Utility of Religion

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Le1bn1z
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Le1bn1z » Thu Sep 24, 2009 3:57 am UTC

Atlas,

Which Christianity? I only ask because the discussion between guenther and yourself cuts to the heart of the thread (far more than the somewhat off-topic feuding regarding "consistency" above. As if being "consistent" made a morality more compassionate or good. Fascism is a laudably consistent morality, after all.)

The core question is; does might make right? That is, is Christian religion true because something that is limitlessly powerful so decreed it, or did the limitlessly powerful Being decree his code because His perfect understanding of his creations and love thereof leads Him to begift them His wisdom?

Its a crucial point, because if we come down on your side, along with John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, then religion really doesn't have any social utility. If we believe that God's law holds because of testaments to his power, then we obey him as we would a dictator, or, at best, as a favour to a friend; tributes to Him on high. Certainly, this version of Christian morality is strongly supported by the Hebrew Scriptures. Obedience to the Law is necessary to stave off divine retribution.

If we believe, with guenther, Locke, Leibniz, Episcopus, Dante, Arminius and the brothers Wesley, that God's law proceeds from wisdom and compassion, then it can, perhaps, "stand upon its own two feet." The Law is granted to improve our inner lives and provide for harmonious society. Obedience to the Law is the cultivation one's soul, perfecting itself in harmony with God's wisdom. This interpretation is strongly supported through the theachings of Christ in the Gospels and the Epistle of James and some of Paul, in particular in reference to the Two Great Commandments, and the parable of the Good Samaratin.

Only in the latter case does Christianity offer a model for a superior society. Calvin and Hobbes both insist that God's law can as often be a plan for suffering and misery in society as for joy.

As for myself, I believe that the human soul eternally cries for faith. Absent good religion, it will cleave to a bad one as soon as it is able. The best hopes for society lie in the cultivation of free but moderated religion, as we do in most of the Western 21st century world. In our society, sure, there are abusive religious practices; but a Catholic priest or an imam telling a woman that she's inferior to men in this world is one thing, but its a far sight less dangerous than witch burning in a theocracy or priest burning in a communist atheist autocracy.

Only a religion founded upon the reverence of God's clear and manifest wisdom and compassion can truly be a boon to society. Other kinds can either only be coincidentally serendipidous or tolerated in society.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Thu Sep 24, 2009 4:16 am UTC

Le1bn1z wrote:Atlas,

Which Christianity? I only ask because the discussion between guenther and yourself cuts to the heart of the thread (far more than the somewhat off-topic feuding regarding "consistency" above. As if being "consistent" made a morality more compassionate or good. Fascism is a laudably consistent morality, after all.)

The idea that consistency can make morality more compassionate or good, is another clear example of begging the question. Wanting compassion can only come from morality, so only if morality says compassion is good, is compassion good. As for "good", morality defines what "good" is, so yes in order for anything to be good, you need consistent morality. (Because with a non-consistent morality every single act imaginable is good, after all, all truth flows from a paradox)

If fascism is consistent, then yes it is a more valid system then a non-consistent one. This is fundamental logic: non-consistence is invalid, consistence is valid.


Le1bn1z wrote:The core question is; does might make right? That is, is Christian religion true because something that is limitlessly powerful so decreed it, or did the limitlessly powerful Being decree his code because His perfect understanding of his creations and love thereof leads Him to begift them His wisdom?

Its a crucial point, because if we come down on your side, along with John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, then religion really doesn't have any social utility. If we believe that God's law holds because of testaments to his power, then we obey him as we would a dictator, or, at best, as a favour to a friend; tributes to Him on high. Certainly, this version of Christian morality is strongly supported by the Hebrew Scriptures. Obedience to the Law is necessary to stave off divine retribution.

If we believe, with guenther, Locke, Leibniz, Episcopus, Dante, Arminius and the brothers Wesley, that God's law proceeds from wisdom and compassion, then it can, perhaps, "stand upon its own two feet." The Law is granted to improve our inner lives and provide for harmonious society. Obedience to the Law is the cultivation one's soul, perfecting itself in harmony with God's wisdom. This interpretation is strongly supported through the theachings of Christ in the Gospels and the Epistle of James and some of Paul, in particular in reference to the Two Great Commandments, and the parable of the Good Samaratin.

Only in the latter case does Christianity offer a model for a superior society. Calvin and Hobbes both insist that God's law can as often be a plan for suffering and misery in society as for joy.

....

Only a religion founded upon the reverence of God's clear and manifest wisdom and compassion can truly be a boon to society. Other kinds can either only be coincidentally serendipidous or tolerated in society.


I believe what your describing is the Euthyphro Dilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma) and the conclusions to it. This is a very important paradox in ethical theory as it destroys the legitimacy of divine command theory and has bad implications for subjectivist and moral relativism.

Post Script: I am about 8 beers in right now, so forgive me if my arguments/grammar/general writing are substandard.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Le1bn1z » Thu Sep 24, 2009 4:53 am UTC

Dark 567,

The idea that consistency can make morality more compassionate or good, is another clear example of begging the question. Wanting compassion can only come from morality, so only if morality says compassion is good, is compassion good. As for "good", morality defines what "good" is, so yes in order for anything to be good, you need consistent morality. (Because with a non-consistent morality every single act imaginable is good, after all, all truth flows from a paradox)

If fascism is consistent, then yes it is a more valid system then a non-consistent one. This is fundamental logic: non-consistence is invalid, consistence is valid.


