Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Aati-Awais Flow Chart
(Click to enlarge)

Me: There is a very common theme on TV these days. Girl runs away with someone from home. Parents give 'baddua' (curse). Girl's marriage fails. Girl realizes Allah mian punishing her. Returns home and begs forgiveness. Saw in some dramas. Even a caller told this story on Amir Liaqat show. What do you make of it?

Aati: I think it's rubbish. I also think it's very likely to happen -- a girl making her own decisions in this society faces enough problems. Add to that a drastic choice and it sets the marriage off to a bad start. The guilt will increase and the husband would likely eventually start seeing her through the same lens as the rest of the society. (He is part of the problem because his cultural upbringing puts him in a mindframe where he feels justified in judging women as moral/immoral even when their actions were for his sake because as a man 'he owes nothing'.) So you have a girl without the external support that she was used to, a lot of internal conflict, facing discrimination from society and possibly her husband. Emotional wrecks don't usually have stable marriages. And when the marriage does collapse, everybody involved sees it as an affirmation of "God's curse".

Me: I think there is some validity to the idea that such love marriages fail in Pakistani society. However, I think in vast majority the failure can still be traced back to social causes. Needless to say, I think the curse thing is false, apart from having some psychological impact in the form of a self-fulfilling prophesy, if taken to heart.

Aati: Exactly what I tried to say. And it's almost definitely taken to heart. We're taught to take it to heart. Even the godless in our culture fear the wrath of God.

Me: Also because the girl is under pressure to marry early, she picks the first serious crush to elope with, without a careful judgment of whether this relationship can work longterm or not.

Aati: Marriage for girls is not an autonomous decision. They are not under pressure to act, they are under pressure to accept the decisions of others. It's a uniquely passive situation. Boys get married, girls are married off. Elopement may be an attempt to rattle the chains that bind them, but it's not a response that conforms to the stimulus. When you are being forced to become passive, and you become active instead, it's not directly because you were forced to become passive.

Me: I meant, they are under pressure to make a decision quickly: either stay at home and be married off to someone or elope with whoever is available. Unfortunately, the whoever that is usually available doesn't make a good husband. If a love relationship is given time to unfold freely and without pressure of marriage, most of the bad choices would filter out with time themselves. But you are also right. The society would rather that girls remain passive about marriage and let family make decisions for them. It is only when the girls are not passive that they have a choice to make between letting parents do it or doing it themselves. And here's the thing. 'Shareef larkian' are passive. They let others decide for them. That's what the society and parents tell us.

Aati: Yes. Also, marriage is a way to make a love relationship 'valid' as oppose to sinful. For girls, love before marriage is scandalous and they may feel a lot of guilt, so that they think if they get married to this guy, then their love would have been 'justified' and they won't have to see themselves as 'fallen' women anymore. For the non-rebellious girls, when their family refuses a marriage, they're aghast and may become desperate enough to regain their status as 'shareef' that they actually elope. They think marrying the guy would be sufficient to restore their status. Simply marrying someone according to the family's wishes won't be enough, because he may discover her past love, and also only the guy who 'takes' your honor can 'give' it back.

Me: That's a very good point. Elopement as a means to get society's validation!

Aati: Except, as they discover afterwards, it only opens up a whole quagmire of problems and there's no way to obtain validation because, to put it eloquently, we live in a f**cked up society. There is no forgiveness, no way to recover what's lost, and no escape from society's censure 'once you head down a certain path'. Ever heard people say 'aisay kaamon ka anjaam aisa hee hota hay'? I see that as a reflection of this thinking.
X: Men here marry for the wrong reasons: sex and children. Women also marry for the wrong reasons: they are dependent on others and have no choice.
(Click to enlarge)
Issue: 28 Jan, 2011
'Love uses the vocabulary of sex to write a text unintelligible to sex alone.'

Don Colacho, Aphorism #2,686
An interesting rendition of Pakistan's national anthem.

Edit: I was mistaken earlier about the artist as being DJ Tiesto. It turns out it is a false attribution. It is also falsely attributed to Paul Van Dyk. Most likely, this is an edited version of a remix that originally belongs to Salman Ahmed of Junoon.

[Hat-tip: Nouman.]

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taken from an email conversation.

Me: The issue [can moral acts be selfish, with the agreement being on yes] becomes a problem for me in practice because the freedoms that I recognize to be my moral rights are not recognized so by the people around me. To take one example, for my parents, 'obedience to parents' is still a virtue, and they see my attempts to get out of their influence as a disregard of that virtue. While I am perfect aware that it is my moral right to live my life as I see fit, I am also perfectly aware that my parents (and other people, like my girlfriend) are getting hurt in the process and would get hurt even more in future. As a somewhat empathetic being, I am affected by their pain, and if I am to live my life inspite of that, it requires a certain "hardening" of character, a certain blunting of empathy. It no longer remains a simple question of whether this or that is a moral act, but becomes associated with the question of what sort of a person I am turning into. I am becoming "selfish" "cold" "indifferent" as I have been told sometimes, and this is the price of moral character that I am paying for my moral rights.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Awais Aftab

Amid the ruins of deconstruction
Sophia advises the smile of silent credence:
To believe in love, but not call it Love
To believe in god, but not call it God.
The purity lost in names
Salvaged by a graceful reserve
Aati: The more time passes, the more I realize I am not a commitment person. When people mention me and O as one, with the responsibility of his actions somehow automatically my burden to carry and the consequences mine to bear, I get irritated and I do wish or imagine he's left me and married someone else already. End of syapa. I love intimacy. I crave intimacy. But not at the cost of losing my own self, my individuality; you can't spell intimacy without two I's.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You can't beat the system at its own game.
You can't live within this society, live your own life, and yet do things the socially-acceptable way.
The only way, perhaps, is to refuse to play this game at all.
I give up.
Random interesting digged up finding of today:

Wilhelm Reich, a psychologist of Freudian tradition, believed that emotional health depends on the free flow of universal orgone energy (universal life force) through the body, and this flow finds its full expression in the Reichian Orgasm, a quasi-religious experience of cosmic orgasm, obtainable after a particular massage therapy. Apart from the Reichian Orgasm, ordinary orgasm also channels the orgone energy, but to a lesser extent. The ability to release energy during orgasm is called 'orgastic potency', and society's sexual oppression decreases orgastic potency, leading to various sorts of neuroses.

Monday, January 24, 2011

X: What kind of a theist are you? *baffled*
Y: The kind of theist who delights in quoting Nietzsche!
"One is most dishonest towards one's God: he is not permitted to sin!"

