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Tough Questions about Objective Morality

Questions

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today continues our eight-part debate on the resolution, "Does objective morality depend on the existence of God?" We'll hear from two sharp young thinkers. Joe Heschmeyer, a Catholic seminarian in Kansas City, Kansas, will argue the affirmative view. Steven Dillon, a gifted philosopher and a former Catholic seminarian, will argue the negative. The eight parts will run as follows:

Monday (11/4) - Joe's opening statement (affirmative)
Tuesday (11/5) - Steven's opening statement (negative)
Wednesday (11/6) - Joe's rebuttal (affirmative)
Thursday (11/7) - Steven's rebuttal (negative)
Friday (11/8) - Questions exchanged (three questions each)
Saturday (11/9) - Answers (Joe and Steven answer each other's questions)
Sunday (11/10) - Joe's closing statement (affirmative)
Monday (11/11) - Steven's closing statement (negative)

Both Joe and Steven have agreed to be present in the comment boxes, so if you have a specific question for them, ask away!
 


 

Today, each of our two participants submit three questions to his counterpart regarding his opening statement and rebuttal. If you're an atheist commenter, consider sharing your answers to Joe's questions in the comment box, and if you're a Catholic commenter consider answering Steven's.

Joe's Questions for Steven

 
Question 1: Why ought we be morally opposed to the suffering of others?

Question 2: In your rebuttal, you suggest that I leave the door open for “ungrounded” objective morality. What do you mean by this? If a moral system has no foundation, how is it objective?

Question 3: You defined normative theories of ethics as “theories which discuss what is good, bad, right and wrong.” Given that, what is your basis for your assertion that “you don't need to hold a normative theory in order to endorse moral objectivism”?

Steven's Questions for Joe

 
Question 1: I was a little surprised at how ambiguous you found the proposition "Agony is intrinsically bad". It seems to me that we all know what agony is and can recognize that experiences such as agony are bad. Furthermore, you linked to a Wikipedia page about intrinsic value in your opening statement, providing several standardized ways to interpret my proposition, but didn't make use of them. Be that as it may, I'm curious about what you think of the proposition on its more usual meaning. So, my first question is:

Q#1: Where it just means that agony is a bad thing because of what it involves, do you agree that agony is intrinsically bad?

Question 2: On your view, the moral fact that there is goodness is not grounded in or by anything because God is goodness and God is not grounded in or by anything.

Yet, in reaction to the position that there are moral facts so fundamental they're in no need of being grounded, you indicate that this is a cop out. To say there are such facts is to say they're there "just because."

This is a self-defeating argument unless you're not taking issue with the position that objective morality is ultimately ungrounded, but with the non-theist's adoption of it.

One may wonder why it’s a cop out for the non-theist to believe in ultimately ungrounded objective morality but not for the theist, and as best as I can tell, your answer is that while theists have good reasons to believe in such morality via arguments that God exists and is goodness, non-theists do not. So, my second question is as follows:

Q#2: Would you present an argument in premise/conclusion format for the conclusion that God is goodness?

I understand properly defending the premises may lead to exceeding the word count we agreed upon, but if we could just see the argument itself it’d give us a better idea of where you’re coming from.

Question 3: Finally, you infer that Moral Intuitionism is not an objective moral code because intuitions differ. But, intuition would just be a means of coming to know objective moral codes. Other proposed means include ‘conscience’, inference to the best explanation and revelation. My third question is as follows:

Q#3: Does your proposed means of coming to know objective moral codes not differ among anyone? (e.g., If it’s conscience or reason, do no one’s consciences or reasoning differ?)

 
 
(Image credit: All Things D)

Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Excellent questions!

    Brandon. Can you tell us whether they've written out their responses to the questions beforehand? If so, we can predict what the responses will be and see how accurate we are, a sort of reverse version of Leah Libresco's Ideological Turing Test.

    • Yes, they have. I waited until the whole series was written (opening statements, rebuttals, questions, answers, closing statement) until posting the first piece.

      Feel free to either answer the questions yourself or predict what their answers will be.

      • R.P.R.

        Oh really? I was imagining each of them dramatically scribbling away as they read these each day. You ruined my fun. For shame.

  • Loreen Lee

    While going through the New Advent postings today, I was surprised to find reference to the concept "Moral Theology". Although I find it difficult enough to understand 'mere' philosophy,without getting involved in Theology, perhaps someone could enlighten me with respect to this concept. Could such a study provide insight regarded the basis for the Divine Law or the foundation of morality that is being discussed in this debate? Thank you.

  • Peter Piper

    Q3 is particular to Steven, so I'll leave it for him.

    Q1: We didn't always ought to be morally opposed to the suffering of others, because although suffering is bad it sometimes is necessary in order to achieve an outweighing good. However, the suffering in itself is bad. I did not gain my knowledge that suffering is bad on the basis of any argument that I am aware of, but rather by means of my conscience.

    Q2: Steven already gave an example of a putative groundless and objective moral claim. It is up to Joe to show that any objective claim must be grounded if he wishes to rely on this assumption.

  • I know I've said this before but I think the difficulty here really comes with the scope of the discussion, joe is looking to defend an abstract concept of ultimate, perfect absolute morality independent of anything except the god he believes in. I think he is essentially defining his god and objective morality are the same and asking us if he is contradicting himself. I think this is an ontological argument that establishes virtually nothing but sounds profound.

    On the other hand Steven seems to be relying on an axiom that Joe does not accept, agony is bad. Axioms simply cannot be defended and if they are not accepted the discussion needs to end. Axioms cannot overturn ontological arguments, but then again ontological arguments don't really tell us much.

    • Randy Gritter

      Steven is begging the question by asking us to accept "agony is bad" as an axiom. As an axiom it needs no foundation. But why should we accept it? Is it an objective moral principle? Steven says so but that say-so is inherently subjective.

      • I agree. But I also think that Joe is also being circular, as he says: God is objective morality, therefore objective morality is grounded in God.

        None of this gets to the questions of whether a God or objective morality actually exists or whether we can have any reliable access to either.

  • I know that it is not the issue of the debate, but perhaps the theist contributors would lay out how they tell right from wrong, good and bad?

    I think theist morality is more subjective and arbitrary than mine. While I can defend mine I would also like the chance to critique others. Especially any claim that it is objective.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Brian,

      I tell right from wrong through the moral teachings of the Church. These teachings are grounded in the natural moral law. In other words, all Catholic moral teachings can be shown to agree with right reason. However, I don't (nobody does) have time to reason each act back to the natural law.

      Ideally I use the virtue of prudence to judge what actions I should take when things are not so clear.

      The human power I use to judge whether my actions have been right or wrong is conscience, that is, my reason judging my actions based on my understanding of the moral law.

      Is that subjective and arbitrary? What is your way of knowing and following morality?

      • Kevin, help me understand your approach a little better first. Do you ever consider whether Church teachings might be right or wrong, or mistaken? How would you describe natural moral law and right reasoning?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Brian, I was an atheist for about ten years so I definitely thought thought Roman Catholic teachings were wrong at one point!

          Natural moral law would be all the principles of action that human beings ought to follow based on a proper reading of human nature. Human nature determines what is good for human beings as human beings.

          Right reason just means seeing things the way they really are.

          For one example, if I was thinking of poisoning my rich wicked stepmother so I could be free of her and be rich so I could enjoy my life, right reason would tell me (1) that action would be murder and (2) murder is prohibited by the natural law and (3) I shouldn't take that action.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          To add to what I said below, this is an excellent and very clear explanation of the natural law:

          http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/11/11150/

          • Steven Dillon

            Yeah, this has got to be the best explanation of natural law I've ever come accross, and it's so short!

            It seems very clear to me that final causes operate throughout nature. That is, things are directed towards ends. But, what I don't quite understand is why our actions become morally good when they (help) acheive our natural end, and morally bad when they (help) prevent us from doing so.

            In that article, Miller admits that on a Godless natural law, "the meaning of should or ought when used in their moral sense—will be rather thin."

            As Ed Feser says, "Philosophers in the classical (as opposed to modern) tradition...tend to think of goodness in terms of conformity to the ideal represented by a thing's nature or essence." Aquinas, p. 34

            So, a good human is one which conforms (to some greater or lesser degree) to the ideal represented by its nature. An action is good if it helps him conform, bad if it prevents conformity. But, why say any of this 'goodness' or 'badness' is moral?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Steven, Are you asking why morality is moral? Why we ought to do what morality tells us?

          • robtish

            Kevin, I think he's asking why these *particular* definitions of good and bad count as moral. In other words, why is it moral for us to conform to our nature? Why would it be immoral for us to struggle against our nature? (Often people struggle think of morality as a struggle *against* some part of their nature.)

          • Steven Dillon

            Yeah, exactly robtish. I just don't see why, for example, struggling against our nature is bad. I mean, given that God designed our nature, it'd be imprudent and disobedient. But, aside from that, it doesn't seem bad or wrong to resist tendencies we just happen to have.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay. It's really important to ask very basic questions like these. The Church would say that we have an essentially good nature but that it is wounded. That wound introduces the possibility for endless disorder.