So a consistent evil is superior to an inconsistent good?

Funnily, consistency is THE defining characteristic of totalitarianism. Hannah Arendt's famous work on the Nazi regime, the Eichmann trials and the phenomenon of totalitarianism in the 20th century probably struck closer to the core of the problem than anyone. Morality which follows consistent logic with perfect rigidity transforms human beings from subjective individuals into statistical or ideological objects, to be moulded or destroyed like so much stockpiled inventory.

Whatever happened to plain old compassion? The sympathetic understanding of one's fellow human being, which forms the foundation of Christ's Gospels, Confucius' Annalects, Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiment," and the work of Northrop Fry, C.S. Lewis and the Litterary Christian moralists of the 20th century.

Plato, in his Republic, wrote from the Greek understanding that the state is macrocosm of the human soul, and each civic philosophy had a correspondent personal ethic. There are philosophical, auchtarcic, oligarchic, democratic and tyrannical souls. Immanual Kant's "consistency" morality is the Platonic ehtics of Totalitarianism in the solitary human.

The Confucian ethics of ethical partiality created a perfectly respectable ethics partially based upon the notion that one owes greater defference and love to those closest to oneself. Caring for those closest to oneself is both natural, in correspondence to the natural bonds of mutual responsibility which bind us, and is how we might do the most "good," both by focusing our efforts and maintaining the broader harmony. Certainly, it is an ehtics too sophisticated and cultivated to simply be dismissed by the contemptuous wave of Kant's hand.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Thu Sep 24, 2009 5:11 am UTC

Le1bn1z wrote:So a consistent evil is superior to an inconsistent good?

There is no such thing as an inconsistent good. If a system is inconsistent every thing is good and evil at the same time. Everything loses definition. If something is inconsistent I could use it to prove anything: that killing babies is good, helping the homeless is bad. Everything is morally good and evil at the same time under an inconsistent system.

Again you beg the question though. By assuming fascism is evil, you assume some other moral system on top of it. This is the only way you can judge it to be evil. If in fact fascism is the true morality, it is not evil at all, it is morally good.

It is impossible to judge any moral system as good or evil without begging the question, because moral systems define what is good and evil.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Atlas. » Thu Sep 24, 2009 5:16 am UTC

Le1bn1z,
If I understand correctly the first part of your post is the Euthyphro Dilemma and the other half deals with which faith would be best for society to adopt and you suggest one that would promote prosperity for all should be the one adopted. If this is no true feel free to clarify, but I find both these points interesting so I will respond to them none the less.

Euthyphro Dilemma
This dilemma offers a Christian two options about God in regards to morality, either he is the biggest bully and what is right is only right because he has the power to send us to Hell if we don't do right, so out of fear we obey him. If this is not the case then what is right is independent of him so we don't need him in regards to morality because what is right is right regardless of any higher power. These two options offer quite a conundrum for a Christian who believes that God is not a bully, but also plays a part in morality. This is because the two scenarios offered leave out a third option that I believe to be true; that is that God in his nature is truth, is justice, is good. He does not arbitrarily force these morals on us, but by his nature epitomizes these virtues; they would not exist without him. And I do believe in a personal God, so I am not saying he is some idea of love and truth but not real. He is a person, but those are characteristics of his nature. Aquinas handles some of these in the SUMMA THEOLOGICA first part question 4 and 6. It is difficult to ponder these ideas, because they are hard to grasp. How can God by definition be a virtue, but I think it is possible and just because it is difficult to grasp does not make false or a nebulous cop out when confronted with a problem.

Utility in Society
Since this thread is arguing the utility of religion then this part may not belong here, but for me the utility religion for a society is not how I choose my faith. I have found that the Christian faith is true so it doesn't matter how good for society it is, if it is true then I will believe it. If I find it to be false then I will abandon it. That being said I do believe Christianity is very good for society and if everyone tried to be more Christ like than we wouldn't have near as many problems as we do. As you mentioned it is often ruined by power hungry people who hijack religion to advance their own ends like witch hunts.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Le1bn1z » Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:06 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Le1bn1z wrote:So a consistent evil is superior to an inconsistent good?

There is no such thing as an inconsistent good. If a system is inconsistent every thing is good and evil at the same time. Everything loses definition. If something is inconsistent I could use it to prove anything: that killing babies is good, helping the homeless is bad. Everything is morally good and evil at the same time under an inconsistent system.

Again you beg the question though. By assuming fascism is evil, you assume some other moral system on top of it. This is the only way you can judge it to be evil. If in fact fascism is the true morality, it is not evil at all, it is morally good.

It is impossible to judge any moral system as good or evil without begging the question, because moral systems define what is good and evil.


Interesting examples. I do not say that consistency has no place in a sympathetic morality; the moral person must be consistent in sympathy. But that is the contrast: in Christian morality, it is the motivation which is consistent; not the litteral law.

Let's take your example of "helping the homeless" as a morality litmus test. Now, let's see if the "we must help the homeless" can be fitted into a Categorical imperative. What if, in a hyproviding help to the homeless, we use up resources needed to, for example, save the lives of babies? Or, what if the help being given is not actually providing help, such as free cash to a drug addict, which disincentivises his turning to rehab services. Or, imagine, if you will, a Sophie's choice situation, where a child must die. For example, some societies in extremely poor or limited environments have practiced selective infanticide. Comparative anthropology of similar socieites in the Pacific Islands, interestingly enough, found that the islands with selective infanticide were far more stable in the long term, the children being raised being far better cared for, while the non-infanticidal islands often overwhelmed the local resources, devolving into brutal warfare, with all children getting caught up in a terrible starved-slaughter.