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Meera Singh: In our own half-blind process of sifting good from bad, the moral from the immoral, we have cleverly managed to keep a tight mental leash on God and His activities lest He confound and upset us with His playfulness and freedom and good cheer He shows in this evolutionary playground. For a theist, this leash is religion . For an atheist, atheism. The duality of good and bad was necessary to organize well our reality in an evolutionary world but linking it to God who is pure Oneness is to see our own muddy reflection in Him. The most difficult endeavor for a man is to see His face as is.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Excommunications and hells are the infantile products of Ignorance, our brainchildren on the earth or above; there can be no paradise so long as a single man is in hell!"

Satprem, Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness
Sarah Bakewell writes in her review of James Miller's book Examined Lives:

"Apropos of Descartes, Husserl wrote, “Anyone who seriously intends to become a philosopher must ‘once in his life’ withdraw into himself and attempt, within himself, to overthrow and build anew all the sciences that, up to then, he has been accepting.”

It is an extraordinary thing to do: a project that remains “quite personal,” as Husserl admitted, yet that reaches in to seize the whole world and redesign it from the very foundation. Perhaps this is what still distinguishes the philosophical life: that “once in a lifetime” convulsion, in which one reinvents reality around oneself. It is a project doomed to fail, and compromises will always be made. But what, in life, could be more interesting?"
The response of Richard Dawkins to Lady Warsi.

'Dear Lady Warsi

Is it true that the Islamic penalty for apostasy is death? Please answer the question, yes or no. I have asked many leading Muslims, often in public, and have yet to receive a straight answer. The best answer I heard was from "Sir" Iqbal Sacranie, who said "Oh well, it is seldom enforced."

Will you please stand up in the House of Lords and publicly denounce the very idea that, however seldom enforced, a religion has the right to kill those who leave it? And will you stand up and agree that, since a phobia is an irrational fear, "Islamophobic" is not an appropriate description of anybody who objects to it. And will you stand up and issue a public apology, on behalf of your gentle, peaceful religion, to Salman Rushdie? And to Theo van Gogh? And to all the women and girls who have been genitally mutilated? And to . . . I'm sure you know the list better than I do.'

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Awais Aftab

He was a free soul
Forever transforming
Discarding old clothes
I was the imprisoned one
Blind to my bars
Until I tried to reach out
He could see no love without freedom
I could see no freedom without love
I wanted him to want me
To want my cage
To desire captivity
For us to be together
Till I became those very metal walls:
The finitude of his existence
The sacrifice demanded of him by the Infinite
What Aristotle contributes to modern political debates on Justice:

Michael Sandel: I would put it this way: the third approach, this Aristotelian idea, is indispensable. We can’t make sense of our debates about justice without drawing, to some degree, on this third, Aristotelian tradition. And the reason I think this is important and worth emphasising is that most of our debates today involve contests between the first two approaches: the utilitarian idea and the rights idea. For example, debates about torture.

There are those who say yes you should torture a terror suspect to find the ticking bomb. That’s a utilitarian idea—numbers count, consequences count. As against Kantians who would say ‘No there are certain universal human rights and certain things are just wrong—torture is one of them, regardless of the consequences.’ So we’re very familiar with the debate between utilitarian and rights-oriented views. I think what we neglect often is the Aristotelian strand.

Take the torture debate. Some would say on utilitarian grounds that you should torture the terrorist suspect if you need the information desperately and you can’t get it any other way and many lives are at stake. But then put to the utilitarian this question: suppose the only way to get the information from the terrorist suspect is not to torture him but to torture his innocent 14 year old daughter. Would you do it? Even most utilitarians would hesitate. Why? Not because they don’t care about numbers, but because there’s a deep moral intuition that the girl is innocent, she doesn’t deserve to be tortured. Whereas a lot of people who would say torture in the original ticking time bomb situation is justified—many of them are resting that thought on the idea that ‘Well he’s a pretty bad guy anyhow, he deserves rough treatment, he’s a terrorist.’ So this idea of who deserves what and why, and what does this have to do with the virtue of persons is at play often without our realising it, in many of the arguments we have. So what I’m trying to do is to show that in many of the debates we have about justice, not only utility and rights but also questions of desert, virtue and the common good as Aristotle understood them, are in play and indispensable today.

'Lesley Hazleton sat down one day to read the Koran. And what she found -- as a non-Muslim, a self-identified "tourist" in the Islamic holy book -- wasn't what she expected. With serious scholarship and warm humor, Hazleton shares the grace, flexibility and mystery she found...' [source]

I would have given this lady an enthusiastic clapping myself.

[Hat-tip: Bilal Munir]
I have always been a fan of aphorisms, and I got to know today about a recent book "The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I haven't read it but I got a good taste of it by looking inside it on Amazon. The central idea of the book is luring:

"The Bed of Procrustes takes its title from Greek mythology: the story of a man who made his visitors fit his bed to perfection by either stretching them or cutting their limbs. It represents Taleb’s view of modern civilization’s hubristic side effects—modifying humans to satisfy technology, blaming reality for not fitting economic models, inventing diseases to sell drugs, defining intelligence as what can be tested in a classroom, and convincing people that employment is not slavery.

Playful and irreverent, these aphorisms will surprise you by exposing self-delusions you have been living with but never recognized."

And a sample of aphorisms that caught my eye:

* An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.

* To understand the liberating effect of ascetism, consider that losing all your fortune is much less painful than losing only half of it.

* The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor, but the presence of multiple but incompatible ones.

* They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status -- but rarely for your wisdom.

* Hatred is much harder to fake than love. You hear of fake love; never of fake hate.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In the synesthetic madness of LSD emotions, Blind parrots fly off to green fields, where Yellow murders are being committed by gun-smoke, and Blue lips blow in air unreceived kisses, so that Heart bleeds out red words of unwisdom, in colorless Poems that none would have.
by =Ziennaat
at deviantART

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Komal: If there is no soul, then there cannot be free will. I disagree with the compatibilists on this point. [...] Yes, there are many external influences, but there is still a free will, even given those influences, provided there is a free choice-making entity, whose choices are themselves undetermined; undetermined in any causal sense.

Me: What I feel about the human free will issue is that there is definitely a free will, but there are also strong deterministic influences. It is possible for the deterministic influences to direct what action is eventually taken. This is what i have always felt, and when I read Satprem*, I felt he was talking something similar. He speaks of a "frontal man", and the free psychic being (soul). The frontal man is essentially the psychologically deterministic being, while psychic being is free, and the over-all result of human behavior that we see is the combination of the two.

Komal: Yes. The more a person is attuned to their psychic being, the freer they are.

Me: Exactly. So it seems to me that the Compatabilist view cannot entirely be rejected, because that describes the 'frontal man', but at the same time, it is not the whole story, and we do have a Libertarian sort of free will co-existing with it.

