Archive for February, 2017

Star Trek Memories

February 20, 2017

So, I ended up exchanging all of my Hugo Award nominee books for, essentially, the “Star Trek Memories” books by William Shatner. I enjoyed the Star Trek books far, far more than the Hugo Award nominees.

I found the second book — which discussed the Star Trek movies — to be far more engaging than the one covering the series for some reason. However, both of them were quite entertaining reads. Shatner mixes the memories parts with a number of jokes, and often jokes at his own expense. It’s hard to say how arrogant and self-centered he really was on the show, because Shatner admits to it in discussing Nichelle Nichols’ calling him out on it, but from his own recollections he denies that it was an intent to grab the limelight and more an attempt to push for the scene to be done in a way that he thought made sense, which he says that Leonard Nimoy was also pretty insistent on. He admits, though, that often those comments didn’t take into account the other actors and their positions. Which is also a bit refreshing, as Shatner doesn’t spend as much time as you might expect justifying himself and claiming that he didn’t really do or act like that; he essentially cops to it and his big defense is that he didn’t mean it the way it was taken. He’s also pretty effusive in his comments that Nichols, Koenig and Takei, for all of the problems they had with him — only Nichols and Koenig actually told him about that in their interviews — are very, very nice people … at least in part because they were generally at least polite in telling him what they were unhappy about (and Takei didn’t mention it in the interview for that book).

Shatner was also upset that Doohan didn’t even meet with him for the book.

On Star Trek V, the one that he helmed, Shatner isn’t as dismissive of the issues with the movie nor does he blame as much of the movie on the suits as I had expected from watching SF Debris’ comments on it. Yes, he laments the thin budget and that he couldn’t do what he wanted, but for the most part he recognizes changes that made sense and his discussion of how the movie could have turned out with his original idea isn’t entirely implausible. I don’t know if his idea could have worked — the explicit God/Satan angle — but from what he says and from my own viewing of the movie his ideas weren’t terrible. I think that Nimoy and Kelley were right that them abandoning him — at least permanently — didn’t make sense, but I can kinda see what he was going for. At any rate, he blames most of the issues on the various disasters, and less on, merely, the interference from the executives. And he seems rightly bothered by Bennett seemingly accepting the ideas in the hopes of talking him out of them later.

Overall, it’s an interesting read if you are in any way a fan of Star Trek.

Discussion of Objective Morality: Moral Criticism

February 17, 2017

Carrier does attempt in his post to address moral criticism. He starts by trying to go after the facts/value distinction, but I don’t want to focus on that right now. What I want to focus on first is the idea that we can criticize someone’s values:

It can be objectively true that you ought to value certain things, when your valuing other things instead is self-defeating—because valuing things causes you to pursue them, and pursuing them might undermine things you value more. You may not know or believe that you ought to value those things, yet it remains true that you should—because you just haven’t realized how your valuing other things instead leads you to destroy the things you value even more, rather than upholding them. And once you realized that, you would agree your values were wrong, even by your own standards. So that you ought to value certain things is also an objectively true fact about you. It follows from what you value most, and how your other values either serve or thwart what you value most.

So, of course, no one in the debate — at least no one informed — disputes that. Given some kind of objective or base value or desire, we can determine what desires one ought to have if one wants to achieve that, and if someone doesn’t have those values or desires we can say that they ought to have those values or desires. The problem is that we need some kind of objective value here, and particularly one that can be said to be uniquely moral. We don’t want to appeal to a non-moral value — pragmatics, for example — to justify moral values, because then we’d have the question of why it is that those non-moral values can justify a moral claim or value. Aren’t we really just valuing that non-moral value, and using morality as an instrumental value to achieve that one? What’s particularly moral, then, about doing that? Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that morality in and of itself, to be meaningful, has to be an intrinsic value, one that we value not because it will allow us to achieve something that we value more than it, but because it is desirable in and of itself for its own sake. Given Carrier’s penchant for defining morality as trying to satisfy that which we value most above all — which then has to be an intrinsic value by definition — I can argue that being properly moral is to, in fact, value the intrinsic value of being moral more than anything else. If Carrier’s definition is correct, then, that would mean that if I value that most above all then there’s a vicious and unresolvable circle: I value being moral most, which means that morality is about trying to be moral, as that’s what I value most. At that point, I’d be stuck. But it’s hard to argue that someone could value something else more than being moral and yet be a more moral person than someone who didn’t. This suggests to me that simply judging what is moral by what someone most wants — as Carrier does in the post — is not a good way to go.

But there are other issues with values in Carrier’s post. Take his example:

Suppose you prioritize making money, and do so because you value money above all else. That you should do that, and value that, can still be false. Because even if you say it, even if you believe it, it isn’t actually true about you that you value money above all else. Because that’s impossible. If you thought about it, money actually has no value to you, except in respect to what you get with it. In other words, you only value money because you value something else more. If you could get all those things, the things you actually value most, without money—or worse, if money actually caused you to lose them, and thus not gain those things—then you would no longer value money.

Carrier isn’t clear whether he means that in that specific case it would be but that it’s not impossible for anyone anywhere to have a consistent value system where they value money above all else, or that he really thinks it’s just impossible for anyone to do that, so I’m going to argue that it’s possible for someone to have that as what they value most above all else. Carrier here is arguing that money is just an instrumental value; people only value it for what it can get them, but it is possible for someone to value making money or having money above all else and not, in fact, be willing to sacrifice money to get those things, or put making money ahead of getting some of those things. Now, most people would then try to argue that they have to value some things above money — their lives, for example — because they spend money to get them. The problem is that they can reply that what they really value is making more money, and they can’t do that if they’re not alive and don’t have shelter. So they spend as little money as possible, and all of the money they spend is calculated to provide the things they need to make more money. This might even include status symbols because it is easier for them to make more money if they present an image of someone who makes and is good at making money. So it is in fact possible for them to have a consistent view where the thing they value most is money.

Now, we’d generally try to argue that they’re wrong about that. The problem is that we may not have grounds to do so. Carrier himself advocates for the idea that we can only criticize them by appealing to what they actually value:

And yet, the question of whether money gets you the things you want most, or actually in fact gets you less of those things than other approaches to them, is an empirical question that can be answered scientifically. Thus, science can in fact tell you it is empirically false that you should value money above all else. And it would do so by simply pointing you to actual empirical facts about you (and, of course, the world) that reveal the pursuit of money is harming rather than helping you gain the things you actually value. And indeed, this is often what goes on in cognitive therapy: a scientist empirically ascertains what you actually value most, and then shows you, empirically, that your priorities are undermining your own values, and helps you adjust your priorities so that they align with your actual values.

