Friday, August 21, 2009

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Is kindness right because God commands it or does God command it because it's right? Thus runs the ancient dilemma posed by Socrates to Euthyphro some 300 years B.C. Philosophers have come down on both sides of the question with most atheistic philosophers arguing that if God commands it because it's right then we don't need God's command and thus we don't need God. Theistic philosophers argue that an act is right not because it's commanded by just any deity but because it's commanded by an omniscient, morally perfect Deity.

I think the theist has the better reply. If the moral authority is ab defino all-knowing and perfectly good then anything It commands would be necessarily good and It wouldn't command anything that wasn't good.

God commands certain behavior for the same reason that a car manufacturer puts a maintenance manual in the new car. Just as failure to operate the car properly ruins the car, certain behaviors - like cruelty - are harmful to human beings and certain other behaviors - like kindness - enhance human existence.

God commands us to enhance human existence because he loves us. To mistreat others is wrong not because it's wrong in itself, but because God obligates us to refrain from hurting those He loves. It's wrong, and this is crucial, only because it violates the will of God. If there is no God, as the atheist maintains, then whether the atheist decides to be cruel or kind is of no moral moment. There's nothing which obligates us not to hurt others except our own subjective preferences.

Just as the sun generates light and heat which would not exist if the sun ceased to exist, so, too, goodness is ontologically dependent upon God. It's an attribute of His essence. If God did not exist neither would goodness and neither would any obligation to perform one act rather than another. We are obligated to do justice and kindness only because God demands it of humans. Take away God and human beings would be animals just like sharks and wolves for whom moral categories and moral obligation simply don't exist.

So, its not that atheists can't be kind. They certainly can. It's that, on atheism, kindness is neither right nor wrong. It's no different, morally speaking, than cruelty. It's simply a personal preference like one's preference for Pepsi rather than Coke. In a Godless world morality is just a matter of taste.


Shameful Racial Legacy

Damon Root at discusses the attempt by Chip Berlet to link the opposition to Obamacare to white, right-wing racism:

Chip Berlet, a senior researcher at the liberal think tank Political Research Associates, went even further than that, telling New America Media: "For over 100 years-more like 150, you've had these movements, and they came out of the Civil War. It is a backlash against social liberalism and it's rooted in libertarian support for unregulated capitalism and white people holding onto power, and, if they see themselves losing it, trying to get it back."

Root is having none of it, however. If Berlet wants to go back 100 years to examine the history of racism in this country what he'll find is that it was largely a phenomenon of the left. Root provides chapter and verse:

Perhaps Berlet should consider the career of South Carolina's Benjamin "Pitchfork" Tillman (1847-1914), a leading progressive who railed against the sins of "unregulated capitalism" while preaching the salvation of white supremacy. An ally of the agrarian populist William Jennings Bryan, Tillman supported antitrust laws, railroad regulations, the free coinage of silver, and a host of other progressive panaceas. He first entered politics as a member of the Red Shirts, a Klan-like terror group that "came out of the Civil War" to menace African Americans during the early years of Reconstruction. When President Theodore Roosevelt entertained the black leader Booker T. Washington at the White House in 1901, Tillman served as a de facto spokesman for the Southern opposition, declaring: "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again." It's hard to imagine a nastier threat of political violence than that-and Tillman is obviously nobody's idea of a libertarian.

In fact, as the historian David Southern has documented, the worst evils of the South's Jim Crow regime, including segregation, disfranchisement, mob violence, and lynching, all "went hand-in-hand with the most advanced forms of southern progressivism."

In a separate post, Root's review of Southern's book titled The Progressive Era and Race: Reform and Reaction, 1900-1917 provides excellent insight into the virulence of white racism during the Progressive era. Writing of Southern's book Root asks:

How did reformers infused with lofty ideals embrace such abominable bigotry? [Southern's] answer begins with the race-based pseudoscience that dominated educated opinion at the turn of the 20th century. "At college," Southern notes, "budding progressives not only read expos�s of capitalistic barons and attacks on laissez-faire economics by muckraking journalists, they also read racist tracts that drew on the latest anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, eugenics, and medical science."

Popular titles included Charles Carroll's The Negro a Beast(1900) and R.W. Shufeldt's The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization (1907). One bestseller, Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race (1916), discussed the concept of "race suicide," the theory that inferior races were out-breeding their betters. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of many Progressives captivated by this notion: He opposed voting rights for African-American men, which were guaranteed by the 15th amendment, on the grounds that the black race was still in its adolescence.

Such thinking, which emphasized "expert" opinion and advocated sweeping governmental power, fit perfectly within the Progressive worldview, which favored a large, active government that engaged in technocratic, paternalistic planning. As for reconciling white supremacy with egalitarian democracy, keep in mind that when a racist Progressive championed "the working man," "the common man," or "the people," he typically prefixed the silent adjective white.

Throughout the post-civil war era the greatest impediment to the advance of the black man, especially in the South, was the Democratic party and Progressive infatuations with social Darwinism and eugenics. It's one of the ironies of our times that modern liberals are so eager to identify themselves as Progressives and that approximately 95% of African-Americans who voted in the last election voted for the most Progressive Congress and White House since Franklin Roosevelt - maybe since Woodrow Wilson.

One wonders how aware either liberals or African-Americans are of the history of twentieth century Progressivism in this country, not only the ugliness of its racism but also of its links to European fascism. If they are aware then their willingness to identify themselves with people who push the Progressive agenda is really puzzling.

In any event, it's important that we learn the lessons of history, philosopher George Santayana famously admonished, because if we don't we're just doomed to repeat them.

HT: Hot Air