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What Game of Thrones Taught Me About God

By R.N. Carmona

Before I express my most current thoughts about the idea of god and where I now stand, it is important to go over exactly what relation the Game of Thrones character Bran Stark has to a common concept of god. Bran Stark, who is currently an entity known as the Three-Eyed Raven, has omniscience as it concerns people and events. It has been shown that he can be touched in the future (when the Night’s King grabbed his arm), manipulate the present (by employing his warg ability), and influence the past (as shown when he called out to a younger version of his father Ned and when young Hodor heard Meera in the present telling present-day Hodor to hold the door). Yet despite his omniscience, he is powerless to prevent the war between the living and the dead, the armies of men and the Night’s King and his army of White Walkers and wights.

In fact, many theories concerning Bran have been circulated. One theory says that Bran Stark is Bran the builder. Bran the builder, legend has it, built the Wall where Jon Snow completed his watch and also Winterfell. Another postulates that Bran is the Lord of Light, the god of the Red Priestesses who reveals future events in fires. According to such theories, Bran reincarnates and lives forever in a repeating loop or he’s ascended to the role of an all-knowing god. Game of Thrones could be a literal time loop in where Bran is trying to prevent a number of catastrophic events like the creation of White Walkers by the Children of the Forest, the Mad King’s holocaust of Westerosi citizens, and the events that have yet to transpire – which may include the deaths of Daenerys and Jon, not to mention every person in Westeros.

Game of Thrones could literally be a story about an omniscient and all-powerful or nigh-all-powerful mystic or god being rendered powerless by chaos theory. In other words, per Littlefinger: “Chaos is a ladder” and only that ladder is real. All else is illusion. In trying to prevent the creation of the White Walkers or the Mad King’s holocaust, Bran unintentionally sets off other horrific events. The prevention of one bad outcome or consequence results in the emergence of a new bad outcome or consequence. Thinking about Bran’s predicament got me thinking about the idea of an omniscient being.

God’s predicament, should one exist, wouldn’t be any different. Preventing a murder on one side of the world only ensures the emergence of a new, unintended one on the other side of the world. If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings results in a derailed train that kills dozens, a god might reason to prevent the flapping of the wings, but in doing so, an unintended volcanic eruption wipes out dozens in a separate location. The idea of omniscience along with omnipotence would ensure that such a being is rendered powerless! Westeros may not work very much like our world; there is after all magic, undead, dragons, and voices speaking from fires. Chaos theory might not feature in Westeros, but it certainly features in our world. A being like the Three-Eyed Raven would have incredible power, but will resign himself to inactivity.

God, should one exist, might have realized this long ago and has thus resigned himself to inactivity and indifference. Omniscience entails foresight and omnipotence entails prevention of what one foresees, but the two powers together would inevitably result in voluntarily powerlessness. In a world of chaos, an order that prevents all evil and all suffering is simply not possible; it is unachievable. Should there be a god, Nietzsche might be best read literally. God is effectively dead. He is a celestial vegetable, eternally inactive upon realizing that he could never achieve a perfect world. I am firmly a post-theist in that I am beyond entertaining the ideas of religion and writing extensively and frequently about such topics. But should there be a god, I would approach it with compassion and pity because despite having all that power, it’s as though it has no power.

A simply corollary might make things clearer. Humans are no doubt limited and finite in their power to prevent unappealing outcomes and consequences. They are equally limited in their capacity to formulate and execute contingency plans. Yet even when one succeeds at preventing one’s business from failure by taking out a sizable loan, there’s now the unintended consequence of realizing several months down the line that an extensive layoff is necessary to turn enough profit to pay off the debt and continue to operate the business. Preventing one bad outcome seems to ensure the emergence of another. Though some regard this study as debunked, the jury is still out on whether extensive gene editing results in hundreds of potentially harmful mutations.

It could be that chaos requires a balancing of the scales and it is only in that balance that order is achieved. God might have done all he could to prevent the abusive childhood of one person only to ensure the emergence of another person’s abusive childhood. The Three-Eyed Raven’s predicament might not be any different from what a god’s would be if it existed. Joan Osborne’s song comes to mind in thinking that perhaps god is essentially one of us. The poor bastard has all that power and can do absolutely nothing with it.

