moral things

There’s been a bit of discussion amongst some of my blogging acquaintances about the nature and process of ‘morality’.  I simply offer some more thoughts to these conversations.

The Use of Reason

There are many ways to understand (not to mention practice!) ethics/morals.  One thing that most will agree on is that ethics/morals are ‘worked out’ by way of (among other things) reason.  Whatever our beliefs are, we all ‘work out’ what is moral/ethical behaviour.  Of course, we don’t use this tool of reason all of the time.  For many around the world, I suspect not much time/effort is given to reflection/systematization of their moral understanding/outworking.  Even those of us who think about this kind of stuff all the time will likely be able to admit to just acting ‘impulsively’ from time to time.  But the moment we begin to reflect (even in passing or for a moment) on why we do ‘this’ instead of ‘that’, etc.; we are reasoning about ethics/morals.

Three Steps

I want to suggest a (fairly!?) simple progression that I think represents the steps that we take (or should I say ‘have taken’) when we (or ‘before we can’) do such moral-reasoning.  Now, I say ‘progression’, but actually, it may function more like an outward spiral (or something?) because I think there is continual interplay between all 3 steps.

  1. First, we all have a worldview.  Worldviews are foundational.  They provide the ‘lens’ by which we perceive reality (‘reality’ meaning all that is ‘real’; all that truly ‘is’; known/unknown).
  2. Based on our worldview, we all make value-judgments (we assess or perceive degrees of worth).  We see/judge/deem some things (whether people, things or ideas) as worth more than other things.  I suggest it is impossible to give a coherent and all-encompassing account of ‘morality’ without referring to (or assuming) a value-judgment.
  3. Finally, we all have moral/ethical standards (rules/patterns/understandings/practices/principles) which are (so to speak) ‘on the surface’.  We use these (consciously or unconsciously) continually in the process of living in the world.

Scientific Morality?

Without wanting (or needing) to ‘limit’ science, we can plainly observe that science does not provide any way to determine any distinctions or judgments concerning value or worth.  This does not devalue science, it just means that our conscious value-judgments are not ‘scientific’ in and of themselves.  Now, a) we may make scientific observations of (for example) the neurological phenomena which occurs during ‘judgment-making’, and b) we may well have our value-judgments informed (as opposed to ‘formed’) by science, but it still remains that when people (whatever their beliefs) make value-judgments, they are not being ‘scientific’, but being human (not that science in any way is in opposition to humanity).  Buddhists, Muslims, Hindu’s, Jainists, Christians, Wiccans, Atheists, Jews, Agnostics, Pantheists or Sikhs – all make these non-scientific value-judgments because they are all human beings.

If values are the foundation for morality/ethics, and values are derived from viewing the world through the ‘lens’ of one’s worldview, I think in order to properly discuss issues of ‘morality’, it makes sense to focus on worldviews and values.  For example, tired, polemic and overused claims that belief in evolution has the tendency to make one a violent or otherwise immoral person is completely unfounded.  Evolution does not predispose a person to either vice or virtue.  For example, depending on the place evolution has within one’s worldview, evolution could be used either to deny value or to demonstrate it.

Christian Worldview, Values and Morals

As a Christian, my worldview-based values reinforce my belief in a) the value of creation and b) the teleology ‘built-in’ to creation, and c) the unique role of humans (the most rational, potent and creative agents in the universe – that we know of) in creation.  These beliefs provide a basic foundation for ethical/moral action, accountability and responsibility for Christians.

Some worldviews more easily lend themselves to similar values, while other worldviews do not (including – obviously – any versions of the Christian worldview in which creation and/or humans are devalued or unimportant).  Indeed, many people who hold other-than-Christian beliefs share these kinds of values with Christians (though of course, not necessarily all).

Moral ‘Matter’?

Now (in spite of how unhelpful such labels can be) there is a worldview which is (fairly or unfairly) referred to as ‘materialist’.  My sense is that those (often atheists) who are called ‘materialists’ (whether or not they accept the label – for example, Ken Perrott does not), generally are so-called due to their denial of a spiritual realm/dimension (spiritual being a very slippery word, of course).  An example of this would be the view that ‘mind’ = ‘brain’ (roughly speaking) or that ‘spirit’ = ‘body’ (or that ‘spirit’ = nothing).

I’m curious to know how those with this worldview (again, often referred to as ‘materialist’) arrive at their value-judgments (and how their morals are built upon these values).  Because science doesn’t give us ‘value’/’worth’ statements, my hope is that any such conversation would not be needlessly hindered by science, per se, but would rather focus on issues of worldview (how we view the world), and how our values are formed/derived from that.

