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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8211/why-be-libertarian/

Why Be Libertarian?

June 20, 2008 by

Murray Rothbard asks: Why be libertarian, anyway? By this we mean, what’s the point of the whole thing? Why engage in a deep and lifelong commitment to the principle and the goal of individual liberty? For such a commitment, in our largely unfree world, means inevitably a radical disagreement with, and alienation from, the status quo, an alienation which equally inevitably imposes many sacrifices in money and prestige. When life is short and the moment of victory far in the future, why go through all this? FULL ARTICLE

{ 70 comments }

fundmentalist June 20, 2008 at 9:09 am

Rothbard clearly saw that a lasting defense of liberty requires an ethical basis. What he refused to see was that ethics require religion. That was the conclusion of the great natural law theorists of the past, whom Rothbard claimed to be following, and of the great philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The reason that ethics can’t exist without religion is that no man has authority over another man. So any man-made ethical system has no authority. I think Mises understood that which is why he stuck to utilitarianism as the defense of liberty.

Rothbard tried to get around the dilemma by emphasizing reason as the foundation for his ethical system. The problem with reason is that you have to start with assumptions, and two people starting from differing assumptions will arrive at different conclusions both of which follow the rules of logic and both are reasonable. Rothbard’s system, and Hoppe’s require the assumption that property is an absolute, inviolable by anyone at any time. If you can get people to agree to that assumption, and some do, then you have the makings of an ethical system.

Natural law theory before Rothbard didn’t make that assumption. It assumed the right to life as absolute and left a few exceptions to property. As a result they arrived at different conclusions regarding government.

When you come to socialists, they’ll never accept property as an absolute. For many of them, equality of wealth is the absolute. Inequality is the root of all evil. And we have seen the results of that assumption in the deaths of about 100 million people during the 20th century.

Still, Rothbard was heading in the right direction. People won’t passionately support an idea for the long run that is totally intellectual. They must have emotions invested in it. Utilitarianism doesn’t grab people in the gut because they’ll just say that they would accept less wealth in exchange for greater equality. However, it will be difficult to get people to accept property as an absolute; it smacks of idolatry.

Protestant Christianity, the fundamentalist version, gave us the first taste of political and economic liberty and sustained it from the Dutch revolt against Spain in 1580 until the dawn of the 20th century. Not a bad run. However, few people today are Christians, let alone fundamentalists. Most Protestants have been fooled by smooth talking snake oil salesmen into thinking socialism is Christian economics, against over a thousand years of Church teaching, Catholic and Protestant.

What’s left? Rothbard considered the appeal to end poverty and rejected it. I think we should reconsider. The appeal to end poverty grips people emotionally on all sides of the political/economic spectrum. Socialists claim sole proprietorship of the fight, but clearly history teaches that socialism impoverished people while capitalism enriches all people.

I think we should recast all of our arguments for libertarianism in terms of how it will reduce poverty. In addition, those of us still interested in religion should attempt to restore the preeminence of property, and free markets as an extension of property, in theology. The Acton Institute is doing a great job at that.

EnEm June 20, 2008 at 10:04 am

This is a huge article by Rothbard; a masterpiece.
But let’s get back to where we actually are in the Liberatarian movement, as it “stands” at the present time.

My son is an avid student and practitioner of Objectivisim, just like his old man. So he opted to do his internship from high school at the Libertarian HQ in DC. Imagine his disappointment; imagine the disappointment of any young mind surrounded by tepid dishwater; the air of defeat and helplessness oozing out of an institution that’s supposed to do something — anything — make even a half-hearted attempt at upholding Liberty in the face of all out socialistic onslaught unleashed by crash dummies on Capitol Hill, just half a mile away.

The closest we have actually come to an form of Libertarianism is the powerful bt unsupported push from Ron Paul. We will need individuals like him and Garrison and true believers in Liberty if we are to see the following words bear fruit:

“I have need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice about me to melt.”

I concur. “It is this spirit that must mark the man truly dedicated to the cause of liberty”.

Tim Kern June 20, 2008 at 10:29 am

The problem that will always hold down libertarianism’s growth is the perennial problem of positive externalities. Libertarianism’s rewards accrue to so many, that numerous free riders just don’t care.

It takes a lot of work to live a life that respects others’ freedoms, and that work is unappreciated by so many — many of whom actually believe their freedoms come from their governments!

So, though we all talk of “selfishness” (in the Randian sense), we must practice libertarianism largely out of “altruism,” as the incremental rewards to an individual can never outweigh the incremental individual efforts needed to achieve them.

Stephen W. Carson June 20, 2008 at 10:43 am

“A Passion For Justice”. Just wanted to pointed out that that phrase from this article would make a great title for a biography of Rothbard. It is neither left nor right (or both left and right) as everyone claims to care about justice. And, of course, it is his own words that apply so well, above all, to him.

Joe Stoutenburg June 20, 2008 at 12:14 pm

EnEm:

Ironically, I thought that this article somewhat vindicated those of us who have been critical of Ron Paul and his supporters.

Keith June 20, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Quote from fundmentalist: “Rothbard clearly saw that a lasting defense of liberty requires an ethical basis. What he refused to see was that ethics require religion. That was the conclusion of the great natural law theorists of the past, whom Rothbard claimed to be following, and of the great philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The reason that ethics can’t exist without religion is that no man has authority over another man. So any man-made ethical system has no authority. I think Mises understood that which is why he stuck to utilitarianism as the defense of liberty.”

“Ethics requires religion”? Says who?

All ethics requires is honesty and sympathy. I don’t lie, because I’m not a liar. I don’t perpetrate force on somebody, because I don’t want force perpetrated on me.

Religion is as man-made an authority as you can get. I don’t need some man created fantasy to fear and worship in order to have honesty and sympathy. If you do, then fine, but don’t act like yours is the only way and by simply saying so, that makes it true.

Matt June 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Rothbard was on the right track to name Ethics and its derivative “Justice” as the cause to shoot for.

Unfortunately today still, Religion has a monopoly on ethics as it has since time immemorial. The code word of that monopoly is ‘Sacrifice’ the sacrifice of Justice to Injustice the sacrifice of the productive to the unproductive etc etc. Individual rights are trampled upon everyday by every government some more, some less, nonetheless ‘Sacrifice’ is used to justify their actions.

As long as the religionists are seen as having the intellectual moral high ground, which in itself is the height of Injustice then we will bloody muddle along as we have in the past..Justice will be appealed to but it will not be practiced. Alas, it cannot be practiced with Religion at the helm, the irrationalities will not allow it.

