“Clump” theory Kant buy an abortion


Perhaps you’ve heard this feminist folly about a human embryo shrilly pronounced in defense of abortion: “It’s just a clump of cells!”

Well, I mean, so are you, dear feminist. If we assume a strictly materialistic and naturalistic account of human beings, each woman, whether pregnant or not, is also “just a clump of cells,” only bigger. Hence, why does a woman, as a clump of cells, have the right to terminate an embryo or a fetus, whom too are clumps of cells? Mere difference in size between “clumps” seems to be an arbitrary reason. For the naturalist and materialist advocate of abortion, the issue is not just how one gets the immaterial goodies of rights and value solely from the material cellular composition of bodies but also why only women-as-clumps (WAC) have them and the unborn-as-clumps (UAC) don’t, much to their lethal expense.

I will now consider some possible responses to these problems implicated by this “clump” theory:

A. WACs are rational beings; UACs are not.
Immanuel Kant famously held within one of his formulations of the categorical imperative that we ought never to treat rational beings only as means but as ends in themselves. So, in a Kantian deontological framework, the hurdle of human dignity and personhood must be overcome to justify abortion. Bifurcating between WAC as rational agents and UAC as non-rational agents accomplishes this as it allows the latter to be used solely as a means — in this sense, subjects to abortion — in service of the will of the former. Under this interpretation of Kant, UAC are not persons and thusly don’t possess rights, such as the universalizable right to life.

I see some troubles with this move:

  1.  It fails to take into account the potential for rationality that inheres within a freshly formed, normal human zygote, that, as being a member of the sort of natural kind that it is, if left unabated in the womb would likely further develop, be born and actualize that potential for rationality over time. This actualization of latent rationality has been, as a matter of common experience, if not scientific observation, readily justified a posteriori. Following from this, it’s arguable (as Bill Vallicella does here) that this inherent potentiality for rationality, “confers a right to life”and thereby Kantian personhood. Thus, treading on this right, as abortion certainly does, given this case, is a moral evil and violates Kant’s categorical imperative.Moreover, Vallicella also notes another issue to which I find myself concurring: The “post-natal,” the newly born, can’t be considered as rational agents. They are utterly helpless and dependent on adults to make judgments on their behalf. Several years must pass before they become apt for rationality and develop the cognitive faculties for reasoning, moral decision-making and the like to the extent they incur the mantle of rational agent. Yet, they are ascribed as persons and possessors of the right to life before all this occurs. This fact seems problematic for the proponent of abortion, especially given any time during pregnancy, say even in midst of labor, the pre-natal baby is still a “clump of cells” with no rights — as per the official platform of the Democrats — but somehow a second after birth becomes a person, fully fledged in inviolable dignity. Both the uterine wall and vaginal canal seem to be very thin membranes constituting the special threshold between personhood and non-personhood. But how and why? Why does the act of being born result in a sudden transformation in ontological status for the fetus-clump?
  2. Secondly, it errs in that Kant is neither a naturalist nor a materialist. Hence, it’s not at all obvious as to how his ethics are compatible with “clump” theory. This all goes back to the first part of the issue — how naturalists and materialists get the immaterial out of the purely material. They would have to provide a compelling materialist basis for rationality as well as value and goodness. These are challenging metaphysical and metaethical quagmires that go far beyond the scope here, and in my opinion, typical attempts at solving them are rife with difficulties. But once again, addressing those attempted solutions is not within the purview of this post.

B. UACs are inside of WACs, violating the latter’s bodily freedom to control their own inner physiological processes, thereby threatening their greater autonomy.
I believe there’s two ideas here: (A) There’s a right to control one’s bodily processes, and prohibiting abortion limits said right; (B) Given the nine months of physical and psychological demands of pregnancy and the years of responsibility caring for a new human person, unwanted fetuses hamper women from actualizing their aspirations, goals, desires and otherwise curtail their abilities to achieve economic and cultural parity with men. In other words, their autonomy — which literally means self-legislation — is diminished…

  1. …Or so the narrative goes. Implicit within A, there’s the assumption that the UAC don’t have the right to life, which is the matter of contention, and begs the question against the Pro-Life movement. It’s undoubtedly uncontroversial that people, regardless of sex, have the right to do with their individual bodies as they please. It’s also true that most everybody accepts there are legal and moral limits with what one can do with one’s meat suit. For instance, murder often involves using your body, whether it’s enacted with hands bare or wielding weapons, but both morally and legally, murder is an impermissible use of one’s body. Furthermore, it’s evident that abortion terminates life, i.e kills. So, once again why does the UAC’s size and location inside women’s wombs make abortion permissible and not murderous? A woman’s rights trump a fetus’ (that is if it’s even recognized as a person)? But that changes nothing, as both are clumps with only relative location and size differentiating the unborn from the woman. Isn’t it arbitrary to favor the woman, especially in lieu of  we often consider the innocent and defenseless — both of which the fetus instantiates — especially warranting special recognition and protection? Well, the fetus isn’t a person with rights. Yet, once more this begs the question against Pro-Lifers and takes us back to the post’s original dilemma about clumps.
  2. As for B, I don’t see how pregnancy impairs or — to borrow a currently infamous term — causes an “undue burden” on feminine autonomy. Women are CEOs, high-ranking government officials, academics, entertainers and all manner of active and successful contributors to society outside of the home. Taking away abortion as a last resort likely wouldn’t “relegate” the fairer sex to domestic servitude in the kitchens. With the mass accessibility of varieties of birth control, including abstinence, pregnancy can be forestalled, parenthood planned. Admittedly, everything doesn’t often occur as planned, but whose fault is that? If you play fast and loose and or gamble with the action that creates life, why should it be unjust that responsibility actually comes a’knocking to collect on that semen deposit with interest? Alas, this is the sort of moral dereliction and accompanying depravity that manifests when you sever freedom from personal responsibility.
  3. Lastly, how does A and B not violate Kant’s principle of universalizability? Is it not the case that aborting a fetus disrupts permanently its control of its bodily processes that grows more independent daily? Moreover, abortion doesn’t just ruin the UAC’s days. It rather definitively puts the kibosh on the greater future autonomy that belongs to the fetuses, many of whom are female. Thusly, A and B seem to be self-vitiating. There’s always the response UAC have no rights, but I hope it’s obvious now there’s a theme of begging the question and continual not moving past Go in such a such a retort.

See, abortion supporters who happen to be materialists and naturalists want morality and rights without invoking God, the supernatural or the transcendental. They love their Kantian dignity, autonomy and equality; that’s why I brought up der Alles-Zermalmer. Pity their precious social justice also faces pulverization but not from Kant. Their mores just are not very compliant to their preferred metaphysics. Atheism, let alone New Atheism, struggles to alchemize blood from this stone.

Clumps get in the way,

Modus Pownens

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Of vaginas, penises, urethras and where to put them


And I mean that all figuratively and literally when it comes to the culture wars. Figuratively, as in up until yesterday in human history, the vagina denoted femininity while the penis signified masculinity except apparently in these tumultuous times. In the literal sense, I’m not referencing some grotesque sexual fetish. Sorry perverts, my aim today is toward the mundane excretory chore of expelling urinary and fecal matter from the body strictly for detoxification and the public facilities inside of which we — a sexually dimorphic species in which the fact that male urethras are located in the male sex organ seemingly correspond with the existence and design of urinals — answer nature’s undignified call. This post is all business, not pleasure, especially in lieu of the sick and twisted.

