Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rom 1 reply 42 (& Ac 27 test, 10 ): The pivotal importance of self-evident moral truths and rights for just governance in a sound and thriving community (vs the chaos and absurdity implicit in subjectivism, radical relativism and hyper-skeptical evolutionary materialism)

Paul's ship of Ac 27, wrecked at Malta
because of the march of folly
We live at a time where the very foundations of morality, rights and justice are rapidly being eroded in our civilisation. A key driving force in that erosion is the rise of moral subjectivism, radical relativism empowered by hyper-skeptical evolutionary materialist secularism dressed up in the lab coat. 

Or, should that be: The Lab Coat.

So, in the spirit of sound democratic governance we can see the vital need for in light of the lesson of Ac 27, we need to decisively answer the siren-songs that invite us to a march of folly, much as Paul encountered at Fair Havens in Crete, and which ended in predictable shipwreck. But, as we know all too well, what is sound or prudent is ever so easily shouted down, distracted from or drowned out and dismissed then forgotten in the public arena and in the councils of decision-makers alike.

But, to be the good man in a storm and impending shipwreck, one must first be the lonely and derided voice of sound counsel in the face of the march of folly.

Now, in the Uncommon Descent blog where I contribute and comment, this problem has come up recently in several threads, and in answer to it, the issue of self evident, pivotal moral truths as eye-opening corrective cases has come up. 

Predictably, there has been a fierce back and forth.

Some of that is well worth reproducing here at KF, and I would like to share two contributions, first this from my comment here. I will make a few adaptations, taking advantage of the facilities of a full blog post:


>>KF, 40:  In glancing back at the above, it is clear to me that a pivotal question is to clarify self evidence for record, and to apply that to moral issues (including the point that not all cases of murder are self evidently wrong and why that is the case).

Now, a self-evident truth will meet several criteria, in order to be clearly, certainly and patently true and knowable as true on pain of absurdity:

1 –> It must actually be true, i.e. it accurately describes reality (as we credibly experience it as conscious, self aware, knowing, understanding creatures . . . BTW [--> as this was raised earlier in the thread of discussion by an objector, cf. my reply here on]  the parallel lines postulate is indeed true in the sort of space it describes, whether or no our actual world in the large is that sort of space . . . )
2 –> It must be seen to be true, once one understands what is being asserted in light of common experience of being such a creature.
3 –> It will also be such that it MUST be true, on pain of patent absurdity on attempted denial.
4 –> That is, to deny it, one has to immediately descend into clinging to the patently false [which includes but is not limited to the obviously self contradictory], chaotic, destructive, nonsensical, etc. (Think of denying 2 + 3 = 5 as a paradigm, or denying that error exists or denying that we are conscious.)
{It is worth the while to add a short note from 12 in the same thread:
KF, 12: . . .  it is on attending to and understanding a SET in light of experience of the world as a rational, aware, insightful mind, that one sees it true and necessarily true on pain of absurdity. I think in too many cases modern or ultra-modern absurdities pivot on a sort of induced secondary misunderstanding. Put another way: if you believe an absurdity to be true and reject or even stoutly resist correction, then there remains only the inversion that tries to label the true as false or incomprehensible. And yes, such is delusional, which looks uncomfortably like an ever spreading state of mind in our civilisation, which seems more and more bent on the march of folly. Notice above, how I have tried to awaken clean rational insight to see clearly that which should be intuitive, and to see clearly what happens on attempted denial.}

The point is, such extends to not only arithmetic or consciousness or human fallibility, but to morality also. To see how this applies to the world of morality, let us start with an example, as that helps us be clear and gives us a basis for looking at other cases by family resemblance. I will therefore now use the historically important and famous example of the US DOI, 1776:

The original US Declaration of Independence,
1776 (HT:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, [cf Rom 1:18 - 21, 2:14 - 15, 13:8 - 10], that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .
The basic fact that in our quarrels — and this is a famous one — we instinctively find ourselves demanding to be treated fairly in light of a binding expectation rooted in our value and equality as being human, speaks loud and clear. 

