Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

nothing good can be done if the will is wrong! Reason alone fails to justify itself

November 17, 2009

…nothing good can be done if the will is wrong! Reason alone fails to justify itself. Not without cause has the devil been called the prince of lawyers, and not by accident are Shakespeare’s villains good reasoners. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases maleficence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good.

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences


A religious assertion, for me, is the assertion of an intention to carry out a certain behaviour policy

October 7, 2009

A religious assertion, for me, is the assertion of an intention to carry out a certain behaviour policy, subsumable under a sufficiently general principle to be a moral one, together with the implicit or explicit statement, but not the assertion, of certain stories.

R. B. Braithwaite, An Empiricist’s View of the Nature of Religious Belief,  Reprinted as Chapter IV of The Philosophy of Religion, edited by Basil Mitchell, p.32/89

In plain English, Braithwaite denies all religious truth claims and says they are merely an intention to act in a certain moral way.  But once the metaphysical ground is removed, the moral power goes too. After all, if all we have are moral intentions, why not just say so instead of clouding the issue in metaphysical fog?

The assertion that there are objective values is false

September 26, 2009

There are no objective values…The assertion that there are objective values or intrinsically prescriptive entities or features of some kind …. is, I hold, not meaningless but false.

MACKIE, J L, Ethics (1977) pp.15, 40

He knows, objectively, that there are no objective values. How would he know that?

I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it

September 26, 2009

I am not satisfied with what I have read or said on the philosophical basis of ethics. I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it. I have no difficulty in practical moral judgments, which I find I make on a roughly hedonistic [i.e. utilitarian] basis, but, when it comes to the philosophy of moral judgments, I am impelled in two opposite directions and remain perplexed.

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, vol.2, replying to D.H. Monro’s critical essay on ‘Russell’s Moral Theories’, 1960

This is a fancy, philosophical way of saying, ‘I have no reason to reject relativism but something within me doesn’t like it.’ In other words, his philosophy couldn’t explain his moral impulses.

For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me

September 24, 2009

[Bertrand Russell was present when the wife of his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead was undergoing an unusually severe bout of pain due to heart trouble. He was 29 at the time, and in the following excerpt from his autobiography he described the effect this experience had on him.]

She seemed cut off from everyone and everything by walls of agony, and the sense of the solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me. Every since my marriage, my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues, and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region…
At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me. I felt that I knew the inmost thoughts of everybody that I met in the street, and though this was, no doubt, a delusion, I did in actual fact find myself in far closer touch than previously with all my friends, and many of my acquaintances. Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis, I found myself filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty, with an intense interest in children, and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable. A strange excitement possessed me, containing intense pain but also some element of triumph through the fact that I could dominate pain, and make it, as I thought, a gateway to wisdom. The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded, and the habit of analysis has reasserted itself. But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me, causing my attitude during the first war, my interest in children, my indifference to minor misfortunes, and a certain emotional tone in all my human relations.

In other place he says:

Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated…

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, vol.1, p.135

So for all his rationalism, basically his pacifism was based on this five minute religious experience. If he was ‘deluded’ about seeing into people’s souls, how did he know he wasn’t deluded about being pro-Boer and pacifist – sentiments that he fought for (not literally of course – that would be inconsistent!) the rest of his life.

He also said that he learned in this experience that, ‘strife is the root of all evil and gentleness the only balm. I became infinitely gentle for a time.’

So he learned that gentleness is good not through reason but through an experience. And it didn’t last.

It is obvious to the whole world that a service is better than an injury, that gentleness is preferable to ange

September 24, 2009

It is obvious to the whole world that a service is better than an injury, that gentleness is preferable to anger. It only remains, therefore, to use our reason to discern the shades of goodness and badness.

Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary (vol.6, 327), in, Voltaire’s Bastards, John Ralston Saul, p.31

It seems obvious to many that ‘gentleness is preferable to anger’ but it is less obvious that ‘reason’ makes us cognisent of this. It isn’t clear, for example, that reason places others before self, or even that it should. ‘Which Rationality?’ to quote Alasdair MacIntyre’s book title.

The sense of morality is because humans bear the image of a Moral Being to whom they are ultimately accountable. This Being, revealed in Scripture has stamped man with his image and a conscience that now accuses and now defends man’s own actions. The Enlightenment project failed to deliver the freedom and tolerance men like Voltaire hoped for.

I feel murder is bad, but maybe you don’t

September 11, 2009

Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance.  Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice . . . You can never find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, toward this action.   Here it is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not reason.

David Hume

Since there is nothing but one person’s ‘disapprobation’ and another’s approval of an action, then there is not higher standard by which to judge. I like chocolate ice-cream, you like vanilla – there isn’t a ‘right’ flavour. I don’t like murdering children, some people do. (‘Ought’ is not derived from ‘is’.)

If all I can do, as Hume is saying, is look within, then the child killer may feel justified. Ultra relativism is the end product.

There are no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 108

Love – A much abused word

September 3, 2009

No love is greater than the love of pizza

seen on back of pizza take-away box

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes.

Well, love is all around me, and so the feeling grows

The Troggs

By contrast

(God’s) love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the WORST about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p.45

Happiness – feelings defining right and wrong

August 25, 2009

When people make personal happiness their highest priority, they are effectively using their feelings to define for themselves what is good and bad in their lives. This process of inventing an ethical standard is even more apparent when people attempt to construct collective standards of well-being, as in Utilitarianism, based on the happiness felt by a number of people.

Ben Cooper, After the Wind, Kategoria 13, p.23

God the source of ethics

August 24, 2009

Is “the . . . holy . . . beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods?

Plato, “Euthyphro,” The Works of Plato, ed. by B. Jowett (New York: Dial, n.d.) 3:77.

Now the Christian has a ready answer to this question. Not only is the God of Christian
theism the Governor of the world; He is also the final Legislator. It is His will that
establishes the rightness or wrongness of all human deportment. His will determines the
norms of morality. Nothing is right or wrong in and of itself. An act is right if God says
it is right, wrong if God says it is wrong. There is no law outside of or above God which
distinguishes between piety and impiety. Hence, for the Christian the answer is
obvious—a thing is holy because God loves (decrees) it as such

Robert Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed,
1979) 82.

Goodness is not independent of God by which He can be judged, rather goodness and morality flow from His character.