally allow for ‘arbitrary’ to not apply to something that “just is that way” then I can see how you actually intended your comments and why I would never have been able to understand you without further explanation.

    and then later

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

    I feel this is a pretty innocuous comment. It’s hardly an attack of what you said other than to suggest that maybe you hadn’t responded to AndrewS’ real concern.

    But it does attempt to restate what you had just told me, and I still feel I did so accurately. So far, I stand by that as a fair summary of what you said and if that isn’t what you meant, then you have a lot of explaining to do in my opinion.

    But you then seemed to deny that I had taken your meaning correctly. You said:

    To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.)

    You go on to partially agree with me but still seemed to me to be claiming I misunderstood you based on a split between the meaning of ‘morality’ vs. ‘goodness’:

    Goodness exists as an attribute of God’s. Morality, or the moral law, is that which tells us — us rational creatures — what is good and what isn’t. … In short, morality “just is that way” in the sense that it could not be otherwise, since goodness could not be otherwise (as I argued previously and with which you seemed to agree). But it doesn’t have to exist at all, since we don’t have to exist at all.

    It seemed to me that you were arguing that I had misunderstood what you had said and were denying that you ever claimed morality was an aspect of God’s nature on the grounds that ‘goodness’ was rather than ‘morality.’

    Truth be told, I feel like this happens a lot with us, Agellius. It’s probably more my fault than yours, I admit. (For one thing, I accept your feedback that I introduced to much bluntness as accurate.) And I regret that it all resulted in a big fight. But even a simple and innocuous attempt on my part to summarize what you said almost always ends in a disaster where you carefully correct me but your corrections seem like a restatement of exactly what I just said with no further clarification other than a lot of extraneous definitions. Then, when I point this out, you then usually accuse me of having a motive of maligning your character. This has happened a lot between us in exactly that order. Again, I think I have to bear most of the responsibility for this. But I don’t believe it’s solely my fault either.

    So at this point, if we still can’t agree, then let’s just call it quits for this thread and prepare for the next one. I could go on to explain further why, even as a Theist, I can’t agree with your conclusions about why AndrewS disagrees with you. But I see no point in doing so unless a simple misunderstanding like the above can be resolved.

  46. Angellius,

    By corollary for evil I did mean where does evil come from. Here’s my confused point of view on this, and I’d be interested in your take.

    1.) God is perfect.
    2.) God created man.
    3.) Man is not perfect.

    It would seem to imply that since God doesn’t make mistakes that our imperfections, specifically in this case our ability to choose evil, was created intentionally. Mormon or LDS theology has a perspective on this, but I’m curious about yours, from a Catholic point of view. (I fully understand that you are not the Pope and do not speak for Catholicism as a whole).

    If God is perfect and created man who is imperfect (can do evil). Were the imperfection created purposefully by God, or did they come about some other way? If by some other way, how?

    Thanks again in advance for any light you can shed on this. I find your and Bruce’s conversation interesting as well, but I’m not sure I want to “wade in that deep.” :)

  47. Bruce:

    You wrote (previously): ‘But as the quotes above prove, you know plain well that “goodness” and “morality” can also be used as synonyms and in fact used it that way yourself. So I know you understood my real point and would respectfully ask that you respond to that actual meaning of my words instead of redefining what I said first and then responding to that strawman.”

    I took you to mean that I knew well what your point was and yet chose to ignore it. To me that is deliberate evasion.

    You write, ‘Someone might ‘evade’ a question for many reasons, some that we might call ‘good’ and some that we might call ‘bad.’ It could be deception, as you assumed, or it might be a good reason like not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or feeling like the question isn’t valid. Or it could just be a mistake or a misunderstanding.’

    If I am not supposed to understand your paragraph above as implying intention on my part, then I can just as well say that you should not have taken my statements the way you took them. After all, concerning deceptiveness, I only said that ‘You’re failing to grasp my meaning does not automatically translate to my being deliberately deceptive or evasive.’ There is no direct statement that you do in fact think I’m being deceptive. And as to disingenuousness, I only said ‘I request that you believe that I’m stupid rather than disingenuous’. Again, no direct statement that you do in fact think I’m being disingenuous, only a request that you not think that.

    But this is word games, as I’m sure you would agree. You took my statements as meaning that I was offended by your besmirching my character, and I took your prior statements as accusations of deliberate evasion. If you now want to say that neither of us meant anything offensive, that’s fine with me. But I’m not buying that your statements were perfectly innocuous while mine constituted unjust accusations.

    In any event, I have known you long enough to know that these misunderstandings tend to crop up between us. Why don’t we just agree that neither of us intended any offense, and leave it at that.

  48. Bruce:

    You write, “Here you have defined ‘morality’ as in some sense *being* God. … I took your meaning here to be that you see ‘morality’
    as being an aspect of God’s Eternal nature and a synonym for ‘goodness.’”

    The only statement I made that might imply that morality is an attribute of God’s nature, is the one you quote which says, ‘Rather, in a sense he *is* morality.’

    But note that I said “in a sense”. “In a sense” conveys that I meant it “in a manner of speaking”.

    Now I admit that I was thinking the issue through as the discussion progressed — as almost always happens with me. I rarely have a subject mastered so completely that I don’t have to revise my thinking while discussing it, especially while being challenged. Thus, when I made the quoted statement above, I had not yet arrived at the express distinction between “goodness” and “morality” that I expressed in a later comment. If I had, I might have worded the quoted statement more precisely.

    I still say that “God doesn’t decide morality”. But instead of saying “because God is morality”, I would now say, “because God is goodness and morality is a way of expressing what is good” (or something like that).

    I stand by my statement that there is no further explanation for morality beyond God himself, by which I mean that God is the cause and source of morality.

    My statement — ‘To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.)’ — was just that, an attempt to clarify my position. Note that I used the present tense, which is as much as to say, “this is what my position is, notwithstanding that you may have understood my prior statements to mean something different”.

    You write, “You go on to partially agree with me but still seemed to me to be claiming I misunderstood you based on a split between the meaning of ‘morality’ vs. ‘goodness’”.

    Yes, I felt that you were misunderstanding what my actual position was, which was why I tried to clarify it. By this time, by virtue of having had more time to think it through, I had arrived at my express understanding of the distinction between goodness and morality, morality being based on God’s goodness, and an expression of it, yet distinct from it. Nevertheless I have never understood “morality” to be strictly synonymous with “goodness”, nor “morality” to be an attribute of God’s. If I implied otherwise it was unintentional.

  49. Doug:

    Yes, I agree that our ability to choose evil was created intentionally. I don’t agree that possessing the ability to choose evil, in and of itself, makes man imperfect. What makes us imperfect is actually having chosen evil.

    There are angels who also were given the ability to choose evil, yet did not do so and therefore remain perfect (by “perfect” I mean that they act as God intended them to act when he created them).

  50. Agellius,

    After all, concerning deceptiveness, I only said that ‘You’re failing to grasp my meaning does not automatically translate to my being deliberately deceptive or evasive.’ There is no direct statement that you do in fact think I’m being deceptive.

    Lost me entirely on this one. Sorry. That made no sense at all.

  51. I think your quarrel with me boils down to this:

    I originally said my position was A, based on two words being synonymous, but now I’m saying my position is B, based on the words not being synonymous. Therefore I’m equivocating.

    Whereas I’m saying my position has always been B.

    But even assuming that you’re right, and I did change from position A to position B, nevertheless I am now saying that my position is B.

    Whether or not my position was originally A, what difference does it make now that I’m saying my position is B? Can’t we just say, OK Agellius’s position is B, and move on? Instead you’ve got to post a 20-page comment excoriating me for changing positions?

    But no, you will say, you’re not excoriating me at all. OK fine, you’re not excoriating me, and there’s no reason that anyone who reads your comment is going to form even the slightest ill opinion of me. Because everything you say is completely objective and neutral.

    Which brings up another point: How exactly does it advance the conversation to discuss what I “always do”, as opposed to what I’m doing in this particular conversation?

    Believe me, I have no problem with you pointing out a fallacy if you think you see one, not even if you do it bluntly. But I have always thought that the gentlemanly and scholarly way to deal with fallacies is something along these lines:

    Gentleman 1: A plane is a carpenter’s tool, and the Boeing 737 is a plane, hence the Boeing 737 is a carpenter’s tool.
    Gentleman 2: I say, you’ve equivocated. You’ve used “plane” in two different senses.
    Gentleman 1: By jove, you’re right. Argument retracted.

    Instead what you’ve done is something like this:

    Gentleman 1: A plane is a carpenter’s tool, and the Boeing 737 is a plane, hence the Boeing 737 is a carpenter’s tool.
    Gentleman 2: You’re always committing fallacies. In this case your fallacy is so-and-so, but this is just one in a long chain of them, in case you (and the rest of the reader’s of M*) didn’t know.

    Of course there’s always the chance that Gentleman 1 could deny that he’d committed a fallacy. If he did, what would that indicate? I think it would boil down to three possibilities: (1) he’s stupid; (2) he’s dishonest; or (3) he’s insane.

    Granted, if he only did it once, it might not necessarily be one of those three. When someone acts stupid, he may just be having an off day. But when someone acts stupid consistently, that pretty much indicates he’s stupid. In fact that could serve as a definition of a stupid person: One who consistently acts stupid.

    Now in this particular case you may not be saying that I’m dishonest, stupid or crazy. However, you’re not addressing just this particular case, you’re addressing what you perceive as a consistent pattern with me: More or less saying that I consistently commit fallacies and proceed to deny them after you have made them plain to me.

    When someone consistently acts like a duck, is he not a duck? Perhaps not. Then again perhaps.

    In any case, the equivocation fallacy does not consist of someone making one argument using one set of definitions, and then switching to a different argument with different definitions. (That’s just called ‘switching arguments’.) Rather, it’s using the same word in two different senses within the context of a single argument — as in the plane/plane equivocation above.

    Even assuming that you are correct, that I originally used “morality” and “goodness” as synonyms when I was arguing position A, and later pulled a fast one and started making a distinction between them while arguing position B, that would not consitute an equivocation fallacy, since I did not use the same word in two different senses within the same argument. Rather (again assuming you are correct) I used the words as synonyms in one argument, than later changed arguments based on a distinction between the two words.

    Further, the equivocation fallacy usually consists in trying to surreptitiuosly pass off one word used in two different senses, as if you were using it in the same sense, and hoping your opponent won’t notice. Whereas what I did was carefully explain the distinction I was drawing between the two words; nothing surreptitious about it.

    So even if you are right and I originally argued position A using two words as synonyms, and later switched to position B using a distinction between the two words, I contend that that would not constitute an equivocation fallacy.

    Again I deny that I changed positions. The record is there for all to see, and people can draw their own conclusions. But whether I did or not, my current position is nevertheless clear, and I’m hard pressed to understand why my current argument may not be dealt with on its own terms. It seems as if you are displeased that I’ve switched from argument A to argument B, and want to disallow B (for some reason) merely on the ground that it was preceded by A.

    And again if I were simultaneously pressing argument A and argument B, using conflicting definitions, I could understand the problem you would have with that. However I am not pressing any argument other than argument B.

    I realize I have not dealt with everything you said in your message. You’ll have to excuse me, it was too long to respond to every point.

  52. Agellius,

    While I disagree with what you said in terms of argumentative and logical content, I will accept your rebuff that I shouldn’t have tried to publicly bring up past examples even if to try to explain myself. I apologize for the way I handle that and I feel bad about it.

    Personally, I am not convinced you understood my original point yet (i.e. that you never responded to the original question’s content due to equivocation on a word), but it doesn’t matter now and I’m dropping the conversation. In any case, I stand by my belief that you never responded to the content of the question I asked and I believe the record shows this and this will have to suffice for the actual content of my argument because I am not taking it any further. You have already stated you believe you did respond (though I personally don’t understand how) and that will have to suffice as well. Clearly one of us must have misunderstood the content of the others arguments. Let’s admit that this does happen sometimes and we are both human.

