TCS Daily

Contract Schmontract

By Edward Feser - January 24, 2006 12:00 AM

In Max Borders' reply to my recent TCS article on "The Metaphysics of Conservatism", he appeals to the "contractarian" theory that morality rests on a tacit agreement between rationally self-interested individuals to abide by certain rules because it is to their mutual advantage to do so. There is, on this account, nothing intrinsically evil about killing innocent people, stealing from them, lying to them, raping, torturing, or mutilating them, or doing anything else to them you feel like doing. But since a rationally self-interested person does not want these things done to him, he will, as it were, abide by a "contract" with all other rationally self-interested persons to refrain from doing these things to them as long as they extend to him the same courtesy. "Morality" is really just a kind of truce, a respite from the "war of all against all" that is, on this Hobbesian analysis anyway, our natural condition.

One of the standard objections to this view is that it shows at most merely that a rationally self-interested person should pretend to abide by such rules, not that he should really abide by them. If you could live as a "free rider" -- letting everyone else respect the social contract while you only kept up a façade of doing so, secretly killing, stealing, lying and raping away to your heart's delight -- then the theory would seem to imply that that would be the most rational thing for you to do. Here contractarians often respond by arguing that such pretence would not pay in the long run, for others will not agree to leave you alone if they suspect that you might try to stab them in the back. A rationally self-interested person will therefore seek to internalize the moral norms in question by acquiring a disposition to abide by them. He will try to live as someone who really respects morality for its own sake and not only insofar as it benefits him, so that others will regard him as a trustworthy partner to the social contract. This might sound like the saying often attributed to Groucho Marx to the effect that "sincerity is everything; if you can fake that, you've got it made." But in fairness, the contractarian wants you, as it were, to fake yourself out too, and not just others; that way you'll be really convincing.

At the end of the day, though, the most a contractarian can say about someone uninterested in such philosophical method acting is that he runs the risk that others might neither trust him nor refrain from hurting him. The sociopath or misanthrope cannot strictly be condemned as immoral, for being no more a party to the social contract than an animal is, he is really outside the sphere of moral evaluation altogether.

Now the implication that there are human beings whose lack of participation in the social contract puts them outside the boundaries of morality is what is really troubling about contractarianism, for it entails that there are no moral constraints whatsoever on what we might do to such people. Borders insists that the fact that there might be an occasional "defector" from the social contract "doesn't mean we ever have a positive duty to 'boil people alive.'" But that is a red herring, because the question isn't whether we must harm those who are outside the social contract, but whether we may in theory do so if we want to, and the contractarian has no basis whatsoever for denying that we may. He must acknowledge that, at least in principle, if you knew for certain that a person is utterly unwilling sincerely to enter into the social contract, then even if he hasn't in fact harmed you or anyone else, there would be no moral reason not to kill, torture, mutilate, rape, or otherwise to abuse him just for kicks, if you had a hankering to do so.

Contractarians try to dance around this disturbing consequence by insisting that the scenario is purely hypothetical, and that in real-life circumstances we have prudential reasons to abide by conventions forbidding people from taking it upon themselves to decide whether someone is outside the contract. But that the theory allows for this sort of possibility even in the abstract should be enough to give us pause. Moreover, there are, of course, many people who have in fact hurt others, and thereby shown themselves either to have broken the social contract or never to have been a sincere party to it at all. So may we punish them just any way we like? If someone is guilty of stealing a radio, can we execute him, or cut his ears off and force-feed them to him? Again, the contractarian will no doubt say that we have good pragmatic grounds for not allowing such excessive punishments, but this misses the point. The problem is that the contractarian has no way of showing that such excessive punishments are flatly unjust in principle. Here we see plainly that contractarianism isn't really a defense of morality or justice as we know them in everyday life, but rather an attempt to replace morality and justice with something loosely resembling them for most practical purposes.

