Ben Avuyah

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Pour yourself a tall cold one....of similac!

In my opinion the winner of the similac contest on XGH is Bal Devarim, with these two comments.



"This thread is seriously disturbing. That some otherwise reasonable people (i.e. not Jacob Stein) seem to admit that had they been sure God commands it they would've done it is especially exasperating. How would that be moral? God, even if he exists, has no dominion on what defines our humanity.Morally, he cannot go around murdering his creations; at least he'll never get me to be his hit man. Hey, He's omnipotent; He wants someone dead, He better do it Himself!"

Taking away someone's life clearly brings no benefit to that person from a human point of view; therefore, it is always wrong for a human to do it, no matter by whom it is commanded. As I said, it is immoral to relinquish our humanity to God, even if He exists.If it is beneficial to kill someone from God's point of view, let HIM do it; for a human to do that job without clearly perceiving the benefit to humanity is always immoral.



I think that is a great start.

Now clearly there is a lot more to say, we need a tighter definition of what morality is !!



I think there are a couple ways in which God may be inapplicable to anything we understand as moral.

Firstly, whatever morality is, if we assume it has any human components in it, then God is in for trouble, we know theological omnipotents like Yahweh often get their skirts caught in the machinery of human emotion (Does God not have emotion? not omnipotent...he cannot expereince love. Does he have ultimate emotion and exist simultaneously depressed to suicidal ideation, and as deliriously extactic as a crack whore??...fine...unknowable, and it would be foolhardy to insist that whatever system he has for doling out punishment and reward would in any way resemble what the human mind percieves as moral or lack thereof.)

Secondly, if we postulate that morality is some sort of fusion of various empathic calculus, then it may not be possible to call a decision morally guided unless the calculus is completed. (Copying God's answer is cheating, in the sense that x decision enters the category of morality via the calculation of it. Hence one may follow an order with the hope that it has an affect that will be judged to be moral, but the task of following that order is not in itself moral.)

Thirdly, are trust issues, is it a test? is it a rule? No way to know. Our God has a track record of pretty horrible tests and rules. What's he looking for this time??? Not knowable. Is he smiling or crying as Abraham raises the knife, is Jacob Stein the desired outcome of Torah? Is David Guttman? No one knows.


Fourth, can there be a higher morality? say aliens who torture babies and then eat them with a wonderful socioeconomic outcome. Is there any standard by which our innate human morality can be succusfuly measured and rebuked except by the very ingredients that create it (empathy sympathy or whatever else they may be) that is to say, if there is a "morality" that is outside our ability to fathom or understand, can it be labeled morality ?




These are just a few thoughts, but I think there is more to be said of the subject. Part of what complicates the discussion are the reflexive postions of religious and skeptical bloggers like myself. I would like to, if it is possible, remove the discussion from such close proximity to religion and place it in more nuetral territory (any one smell a science fiction story on the horizon???).

What really complicates this discussion is lack of a good definition of "morality". That is probably the right place to begin.....

60 Comments:

At 12:03 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

If you believe that God is perfectly good then why would you not follow His commands, even if it seemed wrong to you?

In a similar case, if you were chosen by the US or Israeli (whichever you prefer) government that an enemy of the state was in a place where you could kill them, would you refuse - even if they did not supply conclusive evidence - or would you trust them?

If you were in an army, you'd make that choice every day.

 
At 5:54 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

The fact of the matter is that members of all religions, including atheists, consider themselves to be morally superior to all other people. Going to the classic extreme example, Adolf Hitler considered himself to be a very good man who was promoting Darwinist morality.

A more interesting and more practically important question is: Who is more likely to commit an act of violence – an alumnus of a yeshiva or an alumnus of a secular school? Likewise, who is more likely to help a friend in need? Other circumstances being similar, I think the yeshiva comes out ahead.

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Good points, orthoprax, let me see if I can nitpick my way out of them.

I think there are inherent problems with a perfectly good god that is perfectly incomprehensible to us. I will try and flesh out what I see as contradiction even though I haven't worked out all the angles yet.

If we believe that our moral sense is so limited that instructions to do the exact opposite of it are possibly more "moral", then I think that we would have to begin to see ourselves as possesors of very limited faculties. In such a light, what confidence do we have to make the moral judgment that God is good or perfect that he is to be followed.

In a sense it boils down to "we have perfectly honed faculties to make a judgment about God's perfection or morality or honesty, but we have no faculties to make any other morality based judgments."

Something smells funny to me there and I am not sure I have really put my finger on it yet, but I am working on it.....


As far as the Government/soldier analogy, I agree, that one might act that way (one of the many reasons I am not a soldier) but one should not be surprised later on to have found he was put in numerous ethicly questionable situations, nor would feel that he was abandoning his sense of moral judgment in favor of someone elses, just hoping that the governing body in possesion of intellegence and means of reacting was in possesion of the same moral standards of himself...many soldiers are later dissapointed for the precise reason that they have never abandoned their own moral compass.

 
At 6:25 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>A more interesting and more practically important question is: Who is more likely to commit an act of violence – an alumnus of a yeshiva or an alumnus of a secular school? Likewise, who is more likely to help a friend in need? Other circumstances being similar, I think the yeshiva comes out ahead.



May very well be true, but I like to differentiate practical outcomes from theological concerns. There may be many reasons why yeshiva people invite people over for shabbos lunch other than, "it must be proof of divine favor".

 
At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually I think you are the clearest thinker of anyone I talk to, but I don't get where you are coming from on this one.

