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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Part A of my Youtube discussion with the theistic reasons internalist Clear404

Being the lazy, truant person that I am (all hail Slaking!), it's taking me awhile to finish my first paper on meta-ethics. So as compensation, I'm positing this interesting back-and-forth on meta-ethics and divine command theory.

While I was acting like an idiot savant via my Youtube channel, I ran into a theistic apologist named Clear404 in late May 2012 or early June 2012 on the video "The complete idiots guide to atheism" (by strangestdude). So if you want to see the context for the discussion which follows, please go to the comments section of that video. We commented back and forth for awhile and then continued our discussions via Youtube PMs. Unlike virtually EVERY proponent of God-based ethics or divine command theory and the moral argument for God I've encountered (outside of professional philosophers), Clear404 had actually done some reading in meta-ethics and knew what he/she was talking about. He/she was still wrong, but at least they were wrong in an intelligent way. So I leapt at the chance to engage such a theist. The discussion was stimulating and allowed me to hone many of the ideas that will appear in my posts on meta-ethics. 

With Clear404's permission, I've decided to post the PMs, with the only modifications in them being the removal of personal information. Unfortunately, this will again leave me looking like a jerk in a few places. However, unlike in my discussion with Mentat1231, I think I was cordial most of the time and whenever I got pissed off with Clear404, it was justified (ex: his/her's abuse of the charge "question-begging."). At the time of the discussion, I will still deciding between moral nihilism and moral naturalism; currently, I lean more towards the latter. Hope this spurs some discussion.

Readers new to moral philosophy should probably start with my post Morality: Realism, Nihilism, and God before reading this exchange. That post serves as a useful introduction to the terminology Clear404 and I use in this exchange. For those in a rush, I'd recommend focusing on the intro to section I of that post, along with section I-B-2b, to get the gist of the terminology. Sections I-B-1a, I-B-1b-i, and I-B-1b-ii may also be helpful.

Here we go!:


NoctambulantJoycean, "PM?", 5/29/12
Hello Clear404.

I'm repeating the comment I posted last night:

"You're right. So from now on when we say "reason," we'll mean "real reason" unless we state otherwise. And we should probably do this via PMs or one of our channel comments pages since we're cluttering up this video's comments section. Anyway, I'll be going to sleep soon."

Thanks,
NoctambulantJoycean




Clear404, "Re: PM?", 5/29/12
hi,
yes, I agree.

My point would be that provided God will punish us if we do not do as he commands then we are all provided with a real reason to do as he commands regardless (with qualifications) of any desires we may have.
the sort of categoricity that moral requirements have, in my view, does not involve them applying to one wholly regardles of any desires one has. For moral requirements only properly apply to those who are able to fulfil them, and this would require having some desire, or disposition to acquire the desire, to do what is morally required. However, the presence of other desires (desires to do something other than what one is morally commanded to do) are irrelevant (unless they are so strong as to undermine one's agency).
The above seems to me to be a series of truisms about the nature of moral commands, and it seems to me that the divine command theory can explain these features of moral commands. God's commands apply to everyone who has the ability to fulfil them. And all of those to whom they apply have reason to fulfil them. So both categoricity and rational authority are achieved.
Do away with a God and I fail to see how both of these features can be met.
Perhaps these features are negotiable - but still, a theory - such as DCT -that can capture them all is better than one that has to try and negotiate them away becuaes it can't accommodate them.




NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 5/31/12
Hello.

A brief side issue: There is another Youtube theist I am communicating with who does not believe in a posteriori necessary truths. They're not stupid; quite the opposite. I just think that philosophy of language (rigid designators and the like) is not their thing. I offered to explain Kripke's argument for necessary a posteriori truths to them, but I think they would probably feel more comfortable if the explanation came from a fellow proponent of the moral argument. So would you be willing to explain this to them, along with why you think necessary a posteriori truths facilitated your moral argument? If so, please say so in your responding PM and I will send this individual your Youtube name so they can contact you. Moving on...

Joyce argues that moral reasons are externalistic; they are reasons which are not supposed to derive their normative force from meeting our desires. This is the point I was driving home in my comments to AntiCitizenX when he tried to justify (or explain) ethics via long-term self interest. I'll grant, for the sake of argument, that categorical reasons only apply to those who have desires. But that's different from saying moral reasons derive their normative force from our desires or we have moral reason to not harm people BECAUSE harming people is not in our self-interest. Intuitively, the moral reason is supposed to be other-directed; i.e. we have a moral reason not to rape BECAUSE of the harm done to another person, not because it furthers our long-term self-interest. This is consistent with moral reasons only applying to people who have desires. As an analogy, rational reasons (plausibly) only apply to those who can think, but this does not show that rational reasons are normative BECAUSE you can think; they instead derive their force from the fact that they best meet your interests. So, in contrast to what I've just written, your thesis denies that moral reasons are externalistic and makes moral reasons equivalent to rational reasons. This leads to a few problems.