We see this even more starkly when we consider another common objection to contractarianism, namely that it seems to entail that we have no moral duties to those who cannot plausibly be participants in a social contract between rationally self-interested persons seeking their mutual advantage -- such as the mentally ill, the handicapped, the unborn, infants, and others who either do not know what is in their rational self-interest, or cannot either benefit or threaten other rationally self-interested persons and so have nothing to offer them in return for being left alone. Some contractarians deal with this problem by suggesting that we can have duties not to harm these sorts of people because they matter to other people: your baby or your grandmother with Alzheimer's, for example, matter to you, and since you are a sane and healthy adult who can be a party to the social contract, other people should respect your wishes by leaving them alone. Then there are pragmatic grounds for not allowing infanticide and the like, which might have untoward social costs. And so forth. Again, though, the contractarian has to say that it could at least in principle be morally innocuous to strangle an infant or a homeless schizophrenic just because you felt like it, as long as there was no one else to whom these people mattered. These human beings can have no value or standing unless others decide to give them value or standing, whether for sentimental reasons or pragmatic ones.

Now these implications are disturbing enough that most contractarians acknowledge them only tersely and obliquely, cheerfully emphasizing instead the many wonderful opportunities for "mutual benefit" there are for the sane, able-bodied, and adult consumers who constitute most of their readership. Borders is more frank, freely acknowledging that "the moral status of those outside of our political 'rights compact' is sort of up for grabs" and that "notions of rights outside of our political regime [are] a fabrication of foreign policy expedience or PR-speak." But this only makes it all the more baffling why he should think the abandonment of natural rights is no cause for concern. The rights even of those who are a party to the social contract are in his view "useful fictions" and a product of "human artifice"; the moral standing of everyone else is "sort of up for grabs," a "fabrication of foreign policy expedience or PR-speak." This is the sort of thing that is supposed to reassure us that "no metaphysics [is] necessary" to ground morality?!

The philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe famously denounced "consequentialist" moral theories for what she saw as their damaging effect on real-world moral understanding and practice. In her view, to consider even for the sake of argument whether it might be justifiable deliberately to kill an innocent man for the sake of a greater good is already to manifest "a corrupt mind." And when a vulgarized form of this consequentialist attitude becomes widespread, the result can only be a morally bankrupt society. I believe that something similar can be said of contractarianism. However nuanced are the arguments of contractarian theorists, and however refined are their own personal moral sensibilities, the general idea that morality is nothing more than a human convention that exists only for the benefit of rationally self-interested individuals cannot fail to corrupt the overall moral tenor of any society in which it becomes widespread. It is simply too easy to slip from the general contractarian thesis to the amoral conclusion that you are justified in doing whatever you can get away with doing, and that the weakest among us should be protected only so long as we happen to feel like protecting them.

Indeed, such corruption is, I think, entailed by any view that tries to "reduce" morality to something other than what common sense takes it to be, viz. a set of absolutely binding obligations that human beings did not invent and have no power to change. Accordingly, the "natural law" approach I described in my previous article has a built-in practical advantage over its rivals: you may or may not like its specific moral recommendations, but it poses absolutely no danger of undermining the average person's belief that morality is objective and obligatory.

As I also claimed in that article, though, the main reason for accepting natural law and the metaphysics that goes along with it is not that they might have some practical social benefits, but simply that they are true. This is not a thesis I have space to defend here, but I want to close by briefly answering an objection Borders makes to it. He insinuates that it is based on "faith," and says that "faith, by my [i.e. Borders'] definition, is belief despite the complete absence of evidence." There are two problems with this. First, I did not say, and would not say, that the realist metaphysics I defend is based on "faith"; on the contrary, and as I made clear in my article, from Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, and onward to the present day, the classical realist tradition has always been grounded in pure reason, and in particular on philosophical arguments that are intended to stand or fall on their own merits. Second, Borders' definition of "faith" is in any case not mine, and neither is it that of Aquinas and the Catholic philosophical tradition, nor of such Protestant thinkers as Locke. "Faith" is for them merely belief in something that has been divinely revealed, where the fact that it has been revealed, and that there is a God Who revealed it, must always be established first via pure reason. In other words, "faith," on the sort of view I would defend, is not only in harmony with reason, but is grounded in reason. Borders is attacking nothing more than a straw man, albeit a very popular one.

