Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Critical thought and truth

It is a staple of current popular thought that critical thinking is the most important skill a person can have. A person who cannot doubt and deconstruct ideas is not intelligent, but little more than a gullible moron.

Critical thought is indeed important to the thought process of evaluating truth. It treats all ideas, old and new alike as propositions that need to be tested. In doing so it attempts to separate fact from fiction by subjecting ideas to cross examination.

But critical thought is simply a tool. It allows us to look at ideas and test their consistency. It asks if a proposition is valid and can withstand the scrutiny of reason.

Critical thought however has limits to what it can discover. It can demonstrate ideas are valid. That is, that ideas are logically consistent. But the truth of an idea, the proposition that an idea possesses the quality of being true, is beyond the ability of critical thinking.

Critical thought at it's heart doubts all propositions. It subjects each and every proposal to the notion that an idea is false. It cannot, by process, prove something is true. It is not equipped for the task.

Religious ideas, like philosophical ones, are either true or they are not. Critical thinking can reveal inconsistencies in religious tenants, just like philosophical principles. As such critical thinking can help us with the evaluation of religious ideas by showing that if they are not valid, then they cannot be true.

But critical thinking cannot prove something to be true. It can only show that ideas are valid. In order to find truth, at som point the thinker must choose to believe. The transition from "possible truth" to actual truth requires an act of will.

That is what faith is at the intellectual level. The holding of valid ideas to be true. It is an act of will as much as reason. We can test our faith to reason, but we will not be able to believe by doubting. It is the wrong tool for the job.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 28, 2011

Misconceptions in Objective Morality 3: Objective Morality is not knowable

Continuing with the common misconceptions is the notion that objective morality is not knowable.  That is, while one may conclude that objective morality may exist, it is not useful because determining what is objectively moral is impossible.

There is admittedly some truth to this notion.  The human individual is limited to his experience. His perception of his actions and the results of his actions are limited.  He cannot see the effects of those actions in their entirety. 

But is that the whole story?  Is the blanket statement the whole truth about objective morality?

Consider the statement itself.  If we can claim that objective morality is "unknowable" then we have effectively stated an aspect of objective morality.  But how could we if objective morality is unknowable? The only way one could definitively state that objective morality is unknowable is if objective morality is knowable in some fashion.  If objective morality were truly above knowledge, the most we could say is, "We don't know if objective morality is knowable or not."

But if we can discern that objective morality exists, it follows that it is possible to discern other properties of objective morality.  For if we determine that objective morality exists, we have discovered some knowable aspect of objective morality (the property of existence). 

A comparable idea is the notion of God.  If we determine that God exists (which arguably we have if we accept the notion of objective morality) then we concede that it is possible to discern aspects of God.  But we also know that we will never comprehend God completely, given that He is far and above our experiences and perceptions.

The same is with objective morality.  We can determine aspects of objective morality but we will never comprehend it completely.  At the same time however objective morality can be comprehended in certain aspects. 

But how does one cross the limits of human reason?  In order for man to transcend the limits of natural reason requires the higher entity to assist in that knowledge.  That is ultimately the purpose of religion, the statement of truths that bridge the gap between what the human can know and what the human knows cannot be known without the aid of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas' statement then makes perfect sense, "I believe that I may know."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The purpose of moral principles

These days it is strange to hear talk about moral principles at all, let alone any talk that is coherent.  The moral plane is so fluid, so contingent on situation and circumstance that we are effectively living the moral relativity nightmare.  It is perfectly alright to start wars, but don't you dare raise taxes.  Feeding the poor is good, but poor people should murder their children (in utero, not out). 

Policy has replaced principle.  People are no longer defined as moral or just, but "conservative" and "liberal."  Your views on sex are your own, but if you want to increase/decrease government regulations you are either a hero or a villain. 

How did we come to this?  When did someone become defined by what their views were on tax policy or environmental regulations? When did we become a people of "issues"? 