Then there's the most famous example; Kant's lying test. Kant took as his test law; "Thou shalt not lie," arguing that one could never lie or decieve because to do so would unravel the possibility of morality and communication. As you put it above, everything would devolve into meaninglessness.

He then argued that, if confronted with a murderous madman (say, Hutu genocidal militias in Rwanda) looking for a victim to slaughter and torture (say, Tutsi school children), you'd have to give them the best directions you were able. All quite consistent.

Basically, he was arguing that we are all morons, and are unable to tell the difference of when we ought to speak or expect truth, and when to give or expect lies or silence. In other words, that we are unable to deduct appropriate action from the specifics of a situation and develop a best-fit solution according to the best intentions.

His excuse was that he was torn by the possibility of uncertainty. The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say.... But then, normal people can reasonably figure out that there are limits to human responsibility. Most moralities demand that we try, not that we succeed at the impossible.

These moralities based upon "Logical Consistency" are cute, but have no bearing to the lives of real people. The morality of real people requires consistent and universal sympathy and good intention. We are, after all, beings of feeling, reflection and personality, not merely logical-deduction machines.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Thu Sep 24, 2009 2:01 pm UTC

I never said the literal law must be consistent. I said the moral system must be consistent that is all. If you for example you would say "everyone must be sympathetic at all times", you have made a morally consistent system.

Kant, is not the only consistent version of morality, utilitarianism and ethical egoism, are a couple others.

Le1bn1z wrote:The morality of real people requires consistent and universal sympathy and good intention. We are, after all, beings of feeling, reflection and personality, not merely logical-deduction machines.


Says what? This is again another moral statement about morality, you assume sympathy and good intentions are "good" things. You can't figure out what is good without a moral system first, even things like sympathy and compassion, cannot be judged to be "good", out side the context of a morality. So saying that a morality requires them is meaningless.

I would like to point out that the strongest point still stands, that any inconsistent moral system leads to paradox. All truth flows from paradox, so in any inconsistent moral system, every action is equally both good and evil. Morality becomes meaningless if it is inconsistent.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Atlas. » Thu Sep 24, 2009 6:26 pm UTC

I think you are right that you can't have an inconsistent moral system, because it would inevitability lead to chaos with things being both right and wrong. The moral system must be consistent but not the literal law. Lying is generally wrong, but in some cases could be the right thing to do. When you broke a window and your parents ask who did it, it would be wrong to say you did not do it. However, if you were a recently captured POW in Vietnam and the enemy asked where the rest of your unit was I think lying would be the right thing to do in that situation. The system is still consistent with valuing life over honesty but the application of the moral system differs. I think both dark567 and Le1bn1z are saying the same thing just differently. We cannot have inconsistent moral law, but sometimes occasions that look inconsistent aren't.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:12 pm UTC

Atlas. wrote:I think you are right that you can't have an inconsistent moral system, because it would inevitability lead to chaos with things being both right and wrong. The moral system must be consistent but not the literal law. Lying is generally wrong, but in some cases could be the right thing to do. When you broke a window and your parents ask who did it, it would be wrong to say you did not do it. However, if you were a recently captured POW in Vietnam and the enemy asked where the rest of your unit was I think lying would be the right thing to do in that situation. The system is still consistent with valuing life over honesty but the application of the moral system differs. I think both dark567 and Le1bn1z are saying the same thing just differently. We cannot have inconsistent moral law, but sometimes occasions that look inconsistent aren't.


Yeah, you have it right. The point I am making is that many peoples moral systems are in fact, inconsistent. This relates to the utility of religion because interpretation of religion that ends up with inconsistent morality, must be false.

The problem I have is that trying to judge the utility of religion of a society, is assuming a lot of things. Like for instance that we should value fairness, societal well-being, sympathy, compassion, society itself etc. If we are to judge the utility of religion for society we can only do that within a moral frame work we already have established. This would seem to conflict with the idea that religion is what allows us to be moral. Basically it says that any religion that wouldn't value the things in this system is immoral. Which would mean that this religion isn't of utility to society. Any systems as a whole that could judge whether or not religion is of utility will also judge certain religions to not be of utility. So the entire question is dependent on the moral assumptions you make.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Atlas. » Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:26 pm UTC

The utility of religion to a society would necessarily have to be based on that culture’s preconceived notions of right or wrong. As you say there would already have to be a standard in place on which each religion is judged and the one that best fits the values already in bedded would be the one of the most use to that society. I would think that a society with no preconceived notions of moral right and wrong would also have no use for religion, because all religions that I can think of do have a moral code included. If there is one that doesn't than that would probably be the correct one for an amoral society.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Fri Sep 25, 2009 8:25 pm UTC

Atlas. wrote:I may be taking this out of context, and this may not be what you meant but I am not a Christian because of the moral virtues that it has to offer. I believe that there is a preponderance of evidence historically and through my own life experiences that shows Jesus was who he says he was and that he rose from the dead. I am not a Christian because of the virtues, but try to acquire the virtues because I am a Christian.

I am a Christian because of what it offers. I have faith that by living my life according to Jesus' teachings, I will bear much fruit. I would struggle if I based my faith on observations of the real world. In fact I had this struggle for a long time. I couldn't find enough evidence to convince me of the biblical claims about reality, but I could observe the strong positive effects of being a Christian. This is precisely what led me to the notion that belief in truth is more important than truth.

