Monday, July 23, 2012

Part 1 of my Youtube exchange with Mentat1231

I decided to include this interesting back-and-forth to tide people over until I post my meta-ethics paper.

While I was acting like an idiot via my Youtube channel (if you've encountered me on Youtube, you know I can be a jerk; on Youtube I'm nothing like what I am in chat rooms or on this blog), I ran into a theistic apologist named Mentat1231 in late May 2012 on the video "Is God Necessary for Morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan Debate" (by bdw5000). We commented back and forth for awhile and then continued our discussions via Youtube PMs. So if you want to see the context for the discussion which follows, please go to the comments section of that video. The discussion was stimulating and allowed me to hone many of the ideas that appeared in my paper on the ontological argument, and my subsequent papers (currently in the works) on meta-ethics, Kalam, and the teleological argument. With Mentat1231's permission, I've decided to post the PMs, with the only modifications in them being the removal of personal information. Unfortunately, this will leave me do I put this nicely..."immature" in a lot of my posts. Well, being 21 is no excuse. 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.

Also, please remember that ALL CAPS is the only way to add emphasis in Youtube private messages; bold, italics, and underlining are not transferred. So when I or Mentat1231 employ ALL CAPS, we are (usually) not yelling at one another; we are just trying to emphasize a point.

[I also never asked Mentat1231 to stop calling me "sir", though I never asked them to call me that either. My raging, 21-year-old ego would not allow it]:

Mentat1231, "PM?", 5/21/12


May I suggest we move our discussion out of the fast-paced, low-character-count realm of the comments, and into a PM? It's entirely up to you, and I'm glad to continue as we are. It just seems that our posts could easily get lost in the pile, if we continue in the video comments. Also, our thoughts often require several 500-character posts. 

Anyway, I thought I'd suggest it. However we proceed, I look forward to our continued discussion. 


NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 5/21/12

Hello Mentat1231.

I'd be happy to continue the discusiion over PMs. But let's get a couple thing out of the way. First, are you a Dune fan? If you don't know what I mean, just ignore the question. Second, I'm a "sir."

Anyway, I'll continue with my answer to your previous post.

Reply to 1). First, every belief and every thought is subjective, by definition. The question is whether you have sufficient support for your opinion (or enough support for the opinion to count as knowledge). Second, your position would lead to extreme semantic skepticism. We all use the method I outlined. For example, in court we determine the criteria for "the person who murdered the victim" and see if "(insert defendant's same)" meets the criteria for referring to the same thing. If we can't use this method, how do we know what any of our words or concepts refer to? "God" could refer to the same thing as "Lucifer." So unless you have another method for determining when properties are identical, I'll have to go with my semantic intuitions and arguments.

Reply to 2). People used to use "H2O" to refer to a specific chemical compound and "water" to refer to that clear liquid over there (in the oceans, streams, etc.). One day, science showed that the two things were THE SAME THING, even though it makes sense to ask "is water H2O?". The a priori and a posteriori methods I mentioned before could do the same thing for "unnecessary harm" and 'bad," even though it makes sense ask "is unnecessary harm bad?" Similarly, those same methods could show that "commanded by God or in agreement with God's nature" is not identical with "good". I'm asking you why I should not think this is possible. Also, for Kagan, categorical reasons are the objective fact about reality that would make certain moral statements incorrect; the relevant reasons would focused on harm.

Reply to 3) You provided the right kind of answer to my question and employed the method I outlined. So do you agree that this method is way to determine if two properties are the same? If not, why not? If you do agree, then I'll be happy to shift gears and address your concerns about "unnecessary harm = bad." 


Mentat1231, "Re: PM?" 5/22/12


I am proud to say I've read every Dune book, except the two newest ones ("Winds of Dune" and "Sisterhood of Dune"). It is, to my mind, among the greatest science fiction sagas of all time. 

On (1): Help me understand your position a little better. I mean, I agree with the part about having sufficient warrant for a belief before it can be considered "knowledge" (though, it also has to turn out to be true). But, are you sure your court case analogy doesn't refer to moral epistemology or terminology again? I mean, court cases do not determine whether murder exists, or whether it is bad. They determine whether the particular case is an example of murder. In other words, they determine whether the label fits this person; not whether the label refers to something real. 