I suspect at heart is the misunderstanding and erosion of the concept of moral principle.  The incoherence and fluid state of mind among the moderns is due to the denial of an objective notion of truth.  Without a firm foundation on the notion of moral truth, we have effectively denied any means by which to judge the character of a person or action.

Moral principles are at heart statements about the nature of man.  They posit the fundamental notions of what man is and how man acts in relation to one another.  As such they establish boundaries about actions that man can take with regard to situations.

Moral principles define in a negative sense the lines which one cannot cross.  They propose absolutes.  Rules to abide by and provide a guidance to right action.  They provide boundaries, and in uncertain situations define what actions cannot be undertaken under any circumstances. 

The modern mind eschews such notions.  The rejection of truth results in the rejection of boundaries on the actions of man.  In doing so the modern man has no direction, no guiding light, no ability to discern what is proper and what is not because he has rejected the notion that forms what is and is not moral.

He justifies this because there are "hard cases."  The principle of "murder is wrong" is generally agreed upon until a difficult situation arises, such as an unplanned pregnancy or one caused through rape or incest.  Thus, the modern mind says under certain circumstances it is ok to murder an unborn child.

But this is not logic.  It is not even common sense.  The principle is not changed because the situation is hard.  In fact that is the point of moral principle.  To guide us when our temptation would have us commit an evil to avoid a hardship.  The principle defines what actions CANNOT be undertaken. 

In this case the right thing to do is not obvious.  But the wrong thing is.  A principle is not invalidated because following it is hard.  Murder is still evil.  It does not become good simply because the real good is difficult. 

Our modern world cannot find good because good is difficult follow.  Thus we prefer evil.  It is not that we cannot decide what is good or bad.  It is simply the case that for most moral dilemmas the good path is hard.  And even where the good path is hard to find the evil path is often identified easily enough.  We only tempt ourselves to choose evil because it is perceived to be easier.

When we choose evil though we only destroy ourselves (and often have victims on our conscience).  When we commit evil we bear witness to a lie, and in doing so erode our ability to do right.  And once we cast off the limits of our actions we can no longer see how our actions relate to any form of truth.  We become lost.  Adrift in our attempts to justify the unjustifiable. 

Until as a society we understand the concept of moral principle in its proper place we will not solve the issues that plague us.  We will continue to argue over relatively meaningless notions of tax policies and proper regulations.  The problem that the modern mind faces is one of the soul.  A deep and abiding true longing for truth.  But we have chosen the easy way.  The way that demands nothing, asks us to sacrifice nothing, but ultimately offers nothing in return.

In order to do this however we must rediscover that there is such a thing as moral principle and it does define who we are and what we can do.  Without that we will continue to drift.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Misconception of Objective morality 2: Subjective has no role

Though new to me there is a notion of objective morality that exists in the blogsphere that states that if objective morality is true, then the subjective view of an moral agent plays no role in the moral evaluation of the action.  To phrase it more simply, right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of the actor's knowledge.  The argument against objective morality then proceeds to show obvious examples about an actor's knowledge influencing the moral weight of an action.

The problem with this is that objective morality does not exclude the subjective actor's knowledge and/or motivations.  In fact in order to evaluate any moral action we must have some sort of objective standard with which to evaluate the moral agent's actions. 

We will consider some cases to illustrate how the subjective experience influences the evaluation of a particular action.

First, at the risk of invoking Godwin's law we turn to the only person that all Western society can agree was evil.  I present for our first case, Adolf Hitler.  The murders and crimes he committed against the world are quite well know and with few exceptions condemned.  Thus objective morality states that the actions of Adolf Hitler are evil.

Now let us ask the question: Are the actions of Adolf Hitler evil because he knew they were evil?  Or are the actions evil in and of themselves?  The Catholic Church holds that the actions are "intrinsicly evil."  That is, there are no circumstances where the actions of Hitler can be justified.  This is objective morality in the first sense:

That there are actions that are by nature evil in and of themselves.
Now let us consider a second example.  A man is walking down the street and sees a man approach a woman with a knife in his hands.  The streetwalker leaps into action and attempts to stop the attacker, killing him in the process.  The woman screams and points out that the "assailant" and the "victim" are play actors rehearsing. 

