Archive for January, 2011
The definition of goodness

Let’s start with an analogy: a river flowing across the countryside. Where the slope is nearly flat, the river meanders, wandering here and there according to the influence of various local factors. Where the slope is more pronounced, the river follows a definite course. With a bit of effort, a primitive farmer can use the river for irrigation. Lacking any kind of pump, though, he’s going to find that not all attempts to harness the river will be successful, and that the most successful approaches all have one factor in common: remembering that water flows downhill.

Morality is like the river, in that there are some circumstances where it is fairly easy to make it become what we want it to be, as well as other circumstances where, do what we will, the “water” is going to follow its natural downhill flow. But if morality is like the river, then what is the landscape that shapes its natural course, and what force of “gravity” pulls it downhill? That one is a little more complicated to explain.

As you may recall from last week’s post, I differ from Thomist philosophy (or at least, from as much as I’ve seen of it so far) in that I believe there is precisely one ontological perfection, no more, and this perfection is reality/truth itself as a whole. All lesser “perfections” are, in fact, errors in perception: our minds are inadequate to contain and process more than a very small fraction of the whole truth about reality as a whole, so we are forced to isolate certain perceptible aspects of reality and treat them as distinct concepts, even though real truth is not isolated nor distinct from itself. Anything we have a concept for is necessarily imperfect, and is less than the whole truth.

In discussing things like “goodness,” therefore, the philosopher needs to be careful to remember that he is actually studying the characteristics of his own imperfect perception of goodness, and not something that is perfect and complete in and of itself. If he forgets the inherent imperfection of all philosophical entities, and believes that such things have an independent existence of their own (or worse yet, are the ontological sources for observable reality), then he makes the same mistake that led Aristotle to conclude that the celestial bodies are all perfect spheres moving in perfect circles. Such “perfections” are merely oversimplifications designed to make the philosopher’s life easier; they break down if you try to apply them to the more complicated reality they are drawn from.

In considering the actual basis for “good” and “evil,” then, the first thing we need to remember is the real-world context in which such patterns can be seen to emerge. That context is a context of materialism. We exist as material organisms; our lives, our actions, our very consciousness is built upon a physical foundation of energy exchanges, organized in patterns that have evolved over millions and even billions of years. “Good” and “evil” can thus be reduced to a question of energy exchanges, in much the same way as a symphony can be reduced to a series of rapidly varying air pressures—and with about the same loss of comprehensibility.  That’s zooming in too close, so that we can’t see the big picture. Too much detail overwhelms our limited minds.

There is useful information there, however. Knowing that a symphony exists, materially, as a series of variations in air pressure, we can understand why you can’t listen to symphonies in a vacuum. And likewise, knowing that good and evil are constructed out of a pattern of material energy exchanges, we can understand why good and evil do not exist in some abstract, ethereal dimension, but rather are rooted in, and bound to, our material life.

Let’s elaborate slightly (but not too much, since this is still just a blog post). As living organisms, we are what we are as a result of natural selection. Organisms that did not have the physical properties leading to extending their own existence are organisms that proved more likely to perish without reproducing; the organisms which were equipped to maintain and continue their existence were more likely to prolong the patterns that led to this kind of survival-seeking, in their own lives and in the lives of their offspring.

At the most fundamental level, then, we have a differentiating factor: natural selection has given rise to a behavioral pattern of pursuing actions that promote continuation of existence, and of avoiding actions that interrupt the energy exchanges (thus causing death). The actions that promote survival are thus “good” (on a primitive level), and the ones that promote premature death are “bad.”

Note, by the way, that there is no point in asking whether it matters whether the organism lives or dies. That’s a subjective question. We are not speaking of whether some third party observer has preferences one way or another about the organism’s life, because that’s irrelevant to understanding what “good” and “bad” really are, especially at such a foundational level. All we have, and all we need, is the evolved pattern of behavior that prefers survival over extinction.

This is a category of good and evil that exists all the way down to the microbial and even sub-cellular level. At this point, however, it’s still too basic, in a symphony=list-of-frequencies sort of way. To properly understand good and evil in our own context, we need to follow the organism as it evolves mechanisms that promote the “good” behaviors and avoid the “bad” ones. Again, though, we’re tracing the evolution of a material phenomenon, specifically the development of neural systems capable of registering sensations, emotions, and instincts.

The apex of this process (so far) is the evolution of intelligent, self-aware consciousness. We evolved into a material organism whose physical structure allows the types of energy exchanges we call “thinking.” And along the way, we learned a thing or two. For instance, we learned that there is strength in numbers, and we learned that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. We learned, in other words, that banding together into societies is “good,” but that it has a price which can be “bad.” Societies can prolong your existence, but it can also cut it short, sometimes unexpectedly so.

This is the “landscape” across which the “rivers” of morality flow. In some places, there’s a clear, sloped channel down which the river flows: murdering someone, for example, makes you at least a potential threat to others, so that’s bad in two ways: not only is your victim dead, but you’ve put yourself in a situation where the “good” thing for everyone else to do is to prolong their existence by cutting yours short, so as to eliminate the threat. People benefit from being united in a society, PROVIDED that no one member ruins it for everyone else.

Morality thus arises spontaneously as set of conventions for balancing the potential rewards of social cooperation against the potential costs of social interaction. Because morality arises out of the nature of the material substances and energies that make up our lives, there is a certain degree of objective reality to large areas of morality. Dead is dead, and there’s no remedy for that, so the laws of morality in any society are almost certain to follow the same pattern of prohibition against murder.

