Is Christianity a “Life Hack”?

This post discusses why people might be motivated to share Christianity with others, and was prompted by a comment on one of the Mozilla Yammer instances which is part of an ongoing discussion within Mozilla about this general subject.

[It is also me deciding to try out Mike Hoye’s proposed new Planet Mozilla content policy, which suggests that people posting content to Planet regarding “contentious or personal topics outside of Mozilla’s mission” may do so if they begin with a sentence advising people of that fact. Hence the above. I don’t intend to be contentious, but you could call this personal, and it’s outside Mozilla’s mission. I assume the intent is that the uninterested or potentially offended can just press “Next” in their feed reader. You can join the discussion on the proposed new policy in mozilla.governance.]

I won’t quote the comment directly because it was on a non-public Yammer instance, but the original commenter’s argument went something like: “If you knew something awesome and life-changing, wouldn’t you want to share it with others?”. A follow-up comment from another participant was in general agreement, and compared religion to a life hack – which I understand to mean something that someone has done which has improved their life and so they want to share so that other people’s lives can be improved too. (The original website posting such things was a Gawker site called Lifehacker, but there have been many imitations since.)

I want to engage with that idea, although I’ll talk about “Christianity” rather than “religion” because I don’t believe anyone’s life can be significantly improved by believing falsehoods, and the law of non-contradiction means that if Christianity is true (as I believe it is), all other religions are false.

There is a kernel of truth in the idea that Christianity is a life hack, but there’s a lot misleading about it too. Following Jesus does secure your eternal salvation, which is clearly a long-term improvement, and the confidence that comes from knowing what will happen to you, and having an ongoing relationship with your creator, is something that all Christians find encouraging every day. Who wouldn’t want others to have that? But in the short term, there are many people for whom becoming a Christian makes their life significantly more difficult. Publicly turning to Jesus in Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Eritrea, or Myanmar, will definitely lead to persecution and can even lead to death. Jesus said it would be so:

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. — Jesus (Matthew 24:9)

In addition, the Bible teaches that Christians may encounter troubles in order to help them grow in faith and rely on God more. So the idea that becoming a Christian will definitely make your life better is not borne out by what Jesus said about it.

The other part of the life hack idea that is misleading is the “take it or leave it” aspect. One of the things about a life hack is that if it works for you in your circumstances, great. If not, no big deal. In today’s relativistic world many ideas, including Christianity, are presented this way because it’s far less offensive to people. “Take it or leave it” makes no demands; it does not require change; it does not present itself as the exclusive truth. And, in fact, that was the point of the person making the comparison – paraphrasing, “what’s wrong with offering people life hacks? You don’t have to accept. How can making an offer be offensive?”

But that’s not how Jesus presented his message to people.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jesus — John 14:6)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18, just 2 verses after the Really Famous Verse.)

This is not a “take it or leave it” position. Jesus was pretty clear about the consequences of rejecting him. And so that’s the other misleading thing about the idea that Christianity is a life hack – the suggestion that if you think it doesn’t work for you, you can just move on. No biggie, and no need to be offended.

Christianity offends and upsets people. (Unsurprisingly, and you may be detecting a pattern here, Jesus said that would happen too.) It does so in different ways in different ages through history; in our current age, one which particularly gets people’s backs up is the idea that it’s an exclusive truth claim rather than an optional “life hack”. Which is why the idea that it is a life hack is actually rather dangerous.

It may seem odd that I am arguing against someone who was arguing for the social acceptability of talking about Jesus in public places. And I don’t doubt their good intentions. But the opportunity to talk about him should not be bought at the cost of denying the difficulty of his path or the exclusivity and urgency of his message.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! :-)

64 thoughts on “Is Christianity a “Life Hack”?

  1. Sorry Gervase but I must say that you don’t know what Jesus actually said, you know what was written many years after his death by somebody else who was making a sort of “chronicle” of Jesus’ life, by collecting rumors, traditions, stories by the few who actually took part in the events and so on. Of the many written “chronicles”, only four were selected by the Church as “canonical”. The most ancient of the four is said to be composed about 70 years after Jesus’ death.

    Of course you can believe that God inspired all the first storytellers who spread the tradition and who ever wrote down those stories later so what is included in the four gospels is the exact truth and those are the exact words of Jesus. Even so, you must also consider that the chronicles were originally written in greek, losing something in the translation from whatever language people spoke in Palestine, then they had to be translated in latin and then in the european languages. I don’t know how faithful your english is to Jesus’ aramaic.

    That said, I don’t understand why speaking of ANY topic could be “offensive”.

    • Hi Lorenzo. To give a quick answer to your concerns, the Bible contains only four texts (called the Gospels) which give a narrative of Jesus’s life. One of the “storytellers” that wrote them was written by John, one of Jesus’s 12 Apostles (so you could call him an eyewitness). Another, “Luke”, was written by Luke, one of the Apostle Paul’s associates. After the four Gospels is all of the many letters written by the Apostles that have been collected and archived into the Bible. So all of the texts in the New Testament were written by people who were there at the time that the 12 Apostles were alive, who were “eyewitnesses”.

      As for how the Bible has been translated, it hasn’t been done like a game of Chinese whispers. They’ve all been translated from the oldest manuscripts we have available.

      • Josh T — Paul never met Jesus; he only had a vision of him. I believe it is nearly universally held that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were not written by the apostles. Those are just names given to them. This is believed for myriad reasons, including the fact that none of them are written in the first person and in fact refer to their putative writer in the third person. Also, it is unlikely that those apostles were even literate; having four of the 12 being literate would be an amazing concentration of intellectual firepower back in those days.