A contrived example but it illustrates an important point.  In this case the streetwalker hero is actually a murderer in the strict sense of the term.  He has killed an innocent human being.  Objectively speaking this was an evil act.  However, the personal culpability of the streetwalker is greatly diminished.  His subjective knowledge of the circumstances curbs his personal guilt in this matter.  But this does ot change the objective nature of his action, the murder of an innocent human being, as an evil action.

A final case illustrates how the subjective nature of a moral agent DOES influence if an action is a particular evil or not.  Let us suppose that you go to an auto mechanic, say "Bob's auto shop" and are cheated out of your money.  Sometime after a friend asks for a recommendation for a mechanic.  In your recommendations you mistakenly says that "John's auto shop."  In this case, while the information is false, the intent to deceive is not present.  As such calumny, the intentional spreading of false information, has not occured because the intention to deceive was not present.  There is the evil of false information being spread however.

For the case above objective morality has a second formulation:

X bad action under Y circumstances is evil.
X good action under Y circumstances is good.

In order for certain evil to be committed, the circumstances which oftentimes includes the disposition of the agent performing the action, must be present for the action to be evil. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Survivor: Executive Edition

A thought occured to me that I feel would solve several problems of how to determine which companies get bailouts and bring both sides together.  I call it Survivor: Executive Edition.

The premise is that if you are a CEO in need of a bailout you must compete with fellow CEOs, stockholders, and government cronys (cronys include any public servant who the company either gave money to received money from, i.e. our entire federal system) for the bailout of your corporation.

It should be held in Zuccotti park during the winter.  The "players" will forage for food and shelter and compete with each other in games such as "Pin the Tail on the Democrat", "Dunk the Exec" and "Hunting for Elephants."  At the end of each session voting is held to see which particpant is voted out of the park. 

To me this would bring the Tea Party and the OWS folks together far better than any policy discussions.  What do you think? 


Misconception of Objective Morality 1: Everyone would agree what is moral

One of the objections to the concept of objective morality is that people disagree about what is and is not moral.  The idea is that if there is such a concept as objective morality then people would by and large arrive at a consensus about what is moral.

Embedded in this proposition are one of two assumptions:

  1. Objective morality is easy to figure out
  2. People are smart enough to figure objective morality out for themselves
We will deal with each of these in turn.

For the first assumption, it is not apparent that objective morality would be in all instances is easy to figure out if we assume that objective morality exists.  Strictly speaking the proposition of objective morality does not state how understandable objective morality is either way. 

I would conjecture that if objective morality is true then it would be hard to obtain and apply.  Everything in life that we commonly identify as important requires struggle.  Friendships, marriage, even things such as sports require sacrifice and effort.  Given how important morality is it would only make sense that some effort would be involved in discerning what that morality is.

The proposal that the disagreement over morality disproves the notion of objective morality comes from a post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.  It assumes that if objective morality doesn't exist we would see  people disagreeing about morality and actions.  This is true so far as it goes.  But the reverse is not true.  In fact the disagreement over morality tells us nothing about the existence of objective values.

The second assumption is to be honest a conceit of our age.  It assumes that from the moment we pop into this world we are experts in the realm of morality and spirituality.  By virtue of being human we know instantly all that there is to know about the human condition and how to order one's life. 

As C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity there are two indisputable facts of the human condition:

  1. Everyone agrees there is objective morality in action if not in principle.
  2. We as humans often fall short of that ideal objective morality.
No matter what humanity embarks upon, be it a moral or political or economic utopia, we as humans fall very short of perfection.  Even if we have varying ideas of morality we often do not even meet our own arbitrary criteria. 

But there is another aspect to the proposition that people can figure out objective morality easily.  Be it the atheist that proposes there is nothing special about humanity to the relativist that says human purpose is how we define it, the notion that the human condition is knowable to the human mind is based on a rejection of God.  It postulates that the human is capapble of knowing everything about the human condition because there is no other reference point. 

