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No Double Standards

One standard for all Do not sacrifice truth on the altar of comfort

Updated: 2018-03-06T09:35:31.539+00:00


Google pissed me off, so I am off to WordPress.


This is a short post, to both explain why this blog terminated as abruptly as it did and to also announce a new one. There were two reasons why I stopped posting here, the first was some unforeseen but interesting work commitments but the second was Google changing the way Blogger served up pages and posts. It was the latter that really angered me off hence the title of this post.I like programming and spent quite a few very enjoyable hours hacking the script interface of this blog to make it work the way I wanted to. One thing I disliked was when searching from either a keyword, tag or time slice it returned not just the blog headline and tags but also the body. I modified the calls so that it just presented the headlines and tags, so that upon any type of canned or free form search you would get all the relevant posts. You can still see this if you click on any tag or perform a search. However now you do not get all the relevant posts.Google without consultation and without announcement changed the Blogger platform to limit the amount of posts that were being returned from its database. Their argument was quite legitimate, they needed to limit the bandwidth loads on their servers, given how some of their users were abusing the Blogger platform. What was outrageous was the way they did it and they way the responded to complaints. I specifically had found a client-driven solution to handle exactly the same issue, albeit for a different purpose, but after a few attempts going on their support channels, including suggesting how they could do the same on the server side,I dealt with extremely ignorant and stupid google support personnel, who failed to understand what for them should been a very simple point.Clearly there is no point in playing with the client-side Blogger interface if google is going to that and behave so badly when it does. WordPress is open sourced so even if the parent hosting free site does make annoying changes (not that I have heard of that) I could have easily dealt with such an equivalent issue there.I have launched a new blog Debugging Economics, the focus is different to this one. Even though Google broke this blog, I will keep this up and some articles maybe re posted and/or refreshed on the new site as needed.So for the very few of you still left listening to this rss feed, please update your feeds to the new blog, if you are interested in the new theme.  [...]

Is Abortion Murder?


Tim McGregor asked me the following question: “I started pondering about the issue of abortion and I thought maybe a worked example how desirism might help us make moral decisions would be greatly aid my comprehension of it. With that in mind, would it be possible to explain how we might decide: Whether to abort a foetus when the life of the mother is threatened? At what age it might be ethical to do so if the foetus was not threatening the life of the mother.?” The Framework In applying desirism, the underlying question that needs answering is “what do people generally have reasons to promote and inhibit?”. The “generally” is to emphasize the trans-cultural feature of what is in common to people, regardless of their cultural background, influences, opinions and desires. This is to consider the moral issue as an all-things-considered and all-things-being-equal question and to find the facts of the matter. Operating with such a framework question does not guarantee determinate let alone definitive conclusions, this is an enterprise that draws upon any relevant rational and empirical tools as for any other such empirical enterprise. Any conclusion is both provisional and defeasible and so open to challenge within such a framework. A desirist focuses only on reasons to act that exist (as well as states of affairs) and these are desires. If an agent lacks such a desire, they appear to them as an external reason and not one that motivates them. Now one cannot use reason to change desires, instead one uses the social forces such as praise and blame, reward and punishment to do so. Desirism provides rational and empirical grounds over what desires to promote and inhibit and shows that history has been littered with the promotion and inhibition of desires for which there are no rational and empirical justifications. That is always the danger over the mutual and reciprocal influence over desires – whether they are really justified - a danger desirism has been developed to mitigate against. So granted a conclusion is available for a given topic, of course individuals and groups are going to differ and disagree with this conclusion, this is because they either have desires that people generally lack, or lack desires that people generally have, the conclusion serves to show the desires that such individuals and groups should have. That is the whole point of the analysis. Again if no-one disagreed then there would be nothing to debate, and no-one bothers to ask such questions of universal agreement (still sometimes those are worth asking, if they can even be recognised, since we could all be wrong). Murder In order to answer Tim’s questions we are going to look at another question that underlies these - “is abortion murder?” -and based on the conclusion to that, answer Tim’s questions. It is said, even by moral relativists, that the one common feature across cultures is a prohibition against murder. However this is misleading since murder is a value-laden term, it has disvalue built into it by definition. Let us explicate this term, which I will only do briefly here, as this post is focused on abortion. Murder stereotypically means the deliberate wrongful killing of a person. Given such a meaning, it is no surprise that this is a prohibition that is likely a near universal across cultures. The real question is what counts as murder and this varies significantly across cultures depending on their notions of “deliberate” and “person”. All grant that for whatever is regarded as “deliberate” and “person” that it is “wrongful”  - that people have reasons to inhibit such a desire – a desire to deliberately kill a person (although they might indirectly focus on acts, rules or duties, none can be successfully affected unless the relevant desires are influenced). We do not need to explore the notion of “deliberate” here, as we take it as given that an abortion is “deliberate”. This leaves us to answer the question as to w[...]

