Is Empowerment Ethics Atheistic?

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Empowerment Ethics, as I develop it, is classifiable as a “naturalistic” ethics. This means that I am going to argue we can understand what is good as being natural and understandable by using purely naturalistic means. We need not invoke anything “supernatural”. I do think that the subset of moral realists who adopt what is known as “non-naturalism” (a position very much distinguishable fromsupernaturalism) make some important points and arguments that I am still chewing over and may to a greater or lesser extent incorporate into my views. But overall, my position is naturalistic in nature. In a future post I will have to tease out at greater length what do and don’t mean by naturalism and go over what is to be learned from “non-naturalism”. For now, let me just talk about empowerment ethics’ stance on supernaturalism and, more specifically, theism. Does the naturalism of this ethics preclude theism? Is it inherently atheistic?

First, since I think empowerment ethics is derivable, provable, understandable, and applicable all within the categories of the natural world that we all live and think within, I think that unbiased theists can (and even should) come to see its truth and wisdom just as much as atheists. Just as a theist can look at the world rationally, empirically, and naturalistically in order to do science effectively, so she can think about values, norms, and ethics rationally, empirically, and naturalistically to understand them effectively. While theists may think that the ultimate metaphysical explanation of the natural world is a deity, they can still grant that the world is knowable to secular people and capable of study according to reason and experience. Most theists don’t think that non-believers can’t do science.

And most theists accept that when doing science, it’s most revelatory to not invoke God but to figure out what naturalistic dynamics are at work in the natural world. So, theists who are not metaphysical naturalists who say that all that is is the natural world discoverable and interpretable by science, regularly at least accept the value of methodological naturalism whereby they think the world can be investigated when doing science in a way that leaves metaphysical commitments or beliefs about the existence of a supernatural to the side. Nature can be understood through methodological naturalism because it is naturalistic in character, even according to most of those who think that not everything is naturalistic in character and capable of study by science. So, on account of this, even religiously committed theists routinely bracket their religiously (or even philosophically) held supernaturalistic metaphysics and focus on what can be known purely within naturalistic categories.

Well just as theists can see that atheists can know about and rationally investigate it using methodological naturalism, and just as atheists can see that theists are capable of bracketing their supernaturalism and seeing what is revealed through a naturalistic methodology, so I think both atheists and theists both have plenty of experience correctly identifying differences between good things and bad things, and can both use plenty of available tools of reason and empiricism for working out what those are. Maybe the theist also thinks the reason the goods and bads we can naturalistically discover are as they are is because of some supernatural intention. But so long as they use naturalistic means for proving the goods and bad are a certain way that question of why the world is the way it is can be left for a different metaphysical debate. In other words, methodological naturalism can work just as well in ethics as in science if theists are willing.

 

Written By: Dan Fincke
continue to source article at secularite.com

24 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by Stafford Gordon:

      What I think this boils down to is, do we possess the innate capability to discern right from wrong?

      Yes!

      We do more than discern right from wrong, we determine right from wrong.

  1. I commented earlier today to my students about a murder case that I was called in on as an expert witness. I swore on a bible that I’d tell the truth. My students were puzzled. I told them that I’d swear on a comic book with as much adherence. It is not that my hand rested on a holy book; it was that I swore. ME. I gave MY WORD. I have character that exceeds some dumb rhetorical tradition involving any silly book or repeated mantra. My character is what is on the line.

    I also swore not to cheat on my wife. I swore in a church. I’d adhere to that oath NOT because i took it in a church, but because I SWORE. ME. MY WORD.

    In my sphere of influence, my word means something because of who it is from….me. I am who am; no one else, me.

  2. There was nothing in the article that actually said what “empowerment ethics” actually means but I found this on another page on the site and I think it’s pseudoscience gibberish, right up there with postmodernism:

    I think I can argue in objectively factual terms that there is an overriding good that all humans should be concerned with. The good we should all strive for is to be as powerful according to our potential abilities as we can be. Every human being is made up of a set of powers. We do not just have our powers but we are our powers. We do not just have the powers of rationality, we exist through them. We do not just have abilities to feel things emotionally, we exist through them. And the same goes for our powers of sociability, our bodily powers, our sexual powers, our creative powers, our technological powers, our artistic powers, and any other distinct categories of powers you can identify within us. Each of our major categories of powers is comprised of component powers and each of our powers can combine into larger powers.