Brad June 20, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Speaking for myself, I’m a bit of an outsider anyway, a likely source for my views. I like to think that being an outsider gives one a clearer and more rational view. What I mean is that so many of the insiders are unsure of what it means to be on the inside and where the benefits are coming from. They just have a desire to keep it going lest the salad days end. When you are on the outside, you’re free of the general supersitions that make up the various warring factions that desire to club others over the head. Unfortunately it leaves you open to attack on multiple fronts with little back up. But then again, I was already there before the philosophy of libertarianism solidified itself in my mind.

But there’s still the question of why maintain it. I have little desire to use force and attack others even though I have basic fears that exist in all people. I can’t justify the use of force as I have an infinitesamally small comprehension of the world, and it’s difficult enough for me to navigate through it much less telling, and forcing, someone else how to live. I am as good an expert as there is on how I should live my life, and I completely useless at trying to tell someone else how to live their’s. I certainly am not going to force them how to live. I guess that’s the clarity I think that comes from being an outsider. I wish I had the answers but I don’t. The “insiders” THINK they have the answers, because they are insular and follow axiomatic sets fo principals. The catechisms get so basic and simple that beating someone else over the head becomes allowable if not necessary.

fundamentalist June 20, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Keith: “All ethics requires is honesty and sympathy.”

You confuse personal behavior with a system of ethics, which is what Rothbard was attempting. People behave in a moral way for many reasons. But they don’t necessarily have a reason to be moral other than to get along with others. Some people think it’s OK to lie to enemies but not to friends. Marxists think there is no such thing as a lie or the truth, just things that support your cause. Two of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers, Camus and Sartre, believed that ethics/morals don’t exist at all. There is no difference between lieing and not lieing; the only important thing is to do something and “valid” yourself. They recognized that all morality has a religious basis. Without it, men are free to decide how they want to act. They can murder all of the Jews in their territory, or make them kings. It’s up to them and them alone. You can help the old lady across the street or throw her under the bus. It doesn’t matter as long as you choose. So can you tell me which is the true moral/ethical system?

Keith: “don’t act like yours is the only way and by simply saying so, that makes it true.”

If you knew anything about philosophy, you would know that I have the weight of the greatest philosophers of ethics on my side.

Matt: “As long as the religionists are seen as having the intellectual moral high ground, which in itself is the height of Injustice then we will bloody muddle along as we have in the past.”

I have to admit that a great deal of injustice has been done in the name of religion. At the same time, the improvement in justice in the West was a direct result of Christianity. The abandoment of religion gave us the murders of the French Revolution, Nazi Germany and all of the communist nations. The 19th century was a very religious one. The 20th century was anti-religion and the bloodiest century in the history of mankind.

EP June 20, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Fundamentalist,

“The abandoment of religion gave us the murders of the French Revolution, Nazi Germany and all of the communist nations. The 19th century was a very religious one. The 20th century was anti-religion and the bloodiest century in the history of mankind.”

Nazi Germany was not anti-religious by any stretch of the imagination.

fundamentalist June 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm

EP: “Nazi Germany was not anti-religious by any stretch of the imagination.”

Maybe not the entire country, but certainly the Nazis were anti-religious, unless the religion supported them, which most did. The swaztica Then they simply ignored them. In addition, most of the churches in Germany had abandoned traditional Christianity decades before Hitler came along and had embraced socialism as the new expression of “Christianity.” They denied the deity of Christ. Some even denied that he existed. And they denied abandoned the Bible. Their god became something like the force in Star Wars.

IMHO June 20, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Hi Fundamentalist,

Would it be too personal of a question to ask you to describe what it means to be a fundamentalist?

Thanks.

TLWP Sam June 21, 2008 at 1:30 am

Bah! You’ve could described 95% of all societies with that rant. Either societies have been irreligious or had a official religion and persecuted those who did not conform to that religion.

Brainpolice June 21, 2008 at 8:57 am

The notion that only religion can be a source of morality is utter nonsense that is out of step with even the more rational segments of theology (I.E. Aquinas). Reason is the proper source of morality. Merely claiming that there is an imperative from god doesn’t make something more moral. It doesn’t matter what authority one appeals to for morality, the authority itself is not what makes something moral or not. Reason is the true standard. Morality discoverable by reason would still have the same essential character regaurdless of whether or not there is a god. Appealing to god doesn’t change anything in the real world, it adds nothing new that cannot be discovered through reason.

Brainpolice June 21, 2008 at 9:01 am

Oh, please stop using libertarianism as a facade: be honest and call yourself a traditionalist conservative already.

EnEm June 21, 2008 at 1:28 pm

I agree with Brainpolice. Morality can only be derived through Thinking. Reason is the tool and Logic is the methodology for achieving it.

And this one’s for Matt: When you sacrifice you give up a higher value for a lower one; otherwise it’s not a sacrifice. So by default, the entity that you are giving up your higer value for has to have a lower value in your estimate. That’s the nature of sacrifice.

EnEm June 21, 2008 at 1:30 pm

I agree with Brainpolice. Morality can only be derived through Thinking. Reason is the tool and Logic is the methodology for achieving it.

And this one’s for Matt: When you sacrifice you give up a higher value for a lower one; otherwise it’s not a sacrifice. So by default, the entity that you are giving up your higer value for has to have a lower value in your estimate. That’s the nature of sacrifice.

EnEm June 21, 2008 at 1:32 pm

For Joe Stoutenburg:

You may want to read the article again, this time keeping Ron Paul in mind.

Matt June 21, 2008 at 2:32 pm

And this one’s for Matt: When you sacrifice you give up a higher value for a lower one; otherwise it’s not a sacrifice.

EnEm. You are absolutely correct, however that is not what religions of the world mean by ‘sacrifice’
They want from you a higher value and in return you will receive a lower value or no value. This in their philosophy is ‘justice’.

We live in a world that practices an inverted morality thinking it’s ‘Just’, then most are puzzled: why all of the injustice in the world ?. They then blame the Capitalists who are keeping them alive and many Capitalists too are puzzled for most of them also are operating on an inverted morality.

Carol Dworkowski June 22, 2008 at 5:47 am

It is my understanding that classical Libertarianism taught that responsibility, not entitlement, was the compliment to freedom.

I find that many, especially the 60′s cultural relics of my generation (I’m well into my 66th year) and their progeny who claim to be “Libertarians” are often de facto anarchists demanding unfettered freedom to hedonistically pursue their interests and pleasures even when it is at the expense of the legitimate interests of others.

My freedom is not absolute; but ends where your nose begins. Conflicts of legitimate interests should rationally and responsibly lead to the negotiating table where non-zero sum workable compromises can be accomplished, not to the battlefield where a Hobbesian “might makes right” resolution trumps the civilized principle that “right makes might.” While no one gets everything s/he desires from negotiated conflict resolutions, neither does anyone get completely socioeconomically disinvested from the common good, only to withdraw and await more auspicious circumstances for another aggressive challenge to the temporary “victor.”