On the other hand, there is also a strong subjective aspect to morality, in that the only reason we care about morality is because we are material organisms with a deeply ingrained behavior pattern that favors survival over extinction. If you give someone a definition of good and evil, and they ask you what difference your morality makes, you can tell them that they’re asking the wrong question. The question you have to ask first is, “To whom does it make a difference?” It makes a difference to us, because we are material organisms, whose patterns of makeup and behavior were formed by natural selection. And that’s the only difference it makes. That’s why we even discuss moral issues. Our interest in morality is the “gravity” that keeps the river flowing.

Of course, being organisms that are both intelligent and social, we have a lot more than just life and death to worry about. We understand that things can be bad even if they don’t threaten us with immediate annihilation. Loss of power, loss of goods, loss of shelter/clothing, loss of health and strength, loss of skills—any or all of these things cast doubts on how well we can survive in a hostile environment. This is another consequence of the material basis of good and evil: we have real, objective, material needs and there are sometimes hard physical constraints on who gets to keep the “good” stuff and who has to go without. It does not need to go all the way to literal physical death: any exchange that leaves you with fewer resources than you started with is a “bad” exchange (for you at least).

Ultimately, then, morality is both subjective and objective. It’s subjective in that it matters to somebody (and if it didn’t, then what difference would morality make?). People care about good and evil, subjectively, and this is what both defines morality and makes it important. But there’s an objective aspect of morality as well, and that is that our moral judgments take place in the context of a material “landscape” in which some directions are downhill and others aren’t. Societies have a way of imposing arbitrary moral standards (like the “right” of the rich to exploit the poor), but material actions have material consequences, and ill-advised moral standards are likely to be overthrown sooner or later (e.g. the French Revolution).

In answer to Nick’s question, then, my definition of goodness is that truth is good first and foremost. Your best shot at success depends on having what’s inside your head match what’s outside your head. Chasing illusory prey or fleeing illusory predators may give you strong feelings, but it’s not a survival benefit. This is the standard by which I judge C. S. Lewis’ arguments to be “not good.”

Beyond that, good and evil have to be defined in terms of finding the best balance between the interests of society and the interests of the individual. There’s no one correct moral balance, just like there’s no one correct river: we need to follow the path that best suits the circumstances and that achieves the best balance between making society strong at the expense of the individual, and making the individual strong at the expense of society.

Ultimately, you could reduce morality to a calculation of energy exchanges, albeit one that would be humanly impossible to compute. Each action has a certain cost to the individual, and a certain benefit to the individual, and a certain cost to society and a certain benefit to society. If we could add up all the costs, and all the benefits, and break it down so that neither party had disproportionately more nor less than the other, then we would achieve the mathematically optimal moral decision. Failing such a precise measure, though, we’ll have to do with our best estimate and with the imperfect process of consensus.

And that, barring a sudden burst of participation from Nick, is probably going to be as far as I go on this topic. I’ve answered his challenge, and his interest in engaging me has been conspicuous in its failure to manifest itself over the course of my past three posts, so there I think the matter will rest. It’s been fun, and moderately interesting (for me at least), and I, at least, am satisfied with the outcome.

Testing 123

Don’t mind this post, it will be deleted in a minute, just testing out something :)

PTKTETRYGX2X

The Tibetan Rites Revisited

The 5th Tibetan Rite

A few years ago, we published an article on the blog about the Tibetan Rites, or Five Tibetans as they are alternately called. We brought awareness to this yogic exercise program because of its almost-miraculous abilities to rejuvenate and revitalize the body and mind. I was personally so astounded as to its observable effects on myself that I felt it to be a very beneficial response to raise the awareness about this Tibetan exercise program. The most observable effects I’ve noticed are that I feel happier, need to eat less, need to sleep less, and feel more energetic.  Given how remarkable the benefits are of practicing the Tibetan Rites in one’s daily life, it would be of benefit to everyone to learn and discover some of the finer aspects of this exercise method that has been called the “Fountain of Youth”.

The Tibetan Rites are a collection of 5 yoga postures that became widely known after a man by the name of Peter Kelder wrote a book entitled The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth in which he claimed to have received these exercises from Tibetan monks. The Five Tibetans stimulate full energy flow through the chakras (a chakra is a primary energy vortex within the subtle body) and enliven corresponding nerves, organs, and glands. These exercises also tone and strengthen the major muscle groups, contributing to a strong and resilient physique. The benefits are incredibly numerous, some of which are the following:

  • looking younger
  • sleeping better
  • feeling refreshed and energized
  • minimizing of health issues, especially spine-related issues
  • feeling relief from joint problems
  • reducing pain previously experienced
  • acquiring enhanced memory
  • having arthritis relief
  • experiencing weight loss
  • having improved vision
  • becoming more youthful instead of aging
  • experiencing greatly improved physical strength, endurance & vigor
  • having improved emotional and mental health
  • feeling an enhanced sense of well-being and harmony
  • having a very high overall level of energy

The practicing of the Tibetan Rites only requires around 5 minutes of exercise per day (which has been proven to be as effective as longer periods of exercise), leaving little excuse to not instill these as part of our daily lives. The Five Tibetans are ideally practiced 21 times each. Doing any more does neither improve nor diminish the effectiveness of these exercises, so it is unnecessary to do more. Starting off at 21 repetitions per exercise is usually not done, given its relative difficulty. Start off with whatever feels most comfortable for you. If you feel you get to a point where it begins to become uncomfortable, stop at that number and move onto the next pose. You can slowly raise the number of repetitions as time goes on. On average, it takes about a month for people to work their way up to 21 repetitions for each exercise. Even as you being at a lower amount and work your way up to 21 repetitions, you will begin to feel more energized and stronger.

