Racism

On racism

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Racism

Racism. We don’t seem to get enough of this topic. Most of us have intuitive ideas of what constitutes racism, but only few of us have bravely waded through the proverbial swamp of grey areas, where questions like ‘is a subject to racism conforming to racials stereotypesa a form of racism?’, ‘are jokes based on race racist?’ And ‘can racism be benevolent or morally neutral?’ Reside. This is exactly what I will try to do in the following words; to take the reader on a perilous journey into one of the hardest social questions and biggest social problems that are plaguing our societies at this time.

Racism, a definition

The Oxford living dictionary defines race as;

[mass noun] 1. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:
1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

In this definition, at point 1, we find a working definition for the practice of racism, which seems to be what we are looking for. It tells us that prejudice, discrimination or antagonism are important factors in declaring something or someone racist, but the most important factor seems to be the basis upon which these remarks are made or these persons functionally form their assumption; they must believe their own race is superior. More importantly, the definition works only for differences in ‘race’, race being of course, a controversial subject.

Investigation of the definition

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor sherlock looney toon

At this point, we must ask ourselves the question; is this definition a practical one? I always prefer doing this Socratically. That is, by means of investigative questions, because not only is philosophy, simply put the asking of questions about questions and answers, it also allows us the peace and respect to take our time and figure this out for ourselves. I also want my readers to disagree with me. Not because I want to write shit articles, but because it means I have stimulated thought. So, please, take your time to judge my questions on accuracy and relevance and do try to answer them yourself.

We may for instance ponder the question; ‘If I do not believe my race to be superior over that of someone else, can I still be racist?’

The definition, as given above, tells us the source of a racist remark has the basis of a belief in one race’s superiority. Then again, it does not expressly limit itself to such occasions.

        A point in defense of this definition, can be made in the difference between racial discrimination and racism, racial discrimination then being a more incidental type of racism, or a-structural racism. This might be a good working definition, after splitting a-structural racism from the whole. But, this would logically mean that we’ll have to redefine the whole of racism to fit both definitions of structural and a-structural racism. Let’s put a pin in this one, for the time being.

Another question we must ask ourselves, ought to pertain to the first part of the definition and perhaps one of the most entered grey areas of racism;

‘are jokes based on race, racist?’

There are certainly a lot of jokes that fit the nomers of prejudice (stereotype) and antagonism. The point of a race joke is to be discriminatory, but either lightheartedly or shockingly so, as to create a comedic effect. So, we can constitute, with relative ease, that many if not all race jokes are racist. Now, if this is the case, we have a choice to make; the answer is either yes and we continue with this definition, or we re-postulate our definition and try again.

If we continue with this definition, we will need to search for two more kinds of racism; hurtful racism and non-hurtful racism, as it is not evident that not all race jokes are hurtful.

If we postulate a new definition, we must reason from the ground up and include our findings thus far.

As our definition still has some possibility of life, and has served us well thus far, I will allow it the courtesy of seeing if it can be revived, or at least follow the trail to it death.

Harmful and benign racism?

Racism

Civil rights groups have on occasion claimed that there is no benign racism, and that race jokes are harmful, because they are often sources for stereotypes, set apart people from different races and have a diminishing effect on the quality of interracial relations. This had of course been disputed by many, mostly on the questions of whether it is really hurtful to joke about stereotypes. A lot of comedians would reply by saying that stereotypes help us take each other and ourselves less seriously, though we can all ascribe to the fact that there is a difference between the racism in jokes by Chris Rock and the approach to hecklers taken by former Seinfeld-actor Michael Richards.

To answer this question, we must first define for ourselves harmful racism.

Let us start with; ‘a racist statement or action that serves to harm (members of) a different race.’

This seems like a fair start, as we are speaking of the practice of racism, it seems like ‘statement or action’ bears the load sufficiently. To stay true to our previous definition, harmful racism also refers to race. Seeing as we are speaking explicitly about harmful racism, I refer to the harm we expect it to cause; namely either (groups of) individuals of another race or another race in its entirety. Notice, too that this definition holds the word ‘racist’ in it, to refer to our earlier definition.

Now, we can proceed to once again, to ask ourselves if this definition works. We can ask ourselves, firstly, if our definition carries its load, by asking:

‘Do we need to clarify this definition?’

Well, we have yet to define what racist harm is, which we need to do in order to get our definition to work. An obvious start would be the deprivation of rights and/or privileges of (members of) a different race. This is, historically the biggest problem of racism, after all. But is there perhaps more to it? Does harm exhibit itself in other ways? If we believe those who say they are subject to racism, they say they experience a general mistrust as a result of racism.

Remember here, that we are not discussing whether or not this is the case. We are rather discussing if this can be a result of racism. The answer here is plainly yes; through dehumanizing rhetoric and the association of people from different races as in any sense less trustworthy, we might imagine a general mistrust toward people of certain races.

Thusly, we can define racist harm as;

‘That which serves to deprive people of certain or different races of rights or privileges or to establish mistrust among people of certain races’

This seems a bit long and hard to understand. Considering this is only a supportive definition, we might consider shrinking it to a more portable size. We can do this by finding a common denominator in ‘deprivation of rights and privileges’. These pertain to equality. We can also see that mistrust is negative trust. Thusly, we may postulate our definition of racist harm as such;

‘That which serves to reduce equality and/or trust among (people of) different races’

We ought to again check ourselves before we wrickety-wrickety-wreck ourselves, by asking;

‘Are we missing another form of racist harm?’

At this time, there doesn’t seem to be, but we will revisit the topic, should the need arise.

To recap; we have thus far decided that we must define for ourselves, irrespective of whether or not its counterpart exists, harmful racism. We did this initially by defining it as ‘a statement or action that serves to harm (people of) a different race’. We then clarified that, by harm in this sense, we mean ‘that which reduces the equality or trust between (people of) different races’. This means or definition of harmful racism is ‘a statement or action that serves to reduce equality or trust between (people of) different races’.

Let’s take this definition back to our question about the comedians, if you’ll remember, our question was; ‘are all racist jokes harmful?’, or ‘do all racist jokes cause racist harm?’ Considering the civil rights groups at the beginning of this article, who claimed jokes based on race set apart different races, we must ask ourselves if being ‘set apart’ necessarily contributes to reducing equality or trust between different races.

We can assert that, at least in terms of attention, being set apart means equality is reduced; those who are set apart are more closely observed. However, aside from the obvious down-sides of this, such as less anonymity and privacy, this also entails more influence in the way people act around you, depending on the situation and the reason for being set apart. This essentially, is a function of the crudeness of the joke and the sensitivity of the person or persons being discriminated against as a punchline, as is the influence of a joke on general trust among races.

This means, that we can only really define benign racism as a negative to harmful racism: Harmless racism is then ‘a racist statement or action that does not serve to reduce equality or trust between races’.

Again, remember that this does not necessarily mean harmless racism exist, but that it could exist, if an action or statement is conducive to the conditions mentioned in the definition.

What is ‘race’?

Racism

A looming question that we have yet to answer, but is at the center of all of this, is the following;

‘What is a race exactly?’

The Oxford living dictionary defines race as follows:

1.Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics

1.1[mass noun] The fact or condition of belonging to a racial division or group; the qualities or characteristics associated with this.

1.2 A group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.; an ethnic group

1.3 A group or set of people or things with a common feature or features:

1.4[Biology] A population within a species that is distinct in some way, especially a subspecies

We can see, then that we are offered a plethora of choices, allowing for racism to be attributed something as randomly as one would desire. One could, for instance, state that Europeans are a race, but that Italians and Greeks have a significantly different history and culture than other Europeans and be right, only to go on and be equally right when you say all Europeans are the same race. So, we must see if we can in a way refine this.

A combination of 1 and 1.2 seems to suffice, at first glance. These together would form:

‘a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language and major division of humankind’

Testing out new definition, we may ask ourselves: ‘does this definition include or exclude groups that our attention?’

One possible objection to this definition of race, is that it doesn’t mention religion. This objection stems from the fairly recent international debate that sparked on ‘Real time with Bill Maher’ in a discussion with Ben Affleck;

‘Are muslims their own race?’

According to our definition, they are not, because cultures within the ‘Dar-al Islam’ are very diverse, they only share a part of their history as muslims, languages differ per country of origin and they are born on all continents.

Honestly, the only reason to make an extra exception for religion, is that muslims or people who look like them are often subject to systematic discrimination and are looked down upon as inferior by other people. And though I do not want to give off the impression that I find this a lesser problem, because it is a big problem, we can’t in good conscience make this exception, as it would be a special pleading fallacy.

Conclusion

With our questions answered to satisfaction, and a working concept of ‘race’ established as; ‘a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language and major division of humankind’, we can now aptly and I believe accurately describe racism as;

‘A statement or action based on the shared culture, history, language and major division of humankind of a certain individual or group of individuals’.

In which we can discern between harmful racism: ‘A racist (see; racism) statement or action that serves to reduce the equality and mutual trust between (people of) certain races’.

And benign racism: ‘A racist statement or action that does not serve to reduce equality and mutual trust between (people of) different races.

And motivational influences, using the terms structural/intentional racism: ‘A racist statement or action that is brought about by a belief that ones own race is superior’

And a-structural/incidental racism: ‘A racist statement or action that is not motivated by a belief of racial superiority’.