            So, if you are of normal weight and burning lots of calories, it is stupid to struggle against hunger and to make your food taste as bad as possible. Hunger and delight in eating are in our nature so that we will eat and get the nutrition we need. However, we can easily become gluttons if the pleasure of eating becomes an end in itself.

            Can't you easily see that many have tendencies which are harmful to oneself and hurt others?

          • David Nickol

            The Church would say that we have an essentially good nature but that it is wounded. That wound introduces the possibility for endless disorder.

            Does the Church explain why God "wounded" human nature? And if it is to be blamed on Adam and Eve's sin, exactly how did one act of disobedience "wound" human nature? And why did two people with the "unwounded" human nature commit an act of disobedience against God?

            Do we get to ask, by the way, why God left Adam and Eve unattended in Eden with the serpent, "most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made"? The serpent is quite obviously a serpent (rather than "Satan") in disguise, for it is all serpents whom God punishes for the behavior of this particular serpent.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Too many freakin questions, mon.

            > Pysma is often regarded as a way of overwhelming an opponent through a rapid series of questions: "to deliver question after question--to let fly (as it were) a volley of questions, without waiting for the answers" (Jeremy Bentham).

          • David Nickol

            without waiting for the answers

            But you have hours, days, or weeks to respond, if you so choose.

            In any case, sometimes a barrage of question is not so much a request for answers as a demonstration of just how many questions need to be answered to justify a stated point of view.

            But if you want just one question, when Adam and Eve sinned, why did God choose to make them more prone to sin in the future than less? Why did he choose to weaken, rather than strengthen, their intellects and wills? It is one thing to punish disobedience by making their physical existence more unpleasant and demanding. But why mess up their minds?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know the answer to your question. The question has never before occurred to me. So, I'll speculate. I'm sure others have thought about it and have a better answer.

            The Catholic doctrine of original sin, in part, is that God withdrew preternatural gifts Adam and Eve enjoyed, but he has not withheld any gift "due" to human nature.

            One of these withdrawn was the gift of integrity, meaning reason directed the passions and the will followed.

            Jacques Maritain in "St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil" explains Thomas' analysis of the moral act. I'll try to restate it in my own words and hope I don't mangle it.

            When we have an impulse to do anything we should apply the standard of right reason to it to determine whether we should do it. This standard has to be learned by instruction, insight, experience, and so on. It is not intrinsic to us.

            Thomas uses a very apt illustration. He says if the rule of straightness was in the hand of the carpenter, he would always cut straight. But it is not, so he needs a ruler, literally.

            We have to choose to apply the rule of right conduct to our impulse to act. We can *not* apply that rule inadvertently or by choice. If Adam did not have the habit of choosing to apply the rule of right reason to his actions, and in fact had just made a major choice against it in disobeying God, and made more choices against it by trying to hide from God and blaming Eve, he was already well on the path of developing the vice of not acting according to reason but according to his passions.

            Since children don't have reason when they are born, but do have passions and a will, and begin to develop habits as they make choices, it is understandable how those choices are inclined to sin. That is concupiscence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think it is moral to conform to our nature because that is what is really good for us. If you asked a horse, why are you always galloping around in a herd and eating grass the horse would say, that's what I was made to do.

          • robtish

            If only the Catholic Church adopted that position towards homosexuality, there are a lot of gay teens (who simply are gay, whether it's genetic, set by hormones in the womb, or set by the environment within the first three years of life) who could be spared anguish and suicide attempts.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you asking the Catholic Church to say that homosexuality is part of human nature, like eating grass is part of the nature of a horse?

          • josh

            It would be part of some humans' natures. Like being piebald is part of some horses' natures.

          • MichaelNewsham

            Question: What is the Catholic Church's reasoning on homosexual behavior in animals? Can animals act "unnaturally",or are only humans able to do so?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is in the nature of a horse to eat plants for nutrition. Horses find pleasure in eating the right plants so they will get the nutrition their bodies need.

            Apply this analogy to human sexuality.

          • josh

            It is in the nature of humans (and horses) to have sex. Humans find pleasure in sex because they have evolved to do so as a means of furthering the species. Therefore, finding pleasure in sex is part of human nature. Some humans find pleasure in sex with people of the same gender. (To say nothing of love and non-sexual aspects of gay relationships.) Not all sex leads to reproduction, just as not all meals contribute to critical nutrition. This does not make eating meals or having sex any less a part of human nature. Any questions?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is in the nature of human beings (and horses) to have sexual relations for procreation.

            Humans (and horses) have both sexual desire and find sex pleasurable so they will procreate.

            Procreation requires a complete human (or horse) reproductive system which uniquely comes about from the union of a male and a female.

          • Geena Safire

            It's so interesting. When the Catholic Church wants us to do things the same way non-human animals do (like, they claim, having sex only for procreation), they say it is part of 'natural law.'

            But when it wants us to do things differently than non-human animals do, they talk about humans being different from the animals because humans were created in the image of the creator.

            It is in the nature of human beings (and horses) to have sexual relations for procreation.

            It is in the nature of human beings and many of our non-human animal cousins to engage in non-procreative sexual stimulation/behavior of many kinds for sexual pleasure and other bonding functions.

            While it used to be believed that only humans and a handful of other species performed sexual acts other than for reproduction, and that animals' sexuality was instinctive and a simple response to the "right" stimulation (sight, scent), current understanding [of animal sexual behavior] is that many species that were formerly believed to be monogamous are promiscuous or opportunistic in nature; a range of species appear both to masturbate and to use objects as tools to help them do so; in many species, animals try to give and get sexual stimulation with others where reproduction is not the focus, and homosexual behaviour has been observed among 1,500 species, with 500 of those being well-documented

            What do you think 'natural law' will do with that?

            I hope it won't take the Catholic Church 392 years, like it took with Galileo, to apologize to LGBTIQ folks for being factually wrong about the full nature of human (and non-human animal) sexuality.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You don't seem be able to separate natural law ethics from Catholic moral theology.

            I can only talk to you on the basis of the former. Natural law ethics determines what is good or bad for human beings as human beings. It is not "whatever people do" is natural, and so good. It wasn't invented by the Catholic Church but by Greeks and Romans.

            Geena, you appear to me to be a highly moralistic person, expressing outrage at the injustice you think you see in Catholicism. On what basis do you construct your morality?

          • Geena Safire

            You don't seem [to] be able to separate natural law ethics from Catholic moral theology.

            Nice try. It's a distinction without a difference* for the purposes of our discussion. This isn't a final exam in a philosophy course; it's a discussion. Philosophy is not able to extricate natural law ethics from Catholic moral theology. It's no fair for the Catholic to be whining from the back seat, "But the Greeks started it!" The Catholic Church has been whaling on it pretty much non-stop since long before Aquinas.**

            "Natural law" IMHO is as much a misnomer as "intelligent design." I'm perfectly content to both oppose "natural law" per se from the outside as the antithesis of "natural" and to criticize it from the inside as self-contradictory (circular) and fractally wrong about "human nature" and and wrong about priority of its "goods," inter alia. "It's simply bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness."

            ...you appear to me to be...

            You are welcome to your opinion.

            You appear to me to be someone who, when faced with a challenging argument, regularly tries to change the subject by resorting to pedantics and by questioning your counterpart's personal views rather than actually engaging the question.

            On what basis do you construct your morality?

            Probably not "natural law."

            ________________________

            * From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on "The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics":

            But there is a better way of proceeding, one that takes as its starting point the central role that the moral theorizing of Thomas Aquinas plays in the natural law tradition. If any moral theory is a theory of natural law, it is Aquinas's. (Every introductory ethics anthology that includes material on natural law theory includes material by or about Aquinas; every encyclopedia article on natural law thought refers to Aquinas.) It would seem sensible, then, to take Aquinas's natural law theory as the central case of a natural law position: of theories that exhibit all of the key features of Aquinas's natural law view we can say that they are clearly natural law theories; of theories that exhibit few of them we can say that they are clearly not natural law theories; and of theories that exhibit many but not all of them we can say that they are in the neighborhood of the natural law view but nonetheless must be viewed as at most deviant cases of that position.

            ** "The Roman Catholic Church holds the view of natural law set forth by Thomas Aquinas, particularly in his Summa Theologica, and often as filtered through the School of Salamanca."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Geena, I didn't mean "it seems to me" or "it appears to me" to be putdowns. I apologize if it sounded like I was attacking your personal views, whatever they are.

            I hadn't though of your point before about how "identified" natural law and Catholic moral thinking are, so I think your point is valid. Still, even through Aquinas is Catholic, indeed maybe "the" Catholic thinker, his work on the natural law is nevertheless philosophy, not theology.

            If you think natural law ethics is a crock, so be it. I'm not trying to win an argument but just to communicate.

