Category Archives: Philosophy

Morality vs Accountability

Last month, a commenter dropped this interesting nugget:

God’s existence implies accountability’s existence…

More broadly, our discussion was about whether morality can be grounded in a non-theistic framework. I thought yes; he thought no. For him, God is what makes the “moral code” real, objective, absolute and authoritative. Fair enough, and his position has been the position of most people throughout recorded history.

But let’s look at recorded history. I will argue that my commenter hit the nail on the head when he said, “God’s existence implies accountability’s existence,” but accountability is not the same thing as morality — at least not what most of us mean by morality.

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The Morality of the Invisible Hand

There is a story that a high-level Russian official visited America during the Reagan presidency and was shown the abundance of goods in American stores. He was astonished at the bountiful display and how it compared to the meager offerings in his home country.

“Who planned all this production?” he asked.

“Nobody,” his hosts replied. “People just decide for themselves what they want to produce and sell.”

He thought they must be concealing something. “No, seriously. Tell me: what authority is behind all this?”

“We assure you, this did not come from a central plan. People are free to go into business as they like and produce what they want, and what you see on the shelves is the result.”

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How to Assess a Website’s Trustworthiness – Part 5

how_to_thinkI wrote the first four parts of this series a year ago, but something I recently read in How to Think brought the subject to mind again so here is another way to separate the internet’s wheat from its chaff:

Rule #5 – Does the website engage with the best arguments of its opposition?

In a chapter of How to Think titled Repulsions, Alan Jacobs warns that animus toward our opposition “disables our ethical and our practical judgment.” We have such an emotional investment in believing that they are wrong that we harp on their weakest arguments and ridicule their most loony representatives.

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Like-Minded vs Like-Hearted

how_to_thinkIf you want to find the truth, then the most dangerous place for you to be is in a group that already agrees with you.

This is particularly true if membership in that group is based on shared thinking, such as the sort of church where you must all recite the same creed, the faculty of a school where there are written or unwritten expectations for what you will teach or publish, or a political party whose “platform” you must support.

The reason is obvious, isn’t it? As Alan Jacobs says in his book, How to Think,

…the pressures imposed on us by Inner Rings [of people who control such groups] make genuine thinking almost impossible by making belonging contingent on conformity.

He continues with the solution:

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Thinking with Other People

What hope could there be for someone who is such a devoted member of the infamous Westborough Baptist Church (“God Hates Fags”) that she tweets missives such as this one:

Thank God for AIDS! You won’t repent of your rebellion that brought His wrath on you in this incurable scourge, so expect more & worse!

And what if that evangelist for hate had been steeped in it since infancy, being the granddaughter of the church’s founder?

how_to_thinkIn How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, author Alan Jacobs tells the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, whose social-media campaign to spread Westborough Baptist’s message ultimately backfired in a spectacular way.

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When You’re Right for Good Reason, But Still Wrong

Mary enters the house and looks into the living room. A familiar appearance greets her from her husband’s chair. She thinks, “My husband is sitting in the living room,” and then walks into the den. But Mary misidentified the man in the chair. [Perhaps she only saw the back of his head.] It’s not her husband, but his brother, whom she had no reason to think was even in the country. However, her husband was seated along the opposite wall of the living room, out of Mary’s sight, dozing in a different chair.

Would you say that Mary knew her husband was in the living room or, because she was mistaken about the evidence, was she merely lucky?

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The Welcome Erosion of Natural Law

Section 377 of India’s Constitution was in the news this week. It states, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for [a] term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Although Section 377 does not spell out what is “against the order of nature,” conservatives have interpreted it to bar homosexual activity, among other things.

So it was big news this week when India’s Supreme Court ruled that “In a democratic Constitution founded on the rule of law, rights (of minorities) are as sacred as those conferred on other citizens to protect their freedoms and liberties. Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy.”

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