1003: "Hitler and Eve"

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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:55 am UTC

markfiend wrote:
J Thomas wrote:In ancient times, slavery was the humane alternative to genocide. When there wasn't enough fertile land to go around, somebody had to lose out. Some populations got conquered for their land. Then they could be slaughtered. Or they could be put to work, and survive until the next famine.


Actually, you've got that exactly backwards. Slavery is far more common in scenarios where there is an excess of land and few people to populate it. When there's an excess of people, paid labour is cheaper (supply and demand) but when there aren't enough people, you need to enslave them and make them come.


We have two opposite opinions about ancient times. To me it isn't worth finding citations, so I'll let it go.

Note though that the price of slaves varied with the supply of slaves. When a foreign nation was conquered there was suddenly a surplus of land and also a lot of new slaves. And your victorious army, many of whom were likely paid in new land, might not be available for low-price labor. You had lots of people but a lot of them were already slaves.

Very different from more modern slavery where cash-poor farmers could barter crops for imported slaves, but could not nearly so easily pay wages before the crops came in.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:46 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
Monika wrote:Do you only achieve things in the current world as it is with violence?

Quite the contrary.


And yet everything that is not done entirely by voluntary agreement is implicitly coerced.

If your well-treated slaves wander away you call the police, show them your papers that prove ownership, and when the police finds them, they return them to you.

How will the police do so? If they are adhering to the same standards of good treatment you are, then they can't take him in by force -- that would be violent, and thus mistreatment. So what, they just ask nicely, and their requests are magically compulsory because they are police? No. All police action is necessarily violent action; at "best", merely the implied threat of violence, but if someone doesn't get the implication it becomes an explicit threat of violence, and if someone doesn't heed the threat it becomes actual violence; and if that violence is resisted, the level of violence gets escalated, up to and including lethal levels.

How does delegating your mistreatment to the police make it no longer mistreatment?

This is a HUGE problem we have with people's awareness in society today, and a major hindrance to the preservation of liberty. People advocate outlawing this or that mildly bad thing or mandating this or that nice thing, and miss the connection that in doing so, in legally prohibiting or obliging something, they are authorizing the use, in their (collective) names, of violent force against people who do or refrain from doing those things. Would you have someone shot for smoking pot? Probably not. But fine them? That's alright, it's good to discourage drug use, yeah? So you smoke pot and you get a bill in the mail, what's the big deal? Well, what if you ignore that bill? Eventually, a warrant will go out for your arrest, and the police will come find you and ask you to come along with them and sit in a concrete room with locked bars on it for a while. What if you ignore their request? They will, eventually, violently grapple and/or taze you and haul you off to that concrete room in chains. And what if you manage to defend yourself against this violence, even nonviolently? They will use more violence, up to and including the point where you get shot. So smoking pot and then doing nothing else will eventually bring violent force against you -- that's why it's called law enforcement -- and if you defend yourself against that force it will be escalated to lethal force if necessary.

That's what law is: the systemic application of violence.


Agreed. Everything that is done by law is coerced. Including enforcement of contracts. If you agree to do something and then later you change your mind, by the same reasoning you just showed you can eventually get shot.

By Roman law, when you took out a loan you agreed that if you didn't pay it back you could be sold into slavery. You agreed to that when you took the loan. It was just enforcement of contracts.... Of course the Romans also enslaved lots of foreigners without agreed contracts, because they could.

When is the use of violence justified? Only to prevent unjustified violence, so goes the usual ethical answer. So by that standard, what can be legitimately outlawed? Violent acts, and nothing else; for to outlaw anything else is to endorse violence against a nonviolent act or omission.


Libertarians often take this position. But usually they also accept land rights as primary, and it eventually turns into pretzel-logic. If somebody comes onto your land and messes with your property then you have the right to make them stop, and if they defend themselves against your violence it eventually gets agreed you have the right to kill them.

Whatever we philosophers say is justifiable, most people think that it's right to use violence to stop people from doing bad things or to require them to do the minimum good things that should be required of everybody. It's right to give people parking tickets when they park inappropriately. It's right to make people stop trampling flower beds. It's right to stop people from collecting firewood or christmas trees from land that doesn't belong to them. It's right to require that baby-sitters and child-care facilities prove they have all necessary training. Food handlers must wash their hands. In Singapore you can get a caning for dropping chewing gum on the sidewalk.

Everything which is enforced is implicitly enforced by violence. Doesn't that include all our commercial interactions? Anything you take without paying for, can get you violence. You can face violence just for being someplace you "aren't supposed to be". How many human interactions do you have in a day that are not wrapped in coercion? Everything you do with your own children is constrained by laws about child abuse. (Of course good people would never consider doing anything that might be considered child abuse, but the laws are there, and anybody who wants to cause a parent trouble can file a child abuse report.) Etc.

(Which consequentially makes legally obligating positive action always illegitimate, because what the hell is a "violent omission", such that you could justify using violence to prevent it?)


You are being reasonable and logical in a way that in my experience has essentially nothing to do with the world that real people are living in.

Slavery is always a problem per sé.

That was my point. Slavery always implies mistreatment, because slavery without mistreatment is not slavery at all. Stipulating it not to be a problem per se so long as the slaves are not mistreated was the first step of a reductio ad absurdum argument; it was the position to be shown absurd.


I don't want to argue that in real life any slave owner has ever treated a slave better than the slave would have treated himself if he was free. I do want to argue that the possibility is there. For example, some people are drug addicts who do various hurtful and demeaning things to support their addictions. An owner who limited access to the drugs and required them to behave reasonably well might be a good thing, if it were to happen. It would be coercion, and you could argue that would make it wrong from the get-go. I claim the results could be good. I don't claim to know who needs to be a slave or who would make a good master etc.

The master/slave relationship is not so different from the military-officer/enlisted-man relationship. Or the police/citizen one. Or parent/child. There are various government regulations on the dominant partner, and the coerced partner can get the other in trouble if he plays his cards just right. But then at best he'll find himself with a history and a new dominant partner to deal with. In many circumstances governments have gotten involved in official master/slave relationships too, and have imposed restrictions on masters. How that worked out in practice, I don't know. Children who testify against abusive parents often get sent back to live with those parents after awhile. Citizens who get a policeman in trouble find themselves dealing with other police who know who they are. Etc.

I dunno. A society without coercion seems like a noble goal. I've talked with libertarians and anarchist-capitalists who start out talking about a society with no coercion. And somehow they wind up talking about letting anybody challenge anybody else to duel-to-the-death, and people who break contracts eventually getting thrown out of airlocks.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:06 am UTC

XTCamus wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
markfiend wrote:
jpk wrote:
Final thought, Slavery in the Hebrews time was very different from what we know today.


I don't think there's anyone who believes that ancient slavery looked anything like either Anglo-American triangle trade slavery, or like the less known indentured slavery, or like the contemporary kind. It differed in almost every regard - the sort of work slaves were assigned to, the position of slaves in society, the duration of servitude, the treatment of slaves, and the means by which one became a slave. Not to take a side in the argument, but the "final thought" was in fact correct.


I also claim this. It got the same name and it wasn't the same thing, though there were great big philosophical similarities at the core.

I'm not foolish enough to claim that had there been an unambiguous "thou shalt not keep slaves" in the Bible then the triangle slave trade wouldn't have happened, but it certainly didn't help matters that pro-slavery advocates were able, quite comfortably, to use Biblical citations in support of their position.


The New Testament was widely understood to have an unambiguous "thou shalt not do usury", and we went right ahead and developed a banking system which now appears to have a stranglehold on the world economy. Banking or slavery. Which is worse? (I know, I know, people generally believe the propaganda and think slavery is the worst thing in the world and banking is just fine.) Christians as a whole did little to stop either one.

In ancient times, slavery was the humane alternative to genocide. When there wasn't enough fertile land to go around, somebody had to lose out. Some populations got conquered for their land. Then they could be slaughtered. Or they could be put to work, and survive until the next famine.


J Thomas, forgive me, but either you haven't recovered from childhood indoctrination or else you recently caught a mind-virus and can no longer tell right from wrong either with or without the twisting of bible stories.

Your apologistic sentiments betray the inherent problem in any claim of faith-based morality. When I hear things like:
J Thomas wrote:In ancient times, slavery was the humane alternative to genocide.

All I can think of is how negligible the effect of faith has been on stemming the tide of evil.


It sounds like you have pretty intense feelings about this.

It sounds like you think I believe that slavery is good. That in reality it's the deepest evil, but that I have confused utter depravity with shining ideals. Did I say it badly? It sounds like I did.

I'm not sure how to clear this up. I claim that ancient times were very different. I'm not a foremost expert in that topic and somebody who really knows the subject could surely poke a lot of holes in anything I say. I have the idea you know even less, and how could we reach a common understanding given that we believe different things that are probably both wrong? Still, I'll say some of what I think.

Today we live in a very special time. For 500 years or so europe has had increasing harvests because they learned increasingly better ways to do agriculture. Also they produced a whole lot of food in north america etc. I read a report where the author described the late-middle-age time when they stopped using the word for "famine" and started using a word for "dearth". When the poor harvests stopped resulting in lots of starvation.

From the bronze age on, there have been long stretches where the poorest people starved every year and in years with poor harvests lots of people starved. The land was right at carrying-capacity, and it tended to fluctuate around there. In a few places they could grow lots of food. Egypt. Babylon. Rivers that allowed complex irrigation. Those places got big populations and they collected some wealth.

So, you have some people starving. Not so far away there are people who can't defend their farmland. Come on now, if you don't take it somebody else will. So after you take that land from them, what happens to the survivors? These days when that topic comes up (Israel, Kosovo, etc) we call it "ethnic cleansing". Kill enough of them to scare the rest into fleeing. After they're gone they aren't your problem. In the old days lots of populations plain weren't very mobile. (Some were, like the Goths.) When a bunch of people who've never been 20 miles from home walk out with whatever you let them carry on their backs, what will happen to them? They wind up some place they don't speak the language, no friends, beggars, they'll be the poorest of the poor and they're likely to just starve. Unless somebody accepts them as slaves and feeds them. Or you can take them as slaves yourself.

The world is a very different place now. We mostly aren't at carrying-capacity, there's more than enough food. There are places in rural Thailand where poor farmers can't quite feed themselves. Is it immoral for them to sell daughters to be sex workers, when the alternative is some family members starve? The daughters don't get their rightful share of the profits from their work, but usually they eat OK. The government ought to keep that from happening, they ought to stop everybody from starving. Sometimes third world governments aren't up to that. But I say 2500 years ago this sort of anomaly was the norm. Lots of places the poorest people starved even in good years.

I don't say that slavery was a good thing back then. I say it was the accepted solution to some problems. People had no concept of outlawing it. They didn't have governments that could do that. Governments were weak. A religion could have forbidden slavery to its members. Most times, most places, there wasn't a single dominant religion which could do that. Tell people they can't be slaves but you don't have land to give them either. What will they do? When 90% of the people are farmers and they feed the extra 10%. Should the freed slaves become beggars? Should they starve?

You can imagine a better solution. Apparently back then people did not imagine a better solution.

Whether on an individual, tribal or organized level, can anyone argue that faith has actually helped the weak more than it has helped the powerful?


Faith has the biggest effect on the people who have faith. It sometimes has survival value for them, because people who keep trying are more likely to succeed than people who give up. There may be other benefits which are less tangible.

Organized religions have had a wide variety of social effects. In my own opinion, I can't say that the results have been consistently good. Or usually good. Maybe there have been societies that didn't survive the stresses their religions imposed on them. In general, the people that a religion helps tend to become more powerful, so a religion that fails to keep changing the recipients of its bounty will tend to help the powerful -- even if the powerful it helps are the people it made powerful in the first place.

OK, I've said all this stuff. I can back all of it up as happening sometime somewhere. I want to claim it used to be the norm most places. Ideally I would know about somebody who claimed that as a big part of his doctoral dissertation or something, and I could paste the citation. You could read the thing and decide whether you thought it was good scholarship, and maybe you could cite another dissertation which disagreed. So we would both establish that we are not just crackpots with our own stupid ideas, we can cite mainstream authorities that agree with us.

Let's not do it and say we did.

After some contemplation I realized that my sentence was paraphrased from a particular source. Gene Wolfe wrote a novel set in ancient greece, Soldier in the Mist. He learned a lot to write it, and got a tutor to help him learn classical greek, etc. He wrote:

Humanitarians accepted the institution of slavery, realizing that the alternative was massacre; we who have seen the holocaust of the European Jews should be sparing in our reproaches. Prisoners of war were a principal source of supply. A really first-class slave might cost as much as ten minas, the equivalent of thirty-six thousand dollars. Most were much more reasonable.


It fit my other reading. Wolfe does not have an advanced degree in this particular field, nor do I.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby jpk » Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:38 am UTC

OK, point taken, there are different kinds of slavery, but "very different"?


Yes, I think "very different" is reasonable, in the sense that the systems under discussion resemble each other about as much as other industrial and agricultural practices of their times resemble each other.

Again, I'm not taking part in the religious argument - I gave up arguing about religion for Lent a few years back, and never picked it up again. Nor am I condoning any system of slavery by pointing out that they differ from each other. Understanding history is not a matter of passing moral judgements on the practices of any time - a singularly useless waste of one's indignation. Even discussing the status of slaves in one time and place relative to some other time and place - comparing different systems of slavery - does not amount to advocating one system or another, any more than the old children's game of "would you rather?" advocates whatever awful fates are brought up.
Slavery is still owning people, by definition. And any alleged moral system which does not come out flatly condemning slavery of any kind has pretty severe failings in my opinion.


I am by no means a Christian or an advocate for anyone's religious faith, but I think you'll find that Christianity today is a moral system which pretty flatly condemns slavery. I think you'll also find that most of the opposition to slavery in the 19th century was based on religious arguments, like much of the support for it. Religion ratifies the beliefs of its believers, that's why they enjoy it. In any case, to judge actions in the past by the standards of the present day is called "presentism" by historians, and it's usually considered a pretty amateurish mistake. Why, a historian might ask you, do you choose today's standards particularly as your baseline? Why not those of a hundred years ago or a hundred years from now? The relevant standard for a given time and place is that accepted in that time and place. You might make a case that the actions of the church through history have been based on grounds other than moral ones (for example, on grounds of political expedience or economic gain), and you might get some traction there, but you'd still have some work to do in that case.
You certainly have no case if you argue that the Christians of today have a moral failing in the fact that the Christians of some point in the historical past did not condemn slavery. You would have to argue that the Christians of today prefer a tradition of tolerance of slavery to taking an active opposition to slavery - and on that, you'd be dead wrong, at least as far as the individual Christians I know.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat Feb 11, 2012 11:24 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:
Monika wrote:Do you only achieve things in the current world as it is with violence?

Quite the contrary.

And yet everything that is not done entirely by voluntary agreement is implicitly coerced.

Correct, and I try not to do anything to coerce (by threat of violence, however indirect) anyone who isn't doing likewise to me.

Of course, in our contemporary society, indirect threats of violence are everywhere, institutionalized, and I can't help but interact with those institutions, so I will leverage their rules (laws, contracts, etc) where I can to defend against those who would leverage them against me in turn. But that's just self-defense. If we lived in a time and place where people were regularly trying to kill me, I wouldn't have qualms about killing in self-defense either.

Agreed. Everything that is done by law is coerced. Including enforcement of contracts. If you agree to do something and then later you change your mind, by the same reasoning you just showed you can eventually get shot.

By Roman law, when you took out a loan you agreed that if you didn't pay it back you could be sold into slavery. You agreed to that when you took the loan. It was just enforcement of contracts.... Of course the Romans also enslaved lots of foreigners without agreed contracts, because they could.


I actually object to the moral validity of most contracts; ones which purport to create obligations other than to refrain from violence against a person or their property. Reassignment of property is fine, and who owns what changes who has what obligations to whom, but I don't really consider simple transfer of ownership to be a contract proper.

Note that I would not have contacts outlawed, per se; I would not have anyone punished for attempting to create one. I would have them merely not enforced.

When is the use of violence justified? Only to prevent unjustified violence, so goes the usual ethical answer. So by that standard, what can be legitimately outlawed? Violent acts, and nothing else; for to outlaw anything else is to endorse violence against a nonviolent act or omission.

Libertarians often take this position. But usually they also accept land rights as primary, and it eventually turns into pretzel-logic. If somebody comes onto your land and messes with your property then you have the right to make them stop, and if they defend themselves against your violence it eventually gets agreed you have the right to kill them.

I agree that mainstream libertarians (especially of the American variety) often twist their principles, particularly when it comes to contracts; my objection to contacts is derived from very libertarian principle, but most libertarians who hear it object vehemently to it.

However, property rights (not land rights specifically) are an abstraction of the same principles as bodily sovereignty, extended to conflicts over actions upon things which aren't a person's body. Put another way, our bodies are the archetype of property; they are the first things we own, and our rights over them constitute our ownership of them; that's what it is to own something, to have rights over it; and to violate such rights is the very definition of violence.

In other words: we accept that it is wrong for a person to act upon another person's body without their consent (battery), or withhold it from their own use (abduction), and that those can be violently stopped; and that a claim to have the right to do so if the person doesn't use his body as demanded (slavery) is illegitimate, and should not be violently enforced. But what about this nifty little tool I made out of some sticks. Is it ok if you smash it with a rock when I set it down for a moment, or if you run off with it? Or is it, for some reason, mine, and for you to do that is wrong just like if you were to smash my hand with a rock, or tie it down and prevent me from using it?

Trespass is an abstraction of battery; or, battery is a special case of trespass of one's body. Theft is an abstraction of abduction; or, abduction is a special case of theft of one's body. And (this part most libertarians protest, but I put forward) usury, as in rent or interest, is an abstraction of slavery; slavery is a special case of someone claiming ownership of and then "renting" you your own body, which you can keep and use so long as you do what they ask of you, but which they retain the "right" to take it back from your control at any time. But that's a long rant I won't go into here.

Point being, property just is having rights in things. That doesn't mean that the whole universe has to be carved up into domains of private property. If we all have rights to something, like the air or the sea, that means that it is public property, and we can each legitimately complain about it being abused or about us being denied its use just as we could our private property. If it were somehow nobody's property, then nobody would have any claims about it.

That's another thing I consider a common misconception of mainstream libertarians: that everything which is not private property is non-property, and nobody has any claim rights to it; it's free to be taken and destroyed. I say that everything is by default public property, and everybody has claim rights to it; but that some things can still become private property, which then functions much like libertarians say, except when it comes to all kinds of weird contractual obligations they think can be magically created by fiat.

Whatever we philosophers say is justifiable, most people think...

It's entirely possible and probably probable that most people are usually wrong about most things.

... that it's right to use violence to stop people from doing bad things

And I agree completely, where "bad things" equates to "violent things". Violence is justified to stop violence.

...or to require them to do the minimum good things that should be required of everybody.

Who is to say what the minimum good things are? What if you're not capable of doing them? Never mind even that, how the hell can you justify violence against someone for the heinous crime of sitting there doing nothing? You may not owe them anything, and can feel free to cut them off from any support they might get from you unless they do as you ask; but you can't force them to do as you ask on threat of violence, unless you're just asking them not to be violent. Otherwise how are they not your slave?

