Category Archives: Secularization

When Should We Talk of Immorality as Sinful

Grant that the moral laws are commands of God. When should we think and talk of morality as based on Divine commands? When we teach morality we should let our children know that our “does and don’ts” are not our arbitrary commands but come from God. God has gifted human beings with the cognitive and emotional capabilities to develop a concept of a moral authority to whom all their actions are transparent. Perhaps, God gave us this gift through evolutionary development. Regardless of how we received this gift of what Freudians label a superego, we should lead children to identify the moral authority with God. Yes, this leads children to develop a fear of God. And that is not a bad thing. Fear of the Lord is, indeed , the beginning of wisdom. In short, we should educate our children to have a sense of sin.

There are contexts in which it is legally or socially prohibited to talk of God. For instance, in secular public schools, talking of God, let alone teaching morality as coming from God is forbidden. I am uncertain whether these are policies are always good for public order. But in the home and in civil society at large, we should not hesitate to link morality with what God commands. When we associate with fellow citizens of “The City of God” we should maintain our sense of immorality as sinful, deliberate rejection of God’s will

Also, when tempted, it helps to think of we are acting in accordance with the will of God by suppressing unruly desires. It is helpful to think of God as the author of morality when we make moral judgments about others. When we do so, we can readily distinguish between the act we morally condemn and the inner state of the actor whose act we condemn. For the inner state is transparent to the moral authority, namely God, but not to us.

Morality comes into play in our lives most of the time when we teach, learn it, struggle with it and pass judgment on ourselves and our neighbors. In all of these contexts, there should be no hesitation to think feel and talk as morality being based on God’s commands.

But there is one context in which those who hold a divine command theory of morality should not assert any moral laws as God’s commands. This philosophical context is one in which they are making a case that, say masturbation violates a moral law. For making a case that masturbation is morally forbidden is making a case that it is a Divine command. It would be question begging to use as a premise “Masturbation is forbidden by God” when the aim is to prove exactly that.

But this eschewal of mentioning God in moral arguments is not reverting to moral deism. It is only secularizing a special context. For most people, philosophical thought is irrelevant. So to quarantine philosophical argument from assertions of God as commanding is not secularizing morality.

Of even more significance, for appreciating removing God from philosophical moral arguments is not necessarily secularizing moral reasoning are background assumptions of a Divine command moral theorist. For the reasoning will cite facts of nature as premises in a moral argument. The holder of a Divine command theory will regard nature as God’s creation. And God’s creation contains facts with normative significance. In a nature created by God there are purposes – the way things ought to be.

Does Death Prove Nihilism?

Does Death Prove Nihilism?

The honest answer “Yes! If biological death is total annihilation.”

In my bookConfronting Sexual Nihilism, I made a case that if there are categorical moral laws for controlling our sexuality life is not meaningless. We have something to live for. Our lifelong duty is to make ourselves the kind of person who conforms to these laws. Even more generally, throughout our whole lives we have the duty of making ourselves the kind of person who performs our moral duties.

However, the nihilist within me retorts “What does it matter that you have done your duty?”

The Book of Wisdom is an excellent source for reminding us what needs to be included in a strong philosophical antidote against nihilism. In addition to establishing the existence of a divine moral commander, there is a need to establish survival after biological death and the reality of postmortem reward and punishment. I quote extensively from the New American Bible because the Book of Wisdom expresses so elegantly the victory of nihilism if biological death is total annihilation.

I do not quote from Wisdom because it presents a philosophical antidote to nihilism. It does not. It expresses what I hope to justify philosophically. It expresses my religious dismissal of nihilism.

In Chapter Two, verses 1 – 9 the sage characterizes the nihilism of those believing death is total annihilation.
For, not thinking rightly, they said among themselves:
“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;
there is no remedy for our dying,
nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.
2
For by mere chance were we born,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,
3
And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes
and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.
4
Even our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will recall our deeds.
So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and will be dispersed like a mist
Pursued by the sun’s rays and overpowered by its heat.
5
For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;
and our dying cannot be deferred
because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.
6
Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,
and make use of creation with youthful zest.
7
Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no springtime blossom pass us by;
8
let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
9
Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;
everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,
for this is our portion, and this our lot.

A significant case against nihilism requires a case for unending survival after biological death.

