Balkinization  

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Religion and Human Rights, II

Brian Tamanaha

In a post last week I responded to legal philosopher Michael Perry’s argument that only religion can provide a rational, coherent foundation for human rights. My criticism prompted a series of responses on Mirror of Justice—a blog dedicated to Catholic Legal Theory—defending Perry’s argument, as well as a post by Ed Brayton articulating his own criticisms of Perry’s position. In light of the many thoughtful responses these various posts have provoked, it is useful to briefly follow-up the initial post.

Perry’s argument is fully elaborated in the earlier post, so this is just a quick summary. He argues that atheists have no way to ground their belief in inherent human dignity, whereas for religious folks inherent human dignity follows from their belief in God. Religion thus provides a superior rational foundation for human rights, according to Perry, even if the religious believer is “deluded” about her beliefs. The thrust of my argument is that believers and atheists have equally tenuous rational foundations for their moral views, which merely show up at different moments in their respective belief systems:
To identify the flaw in Perry’s argument for superiority, one must ask this crucial question of the religious believer (which Perry does not pose): “Does your moral belief system still make sense if it turns out that God does not in fact exist?” Perry the philosopher appears to presume that the religious moral system remains internally coherent even if belief in God is a delusion, so, "yes," it would still “make sense.”

That is not, I assert, the answer a religious person would give when asked this question (which is another way of saying that Perry’s argument about coherence subtly shifts the focus away from what really matters). The religious person would understand the inquiry as a question about something foundational to the belief system. That foundation, of course, is the existence of God. God’s existence—not mere belief in God’s existence—is a critical aspect of the internal coherence of the religion-based moral system. So if God does not exist, then, “no”, the religious moral system does not “make sense,” because the religious moral system is fundamentally (at every point) and inseparably premised upon the existence of God. Happily for the religious believer, God exists, so the religious moral system is sound. Note, however, that the believer thinks the moral system is sound not owing to her mere belief in God’s existence, but owing to the fact of God’s existence. Take away God, and the coherence of the religious moral system collapses.

Perry insists that non-religious beliefs in human rights are fatally flawed because they cannot be grounded. Religious believers do not suffer from this flaw, and therefore possess a superior foundation for human rights, he argues, because belief in God supplies the necessary foundation. But if my argument is correct, the foundation for the religious moral system is not belief in God, but the actual fact of God’s existence. Since the fact of God’s existence has never been established—and remains the impenetrable uncertainty of our existence—religious moral systems likewise operate without a grounding, for they cannot establish their foundational assumption.

In response to my argument, Rob Vischer (my good friend) on Mirror of Justice insists that, whether or not God exists, belief in God alone establishes the superiority of religion as a foundation for human rights.
[L]et me take a crack at showing why a belief in God is, in general, more supportive of a belief in human rights than atheism is.

I agree that both the atheist and theist must commit themselves to human rights by an act of faith: for the theist, it's a faith in a certain type of God, and for the atheist, faith in the intrinsic value (?) of human beings. But the atheist knows that his belief in human rights is an act of will -- he knows there is no reality that compels him to recognize human rights; it's more accurate to say that he's creating human rights because, in light of human experience and his observations of reality, they work. For the theist, though, his faith in human rights is simply recognizing the implications of his faith in God. And so I disagree with Brian's assertion that it's the existence of God, not the belief in God's existence, that matters for human rights. It is the belief that matters. Whether or not God actually exists, if I believe in the God that is at the center of the world's major religions -- that is, a God who wants to be in relationship with his creation, thereby signaling human beings' inestimable value in God's eyes -- then human rights are an unavoidable implication of that belief for anyone who wants to live in harmony with God's design.

In a separate post on Mirror of Justice, Father Arujo offered this defense of Perry’s thesis:
For the atheist who denies God’s being, there can be only one other source, origin, or author of human rights: the human being—or more precisely, the mind of the human being. The idea of human rights for the nonbeliever begins and ends in the human mind. This makes the human being the source of human rights and what is constitutive of them. But, what the human mind can fashion, the human mind can undo. What is constitutive of human rights begins and ends with what the brain can devise. The atheist’s view, his theory, her approach to human rights is seasoned by the subjectivity of the human person, individually and collectively. What is recognized as a human right one day can be abandoned the next day. Why? The answer to this question resides in the fact that there is nothing beyond human nature that defines human rights.

But, if there is an acceptance of God’s existence, there is a different understanding of human nature and, therefore, a very different conception of human rights and what is constitutive of them. The human mind no longer is their author, their source, or their origin. The basis for human rights is the author of human life itself. The subjectivity that flaws the atheist’s conception of human rights is substituted with the objectivity that surrounds God’s existence. The human mind cannot modify, amend, or revoke that which it has not created.

On a related point, the atheist’s morality and moral code of which Rob spoke may be sincere and have a carefully thought theory and intellectual basis, but it is still subject to the caprice of human subjectivity.

Rob and Father Arujo, it should be noted, are not taking the same position. Rob (like Perry) is arguing that religious belief alone, even false belief, provides a superior grounding for human rights, whereas Father Arujo identifies the superiority of religion for morality and human rights in the “objectivity that surrounds God’s existence.” Father Arujo, moreover, extends the argument beyond human rights to claim that the morality and moral code of religious believers is superior to “the atheist’s morality and moral code.”

In response to Father Arujo, I can only say that if God indeed exists (and if it is God’s will that humans have inherent dignity), then he is correct: human rights and morality have an objective existence. But the essential question, as always, is whether God exists—which he simply assumes.

In response to Rob’s argument that even a false belief in God provides a superior rational grounding for human rights, I offer a simple (and unoriginal) question: What if belief in God is like belief in witchcraft?

Believers in witchcraft can, to be sure, have an internally coherent belief system that amounts to a religion—and let’s also say that inherent human dignity and human rights and a deity are part of their witchcraft belief system. Would Perry and Rob assert that this belief system is “rational” and provides a superior foundation for human rights? Does not the “rationality” of the belief system hinge upon the truth of witchcraft (rather than merely belief in witchcraft) and upon the existence of their claimed deity?

If the answer to the latter question is “yes,” then (for the same reasons) the rationality and coherence of religious belief systems also rest on the truth of God’s existence, which has never been proven. Consequently, religion provides no more solid a rational foundation for human rights than any other ungrounded moral belief system. [Addendum: Rob forthrightly answers this argument here.]

Ed Brayton also insists that the foundation religion provides for human rights must be grounded on the existence of God, not merely a (possibly false) belief in God. He continued:
Let me add one more argument to this: there simply is no evidence that religious faith actually provides a grounding for respect for humans right in the real world. Such theoretical and metaphysical discussions only take us so far; a look at history shows that they don't mean much in terms of actual behavior. I would submit that respect for human rights, particularly in the Western world, has only begun to flourish in the last 300 years or so after the power of the Church, both officially and culturally, was challenged by Enlightenment thinking and began to decline.

We find precious little support for any Christian conception of human rights prior to the Enlightenment. Centuries of pogroms, forced conversions, crusades and wars easily demonstrate that the notion that belief in God leads logically to a belief in the "inherent dignity" of every human being is purely hypothetical and unrelated to the real world. It was only after Enlightenment thinkers irreparably diminished the power of the church over both government and culture that we began to embrace any concept of human rights in the West.

Let me not take this argument too far. It is true, of course, that even for our most powerful voices for human rights, like Jefferson and Madison - men I obviously hold in very high esteem - still grounded their ideas in the belief in a Creator. Jefferson took pretty much exactly the same position that Perry is taking, writing in his Notes on Virginia (in regard to slavery)….

More importantly, keep in mind the argument here; the argument is not that religious conceptions are necessarily incompatible with notions of human rights (though all of the major monotheistic religions have dogmas and doctrines clearly contrary to the idea of human rights), but that religious conceptions are in the same metaphysical boat with non-religious conceptions in terms of convincing another person that they are true and valid.

I will end this post with the same question I raised previously: why do religious adherents feel the need to argue that only religion can provide a rational foundation for human rights? The merits of their argument aside, it makes no sense to me that they think this is a moral, wise, or useful argument. The thrust of their argument does not add support to human rights from religion; it subtracts or discounts the moral commitment to human rights from atheists. Their argument will not advance the cause of human rights.

Comments:

It will "advance the cause of human rights" to the extent said atheists come around to the one true source of human dignity as we are created in His image. I'm sure that Father Arujo will be content to see your agreement with his "hypothetical" : )
 

People who argue "that only religion can provide a rational, coherent foundation for human rights" might be more effective if they could provide some evidence that a foundation for their religious beliefs actually exists.
 

Then it wouldn't be called "faith" Bartbuster.
 

I don't really care what you call it. If it doesn't exist, there is no point in pretending that it does.
 

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Bartbuster:

Strong, explicit atheists have "faith" that there is no God too ; )
 

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Not sure why so many religious adherents insist that only religion provides a rational foundation for morality.

I happen to agree (more or less) that the religious and non-religious alike have a hard time establishing rational foundations for morality.

But I do think that advancing human rights and making arguments are often different. If they were right in their claim, some would say it's better to know the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

But I don't think they're right.

It should be said, however, that when Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc get on their high horse and start telling people they shouldn't be religious because religion is bad for society, the obvious line of questioning to Dawkins and company would go something like, "where do you get this idea of a moral standard that I should feel compelled to follow?" If what we believe in should be demonstrable by the principles of the vacuous term "reason," then why not just be a skeptic about morality (the normativity of it) too?

The religious believer, at that point, can push their answer back to God, but that source of morality doesn't hold up for too many moves after that, in my view.

Is what's good right because God said it is or does God say it's right because God knows that it's good. If it's the latter, then God isn't really the ontological source of morality. If it's the former, then God can change God's mind about what's good, which is really creepy, since God could declare rape to be A-OK tomorrow. The religious may want to answer that God does not have it in God's nature to change what's good, but doesn't this too seem to appeal to an idea of morality independent of a subject (namely, God).

On the other hand, explaining morality in terms of evolutionary psychology or purely reductionistic ways is an exercise in 3rd person observation and description, which, by itself, doesn't establish why "OUGHTS" ought to be compelling to us. Evolution has obviously provided us with a brain that is capable of empathy, but this brain is also capable of motivating us to do very bad things if the situation is right, and reductionistic claims don't tell you which one is better, because there's no source of morality to point to.

At the end of the day I think atheists are moral, and immoral, just like religious people.

If the people on the edges, Dawkins and company on one side, fundamentalists on the other, can be marginalized, then most people wouldn't care how you justify what you believe in, so long as we can come to practical and real consensus on problematic social and economic issues, who cares?

Two last things:

1) Many many religious adherents are in no hurry to pick a fight with atheists, and welcome help from anyone, regardless of world-views, in moral matters.

2) When we say "religious" when we mean a particular group of people toward the right, not only are we ignoring Mainline and Liberal denominations and religions in the West, but we're ignoring all the religions of the East. You don't have to like them, but they deal with these meta-ethical issues much differently than Christianity.
 

why do religious adherents feel the need to argue that only religion can provide a rational foundation for human rights? The merits of their argument aside, it makes no sense to me that they think this is a moral, wise, or useful argument.

The paradox is that you take the jump to faith when human reason fails to bring understanding. The leap of faith is beyond logic; however, as you state, the dictates of a faith may not be objectively moral, wise, or useful.

However, those who blindly accept doctrine sometimes fail to acknowledge that at the heart of faith is doubt. We can't know the answers to some questions--they are unprovable. They then expand that to state that all matters of creed are unarguable, despite the fact that some holdings are contradictory, repulsive, and/or no longer applicable to current humanity. But because they are not basing their morality and holdings on reason, faith patches over the discrepancies.

To me it is a poor faith that cannot admit of personal error, or accept the commonality of humanity outside of religion. Our common moral code should be based on what we all hold in common, regardless of our religions or lack thereof.
 

Strong, explicit atheists have "faith" that there is no God too ; )

# posted by Charles : 4:01 PM


No, they don't. They have just come to the conclusion that the odds are so small that any evidence of a god is going to be found that it's not worth considering. Faith has nothing to do with it.

And like I said before, if there is no God, there is no basis for an argument "that only religion can provide a rational, coherent foundation for human rights."
 

Perhaps we could at least agree with definitions first, Bartbuster:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Range
 

Perhaps we could at least agree with definitions first, Bartbuster:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Range

# posted by Charles : 4:28 PM


If you think atheism involves faith, then we definitely can't agree on the definition.
 