On (2): Well, it's an interesting analogy. I mean, H2O can also refer to "ice" or "vapor". "Water" is usually a reference to the "clear liquid over there". Is there some analogy to the idea that "unnecessary harm" is not always morally bad? Also, is this really analogous at all, since the polarized molecule with 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom would cease being "water" just as soon as people stopped calling it that (say, if the English language disappeared; or if humanity disappeared). However, H2O would still exist. I just don't see how this isn't also a purely terminological matter, rather than an ontological one. 
2a) As to why God's nature forms a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties: The Ontological Argument shows that God is a Maximally Great Being. That means He has all the great-making properties in their most perfect form. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect in every logically possible world. How can there be a better objective foundation than that? 
2b) Help me understand what you mean when you say Kagan has "categorical reasons". It sounds like he's just defining them as he chooses. 

3) I address the method in point #2. Perhaps we can come back to my points about "unnecessary harm = bad" after we clear up the other two points? 


NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 5/21/12


Thanks for your reply. After looking over it, I realized I made unclear distinctions. My mistake. When I say "water," I can mean at least three different things. First, I could simply mean the word or label "water" in the English. Call this usage of water "L". Second, I could mean the concept water. Different societies may have different labels for the same concept. The method I outlined earlier applies to determining when two concepts are the same. This is a conceptual thesis. Call this usage of water "C." Third, I could mean an externally existing thing (water in the real world) that matches the conditions of the concept and thus counts as water. This is an ontological thesis about whether water exists. Call this usage of water "R." Note that two different concepts can turn out to refer to the same real thing in the world. This should help clarify matters. For more clarification on how this distinction is applied in real-life, see Richard Joyce's encyclopedic entry "Error theory". It's available for free online (focus on page 5 of the article).

1) Court cases are not the best analogy for my position, but I'll continue with it since I brought it up. None of my positions are involve L usage. My court case went with the C interpretation of "murder". We use thought experiments to determine the criteria for the concept "murder." For example, we don't think actions taken in self-defense are murder. Then, once we get clear on the C interpretation of murder, we move to the R usage; we determine if something is the world (usually the actions of the defendant in question) instantiate the property to which the concept "murder" refers. Now if it turns out that nothing in the world ever matched the concept "murder", then contrary to the last part 1 reply, we would have shown that the concept does not refer to anything real. You could do a similar thing for the concept "good." In fact, this is exactly what many moral nihilists/skeptics do (see the paper from Joyce I mentioned). They get clear on what the concept "good" is (ex: they list the criteria a property would have to meet to be identical with "good") and then they see if any such property is instantiated in the real world (R usage).

2) Your argument about terminology only applies if I was using water in the L sense. However, I was using water in the C and R sense; people had a real concept of "water" and "H2O" and later found out those two concepts referred to the same thing in the real world. Now, you could reply that just as with linguistic terms, concepts only exist if minds exist. Even if I grant that conclusion, I can re-phrase my position as a counterfactual truth. For example, "if someone had the following concept of water, then this is what would have to exist for that concept to refer to a real thing." Such counterfactual propositions can be true even in worlds where there are no minds and no concepts. Note how this is similar to my counterfactual position on necessary moral propositions: "if someone had the following concept of good, then this is what would have to exist for that concept to refer to a real thing." So this matter is ontological rather than purely terminological because when we shift to the R usage, we are attempting to determine what exists.
2a) Some theistic arguments give me pause (the design argument, the argument from religious experience). The ontological argument is not one of them. I am 100% sure the versions offered by Anselm, Plantinga/Craig, and Malcolm are fallacious. It would take too long to explain here. However, if you're interested, I'd be happy to send you another message explaining why the arguments fail.
2b) Categorical reasons go back to at least Kant and they are meant to be contrasted with hypothetical reasons. The force of hypothetical reasons depends on how well they meet the agent's goals. For example, "If you do not want to die, you should not drink that poison." The force of categorical reasons is independent of an agent's goals. For example, "You should not drink poison, regardless of whether you want to die or do not want to die," or, more simply, "You should not drink poison." Imagine how strange it would be say, "X does not meet my long-term desires, so X is morally wrong for me to do." So most people want to distinguish moral reasons from self-interested reasons (or even enlightened self-interest), so they want morality linked to categorical reasons as opposed to hypothetical reasons. Strangely, Kagan's contractarian account of moral reasons makes them into the reasons of enlightened self-interest. However, the reasons are categorical in this sense: they do not depend on the desires you currently have. So you don't just get to change what's moral for you by changing your desires. Instead, moral reasons depend on what a perfectly rational version of you would agree to under the veil of ignorance. So if his account of moral reasons is correct (I don't think he just defines categorical reasons as he chooses; he just didn't have the time to present his arguments for this position in the debate), then he has something close categorical reasons.

