Even physical things are not merely physical

February 20, 2009 § 52 Comments

Modern people like ourselves tend to think in very physicalist terms. In thinking about things in terms of what “happens” rather than in terms of things that we do or do not do as acting subjects we tend to get lost in a number of fallacies, losing track of a number of key distinctions. In the last post we discussed one such crucial distinction, the distinction between acting and not acting, without which much moral confusion ensues. In this post I am going to discuss another problem with abstracted physicalist thinking: the treatment of physical objects, including but not limited to the body, as nothing but physical objects.

We of course know intuitively that as a moral matter, physical objects are not merely physical objects. As a deontological matter a bag of gold that I stole is a fundamentally different object from a bag of gold which I earned. Both may be identical bags of gold physically, but the objective moral content of each bag is clearly very different. What I should and should not do with each bag of gold, the earned one and the stolen one, is about as different as things can be. And this remains true even after I have confessed to stealing the bag of gold and received absolution from a priest.

And so it is with the body. The objective moral content of my body which I have (let us suppose) deliberately mutilated to make it infertile is fundamentally different from the objective moral content of my body which has been injured in an accident, or was mutilated against my will by someone else. Notice that this has nothing to do with my interior dispositions or intentions at all: it is a fact that my impaired powers of generation were deliberately made so by me, or were made so through an accident. As a moral matter there is no genetic fallacy here: my moral obligations with respect to morally different objects are different, even if those objects are the same -qua- physical objects. To treat even physical objects as nothing but physical objects is a kind of physicalism.

So as a moral matter, “my fertility I deliberately impaired” is a different object from “my fertility impaired in an accident”, which is different still from “my fertility which I deliberately mutilated but which I have attempted to restore”. Again we notice that none of these things pertain to my intentions in acting right now: these are morally pertinent historical truths about the object in question, in this case my body. These things are objectively true no matter what intentions or dispositions I have right now.

And that is why I find it very plausible that a man who has had a contraceptive vasectomy should not ever engage in sexual relations with his wife, at least until he has attempted a restoration. As we have discussed before, if his contracepted acts were intrinsically evil grave matter which he had to confess, then absolution does not grant him a license to go do what he just confessed all over again. We are never licensed to do evil, not even in the face of great hardship and suffering. Anything we confess and for which we are absolved is something we should never do again, ever. We are all sinners, so sometimes we will. But when we do, we cut ourselves off from the Blessed Sacrament, a relationship which can ordinarily only be restored through valid Confession. And part of valid Confession is resolution not to sin again.

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§ 52 Responses to Even physical things are not merely physical

  • Rodak says:

    There is no difference between the stolen bag of gold and the earned bag of gold. The difference is in <>you<> before and after making the decision to steal the bag of gold. A bag of gold has no moral content. Once it has been recovered by the police and returned to its rightful owner, he can use it in exactly the same way he could use it prior to its having been stolen.The human body, having been surgically altered, is a very different circumstance.

  • zippy says:

    <>There is no [moral] difference between the stolen bag of gold and the earned bag of gold.<>Baloney.

  • Rodak says:

    There is a difference between a thief and worker; gold is gold is gold.

  • zippy says:

    If there were no moral difference between the bags of gold, then it would be the case that anything it is morally acceptable for me to do with the one bag is morally acceptable for me to do with the other; and that anything not morally acceptable for me to do with the one would be morally unacceptable for me to do with the other. Since it is morally acceptable for me to spend a bag of gold I earned, and it is not morally acceptable for me to spend a bag of gold I stole, there are in fact moral differences between the bags. QED.

  • Rodak says:

    Perhaps your argument would be somewhat more convincing if you spoke of the 30 pieces of silver received by Judas for betraying Our Lord, and the refusal of the Jewish authorities to take it back into the temple coffers.But, in that case the money wasn’t stolen, but rather used to contract for the perpetration of an evil deed.On the other hand, was the seller of the potter’s field somehow tainted by receiving that money in exchange for his piece of land?

  • Rodak says:

    The guilt is not in us, Horatio, but in our bags. (?)

  • zippy says:

    That the bag of gold was stolen isn’t some kind of physical taint. It is a non-physical fact about that particular bag which has moral implications bearing on what is and is not licit to do with it.

  • Rodak says:

    <>Since it is morally acceptable for me to spend a bag of gold I earned, and it is not morally acceptable for me to spend a bag of gold I stole, there are in fact moral differences between the bags.<>No, there is a difference between what it is morally acceptable for you <>to do<> with each identical bag of gold. All the difference pertains to you and your intentions and your actions. The gold is, passively, inaminatedly, just gold.

  • Rodak says:

    So was it morally acceptable for the temple priests to spend the returned 30 pieces of silver on a plot of land? And was it morally acceptable for the seller to take that money in exchange for his property, whether or not he knew of its history?

  • zippy says:

    <>…there is a difference between what it is morally acceptable for you to do with each [physically] identical bag of gold.<>Right. That is what moral facts are: objectively true facts about what we ought and ought not do.

