10 philosophical concepts relevant today

Something I wrote up on Quora.


Moral and Magical

Most times you hear “That’s immoral!”, the goal of the speaker is to evoke negative emotions in their audience.

The goal is not to encourage the audience to recognize the act in question as falling into any actual perceptible category of immorality within some universally accepted moral scheme.

In this way, calling something “immoral” is parallel to calling something “magical”.

To say “That’s magical!” is normally to attempt to evoke positive emotions in the audience, the same emotions the speaker feels.

There is no actual realm of magic necessary to accomplish the goal of evoking these positive emotions.

Proclaiming some action “immoral” successfully accomplishes the goal of evoking the negative emotions that might serve as social pressure to stop the behavior, all without needing to justify the actual existence of a moral realm that would legitimate such utterances as actually referring to an immorality as real as a real magical moment in which laws of nature are violated.

This is a common equivocation employed by those hoping to impose their emotionally-derived values on others.

Perhaps it is merely a slight dishonesty, often committed subconsciously.

But I find it most often indicative of a lack of actual intellectual integrity, and an impediment to any productive discussion.

Suggesting to children they are inherently evil. What is the social cost?

Psychologist Hans Eysenck tested 1,000 young children who were unaware of the alleged significance of their particular star signs for the degree that their introversion/extroversion mapped to what astrologers predicted. 

There was no correlation.
However, he also tested a group of adults who had, during their maturation, been quite aware of the behavioral expectations associated with their star sign. 

There was a significant correlation.[1]

In line with this, Ghanaian juvenile court records were accessed, and it was discovered that a far higher percentage of teens born on a Wednesday were delinquent than those born on Monday. In Ghana it is said that children born on Mondays will be quiet while children born on Wednesdays will be badly behaved.[2]

Conclusion: Children become the adult they think they intrinsically are, even when that notion is based on myth.[3]

Question: What correlation should we then expect between the crime rates in cultures where children are taught that human nature is intrinsically good or neutral in contrast to the crime rates in cultures in which there is the Biblical concept that humans are inherently wicked? What correlation do we see?
1. J. Mayo, O. White & H. J. Eysenck – “An Empirical study of the relation between astrological factors and personality”, Journal of Social Psychology #105, pages 229-236, 1976.

2. G. Jahoda – “A note on Ashanti names and their relationship to personality”, British Journal of Psychology #45, pages 192-195, 1954.

3. General concept taken from Richard Wiseman’s book Quirkology. 

The Failure of Moral Systems

I’ve concluded that any type of moral calculus falls generally into one of 2 categories.

  1. An attempt to personally avoid excessive guilt for emotion-based decisions in lose-lose situations.
  2. An attempt to give your own emotional dispositions greater obligatory weight in society by showing others they are not following the moral calculus you’ve proposed.

I don’t believe there is a moral realm in which moral facts can exist. Ultimately, we make decisions based on values that our emotions construct. We cannot escape the fact that emotions are the motivation behind every decision, with rationality only a slave to those emotions.

That’s why I, instead of promoting a fabricated moral system, choose to promote positive emotions (coupled with rationality) since positive emotions have been demonstrated to produce the most cohesive societies. There is no obligation in this. I personally find cohesive societies emotionally attractive, and I can therefore form such a society with others sharing empathy and my desire for a healthy society.

What is wrong with lying if there is no morality?

I’ve previously argued extensively that there is no moral realm.

Now, consider the following 2 questions.

  1. What is morally wrong with lying if there is no morality?
  2. What is wrong with lying if there is no morality?

I get asked question #2 quite often, and upon further interaction, usually I discover the questioner is actually asking questions #1.

The answer to questions #1?

Nothing. You can’t have moral fact where there is no moral realm in which those moral facts can exist. Nothing surprising here.

The answer to question #2?

That will depend on your goals.

If you intend to live honorably in a society that values honesty, chronic lying is the wrong way to accomplish this. If you hope for others to believe you in the future, you’d be misguided if you thought lying would be consistent with that hope. If you make a habit of lying, you’ll discover the response will be anger, mistrust, and marginalization. Most people consider lying shameful, a useful emotion that maintains social cohesion and advances most personal goals. Very few thriving individuals have achieved their happiness with lies.

