Weekend Jukebox and Open Thread


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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178 Responses

  1. I am in awe of that song and video.

    And, uhh, amongst you RPGers, is there a word for the fetish characterized by that “male gaze”?Report

  2. RTod says:

    Very nice. Not enough Jonathan Coulton in the world.Report

  3. Barry says:

    Nice. Thanks for posting this.Report

  4. Alan Scott says:

    I think the song itself is cute, but the video is a little bit creepy. The whole “bikini-clad elf” think is just one more reason why I’ll never play world of warcraft.Report

  5. Rufus F. says:

    I broke my laptop recently and have been doing work in the department lounge. The computers here have no sound, so I haven’t the foggiest what this song could be saying. Is it about a monkey in love with an elf woman?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Also, I think it’s cool that Jay did the jukebox this week.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

      It’s about a computer programmer (“code monkey”) who has a crush on an administrative assistant. The lyrics partake in a handful of gender role stereotypes.

      Here is the refrain:

      Code Monkey like Cheetos.
      Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew.
      Code Monkey very simple man
      With big warm fuzzy secret heart.
      Code Monkey like you.

  6. Chris says:

    Have you seen the “Re: Your Brains” WoW video? It’s my favorite of the Coulton-WoW genre. And it’s also about work, but with zombies instead of monkeys, and zombies are definitely cooler than monkeys.Report

  7. tom van dyke says:

    Open thread: President Obama attacked Paul Ryan as an “accountant” who voted for two wars.

    I was reprimanded by Mr. Kuznicki for calling Barack Obama an “asshole” for glorifying himself on Libya while dissing not only Dubya, but Bill Clinton too.

    So if I say now that Barack Obama is a douchebag, not on policy but on his total lack of statesmanship, that he is a churl and a weasel, well, I expect to be reprimanded too. And I will accept it. But surely some pejorative is in order for Barack Obama’s lack of class. No man, no president, is above the law; no man is above the simple requirements of civility. Not to mention that ad hominem is bad arguing.

    [OK, I mentioned it.]

    Douchebag. And if I can’t call him a douchebag, he’s still a churl and a weasel. No wonder this blog has become little more than an exchange of douchebaggeries. People take their cues from the top.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Here’s what bugs me about certain types of name-calling:

      They’re body parts. (In this case, they’re devices designed to interact with body parts.)

      I am reminded of being in elementary school where the height of wit was to grab a friend and run up to some victim and Kid A would yell “Hi, right nut!” and Kid B would yell “Hi, left nut!” leaving the victim to deduce exactly what in the heck was going on.

      Now that I think about it, wasn’t the victim coming out ahead in that little exchange?

      In any case, there are a number of taboos related to body parts and the interactions thereof. Invoking these taboos does a good job of pressing the taboo button on the part of the reader but does not do a particularly good job of transmitting *CONTENT*.

      Let’s say that your problem with Obama is that he told the military to defend the insurgents in Libya.

      Is the word that is just as likely to be used to describe a guy who spills your beer at a campsite really the best you can do?

      Because, from here, that tells me volumes about your vocabulary but little about Obama.

      So you think he’s a water bottle, do you?

      Perhaps you could grab a friend and get some walkie-talkies and stand on opposite sides of the White House. “*crzzzt* Left Nut, over.” “*crzzzt* Right Nut, over” “*crzzzt* we showed him!”Report

    • BSK in reply to tom van dyke says:

      What exactly is your problem with Mr. President’s criticism of Sen. Ryan? I suppose the “accountant” was inaccurate, unless he is referring loosely to Ryan’s budget proposal. But he did indeed vote in favor of both wars (not to mention TARP).Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Yeah, ad hominem is bad arguing.

      Okay, so Tom, since this is really just another variation on your usual thesis: “This place sucks now because you guys are dicks”, I have to ask: What was it like here before the Fall? Give us something to work on in reconstructing the golden age back when the site was worth coming to and you never commented because it was still civil and highminded. You frequently bemoan what this site “has become”, but I’m straining to remember a time in which you actually liked the place. What was the secret to the highminded civility that you yearn for, which we’ve lost, and which you seek to promote through regular nearly contentless comments calling us douchebags?Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Rufus, I suppose we’ll see when Mr. Kain promulgates the new commenting policy. Clearly he sees something amiss as well.

        As for content, my comments are chockful of it, thank you. I just decided not to let idiots have all the fun. If mindless sniping at the other side of the aisle is permissible, the Libra in me requires some balance.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Tom, it wouldn’t be frustrating if you didn’t post quite a few substantive comments here already. The problem is that when someone comes on here and posts “Youse guys are a bunch of bigots” there’s not a lot you can say in response. This “mindless sniping from the other side of the aisle” you mention? Yeah, I know. It’s pointless and desultory. When you do it, it just makes me wish you’d posted something about religion or philosophy or any of the other topics in which you post comments where there’s something there to respond to.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Rufus F. says:

        The Golden Age was back when Bob Cheeks was still Bob Cheeks, and he was still the looniest cock in the chicken yard here.Report

  8. Robert Cheeks says:

    Tom, allow me to fill in for Mr. Kuznicki who’s, no doubt, busy spitting in God’s face. First, you must recognize that Barry, having taken his degree in ‘street organizing’ had a very successful career in Chicago. I’m a little disappointed you think of him as a ‘douchebag!’ He is our president, though he was never “down for the struggle”!
    One thing about ‘street organizing’ is that it’s one of those careers created by ideologists to bolster the good-olde grade point average to allow ‘challenged’ students to get into law school. I think Bubba took his BA in either union organizing, rabble rousing, or gynecological studies.
    So let me conclude by giving this warning: your criticism of left wing icons shall not stand. Either stop calling our president a “douchebag, churl, or weasel” or you will be put on probation and limited to no more than one hundred ‘comments’ in a week. And, yes, I caught that snide remark about people “taking their cues from the top.”Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      When I imagine a person who is connected to Ultimate Truth and God, sometimes I imagine what this person might act like.

      I don’t end up with a set that usually matches with the set of your behaviors.

      Is this gnosis on my part?Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yes, that is knowledge, but I’ve oft declared that my sinful nature gets the better of me. Nor have I suggested that I might be an example to someone caught up in the collapse of modernity.
        But then, I thought you didn’t believe? Is this a confession, a revelation of a spiritual movement away from Libertarianism?Report

  9. Robert Cheeks says:

    I was thinking about your comment re: ultimate truth and God and I have to change my mind. I don’t think it’s ‘gnosis’ on your part, rather discernment. And, while I was going to whine about your critique (not really whine), I think you have a point because any analysis of the polity has a spiritual component (following Aristotle and few of the other boys). But, the problem is, because you ‘don’t believe’, where does that place your criticism e.g. in abrogating the transcendent pole of existence how do we apply/justify/analyze what is essentially a valid moral criticism (and deservedly so) of my mocking (sinful) comments of Barry, Jason, commie-dems? So, the problem seems to me to be what is the moral ground of an atheist and is it viable?Report

    • RTod in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      I cant tell. Is this a serious question about which religious beliefs should or shouldn’t allow someone to challenge a bad idea; or is this just one of those troll-bombs you sometimes throw intended to produce a lengthy and tiring bout of right-wing Christian vs. Liberal useless shouting matches?

      In either case, despite Jaybird’s great comment about using the names of body parts as critiques, it’s hard not have the word asshole come to mind as I roll my eyes.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      You know, I keep posting links and people keep ignoring them.


      As for my criticisms of your criticisms, it’s because I share a handful of your inclinations and feel that you do the positions that you and I share a disservice when you argue for them poorly and defend them even more poorly.

      If you wish to attack Obama for being an empty suit, or worse, for being indistinguishable from Dubya when it comes to the things that you care about, it makes more sense to attack him for being an empty suit or for being indistinguishable from Dubya. When you attack him for being a foreigner, I am left wondering if you’d be cool with him doing exactly what he’s doing if he were called “Mike Huckabee”.

      (That’s without getting into the “it feels like your goal is to irritate the hosts of the site rather than make a point worth addressing” thing that comes up from time to time.)Report

      • RTod in reply to Jaybird says:

        Thanks for the link. Before my time, so this was my first read.

        Great post.Report

      • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        You lost me at 1) God, 2) shut up. That’s about as incorrect a view of deontological moral reasoning as there could possibly be.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

          So… I should shut up?Report

          • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

            Maybe learn a little more about the subject before making wholesale rejections. I mean, presumably, you wrote that post to express a view you thought was correct, ie, an accurate and justified picture of the way the world is. Right? That in turn requires making accurate and justified criticisms of the views you’re rejecting.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

              I just confirmed on the web that I was right and you’re wrong.

              I’d post a link but… you know.

              I’d rather talk about how you’re wrong than actually demonstrate anything.

              Because it’s Saturday.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                ECHO, ECHO, echo, echo, echo….Report

              • RTod in reply to stillwater says:

                That really works better when you can control font size.Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                I know! I tried. For like, 2 seconds. Grrrrr…Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                The demonstration is this: deontological moral theories are based on reason, not God or stipulation. So teasing out precisely why deontological theories fail requires addressing the arguments upon which it’s based.

                Utilitarianism is the theory that as a matter of metaphysics, there are moral properties (pleasure/pain) that form the basis of moral decisionmaking, independently of whether we can know all the relevant moral properties at any given time. Utilitarians carve off the epistemological problem by limiting moral decision-making to what we know, or can reliably predict, as the consequences of our actions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:


                You say that like it is metaphysics rather than epistemology.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Maybe that wasn’t clear. The justification of deontological theories is based on reason, not on an appeal to God or stipulation. (That’s why I said the refuting the general view requires addressing the arguments upon which the theories are baed.)

                The metaphysics is that there are universal moral laws, categorical imperatives, or fully general moral principles that remain true independently of situational contexts.

                (No endorsement of any theories should be construed, or implied, based on the content of these comments.)Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

                The metaphysics is that there are universal moral laws, categorical imperatives, or fully general moral principles that remain true independently of situational contexts.

                I don’t know how to get there from here. From here it just likes like there might be universal laws, categorical imperatives, and whatnot but we may also be getting one hell of a false positive and, jeez louise, if those things were real you’d think that more people would be able to write down what they are… so those things being a mirage we’re running toward rather than an actual oasis would be a rational conclusion to reach as well.Report

              • stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

                Well, I get that. People differ about this stuff. But one way to get a grip on it is to go through thought experiments. Or even how you think about morality in daily life (note: don’t read anything prescriptive into this).