Komal: No, that is not the compatibilist view. The compatibilists hold that the person is determined but still free; but the psychic being isn't determined. It's libertarianism. It's a kind of continuous libertarianism. There are degrees of freedom, I suppose.

Me: What would you call my view "a free will exists but that free will is not always being exercised"?

Komal: It broadly comes under libertarianism. Libertarians can still believe that human behaviour is constrained. It's just that there are degrees of free will, that's all.

* "The truth is twofold, but in no way are we puppets, except when we insist on mistaking the frontal being for our self, for it is a puppet. We do have an individual center, which Sri Aurobindo calls the psychic being, and a cosmic center or central being." [Satprem, Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness]
"Common sense is the paternal house to which philosophy returns, in cycles, feeble and emaciated."

Don Colacho, Aphorism #2,628

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Foreman: You can't blame yourself for her death. This wasn't your fault!
House: That's the point! I did everything right, she died anyway! Why the hell do you think that would make me feel any better?!

House MD, Episode 6.22

Monday, January 17, 2011

Evolution and Empirical Reasoning

Reason developed as a part of evolution to make sense of the sensory data from our environment. A dog is also getting sensory information about the world, and it can see, hear and smell danger approaching, and behave accordingly. But its ability to make sense of its environment is not as good as that of humans, who have evolved more in this ability. This sort of ability to reason, to makes sense of the physical world, definitely has a huge survival advantage. Making sense of the sensory data such that it corresponds with the environment as it actually is, appears to be the defining requirement of this survival advantage. And even though an absolute correspondence cannot be established, but one can say that to a particular degree and extent, our empirical reasoning does correspond with the way things are. And as far as this empirical reasoning goes, science has become the epitome of such a way of reasoning.

This making-sense-of-the-world happens at two levels: a Descriptive level and an Explanatory level. The descriptive level of empirical reasoning is concerned with the correct description and integration of what we perceive through our senses. The descriptive reasoning creates a picture of the world around us, so that we can interact with it in a better way (and hence the survival advantage). The Explanatory level is concerned with explaining the gaps in the Descriptive reasoning; things that we observe, but we have no way of accounting for them while remaining in that level of descriptive reasoning. For example, we see that all things fall to the ground. Descriptive reasoning tell us that when you drop a ball from a hand, it falls down, but there is really no explanation for that, as to why it happens that way. So, our empirical reasoning works at its explanatory level and posits that there is a mysterious force called Gravity by which Earth attracts the objects on its surface. An explanation has been put forth, and this explanation is further tweaked and refined as more observations are made (for instance, we can now say that it is not just the Earth that attracts the ball, but the ball also attracts the Earth).

However, there is a crucial difference between Descriptive level of Empirical Reasoning and the Explanatory level. Whereas the Descriptive reasoning is concerned with making sense of perceptions such that it forms a picture that corresponds to as things are, the Explanatory reasoning is merely concerned with providing the best possible explanation of what Descriptive reasoning cannot account; Explanatory reasoning is not concerned with as-things-are, but with providing a model with the most explanatory power. As such, they do not possess any 'truth'.

It does happen that the models provided by Explanatory reasoning can be confirmed or refuted by an extension of the Descriptive reasoning. For example, there was a time when "Earth is round" was just at an explanatory level, a theory proposed to explain certain observations that could not be accounted for by a flat Earth. However, when a sailer sailed around the world in a complete circle or when Astronomers traveled into space and saw that Earth is a sphere, the Round Earth Theory no longer remained an explanation; it become a descriptive fact. What was initially at an Explanatory level came up on Descriptive level. Similarly, the Holocentric model was once just a good explanation. With the advent of telescopes by which one could monitor the motion of planets and sun, it became a descriptive fact.

So, this is how science has progressed: by refining and tweaking its Explanations to fit the observations, and by turning Explanations into Descriptions using better and better scientific equipment. However, there is a limit to what can be brought to Descriptive level from Explanatory level. Our physical senses are limited and so are our scientific instruments. That means that there is a whole explanatory world-view that can be refined and tweaked, but can never be definitely confirmed or proved by bringing it to descriptive level. For example, consider gravity. In 19th century we had a Newtonian theory of gravity, and it worked well-enough till we discovered certain observations that it couldn't account for. So it was super-ceded by a better explanation, the Einstein's General Relativity. But this is what General Relativity remains: an explanatory model that has superior powers of explanation than Newtonian model, and that's all. It cannot claim any Truth in the descriptive sense. Even if science arrives at a Unified Theory of Everything that perfectly explains ALL our observations, it would still not be able to claim any Truth. It would remain what it is: an unproved perfect explanatory model.

And this is not something that I am proposing. Even the scientific community accepts such a view of science, which was most prominently presented by Karl Popper. The famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawkings explains this view in this manner:

“…a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make. A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested. If the predictions agree with the observations, the theory survives that test, though it can never be proved to be correct. On the other hand, if the observations disagree with the predictions, one has to discard or modify the theory.” [The Universe in a Nutshell]

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of the experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.” [A Brief History of Time]

In the light of this understanding, let us now look at the theory of Evolution:
There are again two level at which we can see the matter. The Descriptive level and an Explanatory level. On the descriptive level, what we observe is a succession of fossils of various species, and biological, cytological, biochemical and genetic evidence of linkage of all life forms. Therefore, this much is certain: Evolution happened. Species emerged on Earth in succession in a determinable pattern, and we can see on the Descriptive level. However, there is an Explanatory level below this Descriptive level, which attempts to explain how this evolution happened. And the best scientific explanation currently is the theory of biological evolution by means of natural selection. Even if the theory of natural selection could explain everything that we observe regarding evolution (which it doesn't), it would still remain an explanatory model, the best available scientific model, but nevertheless a model; unprovable and without any rightful claim to Truth.

So while naturalism assumes the truth of biological evolution, it also, by the nature of its very reasoning, demonstrates that the truth of biological evolution is essentially unprovable. Perhaps it is not self-contradictory, but it is definitely self-deficient.

Conceptual Reasoning

This was the story of Empirical Reasoning, which is about making sense of sensory data, but there is another type of reasoning, a purely Conceptual reasoning, which is about making sense of concepts itself. And the distinctive difference is that conceptual reasoning provides its own truth. It provides us with 'knowledge' that we can immediately see as being 'true'. [Yes, this is my way of describing the a priori/a posteriori distinction] We don't have to resort to any empirical verfication or any experiment to determine its truth. We can just see for ourselves. Yes, it is true that this conceptual reasoning can be applied to the things in physical world, but this application is not what provides the truth of it. Its truth is independent of empirical reasoning. The field of symbolic deductive logic and mathematics comprise the conceptual reasoning.