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An Excerpt From My New Book

It is useful to note that even if Plantinga or any Christian rejects the contra-argument, the first premise can be challenged. Rather than quibble with what is meant by maximal excellence, an atheist can accept the definition as it stands. The atheist can, however, question whether this is possible world W in where a being of maximal excellence exists and explore the consequences if it turns out that this isn’t that possible world. In other words, if this isn’t that specific possible world, then the argument is speaking of a possible world that is inaccessible to the believer and the believer is therefore in no better position to convince the non-believer. Put another way, if a being of maximal excellence doesn’t exist in this possible world, then it possibly exists in another world that cannot be accessed by any of the inhabitants in this world. There is therefore no utility or pragmatic value in belief. The argument would only speak of a logical possibility that is ontologically impossible in this world.

The atheist can take it a step further. What Christian theists purport to know about god stems from the Bible. The Bible, in other words, gives us information about god, his character, and his history as it relates to this world. Assuming this is possible world W, does he represent a being having maximal excellence? Is he, for instance, identical to a being who is wholly good? Any honest consideration of parts of the Bible would lead one to conclude that god is not identical to a being who is wholly good; god, in other words, isn’t wholly good. So obvious is his evil that Marcion of Sinope diverged from proto-Orthodox Christians in concluding that the Jewish God in the Old Testament is an evil deity and is in no way the father of Jesus. Yet if he’s evil, then he isn’t wholly good and if he isn’t wholly good, he fails to have maximal excellence.

Moreover, and much more damning to Plantinga’s argument, is that a being of maximal greatness has maximal excellence in all worlds. Therefore, if this being does not have maximal excellence in one of those worlds or more specifically, in this world, then it does not possess maximal greatness. Far from victorious, Plantinga’s argument would taste irreparable defeat and this, in more ways than one.

R.N. Carmona Philosophical Atheism: Counter Apologetics and Arguments For Atheism

A Missing Factor in Accounts of Truth

By R.N. Carmona

Whether Correspondence Theory, Semantic Theory, Coherence theories, Foundationalist theories, Deflationary or Pragmatic theories, every account of truth is missing a factor that philosophers recognize. In fact, attentive, everyday individuals have recognized this factor. So many have captured this factor without confining it to its rightful bottle.

That factor is unpleasantness. A good indicator of truth is the level of unease or discomfort it makes one feel. Let us suppose you believe the complete opposite of a true conclusion, to find out that you’ve been wrong all along is in itself unpleasant. This is not what I’m suggesting. What I’m suggesting is that there’s an unease or discomfort that is inherent to the truth or fact in question, that arises quite often when the truth or fact is expressed.

Take as examples the wage gap in the Western world, evolution, and mortality. If someone were to state that women get paid less than men for doing the same job, an unease or discomfort immediately arises. For he that disagrees, it’s immediate because it’s contrary to what they believe is the case. For one who accepts the fact, the unease arises from the character of the statement itself. To them it is unconscionable that women should make less than men given that they work the same position and stay with the company for a greater or equal length of time. Yet this is the case.

For one who is religious, specifically one subscribing to one of the Abrahamic faiths, the truth that they recognize is the one that coincides with their holy text, be it the Bible, the Torah, or the Qur’an. Evolution, for many of these believers, challenges one of the statements they accept: the notion of special creation. For Christians, human beings were created in God’s triune image. We are distinct from nature in a certain way. Evolution disturbs that portrait and thus, leads to discomfort. But again, this is not the unease I speak of.

The unease I speak of stems from the character of a statement like: we share a common ancestor. If so, we are not distinct from sharks and ants in the way in which we thought. We come from the same source biologically and physics tells us we come from the same source chemically. I am not expressing this to cause debate, but before the beauty of such a picture can be appreciated, discomfort often arises. It was the same unpleasantness that resulted from learning that the Earth is not at the center of the solar system and universe.

In terms of mortality, all people commonly agree. We agree to the degree that we all confirm Terror Management Theory. To some minds, religion and mysticism are ways to cope with and respond to our shared fear of dying. Death is true. Death is inevitable and will happen at one point to me and everyone reading this. Aside from that, its unpredictability is also unsettling. We don’t know when it will happen and we don’t know how; all we know is that it will. Add to that the fact that we also know it’ll happen to those we love. So we are grief stricken long before it happens and once it does, a common stage of dealing with death is denial. The truth in this case is so discomforting that we do not immediately accept it.

