If God Is Dead, Why Isn't Everything Permitted?
Thursday, March 26, 2015 -- 5:00 PM
Ken Taylor

This week we're asking about Morality in a Godless World. There may or may not be a God; but there definitely is morality. So what’s the problem exactly? It's what Dostoyevsky said: if God is dead, then everything is permitted. That means no distinction between right and wrong and thus no morality. 

Now you can walk into any ethics class, on any secular campus in America, and you’ll find lots of philosophers talking about ethics and morality --  without ever mentioning a word about God. That suggests there’s a consensus among philosophers -- be they Utilitarians, Kantians, or whatever – that you don’t need to appeal to God to understand the nature of morality.  

Of course, if you give up on God, it seems a lot harder to establish an absolute and objective morality than many philosophers think. But that's to be expected -- that’s why there are so many different ethical theories. It’s why ethicists get paid the big bucks. The idea of God doesn’t help them one bit.  

That said, if there were a God -- especially a perfect, all loving, all knowing one -- wouldn’t his word just be the law? Take murder, for instance: is murder wrong because God prohibits it or does God prohibit it because it’s wrong? That's a dilemma that dates back to Plato’s dialogue the Euthyphro. If the theist says that God prohibits murder because it’s independently wrong, then God’s will plays no role in making it wrong. If he says it’s is wrong only because God forbids it, that shows that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with murder and that his choice to forbid it is just arbitrary. And yet every single secular approach is no better off -- maybe even worse off.  They don’t come close to explaining where absolute, objective moral truths might come from.  The idea of God gave us at least a fighting chance. 

Now you might ask why I should care about God’s arbitrary moral pronouncements any more than I care about anyone else's. The answer would be because God, if he exists, is special.  He’s not just some stranger trying to make his way home. He’s the creator of the universe, the source of all things. And yet even if that were true, you might dig your heels in further and ask why I should bow to God's supposed authority, especially given the absolute mess he’s made of things. Answer: because he’s still God -- because he doles out the sweetest carrots and wields the biggest stick! 

So does it just come down to might makes right, at least divine might? Well, we could raise the same worry about secular moralities. Take Utilitarianism -- always try to do the greatest good for the greatest number.  Why should I care about the good of the greatest number? What authority do they have over me? Does asking that make me a self-centered egomaniac who doesn’t care about humanity at large? No -- Utilitarianism turns us each into a mere instrument of the human herd, as Nietzsche called it.  And it allows the herd to make incessant, insatiable demands on us. What gives it the right? 

Maybe Utilitarianism is too easy to pick on. Take Kant -- no easy mark, but almost as bad. He wanted so badly to put  God in the picture, but couldn’t find an honest way of doing it!  Instead, he smuggled him in through the back door. Think of his categorical imperative -- a supposedly absolute, inescapable demand, binding on every rational person,  independently of their desires or inclinations. Sound a little like a divine commandment -- except it’s generated not by the divine will but by mere human reason. And it's certainly comforting to think that we don’t need the far off voice of the transcendent God to guide us, that we can rely on the inner voice of human reason instead and that it’s clear, unequivocal, and absolutely authoritative.  But human history gives the lie to Kant’s fantasy. “Reason” --whatever that is – is muted and confused; it speaks in many voices not one; it produces a cacophony, not a symphony. 

Does all this make me sound like some sort of Nietzschean moral skeptic? I certainly think that we philosophers are way too smug and self-confident about how easy it is to base absolute, objective moral truth on anything merely secular. So how does a practicing atheist deal with these issues? Our guest, John Figdor, is a Humanist chaplain at Stanford who's got some thoughts about how we can derive moral principles in a world without a supreme moral authority.

