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Charlotte Philosophy Discussion Group Message Board › For Those Reading "Homo Rationalis" (The Book entitled For Every

For Those Reading "Homo Rationalis" (The Book entitled For Everyone: Rational-Ethical Living and the Emergence of "Homo Rationalis")

Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,352
Derik,
I notice that, over and over, you present what you state you consider a serious defect in the book, and why. In response, I present how I consider that what you have presented does not appear to be a defect, but instead is, usually, a misunderstanding/misrepresentation of what the book has said (or of what I have said in a meeting), putting forth much effort (and spending much time) to create that presentation. This is followed by no response to what I have written. In other words, with very few exceptions, you do not either say that I have been successful in demonstrating the misunderstanding/misrepresentation, or say in what way my presentation did not address what you had said. You just go on to the next attempt to describe a presumed defect.

I can see how this would be frustrating, so I hope you can believe I mean no ill intent by not responding to all of your presentations. Let me take a moment to provide a window into my rationale of not undertaking a to-and-fro friendly debate ad infinitum.
So here is another subtle misrepresentation. Who said anything about doing something ad infinitum? You are giving no response. You misrepresent something my book says. I point out how it is a misrepresentation. You usually offer no response. And what is this message board for? Is not friendly debate a stated reason for its existence? You are doing a “book report.” That is not a purpose of the message board. That doesn’t mean that a “book report” would be unwelcome, but it is your rejection of having dialogue about what you are reporting that is not in keeping with the basic idea of this message board. The idea here is to help us improve our thinking about philosophical things. If all you do is misrepresent my book, and you do not engage in dialogue about what you are saying about it, then why are you doing that? Why? What is the good you are trying to do?

Promises are very important to me, and I make a concerted effort to prioritize keeping them. I recall having made one to you in reference to this book--that I would read it carefully in the order written.
You stated your intention to do so, and now you represent that as a “promise.” How did it become a “promise”? What do you mean by a “promise”? Are you talking about an agreement to do something that someone has asked you to do and wants you to do? I did not ask you to do what you are doing. I did ask anyone who is reading the book and talking about it in this thread to read it in the order written, so as to avoid misunderstanding based upon not being aware of the lexicon of the book. Yes, you are indeed reading the book in the order written, but I did not ask you to read it and I did not ask you to misrepresent what it says and to refuse to have dialogue about that misrepresentation. Your presumed commitment to do what you are doing is self-initiated and in no way something I have asked you to do. I am not talking about the reading of the book in the order written. I am primarily talking about what you are doing as you do that, namely, misrepresenting it and refusing to have dialogue that would clarify such misrepresentation.
My commentary on this thread goes over and above this promise in order to provide some record of my thoughts as I read it--both on strengths and potential defects--that may or may not be of value to you.
I do derive value in analyzing and responding to your misrepresentations, in that it helps to promote greater clarity in my own thinking. And there were two examples of wording in the book that was not optimal in that the wording allowed a little easier misunderstanding/misrepresentation than an alternative wording. (There was no problem with the idea being expressed, but simply a non-optimal word choice, given the ambiguities of language.) I attempt to derive value from whatever is happening. That does not mean that what is happening is a good thing.

I must admit, there have been no responses of yours that have compelled me to adopt an alternate perspective on the potentially incorrect/unclear areas of the book I've noted. When I stop responding to presentations and move on, I am implicitly acknowledging one of two observations:
- the "yield" of intellectual new ground covered is infinitesimally small--we are "relitigating" old content over and over with diminishing returns
- your tone through word choice (e.g., "vandalism", "trashing") or word presentation (e.g., bolding, exclamation points, etc.) indicates you are experiencing an amygdala hijack
If you think that your vandalizing and trashing my book should not produce a certain amount of emotion, then I think that you are out of touch with reality. Now whether you are indeed vandalizing and trashing is a separate issue. I could be wrong in my increasing belief that that is what you are doing, but how could I arrive at a different conclusion, with you repeatedly misrepresenting what the book says and then giving no response when I clarify the misrepresentation, refusing to engage in dialogue about what you had written? What explanation can you offer? The explanation that you have offered so far is that I am not worth your having dialogue with me because I won’t see the error in my thinking. Yet it is you who will not focus down on where that presumed error is, not I.

