Monday, August 09, 2010

Meaning, Purpose and Values: A Work of Art

Recent comments:

Ball Bounces: I've got xn to concede that meaning, purpose, and values are subjective. Which means that it is impossible, under atheism, for a human being to have or live a genuinely authentic existence. Subjective is just another word for "made-up", or "arbitrary", or, "ultimately fictitious", and "unreal".
Atheists should at least want for there to be a God -- it would authenticate human existence -- their existence. But they don't. They relish the idea that there is no God, and, therefore, no objective reality to meaning, purpose or values. Such a tendency can only be viewed as perverse, and, dare I say it, irrational.
XN:
 That "meaning, purpose, and values are subjective" is an assertion of mine, not a concession.
No, subjective does not mean "'made-up', or 'arbitrary', or, 'ultimately fictitious', and 'unreal'." This is in fact a highly tendentious definition of the word. This can be seen in the (widely accepted) statement that appreciation of art and music is subjective. This does not mean that appreciation of art and music is "'made-up', or 'arbitrary', or, 'ultimately fictitious', and 'unreal'" -- just that it is very idiosyncratic and very personal. I would further point out that religious experiences are also subjective (as can be seen from the wide range of religious experiences supporting different religions).
As you have not demonstrated that the subjective is in some way inauthentic, your assertion that "it is impossible, under atheism, for a human being to have or live a genuinely authentic existence" is unsubstantiated.
* * *

When a person has a subjective appreciation of art, the art is objectively real. What is subjective is the person's apprehension of the art, and the way it strikes them. A blind person may not react to the artwork at all. A color-blind person may not appreciate the colors. A cross-eyed person may see it differently. Etc. The subjectivity is in the apprehension; the art itself exists.

What I am asserting is not that meaning, purpose, and values are subjectively apprehended under atheism -- for this statement is equally true under theism. What I am asserting is a stronger claim that, under atheism, meaning, purpose, and values are mere subjective constructs of each human mind, and nothing more. They have no more objective existence than flying spaghetti monsters.

In other words, under atheism, there is no art "out there" to see.

Which means, to the extent that being human is equated with such things as the pursuit of meaning, purpose, and values, it is impossible under atheism for humans to be authentic creatures living authentic lives. Only God's existence and we his creatures can provide a sufficient foundation and grounding for authentic human existence.

* * *

I also assert that conceptually, under atheism, the very ideas of meaning, purpose and value are absurd. Why should one possibly expect there to be meaning, purpose, and value in a meaningless, purposeless, indifferent universe?

Moreover, if the universe really were meaningless, purposeless, and valueless, none of these -- the search for meaning, the sense of purpose, and the sense of value and values -- should exist within the human mind as deeply held (basic?) notions. So, not only are the ideas absurdities, we too are absurdities for thinking them.

Atheists may argue against my ideas, but, in doing so, they only diminish themselves and humanity with them.

Regain your humanity. Rebel against the atheist machine.™

NB - Artwork by Anatole Krasnyansky -- our favorite artist.
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23 comments:

Hræfn said...

More Gish Galloping past the majority of my post I see -- including further studious ignoring of the elephant in the room (that the choice isn't simply between Atheism and Christianity).

"When a person has a subjective appreciation of art, the art is objectively real."

This point is completely irrelevant. This can be seen from the fact that people subjectively have religious experiences, whose object is not "objectively real".

"What I am asserting is a stronger claim that, under atheism, meaning, purpose, and values are mere subjective constructs of each human mind, and nothing more."

And an Atheist would say the same thing about your religion.

"Only God's existence and we his creatures can provide a sufficient foundation and grounding for authentic human existence."

There you go Begging the Question again.

Rick: 'God exists, so Hræfn is wrong.'

Muslim: 'Allah exists so Rick and Hræfn are wrong.'

Hindu: 'Brahman exists so Rick, Hræfn & the Muslim are wrong.'

Etc, ad infinitum.

If your readers don't privilege Christian's personal and textual revelations above all others (and as non-Christians, the majority of the world has no reason to do so), this argument gets you precisely nowhere.

"Why should one possibly expect there to be meaning, purpose, and value in a meaningless, purposeless, indifferent universe?

