A Reply to Lance Bush’s Objections to Moral Realism

I had the privilege of discussing moral realism with my good friend Pat Flynn, and I would like to make a brief response to Just Questions (aka Lance Bush) who has stirred some of my thinking on this issue. Pat Flynn has also recently written a response here. I thank Lance for the dialogues he has had with me, and for advancing the discussion.

Where’s the Empirical Beef?

First, he replies by claiming I “never provided any empirical evidence that all or nearly all people experience morality in a way consistent with moral realism.” But this is precisely what the moral datum does! For example, suppose I said nearly all human being have experiences in a way consistent with real consciousness. It would be strange to reply, “But you never provided empirical evidence of this!” Surely pointing out that we all exhibit certain behavior that reflects consciousnesses suffices to show this. Similarly, showing that we all exhibit certain moral behavior (e.g, engaging in moral reasoning, believe some moral statements to be true, and believe there’s real moral progress) also suffices.  

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An Argument From Nature for Moral Realism

Why should we think moral facts exist and moral relativism / nihilism is false? Here’s a metaphysical argument from nature that I really like because it doesn’t depend on intuition:

  1. If there are rational agents with natural goods then moral goods exist.
  2. There are rational agents with natural goods.
  3. Therefore, moral goods exist.

Defense

The basic claim is that moral goods must exist if a rational agent with natural goods exist. First, let’s define our terms. A natural good is a good that is determined by what fulfills a thing’s nature. For example, rich soil is good for a tree and dry sand is not. This is determined by the tree’s nature; whereas something with a different nature may be fulfilled by sand as opposed to rich soil. Another example is a man born blind. By virtue of having a human nature, he should have eyesight; recognizing this fact is why we recognize blindness to be a defect. We call what is proper to nature a natural oughtness. A moral good by contrast specifically refers to a good that a rational agent ought to will for oneself and others — what that good precisely is will be covered next.

With that clarification, I’ll defend premise (1) and (2). It is obvious that there exist rational agents with natural goods; they’re called human beings. Eating apples for us is a natural good, whereas drinking battery acid is contrary to our good. How then do we go from natural goods to moral goods? Well, a moral good is just a special instance of the natural good, but in particular it’s the natural good of an intellect and a will. What is the intellect’s natural good? To know and understand what is true and good. What is the natural good of the will? To freely will what the intellect presents as truly good. Together they naturally produce a unique power called responsibility.

It is this power added to a natural good that transforms a mere natural good to a moral good. In other words, morality is just being responsible (or culpable) for willing natural goods within one’s control. We can refine our definition of moral good as “a natural good that a rational agent ought to will for oneself and others.” This natural good is an ought that applies to you whether you will it or not because it derives out of your nature. It is not some external ought imposed upon you which allows you to ask, “Why should I care to act morally?” but is instead an ought that exists in the very structure of human existence. You cannot help but will or not will in accordance to this natural obligation, which means you cannot help but be a moral agent.

Here are three reasons why it is plausible to identify morality with natural goods: (i) It is impossible to have a moral good that’s wholly detached from a natural good. Unless we want to make morality wholly arbitrary, they must be grounded in nature. Just try to think of a moral good that has no relevance whatsoever to nature. I’ll wait. (ii) This view has more explanatory power as it explains why moral obligations only applies to rational beings with a capacity for being responsible — an assumption that most ethicists simply take for granted — and makes far better sense of where moral goods come from. (iii) All morality in principle involves exercising our reason and will in accordance to a natural good, so this meta-ethical view is really impossible to avoid regardless of your normative theory of ethics.

Objections

Someone might object, “But how do you go from a natural ought to a moral ought?” You don’t. The “moral” ought is just a natural ought applied to a person capable of being responsible for their actions. There’s no is-to-ought gap (or naturalistic fallacy) as Hume and other modernists held. There’s only a gap if we said non-rational beings had moral obligations.

Another may just deny (2) altogether and bite the bullet. In which case it’s difficult to convince a person who wants to deny something as obvious as natural goods. You often cannot reason someone out of their irrationality; it’s like trying to use water to rescue a drowning person. There seems to be a cognitive dissonance as well. If this same nihilist gets a heart attack, they will often recognize it as bad and desire to repair the heart to what it naturally ought to be despite denying belief in natural goods. But as a sort of last ditch effort to persuade the nihilist, I would point out that their request for a justification of premise (2) already assumes that justifying our beliefs is naturally good for us.

Lastly, someone could just do some foot-stomping and insist that this natural good view of morality is just not what morality is. Sorry, but if you define morality as not grounded in nature, then all you’ve done is define yourself into victory in order to protect moral anti-realism.