In both cases, I usually conclude that any further discussion would serve neither the goals of intellectual exploration or love, so I move on.
There is nothing about what you are doing that sounds like “love,” unless perhaps the love of vandalizing or the love of demonstrating verbal prowess. But the goal of intellectual exploration? If you are interested in intellectual exploration, then why are you not willing to explore further my responses to your misrepresentations?

See I know what is in the book, because I wrote it. I know what my ideas are, and when you claim they are different than what I know them to be, I know that my ideas are being misrepresented. Now why that is happening is a matter of conjecture. But your unwillingness to give any response one way or the other to my effort to undo that misrepresentation makes me feel strongly that your goal is not intellectual exploration but trashing. If my amygdala doesn’t like an important possession and effort of mine being trashed, well so be it. I intend, however, to be intellectually honest. If you find actual defects in the book, I will be grateful for that. If you mistakenly think there are defects, then I will want to understand and to correct such mistakes, especially since you are presenting them publicly, and I will derive some value from that, as I described above. If you intentionally wish to leave the public impression that the book has defects in it that are not actually there, I will not appreciate that. What you are doing is not what I would do, according to my ultimate ethical principle.

(Continued in next post)
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,353
(Continued from previous post)

So I hope you will reconsider and address some of my responses. For instance, for each statement that I make, you can indicate whether you agree or not, and if not, why not. That is what I am doing in response to your presentations. Do my responses make sense? If not, why not? And I mean my specific responses (as quoted), not your summary of them, since that is where things seem to go wrong.

All acts of love have boundaries/limits (save one notable exception on which I've based my own ultimate ethical principle).
And what is that ultimate ethical principle? I don’t think that you would like it if I did unto you what you are doing unto me. But maybe you have a different one. Could you answer that question, at least? What is your ultimate ethical principle, and how does it legitimate what you are doing to my book and me? (If your ultimate ethical principle is to align yourself with God, meaning to be as much like him as possible, then what is the evidence that that God would do anything like what you are doing?)
I might give a homeless man $50, but I wouldn't give him $50,000. In the same way, I must impose a limit on the time I spend on this message board that falls short of what you're asking me to do above if I'm to still have time to keep my promise to you and read your book carefully in the order it was written.
You have made no promise to me, and if you think you have, please be assured that I completely absolve you of that promise. And please don’t represent what appears to be something destructive to me as something you are doing out of love for me, unless you can somehow demonstrate that that is what you mean by “love.”

Derik, I have tried really hard to give you the benefit of the doubt regarding whether you are trashing or vandalizing my book, as opposed to just making mistakes, always keeping in mind that it is I that could be making the mistakes. But the more you do what you are doing, the harder it is for me to believe otherwise. The following are my observations:

--You report to the public that my book says something (that ruins the book) that I, who wrote it, do not agree it says.
--I report to you that that is my opinion, and I discuss at some length why I have that opinion, making as clear as possible how the misrepresentation is occurring.
--You make no response, but go on to do more of the same, even persisting in the same misrepresentation.
--I ask you why you will not respond to what I have written.
--You say that you refuse to do so because I can’t admit that you are right.
--I say that I wish to look as closely as possible at what we have written to see whether you are right or I am right (i.e., whether what you have presented is a misrepresentation of what the book says and/or of what I have said).
--You say that you don’t have time to do that because you have to keep a promise made to me out of your love for me, to continue what you are doing, despite the suffering (amygdala response) it causes me and despite the enormous amount of my time that is required to deal with those misrepresentations.

Now Derik, if the above is in any way a misrepresentation of what you have said, please quote the incorrect sentence and explain how it is a misrepresentation of what you have said. If I am making a mistake, I wish to know it and admit to it.

And Derik, you have time to put other comments on the message board. Why is it that you selectively do not have the time to answer my questions in this thread?
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 117
Bill,

I see you growing more and more distressed over this topic, and in no way do I desire that.