We all ‘connect the dots’ (so to speak) from worldview to value – I’d like to talk about how we do this.

29 thoughts on “moral things”

  1. We all ‘connect the dots’ (so to speak) from worldview to value – I’d like to talk about how we do this.

    Good question!

    Note that when I use ‘our’ in this context, I’m using it to include everyone and not just materialists.

    I agree with you that our value systems are significantly influenced by our worldviews. However, I think that a person’s worldview is just one of very, very many things that influences that person’s value system. The complete list of things that influence a person’s values will differ from person to person, as will how much influence each thing has. And it should be noted that the overall process by which our values are informed by these things is time-sensitive – our values will grow and refine and change over time.

    What kind of ‘things’ am I talking about? Well… Almost anything, really. Worldview is one. Relationships with family and friends is another. The cultural norms of the society in which we live. The books we read. The television shows and movies we watch. The podcasts we listen to, if any. The religious services we go to (or don’t go to). Our sense of humor. Our bodies impose certain needs on us that will certainly influence our values, as will our environment. Many, many things – both subjective and objective – can and do influence our values. Our worldview (and the conclusions of critical thinking based on that worldview) are really just two influencing factors amongst many, and will have a greater or lesser say depending on each individual involved.

    So that might be one big point of disagreement there – I don’t think that anyone has a value system that is entirely and solely the result of worldview and worldview alone. Well… One can never be sure with these things. Such people very well may exist. But I’m pretty damn sure that they’d be the exception and not the norm.

    Then again, maybe it isn’t such a big point, and you were only really interested in the relationship of worldview upon values with the full understanding that its just one thing amongst many – so I’ll raise some points there, too.

    First and foremost, I don’t think that worldview will necessarily carry as much influence over values as you seem to be implying that it does (I hope I’m not misrepresenting you on that point – I open myself to your correction if I’m in error), at least not for the majority.

    Secondly, I don’t think that a given worldview will have a single pathway to a single set of values. There will be many different paths from one to the other, and the nature of those paths will be different too – some logical, some emotional, and some different in other ways. All of these value systems will be available to a person holding the worldview, and whichever one gets picked will probably have more to do with how well it fits in with all the other influences than anything else. For this reason, a person’s values can be entirely inconsistent with their worldview, and any cognitive dissonance from this can be avoided by either not thinking about it, or by not taking the worldview in question too seriously when it does come up.

    Also, it should be noted that if all the influences in a person’s life conspire to give them a certain set of values, and those values turn out to be totally inconsistent with their worldview, its very likely that the person will just change their worldview to fit their values.

    But once you get past all that, a worldview would carry an influence over values in so much as those values are consistent with that worldview. For example, if a person was committed to a worldview that included a harsh and authoritarian God, this would be consistent with a system of values that prized obedience to authority for its own sake. It would also be consistent with a system of values that prized rebellion against authority for its own sake. It would be consistent with fatalism (the authoritarian God has prepared everything in advance) and it would be consistent with indeterminism (the authoritarian God can intervene at any time to change the course of history as He/Her/It pleases).

    The same worldview can be consistent with completely different value systems. Which of those value systems a person arrives at will vary from person to person. Some people might follow the path that leads to personal comfort. Other people might follow the path that they think will permit the most good in the world. Other people might manage to embrace the inconsistent values at the same time, chopping and changing between the two as dictated by circumstances.

    So the question of how worldview can influence values can only be honestly answered by saying that in most cases it will be through a very organic process involving many factors, and that it’s not even clear if worldview influences values, or values influences worldview, or if there is some kind of mutual feedback between the two. And there’s no grounds to suppose that the answers to these questions are going to be the same for any two individuals.

  2. Cheers, U.C.

    First and foremost, I don’t think that worldview will necessarily carry as much influence over values as you seem to be implying that it does (I hope I’m not misrepresenting you on that point – I open myself to your correction…

    Two points in response – one in clarification, and one reference to my original words.
    1. I do acknowledge the influence on us by many things you mention, such as relationships, family, friends, societal norms, books, television shows, movies, podcasts, religious services, humor, and our bodies. The way I intend to use the term ‘worldview’ pre-supposes all of these things (and more, of course) as sources of our ‘worldview’. They all are, of course, a part of reality which is perceived by us.
    2. In my original post, I do acknowledge a ‘continual interplay’ between the three steps I mention. The same values/morals (and actions) we develop from our worldviews, also contribute to and further-shape/develop our worldview.