Letter to a Lapsed Pagan III


Hi Tim You asked for a short description of desirism. I will give you three. The first two are aimed at school level albeit said slightly more technically and compactly than one would say to school kids. The third is a summary of the key points argued for in my previous letter. I will then finish this letter by answering your questions. Desirism in in one line Encourage desires that tend to fulfil other desires, discourage desires than ten to thwart other desires. Desirism in a Couple of Paragraphs If someone acts to thwarts one of your desires, this is undesirable to you, and this is the reason you have to discourage them from doing so. If you act to thwart one of their desires, that is undesirable to them, and that is the reason they have to discourage you from doing so. And the same goes for everyone else. Everyone uses praise and blame; and social reward and punishment to influence – to encourage and discourage - each other.  One can also use other means to influence each other, such as physical and material threats, coercion and force. However we all have reason to discourage these these other means from being used on us, and others have the same reason from those means from being used on them. Morality is about desires that are universally desirable to everyone, these are morally good desires and about desires that are universally undesirable to everyone, these are morally bad desires. So if we all encourage morally good desires – desires that tend to fulfil other desires, whoever has them - and discourage morally bad desires – desires that tend to thwart other desires , whoever has them - we make the world better for all of us, as we are all would better able to fulfil our own desires. a Formal description of desirism All value terms such as “good”, “bad”, “ought”, “ought not” are action-guiding, they are prescriptions. The best pragmatic definition of a prescription  is “there are reason to act of the kind to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”. A prescription is a type of description. It can be true or false. We use, metonymically, the label “good” for the “keep or bring about”  relation and “bad” for the “stop or prevent “ relation. If these labels are applied to the other relation, then the prescription is false. The other way a prescription can be false is if they refer to reasons to act that do not exist. The only reason to act that we know exist are desires – the only brain states that motivate us to act to keep or bring about states of affairs that are the targets of those desires. Now we can use the label “fulfil” for the “kept or made” relation and the label “thwart” for the “stop or prevent” relation. Desires can also be directly fulfilled, or indirectly. So we can say an action “tends” to fulfil a desire, if it indirectly aids in bringing out the state of affairs that is the target of the desire. So we can now say that good means “such as to fulfil or tend to fulfil the desires of the kind in question” and that “bad” means “such as to thwart or tend to thwart the desires of the kind in question” . We can also shorten this using “tend” to cover both direct and indirect fulfilment so that good (bad) means “such as to tend to fulfil (thwart) desires of the kind in question”. Moral value terms are a specific type of prescription, they are universally prescriptive. A universal prescription limits what kind of reasons to act apply in such a prescription. is that “there are reasons to act for everyone to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”. Given that the only reasons to act that exist are desires and that acts can only be modified by influencing desires,  this means that only desires that tend to fulfil everyone’s desires and that are socially influenceable (malleable) are the kinds of desires amenable to be universally prescribed. Similarly only malleable desires that tend to thwart everyone[...]

Quote of the Day: Tolkien versus Rand


"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs".[Rogers]

h/t The Barefoot Bum(image)

Letter to a Lapsed Pagan II


[See Letters to a Lapsed Pagan - Index for full list of our correspondence]Hi TimI think a better way to move forward is for me, in this second letter to you, is to directly answer your "WTF is desirism?" question from your first letter.Given your second letter, although you did not intend it as a second letter as such, I do not think it right to give you homework or require you to look up unfamiliar terms (within reason). Apart from anything else, I hope our correspondence can be a standalone reference to these ideas.So lets proceed.Moral LanguageFirst I want to add a point omitted from my first letter and one that nicely dovetails into the following explanation.One of my concerns, as a sceptic, was the misuse and abuse of moral language, specifically and most often by those who presumed best qualified to use it, religious leaders. I must emphasize that I am not only concerned with them, as the issue is broader than religions and not all religious leaders (and followers) are culpable. This is an important point but I will not repeat it. Please take it as read.The issue is that all too often moral language is used to support immoral actions, such as prejudice, bigotry and violence. However too many critics seem to be disabled from using the same type of language, due to their interpretations of what they Moral Inquiry actually is, that, at the very least, they consider Morality not to be objective. They concede much by doing this and this has concerned me for quite a while. Such critics, if nothing else, still concede to religious claims taht thiersis the only basis for moral objectivity, even as any sensible person knows and argues that such theistic-based moral claims are,with respect to objectivity, at least false (or in my view, incoherent, and not even false).  For a while my approach took to pointing out the many incoherencies and ignorance that no intellectually responsible person would endorse, let alone promote. To use their own supposed morality against them. The classic being “bearing false witness” which many of the theists I was concerned over committed, when they repeatedly misrepresented atheists as communists and immoral and so on. However, those and similar arguments. were either wilfully misunderstood or consistent with their view that we are not their neighbours!Then I undertook a study of ethics, all of the classics through to much of the work of the present day. Here I was very surprised, as far from there being little to support objective approaches to morality, there were many and from different bases and assumptions. Indeed this is, as I often repeat, where all the action ethics seems to be nowadays. Part of the surprise was I did not get this from many scientific and other critics, who were more concerned to base their views on their own take of morality, including negative or nihilistic ones. Whilst quite a few are quite objective in their approach (as Sam Harris is), there are far too many who are not and either way, none communicated how much is really going on in ethics. The last few years has seen dramatic changes in public awareness but there is still much that has not been covered.Anyway I sought to find the most empirically adequate explanation of the phenomenon of morality, one that explained more with less, had fewer errors and mistakes than competitors and this is where I discovered and challenged Desire Utilitarianism. Part of testing became for me to, reluctantly I must say, to become an advocate of this theory. My experience has been that there are about 5 or 6 common criticisms (some from theists, the others from subjectivists and non-cognitivists) and it is clear to me, however often they are repeated that desirism can deal with them. There are many other criticisms and I too still have some but I am not going to second guess you. Lets see what you come up with.Anyway the underlying goal was is to rehabilitate moral language, so none of us has any qualms about usi[...]