Philosophers such as Antony Flew and Michael Martin have sought to contrast strong (positive) atheism with weak (negative) atheism -- which is why I limited my contention above to "STRONG, EXPLICIT" atheism -- the positive affirmation that god(s) do not exist. We can't even agree on that definition?
 

i would think most atheists have some kind of moral code based on logic, like a mathematical proof. Therefore, Father Arujo's gross generalization about the "subjectiveness" of the atheist's moral code is inaccurate. Assuming the logic is solid, it is not assailable by subjectivity (even if the logic is not solid, it is still not assailable by subjectivity, just by better logic). while the outer boundaries of what is right and wrong will always need further analysis, the ground rules are pretty well "proven." can't murder each other, shouldn't steal, etc. There is a rational, logical basis for these conclusions, and they are independent of any deity. One just needs a few axioms to start with – I’ve always been a big Thomas Jefferson fan – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and away you go on creating a moral code.

one does not need god to prove 2+2=4; one does not need god to prove all human beings should be treated equally, and have certain unalienable rights. just because one may be an atheist does not mean he or she is an absolute moral relativist.
 

Not trying to butt in, but can't we make some distinctions?

It's not so much that strong atheists have faith that God doesn't exist, it's that they don't see good reasons for affirmative belief in God, so they don't believe. In the case of Richard Dawkins, he says that he feels that it's almost certain that God doesn't exist.

But even this can be based on standards of belief, and choosing not to believe in something that isn't at all obvious isn't faith, we have to get our burden of proof straight.

On the other hand, you have people who are more or less strongly agnostic, and feel that they could never have affirmative belief in God, so they simply "hold no gods," which I think is closer to the technical meaning of the word, etymologically speaking.

Both strong and weak atheists "hold no gods" but strong atheism places more of an emphasis on the disbelief, whereas some atheists simply focus on non-belief, and end up sounding very agnostic.

But neither involve faith.
 

I don't understand Tamanaha's argument here. Arujo's point is that the existence of morality only makes sense if God exists. Vischer's point is that belief in morality makes sense only if we believe that God exists. (I take it the suggestion runs something like this: if all there is to the world is gluons, muons, and quarks arranged in different ways, then labeling one such arrangement "good" or "right" and another such arrangement "bad" or "wrong" seems, ontologically, very strange. But if a transcendent God created everything and sustains and cares for it, then those labels make a lot more sense.) These obviously are kindred ideas: if the existence of thing 1 only makes sense if thing 2 exists, then believers in thing 1 have a reason to believe in thing 2.

Tamanaha's response is just to ask, "But what if God doesn't actually exist?" Arujo and Vischer's response should be simply, "Well, then we have less reason to think that morality really exists. If, on the other hand, we really believe in morality, then we have good reason to think that God does exist."

To put it another way: coherence is a matter of the propositional relationships between our beliefs, and it's obviously one thing we want out of a system of beliefs. Correspondence with the world--that is, the truth of our beliefs--is obviously another. The Arujo/Vischer argument is that the atheism-&-morality belief system is less coherent than the theism-&-morality belief system. Tamanaha's response seems to be, "well, coherence isn't everything--witches have coherent belief systems too." True enough--but that doesn't address the problem with the coherence of the atheism-&-morality belief system raised by Arujo and Vischer. Sure, we want a belief system that matches reality, but a prerequisite for that is that our belief system is coherent. And I don't see any defense of the coherence of the atheism-&-morality system here.
 

We can't even agree on that definition?

# posted by Charles : 4:52 PM


What part of no did you have trouble understanding?
 

nerpzillicus,

Validity does not mean that a moral premise is proven.

You can start with any axiom you wish, and reason up validly from there.

The question is if your moral premise is based on something other than mere preference. People have different preferences.

As far as Thomas Jefferson, I know that allot of the founders were into Natural Law Theory, but even this has a kind of quasi-religious connotation, or at least a Platonic one.

If all Natural Law is our input from a bunch of neurons firing, then there really is no Natural Law. And if 2+2=4 is a product of evolved consciousness learning how to manipulate the environment, than positing a Platonic realm becomes superfluous at best.

So in no way are moral axioms "proven" simply because you can inject them into a system of reasoning.

Logic has a morally neutral quality about it, and for it to have any content, it must have some assertions, premises, etc. And moral premises are not logical.

They're not illogical, mind you, because they usually aren't by themselves, contradictory. but they are non-logical.

For these reasons, and maybe some others, logic doesn't ground morality.
 

Hi Chris,

I thought your comment was very thoughtful.

On God, I'm a true blue agnostic myself. I don't see how I could ever know, and I guess I'm also a little ambivalent.

This is a very interesting discussion to me, so I hope you don't mind if I try to flesh out what you were saying just a tad more. Not to be nit-picky, but to at least give myself more clarity.

When you mention "belief" in morality, it seems as if that means something like, "belief in the authority of," or "belief in the normative nature of morality," or something like that.

The reason I make this point is that there are many moral skeptics who "believe" in morality, insofar as its simply (nothing more, nothing less) than an outgrowth of natural selection, and evolutionary psychology.

But these moral skeptics have a kind of positive belief in morality, rather than a normative belief.

Many reductionists (who aren't moral skeptics) seems to confuse this distinction, and when explaining the authority (normativity) of morality, they start into some sort of reductionist, evolutionary explanation.

What they don't seem to realize is that this 3rd person, or "positive" explanation of the existence of moral sentiments does not at all tell us why we should see moral sentiments as normative, or authoritative.

So when you say belief in morality, and making sense of it, your talking about those who believe (whether religious or atheist) that morality is somehow...like...binding or forceful or something.

Right?
 

jay j-

an axiom by definition is not proven. it is an assumption. axioms of morality would be based on "self-evident" truths. all of the mathematical principles we know and love are based off of such unproven assumptions. if someone suddenly argued that you could no longer draw a line through any two points, that would pretty much mess up geometry. but that axiom is so well-founded, many people would have a hard time dismissing it. likewise, the self-evident concept that all humans are entitled to equal treatment is pretty well established. if so, an atheist can take this assumption, and build up from there. you don't use "mere preferences" to create a moral code, but you seek as fundamental, universal truths as possible, and use them. i agree this step presents a great deal of room for misuse, but the potential for the insertion of "mere preferences" does not defeat the point.

"Logic has a morally neutral quality about it, and for it to have any content, it must have some assertions, premises, etc. And moral premises are not logical.

They're not illogical, mind you, because they usually aren't by themselves, contradictory. but they are non-logical.


logic is a system of analysis. i don't understand how you have arrived at the blanket statement that moral premises are not logical. it seems you simply claim this fact, and fail to prove it in any meaningful way. please explain why moral premises (or rules) cannot be logical.
 

Chris: And I don't see any defense of the coherence of the atheism-&-morality system here.

I think the position that atheists are strict moral relativists or, on the flip side, that religion has the market cornered on coherence, is a difficult position to defend.

In my opinion, the only advantage that religion has over atheism in terms of promoting human rights is the sociohistorical weight of its inputs in the formulation of what human rights should be and its dominance in the public discourse of propriety. In the Western setting, one can point to contradictions between Old and New testament versions of how to behave, for instance, and question the coherence of the human rights message contained within the corpus. As other commenters have implied here and elsewhere, the internal disagreement within (and between) world religions over how coherence should be formed from the corpus has lead to immeasurable misery and dismissal of universal human rights.

However, all that aside, the question that Brian raises at the end of his post is the most critical:

How does excluding the non-religious from participation in the creation of a coherent foundation for human rights aid the cause of human rights in general?

I can't think that it does, and actively acting (through words, if not deeds) to exclude participation in the creation of a universal standard would seem to be illogical and incoherent, given the supposed aim of striving to determine how everyone should be treated.
 

Jay J: I think that's right that bindingness is a distinguishing feature of morality as Vischer and Arujo see things. Vischer says of the atheist that there is "no reality that compels him to recognize human rights." Arujo stresses that morality is binding only if it is not created by human beings: "The human mind cannot modify, amend, or revoke that which it has not created." Real morality, they suggest, isn't just up to us, and that's an important reason they think it makes sense only if God exists.
 

It's important for people who have specific religious beliefs to realize that they are atheists too-- they disbelieve in all the other gods of all the other religions. If there are 10,000 different gods that people believe in, any monotheist is an atheist as to the other 9,999 of them.

So there isn't anything weird about atheism. An atheist just disbelieves the 10,000th one as well.

On the broader question, I think that a lot of religious people simply confuse smugness with argument here. Because THEY believe they draw their morality from their faith, and their faith helps remind THEM about right and wrong, they assume that the rest of us need that faith as well.

In fact, religion is one of numerous sources of morality-- the teaching of your parents, school, self-reflection, Kantian philosophy, the law and the fear of sanctions, etc., are all potential sources. Remove one source, and you may still have all the others.

The other thing to remember is that religion teaches a lot of false morality, too. Anyone who seriously believes that it is a sin for an african man who is HIV-positive to use a condom while having sex with his wife, but completely unsinful for him to have unprotected sex with her-- a doctrine the Catholic Church teaches-- is completely wrong. Of course, many Catholics don't believe this-- but that's because they've used the other sources of morality to filter the BS that the Church teaches them.
 

nerpzillicus,

First, I just want to reiterate that I'm not saying that moral premises are illogical, they're just non-logical.

I actually think that the burden should be on you to explain why moral premises ARE logical, but you seem sincere, so I'll explain a little more:

We're not talking about what a bunch of people have agreed to, we're talking about trying to figure out why (or even if) moral assertions have any real authority on other people. In most circles, "might makes right" is off limits as an explanation, since it doesn't explain anything other than what a group of powerful people can force other people to do.

So citing laws doesn't demonstrate anything other than what some people have agreed to. They "preferred" the set of moral commands they injected into the law, rather than another set.

On universality, not that it would solve the real issue, but it's just not true that it's universally agreed upon.

Many people do very bad things and aren't sorry for it. And others (including a few famous thinkers) have decided for themselves that morality is simply what we feel and can convince other to go along with.

So even if we had universal agreement, it wouldn't demonstrate anything other than perhaps evidence of agreement, but we don't actually don't even have any such universal agreement.

I agree that logic is a system of analysis, but it is neutral regrading the content you inject.

You could say,

"It's right to kill babies from Argentina," and you could then go about setting up policies to make this happen. It could be completely logical all the way down.

The thing that you want to say is that it's wrong to kill babies, but you didn't get that sentiment FROM logic, you got it BEFORE you engaged in trying to logically demonstrate its validity.

For the record, I share your sentiment about babies, but I see it as something that is present before I inject the sentiment into a syllogism or analytical framework.

Am I getting any warmer...not necessarily in persuading you, but being intelligible?
 

PMS Chicago: "I think the position that atheists are strict moral relativists or, on the flip side, that religion has the market cornered on coherence, is a difficult position to defend."

I certainly don't think Vischer and Arujo are suggesting that atheists are, in fact, more likely to be relativists. And I don't think they're claiming that a religious view of the world is always more coherent than a non-religious view. Rather, they are saying only that the proposition "God exists" coheres better with the proposition "morality exists" than does the proposition "God does not exist." Even if that's true, atheists might still tend to believe in morality anyway, and there might yet be other problems with the coherence of particular religious views.

I also don't think that Vischer and Arujo are "excluding the non-religious from participation in the creation of a coherent foundation for human rights." They're just saying that the foundation for human rights without God doesn't seem very strong to them. That's how it seems to Vischer and Arujo, and I'm sure they'd be happy to entertain arguments and explanations from people to whom it seems otherwise.
 

I will end this post with the same question I raised previously: why do religious adherents feel the need to argue that only religion can provide a rational foundation for human rights?

Is this question meant seriously? Aren't these obviously arguments for belief in Christianity? "Only God [as conceived of by theologically conservative Christians] can provide a foundation for morality" is an apologetical argument of long standing.
 

I sent the following letter to Rob Vischer after his latest post at Mirror of Justice:

Dear Rob,

The notion of human dignity is found among the Stoics and is not the exclusive property of a Judaic and/or a Christian worldview. It is likewise found elaborated in Kantian moral philosophy. Both philosophies, therefore, are capable of providing us with a conception of dignity that can equally serve as a foundation for human rights. Indeed, the Catholic natural law tradition probably took over the Stoic notion of dignity, according it a uniquely Christian formulation. What is more, the justification of human rights was "created" in the Catholic tradition, as it was not at all times a part of the tradition nor did all Catholic philosophers and theologians always and everywhere subscribe to the notion of human rights. The hermeneutic exercise takes place no less in religious worldviews than it does in non-religious worldviews. Both sides begin with axiomatic first principles in this case and derive their justification for human rights therefrom. And the fact that one can provide a moral but not necessarily religious foundation for human rights makes such a doctrine in principle accessible to more people (hence more universal) than a religious sanction exclusive to a particular tradition, especially when non-Christian religious traditions possess the conceptual resources to countenance these moral principles.

