Over the past few years, I have formulated my philosophy of life, a 13-page document that may be found at either of the following links:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Byh6JnTg3RMecHhxV0pYeklqV0U/edit?us...

http://www.scribd.com/doc/183418623/My-Philosophy-of-Life

In the first half of the document, I present and defend the following positions: atheism, afterlife skepticism, free will impossibilism, moral skepticism, existential skepticism and negative hedonism. The second half of the document is devoted to ways to achieve and maintain peace of mind.

I have found the entire exercise to be very beneficial personally, and I hope that you will benefit from reading the document.

I am posting my philosophy to solicit feedback so that it may be improved. I welcome any constructive criticism that you may have.

Enjoy!

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Philo, I write for two of the several reasons that artists make art - self-expression and self-discovery.

I read my stuff (mostly the s-e stuff) at a writers group and get helpful feedback on grammar, style, etc.

When I read my s-d stuff, I get no feedback of any value because no one else there is an atheist or has any of the other positions I describe.

With my s-d writing, I get good results when I put it away and, weeks or months later, edit where necessary.

Well, since you asked...

Atheism

I don't find any of the kinds of appeals to consequences convincing when arguing about metaphysics, for that entails that you know some property of the metaphysical thing you're describing. For example, you can't scientifically demonstrate "suffering", and you can't even begin to speculate "Why would God do this..." without understanding the thought process of God. Neither can the Christians, which would be a legitimate mode of attack in my opinion.

Afterlife skepticism

Notice in your argument from evolution when you called souls having sprung into existence highly unlikely, while you have also taken for granted the process from non-living material to living single-celled organisms to living complex organisms with irreducible body parts and abilities of growth and regeneration that was previously impossible. So it's unreasonable to hold one but not the other unless you could articulate what makes the two different. Then, I suggest you specifically attack those differences instead of asking questions. For instance, one might suggest that it means as much for a rock to have a soul as a human to have a life. You may ridicule that assertion, but ridicule is unconvincing alone as argument.

Free will

I accept that free will has an infinite regress argument against it (in its commonly understood form), but "responsibility" is vague as a concept. Does lack of free will (in the common form) really indicate lack of responsibility (also as commonly understood)? While it may be hard to swallow, I say that they are separate. To answer, we look towards compatibilist theory. I like John Martin Fischer's account of regulative and guidance control. He concludes that while we may not have regulative control, the ability of multiple possibilities, we do have guidance control, which is what responsibility is really about.

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwCompatFischerRavizza.htm

Moral skepticism

It is unclear how you personally define morality, which makes this difficult to discuss. You seem to be a proponent of subjectivism, so what is it that makes moral statements comprehensible when people say them? Are subjective moral statements significant propositions, or are they putative in that they are reducible to one's own psychology?

Existential skepticism

I guess the first question here is what is 'life' in this context (biological life?), and what is 'inherent purpose' as opposed to 'subjective purpose'? When a person asserts "I should protect my family", does that then become a transcendental thing in the person's mind (filling him with purpose), or is it just an irrational conclusion? What does it really mean when someone says that someone "should" do something? And in the first place, can you even attribute thought to yourself or differentiate subjective and objective when you say you lack responsibility?

Death

Okay, there are several real problems here. Define 'life' (as before). Define 'harmful'. If something is harmful merely because it diverges from a person's ideals, then life is also harmful since it prevents a person from experiencing eternal pleasure. And because 'life' isn't defined, "the very last trace of life" is hardly meaningful. If it is irrational to fear death, then why is death harmful, unless you're promoting irrationality? For example, if racism is irrational, then is racial equality harmful?

Negative Hedonism

Your prior positions eliminate goals, yet here you feel it safe to assert that self-preservation is a "rational" goal. This commits the naturalistic fallacy, from G.E. Moore whom you've cited. For there is a difference between a biological (emotional) inclination and a normative one.

Peace of Mind

If fearing death is irrational and peace of mind is desired, then shouldn't death be the ultimate act of self-preservation? Your prior positions which you say increase peace of mind could also decrease it depending upon your values. For example, someone inclined to believe moral realism could be stressed by the lack of direction if he were to be a skeptic. Someone inclined to believe God could be stressed from diminished self-worth.

Free will being impossible does not render emotions irrational, but it does render it impossible for you to be an author or a freethinker.

If theoretically, a person derives great pleasure from rape and murder of children, would you prescribe that he act on it without guilt (since it is irrational), and without fear of incarceration (since he could commit suicide if at any time his life isn't worth living anymore, and he shouldn't fear death)?

