Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Science of Values and the Mythology of Fact

Reader William is a self-refuting idiot. Fact or value?

First he affirms the fact -- or is it a value? -- that "It's a false dichotomy to compare religious belief with evidence based thinking."

But then he marshals misogynistic cable TV host Bill Maher to affirm the very opposite principle, that these two realms are "not two sides of the same coin." Rather, "you don’t get to put your unreason up on the same shelf with my reason. Your stuff has to go over there, on the shelf with Zeus and Thor and the Kraken, with the stuff that is not evidence-based, stuff that religious people never change their mind about, no matter what happens."

In other words, fact and value are very much dichotomous and irreconcilable. But is this meta-statement about the world a fact or a value? Clearly, anyone with a modicum of philosophical training would recognize it as a value, because it is plainly not a fact that facts are value-free.

Nevertheless, post-literate, post-religious, and post-metaphysical postmodernists typically regard these as opposites, except when they don't.

As we know, if the leftist believes his made-up facts are on his side, he will appeal to them; if not, he will appeal to a "deeper" principle, i.e., that perception is reality, or that no cultural perspective is superior to any other, or that absolute truth is a myth.

Thus, the moment you defeat the leftist with facts, he will pull various blunt instruments out of his relativistic arsenhole, such as critical race theory, gender studies, queer theory, diversity, etc.

For the vulgar materialist/atheist, the existence of facts is unproblematic, uncontaminated by the nebulous world of values. Conversely, the world of values is a fact-free zone of more or less arbitrary beliefs.

But this was not the perspective of our founders, nor is it consistent with centuries of natural law.

For example, Locke -- who was a major influence on the founding generation -- maintained that morality stands "amongst the sciences capable of demonstration," and that it is grounded in "self-evident propositions" with "necessary consequences as incontestable as those in mathematics."

As such, "measures of right and wrong might be made out to anyone that will apply himself with the same indifferency and attention to the one as he does to the other of these sciences" (in Arkes).

Conversely, in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn demonstrated how scientific facts are only meaningful within a larger paradigm. For example, the Newtonian paradigm not only doesn't recognize quantum indeterminacy as a fact, but cannot recognize it period.

When the founders affirm that all men are created equal, they do not mean it in any relativistic or culture-bound sense. Rather, they are affirming a truth that is timeless and universal. There is no new fact that can come along and contradict it, because it is an axiomatic moral proposition implied by morality itself. It is certainly not a "value," if by value you mean something inherently subjective and personal.

As is true of any scientific fact, morality is not moral unless it is universally applicable and potentially knowable by anyone.

In other words, just as we say that Greek logic doesn't end with the boundaries of Greece, it is equally true that Judeo-Christian morality doesn't only apply to the Jews and Christians who value it. Rather, if it isn't universally true, then it isn't true at all, for universality is one of the minimum requirements of truth. In the words of Arkes,

"Moral statements purport to speak about the things that are universally good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust -- which is to say, good or bad, right or wrong, for others as well as for oneself."

This being the case, we can see that morality is founded upon universal truths that are accessible to reason. Man can know that a law is moral even if it clashes with his immediate self-interest. Just as certain mathematical truths remain true even if no one knows them, there are certain moral truths that apply to persons as persons.

You will have noticed that leftists are forever accusing conservatives of supporting principles that are in their economic self-interest. First of all, this is based upon a peculiar theory of economics that we do not accept.

Secondly, it only highlights the fact that we support principles that are universal, regardless of self-interest. In any other context, leftists would regard this as "noble" -- such as when wealthy liberals supposedly vote against their own economic self-interest by supporting statists and collectivists.

The moment man is capable of recognizing the existence of the good, this is an occasion for reflection. Does it just mean pleasurable, or good for Bob, or good for this or that group? Or does the word "good" imply a more abstract and universal standard accessible to man's reason?

For Arkes, there are certain objective moral propositions that may be drawn as immediate implications of the very idea of morals and of rational being.

Now, man is often -- more often than not -- bad and wrong, but all men -- as men -- are nonetheless equipped with the ability to reason, including within the moral sphere.

The leftist may concede that all human beings reason about morality, but the existence of so many diverse moral systems proves that there is nothing objective or universal about it.

Thus, in affirming relativism, the leftist necessarily embraces either amorality or immorality, the former inevitably redounding to the latter in any event.

To be continued....


julie said...

Oh, good - maybe if the trolls get bored enough, they'll find something else to do. Heaven forfend a post should require them to use brain cells in order to decide whether or not they've been insulted...

Gagdad Bob said...