These definitions show us that the issue of racism is a hard one to ponder and harder yet to solve. Because that is what the goal ought to be; for each and every one of us; black, white, green and purple, to recognize our racism, whether it be harmful or benign, structural or incidental and make sure we can all exist equally and together in an open, trusting society.

I hope that, even though I am a privileged, white cisgender European male, I have been able to take you through the swamp of grey and applied some contrast, or at least to have given you some tools with which traverse this hard-to-tread intellectual terrain with.

Humbly yours,

Mvdgoes

Racism




Proof of God

What “Proof of God” justifies your position? (part four)

This is part four of a four-part series.

So God isn’t omnipotent. He’s still the Creator.

When believers say, “God is beyond understanding, beyond definition,” they don’t really mean it. At the very least, I would say, there is one characteristic that provides a very clear definition of God: “God is the entity that can determine the nature of matter and its interactions in a definable region. God makes universes, at least this one.”

That’s why Jews, Christians, and Muslims couldn’t possibly accept Zeus, Odin, or Brahma as “God”; none of those can claim they created the universe. This “creation claim” is unique to the Abrahamic religions and central to their beliefs.

Proof of GodI find this to be a beautifully scientific claim. There are all sorts of things that we may not yet understand, but that are potentially comprehensible to us: the nature of matter, the nature of physical laws, the nature of space and time (a definable region). We consider all these to be scientific; we can work with this.

Other claims of the miracles that God can perform are vague, silly, and somehow lesser than this one. We have biblical stories that God can change water into wine, raise the dead, stop the planet’s rotation for a while. These do seem rather “miraculous” (if given any credibility at all). I will claim however that these are nothing more than fancy applications of advanced technology.

Proof of GodModern medicine raises many people from the dead (myself included) when it brings back someone whose heart has stopped. You might say, “Oh, they’re not really dead, they need to be dead longer.” That just sounds like an application of more advanced technology. Has all metabolism stopped? Has all DNA degraded? At what point would believers want to claim God can raise someone from the dead? What if they have degraded down to their molecular components and been dispersed around the planet? What if they fell into a burning sun or a black hole?

Stopping the revolution of the planet is pretty impressive. One could conceive of the application of massive and powerful energies being applied and some kind of a stasis field to stop the oceans from sloshing around and people from flying off the surface due to the sudden deceleration. Highly advanced technology, to be sure, and we certainly have no idea how to do such a thing at our present stage.

But to say, it is not even achievable technologically in principle is to make a prediction about the limitations of the capabilities of future humans or any advanced civilization. Whenever one has made those in the past, they have almost always turned out to be wrong, providing they have any scientific basis whatsoever.

I claim there is only ONE capability that would give someone the “right” to call themselves “God.” That is the ability to impose a set of natural laws on real matter (equivalent to “creating a universe”). If you have the ability to create a universe, where the stuff of that universe behaves in a way that you determine, you are “God” (at least to that universe). Anything that constrains the kind of matter you can make or the way that matter interacts, limits your claim to be called “God.”

Any other entity, no matter how advanced its technology, that is constrained to operating within the natural properties of the matter in its universe, should not be considered “God.” A being that could determine the natural properties of matter would trump any other kind of technology. Only that being could be said to be Supreme.

The main theological claim of the Abrahamic religions is that, despite whatever logical or natural limitations there may be to God’s abilities, He is nonetheless the Creator of the universe (some may say, specifically, of the world and of life, but I think creating the universe encompasses these smaller claims).

Is “being God” the same as having advanced technology?

Proof of GodLet’s ask ourselves about “God, the Creator.” Does God understand how He does what He does? Does He understand the process of Creation in a scientific sense, the way we understand how computer chips work? If so, can God teach these scientific principles to another person, teach someone else how to be God?

There are only two possible answers: Yes or No.

No: If God has no idea how to create a universe, we really have to ask how He could lay claim to having done it. How does He know it came into existence by His action? Could He do it again? If we answer, “No,” we have to ask whether the “God claim” is substantiated.

Yes: If God understands completely the principles of universe creation, then it would seem to be a science. That is, it’s something that is comprehensible by some being (with sufficient intelligence, one would presume). One would expect, like most things that can be understood, that God can subsequently teach “godhood” (i.e. how to create a universe), i.e. that “godhood” is essentially a science.

If it’s a science, why can’t we discover it on our own? If it’s a science, then the “supernatural” (outside of nature) claims for God simply fail. God becomes a subset of “natural.” We may honor that, respect that, but why would we worship it?

Now some might argue that God understands how to make universes but no one else can (presumably because we are either not smart enough or lack some ability). But this fails logically.

Everything that is understandable can be taught to someone of sufficient intelligence and ability. Some point to perceptual or physical limitations, saying things like: “You can’t teach the colorblind to see color, though they may understand the principle”; or “You can’t teach a person without arms to play the guitar.” These are silly objections because they are based on essentially technological limitations.

Even we humans are not that far away from using stem cells to restore cone receptors in the eyes of the color blind. Limb regeneration is not an impossibility, as we already know there are creatures on Earth who can regrow severed limbs; we just need to develop the understanding.

Surely, the Creator (who understands how He does what He does) could hypothetically also create a being capable of perceiving and understanding the process of creation. Surely, He would have enough scientific knowledge to be able to pass it down to a sufficiently advanced being. If we can extend our knowledge and abilities, why can’t He?

The conclusion is almost inevitable: Any being sufficiently advanced to create a universe should be able to teach the ability to another sufficiently advanced being. Further, the Creator should understand enough biology (or computational theory) to find a way to make capable beings that are currently incapable of understanding creation. We may not know how to do this yet, but it would be the height of hubris to suggest God can’t do it. Being God, “godhood” –if that has any meaning—must be a science that we could potentially understand.

Conclusion

So, we’ve explored the limitations to any putative “God’s” abilities. We’ve concluded that the God of the Abrahamic faiths is not all-loving, all-knowing, nor all-powerful. Those conclusions are an inevitable result of Scripture, experience, and logic. We’ve also narrowed our definition of God to His primary defining characteristic or claim: God is the Creator of the universe. But then we’ve gone on to show how creating a universe is really something that is scientifically achievable, at least in principle. If it’s something that has a scientific basis, we humans should eventually be able to figure it out on our own.

Why should we use the possibility that there is some other being who understands more about how the universe works as a justification for our reckless, insane behaviors, for going to war with someone whose views are only moderately different? Especially when we can’t really distinguish between this imperfect being we call “God” from some scientifically, technologically very advanced alien being. This seems much more akin to “picking a favorite team” than any rational basis for how we approach the universe.

Proof of GodIs “God” just a “favorite team?” How do people in Boston decide they like the Celtics, the Bruins, or the Red Sox more than they like Toronto’s Raptors, Maple Leafs, or Blue Jays? Well, favorite sports teams are chosen by where we were born, where we grew up, where we live, who our friends are, and so on. All social factors. It turns out that being born and growing up in a country that primarily practices the Muslim faith is a great predictor that you are more likely to become Muslim than Christian or Jewish. It turns out most of us pick religions much the same way we pick sports teams or political parties.

If God is like a favorite sports team, why would rational people choose that method to determine how they live, who they associate with, who they listen to as authorities? They wouldn’t. Religion is a lot like that; it’s not rational. More dangerously, it’s not a rational way to develop public policy. As I said at the beginning, I don’t really care what you believe in the privacy of your own mind, but when your beliefs affect the public policy that you propose or support, then I care greatly.

I want public policy to be rational, based on the best available evidence and logical analysis. I want public policy to be flexible, to adjust in the face of new data rather than defend its dogmatic and indefensible ideology. That’s the only reason I care about your beliefs, the only reason I challenge those beliefs. When anyone uses their unsubstantiated beliefs to formulate policy in the public domain, I think it’s incumbent on evidence-based, rational people to challenge the basis of those beliefs.




Proof of God

What “Proof of God” justifies your position? (part three)

This is part three of a four-part series.

Is God all-knowing?

Proof of GodWell, this is absurd on so many levels. If God was all-knowing then why were Adam and Eve punished (kicked out of the Garden of Eden) for eating of the forbidden fruit? Didn’t God see that one coming? Is it fair to punish someone for doing something that was practically built-in to their design by their supposedly perfect, inerrant designer?

And what of free-will? How can we freely choose between options AND have God know what our choice will be before we make it?

From an information-theory point of view, there is a LOT of information in the universe. Does God know where each single subatomic particle in the universe is and where it’s going? How does He know this? More importantly, how does He bypass the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (which states “it’s not possible to know both the position of a particle and the velocity of that particle with perfect precision, not even in theory)?”

 

 

Proof of GodInformation can be represented as bits, 1s and  0s. Think of it as “information removes uncertainty.” Before you flip a coin, you don’t know if it’ll land on heads or tails. Your uncertainty is equal to the probability that either choice could come up, one-in-two or one-half (we use a mathematical formula to convert this to bits of information:). Once you flip it, the coin lands on one side or the other. At that point, your uncertainty drops to zero from one-half. We say the information from that test is one bit.

So, how many bits of information are there in the universe? This is impossible to know, but the number is enormous. A single atom of iron may require 1080 bits to fully describe it. Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide says,

“We know the entropy of a black hole is related to its surface area divided by the Planck length. So what we can do is pretend the whole [known, ed.] universe is a black hole and use the radius of the known universe to get its surface area. And as entropy is related to information, we can calculate the maximum number of bits. Then depending on the details, you’ll get a number between 10122 and 10124 bits for the whole universe.”

