Spider’s Ransom

Happy Halloween, folks! And yes, I know it’s late.  But really, is it ever too late for Gothic story goodness?

This is, technically, a response to an InMon prompt, from BeKindRewrite, but I have to apologize for the length. The characters involved are not particularly cooperative in that, or any, regard.

Allergy Warnings: some violence, implied murder, Enfant Terrible, a really big ethereal spider, and ye olde speeche.

Disclaimer: The names of the characters have been changed to protect their identity. Any resemblance to real people or events is unintentional and potentially disturbing.


I write this days late. Before, I could not hold my hand steady.
My sons, forget what has gone before. I forbid you to sink your lives into this pit. I forbid it.

The gods cannot be so unmerciful as to expect us to shed what remains of our blood in a vain attempt to destroy evil that, I now believe, was not of our making.

Yes, the spirit of our ancestor spoke truth. This monster was born of our house. But he is ours no longer. If the gods wish him destroyed, let them send one of their own.

I made an oath, and I must keep it, but I will not sacrifice my sons.

The rumors I followed led me, in time, to Aldryd’s Keep. It is a new fortress, high-walled and well guarded. The Lord Aldryd’s reputation is good, but disappearance and death spread out around his stronghold. As he is near to the Maidenwoods, local rumor lays the blame on that twisted haunt rather than at Lord Aldryd’s feet. Still, I wondered at any man of power and influence choosing such a territory.

I had my answer when I entered the gate. The sword, Eleri, burned against my back. All but the grip was hot so long as I kept within the walls.

I took a place in the stables and I listened and watched. Einion the stable-master is an ugly brute, but not unkind. He speaks freely while at his work and I soon learned much of the keep and its folk. Unusual and unnatural death have left them largely untouched. The dangers, Einion told me, lie outside the walls.

Poor fool. But that is unjust of me. I would think the same, in his place.

Before long I had seen Lord Aldryd and all his kin by daylight. They are mortal enough. His eldest son, Heulyn, is a fine horseman and befriended me for my skill. We rode together often, even up to the eave of the woods.

Once, I asked why his father had chosen such a desolate place to lay claim. I saw his bright eyes fade a little, as with a wandering mind, and he shook his head.

“The hills are fertile,” he said, and that was all I could glean from him. The more I came to know the family, and all the people of the fort, the more they seemed like tethered beasts. They moved, in their minds, so far and no farther and had no power to ask questions of themselves.

When work was slack I took to wandering, befriending the soldiers and servants in turn. If it had not been for the angry heat of the sword, I might never have guessed anything was amiss. The signs are subtle.

At night, the watchmen patrol only the walls, never the grounds, and when asked why, they show only blank surprise. No one else stirs between dusk and the hour before dawn.

No one save, occasionally, a strange young woman called Briallen. I had seen her in the daylight, and thought her one of the ladies’ maids.

Then, one night, she waked me with singing as she wandered through the moon-bright grounds. Wildness, like that of a wren, is what marks her.

Her song was desolate, but her voice and eyes were not. I knew her for something brilliantly alive, and when she saw me, she smiled. If your mother’s guard over my heart were not so strong, she might have bewitched me.

At the end of her song I gave my traveling name, and asked hers. She answered without fear and asked why I had come to the keep.

I scarce remember how I answered, but she looked at me with dark, bird-like eyes.

“You are looking for someone?”

I shook my head, and she frowned.

“Lying is no way to make a friend.”

What could I say? I told her that I was, but that I would not tell more.

“I know who,” was her answer. My face must have betrayed my fear, for she smiled and touched my arm. “I’ll not tell him. He has no hold on me. But you should go. He sees you, and I know he suspects.”

“Tell me of him,” I pleaded.

She lifted her chin and shook her head. “I’ll warn a man to save his life, but I’ll not betray my friend.”

“Friend?” Yet she claimed he had no hold on her. I could not then, and still cannot, believe it. Some spell or madness rests on her.

“Friend,” was her answer, firmly given. Again she smiled at me. “Why not? He could kill me, and I live. He could enslave me, yet I am free.”

“Lady, he is a kinslayer, marked with his own brothers’ blood. And by some devilry he has learned to prolong his life by murder. I cannot even count the lives I know he has taken.”

She dropped her gaze from mine. How could she not? But she said, again, “he is my friend,” then curtsied and left me.

I saw her again several times, most often bright and smiling. The folk in the keep take no note of her unless she speaks to them. When asked, they do not recall her. Whatever enchantment rests on them, I think it was only Eleri that protected me from it. Briallen seemed protected too, the only one fully awake in the stronghold, beside myself.

Me, and one sweet, mad young woman.

Among the rest, though they were kind enough, I was soon lonely. I never knew when their minds would wander, and deep conversation was impossible.

Briallen begged me, time and again, to simply turn and leave. I knew, despite the disease in her mind, she spoke wisdom. Even then I guessed that I could not win, but I was bound by my oath.
Despairing of any other course, I resolved to find the monster in his den. Broad daylight was my safest choice, for if he sleeps at all, it is under the sun.

By this time there was only one place in the keep that remained a mystery to me: the central tower of Aldryd and his household.
Heulyn allowed me entrance to share a meal with him. To my frustration, though not surprise, my one attempt to wander from him led me to his mother and sisters, weaving. I was forced to bow and retreat back to my friend.

That evening I could not sleep. I lay trying to think of a way in.

Eleri quivered in its sheath, knocking against the wall where it was laid. I leaped for it, but too late.

A small, powerful hand caught my wrist and wrenched my arm back. My feet were swept from under me. I fell hard, my shoulder knocked loose.

The monster, still grasping my injured arm in one hand, took my hair in the other and threw me against the far wall, away from my sword.

Before I could recover, I heard a light voice. Its first words were addressed to Eleri, as though I were a servant, beneath notice.

“You again? And here I thought you would rot with my brother.”

I thought madness had taken me. I saw my own son settle himself between me and my only defense.

I say “my son,” for in that instant of terror I thought it was. Our ancestor’s ghost, may he rest, should have warned me. This monster is, after near two-hundred years, still a child. My youngest is ten as I write this, and the creature is of the same build and size. The same hair, like fresh rust, the same eyes and a freckled face. At first, only a faint scar across his cheek, the expression of his face, and the horror I felt assured me that he was not my own. Though, as I think back with a clear mind I see other, more subtle differences.

That the gods allow a monster to have such a nest is more horrible to me than all terrors of claw and fang. I begin to understand Briallen’s madness. What more is needed to drive a young woman so far, but a hellish thing that wears such skin?

“Who are you?” he asked.

I made no answer and looked away that he might not compel me.

“Tell me who you are and how you come by my brother’s sword.”

“I… am a grave-robber, though trying to be an honest man.” It was as much truth as I would spare him.

He snorted at it. “What grave-robber steals a wooden sword? None, unless he knows it is more. Only three know. I am one and I killed another. If you will not say who you are, perhaps you will tell me where to find the third. Where is Aislinn?”

“Who?”

Something black as soot reached through the wall at my back, across my chest. It was like a spider’s leg, long and jointed, but as thick as my own arm. Several more legs quickly pinned me. I cried out and struggled, bruising myself, and I might have been crushed to death had the child-monster not walked up and laid a hand on my chest.

I never looked into his eyes, but it did not matter.

The next thing I recall is sitting before him, the spider’s legs still clasped loosely round me. Fear was gone and I felt adrift.

“How came you by Eleri?” he asked.

Gods have mercy, but the monster’s voice is soothing as the whisper of falling snow. I told him all; how I had been lured into the Maidenwoods and found our ancestor’s cairn beneath the fern. How his ghost begged me to finish his work. I told how his sword recognized my blood and bound itself to my service. Every second question sought after Aislinn, but the name was, and remains, strange to me. At last satisfied, the little monster released me from enchantment. I have rarely felt so weary.

When I raised my head, he looked at me as a hawk eyes a rat, hunger that despises what it eats.

“Ciarán?”

It was Briallen’s voice and it broke across the monster like a wave. He startled and turned.

“Haven’t you killed enough of your kin?”

The monster looked at her as she stood in the stable door. His eyes were sharp.

“He is under oath to kill me.”

Her face was troubled. “Surely he’s no threat. Take the sword from him and let him go.”

“I cannot take Eleri from a living man.”

“Even with it, what chance has he?”

Ciarán, or so she calls him, turned to me again and smiled so like a child that, weary as I was, I shuddered. “Very little.”

After a thoughtful silence, he sighed. He seemed to grow more pale and his eyes darkened. He reached out a hand to my face and I saw, from the corner of my eye, something glint in the moonlight. I scarcely felt the cuts, but warm blood ran down my cheek. He caught my gaze and trapped it, but this time my mind remained clear. His words cut far deeper than his claws.

“This is your ransom, cousin. Pay it and I will let you live: Strike my name from our line. Break your oath and turn your sons away from me. If you persist in hunting me, I will free myself of my father’s House by destroying what remains of it. I have often wondered how far his offspring have spread, and if the savor of their blood has changed.”

I found I could speak, though I hardly had the courage. “I will do as you say, only I cannot break my oath. Let me go and I will warn my kin away and bear the burden alone. They will be no threat to you.”

For a moment, I thought he would refuse. He laughed and patted my head like a dog. “Honorable man. Be sure to tell your sons the consequences. If they break the ban, I will have no more mercy.”

I knew nothing more until I came to myself hours later. The sun had risen over the keep and folk bustled about, taking no notice of me. My shoulder was returned to its place, but it ached and the blood had dried on my cheek and neck. Eleri still burned angrily until I left the keep.

I am unsure of my next step. How such a thing is to be fought, I do not know. Clearly, he has more sorcery than rumor grants. And what am I to make of the great spider, strong as iron, that can reach through walls? Perhaps I should seek out the Aislinn of which he spoke, though I know nothing of her but the name.

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

22 responses to “Spider’s Ransom

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    Spellbinding all the way to the end. Always time for shivers!

  • Stephanie

    Oh, I love him. I love him! No wonder he speaks to you so powerfully,

    I can’t even. This is too cool for words, especially since I know some of the context. I also love the idea of “traveling names,” like online handles for a more elegant time.

  • Colleen Whitver

    Elegant tidbit. I want more.

    • jubilare

      Thank you! This one is a challenge. I’ve been working on this story (not this piece of it, but other parts) since college, and it is one of the most challenging to wrangle. I want to write it, but I haven’t quite figured out how to, yet.

  • stephencwinter

    I love the way that your writing has this way of landing me in the middle of a story so that as it continues I begin to ask more of what happened before and what will happen after. Why the child’s sword? Why is it deadly? Why the war within this family? How will it be resolved? And who is Aldryd and why did he build his castle by the mysterious Maidenwood that is the place in which the sword was found? I also tried to picture your central character wandering about the castle with a wooden sword upon his back. What do they make of him?

    • jubilare

      Lol! ^_^ If nothing else, I am good at causing confusion! Though I could be nicer to myself and call it “intrigue.” It is gratifying to know I can capture attention even so and make you wonder instead of making you want to throw your hands up in frustration. ;)

      The sword (I might be able to tweak the story to mention this) is more along the lines of a bokken than a child’s toy, a wooden practice sword. It wouldn’t be too unusual for someone who cannot afford to carry a real sword to carry one. Inside the fort, I don’t think the narrator carries it during the day as he’s learned enough to know that his enemy is strictly nocturnal. He speculates that the sword protects him from the enchantment laid on the keep, but he doesn’t actually know if that is the case or how it might work if it is.

      The family war is, as these things tend to be, very complicated. If I ever manage to tell this entire story (which I hope to do) it will start at the beginning in order to lay down that important framework. From narrator’s point of view, though, it’s fairly simple: his relative (even though the connection is many generations back) is killing people, and in his culture, that means that he and the rest of his family hold the responsibility for stopping said killer.