If however, in an after life the fate of the just and unjust are the same, then it does not matter whether we were just or unjust. In effect, there is still the nihilism of everything being permitted. Wisdom points out elegantly the hope of hell – damnation as part of the anti nihilistic stance. I quote a few passagesfrom Ch. 3 frequently read at funerals..

1.The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
…………
7 In the time of their judgment* they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble;
8 They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.
10 But the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,
since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.
11 For those who despise wisdom and instruction are doomed.
Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,
and worthless their works.
12Their wives are foolish and their children wicked,
accursed their brood.j

So a philosophical case against nihilism needs to include a case for hell.

I cannot have a reasonable hope that life has meaning and a purpose unless I have a hope reasonable that I can go to hell!

Almost All Religious Truth Claims are Possibly True!

What narratives and reports can be true? All logically consistent narratives and reports can be true. But almost all are false, inadequate, or misleading.

For simplicity’s sake, I restrict myself to narratives intended to be an account of what exists. I set aside reports of what ought to be morally and narratives which are indicated by a phrase such as “once upon a time” or context that there is no intent to narrate what is the case. However, any of these fairy tales and myths could be true!

I mention the moral only in passing as it being part of the natural order.

All narratives are representations. A true representation tells the order and connection of existing things in themselves as that order and connection is to be represented. Hence, a true narrative tells of the order and connection of existing things in themselves as that order and connection is to be represented. We have no non-representational access to things in themselves. Hence, we are not entitled to specify what can or cannot exist. We can, assuming realism, articulate two assumptions. First, things in themselves and our representations of them comprise what exists, reality or as I have written “the immanent. Second, the immanent depends upon the Transcendent for existence. The Transcendent lies even further beyond our comprehension than the created things in themselves. Hence, we are in no position to declare that the Transcendent could not have created, viz., have dependent upon It for existence, things in themselves which would be aptly described by the narratives which are generally thought to be only myths or vulgar superstitions.

I am disgusted by the nightmare possibilities amongst the possible imagined realities After years of reflection on how the truth claims of an actual religion, such as my Catholicism, are possibly true requires recognition of a supernatural order. In my mid-thirties, I converted from cultural Catholicism by the aid of a quasi-religious experience that I could be a genuine believing Catholic by professing only theological doctrines while suppressing a philosophical belief that there is no supernatural order. The philosophical struggle to write this post forced me to abandon my suppressed naturalism. My assumption of a demystified Catholicism has been a useful crutch which I no longer need.

As the prefix “super” indicates, the supernatural will be characterized as in tension with the natural. The characterizations of the supernatural and natural are not offered as rigorous definitions for a philosophical treatise.

The supernatural order is bipartite. One part is in things in themselves. The other part lies in our representations. Within things in themselves, the supernatural order comprises the existents which are properly, or improperly, described by religious narratives , or, more generally: narratives about the physical or natural. Within representations there are all the possibilities narrated by legends, myths, sacred writings etc., Prior to being given in faith or somehow discovering which religious narrative best represents the religious existents, I must concede that the possibility presented by some dark and horrible narrative best describes the religious existents. All the silly zombie stuff could be true! Disgusting! Such frightening stupidity ertainly motivates some to seek solace in atheistic naturalism.

The supernatural order is not transcendent. The supernatural is immanent. The natural is also immanent. Both representations of religious significant objects and processes and the things in themselves justifying or refuting religious representations are immanent realities dependent upon the Transcendent for existence.

The natural order is tripartite. The first part comprises representations developed with the implicit or explicit intention of representing reality as being in principle completely intelligible by a careful use of human intelligence. This careful use of human intelligence is the honorific sense of reason as correct reason.

These representations of nature split the natural into the physical and moral. The representations of the physical are representations of that which does not represent. Nothing physical operates for the sake of anything else. The representation of the moral are representations of humans seeking what is good in accordance with rules. Nature would not be properly characterized by splitting representations into those of the physical and mental. Mental is too broad of a notion because because representations of the supernatural includes representations of thinking beings. The natural order is to be separated from the supernatural in our understanding. This does not mean that the supernatural cannot affect the natural. It means that the natural and supernatural have to be understood as separated. Indeed it would not make sense to talk of a supernatural intervention if the supernatural were not different from the natural. The third part of the natural order consists of the things in themselves by virtue of which such representations are true or false. Even idealists who hold that there are only representations seek some way to define a natural order in their systems.