Speaking of the sick and twisted, I would be remiss to not mention how deranged it is to craft bathroom policy such as the Obama administration’s edict unilaterally rewriting Title IX. Now, the unambiguous, objective meaning of sex includes the entirely arbitrary notion of gender identity. Worse yet, it makes it easier for anyone with a “John Thomas” to expose the offending appendage to the fairer sex, who typically only welcomes JT’s saluting in the bedroom. Voyeurism, rape and sexual molestation have only been around since the first human orgasm, so yeah, what could go wrong?

But, but, but what about the transgendered, bigot?” Well, for starters, they’re deluded; riddle me this, social justice warrior: Is society obligated to indulge this delusion and punish and treat the vast majority who don’t want to endorse it as tantamount to racists? Yeah, I’m sure you have a well-rehearsed narrative about restroom violence perpetrated against the transgendered individuals whose appearances don’t conform to traditional gender norms. Can you substantiate it? Is there really an epidemic of this alleged manifestation of animus? Do you have any statistics? On the contrary, here’s 25 recent cases of bathroom malfeasance against women and children with a host of more examples likely ready to be found thanks to a minimal amount of search engine diligence.

And even if rape and sexual assault are exceedingly rare, say as uncommon as getting zapped by lightning or attacked by a shark, it’s still prudent to take precautions and not invite disaster. The very grave nature of an incident like suffering a lighting strike, the maw of Jaws or sexual assault renders unjustifiable the willful dereliction of commonsense serving the prevention of such death and injury. We put up nets at beaches and strongly advise against, if not prohibit, golfing during storms. Likewise, public policy should and ought not be made overlooking how evildoers could take advantage of it in their pursuit of villainy regardless if many of them actually do so. This issue is not a matter of likelihood as much as principle.

Moreover, how does the privacy and safety concerns of .07 percent of the population — which are worth consideration but I don’t grant as terribly pressing — overrule the privacy and safety concerns of the rest of 99.03 percent? They don’t. The “right” to use a preferred bathroom becomes to look a lot less like an expansion of liberty as its increasing implementation imposes the wills and values of a tiny, tiny minority and its influential cadre of supporters upon everyone else. Not to mention such policies promote discrimination against the “cisgendered,” as I might too prefer to enter into the ladies room insofar as heterosexuality inheres within and thereby “matches” my chosen gender identity. Again, boys will be boys; perverts will be perverts. Girls just have to get past their discomfort.

Still, let’s for the moment disregard the constitutional qualms about the separation of powers and preserving our governmental republic or valid practical safety concerns. It’s been made abundantly clear in the last 50 years that the sexual revolutionaries don’t give a damn about them. Whether it’s defending free speech on campus or upholding due process in rape allegations, they view those type of acts as shams hiding prejudice if not also outright deferrals toward rotten institutions and traditions deserving of incineration with the rest of the world. Our conflict is no longer one of honest disagreement between differing visions of constitutional liberalism but a fight to the death about competing values. Progressives, even unconsciously, behave as privy to this fact; conservatives in general still seemingly project their own goodwill onto their rabid opposition, whose latent totalitarianism becomes more evident each year.

So, I’m going to plant my ideological flag here, stop appealing to reasons that are ineffectual on the Leftist demagogue and pretending there’s any philosophical common ground to be shared. I reject gender as merely a “social construct” with nothing to do with sex. Hell, I believe there’s real differences between the sexes and therefore also genders. Thus, men ought to act as men and women ought to act as women, as in accordance to their respective naturally-set masculine and feminine ends. As a result, I maintain the ludicrous idea of society at large ought to reflect this good within its norms and institutions instead of continually trying to deny and destroy the metaphysical and moral realism embedded within them, the latter of which is achieved in the passing of nondiscrimination statutes defending gender identity sought after by the LGBTSTFU brigade.

As just exemplified, I’m too prone toward polemic to be a philosopher, but I’m versed enough in “the ways of the Force” to remember Plato observed that “philosophers are spectators of all time and all existence.” With this hindsight and foresight, it’s hard not to see what’s really at stake. That, the ever steepening trajectory the Left is piloting civilization on will lead to ruin. As a matter of necessity, lines must be drawn, resolute stands taken.

Does this all mean I’m obstinately against any accommodation or tolerance, properly understood, for those experiencing “gender dysphoria” and or choose to frustrate their Aristotelian natural end in favor of disordered behavior? Of course not. It does mean, however, I’m staunchly opposed to legitimizing penises in public places where they have no non-nefarious reason of residing. Whether the intent is sexual predation or social engineering, it’s all still molestation. Therefore, conservative resistance in the bathroom front of the “culture wars,” as witnessed in North Carolina’s HB2 and other states’ religious liberty bills, isn’t the new “Jim Crow” or any form of insidious discrimination. Anyone who declares otherwise is a slanderous bigot (ahem, LORETTA LYNCH!).

My stance: No transgender penile colonies; no transgender penal colonies,

Modus Pownens

Bill Vallicella on why naturalism and Nietszche Kant be good for “social justice”


Inspired not only by relatively recent online exchanges, this entry is prompted also by two independent posts by Siriusbizinus at Amusing Nonsense and the MaverickPhilosopher himself, Bill Vallicella. Sirius bats around the question whether it’s better to be a good person or a good Christian. Taking motivation from a piece from The Guardian, Vallicella argues, via Nietzsche and Kant, that goodness is not at least a bit difficult for the critical atheist to grasp. I can’t help but notice there’s a connection worth drawing.

Given his atheism, Sirius concludes that being a good person is better than being a good Christian; i.e., the two aren’t mutually inclusive as he once believed when he was a Christian. My solution to the dilemma is to recognize it as false: For the Christian, there is no such thing as a good person — or meaningfully, a good Christian either — but just a sinful, fallen creature who either can strive to accept or reject Christ.

Now this isn’t to rain on Sirius’ parade. I understand his blog is cathartic for him, as he documents his deconversion, and I don’t intend to be mean-spirited. My post here isn’t so much a confrontational rebuttal to his introspection here, which also criticizes the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac (I’ve addressed something similar here). It’s more about raising the question that logically follows for atheists, in general. As Nietzsche famously noted and then tried to address: “God is dead” but now what?

Likewise, if it’s better to a be a good person, then what does that exactly mean for the atheist? What is goodness? Before one can be moral person or have a system of ethics that directs one toward right action, one must have an account of what it means to be good or moral. In this regard, atheism and naturalism — which many, though not all, atheists are committed to — has its work cut out for itself.

Bear with me as Vallicella makes the case:

I myself do not see how naturalism is up to the task of providing an objective foundation for even a minimal code of morality…

…No God, no objective morality binding for all.  Suppose that is the case.  Then how will the new atheist, who is also a liberal, uphold and ground his ‘enlightened’ liberal morality?…

…Consider equality.  As a matter of empirical fact, we are not equal, not physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, socially, politically, economically.  By no empirical measure are people equal.  We are naturally unequal.  And yet we are supposedly equal as persons.  This equality as persons we take as requiring equality of treatment.  Kant, for example, insists that every human being, and indeed very rational being human or not, exists as an end in himself and therefore must never be treated as a means to an end.  A person is not a thing in nature to be used as we see fit.  For this reason, slavery is a grave moral evil.  A person is a rational being and must be accorded respect just in virtue of being a person.  And this regardless of inevitable empirical differences among persons…

…Kant (also) distinguishes between price and dignity. (435)  “Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has dignity.”  Dignity is intrinsic moral worth.  Each rational being, each person, is thus irreplaceably and intrinsically valuable with a value that is both infinite — in that no price can be placed upon it — and the same for all…

…These are beautiful and lofty thoughts, no doubt, and most of us in the West (and not just in the West) accept them in some more or less confused form.  But what do these pieties have to do with reality?  Especially if reality is exhausted by space-time-matter?