    Secondly, I don’t think that a given worldview will have a single pathway to a single set of values. There will be many different paths from one to the other, and the nature of those paths will be different too – some logical, some emotional, and some different in other ways.

    Totally agree.

  3. I did intend to make some detailed comments on the model you propose (because I don’t think we do make most of our value/moral judgements based on a world view). However, I realise it is more basic than that. I think you have started from a world view which has led you to propose a model before actually considering the objective evidence. My world view (call it ‘materialist’, ‘reality-based’ whatever) insists on starting with the objective evidence and using this to postulate a hypothesis. I think the evidence is that we all have much of our morality/ethics in common, whatever our world view. Jonathan Haught has done some work on this.

    So I think these world view-based differences in our approach will lead to different answers.

    So, I do have to question your request “my hope is that any such conversation would not be needlessly hindered by science, per se, but would rather focus on issues of worldview (how we view the world), and how our values are formed/derived from that.” Given that you have earlier put aside the straw man of ‘science determining values’ am I wrong to see the request as one to avoid a scientific investigation into how we determine values/morality?

    From the perspective of my world view (and given that we have agreed about the straw man argument) I cannot understand why anyone would think that science would actually hinder the investigation you are proposing. Surely the hindrance would come from the lack of science?

  4. Hi Ken,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I’m seeing now that I really could do another separate post on how worldviews are built (made-of, etc.)… :)

    I don’t think we do make most of our value/moral judgements based on a world view

    I’d want to reply that whilst these judgments are not only based on our worldview, (some moral actions are -for example- sub-conscious, I think) I think it still holds that when we reason about values/morals/ethics, we’re doing so ‘through the lens’ of our worldview.

    …am I wrong to see the request as one to avoid a scientific investigation into how we determine values/morality?

    and

    I cannot understand why anyone would think that science would actually hinder the investigation you are proposing. Surely the hindrance would come from the lack of science?

    This may highlight what happens when people with different worldviews try to agree on how worldviews ‘ought’ to be discussed/defined! :) I’m trying to start before science and before religion.
    Maybe our point of conversation should be what our ‘worldview sources’ are? For me, our ‘worldview(s)’ (‘lenses by which we view the world’) are continually being shaped and sourced by many things – both objective (from without) and subjective (from within).
    Subjective (from within self) worldview sources:
    experience, perception, reason, reflection, intuitions, emotions
    Objective (from with-out self) worldview sources:
    education, instruction, example, influence, up-bringing, environment, culture, etc.
    These and other sources ‘form-and-keep-forming’ our worldview(s).

  5. Neuroscience has a fair bit to say about perception, intuitions, emotions, etc. Behavioural science has a fair bit to contribute to understanding social structures and behaviours. There are evolutionary components to this, too. And so on.

    The point is, wouldn’t it be smarter to use what science contributes to understanding these things before you try use them in some fashion?

    (Note this would place science at an early stage in understanding all of this: to aid your understanding what your “worldviews” are made of.)

  6. Heraclides,
    a few points…
    1. I’m certainly not suggesting that scientific knowledge doesn’t contribute to our worldview(s). I gladly affirm that it does.
    2. ( [not directed at you, per se] Though I’ve not yet stated it this precisely, the key relationship I wish to discuss is that between worldview(s) and values.)
    3. Neuroscience indeed has (as you say) observations/descriptions/theories/conclusions/information regarding things like perception, intuitions, emotions, etc. What these observations don’t do, though, is give us any value-judgment (positive/negative) or guidance (how to use) for how to view or use our perceptions, intuitions or emotions. Again, this information will be useful in other ways, but not for discerning value/use. The same goes for behavioural sciences (doesn’t tell us how to behave; behavioural sciences does not equal ‘ethics’ – as I’m sure you’d agree?) and evolutionary science(s).
    4. Yet another thing I’ve not-yet articulated is that worldview (‘knowing’ the world) construction is bound up with epistemology (how we ‘know’ anything). So the questions I’m keen to discuss have to do with 1) how do we ‘know’ the world (which involves epistemology/worldview), and 2) how do our values emerge from this ‘knowledge’ of the world.
    Hope that helps muddy the waters! ;)

  7. Additional info:
    The wikipedia entry for ‘worldview’ adds:

    According to Apostel, a worldview should comprise seven elements:
    1. An ontology, a descriptive model of the world
    2. An explanation of the world
    3. A futurology, answering the question “where are we heading?”
    4. Values, answers to ethical questions: “What should we do?”
    5. A praxeology, or methodology, or theory of action.: “How should we attain our goals?”
    6. An epistemology, or theory of knowledge. “What is true and false?”
    7. An etiology. A constructed world-view should contain an account of its own “building blocks,” its origins and construction.

    whether or not you agree (I’m not sure I do with every one?), it’s interesting/helpful, I think.