    I am going to take back everything I said in my previous post. In fact, I’m going to remove it entirely because I believe you are right about it. I think the way I went about it was wrong for a public form. So I regret that.

    Instead, I’m going to say exactly what I should have said in the first place: that I feel I’m causing you personal pain (even though you say I am not) and that I need to act on that belief to be true to myself.

    My feeling is that once we get deep enough into any discussion that you will eventually become offended at me no matter how it’s stated or worded. Of course you feel if I had stated it differently, it wouldn’t have been offensive. Therefore you feel justified in leveling charges that I’m being rude at me and thereby taking the conversation in a whole new direction that takes a lot of time and energy on both of our parts to deal with. You are an honest person, so you wouldn’t level such an accusation without first feeling it is justified.

    But I am feeling that it’s basically a predestined path that any deep logical discussion between us must always end the same way: off topic and with you in pain. I do not want to cause you personal pain. I don’t really care if it’s because (as I was suggesting) I am making an argument you can’t respond to logically so you resort to equivocation or if it’s because (as you are suggesting) I am saying something rude that needs to be addressed with a side thread. It seems to me that that the end result is the same either way either way. So my choice to avoid such deep discussions with you in the future is justified no matter whose fault it was. (Indeed, it’s even more justified if it’s my own fault.)

    Personally I have a really deep respect for the Catholic Church and for your beliefs. Yes, I think some of it is age old nonsense, but of course I feel this way. I feel that way about a lot of 19th Century Mormon beliefs as well. It doesn’t diminish my love of the Catholic Church any more than it diminishes my love of the LDS Church. The fact is that I still believe the RCC to be basically correct and basically a good thing — even a vehicle for salvation.

    It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to find a good way to discuss our beliefs better but I think we gave it a good college try and I respect both of us for making an honest attempt. But some people just aren’t meant to discuss their beliefs with each other (in depth anyhow) and I think that’s us unfortunately.

    Perhaps this is my fault as you are suggesting, I just don’t know. I am human and subject to all the problems common to all men. But it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is in the end.

  53. Bruce:

    You have not caused me any personal pain. Inconvenience, yes; frustration, offense, bewilderment, certainly. Pain, never. I suspect we may mean something different by “personal pain” however. By any chance do you have an idea that offense must always be accompanied by pain? I don’t. Offense is an objective thing, pain is subjective. I can (theoretically) be offended all day long without feeling the slightest pain over it.

    Suppose I were walking down the street and someone said, “Your mother’s a whore”. That would be an objectively offensive statement, yet I would not be hurt by it in the slightest. I might just say, “Blow it out your ear!” and keep walking.

    Supposing *you* were to say such a thing to me (not suggesting you would ever say anything so blatantly offensive), I would react differently. Since you are a person I don’t want to blow off, but one I’m interested in maintaining a relationship with, I might respond by assuming your best intentions, and simply informing you that your statement was offensive. You might reply by insisting that you didn’t mean to offend, but were only stating a fact as objectively as you could. I might accept that you meant no offense, yet insist on explaining logically why I was offended, even if you didn’t mean it that way.

    And we might go on like that at some length, derailing the conversation in which it arose. It might be time-consuming and frustrating for both of us. Yet notwithstanding the offense I had taken, this would be an exercise in reasoned explanation, and not one involving any “personal pain”.

    Thus if you want to curtail our “deep” discussions based on your own frustration, bewilderment, inconvenience or even pain, then go ahead. But not because of any imagined suffering on my part.

    Regarding the comment of yours which you say you will remove, again there is no need to do so on account of its being offensive to me. Indeed it would disturb me more to have it deleted, since that would leave an incomplete record of our conversation.

  54. Now, getting back to the actual point of disagreement. You said the following:

    Even assuming that you are correct, that I originally used “morality” and “goodness” as synonyms when I was arguing position A, and later pulled a fast one and started making a distinction between them while arguing position B, that would not constitute an equivocation fallacy, since I did not use the same word in two different senses within the same argument. Rather (again assuming you are correct) I used the words as synonyms in one argument, than later changed arguments based on a distinction between the two words.

    But this does not strike me as accurate at all, so let’s explore this further and try to come to a meeting of the minds.

    I’m sorry, but I’m probably going to have to repeat myself at this point. The trail has gone cold, so let me start this again a bit back. Bear with me as I try to give you my honest perception of what you said and to try to explain one more time why it seems like you contradict yourself:

    You, at one point, said the following:

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality.

    Here you define morality as being ‘in a sense’ God. Utilizing this same limited sense, I drew the following conclusion:

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

    You then defended yourself against this charge by saying, in part:

    To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.)

    And then you also said this:

    Nevertheless I have never understood “morality” to be strictly synonymous with “goodness”, nor “morality” to be an attribute of God’s.

    Now forgive me, but this does not seem to me at all like you “did not use the same word in two different senses within the same argument.” It really does look to me like you switched meanings mid discussion. Thus my charge of equivocation.

    And I do not see where you responded to my ‘concern’ that AndrewS, in calling the Catholic view of morality ‘arbitrary’, probably was expressing concern over it being an eternal aspect of God that had no external explanation yet seemed (to him) to have an external explanation. (I’m fine with making this ‘my concern’ rather than ‘AndrewS’ concern from this point forward.)

    You claimed that I misunderstood you. But I don’t yet see where this is the case. The statements I quote of you above seem irreconcilable to me. On the other hand, I am open to the possibility you misspoke in the first quote and wish to change your wording now, but you’d need to state this. Also, if you want to say you misspoke, then presumably what you meant to say was:

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* goodness at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* goodness.

    Therefore, my question to you should actually have been:

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said goodness is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

  55. Bruce:

    I am having a hard time understanding your point, so you will have to either bear with me or else do what you said you were going to do previously, and stop having deep discussions with me. You are trying to reconstruct the argument by quoting certain statements and then stating what conclusions you drew from those statements, but I can’t easily recall the context and train of thought that went into each statement. I tried going back and reviewing the quotes in their original context, but that only made my head start to whirl. So I propose a shortcut.

    My argument is that I have not equivocated because I have not used one word with two different meanings within the same argument. You say I have equivocated because I used one word with two different meanings within the same “discussion” (“It really does look to me like you switched meanings mid discussion”). Switching meanings within an argument, and switching meanings within a discussion, are not the same thing (a discussion can consist of multiple arguments). I reiterate that I deny I have switched meanings, but even if I did, to prove the charge of equivocation you have to show that I switched meanings within the same *argument*, not within the same *discussion*.

    I am using “argument” to mean, basically, a syllogism: A specific conclusion drawn from specific premises — as in the illustration I gave using the word “plane”.

    So if you are going to persist in accusing me of equivocation, I need you to show me specifically what you think my argument was — give me my premises and my conclusion, and show me where I used a word with two different meanings, either using it in one sense in one premise and a different sense in the other premise, or different in the premises than in the conclusion, or something. Merely purporting to show that I used a word in one sense in one blog comment and then apparently in another sense in another blog comment — which I don’t grant you have done — is insufficient to carry your point.

    I was going to try to state what you think my argument might have been, in which I used one word in two senses, as an example of what I am looking for, but realized that I really don’t know what you think I am arguing and how you think I expected that equivocating (if only I had not been caught) would have helped my argument.

  56. Bruce:

    After posting my last comment I continued pondering, and will try to address your concerns further, to the extent that I think I understand them.

    You write,

    >>’You, at one point, said the following:

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t
    *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality.

    >>’Here you define morality as being ‘in a sense’ God. Utilizing this same limited sense, I drew the following conclusion:

    >>’

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

    >>’You then defended yourself  against this charge by saying, in part:

    >>’

    To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.)

    >>’And then you also said this:

    Nevertheless I have never understood “morality” to be strictly synonymous with “goodness”, nor “morality” to be an attribute of God’s.

    And further on you write, “I see only a direct contradiction above if I take your words literally.”

    First I said God doesn’t decide morality, but in a sense is morality. Then I denied that morality “just is that way” even though God “just is that way”. (Remember that I defined “just is that way” as meaning “cannot not be other than it is”, as quoted above.) Is this what you consider a contradiction? If so, I deny it.

    I believe I have already explained why, but I’ll take another shot at it. It would be a contradiction if I were to say “God is identical with morality”, and then say “God is ‘just that way’, but morality is not ‘just that way’”.

    But I never said God is identical with morality. I said that God, “in a sense”, is morality — but that implies that in other senses he is not. I later explained the sense in which I meant that God is morality, namely that morality is based on God’s nature, being the law by which rational beings govern their behavior in order to conform themselves to God’s nature. Morality is what tells rational creatures “this action you are contemplating is in conformity with God’s nature, but this other is not”.

    If morality is “the law by which rational beings govern their behavior in order to conform themselves to God’s nature”, then if rational creatures did not exist, morality would not exist. Therefore I don’t say that morality cannot be other than it is, since morality could possibly not exist at all. Whereas I do say that God cannot be other than he is, period.

    If you can make a statement about one thing that you can’t make about another, then the two things are not identical. If God and morality are not identical, then I did not contradict myself when I said that God is “just that way” whereas morality is not.

  57. Note: I wrote up a response to your #6 and then before I could post it, you posted another response. I started to read that response and then realized how long it was compared to the amount of free time I had at that moment. So I’ve decided to post my response to #6 even though I haven’t read your #7. Since this response resulted in a proposal that probably still applies, I’m going to go ahead and post this response to your #6 and then I’ll read your #7 later when I have time.

    Metal Level Discussion Post

    Agellius,
     
    I’m committed, at least for this conversation, to the long haul, so I’ll bear with you on this and ask you do for me too.
     
    Personally, to me this is no longer about the original subject so much any more. This is really about working through a communication gap. So I do think this is more important than what it seems to be on the surface. I.e. It seems like a simple argument over the meaning of the word ‘morality’ but it’s really about bridging a gap between us. As such, I think taking our time and seeing how it turns out is worth our while.
     
    I think your response is a very good illustration of what I was previously expressing concern over. What I am specifically interested in is that you seem to have directly changed meanings on the word ‘morality.’ I even gave a really specific example of where I thought you did.
     
    But when you responded, you didn’t address this core concern, but instead you were now concerned with how I happened to use two words: ‘discussion’ and ‘equivocate’ (Note: I acknowledge that you probably responded in #7 to the core concern.)
     
    You then concentrated your entire response on these two words and what they mean. Personally, I do not see how the meaning of these words relates to the core concern, which is whether or not you changed the meaning of the word ‘morality’ even though my original comment was specifically based on your previous use.
     
    As of yet, you have never even admitted you changed meaning at all. In fact, you specifically just denied it again: “I reiterate that I deny I have switched meanings, but even if I did…” You’ve denied it several other times too.
     
    Yet I gave you a specific example in my last post where you did seem to me to change meaning. (Again, you probably address this in #7 and I’ll have to absorb that and respond to it seperately.)
     
    Now personally, I don’t believe I was mistaken in my use of ‘equivocate’ nor ‘discussion.’ Equivocate is not a word that can only be applied to syllogisms, as you seem to think. And ‘discussion’ is just a nice way of saying ‘argument’ since that’s what we were doing (are doing) is arguing. And there is a logic thread to both of our arguments that could, in theory, be put into a syllogism anyhow.

    However, it occurs to me that this is where we tend to go awry. I’ll then start explaining to you that I didn’t misuse ‘equivocate’ or ‘discussion’ and this will lead to a long side discussion about the true meaning of ‘equivocate’ and ‘discussion.’ Of course this discussion requires use of words and eventually we’ll end up arguing over what those words mean. Eventually we end up down a rabbit hole of arguments over meanings of words.

