Re: MD Is Morality Relative?

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Sat Dec 04 2004 - 06:11:39 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: MD Is Morality Relative?"

    On 3 Dec 2004 at 3:09, wrote:
    If you really want to know what I think, why do you apply all your
    energies in an attack mode? Surely, you can't expect to get the best
    from me with a stream of insults!

    msh says:
    A stream of insults? I think you're being oversensitive here. In
    looking back over our recent posts I detect slightly insulting
    undertones on BOTH sides. It's impossible to insult me, but I've
    seen several places in your posts to others where your denigration of
    Pirsig and of people who agree more with him than with you is quite
    blatant. Go back and see for yourself. This is particularly odd
    since this forum was established out of respect for the man and his
    philosophy. This doesn't mean we have to agree with him, of course;
    in fact, many of us, including myself, disagree with him in many
    ways. However, it does mean that to contribute here you should be
    very familiar with, and respectful of, his ideas.

    After all, I'm not under an inquisition here. You've accused me of
    not reading enough of Pirsig. How much of MY thesis, I wonder, have
    YOU read?

    msh says:
    See above. This forum isn't about US learning YOUR anthropocentric
    philosophy/religion. The fact that you think it is, or should be, is
    annoying, at least to me. FWIW, I read your web pages long ago, when
    you first signed on to this list. I found nothing innovative, and
    some things just plain wrong, such as your irrational tendendency to
    blame science and technology, existentialism, Marxism, and any number
    of other schools of thought, for most of mankind's problems. The one
    "ism" notably absent from your list happens to be the one against
    which, in this regard, the strongest case can be made.

    OK, let's be positive. Your persistence shows a strong desire for
    enlightenment, despite your deplorable tactics.

    msh says:
    Friendly LOL, really. The juxtaposition of your attempt to be
    positive and my deplorable tactics.

    msh asked:
    > What have you observed in the behavior of humans and other animals
    > that makes you think autonomy is unique to humans? And what makes
    > you think non-human animals are irrational?

    The ability to reason, it seems to me, includes the capacity to
    articulate ideas, evaluate properties and conditions of things
    experienced, to solve problems through the use of the intellect, and
    to control or modify one's behavior to a level beyond the instinctual
    or primitive level.

    msh says:
    Well your definition of the ability to reason is quite a bit narrower
    than the one I culled from a couple of different dictionaries, due to
    your inclusion of the capacity to articulate ideas. This brings up a
    pivotal point: if one's goal is to exclude non-human animals from
    the set of rational animals then all that is necessary is to use a
    sufficiently stringent definition, such as the one you offer. Note
    that this method can be used to exclude, say, 90% of humanity by
    simply extending the definition to include the ability to solve
    differential equations.

    To help elucidate this problem, here's a synopsis of a debate I had
    not long ago over this very issue:

    What behaviors are associated with rational thought?

    Tools. Only rational animals use tools.

    Otters swim to the bottom, pick a flat stone, return to the surface
    to float on their backs with the "anvil" stone on their bellies.
    They crack open oysters on their "anvil"... Bears find sticks to
    insert into bee hives to extract honey... Elephants crack melons with
    tree limbs...

    Ok, ok. Rational animals invent new ideas to solve problems... They
    don't just imitate others...

    Chimps have been placed in rooms containing several boxes scattered
    about. Seeing a banana hanging out of reach from the ceiling, they
    stare at it. Then jump but don't reach. They climb the walls of the
    room, but still can't reach the banana at the center. At this point,
    some give up. But some don't. Many have been observed to sit and
    stare at the banana, then look around the room, then stare at the
    banana, then... use the boxes to build a stair case.

    Ok, ok. Cooperation. Rational animals cooperate with one another,
    for the benefit of all.

    This pretty much leaves humans out of the picture, no?

    Cut it out. You know what I mean.

    Ok, ok. Let's see. Bees, ants... Elephants stand in butt-to-butt
    circles, surrounding their calves, to protect themselves from
    predators... Wolves hunt in coordinated packs...

    Ok, ok. Communication. Rational animals are able to communicate.

    Birds communicate using complex songs. Dolphins communicate using
    squeakes and whistles. Whales sing. Elephants use ELF rumblings,
    normally inaudible to human animals... Dogs use excited high-pitched
    yelps and menacing low growls and barking...

    Ok, ok... But they don't communicate with US...

    You mean they don't speak good English?