If God exists, and if God is anything like our tradition says He is, and if He created us, then I think it's reasonable to say He gets to call the shots. Of course there are a bunch of 'ifs' in there, but you get my drift. Anyway, morality is tricky by any standard, from a purely skeptical viewpoint have just as many issues. Jacob Stein said it right (gasp), all these academic discussions about morality are irrelevant, just look at the 'facts on the ground' (and don't make unfair comparisons). See the Hazony article in Azure for more.

XGH

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

But everyone claims "I am the world's most moral person" because whatever I'm doing, whether it be saving the whales, supporting gay rights, killing Jews or just minding my own business, I consider to be highly moral.

Morality is a little like beauty. Prove to me that your baby is more beautiful than mine. It can't be done.

 
At 7:35 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

XGH, I see your point, but I disagree, I think the reason why this post is so nebulous is becuase I really have not figured out what I am saying yet...I am thinking out loud.

I have an intuition or nagging sensation that the idea that we can turn morality over to a higher being, the idea that morality can in a sense be outsourced so that we don't have to be bothered with it, is self contradictory.

Of course this will depend on some form of definition of what morality *is*. Which is the second problem...and I imagine the source of much of the confusion that takes place in these arguments comes from different people applying their own definitions.

In any case, I intend to build on this idea a little further as soon as I have a chance.

 
At 8:03 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>Morality is a little like beauty. Prove to me that your baby is more beautiful than mine. It can't be done.

True. Although as societies formulate collective ideas about beauty, some attributes become more valued or beautiful than others. You may never overcome your bias about how beautiful your child is, as I might not overcome mine. But society as a whole, when polled, might have very predictable and defined tastes and preferances...how do you think babies get picked for Gap commercials ?? :-)

 
At 8:03 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

Let's say we could find an objective, universally agreeable definition for morality, or for beauty for that matter, so what? And any case, it cannot be done.

The big issue for atheists, or deists, is how to persuade society that they are not a bunch of unscrupulous animals because they don't believe in divine law. After the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution and Kim Jong-il, that's a tough sell.

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Tobie said...

You're groping for an objective standard of morality while refusing, for unclear reasons, to even address the one that stares you in the face. Why can't we just say "morality is that which corresponds with G-d's will?" Voila! An objective standard of morality, which in my mind is more useful than assuming that my random feelings are moral and then dithering about what is moral anyway and how is G-d moral. And the thing is, I think that the answer is not only convenient, but also correct. If G-d exists and He is the source of the universe and humanity, then why would humans suddenly and randomly have there own little "morality" that has nothing to do with Him?

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Tobie, it does appear to be staring us in the face, but I don't think religious morality is as simple as people want it to be.

Although I readily admit that there is plenty lacking in terms of definition of whatever "innate human morality" is, and let's call it morality "h" for right now as this is a work in progress. but whatever morality h *is* I think we are stuck with it....

How do we make a choice to follow Godly morality without it??? How do we evaluate that it is worthy to follow a creator God without putting that question into the cognitive machine of morality h and comming up with an answer.

I think part of what I am beggining to sense is that even if their are "higher" or more "right" moral codes, we are in the end stuck with the one in our heads.

Take the jewish Idea of a God we cannot understand who has "better" morals than us, he can order us to perform tasks that are immoral to our sensabilities or to morality H, and in these scenarios we are excpected to follow orders despite the immorality that is apparent to our own senses...

Now by what rationale do we follow this order? clearly we cannot evaluate Godly morality. In the orthodox paradigm We don't have the tools, Our Morality H meter reads immoral, and we are told to treat this as an "error" message. so by what Tool do we evaluate that we need to follow this order?

 
At 9:18 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

In other words, Tobie, as I was mentioning to orthoprax, orthodoxy has evolved a convenient duality. Our moral judgment is "perfect" for evaluating that God is to be followed; without flaw, in determining that he is more moral than us; and finely tuned enough to provide absolute confidence in this decision....but it stinks for anything else....you were right when you said it is convenient...it's to conveneint, it is contrived.

 
At 10:04 AM, Anonymous SYL said...

"In such a light, what confidence do we have to make the moral judgment that God is good or perfect that he is to be followed."

Q: If our morality is so wrong that we need to follow G-d's code, how can we trust our morality that G-d is good?

My A: The alternative being . . .?

I can't come up with a rational understanding of G-d other than to be Good. But I'm sure that's my education flooding my mind.
Please help.

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>My A: The alternative being . . .?


hmmm, syl, I am not really digging around for alternatives, just pointing out the flaws in the system.

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger Tobie said...

hmmm, syl, I am not really digging around for alternatives, just pointing out the flaws in the system.

Well, that's kind of the point, isn't it? I mean, the point of my whole rant in the previous comment thread, as well as what I was attempting to get out in the previous comment.

Look- you can't say that Orthodoxy is stupid for relying on their finite knowledge because every attempt to be moral does the same. Period. End of story. I can see saying that Orthodoxy is stupid for pretending to eliminate human morality from the equation, but even that, I'm not buying and here's why:

G-d never said "you must find it moral to obey me." He said, "You must do x, y, and z." Now, it is quite possible that x, y, and z are moral. In fact, given your definition of moral- that is, if you use the "following G-d's will" definition and not the "way I feel" definition, then x,y, and z are by definition moral. But G-d never asked you to agree that x,y, and z are moral. Could be that He doesn't much care about your theological twistings. He wasn't you to do x,y, and z, and that's about it.