Le1bn1z wrote:As for myself, I believe that the human soul eternally cries for faith. Absent good religion, it will cleave to a bad one as soon as it is able.

I agree with this. I think we look for a source of wisdom to make decision-making easier. When people reject faith, I think they will unwittingly anchor themselves onto something else. I'm sure this affect probably varies from person to person much like our need for companionship, affection, acceptance, etc. And some individuals have certainly found successful ways to live life without God, but I think it's the most robust, reliable solution we've found to date.

Dark567 wrote:Yeah, you have it right. The point I am making is that many peoples moral systems are in fact, inconsistent. This relates to the utility of religion because interpretation of religion that ends up with inconsistent morality, must be false.

I just don't buy into the fundamental importance of the consistency test. Suppose we consider a system where the rules governing my actions today are different than tomorrow. And the set of rules governing my actions are different than those governing your actions. This framework allows us to define any behavior we want in a perfectly logically consistent way: every action has it's own rule, so there can never be an inconsistency.

So the set of logically consistent moral systems is infinite and covers any pattern of behavior you want. Out of all of those, how do you choose? What's the metric? You keep say that we can't have a metric because we can only derive a metric once we've chosen a system. So your perspective leaves it completely undefined. People would just choose whichever feels right. In the end, this seems to reduce to "Do what feels right." (I'm not saying that your system puts forth that moral statement, rather I'm saying it produces the same results as a moral system with that statement.)

Atlas. wrote:I would think that a society with no preconceived notions of moral right and wrong would also have no use for religion, because all religions that I can think of do have a moral code included. If there is one that doesn't than that would probably be the correct one for an amoral society.

And chances are that that society wouldn't fair well in a fitness test against other civilizations. Not all preconceived notions of morality are equally likely. In fact, across cultures, there are some very basics things that we have very strong agreement in terms of right and wrong.

I'd say that's because we have an intuition that has been naturally selected for. And I think it's a metric we can use, at least qualitatively, to gauge which moral system is better. So when I say "religion is useful", I mean it is useful for producing results that we intuitively find to be good.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Fri Sep 25, 2009 10:12 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
Dark567 wrote:Yeah, you have it right. The point I am making is that many peoples moral systems are in fact, inconsistent. This relates to the utility of religion because interpretation of religion that ends up with inconsistent morality, must be false.

I just don't buy into the fundamental importance of the consistency test. Suppose we consider a system where the rules governing my actions today are different than tomorrow. And the set of rules governing my actions are different than those governing your actions. This framework allows us to define any behavior we want in a perfectly logically consistent way: every action has it's own rule, so there can never be an inconsistency.

So the set of logically consistent moral systems is infinite and covers any pattern of behavior you want. Out of all of those, how do you choose? What's the metric? You keep say that we can't have a metric because we can only derive a metric once we've chosen a system. So your perspective leaves it completely undefined. People would just choose whichever feels right. In the end, this seems to reduce to "Do what feels right." (I'm not saying that your system puts forth that moral statement, rather I'm saying it produces the same results as a moral system with that statement.)


Any set of consistent moral systems really cannot cover any system you want, and I am not sure there is an infinite set of them. I think the system you describe above would be very hard to justify consistently. As I described above even if every action has its own rule the two of them together can cause an inconsistency, this means the moral system is incorrect. The system you describe would have to have a very solid logical reason why the rules change for different people at different times, and these reasons would be some higher level rules. And these rules wouldn't change.

Humans have only found about a dozen or so morally consistent systems. Most, of these moral systems, only have one rule. It is very difficult to come up with a moral system that has more then one rule and still have it be logical consistent.

Now for the choosing part, I honestly don't have a good action for this. The only metric that makes sense to me is our intuition, that's not to say our morality is our intuition. We should find which logical system best matches our intuition and then follow that. I am a little hesitant to even trust our intuition though, as human intuition has been very wrong in the past.(Things like physics etc.) Without our intuition though, it seems we are stuck with morally nihilism.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Atlas. » Fri Sep 25, 2009 10:17 pm UTC

guenther wrote:I'd say that's because we have an intuition that has been naturally selected for. And I think it's a metric we can use, at least qualitatively, to gauge which moral system is better. So when I say "religion is useful", I mean it is useful for producing results that we intuitively find to be good.


I completley agree, that part was mainly for people who don't believe that there is an intuitive good and they all happened to be in one society. I don't think they would last very long living that way, or atleast would not progress.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Le1bn1z » Sat Sep 26, 2009 4:48 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:I never said the literal law must be consistent. I said the moral system must be consistent that is all. If you for example you would say "everyone must be sympathetic at all times", you have made a morally consistent system.

Kant, is not the only consistent version of morality, utilitarianism and ethical egoism, are a couple others.

Le1bn1z wrote:The morality of real people requires consistent and universal sympathy and good intention. We are, after all, beings of feeling, reflection and personality, not merely logical-deduction machines.


Says what? This is again another moral statement about morality, you assume sympathy and good intentions are "good" things. You can't figure out what is good without a moral system first, even things like sympathy and compassion, cannot be judged to be "good", out side the context of a morality. So saying that a morality requires them is meaningless.

I would like to point out that the strongest point still stands, that any inconsistent moral system leads to paradox. All truth flows from paradox, so in any inconsistent moral system, every action is equally both good and evil. Morality becomes meaningless if it is inconsistent.