So, first, the scientific approach works by criticizing your values, and not by arguing that, for example, money is indeed something that does not have intrinsic value but instead only has instrumental value. The scientist can only argue that you don’t really value that most, not that you ought not value that the most. And Carrier carries on with this when it comes to morality:

What you actually value most at any given moment is an objective fact of the universe in exactly the same sense that your brain and its structure is an objective fact of the universe—because the one is entirely reducible to the latter without remainder. But moral facts do not follow from what you just happen to value most at any moment, because you could be wrong about what you should value at that moment. And I don’t mean wrong by some objective standard external to you. I mean wrong even by your own subjective internal standard. Because there is also an objective fact of the world about what you would value most when fully informed and reasoning without fallacy.

For example, a fully informed and rational observer would have to agree that the moral facts that are true for you really are the moral facts that are true for you, even if they aren’t the moral facts that are true for them. In other words, the observer would have no basis for criticizing your morality based on what was true for them, as long as you were following the morality that was indeed true for you. But they could criticize your morality based on what’s true for you. And that is indeed where most people go wrong—for instance, they might fully agree the Golden Rule is true, then invent a moral system that routinely violates it (like condemning abortion or homosexuality). Even if the Golden Rule were only true for you, an outside observer (like some sociopathic space alien who had no reason to value the Golden Rule) could still validly criticize your condemnation of homosexuality as violating your own objectively true moral values.

And that’s how all actual moral criticism operates. We always criticize either of those two things: we either argue that a moral agent has the wrong idea about what the consequences of an action are (“permitting homosexuality will destroy society”), which is a straightforward matter of fact accessed empirically, or we argue that a moral agent is acting against their own values (“the Golden Rule entails treating homosexuals the same as heterosexuals”).

But this is not, in general, what moral criticism is about. We generally don’t start by appealing to their values and limiting it to what’s true for their internal moral viewpoint, but instead by appealing to what we presume are the moral absolutes. It’s only when we discover that they don’t hold those moral absolutes and are going to stick to them that we fall back on things like pragmatism and appeal to the beliefs and values that they clearly have to try to get them to stop doing the things that we think are immoral. But we wouldn’t normally conclude that if they accept this reasoning that that makes them a moral person. If someone wanted to kill someone for fun, for example, and they dismissed any suggestion that killing someone for fun is immoral, but were convinced that if they do that they’ll go to jail which would be bad for them, we wouldn’t conclude that they are now moral paragons or even made a moral choice there. We’d still consider them to have a badly flawed sense of morality that we’re trying to work around to avoid people getting hurt by it. As in this Order of the Stick comic, where Belkar saves Hinjo’s life because he isn’t sure that he can get his Mark of Justice removed without Hinjo, and the Mark of Justice stops him from killing other people. The second shoulder devil even comments that saving one life is a small price to pay for a lifetime of unfettered killing. No one would conclude that Belkar’s choice was, in fact, moral … and, in fact, the title of the strip is “Amoral Dilemma”. But Carrier’s view of what moral criticism is really about seems to argue that that’s really what we’d conclude.

And we can see why. Belkar’s moral system is roughly consistent — especially since he subordinates killing others to keeping himself alive — and yet is totally heinous. Arguably, it’s more consistent than the heroes in the strip because he just likes killing, whether they are evil or not, but the other heroes think it more justified to kill evil people than good people. There is no way to argue Belkar out of his heinous viewpoints by arguing that they are inconsistent, since they aren’t. Belkar can only be controlled by appealing to those heinously immoral viewpoints … and Carrier’s view insists that that is all we do and can ever do.

There’s a second issue, which is that proving an inconsistency may, in fact, not get you the results you wanted. Take the “Golden Rule” example. Let’s imagine that someone considers, say, abortion immoral and yet is convinced by Carrier that doing so is inconsistent with the Golden Rule, which they hold as their standard for morality. Clearly, Carrier wants them to thus re-evaluate their view on abortion and conclude that it therefore isn’t immoral. Unfortunately, there’s another option: they could decide that this therefore means that the Golden Rule does not reflect what is properly moral and abandon it in favour of a moral system that does consider abortion immoral. Without an objective standard, there’s nothing for Carrier to appeal to to stop them from doing that, which is where the worries about people simply making up what is moral come from.

So, without an objective standard, we can’t call Belkar evil and we can’t stop someone from abandoning the Golden Rule to preserve their idea that abortion is morally wrong. If this is all moral criticism is, then it hardly seems worth doing, as we have no way to justify the stronger criticisms that we want to make and really need to make at times. Carrier here seems to be making the mistake that so many make by arguing that morals are relative and yet subconsciously assuming that people will roughly hold the moral values that they think are the right or reasonable ones regardless, and from there assuming that they will be able to criticize people in some way — here, Carrier seems to want to be able to call them “irrational” for holding inconsistent beliefs — if they disagree with them. But there is no reason to think that Carrier’s views are more consistent than anyone else’s, and it might even be the case that people who disagree with him have a more consistent position than he does. This would leave him floundering to justify the moral facts that he wants them to accept, rendering either his own views as flawed if not more so than theirs or making moral criticism as pointless as criticizing someone for preferring rock to jazz. It does not seem reasonable to conclude that someone who, say, wants to kill people has just as valid a position as anyone else as long they are consistent and rational about killing other people, but that is where subjectivism and relativism — and the rejection of objective morality — always lead.

Bad Defenses of Bad Atheist Arguments: Atheism Isn’t a Claim

February 15, 2017

So, the next set of arguments that Seidensticker takes up revolve around the idea that atheism isn’t a claim, and that theists therefore have the burden of proof. He points out what he claims is an asymmetry in the arguments that Bannister misses:

But I shouldn’t have to since I’m not making the extraordinary claim—that’s the asymmetry that Bannister ignores. In the case of an extraordinary claim (and “There is a god” is certainly one), the default position is the denial of that claim: “There is a god” vs. “there isn’t.”

The first thing to talk about here is to ask if it’s really the case that “There exists a god” counts as an “extraordinary” claim. The big problem with the whole “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” sound byte is that how reasonable that proposition is depends on what you mean by extraordinary, and potentially on avoiding equivocation between the two uses of the word. So, in order to conclude that “There exists a god” is an extraordinary claim, we need to understand in what sense “extraordinary” is used here, and once we do that we’ll be able to note if that sort of extraordinary is one that we should care about.