You start the discussion with some sort of underlying assumption that following morality h has some sort of objective, universal, or overarching value. Who says? Who says that we care about morality h at all? Maybe, at the end of the day, it's simply important to have done x,y, and z. Maybe it's simply important to act morally- to do what's right- according to the objective and thus "correct" definition than to feel that you're acting morally.

And furthermore, even if you still think that Orthodoxy is stupid for pretending to have eliminated human morality from the picture, every other course of behavior is equally stupid, since it uses admittedly limited human intellect to establish the worthiness of using human intellect and so on and so forth, spiralling backwards in vicious circles ad infinitum. Any argument about the rules of the argument itself has the same element of illogic- how do you fight when you're fighting about how to fight, and so on. Orthodoxy is no worse than anything else out there.

 
At 1:39 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"If we believe that our moral sense is so limited that instructions to do the exact opposite of it are possibly more "moral", then I think that we would have to begin to see ourselves as possesors of very limited faculties. In such a light, what confidence do we have to make the moral judgment that God is good or perfect that he is to be followed."

Well, you see, that's where faith and revelation comes in. It wasn't something figured out. It is a 'given' for the philosophical system that one believes God is good, etc.


Tobie,

"But G-d never asked you to agree that x,y, and z are moral. Could be that He doesn't much care about your theological twistings. He wasn't you to do x,y, and z, and that's about it."

Then God's commands don't actually have any moral obligation. You do x, y, and z because of the inequitable power arrangement, not because of moral agreement. You're learning submission, not moral agency and you lose the critical understanding for personal responsibility.

This is a very dangerous place to go philosophically because then you can justify anything - like flying planes into buildings - since you believe God commands it.

 
At 2:26 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

I always learn something from orthoprax's comments !!


but let me see now, if I can bring this one step further. I certainly will agree that when someone claims "faith" that it is the end of the conversation, but I think revelation may be a little different. That is to say, if there is a rational case to be made for following God's "higher" morality, let's see if we can make it...

My interest in this issue is to 1) provide a definition of morality that fits it's common usage which includes the criteria of elements which make up a moral decision.

2) Determine if the act of abandoning one's own moral compass can ever be a decision made by moral criteria.
Or if it always requires some outside variable (power, threat, etc..)


My sense is that (without faith) even the presence of a creator being does not necessarily mandate relinquishing innate moral truths...

MOre on this later !

 
At 2:34 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Tobie, I don't think orthodoxy is stupid, but I do think it has certain observable "fatal flaws", and it has less than laudible tactics when it whishes to divert peoples attention from them.

I am not offering an alternative to orthodox morality, becuase that is not the subject of this post...we can certainly talk about the pro's and con's of secular morality any time you like...

 
At 6:40 PM, Blogger Baal Devarim said...

Hey Ben, thanks for voting me a winner! I hope it's the cholov yisroel Similac...

As for a tighter definition of morality: all morality is based on the Golden Rule. It's as close to objective morality as you can get, positing that all of humanity's pain or happiness is equally important -- which is clearly the case when you look at it from an objective point of view.

Whatever innate trait animates you to take action for your own betterment, morality dictates should animate you towards others' betterment as well -- at least as much as you would expect others to consider your own. It's rational, logical and objective.

That doesn't mean you need to expend the same amount of energy for all others as you do for yourself, or even as you do for your family, friends, tribe or clan. That would lead to systemic breakdown. But that is all mere details that need to be worked out; it's the palace to be built on the moral foundation of the Golden Rule.

Orthoprax:
"It is a 'given' for the philosophical system that one believes God is good, etc."

But if no-one can say what 'good' means without God, than saying God is 'good' is meaningless. Attributing a characteristic called 'good' to God and then claiming God defines what good is is circular reasoning -- it doesn't work. You can't dismiss Euthyphro's dilemma that easily.

Clearly, we need a definition of morality that doesn't hinge on God before we can claim that God is moral and good. And once we have that, to let anyone, even God, abrogate that understanding just on His say-so would obviously be immoral!

 
At 12:36 AM, Blogger Tobie said...

baal devarim- could you run that last bit by me one more time? If I say that G-d defines good, then G-d is by definition, and goodness for all other purposes means "that which resembles G-d". I'm not quite getting why that train of thought doesn't work.

 
At 12:38 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"I always learn something from orthoprax's comments !!"

Wow, I'm flattered. ;-)

"My interest in this issue is to 1) provide a definition of morality that fits it's common usage which includes the criteria of elements which make up a moral decision."

That's quite a task - not only are you moralizing acts but you are also moralizing the manner in which acts are conceived and justified. It's tough and there would be a lot to talk about in this theme alone.

"2) Determine if the act of abandoning one's own moral compass can ever be a decision made by moral criteria.
Or if it always requires some outside variable (power, threat, etc..)"

You needn't think of it that way. It's more an issue of information. We could presume that if we knew what God knew then we could easily understand why an apparently immoral order only seemed immoral.

This is similar to the soldier analogy. The soldier can presume his superiors are moral people and that they have data which suggests a course of action. To the soldier, the act may seem immoral (say the targets look like civilians) but in actuality - had he known what his superiors knew (that the civilians where actually camouflaged enemy fighters) then he would immediately understand the correct moral nature of his orders.

Yet, as you noted earlier, even the soldier's superiors can be flawed or immoral and therefore it would be wrong for the soldier to give up his whole moral autonomy, but for God this possibility is not an issue.

"My sense is that (without faith) even the presence of a creator being does not necessarily mandate relinquishing innate moral truths..."