  8. I replied in particular to your statement “Maybe our point of conversation should be what our ‘worldview sources’ are?” The science sources I pointed out (among others) can help resolve your “what they are” question.

    If “the key relationship [you] wish to discuss is that between worldview(s) and values”, then surely it’d help to use all the information available to understand what they are, before trying to relate them to themselves or anything else? I thought this is what you wanted, so I pointed out that science has a fair bit to contribute to that. Your initial direction seems sensible to me: understand what makes up the main players involved. Science has some information on that, so why not include it?

    I’m sorry about this, but to me “this information will be useful in other ways, but not for discerning value/use” – reads as out-of-hand excluding something you don’t want to look at. To me its fairly obvious that understanding the basis of the things you listed will help you understand why they have “value” and until you understand that, there is little point in looking at their use or relationship to other things. I thought this is why you listed them in the first place (seemed sensible to me).

    Limited strictly to abstract philosophy that you might even be right about your “value/use” statement, but in the real world many (most?) of the things you mention are largely defined by the biological creatures we are, not abstract notions. (I’m not saying if you are right or wrong in the “pure” philosophy context–I don’t that’s for me to do–but for biological creatures, you are not right: you need to include the biology, etc.)

    I can see that it might be fun for some philosophers to reduce people entirely to abstract notions, then try “solve” them, but to then apply those results to the biological creatures we are is taking a huge leap that would be invalid unless you included the biology from the onset (or at the very least re-worked the argument to include all of the biology, but you’d almost certainly be better off including it at the onset).

    Why limit investigation to abstract philosophy? Behavioural and others sciences tell you a lot about how you do behave and why. Its not such a bad starting point, I think.

    For what its worth, I can’t see why there is a need to bring in philosophy. In my (limited) experience it too often is used to get people way from looking at the real-world sources and impacts involved. Philosophy is useful in sorting out the logical issues behind a particular type of argument, and from that creating a type of methodology for addressing certainly types of arguments and for highlighting particular logical issues that may be involved. But once the methodology is in place or the issues related to a line of argument well-defined, you’re better focusing on the real problem at hand in my opinion.

    As a final note, can I ask if you, as a religious person, consider that humans are “above” being “mere” biological creatures? (No offence, it just occurs to me that this might explain the position you have taken.)

  9. Didn’t read 8, doesn’t change my position. Don’t forget that’s only a hypothesis. At a glance it seems limited to philosophy, as it seems to omit any consideration of the biological aspects, which I think is a needless limitation.

  10. Heraclides,
    Again, I’m not at all wanting to rule-out any kind of worldview-source. The thing is, somewhere between (or in the inter-play between?) ‘worldview’ and ‘value-judgment’, we have not only placed a value on a ‘thing’ (a plant or a person), but have also chosen to value certain sources more than others. We agree about which things are sources; I’m interested in how these sources are used – how we ‘connect the dots’ (or which dots are used in what ways, etc.).

    To me its fairly obvious that understanding the basis of the things you listed will help you understand why they have “value” and until you understand that, there is little point in looking at their use or relationship to other things.

    If I may, can I ask you to demonstrate how (for example) a neurological data/observations/understandings about (for example) emotions helps us to either a) place a ‘value’ on emotions or b) guide us as to how to ‘use’ emotions? (it’s not a trick, I honestly want to know how you’d do it; and again, I’m not saying – to continue with the example – that neurology isn’t a valid worldview-source.)
    Again on science as a worldview-source: I’m cheerfully agreeing that it is a source, but I’m interested in how we determine to use such knowledge (the same could be asked concerning ‘upbringing’, or ‘reason’ or ‘education’) in shaping a worldview (and then value-judgments). In a very real sense – we’re always making these kinds of judgments.

    For what its worth, I can’t see why there is a need to bring in philosophy.

    ‘Brought in’ or not – we all ‘do’ philosophy. I’m interested in talking about how different people ‘do’ this philosophical stuff differently (arriving at different worldviews, different value-systems and different moral/ethical standards/out-workings).
    And, regarding human nature – I acknowledge that ‘above’ means different things to different people, but yes, I consider humans to be (as said in the original post) “the most rational, potent and creative agents in the universe – that we know of”. And yes, I think we’re more than our biology (but not less).