3) We'll get to this after your response to 2.

Thanks for the cogent response.

Mentat1231, "Re: PM?" 5/22/12

We shall have to discuss Dune and, perhaps, Plantinga's version of the Ontological Argument, on another thread :-) 

First let me say that I read most of that entry from Joyce and found it VERY stimulating, if a bit compressed (as encyclopedia entries tend to be). I would be interested in reading more from Joyce sometime. 

But now, let me address your distinction of L, C, and R, as there seem to be some problems here. I'll try not to get off-topic, but I just want to make sure these are properly-defined distinctions. For one thing, should we really dismiss the L-usage of "water" as being so different from the C-usage? The label "water" is meant specifically to bring to mind that which corresponds to the C-usage. So, in clarifying the C, we concordantly clarify that which properly holds the L as well. Do you see what I mean? So, in the court case, if we clarify the Concept of murder, we have simultaneously clarified the proper Linguistic use of the word "murder". Conversely, if we were asked to clarify the proper L-use of "murder", we would exhaustively and completely clarify the C-use. Since this is so, are they not one and the same? 

Also, on the matter of the C vs. R uses of "water", we should consider carefully whether H2O actually meets up with the C-use of the word "water". I mean, water has the properties of flowing, cleaning, eroding, resisting (surface tension and such), and even refreshing. H2O is a molecule, and has none of these properties. Do you see the problem? 

Now briefly: 
1) I think your court-case analogy has the moral situation quite backward. In the case of "murder", we get to decide what qualifies as "murder", and then look for real examples of it. In the case of whether "good" and "evil" have ontological grounding, we must FIRST find the ontological ground, and THEN we can discuss what qualifies as each. It is the perfect reverse of your court case situation (not surprising since courts are explicitly epistemological institutions). 
2) As I say above, H2O and water are not really the same concept. But, more importantly, let's look at the counterfactual you've presented: "if someone had the following concept of good, then this is what would have to exist for that concept to refer to a real thing." This is quite a different matter, and I actually agree with it. So, if "good" refers to that which has objective moral value whether any humans agree or not, then I think God (or something like Him) would indeed have to exist in order to ground these as real. What other option is there? 
2b) But I would submit that a "perfectly rational version of me" cannot exist even in principle. It's a married bachelor. There's me, and then there's that idealized being (suspiciously similar to a god, by the way). A PERFECTLY rational version of me, would have absolutely no biases, leanings, or ideals that were not rational (not grounded in reason). As such, it would not be a human, nor anything like a human. More importantly, there are MANY perfectly rational approaches to any question; yet if morals are real, then only one such solution is moral, despite them all being rational. Do you see the dilemma? 

Sorry if that was long-winded. I will try to be more concise in the future.

NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 5/22/12


There's no need to discuss Dune; its awesomeness (or at least the awesomeness of the 1st and 2nd books, along with God Emperor) is self-evident to all rational people. And your response was not long-winded.