Moreover, if the universe really were meaningless, purposeless, and valueless, none of these -- the search for meaning, the sense of purpose, and the sense of value and values -- should exist within the human mind as deeply held (basic?) notions. So, not only are the ideas absurdities, we too are absurdities for thinking them."

The answer is the topic you Gish Galloped past in abstracting this post from the previous thread: Emergence. Given that your argument against it in that thread amounted to Emergence, misrepresentation and an Argument from Personal Incredulity, I have no hesitation in reintroducing it here.

Regain your humanity. Rebel against the Religious-Right machine. (It should be noted that Religious-Righters are far more regimented & robot-like than Atheists -- organising the latter being aptly described as like trying to herd cats.)

RkBall said...

elephant in the room (that the choice isn't simply between Atheism and Christianity).

Needs separate post. Apologetic two-step.

1. God or no God?

2. Which God?

One can argue at either level.

RkBall said...

"This point is completely irrelevant. This can be seen from the fact that people subjectively have religious experiences, whose object is not "objectively real".

You have just ceded my point. If you think that meaning, purpose, and values have no more objective reality than belief in God, which you equate to belief in a spaghetti monster, by which I mean you say is completely unreal, fictitious, and made-up, then I have won this debate.

As for being off-topic, I have raised this as a new post, and therefore, a new topic.

RkBall said...

On emergence, your points are well taken and acknowledged. My point in refutation is simply this: a purely materialistic explanation for reality cannot account for humanity as I know and experience it. Simply cannot. Everything must have not just a hypothesized cause, or a possible cause, but a cause which is sufficient to explain the results.

I am not disagreeing with the science.

Hræfn said...

("Given that your argument against it in that thread amounted to Emergence" should read "Given that your argument against it in that thread amounted to Quote Mining" -- link was correct, but link title was wrong.)

Hræfn said...

"One can argue at either level."

The trouble is that you keep moving backwards and forwards between the levels -- using arguments based upon your beliefs about the Christian God in arguing for "God" against "no God".

"You have just ceded my point. If you think that meaning, purpose, and values have no more objective reality than belief in God, which you equate to belief in a spaghetti monster, by which I mean you say is completely unreal, fictitious, and made-up, then I have won this debate."

Rick, all you have "won" is my cointempt for your tendentiousness. "Subjective" does not, and never has, meant "unreal, fictitious, and made-up". You side-stepped rather than rebutted this point with your irrelevant hand-waving about "the art is objectively real". I gave a rough definition of it as "very idiosyncratic and very personal". If you want the OED definition it is "Pertaining or peculiar to an individual subject or his mental operations; depending upon one's individuality or idiosyncrasy; personal, individual." None of which suggests that it is unreal, nor in any way differentiates between appreciation of art and "meaning, purpose, and values". How can a mental state possibly be more authentic than something that depends on "upon one's individuality or idiosyncrasy"?

Hræfn said...

"My point in refutation is simply this: a purely materialistic explanation for reality cannot account for humanity as I know and experience it."

But this is simply an Argument from Increduility or Lack of Imagaination.

Hræfn said...

"God or no God?"

And what happens in this scheme to the religions, e.g. Buddhism, Taoism, Animism, Shamanism, that don't claim the existence of anything resembling a supreme/creator God? I happen to be one of that number, so am curious as to how your "Apologetic two-step" treats this third option for the first question.

P@J said...

Your apologetic two-step is more of a Michael Jackson moonwalk:

1: Supernatural or Natural world?
2: If supernatural, how many Gods?
3: If only one God, which God?
4: If God “X”, whose interpretation of the reality of that God do we accept as “truth”. (Could be reduced to Old testament Vs. New Testament vs. Book of Mormon vs. Quran…)

If any argument you can make for the existence of Ball’s God can be made equally for the existence of Xenu or Thor, then the argument fails, doesn’t it?

On emergence, your argument from personal incredulity has been raised, and noted. Repeating it doesn’t make it any more valid or relevant.

RkBall said...

"ou side-stepped rather than rebutted this point with your irrelevant hand-waving about "the art is objectively real"."

