Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wisconsin's Marriage Protection Amendment

Here in Wisconsin, we will be voting in nine days on an amendment to the state constitution. As you may have heard or might guess, the intent of this amendment is to ensure that gay marriage cannot be recognized here. In support of this amendment, a flyer was recently left at our front door, produced by an organization named Vote Yes for Marriage.

Before examining the flyer itself, let me first quote the statement that will be on the ballot regarding the proposed amendment:

Shall section 13 of article XIII of the constitution be created to provide that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?

The front half of the flyer says this:

Don't be deceived by proponents of homosexual marriage

Wisconsin's Marriage Protection Amendment is not about benefits.

It's not about relationships.

Wisconsin's Marriage Protection Amendment is about preserving traditional marriage between ONE MAN and ONE WOMAN.

It is about making sure Wisconsin citizens determine the definition of marriage in our state, not a judge with an agenda.


Since the amendment was clearly written by opponents of homosexual marriage, it may very well be true that, in the sense of its purported purpose, it is not about benefits or relationships. They can assert that it is only about the definition of marriage. But there are several problems with these claims. First, the text of the amendment goes beyond establishing a definition by additionally forbidding any other comparable legal status among same-sex partners. If the amendment were only about the definition of a word, this additional clause would be unnecessary. Its presence is a clear indication that this amendment is not intended to be just a definition.

Second, benefits are an important consideration for those that support homosexual marriage. For proponents of homosexual marriage to address the issue of benefits, an issue clearly affected by the actual wording of the proposed amendment, they need not be deceptive. (Of course, they still could be, but that is not the implication here.) Proponents of same-sex marriages are addressing a very real and important implication of the wording of the amendment.

Third, at least one other state (Michigan) has passed a similar amendment where the proponents of the amendment, even the very authors of the amendment, have stated prior to its passage that benefits were not in question, only for those very same people to turn around and file lawsuits against the state for providing benefits to same-sex partners based on that very amendment once it passed. We cannot, of course, be sure of what will happen here, but when the wording of the amendment provides for exactly this kind of outcome, being distrustful of these claims is not unreasonable.

The front side of the flyer also includes the common claim that the amendment (and others like it) protect traditional marriage. But nobody has yet explained exactly how any existing heterosexual marriage will be negatively affected by the legal union of two homosexuals, not in any way that justifies discrimination against those homosexuals that wish to be married. In fact, Massachusetts has one of the lowest, if not the lowest divorce rate in the country, and in Scandinavian countries that have recognized same-sex unions for nearly twenty years, divorce rates have gone down during that time. While a causal connection between gay marriage and divorce rate (or other similar societal ill) has not been demonstrated, it is difficult to conclude that gay marriage has hurt so-called traditional marriage when only positive changes have occurred.

I do agree with one line though -- the last one. Don't buy the lies.

On the back side of the flyer are a number of bullet points intended to drive their point home.

  • Homosexual activists shouldn't get to redefine marriage because they want easier access to healthcare benefits. [emphasis original]

As should already be clear, the amendment is not merely about redefining marriage. The fact that some benefits available to married couples are also available to unmarried couples does not negate the fact that those benefits are automatic for married couples while they have to be separately established by unmarried couples, often at great cost. Additionally, there are benefits that are available only to married couples. In either case, whether simply more difficult or denied altogether, homosexual couples face discrimination under the law.

  • Changing the definition of marriage would intentionally create motherless or fatherless children. [emphasis original]

This is silly. Changing the definition of marriage creates no children at all. Neither does it change the status of any children that already exist. For those children of gay couples, merely changing or not changing the definition or marriage has no effect whatsoever. But these children could be affected by the benefits and protections that could be given to their parents. When I hear opponents of same-sex marriage claiming to be pro-family, I think instead that they are actually anti-family, because they are only willing to support some families, the ones that have a particular type of family. Likewise, when we are asked to "think of the children", I would respond that I am thinking of the children.

  • Wisconsin's current law does not clearly define husband as a man and wife as a woman. [emphasis original]

That may be true. I have not seen what the current law actually states, but the implication here is that the law states that marriage (in Wisconsin) is between a husband and a wife, not between a man and a woman. What legal effect this might have, I do not know. But this is only an argument for the amendment only if there are other grounds for denying the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples; it is those other grounds that are lacking.

