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I've hated philosophy since high school.  My favorite subjects in high school were History and Mathematics.  Those were the two subjects I felt you could truly "know" something about the real world.  I know, I know, you can talk to me all you want about the philosophical basis for both of those subjects, but I was 16, ok?  You see, as part of my high school program, I had to take a class called "Theory of Knowledge."  How do we know what we know?  What is knowledge?  Why does this class feel like it makes time stop?  In all honesty, it was a great exercise in critical thinking, but we had to read some Plato, Aristotle, and a bunch of other philosophers who annoyed me.  I never knew why they annoyed me until today.  

The reason I bring this up is the maelstrom of controversy surrounding the "Turn Away the Gays" bills and the dismantling of state bans on gay marriage.  As the bans are dismantled and thrown away into the dust bin of history, we will see more attempts by the fundamentalists to use Far Right Libertarianism as their sword and shield to discriminate against gays and to avoid having an honest discussion about why their religion is as messed up as it is.   Far Right Libertarianism was the philosophy of the states rights crowd who wanted to go back to the good ol' days of discriminating against blacks and reinstating segregation, and the religious right will now tread down this dark path for their own ends.  

We will see if these "religious freedom" bills will ultimately be seen as constitutional.  Many on here think they will not.  Some people fear that the religious right will find some cunning means of pushing through their agenda.  I did some research, and found out that for the Civil Rights Act, the government used its powers to govern interstate commerce as a means of saying that it can tell a private business it has to serve Black customers.  I had always wondered what the legal reasoning was for the government to regulate a private business.  I'm not a legal theorist, but this makes me think that there must have been some shift in legal theory that departed from the puritan libertarian thinking of government as some alien force that must be limited, to a natural aspect of society itself with the expressed purpose of ameliorating it. With respect to preventing discrimination against Blacks in the private sector, I think the reasoning that undergirds the government's ability to do so is the fact that Black people cannot choose to be Black people, they just are.  

                                     We are getting to "Is-Ought" I promise.

"Wait, huh?  Where did you get that from?" you might be saying to yourself.  It occurred me to me that the fight for gay rights boils down to the fact that gay people are gay just like Black people are black.  Maybe not 100% the same (environmental factors during development and social factors), but if being gay is an intrinsic aspect of a person that is not alterable and occurs naturally among human variation (there is a genetic factor), then if you are discriminating against gays, you are just doing it because the holy book says for you to do it, not because you are protecting the innocent or because you are protecting people from their own bad behavior.  

                       Okay, okay, what does this have to do with "Is-Ought?"

Well, I was watching a debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig on the idea of "something from nothing."  Craig argued that because "something cannot come from nothing," that God's existence was inevitably logical.

                   Statements like these made me hate philosophy.

As far as I was concerned, Craig had no right to make the statement because he has never observed "nothing" and tested to see whether something could come from it.  He basically just did a thought experiment.  He decided it was logical, with no basis whatsoever to think so, then derides his opponents for not seeing the wisdom of his knowledge.  William Lane Craig is one of the most disingenuous debaters there is and his logic is often suspect, but he likes to use his knowledge of philosophy to catch his opponents off guard.  For example, when Lawrence Krauss began to state ways in which religions state ethics without regard to facts, the host reminds him of the "Is-Ought" fallacy.  You cannot logically derive what one "ought" to do from the way something "is."  This idea was formulated by David Hume who wrote:

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence.
Religious people take the "Is-Ought" fallacy a bit far (in my opinion) and conclude that ethics and morality can not logically be deduced from facts, but instead have to come from a celestial referee, i.e. humanists and secularists have no logical means to determine good from bad.  Secular ethics are relative because their "oughts" have no logical basis and therefore cannot be knowledge that all humanity can share.  Hume is simply stating that if you are going to go from an "is" to an "ought," there had better be a logical bridge to explain your journey.  That doesn't mean such a bridge does not exist, it just means you have to build it and not rely on a reader's bias to make the connection for you.  

Does this work in reverse?  For fundamentalists (and coincidentally, authoritarians), one has to start from an "ought" and then the "is" will magically appear.  Take gay marriage.  According to fundamentalists, God does not like human beings engaging in homosexual acts because Leviticus.  Don't gimme the "effeminate" in the New Testament, or else we'll be forced to play the Bible game :)  Now, if God says homosexuality is bad, it must have a reason right?  We don't see it now, but it must be there, or else God would never ban it.  Right?