    There is nothing there that can be called an actual scientific theory of mind or ethics. As someone said about String Theory it’s not coherent enough to even be wrong.

    • In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

      There was nothing in the article that actually said what “empowerment ethics” actually means but I found this on another page on the site and I think it’s pseudoscience gibberish, right up there with postmodernism:

      I think I can argue in objectively factual terms that there is an overriding good th…

      Apparently, there is more to come on Dr Fincke’s blog – for better of for worse. I would not expect much, since Nietzsche’s work, full of excellent insights though it be, does not provide a promising basis on which to construct a moral philosophy. But – who knows? – we may be pleasantly surprised.

  3. First, since I think empowerment ethics is derivable, provable,

    This is a good sign that the author doesn’t have much of a clue. I can’t think of anything in psychology that can be called provable and very little in philosophy. Provable has a well defined meaning for a philosopher or competent scientist. Goedel’s theorem is provable. Evolution by natural selection is not. (Which doesn’t mean it’s not true or well supported it’s just not provable in the formal mathematical sense). It’s why Dawkins never claims that he can prove God doesn’t exist, because it’s an empirical claim and there can only be strong evidence for or against it not a proof.

    • I think you have done a good job here, delineating the difference between “theory” and “law” in the scientific sense. Laws can be proven through the formal mathematical sense. Evolution is a “theory” because although supported by lots of evidence, it does not break down into a math type proof. The law of universal gravitation…. the theory of evolution! Cool stuff.

      In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

      First, since I think empowerment ethics is derivable, provable,

      This is a good sign that the author doesn’t have much of a clue. I can’t think of anything in psychology that can be called provable and very little in philosophy. Provable has a well defined meaning for a philosopher or competent scie…

      • These terms already have pretty well-defined meanings.

        A scientific ‘Law’ is a concise, descriptive (or analytic) statement about a fundamental principle of science based on repeatable observations. Laws can be incorrect, Newton’s ‘Law of Gravity’ had to be refined when it was tested beyond the realm (both in terms of scale and accuracy) to which it had previously been tested – so these are NOT formally ‘provable’ statements.

        But even if you make measurements today the original ‘Law’ will STILL be ‘close enough’ WITHIN the error bounds and range to which the original Law applied.

        A scientific ‘Theory’ is a well-supported, overarching (not merely descriptive) explanation, or model, that accounts for some observable phenomena (and usually must have made predictions that were tested and confirmed or it’s just a working hypothesis – although this confirmation can also be part of the consensus building process).

  4. I guess the easy answer is NO. A philosophy that possesses the properties of someone who does not believe in god or gods, makes no sense.

    Perhaps “Is Empowerment Ethics Logical” or Rational or some other non-faith based process might work. Why is this a question?

    • In reply to #8 by alaskansee:

      I guess the easy answer is NO. A philosophy that possesses the properties of someone who does not believe in god or gods, makes no sense.

      Why do you say that? Many philosophers: Nietzsche, Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Dennett, Noam Chomsky (to name just a few) were atheists. And many more gave lip service to the concept of “God” but if you dig into their theories they thought of God the way Einstein did (more as a figure of speech a way to talk about the awe we feel at the universe) e.g. David Hume, Spinoza.

  5. Crookedshoes (Comment 3): I’d swear on a comic book with as much adherence. It is not that my hand rested on a holy book; it was that I swore. ME. I gave MY WORD.

    Absolutely I understand that. You knew what you were doing, and your word would be good enough for me. But swearing on a Bible, playing their game, gives encouragement to those who think that only an oath in the name of The Deity can assure truth. Legally in the U.S. at least, you can also “affirm.” However, I grant that it could tend to lessen your credibility even though you are sincerely telling the truth. Damn shame the Bible had to be there at all.

  6. I swore on a bible that I’d tell the truth.

    Just an FYI, I was a juror about 25 years ago. We were informed that swearing on the Bible is not mandatory; there is a non-religious option if you ask. We were instructed that if someone were to choose this option we were not to consider anything against the individual nor make anything of it. This was a federal case, murder, so whether or not you were aware – you had a choice to not use the Bible.