Conclusion

The question to ask yourself is what view makes the most sense of reality and the natural behavior of human beings. All of us act as if moral facts exist in the same way that we act as if other minds, causality, or an external world exists. Realism is a package deal; if you reject one you reject the other because we often use the same common sense reasoning to accept them. You can provide special pleading exceptions of course, or be convinced that you have good reason for making an exception for belief in external minds but not moral facts, but the fact remains that we are naturally built to treat such beliefs with nearly equal force.

However, for those who are not convinced of the common sense + slippery slope argument, I have developed this metaphysical argument. It goes without saying that a lot more can be said than what I have been able to write in this blog post. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts!

A Secular Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage

I know it’s considered unpopular, bigoted, and homophobic to be against SSM these days, but before you shut your ears, please hear me out and at least think about these questions: Why should the government be in the marriage business in the first place? If we remove marriage altogether, homosexuals and heterosexuals still have the freedom to love and be committed to each other. Why is a relationship license a basic human right but a friendship license is not a basic human right? I made this article for my political science class and even my Professor, who turned out to be in a gay relationship, said “Very nice paper, Gil. Well researched and argued.” I was pleasantly surprised that she said this. I’m hoping that SSM supporters will be able to show the same charity, despite any disagreements you may have.

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Why Skepticism Over 2020’s Election Results Remains Justified

I cannot believe that it has been six months since I wrote my article on voter fraud. Since then it has received over 100,000+ views, was shared on Revolver.news, American Thinker, and even got shared by Sydney Powell and Michael Flynn on Twitter within a collection of links. Some of my readers may be wondering if I still believe the election’s results were fraudulent and if so, how I could possibly believe this given all that has happened. If there really was evidence, why has that evidence not come out? As my critics love to point out, the courts have “laughed” at every single of one of Trump’s court cases. Not a single piece of credible evidence has been provided. Experts deny that fraud occurred. All we have are loonies like Mike Lindell, Sydney Powell, and Lin Wood making baseless conspiratorial claims. Surely if I was reasonable, I would be ashamed of my previous stance. Unless…. unless I am cuckoo for Trump.

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Skeptical of Voter Fraud in 2020? Here’s Your Evidence.

[Updated Nov 25th at 2:55 PM MST]

Has anyone ever told you that “You can’t do it” and “You’re crazy” over and over? Perhaps they’ve told you this so many times, you’ve started to believe it yourself. This is what’s happening in our election today. The media is telling us “There is no evidence. You can’t prove it” and “You are just a crazy conspiracy theorist” over and over again. They’re gaslighting, ridiculing, and dismissing. But we all know something is up. 70% of Republicans suspect foul play; far higher than it has ever been in the history of U.S. elections. Something doesn’t smell right, even if we can’t quite put our finger on it. Can we do better than that though? Can we provide evidence? I will argue that we most certainly can. If you suspect fraud or you are open to the possibility, this article is for you. 

Preliminaries

First, it is important we begin with a clear and precise thesis: 

We will be using BBC’s criteria to make the minimal claim that we have good reason to suspect that there is targeted fraud in some key battleground states (PA, WI, MI, GA, and AZ). Their results do not pass the “sniff” test. We are not claiming there is decisive evidence of targeted fraud (yet), that there is nation-wide voter fraud in every state, that every Democrat and news outlet is conspiring together, or that there is massive fraud in the millions. Rather, we are making the more limited and the far more modest claim that we tentatively have good reason to suspect that targeted fraud exists in some of the key states, that several powerful figures are behind this, and that this fraud is significant enough to flip the election in Trump’s favor even if that is by a small margin. 

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Quick Thoughts on Graham Oppy’s Response to Edward Feser

Graham Oppy recently published a paper in Religious Studies entitled, “On stage one of Feser’s ‘Aristotelian proof” (see here) which seeks to refute Feser’s defense of the First Way. Now I do not presume to have the intellectual expertise of either of them, but I would nevertheless like to write my initial thoughts and compare notes with Feser’s future response. What follows is my brief defense of the First Way.

Existential Inertia

Oppy’s central claim is this:

Potentials to remain unchanged do not require distinct actualizers; all they require is the absence of any preventers of the actualization of those potentials. In particular, things that have the potential to go on existing go on existing unless there are preventers – internal or external – that cause those things to cease to exist.

He uses the analogy that a chair that is red at t1 has the potential to continue to exist and be red at t2. This potential does not need to be actualized by something else; it just continues being actual as it was before. This idea is not new. It’s called existential inertia, which holds that once something is in existence, it naturally continues to exist without any cause. Let’s suppose that Oppy is right here. This is not change in the strict sense that Feser is talking about. The common person would never claim something that stays the same has changed. Change is when a red chair becomes a green chair. Or in more Aristotelian language, it’s when the red chair’s potential to be green is actualized. The First Way never says unchanged things need distinct actualizers, only that changed things need distinct actualizers. So it seems to me that Oppy’s objection is irrelevant.

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