That is, we are patently, publicly, inescapably and knowingly under moral government as inherently social creatures. 

This holds from our being in the wombs of our mothers — who are rendered extremely vulnerable thereby and so need the dedicated protection of the family and community — and on through our helpless infancy in which we can only plead for help by our cries, on up into adulthood in which we too in turn become nurturing parents. We therefore plainly live in a world where moral government makes sense, there is a foundational IS that properly grounds OUGHT, for us as individuals across our lifespan, and for the families and communities without which we would struggle to survive much less thrive. For which IS, there is — across time and civilisations  —  only one truly serious candidate, the inherently good Creator God who has equally made us in his image and thus we rightly have well grounded, binding expectations that our lives, liberty, and fulfillment of purpose and potential should not be unduly infringed. We have inalienable rights.

Which by their inherent nature as binding expectations to be treated with appropriate respect for our value as human beings, implying that others must choose aright to so treat with us, is inescapably moral. Ought is real, and pivotal.

Now, to deny or act against such lands us in a morass of chaos and inconsistencies, undermining the framework of our value and thriving. 

A chaos that is immediately apparent on reflection for a normally functioning, experienced human being with a functional conscience unwarped by blinding ideologies or interests. (For instance, a major tactic of the abuser or oppressor is to dehumanise or demonise the intended target. People from Africa kidnapped into slavery were portrayed as criminals being transported, then were projected as inherently inferior and sub human — never mind what was going on in the slave huts at night. Similarly, Stalin turned industrious and prosperous peasants into a criminal class and manufactured the spectre of traitors everywhere. And Hitler and co turned Poles, Jews and Slavs into subhuman prey, the mice to Nordic Cats, who were deemed superior as they had been chosen through natural selection for strength and health in the hard conditions of the ice age.)

In short, widespread injustice is a moral issue and its violations of human value frustrate human thriving, individually and collectively. So, an obvious trend to social disintegration into chaos and the war of might makes or grants ‘right’ if a given behaviour becomes widespread should be taken as strong evidence that the behaviour patently ends in absurdity.

In that context, we can see why kidnapping, torturing, raping and murdering a child is a blatant case of that which is self-evidently wrong and ought not to be done. 

For it takes a paradigm case of an undeniable but vulnerable human being with vast potential, and twists that human being into a discardable toy to be used in ways that take twisted pleasure from inflicting pain and then robs the child of his or her life, tossing away the resulting broken body like trash. That child is a human being, undeniably, and as a child is by definition growing up into his or her potential. That child cannot consent to sexual activity, and is probably protesting and trying to cry out for help — which calls forth powerful protective instincts, but to no avail. Then the pervert finds some way to silence the cries and takes the victim to some secluded location for he knows — notice, KNOWS — that any decent person chancing on the scene will intervene with all desperate and even lethal force to rescue the child from the predatory criminal. 

Then, knowing himself to be secure from discovery, the selfish pervert takes sick and sickening thrills from helplessness hoping for rescue futilely, and delights to inflict pain, humiliation, suffering, then takes a final twisted pleasure in putting out the spark of life, maybe further abusing the body before discarding it as if it were rubbish.

Instinct alone, tells us that we understand just what is going on and cries, nay screams: wrong, absurdly wrong. Violation. Wanton despoiling and destruction of the vulnerable and precious.

And we cannot even conceive a society that descends into a state where that is deemed a ho-hum norm. For, we know that long before that happens, family protective instinct will come into play: families and clans will resort to ruthless blood feuds in defence of their young, leading to the collapse of community government. And we all know where a situation of clans and blood feuds ends, a barbaric chaos that is absurd by contrast with a well ordered well governed community.

So, we can see and know that such is wrong and must be wrong on pain of absurdity. In multiple ways.

