Does A Belief That Reality Is Fundamentally Kind, And Punishes Cruelty, and Rewards Kindness, Promote Kindness?



Obviously I am following up on fellow Cadrist BK's excellent article from Wednesday, which I recommend reading first. (See also Metacrock's sociological article at his weblog.) And I will reiterate what I said in the comments to another recent article of his, that I am far from being the world's biggest fan of arguments from socio-cultural utility.

To this I will add that, just as obviously, no idea 'promotes' anything unless a person acts coherently in concert with the idea. Even people who believe (and promote) the idea that all human ideas (tacitly excepting their own human ideas, or this human idea of theirs anyway) are only irrational reactions to memetic stimulations, would agree that unless the 'idea' (or the electro-physical impulses which on this theory are the actual and only reality behind what we call an 'idea') stimulates a reaction along the same lines as the 'shape' of the 'idea' (or words to that effect, somehow, mumble mumble), the 'idea' will not be promoting (or rather provoking) anything.

But as long as we're going to talk about arguments from socio-cultural utility, what idea about fundamental reality best matches up with the idea that persons ought to be kind to one another?

The idea that the single most fundamental reality essentially is a socio-cultural utility, with multiple persons being kind to one another?

Or any idea that the single most fundamental reality essentially is anything other than a socio-cultural utility?

Is there any principle doubt about which category has the most potential to coherently promote fundamental kindness between persons? -- the category that is coherent to the goal, or the category that is incoherent to the goal?!

(Jump into an unpacking of "duh" as the answer by clicking here.)

Notice that the second option includes all possible theisms short of binitarian theism.

Certainly no variety of atheism could fall into the first category. If anything, the implications of atheism run against the idea of the inherent importance of persons being kind to one another.

Polytheism (like the stereotypical Greek pantheon or Mormon Christianity) isn't talking about the most fundamental reality yet, and most likely isn't talking about the ultimate reality being personal, or only distantly so in some lamentably unknowable fashion.

Cosmological multi-theisms (which might be called higher polytheisms, but which also include God/Nature or God/Anti-God dualisms) involve multiple entities existing with a shared overarching field of existence which isn't themselves.  That isn't talking about the most fundamental reality yet.

A negative pantheism where no persons actually exist at all?--no interpersonal relationship as the foundational reality (or anywhere else really, illusionary mistakes to the contrary!)

A positive pantheism where only one person actually exists at all?--no interpersonal relationship as the foundational reality (or anywhere else really, illusionary mistakes to the contrary! But at least the single person can love itself if no real neighbor.)

A positive pantheism where subordinate persons exist within a mere single person?--the interpersonal relationships aren't the fundamental reality itself.

A supernatural but impersonal theism (like early Stoic or Platonist notions of the Reason or the Good)? A supernatural personal theism where God doesn't interact personally with anyone (like Enlightenment deism, or some versions of Islam)?--the fundamental reality itself doesn't act, or if it does it doesn't act in interpersonal relationships, much less in being the fundamental reality.

A single-personal supernaturalistic theism where God interacts with persons (like typical non-Christian Judaism, or unitarian Chritianity, or perhaps other versions of Islam)?--well at least we're getting to some kind of interpersonal relationship by the fundamental reality! But the fundamental ground of all reality still isn't essentially an interpersonal relationship.

A multi-personal supernaturalistic theism where the persons of God interact with one another in personal coherency, but where this has nothing specifically to do with God's own self-existence?--closer still, and to be fair many trinitarian Christians throughout history have gone this route, and still do. (Probably including some Cadrists, so I had better qualify here that not all of us necessarily go the next step!) But we still aren't talking about the fundamental ground of all reality being essentially love yet.

A theism like the previous one, where the cohesive interaction between the persons of God constitutes the continuing active self-grounding of fundamental reality's own existence?

Now we're finally talking about the maximum notion of reality being "fundamentally kind".

Or almost. The distinct persons should be acting to give not only themselves but that which is maximally possible to give which isn't specifically themselves, which would be a third person of the one and only ultimate ground of existence. And now we're at orthodox trinitarian theism: God self-begetting and God self-begotten actively give each other to one another and also give a distinct Person of God to one another Who isn't one of those Persons, Who in turn actively cooperates with each of the self-grounding Persons in being given to one another. (The Eastern Orthodox, or many of them, would dispute this last detail, despite this active notion of divine self-existence having been derived largely from the history of their theology.)

Anything less than that, is only less.

Such an actively self-existent kindness between persons as the ground of reality, though, will also act in various ways to promote kindness between persons: empowering and leading persons toward being kind to one another (in what the Christian scriptures call "fair-togetherness", usually translated in English as "justice" or "righteousness"), and punishing persons who refuse to act that way toward one another. The punishments may not be hopeless, if this is true (although most Christians throughout history have thought some such punishments would inevitably be hopeless, or else that such a God would be unable at last to bring some rebels against righteousness to righteousness--and there are different beliefs among us Cadrists on that, too); and the punishments might be delayed for a while; and the punishments might temporarily result in a lack of fair-togetherness between persons; and the system necessary for created persons to interact with one another at all might result in some temporary lacks of fair-togetherness for a while. But the overall goal of such a God can only be toward all persons being fundamentally kind toward one another.

