Open Letter to Academic Philosophy: All Your Moral Theories Are the Same

Graphic depicting the three standard moral theories and the two forms of consequentialism described in the main text, as well as the fourth way with the label of Foot, the other three are labeled Kant, Mill, and Aristotle. The one labeled Mill only marks the consequences for everyone box, but another form of consequentialism is listed, egoism. Finally, all three systems can serve as the foundation for Social Contract Theory, also thus depicted. And Foot's system of hypothetical imperatives is tied to all Moral Theories at the core.In my work I have repeatedly pointed out two things about what philosophers think the options are in developing a theory of moral truth: (1) that their standard assumption of only three options (consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethics) curiously omits a fourth of equal importance, the only one developed by a woman, and (2) that these are actually all the same ethical theory and the fact that no one has ever noticed this is very annoying, and impeding progress in moral philosophy. Today I’m going to outline why both points are true, and matter a great deal. Philosophy will forever remain stuck and getting barely more than nowhere, until it acknowledges and integrates both facts in all future analysis of this question: What moral propositions are true? [Read more…]

Speaking for Columbus Rationality Next Month!

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Proving History. Illuminated stained glass Jesus in darkened room as peered at through a cross cut-out in an iron cathedral door. Title and author name below.I will be speaking on Bayesian history and epistemology for Columbus Rationality and the Secular Student Alliance at OSU in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, November 16th, at 7:30pm in Lazenby Hall (room 021) on the OSU campus. Details here.

I Will duscuss Bayesian reasoning and its application and status in the field of historical research; and how the analysis of the methods actually used by historians today reveals it is all Bayesian, and can be improved and better understood by recognizing this. I will also discuss the role and contents of my book Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (available in print, kindle, and audible); and likewise of supporting books by Aviezer Tucker, David Hackett Fischer, and C. Behan McCullagh.

I’ll have copies of Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus on hand.

The Moral Bankruptcy of Divine Command Theory: Matthew Flannagan’s Failed Defense

Cover of Doctor Hector Avalos's book Bad Jesus: The Ethics of the New Testament, yellow background, with a frame including the key focus of a painting depicting Jesus whipping people in the temple square.Theology has no salvageable theory of morality. Theists complain atheists have no reason to be moral. But in fact theists have no reason to actually be moral, as in: to elevate compassion, honesty, and reasonableness above all authority, even the authority of their own gods. Unless they covertly adopt a naturalistic moral theory (and most do), they are not actually moral people. They are minions. Theists are essentially the unquestioning gestapo of whatever monster manufactured the universe. Or rather, whatever monster some men made up and duped them into thinking it made the universe. Which means, they are essentially the gestapo of whatever random ignorant madmen wrote their scriptures and now thumps their pulpits with sufficiently fiery claims of special divine communications at bedtime.

I’m sorry to say, but that’s the truth. Theism actually has no moral theory.

This is why.

Hannibal Lecter created the universe? He escaped from a future holodeck simulation and then used a stolen TARDIS to Make the Universe after evaporating God by discovering the Babel Fish? Oh crap. Well, I guess we better get down with murder and elegant cannibalism or else he’ll be angry with us and send us to hell. Because he is now eternal and the supreme being and made the universe. So we can’t deny, his will and character is now the ground of all morality. And, oh yeah. This all totally makes sense.

Is that any more sensible than…?

A cosmic Jewish zombie named Jesus who telekinetically fathered himself by a virgin and now resides in outer space, is possessed by the spirit of a supernal ghost that is in some sort of parallel-dimensioning identical with but distinct from himself and an ancient Canaanite storm god, and promises to make you live forever in an alternate dimension if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that has eternally tainted our mammalian flesh ever since a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. So you better do what he says.

And lest we forget, that’s the Jesus who has nothing to say against slavery or the subjugation and disenfranchisement of women or the execution of homosexuals, other than, at best, that you shouldn’t invite sluts and homos to legally murder the sluts and homos because that would be hypocritical (John 7:52-8:11, a forgery). Oh no, you are supposed to wait for Jesus to murder them (Matthew 3:12). This Jesus is actually a morally dubious person.

You can always invent any Jesus you want, of course. A Jesus who fought for abolition and women’s suffrage and the decriminalization of homosexuality—and, oh, let’s say, promoted democracy and human rights and universal education (also not things Jesus ever says one word for in the Bible). But that’s just a guy you are making up in your head. Because you don’t like the guy on paper. Except… That you have to invent a better Jesus than the one that’s in the Book, really says all that needs saying here.