                Eg., there is in some sense a felt, or apprehended, conviction (in some people) that lying is wrong, full stop. Or that stealing is wrong, full stop. So the idea that there are moral principles isn’t like an alien or abstract notion. For some people, it’s very real.

                Another way is to go thru thought experiments. Here’s one in favor of moral realism and deontological principles (it’s kinda harsh): imagine someone putting knitting needles into a babies eyes for no reason in particular. (Now I wait for you to imagine that….)

                There is in some sense an intuition, or appearance of a core truth, that this is wrong, full stop. (Of course, you need to be reminded that putting needles into babies eyes is not done for the purpose of preventing a nuclear holocaust, or to extricate your wife from a hostage situation, or etc.) The thought experiment is constructed to take out any pragmatic justification whatsoever.

                Things like this lead people (me, for one) to conclude that there really are fully general moral laws (moral relativism is false).Report

              • stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

                But you know, I see what you’re saying here ( I think), and it has to do with how moral law, and moral theories interact with our daily lives. ANd if that is one of your broader criticisms here, I’ll admit just as readily as you that most people (andme included) are guided completely, or even to a large extent, by moral thinking. I mean, what would that look like? We hold all these principles in our heads at all times and do incredibly difficult calculations to determine the right thing?

                Instead, we opt for more limited applications of those principles in contexts where they’re obvious. But I do think that recognizing and getting clear on the underlying principles of our own moral behavior makes extending those principles to new situations easier.Report

              • stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

                “Are NOT completely guided…”Report

      • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        The critique of utilitarianism is incorrect as well, since it confuses the epistemological with the metaphysical.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

          Yes, yes. Metaphysics preceeds epistemology but we can only work with the latter and if the latter has no bearing on the former we’re shit outta luck anyway.

          If, however, we can get there from here then we can start hammering stuff out. Hammering stuff out can look like confusing “how stuff works” with “how we think stuff works” though.Report

          • RTod in reply to Jaybird says:

            This is the problem I often have with philosophy and philosophy majors/enthusiasts: it tends to make all arguments not about the actual small “t” truth about things, but about who has the greatest depth of somewhat irrelevant text and nomenclature.

            Like someone says something like if you don’t believe in God you can’t be a moral person. And then someone argues (effectively and correctly) that of course you can, pull your head out. But since proving that you CANNOT believe in God act morally is pretty impossible to do in the real world, the counter argument is instead diverted to philosophical text and nomenclature, where the person feels they can totally dominate.Report

            • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

              I’m not sure if you’re critiquing me, or what? If you are, I don’t think I understand the point. I used those big jargony words precisely because I knew that Jaybird also knew them. It’s a useful shorthand that he and I are is entirely comfortable with.Report

              • RTod in reply to stillwater says:


                My comment wasn’t meant to be a critique of your argument, so much as an observation about how I am becoming concerned (tired?) with the way people are using the metaphor of philosophy to better position an argumentative stance at the expense of resolving a real life question or issue at hand.

                In this instance, I was referring to a proposition that has been made somewhat frequently since I’ve been coming to the league, often by the same person. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but can be boiled down to this: “I know/don’t think you believe in God. Since all wisdom/knowledge/morality comes from a belief in God, your arguments about this other subject are moot.” Usually someone (I have certainly been that someone upon occasion) has pointed out that there is plenty of evidence that secular people can behave just as morally as the next guy, or that there is no data that supports the existence of a spectrum where the more fundamentally religious you are the less likely you are to cheat/lie/steal/commit adultery/etc. and vice-versa. Or perhaps they point out some other set of data from the real world that makes the original proposition appear obviously false. Rather than deal with those arguments, I have noticed that people fall into the escape of changing the argument into an academic, philosophical argument. That is to say, rather than answer the evidence at hand, the writings of Aristotle, or St. Augustine, or some lower-tier 20th century German talking head are brought in. My problem with this approach is that it never answers the issues at hand, it simply changes the existing set of parameters into one that the person feels like they have superior knowledge of, and can therefore win. (“I don’t know that I can speak to why studies don’t show that fundamentalists commit no crimes and atheists most crimes, but I bet I know more about [insert philosophy text I know really well here]!)

                You yourself took my observation, and rather than respond to it (which I would welcome; I actually like being proved wrong) you reframed the argument to be an issue of the size of my vocabulary vs. yours. (“Were there too many big words in that argument?”) For the sake of argument I’ll just concede that yours is bigger, but that doesn’t make you right, or for that matter even address that you might be.

                For the record, though, this isn’t just a thing that I notice with this line of debate. In the recent posts about Muslims in America, for example, Tim had said (correctly, I believe) that there are many white Americans who simply don’t believe that a Muslim is cable of being a good American. E.D. refuted this with the obvious point that this patently false, as there are millions of Muslims who ARE good Americans. There were several who argued on that thread that E.D. was wrong, and that Muslims cannot be good Americans. But rather than deal with the issue of the millions of Muslim Americans that proved their argument wrong, they turned to old theological texts that dealt with very specific (and to my afraid-of-big-words brain, obscure) Muslim epistemology that declared that their point of view was in fact spot on. Not surprisingly, not many know enough about these texts to go toe-to-toe, so by default they win the argument.

                Except, of course, in the real world they’re still wrong; those millions of peaceful, law abiding and productive Muslims annoyingly continue to be good citizens.

                I could go on an on with other examples, but here’s one last one: When HRC was raging, there were lots of people who argued that no change in our healthcare system was necessary. If I brought up the fact that the system has been growing in cost by about 10% a year and that this was unsustainable, or that as this was occurring longevity was increasing but the level of health per person under 60 was actually decreasing, I got a lot of people switching the argument to, essentially, who could better argue the text of The Road to Serfdom. I admit I’ve never read it, so I will always lose those arguments. But that doesn’t stop the costs from increasing 10% a year, or get us any closer to finding a way to address the problems associated with those increases.

                Or to put my gripe more simply, I am starting to think of Philosophy, in a non-academic setting, as the debater’s equivalent of Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse in Snow Crash. That is, a place where you can totally kick ass without having the burden of being tied to the issues in the real world.Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                Well, I agree. Appeals to authority are a poor way to argue. If you ever see me using big words as a cudgel, or simply citing some text in place of an actual argument, feel free to beat me about the virtual head and shoulders. But this isn’t limited to philosophical texts. Citing the position of a single Founding Father is often used to refute an otherwise complex argument or description of a complex state of affairs. Or as you say, some sampling of text from a religious document can be used disingenuously to support arguments that appear to be much nuanced.

                Citing authority to clear up confusions about what constitutes a view is one thing. Using it is a substitute for the argument the citation supports is another. And people ought to be called out on it.Report

              • For the record, Mr. Stillwater, I’ll often cite a Founding Father, but only when I sincerely believe his position was widely held, i.e., other figures in that era saying the same thing, little in the literature of that era that argues against.

                I somehow had the feeling you were referring to my cite of Alexander Hamilton’s The Farmer Refuted, but mebbe I’m personalizing your comment here.Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Maybe personalizing a little bit, since you do cite the Founders. I encounter that in lots of forums, and in lots of discussions, so you’re not alone. And surely it’s valid way to get clear on original intent re: constitutional principles. So the exercise of justifying a view by appeal to a Founder has merit.

                The beef I have with it is that an appeal to original intent has merit, but only at a limited level. For example, not only were there a multiplicity of views expressed by the founders at the time of the convention, but the courts and societies views of constitutional powers has evolved (or at least become more complex).

                It’s not the citation I object to. It’s the rejection of an entire argument based on the principles advocated by a single person, or a few, 250 years ago. (I’m not accusing you of this move, btw.) That seems like a disservice to the complexity of social arrangements and disputes over original principles, but also the merits of a perhaps somewhat nuanced opposing view.Report

              • Thx, Mr. Stillwater. The American Founding is my area of special study because “unalienable rights” have their real-world birth there, at the time-and-place confluence of ancient, medieval, and modern, America of the Founding era.

                [By the time of the French Revolution, scant decades later, we are already irrevocably entrenched in the modern era.]

                I do try to use my facility with the Founding-era docs responsibly. Anyone can quote-grab; I try to make it a habit to read the whole original doc to ensure proper context, and familiarity with a Founding Father’s pattern of thought across his entire canon helps provide an even fuller context, since they seldom if ever write something in one context that isn’t echoed somewhere else in their canon.

                Scoring cheap quote-grab points is a hollow victory even if you can get away with it. Worse still would be to lose your credibility when somebody more masterful gives your ass a well-earned kick to the curb.

                So I write for the ages [or as long as this stuff stays up on the internet], or as they say about chess, don’t play your opponent, play the board. The great games of chess history they still talk about weren’t because some clever fellow took advantage of his opponent’s stupidity even as he blundered himself. Such “victories” are deservedly forgotten.Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, Could you link to your webpage again? (I can’t remember the thread you posted it on before.)Report

              • Honored, Mr. Stillwater. To find my homeblog, just click on my name on any comment.

                [I do most of my work there in the comments sections altho I’m a mainpage contributor. I prefer discussion to monographs. I mainpage it usually only when I’ve turned up something fairly original or overlooked about the Founding.]

                And thx for asking. It’s a very good groupblog, focusing on the original docs. Even credentialed historians read it.Report

              • stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Thanks Tom. I’m looking forward to reading it.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

                RTod: For the record, “natural law” is normative Catholic philosophy [Catholicism represents 2/3 of Christianity by number], and holds, per Romans 1, that even “the gentiles” sometimes keep to the “natural law.”

                Further, Aquinas the Aristotelian, held that men like Aristotle, via “right reason,” certainly could use reason to deduce was is just and what is good. [Aristotle having no resort to the Holy Scriptures.] I even ran across a quote from Calvin that gives the ancient Greeks some props, but I’ve lost it.

                However, in the modern era, the problem isn’t atheism, it’s the subjectivization of what is good and just; if each man makes his own rules, there are no rules.

                Plato and Aristotle—as well as the best of the Romans—weren’t subjective. The arguable complaint isn’t against atheism, but modernity.

                A plurality philosophizes for the US Supreme Court in Casey:

                “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

                Now, this assertion would meet with overwhelming approval in these quarters, I think, but the point would be that classical philosophy would not accept the abandonment of reason’s attempt to discern the truth of “personhood,” and the Court’s [some of it] definition of “liberty” as subjectivism.