Again, we are not equal by any empirical measure.  We are not equal as animals or even as rational animals. (Rationality might just be an evolutionary adaptation.)  We are supposedly equal as persons, as subjects of experience, as free agents.  But what could a person be if not just a living human animal (or a living ‘Martian’ animal).  And given how bloody many of these human animals there are, why should they be regarded as infinitely precious?  Are they not just highly complex physical systems?  Surely you won’t say that complexity confers value, let alone infinite value.  Why should the more complex be more valuable than the less complex?  And surely you are not a species-chauvinist who believes that h. sapiens is the crown of ‘creation’ because we happen to be these critters.

If we are unequal as animals and equal as persons, then a person is not an animal.  What then is a person?  And what makes them equal in dignity and equal in rights and infinite in worth?

Now theism can answer these questions.   We are persons and not mere animals because we are created in the image and likeness of the Supreme Person.  We are equal as persons because we are, to put it metaphorically, sons and daughters of one and the same Father.  Since the Source we depend on for our being, intelligibility, and value is one and the same, we are equal as derivatives of that Source.  We are infinite in worth because we have a higher destiny, a higher vocation, which extends beyond our animal existence: we are created to participate eternally in the Divine Life.

But if you reject theism, how will you uphold the Kantian values adumbrated above?  If there is no God and no soul and no eternal destiny, what reasons, other than merely prudential ones, could I have for not enslaving you should I desire to do so and have the power to do so?

If you deny the transcendental, good luck affirming other things that aren’t readily empirical like value and dignity as persons — Kantian accounts or otherwise — that many people readily recognize and argue for in moral terms as humanists and secularists. Now, Vallicella delivers the Nietzschean knockout blow:

No God, then no justification for your liberal values!…Make a clean sweep! Just as religion is for the weak who won’t face reality, so is liberalism.  The world belongs to the strong, to those who have the power to impose their will upon it.  The world belongs to those hard as diamonds, not to those soft as coal and weak and womanish. Nietzsche:

Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation – but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped?

Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 9, What is Noble?, Friedrich Nietzsche    Go to Quote

What Vallicella is basically getting at is one of the glaring contradictions and challenges for any atheist who thoroughly considers the implications of his or her unbelief. It’s just fascinating how he walks the problem through Nietzsche and Kant; I was made aware of it via G.E. Moore’s “open question” arguments and subsequent atheists who bit the bullet and developed non-cognitive and nihilistic meta-ethical theories. In short, like God, they maintained right and wrong as incomprehensible and or illusory. Following from this claim, why should should we take ethics seriously at all, let alone questions of “social justice” like “diversity,” “income inequality” and “marriage equality.” In a world beyond good and evil, the will of Nietzsche starts to look more and more plausible and unavoidable; God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac looks more and more inconsequential; and striving to become what we typically consider as a “good person,” impossible.

Hail the ubermensch!

Modus Pownens

P.S. I mean Vallicella, not Nietzsche.

Lost in Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape


Brad Lecioni of Killing Common Sense has recently commented on my post entitled “The Other Presumption of Atheism” and has challenged me to “wright an essay which honestly demonstrates both his gratuitous smugness and where his arguments are faulty. (Sam is a pretty honest and rational guy, so good luck.)”  I’m more than happy to oblige, Brad.

Now, Harris doesn’t radiate smugness like Dawkins or Hitchens, but even his cool bed-side manner is not sufficient of a counter example to cast doubt on the claim that the New Atheists and many of their initiates on the Internet are belligerent and intellectually arrogant and SO ARE MANY THEISTS.  Harris, however, is still susceptible to the charge of putting forth poor and unpersuasive arguments as I hope to demonstrate.

One of the “Four Horsemen” Sam Harris and his bestseller The Moral Landscape

I’ve chosen to tackle Harris’ thesis in his latest book The Moral Landscape that science can answer moral questions and some of his responses on his website to criticisms similar to mine.  In general, my biggest gripe with Harris is his failure to clarify his points and definitions and string them together into a comprehensive argument.  For example, in his 2010 TED lecture advocating how science can answer moral questions, he rambles on about interesting yet not pertinent topics like cultural relativism and the evils that constitute religious morality, while spending little time on the advertised big-ticket item.

He defends his TED presentation on the Huffington Post religious blog thusly:

I am convinced that every appearance of terms like “metaethics,” “deontology,” “noncognitivism,” “anti-realism,” “emotivism,” and the like, directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe. My goal, both in speaking at conferences like TED and in writing my book, is to start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and find helpful.

That’s all fine and dandy, but claiming to have a solution to one of the most vexing ethical riddles ever posed creates an expectation that you were going to enlighten us, Sam.  Furthermore, I’ve watched the presentation twice, and only metaethics was relevant and necessary to define, especially because asserting science can answer ethical questions is specifically a metaethical matter.  If one’s to dive deep in ethical waters at methaethical depths and wants to bring his findings to the surface where the laypeople float, one has to find a way to make the technical vocabulary, which exists for the good reason to identify certain abstract concepts that come up during such sophisticated inquiries, accessible to them.  Defining the terms seems likes an advisable way to start.  This really shouldn’t be such a tall order either given you’ve figured out how to derive an ought from an is.  Also, if your audience, Sam, understands the is/ought gap you’re claiming to cross, words like “metaethics, deontology, noncognitivism, anti-realism, emotivism and the like” aren’t too far of a stretch for your audience if they don’t understand them already.  For those who don’t know what the is/ought gap is, I’ve unpacked it here.  Honestly, I’ve written too many words on this particular quibble.  It’s time to slay a dragon.

As it turns out, however, Harris’ dragon-of-an-argument is rather fangless, incapable of breathing fire and has more in common with Mushu from Mulan than the legendary lizard from lore.

Formidable, right?

As far as I can tell, Harris has two main ideas he proffers, none of which are terribly original let alone paradigm altering.  On his website, he argues his the first point likewise:

Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science.

Lets now formulate this as an actual argument with premises:

1.  Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds-and specifically on the fact such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe.

2.  Forms of well-being and suffering are mental states.

3.  Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of nature.

4.  The laws of nature fall within the purview of science.

Conclusion:  Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science.

The argument is clearly invalid.  Even if all the premises were true, the conclusion isn’t forced from logical necessity to be true.  Harris’ error comes  in smuggling “morality and values” as reducible to the mental states of “well-being and suffering.”  The predicate, “depend on the existence of conscious minds” does not magically make morality and values mental states.  For a concept to depend or be contingent on something else does not mean the concept is reducible to that something else or is made up of the same substance.  The second premise simply doesn’t follow from the first.