Well, yes of course. But the point is that God is not just the creator of the physical universe in this philosophical reasoning - He is also the creator of morality itself and a being who has an intrinsic interest in the conduct of humankind.

If God is this perfectly trustworthy being who is perfectly moral and all knowing then why should one not trust the orders given by this being? Yes, you are handing over your moral agency, but it is in perfectly good hands!

Or so it is believed...


BD,

"But if no-one can say what 'good' means without God, than saying God is 'good' is meaningless. Attributing a characteristic called 'good' to God and then claiming God defines what good is is circular reasoning -- it doesn't work. You can't dismiss Euthyphro's dilemma that easily."

Nor was I trying to. In whatever way it can be resolved that God is good - that is the given for the system.

I think a way of thinking about it though is to see the moral component of the universe as it interacts with human societies as akin to the life sustaining principles of the universe that interact with living systems.

In an absolute, transuniversal scale is there any requirement that a tree need sunlight to grow? No, of course not. There could have been unnumerable ways a tree-like creature could maintain sustenance in whatever kind of universe it existed in.

Likewise, need human society a morality with which to (in a simplified sense) prosper? Again, not on an absolute scale - but yes on a local scale that exists within existence as we know it.

God, being the creator of life and humanity, can be presumed to have likewise created the means by which they can prosper. These means are ultimately completely arbitrary but they are the essence of meaningful in our existence. God then, being the source of these things, can be understood as being pro-life and pro-humanity and hence Good in any way that is meaningful to us.

God may not be good in some absolute sense (He is, after all, unknowable), but in ways which matter to us - as existing beings in this world - we can appreciate God's interaction with us as good.

"As for a tighter definition of morality: all morality is based on the Golden Rule."

I disagree. I wouldn't want to be stuck in prison. Does that mean that I cannot send a convicted murderer there? That doesn't sound right.

 
At 12:46 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Tobie,

"If I say that G-d defines good, then G-d is by definition, and goodness for all other purposes means "that which resembles G-d". I'm not quite getting why that train of thought doesn't work."

The problem you run into is arbitrariness - and hence meaninglessness. If God defines good then could God have made a universe where killing babies for fun is a moral act?

My answer is yes. Morality is ultimately arbitrary in that absolute sense but is meaningful within the system we operate under in our universe.

God is then good only in the sense with which He interacts with us and our universe and not in some absolute sense.

 
At 4:22 AM, Blogger Tobie said...

Orthoprax- unless you assume that goodness is a trait of G-d rather than a dictate. In other words, G-d could only have made a world where killing babies is moral if G-d Himself were different- which I'm not entirely sure is possible. G-d is good in an absolute sense because we can define good to mean G-dly. Whether, in some sense somehow more absolute than G-d, G-dliness is in fact a good trait is only a question if you're going to assume that there is an absolute beyond or outside of G-d- which seems to me to be contrary to the definition of G-d.

 
At 6:29 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

OK, thank you every one for commenting, this is getting very interesting for me I think I am going to get some concept mapping software and map out the "circuitry" of a moral decision.

Although there are many sidetracks we can take with this issue, and all are worthy, my particular area of focus is traditional orthodox belief accepting the following as axiomatic: a revelation of a creator being occured resulting in halachah and mesorah, this being is unknowable, this being asks us to abdicate our own morality.

No claims of faith allowed only reason.

Can the case be made that abdicating one's morality in this scenario is ever a moral decision ?

 
At 7:16 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Tobie,

"unless you assume that goodness is a trait of G-d rather than a dictate. In other words, G-d could only have made a world where killing babies is moral if G-d Himself were different- which I'm not entirely sure is possible. G-d is good in an absolute sense because we can define good to mean G-dly."

Well, again, then it gets rather meaningless. God is good and good is God, you're just saying that God is God. What does 'good' mean?

Further, if God could have only have made one type of world because of restrictions on his being - then you are limiting God.

 
At 7:22 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"a revelation of a creator being occured resulting in halachah and mesorah, this being is unknowable, this being asks us to abdicate our own morality.

No claims of faith allowed only reason.

Can the case be made that abdicating one's morality in this scenario is ever a moral decision ?"

I would think not. There's no way to be conclusively sure about God in this way so in that sense you are effectively giving up your moral prerogative to an unknown force.

That's why faith is necessary.

Of course, you can't ever be sure that your own moral acts are truly moral, since we are all limited beings and therefore prone to error - so every act you make is a kind of product of faith.

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger Baal Devarim said...

Orthoprax:
"If God is this perfectly trustworthy being who is perfectly moral and all knowing then why should one not trust the orders given by this being? Yes, you are handing over your moral agency, but it is in perfectly good hands!"

Relinquishing your morality to a superior agency is never a moral act. Otherwise, "I was just following orders" would be a perfectly good and moral excuse, which it obviously isn't. The difference between the trust you grant a superior human in order to allow him dominion over your own morality and the trust you grant a superior deity to do the same is quantitative, not qualitative.

In other words, "I was following orders because I have absolute trust in the morality of my commander -- even when he tells me to massacre a civilian village" is not a moral position. There may be a difference in the degree of trust you place on a person and the degree of trust you place on a God, but in kind they are the same. No amount of alleged unconditional trust can turn that into a moral act.