                The philosophical dispute here is real, not merely in the clouds. The classicals would say that reason might find a satisfactory answer; the Court, in its “modernity” here, asserts that the attempt must be abandoned, subjectivity rules.
                As for “Muslims being incapable of being good Americans,” I’m not sure how widely held that view is. There is a certain suspicion along the lines of Locke’s worry that Catholics owe their allegiance to a foreign prince, and indeed the Pew poll I cited shows a plurality of American Muslims think of themselves as Muslims first and Americans second. Christians show the same numbers, BTW, but beyond cosmetic “Wars on Christmas” and the like, America isn’t shooting at Christians anywhere in the world; the same cannot be said about Muslims. That America is warring on Islam is not a completely unreasonable opinion, and although I’m against trolling the Quran for its more warlike passages [and condemning it therewith], there’s no question that Islam, in theory and in practice, finds warring against it intolerable.

                Hence, a certain trepidation about Islam. It’s not mere religious bigotry; nobody gives a shit about Hindus or Buddhists or Baha’is or whathaveyou. There is a certain intrusion of reality here. America isn’t shooting at Baha’is either.

                As for your questioning of philosophy as wielded in fora like this, I think there’s some traction there.


                “The Thinkery.” I love it, although I think Sophocles was a bit unfair to Socrates himself, who is credited by history more for bringing philosophy out of the clouds and down to earth.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well said. Point and match!Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

                but beyond cosmetic “Wars on Christmas” and the like, America isn’t shooting at Christians anywhere in the world;

                By “cosmetic”, I presume you mean “fictitious”.

                By the way, how concerned were you about our Orthodox fellow-citizens during the bombing of Serbia?Report

              • Nothing there to answer, Mr. Schilling. Better luck next time.

                I condemn everything, at all times, in all places. That should cover it and put me in good standing here.

                Really, Mike. You know me better than this, and you know better.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                When we were shooting at Christians to defend Muslims, weren’t you concerned that those Christians’ coreligionists would become our enemies? If not, your argument about “warring on Islam” kind of falls apart.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

                >i>“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

                If the alternative is the state deciding that for us, damned straight.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Don’t see it as “the state”. See it as “we, as a society”.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                In the interests of The Children.Report

              • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:


                I can’t tell if you’re trying to be ironic here or not. If so, disregard. If not, well… this would be a really good example of what I’m talking about:

                The proposition that I made an example of was Bob’s insinuation that if you don’t believe in God, you can’t be a moral person; the problem I pointed out with these types of arguments is that in order to win them, you have to ignore all real-lfe evidence to the contrary and instead rely on what you hope is a superior knowledge and skill base in Philosophy.

                Here, you have (I think?) defended Bob’s position by defining natural law with Biblical references, referenced the works of Aquinas, Plato and Aristotle, thrown in the additional concept of modernism, and tossed in a supreme court quote and reference in for good measure. All of these points are fine and well; all are 100% correct; all of these win you the argument by showing you an intelligent, intellectual and well-read young man, and – bonus – they even get a rousing cheer from Bob.

                What they don’t do, though, is tackle the issue that there is no real life data to support the position that you cannot be a moral person if you do not believe in God, and gobs of evidence to refute it.

                If you want to convince me that Bob’s assertion is correct rather then just playing to the home-field crowd, (and you might not be trying to convince me of Bob’s position), explain to me why all the data shows him to be wrong; or produce data that backs his position up. If all you have to fall back on such a moronic and inflammatory claim is the ability to wield your knowledge of Philosophy, then you win the smart-guy contest hands down – but you do so by side-stepping the core issue at hand.


                About the Muslim part of your response: your point doesn’t actually address what I was talking about, and seems to be more of a really good response to a claim that I don’t believe that everyone who has concerns about Muslims is a bigot; but good stuff anyway. All good points, and a different way of looking at some points that I hadn’t considered, and appreciate. Thanks.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to RTod says:

                RTod, the question I was trying to submit, following JBird’s dressing me down for my dissing of Hisself, is What is the atheist’s ethical ground when it comes to establishing a ‘self’ generated moral life? I mean, how is that accomplished, what are the elements, and on and on? And, before we can answer that we have to define ‘atheist’. Is it a total and absolute denial of the transcendent, of a non-existent reality, …what?
                Hey, I dunno..I’m the flawed Christian here, who prays to a Triune God who has had the decency to reveal Himself.Report

              • RTod in reply to RTod says:

                I see what you’re saying, Bob. (Or at least I think I do.)

                But that also seems like a wordy, fancy-pants, emphasis on the open-for-debate-philosophical-points way of saying” You’re an atheist – you can’t be moral, or know what a moral person is, or judge those who believe.” Using verbiage to make it “deep” doesn’t make that line of inquiry about Jaybird any less illy.Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                Bob, You wrote:

                What is the atheist’s ethical ground when it comes to establishing a ‘self’ generated moral life? I mean, how is that accomplished

                Here’s what I wrote in a comment just below this thread:

                morality is a set of principles that are rationally held insofar as they are rationally justified. For God’s laws to act as a rational basis for moral decisionmaking, those laws must be rationally justified.

                Is that point and match? 🙂Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                OK, maybe that was too quick. God’s laws are presumably rational as opposed to arbitrary, no? (He’s all knowing, all powerful, etc.) So what’s God’s reason for creating/imposing those particular laws and not others (eg, that people who where cloth from two fibers shall be stoned to death)?

                One can of course simply follow the dictates of authority (in this case God) without question. But accepting moral principles on that basis would be the opposite of rational justification.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to RTod says:

                @Bob: Where did you get this idea morality could not be supported except through religion? Paul, writing of the Greeks, says in Romans 2:14

                Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

                I cannot speak to what you believe about the nature of God’s forgiveness, but here’s mine:

                Honest people throughout history have searched for enlightenment, wrestled with the problem of evil and conclusions about fundamentals of the ethical life, independently of God.

                Why has philosophy carefully parsed away metaphysics from itself and why should we as believers approve of this parsing? Because God is not a crutch, the answer to our every question, a Get Out of Jail Free Card for every sin and moral dilemma. God is not a shortcut to anything. Jesus Christ warned us in the Parable of the Sower, of grain planted on shallow ground.

                And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

                If God is truth, and I think it’s fair to conclude you believe this is so, those who pursue the truth with all their hearts are putting down deep roots into the soil of reality. The seed in stony ground are believers who refuse to do the same. Faith in God is faith in the truth and I cannot see how the atheist is any less capable of separating truth from falsehood than the believer. The onus is on us, the believers, to construct our arguments from the basis of roots sunk into the real world, of what may be proven ere we start in on matters of faith, for those arguments shall have no respect and will not survive the harsh light of the truth.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to RTod says:

                Bp, RTod, Stillwater: dudes I really liked your comments. Bp, that was great stuff, but my question deals with How does an atheist construct a moral life/or what is his moral ground, not what is mine as a Christian? Again, I’m really just curious how a person who does not acknowledge a ‘beyond’ do that, from where do we derive the precepts (what, perhaps the Enlightenment???). No tricks, no snark, just asking! Oh, and Bp, I didn’t say atheists were incapable of establishing a moral order in society.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                This is the thing that irritates me. I get asked a question. I posted a link to an essay where I thought I answered the question. Now the question gets re-asked.

                Did my essay *NOT* answer the question?

                I am not saying that the conclusions I reached need to followed by everybody else, forever, amen. I’m just saying that this is the framework that makes sense to me in the absence of a God.

                Is my answer *NOT* that? Does it not answer the question? I like to think that it’s more readable than Voegelin… Is it not?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                And another thing!

                When you say “JBird’s dressing me down for my dissing of Hisself”, that’s not exactly what happened.

                I dressed you down for crappy dissing of Hisself. You mock Obama not because of what he has done but because of what he *IS*.

                Again: I wonder if someone who happened to have an (R) after his name wouldn’t be applauded BY YOU for doing the things that Obama has done because your criticisms of him have very little to do with his actions as Executive but instead with the things he probably thinks given his background.

                I want Obama exorciated for screwing up.

                Not for being screwed up.Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                How does an atheist construct a moral life/or what is his moral ground,

                The word ‘grounding’ here is ambiguous. If you mean it as a rational basis for adopting moral principles, the atheist is on firmer ground. If you mean it as a sort of base-level emotional or spiritual inclination to act in certain ways, the argument is a draw: people, not institutions, feel compelled to act morally. If you mean it as a grounding of institutional codes of conduct, these are most often justified pragmatically, independently of the ‘felt impulse’ to act morally (that is, there are consequences for acting immorally).Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to RTod says:

                Look, Bob, ethics speaks to how we treat each other. As far as I can see, the Bible doesn’t speak effectively to an issue like slavery. Oh, we can derive plenty from the Bible about the injustice of slavery but we cannot point to one place in the Bible which says “Slavery is wrong.” We could point to the historical record, saying people of faith were among the first to denounce slavery, but that still doesn’t answer this deficiency.

                This goes to Stillwater’s point about Grounding. The only reasonable grounding for the abolition of slavery had to be established in law. Property law had to change and sho’ nuff, checking the Ten Commandments doesn’t address that issue.

                So for at least this one issue, Holy Writ doesn’t provide sufficient grounding. Upon examination, not much else survives scrutiny applying the same standards.Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                And also this: the tenets of the Bible may supply proscriptions on behaviors, but that isn’t sufficient for internalizing them. Hence the inclusion of punishments for violating core moral principles. If anything (from my pov), the adoption or moral principles by Christians isn’t voluntary so much as coercive. And to the degree it is voluntary, an atheist is just as likely to adopt them.Report

              • RTod in reply to RTod says:


                You ask where an atheist derives precepts, if not from God; I can’t begin to try to answer that in a way that will satisfactory to anyone else but myself. But since you asked, I believe (and yes, I am totally aware that I am using the word “believe”) that I get them from the same place you do: that is, that we humans are wired thus. When I look at different societies, they all seem to share certain basic precepts. I am aware of many tiny fringe groups in different societies that argue that there is no real morality as a protest of their society’s morality, but I am not aware of any society that that isn’t by and large driven by those precepts. And this seems universal, even though each has an entirely unique religious make up – and I include secular societies here.

                The taking of a human life, for example, is a sin under any society, regardless of religion – and, tiny co-ops and monasteries aside – each society also has an opt out clause that says “Well, when we said don’t kill ANY humans, what we REALLY meant was…” A demand for honesty also seems universally desired, and just as universally forgotten when inconvenient. Etc., etc.