  11. Your post refers to a number of things as if I introduced them and you are countering them, but I didn’t introduce them.

    I didn’t write science as a “worldview-source”, I referred to science as one source of information to help you understand the components you listed. (Not saying either way about that, just that its not what I wrote.)

    If you’re going to talk about worldviews and values, etc., and the things that make up them, you’d want to understand what they are before you try relating them to themselves or other things. I presume this is the reason you presented that list, seems sensible enough. Science can help address that. Seems straight-forward to me.

    I didn’t say anything about placing values on emotions or about how to determine to use them, etc., either. You could deal with that later, but you’d be bypassing some more fundamental things that surely to need be understood first, like understanding what are they to start with.

    My points push you to include biology and behaviour, etc. in understanding the underpinning things like emotions, etc., first. You post suggests to me that you to want to start with “knowledge”, an abstract concept.

    You missed my point about the philosophy, too.

    So, let me reply with a question: how are you going to know how to (your words) “a) place a ‘value’ on emotions or b) guide us as to how to ‘use’ emotions?” without first understanding what emotions are?

    (You could then take this further and look at the extent that instinctive elements like emotions kick in despite “rational” morals, etc. If nothing else, it’d give you a “baseline” to work from that’s founded on what we are.)

    I didn’t ask about human nature: I asked about humans. “the most rational, potent and creative agents in the universe – that we know of”” has nothing to do with about being more than a biological creature. FWIW, I suspect you think we’re more rational than evidence suggests we are. But, whatever.

  12. Heraclides,
    Cheers for the clarification. I think I’m hearing you now. Correct me if I’ve got you wrong again, but – paraphrasing (always dangerous, but a useful exercise to ensure good communication!) – you’re saying a) that science helps to understand the nature of various sources for worldview(s), and b) that proper valuing-of and/or use-of these sources (i.e. emotion) will be enhanced (or enabled?) by understanding what they (the sources, i.e. emotion) are.
    In response, I’d want to say that whilst science has (richly) deepened our understanding of what (for example) emotions are (i.e. we now know about the neurological phenomena which accompanies various emotional states), I’m not clear how this scientific knowledge (i.e. about neurological phenomena) has changed the way in which we value or use emotions.
    For example, when someone says to another person, “There’s no need to be angry – settle down, and let’s talk calmly.” etc., they don’t need to refer at all to neurological phenomena.
    In this sense, my answer to your question (how are you going to know how to… “a) place a ‘value’ on emotions or b) guide us as to how to ‘use’ emotions?” without first understanding what emotions are?) would be: The same way most/all people do – the value of emotions would depend on my worldview, and the use of emotions would happen either consciously/rationally or unconsciously/irrationally (or a combination of both).
    (I’ll leave that there – lest I’ve still not understood you)
    As for humans and rationality: of course we’re a mixture of rationality and irrationality. But surely you don’t disagree that we’re the most rational, do you?
    Anyway, I hope I’m at least reading you as you intend, etc.
    Cheers,
    -d-

  13. “we now know about the neurological phenomena which accompanies various emotional states” We also know about what causes them. And how they aren’t particularly subservient to higher-level thinking. And so on.

    “I’m not clear how this scientific knowledge (i.e. about neurological phenomena) has changed the way in which we value or use emotions.”

    You are effectively suggesting that we should ignore what we learn. And that nothing we learnt about something ever affects how we view or use that thing. Which is perfectly silly as far as I can see. In doing this, you are suggesting that your suggestion of learning more about the things in your list is pointless, since you are now saying we won’t get anything from learning about them.

    All it does is return straight back to the question I asked you:

    how are you going to know how to (your words) “a) place a ‘value’ on emotions or b) guide us as to how to ‘use’ emotions?” without first understanding what emotions are?

    How are YOU going to this? If you don’t see why it leads straight back to this, please think about it before you reply. Your response is to try insist that science can’t without saying how you are going to.

    “In this sense, my answer to your question … “

    Your answer is circular or at least at odds with your previous position: previously you placed emotions before the worldview and now want to place them afterwards.

    “As for humans and rationality: of course we’re a mixture of rationality and irrationality. But surely you don’t disagree that we’re the most rational, do you?
    Anyway, I hope I’m at least reading you as you intend, etc.”