  • We are one lawsuite and one judicial vote away from becoming a Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. [emphasis original]

Again, this is not an argument against gay marriage itself. It merely plays on the prejudice of those that are against such marriages to begin with. (The whole "judicial activism" thing is too big to get into here, other than to say that it usually boils down to a description for judicial decisions that one disagrees with.)

  • Kentucky adopted the exact same language in 2004, and there have been no legal challenges based on benefits. [emphasis original]

The implication here is that if benefits were the real issue at stake, such lawsuits would have been brought. Since there have not (if that is indeed true), that must not be the real issue. Keep in mind, though, that what is being done here is to amend the constitution, the ultimate authority on issues of law. Once the constitution is amended in such a way, it may be that any such challenge would be doomed to failure. Not knowing anything about what has actually transpired in Kentucky, and knowing that benefits are very much the issue for gay and lesbian couples, I strongly suspect the reasons are not what is implied here.

  • The majority of people in Wisconsin believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. [emphasis original]

Perhaps so, but the proposed amendment goes farther than that by preventing any other legal relationship substantially similar to marriage from being recognized. Someone could agree that marriage is by definition heterosexual while still being in favor of civil unions that provide the same legal benefits. Additionally, as an argument in support of the amendment, this is no more than asking people to go along with the crowd.

  • Twenty states have already adopted amendments to protect one-man/one-woman marriage, with an average of over 70% approval. [emphasis original]

Here again we have the argument that "everybody is doing it" and here again we have the claim that these amendments protect heterosexual marriage without any explanation of how heterosexual marriages are actually affected by homosexual marriages. The concept of marriage is just that, a concept. It exists in people's heads, and cannot be harmed and need not be protected legally. It is people that need protection, and same-sex couples can and should be protected (legally) in the same ways that heterosexual marriages are.

Finally, the back side of the flyer concludes by quoting the ballot question, the same question I included at the beginning of this post:

Shall section 13 of article XIII of the constitution be created to provide that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state? [emphasis original]

Notice how the emphasis is again on the definitional aspect of the amendment. The more harmful part is the latter part, wherein civil unions, domestic partnerships or other legally equivalent statuses are rejected. Should this amendment pass, it will be interesting to see how quickly the second half of the amendment begins to be emphasized by those who are now emphasizing the first part. The amendment does clearly go beyond merely a definitional change, no matter how much Vote Yes for Marriage claims otherwise.

According to recent polls, the outcome of this vote is very much in doubt. A "No" vote merely maintains the status quo. A "Yes" vote not only establishes a particular definition of marriage but also actively enforces discrimination against same-sex couples. We can do better than that. I hope we will.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Metric, Not Imperial

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

For the past couple of weeks, Ernie and I have been looking at the subject of ethics, more or less begun when Ernie posed his Ethical Trilemma. After a bit of a false start, it appears we may now be making progress. At least Ernie thinks so. In Metric [vs] System?, he describes what he sees as a bit of misunderstanding that needs to be cleared away, as well as posing some additional questions for further clarification.

Ernie listed three ways that the definition of Universal Utilitarianism (as given by the Ebon Muse) could be interpreted:

  1. Metric to a posteori evaluate either actions or alternative ethical systems
  2. Heuristic to rationally deduce potentially ethical actions
  3. Dogmatic a priori statement of the sole "true" definition of virtue

Ernie guesses that I have been defending (I) while he has been critiquing (III). I imagine he knows best what he was critiquing. I think UU addresses both (I) and (II), but regarding (I) I was envisioning that it evaluates actions, not ethical systems, at least not directly. As a metric, it is useful both before and after action. Before because it provides a basis for judging the expected outcomes of our actions, and after because (of course) it can be used to judge the actual outcomes. Actually measuring the total effect of our actions is difficult, and estimating them before hand even more so; as I have said several times, other ethical theories (like preference utilitarianism) can be used as heuristics within the framework of UU.

That appears to be cleared up, then. Ernie then suggests three additional statements for consideration here. (I'll skip the commentary between them and just list the statements here.)