First, how will you account for the intuition that sometimes moral reasons trump self-interest? As far as I can tell, this will never happen on your view, even though we often feel that it does. Second, your position is hard to square with moral psychology and motivating moral reasons. We have a word for people whose motivating reasons for action are focused solely on long-term self interest: psychopaths. When we act from moral reasons, aren't we supposed to act out of concern for others and the world, not out of enlightened self-interest? Yet on your account, moral reasons are long-term self-interest reasons, so that when we are motivated by moral reasons, our concern ends up in the wrong place. Similarly, your position has trouble making sense of the intuition that the psychopath does not act from moral reasons when he/she treats others kindly to avoid punishment. Third, there are many theorists who would disagree with the idea that God's punishing us for doing X gives us an overriding rational reason to not do X. Of course, I think those people are insane (eternal torture blows!), but they could say things like, "it's an insult to your dignity and honor to act out of fear of punishment. So the ideal version of you would recommend that you not follow God's orders just so you can stand to look at yourself every day. Act from motives of concern for others instead of concern for yourself (let these be your motivating reasons). As a constructivist might say: live in a way that affirms your practical identity." I don't say this so much as point of criticism then to see how you defend yourself against the charge and, in response, develop your account of rationality.

Anyway, how does exactly does DCT account for moral requirements properly applying only to those who can fulfill them? As Joyce argues in "Theistic Ethics and the...," God's could easily command us to do something we could not possibly do and threaten us with punishment and, under your view, we would have a moral reason to do that impossible act. Or God could punish me for something trivial like picking up sticks on the Sabbath, and I would have a moral reason not to do that. This conflicts with our intuition than moral reasons necessarily has to do with certain types of actions (ex: those relating to harm of others and self-harm), and not petty BS like whether you pick up sticks on the Sabbath. Similarly, God's nature is contingent (I'm done pretending that the idea that "God's nature in metaphysical or logically necessary" makes any sense; I've finally written up my full rebuttal to the ontological argument and detailed my arguments for the metaphysical impossibility of certain Gods) and so I will again rehearse my "R" argument from the comments section: the mental and physical properties of a situation could be the same in worlds W1 and W2, but the God in W1 could punish us for action A while the God in W2 could demand we do action A. So, under your theory, action A would be morally right in W1 and morally wrong in W2, which disagrees with our moral intuitions. So unless you have some sort of rigid designator justification for making the commands of one of these God's an a posteriori necessary truth, your position is counterintuitive.
These criticisms are just specific instances of a general problem with your position: it does not specify what kind of entity God needs to be for us to have a moral reason to follow God's commands. As long as God punishes us, it could be a despotic monster and we'd still have a moral reason to do as it says. Again, most people might think we have a RATIONAL reason to follow the whims of a despot or a neurotic, but people would hardly call that a MORAL reason. Which means your analysis of moral reasons into rational reasons is wrong.

So that's a quick summary of some of the problems I have with your current moral position. I look forward to your reply.
NoctambulantJoyean




Clear4040, "Re: PM?", 5/29/12
hello,

on the side issue - by all means. However, I'm not sure I'm qualified as philosophy of language is not my thing either.

re Joyce and external reasons etc. When it comes to the categoricity or inescapability of moral requirements I think we need to stick to what the evidence suggests. The evidence for the categoricity of moral requirements is that we cannot evade them by citing our desires to do otherwise. So, to 'it is wrong to rape' the reply 'but I really want to' doesn't cancel the requirement. So, moral requirements are requirements that provide us with reason to follow them despite any contrary desires we may have. That's what the evidence suggests. So that's the kind of categoricity that I'm trying to respect and explain.

You talk of normativity. But I take moral normativity to be a number of things together. When I provide an account of how it could be that we could always have reason to do what morality requires irrespective of contrary desires I am not offering a full account of moral normativity. Moral norms are requirements - and that means they must come from a requirer if they're to exist. Second, moral norms provide us with reason to do as they say. If the requirer will punish us if we do not obey them then there's a perfecly robust sense in which it is the existence of the requirement (and the requirer who creates it) that creates for us the reason to follow it.

Now, I have assumed that we have reason to do what it is in our interests to do. And I have tried to give an account of moral reasons in terms of this sort of reason - prudential reason. But I am not saying that in the absence of a God we have MORAL reason to do what is in our interests. We have prudential reason. But not MORAL reason, for morality would, by hypothesis, not exist in such circumstances. I am not, for instance, making morality 'about' self interest. Doing what is right is in your interests. But morality is not 'about' self interest. Not on the kind of view I'm presenting.

What morality is 'about' depends on the reasons God has for issuing his commands.

