Monday, July 03, 2006

Analysis: Evolutionary Ethics in Practice

I recently had the chance to put Budziszewski's masterful thesis into practice. Coincidentally, and serendipitously, I came across a post on a different blog in which an individual monikered Nat-Wu expounded his ethical system. It just so happened that he was expounding the very thing Budziszewski discusses: Evolutionary Ethics. It was a very interesting conversation I had with him, because it shows just how this system of ethics works in practice. You can read the actual full discussion by clicking the title of this post.

Nat-Wu originally posted an exposition on the right to freedom. He speaks of it as an inalienable right due to every human. Such things as murder, recklessness, and coerced religious indoctrination are bad in his value system; not because they are wrong or evil, but because they limit and reduce personal freedom. In fact, as I learned from his response to my comment, he completely denies that such concepts as good and bad or right and wrong even exist except in the context of freedom and desires.

Budziszewski states that a utilitarian value system makes the following logical assertions:
1.) The Right is nothing but what brings about the Good
2.) The Good is nothing but the Desirable
3.) The Desirable is nothing but what we actually desire
4.) What we actually desire is individually relative
You'll notice that a system like Nat-Wu espouses is right in step with this world view. In the case of this particular argument of his, The Right is the Good, the Good is the Desirable, the Desirable is what humans actually desire, and what humans actually desire is freedom. Therefore it is "wrong" to limit or damage someone's freedom because it violates what they want and therefore what is "right" for them.

This view may be attractive to many since it is seductively simple and extravagantly emancipatory. When analyzed below the surface, however, everything breaks down rather quickly.

His first problem is that although he can establish that freedom is desirable, thus it is good, thus it is "right", he is completely unable to tell you why this is so. Do humans value freedom? Yes. Why? Desires are the lowest common denominator in utilitarian ethics. To explain the desires themselves from a system built upon them is circular. Likewise, he is completely unable to explain why freedom which is desirable to him, thus good for him, and therefore right for him has anything to do with anyone else. Since everyone else's value systems are different based on what they desire, which even if it is freedom could be defined in countless ways, they have no reason to listen to what he says about what is "right" and "wrong".

He tries to deflect such criticism by stating that physical rights, like life and movement, are fundamental and "objective". Again, why? He has defeated himself by admitting that values are relative to individuals. A person who did not recognize such rights is just as correct as a different person who does recognize them. There is no method of differentiating between divergent, or even contradictory, views. Everyone is right!

Nat-Wu's post was not on ethics in general, however; it was about government and public policy. He is not simply stating that ethics are relative, although he does state that; he is stating that the government should build its policies on the ideal that individual freedom is supreme. He believes that such policy satisfies the motto that "everyone is right" because it lets everyone be right in their own unique ways.

Again, this sounds simple enough except that he builds his entire system on an unfounded assumption. Why is freedom good? Why is freedom right? How does he know that enough of the population actually desires it in order for it to be functional governmental policy? Who is he to say that freedom is the ideal when his values are only valid for him individually? In his value system it is not only foolish to speak for others, it is impossible!

This brings me to the most paradoxical statement in his entire discussion: minorities. He states that it is important for minorities to be considered in public policy. While it is true that his system values individual rights as the highest form of truth that exists, it does not follow that minorities matter at all. The only way for minorities to matter would be if the majority of people desired for them to matter, hence the majority could legislate such things. But this proves the opposite of what he wants, only the view of the majority matters! Only the majority can recognize or respect them, and hence only the majority's desires actually count for anything.

In fact, since he boldly denies any overarching objective truth of any kind, and considers such systems of thought as oppressive, he again defeats his own argument. It necessarily follows from his utilitarianism that no objective value system exist, and he acknowledges that. What he doesn't understand is that this denies him the right to claim that he holds any external truth of any kind. The only truth that exists for him is internal, to move it into the external world is to oppress. It therefore becomes impossible to establish a system of values to regulate even two people, much less a nation.

I challenged him with a question:
If you do appeal to objective morality, then why should we listen to you since you claim that to enforce such a system is oppressive? If you don't appeal to objective morality, then why should we listen to you since our values and desires are relatively more important than yours?
His only response was to claim that my two systems of thought were self-contradictory. He inadvertently made my point for me. I wasn't explaining systems of thought that I considered true, I listed the only systems of thought that could follow from his utilitarian ethics! He didn't choose an option, of course, and I don't think he realized that by admitting that his only two options, given his value system, were both self-defeating that he defeated his own argument once again.

Evolutionary ethics, in this case naturalistic utilitarianism, denies the existence of truth altogether. It therefore defeats itself from the outset by loudly declaring that even it, as a system of thought, is certainly not "true" unless you want it to be personally.

If there is objective truth, as I certainly believe, then such truth is not only true for everyone but desires are irrelevant in the face of that truth. Instead of basing truth on what people want, we should base truth on what is right. People do not always want the right things, even a utilitarian would have to admit that at some point. The only way to fairly govern is to govern based on what is right, and the only way for "right" to even exist is if a higher power, an objective and overarching system of absolute truth, makes it so. Therefore what is right is always right, regardless of who is in question or what they desire.

Murder is wrong because God's truth declares that it is wrong. Even if I desire to murder someone, it is still wrong. Such truth transcends individuals and even cultures. Likewise, freedom is only right if God's truth makes it right, even if everyone desires it.

Utilitarianism is only a circuitous exercise in arbitrary arbitration pitting one individual's desires against another's indefinitely. The most ironic part of such a system is that each time it succeeds it also fails, granting someone their desire by denying someone else. Everyone is right and everyone is also wrong. I can hardly think of a more pitiful and groundless criteria for truth.


At 12:21 PM, Blogger Seamus said...

You know, on further thought, it becomes apparent that this system of utilitarian relativism faces another paradox:

It builds its conclusion that no objective or universal truth exists on the assumption that there is an objective and universal truth: that humans have rights.

How very stupid.


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