It doesn't help Borders' case that he glosses "evidence" as "observations, causal footprints, or at least inference-systems linked into something observational" -- in other words, as being, exclusively, the sort of thing provided by empirical science. Here Borders explicitly endorses the scientism popularized by W. V. Quine -- a view I know well, having once been committed to it myself before purely philosophical arguments (not "faith") gradually convinced me that it was false, and that theism, dualism, and classical realism are true. In any event, whether empirical science, as opposed to philosophy or metaphysics, is the only possible source of rational justification is precisely (part of) what was at issue in my original article. In merely asserting this view, without argument, Borders simply begs the question. Worse, scientism is itself a philosophical thesis, not a scientific one. Accordingly, Borders can, by his own lights, have no reason for believing it. "Observations, causal footprints, or at least inference-systems linked into something observational" cannot, by themselves, tell you whether "observations, causal footprints, or at least inference-systems linked into something observational" are the only possible sources of knowledge. Borders' view is therefore not only unsupported, but self-undermining.

Edward Feser's most recent book is Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction. He is a regular contributor to the blogs Right Reason and The Conservative Philosopher.



No Subject
Re; "Indeed, such corruption is, I think, entailed by any view that tries to “reduce” morality to something other than what common sense takes it to be, viz. a set of absolutely binding obligations that human beings did not invent and have no power to change."

In other words, you are a theist. Why not just say that and be done with it. The idea of the contract is to explain the moral order that does exist without bringing in some unproveable theist source. Your post is very literate - but very useless.

No Subject
Just to clarify, you build on the foundation that Plato's forms are somehow objective. They are not. They are in fact a creation of Plato's mind. They are, therefore, as much a theistic concept as any god created in someone elses mind. Face it, you're just looking for an authority figure to support your own moral beliefs. Not that there is anything wrong with your beliefs, just that proving them to be objective is beyond the capability of the human mind which is limited in space and time. Your efforts to prove an objective morality will only succeed with those who tire easily, or those who want to believe it so badly that they are willing to suspend judgement.

Talk about air hockey...
This essay consists of a long list of reasons why Dr. Feser doesn't like the idea of morality based on human considerations, rather than divine prescription, but not an atom of argumentation that his preferred solution -- theism -- has any basis in reality.

I mean:

"I also claimed in that article, though, the main reason for accepting natural law and the metaphysics that goes along with it is not that they might have some practical social benefits, but simply that they are true. This is not a thesis I have space to defend here."

Analysis has proven to me that the prime moral movers of the universe are Queltzalcoatl and the Easter Bunny, who require alternate sacrifices of living human hearts and colored eggs, but this is not a thesis I have space to defend here.

Obviously Randy the word "morals" is just a word only. In your society murder is negotiated as a crime, but you do not give the reason why? Is the act of murder immoral or is it just an act that needs to be removed from society to preserve the species? Society A says it is okay under certain circumstances. Society B says it is wrong because it is immoral. Which society is morally superior and why?

No Subject
Re; Is the act of murder immoral or is it just an act that needs to be removed from society to preserve the species?

A sense of general agreement is reached within the group that in most circumstances killing of other members of the group is in conflict with the best interests of the group. This sense of agreement (contract is too strong a word in my opinion) is the moral code, which may or may not be formalized into law.

Re; Society A says it is okay under certain circumstances. Society B says it is wrong because it is immoral. Which society is morally superior and why?

If the groups are separate, then the members of each group are responsible only to their own moral code. If the groups are joined, then a compromise will be necessary. The compromise will most likely take the form of law. But to decide which society is superior requires a super perspective, i.e., not within the realm of human experience.

The above is of course an entirely subjective view of morality. It rejects the idea that we can know of an objective source for morality. However, I think a case can be made for an objective morality based on the formula;

The moral = the good = what works.

In other words, while the source cannot be known, it may at some point in the future be possible to determine the objectively moral by way of the outcome. We may meet a god who will inform us, or history may determine a winner.