    So here is my proposal. Rather than get into an argument with you over what ‘equivocate’ and ‘discussion’ mean, how about I just acknowledge that these words tripped you up for whatever reason, no harm no foul, and resulted a lack of focus on the core issues. Therefore, it would make more sense for me to just remove the offending words from the previous post rather then try to defend them.

    Therefore, I will take my last post and I’ll reword it to not have the words that caused a loss of the focus off the core issues. Is this agreeable?

    Now obviously, merely rewording what I previously said won’t necessarily make you suddenly understand what I am saying. It may well be that you’ll need to express other concerns which will then lead to me rewording it again, etc. But eventually we’ll end up with something out of me that has all miscellaneous baggage removed and will help us focus on the core issue or issues.

  58. Here is an example of how I’d reword a comment to remove offending words:

    Now, getting back to the actual point of disagreement. You said the following:

    Even assuming that you are correct, that I originally used “morality” and “goodness” as synonyms when I was arguing position A, and later pulled a fast one and started making a distinction between them while arguing position B, that would not constitute an equivocation fallacy, since I did not use the same word in two different senses within the same argument. Rather (again assuming you are correct) I used the words as synonyms in one argument, than later changed arguments based on a distinction between the two words.

    But this does not strike me as accurate at all, so let’s explore this further and try to come to a meeting of the minds.

    I’m sorry, but I’m probably going to have to repeat myself at this point. The trail has gone cold, so let me start this again a bit back. Bear with me as I try to give you my honest perception of what you said and to try to explain one more time why it seems like you contradict yourself:

    You, at one point, said the following:

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality.

    Here you define morality as being ‘in a sense’ God. Utilizing this same limited sense, I drew the following conclusion:

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

    You then defended yourself against this charge by saying, in part:

    To clarify, I don’t say morality “just is that way”. I say God “just is that way”. (I’m taking “just is that way” to mean “cannot not be other than it is”.)

    And then you also said this:

    Nevertheless I have never understood “morality” to be strictly synonymous with “goodness”, nor “morality” to be an attribute of God’s.

    Now forgive me, but this does not seem to me at all like you “did not use the same word in two different senses within the same argument.” It really does look to me like you switched meanings mid argument. Thus my charge of having started with one meaning then switching to another.

    And I do not see where you responded to my ‘concern’ that AndrewS, in calling the Catholic view of morality ‘arbitrary’, probably was expressing concern over it being an eternal aspect of God that had no external explanation yet seemed (to him) to have an external explanation. (I’m fine with making this ‘my concern’ rather than ‘AndrewS’ concern from this point forward.)

    You claimed that I misunderstood you. But I don’t yet see where this is the case. The statements I quote of you above seem irreconcilable to me. On the other hand, I am open to the possibility you misspoke in the first quote and wish to change your wording now, but you’d need to state this. Also, if you want to say you misspoke, then presumably what you meant to say was:

    God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* goodness at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* goodness.

    Therefore, my question to you should actually have been:

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said goodness is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

  59. Bruce writes,

    >>I think your response is a very good illustration of what I was previously saying. What I am specifically interested in is that you seem to have directly changed meanings on the word ‘morality.’ I even gave a really specific example of where I thought you did. But when you responded, you didn’t address this core concern, but instead you were now concerned with how I happened to use two words: ‘discussion’ and ‘equivocate’ (Note: you probably responded in #7 to the core concern.)

    >>You then concentrated your entire response on these two words and what they mean. Personally, I do not see how the meaning of these words relates to the core concern, which is whether or not you changed the meaning of the word ‘morality’ even though my original comment was specifically based on your previous use.

    Yes, the main point of my response was that you have persisted in accusing me of equivocating, yet, from my point of view, have been unable to show me specifically where and how I equivocated. I think the first step is for you to make clear what the equivocation consists of. Until you have done that I am incapable of responding to the accusation.

    >>Now personally, I don’t believe I was mistaken in my use of ‘equivocate’ nor ‘discussion.’ Equivocate is not a word that can only be applied to syllogisms, as you seem to think. And ‘discussion’ is just a nice way of saying ‘argument’ since that’s what we were doing (are doing) is arguing. And there is a logic thread to both of our arguments that could, in theory, be put into a syllogism anyhow.

    I understand that words can be used in various ways, but in order to communicate I think we need to use them in the same way in particular instances (I’m sure you agree). My primary understanding of “equivocate” is as a logical fallacy. In that context it has a specific meaning which applies to a specific context, which is that of an argument. And an argument is a conclusion drawn from premises.

    If all you are saying is that I used the word to mean two different things during the course of a discussion, my response would be, so what, people are allowed to use words in different ways at different times. As long as I made it clear what meaning I was assigning, I don’t see any problem with that. I would only be concerned if I had committed a logical fallacy. But before I will concede that I committed a fallacy, (as I said before) I will need you to show me what the argument was in the first place: what the premises were and what the conclusion was, and what meaning I assigned to the word in one place, which is different from the meaning I assigned to the word in another place, within the same argument.

    >>So here is my proposal. Rather than get into an argument with you over what ‘equivocate’ and ‘discussion’ mean, how about I just acknowledge that these words tripped you up for some reason and caused a lack of focus on the core issues and that it therefore would make more sense for me to remove the offending words rather then try to defend them.

    If you are withdrawing the accusation that I committed the logical fallacy of equivocation, or saying that you never did accuse me of that fallacy, obviously that’s fine with me. And if you want to re-word your concerns, that’s fine too. I can’t comment on it until I see what you write.

  60. Bruce (in response to no. 9):

    Removing the “offending” words doesn’t help me, I find. (By the way I didn’t find the words offensive at all.) In fact it makes it harder for me to respond to your concerns, because it’s now even harder for me to be sure what they are. I still think what I have written before responds to your accusation that I changed meanings, or equivocated, or contradicted myself.

    Now, instead of “contradict” you say my statements are not “reconcilable”, but that only substitutes a vaguer word for a more specific one, making it even harder for me to understand what your problem is and respond to it. I read the quotes you provided, which you think are contradictory or irreconcilable, nevertheless I obviously see them in a different light, which I think I have already explained adequately.

    However it still seems as though you are more concerned with the apparent (to you) inconsistency of my past stated positions, than with whatever my current position might be. As far as I know, my current position is internally consistent. If you found my current position internally inconsistent or self-contradictory, I would be more concerned to clear up the misunderstanding. But if it’s mainly about nailing me to the wall over past statements, I’m more inclined to just let the record speak for itself.

    Do you understand what my current position is? Do you have questions about it? Maybe the best way to tackle it would be for you to ask me a series of simple questions about what my position is, and I will answer them until we hit a snag. On second thought that may not simplify things as much as I hope, since probably your questions and my answers will carry with them a load of unspoken assumptions which will lead to further misunderstandings and quarrels. But hey, we could try it!

    The only other thing, I think, is the quote from you regarding Andrew’s criticism. Again I’m not sure how to respond to this. What specific question do you want me to answer? Whether I believe morality is arbitrary? Whether there are external causes of morality? If so I am happy to answer those, but again I think I already have.

    I’m really sorry if I’m missing your point but I’m doing the best I can. Either I’m not as smart as I think I am, or you’re not being as clear as you think you are.

  61. Meta Level Discussion

    @#10

    Bruce said:

    Rather than get into an argument with you over what ‘equivocate’ and ‘discussion’ mean, how about I just acknowledge that these words tripped you up for whatever reason, no harm no foul, and resulted a lack of focus on the core issues. Therefore, it would make more sense for me to just remove the offending words from the previous post rather then try to defend them.

    Agellius’ said:

    If you are withdrawing the accusation that I committed the logical fallacy of equivocation, or saying that you never did accuse me of that fallacy, obviously that’s fine with me.

    Looks like you understood me nearly the opposite of what I said.

  62. Meta Level Discussion

    @#11

    Removing the “offending” words doesn’t help me, I find. (By the way I didn’t find the words offensive at all.)

    Does saying ‘removing the offending word’ imply you were ‘offended’? Or is that just a figure of speech?

    Now, instead of “contradict” you say my statements are not “reconcilable”, but that only substitutes a vaguer word for a more specific one, making it even harder for me to understand what your problem is and respond to it.

    I’m not sure what you mean here since I did not remove the word ‘contradict’ nor replace it with ‘reconcilable.’ I only changed two words: one use of equivocate and one use of discussion.

    On second thought that may not simplify things as much as I hope, since probably your questions and my answers will carry with them a load of unspoken assumptions which will lead to further misunderstandings and quarrels.

    Yes, that is my concern too. We have a history of ‘now we’ll take the current position’ and still not communicating well. I am thinking maybe it’s because we’re already assuming too much. That’s why I’m going back to the original statements and trying to not make assumptions (very hard to do) without asking you about them first. I just haven’t yet figured out what to ask that will help clarify.

    What specific question do you want me to answer? Whether I believe morality is arbitrary?

    Actually, I was under the impression that perhaps a better summary of the question might be: is there at least one legitimate sense of the word ‘arbitrary’ and ‘morality’ in which it can be truthfully said that Catholics believe morality to be arbitrary?

    I wasn’t aware anything else was under discussion because surely I have already admited there exists a legtimate sense of the word ‘morality’ and ‘arbitrary’ in which it can be truthfully said that Catholics believe morality is not arbitrary. We’ve already established that and I already admitted to it multiple times. So surely that is not the question and never was.

    By the way, I’ve now read your #7 and I’m mulling it over before giving it a response. I think I might have an idea.

  63. Main Discussion

    Agellius,

    I’ve read your post #7 (I hate how the numbering restarts) and I’ve thought about it for a while. I’ve gone over it in my mind many times and it still seems like you are contradicting yourself. But as I think about what you wrote, I think maybe the issue I am having is that I’ve never actually understood (but thought I did) what you meant by “morality is God in a sense.” So maybe we need to spend some time exploring this more.

    Here is the thing that seems confusing to me. You are specifically defining morality as being a contingent thing that did not exist until God created sentient beings. In what sense could a contingent thing actually be God within Catholic theology? It seems to me that if morality is fully contingent, as you are saying, then it would be far more accurate to say that there is no sense in which morality is God.

    (Note: I am assuming here you know what ‘contingent’ means, which you probably do. However, if you don’t, I’m just using it as a fancy word for anything that ‘could have been some other way.’ I’ll use the word ‘necessary’ for anything that ‘has to be one way.’ Supposedly these are the correct philosophical terms or something, but I am not only not a philosopher, but I have doubts about the entire field. But if these terms express my point, that is sufficient.)

    Now it would definitely make sense to me that (what you are calling) ‘goodness’ is in some sense God because you have defined it as being non-contingent (i.e. necessary) and because you’ve defined it as being part of God’s nature.

    And I’ve already acknowledged that we could think of ‘morality’ — even as you are using the term — as in a sense being a synonym for ‘goodness’ (even as you are using the term) and therefore ‘in a sense’ being necessary and not contingent. I am not denying that.

    However, I was under the impression that I had already suggested that possibility and you had shot it down. But that was the only way I could think to read your statement.

    So maybe think about that for a moment and then take a stab at giving me a fuller explanation of what you originally meant when you said that morality is in a sense God.

  64. Bruce:

    You write, “take a stab at giving me a fuller explanation of what you originally meant when you said that morality is in a sense God.”

    I think it’s clear from the context in which I made the statement, which follows:

    “When I said the objective standard of morality is God, but that doesn’t make morality arbitrary on his part, I meant that the context assumed in that definition doesn’t exist: God doesn’t decide that morality will be one way or another “for no reason beyond his own discretion” — because he doesn’t *decide* morality at all. Rather, in a sense he *is* morality. It’s not a decision he makes (and therefore is not arbitrary) but is based on attributes of his very nature. I think this is made clear in the next sentence when I say, ‘He himself simply is the definition of goodness, and so to be good is to conform oneself to his nature.’”

