Horton hears a homicide

January 10, 2016 § 16 Comments

In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together. – Veritatis Splendour

The physicalism-relativism dichotomy in moral casuistry is a false one, a false dichotomy which arises from the post cartesian separation of reality into utterly distinct physical and subjective realms.

Kant allows that things in themselves do exist, but only as etherial noumena that we can’t know anything about.  (How he manages to include things he can’t know anything about in his philosophy is left to the ouroboros). Modern materialists allow that consciousness exists, but only as a ghostly and irrelevant epiphenomenon of the mindless bouncing around of wave-particles in accordance with the laws of physics. Their putative knowledge of this is illusory on its own terms.

Back here in the real world, a man’s behavior follows from his intentions. Different intentions imply different behaviors, and vice versa.  That is why things like contraception and usury are and shall be judged based on objective standards: the notion of ‘subjectifying’ morality by confining moral judgment to someone’s ‘heart being in the right place’ rests on false, question-begging metaphysics.

A man who intends to mow the lawn doesn’t run the mower over a concrete parking lot, or take off the blade before he starts his task. A man who intends to win the lottery doesn’t buy a ticket and then destroy the numbers on his ticket with a sharpie.

Likewise, a man who runs the mower over the grass intends to cut the grass (whatever further intention he may have); and the man who buys a lottery ticket and does not mutilate it intends to participate in the lottery, even if the notion of winning millions of dollars fills him, to his credit, with trepidation at the thought of the concomitant complications and responsibilities.

[28] But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and coming to the first, he said: Son, go work today in my vineyard. [29] And he answering, said: I will not. But afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went. [30] And coming to the other, he said in like manner. And he answering, said: I go, Sir; and he went not.

[31] Which of the two did the father’ s will? They say to him: The first. Jesus saith to them: Amen I say to you, that the publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before you. [32] For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the publicans and the harlots believed him: but you, seeing it, did not even afterwards repent, that you might believe him.

Matthew 21:28-32

It is sometimes objected that (for example) when one surgeon murders his patient while making it look like an accident, and a different surgeon actually does accidentally cut the aorta, that these are “the same physical act”. The idea is that in the rarified world of subjective intentions the acts may be different, but that physically they are identically the same.

As I’ve mentioned before, this begs the question by very carefully looking at the situation at only a certain fuzzy resolution, and then quickly looking away. Because even a strict physicalist would have to agree that different neurons are firing in different ways in the different brains of the different surgeons in the different cases.

§ 16 Responses to Horton hears a homicide

  • William Luse says:

    Modern materialists allow that consciousness exists, but only as a ghostly and irrelevant epiphenomenon of the mindless bouncing around of wave-particles in accordance with the laws of physics. Their putative knowledge of this is illusory on its own terms.

    Modern materialists do take moral stances on various issues. But if your characterization is correct, they shouldn’t be doing that. Right?

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:
    It is technically impossible to say what a person committed to an incoherent doctrine should and should not do based on that commitment.

  • Pilgrim of the East says:

    “Different intentions imply different behaviors, and vice versa.”
    – it’s far better to stick with saying that they are inseparable, because the quoted sentence clearly isn’t true. You even reused that bad surgeon example and claimed that “it’s sometimes objected”, while it was your own strawman you made to knock it down and drive your point home that way. I gave you better example where intention was what made exactly same behavior moral/immoral and you just brushed it aside by claiming I attempt to reduce behavior to nothing but subjective intentions

    slightly topical:

  • Zippy says:

    Pilgrim of the East:
    But your example isn’t “the same physical behavior”, or “materially the same”, which was exactly the sort of claim I was addressing; nor are the behaviors “exactly [the] same” under a non-physicalist characterization.

  • […] people are post cartesian subjectivists/materialists, so when we use a term like ‘worship’ we tend to retreat to the purely subjective. […]

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  • Pilgrim of the East says:

    @Zippy:
    I forgot about this comment and remembered it just now, so sorry for replying late, but can you explain me why two doctors deciding to cut the same thing (lets say artery) from vastly different reasons (one thinks it would help, other knows it will kill) is not “the same physical behavior” or “materially same”?

    Invoking “non-physicalist characterization” doesn’t really make sense when you say things like “Different intentions imply different behaviors, and vice versa.” which directly separate intentions from behaviors.

  • Zippy says:

    Pilgrim of the East:

    Let me put the question back to you. If you did a brain scan and monitored the hormone levels and such of the two doctors while they are each doing their different thing, is it your assumption that you would see exactly the same results in the doctor making an honest mistake and in the doctor committing murder?

    The two sided coin of physicalism/relativism only seems plausible in the first place to people because they look at the distinct acts under consideration only at a certain resolution, and then quickly look away.

  • Pilgrim of the East says:

    Maybe that looking only at certain resolution isn’t flaw but feature – if you look too close, you can’t say any longer that two things are same, because they never are – which makes any generalizations questionable and thinking about things more complicated.

    Anyway, your stance would have been clearer to me, if you wrote in the very beginning that your primary criticism isn’t of motives being what decides the morality but its precondition that motives can actually be separated from actions…

  • Zippy says:

    Pilgrim of the East:

    Once we’ve conceded to ‘generalizations’ which transcend physical conditions and subjective intentions though – conceded that reality isn’t reducible to physical atoms and the void combined with a subjective ghost in the machine – the whole business of attempting to reduce the morality of acts to subjective intentions distinct from otherwise identical physical actions falls apart.

    Anyway, your stance would have been clearer to me, if you wrote in the very beginning that your primary criticism isn’t of motives being what decides the morality but its precondition that motives can actually be separated from actions.

    Fair enough, but in defense of my editorial choices I already did say that in my earlier post on this subject (upon which you commented, and to which I linked in this post). This is what I said in that post:

    As a result, we post-cartesians tend to think of motivation or intention as something which can be separated from action or behavior: as nothing but an interior, fully, and solely subjective phenomenon. We think that an intentional action can be literally broken apart into a really distinct subjective intention combined with an objective action.

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