Given that the Tibetan Rites are done in a very specific way that differs from the slow yogic movements many are familiar with, it is important that they are done with the speed and specificity as their original form had intended. As a result, instead of describing how to do them, this video is recommended to show how the exercises are supposed to be performed for maximum benefit. These exercises can be practiced anytime, anywhere. The most ideal time however, would be in the morning before breakfast or in the evening before bed. We suggest the morning route, since you will feel as if you are more energized for the rest of the day, thereby having more success in all that you do thanks to your increased energy level. Practicing them at night is a good option for those who have insomnia or difficulty attaining a deep sleep, since not only will deep sleep be easier to attain but you will feel that you require less sleep each night if you maintain a nightly routine of the Tibetan Rites.

Applying the Tibetan Rites into your daily life is the only way to truly appreciate just how powerful these five exercises are. As the metaphor goes, it’s one thing to admire a mountain from afar, and quite another to climb it and stand on the summit. Sure, it’s interesting to read about the Tibetan Rites given the incredible benefits that seemingly come with their practice, but it is quite another thing to put them into practice in your daily life. It can be likened to site-seeing, in that until you instill these exercises into your daily life and make them as elemental as drinking water is, they are little more than scenery in an ever-shifting landscape. Try out the Five Tibetans and experience firsthand the energizing and revitalizing power that they hold. There is nothing to lose and much to gain.

Ontological perfection

Nick seems to have made himself scarce around these parts lately. It’s a shame. I was really looking forward to hearing some of his answers to the questions I raised. Maybe we can tempt him into coming back if we started discussing ontology and related topics, though, so let’s have a look.

Nick is quite right: your definition of “existence” will have a significant influence over whether goodness exists independently of our perception of it. So let’s ask the questions Nick alludes to. What do we mean when we say something exists, and what does this tell us about the reality and nature of things?

One quick caveat: this is a blog post, not a doctoral dissertation, so I’m going to give a rather cursory presentation in the interests of brevity. (Caveat two: that doesn’t mean this will be short, merely that it will be shorter.)

My approach to the question is going to be reality-based, as opposed to pure speculation, which may affect the answer in interesting ways. As usual, I’m going to base my reasoning on the principle that truth is consistent with itself. This is an observation, by the way, not just an assumption. Falsehood, by definition, is that which is inconsistent with the truth, so if we were to assume that truth is also inconsistent with itself, then there would no longer be any meaningful difference between truth and falsehood. Or, to look at it slightly differently, if you wish to refute my argument, you must show that my argument is inconsistent with the truth; once you’ve done that, though, so what? Your refutation rests on the assumption that failure to be consistent with the truth is a failure to be truth, and that’s a false assumption unless the truth is consistent with itself. Without that premise for your reasoning, you may find inconsistencies in my reasoning, but you have no way to tell whether it’s inconsistent because falsehood is inconsistent with truth, or because truth is inconsistent with truth. Reason and logic assume, by their existence, that truth is consistent with itself. My own reasoning, therefore, will be based on that premise.

Given that truth is consistent with itself, we can derive the following operational definition of existence.

A thing exists if it possesses characteristics and attributes that are consistent with the truth, and does not possess any characteristics or attributes that are inconsistent with the truth.

This is not an entirely flawless definition of existence, but it does have the advantage of putting real things in the category of “true things” and mistakes/delusions/deceptions/etc. in the category of “false things.” So it’s a fair foundation upon which to build a less naive definition.

Next, let’s consider what it means for truth to be consistent with itself. Obviously, the immediate meaning of “consistent” is that it does not contradict itself. But secondly, truth is also comprehensive—it includes all true things. If you took two distinct domains, each of which contained true things, neither domain would be the whole truth. Some things in “A” would be missing from “B,” and vice versa; the whole truth is the union of A and B. Neither A nor B is “the truth,” each is only a part of the truth, which is something greater than either by itself. And lastly, truth is coherent: no truth exists in isolation, but is interrelated with the rest of the truth in some way. (This is the property that makes reason and science possible, by the way—without it there would be no way to follow the connection from cause to effect, or from premise to conclusion, etc., because the connection wouldn’t be there.)

Some might dispute that last point about the coherence of truth. It might be possible, or at least conceivable, to propose some domain of truth that did exist in complete isolation from the truth domain that defines “reality.” If such a thing did exist, however, there would be two possibilities: either it must always and forever be entirely irrelevant to the truth of real existence, or it must be consistent with real-world truth at whatever points where the two do interact. As we’ve already discussed, however, truth is comprehensive, and if there were two separate domains that each contained mutually consistent truths, they would form parts of a larger, all-encompassing domain of  truth, in which case the larger domain would be the real truth, and the “external” truth would not truly be isolated from the rest of the domain. That leaves only irrelevant truth as a possible exception to our definition of truth; and if any such truth existed, we could safely ignore it, since by definition it is irrelevant.