Your own soldier analogy is off. Yes, if God sends an angel to tell you that your brother is fronting an army and marching against you, it may be moral to try and kill him. We may question if the data is reliable, but as long as you have a reasonable basis to believe it is (which, I grant, is ultimately "faith", since even relying on your own senses is somewhat of a faith-based act), you have the right of self-defense. The question is now in the human domain -- lethal force in self-defense is a moral act. But if God tells you to kill innocents out of revenge or kill your son just because, then that goes against your own humane and human understanding of morality and no amount of trust can justify following that order.

"I disagree. I wouldn't want to be stuck in prison. Does that mean that I cannot send a convicted murderer there? That doesn't sound right."

I said morality is based on the Golden Rule, not that it consists solely of that rule, or even that every question of morality can easily be answered by referring to that rule. Obviously, it needs many correlating rules to make it a complete and workable system. One of those rules is that individuals flagrantly violating the Golden Rule (i.e. murderers) need to be taken out of society.

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

BD,

"In other words, "I was following orders because I have absolute trust in the morality of my commander -- even when he tells me to massacre a civilian village" is not a moral position. There may be a difference in the degree of trust you place on a person and the degree of trust you place on a God, but in kind they are the same. No amount of alleged unconditional trust can turn that into a moral act."

Only because the mechanism of trust is suspect, not the object which one entrusts. If God truly is as He is believed to be then it makes full sense to fully trust in His judgement.

This is different from a human which we know can be flawed and therefore it would be foolhardy and immoral to fully place your ethical autonomy in his power. Nevertheless, soldiers do need, as a matter of practicality, to trust their leaders and not get into an ethical debate before every battle.

"But if God tells you to kill innocents out of revenge or kill your son just because, then that goes against your own humane and human understanding of morality and no amount of trust can justify following that order."

Why not? Whether the ethical conflict is situational or foundational doesn't make a significant difference. Either way you are doing what seems wrong but may still very well be right.

 
At 10:19 AM, Blogger Baal Devarim said...

Orthoprax:
"If God truly is as He is believed to be then it makes full sense to fully trust in His judgement."

I can't see it. Morality is by necessity based on our own understanding of the term, not God's (or else how would we decide that God is moral?); therefore, committing an act we understand to be immoral based on orders from God is clearly immoral, trust in His perfect morality notwithstanding. Morality is necessarily a human institution (anything else would be mindless obedience, not morality), and once you abdicate your understanding of the term to a higher power in whom you have absolute trust you can no longer claim to be moral. (Obedient, yes; moral, no.)

"Why not? Whether the ethical conflict is situational or foundational doesn't make a significant difference."

Of course it does! In one, you use your own judgment to decide what is moral, the only question being how you gather the data on which you act. Therefore, you are acting morally. In the other, you abdicate your morality to a higher being, and as soon as you do something immoral from a human viewpoint you are no longer being moral, only submissive. How much you trust that higher being doesn't matter. You are acting immorally.

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

BD,

"Morality is by necessity based on our own understanding of the term, not God's (or else how would we decide that God is moral?); therefore, committing an act we understand to be immoral based on orders from God is clearly immoral, trust in His perfect morality notwithstanding."

No, see, we only perceive it to be immoral, but actually it is moral - if only we understood.

Like an ignoramus watching surgery. He thinks it's butchery.

"Of course it does! In one, you use your own judgment to decide what is moral, the only question being how you gather the data on which you act. Therefore, you are acting morally. In the other, you abdicate your morality to a higher being, and as soon as you do something immoral from a human viewpoint you are no longer being moral, only submissive."

The point is that if the human had the wisdom of God then he'd understand the true moral nature of the act. It only appears immoral.

"How much you trust that higher being doesn't matter. You are acting immorally."

The act may be immoral by your judgement, but how does your judgement compare to God's?

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous jl said...

"I wouldn't want to be stuck in prison. Does that mean that I cannot send a convicted murderer there? That doesn't sound right."

When you put a murderer in prison, you do 2 things, 1) you do a bed thing for the murderer, 2) you do a good thing for all the people around the murderer (so they don't get killed next).

#2 is much better good then #1 is bed, so you still apply the golden rule in this case.

The problem with using the golden rule to define morality is that it doesn't seem to represent the deep passionate feelings we have about Right and Wrong, it just sounds like a good utility tool that’s vary practical.

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger Baal Devarim said...

Orthoprax"
"No, see, we only perceive it to be immoral, but actually it is moral - if only we understood."

How we perceive it is the only thing that matters in our moral framework. If we understand something to be immoral and we go ahead and do it anyway on the authority of a superior we are acting immorally. There is no such thing "if only we understood" when relating to our own actions. Morality (which is necessarily based on how we define the term, independent of God) dictates we act morally within the limits of our own understanding.

"Like an ignoramus watching surgery. He thinks it's butchery."

More like an ignoramus performing surgery; butchery indeed. As I mentioned before, let the God who understands the ultimate morality of the act do it himself. Or explain the purpose of the action in a way that makes it moral in human terms. (I.E. someone is trying to kill you.) There can be no moral cover for us to follow these orders just on God's say-so.

(I think we're arguing in circles, at this point.)

 
At 6:26 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

JL,

"When you put a murderer in prison, you do 2 things, 1) you do a bed thing for the murderer, 2) you do a good thing for all the people around the murderer (so they don't get killed next)."

That's not the golden rule, you're already approaching utilitarian moral ideas there (which fail in other ways).

In any case, I disagree with that framework totally. Even if I was 100% certain that the murderer would never harm anyone else and was no danger to anyone - I would still want him to go to prison (if not the death penalty, depending on circumstance).

It is with a sense of justice - and the pursuit of it - that the golden rule has difficulty.