Ironically yet not surprisingly, this is a textbook example of falling into the is/ought gap that Harris has supposedly bridged.  Now, it’s arguable Harris meant morality and values are physical constructs of the mind, available to neuroscience.  Yet, this move does Harris no good as he is defining the oughts of morality and values as descriptions or is-statements, which would be ultimately begging the question.  Furthermore, Harris, himself does not seem to want this interpretation as he writes on his website, “not because I am bent upon reducing morality to ‘physical’ facts in any crude sense, but because I can’t see how we can keep the notion of moral truth within a walled garden, forever set apart from the truths of science.”

Then what is Harris “bent upon?”  What kind of moral truth is hidden within a “walled garden,” whose walls can be breached by science?  From what I can gather, Harris never provides clarification.  Admittedly, I have not read The Moral Landscape and am aware that Harris could do just that.  My experience of Harris otherwise suggests differently, hence my irritation.  He asserts the claim, science can answer moral questions yet offers little in the way of support or elucidation of what he means.  Instead, he blathers and bashes religion’s disastrous and undeserved stranglehold on morality and instead contends science can do better.  Unfortunately, many mistake this rhetoric as a compelling style of argument.

Here is what science can tell us about morality: the chemicals activated in the brain or other physiological responses occur during moral discourse and when we as a species started to appear to behave morally.  These, however, are descriptions and are no closer to closing the gap than before.  Moreover, if this is what Harris was referring to when he asserts that science can answer moral questions, this is hardly worth the hullabaloo or notice it’s getting as it’s not insightful or exclusively Harris’ brainchild.

What is worthy of attention and acrimony is Harris’ particular reply to critics, many of whom are atheists, in regards to the all too familiar charge of deriving an ought from an is or taking a value from a descriptive statement.  In Harris’ case, a descriptive enterprise (science) pertains to a prescriptive (morality and values) one.

As I point out in my book, science is based on values that must be presupposed—like the desire to understand the universe, a respect for evidence and logical coherence, etc. One who doesn’t share these values cannot do science. But nor can he attack the presuppositions of science in a way that anyone should find compelling.

Harris essentially justifies and attempts to cross the is/ought or solve the value problem by writing science  inherently has presupposed values or oughts within its practice.  This claim is patent nonsense.  “The desire to understand the universe” and “a respect for evidence and logical coherence” are not values.  Harris phrases them like they are and again tries to sneak in oughts where there are none.

It’s true scientists do have a curiosity toward understanding the universe and realize evidence and logic are helpful in that endeavor.  They would claim these prerequisites are even “good” but not in the moral sense Harris is disguising them as or in regards to his overall grand thesis.  They don’t even have to be valued to do science.  A sophisticated machine could empirically gather data, organize it and then form conclusions.  It would have no “desire to understand the universe” nor “respect for evidence and logical coherence.”  Rather, its “respect” would amount to nothing more than programmed parameters it must operate within.  Interestingly, that is another instance of a descriptive fact that Harris can’t escape from.

You’ll see this trend resurface again with Harris’ second major point that the maximization of human well-being or flourishing is what is the moral good.  Many others prior to Harris have defined normative good the same way, so once more time, Harris doesn’t get any brownie points for originality.  This also means Harris inherits his predecessors’ problems.

Would you please do that, Sam?

Firstly, Harris’ flair for the unclear is again on display as human well-being is difficult to define, though this issue won’t be my main route of assault.  Instead, I would like to continue to identify Harris’ continued strategy to squeeze oughts into where they don’t fit.  Namely, well-being doesn’t necessarily equate to being good.  I grant they seem related, but claiming that the two are the same thing is again fallaciously deriving an ought from an is.  Moreover, why ought we flourish?  There is nothing implicitly good about it.  To define is as such is to once again begs the question.

Another of Harris’ responses seems to substitute health for well-being, claiming this solves the is/ought problem. But’s it is yet another description masquerading as an ought or value.  Health is empirically accessible and another description.  Hopefully, by now you see Harris is banging his head against a brick wall.

My father told me the difference between a mistake and failure is that a mistake happens once, a failure is the repetition of the same error.  In this context, Harris is failing.  He repeatedly tries to traverse the is/ought gap and ends up falling into it.  His attempt to climb out is to continually beg the question by positing a descriptive statement as a value or ought, which sends him crashing back down into the same problem.  Simply put: Harris can’t escape the valleys in his own moral landscape.  What’s worse is that Harris allegedly is well-versed in these pitfalls, or so he claims:

…a disclaimer and non-apology: Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy…while I have read a fair amount of this literature, I did not arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the sciences of mind.

So Brad, in light of Harris’ obstinate refusal to acknowledge and engage with the previous work done in metaethics that would be relevant to his metaethical thesis, I have no sympathy for him when he commits fallacies he should have avoided.  I believe that is what people call smugness, and I realize I was a bit too charitable to claim he didn’t exude it like Dawkins or Hitchens.

Here’s to putting square pegs in round holes,

Modus Pownens

Works Cited

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/a

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-critics

Evading the Euthyphro Dilemma


Oh, it comes to this as I knew it must.  The dreaded Euthyphro Dilemma: A prowling shark, unavoidable for any theist who swims frequently and deeply enough in these waters.  I’ll admit I’ve been attacked by this shark, and I didn’t have the philosophical muscles or shark repellant to unclamp its jaws from my leg.

In my humble opinion, the Euthyphro Dilemma is without a doubt the most formidable argument against grounding morality in God.  An atheist should be keen to have it in his or her arsenal.  Well, without further ado, here’s my best effort at concocting “shark repellent.”

The Dilemma actually comes from Plato, who allegedly captures Socrates posing this riddle to Euthyphro.   I’ll give a paraphrased or modern summary of it: “Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”  Either answer is undesirable for the theist.

Riddle me this, Euthyphro!

If the first horn is taken, something is good because God commands it, morality is rendered ultimately subjective.  Whatever is good is a matter of God’s opinion.  Also, it implies a deplorable action, like torturing babies for fun, could have actually been praiseworthy only if God had decided differently.  Therefore, instead of establishing an objective morality grounded in God, morality appears to be just a product of seemingly arbitrary divine fiats.

The second horn doesn’t bode better.  It implies morality and the good are external from God, and he does not even factor into ethics.  Moreover, it challenges God’s sovereignty as he is subject to the moral standard like every other moral agent.

Ouchie!  So now what?

The False Dilemma Response

The most common theistic response is to split the horns in half and declare the dilemma a false one.  In other words, the theist isn’t confined to the two options, but there’s a third.  It’s to declare that God is the good, and his commands are reflections of his all-good nature.  Under this third choice, God couldn’t command torturing babies for fun as morally praiseworthy because it violates his good nature.  It also solves morality appearing to be external to God as it posits the good as a part of God’s haecceity or essential essence and grounding morality within it.

This third option happens to be Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig’s response of choice for the Dilemma and has probably achieved popularity among Internet and YouTube apologists thanks to his espousal.  Craig’s stamp of approval on it has also made it too tempting of a target for Internet and YouTube atheists, who have developed a rejoinder to it.

I’m unsure of who came up with it, but these defenders of the veracity of the Euthyphro Dilemma claim this doesn’t solve the issue for the theist, but instead pushes it back into different terms: Is God’s nature good because he chooses it or is his nature good because of some other external force?  Unfortunately, this riposte is not as lethal as internet atheists believe it to be.  Often this erroneously triumphed death stroke is asserted with little or no argumentation whatsoever.  This question is a fair one to ask about God’s ontology, but it doesn’t directly follow from the Euthyphro Dilemma.