Violence is justified against violence. What's justified against someone who doesn't do anything for anyone is doing nothing for them in return.

In Singapore you can get a caning for dropping chewing gum on the sidewalk.

Are you putting this forth as a good thing, or even an acceptable thing?

Everything which is enforced is implicitly enforced by violence. Doesn't that include all our commercial interactions? Anything you take without paying for, can get you violence. You can face violence just for being someplace you "aren't supposed to be". How many human interactions do you have in a day that are not wrapped in coercion? Everything you do with your own children is constrained by laws about child abuse. (Of course good people would never consider doing anything that might be considered child abuse, but the laws are there, and anybody who wants to cause a parent trouble can file a child abuse report.) Etc.

These are all cases of the implicit threat of violence to stave off more violence, and therefore perfectly justifiable by my (and mainstream libertarian) standards.

You are being reasonable and logical in a way that in my experience has essentially nothing to do with the world that real people are living in.

Something being real doesn't make it moral. Immoral things are frequently realized. That doesn't excuse them.

I don't want to argue that in real life any slave owner has ever treated a slave better than the slave would have treated himself if he was free. I do want to argue that the possibility is there. For example, some people are drug addicts who do various hurtful and demeaning things to support their addictions. An owner who limited access to the drugs and required them to behave reasonably well might be a good thing, if it were to happen. It would be coercion, and you could argue that would make it wrong from the get-go. I claim the results could be good. I don't claim to know who needs to be a slave or who would make a good master etc.

The problem with forcing people to do things for their own good is, who are you to say what's good for them? Everyone is the arbiter of their own standard of what's good for them; we are sovereign over ourselves, and no others. So we can defend ourselves from others; we can defend others from each other; but we cannot defend another from themselves.

The master/slave relationship is not so different from the military-officer/enlisted-man relationship. Or the police/citizen one. Or parent/child.

I agree, and I object to those kinds of relationships equally. Well, not inherently as they are named, but as they often flesh out. Officer-enlisted would be fine if it were like any other employer-employee relationship. Police-citizen would be fine so long as the only difference between the two is that the police were being paid specifically to do a duty that any citizen could do if they liked, and only with the same powers that those citizens had. Parent-child is obviously inevitable so long as people keep breeding, and is fine so long as it doesn't have the authoritarian master-slave dynamic you're talking about; children are people too.

There are various government regulations on the dominant partner, and the coerced partner can get the other in trouble if he plays his cards just right.

And if you continue those kinds of regulations to their logical conclusion, you end up with entirely nonviolent versions of these relationships, at which point they are perfectly fine.

J Thomas wrote:The New Testament was widely understood to have an unambiguous "thou shalt not do usury", and we went right ahead and developed a banking system which now appears to have a stranglehold on the world economy. Banking or slavery. Which is worse? (I know, I know, people generally believe the propaganda and think slavery is the worst thing in the world and banking is just fine.) Christians as a whole did little to stop either one.

Actually, the Catholic church for the longest time was pretty strict on the "no usury" thing, and the destruction of that stricture during the Protestant Reformation was one of the things which lead to the era of modern capitalism. Muslims today still adhere to their own version of it (not derived from quite the same source of course), and Jews' religiously unrestricted use of it was one of the reasons they were hated in the middle ages (and is the origin of the "Jews run all the banks" meme).

There are/were bugs in the system, both the modern Muslim one and the old Catholic one, that allow(ed) people to work around it, but I think the principle is pretty good; as I mentioned above, I think usury is akin to slavery, and that it is the real failing of modern capitalism. Marx was on to something with the whole slavery-feudalism-capitalism gradual withering of the master-servant dynamic, but I think he misplaced the failings of modern capitalism (and his proposed solution was a cure worse than the disease).

So, you have some people starving. Not so far away there are people who can't defend their farmland. Come on now, if you don't take it somebody else will. So after you take that land from them, what happens to the survivors? These days when that topic comes up (Israel, Kosovo, etc) we call it "ethnic cleansing". Kill enough of them to scare the rest into fleeing. After they're gone they aren't your problem. In the old days lots of populations plain weren't very mobile. (Some were, like the Goths.) When a bunch of people who've never been 20 miles from home walk out with whatever you let them carry on their backs, what will happen to them? They wind up some place they don't speak the language, no friends, beggars, they'll be the poorest of the poor and they're likely to just starve. Unless somebody accepts them as slaves and feeds them. Or you can take them as slaves yourself.


In this and the surrounding paragraphs, you speak almost as though people voluntarily signed up to be slaves. Maybe that was even so in some ostensible sense (selling oneself into slavery), though of course once in slavery, nothing is voluntary, and you cannot own anything, so that was obviously a confused concept in use then.

But these problems you talk about can be solved in similar ways without being slavery per se. A bunch of destitute, desperate people come into your country begging for anything? You and they are free to work out an arrangement where you give them food and shelter in exchange for their service to you. You don't have to send them away or give them handouts; you can demand they work for your aide. And if they're desperate and you're poor yourself and you can arrange that they have to do a lot of work for not much pay, well that sucks, but it's not immoral, and it's not slavery, unless you then use violence to keep them from working for anybody else, or receiving anybody else's aide. If they're free to get more support for less work from someone else (given they can find someone else open to such arrangement), then they are not slaves. A servant may still be a servant, but so long as he can choose his master (or choose to have none), he is not a slave.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Sun Feb 12, 2012 6:16 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:
Monika wrote:Do you only achieve things in the current world as it is with violence?

Quite the contrary.

And yet everything that is not done entirely by voluntary agreement is implicitly coerced.

Correct, and I try not to do anything to coerce (by threat of violence, however indirect) anyone who isn't doing likewise to me.

Of course, in our contemporary society, indirect threats of violence are everywhere, institutionalized, and I can't help but interact with those institutions, so I will leverage their rules (laws, contracts, etc) where I can to defend against those who would leverage them against me in turn. But that's just self-defense. If we lived in a time and place where people were regularly trying to kill me, I wouldn't have qualms about killing in self-defense either.


This is a slippery slope. There's killing to defend against people who try to kill you. Then there's killing to defend your property, or whatever you consider to be your property. And there's killing people you think will attack you in the future. There's killing while retrieving your property that someone else has taken because they disagreed who the rightful owner was. And so on. Once you accept that somebody else can trump your ethics -- that you will respond in kind -- your ethics has been trumped. Whether or not you win in your violent endeavors, they have forced you into violence. Your principles are less important than winning the violence game.

I don't have a good general solution either. Jesus said to just let the violent people have the upper hand, and love them. That's OK for some people.

Agreed. Everything that is done by law is coerced. Including enforcement of contracts. If you agree to do something and then later you change your mind, by the same reasoning you just showed you can eventually get shot.

By Roman law, when you took out a loan you agreed that if you didn't pay it back you could be sold into slavery. You agreed to that when you took the loan. It was just enforcement of contracts.... Of course the Romans also enslaved lots of foreigners without agreed contracts, because they could.


I actually object to the moral validity of most contracts; ones which purport to create obligations other than to refrain from violence against a person or their property. Reassignment of property is fine, and who owns what changes who has what obligations to whom, but I don't really consider simple transfer of ownership to be a contract proper.


I like the way you think. Unfortunate that so few people have thought it out that way.

Note that I would not have contacts outlawed, per se; I would not have anyone punished for attempting to create one. I would have them merely not enforced.


A contract that isn't enforced is only a pious hope.

When is the use of violence justified? Only to prevent unjustified violence, so goes the usual ethical answer. So by that standard, what can be legitimately outlawed? Violent acts, and nothing else; for to outlaw anything else is to endorse violence against a nonviolent act or omission.

Libertarians often take this position. But usually they also accept land rights as primary, and it eventually turns into pretzel-logic. If somebody comes onto your land and messes with your property then you have the right to make them stop, and if they defend themselves against your violence it eventually gets agreed you have the right to kill them.

I agree that mainstream libertarians (especially of the American variety) often twist their principles, particularly when it comes to contracts; my objection to contacts is derived from very libertarian principle, but most libertarians who hear it object vehemently to it.

However, property rights (not land rights specifically) are an abstraction of the same principles as bodily sovereignty, extended to conflicts over actions upon things which aren't a person's body. Put another way, our bodies are the archetype of property; they are the first things we own, and our rights over them constitute our ownership of them; that's what it is to own something, to have rights over it; and to violate such rights is the very definition of violence.

In other words: we accept that it is wrong for a person to act upon another person's body without their consent (battery), or withhold it from their own use (abduction), and that those can be violently stopped; and that a claim to have the right to do so if the person doesn't use his body as demanded (slavery) is illegitimate, and should not be violently enforced. But what about this nifty little tool I made out of some sticks. Is it ok if you smash it with a rock when I set it down for a moment, or if you run off with it? Or is it, for some reason, mine, and for you to do that is wrong just like if you were to smash my hand with a rock, or tie it down and prevent me from using it?

Trespass is an abstraction of battery; or, battery is a special case of trespass of one's body. Theft is an abstraction of abduction; or, abduction is a special case of theft of one's body. And (this part most libertarians protest, but I put forward) usury, as in rent or interest, is an abstraction of slavery; slavery is a special case of someone claiming ownership of and then "renting" you your own body, which you can keep and use so long as you do what they ask of you, but which they retain the "right" to take it back from your control at any time. But that's a long rant I won't go into here.

Point being, property just is having rights in things. That doesn't mean that the whole universe has to be carved up into domains of private property. If we all have rights to something, like the air or the sea, that means that it is public property, and we can each legitimately complain about it being abused or about us being denied its use just as we could our private property. If it were somehow nobody's property, then nobody would have any claims about it.

That's another thing I consider a common misconception of mainstream libertarians: that everything which is not private property is non-property, and nobody has any claim rights to it; it's free to be taken and destroyed. I say that everything is by default public property, and everybody has claim rights to it; but that some things can still become private property, which then functions much like libertarians say, except when it comes to all kinds of weird contractual obligations they think can be magically created by fiat.


Again I like your thinking. You haven't established a rational basis for property (which might likely be impossible to do) but you've fixed up some of the contradictions that people usually just accept.

Whatever we philosophers say is justifiable, most people think...

It's entirely possible and probably probable that most people are usually wrong about most things.


The ways that most people think about this stuff contain obvious self-contradictions. They can't possibly be right. But they are the large majority and so they have a large influence on government, laws, public opinion, and coercion in general.

... that it's right to use violence to stop people from doing bad things

And I agree completely, where "bad things" equates to "violent things". Violence is justified to stop violence.


In your opinion. But most people think it's right to use violence to stop people from doing whatever most people think is bad. You think only violence is bad enough to justify violence to stop it. Most people have a much longer list. And collectively they are very strong.

...or to require them to do the minimum good things that should be required of everybody.

Who is to say what the minimum good things are?


Whoever is strong enough to enforce their stupid opinion. That's who.

What if you're not capable of doing them? Never mind even that, how the hell can you justify violence against someone for the heinous crime of sitting there doing nothing? You may not owe them anything, and can feel free to cut them off from any support they might get from you unless they do as you ask; but you can't force them to do as you ask on threat of violence, unless you're just asking them not to be violent. Otherwise how are they not your slave?


Can you follow how I see your rant as a fine, logical, ethical approach that is divorced from the world we live in? Most people do not have it thought out anything like you do. They have the world divided up into right and wrong. They think it's right to do whatever it takes to enforce anything that's right, and it's wrong to let people do wrong unless it's too much trouble to stop them. And they don't think a lot about what's right and what's wrong unless in a specific case it becomes hard to tell which is which. Then they argue out the specific case until most of them agree -- at which time they are ready to enforce their agreement on everybody.

Everybody is getting constrained some. Everybody is to some extent a slave to the consensus about right and wrong. That's how it is.

In Singapore you can get a caning for dropping chewing gum on the sidewalk.

Are you putting this forth as a good thing, or even an acceptable thing?


I feel way too weak to force the people of Singapore to do things my way. So I don't feel that my approval or disapproval is very important. If I need to visit Singapore I will be careful not to drop gum on the sidewalk. (Not that I would have anyway.) if I visit Kansas I will be careful not to have sex with any girl (or boy) who is below the legal age of consent in that state. (Not that I would have anyway.) Anywhere in the USA I will do my level best not to accidentally download anything that somebody else might think is child pornography. Since I can't always find out what I'm getting before I look at it, this one is hard. I will attempt to keep my interactions with banks to a minimum, as much as possible limiting my debts to significantly less than my savings. I will try to avoid accusations of sexual harassment of employees by not having any employees. Etc.

Everything which is enforced is implicitly enforced by violence. Doesn't that include all our commercial interactions? Anything you take without paying for, can get you violence. You can face violence just for being someplace you "aren't supposed to be". How many human interactions do you have in a day that are not wrapped in coercion? Everything you do with your own children is constrained by laws about child abuse. (Of course good people would never consider doing anything that might be considered child abuse, but the laws are there, and anybody who wants to cause a parent trouble can file a child abuse report.) Etc.

These are all cases of the implicit threat of violence to stave off more violence, and therefore perfectly justifiable by my (and mainstream libertarian) standards.


That's how *you* have it sorted out. Who gets to decide what the rules are? In practice people do not agree much what the rules should be or how they apply. "It depends on whose ox is gored." Somebody gets to interpret the rules and decide cases. Whoever gets to do that has disproportionate power over everybody else.

So, say you're busy enjoying your own property with no effect on anybody else. But suddenly the claim is made that what you are doing with your property does in fact harm other people, and you owe a whole lot of back taxes etc. Did they just trump up some sort of slander so they can take your property? Or are they right? Somebody -- not you -- must decide what's true. The distinctions between your property and my property and public property are set by convention, by public opinion, by legal experts, by whoever has that power at the moment. It may not be decided until later whether you are defending your own property or doing gratuitous violence to grab somebody else's property.

And coming up with a logical system that makes perfect sense to you is not much help, unless you can get a consensus among the public that you're right and that they can mostly interpret it the same way.

You are being reasonable and logical in a way that in my experience has essentially nothing to do with the world that real people are living in.

Something being real doesn't make it moral. Immoral things are frequently realized. That doesn't excuse them.


You are living in a world of implicit violence. You can disapprove of it all if you prefer. How much force does your disapproval have? Are you ready to lay down your life to stop the large majority of your peers who disagree with you?

Speaking for myself, I am a moral relativist. When a moral system gets fervent supporters and grows and spreads, then I have to pay attention to it and cater to it to some extent. Moral systems which don't grow and spread can mostly be ignored, except they can be fun to argue about.

Moral systems that can maintain themselves, that have a certain stability, have an enduring reality which flaky unstable systems do not. That fact does not mean they are morally good. (How do we decide which moral systems are good, anyway? Let them judge each other?) Good or bad, though, they exist and encroach and we cannot ignore them.

I don't want to argue that in real life any slave owner has ever treated a slave better than the slave would have treated himself if he was free. I do want to argue that the possibility is there. For example, some people are drug addicts who do various hurtful and demeaning things to support their addictions. An owner who limited access to the drugs and required them to behave reasonably well might be a good thing, if it were to happen. It would be coercion, and you could argue that would make it wrong from the get-go. I claim the results could be good. I don't claim to know who needs to be a slave or who would make a good master etc.

The problem with forcing people to do things for their own good is, who are you to say what's good for them?


If you do say what's good for them, who should stop you?

Everyone is the arbiter of their own standard of what's good for them; we are sovereign over ourselves, and no others. So we can defend ourselves from others; we can defend others from each other; but we cannot defend another from themselves.


If we want to, we can try. And third parties can try to stop us. You aren't saying we can't do it. You are saying that by your personal moral standard we lack the authority to do it. OK, next time I'm thinking about doing something and don't know whether you'd approve and I really care whether you approve, I'll send you a PM and ask.

The master/slave relationship is not so different from the military-officer/enlisted-man relationship. Or the police/citizen one. Or parent/child.

I agree, and I object to those kinds of relationships equally. Well, not inherently as they are named, but as they often flesh out. Officer-enlisted would be fine if it were like any other employer-employee relationship. Police-citizen would be fine so long as the only difference between the two is that the police were being paid specifically to do a duty that any citizen could do if they liked, and only with the same powers that those citizens had. Parent-child is obviously inevitable so long as people keep breeding, and is fine so long as it doesn't have the authoritarian master-slave dynamic you're talking about; children are people too.


Once again you are telling us what's wrong with the world. But there have been governments with police for at least 3000 years. (If not police as we think of them today, at least palace guards who took on all the privileges of police.) I don't know how long the sort of armies you disapprove of have existed; my guess is a very long time. Families date back to before humanity. You disapprove of patterns of human behavior which are very very stable. You propose an alternative which has mostly never been tried. I like your thinking, but aren't you feeling a few qualms? That little sea-sicky feeling like a hubris storm is coming on?

There are various government regulations on the dominant partner, and the coerced partner can get the other in trouble if he plays his cards just right.

And if you continue those kinds of regulations to their logical conclusion, you end up with entirely nonviolent versions of these relationships, at which point they are perfectly fine.


If your government regulates your behavior to the point that you are unable to coerce people, then *your* relationships are perfectly fine. To the extent that slaves can't coerce other slaves, we can avoid the problems of coercion by being enslaved....

J Thomas wrote:The New Testament was widely understood to have an unambiguous "thou shalt not do usury", and we went right ahead and developed a banking system which now appears to have a stranglehold on the world economy. Banking or slavery. Which is worse? (I know, I know, people generally believe the propaganda and think slavery is the worst thing in the world and banking is just fine.) Christians as a whole did little to stop either one.

Actually, the Catholic church for the longest time was pretty strict on the "no usury" thing, and the destruction of that stricture during the Protestant Reformation was one of the things which lead to the era of modern capitalism. Muslims today still adhere to their own version of it (not derived from quite the same source of course), and Jews' religiously unrestricted use of it was one of the reasons they were hated in the middle ages (and is the origin of the "Jews run all the banks" meme).


You're right. However, restricting banking to Jews did not do a lot to restrict banking. A more obvious way to limit usury would be to declare it illegal. When debtors accuse a banker of lending them money, and the accusation appears to be true, let them keep their loans and confiscate all the banker's remaining money, splitting it between the government and the debtors. Make it dangerous to deposit money into a bank, and dangerous for a banker to trust a debtor.

There are/were bugs in the system, both the modern Muslim one and the old Catholic one, that allow(ed) people to work around it, but I think the principle is pretty good; as I mentioned above, I think usury is akin to slavery, and that it is the real failing of modern capitalism. Marx was on to something with the whole slavery-feudalism-capitalism gradual withering of the master-servant dynamic, but I think he misplaced the failings of modern capitalism (and his proposed solution was a cure worse than the disease).


Again I like your thinking. Maybe someday it will spread and will found a consensus.