Response to paragraph 3: This paragraph is nearly spot on. The main problem is you have an incorrect account of L usage. L usage just amounts to words and labels. You can change these just by changing symbols or languages. For example, I could call Jesus "Buddha". But if I did this without bringing along all the baggage that comes with the concept of Buddha (originator of Buddhism, his specific teachings, etc.), I have changed my label (changed L usage) without changing the concept in question (C usage). We can refer to concepts with any sequence of symbols we please without affecting the concept. That's what makes the L usage so trivial. I brought it up only to make it clear that I was not employing it in my arguments. 
But here is what you get right. If we are going to talk about concepts (or anything for that matter), we need some way of referring to them. So we use labels. The labels we use become placeholders for the concept they refer to; that's why they fell like one-in-the-same. People get used to referring to a certain concept via a certain label, such that they think it's a "linguistic" error (to use your term) to use the label for another concept. For example, my calling Jesus "Buddha" in the previous example. But this is an error not merely because I chose a different list of symbols. It's an error because the concept of Buddha implies thinks that are not true of the real Jesus, and by using the label "Buddha" to refer to Jesus I implicitly (b/c of the "one-in-the-same" convention I mentioned earlier) claimed that concept "Buddha" referred to the real life Jesus..

Response to paragraph 4: You're right. That's just the common example. A better example is "Mercury" and "closest planet to the Sun." Or "Morning Star" and "Evening Star."

1) Legal realists would disagree with you; they think murder is a real, objective thing and we try our best to discover its attributes. So our account of murder could be wrong. Anyway, I'm confused about your reasoning. How could you know you found the ontological foundation of morality if you don't know the properties something must have to count as the ontological foundation? It's like trying to find treasure without a map. Alternatively, you could be suggesting that we intuitively know what the ontological foundation is, and then we determine the criteria based off what we find. For example, we all agree that the lions, tigers, and panthers are cats. We then use these examples to inform our concept "cat," and what it takes to be a cat. If that's the route you're taking, I don't think it's intuitively plausible that God is the ontological foundation of morality.

2) My response here will come as part of my response to 3. I won't go into detail on that until we move on to that subject.

2) Again, you're mostly right; this is why I'm not a moral rationalist. I do think, however, that a perfectly rational version of you would be like you (or at least human). It all depends on the precise version of moral rationalism. If ideal agents are simply perfectly rational, they could have many of the same desires we do. For example, there is nothing inherently irrational about loving people, desiring food, disliking Naruto, etc. So I don't see anything inhuman about such agents. The problem with this position (as Joyce argues) is that it leads to moral relativism. The perfectly rational version of me (call him "Bob") might want to do something completely different to the perfectly rational version of you (call him "Steve"). Hence, different people will have different reasons to act. This also contradicts your claim that the ideal agent is God, given that there can be different ideal agents with different desires.
To avoid this problem, most moral rationalists say that in addition to being rational, the rational agents need to be impartial, have true non-moral beliefs, etc. We all strive to be (somewhat) impartial, have all true beliefs, etc.; that's what the idea of an ideal agent is meant to represent. It doesn't matter that such an end-goal is unachievable by humans. If it did matter, then searching for truth in all domains would be pointless. Finally, even given all these conditions, the ideal agents are not God because the agents have desires that God does not. For example, if we go with Kagan's veil of ignorance, the agents are ignorant about their place in society and have a self-interested motive to make the worst-off in society are not too destitute. Neither position is true of God. In fact, these agents have very human concerns.

Thanks. Hope this clears things up.

Mentat1231, "Re: PM?" 5/22/12


I agree comletely about Dune. I do think the Ontological Argument is worth a separate discussion sometime. But we'll see. 

I understand the distinction you're drawing between L- and C-usages; and I understand why you're making it. However, I honestly think the ultimate goal is unachieved. If your goal is to show that it is not "moral terminology" to work on deciding which things count as "moral" and then looking for a real thing that fits those descriptions, I think you are mistaken. It really is just a matter of deciding which concept this or that label applies to, and then looking for something to stick the label on. That is moral terminology. And the L vs. C distinction does nothing to change that. I'll give you my favorite example: the term "Life". A lot of debate has been had over the centuries about what qualifies as "alive". Some definitions included things which we know are NOT alive (like fires and viruses), and other things excluded things which plaininly ARE alive. But while all these attempts at settling the terminology were raging, no one seemed to consider the possibility that "life" is a non-distinction. That it doesn't mean ANYTHING AT ALL, and that that is why we couldn't properly set the label/concept up, nor agree on which things to "stick it on"! The **ontological** question had not been resolved. And I don't think it will be; since I actually don't think "life" is a meaningful distinction. In any case, it seems to me that if "good" or "bad" or "morally right and wrong" are to have objective meaning, we cannot settle that *ontological* question with terminological debates. 