The Abuse of Social Forces


A common and entirely misleading misunderstanding over desirism is over the desire to torture and similar desires. We will use the desire to torture as an exemplar here. The desire to torture is a necessarily as well as directly desire thwarting desire, since it requires the thwarting of the victim’s aversion to pain.  Without such thwarting of the victim’s aversion to pain it is not torture. Consider the torturer who, considerately, gives a pain killer to the victim, so that the victim’s aversion to pain is not thwarted, then surely this defeats the object of the torturer's desires (whether for fun, information, control, fear or otherwise), since the state of affairs that is the target of the desire is not fulfilled, as the state of affairs requires that the victim’s aversion to pain is thwarted. (Other desires of the victim are also directly thwarted, as whilst they are being tortured they are not able to pursue the fulfilment of their other desires, however that can also achieved by imprisonment alone, no torture required, however it is the desire to torture we are considering here) The main confusion is over the distribution of this desire in a population.  If the desire to torture is present, then either the torturer’s desires is thwarted or the victim’s is. When it is absent, neither types of agent’s desires are thwarted. So it makes no difference how many or how few have this desire, it is still a necessary and directly desire-thwarting desire. Note this is not always the case, for some desires its presence tends to fulfil other desires, whereas its absence does neither, or worse, tends to thwart other desires. For example a desire for charity or a desire not to harm others. Another mistake we need to clear up is that the torturer and those who support or are even entertained by this act often have other desires, for which the desire to torture is a means to fulfil those other desires. In such case, those desires can and must be independently evaluated to see if they tend to thwart or fulfil other desires (or neither). If the only means to fulfil those other desires is through promoting or not inhibiting (making it permissible) the desire to torture, then the conclusion is that those are desires that tend to thwart other desires, that is generally people have reason to inhibit such other desires too. However there is another confusion, over the employment of the social forces. We will investigate that here. This is usually a response of the form of using the social forces to promote a desire to be tortured, usually in some sub-set of the population. There are a number of issues with this. First an aversion to pain is not malleable. Whether one provides pharmaceutical (such as pain killers) or genetic modifications, these both defeat the desire to torture itself. What is required is for people to have desire to have their aversion to pain thwarted. Such a desire is a desire thwarting desire with one notable exception. And note this exception does not apply to other similar desires, making this not the best exemplar of its class. However an extension of it servers to make useful point. There are some circumstances where some people  get “sexually turned on” by having pain inflicted upon them “masochists” and others enjoy inflicting such pain “sadists”. As I understand it, there are limits as to what pain is inflicted and is acceptable. This still looks on the surface like torture but has a significant difference to the general desire we are discussing, namely that it is done by consenting adults and with specific limits. As odd or even disgusting their sexual pursuits might appear to the rest of us, they only seek for it to be permissible and morally neutral, neither to be promoted or inhibited. Indeed there is no reason generally for people to either promote or inhibit such acts between consenting adults. We can extend this idea.[...]

Motivational Externalism and Reasons Internalism


In a debate in the comments of a previous post, Richard Wein thinks my position is inconsistent over internalism and externalism. This post is an answer to Richard Wein to explain why it is consistent. One might ask how it is possible to be a motivational externalist and a reasons internalist? Can one consistently take both positions? This looks puzzling unless one realises this is possibly why philosophers went to the bother of making the distinction between these two types of internalism and externalism in the first place. That is the conclusion of inconsistency is based is based on thinking that the reasons internalism/ externalism distinction is same distinction as motivational internalism/externalism. They are not, at least as I understand them, as I intend to show here. I will state these philosophical positions in the terms that I use which will make it obvious why I have these philosophical positions and why they are consistent. Motivational Internalism and Externalism Motivational internalism says that if an agent has knowledge of reasons to act that exist then this entails that they have the accompanying reasons to act - that, is they already have reason to act in accordance with such reasons to act. This is clearly false,  the fact that there are reasons to act that exist does not imply that the agent to whom this knowledge is being given has those reasons to act. The contrary and correct view is that of motivational externalism. This allows that an agent can be aware of reasons to act that exists but these may not be their reasons to act and so they are not motivated to act on them. Reasons internalism and externalism Reasons internalism says that only reasons to act that are internal to the agent can motivate the agent. A reasons externalist says reasons to act that exist that are not reasons of the agent can motivate the agent. Since any agent seeks to fulfil the more and stronger of the desires they have, if they do not have such desires – reasons to act- then those reasons are not internal to them and they will not be motivated to fulfil them. So I am a reasons internalist. Consistency Motivational externalism says that there are prescriptions that agents can be aware of that do not motivate. True when considering the descriptive (cognitive) meaning of a prescription. Reasons internalism says that unless reasons to act are, in one way or another, internalised, that is made part of the agent’s internal reasons to act, then they will not have any reason to act. True when considering the motivating (non-cognitive) meaning of a prescription.  The process of internalisation being the social forces of praise and blame, reward and punishment. So both positions are correct and consistent, that is that motivational externalism is true and reasons internalism is true. [...]

WTF is Morality?