Now, let me start not by really examining possibilities for what “extraordinary” might mean, but instead by talking about the specific belief in god itself. The vast majority of people believe that some kind of god exists; atheism is, in fact, a minority position. If we wanted to consider naturalism itself, the percentage of people believing some sort of supernatural proposition — including ghosts, ancestor spirits, astrology, reincarnation, and so on — is even higher. So let me ask this: is it really reasonable to say that a belief that most people hold is in fact the extraordinary one, and that the belief that most people don’t believe is the one that is “mundane”, as Seidensticker puts it later? By the common meaning of the terms “extraordinary” and “mundane”, the belief that a god exists and the belief that at least one supernatural proposition is true are, in fact, mundane; they are common beliefs and ones that most people hold. So from the start we have reason to suspect that Seidensticker is using a very specific and specialized definition of “extraordinary” here to make his case.

Typically, atheists try to define “extraordinary” as “violating the laws of nature”. But from the above comment we can see that most people hold that natural laws can be violated by supernatural things and processes, and that at least one of those things does, in fact, exist. Thus, the atheist appealing to naturalism here is them appealing to what they are supposed to establish. If I’m not a naturalist — and, again, most people aren’t naturalists — why should I accept that a claim being supernatural in and of itself makes it extraordinary? It is unreasonable for atheists to appeal to a definition of “extraordinary” that requires me to accept a position they hold and I don’t.

Now, a lot of atheists will turn to science to help them out here, as science is naturalistic and discovers the natural laws, and so anything that violates — or seems to violate — current scientific knowledge would count as “extraordinary”. While this does fit well into our general trust of science, the problem with this approach is that the conclusions of science are not accepted because they are therefore not extraordinary. We trust scientific conclusions because we believe that science, in general, can and will provide the extraordinary evidence for any claim it accepts. Thus, if someone wants to challenge a scientific consensus, one would generally not try to demonstrate that the claim is extraordinary in and of itself, but simply go right for the jugular and claim that the evidence is, itself, not extraordinary enough to justify the proposition. So there is no reason to think that just because a proposition violates scientific consensus that it is therefore “extraordinary”, and that certainly applies even more so to science’s naturalistic assumption, which it doesn’t have extraordinary evidence for since all it can say is that so far it can explain things without appealing to supernatural explanations, which is both the inductive fallacy and runs into the issue that being able to find a naturalistic explanation does not in and of itself mean that the naturalistic explanation is the best one.

The final way I’ll consider here is to define it as not being part of common experience. Most people don’t experience gods, miracles or other supernatural things every day, so that would make them “extraordinary”. The problem is that we consider a number of uncommon experiences perfectly mundane all the time. So it’s not that we don’t experience it commonly that matters, but how much it clashes with what we currently believe that matters … which, then, cycles back to the original point that since most people believe some sort of supernatural proposition, most people won’t consider a proposition extraordinary just because it is supernatural.

So, with “extraordinary claim” at least weakened, there’s another issue with Seidensticker’s claim here: why is the default denial? As Seidensticker himself puts it, the idea is that if the theist can’t prove their claim, then the default reasonable position is “There are no gods”. Essentially, Seidensticker here presumes that we can only have two states wrt beliefs, either believing the proposition true or believing it false, and if we can’t prove it sufficiently true then we have to accept that it is false. But there’s another option here, which is the “mere lack of belief” that atheists often use as the basis for claiming that they don’t have the burden of proof. In short, instead of saying that I think the proposition is true or that the proposition is false, I instead say that I have no idea and no opinion on it, and instead of treating the proposition as true or false I treat it as irrelevant: I have no idea whether or not it’s true, so I don’t act as if it is true or false. Thus, if I believe it true I act as if it is true, if I believe it false I act as if it is false, and if I simply lack belief I remove it from consideration and act according to the other beliefs that I have. Seidensticker rather pointedly ignores this possibility, despite it being the main justification for the claim that atheists don’t have the burden of proof.

And we can see what this insistence that denial is the default gets Seidensticker when he asks why Bannister cares so much:

And why is the Christian making a big deal about this? He’s characterizing the burden of proof as a burden. If he demands reciprocity before he will make his case, he’s missing an opportunity. Does he want me to earn the right to hear the Good News? Why not say that he will gladly make his case and simply hope that the atheist follows his lead?

I think it’s because his defense of Christianity is weak, and he wants to improve his overall argument by having something to attack as well.

First, the same charge could be made of Seidensticker as well, especially since he claims to follow the evidence. If he does, then presumably he has sufficient evidence for his belief that gods don’t exist. So why, then, is he defending the atheist not having the burden of proof? Surely any evidence-based atheist has more than enough evidence to meet any reasonable burden of proof, so then why do they avoid trying to meet it? Maybe they know that their evidence for atheism is weak, and they want to avoid ever having to give it.

What we can see is that this argument over the burden of proof is to avoid falling into the atheist trap. If we look at what Seidensticker is advocating, he’s holding an actual positive belief — there are no gods — and is insisting that if someone wants to challenge that they must prove him wrong. In short, they must prove that a god exists, and if they can’t, then the default position is Seidensticker’s. So the game is rigged in Seidensticker’s favour: if the theist can’t prove their case to Seidensticker’s satisfaction then Seidensticker wins, and the theist might have to accept that believe that that god doesn’t exist is the most reasonable and rational decision. This works well for atheists because it is much easier to argue against a proposition than in favour of one, and so Seidensticker takes a position where only overwhelming evidence will leave him without the ability to at least cast reasonable doubt on the position and thus win. And the atheist will never have to actually support their position or give any evidence.

Now, let’s look at Bannister’s view of active and passive beliefs. Seidensticker characterizes it this way:

I’m seeing three categories of beliefs:

A, beliefs that are true (Sweden exists)
B, beliefs that are false (Atlantis exists)
C, things you could have a belief about but don’t (Bannister’s example: whether there are hippos in the bathroom).

He wants to call A an active belief, ignore B and hope no one asks him about it, and call C a passive belief. I want to focus instead on A (true beliefs) and B (false beliefs) and ignore C, since we’re both in agreement that no one cares about C.

We’re talking about the burden of proof here. Talking about false beliefs seems irrelevant since a) the point of the discussion is to establish whether or not the beliefs are true and b) no one has the burden of proof for a belief that they believe is false. So an atheist who thinks that the belief “God exists” is false doesn’t have a burden of proof to prove that God exists. They can have a burden of proof for the belief that they think is true, which is “God does not exist”. Only the person who lacks belief, who is in category C, has no burden of proof, because you could believe it true or false, but you don’t believe either. This is the category that Seidensticker claims no one cares about. He might be right, but that’s the only category of even atheists that have no actual burden of proof.