William thinks that just because his sock-puppet agrees with him, he's not self-refuting.

Gagdad Bob said...

Related: Roger Kimball's review of the recently departed James Q. Wilson's great The Moral Sense.

julie said...

Thanks for the Kimball link. I find it delightful that he used the phrase "tarting up" to describe Rorty's treatment of relativism.

Cond0011 said...

Bob -

Is that the same James Wilson that frequents Gerard's Blog?

Just askin...

Tony said...

"critical theory" purports to be anti-foundational on principle

most leftists internalize critical theory as a set of intuitions and herding instincts

this allows them to congratulate themselves in various ways without much reflection or effort

"reality" is not something they want to be accountable to, but something to *shape*

they are, as were the Fabians, imperialists and totalitarians to the core

remember that the original motto of the French Revolution was "liberte, egalite, fraternite -- ou la Mort"

they are a culture of death, a surgical culture purely

I only have respect for the off-the-grid ecological types among them -- at least they have vision

Tony said...

Pew Research shows that the political Left is the most intolerant group on social networking sites:


You might say they act precisely like a gated community, exclusivist, intolerant, and very much circle-the-wagons types

i.e. Regressives

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I love how the humorless and irony-free Gloria Allred and Jane Fonda say that it is evil for Rush to refer to radical women as "feminazis" while they compare him to Josef Goebbels. Or William decrying "misogynistic" rhetoric while routinely linking to Bill Maher. Must be weird to live in a principle-free world, with no intellectual consistency.

Tony said...

speaking of women, Obama's HHS mandate lost them:


Kaus rightly calls attention to the NYT/Leftist's "cocooning"

gated community liberals, herd animals, like pampered gazelles grazing in their gated preserve

julie said...

No kidding - I was glad not to have been drinking anything last Friday when his Maher quote came through, or I might have sprayed my keyboard. Who looks to Bill Maher as any kind of font of wisdom, virtue or intelligence? I'm so glad I don't live in his universe.

Gagdad Bob said...

Taranto cites a NY Times editorial that explains the principle that allows liberals to condemn others for acting as they do. Liberals who engage in hate speech are not hypocritical. Rather, it's just that

"Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?"

As Arkes explains, such illogical forms of pseudo-morality undermine the very basis of morality.

Tony said...

"such illogical forms of pseudo-morality undermine the very basis of morality"

cui bono?

Gagdad Bob said...

Not American slaves, European Jews, and the unborn, that's for sure.

julie said...

Via Taranto, Holy cow - evidence that taking a stance against morality can have dire consequences. The crazy is strong in this one...

mushroom said...

I have been out the past two days and just got a chance to drop in. I guess what I see is that it is impossible for those with no morals to be immoral, and it is impossible for those without standards to be hypocritical.

It's a neat trick that by rejecting moral standards, a person can claim to be more moral than the person who adheres to moral standards.

You'll have to excuse me because I have been spading up garden plots in the sun for three out of the last four days, and I'm obviously confused.

Doesn't rejecting moral standards mean by definition that one is amoral? Is amoral really better than immoral?

The truth is that being moral and good is hard and even the best of us fail at it sometimes. Because it is hard, it must be unnatural and inauthentic, therefore, the moral person is a phony who displaces his or her immorality into activities that the amoral adjudicator of morality (e.g., Maher or William) deems unacceptable.

I am too tired to be safe.

Van Harvey said...

"Your stuff has to go over there, on the shelf with Zeus and Thor and the Kraken, with the stuff that is not evidence-based, stuff that religious people never change their mind about, no matter what happens."

You've gotta admir... (no... admire isn't the right word... Gape, that's better) you've gotta just gape at their ability to even use the words 'evidence-based', when they deny man's ability to perceive reality or to know what is true.

So, yeah, gaping is find, and appropriate, just don't try reasoning with them (at least not for any reason other than for your own amusement), their off the shelf arbitrariness isn't even fit for playing connect the falacies with - having no connection to reality, they aren't even wrong.

But they are funny.

Van Harvey said...

"You will have noticed that leftists are forever accusing conservatives of supporting principles that are in their economic self-interest. First of all, this is based upon a peculiar theory of economics that we do not accept.

Secondly, it only highlights the fact that we support principles that are universal, regardless of self-interest."

What's strangest of all about their accusation of supporting principles that are in our economic self-interest, is what it says about their conception of principles. Are there really principles which are true, that you could choose to ignore? Even if they accomplished something as despicable as working towards your self-interest... what kind of proven principle could you possibly choose to ignore because it dared favor, or stymie, you?

