Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Ideological Allies

Posted by Jerry on November 23, 2007

At the culmination of a convoluted debate that’s been raging on this thread, the commentor Db0 finally stated some premises explicitly. The commentor is an atheist, moral subjectivist, collectivist, and is obviously influenced by evolutionary empiricism a la Dawkins, Hitchen, et al. to a great extent.

The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality. This is what undercuts Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkin’s attempts to blame all evils on religion and argue that Hitler et al. were not in fact atheists. The point is it simply does not matter whether you’re an atheist or not.

Picking your ideological allies just based on atheism–or, to use another prime example, the non-initiation of force principle–is a fundamental error. This is why Objectivists refuse to align with ideologies that on the face of it seem reasonable but are fundamentally incomplete or flawed: like secular humanism, naturalism, evolutionary empiricism, libertarianism, and others.

If you read the comment thread on that post, you will notice how the influence of evolutionary empiricism is infused in Db0’s view of morality. Db0 commits the naturalistic fallacy of arguing from the view that what is given by nature is the way it should be. Notice the dismissal of the volitional faculty of man’s mind to make choices autonomously.

I do believe that this is the side-effect of Dawkins et al. who have been so vocal in criticizing the morality offered by religion but have not been able to provide a consistent, robust, and rational alternative instead. They are creating a vacuum in morality, which permits people like Db0 to conclude that morality is ultimately a fabrication of society, the fad of the day, the need of a pack, subjectivist, relativistic, etc. In essence, while throwing out the dogmatic morality of religion, they throw out the notion of objective morality itself.

Somewhere in all this there is a lesson for those Objectivists who seem to think that libertarians are a benign bunch of people who share pretty much the same views; the religious libertarian Ron Paul may not be quite your ally as you think he is.

10 Responses to “Ideological Allies”

  1. Ergo said

    I just wanted to add: a brief perusal of some of the atheist blogger’s sites out there gives me an alarming feeling! Their moral theories are in utter disarray; they can’t quite figure out how to devise (and come to agree upon) a universally applicable moral framework (some even reject such a possibility on principle!). Reading through some of their posts is like inflicting upon myself the cognitive equivalent of loud static noise.

    Edit: Gus Van Horn’s latest post reminds me of Dostoevsky’s famous line that is so apt in this context: “If God is not, everything is permitted.” The current crop of vocal atheists certainly seem determined to manifest this idea.

  2. Tim R said

    I had a quick look at Db0’s post entitled “Objectivism” where he makes it obvious he knows very little about Ojbecitivism even though he doesn’t have any qualms about claiming it is based on circular logic and is a cult.

    He stated that knowing the optimal moral choice in a situation is virtually impossible.
    But he also claims that at any one point in time, there is an optimal moral choice albeit based on subjective morals?!
    Personally, I don’t see how this idea doesn’t reduce to populism.

    I’d say there are many atheists that think in a similar way to Db0. I personally know many fans of Dawkins for example, and I myself enjoyed his “Religion – The root of all evil” TV programs.
    Many think of morality only in the realm of interactions between other people. While they’d still acknowledge that certain acts can be good for you or bad for you only, they would not say that doing something bad for you was immoral, just that it was bad for you.
    But objectivists would say that this is not just a difference in definitions, but a problem of misunderstanding the roots of the concept?

    That brings me to a similar idea on libertarians. Most understand the non-initiation of force principle should be applied in politics.
    However libertarians also need to understand that this concept is arrived at due to 1) the right to property which is derived at from the reality that you own your own body, 2) the fact that man has volition and that this is necessary for his ability to achieve rational thought and thus his survival.
    Would you agree with this statment?

  3. Ergo said

    “they would not say that doing something bad for you was immoral, just that it was bad for you.
    But objectivists would say that this is not just a difference in definitions, but a problem of misunderstanding the roots of the concept?”

    More than just a misunderstanding; it is an acceptance of the mind-body dichotomy: the severance of the realm of ideas from the realms of man’s activities. They do not accept that the moral is also the practical; that moral ideas are a species of facts, and that value-judgements are a kind of judgment on facts. They reverse causality by claiming that actions–societal or cultural–give rise to ideas, rathar than ideas motivating actions.

    The right to property makes the practice of all other rights possible in reality. To deny property rights but to affirm the right to life or liberty is to again uphold the dichotomy of mind and body: they give rights to a ghost but not to the body that can put the rights into practice.

    The problem with libertarians–like that with the atheists I have been discussing about–is that they arrive at an ideological position from the surface while undercutting, denying, or being ignorant of the underlying basis of these positions that make them valid. It’s like screwing up a mathematical proof all the way (or not even knowing how to solve a mathematical problem) but arriving at the right conclusion out of sheer luck or because they just know that’s the answer. No scientist or teacher in school would affirm the work of a person who knows the right conclusion but not the right method to get there.

  4. Tim R said

    Thanks, that’s very helpful.

  5. coloradokiwi said

    Very good point about ideological allies. However I think some of you folks are making two fundamental mistakes in approaching the views of atheists:

    1. Most importantly, there are no consistent moral theories because atheism is not a moral philosophy as such: it is merely the insistence that God is unlikely to exist, and to plan one’s life around what God supposedly wants (when these wants are in fact man-made creations) is foolish, not to mention in all too many examples dangerous (this latter point is what the “new atheists” are so concerned about). You can be an atheist and ascribe to all manner of different philosophical (moral) views; the ONLY consistency that is required here is that one is not using God as the ultimate reason, cause, and judge on morality; morality, rather, is articulated in other ways, about which we can have some reasonable debate. That’s the whole POINT.