      Poor Aldryd is a pawn, or more accurately, and unknowing slave brought, with his folk, to a previously abandoned keep in order to protect and provide cover for the wee monster. The Maidenwood is an important part of the backstory, of course, and the resolution? Well, that would be telling. ;)

  • jubilare

    I am porting a very long discussion on Subjective Morality/Objective Morality from a friend’s page so that we will no longer be spamming him.
    https://medievalotaku.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/concrete-revolutio-moral-relativism/

    Thank you, MedievalOtaku for being so tolerant!
    The following has absolutely nothing to do with the story above.

    To Tungsten!

    Sorry. Life stuff comes before debate stuff. :P But I haven’t forgotten!

    “One is just perceiving, the other contains explanations.”
    That’s not what I mean, but by the nature of the question, what I mean is very hard to explain. How can the relative “color” each person calls “blue” be any closer to the truth if they are simply perceptions of light? Something is “blue” because of the wavelength bouncing off of it. There is no “real” color that our minds put over that. There’s only the neural recognition of that wavelength. Our perceptions of it can only be more or less real if, say, we are unable to perceive the wavelength, as in color-blindness. So even if, for the sake of argument, one person could look through another’s eyes and think their colors are “wrong,” it could not be so, because the wavelengths are the wavelengths, and one translation of that base truth is as good as any other. I think the whole question is meaningless.

    “So if we had perfect models/working theories of everything, we would still only have models, even if we could predict everything with those models.”
    I would still call this “uncertain,” rather than “unknowable,” but we may be dealing with personal semantics now. My reasoning is that there is a possibility that we know truth even if we cannot be certain that we do. Our thought is capable of surpassing models, and often does. “Unknowable” says that we can never be correct, even unawares, but “Uncertain” says that we may be right and never know for sure.

    “Which loops back to my talking about models – basically you can only have a “model” of God, not true understanding of Him. (Obviously)”
    Agreed. And a linchpin of my faith (and that of many Christians) is a willingness to allow that model to be broken constantly. Otherwise our idea of “God” becomes an idol.

    “And if something is outside those laws, we can not, by definition, make statements about it.”
    We can, and we do, just as we make statements about the Universe. Indeed, if we are to exist and move forward, we MUST. Otherwise we swim in formless goo. Religion (I am aware of the baggage that carries, but it is still the right word) is a science of spiritual things just as the material sciences are ways of knowing about the physical world. The means are different, but the process, the study, is very real. And if one studies religions, one finds that they discover many of the same patterns and, if I may dare, truths. From a materialist p.o.v. this may just be because of human psychology, but if so, there is a question of why so much of it exists to break down that psychology in order to make room for something else.

    “I do not understand the phrase “uncreated God” – do you mean the fact that He exists outside out material universe?”
    I mean that Christians believe that God is eternal, meaning without beginning or end. Some, like me, also believe that Time is something that exists in our universe but that God is outside of it.

    “My theory was: If a person’s morality was, purely by miracle or even luck, in perfect alignment with God’s will, so to say and that person knew that.”
    Most Christians, by definition, believe that Christ was this! ;) So from my perspective we have an example of it. But, then, we also believe Him to be God Incarnate.
    “On top of that, this person was omniscient – would this person then have access to the “correct” parameters to tune morality to?”
    Most Christians, however, do not believe that Christ was omniscient when He was here. Which brings up an interesting point. Perfection without omniscience. So, from my perspective, perfect Objective Morality is possible without omniscience because my method of evaluating morality is not purely reliant on outcomes (at least from a human perspective. From God’s perspective, being omniscient, consequences probably have a larger role to play). I also believe that a key part of morality is the effect a person’s thoughts and actions have on themselves as well as those around them.
    The perspective you are arguing for, however, is is purely consequence based? In such a system, where the goal is the greatest “good” for the greatest number, any action can be moral if it serves that outcome. In other words, I can murder 10 people to save 100 and be perfectly moral. However, other things you have said suggest that you do not think that, so I must be missing a piece of your reasoning.

    “In this thought experiment we would have gained a perfect model of a morality that is in tune with God’s.
    Would you agree?”
    I think the question/assumption is flawed from my perspective, but I think from your perspective it makes sense. How is that for a non-answer? ;)

    “What do you mean with arbitrary?
    Man-made? Or logical? I think the latter?”
    From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary: “Arbitrary: not planned or chosen for a particular reason : not based on reason or evidence : done without concern for what is fair or right” :)

    “We threw the rules out there and now we see what stuck – which rules stuck was dependent on the development of our society.”
    Less than you might think. The core of Christianity, the religion I know best, has remained shockingly unchanged for 2000 years and through nearly every people-group on the planet (the ones it has reached. There are still some it has not). In other words, it has been tried and tested by people from a massive spectrum of humanity, and still retains its core elements and teachings unchanged. From the outside I am aware that it looks like we are all over the place, and we do have fringes and petty arguments, but when I say “most Christians believe” I am not talking about any particular denomination in any specific period in any specific place. I mean most of us throughout our history and in every nation and tribe. Christianity represents wildly different people all mostly agreeing on the same thing. From my perspective, that’s as good evidence for Objective Truth as any humanity is capable of finding.

    “But if that is so, you could throw doubt over the creation of the rules, and by extension on the validity of the rules themselves.”
    While I agree that some evolution is involved, see above. Testing means throwing something out ONLY if it fails. If one is given something solid from the outset, something that holds up to testing, then it was real from the beginning and “evolution” means sticking with it, not exchanging it for something less real. For example, humanity knew that if you held a rock in the air and then let go of it, it would fall, long before we have the concept of gravity. Therefore, in the evolution of science, we have never thrown out the fact that a rock, dropped on Earth in regular conditions will fall to the ground.

    “They might have just stuck because they were the most advantageous for us as a civilization, not because they were in alignment with the will of God.”
    It’s possible, but we’ve also seen what that looks like, as you point out below. And there is a stark difference between religion used like that, and what I consider the True thing. I believe that anyone who has bent the truth to their own ends and not repented of it is in worse spiritual and moral shape than the worst murderers that have ever walked the face of the earth. …which is illustrative of why I don’t think the center of morality lies in outcomes. There is also the fact that great religious people throughout history have stood up and attacked various aspect of their own societies and civilizations.

    “Just like many people cherry pick the Bible and treat the good parts for absolute truth, while allowing much more freedom in interpretation when it comes to parts that seem to advocate for slavery (Titus 2) or murder rape and pillage (Deuteronomy 20:10-14).”
    Um, just for clarity’s sake, there are no “good parts” versus “bad parts” of the Bible from my perspective. It is true that people cherry pick, but what is interesting is that when one doesn’t, a whole picture begins to form and passages like the ones you mention come into focus. Unfortunately, Western Thought has done a lot to confuse people on how the Bible is intended to be read (I know that sounds presumptive of me, but if I am ever to get through answering you, I have to leave some bunny-trails un-hopped. You can bring it up to me later, if you like). But it is not difficult to see when someone is using scripture to justify themselves or their desired actions, and when someone is actually trying to learn from it. Humility plays a vital role, here, as it plays a vital role throughout the faith. Then there are the other aspects of the faith meant to converge with scripture in order to check and correct errors that arise. But again, bunny trail.

    “If you want, you can put you next answer there and link me to it?”
    Sure. :)

    “Let me refine this a bit.
    I see subjective morality not as a way we should live, but as an explanation how our morality works.
    For me, morality has subjective sources (our experiences, the experiences of our parents/teachers/…), but this doesn’t mean that subjective morality is a desirable goal for society!”
    I am glad we agree on subjective morality not being a good idea for society. However, if this is how our morality works, then are you suggesting that it is best for humanity to be delusional? Guided by a few people “smart enough” to see that morality is subjective, and deciding what they want people to mistake for objective? are you claiming the privilege of subjective morality only for yourself? Or for select people? …that sounds very 1984, and terrifying.

    “It just pays tribute to the fact that if I was born the son of a wealthy roman that viewed his slaves as valuable property (which they were), I would inherit similar values.
    If I was born in a village in Afghanistan, I would probably be a muslim, with different values.”
    True, to some extent. However, it is vital to the understanding of humanity and the concept of morality to recognize that we are capable of moving from where we begin. An entirely materialistic point of view leads one to conclude that we are simply a sum of our parts and experiences: automatons. In other words, I am what I am because of my biology and psychology, and all of my “choices” are illusions because I could not possibly choose anything other than what I am conditioned to choose. I know people who believe this. You do not seem to be one of them, as you value choice.
    So, yes, I agree that our background, biology, psychology and culture all influence who we are and our values. I also believe that we are capable of true choice, in other words, we transcend ourselves.
    However, if we are merely the sum of our parts and experiences then we have no more capacity for choice than ants. And that leads us back to the thought that a human life is worth no more than a turnip. Both are simply what they are, no choice, no real thought, just matter that grows according to the patterns of its biology and then dies. In other words, thought itself is an illusion, just a firing of neurons in a pattern dictated by biology and environment.

    “Let me make a drastic example:
    Is killing someone for fun evil in the usual sense of the word, despicable, worthy of punishment/rehabilitation, bad for society, a symptom of a disturbing lack of empathy and not desirable? DEFINITELY yes!”
    The action? Definitely. The person who takes the action is a more complicated question. And by what comes below, we differ rather sharply, here.

    “Is it INHERENTLY evil as per the rules of the universe? I would say no.”
    Then on what grounds is it ‘worthy of punishment/rehabilitation?’ The words “despicable, bad for society, a symptom of a disturbing lack of empathy, and not desirable” can be subjective terms. We can apply them because they are relative to our feelings on the matter. However, “worthy” implies worth, something beyond our personal likes and dislikes. If there is such a thing as justice, then there must be such a thing as objective morality. If you said “necessary to punish/rehabilitate” then I would have no objection to your language, as “necessary” can be subjective. I would still, of course, disagree with your beliefs as I find punishment/rehabilitation (both involuntary and therefore both forms of punishment) inherently without justice under subjective morality because there is no such thing as justice in subjectivism.

    “All those reasons I mentioned are why I would say some ideas of morality are preferable to others, even though there is no inherent moral value to the act itself – but a consequence to societal balance, and thus a way to choose between them.”
    Then we are back to blind choice, aye? This time placing the good of the abstract “society” at the center of a unsupported/arbitrary morality.

    “That’s where we differ, I am a materialist (as in “form of monism”, not the economical materialism).
    We can’t grasp the objective morality, we just tend to act relatively kind to others, due to empathy by mirror neurons etc. since that was advantageous for survival.”
    How do you square the concept of Objective Morality with Materialism?
    Empathy isn’t the only thing advantageous for survival. So is competition, including murder, cheating, theft, rape, and slavery. Our species is more evolutionarily fit when, instead of trying to keep our sickly members alive, we let them to die and focus our resources on the strong (physically and mentally).
    Why choose empathy over that? And if Empathy is set up as the center of human morality, then what of those who, by nature, lack empathy? Or those, like me, who are nearly driven mad by it? On one hand, Empathy as the ultimate morality would suggest empathizing with us, but on the other hand, humanity would be more Empathy-fit if we were eliminated. And, once again, in subjectivism, why bother with survival? By this, we are back at the beginning of our debate. :(

    “My guess would be that we see only the small things (poor antelope gets eaten), not the bigger picture, where this might me necessary for the survival of the whole biotope.
    I think this leads to the equally interesting question of “Could the universe have been different/better?”.”
    We’re pretty capable of seeing a fairly big picture, though admittedly not the entire universe. And the big picture, to me, is exactly what gives me the desire to annihilate humanity. I’m not alone in that feeling, either.
    But this misses the point. Why is even the small picture dissatisfactory to us? We know nothing else. We should not even notice it any more than a fish should notice being wet. And yet we do.
    Even the possibility of asking “could the universe have been any different/better” suggests (or perhaps even implies) that we are, partly, outside the universe itself, capable of looking at it instead of simply being part of it. The question is, how? If it’s just a fluke of psychological evolution, then our dissatisfaction is utterly meaningless. Our opinion of the universe is simply wrong, and we have to get over it. I don’t think that, but that is the only logical conclusion I can find to our ability to look at the universe as if from an outside perspective and make judgement-calls on it.

    “Interesting. But would this still be moral, if it differs from the best (as in objectively best) solution?”
    How could one define “best” without objective morality? The Objective Morality has to come first. The best solution is only a formula compared to it. You cannot have the “best solution” before you know what answer you are after.