    So when I said that God, in a sense, is morality, I meant that morality “is based on attributes of his very nature”. The next sentence clarifies it even further: “‘He himself simply is the definition of goodness, and so to be good [i.e. to act morally] is to conform oneself to his nature.’”

    Morality, as I have explained, is the law governing the conduct of rational beings; it is what tells them what is good and what is bad, or in other words what is in conformity with God’s nature and what is not.

    Maybe “morality is God” was a poor choice of words. Maybe at first (or second or third) glance it doesn’t seem to mean what I tried to explain that it meant. Nevertheless I have explained repeatedly what I meant, or in any event what I mean (it’s hard to be sure precisely what I was thinking at the time) by it.

    I’m still at a loss as to the point of this exercise.

    By the way I started a draft response to prior comments of yours but got sidetracked for several days. I intend to post it shortly.

  65. Bruce:

    You write, “I’m not sure what you mean here since I did not remove the word ‘contradict’ nor replace it with ‘reconcilable.’ I only changed two words: one use of equivocate and one use of discussion.”

    Something strange is going on, because in my comment no. 7 I quote you in comment no. 5 as saying “I see only a direct contradiction above if I take your words literally.” Yet now when I try to find that quote in comment no. 5 it’s gone. Could you possibly have edited comment no. 5 in the process of editing your no. 9?

    You write, “a better summary of the question is: is there at least one legitimate sense of the word ‘arbitrary’ and ‘morality’ in which it can be truthfully said that Catholics believe morality to be arbitrary? I wasn’t aware anything else was under discussion. Surely I have already admited there is a legtimate sense of the word ‘morality’ and ‘arbitrary’ in which it can be truthfully said that Catholics believe morality is not arbitrary. We’ve already established that and I already admitted to it multiple times. So surely I am not asking the question that you posed here.”

    I was not aware you had admitted that multiple times.

    It occurs to me that you may be under the impression that I had been following your and Andrew’s discussion throughout. In fact the only things I paid attention to were Andrew’s comments to me, and your comments to me. I did not follow all of your and Andrew’s comments to each other. So you may be assuming that I am familiar with the whole course of your and Andrew’s discussion, when I’m not. I wonder if that is contributing to the misunderstandings between us.

    As to the question, ‘is there at least one legitimate sense of the word ‘arbitrary’ and ‘morality’ in which it can be truthfully said that Catholics believe morality to be arbitrary?’:

    I’m afraid I find the question too open-ended — can I be sure that I know every possible sense of “arbitrary”? But I will say that I do not believe morality is arbitrary either in the sense that there were multiple “moralities” that God could have chosen, or that he chose the morality that exists without any particular reason. I believe morality could only have been the way it is, given God’s nature and human nature. I don’t think something can be said to be arbitrary where only one choice exists. I don’t believe he chose the morality that exists without any particular reason, because I don’t believe he “chose” it in the first place, since that implies that there were multiple options.

    It seems to me you’re arguing that if there is no “explanation” for something being the way it is, then it’s arbitrary, regardless how many options existed. But I don’t agree with that. I think (as I’ve explained before) that ‘arbitrary’ implies one option chosen among multiple options, without any reason for having preferred the one over the others. In a situation where multiple options do not exist, I think “arbitrary” is simply inapplicable. For example if a restaurant only serves Coke, then my ordering Coke is not an arbitrary choice. Whereas if it served multiple flavors of soft drink, and I chose Coke by drawing straws, then my ordering Coke would be arbitrary.

    I can think of a way in which I might concede that the word “arbitrary” could possibly be applied to morality, but only indirectly and only theoretically. That is, if we knew that God chose the characteristics of human nature arbitrarily; in other words, if we knew that he could have made us in any number of ways, but chose the way he made us for no particular reason; if that were true, and if he could have made us with some characteristic affecting morality which is different from the way human nature actually is, then morality (as it applies to human beings) might have been different. For example if we were made all of one sex then maybe sexual morality would have been different.

    But this contains a lot of ifs. I have no idea whether God chose the way he made us among multiple options and for no particular reason. But if he did, then in an indirect way you might be able to say that morality as it exists, was arbitrarily chosen, in the sense that morality might have been different had human nature been different.

    But given human nature as it exists, and given God’s nature, I don’t think morality is arbitrary in any sense. I think it is “written” into our very nature, such that morality (as it applies to human beings) could only be different if our nature were different.

    God could not be different, and therefore neither could goodness. But the ways in which human beings act good or act evil might (for all I know) have been different, and if so then the moral law as it applies to human beings might have been different. Then again maybe not.

  66. Metal Level Discussion

    Something strange is going on, because in my comment no. 7 I quote you in comment no. 5 as saying “I see only a direct contradiction above if I take your words literally.” Yet now when I try to find that quote in comment no. 5 it’s gone. Could you possibly have edited comment no. 5 in the process of editing your no. 9?

    Yes, this is possible. I often post and then think better of the wording and make an update. This site sends out emails, so you probably capture the original wording. I have always wondered about that. Now I know.

    I don’t recall that particular line, but because it has the words ‘direct contradiction’ in it and because I’m trying to be sensitive to words that might upset you and get us off topic, I probably removed it for that reason right after the first post.

    There are a bunch of things I want to ask you about from your last two posts but don’t have time to ask them all. I’ll do so later.

  67. Bruce says:

    Surely I have already admited there is a legtimate sense of the word ‘morality’ and ‘arbitrary’ in which it can be truthfully said that Catholics believe morality is not arbitrary. We’ve already established that and I already admitted to it multiple times. So surely I am not asking the question that you posed here.

    Agellius says:

    I was not aware you had admitted that multiple times.

    I know the trail has gone cold, so I can understand why you don’t remember me directly saying this. But in fact I said it the very first time I raised the topic. Actually it was the very basis for my question. See here..

    Thank you for the further explanation. If you personally allow for ‘arbitary’ to not apply to something that “just is that way” then I can see how you actually intended your comments and why I would never have been able to understand you without further explanation.

    However, I think this weakens your argument considerably. I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation.

    The entire point of the discussion was that I had accepted what you meant by ‘arbitrary’ but felt that AndrewS (and certainly myself reading his comment) had intended a different sense. Therefore, if this theory is correct, you had never actually undertsood the question in the first place and therefore had answered the wrong question and were off topic from that point forward at least as far as that thread was concerned.

    I think this is the first of two misunderstandings where someone used a word to mean one thing and you took it to mean something else. (The other being ‘morality’ of course.)

    If I am correct, this one is pretty understandable. ‘Arbitary’ commonly means exactly what you are saying: ‘subject to individual will without restriction.’ (We’ll call this ‘arbitrary(1)’) But I think the word ‘arbitrary might also mean: ‘unsupported and without a reason.’ (We’ll call this ‘arbitrary(2)’)

    My belief is that AndrewS meant the second and you read it accidently as the first. (I might be wrong about AndrewS, of course. But that is the way I read it and it seems to fit what he says throughout.) Again, completely understandable how a mistake like that might happen, if it did happen. But if I am right, then you never answered what his actual question was.

    The real issue AndrewS seemed concerned over, and that I was certainly concerned over was… [next post.]

  68. Now, I don’t want to keep drawing AndrewS into the discussion. So let’s, for the sake of argument, say that I am the one that asked the question as to why Catholics see morality as being arbitrary. And, for the sake of argument, let’s say I meant it how I had read AndrewS’ original comments. So what I meant was:

    Why is it that Catholics believe morality has no reason behind it?

    Is this really an understandable question from an atheist point of view? Not really. AndrewS seems to have been of two minds. On the one hand he was strongly arguing with me that morality is merely subjective. On the other hand I believe he was arguing with you that Catholics had a problem with their doctrines because they see morality as being ‘arbitrary’ or in other words having no explanation or reason behind it. These two arguments don’t add up because if AndrewS really did believe in subjective morality, his question to Catholics makes no sense. This is why I say it has nothing to do with him being an atheist, contrary to your assertion to the contrary.

    Now as I understand your counter argument to AndrewS (who we are going to pretend is me) you said that ‘morality is not arbitrary’ because “[God] Himself simply is the definition of goodness, and so to be good [i.e. to act morally] is to conform oneself to his nature.” (Note that use of ‘good’ and ‘moral’ as synonyms here.)

    This actually makes good sense to me so far as it goes. Morality (or Goodness) is not arbitrary after all because God’s nature is not contingent. Therefore, it’s not like God had a bunch of equally valid choices for morality and then He whimsically chose the ones we now have in scripture. Under our first definition of arbitrary (we’ll call it “arbitrary(1)”) morality is clearly not ‘arbitrary’ after all.

    But does this really answer the question? No, it doesn’t. Why? Because what I am actually asking is “why do Catholics believe morality is arbitrary(2)?” or in other words “why does morality (in Catholic theology anyhow) have no reasons behind it?”

    Now consider this quote from you:

    Because God is good, goodness exists, and existence is good. They just are, and there is no further explanation beyond God himself. Andrew argued that there needed to be a further explanation to avoid the charge of copping out, and I argued that further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.

    To me, the key question wasn’t ‘the discretion of God’ (which you went on to argue didn’t exist because this stems from his one and only nature, and I was fine with) but ‘does morality have a reason.’ Even if there was no ‘choice’ but a very good reason for the ‘only rational choice,’ I’d say ‘arbitrary’ is the wrong word.

    (Note: Let’s avoid arguing over the word ‘choice.’ Yes, ‘choice’ sometimes applies to where there is one rational choice possible because we are considering a hypothetical situation of other non-rational or non-possible choices. So we might say that you have ‘no choice’ if a restaurant serves only Coke, or you might say ‘it has only one choice.’ And both are valid English and both convey the same meaning.)

    But you are not claiming that God had a really good reason for morality… say, not allowing pre-martial sex for example. You are claiming that His nature did not allow for a choice at all — he is merely that way — he happens to not like pre-martial sex because that is His nature. That’s it. No other reason is possible.

    Now if God chose to outlaw pre-martial sex because it makes one unhappy as a natural consequence, then that is a futher explanation beyond God Himself and therefore it’s not arbitrary in either sense. But you are denying that such a reason exists. (i.e. “further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.”) Therefore, the word ‘arbitrary’ still is valid because God is against pre-martial sex not for any reason per se, but only because it’s his nature to be against pre-martial sex. (Note that this is the logical fallacy of begging the question.)

    So I am left with the impression that this is what actually happened, at least initially:

    Question: Why do Catholics believe morality is arbitrary(2)?

    Answer: Catholics most certainly do not believe morality is arbitrary(1).

    Question: Yes, I see that. But I meant why do Catholics believe morality is arbitrary(2)?

    Answer: I already answered that! Catholics do not believe morality is arbitrary(1).

    Etc.

    The only other way for me to read your arguments at this point is that you directly contradicted yourself. You are both claiming it’s possible to have reasons for morality beyond God and also claiming it is not possible.

  69. Pingback: A Recap « Agellius's PLB

  70. I started to reply to your no. 19. While reviewing the context of some of your quotes I realized that a recap of the course of the discussion was called for. Because of its ridiculous length — over four pages, single-spaced, in Word — I am having mercy on the readers of M* by posting it not here but on my own blog, here: http://agellius.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/161/

  71. Bruce (in response to 19):

    You write, “Now as I understand your counter argument to AndrewS (who we are going to pretend is me) you said that ‘morality is not arbitrary’ because “[God] Himself simply is the definition of goodness, and so to be good [i.e. to act morally] is to conform oneself to his nature.” (Note that use of ‘good’ and ‘moral’ as synonyms here.)”