I think you're missing the point. Your "strongest" argument is in fact the weakest. When you say that sympathy and conscience are subordinate to consistency, you "lose the plot," as they say; your morality ceases to be about people, and becomes a self-obsession of the thinker. The "consistency" ethic is, in fact, a species of ethical egoism; a narcissistic obsession with the elegance of one's own thought, with contempt for all that goes on outside one's own little world.

A true morality, to be worth anything at all, must concern itself with an object outside of itself. Otherwise it is the intellectual equivalent of a hampster on a wheel; a meaningless wire frame that simply spins on itself and bears no significance to anything outside itself.

I chose didn't choose sympathy/empathy to be the corner stone of morality at random. I chose them because they are the Sine qua non of a meanigful relationship between subjects (as opposed to objects). An subject can relate to another ethically by wishing them either good or ill, which requires an ethical imagination, an ability to judge the subjective situation of the other person, and therefore to judge what does him or her good. The point is to make the other person a fellow-self.

Consistency is important; one ought, perhaps, to have a consistence of intention but a consistency of the same repeated action regardless of the particular situation of one's fellow-subject is to rip them from one's moral thought altogether, and to treat them as an object through which we only attain our own desires. We're not acting for the other person, but to satisfy the concieted elegance of our own thought.

For example, Robin Hood can be considered moral because he judged the cruelty of the Sherriff, the suffering of the people, weighed the long and short term implications for his action, and decided to steal from the Sherriff and government to help the poor, even though he was against theft as a rule.

Or, in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus describes how the father rejected strict traditional justice by rewarding his neglegent son with kindness. Although he was not adverse to treating betrayal with vengeance, this would have been inappropriate in this particular situation, as the son had repented and had come to make good. Were he punished, the father would not be better off -- his heart would still ache for his son, and the son would be no better off, as his one chance to return to the love of this proper family would be ruined.

The question is: what is more important to the father, the rule or the loved son. The Christian answer is always clear; the laws exist for the sake of all people, and must bend to meet what is in accordance with love and charity for them.

Leibniz puts it best in his religious-political tract, Meditation on the Common Concept of Justice: "Justice is the charity* of the wise." *charity in the Latin-Christian sense-- active and platonic love. This is the work in which he lays out his concept of a state that takes an active role in the promotion of the welfare of ordinary people, and was used as the political impetus to set up Leibniz's scientific academies in Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg and elsewhere, in hopes of actively finding new ways to make life better. This tie between Christian faith and the origins of the modern scientific establishment is generally ignored by the historical ignoratii like Dawkins and his atheist evangelicals on one hand, and the Bushite Fox-News empty mouths on the other.

The object of consistency in true morality is ones intentions towards other people, not the egotisitcal love of one's own logical brilliance. Empathy is the animating principle, the motivation, for ethical logic. It provides ethical logic with its proper object, and clarifies the extent of its goals. I'd argue that without empathy, any "logic" or morality would be necessarily weak and thinly vielled hypocracy, like the modern heresy of American Republican-Christian hedonism.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Longstreet85 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 1:19 pm UTC

Dare I suggest that your quandary is caused by the conflation of ethics with meta-ethics?

I.e., Virtue ethics as a whole must be consistent but it certainly does not mean that ethical behavior be rule based or consistent.

I chose didn't choose sympathy/empathy to be the corner stone of morality at random. I chose them because they are the Sine qua non of a meanigful relationship between subjects (as opposed to objects). An subject can relate to another ethically by wishing them either good or ill, which requires an ethical imagination, an ability to judge the subjective situation of the other person, and therefore to judge what does him or her good. The point is to make the other person a fellow-self.


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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:40 pm UTC

Le1bn1z wrote:I think you're missing the point. Your "strongest" argument is in fact the weakest. When you say that sympathy and conscience are subordinate to consistency, you "lose the plot," as they say; your morality ceases to be about people, and becomes a self-obsession of the thinker. The "consistency" ethic is, in fact, a species of ethical egoism; a narcissistic obsession with the elegance of one's own thought, with contempt for all that goes on outside one's own little world.


I have to disagree, sympathy and conscience are only important with in the framework of a consistent moral system. If they are in an inconsistent moral system, then they are both important and not important at the same time. Every action/virtue/ethic becomes both good and evil at the same time. That is what inconsistency is. Sympathy and compassion become meaningless in an inconsistent system.

When I say consistency I strictly mean logical consistency, not necessarily consistency of actions. Actions need to be consistent with the system, but that doesn't mean the morality of is independent of circumstance. Your Robin Hood example, Robin Hood could in fact be acting completely consistent, he is simply following the rule "do what helps the most people". This rule allows for situations were stealing is both permitted and not permitted, that doesn't mean the system is inconsistent.

I honestly don't know where your going with the consistency becoming a narcissistic self obsession. You can have a consistent moral system that focuses on the sympathy and compassion for others. Hell its possible for someone to follow a consistent moral system without ever thinking about it, this seems to remove the idea that it is an obsession with elegance of ones thoughts.

Edited for clarification.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Tue Sep 29, 2009 12:15 am UTC

Dark567 wrote:Any set of consistent moral systems really cannot cover any system you want, and I am not sure there is an infinite set of them. I think the system you describe above would be very hard to justify consistently. As I described above even if every action has its own rule the two of them together can cause an inconsistency, this means the moral system is incorrect. The system you describe would have to have a very solid logical reason why the rules change for different people at different times, and these reasons would be some higher level rules. And these rules wouldn't change.