1a) If legal realists are going to assert that murder is a real thing, then they have a label which they need to flesh out, and then they can see where to properly "stick it". This is still a terminological consideration. Murder being real doesn't change the fact that discussing "which things count as murder" is a terminological question. 
1b) Well, that's the thing. I think I have presented a case of what the objective foundation of morals would have to be. It's just that that description only fits God. I don't see any alternatives. Kagan's mythical perfectly rational beings don't actually exist. So they absolutely cannot ground morality. The best they can do is (as a thought experiment) give us a basis for making our moral decisions (epistemology) and assigning our moral descriptions (terminology). But they don't give us a final endpoint, where we can say "morality is what it is because, if these beings existed, they would all agree on this". On the one hand, they WOULDN'T agree (unlike God, who is a single entity); and on the other hand something has to ground the solution they give as being actually MORAL, rather than just rational. What Hitler did wasn't "irrational"; it was just immoral. 

2) You're making my point for me. You show that, if we rely on these moral rationalist views, we are stuck with relativism. Even if all the non-moral beliefs are true, and they are impartial, they could come to different (equally rational) moral conclusions. God, on the other hand, cannot disagree with His fundamental nature, and is therefore a better option for an objective foundation. Indeed, He's also better specifically because He does NOT have "very human concerns" (as you put it). So, He is qualified to make decisions which even an alien species would also have to abide by. And His commands (issuing from His morally perfect nature) could govern interspecies behavior, and matters where human flourishing might be a BAD thing (such as in the possible world where the majority of humans have become psychopathic). Et cetera. 

... So, all that remains is to answer your question directly: How can we know that X is the right foundation for moral values, without first establishing the qualifications X would need to have? The answer is, of course we can't. But I don't see how we can dispense with the following qualifications: Eternality, changelessness, metaphysical/logical necessity of existence and essential nature (non-contingency in these), and some clear indication that our moral intuitions actually could have their ground in X (say, if we were created by X). That last criterion would not apply to the ideal beings, who do not exist, and would not agree if they did. Indeed, they remind me of the "gods" of the 2nd attempted answer in the Euthyphro dilemma.

NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 5/22/12

Hello Mentat.

We will probably never agree on the L/C/R distinction. I think you're wrong, but your position is not blatantly irrational. Our disagreement should not prevent us from answering the real question: what is the objective foundation of morality ("FOM", for short). I'll employ my methods to explain my own position and adopt your method's when I interpret your claims. So I'll set aside the issues in the 2nd paragraph and 1a as irresolvable.

I don't believe the Christian God is the FOM. It's not enough for the FOM to be an omnipotent, omniscient creator. Otherwise, the creator could enjoy pedophilia and demand we all be pedophiles, and that would make pedophilia morally good. Instead the creator needs additional attributes. In particular, we need to specify its character traits. Most people group these traits together as omnibenevolence: empathetic, care about the suffering and well-being of others, just, merciful, etc. Imagine a creator who lacked such attributes. Would you really want to describe it as all-good? AA being who knew that others were suffering, yet felt no compulsion to come to their aid? At best, you could say that being was non-moral. Here's where the problems begin. First, the God of the Bible does not have the omnibenevolent traits. There are plenty of Old Testament examples to support this point. I could also run the argument from evil, argument from suffering, argument from divine hiddeness, etc. to support this conclusion. 

Second, God's status as FOM is completely parasitic on the omnibenevolent properties. So much so that we could separate these properties from God and still have a plausible moral system. When I say parasitic I mean: 1) if God has these attributes, God could be the FOM, 2) if God lacked these attributes, God would not be the FOM (or "God's other attributes are not sufficient to make God the FOM"). But if that's the case, why not just separate the attributes from the being and make those the FOM? For example, instead of saying "action X is morally right because it agrees with the nature or commands of an empathetic God", one could say "X is morally right because is the empathetic thing to do." You could similarly transform "concern about the well-being of others" into "that which promotes the well-being of others,", and so on for all the other traits. Then you make these the FOM. What I'm trying to get at here is that we all implicitly recognize that morality has to do with things like harm or rights or well-being, etc. (what you say here depends on whether you're a utilitarian, Kantian, pluralist, particularist, etc.). The only reason theists are able to offer their God as the FOM is that they smuggle these properties into their God via its character traits. Unless there are other arguments for thinking that morality requires a God, we should assume these properties (and not God) serve as the FOM.