'All Xs are Ys' is true if X = Y. We don't need to do any experiment to determine that. This symbolic truth is independent of all experience; it would even be true if there was no physical world. We can "see" that it is true, as if by means of some automatic rational intuition. Such is its distinct nature.

The big question in front of us is that how did this conceptual a priori reasoning develop? This sort of reasoning has no clear cut survival advantage, and any advantage it may have is so abstract that we cannot expect it to influence the survival of the fittest gene pool competition from which the Empirical reasoning developed. So where did it come from? Did Conceptual reasoning develop because Empirical reasoning is impossible without it? Is Conceptual reasoning a sort of by-product of Empirical reasoning? A sort of unintended effect that tagged along with the evolution of Empirical reasoning? If so, do we have any reason to accept the Truth of this mode of reasoning? Perhaps it is illusory, and the only thing we can determine for sure is what corresponds to our descriptive experience? Or perhaps it does exist objectively, with a metaphysical existence of its own, which we have come to perceive.

The philosophical nature of mathematics and symbolic logic is a whole debate in itself, and there are attempts at an empiricist explanation of mathematics, but none of them seem to explain the seemingly a priori nature of mathematics, its apparent infallibility in stark contrast to the fallible nature of empirical reasoning.

If conceptual reasoning is a priori, then how is this a priori nature justified? Either it exists independently and objectively, perhaps as platonic ideals, or it is a way of thinking that has been hardwired in our brains during evolution through some as yet unaccountable way. In either way, we are believing in a form of realism: conceptual reasoning has an objective grounding, whether it is Platonic or biological.

The Nature of Morality

Morality, as we humans perceive it, is very muddled up. We all have a moral sense, an inner voice of conscience telling us what is moral and what is not, but this moral sense is greatly influenced by upbringing, personality, intellect, experiences and religious beliefs. People growing up in different societies and cultures have different moral beliefs explainable in terms of their cultural and social practices. However, it appears that there is a central core of morality which depends upon intuitions that are independent of all these things, intuitions which are determinable not simply by virtue of their universality, but by their seemingly a priori nature. Amidst the moral disagreements and differences, we intuit certain things about morality, which can however still be suppressed by belief. As mathematics and logic need to be learned, and a clarity of reasoning is required, even though their truth is recognized by intuition, in the same way some moral truths have to be learnt and a certain clarity is required before we are able to see the moral intuitions distinct from the emotions and beliefs clinging to them, but once done so, their truth is recognized by intuition. Not all moral claims are intuitive; moral claims are often expressions of emotions, biases and acquired beliefs. However, there are at least some moral claims that I believe are intuitive, a priori, objective.

I quote from Stanford Encyclopedia:

"Another realist reply to the epistemic challenge is to argue that mathematics and logic, not science, are the right models of moral theory. Neither mathematics nor logic, some maintain, rely on experience for their confirmation. They are, instead, supportable a priori by appeal to the nature of the concepts they involve. On this view, a sound defense of the principles we need to ground moral arguments can be found in a suitably subtle and careful bit of conceptual analysis. In light of Moore’s Open Question Argument, those who advocate and epistemology of conceptual analysis acknowledge that the correct analysis, whatever it is, is likely not at all obvious. And, they point out, this means that people who are genuinely competent with the relevant concepts might themselves not recognize the correct analysis as correct. Nonetheless, the analysis might be correct. If there is some such analysis to be had, and if it is rich enough to provide the sort of substantive principles needed to underwrite our various particular judgments, realism will have met well its epistemic burden. Of course putting things this way assumes we have a good epistemology of conceptual analysis, which might well be called into question. But worries about conceptual analysis are not specific to morality. And if they prove decisive, then those worries leave mathematics and logic, no less than morals, in need of some grounding or other. Whatever might be advanced on behalf of mathematics and logic, many think, should work as well for morality."

Yes, the burden of proof is still on the realists to prove that such intuitive a priori moral truths exist, but there is no real objection against it to show that they cannot exist.

As a preliminary attempt, I had presented a two degree structure that at least some moral claims based upon moral intuitions have:

First Degree: It is wrong to do X/right to do X, unless there are good reasons to do otherwise.
Second Degree: The intuitions regarding what those good reasons are or are not.

For example,

First Degree: It is wrong to inflict cruelty, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Inflicting cruelty as a punishment for crimes is a good reason.

First Degree: It is wrong not to save the life of a person one can save, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Hatred of a person is not a good reason to let that person die.

The First Degree Intuitions are almost universal, while the Second Degree Intuitions are not quite universal (though they can be) and genuine disagreement can exist.

However, it must be noted that even if such intuitions exist, they are still vulnerable to suppression by non-moral emotions and ideas. For instance, in example 2, a person may allow his hatred of a person to dominate his moral intuition, and let that person die, and then he may even try to justify that he did nothing wrong. Similarly, a person who intuitively feels that every person has a right to life may still support the murder of an apostate because his faith dictates so. Such distortive effect of emotions and beliefs is perhaps what accounts for the wide disagreement on morality, and what makes discovering the objective a priori moral truths a tremendous difficulty. Nevertheless, just as in discovering rational a priori truths, the answer lies in rigorous analysis to free the mind of prejudice as much as possible. If such a priori moral truths are demonstrable, we would have a basis for moral realism, with an objective grounding for moral truths, whether it is Platonic or biological.
Sometime back I had showcased the ideas of Sam Harris regarding creating a secular moral realism on a scientific basis. This here is a very good philosophical critique of that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"But how do you know that naturalism is true? That you believe it with great conviction cuts no ice. As Nietzsche says, in his typically exaggerated and febrile way, "Convictions are the greatest enemies of truth." Can you prove naturalism? If you try, you will soon entangle yourself in a thicket of thorny metaphysical questions from which you will not escape unbloodied. You cannot prove it. I guarantee it."
X: There is a reason why people have make-up sex; it's because it works!
Islam had no Jesus; it only had a Paul.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Aati: Saying what needs to be said, even if nobody's willing to hear it. :)

It was said in response when I told her that I would like to write a particular book even if nobody was going to publish it. I think it also beautifully captures the spirit with which I blog.

Friday, January 14, 2011

For a short period in his life, Bertrand Russell believed that the Ontological Argument was a valid argument. Regarding this, Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, "I suspect that he was an exaggeratedly fair-minded atheist, over-eager to be disillusioned if logic seemed to require it."

What? Huh? So apparently Russell is too much of a philosopher for Dawkins's scientific taste. And why not? Indeed, how can one be an honest intellectual if one does not take arguments seriously? I am (I hope) too much of a philosopher, and I am not ashamed of it, even if it is to the distaste of the New Atheists.