Best wishes,
Patrick
 

The thrust of their argument does not add support to human rights from religion; it subtracts or discounts the moral commitment to human rights from atheists.

Actually, if taken seriously, it would subtract or discount the moral commitment to human rights from everyone who doesn't believe in "God" as these theorists conceive of it. That's not just nonreligious atheists, but virtually everyone in the world other than Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and not even all of them: see, e.g., John Shelby Spong).
 

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When the atheist is "creating" human rights, he or she is an aspect or expression of what I call "God", which is continuously creating and evolving. So the argument seems to me to be more nuanced than what is presented in the post.
 

I'm about to sign off, but before I do, just a couple of clarifications, nerpzillicus:

What I mean by non-logical is that the analytic framework of logic is not repulsed. A sentiment, for example, is not, by itself, contradictory (though it can be when put alongside others).

Now, having said that, if you have a sentence like "metals expand when heated, and they don't," this is a problematic statement, and the syllogism would be all over the place and perhaps be unintelligible. A contradictory sentence repulses the framework of logic.

But a inaccurate statement will do just fine:

P1: The Center of the Moon is made of green cheese.

P2: We have a massive cheese shortage on Earth.

P3: People need cheese to survive.

Conclusion: We should go to the moon and drill for the cheese.

Now, I'm not trying to be a smarty pants, I'm trying to demonstrate that so far as validity goes, logic has no preference as to whether or not its content its true, only that it's not internally contradictory.

Fortunately, we have pretty reliable ways of finding out what's true about our physical environment. We can also look at law books to find out what laws are, and we can look in a dictionary to find out what words mean.

But when it comes to sentiments, there is no matter of fact to point to in order to decide which set of moral ideas (say between Nazism and Liberal Democracy) is true, or right.

Please don't get me wrong, I believe very strongly that Liberal Democracy is better, but I can't demonstrate that empirically, or even logically (meaning, the premises of my system of belief are GIVEN, before the analysis starts).

Since moral statements by themselves, tend to not be contradictory, they are perfectly up to the task of being injected into an analytical framework, so that's what I mean when I say they are not illogical.

But it's not illogical, (by any rules of logic) to say that babies in Argentina should be killed. So this sentiment is just as amenable to being injected into an analytic framework.

Such sentiments repulse me, but the matters of fact begin and end with this subjective feeling, and the subjective feelings of others who share my sentiment.

Moral premises are not necessarily illogical or contradictory, and they are perfectly amenable to analysis, but they themselves, are neither logical nor illogical.

To say otherwise is to covertly smuggle normative meaning into the word logic, in which case that normativity (once uncovered) would itself need justification, setting up a circular argument.
 

Prof. Tamanaha:

Perhaps the reason the theists look like they're 'winning' the argument at times is that they frame the terms of the debate to favour their ethics. They talk about the inability of an atheist to deduce some "inherent human dignity" (whatever the hey that mealy-mouthed platitude is, particularly given the sanguinary history of religious conflicts for millenia....). Why an atheist should have to derive human rights from that particular basis is beyond me, and is a reframing that is dishonest.

Here's Rob Vischer:

I agree that both the atheist and theist must commit themselves to human rights by an act of faith: for the theist, it's a faith in a certain type of God, and for the atheist, faith in the intrinsic value (?) of human beings....

See? I don't accept his 'reasoning'. There's plenty of ways to arrive at "human rights" without some "faith in the intrinsic value of human beings'. There's more than one way this statement is wrong. To tell us how we must reason is ... well ... condescending to say the least.

... But the atheist knows that his belief in human rights is an act of will -- he knows there is no reality that compels him to recognize human rights; ...

Nor is there for the religious person. Most criminals are theists. Not to mention, religions can change their "morals" at the drop of a hat (or the departure of a splinter group), and plenty of religious groups condone practises that others find to be sins.... If some religions can support stoning gays to death, shouldn't the sum value of religious ethics be the 'least common denominator' of what they tolerate? Or do we just dismiss such lapses because some religions aren't "true" ones (But which ones? How to decide, how to decide....)?

... it's more accurate to say that he's creating human rights because, in light of human experience and his observations of reality, they work.

Works for me. I fail to see what problem Rob has with such.

Cheers,
 

Father Arujo:

The subjectivity that flaws the atheist’s conception of human rights is substituted with the objectivity that surrounds God’s existence.

Yeah, great we can have some "objective" judge of 'good and bad'. Who knows what we'd do without such?

But Gawd's gonna be real busy sitting on the bench in all the far-flung courts of the world.

Funny thing is that Gawd seems to think that bats are birds, pi is equal to three, and that, until Galileo dropped the apple cart from the pizza tower, the sun went around the earth. Gawdda love that "objectivity"..... LOL.

Cheers,
 

Prof. Tamanaha:

Believers in witchcraft can, to be sure, have an internally coherent belief system that amounts to a religion—and let’s also say that inherent human dignity and human rights and a deity are part of their witchcraft belief system. Would Perry and Rob assert that this belief system is “rational” and provides a superior foundation for human rights? Does not the “rationality” of the belief system hinge upon the truth of witchcraft (rather than merely belief in witchcraft) and upon the existence of their claimed deity?

I alluded to this issue here. The religious that are (mostly) shunned are the ones that people think are 'too weird' (FWIW, lots of people confuse Satanism with Wicca and have a stronger revulsion to Wicca than warranted by a closer look at the tenet of Wicca would merit because of this....). Then there's the folks that like being part of some small group. Psychologists would be better explaining than than I.

Cheers,
 

Jay J:

Not trying to butt in, but can't we make some distinctions?

It's not so much that strong atheists have faith that God doesn't exist, it's that they don't see good reasons for affirmative belief in God, so they don't believe. In the case of Richard Dawkins, he says that he feels that it's almost certain that God doesn't exist.

But even this can be based on standards of belief, and choosing not to believe in something that isn't at all obvious isn't faith, we have to get our burden of proof straight.

On the other hand, you have people who are more or less strongly agnostic, and feel that they could never have affirmative belief in God, so they simply "hold no gods," which I think is closer to the technical meaning of the word, etymologically speaking.


"Agnostic" is not the same as "weak atheist". I went over this last time around, along with my 'status', here.

Cheers,
 

LOL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicca#Wiccan_views_of_divinity

For most Wiccans, Wicca is a duotheistic religion. In the book Nature Religion Today, the authors write: "The deities of Wicca are understood as embodiments of a life-force manifest in nature." The Goddess and God are seen as complementary polarities and this balance is seen in nature. They are sometimes symbolised as the Sun and Moon, and from her lunar associations the Goddess becomes a Triple Goddess with aspects of "Maiden", "Mother" and "Crone". Some Wiccans hold the Goddess to be pre-eminent, since she contains and conceives all. The God is the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child. This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven. In some traditions, notably Feminist branches of Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is seen as complete unto herself, and the God is not worshipped at all. Wicca is essentially an immanent religion, and for some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of animism. A key belief in Wicca is that the goddesses and gods are able to manifest in personal form, most importantly through the bodies of Priestesses and Priests. The latter kind of manifestation is the purpose of the ritual of Drawing down the Moon (or Drawing down the Sun), whereby the Goddess is called to descend into the body of the Priestess (or the God into the Priest) to effect divine possession.

According to Gardner, the gods of Wicca are ancient gods of the British Isles: a Horned God and a Great Mother goddess. Gardner also states that a being higher than any of these tribal gods is recognised by the witches as Prime Mover, but remains unknowable.]

Some Wiccans have a monotheistic belief in the Goddess and God as One. Many have a duotheistic conception of deity as a Goddess (of Moon, Earth and sea) and a God (of forest, hunting and the animal realm). This concept is often extended into a kind of polytheism by the belief that the gods and goddesses of all cultures are aspects of this pair (or of the Goddess alone). Others hold the various gods and goddesses to be separate and distinct. Still others do not believe in the gods as real personalities, but see them as archetypes or as thoughtforms. A unified supreme godhead is also acknowledged by some groups. Patricia Crowther has called it Dryghten. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have observed that Wicca is becoming more polytheistic as it matures, and embracing a more traditional pagan world-view.

The classical elements are a key feature of the Wiccan world-view. Every manifest force or form is seen to express one of the four archetypal elements — Earth, Air, Fire and Water — or several in combination. Some add a fifth or quintessential element called Spirit (also called aether or akasha). The five points of the frequently worn pentagram symbolise, among other things, the four elements with spirit presiding at the top. In the casting of a magic circle, the four cardinal elements are visualised as contributing their influence from the four cardinal directions.

Wiccan "morality" is largely based on the (often misunderstood) Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do what ye will. This is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from one's actions. Another element of Wiccan Morality comes from the Law of Threefold Return, which is understood to mean that whatever one does to another person or thing (benevolent or otherwise) returns with triple force.

Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess, these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente's poem, they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy. Some lineaged Wiccans also take note of a set of 161 laws, commonly called the Ardanes. Valiente, one of Gardner's original high priestesses, has noted that these rules were most likely invented by Gardner himself in mock-archaic language as the by-product of inner conflict within Gerald Gardner's Bricket Wood coven.

Although Gardner initially demonstrated an aversion to homosexuality, claiming that it brought down "the curse of the goddess", it is now accepted in many traditions of Wicca. (See Sexual orientation and Wicca)

Some practitioners of lineaged initiatory Wicca consider that the term 'Wicca' correctly applies only to an initiate of a traditional branch of the religion (Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, or their offshoots such as Seax-Wica) because eclectic Wicca is different in practice from the religion established by Gardner. However, the term has increasingly come to be adopted by people who are not initiates of a traditional lineaged coven. Eclectic Wiccans may undertake rituals of self-dedication, and generally work alone as solitary practitioners or in casual groups, rather than in organised covens. Thus eclectic Wicca shares some of the basic religious principles, ethics and the ritual system of traditional, lineaged Wicca, but not the organisational structure, or the belief that Wiccan initiation requires a transferral of power from an initiator. Therefore, some lineaged Wiccans have adopted the term 'British Traditional Wicca' to differentiate themselves from this movement.

Within traditional forms of Wicca there are three degrees of initiation. First degree is required to become a witch and gain membership of a coven; those who aspire to teach may eventually undergo second and third degree initiations, conferring the title of "High Priest" or "High Priestess" and allowing them to establish new covens.

At initiation, some Wiccans adopt a Craft name to symbolise their spiritual "rebirth", to act as a magical alter-ego, or simply to provide anonymity when appearing as a witch in public (see Discrimination against and persecution of Wiccans below).

Lineaged Wicca is organised into covens of initiated priests and priestesses. Covens are autonomous, and are generally headed by a High Priest and a High Priestess working in partnership, being a couple who have each been through their first, second and third degrees of initiation. Occasionally the leaders of a coven are only second-degree initiates, in which case they come under the rule of the parent coven. Initiation and training of new priesthood is most often performed within a coven environment, but this is not a necessity, and a few initiated Wiccans are unaffiliated with any coven.

In contrast, Eclectic Wiccans are more often than not solitary practitioners. Some of these "solitaries" do, however, attend gatherings and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magical work, etc.) for when they are alone.

A commonly quoted Wiccan tradition holds that the ideal number of members for a coven is thirteen, though this is not held as a hard-and-fast rule. Indeed, many U.S. covens are far smaller, though the membership may be augmented by unaffiliated Wiccans at "open" rituals. When covens grow beyond their ideal number of members, they often split (or "hive") into multiple covens, yet remain connected as a group. A grouping of multiple covens is known as a grove in many traditions.

Initiation into a coven is traditionally preceded by a waiting period of at least a year and a day. A course of study may be set during this period. In some covens a "dedication" ceremony may be performed during this period, some time before the initiation proper, allowing the person to attend certain rituals on a probationary basis. Some solitary Wiccans also choose to study for a year and a day before their self-dedication to the religion.
 

Eliott:

[Prof. Tamanaha]: I will end this post with the same question I raised previously: why do religious adherents feel the need to argue that only religion can provide a rational foundation for human rights?

Is this question meant seriously? Aren't these obviously arguments for belief in Christianity? "Only God [as conceived of by theologically conservative Christians] can provide a foundation for morality" is an apologetical argument of long standing.


OIC. IOW, "We're only in it for the money ... and the power". A marketing ploy. I've often thought that 'salvation through grace' was a bit like "Free money! Here! C'mon down!"

OK, enough hand grenades. Sorry folks.