  • zippy says:

    And in this case, clearly, they are objectively true facts about <>that bag of gold<> which distinguish it morally from <>that other physically identical bag of gold<>; where by “distinguish it morally” we mean that what it is morally acceptable to do to/with the one is different from what it is morally acceptable to do to/with the other.

  • Rodak says:

    Mmm. I’m getting nowhere fast on this one. I’ll wait and see if anyone else has something to say on it–other than “A-men!”

  • Paul says:

    A fact about gold <>in itself<> is a true statement that does not depend on someone’s mental state. For example: that gold has an atomic number of 79 is independent of my mental state — it remains 79 even if I am happy, or sad, or hungry. And the fact remains true even if I am in error — if I erroneously think that the atomic number is 42, it nevertheless remains a true fact that the atomic number of gold is in fact 79.But this is not true for moral facts about my relationship with gold. If I legitimately own a particular bag of gold, then there is one range of things that it is morally acceptable to do with it; whereas if I have stolen that bag then there is a different range of things that I can do with it. However, if I <><>erroneously<><> think that the bag of gold in front of me is a stolen bag, then the range of morally acceptable things I can do with it is limited in exactly the same way as though it were indeed really a stolen bag.In other words, the range of morally acceptable things I can do with a bag of gold is dependent on my understanding of what that bag of gold is. If I <><>think<><> it a legitimately-possessed bag of gold, then one set of things. If I <><>think<><> it a stolen bag of gold, then another set. And this means that we are not dealing with facts about the bag of gold in itself, but with facts flowing from what I <><>think<><> about the bag of gold.(The last part of Zippy’s post refers to his idiosyncratic interpretation of contraceptive issues, which I < HREF="http://www.sblogs.com/153/2007/12/moral-decisions-are-freely-chosen.html" REL="nofollow">replied to<> some time ago.)

  • zippy says:

    <>In other words, the range of morally acceptable things I can do with a bag of gold is dependent on my understanding of what that bag of gold is.<>Wellll, not really. We can make <>mistakes<> in the presence of imperfect knowledge, especially about unobservable properties like ownership. But the discussion here stipulates that we know that the one bag of gold is stolen and that the other bag of gold is earned.Also this post shows that the criticism of my position on vasectomies doesn’t apply. The criticism seems to be that acts are freely chosen, and the man is not freely choosing to use a faculty that he himself deliberately impaired. But when a thief spends gold he has stolen he is making a free choice, a choice which is morally wrong in addition to the moral wrong of having stolen the gold in the first place; and when a man uses a sexual faculty the fertility of which he himself intentionally destroyed, he is making a free choice, a choice which is morally wrong in addition to the moral wrong of having mutilated his fertility in the first place. The notion that my understanding sets aside the freely chosen nature of a moral act is straightforwardly false.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>… the discussion here stipulates that we know that the one bag of gold is stolen and that the other bag of gold is earned.<>You’re making my point for me! If you are stipulating that such knowledge is accurate, then you are also indicating that mental state <><>is<><> important in defining the properties of the bags. I.e. moral constraints are <><>not<><> some kind of property of the bags in themselves, contrary to your claims.Zippy: <>when a man uses a sexual faculty the fertility of which he himself intentionally destroyed, he is making a free choice, <>a choice which is morally wrong<><>But what do you base that moral claim <><>on<><>? There’s no such Church teaching. (It’s certainly not in Humanae Vitae.)

  • zippy says:

    Paul:Whether or not the bag was stolen is not dependent upon your mental state. It is something true about the bag of gold independent of your or my or anyone else’s mental state. If the bag was stolen and then we suddenly ceased to exist entirely it would still be true that the bag was stolen, independent of our mental states, just as it is true that Sherman marched to the sea independent of our mental states.Also, you keep trying to introduce epistemic uncertainty as if it had some bearing on the kind of case in question. But it doesn’t, because we aren’t talking about a kind of case where there is epistemic uncertainty. We are talking about a case where the acting subject knows exactly what he has done and is doing.<>But what do you base that moral claim on?<>I made extensive arguments for it in prior posts, citing a number of different Magisterial sources, as well as making appeals to known moral theology, intuition and reason, from which followed hundreds of comments. I don’t really intend to revisit all that again; it is there in the archives, in the linked post and other contemporary posts.The point to this post is more general: that physical objects (including bodies) are not, from a moral standpoint, merely physical objects; and that treating them as merely physical objects leads to erroneous moral conclusions.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>Whether or not the bag was stolen is not dependent upon your mental state.<>Of course it is. If I mistake your bag of gold for my bag of gold, and take it, then no theft has been committed.Zippy: <>you keep trying to introduce epistemic uncertainty as if it had some bearing on the kind of case in question.<>I introduce that only as a counter-example to your very general claim that <>“the objective moral content of each bag is clearly very different”<>. A single counter-example is all that is needed to puncture a general claim.But your claim has more wrong with it that just that. Actions are moral or immoral according to whether the will behind them is good or bad. There is no possible moral content in inanimate objects because they have no will. Humans have a will, and we can be morally judged by our use of it. So the moral content of a bag of gold cannot possibly reside in the gold, but only in the mind (and spirit) of the human willing particular actions with the gold. It is every individual act of the will that has moral content, not the materials that are moved by that act of will.Having made such a claim for a bag of gold, you go on to apply it to particular parts of the human body. But the same objection to your claim applies: there is no moral content to an arm or a leg, because they only act according to the mind, which is the part of the body through which the will acts.Zippy: <>I made extensive arguments for it in prior posts, citing a number of different Magisterial sources<>To be precise, you have in those posts indicated that there is no direct citation anywhere in Church teaching. What you have done there is point out that if Humanae Vitae is read in a some particular way (in a hard-to-pin-down way, since you have never given a close interpretation of that document), and Veritatis Splendor read in a particular way (from where, in fact, I have taken the importance of <>will<> in regard to moral content, as opposed to the claimed moral content of inanimate objects), then what you claim emerges. If those documents were very much more directly and carefully addressed, such claims would not emerge.