*I don't think the Ontological Argument is sound, btw.
Readers might notice some changes in the old blog posts. I regret the modifications but madness is engulfing the country and caution is warranted.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Euthyphro dilemma is the apparent impossibility of attempting to invoke God as the source of morality. In simple words the problem can be put as: Why did God choose the moral rules he did? For example, why did God make charity good and rape wrong? Were there any reasons for that (Lets say because they increase human well-being)? If there were any reasons, then those reasons provide the basis of morality and not God. And if God had no reasons and he decided arbitrarily, then he could just as easily have made rape good and charity wrong. The problems exists because we all feel that there is something intrinsically moral about certain actions, which exists independent of anyone commanding us to do that action. This dilemma is clearly a fatal blow to any conception of God that relies on a revealed scripture for providing a moral code for humans. However, this dilemma can be by-passed by considering certain conceptions of God.

Komal explains the problem and then offers its possible solution:

The Euthyphro dilemma is a dilemma that the believer in Divine command theory is supposed to be faced with. The dilemma goes as follows: either what God commands is the good, or God commands what is good. If the first, then that may have counterintuitive consequences, such as having to accept that a genocide is good if God commands it. If the second, then Divine command theory is false.

This dilemma is fairly easy to resolve, if one posits that the source of one's moral intuitions are the same as the source of Divine command. In other words, if our moral intuitions are an expression of the Divine nature within us (our souls), and Divine command is an expression of the Divine nature, then the two cannot conflict.

Further, the Divine nature is orderly and intelligible. For example, God is love, not hate. God is providential, not malicious. God is truth, not falsity. Thus, there is only kind of thing that can be an expression of the Divine nature. God does not act arbitrarily, but acts in accordance with His nature.

If the Socratic opponent argues that God lacks free will if He is only able to act in one way (according to His nature), then I would simply disagree with my opponent's conception of free will. My view of free will is similar to that of Leibniz, who believed that free will was to act according to one's nature. I believe free will is to act according to the highest nature; or rather, that there are degrees of freedom, such that the higher the nature from which you are acting, the more free your actions. Since the highest nature is the Divine nature, it follows that God is always perfectly free. However, this freedom does not entail arbitrariness, as this conception of free will is not one that defines free will in terms of the ability to make an indifferent choice or to act arbitrarily.
What have I actually proved by my argument in favor of moral realism?

It seems to me now that what I have actually proved is neither the direct truth of realism nor the direct refutation of relativism. I have in fact shown naturalism to be self-contradictory, and it is this refutation of naturalism that has significant things to say about the realism/relativism debate, and the debate is not as quite settled as I had initially believed. (I take naturalism is the belief that the only facts we should accept are the ones that are endorsed by and/or compatible with science.)

I have also shown that for knowledge to be possible, intuitions have to be valid (Butters pointed that out in the comments, actually). However, for rational knowledge to be possible, only rational intuitions have to be considered as having an objective validity. It appears that it is possible to maintain that only rational intuitions have objective validity while moral intuitions do not. i.e. the falsity of naturalism and moral relativism are possibly compatible.

It seems really odd to me to uphold the view that our intuitions developed in such a way that one type of intuitions (rational intuitions) turned out to have objective validity, while the other type of intuitions (moral intuitions) turned out to be completely deluded. However, given the truth of rational intuitions and falsity of naturalism, let us see what reasons can be offered in support of this asymmetry between rational and moral intuitions:

i) The extent and depth of moral disagreement is far more than the extent and depth of rational disagreement.

ii) Moral Internalism holds that moral convictions necessarily have a motivating effect on the person holding the convictions. This can be used to argue that moral convictions are bound up with motivation because they are in fact expressions of 'motivational states of desire, approval, or commitment (that might be satisfied or frustrated but are neither true nor false)'*

i) Moral Disagreement

I think there is a definite misperception regarding the disagreement in moral matters, and it is seen to be more exaggerated than it is. I personally think that many, if not all, moral propositions based on moral intuitions have a two degree structure.

First Degree: It is wrong to do X/right to do X, unless there are good reasons to do otherwise.
Second Degree: The intuitions regarding what those good reasons are or are not.

For example,

First Degree: It is wrong to inflict cruelty, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Inflicting cruelty as a punishment for crimes is a good reason.

First Degree: It is wrong to kill anyone, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Killing someone in the process of self-defense is a good reason.

First Degree: It is wrong to steal, unless there is a good reason to do so.
Second Degree: Stealing to prevent death from starvation is a good reason.

Now, the First Degree Intuitions are almost universal, while the Second Degree Intuitions are not quite universal and genuine disagreement can exist. Therefore, all those matters of moral disagreement which have this two degree structure, the disagreement is not as extensive nor as deep as to be used as an argument against realism.

Apart from this, there are other explanations for moral disagreement consistent with moral realism. These include:

# Some apparently moral disagreement are actually disagreements on non-moral issues. ('the explanation of moral disagreements will be of a piece with whatever turns out to be a good explanation of the various nonmoral disagreements people find themselves in.'*)
# Individual emotions and interests can distort the perception of moral truth, leading to disagreement.*

Therefore, moral disagreement as it exists is not an argument in favor of implausibility of moral intuitions, and there is no reason to support the asymmetry between rational and moral intuitions.

ii) Moral Internalism

There are two answers to this. First is the Moral Externalist claim that not all moral claims are intrinsically motivating. Externalists believe that there is nothing logically necessary about the conjunction of moral claim and motivations, and that moral claims can exist without motivations. So while internalism may be true, there is no real argument to show that it is true, and in the absence of that, it cannot be held as an argument against non-validity of moral intuitions. Secondly, it can be shown that there are non-moral claims that are bound up with motivations. Such as, the experience of being in pain is intrinsically bound up with the motivation of avoiding that pain. Therefore, moral internalism, even if it is true, is no argument in itself for the non-validity of moral intuitions.*

Conclusion: It is obvious to me now that the realist/relativist debate is not quite as settled as I had the initial impression, but I believe, with reasons explained above, that it can be confidently argued that the debate tilts far more in the favor of moral realism, and there is no genuine argument to suggest that there should exist an asymmetry between the objective validity of rational and moral intuitions.

* The references are from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The whole survey is pretty interesting. I had read it sometime early last year, and today I digged it up again to see what the survey revealed about the questions of moral philosophy. I am pasting the results related to ethics below, with brief definitions of respective issues for the benefit of those unacquainted.

Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?

(Moral realism is the view that moral facts exist independent of subjective opinion. Anti-realism is its opposite.)

Accept or lean toward: moral realism525 / 931 (56.3%)
Accept or lean toward: moral anti-realism258 / 931 (27.7%)
Other148 / 931 (15.8%)

Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?