    “It would be ideal only for him!”
    Yep! But his ideal is just as valid as that of anyone else, or even the whole of humanity (for subjective morality also means that one cannot assume that the morality of many people outweighs the morality of one any more than it can say the opposite).
    “For me, in his position, it would be absolutely terrible to kill someone!
    This is what I mean with subjective.”
    And if it is subjective, then there is nothing to choose between you and him. :(
    I can’t help but feel that there is some word that would be more correct for what you mean than “subjective.” However, I don’t really have a handle on what you do, mean, so I am unable to suggest one.

    “That’s why the murderer kills, because he or she feels like it. This consequence happens every day.”
    More murders occur because the murderer wants something, usually something that, in itself, is good/neutral. True psychopaths are rare.

    “HIS morality allowed it. Mine doesn’t. Subjective morality exists and society has to deal with it.”
    But that is not subjective morality. That is a difference in opinion. I think we need to clarify terms a bit.
    Subjective Morality means that there is no such thing as Objective Morality. In other words, no morality is capable of being any better than any other.
    Differences in people’s ideas on morality are the formulae compared to Morality (whether subjective or objective).
    If those formulae are filled with factors (choices/consequences), then compared to Subjective Morality, by definition, no outcome/answer can be superior to any other because there is No Answer.
    If those formulae are filled with factors (choices/consequences) and compared to Objective Morality, then some will be closer to the Answers of Objective Morality than others.
    If there is an Objective Morality, then it is true that we do not fully understand/know it. But we seem to know enough of it to make comparison judgements. If there is no Objective Morality, then our comparisons are simply delusions and “progress” is an illusion.

    In other words, I think what you are talking about is not Subjective Morality at all, but simply the differences we have in moral ideas, differences that we question, test, disagree about, fight over, and follow as best we can.

    Am I right? Is this what you mean? Because if not, then I am very confused.

    “Why mine is better than is? Because most of us would agree on that.
    So we come back to majority rule.
    I know, the thought of majority rule is utterly terrifying in the worst case.”
    Yes.

    “It’s like Churchill’s famous dictum: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
    It’s not the best, but it’s the best we have.”
    Lol! Yes, I agree.
    1. There is no perfect form of government (because humans are flawed and we bring those flaws into everything we do)
    2. Democracy (as well as all other forms of fairly-functional government) was created by people who believed in Objective rather than Subjective morality.
    I do not think Subjective Morality is capable of doing… well… anything. The only people who ever do things are people who believe they know what they should do, and a subjective morality is incapable of that. You do things because you have faith in your own beliefs. Everything you have said suggests this. But the simple act of having faith means that you do, in fact, believe there to be something underpinning your beliefs.
    3. Belief in Objective Morality brings with it the idea that a single person can be right and a group wrong (and the other way around, of course) and so most forms of Democracy hinge on the individual and the ability of one individual to disagree with another.

    So I come back to a simple question: Do you or do you not believe that empathy, on which you base your value system, is good? And if not, then why do you base anything on it?

    • Tungsten

      Sorry for the late reply, deadlines loom! :)

      “because the wavelengths are the wavelengths, and one translation of that base truth is as good as any other.”
      I wouldn’t say so, since one is simpler, as in there is only one “thing” – wavelength. The other can differ.
      Yes, in the end they are just meaningless models from a base truth, and in that regard I see how one could argue that they have not inherently more value compared to the other.

      I would still call this “uncertain,” rather than “unknowable,” but we may be dealing with personal semantics now.
      Oh, I see! Until now I was only thinking about physical stuff – Even if we manage to measure everything, we can never be sure that there isn’t something we cannot perceive (yet). Occam’s razor is just a principle, not a law (albeit a very useful principle).
      Yes, you can in some examples align with the truth, even unknowingly, if it’s about morals, for example.
      But in my opinion it’s not knowable what an atom is truly like, since we can only measure it. And even with perfect measurements, it’s just that – a measurement.
      Also some facts might be simply unknowable (since they are lost in time and time travel seems impossible in our universe).

      “We can, and we do, just as we make statements about the Universe. Indeed, if we are to exist and move forward, we MUST. ”
      I should have worded that better:
      Also I was mostly talking about physics here, too.
      If it is outside the laws of the universe, you can make statements, but they are moot.
      You can speculate, but you can’t say what was “before the big bang” since there was neither space nor time.
      Without those two, any question/statement is useless.
      It’s like asking what the color “blue” smells like.
      The question is not applicable.

      “So, from my perspective, perfect Objective Morality is possible without omniscience because my method of evaluating morality is not purely reliant on outcomes (at least from a human perspective. From God’s perspective, being omniscient, consequences probably have a larger role to play). I also believe that a key part of morality is the effect a person’s thoughts and actions have on themselves as well as those around them.
      The perspective you are arguing for, however, is is purely consequence based? In such a system, where the goal is the greatest “good” for the greatest number, any action can be moral if it serves that outcome. In other words, I can murder 10 people to save 100 and be perfectly moral. However, other things you have said suggest that you do not think that, so I must be missing a piece of your reasoning.”
      I think it would be moral in the end, since the alternative would be to let 100 die. (Let’s assume all 110 would live the same lives, to make it easier).
      I think it’s interesting that you believe morality should take the effect on yourself into account.
      Why should my feelings matter? (Apart from maybe “I regret that I did X” when it comes to salvation etc – I mean that question purely in the context of morality decisions)
      Also, I don’t follow your reasoning in the 1st sentence:
      my method of evaluating morality is not purely reliant on outcomes -> perfect Objective Morality is possible without omniscience
      Do you mean you CAN be aligned with objective morality or that you ALWAYS WILL align with it?
      My argument would be that you need omniscience to align with it and to be sure to do so in 100% of the cases.
      Also: Is perfect Objective Morality 100% consequence based?
      In my opinion you could create paradox scenarios if it isn’t.

      “Less than you might think. The core of Christianity, the religion I know best, has remained shockingly unchanged for 2000 years and through nearly every people-group on the planet”
      I think I disagree, at least depending what you take as the core statements.
      What would you say are the unchanged core statements of Christianity?
      I am a Protestant, and I would argue that many accept the Creed, but do not really believe it.
      Virgin birth for example, or, for the catholic church, Transubstantiation. I think many people simply accept that, but don’t really believe it.
      Also, what people believed in the medieval times was different than what we believe.
      For example that the mere act of witnessing Transsubstantiation was salutary.
      Or that from the last quarter of the 14th century to the reformation, people were fixated on the ars moriendi, the art of dying well.
      Your emotional state at the moment of your death was an important determinant of you are saved or not.

      If you see the core as only the most basic stuff, like the 10 commandments and “Love thy neighbor” – then my argument would stand: It only stayed the same since it’s not contrary to basic societal rules.

      “Testing means throwing something out ONLY if it fails.”
      Well we do commonly disregard some rules set by God in the bible (esp old testament).
      Even the existence of the old and new testament shows that there apparently was a need for some new rules, I’d say.

      ” I believe that anyone who has bent the truth to their own ends and not repented of it is in worse spiritual and moral shape than the worst murderers that have ever walked the face of the earth. …which is illustrative of why I don’t think the center of morality lies in outcomes. ”
      Oh, that’s interesting!
      Even if the murderer does NOT repent?

      “Um, just for clarity’s sake, there are no “good parts” versus “bad parts” of the Bible from my perspective. It is true that people cherry pick, but what is interesting is that when one doesn’t, a whole picture begins to form and passages like the ones you mention come into focus. Unfortunately, Western Thought has done a lot to confuse people on how the Bible is intended to be read (I know that sounds presumptive of me, but if I am ever to get through answering you, I have to leave some bunny-trails un-hopped.”
      Oh, I wouldn’t mind to talk with you about how you interpret the bible when we are finished with this!

      “However, if this is how our morality works, then are you suggesting that it is best for humanity to be delusional? Guided by a few people “smart enough” to see that morality is subjective, and deciding what they want people to mistake for objective? are you claiming the privilege of subjective morality only for yourself? Or for select people? …that sounds very 1984, and terrifying.”
      I just stated how I think morality works. Different people think different actions are moral.
      That does not imply any statement about how we as a society should deal with this situation!
      (But yes, that question is kind of important) (Also, see bottom of this post)

      “In other words, I am what I am because of my biology and psychology, and all of my “choices” are illusions because I could not possibly choose anything other than what I am conditioned to choose. I know people who believe this. You do not seem to be one of them, as you value choice. […] However, if we are merely the sum of our parts and experiences then we have no more capacity for choice than ants. And that leads us back to the thought that a human life is worth no more than a turnip. Both are simply what they are, no choice, no real thought, just matter that grows according to the patterns of its biology and then dies. In other words, thought itself is an illusion, just a firing of neurons in a pattern dictated by biology and environment.”

      I actually do believe this, too.
      The catch is:
      It does not matter that our choices are illusions or “predetermined”, everything stays the same, when viewed from the outside.
      Just as it wouldn’t matter if something like fate existed or not.
      Even if a murderer, due to his experiences in life, was predetermined to commit the crime, we still have to punish him to achieve correction and deterrence.
      Even if every word I write is by my own free will or was pretty much predetermined due to my experiences, we still have this conversation and learn from it.

      [I read a bit further]
      “But that is not subjective morality. That is a difference in opinion. I think we need to clarify terms a bit.
      Subjective Morality means that there is no such thing as Objective Morality. In other words, no morality is capable of being any better than any other.
      Differences in people’s ideas on morality are the formulae compared to Morality (whether subjective or objective).
      If those formulae are filled with factors (choices/consequences), then compared to Subjective Morality, by definition, no outcome/answer can be superior to any other because there is No Answer.
      If those formulae are filled with factors (choices/consequences) and compared to Objective Morality, then some will be closer to the Answers of Objective Morality than others.
      If there is an Objective Morality, then it is true that we do not fully understand/know it. But we seem to know enough of it to make comparison judgements. If there is no Objective Morality, then our comparisons are simply delusions and “progress” is an illusion.”
      Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!
      We should have done this earlier :D
      I wasn’t seeing subjective morality as the polar opposite of objective morality!
      Now it makes much more sense. Sorry about that!
      To clear up our discussion up to this point, let me start by answering your last question:

      “So I come back to a simple question: Do you or do you not believe that empathy, on which you base your value system, is good? And if not, then why do you base anything on it?”

      You explanation helped me to make my believe system a bit clearer for myself, too.
      I believe that there is no inherent meaning of life or existence in general.
      As a consequence, you could say there can be only a subjective morality. I fear that is the conclusion I’d have to draw from my premise.
      BUT, like the letters of a book have no meaning, they can shape stuff that matters to us, that have meaning to us.
      It’s just black squiggles on white pages, but we care about the characters, are happy or sad.
      A child’s favorite teddy can be a best friend, even if it’s just fabric and filling.
      So, life will also have a meaning for each individual.
      To act with other life forms, we have to find a common morality, that gets regarded as objective – and thus will change over time. Yes, it would not be truly objective, it would be just an emulation, so to say. And we would have to find it together with all the problems this brings.

      My point is:
      The act of searching for this common ground would be no different to the individual comparison judgements we would make to align to an Objective Morality that we do not fully understand/know, wouldn’t you agree?

      Or, to answer your question differently:
      I think empathy is good, but I cannot tell you if this is just my subjective feeling or my instinct trying to align me with an objective morality.
      Since I am a materialist, I would guess it is the first option.
      And to reiterate my point:
      Is there any difference in how our society acts and makes decisions if there is or isn’t an objective morality (assuming we don’t know, which is the case)?

      PS: I don’t like it that I have to come to the conclusion that there can be only subjective morality. I will have to think about what an objective morality would mean for a materialistic universe without God – would the combination even be possible?

      Thanks for making me think. :) Looking forward to your reply!

      • jubilare

        I hear you on the deadlines.