The goals of any lesser God (much less the non-goals of any impersonally lesser fundamental reality), if such a reality is true instead, might perhaps be something along the same line. Or might not. But only if orthodox trinitarian theism is true could we say for certain, as a logical corollary, that God intends for all persons to love one another up to the point of even sharing the gift of God Most High, freely given joy and fair-togetherness, with one another.

"But that reality isn't true!" may be the reply.

Okay, if you can't (yet) believe that to be true, then don't believe it. Believe as much less to be true as you can see far enough to believe; or if you cannot (yet) even see far enough to believe less, then be agnostic on the topic. I've never asked or expected anyone to believe what they cannot see best reason to believe to be true among options, and I'm not starting now.

But let's not get so mixed up in our metaphysical logic as to seriously think that a belief that fundamental reality is non-rational and non-moral, somehow in itself frees a person to be fundamentally kind -- any more than such a reality, if it was real, would free a person to be fundamentally kind, or free a person in any other way, or even generate a person to begin with.

At most switching to atheism might free a person from being commanded or expected to be fundamentally cruel toward other persons, according to what the rejected deity is supposed to command or require. More power to such atheists as far as I care!--and watch out that other atheists don't start using the logical corollaries of atheism to justify fundamental cruelty to persons instead!

But "atheism" isn't supposed to be a set of beliefs about reality, thus not to be used as justification for behaviors? (As some merely cultural atheists would say.)

I reply: piffle. A merely negative anti-religious atheism which doesn't face up to the implications of its own propositions about reality (except when those implications seem comfortably convenient such as for attacking some religion), or which tries to deny that a denial of alpha-set of propositions leads logically to an omega-set of propositions instead?--that is nothing more or other than convenient anti-intellectual obscurantism, of much the same sort as the atheist was probably complaining about in the religion the atheist has rejected: an obscurantism designed to spare the person from having to deal with the implications of taking a personally responsible stance on matters of fact.

If something less than orthodox trinitarian theism is true, then we should just make the best of reality we can under the circumstances, of course, but don't duck our heads in the sand about the circumstances of the reality we find and believe to be true (so far as we can see).

"But so what if a person believes ortho-trin theism to be true or not?!"

A person can, at the very least, be critiqued for behaving consistently or inconsistently with what the person professes to believe. And for various good reasons, humanity has historically tended to insist that a person should act consistent with their beliefs instead of inconsistently. Any atheist who has ditched a religion due (at least partly) to the adherents acting inconsistently with their ostensible beliefs, ought to agree with that!

So then the question comes back to, how shall we behave according to what we believe? The merely cultural anti-religious atheist whom I was just complaining about, doesn't want to deal with behaving according to the implications of atheism (except insofar as this provides some kind of ammunition to keep rejecting 'religious' behavior and/or obligations.) Other more metaphysically dedicated atheists try to bite the bullet, or come up with workarounds, or look for ways to opportunistically exploit the implications. I'm hardly the first person to have observed that from a purely utilitarian standpoint, someone who believes in invented rational behavior as an ethical ground would be well-advised to convince as many other people as possible that ethical grounding is something to be rationally discovered instead -- so that those other people will feel obligated (on the principle of acting consistently with their beliefs) to behave in socially beneficial ways which the invented-rational-ethicist can exploit as he or she sees best fit.

Someone who doesn't have a concern for truth compared to a concern for maximizing their chances at fulfilling Patricia Churchland's Four Fs (feeding, fighting, fleeing and finding-a-mate), would in other words be strategically rational to figure out which metaphysic most coherently promotes an interest in persons being fundamentally kind to one other, and then promote that metaphysic in whichever way seems most effective--at least until they achieve enough personal cultural power that they don't have to worry about suffering cultural backlash from not following the metaphysic themselves. The authors of the Humanist Manifesto, the basis of which is an avowedly non-rational and non-moral biological evolutionary behavior, ought to be some of the strongest supporters of most people on the planet being orthodox trinitarian theists! -- themselves secretly excepted as a sort of spiritual elite, of course. They are after all thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance, right?

They could even claim coherently (up to a point) that they are in fact behaving consistently with what they really believe is true! They aren't really being hypocritical, or if technically they are (acting one way while believing something else), so what?--hypocrisy isn't actually an immoral action or attitude, if what they really believe is true. They're just playing the social utility game effectively; and are even doing their best to help you play it almost as effectively as themselves! (Obviously they would be strategically foolish to help you play it as effectively as themselves.) Whatever 'truth' is, "truth takes the hindmost", except insofar as it benefits them personally perhaps.

But for us benighted souls (whether atheist or theist of various varieties) who naively believe we ought to discover (not merely invent) ethical grounding and then behave according to what we discover, it makes a difference whether (ostensibly) "ethical" grounding is ultimately based in non-rational non-moral behaviors (which is going to lead at best to something like Secular Wolfenism), or whether it's ultimately based in rational interpersonal cohesion.

Yet that cannot be considered an ultimate basis unless the ultimate ground for existence is not only actively rational (some kind of theism is true) but is itself an actively rational interpersonal cohesion in-and-as its own eternal self-existence (at least binitarian theism is true).

Which, I fully acknowledge, is not in itself an argument that such a metaphysic is true.

But it does give some idea of what the stakes are in such metaphysical disputes.


Jason Pratt said…
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