(Cognitivism is the view that moral sentences express meaningful propositions and are hence capable of being true and false. Non-cognitivism is the opposite.)

Accept or lean toward: cognitivism612 / 931 (65.7%)
Other161 / 931 (17.2%)
Accept or lean toward: non-cognitivism158 / 931 (16.9%)

Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?

(Internalism means that moral convictions necessarily have a motivating effect on the person holding the convictions. Externalism says it is not necessary, i.e. a person can believe that X is the moral thing to do and yet feel no motivation to do X.)

Other329 / 931 (35.3%)
Accept or lean toward: internalism325 / 931 (34.9%)
Accept or lean toward: externalism277 / 931 (29.7%)

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?

(Deontology sees morality in terms of rules and duties, e.g. the golden rule. Consequentialism seems morality in terms of the good or bad consequences of actions, e.g. the idea that a moral action is one that leads to greatest happiness for greatest number. Virtue ethics sees morality in terms of the moral character of a person.)

Other301 / 931 (32.3%)
Accept or lean toward: deontology241 / 931 (25.8%)
Accept or lean toward: consequentialism220 / 931 (23.6%)
Accept or lean toward: virtue ethics169 / 931 (18.1%)

I am surprised to see the dominance of moral realism and cognitivism, because I had the opposite impression of it. There are no clear cut winners in internalism vs externalism, and normative ethics, which is what I would have expected. I especially feel that in Normative ethics all three dominant approaches have something valuable to say, and I would be happy if a way is found to unite all three into a single theory.

* [In his recent book] Alasdair MacIntyre argues that "neither the university nor philosophy is any longer seen as engaging the questions" of "plain persons." These questions include: "What is our place in the order of things? Of what powers in the natural and social world do we need to take account? How should we respond to the facts of suffering and death? What is our relationship to the dead? What is it to live a human life well? What is it to live it badly?"

* ... in his first exposure to analytic philosophy, Cavell found the study of symbolic logic "exhilarating." His subsequent realization that the reduction of philosophical problems to symbolic logic would require him "to leave" not just "natural language quite behind," but also the questions he found most pressing, forced him to face a "permanent choice, in blind ignorance, between what I wanted to understand and what was truly understandable."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This is a continuation of the previous post, and must be read in succession to that.

If we wish to be consistent, there are only two positions to take.

EITHER: You believe that your intuitions, both moral and rational, have no objective validity, and that you are trapped in an inescapable black hole of moral and rational uncertainty.

OR: You believe that your intuitions (and intuition is not the same as faith, nor does it imply that all people are at an equal capacity for intuition) have an objective validity (to whatever degree). As to the nature of this objectivity, there are two options. You can either believe that this objectivity exists as a sort of Platonic Ideal, or you can resort to a philosophical conception of God that by-passes the Euthyphro argument (I won't go into the detail of that at the moment). Both options are philosophically adequate in my view.

Relativism dies its own death because if you cannot trust your rational intuitions, you can't even presume the truth of biological evolution in the first place! Relativism begins by supposing the "truth" of evolution and ends by accepting that no truth can be known! This is clearly self-contradictory. Therefore, it should be clear to us that realism is the only philosophically tenable position out of these two.

Q. What I feel is dependent on my upbringing, my personality, my intellect and my experiences. And it is mostly dependent on my personal concept of an ideal society. Any idea which is in conjunction with that central concept I would deem as moral or acceptable. That is where my ideas of sanctity of human life, freedom of speech etc come in. [Zaidan Idrees]
Yes, I agree that intuition is influenced by upbringing, personality, intellect, experiences and religious beliefs, but there is a strong central core of intuition that is independent of all these things. Relativists mistakenly assume that only moral intuition is vulnerable to these factors. Rational intuition is vulnerable as well. You can't compare Pamela Anderson's sense of rationality with Plato, and claim that they are both at equal level and of equal validity. So why then can we put the moral sense of Taliban society at equal level with Western society? Intuitions have to be refined and purified through rigorous rational and moral reasoning, to free them from the biases. That is why we observe a continuous evolution of both rational and moral intuitions through history. Our intuitions are becoming better and better at reflecting the objectivity, and this progress is still going on.

Q. How can you be sure of the objective validity of a certain moral stance. How can one say that THIS is superior to THAT. Our pride and misplaced sense of superiority will always dictate that we will consider our own "choice" as the better one and just rationalize the remaining gaps. Unless there is some external objective criterion our "intuitions" will remain synonymous with "opinions". [Zaidan Idrees]

How can you be sure of the objective validity of a rational stance? How can you say that THIS argument is superior to THAT argument? How can you say that 2 + 2 = 4 is true and 2 + 2 = 5 is false? The answer lies in rational intuition and rational reasoning. The more clearer the perception of that, the more clearer the answer. The situation with moral intuition is similar. If someone stands up and says "I believe that 1 + 1 = 3 and there is no way you can prove me wrong" it would be absurd. Just because some person is logically retarded, it doesn't put their opinion at the same level as logical person. Similarly, if some person stands up and say "I believe that it is morally acceptable to inflict unnecessary cruelty", it would be absurd. Just because some person is morally retarded, it doesn't put their opinion at the same level as ours. Just as in rationality there are matters are clearly true and false and some matters which are unclear, similarly in morality there are matters which are clearly true and false, and some matters which are unclear. It is only by indulging in reasoning, both logical and moral, than we can gain further clarity.

As far as all people who believe morality on the basis of religious scripture, it is as false as saying "I believe 2 + 2 = 4 is correct because my God says so." So all people who believe that an innocent murder is justified because their God says so, we should reject it without hesitation. There is not even the question of asking whether this argument is superior or not, because they are not even relying on intuition, they are relying on blind faith.

Here, I must emphasize that because we realize that our intuitions are biased by various factors, we can never be dogmatic about them. We must treat our intuitions with caution, and we must always believe that our rational and moral views are capable of being superseded by something even more rational and moral. But this has to be done by reasoning and debate, not through dogmatic insistence.

Q. 1+1=2 (and other similar rational ideas) can be tested using empirical evidence. There is no such way to test morality.

Yes, this pragmatic view of reason can work in a limited way in only so far as it deals with empirical observations. But even then, it works only in the form of a model that explains what we observe. It cannot claim any "truth" or any objective validity.

So, a relativist can perhaps save science and empirical reasoning by reducing it to an explanatory model, but much of philosophy, logic and mathematics is still lost and consumed. How do you show the empirical evidence for square root of 2? Or how do you show the empirical evidence for an imaginary number? Or how do you show the empirical evidence that a tautology is necessarily true? How do show from empirical evidence that deductive reasoning is true?

