Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

From ‘Ought’ to ‘Is’

In bartley, critical rationalism, ethics on 06/09/2011 at 2:50 am

After reading Eric MacDonald’s piece on natural law theory over at Choice in Dying, I think it best to describe how a Critical Rationalist as influenced by Popper and Bartley crosses the ‘is-ought’ gap. Natural law theory seeks to ground ethics in something tangible, something that is easy to grasp. It is in the nature of things to be so, and therefore it follows that we must follow the nature of things. Of course, this indubitably begs the question of what exactly is the nature of things. To take a poor example, it is in the nature of things that bananas fit hands, but bananas also fit into orifices other than the mouth. But put this problem aside for the moment. Assume that it can be solved, or at least a group of people may come to an agreement, tentative though it may be, on the nature of things. Hume, though, notes that it is difficult to justify an ‘ought’ as logically following from an ‘is’, and does not rule this out as impossible. I, on the other hand, take this justification as impossible, since this problem of justification is little more than a variation of Fries’s trilemma: (1) either this ethical justification goes in a circle, (2) grounded on a foundation that is assumed without argument, or (3) part of an infinite series of justifications.
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In ethics, fideism, van til on 30/08/2011 at 12:57 pm

For the life of me, I cannot understand the attitude of Robert Sungenis, as seen in the following quote from the LA Times. The pure inanity of Sungenis, the hubris, the fantastic will to impose his cognitive state onto the world without understanding the possibility of just being flat-out wrong.

“Heliocentrism becomes dangerous if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system,” said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. “False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today.… Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world, and governments and academia were subservient to her.” (A few Catholics still insist Galileo was wrong)

Frankly, Sungenis is an intellectual and cultural fascist. Read some of his work if you don’t believe me. This website too examines his behavior when confronted with criticism, specifically on his anti-Semitic drivel. Even in the above quote, he publicly yearns for the time when the Catholic church governed most of the world. Who could dare say such a thing with a straight face? Is he not aware how appalling such a wish sounds to anyone versed in the history of the Church? The genocide of the Americas, burning of Bruno, pacts with Hitler and Mussolini, and the perpetuation of the lie about the Jews should give anyone a moment’s pause. All dissent would, presumably, be quieted in any way necessary, be it house-arrest, murder, and restricting information or literacy only to the priestly elite.

Since it is obvious (at leas to Sungenis) that he is good — for we all see ourselves as good — it follows that he does not and cannot possibly err. If others have differing theories, this indicates that they are mistaken, and since they cannot see the manifest truth, since “false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions”, they are therefore evil. Would that there were someone to rid Sungenis of those pesky scientists? Putting these moral conundrums about legislating the truth aside for the moment, his assumption — in much the same way Van Til and other presuppositionalists have in the past — that error is a sign of immorality reveals Sungenis to be closed off from any sort of honest discussion. He cares not about the journey towards the truth, a journey that is forever covered in fog, always down dead-ends and winding labyrinths; he cares only about defending the faith, about crossing his arms and refusing to acknowledge anyone else as even being a moral equal, much less the possibility of them being right.

It doesn’t help that Sungenis is an ignorant creationist. The following video is pure lunacy.



In critical rationalism, ethics on 15/07/2011 at 5:15 am

It is clear (I should hope) that an individual’s physical strength is not a reliable process for discovering the truth of a conjecture. A brute can beat everyone into submission and still be wrong. Nor is flipping a coin, for the randomness of a flipped coin does not have any necessary connection with the truth of a conjecture either.

However, is engaging in a critical discussion, and then adopting the conclusions of that critical discussion, any more reliable a process for discovering the truth of a conjecture than flipping coins or hitting each other?

No, but it is preferable to flipping coins or hitting each other.

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Lash on Commitment

In ethics, irrationalism, justificationism, wittgenstein on 14/07/2011 at 11:08 am

I cannot suffer fools, and Nicholas Lash is an educated fool–the worst kind by far, for his words can beguile those with less learning than he. And by Jove, Lash has a way with words. His All good reasoning comes from prior commitments and beliefs, published in the “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian, is a strangely enticing word-salad.

And what of Lash? He is, according to the press release by Durham University on the occasion of Lash receiving an honorary degree, “regarded as one of the most influential Roman Catholic philosophical theologians of our time.”