On these grounds and others not mentioned, I think unpleasantness should be a pivotal factor in any account of truth. I am speaking here of concrete facts and hard truths, usually philosophical and scientific in nature. I’m not speaking of mundane truths like the location of your local grocery store or the names and ages of your parents.

This factor can be challenged and I’m aware of that. Someone may raise the point that falsehoods can be unpleasant. They will mention the oft stated belief that the more absurd a thing is, the likelier it’s true. A Christian might say that the fact that we’re sinners makes people uncomfortable. The nature of human psychology does make me uncomfortable; we agree in principle, but not on the source of such shortcomings. So this unpleasantness can cut both ways as it is indicator of what may be false as well.

We agree that human psychology isn’t perfect, but they go further and tell us that we can be made clean if we repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. There’s an inherent unease in the notion of any scapegoat, divine or otherwise. So while this falsehood is unpleasant if taken as truth, it’s curious that it must be believed as true in order for its unpleasantness to weigh on someone. Then there’s the fact that if it’s recognized as false, one is uneasy and has recognized that this is patently absurd and can’t be the case, especially in light of the fact that any successful system of morality accounts for personal responsibility. If I cast my burdens on Christ, I am no longer accountable for my own improvement; I have passed the buck. So this system can’t be right. A convincing falsehood does well to capture unpleasantness and feature it in its purported truth, so falsehoods confirm unpleasantness rather than challenge it.

So while such a challenge to unpleasantness is interesting and worth attention, it isn’t a decisive blow against this factor. The truth is often tough, if not, outright ugly and horrible. Hard truths and facts are cold, indifferent, and often leave one unsettled. To learn about the children who died in Iraq due to economic destabilization, caused entirely by the US meddling in their affairs, is unsettling for any American with a conscience, any human being who isn’t American, and to anyone who doesn’t have a political axe to grind. To learn that, moreover, the number of children who have died in Iraq is more than the children who died in Hiroshima is more unpleasant still. This is a cold, hard, unpleasant fact that one might deny at first glance. If you find a statement or set of statements that make you feel this way, it is likely you’ve discovered some truth or fact for yourself. As Carl Sagan once stated: “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”

Philosophy Corner

If you enjoy the content on this blog, follow my blog on Tumblr. Aside from discussions and the posts you see here, I post intriguing articles about philosophy, its status in academia, the need for diversity, with respect to gender, culture, and students, and occasional Q&A. I also share quotes and articles posted by other bloggers.

On Challenging the Laws of Logic

R.N. Carmona

In the past, I’ve argued that the laws of logic can be challenged or even violated. A response to my post on procedural realism and the Moral Argument mentioned that the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction have been challenged by analytic philosophers. I found it curious that there was no mention of a challenge to the law of identity, since I think it’s the most easily challenged.

In order to challenge the law of identity, one need only challenge its underlying assumption, namely essentialist ontology. “The essentialist tradition, in contrast to the tradition of differential ontology, attempts to locate the identity of any given thing in some essential properties or self-contained identities” (see here). According to modern physics, as it now stands, all objects are atoms in flux and empty space. Where then is the atomic glue that holds a table or chair together and how does one differentiate between two chairs that look precisely alike without presupposing the essentialist tradition?

The essentialist tradition begs the question when concerning identity, since there’s no way to prove that any one object has essential properties. Interestingly, the reason for presupposing the essentialist tradition might have everything to do with personal identity. People are animate objects, but objects nonetheless. Without essentialism, we can no longer assume that we have a distinct identity. Physically, we are atoms in flux and empty space as well and thus, what we’re left with are second order grounds for personal identity. In other words, we can avoid talk of atoms and empty space and instead look to DNA, neurons, brain anatomy, and so on. In this way we retain our uniqueness without first order grounds.

That aside, if we instead argue from the basis of differential ontology, the law of identity is no longer as unassailable as it appeared. As stated, we would rely on second order grounds. “Differential ontology…understands the identity of any given thing as constituted on the basis of the ever-changing nexus of relations in which it is found, and thus, identity is a secondary determination, while difference, or the constitutive relations that make up identities, is primary.” We would therefore ignore notions of a stable identity and instead look to differences between objects.