So now the onus is on me to address other arguments that claim God is required for morality. For example, objective morality requires a necessarily existent mind. As I stated is previous posts, even if moral properties require minds to exist, the truth of moral propositions does not require minds. Furthermore, propositions can be necessarily true even if no minds exist (that's what my previous posts about counterfactuals was meant to show). All morality requires is the truth of certain propositions. For example, "If X occurs, X was wrong." In worlds that meet the antecedent, the moral property "wrongness" is instantiated via the consequent. The moral propositions would be true because of the properties I mentioned in the previous paragraph. For instance, "If X occurs, X was wrong," is true because X was not the empathetic thing to do or it resulted in unnecessary harm, etc. So if objective morality requires only that certain moral propositions are necessarily true, then there is no need for a necessary mind to exist. There goes one argument for morality requiring God.

Now for the attributes you mentioned in your last paragraph. The necessary moral propositions I mentioned in my previous paragraph would be true eternally, would not change, and would be non-contingent. So they would meet your criteria. They would also serve as a more plausible ground for our moral intuitions. For instance, when we hear about the Holocaust, we instantly form a moral judgment about it. Yet the only fact we are exposed to in the Holocausr account are facts about harm done to the victims, violations of rights, etc. No mention of God's will or nature. So isn't it more plausible that its properties like these that are the FOM and thus engage our moral faculties, rather than things like God's nature or commands that (at best) play an incidental role in influencing our moral faculties and judgments?

I tackle other arguments linking God to morality in my 5/18/2012 comments of musickle's video "The Moral Argument for the Existence of God 2of2." If you have any further arguments, I would be happy to address them.

Anyway, my goal in this post was to provide a PM was to provide an account of atheistic moral realism that is more plausible than your version of theistic moral realism, thus undercutting the moral argument for God. However, this does not mean I am actually a moral realist.

Thanks for your reply.

Mentat1231, "On the "Mass Murder" bit.... (please read first)", 5/22/12


I responded to the point about the morality of the God of the Bible (particularly, you mentioned the Old Testament). However, this could potentially side-track that whole discussion, so I really should have left it alone. Let me make my point on that very briefly here, and keep it from being a red herring in the other thread: 

The God of the Bible ("Jehovah", for shorthand) has never commanded murder. Murder involves wrongfully, or unjustly ending the life of another person. Now, I worded that very carefully. According to the Bible, most of those people in Canaan, or at Noah's flood, or in Sodom and Gomorrah (I assume these are the examples you had in mind) had their lives "ended". They are merely asleep, and will be raised back to life on Earth, with the prospect of an eternity of perfection. There are a few that probably will not be brought back (their lives really did *end*), but those would only be the ones judged by an omniscient Being to be beyond moral reform. In other words, they would never have agreed to moral goodness and so have been removed from the equation. 

Anyway, we can discuss this further if you like, or not. I just didn't want this point to totally hijack the other thread. 


Mentat1231, "Re: PM?" 5/22/12

You make a very coherent, interesting, and cogent argument, and it is like a majestic castle... floating in the air. I mean, you talk about the characteristics of an FOM, but you never gave the alternative which possessed these! Indeed, the only grounding you give is "Most people group these traits together as omnibenevolence: empathetic, care about the suffering and well-being of others, just, merciful, etc. Imagine a creator who lacked such attributes. Would you really want to describe it as all-good?". How does what "most people group together" or what I "really want" have ANYTHING to do with what is objectively true?? It seems to me that you erected this argument on a foundation of shadow. What MAKES "empathy" an objectively morally good thing? It is useful to groups of social animals, and helps them function better, but that has nothing to do with objective truth. I'm sorry, but I really don't see how you've established an FOM at all. 