Your modern desktop computer, has something like 1011 bits in its hardware. You’d need 10113 such computers to store all the information in the known universe, alone. The whole universe only contains around 1082 atoms, so it’s hard to see how you could ever have enough computers for the task. Especially given that each computer contains around a mole (1023) atoms of material.

“So, what?” a believer might ask. Well, here’s the thing. God (if such a being exists) would need to be much bigger than the universe just to contain all the information that is in that universe. “No problem,” the believer says. “God is infinite.” (another scientific claim, by the way) Now, let’s add to God’s burden. God is all-knowing so, in addition to knowing everything about our universe, He must know everything about himself.

In addition to encoding all the bits about our universe, an all-knowing God needs to encode all the bits that represent Himself. That includes His representation of our universe. You can see this is going to become a problem very quickly. The omniscient God must contain enough bits to encode all the information PLUS all the information about the bits that encode that information PLUS all the information about those bits that encode that information PLUS…it never ends.

The only reasonable conclusion is that God can’t logically be omniscient.

Is God all-powerful?

The Stone Paradox is most commonly used to represents logical limitations to an omnipotent being. Simply, it asks: Could an omnipotent being create a stone too heavy for it to lift? Other variations of this include: Could an omnipotent being make a square triangle?

Proof of GodThe basis for the Stone Paradox is simple. If the answer is “Yes” (God can make a stone too heavy for Him to lift) then there is something He can’t do, namely lift a stone He created. If the answer is “No” then, again, there is something He can’t do, namely make such a stone.

More recently Pastor Peter LaRuffa has (in)famously stated,

“If somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said 2 + 2 = 5, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible. I would believe it, accept it as true, and then do my best to work it out and understand it.”

This is the same stance taken by French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descarte. The view that an omnipotent being could do absolutely anything, even the logically absurd, is known as ”voluntarism.”

Most theologians and philosophers don’t accept voluntarism but instead resort to “act theory“ interpretations. These take on the form: A being S is omnipotent if-and-only-if S can perform any action A such that A is possible. So, because a square circle, for example, is not possible, it is absurd to believe an omnipotent God can make one.

Act theory doesn’t claim the absolute omnipotence of God, but rather that God is the maximally powerful being. That God can do anything that can be done. A logically contradictory state of affairs is not a thing at all, but NOTHING. An all-powerful God can do or make anything, but it’s meaningless to say that He can do or make a ”nothing.”

The point is, ‘a rock too heavy for God to lift’ really means ‘a rock too heavy for a being who can lift anything’, so it is a self-contradiction. A ‘square circle’ and ‘2+2=5’ are likewise contradictory states of affairs. Therefore these are all nothings.

This immediately leads to the objection, “What sets the constraint about what can be done? Is God forced to obey laws of nature or laws of logic that He has not created? If so, God is not the maximally powerful being imaginable. Why do logical paradoxes lead to NOTHINGS for an all-powerful God?”

Some philosophers have tried to overcome these problems by resorting to the “result theories“ of Leibniz and Ross, where a being is omnipotent if-and-only-if any possible state of affairs, or any possible world. A possible state of affairs is defined as “a way the world could be.” For instance, the sky’s being blue is a possible state of affairs, and John’s being a married bachelor is an impossible state of affairs.

Result theory would say, there being a stone an omnipotent being cannot lift is clearly not a possible state of affairs. An omnipotent being could therefore not bring it about. On the other hand, there being a stone its creator cannot lift is a possible state of affairs, and could be brought about by an omnipotent being, under the Leibniz-Ross theory, for an omnipotent being could bring it about that some other being created a stone which that being could not lift. Therefore, the Stone Paradox is claimed to not be a problem for the Leibniz-Ross theory.

I have a hard time distinguishing this from act theory; it may be too subtle for me. I would claim that this hasn’t got around the Stone Paradox at all. The result theory argument is that there’s a possible world where omnipotent being A creates some other being (or version of itself) B that makes the stone that A cannot subsequently lift, at the same time that a different being or version of itself is lifting it. That would seem to imply that A can make a possible world where being B  can do something A can’t. Why would we call A omnipotent in that case?

Here’s a video that demonstrates an interesting attempt to get around the Stone Paradox by making God able to split into two different versions of himself. Version A can’t life the rock, but at the same time version B can lift both A and the rock. That’s pretty neat. But, the original claim implied a single being we could call God. In this video, God splits into two beings with different capabilities. Is it fair to call either of them omnipotent? Are either of them still God?

This is a cute trick but it seems more like saying, “God’s right hand can make a stone too heavy for God’s left hand to lift.” It’s not at all clear this is the same test as the Stone Paradox proposes. Instead of proposing two different versions of God, we could simply say, “God at time x can create a stone that only God at time y can lift.” That is, we can split God temporally instead of spatially. I would claim these are not logically equivalent to our initial proposal.

The Leibniz-Ross result theory, leads to other odd or absurd metaphysical consequences, including the implication that an omnipotent being exists necessarily. According to Leibniz’s formulation, an omnipotent being would be able to actualize any possible world, but it is absurd to suppose that an omnipotent being should actualize a world in which it never existed. It follows that no such world is possible. Of course, this assumes that an omnipotent being existed in any possible world.

If there is no world (not any) in which an omnipotent being could possibly exist, then it wouldn’t exist in all possible worlds. Either God exists in all possible worlds or in none.

There are easily enough paradoxes in the idea of an omnipotent being that can’t be logically dismissed that we should be very wary of the whole concept.

In the next post, I’ll examine the “Creator claim” made of the Abrahamic God and draw my final conclusions.




God's superpowers

What “Proof of God” justifies your position? (part two)

This is part two of a four-part series.

What is the nature of the Abrahamic God? Besides creating the universe and life, what does He do? What are His superpowers? There have been many secondary claims made about the Abrahamic God: He is variously claimed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving). These claims are easily disputed through scripture, experience, and reason. Let’s examine them.

God's superpowers

Is God all-loving?

The Greek philosopher, Epicurus (341-270 BC) famously asked:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates asks, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” In other words, is any act of God morally good because God did it (or commanded it), or is God constrained to only perform or command morally good acts? If we are able to independently judge God’s acts as “good” or “bad” then is there a basis for that judgment that is independent of God?

What can we learn of God’s morality from the Bible?

Let’s look at how the Bible views slavery, for example, something that very few believe is morally good in this day and age. Here are a few excerpts from a lengthy article on the subject:

God's superpowersExodus Chapter 21, verse 1:

When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl [presumably to make way for an earing, ed.]; and he shall serve him for life.

In his book, “Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God”, Lee Strobel argues against our common interpretation of slavery in ancient Jewish culture:

Servitude in Israel was radically different than slavery in the antebellum South. Although people on both sides argued that the Bible does—or does not—endorse slavery, I argue that we have good reason to think that the “biblical case” for Southern slavery doesn’t hold up.

For one thing, the term “slave” or “slavery” in the Old Testament is often a mistranslation. The Mosaic Law typically refers to “servitude” as indentured service—much like arrangements in colonial America: those who couldn’t pay for their voyage to the New World would work for seven years to pay off their debt, and then they were free to operate in society as ordinary citizens.

What’s interesting about contracted servitude in Israel was that it was, first of all, voluntary: a person would “sell himself” or parcel out family members to work, and they would in return receive clothing, a roof over their heads, and food on the table. Servitude was also limited to seven years unless the servant voluntarily chose lifelong servitude, which brought both stability and security in difficult economic times.

But read the following passages and ask yourself if that sounds like “indentured service” or “contracted servitude.” I don’t think so.

Leviticus Chapter 25, verse 44:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 20:

If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

So the Bible recognizes it is okay to trade in people (but not fellow Israelites), though perhaps this is just the buying and selling of indentured servitude. It recognizes slavery as being ruthless and that is the primary justification for not taking other Israelites as slaves. But it also recognizes that beating slaves is acceptable as long as that slave does not die (one can only presume maiming is acceptable).

The question is, then, does the God of the Old Testament act in a way that the cultures of the time saw as being morally correct, but which we no longer approve? Or is God’s “morality” constant and outside of the morality of the cultures of the time, the way most Abrahamic religions portray it? If so, how do we reject slavery in modern times?

Are we wrong, or is God?

Some Christian apologists say, “Those verses are from the Old Testament and no longer apply because of Jesus.” But, this ignores the fact that Jesus specifically states that the laws of the Old Testament still stand in the New Testament. In Matthew 5:18 Jesus says:

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What can we learn of God’s morality from experience?

English comedian and activist, Richard Fry, when asked what he would say to God if he were confronted by Him at the Pearly Gates, answered:

“I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.”

British naturalist David Attenborough, when asked why he didn’t credit God for the wonders of nature in his documentaries, replied:

“They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. Why would an all-loving God, Creator of Life on this planet, have planned such a hideous punishment for an innocent child?”

God's superpowers

One of the most famous quotes about God’s morality is attributed to a carving on the wall of a Nazi concentration camp by an anonymous Jewish prisoner. It reads, “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.“ Clearly, the world is, and always has been, full of suffering. It is difficult (impossible, really) to reconcile an all-loving God with current, historical, and even biblical human experiences.