    I never asked anything about humans being more rational or not: you are the one that brought that up and the “of course” can’t be referring to anything I wrote. (I did quote YOU and pointed out, as I am going to again, that this has nothing to do with being more than a biological creature.)

    I don’t enjoy having to repeat myself in tortured fashion to get simple points through, so I may not continue this. So far I’m getting the impression that you, like many Christians I’ve meet are so determined to read their own meanings into others words that come back to the original author in a completely unrelated to form to what was written! Pfffth ;-/

  14. Interesting, but think your steps go backwards.

    As children we generally start without a world view- but we do have experiences, both internal (emotions) and external (sense experiences). We have emotions in response to our experiences, and as we grow up we act in response to our emotions in ways that cause us to have new experiences. And also as part of growing up learn things that cause us to react differently to our direct perceptions (e.g. realising how hormones or stimulants like caffeine affect our mood, or how tiredness affects our visual perception).

    And putting all these together, our views start to stabilise into something we could call a worldview – an idea of what works, of what doesn´t work. Which shifts, or should shift, based on our interpretation of our experiences. Obviously there´s scope for feedback from worldview to experience (e.g. allowing us to see only things that confirm our beliefs), but I personally try to minimise that as much as possible.

    Overall then, I wouldn´t say my morality comes from my world view -instead it comes from my experiences. From experiencing my own emotions, noticing what feels good and what feels bad. From deducing from their behaviour (with help from neuroscience!) that the people around me feel similar things to me. From a spontaneous sympathy that makes me want other people to feel good. From what I have learnt about what people want and need (including medical, social and psychological research). From awareness of society and the needs for codes of behaviour to help us live securely together (politics, history, economics, psychology). From observations, within myself and within others, of the negative effects of lying and the positive effects of honesty with myself and others. Similarly with the effects of stinginess and generosity.

    There´s also a contribution from existing schemes of morality, proverbs etc that bob up in the meme pool. But my reasons for agreeing with or discounting these are based on their merits, compared with my own experience, rather than claimed authority.

    Not a complete or systematic picture, but a sketch of the very organic way in which I feel my moral judgements are formed.

  15. This is a tricky topic for theists and non-theists to see eye-to-eye on. Heraclides, are you able to re-word your last comment with a little less obvious frustration? I think it’s an important topic but I worry that without an extra helping of civility it’ll easily get derailed.

    (I’m refraining from giving my thoughts at the moment because I’m mulling over some of the possible deeper causes of our worldviews and I’m struggling to express my thoughts. I’m liking the conversation though!)

  16. Heraclides,
    [I’ve tried very hard to patiently seek mutual understanding – please reciprocate this. We don’t have to agree – let’s just understand one another.]

    We also know about what causes them. And how they aren’t particularly subservient to higher-level thinking. And so on.

    Do go on. I’m genuinely curious how someone relates this (i.e. causation and non-subservience of emotions) to how one should hold emotions as a worldview-source.

    You are effectively suggesting that we should ignore what we learn. And that nothing we learnt about something ever affects how we view or use that thing. Which is perfectly silly as far as I can see.

    I’ve done no such thing – you’re caricaturing my view. I’ve simply asked a question.

  17. Lirone,
    Cheers for the thoughtful comment.
    Yes, in a very real sense, everything is experience, making a worldview a kind of sytemisation, interpretation and/or ‘connecting the dots’ of that experience. Well put.
    And I agree that there’s continual inter-play (‘feedback’) between all of this.
    Your talk of the ‘organic’ process of evaluating the many, diverse kinds of experiences is wonderful. I think we all do this.
    Tolerance (to bring up another example) is an interesting example for me. Tolerance requres me to be ‘against’ something, but at the same time, ‘put up with it’. So (to demonstrate how the word can/does function) we are intolerant of intolerance – except, of course, our own intolerance of the specific things we do not tolerate. :) Value judgments all over the place.
    This is precisely the kind of things I’m keen to discuss. How have our worldviews shaped (for example) what we do or don’t tolerate? Different people obviously must be interpreting the same events differently – how does this happen, etc.?

    Damian,
    Just picked up your comment – thanks.

  18. “The wikipedia entry for ‘worldview’ “ in comment 7:

    Holy crap!! Is this the sort of definition you are going to use for ‘world view’??

    This makes you assertion that we start with a world view to base our values or understanding extremely ridiculous. “They provide the ‘lens’ by which we perceive reality.” We have to have ontologies, futureologies, praxologies,epistimologies, etiologies before we can start!! Come off it.