        • Jim: Luke 1:3 explains how and why the book was written, and is written in the first person. Although I really don’t know what that has to do with anything. Are you saying that no prose ever refers to the writer in the third person? John, for example, clearly uses circumlocutions intentionally to refer to himself in his gospel.

          As for your other point, Mark and Luke were not of the 12, so I’m not sure where your “concentration” argument comes from. And anyway, particularly if you have an important message to convey to people, it is very possible to learn to read and write as an adult. These seem very weak arguments.

          • Gerv, “it is very possible to learn to read and write as an adult” is perhaps the most condescending thing ever directed at me in my life. No joke. I won’t bother to scribble on your blog again because interacting with an intellect as refined as yours will surely damage me.

            • You don’t think “the apostles were clearly all illiterate yokels who couldn’t have written anything down” is a bit condescending too?

            • Jim: Gerv’s use of “you” was an unfortunate colloquialism. It would perhaps be more clearly written as “if one, such as an apostle, has an important message to convey to people, it is very possible to learn to read and write as an adult”. Gerv was not impugning your personal literacy.

              • Is that how Jim understood my comment? Goodness me. Of course that’s not what I meant.

    • You may have your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts :-) The idea that today’s English Bible was translated first from Greek to Latin and then to English is wrong as a matter of history, as is your dating of the gospels. Even Wikipedia, whose NPOV policy is laughable when it comes to religious topics, dates Mark to 66-70 AD.

      But fundamentally, God is capable of working sovereignly through all such things. If God were not able to preserve his own message through the ages, he would not be worthy of the name. If you are looking for words written indelibly and unchangeably on golden tablets by the very finger of God, try Mormonism.

      • Gerv, it is funny that you name “Mormonism” because apparently you don’t recognize that you are doing exactly the same as the Mormons.
        They believe Joseph Smith found the golden tablets about Mormon somewhere near New York in 1827 and you believe the Church found the exact chronicles of Jesus’ life in Rome around the II century. Smith could translate the unknown language thanks to God’s inspiration and christian monks could translate greek, latin, ebrew in any language thanks to God’s inspiration too. In both cases God is capable of anything, being the creator of the Universe.

        That said, if there are good principles in a religion, proposing those principles by saying “Jesus says:….” means you aren’t proposing and discussing the principles, you are giving people the only chance to believe the same as you or to reject anything you say.

        In my case, I have been raised catholic and I don’t have any problem with religion, any religion, until somebody wants to shove their god in my throat to decide what color the curtains must be.

        • I must add that, according to the scriptures, Jesus spoke with prostitutes, traitors, murderers, not the nobles and the priests of his time. I don’t think promising salvation to the faithful and damnation to everybody else means to follow Jesus’ example. Besides of course you don’t make friends.

        • I’m afraid I don’t believe what you claim I believe, so whoever you are arguing with, it’s not me.

          If you personally are evaluating a religion to decide if its principles are good, then… how do you define “good”? Where is your source of moral authority which you are using to measure a particular religion?

  2. I wouldn’t say that religion itself is fundamentally a touchy and divisive subject. It gets that way quickly, however, when its proponents say (whether in direct or roundabout language) that everyone who doesn’t believe as they do is damned to some eternal hell or equivalent.

        • It’s Jesus you need to argue with, not me. God created you, and rightly (therefore) demands your allegiance. Your response to that demand is up to you, but either possible response (and there are only two) has consequences. The quotes in my original post make that very clear.

          • If that were the case, then he gave me a brain, and I would be very disappointed if he expected me to turn it off when thinking about him.

            Not all religions condemn those that do not believe as they do. Personally, I am far more partial to those who value being a good person over those who put “whosoever believeth in me” above all else. If being a good person is insufficient, so be it.

            • I’m sure God will listen patiently when you come before him, and you start off with your “Well, God, if it were me, I would have done it this way…” speech.

              • When I said “so be it”, I meant it. If I “come before him”, I’d need to re-evaluate rather a large number of fundamental assumptions, and I have no interest in making a futile speech. I’d be more likely to think “Huh. Well, is being a good person enough, or am I going to hell?” He would hardly need an explanation before passing judgement, what with the whole omniscience thing.

                If I’m to be evaluated by some arbitrary criteria I have no possible way of knowing (after all, there are many religions, often in fundamental disagreement with each other, and you can’t be in compliance with all of them at once), then I’m fundamentally screwed from day 1, and I see no useful basis on which to make a guess.

                So I might as well live my life trying to add as much good to the world as I can; if that’s not enough, I reiterate: so be it.

                • If I’m to be evaluated by some arbitrary criteria I have no possible way of knowing (after all, there are many religions, often in fundamental disagreement with each other, and you can’t be in compliance with all of them at once)

                  I disagree that you have no possible way of knowing. The truth is you don’t want to know.

  3. “If you knew something awesome and life-changing, wouldn’t you want to share it with others?”

    I’d disagree with that argument solely on the basis that people find and tell about life-changing stuff that happened to them all the time, most of which I find to be anything from pointless drivel, to utterly irrelevant to me, to flat out lies. Likewise, I know that the things that have been life-changing to me would be utterly meaningless to almost anyone else, as the reason they were life-changing was due to the exact circumstances of my life at the exact point in time when I encountered them, and such exact circumstances will not exist for 99.99% of all people out there.

    For the most part, they’re all “nice stories”, and maybe people can get warm and fuzzy feelings from reading about them, but they’re largely meaningless unless someone is selling something. On the other hand, the idea of religion as a ‘life hack’ does in itself seem to have merit.

