The necessary attributes of a responsible agent

Dominoes falling in a sequence

George Ellis has an article at Aeon on free will that is garnering some attention.  Ellis' case is a fairly classic one.  Brain are complex systems whose operations, due to chaotic and stochastic dynamics, cannot be predicted.  Furthermore, minds constrain the detailed physical reactions, a case of downward causation.  And if that weren't enough, there's … Continue reading The necessary attributes of a responsible agent

Is morality objective, yet relative?

Jason Mckenzie Alexander at iai.tv makes an interesting proposition, that morality is a social technology, one that goes out of date and frequently needs to be upgraded. He first describes the common sentiment that morals are objective in some timeless platonic sense.   I discussed the problems with this view in a post a while back … Continue reading Is morality objective, yet relative?

Big societies came before big gods

Some years ago I reviewed a book by Ara Norenzayan called Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict.  Norenzayan's thesis was that it was a belief in big gods, specifically cosmic gods that cared about human morality, that enabled the creation of large scale human societies. In small societies, reputation serves as an effective … Continue reading Big societies came before big gods

Changing what makes us happy

from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (click through for the hovertext and red button caption) Greg Egan in his novel Incandescence posits an alien civilization whose ancestors, in order to survive, establish a series of space habitats.  In order to ensure their descendants will be happy, they bioengineer those descendants to feel satisfaction and bliss working within … Continue reading Changing what makes us happy

Is there a moral arc to history?

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. As someone who isn't able to find an objective basis for morality, I've often wondered what that means for the above statement from Martin Luther King.  It certainly feels like we're making moral progress, that the status of previously oppressed or marginalized people … Continue reading Is there a moral arc to history?

Students showing up at college understanding the fact value distinction is a good thing.

Justin P. McBrayer, an ethics and philosophy of religion professor, has an opinion piece in the New York Times bemoaning the fact that students are showing up for college not believing that moral rules are facts. What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true … Continue reading Students showing up at college understanding the fact value distinction is a good thing.

Wealth may have driven the rise of moralizing religions

One of the things that a lot of people are often surprised to hear, is that most scholars don't believe that religion was always concerned with morality, that moralizing religion didn't exist to any significant extent before the 'Axial Age' circa 500 BC.  Psychologist Nicolas Baumard has a theory about what may have led to moralizing … Continue reading Wealth may have driven the rise of moralizing religions

Does the Euthyphro dilemma actually prove anything?

I'm not religious.  I don't think morality comes from God, gods, or any religious precept.  But often, when I see debates on whether or not morality can only come from God or religion, an atheist philosopher will mention the Euthyphro dilemma, state or imply that the question was conclusively handled over 2300 years by this Plato … Continue reading Does the Euthyphro dilemma actually prove anything?