Naturalism goes further than accepting a natural order. Naturalists reject the possibility of a supernatural order. I am leaving behind my implicit naturalism to make room for religious truth by accepting the logically consistent position of there being both a supernatural and natural order.

This tremendous philosophical shift is enough for one post.

Confronting Scientism, Secular Naturalism and Nihilism

I need to take stock of where I stand in my struggle against nihilism. I have made a case that traditional sexual morality rules out sexual nihilism and elimination of sexual nihilism is an antidote to nihilism. However, my defense of traditional sexual morality requires assumptions. To justify these assumptions, I must make a case that there is a certain moral order. In these posts, I have characterized this moral order as authoritarian morality or divine command morality.

A moral order which can be characterized as giving a divine command morality is a supernatural order. Defense of a supernatural order requires confronting views which deny the existence or even the possibility of anything supernatural.

What are these anti-supernatural or naturalist views?

There is naïve scientism. Naïve scientism holds that we can know nothing but that which can be known by the methods of natural sciences and believe nothing beyond what could be justified by natural science
Naïve scientism is easily set aside as self-referentially inconsistent. We cannot know by the methods of the natural sciences that only those methods give knowledge.

In my previous post, I pointed out that the inconsistency of naïve scientism can be removed by reformulating it as normative scientism.

Normative scientism proposes that we ought to hold that we can know nothing but that which can be known by the methods of natural science and believe nothing beyond what could be justified by natural science
.
Normative scientism needs to be supported by a case that on the whole human beings would be better satisfied if they accepted scientism.

A look at the references in the Wikipedia entry for “scientism” reveals that the case for what I call normative scientism is not strong. Secular writers point out that valuable knowledge about human beings is gained through non-scientific conversation, literature, music, etc.,. And belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science. As William James pointed out in his famous essay “The Will To Believe” we risk missing great truths by such a restriction. Human life would be impoverished if we always strived to be “scientific.”

But there is a way of being anti-supernatural or a naturalist without holding any form of scientism. I call this secular naturalism. Secular naturalism presupposes an ontology. An ontology is a philosophical theory on what there is.

Secular naturalism can be presented as follows.

There is nothing but the objects, processes and events investigated by the natural sciences. However, there are ways of knowing about these objects, processes and events different from the methods of the natural sciences. Belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science and not about any objects, processes different from those investigated by the natural sciences.

Secular naturalism is not inconsistent as naïve scientism is. Secular naturalists have long ago dismissed logical positivism which claimed metaphysical thought was meaningless. The diverse ways of knowing accepted may well include a way of knowing the ontology is correct. Furthermore, a belief in a naturalist ontology is not about any objects, etc., beyond those accessible to natural science. I spent many of my professional philosophy hours with the efforts of W. V. Quine to establish a naturalist ontology. The objects we investigated were words or terms in formal languages.

A utilitarian moral case for secular naturalism might be hard to establish because many people would be distressed by its nihilistic entailments. Indeed, a secular naturalist might make a case that secular naturalism ought not be taught to those who are distressed if it is true.

Secular naturalism is far from well established. It is not perfectly clear what makes an object etc., beyond the scope of natural science. Quine regard even the meaning of words as supernatural objects. And there certainly is no recipe for reducing all objects, etc., to those investigated by physics. Such a reduction is the “Holy Grail” of secular naturalism.

However, the truth of secular naturalism is an open philosophical -metaphysical -question which I do not think will ever be conclusively decided by even the best philosophical thought. But the truth of some supernatural position, consistent with natural science, also remains a perennial open metaphysical question.

So ultimately nihilism can be set aside by development, or adoption of, a metaphysical scheme with a place for the supernatural plus faith, perhaps as a gift from God, that the scheme truthfully represents reality.

Nihilism must be confronted on the “battlefield” of metaphysics.

Progressive Progresses to Nihilism

The purpose of this post is to extend the previous post’s defense of progressive morality to defense of a progressive philosophy of life. I defend this philosophy as persuasively as possible for it is the philosophy which I must set aside to justify the theistic philosophy which supports the divine command morality I am presenting.