The evolutionary social sciences support the theory that, while *selfishness* is the best survival mechanism for solitary animals, reciprocal altruism is the most effect survival strategy for social animals of which our species is the most highly evolved, at least potentially.

Alexis de Toqueville noted in his classic book “Democracy in America” that one of the distinguishing characteristics of American democracy was the realization on the part of most citizens that the self-interest of the individual was intrinsically tied to the common interest/good.

IMO, socioeconomic/political stability requires that a dynamic balance between Libertarianism and Communitarianism (not to be confused with Socialism which demands the sacrifice of legitimate self-interest) be sustained.

fundamentalist June 22, 2008 at 9:08 am

IMHO: “Would it be too personal of a question to ask you to describe what it means to be a fundamentalist?”

No problem! I don’t mean what the popular press means today. Generally, they mean anyone they don’t like. So a market fundamentalist becomes an irrational worshipper of the market.

I use it in the traditional sense, which is similar to how it’s used in sports. In football, coaches emphasize the fundamentals, tackling and blocking. If you do well at the fundamentals, you’ll do well in a game. In that sense, the fundamentals are the essence of the game.

Applied to religion, the term fundamentalist came into use in the early 20th century in the US. German new theology had spread to the US. Most historians call it liberal theology, but I think that’s a poor choice of words. German theology denied the virgin birth and deity of Christ, all miracles in the Bible, and anything that they thought inappropriate. Their god became something like Hegel’s force. I imagine Hegel influenced them heavily. So to distinguish traditional Protestant Christianity from the new theology, traditional Protestants began calling themselves fundamentalists because they still clung to the fundamental principles, the essence, of traditional Christianity, that is, the virgin birth a deity of Christ, his bodily death and resurrection, and salvation by faith. And they insisted on the truth of the Bible in the original manuscripts. There may have been some other points that I don’t remember.

I like Austrian econ because I think it’s economic fundamentalism; it emphasizes the fundamentals of savings, investment, entrepreneurship, and capital. Most economics goes astray because it gets the fundamentals wrong.

fundamentalist June 22, 2008 at 9:47 am

Brainpolice: “The notion that only religion can be a source of morality is utter nonsense that is out of step with even the more rational segments of theology (I.E. Aquinas). Reason is the proper source of morality. Merely claiming that there is an imperative from god doesn’t make something more moral.”

You’re absolutely right. Reason is necessary. That’s how the original natural law theorists approached it. But they also recognized that, even using reason, any ethical ideas that a person came up with were just his own ideas and had no authority over other men. Children understand this better than adults (public education beats common sense out of them by the time they are adults). When one child tries to boss another one around, children say something like “you’re not my parent” meaning you have no authority over me.

Somehow they had to arrive at ethics that had authority over all men for all time, which is what most people throughout history have thought of as morals. (The term has become corrupted today to mean simply what an individual thinks is right or wrong.) Morality requires someone in authority over all of mankind. The only exception was Hugo Grotius, who believed that reason alone was sufficient, even though Grotius was one of the great theologians of the Protestant tradition and a devout believer. The remaining natural law theorists understood what atheist philosophers in the 19th and 20th century grasped: without authority from a superior being, morals were nothing but one man’s opinion against another’s.

That doesn’t mean that atheists can’t act morally. Most do. A desire for a universal morality is a critical part of human nature. But how did it get there? It couldn’t have evolved with us, because we don’t find any similar notion in animals. And the social contract theory doesn’t work because everyone would immediately recognize the contract as manmade and not binding on everyone. Natural law theorists assumed that God put that desire for morality in mankind.

So, as the great philosophers recognized, man has a dilemma. He has a strong desire for and inclination toward morality (universal laws of behavior) that become just an illusion if no being with authority over every man has provided them. The great question for philosophers has always been who has authority over all mankind? The answer has always been some kind of god; without a god, no real morality can exist.

Natural law theorists solved the problem by claiming 1) that God had given mankind the desire for morality and the ability to reason in order to discover it, 2) that God intended mankind to not only survive, but flourish, and 3) that morality consisted of those things that cause mankind to flourish in the long run. Those assumptions are very important, because any other assumptions would lead to different morals. In addition, reason can lead only to the most basic morality, such as prohibitions of murder, rape and theft. Greater understanding of morality would have to come through revelations from God.

Modern ethicists haven’t overcome the great historical problem of morality, authority. They simply ignore it, because without a solution to that problem, they’re out of jobs. The situation in ethics is very similar to that of mainstream econ. Mainstream econ hasn’t refuted Austrian econ, it ignores it. Modern ethical thinking is a pail shadow of that which has gone on in the past. It consists of nothing more than attempts through consensus building to keep the crumbling edifice of the old “social contract” from collapsing.

Brainpolice June 22, 2008 at 12:08 pm

“Morality requires someone in authority over all of mankind.”

No, it doesn’t. No higher authority, whether that be a deity or a state, is required to discover and apply morality. Moral action must be freely chosen, or it’s not moral at all. If someone acts “morally” only because they are forced to by some authority, they cannot be said to have true responsibility in any real sense. In either case, in the real world, even in the case of religious morality – it is authority of MEN that people are relying on.

“The great question for philosophers has always been who has authority over all mankind? The answer has always been some kind of god; without a god, no real morality can exist.”

Nonsense. Noone has legitimate authority over all mankind – and it would in fact be immoral for anyone to. Furthermore, once again, it does not follow that only a god can be a source of morality. In reality, all you’re relying on are claims of divine revelation – which come from MEN. Even your claim to god as your authority reduces back to MAN. The entire time, religion or no religion, it has been MAN at work.

“Natural law theorists solved the problem by claiming 1) that God had given mankind the desire for morality and the ability to reason in order to discover it, 2) that God intended mankind to not only survive, but flourish, and 3) that morality consisted of those things that cause mankind to flourish in the long run.”

None of this originates from Christian theology and can be traced back to Aristotle, without the reliance on god. Indeed, with the god question aside, these are all Aristotilean premises. Religions do not have a monopoly on natural law theory.

“It consists of nothing more than attempts through consensus building to keep the crumbling edifice of the old “social contract” from collapsing.”

This describes traditional Christian morality quite well.

Brainpolice June 22, 2008 at 12:17 pm

“I find that many, especially the 60′s cultural relics of my generation (I’m well into my 66th year) and their progeny who claim to be “Libertarians” are often de facto anarchists”

You speak here as if being an anarchist is a bad thing. Well, welcome to the broader libertarian movement – it basically is an anarchist movement, and the first people to use the term libertarian in a political context were anarchists.

“demanding unfettered freedom to hedonistically pursue their interests and pleasures even when it is at the expense of the legitimate interests of others.”

You’re conflating liberty and power. Consistant liberty does not imply hedonism. It is an equilibrium. No serious anarchist, to my knowledge, has ever proposed hedonism. Anarchy /= anomie.

