Saturday, April 28, 2007

Remonstration of Conversational Trajectory

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



  1. That G/NOD is a singular, well-defined entity covering all of humanity.
  2. That the moral rules governing G/NOD are *discovered* more than they are *invented*.
  3. That those rules are in principle discoverable by human beings in the right circumstances
  4. That there is such a thing as virtuous character, which is always better than vicious character.
  5. That it is always rational to do that which is virtuous.

Is it your position that these are true statements that must either be derived or assumed? If not, why are they important?

I disagree that DU must assume all of them. (1) through (3) may be assumptions but they are hardly earth-shattering; only (1) is at all difficult. (4) is derivable. (5) may be false, but I may be misunderstanding. Rationality has to do with using reason. This seems to be saying that, using reason, all people will always find that virtuous actions will best satisfy (the most and strongest of) their own desires. DU does not assume this, entail this, or require this. But maybe I am misunderstanding, since this interpretation requires importing some assumptions that may not be correct.

My larger complaint about this whole approach is that there are multiple tenuous connections chained together in series: the importance of Christianity to Western civilization, the role of ontological and ethical claims in that contribution, the admitted possibility that contra-factual beliefs play an important role in such contributions, the mere consistency of those claims with a barely characterized "benevolent purpose" when the claims do not otherwise require such an additional entity, ...

I spent a couple of hours last night trying to write a response to our chat. During the chat, I wanted to let you continue to see where things were going and we may not have gotten far enough to really see that, but so far, my perspective on this is not really any different from your previous attempts in our diablogue. After a lot of work, we'll have only a very weak, tenuous conclusion.

I'm not sure that's helpful.

I introduced UU and DU as ethical theories that require no external "benevolent purpose" or "deity", no mysterious metaphysical claims, in constrast to your claim that such additional elements were essential. DU particularly relies on only a small number of ontologically basic elements: desires, beliefs, intentions and intentional actions. Their existence does not seem controversial. DU does appear to solve a number of issues that plague other ethical theories. Alonzo recently summarized them in Evaluating Moral Theories. While I agree that there may be practical difficulties at this point that could benefit from further exploration, this is enough to satisfy me (at least for now, knowing what I know) that no additional entities are necessary. Demonstrating that the above statements are consistent with (and even derivable from) the existence of a benevolent purpose is unconvincing when the statements are also consistent with its non-existence (or when the statements are not demonstrably true, as (5)).

Can you offer some reason to expect that the direction we are taking will be more fruitful than what it appears to me?


1 comment:

Dr. Ernie said...

Hi Alan,
Thanks for the link; it is great to have a concise summary like that. I think there's a few crucial fallacies/omissions in Alonzo's arguments
(or else things that I am comletely misunderstanding)
-- which are related to the various assumptions I feel he needs to make. Hopefully we can discuss them in our next chat. -- Ernie P.