So, you have some people starving. Not so far away there are people who can't defend their farmland. Come on now, if you don't take it somebody else will. So after you take that land from them, what happens to the survivors? These days when that topic comes up (Israel, Kosovo, etc) we call it "ethnic cleansing". Kill enough of them to scare the rest into fleeing. After they're gone they aren't your problem. In the old days lots of populations plain weren't very mobile. (Some were, like the Goths.) When a bunch of people who've never been 20 miles from home walk out with whatever you let them carry on their backs, what will happen to them? They wind up some place they don't speak the language, no friends, beggars, they'll be the poorest of the poor and they're likely to just starve. Unless somebody accepts them as slaves and feeds them. Or you can take them as slaves yourself.


In this and the surrounding paragraphs, you speak almost as though people voluntarily signed up to be slaves.


You know they did and do. Not the only way to get enslaved, of course. Hungry people beg to be enslaved, when they have a shot at it. They sell their children into slavery hoping the children will be fed. Surely it isn't controversial that this happened, and still happens. Note the story of how the Israelites settled in Egypt.

Maybe that was even so in some ostensible sense (selling oneself into slavery), though of course once in slavery, nothing is voluntary, and you cannot own anything, so that was obviously a confused concept in use then.


Yes. Similarly, some people enlist in armies though some are drafted.

But these problems you talk about can be solved in similar ways without being slavery per se. A bunch of destitute, desperate people come into your country begging for anything? You and they are free to work out an arrangement where you give them food and shelter in exchange for their service to you. You don't have to send them away or give them handouts; you can demand they work for your aide. And if they're desperate and you're poor yourself and you can arrange that they have to do a lot of work for not much pay, well that sucks, but it's not immoral, and it's not slavery, unless you then use violence to keep them from working for anybody else, or receiving anybody else's aide. If they're free to get more support for less work from someone else (given they can find someone else open to such arrangement), then they are not slaves. A servant may still be a servant, but so long as he can choose his master (or choose to have none), he is not a slave.


In antiquity, the usual deal was slavery. If you had been around then you could have offered a better deal, to the limits of your resources. Maybe if you did it, others would too. In practice, slaveowners sometimes held out the hope of freedom. Often slaves who have no prospect of anything good do not work very hard. Sometimes they can be motivated by the thought of a beer at evening, or a second beer. Sometimes the possibility of freedom is a motivator. Work hard, the boss keeps an account of how much you need to produce to be free, work past that and finally walk out a free man who owns a set of tools and has the capital needed to get started working for yourself.

On the other hand, unruly or unpleasant slaves could be sold to the mines.

Imagine that you are living back then and you can help people. All your peers are taking slaves. You could help people with a more "equal" contract, and occasionally some of them might sue you. Or you could allow them to be your slaves. Then you can treat them just as you would otherwise, but legally you are safe. You teach them trades, you profit from their work until they have paid what you spent on them plus a reasonable profit, and when they want to make other arrangements you let them. What's wrong with that?

Well, but you would be a dirty immoral slaver.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby markfiend » Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:35 am UTC

jpk wrote:You certainly have no case if you argue that the Christians of today have a moral failing in the fact that the Christians of some point in the historical past did not condemn slavery. You would have to argue that the Christians of today prefer a tradition of tolerance of slavery to taking an active opposition to slavery - and on that, you'd be dead wrong, at least as far as the individual Christians I know.

This is not what I'm trying to argue. (Although there were certainly Christians in the relatively recent past who were slave owners.)

I thought that slavery would be something we'd readily come to agreement as a moral wrong; that's exactly why I chose it as an example.

My point is that many Christians, particularly of the sola scriptura tradition, claim that their Bible is the ultimate source of morality. And yet the Bible does not contain any unequivocal condemnation of slavery. So whence our moral outrage?

Call it a proof by contradiction:
1) The Bible contains all information necessary for perfect morality. (Asserted by many Christians.)
2) A morality which fails to condemn slavery is imperfect. (I hope we can all agree.)
3) There is no outright condemnation of slavery in the Bible.
4) Therefore the morality proscribed in the Bible is imperfect. (From 2 and 3)

QED.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby jpk » Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:20 pm UTC

markfiend wrote:
jpk wrote:You certainly have no case if you argue that the Christians of today have a moral failing in the fact that the Christians of some point in the historical past did not condemn slavery. You would have to argue that the Christians of today prefer a tradition of tolerance of slavery to taking an active opposition to slavery - and on that, you'd be dead wrong, at least as far as the individual Christians I know.

This is not what I'm trying to argue. (Although there were certainly Christians in the relatively recent past who were slave owners.)



So what you're saying is that you want new releases of the Bible, every few years? Like Linux, or the DSM?
I thought that slavery would be something we'd readily come to agreement as a moral wrong; that's exactly why I chose it as an example.


Today, yes. Since we know that opinions were sharply divided on the matter in other times, we can say for sure that if "we" were "them", we would not hold our present views.


My point is that many Christians, particularly of the sola scriptura tradition, claim that their Bible is the ultimate source of morality. And yet the Bible does not contain any unequivocal condemnation of slavery. So whence our moral outrage?

Call it a proof by contradiction:
1) The Bible contains all information necessary for perfect morality. (Asserted by many Christians.)
2) A morality which fails to condemn slavery is imperfect. (I hope we can all agree.)
3) There is no outright condemnation of slavery in the Bible.
4) Therefore the morality proscribed in the Bible is imperfect. (From 2 and 3)

QED.


Frankly, I've got no reasons to defend or attack the Bible, but if I were looking for material, this wouldn't make the cut. I don't know what is required of a document representing "perfect morality", but if it's a catalog of evils which "thou shalt not" then you've just written a Borges short story, not a holy book.
I think the Christian claim, which is vague and meaningless enough to be indisputable, is that the Bible, and particularly Testament 2.0, is in the mode of parables, which must be interpreted. Interpreted "correctly", these provide perfect instruction - this is the claim you're taking on. Nobody would claim that the "perfect morality" offered by the representatives of Christianity is composed of a list of prohibitions and admonitions to act, so you're charging the Christians with failing to meet a standard they never offered to meet.
It's also a standard that you yourself could not meet. You would be incapable of generating a "perfect morality" which condemned all behavior which is legitimately to be condemned, let alone advocating all correct behavior. So it seems to me that your charge is an attack in bad faith. If you want to judge someone's system of morality (why you'd want to do that, I don't know) you should at least have the courtesy to hold them to standards you're willing to try for yourself.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:38 pm UTC

markfiend wrote:I thought that slavery would be something we'd readily come to agreement as a moral wrong; that's exactly why I chose it as an example.


You're right that almost everybody agrees that slavery is a moral wrong in itself. It's one of the common false beliefs.

Well, I'm misspeaking there. Moral judgements aren't true or false, they're judgements. It's a different domain entirely. Some statements can be proven true or false given particular assumptions. Some can be proven contradictory from their own assumptions. Some can be proven unprobable starting from some particular set of assumptions. But moral judgements are choices, and choices are not true or false or anything like that. If you have a choice -- vanilla or chocolate -- and you choose vanilla, it isn't true or false or right or wrong. It's your choice.

The central problem with slavery is that it makes it easier for other agreed moral wrongs to happen. It's like -- if you want to discourage theft, then you shouldn't leave stacks of cash lying around in public places. If you make it too easy to steal, then more people will steal more. Similarly, slavery makes it too easy for masters to abuse slaves and for slaves to adopt an attitude of passivity. But that makes slavery a means to a bad end, not an ultimate evil in itself.

My point is that many Christians, particularly of the sola scriptura tradition, claim that their Bible is the ultimate source of morality. And yet the Bible does not contain any unequivocal condemnation of slavery. So whence our moral outrage?


Different times, different things catch the public imagination. Recently the two big evils I see condemned in the USA are terrorism and child pornography.

Obviously terrorism is bad when it's done to us. We usually think it's a good thing when it's done against our enemies, like for example kurds and baluchis in Iran. Kissinger armed tibetans to do terrorism against China, but then he cut a deal with the Chinese and double-crossed the tibetans. We famously supported the contras against Nicaragua. But we're getting better at not admitting when we do that kind of thing.

Child pornography looks to me like a case of magical contagion. Obviously we don't want children to be abused. And they aren't capable of deciding for themselves about sex because they have no sexual experience and they don't know what they're getting into. It makes a sort of sense that the existence of child pornography proves the existence of a crime, and that the pornographers might be tracked down and punished. Punishing the users? Because the existence of a market produces the product? Punishing users for seeing simulated child pornography that involves no actual human beings? Maybe because if they *want* that, they might actually do it someday....

I saw some actual child pornography once. I went into a small sleazy used bookstore that had some random science fiction. They had a lot more sex novels. I noticed the other customers were choosing picture magazines the clerk showed them. When the store was empty I asked him to show me some, but I didn't know what I wanted to see. He showed me softcore. Then hardcore. Then bondage and fetish. He had a few with lactating women who ran around naked and squirted milk at people. Eventually he closed the blinds and locked the door. He got out a box full of old newspapers. From the middle he pulled out some old worn magazines with pictures of 4-year-old girls wearing panties. It took me some seconds to realize that this was something that somebody would want. It was pathetic. He'd spent some time on me and trusted me, so I bought one bondage, one fetish, one lactation, one female domination, and one with fat women.

Oooh, my parents told me that when I was 2 and the Whites were visiting, they had me take a bath with Beth White who was also 2 and they took cute pictures. I'm sure it was from the waist up only. They all thought it was cute. If those photos still exist my old father could be jailed for child pornography. I doubt I felt abused, though.

I think the tiny minority who want child pornography enough to accept the risks are getting a raw deal. But on the other hand, if we wait for them to actually hurt a child before we punish them, that would mean letting a child get hurt. Society has not thought this situation out at all. But I don't want to think it out myself because whenever I start to I get icked out.

My point is, occasionally we get a consensus about moral outrage, and it happens pretty much at random. It isn't supposed to make sense.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby XTCamus » Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:59 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:
Monika wrote:Do you only achieve things in the current world as it is with violence?

Quite the contrary.

And yet everything that is not done entirely by voluntary agreement is implicitly coerced.

Correct, and I try not to do anything to coerce (by threat of violence, however indirect) anyone who isn't doing likewise to me.

Of course, in our contemporary society, indirect threats of violence are everywhere, institutionalized, and I can't help but interact with those institutions, so I will leverage their rules (laws, contracts, etc) where I can to defend against those who would leverage them against me in turn. But that's just self-defense. If we lived in a time and place where people were regularly trying to kill me, I wouldn't have qualms about killing in self-defense either.


This is a slippery slope. There's killing to defend against people who try to kill you. Then there's killing to defend your property, or whatever you consider to be your property. And there's killing people you think will attack you in the future. There's killing while retrieving your property that someone else has taken because they disagreed who the rightful owner was. And so on. Once you accept that somebody else can trump your ethics -- that you will respond in kind -- your ethics has been trumped. Whether or not you win in your violent endeavors, they have forced you into violence. Your principles are less important than winning the violence game.

I don't have a good general solution either. Jesus said to just let the violent people have the upper hand, and love them. That's OK for some people.


SNIPPED, for the sake of brevity, a whole page of highly entetaining back and forth and interesting neo-libertarian ideas, that ends with...

J Thomas wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:But these problems you talk about can be solved in similar ways without being slavery per se. A bunch of destitute, desperate people come into your country begging for anything? You and they are free to work out an arrangement where you give them food and shelter in exchange for their service to you. You don't have to send them away or give them handouts; you can demand they work for your aide. And if they're desperate and you're poor yourself and you can arrange that they have to do a lot of work for not much pay, well that sucks, but it's not immoral, and it's not slavery, unless you then use violence to keep them from working for anybody else, or receiving anybody else's aide. If they're free to get more support for less work from someone else (given they can find someone else open to such arrangement), then they are not slaves. A servant may still be a servant, but so long as he can choose his master (or choose to have none), he is not a slave.


Imagine that you are living back then and you can help people. All your peers are taking slaves. You could help people with a more "equal" contract, and occasionally some of them might sue you. Or you could allow them to be your slaves. Then you can treat them just as you would otherwise, but legally you are safe. You teach them trades, you profit from their work until they have paid what you spent on them plus a reasonable profit, and when they want to make other arrangements you let them. What's wrong with that?

Well, but you would be a dirty immoral slaver.

First, I want to thank you for this explanation, as it helps me better understand, if not quite accept, your nuanced position on the hypothetical morality of slavery.

Next, I'd like to apologize for any unfair comments I made due to my emotional reaction to your earlier statements. This has me asking whether certain arguments will always act as emotional triggers for me, and if this means it is I who have yet to completely recover from childhood indoctrination (by well-intentioned, loving parents).

I never thought you were saying that slavery is good.

It was more that the logic and language you used reminded me of apologists for slavery, or to a lesser degree to the hand-waving over other questionable examples of morality from the bible (such as Cain's wife -- hah, see, we are not completely off topic). So, from this perspective, your arguments from historical economic models, or how it may be unfair to judge our ancestors using modern values, are all rather beside the point. My response was primarily intended to oppose these perceived apologistic sentiments.

Also disconcerting was your lack of emotional affect while describing some of the worst tendencies of humankind. A case in point, from your last response to me:

J Thomas wrote:So, you have some people starving. Not so far away there are people who can't defend their farmland. Come on now, if you don't take it somebody else will.

I think many people will hear this and immediately think: apologist. Or worse.

Even now, while I concede your ethical reasoning does deserve further consideration, I am still vaguely unsettled by your arguments. And that seeming lack of affect. In fact, when you said, "It sounds like you have pretty intense feelings about this.", I read it in a voice similar to HAL's ("I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.").... It was then that I realized this lack of affect may be one of the reasons that you still scare me. (Is it just me? Probably.)

J Thomas wrote:
XTCamus wrote:Whether on an individual, tribal or organized level, can anyone argue that faith has actually helped the weak more than it has helped the powerful?

Faith has the biggest effect on the people who have faith. It sometimes has survival value for them, because people who keep trying are more likely to succeed than people who give up.

Except the interpretation here is very different for those who see making that leap of faith as giving up, and the opposite of continuing to keep trying. For instance, slaves who were encouraged by their faith to accept their situation as the only way to an eternal reward (The meek shall inherit the Earth), or instead of struggling for freedom were mollified by a belief that their subjugators would one day be facing a day of judgement (Justice is mine says the Lord).

I'm not saying faith hasn't helped anyone ever, but conquered individuals face the above message (accept your lot now, and justice will come later), the tribe level has typically only been helped by increasing their odds of becoming the exploiters rather than the exploited, and at the largest levels supporting the dominant faith is strongly correlated with supporting the dominant powers.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:25 am UTC

XTCamus wrote: ....
Next, I'd like to apologize for any unfair comments I made due to my emotional reaction to your earlier statements.


No offense taken! You're trying out new ideas, and I have to respect that. You challenge me to also try out ideas I wouldn't otherwise. If somebody else learns more than I do, then I'm not keeping up in the game.

....

Also disconcerting was your lack of emotional affect while describing some of the worst tendencies of humankind. A case in point, from your last response to me:

J Thomas wrote:So, you have some people starving. Not so far away there are people who can't defend their farmland. Come on now, if you don't take it somebody else will.

I think many people will hear this and immediately think: apologist. Or worse.

Even now, while I concede your ethical reasoning does deserve further consideration, I am still vaguely unsettled by your arguments. And that seeming lack of affect. In fact, when you said, "It sounds like you have pretty intense feelings about this.", I read it in a voice similar to HAL's ("I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.").... It was then that I realized this lack of affect may be one of the reasons that you still scare me. (Is it just me? Probably.)


I admitted I'm a moral relativist. But when I thought it over, I noticed a fundamental historical perspective that is probably central.

Population ecology tells us that most species spend a lot of time at carrying capacity. They have more offspring than their environment can support, and some of them *will* die before reproducing.

Humanity spent a lot of time at or beyond carrying capacity, and the surplus population had to die. For a few generations we have broken free of that. New technology let us support more people than ever before, and the technology advanced faster than the birth rate. We now have technology available to feed the whole population, and we don't do it because we have other priorities. We can afford to think in terms of a philosophy that says everybody can be taken care of. When it comes down to a fight to the death where it's him or you, that is in principle avoidable. All *could* agree to terms that let them live in peace and prosperity, but that agreement has not been achieved.

I claim that for most of history and prehistory this has not been true. There were more people than anybody knew how to support, and the surplus had to die. If not every generation, lots of generations. After a big catastrophe like the Black Plague there would be one or two generations where people could relax amidst plenty, before the population reached the limits again.

Morality is different when the value of human life is negative. If you have four children and you want to provide for them, you have to take the resources that somebody else's four children need. It's sad when there isn't enough to go around, but when life hands you eggs you make omelettes, and when life hands you lemons you make lemonade, and when life hands you shit you make a sandwich. No need to get outraged about it.

Life in those times is fundamentally different from what modern Americans are used to. But a lot of us at least try to maintain the attitudes. Notably Republicans. When they go crazy about Welfare or foreign aid, they aren't just being cheap and greedy. They have an instinct that tells them there isn't enough to go around (even when there's far more than enough -- this year) and they need the people who aren't like them to die. Part of what gets them about abortion is they see that the birthrate of people like them is below replacement, and they don't know what to do about it. Dying out in the midst of plenty.

From my own personal perspective, I say that anybody who can contribute to sustainable cheap energy has a moral imperative to do so. Most of our technology was built on cheap energy, and until we get that back it's going to decay. Without cheap energy we are heading for a new feudalism or worse. We could evolve toward a system where a few GOP aristocrats own pretty much everything including a whole lot of serfs -- or worse, wage-slaves. Or something worse still.

Cheap energy might be possible. We don't know what's possible. I read that when Townes was working on the maser, various quantum mechanics experts told him QM said it couldn't work. After he did it, they found their mistakes and they showed why QM said it would work. QM predicts some things to 20 decimals but it only answers the questions we know how to ask it. Can we get cheap hydrogen fusion? Can we get cheap transmutation, any element to any other element? We don't know our limits. We aren't stuck at carrying-capacity until we reach limits we can't transcend.

What if the technology could be created, but we don't find it? Then we create a world where Republicans are right, a world where some fraction of the population has to die young, and there's no way to stop it. The only ethical question is how to choose who it will be.

The most natural way to choose the losers is to pick people who can't defend themselves. Is it any wonder that Republicans spend like drunken sailors when the Navy budget gets floated?
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby markfiend » Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:15 am UTC

jpk wrote:So what you're saying is that you want new releases of the Bible, every few years? Like Linux, or the DSM?

No, not at all. I'm convinced that we're talking past each other here. The Christians I'm talking about claim to be moral absolutists. They claim that there is an eternal, extrinsic moral authority which can be known through careful study of the Bible. The point being, under such an eternal, extrinsic system of morality, it would seem to me that that which is morally acceptable cannot change. Hence the point about slavery.

...

jpk wrote:If you want to judge someone's system of morality (why you'd want to do that, I don't know)

Because they want to impose their morality on those of us who do not share it! Anti-gay activism, anti-abortion activism, among others, are based on Christian claims of having a superior moral code than the rest of us.
jpk wrote:you should at least have the courtesy to hold them to standards you're willing to try for yourself.

But I do not claim to have a perfect morality. Particularly I do not claim to have a perfect morality based on a "holy book" that can be shown to fail quite simple moral tests.

...