    Regarding the religious and Christian varieties of such topics specifically, I see them mainly as providing the foundation for basic moral/ethical behavior that should have been learned as children, and the justification thereof [1], but that one should eventually grow beyond. If one never grows beyond that, then that person is stuck at around the 10-13 year-old level of maturity, as is easily evident by the types of motivations used to encourage others (promise of heaven or hell as reward or punishment).

    However many people still find it a useful crutch because they never really learned that aspect of life the first time through, and they’re quite happy to have an imaginary world that they can believe in and not get ridiculed for (the idea for which is ironically also appropriate to a 7th-8th grade maturity; most non-religious varieties of such are quickly hidden away in shame within the next few years). That, of course, is something that they will wish to share with others, particularly if they are not going to be actively denounced for doing so, and have the chance at the positive reinforcement of others joining them in their shared imagination.

    There are a whole series of human behaviors that lend themselves to this issue, making it something that you’d pretty much expect to arise naturally (as it has). A life hack to get someone up to the late grade school/middle school level (even if they never go beyond that) is an easy enough conceptualization, and sufficient for most people, who rarely take their understanding of -any- topic aside from a particular career path much beyond that.

    [1] If you consider normative ethics as the methodologies to understand (and enforce) a moral viewpoint, it’s clear that virtue ethics is the toddler to early grade school tier, and deontology is the grade school to middle school tier, and both are very well suited to religious doctrine. Christianity tends to fall apart at consequentialism (nominally the high school level), and never really advances beyond that, though.

    “I don’t believe anyone’s life can be significantly improved by believing falsehoods”

    Ironically, just about the entirety of education is learning to believe falsehoods, and then learning new falsehoods that are slightly more true than the old falsehoods.

    • On what are your morals and ethics founded? Where is your source of moral authority? Is it binding on everyone else and if so, why?

      • Several ambiguous questions. I’ll try to answer while also trying to clarify the ambiguities.

        (will try blockquotes on the quotes; not sure if they will work, since there’s no preview)

        On what are your morals and ethics founded?

        Will separate my current morals and ethics (as learned and taught over my lifetime, and only tangentially relevant to the discussion) from the theoreticals that I alluded to (which require far more study to fully evaluate), on the assumption that the question relates to said theoreticals. The basic answer, however, is: Math. Particularly, game theory, and certain aspects of emerging studies on game theory ethics.

        As a quick aside, the basics that most people understand about game theory will immediately prompt the question of whether I then believe the selfish amoral principal brought out by the standard example of the prisoner’s dilemma. To answer that, I’d say that amoralism is the next step beyond consequentialism, and corresponds to that first year in college where the student suddenly believes they understand everything, but before the point where they realize that they haven’t really learned anything yet, and they were just being stupid. In other words, no. This is the next step beyond that.

        Where is your source of moral authority?

        That depends on what you mean by “source” and “moral authority”. The question implicitly assumes that a moral authority exists, which is not necessarily true (at least not in the sense of a “God”). Or it could be asking, in a roundabout fashion, why I think I’m correct in the first place. Or it could be asking on what basis can I presume to be able to generate moral judgements. Or maybe it’s something else entirely; since it asks “where” instead of “what”, it implies that there must be some external authority, and it’s asking for the location for said authority (as if that’s a sufficient explanation) rather than an explanation of what that authority is in the first place.

        In a sense, it’s sort of like being asked, “Where is the authority that says that 2+2=4?”. There is no ‘authority’ to define; that’s just how it works. Of course you can build up all the real theory behind the existence of numbers themselves to show why that’s true, but it’s still a bit nonsensical to demand an authority to justify it, rather than an explanation of the details and logic and such. At best, you can say, “Math.”

        However morality is an emergent phenomenon. It exists as soon as there is more than one entity capable of making choices that interacts with another (eg: ‘society’; also, ‘group’, or ‘collective’, and other terms). Without that precondition, morality cannot exist, but with that precondition, morality -must- exist, even if it’s not actively recognized in those specific terms.

        Is it binding on everyone else and if so, why?

        Morality is not ‘binding’; it is an optimization routine for a decision set. Ideally everyone will follow a given moral guideline, but it’s not required. In fact, if it -is- required then it’s actually unstable and fragile, and will soon collapse without other guards in place. All that’s required is that it be sufficiently beneficial when most people follow it, and that anyone not following it will not destabilize the overall societal structure (unless their choice is in fact a better optimization, in which case the overall structure should naturally evolve to prefer the new choice). In fact, non-conformant entities are often a safeguard against entities that act in ways that -are- destabilizing to the larger structure.

        It is also an evolutionary phenomenon, in that it drives the evolution of society, in the competition between one society and the next. Note that ‘society’ here is defined as any aggregate collection of individuals of any size (anything from a pair such as a husband-wife, to every single person on the planet, and everything in between), and is not exclusive (ie: any given individual can be a member of innumerable societal sets). Also, the ‘individuals’ (aka ‘entities’) can themselves be collectives (eg: several neighboring towns can each be considered an ‘individual’ with respect to their interactions with each other, and the ‘society’ is the collective of all of them together, such as all the cities that make up a country).

        A ‘higher’ moral rule (as colloquially described, in general) is one that is an optimization for most, if not all, of the sets/societies than an individual belongs to, rather than only select sets. In general, a moral rule should be application efficient, since that improves its optimality.

        Morals are the optimization of the group, not the individual. An individual can often benefit more by not following the moral guidelines, however doing so will often be detrimental for the society as a whole, and evolutionary pressures will favor the selection of a society that has a better overall optimality.