This is my first Letter to Tim McGregor and is in reply to his first letter to me WTF is desirism? I am keeping an updated index of our letters in Letters to a Lapsed Pagan – Index. I suggest you read his letter first so that I do not need to repeat what he has already said. Hi Tim You asked “WTF is desirism?” and how it compares to your tentative understanding of morality has led you to a form of utilitarianism. First, there is no reference to desirism (actually it was over the entry “Desire Utilitarianism” – I had not baptised it with the new name then) in Wikipedia due to their policy on what can be regarded as entries in that encyclopaedia. Still Desirism aka Desire Utilitarianism is a well known theory in online atheist circles. Much of it was tested in the most popular rational and free thought forum of the recent past, the internet infidels forums. Alonzo Fyfe, the originator of this theory, then launched his own blog the Atheist Ethicist. This blog has been in and out of the top 20 atheists blogs over the last few years. Luke at CommonsenseAtheism, a new entry into the top 20 atheist blogs, has also become an advocate of this theory. And I have been writing about it the last two years, although have never consistently pushed this blog for high readerships (and if I had I doubt I would have reached the heights of either Alonzo’s or Luke’s blogs, not just because I don’t have time). Many other bloggers and commenters have at one time or another endorsed this theory but only us three have been consistent advocates of it. In spite of its general awareness and references to it in online atheist circles this is not regarded as sufficient for a Wikipedia entry. Now whilst there is considerable overlap in the online atheist and sceptical communities, there are quite significant differences too, so I am not surprised that you had not come across it before. And this leads into how I want to engage with you in these letters, as one sceptic to another. As we both well know, the sceptical movement developed to fill a gap in two popular areas of human interest – paranormal phenomena and alternative medicine. There was no need to have a sceptical movement in other domains since it was already part and parcel of them, but in these areas it was absent (although, as we all know too well, it is also mostly absent in more areas than we realised, such as finance). In these two areas, relevant past knowledge and discoveries and their implications were completely ignored, that is the rational and empirical standards that existed elsewhere, however provisional, progressive, dynamic and defeasible - let us call them for short “epistemic norms” - were absent. These epistemic norms were being ignored and broken in spite of the main and strong grounds to justify them and sceptics stepped in point this out. There were three aspects to this. The first was to reassert the epistemic norms that exist elsewhere and which, far more often that not, showed that the knowledge claims in these two areas were false. Some were satisfied merely to point out the intellectual negligence, recklessness and  irresponsibility that were required to believe in alternative medicine and the paranormal. Others sought or answered the charge of “so what, what’s the harm?” by showing the harm, both direct and indirect, that could be caused by denigrating such hard won epistemic norms in other areas. They showed the dangers to physical, financial, emotional and mental health of the ill, the disturbed and the bereaved caused by Big Placebo and New Ageism. Finally some seek to show how, in spite of there being not a jot of evidence for many of these claims, many still happily promote the bogus claims and other happily want them to be promoted. Why do people want to believe in the bogus, both producers and consumers, why and how[...]

Letters to a Lapsed Pagan - Index


Fellow Brighton based sceptics Tim McGregor - founder of the Brighton branch of Skeptics in the Pub (why did they use the USA spelling for a UK originated idea?) - and myself, have agreed to discuss desirism and morality in an exchange of letters posted on our blogs. This post will contain the index of our letters and will be updated after letters are published.

Round 1

Tim has his first post up WTF is Desirism?
My reply is WTF is Morality?

Round 2

Tim has a reply, although he did not consider it this way, also called WTF is Morality? On the basis of this I pre-empting a fuller reply from Tim and saving him unnecessary homework (see my comment to his post).
I replied with a full description of desirism in Letter to a Lapsed Pagan II

Round 3

Tim has replied with a list of questions in Desirism II(image)

Rational and Irrational Justifications


This is the third and final reply to Kip’s response to my original post to him Why Consider all Desires that exist? (My first reply was Why Consider others when you don’t need to? and my second reply was All desires versus affected desires) Kip complains that Apart from your list of reasons why a group might not consider the desires of another group, you just assert [them]. As I said The many answers bulleted above all fail as rational and empirical justifications for Group A’s practises. Now I was implying that items on this bulleted list were based on fallacious reasoning. It is true I just asserted that in my original post, so here I will answer Kip’s challenge now. The bullets I wrote are re-listed here, with an immediate off the cuff example of the type of fallacies I had in mind when I wrote this list: we do not need to consider their desires Double Standards/selective reasoning their desires cannot influence us, so we do not need to concern ourselves of those desires Appeal to Strength that is the way we always do (did) it Appeal to Tradition we are stronger and can get a way with it Appeal to Strength we are more and can get away with it Appeal to Popularity we have the law on our side Appeal to Law we have God on our side Appeal to Authority their desires are not worthy of moral consideration Begging the Question Now the above is just a set of illustrative responses to Kip’s reasonable question. It is not mean to be exhaustive or accurate, just indicative of why I stated the bulleted list in the first place. Further I am not denying that there can be some legitimate justifications, and already provided one in the original post, over the asbestos example. That was over a lack of present day knowledge that no reasonable person who took due care and precautions could, at that time, have known about. (Indeed, to criticise past decisions and moralities on this basis is another fallacy - hindsight bias). If and when there are such “moral” arguments, we can check to see if they are legitimate or not. Most, in my experience, are not. Kip continues Group A may have very many prudential reasons for ignoring the desires of Group B -- or perhaps they just don't have any prudential reasons to consider the desires of Group B. In other words, none of their desires will be fulfilled by considering the desires of Group B. Or, perhaps even, more of their desires will be thwarted by considering the desires of Group B. When it comes to prudence, all the above listed bullets, with the examples of the type of fallacies they exhibit, come into play. Prudentially there is no reason not to use such rhetoric and sophistry to defend ones positions, especially to one’s peers who are looking for justification, any justification, in keeping the status quo. This happens all the time and not just in issues of morality. Regardless, however prudentially rational it is to make those justifications, they are still theoretically irrational justifications. Further whether the prudential defenders of such fallacies, (in cases only where it is clear they are fallacies, if you wish) accept these rational criticisms or not, that would be insufficient to make them change their desires. You cannot use reason to change desires only beliefs, and, only then, provided their desire to believe does not overwhelm  desires for truth and reason, which these all too often do.  That, of course, is why we have the social forces of commendation and condemnation, honours and disgrace, rewards and penalties and so on, we have these to operate on modifying malleable desires (not just desires with moral implications but any and all). And Desirism serves as a check to ensure that what is promoted and inhibited is theor[...]