J Thomas wrote:Population ecology tells us that most species spend a lot of time at carrying capacity. They have more offspring than their environment can support, and some of them *will* die before reproducing.

Humanity spent a lot of time at or beyond carrying capacity, and the surplus population had to die. For a few generations we have broken free of that.

But we haven't. I invite you to peruse child mortality figures for sub-Saharan Africa.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Mon Feb 13, 2012 12:08 pm UTC

markfiend wrote:The Christians I'm talking about claim to be moral absolutists. They claim that there is an eternal, extrinsic moral authority which can be known through careful study of the Bible. The point being, under such an eternal, extrinsic system of morality, it would seem to me that that which is morally acceptable cannot change. Hence the point about slavery.


I have met people like that too. You think they're wrong. I think they're wrong. Maybe before we argue against them we should find somebody here who wants to argue in their favor. Otherwise you're preaching to the converted.

I tend to be a nominalist as opposed to a platonic realist. Though I'm not sure those two labels actually fit just right. I think people learn language by watching how it gets used around them, and the meanings they get are always personal meanings that match up well enough with other people's meanings to get by. Things probably never look exactly the same to two different people, and each idea has to get re-invented by everybody who thinks it. When common understanding is an achievement and not a given, how could we hope to all understand a single extrinsic system of morality?

When I hear the statement "Words have meanings" I know I'm talking to a Platonist. They say things like "You claim that there can be flaws in free markets. But Words Have Meanings. Free markets are the ultimate fairest and most efficient way to allocate resources. So you're wrong."

...

J Thomas wrote:Population ecology tells us that most species spend a lot of time at carrying capacity. They have more offspring than their environment can support, and some of them *will* die before reproducing.

Humanity spent a lot of time at or beyond carrying capacity, and the surplus population had to die. For a few generations we have broken free of that.

But we haven't. I invite you to peruse child mortality figures for sub-Saharan Africa.


If that was high priority for us, we could fix it for far less than the world spends on armaments. I haven't checked the figures, but I've read the claim that it would cost less than the USA currently spends on commercial dog food. In the USA, pet dogs are a higher priority than children in sub-Saharan africa.

This is not unreasonable. If I had a great big dog that ate $5 of dog food a day, and somebody asked me to take it to the pound and send the money to africa, would I do it? Very unlikely. It would depend heavily on what she was wearing and what she promised me....
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby markfiend » Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:45 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:I have met people like that too. You think they're wrong. I think they're wrong. Maybe before we argue against them we should find somebody here who wants to argue in their favor. Otherwise you're preaching to the converted.

Heh. We did have some earlier in the thread but they seem to have abandoned it now.
J Thomas wrote:When I hear the statement "Words have meanings" I know I'm talking to a Platonist. They say things like "You claim that there can be flaws in free markets. But Words Have Meanings. Free markets are the ultimate fairest and most efficient way to allocate resources. So you're wrong."

"Free markets are the ultimate fairest and most efficient way to allocate resources" sounds a lot like another one of those falsified religious claims to me :mrgreen:
J Thomas wrote:
But we haven't. I invite you to peruse child mortality figures for sub-Saharan Africa.


If that was high priority for us, we could fix it for far less than the world spends on armaments. I haven't checked the figures, but I've read the claim that it would cost less than the USA currently spends on commercial dog food. In the USA, pet dogs are a higher priority than children in sub-Saharan africa.

Indeed. But any potential solutions to the problems our species faces are attacked as "Socialism" (as if merely labelling an argument "socialist" automatically proves it wrong)... or the problems are simply ignored, or even worse, actively denied.
J Thomas wrote:This is not unreasonable. If I had a great big dog that ate $5 of dog food a day, and somebody asked me to take it to the pound and send the money to africa, would I do it? Very unlikely. It would depend heavily on what she was wearing and what she promised me....

Understandable. It's a lot easier to form an emotional bond with a companion animal sharing your home than it is with starving people on the other side of the world.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Pfhorrest » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:31 pm UTC

I'm a little behind on this thread, busy elsewhere, but I just want to comment: I hope nobody is offering (or accepting) "I'm a relativist" as an excuse, like "it's ok, I'm not an absolutist -- I'm a relativist!" Because that's not really any better. The problem with "absolutism"* (a poorly-defined term, but here apparently used to mean the position that "something is objectively right, this source states exactly what it is and can't possibly be wrong because it said so") is the exact same as the problem with relativism: it throws concern for reasoned justification out the window. Whether you're pushing justification without reason ("absolutism") or just giving up on justification entirely (relativism), you're giving up on reason, and that's unconscionable.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:57 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I hope nobody is offering (or accepting) "I'm a relativist" as an excuse, like "it's ok, I'm not an absolutist -- I'm a relativist!" Because that's not really any better.
\

I'm not making an excuse but a description.

I say, a moral philosophy needs to give people something they value. If they get nothing from it they will abandon it and it will die out. A moral philosophy with no followers can safely be ignored.

To my way of thinking, an ideal moral philosophy should provide net positive benefits to everybody it affects -- its supporters and everybody they interact with including all the people they coerce should all agree that they benefit. This is hard, because if the people they coerce thought it was good for them they wouldn't need to be coerced. So most moral philosophies are less than ideal.

People have no obligation to justify their moral philosophies to anybody. If somebody kidnaps you and says "Justify your moral philosophy or I will torture you to death", you have the moral right to be silent and be tortured to death. Morally, you don't owe him any explanation unless your own moral code demands that you do so.

When people get very scared they usually give up their morality. They decide to do whatever it takes to win the game they are losing. So morality serves as a sort of handicapping system, kind of like golf handicaps. The better off you are, the more willing you become to accept moral strictures on your own behavior. And this provides social signals. The guys who are frantic and fanatical and ruthless are the losers who are currently losing. The ones who set up rules to require certain kinds of mercy to their enemies are the powerful winners. It's demoralizing to realize that you are doing absolutely everything you can while your enemy fights with one hand tied behind his back, and you're still losing. After all, if you actually make gains you might scare him enough that he stops toying with you....

After 9/11 Bush said they hate us for our freedoms. And Americans got so scared they immediately gave up their freedoms. They gave up their government's morality and agreed to do whatever it took to kill terrorists until all the terrorists were dead. When you have a moral code, that's evidence that you aren't very scared.

It isn't true that every moral code is as good as every other moral code. Sometimes people who hold one, decide that another is better and they switch. They must believe their new beliefs are better than their old beliefs, or they wouldn't switch. And what other basis is there to decide which is better? Judge them both by how well they fit some third morality?
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby markfiend » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:09 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I'm a little behind on this thread, busy elsewhere, but I just want to comment: I hope nobody is offering (or accepting) "I'm a relativist" as an excuse, like "it's ok, I'm not an absolutist -- I'm a relativist!" Because that's not really any better. The problem with "absolutism"* (a poorly-defined term, but here apparently used to mean the position that "something is objectively right, this source states exactly what it is and can't possibly be wrong because it said so") is the exact same as the problem with relativism: it throws concern for reasoned justification out the window. Whether you're pushing justification without reason ("absolutism") or just giving up on justification entirely (relativism), you're giving up on reason, and that's unconscionable.

Hmm. Yes, what I've characterised in my posts as moral absolutism is really the claim that there is some morality external to ourselves, existing due to divine fiat. Would we call that "divine command theory"? I deny that there is any such thing as this objective morality, external to us but somehow intrinsic in the universe.
(heh, typos are wonderful, I typed "diving command theory" at first)

I would argue that we have an apparently inbuilt moral sense due to the fact that we have evolved as a social species. Behaviours such as altruism increase our "fitness" (in an evolutionary sense) because they increase the likelihood of our genes' survival.

In the final analysis, it's impossible to go from an "is" to an "ought" and morality is at its very base built on assumptions that cannot be proven. This does not mean that morality is not amenable to reason of course; I believe that a rational morality can be built from only a very small number of axiomatic bases.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:45 pm UTC

markfiend wrote:Hmm. Yes, what I've characterised in my posts as moral absolutism is really the claim that there is some morality external to ourselves, existing due to divine fiat. Would we call that "divine command theory"? I deny that there is any such thing as this objective morality, external to us but somehow intrinsic in the universe.

Divine Command Theory would be correct, yes. But if you know that name then you are of course aware that there are forms of moral objectivism (or more generally, moral universalism) besides Divine Command Theory, are you not? Ones which make no appeal to the supernatural, or any other arbitrary authority, without falling back on popular authority (cultural relativism) as the only possibly alternative?

I would argue that we have an apparently inbuilt moral sense due to the fact that we have evolved as a social species. Behaviours such as altruism increase our "fitness" (in an evolutionary sense) because they increase the likelihood of our genes' survival.

True though that may be, it says nothing about what morality is actually like, just about what intuitions we have about that and why. We also have intuitions about what reality is like, which are similarly evolutionarily useful, and yet frequently incorrect. (Never mind quantum mechanical counter-intuitiveness, just look how long it took anybody to notice that heavier objects don't actually fall faster, and other now-considered-basic-and-oversimplified laws of motion).

In the final analysis, it's impossible to go from an "is" to an "ought" and morality is at its very base built on assumptions that cannot be proven.

Emphatically agreed about the is-ought problem; but what that really is is the observation that you can't get an "ought" without another "ought" to start from. The thing is, the same applies to "is" as well. You can question where the first "ought" comes from, but you can equally question where the first "is" comes from; and in both cases, how do you get from there to useful substantial claims? Reality is "at its very base built on assumptions that cannot be proven" as well; or rather, our judgements about what is real are, but likewise it is our judgements about what is moral, not morality itself, which are as well.

This does not mean that morality is not amenable to reason of course; I believe that a rational morality can be built from only a very small number of axiomatic bases.

In both cases, "is" and "ought", you have to assume some axiomatic premises to get any argument off the ground. But that doesn't mean that the axioms are arbitrary and the resulting views of what is real and moral all only relatively true. Investigations of what is real face the same problems as investigations of what is moral, but we didn't look at all the wildly disagreeing primitive pictures of reality and say "well, I guess reality varies from culture to culture". We stuck to the position that factual questions have single universal answers, and developed a reliable way to figure out what they were, and threw out the parts of those primitive pictures which didn't pass that method (creationists and flat-earthers notwithstanding). There's no reason we can't do the same thing for our varying wildly disagreeing primitive pictures of morality, and I'd say we desperately need to, instead of continuing to shout at each other or throwing up our hands and giving up altogether.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:40 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
markfiend wrote:Hmm. Yes, what I've characterised in my posts as moral absolutism is really the claim that there is some morality external to ourselves, existing due to divine fiat. Would we call that "divine command theory"? I deny that there is any such thing as this objective morality, external to us but somehow intrinsic in the universe.

Divine Command Theory would be correct, yes. But if you know that name then you are of course aware that there are forms of moral objectivism (or more generally, moral universalism) besides Divine Command Theory, are you not? Ones which make no appeal to the supernatural, or any other arbitrary authority, without falling back on popular authority (cultural relativism) as the only possibly alternative?


I don't know anything about other forms of moral universalism. Would you mind providing a quick link?

I would argue that we have an apparently inbuilt moral sense due to the fact that we have evolved as a social species. Behaviours such as altruism increase our "fitness" (in an evolutionary sense) because they increase the likelihood of our genes' survival.

True though that may be, it says nothing about what morality is actually like, just about what intuitions we have about that and why.


It isn't obvious to me that there is any morality beyond our intuitions about it. But I don't know everything.

We also have intuitions about what reality is like, which are similarly evolutionarily useful, and yet frequently incorrect. (Never mind quantum mechanical counter-intuitiveness, just look how long it took anybody to notice that heavier objects don't actually fall faster, and other now-considered-basic-and-oversimplified laws of motion).


We generally figure that stuff out about the time we need to. Cathedral builders learned a lot about torsion etc which builders hadn't needed before. But they didn't care how fast the different parts of the cathedral fell down, they only wanted to keep it from falling down.

In the final analysis, it's impossible to go from an "is" to an "ought" and morality is at its very base built on assumptions that cannot be proven.

Emphatically agreed about the is-ought problem; but what that really is is the observation that you can't get an "ought" without another "ought" to start from.


And often people notice "oughts" from their experience. They don't think about preserving the environment until they notice that they are strong enough to affect it. While they think that bountiful Nature is inexhaustible, they don't worry about it but trust to Providence.

The thing is, the same applies to "is" as well. You can question where the first "ought" comes from, but you can equally question where the first "is" comes from; and in both cases, how do you get from there to useful substantial claims? Reality is "at its very base built on assumptions that cannot be proven" as well; or rather, our judgements about what is real are, but likewise it is our judgements about what is moral, not morality itself, which are as well.


Yes, that's clearly true.

This does not mean that morality is not amenable to reason of course; I believe that a rational morality can be built from only a very small number of axiomatic bases.

In both cases, "is" and "ought", you have to assume some axiomatic premises to get any argument off the ground. But that doesn't mean that the axioms are arbitrary and the resulting views of what is real and moral all only relatively true. Investigations of what is real face the same problems as investigations of what is moral, but we didn't look at all the wildly disagreeing primitive pictures of reality and say "well, I guess reality varies from culture to culture". We stuck to the position that factual questions have single universal answers, and developed a reliable way to figure out what they were, and threw out the parts of those primitive pictures which didn't pass that method (creationists and flat-earthers notwithstanding).


That's one interpretation of what happened with science. It doesn't work very well. Here is an objectively better interpretation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operational_definition

We do not have single universal answers. We have reproducible results for particular experiments. Do experiments that measure something different, and you get different reproducible results. Your single universal answers vary with what you choose to measure.

There's no reason we can't do the same thing for our varying wildly disagreeing primitive pictures of morality, and I'd say we desperately need to, instead of continuing to shout at each other or throwing up our hands and giving up altogether.


I'm sure you can do something interesting along those lines. I doubt that it will produce results that future people agree are universal, just as that has consistently failed in physics -- it has failed every time, except the last time hasn't failed quite yet.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:52 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:I don't know anything about other forms of moral universalism. Would you mind providing a quick link?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-ethics gives a good overview of many different positions on the semantics, ontology, and epistemology of morality; divine command theory and ethical subjectivism are technically meta-ethical theories, not normative ethical theories, though together with a particular religion of culture they form normative codes of ethics. (The closest metaethical position to my own there is "universal prescriptivism").

The three main divisions of normative ethical theories usually studied in philosophy, all of which are universalist and none of which assume divine inspiration, are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue%20ethics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological%20ethics, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism.

It isn't obvious to me that there is any morality beyond our intuitions about it. But I don't know everything.

Is it obvious that there is any reality beyond your intuitions, either? I mean, yeah, rocks don't stop seeming to exist when you stop believing in them; but it doesn't stop seeming bad that you stubbed your toe on one no matter how much you may want to think otherwise, either.

I base my approach to factual and normative judgements alike on these kind of experiences that don't go away just because you want them to; combined with a consideration for there being other experiences from other perspectives which are equally important [and which you could partake of yourself if you stood in that perspective and were properly equipped to interact with the phenomenon in the same way], and a methodical approach of not jumping to the first obvious conclusion these experiences would suggest, but seeing what the combination of these experiences really seems to imply, and then testing those implications against further experiences.

We generally figure that stuff out about the time we need to. Cathedral builders learned a lot about torsion etc which builders hadn't needed before. But they didn't care how fast the different parts of the cathedral fell down, they only wanted to keep it from falling down.

Right, and? We make progress in better understanding reality, and likewise morality. My basic point is that progress is possible: that it's not just our intuitions (or someone else's "revelations", i.e. their intuitions) or nothing; that we can gradually do better and better than our intuitions and home in on perfection, even if we can never quite reach it.

And often people notice "oughts" from their experience. They don't think about preserving the environment until they notice that they are strong enough to affect it. While they think that bountiful Nature is inexhaustible, they don't worry about it but trust to Providence.

Agreed, per the two responses above: our understanding of morality (as with reality) can gradually get better, and it can do so through careful and methodical attention to our experiences.

That's one interpretation of what happened with science. It doesn't work very well. Here is an objectively better interpretation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operational_definition

The use of operational definitions is part of that "reliable way to figure out what [the objective facts] are" I mentioned. It's the recognition that reality is grounded in experience, and so when talking about what is or isn't real, if we're being very precise, we should do so in terms of what kind of experiences will be had (what kind of observations will be made).

We do not have single universal answers. We have reproducible results for particular experiments. Do experiments that measure something different, and you get different reproducible results. Your single universal answers vary with what you choose to measure.

Yes, but each individual experiment is repeatable. The same sensors in the same context will record the same phenomenon; if something differs, if we observer a different phenomenon, we figure out whether it's the sensing apparatus or the context which changed and if necessary adjust our models to account for that kind of change in phenomena with that kind of change of sensor or context.

I'm not asking anything more from morality. The most basic thing I'm pressing is that any particular act or situation or intention or whatever, by a particular person in a particular context, is universally good or bad, in the sense that the person making the judgement doesn't have any influence on whether it's good or bad. (So, for example from earlier, we today can judge slavery from thousands of years ago as wrong, and either we are incorrect, in which case the same kind of slavery today would be fine; or the people who condoned it back then were incorrect, and it was not ok even then). If the same act is better or worse in another place in time, then either something about the surrounding context or something about the people involved must differ (for example, flogging someone may not always be bad... when it's consensual BDSM play, and not punishing a slave), and our more general models about what in general is good or bad may need adjusting to account for that.

I'm sure you can do something interesting along those lines. I doubt that it will produce results that future people agree are universal, just as that has consistently failed in physics -- it has failed every time, except the last time hasn't failed quite yet.

Particular models of reality keep getting shown incomplete and improved upon, but the method of science is not thereby invalidated; that kind of continual improvement of models is part of the method.

Likewise, I am talking about a method of producing models of morality which neither appeals to any authority, nor says no models are in any sense "actually" correct, they're just popular or not. I would expect the specific models to continually improve. And I would expect those knowledgeable of later, improved models to be able to look back on those using earlier ones and say they were wrong, or at least, not quite right; and most importantly, give good reasons why.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby markfiend » Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:47 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Divine Command Theory would be correct, yes. But if you know that name then you are of course aware that there are forms of moral objectivism (or more generally, moral universalism) besides Divine Command Theory, are you not? Ones which make no appeal to the supernatural, or any other arbitrary authority, without falling back on popular authority (cultural relativism) as the only possibly alternative?
Hm. Yes, I prefer a modified form of utilitarianism myself. But AFAIK these universal moral systems do not claim any objective source of the morality outside humankind's self-interest. Utilitarianism is certainly not absolutist, unlike (most forms of) divine command ethics.

(The rest I'm not going to reply to because I agree with it all.)
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby addams » Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:14 pm UTC

Umm. Theology? Right?

I think it is all horrible Lab accident. How small our parts to play upon the stage of eternity.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:20 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:I don't know anything about other forms of moral universalism. Would you mind providing a quick link?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-ethics gives a good overview of many different positions on the semantics, ontology, and epistemology of morality; divine command theory and ethical subjectivism are technically meta-ethical theories, not normative ethical theories, though together with a particular religion of culture they form normative codes of ethics. (The closest metaethical position to my own there is "universal prescriptivism").