Thus, we can modify our definition slightly to say that truth is consistent (does not contradict itself), comprehensive (includes all true things relevant to the real world) and coherent (no truth, relevant to the real world, exists in isolation from the rest of real-world truth). For convenience, I will be assuming all three attributes of the truth whenever I refer to truth being consistent with itself.

Given this understanding of the characteristics of truth, what can we learn about reality? Earlier we defined a thing as being real (i.e. as “existing”) if it possessed characteristics that were consistent with the truth, and possessed no characteristics that were not consistent with the truth. Reality itself, then, means all things whose characteristics are consistent with the truth. Everything that is real is also true. But what about the converse? Can we also say that everything that is true is also real? The alternative would be for us to say that there exist some things that are true but that are not real, i.e. things that are true, but do not exist. We can eliminate that possibility, though, because in order for such things to be true, they must possess properties or characteristics or attributes that are consistent with the truth, and none that are inconsistent with the truth. That means they must also be real, according to our operational definition of existence. In order to meet the criteria for being true, they must also meet the criteria for being real, i.e. for existing. Reality, as a whole, coincides with truth, as a whole.

This is what I take as the ontological perfection. Reality itself, as it exists independently of our perceptions of it, is the ultimate standard of perfection, because it is the ultimate, infallible, and perfect manifestation of the truth. Whatever error or deception or myth exists, exists because our perceptions are imperfect, and our perceptions are imperfect because the real truth is consistent, comprehensive and coherent, far beyond the ability of our finite minds to entirely comprehend. The best we can hope for is to identify certain patterns and regularities within reality, and to be approximately correct about part of the infinite perfection of reality.

That’s actually not as inconceivable as it might sound, because we ourselves are a part of the reality we are trying to observe and understand—the same patterns and regularities that make reality/truth consistent with itself are woven throughout the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms of which our minds are constructed. There is a certain inherent resonance between what we are perceiving and the machinery we use to perceive it, due to the fact that both subject and object are aspects of the same self-consistent truth/reality. We have an affinity for perceiving certain aspects of the nature of reality simply because we share aspects of that nature with the reality we’re trying to perceive.

Obviously, this does not make us infallible. Our perceptions are approximations, a limited representation of an unlimited data pool. We do not and cannot perceive true ontological perfection; we can only extract, from our experiences, the regular, consistent patterns that are part of the one true ontological perfection. These limited perceptions, however, are not the whole truth. Truth is comprehensive and cohesive, but our understanding works by abstracting, by separating specific aspects of the truth from their interrelated parts.

This is a key point, and one that I think underlies the failure of some philosophers to correctly understand the nature of ontology. When we take some part of the truth, and isolate it so we can study it independently of its real-world context, we are doing two things: we are arbitrarily excluding relevant information in order to produce a single concept simple enough for our neurons to process with a reasonable expenditure of energy, and we are also creating a falsehood—an idea that is missing the coherence and comprehensiveness of genuine truth.

This is not entirely a bad thing. It’s a necessary trade-off. Strict fidelity to ontological accuracy would overwhelm our finite powers of computation and analysis; some sacrifice of truth is necessary in order to reduce the problem to something humanly solvable. It does highlight, however, the importance of remembering the difference between observing the characteristics of a thing, and observing the characteristics of human concepts about the thing.

Take “triangularity,” for example. Why do we have a concept of triangularity? The concept exists because one of the patterns we observe in reality is a regular ordering of points and lines we call “triangles.” But nothing in the real world is as simple as what we call “triangles”—whether it’s ink on paper or girders in a bridge, or slices of a pie, the shapes we call “triangular” are in reality much more complex than the simple definition mathematicians give to a three-sided geometric shape.

The thing we do, to make it easier to think about reality, is to eliminate many of the true interrelationships between things, so that we can focus more easily on one particular aspect of reality in isolation. The truth, however, is that real world triangles don’t exist in isolation; “triangularity” is characteristic of a human concept about the patterns we see in real-world truth. Perfect truth is consistent, comprehensive, and coherent; by isolating “triangularity” from its real-world context, we have created a degenerate “perfection” that resides in our perceptions rather than in the reality we are trying to perceive.

Consider, for example, that slice of pie I mentioned earlier. Is it really triangular? One of the sides is curved, yet the definition of a triangle, as specified by mathematicians, is that all three sides are straight lines. In real life, however, there is virtually nothing we would identify as “triangular” that meets the mathematical definition. There’s a disconnect there: real-world truth is coherent, but the mathematical concept explicitly isolates the “triangular” property from its context. The process of reducing it to computable form has changed it from being part of real-world truth to being something that, while simpler, is no longer entirely consistent with reality.

This is why it’s such a subtle yet devastating error to try and understand the world in terms of “essences” and ideals and so on: the process of mentally reducing something to a computably-simple principle necessarily isolates it from its real-world context and thus renders it no longer completely consistent with reality. It is a human concept about reality, inherently and inescapably over-simplified in order to allow finite thought about the topic; it is not itself real.

If we fail to carefully maintain that distinction, we run the risk of believing in a truth that’s distinct and different from what we see in the real world, a “higher and better truth” that coincidentally happens to be unconstrained by any need to conform to the real-world evidence. The process of isolating the “essence” of a thing from its real-world context is a process that necessarily isolates it from the sort of consistency-checking we need in order to falsify untrue statements. We can and must work with imperfect representations of the patterns we see in real-world truth, and we can even do so reasonably and reliably PROVIDED we remember that we are working with imperfect perceptions about the real world, and not with the consistent, comprehensive, and coherent perfection of ontological being. To confuse the two, and especially to buy into a world view that proposes a “higher truth” unconstrained by real-world evidence, is to leave ourselves vulnerable to a particularly pernicious and sophisticated form of gullibility.