        “Yes, in the end they are just meaningless models from a base truth, and in that regard I see how one could argue that they have not inherently more value compared to the other.”
        I’m afraid that’s still not quite what I mean. Sight isn’t a model because it isn’t something we create. It’s involuntary. There exists (we assume) an objective thing we call the “light spectrum,” some of which we can see. But that spectrum, in and of itself, is not/contains no color. Color is simply what our brains do with the information received from the visible light spectrum. Without our eyes and brains, “color” would not even exist. Therefore, in a very real sense, our brains create color, and because color only exists involuntarily within our minds, there is no such thing as a “wrong” color. You can’t be wrong about what is green because “green” is just a translation of light.

        “Oh, I see! Until now I was only thinking about physical stuff – Even if we manage to measure everything, we can never be sure that there isn’t something we cannot perceive (yet).”
        We may be up against different definitions, again. “We can never be sure” means “uncertain” rather than “unknowable” in the way that I am using the words. Even with physical things I would use “uncertain” instead of “unknowable.” We keep testing scientific theories because we are uncertain, not because we think a thing cannot be known. We know that a certain theory may be correct, but we test it again and again because it may not be. If science were unknowable, there would be no point in it. If it is uncertain, then we just keep trying. Does that make sense?
        I grant, however, that there are factors (as you say, lost in time and space) that we cannot know. In that case, “unknowable” makes sense to me.

        “If it is outside the laws of the universe, you can make statements, but they are moot.”
        I disagree, but obviously, that’s because I am a theist and I believe that we have ways of knowing some things about what is beyond the universe. I understand, though, that from a materialist standpoint, your statement is correct.
        “It’s like asking what the color “blue” smells like.”
        I actually have a friend I can ask. She, her sister, and her father all have synesthesia. It’s actually kind of awesome. ^_^ But yes, point taken. From a materialist standpoint, if there is something beyond the known universe then that something is unknown and cannot factor into equations.

        “I think it would be moral in the end, since the alternative would be to let 100 die. (Let’s assume all 110 would live the same lives, to make it easier).”
        That is good to know. I understand a little better, now.

        “I think it’s interesting that you believe morality should take the effect on yourself into account. Why should my feelings matter?”
        Because what we become affects what we do. This should be true from your standpoint even more than from mine, as you believe our responses are purely conditioned, yes?
        Let’s say I choose to lie about stealing a cookie from the jar in my parent’s kitchen. No big deal, right? But then that makes it easier to lie about doing my homework. Then, to catch up with my lapsed homework, I start cheating. Assuming I am not caught and forced to face consequences, I may learn that cheating works. As an adult I start to cheat in my work, I backstab to get ahead, lie to curry favor, and falsify data to make myself look better. Then, say, I make it to the head of my company (sadly, it happens). What kind of leader do you think I will be?
        Decisions have consequences both inside and outside a person, and the two are related. Things that affect “only us,” will come, in time, to affect everyone around us and things we do that affect “other people” also leave their mark on us, creating a cycle. Any morality that pays attention only to the external or only to the internal is leaving out half of the equation.

        “Do you mean you CAN be aligned with objective morality or that you ALWAYS WILL align with it?”
        I’m not sure I understand the question. Sorry. :( Can you rephrase?

        “My argument would be that you need omniscience to align with it and to be sure to do so in 100% of the cases.”
        This is because the morality you are talking about is purely consequence-based, I think.

        “Also: Is perfect Objective Morality 100% consequence based?
        In my opinion you could create paradox scenarios if it isn’t.”
        I think we may be at cross-purposes. I think you are thinking of Objective Morality as an equation, while I am thinking of it as a set answer. I don’t think it is something one plugs factors into, but rather the answer that is being sought. I’m struggling to explain what I mean, though. I need some time to puzzle over it. Hmm.

        “I think I disagree, at least depending what you take as the core statements.”
        The faith embodied in most of the creeds links all but the fringes, but there is more to it than that. There is a spiritual resonance between those who seriously follow those creeds, something that can be recognized like a distinct feel or smell in the writings from all different ages and places. Details may differ, and often do (as no human has 100% true beliefs and the perspectives are all a bit different), but the faith remains itself.

        “What would you say are the unchanged core statements of Christianity?
        I am a Protestant, and I would argue that many accept the Creed, but do not really believe it.”
        Wait a sec… how can you be a Protestant Atheist Materialist? Or are you saying you were a Protestant before becoming an atheist? In the vocabulary I am familiar with, Protestant is solely a branch of Christianity. If it has a different meaning to you, then please define it.
        And yes, there are people who claim the title of Christian but who do not really believe. The same is true for any powerful institution, and especially any institution that becomes accepted into a culture. When beliefs become fashion and a means to power, they will be corrupted by those who want to be fashionable or powerful.

        “Virgin birth for example, or, for the catholic church, Transubstantiation. I think many people simply accept that, but don’t really believe it.”
        While there are people who, as you say, disbelieve these things, you might be surprised by the numbers. I’m a Protestant. I, and most Christians I know (I dare say most Christians worldwide), absolutely believe in the Virgin Birth. Fewer believe in Transubstantiation, though I, personally, am on the fence about it even though I am not a Catholic. But neither belief, in and of itself, is the faith.

        “Also, what people believed in the medieval times was different than what we believe.”
        The truth of this depends on what you mean. Their belief about fact (science) was often very different from ours, and many of their other beliefs differed from ours, as well, but in terms of the Faith, what you mention are fashions, questions, and period-related assumptions. Those things, right or wrong, change all the time, but they are not the Faith.
        I can pick up St. Augustine (354 – 430), or Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416) and see the same faith I practice staring back at me from different ages and from two wildly different individuals. There’s even a lot they can teach me because they have different sets of cultural assumptions than I have with the same faith acting as a framework under them. There are areas where I disagree with them, as one might expect across a gulf of time, place, and culture, but nevertheless I recognize the Faith and the Spirit in them. All this means much more than a shared morality (though there are shared moral threads that run through it).

        I understand that the human insanity of fighting over doctrine makes it seem as if we don’t agree on anything, but really, Christianity is powerfully consistent and it is far more than the simple moral-code aligning with “basic societal rules” (which, by the way, have been far less consistent than Christianity over the same period of time).
        That consistent faith involves belief in the supernatural, in One Good all-powerful and all-knowing God, in the fallen nature of mankind, in the Incarnation, in salvation through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the importance (not necessarily the relative importance) of the sacraments, prayer, and worship. Some creeds add to that, and maybe I have missed something, or even added something unessential, but as far as I understand the faith, that is the core of it. All this is far more than a moral code, and most Christians would agree that it is far more important than the Law.

        “If you see the core as only the most basic stuff, like the 10 commandments and “Love thy neighbor” – then my argument would stand: It only stayed the same since it’s not contrary to basic societal rules.”
        The “basic societal rules” have changed position on those fronts many times and they certainly never supported the tenet “love your enemies.” But that is almost beside the point. The ten commandments are important, but the are Not Christianity. For one thing, they predate Christianity by a lot. No, Christianity is the discipline of following Christ and receiving His salvation.

        “Even the existence of the old and new testament shows that there apparently was a need for some new rules, I’d say.”
        A lot of people think that, but there is another way to look at the question. What follows is my personal take.
        Let’s set aside religion for a moment and consider a thought-experiment:
        Say you want to teach a small child Quantum Mechanics. You cannot start with full-blown quantum mechanics; there is no way she will understand it. You have to meet her where she is.
        You begin by teaching her to count and teaching her numbers. Then you move on to basic mathematics, and so on and so forth, bringing her up to the level where she can, at last, understand quantum theories and make complex calculations.

        Now consider the possibility that humanity, in understanding God, is in much the same position as the child needing to understand complex mathematics. If Christ had come 1000 years earlier with His message, what do you think the results would have been?
        I believe God, then and now, meets people where they are and leads them forward at a pace that challenges them, but that they can manage. There is no point in His trying to reveal His full mind to us if we are not capable of understanding. And so, in the Old Testament, we see a process: a people group protected from extinction (both physical and cultural extinction) and trained, bit by bit, to move forward until the time at which Christ (Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”) and His message can be received. The New Testament, in other words, could only have been built upon the foundation of the Old. I do not believe the Bible is, or has ever been, a static book of rules. It is, like reality, a complex story.

        “Oh, that’s interesting!
        Even if the murderer does NOT repent?”
        Assuming neither one repents, both would suffer separation from God, but the murderer has, in a sense, committed an honest crime. Murder is what it is, and while it may spread fear, pain, and violence, none of those spread as quickly or a insidiously as lies. Violence and pain can even have unintentionally good results, as people band together in compassion and courage in the face of it.
        Someone falsely claiming to speak for God, however, can do far more damage, and insidious damage. I would say that, easily, more people have been damaged, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, by such lies than have ever been harmed by murders. And that’s not even considering the element, from my view, of having aped God. It’s bad enough to use the name and words of another human to further ends they would have hated.

        “Oh, I wouldn’t mind to talk with you about how you interpret the bible when we are finished with this!”
        We may get there before this is over. It seems to be heading in that direction. ;)

        “I actually do believe this, too.
        The catch is:
        It does not matter that our choices are illusions or “predetermined”, everything stays the same, when viewed from the outside.
        Just as it wouldn’t matter if something like fate existed or not.”
        I wholly disagree with this. I think it matters immensely.

        “Even if a murderer, due to his experiences in life, was predetermined to commit the crime, we still have to punish him to achieve correction and deterrence.”
        But we don’t. We don’t “have” to do anything. We can’t do anything but what we are preconditioned to do. We’re just automatons going through the motions, and even more self-deluded that we think we actually think. It all turns in on itself. Every letter you and I type is just a contortion of mindless matter… the universe doing what the universe does.

        “Even if every word I write is by my own free will or was pretty much predetermined due to my experiences, we still have this conversation and learn from it.”
        Nay… There is no “pretty much” possible in this equation, or “learning,” for that matter. There is either absolute predestination of matter, or there is not. There is no half way. And if such predestination exists, then “learning” is just another illusion.
        The universe is implacable. It is what it is.
        If we are simply conditioned bits of matter incapable of deviating from the course on which the universe laid us, then even our thought is illusion. We are really only tracing out patterns of neurons that could never, under the conditions, have fired in any other way. That pattern of firing neurons would be just a link in the causal chain set off by the Big Bang (or whatever caused the big bang, and whatever caused that, backwards and backwards infinitely as science knows of no possible reaction without a cause).
        I think this matters quite a bit. If I’m just a lump of matter, a chemical reaction that could not be anything other than it is, then I am not responsible for anything that I do, and neither is anyone else. Forget subjective morality, this assumption eliminates morality as a whole and tells us that thought itself is merely the result of electrical impulses that have no meaning whatsoever.

        “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!
        We should have done this earlier :D
        I wasn’t seeing subjective morality as the polar opposite of objective morality!
        Now it makes much more sense. Sorry about that!”
        No, not at all! I’m sorry. I should have clarified earlier. I felt that there was some misunderstanding, but I was not sure where it was.

        “You explanation helped me to make my believe system a bit clearer for myself, too.”
        I am glad of that. I like clarity, wherever it leads. :)

        “I believe that there is no inherent meaning of life or existence in general.
        As a consequence, you could say there can be only a subjective morality. I fear that is the conclusion I’d have to draw from my premise.
        BUT, like the letters of a book have no meaning, they can shape stuff that matters to us, that have meaning to us.
        So, life will also have a meaning for each individual.”
        True, if that individual happens to decide that it does. Deciding that it doesn’t is also an option under subjective morality, and is just as valid as deciding to attribute meaning to life. ;)

        “To act with other life forms, we have to find a common morality, that gets regarded as objective – and thus will change over time.”
        Then the question becomes what to do with those who do not agree with the majority?

        “Yes, it would not be truly objective, it would be just an emulation, so to say. And we would have to find it together with all the problems this brings.”
        Aye.