The three main divisions of normative ethical theories usually studied in philosophy, all of which are universalist and none of which assume divine inspiration, are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue%20ethics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological%20ethics, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism.


Thank you!

It isn't obvious to me that there is any morality beyond our intuitions about it. But I don't know everything.

Is it obvious that there is any reality beyond your intuitions, either? I mean, yeah, rocks don't stop seeming to exist when you stop believing in them; but it doesn't stop seeming bad that you stubbed your toe on one no matter how much you may want to think otherwise, either.


I've experienced hypnosis and post-hypnotic suggestion. Things do stop seeming to exist when you stop believing in them. What we usually think of as their consequences continue, and get new explanations. If you stub your toe on a rock you think is not there, and somebody asks you what happened, you will make up the best explanation you can figure out. Then if you get the suggestion that your toe doesn't hurt, it won't hurt. You might find yourself limping a little or something, and if somebody ask you why you'll make up an explanation. We are very good at making up explanations for things.

I base my approach to factual and normative judgements alike on these kind of experiences that don't go away just because you want them to; combined with a consideration for there being other experiences from other perspectives which are equally important [and which you could partake of yourself if you stood in that perspective and were properly equipped to interact with the phenomenon in the same way], and a methodical approach of not jumping to the first obvious conclusion these experiences would suggest, but seeing what the combination of these experiences really seems to imply, and then testing those implications against further experiences.


My experience has been that these are not reliable. But I don't have something more reliable to suggest in their place.

We generally figure that stuff out about the time we need to. Cathedral builders learned a lot about torsion etc which builders hadn't needed before. But they didn't care how fast the different parts of the cathedral fell down, they only wanted to keep it from falling down.

Right, and? We make progress in better understanding reality, and likewise morality. My basic point is that progress is possible: that it's not just our intuitions (or someone else's "revelations", i.e. their intuitions) or nothing; that we can gradually do better and better than our intuitions and home in on perfection, even if we can never quite reach it.


Our shared understanding gets more complicated when we have more resources available to maintain it. It gets less complicated when the resources dwindle. For example, during the Renaissance people got enough resources to start examining things that had been lost during a previous period of turbulence. They far surpassed the previous achievements, and they noticed some of what had been lost.

People who do genetic algorithms find that when they insist on continuing progress they tend to get stuck on local optima. Sometimes it requires twenty steps back and one step forward.

When you home in on a local optimum that is still improvement. But it doesn't usually approach perfection.

And often people notice "oughts" from their experience. They don't think about preserving the environment until they notice that they are strong enough to affect it. While they think that bountiful Nature is inexhaustible, they don't worry about it but trust to Providence.

Agreed, per the two responses above: our understanding of morality (as with reality) can gradually get better, and it can do so through careful and methodical attention to our experiences.


There's every reason to try to gradually make better moralities. And there's every reason to grab onto a big jump of an improvement when you see it. And when the resources aren't there to maintain everything you'd want to keep, then it makes sense to try to preserve what looks most important. The result might not average out to actual improvement over long periods of time, but regardless of the unknown outcome trying to improve is better than giving up.

That's one interpretation of what happened with science. It doesn't work very well. Here is an objectively better interpretation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operational_definition

The use of operational definitions is part of that "reliable way to figure out what [the objective facts] are" I mentioned. It's the recognition that reality is grounded in experience, and so when talking about what is or isn't real, if we're being very precise, we should do so in terms of what kind of experiences will be had (what kind of observations will be made).


Sure, and different experiences lead to different science. We figure that current physics is better than what they did in the 1850's because it explains a wider variety of things and more precisely. But 150-200 years from now physicists might likely figure that what we did was even more wrongheaded than the 1850's.

We do not have single universal answers. We have reproducible results for particular experiments. Do experiments that measure something different, and you get different reproducible results. Your single universal answers vary with what you choose to measure.

Yes, but each individual experiment is repeatable. The same sensors in the same context will record the same phenomenon; if something differs, if we observer a different phenomenon, we figure out whether it's the sensing apparatus or the context which changed and if necessary adjust our models to account for that kind of change in phenomena with that kind of change of sensor or context.


Exactly! A theory which is perfectly reasonable for one set of experiments may be utterly disproven with a different set. Since we can't predict what experiments will be possible in the future, we can't predict how fast our theories will be disproven.

I'm not asking anything more from morality. The most basic thing I'm pressing is that any particular act or situation or intention or whatever, by a particular person in a particular context, is universally good or bad, in the sense that the person making the judgement doesn't have any influence on whether it's good or bad. (So, for example from earlier, we today can judge slavery from thousands of years ago as wrong, and either we are incorrect, in which case the same kind of slavery today would be fine; or the people who condoned it back then were incorrect, and it was not ok even then).


I can understand that you would want that result. I doubt you can get it unless you start from axioms I would disagree with. But I'm often wrong.

If the same act is better or worse in another place in time, then either something about the surrounding context or something about the people involved must differ (for example, flogging someone may not always be bad... when it's consensual BDSM play, and not punishing a slave), and our more general models about what in general is good or bad may need adjusting to account for that.


Yes.

I'm sure you can do something interesting along those lines. I doubt that it will produce results that future people agree are universal, just as that has consistently failed in physics -- it has failed every time, except the last time hasn't failed quite yet.

Particular models of reality keep getting shown incomplete and improved upon, but the method of science is not thereby invalidated; that kind of continual improvement of models is part of the method.


Science works well within severe limits. It improves in a sort of punctuated equilibrium -- there are occasional big jumps, with very slow gradual improvement between them. Areas of research which are not currently active tend to decay. So I say, we desperately need a strong world economy which can afford increasing funding for science. And that requires cheap sustainable energy.

Likewise, I am talking about a method of producing models of morality which neither appeals to any authority, nor says no models are in any sense "actually" correct, they're just popular or not. I would expect the specific models to continually improve. And I would expect those knowledgeable of later, improved models to be able to look back on those using earlier ones and say they were wrong, or at least, not quite right; and most importantly, give good reasons why.


I see! So it looks to me like what you're interested in is the moral equivalent of pure science, while what I'm interested in is the moral equivalent of technology.

You want a method to produce logically consistent functional moral systems and compare them by some rational standard. The method should find moral systems which are increasingly good at meeting that standard. That seems pretty interesting to me.

I am more interested in moral systems that will be taken up by large numbers of people who don't think too critically about what they're doing. I prefer moral systems that meet my own esthetic standards but I have to pay attention to whatever can actually compete in existing human populations.

I see two important problems beyond meeting my esthetics. A moral system which soon encounters a situation where it makes two incompatible moral answers look correct, so people choose between them and fight over which one is actually correct, is disruptive. We should try to avoid that if we can. The second problem is the situation where people easily see that every possible solution looks wrong. When that happens some people are likely to abandon that morality for one which does resolve that particular situation.

Incidentally, I wonder whether there might be some analog to Goedel's theorem for your morality-generating system. Maybe any morality which answers all moral questions must contain contradictions. Even if that's true it shouldn't stop you any more than the real Goedel's theorem stops people from doing math. It would be interesting to find out whether it's true, and what the implications would be if it's true or false.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Feb 16, 2012 6:49 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:I've experienced hypnosis and post-hypnotic suggestion. Things do stop seeming to exist when you stop believing in them. What we usually think of as their consequences continue, and get new explanations. If you stub your toe on a rock you think is not there, and somebody asks you what happened, you will make up the best explanation you can figure out. Then if you get the suggestion that your toe doesn't hurt, it won't hurt. You might find yourself limping a little or something, and if somebody ask you why you'll make up an explanation. We are very good at making up explanations for things.

Ok, but my point was that that is no more a problem for normative judgement than it is for factual judgement.

My experience has been that these are not reliable. But I don't have something more reliable to suggest in their place.

Reliability is relative (and here I am arguing against relativism, lol). The scientific method and the moral analogue I propose are both fallible, yes; but the admission of that fallibility is part of what makes them more reliable than methods which claim infallibility. A method which lets you admit that you were wrong, learn from your mistake, and move on, will continually improve, whereas one which makes you insist that something has always been right and could never possibly be wrong will fight progress at every turn, and is therefore less reliable. Both can make mistakes, but only one will admit it and try to fix it; the other will just try to cover it up.

People who do genetic algorithms find that when they insist on continuing progress they tend to get stuck on local optima. Sometimes it requires twenty steps back and one step forward.

When you home in on a local optimum that is still improvement. But it doesn't usually approach perfection.

Paradigm shifts in science are all about jumps from one local optimum to the slope up another, more-globally-optimum (but still local) optimum. As more data pours in, one theoretic paradigm gets refined and refined toward a local optimum, but eventually no more refinement can handle the new data and a whole new approach is needed, and the field enters a crisis until another paradigm is invented that allows progress beyond that local optimum, and once such progress is demonstrated, eventually everybody jumps ship.

Exactly! A theory which is perfectly reasonable for one set of experiments may be utterly disproven with a different set. Since we can't predict what experiments will be possible in the future, we can't predict how fast our theories will be disproven.

No, but that's not a problem for science, and it's not a problem for the moral analogue I propose either. The point I was making was that while there may be different facts about different things, the facts about something are the facts about it and nobody's opinion on it changes those; and that's as true for ethical issues as it is for physical ones. That new facts force us to update our theories doesn't change that facts are facts.

If the same act is better or worse in another place in time, then either something about the surrounding context or something about the people involved must differ (for example, flogging someone may not always be bad... when it's consensual BDSM play, and not punishing a slave), and our more general models about what in general is good or bad may need adjusting to account for that.

Yes.

But whether it's right or wrong doesn't depend on what people judging the situation think about it. If flogging a slave is wrong, then it's always been wrong, even when people condoned it; and if flogging in consensual BDSM play is fine, then it's always been fine, even when people condemned it. It's not that flogging is always either right or wrong regardless of context; it's that an act of flogging in a given context is either right or wrong regardless of whether people think it's right or wrong.

I see! So it looks to me like what you're interested in is the moral equivalent of pure science, while what I'm interested in is the moral equivalent of technology.

I wouldn't quite put it that way, but it sounds close.

What I'm most interested in is the moral equivalents of ontology and epistemology: what is it for something to be good, i.e. what does goodness consist of, by what standard do we measure goodness; and how do we go about applying that standard to determine which specific things are good or not?

I think the moral equivalent of pure science would be something like a cross between ethnography and market research. It would be taking note of the conditions under which different people suffer or flourish, not just polling people for their opinions about what they want but verifying their opinions by "walking a mile in their shoes" as the expression goes, or "emic" research as anthropologists call it; and then trying to find patterns in that data, and testing those patterns by more emic research. The product of this endeavor would be a list of various needs waiting to be addressed in the world.

The moral equivalent of engineering, which I think is what it sounds like you're more interested in, would be something like entrepreneurialism, but with perhaps a higher-minded approach. It would be figuring out a business model by which those needs could be addressed. What services would address those needs, and how can we provide those services? How can we get the resources, be they labor or capital, necessary to do so? Can we somehow motivate people to provide them to us for free, or do we need to offer them something in return, and if so where does that come from? How can we sustain the provision of these services?

This is the level at which my equivalent of governments would be created, and is I think the most important question in the world today that nobody is asking. We have organizations providing services that fullfil people's needs and striving to do doing so in the most sustainable, but often suboptimal, way (for-profit corporations, seeking to maximize their bank balance while providing the minimum viable product). We have people organizations providing services that fullfil people's needs and striving to do so in the most optimal, but often barely-sustainable, way (non-profit corporations, providing the best service they can on the shoestring donation budgets they often operate on). And we have organizations that provide varyingly moderate levels of sustainability and service, at the expense of forcing their services onto the market and forcing everyone to pay for them whether they like it or not.

And I think we need something combining the first two to gradually replace the last: non-profit organizations which aim to provide maximal levels of socially valuable services to as wide a market as possible, offering them on a sliding scale so that even the poorest of the poor can afford them, but without being afraid to act like a for-profit corporation in order to fund those services, charging as much as the market will bear to those who can afford it; and without any shareholders leeching money out of the system, so every cent gouged out of the money-is-no-object crowd can go to helping someone barely scraping by.

That long three-paragraph tangent aside: the moral equivalent of technology I would say is such organizations themselves, so the moral equivalent of a technologist would use, administer, and maintain those organizations which some "entrepreneurs" created, just as actual technologists use, administer, and maintain the things that engineers create.

Incidentally, I wonder whether there might be some analog to Goedel's theorem for your morality-generating system. Maybe any morality which answers all moral questions must contain contradictions. Even if that's true it shouldn't stop you any more than the real Goedel's theorem stops people from doing math. It would be interesting to find out whether it's true, and what the implications would be if it's true or false.

Godel's incompleteness theorem only applies to formal systems and their ability to prove things about themselves. Science appeals to something beyond some formal language to tell whether a proposition is valid or not: observation. Godel's theorem therefore doesn't apply to it. Likewise as my moral analogue of science appeals to experiential phenomena to settle moral questions, Godel's theorem doesn't apply there either.

markfiend wrote:AFAIK these universal moral systems do not claim any objective source of the morality outside humankind's self-interest.

Why does it need to appeal to something outside of humankind's self-interest (or people's needs, I would say more technically) for it to be objective? Claiming that people's needs in general, rather than just your own needs, are an object of moral concern is making an objective claim right there. On a utilitarian account, say, it might be morally obligatory for me to give up something even though I really really want it and could totally take by force, and so no appeal to more base pragmatism would fly with me; I want it, I can take it, what do you mean I "shouldn't", unless you're saying that what I should do is not just subject to my desires and my ability to realize those desires, but there is some standard independent of that, beyond me, and beyond anyone else too -- some objective standard?

I liken moral objectivism to the acknowledgement of 3D space: things look differently from other points of view, and those other points of view are just as legitimate as the one you occupy right now; reality does not consist of merely what you see in front of you this instant, but the whole sum of what can be seen (or otherwise sensed) from every time and place. Likewise, moral objectivism merely states that what is good is not merely what pleases you right now; that there are other perspectives on the same situation and there will be other perspectives on it later, some of them yours and some of them others', and what is moral is a sum of considerations from all such perspectives.

TL;DR: Objectivity is just impartiality.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby markfiend » Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:21 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:A theory which is perfectly reasonable for one set of experiments may be utterly disproven with a different set. Since we can't predict what experiments will be possible in the future, we can't predict how fast our theories will be disproven.

But I don't think that this is the case at all. For example, Newtonian mechanics wasn't "utterly disproven" with Relativity, just refined at borderline and extreme cases (where velocity is more than a few % of c, for example). Newtonian mechanics works well enough that the Apollo moonshots didn't need to figure any relativistic effects into the calculations. This doesn't strike me as a theory which is "utterly disproven", merely refined and extended.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:42 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:I've experienced hypnosis and post-hypnotic suggestion. ....

Ok, but my point was that that is no more a problem for normative judgement than it is for factual judgement.


I consider it a problem for both.

My experience has been that these are not reliable. But I don't have something more reliable to suggest in their place.

Reliability is relative (and here I am arguing against relativism, lol). The scientific method and the moral analogue I propose are both fallible, yes; but the admission of that fallibility is part of what makes them more reliable than methods which claim infallibility.


Agreed. Just, it gives no claim to infallibility.

People who do genetic algorithms find that when they insist on continuing progress they tend to get stuck on local optima. Sometimes it requires twenty steps back and one step forward.

When you home in on a local optimum that is still improvement. But it doesn't usually approach perfection.

Paradigm shifts in science are all about jumps from one local optimum to the slope up another, more-globally-optimum (but still local) optimum. As more data pours in, one theoretic paradigm gets refined and refined toward a local optimum, but eventually no more refinement can handle the new data and a whole new approach is needed, and the field enters a crisis until another paradigm is invented that allows progress beyond that local optimum, and once such progress is demonstrated, eventually everybody jumps ship.


Yes. So when you look back, the farther you look back the more of what you believed in the past appears to be wrong. Though it got results that were somewhat good anyway. When you look forward, you can say "Well, we were wrong before but we're a lot better now!". And yet it makes sense to extrapolate and figure that sometime in the future they'll look back and know that most of what you think you know now is wrong though you get somewhat good results.

In science, the facts are the experimental results given the particular experimental apparatus and controls. (Those controls are intended to make it easy to ignore all the variables you don't want to look at just now.) All of the thinking about it (including a lot of the thinking that got you to propose those particular experiments and design that particular experimental apparatus and controls) is theory which might be wrong or irrelevant.

If the same act is better or worse in another place in time, then either something about the surrounding context or something about the people involved must differ (for example, flogging someone may not always be bad... when it's consensual BDSM play, and not punishing a slave), and our more general models about what in general is good or bad may need adjusting to account for that.

Yes.

But whether it's right or wrong doesn't depend on what people judging the situation think about it. If flogging a slave is wrong, then it's always been wrong, even when people condoned it; and if flogging in consensual BDSM play is fine, then it's always been fine, even when people condemned it. It's not that flogging is always either right or wrong regardless of context; it's that an act of flogging in a given context is either right or wrong regardless of whether people think it's right or wrong.


Whatever morality you find that says when something is right and when it's wrong, there is likely a superior morality you haven't found yet which you would agree is superior. The superior morality will give you different results for some things -- if it always gave the same result how could it be superior? (I guess it could be superior in getting those results more easily, or more clearly, or in a way that people would more immediately agree with. But I claim without proof that there is a superior morality which gives different results.) You can't be sure that the superior morality won't give different results about flogging. And yet there might also be another morality which is still better which disagrees with that one.

You aren't proposing a method which will necessarily find the best answer in some area, and then with time the area with the best answer will widen. You're proposing a method which will find increasing areas of good answers.

I see! So it looks to me like what you're interested in is the moral equivalent of pure science, while what I'm interested in is the moral equivalent of technology.

I wouldn't quite put it that way, but it sounds close.

What I'm most interested in is the moral equivalents of ontology and epistemology: what is it for something to be good, i.e. what does goodness consist of, by what standard do we measure goodness; and how do we go about applying that standard to determine which specific things are good or not?


It sounds to me as if you're proposing to create standards for goodness and then judge moral systems by your standards. You aren't asking how people judge, which is a culturally-relative thing. You're trying to find a better way that judges what they do.

I think the moral equivalent of pure science would be something like a cross between ethnography and market research. It would be taking note of the conditions under which different people suffer or flourish, not just polling people for their opinions about what they want but verifying their opinions by "walking a mile in their shoes" as the expression goes, or "emic" research as anthropologists call it; and then trying to find patterns in that data, and testing those patterns by more emic research. The product of this endeavor would be a list of various needs waiting to be addressed in the world.


That looks like a good thing to me. You'd try to look at what people actually need. Of course, in a world where there isn't enough to go around there would be the moral question whose needs should be satisfied and who should be killed or encouraged to die quietly with their needs unmet. Rather than face that question squarely I'd rather work toward a world where we are powerful enough to meet everybody's needs.