I wonder how often leftists curse principles of aerodynamics while jetting over flyover country, because they serve their self-interest?

What does such a muddle say about their ability to perceive or appreciate anything that's true?

Oh, yeah, that's right. Never mind.

William said...

Some value their 'beliefs' and 'faith' moreso than what they know to be fact. The area becomes black and white in the minds of the dogmatic because beliefs and faith cross the line into fact. How many times have we heard: "it has to be true because it's in the Bible." ?

I would welcome a statement like, "I believe it is likely true because I believe what the Bible says." At least that admits supposed fact based on belief rather than an outright statement of 'truth'.

I value perception, science, information, scholarship, and awareness moreso than legends, myths, and dogmatic imperatives.

Admire those who seek the truth, but beware of those who claim to have found it. Skepticism is integral to the advancement of learning.

mushroom said...

William, in my sidebar I have a couple of quotes about the value of skepticism -- one from Sheldrake and one from Orville Wright: If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.

We are all for seeking truth. And, for the record, it is not us who are lacking in skepticism about the predictions of, oh, climate science.

If you do not value myths, you do not understand what a myth is. Myths are true. When you grasp the fact that a myth or a Divine revelation is true the same way a microscope is true, you will not be far from the kingdom. Until then, good luck.

mushroom said...

That's what I get for trying to give a koan to a drone.

Van Harvey said...

willian said "The fact is, it doesn't matter who wrote the book, except to people like you. That's my point."

If Adam Smith wrote "The Communist Manifesto" & "Das Kapital", instead of Karl Marx, you'd still believe it.

And you'd still try it. Over and over and over again. No matter how many times it's failed (every), no matter how many people it has killed (hundreds of millions), you'd still believe it because it tells you what you want to believe, and it tells you that your belief is evidence that it is true, and that reality is mistaken.

That is your point.

Gagdad Bob said...

The saddest part is not that he is reduced to making straw man arguments, but that he actually believes them. Which means that by his own logic, his brains are composed of straw.

Tony said...

I'm still laughing at "arsenhole."

Tony said...

It's all relative until someone doesn't want to pay for your contraceptives.

I thought this comment was a beaut:

"The real humbug of the relativists is revealed when you turn their own arguments against one of their pet political projects. When I have argued in conference lectures and in print that politically correct censorship of the media or liberal judicial activism is merely the codification of power relations, a mere statement about who is going to be the boss round here,they went primate-excrement. They deny absolutes yet they act as if there were absolutes. When I taught a course on the Hindu caste system I used strict moral neutrality and said that we could not criticise another civilisation which was based on different values , those of justified lifelong inequality, and that we had to treat the idea of equality in an entirely relativist way.The liberal students were baffled and had no answer. It is curious that left-relativists always exempt equality from their relativism."

Gagdad Bob said...

Any form of relativism, including contemporary liberalism, feeds on its own tail. Which is why the tale always ends the same.

Gagdad Bob said...


I remember having a similar conversation with a liberal lawyer. I said, I realize that you're pro-abortion and all, but just between you and me, can't you at least admit that you're ashamed of the legal reasoning behind Roe v Wade? She responded with the usual blather about an evolving constitution. I said, that being the case, can you envision a day when people are sufficiently evolved to recognize the sanctity of human life, or that no human being falls beneath the protection of the law?


Gagdad Bob said...

The point is, abortion "rights" will be insecure so long as they are founded upon pure legal sophistry.

But perhaps that's the purpose, because the left assures itself a constant flow of cash by howling about the insecurity of abortion rights.

A right can only be truly secure if it is grounded in nature, which -- I think we can all agree -- is one thing abortion can by definition never be. Unless one argues that human beings have a natural right to be aborted.

julie said...

And given the howling woman I linked above (yesterday at 3:37), I suspect it isn't only about creating cash flow. For such as they, having a chronic fuel source to feed their all-consuming rage is an end unto itself.

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "But perhaps that's the purpose, because the left assures itself a constant flow of cash by howling about the insecurity of abortion rights."

I think it has more to do with their oppostiont to what you said next: "A right can only be truly secure if it is grounded in nature...", laws that are grounded in true principles are beyond the reach of govt to manipulate to their benefit. Laws which are grounded in convoluted sophistry, can be made, changed, applied and ignored, to the hearts content of those in power, whether they be judges, legislators, agency functionaries, POTUS, school board member, etc., etc., etc.

Power thrives in ambiguity and darkness.

Van Harvey said...

willian channels his inner self... ♫ ♪ ♬ Nothing from nothing leaves nothing... ♬ ♪ ♫