Given this, the law of identity (A = A) will be replaced with the law of distinction, i.e., something like A =/= B or C or D and so on. Since A is not B or C or D, then we identify A because it is contrasted with objects in relation to it. We are no longer assuming that there are essential properties that make A, A. This is, after all, what we say of ourselves. We do not say I am me because I have essential characteristics. Instead we contrast ourselves with others; we factor in physical appearance, ethnicity, gender, personality, and so on. We then add other factors like level of income and education, personal tastes, and so on. Clearly none of these characteristics are essential.

Ultimately, the law of identity is not unassailable and can be challenged by uprooting its essentialist assumption. One way of doing so is by positing differential ontology. One can, however, do so by positing human consciousness. In other words, another traditional philosophical assumption (contra-pragmatism) is that there’s a deeper reality that goes beyond our everyday experience; perhaps quantum mechanics hints at this. On the basis of this, we cannot draw ontological conclusions on the basis of our faculties. In other words, the four chairs and dining room table in my living room look distinct because my faculties see them as such. In reality, however, there’s nothing but atomic flux and empty space. This is in no way an attempt to undermine the usefulness of our faculties, but if there’s a deeper layer to reality that we cannot capture, then there’s no way we can argue for essential properties. Furthermore, we wouldn’t be able to argue from difference either. We would, in other words, have to assume the accuracy of our faculties in order to argue for a law of identity.

Procedural Realism: Refuting the Moral Argument For God

Proponents of the Moral Argument share a view known as substantive realism, which is the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”1

Let’s consider the fatal flaws this position has:

  • Whether one argues that morality is simply objective or it’s objective because it hinges on god, the view begs the question and thus isn’t justified. Begging the question is a fallacy, so a view that begs the question is either incorrect or must be revised so as to eliminate the fallacy in question.
  • The view is unjustifiably metaphysical. It, in other words, argues that morality is innate. It cannot be learned. It is part of the maker’s mark that god supposedly imprinted in us.
  • Given the weaknesses of this view, we need to look elsewhere; in other words, given that it isn’t enough to posit that morality is contingent on a deity, we’ve more work to do.

Prior to discussing procedural realism as contrasted with substantive realism, the notion alluded to in the second bullet point–which is, in fact, the notion alluded to by any proponent of the Moral Argument–was put to rest by the father of empiricism, John Locke. He argued that moral principles are not innate. One reason for this is because they aren’t universally assented to. We don’t come to immediate consensus on right and wrong the way we do when concerning the laws of logic. To put it another way, no matter the person or culture, the laws of identity, of non-contradiction, and of excluded middle are universally agreed upon. If any person fails to act in accordance with those laws, that person has failed to think or has lost his/her capacity to reason. This is not the case with morality.

Locke argues, for instance, that the consensus on whether an action is right or wrong has everything to do with how generalized the action was. Proponents of the Moral Argument argue that we all know it’s wrong to lie, to murder, or to rape, and from this, they conclude that morality proceeds from god and since we’re created in his image, moral values and duties have been ingrained in our souls since creation. Yet if we were to get more specific, agreement dissolves. Have a discussion, for example, on euthanasia, self-defense murder, and Anne Frank-esque sort of lies, i.e., lies that literally save lives or keeps one from harm, and you’ll immediately see that there’s absolutely no consensus on these matters.

The reason is because, as Locke further argued, we are likelier to provide reasons and justifications for our moral behavior. If it’s innate or proceeds from god, there will be no disagreement on these epistemic fronts. We would, in other words, be readily able to show why such an action is right or wrong. There would be no need to prove the correctness or incorrectness of an action, since this would already be known to us.2 Unfortunately, this isn’t the only claim implicit in the Moral Argument, so there’s more to be said.

Enter procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”3 Such a procedure could be Kant’s CI procedure or a problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. In narrowing our focus, we should consider Kant’s CI procedure, which can be expressed in the following ways. There are four formulas for us to consider4:

1) The Formula of the Law of Nature: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.”