        “My point is:
        The act of searching for this common ground would be no different to the individual comparison judgements we would make to align to an Objective Morality that we do not fully understand/know, wouldn’t you agree?”
        Almost, but at some point my belief in there being an actual ruler underneath our measurements would cause friction.
        Prior to WWII, there were many proponents of eugenics in the U.S. and laws were passed that resulted in the sterilization of the “unfit”. http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/
        WWII scared most of that out of fashion in this country, though apparently not completely until the 1970’s. From a purely scientific standpoint, sterilization makes sense (I am NOT a proponent of it, I am playing devil’s advocate) if our aim is a healthy, mentally-sound, and evolutionarily fit species.
        The point is that goals matter and moral fashions are changeable.
        No one (or almost no one) is completely free of the moral fashions of their particular group. The difference between Subjective and Objective moral views is that the Subjective has no grounds from which to question fashion, and therefore it tends to go along with it. There is no reason to question one’s subjective morality if it aligns with most other people around you. After all, you are only looking for common elements, and as morality is subjective, no common element can be “wrong” any more than it can be objectively “right.” It’s like comparing card-hands and finding that everyone has fours, but as there is no game, this is neither good nor bad.
        I am going to continue with the game metaphor, but this does not mean that I think the universe is a cosmic game! ;)
        Objective Morality believes that there is a “game,” so to speak, and as such, a hand full of fours can be good or bad/fashions can be right, wrong. Even if we do not know the rules, the very idea that there is a game and that rules do exist gives us a reason to start questioning, trying to find out what those rules might be. Belief in Objective Morality, even an uncertain/unknown one, gives people a reason to question their own moral views and the views of others.

        “Or, to answer your question differently:
        I think empathy is good, but I cannot tell you if this is just my subjective feeling or my instinct trying to align me with an objective morality.
        Since I am a materialist, I would guess it is the first option.
        And to reiterate my point:
        Is there any difference in how our society acts and makes decisions if there is or isn’t an objective morality (assuming we don’t know, which is the case)?”
        Absolutely. Any time anyone says “this is wrong” or “this is right” they are appealing to Objective Morality, whether they recognize the fact or not.
        Granted, we’ve never had a society on Earth that fully believed and practiced Subjective Morality, so we cannot know exactly what it would look like, but it’s not hard to reason it out: no statement of value could ever be honestly made other than “I happen ot like” or “I happen to dislike.” If Subjective Morality is all there is, then humanity is hopelessly delusional because almost all of us behave as if there was objective morality… that is, assuming that the above evaluation of thought, itself, being a delusion, is not also true.

        “PS: I don’t like it that I have to come to the conclusion that there can be only subjective morality. I will have to think about what an objective morality would mean for a materialistic universe without God – would the combination even be possible?”
        I don’t think it is, but if you figure something out I would be interested to know. Morality implies a mind (or something more like a mind than like anything else we know), and a mind beyond our minds would be a god in comparison to us. A mindless universe, mindless life-force, mindless “beyond” could be a source of reality, maybe, but I don’t see how it could be a source of morality.

        “Thanks for making me think. :) Looking forward to your reply!”
        Likewise! You’re making me shake the cobwebs out of my head and think through things I haven’t faced down in a while. ^_^ It is rare, and precious to me, to find someone willing and able to debate things like this without being offended, especially as I tend to be very blunt. I am grateful to you, very much so, for your patience and good-nature. :)

        Oh, and it might be a good idea to start with a new comment when you reply, as otherwise the comments will stairstep and the text will become scrunched. :P

  • Tungsten

    Sorry for the long wait! I will write an answer this weekend. :)

    • jubilare

      No worries. To be honest, I haven’t even checked to see if you replied yet because I knew I didn’t have time to respond! I’m into the crazytime that encompasses the end of November through early January, so things are going to be spotty. Take your time to respond, as I will have to take my time, too. :)

  • Tungsten

    Phew, I finally have time to answer you again. :D

    “Yes, in the end they are just meaningless models from a base truth, and in that regard I see how one could argue that they have not inherently more value compared to the other.”
    I’m afraid that’s still not quite what I mean. Sight isn’t a model because it isn’t something we create. It’s involuntary. There exists (we assume) an objective thing we call the “light spectrum,” some of which we can see. But that spectrum, in and of itself, is not/contains no color. Color is simply what our brains do with the information received from the visible light spectrum. Without our eyes and brains, “color” would not even exist. Therefore, in a very real sense, our brains create color, and because color only exists involuntarily within our minds, there is no such thing as a “wrong” color. You can’t be wrong about what is green because “green” is just a translation of light.

    This is exactly what I meant. This involuntarily creation of the color concept is creating a model, in the mathematical sense. Or computer science sense, if you want.
    You have “real” input data and a subset of it gets represented as a model. And it has to be, since the raw data itself is kind of unavailable, we only have our “sensor outputs”.

    “Oh, I see! Until now I was only thinking about physical stuff – Even if we manage to measure everything, we can never be sure that there isn’t something we cannot perceive (yet).”
    We may be up against different definitions, again. “We can never be sure” means “uncertain” rather than “unknowable” in the way that I am using the words. Even with physical things I would use “uncertain” instead of “unknowable.” We keep testing scientific theories because we are uncertain, not because we think a thing cannot be known. We know that a certain theory may be correct, but we test it again and again because it may not be. If science were unknowable, there would be no point in it. If it is uncertain, then we just keep trying. Does that make sense?
    I grant, however, that there are factors (as you say, lost in time and space) that we cannot know. In that case, “unknowable” makes sense to me.

    That’s all I meant. Most is uncertain, some things are unknowable.

    “I think it’s interesting that you believe morality should take the effect on yourself into account. Why should my feelings matter?”
    Because what we become affects what we do. This should be true from your standpoint even more than from mine, as you believe our responses are purely conditioned, yes?
    Let’s say I choose to lie about stealing a cookie from the jar in my parent’s kitchen. No big deal, right? But then that makes it easier to lie about doing my homework. Then, to catch up with my lapsed homework, I start cheating. Assuming I am not caught and forced to face consequences, I may learn that cheating works. As an adult I start to cheat in my work, I backstab to get ahead, lie to curry favor, and falsify data to make myself look better. Then, say, I make it to the head of my company (sadly, it happens). What kind of leader do you think I will be?
    Decisions have consequences both inside and outside a person, and the two are related. Things that affect “only us,” will come, in time, to affect everyone around us and things we do that affect “other people” also leave their mark on us, creating a cycle. Any morality that pays attention only to the external or only to the internal is leaving out half of the equation.

    Ah okay, the corrective aspect, that makes sense.

    “Also: Is perfect Objective Morality 100% consequence based?
    In my opinion you could create paradox scenarios if it isn’t.”
    I think we may be at cross-purposes. I think you are thinking of Objective Morality as an equation, while I am thinking of it as a set answer. I don’t think it is something one plugs factors into, but rather the answer that is being sought. I’m struggling to explain what I mean, though. I need some time to puzzle over it. Hmm.

    Ah, I see. In my worldview, something has to be logical before I can accept it, especially if the question is about justice.
    I see it as an equation, you see it as a set answer (=dogmatic?).
    My problem with the latter is that this set answer _could_ be “Yeah, it’s okay to kill this baby” and you would have to accept it.
    When you see it as an equation, there could be a reason why this okay in the end, but if it is dogma, you don’t get an explanation and there doesn’t even need to be one.
    You can only trust the source of the dogma that it is just.
    I am not willing to muster this trust, especially when reading in the bible how petty God can be.

    “What would you say are the unchanged core statements of Christianity?
    I am a Protestant, and I would argue that many accept the Creed, but do not really believe it.”
    Wait a sec… how can you be a Protestant Atheist Materialist? Or are you saying you were a Protestant before becoming an atheist? In the vocabulary I am familiar with, Protestant is solely a branch of Christianity. If it has a different meaning to you, then please define it.

    I should have written “was” or “was raised a”, sorry!

    “Also, what people believed in the medieval times was different than what we believe.”
    The truth of this depends on what you mean. Their belief about fact (science) was often very different from ours, and many of their other beliefs differed from ours, as well, but in terms of the Faith, what you mention are fashions, questions, and period-related assumptions. Those things, right or wrong, change all the time, but they are not the Faith.
    I can pick up St. Augustine (354 – 430), or Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416) and see the same faith I practice staring back at me from different ages and from two wildly different individuals. There’s even a lot they can teach me because they have different sets of cultural assumptions than I have with the same faith acting as a framework under them. There are areas where I disagree with them, as one might expect across a gulf of time, place, and culture, but nevertheless I recognize the Faith and the Spirit in them. All this means much more than a shared morality (though there are shared moral threads that run through it).
    I understand that the human insanity of fighting over doctrine makes it seem as if we don’t agree on anything, but really, Christianity is powerfully consistent and it is far more than the simple moral-code aligning with “basic societal rules” (which, by the way, have been far less consistent than Christianity over the same period of time).
    That consistent faith involves belief in the supernatural, in One Good all-powerful and all-knowing God, in the fallen nature of mankind, in the Incarnation, in salvation through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the importance (not necessarily the relative importance) of the sacraments, prayer, and worship. Some creeds add to that, and maybe I have missed something, or even added something unessential, but as far as I understand the faith, that is the core of it. All this is far more than a moral code, and most Christians would agree that it is far more important than the Law.

    Interesting!
    Although I read “more important than the law” with an uneasy feeling, as advocates for Sharia have the same reasoning.
    To clarify that: If you would ask me to define laws that all would have to abide, I would make every law so it cannot be misused.
    “It says so in the scripture” or “God wills it” are too easily misused, so I would not base a law on it.
    For example, I am against death penalty, because it is a too powerful tool when misused, no matter how good it might be against crime. (I don’t now if it even helps against crime, btw)

    “Even the existence of the old and new testament shows that there apparently was a need for some new rules, I’d say.”
    A lot of people think that, but there is another way to look at the question. What follows is my personal take.
    Let’s set aside religion for a moment and consider a thought-experiment:
    Say you want to teach a small child Quantum Mechanics. You cannot start with full-blown quantum mechanics; there is no way she will understand it. You have to meet her where she is.
    You begin by teaching her to count and teaching her numbers. Then you move on to basic mathematics, and so on and so forth, bringing her up to the level where she can, at last, understand quantum theories and make complex calculations.
    Now consider the possibility that humanity, in understanding God, is in much the same position as the child needing to understand complex mathematics. If Christ had come 1000 years earlier with His message, what do you think the results would have been?
    I believe God, then and now, meets people where they are and leads them forward at a pace that challenges them, but that they can manage. There is no point in His trying to reveal His full mind to us if we are not capable of understanding. And so, in the Old Testament, we see a process: a people group protected from extinction (both physical and cultural extinction) and trained, bit by bit, to move forward until the time at which Christ (Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”) and His message can be received. The New Testament, in other words, could only have been built upon the foundation of the Old. I do not believe the Bible is, or has ever been, a static book of rules. It is, like reality, a complex story.

    Very interesting view! Will have to think about it a bit more.

    “I actually do believe this, too.
    The catch is:
    It does not matter that our choices are illusions or “predetermined”, everything stays the same, when viewed from the outside.
    Just as it wouldn’t matter if something like fate existed or not.”
    I wholly disagree with this. I think it matters immensely.
    It would matter from the outside, but our lives would be the same, wouldn’t they?
    Assuming nobody knows about it, of course, but how could you?

    “Even if a murderer, due to his experiences in life, was predetermined to commit the crime, we still have to punish him to achieve correction and deterrence.”
    But we don’t. We don’t “have” to do anything. We can’t do anything but what we are preconditioned to do. We’re just automatons going through the motions, and even more self-deluded that we think we actually think. It all turns in on itself. Every letter you and I type is just a contortion of mindless matter… the universe doing what the universe does.
    “Even if every word I write is by my own free will or was pretty much predetermined due to my experiences, we still have this conversation and learn from it.”
    Nay… There is no “pretty much” possible in this equation, or “learning,” for that matter. There is either absolute predestination of matter, or there is not. There is no half way. And if such predestination exists, then “learning” is just another illusion.
    The universe is implacable. It is what it is.
    If we are simply conditioned bits of matter incapable of deviating from the course on which the universe laid us, then even our thought is illusion. We are really only tracing out patterns of neurons that could never, under the conditions, have fired in any other way. That pattern of firing neurons would be just a link in the causal chain set off by the Big Bang (or whatever caused the big bang, and whatever caused that, backwards and backwards infinitely as science knows of no possible reaction without a cause).
    I think this matters quite a bit. If I’m just a lump of matter, a chemical reaction that could not be anything other than it is, then I am not responsible for anything that I do, and neither is anyone else. Forget subjective morality, this assumption eliminates morality as a whole and tells us that thought itself is merely the result of electrical impulses that have no meaning whatsoever.