  1. In practice, we need some system of ethics to make effective decisions
  2. Most ethical systems would claim to optimally fulfill UU as a metric
  3. UU can itself also be formulated (and critiqued) as just such a system

Under (A), Ernie lists seven questions to illustrate what a system of ethics should address. I will return to those in a moment. As far as (B) is concerned, that may be true, given (as Ernie notes) various assumptions about reality. We would agree, then, that getting our assumptions right is instrumental to making ethical decisions. Belief in truth formed one leg of Ernie's trilemma, and we can see here why alignment between that leg and the others (self-interest and other-interest, both included in UU) is not surprising. Further, (B) is compatible with the "universal" part of Universal Utilitarianism. Part of the point of introducing UU was to establish a universal, objective basis for morality that is not grounded in theism. Finally, I agree with (C) as well.

Since I pretty much agree with all three statements, then, Ernie wants to know how I would address the seven questions that he believes a system of ethics must address:

  1. Why should we act ethically?
  2. Why don't we act ethically?
  3. How can we know what is ethical?
  4. What are the consequences of unethical behavior?
  5. What is our overriding ethical obligation at any point in time?
  6. What is the role (if any) for reason, emotion, and duty in ethical behavior?
  7. How ought I to balance/tradeoff my personal happiness with the good of others and a commitment to truth?

We should act ethically because (under UU) that provides the greatest overall benefits to everyone, and usually to the individual. A sustainable system of ethics will scale: the more people that comply, the better everyone will be. We do not always act ethically because it is difficult to know what actions will produce the desired results, even when we want to make good choices, and especially because our natures have a selfish component that emphasizes self-interest over other-interest. That is, while perfectly rational and knowledgeable individuals might understand that cooperation provides better results than self-interested competition (over the long term), defection can result in better self-results at the expense of other-results, especially over smaller time scales and as transparency is reduced.

How can we know what is ethical? By learning how our actions affect ourselves and others. That is basically true by definition, since UU is primarily a consequentialist theory of ethics. Similarly, since ethical behavior under UU is defined as that which decreases potential and actual suffering and increases potential and actual happiness, unethical behavior increases sufferering and decreasing happiness. Nothing surprising there.

The question of ethical obligation is more interesting. In my view, obligations are incurred only by agreement or contract. So, UU by itself can impose no true obligations. However, some obligations may derive from more or less implicit agreements bound up in the fabric of society: caring for one's children comes to mind.

Reason plays its role both in determining the actual contribution of our (past) actions to ethically interesting outcomes, as well as helping us to predict the likely future consequences of choices we make now. Reason is also useful for understanding what is real, a vital component of looking at both past and future consequences. For instance, reason is crucial for determining whether or not eternal consequences of the nature described by Christian theology (in addition to the normal temporal consequences) are likely.

Emotion has its place too. Both suffering and happiness have emotional aspects, so emotional consequences are ethically interesting. In addition, the human capacity of empathy has an emotional component, and this capacity is useful in considering the likely consequences of our actions on others. Likewise, fear serves as a powerful indication of likely personal consequences. Of course, these faculties are imperfect (phobias) or sometimes absent (sociopaths).

Duty is a sort of obligation. Its role in ethical behavior is determined by what obligations we accept.

Regarding balance between personal happiness and others' happiness, the Ebon Muse addressed this via some more or less axiomatic assertions, which are reasonable but as far as I can tell unproveable. His suggestion to prevent suffering before increasing happiness, while helpful for situations involving people choosing to act ethically, does not reflect our intuitions about how to treat those who mistreat others. That is, causing some amount of suffering to those that act unethically (whether as punishment, deterrent or simply protection from future harm) is not allowed under the simplest reading of the definition of UU, and I do not recall this being addressed in anything that Ebon Muse has written (that I have read). In this respect, UU as formulated may be incomplete.

Is Universal Utilitarianism dogmatic? I can see where Ernie might get that impression from The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick. Mostly due to what I wrote in the previous paragraph, my own view is perhaps less dogmatic than that of the Ebon Muse, if in fact his view is dogmatic. In practice, there is enough uncertainty about the actual effects of our actions (or at least some of them) that I am not too worried about the precise balance.