                There was a time a couple of hundred years ago, when knowledge was fairly local and limited for most, and during that time the experiment in secular societies became an “in” thing to try in the Western world. For that time and for those people, I can see how those currents seemed to many to inevitably flow to a world where people freely cannibalize their neighbors simply to boink their wives, or slept with animals, or became Celtic fans, or performed whatever unspeakable heinous crime you can think of. They thought so because the assumption was that the morality that kept you from doing such things so obviously came from a belief in God (usually a very specific God), and there was little data for most lay people to suggest they think any differently. But secular societies came, and those apocalyptic things didn’t happen. Morals shifted slightly, as they always do and always will. But morality and the desire for a moral society remains as strong in my commie-dem corner of America Portland (called – this is true – “Little Lebanon” by the WH Bush administration) as it does in the deepest reaches of the Bible belt. All of this leads me to conclude that we seek (and struggle) to be moral for the same reasons we procreate, hate our sorts-fan rivals with a bizarre degree of vitriol, and sleep when we are tired – we are just wired that way.

                Did God wire us this way? It certainly seems possible, as does the possibility that it is a bi-product of evolution that allowed us scrawny, un-clawed, fleshy animals to survive in groups in way we never could as individuals. Both answers sufficiently answer that question for me, which is one reason why I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist.

                But in order for me to begin to buy into any theory that morality comes from a belief in God, I’d need to see some data that religious people/societies by and large act far more moral – and desire to be more moral – than people and societies that are more secular, or even atheist. This seems like a reasonable condition for my acknowledging that belief in God is required for morality. To date, I have not seen anything (outside of said academic, philosophy-rather-than-reality-based lines of debate) that suggests this is the case.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to RTod says:

                JB, let me apologize. I did not go read your link because I thought it was another that I was already aware of. I did not read it until you said to the SECOND time. I do apologize. With that said, I like this, “It strikes me that Liberty must be at the foundation of a Moral government.” And, would only add that I would qualify ‘liberty’ as a foundational element by emphasizing the spritual aspects related to ‘liberty.’
                Now, if you wouldn’t mind, after I quickly read and then went back over, again quickly, I didn’t see, or failed to see how you defined/explicated the ‘person’s’ ground of morality? Please tell me, and accept my apology for missing it, assuming I did.
                Re: your complaint of my mocking Barry, well that’s true. But, my goodness, Barry’s failed policies stand before us easily discernable for even the ideologically blind to see.
                Re: the “Huckabee” comment, bullshit and you know it. I told you I voted the Constitution ticket and I don’t lie.
                I’m a paleocon and I’ve made no secret of it. No RINO or Neo has ever won favor with me, a son of John Randolph of Roanoke, a Tertium Quid.
                My opinion is that Barry’s either incredible ignorant (a possibility because of the failure of his people to release his grades and/or papers), or he’s purposefully trying to economically destroy the country.
                Quite frankly, the man’s an embarrassment.

                Stillwater: What does ‘rational’ mean?
                “Ground” when considered in the context of the “Divine” (for me) is that element of the transcendent that is the source or origin (arche) of the world and the place where human existence (metaxy) is drawn into the divine participation. The idea of a ‘moral’ ground (again, for me) is that behaviour, action, pursuit of the good/right living, would perhaps serve us, as non-religious philosophers. albeit with a great deal of debate. But, when a Christian speaks of ‘morality’ he’s also considering the effects of sin, the ‘noetic effects’ of sin, the corruption involved in the “Fall” and the libido dominandi, inherent in man all of which draw an eschatological element into the debate.
                Bp, always insightful and I just love how you are unable to leave your beloved South!
                Just finished a piece on a O’Connor story about the lady with the wooden leg.
                Because of time constraints (I’m making meatballs and spagetti for dinner) I can’t give an appropriate response to your question of ‘slavery’ and the Bible’s inadequate, in your opinion, response to it. But will later. Again, all I wanted was an atheist’s perspective on the ground of morality, and now you’ve got me defending Calhoun, again!
                RTod: Thanks for the input from the People’s Republic of Oregon. I’ve gotta a conservative pal living there who’s about bald from pulling his hair out because of you commie-dems there and your referendums. And, yes I sympathize with you agnostics…used to be one, but got religion. Re: your last, curious, paragraph, I’d respond by saying that your going down the wrong path in seeking empirical data. Rather, it might benefit you by engaging in the Anselmian “fides quaerens intellectum” where the measurements of faith are not located or provided by said data.Report

              • RTod in reply to RTod says:

                Thanks, Bob. I don’t even know if this will translate, but… I think it’s possible that I am not wired that way. I’ve said this before here, but I love my wife’s faith; I just don’t share the ability to shut of the rationality switch.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                The person’s “ground” of morality is dependent upon each and every individual.

                There are situations where Person A could do Action X and it would be perfectly moral (even admirable!) while Person B could do Action X and we’d see it as immoral. It can also be dependent upon Time T.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to RTod says:

                RTod, it ain’t the ‘rationality switch’ you’re dealing with, rather the old ‘climate of opinion.’
                JB: Doesn’t this position leave us susceptible to rationalization and relativism? Each man his priest, or perhaps sage?Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:


                The person’s “ground” of morality is dependent upon each and every individual.

                I don’t mean to cut to the chase too quickly, but this is where you and I have our biggest disagreements. You phrase things in the abstract – as things ‘people’ think and do. I’m interested in what individuals, the ones I’m speaking to, think and do.

                Your general consideration may be accurate. But what do you think?Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:


                Each man his priest, or perhaps sage?

                But isn’t this sentiment the quintessence of liberty? That nothing constrains his freedom to determine his own beliefs?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                What do I think? I think I’ll have a glass of wine.

                No. Erm, my focus is primarily on negative rights, that is, rights that do not infringe upon your rights when I exercise my rights. When it comes to “positive rights” I am much more hard pressed to see them as anything but obligations imposed by “us, as a society” for the good of, among others, “the children” (and many of these are, indeed, public goods and others of them are, indeed, crap).Report

              • RTod in reply to RTod says:

                @Bob: “RTod, it ain’t the ‘rationality switch’ you’re dealing with, rather the old ‘climate of opinion.’”


                Say more?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                Each man his priest, or perhaps sage?

                I prefer to call it “protestantism”.Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:


                The highest form of freedom!!Report

              • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                So, you in fact reject the idea that [a] person’s “ground” of morality is dependent upon each and every individual?Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to RTod says:

                This thread grows long.
                JB, you’re worrying me when you don’t slap me down for critiquing your analysis with the words ‘relativism’ and ‘rationalism.’ I do like your negative freedom thesis but does it negate or supercede or overcome the morality of the individual? or is individual morality a function of society???
                RTod, “climate of opinion’ is an old Whitehead phrase I’ve been throwing around here to show off, although it carries the delightful meaning that anyone suffering from this particular psychopathology, and most of you moderns are, are the product of a state education that opens you to the ideological derailments common in modernity and oft encountered on these pages.
                Ironically ‘morality’ described above opens the door to the possibility of faith as a virtue where the philosophical goal is ‘illuminated’ in the beatific light of divine wisdom/experience. The vision of God that Stein said presents the “highest goal that is attainable in this earthly life”, namely the divine union (metalepsis) by which the “created spirit partakes in divine knowledge (gnosis) in sharing divine life.” Which is some major heavy stuff.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to RTod says:

                Stillwater/JB: re: my comment about ‘each man his priest…’ I was actually critquing Protestantism and pining for the days of concensus under the RCC, but the P’s were right about the reading of God’s ‘Word as the Micks would admit a few centuries later.
                Re: this “…reject the idea that [a] person’s “ground” of morality is dependent upon each and every individual?” Yes, I do reject this definition as it is relativistic and puts aside the revelation of God, who is the ultimate author of ”morality” for me!Report

              • RTod in reply to RTod says:

                Bob –

                This thread is indeed becoming long, the issues of which are compounded by the fact that it has also become quite thin. But I hope you’re not finding it too tedious yet, and might continue with a few more questions I have. I am enjoying this; thanks in advance for your time and insight.

                My first being: when you talk about my being a modern, what does that mean to you? I don’t consider myself part of the modernist movement, in as much as I cling to tradition in as many ways as I have desired the world to change in my lifetime. (i.e.: just because I thought statutes and social norms about interracial marriage were heinous didn’t mean I wanted to outlaw Christmas.) Though being a music major, I confess that most of my education about modernism comes from its application in the arts, not theology or philosophy. So I am curious as what does being a modern mean to you, and why I am counted among its members? Or for you do I just get a membership card for my agnosticism?

                Regarding your friend in my neck, I can see that Portland would be a tough place to be. Most of the people here are pretty great, but as in any community where there is often consensus, outliers in Portland can be treated in a way unworthy of our better angels. On behalf of all us commie dems, I apologize and wish him success with Hair Club for Men.

                Lastly, regarding the initial issue of where do atheists fnd moral standing, I understand as a believer why these questions occur to you. However, they always make me uncomfortable. History shows that when societies become convinced that a whole group of people have no moral standing by basis of their religion/political party/race/heritage/etc., it goes very bad for those judged, and what I consider to be moral behavior get tossed out with the bathwater.Report

            • stillwater in reply to RTod says:

              Or this: morality is a set of principles that are rationally held insofar as they are rationally justified. For God’s laws to act as a rational basis for moral decisionmaking, those laws must be rationally justified.

              Were there too many big words in that argument?Report

              • Rtod in reply to stillwater says:

                Yep. It’s the big scary words I was talking about. Good read.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

                “Rationally” strikes me as the weak point here because (much like morality) it is a vector rather than a destination and, as such, two rational people can reach mutually exclusive (rational!) conclusions rationally.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’ll concede this to a degree, but not entirely. People can rationally disagree only because they accept differing initial starting points in their arguments, and sometimes those initial premises are accepted without any justification whatsoever. If those initial premises are subject to rational justification, then much (maybe not all) of the apparent inconsistency dissipates. But I think disagreements, insofar as they are rational, derive from just this sort of situation (ie., different unargued assumptions playing a role in belief formation).

                And all this needs to be amended by saying that there are limits to reason in practice, but – I for one – don’t think such limits refute the idea that reason (broadly understood) is the best tool to determine what moral (and other) general principles guide our actions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

                More than a handful of initial premises are untestable in theory and, from a pragmatic point of view, lead to good-enough conclusions (“Did you eat today? Does it seem likely you’ll eat tomorrow? Awesome.”) that once we claw our way up to the point where reason is a luxury we can afford that we’re more likely to see evidence that does not cohere with our moralities as obviously incoherent rather than an opportunity to, once again, engage in rationality and reshuffle absolutely everything that got us to where we are today.

                That was a horrible sentence.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                The question is, by abandoning metaphysics and/or natural law, how does one avoid his “moral code” becoming nothing more than a collection of ad hoc “moral” sentiments?