Q. If we accept basic mathematical principles through empirical evidence, we can then use these basic principles to build on higher principles. For example you could find square root of 2 using iterative methods with rely on addition and addition itself can be tested empirically.

You would be relying on INDUCTION to prove the truth of DEDUCTION. It is even theoretically impossible.

Q. Everyone (mathematicians etc) agrees on/accept the basic principle's of mathematics (or rationality). However agreement on the basic principle's of morality isn't as common as the agreement on the rational principles. Moral philosophers often disagree even on some of the basic moral principles. If rationality was a product of evolution like morality (lets for the moment assume morality is a product of evolution) then one would except as varied opinions between mathematicians about principles of math as the moral philosopher's have about moral ideas.

If rationality is not a product of biological evolution, then what else is it a product of in a naturalistic account of world?

There are no principles for rational intuition. There is no written external criteria that tells you when an argument would be correct. What you are presented with a self-evident axiom, you don't resort to any criteria to know that it is self-evident. When you are presented with a deductive argument, you don't resort to any external criteria to know that it is correct. You can "see" that it is correct, you can "see" that the conclusion proceeds from the premises.

Secondly, about the agreement. Philosophers mostly disagree on what are the principles of morality, and much less whether something is moral or not. The agreement of what is moral is far more than the matters on which is disagreement. There is a tremendous consensus among humans on what is moral and what is not. For instance, there is an almost universal consensus among people that unjustified cruelty is wrong. There can be disagreement on when it is justified to be inflict cruelty on someone (as punishment, for example) but there is almost no disagreement as to the wrongness of unjustified cruelty.

When philosophers debate on the principles of morality, they are actually trying to determine whether there is any pattern in what our moral intuitions tell us about whether this or that act is moral. And when a moral theory is being criticized, it is almost always criticized by showing how it goes against our moral intuitions.

Q. Moral intuition of a psychopath might be different from others. however no one would disagree on 1+ 1 = 2 or that P and not-P both cannot be true at the same time.

We can know pure mathematical truths just by thinking but we cannot know pure moral principles just by thinking (a psychopath might come to a different conclusion.

Pure mathematics is an a priori, but the same cannot be said about morality.

If you can bring psychopath into moral debate, i can bring a mentally retarded into rational debate. A psychopath has no moral intuitions; a psychopath doesn't judge things as morally right or wrong. He is by definition amoral. If a psychopath inflicts cruelty on someone, he doesn't justify that cruelty as being moral.

We cannot compare mathematical "truths" with moral "principles". You have to compare the mathematical truths with moral truths. We determine a mathematical truth in the same way we determine the moral truth, by intuition. The "principles" of both, however, require further thinking and deliberation.
This is something Meera Singh wrote to me during our conversations on morality. I must emphasize to the reader that this is not meant to be a proof of anything. I am posting it because I find it a beautiful and eloquent articulation, and it deserves to be shared.

"The origin of conscience or morality as either metaphysical or biological cannot be solved by debate. Never. It's like the consciousness problem itself. In a way, the naturalist is half-right in asserting that conscience is a product of biological evolution and hence must be talked of in relative terms. Because conscience is found only in humans. And yet again, it does not stop you and I from speculating that conscience may have deeper roots in the Absolute and hence must be talked of in absolute terms. But I wish to say that relativism or absolutism, morality is a human concept and only about humans. Even if we suppose it comes from God, by the time it threads its way to earth and comes here, its pristine robes are soiled and it becomes completely a humanized concept. And on its return journey back home, morality perhaps melts again into a perfect all- knowing Conscience. The difficulty is that there is no proof of such a transaction. This is where people like you and me are stuck. Did morality emanate from higher nature or not? Reason cannot know. And what is not within the pale of reason, it can only speculate and debate but never conclude. All we know is that morality coexists with our discordant, divisive and fluctuating human nature and hence morality and Ignorance are interdependent faithful friends. If we all turned into Gods right now, morality is not required. Hence, morality is of humans, by humans and for humans, no matter where it originates from."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Moral relativists claim that our moral intuitions are a product of our biological evolution, and hence they possess no metaphysical objectivity. All morality is therefore merely a human construct and nothing more.

However, by the same naturalist account of the world, rationality is also a product of our biological evolution. If we have no reason to ascribe any objectivity to our moral intuitions, we have no reason to ascribe any objectivity to our rational intuitions either. If we have no reason to believe that the intuition "one should not inflict cruelty" has any objective value, we also have no reason to believe that our rational intuition of a deductive inference being correct or a logical axiom being self-evident has any objective value.

A stubborn naturalist can even concede to this, I believe. But then he would try to squeeze his way out by suggesting a pragmatic account of rationality. He might say: okay, I accept that there is no reason to suppose rational intuitions have any objectivity validity, but we can accept rationality on the account that it 'works'.

But how can this pragmatist view explain how do we know they work? How do we know a deductive argument "works"? This becomes a problem of circularity. In order for us to know a rational intuition works, we must already possess that knowledge!

This is a genuine problem; rational pragmatism is therefore at a serious loss of explanation. A moral relativist has no choice but to accept rational relativism as well. Relativism simply collapses on itself. A relativist is thrown into the worst epistemological crises in philosophy, the hyperbolic doubt of Descartes. When you cannot even trust your own reason, what can you trust?

Conclusion: A belief in moral relativism on account of naturalism also necessitates a belief in rational relativism, and therefore it dies its own death.

[My thanks to Komal for helping me develop this argument.]

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Saray chotay hotay kehtay thay kay iss kay khayalat baray oonchay hayn, bara aadmi banay ga. Kisi ko kia pata tha kay iss ki soch itni ghalat aur ghattya niklay gee."
(When he was a kid, everyone said he has lofty ideals and would be a great man. Who knew he would turn out to have such false and base thoughts.)

My mother, on my refusal to condone religion-sponsored murder.

Yes, indeed, the apple has fallen far from the tree.
“My people will never agree upon an error.” (Hadith; Abu Daud, Al-Tirmidhi)

How do you determine what a religion actually is? For instance, what is ‘true Islam’ and how do you determine that? “From the scriptures, of course” is not an adequate answer, because the scriptures don’t mean anything per se. They are always in need of interpretation, and they only mean something in the background of a theology. It is only a theology that links various portions of scripture in a coherent manner, resolves apparent contradictions, and provides a legal and moral framework for that religion. Interpretations vary, and so do theologies, and furthermore, these evolve with time. So, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a ‘true religion’ or ‘actual religion’; there are only different theologies, all based on the same scripture, interpreting it and relating to it in different ways, none of which is “true” or “false” in any objective sense.

