Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More With Manata

In this post, Paul pursues the idea of the category that doesn't exist because it's not an instance. We've been talking about whether "secular morality exists", and Paul's now committed to the idea that it doesn't.

Here Paul again turns to Jeff Lowder:

Paul Manata:
The first thing to point out his title - interesting choice of words given that he's an expert on "secular morality." Touchpebble says, "Manata Mangles Secular Morality." Since there is no such thing as "secular morality" then how did I mangle it? For example, prominent up and coming atheologian Jeffery Jay Lowder states,

"On that basis, atheism alone is not enough to construct a worldview. Atheism does not entail any particular ethical theory; all that atheism entails is a rejection of theological ethical systems, such as divine command theory."

So, I have no idea how I "mangled" a non-existent category, viz. "secular morality."
Atheism itself is not an ethical framework. As Lowder points out, it's just the denial of theism -- and the frameworks that are based on it (DCT and Calvinism being examples). "Atheist" is just a qualifier in that sense, so that any ethical framework that eschews supernaturalism would qualify. Would it make sense to declare that there does not exist a such thing as "conservative tax policies"? To apply Manata's logic here, I'd be justified in asserting such because there is no one specific conservative tax policy implied by that term. Or, as Paul will tell us in just a bit, "conservative tax policies" is just an approach to tax policy, and therefore isn't meaningful as a concept in thinking about or evaluating tax policies.

Paul persists:

Paul Manata:
I don't "just think" that it doesn't, it doesn't. There is no such thing as "Secular ethics." Lowder corroborated.
Not. Paul, does the category "conservative tax policies" "exist"? Apparently, Paul is supposing that a group of instances of a class (ethical frameworks that are secular) somehow denies the instances. I'll confess, that's a novel way to dismiss dealing with the merits of any particular secular ethical framework. Haven't seen this maneuver before.

Paul then emphasizes this phrase from the Wikipedia article I references on secular morality:

Secular ethics can be seen as a wide variety of moral and ethical systems drawing heavily on humanism, secularism and freethinking.

Now, he's just again declared that secular ethics doesn't "exist", and has to badly mangle Lowder (maybe we'll have to see if Lowder wants to weigh in on Manata's reading skills here?) to avoid the completely non-controversial concept of secular morality as a grouping of any of a number of ethical frameworks. Here, the Wikipedia article states the concept quite plainly.

Paul's reaction: "Thus saith the Wiki." Srsly.

He then moves on to his objections concerning this category that doesn't exist.

Paul Manata:
ii) At best, this quote says that their is a secular way of approaching ethics. It doesn't support the idea that there is a secular ethic. This can be proved by pointing out that an ethical system is supposed to provide normative, action-guiding principles. If an ethical system didn't purport to tell us how we should act in given moral situations, then that system would be useless as an ethical system. This is to say that there needs to be both a formal and a material aspect to ones ethical theory (this point is made by many, for example, secularist Mark Timmons points this out in his book Moral Theory. Secularist James Rachels makes this point in The Elements of Moral Philosophy. etc). Since the above does not purport to give us action-guides, we haven't seen a "secular ethic."
Heh. The Wikipedia even throws out a couple examples of instances in this category (utilitarianism, ethical egoism). Paul can tell us that any particular ethical system is displeasing to his (theological) tastes, but that in no way disqualifies it as an ethical system. Utilitarianism, for example purports to "tell us how we should act in given moral situations", and provides its grounding for "good" in an actions overall utility (hence the name!). That is a secular ethic, the very thing Paul supposes doesn't exist. Would Paul suggest that utilitarianism is not an instance of a secular ethical system that provides "action-guides"?

Aware of the weakness of ii), Paul hedges:

Paul Manata:
iii) The above account is biased towards a realist conception of ethics. Notice, furthermore, that "culture" is not listed as one of the "basings" for a "secular ethic."
Well, lucky for Paul that this whole category just "doesn't exist", then, huh? Ok, I've noticed that culture is not listed as a "basing". Now what? Maybe it's time to throw in a red herring?