The moral equivalent of engineering, which I think is what it sounds like you're more interested in, would be something like entrepreneurialism, but with perhaps a higher-minded approach. It would be figuring out a business model by which those needs could be addressed. What services would address those needs, and how can we provide those services? How can we get the resources, be they labor or capital, necessary to do so? Can we somehow motivate people to provide them to us for free, or do we need to offer them something in return, and if so where does that come from? How can we sustain the provision of these services?


That's very much worth doing too. Again, when there's enough I want to provide for everybody. But when there isn't enough I first want to guarantee my family's security. If they only get "enough", somebody stronger might come along and take everything from them. So to prevent that I want to make sure that my alliance is the strongest, and to do that we must take whatever we need to feel secure.

My thinking was far less ideal. It looks to me like you are trying to create a moral theory that will tell people what to do. Rather than claim it's the best and only way, you will have criteria to judge it against alternatives, that will judge it is the best. When somebody comes up with incremental improvements on it, you will accept the improvements -- which shows that you are fair and honest and that your way is the best. And you hope that this moral system will get used to transform societies.

I'm interested in looking at moral systems that are in use and figuring out how they work. I'm interested in looking at how they preserve societies, and how they fail. And I want to find ways I can coexist with them, or subvert them if absolutely necessary. I'm interested in how moralities grow and encroach. To the extent that I can help to spread moralities that I prefer, I want to do that. I'm interested in the long-term good for humanity and for life in general, in line with my own moral system which I don't claim anybody else should necessarily agree with.

Incidentally, I wonder whether there might be some analog to Goedel's theorem for your morality-generating system.

Godel's incompleteness theorem only applies to formal systems and their ability to prove things about themselves.

Yes. It's about axiomatic systems. It sounded like you want to create axiomatic moral systems and judge them by some sort of criteria. Each individual axiomatic moral system you judge might be subject to an analog of Goedel's theorem.

Science appeals to something beyond some formal language to tell whether a proposition is valid or not: observation. Godel's theorem therefore doesn't apply to it. Likewise as my moral analogue of science appeals to experiential phenomena to settle moral questions, Godel's theorem doesn't apply there either.


So, it sounds like you're judging moral systems by their real-world results. That seems morally fraught to me, for multiple reasons.

markfiend wrote:AFAIK these universal moral systems do not claim any objective source of the morality outside humankind's self-interest.

Why does it need to appeal to something outside of humankind's self-interest (or people's needs, I would say more technically) for it to be objective? Claiming that people's needs in general, rather than just your own needs, are an object of moral concern is making an objective claim right there. On a utilitarian account, say, it might be morally obligatory for me to give up something even though I really really want it and could totally take by force, and so no appeal to more base pragmatism would fly with me; I want it, I can take it, what do you mean I "shouldn't", unless you're saying that what I should do is not just subject to my desires and my ability to realize those desires, but there is some standard independent of that, beyond me, and beyond anyone else too -- some objective standard?


If it's truly your choice, then the best a moral system can do is persuade you. If it succeeds in persuading you that what you thought you wanted is not actually worth doing, and you don't do it, then it has changed your desire. Any method it uses to persuade you can be part of the process, and does not have to be "objective". You have a choice. You make the choice, informed by your moral philosophy. Further information may show that your choice has results you don't like, and that may persuade you to choose otherwise in the future.

I liken moral objectivism to the acknowledgement of 3D space: things look differently from other points of view, and those other points of view are just as legitimate as the one you occupy right now; reality does not consist of merely what you see in front of you this instant, but the whole sum of what can be seen (or otherwise sensed) from every time and place. Likewise, moral objectivism merely states that what is good is not merely what pleases you right now; that there are other perspectives on the same situation and there will be other perspectives on it later, some of them yours and some of them others', and what is moral is a sum of considerations from all such perspectives.

TL;DR: Objectivity is just impartiality.


It makes sense to me to try to see other points of view. And I want to put it all together and get results I will want from the whole context as well as I can see it, and not just my immediate gratification. And I know I don't see the whole picture, I could be very wrong and I may even live to see how wrong I was. But where does that leave me?

I prefer a world where there's enough to go around. But historically that hasn't been common, averaged over a lifetime. Is it wise to hope we can do it indefinitely? If we depend on that, we could get a far worse disaster than usual. And the more power we get the worse the consequences if we misuse it. Humanity has survived for hundreds of thousands of years in a state of chronic scarcity, while there's a chance we wouldn't survive abundance. Maybe I'm wrong to encourage people to work toward cheap energy. How would I find out?

Well, but there's a question of balance. If you have a lot of people on a small boat, you don't want everybody to rush over to one side of the boat even if it's objectively true that this is the better side to be on. Even if my ideas are wrong, the world might be better off if I push them just the right amount.

What if I think ahead, and I guess that because of what I do the world will be a much better place 300 years from now, and I'm right. But they lead to a big catastrophe after 400 years. I should have looked ahead farther? I can hope that I just won't matter much. If I make no difference in 400 years then I don't have to worry about that. Should I hope that I'm insignificant?

It's *hard* to judge by results.

markfiend wrote:
J Thomas wrote:A theory which is perfectly reasonable for one set of experiments may be utterly disproven with a different set. Since we can't predict what experiments will be possible in the future, we can't predict how fast our theories will be disproven.

But I don't think that this is the case at all. For example, Newtonian mechanics wasn't "utterly disproven" with Relativity, just refined at borderline and extreme cases (where velocity is more than a few % of c, for example). Newtonian mechanics works well enough that the Apollo moonshots didn't need to figure any relativistic effects into the calculations. This doesn't strike me as a theory which is "utterly disproven", merely refined and extended.


The classic chestnut is epicycles, which were utterly disproven. But they worked well enough.

Phlogiston was not only utterly disproved, after people thought it out they realized it never made any sense.

Newton made a set of conservative rules, and also he assumed a force he called "gravity" which fit an inverse square law. He had no explanation how gravity operated, but merely said it behaved that way.

Suppose that a new theory is accepted that provides an explanation for gravity. Suppose that the new theory says that gravity works because masses send out discontinuous particles which travel at lightspeed on average, and these particles individually interact with individual other elementary particles. The particles in fact travel by discontinuous jumps, appearing at one spot and then another, and for various reasons the spots for each particle follow a curved path. The process is entirely discontinous and Newton's inverse square law is approximately true by statistical averaging.

Would you then consider Newton's work disproven? It would continue to work just as well in some particular cases as it ever did, but the theory (and lack of theory) would be completely wrong in principle despite being a sometimes-workable approximation.

It could easily be argued that relativity is almost as incompatible with Newton as the untested idea I just described. But I'm not sure it's worth arguing about. The deeper issue is that some people want to stress that scientific advance is a slow gradual process in which old beliefs are never disproven but merely refined, while others say that it's a continual clash where wrong ideas get replaced by newer wrong ideas that outcompete them. Probably the reality is somewhere in between.

I claim that new data can prove scientific theories wrong. Consider for example quantum mechanics. As I understand it, there are pairs of measurements that can't be done because they interfere with each other. We have nothing that can get complete information about an electron because everything which could collect that information will affect the electron enough to change things around. So QM looks at statistical distributions. People argue about whether individual cases are like the statistical distributions -- since all we have is distributions we can't know that and so they argue. People argue about causation because statistical distributions don't reveal causation. Etc.

Imagine that someday we find out about "slow neutrinos" which can be easily produced and easily detected, which are strongly influenced by electrons etc but which have little effect on them. Currently we have no reason to expect such things, and we also have no valid reason to say they can't exist. If we had that, we could perhaps look at the details of individual cases. Whatever hidden variables there may be would no longer be hidden. We would develop theories that describe the individual cases, and theories based on QM would be ignored. QM would be just as good as it ever was for describing statistical distributions, but the theory behind it would be falsified.

I have no basis to judge how fast something like that might happen. It depends on how long it takes us to observe new things we haven't noticed yet.
Last edited by J Thomas on Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:53 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Feb 17, 2012 10:12 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:I consider it a problem for both.

Are you equally relativist about reality as morality, then?

From what you say below, you seem increasingly less relativist to me at all, and more merely fallibilist, which is much different. A fallibilist can be a universalist and say that whatever is correct is universally so, but that our judgements about what is correct are always imperfect; nevertheless they are the best we have at the moment and we've got to run with them, that we cannot just discard them and let known errors slide simply because we might be in error too.

So when you look back, the farther you look back the more of what you believed in the past appears to be wrong. Though it got results that were somewhat good anyway. When you look forward, you can say "Well, we were wrong before but we're a lot better now!". And yet it makes sense to extrapolate and figure that sometime in the future they'll look back and know that most of what you think you know now is wrong though you get somewhat good results.

Yes, and fallibilists (as all scientists should be) fully admit that there are probably errors in the current theories. New scientists are betting their careers on being able to find at least small areas that need improvements; and busting the current theory completely would be hitting the jackpot.

In science, the facts are the experimental results given the particular experimental apparatus and controls. (Those controls are intended to make it easy to ignore all the variables you don't want to look at just now.) All of the thinking about it (including a lot of the thinking that got you to propose those particular experiments and design that particular experimental apparatus and controls) is theory which might be wrong or irrelevant.

Yes, but that is true of any approach to describing the world that goes beyond just noting particular individual observations with all their qualifying circumstances (which we have to do somehow to function at all in the world, otherwise you can have no expectation that the Earth will continue existing throughout the next second, because your observations about it right now tell you nothing about that, without some kind of pattern inference from them). The difference with science is that it admits those mistakes, learns from them, and moves on. Fallibilism is a strength, not a weakness.

Whatever morality you find that says when something is right and when it's wrong, there is likely a superior morality you haven't found yet which you would agree is superior. The superior morality will give you different results for some things -- if it always gave the same result how could it be superior? (I guess it could be superior in getting those results more easily, or more clearly, or in a way that people would more immediately agree with. But I claim without proof that there is a superior morality which gives different results.) You can't be sure that the superior morality won't give different results about flogging. And yet there might also be another morality which is still better which disagrees with that one.

Yes, there is likely a superior moral code. But we have no way of knowing in what ways it will differ from the one which is the best we know of so far. So, acknowledging that, we can either let everything slide because who really knows anything and any judgement might turn out to be wrong so who are we to judge at all; or we can go with the best that we know so far, admitting the gaps in our knowledge and not pushing any position there, but still stopping things which we have good reason to think are wrong; or, we can deny our fallibility, and push our "infallible" opinions on everything on everyone everywhere and plug our ears whenever someone tries to tell us why we're wrong. The first option is what relativism entails; the last is "absolutism"; the middle position is the one that I am advocating. Universalist, but fallibilist.

You aren't proposing a method which will necessarily find the best answer in some area, and then with time the area with the best answer will widen. You're proposing a method which will find increasing areas of good answers.

Both of those are looking at it the wrong way around. We start out with a space of possible answers. Then we block out the ones that we know to be incompatible with the evidence. The remaining space of possible answers gradually gets smaller. Thus, any random answer chosen from that remaining space is necessarily less far off from whichever point is the correct answer than any random point chosen from an earlier remaining space of possible answers would be.

It sounds to me as if you're proposing to create standards for goodness and then judge moral systems by your standards. You aren't asking how people judge, which is a culturally-relative thing. You're trying to find a better way that judges what they do.

Yes, I think, though your way of phrasing that sound odd some way I can't quite place.

I am asking an espistemological question. Espistemological questions are reflexive questions: they are questions about how to answer questions. I'm not asking "What do people think is correct?" -- that's irrelevant to figuring out what is correct. I'm asking "How can we tell what is correct?" An answer to that is not in itself a position on what is or is not correct, but it will tell us how to come to a position on that. An answer to the former question will not. What people think is irrelevant to finding what to think; how to think, on the other hand, is very important toward that end.

I'm interested in looking at moral systems that are in use and figuring out how they work. I'm interested in looking at how they preserve societies, and how they fail. And I want to find ways I can coexist with them, or subvert them if absolutely necessary. I'm interested in how moralities grow and encroach.

And that's an important step to understand in achieving a moral world, but it cannot stand on its own. We do need to understand how and why people will or will not accept some moral standard, if we want to shape their moral standards; but that only gives us a means.... to what end? What are were trying to shape them into, and why?

To the extent that I can help to spread moralities that I prefer, I want to do that.

And have you no concern for what moral standards you should prefer, or why? You just prefer what you do cause you do and don't question it? Or do you give thought to whether you should prefer what you do, and why or why not?

I'm interested in the long-term good for humanity and for life in general, in line with my own moral system which I don't claim anybody else should necessarily agree with.

But what do you do when other people disagree with it? Do you let anything they do slide, because hey, you are probably wrong too? Or do you always push for your way whenever you have the power to do so? Or do you sometimes let it slide because you're not so sure that it's wrong, but other times you have good reasons to stop them if you can? In that last case, when you do let it slide or impose your way, and why? The "why" really dictates the "when", and that's the question I'm asking: on what grounds can you judge someone else's intentions to be in the wrong, and stop them from acting on them, if you can?

You are only asking "how can you?", it seems, which doesn't tell you anything about when to do so, unless your answer to "when" is simply "whenever you can", probably because (if that is the case) your answer to "why" is "because you can", which can hardly be called any kind of moral standard at all. My proposed answer to "why" is somewhat nuanced, but suffice it to say the "when" answers that comes from it are neither "always" nor "never", but variations on "sometimes". "How" is an important followup question, but without the "when" it's pretty pointless, and the "when" answers come from the "why" answers, which are what I'm seeking.

Yes. It's about axiomatic systems. It sounded like you want to create axiomatic moral systems and judge them by some sort of criteria. Each individual axiomatic moral system you judge might be subject to an analog of Goedel's theorem.

I don't know what I would call the moral systems my ethical method would decide between "axiomatic". At least no more than physical theories are "axiomatic". Sure, they are models that we try to reduce to as few basic principles as possible, but that's the whole point of coming up with general models instead of just listing every single data point: abstracting patterns from the datapoints, to work with them more easily.

But a physical theory isn't tested against its own principles; and its not tested merely against the axioms of the more general formal languages used to describe it, either. It's tested against an external reference: experience. Likewise, the moral systems my method would select between would try to be reduced down to as few basic principles as possible, but they wouldn't be tested merely against their own principles, or the axioms of the formal languages which would describe them; they would be tested against (another aspect of) that same external reference of experience.

So, it sounds like you're judging moral systems by their real-world results. That seems morally fraught to me, for multiple reasons.

That phrasing could be interpreted a lot of ways, and some of them I would agree are morally fraught. All I really mean, though, is that things are judged wrong by whether someone suffers because of them. Who suffers from what and when is a more complicated question, and so saying what is right or wrong and when is as well; but at least we can say why something would be wrong, and then set about answering that more complicated question.

What if I think ahead, and I guess that because of what I do the world will be a much better place 300 years from now, and I'm right. But they lead to a big catastrophe after 400 years. I should have looked ahead farther? I can hope that I just won't matter much. If I make no difference in 400 years then I don't have to worry about that. Should I hope that I'm insignificant?

This is a major problem with consequentialism, and why I am not a consequentialist. The super-short version of my answer to this problem is "First, do no harm". Don't try to aim for maximum benefit at some arbitrary future point. You can't predict the future, and the world is not yours to steer. Instead, aim to keep from making anything worse. And within those bounds, aim at making things better where you can. You can make sacrifices in your own life for your own future benefit if you like, that's your choice to make; but when it comes to others, first do no harm.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:37 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:I consider it a problem for both.

Are you equally relativist about reality as morality, then?


Yes. I have to admit that pretty much everything I think I know could be wrong. And then I act on it anyway, because in my opinion it's the best I've got.

From what you say below, you seem increasingly less relativist to me at all, and more merely fallibilist, which is much different. A fallibilist can be a universalist and say that whatever is correct is universally so, but that our judgements about what is correct are always imperfect; nevertheless they are the best we have at the moment and we've got to run with them, that we cannot just discard them and let known errors slide simply because we might be in error too.


I'm not sure there's practical difference between those. What's the difference between "There is a God but we don't actually know anything about him" and "There is no God"? Between "There's a universally correct moral system we have no contact with" and "There's no universally correct moral system"? It's all pie in the sky unless you get a handle on it.

.... And yet it makes sense to extrapolate and figure that sometime in the future they'll look back and know that most of what you think you know now is wrong though you get somewhat good results.

Yes, and fallibilists (as all scientists should be) fully admit that there are probably errors in the current theories. New scientists are betting their careers on being able to find at least small areas that need improvements; and busting the current theory completely would be hitting the jackpot.


My point is that there's no guarantee you're approaching Truth etc at any given moment. There could be important hidden flaws in your thinking that make something which is actually farther away look like it's closer. Taking that mis-step could help you correct those flaws and get closer than you are now, but still in the meantime you are going backward. Here's a simile for that -- imagine that you're using a hill-climbing algorithm, and when you compare two points to decide which is better, the algorithm measures their position on a peano curve. In the long run you are getting closer to the goal, because you never go backward, you keep eliminating sections of the curve that you won't go into again. But at any given time you're as likely to be going farther from the goal as closer, measured by euclidean distance.

In science, the facts are the experimental results given the particular experimental apparatus and controls. (Those controls are intended to make it easy to ignore all the variables you don't want to look at just now.) All of the thinking about it (including a lot of the thinking that got you to propose those particular experiments and design that particular experimental apparatus and controls) is theory which might be wrong or irrelevant.

Yes, but that is true of any approach to describing the world that goes beyond just noting particular individual observations with all their qualifying circumstances (which we have to do somehow to function at all in the world, otherwise you can have no expectation that the Earth will continue existing throughout the next second, because your observations about it right now tell you nothing about that, without some kind of pattern inference from them). The difference with science is that it admits those mistakes, learns from them, and moves on. Fallibilism is a strength, not a weakness.


So we both accept that the process is fundamentally flawed for finding any absolute result, but it's the best we have that we can demonstrate to others. Alternatives would include believing in some absolute system without evidence, and believing in our own intuition without evidence.

Whatever morality you find that says when something is right and when it's wrong, there is likely a superior morality you haven't found yet which you would agree is superior. The superior morality will give you different results for some things -- if it always gave the same result how could it be superior?


Yes, there is likely a superior moral code. But we have no way of knowing in what ways it will differ from the one which is the best we know of so far. So, acknowledging that, we can either let everything slide because who really knows anything and any judgement might turn out to be wrong so who are we to judge at all; or we can go with the best that we know so far, admitting the gaps in our knowledge and not pushing any position there, but still stopping things which we have good reason to think are wrong; or, we can deny our fallibility, and push our "infallible" opinions on everything on everyone everywhere and plug our ears whenever someone tries to tell us why we're wrong. The first option is what relativism entails; the last is "absolutism"; the middle position is the one that I am advocating. Universalist, but fallibilist.


From a relativist position, I can't say that you shouldn't do that. By my own personal preferences it looks like something I can live with. I'd rather have you for a neighbor than lots of other people.

You aren't proposing a method which will necessarily find the best answer in some area, and then with time the area with the best answer will widen. You're proposing a method which will find increasing areas of good answers.

Both of those are looking at it the wrong way around. We start out with a space of possible answers. Then we block out the ones that we know to be incompatible with the evidence. The remaining space of possible answers gradually gets smaller. Thus, any random answer chosen from that remaining space is necessarily less far off from whichever point is the correct answer than any random point chosen from an earlier remaining space of possible answers would be.