  • zippy says:

    Me:<>Whether or not the bag was stolen is not dependent upon your mental state.<>Paul:<>Of course it is.<>No it isn’t. It doesn’t become the case that the bag was not stolen if you go to sleep, or if you are dead. Mount Vernon remains the former home of George Washington even if nobody remembers that it is the former home of George Washington. Historical truths about objects are not dependent on mental states at all; and historical truths about objects have moral implications.Your failure to recognize this pretty much makes it impossible for you to even understand my argument, let alone object to it coherently.

  • zippy says:

    <>you have in those posts indicated that there is no direct citation anywhere in Church teaching<>Right. I do not claim, never claimed, and expressly disclaim that the Church directly teaches that a man must at least attempt reversal of a vasectomy in order for future sexual intercourse to be morally licit. What I claimed is that it is <>true<> that a man must at least attempt reversal in order for future sexual intercourse to be morally licit, and I backed that claim up with arguments from Magisterial teachings, reason, etc.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>It doesn’t become the case that the bag was not stolen if you go to sleep, or if you are dead<>If your mental state is unconscious or dead, then stealing a bag is obviously not a possible action. So <><>that kind<><> of mental state is not relevant. But you claimed that stealing was not <>“dependent upon your mental state”<>, and that is a much more general claim — and a generality that you need to support your follow-up argument. So your objection here does nothing to support your claim.And certainly <>“historical truths about objects have moral implications”<>. That is, provided we have a mental state that <>knows<> the relevant historical truths. It is always necessary to know mental state to decide moral questions — there is <>no independent<> moral content in the materials objects being manipulated. Which is why (as Veritatis Splendor and a host of other documents say) we must always obey an erroneous conscience.You say you have <>“backed that claim up with arguments from Magisterial teachings”<>. Your posting archives show lots of references to the names of documents, but nowhere the necessary detail to show which sentences in them support your claims (and, more importantly, which sentences that appear to directly contradict your claims can be interpreted otherwise). As it stands, you are claiming that Church teaching somehow <><>must<><> be interpreted as supporting your claim, though the very authors of those documents — and pretty much everyone else reading them — have somehow managed to avoid coming to any such conclusion.

  • zippy says:

    <>If your mental state is unconscious or dead, then stealing a bag is obviously not a possible action.<>Now you are changing the subject. If you stole the bag yesterday and you are unconscious or dead today, it remains the case that the bag is a stolen bag: that you stole it yesterday.Likewise, when a man deliberately mutilated his fertility yesterday, his fertility remains deliberately mutilated today no matter what his mental state today. If he regrets having deliberately mutilated his fertility that does not change reality: it does not change his fertility into an <>accidentally<> mutilated fertility; just as the stolen bag of gold doesn’t become an earned bag of gold in virtue of a changed mental state. Mental states cannot change historical facts, and historical facts have moral implications with respect to presently contemplated action.<>That is, provided we have a mental state that knows the relevant historical truths.<>Or equivalently, moral acts are acts of acting subjects, not merely physical events in the world. Yes. But in the kind of case where you don’t like my conclusion, the acting subject is completely aware of the fact that he deliberately mutilated his own fertility, and the thief is completely aware of the fact that he stole the bag of gold. That is why the whole subjectivist epistemic move you keep attempting to make is completely irrelevant.I’m starting to have a hard time believing that you can’t see this. It is blindingly obvious that a stolen bag of gold is different from an earned bag of gold in moral terms, that is, in terms of what actions are and are not licit with respect to that particular bag of gold.<>As it stands, you are claiming that Church teaching somehow must be interpreted as supporting your claim, …<>Baloney. My argument is that it is <>true<>, not that the Church teaches it directly.<>…though the very authors of those documents — and pretty much everyone else reading them — have somehow managed to avoid coming to any such conclusion.<>The “pretty much everyone else reading them” claim is just false; and the expectation that Magisterial documents like encyclicals will go into detailed discussion of every possible case is outlandish. Encyclicals don’t do that on any other subject either. It took many centuries between the issuance of the brief <>Cum Frequenter<> and the clarification to address one very specific point, in a single paragraph, by the CDF in the 1970’s. “The Church hasn’t ever addressed this specific question, therefore Zippy is wrong” is not just an invalid argument: it is a really, really obviously invalid argument.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,Then, are you arguing contra existentialism and pro essentialism?It certainly sounds it.Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, but it certainly is an odd stance in the postmodern world.shalom,Steven