Paul Manata:
iv) There are secular ethicists who deny that anything has intrinsic value.
Totally irrevelant. Unless Paul supposes the existence of such ethicists somehow denies the existence of other secular ethicists who do affirm intrinsic moral worth, this is just a useless observation.

Paul Manata:
That's right, and that's all that I was saying. There is no such thing as "secular" morality. An approach to ethics isn't an ethic. There is no "secular morality" since a morality gives one normative prescriptions that serve as action guides. A "morality" has principles, guides to actions, rules, an axiological position, and, in some cases, aretaic ethics - which, not surprisingly, the Wiki quotes leaves out of the list of the myriad "basings."
Since Paul is having so much trouble with the concept of categories, maybe we can make headway by focusing on an instance. The category is important, as there are a number of competing ethical frameworks that are secular, and those provide a challenge for Paul. But for now, to avoid getting bogged down by incorrigibility, let's consider one of the instances mentioned above: utilitarianism. Even this "instance" is itself a category, or subcategory of secular ethics; under the broader perimeter of consequentialism, utilitarianism comes in multiple permutations -- classic utilitarianism, hedonistic utilitarianism, act/rule distinctions, etc. But, variations considered, utilitarianism provides action-guides, a grounding for moral worth (normativity), offers practical axiological/deontological distinctions.

Utilitarianism, then, would be an instance of secular morality, a member of the class. Does Paul suppose that utilitarianism somehow "doesn't exist" as an ethical framework, secular or otherwise? This ought to push Paul's spinner to red-line RPM levels, I think.

Moving on:

Paul Manata:
ii) I never said "atheism doesn't support ANY ethical system." That's Pebbles' (mis)characterization. I simply said that there is no such thing as "secular morality." Lowder would agree. But, "atheism" does not support any one theory (see (iii) below).
I have to remind the reader here that the context for this was the question of whether atheists can be moral (or as Paul is inclined to re-cast the question: Can atheists provide an account for objective morality?). Rather than face any single, official rendering of secular morality, Paul has an array of secular ethical frameworks to deal with on this question. "Simply" pointing out that secular morality is a category containing multiple instances that qualify (which is what Lowder was pointing to) is a bigger problem from Paul. Rather than having to defeat a single "champion", he's obligated to "run the table". If just one of those secular frameworks can establish grounds for moral value, and the prescriptions and guides that flow from it, then his presuppositional goose is cooked. This is, however, a nice example of Paul as "contortionist pedant". Paul, does an array of secular ethical frameworks make things better for your argument, or worse?

Paul Manata:
iii) I know that Lowder "leaves room open" for secular "ethical systemS." I never denied that there were secular ethical systemS (plural). But, that "atheism leaves room for ethical systems" does not entail that "atheism supports any one system." I might "leave room" for a slacker to get a good grade in my class, that doesn't logically entail that I support any one (or n) slacker/s!
Now we're into thoroughgoing pedantics. If it "leaves room" -- "is compatible with" for those systems, it "supports" them. My Mac "supports" FireWire devices. It "leaves room" for compatible devices to be integrated in to the overall platform. Paul is equivocating on the word "support" here, leaning on "logically compatible with" in one case, and pointing to "fanboyism" (the slacker in his class) in the other.

Atheism supports utilitarianism, for example. They are completely compatible.

Paul Manata:
iv) Pebbles is simply confusing being compatible with ethical system/s, and being an ethical system. There is no "atheistic" or "secular" ethic, though, "atheism" and "secularism" are compatible with numerous ethical systems."
As above, "atheist" is just a qualifier, seperating ethical systems into two categories: atheist ethical frameworks, and theistic ethical frameworks. Any ethical framework that does not rely on theistic concepts or principles is -- de facto -- an atheistic ethical framework. "Conservative" is not a synonym for "tax policy". "Conservative" provides a qualifier for distinguishing to sets of tax policies (conservative, not-conservative). This is not a difficult concept to grasp, Paul.