Kant placed a lot of emphasis on autonomy. Modern Kantians like John Rawls and Christine Korsgaard place similar emphasis on autonomy, but they also speak of self-legislation. This formulation is compelling because moral truths could arise from mere human agency rather than divine authority. One may contend that a psychopath would will murder as if it were a universal law of nature. However, like Goldstein, I would argue that morality is akin to crowdsourced knowledge; morality is, in other words, the culmination of human efforts spanning centuries. Rebecca Goldstein puts it this way:

There’s some ideal algorithm for working it out, for assigning weights to different opinions. Maybe we should give more weight to people who have lived lives that they find gratifying and that others find admirable. And, of course, for this to work the crowd has to be huge; it has to contain all these disparate vantage points, everybody who’s starting from their own chained-up position in the cave [Plato’s cave analogy]. It has to contain, in principle, everybody. I mean, if you’re including just men, or just landowners, or just people above a certain IQ, then the results aren’t going to be robust.5

This is a point I often make about moral epistemology. I argue that there are moral classes that are roughly analogous to economic classes. Some people have more moral expertise and therefore, lead more admirable and ethical lives. The average person is, at the very least, better than the career criminal. Sam Harris has endorsed this idea. He states:

Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise; that is what it is for knowledge to count. How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere, there is no such thing as moral expertise or moral talent or moral genius even? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count? How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view on these subjects worth considering? Does the Taliban have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? No. How is their ignorance any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?6

Sam Harris is talking about moral classes. One reason some of us are convinced that there can’t be moral expertise, talent, or genius is because of fervent religious belief. Christians argue that without god, true morality cannot be achieved. Without god, all we’re left with is human opinion–-as though all human opinion is equal. Some opinions are undoubtedly better than others. The opinions that have been thus far expressed are better than those of Christians who disagree with them. It should be clear to any impartial third party that one side has thought more, read more, studied more, questioned more, and so on, and that in light of this, one set of opinions is superior to the other.

In the same vein as Harris, Goldstein talked about ruling out the peculiarities of certain people. Every moral opinion doesn’t count and that’s because some people and groups are morally superior to others. Unless one wants to argue that people are generally on par with the Taliban when it comes to morality, they’re admitting to the fact that there are moral classes. As stated, a simple corollary are economic classes. It’s clear that some people are prosperous and others are not. Some people can afford mansions and luxury cars; some people can afford a three-story house; others can barely afford an apartment and still others can scarcely afford a room; still others are homeless. In like manner, some people are simply morally superior to others and when looked at objectively, one will quickly realize that religious affiliation has nothing to do with it.

Some people, for instance, can see the injustice in discrimination and perpetrating acts of prejudice against minorities and gays. Some Christians cannot. Any Christian or non-Christian that has the capacity to see such injustice is in a higher moral class than Westboro Baptist and conservative, right wing Christians.

Some are admittedly anti-gay. This makes clear that they advocate restrictive legislation against them. They will protest the legislation of gay marriage though it’s already been made legal. They likely argue to invalidate the love gay couples share; this is quite common among conservatives. They misrepresent gays by accusing them of succumbing to so called sinful concupiscence. I, for one, wouldn’t advocate restrictive legislation against a group if whatever they’re doing isn’t harming anyone. Other than self-righteousness, what do they care if gays marry? Are they at their weddings? Are they watching them as they consummate their marriages? Are they there when homosexual couples choose to raise children? Conservative Christians might clamor about public displays of affection, but it’s not like straight people don’t forget to get a room! Given their self-proclaimed discriminatory stances, it can be stated without hesitation that they’re in a lower moral class than Christians and non-Christians who don’t think that way.

2) The Formula of the End Itself: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

What is meant by treating a person never simply as a means, but always as an end? This means to extend kindness to others with no intention of exploiting them, e.g. I’ll befriend this guy because he’s rich. You may contend that this sounds like Jesus’ Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, first and foremost, isn’t original to Jesus. This will be much more relevant shortly. Patricia Churchland puts it succinctly:

The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is very often held up as a judicious rule, and exceptionless rule, and a rule that is universally espoused, or very close to it. (Ironically perhaps, Confucius, though known to prefer the development of virtues to instruction by rules, might have been among the first to give voice to a version of this maxim, though given his broad approach to morality, it is likely he offered it as general advice rather than as an exceptionless rule.)7

Like Churchland, I don’t think the Golden Rule is sufficient. Also, this formulation is simply not the Golden Rule. Don Berkich, Philosophy professor at Texas A&M stated the following:

“Some  make the mistake of thinking that the First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is but a badly worded version of the Biblical “Golden Rule”–Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Golden Rule, as Kant well knew, is a deeply misguided ethical principle. To see this, consider the following somewhat salacious example.