          • Geena Safire

            No worries, Kevin. I didn't consider it a putdown. I did consider it a bit intrusive, but not inappropriately so. But mainly I considered your comment a dodge on your part to avoid -- yet again -- acknowledging the circularity of the 'logic' of natural law and its known errors regarding human nature that robtish, josh, and I keep bringing up.

            even through Aquinas is Catholic, indeed maybe "the" Catholic thinker, his work on the natural law is nevertheless philosophy, not theology.

            Kevin, Kevin, again with the pedantics and with avoiding my actual questions by "answering" questions I didn't ask and countering "arguments" I didn't make. First, it doesn't make one whit of difference to our discussion whether natural law is theology or religious philosophy, especially since you've just had to acknowledge "how 'identified' natural law and Catholic moral thinking are." Second, either way, it requires a deity.* Third, I didn't call natural law 'theology' and, in fact, called it 'philosophy' twice. So why the heck are you bringing this up out of nowhere?

            Can we get back to sex now?

             

            ___________________________

            * Again from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

            On the side of metaphysics, [the natural law tradition] is clear that the natural law view is incompatible with atheism: one cannot have a theory of divine providence without a divine being. It is also clear that the paradigmatic natural law view rules out a deism on which there is a divine being but that divine being has no interest in human matters. Nor can one be an agnostic while affirming the paradigmatic natural law view: for agnosticism is the refusal to commit either to God's existence or nonexistence, whereas the paradigmatic natural law view involves a commitment to God's existence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I will read the article in the SEP you linked to and then respond.

            There is something ugly in this discussion, though. Your comments regularly contain abuse, so that if I am going to have a dialogue with you I have to settle for being abused. On the other hand, I refuse to respond because of the abuse, you can simply claim I gave up.

          • Geena Safire

            I will try to be less glib in the future. Maybe you aren't intentionally avoiding the topic when the going gets tough.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So I read the Murphy article in the SEP and I'm glad you cited it.

            He does a much better job in articulating natural law ethics then I ever could. Particular, he describes Aquinas' position as the paradigm of all natural law theorizing as follows:

            To summarize: the paradigmatic natural law view holds that (1) the natural law is given by God; (2) it is naturally authoritative over all human beings; and (3) it is naturally knowable by all human beings. Further, it holds that (4) the good is prior to the right, that (5) right action is action that responds nondefectively to the good, that (6) there are a variety of ways in which action can be defective with respect to the good, and that (7) some of these ways can be captured and formulated as general rules.

            I think it is a mistake to dismiss natural law simply because one does not believe in God. (2) - (7) can be discussed on their own merits. (1) accounts for the ultimate source of morality and why we should care about morality.

          • Geena Safire

            I'm glad you found the article helpful. And I can see why you are fond of natural law.

            However, as the article notes, it is incompatible with atheism, even without #1 because it still posits a supernatural "the good" floating around apart from us. Also, without #1, #2 is a little silly -- where does the 'authority' come from?

            For me, "the good" is in my relationship to others -- family, friends, community, country, world -- and in my recognition that we are physical creatures living in a physical world and our actions have consequences. If I want to live in a harmonious society, I have to participate in making it so.

            Further, even were I persuaded by an atheistic 'natural law' concept, I still would be opposed to any secret cabal Vatican or otherwise, deciding what is part of my true, ideal nature and what is the fallen part.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I didn't get from the article that NL is incompatible with atheism, just that some are of the opinion that it is.

            What is the "supernatural good" that you think is floating around? The idea of natural law is that the good is human beings acting according to what fulfills them.

            I don't think 2-7 are ruled out if you think there is no God. I think it is similar to things atheists ask theists: "If God does not exist what would you expect the universe to look like?" An answer I've heard atheists say theists give is, "I can't imagine a universe without God." I think a better answer is, "exactly like it looks now." The universe obviously exists, God or not. In the same way I think human morality exists even if God does not exist. If I do an injustice to you, you feel outraged, regardless of whether a person behind all reality exists.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In addition, Geena, why do you go from talking about living in a harmonious society to referring to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as a "secret cabal"? It is not secret. It is not a cabal. But your words *are* insulting.

          • Rick DeLano

            You can always send Geena my way, Kevin. I am quite acclimated.

          • robtish

            It is in the nature of human beings to have sexual relations for lots of other wonderful reasons, too. I imagine very few people (including the traditional and devout) wished they lived in a world where a woman got pregnant every single time she had sex.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            We don't live in that kind of world. A woman has natural periods of fertility and infertility.

          • robtish

            Obviously we don't live in that kind of world. That's exactly the point, along with the fact that virtually none of us would want to. That makes it pretty clear that, according to our nature, sex has important purposes entirely apart from procreation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you, Rob.

            However, I would argue that the most obvious and fundamental purpose of sex is procreation, not the satisfaction of an urge, pleasure, or bonding. I think the evidence of human physiology can lead us to that conclusion.

            An important ethical question is should the various purposes of sex ever be deliberately separated from their procreative purpose?

            Your answer is yes. I think I can understand why.

            Can you understand that others can say no and it is not out of fear, stupidity, or hatred?

          • robtish

            Honestly, Kevin, I can't see any good reason why people say no. And I've tried. If you have some references you like, I'd be happy to look at them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You've already rejected the arguments in "What is Marriage?"

            You might read "Humanae Vitae" as a curiosity on how Paul VI applied the natural law to contraception. It totally relates to every other kind of separation of the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage.

            It might be that while all reasonable persons can see *some* of the natural law (e.g., don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself), if a person does not view human nature as fundamentally good, given by God, and something we ought to live by, then it might not be possible to see some things as "disordered" or "unnatural."

            This might go back to the larger debate going on in this series about the place of belief in God in regard to objective morality.

          • robtish

            BTW, Kevin, when I say that I cannot find any good reason for holding this position, that does not mean I assume all people necessarily hold it out of fear, stupidity, or hatred.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for that! I've looked at our blog and respect you.

          • robtish

            Thanks, Kevin!

          • josh

            "Procreation requires a complete human (or horse) reproductive system
            which uniquely comes about from the union of a male and a female."

            Thanks to cloning we know that isn't true, nor is it true of asexual and hermaphrodite animals, although it's certainly the traditional way for mammals. But more importantly, so what? Should a woman who has a hysterectomy for medical reasons abstain from sex?

            Again, we understand the evolutionary pressures that lead to a variety of behavior, including heterosexuality. Homosexuality is less clear, probably not something evolutionarily selected for, but a result of the complicated developmental processes that go into our psychology. What you don't have is a good argument that one is more human nature than the other. (Or an argument that 'nature' should determine moral outcomes, but I'm putting that aside for now.) Hetero is the norm, homosexuality is a none-too-rare exception to it. Are albinos failing to be good humans? When I enjoy spicy food, am I sinning against my nature since we didn't evolve for it?

          • Geena Safire

            Should a woman who has a hysterectomy for medical reasons abstain from sex?

            [Waving hand in the air] Ooh, ooh! I know that one!

            A married man-woman couple in which one or both are known to be infertile (e.g., no sperm or no uterus) are still allowed to have P-in-V sex because it retains the symbolic nature of the act of union. It's like homeopathy.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are not engaging in natural law reasoning above.

          • josh

            I'm trying to show you the flaws in your version of 'natural law' reasoning. You seem to be out of arguments and down to sticking your fingers in your ears.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            One example of your erroneous ideas about natural law when it comes to sexuality: I don't know of any natural law philosopher who says "the primary purpose of human sexuality is procreation; therefore, it is immoral to have sex if procreation cannot happen."

            Another error you are making is to argue that just because something can be done it may be done. Another is that just because something obtains for one kind of organism it has some moral bearing on human beings. Another is that albinism has some moral dimension.

          • Andre Boillot

            How would one condemn homosexuality on natural law alone?

          • robtish

            Absolutely.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Can you build a case, then?

          • robtish

            The universal occurrence of homosexuality throughout history and geography, the failure of "conversion" programs, the fact that homosexuality is not strongly correlated with general psychological dysfunction, the emotional and moral richness of many same-sex relationships, personal introspection, etc.

          • Rick DeLano

            The universal occurrence of murder throughout history and geography, the failure of "conversion" programs, the fact that murder is not strongly correlated with general psychological dysfunction, the emotional and moral richness of many murderers' relationships, personal introspection, etc.

          • robtish

            What's your point? That killing seems to be part of human nature? I'd have to agree. That not all facets of human nature comport with morality? I'd have to agree. Because I wasn't making the argument that homosexuality can be moral (though I do believe so). Rather, I was addressing Kevin's point of whether it's part of human nature.

          • Rick DeLano

            You doubt my (subjective) experience on a question of objective morality. Just so. Sent from my BlackBerry® by Boost Mobile

          • robtish

            Actually Rick, I said something different. I wasn't talking about objective morality in that post. Rather I said I doubt your *sincerity* because I do not believe you when you say you have personal introspective experience on whether murder is an aspect of human *nature.*

          • robtish

            Also, Rick, I have to doubt your sincerity. Obviously, for one thing, you must know that the relationship between murderer and victim (the relationship relevant to the issue) is pretty much by definition dysfunctional, Also, partly because I doubt you've verified that murder is not strongly correlated with general psychological dysfunction. But mostly because I doubt you have first hand experience introspecting yourself as a murderer.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I thought you were appealing to a natural law argument to claim that the Catholic Church should accept homosexual behavior?