“Conflicts of legitimate interests should rationally and responsibly lead to the negotiating table where non-zero sum workable compromises can be accomplished, not to the battlefield where a Hobbesian “might makes right” resolution trumps the civilized principle that “right makes might.”

Of course, this Hobbesian hell hole of war of all against all is a myth perpetuated to legitimize what amounts to exactly “might makes right” – by the state.

“The evolutionary social sciences support the theory that, while *selfishness* is the best survival mechanism for solitary animals, reciprocal altruism is the most effect survival strategy for social animals of which our species is the most highly evolved, at least potentially.”

From my persective, altruism doesn’t exist. And it’s a bankrupt moral premise that logically leads to nihilism, as it essentially must conclude that the individual has no value, that they have no real purpose for themselves.

“IMO, socioeconomic/political stability requires that a dynamic balance between Libertarianism and Communitarianism (not to be confused with Socialism which demands the sacrifice of legitimate self-interest) be sustained.”

As I understand it, conservative communitarianism is opposed to libertarianism. They’re not compatible in the least.

IMHO June 22, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Hi Fundamentalist,

I really do appreciate the time you took to answer my question.

“So to distinguish traditional Protestant Christianity from the new theology, traditional Protestants began calling themselves fundamentalists because they still clung to the fundamental principles, the essence, of traditional Christianity, that is, the virgin birth a deity of Christ, his bodily death and resurrection, and salvation by faith. And they insisted on the truth of the Bible in the original manuscripts.”

This response gives me greater insight into where you are coming from as a Christian. You’re calm and comfortable with who you are. You express your beliefs without browbeating.

As a Catholic, I have been the recipient of a great deal of criticism and hostility from the Christians of the new theology of which you speak. They are not calm like you, but instead are quite hostile…full of fire and brimstone. You would think that I personally organized the Inquisition. They seem not to understand that bad administrative policy does not necessarily mean bad religion.

I am glad to see that there are Christians who believe in the “fundamentals”. Having been born on one of her most important feast days, I have always sensed the presence of the Blessed Mother in my life; but am frequently admonished by Christians who want to diminish her role and also that of Mary Magdelene’s in Christ’s life. Almost as if it would be a bad thing for women to have played a role in the early history of the Church. I also don’t understand how they can deny the existence of the miracles, when you can find them right in the Bible. Or are they using a difference Bible?

I am rather stunned to learn, however, that there are Christians who do not believe that Christ is the Son of God. Is that why they don’t believe in the Holy Trinity? Is that to suggest that some Christians are still waiting for the Messiah? Is that why some Christians focus primarily on the Old Testament as opposed to the New Testament? If they don’t believe that Jesus is God, would they consider the New Testament to be irrelevant?

In an effort to eliminate as much revision as possible, I am currently trying to work my way through the Douay-Rheims Bible. Unfortunately, it is not the original version, which was translated from the Latin Vulgate around 1600 A.D. (and is not currently available), but a revised version that appears to date to the 1800′s. Anyway, I saw an interesting difference almost immediately. For example, newer Bibles speak of faith, hope and love, but the Douay-Rheims Bible speaks of faith, hope and charity. There is a world of difference between the words “charity” and “love”. I suspect that the reading of this version of the Bible will put things into their proper context.

What is the history of your Bible?

Do you think there will ever come a time when all of Christianity might come together? I guess I’m too much the eternal optimist, but I’d like to see us one day all pulling together in the same general direction.

As for Austrian economics…the beauty of it is in its simplicity.

BTW, I was never one for football, but I was taught that in my favorite sport (pool) that if you learn top, draw and bottom, then you can control the table. ;-)

J. W. June 22, 2008 at 7:32 pm

What a strange conversation! I’ve always found the TRUE BELIEVERS in reason a particularly strange bunch, and, just so you know where I’m coming from, I am an agnostic.

Perhaps it’s is my agnosticism, and consequent dislike of any sort of leap of faith, that leads me to dismiss claims that ethics or morality can be universal and objective. Beyond trusting my own senses (a purely pragmatic exception), I refuse to make any other leap of faith. Unfortunately, for the ethicists out there, the move from an IS STATEMENT to an OUGHT STATMENT is just such a leap.

Just as multiple, internally consistent geometries can be built from different axioms, so it is the case with ethics. Systems of ethics, to be reasonable, must obey the rules of logic, and in their most abstract formulation are of the same logical form as a geometry.

Any attack on a given ethical system will consist of an attack on an axiom of that system, or a consequent quality of the sytem. Logically, the two are both, in fact attacks on axioms. For example, the claim that a system is contradictory (an attack on a quality of the system) is logically the same as insisting that the system include a non-contradiction axiom (an attack on the axiomatic base of the system).

Most systems do require non-contradiction, and in my experience, this is the only quality an ethical system might posess that most people who bother with these sorts of things will actively try to avoid. YET, EVEN THIS IS A CHOICE. One might well build an ethical system that is self-contradictory on some questions in order to achieve greater completeness of the system.

So long as the conclusions of the system are drawn formally from the premises, the system is still RATIONAL. Thus, if even something as basic as non-contradiction is optional, the idea that ONE, UNIVERSAL, OBJECTIVE ethic (by which I mean one which any reasonable man would accept as binding upon understanding it) could be developed seems preposterous.

P.S. Please note that none of the above causes difficulties with physical science as the ONLY BASIC PREMISE for these systems of thought is that duplicated experiment determines reality. Oddly enough, this relies on consensus building (I don’t like it anymore than you do, but then again, it’d be great if I could fly by concentrating).

P.P.S. As econ cannot use the above mentioned experiment premise, it can, and does, run into all the difficulties of ethical systems. I like Austrian econ for the same reason I like Euclidean geometry. Of the systems I’ve surveyed, it explains the most with the least and most elegant assumptions, while displaying the least internal contradictions, qualities I find intellectually compelling. But I do not for one second believe that a compelling axiomatic system precludes all others I find less compelling from the appellation REASONABLE.

Keith June 23, 2008 at 6:48 am

Quote from fundamentalist: “So, as the great philosophers recognized, man has a dilemma. He has a strong desire for and inclination toward morality (universal laws of behavior) that become just an illusion if no being with authority over every man has provided them. The great question for philosophers has always been who has authority over all mankind? The answer has always been some kind of god; without a god, no real morality can exist.

Natural law theorists solved the problem by claiming 1) that God had given mankind the desire for morality and the ability to reason in order to discover it, 2) that God intended mankind to not only survive, but flourish, and 3) that morality consisted of those things that cause mankind to flourish in the long run. Those assumptions are very important, because any other assumptions would lead to different morals. In addition, reason can lead only to the most basic morality, such as prohibitions of murder, rape and theft. Greater understanding of morality would have to come through revelations from God.”