Thank you for a detailed and thoughtful reply, Jonathan.  Let me try to address your concerns:

I don't find any of the kinds of appeals to consequences convincing when arguing about metaphysics, for that entails that you know some property of the metaphysical thing you're describing.

The God of classical theism is the tri-omni creator of the universe.  These would be God's properties, if he existed.

For example, you can't scientifically demonstrate "suffering", and you can't even begin to speculate "Why would God do this..." without understanding the thought process of God. 

I do not need to scientifically demonstrate suffering.  It is abundantly clear that suffering exists.  And I do not need to understand the thought process of God in order to show that there is evidence that a tri-omni creator of the universe probably does not exist.

Notice in your argument from evolution when you called souls having sprung into existence highly unlikely, while you have also taken for granted the process from non-living material to living single-celled organisms to living complex organisms with irreducible body parts and abilities of growth and regeneration that was previously impossible. So it's unreasonable to hold one but not the other unless you could articulate what makes the two different.

There are a number of naturalistic scientific hypotheses on offer for abiogenesis, whereas souls are non-naturalistic and a complete mystery.

Does lack of free will (in the common form) really indicate lack of responsibility (also as commonly understood)?

Yes.  The regress argument demonstrates that it does.  If you feel that you can refute the regress argument, then please try to do so.

It is unclear how you personally define morality, which makes this difficult to discuss. You seem to be a proponent of subjectivism, so what is it that makes moral statements comprehensible when people say them? Are subjective moral statements significant propositions, or are they putative in that they are reducible to one's own psychology?

I characterize objective moral facts as follows: "If objective moral facts existed, they would be strange entities indeed.  They would have inescapable practical authority, which is to say that they would provide normative reasons for action that transcend institutions and are independent of one’s desires and interests.  At the same time, they would not be empirically verifiable." (page 3)

Subjective moral statements are not significant propositions, in my view.

I guess the first question here is what is 'life' in this context (biological life?), and what is 'inherent purpose' as opposed to 'subjective purpose'? When a person asserts "I should protect my family", does that then become a transcendental thing in the person's mind (filling him with purpose), or is it just an irrational conclusion? What does it really mean when someone says that someone "should" do something? And in the first place, can you even attribute thought to yourself or differentiate subjective and objective when you say you lack responsibility?

Life, in this context, is biological life.  Inherent purpose is mind-independent, whereas subjective purpose is mind-dependent.  When a person asserts "I should protect my family", presumably this is because he empathizes with his family and/or believes that protecting his family will be in his self-interest.  Why does it matter what "should" means?  Why cannot I attribute thought to myself in the absence of ultimate responsibility?

Okay, there are several real problems here. Define 'life' (as before). Define 'harmful'. If something is harmful merely because it diverges from a person's ideals, then life is also harmful since it prevents a person from experiencing eternal pleasure. And because 'life' isn't defined, "the very last trace of life" is hardly meaningful. If it is irrational to fear death, then why is death harmful, unless you're promoting irrationality? For example, if racism is irrational, then is racial equality harmful?

Life, in this context, would be consciousness.  Harmful is anything that happens to one that diverges from one's preferences.  Life itself (existence) is not "harmful", as one would generally prefer to live.  Death is usually harmful because it prevents a scenario that one would usually prefer (living a longer life).  At the same time, for the reasons provided in the document, fearing death is irrational.

Your prior positions eliminate goals, yet here you feel it safe to assert that self-preservation is a "rational" goal. This commits the naturalistic fallacy, from G.E. Moore whom you've cited. For there is a difference between a biological (emotional) inclination and a normative one.

Where do I assert that self-preservation is a "rational" goal?

If fearing death is irrational and peace of mind is desired, then shouldn't death be the ultimate act of self-preservation? 

I define peace of mind as "the absence of significant negative emotions, while still retaining one’s mental faculties".  Death would not further this goal.

Your prior positions which you say increase peace of mind could also decrease it depending upon your values. 

I do not claim that my positions always promote peace of mind, only that they promote peace of mind in certain specific ways.

Free will being impossible does not render emotions irrational, but it does render it impossible for you to be an author or a freethinker.

Not true.  Writing and thinking are perfectly compatible with the impossibility of ultimate responsibility.

If theoretically, a person derives great pleasure from rape and murder of children, would you prescribe that he act on it without guilt (since it is irrational), and without fear of incarceration (since he could commit suicide if at any time his life isn't worth living anymore, and he shouldn't fear death)?

He might not fear incarceration, but he would strongly prefer to live freely rather than be incarcerated and/or commit suicide.  Therefore, considerations of self-interest would probably be enough to discourage him from committing the crimes, if he is rational.