My motivation for that example came from Mindor's response to my spelling example. A dictionary has a separate rule for every word with no logical reason why some spellings follow certain rules and others don't. But there's never an inconsistency on how to spell a word because each word has it's own rule. In fact, it's impossible. Dictionary-style morality could work the same way, and we could have it vary with time and person. Why would we need to justify this with strong logical rules? Logically we can define anything we want, just like in math we can write any sort of weird, exotic function that we want. (By the way, "Do what feels right" would be a moral system that uses this type of time/person-varying, dictionary-style morality.)

In practice, we would reject systems like this because they're stupid. But we have to appeal to a metric other than logical consistency to do that. My claim is that this other metric is more important than logical consistency. And further, we could remove the logical consistency requirement altogether because it's importance would directly fall out of the other metric. This other metric would be some utility style metric.

Dark567 wrote:Now for the choosing part, I honestly don't have a good action for this. The only metric that makes sense to me is our intuition, that's not to say our morality is our intuition. We should find which logical system best matches our intuition and then follow that. I am a little hesitant to even trust our intuition though, as human intuition has been very wrong in the past.(Things like physics etc.) Without our intuition though, it seems we are stuck with morally nihilism.

Even if we can't find agreement on the above stuff, this is the important part.

I'd say that our intuition is really good at some stuff and really bad at other stuff. I'm certainly no expert here, but I've come to the conclusion that we're better at guaging results rather than procedure. I think there's some basic notes that hit the right chords within us and are either appealing or apalling. In movies, good guys have certain qualities that we admire, and bad guys have qualities that we hate. Genre stories like romance, horror, drama, tragedy, etc., all have certain ingrediants that evoke the right emotions. My guess is that the art of storytelling has mapped out a lot of our intuitions.

On the flip side, there's lots of things that cloud this intuition. For example, capitalism is very intuitively good for some and not at all for others. I'd say it's because we have an internal map of how it translates to the more fundamental notes. I think that mapping process can cause lots of problems with our intuitive systems.

Also, I think our moral intuition is meant to work at the very personal level. If we try to scale up a rule to the whole world, I think we can get weird results. I've seen people try to define morality based on some sum across all humanity, but our brain can't process information like that. At the big picture I think we have to make trade-offs that seem very unintuitive. It feels wrong to put a dollar value on a human life, but we can't spend our entire national budget to save one person.

If there is an emotional incentive for one result over another, this creates a big bias in our intuition that we simply can't overcome. I think this is the big problem with each of us deciding for ourselves what is good or bad. I don't think many people are willing to completely abandon morality to gratify themselves, but I think we will unwittingly alter our perception of reality to amplify the positives and make the negatives disappear. Thus we think we are making sound unbiased decisions, but often we're not. External wisdom help with this because the biases have been hopefully filtered out by the large group of people that have already used it.


Anyway, those are just my guesses on the intuition thing. While I think it's easy to be led astray, it's very powerful and important that we utilize it.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Dark567 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 4:06 am UTC

guenther wrote:My motivation for that example came from Mindor's response to my spelling example. A dictionary has a separate rule for every word with no logical reason why some spellings follow certain rules and others don't. But there's never an inconsistency on how to spell a word because each word has it's own rule. In fact, it's impossible. Dictionary-style morality could work the same way, and we could have it vary with time and person. Why would we need to justify this with strong logical rules? Logically we can define anything we want, just like in math we can write any sort of weird, exotic function that we want. (By the way, "Do what feels right" would be a moral system that uses this type of time/person-varying, dictionary-style morality.)

In practice, we would reject systems like this because they're stupid. But we have to appeal to a metric other than logical consistency to do that. My claim is that this other metric is more important than logical consistency. And further, we could remove the logical consistency requirement altogether because it's importance would directly fall out of the other metric. This other metric would be some utility style metric.

Just because there are a lot of weird rules doesn't mean there is some logic that we don't understand behind all them. A dictionary analogy doesn't seem to work well for me though. Each rule is for a particular word, in morality you could have a rule for every single action that is ever possible in all time or space, but that is pretty much impossible as there is infinite of both.

""Do what feels right", isn't a dictionary style system at all. It is a system with one single rule: "Do what feels right". This system is in fact logically consistent, as long as you do what you fell is right, its moral. Another metric being more important than logically consistency won't get us any where.

1. Without logically consistency there will be situations where morality will not be able help us make decisions on what we should do.
2. Without logically consistency any theory we have of morality about morality is incorrect, as anything that is inconsistent is incorrect.
3. Without logically consistency the terms good and evil loose mean. All actions become both. Good = Evil. All truth flows from paradox.

On your points on intuition:

I'm not sure I really disagree with this. The problem is that if our intuition is wrong a lot, then how do we know it can give us reliable moral knowledge at all. Like I said, I have no good answers to this, I tend to agree with you, but I have some skepticism.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Mindor » Tue Sep 29, 2009 5:44 am UTC

@Le1bn1z: The quotes, hidden cause its so long:
Spoiler:
Le1bn1z wrote:
Dark567 wrote:I never said the literal law must be consistent. I said the moral system must be consistent that is all. If you for example you would say "everyone must be sympathetic at all times", you have made a morally consistent system.

Kant, is not the only consistent version of morality, utilitarianism and ethical egoism, are a couple others.

Le1bn1z wrote:The morality of real people requires consistent and universal sympathy and good intention. We are, after all, beings of feeling, reflection and personality, not merely logical-deduction machines.


Says what? This is again another moral statement about morality, you assume sympathy and good intentions are "good" things. You can't figure out what is good without a moral system first, even things like sympathy and compassion, cannot be judged to be "good", out side the context of a morality. So saying that a morality requires them is meaningless.