Suppose that Martin is 20 year-old college student. Suppose further that Martin has never been out on a date. The woman of his dreams finally agrees to go out with him. So Martin gets all dressed up and takes her out to a nice dinner, after which they drive up to Lookout Point. And…Martin does unto others as he would have done unto himself, with disastrous consequences. Because the same result cannot be obtained by application of the Categorical Imperative, it follows that the Golden Rule and the Categorical Imperative are not extensionally equivalent.”8

Kant argued that if we were to act to harm others, civilization would come to an end. It follows then that we’ll act to the benefit of one another. This is where Kant’s notion of a Kingdom of Ends comes from. We’ll get this shortly.

On the Golden Rule, a necessary tangent is required. The Golden Rule, according to Christians, is original to Jesus despite historical facts to the contrary. Jesus is, however, considered god incarnate. He is one with Yahweh. He is one mode of the Triune godhead. Therefore, if the Moral Argument is right in stating that moral values and duties exist because god exists, then these moral values and duties are based on a flawed ethical view known as egoism. This is precisely what Jesus advocates in the Golden Rule. In other words, any right action is the product of your own self-interest. The benefits I can reap are the basis of all my actions. Without diverging too far, I reject the Golden Rule and all variants of egoism for the same reason Louis Pojman rejected it:

We do not always consciously seek our own satisfaction or happiness when we act. In fact, some people seem to seek their own unhappiness, as masochists and self-destructive people do, and we all sometimes seem to act spontaneously without consciously considering our happiness.9

Given this, if the Golden Rule is a rudimentary formulation of egoism–-and I see no compelling reason to think it’s not–-we can reject Jesus’ ethical system and therefore, god’s basis for moral values and duties. It follows that the Moral Argument is wrong.

3) The Formula of Autonomy: “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.”

This is related to the first formulation, but this formulation puts more emphasis on autonomy and like modern Kantians would argue, self-legislation. This formula of autonomy has manifested itself time and again. Morally superior people are not only admirable, but they compel others to emulate them. This formulation is prominent in rearing children. Children learn moral behavior from their parents, so in a sense, this goes back to Locke; if moral principles are innate, they would, in his words, be known to “children and idiots.” Children quickly learn what’s apt and what’s inappropriate given other people’s feedback. If they do something wrong, they’re scolded. If they do something right, they’re commended. Going back to the notion of inverting authority into oneself, the child then becomes an adult who (roughly) follows the moral values instilled in her during childhood. She then becomes an autonomous self-legislator. God isn’t necessary once again and thus, the Moral Argument is wrong.

4) The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: “So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.”

This formulation is the most compelling given that it absorbs, so to speak, the other formulations. Kant didn’t only speak of wills; he spoke of rational wills. Thus, under this formulation, we are to act in such a way that would be acceptable in a community of rational wills. In a community of rational wills, rape and murder would be unacceptable. Since people are autonomous, taking their lives is a violation of their autonomy. Your fellow rational wills will also recognize you as an autonomous individual and thus, without any need for Jesus’ Golden Rule or more generally, egoism, the rights conferred to them will also be conferred to you. It certainly looks as though developed countries look a lot more like Kant’s Kingdom of Ends than like a society of egoists pursuing their own self-interests. Even despite capitalism, people enjoy charity, sharing, altruism, and equality. People, in other words, recognize one another as autonomous and there are strict laws in place to punish people who violate the autonomy of others.

Ultimately, the Christian demand for an authority is quelled by the fact that we, at the very least, possess the potential to legislate. That is to say that anyone of us can be exemplary moral agents. Kant’s rational will is preferable over the Hobbesian sovereign who can bend and break laws as he pleases. Such a sovereign sounds a lot like god. Also, their demand for a viable non-theistic ethical view has been addressed. The Moral Argument has not only been refuted, but the superiority of procedural realism, as a viable non-theistic view, has also been established.

Works Cited

1 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 36-37. Print.