Then all you have to do is come up with some proof for your god. Without any proof, many people will simply think, and rightly so, that you’re just making things up and attributing them to your god. You of course have said that there is no proof, but it must be taken on faith, which is just another way of saying ‘I say so’. I guess I’m not seeing how religion is making anything ethical. It’s just another illusion to support a position of authority.

What’s wrong with basic morality? Most everything else is just made up anyway. Murder, rape, and theft, those are some of the big ones most everybody can agree to prohibiting.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 8:57 am

IMHO: “As a Catholic, I have been the recipient of a great deal of criticism and hostility from the Christians of the new theology of which you speak.”

That’s sad. I think the people who get the most upset are those with the least confidence in their philosophy, so they feel the most threatened.

IMHO: “I also don’t understand how they can deny the existence of the miracles, when you can find them right in the Bible. Or are they using a difference Bible?”

They use the same Bible, but they have been infected by the same type of scientism that Hayek and Mises taught against. They believe that the only real truth comes from the natural sciences. Since they can’t apply the methods of natural science to examining the claims of miracles, they insist that they’re myths. But the praxeological techniques of Mises are a much more sure guide to truth. People who dismiss miracles as myths assume either 1) that no god exists, or 2) if a god exists, he is too weak to intervene in human affairs (that’s the position of “liberal” theology). But if the God of the Bible exists, that is a personal, powerful God, then believing that he can’t or won’t produce some miracles is irrational. Also, thinking that a personal God wouldn’t try to communicate with humans is irrational.

IMHO: “If they don’t believe that Jesus is God, would they consider the New Testament to be irrelevant?”

Actually, they consider all of the Bible to be irrelevant. They use only the parts that give them an opportunity to introduce pop psychology into their messages. If you attend any of their services, and I have many, all you hear is pop psychology. It’s like they have the Church of Dr. Phil.

IMHO: “What is the history of your Bible?”
Personally, I like the New American Standard translation. I think it’s closer to the original Greek and Hebrew. But I recommend not relying on any one translation. You can get interlinear translations at most book stores that have the original Hebrew or Greek with a direct English translation below each phrase. Then get a good Hebrew and Greek dictionary if you want to know more about particular words.

IMHO: “As for Austrian economics…the beauty of it is in its simplicity.”

I think I was attracted to it because it fights the same fight against scientism, and what Hayek calls pseudo-reason that we fundamentalists have been fighting for over a century.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

Brainpolice: “No higher authority, whether that be a deity or a state, is required to discover and apply morality.”

That is the modern definition of morality, but keep in mind that it’s not the traditional definition. The old definition of morality said that morals applied to all men for all time. The new definition destroys the old concept of morality, which is exactly what philosphy said, except that philosophy is more honest in that it admits that morality (using the traditional definition) can’t exist without God while modern ethicists have been dishonest by changing the definition of morality but clinging to the traditional connotations. It’s very much the same thing that “liberal” theology has done with the word “God.” They emptied it of all of its traditional meaning but kept the word so that they can use the its connotative and emotional power. I think that’s a very dishonest thing to do.

With the new definition of morality, then multiple moral systems can exist. One group can think murder and theft are fine as long as you commit it against outsiders. If my group think stealing your land is fine, then you have no moral argument against my doing so because your morality doesn’t apply to me. Everyone is free to do what is right in his own eyes. In addition, you have no right to punish someone who holds to a different morality; all you have the right to do is exclude that person from your group. What you call morality becomes nothing but a housing covenant.

Brainpolice: “None of this originates from Christian theology and can be traced back to Aristotle, without the reliance on god.”

Actually, it traces back much further than Aristotle to Moses. Ancient Judaism emphasized reason and logic long before the Greeks came along.

J.W.: “Beyond trusting my own senses (a purely pragmatic exception), I refuse to make any other leap of faith.”

Have you read Hayek’s book on scientism? You seem to have uncritically have accepted scientism.

J.W. : “Systems of ethics, to be reasonable, must obey the rules of logic, and in their most abstract formulation are of the same logical form as a geometry.”

I think you’ll find all religions, and ethical systems, are internally consistent with the rules of logic. They differ on their assumptions, or as you say their axioms. How do you compare axioms? You follow their logical conclusions (make predictions) and compare them with human nature. Do the results match what human nature requires to survive and flourish? That’s what natural law did.

Keith: “Then all you have to do is come up with some proof for your god. … You of course have said that there is no proof, but it must be taken on faith…”

I never said it must be taken on faith. I think the proof for a personal, powerful God like the God of the Bible is very strong, but beyond the scope of this web site. Besides, I should point out that you use the atheist’s definition of faith, which equates to irrationality. The Biblical concept of faith it much different. It’s based on reason and historical fact. In modern terms, you could call Biblical faith a forecast of the future based on history and reason about the past.

Keith June 23, 2008 at 11:00 am

Quote from fundamentalist: “The Biblical concept of faith it much different. It’s based on reason and historical fact. In modern terms, you could call Biblical faith a forecast of the future based on history and reason about the past.”

No matter how you dress it up, it’s just more fantasies concocted by men. I’m still not seeing anything. What historic facts are you eluding to?

J. W. June 23, 2008 at 11:37 am

If by scientism you mean the belief that the methods and procedures of the natural sciences are the only and best method of inquiry into social questions, no I certainly do not believe I’m a social scientist. As I’ve said, economics does not lend itself to experimentalism, something I learned quite well from Mises.

No, what I am applying is not physical or biological thinking, but mathematical, an a priori system of reasoning. But without a leap of faith, a given deduction can only be said to follow logically from the axioms; the TRUTH of the deduction depends on the TRUTH of the axioms, which are not proven, but assumed, an act of faith. Thus to accept a moral axiom as TRUE would require an act of faith.

To reject an axiom because of it’s consequences is to allow a SUBJECTIVE VALUE JUDGEMENT to influence my selection of axioms. I have no problem with this, in fact I do it all the time. I require my own ethical system to a) be non-contradictory, b) use the smallest number of assumptions possible, and c) promote the flourishing of mankind. Nonetheless, if I’m to remain intellectually honest, I must admit that a, b, and c are all SUBJECTIVE VALUES. Thus my claim that a universal, OBJECTIVE ethical system commanding the respect of all reasonable men is impossible.

As an example, let us change c to d) “promote the flourishing of canines”. The ethical system derived from d would markedly differ from the original (we might even call it insane), yet in all fairness this new system would lay just as much claim to having been discovered by reason. To attack it, we would be compelled to reject d in favor of c, which requires us not to use reason, but to insist on our own subjective value judgements regarding the relative merits of c and d.

Axioms are not chosen by reason but by our sytem of values, which as Austrian econ does a superb job of pointing out, are subjective.

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 11:38 am

“That is the modern definition of morality, but keep in mind that it’s not the traditional definition.”