Gay marriage opponents will argue in Michigan the "is" that is derived from their "ought."  Gay marriage ought not to be allowed because kids raised by gay parents are somehow abused.  Gays are pedophiles.  Being gay is a health risk.  Being gay is unnatural and not a normal sexual function.  Being gay is a result of a poor upbringing, dysfunctional parents, or some other aberrant environmental factor.  Above all, being gay is a choice.  We ought not to allow gay marriage, because all of these things are true and we deem them to be "bad."

What subconsciously frightens people who are conservative is the nagging realization that the "is"'s that derives from their "ought" are not true.  Homosexuals are not child molesters.  Scientific research has shown that gays are a naturally occurring section of the population.  There is a genetic factor to being gay.  You can be gay and have been raised by happy heterosexual parents just as you could from being raised by the Mansons.  Any negative effects that children raised by gay parents may show is actually the result of a society that rejects gay people.  

If being gay is little different from being Black, then you'd have to accept the fact that your God does not make moral prescriptions based on facts, but out of capriciousness and spite.  Your God would have to damn people from birth or force people into lives of suffering and deprivation for its own personal amusement.  You'd have to make humanity a dysfunctional family of favorite sons and daughters and red headed stepchildren.  

I actually brought up this point in my philosophy class as I was debating a Mormon.  He was very offended at my suggesting that his God damned people from birth, but if you start from moral prescriptions and say that W X, and Y are true and bad, so therefore we must ban Z, then if W, X, and Y prove to be untrue, then where the heck did your god get Z from?  The debate ended, and the Mormon guy was pretty mad by the end.  I'm not the world's most cordial debater, but if you're going to tell me I have no basis for my morals, then where the heck do you get yours from?

This is the battle the gay right's front has to be won on.  It will reveal that there was no morality to the ban in the first place and will help all people realize that there is nothing wrong with letting love flourish in our society, whatever form it takes.  

Originally posted to sujigu on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 09:17 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Logic and Rhetoric at Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    "Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal."

    by sujigu on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 09:17:55 PM PST

  •  Some religious people I don't understand. (5+ / 0-)

    I'm religious myself (Anglican) and gay, and my church--at least the branch of Anglicanism here in the US--not only accepts LGBT persons as of equal worth to others but developed a lovely rite for same-sex marriage. Gay persons can be priests, and even bishops!

    Religion is deeply personal. It is my serious opinion that it should remain so. "Religious liberty" does not mean you have the right to discriminate against others except, if you choose to, in your church on Sunday morning, or any other day according to your religion. But not in public and not in commerce.

    This is a settled issue, according to the Federal courts.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 09:31:00 PM PST

  •  To paraphrase Orwell's 1984: (0+ / 0-)

    religious freedom = religious slavery

    "One of the boss' hangers-on sometimes comes to call, at times you least expect. Tryin' to bully you, strongarm you, inspire you with fear--it has the opposite effect."--Bob Dylan, "Floater"

    by oldmaestro on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 10:20:49 PM PST

  •  This is interesting stuff, but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29, jessical

    be careful about categorical statements:

    Religious people take the "Is-Ought" fallacy a bit far (in my opinion) and conclude that ethics and morality can not logically be deduced from facts, but instead have to come from a celestial referee
    Well... some religious people: the history of the development of a natural law approach shows that there are plenty of ethicists and moral philosophers who had no problem balancing religion and logical deduction from facts.  What is you think Aquinas does, after all?
    If being gay is little different from being Black, then you'd have to accept the fact that your God does not make moral prescriptions based on facts, but out of capriciousness and spite.
    I'm not religious, but I think the simple answer to that comes from basic ideas about theodicy, which has its own sophisticated framework for dealing with the issues of a seemingly harmful and senseless order, and/or the Job-ian response that we don't have the level of pure comprehension to understand why.

    Just some things to think about.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 10:37:51 PM PST

  •  Ultimately, (6+ / 0-)

    our society, our laws, our political systems, all assume the existence of a lot of good faith.

    So, how do we handle a movement entirely governed by bad faith and contempt for those who stand in it's way?