                I often hit the American Founders, but that’s because these questions were in high relief in that era. Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris were appalled at revolutionary France and its bald atheism. Even the deist Thomas Paine said he went to France to save them from atheism!

                Even Tom Paine, who was vilified in America for his dismissal of the Bible as Divine Writ.

                “Without God, all things are possible” fits here. I think that’s Mr. Cheeks’ question, no more or less. I assume Cheeks’ philosophy is roughly that of the Roman church, and BlaiseP chronicles the Book of Romans, and how “the gentiles” are quite capable of discerning what the right thing is, as was Aristotle and other notable non-Judeo-Christians.

                [I’ll add here for Mr. Stillwater that Mosaic Law was and is seen as applying specifically to the Jews, and not seen as applying to all men as “natural law” does. Neither is there evidence that the stoning of homosexuals was ever practiced normatively by the Jews.

                For Deuteronomy 21:18-21 also says to stone your disobedient children. Heh. Another non-starter.]Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Here’s what’s puzzling to me Tom. You say

                The question is, by abandoning metaphysics and/or natural law, how does one avoid his “moral code” becoming nothing more than a collection of ad hoc “moral” sentiments?

                and I agree (at least to the metaphysics part). I think most liberals who think about this stuff also agree. Yet there still remains a huge divide between between libs and cons. How do the two sides continue to talk past each other? How is general agreement apparently not possible given the proximity of the starting place?

                Here’s my take (I know you already know it): a liberal embraces a broader spectrum of rights and liberties as being equally considerable and important when determining policy, and this is based not on subjective emotions, but on the underlying metaphysics.

                What’s your take?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                how does one avoid his “moral code” becoming nothing more than a collection of ad hoc “moral” sentiments?

                By stating loudly and repeatedly that they are more than a collection of ad hoc “moral” sentiments and questioning the character of people who probe deeper?Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Thx for axin’, Mr. Stillwater.

                The First Principle in question here is “the right to have rights,” as Hannah Arendt [?] calls it.

                The late Richard Rorty, a sublimely honest man, admitted the difficulty. If we don’t ground “the right to have rights” in something—the D of I “cheats,” grounding them in the divine, the metaphysical]—all we can do is assert that men have rights, unalienable ones at that.

                Rorty couldn’t get to creator-based rights, so he suggested a “non-foundationalism,” briefly, that since we all agree we have rights, let’s just move on from there. Together.

                [The Thomist Jacques Maritain, a heavy contributor to the UN Declaration of Rights, similarly tried to paper over the question of foundation.]

                The problem becomes that we can blandly speak of “liberty,” but what does “liberty” really mean? Locke, in a semi-related context [suicide per self-ownership], still wrote,

                But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself…The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it which obliges every one; and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker…

                So, the current crisis is that once we go non-foundational, even the meaning of “liberty” is up for grabs. One side says liberty isn’t license, but non-foundationalism can’t say that it isn’t. [Neither, on the whole, can libertarianism.]

                So we all throw the term “liberty” at each other [or “rights”], but we’re all assigning different meanings, even different concepts to those terms. Tower of Babel time.

                Play it out in the political, and what does “the right to have rights” even mean? We are also social animals, so under our political scheme—and the political is by nature artificial, “conventional”—the rich “must pay their fair share,” etc.

                [FDR’s “freedom from want!”]

                And I’m not kicking here. I do believe the American political philosophy [and it’s admittedly more a political theology] comes closest to avoiding this artificiality, by grounding itself in “natural” rights.

                By contrast, under “social contract” schemes, your rights are whatever you can wrest from the government, a purely artificial, “conventional” arrangement. France’s strict secularism, laicite, is so fragile you can’t wear a burka, or a largish crucifix around your neck [or yarmulkes or turbans] in some public places.


                In the end, in few places besides America, all rights are conventional, not natural; political, not unalienable.

                This isn’t to say philosophy couldn’t come up with something besides creator-endowed rights, an unalienable right to have rights, but it’s damned difficult. Rorty gave up, and I don’t blame him. He just shrugged his shoulders on it and asserted we have rights, but as I argue here, that only kicks the can down the road a bit, because non-foundationalism can’t tell us the difference between liberty and license, or what a “natural” right might be, if such things even exist.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                As I see it, the Faithful just don’t have enough respect for atheists. I count myself among the faithful, yet when the atheist says “God isn’t this” and “God isn’t that” I’ve yet to find an instance where his complaint isn’t backed by the facts.

                Religion just isn’t enough. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Now I’m sorry, Faithful Folks, there is absolutely nothing rational in that statement, though I believe it. You can never square Faith with Reason. Don’t even try.

                Blaise Pascal said Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them. Atheists are not morally adrift. There’s an excellent argument which says the Faithful are moral cripples, incapable of reasoning through the proposition that Gettin’ Saved is somehow gonna give ’em a leg up on the rest of humanity when it comes to Ethics ‘n Morality. Accepting the forgiveness of Jesus Christ is an admission you’ve got a Sin Problem, just like an alcoholic admitting he’s got a drinking problem. It ought to make the faithful more humble but often as not produces the exact opposite effect. If the atheist is sick of this Moral Superiority bullshit, so is this man who counts himself among the Faithful.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Mr. Blaise, I’m more with John Adams that the cup is half-full.

                “Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!” But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.”

                — John Adams, quoted from Charles Francis Adams, ed., Works of John Adams (1856), vol. X, p. 254Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Tom, I’m still thinking about the broader points of what you wrote, but I have a question: do you think that dignity is a core value? In particular, do you think there is a right among beings like us to be treated with dignity by our fellows, that this is a basic, fundamental right?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                John Adams had this National Day of Fasting and Prayer. Jefferson abolished it. Lincoln revived the tradition. Tom, I’m dead set against National Religulosity, it ought to be as morally abhorrent as incest, which is what this sort of thing is, when you get right down to it. All this unseemly cuddling-up always produces monstrous offspring. Politics is how we deal with the grey areas. Religion deals in absolutes. Even the faintest whiff of National Religulosity must be tracked down and expelled.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ah, Mr. Stillwater, this opens the door for even more pedantry from me.

                “The dignity of the human person” originates in Aquinas, and is developed by later thinkers into the whole liberty/rights/D of I scheme.

                “Dignity” shares the same foundational vulnerabilities as the other terms above. What can it tell us about the nature of rights, liberty and license, the conventional and the artificial?

                Perhaps it can tell us something, it’s an interesting thought. You have started at the beginning, always the best place to start! [Rorty gave up.]

                I remember starkly somebody asking if we notice how in times of war and murder, men call each other “dogs.” Once he is an animal and not a “human person,” anything is possible.

                To touch back on Casey, several members of the Court asserted

                “Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

                Under “modernity,” “Personhood” itself becomes a subjective term, then. You see the problem.

                [There is a unifying thread in all this spaghetti I might appear to be throwing at the wall. It’s tough to cover it all coherently in a comments section.]Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

                Were there too many big words in that argument?

                Don’t be a dick.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I wasn’t! (Sorry if it was taken that way.) My point was – poorly made – that that’s about the minimal level of word-usage necessary to convey complex arguments. But their all still part of normal English. The bridge between techno-speak and normal English gets narrower the more abstract and subtle the issues being discussed are.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to stillwater says:

                (That was actually more of a callback joke with a bit of a barbed point than a direct command, for the record.)

                This leads me back into the whole “translation” thing where some say that this or that language has an untranslatable word.

                That strikes me as exceptionally unlikely given what I’ve seen language do. Maybe it takes two words, maybe it takes a sentence, maybe it takes a paragraph… but you can pretty much translate anything.

                (Wittgenstein said that if a lion could speak, we could not understand him but if my cats are any indications lions would say such things as “FOOD!” and “leave me alone” and “I want a backrub”… all of which are translatable in theory.)

                Which brings me around to the point that it’s more than possible to make a crude facsimile of an argument for the benefit of lay peeps while, at the same time, improving their vocabulary for next time.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Point taken.Report

              • Chris in reply to stillwater says:

                I’d say that “Without God, all things are possible” has to be one of the most metaphysically dubious statements ever, and morally as well, but the statement is just ironic enough to say it for me.

                Of course, the idea that you need God for metaphysics, or ethics/morals, is one that can only come through a lack of imagination. There are certainly other ways to ground them. What’s more, when one grounds ethics in an immovable God, those ethics inevitably devalue themselves, or in more recent parlance, become fetishized. I think even Voegelin said something similar to that, though I’ll leave it to our resident expert to correct me if I’m wrong.

                One route: if reason is natural, and nature rational, isn’t nature enough? I ask that sincerely. There are metaphysical questions that raises, of course, but the ethical points Tom and Bob are making beg those same questions.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                One route: if reason is natural, and nature rational, isn’t nature enough?

                Well, the “law of the jungle” is rational I suppose. It’s certainly natural. But many or most men have rejected that as contrary to “right reason” when it comes to man.

                So then you get into why man is not just a beast, etc. We can look at the apes, but that still has a hierarchy built on physical strength and aggressiveness, and we “all men are created equal” types find that law of nature an unacceptable way to run things.

                “All men are created equal” or “rights” or “inherent dignity”—none of these things are self-evident in nature. Therefore [see above].Report

              • Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Here is a relevant cartoon (that uses the ‘F’ word pretty liberally so it may be NSFW or otherwise above your own personal level of offensitivity).Report

              • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Reminds me of my favorite neuroscience joke. The functions of the hypothalamus are the four F’s: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sex.

                OK, so there aren’t a whole lot of neuroscience jokes to choose from.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Yeah, you are taking a very limited view of nature if you think it means “law of the jungle.” But whatever.

                And what does self-evident mean here? Self-evident in light of God is certainly not self-evident in any meaningful sense, because it’s only “self-evident” when some other premise else makes it evident, which is, of course, a contradiction. (Christians weren’t the first to derive natural laws, by the way, or even equality of all men.)

                My point is that if morality is rational, nature is rational, and reason is natural, then morality falls out of that as readily as it falls out of a reason-giving creator, because the only difference is, in fact, the creator. Like I said, it raises the question of how reason got mixed up in all this anyway, but your position just begs that question. And since we’re not really having a metaphysical discussion (lest you think we are, there is a God, no there isn’t, is not a metaphysical discussion), I’m not really inclined to take your position all that seriously since it begins with silliness like, “Without God all things are possible,” which, if anything is self-evident, the falsity of that statement is (it’s the logical equivalent of saying, “Without gravity all things are possible,” or “Without Twinkies all things are possible,” and I say this as someone who takes metaphysics, and even theology, quite seriously; it’s just that you’re not offering a sophisticated version of either).