You say that we have the intuition that moral reasons trump self-interested reasons. Yes and no. Intuitively we are often morally required to do things that do not appear to be in our interests. If we truly are morally required to do such things, then we must have reason to do them. What I am doing is showing how it can be the case that everyone can have reason to do what morality requires even though it often appears to require us to do things that are opposed to our interests.

Perhaps the concern - and this does seem to be part of your concern - is that acting morally and acting out of self-interest seem to be fundamentally different. Indeed. Morality clearly requires that we act altruistically and cultivate altrustic dispositions. You do not truly fulfil such requirements until or unless you do, genuinely act from altruistic motives. Nevertheless, the 'reason' it is rational to cultivate such dispositions is that it is in your interests to do so.

For an example: it is in most of our interests to cultivate friendships and loving relationships. But to actually do this one must overcome self-interest and act from a genuine concern for the other person. It is in my interests to be in love with someone. But that doesn't mean that being in love with someone involves acting from self-interest.

Sometimes there seems to be a limit on the word count in these PMs so I'll post another one in reply to the rest what you've siad.


Continued...

So, when it comes to my account of rationality I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible and see if we can explain moral reasons in terms of prudential reasons.

I also happen to think that those who insist that morality does not have to pay are hard hearted. The idea that morality must pay gets a bad press. But ironically it is those who think that morality doesn't have to pay who are the horrible ones. To want to do moralities' bidding without caring whether morality cares about you, is a sort of incoherence. It shows a kind of mindless fanaticism. It is like loving someone but not caring whether they love you back. There's something sick about it.

But it is a big mistake to then think that I'm advocating for some sort of ethical egoism. I'm absolutely not. Morality must be in your interests. But it absolutely does not follow that if something is in your interests it is moral. I'm as certain as the next person that morality enjoins us to be altruistic - sincerely altruistic.

Re God asking us to do things we cannot do. I'm not sure how I can have a real reason to do something impossible. Ought implies can. I cannot have practical reason to do something impossible. Or so it seems to me.

Now to your despotic monster God. Seems to me all you're doing is showing that Divine Command Theory is compatible with some truly terrible normative moral views. That's surely true of rival metaethical views too? Indeed, it is normally considered a merit in a metaethical view that it does not commit one to any particular normative moral view. If you're a naturalist, for instance, or an intuitionist, you're not committed to any particular normative moral view. One could be an intuitionist utilitarian, an intuitinist Kantian, an intuitionist Nazi.

If you think that's false - if you think that whichever normative moral view is true, it is true necessarily, then whatever argument you offer for such a view I will simply help myself to it. I will simply say that morality consists in THESE requirements (the requirements of the correct normative moral view) being commanded by a God.




NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 6/2/12
Hello Clear404.

Thanks for the response. The side issue fell thru by the way. Sorry. Anyway, I'll number/letter my points from now on for easy reference.

A) In your initial section you say, "So, to 'it is wrong to rape' the reply 'but I really want to' doesn't cancel the requirement." That's right; this is an intuitive truth about morality. Just like it's also an intuitive truth when you substitute "but it's not in my long-term best interests" for "but I really want to." So I take this to be another aspect of categoricity that your account needs to explain. That's not to say self-interest is not taken into account in morality (see section C). But I still think you're mistaken about the relationship. An examination of my own position might clarify what I mean.

I guess you could call my position "Humean" in the sense Joyce uses in chapter 3 of "The Myth of Morality." Unlike Joyce, I don't think there are "real reasons" or "real, objective normativity." There are standards we use to judge the behavior and reasoning of ourselves or others. We can use a standard S1 to argue for another standard S2 or we can just assume certain standards in everyday life as background assumptions. Assuming them does not necessarily involve taking them to be objectively valid or "really normative;" instead it's just a reflection of our making a choice. Even if there were objectively correct standards, this would just be another fact about the world that we could use to direct behavior ("we should not do X because it violates the correct moral standard") or we could just ignore. It's just that there is an implicit assumption we all share (I do as well) that if a standard were shown to be objectively correct, we'd all agree to ascent to it. But this concern for truth or alignment with objective normativity does not imply that if NO standards are objectively correct, we'd agree to ascent to any standard. Some standards harm those we care about, prevent us from attaining true beliefs, or otherwise frustrate desires you have. Now a normative realist could retort, "yeah, but so what? Even if those standards are harmful there is no objective normativity. You can't really call it objectively wrong."