If only all philosophers looked so hardcore when they think.

I, however, still must contend there are other ontological problems with this false dilemma response and subsequent doctrine of divine simplicity.  Namely, God becomes identical to his properties and becomes relegated to something of an abstract object without agency or causal power.  Philosopher Alvin Plantinga puts it this way:

If God is identical with each of his properties, then, since each of his properties is a property, he is a property – a self-exemplifying property. Accordingly God has just one property: himself. This view is subject to a difficulty both obvious and overwhelming. No property could have created the world; no property could be omniscient, or, indeed, now anything at all. If God is a property, then he isn’t a person but a mere abstract object; he has no knowledge, awareness, power, love, or life. So taken, the simplicity doctrine seems an utter mistake.[1]

Enter the Mawson

The response I think is in the theist’s best interest comes from philosopher T.J. Mawson.  Instead, Mawson takes the second horn of the dilemma, but argues theists should view some moral truths like the laws of logic in relation to God.  In fact, most theists are of the mind that the laws of logic don’t constrain God’s omnipotence or freedom.  Likewise, moral truths like torture is wrong should be considered necessarily true, hence it’s not within God’s power to make torture good.

T.J. Mawson

If we view God’s omnipotence as not requiring of Him that he be able to bring about logically impossible states of affairs, then as of logical necessity agonizing pain can only ever refer to something bad, not even God can be required to be able to make agonizing pain refer to something and yet the thing to which it refers not be bad. Since of conceptual necessity torture involves the inducing of agonizing pain, so not even God can be required to be able to make a universe whereby something picked out by the concept of torture is good. We are hence not forced to say of God that he could make torture good; we are indeed forced to say the opposite, which is what our intuition told us to say anyway: not even God could make torture good in the same way that not even God could make bachelors married.[2]

Is this to say God has no role in morality?  Hardly.  Instead he instantiates these moral truths via his act of creation.  This especially works nicely when put into conjunction with the universal contingent facts about our actualized personhood that God chose freely to create.  Mawson explains it thusly:

As it happens, all people in this world have the property of suffering agonizing pain if a large amount of electricity is passed through their bodies; this being so, it is a universal truth that it’s bad to pass this amount of electricity through people. But the universal badness of passing large amounts of electricity through people is obviously the result of contingent features of the natural world, features that on theism God has freely chosen to create and that consequently it is not at all counterintuitive to suggest could have been different. Thus the theist is free to say that all substantive moral truths (as opposed to conceptual necessities) depend on God’s will in creation, but this does not, after all, have the counterintuitive consequence that we must say that God could make torture, for example, good. As we have just seen, torture is of logical necessity bad and thus not even God could make it good.[3]

There we have it!  Thanks to Mawson’s response, God is still pivotal to morality while his sovereignty is still very much intact.  I think it’s fair to say this is a common response to the Euthyphro Dilemma most theists and atheists online haven’t thought about.  I’m receptive to any feedback, critical or concurring, that would be given.  But until I get some:

Take that, shark!!!

Modus Pownens


[1] Plantinga, Does God Have A Nature? 47, cited in Nash, Concept of God, 94.

[2] Mawson, The Euthyphro Dilemma, http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Mawson-The-Euthyphro-Dilemma.pdf.

[3] Ibid.

Ethical Intuitionism and Empirically Inferred Naturalism


Ethical intuitionism is simply the view that moral truths are justified by intuition sans inference from other beliefs.  Opposed to ethical intuitionism is empirically inferred ethical naturalism, which maintains moral truths can be known by means a posteriori.  In the following paper, I will explore what four philosophers hold on this question of metaethics, two of which will be ethical intuitionist, while the other two are ethical naturalists.  I fall on the side of the ethical intuitionists and will argue that such a position is more attractive than empirically inferred ethical naturalism because the latter cannot even get off the ground in ethics, so to speak, while the former at least can.

This paper initially will give a brief account of both competing theories, starting with a basic overview of ethical intuitionism and then moving on to the view that moral knowledge can be known by inference, specifically of an empirical nature.  It should be noted there is a rationalist version of this position, but this paper will mainly reference the empirical variety as it implies an ethical naturalism that is more at odds against ethical intuitionism than the rationalist species.  Although ethical intuitionism does not entail non-naturalism, most ethical intuitionists are ethical non-naturalists.  Therefore, that is stance that will be explored here.  After both positions are unpacked, I will offer my reasoning as to why I believe ethical intuitionism to be superior to an empirically and naturalistic justification theory for morality.  Lastly, I will try to offer rebuttals to some possible criticisms to my arguments and ethical intuitionism in general.

Moral Intuitionism

In order to understand ethical intuitionism, one must first understand what is an intuition.  Simply, an intuition is knowing a proposition without reliance on observation or reason.  In other words, the truth of A is knowable at first glance and does not require concentrated thought or scientific experiments to ascertain its truth-value.  Prominent ethical intuitionist Michael Huemer likens an intuition to “intellectual appearance.”[1]  In a moral context, knowledge can be obtained without a priori or a posteriori inference.  A priori means by reason alone, while a posteriori means by experience.  Huemer describes moral intuition thusly:

            an intuition that p is a state of its seeming to one that p that is not dependent on inference from other beliefs and that results from thinking about p, as opposed to perceiving, remembering, or introspecting. A moral intuition is an intuition whose content is an evaluative proposition.[2]

Some examples of moral intuitions include statements like “pain is better than pleasure” or “inflicting pain for fun is awful.”

I would contend there are both rationalist and empirical formulations of ethical intuitionism.  These are contrasted from moral rationalism and empiricism as they start from intuition devoid of inference, while moral rationalism and empiricism infer moral truth from other beliefs.  The rationalists obviously appeal to a priori intuition, while the empiricists, true to their ideology, rely on a posteriori means.  For rationalism, one intuits instead of infers the truth of moral principles like “one has a duty to keep promises” in much the same way as one understands fundamental mathematical truths like 2+2=4.  Empiricists, on the other hand, appeal to a moral sense, which flags something as moral or reprehensible.  Moral sense is comparable to a sixth aesthetic sense.  An aesthetic sense is not utilized for perceiving a sunset as the eyes do that job, but rather it informs us that pattern of the solar rays illuminating the clouds and the splotches of color are beautiful.  Ethical intuitionist Robert Audi, although a rationalist intuitionist, argues it is akin to reading a poor simile in a poem.[3]  In moral sense’s case, it informs someone who is witnessing puppies being beaten is wrong.

Whatever variety moral intuitionism comes in, it strongly implies cognitivism and therefore moral realism.  Cognitivism is the position that moral statements are propositions or sentences that are capable of being true or false.   Moral realism entails presupposes cognitivism and adds that the truth-value of moral statements is independent of opinion.  For example, the moral statement “torturing babies for fun is wrong,” according to moral realism, is an objective feature of the world regardless what people think about it.

Moral intuitionism also presupposes foundationalism, which is the view that knowledge is based on a core or foundational belief that acts as a cornerstone that all other knowledge is built upon.  Huemer contends “there is also a way things seem to us prior to reasoning; otherwise, reasoning could not get started.”[4]  Huemer and other moral intuitionists place intuition as the cornerstone or precondition to this reasoning.  It is from the intuition behind “don’t torture innocents” that we build towards the more complex moral belief like “cruelty to animals is wrong.”