That sounds good, and it might work in practice. I say it is not guaranteed to work in practice. Imagine that you have a binary choice, yes or no, and imagine that one of those choices is correct and the other is wrong. Within the state of possible answers, there can be a whole lot of ways to get the right answer for the wrong reasons. When you block out methods that are wrong, how do you know whether you are blocking out more methods that get the wrong answer, or more methods that get the right answer? You may be making it more unlikely to get the right answer in the short run, even though you are blocking out wrong approaches. In a perverse universe, you could keep blocking out bad methods and increasingly reduce your chance to get the right answer, until sometime in the distant future you finally start blocking out approaches that lead to the wrong answer also.

It sounds to me as if you're proposing to create standards for goodness and then judge moral systems by your standards. You aren't asking how people judge, which is a culturally-relative thing. You're trying to find a better way that judges what they do.

Yes, I think, though your way of phrasing that sound odd some way I can't quite place.

I am asking an espistemological question. Espistemological questions are reflexive questions: they are questions about how to answer questions. I'm not asking "What do people think is correct?" -- that's irrelevant to figuring out what is correct. I'm asking "How can we tell what is correct?" An answer to that is not in itself a position on what is or is not correct, but it will tell us how to come to a position on that. An answer to the former question will not. What people think is irrelevant to finding what to think; how to think, on the other hand, is very important toward that end.


And what we have so far is something like scientific method, which is plausible but is not guaranteed.

I'm interested in looking at moral systems that are in use and figuring out how they work. I'm interested in looking at how they preserve societies, and how they fail. And I want to find ways I can coexist with them, or subvert them if absolutely necessary. I'm interested in how moralities grow and encroach.

And that's an important step to understand in achieving a moral world, but it cannot stand on its own. We do need to understand how and why people will or will not accept some moral standard, if we want to shape their moral standards; but that only gives us a means.... to what end? What are were trying to shape them into, and why?


To the extent that I understand it well enough to get some sort of leverage on it, then it's my choice what to do with that. I must choose informed by my imperfect understanding of everything.

To the extent that I can help to spread moralities that I prefer, I want to do that.

And have you no concern for what moral standards you should prefer, or why? You just prefer what you do cause you do and don't question it? Or do you give thought to whether you should prefer what you do, and why or why not?


I must choose. I choose, informed by the morality I have chosen that looks to me like the best I've seen so far -- by the standards I have chosen.

I'm interested in the long-term good for humanity and for life in general, in line with my own moral system which I don't claim anybody else should necessarily agree with.

But what do you do when other people disagree with it? Do you let anything they do slide, because hey, you are probably wrong too?


If they're willing, I can try to discuss it and see whether I influence them or they influence me. There's nothing wrong with trying to gently persuade people how they should make their choices. There's nothing wrong with trying to understand their point of view and maybe getting persuaded.

I can try to coerce them if I'm convinced what they're doing is more harmful than the result of the coercion.

Or do you always push for your way whenever you have the power to do so? Or do you sometimes let it slide because you're not so sure that it's wrong, but other times you have good reasons to stop them if you can? In that last case, when you do let it slide or impose your way, and why? The "why" really dictates the "when", and that's the question I'm asking: on what grounds can you judge someone else's intentions to be in the wrong, and stop them from acting on them, if you can?


I have to choose. In general I try not to coerce people except in customary ways because they don't like it and there are various secondary consequences. But when it's customary they tend not to take it so personally.

You are only asking "how can you?", it seems, which doesn't tell you anything about when to do so, unless your answer to "when" is simply "whenever you can", probably because (if that is the case) your answer to "why" is "because you can", which can hardly be called any kind of moral standard at all.


It's a start.

"Why not?"
"Because you can't."

That's pretty definitive. When you can, you get the choice. When you can't, it isn't an available choice.

My proposed answer to "why" is somewhat nuanced, but suffice it to say the "when" answers that comes from it are neither "always" nor "never", but variations on "sometimes". "How" is an important followup question, but without the "when" it's pretty pointless, and the "when" answers come from the "why" answers, which are what I'm seeking.


When the answer to "How" is "Nohow", then you can drop the rest. So it isn't a bad thing to ask how first.

Yes. It's about axiomatic systems. It sounded like you want to create axiomatic moral systems and judge them by some sort of criteria. Each individual axiomatic moral system you judge might be subject to an analog of Goedel's theorem.

I don't know what I would call the moral systems my ethical method would decide between "axiomatic". At least no more than physical theories are "axiomatic". Sure, they are models that we try to reduce to as few basic principles as possible, but that's the whole point of coming up with general models instead of just listing every single data point: abstracting patterns from the datapoints, to work with them more easily.

But a physical theory isn't tested against its own principles; and its not tested merely against the axioms of the more general formal languages used to describe it, either. It's tested against an external reference: experience. Likewise, the moral systems my method would select between would try to be reduced down to as few basic principles as possible, but they wouldn't be tested merely against their own principles, or the axioms of the formal languages which would describe them; they would be tested against (another aspect of) that same external reference of experience.


Something like Goedel's theorem might apply to the abstract patterns. They might wind up in a form where it's provable they can't predict everything. I don't know whether that's important.

But it's important that science works by isolating patterns. Whether or not heat affects your results, it likely affects your instruments so you want to work in air conditioning. Likewise humidity. You control all the variables you aren't interested in at the moment. And we get great results that can be replicated when those variables are controlled. Your computer chips work. They work with controlled temperature and controlled humidity and controlled voltage etc.

Science doesn't work as well when you can't control the variables. So for example the global warming thing is not completely definitive because it's so hard to do the experiments.

I can imagine that you might be able to measure in a laboratory situation that you shouldn't drop rocks on good friends. You might quantify how good a friend they need to be before you definitely shouldn't drop a rock on them, and how bad an enemy they must be before you definitely should. But if you're on a mountain in a freezing thunderstorm (different temperature, humidity, electricity) maybe it would be different.

So, it sounds like you're judging moral systems by their real-world results. That seems morally fraught to me, for multiple reasons.

That phrasing could be interpreted a lot of ways, and some of them I would agree are morally fraught. All I really mean, though, is that things are judged wrong by whether someone suffers because of them. Who suffers from what and when is a more complicated question, and so saying what is right or wrong and when is as well; but at least we can say why something would be wrong, and then set about answering that more complicated question.


You have to consider also who suffers. Perhaps some people ought to suffer sometimes.

What if I think ahead, and I guess that because of what I do the world will be a much better place 300 years from now, and I'm right. But they lead to a big catastrophe after 400 years. I should have looked ahead farther? ....

This is a major problem with consequentialism, and why I am not a consequentialist. The super-short version of my answer to this problem is "First, do no harm". ....


In an uncertain world, you can't know whether you're doing harm. So your principle is a good goal but there is no way to know whether you are following it. It is a consequentialist goal and so as fraught as other consequentialist goals.

For myself, I want to do things that I predict will have good results. I dislike getting bad results. "All the people I tried to help are dead because of me, but it's OK because morally I did the right thing." Ugh. But I can never be sure what will happen, not least because everybody else involved gets to make their own free choices. If I manage to constrain them to the point they're predictable, is that morally acceptable? Not in general, though there could be some special cases where it makes sense.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Kit. » Wed Feb 22, 2012 10:30 am UTC

Sorry for the delay. Was really taken by work.

J Thomas wrote:You are doing the No True Scotsman fallacy.

"Christians have to believe this particular illogical garbage."
"I'm a Christian and I don't believe that."
"No, you aren't a Christian because if you were truly a Christian you would believe this particular illogical garbage."

First of all, your example here is not "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Check by yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

Second, the whole "Credo quia absurdum" (actually, "credibile est, quia ineptum est") thing about Christianity has obviously missed you. Early Christians thought that if such an obvously "unsound" faith had managed to spread so widely, there had to be some divine truth behind it (now, with mass media and Internet, we know that it's not necessarily true, but back then that logic seemed legit).

J Thomas wrote:You apparently aren't a Christian yourself but you're deciding who's Christian and who isn't.

That's OK. Ornithologists and farmers aren't ducks either.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Anyway, what I'm saying is simple common sense. Yesterday I got a phone call about an online credit card transaction. They wanted me to give them some of my bank security information so they could verify my identity. Of course I got their number and contacted my bank first, and then called them back. I didn't trust them with my bank account just because they said they represented the bank.

If you'd do that for a little bit of money, doesn't it make sense you'd do it for your immortal soul? Before you accept the Pope or anybody else as your intermediary with God, you need to first check directly with God whether He wants you to.

Who sold you the idea that you have an immortal soul? Aren't you going to check its status with the same provider?

Of course.

So, how do you check that it's the same?

J Thomas wrote:
Besides, it's kinda strange to call a random number trying to find God there. Could as well be the Devil.

If you don't believe you can contact God and tell whether it's God or not, how are you going to check what other people tell you about God? Are you just going to believe they have some special channel to God and you don't?

Who told you I cannot contact God? When I was... younger, I could contact up to six different Gods before breakfast. And every one was the only true One.

So, you might be able to find your one and stick to it, but it still doesn't make you a Chrisitian. And the Christians may justly believe that you are talking with demons. Because if it were their God, why would you reject their faith on the basis of it being the "illogical garbage"?

J Thomas wrote:Ah! So if the Romans enforced rabbinical copyright, and punished Christian proselytizers for having Jewish texts, how would that change things? My first thought is that Jewish Christians might have an out because they were Jewish. But then when masses of nonJewish Christians took over,

The problem would have started earlier. Because all that Christ and other Jewish prophets of that time (including John the Baptist) were preaching would be breaking Roman law, and not be just local Jewish affairs.

Probably Christ then would need to be born in another country.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Wed Feb 22, 2012 2:23 pm UTC

Kit. wrote:
J Thomas wrote:You are doing the No True Scotsman fallacy.

"Christians have to believe this particular illogical garbage."
"I'm a Christian and I don't believe that."
"No, you aren't a Christian because if you were truly a Christian you would believe this particular illogical garbage."

First of all, your example here is not "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Check by yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman


It looks exactly like the No True Scotsman fallacy to me. You haven't said anything about why this particular No True Scotsman case is different, so it looks like a meta-No-True-Scotsman fallacy to me. Kind of like, "This argument is not a No True Scotsman fallacy, because if it was in fact a No True Scotsman fallacy it would be wrong." ;)

Second, the whole "Credo quia absurdum" (actually, "credibile est, quia ineptum est") thing about Christianity has obviously missed you. Early Christians thought that if such an obvously "unsound" faith had managed to spread so widely, there had to be some divine truth behind it (now, with mass media and Internet, we know that it's not necessarily true, but back then that logic seemed legit).


This is just the argument from success. "If you're so rich, you must be smart." Of course, the same argument said the Roman Emperor was a pretty good god.

J Thomas wrote:You apparently aren't a Christian yourself but you're deciding who's Christian and who isn't.

That's OK. Ornithologists and farmers aren't ducks either.


But they don't try to tell the ducks who's a duck and who isn't. Ducks think they know, and it makes a difference to them who gets accepted and who doesn't. Sometimes they make mistakes -- decoys etc. But in mating season they sure don't ask ornithologists or farmers who's a duck.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Anyway, what I'm saying is simple common sense. Yesterday I got a phone call about an online credit card transaction. They wanted me to give them some of my bank security information so they could verify my identity. Of course I got their number and contacted my bank first, and then called them back. I didn't trust them with my bank account just because they said they represented the bank.

If you'd do that for a little bit of money, doesn't it make sense you'd do it for your immortal soul? Before you accept the Pope or anybody else as your intermediary with God, you need to first check directly with God whether He wants you to.

Who sold you the idea that you have an immortal soul? Aren't you going to check its status with the same provider?

Of course.

So, how do you check that it's the same?


It isn't necessary to explain that to some third party. But if you *can't* check that it's the same, how much should you believe it?

J Thomas wrote:
Besides, it's kinda strange to call a random number trying to find God there. Could as well be the Devil.

If you don't believe you can contact God and tell whether it's God or not, how are you going to check what other people tell you about God? Are you just going to believe they have some special channel to God and you don't?

Who told you I cannot contact God? When I was... younger, I could contact up to six different Gods before breakfast. And every one was the only true One.


If you believed that every one was the only true One, then you have reason for skepticism about that sort of thing. It seems plausible that you aren't competent to choose the only true One. On the other hand, if they didn't disagree maybe they were all the only true One. It's a lot better to notice he's God even when he wears a funny hat, than to get him confused with five other guys. Could you really tell whether they were six different Gods?

So, you might be able to find your one and stick to it, but it still doesn't make you a Chrisitian. And the Christians may justly believe that you are talking with demons.


If God tells you you're a christian, then you're a christian. That's a lot different from an ornithologist telling you you're a duck. Other christians might not believe it -- that's happened a whole lot, lots of silly christians have said that other christians weren't christians. Some of them even martyred christians for it.

Because if it were their God, why would you reject their faith on the basis of it being the "illogical garbage"?


Back up a moment. It takes divine inspiration to understand scripture. So the scripture itself isn't illogical garbage. It isn't anything in particular until you understand it with divine inspiration. There's no particular reason that God would give two different people the same understanding of the same scripture. They are different people with different needs and different missions.

So it's silly to argue about what it means. Unless God tells you to. My guess is that if God tells you to argue it, he'll tell you to do it with compassion and love for your fellow christian, and an awareness that as an imperfect being you may have gotten it wrong. But if God tells you something incompatible with that then I'm wrong.

J Thomas wrote:Ah! So if the Romans enforced rabbinical copyright, and punished Christian proselytizers for having Jewish texts, how would that change things? My first thought is that Jewish Christians might have an out because they were Jewish. But then when masses of nonJewish Christians took over,

The problem would have started earlier. Because all that Christ and other Jewish prophets of that time (including John the Baptist) were preaching would be breaking Roman law, and not be just local Jewish affairs.

Probably Christ then would need to be born in another country.


Well, but neither John the Baptist nor Christ were writing much down. Jesus wasn't writing copies of the Talmud and selling them. If he wrote his own scriptures that didn't violate rabbinical copyright, where's the problem?

It probably helped that the Romans had the idea they were going to make a profit off occupying Palestine. They kept enough soldiers to keep the puppet government in line, but not enough to run down all the minor agitators. Kind of like the US military doesn't track all the muslim preachers in Afghanistan, but does occasionally decide that one is an insurgent and blows him up together with his prayer meeting. I don't see that copyright law would make much difference in either case.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby enumerated powers » Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:40 pm UTC

addams wrote:
doogly wrote:
...
Shoot Children; The game is no where nearly over! The God Particle is, just a beginning for a whole new Religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson
/wiki/The_God_Particle:_If_the_Universe_Is_the_Answer,_What_Is_the_Question%3F
I know that the Physics guys do not want us to call it the God Particle. But; It's beauty was not be ignored.
...

....Got it.
Spoiler:
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Kit. » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:43 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:
Kit. wrote:First of all, your example here is not "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Check by yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

It looks exactly like the No True Scotsman fallacy to me.

Ok, then I will do it for you: "When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject...".

In your example, the "counterexample" was denied.

Of course you can call "No True Scotsman fallacy" something that isn't, as you are calling a "Christian" someone who isn't. But be aware that people may not understand you.

J Thomas wrote:
Second, the whole "Credo quia absurdum" (actually, "credibile est, quia ineptum est") thing about Christianity has obviously missed you. Early Christians thought that if such an obvously "unsound" faith had managed to spread so widely, there had to be some divine truth behind it (now, with mass media and Internet, we know that it's not necessarily true, but back then that logic seemed legit).

This is just the argument from success. "If you're so rich, you must be smart." Of course, the same argument said the Roman Emperor was a pretty good god.

Not really. It's more like "if you're so rich, and at the same time are so dumb, so honest and have no rich parents, then God must be helping you".

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:You apparently aren't a Christian yourself but you're deciding who's Christian and who isn't.

That's OK. Ornithologists and farmers aren't ducks either.

But they don't try to tell the ducks

St. Francis was neither a farmer nor an ornitologist, that's true.

But you are, I suppose, a Homo sapieans sapiens, and can be communicated with using terms made by and for humans.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Anyway, what I'm saying is simple common sense. Yesterday I got a phone call about an online credit card transaction. They wanted me to give them some of my bank security information so they could verify my identity. Of course I got their number and contacted my bank first, and then called them back. I didn't trust them with my bank account just because they said they represented the bank.
If you'd do that for a little bit of money, doesn't it make sense you'd do it for your immortal soul? Before you accept the Pope or anybody else as your intermediary with God, you need to first check directly with God whether He wants you to.

Who sold you the idea that you have an immortal soul? Aren't you going to check its status with the same provider?

Of course.

So, how do you check that it's the same?

It isn't necessary to explain that to some third party. But if you *can't* check that it's the same, how much should you believe it?

If you believe in an "immortal soul" because the Church sold that idea to you, it would be reasonable to turn to the Church for its maintenance as well.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Besides, it's kinda strange to call a random number trying to find God there. Could as well be the Devil.

If you don't believe you can contact God and tell whether it's God or not, how are you going to check what other people tell you about God? Are you just going to believe they have some special channel to God and you don't?

Who told you I cannot contact God? When I was... younger, I could contact up to six different Gods before breakfast. And every one was the only true One.

If you believed that every one was the only true One, then you have reason for skepticism about that sort of thing. It seems plausible that you aren't competent to choose the only true One. On the other hand, if they didn't disagree maybe they were all the only true One. It's a lot better to notice he's God even when he wears a funny hat, than to get him confused with five other guys. Could you really tell whether they were six different Gods?

I could claim that they were. It's as untestable as your claim that the God you contact is a Christian one.

J Thomas wrote:
So, you might be able to find your one and stick to it, but it still doesn't make you a Chrisitian. And the Christians may justly believe that you are talking with demons.

If God tells you you're a christian, then you're a christian.

And if you think that God tells you you're Napoleon?
Does it make you Napoleon?

And if that God tells you that you are a duck, does it make you one?

J Thomas wrote:
Because if it were their God, why would you reject their faith on the basis of it being the "illogical garbage"?

Back up a moment. It takes divine inspiration to understand scripture.

Not necessarily divine. The Christians claim that it's divine when it comes through the Church.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Ah! So if the Romans enforced rabbinical copyright, and punished Christian proselytizers for having Jewish texts, how would that change things? My first thought is that Jewish Christians might have an out because they were Jewish. But then when masses of nonJewish Christians took over,

The problem would have started earlier. Because all that Christ and other Jewish prophets of that time (including John the Baptist) were preaching would be breaking Roman law, and not be just local Jewish affairs.
Probably Christ then would need to be born in another country.

Well, but neither John the Baptist nor Christ were writing much down.

Writing is not necessary. Oral performance may also constitute copyright infringement.

J Thomas wrote:It probably helped that the Romans had the idea they were going to make a profit off occupying Palestine. They kept enough soldiers to keep the puppet government in line, but not enough to run down all the minor agitators. Kind of like the US military doesn't track all the muslim preachers in Afghanistan, but does occasionally decide that one is an insurgent and blows him up together with his prayer meeting. I don't see that copyright law would make much difference in either case.