“But God works in mysterious ways,” many apologists answer. Yet, it doesn’t seem so much mysterious as contradictory. We have to ask ourselves, if we can look at things (like slavery, prison camps, bone cancer, and parasitic worms) that appear acceptable to God, and see that they are obviously wrong, why should we trust that He really was working for the eventual betterment of the human condition?

In the next post, I’ll discuss “God’s superpowers.” Is God all-knowing and all-powerful?




Is Value Entirely Subjective?

Is value entirely subjective?Is Value Entirely Subjective?

When we speak of something’s value we speak of its ‘goodness’ (Crisp, 2016). Where does this ‘goodness’ come from though? Is something good only because an individual bestows goodness upon based upon their preference for it? In order to answer these kinds of questions we must explore the different kinds of value that something can hold, explore various value theories, and explore various questions about the value that various things can hold. It should become apparent after exploring these ideas and questions that value is not entirely subjective. There are things which are not valued simply because an individual bestows value upon, but that individuals should value these things independent of our preferences; there are things that even if nobody in existence value them, they should. Let us begin by exploring the kinds of value that something can hold.

Let us begin by exploring the idea of instrumental value. If something has instrumental value then its value comes from its usefulness. For instance, money gets its value not from itself, but from what it allows us to achieve. We can exchange money for goods, for shelter, for transport, or for entertainment. Hoarding the money in particular societies may give an individual certain status, hence money can also be used to gain status. However, its value comes only from how useful it is. Money is simply a means to an end, rather than the end itself. We can use money to achieve a final end, but money itself is not a final end. Things that have instrumental purpose get their value from an individual’s preferences, the value comes from how much an individual prefers it and why they prefer it. This would imply that things of instrumental value get their value because we prefer it, but are there things that we should prefer because of their value to us?

In order to explore that question we must begin with what the extreme of the claim that all value is entirely subjective would mean. It would mean, of course, that the following statement would be true: If nobody valued X then X would have no value. In other words, if something existed, and nobody held any value for that something, then that something would have no value. Considering the sheer amount of things that exist, from physical to concept, should we be comfortable to make such a blanket statement about the value of things? There will be those who will be comfortable to make such a blanket statement, and if that blanket statement holds true then we would have to agree that all value is entirely subjective. However, by substituting X with some everyday concepts and items we will, hopefully, see that there are things whose value does not depend on someone valuing them.

Subjective valueFirst let us substitute X with the concept of rationality. We often find ourselves arguing that people should be more rational; it allows us to think in a clearer way, it allows us to make good decisions, it enables us to be more effective in our judgements, to find truth more effectively, and much more. In other words, we argue that those who do not value rationality should value rationality. Rationality gets its value not from our preference for it, it has value simply for what it is. There will be those that argue that rationality is simply a tool, and therefore only has instrumental value, but there must be something intrinsic in rationality that leads us to the conclusion that we should value it. Imagine a world in which everyone behaved irrationally, could we truly say that rationality would hold no value in that world? Of course not, we would argue that the introduction of rationality would add value to that world, we would argue that people should prefer a world with rationality because of what rationality could add to that world. However, if all value is entirely subjective then in a world where everyone was irrational, and nobody valued rationality, then rationality does not, and could not, hold any value. This suggests that there are certain things because of the goodness that they contain, and that our lack of preference for them does nothing to detract from the goodness that they contain.

Let us also substitute X with something like vaccinations for polio. Imagine now a world in which polio is rampant, a world not unlike our own before the introduction of the polio vaccine. However, consider that everyone in this imagined world was entirely against vaccines, instead preferring to pray to whichever God they believe in to stop the spread of polio. In such a world, would it really be true that prayer to God is valuable, but a successful vaccine has no value? Let us narrow it down even further. Imagine that in this alternative world God is a stone that someone found thousands of years previously, that is kept in a locked box on the top of the highest mountain. This stone has no magical properties, it is simply a stone. However, the population of this alternative world earnestly believe that this rock is a god that answers prayers, much in the same way that those that inhabit our planet believe that God answers prayers. The prayers obviously do not heal polio, and cannot heal polio. However, does their preferring praying to this stone give their prayers more value than a working vaccine? It would be counter-intuitive to argue such a case. The polio vaccination would produce positive effects, and would lessen the amount of suffering and disease that existed in the alternative world. We would argue that even if they preferred to pray to the rock on the top of the mountain, they should prefer to invest their resources in an endeavour to create a working vaccine. That we would argue against the effectiveness of the prayer to the rock as a means of eradicating polio, and argue that the people of this world should prefer to create vaccinations, suggests that the value of something does not come entirely from what we prefer, and is not entirely subjective. Once again we see an example of something that we should value for its goodness, and in this case even seeing that preferring something need not necessarily suggest that it contains goodness. A society that values praying to a rock to cure polio does not mean that praying to the rock has any value when it comes to curing polio.

Are vaccines good?Returning now to the world we exist in, but continuing with the idea of vaccines, we find that we often argue against the anti-vaccination crowd. Not only do we argue that their view of the science is wrong, but we argue for the value of vaccines. We argue that they are ‘good’. If value was entirely subjective we would not argue this, nor we would be able to argue this. Instead we would find ourselves simply saying ‘well if you find no value in vaccinations, then vaccinations are of no value to you’. However, this is not what happens. We argue that vaccinations make positive contributions to the societies that we live in. They reduce suffering, they reduce illness, and they help stem the spread of dangerous and/or painful diseases. We find ourselves arguing the same for various other things, such as education, or art, or literature, or a healthy life style. We argue for things that contribute to our well-being; in other words, things that contribute to our well-being have value in and of themselves, rather than simply having value because we value them.

There is a distinction that needs to be made here, and that distinction is the value that something holds by virtue of what it is, and the value it holds because we make use of it. Something can have value that we do not appreciate, but that does not diminish the value it holds. The value it holds by virtue of what it is gives us cause to value it. There is of course some level of subjectivity to value, there is some value to things that is defined by our preference for it. Consider the following examples taken from H. E. Baber’s paper Adaptive Preferences (Baber, 2007).

The first example from Baber (2007) to be discussed is that of the wife who is beaten regularly. On first examination of the wife’s circumstances we might hastily conclude that the wife prefers a life where she is beaten regularly to one where she is not beaten regularly. This would be a mistake though, as pointed out by Baber. Baber argues that it is not that the wife prefers being beaten to not being beaten, it is that the wife has had to choose from various bundles of things. One bundle contains the security of housing and food, but also contains being beaten, where the other bundle excludes the security of housing and food, but does not contain being beaten. It is not that the wife prefers being beaten, it is that the wife prefers housing and food and is willing to put up with the beatings to get it. The beatings do not add to her well-being of course, and it would be a mistake to say that the beatings are given value, or goodness, simply because she would prefer to have food and shelter. As Baber argues, she would more likely prefer a bundle that contains housing, food and no beatings, but of the options actually available to her the bundle she prefers contains an item of no value. Taking this into account should add weight towards the idea that our preferences do not wholly determine the value of something, otherwise it would have to be argued that the beatings contain goodness due to the fact that they allow her to have food and shelter. When really what should be argued, as Baber suggests, is that the beatings are not preferred, contain no goodness, and given the chance the wife would quickly choose a bundle that had food, shelter and no beatings.

The next example to look at is that of the young girl from Afghanistan. Here Baber (2007) gives us an example that contains a young girl’s mother choosing a life that does not contain education, preferring instead to teach the young girl about taking care of a household and a husband. This choice is made because in that particular society an educated woman is not looked on in the same way that they would be in somewhere like Britain. The husband of that particular society is looking for the woman who is a good home maker, and who will stay at home and look after the children. Therefore an education may negatively impact the child’s chance at finding a husband, and therefore securing a stable future for herself. However, this does not necessarily mean that the mother would not prefer her child to have an education. If it is the case that the mother would prefer her child to have an education if it were a viable option then it also seems to be the case that education has a particular value that is defined in and of itself. If education has a value in and of itself then it would also be the case that the value of it is not entirely subjective. In a world in which education exists, but everyone within that world preferred something else, education would still have a certain value. In the case of the girl from Afghanistan, the value of education to her personally is determined in part by her preferences as well as her circumstances. However, the value of education itself is a separate issue. Here we must learn to separate the value of something, such as education, from the value of something to us.

Here again we see that there are things that we should value because of the properties they hold in and of themselves, from the things that we prefer. The things that we prefer may be shaped by our environment, causing us to value something that we really should not prefer. Someone may prefer being beaten to being homeless, but that does not mean that being beaten contains any intrinsic ‘goodness’. However, a society that provides education, and better options than being beaten or being homeless, would mean that this someone would prefer something different, even if the option to being beaten was available to them. This means that something like education, or a safe living environment, have value outside of our preferences for them. There are properties contained within those things that means we should prefer them. Once again meaning that value is not entirely subjective, instead there is an objective element to value.