Matthew Flannagan & My Article for Philo

Several years ago (though it entered print only a couple years ago) I published a paper in the philosophy journal Philo, responding to Christian fundamentalist Matthew Flannagan on behalf of noted atheist philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, whom Flannagan had written an article against, defending William Lane Craig’s Divine Command Theory against Sinnott-Armstrong’s rather scathing destruction of it. Sinnott-Armstrong was probably bored at this point. I was recruited to write the rebuttal. The result is Richard Carrier, “On the Facts as We Know Them, Ethical Naturalism Is All There Is: A Reply to Matthew Flannagan,” Philo 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2012), pp. 200-11, I think so far my favorite paper for a peer reviewed philosophy journal.

The abstract reads:

In responding to Matthew Flannagan’s rebuttal to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s argument that ethical naturalism is more plausible than William Lane Craig’s Divine Command Theory of moral obligation (DCT), this author finds Flannagan incorrect on almost every point. Any defense of DCT is fallaciously circular and empirically untestable, whereas neither is the case for ethical naturalism. Accordingly, all four of Armstrong’s objections stand against Flannagan’s attempts to rebut them, and Flannagan’s case is impotent against a properly-formed naturalist metaethic.

In this paper I found Sinnott-Armstrong indisputably correct on every point but one, and even on that one he was correct, he just didn’t adequately prove it. My other peer reviewed paper on normative ethics, the chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them)” in The End of Christianity (ed. by John Loftus: Prometheus, 2011: pp. 333-64, 420-29), is an example of proving the point he intended, which is that grounds for morality not only do, but necessarily must exist independently of any gods, because in no other way can moral claims be sufficiently motivating so as to be true.

Flannagan has since published replies to my critique of him on his website (“Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection,” 5 September 2014, and “Richard Carrier and the Abhorrent Commands Objection,” 5 October 2014, and “Ethical Supernaturalism Is Still More Plausible Than Naturalism: Carrier’s Preliminary Objections,” 20 August 2014). Below I will summarize my paper in Philo, which summary already refutes most of what Flannagan now says—since what he now says pretty much ignores what I said, so restating what I said is a more than adequate rebuttal. And then I’ll address the remainder of Flannagan’s new rebuttals. The end result is not any different from where we started…

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Moral Reasoning Course: Learn the Science & Philosophy of Being a Better Person

Logo for Partners for Secular Activism. The letters PSA in blue, in an art decco font, over a light grey watermark of a compass pointing near to north, all on a white backround.Written from Puerto Rico today, as a tropical storm bears down on us: Come join my online course on moral reasoning! It starts next week. It goes a month. Study and participate at your own pace and on your own time. We don’t just cover the basic philosophy of morality and moral reasoning and why be moral and so on. We also cover what the sciences have discovered about all this. Which is more than you might think! Register now.

And don’t forget to order the required course text (in print or digital), Personality, Identity, and Character (eds. Darcia Narvaez and Daniel Lapsley). I recommend saving money: you can just rent that book on kindle, or buy the kindle edition or a used print copy. All other materials will be provided at no extra cost.


Why take this course?

As I wrote for this course last year, a course that is now tied for my second favorite (I offer it roughly once a year):

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The Question of Free Will Is a Gateway to Philosophy & Social Justice

Cover of Sam Harris's Book Free Will, which is the course text we will be using next month, red puppet theatre box showing the letters of the title hanging from puppet stringsPreparing to teach my online course on the science & philosophy of free will in a couple days reminded me, as I looked over the reading materials and thought-provoking questions I’ve prepared: this is my favorite class. Anyone who joins in will find in it a fascinating way to introduce yourself to the whole of philosophy, as it touches on everything from semantics to metaphysics to epistemology to political and moral reasoning, even aesthetics (such as through analyzing the lived experience of feeling free or trapped), and even leads you to a better understanding of consent, and the social role and value of personal autonomy, and the substantial reality of what it means to increase your own self actualization, and what it actually takes to do that (and what it actually means to fall short of it).

I think these are really good reasons to remind people again to take my course, if exploring these things with an experienced expert interests you. If so, you can register anytime from now through the first few days of August. You’ll also need to have or get a copy (print or electronic) of Sam Harris’s Free Will. The course officially starts this Saturday.