Exactly right
I have long contended that absent the notion of Natural Law, there can be no such thing as "rights." Rather what we like to call rights are merely privleges that we can manage, by agreement or force, to secure for ourselves. I.e. might makes right.

No Subject

I agree completely. And I do believe that we have only such rights as we have the power, individually or collectively, to maintain.

Might does make right. And those who forget it end up complaining about their rights instead of having them.

aka, SgtB_USAF (Retired)

I mean, if they're natural...
shouldn't they enforce themselves??

Rights, Morals and the Human Race
The “nature” of the human race can be examined by studying the thousands of years of our history. The human capacity for reason enables us to determine that we are strongly endowed with the drive to survive, to prosper and to control our destiny. We have learned that certain kinds of cooperation benefit all, such as trade and codified morality (the law). These lessons were not learned without cost. Millions have died and suffered, and continue to die and suffer, due to ignorance and greed.

The human condition at this point in history is reflected in the facts of history and understood with the rigor of reasoned analysis. The natural condition of man (Natural Law if you will) can only be denied if history is ignored. And while metaphysical analysis can be useful in the understanding our condition, its models and tenants are but tools for analysis and not reality itself.

Human nature is neither metaphysical nor created by man, but is rooted in the natural conditions of this cosmos. By studying the past/present, experimenting in the present and dreaming of the future, we can understand and enhance our condition. There are no absolute “Rights” or “Morals” other than what we started with…the inalienable Rights to life and liberty. The rest is up to us.

No Subject

Exactly! And some of them will. And when they do, we will know what the objective moral standards are.

Consider that it may be the right and moral path of human beings to use up this planet, and move on to the next, until we have used up every planet in the 'verse (yes, I'm Serenity fan). I'm thinking it is right and moral to take care of the planet we're on, because we might not be able to get the spaceships built in time. But I don't "know". And that's the point of this discussion.

State imposed Biblical morality?
"Indeed, such corruption is, I think, entailed by any view that tries to 'reduce' morality to something other than what common sense takes it to be, viz. a set of absolutely binding obligations that human beings DID NOT INVENT AND HAVE NO POWER TO CHANGE."

If humans have innate, genetically-dictated morals then evidence demonstrates that it is an individualized concept, not universal.

Instead, all higher lifeforms (including humanity) possess genetically-inherited behavioral patterns. While these patterns differ from individual to individual (for example, dominant and submissive personalities) conscience will can over-ride and even retrain the mind in some circumstances.

But if your argument is that humanity has no choice but to accept a particular religious morality, like Southern Baptists and Biblbical Inerrancy, then that is un-Constitutional.

...shouldn't they enforce themselves??
They do enforce themselves. I think that is why they are called "natural". Or are you suggesting that it is some divine being--or perhaps an alien or group of aliens--outside of humanity who is hiddenly and secretly causing us to be nice to one another and to form ourselves into governments and impose laws upon ourselves?

More arguments against contractarianism
A morality theory that rests solely on self-interest leaves no room for anonymous goodwill, and it is easy to prove (empirically) that such exists: just ask yourself. And if even a shred of selfless goodwill can be found in a person to do the smallest positive thing for someone else, could it not be possible that that same shred of selfless goodwill would keep a person from doing the worst negative things to others?

Certainly there are times when a person's good behavior is motivated by self-interest, but certainly there are other times when we choose to do or not to do things purely out of innate goodness. The empirical evidence of this is overwhelming and undeniable.

If it is possible to do evil without regard for the consequences, why would it not also be possible to do good without regard for the consequences?

What nonsense. This is not a thesis I have space to defend here. Anyone can play that game. The bottom line is you simply do not understand. What a pity.

No logic

If Mr. Freser wishes to argue against A, and even if the opposite of A to you implies B, there is no need for him to prove B in order to disprove A, for even if he did, it wouldn't be sufficient to disprove A, which is his goal in this article.

Here, "A" is contractarianism and "B" is theism.

Unfortunately for you, assuming that the opposite of A does indeed imply B, it is not possible for you to prove A by disproving B, because by its very definition B is impossible to disprove.

So I'm afraid you are without a logical argument in this situation, but Mr. Freser has a very good one.