Comments (24)


mirugai

Saturday, March 28, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

OBJECTIVE MORALITY

OBJECTIVE MORALITY
 You know what is so great about Philosophy Talk?  Philosophy, according to the Greeks, is most effectively conducted as a rational dialogue.  Writing and lecturing are just one-sided sophistry, advocacy, very narrow-minded and definitional. I have the same problem with definitional philosophy as practiced by Searle and Bertrand Russell (whose work I respect greatly): the person who defines the terms of the issue, mandates the conclusion he/she is advocating.
 A better method is rational dialogue, where every proposition is tested by another?s rational processing. An analogy is integral calculus: the two who are engaged in the dialogue never reach the ?end point,? but the process of getting ever closer is the elucidating and enlightening process that is ?doing philosophy.?
 The rational dialogue between John and Ken and often the guest, is real ?doing philosophy,? and it is unique in all media today. It is so valuable for the audience of thinkers, not just to hear the dialogue, but to witness the method in action.
 That said, there is no point in talking about objective or subjective morality without first exposing the notions ?objective? and ?subjective? to this kind of philosophical study. It is a crucial preliminary examination which was left out of the show, sadly. The Greeks had another way of understanding, aside from rational dialogue; that is to see what is ?normal,? i.e. what is generally understood to be real by everyone (except nut-cases).  This second kind of analysis is not helpful in the objective/subjective examination; there is no ?normal? understanding of these terms.        
 

Charles Osborne

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

The idea that without God,

The idea that without God, there is no reason to be good, or no authority over us to make binding laws upon us all (and over our society and government--laws), to which Dostoyevsky alluded when he said, "If there is no God, everything is permitted," depends on a certain theology about God, as well as a certain philosophy about morals. 
First, consider the role of God in morals. Some theologies present God as Moses presented him--but many do not. Almost all Christians reject some of Moses' laws (or make them optional). I am not interested here in asking which ones are right--just that in fact Christians don't accept all the laws of Moses as binding upon them, and they select the ones they think still apply to us. Now I think that a serious reason for this is that they do not feel bound by laws about our behavior in that sense--Paul was a devout follower of Moses until he found Christ (or vice-versa). Many today, as in the past, try to bind Jesus to Moses, and I don't think they are entirely incompatible--any more than copper and rubber are incompatible.
Blessed are the meek. What kind of moral law is that? Is it a commandment or a regulator of our behavior? Meekness truly does affect behavior, but not as an objective, outside influence or authority over us, keeping us from doing as we please--for it regulates what pleases us. This law/commandment I leave with you, Jesus said at the Last Supper, that you love one another. What kind of law is that? To find what is the loving thing to do requires judgment, wisdom, and a spiritual perception of others (and ourselves).
Now second--about having a certain philosophy about morals... Even as a child I saw a logical problem in saying that we should be good so we will get to heaven--because then our wish is selfish--and therefore not good. We should wish it because it is good. Kant said that, too, but I did not yet know Kant.
And a thing is not good because God says so, even if God is always right about it--because if it were so, then to call God good would be meaningless--God says do what God says.
Perhaps the least respected moral philosopher (over all) was G. E. Moore. He said what makes something good is that it really is good. Simple and neat, but what? What does it mean? He may in time be discovered as more wise than he seemed back then. Why, after all, would we call a thing good, unless we mean it really is? Or why would Plato or Kant say a thing is good for good moral reasons, unless we mean it really is? And why say love is the only absolute--the power that created the universe, that hurls galaxies across the heavens (hundreds of millions of them), that gives purpose to the whole, and stands as the goal of us all--unless it really is the efficient, material, and final cause?
Give me any theology but the Pharisees, and any ethics but the Sophists (including Nietzsche and the postmodernists), or any who say morality is a vain delusion, or is really something else.