2 See Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Cahn, Steven M. Ed. Classics of Western Philosophy, 7th Ed. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis/Cambridge. 2006. 630-632. Print.

3 Ibid. [2]

4  Pecorino, Philip A. “Chapter Two: Ethical Traditions”. Queensborough Community College. 2002.

5 Goldstein, Rebecca. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. 105. Print.

6 Churchland, Patricia Smith. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. 168. Print.

7 Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub., 1990. 84. Print.

8 Ibid. [4]

9 Bagnoli, Carla. “Constructivism in Metaethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2011.

The Failure of The Golden Rule

By R.N. Carmona

The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is very often held up as a judicious rule, and exceptionless rule, and a rule that is universally espoused, or very close to it. (Ironically perhaps, Confucius, though known to prefer the development of virtues to instruction by rules, might have been among the first to give voice to a version of this maxim, though given his broad approach to morality, it is likely he offered it as general advice rather than as an exceptionless rule.) So it must be asked: since we are familiar with the Golden Rule, and it seems like an excellent rule, why are moral philosophers still hunting around for the fundamental rule that should guide all behavior? What more than adherence to the Golden Rule do we need to live a virtuous life?

The general appeal of the Golden Rule has not gone unappreciated by moral philosophers, but they have also realized it has shortcomings as a reliable guide in moral conflict. Under scrutiny, the Golden Rule is not quite what it is advertised to be. First, although “do unto others…” is serviceable enough in the early stages of a child’s socialization, and even a moderately good rule of thumb for common daily social interactions, its application is nothing like as general as is assumed. Consider one huge domain of human action, namely defensive war. Soldiers do kill their enemies while earnestly desiring that their enemies not kill them. And this is regarded as the right thing for a soldier to do, though it contravenes the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, if a soldier does unto his enemies as he would be done by, he stands to be done in.

More generally, in policing and maintaining the peace, “do unto others” applies only problematically, and usually not literally. As a police officer, I might put a child kidnapper in a headlock without at all wishing he put me in a headlock. Likewise, jurors might feel obliged to send the accused to prison without wanting themselves to be sent to prison, even had they been similarly guilty, and so on and on.

Well, one might respond, the Golden Rule is obviously not meant to apply to those situations. Fine, but its claim to be universally applicable is therefore compromised, and in any case, the exception-to-the-rule problem arises again: if there are rules “all the way down,” what more basic rule do we invoke in saying the Golden Rule does not apply? To what are we appealing when we claim a fairly obvious and morally acceptable exception? Perhaps, a deeper, more Golden Ur-Rule—the Platinum Rule? What would that be ? As remarked earlier, knowing what is “obvious” here depends, exactly as Aristotle thought, on background common sense and moral judgement. That, however, is not a capacity that consults a set of rules to tell us when an exception is an allowable exception to the Golden Rule. Most people recognize an obvious exception when given a case, but there’s no evidence that they achieve this recognition by application of a deeper rule.

So the basic answer concerning the Golden Rule as the unconditional, universally applicable rule to guide what we ought to do is quite simple. It is not unconditionally and universally applicable. In many cases, such as the Memorial Hospital tragedy, the Golden Rule just does not get us very far. Worse, in cases where the do-gooder is a besotted ideologue, his application of the Golden Rule may give him precisely the justification he wants for doing what others regard as absolutely heinous things, such as engaging in genocide with the best will in the world.

Churchland, Patricia Smith. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality, p. 168-169, 173. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. Print.

Churchland’s remarks are in line with the criticisms of other philosophers. The Golden Rule is a rudimentary iteration of egoism. Aside from giving an ideologue justification, it also leaves one open to being taken advantage of. More importantly, the Golden Rule fails on a number of practical fronts. As Churchland states, it isn’t universally applicable and it falls short of being a reliable guide in the social and ethical spheres. Let us review this failure in more detail.

Given that Jesus and the father are one, I related the Golden Rule to the Moral Argument. If moral values and duties hinge on god’s existence and Jesus is god, then the basis of these moral values and duties would be the Golden Rule: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Yet there’s a problem in that the Golden Rule is a rudimentary iteration of egoism: what I find beneficial or harmful dictates my moral decisions. This is analogous to the Golden Rule.