Paul Manata:
v) Lowder doesn't use the pejorative "magical" in his post. Why does pebbles? He professes to be a Christian yet he refers to a theistic ethical system as "magical." His "Jesus" teaches us of a "law," an "ethic," yet Pebbles disrespects his professed "savior" by spitting on, and mocking, his claims.
Use "supernatural" instead if you like, Paul. You're quibbling about the terms, but the concept is the same. In any case, none of that is relevant to whether or not secular moral frameworks can account for themselves, unless one just assumes, a priori, that they can't. Which, if I understand you correctly to be a presuppositionalist, is just such a commitment. Unencumbered by that intellectual handicap, though, an inquirer as to the merits of secular morality gets nothing out of your objection here.

Paul Manata:
i) No, this was my point. I'm the one who said that there is no such thing as a secular ethic. I cite Lowder as agreeing with me. My only point was that Pebbles' title was sloppy. I didn't mangle "secular morality" since there exists no such enterprise to mangle. That's it. Pebbles needs to make more to this then there is. He's trying to cover his tracks. Simply put, my point was that his title was misleading and ignorant. My point is correct. No amount of complaining and sophistry can change the fact.
Paul, I've sent off an email request to Lowder. I'll report back what he has to say about your interpretation of his words.

Paul Manata:
ii) I know there is no "theistic ethic." That's why I never claimed that there was! Pebbles is trying to put his mistakes on me. Anyway, there is a "theism" where "theism" is defined as "belief in a god." There is no secular ethic, no matter how you define it (speaking non-arbitrarily here). An ethic requires certain things that make it impossible to point and say, "Ah, look, there is the secular ethic." So, his argument from analogy isn't a good argument, and isn't analogous. Everyone agrees that there is an intelligible category which we can use in intelligent conversation called, "theism." This is not the case with "secular ethic." Pebbles is just confused here.
Ayiyi. It's no more possible to say "Ah, there is the theistic ethic" than "Ah, there is the secular ethic." They are both categories. I can say "Ah, utilitarianism, there is a secular ethical framework", and I can say "Ah, sweet Calvinism, there is a theistic ethical framework" (Calvinism, of course, is more than just an ethical framework, but it does provide one, for anyone scanning for ethical frameworks). Paul, the only reason I can see to deny the category "secular morality", is simply intransigence in correctly a poorly thought-out minor point in one of your posts. If you look around, plenty of intelligent people use the term, and the concept it points to, in useful and practical ways.

If you read Byrne here, this is not the basis for a "sense" -- however trivial and "not my argument" Paul now wants to claim it is -- that atheists CANNOT be moral. From just above Paul's quote in the SEP article:
Paul Manata:
That's not why I cited Byrne, Pebbbles. Perhaps if you calmed down before posting you'd be clear-headed enough to see through your emotional haze of T-blog envy and you'd actually be able to comprehend what your interlocutor is arguing. I had said that my point was something we could both agree on, but that wasn't the focus of my post. My argument was not that atheists CANNOT be moral. That wasn't what I was arguing in my post, Pebbles. I made some qualifications where THAT argument COULD be made, but that was the stated PURPOSE of my post. You picked on something that wasn't INTENDED to function as part of my RESPONSE to the Ethical Atheist.
My point was that those qualifications and "hypothetical" arguments were perfectly vacuous. If you want to affirm that, I'm happy to affirm that was not the sole, or even primary purpose of your post. I wasn't responding to your whole post, if you read my initial comments. I was noting that your "qualified, narrow sense" was so narrow as to be vacuous.

Paul proceeds to implicate me in his own errors:

Paul Manata:
Notice his "deep need" for "justice" and the "need" t provide "incentive" in order to be moral. His "need" of "psychological guardrails," etc. So, even though I didn't make the kind of argument Pebbles attributes to me, he does! Pebbles must ridicule himself now. He appeals to a "magic" after life. Boy did he ever "mangle" secular morality!
This in no way denies that atheistic moral frameworks can have a solid ground, Paul. I said in the quote above that secular morality appears quite plausible, but falls short of the virtues I'm looking for. That doesn't deny its existence as a moral framework, though. I affirm, at least in principle, and even nominally in practice, that secular ethical frameworks can provide accounts for their assertions and prescriptions.