Cheers,
 

Tamanaha: "[W]hy do religious adherents feel the need to argue that only religion can provide a rational foundation for human rights? The merits of their argument aside, it makes no sense to me that they think this is a moral, wise, or useful argument. The thrust of their argument does not add support to human rights from religion; it subtracts or discounts the moral commitment to human rights from atheists. Their argument will not advance the cause of human rights."

The suggestion here seems to be that anyone who is committed to p, and thinks that other people should agree with p, shouldn't use p as part of an argument for q, because some people who disagree with q might turn the argument on its head into an argument from not-q to not-p.

That can't be right as a general matter, I don't think. Take the argument that originalism is bad because it can't support Brown. People who make this argument like Brown, but no one accuses them of being insufficiently friendly to Brown by suggesting that originalists don't have as good a reason as non-originalists to support it. Likewise, people who argue that belief in human rights gives support to belief in God shouldn't be accused of being insufficiently friendly to human rights, merely because they suggest that atheists don't have as good a reason as theists to support them.

Put another way, try this tweaking of Tamanaha's argument on for size: "[W]hy do [non-originalists] feel the need to argue that only [non-originalism] can provide a rational foundation for [Brown]? The merits of their argument aside, it makes no sense to me that they think this is a moral, wise, or useful argument. The thrust of their argument does not add support to [Brown]; it subtracts or discounts the moral commitment to [Brown] from [originalists]. Their argument will not advance the cause of [Brown]."
 

Arne,

You can go over whatever you want, but the idea that these categories, when applied to atheists, are somehow official and that people will inevitably come in these prepackaged categories, is pretty silly.

There are etymological meanings of words, there are colloquial meanings of words, and there are dictionary meanings of words. If you're trying to illuminate anyone's understanding, particularly of a subject like belief (or lack thereof) then simply quoting a previous post of yours isn't sufficient.

There is no Olympic Committee telling people how to categorize themselves on the disbelief spectrum.

The way Huxley used the word originally doesn't prevent the word form evolving in colloquial usage.

Many agnostics are people who say they simply "don't know" whether or not God exists. And some people who call themselves atheists reason similarly, and justify their atheism based on the fact that they "hold no gods" which many agnostics can say as well.

Then you have atheists like Dawkins was see it as almost certain that God does not exist.

You can define what you want, but it doesn't change the fact that people, at times, do in fact categorize themselves the way I say they do. Your clarity on what to call each category doesn't shed much light on what many people are actually doing.

People can justify their self-categorization the way you do, or with colloquial usages of the words, or with etymological uses. Whatever blows up their skirt, and they're not necessarily "wrong" in their self-description.
 

Jay J:

There are etymological meanings of words, there are colloquial meanings of words, and there are dictionary meanings of words.

And there's words that Thomas Huxley coined. We ought to honour him by keeping to his coinage. Confusion (some deliberately sown) amongst people is no reason to mangle a perfectly good word like "agnostic", which means what it says.

Feel free to carp about "strong" v. "weak" atheism. I admit the line there is a little fuzzy; it seems that I and others mentioned here are both of the "kinda strong atheist" flavour, not certain that no Gawds exist, but certain enough that the postulated ones don't exist for practical purposes.

You can define what you want, but it doesn't change the fact that people, at times, do in fact categorize themselves the way I say they do. Your clarity on what to call each category doesn't shed much light on what many people are actually doing.

True, but I still think the words should be properly used; to misuse them muddies the discussion (which may be why, in part, they're misused). To insist that atheists believe "there is no God, period" is a "straw man" argument but is nonetheless used to effect in parlour discussions and such because of the elision of the definitions (see above for a similar effect WRT "ethics" and "good" [and "intrinsic value of human beings"]). To insist that agnostics are atheists (and to use the word thusly) is also incorrect ... and in many an instance, the elision is done in a disparaging manner.

Language matters.

Cheers,
 

Jay j-

I appreciate the thought out responses, and I think I see where our disagreement is. I think what you are arguing is that the axioms – the unproved starting points of a moral code – are very hard to come up with. I agree, and have conceded this. But once one determined the underlying moral axioms that form the basis of his or her moral system, I still don’t see why the system could not be logical, and therefore have some rigidity against Father Arujo’s fear of subjective moral revision. For instance –

P1: The Center of the Moon is made of green cheese.

P2: We have a massive cheese shortage on Earth.

P3: People need cheese to survive.

As you stated, this is logical. The original premise is not true, but the analysis is logical. Contrarily,

P1: I want to kill babies in Argentina

A1: All people have a right to life

C: I can kill babies in Argentina

is not logical thinking. The conclusion does not follow logically from the two givens. However, the logical conclusion:

C: even if I want to kill babies in Argentina, I cannot morally, as all people have a right to life

Is a logical derivation of a moral decision. You are correct that this all depends on the original axioms. However, as I stated before, no one has ever proven that through any two points one can draw a line. It is a self-evident truth, and is accepted as true, even though there is no logical way to prove it. (or you can get into set theory, which I don’t believe has proven this yet, but still has its own unproven axioms, so the analogy is apt). Are the axioms arbitrary? No, one should try to select the axioms that convey the most fundamental, self evident truths one can. That may not be easy, but there is no reason to think it is impossible.

So, if you’ll allow me the latitude to assert one could select a small, complete set of axioms, we get to my disagreement with Father Arujo. He claims that an atheist is not bound to a moral code, that he or she can subjectively change the code. My point was, after the person selected the axioms upon which to build his logical moral code, he or she cannot subjectively change the logical outcomes from those axioms. Father Arujo seems to think that atheists are complete moral relativists, or worse, simply have no morals upon which they act, and can claim any action is moral that suits their needs. Instead of the big dilemma of “is it moral because god says so, or is it moral so god says it is,” it becomes a might makes right type of claim, “its moral if I need it to be moral in this situation.” I claim the Father is wrong. An atheist who has developed a logical moral code cannot arbitrarily change what is right and wrong. He or she could go back and reevaluate, and see if there is some problem in the logic or the axioms, but there is nothing less rigorous about that person’s moral code than a religious person’s. now, anybody can choose to ignore their moral code, and act immorally for their own purposes, but religiosity/non-religiosity is not dispositive of that situation.

In short, I agree it all comes down to the axioms. Religious people’s axioms of moral behavior come from god. Keep the Sabbath day, honor mom and dad, don’t murder, don’t eat shellfish, don’t eat pork, marry your brother’s wife if he dies with no children, etc. etc. The religious texts of the world set down a whole bunch of axioms that are not proven, because they don’t have to be, they are from god. The followers have taken these axioms, and attempted to draw from them conclusions about moral action in today’s world, the one I think about right off is stem cell research. With the exception of religious people who believe they currently have some kind of prophet or channel to god, it does not seem he spoke on the subject directly in any of the Abrahamic religions. So, the followers try to take precepts present in those texts, and extend them into the modern world. I don’t claim to know who’s right or wrong, but there are some followers who have concluded that life begins at conception, and god says its wrong to kill, so stem cell research is bad. The other religion based argument is to help the sick, as Jesus commanded, stem cells could help the sick, thus it is moral. I won’t claim I know if the methods used by the two sides should be called logic, but it sounds similar. Religious people’s source of morality is from god, a good secular moral code would logically flow from the best universal truths one could find.

I’m also not claiming the answers are apparent or easy, but I disagree that there is no constraint on altering a sound secular moral code. A code can be logically constructed from moral axioms. Logic would prevent arbitrary alteration of that code. someone could try to throw in a non-universal axiom ("its okay to kill Argentine babies") but it would not be easy to convince people that the okay-ness of killing Argentine babies is some kind of universal, self evident truth. The axioms are what they are because they have a quality of universality and self-evident-ness. You seem to have a problem with the possible tomfoolery that can occur in the selection of the axioms, which is a valid concern, but I do not find your argument persuasive that one could not construct a logical moral code. There could be many issues in the selection of axioms, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason why you cannot apply logic to the axioms once they were selected.
 

nerpzilla,

excellent comment.

One thing it made me think of is the idea of logic and logical moral codes.

Most of the ideas and ideals presented by the commenters talk about the soundness of moral codes based upon their sources. I think the bigger issue is in the execution of those codes.

There are many obvious examples of this, one of which you highlighted regarding stem cell research. Same moral code, different conclusions. This is in part based upon the weight given to different parts of the moral code.

In addition, how many people, on a daily basis, sit through the logic chains of their morality decisions. Perhaps Father Arujo and other philosophers and theologians, but most people, I believe, respond to the situations around them first, and then figure out right and wrong later, if they do. Sometimes this results in the rationalization of immoral acts that one does not want to accept. Sometimes this corrupts the person's moral code, which happens all too frequently to those in power.

It seems to me that, one of the fears of some commenters is that, without the validity of command behind their moral code, they feel that their code or actions would lose value--i.e., would be ontologically invalid--and one of the greatest fears that people can have is that their view of the world is fundamentally wrong. (My favorite fictional working of this is "A Case of Conscience" by James Blish, which deals explicity with the crisis of faith that a religious-scientific mind faces when confronted by a good that does not come from God). To me, however, it is a poor faith that cannot overcome the doubt at the heart of any faith. You have faith in things that cannot be proven, not that which you know for certain.
 

Hey Folks,

I'm making a comment pretty similar one of the ones I put up after Tamanaha's first post. But I think you all will forgive me because Tamanaha quotes Rob Vischer bringing up something important to my original point.

Before we get into these conversations, it is really very helpful to agree on what we mean by "god", and according to Vischer he "believe[s] in the God that is at the center of the world's major religions -- that is, a God who wants to be in relationship with his creation, thereby signaling human beings' inestimable value in God's eyes --"

Right, so *if* you believe in a god that makes human dignity a value & makes it incumbent on believers of said god to respect human dignity, then belief in that conception of god carries along a belief in the dignity of man.

As I said, I agree with Tamanaha, but if I may humbly make a similar and simpler (beneficially so, I believe) point. Let's ask the question of the believer: Presuming you believe in a god, gods, or whatever worshiped that grants dignity to all humans---why do you choose to believe in this god? There are many gods to choose from, some of whom have characteristics that do not grant equal worth to all people, for example, many versions of the christian god are jealous and hateful and have a *chosen people* (let's not forget that lots of christians claim practicing homosexuals do not deserve the same rights as other humans and are certainly not equal in the eyes of the god they conceive of).

So, the atheist chooses to believe in the inherent inviolability of each person founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override (or some other wording . . .). And the believer chooses to believe in a god who grants dignity to all humans.

I don't see the difference in choice at this point.

I speculate that the believer feels that he can derive the inherent dignity of all people from some prior property of his god, however this simply obscures the fact that the believer is choosing to believe in a god, from which he will be able to justify a belief in dignity of all people.

In any case, I endorse the idea that it isn't helpful to claim that the other guy doesn't have *real* respect for human rights because of his belief.

Best,
 

hi nerpzilla,

Thanks for the reply, I think we're honing in and almost at the bullseye of our disagreement.

First and foremost though I want to say that I don't think theists are ultimately in any better shape than atheists in terms of moral justification.

I ultimately agree with Brian Tamanaha when he says, "The thrust of my argument is that believers and atheists have equally tenuous rational foundations for their moral views, which merely show up at different moments in their respective belief systems..." I think the poster who goes by "Chris" has illuminated the parts of the argument very well, but I ultimately agree with Tamanaha.

So I don't think the argument should go, "We atheists have come up with rational foundations for our moral views." It should instead be "You religious people ultimately aren't any better off in rationally justifying morality than we are!"

Something you said in your last post, "...once one determined the underlying moral axioms that form the basis of his or her moral system, I still don’t see why the system could not be logical..." but see I'm not denying that the system can be logical, it can. It's the axioms, or premises themselves that are neither logical nor illogical.

The problem is, any other system can be logical, and it can contain sentiments we find repulsive.

When you set this up:

P1: I want to kill babies in Argentina

A1: All people have a right to life

C: I can kill babies in Argentina

You just threw the 2nd premise (Al) right in there arbitrarily. I mean that in all respect, I mean, I know you believe that all people have a right to life and I FEEL the same, but this premise can be just as logically replaced with any other. True enough, that sentiment would also be arbitrary, but it would make the system valid.

So I acknowledge that you can throw contradictory sentiments into a system and produce invalidity.

See I think what your calling universal truths are just like...things people feel strongly and a whole lot of other people agree with.

But the word universal, as I tried to point out in another post, is a bit problematic, since many people don't agree. Some people do very bad things and ultimately don't care, and more than a couple of famous thinkers thought that morality could not be rationally justified.

Now rational justification is more than just putting some moral assertions into a system and producing a valid result. If that was all it entailed, as you know, just about anything could be rationally justified.

