More For God

Trevor B. and Alvin H. (TableAus Mar-Apr, 2004) agreed with the comments of Nancy C. and Peter N. (TableAus Jan-Feb, 2004) on Part A of my Philosophical Reflections on religion (TableAus Nov-Dec, 2003). This is my response to their salient points.

Trevor B. (TableAus, March-April 2004) criticised philosophy in general for eschewing “accepted norms” and rejecting “absolute morality (the only workable form)” in favour of “comparative morality”, in which “we should all do just as we individually think fit.” He then goes on to list recent examples of the failure of such subjective morality.

It is not clear what Trevor means by “absolute morality”. In the context of the present discussion, I presume he means morality based on obedience to God’s commandments. Yet his first example is the misbehaviour of the priests of exactly that morality, which would seem to undermine rather than support his case.

Deriving morality from divine commandments might give an appearance of absoluteness. But in terms of observable reality, reason and evidence, it in fact rests on the shakiest foundation: on arbitrary human claims. For by its own admission it is based not on what can be proved, but on faith in the words of men. Thus to anyone who chooses to question it, the only answer one can ultimately give is “because someone said so.”

“Accepted norms” are even worse. After all, whose norms? Those of the Mongol Hordes, the Nazis, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or fanatics who think it’s a neat idea to fly planes into buildings? If one eschews objective morality, then on what grounds does one say any “norm” is better than any other? Just the accident of one’s birthplace?

Contrary to Trevor’s lumping of Philosophical Reflections with subjective ethics, my philosophy leads to objective ethics. As I have noted before, it is a false dichotomy to say the choice is between the ethics of commandments you can’t question and the ethics of anything goes: between arbitrary duty and subjective whim. An objective ethics is based on reason, reality and life. It looks at the nature of thinking beings and their requirements for life. It has loyalty to realityas its fundamental principle, which demands such virtues as rationality, justice, integrity, honesty, productiveness and pride. By necessity, it is a morality of life.

The concept of an objective philosophy leads me to Alvin H’s letter in the same issue. Alvin wrote that “Robin’s views depend to a large extent on his own assertions and value judgements”, which “he seems to regard as self evidently true.”

In fact, the purpose of Philosophical Reflections is to derive philosophy from reason applied to observable reality. I make no assertions without evidence, and the only things I claim as self evidently true are that reality exists and we are conscious of it. While an article in isolation might look like it is based on mere assertions of opinion, the articles are not meant to be taken in isolation, but in the context of what has gone before. It could only be otherwise if it was a collection of arbitrary opinions.

Of course, it is possible that some arguments are too abbreviated or have errors, in which case I would be grateful if those omissions or errors were identified. However Alvin has not done so. He merely dismisses my philosophy as if it is self-evidently false.

As for why TableAus devotes “so much space” to Philosophical Reflections, I am sure philosophy doesn’t interest all Mensans. But it would be surprising ” and very disappointing ” if people in the top 2% of IQ did not in general find it interesting to ponder the “big questions” of “life, the universe and everything”: the nature of reality, what we can know and how we can know it, the nature of man, the basis of ethics, the principles of life-supporting politics and art, principles of child-rearing, the pursuit of happiness, and such like. Certainly many would disagree with at least some of what I write ” but as it is an attempt at objective philosophy based not on assertions but on reasons and evidence open to every person, I would hope that even those who disagree would find value in challenging their beliefs and prompting then to examine why they hold them.

© 2004 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.