    I actually agree with all this, but there is one small distinction that changes everything.
    What you just described is a world without _intrinsic_ meaning.
    But it has internal rules.
    Like a movie, the plot is the same each time you view it, but why does the detective have to catch the murderer for example?
    There are two reasons.
    One: It is printed on the film roll this way, it HAS to happen.
    Two: The film depicts a society where murderers have to be punished by the law, so he has to stop him.

    This is what I mean, there is an internal reason. Sure, it is not very useful when you look at it from the outside, but it still matters when you are “in” the movie – and this is why you watch it.
    I know my point is pretty weak, by the way, but if nothing has meaning, this is the most meaning I can get out of it, without invalidating my world view.

    I am less bleak in real life, trust me ;D

    “To act with other life forms, we have to find a common morality, that gets regarded as objective – and thus will change over time.”
    Then the question becomes what to do with those who do not agree with the majority?

    And that is where people part into collectivists and liberals (liberitarians? Well at least not liberals in the US party kind of sense)
    One say everyone has to follow the line, the others say everyone can do what they want.
    Both still draw lines somewhere and try to correct those who cross them.

    “My point is:
    The act of searching for this common ground would be no different to the individual comparison judgements we would make to align to an Objective Morality that we do not fully understand/know, wouldn’t you agree?”
    Almost, but at some point my belief in there being an actual ruler underneath our measurements would cause friction.
    Prior to WWII, there were many proponents of eugenics in the U.S. and laws were passed that resulted in the sterilization of the “unfit”. http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/
    WWII scared most of that out of fashion in this country, though apparently not completely until the 1970’s. From a purely scientific standpoint, sterilization makes sense (I am NOT a proponent of it, I am playing devil’s advocate) if our aim is a healthy, mentally-sound, and evolutionarily fit species.

    And it still is an incredibly hard topic to decide on.
    For example with a certain age the probability of birth defects for women rises above the probability incestuous couples have in general.
    Should a society outlaw the first one, too – based on our justification for the second one?

    I am going to continue with the game metaphor, but this does not mean that I think the universe is a cosmic game! ;)
    Objective Morality believes that there is a “game,” so to speak, and as such, a hand full of fours can be good or bad/fashions can be right, wrong. Even if we do not know the rules, the very idea that there is a game and that rules do exist gives us a reason to start questioning, trying to find out what those rules might be. Belief in Objective Morality, even an uncertain/unknown one, gives people a reason to question their own moral views and the views of others.

    And if everyone has a subjective morality, we have to align everyone’s morality to a certain standard as a society.
    We play the same game in the end.

    By the way, about the question of morality, I recently watched a video about the alignments in Dungeons and Dragons.
    Those are basically moralities the characters can have in the role playing game.
    If you are interested: http://www.easydamus.com/alignment.html
    This system is universally criticized for its rigidness and because it’s prone to moral paradoxes.
    One guy said in a video, that the terms “good” and “evil” are religious terms and should have no place in a morality discussion, since they are too rigid and cannot be determined by a simple rule.
    Stealing is evil, but is it evil if you give the poor, etc.
    That reminded me of our discussion about subjectiveness of morality :)

    • jubilare

      “Phew, I finally have time to answer you again. :D”

      And here I wondered if I’d chased you off. I’m glad I didn’t. :) I’ve been very busy, so I am only just now replying to you!

      “This is exactly what I meant. This involuntarily creation of the color concept is creating a model, in the mathematical sense. Or computer science sense, if you want.
      You have “real” input data and a subset of it gets represented as a model. And it has to be, since the raw data itself is kind of unavailable, we only have our “sensor outputs”.”

      Exactly. But the point of my argument is that this means the question of who sees a color “correctly” is moot. It’s not a question of right or wrong, or even objective vs. subjective truth, but merely cause and effect because we are not in control of the input or the output, the cause or the effect. In that sense, it is either all objective truth/fact (if there is such a thing) or not (if there isn’t such a thing).

      “Ah, I see. In my worldview, something has to be logical before I can accept it, especially if the question is about justice.”

      The same is absolutely true for my worldview as well. But we may be at cross-purposes again. When I say “set answer,” it does not follow that I mean an illogical answer. 2+2=4 is both logical and set.

      “I see it as an equation, you see it as a set answer (=dogmatic?).”

      Let’s pause a sec to define terms? “Dogma” and “dogmatic” have been abused in modern language, sometimes justly, but often-times due to lack of understanding. Dogma means a set of beliefs or tenets.
      Now, there are 2 types of beliefs, those that can be proven (always assuming reality is real…), and those that cannot be proven.

      Everyone alive holds dogmatic beliefs that cannot be proven because we don’t have the means to prove them. For instance, that our sensory input is concrete or that it is illusory are both unprovable dogmatic positions. You can believe one or the other, but ultimately you can prove neither. Are we biological entities? Spiritual entities? Both? Or is everything an illusion? Pick one, or some other concept of existence, and it becomes an unprovable dogma for you.

      So in that sense, we all have unprovable dogmas at the back of our belief-systems. We sometimes call them assumptions. One of yours, if I understand you rightly, would be a dogma of belief in material existence.

      It does not follow that the dogma is illogical. Many logical things cannot be proven. They are logical because they are not at odds with reality as we understand it.

      What you are talking about is a little different. You are, if I understand rightly, talking about tenets and beliefs (dogmas) that can actually be tested. But you are talking about them as if they never are tested or examined. Beware of assuming that because something is a dogma in this sense, that it is blindly followed. Sometimes it is, but far more rarely, I think, than is generally assumed.

      “My problem with the latter is that this set answer _could_ be “Yeah, it’s okay to kill this baby” and you would have to accept it.”

      Only if one has decided to follow someone blindly. I find far less blind-following of religious ideas than I do of cultural ones. Once again, the theory of subjective truth undermines the ability to examine whether any dogma (even the dogma of subjective truth) is good or bad. The concept of an Objective Truth, however, allows for dogmas to be examined and evaluated and gives us the option of choosing one over another for reasons that can actually be explained.

      “When you see it as an equation, there could be a reason why this okay in the end, but if it is dogma, you don’t get an explanation and there doesn’t even need to be one.”

      I think you may be conflating rational consideration with an equation. An equation is a rational consideration in its context, but not all rational considerations are equations.

      In other words, in equation form morality is only an ends-game. Any means are acceptable so long as the ends reached are ‘good.’

      I do not accept the concept that the ends justify the means because often times the “means” are peoples lives destroyed, or a mountain clear-cut and then blown up. A rational assessment without an equation does, as far as I can tell, rest on belief in objective morality, but belief in objective morality is not irrational. It fits the facts of our existence quite well. I think it fits them far better than the idea of subjective truth.

      In short. An equation may be rational, but not all rational decisions are equations. Of course, I’m not a mathematician. The argument could be made that everything is quantifiable, but if that is the case, then the math involved is so far beyond our ability to comprehend that it isn’t useful to consider it “math” at all.

      “You can only trust the source of the dogma that it is just.
      I am not willing to muster this trust, especially when reading in the bible how petty God can be.”

      Mm. First things first: I don’t trust people. I examine dogmas and statements because I know people are messed up and not to be trusted. I know that I can’t even completely trust myself, which means I have to reexamine my own beliefs fairly often.
      Also, on what basis do you judge anything or anyone “just” or “unjust?” If truth is truly subjective (and there’s irony in those words), then what should be sought is a source of dogma that lines up with one’s arbitrary preferences.

      On the idea of a “petty God,” though, we’re getting back to the interpretation of scripture. I can see how the reading of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, can give the impression of a petty God (IF one believes in an Objective Truth against which God, or at least the writings of the people who believed in Jehova, can be judged…). Some things in there make me downright sick. But then again, I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to.

      I think there is a flaw in Protestantism and Modernism/Postmodernism that causes misunderstanding not only of the Bible but of all ancient texts. And remember, I say this as a practicing Protestant and a cultural Postmodernist. I use neither one as a pejorative.

      I believe that the literal reading of the Old Testament is inherently flawed. There are parts of it that are obviously intended to be history (and which are probably as reliable as most histories written by contemporaries), there are poems, there are parables/lessons, and there are myths. We moderns and postmoderns come at the book, more often than not, to either be indoctrinated or to put it on trial. We’ve mostly lost the relationship our ancestors had with stories, their understanding that most truth sticks with people better if they have to dig it out of a story, something experiential. And that there are some truths that cannot be communicated directly at all.

      To quote Emily Dickenson:
      Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
      Success in Circuit lies
      Too bright for our infirm Delight
      The Truth’s superb surprise
      As Lightning to the Children eased
      With explanation kind
      The Truth must dazzle gradually
      Or every man be blind —

      So, in my opinion, there are things to be considered when reading the Bible (or, again, any ancient text and indeed, some modern ones). One is the context in which it was written, the people for whom it was written. Another is, given its form, what purpose was it meant to serve? Then, given what it is trying to communicate, what does it mean to me?

      “Interesting!
      Although I read “more important than the law” with an uneasy feeling, as advocates for Sharia have the same reasoning.”

      I’m sorry, I caused a misunderstanding by using jargon. When I talk with other Christians, it’s generally understood that when one capitalizes “Law,” it means “God’s Law.” As such, what I was saying is exactly the opposite of Sharia or from any rule of religious law (I am against theocracy as a form of worldly government for many reasons). What I was saying is that the Laws of Christianity are merely tools, they are neither the core nor the goal of the faith. The New Testament says as much, very clearly and more than once.
      However, there are times (and I think you would agree) where one has to defy local laws because of a moral judgment, such as assisting in the escape of enslaved people before Abolition of slavery in my own country.

      “To clarify that: If you would ask me to define laws that all would have to abide, I would make every law so it cannot be misused.”

      I have every respect for your intellect and ability, but I’m sorry. I do not believe you’re capable of doing the thing that our entire species has been trying to do, and failing miserably at, since before we started recording our history. If there is a law, somebody is going to find a way to use it in a way it was never intended. If there are no laws, the lack of law will be exploited and misused. All it takes is one person who sees an advantage and is willing to take it and neither law nor lack thereof will be above misuse.

      “‘It says so in the scripture’ or ‘God wills it’ are too easily misused, so I would not base a law on it.”

      They are, indeed, easily misused, and the history of the misuse is horrific and tragic. I cringe, and sometimes snarl, whenever a politician invokes my God, the Bible, or my faith in order to strengthen their own position. It’s an abomination. I am also against basing secular laws solely on religious grounds. I don’t think that people who do not share my faith should be bound by it.

      But remember, though religious authority is misused in this way, so is secular authority and anything else people trust (as evidenced by inaccurate and dumbed-down science fed to people who have neither the interest or the ability to fact-check). The history of the misuse of secular authority is every bit as horrifying and tragic as the misuse of religious authority.

      For a mild, and very personal example: I took it on myself to research a cancer drug (Tamoxifen) that my oncologist, an otherwise fantastic doctor, wanted me to take for the next 5-10 years of my life. It’s touted for reducing the recurrence of breast cancer by 50% (and it’s possible side-effects include leukemia…) but what they don’t explain is that the 50% reduction is reducing the risk from 2% to 1%. … … … As Mark Twain was fond of saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
      I decided to take my chances and not take the drug. The number of people who do take it, though, without any awareness of the actual studies, is horrifying to consider as it is the medical standard in the U.S. That’s simple human/scientific authority abused for the sole purpose of making money off of people who are sick and frightened. And again, that’s a mild example.

      Now, the relevant question here is, I think, this: Does the misuse of scientific authority mean that all scientific authority is bad?

      I think not. Otherwise every aspect of our life based on science would have to be dismissed.