Bullocks on traditionalism. Knowledge must evolve, and clinging to anchient nonsense is just stagnation.

“The new definition destroys the old concept of morality, which is exactly what philosphy said, except that philosophy is more honest in that it admits that morality (using the traditional definition) can’t exist without God while modern ethicists have been dishonest by changing the definition of morality but clinging to the traditional connotations.”

“Philosophy” as such says no such thing. Certain segments of philosophy may, but to speak as if you’re refering to philosophy as a whole is disingenous. To ignore the segments of philosophy that reject god while still positing a consistant morality is also disingenous.

“With the new definition of morality, then multiple moral systems can exist. One group can think murder and theft are fine as long as you commit it against outsiders. If my group think stealing your land is fine, then you have no moral argument against my doing so because your morality doesn’t apply to me. Everyone is free to do what is right in his own eyes. In addition, you have no right to punish someone who holds to a different morality; all you have the right to do is exclude that person from your group. What you call morality becomes nothing but a housing covenant.”

First of all, it is disingenous to imply that any of that logically follows from rejecting organized religion. Furthermore, religion doesn’t get around this so long as multiple religions exist. Your religion must monopolize religion as such in order to truly universally apply your religious morality. Which will inevitably require some kind of conquest or rulership – which is immoral.

“Actually, it traces back much further than Aristotle to Moses. Ancient Judaism emphasized reason and logic long before the Greeks came along.”

I never read anything where Aristotle cites Moses. Not that we can be very sure about the historical Moses, if there really was one. We can be much more certain about Aristotle. You’re just pulling stuff out of your ass at this point.

Danny June 23, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Brainpolice,

You are totally misreading fundamentalist and what he is saying. Calm down, stop responding without thinking, and try to absorb what he is saying.

Your consistent (not consistant) misspellings show your lack of attention to detail, and your crass attack at the end seal the deal.

There are other ways to attack what fundamentalist is saying. However, I agree with the vast majority of what he is saying, but I am not nearly so confident in the Bible and am not a practicing Christian.

IMHO June 23, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Fundamentalist,

Thank you.

Bill June 23, 2008 at 12:32 pm

fudamentalist wrote:
“So, as the great philosophers recognized, man has a dilemma. He has a strong desire for and inclination toward morality (universal laws of behavior) that become just an illusion if no being with authority over every man has provided them. The great question for philosophers has always been who has authority over all mankind? The answer has always been some kind of god; without a god, no real morality can exist.”

I’ve gone around on this with a PhD philosopher friend of mine. Being that we are both atheists, his response was to disregard anything to do with natural law.

This sent me searching, but I really haven’t had time to fully explore it (I do have a real job). But where I was headed, was into the world of physics, and the concept of emergence. Through emergence, the hectic, probablistic world of quantum mechanics somehow organizes into atoms and molecules and then into everyday objects like tables, chairs, planets, etc. Same holds for the laws of Newtonian physics in the space/time continuum of Einsteins world.

Talking about natural law as it relates to one or even two people is probably meaningless, but as you add more and more people, the tenets of natural law emerge.

As I said, I haven’t had time to really explore this, but I wish someone would. Maybe someone has, and I don’t know about it, but it’s so obscure I don’t think many people really care.

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 1:14 pm

“You are totally misreading fundamentalist and what he is saying. Calm down, stop responding without thinking, and try to absorb what he is saying.”

What’s he’s saying is archiac and irrationalist nonsense that has no relevance to the contemporary world. It belongs back in the dark ages. It is the worldview of moral monopolists who think that morality as such crumbles without their own prefered authorities. What it boils down to is the notion that I must submit to his prefered authorities in order to understand, discover and apply morality. In reality, I require no authority but my own mind to do so.

“Your consistent (not consistant) misspellings show your lack of attention to detail, and your crass attack at the end seal the deal.”

I don’t know what spelling has to do with the detail of an argument.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm

J.W.: “No, what I am applying is not physical or biological thinking, but mathematical, an a priori system of reasoning. But without a leap of faith, a given deduction can only be said to follow logically from the axioms; the TRUTH of the deduction depends on the TRUTH of the axioms, which are not proven, but assumed, an act of faith. Thus to accept a moral axiom as TRUE would require an act of faith.”

OK. I stand corrected. I agree with you to a point. However, I think there is a way to test axioms in the social sciences and metaphysics. You project how reality should look if the axiom is true and then compare that projection with reality. For example, if there is no God, and mankind evolved from lower animals, we would expect to find no sense of morals in man other than what we might find in the animal world. Yet that is not what we find. We find a highly developed sense of morals and inclination toward morality (in the traditional meaning of the word).

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 1:32 pm

The notion that without a deity there can be no order or morality is fundamentally no different than the notion that without a state there can be no order or morality, and historically I see the latter premise following from the former. I reject both premises, or to be more precise, I reject the premise that both of these views share: I.E. the notion that morality necessarily requires submission to a higher authority or that people only act morality due to the mere existance of a law or a religious text or a state or a deity. Or that the universe or society requires a central planner to exist or function (whether it be in some supernatural realm or of this earth). To all of this I say: nonsense.

An atheist and an anarchist has no less of a reason to refrain from murdering or stealing than anyone else. They can deduce these premises from a combination of common sense and self-interest, and hence no law or god is required in order to both support and practise such morality. I’d argue that the atheist and anarchist actually is in a superior position in that they don’t need to rely on a higher authority in order to rationalize morality. The theists and statists are comparatively weak since they do not judge moral propositions on their own merits and they rely on something arbitrary external to justify morality.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Keith: “What historic facts are you eluding to?”

All historical facts found in history and science that relate to the subject.

Brainpolice: “Bullocks on traditionalism. Knowledge must evolve, and clinging to anchient nonsense is just stagnation.”

You should read Hayek’s “Fatal Conceit.” He has a lot of good things to say about false reasoning. Yes, knowledge must evolve, but changing definitions of words for the sole purpose of deceiving people isn’t progress.

Brainpolice: “Philosophy” as such says no such thing.”

Well it does, and saying it doesn’t just shows your ignorance. I have never read a philosopher who denied it; but many who ignore it.

Brainpolice: “First of all, it is disingenous to imply that any of that logically follows from rejecting organized religion.”

I never claimed that. The issue has nothing to do with organized religion, but with philosophy, particularly with epistemology.

Brainpolice: “Furthermore, religion doesn’t get around this so long as multiple religions exist. Your religion must monopolize religion as such in order to truly universally apply your religious morality. Which will inevitably require some kind of conquest or rulership – which is immoral.”

You’re changing the topic from that of a discovering a logical system of morals to one of practical application. The problem of mutliple religions only complicated the problem; it doesn’t make it impossible. And one’s philosophy of morals can be true without everyone in the world accepting it, just as Austrian econ is true even though a minority of economists are smart enough to see it.