        So, in a sense, it’s both binding and non-binding at the same time, depending on how, exactly, you’re defining that term. The rules apply to everyone (they’re not ‘special’, or only apply to those of a specific religious faith or whatever), but no one is specifically required to adhere to them (ie: there’s no ‘mandate’ to follow them, only evolutionary pressure).

        Anyway, I tried to answer the questions as I think they were intended, while providing sufficient information to hopefully be clear on my own intent, without getting too ridiculously detailed.

        • “Ideally everyone will follow a given moral guideline, but it’s not required.”

          So murder shouldn’t be illegal? If you think it should, how is it then “not required” that everyone should follow this moral guideline?

          And would you personally consider murder wrong in all circumstances, or only wrong if in a particular situation it does not lead to optimal outcomes? In general, I suggest your position has the problem that you can’t make moral judgements about anyone else’s behaviour with any authority – you can only say “in my view, that’s not optimal”. Which is pretty weak.

          You haven’t defined how you assess “benefit” apart from “survival of the fittest” (which seems to me to be a fairly bloodthirsty way to establish a moral code), but regardless, this all seems a lot like consequentialism to me.

          • A group of people can collectively agree that they do not wish to be deprived of life, and that depriving others of life is wrong; thus they choose to define it as immoral and illegal. (Note that law and morality are two different things, heavily correlated but not identical.) Sufficiently universal agreement exists about various types of crimes that we can collectively enforce them.

            In some cases, killing someone isn’t considered illegal; self-defense, for instance. Or, for that matter, a medical operation that fails. Morality and law are both complicated. And while humans are not by any means fully rational decision-makers, many of those principles are effectively based on what’s “optimal” in a given scenario. Better for nobody to die, ever, but between an attempted murderer and their victim, better that the victim live.

            It doesn’t matter if you call someone else’s behavior “not optimal”, “immoral”, “sinful”, “wrong”, or any other term you care to use; in the end, you’re making a value judgement about their behavior, and they or anyone else may not share your value system. What we *can* do, as a society, is attempt to best satisfy everyone’s value systems at once; as it turns out, humans roughly agree on remarkably many values.

            (Also consider that most people value empathy, which is to say that they value other people’s values, at least enough that all else being equal they’d rather other people be happy too.)

            • “as it turns out, humans roughly agree on remarkably many values.”

              Taken across the sum of human history, that’s really very wrong indeed.

              If, for the sake of discussion, I accept your point that it’s true _today_, how do you know that today’s set of agreed values are the right ones? Tomorrow’s may be different. Or do you think that the human development which (in your view) led to this value consensus has now come to a halt, and it happens to have done so exactly at the moment when you are alive?

              • I never claimed that the collective morals of society are completely correct and infallible at all times; quite the contrary. I did suggest that there’s more universal agreement on some items (murder, theft, etc), and that’s been true for a very long time. But in general, morals and sensibilities change over time as people do and as society does, and that’s a healthy process; if we’re not perfect, which we’re not, then we ought to try to get better, which requires change. The collective consensus on what is right and what is not changes over time, usually for the better though not always. History had a lot more prejudice in it than current society, for instance; we’ve come a long way there, though still not nearly far enough.

                Personal morals can disagree with society’s morals, as well; what you do if your personal morals don’t align with society’s depends on you.

                • To elaborate a bit: I think you’re judging my comments and position by trying to find the same degree of absolute certainty and conviction in them that you find in your own beliefs. You seem to have assumed I was providing a framework that supports universally correct and authoritative moral judgements, and that’s not what I mean at all. Rather, I’m suggesting that there *is* no such framework, and suggesting a substitute that helps people get along most of the time. It’s what we’re using in practice, no matter how we frame it: society works because people collectively lend it authority, and it stops working when people don’t. Whatever personal reasons or convictions people might have for doing so, and to whatever degree they do so, the result works or doesn’t work primarily because people support it.

          • “Ideally everyone will follow a given moral guideline, but it’s not required.”

            So murder shouldn’t be illegal? If you think it should, how is it then “not required” that everyone should follow this moral guideline?

            As Anonymous noted, legality and morality are two entirely separate things, so your rhetorical question is fundamentally fallacious.

            However, for the benefit of clarity, that point was made in response to your question of whether the morals were ‘binding’. I was noting that it was not necessary for everyone to follow said morals in order for said moral to be valid. Further, it’s not necessary for everyone to believe said moral, nor for said moral to even be applicable to everyone, for it to still be valid within other scopes. For example, in war, the ‘murder is immoral’ attribute is not optimal. It’s generally understood that the scope of optimality is different than for everyday life, and that’s actually distinguished by the fact that the word ‘murder’ is usually not used when talking about killing in war.

            And would you personally consider murder wrong in all circumstances, or only wrong if in a particular situation it does not lead to optimal outcomes?

            Well, I just answered that in the previous paragraph. However, because it seems you’re likely to misunderstand, I’ll also add a note that the temporal scope of optimality is not instantaneous; it’s evolutionary. For example, in the “killing in self defense” scenario, the question is not whether it’s better for that person to live or to die; the question is whether it’s better for the social organism to contain individuals who are willing to kill in self defense, or to contain individuals who are not willing to kill, even in self defense. The answer defines the scope wherein murder is considered immoral.

            And then , going back to the first question and the issue of “requirement”, one might perhaps conclude (for the sake of providing an example of the process, not a fully verified assertion) that it’s better that people not be willing to kill, even in self defense. However adhering solely to that moral is likely to be unstable, leading to the destruction of the group by external entities attempting to take advantage of that behavior pattern. Therefore it’s healthy for the group to contain individuals who believe differently, even if that’s only a small subset of the whole. The general moral assertion would then be, “Don’t kill, ever.”, combined with a tolerance for those who diverge from that belief (though that tolerance would be for a specific implementation, such as “It’s ok to kill in self defense”, but not “It’s ok to kill whoever I want.”).