                Now if you had said, simply, “Without God, another ground for an objective morality is necessary or we’re faced with a really bad sort of relativism,” I’d say that’s probably true (though there are more sophisticated versions of relativism), but then I’d also say, you might want to read some of the vast literature on ethics of the last 50 years, much of which tackles just this issue (I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that you’re not particularly interested in the last century of “Continental” thought, from Husserl on).

                Anyway, what you’re doing, in essence, is starting with a metaphysical position (a fairly richly conceived notion of God, causality, reason, morality, etc., even if one that you haven’t reflected on all that much), thinking out its consequences, and then, without considering any other starting point, removing your basic metaphysical position and assuming that all of the consequences must go with it. And you’re doing so a.) because the limited reading you’ve done on these topics comes through a tradition that generally builds on that metaphysical position (or some variant of it), and b.) you lack imagination.

                And don’t pretend that I’m dismissing that tradition. Far from it. I’m simply pointing out that there is a great deal of thought from the last 230 years that has challenged much of it, and since you’re clearly stuck sometime around 1776, I don’t find your “law of the jungle” oversimplifications all that interesting, and I can’t imagine why anyone else would.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                OK, Chris. Should you write anything specific about all this “new” reasoning, I will read it.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Why would I write it, Tom? And here, to boot? If you want a list of references, send me an email and I’ll be happy to send one to you. If you want a treatise, then I’m afraid I’m not going to give you one. In addition to the fact that my own work on these issues has been empirical, not philosophical, my own ideas are too muddled for me to put something coherent together. If you want a lit review, well, I can tell you my going consulting rate. I doubt you’ll find it’s worth it.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                True, Chris. Thx anyway.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Oh, and Mr. Chris, aside from the ad hom portion, I did think there was validity in the below. However, I was more giving Mr. Stillwater a recap of the philosophical history of “rights” leading to the D of I than speaking for meself.

                Anyway, what you’re doing, in essence, is starting with a metaphysical position (a fairly richly conceived notion of God, causality, reason, morality, etc., even if one that you haven’t reflected on all that much), thinking out its consequences, and then, without considering any other starting point, removing your basic metaphysical position and assuming that all of the consequences must go with it.

                This might explain why Locke somewhat [and Jefferson even more] re-inserted God back into Suarez-Grotius’ natural law equation of a “natural law” that is efficacious regardless of the question of God. I find that unexpected and surprising for such “Men of the Enlightenment.”

                Am I stuck in 1776? Sort of, for reasons given: I’m an American, and I believe modernity commences in Revolutionary France.

                But I’m also stuck in the 1600s of Locke and Sidney, the 1500s of Suarez and the Calvinists, the 1200s of Aquinas, the zero-hundreds of the Roman Stoics, and the BCE’s of the Greeks, Torah, and Hammarabi.

                I’m admittedly not a “historicist,” so I prefer to learn about the lion’s share of human history and thought, of thousands of years over the late modern sliver. I have found nothing to contradict the proposition that man’s problems are permanent and perennial.

                And nothing that’s happened in the real world in the past century or last half-century has “empirically” urged me to explore these “new” ideas. I count on people like yourself to tempt me into it, but you yrself seem to think that this forum is not worth your while to do it in.

                Why you instead choose to write copiously about how uneducated or full of shit I meself am, I dunno. I would submit that’s not worth your time either, Chris. Perhaps we can agree on that and put an end to it, and “human progress” is possible afterall.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Tom, I type fast. 🙂

                And by 1776, I mean you stopped there, not that you were only there.

                If you choose to ignore the last 200 years, because the problems, but not necessarily the answers, are perennial, well, I suppose that says all anyone needs to know about you. “I found an answer I like; anything that comes up later that might contradict it be damned!”Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Philosophy is in the questions, sir. All answers are admittedly provisional.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                That comment was too condescending, I apologize. I’ll say this, Tom. I think you’re a smart guy, but you’re incredibly limited. These are weighty issues, which have of course been dealt with by greater minds than both of ours combined, and perhaps on some level you are correct: morality comes from some sort of reason-giving creator (though what that creator would look like, I have no idea; I kind of like Spinoza, though). But regardless of whether you’re right on that point, the way you get there is clearly wrong, not only because there are plenty of ways to get to morality, through reasoning, without starting with God, but also because even if there weren’t, simply saying so doesn’t make it so. If Kant’s second critique teaches you nothing, it should at least teach you that. These are problems, in the classic sense of the word, and no amount of hand waving and “law of the jungle” dismissals will make the problematic nature of these issues go away.

                What’s more, the more you fall back on a few thinkers within a particular line of thought, ignoring all of the problems with that line of thought, the less serious your position will be. Or put a different way, while it is undoubtedly true, as I’ve seen you argue elsewhere (and agreed with you readily), that those thinkers have had a huge influence on the way we see the world, including ethics, that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at those thinkers who have worked very hard to challenge some of that influence (even if, as some French folk might argue, even those challenges are overwhelmingly determined by that influence).

                As I said in an earlier comment, what inevitably happens, in the hands of human beings, when you ground values in a single point of origin (usually God, or to be all French, a transcendental signifier), those values inevitably devalue themselves — they become values in and of themselves, instead of serving a purpose (like, say, the values they were originally supposed to serve — good, justice, Reason, Truth, whatever — which values also devalue themselves when they’re grounded in a single point, immovable, unquestionable, etc.). History is rife with proof of this proposition, and even if you don’t think it challenges the nature of values themselves, or their objective origin, it’s something you have to grapple with, and simply saying “man is fallen” is no serious form of grappling (I’m looking at you, Bob). If nothing else, it makes your assertion that values must be grounded in God problematic not simply as a metaphysical proposition, but as an ethical one, and since we’re having an ethical discussion, you’d do well to address the problem.

                But it’s a problem that you won’t find in Aquinas, or in Descartes, or hell, even in Kant (though you’ll find the seeds of the problem in Kant; again, the second critique is your starting point, with maybe a little Hume). You’ll find it in Hegel, and you’ll find it in Marx, and Nietzsche, and Freud, and Heidegger, and Sartre, and Foucault, and Levinas, and Moore, and Mill, and even much of the 20th century Anglophone philosophy that dominates our universities today (places that, I know, you dislike for their bias against Aquinas — but rest assured, these philosophers don’t read Hegel or Marx any more than they read Aquinas). Hell, some of these people ultimately agree with you, but they address the problems, and that makes them real players in the game, players that, for the same reason that you should be dealing with the ones who disagree with you, atheist heathens like me should be dealing with the ones who agree with you (you should be dealing with the ones who agree with you as well; Totality and Infinity would be a good place to start).Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m curious about your route to where you’ve reduced morality to choices. Morality is a squishy word: it doesn’t exist on its own. I can speak of my morality, your morality, Fascist morality and the like, but if there’s any choice to morality, it’s the process whereby I accept the terms of the contract: I am a Jew, therefore pork is forbidden to me. I am a Vegetarian: meat is forbidden to me. Who made the rules? That’s an irrelevant question: any bearded prophet type can invent a set of rules. The rules exist whether or not I accept them as binding on my identity.

        In a God-less world, these shoddy morality schemes are a dime a dozen. Good is considerably more than following rules. Goodness derives from more than mere cognizance of cause and effect for we cannot foresee all outcomes. Righteousness isn’t acquired second hand. Eating bread, fucking women and taking that candy all have their rightful place in this life.

        God is truth. Those who live in the light of the truth see themselves as ever-tinier figures in an ever-enlarging landscape. They see beyond themselves. Their selfish natures diminish. Their egos dissolve in the light of truth. The righteous need no confining rules: they are a part of nothing. They don’t get the monthly subscription to Rules Magazine. Their allegiances are to the truth itself.

        If you do not wish to believe in God, that’s fine. Live in the light of the truth. Live in harmony with the world, see yourself in others.

        I am no righteous man, but this much I know, morality arises from the certain knowledge we do not live to ourselves nor die to ourselves. We must obey more than the Golden Rule. We must obey the Platinum Rule: we must treat others as they wish to be treated.

        The Panopticon was a wretched scheme from the get-go. Every prison puts its guard towers on the perimeter, not at the center. A guard at the center cannot see what lies behind him: the limits of binocular vision are 140 degrees of angle. Every prisoner has a better view of more prisoners than the guard in the central tower. At any rate, Jeremy Bentham was not a soldier or builder of fortifications.

        The same is true of Panopticon-as-metaphor. It doesn’t matter how much intelligence you gather if you can’t effectively process it all. Want to actually reduce crime? Pre-position law enforcement where crimes happen, statistically. Build up a level of trust between law enforcement and the community it serves. Knowledge, not information, is power.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I’m curious about your route to where you’ve reduced morality to choices.

          I’m much closer to moral nihilism than not. I saw the interesting portion of the debate not being over the nature of the rules (if they existed) but in the whole “free will” thing.

          I mean, if we don’t have free will and we’re just a fairly complicated bunch of billiard balls bouncing off each other, then morality is phlogiston. It’s ether. It’s a mortar concept we invented to fill in gaps in our knowledge.

          If, however, we can choose between X and Y, then that’s where morality resides.

          To answer the query, I got there by climbing (or crawling) up.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

            Codified morality is mostly bunk, a cargo cult approach to ethics: thus we do because our fathers did.

            Morality isn’t a matter of choice. It’s a matter of proscription: morality guides us when nobody’s looking, when we’re sure to get away with a selfish act, either from a position of anonymity or a position of sufficient power where the consequences can’t be brought to bear on us.

            Nihilism might imply there’s nothing “wrong” in what we do, but that’s a completely fatuous stance: we don’t define Wrong and Right as individuals. The Law defines what’s Wrong: all else is allowed.

            Beyond that, it’s up to the individual to subscribe to ethical principles, most of which are completely hypocritical anyway. We obey the law, not from love of our fellow man, but from fear of the consequences and the overriding urge for self-preservation. Since the advent of the jet aircraft and the self-service identity, society no longer has the power to shun the individual, to threaten him with isolation. The last remaining vestige of shunning is how we treat sexual predators: they live under bridges now.

            Free will is a bit of a myth, too. In the Garden of Forking Paths, each choice rules out all the others. Not all our choices are wise. Often, we feel we make those choices, not from free will, but of necessity. We’re constantly rationalizing those choices.Report

            • stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Nihilism might imply there’s nothing “wrong” in what we do, but that’s a completely fatuous stance:

              Personally, I find nihilism refuted in every instance it’s embraced because (as you suggested above) there are possible actions and decisions about which even the nihilist would saythis is wrong.