    2. The attacks of Dawkins, Hitchens and the like are therefore not attempts at creating a moral vacuum or of creating some new foundation for morality. What they are doing is saying that irrespective of God, religions are used primarily as a means of suppressing knowledge and revering authoritarianism, among other things. This is particularly egregious when certain aspects of religious theology are not actually that integral to one’s moral system, but are vociferously defended at the expense of public policy issues (e.g. belief in the power and infallibility of God to the extent that one refuses to even consider evidence for global warming). Most damningly, basing one’s way of life around INFALLIBLE and ULTIMATE truths means that when one encounters a contrary view about this, there is no argumentative or evidenciary recourse: you have to either agree to disagree or try to eliminate each other. This is why religious wars happen, after all.

    I think the reason that atheists latch onto evolutionary empiricism is that it’s a natural phenomenon that would seem to give rise to morality–in other words it’s moral authority without a metaphysics. But to my mind (and yours) that doesn’t really solve anything, and your critique of this position is spot on. However, if you think that moral authority cannot be soundly, cohesively articulated without resorting to divine authority, you are woefully mistaken–most of the Enlightenment and certainly all of the modernist and postmodernist philosophers were attempting to achieve precisely this, and to my mind there are many convincing arguments there about how to live just, charitable and moral lives. The question is whether ANY philosophical thought, be it God-based or otherwise, can ever escape a kind of metaphysics of “Well, this seems to be what works our best for us humans under most circumstances, for reasons that are hard to explain.”

    Then again, another question might be: why should moral theories rely on foundational authority and be wholly consistent for all time, anyway?

  6. evanescent said

    I recently said something similar to this on my blog: I don’t see a problem with an evolutionary theory of “morality”. Here’s why: the theory of evolution explains animal origin and behaviour (including humans). Humans do demonstrate kinship behaviour like other higher animals. Remnants of this pre-human behaviour can be found today. Humans do have rudimentary instinctive behaviour like all lifeforms.

    The problem with an evolutionary theory of ethics is that it starts out with a faulty premise: that altruism is in fact moral! Explaining behaviour that resembles altruism (sacrificial behaviour selected for by genes to ultimately serve their own “interest”) is one thing. The mistake that scientists, and philosophers of science, make, is to concede from the start that altruism is a sign of morality, and then proceed to explain how evolution selected for it.

    Explaining behaviour that appears altruistic is the easy part. Dawkins has done it in “The Selfish Gene”. But the poison that infects our society, philosophy, politics, ethics, and science, is the notion that the sacrificial is the moral. Atheistic scientists, in my opinion, cripple themselves from the outset by accepting the mystical / religious / Kantian notion of morality. Objectivism rejects this. Morality is a code of values to be discovered, not passed on by evolution (how ever could it be anyway?), nor by authority.

  7. Ergo said

    Coloradowiki,

    Regarding point 1, I made the same point in different words in my post when I said “The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality.”

    Regarding 2: It is absolutely necessary for the “new atheists” to stand for something that they believe in, not merely oppose that in which they don’t; failing this, the new atheists would be creating a vaccuum where false beliefs used to exist. Note that a system of beliefs is imperative for the kind of mind that humans have–it is inescapable. This is why religious beliefs arose and evolved in the first place; it was a primitive method of satisfying the needs of man’s conceptual and cognitive nature. Religion offered a kind of philosophical belief system to help man face the task of survival. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that when you seek to replace this primitive belief system, you offer something in replacement; and then, it becomes necessary that what you offer in stead be sound and *true*, otherwise, it won’t be long before even what you offered is summarily displaced.

    “why should moral theories rely on foundational authority and be wholly consistent for all time, anyway?”

    Because moral theories are not fanciful constructions in the air for some alien entities. If you accept that morality is a code of values and a guide to action for all men, and if you hold that man by his essential nature cannot escape the need for a moral code (whether this moral code is articulated and logical or not), then it is inescapable that the moral code should be objectively derived and logically consistent. Since external reality offers no exceptions to the laws of logic, it becomes our epistemic responsibility that in constructing a moral theory for man to function in a non-contradictory reality, our moral theory reflect the consistent nature of reality as well.

  8. coloradokiwi said

    Ergo, good response. I see I somewhat misunderstood your earlier point about rationality.

    I agree that eventually the new atheists need to articulate some sort of moral theory or moral philosophy. However that is not their current project, and for their part I think Hitchens in particular would say, “Why should I articulate anything of the sort? Go read Locke, Milton, etc.” I’m not sure we should expect popular non fiction writers to not merely question religion and God, but produce a cohesive philosophy from whole cloth, particularly when there are standing examples. The least they could do, however (on here I think we’d agree) is provide some pointers for the reader, and possibly even articulate some moral principles based on atheist and agnostic moral theories already out there.

    Lastly, really my question was more rhetorical than anything (I tend to adhere to your view). However some postmodern thinkers like Foucault would say that there is no such thing as some sort of eternal moral code: morality is always constructed through discourse and is a demonstration of Power and Knowledge. Moral codes change to fit an episteme, and this is perfectly acceptable. Many critics of Foucault point out (as I alluded to above) that despite his moral relativism over the long haul, Foucault in fact contradicts himself because his writings read very much like traditional critical theory, and clearly some sense of “eternal” justice underscores his critiques of sexuality, in particular (i.e. it should never be okay in any episteme to mal-treat “deviants”). So this circles back to my original question: how can we create a foundational moral code OR a flexible moral philosophy to fit different historical epistemes without resorting to one kind of metaphysic or another? This is a question I’m not entirely certain our monkey brains can answer–we may have a few eons of evolution to go through first.

  9. coloradokiwi said

    Whoops, mis-used the XHTML. Sorry about all the italics.

  10. […] of your worldview, or your rationality as a person.  That is why is it important to choose your ideological allies […]

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