That leads to some questions, however: how do I know that what I find satisfactory will be considered such by others? How can I know that what works for me will work for others? To simply assume that would be fallacious, namely the subjectivist fallacy: what works for me works for others. Yet this is precisely what the Golden Rule calls for. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule doesn’t ask us to account for personal or cultural differences. In Hispanic cultures, we expect full hospitality when we’re guests in your home. Specifically, if you’re a close friend or family member, and you’ve invited us over, we expect to be fed. We expect a seat at your dinner table and some of your home cooked dinner. Other cultures don’t always expect this of their friends and families. Living in an urban populace has acquainted me with that fact firsthand.

There is, however, a glaring issue with the Golden Rule. Jesus, god incarnate, has made you the moral arbiter. Whatever you wish people do to you, do also to them; he stated that “this is the Law and the Prophets.” Not only are you assuming that because something works for you, it will work for others, but you now have final say on what’s right or wrong. God no longer makes that decision, so his commands are arbitrary. If the Golden Rule is the basis of the Moral Argument, then the Moral Argument is self-contradictory. Either morality is contingent on god or it is up to us to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. It can’t be both. Yet god gave you the keys to the moral kingdom.

In ethicist fashion, the Golden Rule is utterly inapplicable. If applied to business, it simply wouldn’t work. Again, the Golden Rule doesn’t account for personal and cultural differences. Businesses have failed to succeed in other countries because they assumed that what works for their population will work for other populations. In other words, if Americans like sweet soft drinks, the Chinese will also. If I were to be CEO of an airline, and I were to reason that because I find coach satisfactory, none of my planes should have first class seating, my airline would certainly fail. In business, I cannot treat others as I wish to be treated.

In medicine this doesn’t work either. When removing my wisdom teeth, I chose nitrous oxide over anesthetic injection. If I were a doctor, on the basis of the Golden Rule, since I wish for doctors to use nitrous oxide during my surgeries then I’ll give nitrous to all of my patients. Where is their autonomy? Where is their choice? Where is their right to decide how they want to go about this? The Golden Rule cannot apply to medicine.

It doesn’t apply to education. If I were to become a professor that teaches students based on how I like to be taught, I will actually harm some of my students. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Just because I wish for my professors to be (preferably) passionate about their fields, enthusiastic when they speak, and do their best to teach using visuals doesn’t mean that I should become a professor who teaches using mostly visuals. Some students may even be put off if I’m too enthusiastic though, in general, that doesn’t pose an issue. What does pose an issue is the assumption that everyone learns equally.

Ultimately, the Golden Rule, Jesus’ and therefore god’s basis of morality, is inapplicable to our everyday lives. If applied in the fields discussed and certainly others not discussed, the results would be disastrous. It’s also fallacious since it falls victim to subjectivist fallacy. What works for me does not work for everyone else. Aside from this, it is a primitive iteration of egoism, which is generally considered a failed ethical system. As stated earlier, we often act without thinking about our own happiness or benefit. We often act selflessly rather than on the basis of self-interest. Moving outside of the Golden Rule, it fails to account for personal preferences and cultural differences. It fails to account for a person’s autonomy: this is how you want to be treated, so this is how I’ll treat you. Does a person not have a choice in how they want to be treated?

Given this, the notion that the Golden Rule is a principle of empathy is wrong. I think empathy is fully achieved when you have developed the ability to attend to someone else whilst knowing what a given circumstance means to them and on the basis of this, treat them in accordance with or even via their perspective. This sort of empathy is perfectly in keeping with Neo-Kantian ethics. In treating you this way, I honor your autonomy. I’m not, for instance, lecturing you on how the death of a loved one gets easier over time because that’s what worked for me. I listen, I inquire, and then I do what I think you find most meaningful. You may not want a spiel on how it gets easier and the cliche “time heals all wounds”; you may instead prefer a hug, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear that will listen to the memories you have of this loved one. And that’s what I’ll offer you. I will not offer you what works for me because I recognize that we’re different people that are perhaps from different cultures; we have different preferences, had different upbringings, and ultimately, have different brains. We simply work differently and the Golden Rule fails to account for that. So if the Golden Rule is god’s basis for moral values and duties–and given that Jesus is god, I see no reason to think otherwise–he can keep his values. We have advanced far beyond his failed ethical view. For us atheists, there’s no wonder as to why that’s the case.