    Actually “good” and “moral” are not used as synonyms here. “Being good” and “acting morally” are. “Good” is an adjective, whereas “morally” is an adverb modifying the verb “to act”. To act morally means to act in accord with the moral law, which is the law which tells rational beings what acts are good and which are not. When you act morally you are being good. That doesn’t make “moral” and “good” synonyms. Of course they are related since morality has to do with goodness, but their definitions are not the same.

    Now I will also have to correct myself. As I have already admitted, I had not thought through these issues exhaustively before this discussion began (which is not to say I had given them no thought at all). Having had the opportunity to consider them further, I would now qualify my above statement to say, that to be good is to conform oneself to God’s nature and to obey his will. God being the definition and reference point for goodness, his will is always good, and therefore to oppose his will is to oppose good. God has no external reference point for judging the goodness of his own behavior, he is simply good by nature. Further, everything he creates is good by nature (though in some cases capable of acting evil), therefore to act in accord with one’s God-given nature is good, and to act in opposition to it is bad.

    You write, ‘what I am actually asking is “why do Catholics believe morality is arbitrary(2)?” or in other words “why does morality (in Catholic theology anyhow) have no reasons behind it?”‘

    Morality is based on nature, God’s and ours — ours being created by God and therefore having its source in him as well. As I have explained, God may or may not have had reasons for making our nature as he made it rather than otherwise, and if he had made it different that might have resulted in specific differences in the moral law as it applies to human beings; although the basis for the moral law would have been the same, i.e. to act in accord with God’s nature, with God’s will, and with our nature which is given by God.

    So really, in my view the question boils down to, why must we act in accord with God’s nature, with God’s will and with our God-given nature? The answer being because those things, having their source in God, are good, therefore opposing them is bad.

    You write, “Now consider this quote from you: ‘Because God is good, goodness exists, and existence is good. They just are, and there is no further explanation beyond God himself. Andrew argued that there needed to be a further explanation to avoid the charge of copping out, and I argued that further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.’

    The statement you are here quoting from me is my description of what I had argued in comment 22. Comment 22, in turn, was a response to Andrew’s question, “why is God good?” Thus I was not addressing morality per se but goodness. When I said that “further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible”, I meant that there was no further explanation for the existence of God and of goodness, other than that they just are.

    You write, ‘Now if God chose to outlaw pre-martial sex because it makes one unhappy, then that is a futher explanation beyond God Himself and therefore it’s not arbitrary in either sense. But you are denying that such a reason exists. (i.e. “further explanation was neither logically necessary nor logically possible.”)’

    But rather than outlawing premarital sex, could not God have made us such that premarital sex did not make us unhappy? Why did he not do so? The answer as far as I am concerned, is that he would have had to alter our nature, thus our nature would have been other than as he willed it to be. Now did he will our nature to be as it is arbitrarily(2)? As I explained before, I don’t know. Personally I strongly suspect it was not arbitrary(2), in the sense of having no reason. I think he had a goal in mind of what kind of creature he wanted us to be, and he made us as he did in order to accomplish that purpose. Making us differently would have accomplished a different purpose. (Please note that here we are discussing whether or not the design of our *nature* was arbitrary(2), not whether the moral law is arbitrary(2).)

    I would say that given God’s nature and ours, the moral law is not arbitrary(2) because it is based on the premise that we must act in accord with God’s nature, with God’s will, and with our own God-given nature.

    However, when you ask whether “morality” is arbitrary(2), what exactly do you mean? You could mean whether each individual moral “rule” is arbitrary(2) — for example, is there a reason or explanation for why premarital sex is evil? My answer to that question would be, yes, the reason is that it’s opposed to how God intends us to act in accord with our God-given nature. Which leads to a second question, which in a sense takes it back a step, which is, why did God will to make our nature such as he did? Or, did he will to make our nature as he did arbitrarily(2)? The answer to this question, as far as I know, has not been revealed to us.

    My personal speculation is that he made us out of pure generosity, in order that we might have the gift of existence and the possibility of attaining a share in the happiness he himself enjoys eternally, and that he designed and made us in such a way as to bring that about. Were there other ways he could have made us in order to accomplish this? I suspect so but I don’t really know. If there were other ways then did he choose the way he chose, rather than some other way, arbitrarily(2)? I don’t know. It may be that it’s not an either/or question, but that he did in fact create rational beings of countless different natures, either on different planets or in different universes, all of whom have been blessed with existence and the possibility of attaining eternal happiness. But that’s just a guess.

    Even with regard to goodness, I don’t like the idea of calling it “arbitrary” based on the fact that it can’t be “explained”. For me “arbitrary” connotes either randomness or unreason, and it is absurd to apply either of those terms to God, who is the very source of order and reason. Let me ask you this: For you, not believing (I assume) that God is the source of order and reason, are order and reason themselves arbitrary? Or are they the result of some other laws? In which case, are those other laws what you would call arbitrary?

  72. Meta Level Discussion

    Agellius,

    I just had a thought. I know it might be a dumb thought, but bear with me for a second just in case. Then we’ll go back to your regularly scheduled program.

    How are you defining the word ‘synonym?’

    I still remember learning about synonyms back in Elementary school. The definition they gave me back then was ‘two words that have the same or similar meanings.’

    I even remember the example they gave with three words: skinny, scrawny, slender.

    They made the point that these three synonyms actually carry different connotations. ‘Slender’ being positive, ‘scrawny’ being negative, and ‘skinny’ being neutral.

    Well, in any case, what I really understand synonyms to be is two words where one can replace the other. Because words rarely have exactly the same range of meaning, typically two synonyms can replace each other in some contexts but not in others (like skinny, scrawny, and slender.)

    I can think of few if any words at all that have “exact synonyms” in the sense that they never have any difference at all in connotation or meaning in all circumstances. The Roget’s thesaurus says:

    As has been often observed, there are very few exact synonyms in English. To state the point more explicitly: very few words can be freely substituted for another word in a verity of contexts without changing the sense or making the statement unidiomatic or nonsensical. Any thesaurus that attempted to list only exact synonyms would be very short indeed, and not very useful; for one of the chief reasons for using a thesaurus is precisely to find words that are identical to the entry word in some contexts but not in others, or that different in connotation or usage level, i.e., in degree of formality or informality.

    So I was understanding two words as ‘being used as synonyms’ if you can take out one word and replace another with it within this context and keep basically the same meaning.

    So I want to make sure we’re on the same page as far as what a synonym is. Is this basically what you understood it to mean? Or did you have something else in mind?

  73. Main Discussion

    Agellius,

    I just read your recap of our conversation and really came to realize just how much we are talking past each other.

    What is it you think I’m arguing with you over? What do you think my point even is?

    From reading your recap, it would appear you think I’m randomly trying to show that you contradicted yourself and you valiantly showed you hadn’t. You don’t seem to have any sense at all for what I actually said nor the serious communication problems that exist between us that I am trying to address.

    Also, I went to great lengths to not claim you had made any direct contradictions, but only that I couldn’t figure out what you were saying because of your over dependence on defining things in sometimes seemingly contradictory ways:

    I’ve gone over it in my mind many times and it still seems like you are contradicting yourself. But as I think about what you wrote, I think maybe the issue I am having is that I’ve never actually understood (but thought I did)…

    Bear with me as I try to give you my honest perception of what you said and to try to explain one more time why it seems like you contradict yourself:

    I would like to see you address the apparent contradiction (I emphasize the word “apparent”)

    I see only a direct contradiction above if I take your words literally.

    Let’s face it, what I actually said is a far cry from the way you represented me in your recap. In truth, these are pretty wimpy statements and none of them directly accuse you of contradicting yourself. I’m actually just trying to help you understand why I find it so difficult to make head or tails out of some of your responses to me.

    So if you have successfully shown you have not contradicted yourself, you’ve shown nothing but what I already agreed to because proving you contradicted yourself was never my intent in the first place. Yet this seems to be your whole focus.

    By comparison, here is the crux of my actual argument (removing the snarkiness so that we don’t go down that path again):

    “I get your point that you believe “morality” could not have existed because human’s didn’t have to exist but that “goodness” does have to exist as an attribute of God. … But as the quotes [your misstatements where you use 'goodness' and 'morality' interchangeably] above prove, you [also have used] “goodness” and “morality” …as synonyms…. So I [believed at the time] you understood my real point and would respectfully ask that you respond to that actual meaning of my words instead of redefining what I said first and then responding to [a] straw man.”

    You insist that your interchangeable uses for ‘goodness’ and ‘morality’ were all misstatements and not an awareness of other valid definitions for ‘morality.’ Very well, if you insist. That issues aside – which I gladly and joyfully concede on – here is what I actually said that I still feel you’ve ignored entirely:

    1. I admit there is more than one definition for ‘morality’ that is valid.
    2. I accept yours as valid, but insist it is not what I meant.
    3. I request that you don’t try to force your personal definition onto my words and then try to hold me accountable for your personal specialized Catholic theology version of the word – that I didn’t even know existed.
    4. This is my post on morality, after all. I am the one that initially defined the word and I clearly meant it as a synonym for ‘goodness.’ I only ever meant it in the conventional dictionary sense, and never in the Catholic theological sense you keep trying to force into the conversation.
    5. If you did mean it in some specialized sense, I assert the responsibility is 100% yours to make this point clear. You did not. Regardless, it’s still wrong to try to force me to use it too. I never have to accept your definitions for when I’m speaking or writing.

    I even go on to point out that if you are really so concerned over the meaning of ‘morality’ vs. ‘goodness’ that you can feel free to insert “goodness” in it’s place and re-ask my question into your own preferred language:

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said goodness is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then [back then] you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

    However, I am not going to change my wording on this. You were wrong to try to force me in the first place and, as is always the case, it only caused mass confusion. I would respectfully ask that you not do this any more.

    The truth is that “Morality” and “Goodness” are synonyms. If you weren’t aware of that fact (as I assumed you were because I honestly thought you were at the time), I request you make yourself aware of that fact and you cease to try to force me to accept your definitions as the one and only correct definitions.

    I was using morality in it’s normal dictionary sense. The normal dictionary sense is a synonym for goodness. In fact, dictionary.com lists morality as having goodness as a synonym and goodness as having morality as a synonym. Look it up here and here. Also, your special theological definition isn’t listed at all on either word, so these are specialized definitions and not the conventional ones. There is no possible way I could have been aware of what you were really thinking on this prior to you stating it because the meanings you are advocating are obscure enough to have not even made it into the dictionary.

    Also, AndrewS was, like me, using both words in the conventional sense as synonyms also. Note the following quote from him: “Well, why is he pious/what does it mean for God’s nature to be moral/good?” No doubt here that he was using the words in their conventional synonymous sense too, just like I was.

    I have no issues at all accepting that your past posts – except where you misspoke – all were utilizing a different definition of ‘morality’ that everyone else. If this is the truth, then we’ll deal with it now that you’ve made me aware of that fact in your recap.

    But please put yourself into my shoes and realize that you are literally holding me accountable for things you thought but did not say. You do now admit you misspoke. You also now admit that you were using a different definition for ‘morality’ than me and AndrewS from the start of the conversation and didn’t actually mention that fact until much later. You also read into what I said your personalized definitions.

    Given that scenario, think about how this whole conversation has been more or less impossible for me understand throughout. My responses, even if they were ultimately wrong, were all best possible responses based on the information you had actually given me at the time.

  74. Bruce:

    You write, “From reading your recap, it would appear you think I’m randomly trying to show that you contradicted yourself and you valiantly showed you hadn’t.”

    As I said before, I decided to do the recap when I started to respond to your latest comment. I realized that you were using my quotes to show that I had said certain things — for example that morality “just is” in the same way that goodness “just is”, i.e. as an attribute of God’s nature — when the context of my statements showed that I was saying something different.