There is a serious difference between Romans and US military. Romans would not apologize for the deaths of civilians.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Mon Feb 27, 2012 4:10 am UTC

Kit. wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Kit. wrote:First of all, your example here is not "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Check by yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

It looks exactly like the No True Scotsman fallacy to me.

Ok, then I will do it for you: "When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject...".

In your example, the "counterexample" was denied.


I don't see it. You make a false claim that some Christians are actually not Christians. As I recall it, when I asked you how you knew who was as Christian and who wasn't, you said you kinda had a start at it from the Nicene creed. The way I see it, it requires divine inspiration to understand the Nicene Creed, but when you make claims about Christians and I point out counterexamples you say they don't count because they aren't really Christians for reasons you haven't defined. It looks like No True Scotsman to me, but I'm running into the same sort of problem about that -- you're making a distinction about what it takes for something to be No True Scotsman that I don't follow..

Of course you can call "No True Scotsman fallacy" something that isn't, as you are calling a "Christian" someone who isn't. But be aware that people may not understand you.


I'm *very* aware that people may not understand me. Understanding what somebody else says is an accomplishment, not at all a given.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Anyway, what I'm saying is simple common sense. Yesterday I got a phone call about an online credit card transaction. They wanted me to give them some of my bank security information so they could verify my identity. Of course I got their number and contacted my bank first, and then called them back.

If you'd do that for a little bit of money, doesn't it make sense you'd do it for your immortal soul? Before you accept the Pope or anybody else as your intermediary with God, you need to first check directly with God whether He wants you to.

Who sold you the idea that you have an immortal soul? Aren't you going to check its status with the same provider?

Of course.

So, how do you check that it's the same?

It isn't necessary to explain that to some third party. But if you *can't* check that it's the same, how much should you believe it?

If you believe in an "immortal soul" because the Church sold that idea to you, it would be reasonable to turn to the Church for its maintenance as well.


If you believe stuff about your bank because somebody, maybe a fellow customer, called you on the phone and told you, where do you go from there? Shouldn't you get some reliable source? History shows the Church has been many things over the centuries, but a reliable source for theological doctrine is not among them.

J Thomas wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Besides, it's kinda strange to call a random number trying to find God there. Could as well be the Devil.

If you don't believe you can contact God and tell whether it's God or not, how are you going to check what other people tell you about God? Are you just going to believe they have some special channel to God and you don't?

Who told you I cannot contact God? When I was... younger, I could contact up to six different Gods before breakfast. And every one was the only true One.

If you believed that every one was the only true One, then you have reason for skepticism about that sort of thing. It seems plausible that you aren't competent to choose the only true One. On the other hand, if they didn't disagree maybe they were all the only true One. It's a lot better to notice he's God even when he wears a funny hat, than to get him confused with five other guys. Could you really tell whether they were six different Gods?

I could claim that they were. It's as untestable as your claim that the God you contact is a Christian one.


If you believe them, then go with it. If you don't believe them, then don't.

Probably better not to claim it if you don't believe it.

J Thomas wrote:
So, you might be able to find your one and stick to it, but it still doesn't make you a Chrisitian. And the Christians may justly believe that you are talking with demons.

If God tells you you're a christian, then you're a christian.

And if you think that God tells you you're Napoleon?
Does it make you Napoleon?


Do you believe that God told you you're Napoleon? It increasingly sounds like you are not a nominalist, and you believe that words have real True meanings.

And if that God tells you that you are a duck, does it make you one?


Has your god told you that you were a duck? Are you confident you understood? If not, what are you trying to say here?

Is this a variation on "Can God make a rock so heavy He can't lift it?" Is it "Can God tell lies to his worshippers who believe in Him?" I don't know what to say about what God can do. If you believe that God is real and that God is lying to you, then don't believe him. If you believe that God tells you that you are a duck, and you are sure you understand God, and you are also sure you are not a duck, then take it from there.

J Thomas wrote:
Because if it were their God, why would you reject their faith on the basis of it being the "illogical garbage"?

Back up a moment. It takes divine inspiration to understand scripture.

Not necessarily divine. The Christians claim that it's divine when it comes through the Church.


There are people who call themselves Christian who say that. Ask them about their understanding of scripture. Choose 20 pieces of scripture at random, and ask 1000 members of one christian denomination what those mean, and then tell me how well you think they understand it from their church.

J Thomas wrote:It probably helped that the Romans had the idea they were going to make a profit off occupying Palestine. They kept enough soldiers to keep the puppet government in line, but not enough to run down all the minor agitators. Kind of like the US military doesn't track all the muslim preachers in Afghanistan, but does occasionally decide that one is an insurgent and blows him up together with his prayer meeting. I don't see that copyright law would make much difference in either case.

There is a serious difference between Romans and US military. Romans would not apologize for the deaths of civilians.


Understanding each other is a gift that we can somtimes give each other, friend. To my way of thinking, the difference between killing people and apologising for it, and then killing more people and apologising for it, rinse and repeat, versus killing people and not apologising, is not so very serious. But I think I can see how it could be a serious difference for you.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby addams » Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:54 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:
markfiend wrote:The Christians I'm talking about claim to be moral absolutists. They claim that there is an eternal, extrinsic moral authority which can be known through careful study of the Bible. The point being, under such an eternal, extrinsic system of morality, it would seem to me that that which is morally acceptable cannot change. Hence the point about slavery.


I have met people like that too. You think they're wrong. I think they're wrong. Maybe before we argue against them we should find somebody here who wants to argue in their favor. Otherwise you're preaching to the converted.

Who are They?! Maybe I will agree with them. ech. I lost what the thread was about some time ago.

I tend to be a nominalist as opposed to a platonic realist. Though I'm not sure those two labels actually fit just right. I think people learn language by watching how it gets used around them, and the meanings they get are always personal meanings

Yes. I agree with you.


that match up well enough with other people's meanings to get by. Things probably never look exactly the same to two different people, and each idea has to get re-invented by everybody who thinks it.
Fuck No. Your wrong. Where are they?!

They! You know! The books! In Libraries. Oh me yarm. They bombed the oldest Library in the world. I was more than stunned.
There are a bunch of things I would never have thought of on my own. The internal combustion engine? No way. I might be able to figure out a way to have a fire inside a house and the smoke from the fire outside the house.


When common understanding is an achievement and not a given, how could we hope to all understand a single extrinsic system of morality?

(Shh. Is this guy giving a sermon? Shh. Required reading? Bye.

When I hear the statement "Words have meanings" I know I'm talking to a Platonist. They say things like "You claim that there can be flaws in free markets. But Words Have Meanings. Free markets are the ultimate fairest and most efficient way to allocate resources. So you're wrong."

...

J Thomas wrote:Population ecology tells us that most species spend a lot of time at carrying capacity. They have more offspring than their environment can support, and some of them *will* die before reproducing.

Humanity spent a lot of time at or beyond carrying capacity, and the surplus population had to die. For a few generations we have broken free of that.

But we haven't. I invite you to peruse child mortality figures for sub-Saharan Africa.


If that was high priority for us, we could fix it for far less than the world spends on armaments. I haven't checked the figures, but I've read the claim that it would cost less than the USA currently spends on commercial dog food. In the USA, pet dogs are a higher priority than children in sub-Saharan africa.

This is not unreasonable. If I had a great big dog that ate $5 of dog food a day, and somebody asked me to take it to the pound and send the money to africa, would I do it? Very unlikely. It would depend heavily on what she was wearing and what she promised me....
Life is, just, an exchange of electrons; It is up to us to give it meaning.

We are all in The Gutter.
Some of us see The Gutter.
Some of us see The Stars.
by mr. Oscar Wilde.

Those that want to Know; Know.
Those that do not Know; Don't tell them.
They do terrible things to people that Tell Them.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby bigjeff5 » Mon Feb 27, 2012 6:02 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:
Kit. wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Kit. wrote:First of all, your example here is not "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Check by yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

It looks exactly like the No True Scotsman fallacy to me.

Ok, then I will do it for you: "When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject...".

In your example, the "counterexample" was denied.


I don't see it. You make a false claim that some Christians are actually not Christians. As I recall it, when I asked you how you knew who was as Christian and who wasn't, you said you kinda had a start at it from the Nicene creed. The way I see it, it requires divine inspiration to understand the Nicene Creed, but when you make claims about Christians and I point out counterexamples you say they don't count because they aren't really Christians for reasons you haven't defined. It looks like No True Scotsman to me, but I'm running into the same sort of problem about that -- you're making a distinction about what it takes for something to be No True Scotsman that I don't follow..


In the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, he doesn't say the man in Brighton isn't a Scotsman. He's obviously a Scotsman, he's from Scotland -that's the definition of a Scotsman. Instead, he says he's not a true Scotsman. He may be a Scotsman, but he's not like us real Scotsmen.

For your example, someone committing the "No True Scotsman" fallacy wouldn't say the person who didn't believe that particular illogical garbage wasn't a Christian, they'd basically say something along the lines of "Those people aren't as Christian as we are, we are the true Christians." They wouldn't actually claim those individuals who don't believe gibberish aren't Christians as well.

What you did was standard deductive logic:
All A have characteristic B
C is A, but does not have characteristic B
Therefore, C is not A.

That C claims to be A just means C is lying, and you've proved it. There is no fallacy here.

The "No True Scotsman" fallacy goes like this:
All A have characteristic B
C is A, but does not have characteristic B
All true A have characteristic B.

The "No True Scotsman" fallacy performs a hack-job on A to re-define it after the conclusion without denying any of the claims to be false. Thus, the fallacy.

Usually this comes about because there is overwhelming evidence showing premise is false, but instead of making the reasonable conclusion the fallacious reasoner wants to alter the subject so that he can maintain a false premise or a false claim.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby jpers36 » Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:05 pm UTC

That's no true No True Scotsman!
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Mon Feb 27, 2012 9:47 pm UTC

bigjeff5 wrote:In the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, he doesn't say the man in Brighton isn't a Scotsman. He's obviously a Scotsman, he's from Scotland -that's the definition of a Scotsman. Instead, he says he's not a true Scotsman. He may be a Scotsman, but he's not like us real Scotsmen.

For your example, someone committing the "No True Scotsman" fallacy wouldn't say the person who didn't believe that particular illogical garbage wasn't a Christian, they'd basically say something along the lines of "Those people aren't as Christian as we are, we are the true Christians." They wouldn't actually claim those individuals who don't believe gibberish aren't Christians as well.


Is the argument then that you can't be a Christian unless you believe gibberish? It keeps sounding like that's the argument, and I keep wanting to give the benefit of the doubt.

What you did was standard deductive logic:
All A have characteristic B
C is A, but does not have characteristic B
Therefore, C is not A.

That C claims to be A just means C is lying, and you've proved it. There is no fallacy here.


I don't see that any definition of Christian has been given or proposed. There was some mention of the Nicene creed during a handwaving gesture toward a proposed definition. Neither definition for Christian nor for No True Scotsman are important arguments to me, I don't really care much, but I'm curious whether I can understand.

The "No True Scotsman" fallacy goes like this:
All A have characteristic B
C is A, but does not have characteristic B
All true A have characteristic B.

The "No True Scotsman" fallacy performs a hack-job on A to re-define it after the conclusion without denying any of the claims to be false. Thus, the fallacy.


What do you call it when there has been no definition to re-define, but the claim is merely repeated?

Usually this comes about because there is overwhelming evidence showing premise is false, but instead of making the reasonable conclusion the fallacious reasoner wants to alter the subject so that he can maintain a false premise or a false claim.


OK, just for curiosity I'll try some examples.

Lutherans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheranism#Doctrine

Martin Luther taught that the Bible was the written Word of God, and the only reliable guide for faith and practice. He held that every passage of Scripture has one straightforward meaning, the literal sense as interpreted by other Scripture.[48][clarification needed] These teachings were accepted during the orthodox Lutheranism of the 17th century.[49] During the 18th century, Rationalism advocated reason rather than the authority of the Bible as the final source of knowledge, but most of the laity did not accept this Rationalist position.[50] In the 19th century, a confessional revival reemphasized the authority of the Bible and agreement with the Lutheran Confessions.


I'm not sure what this is saying. It kind of sounds like Luther claimed that everybody could or should see the same one right meaning for everything in the Bible. Then in the 1700's Lutheran theologians claimed that reason was the final source of knowledge, but Lutherans refused to follow the Church's teaching.

Today, Lutherans disagree about the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Theological conservatives use the historical-grammatical method of Biblical interpretation, while theological liberals use the higher critical method. The 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center surveyed 1,926 adults in the United States that self-identified as Lutheran. The study found that 30% believed that the Bible was the Word of God and was to be taken literally word for word. 40% held that the Bible was the Word of God, but was not literally true word for word or were unsure if it was literally true word for word. 23% said the Bible was written by men and not the Word of God. 7% did not know, were not sure, or had other positions.[51]


Does this say that only 30% of Lutherans are Christians? Or maybe 70%?

Baptists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptists#B ... principles

Baptists, like other Christians, are defined by doctrine—some of it common to all orthodox and evangelical groups and a portion of it importantly distinctive.[40] Through the years, different Baptist groups have issued confessions of faith—without considering them to be creeds—to express their particular doctrinal distinctions in comparison to other Christians as well as in comparison to other Baptists.[41] Most Baptists are evangelical in doctrine, but Baptist beliefs can vary due to the congregational governance system that gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches.[1]


Hmm. You have to believe what your church says, but each individual church can have its own doctrines? Interesting.

Most Baptist traditions believe in the "Four Freedoms" articulated by Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden:[41]

Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body
Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (subject only to the law where it does not interfere with the religious teachings and practices of the church)
Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and biblical study available to the individual
Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion; Separation of church and state is often called the "civil corollary" of religious freedom


So each church is free, and each individual is free. Who decides whether a Baptist has interpreted the Bible correctly enough to be a true Christian? Not the Baptist church. But presumably if an individual Baptist finds his interpretation too incompatible with his church, he will leave and look for people who will be a better fit for him.

When each individual is free to interpret scripture for himself, what does it even mean to say he's required to believe it?

How many Protestants can be Christians by the proposed nondefinition?
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Eternal Density » Tue Feb 28, 2012 12:14 am UTC

'Christian' is a label and I guess the exact definition depends on what you're using that label to determine. In the long run, what other humans label you with isn't what counts.
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby Geronimo » Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:26 am UTC

markfiend wrote:
Geronimo: your quote from berenddeboer.net is pretending that the text is other than it is. Elisha curses the children and then bears rip them apart... for calling God's supposed prophet a baldy. None of the stuff about "asking for a demonstration" is there. The entirety of the tale is this:
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Your source is merely making stuff up to try to excuse the bare fact of the text.

Once again you are taking things in a very small segment (two verses this time) and not in their context. This is just after God sends his fiery chariots to pick up Elijah.
2 Kings 2:11 wrote:As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

That verse gives us the context of "asking for a demonstration". When they say "Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head", Go up is in reference to Elijah's ascent. They are saying to Elisha, if you are really from God, why don't you join him to prove it to us. They were not only insulting Elisha at this time,but a prophet of God, and through him the God that created the universe.
The location is also important here. They were near to the city of Bethel. Bethel had turned into a very evil city at this time. It wasn't just the kids doing this on their own, but they were almost certainly given an okay to do it, and very likely were encouraged to do it.

Additional resource that I found after I had written the above.
http://www.freegrace.net/gill/2_Kings/2_Kings_2.htm

markfiend wrote:
Re: Slavery.
God makes laws to allow slavery, even though he is against it. He does this because his people are going to do it anyway, so he gives it some structure and to appease his people.

Why then do you not say "God makes laws to allow murder, even though he is against it. He does this because his people are going to do it anyway, so he gives it some structure and to appease his people." After all, if God can come flat out and condemn murder (which it is claimed that he does, "Thou shalt not kill") then why not slavery, which, I hope we can agree, is an evil as bad as murder?
Final thought, Slavery in the Hebrews time was very different from what we know today.
Citation very much needed.

I have done some digging for this, but I got the feeling I am not finding the places that you are referring to. In replying to how it was different then, I think that will show how it wasn't nearly as bad as murder. Even if you take the view of slavery from the 19th century, I don't know how you can say you would rather be killed than a slave.

Exodus 21:7-11
This talks about "selling" a daughter as a maidservant, but that is closer to the former practice of a nobleman giving a dowry to for a future wife than a slave.
He or a son has to marry her, he or said son would also have to fully care for her (marrying another is the example given to let her go), and if he doesn't like her, he can't sell her he has to let her go free.

Right before that in Exodus 21:2
Here it is either a person that was destitute and chose to work for someone for 6 years, or they stole something and the punishment is to be a slave for 6 years. Either way, it is a six year limit, and they are to be freed after 7 years.

I see a couple other places, but they are parables. I would like to keep debating/discussing if you want to point me to a passage or two.
(sorry on the slow responses, I usually just read the comic during lunch so I don't have time to read in the forums)
Geronimo
 
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Re: 1003: "Adam and Eve"

Postby J Thomas » Thu Mar 01, 2012 11:18 am UTC

Geronimo wrote:
2 Kings 2:11 wrote:As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

That verse gives us the context of "asking for a demonstration". When they say "Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head", Go up is in reference to Elijah's ascent. They are saying to Elisha, if you are really from God, why don't you join him to prove it to us. They were not only insulting Elisha at this time,but a prophet of God, and through him the God that created the universe.


I'm not at all sure that's what they were saying, but you could be right.

Here's one possible view of the bigger context. Elijah and his apprentice Elisha had challenged the temple hierarchy. They were outside the hierarchy, but they performed miracles -- some of the same miracles that Moses did. So just maybe the temple had Elijah assassinated. That wasn't unprecedented. Sometimes when people challenged Moses they disappeared and the story was put out that "the earth swallowed him up". Whether an Israelite believed that it was a miracle or whether they just believed he was killed and buried in an unmarked grave, either way they figured out it wasn't safe to challenge Moses.

So, just maybe the temple had Elijah killed, but Elisha wasn't ready to give up. He announced that Elijah disappeared in a miracle. The temple authorities didn't want to say "No he didn't, We know where he's buried and we'll dig him up to prove it". So Elisha started doing miracles himself. And the story about the bears was another attempt at spinning the news. If there were bear attacks in a place where Elisha had been, announce that he did it. There's the problem it makes him look powerful, but he already looks powerful for the miracles he has performed. It looks like questionable judgement on his part. It spreads the word that he's bald and touchy about it, and that people disrespect him, and that he has no better response to disrespect than brute force. "I knew Elijah, and Elisha you're no Elijah." After he's sufficiently discredited he can be killed too.

I don't know that it's right to interpret this part of the Bible as media spin from 900 BC, but the interpretation does fit together.

Even if you take the view of slavery from the 19th century, I don't know how you can say you would rather be killed than a slave.


It's a legitimate point of view. Hard to say how often incompetent psychological warfare has resulted in cut-off soldiers deciding "better dead than that man's prisoner". And it's an available choice. Hard for a master to say "Do what I want or I'll kill you" and also say "I won't let you die".
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.
J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
 
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