    I don't believe we have seen a threat to the republic that Movement Conservatism presents since the days of slavery and its staunchest defenders.

    Movement Conservative "scholars" and "fellows" literally can and do damn something as an abomination one day, and then cite the matter they damned glowingly the next day to support trumping a hated enemy on something else in another matter. They don't care about hypocrisy. They don't care about double-standards. They care about winning.

    As we have seen since 1994, good faith has nothing to do with Movement Conservatism. Winning is the only thing that matters. You have to feel shame to feel shame. You are Rush Limbaugh, you back draconian mandatory minimums for drug possession and you damn the ACLU as evil incarnate, until you get busted for drugs and you run to the ACLU to save your ass.

    Some of the biggest damning voices against trial lawyers, including Antonin Scalia, have slip and fall civil cases in their or their families backgrounds. Tort reform for thee, double damage for pain and suffering for me.

    To me, this is the intellectual ground that gay rights is being fought on from a huge swath of its opponents.

    A field where the goalposts have wheels and all the lines are marked with stakes with pieces of string tied between them. Everything is Calvinball in a conflict with Conservatism.

    Movement Conservatism is not based on good faith, people who disagree with it are pretty much either stupid or evil, it's okay to lie to them, cheat them, ban them from voting, restrict their rights. It's based on whatever it takes to win. They don't hide this fact about themselves, they revel in it. They dare you to say something about it.

    The worst of them judge from the bench the way Allen West or Louis Gomert write law from the Congressional chamber.

    I think, ultimately, we often give Movement Conservatives and Movement Conservatism too much credit for things that non-Movement Conservatives do, and often do a lot, when we try as non-Conservatives to understand them.

    Ultimately, a homophobic straight man imagining a man sticking his penis inside another man, wherever, as a mutual desired act of physical love and affection, making them uncomfortable is enough. It doesn't matter if it's in the Bible. Not really. If the Bible had zero mention of homosexuality, in any way, then they would cite the Koran like an Ayatollah addressing the religious police in an Islamic state. Or foreign law they would denounce anyone else citing as being relevant in a part of an American domestic policy debate. All shamelessly. Straight-faced.    

    We can be right, each time, every time, on the merits and the points and the measures and the issues.

    It doesn't ultimately matter to the current Right.

    Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, and John Roberts have all had dissents and majority opinions where outright naked partisan hackery or foaming at the mouth petulant rage is substituted for serious contemplative scholarship. "An activist judge is a judge who doesn't agree with me" is pretty much how Movement Conservatives define the term.

    Ultimately, we will win because we are right and they are wrong and they will die out or be overcome by the numbers changing the demographics of this nation. Because eventually it will not be profitable or useful to them to continue that obsolete theater of the culture wars. It should also be very sobering to progressives that many of the great leaps we have made in the modern Movement Conservative era don't really cost the 1% a dime in increased tax revenue or other fiscal burden.

    In a world where you are free to be a pot smoking gay married serf is a world full of abused and marginalized serfs.

    I was never fond of philosophy class as a high school kid because too often I felt as if it meant giving credit where none was due as a default. Assumed good faith is a dangerous conceit. A formal debate in most settings I have experienced them has rules that would cripple Rove/Atwater conservatism, and since it doesn't really allow you to assume you are speaking to an unprincipled  sociopath, it's not much help to the non-Conservative.

    I am anxious about the future.

    Sociopaths backed by billionaires mean you can never sleep on past victories. There may be no such thing as settled law.

    And you risk still having a debate with sociopaths and serial liars as if you are having a debate with reasonable men and people governed by firm rock-ribbed principles that are universal and do not flutter like a hanging piece of cloth in the wind.

    “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” — Auric Goldfinger

    by LeftHandedMan on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 10:52:03 PM PST

  •  No such things as "Gay Rights" only "Equal Rights" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kiwiheart
    •  Well, yes and no (0+ / 0-)

      By declining to specify categories or classes of people whose rights may be denied or else protected, you create a loophole which would allow for all sorts of untoward behavior.

      •  18 U.S.C. § 242 : US Code - Section 242: (0+ / 0-)

        18 U.S.C. § 242 : US Code - Section 242: Deprivation of rights under color of law

        Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
        -
  •  Never been a fan of Discourse Ethics, tbh (0+ / 0-)

    but, I would make a quibbling-aside, in the rapid relegation of "Libertarianism" to "far-right" philosophy.