    As for contradictions and equivocations, the discussion between you and I began with your comment no. 35, the main point of which was to ask me to address an “apparent contradiction”. You never afterwards conceded that I had not contradicted myself, on the contrary you repeatedly suggested that I had either contradicted myself or equivocated. It may be that those were never your main focus. But however that may be, it’s my main focus to argue validly, such that when I am accused of having argued invalidly, it’s essential to me either to show that I have not, or else be shown specifically where I have, so that I can either correct myself or withdraw the invalid argument.

    You write, “So if you have successfully shown you have not contradicted yourself, you’ve shown nothing whatsoever because this was never my intent to prove in the first place. Yet this seems to be your whole focus.”

    Granted, what’s most important to you may not be as important to me, and vice versa.

    You write, “Also, I went to great lengths to not claim you had made any direct contradictions, but only that I couldn’t figure out what you were saying because of your over dependence on defining things in sometimes seemingly contradictory ways … Let’s face it, what I actually said is a far cry from the way you represented me in your recap. In truth, these are pretty wimpy statements and none of them directly accuse of you contradicting yourself.”

    I’m sure you meant well when you tried to “soften” your suggestions that I was contradicting myself. But it doesn’t make any difference to me if you call a contradiction an “apparent” one or a “possible” one. Such “softening” words to me are pointless since I’m going to react to it in the same way, i.e. try to show that I did not contradict myself, if I believe I did not.

    It seems you think that accusing someone of contradicting himself is some kind of an insult, hence the need to soften any such accusation. But to me it’s not insulting in the slightest and I’m hard pressed to understand why it should be. So I would ask if you think I’ve contradicted myself, that you just come right out and say so directly rather than dance around it.

    You write, ‘But as the quotes [your misstatements where you use 'goodness' and 'morality' interchangeably] above prove, you [also have used] “goodness” and “morality” …as synonyms….’

    As you know, I have always denied that “the quotes above prove” that I used “goodness” and “morality” as synonyms.

    You write, “You insist that your interchangeable uses for ‘goodness’ and ‘morality’ were all misstatements …”

    I don’t know about saying they were “all misstatements” — at present I can only think of one statement where I used them “interchangeably”. And I’m not even sure “interchangeable” is the right word, I simply mischaracterized one of my prior comments, which I was summarizing from memory without having taken the time to go back and review it in context, which was careless of me (referring here to the footnote of my recap).

    You write, “This is my post on morality, after all. I am the one that initially defined the word and I clearly meant it as a synonym for ‘goodness.’ I only ever meant it in the conventional dictionary sense, and never in the Catholic theological sense you keep trying to force into the conversation.”

    As you know, as of the time you initiated the discussion between us, I had made no comment about your original post, but had only responded to comments of Andrew’s. And I only responded to your initial comment to me, for the purpose of refuting your assertion (or “suggestion” or whatever) that I had contradicted myself in my prior comments to Andrew. Thus from my point of view our discussion did not concern your original post, but rather my prior posts in which I had allegedly contradicted myself. Therefore I felt no obligation to adhere to the way you had defined “morality” in the original post, of which I don’t believe I was even aware.

    You write, “If you did mean it in some specialized sense, I assert the responsibility is 100% yours to make this point clear. You did not.”

    I disagree that I did not make my meaning clear. Very early in our discussion I explained the meanings I was assigning to the words. Not at the very beginning, certainly, but that was only because I was not aware that the distinction between the words would become an issue. As soon as I became aware of that, I defined how I was using them. (Sheesh, a guy is expected to be perfect around here I guess. : P)

    You write, “Regardless, it’s still wrong to try to force me to use it too.”

    I have every right to use words in the way I choose, just as you do. If anyone is trying to force a definition on the conversation, I submit that it’s you, trying to force me to use them as synonyms, and insisting that I’m doing so even when I repeatedly explain that I’m not.

    You write, “I never have to accept your definitions for when I’m speaking or writing.”

    Yet you apparently expect me to use yours — or at least admit that yours are the “standard definitions” while mine are “specialized”.

    You write, “

    I would venture a guess that when AndrewS said goodness is ‘arbitrary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation. If I am right about this, then [back then] you have yet to respond to his criticism, you merely restated it with fancier words.

    However, I am not going to change my wording on this. You were wrong to try to force me in the first place and, as is always the case, it only caused mass confusion. I would respectfully ask that you not do this any more.”

    I tried to force you to change your wording?? I have no idea what you’re talking about. In any case I “respectfully” ask that you not “respectfully” forbid me to argue in the way that I choose. If you find my methods intolerable you have only to ignore my comments.

    You write, ‘The truth is that “Morality” and “Goodness” are synonyms. If you weren’t aware of that fact (as I assumed you were because I honestly thought you were at the time), I request you make yourself aware of that fact and you cease to try to force me to accept your definitions as the one and only correct definitions.’

    I have already demonstrated the difference between the words. You may use them in any way you choose but “I respectfully request that you stop trying to force me to use words in your specialized sense”.

    You write, “I was using morality in it’s normal dictionary sense. The normal dictionary sense is a synonym for goodness. In fact, dictionary.com lists morality as having goodness as a synonym and goodness as having morality as a synonym. Look it up here and here. Also, your special theological definition isn’t listed at all on either word, so these are specialized definitions and not the conventional ones.”

    The same online dictionary that you cite lists as the first definition of “moral” the following: “of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong”. Whereas I defined “morality” as “the law governing the conduct of rational creatures, telling them what actions are good and which are bad”. I see no essential difference.

    The same dictionary lists as the first definition of “good”, not “pertaining to the rules of right conduct” (the definition of “moral”) but “morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious”. Note that “good” is defined not as “moral” but as “morally excellent”, in other words, “excelling in the practice of morals”.

    I can think of one case in which “good” and “moral” may be used as synonyms, namely when you say that someone is a “moral person”, you mean more or less that he is a “good person”. Nevertheless there is more to the words than that. We speak of a “moral law”, but not of a “good law” (except in an entirely different sense). We say that someone has high morals, but not that he has high goods or high goodnesses. We describe him as “morally excellent” but not as “goodly excellent”. The words clearly are not interchangeable in every case, indeed in most cases. I submit that their non-interchangeableness points to the distinction in their meanings.

    You write, “But I trust you see the issue of having one participant in a conversation using words in different senses then everyone else without even mentioning that he was doing that until several posts later.”

    “Several posts later”??? I defined “morality” in my *second* comment to you — right after the one in which I denied that I had contradicted myself — as “the rules governing the conduct of beings with minds” — which is exactly the same way I have used it since. Did I, or anyone for that matter, ever defined “goodness” as “the rules governing the conduct of beings with minds”?

  75. I have always understood “synonym” to mean two words that mean the same thing. I consider synonyms to have varying degrees of exactness, so I might refer to words as “vaguely synonymous” or as “exact synonyms”, or what have you. But if someone simply said that two words were synonyms, without any further qualification, I would assume he meant that they have the same meaning, i.e. are exact synonyms.

    Now of course some words have several definitions, so two words might be exact synonyms according to one of their definitions, but not synonymous according to other definitions.

    In my opinion “moral” and “good” are rarely exact synonyms. As I have said, their meanings are related but are usually not identical in my opinion. I think “moral” always refers to the behavior of rational creatures, whereas “good” sometimes does not.

    You might say that if we restricted the scope of the conversation to the behavior of rational beings, then “good” and “moral” would always mean the same thing, within that scope: moral behavior is good behavior and vice versa. But to me that’s confusing because we were discussing the *basis* of morality. In my opinion morality is based on, and points to, goodness, which is an attribute of God’s. And goodness considered as an attribute of God’s may or may not have anything to do with the behavior of rational creatures. So even within that restricted context I don’t feel that I can call them synonyms without confusion.

  76. Agellius,

    I’ve have not been using the word ‘synonym’ to mean ‘exact synonym.’ I have never even thought that in my mind until I thought of it in #22. The thought suddenly occurred to me that you might not realize that synonym usually doesn’t refer to ‘exact synonym.’

    In any case, morality and goodness are synonyms in the sense that the dictionary lists them as such and that there are many cases where they can be used interchangeably and that I was doing so in my case. The dictionary defines synonyms as something that means the same or nearly the same. And I’ve agreed with you multiple times now that your special definition where by “In [your] opinion morality is based on, and points to, goodness, which is an attribute of God’s” they are clearly not synonyms. I have validated your special definition as valid and explained back to you many times that I comprehended it and was fine with it so long as you didn’t assume that was what I meant by it as you seemed to be doing.

    I wish I had confidence that this would clear things up, but I’ve lost confidence in that possibility. I no longer believe this is just a simple misunderstanding. I now believe this is a deep problem.

    In any case, how do you feel about my suggestion that if you can replace one word with another without changing meaning that in that instance they are synonyms? This seems fair to me and it looks like you might be poised to accept this based on what you just said since you are allowing for multiple definitions, where some are synonyms and some aren’t.

    Obivously the reason this is meaningful to me is because… er, next post.

  77. Agellius,

    I’m not willing to start down another rabbit hole with you until my original concerns are addressed.

    I’m going to re summarize my #39 concern again.

    I am stuck back on post #39 on the previous comment page. I said in that post that when AndrewS used the word ‘arbitrary’ that is was possible – even likely – that he actually meant it in the sense of something having no reason or explanation.

    I therefore summarized my personal perception of AndrewS’ question like this:

    I venture a guess that when AndrewS said morality is ‘arbitary’ I would suspect he meant something similar to ‘it just is that way without a reason’ rather than having a viable explanation.

    I meant ‘morality’ here only in a sense that is synonymous with ‘goodness.’ You can freely replace goodness and morality in my sentence and it will not affect my meaning – therefore I understand these to be synonyms in this instance. When you responded, you unfortunately left me with the impression that you thought I was using ‘morality’ in a way that was non-synonymous with ‘goodness’ and have left me with that impression ever since. Everything else on my part since #39 has been various attempts to help you understand that I meant ‘morality’ as interchangeable with ‘goodness’ in my quote above.

    I tried using examples, I tried showing you that sometimes you use them interchangeably, I tried calling them synonyms, I tried showing you in the dictionary that they are synonyms, I tried replacing the word for you in my sentence to show you it didn’t change meaning, I tried replacing it in sentences you used to show you it’s often a synonym. By now, it should be very very clear that you have not made it very clear to me that you understand that in my sentence I only meant ‘morality’ as interchangeable with ‘goodness.’

    In retrospect, I think the problem is that you responded in a way that I took to be denial of this point. Specifically, you argued that actually it’s ‘goodness’ that can’t be otherwise, not ‘morality.’ I understood you to be saying that ‘morality’ actually could have been otherwise because God could have chosen to not create us.

    The problem is that you aren’t really clear here. It’s possible that you were trying to acknowledge that there was a legitimate sense that ‘morality’ is ‘cannot be otherwise’ also. Perhaps your split between ‘morality’ and ‘goodness’ wasn’t (in your mind) meant to be in any way a response to my comment.

    If so, then we never actually disagreed and all you needed to do was explain yourself more plainly to me on any of my restatements of the original concern. Your wording here is sort of in between and thus confusing (as I previous explained in #46).

    Now I fully acknowledged that your personal way of defining morality was fine. In fact, I directly validated you on that point:

    I get your point that you believe “morality” could not have existed because human’s didn’t have to exist but that “goodness” does have to exist as an attribute of God.

    What I am really seeking is that you return that courtesy and clarify whether or not you even comprehend that ‘morality’ as I used it was a synonym for ‘goodness.’ I still don’t know if you do or not.