I should say that I think atheists and the religious are just about all moral and immoral. Examples and counterexamples could be given all day long. I know that's not what the argument is about, but it should shine some light on the fact that the religious aren't better off, cuz if they were, wouldn't they be obviously more righteous?

And on changing your basic moral views, well, most (but not all) people already agree with the most basic moral tenants (agree in the sense that they want a society to recognize these views, but not all agree on moral realism, which seems to be the view your advancing). Since most people already agree on the most basic moral tenants, it seems that religion isn't like, some sort of moral pillar that we as a society need to be moral.

And I think one could plausibly argue that religious people (at least fundametalists) are more vulnerable to changing basic moral tenants if their religion tells them to. Many religious people praise Abraham's obedience when he was about to kill his own son!!!!

Now if that's not changing basic moral tenants, I don't know what is.

It's just that I think the term "universal moral code" is a bit mysterious, and when fleshed out, reflects what many people have felt and agreed on. But it's not a knock down argument in favor of moral realism, and actually not everyone agrees on moral realism, and some people aren't even moral.

I'm not arguing on behalf of the religious (or more specifically, "theist") position, which I think is obvious by now, but I think the most defensible position in the debate is Tamanaha's, which is that both the theists and atheists have a hard time rationally justifying the foundations of morality.
 

Arne Langsetmo,

I just don't think there is the absolute narrow clarity on the words you're using that you believe to be there.

I agree that words should be used properly.

If I said "I believe Jesus was the Son of God, therefore I'm an agnostic,"

well that would be wrong.

And if I said, "I love the Phoenix Suns, therefore I'm an agnostic,"

well that would be a non sequitur.

I just believe that when people use words a certain way long enough, dictionaries follow suit. If your trying to add clarity to an argument, narrowing the meaning down way more than done in every day life may help, so long as you aren't saying that it's absolutely wrong to use the word in other ways, in other contexts. But see you are saying that, and it's not adding clarity.

When I said words have etymological, definitional, and colloquial meanings, I was trying to get at the RANGE of meanings words might have. As should be obvious from my examples above, I don't think that range is unlimited, just wider than you do.

I know that any reference isn't gospel, but here are a couple which shows I'm not the only one who thinks that these words can correctly be used more broadly than you do:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnostic

Please keep in mind that I'm not denying your usage of the words, you're denying mine. Your usage is just fine, its just not the only warranted usage.

If atheism can be defined simply as "holding no gods" without getting into it further, many agnostics could be defined this way, regardless of how Huxley intended the word to be used, (Huxley is dead).

And I didn't say that weak atheism is the exact same thing as agnosticism, I said many people who are atheists end up sounding very agnostic, and according to the technical and colloquial meanings of the words, there is some justification in overlap.

As for the theists setting up straw man arguments, well that's neither here nor there to me, I'm not a theist, and I know they set up straw man arguments, but so do most people.

Anyway, that's not entirely relevant is what I'm saying.
 

jay j-

“It's the axioms, or premises themselves that are neither logical nor illogical.” but my point is that axioms are always unproven, they cannot be logically derived. no system of logic exists that is entirely self-contained. so when i throw in "all people have a right to life," as axiom 1, i am conceding that it does not have a logical derivation (although it may, but eventually I would break it down to something unprovable). but even the most fundamental concepts in math do not have a logical derivation. so there is always some kind of arbitrariness to the selection of axioms - even in math, though most people would refer to it as an overwhelming probability the truth of a statement.

“but this premise can be just as logically replaced with any other.”
sort of true. A statement can be logically replaced by any other, but an axiom is more than just a statement. You cannot, by definition, put any statement in place of an axiom. An axiom must be “is a sentence or proposition that is not proved or demonstrated and is considered as self-evident or as an initial necessary consensus for a theory building or acceptation. Therefore, it is taken for granted as true, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferencing other (theory dependent) truths.” (Wikipedia def of axiom) “all people have a right to life” or “all people are created equal” fit this definition. “killing Argentine babies is okay” does not. Therefore the set of possible moral axioms is limited by definition. Still room for arglebargle and/or fooferah? sure, but an axiom can't be just any ol' statement.

I do think we are talking around each other a bit. I don’t claim an atheist can develop the greatest moral code ever (tm), and have it not suffer holes in logic or reason. But my point is that an atheist’s moral code can be based off of a logically constrained system. Maybe not perfect, maybe not unassailable by facts or disagreement over axioms, but not arbitrary, not subjective. Father Arujo intimates an atheist is simply unrestrained in his or her activities, and can change the rules of the game at any time. I think a logical system of morality can be constructed that does create right and wrong. It has plusses and minuses vis-à-vis a religious person’s morality – religious people can take their axioms straight from holy text, atheists cannot, and instead must work very hard to try and determine the basis of their system; religious people have to find ways to explain apparent moral contradictions contained in the holy text, logical atheists can throw away a moral precept that does not satisfy the code’s requirements of logic.

The real problem with a universal moral code is the possible ambiguity that can arise, and where logic may fail to come to a conclusion. Stem cells present the same problem in such a code as they do in Christianity. Eventually, one may have to create a hierarchy of axioms, where one trumps another when they butt heads. But I still think that is beside the point.

I agree it is not easy to rationally create the foundations of a moral code. However, I disagree with Father Arujo that there is no constraint on morality without a deity. People who find reason and logic compelling are constrained by the conclusions they cause. An atheist does not necessarily have the free range Arujo seems to think they do. At the same time, I do disagree a bit with you, because all logic begins with unproven axioms. There is some point where you have to take a statement simply as true. This is not a weakness only in morality, it is in all logical systems. Where that line is drawn in morality is perhaps much more difficult than in math or law, but it still has to be done eventually. The fact that one can draw a line between any two points sure does FEEL true, but I dare you to prove it. There may be some people who disagree, and say you cannot draw a line between any two points. You can’t prove them wrong, but there is a threshold, admittedly not well defined, where reason compels you to accept something even if it cannot be completely proven. This is not to say there is no evidence of the statement’s truth – these truths tend to have mountains of evidence supporting them. But there is simply no way to demonstrate the statements validity absolutely.

Likewise, there are some human principles that I am willing to accept as true beyond (more than) a reasonable doubt, even if I cannot prove them. These would be the axioms of my moral system. People can disagree on them, and as you said, more likely they’ll disagree on them in practice, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a method of logical derivation for the conclusions people come to.
 

nerpzillicus,

We may be talking around each other a bit, but I think there is a real disagreement as well.

I think it should be clear by now that I'm not on the theist bandwagon, so I won't belabor that point, but it's not because I think atheists are in a better philosophical position.

The meat of the disagreement is this:

You deny that a statement like 'killing babies in Argentina is OK" could ever serve as an axiom. If this is true, it must be so only on a technicality, but not because of the moral content, (the "evil' content).

Transferring the meaning of the word axiom used in science and math to the way it's used in ethics is problematic for a couple of reasons.

One is that although axioms are great as starting points, they aren't necessarily confirmed as true outside the system. I know you already know this, so I'm not trying to condescend, but it demonstrates that in the history of science we've re-arranged our axioms from time to time, but that doesn't mean the old axioms can no longer be defined as axioms.

Axioms aren't necessarily true, and self-evidence about matters of time and space (which have been wrong in the past) doesn't help in deep disagreements about the realism, or lack thereof, of the foundations of morality.

Another problem with the concept of moral axioms is that they're just not the same as inductive instincts like navigating time and space. We can feign doubt about the external world and inductive reasoning all we want, but we need to accept these things on some level to live.

But this is not the same with morality. Everyone doesn't have to bow down to it the way everyone must the external world and inductive instincts. This is a way in which axioms in math or science are more...solid, than moral axioms. But even then, axioms in the hard sciences can be re-evaluated.

When you say,

"At the same time, I do disagree a bit with you, because all logic begins with unproven axioms. There is some point where you have to take a statement simply as true. This is not a weakness only in morality, it is in all logical systems."

You're preaching to the choir when you say that this is a weakness (I would prefer to say a "characteristic") of all logical systems, but I don't agree that you HAVE to take a statement simply as true.

Taking a statement as true as an axiom may be pragmatic and useful for building systems and the like, but this is not the same as taking it to be true in any external or realistic way.

There are many scientists and mathematicians who can do their wok as well as anyone else who don't necessarily think that math reflects anything other than our evolved conscious dealing with and manipulating our world. That doesn't mean mathematical axioms are like, somehow Platonically true or real in any sense other than our use of effective mental tools.

Please, note, this is NOT a postmodern critique of science, which is as solid as solid can be, it just shows that you can't conflate scientific functionalism or nominalism on the one hand and Platonic realism on the other.

I can functionally agree to all sorts of axioms, and can be as effective as anyone else at using these inside of a system, but that doesn't mean that I think that an axiom is, by definition, a true feature of existence or something.

For these reasons, and maybe some others, I think the reason that theism isn't any better off philosophically is because of the weakness of theism, but not because of the philosophical strength of the moral foundations of secular humanism, natural law theory, Objectivism, enlightenment ideals, and any other atheistic framework.

These systems don't justify morality any better than theism. And just taking moral axioms as true doesn't justify anything, since all sorts of pragmatists, nominalists, and functionalists could do the same and disagree with you about the actual "truth" of the axioms.
 

Peter:

I speculate that the believer feels that he can derive the inherent dignity of all people from some prior property of his god, however this simply obscures the fact that the believer is choosing to believe in a god, from which he will be able to justify a belief in dignity of all people.

As some wags have said, "Of course God made man in God's image; that's the way we created him."

I say essentially the same thing as you're alluding to here. Gods are (generally) "good" because that's the way we create them. Which says a lot in favour of the notion that we do have an inherent sense of "good" (and I'd like anyone here that insists that only religion can be a source of "objective" ethics to dispute this quite empirical and demonstrable observation).

Then there's the folks that invent deities of lesser character (Ba'al, Satan, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.) for reasons of their own. But then again, in any crowd, you'll find contrarians ... and worse.

To be frank, even talking about "good" is a bit of a misnomer. If the only real "standard" of "goodness" is in fact that Gawd wills it or wants it, then it's better labeled as "Gawd's Will" or "Gawd's Design". We can't call that "good" under such a regime, because we have no right to....

Fortunately, outside of academia and religious apologetics and hermeneutics, common sense notions of such concepts are more prevalent....

Cheers,
 

Jay J:

If atheism can be defined simply as "holding no gods" without getting into it further, many agnostics could be defined this way, regardless of how Huxley intended the word to be used, (Huxley is dead).

Quite true. I never indicated that the two are disjoint sets. In fact, I indicated the opposite. They talk about two different (but related) things.

And I didn't say that weak atheism is the exact same thing as agnosticism, I said many people who are atheists end up sounding very agnostic, and according to the technical and colloquial meanings of the words, there is some justification in overlap.

But not confusion. Under your usage, how do yo differentiate theist agnostics from atheist agnostics?

As for the theists setting up straw man arguments, well that's neither here nor there to me, I'm not a theist, and I know they set up straw man arguments, but so do most people.

Why enable them? Why not insist on clarity in language?

FWIW, my summation of "agnostic", "weak atheist", and "strong atheist" is the (mostly) general consensus of the regulars on "alt.atheism". These people don't like people putting words in their mouth, particularly when characterising them (or more commonly mischaracterising their positions and/or arguments). The insistence that atheists must "believe there is no God" is a common "straw man" (and done for purposes of trying to 'prove' that atheism is some kind of 'religion' as well) and is greatly resented by many of the atheists I know. The standard reply is that they don't believe in Santa Claus, leprechauns, or fairies either and that fact shouldn't be any more remarkable ... although a fair number do believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn, PBUHHH [or Her Offspring, the Flying Spaghetti Monster].

Cheers,
 

Arne Langsetmo,

Your argument seems to boil down to: "Language ought to be clearer."

Well, maybe it should.

But I maintain that the words being discussed lack the cutoff points you're seeking.

So perhaps the actual disagreement is that I perceive you to be making some sort of factual claim about the actual, technical, official meaning of the words. I base this on how you reacted to my post originally, when you told me that you had covered this before.

If that's the case, our disagreement stands.

But if your aware that what you're doing is really proposing that the words should start being used in a more precise way, fine, I really don't care.

Why?

Because if you really thought about the way I was using the words, you would see that my usage wouldn't give aid and comfort to theists trying to make a straw man out of anything.
 

Arne Langsetmo,

Just to be a little clearer,

I never said atheists MUST believe one thing or another.

"Holding no gods" is a passive definition (not an active one, like believing something) and is a ways off from believing there is no god, and a long, long ways off from being certain about it.