This is not hand-waving. Art exists in the external world, to be subjectively liked or disliked. Unlike, I am arguing, meaning, purpose, and values, which, under atheism do not. It is the essence of my point, and you haven't even begun to refute it.

If something exists only in the mind, then, under atheism, it is no more real than a flying spaghetti monster, and certainly no more authentic.

Under theism, things can exist in either the material world and/or the world of the immaterial mind. You do not have that luxury, assuming a materialistic, amoral universe.

Hræfn said...

"This is not hand-waving."

WRONG

"Art exists in the external world, to be subjectively liked or disliked. Unlike, I am arguing, meaning, purpose, and values, which, under atheism do not."

WRONG

Genocide "exists in the external world, to be subjectively" regarded by many people, including many atheists, as immoral.

Careers, artistic pursuits, and the like "exists in the external world, to be subjectively" regarded as giving life purpose by many people, including many atheists.

Relationships, Family and "Art exists in the external world, to be subjectively" valued.

On closer examination, your argument isn't just irrelevant, but completely fails to distinguish appreciation of art from "meaning, purpose, and values".

"It is the essence of my point, and you haven't even begun to refute it."

WRONG

(i) It was irrelevant in that you have offered no evidence that "exists only in the mind" = "completely unreal, fictitious, and made-up". The definition of "subjective" DOES NOT support this claim.

(ii) Further, as demonstrated above, you have in no way distinguished between appreciation of art, "meaning, purpose, and values" -- all of which can be directed at things that "exists in the external world".

"If something exists only in the mind, then, under atheism, it is no more real than a flying spaghetti monster, and certainly no more authentic.

Under theism, things can exist in either the material world and/or the world of the immaterial mind. You do not have that luxury, assuming a materialistic, amoral universe."

WRONG

"Under atheism" the mind is not "immaterial", and what exists in it is not "unreal" (for one thing mental states can often be detected by brain-imaging equipment), it is an emergent quality of the brain. Unless you can point to a reasonable body of atheists who claim that the mind does not exist (you might find a few radical behavioralists still around who might think such a thing, but not many).

Who said anybody's morality has to be the universe's? There is nothing at all wrong with authentically developing your own, individual, personal, and perhaps idiosyncratic, but very real morality. Further, I've yet to see any objective evidence that establishes that theists are more moral than atheists.

Rick, all that you have is a bunch of unsubstantiated, and far less than creditworthy, assertions linked together by some very poor logic.

Your argument is as dead as the parrot in the Dead Parrot Sketch. And I have no real interest in playing John Cleese to your Michael Palin -- so please, no more "pining for the fjords".

RkBall said...

"Genocide "exists in the external world, to be subjectively" regarded by many people, including many atheists, as immoral."

Sure, but since you have no ground for morality as an objective reality, the idea of morality is a mere human invention and nothing more. There can be no actual, real, right-and-wrong in an amoral universe. The fact that as human beings we are stuck with a sense of right-and-wrong, and are hopelessly moral creatures, is a conundrum under atheism. There is no sufficiently satisfactory answer for it. At the end of the day, morality is simply a made-up notion that has no concrete existence, under atheism.

Of course, I believe it is something more than this.

Hræfn said...

"No, no.....No, 'e's stunned!"

And the Dead Parrot sketch goes on.

"Sure, but since you have no ground for morality as an objective reality, the idea of morality is a mere human invention and nothing more."

So what? Human inventions can be very real. The idea of the United States of America as a constitutional republic was "mere human invention", yet millions of people believe in it (if I think, often too fervently and too superficially).

"There can be no actual, real, right-and-wrong in an amoral universe."

No. It just means that the universe doesn't provide a ready-made definition of right and wrong -- you have to think it through for yourself (I know that thinking for yourself is a scary concept for the Religious Right -- but many people do it every day).

"The fact that as human beings we are stuck with a sense of right-and-wrong, and are hopelessly moral creatures, is a conundrum under atheism"

No it is not. Chimpanzees have been shown to have a rudimentary sense of 'fair play', and a number of people do not have "a sense of right-and-wrong" -- they're called sociopaths.