          • robtish

            Kevin, I was arguing that if the Catholic Church believes that morality consists of acting in accordance with one's nature, then it should accept same-sex relations as moral when done by people who are same-sex attracted.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Then you must admit as moral every action to which every human being is attracted. Since human beings only act to gain things to which they are attracted, every human act must be moral.

            Is that what you think?

          • robtish

            No, of course not, Kevin. Remember, this whole sub-conversation between us began because I doubted your equation of morality with acting in accord with one's nature. I wrote:

            "[W]hy is it moral for us to conform to our nature? Why would it be immoral for us to struggle against our nature? (Often people struggle think of morality as a struggle *against* some part of their nature.)"

            The problem of "Since human beings only act to gain things to which they are attracted, every human act must be moral," would seem to come into with your equation of morality with conforming to ones nature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I didn't and still don't understand what you meant by this:

            "[W]hy is it moral for us to conform to our nature? Why would it be immoral for us to struggle against our nature? (Often people . . . think of morality as a struggle *against* some part of their nature.)"

          • robtish

            The struggle against temptation can be thought of as a struggle against portions of one's nature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Some parts of our nature are sound and others are wounded. If one part of our nature will actually harm us and others, it makes sense to struggle against that part.

            But we need some way of knowing which desires we should say yes to and which to struggle against.

            The Church and natural law proponents would say the criteria is a true reading of human nature--in more precise terms and "adequate anthropology."

          • robtish

            "If one part of our nature will actually harm us and others, it makes sense to struggle against that part."

            Sure. And the corollary would be: If one part of our nature will actually benefits us and others, it makes no sense to struggle against that part. Which brings me back to the Church's faulty position on homosexuality

          • Kevin Aldrich

            When it comes to human sexuality, in order to know what to seek and what to struggle against, one needs to know what the nature of human sexuality is. What its purpose is.

            For example, the purpose of a horse's digestive system is to provide nutrition so the horse can thrive. The horse by nature has an urge to eat and enjoys eating so that it will eat so that its digestive system can fulfill its purpose.

            How does a line of thinking like that translate into human sexuality?

          • robtish

            It's not quite right to talk about the purpose of something, though that's common language. It's clearer if we realize that people have purposes for things. So there can be as many purposes for sex as there are people, hypothetically. I've written about this on my own blog:

            "The moment I hear “The purpose of…” I know somebody’s trying to get something past me. If purpose doesn’t reside in a thing, but in the intent of the person, then a thing can “have” as many purposes as there are people. What’s the purpose of sex? Procreation, intimacy, recreation, revenge, validation, profit. And many, many others.

            People who invoke “the purpose” are usually referring to:

            the most common purpose
            the most productive or useful purpose
            the purpose intended by the owner of the thing
            the purpose intended by the designer of the thing

            But even on those terms, procreation is hardly the purpose of sex. I doubt it’s the most common purpose. Sex produces pleasure or intimacy much more often that it produces children. And no one “owns” sex, so forget that.

            It’s that last item, the purpose intended by the designer of the thing, where people part ways. Many devoutly religious folk do think sex had a designer (God) with an intention (procreation). But given the many, many ways that sex can enrich our relationships and lives, it would ludicrous to think this would be his/her only purpose for sex."

            More here: http://wakingupnow.com/blog/on-purpose

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, is it fair to say that you think sex is for whatever people want it to be for?

          • robtish

            No. Sex is for whatever purpose people want it to be for. Some of the those purposes may be immoral, though -- for instance, using sex to gratify your desires at the expense of your partner's general well-being.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This exchange began with your claim that according to natural law reasoning, the Catholic Church should accept homosexual sex.

            I think you have, in fact, rejected natural law reasoning.

            According to your criteria, sex is for whatever people want it to be for. Arguing from your perspective, the Church "wants sex to be for" unity and openness to procreation, unseparated, for married heterosexual couples.* You therefore have no basis for criticizing the Church's position except that you don't like it.

            *The Church's actual position is that sex "is actually for" what she says, according to human nature.

          • robtish

            "Arguing from your perspective, the Church "wants sex to be for" unity and openness to procreation, unseparated, for married heterosexual couples.*"

            But I have not contradicted natural law reasoning unless Church establishes that this is the ONLY purpose for sex that is appropriate to human nature. I have never read a coherent account of that. I've seen convoluted, tortured reasoning from the like of Robert George, but never anything that held up to even mild scrutiny.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean Girgis, George & Anderson in "What is Marriage?"

          • robtish

            I did find GGA's "What is Marriage?" profoundly flawed -- embarrassingly sloppy, actually -- and it led me into George's larger work on natural law, which I also found unconvincing.

          • DannyGetchell

            Given two adjacent fields - one of bluegrass and one of rye - ninety-seven horses may prefer to graze in the former and three in the latter.

            Are the three horses acting in contradiction to their "nature"?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. The horses would be acting contrary to their nature if they ate something their digestive tracts couldn't digest and/or made them sick.

            Luckily for them, horses never do act contrary to their nature, but people do all the time.

          • Andre Boillot

            My dog tries to eat chocolate all the time, so apparently it's people & dogs.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. Dogs have spent way too much time with people.

          • Andre Boillot

            As others have pointed out, horses will accidentally poison themselves as many species will. In general, hopefully it's clear that dogs aren't the only counter example to your claim that animals never act contrary to their nature or in ways that will harm themselves. Other examples of "counter-natural" would include cases of one species of animal rescuing the young of a different species, and raising them as their own - with the adopted animal taking on characteristics of their "parents".

          • robtish

            But horses, apparently, have not?

          • Geena Safire

            The horses would be acting contrary to their nature if they ate something their digestive tracts couldn't digest and/or made them sick. Luckily for them, horses never do act contrary to their nature, but people do all the time.

            That's ridiculous! What sort of Disney nature are you imagining?

            In nature, when horses have access to lots of berries or apples, they gorge on them which can give them stomach problems and kill them. They can also act startled at a mouse, which cannot harm them, and in acting startled, can break a bone which, in nature, will lead to their death.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are correct.

            Horses can do things that harm them but they always act according to their nature. For example, if they can actually *die* from eating too many apples, that would be because by nature apples taste good to them. They would bolt and hurt themselves by being startled by a mouse because they are prey animals who have a flight instinct. They can even develop psychological problems if they are isolated because they are social animals.

          • Geena Safire

            First Kevin says: "The horses would be acting contrary to their nature if they ate something their digestive tracts couldn't digest and/or made them sick".

            (Proof for my contention, btw: "Apples can give [horses] a bad tummy ache and flatulence (gas). This is called Colic and is often fatal. 1 - 2 apples per day is usually okay.)

            Then when he discovers that his contention is not actually true, Kevin says: "Horses can do things that harm them but they always act according to their nature. For example, if they can actually *die* from eating too many apples, that would be because by nature apples taste good to them.

            Kevin, this is the quintessence of "making stuff up for Jesus." I'm keeping it for posterity.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Geena,

            It is hurtful for you to say insulting things like I "make up stuff for Jesus." I absolutely abhor liars and lying for God would be a quintessential evil.

            Are you saying that animals don't have natures which determine how they live their lives?

          • Andre Boillot

            Kevin,

            A) "The horses would be acting contrary to their nature if they ate something their digestive tracts couldn't digest and/or made them sick."

            B) "Horses can do things that harm them but they always act according to their nature."

            I'm afraid you can't have both. You must choose one.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have tried to correct this above.

          • Andre Boillot

            I guess it wasn't clear to me that you'd corrected yourself.

            We're still left with a refutation of your linking what's "natural" to what's "good" for the horse.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll try again and hope not to blow it.

            Watching countless Dog Whisperer episodes has convinced me that dogs have a particular nature. If the claim that "dogs have a nature" needs to be justified, I'll be glad to, but it seems pretty obvious.

            Due to their dog nature, some things are good for them, like exercise, being part of a pack, and eating a high protein diet. Other things are bad for them, due to their nature, like never getting exercise, being alone all the time or in a confused state about its place, and eating too much chocolate.

            That very briefly is the connection between nature and good when it comes to dogs.

            N.B., in natural law reasoning, natural always refers to the nature of the animal (including the human animal).

          • Andre Boillot

            Kevin,

            In my experience, the "nature" of a dog is to try to eat whatever they can fit into their mouths - which thus far has included everything except citrus fruits. That dogs, by "nature", eat their own shit almost by itself blows up any point I could imagine you making with statements like:

            "Luckily for them, horses never do act contrary to their nature, but people do all the time."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I already withdrew that statement, so there is no reason to blow it up.

            "Nature" does not mean "natural" as in whatever the animal does. Otherwise, whatever the animal did would be good for it. I take it you know that a dog eating its shit is bad for it (that wasn't covered on the Dog Whisperer). On the other hand, a bird barfing in it's nestling's mouth is good for the the baby bird.