            The global assertion would thus be that murder is morally wrong, however that’s only an optimal assertion if it can tolerate (and perhaps even specifically allow, depending on the question being considered) individuals who do not adhere to it.

            In general, I suggest your position has the problem that you can’t make moral judgements about anyone else’s behaviour with any authority – you can only say “in my view, that’s not optimal”. Which is pretty weak.

            Only to the same extent that the average person couldn’t make factual judgements about the validity of a new quantum theory, or diagnostic judgements about a medical problem. If you don’t have the education and experience and math and well-developed field of study to support the assertion, you’re always just making a personal guess. Over time the knowledge that has been gained by more careful science spreads out into a more general understanding by the populace (often aided by education), however it’s never something everyone just immediately knows.

            You haven’t defined how you assess “benefit” apart from “survival of the fittest” (which seems to me to be a fairly bloodthirsty way to establish a moral code)

            It’s only bloodthirsty if you only consider it from the point of view of killing people, which is not the case. It’s the same process that gives us dextrous fingers, color eyesight, a good immune system, the ability to repair the body after an injury, and a million other things. With respect to morals, it facilitates the understanding that murder is wrong, that lying is bad, etc., because groups that promote those ideas are stronger and healthier and more productive (usually; it may depend on their larger environment). It’s survival of the fittest when battled out among social groups, where the weapons are ideas.

            this all seems a lot like consequentialism to me.

            Of course it does, since it’s built on top of that. It’s consequentialism in the same sense that calculus (or, really, most forms of math) is algebra. The point is to take simpler systems and refine them into a better understanding of what they’re trying to represent. Of the forms of normative ethics, consequentialism and its derivatives are the only ones one can reason about scientifically, so naturally anything other than “Because I said so” falls under that umbrella.

            • With respect to morals, it facilitates the understanding that murder is wrong, that lying is bad, etc., because groups that promote those ideas are stronger and healthier and more productive (usually; it may depend on their larger environment).

              Do you believe in compulsory euthanasia for the disabled? If not, why not, given what you’ve said above? Surely groups that promote that idea are stronger, healthier and more productive as a group (as disabled people, in this way of thinking, are a drain on resources)?

              Of the forms of normative ethics, consequentialism and its derivatives are the only ones one can reason about scientifically, so naturally anything other than “Because I said so” falls under that umbrella.

              What law of the universe says that the best form of ethics is one which can be reasoned about scientifically?

              It reminds me of the story of the drunk looking for his dropped house keys under a streetlight. A passer-by stops to help. “Where exactly did you drop them?”, he asks. “Over there”, says the drunk, pointing into the darkness. “Then why are you looking over here?”, asks the passer-by. “Well, the light is better.”

              • Do you believe in compulsory euthanasia for the disabled? If not, why not, given what you’ve said above? Surely groups that promote that idea are stronger, healthier and more productive as a group (as disabled people, in this way of thinking, are a drain on resources)?

                Maybe, maybe not. If it was a known, absolute fact that nothing would ever be gained by keeping them alive (and recall that I’m considering a larger scope than just the instantaneous effect), then yes. However, while a group that cares for its disabled might be weaker now (for a given definition of weaker), it’s also gaining knowledge in how to care for them (as well as in other areas related to the needs of doing so), and presumably working on ways to bring them back into the realm of the abled, which improves its productivity in the long term. And of course psychological effects are also part of the equation, though that gets a bit complicated.

                Obviously that’s a very generic answer, since ‘disabled’ is such a broadly vague term.

                What law of the universe says that the best form of ethics is one which can be reasoned about scientifically?

                None. However if it can’t be reasoned about scientifically, one also can’t say that it’s the ‘best’.

                For example, suppose I created a form of ethics that said you need to kill every 20th person you meet. It has no basis, and can’t be reasoned about scientifically. Nothing can be asserted regarding its consequences or effects. It simply ‘is’. Is it the best form of ethics? If so, why? If not, why not? Can you claim that it’s ‘better’ than the heretic splinter groups that claim you’re supposed to kill every 18th person, or every 23rd person? None of those questions can be answered via internal context. You either take it on faith, or you reject it outright.

                It’s impossible to have any validity on the claim of being the ‘best’, because ‘best’ implies that it can be compared, and being compared means that it’s analyzable, and being analyzable means that it can be reasoned about scientifically. If it can’t be reasoned about scientifically, then pretty much by definition it can’t be the ‘best’.

                At best, you can only consider it ‘valid’, either within a specified framework (eg: what the Christian God wants you to do), or because it corresponds to an assertion that’s independent of any framework (and thus must be reasoned about scientifically).

                • However if it can’t be reasoned about scientifically, one also can’t say that it’s the ‘best’.

                  That’s circular. If you define the best as “that which comes up best in my scientific analysis”, then clearly that which cannot be reasoned about scientifically can’t be the best. But that’s just a restatement of your initial definition of “best”, it’s not an argued conclusion.

                  This is why I was asking about the source of your ethics. The answer seems to be that you make an a priori assumption both that scientific reason is capable of determining the best ethics, and also that your particular way of applying the scientific method to the problem is the correct methodology, and work from there. But I don’t think either of those assumptions are properly founded.

                  You are stuck in what David Hume called the “is/ought” problem. Science can tell us much about what is, but nothing about what ought to be.

                  • You’ve got to make some assumptions or you can’t get anywhere with morality. But you’re missing a key step: yes, there are assumptions, but then those assumptions are tested, repeatedly, and adjusted or replaced if they don’t work.