Hopefully those answers do not throw Ernie for a loop, because I would really like him to tell us a little more about his solution to his trilemma. Over to you, Ernie.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Musing Response

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

Since I had referenced The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick from Ebon Musings in an attempt to move this discussion forward, and since Ernie had offered some criticisms of Universal Utilitarianism in his response, I thought I would bring this portion of our conversation to the attention of the author of that article and to invite him to provide feedback of his own. He was kind enough to reply and to allow me to post his response here.

I thank you for bringing this discussion to my attention - I'm glad to see that my ideas have inspired a productive philosophical debate. I read your response to your friend and I think it excellently sums up what I would say. However, if you request, I'll provide a response of my own to his criticisms:

"What is the error? That he fails to see the value of hypocrisy. Yes, I absolutely want to live in a world where everyone else seeks maximize the happiness of the whole. But, rationally speaking, it is better for me if [within that context] I can find a way to maximize my own happiness [at the expense of others] -- as long as I don't get caught! That is, as long as I can maintain the appearance of civic-mindedness, I can enjoy the benefits of such a society without having to pay the price."

Yes, one could choose to be selfish - but it would violate the precepts of universal utilitarianism to do so. As I wrote in my essay, UU "asks us to consider the moral value of our actions as if all relevant parties were fully aware of them". A person who acts selfishly and tries to conceal it from others, therefore, is going completely against the spirit of this moral system. If your act would decrease the happiness of the person affected by it if they knew about it, then UU condemns that act, regardless of whether or not they actually do know.

Other than that, I'm not sure what the basis of your correspondent's complaint is. Is he saying that UU is not the best moral system because it is possible for people to violate it? If he expects the one true moral system to be intrinsically impossible to disobey, he's in for disappointment. Or is he saying that UU has no good way to deal with people who do choose to act in this way? If so, that criticism is incorrect. UU advises dealing with hypocrisy the same way anyone deals with it: insist on accountability from the people you interact with, take steps to ensure that they are doing as they promised, and if they refuse to provide this accountability or show evidence of going back on their promises, then it is right to cease interacting with them and even in some cases to punish them. How else would any moral system deal with this kind of behavior?

"Now, I suppose you might reply (as Ebon Muse seems to have done at one point) that people should always value each other's happiness as if it were their own 'just because it is the right thing to do.'... Is that true? If so, then let me me ask again: Why?"

I advise valuing other people's happiness because it is the right thing to do, and the reason it is the right thing to do is that it produces the greatest benefits for everyone concerned, yourself included. I give additional reasons to believe this in my supplementary essay on Daylight Atheism:

I think that aligns pretty well with my response.

Ernie, I'll respond to your latest post separately, possibly as early as tomorrow.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Utility of Universal Utilitarianism

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

Thankfully, The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick appears to have been helpful to Ernie, so I will again thank the Ebon Muse for putting that together. Ernie has replied with his thoughts on Universal Utilitarianism. While it is not our normal practice, Ernie and I have exchanged a few emails about this topic and I believe that will help us move a bit more quickly in our discussion.

While Ernie appreciated the general thrust of UU, his major complaint seems to be that it does not properly recognize the problem of hypocrisy, that in a society characterized by adherence to UU, a rational actor seeking to maximize his personal welfare can cheat, thereby gaining the advantages of UU as well as of selfishness. He even goes so far as to say "However, I would claim that any theory of ethics that fails to recognize this problem is demonstrably incomplete, and wholy useless in the real world." And in an email he asked,

Yes, [in] an ideal world we'd all cooperate. But in an imperfect world, it is optimal to defect. I just don't see why (or even "if") he thinks virtue is the optimal response in the "real" world. Is this just a thought experiment, or a practical definition of virtue?

In my mind, the thrust of these comments and questions misses the point. It is not necessary for a theory of ethics to ensure that a rational actor who chooses to maximize his own personal happiness will not do so at the expense of others. The ethical theory may simply state that such actions are unethical. If it turns out in practice that there is always a choice that maximizes happiness for both self and others (as Ernie appears to be driving toward), that is well and good and according to UU such a choice is the most ethical. If such an alignment is not always possible, UU still provides guidance on what characterizes an ethical choice. This is not at all useless, especially since it is not at all obvious that we live a world where that alignment always occurs.