And all the governments we form are exactly the same
They all respect the same rights, they all have the customs and the same basic beliefes, and they all order families and property and everything else in exactly the same way, and all of them have the same moral ideals: that's how we know these ideals are natural.

Why didn't I think of that.

He's proven nothing.
He's asserted he doesn't like the way a contractual view appears. This is not proof it is mistaken.

My post was (obviously) not trying to prove anything. It was simply to point out that Mr. Freser had, notwithstanding his windy rhetoric, proven nothing.

But maybe I'm wrong: what do you think he proved?

Excuse me
... but saying "this is true, but I don't have time to prove it" is silly, As noted, I am quite sure Quetzalcoatl/EasterBunny theism is the truth behind the veil of appearance, but I don't have time to prove it.

More air hockey
I mean:

" if you knew for certain that a person is utterly unwilling sincerely to enter into the social contract, then even if he hasn’t in fact harmed you or anyone else, there would be no moral reason not to kill, torture, mutilate, rape, or otherwise to abuse him just for kicks, if you had a hankering to do so.'

First, absent telepathy, could someone have such knowledge?
Second, and much more important, surely the eagerness to torture, kill mutilate, rape etc persons who are thought not to adhere not to contractual arrangements but supernatural beliefs has been elevated into a duty by believers in certain deities.

No doubt a harmless bookkeeping error...

Why do they have to be exactly the same?
It is undeniable that there are certain common themes that are present in all human governments. I think the essence of those themes could be pretty well summed up by one word: goodness -- however misguided that goodness may be or corrupt those entrusted with enforcing that goodness may be.

By analogy: every human face is different, but there is something about each one by which we are able to recognize it as a human face.

Yes, it would be easy to have that knowledge...
The person would just have to tell you. If someone were to tell you, "I am not a party to this contract" then you would know for certain that the person is not a party to the contract.

Both views are incorrect
Borders attempts to defeat a proponent of Natural Law with an argument from contractualism. But the social order, morality, and rule of law arise from neither. Natural Law provides no answer because it rests on unproven (and even false) metaphysical premises and contractualism provides no answer because no agreement can rise to the level of a principle.

Border's statement "Rights are the convenient and rational human artifices that are contrived from mutual agreement among people willing -- collectively -- to lay down their “absolute right” to harm others in exchange for not being harmed is untrue, because one cannot establish a "right" by means of another "right." The statement is essentially circular.

Feser's statement: "For “human nature,” as understood by the traditional natural law theorist, is defined in terms of the form that every human being participates in simply by virtue of being a human being. And that means it is something known ultimately and most fully only through the intellect and via philosophical reasoning, not (or at least not entirely or most deeply) through the senses and empirical biology. Moreover, this nature defines certain natural ends and purposes for human beings and their capacities, the realization of which constitutes what is good for them: good objectively, simply by virtue of their participation in the form, and regardless of whether this or that particular human being realizes or (because of intellectual error, habitual vice, psychological or genetic anomaly or whatever) fails to realize it," is also false. It assumes a teleological premise (natural ends, natural purposes) that cannot be proven. Teleology has been shown to not be a sound basis for morality as well as a construction of a social order.

So we are left with two arguments that are both false. Neither will counter the other or prove anything.

However, Borders also states "My argument is that neither souls nor rights exist in the same way tables, atoms, matter and energy exist. And while there are a number of philosophical debates about whether or not you can truly know the existence of tables, atoms, and energy, science does a pretty good job of providing the pragmatic, instrumental and commonsensical reasons for believing they do. But souls and rights are a different matter (no pun). On these, science is silent. And for good reason: there are no such things as rights or souls," and this is true.

And Feser writes: "He must acknowledge that, at least in principle, if you knew for certain that a person is utterly unwilling sincerely to enter into the social contract, then even if he hasn’t in fact harmed you or anyone else, there would be no moral reason not to kill, torture, mutilate, rape, or otherwise to abuse him just for kicks, if you had a hankering to do so," which is also a true statement.

So each has a piece of the truth, but not enough to reconcile their positions.