But to their so what I say...so what? The only (causal) reason "objective wrong, normativity, etc." factor into our thinking is because we care about truth, acting in accordance with the correct standards, etc. But even if really normative, objectively correct standards don't exist, there are other things we care about just as much (suffering, for example) and just as the real normativist advocated for their position relative to valuing objectively true standards, we can choose to value standards relative to suffering or concern for others, etc. I might not be able to say the Nazi's were objectively, normatively wrong or lacked a real reason to do what they did, but I can say something just as devastating: they treated other people like crap when, by the Nazi's own standards, they should not have treated innocent people like that. And just like the Nazi's could ignore my criticism, they could ignore criticism that said they were objectively, normatively wrong. They just couldn't ignore the objectively normative criticism while still being rational, truth-seeking agents, just like they could not ignore my subjective criticism without being uncaring jerks. And "uncaring jerk" is a pretty hefty charge, even if there are no objectively correct standards.

Anyway, that was a sloppy, half-hearted sketch of my position on normativity and real reasons. Now you need to rebut my position in order to argue for the existence of real reasons. The easiest way to do this is to argue that, "there seem to be real reasons" is evidence for their being real reasons, analogous to how "there seeming to be a chair" is evidence for a chair. Basically, the argument goes that my Humean position is counterintuitive and conflicts with our moral experience. However, the same class of intuitions that challenge my position also challenge your's. Again, most people think morality provides us with real reasons and the justification for these reasons is independent of our desires OR interests. Now you've tried to account for the real reasons justifying morality via prudential reasons. But the intuitions that people have about morality being justified by something other than self-interest reasons would also serve as EVIDENCE that there are real reasons whose justification is independent of our interest (this is the tactic that some real reason externalists take). But this conflicts with your position. Now you can't (without a supporting argument) cherry-pick our intuitions, taking the ones that imply rational reasons are real reasons while avoiding those that imply there are real reasons that are not rational reasons (i.e. they are justified via self-interest). And on the other horn of the dilemma, if you don't use some normative intuition to ground your argument, I you're still left needing an argument for rejecting my subjectivist, Humean position.

B) You say that, "you do not truly fulfil such requirements until or unless you do, genuinely act from altruistic motives. Nevertheless, the 'reason' it is rational to cultivate such dispositions is that it is in your interests to do so." Yet this leaves moral reasons in a strange position: they are reasons that cannot motivate as long as their ultimate justification is kept in mind. More specifically, if the real reason to be moral is because it's in your long-term self-interest, you still cannot be thinking about your long-term self-interest when committing a moral act, otherwise your act ceases to have a moral motivation. Yet that's not the case for other supposed reasons. For example, you can have the ultimate justification of rational reasons in mind, and still keep acting from rational motives. Same with etiquette reasons: once you assent to the etiquette standards and think about their justification in maintaining order and cleanliness, you can still act from a motivation concerned with etiquette. It's almost like once the truth about moral reasons comes out we have to turn off our minds to that fact in order to keep being moral. But isn't strange for a correct, JUSTIFIED, normative standard to be such that you cannot reflect on its true justification without something going amiss? We have a word for going along with a standard without avoiding reflecting on its justification: self-deception. This tension in your account of moral justification and moral motivation implies (to me) that your position is incorrect. Morality needs to be justified relative to something we can reflect upon while morally acting (ex: concern for others, the well being of sentient lifes, etc.) and believe in while looking ourselves in the mirror (a variation of the my practical identity point from my previous PM).

C) You say that, "to want to do moralities' bidding without caring whether morality cares about you, is a sort of incoherence. It shows a kind of mindless fanaticism." This is strange to me. First, morality could not care about us because it is not a mind. It's just a set of standards and truths. But unlike morality, God has a mind. And, ironically, you have chosen to use the same charge I correctly applied to God, to incorrectly criticize morality. God is a mind and as such could choose not to care about us or not love us back (again, God's nature is not metaphysically necessary, not it's possible for God to have been a jerkass). Yet, according to you, the real reason we have to act in accordance with God's command/nature is that God will punish us otherwise. So, correct if I'm wrong, but do you hold to this even if God's commands/nature were uncaring towards humans, shows no love for us, etc.? If the answer is yes, then you first have to deal with your own criticism before you lodge it against those who think, "morality does not have to pay." If the answer is no, then you've begun putting ad hoc constraints on your divine command theory. This has the problems I note in sections A, D, and E.

Second, I think you overestimate how "fanatical" the claim that "morality does not have to pay" is. It's an intuitive recognition of the fact that morality does not get its ultimate justification from our enlightened self-interest, just as moral motivation does not involve referencing self-interest. Now, of course, it's a moral truism that you are very rarely (if ever) required to do something that greatly harms your self-interest (for example: selling everything you own and giving it to the poor). But again, this is not the same as showing the justification of ethics RESULTS from self-interest. Just as I conceded in my previous PM (for the sake of argument) that rational reasons could apply only to beings that think, without the JUSTIFICATION of those rationals reasons lying in the fact that agents think, I can say you are not morally obligated to do something that greatly harms your self-interest without claiming the JUSTIFICATION of morality lies in self-interest. So even those who claim "morality does not have to pay," will not leave people fanatically following standards that involve utter self-sacrifice.

