Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A project on morality

So, I've set myself a project. It's an ambitious project, I suspect, but I'm looking forward to it.

This project is to determine whether I consider morality to be an objective or subjective/relative thing. I lean toward it being objective in some sense, but I could be wrong. I've never truly looked at arguments for it being subjective, after all. In the process, I suspect that doing this will either confirm or disconfirm where morality "comes from." I've done a related study when I studied Dan Fincke's Empowerment Ethics, and provisionally accepted it. For this project I'll once again be looking at Dr. Fincke's work, since he has a number of posts on the subject, but I'll also be expanding beyond that and trying to find other arguments for or against objective morality (do you know of good sources, ideally free? let me know!). I'll be writing up some of what I find and attempting to give them all a fair hearing.

Right from the start though, let me just say that there is one theory I already know about, and won't bother considering: Divine Command Theory. Pretend there's a god. Divine Command Theory states whatever God commands, that is the morally correct thing to do (or not do). Some theologians have claimed that the reason this is so is that God, by his nature, is perfectly good, or virtuous. As such, anything he commands will be perfectly good, because a perfectly good being could not command otherwise. Other theologians have stated that God's commands are good simply because God commanded them. I have problems with both versions.

If God's commands are good simply because God commanded them, then that makes morality completely arbitrary, and up to the whims of God. One century it's ok for conquering soldiers to take the virgin women they find as their wives, the next it's not. In such a case, morality is not objective, but rather completely subjective. It's just that there's only one being that is the deciding subject.

If God's commands are good because God is perfectly good and can't command otherwise (or simply would never choose to; it amounts to the same thing), then that just pushes the problem back a step. In such a case, one is left with "where does God get his morality?" What reasoning does he use to arrive at perfectly good commands? See the issue?

By the way, this issue was addressed centuries ago in Plato's dialogue "Euthyphro."

So, I will not be considering Divine Command Theory as a basis for morality, and I suspect that I wouldn't give it serious weight even if I were a theist, given what I said above, unless I first eliminated the idea of objective morality.

Anyway, as I said at the start of this post, this is an ambitious project. Whether morality is objective or not has been argued about for millenia, so I don't expect that whatever solution I come to, whatever side of the debate I end up falling on, that everyone will agree with me. I encourage my readers to give me their arguments!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Not the same at all

I recently saw the following image on social media:

It bothered me when I saw it, but I couldn't pinpoint why. So I did some thinking and some reading, and now I've got it figured out. They're simply not the same at all.

Tim Tebow is a Christian. America is a (by far) majority Christian country. What he did took little to no courage, because there is simply nothing all that special about coming out as a member of the majority (if Tebow was in a country where Christians are actually persecuted, such as a number of Middle Eastern countries, then it would be a different story).

Caitlyn Jenner -- oh yea, the picture says Bruce Jenner. That's just one more reason to find the picture wrong: Bruce has changed her name to Caitlyn, and if it isn't a legal change yet, I'm sure it will be soon. People who change their names should be called by the new name, regardless of why the change occurs. And while we're at it, what's with using the pronoun "himself"? Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, plain and simple, who just happens to have been born with male sex parts. Anyway, moving on.

Caitlyn Jenner required courage to come out as her authentic self in large part because we live in a country that is a majority Christian country, and generally none too friendly to transgender people. Jenner is risking a great deal by coming out, including abuse and murder. I applaud her for her courage. I hope everything goes well for her, and others like her who aren't celebrities.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

On the purpose of education

When I recently wrote on the question of the government's purpose, I mentioned that I see education as a foundation of people thriving. Now I'd like to examine that assertion in some more detail.

Thriving means that we're empowered to develop and live our lives to our fullest potential in whatever areas we find to be most rewarding. In order to discover what areas we find most rewarding we need to try different things, learn about them, and then determine whether that's something that we would like to continue doing and improving in. For example, music. In order to determine whether we like music, like making music (such as playing an instrument or singing), and so on, we must first be exposed to music and get a chance to be involved in things like playing an instrument. Likewise for science, literature, writing, sports, and so on. Without exposure to such things, we cannot possibly know whether that is an area of life and culture that we would like to grow and develop within.

This is where education comes in. An ideally designed education system would make sure that our children were exposed to a wide variety of topics and activities. It would give children a chance to explore these various topics in some depth, the better to give them the opportunity to discover where their interests and talents lie. Once they've discovered that, this system would then encourage and allow them to develop further along those paths, in order that they might better grow in their abilities and develop to their highest potential.

This is beneficial to society as well. When we're empowered as individuals to develop our abilities to their fullest potential, that means we can then turn around and use those abilities to benefit those around us. A musically talented individual who is able to develop that potential can turn around and add to the overall pleasure that others experience in this world by playing or writing music for others to enjoy. A mathematically talented individual who is able to develop that potential can turn around and empower the world through excellent science, engineering, or perhaps pure mathematics that leads others to new realms of science. Someone who's mechanically talented can go on to empower others by fixing up cars. And so on, and so forth.

There's another aspect to education that I think is worth mentioning, one that I don't think is appreciated enough. It helps us to understand who we are, and our place in society -- both as it is, and as it may be. Human beings are social creatures, and we exist as social creatures. Part of being social creatures means that in order to have a sense of self, we need to have a sense of ourselves as distinct from others.

How does education help with this? Well first, keep in mind that much of education is not the explicit things that we generally think of, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. A good deal of education, whether it takes place in the home or the school, is implicit. It takes place at an unconscious level. At that unconscious level, we learn things like love, trust, gender roles, loyalty, familial roles, how to talk to and relate to others, and so on. In the school system, learning how to relate to peers and to authority figures is obviously a big thing. In extracurricular activities teamwork is often a big thing that we learn. Yes, much of this is explicitly presented to us, but it often doesn't sink in properly until we observe (unconsciously) the examples provided by others, and have a chance for trial and error. Of course, it's not all positive: bigotry is learned as well.

On an explicit level, learning history increases our understanding of our society and the world we inhabit, and can even help us develop the ability to dream about new shapes to our society by studying the examples of past heroes, and learning about the (often competing) dreams that have shaped how society looks today. Through all of this, we come to understand our place in society.

I haven't mentioned the obvious role of education, and that's to prepare us for the workforce. I haven't harped on that because I think it's rather obvious that we need quality education to produce quality workers. However, it should be clear by now that I don't consider that the end purpose of education, or even the main purpose. The main purpose, put succinctly, is to create empowered individuals who go on to empower society so that everyone can thrive together.

Education's impact on our society, and on us as individuals, cannot be underestimated. We are all shaped by the education we receive, and what it tells us about ourselves and our place in society. When a poor school is unable to give a quality education because it simply doesn't have the dollars to maintain the school, provide textbooks, and such, that tells the students of that school that either they don't matter, their education doesn't matter, or both. They can develop the sense that they cannot do certain things that should have been within their reach in an ideal society, and that sense can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if someone doesn't believe that they matter, in what ways might they act out? Will they bother to vote? Will they take care of themselves? Will they in any way become productive citizens?

We as a society need to recognize the importance of education, not just to the individual (which is huge), but also to society (which is also huge). What kind of education we provide, and who we provide it to, will shape society for generations. We are finally beginning to bring the education of girls and women up to par with the education men receive, but we need to do better. We need to combat the institutionalized racism, sexism, and classism that keeps people of color, women, and the poor from advancing as far as their talents would otherwise allow. If we don't, we will never thrive to our maximum potential as a society, even if a lucky few are able to thrive as individuals (and I'm not sure that those lucky few are thriving as much as they otherwise could).