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,Sorry, note out of context, I meant this whole thread note responding to most recent notes.shalom,Steven

  • zippy says:

    Steven:I’m not really being that metaphysically specific, because it isn’t necessary for my purposes here. The point is just that there are historical non-physical facts about objects, often products of our <>past<> decisions, which are independent of our <>current<> mental states and intentions, yet which nevertheless have moral implications in terms of what is and is not licit w.r.t. those objects. It is a very general point, doubtless incompatible with some kinds of metaphysics and compatible with others, but to my mind quite obvious and undeniable when put in terms of (for example) stolen property.This doesn’t prove anything specific: it doesn’t lead to a particular conclusion in the vasectomy case, for example. But it does invalidate certain criticisms of the vasectomy case (and similar cases): in particular criticisms which assert that different moral obligations cannot obtain under identical <>physical<> conditions with different <>moral<> histories, appeals to a supposed genetic fallacy, etc.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,I do understand if you don’t care to continue this discussion; however, I wanted to further probe this because I find the question fascinating:You said:often products of our past decisions, which are independent of our current mental states and intentions, yet which nevertheless have moral implications in terms of what is and is not licit w.r.t. those objects.Which suggests that an objective something about the object changes as a result of what has been imposed upon it in the past in a non-physical way. So the physical hasn’t changed, but something about the object or substance has changed as a result of historical processes. You can’t measure this change, nor can it be observed, nor is there any way other than knowing the complete history to know that it has changed at all. That seems to suggest that the history of the object changes its essence (if one holds to a theory of essences) while not altering its existence and physical presence.I only ask because I’m not particularly keen on existentialism as a metaphysical theory because I think it is largely bounded by materialism and takes no real look at the supernatural state of things.Any way, it really has no implications for your argument (with which I take no exception) one way or the other.

  • Rodak says:

    Zippy–If the bag of gold were stolen today (presumably by an alchemist) and transformed into a base metal (lead, for instance), then, and only then, would you have a valid, one-to-one, analogy to the man who yesterday was whole and today has been surgically altered.

  • zippy says:

    Steven:<>Which suggests that an objective something about the object changes as a result of what has been imposed upon it in the past in a non-physical way. So the physical hasn’t changed, but something about the object or substance has changed as a result of historical processes.<>Well, the moral implications would still follow if we said that the objective (mental state independent) <>relations<> between persons and objects are altered by history, as opposed to the objects themselves. So we don’t have to adopt a strongly ‘immaterial essentialist’ metaphysical position w.r.t. objects and their histories in order for the conclusion to follow.Still, though, I’m sympathetic to the essentialist view: Mount Vernon is uniquely Mount Vernon, that is, is George Washington’s former home. For all eternity it will be true to say “Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home”, and of an exact replica “that replica is not GW’s former home.” So “used to belong to George Washington” seems to be an essential property of a particular thing, not a relation. There is room I think for a metaphysics where objective relations and historical occurrences become essential properties of particular objects, and I am sympathetic to that kind of metaphysics.But that is rather speculative, and in no way casts doubt upon the more general claim in the post, which is not itself dependent upon such a specific metaphysical commitment. Whether we call the mind-independent properties-which-arise-from-the-history-of-a-particular-object in question <>essences<> or <>relations<> doesn’t really matter (as far as I can tell) in terms of driving appropriate <>moral<> conclusions.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <> If you stole the bag yesterday and you are unconscious or dead today, it remains the case that the bag is a stolen bag: that you stole it yesterday.<>Of course; that’s not been in dispute. But it is still true that what the thief can morally do with the bag depends — at any moment — on what he <>thinks<> about the bag. Mental state always enters in, and is determinative. As it must do, since it is acts of will that are judged morally.Zippy: <>Mental states cannot change historical facts<>Again, that’s not been in dispute. But we are always judged morally on what we <>think<> are the historical facts.Zippy: <>the acting subject is completely aware of the fact that he deliberately mutilated his own fertility<>Agreed: that also has not been a matter of dispute. But since your argument about there being some kind of “moral content” residing in the mutilated body part (and completely independent of mental state) doesn’t work, we then have to instead ask exactly what is immoral about his use of the body part, at the point in time when he used that body part. But there is no teaching to refer to.Paul: <>As it stands, you are claiming that Church teaching somehow must be interpreted as supporting your claim<>Zippy: <>My argument is that it is true, not that the Church teaches it directly.<>Interpretation of texts is what is done when there is no directly relevant text to refer to. You have indicated that no direct text exists, ergo you are somehow interpreting texts in order to get to your conclusion.Zippy: <>the expectation that Magisterial documents like encyclicals will go into detailed discussion of every possible case is outlandish<>No one has suggested such a thing. You are suggesting that your interpretation is derived from documents in a fairly straightforward way (after all, you have drawn the conclusion without seeming to need a detailed and careful analysis of the texts). But the people that wrote the documents didn’t — at any time — make the conclusion you did. Nor has your conclusion been adapted into practice.Zippy: <>It took many centuries between the issuance of the brief Cum Frequenter and the clarification to address one very specific point<>The length of time in that case was essentially because scientific information gained (partly in the 19th, but mostly in the mid-20th centuries) allowed a deeper understanding of the question being asked, and its answer. That’s not relevant to your claim which (in so far as it has been explained) is said to be based only on reasoning.