Science vs the Qu'ranNow imagine for a moment the existence of world in which only Islam existed. Consider that all of our information about the natural world came only from the teachings of the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran is chosen here as an example because of the many claims that Muslims make about how the Qu’ran contains true knowledge about the universe. Claims such as it containing detailed information about embryology, the big bang, the weather system, and much more. Would we be accurate in saying that science would have no value in this world? Would we be accurate in saying that the Qu’ran would have more value for finding out about the universe than science would? This is what we would be saying if we were to say that value is entirely subjective. However, it would be an incorrect thing to say. The Qu’ran does not contain more value than science when it comes to discovering truths about the natural world, and one would not argue that it does unless one is a Muslim. However, we would still argue with that Muslim that the Qu’ran is not of value when it comes to discovering truths about the natural world. While the Qu’ran may have subjective value bestowed upon it by the Muslim, the Muslim should instead value science regardless of whether it conflicts with the Qu’ran. In fact, we argue that the Qu’ran should be discarded in favour of the findings of science. Meaning that science has a value in and of itself, and that we should prefer it because of this value; this value being truth. This would also mean that truth holds some value in and of itself, and is not something that gets its value simply because we prefer it. A world with truth has more ‘goodness’, or value, than a world without truth. If everybody preferred to lie all the time, they should instead prefer a world in which truth exists. The value of truth is not something that is entirely subjective.

Is value entirely subjective?Again, here we see the idea of the value of something, and the value of something to us. Showing once again the importance of the distinction between the two things. The value to us is something that takes on a subjective nature. There are also things that are entirely of subjective value. Music itself may have intrinsic properties, however our preference for different types of music is something that is subjective. Some music may move us, some music may move us to switch it off. The one that we prefer to listen, and therefore value, is determined entirely subjectively. Literature is another example. While reading in general may contain intrinsic properties, the genre we prefer, and therefore value, may be entirely different. One may choose to read Hume, while another chooses to read Harry Potter. The same may be said of past-times. While one person may prefer to sketch a drawing of a beautiful countryside, another may prefer to play video games. The contributions that certain things make to our well-being causes us to value certain things that another may not, are still instilled instrumental value by our using them. However, it is our preference for them that gives them value, they are means to another end, such as happiness, or education. Meaning that value can still be entirely subjective. The mistake comes not from declaring that value can be subjective, but from declaring that all value is subjective.

All of this means that we should conclude that value is not something that is entirely subjective. There may be a certain amount of subjectivity involved when it comes to value, and in some cases something may get its value entirely subjectively, but to declare that all things get their value entirely subjectively is too simplistic of a claim. Some things do contain a value in and of themselves, giving us cause not only to value, but to argue for why we should value certain things. This would not be possible if value was entirely subjective. To argue for why we should value something is to argue that the something has value apart from our preferences. It is to argue that our preferences should adapt themselves to this value being argued for, and therefore that there is a certain amount of objectivity to that value being argued for. In conclusion, we should be arguing that value is not entirely subjective, and to argue that cause is to argue for far too simplistic a conclusion. A simplistic conclusion that does not hold up to scrutiny.

References

Baber, H. E. (2007) ‘Adaptive preference’, Social Theory and Practice, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 105–26

Crisp, R. (2013) ‘Well-being’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [Online], 8 May 2013. Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/ (Accessed 24 Jul 2017)




God

What “Proof of God” justifies your position? (part one)

What “Proof of God” justifies your position?

I begin a four-part series today.

Philosophers, theologians, and scientists have been grappling with the issue of God’s existence for millennia. Much of the discussion in past centuries may have been motivated simply by curiosity or by a protest against theological dogma. For many of us in the modern world, the notion of God is a very private one. God may show up in our prayers but frequently doesn’t have much effect in our daily decisions. Why might it still be important to ask whether or not God exists, today?

Why does God still matter?

Related imageLet me state up front that I don’t really care what you truly, deeply believe in the privacy of your own mind. You could believe you are the King of Narnia. You could believe Harry Potter or Peter Pan are real, for all I care. I know many people who believe things at least as improbable as this.

You may not believe it, but I don’t like debating people’s faith, no matter what arguments they use to justify or rationalize why they believe. I don’t think rejecting religious beliefs is the best road to atheism. In many ways, atheism is not really a belief system at all and is certainly not a replacement for religion. That’s why I’m an “empirical physicalist“; it seems more like a philosophical position than simply not believing the “God claims” of others.

But people’s beliefs, particularly the heartfelt ones, have a habit of making their way into public policy. If you say, “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,” you are now using your beliefs (without much, if any, objective evidence) to justify, recommend, or set public policy. And that public policy could lead to a proliferation of global nuclear war, ending the time of “God’s children” on this planet.

Is Trump’s authority from God?

proof of godThat’s where I have trouble.

Religious beliefs are among the most blatant and pernicious belief systems when it comes to influencing public policy. Religious beliefs gave us prohibition and help governments and other public groups justify their ongoing wars against drugs, abortion, homosexuality, the sexual revolution, feminism, evolution theory, Big Bang theory, science, and – most notably – against other religions.

In the United States, despite being in the vast religious majority, Christians feel they increasingly suffer from religious persecution. And they have begun to take steps to reverse what they see as their exclusion from public policy formation. Many atheists rush to point out that there is no persecution of Christianity, only a desired leveling of the moral playing field, a removal of the privileges commonly granted religious organizations such as freedom from taxation and the “right” to deny public service on the basis of Faith.

For this reason, it is important for those who hold religious beliefs to examine the reasons they use to justify their public policy positions.

For many people, a belief in God comes along with the religious beliefs they grew up with. There is no doubt that the emotional and social support many receive through the beliefs they share with their family and community provides great comfort. When asked why they believe, people will point to nature or the universe and ask how one could otherwise explain the existence of such beauty. They may claim they “feel” God or have a “God-shaped-hole” in their hearts that yearns for a connection to something greater than themselves.

These are emotional justifications; they simply assume that God must exist because that is the only way the believer can imagine their feelings having a source. I usually try to be more rational about something as potentially important as a belief in how the universe works. I certainly hope none of our politicians make their important decisions on the basis of their “feelings.” Psychological studies into paranoia and schizophrenia suggest that feelings or subjective experiences are not always the best basis for making good decisions.

Many people have fuzzy notions of God. God could be a “force,” a “presence,” or a “Guardian/Protector,” for example. For many, their idea of God has some basis in their holy texts.

Perhaps unique to the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is a belief in a single God. Other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism either have a proliferation of gods or no god in particular. The central claim of the Abrahamic religions is that God is the Creator of all: the universe, the Earth, all life, and the human soul.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the nature or character of the God of the Bible and we can start examining the claims made of His existence in greater detail.




Freedom of speech

The right of rights – Freedom of speech

 

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speechFreedom of speech. An essential and beautiful right, that we all use to near exhaustion. We all have our ideas, our opinions and things we think “must be said”, and we have the freedom to say them; to communicate our ideas, present our opinions and to say what “must be said” according to us. We are happy to do so, whenever, wherever and however we see fit. Though, we might be remembered sometimes of the episode “auto erotic assimilation” of the great cartoon series Rick and Morty, in which Morty’s sister says: “I didn’t know freedom meant people doing things that suck!”

Summer is actually getting at a very essential problem regarding any right here, the fact that rights may be, in our eyes, misused. The right to freedom of speech is no exception. This is exactly the reason for this article; to clear up some common misconceptions around the right to freedom of speech by explaining it in the detail that is allowed to us, considering the fact that it varies from country to country. I will do this by first globally outlining what the right to freedom of speech is meant to do, after which I will explain some of the nuances that are in effect in most countries. I will conclude with some of the common misconceptions we experience in our day to day lives.

Freedom of speech rick and morty

The reason for the right to freedom of speech

Political right

The right to freedom of speech, must firstly be understood in the right context. It is, first and foremost a political right. That is to say, not that it only applies to politicians, but that it is aimed at furthering the realm of politics. The right to freedom of speech is a right we will only encounter in societies that are more or less democratically organized. The reason for this is quite simple, but nonetheless elegant. It aims to increase the number of opinions and ideas that are present in the public debate, to further the democratic decisionmaking.

This right is rooted firmly in both the classical (Athenian and some era’s of Roman rule) and the enlightenment principles that every idea might have value and that every idea must be based on rationality. The ultimate test of this value and rationality was, of course, the rational/philosophic discourse as we experience in debates and discussions everywhere to this very day. In this way, we can see that the aim of the right to freedom of speech is not just to give people who are politically relevant a voice, but to give them the right to be a dissenting voice; the right to disagree. This, then, shows us again that it is a democratic right. Dictators have no need for, in fact they mostly despise, dissenting voices.

Civil right

However, since the Romans and Athenians, somethings have changed. Where they used to have a system of direct democracy, in which all free males of a certain age and later as noblemen of a certain age, were allowed to vote on important matters in gatherings, and were thus politically relevant, we now have systems of representative democracy. We now vote for representatives who are expected to vote on that which is in the best interest of their voters. Not only that, but with the abolishment of slavery in most democratic societies, and the inclusion of women in the voting process, we find that the general population is now both more and less politically relevant. We are more politically relevant because more of us are eligible to partake in the democratic process. Less politically relevant, because once we have voted, our governance(save referrendi) is pretty much out of our control. This has however lead to more flexibility within our democratic systems. Where in the days of Athens one could with a fair amount of certainty predict which member of the gathering would vote which way, we now have the ability to change the makeup of our respective parliaments with a single vote, leading to different outcomes every time. To accommodate this new swing, and to give every relevant person or party a fair shot, the right to freedom of speech was to be expanded in such a way that even those who are no longer politically relevant (the people, after voting), would be more politically relevant by being able to exercise influence on both their representatives and the rest of the people. As such, the right to freedom of speech was now a civil right as well.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor freedom of speech

Significance

This process had, in most countries, gone a lot more organic than the above text would make you believe. But the significance here is this: the idea behind the right to freedom of speech was not so much to “free the people”, as it was to further political discourse. It was to give those who would vote on what action the government would take the ability to review and debate as much possibilities as they could, in order to find the best course of action. It was only later that the noble idea of “freeing the people” was attached to this right.

