Thursday, March 02, 2006

Metacrock's Metaethics

Metaethics is a real term in philosophy, I did not invent it to be cute. It means the study of theories aboutt what makes the ethical ethical.

Atheists and Evangelical apolostists are always going at on morality, on message boards. On any given night one can find a thread on "absolute morals." Usually I steer clear of these discussions, because I've found that neither seisi knows what they are talking about. Usually the Christians argue that there must be moral absolutes or all morality will break down and people torture babies for fund and no one will know why they should not, except that God tells us not to. The atheists usually try to argue that they know not torture babies for fund, then they try to ground that idea in something relative and less than absolute, but nevertheless something adequate to tell us not to; in social contract or feelings. The two major popular theories with atheists are utilitarianism and some vel ideate that science and nature can tell us what we should do or ought to do so they can make us an ethical system.

The other night on a board I deduced to take part because a Christian was doing an unusually good job and I decided to help him hold their feet to the fire. It began with a creation atheist grounding ethics in society. Most of the others soon relayed that this wont work. I think my argument that society is often wrong and sometimes the most ethical thing is stand alone against society, upon what does one base ethics then? After all, do we want an ethics defend by a society led by George Bush? I that got them. They had to back peddle then. They tried to ground ethics in pure feeling (I felt he love) they tried to ground it in nature, (nature organizes us for survival) but none of these could stand up to the Holocaust arguments. Hitler had his feelings about Jews, whose to say your feelings of love are right and his are wrong? The idea of a biologically based ethics just falls prey to Hummus fork (can't get an ought from an is).

It was the guy who wanted to ground it all in society and what society dictates (oddly enough an Austrian) who kept asking me to define and clarify my ethical ideas to an exeat that I finally decided "hey have this worked out pretty good. Why don't I write up my own ethical theory for the log?" So here it is.

Before presenting it I need to explain why I feel that both sides are a muddle in the debates on ethics. Mainly because the arguments alleyway turn on the notion of absolute o "objective" ethicsnm(Christianas) Vs "subeticvea and relative" ethics (the atheists). In such debate all the basics of real ethics is ignored compeltey,because no one wants to study that stuff. I subdued in graduate school under one major famous ethicists, Fred Corny of Perkiness, and under anther guy who is not as famous but I think is very good, Victor Worsfold of UTD. I've been a very careful student of ethics, and I resent the idea that people just trot out their prejudices and pass them off as real ethical theory. The problem wtth this talk about moral absolutes or "objective" ethics is that it ignores the mediation of ethical theory through agents of mediation; those who actually make the moral judgments. What the atheists do to cause a muddle is to argue about the subject/object dichotomy the way do always do, as though it's a matte of just collecting data objectively. Of causer the amusing part is that on the ethical front the atheist is forced to defend the subjective, something they usually fear and dread. So the fundamentalists/Evangelicals/apologists are too inflexible and can't allow for interpretation, and the atheists can't ground their axioms in anything solid, so they can't real come up with the force of an out: ethics is about you ought to do this, you ought not to do ths. In the mealy both sides ignore duty and objelegation as the basis of ethical principles.

The basis of ethical theory has to start with sorting out weather oen is thinking deontolgocally or teleologically about ethics. This is the major treason why atheist and Christian moralities are doomed to be ships that pass in the night. Atheists tend to be utilitarian or some form of consequentialist. In other words, the thing that makes an act ethical is its outcome. Most atheists will back off the formula "greatest good for the greatest number" but it seems intuitive and reasonable to them that "right" and "wrong" should be understood in terms of the outcome of an action; especially since they can' vest values with antiquated magical notions such as "good" or "evil." These are metaphysical notions and don't belong in our scientific (read "athistitic) world. Christians, on the other hand, tend to be deontolgoists, that is they reckon the moral based upon keeping rules, or duty and obligation. The fact of the matter is major ethicists have been both at the same time. ant had major bits of both in his ethical teary, even in the categorical imperative.

Ethics is about values and axioms. The best word to describe values in a moral senses "approbation" or "disapprobation" (meaning: approvla/disaproval). Values translate our desires into oughts. Axioms are persecutive formula that enable us to translate values into ought. Dorothy Emmett, (who was a devout Christians and at one time was the pride of the Evangelicals in academic) in her book the Moral Prism demonstrates that atheistical axioms are artery and that ethics is alleyway essentially contestable. So what makes the ought?

Not mere facticity. You cant' get an ought form an is. The only thing that makes an ought in the first place is:

(1) Value system

(2) axioms

(3) A means of mediating between the value and the axiom.