              QED! 🙂Report

            • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              The Law defines what’s Wrong: all else is allowed.

              In practice I agree, but then we see a handful of things that are absolutely legal and absolutely immoral. We don’t have to go back that far in American history to find an example or two. As such, I don’t see “consensus” as, necessarily, a good yardstick of what morality consists of unless we’re all willing to agree that morality is a construct similar to “gender roles”.

              Evolutionarily Useful but not indicative of any deeper/greater truth.Report

              • stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                As such, I don’t see “consensus” as, necessarily, a good yardstick of what morality consists of …

                Totally agree. This just leads, in the worst of cases, to a tyranny of the majority which could take the form of violating core rights simply by voting. Given that, I think BlaiseP’s view that the law determines right and wrong needs to be amended to include the basis for the law: basic rights. Laws are justified insofar as they conform to prior-conceptions of basic rights and the role government plays in promoting and protecting them. (This, it seems to me, is the central issue in the lib/con divide.)

                Inevitably, rights will conflict, and the hope is that consensus can be reached on shared burdens (or something) rather than unilateral rejection. And surely there are laws that are incredibly unjust – a well noted, but hopefully not fatal, failing of Democracy.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to stillwater says:

                … and they say Religionists are the fantasists. Natural Law and all this squishy hoo-hah about a-priori notions of basic rights is complete rot.

                I have seen enough of mankind to know he is a master of self-delusion, a liar, a jumped up vicious little hominid, a carnivore without the carnassials to justify the claim and the only creature to kill for pleasure. War is his natural state, his civilizations a veneer as thin as his clothing and just as easily stripped away. It is only the abstraction of law which guide us, the stern guard rails which keep the whole damned enterprise from running off into the abyss, law as arbitrary as mutable as the lawmakers and judges who enforce it. Law is the reality, and if the fantasists want to derive from it some notional asymptote of Natural Law, they know nothing of Nature or of Law.

                It’s like that business in T.H. White where the young Arthur is turned into an ant by Merlin. On the wall of the anthill was a big sign reading “Whatever is not forbidden is required.”

                If a law does not prevent and justice cannot punish, all is allowed. And that is what anyone who has ever seen a riot or a war will tell you is true. There is no consensus, there is only power. That is the natural state of man, to take what he can and the consequences be damned.

                Law is the most un-natural thing in the world. Laws are written in blood. Burdens are never shared, they are parceled out by authorities with the mandate to do so.Report

              • stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I thought you weren’t a nihilist?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to stillwater says:

                I’m a Christian, heh. We start with original sin, not natural law.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Natural law isn’t derived a priori, Blaise. It must begin with observations of man’s nature, and be true to it, via wisdom, not theory.

                You’re a bit correct in the strict sense of “law,” if law is only manmade and therefore conventional. However, that is “positive law,” per Aquinas to Blackstone. Laws that violate justice are not valid laws atall.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                If it is self-evident, then it is of course a priori.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Everyone’s entitled to his delusions, Tom. I’m perfectly aware of Aquinas. Conservatives continue to misread him, perfectly unaware of his basic points. Justice apart from law is a fantasy.

                Natural Law is a contradiction in terms.Report

              • I wrote “isn’t derived” a priori.

                By contrast, the principles of the French Revolution and other disastrous modern schemes like communism were indeed composed a priori.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                The French Revolution was defined by its lack of principles: they made it up as they went along. Generally, you make sense, so I presume this is grokfailure on my part.

                I am not a lawyer, though I was once advised I’d make a good one by a prominent attorney. This much I know about law: it’s all about interpretation and precedent. Natural Law is a philosoptical illusion: we’ve had law as long as we’ve had civilizations, but that perspective might lead us to conclude the perspective lines actually to come to a point out there somewhere.

                And for a many centuries, that’s what it did. Laws began as a top-down effort to control societies, with the kings largely immune to the laws, a situation which began to change at Runnymede with the Magna Carta.

                We’ve been humans a whole lot longer than we’ve had Law and we know what happens when law enforcement collapses. Let’s not get carts before horses here, Tom. Justice is only an impartial enforcement of the law. Don’t like the laws? Get them changed in the legislature. Stage peaceful protests: engage in civil disobedience. But let’s not pretend the law arises from the mists of the earth like the dew of Eden. Rights in law are hard-won and require constant vigilance.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, well, no and no. A priori derived a posteriori is not a priori, and therefore not self-evident. And communism, at least of the Marxist variety, is distinctively empirical, even if wrong. I am starting to wonder if you know what these words mean, much less the ideas to which you’re applying them.Report

              • Chris, that’s not what I’m saying and it’s getting too tiring to correct your uncharitable readings of me. Peace.Report

              • Mr. Blaise, equality before an unjust law isn’t justice atall.

                Not that that equality isn’t important and necessary: in theory at least, it obviates racism and sexism.

                The principle of the French Revolution that blows the lid off is stated baldly in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man: ” Law is the expression of the general will.”

                In contrast, Alexander Hamilton’s “The Farmer Refuted” speaks of an overarching law that applies “at all times and in all places.”

                I acknowledged your position in my pedantry over the weekend. Basically, the American scheme argues that rights come first, and “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”

                Your position, which the Americans rejected, is that gov’t comes first, and rights are limited to what we can wrest from the government. [This was the English scheme as well, for which James Wilson took Blackstone and Burke to task.]

                Now, Jefferson cheats, I suppose, not only with “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” but with “self-evident.” The truths are not self-evident, but “we hold” them to be.

                If you don’t hold them to be, Jefferson can’t convince you, nor does he try. Me either. I told you, I thought Thrasymachus and his “justice is in the interest of the stronger” won the argument over Socrates in The Republic, so I’m not saying you’re wrong.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, you wrote:
                By contrast, the principles of the French Revolution and other disastrous modern schemes like communism were indeed composed a priori.
                That’s factually incorrect, but I recognize that you were just throwing a jab at things you don’t really understand or care to, so it can be dismissed as a bit of a joke. Funny stuff, too, sort of like me suggesting that Aquinas was an Epicurean.

                However, you’ve also a.) Implied that principles of Natural Law are self-evident, and b.) stated quite clearly that they were not “derived a priori.” However, in order for them to be self-evident, they must, in fact, be “derived a priori.” They need not be analytic, and in fact you’ve implied in other comments that they are in fact synthetic, but they are still a priori. Otherwise, they do not contain the evidence of their truth. Put differently, anything that is not derived a priori, but derived a posteriori, requires something else (some relation, say) to demonstrate its truth. So, you have to make a choice: either your principles are self-evident, which, given your only real criticism of non-theistic grounds, is clearly a major reason for adopting Natural Law views of morality for you, or your principles are not self-evident, and not “derived a priori.”

                I’ll be honest, I don’t read General Ivolgin, so I’m not quite sure why he brought up their a priori nature (and for Aquinas, though he didn’t use the terminology because it would have been a strange anachronism in his time, they were certainly a priori for him; he’s quite clear about where the first principles of Natural Law come from), but this is not a trivial issue. If they are in fact derived a priori from first principles then, while we might quibble about their self-evidency (the principles are self-evident for Thomists, but the secondary principles generally aren’t), in order to criticize the principles themselves, we have to either call into question the first principles, or call into question the reasoning from those first principles to the secondary principles of Natural Law, which are the ones we have to live by. If, on the other hand, they are not “derived a priori,” that is, if they don’t come before experience, but are instead derived empirically, then criticisms of the secondary principles of natural law need not have anything to say about the first principles (including God), but can simply point out that their empirical basis is flawed. So you can’t have it both ways, and you have to be really clear about which way you want to have it: self-evident and a priori or empirical. Otherwise, there’s no discussion anyone can have with you on the subject.Report

              • I didn’t say natural law is self-evident; it is derived by “right reason.”

                The bottom part of what you wrote seems fine, but frankly, Chris, it’s too unpleasant to spend the effort to engage with a hostile and uncooperative interlocutor. Had Thrasymachus not shut up after his attack on Socrates in the first chapter of Republic, everybody just would have gone home.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Dixit itaque ei Pilatus: Ergo rex es tu? Respondit Jesus: Tu dicis quia rex sum ego. Ego in hoc natus sum, et ad hoc veni in mundum, ut testimonium perhibeam veritati: omnis qui est ex veritate, audit vocem meam.

                Dicit ei Pilatus: Quid est veritas? Et cum hoc dixisset, iterum exivit ad Judæos, et dicit eis: Ego nullam invenio in eo causam.

                “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

                “What then is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

                Now, Tom, therein lies justice in a nutshell. Anyone can declare himself on the side of the Truth. Pilate asks, as do we all, “What then is truth?”

                Pilate says there’s no basis for a charge. He ends up ordering the crucifixion of Jesus anyway.

                Roman law gave way in the face of the mob. Pilate did the politically expedient thing, he gave in to the hue and cry. I contend, and you still haven’t been able to deny, that Natural Law is a populist confabulation, an ignis fatuus. Nature’s God is a pitiless monster, supremely uninterested in the rights of minorities and the particulars of equality or justice and the deity before which every tyrant and slaver has worshipped since the dawn of time. Nature’s God declares Might Makes Right.

                I prefer another God, one who loves mankind, one whose command is to love his neighbour as himself. It’s not even a particularly Goddish concept: the Buddha preached the same doctrines, to transcend the merely human, to live in the present, in the light of truth, not in the light of some hand-me-down threadbare innate justice. Justice is derived. It is not a point of origin.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, you wrote:

                “All men are created equal” or “rights” or “inherent dignity”—none of these things are self-evident in nature. Therefore [see above].

                I took the implication to be that self-evidency was important, or at least that they are self-evident in Natural Law (or in light of God, or whatever). If that’s not the case, then why on earth would it matter whether they’re self-evident in nature?Report

              • Chris, I’m gratified you’re reading what I wrote. Most of your valid objections are acknowledged infra, somewheres. I’m aware of the problems with natural law and am familiar with its critics, not just its advocates.

                “Self-evident” creates more problems than it solves. But the D of I says we hold these truths to be self-evident, not necessarily that they are.