No it is not "a conundrum under atheism", it is only "a conundrum under" A VERY DISTORTED CARICATURED STRAWMAN of the Atheist view. Atheists simply don't hold these things to be true (at least none who I've ever met, or whose writing I have read).

Additionally, all this is adequately explained as an emergent quality (which is perhaps why chimpanzees' morality is so rudimentary, and why on occasion it fails to develop in humans). But then, pretty near every point you make is explained by this concept. So instead of making repeated, unconvincing, and thoroughly tedious claims based upon your failure to understand, and incredulity of, this concept, why don't you go and find a book to read on the topic.

Why do you repeatedly BEAR FALSE WITNESS against your atheist neighbours?

(Speaking of bearing false witness, and claims that are "far less than creditworthy": Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty.)

"At the end of the day, morality is simply a made-up notion that has no concrete existence, under atheism."

Under atheism, morality is an idea -- ideas are not meant to have a "concrete existence" (beyond brain scans, etc) -- you simply cannot go down to the shops for a pound of Justice (whether you're a theist or an atheist). This does not mean that ideas aren't real. Ideas are put into action all the time -- so their reality can be inferred from the "concrete existence" of their results (the USA being a case in point).

I would conclude by saying that you are conflating "Atheist" with "Radical Behaviorist" (and even then, probably caricaturing the latter).

RkBall said...

Of course it's a conundrum. You have things like meaning, purpose, and values subjectively arising which are not mere add-ons to what it means to be human like, e.g., "liking" ice-cream -- they form the heart, the essence, of what it is to be human.

And all these things -- meaning, purpose, value -- exist against the backdrop of a universe you claim is uncreated and devoid meaning, purpose, or value.

Authentic humanity becomes an absurdity, as many atheists which have gone before you have had the logical consistency to admit -- witness the 20th cc. existentialists.

You want there to be no cake and eat it too.

Hræfn said...

"No, he didn't, that was you hitting the cage! "

"Of course" pigs fly.

People generally "have things like meaning, purpose, and values", but generally take meaning in, find purpose in, take value in, a wide variety of different thing.

People generally like some type of food, and some of them 'like ice cream.'

Subjective opinions take the full range from the superficial to the profound, without any obvious demarcation line between what could spontaneously arise or emerge from a person and what is a "conundrum". (Your faulty line of thought is very similar to Creationists' invalid microevolution versus macroevolution argument.)

"And all these things -- meaning, purpose, value -- exist against the backdrop of a universe you claim is uncreated and devoid meaning, purpose, or value."

Yes. They arise in very personal, individual and idiosyncratic forms, so I have no reason to believe that the universe has a predetermined "meaning, purpose, or value."

"Authentic humanity becomes an absurdity, as many atheists which have gone before you have had the logical consistency to admit -- witness the 20th cc. existentialists."

Except that

(i) Not all atheists are existentialists.

(ii) Not all existentialists are atheists (see for example Christian existentialism).

(ii) Existentialism does not believe that "authentic humanity becomes an absurdity", but rather "that the individual is solely responsible for giving his or her own life meaning and for living that life passionately and sincerely" -- which is close to the polar opposite of what you are arguing. The existence of practising atheist existentialists in fact is the best possible refutation of your argument.

RkBall said...

"Yes. They arise in very personal, individual and idiosyncratic forms, so I have no reason to believe that the universe has a predetermined "meaning, purpose, or value.

The problem goes much deeper than this. It is not just that the universe has no predetermined meaning, purpose, value, it is that the universe is without meaning, purpose or value. And then, the problem goes deeper than this because in a purposeless, meaningless, valueless, universe the existence of these ideas is an absurdity. Human beings are, in the context of the universe, profoundly absurd entities.

RkBall said...

I was referring specifically of atheist existentialists and the existentialism that arose out of the atheist conundrum.

Hræfn said...

"It is not just that the universe has no predetermined meaning, purpose, value, it is that the universe is without meaning, purpose or value."

I do not see the difference between "no predetermined meaning, purpose, value" and "...the universe is without meaning, purpose or value." Do you mean '...so the universe can have no meaning, purpose or value.' If so, I do not agree, and you have not come anywhere close to establishing such a sweeping point. If not, then it is up to you to articulate it more clearly.