Another important feature of moral intuitionists is that justification for foundational moral truths comes from their self-evidence.  A proposition is self-evident when it is known to be true once one understands the concept and hence requires no further justification beyond its apprehension.  Moral statements like “pleasure is better than pain” requires no proof because once the concepts of “pleasure,” “better” and “pain” are understood, it becomes intuitively true.  However, this does not mean all moral truths are self-evident.  As a foundational theory, moral intuitionism maintains that some just some moral truths are self-evident.  Therefore, the basic truths can be used to reason to other moral conclusions.

Intuition itself is can be justified prima facie, or at first glance unless counter evidence proves otherwise. Intuition is not necessary to justify one’s moral intuitions either both in theory and moral agency.  According to Audi, “The possession of first-order knowledge does not imply second-order knowledge that one has it.”[5]  Audi also claims this also applies to moral propositions:

            It is first-order moral propositions, such as the view there is a prima facie             duty to keep promises, and not the second-order thesis that such principals are self-evident, which are the fundamental thing we must be able to know intuitively if intuitionism is to succeed.[6]

Moral Empiricism/Naturalism

Starkly opposed to ethical intuitionism is an empirically based ethical naturalism.   It is on the opposite end of the moral justification theory spectrum from ethical intuitionism.  Therefore, it also shares some similarities with ethical intuitionism.

Like ethical intuitionism, moral empiricism/naturalism is both a cognitivist and moral realist position.  It holds moral statements are propositions and there is at least one moral truth in the world, and it is not dependent upon opinion.  Where it differs is that it holds moral knowledge is inferred, rather than intuited, by forms a posteriori such as observation, experience or the scientific method.

Often, moral empiricists are also ethical naturalists.  They feel moral properties are reducible to natural properties, or essentially they are the same thing.  As Peter Singer writes, “Morality is a natural phenomenon.”[7]  Concepts like “goodness” are sometimes thought to be accessible via the scientific method.  More often, “goodness” is equated with happiness, pleasure, survivability or anything is observable.

The term natural is loaded as to what it actually means and there are too many variations to be discussed here.  David Copp acknowledges the difficulty and brings up four metaphysical and one epistemic conception of it: “descriptive characters or factual qualities,” “the causal order,” “the spacio-temporal manifold,” “material or physical world” and “the world studied by the sciences.”[8]   Copp settles on the natural world being what is empirically accessible in the sense that the ethical naturalist “denies that any synthetic propositions about their instantiations [moral properties] are strongly a priori.”[9]  “Strongly a priori” refers to propositions that do not permit empirical evidence against them.  Copp rejects the empirical world as equivalent to the scientific one and that natural properties “must be properties that figure into scientific theory.”[10]

According to many ethical naturalists, science does have a part to play in morality.  For example, it can explain the origin of it.  Singer argues evolutionary biology has shed light on this issue.[11]  Due to selection pressures in populations, the group rewarded behavior that was conducive to the survival of the group as a whole.  Singer mentions modern primates reciprocating the grooming of each other as an example.[12] Members who behaved selfishly, however, would be ostracized from the group and hence not allowed to reproduce.  Over time, these genes that facilitated behavior not beneficial to group survival would be weeded out, and future populations would be genetically conditioned to perpetuate behavior that instead benefitted the group.  This coded behavior is what became morality.

Singer also contends science reveals how we make moral decisions.  He refers to mostly experiments involving brain scans and response times to ethical dilemmas.[13]  Lastly, Singer suggests that science indirectly has normative applications in that they make us less reliant on intuition acting as a normative authority.[14]

G.E. Moore, the Naturalistic Fallacy and Open Question Arguments

David Hume famously gave ethics the is/ought distinction.  One cannot derive an ought from an is.  In more philosophical jargon, one cannot derive a prescriptive or evaluative fact from a descriptive one.  An example of this would be concluding it is morally permissible to download music without paying for it because everyone does it.  The thought that online music piracy is acceptable is the evaluative fact fallaciously taken from the descriptive fact of everyone does it.  The number of people downloading music illegally has no bearing on whether such an action is wrong or right.  I believe empirically justified ethical naturalism is guilty of a similar faulty inference.

G.E. Moore felt the same way and argued that ethical naturalism commits what has been called the naturalistic fallacy.  There are multiple usages, but Moore contended that adopting a moral claim by appealing to a definition of the term “good” as some natural property like pleasant, more evolved or conducive to survival was an error in reasoning.[15]  In Humean terms, natural properties are is-statements or descriptions, while defining them as “good” is an ought.  Calling pleasantness or conducive to survival “good” is erroneously deriving an ought from an is.  More commonly this error is popularly used in appeals to nature like vegetarianism is natural; therefore it is good.  Moore was more concerned with the semantics and metaphysics of ethics, but the same principle applies as it does to empirically grounded ethical naturalism.

Empiricism is as an epistemology that gives descriptions about the physical world.  Given Moore’s application of the Humean is/ought problem, empiricism has no normative power, ability to make prescriptions or value judgments.  It is the same underlying idea behind the well-known J.L. Mackie’s “queerness” argument.  Given scientific naturalism, Mackie found moral qualities “queer,” and therefore he developed the moral skepticism theory of error theory.

Although Copp attempts to distance himself from Mackie’s scientific naturalism by his revised definition of ethical naturalism, it still falls prey to failing to bridge the is/ought gap.  I also find his definition lacking as science is the most widely used empirical enterprise we have.  I also feel the natural world is better characterized as an amalgamation of what he calls “descriptive characters or factual qualities,” “the spacio-temporal manifold,” “the material or physical world,” and “a world studied by the sciences,” which presupposes a “causal order” or a “uniformity of nature” within its inquiry.  Individually, Copp is right to think they do not fully capture what is natural, but together, I feel they are much more accurate.  Even if I do grant his definition, empiricism of any sort describes what is and not what ought be.  It is akin to attempting to weigh something with a yardstick.

Similar to the naturalistic fallacy is an open question argument.  It also points out a botched attempt to cross the is/ought gap.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes thusly:

            Consider any proposed naturalistic analysis N of a moral predicate M. The             Open Question Argument maintains that it will always be possible for  someone competent with moral discourse without conceptual confusion to  grant that something is N but still wonder whether it is really M. Whether  goodness is co-instantiated with any natural property or set of natural properties is in this sense always a conceptually open question.[16]

In other words, if someone claims the horse is good, it is still unclear what is actually good about the horse.  Are the cells of the horse good?  The molecules?  What about the quarks comprising the atoms of the molecules?  Maybe the horse is the good and people are good because they are like the horse.  But that cannot be correct because the horse is only four years old, and to say the good is four years old is absurd.  The questions never become “closed” because the naturalist cannot give a good referent for what the good is as he or she has misidentified what is natural as good.  The naturalist can go on to every object in the universe ad infinitum and still not be able to identify what the good is.