I’m going to skip the “worldview/religion” debate because atheism is clearly an explicitly religious opinion and worldviews need justifications as well, so settling the debate over the specifics isn’t going to matter much. The heart of this post is that it is a bad argument to say that atheists aren’t making a claim if they are, in fact, making a claim, and a number of them — Seidensticker included — do make claims. The attempts to avoid that always end up self-serving for the atheists, giving them a way out that they refuse to allow for theists or anyone who disagrees with them. It does seem odd that a group that so insists on evidence-based reasoning is trying so hard to avoid having to ever give evidence for their claims.

Playboy …

February 14, 2017

So, about a year ago, Playboy decided to stop including pictures of nude women.

And now, they’ve gone back to posting nudes.

It turns out that people don’t really buy it just for the articles …

(To be fair, it seems they still put in pictures of attractive women, they just weren’t completely nude. Which then would have made them the equivalent of Maxim with a slightly more recognizable name. That … probably wasn’t going to work.)

It’s Tuesday again …

February 14, 2017

… just like it was five years ago.

I’ll be watching some Star Trek: TNG this time around …

Final Thoughts on Friday the 13th, The Series

February 13, 2017

So, after finishing Charmed, I went back to and finished Friday the 13th, The Series. And it’s interesting to watch it after watching Charmed, because they take a similar premise but explore it in different ways, with Charmed being much lighter and not having the depth in the supernatural explanations, but having much better production values and acting, while Friday the 13th has a better overall premise and in general a better grasp of the supernatural elements, but has in general fairly bad production values and acting. Chris Wiggins, who plays Jack Marshak, is generally good, but Robe, who plays Mickey, is uneven. The actor who plays Ryan is generally serviceable, and the actor who plays his replacement Johnny is okay, but mostly because he’s playing a stock character that isn’t that hard to do. The worst, though, tend to be the guest stars; some performances are good, but some are just awful. The scripts often seem awkward, as is the dialogue, but the backgrounds of the cursed objects tend to be interesting. It’s almost the anti-Charmed in a lot of ways: decent backstories for the supernatural elements, a focus on them rather than on the relationships between the leads, a very dark tone, but poor production values, dialogue, and acting.

The first two seasons are better than the third one, especially the last few episodes. Towards the end, you tended to get two types of episodes: episodes that were using the supernatural element as a framework to tell another type of story, and episodes the reveled in the evil and debauchery. As an example of the former, the episode “Jack-in-the-Box” focuses more on the mother and daughter dealing — badly — with their grief over the murder of the father, but most of it could have been done and has been done in standard dramatic series; the Jack-in-the-Box and the murders the little girl does with them are an aside to the story. For the latter, in the earlier seasons, there were more where the objects seemed to corrupt those who owned and used them, and more morally ambiguous cases, while in the later seasons for the most part those who used the items tended to be evil before getting it and just used it to fulfill their evil ends. Sure, that’s an important aspect of the show, but not to be focused on. And the last episode is about the Marquis de Sade, with Mickey writing about how charismatic he is, ramping up the focus on evil and what might well be called the prurient interest, which made the episodes less interesting to watch.

That being said, it’s was still an interesting show. I’d like to see it tried again with better production values, writing and acting, but I think it would end up more like the third season than like an improved version of the first. I might watch this series again.

Discussion of Objective Morality: Objective vs Relative

February 10, 2017

Having argued that the “objective vs subjective” distinction isn’t useful, Carrier moves on to the “objective vs relative” distinction:

Defenders of objective moral truth will rail against “cultural relativism,” for example, which they imagine is the belief that morals are only true within specific cultures, such that one culture cannot criticize the morality of another culture (and there are fools and loons who actually believe that, so it’s not simply a straw man; it becomes a straw man, though, when it is assumed most relativists think that way). Or they rail against some kind of biogenic relativism (“speciesism” they call it: Sense and Goodness without God, index). Or individual relativism (whereby every individual has their own moral truth, so what’s morally true is relative to them). Or situational relativism (what’s morally true is relative to and thus changes with the circumstances). Or whatever.

This is actually a false distinction. Even if every one of those “relativisms” is true, morality is still an objective fact. If biogenic relativism is true, then it is an objective fact of the world that certain morals are true for one species and not another. And if there are moral facts for humans that aren’t true for other animals like sharks or apes, it is no argument to say we should act like sharks or apes, when in fact we should act like humans, a specific kind of animal. It remains objectively true in that case that certain moral facts are true for us, that aren’t true for sharks or apes.

But, again, Carrier misses the point of the objection. No one argues that if we discovered that morality was really relativistic — ie defined solely by reference to what a particular group thinks is moral, even if that’s a group of one — that that wouldn’t be an objective fact about morality. But it would make moral claims like “Slavery is morally wrong” not an objective fact, in the sense that, as I said in the introduction they would not be required to justify that to anyone outside that group, even if they actually might be able to. Sure, it might be true that for humans the morally right thing to do is to end slavery, but that might not be true for sharks. Or, to put it better, imagine that we run into sentient sharks, who are capable of moral reasoning. It might be reasonable, given their species, for them to consider anything as food, even other sentient beings and moral agents. Now, it seems reasonable that we wouldn’t accept that; while there might be some debate over whether it is moral to use animals for food, surely we’d all at least tend to agree that eating other sentient beings, at least without permission, is morally wrong. But it is possible that under speciesism that that would be true for humans but not for sharks. And thus the sharks would be morally right to eat us.

This … is not a conclusion that most will accept.

Also, as stated in the post on objective vs subjective morality, it’s not really relativism to say that morality changes wrt the circumstances. Non-relativistic moralities can, in fact, do so. For example, returning to species, imagine that we have a vegetarian species, an omnivorous species, and a carnivorous species. We are debating the moral question “Is it immoral to use non-sentient animals as food?”. For the vegetarian species, this isn’t a moral question at all; they have no interest in it, and so that they abstain from it is not morally praiseworthy, although any of their species that did eat non-sentient animals would have to be seen as doing so for reasons that almost certainly had to be immoral. On the other end of the spectrum, since ought implies can it would be seen as unreasonable to claim that the carnivorous species is immoral for doing so if they can’t survive any other way. It’s only in the omnivorous species where it is a moral question, as they would both have a desire to and get a biological benefit from doing it, but likely could do without it. Of course, they’d need a moral reason to argue that it is immoral or them to eat animals, but the moral status here depends critically on the specific circumstances and details of the species involved.