                “For to make nothing evident of itself unto man’s understanding were to take away all possibility of knowing anything.”—Richard Hooker

                [Hooker was a precursor to Locke, mentioned numerous times by him.] Now, of course in the modern age, Hooker’s statement is considered silly or sophistic. I suppose it’s a tautology to say something’s true because it’s true. But what’s true in this statement is that without a foundation, even a provisional one [or let’s give Blaise his head and stipulate an illusory one], we can’t really get anywhere or build anything. Even Rorty’s “non-foundationalism” is a foundation of sorts. For him, “the right to have rights” isn’t self-evident, but that shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing “rights” anyway, and going on from there.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Interesting. You stipulate that the DoI writers were just taking those things to be self-evident, even if they aren’t, but then suggest that we need a ground. Since I offered nature as a ground, and your reply is that those things aren’t self-evident in nature, why don’t we just take them to be?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

                [Richard] Hooker was a precursor to Locke, mentioned numerous times by him.

                Korea, 1950, 500 years ago.Report

              • Maybe you’re saying the same thing as the Founders? Sometimes this natural law thing seems either up in the clouds or too painfully simple and obvious that it doesn’t even need its own term.

                “This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question…”—John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government [1690]

                Richard Hooker was in the air they breathed, either directly or via Locke.

                If you want to get into the tall weeds of the thing, Hooker took a crack at “self-evident,” natural law, and the impotence of unrelenting skepticism here:


                As the author of the article notes:

                Necessarily, we must start with such self-evident foundations. If we were to seek the reason behind self-evident principles, we may never get off the ground, and would wallow in skepticism and irrational chaos. As the Greek philosopher Theophrastus put it: “They that seek a reason of all things do utterly overthrow reason” (??????? ?????????? ?????, ?????????? ?????).

                I’m more interested in the history of ideas than anything else. And even if some of the foundations of America and rights and all have flaws, one can either summarily dismiss the whole thing, or more charitably, attempt to correct those errors. I prefer the latter course to pitching the whole thing and substituting something less proven.Report

              • Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, it’s not my position, it’s just a position. And you’ve now back tracked so far that you’ve chosen your values by fiat, or at best, pragmatically (which, by the way, is my starting point). It was fun to watch you shuffle, though. I always suspect that behind every moral absolutist is a moral pragmatist. I wonder how Bob sees this move you’ve taken.Report

              • Charlie Brown and the football. Thx again, Lucy.

                Oh well, I’d rather be him than her. So be it.Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I didn’t take the football away. I let you take it away from yourself. When you start from the position that your view is better because it’s firmly grounded in metaphysical certainty, and end up at the view that, eh, I just chose to go with this metaphysics because it works out better than other things we’ve tried, it’s not I who’s taken anything away from you or your position. You did it all yourself. Well done.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Bad faith. And you still show no evidence you get the argument anyway. I tried to stay at arm’s length from fideism and put it in your own self-limiting philosophical vocabulary. In good faith.

                The reply is that any metaphysical truth manifests itself in the physical as well.

                Mr. Stillwater, who participated in this discussion and had the good sense to depart it, got it:

                Laws are justified insofar as they conform to prior-conceptions of basic rights and the role government plays in promoting and protecting them. (This, it seems to me, is the central issue in the lib/con divide.)

                I shall now follow his sensible lead. But don’t think I didn’t anticipate your sting, Chris. I didn’t write any of this for you, which is why I don’t counterattack your own errors. Since you admittedly offer no affirmative argument, that would just be sophism, not good faith inquiry. I have all the time in the world for the latter, none atall for Lucy.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Tom, yeah, that reminds me of the old Positive Liberty days. Backed yourself into a corner, decide that instead of trying to get out, you’ll just tell the world you’ve won, and leave. If this weren’t the case you could, for example, point to one place where I’ve misunderstood you. Since I’ve kept to your actual words, that won’t be an easy task.

                And by the way, I didn’t say anything to imply you’re endorsing fideism. You’re doing nothing of the sort, as you’re not even pretending faith, just choice. You’d make a good Sartrean. But it’s true, I was participating in bad faith. I just wanted to get you to the “I win” moment, because it’s amusing. I was a bit bored today.

                If you wanted a real discussion, from me or from pretty much anyone here (you’ll notice you don’t get them from anyone but Ivolgin and Voegelin), you’d have to start arguing rather than throwing up flares.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                After people read you sneer like this, Chris, who would engage you in good faith ever again?

                This did turn into smoking each other out. Consider yourself smoked.

                I know the fable, and I knew what you were when I let you ride my back. Now everybody else knows too.Report

  10. Robert Cheeks says:

    Sorry I brought it up.Report

  11. Jaybird says:

    Hey Bob, down here.

    I don’t mind you calling it “relativistic” because, well, if different people have different moral obligations due to their moral starting points, then it does look a lot like relativism.

    I’ll point out an example that (I hope!) you’ve used before. We all have been present when some college student type says “an eye for an eye? a tooth for a tooth? That’s barbarianism!” We know, you and I, that it is our job to take a deep breath and hope that someone else stands up and explains the historical context of “eye for an eye” and talks about how, before, it was tribalism and the rule of law was “payback is a bitch” and people would kill over eyes and lost teeth and kill entire families for revenge of a murder and kill entire villages for revenge of a family and if nobody stands up and says that then we have to.

    Today? We know what Tevye knows.

    Is that relativism? It feels differently than hard relativism seems to.

    As for the Revelation of God, I haven’t seen it. If you have, good on you (though, sometimes, I wonder if someone who actually has experienced the Revelation of God wouldn’t act indistinguishably from someone who hasn’t but that’s, as we’ve hammered out, *MY* problem).

    And I can’t just take your word for it because, at that point, it becomes the Revelation of Bob and I’m Protestant enough to know that I must be my own priest/seer.Report

    • tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

      Mr. Jaybird, well-observed that “eye for an eye” is the seminal core of justice. [Hammarabi, echoed in Exodus, sez the internet.]

      I decided to look up “eye for an eye” in the Jewish tradition, and as usual, found something more nuanced than I expected:

      The connotation of “an eye for an eye” is that the punishment for removing an eye is that the perpetrator’s eye will be put out. We should note that normative Jewish law has never interpreted this pronouncement in this way. Jewish law is unequivocal: no Jewish court ever sanctioned or implemented this method of corporal punishment. Taking an eye from the perpetrator would be an affront to Jewish law, as practiced both in modern and ancient times. No authentic Jewish court ever meted out such punishment. Jewish law has always dictated monetary restitution, interpreting the Torah as said having commanded “[the value of an] eye in place of an eye.”


      Such a pity that our “common knowledge” of what the Old Testament is about is based on parsing the King James Version literally to death [propagated unwittingly in no small part by the fundies, who are such easy pickin’s] instead of what it meant to the people who actually wrote it.

      JB, I also share your disappointment that Mr. Cheeks has abandoned the marketplace of ideas and resorted to fideism, i.e., the Bible. I can only conclude he’s not the good Thomist I took him to be. I thought he was hanging in there quite well before his sudden departure from the field.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to tom van dyke says:

        Tom, ‘fideism?’
        Trust me, anyone who sits at Eric’s feet isn’t usually a fideist, plus I’m in with Mr. Kierkegaard.
        Re: my ‘sudden departure’ I had my two fingers and got sleepy eyes.
        BTW, I watched a PBS docu last night on ‘Forgiveness.’ These commie-dems, and yes, I don’t want to fed fund them, usually crap out on non-existent reality stuff but this time they did pretty good. They did one schtick about the Jew. Where Judaism requires that the offender be remorseful/sorry/seek atonement before he can be forgiven, whereas the Amish, of course a Christian sect, forgives immediately without any requirements on the perps part.
        JB, your point that different people have different ‘moral starting points’ is, I think, spot on and begs the question how does one go about differentiating all these wonderful ideas, perspectives, and points of view on the order of morality in order to ferret out the Truth of stuff, which, for fun, we can intimate is what God has revealed and philosophy, true philosophy, requires that we seek. There is no doubt that the pre-Enlightenment purpose of philosophy was the attainment of the divine/human communion. Now as an atheist yous guys have the fun of weighing and contemplating pretty much the same concepts usually derived from the Enlightenment’s domination of the amor sui, the love of self, over the old-fashioned notion of amor Dei. Is there any argument that modernity is pretty much grounded on the idea of the amor sui and has been for a couple of hundred years and it hasn’t exactly worked out all that well, having had a hand in the creation of Mr. Hegel’s ‘state’s of alienation’, though folks cling to it with a prounounced secular devotion that quite often exceeds most Christian acts of faith, as witnessed here at the League.

        Going over this thread, and it is remarkably civil, lucid, and well thought out, I see many of my interlocutors have united in one perspective in our discussion on the question of the atheist’s ground of morality, and that is that in engaging in the reality of the question of ‘morality’ you’ve determined that we can’t, seriously, consider the experience of ‘man’s tension toward the divine ground of his existence.’ I think that if there’s any interest in continuing this thread, I’ll respond to that perspective on the basis that “Morality”, stands as a structure in reality. If we are to understand man and his relationship to morality it must begin by putting aside our own particular ‘state of alienation’ because in seeking to examine the question (morality) we have to set aside the bias, those models of ‘perception of the modern world’ and seek a fundamental (I hope I didn’t offend)/grounded/’open’ perspective of ‘morality.’Report

        • mark boggs in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          Is there any argument that modernity is pretty much grounded on the idea of the amor sui and has been for a couple of hundred years and it hasn’t exactly worked out all that well

          Things were rosy prior to this?Report

  12. Mike Schilling says:

    (though, sometimes, I wonder if someone who actually has experienced the Revelation of God wouldn’t act indistinguishably from someone who hasn’t

    I dunno, my experience with said revelation being nil. But take this as an analogy. I know people who are incredible with their kids: supportive, kind, patient, unconditionally loving, all the qualities that anyone could ask for, and the result is a family that’s genuinely close and loving. But in other areas, they’re petty and vindictive assholes. This isn’t that surprising; as Whitman pointed out, people contain multitudes. Even having experienced the truth of Divine Love, you would find it, I expect, very difficult to apply to every facet of your life. That’s what saints do, or try to do, and very few of us are that.Report

  13. tom van dyke says:

    Since this is the “open thread,” Mr. Kowal [apparently] closing the comments on his latest, and disinclination to hear the predictable noise in reply is understandable. It’s clearly the product of much thought, and clearly not a mere first draft.

    I disagree with his decision, but as the subject of more abuse than engagement meself here and elsewhere, I certainly understand it.

    [Randy Barnett, a bit of a hero around here, similarly closes the comments on his posts at Volokh.]

    I would urge Kowal’s readership to read his thesis twice before grabbing a sentence here or there to quibble with and firing something off, as is the custom on the internet. I suspect Kowal would prefer genuine engagement, but there’s that pearls-before-swine thing, where they trample your pearls and then they turn on you.

    Who needs the noise, the trampling, the rending? Not Kowal. Me either, in my saner moments.Report