                  • First, apologies: I missed your reply here (looking at the wrong place on the page), so haven’t answered in a while.

                    That’s circular. If you define the best as “that which comes up best in my scientific analysis”, then clearly that which cannot be reasoned about scientifically can’t be the best. But that’s just a restatement of your initial definition of “best”, it’s not an argued conclusion.

                    The word ‘best’ fundamentally has no meaning if the things in question cannot be compared, cannot be argued, cannot be tested, cannot be rated. The very word itself means that there are multiple (valid) things being compared, and that for whatever rating scale you’re using for the comparison, the selected one rates the highest of all the contenders.

                    You are asserting (via stating that all non-Christian religions are ‘false’) that there is only one valid ethics system, as defined by God. Since it is non-rational, and cannot be compared both because it is non-rational, and because you’re asserting that it is the only valid system, there literally cannot be a ‘best’, there can only be an ‘only’.

                    If we accept the assertion that morality is baked into the universe (ie: defined by God), then saying that there’s a best ethics is like saying that there’s a best physics. There is no ‘best’ physics, there is only the physics that exists. There are best -models- for how physics works (eg: quantum mechanics, general relativity, etc), but that’s because the models themselves can be compared and tested to see how well they match reality.

                    (Caveat: Unless you’re defining ‘ethics’ as a model for ‘morality’, where they’re the equivalent of ‘quantum mechanics’ and ‘physics’, respectively. Even then, there’s issues in resolving any comparisons. Personally, I use the definitions of those terms where ‘ethics’ is an -application- of ‘morality’, in the sense of morality being like math and ethics being like physics. And then there are others that don’t distinguish between the terms at all.)

                    This is why I was asking about the source of your ethics. The answer seems to be that you make an a priori assumption both that scientific reason is capable of determining the best ethics, and also that your particular way of applying the scientific method to the problem is the correct methodology, and work from there. But I don’t think either of those assumptions are properly founded.

                    A priori assumptions:
                    1. That ethics/morality can be reasoned about, and can be considered to have a justification beyond “just because”. (Hardly novel, as variations on this question are pretty much all of what philosophy is about.)
                    2. That what a moral actually -is- can be determined. (A rather contentious topic.)
                    3. That an understanding of how morality works can be modeled and studied. (Depends on an answer to #2 that can actually be used.)

                    Also, I’m not saying that my particular method must necessarily be correct, only that thus far it correlates with reality pretty well. But that’s the purpose of the scientific method: To test and try out various things, narrow down possibilities, and eventually reach a ‘truth’, or at least verify a falsehood. I am, of course, assuming that I’m at least on the right track, else there wouldn’t be any point in pursuing this approach. Being proven wrong is an accepted risk.

                    Religion in general balks at point #1, essentially asserting that we -can’t- know the justification, beyond the equivalent of “God said so”. However history is littered with such assertions that no one acknowledges anymore because they’re no longer considered true.

                    You are stuck in what David Hume called the “is/ought” problem. Science can tell us much about what is, but nothing about what ought to be.

                    Sort of, but not necessarily. There’s the instructive form of ‘ought’ (ie: to reach goal B, you ought to do A), and there’s the prescriptive/moral form of the word ‘ought’ (ie: you ought to do A because it’s the right thing to do). Both science and philosophy are perfectly fine with the first form, but fail on the second (science in not being able to construct them, philosophy in not being able to logically justify them).

                    There are only two basic ways to solve the dilemma: Either morals are fundamentally irrational, and cannot be reasoned about; or the moral form of ‘ought’ isn’t a valid construct/definition in the first place, and doesn’t actually exist (and that Hume’s dilemma stemmed from requiring a false supposition). Religion follows the first method, and amoralists follow the second. There are other, weaker, solutions as well, but they each have their own flaws. The above two are the only ones that don’t introduce intrinsically contradictory elements.

                    The problem with the religious stance is that, because morals are fundamentally irrational, you literally cannot know which moral assertions are true (and conversely, which moral assertions are false), which makes adherence to any specific moral assertion pure guesswork (aka: faith, particularly in that the specific version that you signed up for out of the hundreds of options available is the one that’s actually correct).

                    The problem with the amoralist stance is that there’s now no justification whatsoever for any specific behavior, which makes it a bit difficult to reason about why we behave the way we do. That’s perpetuated by the corollary assertion that there’s no such thing as morals whatsoever, which most people find intuitively flawed (though quantum mechanics has shown us that intuition doesn’t necessarily mean ‘correct’).

                    However, if we follow the amoralist viewpoint a bit loosely, we can set aside the assertion that morals don’t exist at all, and only take the critical assertion that prescriptive moral ‘oughts’ don’t exist. Getting rid of that blinder opens up the idea that we still need to define what a moral -is-, and a proper definition allows it to be an analyzable behavior.

                    • Help me understand where your position is. You said that either morals are irrational (the religions position), or there is no moral ‘ought’ (the amoralist position). You then said:

                      There are other, weaker, solutions as well, but they each have their own flaws. The above two are the only ones that don’t introduce intrinsically contradictory elements.

                      OK. So presumably you don’t want to be picking a solution with intrinsically contradictory elements, right? And you are refuting the first position, so you must hold the second. However, you then say:

                      However, if we follow the amoralist viewpoint a bit loosely, we can set aside the assertion that morals don’t exist at all…

                      How is your solution, which is not one of the above two, not “introducing intrinsically contradictory elements”? It looks rather like you waved a magic wand at this problem (which I agree is a big one) to make it go away. You don’t like the consistent conclusion that morals don’t exist at all (and indeed, it leaves you very open to criticism :-), so you just decided to ignore that bit.