Thus, I have to conclude that if “situational relativism” is really relativistic, then it has to go further than this, likely arguing that the details of the situation are so integral to that determination that you can’t have anything like a moral principle — even “Maximize utility” — without appealing to the specific circumstances. But this seems like something that would be massively difficult to pull off, and so is either, to my mind, a rather implausible view or, more likely, is confused over very strong objectivist moralities that deny that the circumstances matter, taking it as saying that circumstances never matter as opposed to the more common answer that the circumstances that opponents think matter really don’t. (For example, Kant’s rejection of lying isn’t that lying just has to be morally wrong no matter the circumstances, but is more that no possible circumstances can make lying not self-defeating. This hasn’t stopped many opponents from asserting that Kant can’t possibly consider circumstances ever, which is not correct).

Again, Carrier somewhat grasps what people are concerned about but then stops worrying about it almost immediately:

For example, traffic laws are obviously culturally relative. Like fictional stories, they are completely invented by each culture however they want. And yet there is an objective fact of the matter that they realize. There are better and worse traffic systems, when measured by the standard they were invented for. And this remains so regardless of your opinions, feelings, or beliefs. For example, a system in which there was no enforced rule as to which side of multi-lane roads to drive on would produce far more traffic collisions, and the universally recognized (and universally needed) goal of traffic laws is to facilitate transportation while minimizing collisions. Thus, in some cultures vehicles are expected to drive on the right; in others, the left. Which it is is completely arbitrary. And in consequence completely relative to which culture you are in at the time. Yet it is an objectively true fact that everyone ought to drive on the same side of the road—whichever side that happens culturally to be—if they want to avoid traffic collisions.

Thus, cultural relativism does not allow just any rules or morals willy nilly. There is no objectively true fact that cars must drive on the right rather than the left to reduce collisions. There is, however, an objectively true fact that cars must all drive on the right or on the left to reduce collisions. Moreover, even though it is culturally relative whether you drive on the right or the left, when you are in a culture that drives on the right, you ought to drive on the right. Which side you ought to drive on is an objective fact of which cultural system you are traversing at the time. Relativism thus has no bearing on whether objective morals exist. Objective morals might exist—and be relative, to the individual, culture, situation, or species.

Which leads into the problem: if morals are relative, then there is no right answer, and so you don’t have to justify them to anyone who disagrees if they are not part of the relevant group (and maybe not even then). So I can’t go to Britain and argue that they should drive on the right-hand side of the road, and demand that they justify why their solution is better. They are free to answer that that’s just what they do, and that has to settle the question. If I press the argument, I’m invalidly trying to impose my view on them, which I have no right to do.

Which works out reasonably well for traffic laws. It doesn’t work very well for morals. Take the standard “Slavery is morally wrong” example. Do we really want to say that if a culture was convinced that slavery was morally right or even morally mandatory and say “That’s just what we believe” that that’d be all that could be said on the matter? Likely not. So we don’t think that morality works like traffic laws, and so we don’t think that morality is relative in that way. Thus, Carrier’s defense of their objectivity is not a defense at all.

Strangely, Carrier accepts that later:

But some people want to be able to truthfully say that everyone should agree on what’s morally true—and that when they don’t, someone is wrong. They want to be able to say that the Nazis and slaveowning Southerners and the biblical Israelites were immoral—indeed, that this should be an indisputable fact. They want to be able to say that there has been moral progress in human history—which requires there to be some true morality we are getting closer to. This is what most people actually mean, and want, when they say there has to be an objectively true morality. It’s not enough to just say we don’t like the Nazis and slaveowning Southerners and the biblical Israelites. Because anyone who wanted to be like them can just say “So what?” Just like someone who disagreed with us about what kind of music to like, our saying they were immoral would be a meaningless and useless gesture—and wholly ineffectual to any purpose. We could no more call them wrong for acting like that, than we could call them wrong for liking different music.

But then he moves on to admonish people arguing for subjective or relativistic moralities:

But this means it’s a derailing tactic to answer someone who says there are objective moral facts with “but values are subjective.” That in no way entails there is no objectively true fact of the matter as to which values we all do or should have. It is likewise impertinent to insist that morality is all just relative. Because that is only true if it is objectively true that different moralities obtain for different people. Which obligates you to check. Is it actually the case that different cultures ought to behave in different ways? Is it actually the case that every moral system is entirely the equal of any other and there can never be any grounds to criticize any? Is it actually the case that there is no moral system that, implemented anywhere by anyone, would make the world a better place even by their own standards?

Which, again, staggeringly misses the point. The argument is that people are arguing for subjective and relativistic moralities and giving reasons why morality really is that way, and the objectivists are saying that that means that there is no right answer to moral questions which seems to make morality useless and pointless, and doesn’t align with what we think is moral. You’d be just as reasonable to conclude that objectivists are derailing or being impertinent for arguing those consequences as if they mattered to the underlying argument for subjective or relativistic moralities. But in reality neither are. A big problem for subjectivists and relativists is the consequence that those moralities mean that we can’t really say if a moral proposition is true or false, and it is an issue for objectivists that they can’t justify any moral claim universally. And the main evidence for these tactics not being bad ones is the number of people who accept that there is no right answer to moral questions as a consequence of their views. In short, they respond to the objectivist by saying that there are no objective moral facts at all — or at least not relevant ones — and so there are no right answers, and that objectivists are wrong because they assume there should be. Objectivists, unknowingly, are like people arguing that there should be one style of music that everyone ought to like, but musical tastes don’t work that way … and moral “tastes” don’t work that way either.

So the distinctions and tactics are useful, as they define the positions. In the next post, I’ll look at how Carrier tries to deal with moral criticism and the validity — or invalidity — of it.

Bad Defenses of Bad Atheist Arguments: The Loch Ness Monster’s Moustache

February 8, 2017

So, Bob Seidensticker over at Cross Examined is looking at a book by Andy Bannister criticizing some atheist arguments. Seidensticker is going to try to defend the arguments against those criticisms. The problem is that his defenses, at least so far, have been … weak to say the least.

In the first post, Seidensticker characterizes the book this way:

The tone is deliberately lighthearted, often to an extreme of silliness, though it was too full of insults for me to find it amusing. I can’t in one paragraph frisk in field of lavender clover with a miniature pink rhinoceros who plays show tunes through a calliope in its horn and farts cotton-candy-scented soap bubbles but then two paragraphs later be lectured that my arguments are embarrassing, “extremely bad,” or “disastrous.” The flippant tone got old fast.

So, presumably, we can be assured that Seidensticker will not be at all flippant and will use no insults. Hey, stop laughing!