Naturally the problems of hypocrisy and selfishness are real and they must be taken into account in any practical societal system. UU does not ignore this as Ernie claims. It simply says that some actions chosen due to selfishness are unethical. (Some selfish actions are still ethical because some selfish actions benefit others, or at least do not harm them, even when that is not the motivation.)

Another way to look at Ernie's position is that he seems to be demanding that the most purely selfish choices (those that maximize personal happiness) will necessarily be those that also maximize the personal happiness of others, so that true selfishness becomes, in effect, a virtue or at least indistinguishable from virtue. Ernie may like this to be true -- who wouldn't? -- but an ethical theory that depends on this being true is rather fragile. UU, on the other hand, is compatible with this state of affairs, but is still useful when reality does not cooperate in this way, which frankly seems more likely.

Ernie's final response in our post-post exchange was the last comment found at the end of his post, where he wrote:

Okay, let us concede that UU is the ideal state if "consistently practiced" by everyone. But that merely raises the question:

  1. Do you have any rational basis for believing that a large group of humans could "consistently practice" those principles?
  2. Do you have any empirical data regarding the actions necessary to achieve such a state?

If by "consistently practice" Ernie means that everyone in the group could live according to UU all the time, then I would say "No." At least, we typically do not have enough information to accurately predict all of the consequences of our actions, particularly related to the subjective happiness (or suffering) that will be experienced by others (or even ourselves). But any kind of consequentialist ethics suffers from this problem, even if we had some theoretical or empirical basis for believing that there is no necessary tension between self and others. Even with this limitation, UU is useful because it both defines a standard and a goal. We may not be able to build an internal combustion engine that attains the theoretical maximum possible efficiency, but knowing what that limit is is still useful. In a similar way, even if we cannot attain the maximum possible welfare we can still benefit from knowing in which direction it lies.

As far as the actions necessary to achieve such a state, this is where we have a lot to learn. It is a difficult problem for which we have no complete solution. I previously described using different ethical theories to inform my decisions, and this is the reason why. In some science and engineering problems, we can find equations that describe idealized versions of the problems, but even then, actually solving the equations may be too difficult, so we make simplifying assumptions that are valid in different regions of the problem domain. In those parts of the domain we may be able to get accurate solutions, while in other parts of the domain, the simplifying assumptions break down and our solutions degrade. In the same way, I think there are some situations in which we can make relatively unambiguous statements about what is or is not ethical under an ethical theory like UU, while in other cases this will be much more difficult.

Of course, having some agreement among the members of the group that such a state is the goal is likely to be important. Members who derive their ethics from substantially different sources (like religious fundamentalists or moral relativists) will make achieving such a state difficult.

I hope that adequately explains why I do not believe that Ernie's criticism of UU is well-founded. I do not claim Univeral Utilitarianism is perfect or even complete, but it does qualify as objective and universal and is far from useless, even if the steps necessary to achieve a state where a large group of people consistently practice it are presently difficult to discern.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Reason, Morality and Evolution

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

While not part of this dialog, Ernie posted to his blog links to various points in a discussion in which he participated on the FoRK mailing list. I read through the various posts and wanted to comment briefly on something that I think is relevant to where Ernie appears to be heading in this dialog.

In this post, Ernie is discussing whether emotion and reason can be "absolutized" or whether they are contingent on something else. He writes:

The problem, as I see it, is that the human brain (and thus mind) is *also* a product of evolutionary forces. In particular, we are notoriously over-efficient pattern matchers who can easily see structure where none exists. If feelings are intrinsically unreliable due to evolution, are not thoughts then equally so?

To me, the really interesting question is then: what are evolutionary processes contingent on?

If the answer is really just 'pure chance', then I fail to see why absolutizing intelligence is any more valid than absolutizing emotion; correspondence with reality is just a random coincidence, and extrapolation is just a bad (or lucky) habit.

I want to stop there for a moment, even though Ernie continues on; I will get to his continuation later.

The first paragraph I quoted is an important point with which I agree, and is one of the reasons I consider a skeptical mental stance to be important. It is a means of protection against our tendency to make unwarranted inferences (pattern matches).