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

I suggest viewing or reading

I suggest viewing or reading the play God on Trial.
The Bible was produced by Jewish scribes of Babylon on the occasion of their being ?freed? by the Persians (more likely they were told that their services were no longer needed). Their problem, of course, was to submit a rough country folk, used to an egalitarian ethic (the elites if Israel wiped themselves out some centuries previous) to their rule. Without political or military power to do so, they resorted to mythic traditions which they alone could interpret to the people now inhabiting their former land. Ask yourself why the Bible was written in Hebrew at a time when the people of Israel had already adopted Aramaic? Also, they were not monotheist at that time, but were ?converted? to it by these returnees, with their sacred book.
?Was it a god, or some man, who was the author of your laws?? Thus opens Plato's Laws. Clearly, Plato recognized even then how deep was the prejudice that common folk must be supplied with a divine law in order to instil morality in them. More accurately, it is a means of elites to cut through the confusion, not about morality, but about who is sovereign. In any social exchanges more complex than individual intimacies, sovereign systems emerge claiming authority over us that tends to undermine our moral intuitions. At a time when most Northern Europeans lived either in an exquisitely democratic and moral relation between individual and community (The Open Field system, as it was called in England) or in a Feudal system only misunderstood as hierarchical but was actually a system of covenants, not of contractual obligations, but of a bond of friendship, to the death, Vatican and kings vied for absolute rule, each claiming that there could be no order in the world but through complete obedience of the people to one or the other of them. But what order in fact there was came from the people themselves. The more ancient claim of the priestly caste of Israel that only obedience to the Law of Moses (the very existence of whom there is no evidence whatsoever outside the blatant propaganda of the Bible) conspired with the latter day ambitions of church and king to foist upon us the myth that ordinary people are lacking moral compass. It is closer to the truth to say that on an individual basis people are mostly quite competent in moral sense, but that in a complex social setting confused sovereignties emerge, leaving even the most decent and morally well grounded individuals at a loss as to which claim upon them to rely upon. This is why, for instance, regimes of racism or classism are so resistant to mitigation, because we fail to understand how conflicting power clusters get so firm a grip on us. Consider that many persons would commit crimes on behalf of their employer they would never dream of committing on their own. In certain groupings people lose the moral compass that comes naturally when alone. Like the young man that is well behaved amongst adults or girls, but in the company of other young men engages in insane criminal or dangerous activity. It's not that god isn't present, it's that too many of the same sort are (not necessarily the wrong sort per se). We don't need another or a revived god, we just need to keep our heads. Though it does help to have institutions that prevent certain associations or that mitigates their effects on us. If anything, religion makes matters, makes us, worse.

MJA

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Just Is God

Truth Is:
Just is God
God is just another name for everything, and everything another name for One. 
Be One, just One,
For the good of One equal's the good of all.
= is One
=

MJA

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Well said Gary!

Well said Gary!
The only thing in need of government is government. To freedom. =

paul@pjrichmond.net

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

There is the matter of

There is the matter of evolution.   Morality might have evolved, giving us a conscience, because we survive as a community better with morality than without morality.   Morality encourages us to consider the well being of the group instead of ourselves, surely a trait evolution would select for however the trait came about.  
This is not a reason, in itself, to be moral; but its no reason, either, to disagree with such a noble instinct.   We seem to go along with quite happily with other instincts, such as falling in love, self preservation . . . why not go along with our moral instinct, as well?   C

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, April 2, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Michael,

Michael,
Still singing that song?
 
Paul,
Peter Singer wrote a book, The Expanding Circle, which develops your theme. But it's too simplistic to explain the phenomenon. A simple reading of DNA does not explain the astounding complexity of complex organisms, let alone the mind, and evolution is far too simplistic. But talking genetics or evolution with a true believer is an enterprise in frustration, like trying to convince a devout theist there is no god. Everything said in evidence or reasoning against the faith gets turned into just another way of expressing it. But what if you had a book in which reading each word had the effect of altering the language, not only of the book as a whole, but of all other books as well, and of the reader? Real languages do just this as a commonplace. A commonplace that those of us (especially those well trained in "philosophy") committed to the written word as opposed to speech, are dogmatically opposed to recognizing. But just try to open your mind to the potential. The staggering complexity gets explained. Maybe not in a way suitable to the mechanical manipulations we insist upon so persistently (mindlessly!), but in a way that satisfies the phenomenal realities and our intuitions about them. Mechanism and formalism is just as prejudicial as doctrinaire theism.     
 
Just another note, the religious right is dead set upon confusing religious freedom with religious authority. The law in Indiana is not about the right of individuals to believe what they believe, but the power of religious authority to impose itself upon others, and not just its own members, but employees and customers as well. It's all part of an even broader attack against individual liberty by establishing a corporate liberty (or "person")over individuals.
 