Let me propose an experiment: we take one topic of your choosing, related to the book or otherwise, and I will persist in friendly debate until agreement is reached or you elect to cease the discussion.

My learning goals in such an experiment are two:
- See how long and to what depth we must go in order to reach full agreement on a topic
- To see if, over the course of the experiment, you are any more satisfied than you are now

You have my solemn word that I'll in no way try to hamstring the discussion through any tomfoolery on my part. Similarly, I will not treat it as a game for scoring points. I will do my level best to reach agreement in keeping with the terms of friendly debate you've laid out in the book. All I ask is that you show patience with me if--in the cases I need to go out of town or have a string of busy days--I go radio silent for a short period.

What do you say? If amenable to you, which topic?
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,354
Derik,

(I would just like to note that you again answered none of my questions from my last post.)
I see you growing more and more distressed over this topic, and in no way do I desire that.
I do not perceive myself as becoming more distressed. But I do perceive myself as having become increasingly convinced of the accuracy of my impression as to what has been taking place. Nevertheless, it appears to me that things may be beginning to change, and I welcome and appreciate that. So let us hope that we are beginning a new era. I am willing to make that assumption.

Let me propose an experiment: we take one topic of your choosing, related to the book or otherwise, and I will persist in friendly debate until agreement is reached or you elect to cease the discussion.

My learning goals in such an experiment are two:
- See how long and to what depth we must go in order to reach full agreement on a topic
Now please note that I have not been concerned about the lack of agreement, but instead about the misrepresentation of what the book says and of what I have said. I can readily imagine that we may find some opinions that we differ on and cannot achieve agreement about despite extended discussion. However, I do believe it is better, under those circumstances, for us to try conscientiously to achieve agreement, and, if we can’t, to achieve a clear understanding of where our opinions diverge and why. At that point we should be saying to each other, “Yes, we both agree that each is accurately understanding what the other is saying, and despite that, we are not able to agree with regard to X. And we agree on why it is that we cannot agree.” I think that such an effort would be of benefit to both of us, and also to anyone else seriously following our discussion.


- To see if, over the course of the experiment, you are any more satisfied than you are now
If we really do this, I certainly will be more satisfied, and grateful.

You have my solemn word that I'll in no way try to hamstring the discussion through any tomfoolery on my part. Similarly, I will not treat it as a game for scoring points. I will do my level best to reach agreement in keeping with the terms of friendly debate you've laid out in the book. All I ask is that you show patience with me if--in the cases I need to go out of town or have a string of busy days--I go radio silent for a short period.
Absolutely. I understand, and am similarly under a lot of time pressure, so hopefully you will understand if I take a long time to respond also.

What do you say? If amenable to you, which topic?

Well, I am undecided regarding two possibilities that I can think of:

(1) As you know, my request of someone reading the book is that he or she stop at the first sentence that seems either unclear or incorrect in the context in which it is written. Now I would not want you to start at the beginning of the book again in order to come up with that sentence. But I have somewhat the feeling that if you started with the chapter on “Basic Concepts: Determinants of Behavior” and came up with that first sentence, we could make significant progress. That sentence would be the topic we were discussing. The development of almost all of the lexicon in the book is in that and the next chapter, on “Basic Concepts: Ethics.” I think that this might be the best way to proceed, because some of your subsequent posts led me to the impression that you had forgotten or misunderstood material from those chapters.

(2) On the other hand, we did have some dialogue about a specific topic that was left “high and dry,” so to speak, regarding whether the REUEP as presented in the book was indeed arbitrary, that is, was or was not legitimated by an even higher-level ethical principle. If we were to work on this topic, I would want to repost my last post on that topic and ask you first to read the whole thing and then to start at the beginning again and post the first sentence that you thought was incorrect or unclear in the context of the whole post. Then that first problematic sentence would be the topic. (The possible downside of this would be that it is possible that to deal with a problem that far along in the book would be bypassing significant material in the book that was relevant to the topic at hand. We would have to go back and review that material as we worked on the topic. On the other hand, it seemed to me that we were close to identifying the specific problems interfering with agreement.)

