Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Even More On Atheism and Teleology

Daniel Fincke was kind enough to stop by and offer commentary on my response to his rebuttal of Leah Libresco's arguments against atheism. There's a couple different objections wound through the comment, so let me just post the whole thing and then reply:

There is a distinct difference between flourishing as a rapist and flourishing as a human being (see Of coures ethics needs more than just an account of the basic teleological level in order to get to normative prescriptions. But just because leaping from the fact that I did not explain in that one post how that is done does not mean that it cannot be done. That would be like saying, "I don't understand from the law of gravity itself how to build a rocket ship, so the law of gravity must be invalid because a law of gravity worth its salt must lead us to be able to do things like build rocket ships." There are some steps in between. That's how thinking works. It's complicated. Why do you demand such simple answers in metaethics and why do you just declare my system wrong when by your own reasoning you knew I probably had more to say that you just had not explored.

I acknowledge that I may have jumped the gun w.r.t. the rape analogy, though in my defense I went looking for just such a "murder is bad because" article awhile back and seemed to have missed the post that Daniel points to. I proffer whatever apologies are appropriate and intend to read/comment on it at some point in the near future.

Regarding the larger criticism that I was making regarding his response to Leah: I am absolutely in agreement that ethics will almost certainly involve more that teleology, but that's not really the point I was driving at. I suspect that Daniel didn't read my follow-up post, which expressed my criticism more articulately. My issue is that Daniel is attempting to rebut an objection raised by Leah (a Catholic) that teleology is "pretty far out of bounds" for atheists. To do so successfully he must not only demonstrate that atheists are capable of goal-directed behavior, but also that there's a non-theistic conception of teleological ethics which is as strong (or stronger) than the Catholic version.

Catholic teleological ethics presupposes the existence of supernatural ends1 which comprise a class of truths/goals which are independent of human reason. Daniel's construction, on the other hand, hangs on the (human, individual) assessment that it's rational to develop ones faculties. So it seems to me that his rebuttal if Leah's assertion is, at best, incomplete; it is not self-evident that his system produces the same, strong results as Leah's Catholic system. That said, maybe he'll pull a rabbit out of his hat in his post on objective hierarchies.

1, p. 604, fn. 8.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is Daniel Fincke a Rothbardian?

I just ran across the following Rothbard quote at BHL:

The natural law ethic decrees that for all living things, “goodness” is the fulfillment of what is best for that type of creature; “goodness” is therefore relative to the nature of the creature concerned…In the case of man, the natural-law ethic states that goodness or badness can be determined by what fulfills or thwarts what is best for man’s nature.

Couldn't help but notice how similar that sounds to something Daniel Fincke wrote:

The more a thing does the characteristic things of its kind, the more it becomes in actuality, and not just potentially, a thing of that kind. The more excellently you do those characteristic things which are fit for your kind of being, the more closely, ideally, and powerfully you embody its formal ideal. And, in some significant sense, this makes you more that sort of thing.

Seems like today at least there's nothing new under the sun.

Bags I Have Known

I'm an engineer and I travel a lot for work, which means that I need a bag that works well as carry-on and will hold various and sundry bits of electronics safely. I started out, as a lot of people seem to do, with the Bag of Holding. As advertised it holds a tremendous amount of crap: Laptop, headphones, iPod, books, magazines, misc. bit and pieces. And it organizes them fairly well. However, after about a year of use I ended up having 3 complaints:

  • The construction is good, but not great. The ends of the zippers aren't as firmly anchored to the rest of the bag as they should be, which means that all of them derailed after 9 or 10 months of moderate use. Also, the padding in the laptop compartment wasn't tacked it place, resulting in it getting irreversibly folded over on itself.
  • The shoulder strap needs work. There's no padding and it needs to be anchored more tightly to the hardware which connects it to the bag.
  • It doesn't wear particularly well. The grey canvas ends up looking dirty pretty quickly.

When I was getting ready to change into a sales job I decided to ditch the Bag of Holding and find something that had better construction and was perhaps a bit more stylish. Searching for laptop bags turned up:

  • Backpacks that were sturdy and capacious, but ugly as sin.
  • Reasonably nice-looking messenger-type bags that weren't quite big enough.