But this idea crashes on the notion that the human is finite.  The human did not create himself.  He came from parents.  His perception of the world is limited to only his experience.  As such the notion of the human being able to concieve his own being in its entirety is suspect as best, given the limited information available to reason alone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What is objective morality?

In surveying the landscape I've come to the conclusion that most who debate God in the blogsphere simply do not understand the concept of objective morality.  To be more specific, arguments that deny the concept of objective morality often do not reflect what objective morality actually means.  The following post is an attempt to help with understanding with regard to what objective morality means and the implications of the concept.

Objective morality in short means that there is an objective standard by which thoughts, words, actions and inactions can be measured in terms of moral worth.  That is,  these items can be categorized into "good" and "evil" objectively, such that the evaluation of these items in terms of moral worth is not subject to the relative viewpoint of the observer.

Now here we will stop for a minute and point out what we have not claimed:

  1. That objective truth is discoverable.
  2. That objective truth is discoverable easily.
  3. That the subjective state of the actor has no bearing on the evaluation of an action.
  4. Actions and the person (agent) that performs the actions are not linked.
  5. That the actions of a person determine the good or evil disposition of the person.  
All that we have stated is that there is such a thing as objective morality.  This must be kept in mind as we move to the next statement.

We will now make a new proposition. 

That in order for an action to be able to have moral weight, there must exist an objective standard.
If we consider that actions such as feeding the poor or genocide to have any "good" or "bad" qualities, we must have some objective standard to meansure them by.  If all morality is relative, that is an action or thought's moral weight is realitve to an individual's point of view, then we simply do not have any "good" or "bad" actions.  One person's "good" actions is another's "bad" action.  Thus feeding the poor is "bad" according to some who have no use for the poor.  Adolf Hitler's genocide of the Jews is neither "good" or "evil" because Hitler considered it "good" for the Jews to be eradicated.

In order to form a moral judgement of actions, there must be a way to measuse the moral weight of actions in an independent fashion.  There must be a standard.  A methodology by which actions can be measued.

The next few posts on this thread will discuss the common misconceptions regarding objective morality.  These errors are the cause of much bad argumentation and confusion.  I hope that in clarifying what is meant by objective morality much useless dialog will be avoided.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why atheists are unconvincing

I typically do not post with raw emotion as I try to be measured in my writing. It is rare to find blogs that have a measure of calm in a sea of raw words and emotions. I feel it is my obligation of sorts to create that calm space in my own little corner of the Internet.

With that in mind I rather recently stumbled upon the so-called Friendly Atheist blogger. I assume that the title is supposed to be tongue in cheek as I found the blogger to be anything but hostile to religious folks.

Recently he posted a video by a young woman about why she thinks Christians do not find lose their faith after arguing with her. She states five reasons why she thinks this is, and the result is less than complimentary to Christians.

Rather than reply in kind I will list my five reasons why atheist arguments do not convince me. I hope that this will further discussion on the matter but sincerely doubt it.

1. Modern atheist arguments suck -- Now mind you the old guard of atheists do not fall into this category. But far too often the modern atheist when arguing philosophy not only demonstrates ignorance and bad argumentation but seem proud of it.

2. Modern atheists do not understand the terms they are using -- from misunderstanding the definition of objective morality to necessary existence atheists time and again seem to demonstrate a complete and utter lack of understanding about fundamental terms.

3. The only true Christian is the evangelical -- I have dire news for the atheist who thinks religion is about to die. The world is full of Christians and Catholics. Our reach is beyond the Americas. We are exploding in Africa and Asia. And most of the world's Christians are Catholic/Orthodox who look at arguments against biblical literalism regarding Genesis and shrug their shoulders.

4. Atheists don't seem interested in the truth -- Point out to an atheist that the Catholic Church has never taught a literal apple of knowledge or even a literal garden of Eden and watch the sparks fly. Accusations of "liar" and "scum" often indicate only a desire to eliminate religion, not a desire for the truth.