Now as to your critique of God being a proper FOM: 
1) The God of the Bible never commanded anything evil. We have to remember that, if the Bible is true, then so are its statements about the resurrection hope and the restored Earth on which humans will have a chance at everlasting, perfect life. That this required the ransom of Jesus is another matter (related to God's perfect standard of Justice). And getting from Adam to Jesus was a messy process at times (recall that the Bible teaches there was an enemy of God actively trying to stop His purposes from coming true). However, throughout all of it, God never violated perfect morality. Anyway, I suppose is a separate matter, since I never specified the God of the Bible. 
2) This is the real issue. Is God just morally good because He has properties which happen to be objectively good? If so, then those properties would be objectively good, even if He didn't exist. That is the old Euthyphro dilemma, but I think it has been resolved. You see, our intuitions about what is morally good or evil could be mistaken. We rationally accept that fact. However, the very fact that they can be mistaken means that the objective *truth* of the matter lies elsewhere (in an FOM which is beyond our judgments; plausibly the essential nature of "God"). If God is a logically necessary being (existing in all Possible Worlds), and is eternal, changeless, and the creator of everything (**including every morally-aware being in the Universe**), then it stands to reason that: 
(a) His moral nature is as absolute as the nature of mathematics and numbers (which are also logically necessary objects, which exist in every possible world, eternally and changelessly). 
and (b) While the judgments of contingent beings (like me) could be mistaken about morals, the "mistake" would be with reference to a much greater, more absolute reality (God). Otherwise, how is it a "mistake"? 

So, my conclusion is that God (having the attributes I described: logical necessity of existence, eternality, changelessness, etc) is the only plausible FOM we have suggested thus far. Really, if the Nazis had succeeded, and the whole world believed that what they'd done was perfectly moral, they would still have been wrong. Why? Is it because we all are intuitively horrified by mass murder? No, because evreyone then wouldn't be; they'd think it was good. Then, is it because perfectly rational beings wouldn't commit mass murder? Says who? They very well might, and it wouldn't be irrational. Then why? Because the Being who created us (and thus created our intuition that moral values/duties really exist) is as fundamental to reality as the numbers and sets of mathematics; and His nature does not permit mass murder. 

What do you think?

NoctambulantJoycean, "Please Read First", 5/22/12

In my second paragraph, I meant that the truth of necessarily true moral proposition DOES NOT depend on human opinion.

NoctambulantJoycean, "Re: PM?", 5/22/12


I LOLed at the castle simile. Well played. Anyway, on to the actual arguments.

Most of my response to your first paragraph will be implicit in my response to 2). Just note that in my previous PM I took great pains to point out that necessarily true moral propositions have many of the characteristics you asked for. The truth of these propositions did and the existence of FOMs do not depend on anyone's opinion. I was also intentionally vague about what the FOM is (empathy vs. harm vs. rights vs. a plurality of valuable things, etc.). I did this because I am not here to argue for a specific first-order moral theory, like rule utilitarianism vs Kantian deontology. Instead, I was trying to show what kind of things could plausibly serve as FOMs, without begging the question in favor of any particular moral theory. I then tried to show these "kind of things" did not require God. Anyway, it's strange that moral theorists spend so much time debating things like personhood, suffering, rights, empathy, virtues, etc. as opposed to God's nature, if it's the latter and not the former that is the FOM.

I'm not going to address 1). Maybe we can eventually. I just don't want to right now b/c I'm no expert in biblical exegesis.

2) God is neither logically nor metaphysically necessary. The ontological argument is fallacious.

Moving on, in one of my earliest responses to you, I said you were running an implicit "open question argument (OQA)." An OQ is a question whose answer is not blatantly obvious to anyone who understands the concepts in question. For example, "Is water H2O?" is an OQ. "Does a triangle have 3 angles?" is not an OQ. An OQA can take the form of "Is X Y?" If this is an OQ, the argument sates, then X and Y cannot be the same thing. Or, in weaker versions of the OQA, if the question is an OQ, there needs to be an explanation of why X and Y cannot be the same thing. 