Now at this point you may wonder what is the distinction between a value and an axiom? In my view a value is a like, a matter of taste, a desire, approbation. I think the term "approbation" really says it all for value--that of which we approve.

An Axiom is a thematic approach to making something happen. A prescription. A thing is Axiomatic when we can take it as a rule. So the values tell us what we care Abu and approve of, and the axioms tell us what the rules are in retains to those things.

when we can say "you should." You should do this because it's a value and the axioms wont let you do otherwise.

So God creates the universe with the value of love. And the rules that he sets for behavior of moral agents reflect the naturae of that value, they are all designed to foster love, or to enable one to do the loving thing in regard to treatment of others. do not kill, not steal, do not covet they neighbors goods, love they neighbor, these are the rules and they are based upon the value that stealing, killing coveting are unloosing acts, love is obviously loving that's a tautology of course.

Of course you must have a standard to judge by so you know, and someone to write the rules; of course God, being all wise and all knowing is that mind. That's where the "objective" moralist comes into trouble; because the standard has to be interpreted and that means its' going to be subjective. Actually in my ethical system each side has a point. I do believe in universals, but I also believe that the application of universals is always going to be relative and localized. This doesn't meant that we have to through up our hands and just pronounce moral values relative and discardable. They are still grounded in universal truth, it's just that the mediation of that grounding is going to be subjective, and we can get around this.

I take a deontoloical view. I'm not to big on grounding ethics in rule keeping, but I do believe that duty and obligation and our motivations in living up to them WinNET the day. In my view the community has a part to play too. Ethics is not detrained by the community, and one can rise above the logclaized community by appareling to the hypothetical ideal community (based upon Chime Pressman's notion of the ideal audience). We have networks of communities. Alisdiar manicure in his great book After Virtue became famous for establishing that morality is relative, even if it is universal, because three are Athenian understanding of universal ethics, and there ear Napoleanic understanding of universal ethics and Ninetieth century Texan understandings of universal ethics (that's where they string em up). But there is no ideal universal ethics that any human can understand or live. Arguing this was not manicure's intention, but it's pretty much what his readers came away with. But the answer is, not the one gave, buy my answer is different communities form pools. There are levels of community and we can plug into history and understand the communities of the past, and we can go international and understand how other cutlers view things. We are vein influenced by and influencing other communities all the time. This means that even though we will probably never achieve the ideal understanding of God's will, we can combine the affects of all of these communal understandings and enlarge the community, make a big ideal community that is based upon historical prescient and interconnectedness.

This is all about mediation of values. Because it is through the community that we mediate values. But this also brings the church back in as an ethical orbit. Religion is a social institution and its' part of the community. Through this amalgam of the ideal historical and international levels of the communal that the individual can stand up against his local community, even against his national community and say "no the labor camps are wrong, Hipster is a disaster, the Nazis are morally bankrupt." We dot' have to just allow whatever society says is true because he have higher standard to which we hold the immediate community; all the other communities over time and accorss cultures.

Where does God fit into this picture? In my view. since it is deontological, God is the thing that brings the ought. God's character is love, and thus love is the background of the moral universe. The truth of God's moral commands are grounded in the character of love. God's approbabations are not arbitrary or merely for the same demonstrating severity, they are an expression of his character which is love. God writes into the fabric of the universe immutable laws which are based upon the will to the good of the other. We attach duty and obligation and this give us an ought, we ought to do our duty and keep our obligations. All of this is based upon love as the background of the moral universe. We understand and mediate God's immutable universal values and axioms through the lends of the ideal community and it's understanding over time. This also includes the church and it's understanding of God's commands.

when I speak of an "ideal community" I mean a thought tradition, going back thousands of years, such Western civlization. So all basic soruces of knowledge about Western cutlure would go into this; art, liteature, religion, poetry, film, mustic, the whole thinking culture. But it also woldnt' stop there, it was transur accross clutres and consult with other cultures. The point is not to create a universe, becasue that can't be done. God is the grounding for universals and that's the strongest grounding we can have. But this is a means of orbitraition and understanding in the way that MacInsire shows we do undertand ethids, as what we are rooted int he culture and community that we are in. But we are also builidng a larger culture thoughout the world and it exetends back into time. This is not an attempt to stabilze sourcesof relativeism. It is rather, an attempt to undersatnd the orbitary of the comminity in all the sources that make it up. It also means that the religous community would be cheif among themse.