  1. If you pose the question, "Why would God do action q?", such that you are asserting that "If God had certain property p, he would not do action q", then you are presuming what God would or would not do. This line of questioning is unnecessary, and since you are being dawn into a theological debate, there will inevitably be a lot of holes in your reasoning. For instance, if you also claim moral skepticism, then who are you to judge the internal details of other moral systems?
  2. "Suffering" is vague. There is no empirically verifiable quantity of suffering, and any attempt to provide one will be met with the long term-short term objection to Utilitarianism. So while you may perceive that suffering exists, you have no evidence whether it would increase or alleviate suffering given any of God's action q; most likely, you couldn't even begin to conceive what an increase or decrease in suffering entails.
  3. The infinite regress argument does not demonstrate that a parent isn't "responsible" to his children, or that a criminal isn't "responsible" for his crime, or that the gears of a clock aren't "responsible" for moving the clock's hands, or any of a number of ways we determine responsibility in common vernacular.
  4. I know G.E. Moore's argument from queerness, thank you very much. That doesn't tell me anything about what objective morality is; all it tells me is that objective morality can't exist, which is like saying God doesn't exist if you don't even know what it is. But to provide a counter-argument of sorts, let's take one from Sam Harris' "Moral Landscape": We have faith that empiricism should be accepted, and we do not have any evidence that our senses should be trusted, so if we take science for granted, why hold morality to a higher standard?
  5. If 'life' is merely biological life, then a conscious android who doesn't reproduce isn't alive. Consider a version of the Theseus' Ship Paradox, where a person gets each of his body parts replaced one by one with functional artificial counterparts, until he is completely machine, lacking an ounce of biological life. Is he no longer human and living, even though he looks and acts the same?
  6. If infinite regress is true, then it is true that a previous state is wholly responsible for your current state. If it is true that a previous state is responsible, then it is true for such before you were born, and so on until the beginning of the universe. And so therefore, by that theory, if we knew every possible variable, it would have been possible to determine with some certainty your thoughts before you existed. Therefore, we conclude that you don't have any thoughts, since you don't have responsibility for thoughts, and we attribute your thoughts to some mass of rocks or a black hole that has existed trillions of years ago.
  7. There is a difference between "I do" and "I should do" -- Hume's is-ought principle. Thus, that you attribute a thought to yourself does not necessarily give you any kind of imperative. How do you logically bridge "I think" with "I should do"?
  8. Biological life isn't necessarily equivalent to "existence".
  9. If fearing death is irrational, then the preference for a longer life is irrational. For if death has lower value compared to continued life, then it should be feared (like having your car stolen is feared), otherwise if death has no value disadvantage, then a longer life would not be preferred.
  10. If it is irrational to fear the state of being dead, then it is irrational to fear death... The state of being dead is not painful, as one’s consciousness ends upon death
    But dying, which is a process of death, is potentially painful.
  11. Where do I assert that self-preservation is a "rational" goal?

    You said that death is harmful because it deprives the state of mind which allows for preferring life (existence, not biological life), which is good (despite being a moral skeptic). You also said that optimizing one's state of mind is the only rational goal, and it seems doing so requires self-preservation as self-preservation prevents that which is harmful (death). Hence, it seems that in your conception, since the mind only exists in existence and peace of mind requires "retaining one's metal faculties", then self-preservation would be the ultimate rational goal. But really, it makes no difference whether we are talking about self-preservation or optimal state of mind--this is a red herring--since it commits the naturalistic fallacy regardless.
  12. Writing and thinking might be compatible with lack of responsibility, but only in the sense that you are a mindless puppet going through the motions. You cannot possibly claim to be responsible while lacking responsibility.
  13. You are presuming a lot of other people, that they necessarily prefer continued life, or that he would prefer to live freely rather than rape little girls, yet I doubt that you could predict the optimal states of mind of others, whatever that means--because there are no units of suffering or pleasure.

1.  Again, all I am pointing out is that there is evidence against a tri-omni creator of the universe.  And I feel comfortable asserting, for example, that such a being would not create a world with so much apparently needless suffering.  I assert moral skepticism only after establishing atheism.

2.  "Suffering" may be vague, but it is clear that a universe with less suffering could have been created by a tri-omni being.

3.  The regress argument does not eliminate all forms of responsibility, but only ultimate responsibility of a living agent.

4.The argument from queerness in my document is from J.L. Mackie, not G.E. Moore.  And I use Richard Joyce's characterization of objective moral facts.  

I have already provided you with a characterization of objective moral facts, were they to exist.

