Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tao Cow, Take Two

Ernie's back with a brief contribution to our discussion, in which he quotes and then rephrases a statement that I recently made. I said:

There are a few general principles that underlie most ethical behavior, leading to increased individual happiness and social welfare.

Ernie then offered this rephrasing, really more of an elaboration:

Most ethical behavior can be derived from a fairly small set of general principles. These principles are not transcendent or grounded in divinity, but are (like natural law) discernible and achievable through human effort. We may not know them perfectly, but (like science) we can know them well enough to make useful decisions. Failure to understand and apply these ethical principles properly will jeopardize both personal happiness and social welfare (just like failing to understand the rules of sanitation will jeopardize public health).

Ernie asks if this is an accurate rephrasing, and it is fairly reasonable. I would not have included the comparisons to natural law or science, because I am not sure these principles share quite the same level of reality as natural law, or the same rigor as science. Also, I can for instance imagine that sociopathic individuals might derive a sort of personal happiness from actions which harm others, so while the above statements may be generally accurate, there are complications that prevent it from being complete. But those are only minor complaints.

Still, this may not really resemble Ernie's Tao that closely.

Ernie also requested a concise summary of my Tao, those basic principles that lead to ethical behavior. I have not actually constructed an explicit list, though it may be an useful exercise for me. It will require a bit of thought though, and I am not prepared to provide them yet.

I would like to return to Ernie's post The Tao of Hell (or Perhaps Vice Versa), his introduction to his concept of the Tao and how that relates to hell. I'll refer to that post as "TTOH". After my response to that post, How Now, Tao Cow" (or HNTC), he suggested in It Takes Tao to Tango (ITTTT) that

[Alan] isn't clear about whether I'm trying to convince him that my views are "true" vs. merely "consistent." Then again, maybe I'm not either. :-)

In TTOH, Ernie enumerates a number of things that he believes, including a description of the Tao according to Ernie, the judgement that may await us, and possible examples of hell-worthy behavior. In HNTC, I did question why he believes in that judgement, which I suppose was an example of asking for truth rather than consistency. Whether Ernie is trying to convince me or not, I do wonder why he believes this. Part of the reason for this question on my part is that I am still trying to figure out how much weight Ernie really places on the Bible. Are there reasons to believe in an afterlife (either good or bad) other than "the Bible says so" or "people have believed it for a long time"? Or is this merely a logically-consistent belief?

The other issue I raised in HNTC about TTOH concerned Ernie's statement that "... such a hell seems a logical necessity if a) choices have real consequences, and b) souls persist after death." I fail to see such a logical necessity, and the phrase "logical necessity" seems much stronger than what is implied by consistency. Doesn't "logical necessity" mean that (subject to the truth of the premises) true statements can be made about the existence and character of hell? I think Ernie needs to defend or otherwise explain this assertion.

Finally, Ernie did say:

Further, I believe I can justify -- and would willingly attempt to defend -- this position:
  • scripturally
  • historically
  • anthropologically
  • psychologically
  • philosophically

Words like "justify" and "defend" suggest to me something like an assertion of "truth". Either way, whether it is for consistency or for truth, I would be interested in seeing these justifications developed.

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