I would like to point out that the strongest point still stands, that any inconsistent moral system leads to paradox. All truth flows from paradox, so in any inconsistent moral system, every action is equally both good and evil. Morality becomes meaningless if it is inconsistent.


I think you're missing the point. Your "strongest" argument is in fact the weakest. When you say that sympathy and conscience are subordinate to consistency, you "lose the plot," as they say; your morality ceases to be about people, and becomes a self-obsession of the thinker. The "consistency" ethic is, in fact, a species of ethical egoism; a narcissistic obsession with the elegance of one's own thought, with contempt for all that goes on outside one's own little world.

A true morality, to be worth anything at all, must concern itself with an object outside of itself. Otherwise it is the intellectual equivalent of a hampster on a wheel; a meaningless wire frame that simply spins on itself and bears no significance to anything outside itself.

I chose didn't choose sympathy/empathy to be the corner stone of morality at random. I chose them because they are the Sine qua non of a meanigful relationship between subjects (as opposed to objects). An subject can relate to another ethically by wishing them either good or ill, which requires an ethical imagination, an ability to judge the subjective situation of the other person, and therefore to judge what does him or her good. The point is to make the other person a fellow-self.

Consistency is important; one ought, perhaps, to have a consistence of intention but a consistency of the same repeated action regardless of the particular situation of one's fellow-subject is to rip them from one's moral thought altogether, and to treat them as an object through which we only attain our own desires. We're not acting for the other person, but to satisfy the concieted elegance of our own thought.

For example, Robin Hood can be considered moral because he judged the cruelty of the Sherriff, the suffering of the people, weighed the long and short term implications for his action, and decided to steal from the Sherriff and government to help the poor, even though he was against theft as a rule.

Or, in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus describes how the father rejected strict traditional justice by rewarding his neglegent son with kindness. Although he was not adverse to treating betrayal with vengeance, this would have been inappropriate in this particular situation, as the son had repented and had come to make good. Were he punished, the father would not be better off -- his heart would still ache for his son, and the son would be no better off, as his one chance to return to the love of this proper family would be ruined.

The question is: what is more important to the father, the rule or the loved son. The Christian answer is always clear; the laws exist for the sake of all people, and must bend to meet what is in accordance with love and charity for them.

Leibniz puts it best in his religious-political tract, Meditation on the Common Concept of Justice: "Justice is the charity* of the wise." *charity in the Latin-Christian sense-- active and platonic love. This is the work in which he lays out his concept of a state that takes an active role in the promotion of the welfare of ordinary people, and was used as the political impetus to set up Leibniz's scientific academies in Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg and elsewhere, in hopes of actively finding new ways to make life better. This tie between Christian faith and the origins of the modern scientific establishment is generally ignored by the historical ignoratii like Dawkins and his atheist evangelicals on one hand, and the Bushite Fox-News empty mouths on the other.

The object of consistency in true morality is ones intentions towards other people, not the egotisitcal love of one's own logical brilliance. Empathy is the animating principle, the motivation, for ethical logic. It provides ethical logic with its proper object, and clarifies the extent of its goals. I'd argue that without empathy, any "logic" or morality would be necessarily weak and thinly vielled hypocracy, like the modern heresy of American Republican-Christian hedonism.

I agree with almost everything you said here, the only real issue seems to be with the understanding of what must be consistent. The Consistency that is required is that the system always produce what is right.
I assume the problem you have with applying the same cookie-cutter action every time regardless of the specifics of the situation stems from the idea that the action might not always be the right one. If it is not always right, then the rule dictating it is inconsistent, and cannot be trusted.

If empathy and conscience are applied inconsistently, they too will not always lead to moral actions. Without consistency in application, empathy and conscience just boil down to 'it felt right at the time'. The same goes for intention, if you always intend to help, but are inconsistent in how you apply that intention, it could be easy for your well-meaning actions go astray.

For the two story examples, I don't see either as a case against logical consistency or that consistency isn't enough.
Both may show that blindly following a rule isn't consistently the right thing to do, showing a problem with the rule, not with logic.
For the story of Robin Hood.
the common rule about stealing being wrong is derived from the concept that it is unjust to take what is not yours.
In Robin Hood, as I believe it is typically understood, the poor were poor because what they earned was taken from them unjustly. His actions of 'stealing from the rich, to give to the poor' can only be considered moral if he is restoring justice and not creating new victims. If he however robs a wealthy man that actually earned his wealth, he is no better than the sheriff.

For the parable of the prodigal son,
Forgiving the son was the right choice to make, the son shows this by earning the forgiveness by coming to make good.

Essentially, what I am trying to say is Empathy and Conscience are great tools for helping us more fully understand a situation, and can only lead to making better choices within a consistent moral system. But lacking consistency in the underlying system you can never trust the choice you make to be right, no matter what you use for input.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Mindor » Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:54 am UTC

guenther wrote:...snip...
I just don't buy into the fundamental importance of the consistency test. Suppose we consider a system where the rules governing my actions today are different than tomorrow. And the set of rules governing my actions are different than those governing your actions. This framework allows us to define any behavior we want in a perfectly logically consistent way: every action has it's own rule, so there can never be an inconsistency.