But free the people it did. You see, by legalising everyone’s ideas and opinions, a sort of equality was created. Every living human being has ideas and opinions, after all, and none are now inherently more valuable than others.

Taking away hindrances

Another important context in which we must think about the right to freedom of speech, is that it aims (with some exceptions to which I will return later) mostly to remove any hindrances one might experience in voicing their ideas or opinions beforehand. Most notably, it removes the ability to be prosecuted for the voiced ideas or opinions in a legal sense. The right to freedom of speech goes no further than to allow, without fear of prosecution, a person or group of persons to say what they want to say on public property.

Limits and nuances to freedom of speech

This all sounds fairly uplifting. We have the right to say what we want to say, when or where we want to say it. Or do we?

Freedom of speech VS Ownership rights

As we look at the last sentence of the previous paragraph, we can already conclude that there is one important limit to the exercise of free speech: private property. While everyone is free to speak their mind at all times, they may not be at every given place. A good example for this is for instance a newspaper. A newspaper, aside from presenting its readers with the latest news and celebrity gossip, usually provides these services within some sort of political framework. They have a message they want to spread, about how they think the problems of the world are best approached. Because the newspaper itself is private property, the owners and shareholders are free to decide what is and what isn’t printed on their pages. They may even decide, without any penalty, to censor an interview as long as it doesn’t amount to libel. This may seem like a violation of the free speech rights of the person being interviewed. And it jolly well is, to be honest. But the nuance here is property rights vs. civil rights. As the person interviewed has the choice to present the exact same case to a different, more accommodating medium, and is free of libel, the choice to allow this breach of freedom of speech in favor of ownership rights is an understandable one, if not an acceptable one.

Libel and slander

We have touched on another limit in applying freedom of speech here, ‘libel’ and ‘slander’. These are actually both the same thing, but one is in writing (libel) and the other is in word of mouth (slander). They both amount to the intentional and malicious misrepresentation of another person’s possessions, character or history. For instance, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, someone somewhere started the rumor that Hillary Clinton was running a child prostitution ring from a pizza place somewhere in New york. This, as many already thought was nonsense. This is a case of libel. The character of Mrs. Clinton was misrepresented, because it wasn’t true. This was done in a malicious way, because the intent was to make voters second guess their voting for the democratic candidate. It was intentional, because there was no evidence that she indeed had run a child prostitution ring.

Hate speech

Yet another limit in applying freedom of speech is ‘hate speech’. This is a tricky one, because every country defines it in its own way, whereas the previous two limits are very similar globally. Generally though, the term hate speech amounts to the calling for violence against a person or a group of persons, based on ethnicity, country of origin, religious or political affiliation, sexual preference, gender or (dis)ability. This seems to speak for itself, but there is a nuance here, that is noteworthy enough to merit some attention. Generally speaking, it is allowed under the banner of free speech to say: “I want muslims to be deported.”, which some would categorize under the nomer of calling for violence. On the other hand, it is often not allowed to, under that same banner, say: “Let’s get rid of all the muslims!”. The difference here, is that -depending on the context, of course- the latter may imply a more physically violent event then mass deportation, which might lead to physical violence being committed on the group in question. However, I can not stress enough the differences that different countries maintain in their outlooks on hate speech.

 

Freedom of speech misconception

Common misconceptions:

Saying: ‘Well, that’s my opinion, so I don’t have to defend it.’ Is a correct use of the right to freedom of speech.

As we have concluded in the section “Reason for freedom of speech” above, the intention of the right to freedom of speech is to find out what ideas are rationally supported or can be rationally supported. Failing or refusing to rationally support your ideas, is thusly not a correct use of the right to freedom of speech. Rather, the person who is doing this, is impeding the discussion that the right to freedom of speech is supposed to support. they are doing so by introducing needless and unfounded chatter into the conversation, which can only distract from the issue at hand.

Social media companies deleting comments are violating my right to free speech.

As we have concluded above, in the section “limits and nuances to free speech”, that which is privately owned is not obligated to provide every statement with a platform for being voiced. Rather, they have the right to censor or delete entirely any comment that does not support their mission statement. the free speech of the commenter may be hindered by this, but the diversity of media and often pages within that media (such as on Facebook) will allow for sufficient opportunity to voice the opinion or idea. Considering this, the ownership rights the befall Facebook and respective page holders is more important.

The threat of being physically abused because I’ve said something is a violation of my freedom of speech.

First of all, I understand how it feels that way and I never condone any disproportional verbal violence, let alone physical violence, save self defense. However, being hit by anyone other than a government agent because of what has been said, is not a violation of freedom of speech. The freedom to say these things has not declined. It is the result that has gotten more expensive. Rather, it is your right to not be threatened and eventually your right to bodily integrity that is being violated.

I don’t want those who disagree with me to have freedom of speech.

We all disagree with one another from time to time. We can do so passionately. But if a person, for any other reason than are mentioned above, disagrees that their opponent is using their right to freedom of speech, I would say they do not believe in the freedom of speech. As we have concluded in the section “the reason for the right to freedom of speech” above, the whole point of free speech is the right to disagree.

Final thoughts

The right to freedom of speech truly is one of, if not the most important right that we have in democratic societies. Nonetheless, some limits ought to be imposed on it, to keep our societies from crumbling under its massive weight and possible implications. However, we should be duly vigilant when it comes to these limits, in order to safeguard this great piece of cultural heritage.

We must remember that, though it is a political right by origin, it is now one of our most vital civil rights as well. It frees us all to say what we want and when we want within or upon public property and gives us a great amount of equality as well as the right to disagree with others and the status quo. It is now our own prerogative to determine what to say, when and with who we say it, and if we are ready to pay the eventual price for it. We are also, in our use of and by our debt to the right to freedom of speech obligated to do the best we can in defending our ideas and opinions against the inevitable attack from others. And whilst some regulations can, in my opinion, be a bit too strict, we must recognize that they are in place for legitimate reasons and vary from country to country.

I hope this article has clarified the misconceptions I spoke of earlier. And I await your commentary and will defend it as best I can. And remember Voltaire, when he said: “I disapprove of what you write(say), but will defend to the death your right to keep writing(say it).”

 




Sense

Presup: Sense and Reason, Part 1

ANSWERS IN REASONIntroduction

Most who have been involved in discussion and debate of the existence of God will, at some point, have come across the Presuppositionalist. Presuppositionalism proposes that we must presuppose the existence of God in order to make sense of the world, and other ideas such as God being necessary in order to make sense of and explain various parts of existence as well as existence itself. One of the most well-known proponents of Presup is the infamous Sye Ten Bruggate, who many may know from his debate with Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience.

Two prongs of argument that the presupper attempts are to insert doubt into whether or not we can trust our sense experiences, and our ability to reason. This will of course be a familiar thing to those with experience of Descarte’s work Meditations. The arguments used in presup are similar, and have their roots in, ‘Cartesion Doubt’ or ‘hyperbolic doubt’ as Descarte himself referred to it. In his work Descarte’s uses his famous ‘Evil Demon’ thought experiment to insert absolute doubt, and attempts to find a way to justify why his senses can be trusted. Descarte’s conclusion is that God gives us sufficient reason to justify trusting our senses and our ability to reason. But is God necessary to trust our senses and our reason? Must we presuppose God in order to make sense of it, and to have certainty that our senses and our reason can be trusted?

Doubting the SensesANSWERS IN REASONI

n Descarte’s Meditations he sets forth the challenge for himself to remove all those things that cast doubt upon knowledge, and start from a solid foundation. In amongst those things that he perceives to cast doubt upon knowledge are the senses. Arguing that sometimes the senses deceive us, and this gives us cause to doubt sense experiences. That the idea that we know that we are sometimes fooled is evidence that our senses cannot be trusted, and our senses may also be fooled all of the time. Going further to introduce the idea of the ‘Evil Demon’ thought experiment which asks us to imagine that our senses are completely controlled by a demon that fools us into thinking we are experiencing things we simply are not.

There are many rebuttals from many minds that go into detail with the problems of Descarte’s ‘Evil Demon’, just as there are with the similarly made ‘Brain in a Vat’ argument. Rebuttals that give us good reason to doubt the validity of the arguments. However, the presup rarely opens with an ‘Evil Demon’ or ‘Brain in a Vat’ argument. Instead they simply ask us whether or not we can trust our senses, in the hopes of leading to an argument in which we can use God and the Bible in order to ‘synchronise’ our senses; in this way we can know what we are experiencing is real, true and that we are not being deceived. So do we need to do this in order to know that our senses are not deceiving us all the time?

Trusting the Senses

ANSWERS IN REASON

The argument will usually be put forward in a similar manner to Descarte’s argument. We know that the senses sometimes fool us, so could it be possible that they are always fooling us? Must we mistrust our senses continually because there are times we cannot trust our senses?