Could you state your preference, and why you prefer it, and then see what my response is to that? We could then arrive together at a decision as to what the topic would be.

If you really have no preference, then I will be glad to decide. I just would like to hear your thoughts first. I haven’t arrived at a conclusion yet, but it would be one of the two given above.

Thanks, Derik, for making this effort. I look forward to the discussion to come.
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 118
Terrific!

Many thanks for putting forward the two options--they both make a lot of sense. I have no preference with respect to either, so defer the choice to you; though it may help your decision process to let you know what the sentence would be under the first option.


(1) As you know, my request of someone reading the book is that he or she stop at the first sentence that seems either unclear or incorrect in the context in which it is written. Now I would not want you to start at the beginning of the book again in order to come up with that sentence. But I have somewhat the feeling that if you started with the chapter on “Basic Concepts: Determinants of Behavior” and came up with that first sentence, we could make significant progress. That sentence would be the topic we were discussing. The development of almost all of the lexicon in the book is in that and the next chapter, on “Basic Concepts: Ethics.” I think that this might be the best way to proceed, because some of your subsequent posts led me to the impression that you had forgotten or misunderstood material from those chapters.

My choice (if you opt to pursue Topic #1) would be the following excerpt from page 29 in "Basic Concepts: Determinants of Behavior":


Just prior to this undertaking, let us note and understand that this book is about trying to achieve, as much as possible, optimal living on the part of our species.

I will use the term optimal to refer to the hypothetical best. It is a goal to aim for. In some cases, it will indeed be possible to say that a particular entity (act, belief, outcome, etc.) is, has been, or will be optimal. Usually, of course, there is some degree of uncertainty. Sometimes an entity will obviously be non-optimal, or less than optimal, even though what instead would be optimal is not clear. “More optimal” will mean closer to optimal. Aiming for the optimal is an effort to improve, insofar as is possible. To optimize is to improve as much as possible.

By living, I am referring to all decision-making.

By optimal living, I am referring to the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future.

This book, then, as an effort to help our species to achieve optimal living, is a recommendation to the reader that he or she put forth some effort to develop some skills that will not only benefit the reader personally, but will benefit those around him or her and will be a contribution to bringing about a change in our species that will promote the survival of and the good life for our species in general, meaning for all of us, now and in the future.

I agree to use the term "optimal" to refer to the hypothetical best. I also agree to use the term "living" to refer to decision-making. What is potentially incorrect/unclear is to characterize "optimal living" (or "hypothetical best decision-making") as "hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future". Our discussion of this topic would likely lead to a deep-dive into what you and I both elect to live in the word "best". A reader might conclude from this excerpt that you are considering "best" to refer to "most likely to lead to the survivial of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future"--which I would consider incorrect.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves! The choice is yours of whether you'd like to explore this topic or the "REUEP is ultimate and arbitrary" topic.
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,355
Let's choose your suggestion. It sounds quite interesting.

First, I need to understand one of your sentences. I don't know whether it was a typo or not. It is:
Our discussion of this topic would likely lead to a deep-dive into what you and I both elect to live in the word "best".
I don't know what this means.

Second, it is not clear what sentence that I have written you believe to be incorrect. You are saying that a reader "might conclude," and that you would not agree with that reader. But that is not the same thing as your believing that a sentence of mine is incorrect.

Please note that what we are dealing with is my definitions of words for the purposes of this book. That does not mean that those words could not be defined differently for some other purpose.

It is true that what I want is "the survivial of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future," or perhaps more completely and accurately, "the survival of our species and as much joy, contentment, and appreciation as possible, and as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible, for everyone, now and in the future." By "best quality of life" I mean "as much joy, contentment, and appreciation as possible, and as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible."

Now you indeed may wish to define "the best quality of life" in a different way. That does not mean that one of our definitions is the correct one and the other is incorrect. We just have to know what we mean by our words.

On the other hand, you may indeed choose to mean the same thing as I by "the best quality of life," but state that you don't want the best quality of life.