  • zippy says:

    Paul:You keep repeating the same confused things over and over again using different words. There may be some doubt that my proposal is the correct one; but that you don’t understand my proposal is a certainty.<>Mental state always enters in, and is determinative. As it must do, since it is acts of will that are judged morally.<>Yes — in the sense that the thief is culpable for spending gold he stole to the extent he <>knows<> he is spending gold he stole, etc. But in the kind of cases we are discussing this is not at issue at all, because the acting subject <>does<> know exactly what he is doing: the abortionist <>knows<> he is cutting up the baby, the thief <>knows<> he is spending the gold he stole, and the man <>knows<> he is engaged in a sexual act with a faculty he deliberately mutilated. There is no issue of epistemic uncertainty in these cases, at all. I am getting the impression that you keep introducing it as an attempted red herring, because I find it almost impossible to believe that you still don’t get it. Perhaps I am too close to the issue, and it really is that hard to understand. If so, you should take two steps back, think it over, and be certain that you really understand it before you say anything more.<>You have indicated that no direct text exists, ergo you are somehow interpreting texts in order to get to your conclusion.<>For the last time, <>no I am not<>. I do not claim, indeed explicitly disclaim that this is a <>teaching of the Church<>. My claim is that it is a <>truth of the natural law<>. As a truth of the natural law it of course is <>consistent<> with what the Magisterium has taught; and a number of alternate theories that commenters proposed in the discussions were not so consistent; but that isn’t the same thing at all. Claiming that something is <>true<> is a very different thing from claiming that it is <>doctrine<>; though of course non-doctrinal truths must be consistent with doctrinal truths.Now, if you have something genuinely new to say on the subject, or if you’ve finally seen where you’ve been misunderstanding and misrepresenting my claims, by all means say so. But do me a favor and quit repeating the same confused mistaken things over and over again.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>a bag of gold that I stole is a fundamentally different object from a bag of gold which I earned. Both may be identical bags of gold physically, but the objective moral content of each bag is clearly very different<>There is no objective moral content of a physical object. If what I can morally do with a particular bag of gold depends on my mental state, then moral content is intrinsically <>subjective<>, not objective. A different example than that given previously: If my conscience says I can freely use a stolen bag of gold, then it is entirely moral for me to use it any way I wish. And if my conscience changes and says that I can’t, then morally I can’t. When my conscience changed, did the <>bag<> change? Not in the slightest. Did <>I<> change? Certainly. So the moral content of the bag itself is zero.(One might object that one conscience is correct, and the other in error. Surely so. But that correctness derives from God’s word, and still not from something in the bag itself.)Zippy: <>My claim is that it is a truth of the natural law.<> That’s a rather different take than what you have said about this issue in the past (e.g. you once said: <>“I am reasoning my way to that conclusion from authoritative Magisterial sources and reason”<>)Do you mean that it is a truth of the natural law that someone who has rendered themselves infertile should not engage in sex? However so? Or if not that, then what?

  • Rodak says:

    <>Do you mean that it is a truth of the natural law that someone who has rendered themselves infertile should not engage in sex?<>That is a good question, and I would ask it as well, but that I know the answer to be “Yes” from previous discussions.So I instead ask again, <>Where and by who, is this “Natural Law” codified? Where can I look these things up and read them for myself, rather than taking Zippy’s word for it?<>

  • zippy says:

    <>If what I can morally do with a particular bag of gold depends on my mental state, then moral content is intrinsically subjective, not objective.<>This is equivocal. The conclusion that there is no objective moral content here is just as false as a claim of pure physicalism; in a sense they are reflections of each other. What you can do morally with the bag of gold depends upon what is (immaterially, historically) true about the bag of gold (e.g. that you stole it). Your culpability for doing things depends on your <>knowledge<> that you stole the bag of gold. That <>knowledge<> of an immaterial fact about the bag of gold is a kind of mental state, but it is a fundametally different kind of mental state from the mental state of knowing you stole it and wishing you hadn’t. Furthermore, even if you don’t know you stole it (amnesia or something) that doesn’t make it <>morally just<> for you to spend it; it just means that you may not be culpable for doing so.<>One might object that one conscience is correct, and the other in error.<>Right. And this is true under any correct metaphysical interpretation, though any number of consistent metaphysical interpretations are possible, as I discussed with Steven.<>That’s a rather different take than what you have said about this issue in the past …<>No it isn’t. Getting to a conclusion about natural law from a combination of Magisterial sources and reason is not the same thing as claiming that that conclusion is doctrine. I haven’t changed my position in the slightest.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>if you don’t know you stole it (amnesia or something) that doesn’t make it morally just for you to spend it; it just means that you may not be culpable for doing so<>It depends exactly what “morally just” is taken to refer to, since it is capable of being taken in two senses. For example, if someone’s conscience is in error, they may consider it morally correct to steal a bag of gold to give it to the poor. In which case, since they are performing a sinless action, with a good motive, it is appropriate to call the action a just action.If, alternatively, we choose to take “morally just” to refer to the actions of a correctly-formed conscience, then it would be wrong, and unjust, for a person with a correctly-formed conscience to steal a bag of gold to give to the poor. But in which case mental state is still being specified — by specifying a <>correctly-formed<> conscience.In neither case is there any moral content in the bag of gold itself. There is moral content in mental state, not in the bag.Try another example: suppose you are granted complete knowledge of the history of a bag of gold — you know everything that happened to that bag of gold, from its first creation onwards, <><>except<><> that you are not given knowledge of the mental state of anyone interacting with the bag of gold. Can you determine objectively if that bag was ever a stolen bag of gold? No, you can’t, it’s impossible. You <>must<> have the mental state of everyone who interacted with the bag of gold in order to decide if the bag was ever stolen. So, yet again, there is no objective moral content in the bag of gold itself.Zippy: <>Getting to a conclusion about natural law from a combination of Magisterial sources and reason is not the same thing as claiming that that conclusion is doctrine.<>Anything deduced by correct reasoning from doctrine <>is<> doctrine.

  • zippy says:

    <>In neither case is there any moral content in the bag of gold itself. There is moral content in mental state, not in the bag.<>Again, you are simply stamping your feet and refusing to acknowledge that there are true immaterial facts – independent of the mental state of the acting subject – about material objects. These true immaterial facts (like “that bag of gold belongs to Fred”) have moral implications. <>Try another example: suppose you are granted complete knowledge of the history of a bag of gold — you know everything that happened to that bag of gold, from its first creation onwards, except that you are not given knowledge of the mental state of anyone interacting with the bag of gold.<>Red herring. Again. You are still not addressing what I’ve actually claimed. At all. We all agree that acts are performed by acting subjects, that is, they are not merely physical events; and that we are culpable for what we do <>knowingly<>, not for accidents (though we may be guilty of being negligent in an accident, and different further duties arise from an accidentally done evil than from a good act). On the other hand acts are also not <>nothing but<> mental states plus material facts. There are also <>immaterial<> facts – like “she is my wife”, “that gold belongs to Fred”, etc – which are morally pertinent. You keep tediously attacking a straw man.Suppose Mary looks at a car, and she thinks it is hers. Does thinking it is hers make it <>actually<> hers? Is the reality of who actually owns the car a function of Mary’s mental state, or is there a true answer to that question independent of Mary’s mental state?Clearly there is a true answer independent of Mary’s mental state.Furthermore, as I’ve said a thousand times, in the kind of case we are discussing there is no question of the thief knowing that the gold is not his, or of the man knowing that he deliberately mutilated his own fertility. Any further posts which pursue the red herring of whether or not the acting subject <>knows<> the immaterial fact in question will be summarily deleted, because life is too short for me to spend my time corralling the same red herring over, and over, and over again.<>[Any conclusion reached] by correct reasoning from doctrine [combined with other facts and natural reason] is doctrine.<>That is just silly nonsense, when it is edited to be something other than a straw man. If that were true, then it would be <>doctrine<>, and not merely true, that the Iraq war was unjust, for example. Any and every application of moral principles and natural reason to facts which produced a true judgment would not merely be <>true<>, but an explicit <>doctrine of the Church<>.Either you haven’t thought the matter through very well <>or<> you are deliberately obfuscating the obvious, and I’m tired of answering the same objections over and over again. No more. Further comments which address my actual positions are welcome, as are questions asking me to clarify my position on one or another point. Comments which argue over and over again with positions which are not mine, treating those straw men as if they were my positions, are not welcome, and will be deleted.

  • RUs says:

    I realize you cannot respond to this without getting deleted (in fact this post may even be in jeopardy), but I’ll say a few things in the hopes that they can give you thoughts to ponder on your own.<>If my conscience says I can freely use a stolen bag of gold, then it is entirely moral for me to use it any way I wish. And if my conscience changes and says that I can’t, then morally I can’t. When my conscience changed, did the bag change? Not in the slightest. Did I change? Certainly. So the moral content of the bag itself is zero.<>The fact that you are wrong or right <>depends upon the objective truth of the immaterial status of that bag<>. The reason you can form a conscience about it is because you can <>find out<> what the truth about it is. Stolen material can only be so understood if it carries that non-material attribute with it.Which also answers this:<>If, alternatively, we choose to take “morally just” to refer to the actions of a correctly-formed conscience, then it would be wrong, and unjust, for a person with a correctly-formed conscience to steal a bag of gold to give to the poor.<>Also:<>In which case, since they are performing a sinless action, with a good motive, it is appropriate to call the action a just action.<>These are not sinless actions. These are sins for which the ignorant are not culpable.