Morality and justice involve giving people what they deserve - whether it be merit or condemnation. For a person to toil without proper compensation is unjust as is one who steals and is not caught.

The golden rule is a simplistic formulation that reduces all moral judgement to subjective empathy, but the real world, and the various and different people who live in it, require a more sophisticated understanding.


BD,

"(I think we're arguing in circles, at this point.)"

Indeed, though the point of contention is that for some reason you think morality is limited solely to what the human mind can understand. I do not believe that is true.

I understand morality as a way of behavior or a series of values which determines behavior in such a way that a good end is correctly intended to be accomplished. 'Correctly intended' meaning that the intention is correct towards the moral goal and that in real fact the act can accomplish the goal.

The exact forumation of the goals can be complicated, but I think it ends up being something like being simultaneously progressive for the individual and progressive for society at large. These are the fundamental moral ends.

How you reach those ends is through an objective mechanism. We can use human reason and so on to figure out that mechanism - or we can follow commands from one who we believe already knows the mechanism - but in both senses, if true in real fact, then the act is a moral one.

In an analogy, if we want to fly to Mars, we can figure out how to do it through human ingenuity and that will work. But we can also trust the pre-made technology of some advanced alien race even if we don't understand it. They can both do the job.

 
At 7:39 PM, Blogger Baal Devarim said...

Orthoprax:
"Indeed, though the point of contention is that for some reason you think morality is limited solely to what the human mind can understand."

Indeed, and necessarily so. It seems you misunderstand the crux of my argument; I'll try to be clearer this time around.

"These are the fundamental moral ends."

I disagree with your exact formulation. I wouldn't formulate morality as being a purely utilitarian pursuit. But that is a tangential issue; it doesn't really alter the point I'm trying to make. The crucial point here is this: whatever the means to get to the moral ends may be (and whatever way you chose to deduce those means), the moral end itself is necessarily the product of our own understanding -- not that of any superior agency. Otherwise, morality is meaningless.

"We can use human reason and so on to figure out that mechanism - or we can follow commands from one who we believe already knows the mechanism"

We may well do that. However, this only applies to the mechanism to bring about the moral end -- it cannot apply to changing the moral end itself! If you allow that, you are essentially saying that morality is contingent on whatever that superior agency decides, effectively destroying human morality in the process.

Using your analogy, we may certainly use alien technology -- or whatever technology in which we can demonstrate a reasonable belief -- to accomplish the goal of getting to mars (analogous to a moral end). However, what happens if an alien tries to tell you that according to his superior intelligence the proper goal is not getting to mars, but to crash and burn and die a horrible death? He'll demonstrate how to build a spaceship to accomplish that laudable goal. His intelligence may well be superior to yours, but if you follow his advice you've essentially made a mockery of the goal of getting to mars (i.e. morality) and replaced it with the goal of being subservient to an alien.

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

BD,

The presumption is that God is working towards the same moral ends as mankind.

"the moral end itself is necessarily the product of our own understanding -- not that of any superior agency. Otherwise, morality is meaningless."

Well, yes and no. It can be a combination. The ends of a tree to absorb sunlight is to grow and reproduce and so on. The tree needn't have any understanding here but the causality is clear.

I don't believe moral ends are arbitrary human decisions - they are ends figured out by experience and reason. They are discovered as naturally existing algorithms which input cooperative human behavior to get reasoned ends.

The whole system is a created thing - i.e. from God.

Suppose the tree could think and it 'figured out' that it's moral end would be to grow big and strong and produce lots of fruit. Well, is that end something created by some higher mechanism or is it a product of the tree's mind? Both, kind of.

 
At 6:03 AM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I've written on morality. Here is what I wrote a few months ago:


The parameters in my definition are that any act that anyone on this planet deems to be a moral or immoral act is one that I have to address as either moral or immoral to at least some degree.

That being said, to me, a moral act is an act that is not immoral. And an immoral act is an act as an act that causes the individual committing the act any degree of guilt and/or an act that was done maliciously or selfishly or unlawfully that causes any degree of hurt or grief onto another living being.

Oh and the guilt can't be caused by failure of motor skills (a dropped ball in a football game) or the guilt caused by failing to do a job properly when the intent was to be successful and not to screw up.

Now, your idea of of what morality might be what you think God or Jesus or Allah thinks you should do in any given situation, or it could be simply not breaking the laws of the state, or it might be a combination. It could also have to do with what is evolutionary beneficial.


Besides giving an exact definition of morality, you can also mention where you think morality comes from. To me, I think it is mostly innate and evolutionary in origin, and partially based on societal laws (that are really offshoots of what is innate).

Oh and the point of this. Unless someone defines morality, they have no business making statements like "Atheists have no morals," or "Atheists have no real basis or guidelines for morality."
******************************
As far as Atheists being moral, Atheists are totally under represented in prisons. It is a joke when numbskulls like JP say it is a hard sell to prove that Atheists are moral. Is he saying that if he didn't believe in God, or fear God that he would become a murderous raping thief? That is just sad.

The animal kingdom, especially social animals, don't need God's law to stop themselves from murdering and stealing from within their clan. It is hardwired in our brains at birth. Because if we did these things we would long be extinct. From hundreds of thousands of years mankind got by without the 10 commandments and the Abrahamic God.

Forget God, if someone is told by the leader of their country to murder a person for no reason (not during a time of war, etc)....the leader is asking you to commit an immoral act, according to my definition of morality, which has nothing to do with an invisible sky fairy who doesn't exist.