Singer’s argument is susceptible to this charge or at the very least, he flirts with giving science to much credence in ethics.  His evolutionary account of the origin of morality essentially equates morality as behavior that promotes survival in a society.  However, this leaves the door wide open for open question arguments such as “is survival good?” or “why ought we survive?”.  I will grant survivability seems correlated with morality, but I would not dare go beyond such a claim.  At the most, evolutionary theory tells us when we started to behave morally.  It does not identify what the good is.  Moreover, the experiments Singer cites explaining ethical decision-making are correspondingly limited.  All they demonstrate is this part of the brain activates here or chemical A reacts with chemical B while thinking about whether one should flip a switch to divert a trolley to hit one person instead of five.  They are merely descriptions and offer no normative answers to ethical questions.  Once one posits they do, they are culpable for deriving an ought from an is.

Therefore, if any work is to be done in ethics, it must start from non-natural premises, as endeavoring otherwise is the philosophical equivalent of putting a square peg in a round hole.  This leaves just rationalism and intuitionism as potential justification theories.

Rationalism seems problematic, as intuition is a precondition for reason to work.  It also appears intuition is used early on in childhood before strong reasoning skills are developed.  Often, the first sentences a child utters, “That’s not fair!”  A child intuits some concept of rightness and fairness while lacking the cognitive capacity to justify “That’s not fair!” by the Kantian categorical imperative or the principle of universalizability.

Ethical intuitionism, I think, is better suited to empirically inferred ethical naturalism because at least it can investigate morality.  It does not attempt to take prescriptive and evaluative facts from descriptive ones.  The position does have to answer some questions, and I will attempt to offer a rebuttal to some common objections to it, but at least it can put its foot in the ethical door, while ethical naturalism, by means empirical, cannot.

Possible Objections

The empirically justified ethical naturalist could try to bridge the is/ought gap, and in fact, many have tried.  None, from what I know, have succeeded.  A common response is something akin to a Kantian hypothetical imperative: I hunger; therefore, I ought to eat something.  Or, in a game of chess, the opposing player has moved his and queen and put my king in check, and hence, I ought to move it.  These fail because they avoid the whole normative issue.  Again, they are equating satisfying biological need or survival as what is good.  As previously established, there is no reason to hold such an identity relationship as true.

Perhaps a better route the empirical naturalist can take would be rooted in Aristotellian ethics.  In other words, the good is somehow related to a thing’s ergon or function.  Being good is the proper realization and utilization of that function.  For instance, a knife’s function is to cut through matter, and this is empirically demonstrable via the senses.  When it executes such a function, it is being a good knife.  If humanity’s ergon can be empirically identified, empiricism would have some weight in normative topics.  It, however, is unclear what humanity’s ergon is, and even if it was discovered empirically, ergon implies teleology.  The knife has a purpose or reason for it being the way it is.  Such an idea is toxic to naturalism because there is no purpose or reason for the way things are according to naturalism.  It appears unlikely teleology can be reconciled with a naturalistic metaphysics.

As for intuitionism itself, one of the common objections questions the reliability of intuition to justify moral beliefs.  Intuitionism maintains we have to start somewhere when investigating moral claims.  We cannot go on forever.  There must be a foundation.  This objection also seems self-defeating if it was applied to all of epistemology.  As Huemer argues:

            Then we need positive reasons for trusting sense perception, memory,    introspection, even reason itself. The result is global skepticism. Nothing can  be accepted until we first give a positive reason for trusting that kind of  belief. But we cannot give such a reason without relying on sense perception, memory, introspection, reason–or in general, on some source. Hence, we shall never be able to trust anything. Of course, this means we also could not trust the reasoning of this paragraph.[17]

Another common problem of a similar tune is thought to be ethical intuitionism is dogmatic or intuition is indefeasible.  What happens when two people disagree between their intuitions?  It would appear intuitionism collapses into moral relativism because there is a clear way to determine whose intuitions are correct.   This criticism seems to come from the idea self-evidence somehow implies an inflexible foundation boldly posited.

I, however, cannot see why these claims would be the case.  Ethical intuitionism holds that some moral truths are self-evident and not all.  Likewise, I do not contend that all intuitions must be infallible.  I, like Huemer,[18] hold just some happen to be.  Intuitions are justified prima facie and hence can be revised.  Intuitions can be indefeasible, however one’s justification for an intuition is defeasible.  Huemer mentions how if he sees a glass on the table, he is justified there is a glass on the table unless he finds his “hand passing through it, and if a dozen other people in the room say there is no glass there, I may decide there wasn’t a glass there after all.”[19]  Audi also writes such a mistake is possible with even a priori necessary truths if “our ‘proof’ is shown to be defective.”[20]  Therefore, when two people disagree on whether their intuitions are right, relativism does not necessarily follow.  One’s justification could be incorrect.  Lastly, I feel the objection about intuitional disagreement stabs at whether mental states should be empirically verifiable to decide whose is correct, but this seems like a category error.  My mental awareness of my mental states is certain as Descartes argued.  Unless, I have positive grounds to doubt my intuition, it is not unreasonable to accept them otherwise such restrictive reasoning leads to skepticism.

Works Cited

Audi, Robert. “Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemology of Moral Judgment.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 1. no. 1 (1998): 15-44. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/27504010.

Copp, David. “Why Naturalism?.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 6. no. 2 (2003): 179-200. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/27500032.

Huemer, Michael. Palgrave Macmillan, “Moral Knowledge.” http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/5.htm.

Ridge, Michael. “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Last modified February 1, 2001. Accessed May 3, 2012. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/.

Singer, Peter. “Ethics and Intuitions.” The Journal of Ethics. 9. no. 3/4 (2005): 331-352. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/25115831.


[1] Huemer, Michael. Ethical Intuition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005: §5.1, http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/5.htm.
[2] Ibid., §5.2.
[3] Robert Audi, “Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemology of Moral Judgment,” in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1998: 19, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/27504010.
[4] Huemer, Michael. Ethical Intuition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005: §5.2, http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/5.htm.
[5] Robert Audi, “Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemology of Moral Judgment,” in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1998: 18, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/27504010.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Peter Singer, “Ethics and Intuitions,” in The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3/4, 2005: 337, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/25115831.
[8] David Copp, “Why Naturalism?,” in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2002: 183-185, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/27500032.
[9] Ibid., 189.
[10] Ibid., 185.
[11] Peter Singer, “Ethics and Intuitions,” in The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3/4, 2005: 337, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/25115831.
[12] Ibid., 336.
[13] Peter Singer, “Ethics and Intuitions,” in The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3/4, 2005: 337-342, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/25115831.
[14] Ibid., 349.
[15] Michael Ridge, “Moral Non-Naturalism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, last modified February 1, 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/.
[16] Michael Ridge, “Moral Non-Naturalism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, last modified February 1, 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/.
[17] Huemer, Michael. Ethical Intuition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005: §5.4, http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/5.htm.
[18] Ibid., §5.3.
[19] Huemer, Michael. Ethical Intuition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005: §5.3, http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/5.htm.
[20] Robert Audi, “Moderate Intuitionism and the Epistemology of Moral Judgment,” in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1998: 19, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/stable/27504010.

Post-mortem Response and Eulogy for Oscar


In my last response to SomeMusician (Oscar), I left the door open for a more direct post that addressed Oscar’s assault on the concept of an eternal life as my initial one instead attempted to redirect the conversation.  Oscar, in the comments of my prior post, has requested I do just that.  And now that he is gone, I feel obligated to fulfill his last wish before, and pardon the pun, rigor-mortis sets in.