Anyway, the first argument that Bannister addresses, in the first chapter (entitled ” The Loch Ness Monster’s Moustache”) is the atheist bus sign “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. Since I’m interested in arguments not in personal offense, I’ll ignore the discussion of its tone, and move straight on to the actual criticisms of the argument:

Bannister next asks, “What’s the connection between the non-existence of something and any effect, emotional or otherwise?” Do you complain about unicorns or the Flying Spaghetti Monster not existing?

In a dozen places, Banister writes something like this that makes me wonder if he’s just not paying attention. No, we don’t complain about unicorns—they don’t exist, and they don’t cause problems. Christianity, on the other hand, does exist, and Christianity and Christians cause problems.

Sure, Christianity exists. What does that have to with god? In particularly with small “g” god. Sure, Seidensticker can argue that if he disproves the existence of the Christian God, then Christianity itself will collapse. Fine. Does that mean that all of Christianity’s problems will go along with it? Are the problems with Christianity caused by God? Or “god”? Seidensticker doesn’t say, and the bus ad doesn’t say, either. This becomes important later as Seidensticker tries to defend himself from the “Atheist leaders did bad things, too”:

Richard Dawkins lampooned this argument with this tweet: “Stalin, Hitler and Saddam Hussein were evil, murdering dictators. All had moustaches. Therefore moustaches are evil.”

Yes, Stalin was a bad man, but why? Was it the mustache? Was it his atheism? No, Stalin was a dictator, and dictators don’t like alternate power structures like the church. Religion was competition, so Stalin made it illegal. They didn’t do anything in the name of atheism. Lack of a god belief is no reason to order that people be killed. (I expose the Stalin argument here and here.)

So … how many of the Christian leaders that did things “in the name of God” were really dictators using religion as a power base? Marxist communism itself famously refers to religion as “the opiate of the masses”, and history has proven that dictators are willing to use religious biases to grab and maintain power. We have many, many examples of dictators using religion to justify their having power, either by declaring that it was God’s will that they have it, or by insisting that they are the defenders of the faith, or whatever. If you can’t blame atheism for Stalin’s attacking religion — which is the rather odd stance Seidensticker is defending here — then how can you blame God for those other dictators?

This gets even worse when you realize that Marxist communism was, itself, explicitly anti-religious. The reason Stalin could get away with persecuting religions was because communist doctrine allowed for it. He thus used communist doctrine, if Seidensticker’s analysis is right, to remove a personal threat. In fact, pretty much all of Stalin’s atrocities were justified by appealing to communist doctrine (and, yes, backed up by overwhelming power). Stalin, then, used communist doctrine in much the same way as people have used Christian doctrine to justify their own specific qualities. And pretty much any philosophical worldview can be so abused. Thus, there is no reason to think that people accepting “There’s probably no god” will improve anything on this score.

So let me return to earlier in the post and see what these “harms” are supposed to be:

If you’re not causing problems, that’s great, but if you’re not aware of the problems, you’re also not paying attention. Christian adults live burdened with guilt. Christian children startle awake at a noise and wonder if this is the beginning of the imminent Armageddon. Christian homosexuals deny themselves romantic relationships to satisfy an absent god. This isn’t true for all Christians, of course, but imposing a worldview burdened with Bronze Age nonsense and informed by faith rather than evidence has consequences.

So, if people reject god — or, rather, “God” — they won’t be burdened with guilt? Presumably, if atheistic views of morality are correct and atheistic morality doesn’t just devolve into “Do whatever you want”, people will still want to do things that they shouldn’t, and thus will still do things they shouldn’t, and so will feel guilt. Children, whether Christian or not, will still startle awake at noises and fear something, be it monsters under the bed or the threat of nuclear war or that Trump will take their friends away — you don’t see too many liberals blaming liberal rhetoric for that one — or, well, any number of things. There will be people who will or will at least feel like they should deny themselves romantic relationships for various reasons. So these things will still happen. All that will change are the reasons for that. Seidensticker clearly feels that appealing to a “god” is the wrong reason. Fine. But then he’s no longer talking about the belief in god or God or whatever being bad because it causes those feelings or even because those things cause guilt but instead because it is for the wrong reason. And if that’s what he and the ad want to argue, go for it. But the actual argument in the ad is that if you accept that god probably doesn’t exist, then you’ll have a much better life. And unless Seidensticker wants to argue that atheists don’t have to worry about anything, there’s no evidence for that conclusion.

Bannister wants to highlight the problem with the slogan by proposing this variant: “There’s probably no Loch Ness Monster, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Imagine telling this to someone down on his luck, someone who’s been kicked around by fate. Would he be cheered by this new knowledge?

No, because the Loch Ness Monster has zero impact in anyone’s life. Remove Nessie’s non-existent impact from someone’s life and nothing has changed. But do I really have to explain that god belief has a big impact on many people? For example, the United States has a famously secular constitution, and Christians nibble at the edges like rats looking for ways to dismantle the its separation of church and state for their benefit. See the difference?

So, even here, the slogan only works for things that are being directly caused by a belief in god. Er, God. Seriously, Seidensticker spends all of his time talking about Christianity with a slogan — and from a basis — that denies all gods. Sure, the author is Christian, but pointing out problems that some Christians have and some forms of Christianity might cause is not helping the argument. At any rate, Bannister is right that the simplistic slogan won’t do anything for the person who has been kicked around by fate. In fact, a belief in God might make their lives better because they’d be able to appeal to God’s plan and accept it as being for a greater good. Sure, that might not be true … but so might be anything that Seidensticker might do to try to make them feel better about themselves and/or stop worrying and start enjoying their life. So for a number of cases — and likely, even the majority of cases — coming to understand that there’s probably no god won’t improve anyone’s life. In fact, for most people it might not matter one way or the other.

Seidensticker again appeals to things Christians are doing here, but again a) doesn’t link that to the lives of most people and b) even worse, judges it on what he thinks is right. Why does he claim that secularism really makes most people’s lives better and the Christian attempts worse? In short, why is it that he can say that Christians playing politics is bad but secularists playing politics is good (note that the Constitution does not separate Church and State as strongly as he’d like, and many, many other countries do not have that explicit separation and are doing fine)? Oh, right, because he thinks they’re wrong. Again, it’s not the results that matter, but the reasons that matter. And, again, if that’s what he meant, he really should just come out and say it.

Which he does, kinda:

First, I hope we can agree that it’s vital for us to see reality correctly. If there isn’t a god out there, best we figure that out, come to terms with it, and shape society in accord with that knowledge.

