NOTE: In this episode I call it episode 40. It’s not. It’s episode 39.
The podcast is back. Actually, episode 39 was going to be on another topic, but then someone suggested this one to me, so as I already had a document called “episode 039” I called this “document 040.” And then when I started recording it I thought – “Hey, this is the 40th episode. Cool!” and I made a big deal of it in the recording. And then after I uploaded it I realised that since I skipped over the episode 39 that I’m writing, this isn’t really 40 at all, it’s episode 39! So that was an epic fail.
So no sooner do I release another podcast episode, I am making excuses for it! This episode is based on a lecture on divine command ethics that I gave a few years ago at the University of Otago. Enjoy!
So-called new atheist Sam Harris maintains that moral values are really scientific facts, and that they have no connection to God (indeed, God does not exist, thinks Harris).
Episode 35 is an analysis of a recent talk given by Harris gave on science and human values. The talk was part of a TED conference, and you can see it here. Here I offer an explanation of how I think he has failed. In brief, I think his entire presentation is an exercise in circular reasoning.
Harris has a new book on the subject, The Moral Landscape, which is to be released later this year.
Every now and then (and I’m assuming that this is true of most people who specialise in subject areas), I feel the urge to raise a complaint or point of clarification about a common phenomenon in a field of study (in this case, meta-ethics), and to explain why I think that something should be explained differently from the way that a lot of people explain it, or why I think that a widely held assumption or belief on the part of those who work in that field isn’t quite right. However, I’m also aware that sometimes that complaint needs some context or it won’t make a great deal of sense to a lot of people.
It’s a bit like standing in the room with a chemist who is intently focused on an experiment that he is undertaking while he also follows someone else’s notes. About two hours into the experiment he throws up his hands and says “Oh for the love of Pete, why did he have to use sodium monohydrogen phosphate? It’s obvious that he should have used sodium dihydrogen phosphate!” As an observer, you wouldn’t really know what either of those chemical compounds were, or why a chemist should use one rather than the other. In order to make the comment in a way that is helpful to the observer, the chemist would need to say “Look, this is the experiement I’m conducting. Here is what I’m trying to figure out. This is the method the other guy followed. He used sodium dihydrogen phosphate, and here is the effect of sodium monohydrogen phosphate. See how that effect isn’t going to be what the experiment requires? Now look, I’m going to use sodium dihydrogen phosphate, and look, it does just what we need.”
OK, enough with the analogy already. In some of the work I’m doing on meta-ethics, the moral argument for theism and divine command ethics, I’ve frequently encountered a characterisation of divine commands – one even accepted by some who advocate a divine command theory – which I think is unnecessary and unhelpful, but in order to say why I think it is so I need to first explain the subject matter that is the context of this characterisation. That subject matter is the concept of ethical naturalism.
It has been a while since I added an installment in the “Nuts and Bolts” series, where I lay out some of the fundamental ideas and terms used in philosophy (and I’ll do some in theology as well). This time I’m briefly covering the perspective called logical positivism, a point of view with important consequences in science, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of religion and probably a whole lot more.
Logical positivism was primarily an earlier to mid twentieth century movement, arising among a group of philosophers now referred to as The Vienna Circle, but I won’t wade through the history of the movement here. Logical positivism is not a standpoint on what is true and what is not. Instead, it’s a standpoint on what kind of utterances count as real statements that have meaning.
The Liberal Theocracy? “What?!” You ask in disbelief. A contradiction in terms, you might think. Not so. This episode is, well, long. I noted the howls of protest at my decision to shorten the episodes, and I was listening. But don’t think you’ll get this every episode! The next one will probably be a short one.
EDIT: Also, this is without a doubt the most intolerably boring episode ever. I am so sorry. The degree of banality possessed by this episode has dissuaded me from trying to have a paper on this subject published. It would put the reader to sleep!
Here’s part 1 of a 2 part series on the moral argument for theism. The argument is largely about meta-ethics, so the bulk of this presentation is devoted to explaining the meta-ethical issues: What are moral facts at all? And could there be any such things in a purely naturalistic worldview?
Episode 4 already. One more episode and I’m halfway to 10!
The main feature of this show is an audio dialogue, “A New Euthyphro.” This dialogue is a re-make of part of Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue, with a twist: This time Socrates’ is armed with a little more philosophical acuity than the bumbling Euthyphro that Socrates gave us. This time, the so-called “Euthyphro Dilemma” fails abysmally as an attack on divine command ethics.