    This discussion will get thoroughly confused unless there is some better definition of word view – particularly if such primacy is given to them (something I just don’t agree with anyway).

    My understanding of world view has always been a lot simpler, or more basic, as a way of broadly differentiating different approaches to knowledge:

    1: “Materialism” (not understood in the crude way used in the post as I explain in The materialist label) or “reality-based” where our ideas and knowledge are based on, and derived from, objective reality;

    2: “Idealism”, “revelation-based” or “authority-based” where ideas are primary, come before reality and have supremacy over anything we get from reality.

    These are broad categories cover a multitude of sins, or philosophical trends. The world views don’t have to be thought out in detail but can describe basic approaches. They are broader than terms like theist and atheist (an atheist could approach knowledge in an idealist way and a theist could in a materialist way). And they are not specifically about belief.

    Now, I think an “idealist” may come to a different understanding about morals/values than does a “materialist” – because their approach differs. As my world view is “reality-based” my model of how we determine our moral positions differs from the “Three Steps” given in the post.

    Now, what about the statement: “I’m curious to know how those with this worldview (again, often referred to as ‘materialist’) arrive at their value-judgment”? Is there really an interest in this? Could that be discussed in terms of my simpler “idealist”/”materialist” definition of world view?

  19. Ken,
    I apologise for the emotional trauma which you apparently experienced whilst merely viewing that definition of worldview! ;)
    I must admit that I’ve seen (via some helpful discussion) how I could have written a better original post. I feel a ‘worldview’ post coming on… :)
    My only problem with your proposed ‘idealist’/’materialist’ definitions (as you’ll probably guess) is that defining one as ‘reality’-based, implies that it’s the only/most ‘real’ one.
    What I’d like to try is to find common ground and then work from there. The problem with defining what makes up a worldview seems to be that my/your/our worldview(s) can influence what we determine should make up a worldview, etc.
    I’ll try and put together a post…
    (of course, people are free to continue to comment here if they wish)

  20. Dale:

    I wasn’t caricaturing your view, I was following where what you wrote lead to. Lirone made a similar point as to what I was making.

    Lirone:

    I would add “biology” to the experiences, to avoid accidentally giving the impression of meaning to start with new-born infants as some kind of tabla rasa. Cognitive neuroscientists in general don’t seem to think much of that concept! (And I concur.)

    Damian:

    I agree I’m frustrated with Dale’s replies. I don’t enjoy having my words fed back to me in some other meaning, especially late at night! I’d prefer people read posts 6 & 9 for what I wrote and realise that Dale’s reply to them went off in a tangent for reasons I can’t entirely make out (although I can make guesses from previous experience). In particular, I (now) have an impression of his replies trying to run ahead in the argument, which is ironic (to me) as that has the effect of running around a key point of my posts (!): it seems to me that you need to understand the founding issues first. (Possibly Dale already has an argument, or “model” in Ken’s words.)

    His replies also put forward some assertions that I believe only really hold true in the context of pure philosophy, a context I wasn’t writing within.

    I asked the question I did because I hoped as an exercise it’d make clear to him why I thought understanding the underlying issues first mattered. His reply turned inverted his original point that brought that question.

    It seems clear to me if you don’t understand the underlying things first, the whole exercise will become limited to abstract philosophy in a way that’s not of practical use to anyone (as I tried to say in post 9). That’s pretty much all I want to say for now.

  21. My trauma was related, not to the definition itself, but to the very idea that we could discuss it in this forum.

    “My only problem with your proposed ‘idealist’/’materialist’ definitions (as you’ll probably guess) is that defining one as ‘reality’-based, implies that it’s the only/most ‘real’ one.”

    For someone to talk about world views doesn’t mean that have to agree with specific ones. That would just be taking sides and not allowing the opponent to exist. (That was your problem with defining ‘materialist’). It’s like the referee playing for one side. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with my concept of reality – you have to accept the existence of that world view. Otherwise you rule yourself out of the discussion. And Vice Versa – I can’t define your world view for you (that’s why I am hesitant to use terms like ‘idealist’ which I have otherwise found quite understandable in my early dabbling with philosophy).

    You are not going to get the “common ground” you aspire to – you can’t have common ground between two diametrically opposed methods by definition. Otherwise, why bother with giving them names or considering them different.

    Perhaps, rather than trying to define a ‘materialist’ or ‘reality-based’ world view (which you obviously don’t hold and therefore won’t have success in) you should concentrate on defining what you think is acceptable for the contrary ‘idealist’, ‘revelation-based’ or ‘authority-based’ world view. I certainly would want to define that for you.