And you’re seriously wagging your finger at us to warn that our worldview has no beneficent Sky Daddy? Yes, we know—we’re atheists! It’s not like the heavens shower us with benefits that disbelief will shut off. God already does nothing for us now—that’s the point.

First, it’s too bad the slogan doesn’t say that, because then he could use that to defend it. Second, this is in response to Bannister essentially arguing that the belief in god can make people’s lives better, too, and so the atheist claim that people’s lives will improve if they stop believing in god doesn’t seem to hold. Again, Seidensticker can lean on “But god doesn’t exist!” to justify it … but that’s not what the slogan says. You can’t make an explicit appeal to “Your life will be subjectively better if you don’t believe in god!” and then retreat to “Well, god doesn’t exist anyway!” when someone challenges the idea that it really will be subjectively better.

Bannister laments, “The atheist bus advertisement illustrates the danger not just of poor arguments, but especially of argument by sound bite.”

This is coming from a Christian? Where some think that evolution is overturned by mocking it as “from goo to you via the zoo”? Where church signs have slogans like “How will you spend eternity—Smoking or Nonsmoking?”? Where emotion is the argument, not intellect? Get your own house in order first, pal.

So, his response to Bannister saying that it’s an argument by sound byte is essentially to say “Well, maybe it is … but you’re worse!”. This fails on multiple levels. First, he never argues that it isn’t one. Second, his response implicitly agrees that it is. Third, his argument is indeed a classic argument ad hominem, as it uses the fact that Bannister is a Christian to argue that he can’t argue against argument by sound byte, when there is no reason to think that Bannister himself specifically argues that way. Fourth, he’s given no evidence that Christianity does this in general, which is what he’s using to argue against Bannister’s argument against this specific one. Fifth, you can’t use that sort of general impression to refute a specific instance anyway. And finally, but most importantly, this entire post is about defending the bus ad as an argument, but the retreat and tacit acceptance of it as an argument by sound byte makes it impossible to defend it as an argument. So, at the end, Seidensticker ends up undermining the entire point of the post. Impressive.

First Thoughts on Trails of Cold Steel

February 6, 2017

So, I’ve started playing Trails of Cold Steel on the Vita, and so far it’s entertaining enough, but I think it suffers from a problem that I’ve been having with new games lately: For the most part, it reminds me of other games that are better or that I’d rather play than it.

The character models and how they work in cutscenes really remind me of Suikoden III. The calendar dates and how they move remind me of Persona 3 and Persona 4, as does the concept of “Bonding Events”. The Bonding Events themselves remind me a lot of Conception II, as does the dungeon crawling (although, so far, it’s less grindy). The problem is that Suikoden III is far more open world then Trails of Cold Steel is, the dates matter more in the Personas since you have a daily routine, and also the character relationships matter more because you have to find the time to spend with whomever you want to spend time with, and you get immediate in-game benefits for advancing S-links, and the dating relationships are deeper, at least so far, in Conception II. All of this means that the game keeps reminding me of better or deeper games that I could be playing instead. That’s not the way to create a pleasant gaming experience [grin].

I think part of the issue is that I’d like to see more games borrow some of the good elements from my old favourites, but few of those games end up doing more with the elements. Instead, they end up including them, but making them more shallow and providing less depth while providing little to nothing new to compensate. This, then, leads you to see those elements, think fondly of them … and then recall that there were other games that did them better. If a game does something new or takes the original ideas and does something unique with them, then that doesn’t trigger. Lost Dimension is probably the best example of this, as it takes the standard JRPG combat and social link tropes and uses them in a unique way by adding in the traitor element. Trails of Cold Steel doesn’t do that.

That being said, the game is still entertaining. The biggest issue other than the above is that too much is hidden. It isn’t clear what the bonding points and events are going to give me and what the consequences of doing a Bonding Event with one character or another will actually mean in the long run. It suffers from having a very set character with a set personality and even a clear hint of a relationship thing forming with Alisa while leaving it up to you to decide who to talk to — for the most part — in the free days you get. There’s not enough vagueness in the character to make that have meaning, and again the game is not clear on what the consequences of your choices are. Also, there are Hidden Quests for you to do, but it isn’t clear on what doing them actually does for you. Thus, in order to avoid missing out on something really, really cool, I’m using a walkthrough to ensure that I get everything. This is less than fun.

But the characters are interesting, for the most part. I find myself liking Laura a lot, and also Emma and Alisa. Jusis and Machias are annoying — but are supposed to be — and the others are interesting enough, if Fie is too eccentric for my tastes. The quests are relatively interesting, and the Field Trips to different places breaks things up enough to add to it as well. The story is just developing, and I hope they can deliver on all the things they’ve promised.

Discussion of Objective Morality: Objective vs Subjective

February 3, 2017

So, in his post on objective morality, the first distinction Carrier takes on is objective vs subjective morality. Remember that in my introduction I said that subjectivity tends to be associated more with whether it is possible to justify one’s moral conclusions to someone else. Carrier starts, however, by talking about subjective experiences themselves, and trying to argue that even the most subjective of them — colour experiences — are really objective because they reduce to physical brain states and/or properties of physical systems. Thus, he argues:

There is at least one objective fact about colors, which is that wherever a certain physical system exists, the experience of colors will exist, as an inalienable property of that system. And even if that weren’t the case, even if physicalism or epiphenomenalism are false, it would still be the case that “colors exist” is an objectively true fact of the world—because our experience of them is a part of the world; therefore, this world does contain color experience, whatever it consists of. Whether we know that or believe it or not, it remains true. So even something as radically subjective as the existence of the color red is still an objective fact. So what exactly do we mean when we want to know if morals are objective facts? Are they like colors? Or are they like photons? Or are they like something else? Is there any way they could be, and not be an objective fact of the world?

The problem is that no one arguing that morality is or ought to be an objective fact rather than a subjective fact are denying that there is a fact of the matter about whether or not a particular subject is having particular experiences. That’s not what’s at stake here. But just because someone is having an internal experience doesn’t mean that that fact can be used to justify the conclusion one makes from those experiences. After all, just because you see a pink elephant doesn’t mean that you’re justified in concluding that there really is a pink elephant there, and that anyone else who is not having that specific experience ought to accept that there really is a pink elephant there just because you are having that experience. Thus, cycling back to justification, the personal experiences of one person cannot be used to justify the truth of a proposition to someone who is not having those experiences, no matter how certain someone is that the other person really is having those experiences. Now, of course, there are exceptions for testimony, where someone says that they are having a certain experience and it is presumed that the other person would, in fact, have that experience as well if they were in the same circumstances, but the worry over subjectivity is that the other person wouldn’t necessarily have the same experience in the exact same circumstances, and if that is accepted as possible and perhaps even likely then the testimony of those experiences can’t be used to justify anything more than the simple “I had this experience” proposition.