D) You say, "ought implies can. I cannot have practical reason to do something impossible. Or so it seems to me." That's all correct. But you still have not addressed my main point: God COULD demand that we do impossible act Q (or Q could be accordance with God's nature, but impossible for us to do). And if your account of real reason/practical reason is correct, we would thus have a real reason to do Q solely because God punished us otherwise. But since we don't have a real reason to do the impossible, as you admit, the mere fact that God commands Q (or Q agrees with God's nature) is not solely sufficient for providing us with a real reason to do Q. Now you could limit your thesis, saying we have a real reason to be in agreement with God's nature/commands ONLY IF those commands are possible. But this seems a bit ad hoc. And why can't I add additional restrictions? Just as it's intuitive that, "ought implies can," it's intuitive that "raping for fun is usually wrong." So why can't I say we have a real reason to be in agreement with God's nature/commands ONLY IF those commands don't imply that rape for fun is wrong. But now we see the problem: it's a version of my dilemma from part A. You can't cherry-pick the intuitions that support of meta-ethical theory unless you have an argument for doing do. The class of intuitions you would use to refine your thesis is the same class as the ones would make God less and less relevant to what we have a real reason to do. More and more our normative intuitions would be deciding what we have a real reason to do, limiting God's affect on real reasons without God's consent. But this begins to look like ethics has become independent of God.

E) Your right that most meta-ethical positons don't always commit you to a particular normative moral view. But when you get to the level of stipulating what you're necessary a posteriori moral truths are, you start committing to normative moral views. Now you reach this level when you said "morally right = in accordance with God's commands or nature except when those commands are self-directed." This has normative implications that depend on what God commands. Similarly a naturalist position that says "morally right = whatever (in the long-term) allows people to live contented lives." Note that by, necessity, this position is committed to connecting ethics to contentment. I could modify the thesis so the connection was to suffering. Now I don't see how you could modify you position in the same way. Let's say you do what I noted in part D, and use our moral intuitions to limit the scope of commands of God that we have real reasons to accept. Or let's say you just stipulate that only the commands of God that match the correct normative theory count a morally required. You may be suggesting this when you say, "morality consists in THESE requirements (the requirements of the correct normative moral view) being commanded by a God." But again, what is the ultimate justification for the limits on what God can command? Doesn't it seem like the justification for what we do is getting farther and farther from God, and more and more grounded in our human determination of what the correct normative theory is? The naturalist does not have to contend with this problem because there view is compatible with making ethics' justification dependent on facts about the mental and physical world apart from God. Am I wrong in saying your view denies this?

Alternatively, you can take a different rigid designator route, saying that only the commands of a certain kind of God would a certain kind of nature have real normative force or are justified by real reasons. But again, if real reasons flow from God's punishment, then you can't just make real reasons all of a sudden depend on some feature without admitting that some thing (N) other than punishment/enlightened self-interest is influencing what we have a real reason to do. For example, if your saying that only the commands of an empathetic being count as moral requiremts, then you have yet to explain how empathy is relevant to what we have a real reason to do, even though empathy has little connection to enlightened self interest and the lack of empathy in a God would not prevent that God from punishing us, and therefore seemingly providing us practical reasons. It's almost as if empathy is providing an externalistic, non-self-interest limit on the domain of real reasons. So until your meta-ethics explains what N is, normative realists are justified (in a subjective, truth-seeking sense) in looking for real reasons outside of God, in accordance with the intuitions I mentioned at the end of part A.

Hope this discussion cleared up a few things. I look forward to response.
NoctambulantJoycean




Clear404, "Re: PM?", 6/2/12
In reply to your 'A'. You shift the goalposts. My point was about the nature of the categoricity of moral requirements. And when it comes to their categoricity the evidence is that moral requirements apply to us even when we desire to do otherwise. That's what the evidence suggests. Anyone who wants to make a grander claim needs to provide evidence.

You say that if we substitute 'but its not in my long term interests' for 'but I really want to' this is counterintuitive. But this is now a point about the type of reason that moral reasons are, as opposed to the scope of moral requirements. My point was about the scope of moral requirements. Moral requirements apply to us even if we desire to do otherwise. However, moral requirements only apply to us if we have some desire, or disposition to acquire the desire, to do as they bid.

Now let's move on to the quite different matter of the type of reason moral reasons are. Presumably your point on this score is that the answer 'but it is not in my interests' does not cancel a moral obligation and thus moral reasons cannot be reasons of self-interest. This is fallacious reasoning. It is in your interests to do what is moral. It does not follow that if something is in your interests, it is moral. A moral requirement is not constituted by what you have self-interested reason to do. If I were making that claim I wouldn't be a divine command theorist -- I'd be a metaethical naturalist! And I'm most certainly not one of those.