      In the same way, the misuse of religious, secular, parental, or any other kind of authority does not mean that the authority is inherently bad. It only means that it can be misused. …and seriously, try naming one thing in this world that can’t be misused. :/

      “For example, I am against death penalty, because it is a too powerful tool when misused, no matter how good it might be against crime. (I don’t now if it even helps against crime, btw)”

      I am against the death penalty for the same reason. There are laws that are more easily abused or misused than others, and there are outright bad laws, too. However, there is no such thing as an infallible law. Laws are simply tools, they are not morality, and as such their use and misuse rest on the ethics of the people using them.

      “It would matter from the outside, but our lives would be the same, wouldn’t they?
      Assuming nobody knows about it, of course, but how could you?”

      But we do know it is a possibility. We’re discussing it, and many people have, and are, and will be discussing it. Knowing things has consequences, unless we decide to pretend as if we didn’t know them (which is intellectually dishonest). So taking a stand either for or against predetermination costs something and will affect our behavior.

      “I actually agree with all this, but there is one small distinction that changes everything.
      What you just described is a world without _intrinsic_ meaning.
      But it has internal rules.
      Like a movie, the plot is the same each time you view it, but why does the detective have to catch the murderer for example?
      There are two reasons.
      One: It is printed on the film roll this way, it HAS to happen.
      Two: The film depicts a society where murderers have to be punished by the law, so he has to stop him.”

      But all stories we are aware of have authors/creators. That is why they have internal logic/rules. If the universe is without an author, then it has no such rules other than (we assume) physics.

      If you are arguing that humans can create stories, and therefore meaning, for their own lives, then we are right back at the subjective problem: that meaning is arbitrary and irrational, and cannot be applied to anyone else without intellectual dishonesty… making our every action against someone else’s “wrong” action an insufferable and insupportable tyranny of one subjective view over another. …It’s a painful either-or, I know. Also, there is the question of how comfortable we are with being knowingly self-deluded. If we know that we are making up meaning for ourselves, and could change it at any time to suit us, then how much meaning do we really have? Not much.

      “This is what I mean, there is an internal reason. Sure, it is not very useful when you look at it from the outside, but it still matters when you are “in” the movie – and this is why you watch it.”

      As a writer, I’d like to point out that it does matter from the outside. That’s why we create stories: to communicate something. And one of the means of communication is internal rules/logic (or in some cases, the notable absence of such) in a story. But with a story, I know I am creating it. I know what I am trying to communicate and why. With my life, if I start looking at it as a story, with no meaning but what I choose to ascribe to it, and every other life is lived in an equally arbitrary way, then I fail to see the point of any of it.

      “I know my point is pretty weak, by the way, but if nothing has meaning, this is the most meaning I can get out of it, without invalidating my world view.

      I am less bleak in real life, trust me ;D”

      Lol! It says something about me that I don’t find this discussion bleak. I guess I’m used to it. You are stretching me a bit, though, and I enjoy it. ^_^

      I’m comfortable with an informed choice, even if it differs from mine. A reason can be challenged, but a choice is what it is. It has become a dogma. ;) I’ve chosen what I believe based on the evidence available to me, and I have no argument with anyone who has drawn different conclusions from the evidence, so long as it’s an informed and honest choice. Not that I ever stop prodding and questioning. It’s in my nature.

      “And that is where people part into collectivists and liberals (liberitarians? Well at least not liberals in the US party kind of sense)
      One say everyone has to follow the line, the others say everyone can do what they want.
      Both still draw lines somewhere and try to correct those who cross them.”

      Aye. Collectivists and Anarchists, perhaps? And of course, the many, many shades in-between. And in a subjective context, none of them can be either right or wrong, though they can be effective or ineffective in achieving their goals or in imposing their views on others.

      “And it still is an incredibly hard topic to decide on.
      For example with a certain age the probability of birth defects for women rises above the probability incestuous couples have in general.
      Should a society outlaw the first one, too – based on our justification for the second one?”

      It isn’t an easy decision (probably not even a possible one) without an agreed objective. And an agreed objective rests very heavily on an agreed morality.

      Though I’d like to point out that birth defects are neither the sole nor (in my view) the best argument against incest. There is usually emotional/psychological manipulation and damage done to at least one party in an incestuous relationship (which is also, often, statutory rape), and that is not the case with pregnancy in older women. So for me, and for many others, it comes down to sexual ethics and questions of consent rather than percentages of healthy babies.

      “By the way, about the question of morality, I recently watched a video about the alignments in Dungeons and Dragons.
      Those are basically moralities the characters can have in the role playing game.
      If you are interested: http://www.easydamus.com/alignment.html
      This system is universally criticized for its rigidness and because it’s prone to moral paradoxes.”

      XD I used to steal and read my brother’s D&D sourcebooks when I was little, and I’ve played the game many times. From the first I loathed the Alignment System. Whatever the system’s original intent (probably game-mechanics), it turns the idea of Archetypes into cardboard-cut-out characters. People don’t fit into boxes like that, nor should they. That’s why I much prefer GURPS for gaming. And yes, I am a card-carrying geek. ;)

      While I understand it might look a little like it from some perspectives, the concept of Objective Morality is nothing like the D&D alignment system.

      Let’s take a different game for an example. Have you ever heard of/played Mao? It’s a card-game in which the player called Mao decides the rules, but doesn’t tell the other players. They have to figure out what the rules are as they go along from being penalized or rewarded for certain actions. There are problems with this, too, as an example of objective morality (mostly that the rules in Mao are arbitrarily picked by the Mao in a way that is not, I believe, analogous to actual morality), but in another way, it fits.

      In Mao there are rules. The game cannot be successfully played without them, and it is the players’ job to figure them out.

      With Objective Morality, if it exists, we start with more of an advantage than the players in Mao. We have consciences and rules/ways tested by humans that came before us. But we are still aiming for a target, and we get feedback from our actions as to what works and what doesn’t, and from that, we begin to learn what the ultimate goal is.

      Science is the same thing, only applied to the material world. We try things, and they either work or they don’t, and the more things we try and the more successes and failures we have, the better understanding we have of the rules governing the physical universe.

      Again, the game-metaphor is imperfect. I don’t think there is a Cosmic Game, but I do think there is a goal we are trying to reach, a purpose for which the Universe exists, and laws, human and divine, are simply a means to try and reach that goal. They, themselves, aren’t the goal or the purpose.

      It isn’t a law in my state to wear a seatbelt so that people will wear seatbelts. It’s the law so that, by wearing seatbelts, fewer people will die in car accidents. If we managed to eliminate car accidents, both the need for seatbelts and for seatbelt laws would disappear.

      “One guy said in a video, that the terms “good” and “evil” are religious terms and should have no place in a morality discussion, since they are too rigid and cannot be determined by a simple rule.
      Stealing is evil, but is it evil if you give the poor, etc.
      That reminded me of our discussion about subjectiveness of morality :)”

      Lol! Yes, it reminds me of our discussion, too. If “good” and “evil” aren’t in the discussion, then there is no discussing morality at all. We’re just talking about what people do or don’t do without moral context. No word he could replace them with would be any clearer, or any more or less religious.

      What he really means, most likely, is that “stealing is evil, but giving to the poor is good, and therefore the question of whether or not stealing to give to the poor is net good or evil is complicated” but he’s not comfortable with the words because of their religious connotations. Which I get, but still, eliminating words because we don’t like how they’ve been used or by whom has always struck me as a step away from clarity and sense.

      If, on the other hand, one is talking only in terms of D&D alignments, then “Good” and “Evil” are just two ends of an axis on a graph, with “Law” and “Chaos” providing the other axis. There’s no religious context, it’s just a game mechanic. “Stealing,” is neither good nor bad in D&D. It’s simply “Chaos” over “Law,” and therefore stealing to give to the poor would be a Chaotic-Good action, and not something a Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Lawful Neutral, or Chaotic Evil character would do. We’re simply talking about a point on a graph. This kind of morality really would be just an equation, a kind of geometrical proof. Thankfully, it’s also just a game-mechanic, not a true reflection of humanity or morality.

  • Tungsten

    Hey, I managed to actually answer you this time! :)
    Since there was so much time between out last posts, I’ll leave out most of the stuff where I’d write only “Yeah, I agree” or “interesting.

    “I’m sorry, I caused a misunderstanding by using jargon. When I talk with other Christians, it’s generally understood that when one capitalizes “Law,” it means “God’s Law.” ”
    Oh, I didn’t catch that – I am German so I am used to capitalization and didn’t notice it! :D

    ““To clarify that: If you would ask me to define laws that all would have to abide, I would make every law so it cannot be misused.”
    I have every respect for your intellect and ability, but I’m sorry. I do not believe you’re capable of doing the thing that our entire species has been trying to do, and failing miserably at, since before we started recording our history. If there is a law, somebody is going to find a way to use it in a way it was never intended. If there are no laws, the lack of law will be exploited and misused. All it takes is one person who sees an advantage and is willing to take it and neither law nor lack thereof will be above misuse.”
    I phrased that very badly.
    I am very well aware I wouldn’t be able to make foolproof laws, I meant to say that I’d try to make laws with foolproof-nes in mind!
    I recently had a (purely theoretical) discussion with a friend whether insults should be illegal and he had the opinion that feelings should be protected by law.
    While I can see his point, I don’t thing this would be a good law, since the huge possibilities of misuse are apparent.
    Feelings are not measurable. “He said he diesn’t like my new hair, this upset me so much I didn’t leave my house for a week and I want compensation” etc etc. If feeling good was a right, as nice as it would be, it would open the floodgates for an ocean of problems. Not even touching the subjects that what makes one happy could make another person sad again etc.
    This is what I meant.

    “They are, indeed, easily misused, and the history of the misuse is horrific and tragic. I cringe, and sometimes snarl, whenever a politician invokes my God, the Bible, or my faith in order to strengthen their own position. It’s an abomination. I am also against basing secular laws solely on religious grounds. I don’t think that people who do not share my faith should be bound by it.”
    If only more people would think like you!

    “For a mild, and very personal example: […]”
    Oh god, statistics. I had to dabble in that topic for my dissertation and now I see wrong interpretation of data like in your example EVERYWHERE.
    The mildest kind are those diagrams on shampoo bottles against dandruff etc.
    Have you seen those diagrams? There aren’t even any lables! No numbers! It’s totally worthless.

    “In the same way, the misuse of religious, secular, parental, or any other kind of authority does not mean that the authority is inherently bad. It only means that it can be misused. …and seriously, try naming one thing in this world that can’t be misused. :/”
    That’s true. But one could argue that some things are easier to misuse – many religions rquire faith (to a degree), acceptance without proof (by usual scientific methotds/logical rules) – science won’t.
    But I agree, everything is misused if it’s misusable.

    “If you are arguing that humans can create stories, and therefore meaning, for their own lives, then we are right back at the subjective problem: that meaning is arbitrary and irrational, and cannot be applied to anyone else without intellectual dishonesty… making our every action against someone else’s “wrong” action an insufferable and insupportable tyranny of one subjective view over another. …It’s a painful either-or, I know. Also, there is the question of how comfortable we are with being knowingly self-deluded. If we know that we are making up meaning for ourselves, and could change it at any time to suit us, then how much meaning do we really have? Not much.”
    You are absolutely right here and I guess that’s the crux of my world view. I can’t justify my “goodness” from a moral view. There can be no “objective” good if there is no “objective” evil.
    It’s like that argument that true alturism doesn’t exist, since we basically only do it beacuse it feels good (dopamine etc) to help others. And that’s the reason why we do it, so the argument.

    “There is usually emotional/psychological manipulation and damage done to at least one party in an incestuous relationship (which is also, often, statutory rape), and that is not the case with pregnancy in older women.”
    You are right. I was more thinking of the sibling-sibling couple that made the news here some time ago, it’s a bit different there.

    “That’s why I much prefer GURPS for gaming. And yes, I am a card-carrying geek. ;)”
    Oh wow, you are the first person outside some Pen&Paper specific forums that knows GURPS!
    I always wanted to have a look at the ruleset.