It seems clear that you and I do have a difference of values, but it is not yet clear what that difference is. What might be best would be for you to quote one of my sentences, and, using my definitions, state what you would say instead. Then we could contrast those two sentences.
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 119
It seems clear that you and I do have a difference of values, but it is not yet clear what that difference is. What might be best would be for you to quote one of my sentences, and, using my definitions, state what you would say instead. Then we could contrast those two sentences.


Excellent suggestion. To the extent that we both agree to use "optimal living" to refer to "hypothetical best decision-making", the sentence I disagree with is the one below:

By optimal living, I am referring to the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future.


I believe it is correct to say

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making"

but incorrect to say

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making" = "the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future"

- - -

Our discussion of this topic would likely lead to a deep-dive into what you and I both elect to live in the word "best".


The meaning of my quote above is that you and I will likely need to undertake an examination of what "best" means when it appears within "hypothetical best decision-making". Being that this is a superlative that will have implications on ALL decisions (by definition), including the adoption of an ultimate ethical principle, it is a meaty topic indeed.

My construction would be as follows

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making" = "the hypothetical sequence (or sequences) of decisions that fulfill the purpose(s) for which God created man"

As it may at this point be clear, defining "optimal living" as you have exceeds your claim to having merely defined it "for the purposes of this book". To the extent that a reader such as myself believes your definition to be existentially incorrect in an objective sense, your definition will carry no power later on when you invoke it during your advocacy of the REUEP as an ultimate ethical principle.
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,356
Derik,

Thank you for your example.

It seems clear that you and I do have a difference of values, but it is not yet clear what that difference is. What might be best would be for you to quote one of my sentences, and, using my definitions, state what you would say instead. Then we could contrast those two sentences.


Excellent suggestion. To the extent that we both agree to use "optimal living" to refer to "hypothetical best decision-making", the sentence I disagree with is the one below:

By optimal living, I am referring to the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future.


Okay. Now it is important to place that sentence in its context, so here is what it is embedded in (with additional comments inserted in [brackets]):

We humans do good things, sometimes really wonderful things, which bring us happiness and joy. But we also do bad things, sometimes really terrible things, which bring us unhappiness and suffering.

What would life be like if we did more of the good things and stopped doing the bad and really terrible things? Would not such a change promote the good life for all of us? And what would be required for us to make this change? What we are talking about is changing our behavior. What is required to change our behavior?

We must understand what the DETERMINANTS of our behavior are, and how to CHANGE those determinants into ones that help us do the good things and help us avoid doing the bad things. That is what this book is about.

But I wish first to encourage the reader to persist in reading, and to study in detail, what I predict will be the most difficult chapter to read, difficult because it attempts to deal so specifically and basically with concepts that are generally taken for granted in ordinary conversation. The effort will be rewarded with a much more thorough understanding of the rest of the book, and a much greater sense of the importance of the ideas presented in this book. We will be developing a highly useful model of the determinants of our behavior, useful especially by virtue of the development of an agreed-upon set of words that will be unusually precise in their definitions. Such precision of definition, though a difficult undertaking, will enable a much greater capacity for communication and therefore agreement. [Note here that I am talking about the development of a set of definitions that will be tools in the effort. (Please note that these definitions will not be stated in highly formal terms, since this book is not a book on logic or a technical textbook. By definition I mean simply a statement of intention as to how the word or words will be used in the book.)]

Just prior to this undertaking, let us note and understand that this book is about trying to achieve, as much as possible, optimal living on the part of our species. [Okay, now what is that supposed to mean in this book? I go on to explain.]

I will use the term optimal to refer to the hypothetical best. [So this is the first definition.] It is a goal to aim for. In some cases, it will indeed be possible to say that a particular entity (act, belief, outcome, etc.) is, has been, or will be optimal. Usually, of course, there is some degree of uncertainty. Sometimes an entity will obviously be non-optimal, or less than optimal, even though what instead would be optimal is not clear. “More optimal” will mean closer to optimal. Aiming for the optimal is an effort to improve, insofar as is possible. To optimize is to improve as much as possible.

By living, I am referring to all decision-making. [Okay, now here is another definition.]

By optimal living, I am referring to the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future.
[And here is another definition. It is not a statement of fact, but instead simply a statement as to how the words will be used in the book. I am not saying that “optimal living” is…. I am saying that I will use the term “optimal living” to refer to ….]