    • Thanks Kat,

      I do not think I was aware of that at the time, however, I would not make a deal about it at all because it is (in my eyes) my word that matters, not the ritual (or choice of book) surrounding it.

      BTW, mine was a murder trial as well and I was called to try to establish whether a 13 year old boy should be tried as an adult for killing his 16 year old brother by stabbing him in the heart with a steak knife over taking turns playing a video game. I was an expert due to my teaching credentials and the fact that I sat with the 13 year old in prison, teaching him science for 5 hours a week for close to 40 weeks before the trial was to begin.

      • In reply to #13 by crookedshoes:

        Thanks Kat,

        I do not think I was aware of that at the time, however, I would not make a deal about it at all because it is (in my eyes) my word that matters, not the ritual (or choice of book) surrounding it.

        BTW, mine was a murder trial as well and I was called to try to establish whether a 13 ye…

        Wow! That’s some tale! I don’t think many would have had an experience like that in their lives.

        I’ve been on Jury Duty twice .On both occasions I chose the Affirmation ( an alternative to swearing on the bible in NSW). The first time I was the only one to choose this option even though there were other panel members who were clearly not Christians. On my second stint on the jury, the split was about half and half.The procedure was an easy choice as they now opted to have us say our piece en masse.

        • In reply to #14 by Nitya:

          In reply to #13 by crookedshoes:

          I have heard a very good argument that in all trials an affirmation should be used by all involved as this was the best way to try to eradicate religious bias or prejudice. An affirmation is neutral, whereas any form of oath immediately involves that person with a certain group. Needless to say, whingeing theists saw this only as an attack on their religious rights and ignored the benefits it may have for justice.

          • I work as a magistrates’ court legal adviser in England and it has always interested me how many people take the oath and how many affirm (the answer being about half and half but it is influenced I have noticed by the usher who takes them through it).

            I think there is a lot to the argument that universal affirmation would be fairest and neutral, however the key idea (whether realistic or not) is that the oath/affirmation binds the conscience of the person taking it. We are all familiar with the kind of religious people who imainge they would rape and murder if they lost their faith as god is required to be moral. For this kind of person calling on their deity to help them tell the truth is not necessarily a bad thing.

            If you dumped the idea of someone finding a particular form of words to bind their conscience then you could go over to universal affirmation. But if you did that then there is no longer a reason at all to give any kind of commitment to tell the truth, you could just simply make lying when giving evidence illegal and remove the oath/affirmation.

            In reply to #14 by Nitya:
            I have heard a very good argument that in all trials an affirmation should be used by all involved as this was the best way to try to eradicate religious bias or prejudice. An affirmation is neutral, whereas any form of oath immediately in…

  7. From the OP:

    Empowerment Ethics, as I develop it, is classifiable as a “naturalistic” ethics.

    And then, later on:

    In a future post I will have to tease out at greater length what I do and don’t mean by naturalism and go over what is to be learned from “non-naturalism”.

    What a curious way to begin an essay — by suspending a definition of the main idea in your argument.

    It’s like arranging a football match, only to declare the goal posts have not arrived, and insisting the players kick the ball around in the meantime. Very odd.

  8. I just had a brainstorm. Why not have all of congress and all of the senate swear to tell the truth on a Bible every day when they arrive at work? Then, when they are caught lying, the faithful can deal with them knowing what dishonest, disgusting people they can be….. Wait, do we already do that?

  9. I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and I have often wondered how ideas from behavior science would impact a debate between a religious person and an atheist. Behavior analysts work with individuals with disabilities often and these people are often advocated for by the state (through medicaid… etc) therefore a plan for helping individuals to behave in a manner that is not harmful to themselves or others must not be based on any religious beliefs or any particular style a parent might use. This is an objective form of influencing people’s behavior without any guidance from religion and in fact purposefully so. Behavior science reveals a methodology of moral decision making and influence that is derived purely from an ethic based on a substantial body of research composed of experimentation that is repeated and peer reviewed. We have found through research that teaching or behavior improvement is more effectively accomplished through the reinforcement of appropriate behaviors not through presenting aversive stimuli to a person (spanking, yelling at… etc) for behaving in “bad” ways. This is purely based on research using quality scientific experimentation. Science has found that punishment is less effective at changing behavior than teaching good behavior and ignoring or ensuring that bad behavior is not successful. It is interesting that religion appears to present spanking and other aversive consequences as the best way to change behavior. The scientific findings seem to present a more humane and moral way to address problematic behavior. This is an example of ethics arising from a source that is explicitly irreligious.