So the set of logically consistent moral systems is infinite and covers any pattern of behavior you want. Out of all of those, how do you choose? What's the metric? You keep say that we can't have a metric because we can only derive a metric once we've chosen a system. So your perspective leaves it completely undefined. People would just choose whichever feels right. In the end, this seems to reduce to "Do what feels right." (I'm not saying that your system puts forth that moral statement, rather I'm saying it produces the same results as a moral system with that statement.)
...snip...
I'd say that's because we have an intuition that has been naturally selected for. And I think it's a metric we can use, at least qualitatively, to gauge which moral system is better. So when I say "religion is useful", I mean it is useful for producing results that we intuitively find to be good.

Dictionary Morality:
It is true that you could theoretically design a moral system in which every single moment, of every single life had a unique rule to follow. As long as no rules were internally inconsistent ("don't do what this rule says.") No inconsistencies could ever arise from this system because each rule is only valid for a single person for a single instant, and will only have the chance to make one moral claim. So in fact you've designed a perfectly consistent system. If this is how you choose to define good and bad, it would be valid, even if it throws the concept of justice completely out the window.
I would like to say it is inferior to most other moral systems, but by definition it is so very different it would be like comparing apples to cats.
A perfectly consistent system is not in any way an argument against a need for consistency though.

You've suggested some 'non-moral' metric based on utility to compare moral structures.
As long as you can carefully choose the metrics, are careful in isolating and are objective in measuring those, you can make claims to the effect of, and may be able to even back up the claims that
"Religion X's moral structure is more successful at producing outcome A."
I'm in agreement with Dark567 though that any decisions about whether A is desirable would be dependent on your understanding or definition of morality. It may be unsatisfying, but it isn't a trick. Any attempts you've put forth to try to get around it, simply end up redefining the problem and so no longer address the same thing, or are attempts to claim that intuition is on the side of one over the other, which I don't think is defensible.


btw. I have not forgotten your question about defending the 'truth' of my assessment of service to others. School and sick kiddies have kept me away.
I feel strongly I could provide a proof for my claims. To do so though would potentially require an in-depth discussion of my entire thought process. I'm not certain this is the best format, or place for doing so as it isn't directly about the utility of religion. Without more specifics about what needs to be defended, or where you feel it is coming up short, I could write a book and still not happen to address the issue you have with it. Also considering your feelings about inconsistency not being a problem, you may well consider my argument irrelevant (As my basic plan for addressing it is to show that an arbitrary requirement for service leads to an inconsistency in the moral system)
At any rate, I'd still be happy to discuss it with you on the side if you'd like. Send me a pm
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Thu Oct 01, 2009 1:06 am UTC

@Dark567:
We probably have more agreement than disagreement on the importance of logical consistency. I don't hold it as supreme, but I do find it very valuable. In my mind, the big thing limiting the value of it for moral systems is that our brains aren't great logic crunchers. I think most of our decision making happens below our rational brain. So a taking a moral system and increasing the logical consistency might have the same impact as taking a song being played on my crappy PC speakers and increasing the song quality; at some point the improvement doesn't help. Also, I think a lot of morality is based on fuzzy qualities like caring about each other, and how do we really measure that anyways?

I can't think of any examples where a logically inconsistent system might perform better than a consistent one. But then I can't really think of any realistic inconsistencies in the more common moral systems.

And regarding intuition, we don't know if it will give us reliable moral knowledge, (or lead to good decision making, as I like to think about it). It's not an easy problem or else we would have a very neat solution by now. :) However, my belief is that when ideas are shared across groups of people, a lot of the biases are filtered out (which counters the bias-generating forces that come about when groups are shaped by their opposition to other groups).

@Mindor:I understand being busy and having sick kids. :)
Mindor wrote:I'm in agreement with Dark567 though that any decisions about whether A is desirable would be dependent on your understanding or definition of morality.

I think that our decision on what moral system we follow is very important. We could follow a certain religious discipline, subscribe to a secular philosophy, use more vague notions as described in the other thread about codifying morality, etc. This choice makes a big difference on the outcome of our lives. There's a wisdom involved in picking one choice over another. What metric should we use to capture a good choice over a bad choice? I'm trying to challenge the notion that it's undefined, the idea that if someone asks us for advice, we can say something more helpful than "They're all equally valid".

Perhaps an abstract metric would be to pick the system that makes the individual happiest with that choice when looking back from the end of life. (Or I'd prefer the set of choices that makes us happy enough, since I don't believe we always need the best.) But regardless, there is a metric. I chose to define "morality" (as in the "science of") such that the metric lies outside of it. But if we want to use lingo that places this metric inside, that's fine by me. I'm looking for clarity of concepts.

Mindor wrote:btw. I have not forgotten your question about defending the 'truth' of my assessment of service to others. School and sick kiddies have kept me away.

Well, that challenge was just a particular example. I don't think we can defend the "truth" of any of this moral stuff. I put forth that any proof will ultimately boil down to either "It feels right" or "God says so". So to claim any moral truth, we need a belief system which is ultimately based on faith, or more generally belief without evidence.

If you want to debate this more general point, I'm happy to do so here since I think it's relevant. I'm happy with the PM chats too. :)
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Atlas. » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:37 am UTC

guenther wrote:
I put forth that any proof will ultimately boil down to either "It feels right" or "God says so". So to claim any moral truth, we need a belief system which is ultimately based on faith, or more generally belief without evidence.



I think you are right on this point, without a foundation to base your moral beliefs on other than a philosophical metric it is hard to convince others that your system is right because there are too many variables and differences of opinion. I think it is possible to discern which moral systems help a society, but as to which moral system is "true" is not possible without some other belief.
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