… all good reasoning expresses and proceeds from prior commitments and beliefs and relies, at every step along the way, on believing – however cautiously and critically – the testimony of others engaged in this and similar collaborative enterprises.

The article is, in brief, a case-study of the Wittgensteinian attempts by the learned to protect religious conjectures from criticism. With a quick bit of Googling, it turns out that Lash is indebted to Wittgenstein’s approach. That attitude throws up hastily built walls to keep trespassers at bay–while simultaneously legitimizing all other ‘forms of life.’ While such a conclusion may have sat well with Wittgenstein, how can Lash dare say anything critical of other ‘forms of life’? Everyone is already committed. No rational argumentation–and thus no change, except for the religious conversion on par with Saul on the road to Damascus–is permissible.

But is that the case? Don’t people often change their minds when confronted with criticism from without the community? Of course; however, Lash’s attitude, and his perplexing language, do little more than hinder those that may in due time change.

It follows (and O’Collins’s definition brings this out so well) that serious theological investigation is never purely a matter of inference and deduction; never merely a matter of the reasoning mind. It is also a matter of the mind and heart at prayer. There is a sense in which all good theology is done on one’s knees.

In sum, rather than a raging a war of words between intellectual ‘nations,’ Lash would have us all live in little herme(nu)tically-sealed cocoons. Thank you, but I’ll pass on the offer.


End of an Era

In art, ethics, fallibilism on 10/07/2011 at 12:07 pm

We’re the kind of species that needs a frontier for fundamental biological reasons. Every time humanity stretches itself, it receives a jolt of productive vitality that can carry it for centuries. (Carl Sagan)



In ethics on 24/06/2011 at 12:04 am

Trade is a decent and proper relationship, with dignity and respect on both sides. … It would have been easy, I dare say, for us to dazzle them with some of our technological conjuring tricks: to play back their recorded voice, or to have taken their picture on an instant camera; but when you’re faced with encounters like this, such tricks seem tawdry and trivial. It’s not that we can do these tricks, that they have [] quills through their nostrils, or that we happen to live on bits of cow’s meat wrapped up in a cunning way in bits of metal. It is not the differences between us that are important; it is the similarities. (Richard Attenborough, A Blank on the Map)



In critical rationalism, ethics, evolution on 23/06/2011 at 5:18 am

I don’t think we’re here for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,” but I’m anticipating a pretty good lunch. (Dr. James Watson, from Recurial)

… There was never a time in the pre-DNA era when a lot of us biologists sat around the table and said ‘Let us first clearly DEFINE life before we explore it.’ We just went out there, forged ahead and FOUND OUT what it was. It’s no doubt good to have a rough idea of what one is talking about but matters of terminology are best left to philosophers who spend most of their time on such things. Indeed clear definitions often EMERGE from empirical research. We now no longer quibble over questions like is a virus REALLY alive. (Dr. Francis Crick, The Astonishing Francis Crick)


Ethics & Epistemology

In ethics, justificationism on 16/06/2011 at 5:02 pm

What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other’s kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant…. What’s this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil? (Ashoka)

Some people think that there are no grounds on which to judge different cultures. The cultural practice of ‘honor’ killing is as equally justified as cultural practices that ensure freedom of speech, for instance. That’s how the argument goes.

In a (qualified) sense, I agree. There are no foundations one can appeal to, no (so far as I can tell) justification for human rights or human dignity that extend beyond culture. What I’m getting at is that we ought to remain agnostic over the existence of any ethical code that is inherent to the universe.

This same claim is directed towards different cultural theories of knowledge (Feyerabend, et al.): who am I to say that, since all theories of knowledge are cultural constructs, reading the entrails of goats is any better than the Western process of scientific discovery?

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“Piss Christ”

In ethics, fallibilism on 15/06/2011 at 6:02 am

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. (WB Yeats, The Second Coming)

Piss Christ, the picture that enraged a thousand preachers in the US back in 1987, was destroyed by French Christian protesters.

I liked the photograph. If you didn’t know what the crucifix was submerged in, you’d think of it almost as … reverent. Serrano has always remained somewhat vague about its meaning, saying that it’s far more about the cheapening and commercialization of Christianity than a direct attack at Christ. Serrano was raised Roman Catholic, and might still be practicing to this day. Protesters, though, have always known that it is an affront to Christianity, and after several attempts at destroying the picture, have finally succeeded. Here is a photo of the aftermath.

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