    Here, I’ll even write for you the type of thing I’d say back to you if our roles were reversed:

    “Bruce, I agree with you that you never intended to use ‘morality’ in my sense of the term and that in fact you really meant ‘morality’ as a synonym for ‘goodness.’ I was actually only clarifying my earlier comments, like back in #18. Therefore, actually, you are correct that ‘morality’ (in the sense you used it anyhow) cannot be another way in Catholic theology for the very same reason that I said goodness can’t be another way in Catholic theology. Now personally, this isn’t how I’d normally define the terms, however…”

    If you want, you can even go on to say, “Ah, I see that if we accept for the sake of argument that ‘arbitrary’ means ‘cannot be another way’ then saying ‘morality is arbitrary’ is in fact a correct summary of Catholic theology after all: that goodness cannot be another way. Now personally, I don’t think this is the best definition for arbitrary because…”

  78. Bruce:

    You write, “I’m not willing to start down another rabbit hole with you until my original concerns are addressed.”

    I think that was, shall we say, rather less than politely expressed. (However, note that my feelings are not hurt.) I don’t even know which of my comments you are referring to as a rabbit hole, but if it’s 24, that was nothing but a direct response to your no. 23.

    In my no. 21 I made a concerted effort to reply to your no. 19. You told me that your specific question was “why do Catholics believe morality is arbitrary(2)?” I accepted your definitions of arbitrary(1) and arbitrary(2) and responded accordingly. I have not received any direct reply to no. 21, which I consider a direct answer to what you said you were “actually asking”.

    You can use morality as a synonym for goodness all you want, I’m not stopping you and have never attempted to do so (and anyway how could I?).

    I cannot comprehend the necessity you seem to feel to have me answer the question in your words rather than mine. If you say you meant “morality” as a synonym for “goodness”, why do you need me to agree with it? Why should I have to say “yes, I understand that you meant it as a synonym”? If you say you meant it as a synonym, I believe you. Why shouldn’t I? What is there not to understand about that?

    But I won’t be pressured into agreeing that “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary”. Even if I were sure that what you mean by that is the same as what I believe, I don’t choose to use that wording because I believe it’s a poor choice of words which would tend to lead to confusion.

    (It just occurs to me, that even if I were to agree to use “morality” and “goodness” as synonyms, how would I, believing their definitions to be distinct, know which definition you were attaching to the words? That of “morality” or that of “goodness”? They’re the same, sure, but what do they mean? If you’re using “morality” as “the attribute of God’s nature otherwise known as ‘goodness’”, then what happens to the definition of “morality” as being “the rule of right conduct for rational beings?” Is there another word for that?)

    Frankly I think this whole business of synonyms is a rabbit hole in itself. I think I have stated clearly my answer to the question whether Catholics believe morality is arbitrary, in the sense of either arbitrary(1) or arbitrary(2), in my no. 21. In short, the answer was no to both, with an explanation of why. You said that was your main question, the thing you had been getting at all along, and I answered it.

    You say that you understand the way in which I am using my terms, therefore I know of no reason why you should be unable to understand my position in answer to your question as stated in my own words.

    (By the way, you also neglected to answer my direct questions in the last paragraph of no. 21.)

  79. It just occurs to me, that even if I were to agree to use “morality” and “goodness” as synonyms, how would I, believing their definitions to be distinct, know which definition you were attaching to the words?

    You’ll know what definitions I attached to my words because I told you which ones I used. That’s my whole point.

    You are making this more difficult than it is, Agellius. And giving me what I am asking for – acknowledgment that you understood what I said — in no way effects any of your arguments or suddenly causes you to lose a debate. What I am asking for is entirely non-threatening and innocuous. I do not understand why you are so resistant to it. I would have acknowledged you 50 posts ago if our situations were reversed.

    So let me try again, please. I’m putting any past sarcasm aside. It’s been a long time since I was “snarky” at you, so I ask that you see past that for the moment. Let me give a short summary of my request again:

    I suggested that it was possible that AndrewS, or me, or someone, might think of ‘arbitrary’ as meaning that something just happened to be that way for no particular reason (i.e. no explanation for it).

    I also suggested that in many cases ‘goodness’ and ‘morality’ are used interchangeably by many people and that I had done so. (I acknowledged that you had not necessarily used them in interchangeable senses elsewhere in the conversation.)

    Anyhow, so I personally understood AndrewS’ comment to the effect that Catholics believe morality/goodness to be arbitrary really just meant that Catholics believe the part of God’s nature they call ‘goodness’ effectively has no explanation or reason beyond a circular reference to God’s own nature.

    I am not asking for you (not at this point anyhow) to agree that you personally use the words in those ways, or did so anywhere in this dialog. [1] That is beside the point. We are only talking about how people that are not you did or might have used the words differently then from how you understood them at the time.

    I am not even asking for you to agree that those ‘definitions’ are technically correct in your opinion. I am solely asking you to consider, for the sake of argument, that it’s possible that AndrewS (or me) meant it in this way. What the ‘technically correct’ definition is does not matter to my request and does not need to come up again.

    Now after you have acknowledged to me that you understand what I am saying, then we can discuss if the statement is even true. Unfortunately I / we confused things in our really long conversation above. I had asserted that it was in fact a true point because I had read your #38 as acknowledging this point to be correct – that Catholics do in fact believe what they call ‘goodness’ has no explanation or reason beyond reference to God’s nature.

    But never mind that for the moment. I really just want to concentrate at the moment on if you understood what I meant. This really does mean a lot to me, Agellius. And I really do not see how a point like this in any way hurts you or your position.

    [1] I did, earlier on, try to show you that you used ‘morality’ and ‘goodness’ interchangeably a few times. But for now, forget about that because it’s only caused confusion. We can address that point later once we are on the same page here. If I am wrong that you used them interchangeably, I’ll admit that. It never actually mattered to me or to what I was saying behind the desire to help you see that I had used them interchangeably. I was arguing that you had used them interchangeably because I wanted to give you the ultimate example of someone that used them interchangeably – yourself. Imagine the irony ;) But maybe I was wrong about that. We’ll explore it later if we ever get past step 1: getting you to acknowledge back to me what I said I meant.

  80. Actually, sometimes long explanations make things hard to understand. So let me say this briefer:

    Agellius, I’m seeking for you to acknowledge that I used ‘goodness’ and ‘morality’ interchangeably. I am seeking for you to, for the sake of argument, accept that ‘arbitrary’ as AndrewS used it (and I had understood it at the time) might just mean that something just happened to be that way for no particular reason (i.e. no explanation for it).

    Given those two definitions — and I do not care if they are techincally correct or not at the moment — I believe AndrewS was actually effectively saying:

    I believe Catholics believe ‘goodness’ has no explanation or reason beyond a circular reference to God’s own nature.

  81. Bruce (in response to 80 and 81):

    I’m sorry, I just don’t feel like wrangling over what people meant in prior posts. For me it’s too much effort with little likelihood of a fruitful outcome. If you want to discuss the truth or falsehood, or logical validity, of a certain proposition, then I propose we admit that up to this point we’ve made a big mess of it, and wipe the slate clean: define your terms, state the proposition, and let’s discuss it.

    If you want to define “morality” and “goodness” as synonyms for the purposes of this discussion, I don’t know that I would necessarily object. But I will question the necessity, wisdom and efficiency of using two different terms to mean the same thing within this context. If they don’t mean the same thing, but mean related but distinct things, then I think we need to make very clear what meanings they have in common and what meanings are distinct.

    And I suspect that we will end up having two sets of definitions, because I doubt that you will accept my definitions or that I will accept yours.

    Which I feel is what comes of having few of our philosophical underpinnings in common. I know you said that you are suspicious of philosophy, or something like that. But I submit that whether you are suspicious of it or not, everyone utilizes a philosophy of some kind, which he more or less clearly enunciates to himself and others – if he thinks seriously about the meanings and workings of reality at all, that is.

    Which I think you do. Therefore I think you do engage in philosophy, in fact quite vigorously. But it’s a philosophy that remains in large part mysterious to me. As mine no doubt is to you too.

    I don’t pretend to be a trained philosopher, but I am interested in it and have done some reading and given it a certain amount of thought on my own. Our talking past each other seems to me somewhat analogous to the way a Thomist and a Kantian would talk past each other, if each were defining his terms according to his own philosophy and not realizing that the other is defining them differently.

    But whereas I have some inkling of the differences between the Kantian and the Thomist philosophies, I have less understanding of the differences between mine and yours. I understand basically what mine is based on, but yours for me is still mostly undefined. (I suspect it may be undefined even to yourself since you apparently have no interest in philosophy, and therefore presumably would not think of defining a philosophy of your own.) So I see us missing each other but am hard-pressed to understand what’s causing it.

    As I’ve said before, I’m in no hurry and am willing to keep at it. If nothing else our discussions have always been interesting. But it’s with the understanding that we will usually miss each other and have a hard time understanding why.

  82. If you want to discuss the truth or falsehood, or logical validity, of a certain proposition, then I propose we admit that up to this point we’ve made a big mess of it, and wipe the slate clean: define your terms, state the proposition, and let’s discuss it.

    This seems like a good idea to me.

    So my position is that I perceive Catholics believe morality is arbitrary.

    I define ‘arbitrary’ to mean something to the effect of ‘no explanation or reason beyond a circular reference to one’s own nature.” (In this case, God’s nature.)

    I define ‘morality’ just like the dictionary, as a synonym for ‘goodness.’ (Remember, synonym does not mean ‘exact’ replacement, but only can be used interchangeably in this specific context.) Therefore me saying “God’s morality” means exactly what you might mean when you say “God’s goodness.”

  83. Bruce (in response to your 83):

    You write, “So my position is that I perceive Catholics believe morality is arbitrary.”

    I can’t concur with that proposition because I find it vague and/or ambiguous, because I find your definitions vague and/or ambiguous.

    As to your definition of “arbitrary”:

    I find it vague/ambiguous in its use of the phrase “circular reference”. I’m not sure what that means. I know what a circular argument is: when you assume your premise in your conclusion. But the statement “God is good by nature” is not an argument, it’s a proposition. Thus I don’t see where the circle is.

    Also it seems your definition is applicable only to this particular discussion, and therefore not a definition of the word itself but sort of a “disposable” definition, i.e. an arbitrary (ha) construct made for a particular use. (Is there any other context in which “no explanation or reason beyond a circular reference to one’s own nature” may be used as a definition of “arbitrary”?) In which case we don’t even need to use the word “arbitrary”, we can just say “word X” or something. If we’re going to use a disposable definition I would prefer to use “word X” rather than a word that is liable to be confused with an actual word in common use.

    As to your definition of “morality”, if you are defining it as “God’s goodness” then for me we are no longer talking about morality, since I am unaware of any attribute of God’s which is referred to as “morality”. Why can’t we, for the sake of simplicity, just use “goodness”, preserving the word “morality” for use in referring to the moral law, i.e. the law that tells rational beings what behavior is good and what is evil? Is there some reason we can’t distinguish the two?

    You write, ‘Therefore me saying “God’s morality” means exactly what you might mean when you say “God’s goodness.”‘

    It appears that, basically, you’re asking me to accept as a definition of “morality”, “God’s goodness”, which in turned is defined as “what Bruce means by ‘God’s morality’”. Alternatively, you are defining “what Bruce means by ‘God’s morality’”, as “what Agellius means by ‘God’s goodness’”. But I’m not convinced that what you mean by “morality” is the same as what I mean by “goodness”.

    I hope you understand my difficulty here.

    I am willing to agree that “Goodness has no explanation other than as an attribute of God’s nature” (let’s refer to this as “statement A1″, and your statement above as “statement B1″). I am not willing to substitute “morality” for “goodness” in that statememt as I think it would be misleading, since I do not believe that there is an attribute of God’s nature which is commonly known as “morality”.

    You are welcome to substitute “morality” for “goodness” in your own mind as you read that sentence. However in doing so, you would be assuming that your definition of “morality” and my definition of “goodness” are the same. You are welcome to make that assumption, but I am not sure that it would be correct, since I doubt whether your definition of “morality” and my definition of “goodness” are the same; at any rate I don’t think we have established that they are.