Well, I’ve scarcely scratched the surface, but in keeping with my “non-a-dissertation” caveat, I’ll go ahead and stop here. There’s tons more I could say, and a significant amount that I should say, which is why I was waiting to see if Nick would perhaps narrow down the scope of his questioning somewhat rather than asking for my views on ontology in general. There’s just so much stuff there. On the other hand, perhaps that’s why Nick himself seems equally reluctant to offer us a quick summary of his views on the ontology that lies behind his views on morality. I will thank him for bringing up such an interesting topic, though. Perhaps this time he’ll respond, and we can discover even more together.

Consciousness Evolution: From Fear to Courage


Many individuals around the world today are still living much of their daily lives within the consciousness state of fear. By existing within this mindstate, they are putting up an impenetrable boundary between themselves and their own self-actualization. It is a sad thing to see, but it is a reality that can been seen all around us. Many systems (various social, political, religious, and others) within society perpetuate the energy of fear within the minds of people and such systems will continue as long as the consciousness of courage does not exist within those individuals. By having courage, they will be able to stop experiencing the fear being perpetuated by those systems and take off the illusory shackles imposed on them. The transition from fear to courage is a very big step, and often requires much effort and energy, but it is entirely possible with a little determination and perhaps some external support. Not only is it beneficial for an individual, but also for society as a whole. The less power that the systems within our cultures and societies have through their tool of fear, the quicker they will disappear into the sands of time and liberate consciousness wherever it may be imprisoned.

Fear limits the growth of an individual’s personality and inevitably leads to a nature of inhibition and repression. It takes energy to transcend this level of consciousness, which is why we see so often that such individuals gravitate towards those who seem to have conquered fear and who offer to lead them out of the slavery that it holds. Unfortunately, these individuals whom they are attracted to are many times oppressive totalitarian leaders who take advantage of those who follow this logic. It is unfortunate, but the subjective consciousness state of fear is a limiting, prevailing, and habitual state of expectancy that can be projected onto essentially any and all aspects of one’s life. Stress becomes the primary byproduct of the fear and creates its own problems as well, which are too many to mention here.

As noted earlier, the perpetuation of fear will be stopped in its tracks once an individual embodies the consciousness state of courage. Courage allows for exploration and accomplishment thanks to a person’s position of awareness focused on seeing life as being exciting, stimulating, and challenging. Progress occurs when courage is emboldened. There is a passionate willingness to experience wonderful things that have not been explored before. Fear will been faced head-first thanks to a significantly-higher level of energy and any previous hindrances are gone. Self-esteem will go through the roof because there is a sense of “I can do this” which becomes progressively self-reinforcing. Productivity soars to new heights.

Thanks to having courage, there is enhanced confidence that one feels within their being. There is an empowerment of the self, thanks to the realization that a person is not dependent on external factors. Everything that one ever needed has been within his or herself the whole time. Freedom is finally experienced, as the shackles of fear are taken off and thrown away. The significant shift from fear to courage allows for a person to now be able to realize and work on manifesting his or her inner potential. This potential can be aligned with one’s sense of an overall mission or goal in life that will be the primary focus from then on out. Pursuing our life goals would not be possible if we had a consciousness of fear since it would inhibit any action towards manifesting such goals.

With courage, our overall level of happiness grows immensely and everything is seen in a more positive light. People are perceived as being more friendly, societal problems are not seen as hopeless as they used to be, and many other positions of awareness are shifted. The evolution of consciousness from fear to courage can change a one’s life in such a dramatic way that it is as if a person is living in a different reality than he or she was living in before the shift was made.

There is perhaps one factor that is more important to be mindful of beyond all others, that has to be realized, if one wishes to make the transition from having fear to having courage: accepting personal responsibility. This critical action is a requisite for the shift from fear to courage and requires that a person gets rid of the idea that he or she is a victim of a perpetrator. All social belief systems that are based on the suppositions of blame and excuses have to be transcended so that one can shift away from fear. None of this is easy, since courage requires a higher input of energy than fear below it does. However, whether it is through the inner determination of oneself or the outer support of others, this critical transition is certainly an obtainable reality. Understanding the differences between these two consciousness states is important to know before the process can begin, so that one knows what he or she is working with. It can take a day or it can take a lifetime, but whatever the pace may be, once it occurs, the sense of self-empowerment can be the satisfaction one has always felt was needed in order to accomplish a most-fundamental self-realization.

Clarification Needed
Hi George. I want to give you an adequate reply to your post here, but I need some further clarification from you before I do that.

You wrote: “You will notice that I include objective morality as a possible option for the atheist.”

You also wrote: “Morality is objective in the sense that rules, whether understood by convention or natural order, are the basis for the definition of a species and how it interacts with the world.”

And also: “Morality is subjective in the sense that our choices impact our ability to survive; so the best solution is not always clear, or do not impact our survival, so that reason can transcend a rule that has outlived its merit.”