    However, I look forward to a post on ‘world views’ – hopefully with a more workable definition than the Wikipedia one.

  22. Heraclides,
    Hopefully if you consider that a) people mis-understand each other all the time, and b) blog comments/text (no volume, tone, etc.) can be easily be ‘heard’ wrong, you’ll see less of a need to get so frustrated. Especially when discussing a topic which uses words that carry such finely-defined meanings. Clarifications can be expected to be numerous and sometimes repetitive – that’s the nature of the beast.

    Ken,
    Good points. Cheers.

  23. I’m well aware of that, Dale, its hardly new to me (I vaguely recall telling others this on a blog you visit, in fact). Its why I usually go out of my way to try see what others are trying to say and not to impose my own meanings on their words. My frustration isn’t because I didn’t know that or needed your “advice” (I didn’t and don’t), its because you seem to have a tendency to work your own meanings into others’ words. And remember that’s not new to me: you’ve do it elsewhere and not just to me. I’ve almost exclusively only encountered into this problem with religious people. My best guess is that its related to how they want things to fit their pre-set ideas, and perhaps they have been doing it for so long that they no longer realise what they are doing, but I don’t really know. But whatever the reason, I more-or-less never get this problem with non-religious people. Given that, could I reply with similar advice, after all since you’re trying to teach me to suck eggs as it were, I should be able to do the same, too: try harder to see what others’ are saying, not what you think.

  24. Heraclides said:

    try harder to see what others’ are saying, not what you think.

    Dale said (immediately before Heraclides got ‘frustrated’):

    I think I’m hearing you now. Correct me if I’ve got you wrong again… …(I’ll leave that there – lest I’ve still not understood you)… …I hope I’m at least reading you as you intend…

    Yeah… right… I’m not trying to understand you at all…

  25. For goodness sake, why try to “win”? I read that sentence (in your second quote), of course. I also read the rest of that post (13), and in it several times you went straight back to “misreading” me, despite my starting the post you replied to (12) with what I had hoped would tip you off to thinking that you need to watch out for that without my having to say it to you directly. With that in mind, surely you can see how someone would look at your reply and think “oh, heck, this is just going to go on forever”. Its how people feel when others don’t get the hint.

    All I asked in post 24, aside from not treating me condescendingly (which you’ve done again), was for you to recognise your part in it. With all respect, you do have faults. I did give a little back of what you gave me, of course, but I told you I was doing that quite openly so it wouldn’t be sneaky or back-handed.

  26. My thoughts for what it’s worth:

    All this pretty much hinges on our starting assumptions. If we start with the assumption that there is ‘magic’ behind it all we’ll arrive at a very different way of ‘doing’ values because we’re likely to ascribe values as an ethereal aspect of life. If we start with the assumption that we live (like Madonna) in a material world then it’s possible we may strike a mystery that leads us to believe in some non-material force out there but if not, our way of ‘doing’ values will be different.

    If you start with the assumption of ‘magic’ there is no way you can ever ‘do’ values appropriately if it in fact turns out that everything is made of just matter. But if you start with a naturalistic assumption you could end up either side of the fence depending on what the evidence shows.

    This is where I agree with Heraclides; using the scientific method to form a starting point will better inform our worldview than using magical thinking. And I believe that philosophy that is not firmly grounded in scientific evidence will never serve to keep erroneous magical thinking on the straight and narrow. (I can give examples if you require).

    Dale, we’ve talked about this before in person, if we take the real-world example of the issue of whether it is ethical to take the morning after pill (i.e. a pill that stops a fertilised egg from attaching, causing early abortion) our way of ‘doing’ values/ethics is very different.

    Have a go at expressing an ethical view from your current Christian worldview on this topic and then have a go (it might be a little bit difficult) using a purely naturalistic worldview. If my hunch is right you will end up with two very different ethical answers — how do we know which is the correct one? Without dealing with the validity of our initial assumptions we’re never going to see eye-to-eye on how to express our values when our initial assumptions cause them to differ.

  27. Heraclides,
    We’re not going to make much progress for the moment, I suspect. All I’ll say is that I don’t think my tone (i.e. honestly trying to understand you) warranted you getting so frustrated (neither does it appear to be ‘condescending’)…

    Damian,
    The notion of ‘initial assumptions’ is a good way of putting it – especially as you’ve put it; that we all make these assumptions. That’s why I’m interested in talking about ‘worldviews’, because I think they are the domain of where (and how, etc.) such assumptions are made…

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