          • Andre Boillot

            Apologies, wasn't clear what you had retracted.

          • Geena Safire

            What term would you prefer me to use for your instant back-pedaling and complete rewording in order for your result to be exactly the same as before because the church says it has to be?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You might call it a love for the truth and the desire to correct myself when I am wrong.

          • Geena Safire

            You might call it a love for the truth and the desire to correct myself when I am wrong.

            Usually when I am proven wrong, I say something like, "Oops' or 'That was embarrassing' or 'I guess I wrote without thinking it through' or 'You're right, of course, that was silly of me' or any one a hundred such phrases acknowledging the error.

            Your statement, in stark contrast, came across as, 'Well, fine, you can come up with any real facts you want, but my church's conclusion still holds because it is the absolute truth.'

            That is, you seem to see 'facts' being in one category and the 'truth' being in some other category, and the 'truth' is already known and the 'facts' will just have to be reworded and reinterpreted as needed to fit into that 'truth.'

            In my life, since I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible, I consider the evidence, the facts, and I follow them to their logical conclusion. Given more and more relevant 'facts', then my tentative conclusion is likely to be closer to 'truth.'

            Do you understand any better?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            My reply began "You are correct." That is kind of like "oops."

            I get the impression you are assuming I (Catholics in general, as well?) start with a conclusion (whatever the Catholic Church teaches) and then come up with any facts I can think of to support that.

            If that is what you think it is a rash judgment and false.

            In the case of natural law reasoning, the whole thing is based on reason, so it is open to anyone. I just have not been doing a good job representing it.

            I can start from scratch if you wish.

          • Danny Getchell

            My analogy may have lacked clarity, sorry.

            I meant to imply that perhaps humanity's "nature" is to desire emotional and physical bond with other humans, and in ninety-seven of a hundred cases that nature is directed toward the opposite gender.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you that this is the case with romantic and sexual bonding. But in addition, isn't it also in our nature to desire emotional and even physical bonding with all kinds of persons--our parents, our children, and our friends, for examples?

          • robtish

            Kevin, I'm afraid you've constructed a circular argument here. You say that morality means acting in accordance with our nature, and when offered resistance, you qualify that by saying we should be in accord with our "ideal" unwounded nature.

            But that doesn't work as a starting point for moral reasoning because "ideal" is itself a moral value judgment. In other words, your method of investigating objective morality requires us to already know objective morality.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The "natural" in natural law means human nature, not anything and everything people do.

            I know you don't think that everything people do is moral.

            Some things you approve and others you condemn (like everyone else).

            Why do people do what you think is immoral? Some reasons I can think of are ignorance (they don't know what the moral law is), weakness (they know what they should do but can't manage it), and disorder (they desire something they should not).

            Right reason, that is reason seeing reality, looking at the reality of human nature, is the objective basis of morality.

          • robtish

            I'd like you to address my circularity comment.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Would you accept the following principle of morality: "Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself?"

            A person can act according to that principle or not. In your opinion, which points to the "whole" part of our nature and which points to the "wounded" part?

            Is that still circular?

          • robtish

            Yes, Kevin, that's a perfect illustration of circularity. You want us to base objective morality on our ideal, unwounded nature. But in order to identify that nature, we need to begin by accepting the moral principle, "Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself."

            So there you go: Your method of beginning an investigation of objective morality requires us to already know at least one moral principle.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Not at all. That moral principle (the silver rule) can be shown by reason.

            I assumed you would agree with that principle. Do you disagree with it?

          • robtish

            I certainly do agree with that principle, but that's not at all what we're talking about. We're talking about whether your approach to morality is circular. And it is:

            1. You want us to derive moral principles by referencing our ideal, unwounded nature.
            2. You want us to base our investigation of our ideal, unwounded nature on a moral principle.
            3. You want us to derive moral principles by referencing our ideal, unwounded nature.

            4. And so on...in an endless circle with no starting point.

            That's why I call your reasoning circular. With no starting point, your method gives us no objective guide.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Not at all.

            We use reason to investigate what kind of beings we are and what helps of flourish and what does not.

          • robtish

            Kevin, that would be fine if you wanted to base your morality on our nature as we actually find it. But you do not. Rather, you want to base it on our "ideal" nature, but "ideal" implies a moral judgment, thereby requiring to have already made a moral judgment in order to begin your determination of what is moral. That's the circularity I point out in the 4 steps above.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. We are not just animals; we are rational animals. Reason can go a long way in discovering what is really good and bad for us.

          • robtish

            Reason is certainly helpful in exploring our actual nature. But you've created this distinction between our actual (wounded) nature and our ideal (unwounded) nature.

            When I asked you how to determine what this ideal nature is, you presented a moral principle as your starting point. Which means: We must already understand morality in order to identify our ideal nature. Which means: Our ideal nature cannot be the basis of our or moral judgments. Because that would be circular.

            You're not going to get out of this circle until you stop referencing our ideal nature and focus on our actual nature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think I have used the term *ideal* nature. If I have, let's forget it for now. It's making you think I'm engaging in circular thinking.

            So, I agree: Let's just focus on our actual nature.

            Obviously, everything we do, we do as human beings, since that is the kind of beings we are. Yet some things help us flourish as human beings and others do the opposite. So we can't say that the natural law or the moral law should be based on whatever people do.

            Reason can look at our experience to begin determining what human beings are and what is good for us and bad for us. Aristotle did this in his Ethics long ago.

          • robtish

            Okay. That was my big obstacle to what you were saying. So now I'm back to wishing the Catholic Church would adopt this reasoning and endorse committed relationships for same-sex couples.

          • robtish

            Sorry, Kevin, I think you're right about the use of "ideal." Someone else added that term, not you. Sorry for taking us on that detour.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I may have led you down that path, though, since Catholics talk about original holiness and justice (which would be an "ideal" state for human beings) as well as the original sin that followed.

          • Geena Safire

            Our ability to fight might be said to have, as its natural purpose, self-defense. Are boxing, martial arts, and other such sports morally wrong because they are engaged in for the pleasure they give the participants and the observers rather than for self-defense?

            Our natural drive for procuring and wearing clothes is for the purpose of self-defense against the elements. Is it immoral if people wear certain clothes just because they feel good or seem pleasurable to look at?

            Animals were given to us only to be livestock -- to work for us and/or to be food. Is it immoral if people keep animals as pets, just for the pleasure of their company?

            Some parts of our nature are sound and others are wounded. If one part of our nature will actually harm us and others, it makes sense to struggle against that part. But we need some way of knowing which desires we should say yes to and which to struggle against.

            So one identifies the 'wounded' parts of our nature as the ones that will actually harm us and others, and the 'sound' parts are the ones that will not harm us and others. But even if there is no apparent harm, something can still be considered a 'wounded' part because it is against its natural purpose. And what are the natural purposes of things? Things that are such that they are used for their original intention. And what are the original intentions of things? The original intention was for things that do not cause us harm and are for our benefit.

            That sounds circular to me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. Your teleology is way defective!

            Just to take one example, why would you assume people wear clothing only as self-defense against the elements? Two more reasons people wear clothing are (1) out of modesty to protect their intimacy and (2) to elevate themselves (to make themselves look more beautiful or powerful, etc.). These correspond to needs of human nature, I'd say, arising from human dignity.

            Here is an example of all that from "primitive tribes":

            http://www.boredpanda.org/vanishing-tribes-before-they-pass-away-jimmy-nelson/

          • robtish

            Kevin, I think you've just made Geena's point for her. Your explanation that clothing can serve many different purposes is a perfect illustration of the shortcomings of the Church in its limited view of sex. And also of the dangers that arise when we locate the purpose of something in that *thing* rather than in the *person* using the thing.

          • Geena Safire

            [W]hy would you assume people wear clothing only as self-defense against the elements?

            Kevin, I think you've just made Geena's point for her.

            This! Kevin, the natural purpose of clothing is for protection. (Modesty had nothing to do with it in the early days of clothing.) Therefore, it must be morally wrong to engage in fashion with clothing for pleasure alone or, especially, for a woman to wear men's clothing.

            Plus, as your example, you show Mongolians in snow-covered mountains?! Of course they'd wear lots of clothes.

            Here's an example from people who live in warmer climes: the koteka worn by several tribes in New Guinea, plus a belt.

          • Susan

            I have yet to see a "natural law" argument on this site that isn't circular.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You wrote: "The problem of 'Since human beings only act to gain things to which they are attracted, every human act must be moral,' would seem to come into with your equation of morality with conforming to ones nature."

            I think you are confusing human nature with everything people do.

          • Geena Safire

            Plus the known occurrence of homosexuality in at least 2,500 species -- so far. (Giraffes are actually more homosexual than heterosexual, based on behavior.)

          • robtish

            And, of course, I would suggest that in the spirit of "innocent until proven guilty," the burden of proof is on the Church, not on me.