If, in reply to 'it is wrong to do x' someone says 'but it is not in my interests to do x' they are simply mistaken, in my view. If what they said was true, this would amount to the discovery that the claim 'it is wrong to do x' is false, either because something else is wrong or because wrongness doesn't exist.

You say you're a humean in the same sense as Joyce. Without checking the book I cannot confirm whether I'm a humean in precisely that same sense -- but I'll hazard a guess that I am. I assume that we all agree that a desire has to enter the equation at some point for a reason to be generated -- I assume that's the sense in which we're all Humeans.

I'm not sure what it means to say there are no real reasons. The question 'what reason do I have to do what it is in my interests to do' strikes me as nonsensical. If that's not nonsensical, I don't know what is. So, for me, if we can show that something is in your interests, we have definitely, absolutely, shown that you have a reason to do it.

Now perhaps prudential reasons are not the only kind of reasons there are. But any other kind of reason is going to be one hell of a lot more controversial and dubious.
So, if it appears to us that we have a reason to do something, but it is not immediately apparent how or why, the first port of call should be to figure out if we have prudential reason to do it. That seems to me the most reasonable way to proceed.

If someone asks 'why is it rational to be moral?' the answer 'because it is in your interests' is satisfying. It is a real answer. Someone who asks 'what is it rational for me to do what is in my interests' has lost the plot. So the 'because it is in your interests' brings to an end the 'why?' questions. So I fail to see what is wrong with it as an answer.

Note, this absolutely does not mean that if you have reason to do something, it is right. There is a tendency for people to become blinkered the minute self-interested reasons are offered as reductions of moral reasons. They seize on this and seem to lose sight of the other conditions that a Divine Command Theorist like myself says need to be satisfied before something is a moral requirement. So, just to be clear, I am not saying that moral oughtness amounts to nothing more than something being in your interests. It is necessary for something to be a moral requirement that it provide you with reason to do what it says, but it is not sufficient by a long way.

I suspect that the main reason you think moral reasons cannot be reduced to prudential reasons is because you think prudential reasons aren't moral reasons. That's true, of course. But you're committing the fallacy of affirming the consequent. My view is not that prudential reasons are moral reasons (such that if you have prudential reason to do something, you morally ought to do it). My view is that moral reasons reduce to prudential reasons. If it is moral to do x, it is in your interests to do x. It doesn't follow that if it is in your interests to do x, it is moral to do x.

To try and make this clear: let's say the universe is godless and act x will maximise your interests. Is act x 'morally required' on my view? No, for the following reasons.

First, the fact that act x will maximise your interests is not a requirement to do x. IT is just some information about x. Moral requirements are requirements and thus presuppose a requirer.

So what if I said to you 'do x'? Have I now transformed X into something 'morally required'? After all, 'do x' is a requirement, and x, as it happens, is something you have reason to do.

Still no. For my requirement has no categoricity. Yes, for you doing what I require in this instance is something you have reason to do, even if you don't happen to desire to do it. But it would not be true that all moral agents, were they in your situation, would have had reason to do as I required. For different people have different interests. So the categoricity condition is not met. Furthermore, moral requirements seem to be the source of reasons, rather than the reasons being ones you already had. When I issue you the requirement to do x my requiring you doesn't generate the reason -- you already had reason to do x regardless of whether I required you to do it or not. However, moral requirements just aren't like that. Moral requirements do not just happen to coincidentally require you to do what it is in your interests to do. They actually make it the case that you have reason to do as they bid. Only the commands of a very powerful God would have that feature.

So, it seems to me that what you're doing is just fastening onto the 'moral reasons are prudential reasons' thing and then interpreting me -- fallaciously -- as maintaining the wholly false view that morality is 'about' self-interest because prudential reasons are moral reasons. My view is that moral reasons are prudential reasons, not that prudential reasons are moral reasons.

You go on to say that I am cherry picking intuitions. I fail to see this for I fail to see what intuitions I'm ignoring. It seems to be a conceptual truth about moral requirements that it is rational to fulfil them. Someone who denied this would, I think, be talking about something other than morality.

Now, what is not clear is exactly 'how' it could always be rational to do what is moral, even when one desires not to. That's the puzzle. That's a puzzle to which I am providing an answer. I am trying to show how it could be that there could be requirements that it is always rational to fulfil no matter what they require and even when one desires not to what they require.

The fact that a solution to a puzzle is not what we might have expected -- if there is anything anyone expects here, and I'm not sure there is -- is not to be saying something counter-intuitive. That's like saying it is counter-intuitive that water is H20.

Perhaps you think that it is counter-intuitve that moral reasons could be prudential resaons. I don't think that's counter-intuitive at all. What's counter-intuitive is the thought that prudential reasons are moral reasons. THAT'S the counter-intuitive one. But that's not my view. My view is that moral reasons are prudential reasons. But they're quire unlike all other prudential reasons: they have categoricity.