When I quoted Dawkins, I specified that he was ALMOST certain there is no god, but I didn't say that his was the fall-back atheist position.

The reason I said what theists do is irrelevant is that the way i used the words is not how they used the words, and all ambiguity in definitions will not necessarily result in straw man definitions.
 

Jay J:

I agree that people misuse "agnostic", and that through misuse, it might have acquired a different meaning than Huxley's explicit intent. Kind of like the likely fate of "enormity".... :-(

That said, we don't have to continue that distressing trend.

Why distressing? How about my question:

[Arne]: But not confusion. Under your usage, how do yo[u] differentiate theist agnostics from atheist agnostics?

Do you have a different word you would like to proffer for "theistic agnostics" (one that is not rendered an oxymoron by virtue of your preferred definitions)?

Cheers,
 

Dude, Arne

I haven't proposed any particular definitions be the only ones available you have.

I've only tried to show a range.

All I said was that some atheists are satisfied calling themselves atheists because they "hold no gods." And many agnostics are comfortable calling themselves agnostic because they "don't know," but its certainly true to say that they also "hold no gods' since holding no gods does not necessarily specify any active belief in the lack of a god.

This shows that,

1) My language does not create a straw man,

and

2) There is some potential overlap allowed in the language.

You came along and told me that soft atheism is not the same as agnosticism, but regardless of how the folks at alt.atheism feel, the categories are blurry.

Citing the feelings of alt.atheism or even philosophical categories is not a trump card in settling definitional disagreements.

I see that agnosticism and atheism are different words because there are, at the end of the day, differences in people who wish to emphasize things about themselves.

But atheistic agnostics certainly "hold no gods" and soft atheists also "hold no gods" since holding a god implies belief. Whether the lack of belief is weak or strong is neither here nor there, and its generally up to people to figure out where their personal emphasis lies.

If they feel like Richard Dawkins, they would probably choose to call themselves atheist. If they feel like the atheist biologist Ursula Goodenough, they simply "hold no gods" and also call themselves atheist. Well, many many many (the vast majority of) agnostics also "hold no gods," hence my belief that there is an overlap.

To be honest, I had never heard of "theistic agnostics" until this conversation. The term seems removed from common language, but whatever.

Still, I can't see how you think I would have a problem with it by any commitments I've made in this exchange.

Really all I said was that many atheists end up sounding very agnostic, and that there was an overlap. Here is the paragraph in question:

"On the other hand, you have people who are more or less strongly agnostic, and feel that they could never have affirmative belief in God, so they simply "hold no gods," which I think is closer to the technical meaning of the word, etymologically speaking."

The term in question was ATHEISM. A-Theism...No Gods. This should have been obvious by the context of the entire post, which was about atheism. Atheism, etymologically speaking, is indicative of "holding no gods" rather than actively believing that there is no god, although colloquial or definitional accounts would allow for stronger forms of lack of belief than the etymological history gives.

I never said agnosticism is the same, in total, to weak atheism, since there are gradations in both!

What I've been giving is a defense of my original post on the topic, which you somehow felt was wrong and somehow relevant to theists making straw man arguments.

Again, this isn't a trump card, (the address below) but your claims seem to be more ambitious than mine, and I somehow wonder if this argument is even one you should have engaged in, since once again I'm not making straw man arguments, and the way I'm using the words has nothing to do with theistic misuses.

This link shows that I'm not the only one who sees an overlap.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnostic_atheism
 

Jay J:

To be honest, I had never heard of "theistic agnostics" until this conversation. The term seems removed from common language, but whatever.

Then you don't know what Huxley meant when he coined it. There's a lot more there on various topics touched on here worthy of perusal (including Huxley's admitting that he knows no theistic agnostics but also to the possibility of such).

This link shows that I'm not the only one who sees an overlap.

That link supports what I have been (perhaps inartfully and less skillfully) saying.

Really all I said was that many atheists end up sounding very agnostic, and that there was an overlap. Here is the paragraph in question:

"On the other hand, you have people who are more or less strongly agnostic, and feel that they could never have affirmative belief in God, so they simply "hold no gods," which I think is closer to the technical meaning of the word, etymologically speaking."


You imply that agnostics "could never have an affirmative belief in God" (which, you contend, makes them [a particular flavour of] atheist). Simply not true. For one, I'd think that most theists "believe" in Gawd more on the basis of faith than (scientific) proof, and some even trumpet that fact.

As for entymology, it's "a-" and "gnosticism".

The agnostic (or at least strong agnostic) doesn't just "hold no Gods"; (s)he maintains that (s)he "can hold no Gods" in any demonstrable way. Faith is a different matter, and there I think its usefulness fails: "Trust me, I'm from the gummint" just doesn't do it with me.

And with that, I'm done with this particular subthread. You may have the last word. May I suggest "eschaton" as a candidate? ;-)

Cheers,
 

Arne,

To conclude for the day:

Theism, Agnosticism, Atheism, you can have gradations in all.

Those who don't know but still choose to believe in God I guess can be called "theistic agnostics." Those who don't know and therefore don't believe can be called "atheist agnostics." Those like Richard Dawkins will probably call themselves just plain old "atheists" and those like Ursula Goodenough, who seem less cocksure than Dawkins, will also call themselves atheist simply because they "hold no gods."

Because of the availability of etymological, colloquial, and definitional understandings of these words, none of these people are necessarily wrong.

Surfing the net will reveal all kinds of ideas about varying types of belief and non-belief.

Weak atheists DO end up sounding very agnostic, which for some reason is the thing you have had a problem with since the beginning of this exchange.

A paragraph in my original post which I didn't paste in my last post, and you didn't paste in your original post to me, went like this:

"Both strong and weak atheists "hold no gods" but strong atheism places more of an emphasis on the disbelief, whereas some atheists simply focus on non-belief, and end up sounding very agnostic.

But neither involve faith."

This should show that I was referring to atheism and that it could simply involve non-belief, which explicitly refutes the misuses by theists that you implicitly accuse me of giving aid to.

So in your first post, you said that agnosticism is NOT the same as weak atheism, but given the range and types that you have acknowledged, this statement of yours seems vacuous and oversimplified, particularly since I didn't say that "weak atheism" and "agnosticism" as total systems were the same.

A fair reading of what I said would show that I was talking about how the lines can blur at the margins.

Theistic agnostics are at one margin and are blurred with theists who admit they don't KNOW but still believe.

Atheistic agnostics are blurred with people who call themselves "weak atheists" and choose to call themselves that because they simply "hold no gods." The definitional and etymological rules give people no absolute guidance on whether to classify themselves as "agnostic atheist" or "weak atheists."

It depends on how the person feels, whether their non-belief is more important to emphasize in their self-description than their non-knowing.
 

arne,

I was just about to have a decent evening when I noticed what you added.

The link I provided does, (you're right), vindicate what you've been saying all along. But you see, I didn't say that you were wrong in your terminology! You came along and said I was wrong!

Let's get that clear.

You have set up a narrow way of using the words (at least you perceived that my way was wrong).

So you see, all I'm saying is that the way I'm using the words is justified. The link, (you either didn't really comprehend what you read, or you don't comprehend the disagreement), says that though the words atheism and agnosticism are distinct, it is a mistake to think that they are exclusive of one another. The link also explicitly says that there is an overlap.

So the fact that you would act as if your overall position in the discussion is vindicated by the link is shameless.

You assert that an agnostic MUST be a person who believes that IN PRINCIPLE we can't know whether or not God exists.

But you see, I know that it is true that agnosticism contains this definition, I just think you're wrong to say that a person who simply "doesn't know" or doesn't care to know or think about it can't be called agnostic.

People who haven't come to a decision routinely call themselves agnostic. And they're not necessarily wrong. Cite Huxley all you want, our language evolves, even beyond the meanings that their progenitors intended, get over it.

It remains true that some atheists simply "hold no gods" and leave it at that. And it remains true that many people simply choose to call themselves agnostic because they don't know.

Here is where the line blurs because I don't agree that it is a necessarily the case that an agnostic MUST believe that knowledge of god is unknowable in principle. They could simply wish to emphasize their not knowing, and an "atheist" could simply emphasize their not holding...gods.

Some agnostics simply "don't know."

Of course you would tell them that they're wrong in calling themselves agnostic since they don't affirmatively believe that we can't even in principle have knowledge of god.

Well, I nominate you for the Pedantic and Petty Hall of Fame.
 

Don't worry, Jay J, because Arne agreed in the next thread to STFU instead of repeatedly post the same thing over and over -- I can't wait for the next ticking time-bomb thread to see if that holds or not . . .
 

"Why do religious adherents feel the need to argue that only religion can provide a rational foundation for human rights?"

Because no one believes in the infallibility of man, so as a construct of man, "inherent human dignity" cannot exist based on any absolute terms. However, human dignity becomes an absolute indissoluble truth as a construct of an infallible entity, God, The Creator, Allah, Jimi Hendrix, Rama, the life force, whatever you or I want to call our “Higher Power.”

Personally, I feel quite comfortable with a world where absolute and unprovable truth is absolutely absent.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

nerpzillicus,

Not trying to whip a dead horse, but I'm signing off, and will be out of pocket pretty much all of tomorrow, and I think I can be a tad clearer on a couple of things.

I think I could have posted this already if I hadn't gotten caught up in a silly discussion about the definitions of words.

But anyway, at the end of your most recent post you said,

"Likewise, there are some human principles that I am willing to accept as true beyond (more than) a reasonable doubt, even if I cannot prove them. These would be the axioms of my moral system. People can disagree on them, and as you said, more likely they’ll disagree on them in practice, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a method of logical derivation for the conclusions people come to."

See, I actually agree that there IS a method of logical derivation for the conclusions people come to.

I just think that Nazi ideology could be justified similarly.

These methods of logical derivation are about framework, not content.

That's why I say moral axioms, statements, sentiments, premises (and whatever else they could be called) are not logical or illogical, they're non-logical.

Non-logical, in this context, is meant to say that logic doesn't care about its content one way or another. If a sentence is illogical, it would be demonstrable by showing a contradiction or something.

If you're just trying to figure out how to morally reason for yourself, fine. But if you're trying to convince others that your system is more reliable than another, or that you have a way of rationally justifying the foundations of morality, then you've got more work to do in showing that your foundations are somehow true, or in the language of logic, "sound."

Of course soundness is a higher standard than validity. Soundness involves some level of truth. In empirical matters, we can test the truth of certain propositions.

The truth of the sentence "Metals expand when heated," can be tested by doing some laboratory work.

On legal matters we can test whether or not the statement, "murder is illegal" is true, by just looking at a law book.

On a statement like "All bachelors are unmarried," we can just use the meanings of the words to find out if the statement is true.

But on things like moral sentiments, we can't appeal to any matters of fact to decide what is actually "true."

So logic is neutral with regard to the moral content injected into it.

This is not the same as saying logic can't be used at all in moral matters. But is does say that the framework of logic is not a justification for the truth of moral sentiments.

I'm not privileging testable facts over sentiments, because I think value judgments (or sentiments) permeate our existence, values are why we create language and try to understand and manipulate our environment through science.

Some atheists propose evolutionary psychology as a justification of morality. But this doesn't work either. Evolutionary psychology is a 3rd person activity explaining that moral sentiments DO in fact exist. But all kinds of feelings exist in the brain. I mean, cooperation may have "evolved" over time, but so did many bad things. When someone gets jealous, angry, aggressive, etc, all these things can be explained by evolution too.

Rape and charity, Hitler and Ghandi, these types of polar opposites can all be explained (more or less) through 3rd person science.

The statement that one type of impulse coming from the brain is "good" and another impulse coming from the brain is "bad" is not from science or logic. Or I should say, the justification of the one sentiment over another cannot be found within science or logic.

Now, I've gone on record as saying theism doesn't solve the problem either.

And once again, both theism and atheism are hard pressed to find rational justifications for the FOUNDATIONS of morality. This isn't to say that moral statements can't flow with a logical framework, they can.

But the statements themselves are not justified just because they can survive a syllogism with being invalid.

An axiom is something people agree on, but in principle, we could agree on all sorts of things, and we could eventually change our minds.

There is nothing within the rules of logic or axiology which prevents us from using "immoral" premises.

This may be depressing, and I hope very much that morality is more than just my passing tastes and fancies, but at least if morality would be seen this way, people like Richard Dawkins would STFU about whether or not people should go to church.
 

Jay J:

The link I provided does, (you're right), vindicate what you've been saying all along. But you see, I didn't say that you were wrong in your terminology! You came along and said I was wrong!

Let's get that clear.

You have set up a narrow way of using the words (at least you perceived that my way was wrong).


