Sunday, January 23, 2022

Two kinds of cultural relativism

There are two kinds of cultural relativism, and I think the distinction between them may explain why the same confusion comes up whenever people discuss the moral argument in debates and discussions.

The two kinds are descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive cultural relativism is just the observation that different cultures have and do, in fact, hold to different standards of moral behavior and values. Sometimes they might agree in what personality traits they think are virtuous, but they differ in the degree of value they place in each of the virtues.

Prescriptive cultural relativism is the view that whatever moral norms a society accepts constitute our moral obligations. In other words, people are obligated to live and behave in conformity what their own culture's moral standards.

The descriptive view isn't that controversial. The only controvery is the depth to which different cultures disagree. I think there is far more agreement than disagreement, and that most of the disagreement is superficial. It can be accounted for by looking at the underlying moral premises and how different cultures solve moral dilemmas. But hardly anybody denies that there are at least some differences in the values and morals that different cultures hold to.

Prescriptive cultural relativism can be reduced to moral objectivism because it depends on the supposed universal principle that each person ought to behave consistently with the morals of their society. Since that principle is universal and transcendent, it's not culturally relative even if everything else is. If there is no universal moral presciption about living consistently with one's own cultural morals, then prescriptive cultural relativism would reduce to individual subjectivism.

One of the primary objections people often bring up against objective morality is to point out that different cultures (and the same culture over different times) subscribe to a different moral point of view. I used to attribute this kind of response to a confusion between moral epitsmology and moral ontology. I would grant that, yes, different people have different moral beliefs, but the moral argument isn't concerned so much with the beliefs as with the ontological reality of moral prescriptions. So the standard response to this objection was to say, "Well, people have also had disagreements about the shape of the earth, but doesn't mean there isn't an objectively true answer to the question of what the shape of the earth is."

But I wonder if, rather than being a confusion of ontologogy vs. epistemology, if the confusion is, instead, between prescriptive cultural relativism and descriptive cultural relativism. Descriptive cultural relativism tells us nothing at all about the ontological existence of objective morality. Moral objectivism (or moral realism) is perfectly consistent with descriptive cultural relativism. It's only prescriptive cultural relativism that poses a challenge to moral objectivism. So I think this distinction ought to be fleshed out when it looks like there's a misunderstanding going on in these discussions. I suspect that when people raise the observation about cultures disagreeing on morality as a challenge to moral objecivism that they are confusing the two kinds of cultural relativism. They are conflating one with the other by treating descriptive relativism as if it were prescriptive relativism.

I suppose the best way to handle the situation is just to ask questions for clarification on what the other person's objection is. Maybe they misunderstand your position and think you are claiming that moral beliefs are universal or that everybody holds to the same moral standards.

Friday, January 21, 2022

D'oh! My bad. Lewis' argument from reason revisited

For a long time now, I've complained about how other apologists have misrepresented C.S. Lewis' argument from reason. The mistake a lot of people make is in thinking that Lewis argued that determinism undermines reason, when Lewis argued no such thing.

But it turns out I've had a misconception about his argument myself. What's worse is that my misconception lead to me being inconsistent in my epistemology, and I only recently noticed my inconsistency.

For a long time, I've treated Lewis' argument as if it showed that naturalism undermines all knowledge. I've argued that if our beliefs are caused by blind mechanistic forces, then they can't be rational. The inconsistency in my epistemology was that I also have defended the notion that certain items of knowledge (the foundational a priori ones) are hard-wired. We are essentially caused to believe them. Yet they are rational, and we are justified in holding those beliefs. They count as knowledge.

What's worse is that the way I have attempted to demonstrate that the distorted version of Lewis' argument that a lot of apologists use is a fallacious argument is by pointing out that there are justified true beliefs we have that are both caused and determined, for example, by our sensory perceptions, like my belief that there's a cat on my lap.

I've got it all straightened out now, though. I still think my criticism of those other apologists is sound. I think the way they attempt to defend the argument from reason is fallacious and wrong. You can see my reasons here.

What Lewis argued, wasn't that any belief that is caused is non-rational. Rather, he argued that reasoning would be impossible if naturalism were true. The consequence is any belief that depends on reasoning can't be justified since it wasn't really reasoning that lead to the belief.

This makes good sense because the process of mechanistic cause and effect is completely distinct from the process of logical deduction, seeing that a conclusion follows from premises, or inductively extrapolating. The relationship between "All men are mortal," "Socrates is a man," and "Therefore, Socrates is mortal," is not a causal relationship, but a logical relationship. The conclusion doesn't happen by the laws of nature the way a domino falls because of the laws of collision and gravity. Rather, the conclusion is arrived at by rationally "seeing" the relationship between the propositions and drawing the conclusion through the laws of logical inference.

If naturalism is true, then all of our beliefs can be fully accounted for by appeal to blind mechanistic cause and effect, leaving no room for reasoning. Reasonining is an illusion, so any belief we appear to have arrived at through a process of reasoning cannot be a rational belief. That includes naturalism itself as long as naturalism is a belief supposedly arrived at through reasoning. One can't sensibly argue and reason toward naturalism because the position itself would undermine the process that lead to it. So naturalism is a self-defeating position to hold. It could still be true, of course, but it can't be rational to believe it.

The best a naturalist can say is that while the two modes of arriving at conclusions are distinct in kind, they actually run in parallel in the human brain. They're just two different ways of explaining the same thing. That's how calculators work. Math is a kind of logic, but calculators operatate, at their most basical level, mechanistically according to the laws of nature. I explained in another post why this is not an adequate response to the argument from reason.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The CuisinArt vs. the Breville vs. the All-Clad classic round waffle maker

I prefer the classic style waffles over the Belgian style. It's easier to get the syrup evenly distributed without having too much.

I have owned all three of the waffle irons in the subject line, and the All-Clad is the hands down winner by a large margin.

The CuisinArt cost me about $20, and it never was a great waffle maker. I'd turn the heat up to the highest setting, and when the beep happened, the waffles were still not done. I'd have to leave it in for a few cycles. The waffles were evenly cooked, which is good, but they never were crispy. But that's what I ate for years.

Then recently, I got the Breville because by the time I had enough Amazon gift card saved up, the All-Clad was no longer available. The Breville was better than the CuisinArt because (1) it had no problem getting the waffles brown and crispy without even having to crank it all the way up, and also because it had a big mote around it to capture and cook any overflow. But I did not like the waffles that came out of it. They were crispy pretty much all the way through, which I think might be because they were so thin. The plates were too close together. I tried tweaking my recipe, and I made a few different waffles on different settings, but I just could not get the waffles to come out like I liked. The Breville was the most expensive waffle iron. I think I spent something like $160 on it.

Then the All-Clad became available. By this time I was wallowing in buyers remorse over the Breville. I wasn't sure if I could return it since it wasn't defective, and I only didn't like it. But I returned it and bought the All-Clad. The All-Clad was delivered the same day (yesterday). The first waffle that came out of it was absosmurfly perfect. It was crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. There's a small mote, but not as big as the Breville. It cost a little less--about $130. I am quite pleased with it, though. I highly recommend the All-Clad if you like waffles. I just hope it lasts.

EDIT - 3/15/2022 - It's been two months, and the All-Clad is still producing superb waffles. It is definitely worth the price.