The Manhattan versus the Westminster Declarations


The UK based Westminster Declaration was unlikely created in a vacuum, and it would not be saying much to presume that the USA based Manhattan Declaration is more than likely the inspiration for it. Now there are differences between these two apart from just length (the Manhattan one is considerably longer) as noted in my post on the press’s take on the Westminster Declaration. Prior to the launch of this declaration I did not consider the USA version (as we can now say) relevant. Regardless I did read some critiques on it from Alonzo Fyfe, and his arguments  might well be the inspiration for my arguments from human sacrifice and religious tyranny that I certainly read from the Westminster Declaration. I am not sure whether it is worth making a side by side comparison of the differences between the two declarations but given Fyfe’s likely inspiration for some of my insights, some readers might find it of interest to look at the analysis from both Christians and non-Christians for the Manhattan Declaration. Alonzo Fyfe – the atheist ethicist – is one of the top atheist bloggers and a summary of his analysis can be found at The Manhattan Declaration X: Summary. There is no post of his listing all 10 of these posts but this search link provides all 10 (start reading from the bottom post for the whole analysis). His summary alone is superbly and boldly stated, with far more originality than my critique of the UK version, and certainly with no holding back of any punches. He finishes it with: In short, the authors of the Manhattan Declaration have given us a manifesto in which they reserve for themselves the liberty to impose any demands they see fit on others, while also preserving for themselves the liberty to refuse any demands that others may see fit to impose on them. It is a manifesto of arrogance and bigotry in which the authors deny moral responsibility for their own ideas by shifting that responsibility [to] a god that they invent in their own image. [This] god they invented is not only an arrogant and bigoted god, but a god demanding massive human sacrifice in the form of premature death and suffering. The authors, of course, do not wish to admit that they are the authors of this demand for death and suffering. Here, too, they wish to shift the responsibility to a god that they have created in their own image. Unfortunately for  the USA versions, I have not been able to find any decent analysis, rather just bloggers saying they are proud to sign these declarations. If anyone finds any critical analysis from theists, Christians and non-Christians – pro or con these declarations – could you please post a link in the comments? However with regards to the UK version I have found an excellent critique by self-professed Christian Charles Foster writing on the Practical Ethics blog, entitled The Christian Right is Wrong. I find it interesting to compare my fisking – written from the perspective of someone for whom Christianity has always been an alien and alienating, antiquated, archaic and absurd worldview – and that of someone who presumably grew up in it and still endorses it as someone who teaches ethics and medical law at Oxford. His scathing review actually makes me wonder if this declaration will actually turn out to be a benefit to a secular UK as he argues that “[i]t will reduce significantly the ability of Christians to make a contribution to public life”! He provides a very interesting take on the theological gobbledegook - that I am eminently unqualified to criticise (why else would I call it gobbledegook?) - which prefaces the declaration, when he says: The parallels with the foundational creeds of Christianity are unmistakable, and we’re meant to see them. The clear message is: If you call[...]

All desires versus affected desires


This a further response to Kip’s reply to my original post, this is in addition to my other reply Why consider other when you don’t need to?Kip saysYour answer, in part, states that it is just a subset of the desires that exist to which a moral-ought is relative:This is correct. It makes no sense to consider the desires that are not affected. However it is also important to consider desires that could be affected and not to arbitrarily exclude them prior to the analysis. Now desires can be directly and indirectly affected. A desire has conditions of fulfilment such that these conditions are met when the proposition(s) that the desire contains are true in some states of the affairs. Some desires might have different conditions of fulfilment that are either fulfilled or thwarted in those same states of affairs. Those are the directly affected desires. By contrast, other desires are only indirectly affected by such states of affairs. That is the state of affairs and hence the desire that brought it about, are only means or intermediate to other states of affairs that are the targets of those other desires. They are affected, as such states of affairs brought about by the desire under evaluation can help or hinder the realisation of their states of affairs, such helping or hindering being indirect.Much of the internal critique within desirism is as to what the directly and indirectly affected desires are, particularly indirect desires. That is, accepting the desirist framework, there can still be dispute as to what the affected desires are. The phrase “all desires that exist” serves to ensure that none are excluded on a priori unsound and invalid grounds.Clearly, then, this is not "all desires that exist". A moral-ought is relative to a subset of all desires that (possibly) exist given your qualifications above. I think this is fine, though. I think the theory still stands. But this "all desires that exist" terminology needs to be clarified to include the qualifications you've pointed out here.I also highlighted in the original post the other internal/external usages of “all desires that exist”. The fact the only some desires are internal to the agent(s) under evaluations does not mean other desires external to them must be excluded. The primary purpose of morality is to help install and promote some desires that the agent lacks, and remove and discourage some other desires that the agents have.Bearing this caveat over internal/external desires in mind, one could talk about “all affected desires that exist” where appropriate? I will deal with the other qualification hinted at in the above quotes when I reply to Kip’s final point – over irrational and rational justifications in a future post. [...]