 
 

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, April 2, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

I wonder, for instance, if

I wonder, for instance, if the Indiana law permits Hasidic Jews to refuse to serve uncircumcised males? Or to check?

sbcpetew

Thursday, April 2, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

The concept of God is as old

The concept of God is as old as humanity, no matter where you look, across time and geography people form religions, in the same way we instinctively create language and music. If you discover an isolated tribe of Indians uninfluenced from the outside world, you will find some form of religion. But the definion of God in these religions differ. I see religions as peoples approximations of the fundamental nature of reality (a good lie is often based on an element of truth). They are all similar in that the quest to understand "God" is really the quest to understand nature, God is simply the representation of the totality of existence (God has infinite perspective ect). If a storm comes through and wipes out a town, its seen as a act of God, and its not a bad thing because in the grand scheme of things weather needs to work the way it does. To me the problem with alot of modern religions isnt the belief in a "God" but the entropy that erodes all social systems. When people point at isis's religious beliefs as an argument against religion, I think its misguided because it doesn't get at the root of the problem, our psychology. In the same way its misguided to assume because someone is gay they are less moral. From a psychological perspective it seems morality is preprogrammed into us, similarly to how ants understand how to build ant hills without training. But our conscious mind can overide this by finding ways to rationalize things that we know in our heart (subconscious mind) to be wrong.
Personally I think that the basis of morality is empathy, in that we shouldn't treat other people, in a way that you wouldn't want to be treated. The reason torcher is bad is your are applying a standard to other people that you are not willing to be applied to yourself.  You could say that the world is overpopulated so we need to kill off a large portion of the population for the greater good, how u can tell its immoral is if you asked someone who believes this if they would be willing to be the first to die. The immorality is that they are willing to impose this on other people but not on themselves, or impose it knowing it will have no effect on them. Like saying its ok to kill off all the people who make under 30,000 a year knowing you make more than that and would be exempt. My perspective is limited, im not saying empathy is the complete answer, but I have a suspicion it plays a big role.

Charles Osborne

Friday, April 3, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

We don't need another or a

We don't need another or a revived god, we just need to keep our heads. Though it does help to have institutions that prevent certain associations or that mitigates their effects on us. If anything, religion makes matters, makes us, worse.
When Plato asked if it was a man or a god who gave us the (moral) laws, it was a trick question--or perhaps a false dichotomy. For he above all would say it was a matter not of gods or men, but "keeping our heads"--reason--that makes the moral laws. In Thomas Jefferson's religion (and he thought himself Christian as a follower of Christ), reason rules the universe--God is the order and power of all things, which might be called Logos in Greece or Karma in India, and all men and all gods are subject to the One.
I don't disagree that popular religion has logical problems, but neither do I think the mystery of the Transcendent whence everything came and which is the ground of all being, itself beyond all, is entirely ruled out by rational people. One might argue rationally that there is "Something" to believe in, and that is only a deus ex machina, but one might certainly argue rationally also that one knows things through mind or spirit, or soul, as well as by the senses or mechanical logic. I believe that my mother loved me, and was not (as Hobbes thought) putting on a selfish act to deceive others. There was a mental/spiritual bond of knowing one another even though I cannot ever prove by science or logic that other minds exist, much less that one of them really loves me.
In this way I think most thinking believers do not believe blindly, but rather from their real experiences of a divine power that reveals itself through religious experience. Without that, I agree that there are indeed many who say they believe, but do not really know what it is that they believe, except to say the words. Therefore the question whether our moral laws come from men or from gods leaves out the obvious--that we write our moral laws under the immediate influence of experiencing mental/spiritual realities, such as reason and love. Both reason and love are manifestations of the Psalmist's assertion that "The law of God is written in the hearts of men."
It may come in some way from Beyond, but we must find moral judgments on our experience and knowledge of the world, including spiritual experience; religions do give us tools for decision (Scripture, clergy, prayer, meditation, community and dialog, etc.), but we are on our own in making the judgment. This was Bonhoeffer's point, I think, in "discipleship"--which admits of course to error. And it is behind his statement that "We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know." Unlike some believers, he built the human error in each of us into his account of religion, without denying that there is nevertheless truth and reality beyond our limits.
I don't see the sins of the world, of kings and governments and of the common herd, as relevant to moral reasoning--that is, what people do has no logical bearing on what they ought to do, right?