However, if you wish to protect a child from a criminal seeking to harm the child, then telling the truth about the whereabouts of the child to that criminal is definitely wrong.

“Wrong” can refer to the notion that something is morally wrong, and “wrong” can refer to the pragmatic mistake of acting in a way inconstant with your goals. I’ve argued in other posts that moral wrongness is impossible in our universe which is absent a moral realm.

So the word “wrong” obviously has several meaning. It is there for the equivocation for those who consider intentional equivocation a noble way to further their goals. I hope my readers are not of this shameful mendacious mindset.

Fail Attempts to Redeem God from Moral Incoherence

(Note: Any mention of morality below is in the context of a reductio ad absurdum argument. The author does not believe a moral realm exists.)

You will often hear Christians attempt to salvage their Jehovah from moral incoherence by arguing that the slavery, treatment of raped women, and other atrocities ordered or condoned by Jehovah were not quite as horrible as they appear. Let’s call this argument “The Argument from Diminutive Account”. This argument fails on two counts. To employ this argument requires the apologist to hold that…

  1. the more severe version of events they are arguing against would constitute a moral offense if Jehovah were to order or condone these more severe versions of events
    (If it were not a moral offense, why make the argument the event is a milder form than what it seems?)
    Yet by what moral standard do they determine the more severe account transgresses the threshold of what is moral? What could be their moral standard? How do they know the harsher version is morally wrong?
  2. the milder version of events is not a moral offense
    (Yet, Christians today refuse to act consistent with the milder version, out of a belief that it would be immoral
    Yet, by what standard do they judge these actions immoral now, but moral then?

The formalization of this is as follows.

  • P1: Christians hold that whatever their god condones is moral.
  • P2: Christians hold that the apparent condoning of activity “X” found in the bible is not immoral because the activity is actually a diminutive “x”.
  • C1: Therefore, Christians hold that “X” would be immoral even if their god condoned “X”. (P2)
  • C2: Therefore, Christians hold 2 logically contradictory notions. (P1 & C1)
  • P3: Christians would refuse to follow diminutive “x” because they deem it immoral.
  • C3: Therefore, Christians hold 2 logically contradictory notions. (P2 & P4)

Let’s deal with each of these two problems with the Christian’s argument that “God’s actions were not as bad as reported.”

1. If you are going to argue that Jehovah remains moral because action “X” was actually of a lesser severity we’ll tag “x”, then you are admitting that “X” is immoral. Yet, how did you arrive at that conclusion? What is your standard for that belief? Would Jehovah had been immorally if he had ordered “X”? Why else would you be arguing that “X” is actually “x” if not to make Jehovah moral? Yet, is it not the words and actions of Jehovah that define morality? Would not “X” then be, by definition, moral since it deemed moral by the author of morality? What other possible standard of morality is there within Christian ideology? This is the first incoherency of the Argument from Diminutive Account.

2. If you are going to argue that Jehovah remains moral because action “X” was actually of a lesser severity we’ll tag “x”, then you must hold that the diminutive “x” is moral. However, the milder versions of slavery and stonings and slaughtering of infidels Christians argue for they admit they would not themselves perform. When pressed, they will admit that even that milder version of what Jehovah ordered or condoned is immoral. Yet how do they arrive at the conclusion that this action is now immoral, yet was moral in the past? Where does this standard of morality come from?

To be more precise, Christians would would not hesitate to condemn all forms of slavery today. What makes slavery of any sort moral then but immoral now? Would it now be moral to burn alleged witches or homosexuals if Jehovah were to command it? Can any coherent and consistent standard of morality be offered for moral dilemmas today? I’ve seen attempts, but they all amounted to ad hoc fragmented “principles” that are only accessible to “scholars” of their own particular Christian sect.

For these two reason, the Argument from Diminutive Account fails. You can’t claim a diminutive version of a Jehovah-sanctioned action is any less than immoral then the harsher version unless you clearly state your criteria for that moral assessment. And if you currently consider immoral the diminutive account of an act once approved by Jehovah, you’ll need to explain why moral facts can change and still be deem objective.