The Press on the Westminster Declaration


The Sunday Telegraph has published an article on the Westminster Declaration that I recently fisked: Christians launch pre-election 'declaration of conscience' on values. The sub-title of the article wasA bid to place Christian values at the heart of the general election campaign has been launched with a 'declaration of conscience' endorsed by senior figures from the Church of England, the Catholic Church and other denominationsThat is a reasonable characterisation of the surface intent of this declaration. It then rather more worryingly says:The Westminster 2010 Declaration sets out a broad range of policies that unite British churches, including support for traditional marriage and opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.When I analysed the declaration it looked far more like the agenda that religious extremists would support and certainly not religious moderates. Indeed, I would hope that moderates are against and would condemn this Declaration. However if the Telegraph, which is more sympathetic to Christianity as part for the political discourse than other UK Broadsheets, is correct, then this extremism crosses sectarian lines in British Churches, so where, I wonder, are the moderates?[The organisation behind it] has a website database that aims to reveal the ethical position of more than 2,600 election candidates on issues such as abortion and stem-cell research.This makes quite clear the political agenda behind the Declaration. (Dare I suggest that the Skeptical Voter scrapes this data to enhance their database?)It could prove as controversial as its American counterpart, which allows for "civil disobedience" for Christians whose faith clashes with the law.I certainly agree there. However there is no critical analysis of the declaration rather it only quotes some Christian views that augments the intent behind the Declaration such asDr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship and another signatory to the declaration, said: "There has been a feeling of growing hostility to the Christian faith and that Christians are being marginalised from the public square.That should be expected in a more secular – that is religiously neutral state. Special privileges are unjustified in such a state. So it is not surprising thatCardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has told a BBC documentary that Labour's laws on equality are part of a secular "doctrine" that "can be as forceful and it can be as narrow minded as the worst of a doctrinaire Christian position".The failure to see removal of a double standard by a single standard but, instead, as still a double standard only with different preferences and biases is a common and fallacious argument (unless the double standard is not being removed, which is not the case over the equality laws, except for certain Christians who are doing their best to keep their double standards!).Overall it offered no real criticism of the declaration, really just reporting on its existence and, I suspect, giving it the publicity it needed to gain the many signatures it now has (it had only 2,600 when the article was published and now 8 days later it has about 17,500).The Christian media think tank Ekklesia responds to this article in Conservative church leaders launch anti-war declaration for general election. Here they alleviate my main concern highlighted by the Telegraph article, when they disagree with its asserted broad appeal of this declaration, by noting1. It isn't broad, but seems predominantly focused on abortion, euthanasia, marriage and the ongoing 'Christian discrimination' obsession (although paying passing lip service to some 'justice' issues)2. It isn't a set of policies, but rather a set of[...]

Why consider others when you don’t need to?


Kip has replied to my post Why consider all desires that exist?  which was a response to some emailed questions from him. There are three parts to his reply and I will only address the last part in this post, which is the most important issue. Kip says: Group A may have very many prudential reasons for ignoring the desires of Group B -- or perhaps they just don't have any prudential reasons to consider the desires of Group B. In other words, none of their desires will be fulfilled by considering the desires of Group B. Or, perhaps even, more of their desires will be thwarted by considering the desires of Group B. So, without begging the question, why should Group A consider the desires of Group B, if 1) more of their desires will be fulfilled by not considering them, and 2) Group B has no way of influencing the desires of Group A (though force or social tools). The impression is that Kip considers this an objection to (at least some aspect of) Desirism but this is no objection at all. Consider, that for the above situation, anyone and everyone who has any moral theory in the world agrees with the desirist analysis (whether they are aware of it or not). That is moral realists, desire-based or otherwise, reductive and non-reductive naturalists and non-natural intuitionists all agree. Normatively consequentialists, utilitarian and non-utilitarian, deontologists (duty-based ethics) and aretists (virtue-based ethicists) all agree to the same conclusion too.  Similarly subjectivists, including divine command theorists might agree. And non-cognitivists too, whether of the emotive, expressive or universally prescriptive variety also agree. The issue of inter-theoretical disagreement, that one group’s reasoning to the right conclusion in this situation is no guarantee that their (claimed) fallacious reasoning might work in others is not relevant. Nor too is any dispute over whether there are objective grounds or not to come to this conclusion. Subjectivists agree regardless. Now Group A in defence – if they ever hear or allow such criticisms of their position – might answer as moral nihilists – hence any such criticism have no force. Or they they might take the position of normative relativists – this is the way we do things here and no-one else has any grounds to judge them otherwise. Or, more likely they prevent – suppress, censor and hide -such criticism and basically ignore them. What then? The whole world agrees that Group A’s practices are “wrong”, their values are “bad”, they “should not” continue as they are. The world can try and use the social forces of condemnation – published and vocal criticism of Group A in the media and the internet - and social punishment such as refusing to buy from them or through more formal trade sanctions... and still Group A can  belligerently carry on and choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. At this point the issue is beyond morality per se and to do with international law (if that can even be said to exist), just war and so on. Now there are ethical issues underlying these but they are different now to the original challenge posed by Kip. One can all too easily think of international examples that do conform to the above – although people might very well disagree over the examples e.g. The first Iraq War had a large amount of cross-cultural agreement, the latest Afghanistan far less so and that second Iraq War it was virtually non-existent. But feel free to disagree such a characterisation as just presented. The point is what action is to be taken or actions to refrain from taking are beyond the type of moral considerations here. Yes there are different m[...]