So much so, that — as has happened over and over here at UD when this same paradigm case has come up again and again — the rhetorical tactics of those who would undermine the principles that ground that cannot come out directly and assert that one is and should be free to destroy a child like that. No, they have to pose on domineering skepticism, they have to refuse to acknowledge that conscience may be a built in moral sense as valid in its own sphere as eyes and ears; with the same proviso that we may be blinded or deafened or mistake one thing for another. They have to turn about the burden of proof, they have to confuse terms and concepts, they have to divert attention from the actual case on the table, and such like. 

Which brings up why not all cases of murder are self-evidently wrong. For, in some cases, sufficient confusion as to human status can be thrown up, or the chaotic consequences can be apparently confined or pushed to fringe groups that can be dehumanised or demonised, or the pretence can be made that the act was legitimate self-defence etc. Abortion for convenience, the abuse of slaves, mass delusions linked to deeply enculturated racism, etc. come to mind.

That is why we need clear, paradigm, self evident cases that starkly reveal the underlying principles. Which, we may then extend to those that are less clear, by way of reformation.

And so we come full circle: it is self-evidently wrong, immoral, perverse, wicked and demonically evil to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child.

If your worldview cannot heartily concur or does not provide a frame that has in it an IS that grounds this clear OUGHT, that worldview is morally absurd, perverse, destructive and dangerous. (One may live above what that worldview would naturally lead to — as conscience is a built-in moral sense, but the view gradually warps and dulls conscience, heart and mind in ways that are analogous to things that blind and deafen.)

As a paradigm example of such destructiveness and absurdity, I cite a notorious case — by way of warning and call to reformation — from Dr Clinton Richard Dawkins, Sci Am, August 1995, citing in a way that draws attention to the core issue:

Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose . . . .
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. [[ “God’s Utility Function,” Sci. Am. Aug 1995, pp. 80 - 85.]
To see my point, simply contrast the earlier case from the US DOI of 1776.>>


Second, I think this one, from commenter SB is also well worth pondering. For, he aptly replies to some typical objections:


>>  SB, 39:
[PHV]: I think that society could exist, could have rules, and could enforce those rules. That would be a “well-ordered” society for the descriptive value of “well.” I would abhor that society, of course.
You think order could be preserved while the judge, who supports the torturing of babies, rules against parents who want to protect them? You don’t think that would degenerate into a war of all against all?
Are you clear on what it means to be a moral subjectivist? Seems wrong to me is the same thing as bad, under my subjective analysis. Whether there’s a more objective test is what you are trying, and failing, to prove.
No, seems wrong is not the same as is wrong. You are simply wrong about that. “Is” refers to being, which is objective; “seems” refers to the perception of being, which is subjective. I am not trying to prove anything because self-evident truths cannot be proven. The Law of Non-Contradiction is like that. It cannot be proven. You know it immediately, just as you know the Law of Non-Contradiction.
Whoops. “You’d agree with me if you weren’t a bad person” is not a logical argument. It assumes the existence of what you’re trying to prove, making it—again—circular.
Again, you misunderstand. The Natural moral law, like the Law of Non-Contradiction (or the law of causality) cannot be proven. It is the standard by which other things are proven.
Moreover, “men of good will” disagree over “natural moral law” questions all the time.
No, they will not. No, they do not.
Is abortion always wrong?
Even if the life of the mother is at stake?
An abortion is the direct taking of a life for the purpose of ending that life. It is always evil. If, on the other hand, the purpose of the medical intervention is to save the life of the mother and the baby is accidentally killed in the process, then that is not abortion and can be morally justified.
Is no one who disagrees with you on that question “of good will”?
It depends on how they react to the truth. Men of good will always follow the light they are given. If they refuse to follow that light, then they are not of good will.
As a practical matter everyone in this conversation feels that it is wrong.
No. Some of us know that it is wrong.
The question we’re trying to answer is, is that because it’s such an extreme example that any functional human being would be socialized to agree with it as a subjective standard, or is there a definable objective standard behind it? I think you’ve abandoned the effort of proving the objective standard—now you’re just rephrasing “it exists” in elaborate ways.
I never hoped to prove that which cannot be proven. I did hope to show that there is such a thing as an objectively good society, which is based on the standard that there is such a thing as a good way for a community to live, which is based on the standard that there is such a thing as a good life for a person. You appear not to agree.
How do you prove it to someone who disagrees with you? (“I feel like you feel the same objective standard I do” is, ironically, a subjective argument, not proof.) How do you distinguish between an objective rule and a consensus subjective rule? Are objective rules mutable over time, or not?
Well, a consensus subjective rule will always tyrannize the minority. (We many agree to enslave you few). On the other hand, the natural moral holds everyone to account—the many, the powerful, and the few. Justice is not possible under any other circumstances.