John LaMuth

Friday, April 3, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Please consider my newly

Please consider my newly released synthesis
uniting the fields
of behavioral psychology and value ethics with considerable
applications to a cooperative human mindset.
Here the instinctual terminology of operant conditioning pro-
vides an elementary foundation for the subjective hierarchy of
traditional groupings of virtues, values, and ideals. This
formal tie-in with behavioral science effectively validates
the subjective prerequisites of the virtuous realm, an
innovation based upon a basic set of instinctual terms:
namely, rewards-leniency-appetite-aversion. These instinctual
terms, in turn, prove consistent with the higher linguistic
hierarchy characterizing the virtuous realm: innovation
further arranged as a hierarchy of metaperspectives - an
ascending sequence of personal, group, spiritual, humanitarian,
and transcendental power levels, specialized into both authority
and follower roles. The remaining incorporation of individual
terms is partially depicted below...
Solicitousness . Rewards ... Submission . Leniency
Nostalgia . . H-Worship ......... Guilt . Blame
Glory . . . . Prudence .......... Honor . Justice
Providence . . Faith .......... Liberty . Hope
Grace . . . . Beauty ........ Free-will . Truth
Tranquility . Ecstasy ........ Equality . Bliss
+ Reinforce....... Appetite . Neg. Reinforce....Aversion
Desire . . Approval-Seeking ..... Worry . Concern
Dignity . Temperance ......  Integrity . Fortitude
Civility . Charity ......... Austerity . Decency
Magnanimity . Goodness .... Equanimity . Wisdom
Love . . . . . Joy ............. Peace . Harmony
Furthermore, the behavioral terminology for punishment serves as
the foundation for the darker realm of the vices of defect, a
mirror-image reflection of the virtuous mode, with the exception
that punishment discourages behaviors judged not suitably
solicitous or submissive: as partially portrayed below..
No Solicitous. No Rewards.. No Submissive . No Leniency
Laziness . Treachery ......... Negligence . Vindictiveness
Infamy . Insurgency ............ Dishonor . Vengeance
Prodigal . Betrayal ............. Slavery . Despair
Wrath . Ugliness ................ Tyranny . Hypocrisy
Anger . Abomination ........... Prejudice . Perdition
Punishment ... No Appetite . Punishment... No Aversion
Apathy . Spite .............Indifference . Malice
Foolish . Gluttony ............. Caprice . Cowardice
Vulgarity . Avarice ............ Cruelty . Antagonism
Oppression . Evil .......... Persecution . Cunning
Hatred . Iniquity ......... Belligerence . Turpitude
In summary, the operant form of conditioned behavior represents
an instinctual legacy we share with the rest of the
animal kingdom. This behavioral foundation, in turn, permits
support for the linguistic hierarchy of motivational terms, an
innovation permitted through the symbolism of the human
speech lexicon. Indeed, mankind's transition to an urban culture
lead to the development of the higher traditions of virtues and
values crucial for maintaining social order, as systematized
within the language tradition. For instance, the tradition of
the cardinal virtues was championed by the Greek
philosopher Plato to define the social stratification within the
Greek city-state of his day. Furthermore, the attendant spiritual
and humanitarian traditions celebrated timeless themes: such as the
classical Greek values and the humanistic values. Ultimately, a
mystical tradition emerges, as expressed in the crowning set of
mystical values (ecstasy-bliss-joy-harmony). What lies beyond
this final nameable realm of mysticism remains open to debate,
described only as the "supernatural" domain, permitting the
potential for a "top-down" pattern of influence as well.
Indeed, this system has been granted US patents #6587846 and 7236963
A complete listing of ethical terms is posted at:www.angelfire.com/rnb/fairhaven/Masterdiagram.html
A more detailed treatment is also posted at:www.angelfire.com/rnb/fairhaven/schematics.html
www.charactervalues.com
Sincerely
John E.  LaMuth

Marc Bellario

Saturday, April 4, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

My first question is -

My first question is -
Is what I am about to write, is it right or wrong? and I don't know that.
I can say, I will reach no conclusion.
I can say the question should be - Why is morality so moral?  or you could also
say, why is morality not so moral?  Yes, to create an absolute morality you might need, God,
however morality exists, regardless of the question of whether God exists.
So, this might go on like ---- the post battle field conversation, and folks left around after the
battle, ( those would/should be victors, then ) thinking or asking --- was it all worth it?
The leader's job at that point is to say --- yes, it's all worth it, the price we paid is worth it ____
How can he say anything different?  Or at least you have to ask, why would he say anything
different?
That is morality.  But you see it in lots of situations.  It exists because it is a persistent
experience of human beings in life, which you can see because it has been conversed
about for,,,, at the minimum >> 3,000 years?