Fisking the Westminster Declaration


The Westminster Declaration is written by 20 UK based Christians of various influence and renown. This includes Lord Carey, the Former Archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal O'Brien of the Catholic Church in Scotland; and  Michael Nazir-Ali,  the former Bishop of Rochester. Since its launch at Easter weekend it has gained over 12,000 signatures and counting.The declaration comprises an overview, then a statement of beliefs and values followed by the three areas they aim to speak out and act in defence of: human life, marriage and freedom of conscience. I will start with the statement of beliefs and values.  Their Beliefs and Values As Christians we reaffirm historic belief in God the Father (who created us and gave us the blueprint for our lives together); in God the Son Jesus Christ our Saviour (accepting his incarnation, teaching, claims, miracles, death, resurrection and return in judgment); and in God the Holy Spirit (who lives within us, guides us and gives us strength)…. In a modern liberal democracy anyone and everyone should be free to believe whatever gobbledegook they want to. Presumably the above nonsense makes sense to Christians, so no issue there. However the first problem is in the final sentence of this first paragraph: ….We commit ourselves to worship, honour and obey God.[My emphasis here and in all quotes below] When I first read this, my first thought was that anyone is free to worship or honour whatever they want, however, when it comes to obeying - there are limits. This fear was immediately confirmed in the second paragraph of this section: As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly. One would like to think, that as a UK citizen, if such a Christian were to lose their faith, their “commitment to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good” would remain unaltered. Certainly Christianity  is not necessary for such a commitment, however is it even sufficient when they wish to exclude acting unjustly? This depends on how injustice is determined. Given the previous emphasis over obeying God, the implication is that injustice is determined by such Christians, that sign or support this declaration, as being relative to God’s commands and if governing authorities conflict with their subjective opinion, they do not have to act as required. Unfortunately history is littered with “obeying God” being used as a justification for many past injustices and worse - slavery, misogyny, homophobia, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is true that Christians have sometimes been on both sides, using the argument of “obeying God” to fight those injustices rather than support and promote them. However, given this, it is surely impossible not to conclude that “obeying God” is a wholly indeterminate and hence arbitrary basis for determining injustices. It is a standard of injustice that is woefully and dangerously inadequate in the 21st Century anywhere. Whilst I agree we should all act to make our government more rather than less just, we need a far better basis than what has been so far implied. Their underlying value here allows promoting injustice in the name of “justice” - it can and has all too easily inverted the meaning of justice in the past – especially when invoking God in support. Let us hope that this analysis will not show that this is the case and that other terms are also not inverted. George Santayana famously said “Those who cannot remember the past a[...]

The Westminster Manifesto




A UK equivalent to the Manhattan Declaration has recently been created. This is the Westminster Declaration.  I will analyse this declaration and its political and social implications in future posts.

I must note I am not impressed - although not surprised - by the signatories to date :-)


Why consider all desires that exist?


In the ethical framework I support called desirism is the requirement that one considers “all desires that exist”. Now Kip, who has commented on this blog and other blogs that advocate desirism and is largely also an advocate of desirism, and is well able to identify and argue against the all too common poor, unsound and invalid objections against desirism, still has an issue over this requirement. In his own words: You know I am very fond of Desirism... but can't help thinking that the idea that we should consider "all desires that exist" into the moral calculus is just plain wrong.  I mean, you can do that, but then you aren't talking about the same system of morality that I think the theory was trying to capture -- the system that is being used by people. … Desirism states:  a practical-ought is relative to "the desires in question"; a moral-ought is relative to "all the desires that exist".  Why "all the desires that exist", and not just a subset of them? My objection is that this claim is just an assertion -- that there is no reason or evidence to support it. … There are no moral laws of the universe that tell us to consider all desires that exist. That is just Alonzo's assertion. Well is it just Alonzo’s assertion and if not, why not? Kip provides a number of related objections in making his argument.  I have labelled these: The Multiverse Objection The Omniscience Objection The Universal Objection The Influencing Objection The Multiverse Objection [in] saying that when people say "you should not rape", that the desires in question for this statement include every desire that exists in the entire multi/universe. In the two recent Doctor Who Series finales, the enemies of the Doctor were trying to destroy not just this universe but all universes – the multiverse – with the means to survive such destruction! How they how they could have destroyed the multiverse, let alone survived such destruction, is a question for science fiction. Here such desires can surely be seen as the ultimate desire-thwarting desires, can anyone imagine any desire more desire-thwarting than the destruction of the multiverse? Now in such a science fiction scenario, the desire-desire cause-effect relations are such that the desire to destroy the multiverse is a causal desire and all desires that exist in the multiverse are necessarily affected. However, luckily, we do not as far as we know live in such a multiverse. As far as we know  the maximum causal scope of a desire is the world we live on now and no farther.  Whilst that might change in the far future the underlying principles would not, namely what are the cause-effect relations. I do not know if Kip intended this as a reductio ad absurdum over  what “all desires that exist” means but, regardless, once one recognises that out of “all desires that exist” it is only the ones that are affected that are an issue, then surely this multiverse objection fails.    I could dwell on global desire-thwarting issues such as Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) but that would be diversionary to the theme of this post. Still it is relevant to note two points on this. The first is that AGW and other global issues illustrate, whether one agrees with their arguments or not, that there can be a global scope to the effect of certain desires. At this stage in our evolution the scope is only global, not stellar, let alone galactic, universal (in the cosmological sense) or multiversal. The second is that m[...]