SB: Or, perhaps you believe that there is no such thing as a good and healthy society or that there is no way of distinguishing it from a decadent or perverse society.
I think those are subjective definitions. Once again, you’re assuming otherwise, not proving otherwise. A transplant from 1905 might consider our society decadent and perverse because we allow the consumption of alcohol and interracial marriage, yet be considered a moral paragon by his own community back in the past. Was he always a monstrous bigot, or did the objective standards change?
Well, it’s easy for you to say that I am not proving anything, because all you have to do is dismiss what is said and claim that it was ineffectual. That doesn’t require much intellectual exertion. In any case, the Natural Moral Law covers all those situations that you mentioned. The consumption of alcohol is not inherently evil. It is the abuse of alcohol that is evil and it is on that basis that the civil law should be based. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with interracial marriage. So, the only issue at stake is whether the society will honor the natural moral law. 

SB: From what I gather, you don’t think it matters how a nation’s people behave as long as each member, including the leaders, gets to create his own morality.
Do I also eat babies and have concentrated molecular acid for blood? I have no idea where you gathered this nonsense. It has nothing to do with me or my beliefs. I have moral preferences. The way other people behave is relevant to those preferences. For example, I prefer freedom to slavery. If my neighbors become slavers, I absolutely think that matters, even if I’m not their target. That’s because I can and do value people who aren’t me—even strangers.
You are totally missing the point. You feel slavery is wrong, but you cannot provide any moral justification for telling others that they shouldn’t enslave. They, like you, are going by their feelings. In like fashion, you cannot tell those who do eat babies that they should stop. 

They feel they should; you feel they should not. 

SB: If, as it turns out, a leader’s subjective morality prompts him to enslave everyone else, then I have to ask: 

Would that be acceptable with you? If not, what is your basis for saying that it would be morally unacceptable for you and for everyone else?
No. My basis would be that I believe slavery is wrong.
So what? The slave master believes the slavery is not wrong. Why should your belief take logical precedence over his belief?
I don’t need an objective standard to hold that belief.
Of course you don’t need an objective standard to hold a subjective belief. That is obvious.
Once I hold it, it is logical for me to take action to implement it. I must weigh that implementation against the moral cost of taking action—such as infringing on others’ sovereignty—but that doesn’t preclude taking action.
You have not yet addressed the issue about the slave master who feels, like you, that it is logical for him to take action against you based on his beliefs. How should this be settled?
In your example, my belief that everyone has a right to be free would vastly outweigh my belief that the leader has a limited right to be self-sovereign, and I would certainly take action to oppose him.
So it is with him. You have settled nothing. He will war against you and you will war against him. Indeed, everyone, based on his individual and self-serving morality, will war against everyone else. Eventually, a dictator will step in to restore order and everyone will be enslaved, Do you not understand that this is the inevitable result of your moral relativism?>>

This is where ever so many have already reached, and it is where our civilisation is plainly heading.

We need to wake up fast and turn back, lest we plunge over the precipice, as lemmings are said to do.

We desperately need a new Reformation. To which the answer must be the Mordecai moment, three-pointed question: why not now. why not here, why not us?  END