The Same

But evil is also a common theme in human behavior and governments. If good is part of natural law, then certainly evil is as well. So what is gained if the idea of natural law cannot separate good and evil?

Preferred ideas

What we prefer is irrelevant. We cannot make logical claims on the basis of if they were true they would lead to a preferred result. What claim could then be ruled out? Certainly its nice and cozy to believe that there is a divine order to the universe, but that doesn't make it so.

I don't think so
People say all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. And the standard proposed was not su****ion, or even strong belief, but certain knowledge.

Again, numerous theocracies have no difficulty at all acting to burn, dismember etc. people on the basis of what they say, or don't say. So I really don't understand why this is an issue peculiar to contractarianism, not that I'm particularly a fan or believer.

Except first this isn't true, and second it isn't useful

>goodness -- however misguided that goodness may be or corrupt those entrusted with enforcing that goodness may be.

As Nietsche pointed out in detail, the classic Greek ethos was not based on goodness and evil, but on nobility and badness. All kinds of behavior we'd regard as evil was acceptable if the actor was powerful enough.

More important, you have different flavors of goodness or evil or badness or whatever, many, many, many. Which one is moral? They contradict each other: they can't all be. But they're all "natural." So in what sense can you call morality natural?

>By analogy: every human face is different, but there is something about each one by which we are able to recognize it as a human face.

Sure. And we can recognize human sacrifice or ritual torture and cannibalism, or polygamy and multiple child marriage as completely human and natural. How does that help us make moral choices?


Re; "A morality theory that rests solely on self-interest leaves no room for anonymous goodwill..."

Certainly there is an inherent goodness in us. And just as certainly there is an inherent evil. We meet one person whom we trust almost instantly. We meet another whom we fear almost instantly. That we may behave with selfless goodwill towards some does not mean we will do so for all. Of what use is a natural theory of morality if it contains both natural good and natural evil without resolution?

So, anonymous goodwill, while relevant to a natural theory of morality, is irrelevant to a subjective (contractual) theory of morality. I'm not concerned with people who treat each other well. I'm concerned with how to make groups of people, some of whom naturally fear one another, get along well enough to share the same space.

Both Incorrect
Well said.

I'm thinking, though, that the burden of proof is on Feser. A claim that there is an objective morality must be proven, because if morality is not objective, then it is subjective. I'm sure that those who have a stake in an objective morality must feel a sense of loss. But until they prove it, they're going to have to live with that feeling. As for me, I'm perfectly comfortable with subjective morality. It works.

I like the idea of inalienable rights
I just don't think it comes from, or is supported by "natural law."

And my point was...
...neither that he proved anything nor disproved anything, but that he made an argument that does not depend on a proof of theism, and so theism is beside the point. Let each one judge for himself whether or not his argument was successful.

Yes, evil appears to be quite natural as well...
...and so the writer of Genesis puts them on the same tree. The knowledge of good and evil is not the answer to man's problems.

What sort of resolution are you looking for? Man has been pondering these same questions of good and evil as far back as we know, and despite humanity's great advances in so many areas in these thousands of years, when it comes to these questions, I think it is safe to say that there has been no advancement whatsoever in our understanding. The philosophers of today are still discussing the same basic matters that the philosophers of yesterday were discussing--the actors have changed, the stage has changed a bit, but the script is the same.

In fact, I was thinking today, that even though there are so many "enlightened" people in the world and we have so many wonderful technologies and smart professors, the amount of pain, suffering, injustice, and downright evil experienced by humanity as a whole is far greater today in absolute terms than it ever has been--simply because the number of people on the earth has increased so much.

Myself, personally, I am one of those nuts who finds all the important answers in the Bible, including resolution on the matter of "natural good", "natural evil", and getting groups of disparate people to live together peacefully (or not).

You've got it backwards
The issue was the existence of a uniform 'natural" good and evil. The wild varieties we see in human life and disagreements indicate that they are as diverse as humans, and "natural" is just a word humans use when they want to claim that their particular brand of good (or evil) is the real McCoy.