So, moral reasons are sufficiently unusual, on my view, to avoid any counter-intuitiveness. And the only way in which someone could think my view about moral reasons 'counter-intuitive' is if they commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent and start to think I'm maintaining that prudential reasons are moral reasons .

Alternatively, perhaps you are deciding ahead of the game that there is no solution to this puzzle, because any solution would, by definition, resolve the puzzle, and there appears to be a puzzle and therefore any solution would be counter-intuitive. That type of reasoning would surely render the solution to all puzzles counter-intuitive.

My solution is not counter-intuitive in any normal sense. I am accounting for the reason-giving nature of moral requirements by making recourse to the most prosaic account of reasons available. Everyone accepts prudential reasons are reasons. So my account is incredibly straightforward.

Seems to me that you are trying to make use of it too -- but of course, without recourse to a God you'll be unable to accommodate the categoricity of moral requirements (or their requiryness). And so you'll have to try and negotiate away those features -- which will make your account -- and not mine -- counter-intuitive.

Let's turn to your position. When it comes to the Nazis, I say what they did was terribly wrong. You seem to think you can say something as 'devastating'. Namely, they treated people like crap. Yes, but clearly they didn't care about that -- in fact, they wanted to treat those people like crap. That was the point. They weren't failing by their own standards. They wanted to do what they did -- they were wholehearted and sincere about it. You haven't highlighted why they had reason not to do as they did.

Most of us are nice. Most of us like being kind to one another and have no desire that others come to serious harm. But you won't get morality out of that. Most of us are morally required to do what we'd be naturally inclined to do even if morality didn't exist. But the point about moral requirements is that they apply to us even if we're not naturally inclined to want to fulfil them.

When we say that what the Nazis did was wrong we're not merely saying we disapprove or dislike what they did. We're saying something far, far stronger than that.

Seems to me that if you're a nihilist you cannot condemn others without being arrogant and self-important. For when you condemn others all you're doing is saying that you don't like what they're doing and you want them to stop. To that the appropriate reply is: who made you the king! But someone when someone morally condemns someone else they are not saying that they do not like what they're doing (they may actually 'like' what they're doing -- we can like what someone is doing yet still condemn them. If my friend gets my enemy fired by framing him for something I may like what he did, yet judge what he did to be morally appalling). We're not saying 'stop that, I don't like it!' We're saying 'that's wrong' and that its wrongness has nothing to do with us. We're pointing out that the person has real reason to avoid doing what it is they're planning on doing. And so on.

So, I consider your position to have failed to capture the normativity of the moral. I'm not entirely sure what 'normativity' refers to unless it refers to the special 'to be doneness' of the moral. I don't see your account as providing that. Whereas I think the divine command theory provides the richest, most straightforward and compelling account of moral normativity. My account combines moralities requiring nature with its categoricity and rational authority.

Moving on to B. Perhaps I was a little crude here, but moral requirements can be requirements to perform particular acts where intentions would not be important. But there are also requirements to cultivate particular character traits. When it comes to the requirement to cultivate an altruistic nature one will only fulfil this requirement to the extent that one does not act on the basis of self-interested motives in a variety of circumstances. The reason one has for being altruistic is that it is in one's interests to be so. But being altruistic means not acting from motives of self-interest. This is paradoxical but doesn't indicate a problem so far as I can see. The best way to find love is to not look for it. That's paradoxical, but may well be true. And so on.

Moving on to C. First you beg the question against me by stating that morality is not a mind. Well, on my view it is. Moral requirements are the requirements of a God. So to talk of what morality requires is to talk of what god requires. God is a mind. I fail to see how requirements can come about otherwise. Now, maybe I'm wrong about that -- maybe free-floating requirements can just exist. I think the idea's incoherent. But maybe I'm mistaken. But one thing is certain -- minds CAN issue requirements. We already have an understanding of how requirements can come into existence -- minds can make them. I take that existing understanding and apply it to moral requirements. Seems perverse not to. Unless, of course, one is hell bent on keeping God out of morality- but that would be a mere prejudice that one should just get over.

You say that god could choose not to care about us. Yep. But you seem to think that my view is that just any old God's requirements constitute moral requirements. Not so. A God who doesn't issue us any requirements can't, by definition, be the sort of God whose requirements constitute moral requirements. A God who issues us with requirements but wouldn't bother punishing us if we fail to fulfil them is a God whose requirements would lack any rational authority -- their requirements would not, therefore, be moral requirements.

Bear in mind I'm not some religious nut who has faith in God and is trying to find him some work to do. I have no faith. I see morality as evidence for a God, because -- and only because -- I can see no other way in which morality could exist. And as I think morality does exist, I conclude that God does too. But not just any old God. One god -- the God that morality presupposes.