  • Paul says:

    RUs: <>The fact that you are wrong or right depends upon the objective truth of the immaterial status of that bag. The reason you can form a conscience about it is because you can find out what the truth about it is.<>I don’t think that we do have access to “the objective truth of the immaterial status of that bag”.For example: I go to my neighbor’s house and see a bag of gold on the table. Can I take it?Perhaps Mr. A-001 left the bag for me there, knowing I would be there? I should call and check.Perhaps Mr. A-002 left the bag for me there, knowing I would be there? I should call and check.Perhaps Mr. A-003 left the bag for me there, knowing I would be there? I should call and check.Etc. etc.Or perhaps Mr A-001 <>says<> he left the bag for me, but really he’s lying?Or perhaps Mr A-002 <>says<> he left the bag for me, but really he’s lying?Etc. etc.To <>definitively<> rule out all such possibilities (and all the other myriads of possibilities) would be absolutely <>necessary<> if we needed access to <><>the<><> one-and-only true objective status of the bag. Clearly, it’s completely impractical — even humanly impossible — to determine all possibilities. Even a belief backed up by vast amount of good evidence isn’t enough to decide that it crosses the boundary into an “objective status”. (Though there’s clearly an exception for something divinely revealed.)But I don’t think it matters that we don’t have access to such an objective status. All we are called to do is to make an <>appropriate<> amount of effort to determine the status — and then act as if that were the correct status. We are most certainly always morally bound by what we <>think<> the status is.RUs: <>These are not sinless actions. These are sins for which the ignorant are not culpable.<>If there is no culpability, there is nothing to confess — and in that sense, no sin at all. (In the Latin Mass, we confess our sins by saying “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”). The terminology in this area can be confusing; a really excellent text on this by Janet Smith can be found < HREF="http://www.aodonline.org/aodonline-sqlimages/shms/faculty/SmithJanet/Publications/MoralPhilosophy/MoralTerminology.pdf" REL="nofollow">here<>.

  • zippy says:

    <>I don’t think that we do have access to “the objective truth of the immaterial status of that bag”.<>There is no way for me to know that the bag is stolen, even though I stole it myself? You are kidding, right?Are you willing to sign up to the proposition that I know it is stolen when I myself stole it and I am still carrying it away from the scene of the crime?

  • RUs says:

    <>I don’t think that we do have access to “the objective truth of the immaterial status of that bag”.<>I don’t think you know what objective truth is. Objective truth is what is true regardless of what we know or think or “have access to.” So why are you appealing to different states of knowledge in regard to objective truth? In any given situation there can be a wide range of knowledge about something, including the certainty you have when the bag you stole is in your hand and the relative uncertainty of the bag of gold given to you by one of your shady friends.Regardless of the possible variations, the objective truth is what determines how ignorant, mistaken, or correct those states of knowledge are. The variation of knowledge or error has <>no effect<> upon objective truth.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>There is no way for me to know that the bag is stolen, even though I stole it myself?<>There is no way for you to be absolutely certain (i.e. <>objectively certain<>) that you stole something, even though you are personally completely convinced that you did. (Else, do you suppose that no-one in the history of the universe was ever mistaken about such a thing?) Being subjectively convinced does not translate to objective knowledge.Zippy: <>Are you willing to sign up to the proposition that I know it is stolen when I myself stole it and I am still carrying it away from the scene of the crime?<>I am willing to personally sign up for all sorts of things where I have good enough evidence to be personally (i.e. subjectively) convinced. But if anyone should ask if I were <>objectively certain<> I could not agree.RUs <>Objective truth is what is true regardless of what we know or think or “have access to.”<>Of course. But you said earlier: <>“The fact that you are wrong or right depends upon the objective truth of the immaterial status of that bag. The reason you can form a conscience about it is because you can find out what the truth about it is.”<> So, if objective truth exists, and can be found, then the question arises <>how<> do we find it?We have access to various means of investigation (e,g, asking people, using our eyes, scientific methods), but no matter how much you use those, they only suffice to be personally convinced of something (i.e. subjectively sure).

  • zippy says:

    Me:<>There is no way for me to know that the bag is stolen, even though I stole it myself?<>Paul:<>There is no way for you to be absolutely certain (i.e. objectively certain) that you stole something, even though you are personally completely convinced that you did.<>I didn’t ask about ‘certainty’. I asked if, when I stole the bag of gold myself and I am still carrying it away from the scene of the crime myself, and nothing (like mental illness or amnesia or demonic possession) is interfering with my ordinary ability to know things, do I know (in every morally pertinent sense) that the bag of gold is stolen?You are just introducing ‘certainty’ into the discussion so you can deny that it exists: the intransigent and incoherent epistemic last stand of the anti-realist.