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

thanks Bacon,

I think my real desire, even if I went about it in a backwards fashion was to demonstrate to religious folks, that although you can have faith, that God has a morality ,above and beyond our own "morality h", you cannot reasonably assert this.

In terms of reason, even if one belived in a creator who reveiled his will on a mountain, you are left with an unknowable creative force, delivering rules for inscrutible purposes. There is no reason based on human morality to suggest that we should follow this creators morality. Without faith, the only reason one would abdicate their own moral sensabilities, is subservience to a being more powerful than they are.


Of course, people can claim they have faith in God's overwhelming morality, but that is the end of all reasoned argument, as all faith claims, dependant on the absence of evidence, are equall, and get dumped in the same hole with healing crystals and scientology.

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"Of course, people can claim they have faith in God's overwhelming morality, but that is the end of all reasoned argument, as all faith claims, dependant on the absence of evidence, are equall, and get dumped in the same hole with healing crystals and scientology."

It's easy to disregard faith. I've done it myself for quite some time, but I think eventually one must realize that if you don't want to sink into the bottomless pit of existential meaninglessness then you need to put your faith in something.

There comes a point where so much argument is just white noise.

Naturally, evidence-based thinking is superior in most respects, but when one reaches the limits of human knowledge I believe we ought to allow ourselves a measure of guiltless speculation.

I do not believe all faith claims are equal as some are coherent while others are not. Some are internally consistent while others are not. Some conflict with the known facts while others exist external to them.

I see little wrong with a coherent, internally consistent belief system that conflicts with no known facts. That's hardly science, of course, but that is religion. It has its place.

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Orthoprax, I make my own meaning to life, I don't need faith or drugs to help me along.

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Bacon,

"I make my own meaning to life, I don't need faith or drugs to help me along."

And what do you base your meaning of life on? Nothing? No, it has to be a form of faith otherwise you'd see right through the meaninglessness of your actions.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Orthoprax, what is your meaning with God? Nothing really unless you give it meaning. What is the point of heaven or possibly living forever? Nothing, unless you give it meaning.

You are trying to pawn off meaning in life to something hopefully God will fill you in on. That isn't meaning. Just false hope in reality.

 
At 8:11 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Bacon,

"Orthoprax, what is your meaning with God? Nothing really unless you give it meaning. What is the point of heaven or possibly living forever? Nothing, unless you give it meaning. You are trying to pawn off meaning in life to something hopefully God will fill you in on. That isn't meaning. Just false hope in reality."

I don't think you know my way of thinking very well. I don't actually disagree that a meaningful life is based on one's perceptions of reality, but I would say that perceptions are colored by beliefs.

The point is that if you really had no faith at all in anything then I don't see how you could find meaning in anything. Ultimate value judgements are intrinsically faith-based. Do you disagree?

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>I see little wrong with a coherent, internally consistent belief system that conflicts with no known facts. That's hardly science, of course, but that is religion. It has its place.


Orthoprax, Hmmm, I'm not so sure, this may just be semantics but here are my thoughts.


At the limits of human reason we have "speculation", I don't think we need to say we have faith, it has a connotation of certainty in the realm of ucertainty; that is it's internal inconsistency.

If there has to be a murky semi logic at the edges of where human reason tapers off into nothingness let's not call it religion, even if it is better definition of religion than what religion has ever been in the past.

The reason I say this is because just about everyone equates religion with proclomations of certainty from these unknown realms that typically lead to archaic and unsubstantiable legal structures.

I think we have a better vocabulary at our disposal that would at once allow us to include the powerful humility one feels when staring at the edge of what he can know, while maintaining an open mind of the speculative nature of this space.

 
At 1:10 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"I don't think we need to say we have faith, it has a connotation of certainty in the realm of ucertainty; that is it's internal inconsistency."

It is, of course, a false sense of certainty. It is wrong to pretend to be sure of what one is ignorant of, but it is hardly unreasonable to act _as if_ the way was clear.

Ultimately we must all select a path - or clear out a new one for ourselves - for we haven't the ability to not choose. We must act - and when we do, we are implicitly acting in a way that presumes a sense of certainty. It 'locks in' our uncertainty into certain actions. This is a form of faith.

This is why I've said in the past that the agnostic who acts as if there is no God is effectively equivalent to the atheist.

On a side note, it is this dynamic dialectic between the true uncertainty and the implicit certainty of action which makes Judaism, with its primary focus on deeds and not beliefs, particularly well-suited to house the internal conflict.

Religion is the accepted metaphysical weltanschauung of an individual or community which allows him or them to make sense of the world, informs value judgements and inspires action. For all intents and purposes one's religion is mirrored by one's actions, whether one is aware of the relationship or not.

We all act and our actions are founded, knowingly or unknowingly, on beliefs and value judgements that we hold. In our minds we may be bewildered, but our acts are certain and demonstrate a faith.

Faith then is not necessarily a statement of intellectual certainty, but a statement of faithfulness to act as though certain propositions were true.

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

We act with limited certainty all the time, and usually do not feel constrained to pretend we are certain even if we choose a certain action.

Every time I pick up a scalpel I act with certainty, but only after the risk benefits and alternatives have been discussed with the patient and we both embrace the uncertanties.

You don't need to act out of faith or luck. You can act out of the reality of what you do and don't know, what you can and can't predict.

The first incision doesn't mean I am certain the operation will be succesful, or that I am acting on that certainty that is now locked in, or that I have faith that things will work out...

it just means the patient and I have come to terms with the degrees of unknown that this endeavor consists of.