So, I'm saying something quite opposite of what you're alleging here, Paul. A presuppositional claim to transcendental necessity for theism as the basis for morality is wholly unwarranted, a folly. If I can identify aspects of secular morality that I find deficient (or superior, by the same token), fine. But I grant that in principle, the atheist has all the basis he needs for providing justification for value judgments. The frameworks compete, rationally, and none are declared invalid prior to exercise and inspection by some artificial axiom I'm carrying around.

Later on:

Paul Manata:
No, I claimed that nothing interesting followed from emotivism or subjectivism. To make an argument that Christians are immoral on a realist account is something I asked you to flesh out since I don't see them being able to make that claim. At best, we'd have differences at the level of fact, not principle (am I assuming to much to think Pebbles grasps the distinction?).
I'm routinely informed that any theistic tolerances I have are inherently immoral, in and of themselves, by at least two fellow on an email loop I participate in. That is, in their view, entertaining theistic ideas, absent rational justification for same (in their view), I'm an immoral person. This stems from the proposition that we are obligated to be rational and skeptically inclined, in some utilitarian sense. You can't even talk about "being able to make that claim", as you are presuppositionally forbidden from considering it a possibility. But in the general sense, I would dispute the "moral imperative" for totally eschewing supernatural ideas and instincts, but that would be their "qualified, narrow sense" in which theists qua theists are immoral, and cannot provide an accounting for themselves morally.

Their "qualified, narrow sense" is just as much self-serving begging of the question as yours is.

Paul Manata:
"But, well, there's a large paragraph devoted in his original post to the theist side of the coind [sic]. Nothing of any interest proceeds from that, either. But Paul is unaware."

No, things of interest follow from my comments. The proper distinction that I'm making, though, is that my comments had nothing much at all to do with my argument and response to the Ethical Atheist. It was a side point of clarification. I mainly wrote it for fellow theists who might have broached that subject in the combox. But, as I made clear in my post, the subject for discussion was a different one. The apologetic literature doesn't contain arguments from the qualified sense, they press the: O --> G; O; :.G argument I mentioned in my last response to you. It is often claimed that theists are making arguments from the inability of atheists to be moral. To "refute" this argument is simply an exercise in futility since no one is making that claim. I thus made sure that the Ethical Atheist was dealing with the arguments that we do make, not ones he falsely imputes to us. I should think that a sensible fellow like you would have (a) grasped that and (b) agreed with it. Surely you're not for someone wasting their time beating up straw men, are you?
To put it in a nutshell, I believe your agument is: atheists cannot account for their moral judgments.

Do I have that right, for a nutshell?

If so, that's not an innovation in the conversation. That goes back to van Til and beyond. I've never supposed Christians -- the layman in the pew or the world-class apologist -- have contended that atheists cannot be moral/ethical in a nominal sense. It's demonstrably false, and not even interesting to entertain.

No, I'm focused on the intellectual poverty of the attempts I've seen from you and others to either a) declare "presuppositional" victory up front, or b) go into "hyper-sophist" mode in confusing, obfuscating, and simply dealing dishonestly with the analysis of the underpinning of moral frameworks, secular or otherwise, or both. That is, the integrity of thought you bring to this discussion -- not if an atheist can be moral, but if an atheistic ethic can acquit itself -- is just a disaster. But disaster or no, I do see the "justification" question as being the central one from you and other Christian apologists, as opposed to "performance" (i.e. "doing good things").

Paul Manata:
i) I don't use "the transcendental argument for Christian theism alone." I made this point a long time ago. I've pointed this out to Pebbles on numerous occasions. He continues to push bad information. Integrity is not something he holds in very high regard, as you can see.
It doesn't matter what else you use, Paul. Your presuppositionalism is problematic all by itself. It precludes the possibility -- not the demonstration, but the possibility -- of acknowledging secular grounds for concepts like "good" and "bad". It's a set of constraints you cannot get out of. This has nothing to do with your being otherwise willing to rationally consider a proposition on the merits. But you've embraced axioms that preclude that as an investigation. It's disingenuous to claim you can both maintain your presuppositionalist fancies, then also set them aside to consider things rationally.