Pope Petitions


There are three petitions on the UK Government's petition site. I have signed all three but you decide which you want to sign. I also recommend all atheist and secular bloggers promote these three petitions in their blogs, even if you are not a UK citizen and even if you disagree with some of them - you might have UK readers and you should let them decide (by all means, if you disagree, produce arguments against them - it is still up to the reader to decide the merits of your argument).We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ask the Catholic Church to pay for the proposed visit of the Pope to the UK and relieve the taxpayer of the estimated £20 million cost. the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to disassociate the British government from the Pope's intolerant views ahead of the Papal visit to Britain in September 2010. We urge the Prime Minister to make it clear that his government disagrees with the Pope's opposition to women's reproductive rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell research and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. We ask the Prime Minister to express his disagreement with the Pope’s role in the cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy, his rehabilitation of the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, and his decree paving the way for the beatification and sainthood of the war-time Pope, Pius XII, who stands accused of failing to speak out against the Holocaust. We also request the Prime Minister to assure us that the Pope’s visit will not be financed by the British taxpayer. the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Revoke the formal state visit given to the Pope Benedict XVI. [...]

Why can't theists do this?


A short while ago I noticed on biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci's Rationally Speaking blog in his Massimo's Picks post the following link, prefaced with "You knew this, right? " Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds. This was a press release claiming that More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.As interesting as this was, I wondered if it:-(a) was actually as statically significant as it claimed sinceYoung adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.Such a  small difference requires a high sample size to have a p value of at least 0.05 (anything less is unacceptable and p=0.01 would be far better) and neither the error bars, sample size not p values were provided.(b) Is IQ a suitable surrogate measure for "intelligence" to capture this difference?(c) Were the question design in the opinion survey sufficiently well balanced to avoid bias?Well I had not time to ponder  those questions or google for answers but considered this, as presumably did Massimo, sufficiently amusing and provocative to post in my micro-blog (my faithlessgod twitter feed), I most certainly thought it was of interest to the  followers of my feed.Well my twitter feed automatically posts to my personal facebook status and I received a comment from Tim McGregor the founder of Skeptics in the Pub Brighton (a group I had wanted to form last year but had no time, so well done to Tim for actually making this happen). He pointed to a post by P.Z Meyer's Pharyngula blog entitled Stop patting yourselves on the back over this study in which he was both scathing of bloggers who had just jumped on the bandwagon by uncritically assuming it was good science and he was also scathing of the study itself, including such gems as:And then to claim that these differences are not only heritable, but evolutionarily significant…jebus, people, you can just glance at it and see that it is complete crap.Now I think both Tim pointing this article out to me and PZ's article itself responding in this way is excellent and what I expect of an honest and ethical approach to any evidential claims, in even if, and especially if, it appears to be in one's favour. Articles in one's favour are no excuse to drop one's standards.Hence the question which is the title of this post. I repeatedly see theists make empirical claims about how religion benefits society when there is a wealth of empirical evidence, certainly of a correlative nature that contradicts these claims. It seems they can find no contrary equivalent evidence in their favour and so in response, if they just do not just happily ignore this evidence, promote a variety of dubious opinion survey based social psychology studies, which whenever investigated (at least the ones I have seen) are of poor methodological design such as low statistical significance, small sample size and/or with unbalanced questions formats which fails to control for biases.Now I am, of course, only addressing this to t[...]

The Atheist Argument from Morality


Luke of Commonsense Atheism has finally woken me up from my blogging slumber for much the same reason as he had (similar to the debate that triggered his post), Luke's post in turn gives me reason to write a post I have been wanting to write for a long time. His post was inspired by a debate between Christian apologist Sean McDowell and humanist and atheist history teacher James Corbett on the question: Is God the Best Explanation for Moral Values?BackgroundI listened to the opening argument (provided in the previous link) by Sean McDowell and am responding only to this. I have not listened to the rest of the talk and have no opinion as to how well James Corbett dealt with McDowell's argument but assume from Luke's post that Corbett failed to address the central points in McDowell's argument.Luke has given his own response to McDowell, basing his reply on desirism, which is the same ethical framework that I have been promoting in this blog. However I am here giving a quite different response which will also indicate why I do not think his is the right approach to McDowell's challenge, although there is nothing in his reply which is incorrect. Reading the comments to Luke's post indicates the problem, it can be made diversionary and allows defenders of theistic-based morality to avoid dealing with the many failings of their own theory. This is not to say that Luke did not also highlight such failings, he did and quite correctly too, however the way his post was presented allows these issues to be side stepped and as much as it is a problem in a blog post I conjecture it would have been worse in a live debate.Well I might be wrong about this and this can be resolved so by writing this post so that interested readers (as well as Luke) can compare and contrast our responses for the specific issues at hand.McDowell's ArgumentIn McDowell's opening argument he makes two central claims:If God does not exist, we do not have a solid foundation for [objective] moral values. If God does exist, we do have a solid foundation for [objective] moral values. In support of this McDowell provides “three criteria that any adequate moral system must be able to account for”:Any adequate moral system must have a transcendent standard beyond human nature.Any adequate moral system must account for free will.Any adequate moral system must account for what makes humans special.This is all used to support William Lane Craig's Argument from Morality:If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.Objective moral values do exist.Therefore, God exists.Finally he asserts that the only alternative to his central claims are in terms of subjective preferences and that if anyone is to argue for a better explanation for (objective) moral values than god, then they need to provide a better alternative, as subjective preferences fails. This is what he requests of Corbett (and I do not know what Corbett's reply is but , according to Luke, he fails) and to which Luke responds with desirism.Now behind all this he makes a number of fallacious informal rhetorical arguments, such as appeals to consequences, fear and comfort, primarily to convince his audience if they needed convincing) of the necessity of objective moral values, referring to the Nuremberg trials and a horrendous date rape amongst others. I note this only to show later there is a more implicit rhetorical device and problem with his argument (see "A Secondary Point" below).ResponseA Valid Candidate?There is a presumption behind his argument which is a false dichotomy[...]