    We have allowed modern-day hacks and Paulites too much sway to wholly corrupt a legitimate school of philosophy, and one with a history stretching back well beyond the petty Tea Bag kvetching currently in vogue.

    Anyone interested in a true analysis of ethics must read both John Rawls' A Theory of Justice and then immediately Nozick's response in Anarchy, State and Utopia.

    Personally I am more of a Kantian, but Libertarianism provides a critical countervailing force to many lazy presumptions made by Utilitarian over-reach.

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 04:55:53 AM PST

  •  Nice essay. Really enjoyed your well-written (0+ / 0-)

    essay with my coffee this morning. Tipped, rec'd, followed and hotlisted for future reference. Thanks!

    "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

    by annan on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 06:26:58 AM PST

  •  What pico said.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, kyril

    ...but also...I don't think this is the ground on which queer rights will play out.  I think it has more to do with whether a society had delivered a bit of salt with the religious prescriptions.  Yep, I think Jessica chose evil by being trans, has damned her immortal soul and is a danger to children who see her/its/his (ugly joke that Jessica is) as a potential pathway to hell!  But she was really nice to bring over that pie on Saturday, she helped little Bob with his math homework, and I enjoy saying hi to her at the coffee shop in the morning.  I don't think you change these things, for the most part, by challenging the underlying reasoning of adherents.  You just leaven the dough and encourage people to compartmentalize a bit.

    Mileage varies...

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 06:31:57 AM PST

    •  I'm stealing "leaven the dough" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jessical, kyril

      because that is great.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:12:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's a variation on Sam Harris... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pico

        ...with his "the salt hasn't been delivered yet".   I think it was in Salon but I'm not sure.

        ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

        by jessical on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 06:24:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  compartmentalization really doesn't help (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jessical
      Yep, I think Jessica chose evil by being trans, has damned her immortal soul and is a danger to children who see her/its/his (ugly joke that Jessica is) as a potential pathway to hell!  But she was really nice to bring over that pie on Saturday, she helped little Bob with his math homework, and I enjoy saying hi to her at the coffee shop in the morning.
      Basically it's an argument for assimilation: minority individuals will get treated like human beings to the extent that they assimilate into the majority culture.  Which makes a certain amount of sense: we cannot really know what's in another person's heart, so we look in their actions for clues as to their values, intentions, loyalties, etc., and when they go out of their way to set themselves apart, we interpret that as hostile.  Deep down, everything everyone does is a gang sign, whether they want it to be one or not.

      The funny thing is that only the most hard-core hate the person for themselves - all the rest really are just freaked out by superficialities: music, clothes, hair, language, etc.

      Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

      by Visceral on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 10:05:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not "a place at the table" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kyril

        Nor the idea that we are sufficiently homogenous to necessarily find commonality under the skin (I didn't put it well though, and can see why you'd go there).  

        More along the lines of civil society allows for civil interactions, given enforcement, time, and the chance to prevail.  And yes, I think that works via a kind of compartmentalization, but the "fanatic authoritarian asshat" compartment is well reinforced by secular convention and law.  When I had a mormon boss who was a stellar employee of a multinational with rock-solid policies on queer folks....he was, honestly, the best boss I've ever had. (It helps he was brilliant, but...) When I had a mormon boss who was part of a mormon company in a mormon town...I was escorted to the door by security the moment I got clocked.  Both people believed the same things about me and mine, donated to the same causes, would have likely found profound agreement on matters of faith.  But one civil context encouraged giving to ceasar what is ceasar's, and the other encouraged a commercial theocracy.    

        And yes, there are ways in which my perspective is distorted by the mostly passable trans woman thing. Class and race play a big role here and may significantly detract from my comment -- there's just one big honking way I'm "wrong", and so I might be easier to compartmentalize (though when there is a reaction it is deeper and more extreme than clothes and music).  

        I also met more than a few people, when I was working in Western Europe, who really believed some creepy stuff about queer folks.  But they were proud of their civil society and that trumped.  We hold multiple models of the world in our heads.  I'm unlikely to change my lot per civil rights by arguing age-old religious or philosophical questions, or claiming biological determinism (ugh!).  But I've actually seen a predominantly secular civil sphere create space for normal human interactions to prevail.
         

        ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

        by jessical on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 06:41:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  morality is man-made, justifies our base motives (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sfbob, kyril
    If being gay is little different from being Black, then you'd have to accept the fact that your God does not make moral prescriptions based on facts, but out of capriciousness and spite.  Your God would have to damn people from birth or force people into lives of suffering and deprivation for its own personal amusement.  You'd have to make humanity a dysfunctional family of favorite sons and daughters and red headed stepchildren.
    I tend to agree with this, except that I argue that morality ultimately comes from people, who are no less capricious, spiteful, self-serving, and judgmental than any god.  Schopenhauer argued that logic and morality were basically the minions and apologists of instinct and emotion.  I would definitely argue that one's logic is only as sound as one's premises and that logic in and of itself is no guarantee that you'll behave intelligently or morally.  Hypocrisy and what might be called an "identity-centered morality" is normal: we routinely damn in others what we praise in ourselves and vice versa - we preach for others but practice for ourselves.  I also believe in the fundamental unjustness of the universe, so appeals to nature are far more likely to amplify our antisocial traits or just widen the gulf between selflessness towards family and tribe and hostility everyone else.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:41:09 AM PST

  •  Not so much philosophy as rationalization (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vahana

    As has been pointed out, Movement Conservatives don't have a "philosophy;" they'll make any argument if they think it'll result in them gaining or holding power. There's no consistency, rebutting their points is useless for the simple reason that they don't care much about the argumentation other than as a means to an end, and if it fails in that respect then "the hell with the arguments; I'm still right anyways."

    As for this:

    Craig argued that because "something cannot come from nothing," that God's existence was inevitably logical.

                       Statements like these made me hate philosophy.

    It's debatable (at least) whether philosophy is really the culprit. In fact there is a leap of faith involved, not to mention the possibility that the terms of the argument have been rigged. Do we know that there was a time when "nothing existed?" Actually we don't. We can only access prior states by way of evidence (afterglow of the Big Bang and so on). Assuming there was a state of nothingness prior to that, how would we know? And to simply state that "because something cannot come nothing, therefore God exists" is really just begging the question. If you wanted to label it I'd call it theology rather than philosophy. Then again I have a stake in this debate. My BA is in philosophy.
  •  "Private business" exists within the public system (0+ / 0-)

    of law, and that legal system has slowly been evolving toward embodying fully the idealistic implications of this nation's founding notion: "all men (humans) are created equal endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights," entitlements both enumerated and implied. Despite the reference to a "creator," this fundamental language does not make us a "Christian" nation. Quite the contrary: to the extent that other faiths, philosophies, superstitions, traditions, etc. embrace the idea that a [superhuman] "creator" created humanity, this founding reference denies the authority of one belief system over others. Those who argue that we were, are, or are supposed to be a "Christian nation" believe that [their] God's authority supplants secular law's authority. The so-called "religious freedom" laws they support, designed to legalize the unequal treatment in private business of citizens endowed by their creator with rights to equal treatment, stand on this false premise.

    Of course, proponents of such "religious freedom" laws have only been emboldened by civil society's inability of late to defend the liberal philosophy of its founding. How did America let "liberal" become a dirty word? Why did we accept denigration of our secular ideals as a "lowest common denominator" unmatched by the Religious Right's God's "higher" authority? This nation's relatively short history shows that the harder path is the one of equality and tolerance foreshadowed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It's too easy to lock oneself in the mindset of "my God is the one, true God" and to reduce life's complexities to "my way or the highway." The irony is that the ignorant, benighted Religious Right cannot see in themselves the true lowest common denominator of humanity: a segregated community unified by its fear and hatred of anyone who differs.

    The real mountain to climb toward Enlightenment and Utopia remains the secular quest for communal inclusion, inclusion despite our individual uniqueness and because of our common equality under our self-governing legal system. We ought to reclaim secular society's liberal ideals for we were founded as a liberal nation.


    "Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum." — President Abraham Lincoln


    by vahana on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 02:33:35 PM PST

  •  Republished to L&R@DK. n/t (0+ / 0-)

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