Paul Manata:
ii) Many non-presuppositionalists make the exact same argument that I do. Once can see that by reading the works of Copan, Craig, Hare, Helm, Moreland, et al.
Completely irrelevant. This doesn't have any impact on anything at all here. Craig isn't bound by the commitments to presuppositionalism that you are, so he can, at least, in principle, claim to be pursuing these questions in earnest, rationally. You cannot.

Paul Manata:
iii) My "worldview" depends, at a basic level, on the information contained in the text of Scripture.
You are the picture of irrationality. If your views weren't yours, you'd despise them as the apotheosis of anti-reason. But you bless them because they're yours, and they make you feel cozy, and provide magic answers to hard questions. Oh, and they insulate you from liability from having to engage these questions on the merits. That's what your worldview depends on.

How do you know that scripture contains "information", Paul?

Why not just come clean, Paul? "I think what I think, at a basic level, because, well, just because."

Paul Manata:
iv) I used "normative" assertions, not "qualitative," in my post.
Which is just a cynical attempt to control the terms of the debate. Look, if God doesn't exist, then your notions of "normativity" are useless. So anytime you throw this word out, you aren't playing by the same rules are the other thinking adults in the conversation are -- it's just a beg to the question of God's existence any and every time you use the term. If God doesn't exist, then "normativity" obtains in a completely different fashion than theistic notions of "moral absolutes" as 'immaterial/cosmic/supernatural law".

So all this argument really signifies is that you cannot get your head around notions of "normativity" that aren't singularly tied to your theism. That's what presuppositionalism does to your brain.

Paul Manata:
v) Many secularists don't think that secularists (or anyone for that matter) can account for norms in morality.
Sure, and it's totally irrelevant. How does this observation attach at all? I might as well observe that some days the sky appears to be blue. Have I reached the point where I can try on Paul's triumphalist hat on, now?
Paul Manata:
Notice Pebbles stipulates to his audience what I "MUST" believe, he doesn't quote me, though. And, it is obvious that Pebbles doesn't know the first think about my ethical theory. It's not that "God must exist" for their to be a "basis for morality," though that it part of it. If I were Pebbles I' make sure I knew the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.

Well, is it necessary, or not, Paul? Don't be coy. If it's necessary for God to exist, in order to justify an notions of morality, then no atheistic claims to moral distinctions need apply. They don't even need to be analyzed, and they are simply dismissed on a a priori basis.

If your theism is merely sufficient to account for moral distinctions, then the game's entirely different. Atheist frameworks can compete on the merits, at least in principle, and the inquirer can then evaluate between standing competitors. But that gores the presuppositionalist's ox -- it's "unfaithful" to subject your faith commitments to "worldly" standards of evaluation, to paraphrase van Til.

I am proceeding under the assumption that you are committed to the "necessity" of presuppositionalism here, based on what I've read from you. If you want quotes, I can go searching for them, but it doesn't matter if you'll just state it clearly here: It is possible for a non-theistic moral framework to account for itself, in principle, or not. If not, and I do think your answer must be "not" if you are presuppositionally committed to the transcendental truth of the God's existence and the Bible, then spare every one the con-job of telling us it doesn't measure up rationally or philosophically. It's just dishonest to proceed on those grounds.

If your theism is not a necessary predicate for moral distinctions, and is just "sufficient", then I would congratulate your emergence from the dark hole of presuppositionalism and proceed accordingly.

That's all I've time for for now. More later.


D said...

I used to interact with those fellows for a while, but I grew tired with it. You've gone on strong for quite some time now. Why waste so much energy on them? Why cast pearls before swine?

Touchstone said...


I've been surprised by the continuing feedback I've gotten in the wake of the skirmishes months ago. Some of the continuing "analysis" of the Triablogue material continues over email and a private blog, but with a few more available cycles for just a while, it's just easier put it out there.

I've no illusions about T-Blogger incorrigibility. Hopeless cases, except for maybe Jason. But it's not about T-Bloggers or me, but about those that are lurking. Sometimes there are more than you might think, and often they are actually paying attention.