    Well that was shorter than usual.
    I have to admit I don’t really know what else I should talk about.
    I guess we made our positions pretty clear and accept each others reasoning.

    • jubilare

      Hey, again! I am so sorry for the long delay. Spring is insane. ;)

      “I phrased that very badly.
      I am very well aware I wouldn’t be able to make foolproof laws, I meant to say that I’d try to make laws with foolproof-nes in mind!”

      Yes, but I am pretty sure most laws (at least laws made honestly) attempt to do this. Foresight varies, and is tricky at best.
      On laws against hurt feelings… I think that, not only would that be easily misused, but protecting people from hurt feelings is like protecting them from all germs. You create people so fragile that they can’t even survive. There is a difference between protecting people from all harm (which is, I think, counter-productive and unscientific) and trying to protect them from outrageous harm (bullying to the point where someone commits suicide, for example, needs to be prevented if possible). Overly-sheltered people are not subjected to normal pressures and therefore never build the physical and mental muscle they need to survive. I’ve watched it happen with disastrous results. >_< I've also seen people rise up through terrible adversity to become amazing, whole, compassionate people. I would tell your friend that there is such a thing as being too safe. ;)

      “If only more people would think like you!”

      There are more than is readily apparent! Unfortunately, the people who are the loudest, and therefore given the most attention, are almost always extremists of one stripe or another.

      “Oh god, statistics. I had to dabble in that topic for my dissertation and now I see wrong interpretation of data like in your example EVERYWHERE.
      The mildest kind are those diagrams on shampoo bottles against dandruff etc.
      Have you seen those diagrams? There aren’t even any lables! No numbers! It’s totally worthless.”

      I haven’t, but I’m not surprised. I’d be tempted to label the diagrams things like “percentage of hair turning to marshmallow” and “number of people whose heads have exploded from using this product!” Statistics are more often misused than not, I think. Oh, and then I heard “1,000%” on a commercial the other day. *sigh*

      “That’s true. But one could argue that some things are easier to misuse – many religions rquire faith (to a degree), acceptance without proof (by usual scientific methotds/logical rules) – science won’t.
      But I agree, everything is misused if it’s misusable.”

      Ah, but I believe that science takes just as much faith as any religion. First, let me quibble about your use of “logical rules.” Logic applies to rules of thought. Rules of thought apply to far more than science. If Christianity were illogical, I would not be a Christian.
      You are, I think, equating logic with scientific observation. Logic is applied to scientific observation (otherwise we could make no conclusions from the observation), but it, itself, is not science. Rules of thought are not proven by scientific method, but are tested entirely in the human mind. We can’t grasp it beyond “it makes sense, I can’t find a fallacy,” or “I have found a fallacy, it is this,” and both of these things are abstract thoughts or even, in a way, feelings. But we have to trust these thoughts/feelings because it is literally the only method of evaluation we have. Every other method of testing anything is built on logic. And so logic is applied to theology and the study of the supernatural in exactly the same way it is applied to scientific study.

      Here is a good definition of what faith actually is: I trust that this plane will not fall out of the sky because the planes I have been on before have not fallen out of the sky and many other people have told me that they have flown in planes and not fallen out of the sky.

      That is faith. Belief that what has been true so far will remain true. It is not illogical, but it is also not absolutely certain. Despite what most people assume, we have no guarantee that the universe won’t just vanish (poit!), or change in the next second, or that it even IS the same (we’re all in the Matrix!) from moment to moment. I am reminded of the old “what if, every morning, you wake up as a different person and do not know it?” mind-bender.

      This is because we do not understand what the universe is. All science does is observe observable phenomena and draw conclusions. It is incapable of explaining what the universe is, or why it is here, because all of its observations are contained within the universe, and are drawn from the universe, in the same way a dreamer draws all of their information from inside a dream. We could assume that the universe is all there is, as a dreamer could assume the dream is reality, but it is just an assumption.

      Faith in science, and faith in materialism, are just as much faith, and just as founded/unfounded, as any other form of faith. As with religion, there are people you must choose to believe (even a scientist has to put faith in other scientists as no one can master all fields and not everyone can be Stephen Hawking). They are the priests of the religion of science. You may not trust them entirely (few religious people trust their religious leaders entirely), but you assume that, in general, they do their jobs, are honest, and that they will be corrected by others if they stray (exactly like a priesthood is supposed to be).

      As with religion, faith in science and in materialism (I share your faith in science, and in the existence of a material universe) requires assumptions that must be taken purely on faith: the universe Exists, the universe has Rules, the rules can be understood/interpreted by human minds, the rules will not suddenly change, etc.

      It could be argued that a faith in science and materialism is backed up by personal experience. But then, so is faith in religion, otherwise no one would believe it. I believe in gravity not only because scientists tell me it is a thing, and mathematicians have created equations, but because when I drop a penny, it falls. I have faith that the scientist’s explanation for the falling penny is honest and correct. I believe in the Holy Spirit not only because of the Bible, or the experiences of others, but also on my own experiences with It. The methods for gaining evidence for the existence of such a thing are different from scientific methods, but they are no less methodical and logic applies to them. They require various forms of evidence culminating in a conclusion which is then tested over time.

      It is very important, I think, for all of us to take a good long look at what we actually know and where we get our assumptions. It is true that I cannot scientifically prove the existence of God, but then again I cannot scientifically disprove it, either. Why would I expect to? That’s not science’s job. I require scientific proof when someone wants to tell me something about how the material universe works. I must look for spiritual evidence and the support of abstract thought in order to test spiritual questions. It’s only logical.

      I know people are able to “psych” themselves into believing all kinds of things. I have doubted some of my own experiences, assuming they are “all in my head,” but I have had experiences corroborated in ways that defy solid scientific explanation, too. At this point I have enough personal experience, backed up by accounts of others’ experiences, to say, with confidence, that I have as much evidence for a spiritual world as I do for a physical one. Neither is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, because neither can be. We must all take the evidence we have and draw our conclusions.

      “You are absolutely right here and I guess that’s the crux of my world view. I can’t justify my “goodness” from a moral view. There can be no “objective” good if there is no “objective” evil.

      It’s like that argument that true alturism doesn’t exist, since we basically only do it beacuse it feels good (dopamine etc) to help others. And that’s the reason why we do it, so the argument.”

      Mm. I never bought the selfish-altruism argument because (and this is an example of how I evaluate truth) it contradicts my experience. Sometimes it feels good. Sometimes it feels like hell. And I am never considering “the good of the herd” or any such nonsense. Sometimes it’s done out of sheer obedience to the God in whom I believe. I am sure those who argue for selfish altruism would make some argument about how that sense of obedience feeds this or that “instinct,” and so all of these arguments become cyclical.

      In the end, we all choose what we believe. Absolute proof is not obtainable. And that is why people who claim to have absolute proof for their beliefs, and people who just assume that other people don’t have proof, are, at best, mistaken.

      “You are right. I was more thinking of the sibling-sibling couple that made the news here some time ago, it’s a bit different there.”

      Ah, I don’t know that story.

      “Oh wow, you are the first person outside some Pen&Paper specific forums that knows GURPS!”

      XD GURPS rules! I haven’t played in a long while because my gaming group dispersed. Alas.

      “I always wanted to have a look at the ruleset.”

      It is both simple and extremely complicated. Simple because the base rules are very basic. Complicated because its purpose is to allow gamers to make literally anything. No classes, no alignments, just a sea of attributes and skills from which to create characters that are actually like people. ;) My brother is a GM, and has created several fascinating and unique worlds in GURPS.

      “Well that was shorter than usual.”

      We may pair this down to size yet! Though I have not helped matters with my spiel on logic and how it relates to faith. :)

      “I have to admit I don’t really know what else I should talk about.

      I guess we made our positions pretty clear and accept each others reasoning.”

      Indeed. When people get down to the ground of understanding that differing opinions may be equally valid interpretations of the available information (dear heavens that’s a mouthful) it becomes a lot easier to respect without agreeing. The world, in general, needs a whole lot more of that kind of respect. I’m glad to have found it in you.

  • Tungsten

    First of all: Sorry for taking so long this time!

    “Ah, but I believe that science takes just as much faith as any religion. First, let me quibble about your use of “logical rules.” […]
    It could be argued that a faith in science and materialism is backed up by personal experience. But then, so is faith in religion, otherwise no one would believe it. I believe in gravity not only because scientists tell me it is a thing, and mathematicians have created equations, but because when I drop a penny, it falls. I have faith that the scientist’s explanation for the falling penny is honest and correct. I believe in the Holy Spirit not only because of the Bible, or the experiences of others, but also on my own experiences with It. The methods for gaining evidence for the existence of such a thing are different from scientific methods, but they are no less methodical and logic applies to them. They require various forms of evidence culminating in a conclusion which is then tested over time.
    It is very important, I think, for all of us to take a good long look at what we actually know and where we get our assumptions. It is true that I cannot scientifically prove the existence of God, but then again I cannot scientifically disprove it, either. Why would I expect to? That’s not science’s job. I require scientific proof when someone wants to tell me something about how the material universe works. I must look for spiritual evidence and the support of abstract thought in order to test spiritual questions. It’s only logical.
    I know people are able to “psych” themselves into believing all kinds of things. I have doubted some of my own experiences, assuming they are “all in my head,” but I have had experiences corroborated in ways that defy solid scientific explanation, too. At this point I have enough personal experience, backed up by accounts of others’ experiences, to say, with confidence, that I have as much evidence for a spiritual world as I do for a physical one. Neither is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, because neither can be. We must all take the evidence we have and draw our conclusions.”

    I mostly agree with you and thanks for showing my inaccuracy in the first section.
    But: I disagree on the quality of “faiths”.
    That a plane doesn’t fall from the sky is not 100% sure, but it is very impropable. We can never be entirely sure.
    But this is a different kind of faith than asserting the existance of an omnipotent being.
    You said so yourself, the method of gaining evidence is a different one.
    Or, as a smaller example: I don’t accept energy crystals or dowsing rods either.
    Even if those people think this stuff works.
    (I don’t want to compare thos things to religion, though! There is a HUGE difference.)
    I think in the end it boils down to the question whether you believe that there is more to the universe than “meets the eye”, so to say.
    Personally, I think a purely materialistic view is simpler and more elegant, even if it might seem very bleak.

    “Indeed. When people get down to the ground of understanding that differing opinions may be equally valid interpretations of the available information (dear heavens that’s a mouthful) it becomes a lot easier to respect without agreeing. The world, in general, needs a whole lot more of that kind of respect. I’m glad to have found it in you.”

    :) Thank you very much! I think the same.

    I actually think we might be finished with our discussion or are close to finish?
    I can’t think of any more points I’d like to discuss.
    Heh, took us long enough, we started October last year! :D

    • jubilare

      How did I miss this comment? So sorry! I got rather overwhelmed with home stuff, then my country blew up into an insane ball of insanity that just. keeps. getting. worse!

      “That a plane doesn’t fall from the sky is not 100% sure, but it is very impropable. We can never be entirely sure.” Absolutely. And one can never be entirely sure of anything, thus: faith.

      “I think in the end it boils down to the question whether you believe that there is more to the universe than “meets the eye”, so to say.” Yes. And as it cannot be proven from one person to another, it’s up to each individual to decide what they believe. This is why I am all for freedom of belief. I have the evidence I personally need for my faith, but I don’t expect it to be what is needed to convince others. I can share my experiences and my reasoning (and obviously, I do ;) ) but I understand that it is mine, and won’t necessarily help or apply to another person.

      “Personally, I think a purely materialistic view is simpler and more elegant, even if it might seem very bleak.” I think the simplicity, more than the bleakness, is one of the main reasons I don’t believe it. The sheer complexity of the universe on all levels and its idiosyncrasies suggest, to me, something more than mindless cause-and effect. But as always, that’s just my perspective. I couldn’t argue the point with logic if I had to, any more than one could argue that simpler and more elegant is the same as “true.” They’re both emotional responses and equally valid.

      Yeah, I think we’ve come to as much understanding and consensus as is possible while remaining accepting of differing viewpoints. ^_^ It really has been a pleasure! Thank you!

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