The first problem with that argument and reason is that it simply does not follow. The conclusion does not follow on from the premise. For the very premise itself presupposes that sometimes our senses do not deceive us. The conclusion in an indirect manner is asking us to imagine if senses that are known to be right some of the time can be incorrect all of the time. It is similar to making an argument that states ‘the senses are sometimes right, so could it be possible that they are always wrong?’. It simply is not possible to get to the question logically from the premise put forward. This alone gives us good reason to reject the proposition made by the argument asking us to think our senses are always being deceived because they are sometimes being deceived.

Thinking of it in a similar manner to that of a forged bank-note (Blackburn, 1999). Does it make sense to say that as some bank notes are forged, so all bank notes may be forged? Of course it does not, for forged bank notes are copies of original bank notes. We cannot have a forgery without their being an original to copy, therefore the conclusion is nonsensical. Just as it is when we are asked to imagine that our senses are always being deceived because some of the time they are not being deceived. It simply is a nonsensical argument.

The Evil Demon

ANSWERS IN REASONThis of course is where the thought experiments of the ‘Evil Demon’ and the ‘Brain in a Vat’ style of argument may come in, and are often brought in. These experiments invite us to imagine a scenario in which it is plausible that our senses are being fooled all of the time. The ‘Evil Demon’ inviting us to imagine a demon powerful enough to control our senses all of the time, and the ‘Brain in a Vat’ inviting us to imagine a scenario where we are simply brains in jars, attached to a giant computer which sends us all of our sense experiences. A scenario is created wherein it becomes possible that all of our senses and perceptions are deceiving us all of the time. There are many rebuttals made against these arguments, and the problems with these arguments, however in this article the focus is not on rebutting these arguments but examining the claims made by the presuppositionalist.

Here the claim is that God can give us certainty that our senses are not being fooled all of the time. It is similar to the claim that Descartes uses in order to overcome his ‘Evil Demon’. That God is a good god, and a personal god, and an honest god, and would therefore not allow us to be fooled by an ‘Evil Demon’ as described. Does this give us certainty that our senses are not being fooled 100% of the time?

One of the problems with this claim is that if a being truly were attempting to ‘fool your senses’ in a completely immersive way, and trick you into staying in that truly immersed ‘tricking of the senses’, it would be logical for it to create a way to convince you that it is not possible that you are being fooled. To insert an idea that you cannot be fooled would be a way to keep you entirely and unquestioningly immersed in the fooling of your senses. An argument such as Descartes, that there exists a god that would ensure that you were never being fooled. The same holds true for the idea of the ‘Brain in a Vat’. Proposing a god does not give us certainty that we are not ‘Brains in a Vat’ for the very same reason.

Another problem with this argument is the ‘free will defence’ that many use. That God does not violate ‘free will’. It is the reason that God will not stop the rape of a child, or the murder of defenceless old woman, or the genocide of a group of people. It is also a similar reason to why God does not simply put an end to Satan. He has been given free rein in the material world, but will be reeled in come ‘Judgement Day’. If, as the argument concludes, God would inform us of any attempt to deceive our senses in the manner of the ‘Evil Demon’ or of the mad scientist with the ‘Brains in a Vat’, then it argues against the idea that God would not violate ‘free will’ and would argue against the idea that Satan cannot be dispatched by God and has free rein in this world.

To argue that God would inform us of our senses being perpetually deceived is to bring in an inconsistency, and a contradiction in the definition of God. There would then need to be ‘caveats’ introduced into the claim that God does not violate ‘free will’. It would also then need to be explained why God would deem it more necessary to stop us from having our senses deceived than it is to stop a young child from being tortured, abused, raped and/or killed. It would also have to be explained why God deems it necessary to calibrate our senses in this instance, but not in instances where the wrong religion is followed, or even not believed.

So the argument that God can give us certainty that what we are experiencing is absolutely real, and that without God we must doubt our senses 100% of the time, or that it is even possible to doubt our senses 100% of the time if the claim that sometimes our senses are wrong, is without substance. Upon closer examination of the arguments, they do not hold as strong of a case as the presupper may argue, or may indeed believe. However, do we really even need 100% certainty that our senses work 100% of the time in order to trust them?

Why Trust Our Senses Sometimes?

ANSWERS IN REASONIf we consider the idea of how evolution works, we consider the idea of natural selections; or the selection of traits that favour the survival of the species. Imagine for a moment that our senses were always unreliable in navigating the world. If our senses were always unreliable for navigating the world then would we, as a species, have survived long enough to order to escape becoming prey? Would we have been able to know that there was a predator near, and would we have been able to escape that predator?

It would seem incredibly unlikely that it would be the case. If our senses could not navigate us successfully through the world we would not have survived long enough in order to evolve into beings capable of building societies. If our senses could never be trusted we would never have created the societies we have created today, or the technology that we have created today. If our senses were useless to us then none would be able to read this argument. We would not have the capability to write things in a coherent fashion in languages that others can understand, and those who understand that language could read back in a way that shows that it is coherent and that our senses calibrate to the same sense experience.

The fact that we can check that our sense experiences are alike with another human, or a group of humans, gives us cause to trust our senses to some degree also. We can also make note of our experiences, and have them tested by others to see if those experiences line up. The more people who test to see if it lines up, and does line up with, the better of course. Which is the nature of the scientific method. It does not simply ‘trust the senses’, it does its best to ensure rigorous testing of the conclusions made from sense experience. It also uses methods beyond our senses, such as measuring equipment, and recording equipment, that work in different, and more finely tuned, ways to our senses. We are able to hear frequencies we otherwise would not, and view things in a spectrum of light we otherwise would not, and see things in detail we otherwise would not. It is the very reason that sometimes our senses deceive us that we create even more rigorous and stringent testing methods due to it. This enables to further and further test and refine our conclusions. Is a little bit of doubt about our findings, or our behaviour, or our beliefs, not a good thing?

References

Blackburn, S. (1999) Think, Oxford Press, Oxford.




Changing A Mind: Respect Matters


Changing a mind

Ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule…”

Introduction

For those atheists that discuss and debate religion, we should ask ourselves what the purpose behind it is. Why do we do the things we do? For the Christian evangelist, or the Muslim performing Da’wah, this is a simple question to answer. They do it because they are attempting to spread their religion. They believe their way is the way, and their religion teaches them that they should be spreading the religion. What of the atheist though? We have no such doctrine, we have no doctrine at all. Yet it is common, especially in this modern era, to find atheists discussing and debating religion. So we should ask ourselves why we attempt to discuss religion with the believer. Is the purpose simply to mock those that do not think like us, or is the purpose something more?  Is the purpose to change minds?

Ridiculing the Believer

It is common to find atheists in debate groups, especially amongst those that act like echo chambers for atheist thought, using the phrase ‘ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule’. There are many who seem to be content to insult and mock the believer, because they hold the idea that the theist has ridiculous beliefs. What of the theist though? There are many who hold the idea that the atheist has ridiculous beliefs. We often see attempts from various theists to mock the non-believer, not just the atheist but those that hold a different religion. So does their belief that others hold ridiculous beliefs entitle them to ridicule those beliefs, as the statement implies? The atheists who hold to this idea justify their actions by claims of atheism being logical, reasonable and rational. Yet the believer holds that their beliefs are these things too. Each group believes that they are the ones with the correct beliefs, the rational beliefs, the logical beliefs. What does ridicule achieve though?

Ridiculing can be used to bully people into conformity of course. Is that all we as atheists want though, for those that do not believe to simply conform to our ideas? How does that make us any different from those believers that simply want us to conform to their ideas? If our goal is to attempt to promote rationality, and reason, and logic, then surely we want more than simple conformity? Surely we should want more than to simply look good, or look clever, amongst our peers and those that are in our in-group?

Unless those are our goals then of course we should want more. In order to achieve more though we must understand what it takes to change a person’s mind. We also must understand why it is people believe in religion, beyond memes such as ‘too stupid to understand science’. We need to understand why people believe their God exists, and their religion, beyond the simple answer of indoctrination. One of my colleages here at Answers In Reason presented an article in to the science of belief which you can read here at your own leisure. We already face an uphill battle when it comes to the believer changing their mind, especially in cases of religions like Islam, in which it is taught that it is perfect and beyond reproach, and that it cannot be wrong. If our goal is to change their minds then we must understand at least the bare minimum of what it takes to change a mind, and the approaches necessary in order to change a mind. In this article we will attempt to discuss some of the various approaches and ideas put forward about ‘changing someone’s mind’. So, what does it take to change a person’s mind?

An Interest in What is Being Said

The first step towards the acquisition of knowledge of course is an interest in the topic at hand. If we are not interested in the topic then we will rarely seek out the knowledge. Sometimes it is curiosity, other times it is necessity, but it is usually some kind of interest that begins our journey. The reason behind our interest is often a factor in what information we seek out, or what information we accept, as well. If we are simply interested in debunking an idea, often we will seek out that particular information. The same is true of the opposite as well, we will seek the information that supports the idea that we are interested in. However, interest is only the beginning of the journey. It is what leads us to begin our acquisition of information and knowledge, and not the deciding factor on where and who we get our information from.