    • In reply to #20 by mgrennell:

      I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst

      So does that mean you believe in Radical Behaviorism as a viable theory of psychology? I.e., do you think a model based solely on stimulus response can explain how humans learn and use language? Because if you do then I think your underlying theory has about as much scientific validity as Freudianism. Actually, that may be a bit too harsh, Freudianism is pure pseudoscience, behaviorism has alot of real science, it’s just that the people like Skinner who took it to the extreme were clearly wrong I think and that can be easily demonstrated by thing like the poverty of stimulus argument for human language acquisition.

      Behavior science reveals a methodology of moral decision making and influence that is derived purely from an ethic based on a substantial body of research composed of experimentation that is repeated and peer reviewed.

      Most of the Behaviorists and all of the clinical psychologists I’ve ever encountered in the real world or read about stay away from making moral claims. In my experience they focus on issues such as self actualization or achieving your personal goals. The question of whether your personal goals are moral are usually not a major part of therapy except in the sense that for some people being moral is an important part of their personal identity.

      Are you saying that Behavior Analysis is different? If so I would like to see a link to a book or paper or something and read more about it.

      • So does that mean you believe in Radical Behaviorism as a viable
        theory of psychology? I.e., do you think a model based solely on
        stimulus response can explain how humans learn and use language?

        I’m a bit late to this and I’m not the person you were responding to, but I think you’ve confused Radical Behaviorism (RB) with stimulus-response psychology. RB is a rejection of S-R psychology. The latter is better characterised by methodological behaviorism which was John Watson’s brand that was largely based on the mechanism of Pavlov’s classical conditioning (hence “stimulus-response”).

        Skinner on the other hand thought that it was far too simplistic to view learning entirely in that way and that’s essentially where his concept of operant conditioning came from, as operant conditioning is a rejection of S-R psychology.

        Behaviorism has been hugely successful as a philosophy of psychology and has allowed us to learn an incredible amount about behavior and language. Even the most ardent cognitivist who doesn’t want to label themselves as a behaviorist has to admit that the radical behaviorist methodology is the best way to study psychology, as that’s the method all psychologists today use. In fact, there’s not really much difference between cognitivism and radical behaviorism, given that radical behaviorism is defined largely by its acceptance of, and emphasis of importance on, cognitions (that’s why it was termed “radical” as it was such a wide divergence from methodological behaviorism that argued that we should ignore cognition and mental states).

        Actually, that may be a bit too harsh, Freudianism is pure
        pseudoscience, behaviorism has alot of real science, it’s just that
        the people like Skinner who took it to the extreme were clearly wrong
        I think and that can be easily demonstrated by thing like the poverty
        of stimulus argument for human language acquisition.

        I’m not quite sure what “extreme” Skinner supposedly took. As with all behaviorists, Skinner rejected blank slatism (Watson was an ethologist who dedicated the last couple of chapters of his “Behaviorism” to the importance of instinct, and Skinner routinely discussed the differences between phylogenic (innate) and ontogenic (learnt) behaviors due to his love of Darwin’s work), and so he was one of the earliest proponents of the idea that the ‘nature vs nurture’ argument was meaningless as he argued that it is necessarily both.

        With that said, I’m not aware of anyone ever really taking the ‘poverty of the stimulus’ argument seriously so even if Skinner had argued that language was entirely learnt without any innate language components (he didn’t), it still wouldn’t defeat such a position as it’s an inherently flawed position.

    • I think you missed my point, I was saying it could be made illegal when you REMOVE the oath/affirmation. And as your definition states at the moment perjury requires and oath (or affirmation).

      In reply to #22 by Tim Smith:

      In reply to 18, you could just simply make lying when giving evidence illegal and remove the oath/affirmation.

      I thought that it is illegal and is called perjury.’ A crime that occurs when an individual willfully makes a false statement during a judicial proceeding, after he or she has taken an oath.

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