I think that I am entitled to present this secular progressive philosophy of life. I have lived with it since I started university study sixty four years ago, forty of which were as a philosophy faculty member at secular universities. It lies deep in my soul. It haunts me every day.

However, be aware that this is, a perhaps idiosyncratic, portrayal of philosophy by an undistinguished emeritus professor of philosophy.

I use “philosophy of life” to abstract the progressive stance on the significance of human life from the other topics investigated by philosophers. Philosophy has been a mix of giving guidance for a well-lived meaningful life, outlining a theory about the origin and structure of all that is, viz., metaphysics, developing and criticizing solutions for apparently irremediable conceptual confusions, e.g., “Is Socrates sitting the same as Socrates standing?” and critique of whether and to what extent any of those three tasks are possible. Plato did all of this.

Critique, primarily after Hume and Kant, has established as the dominant belief in philosophy, as I have practiced it, a belief that knowledge is gained only through the methods of natural science. This belief is called “positivism” or now “scientism.” Positivism denigrates development of metaphysical schemes to support claims about how to live as mere opinions- soft thinking- not worthy of philosophical thought.

Of course, no critique could stamp out grappling with conceptual confusions. Philosophical problems are too much fun -they are the play of lively minds. Regardless of its merits towards leading a good life, acquaintance with philosophical puzzles should be included in university education. It is intellectual fun for its own sake. Play, including intellectual play is a basic human good. It is part of a well lived life.

But back to the topic of a progressive philosophy of life.

Careful positivists do not make the self-referentially inconsistent claim that they know that only science gives knowledge. Careful positivists admit that they only believe that all knowledge comes from natural science. Positivism is not known to be true. Here we find a philosophy of life “hiding in plain sight.” It is a life-guiding background belief.

Usually implicitly, but sometimes explicitly, philosophy education at secular schools is regarded as a missionary activity to free students from any strong beliefs in fixed moral principles and some divinely set purpose for their lives. Acceptance of positivism certainly does undercut such beliefs.

Implicitly, positivism is regarded as a moral belief. (In mid 20th century positivists set aside emotivism to accept that moral language has proper use in guiding behavior.) So, how do careful positivists defend their philosophy of life? They defend it in the way progressives defend any moral claim: Justification is replaced with explanation. Or: Argument is replaced with a narrative to induce belief and then acceptance of the induced belief is justified as a proper response to reality by explaining how human nature causes the belief in response to the narrative. This is different from justifying a belief as correctly representing reality.

Pay attention to the facts which include scientific accomplishments and the failures and follies of religions and other ideologies. This narrative might take a few years of schooling to be given. What you hear will cause you to think that believing in positivism is most likely to produce the greatest satisfaction of human desires. That will cause you to think that everyone ought to believe in positivism.

The defense of positivism by defending it as moral progressives defend moral beliefs protects positivism from logical fallacies and inconsistencies. (A good criticism of a view states the view is a way free from procedural errors such as inconsistency. We want to criticize a view as wrong about the topic.)

Effective teachers can lead consideration of facts to be very effective in causing acceptance of positivism.

But human concerns are facts to consider.

The positivist philosophy of life does not really support progressive morality in so far as it promises no moral progress toward greater cooperation and less cruelty. It supports moral progress only in so far as it replaces traditional morality. It promises nothing for humanity. Nuclear war, climate change, fertility failure due to birth control and abortion could all lead to extinction of homo sapiens.

If you look at the facts, you will be caused at first to lose all faith in a purpose for your life or for the existence of homo sapiens. Part of seeing this hopelessness is a sense of horror at the prospect of a meaningless life. And it is a proper response to distract oneself from considering it too much. Giving our own meaning to our life and distracting ourselves from the fact that we invented it rather than being given it is morally permissible if not obligatory because distraction diminishes human anguish.

But realization that we are distracting ourselves from nihilism causes hope that positivism is not worthy of belief.

Why Be Moral? Secularism vs. Divine Command Morality

The question “Why be Moral?” is a significant question.

Verbally it seems like a trivial question of “Why ought I do what I ought to do?” An accusation of triviality might run: What is there about “ought” that you do not understand when you ask why you ought to do what you already know you ought?

A quick dismissal of the triviality accusation runs: You really do not understand all dimensions of the meaning of “ought” if you cannot sympathize with people who, when faced with demands of morality contrary to their inclinations, seek something to strengthen their resolve to meet those demands.