Changing a mind

A Little Bit of Respect

It is often respect that is a major contributing factor in who we listen to. For if we do not respect the person, or at the very least their grasp of the topic they are speaking on, then we will reject the information that they present us. We can often not respect the person giving us the information, but if we respect their authority on the subject then we will still listen to what that person has to say on the subject; even if we dismiss their opinions on other subjects. Showing us that respect has much to do with our ability to change another’s mind. Here is where the atheist faces something of a problem though. The knowledge we have is not something that most believers have a genuine interest in, most are not seeking to acquire knowledge of atheism but instead to convince the atheist that the position they hold is incorrect. They are seeking to convert, rather than be converted. They also do not have a respect for the average atheists authority on certain subjects. The authority that they respect as far as knowledge goes is their God, and their scriptures. Made even more difficult in cases such as Islam, in which it convinces the believer that the scripture cannot be wrong, and that the Muslim cannot be wrong if they are indeed following what is taught in the Qu’ran. It creates an almighty (pun intended!) bias in their thinking, one that is incredibly difficult to challenge.

It is not an impossible challenge though. What it means that what we must rely on is their respect for us as people, and as human beings. We could argue that it will never happen, this is true. After all, it is included in some scriptures that we are not to be respected. That we are only worthy of hell fire, that we are fools, and that the wise are the one’s that follow ‘the true religion’, which usually tends to be the one that the particular believer is a member of. However, this is not always the case. There are many that are willing to engage in dialogue and discussion, and there are many that treat those who believe differently with respect. So long as they are worthy of respect of course. They generally tend not to engage in discussion with those whose behaviour is bullying and insulting. They are indeed looking for reasonable discourse, just as many atheists are simply looking for reasonable discourse.

This is something that we should be using to our advantage. By creating and reinforcing slogans such as ‘ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule’ we immediately alienate those we should be having reasonable discourse with. We earn no respect from those we should be seeking to gain the respect of when we lead with the idea that we will ridicule what they believe. Especially when we factor in some of the stereotypes and ideas that many believers already hold of the atheist.

internet atheistStereotyping of the Atheist

When we enter into a conversation with many believers, the non-believer is already confronted by certain prejudices and stereotypes. Ideas such as the angry atheist, or that atheists are arrogant, or are atheists simply because we do not want to behave, and much more. Many atheists will have come across this in some form at some point in their lives, especially if they are active in discussion and debate. We are also seen as irrational by many believers, as they believe that the rational conclusion is that God exists and to believe otherwise is irrational. The Bible claims that those who do not believe in God are fools, and the Qu’ran promotes the idea that we are less than cattle (cite sources).

This means that even before entering into a conversation with many believers they have a particular image of us. An image designed to impact the amount of respect that the believer has on first contact. In order to overcome this we must show that these stereotypes do not hold weight, and that what they believe, what they have been taught to believe, is a falsehood. That we are not angry, and arrogant, and foolish, and immoral, and less than animals. That we are indeed reasonable and rational people, and we are good people.

“I will never respect religion”

There will be those who will reply that they will never respect religion, or religious beliefs, or believers. However, this is not the point being made here. The point is not that we must respect these things, but instead that one of the key conditions to getting someone to listen to you is that they must respect you enough to actually listen to what is being said. If they do not respect a person enough to listen to them, then there is little chance that person will have the opportunity to get them to question their beliefs, or listen to their criticisms of their belief, or to listen to reasons why they do not hold the same belief. Therefore if the goal is these things, then the approach used must be considered.

Conclusion

This is not to say that all believers are approachable, or will listen, or will ever respect anyone that does not believe the same thing as they do. For these people clearly exist, and the atheist active in discussion and debate will have come across these people on a regular basis. These people may or may not be unreachable, however it should be considered that even the most ardent of believers in particular ideologies have changed their mind when they have come across people who had certain extant qualities that made them consider their beliefs.

However, to approach all believers as if they hold this mindset would be an error in judgement. For there are those that are willing to have polite discussions. There are also those that criticise others for similar reasons the atheist does, such as the exclusion and harassment of the LGBT+ community and the like. Just as the atheist community is diverse, and is made up of many different ideas and beliefs, so to is the theist community. Some are not of the Abrahamic faiths. These things should all be considered in our approach to discussion and debate and criticism. Just as we atheists are unfairly lumped together, or faulty conclusions are made based on faulty premises, we must also not make the same the mistake of theists.

If our goal is to get people to consider their beliefs carefully, or to understand our criticisms of their beliefs, or to listen to our questions, then our approach needs to be considered by each and every one of us. Our goals too need to be considered; and if our goal is the things that are mentioned here then one of the main factors in even getting close to them is that we must have a minimum amount of respect from those we are in discussion with, enough respect to actually get them to listen to us.




Honesty

Enjoy your life; Honesty

The ancient Greek philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said; ‘Why weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ Though I do not agree with this particular quote, I must admit that the sentiment is useful. And when push comes to shove, that’s all that matters. In this piece, I will attempt to show you the use of honesty in leading an enjoyable life.

The point Seneca was most likely making, and was in fact moderately famous for making, was that most people have too high expectations for life, which inevitably leads them to become disappointed and view life more as a burden than a joy. We’re told as kids that we may be the next president, that we’re very smart, that we’re beautiful. In short, all children are told they are special in some grand way. Yet, most adults end up hopelessly mediocre.

So how do we combat this? How can we manage not only our own expectations, but also the expectations others have for us?

Honesty

The first and most important point of discussion, is honesty. Not just towards others, but towards yourself. If we are to manage expectations, we must first realize we have to keep them at an acceptable median; our goals must be realistic, our expectation of achieving a goal should be no less realistic.

self assessmentHow do we use honesty to manage our own expectations of ourselves?

I’d say the key part is self-reflection. Before you commit to completing a certain task at a certain level, you should look back at previous tasks that are somewhat alike and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I complete this task the last time?
  • How did I complete this task the last time?
  • (How) Can I improve the way I complete this task?
  • Do I feel up to completing this task?

This will give you a more accurate reading of your qualities in different situations and allow you to assess your relative success in a better, more structured and thus dependable way, and in turn sync your expectations with your own qualities and abilities.

How do we use honesty to manage expectations others have about us?

Simply tell them about the results of your own assessment as described above. It’s actually that simple; let them know your weaknesses and own up to them.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable toward others. A handful will indeed exploit your vulnerability, maybe even humiliate you, but most people will appreciate it and view you not as a vulnerable person, but as a person with strength and character. It takes some cojones to allow yourself to be vulnerable and most people can relate to that. More over, it is admirable.

But honesty to your fellow human being goes further than just telling people what you can and can’t do. It also exists out of being honest about your opinions, beliefs and desires. It also encompasses your fears, dislikes and history. All the above might lead to an extraordinarily vulnerable position within your social context. Of course, you might want to look out, because this might not be compatible with your specific situation. It seems, for instance, a bad idea to say you fear gunfire when you’re an army member. But aside from compatibility issues, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit more vulnerable.

And when you think about it, the fact that we are often taught to be invulnerable or less vulnerable, is counter-productive. It chips away at the honesty in society, which inevitably means trust becomes increasingly scarce, which leads to suspicion and lying to cover up ones shortcomings. Not only are suspicion and lies bad for business, it’s bad for your wellbeing, too. Having to juggle lies, checking up on every promise that has been made to you, it’s tiresome and takes valuable time better used for other purposes.

expectationsHow do we use honesty to manage our expectations of others?

We can use honesty in curtailing our expectations of others and conforming them to the realistic. In other words, by being honest about our own capabilities and our expectations of others, we can incentivize others to be equally honest about their capabilities. In this way, we avoid being disappointed and can better plan our actions ahead.

Another way to use honesty to the same ends, is to be honest about your doubts. If you think someone is less capable than they say they are, you can be honest about this and tell them (gently, preferably). This will often illicit a more or less hostile, apologetic reaction, and rightfully so, it is a statement that can be considered an attack on the other person’s capabilities, or more often an attack on the other person in general. After settling this argument a more comprehensive and certain assessment of capabilities might be made.

Other reasons for honesty

Through honesty, there is a lot more we can achieve than just expectation management. First off, an honest person is a reliable person. This is true not just factually, but also perceptively, and being perceived a reliable person can have a myriad of benefits for both your professional and social life; people might trust you more and give you chances more easily. Honesty is also perceived to be a virtue by many people in modern society. This makes honesty an admirable quality within society, contributing to being perceived to be a great, morally gifted individual.

It’s better than lying. The weird thing about lies, is that we have trouble maintaining them, coming up with them and keeping them apart. Yet, when asked, most people say they lie to get ‘an easy way out’. Out of what? Mostly responsibilities or unsatisfactory appointments. It’s simply time that we realize the ‘easy way out’ that lying seems to offer, isn’t so easy and is actually a great bother.

Last but not least, it’s just the right thing to do. You might remember one of my previous pieces, called cognicism; a secular moral system, in which I advocated that awareness should be the main factor in determining the morality behind a moral event. To be dishonest, is to allow another conscious (i.e. aware) person to function on the basis of misconceptions or delusions. The consequences of this vary, but generally do not exceed the consequences of acting based upon honesty and real information. A case can be made however for certain cases, in which it is reasonable to assume that a little “white”, if you will, lie can help someone to function better.

Summary

In this part of the series “Enjoy your life”, we have spoken about honesty. A number of ways to help you in your professional and social life have passed review and we have examined moral, practical and individual reasons to be honest, as well as examine the possibility to use honesty to curtail false or baseless expectations across the spectrum.