This book, then, as an effort to help our species to achieve optimal living, is a recommendation to the reader that he or she put forth some effort to develop some skills that will not only benefit the reader personally, but will benefit those around him or her and will be a contribution to bringing about a change in our species that will promote the survival of and the good life for our species in general, meaning for all of us, now and in the future.

Now we need to look at what is happening to some of my sentences:

I believe it is correct to say

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making"

See, by taking the words out of context (and putting an “=” between them, you are then able to represent me as saying that “optimal living is hypothetical best decision-making,” and thus presumably making a statement of fact that is presumably either correct or incorrect, rather than providing a definition for the purposes of communication in this book. Can you not see how this misrepresents what I am saying. A definition by itself is neither correct nor incorrect. It is a statement of intention to use the word with a particular meaning. To say that a definition is “correct” would have to mean “according to an agreed upon context,” such as a dictionary, or most customary use, or a particular technical field, or a book, such context being either stated or implied. So the only way that you can say that “it is correct that ‘optimal living’ = ‘hypothetical best decision-making’” is by adding “as used in this book.” That would indeed make the equation “correct.” (And see below for an even more accurate presentation.) But leaving out that qualification misrepresents what the book is saying, making it seem to say something entirely different.


but incorrect to say

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making" = "the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future"

Exactly the same discussion applies to this next “equation.” You are taking my definitions to be used in the book and converting them into presumed facts that can be either correct or incorrect. So if we are talking about how these words are used in the book, then the equation is correct. If we are talking about how you would prefer to use words, then the equation is incorrect. But without these “if’s,” the terms “correct” and “incorrect” do not apply. The terms “correct” and “incorrect” actually don’t refer to the equation at all, but instead to the sentence that says whether that is how the words are going to be used in the book (or whether that’s how you would prefer to use the words).

So please let me know if any of the above sounds incorrect to you, or whether you agree with my correction. Thanks!

(Continued in next post)
Bill Van F.
wvanfleet
Group Organizer
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 1,357
(Continued from previous post)

Our discussion of this topic would likely lead to a deep-dive into what you and I both elect to live in the word "best".


The meaning of my quote above is that you and I will likely need to undertake an examination of what "best" means when it appears within "hypothetical best decision-making". Being that this is a superlative that will have implications on ALL decisions (by definition), including the adoption of an ultimate ethical principle, it is a meaty topic indeed.

Yes, I agree with you. And the book indeed is consistent in this regard. This is because what is referred to as best decision-making is that which is consistent with the REUEP (which in turn is arbitrary as far as being legitimized is concerned). But we will need further clarification.


My construction would be as follows
By “construction” (an ambiguous term) I am assuming you mean how you would define terms if you were writing a book. And this is indeed dependent upon certain beliefs you have, as we shall see.

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making" = "the hypothetical sequence (or sequences) of decisions that fulfill the purpose(s) for which God created man"

As it may at this point be clear, defining "optimal living" as you have exceeds your claim to having merely defined it "for the purposes of this book". To the extent that a reader such as myself believes your definition to be existentially incorrect in an objective sense, your definition will carry no power later on when you invoke it during your advocacy of the REUEP as an ultimate ethical principle.

See here you are introducing a very strange set of words, “believes your definition to be existentially incorrect.” A definition is neither existentially correct nor existentially incorrect. It is simply an intention to use words with a certain stated meaning, so that the other person will know what you mean. So what is it that you really mean, and how can we identify where our opinions really diverge?

I believe that you are saying that you would prefer to use your definition because of what you believe, and that it is different from what I believe, and that is indeed correct. You do not agree with a specific statement that I make that represents what I believe I am observing and what I believe is happening, namely, the third exponential change. Or if you believe the third exponential change is occurring, you consider it to be a bad change.

What you want is for, as much as possible, everyone to obey (or go along with) God. (I believe this is a fairly satisfactory representation of what you want. If it isn’t, please correct me and explain the difference.)