4.5. -- Modern atheist arguments do indeed suck.

5. Modern atheists are more often than not colossal jerks -- As St. Paul teaches that if I have truth but not love then I am an empty noise in the wind, Atheists do not feel the need to be charitable to their opponents having convinced themselves of their own intellectual superiority. Thus the self centered nature of atheists posturing their moral and intellectual superiority does not make a Christian, whose call in life is to be charitable and love others, all that convinced that snubbing those who disagree with them to be a moral improvement.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding about why I think atheist arguments are unpersuasive. Hopefully this will lead to atheists to understand that a tactical change is in order.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 4, 2011

Collective guilt Pt. 4

In our last post we discussed that a society can "sin" when enough of a society participates in evil.  Even "private" evil such as pornography can have serious effects on the moral consciousness of the whole of society.  As more evil is perpetrated in both private and public spheres, society as a whole is compromised and engages in evil.

But what about the innocent?  As in all societies there are those who abhor the evils engaged in society as a whole.  Surely they are blameless, yes?

Suprisingly the answer is yes and no.  First the yes.  It is true that with regard to the specific act those who do not engage in the action bear no guilt for that action.  One is not held accountable for the actions of another in an overall sense. 

But there is a "no" to the blameless question as well.  This comes in two forms.  The first is the inaction on the part of those who do good. 

How often have we seen evil done by others and failed to correct it when we can?  When we see an evil being performed and "look the other way" or pretend it doesn't happen we are in a sense complicit in the crime.  We do not act to prevent the crime for happening.  The inaction on the part of the individual to resist the evil surrenders to evil. 

But there is another way that the innocent are "implicated" in the crime so to speak.  This stems from the notion of authority.  Just as those in high authority are accountable for the actions of those under their charge those under the authority of another are linked to the one in authority and in a sense accountable for the actions of the superior.

But how is this fair?  And when has this principle ever been applied?  The answer lies at the beginning of mankind's existence, when God breathed life into him.  And is the subject of our next post.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A day in the life

I typically don't talk about myself on my blog (except for posting excuses as to why I don't blog more often).  So I thought it might be time to talk about what I do when I'm not blogging.

Much to my wife's eternal dismay I am a video game junkie.  Having just finished Batman:Arkham City and the rather lame Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One.  The second one is sad as I love the series but co-op play was so frustrating (first two games dropped, sometimes the controller wouldn't respond, etc).  I have currently taken up with one I've been meaning to play for a while.  Epic Mickey. 

Another thing that takes away from blogging time is novel writing.  Although in all fairness it is the other way around.  See I started blogging to get me in the habit of writing on a regular basis.  As such as I am now writing in my novel on a semi-regular basis this blog has accomplished its purpose.  This is not to say that I will stop blogging, but as I intend to devote more time to novel writing this blog will not be updated as frequently. 

For those who are like me with regard to novel writing I strongly recommend three things:

  1. Get an IPad or some kind of tablet and a writing app (I use iA Writer).
  2. Order the e-book Write Your Novel in Nine Weeks. (I'll wait while you order...........good).
  3. WRITE!

I love my IPad 2.  It has helped me to focus on my wiritng by having a digital word processor without the hassle of a full laptop.  I can write when my wife and I go to a coffee shop, her lab (which we spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME IN), or just on the couch at home.  It helps me focus and iA Writer is a basic clean interface for writing.

Bill Dodd's book Write Your Novel in Nine Weeks is really how to write a short fiction story in stated time.  He offers sound advice and encouragement thoughout the process of going from wannabe novelist to the far more uncomfortable world of novelist.  It is totally worth the 3 bucks. 

Finally like Bill Dodd will tell you in order to write you must WRITE.  And keep writing. 

As for me, I intend to keep writing but the year-end blockbuster releases of Uncharted 3, Assassin's Creed: Revelation, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and a host of others will ultimately vie for my time and attention. 

Oh right, and my wife will too.