The third paragraph, though, is misleading. Ernie is setting up a transition to an alternative to pure chance, and he may very well be aware of what I am about to say, but for those others reading I want to clarify something. Evolution is often mischaracterized by evolution deniers as operating on pure chance. Pure chance, we hear, could never have produced the complexity that we see in life. We never find watches lying on the ground, assembled by pure chance. We never observe tornados ripping through junkyards and assemblying a 747 by pure chance. These are two common examples that have been given by creationists since William Paley in the early 1800's, and probably even longer. But these examples are not analogous to the process of evolution. Evolution does not operate by pure chance on inanimate objects, but on replicating lifeforms under selective pressure. Watches do not reproduce; there is no mechanism whereby changes in watches can accumulate to produce more complicated watches, not without the intervention of human designers and manufacturers. Living, replicating organisms, on the other hand, do reproduce and they do compete with each other for resources. And their reproduction does not result in identical offspring, especially not for organisms that reproduce sexually. Under these circumstances, it is a near mathematical uncertainty that changes over time will occur, and these changes will include an increase in complexity so long as the survival benefits of the complexity outweight the costs.

The pattern matching that Ernie mentioned is a survival mechanism. Being able to predict the outcomes of our actions, the actions of others and of other events in the natural world is beneficial. It is also costly. The metabolic load caused by our big brains is substantial, and the necessity of our heads full of brains passing through the birth canal also limits the size of our brains. It is not surprising, then, that our ability to understand the world is limited and subject to errors. But it is also misleading to say that the process by which we arrived at this state was pure chance.

Now, as I said, Ernie was leading up to a different point. He used those couple of paragraphs to frame his introduction of General Systems Theory, from which he takes "one finding: that both inorganic (e.g., atomic) and organic (e.g., living) systems are governed by the same general laws regarding interaction, evolution, and positive and negative feedback." This appears to be heading in the direction that he alluded to a few posts back in our dialog when he said:

This third option (iii) is aesthetically the most attractive, but it is an enormously strong statement. It basically asserts that the multitude of biological, psychological, and evolutionary forces responsible for humanity are fundamentally compatible with the scientific, philosophical, and intellectual investigation of the ultimate nature of reality -- even when there appears to be strong evidence for conflict!

I hope Ernie will elaborate on this, because I find nothing particularly surprising or noteworthy in the idea that inorganic and organic processes are governed by the same general laws. The differentiation between organic and inorganic is useful in many contexts, but in the end both are describing physical entities of various kinds. As far as the alignment between the three legs of the trilemma (which was the (iii) statement the above quote referenced), the more I think about this, the less I am impressed by its significance. I've already stated that belief in truth (one leg of the trilemma) is instrumental for good, and the article I mentioned at Ebon Musings made a decent case for the alignment between personal happiness and happiness of others based on the example of the Prisoner's Dilemma. This same alignment can be approached from a different direction: the neurological and evolutionary bases for empathy, whereby the happiness of one man affects the happiness of those around him. (See, for example, this recent post at Dangerous Intersection discussing morality in humans and its precursors in other primates.) While I still question the strength with which Ernie made his assertion, that there should be some significant alignment between my happiness and the happiness of others and that belief in truth furthers both of these is less significant than Ernie might have us believe.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On Carrots and Sticks

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

I had intended my next post in our diablogue to explain, as best I could, what I believe about ethics and morality, and I had also intended to wait until Ernie had replied to my last post. However, I think I have something better.

One blog that I read with some irregularity is Daylight Atheism. About a month ago there was a series of posts titled "The Roots of Morality". I only came across it last week, and in fact I have only begun to read it. But the posts are, apparently, a further development of an earlier article written by the same author on his website Ebon Musings, titled The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick. This latter article at least is quite relevant to the last few posts that Ernie and I have exchanged.

In this article, the author ("Ebonmuse") builds up to a universal and objective morality that lacks any reference to a divine reference point. He (or she) addresses the three legs of Ernie's ethical trilemma along the lines that I have suggested: by making belief in truth instrumentally but not inherently good and then seeking resolution to the apparent tension between self and others.

I am unlikely to write anything of remotely comparable quality. Ebonmuse has included at least the vast majority of my thoughts on the subject and developed them far more completely than I have. So I commend this article to your attention, and I thank Ebonmuse for writing it.