Rare Fine Bound Editions of My Books: Special Auction!

Photograph of the three fine bound volumes in dark brown artificial leather with gold lettering and decoration, standing on Dr. Carrier's desk..Yep. You might want. These are fabulous. And presently unique. But even if duplicated, they will remain extremely rare. I’m giddy at the craftsman’s work on them. They are an aesthetic achievement that harkens back to the old days of leather-bound books in private libraries. And I’m auctioning them off to help support my continuing enterprise as an independent scholar. So I have just two simple questions. Do you want an elegant fine bound hardcover edition of my most popular books? And at the same time to help support my continuing work, research, and activism? Then get in on this rare opportunity!

Summer is always slow for paying gigs. So I need to make up a $2000 shortfall in projected revenue for this quarter if I am to hit my target to get through the year. I have several special things in the works to do that. And this is the first: I have commissioned a local master craftsman and bookbinder to convert three of my books into what you see depicted. I have taken one copy each of Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, and Hitler Homer Bible Christ, and had them hand-bound in high quality artificial leather by an expert European craftsman, with gold lettering and styling, and stitched pages. Each will be inscribed personally, by me, in pen, to the auction-winner’s specifications (reasonable requests only, of course).

Any of these lovely books will adorn a library in prestigious fashion, old school, reminiscent of the days when monographs were elegantly crafted. It’s why I made them. Aesthetically, this is what books should always look like. But alas, few publishers produce books that look like this anymore.

Same as before, only the books are scattered and at different angles to see their binding and fronts.Four things to note: [Read more…]

Study the Science & Philosophy of Free Will with Me!

Logo for Partners for Secular Activism. The letters PSA in blue, in an art decco font, over a light grey watermark of a compass pointing near to north, all on a white backround.Join an affordable one-month online course in August, where I’ll teach and discuss the philosophy of free will, including the scientific facts relating to it, the legal evidence relating to it, the medical ethics relating to it, and more. Let others know, too! Anyone you know who might be interested. This is one of the ways I support my work in history and philosophy. And it’s useful. And fun!

This is your chance to ask a published philosopher and historian of philosophy all the questions you have about the subject, and also to become more informed about it and how to discuss it with others, as well as just hone and exercise your philosophical mind in general, on an important subject in law, morality, and life. A better understanding of this subject will benefit your personal life, your political thought, your attitudes toward prison reform, your understanding of consent and personal autonomy, and a great deal else.

The course begins next month (in roughly two weeks). It requires buying only one small, affordable textbook (Sam Harris’s Free Will, print or electronic). All other materials will be provided. The approach to Harris will be critical, but constructive, and backed with further materials showing the actual application of free will as a concept in the real world, not just in the ivory tower.

Among things covered will be:

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Next Weekend: Appearing in Missouri for the Mid Rivers Ethical Society!

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Image on cover is Carrier's One and Only Oil painting, of a spaceman on the ladder of a planetary lander somewhere with alien plant growth.I’m honored to be delivering a platform presentation next Sunday (June 14, 2015) for the Ethical Society of Mid Rivers, Missouri, at 10:30 a.m. The meeting is at the University of Missouri Extension Center (260 Brown Road) in Saint Peters, Missouri.

I’ll be speaking on “Naturalism as a Worldview and Its Connection to Social Justice.” My book Sense and Goodness without God defends a complete philosophy of life called Naturalism, the view that nature is all there is, with no supernatural powers or beings. This was written ten years ago. Now I will summarize its aims and contribution, and how it still relates to advancing the cause of humanism today. Learn how to defend a benevolent atheism not just as what we don’t believe in, but what we do believe in (scientifically and evidentially), and how that should inform the construction and pursuit of our humanist values, especially in light of current events. I’ll be selling and signing copies of Sense and Goodness without God, and possibly some copies of On the Historicity of Jesus and Why I Am Not a Christian.

For a whole week after that I’ll be in St. Louis. Anyone who might want to meet for lunch or a drink somewhere during the week, feel free to email or message me on Facebook (my message reception is open to the public). I’ll consider all requests, although my plans are building, so I will have to decline most, I expect. Group meets will get priority (so if you have a bunch of people who want to get together and hang out, that will certainly get my attention). And I won’t have transportation, so that’s a complication to overcome. In any case, if you will be emailing or messaging me about this, do please open with a convincing discourse on why and when you want to meet and how I can be sure you are not evil. That will be greatly appreciated!