I have found that most who support the idea of an objective morality are also religious. It is a very common myth that morality is inseparable from religion, and many have a stake in upholding that myth. Even such a great thinker as Plato could not disentangle himself from the it. Had he been capable of doing so, I think Pragmatism would have become a dominant philosophy centuries earlier. I know that many of you moral objectivists think that Pragmatism is a dirty word, but in my opinion, it is pragmatic thinking that is directly responsible for the wealth of the modern world. Consider that the scientific method is based not on truth, but on observation and experimentation - i.e., on what works.

"There seems to be a terrible misunderstanding on the part of a great many people to the effect that when you cease to believe you may cease to behave." Louis Kronenberger.


I think you've made quite clear the dilema of the moral objectivist. You have to believe it, or you lose hope. I know you may find this difficult to accept, but I have no hope for a life after death. I find the life I have to be quite sufficient. I am therefore free of your dilema - and able to be content with a subjective morality.


You're right I did make an assumption. In my defense, it was based on some assumptions you made about me in your opening remarks. And this isn't the first time I've been called condescending, arrogant, etc., so you're probably on target there too.

Truth is, I'm all for you believing in whatever works for you. I only oppose those who try to tell me that what works for me is wrong. I do get a bit antagonistic to those who try.

Joan put you in your place
It appears you are comfortable in your life. Wait till death comes and then we will see how comfortable you are. Too bad you do not live in Iraq where your life would be threatened every day. I will bet you are a coward and when the pistol is placed up against your head you will be screaming for mercy. It shall not be there and whether you believe it or not, pow and you are in Hell. I would say I hope God will have mercy on your soul, but He won't. I have noticed you comment much on this blog. You must have an "I am smarter than everyone else" complex.

Jeez Freeman! I hope you feel better. I thought you had some pretty good questions above. And I thought I gave you some pretty good answers. If you want to continue, that's great. But if you'd prefer to just leave it at insults, that's fine too. You do realize though, that you're kind of making my point.

WOW too.
You did not answer any of them either. Insult. You are the one who only believes in yourself. No one can win an argument with you because you are your own god. The only problem is you cannot tell me what morals are because the word is undefinable and relative. You have no basis for any of your morals. You are like a person suspended in the ocean and do not have a reference point, which is absurd. This is my last message to you as I have much, much better things to do than argue with a god.

I don't think morality and religion are inseparable
Even the Soviets, who actively preached atheism (which for the sake of this argument we will consider to NOT be a religion), tried to maintain some level of morality. I know a kid who grew up under that system, never having a positive thought about any religion, yet he was one of the most moral people I ever met (I lived with him for four years).

So it is quite possible to be a moral person without having an ounce of faith in any kind of religion. If you perceived any of my arguments to contradict this, then you misunderstand my arguments.

what argument??
He stated his views, offering no support except that they made him feel better. He brought forward a genuinely silly line of argument about contractualism implying a necessity to summarily execute suspected non-contractors. I'm sure he enjoyed writing it, but...

Burden Of Proof
You are correct. Feser has the burden of proof that there is an objective morality. However, what is "objective" here must be defined. I think one can establish that there is a morality that applies to any being having understanding, reason and a free will. This would be objective because it would not depend on a person's particular circumstances. It would apply to all as a universal law. I'm not sure what "subjective morality" is unless it is consequentialism or a form utilitarianism. This is subjective because it defines "right" based on the particular ends a person seeks. These ends are not universal ends but subjective ends, hence a subjective morality.

Perhaps some would say that a "subjective morality" is an oxymoron?


Be careful, nwcnwc, in equating an increase in suffering based soley on numbers. You appear to be saying that a billion people with hangnails may be as bad as, or worse, one person dying in agony with cancer, because a billion times a small thing is pretty big. This is NOT a fair comparison.

It is clear that, in some sense, suffering in this world has decreased for much of the population. A large minority of people live well, whereas in the ancient world, only a very small minority of people lived well (kings, aristocracy, etc.). That is not to diminish the fact that there is still massive suffering in this world. And it does not contradict your point that we keep re-hashing the same issues over and over again in mankind's history.



Re; "Perhaps some would say that a "subjective morality" is an oxymoron?"