But is it a philosophical question?

Way back at the beginning of the twentieth century H.A Prichard challenged its philosophic significance in his influential essay “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on Mistake?” Mind, 1912.

Perhaps on an austere conception of philosophy quests for moral motivation are not philosophic. I do not hold such a view of philosophy. However, while not forgetting that this significant question is primarily about motivation, I shall not focus on motivational dimension of the question. I use the question as an occasion to sketch out pictures of what is involved in obeying moral laws. “This issue of motivation for being moral can be developed as question for fundamental philosophy – call it metaphysics, ontology or study of being per se. It ultimately becomes a question of whether or not in being there can be a moral order.

David Hume is well-known for reminding us that “is” does not imply “ought.” Two other connections between “is” and “ought” are less remarked upon. Logically we cannot infer that something is done from there being a moral law that it ought to be done. Of even more importance is the truth that in nature what ought to be done frequently, far too frequently, does not occur.

There is an obvious difference between moral laws and physical laws. Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. Apparently there is no need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

For the moral order regard a situation to which a moral law applies a cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation an effect. Not stealing in the example is an effect of the law. As just noted: all too frequently effect does not follow cause in the moral order. In the moral order there is a need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

Human choice is the intermediary connecting “ought” with “is.” We can choose not to make the connection. We are asking whether we ought to make that gap invariable. What should move our will to do what is right?

Choosing is for something. Choosing is goal driven – teleological. So investigating how choosing, or willing, connects moral cause with moral effect is investigating why the choice is made. Investigating for what a moral choice is made we are investigating at least an aspect of the issue of why we should be moral.

Looking at the “Why be Moral?” question as an occasion to ask what links moral cause with moral effect can lead to many, if not all, of the questions of moral philosophy. For instance, it provides an occasion for asking whether there are moral laws and choices let alone free choices.

I am comparing what I have called divine command morality with progressive morality. I am not preparing a book on moral philosophy. Developing a metaphysical account, or as I prefer to say “a picture,” of reality suitable for divine command morality is what I plan to pursue in my next few posts. Development of this picture of a dynamic moral order is part of my critique of secularism. This dynamic moral order is part of a religious picture of reality which seems presupposed by our ordinary moral language. Thus a rigorous secularism needs to radically revise our moral language. Pointing out that need is a criticism of secularism.

Authoritarian Morality as Divine Command Morality

The purpose of this post is to give a philosophic reason for re-labeling “authoritarian morality” as “divine command morality.” Secularization is primarily a religious movement but it also contains a philosophic reductionist program. I want to turn my development of authoritarian morality into a critique of secularism by critique of its reductionist program.

Reductionist programs aim to show that some of the kinds of things we talk about cannot be real – cannot have being. Thus, nothing we say about them could be true. For instance, a materialist reductionist program aims to show we need say nothing about thoughts and sensations to say all that can be true. A secularization reductionist program aims to show that we need say nothing about anything resembling a god, goddess or sacred item to say all that can be true. Reductionist programs have the strong goal of showing that certain kinds of things cannot be. They do not aim at showing only that there are not these kinds of things. *Reductionist programs are at the heart of philosophy – what is being such that some of what we talk of can have it and others we talk of cannot?

I have constructed the concept of authoritarian morality from the notion of moral harm as a notion of harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. I have shown that there is a close match between our ordinary moral talk and the moral talk of a hypothetical person who explicitly held an authoritarian moral theory. See, for instance, Authoritarian Morality in Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural.The concept of a moral authority was developed far enough to justify talking of the moral authority as a god. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality and Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

So, the philosophic component of secularization needs to show that the notion of moral harm is of something which cannot be. If successful, secularization has very significant implications for how we should think of morality. Morality becomes weak progressive morality. For instance, secularization tells us that if we think clearly we will not think that any harm which does occur is harm which is deserved because of a violation of a moral law.

To review: Secularization requires elimination of the notion of moral harm. Elimination of the notion of moral harm renders morality insignificant if we really think about what we assert in a moral judgment. A secularist should, as future posts will bring out, hold an emotivism interpretation of moral judgments.

* In my book: A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair: A Declaration of Dependence Lang Pub. New York 1997 I show that serious atheism is modal atheism which holds that there cannot be a God.