    You are also welcome to interpret statement A1 as meaning that “goodness is arbitrary”, if you believe that having no explanation other than as an attribute of God’s nature makes it arbitrary. Personally I don’t understand “arbitrary” as having that meaning.

  84. Bruce:

    It occurs to me that we might be stumbling over the word “attribute”, as in, “goodness is an attribute of God’s nature”. Do you understand that as I am using “attribute”, it doesn’t just mean that God possesses a certain amount of goodness, as it would mean in the statement “Bruce is good”; but rather means that goodness is identified with God as with its source, as, say, wetness is identified with water?

    In the same way I would say that God is love, God is intelligence, God is beauty, etc. These things have their being in him, and exist in other things only insofar as God deliberately imparts them to other things by creating them and communicating those qualities to them, as you might say a sculpture possesses some of the character and qualities of the sculptor.

    The sculptor imparts beauty and goodness to the sculpture, by virtue of the beauty and goodness in himself. But he possesses beauty and goodness only as received qualities of his created nature; whereas God possesses them absolutely, as uncreated attributes of his uncreated nature, received from no one but having their source in himself alone.

    I’m not sure, but it occurred to me that you might be thinking that I meant that goodness is an attribute of God’s nature, in the same sense in which it is an attribute of your nature when people say “Bruce is good”, or for that matter, as an attribute of chocolate as in the statement, “chocolate is good”. This might be what you meant when you spoke of a “circular reference”: Maybe you thought I was saying “God is good because God is good”; when actually I’m saying “God is goodness”.

  85. Catholics? Morality? Arbitrary? You have got to be kidding.

    Catholics believe in creatio ex nihilo, i.e. where everything in nature (including the natural laws of morality, which are a big deal in Catholicism) was set in motion by God. That is the opposite of arbitrary.

    The closest thing that you get to the opposite point of view in Christianity is the divine command theory that prevails in some quarters of Protestantism. Logical difficulties not withstanding, Protestants don’t believe God comes up with his commands willy nilly either.

    Is there any point to a religion where morality is truly arbitrary?

  86. Agellius,

    Let’s avoid more unnecessary confusion by removing your apparent confusion over ‘circular’ since it didn’t matter anyhow.

    So I’ll restate my position that we are considering at the moment.

    The position under consideration (that may be right or wrong) is that I perceive Catholics believe morality is arbitrary.

    I define ‘arbitrary’ to mean ‘no explanation or reason other than one’s own nature.”

    I define ‘morality’ just like the dictionary, as a synonym for ‘goodness.’

    It does not matter if my definitions are arbitrary or not. I sincerely believe that these two definitions are just the common usage as you’d find in the dictionary. But even if I’m wrong, you are still capable of logically evaluating the statement. Indeed, even if I chose my definitions entirely arbitrary, as you unjustly accuse me, you can always state, ‘Yes, Catholics believe morality is arbitrary under your arbitrary definitions’ if you feel that is really the case.

    Agellius, I have, without question, accepted every single specialized definition you have used with me – such as ‘morality’ and ‘goodness’ as you use them. It’s true I do not accept your definitions for my words but then logically that would be absurd to assume I was using your specialized definitions. But I have never balked at your specialized definitions for your words. If you really believe I’m using specialized definitions, then I still ask you to return to me the same courtesy I have given to you.

  87. Before going any further, a couple of things to clarify:

    First, I take your proposition to be “that Catholics believe morality is arbitrary”. I understand you included the words “I perceive” to show that you were not insisting that this is true, but only stating your understanding. Nevertheless the point you are asking me to discuss, is not whether or not you perceive it that way, but whether or not I agree, that “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary”. Thus “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary” is the proposition under discussion.

    Second, I want to confirm what exactly it is that you want me to do with this proposition. Are you asking whether I believe it’s true or false? Whether it’s an accurate statement of my belief as a Catholic? Or something else?

  88. Alright, I couldn’t wait for your answer to the preceding.

    You write, “I sincerely believe that these two definitions are just the common usage as you’d find in the dictionary.”

    I looked up “arbitrary” in three online dictionaries (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/arbitrary; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arbitrary; and http://www.thefreedictionary.com/arbitrarily), and none of them defined “arbitrary” the way you did, i.e. none of them used the word “nature” as part of their definitions – with one exception: I found “nature” included in a definition of “arbitrary” in Merriam-Webster, which defines it as “based on or determined by individual preference or convenience *rather than* by necessity or the *intrinsic nature* of something.” Which is the opposite of your definition.

    Also The Free Dictionary includes the definition, “Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and *not* by necessity, reason, or principle”. Whereas I consider God a necessary being and have always said that his nature cannot be other than it is, therefore as a Catholic I believe that goodness is as it is by *necessity*, which according to this definition is the opposite of arbitrary.

    Therefore I disagree that your definition of “arbitrary” is “just the common usage as you’d find in the dictionary”.

    Further, based on these dictionary definitions I have to say that goodness is *not* arbitrary.

    You write, “I define ‘morality’ just like the dictionary, as a synonym for ‘goodness.’”

    I looked up “morality” in the three online dictionaries cited above (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/morality; http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/morality; http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/morality), and found that none of them defines it as “goodness”. Whereas all of them define it as something akin to “rules or standards of right conduct”, which is my definition.

    One dictionary lists “goodness” and “morality” under “synonyms”, but in doing so specifies the distinction between them, as such:

    “GOODNESS is the simple word for the general quality recognized in character or conduct: ‘Many could tell of her goodness and kindness’. MORALITY implies conformity to the recognized standards of right conduct: ‘a citizen of the highest morality.’” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/goodness)

    Thus even accepting that they are synonyms, there is nevertheless a distinction between them (which comports with the distinction I have been making for some time). How do I know which of these distinguished meanings you have in mind when you say that “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary”?

    For these reasons I still can’t concur with your proposition.

  89. Maybe the best I can do is this: I take your proposition to be, “that Catholics believe morality is arbitrary”. I will refer to this proposition as B1.

    I reiterate my prior statement, that “As a Catholic I believe that goodness ultimately has no explanation other than as an attribute of God’s nature” (using “attribute” as explained in one of my preceding comments). I will refer to this statement as A1.

    Now if you tell me that for you, the meaning of B1 is accurately expressed by the wording of A1, then I will not dispute that A1 is what you mean when you say B1. Henceforth when you say B1 I will understand you as meaning A1.

    However this strikes me a little bit like saying, “I will agree that when you say ‘grizzly bears are pink and meek’, you really mean ‘grizzly bears are brown and huge’: I am capable of making the substitution but am not sure why I would want to.

  90. Pingback: What makes humans tick? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  91. Agellius,

    I finally got around to reading your responses. I’m ignoring (and didn’t even fully read) the first two. I will be happy to consider whether or not my definition for ‘arbitrary’ is ‘standard’ or ‘specialized’ once we establish the tautologically obvious logic that’s been under consideration. Those responses will be helpful then, if we get that far.

    Since you got caught up on the word ‘perceive’ and it wasn’t relevant to the discussion, let me drop it too to assist comprehension:

    The position under consideration is that “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary.

    I define ‘arbitrary’ to mean ‘no explanation or reason other than one’s own nature.”

    I define ‘morality’ just like the dictionary, as a synonym for ‘goodness.’

    In your post #91 I read it as you finally accepting that given these definitions it is in fact true that “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary” in your opinion. (Or at a minimum, Agellius, as a Catholic, believes morality is arbitrary. I don’t really actually care about the entire Church. I only actually care about what you personally believe here.) Do I understand you correctly? Considering the difficulty with communication so far, I do not want to just assume I understood what you meant any more, so please be clear so that we can finally move on to discuss definitions like you keep wanting to.

  92. No, sorry, I’m not willing to go any further until I get a response from you to my no. 90. I don’t believe you will fully understand my position until you have read it. In it, I say specifically that I cannot concur with your proposition, for the reasons given.

    You portray me as being hung up on definitions, but the only reason I went to the trouble of drafting no. 90 is because you repeatedly insisted that your definitions were the “standard” ones while mine were “specialized”, and in fact criticized me for using “specialized” definitions without alerting people to the fact.

    If you had not insisted that you were using “arbitrary” and “morality” in their standard meanings, then I might have had less of an issue with letting you use them however you wanted. Your insistence that your usage was standard could only give me more reason to be concerned that my agreement with your proposition might be misconstrued (i.e. taken as an agreement that Catholics believe morality — in its standard sense — is arbitrary — in its standard sense), and therefore all the more resistant to concurring with your phrasing.

    You write, ‘In your post #91 I read it as you finally accepting that given these definitions it is in fact true that “Catholics believe morality is arbitrary” in your opinion.’

    That is incorrect. As explained in no. 90, I still don’t know which of the distinguished synonymous meanings you are assigning to the word “morality”, therefore I can’t say that your proposition is true, since your definition of “morality” to me is still ambiguous. What I’m agreeing to do is posit A1 as an accurate statement of my belief, and to agree that when you say B1 you mean A1.

    Therefore when I say A1 I mean A1, and when you say B1 you mean A1 — why we can’t cut out the middle man and just use the wording of A1 to express the thought, is a mystery to me.

  93. Way back at post #41 (in June) my point was – and by extension still is – that a choice to perform deep definition analysis and definition policing (what I previously called word-offense) stops all communication dead.

    But anyway, on to your current point of confusion: I actually already responded to your current concern in posts 80, 81, 88, and 92 where I stated that I’m fine with you stating that you believe my definition for ‘arbitrary’ is non-standard (i.e. specialized) and even stated “I do not care if they are technically correct or not at the moment.” So I answered your concern back in August.

    After we’re past the simple tautology we’ve been struggling through since post 81 — assuming we do ever get past it — I would assume one of the next points of discussion would be whether or not my definition is actually standard or specialized, and perhaps it is specialized or even based on a misunderstanding. But there is no point debating that point if you can’t even accept simple tautologies for the sake of argument.

    My comment that I believed my definition of arbitrary to be standard was intended only to say that I may be wrong, but I’m sincere in my wrongness. However, if I did intentionally make up a fake definition for a word, it doesn’t change anything. For example, if you were to ask me “Bruce, are you an bear? And by ‘bear’ I mean ‘a white human male’” the fact that you made up a definition unique to you does not actually change the truth or falseness of the underlying concept in question. The words don’t matter, only the meaning does. So long as I understand what you meant by ‘bear’ I can still answer the question correctly. I would, without hesitation, respond to you that, yes, I’m an ‘bear’ in that very narrow definition that probably only applies only to you. (compare this to post 78 and 88 to see that I’ve alread addressed this.)

    As for your concern over which definition of ‘goodness’ I am referring to: as stated back in post 63, I am only seeking to know if there is at least one legitimate sense in which you believe morality to be arbitrary. Plus, my real point is to prove that definition policing like this does not clarifies meaning – and surely it has not so far.

    So I’m going to prove my point again by letting you pick any definition for ‘goodness’ you wish so long as it’s one that you are also comfortable interchanging it with a form of the word ‘morality’. If you need to simply assume I was using ‘morality’ loosely to mean any definition of ‘goodness’ you wish, I’m fine with that. Which definition you pick won’t matter and never did.

  94. First, as to definition-policing, word-offense, fallacies, contradictions, obstructing progress, using non-standard definitions — if you accuse me of these things, then I am going to respond. You should know this from our past history. If you consider them side issues and want to avoid them as being a waste of time, then you may want to stop introducing them by making those kinds of comments.

    Second, I decline to provide you with a definition of “goodness”. If you want to know whether I agree with your statement, then provide non-ambiguous definitions of the terms thereof, and I will say whether or not I agree with the statement according to those definitions.

    Finally you write, “I am only seeking to know if there is at least one legitimate sense in which you believe morality to be arbitrary.”

    If that’s all you want, the answer is no. Have I not made this clear before now?

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