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 http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/09/07/the-contexts-objective-hierarchies-and-spectra-of-goods-and-bads-or-why-murder-is-bad/). 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 http://www.ts.mu.edu/content/42/42.4/42.4.4.pdf, p. 604, fn. 8.

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