Which God is that? Well, morality will tell us. Morality consists in requirements. So I reason that it is a God who wants us to behave in certain ways and so requires us to do so.

The requirements are requirements we all have reason to fulfil even if we do not desire to fulfil them. So I reason that the God must have the power to make it in our interests to fulfil them regardless of our worldly interests.

And then I think about what those requirements have in common. This is normative moral theorising. And it seems to me that the requirements consist, for the most part, in requirements to be not cause pain, to promote pleasure, to not lie, to keep our promises, and so on. These, it seems to me, are the kind of requirements someone pretty nice and benevolent would make. So I reason that God is benevolent. I reason that God probably instantiates the very character traits he requires us to cultivate. So I reason that God is good.

Now, perhaps I'm wrong about God's character. Perhaps he's a complete shit. Might be. But I see no evidence for that. The evidence is all the other way (and no good pointing to all the evil in this world -- for at no point have I had to attribute the creation of this world to the God of morality. Indeed, I think the evidence is plentiful that he had nothing to do with it.)

The possibility that God is an uncaring shit doesn't worry me in the slightest. For it is no more or less than the worry that 'being an uncaring shit' might be a virtue. Does that worry you? I mean, it is possible. It is possible that the most horrific normative moral views are true. There's no real evidence they are. But it is epistemically possible that they're true -- and so I see no problem in saying that it is also metaphysically possible that they're true. And I see no way in which someone holding a different metaethical view can say any different. So this whole 'god might be a shit and will us to do shitting things' criticism really has no bite whatsoever. All one is doing is pointing out that horrific normative moral views might -- might -- be true. Yes, they might be. Big deal. It is no great problem for me, but if it is it is a problem for all my rival metaethical views too. We all go down together on that one.

Re morality paying. If you sincerely think that morality does not have to pay then presumably you deem it just as bad if bad things happen to bad people as to the completely innocent. Do you?

When people who have lived virtuous lives are exploited and harmed precisely because of their virtue, and die uncompensated, are you no more disturbed by this than when the same happens to the vicious, who have led vicious lives?

To D. You say God 'could' command us to do impossible things. Yes, but we'd have no reason to do those things. So such commands wouldn't be moral commands.
Your criticism once again assumes that I'm saying 'any old God will do'. No -- I'm saying that morality requires a God and then explaining what sort of God. A God who issues impossible commands is not the kind of God morality presupposes.

This is anything but ad hoc. Morality sets the constraints. I'm trying to figure out what morality could be. And morality cannot be the commands of a God who commands us to do impossible things, for 'ought' implies 'can' (which I take to be a conceptual truth).

Could morality set the constraints in this way: morality seems to consist not just in requirements that have categoricity and rational authority but also to consist in THESE commands (don't tell lies, don't hurt others etc). So could I say that morality is THOSE commands, commanded by a God who will punish us if we do not obey them?

Yes. That's precisely what I have said. That, it seems to me, is a perfectly legitimate version of Divine Command Theory. I happen to think that it is not necessary to do that, because I happen to think there's nothing absurd in the idea of different normative moral theories -- including horrific ones such as 'be cruel to one another' being true in some possible world (a possible world in which a God commands such things and will punish those who do not obey).

But that is one version of Divine Command Theory and I have explicitly defended it. I see no problem with it. It is naturalism without the flaws.


E. Naturalism is a metaethical view, not a normative moral view. The naturalist is anyone who takes a normative moral view and changes the 'is' of predication to the 'is' of identity. Thus 'rightness is maximising happiness' is a normative moral theory when the 'is' is the 'is' of predication. A naturalist alters it to the 'is' of identity. But qua naturalist they'll do this to ANY normative moral theory. Naturalism is NOT the view that contentment is good. That's a normative moral theory.

Naturalism is compatible with any normative moral view, so far as I can see. Same goes for non-naturalism and subjectivism and so on. No-one seems to think that's a problem for those views. No-one says 'naturalism is false because it is compatible with Nazism'. Yet it seems everyone considers this self-same 'criticism' to be devastating when applied to Divine Command Theory.

I don't. Yes, if God commands us to rape one another then raping one another would be right. That's my view. I see not one shred of evidence that God wants this. If there is any, then it will be evidence for the truth of a normative view according to which raping others is right. And so would also be evidence that rape is right according to naturalism. And non-naturalism. And so on.

SO I just don't see an objection here.

If I'm missing something, then I will revert to the version of Divine Command Theory I mentioned before. I will simply make what I see as the most plausible normative moral requirements into one of the characteristics of morality -- alongside categoricity, rational authority, and requiriness -- that a good metaethical theory needs to account for. And the best metaethical theory that will do this will STILL be Divine Command Theory.