          • English Catholic

            Steven, at the risk of sounding pedantic, and of telling you something you already know, I would suggest that, as well as operating throughout nature, final causes exist as 'properties' of the objects that make up nature. An object's final cause is part of its very existence; as intrinsic a feature of its existence as its atomic make-up ('material cause'). It 'has' those final causes precisely because it is that object.

            Again, you already knew that, but I only emphasise that fact because the traditional moral arguments don't make sense without it.

            "So, a good human is one which conforms (to some greater or lesser
            degree) to the ideal represented by its nature. An action is good if it
            helps him conform, bad if it prevents conformity. But, why say any of
            this 'goodness' or 'badness' is moral?"

            Now, the question arises: what do we mean by 'moral'? Most moderns think of it as conforming to a set a set of propositions about what we should do; propositions which are distinct from objective facts of existence. This gives rise to the idea of the 'fact-value' dichotomy, which is a working assumption of every modern systems of ethics that I've ever encountered.

            Natural law philosophy recognises no such dichotomy. An object's goodness is a question of fact. So as you rightly say, an object is good to the extent it conforms to its ideal. It follows that a human is good to the extent he conforms to his ideal, and an action is good to the extent it tends the do-er towards that ideal. Natural law argues that a 'morally good' action is necessarily an 'objectively good' action. This is an extremely important point.

            The difference that makes a particular good moral, rather than devoid of moral content (in the case of a 'good table' or whatever), is that of choice. A human possesses two things that
            a dumb object does not: intellect and will. Herein lies the difference.

            The will, which is the 'do-er' of any deliberate act, always seeks, as
            its object, that which the intellect presents to it as good. This is
            just another way of saying we do what we want because it seems good to
            us at the time.

            When we do something which seems good but is in fact bad (bad meaning
            'contrary to our final causes'), it is a case of our intellect's being defective and failing to perceive our objective good. For example, an alcoholic might pass by a bar and think that a drink will do him no harm; to the extent that he thinks this, his intellect is defective. On the other hand, he might perceive that it will hurt him, and be contrary to his final causes of health, sobriety, reason and the like; in this case and inasmuch as he thinks this, his intellect is good. You can think of any number of other examples.

            To act immorally is therefore to act unintelligently and irrationally; it is a question of failing to perceive the objective good. It is not to act contrary to any 'value' (the fact-value distinction being alien to natural law philosophy); it is simply to act irrationally.

            Seen in this way, 'why should I act morally?' becomes as strange a question as 'why should I believe 2+2=4?'. To the extent your intellect is functioning correctly, you will act morally!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think this is helpful except at the end.

            > To the extent your intellect is functioning correctly, you will act morally!

            Haven't you left out the will and habits? The alcoholic can pass a bar, and know going in can do him no real good, and go in there anyway.

          • English Catholic

            Thanks: now edited.

          • Steven Dillon

            Let's distinguish between two senses of goodness: normative & non-normative. To say that something is normatively good is to say something about what should or should not be. To say that something is non-normatively good is not to say anything about what should or should not be.

            The notion of goodness as conformity to an ideal is non-normative. To say that a serial killer is good at murder is not to say anything about whether s/he should conform to the ideal serial killer, it's just to say that s/he happens to closely resemble that ideal. Clearly, s/he shouldn't!

            Likewise, to say that an action will help realize the end towards which human nature tends is not to say anything about whether you should perform that action. It's just to say that this action will help one conform to an ideal. Whether or not we should conform to this ideal is a separate question.

            While it is irrational to deliberately act contrary to what is objectively, normatively good, I don't see why we should think conforming to our ideal is normatively good? Assuming that our intellects present our natural end to our wills as normatively good, why think our intellects are right?

          • English Catholic

            Thanks for your reply.

            "Let's distinguish between two senses of goodness: normative & non-normative."

            This is the point, though: natural law philosophy makes no such distinction. A table is good if it's flat and doesn't wobble, because in this way it better 'achieves' its final cause. A tree is good if it grows upwards rather than downwards, sprouts leaves in spring and fruit in autumn, because in this way it better achieves its final cause. A person is good if s/he's kind, self-controlled, courageous, etc, because in this way he better achieves his final cause.

            The only way in which the last example differs from the others in being an example of moral good is that the will is involved. In every other sense, 'good' in the sense of good person or good action should be understood in the same way as good tree or good table. Natural law philosophy doesn't make a categorical distinction between moral good and (for want of a better word) a 'technical' good.

            Let's look at your example of a serial killer. He may be good at what he does, so a 'good serial killer'. But in exactly the same sense of the word except in reverse, he is a bad human being; because, and to the extent that, he acts contrary to his final causes. He may be a technically good serial killer, but to the extent he is a serial killer, he is a 'technically' bad human being -- and therefore, because choice is involved, a morally bad human being.

            For a serial killer, it 'seems good' to kill people, even though he may know it's bad in reality (by which I mean, it goes against his final cause). Now, as I said: "The will, which is the 'do-er' of any deliberate act, always seeks, as its object, that which the intellect presents to it as good. This is just another way of saying we do what we want because it seems good to us at the time."

            So in the case of this man, the intellect presents to the will murder as a good. And therefore his intellect is flawed. The fact that it 'seems good' to kill is indicative that his intellect is failing to present the true good to him as it should. (All evil is stupidity in traditional philosophy.)

            "While it is irrational to deliberately act contrary to what is
            objectively, normatively good, I don't see why we should think conforming to our ideal is normatively good?

            Hopefully I've now explained why I believe this misses the point. The end (final cause) of the intellect is to know truth, and the end of the will is to act on it. One sees the good (intellect) and one acts on it (will); there is no normative or non-normative. Understanding one's final causes and wanting to attain them becomes a question of being rational.

            "Assuming that our intellects present our natural end to our wills as normatively good, why think our intellects are right?"

            I'd suggest this is a different question entirely.

  • Loreen Lee

    Feel free to either answer the questions yourself or predict what their answers will be.

    Where it just means that agony is a bad thing because of what it involves, do you agree that agony is intrinsically bad?

    Yes I do agree. However, agony does not intrinsically involve morality. I shall attempt a syllogistic type of argument. Definition: Morality is a phenomenon that is the consequence of a causative agent. Agony is not a causative agent. Therefore agony is not a moral phenomenon.

    Hope you accept my premise!!!!! (I'll learn to debate yet!!!!)

    • Geena Safire

      Hi Loreen. Great comments! If you want to have that quoting section with that blue-grey bar along the left side, you can add this before the text you want to quote: <blockquote>     and add this after the text you want to quote: </blockquote>

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks. Didn't work on the quotes above. Will have to 'persevere'. Maybe you have to insert it before you place the comment or something.

        It's OK though. Will figure it out. (grin grin)

  • Geena Safire

    Question 1: Why ought we be morally opposed to the suffering of others?

    Why? Because our brains tell us to.

    All living things have methods to maintain their homeostasis and self-care. This is a ground-floor function of a nervous system – both detection and messages/motivation for appropriate response. Species or individuals in which these systems are damaged tend not to long survive. The survival of our species (so far), along with biology and medical science, supports that this assertion is also true about humans.

    We are also a social species by nature. This social status is only possible when the nervous system has been extended to enable the homeostasis and care of others to trigger the same response – motivation to act, reward when successful, punishment when not.* We do not 'care' because we are social; we are social because we can care.

    Neuroscience (modestly, so far) supports the idea that morality is sociality or, at least, they are on the same spectrum and differ in the severity of the outcome of the action in question (e.g., it is bad manners not to return calls/email from friends, but it is immoral to kill them). One indicator is that brain scans show the same part of the prefrontal cortex lights up when the subjects are observing social scenes and moral scenes.**

    Mentally-healthy people are defined, in part, by their ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships and to participate successfully in society. People who are not morally opposed to the suffering of others are those who are unable to feel empathy or regret, and we call them sociopaths.*** This is considered to be a personality disorder and, currently, untreatable. There are also people who can care but are not able to manage their behavior such that they can successfully participate in society; we call these disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders. Substance or behavioral addiction can also interfere with healthy sociality.

    We ought to be morally opposed to the suffering of others because that is our innate, natural, normal, healthy condition. You might even say goodness is an essential part of our nature.

    Our morality is an 'ought' that 'is.' More poetically, it is written on our hearts. Or, more correctly, our brains.

    *They both involve the same hormones (oxytocin and vasopressin) and neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine, and personal and social emotional pleasure and pain are both significantly moderated by the insula.)

    **Some of this is drawn from the work of neurophilosophy trailblazer Patricia Churchland, especially from her book "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality."

    ***"The essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. This pattern has also been referred to as psychopathy, sociopathy, or dyssocial personality disorder." DSM V, Antisocial (Dissocial) Personality Disorder (ASPD)

    • Randy Gritter

      What if my brain does not tell me to dislike the suffering of one particular guy? If there is someone who rubs me the wrong way and I think he is a jerk. What if I actually like the idea of him suffering? What if the vast majority of people in society agree with me? What if he is a jerk by general consensus and if I beat the tar out of him nobody will shed a tear? Is it still obvious we should be morally opposed to his suffering?