One's actions don't necessarliy demonstrate faith in a particular outcome as much as willingness to assume a certain probability and accept the shorfall of being wrong or unlucky, or even embrace the attitude that it is better to take a chance than not to.

Also, I think there is a tremendous difference between acting as if an ideal is true, and acting as if an actual occurance is true.

Hence, "give me liberty or give me death", is not the same as "there is a gremlin living in my top drawer or give me death"

There may be some nobility in aspiring for a human species that acts as if a judgmental God is looking at it, but I don't think there is any redeeming value to actualy attempting to wish into existence such a being.

I think this is where we differ. I believe as we approach the edge of human reason the assumptions we make, the "faith" we take on, reveal important truths about ourselves, not about reality outside ourselves. Any "certainty" we act upon in these areas should be viewed in that light.

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"The first incision doesn't mean I am certain the operation will be succesful, or that I am acting on that certainty that is now locked in, or that I have faith that things will work out...

it just means the patient and I have come to terms with the degrees of unknown that this endeavor consists of."

Well, this is what I mean. What really is the difference? It's not as if you don't believe it will succeed - or else you wouldn't be doing it. You are demonstrating a confidence enough to act that settles the arguments and the uncertainty and the ignorance that rattles around in your mind.

Through acting you've ended the debate and have 'locked in' your conclusion. That's what I meant. Mentally you may hold reservations, but you act as though you were confident.

"Also, I think there is a tremendous difference between acting as if an ideal is true, and acting as if an actual occurance is true."

I agree with you. Yet ideals rely on conceptions of reality. For example, if one doesn't believe in free will in any respect, then it is rather silly to talk about liberty.

We all have our metaphysical conceptions that we use to determine values and how we should act. These ideals don't just exist in a vacuum.

The deep humility inspired by the profoundest uncertainty does battle with the confidence required for action. Ultimately, confidence must win.

 
At 8:13 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

but I would say that perceptions are colored by beliefs.
************************
Are you saying that if someone doesn't have beliefs that they can't have perceptions?

The point is that if you really had no faith at all in anything then I don't see how you could find meaning in anything. Ultimate value judgements are intrinsically faith-based. Do you disagree?
*******************
No, I think value judgments can be made without faith. I'll give a small example, if I help a teenager or young adult understand evolution and that the earth is ancient, I feel like I'm making a difference.
I'll make another point. Do you think that a dog or cat or any non human animal incapable of having faith in God, is living a pointless existence to them?

 
At 5:57 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>The deep humility inspired by the profoundest uncertainty does battle with the confidence required for action. Ultimately, confidence must win.

Well put !

I just think of it this way: The humility inspired by profoundest uncertainty modulates and informs our confidence and we find confidence is not required for action. Action is taken all the time on imperfect information with full realization of possible unfortunate outcomes. We don't need to bolster ourselves into a state of false certainty. We act all the time from the unknown and just have to prepare to deal with the consequences of possible failure as a result.

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Bacon,

"Are you saying that if someone doesn't have beliefs that they can't have perceptions?"

No, but I would say one cannot have meaningful perceptions unless they are in relation to some previously held beliefs.

"No, I think value judgments can be made without faith. I'll give a small example, if I help a teenager or young adult understand evolution and that the earth is ancient, I feel like I'm making a difference."

And? There are implicit values there that you haven't justified. Why is 'making a difference' valuable to you? Why do you care if someone understands evolution?

We can follow these questions back to a metaphysical source of one sort another which one cannot justify rationally.

"I'll make another point. Do you think that a dog or cat or any non human animal incapable of having faith in God, is living a pointless existence to them?"

You're missing what I'm saying. I'm not talking about faith in God per se, but the nature of faith itself. Even if your metaphysical system is just a form of materialism - that too requires a non-rational starting point. You can't prove axioms.

As far as animals go they don't have the cognitive power to understand meaning so the whole concept is irrelevant when it comes to them.


Ben,

I don't think we're disagreeing. For questions of scientific fact - will this procedure work? - we can act while semi-ignorant because we can still operate on a preponderance of the available evidence and go from there.

But when it comes to the deeper questions - in terms of ethics and values and how one should live their life - I don't see how a preponderance of the evidence is at all helpful.

 
At 2:31 PM, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Ortho, I'm not sure bonobos for example have no concept of meaning.
And yes, all meaning we give life can be called irrational, but we evolved an ability for irrational behavior and thoughts that are sometimes very difficult to overcome.
When push comes to shove in the whole picture, life is meaningless if you put it in the context that one day billions of years from now all life in the universe will cease to exist no matter how much scientific knowledge man or any other life form in the universe has.

 
At 5:59 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Bacon,

"I'm not sure bonobos for example have no concept of meaning."

Ok, so maybe they're an exception, but I don't know. Either way I don't see the relevance.

"And yes, all meaning we give life can be called irrational, but we evolved an ability for irrational behavior and thoughts that are sometimes very difficult to overcome."

I prefer to use the term non-rational. It means that these values are not based on reason, but neither are they inconsistent with reason. Reason itself does not force us to conclude that human activity is meaningless.

"When push comes to shove in the whole picture, life is meaningless if you put it in the context that one day billions of years from now all life in the universe will cease to exist no matter how much scientific knowledge man or any other life form in the universe has."

I don't agree with that. Life is meaningless because it may not exist in eternal perpetuity? I don't even understand the connection. That we die makes life tragic, in a way, but I don't see why meaninglessness is a forced conclusion.

 
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