Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Values and materialism

I want to address the specific issue of values and how they arise in the materialistic perspective, versus the presuppositionalist perspective. Now before I start, I know this is a chafing issue, and I want to make it clear that I am a moral individualist of the Objectivist kind (although I don't call myself an Objectivist anymore, I still think the moral system is extremely sound). That being said, I don't want to address SPECIFIC values in this post. I want to address what gives rise to values and why Christians cannot have values.

Now, there are two fundamental aspects of cognition that give rise to values. They are :

1. The necessity of value assignment, what John Dill calls a Category 1 presupposition.
2. Causality applied to human action. Every action has consequences that can be deduced and measured.

The first may need to be defined. I got it from John Dill's appearance on the Infidel Guy show, where he talks about Category 1 presuppositions. John Dill, by the way, is an Objectivist, and his approach to refuting presuppositionalism is pretty original. He defines the necessity of value assignment as such :

Because individual human existence is finite, (humans are mortal creatures), [whose] existence depends on choices and actions geared towards both continued existence and quality of existence, assigning value to our choices and actions, as well as the potential benefits or harm brought about by those choices and actions, necessitates the prioritization of humanities endeavors on the basis of preservation and quality of life. On this basis regulation of human behavior has resulted in the emergence of politics, laws, rules, ethics, morals and cultural norms. Value assignment is an axiomatic and inescapable necessity of the mortal human condition.
Basically, what this means is : we have to take actions in order to live and to flourish. At the very minimum, we have to fulfill biological functions such as eating, breathing and sleeping. Because of this, we also need to hold some things as true and some things as false. All of these facts means that we have necessary decision-making principles - necessary values. All of us shares those values, since we are all alive and flourishing (I hope, for the latter anyway).

Okay, now to the second point. Causality gives rise to the whole of value-systems. We can see this easily by re-expressing what a value is : a value is an X that we need to seek or keep, which is to say that seeking or keeping X fulfills a need. This fulfillment can be evaluted by science. If I eat, I will fuel my metabolism. If I use reason, I will tend to be right more often, and act more efficiently. If I'm nice to other people, they will be nice to me. This is causality applied to human action.

Or to put this more simply : a value is good because its application entails favourable consequences (however you want to apply values in your system). And I measure those consequences by looking at cause and effect.

So my first conclusion is that values are possible only because of two things : induction and causality. We need induction to be able to assign survival values, and we need causality to establish the consequence of our actions.

But Christians cannot have either. Because of the possibility of miracles, induction is out of the question. If God can bring into effect anything in the future, then relying on our past experience is folly. And causality is also right out in a subjective universe, because it is based on the uniformity of nature, which is only possible if the universe is self-contained - which is to say, material. And our friend materialism enters the scene, sweeping all the dust the presuppositionalist left in his hurry to get out of there.

From values, where do we go ? Well, there's plenty of places to go, but I'm thinking about two in particular. How about purpose ? Purpose is the application of man's moral will (I'm going to use that expression from now on) to long-term values. No values, no purpose. How about the use and love of rationality ? Rationality is only fundamental in an objective universe, and our moral desire to use reason only makes sense if we can value rationality and its benefits. Therefore a Christian cannot love reason (not that they would be awful unhappy about that).

There are a lot of other things, but those are the most important. I think this clearly settles the presuppositionalist's case as regards to values and their derivates.

Post a Comment


At 3/26/2005 3:03 AM, Blogger Paul Manata declaimed...

interesting that you hold to rule egoism but Moore holds to a utilitarian/deontological/contextualist account of morality. Would you, as a supporter of Rand's ethic, care to give us your insights into why Moore's system is flawed?

At 3/26/2005 3:13 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

I'm afraid I am not familiar with Zachary's account of morality. I assume that he would agree with my latest post, but I'll let him speak for himself.

As to the parameters you gave :

Utilitarian - Utilitarianism is flawed because it breaks the rule of structural individualism (individual organism as distinct moral agent).
Deontological - AFAIK, deontologism is completely incompatible with utilitarianism.
Contextualist - I am a contextualist also (obviously).

At 3/26/2005 3:22 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

By the way, insofar as moral rules are usually seen as socially-accepted rules, I think I'd rather be held as an act-egoist.

At 3/26/2005 9:31 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

How many times do I have to tell you that I'm not a Utilitarian, Paul? I've been telling you it's all about context!

At 3/26/2005 1:36 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Paul Manata wrote: "Would you, as a supporter of Rand's ethic, care to give us your insights into why Moore's system is flawed?"

Paul, Franc's post was about values - specifically, what "gives rise" to values. I understand what Rand meant about values. But I don't know what Jesus would have meant about values, for he seems never to have spoken directly about the nature of man's values in the sermons attributed to him in the gospels. Since I understand morality to consist of a code of values which guides man's choices and actions, I'm wondering what constitutes Jesus' morality, since I can't find any passage in either the Old or New Testaments which presents a theory of values suitable for man's life. Can you address this specific issue in one of your blogs one day?

At 3/26/2005 5:11 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"I'm wondering what constitutes Jesus' morality, since I can't find any passage in either the Old or New Testaments which presents a theory of values suitable for man's life."

Bahnsen Burner, I can save you a lot of trouble : you can't find it because it's not there. There are plenty of anti-values in the Bible, however. There's plenty of verses about what Christians can stop other people from doing. Morality ? Forget about it.

At 3/26/2005 10:13 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Franc: "I can save you a lot of trouble : you can't find it because it's not there."

You're right. But Christians typically deny this. So I press the question: if they think their Jesus taught a morality of values, then let's see it. For instance, what is 'value' for Jesus? Don't expect any solid answers here. Instead, expect a lot of backpedaling at this point, because that's all you'll get.

Franc: "There are plenty of anti-values in the Bible, however. There's plenty of verses about what Christians can stop other people from doing."

Actually, since the bible teaches a morality of sacrifice, it takes values and value-production completely for granted, and quite ungratefully, too. Indeed, some passages even condemn men for the virtues that value-production requires, namely rationality, pride and selfishness. Without values, you have nothing to sacrifice, but if you teach people to produce values in order to sacrifice them, then you expose the contradictory nature of sacrificial ethics. So, best to take them completely for granted and hope no one notices. This works in the case of Christians.

Franc: "Morality ? Forget about it."

The word 'morality' doesn't even show up in any of my concordances. Imagine that!

Oh, did anyone else notice that Paul re-instated his comments? I guess he was getting bored going blue in the face. Can he or can he not take the criticism?

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