      • Geena Safire

        If you live in a small, isolated social band, you should whack him.

        If you are living in a culture under the rule of law, the right to use or authorize violence is restricted to the state. So you can still whack him but you would experience significant consequences.

        The moral solution to the situation you propose is what Churchland calls a 'constraint-satisfaction process.' His status as a fellow human being is just one element.

        A moral nature does not give us a moral encyclopedia. The innate motivation to extend care to others doesn't come with a list of sins

        We are learners and pattern-seekers by nature. That doesn't mean we don't need education. It means that education can work.

        We are born happy to put things in our mouths. That doesn't mean we don't need to learn what to eat.

        We are moral by nature. That doesn't mean we don't need to learn the moral system of our culture. It means that we are both able to learn and motivated to act according to it.

        People who don't have a moral nature are sociopaths. They can learn what their society considers moral. But they have no motivation to act according to it. The pain of others does not affect them like their own pain. They are unable to feel remorse at causing pain.

        • Randy Gritter

          It does not sound moral at all. It sounds more like we just figure out what we can get away with. It is precisely when you think you can benefit from it that moral questions get hard. You feel you should not do it despite the gain. Why? Because it would be wrong. Can my feeling be wrong? Maybe. You just seem to end moral thinking when I think it should be beginning.

          • Geena Safire

            You just seem to end moral thinking when I think it should be beginning.

            Did you even read what I wrote? I didn't say we were born full-grown from the head of Zeus, armored with a mature and wise moral character!

            We are born with a neurological platform for sociality and morality. That is, we are born capable of morality and with a drive (neural motivation, reward, punishment) to care for others, wherein we 'feel like' doing things for others. That is, we are born with the essential beginning of morality.

            We have an innate sense of fairness, but we need to learn how (and to what degree) our culture expresses/implements fairness. We have an innate sense of reciprocity, but we need to learn, in our culture, what items and actions are of value and appropriate to give and receive, and with whom. And so forth for each aspect of morality.

            For each of these we also need to develop the ability to correctly 'read' social and moral situations, to identify and evaluate the various parties and their motivations and needs as well as our own, and to decide what we are willing, able, and morally responsible to do in response. We also need to practice self-awareness and self-discipline in order to be able to do what is right to do when we are disinclined.

            All of this and more is necessary to act as a moral person. But none of it is possible without the platform.

    • David Nickol

      Why? Because our brains tell us to.

      I realize you are writing in a kind of shorthand, but (in "longhand") my brain doesn't tell me to do anything. My brain may, in fact, be me (although I could argue it both ways). And of course (back to shorthand) our brains play tricks on us all the time. Here's a review from Scientific American as quoted on the Amazon page for Cordelia Fine's excellent book A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives:

      Many psychological studies show that on average, each of us believes we are above average compared with others—more ethical and capable, better drivers, better judges of character, and more attractive. Our weaknesses are, of course, irrelevant. Such self distortion protects our egos from harm, even when nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are the trusted advisers we should never trust. This "distorting prism" of selfknowledge is what Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the Australian National University, calls our "vain brain." Fine documents the lengths to which a human brain will go to bias perceptions in the perceiver’s favor. When explaining to ourselves and others why something has gone well or badly, we attribute success to our own qualities, while shedding responsibility for failure. Our brains bias memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflict less pain on our fragile selves. They also shield the ego from truth with "retroactive pessimism," insisting the odds were stacked inevitably toward doom. Alternatively, the brain of "selfhandicappers" concocts nonthreatening excuses for failure. Furthermore, our brains warp perceptions to match emotions. In the extreme, patients with Cotard delusion actually believe they are dead. So "pigheaded" is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of data. The "secretive" brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. "Never forget," Fine says, "that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets." So what to do? Begin with self-awareness, Fine says, then manage the distortions as best one can. We owe it to ourselves "to lessen the harmful effects of the brain’s various shams," she adds, while admitting that applying this lesson to others is easier than to oneself. Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. "Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge," Fine asserts. "They are the clinically depressed." Case in point.

      • Geena Safire

        I realize you are writing in a kind of shorthand

        It's called a 'topic sentence."

        A topic sentence supposed to be short, to encapsulate and organize the rest. It is also, hopefully, catchy and punchy, generating enough interest to motivate you to read the rest. The other 460 words are intended to elucidate.

        (back to shorthand) our brains play tricks on us all the time.

        I agree. Our brains, even though they have features & functions that give us a drive to care about others that we call 'moral', do not force us to always act in ideally moral ways nor do they guarantee that we will make correct moral interpretations of each situation.

        That is, we are moral by nature -- we have a strong innate moral drive. But it's not our only mental system. So we do not always act morally.

        Humans are also generally pretty smart, by nature. But we surely don't always act smart!

        I agree with you and the quote you included: we do tend to be biased in our favor. That would be expected since we have an even stronger drive for self-preservation. I like how Linus Pauling refers to this: "Do unto others 20% better than you would expect them to do unto you, to correct for subjective error."

        • David Nickol

          That is, we are moral by nature -- we have a strong innate moral drive.

          I would disagree with this. I think most of what is conformity to what society considers right and wrong is the result of nurture, not nature. I think it is cultural, not biological. I think there is a certain biological foundation that facilitates the self learning and incorporating appropriate social behavior (e.g., mirror neurons for empathy), but I would not say we are moral by nature. It may be true that there is (after millions of years of evolution as social creatures) a certain biological basis for forming groups, but along with that seems to come a tendency for members of one group to band with each other but against other groups. Even the most trivial associations can wind up involving intense loyalty and fierce rivalries. I personally couldn't have cared less about high school sports, but I do remember being warned in high school when our team was playing in some kind of extended competition that students were warned not to wear their high school jackets to games in certain areas. Violent attacks over high school basketball! And look how we choose sides over professional sports teams, political parties, and particularly nation states.

          Those who claim humans are moral by nature has a lot of explaining to do—racism, ethnic cleansing, religious wars, civil wars, terrorism—the list is endless.

          • David Nickol

            If people are moral by nature, how do we explain the existence of the Republican Party? :P

          • josh

            David, I think this comment is about right. Perhaps one should say we are moralistic by nature. We have an innate tendency to think of things in terms of moral rules: I should do this. You oughtn't do that. This person is being bad, this action is good, etc. What those rules are can vary greatly across cultures.

            I suspect there are some foundational inclinations that are pretty universal. Most people have sympathy for others in pain. Most have a sense of basic fairness (at least where their own concerns enter). Most like babies. But any of these can be overridden or altered by societal effects and other, personal, drives. As you say, a lot of people are driven to identify with a group and to display loyalty to that group, which in turn means picking up other groups as enemies. Granfalloons abound. That's a kind of morality, just not one modern, pluralistic societies like to encourage.

          • Geena Safire

            ...certain biological foundation that facilitates the self learning and incorporating appropriate social behavior...

            That's exactly what I'm saying, or a big part of it. Churchland calls it a neurobiological platform for sociality and morality.

            It is not just the ability to 'read' other people but the drive to extend care to others. It's not just that we can; it's that we want to.

            However, we want lots of things, of which morality is one. Thus internal and external conflict that must be resolved.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Sounds like neuroscience agrees with the doctrine of original sin.

        • Andre Boillot

          Please, explain.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Adam: It's EVE's fault!

            Eve: It's the SERPENT's fault!

          • Andre Boillot

            I mean, if your first comment was meant in jest, that's cool.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            More seriously, Andre, I think it reflects both something in original justice and original sin.

            Original justice is that we be maximally important in ourselves and to others and that we have every good we desire. In other words, in our nature, we see ourselves as the most important persons in the world who deserve everything good.

            Due to the consequences of original sin, we don't have any of those things, we are full of imperfections, and other people don't think we are as important as we think we are.

            Neuroscience seems to confirm that we can't stand the idea that we are not the best.

          • Andre Boillot

            Kevin,

            Not being able to stand that we're not the best is hardly the same as agreeing with the doctrine of original sin.

            To the best of my understanding, neuroscience would say that your mind and personality are the necessary result of your biology, your history, and your environment. More importantly, that you have less conscious freedom to make choices than you think ("The "secretive" brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness").

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To the extent that we by nature seekers of truth and goodness, our brains are really messed up since they deceive us and excuse us.

          • Andre Boillot

            Kevin,

            The doctrine of original sin does not teach that we lost free will, correct? Neuroscience, it seems, would qualify to a great extent, the amount of free will we think we have. I'd yank the eject handle.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. The Catholic doctrine is that our wills are weakened.

            There has to be some "core" deep down that decides what we do and it makes great sense that we have a way to act when there is no time to deliberate (including all the years before our ability to deliberate has developed).

        • David Nickol

          Sounds like neuroscience agrees with the doctrine of original sin.