Some would say that. Many do say that. Freeman in his discussion of my "lack of a reference point" certainly says it. But is universality a necessary component of a moral code?

We're talking definitions here. I understand what you mean when you discuss the idea of a universal "moral code". But the many "moral codes" actually in existance vary significantly in accordance with the needs of the group to which they apply.

In my opinion, the fact that multiple codes do exist is strong evidence that they are pragmatic and subjective.

But I could be wrong. Its just that as a human being with a mind limited in time and space, I am not capable of knowing the "truth" of this. What I do know, however, is that all human minds are similarly limited. So when I hear claims of knowledge on things for which knowledge is impossible, well... let's just say I prefer the simple explanation to the one that requires a leap of faith.

Suffering -- I get your point, but...
I'm not talking about standard of living type things, but actual human grief. For example, let's say death of a loved one causes the most human suffering. This year about 60 million people will die--all loved ones. Well, in 1 AD there were only about 200 million people on the earth, so even if in 1 AD, one out four people died (which didn't happen), the total amount (in absolute terms) of human grief caused by death would still not exceed the amount of grief that will be experienced this year by today's super-medicated high-tech sophisticated population.

YeeeHaaa Joanie!
Hi thar girl, yup it me.
I just love this post. It just says so much with so few words. Thank you for making my day and I agree. ;)

Strange discussions here
Morality, what is it and how to define it? While a general morality does not exist, the vast majority of societies do share some very common ground, and have through out history.
First, let's take god out of it (we will come back to religion later).
I would submit that what we consider general morality began Many 10s of thousands of years ago when humans first figured out that two working together could kill the biggest bully in the glade. About the same time they also figured out that working together made it much easier to hunt and gather. (perhaps the later was discovered the first time a couple decided to stay together through the pregnancy and after the chidl was born.) Once many small groups began to form they had some problems. First, the strongest stole from the weakest in the group at will and often also killed group members for their own personal reasons. The groups then set certain rules that applied to all in order to add numbers to the group and strengthen unity. No matter who you were, if you violated those rules you were banished from the group. Over thousands of generations rules were revised, tried and discarded or kept as needed and the basic foundation of our present morality were set.

Then came the Bible and other such works. Remember, the ten Commandments, as given to Moses are less than 5,000 years old. Yet people were living together under rules and rulers long before that. Under that set of facts one could conclude that morality preceded the religious tennants. You would be right and wrong. You are right, in that there were several societies where these basic rules were used, but they became much more uniformly enforced, and in comparatively short order, in the time following.

Religious people would say that people were compelled by god's design to gravitate towards these tennants. Others would claim they are a "Natural" part of human behavior. Then there are those who claim social contract or similar ideas, are responsible.

I would say that all three play a part.

It is obvious to me that a vast majority of people are pre-desposed to be kind to others in general. This is both the "natural" and "God Designed" aspect of the equation. God also plays a part in setting down certain rules for all to see. But Societal evolution is obvious in this as well. Like all things, people will generally follow the path of least resistance. Lately, it seem, many modern societies are now working against the tide.

Here are the baisc tennants:
1. Do not kill, harm or cause to be harmed one of your own group; do no harm to strangers unless provoked.
2. Do not steal from one of your own, do not steal from strangers unless it betters the group.
3. Do not be envious of what others in your group have and do not scheme to take from member of the group.
4. Do not cause jelousy and dessent by getting involved with the partner of another or by involvement with another not your patner.
5. Work together and pull your own weight to the best of your ability.
6. Listen to the advice of your elders and others with more experience than you, they've been there and it may save your life.
7. Do your part to ensure the protection of your family, your group and yorself in that order.

But that morality does come with a dark side.

All of this goes out the window when someone is different in a significant way. Most older societies (and even some now) allow for the beating and killing of defectives. That term has a broad meaning in many societies, leading to some notable atrocities.

I tend to believe in God and I'm something of a Christian by belief ; But, if my mom told me she loved me, I would get a second source. Yeah, I guess I question all of it. Still, I do believe in rights endowed by our creator.

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