But first, a few words need to be written for such a somber occasion, though I confess, I’m not eloquent for this sort of thing, although this blog might suggest otherwise.  I feel awkward and unsure of how I should I proceed.  I fear I might come off like this:

The Eugoogly

With my anxieties flushed out, here goes nothing.

It saddens me to read of your indefinite departure from this medium, Oscar.  I indeed hope you will come back.  I’ve enjoyed our brief exchanges together discussing the “big questions” of life.  You were always polite, thoughtful and articulate.  I also became fond of your voice in your writing early on when I read your posts.  You’re a pretty polished, writer, Oscar, and that is a skill I hold in lofty regard.  Although it sucks—to put it bluntly—that you’re leaving, I wish you the best of luck on whatever endeavor you choose to pursue, whether it be music, philosophy, vlogging on YouTube or blogging either on this site or Tuesday Afternoon.  Overall, it has been a pleasure.  If you ever do return, however, you will be welcomed back with open arms by multiple people, myself included.  Until that fateful day, though, you will be sorely missed, Oscar.  =(

The Response

Now that the “nice words” have been written and due to the fact funerals are said to be for the living, I guess I can dance and defecate on your decaying corpse-of-a-post, Oscar, you heathen, nihilist, amoral, God-hating, person-who-thinks-when-you-die-you’re-just- a-banquet-for-maggots…but that wouldn’t be too Christian of me, now would it?

Hyperbole aside, Oscar begins his post by acknowledging that under metaphysical naturalism, life has no supreme purpose, a statement I would whole-heartedly agree with.  He continues and writes that in spite of this, our life still can have meaning.  I agree in a limited sense.  Life can be meaningful subjectively, but beyond the value we impose on our day-to-day affairs, it still is cosmically meaningless given naturalism.  And this isn’t an unpopular implication of the naturalist’s worldview among atheist intellectuals.

Interestingly enough, Oscar mentions atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel at the start of his next paragraph.  Now, I haven’t had the honor of reading Nagel, hence I’ll have to take Oscar’s summary of his view as sufficiently accurate.

“In the naturalistic world view of death, according to Nagel, life is good and death is bad [paraphrasing]. However, this conception of life and death fails if we suppose an eternal life”

This conception of life and death fails instead for another reason.  Despite the fact Oscar’s description of Nagel’s view seems contradictory to the quote in the video—I will give him the benefit of the doubt—I reject Nagel’s conclusion that whatever promotes life/survival is “good” and whatever relegates toward death is “bad.”  Granted, I don’t know the exact reasoning justifying Nagel’s claim here (I would assume some empirical methodology as survivability seems to be observable).  But I fail to see how this translates into a prescriptive “good” or “bad.”

Neither Nagel nor Oscar nor any atheist, to the extent of my knowledge, has been able to successfully pull off this meta-ethical trick.  Scottish philosopher David Hume, who was as atheist as they come, mind you, recognized the futility in such an endeavor with his famous “you can’t derive an ought from an is” spiel.  Meta-ethical terms such as “good” or “bad” are oughts.  They’re normative and prescriptive in nature and not descriptive like an is.  Nagel’s survival, which is a descriptive is, defined as the “good” really misses the point of the problem and is guilty of attempting to “derive an ought from an is.”

So this assertion, as far as I can discern, of Nagel and Oscar here is false.  I admit life/survival and death appear to be closely related to what is “good” and what is “bad,” but not so close where they can used interchangeably.  Sorry for being pedantic about this, however, I feel in all fairness this fallacy of equivocation must be pointed out.

Moving on, the remainder of Oscar’s post is spent arguing how eternal life on a theist’s worldview is actually meaningless.  He writes,

“Imagine your favorite sporting event. For whatever allotted amount of time, this sport has meaning and it enthralls the spectator. It has the capacity to lift you from euphoric joy to crushing despair within a matter of moments. Now imagine if this sporting event – one game, one match – were to last forever. Would you be as interested? Would you care about the sport? This never-ending game would be pointless to play, let alone watch. As is the case with the game, so would be the case with an eternal life. Every second of the eternal life would be ever-increasing the profundity of the inanity that has become one’s existence, and thus, we would be doomed to experience an infinite amount of inanity. A crushingly depressing notion. Life would become absurd, purposeless.”

Well, first of all, soccer is my favorite sport to watch, and due to the fact it’s criminally under-broadcasted here in the United States, a perpetual soccer game sounds very enticing to me.  But I think I feel my intellectual honesty spanking my smart-ass, so I guess I have to give you a more satisfying rebuttal, huh?

In an intriguing move, Oscar’s strategy here is susceptible to a criticism levied against theism.  Hume, I believe, is justified here again.  I think—it’s been a while since I’ve read his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, so I might be off herebut Hume argues theists are guilty of anthropomorphizing God.  In other words, (Joan Osborne’s actually) we view God as if he is like one of us, “just a slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home,” but by definition, he isn’t.

Joan Osborne performing. Maybe she's anthropomorphizing here and singing "One of Us!"

See, Oscar is viewing eternal life as if it’s subject to time and framing it in a never-ending day.  Yet, eternity isn’t within time; it’s to be outside of it.  Hence, to understand something outside the realm of human temporal experience by human temporal experience is understandable, yet naive.  Oscar’s comparing apples with oranges here, and philosophically speaking, he’s committing a category error.  Check the n/a box for his argument from analogy, a style of argument whose strength is measured in its similarity to what it’s comparing, and in this case, it not even being applicable…well, is really missing the mark.

Oscar’s last argument against theism is a thrust against God’s coherence.  It’s purported God exists eternally, and Oscar reasoned previously that such an existence is meaningless.  Therefore, by definition, God existing is absurd.

“Can one imagine a “life” that is left contemplating the implications that nothing will ever be able to equal Your glory? Or that You will never be granted the amount of praise that You are so righteously deserved of? That for all eternity you will forever be, and worse still, that You would be incapable of ceasing to be? The absurd notion of forever being, and worse yet, not being able to do anything about it, is enough to render one depressingly impotent.While this may seem disconcerting to the theist, these are indeed the implications of an eternal life. Nothing will matter.”

I’m a theist, and I don’t find this charge alarming whatsoever.  Frankly, I’m more puzzled.  Theists understand God to be perfect, which includes eternal existence, but I don’t see the faintest reason why God would even reflect on these introspective insecurities that Oscar erroneously seems to think follows from always being.  They logically don’t.  Nothing of this sort is entailed in eternal existence.  As perfect, God doesn’t have psychological issues similar to that of a teenager that needs to see some cosmic shrink about them every Thursday afternoon just because he’s always been.  The only way I see how Oscar came to this conclusion is by anthropomorphizing again.  That, God, due to the fact he’s been around forever, has had all the time in the universe to consider these things, while under theism, God existed without time.  It seems entirely evident for the theist to flat-out deny these implications, and he or she won’t even be late for dinner.  So, disconcerting?  Hardly.

Last Words

I want to close by writing I appreciate your post, Oscar, but I think the issues you brought up aren’t so damning to theism as you thought.  But with that written, I wish you all the best in life.  I do sincerely hope you will return to SomeMusician sooner rather than later.  Forgive me, but I can’t help to hope you share in my belief in the possibility of a resurrection after a blogging death.

Response/Eugoogly over,

Modus Pownens