sbcpetew

Saturday, April 4, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

@Marc Bellario I think your

@Marc Bellario I think your talking about the confirmation bias. Or the phenomena of only looking for things that support your preconceived ideas, and selectively ignoring things that don't agree. Often we dont hold ourselves to the same standard we hold other people to. The question of is it worth it? (from the battlefield example above ^) will most likely be a yes. Its like hazing at a fraternity, when they humiliate you and make you do embarrassing things for acceptance, you don't say to your self, I'm the kind of person who lets people do this to me. You cant live with that answer, so you will twist the information so you don't feel like an idiot. You have to, if you want to avoid dissonance (the uncomfortable feeling of holding opposing ideas).  You will come up with something that you can live with, a comfortable but often inconsistent illusion. Another example of the in consistency of viewing ourselves vs other people is, when i trip over a rock I'm having a off day because my girl friend broke up with me and I cant concentrate. When you trip over a rock your a stupid person. Another example is if you were to ask an Israeli why the bombings of Palestine are justified, they will say something like they are crazy jihad terrorists who will stop at nothing to wipe us out. if you ask a Palestinian why the car bombings are justified they will say something like the Israelites bomb us like cowards, this is simply the only way we can fight back, in self defense. They are both convinced they are in the right, while selectively ignoring the others view. Another example is democrats and republicans, if you affiliate yourself with one of the parties you will tend to read news that is favorable to your stance, and discredit anything that isn't. Or in the gaming community the debate of xbox vs playstation, and to the extremes the fanboys will go to defend the platform they choose, for no other reason than the fact they choose it.
The question: is this moral? I don't think so. Unless morality is just a pretty word for the ways we deceive ourselves.

sbcpetew

Monday, April 6, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Garry, hopefully I understand

Garry, hopefully I understand your point correctly. My assumption of morality is based on the finiteness of our understanding. Morality is very similar to knowledge in that, for something to bare any resemblance of "truth" it has to align with nature in some form (nature is the ultimate truth as far as we can tell). But like knowledge its is impossible to achieve "absolutely" without understanding everything in the universe perfectly. Its like predicting the weather, you can make a decent approximation of our knowlege of relationships, to predict the weather to an accuracy that is usefull. But in order to predict it perfectly you would have to take every possible condition into consideration. Like the influence the sun has on our weather, and the influence other stars have on our sun, to the galaxys and their interactions out to the infinity' degree. It would seem that making any prediction at all would be impossible. But for some reason our universe is incredibly self consistent and there seems to be rules that bind the universe (this is all based on the assumption our universe is causal). The fact that we can predict the weather at all is interesting. Aside by being told by a devine being (someone who understand the universe perfectly) ultimately our perspective is limited. So we have to move forward with the understanding that we will never be able to achieve absolute morality. We are forced to strive for better and better approximations. I guess what I'm saying is if someone claims to have absolute morality, then they are blinding themselves to finding better approximations. Its like knowledge, I would say being smart isnt how much you know, (passive) its your willingness to learn (active), because there is too much for anyone know everything.
The only point were we can claim to achieve "absoulte" morality, is when we understand the universe perfectly and vise versa. I'm not saying absolute morality doesn't exist or it is relative (nature appears to be true independent of our understanding of it). Just we have a ways to go before we can truly say we know it, and I think understanding our limitations is important to consider, in our quest for the Truth.

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

sbcpetew,

sbcpetew,
Buddhists call it compassion.
John,
Is a change of mind a moral act? What impact on moral consensus? Why do you suppose Socrates equates morality with suffering to be cross-examined?
Marc,
Or as Theoden toasted, after the Battle of Helm's Deep, "Hail the victorious dead!" I'd recommend reading Plato's (largely ignored) dialogue, Menexenus. It's a spoof on war memorials.
sbcpetew,
The characterology of certitude is the crux of morality and reason. What kind of rigor ends in a change of mind through a proof of the inadequacy and incompleteness of one's antecedent convictions assumptions and fundamentals? It's easy enough to find evidence for what we have no intention of admitting disproof. It is only when we have exhausted all reasons not to believe that we have some feeble justice in believing. But who, but a dogmatist, can say they have completed that task comprehensively and competently? The answer is suffering critical examination, though always free to reverse the process in case the examiner is himself or herself a dogmatist. The point is, we can neither be moral nor rational alone.