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm

“For example, if there is no God, and mankind evolved from lower animals, we would expect to find no sense of morals in man other than what we might find in the animal world.”

This is false if one actually understands evolution. Note the key concept EVOLVED, which implies a transcendance of the lower animals. So no, it does not logically follow that an evolutionary view of mankind would imply that our morality is identical to the lower animals. On the contrary, evolution would explain how humans developed higher forms of it. Evolution would explain the higher capacity of reason from which higher conceptions of morality develope. Of course, since you’re a fundamentalist Christian, I somehow doubt you understand evolution all too well.

Ron June 23, 2008 at 1:44 pm

It seems to me that the reasoning for “morality” are more based on legitimate determination of what is wrong rather than what is right, and that approaching the question from the direction of what is right may be more appropriate.

For instance, the Ten Commandments are primarily a list of things one “shalt not” do, such as “Thou shalt not steal.” This is in line with the libertarian position on property rights, but it’s easy to see how it could be considered an arbitrary premise, as it gives no insight into its basis. If you turn it around, however, and state that it is right to own property and defend it against theft by others, the basis of the premise becomes clearer and, I believe, more consistent. No moral authority is required to grant the ability to own property, as humans are able to do so merely by virtue of their existence, much as animals claim territory and defend it against interlopers.

By the same token “thou shalt not kill” is merely another way of saying that each individual has a right to life and a concomitant right to defend it. However, the first (thou shalt not) is a command issued from some arbitrary authority, while the second is a premise with which very few could argue. While most people believe there are instances where it’s perfectly acceptable to kill another human being, very few would disagree with the right to self-defense. (I know, there are lots of people who do their best to make sure we’re unable to defend ourselves, by advocating such things as gun control laws, but even those people would probably agree that each person has a fundamental right to defend his or her own life in some other way.)

In my opinion, this is perfectly in line with human nature and is the basis for all rights. I think people complicate the issue in an effort to justify making exceptions to individual rights, or to justify the existence and position of power of some moral or legislative authority. Personally, I don’t think it needs to be so complicated. Religion and the State are both systems of control, and in most instances are anathema to human nature, relying on altruism (as stated by others earlier) to function as intended, or as most people believe they are intended.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Brainpolice: “The notion that without a deity there can be no order or morality is fundamentally no different than the notion that without a state there can be no order or morality…”

You seem to be having a real problem distinguishing between two ideas: 1) acting morally and 2) having a philosophy that explains morality and the human desire for morality. Very few atheists are immoral people, but they follow conventional morality for practical reasons, not because their philosophy provides a reason for acting morally. There are some exceptions. There is a Harvard philosophy professor who advocates that people perform outrageously immoral acts (by traditional standards) in order to drive home the “truth” that morality doesn’t exist. I can’t remember his name. Can anyone help me?

Acting morally for practical reasons (to keep your wife from leaving you or to keep from going to jail) is not a philosophical system. In fact, it demonstrates that real atheists are hypocrites in that they hold to a system that denies the existence of morality while acting as if morality does exist. For example, Sartre and Camus tried to live amorally in order to be consistent with their atheism, but Camus chose to side with the Algerians in their fight for independence and did so on moral grounds. Sartre accused Camus of hypocrasy, because under their system of atheism neither side could be good or bad since morality doesn’t exist. But Camus was only being human. It’s impossible for humans to live without some sense of morality. They’ll become hypocrites first and make up a system regardless of what their philosophy says about it.

Michael A. Clem June 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I have to agree more with Brainpolice on this one. Fundamentalist says that modern, rationalist philosophies can’t argue for a universal ethics or morality that applies to everyone. But it is just as clear that an appeal to religion or a deity can’t, either, but is simply a way of ‘fudging’ on the issue, making a claim that can neither be proven nor disproven.
Perhaps the question of where morals comes from is an important one, but appealing to an illusion (a deity) as the source of morality is irrational and muddies the waters. A more practical approach is not a religious appeal, but to wonder why men created so many religions with similar moral or ethical systems to them. A better understanding of human nature may be difficult to obtain, but will be much more rewarding for ethical philosophers.

J. W. June 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Fundamentalist:

Your method for testing axioms in the social sciences and metaphysics by comparing your projection to observed reality is, in fact, the only way I can conceive of testing them. That is why Austrian econ is persuasive: it’s projections match observation better than competing systems. This observing, combined with reasoning, is the only current method available for advancing the social sciences because of the complexity of social systems.

Unfortunately, this also brings us to the fundamental problem of ethics. In discussing ethics we do not attempt to deduce what IS, but rather what OUGHT TO BE. There is no way to compare these deduced oughts to observable reality, as the very “oughtness” of a statement implies that it is not manifested in observable reality.

When a man says, “Men ought not to kill one another”, he says nothing about what they actually do, just that they should do a certain thing. When judging a moral axiom or deduction, we never compare it to reality (because we cannot), but to some other fundamental axiom. We then accept or reject based on our own personal scale of moral values.

When you say that man has a moral nature, you make an assertion about what is. The problem is that the fact that man has a moral nature says nothing about what ought to be. To get an “ought”, you must begin with an “ought”, it is underivable from an “is”. To get from A) Man has a moral nature to B) Man ought to act morally, you must assume C) Man ought to act according to his nature. This C, an “ought” statement is necessary, and ASSUMED.

As for the claim that man’s moral nature is evidence of God, well, that still requires an act of faith. If God can just be, then so might man’s mind and moral nature, the assertion is unfalsifiable, as is the assertion that there is no God, hence the agnostic.

However, I must say there is something to your assertion that there must be a legitimate authority applicable to all men, if there is to be an ethical system legitimately applicable to all men. The idea seems to me to be inherent in the notion of “ought”. For when I man says, “You ought to do this”, I might reply quite rightly, “Why ought I?”. The objectivist would reply, “RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD SELF-INTEREST directs you to do so” But this “Rightly Understood Self-Interest” is just shorthand for X, “Those fundamental moral axioms which I believe are true.” The religionsist just replaces “Rightly Understood Self-Interest” with “God”, also shorthand for X.

But still, and always, X is a set of fundamental axioms, on which reasonable men may disagree as their private scales of moral values may differ. The religionsist claims his X came from God, insisting on the “is” statement “God exists”, while the objectivist claims his X came from REASON, insisting on the “is” statement “An ought statement is derivable from an is statement”, consequently turning logic on its head by claiming to have DEDUCED axioms.

These “is” statements, of both the objectivist and religionist, are superfluous. Given X we already have all we need to deduce “oughts”, because we started with “oughts”. The authority is in the axioms themselves, but they are still ASSUMED and SUBJECTIVE.

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm

“Well it does, and saying it doesn’t just shows your ignorance. I have never read a philosopher who denied it; but many who ignore it.”

