Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

A Plaintive Cry

with 2 comments

I’m at this place again, a place I get to in many of these discussions.

And I’ve decided that I must be doing something wrong, because I keep ending up here time after time after time again.

I start to outline a complex argument that requires me to

1) Make and explain point A

2) Show how point A leads to point B, and make and explain that

3) Show how point B leads to point C, and make and explain that

4) Show how point C leads to point D, and make and explain that

5) Show how point D leads to point E, and make and explain that

6) And finally tie it all together.

And what happens is that I not only never get to Number 6, I never get to Number 2.

That’s because I make Point A, and thirty of you jump on me to complain that that doesn’t explain Point D, and Point D—

And off we go.

The fact is that I know perfectly well that just nailing Point A does not explain or prove Point D on its own–any more than declaring just that Socrates is a man proves that Socrates is mortal.  You have to state the second stage (all men or mortal) before you can get there.

We also continually get off on complete side issues, which I then get blamed for.

One more time.

I wasn’t the one who started talking about “societies.”

Societies have nothing to do with it.  They really don’t. 

The only reason I spoke about societies was because people here kept saying “well, different societies have different moral codes and still thrive.”

I felt like I had to answer the comment, so I answered it, and suddenly I was being told I was saying that we could prove objective moral rules by how they impacted the health of whole societies.

But I never said that.

In fact, so far, I haven’t yet said anything at all about how to derive the actual moral rules. 

If Lymaree can’t figure out how to get from an objective basis for morality to specific moral rules, it MAY be because I haven’t said a single thing about it as of yet.

That’s Point E above, and there’s a lot more ground to be covered before that.

Then there’s the whole thing about the “physical” and the “not physical.”

I’ll repeat–as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing else but the physical. 

It’s not possible for behavior, thoughts or ideas to be something else only “derived from” physical bodies.  Those things are physical events, just as surely as burps and farts.  There’s nothing else for them to be.

And I do think we’ll get to the point where we’ll be able to pinpoint the brain functioning that produces them, and understand how it works.

Which, by the way, would get us back to Sam Harris’s book, about which I still have something to say.

And, I’m sorry, but I do not accept the idea that a society is “thriving” if most of its citizens live in slavery and misery, if there is no advancing of science and technology and medicine,  if “progress” for the few is the result of the brutal suppression of the many.

And that is what Egypt was, it was what the Incas were, it was what the Chinese and Mongol empires turned into by the time we discovered them. 

It is possible to produce a great, oppressive empire in lots of different ways, and if you want to think of that as a society “thriving,” well, good for you.

But it is possible to produce a scientific civilization only one way that we know of, and that way actually thrives, it not only grows and prospers, but that prosperity is broadly shared.  Everybody lives long and more comfortably, not just a tiny minority at the top that gets to steal from everybody else.  Knowledge advances.  Even art advances.

That’s a thriving society.  Pharaonic Egypt was protection racket married to a death cult.

And in the end, it went nowhere. 

And I’m talking about societies again, when morality is not about societies, but about individuals.

And I still can’t get there without going through all the steps. and I can’t get through all the steps when I can’t even get through the first one because I have to run over to the other side of the room and take care of questions about steps I haven’t even outlined yet.

This sort of thing is very frustrating.

I have half a mind to send you all to Thomas Aquinas, who outlined the case for an objective basis for morality better than I ever could–and to Aristotle, who did the same.

At least they didn’t have laryngitis.

Written by janeh

November 5th, 2010 at 5:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'A Plaintive Cry'

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  1. OK, I can only respond to the words on the screen, not the words you were going to get around to next week. Your responses didn’t lead me to think I’d missed the Big Reveal, but I’ve been wrong before.

    If you don’t want to write out the complete argument in one long blog, I’d say the options are (1) write “this will take five posts. Please hold all comments until the end” (2) write the whole thing OFF the blog, and post a link, (3) don’t get ahead of yourself. Make Point A, and when you have done so, go to point B. If your initial volley was to establish an objective basis for morality, I didn’t find you convincing, for reasons we’ve about beaten to death. If Point A was something short of that, then make that point without regard to the larger claim. Or (4) Start with the outline: “I am going to make Point E in the following steps.” Then go on to Point A. Personally, I think your best bet is 2. Write it as you have time, polish it, and unleash it on the world when you’re satisfied with it.

    If you REALLY think you’re not going to do as well as has already been done, find a good translation of Aquinas or Aristotle, and post a link or recommend a book and be done. I suspect you believe your approach will be better in some regard, or you would already have done so. (I am not accusing you of hubris. I note that you have a sharp and well-informed mind, the advantage of aleady having read Aristotle and Aquinas and several centuries of scientific advance–not to mention being part of our society in ways they cannot be.)

    But please not the Nichomachean Ethics again. It’s an interesting treatise, but it does NOT establish an objective basis for morality. It’s more an analysis of current best practice, and the analysis not beyond rebuttal.


    5 Nov 10 at 3:51 pm

  2. I’m not sure where this discussion is going other than circles.

    If you say Socrates is a man, I will assume that means he is mortal because I know that all men are mortal. You don’t have to spell it out.

    And if you want to discuss morality, I do not see how it can be treated outside of a society. What would it mean to be moral if you were the only human being on an isolated island?

    I think Jane’s conception of a thriving society would rule out most societies throughout most of history. As a matter of curiosity, is it correct to describe Egyptian peasant farmers as slaves?

    And I’d like a good reference to Aquinas. Preferably a good summary and analysis rather than a translation of his works.


    5 Nov 10 at 8:21 pm

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