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Imperfection is at the root

Imperfection is at the root of all things. It is not evil. What demands perfection is demonic. All gods are demons, as all the patterns they, and we, impose upon reality are untrue in that most critical term proved them imperfect. But the gods do not suffer that proof. We, however, do. We emerge more completed from it. Not better approximations of what could be perfect, but more completed proofs of the imperfection of the terms of that approximation. If no god can save us, neither can a better system of concepts or geometry or numbers.
What is 'person'? Why does it evidence exception to the rules of logic and calculation and divine law? Are we stupid? Or do we have a point? We have an inveterate fascination for patterns. They never quite fit. But they never quite recede either. They ebb and flow. Certitude emerges and becomes entrenched and retrenched, disappoints, fades, and loses its fascination for us. And then change. The characterology of that ebb and flow is what 'person' is. Each of us a unique actor in the proof that absolutes and enduring patterns are all imperfect. But in that proof we perfect ourselves. Morality is not adhering to the pattern, it is the most rigorous disproof of it. You see, how can that disproof be the ultimate term of the pattern itself? What kind of being is completed that proof? Scientists derive universals from a ridiculously limited experimental review. Why do we always dismiss our fluctuating confidence in ourselves as unworthy of interest, mere emotion, evidence of nothing real? A change of mind is not evidence of waywardness if it is seriously derived. It is proof that we are better than the principles we suppose to govern us. But a change of mind is hardly an assertion of superior right or correctness. Alone it is anomaly. It is only how it frees us all that it means anything at all. It is an act of loss, lost conceit in the pattern or governance of the world. And it is its response recognize how freeing it is that is responsible of the worth of that loss being recognized. It is a virtuous dialectic of loss and love, as opposed to the vitiating dialectic of rival egos patterns or gods. And so, no, the loss of the gods is no threat to our ability to be moral.
Have you ever seen or read the play God on Trial? It is a compelling tale.
 

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, April 11, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Several of the better-known

Several of the better-known atheists have posited and/or reinforced the notion that humanity would have both good and bad people regardless of whether God exists or does not. Others have been even more direct saying that it really does not matter either way. Secular humanists appear to have the most egalitarian point of view and a healthy respect for the old golden rule that many of us strive to live by. I have sometimes wondered what happened to Blaise Pascal when he checked out of the Hotel California. Did his wager pay off or did it just not really matter? I guess we will only discover the answer to this when we cash in our own chips. It would seem to me that God does not appreciate disingenuousness. But, I have no way of proving or disproving that suspicion.
Keep the good thoughts flowing,
Neuman.

rsilvers

Friday, April 17, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Two points: if a god(s)

Two points: if a god(s) exists, then a "best" morality exists; however, there is still the Cartesian question of whether we can know it. If humans are imperfect, then how can we know the moral principles of the god(s) that does exist? Is it narcissistic for someone to think that the one true god spoke to him and his co-believers but not to others?
Second, why is the Rawlsian/economist's point of view not an objective morality? I take here the broader perspective of an economic point of view than a strict utilitarian.*
Consider an individual behind the veil of ignorance, choosing a form of society, complete with moral and ethical principles, institutions and law-making bodies, ... not knowing what his preferences over consumption goods and leisure, his abilities in the marketplace, his social status, ... will be. And not knowing what shocks will beset the society or economy -- technological shocks, climatic events, disease outbreaks, ... Governments, institutions, morals, ethics all come into play when these occur.
Why would not the solution to such a problem be the basis of an objective morality?
The solution does presume that the agent is the individual, that what matters is choosing the set of principles and tenets, institutions and such that make this individual as well off as possible. However, this is defensible since it is an individual who chooses to act -- the value of familial lineage or social identity is a possible tenet whereby the individual would incorporate the well-being/honor of his family/society into his own preferences. But it is still the individual who acts.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

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