  • Paul says:

    Zippy: <>I asked if, when I stole the bag of gold myself and I am still carrying it away from the scene of the crime myself, and nothing (like mental illness or amnesia or demonic possession) is interfering with my ordinary ability to know things, do I know (in every morally pertinent sense) that the bag of gold is stolen?<>If you are personally convinced that something is true (perhaps so convinced that you say to yourself “I <>know<> that I stole the gold”) then you morally bound by everything that follows from that.Zippy: <>I didn’t ask about certainty.<>In the original post, you said that there were things that were <>objectively<> true about material objects, entirely outside our subjective selves, and that we should be morally bound by those truths. If so, then it would obviously be a concern as to how we gain access to such objective truth. You haven’t provided a way.There are obviously good and highly reasonable ways of becoming personally convinced of things (investigations, questionings, personal observation), but that doesn’t amount to <>objective<> knowledge. So, were it morally necessary for me to discover whether it is objectively true that I stole a bag of gold, I would have no way of objectively ascertaining such a fact.However, what I say is that it is only necessary for me to be personally (subjectively) convinced of facts before being entirely morally bound by them.(Do objective truths exist? Certainly; God knows them all, and some of them — by various means — he has let me know. It is an objective truth that the world is real; it is an objective truth that I should not steal; it is an objective truth that Jesus lives. But I don’t have conclusive investigative access to those — I have to be told them.)

  • zippy says:

    <>So, were it morally necessary for me to discover whether it is objectively true that I stole a bag of gold, I would have no way of objectively ascertaining such a fact.<>Mr. Chairman, I yield the remainder of my time to my opponent.

  • RUs says:

    Yeah.If you are that far gone regarding knowledge, it is amazing that you can believe a word you say yourself, or even think it worthwhile. If you can’t be certain about what is objective truth, you cannot be certain about the truth of the statement that “you cannot be certain what is objective truth.” Your position is self-refuting. Pretty basic stuff, and yielding the remaining time back to you can do nothing but hurt you.<>So, if objective truth exists, and can be found, then the question arises how do we find it?<>By asking that question you simply demonstrate that you really don’t understand. Objective truth, and the immaterial attributes that are part of that objective truth is completely independent of the question “how do we find it?”If you can’t see that, I really don’t know how to help you.

  • Paul says:

    RUs: <>If you can’t be certain about what is objective truth, you cannot be certain about the truth of the statement that “you cannot be certain what is objective truth.”<>No, that’s consistent — unless someone were to claim that they were <>certain<> that nothing could be known for certain.But in any case, it’s not my position.RUs: <>Objective truth, and the immaterial attributes that are part of that objective truth is completely independent of the question “how do we find it?”<>I totally agree.(It’s a bit hard for me to reply more helpfully, since you seem to think I think things that are in fact not what I think.)The original post made the claim (at least, this is certainly the way I read the post, and no subsequent comment has led me to conclude differently) that there were things such as objective truths (with which I agree), and that it was morally important to know them (with which I agree), since subjectively-known truths were insufficient (which is the point at which I want to know more about what that means, because I think I agree in certain ways, but will definitely disagree in other particularly important ways).I know how to personally decide what is true (by seeing things for myself, asking other people, reading many books, etc. etc.). But all that does is to persuade me personally — i.e. <>subjectively<> — that certain things are true. The original post made the claim that those particular kinds of subjective truths weren’t the relevant ones, but it was <>objective<> truths that determined moral issues.So I am making the reasonable request to be told how we come by these objective truths, and to understand what distinguishes these objective truths from the more obvious subjective truths.

  • zippy says:

    <>So I am making the reasonable request to be told how we come by these objective truths, …<>Folks can read your comments for themselves and see whether they think you are (1) making a reasonable request or (2) desperately to the point of self-parody trying to obscure the consequences of there being mental-state-independent morally pertinent non-material facts about objects.

  • Paul says:

    To the contrary: I think that objective truths exist, and we should know as many of them as possible, and be subject to their consequences. Which is why I am puzzled as to why you repeatedly fail to indicate how we should discover them.

  • zippy says:

    In the cases we’ve been discussing, the acting subject ‘discovers’ in every morally pertinent sense that the bag is stolen when he steals it himself. And he ‘discovers’ his intentionally procured vasectomy when he intentionally procures it.

  • […] A person can be dealing with any of three different factual situations: (1) naturally fertile organs, (2) accidentally infertile/diseased/mutilated organs, or (3) deliberately mutilated organs which were healthy prior to the deliberate mutilation. “Accidental” here refers to the choices of the person whose body it is: forced sterilization by a government or whatever is ‘accidental’ in the morally pertinent sense, as is disease and, uh, accident.  It is important to keep in mind that a purely physical description of the objective physical facts fails to encompass a moral description of the morally pertinent facts. […]

  • […] But all sins, not merely mortal sins, involve the interplay of matter, knowledge, and consent.  The matter of sin is the objective content of the acting subject’s choice.  (Keep in mind that “objective” is not a synonym for “physical”). […]

  • […] are objective characterizations.  You don’t get to choose in an act of will whether a particular wound on your body is […]

  • […] [1] Nota bene: not physical or merely physical, since physicalism is false. […]

  • […] right, independent of those ends. Modern people resist evaluating behaviors in themselves against objective moral […]

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