My question for you is this: is being self-contradictory objectively wrong? Or is the claim, “being self-contradictory is wrong,” a matter of personal opinion, i.e., subjectively wrong? The reason I ask is because you accused the Bible of being self-contradictory. Then later you wrote: “Are you morally obligated to follow the laws of logic? Nope. You have every right to be wrong.”

I have another question that concerns what you wrote here: “In order for the premise that subjective morality is self-contradictory to be true, man must be unable to refuse an objective moral truth by fiat.”

Whose fiat are you talking about? And so I’m clear, are you saying that the ability to disobey a law shows that morality is not objective? Or have I misunderstood you? Also, do you make a distinction between, on the one hand, whether one is able to or can break a law, and on the other hand, whether one is permitted or allowed to break a law?

You wrote: “In order for your premise to stand you must prove that man is solitary by nature, that nothing in reality transcends his personal opinion of what is moral or immoral.”

To which premise were you referring? Also, so you’re clear, I do not believe that there is nothing in reality that transcends man’s personal opinion. God is transcendent.

You wrote: “By picking and choosing what you want the definitions to be, you create black and white pronouncements from a million shades of gray.”

I was operating according to the dictionary definitions of objective and subjective. There are free dictionaries online for you to look up the meanings. Should I assume from your comment here that we should go by your definition of objective and subjective instead of the dictionary definitions of these words? If so, then I refuse. There’s no reason we can’t use the dictionary definitions of these words.

Also, you wrote: “Logic does not transcend reality, it is a slave to it. Logic is objective. .......... What transcends logic to make it objective? Reality.”

Are you saying that logic is not part of reality? If reality transcends logic, then is it impossible for logic to be part of reality?

Looking forward to your clarification so that I might give you a proper reply.
Film Review: Pyramids of Waste – The Lightbulb Conspiracy (2010)

The Lightbulb Conspiracy

There have been many great documentaries coming out in the past few years that focus our awareness on the unsustainable processes operating within our cultures, societies, and economies. One of these is Pyramids of Waste, also called The Lightbulb Conspiracy. This film tells the untold story of something called “planned obsolescence”. which is  the deliberate shortening of product’s life span by manufacturers in order to guarantee continuous consumer demand. This endless growth model is unsustainable on a finite planet with finite resources such as ours and this documentary shows the necessity for a radical shift in how we perceive growth and progress.

This documentary focuses on the self-imposed mandate by businesses since the 1920s to purposely shorten the life-spans of the products they manufacture and sell. As they put it, the product that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business and a tragedy for the modern growth society, which relies on an ever-accelerating cycle of production, consumption and throwing away. This shows the short-term mentality that many are prone to, without thinking about the inevitable long-term consequences for such a mindset. Pollution (which ties into the destruction of the environment) is perhaps the greatest reality as a result of this business model, and its effects are very easily seen everywhere you go. There seems to be trash everywhere you look…even where not a single person can be found, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

This documentary is great in that it combines investigative research as well as rare archive footage in order to unveil how planned obsolescence had first begun. It takes the viewer on a trip from the 1920s with a secret cartel, set up expressly to limit the life span of light bulbs, to the present-day, with stories involving the latest electronics (such as the iPod). It culminates with the showcasing of individuals and groups that have within themselves the “growing spirit of resistance” against the unsustainable and unethical practices conducted by businesses all around the world today.

Pyramids of Waste is the story of companies that engineer their products to fail. It shows how a “throwaway culture” was created almost a century ago and demonstrates that this is not only an unsustainable practice, but also one that is unethical. It’s definitely a film worth seeing, especially if one did not know about the intentional production of inferior products by many businesses today.

Watch the film here: http://www.vimeo.com/17750184

Intermission
While I await a reply from George to my post just below this one, let’s review again why the following claim is a self-defeating one: “Morality is subjective.” If we assume the claim is false, then we deny that morality is subjective. If we assume the claim is true, then the claim does not oblige anyone to accept the claim, since morality would just be a matter of personal opinion. That is, since there’s no external obligation on me to accept the claim, I can go ahead and accept the negation of the claim and hold that morality is objective.

There are a number of terrible consequences to holding that morality is subjective, i.e., that it’s a matter of personal opinion. For example, the claim, “murder is wrong,” would simply be an autobiographical comment, telling us about the person who made the claim rather than carrying with it the implied obligation not to murder.

While there are a plethora of other terrible consequences to holding that morality is subjective, let’s focus in again on what I was saying in the first paragraph but from a different angle. If one’s belief is that truth is objective, that is, it is not a matter of personal opinion, such a belief does not comport with the belief that morality is subjective. We would simply need to ask whether it is true that morality is subjective. In other words, if there’s no objective obligation to base morality on truth (so that morality might be objective), what is the value of making truth judgements about morality?

Consider the following claim. We’ll call it claim #1:
"There is no objective obligation on anyone to base morality upon truth."

Now, let’s negate claim #1 and call it claim #2:
"There is an objective obligation on everyone to base morality upon truth."