This does put us in a practical dilemma: how can we speak about a particular religion, when that religion is actually just an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ideologies? For instance, any statement you make about Christianity wouldn’t hold up if you began to analyze it with reference to all its individual sects, from Catholicism to Gnostic Christianity. Somewhere, some sect would be an exception. The same is the case with other religions and Islam. Any statement you make about Islam would likely not apply to all of its varieties, from orthodox Sunni to Perwezi Islam. So what do we do?

The practical solution (and I repeat, the practical solution) to this we all apply, consciously or subconsciously, is that when we refer to a religion, we refer to the theological variety/sect that is the most dominant socially and politically, and which has the widest consensus of the followers and scholars of that religion. And when we have to refer to a non-dominant theology, we refer to it with a qualification. For example, when we refer to Christianity, we refer to Catholicism, and if we have to talk about some other sect, we have to qualify it, like Gnostic Christianity.

The varieties of Islam that are being used in discourse these days are “Fundamentalist/Orthodox Islam” and “Liberal/Moderate/Progressive Islam”. Whenever Western thinkers criticize Islam at any point, the objection came up “Oh, no, the fundamentalists are just a minority. There is also the Moderate Islam. Talk about us; we are nice people.” And that was what was assumed by most, and which even West had to concede to in the name of political correctness. However, the current circumstances in Pakistan surrounding the murder of Salman Taseer have revealed something entirely different. Turns out, the silent majority, when it has spoken, doesn’t belong to Liberal Islam. Surprise, surprise, they all uphold fundamentalist ideology. The Fundamentalist Islam not only has a sweeping consensus of followers, it also has a well-developed theology, with all the references to Koran and Hadith & Sunnah worked out in detail. The Liberal Islam, in contrast, is not only in an exceeding small minority, it also lacks any consensus, it has barely any prominent scholars to point to, and it has no well-developed theology. Most of the proponents of Liberal Islam are actually young kids, who barely have an adequate knowledge of theology to compete in the religious discourse. One single properly referenced Hadith from a Fundamentalist can deflate a Liberal’s case. Yes, it’s that easy.

Anyway, my point is, Fundamentalist Islam has demonstrated such wide-spread consensus and domination that they are now the current representatives of Islam. Liberal Muslims who are reading this will no doubt protest, but the facts are in front of all of us. Liberal Islam has failed. Liberal Islam has no consensus, has no scholars, has no properly worked out theology. It is all just a bunch of individual voices, shouting “No, this isn’t Islam.”

It is also time that Western thinkers realize that this consensus in the favor of Fundamentalists has taken place. Fundamentalists are no longer in minority; Islam is no longer benign. It has become the current successor in the dynasty of fascists, nazis and communists, and it must be dealt with accordingly. Rome has spoken, the matter is settled.

[Published at Pak Tea House.]

Monday, January 3, 2011

I have always felt there was something wrong about the question "Why should we be moral?" or "Why should we care about others?" and I realized today what that is. The question assumes that any valid answer would have to phrase morality in terms of individual self-interest or otherwise the question would remain unanswered. And that is precisely where the flaw is: morality cannot be reduced to self-interest, and the moment it is phrased in terms of self-interest, it ceases to be morality and disintegrates into something low and base. The more we engage in the question, the more we validate the underlying assumption. I believe there is no answer to this question, or if an answer exists, it is of this sort: we ought to be moral because morality is a compelling reason itself for moral beings.

Now, it is true that morality does have certain advantages for an individual. For example, a moral life leads to psychological and spiritual well-being (as claimed by virtue ethics and mysticism, something which I believe myself). But these benefits are not the reasons to be moral; they are not the answer to the question "Why be moral?"; they do not reduce morality to self-interest. It is clear to me that any person who tries to be moral in the spirit of self-interest can only pretend to be moral; genuine morality will always evade him/her. The fruits of morality for an individual can only be tasted if you act morally regardless of self-interest, if you are moral because you find morality a compelling reason in itself.

Morality has nothing to offer to a selfish soul.
Below is an excerpt from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A work of fiction. It is an excellent intellectually-satisfying philosophical novel that I would recommended for all thinking readers:

"My last question to you, Professor Seltzer, is, what motivation for adopting the moral point of view can you possibly offer without a belief in God and immortality?"...

"Professor Fidley worries that, without a belief in God, people will act only for reasons of self-interest instead of behaving morally. But then what does he offer as the only persuasion to adopt the moral point of view? Concern for one's self, in this life and the next. Without this, he says, there's no reason to act morally. In the end, it's Professor Fidley who reduces morality to self-interest.

"And it's no wonder that in the end he has to fall back on self-interest as the ultimate motivation for morality. He can't see what can be morally compelling about morality, in and of itself. If he did see that, he wouldn't think that he needs God to magically inject the morality into morality. And since, according to him, there's nothing compelling about morality in itself, he also thinks morality requires some lash to punish us in an afterlife if we don't comply. So, in the end, all that he can appeal to are motivations of self-interest. In the end, all that he can offer people as a reason to act morally is for them to act in their self-interest, currying favor with an authority that can dole out rewards and mete out punishments.

"But if the moral point of view is something that we humans can, with a great deal of effort, reason our way into, then morality itself provides the motivation to be moral. The reason to do the moral thing is that it's the moral thing to do; to do anything else is to make a shambles of our thinking, of our values, of our mattering. Our seeing for ourselves why it's the moral thing to do is what compels us.

"When we're trying to teach a child why it's wrong to pick on another child, do we say, 'It's wrong because if I catch you doing it again, you'll be spanked,' or do we, rather, say, 'How would you feel if someone did that to you?' And when we're wrestling with our own conscience, do we think to ourselves, 'If I do it, then I'll be flambéed in hell's fires,' or do we think, 'Would I want everyone in the world to behave this way? Wouldn't I feel moral outrage if I learned of someone else doing this?'

"... if we can't live coherently without believing ourselves to matter, then we can't live coherently without extending that same mattering to everyone else.... There are truths to discover in that process, and they're the truths that make us change our behavior. To assert that there has been no cumulative progress in discovering moral truths is as grossly false as to say there's been no cumulative progress made in science. We've discovered that slavery is wrong, we've discovered that burning heretics in autos-de-fé is wrong, we've discovered that depriving people of rights on the basis of race or religion is wrong, we've discovered that the legal ownership of women is wrong.

"Religious impulses and emotions are varied. There are expansive, life-affirming emotions that can find a natural expression in the context of religion, which is why I can never offer a wholesale condemnation of religion, even though Professor Fidley seems to think I do. But when religion encourages what I can only describe as a moral childishness that blocks the development of true moral thinking, then I do condemn it. When religion tells us that there is nothing more we can say about morality than that we can't see the reasons for it, but do it if you know what's good for you, then I do condemn it. We can do better than that. We can become moral grown-ups. And if there were a God, surely he would approve."

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