We want more than that to conclude that a proposition like “X is morally right” is true.

Carrier later talks about moralities being based on subjective feelings and experiences:

Likewise, pain and suffering are entirely subjective feelings. They are just like our opinions about music. What causes you pain may be different from what causes someone else pain. They might have PTSD, or a body in a different condition, or a different past history that makes some things more painful than others, or just genetically have a different pain tolerance than you. Yet that anyone’s pain and suffering are 100% subjective, all “just a feeling,” and different from person to person, there is still an objectively true fact that something is causing them pain. Even full-on divine-command-style Christians must agree: that pain is purely and only a “feeling” does not make it irrelevant to a third party’s moral judgment. To the contrary, moral judgment is always 100% dependent on whether that’s true, whether something you do will cause any pain or suffering.

But, again, that’s not what the debate is about. Utilitarianism is based on those sorts of hedonistic considerations, and yet it’s definitely considered a contender for being an objective morality. This is because it has a clear, set, universal criteria for what is or isn’t moral, even though that criteria is subjective. The objection that these sorts of subjective criteria usually get in formal philosophical circles is not that it makes morality subjective in an interesting way, but that as pain and pleasure are internal subjective feelings we don’t have access to them in order to make our determinations. I don’t have direct access to your internal subjective feelings, so only you know what they are. But I need to be able to know them in order to conclude what the action with the most hedonistic utility actually is … and I need to know them for everyone who might be involved. That would make Utilitarian views too difficult to implement. And Carrier’s move to specific brain states doesn’t help because it’s still too difficult if not impossible to bring everyone in and read their brain states to figure out what they are really feeling.

But note that Utilitarianism has this issue for, well, pretty much everything. You have to calculate future utility as well, and it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty. You also have to calculate it for anyone that might be involved, which is a daunting task to say the least. Fortunately, Utilitarianism can survive this sort of challenge by appealing to “as much as reasonable”; as Carrier himself notes later, all we can do is the best we can, and more importantly that’s all that we are required to do. The best that we can given our resources is not some kind of inferior situation that we just muddle through with, but is in fact what morality requires we do.

But, at any rate, the issue is not that it relies on subjective feelings and therefore it is entirely subjective. No one claims that appealing to the pain or emotions of someone in order to determine what is morally right makes that moral view necessarily subjective. Moreover — and this will come up again when we talk about relativism — simply because what is morally right might vary as per conditions or circumstances doesn’t do that either, or else, again, Utilitarianism isn’t an objective morality. Moreover, pretty much all objective moralities allow for differences depending on circumstances. So the fight isn’t over that.

Carrier, oddly, does indeed get what the fight is over, but then uses lots of other concepts to bury that so that he can come to his conclusion that the distinction of objective vs subjective isn’t useful:

Typically the objective/subjective distinction is made between “opinions/feelings/emotions” (subjective facts) and “that which can be independently observed or measured” or “that which exists regardless of what we think or feel” (objective facts). …

The distinction people want to make, then, is between our having an opinion, and that opinion being true. When opinions make assertions of fact (“in my opinion, no one will buy this product”), they can be false. Then they are really just less-informed beliefs about the world, rather than pure opinions. They differ from what people want to call “objective facts” only in how well informed the conclusion is from what we can all observe or measure. But what about opinions that can’t be false? For example, “in my opinion, this music sucks” could be making a claim to objective fact (it could be making an assertion that the music fails to satisfy some mutually accepted standard), but often it’s simply stating how the subject feels. That the music at that moment sucks to them is an undeniably true fact of how they feel about the music. And that it sucks, in that case, cannot even be false (for them). It is in that case like the color red.

And yet there is still an objectively true fact of the world here: their feeling that way about the music will manifest in a physical arrangement and state of their brain that can in principle be observed by a suitably informed third party, without ever having to ask them what they thought of the music.

Yes, but clearly that objectively true fact is irrelevant to whether or not the statement is, in fact, true. As Carrier himself notes, the option “This music sucks” can’t be false. Well, of course, he’s wrong about that; someone has direct access to their own experiences, but that doesn’t mean that the statement “This music sucks to me at the moment” can’t be false. Of course it can be false if they are, in fact, actually enjoying that music at that point in time. What he means here is that as long as they are actually having that experience, then there is no way to prove that statement false, no matter what objective evidence one brings to bear. No one can argue in any credible way that that person really ought to like that music based on things like the objective qualities of the notes or even their past history with similar music. They don’t like it, and that’s all that can be said about that.

So if we accept that a subjective morality claim puts the claim in areas like, say, appreciation of music, then we can ask if it seems reasonable to say that “Slavery is wrong” is in the same category of opinions. Let’s presume that someone says that slavery is not morally wrong based on some sort of internal feeling; they just feel that it is. With music, in general if they justify “For me, this music sucks” with “I’m not enjoying it”, there’s nothing more to be said. Would we consider this to be the case for “slavery is not morally wrong”? Moreover, opinions about things like music can easily justify taking actions, like going to see that band, buying their CDs, dictating to others what music can be allowed at a party, and so on. But we cannot challenge their view that they love that band (and so should go to their concert) or hate that band (and so won’t have them at their party). Sure, we might be able to use other arguments to try to sway them — they can’t afford the tickets, others really like that band and so the party will be more of a success — but none of those are arguments that go towards their musical views. By the same token, if morality is subjective then if someone chooses to buy a slave because it is at least not morally wrong to do so we would be unable to argue that they are wrong and that slavery is really immoral. Instead, again, we could appeal to non-moral arguments, like the law or the expense or whatever. But all of these would be considering that their moral judgement was, at least, not open to judgement. We would stop arguing on the basis of morality and start arguing on the basis of practicality or something else. At that point, what’s morality doing?

Now, the same concerns will come up in relativism, so I’ll address some other specific objections there. But the real worry about subjective morality is precisely the idea that moral claims will turn out like musical claims: true if that person feels that way, and false if they don’t, which means that we cannot claim that they are wrong about their moral assessments. But if they can’t be wrong about their moral assessments, then moral criticism is mostly meaningless, either idle chatter or acting like morality is objective when it really isn’t just as it is now for musical assessments. Ironically, Carrier identifies the problem only to equivocate on “objective” to try to avoid it.