          Well, no, because according to the doctrine of original sin, human beings are damaged versions of what human beings were meant to be. But according to neuroscience we are what we were meant to be (if it makes sense to say we were meant to be anything). For example, I would imagine that people who believe in original sin would consider the tricks our brains play on us to be flaws. But from the viewpoint of neuroscience (and evolution) they are adaptive, or they are the result of trade-offs. And of course the explicit punishments in Genesis are how things were in nature well before there were humans to sin.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Three of the effects of original sin are a darkening of the intellect so it is harder to know the truth, a weakening of the will so that it is harder to do what one knows is right, and concupiscence, the demand of the emotions and passions that the will obey them.

          • josh

            Neuroscience and all of biology suggest that things were like that well before humans were ever on the scene.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do you mean that there is a neuroscience which studies ancient primates and concludes their brains made excuses for them?

          • josh

            Neuroscience and biology suggest we share a long, common ancestry with other current primates and that the forms and functions of our brains (and hormones and other systems) had been evolving for millions of years before anything you could properly call human existed. There is no evidence whatsoever that at any point the human or pre-human population was better at knowing the truth, less subject to emotion, or more likely to do 'what one knows is right', however you want to define that.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you put a parenthesis around the meaning of the story of Adam and Eve, I agree, Josh.

          • josh

            Well, there is no evidence for that story and it doesn't jibe well with the known facts, so what need for a parenthesis?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            None for you.

          • David Nickol

            Do you really think Adam and Eve as depicted in Genesis before the "Fall" exhibit superior intellects, stronger wills, and less concupiscence (except in sexuality) than the average person stopped on the street? They seem to have a mental age of about five.

          • MichaelNewsham

            Plus Adam is definitely not a gentleman- he was created first, Eve was his helpmeet, etc- no feminism even before the fall- yet the first thing he does is try and shift the blame: "The woman tempted me".

        • Geena Safire

          It seems to concur that we have both a self-care-focused nature (which the Catholic Church would tend to see as, if not 'bad' per se, then with an unfortunate tendency to lead to bad actions, and thus the sinny part) and an other-care-focused nature (which the Catholic Church would tend to see as our original, 'good' nature).

          However, IIRC, the doctrine of original sin says we were originally of a good nature but then we got stained with original sin.

          This kind of parallels the ancient Greek view that we were previously all spirit and very wise. But when we were born into our bodies, we forgot most of that and it was hidden from us by a darkness. During our lives, if we focus on developing our minds and becoming less subject to our senses, we begin to remember more and more and the darkness recedes. Again, this is good first and bad after, associated with the dualistic 'spririt' and 'flesh'.

          In Zoroastrian mythology, our bones were made by Ahura Mazda and were good, but our flesh (everything else) was made by the hostile/destroyer spirit, Anghra Mainyu (aka Ahriman). (This is why they offered dead bodies to raptor birds, so they could remove the polluting flesh from the Earth and leave the bones, which were then buried in ossuaries -- bone boxes. Traditional Buddhist Tibetans today still perform such 'sky burials'.) Again, this is good first and bad after (perhaps with the flesh related to the senses).

          In evolution, OTOH, we have had a self-care-focused nature since life began (~3,600 mya) and got an only other-care-focused nature since some time early in mammalian evolution (~350 mya or later), or less than a tenth of life's history.

  • Geena Safire

    Question 2: In your rebuttal, you suggest that I leave the door open for “ungrounded” objective morality. What do you mean by this? If a moral system has no foundation, how is it objective?

    Dillon didn't say "ungrounded," he said it may not be grounded by anything else. That is, it is grounded by its nature, that it is foundational. The buck stops here. "Brute fact" is the way you describe it.

    However, since this is supposed to be my answer, I'll note that the answer to "how is it objective?" must depend on the definition of "objective" as an adjective. I've found these (including two uses by Heschmeyer in a previous article that I could not find in any dictionary available to me).

    Objective: potential meanings of the word as an adjective

    1. ‘Restricted to or based on fact

    2. ‘Based on observation or experience

    3. ‘Marked by justice, honesty and freedom from bias

    4. ‘Being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject

    5. ‘Existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality

    6. Widely held or universally held – Used by Heschmeyer (e.g., 'what all moral people know to be true'), but no dictionary source found (in “Turning the Problem of Evil on Its Head” by Joe Heschmeyer, 06 June 2013).

      a. Could be related to philosophical moral objectivism which is also called moral universalism

      b. Umbrella covers moral realism, ideal observer theory, divine command theory, and universal prescriptivism.

    7. Absolute or context-independent – Implied by Heschmeyer (i.e., uses 'objective' sometimes as a synonym for 'absolute' in above article); no dictionary source.

    Morality can be objective by being "based on facts" or "based on observation or experience" – observation, experience and facts from psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience – some of which are noted in my answer to Question 1. Morality can be objective by "marked by honesty and freedom from bias," which is a fundamental feature of the scientific method for the scientific disciplines noted.

    Morality can be objective by "existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality." Operational (rather than theoretical or institutionally religious) moral/ethical systems around the world seem to have several features in common regarding qualities or goals of actions that are right or wrong – they contribute to eudaimonia (well-being/flourishing), happiness, health and social harmony. Looks like 'part of reality' to me.

    On the other hand, Heschmeyer's 'what all moral people know to be true' is circular. Why? Ask yourself how you can tell which people are moral? They are the ones who know to be true that certain actions are objectively moral or immoral. And how do we know these actions are objectively moral or immoral? Because they are "what all moral people know to be true."

    With respect to 'objective' meaning 'absolute': First, I cannot see how the terms are in any way the same, except in that they would both be true of a morality if that morality were to emanate from a deity, but that gets us into presupposition. Second, 20th century moral philosophers have struggled mightily – and have failed – to formulate universal, absolute moral rules. "There seems to be no universal, disembodied reason that generates absolute rules, decision-making procedures, and universal or categorical rules by which we can tell right from wrong in any situation." (Patricia Churchland)

  • Randy Gritter

    Agony is intrinsically bad? If I break my arm and I am in agony is that agony bad? In that case agony is honesty. It is an accurate communication of the state of my arm. I need to stop what I am doing and get medical attention.

    • David Nickol

      I need to stop what I am doing and get medical attention.

      First, for most causes of serious pain up until quite recently in human history, there was no "medical attention" to get. Humans basically like us have been around for quite some time (say, 50,000 years) and it just doesn't make sense to claim pain is valuable because it prompts you to go to the doctor.

      Second, pain may motivate you to go to the doctor, but agony is crippling. And as I have noted before, peak physical pleasure lasts seconds or perhaps minutes. However, if you have the misfortune to have certain diseases, or if you fall into the hands of a skilled torturer, there's scarcely a limit to the agony you can suffer.

      And of course most creatures that can be reasonably judged to experience pain—dogs, horses, pigs, cows, cats, dolphins, chimps—don't have doctors to go to if they suffer pain.

      Yes, a certain amount of pain can be valuable if it keeps you from continuing to do something that is self-injuring. But really intense pain, and especially peak-level pain (agony) serve no useful purpose. Human beings and many other animals have a capacity to feel far more pain than could motivate them to take better care of themselves. Why are capable of feeling far more physical pain than pleasure is something the theists need to explain (hopefully without blaming it on Adam and Eve).

    • Steven Dillon

      Agony may be good for certain things, such as alerting us to bodily damage. But, that's agony in relation to some good provided, not agony in and of itself. While the experience of extreme pain is intrinsically bad, it can be extrinsically good.

  • Enough

    Do I believe that agony is intrinsically bad? No, because you are basing you question on feelings and feelings are subjective. There are both good and bad things that happen before, during and after agony takes place.

    • Steven Dillon

      Thanks for the comment Enough. Personally, I'm basing my belief that agony is intrinsically bad upon my intuition that it is, and upon its self-evidence.

      But, suppose I was basing my belief on my feelings. Just because pain is subjective, does that mean it doesn't communicate any information about objective reality? No, in fact, pain usually does quite the opposite: it normally alerts us to bodily damage we've sustained. Is it infallible? No, but it is reliable enough that no sane person would pause to verify that they've actually leant on a hot stove top when their hand ignites in searing pain.

      So, it's not clear to me that basing my belief on my feelings would prevent my belief from being reasonable or true.

      • Enough

        I don't believe that it is self-evident. If you would purposely cause yourself agony to get a particular result then the agony itself would not be bad. You may not like the "feeling' of being in the state of agony but it does not make it good or bad. People quite often put themselves through agony to get a particular result or outcome.

        • MichaelNewsham

          But what if they could get exactly the same results without agony?

          • Enough

            It is definitely possible in some cases to achieve the same results with out agony, but that does not mean that agony itself is bad. Sometimes agony is necessary and the results are positive. Would you get a different result if you did not suffer the agony? I think in most cases you probably would. You would miss out on the value that suffering agony can give.

          • Geena Safire

            Try it this way:

            If you can put something in the blank in this sentence and it makes sense, then that thing is likely 'intrinsically bad.' If you put something in this sentence and it is the opposite of making sense, then that thing is likely 'intrinsically good.'

            If it were necessary in order to save the life of my child, I am willing to endure even ________________.

          • Enough

            Geena, great way to express it.