    Ok, you win. Nonhuman animals are not rational. But, then, of
    course, neither are you.


    msh continues:
    So, sure. Depending on your definition of rational, you will be able
    to include, or exclude, any creatures you like. Since, as you say,
    your philosophy is anthropocentric, it's important for you to believe
    that human animals hold some exalted position at the center of the
    universe. Your definitional deck will be stacked against our
    nonhuman animal cohabitants of the earth. Just be careful not to
    define yourself out of the picture.

    > ham:
    > We are all selfish by nature; it is not a virtue but a description
    > of man's position in a relational world.
    > >
    > I stand by my statement that man is naturally selfish.
     msh says:
    > But I've just provided an argument that refutes this.

    No you didn't, Mark. You described an incident of theft, a
    misdemeanor. So you've actually confirmed my point that man is

    msh says:
    I think you need to try my thought experiment again. If selfishness
    is our natural state, then no one would be surprised by the man's
    behavior. We'd say, "Well, what did you expect? We're selfish
    creatures and the man was just acting naturally." I've had hundreds
    of people perform this experiment over many years and , so far, NO
    ONE has said that the man's behavior was perfectly natural.

     msh said:
    > In just your posts over the last few days, you have described your
    > "primary source" as a Universal Designer, the Unmoved Mover, the
    > Divine Creator, the Divine Planner, the Absolute Source, the
    > Uncreated Essence, the Master Designer. You've said that man's
    > rationality is "the gift of a supernatural Source."

    One has to identify the primary source by some name, Mark.

    msh says:
    What's wrong with "primary source?" Or ground of existence?

    These are all valid metaphors, and the variety allows an author to
    select one that communicates a particular function under discussion.

    msh says:
    But, if your philosophy is not theistic, wouldn't you say that the
    anthropomorphic nature of these metaphors is more misleading than
    enlightening? You are very quick to use the Design Argument to prove
    the existence of a designer, yet your thesis, as I mentioned before
    with no response from you, does not deal with THE classic refutation
    of this argument. Something doesn't balance here.

    Would you agree that the word "metaphysical" suggests "beyond the
    physical"? If so, then you should have no problem understanding that
    the primary source must be supernatural.

    msh says:
    The study of metaphysics is an attempt to gain knowledge about ideas.
    The word suggests beyond the physical, yes, not beyond the natural.
    So I don't see that the source must be supernatural, far from it.

    Mr. Pirsig seems to have brainwashed his acolytes into believing that
    the concept of a supernatural divinity is not only out-moded but
    beneath their dignity.

    msh says:
    This comments illustrates two ideas mentioned above. A disrespect
    for Pirsig and his "acolytes," whoever THEY are. And reinforcement
    of the idea that your philosophy, despite your protestations to the
    contrary, is a thinly disguised theism. What other interpretation is
    possible, given your belief in "a supernatural divinity".

    > Whether or not you use the word "God," your belief system is
    clearly theistic. What I find intellectually dishonest is your
    unwillingness to label it as such.

    Now that's the supreme insult, Mark, and you know it. You have read
    theism into my thesis because I've used descriptive terms typically
    applied to a personal god. Only a person who is paranoid about
    religious inferences would call me "intellectually dishonest".

    msh says:
    You mistake annoyed for paranoid. In one of your early posts to me,
    a few months ago, you stated quite explicitly that you were not an
    atheist. Are you now saying you've changed. Or are you suggesting
    your philosophy of Essence should be regarded as somehow completely
    insulated from your personal theism?

     If you read my thesis, you'll see that I've scrupulously removed
    "Being" as an attribute of the creator; hence Essence is obviously
    not the Supreme Being of a theist.

    msh says:
    What I see is you bending over backward to avoid being called a
    theist. My question is "Why the calisthenics?"

    To sum it up, I'm no more "theistic" than Pirsig is. Additionally, I
    have the intellectual honesty to state that my Primary Source is
    supernatural. Where have you seen MoQ's author admit that his Quality
    is supernatural -- despite the fact that he presents it as a
    heirarchy of transcendent patterns that have you all mystified?

    msh says:
    Well this is probably a good place to finish, with yet another poke
    at Pirsig and some of his his admirers. If you had really given his
    books the attention they deserve you would understand that Quality is
    anything but supernatural.

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)
    InfoPro Consulting - The Professional Information Processors
    Custom Software Solutions for Windows, PDAs, and the Web Since 1983
    Web Site:

    "Thought is only a flash between two long nights, but this flash is
    everything." -- Henri Poincare'

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