After a prolonged period of searching I eventually realized, though I don't recall what sparked this epiphany, that what I really needed was a "DJ gear bag". Incanting those three little words to Google unleashed a torrent of "just what I was looking for". I ended up getting the EFX Producer from Mono, a product with which I've been superbly happy. It holds almost as much as a Bag of Holding, more than enough for even long flights, has ample pockets/compartments for organizing my stuff, and has so much structure that I worry not at all about anything getting damaged. It was even big enough to hold the monster HP EliteBook that I was issued for work. In comparison to the Bag of Holding my complaints with the Producer are few:

  • Getting a laptop in and out of the bag requires completely undoing the top flap, which is generally not a problem unless you go through airport security all the time like I do. It would be nice to have zipper access to the laptop compartment from the outside of the bag.
  • The bag itself is almost 20" wide when you include the external pockets, which means that it sticks out significantly on both sides when you wear it messenger style. This leads to bumping of people/things, especially when walking down an airplane aisle. It would be cool of there were an option to wear it long-dimension vertical like a backpack.

In generally it has held up well over 18 months of hard use (lots of international travel). But I recently started another job with a different set of requirements, a much smaller laptop and single day/overnight trips. The Producer is great as a carry-on if you've got a second bag, but it's the wrong size and shape for an overnight bag.

After having such a good experience with the Producer I decided to go back to Mono and see if they had something that would fit the bill. Sure enough they've got a larger, backpack-like model call the FlyBy which can hold my reduced volume of gear and a change of clothes comfortably. And it looks pretty nice as well. I'm currently putting it through its paces and expect that it will suit my needs well.

Droid > iPhone

I changed jobs again, which means I've changed laptops again, which means I've changed phones again. I got a Mac 'cause that's what everyone else is using, which means I got an iPhone (4S) 'cause it works well with the Mac.

I have a feeling I'm going to regret that decision immensely. I really liked my Droid 3: I like having a slide-out keyboard, I liked having widgets on the main screen that I could flip through quickly, I like not having to give someone a blood sample just to download an app. And so on...

The iPhone has none of those things... it doesn't feel like it's set up to make my life easier. I don't really understand why people like it so much; I have to assume it's attributable to the Apple mystique.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Solved: Blogger complains about "opening brace at end of text"

Since it seems like all authoritative answers to this problem have been disappeared off the tubes for some reason: When Blogger complains about an "opening brace at end of text" while in HTML composition mode it means that there's a stray "<" lying around somewhere. I most recently ran into that when I inserted a literal "<" when "&lt;" was called for.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Further Thoughts On Atheism And Teleological Ethics

I've had a chance to think some more about my previous post and Daniel Fincke's reconciliation of atheism and teleology. Let's go back to this statement:

So, in this context, I am an atheistic virtue ethicist requiring no divine agency for the teleological dimensions of my ethics to make minimal sense and have minimal coherence. I am just describing purely naturalistically occurring patterns as universals or forms. I am saying that since humans’ very natures are constituted by a specific set of powers, fulfilling them is incumbent on humans as the beings that we are. It is irrational and a practical contradiction to destroy the very precondition of our own being (all things being equal). We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves.

My original criticism of this statement wasn't particularly well-developed, so I'd like to expand on it a little more.

I agree that Daniel has described how an atheist might rationally be ends-directed/ends-oriented. However, as with my criticism of "goodness as effectiveness", I think the primary problem is that the rational pursuit of "maximal flourishing" doesn't reach far enough/isn't strong enough to form the basis of anything we'd recognize as an ethical system. Daniel has based his defense of ends-oriented behavior on the idea that instrumentally rational individuals have ample reason to further their personal development:

So, we have these powers, they constitute our very being. It is irrational for us to try to destroy these powers (all things being equal) since they are us ourselves and they are the precondition of every conceivable good we could achieve.

Agreed. However, it does not follow from there that individuals have a rational imperative to value the maximal flourishing of their fellow sentient beings. Coincidentally, I'm currently reading Gerald Gaus' The Order Of Public Reason, which spends a non-trivial amount of time discussing whether instrumentally rational agents are capable of reasoning themselves into this type of regard for others. His conclusion, which I've zero cause to dispute, is that they can't:

If social morality allows us to better achieve our ends, it must follow that individuals concerned only with achieving their ends could reason their way to it. This elegant proposal has failed. Gauthier and others tried to implement it by revising the very concept of instrumental rationality, but in so doing the elegance and plausibility of their solutions was undermined. Those who sought to achieve it without abandoning the core elements of the instrumental idea had a variety of interesting ideas, but more sophisticated analysis shows that they are unable to support large-scale human cooperation. Instrumentalism has proposed a problem that it cannot solve in its own terms. As we are about to see, "deontological," rule-based reasoning that does not derive from instrumental reasoning - the bete noir of the instrumentalists - is requried to solve the problem that they posed. (p. 100)

So it seems to me that Daniel has only provided part of the solution: He's shown why an atheist can care about emself, but hasn't shown why an atheist should care about others. Absent that showing I don't think he can claim to have a system of ethics that is coherent, atheistic, and teleological.

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