What I want is for us to do whatever will promote not only the survival of our species but also as much joy, contentment, and appreciation as possible and as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible, for everyone, now and in the future.

I believe that we as a species are just beginning to switch from what you want to what I want. Most people still will agree with you, but a growing number of people are changing such that they would agree with me rather than you. At least that is my belief. And the book, in the chapter on “Basic Concepts: Ethics” explains why people are beginning to move away from your wish, namely, because of the uncertainty of what it means and because of the pain, suffering, disability, and early death that it has caused. That is most specifically addressed in the following selection from the book (and for our purposes here, please try substituting “God” for “author”):

Before looking at the new ethics, let us examine in detail some of the problems associated with authoritarian ethics, that explain why it has never worked, and never will, assuming that by “work” we mean “optimize the chances of the good life for everyone.”

The following are the main problems with authoritarian ethics:
Different authors issue different, sometimes conflicting, rules.
Intermediaries at times disagree as to what the author’s rules or wishes are.
There may be disagreement or confusion about the author’s specific meaning of some rules.
There may be disagreement as to which author to obey.
Situations usually can be imagined in which to obey the author’s presumed wish would seem to be awful.
The absence of the author weakens the motivation to adhere to the author’s wishes.
There is no guidance about those things the author doesn’t care about.
The fantasy of and hope for the author’s ultimate forgiveness weakens the motivation to adhere to the author’s wishes.
When two individuals or groups have acquired different rules from different authors, they tend to avoid and fight each other.

Remember that in authoritarian ethics the ultimate criterion for legitimization of an ethical proposition is the demonstration that the proposition indeed models the motivational states and beliefs of the author. One can ask the author, if he or she is around. One can ask an intermediary, someone who we believe knows what the author wants or wanted. Or we can guess at what the author probably has in mind or had in mind. And if, after doing the above, we disagree, we can either agree to disagree (avoid each other or avoid talking with each other about it), or we can fight (emotionally, physically, or militarily).

If the reader thinks about all the examples that he or she has seen of individuals, groups, or nations fighting, literally or figuratively, I would predict that the reader would find that the main reasons for the fighting were disagreements about what the individuals, groups, or nations should or should not be doing. Most fighting, then, comes about because of disagreement about which ethical propositions are correct. Without accepted, agreed-upon criteria, ethical questions tend to be settled by force (emotional, physical, or military), with the strongest winning (temporarily). This is the way of nature, of natural selection, of our basic animal nature. And yet we know that the quality of our lives is markedly reduced by fighting (both physical fighting and behavior that is metaphorically called fighting), which is notorious for producing suffering. (Fighting is skilled induction of suffering, if not death.)

So do you agree that determining what God wants is quite difficult? How do we go about determining that? Have you found a method that is leading to increasing agreement? Did we ever find out for sure that God changed his mind regarding his recommendation to us that we stone to death homosexuals and children that are persistently disobedient? Which ultimate ethical principle is easier to figure out in terms of actual behavioral decisions, yours or mine?

But now this is jumping way ahead to the next chapter. Let’s stay with the current chapter. Did I clear up the misconception about those definitions, i.e., that they are not statements of presumed fact?
Derik T.
user 23955602
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 120
Bill,

Thanks for your response--it helped me clarify that there are at least two types of definitions you use in your book.

Declarative definitions: Definitions made internal to the book "synthetically" for uses internal to the book (e.g., ethical sense, beliefs, mistakes, etc.)

Descriptive definitions: Definitions made internal to the book that attempt to accurately describe or model a past, present, future, or desired state of the world (e.g., optimal living, naturally-occurring ethics, etc.)

I would contend that the rationale you provide below is adequate for the first type of definition, but when your definition becomes descriptive of how the world actually was, is, will be, or should be, the reader must treat this type of definition altogether differently and assess whether or not the definition matches his observations of the world.

