Sunday, November 30, 2014

Time for an Objective Moral Values project?

Among familiar arguments for the existence of God is the existence of Objective Moral Values. I understand that many philosophers feel that OMVs exist, independent of the existence of God. I think it's time for me to find these OMVs, or attempt to enumerate a crude list.

Just saying.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Michael Brown

The killing of Michael Brown has captured the American public’s attention much as Trayvon Martin’s killing did. It has many of the same features, and evokes the same emotions for many of us.

A young man was killed before he had begun to fulfill his potential as a human being. The universe will never know what he was capable of. A mother has lost her son. A family has lost their brother, son, nephew, uncle, cousin. Friends have lost a friend. These are tragedies. Horrors. This has changed mother, family and friends forever.

I see differences as well. Trayvon was being pursued in the dark by someone who definitely wasn't an authority. His decision to turn on his stalker was one that many of us would have made.

Michael was in broad daylight. He was confronted by a police officer in a police car. It is clear, regardless of the (so far) unsubstantiated reports of violence initiated by Michael, that he failed to follow the direction of a uniformed police officer in a recognizable police car. This doesn’t turn out well for anyone - black, white or brown. I personally ended up in jail in my twenties for arguing with a police officer. I had to plead no contest and pay a fine. Michael could have done the same, if he had been me - white. It makes no difference that Darren Wilson failed to control the situation, or that he was inept and homicidal. Michael could have avoided this.

We all make mistakes. Some of them are fatal. Some of them are irrelevant and evaporate in the breeze. For Michael Brown, his mother, his family and his friends, his mistake lead to his killing. Black men and boys get killed, where white men just go to jail like I did. It’s a tragedy, a horror, a grave injustice, and mother, family and friends will feel the sorrow of this forever.

There are at least two lessons. One, if you’re black, the police - and people who think they have police power - will kill you. So be cautious. Err on the side of living to another day.

The second lesson is for America. If you’re black, the police - and people who think they have police power - will kill you. This has to change now. The Michael Browns of the world deserve to live until tomorrow. They deserve law enforcement that values their lives like they value their own children. They deserve a legal process like I - a white man - received. They deserve a chance to live.

Anything else is a tragedy.

Link to PBS table of witness testimony

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Minute Meditations

I had a brief Twitter exchange with tweep @Playdoughpoem who mentioned that (as a recent deconvert) she missed praying. I suggested "minute meditations", which are something I've done on-and-off since the '70s.

It started in an attempt to calm myself and relieve stress in my twenties. I had been having panic attacks since my early teens (subsequently resolved with thyroid supplements). I tried yoga and "relaxation tapes" - somewhere between the two I developed a habit of calming meditation in the morning, which grew into applying it in little slices throughout the day. Being able to relax all of your body parts, becoming comfortable physically, then calming your mind and either banishing all thought, or focusing on one or several mantras, affirmations, reinforcements was soon something I could do at my desk, or while walking across the parking lot. Very helpful.

I was a non-believer by then, but I still recognized that prayer had been good for me when I was a believer. I adopted both minute meditations and longer, more serious meditating as replacements for prayer, and I've never looked back. In fact, I still say a few words of thanks to the "objects that be" occasionally before I fall asleep.

Critics of prayer slam it as nothing more than talking to yourself. I agree, and in this example, that's the whole point. Talking to yourself with a purpose can be beneficial, so why not take advantage of it?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Are there Objective Moral Values in the world?

I posed the following question to @SecularOutpost on Twitter a few weeks ago:

@SecularOutpost layman’s questions: If “objective” is defined roughly as “having reality independent of the mind”, doesn’t the discussion of Objective Moral Values require explanations for 1) where OMVs would independently reside, absent the existence of minds, and 2) what mechanism(s) exist that make OMVs available to minds once minds do exist? Is that (part of) what’s required to make a sensible argument for OMVs?

He was kind enough to reply:

.@skepticali I think your analysis is good. The only part I might reject or edit would be the part about the mechanism(s) that make OMVs available to minds once minds do exist, since that blurs ontology with epistemology. It's possible that OMVs exist and we can know that fact, without knowing which OMVs exist.

My followup question:

@SecularOutpost how do we access OMVs? It *seems* to be culturally. If it’s truly objective, wouldn’t they be physical, in some sense?

His response:

.@skepticali I don't see why. 2+2=4 but I wouldn't call that physical. The answer to your question about access will depend on one's position about moral ontology. I.e., an ethical naturalist will have a different answer than an ethical non-naturalist.

I thanked him and went off into the woods for seven years of reflection and meditation. Or less.

After returning to civilization, I confronted my unrequited concern about the possibility of there being “independent reality” for objective moral values. I'm probably too unfamiliar with moral philosophy (or philosophy in general) to understand @SecularOutpost’s point that

“It's possible that OMVs exist and we can know that fact, without knowing which OMVs exist.”

I’m still troubled at how we can arrive at the actual OMVs that we say exist, and how a separate observer - maybe at a different time, place and culture - can arrive at those same actual OMVs. That we might not know which OMVs exist calls into question how it is that we could know they exist. I’m not saying that knowing OMVs exist in principal requires that we know which specific OMVs exist, but the lack of actual OMVs that we can independently arrive at - and verify - makes the argument that “OMVs exist” appear much weaker to me.

His tweet

“The answer to your question about access will depend on one's position about moral ontology.”

indicates that accessing the OMV’s is relative (”...will depend on...”), thus is not objective in the sense of “having reality independent of the mind”. I can restate this as
a Divine Command Theorist, an Ethical Naturalist, and an Ethical Non-Naturalist may all agree that OMVs exist, yet all three differ as to what they are.
This does not demonstrate to me that OMVs exist. It demonstrates that the three parties think they exist, and implies that they can each derive them repeatably using their individual principles and practices, but there is no guarantee that they can arrive at the same conclusions. @SecularOutpost's tweet seems to confirm this. Arriving at three potentially differing sets of OMVs would imply that two and maybe all three are not truly objective facts in the way that we think of gravity as being an objective fact. So I remain puzzled: “If there are Objective Moral Values in the world, how do we assure ourselves that they have reality independent of the mind?”

Postscript: I'll eventually be asking @SecularOutpost to review this and comment on it - but I think I'll let it breathe for a day.