You're running an OQA by asking me "what makes empathy an objectively good thing?" Some versions of Euthyphro's Dilemma (as you note) are also OQAs which seek to show that "commanded by God or in agreement with God's nature" are not identical to "good or right". But you see the problem here. First, I can run an OQA against you: why is it objectively bad to not be in accordance with God's nature? Now answer this question without mentioning the omnibenevolence traits from my previous PM. You see how difficult the question is to answer compared to how easy it is to link up "bad" with properties like "unnecessary harm," "intentional disinterest in the plight of others," or some other non-divine property. This means even if OQAs were plausible, my OQA is more plausible than your OQA. 
Second, if OQAs worked, they would be prove too much; they would show that any two properties whose concepts were not conceptually linked could not be the same thing. For instance, you could use an OQA to show that "the closest planet to the Sun" and "Mercury" are not the same thing. It's for this reason that most contemporary philosophers no longer use OQAs to show that two things are not in fact the same thing. Instead, philosophers show that one of the things has a property the other thing lacks. A subset of this general strategy is the C/R method I outlined in previous posts. Another strategy involves showing that there are some situations where one of the properties appears without the other one being there. So unless you can point out a relevant difference between the class of FOMs I mentioned and "good," your argument does not hold up. But before I can employ that strategy, I need to address your epistemological points. 

It's true that our moral judgments could be wrong. So what? I made this point in the comment section before: by definition, every belief we form and every thought we think depends on the reliability of our cognitive faculties. And it's possible that those faculties are faulty, and faulty in a way such that we can never find out they are faulty. This means that, strictly speaking , we are not 100% certain about anything (ignore my tongue-in-cheek "100% confident" point from earlier). And God cannot help us out of this problem. If you don't see why God is no help, watch c0nc0rdance's video "The Counter-Apologetic to Sye's TAG Argument" (particularly the analogy starting at 4:17). So unless you want to adopt global skepticism, the fact that we are not 100% certain about the reliability of certain beliefs regarding X does not license complete abandonment of those beliefs. Nor does it imply anything about the nature of X. For example, we are not completely sure that Mercury orbits the Sun. This fails to imply that "Mercury orbits the Sun" is not a knowable, mind-independent fact grounded in physical reality. Nor does it imply that we need to ground "Mercury orbits the Sun" in something necessary. Being unsure of a fact does mean you should try to make that fact a necessary truth. To say otherwise does violence to the distinction between epistemology, modality, and ontology. Also, I'm not saying human moral intuition MAKES ANYTHING moral or objectively true. As in the case of determining whether Mercury orbits the Sun, I used human reasoning to reach a fact about a mind-independent reality instead of ontologically grounding the fact in human opinion. So I'm going to go on using the fallible human mind with its uncertain beliefs/intuitions because that's anyone will ever have (the same sort of fallible human reasons you use to come to conclusions about God; the same sorts of intuitions that tell you a cruel God is not an all-good God). That includes moral intuitions.

Now that that's cleared up, I'm going to employ the method I mentioned two paragraphs back. In part two of his paper "Theistic Ethics and the Euthphyro Dilemma," Richard Joyce gives reasons for thinking "in accordance with God's commands" is not the same thing as "morally good." His arguments can be easily be modified to show the same thing for "in accordance with God's nature" and "morally good." Alternatively, though I can't imagine many scenarios in which "accords with an omnibenevolent God's nature" is present, but "moral goodness" is not, that's simply because (as I argued in my previous PM) theists smuggled in the correct FOMs via omnibenevolent traits. However, I can come up with situations in which no God exists, but moral properties still exist. For instance, my Holocaust example in my previous PM was meant to show that most people would still think the Holocaust was wrong even in a world without God (again, the example was not meant to show that people's opinions are the ONTOLOGICAL basis for moral truth or FOMs). That's my intuition as well. So you need me to provide me with an argument showing that this intuition is wrong/unjustified and moral properties require a God to exist. And don't again resort to saying my intuition is uncertain and therefore ethics needs to be grounded in something necessary and...; I've already argued against that multiple times. And even WLC thinks human intuition is sufficient support for the existence of objective moral facts.