Sunday, August 06, 2006

More on thought

The previous post was actually a reply on a forum (edited slightly). Here's the continuation:
Staying just ahead of the curve is ignoble, going off and doing something totally individual without regard to the curve. That's what modern-minded man never does.
You can't do anything without regard to the curve. You have been born and raised by the curve, and you are incapable of doing or thinking something which is not influenced by it. Progress is one-dimensional; you can do something that the curve isn't doing, but you can't get out of the curve's path because your initial thrust vector originates in the curve.

If you come up with something so beyond the general intellect of human society that it is never embraced, you are the only one who will ever know. The noble deed and outstanding thought are only such by recognition, and therefore they are not only of humanity, but of society.

Beyond the curve is the domain of the most fearsome beast ever encountered - Schroedinger's cat.
So, Flasher, do you think the realization of the problems posed by the Euthyphro dilemma is or is not "beyond the general intellect of human society"?

If it is, why is it then so famous? If not, then why are most people still using religion as the basis of their morality?
Well, the first point is that it's beyond the scope of philosophy. The Greek philosophers were essentially atheists, as ontology presumes there is a natural logic which is perceivable by the human mind - and that is incompatable with deity. ;) Classic philosophical works, most famously Socrates (as told by Plato, let's not forget) used gods as a rhetoric device.

However philosophy does definitely involve morals, so it's worth considering.

The answer lies in whether you believe in God and God's omnipotence, that is, do you believe that God has knowledge and wisdom beyond our understanding. If so, then "that which is moral - is moral because it is commanded by God". If, as Alexander Pope said, "wisdom infinite must form the best" - that is, if God has knowledge of things that apply to our world but are based in something greater, then we must defer judgement to a higher authority.

But if there is no supernatural being, and God is simply a product of human consciousness and reasoning - as real and practical in everyday terms as democracy or freedom - then morality is prime, and is defined by the complex organism of human society self-regulating. God is simply a mechanism to avoid having to explain macrosociology to every single person on Earth, and hope that they understand why moral behaviour serves the society in general, and through that, them personally.

Religion is like the military: a system created by geniuses for the benefit of idiots. Just as an army can exhibit inspired tactical and strategic manouvers without every single soldier having an IQ of 150 and being explained the general plan, so religion too achieves morality in society without justifying the ways of God to man.

Of course, as I said before with progress the average human becomes capable of perceiving more, and so any sufficiently developed civilization ends up with rampant atheism. When individuals behave in the best interests of society through personal conviction, not the threat of hellfire, religion becomes redundant.
So, Flasher, do you think the realization of the problems posed by the Euthyphro dilemma is or is not "beyond the general intellect of human society"?
It is well within the capacity, and it has been realized, that is, the answer to the question is obvious: since morality shifts not only with space and between different religions, but over time within one religion - the morals of Christianity today are different from the 1600s, those are different from the 1200s, and those are different from early Christianity - then there is no single set of absolute rules for morality. Moral is that which makes society function in an optimal way, and God prescribes whatever is right for the time.

If morality was decided by God, or otherwise perceived in its entirety by God and passed down to humanity in a simplified Penguin reader form, then it would be for our purposes absolute and universal, with no wiggle room.

The Greeks had a sense of history but not as good an experience of history as we do today. Diachronically the solution to the dilemma is simple: because morality changes over time, it is human and not divine in origin, as God is by definition eternal and unchanging, while humanity is by definition fleeting and ever altering. Even if you believe in God as a sentient being, you must accept that no code of morals available to us today is divine in origin. If you believe in God as a behavioural phenomenon (like I do), it's even simpler than that.

The argument is that of persuasion. The answer depends on whether you believe in God as a sentient being of transcendent wisdom. If you do, it's one, if you don't, it's the other. Note that if you ask a person on the street: "Is doing as God says right because God says so, or does God say it because it's right?" - the person will give it a bit of thought and come up with a more or less well-argued answer. Very few people will say sincerely, "I don't know and I don't know how to find out".

The real question though, the key question of meta-ontological philosophy, is this: Is the very concept of knowledge which is beyond human capacity to perceive, fundamentally human in nature?

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