"And then, the problem goes deeper than this because in a purposeless, meaningless, valueless, universe the existence of these ideas is an absurdity."

Asserting that something "is an absurdity" is a cheap, shallow and meaningless rhetorical trick. I will interpret it to mean 'I, Rick Ball, cannot think of something you might accept as an argument, so I'll just call what I disagree with an "absurdity" to save face.'

"Human beings are, in the context of the universe, profoundly absurd entities."

Humans don't need the universe as context to be absurd. Their frequent absurdity however does not in any way render what they find "meaning, purpose, value" in necessarily absurd. Even an absurd person can have a profound love.

"I was referring specifically of atheist existentialists and the existentialism that arose out of the atheist conundrum."

Yes, but given that they believe that "existence precedes essence", in that people defines themselves, and find their own meaning and values, it still acts as a direct rebuttal to your claims. Their definitions, meanings and values might not seem "real" to you -- but they don't expect them to be compelling to anybody other than individual who is self-conceptualising. And in any case, your own Christian self-definition, meanings and values are uncompelling outside your religious group (and subject to dispute within).

And please stop referring to the "atheist conundrum". Given that Atheist existentialism, which answers this supposed "conundrum", has existed since the poetry of Lucretius in the first century BCE, it hasn't been a real problem for longer than Christianity has existed.

Hræfn said...

"It is not just that the universe has no predetermined meaning, purpose, value, it is that the universe is without meaning, purpose or value."

One could as easily claim that the universe is without music, units of measurement and systems of formal logic. Strangely enough somebody keeps on coming up with them. Like "meaning, purpose, value", these are ideas.

A collection of suitable components + a flow of usable energy through the system + local coupling mechanisms leads to self-organisation, and eventually to very promitive life.

Some life eventually develops a primitive brain to make better choices leading to better survival.

Some brains become more complex to handle complicated environments and eventually develop (varying degrees of) consciousness.

Consciousness leads to ideas.

Some of these ideas happen to be about "meaning, purpose, value".

There is no "conundrum" from the atheist point of view, just from the point of view of how 'Christians think atheists ought to think'. But if atheists thought how Christians think they ought to think, then they'd be Christians themselves.

You might as well claim that it is a conundrum that a kilometre exists.

RkBall said...

More than mere ideas or inventions, IMHO. They go to the very root of what it is to be human. A man can be a man without kilometres or even music, but a human being without a thirst for meaning, a sense of purpose, and a sense of value/values? These are not valuables that we create -- these are valuables that create us.

RkBall said...

You can either postulate that these are mere ideas, inventions of man -- like measurement and kms. Or, you can argue that they are wired-in.

I would argue for the latter.

Problem for you with wired-in is the wirer -- mindless, amoral darwinism. Hardly a sufficient grounding for authenticity.

Hræfn said...

"They go to the very root of what it is to be human."

No they are not. Chimpanzees have rudimentary morality, human psychopaths lack morality. Many people are too distracted by their every day lives, their possessions, etc find meaning or purpose.

"A man can be a man without kilometres or even music, but a human being without a thirst for meaning, a sense of purpose, and a sense of value/values?"

Then I would suggest that you read the book The Mask of Sanity, as the characteristics of a psychopath it documents clearly demonstrates a lack of all three.

"I would argue for the latter."

No Rick you simply assert the latter, without providing any evidence (other than the occasional argument from incredulity).

An argument needs to be more than a mere assertion. It requires (i) credible premises & (ii) valid logic.

You don't understand philosophically-sophisticated, well-read, happy-with-their-worldview Atheists and how they develop their "meaning, purpose, value". I get that.

But arguing that this thing that you don't understand doesn't exist (in spite of a number of them having written whole books on the subject) gets you nowhere.

In any case, as you have Gish Galloped past my "Subjective opinions take the full range from the superficial to the profound..." point above in a new thread, I see little point in countering your bare assertions and incredulity here.

P@J said...

Hræfn / xn

Once again, I bow to your rockness. That is a very well articulated disassembly of Rick's house of cards.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"