                      Still, even your new position has problems. What’s even the point of defining what a moral is and making it an analyzable behaviour, if you can’t come up with an “ought” at the end, a conclusion that actually affects the real world?

              • I should add an addendum: Even though I said that I was considering a larger scope, I still left out addressing various other aspects of the issue, instead focusing entirely on the context you specifically raised. So don’t take it as meaning that no other considerations exist at all.

              • > What law of the universe says that the best form of ethics is one which can be reasoned about scientifically?

                Ethics and morality are not baked into the fabric of the universe. Life, in general, is not part of any physical law of the how the world works; certainly how life treats other life isn’t. No law of the universe provides the slightest shred of fairness, justice, good, or evil.

                We do that. We impose our notions of fairness and justice in the world. We try to shine a little good and light into the world where we can, and suppress evil wherever we can find it. We try to make life better for ourselves and for others.

                Science is merely a framework with which we can ask “how are we doing?”, and try to do better. We ask questions like “what would help more people”, or “what makes people happy”, or “how do we compare the happiness of different people”, and we try to come up with answers. We make changes, and see if they improve things. We keep the ones that do, and we discard or modify the ones that don’t. We seek out processes that help us improve faster or evaluate more accurately, and adopt them as new methods.

                Those methods are easy enough to evaluate on things for which there actually are right and wrong answers. In those areas, we don’t have to make assumptions and declare axioms; we just run experiments, and see what matches reality.

                In any other area, not backed by some fundamental property of reality, all we can do is build up a self-consistent system from some set of principles, and find the best way to satisfy those, while at the same time questioning those principles and looking for better ones.

                To answer your thoughts from elsewhere in the thread: of course we can’t say scientifically what *ought* to be, only what *is*. Moral judgements are just another way of saying “I prefer”. The science comes in when we try to take sets of dogmatic moral axioms and compare them on some basis other than “who can yell the loudest” or “whose proponents are the most charismatic”; how do we get from “I prefer” to “we prefer”? We can seek common ground, find points of agreement, precisely characterize points of disagreement, look at the difference between people’s stated preferences and their actual preferences, distinguish actual harm from self-righteous offense, and so on.

                In short, humans can say what they’d like to see happen, what *ought* to be (people *ought* not to die, people *ought* not to suffer, people *ought* to be happier), and those become the baseline that we work from. (And the nice thing is, the framework we use to build on that baseline can adapt if the baseline changes.) All else being equal, simpler systems with fewer axioms and more derived bits tend to work more smoothly; it’s nice to be able to summarize and defend your principles briefly.

                My own, for instance, boil roughly down to a combination of the golden rule / non-hypocrisy, and some notion of maximizing collective preference.

                For instance, it’s fairly trivial to get from there to opposing murder, on the simple basis that people don’t want to die. It’s also possible to evaluate much more complex moral dilemmas. For instance, theft is generally wrong, but not as wrong as people starving to death, so stealing food to eat if you’re starving to death could be understandable, but not if you had alternatives that didn’t involve theft and could reasonably be expected to know about them, and in general too many things would break if theft was widespread…

                To use a classic simplified example: train barreling down the tracks that’ll hit two people, you cannot stop it in time and you cannot rescue the people, but you can divert it onto another track, where another person is trapped. What do you do? A concrete and static list of moral principles will not help you there unless they happen to include a rule for that situation. If you sit down and think about that one for a bit, you’ll probably come up with a solution, most likely the one that seems “least bad”. And if you think about other situations involving unpleasant choices, you start developing moral frameworks that work for things like self-defense, necessary combat, and other “wow this is awful but the alternative is worse” situations. Invert a few of them, and you’ll have some frameworks for “most good” instead of just “least bad”, and perhaps start to put all of those on a common scale…

                The result you’ll get won’t necessarily be perfect, or optimal, but it’ll have a lot more standing behind it than “because I say so”.

                So, my answer boils down to “because if you can’t reason about it you can’t apply it in practice”. With a healthy dose of “feel free to demonstrate otherwise”.

  4. This comment discusses why it’s totally insane to post your religious or other beliefs on Planet Mozilla and was prompted by a comment on one of the Mozilla Yammer instances which is part of an ongoing discussion within Mozilla about this general subject.

    [It is also me deciding to try out Mike Hoye’s proposed new Planet Mozilla content policy, which suggests that people posting content to Planet regarding “contentious or personal topics outside of Mozilla’s mission” may do so if they begin with a sentence advising people of that fact. Hence the above. I don’t intend to be contentious, but you could call this personal, and it’s outside Mozilla’s mission. I assume the intent is that the uninterested or potentially offended can just simply ignore it. You can join the discussion on the proposed new policy in mozilla.governance.]

    Thank you for making this possible:
    http://blog.gerv.net/2014/12/an-invitation/#comment-43733

    Stay tuned for a very nice blog post of mine.
    :-)

    Honestly: Why do you keep using loopholes that potentially allow you to post bullshit like this to Planet Mozilla? Believe it or not: No one cares about the stuff you post. You reach no-one, other than me, because I love this opportunity to tell you how ill-advised it is to do the things you’re doing. Or do you see any people commenting they’ll go to their local church and become a christian immediately? No, most of the people keep arguing with you because they don’t get that arguing with you is pointless. Because you’re not willing to improve. Ever. One should assume that computer programmers have a rational mind, but you can’t even be rational enough to keep your mouth (or this blog) shut when it’s better to do so.

    Gerv, by now EVERYONE knows that you hold this belief, so why on earth do you have to continue to hit people in the face with it? Character weakness, OCD, fears, whatever it is, I just don’t get it.