Look, Jay, here's how you started your "contributions":

[Jay J]: "Not trying to butt in, but can't we make some distinctions?"

Then you appear to lecture us on classes of Gawdless heathens (whether you fall in there somewhere or not is immaterial).

So can we just agree now that "Gawd knows his own", and "He will sort 'em out", and leave that contentious issue at that?

Thanks in advance.

Cheers,
 

So much discussion on the foundations, and nobody has actually advanced a moral foundation for atheists.

Easy. One important foundation for many atheists is Plato's argument of enlightened self interest. Plato's argument briefly put: if one is determined to live life as well as possible, the only sensible thing to do is to live life as scrupulously morally as one can. Immoral actions are not only immoral but foolish things to do. Why? Because one can have no reasonable expectation that others will act morally unless you do so yourself? (Sound familiar? Plato said it first).

Anyway. With that out of the way... It seem to me that moral actions taken with a rational understanding of why they are moral is a far superior morality than one where one does the right thing because you were told to do it.

History is littered with people who did horrendous things because they were told to do them. And among them are a large number of poeple who were told to do it by "God". The shortcoming of religion as moral foundation is that there is no way to double-check whether your "God" is telling you to do immoral things.
 

arne,

You're the only one to condescend to my post that you just cited. And no, I'm not lecturing anyone but you, since you were the one to condescend to my peaceful post.

You were right when you said in a recent thread that citing your own previous posts was annoying, but I'm not sure you even know why.

Saying, "I covered this in already" or something to that affect is a b*tchy way to make you're point.

First, not everyone reads every thread, and second, your previous post didn't actually clear it up.

As for my lecturing, most people won't care since my categories are broad and do not set up straw man arguments like you hastily implied.

So your concern over my words and your condemnatoin of my lecturing is pretty...wierd.
 

rerdavies,

With all due respect, Plato's argument could have come from one of my uncles, I mean, the fact that it came from Plato doesn't make it any better.

First we have the leap at its beginning, "IF one wants to live well." People may be arbitrarily labeled as irrational if they don't met Plato's (or anyone else's) definition of living well, but this too is cicular since even that label is normative.

Second, we shouldn't have to look very far to see that some very rich, influential, and/or powerful people have throughout history been able to live comfortably without ultimately being moral. These people may have had to at times, been good to certain people long enough to gain power, but when people talk about justifying the foundations of morality, they're talking about more than having to be good simply for pragmatic reasons which may change from time to time.

A person can run rouhgshod over other people and live well by any mateiral standard.

if the word "well" applies to something more than a materialistic or hedonistic standard, then it is arbitrarily noramtive and is itself in need of justification.

As far as religion, I agree, it's not in great shape in justifying morality, but that argument from Plato falls way short of the mark as well.
 

rerdaviesL

So much discussion on the foundations, and nobody has actually advanced a moral foundation for atheists.

"Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't kill." On that, I'm at least a couple up on the nominal Chris'shuns in the maladministration.

But you want to know how I figgered that out? How about common sense? I really don't need a lot of high-falutin' fillosofizing and pronouncements from on high to know what's likely to work out well. Most people don't, and that's why there is general concordance even between religions on the more basic premises, despite the diversity in form and character of the various deities involved.

Cheers,
 

Jay J:

Leaving behind a dead horse carcass for loftier subjects:

You were right when you said in a recent thread that citing your own previous posts was annoying, but I'm not sure you even know why.

I stated that most people had heard the same utterances before and could remember them. Most people here are quick on the uptake. But there's one (or two now, perhaps) that aren't paying attention.

I knew exactly what I was doing. Time for you to look around and see if you can figger it out.

Cheers,
 

Arne,

You're a d*ck.

You haven't shown what you originally set out to, and rudely insisted upon from the beginning, so you just ramble, and pretend you're leaving it alone.

I won't pretend that I'll leave you the last word, and you shouldn't either if you don't intend to.

Yet you've already shown that your standards of argument don't prevent you from being shameless.

BTW, I just got here, I wasn't here when you posted before. So bluntly insisting that you've already covered something is a d*ck move.

So is that the last word?
 

Jay J:

I won't pretend that I'll leave you the last word, and you shouldn't either if you don't intend to.

When I leave you the "last word", and you put in two, I'd say that leaves me a little slack ... but thinking of Prof. Lederman's admonitions, using that slack seems to have been a poor decision in retrospect. My apologies to everyone.

Cheers,
 

Arne,

If you look at the timing of the 'two last words' you accuse me of making, you will realize that the first of these two was posted at 8:08, and your post acting all dismissive and telling me to take the last word was posted at 7:52.

Now if you look at the way I opened the second of these two so called last words, you will see that I began that statement by saying that I just saw your 7:52 entry.

What does all this mean? It means I was TYPING while you were entering your 7:52 comment. So after I made my 8:08 comment, THEN I saw your 7:52 comment and made the so called 2nd last word, entered at 8:27. But actually this was the first and only response to your 7:52 post.

This would have been seen as a real possibility had you been a little more grounded, and taken the time to be a little less petty.

All this is really neither here nor there though, because your position is like saying that if I had entered one really long post instead of two moderately long posts then you wouldn't have felt the need to respond, but since there was a break in the words, then you felt compelled to respond again? Yea...OK ;)

Face it, you just couldn't abide what I said and had to respond. That's OK, it really is, it's just a change of tune compared to your dismissive attitude at the end of your 7:52 post, the one where you claimed I would have the last word.

Maybe you're like those hockey players who have one way of behaving "on the ice" and one for "real life." I happen to think we should act the same whether we're on the ice, on a blog, or in "real life."

Maybe you agree, I don't know. If you do, well, if I saw you arguing like this in person, I would think that you're a shameless d*ck, at least when it comes to arguing.

Your original critique was ill-conceived, hasty, and wrong on top. So now you're reduced to equivocating why you're arguing is not shameless. You just can't stand to admit that this whole exchange is your fault and that had you been a little less brash in pontificating, this would not have happened.

I expect that some cutesy little BS catchphrases coming from you now...go right ahead.nhj
 

First, I just want to reiterate that I never claimed you could prove the existence of morality through logic – though I have not concluded your argument that morality cannot be grounded in such a manner is true. I’m kinda agnostic on the issue currently;) My whole point was that Father Arujo’s assertion that an atheist can change his/her moral rules willy-nilly is false. An atheist, after the difficulties associated with selecting moral axioms (a difficulty I have always recognized), can create a logical structure of morality that prevents subjective reinterpretation on demand dependant on the situation. The atheist is confined by the logical structure and reason, just as much as a theist is confined by holy text and church doctrine. I never claimed to be able to prove truth beyond this. There may be a way of arriving at what I would find to be “good” moral axioms though utilitarian empirical statements or axioms. For instance, “it is bad (or unwise, or foolish) to kill people” may flow logically from the possible-to-prove-empirical-fact that “society is more productive if people do not fear for their lives.” (assuming productivity is a goal we should strive for) or even studies that show happy workers are more productive, so logically, “society should encourage happiness.” If we were able to show, empirically again, that the most efficient way to make people in society happy is to let them make their own decisions, we may be able to arrive at “people should be allowed to pursue their own happiness.” So, while I have not tried to go through a full analysis for this possibility, it seems to me your assertion – that there is no way to empirically and logically create “good” and “bad” – is not as certain as you seem to think. (maybe this depends on the definition of morality). I would agree, at this point, that your contention is strong, perhaps even likely, but the best you are going to get is to claim that “it is impossible to logically derive ‘good’ and ‘bad’” is an unproved axiom.

The meat of the disagreement is this:

You deny that a statement like 'killing babies in Argentina is OK" could ever serve as an axiom. If this is true, it must be so only on a technicality, but not because of the moral content, (the "evil' content).


I humbly disagree. The statement “killing babies in Argentina is OK” cannot be an axiom. This is not because of a technicality, it is definitional. From the dictionary (and I really don’t want to get into an argument like your other one, but this is simply too important)

ax·i·om (ks-m)
n.
1. A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim: "It is an economic axiom as old as the hills that goods and services can be paid for only with goods and services" Albert Jay Nock.
2. An established rule, principle, or law.
3. A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.

Specifically, number three is the definition used in logic and math. Axioms are not necessarily proven, but if they are not, they need to be self-evident, and have a consensus regarding their truth. So yes, “killing babies in Argentina is OK” is not, nor will it ever be, an axiom. It simply does not have a quality of being a self-evident truth to it, nor does it have anything near a consensus acknowledging its truth. We agree that the moral quality of “good” or “bad” associated with this statement is not the reason why it is not an axiom. Its lack of general support is why.

Transferring the meaning of the word axiom used in science and math to the way it's used in ethics is problematic for a couple of reasons.

One is that although axioms are great as starting points, they aren't necessarily confirmed as true outside the system. I know you already know this, so I'm not trying to condescend, but it demonstrates that in the history of science we've re-arranged our axioms from time to time, but that doesn't mean the old axioms can no longer be defined as axioms.


I would argue this is not true. Axioms that have been disproven are no longer axioms. They would lack consensus as to their inherent truth, and therefore, could not be axioms. For instance, Newton’s Second law is no longer true. Einstein changed all that. We still look at it as important, both historically and in principle, but it is not an accurate statement of the world around us, and is not an accurate method of calculating force (of course, it is an excellent approximation when the velocities involved are much less than the speed of light).

In some cases, like special relativity, the axiom or postulate is supported by observation. Einstein postulated, based on the Michelson-Morley experiments, that the speed of light in a vacuum was a universal constant. If tomorrow it was demonstrated that the speed of light varied in a vacuum, would it still be a postulate? (perhaps it would be referred to as “Einstein’s Second Postulate,” but only as a formal name, like Newton’s Second Law – it would no longer be a postulate by definition.) But the postulate has never been “proven.” So Einstein’s postulates cannot be empirically proven outside of the system, though they can find support in empirical evidence.

Axioms aren't necessarily true, and self-evidence about matters of time and space (which have been wrong in the past) doesn't help in deep disagreements about the realism, or lack thereof, of the foundations of morality.

no one, least of all me, ever claimed axioms must be demonstrably true. Basically, there are three classes of axioms – ones that have been empirically proven as true, those generally accepted as true, and those once thought of as true, but have subsequently been shown to be false. The ones proven as false are no longer axioms, instead they were simply previously accepted axioms. You are trying to lump together axioms empirically proven as false with those where the jury is still out. “all people should be treated equally” is in the same group as “the speed of light is constant in a vacuum” – there is no uncontroverted proof of either, nor is there empirical disproof.

Another problem with the concept of moral axioms is that they're just not the same as inductive instincts like navigating time and space. We can feign doubt about the external world and inductive reasoning all we want, but we need to accept these things on some level to live.

But this is not the same with morality. Everyone doesn't have to bow down to it the way everyone must the external world and inductive instincts. This is a way in which axioms in math or science are more...solid, than moral axioms. But even then, axioms in the hard sciences can be re-evaluated.


There are people out there who do not believe the big bang caused the beginning of the universe. The big bang is a theory, supported by mounds of evidence, but in no way can be proven. Everyone does not bow down to the big bang. Does that make it a less sound theory than it would otherwise be? Pulling out a couple of academics and sociopaths who do not respect life to counter the generally accepted axiom that “all people should have a right to life” is no different than me pulling out the Discovery Institute and the creationists to say that the big bang is not “bowed down to.”

Likewise, no one needs to accept special relativity to live. The effects of special relativity are very rarely seen, yet we accept the postulates as true – not because we have to due to physical constraints placed on us by the world, but because of their self evident truth (nowadays), the force of the arguments stemming from them, and the soundness of the conclusions drawn from them.

You're preaching to the choir when you say that this is a weakness (I would prefer to say a "characteristic") of all logical systems, but I don't agree that you HAVE to take a statement simply as true.

Taking a statement as true as an axiom may be pragmatic and useful for building systems and the like, but this is not the same as taking it to be true in any external or realistic way.



I can functionally agree to all sorts of axioms, and can be as effective as anyone else at using these inside of a system, but that doesn't mean that I think that an axiom is, by definition, a true feature of existence or something.


I don’t think I ever claimed morality was true in a platonic way. Indeed, I took philosophy so long ago, I’m not sure I even remember what platonically true really means (something about the forms?) Rather the evidence supporting the axiom is so overwhelming, it is hard to imagine it not being true. i guess it is sort of like a proof by exhaustion or contradiction, though i have never formally gone through it.

These methods of logical derivation are about framework, not content.

That's why I say moral axioms, statements, sentiments, premises (and whatever else they could be called) are not logical or illogical, they're non-logical.