Sorry, the statement that “philosophy says that morality cannot exist without god” is simply false. “Philosophy” involves a multitude of different philosophies. Some philosophies and philosophers do not posit that morality cannot exist without god. That statement is only made by certain philosophers and philosophies, not all of philosophy as such. There’s nothing ignorant about pointing this out. What’s truly ignorant is to ignore those philosophies and philosophers who explicitly deny that assertion. The truth of the matter is that it is most theology, not philosophy, which posits that morality cannot exist without god. The bulk of philosophy explores morality without reliance on god.

“You seem to be having a real problem distinguishing between two ideas: 1) acting morally and 2) having a philosophy that explains morality and the human desire for morality. Very few atheists are immoral people, but they follow conventional morality for practical reasons, not because their philosophy provides a reason for acting morally.”

Nonsense. There is a boatload of non-religious morality. You act as if theologans have a monopoly on moral philosophy, which is simply nonsense. In some ways I also reject the dichotomy between the practical and “reasoning”. That which is reasonable is practical.

“Acting morally for practical reasons (to keep your wife from leaving you or to keep from going to jail) is not a philosophical system. In fact, it demonstrates that real atheists are hypocrites in that they hold to a system that denies the existence of morality while acting as if morality does exist.”

Your assumption that atheists only act morally for practical reasons is nonsense. Many of us have philosophies. To argue that all atheists dont have moral philosophies is utter nonsense. And allegedly Ayn Rand never existed. And again, atheists per se do not deny the existance of morality – I happen to deny the authority that you rely on for your morality. Stop making these false and monopolistic assertions.

“For example, Sartre and Camus tried to live amorally in order to be consistent with their atheism, but Camus chose to side with the Algerians in their fight for independence and did so on moral grounds. Sartre accused Camus of hypocrasy, because under their system of atheism neither side could be good or bad since morality doesn’t exist. But Camus was only being human. It’s impossible for humans to live without some sense of morality. They’ll become hypocrites first and make up a system regardless of what their philosophy says about it.”

Atheism /= existentialism. Sarte and Camus /= an exemplification of atheism as such.

Ron June 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Fundamentalist: “In fact, it demonstrates that real atheists are hypocrites in that they hold to a system that denies the existence of morality while acting as if morality does exist.”

I have to disagree on this point. Rejecting the existence of a supreme being doesn’t necessitate the rejection of morality…unless, of course, we’re just arguing semantics and saying that “morality” has a purely religious basis, while “ethics” or “principles” can be based on reason. I see that as a pointless distinction, though, as it really serves no useful purpose.

I call myself “agnostic” mostly because I don’t wish to be aligned with most of the militant, intolerant kooks who call themselves “atheists”, but I don’t believe in any moral authority. I do, however, adhere to ethical principles that I believe to be right because I believe they stem from a state of nature and are logically consistent. Whether this can be labeled a “philosophical system” is inconsequential, IMO. The fact is that I don’t steal from others because I believe in the right to property, not merely because I fear the consequences of another person’s defense of his or her property from me.

Danny June 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Brainpolice,

Why don’t you give us some examples of philosophers that you consider to back up your points well rather than just misinterpreting fundamentalist?

As far as your constant misspelling, it affects the details of the words that make up your arguments. It is a symptom of your inability to distinguish between small details in arguments. How can you argue abstract philosophical points if you can’t distinguish between an ‘a’ and an ‘e’?

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 3:52 pm

“Why don’t you give us some examples of philosophers that you consider to back up your points well rather than just misinterpreting fundamentalist?”

I’m not misinterpreting him. I’m taking his own statements at face value and critisizing them. He’s essentially proclaiming to speak on the behalf of “philosophy” as such and as if theologans have a monopoly on moral philosophy. One need not reflect for more than a moment to realize that not all segments of philosophy agree with the premise that there is no morality without god. That is a claim that is rather specifically made by theist philosophers and perhaps nihilists, although there are also some theist philosophers who do not assert this (Aquinas included, in my understanding) and there are plenty of atheistic philosophers who posit some kind of objective morality. I need not give examples of atheist moralists or theists who understand that there can be secular morality, for this should be fairly obvious and well known from the get go.

fundamentalist June 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Brainpolice: “On the contrary, evolution would explain how humans developed higher forms of it.”

The only morality that evolution could provide would be survival of the fittest, which ultimately leads to eugenics, or the survival of my group against your group. Of course that doesn’t stop evolutionists from claiming that natural selection produced modern morality. They simply add that if morality existed, it must have enabled those with morality to survive better than those without it. But then the theory of evolution has always been one that can explain every event, including its opposite.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t do away with the problem of authority. If your group developed a different morality than mine, it doesn’t make mine wrong, just different. If my morality tells me that it’s good and moral to wipe out your group, you can’t use reaosn to persuade me differently. All you can do is pick up your gun and hope you can defend yourself.

Finally, evolution cannot provide morality for the most important reason: morality requires free will, that is, the ability to choose between alternative courses of action. If man evolved without the assistance of God, then our behavior is hard-wired; we have no choice.

Ron: “No moral authority is required to grant the ability to own property, as humans are able to do so merely by virtue of their existence, much as animals claim territory and defend it against interlopers.”

Except that those of us who defend property as a moral right are a very, very tiny minority on this planet. Most of the world sees property as a right granted by the state that the state can take away any time. Socialists see property as the root of all evil. If you were to use consensus as the guide to morality, then those of us who support property are among the most evil people in the world.

Brainpolice June 23, 2008 at 5:19 pm

“The only morality that evolution could provide would be survival of the fittest, which ultimately leads to eugenics, or the survival of my group against your group.”

You’re misunderstanding my point. I’m not talking about evolutionary theory as a source of morality. I’m talking about evolutionary theory as an explaination as to how humans developed morality. Big difference. So you’re not really argueing against my point.

“Nevertheless, it doesn’t do away with the problem of authority. If your group developed a different morality than mine, it doesn’t make mine wrong, just different. If my morality tells me that it’s good and moral to wipe out your group, you can’t use reaosn to persuade me differently. All you can do is pick up your gun and hope you can defend yourself.”

The introduction of a deity into the picture changes nothing about this, so the arguement is disingenous. It applies just as much to the existance of multiple religious creeds. It is disingenous to act as if these arguments exclusively apply in a secular context. Nothing changes when you add a deity as a rhetorical authority for the morality of picking up a gun and wiping out another group.

“Finally, evolution cannot provide morality for the most important reason: morality requires free will, that is, the ability to choose between alternative courses of action. If man evolved without the assistance of God, then our behavior is hard-wired; we have no choice.”

Sorry, the assumption that a god is necessary for free will or that evolution inherently implies fatalism is false. Furthermore, it is actually christian theology that puts foreward the notion of fatalism with the idea that god has a divine plan that will inevitably plan out throughout history. That cannot be reconciled with free will.

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