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.