Now we need to look at what is happening to some of my sentences:

I believe it is correct to say

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making"

See, by taking the words out of context (and putting an “=” between them, you are then able to represent me as saying that “optimal living is hypothetical best decision-making,” and thus presumably making a statement of fact that is presumably either correct or incorrect, rather than providing a definition for the purposes of communication in this book. Can you not see how this misrepresents what I am saying. A definition by itself is neither correct nor incorrect. It is a statement of intention to use the word with a particular meaning. To say that a definition is “correct” would have to mean “according to an agreed upon context,” such as a dictionary, or most customary use, or a particular technical field, or a book, such context being either stated or implied. So the only way that you can say that “it is correct that ‘optimal living’ = ‘hypothetical best decision-making’” is by adding “as used in this book.” That would indeed make the equation “correct.” (And see below for an even more accurate presentation.) But leaving out that qualification misrepresents what the book is saying, making it seem to say something entirely different.

You are correct, the "=" should not connote "is" but "refers to". This is a declarative definition, one created synthetically for the uses internal to the book. If we take "->" as a symbol for "refers to", then

"optimal living" -> "hypothetical best decision-making"


but incorrect to say

"optimal living" = "hypothetical best decision-making" = "the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future"

Exactly the same discussion applies to this next “equation.” You are taking my definitions to be used in the book and converting them into presumed facts that can be either correct or incorrect. So if we are talking about how these words are used in the book, then the equation is correct. If we are talking about how you would prefer to use words, then the equation is incorrect. But without these “if’s,” the terms “correct” and “incorrect” do not apply. The terms “correct” and “incorrect” actually don’t refer to the equation at all, but instead to the sentence that says whether that is how the words are going to be used in the book (or whether that’s how you would prefer to use the words).

So please let me know if any of the above sounds incorrect to you, or whether you agree with my correction. Thanks!

(Continued in next post)

If we revise my construction above to...

"optimal living" -> "hypothetical best decision-making" -> "the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future"

...I would agree with the first pairing and disagree with the second. The first pairing is a declarative definition, a synthetic one made for purposes internal to the book. The second pairing is a descriptive definition, one that attempts to accurately describe or model the way the world was, is, will be, or should be. As an observer of the world myself, I disagree that hypothetical best decision-making is the hypothetical set of all decisions most likely to lead to the survival of and best quality of life for everyone, now and in the future. I would describe this aspect of the world differently.

To illustrate how the accuracy of descriptive definitions are essential, consider one potential beginning to a book on oceanography:

"Let us first define what we mean by an ocean. For the purposes of this book, the term 'ocean' will refer to a body of saltless water that resides between continents."

A reader might say, "Hmmmm, I thought oceans are salty? In fact, I am quite sure they are salty!" Would it make sense for the author to say, "This definition cannot be correct or incorrect--it is a definition used only for the purposes of this book"?

Parenthetically, another descriptive definition appears later in the book when you undertake to define "naturally occurring ethics". This is a definition that attempts to accurately describe the way the world was, is, will be, or should be--against which the reader can compare her own experience and observations to either confirm or refute your definition.

- - -


I believe that you are saying that you would prefer to use your definition because of what you believe, and that it is different from what I believe, and that is indeed correct. You do not agree with a specific statement that I make that represents what I believe I am observing and what I believe is happening, namely, the third exponential change. Or if you believe the third exponential change is occurring, you consider it to be a bad change.

What you want is for, as much as possible, everyone to obey (or go along with) God. (I believe this is a fairly satisfactory representation of what you want. If it isn’t, please correct me and explain the difference.)

This is a curious new definition of obey you've offered in parentheses, one that runs contrary to the ardent defense you made on page 3 of this blog (where I offered the examples of Mom, brother, friend, and Abraham Lincoln as using influences other than power to solicit obedience). However, pursuing this may be a diversion from our friendly debate, so let me respond instead to your request to explain what I want.

I want for everyone, as much as possible, to experience the freedom, hope, and love that comes from alignment with God.
- Freedom to make choices that are not self-oriented
- Hope in the promises of eternal life
- Love of fellow believers and the joy that comes from loving others as Christ loved us

My alignment with God is in no way contingent on my obedience to Him, nor is my day-to-day life an attempt to "walk the line" so as to avoid punishment. I was an inmate on death row--and rightly so for the crimes I committed!--who was pardoned into restored alignment because another, though innocent, took the sentence unto Himself.
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