Notice that both these claims concern morality. Notice also that these claims directly contradict one another. We can’t (notice, moral obligation) accept both these claims since accepting both would constitute a contradictory position. We have to (notice, moral obligation) choose one or the other. If I don’t have to choose only one, then I’m permitted to be irrational. But what happens when we choose claim #1? If there’s no objective obligation to base morality on truth as claim #1 says, and if claim #2 is false, then I can base morality on falsehood, that is, I am permitted to base it on claim #2. What you ought to notice here is that both the acceptance and rejection of claim #1 prove that claim #1 is false.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at another claim and call it claim #3: “People have an objective moral obligation to base morality on falsehood.” First of all, who would accept such an idea? Secondly, what if the claim is true? If so, then the claim requires that I reject it because it assumes to be true and because it concerns morality! But if you deny claim #3, then on what do you base your denial? Do you believe that we have an objective moral obligation to base morality on truth? If so, then you deny that morality is subjective. And if we don’t have an objective moral obligation to base morality on truth, then we are permitted to accept claim #3 (which would be absurd).

What’s going on here? The point I’m making is that rationality is not possible if truth claims don’t imply or presuppose the moral obligation to accept them, nor is rationality possible if moral claims don’t imply or presuppose truth. In the Christian worldview, truth claims do imply the moral obligation to accept them. In the Christian worldview, morality must be based on truth. Therefore, as long as atheists continue to claim that morality is subjective, not only do they have no basis for calling Christians wrong, but they have no basis for calling themselves right. What is the point of reasoning, speaking or listening if no one is morally obligated to be rational? What is the point of insisting on rationality if your insistence is based on a personal opinion that no one is morally obligated to accept?

But if atheists want to claim that morality is objective, then I’d really like to hear how they justify or account for that, given their rejection of the omniscient, immutable, omnipotent, sovereign God.
Intermission
While I await a reply from George to my post just below this one, let’s review again why the following claim is a self-defeating one: “Morality is subjective.” If we assume the claim is false, then we deny that morality is subjective. If we assume the claim is true, then the claim does not oblige anyone to accept the claim, since morality would just be a matter of personal opinion. That is, since there’s no external obligation on me to accept the claim, I can go ahead and accept the negation of the claim and hold that morality is objective.

There are a number of terrible consequences to holding that morality is subjective, i.e., that it’s a matter of personal opinion. For example, the claim, “murder is wrong,” would simply be an autobiographical comment, telling us about the person who made the claim rather than carrying with it the implied obligation not to murder.

While there are a plethora of other terrible consequences to holding that morality is subjective, let’s focus in again on what I was saying in the first paragraph but from a different angle. If one’s belief is that truth is objective, that is, it is not a matter of personal opinion, such a belief does not comport with the belief that morality is subjective. We would simply need to ask whether it is true that morality is subjective. In other words, if there’s no objective obligation to base morality on truth (so that morality might be objective), what is the value of making truth judgements about morality?

Consider the following claim. We’ll call it claim #1:
"There is no objective obligation on anyone to base morality upon truth."

Now, let’s negate claim #1 and call it claim #2:
"There is an objective obligation on everyone to base morality upon truth."

Notice that both these claims concern morality. Notice also that these claims directly contradict one another. We can’t (notice, moral obligation) accept both these claims since accepting both would constitute a contradictory position. We have to (notice, moral obligation) choose one or the other. If I don’t have to choose only one, then I’m permitted to be irrational. But what happens when we choose claim #1? If there’s no objective obligation to base morality on truth as claim #1 says, and if claim #2 is false, then I can base morality on falsehood, that is, I am permitted to base it on claim #2. What you ought to notice here is that both the acceptance and rejection of claim #1 prove that claim #1 is false.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at another claim and call it claim #3: “People have an objective moral obligation to base morality on falsehood.” First of all, who would accept such an idea? Secondly, what if the claim is true? If so, then the claim requires that I reject it because it assumes to be true and because it concerns morality! But if you deny claim #3, then on what do you base your denial? Do you believe that we have an objective moral obligation to base morality on truth? If so, then you deny that morality is subjective. And if we don’t have an objective moral obligation to base morality on truth, then we are permitted to accept claim #3 (which would be absurd).

What’s going on here? The point I’m making is that rationality is not possible if truth claims don’t imply or presuppose the moral obligation to accept them, nor is rationality possible if moral claims don’t imply or presuppose truth. In the Christian worldview, truth claims do imply the moral obligation to accept them. In the Christian worldview, morality must be based on truth. Therefore, as long as atheists continue to claim that morality is subjective, not only do they have no basis for calling Christians wrong, but they have no basis for calling themselves right. What is the point of reasoning, speaking or listening if no one is morally obligated to be rational? What is the point of insisting on rationality if your insistence is based on a personal opinion that no one is morally obligated to accept?

But if atheists want to claim that morality is objective, then I’d really like to hear how they justify or account for that, given their rejection of the omniscient, immutable, omnipotent, sovereign God.
In which I am disappointed

Last week I pointed out to Nick a fairly serious logical flaw in C. S. Lewis’ argument for Moral Law, as presented in Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity.

By asserting the existence of a disobeyable Law, therefore, Lewis is implicitly assuming, in his premise, the existence of the intentional law-giver that is the goal of his conclusion… By incorporating the assumption of an independent Observer/Participant into his definition of “law,” he biases the fundamental vocabulary of the discussion, and makes it difficult or impossible to argue the case, using his terms, without being led inevitably to the predetermined conclusion.

This is a very serious logical fallacy which, if unaddressed, undermines the validity of all subsequent Thomistic argumentation regarding natural law. I then posed a fairly simple question for Nick:

My main question is about Mere Christianity, and about Lewis’ apparent failure to produce a logically valid introduction to Thomistic thought. A sound and correct philosophical foundation should have made it easier for Lewis to produce a coherent and non-fallacious summary, albeit a potentially incomplete one. How then do you account for this discrepancy…?