Non-logical, in this context, is meant to say that logic doesn't care about its content one way or another. If a sentence is illogical, it would be demonstrable by showing a contradiction or something.


This is where I think we are simply talking past each other. I guess I agree that a moral axiom is non-logical, but that is pretty much by definition. But the rules generated from a system of logical morality would be logical. E.g.

A1: All people have a right to life (non-logical axiom)
S1: I want to kill Argentine babies (empirical statement [I don’t know if this is really “logical,” either])
C: Even though I want to kill Argentine babies, I cannot, because all people have a right to life (logical moral conclusion)

I see your argument that the axiom is non-logical, but how would this be any different for any axiom? After all, the definition of an axiom is that it is taken for granted to be true; it is not derived. So any axiom is non-logical. If I start with “murder is illegal” as an axiom, than it is non-logical. When you say you look it up in the law books, you are then making it a dependent conclusion, not an axiom.

S1: any act which is not allowed by the law is illegal
S2: murder is not allowed by the law
C: murder is illegal.

I have assumed my moral axioms are not provable. That’s why I have called them axioms. Otherwise, they would be empirically proven statements. I chose the axioms I did because they are seemingly true, and are seemingly not empirically disproven, and I have no way of empirically proving them. The definition of an axiom implies its quality of less-than-empirical truth.

If you're just trying to figure out how to morally reason for yourself, fine. But if you're trying to convince others that your system is more reliable than another, or that you have a way of rationally justifying the foundations of morality, then you've got more work to do in showing that your foundations are somehow true, or in the language of logic, "sound."

Of course soundness is a higher standard than validity. Soundness involves some level of truth. In empirical matters, we can test the truth of certain propositions.

The truth of the sentence "Metals expand when heated," can be tested by doing some laboratory work.

On legal matters we can test whether or not the statement, "murder is illegal" is true, by just looking at a law book.

On a statement like "All bachelors are unmarried," we can just use the meanings of the words to find out if the statement is true.

But on things like moral sentiments, we can't appeal to any matters of fact to decide what is actually "true."


From Wikipedia:

A logical argument is sound if and only if

1. the argument is valid
2. all of its premises are true.


For instance,

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The argument is valid (because the conclusion is true based on the premises, that is, that the conclusion follows the premises) and since the premises are in fact true, the argument is sound.

The following argument is valid but not sound:

All animals can fly.
Pigs are animals.
Therefore, pigs can fly.

Your argument about soundness is important, but I think the fact is you simply cannot disprove my axiom. I would counter with the statement I have always made “through any two points, you can draw a line.” It doesn’t get much more sound than plane geometry, but again, I dare you to prove this axiom. With the Socrates example, I could argue that it is not sound because it is possible all men are not mortal. There could be vampires, etc. and if Socrates was a vampire, maybe he could have lived forever. But the overwhelming evidence supports the fact that all men are indeed mortal. But perhaps medical technology will one day find a cure for death, in which case this argument will be proven false. Or a genetic mutation will render a human being immortal. Are you going to doubt the soundness of this argument now because of this possibility? Im my humble opinion, empirical truth is much more rare than we give it credit for – much of the time, the things we accept as truths are more like damn good bets. Would you seriously deny the possibility that somewhere in the near-infinite universe there could be a metal that does not expand when heated? Don’t get me wrong, I think you are probably right, but “metals” is a really big set, no?

I understand your desire for empirical proof, but sometimes, in very important things, you ain’t gonna find it. This is not an appeal to faith; instead, you just need to play the percentages. Euclid’s axioms are true, not because they are proven to be true, but because the evidence supporting it is so overwhelming, and any evidence contrary is non-existent. Same with Special Relativity, the big bang, etc. there will be evidence to support these things, but they are not conclusively proven. I am not going to suddenly doubt the effects of special relativity just because there is an outside chance it can be disproven. Likewise, there is more than ample evidence that demonstrates humans do not differ greatly genetically or in capacity for intelligence (certain genetic and developmental disabilities discounted). This evidence supports the theory that all people are equal in capability. I haven’t seen any evidence (in fact there is a lot to the contrary) that it is beneficial to society for governments to treat people differently based on race, gender, or national origin, generally. Although you protest, I have not seen you disprove my axiom. Based on this evidence, I believe the concept that all people should be treated equally is both self-evident and has a general consensus as true. People disagree about application (gay marriage, for instance), but almost everybody agrees to the principle. And if the principles can be agreed to, than perhaps logic can determine the proper application of those principles. (I don’t claim I have proven this)

In short, I think, when it comes to this argument, there is a big difference between premises that have strong evidentiary support, are possibily disproveable, yet are not proven; and premises that are empirically false. It is unreasonable to lump the two together.


So logic is neutral with regard to the moral content injected into it.

Logic is neutral with regards to whatever content you enter into it. For instance

A1: the earth is 6000 years old because the bible says so
S1: dinosaur bones are measured by science to be older than 6000 years.
C: science is wrong.

No fault in the logic. It does all depend on axioms – but you can always pick and choose them, and still have a “logical” system


I just think that Nazi ideology could be justified similarly



This is not the same as saying logic can't be used at all in moral matters. But is does say that the framework of logic is not a justification for the truth of moral sentiments

But the statements themselves are not justified just because they can survive a syllogism with being invalid.


Logic cannot “justify” Euclid’s Axioms, or Einstein’s postulates. I never argued that logic was a justification for the truth of moral matters. Again, I never claimed the statements were “justified” because they could survive logical analysis. They are “justified” as axioms because they have qualities of self-evident truth and general consensus. Also, the conclusions I derive from them would hopefully present compellingly true empirical results. Assumptions of a theory that cannot be tested gain support if the conclusions that are drawn from them are empirically true. Hence Einstein’s postulates are accepted as true, though no one has been able to test them in any other place in the universe but from earth, and certainly no one can conclusively prove them.

If you want to attack the axioms because they lack these things, be my guest. Also, if you want to set up a logical system that supports Nazism, fee free to try. But will “Aryans are a superior race” hold up empirically? See, my disagreement with the arguments you have made are two-fold – first, I never claimed I could make a moral system that could logically prove the axioms I assumed (I originally thought this would be difficult, if not impossible), but just that one could construct a logical system of morality, allowing a person to have a constant, constrained moral code without the need for a deity. Second, when you equivocate “all people are created equal” with “killing babies in Argentina is okay,” you are ignoring the definition of an axiom. Further, you claim that you could “justify” Nazism the same as my moral code, but I can empirically disprove the Aryan superiority claim required by Nazism. You (I think) cannot disprove “all people should be treated equally.” This is, I think, a fundamental difference.

An axiom is something people agree on, but in principle, we could agree on all sorts of things, and we could eventually change our minds.

We all agreed that the sun moved around the earth at one time. It was disproven. As with Father Arujo, I assert one who supports reason and logic does not change his/her mind without good evidence (nor should they make up their mind without said evidence). If you can show me good reason why “people should not be treated equally,” I should be able to change my mind about the axiom. But you don’t doubt the soundness of special relativity just because it is plausibly possible that somewhere, out there, there is some way to disprove it.

There is nothing within the rules of logic or axiology which prevents us from using "immoral" premises.

This is true as a superficial statement, but it seems you are trying to conflate some statements of questionable morality that could be considered in the set of axioms (for instance, “it is morally acceptable to take the life of a person who commits crime x”) with clearly immoral acts that have no widespread support or quality of self-evident truth (“its okay to kill Argentine babies”). I would say that that is a fallacy in your argument. The possible set of moral axioms is much smaller that the set of all possible statements, and also smaller than the set of all moral and immoral statements. I have repeatedly concurred that the axioms will be difficult to choose – but that does not defeat my point that one can develop a logical system of morality that provides constancy and constraint to one’s decisions.
 

nerpzillicus,

wow, that was good. I appreciate the exchange.

I decided that the key to unlocking this disagreement was in going back and taking a look at your original post on the topic and my response, and I hate to say it, but I was wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I stand by what I've said, particularly in regards to the broad strokes.

But I see now that you were saying that Father..what's his face, was wrong in his assertion that the atheist would more easily change his moral precepts, even doping so willy-nilly.

I agree with you, (more or less, at least I agree that the atheist is no more likely than the theist). So I was a little hasty. If I were you I probably would have argued similarly, based on my original critique.

Sorry, I guess I have too much experience arguing with atheists who lack an awareness of their own philosophical commitments. I've said in a recent post that many atheists seem to be unconscious Platonists.

The point Tamanaha and Koppelman made was that both atheism and theism have an equally hard time rationally justifying the foundations of morality. This is the point I found most compelling. Many atheists seem to be arguing that atheism is just fine on rationally justifying the foundations of morality, and this is what I disagree with.

I think when people talk about rationally justifying the foundations on morality, they're talking about preserving the sense of inter-personal "rightness" they feel when the make moral proclamations, they want that to be right too, and not just a product of some descriptive fact. They want rational justification for their belief that they are somehow REALLY RIGHT and someone like Hitler was REALLY WRONG, and not only in cultural or definitional or nominal ways.

I don't think atheism or theism can preserve this sense of rightness before the systems crumble. Now this doesn't have to be a feature of atheism at all, but it at times does seem to be a feature of secular humanism and stuff like Richard Dawkins' admonitions about what we should do about religion.

I guess what got me going in your original post was "mathematical proof," and the reference to Thomas Jefferson. Of course it shouldn't have since you were talking about something other than Tamanaha's and Koppelman's previously mentioned contention.

But anyways, I see now that mathematical proof was not meant to imply that the axiom is itself (particularly the moral ones) justified by logic. As for Thomas Jefferson, I like him too, it's just that I often see atheists use his quotes as if they solve something about these meta-ethical or foundational problems.

I think my point that moral axioms are non-logical is relevant to something, but perhaps not your original point. I think Tamanha posted something, and I perceived your post to be a response to his contention.

I don't know, maybe we still disagree about what I was talking about, but since that wasn't the theme you choose to post on, it doesn't seem to matter all that much.

If there is any lingering disagreement, it is about axioms. In political theory, ethical systems, etc, I just don't think axioms operate the same way as they do in the hard sciences. My point about axioms being changed was an attempt to show how they are not necessarily true, but since you already agree, that point becomes moot.

Axiology, in philosophy, is the study of value. So in libertarianism, liberty is axiomatic, in communism, equality is axiomatic. This is the way the word is used in moral and political philosophy. So there is nothing, in principle, from preventing something like baby killing from being axiomatic. Now there IS something "in practice" preventing it, and that is that you could probably (but just probably) never get enough people to agree with it. But judging by the horrible things done by whole societies throughout history, we could agree to anything, and it's actually an "in principle" possibility.

So I don't agree that it is fallacious to assert this, since a fallacy would be something that is "in principle" wrong by definition. The word 'axiom' is used the way I'm using it in moral and political philosophy. So though you may be right that anyone would be hard pressed to get very many people to agree with a sentiment of baby killing, the fact that the rules of the word allow it demonstrates that the axioms themselves are simply things that many people have had sentiments about and have chosen to make their bottom line.

This means that axiology is not necessarily an argument for moral realism, which is why the point is relevant to the larger point made by our hosts about the futility of rationally justifying the foundations of morality.

But again I think we have been arguing past each other a bit.

Tamanaha and Koppelman have been saying something I agree wholeheartedly with and some atheists seem to disagree, or misunderstand the nature of their claim (not saying you have though).

Anyway, if axioms are self-evident, that in no way demonstrates their truth, it only demonstrates that people feel a certain way, namely positive, about something and have found that many other agree with it. At least this is the case with the word axiom and its use in these kinds of ethical things. That's why both liberty and equality can be axiomatic to two different systems, neither of which agree with the other's axiom.

This shows that an axiom isn't necessarily justified by anything other than itself. But see this is a kind of existential leap, like Koppelman said,

"Tamanaha has shown that the foundation of this view is a commitment to theism that itself is a kind of existential leap, not different in kind from the leap of the agnostic for whom human dignity is itself foundational and not dependent on anything else."

This underscores, I think, the fact that atheism and theism are at the end of the day, in the same boat with foundational claims not justified by anything else. I agree that atheists won't change their precepts willy-nilly any more than theists.

But on axioms, I think you could have one that only Germans have a right to life, and your others could flow from that one. My overall point is that the statement "all people have a right to life" is no more true than the statement "only Germans have a right to life." It seems that we actually agree on that though, even if we disagree that one of them could be used as an axiom.

Oh well, if we actually do disagree on the larger issue, which I'm not sure if we do anymore, then I posted on Andrew Koppleman's Thursday post titled, "The partly necessary God."

Have good night...
 

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