We do not "take science for granted"; it has been shown to be highly effective.  Regarding our senses, they cross-verify each other, and acting on sense data has allowed humanity to survive and prosper.  In contrast, the only evidence for objective moral facts is our moral intuition, which is better explained by natural selection, social conditioning and individual upbringing.

5.It is unclear whether an android could ever be conscious, and if not, there is no reason to consider it to be alive, in the context of meaning.

6.Not having ultimate responsibility for one's thoughts is perfectly compatible with those thoughts existing.  In fact, the former entails the latter.

7.What is your point?  How do your questions relate to anything in my document?

8.Again, what is your point?

9.False.  The fact that a longer life is preferable to a shorter one does not mean that fearing death is rational, for the reasons discussed in the document.

10.I do not deny that the process of dying can be painful, or that fearing the process of dying is irrational.

11.

You said that death is harmful because it deprives the state of mind which allows for preferring life (existence, not biological life), which is good (despite being a moral skeptic). You also said that optimizing one's state of mind is the only rational goal, and it seems doing so requires self-preservation as self-preservation prevents that which is harmful (death). Hence, it seems that in your conception, since the mind only exists in existence and peace of mind requires "retaining one's metal faculties", then self-preservation would be the ultimate rational goal. But really, it makes no difference whether we are talking about self-preservation or optimal state of mind--this is a red herring--since it commits the naturalistic fallacy regardless.

The ultimate rational goal, as stated in the document, is optimizing one's state of mind over one's lifetime, not "self-preservation".  This goal is based on the ultimate considerations of self-interest and empathy, which are themselves the result of natural selection.  There is no naturalistic fallacy here.  Nowhere do I assert that "life is good" is an objective moral fact, in the way in which I characterize objective moral facts.

12.The impossibility of ultimate responsibility in no way implies that I am a mindless puppet.  

13.Irrelevant.  I do not need to measure suffering or pleasure exactly in order to provide general guidelines for behavior.  And they are guidelines, not absolute rules.  There may be cases where it is rational to cause great harm to other people, but these cases are extreme and rare.

Well, I tried...

And I appreciate your time and effort.

Jonathan, I read and liked your attempt.

My experience with such questions told me that Philo wanted a debate he would win.

Philo:

Personally I find your philosophy only a tad wanting. In regard to morality, even if there is no God (and for my part I am certain there is no gods of any kind), why could there not be an objective morality ? Yes, the universe is mindless, and therefore, cold and uncaring. Yet, despite the fact that there is almost certainly no God, the universe is, itself, an objective fact; and we human beings are a part of that objective fact (unless one happens to be a solipsist). I am fairly certain that you have heard of the philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris. A book authored by him titled, "The Moral Landscape", came out in 2010. He is also the author of the book, "Free Will", which, if you haven't read it, I believe, that, like me, you will agree with most of what he says, for he too, denies the existence of free will (as do I).

But, in his book The Moral Landscape, he discusses whether or not some things really are good and other things really are bad. Right now I'm on about page 115. He makes a good case for there being objective morals, but not a top down morality that is dictated to us by divine fiat. He speaks much about bottom up causality (if you can use the word causality in light of basic quantum randomness). Doctor Harris holds forth that ultimately, who knows when (?), it will be neuroscience that will, through ever more knowledge gained of how the brain works, who will likely be the ones to tell us what we should want to do out of, not only personal self-interested welfare, but also the welfare of others. Harris believes that true (whether really objective or subjective) morality is for societies around the world begin to look for ways that enhances the well-being of all. Harris also points out that, similar to you, anthropologists consider morality to be a subjective ideal, and that one group's morals, whatever they entail, are just as good as any other group's morals. But he points out many things that can be considered truly immoral, or not to the well-being of living creatures, human and non-human. One example he notes is the monstrous practice of infibulation practiced in certain, especially Muslim, countries. It is the suturing up of the labia majora in young females, usually with a thorn used for a needle, leaving only a match stick caliber opening for the voiding of urine and menstrual blood. And the sutures remain in place until the girl is married, and on the consummation night the husband has the right to tear the sutures open, causing intense pain to the female, and sometimes permanent damage to the genitalia. Such a barbaric practice is certainly not conducive to the young bride's well-being.

Harris is not saying that in time to come that neuroscience will be the new priesthood, handing down moral commandments to the rest of us. It will simply inform us, based on the knowledge of how the brain works and how we think, of what we ought to want to do, based on what we are biologically, and on our biological needs, that would best enhance everyone's well-being.

Thank you for your comments, Anthony.

How would you respond to the arguments for moral skepticism in my document?

My philosophy is sex, drugs and rock n' roll. It's not negative hedonism.

 

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