I was frankly looking forward to Nick’s reply, given his extensive readings (especially as compared to my own). How would he address this problem? Would he agree that Lewis was presenting an unsound argument, and try to excuse him on the grounds that he was summarizing something much more complex? Would he try and make a case for the existence of a disobeyable law independent of any Observer with opinions and preferences about our behavior? Would he admit that “disobeyable law” already assumes the existence of a Divine Law Giver, and plead that in this special case it’s ok to assume one’s conclusion?

I was very interested in seeing how he would reply, but I didn’t expect him to reply like this:

I believe the question, if I’m understanding it rightly, concerns if Lewis is contradicting himself about a law of nature that cannot be broken supposedly and a law of morality that can.

Also, it concerns why we should believe if it cannot be measured or is not tangible in some way.

As they say in lolspeak, I am disappoint.

First of all, with regards to the second point, I did not ask why we should believe in the intangible/unquantifiable, I asked how a layman can verify the validity of complex philosophical constructs, in the absence of tangible by-products. Most of us have no hope of understanding the math behind Einstein’s equations, but when we see the mushroom cloud we at least have some idea that e does equal mc^2. Is there any way, then, that we can verify the validity (or lack of validity) of Thomistic conclusions regarding goodness?

I would suggest that there are some standards even a layman can apply, such as the test of whether or not the whole structure is built on a simple logical fallacy. When we read Chapter One of Mere Christianity, we find Lewis committing the fallacy of incorporating the assumption of his conclusion into the specification for the terms he uses to define his premises. For the simple layman, that would seem to rule out any possibility that his argument is sound. That’s why it’s so important for us, as presumptively unread laymen, to get a straight answer to the question of whether or not Lewis’ first step is a logical misstep, and if so, is this implicit fallacy a fair depiction of the actual foundation of Thomist thought.

If the answer to both questions is yes, that would be extremely damaging to the argument for natural law, so hopefully Nick will address this issue in his next reply.

Meanwhile, I’ll take a stab at answering another one of his questions, since he has repeated it more than once. Nick is wondering whether any of us know know the three criteria for moral goodness: object, intention, and circumstance. It’s an interesting topic in and of itself, so let’s have a quick tour.

According to Thomas Aquinas, the primary criterion for assessing the moral goodness of a particular action is the object of the action. Note that’s “object,” not “objective.” When discussing the object of a moral act, we’re talking about describing what the act is, not what it is intended to accomplish. For example, murder, witch-burning, capital punishment and suicide all have human death as their object, even though many different intentions are involved (sometimes multiple intentions for the same act!). Thus, “object” has to do with “what,” not “why” or “how much” or so on.

Before an action can be morally good, it must first be good in its object. Thus, to judge the goodness of any action whose object is human death, we must first assess whether human death is good in and of itself. That’s a point that has interesting implications, as discussed below.

Next, we must look at intention. Is the action intended to accomplish a good result? The caveat here is that if the object is immoral then no amount of good intentions can make the act morally good. The end does not justify the means, at least according to the 3 criteria for moral goodness.

And lastly we must look at circumstance. This is kind of the loophole in Thomistic morality. In theory there can be no such thing as “extenuating circumstances” capable of making an action good when its object is not good (otherwise we don’t really have 3 criteria for moral goodness, because the real determining factor is circumstance). Thus, in theory the circumstance can tell you, e.g. that stealing someone’s parachute is a worse offense than stealing someone’s handkerchief, but both actions are still immoral because the object of the action is taking someone else’s property against their will, which is an immoral action.

The gotcha with the 3 criteria is that the actions of God Himself are, in many cases, immoral by this standard, and thus in practice theologians end up having to invoke the idea of extenuating circumstances, which means claiming that the last criterion overrules the first two. Without extenuating circumstances, no act of genocide can be good unless its object (wiping out an entire ethnic group of people, including children and babies) is also good; thus in commanding genocide, God is requiring His people to behave immorally. The only way to avoid this conclusion is either to decide moral goodness based on circumstance despite one or both of the other two criteria. Either that or decide that wiping out entire populations is morally “good,” or course.

And yet, even though you will find Catholics, for instance, who argue that the extermination of the Amalekites was not immoral, due to extenuating circumstances, they will still use the 3 criteria standard as an argument for why abortion can never be moral under any circumstances. As so often happens, the “absolute standard” isn’t always absolute. It’s what you might call a “flexible” standard—it allows us to determine what is and is not moral, except when it doesn’t, in which case we fall back on the argument from circumstance (which sometimes sounds suspiciously like my basis for morality ;) ).

You could almost make the 3 Criteria standard work, if you said that you have to consider all three criteria as a whole. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really solve the problem: either all three criteria are in agreement, in which case the question is trivial, or else there is some conflict between the three criteria, in which case you need some kind of higher principle of morality to which you can refer in deciding how much of a “vote” to give to each of the 3 criteria in determining the outcome. But if you have to appeal to a higher standard of morality to referee between 3 conflicting criteria, then it is the higher standard that is the real criterion for moral goodness, and you’re just fooling yourself by claiming to base moral goodness on the 3 criteria.

So like I said, it’s an interesting topic, and one I’m sure Nick will have more to say about (and with my blessing). I wouldn’t call it a solid philosophical approach, though, unless Nick can convince me otherwise.