    Instead of doing these ill-advised things, I suggest that you go to your local charity and do something nice for others. Have you ever done that? Because all I have seen you doing for that religion is proclaim it on that blog. I am sure this is how Jesus imagined his religion. He’ll be so proud of you.

    Also, I am not potentially offended! :-)

    • I think there are more than one person who cares about this stuff: at least you and me. And I am a Christian and English is not my native language.
      However I am blessed by this post and I agree that Christianity is not something man can ignore, because each person has to take side, for God or against God — of course with the belief that men are created by God.

      • Nonsense. That’s the way Gerv puts it. Christianity is not binary. There are different ways of interpreting the bible and there are a multitude of different ways to live your life. Saying, there is only with or without can be considered narrow-minded.

        Believe what you want to believe but stop bothering other people, especially those who do not care (and by this I mean the majority of Planet Mozilla) with your beliefs.

  5. I am currently reading up on cultural differences between different countries. And I’m trying to find a key as to why people like me, since I am from Germany, might be potentially offended. Cultural differences are quite an interesting topic. Although I am no expert, it’s still quite nice to get to know how other people perceive the world and deal with the people around them. So, a thing that is acceptable in one part of the world might not be acceptable in other parts of the world.

    I’m just gonna tell you some things. In Germany, we normally frown at public display of religious affection. People normally pursue their religious matters in their free time and we are normally rather reserved about personal feelings and things like that. Also, religion is something people choose for themselves (it’s a personal matter, after all) and I find people who want to “suggest” a religion to me, mildly annoying, and certainly out of place.

    How is religion perceived in the United Kingdom? Is it different from my experiences?

    I’m just saying that it’s quite a touchy subject, and whether someone believes in a certain thing or does not is highly subjective, and, as you know, we Germans frown upon that as well, at least when it comes to Business matters or when people we don’t know are involved (as is the case with the Mozilla community). So, maybe this trouble stems from cultural differences, I don’t quite know.

    All, I am saying is: Be cautious and unobtrusive. In my opinion (though I am German), this is better than yelling out loud (even when saying “I’m gonna yell out loud now” before doing so) and being sorry about it afterwards. I know the latter is the American way, but still, Mozilla is such a cross-cultural place that it’s better to stick to the way of not mentioning touchy subjects at all.

    • All cultures are under the Lordship of Christ. Any culture will have some good aspect and some bad ones, but you judge “good” and “bad” by His standard, not by personal preference. So if a culture has a thing that “people don’t talk about God round here”, or “it’s only OK to be a Christian if you keep it to yourself”, then those things should be compared with how God wants society to work, found wanting, and so discarded.

      In other words, there is a higher authority than cultural preference.

      • In any case: Jesus was just a man. Like all people, he was bound to the limitations of his century. Back then, they did not know what we know now. People back then were probably full of fears, being unable to explain the world around them. They were in need for a guidance, in need for something that explains the world, tell them how to behave, how to do things right. My point is: Even a “guiding book” like the bible can get outdated, moral guidelines evolve, people evolve, cultures evolve. It is not only important, but mandatory for the survival of cultures that you adapt. Otherwise you can’t survive. I would say it’s time for a revision of the bible, don’t you think? And, as a general rule, it’s wrong to take everything literally.

      • All cultures are under the Lordship of Bob. Any culture will have some good aspects and some bad ones, but you judge “good” and “bad” by Bob’s standard, not by personal preference. So if a culture has a thing for proselytizing and condemning all those who disagree, those things should be compared with how Bob wants society to work, found wanting, and so discarded.

        In other words, there is a higher authority than cultural preference.

        Please feel free to explain how to distinguish my comment from yours. Most attempts I’ve seen at doing so generally lead to a circular appeal to God’s authority (often combined with a dismissive statement avoiding the point entirely), or a defense that there’s more basis to believe in God than Bob (hey, look, moral authority by collective consensus again), or sometimes a statement of personal preference.

        Until then, I’m going to continue to interpret comments like yours with an implied foundation of the speaker having a personal preference based on their belief in God. Which works just fine. I’m not morally offended by your preference as you are by mine, though I am offended by some of your behaviors as a result of that preference.

  6. Do you know Hebrew, Gerv? Because if you don’t, how can you be so sure what you believe is actually what was intended for you to believe? It might all be a giant translation mistake.

    • You expect me to say “no”, don’t you?

      <smiles>

      Why not ask about Greek next? After all, the theory that every single person in the world who knows Hebrew and Greek is in a massive conspiracy to keep the “real” text of the Bible a secret is really quite plausible. Really.

      • What about the people who wrote the different parts of the bible. Did those people write it themselves after what Jesus told them or did they scribble down the essence of what they have been told? Also, maybe some of those people had other people who wrote it for them.

          • I am. And I hope you can give me an answer. Don’t hold back this vital information now, after you’re using the bible to justify nearly everything.

            Thanks in advance!

            • I’m waiting, Gerv! You have encouraged others to become interested in Christianity, so here we go. It can’t be true, that you cannot even answer this simple question… why hide the answer from me (you have replied to other comments before, so why not reply to this one as well)?

  7. For the title: no, I don’t think Christianity is a life hack. From what I understand of it[1], it’s for things that are “hacky” in the “ugly workaround” sense – random things MacGyvered into working in surprising ways; “don’t accumulate credit card debt, the interest is too high” wouldn’t be one, for example. As Christianity (in its various forms) is widely known and practised by a nontrivial fraction of the world’s population, I don’t think it qualifies. (This doesn’t necessary mean it’s not valid/useful/whatever, of course.)

    Re: Planet Mozilla syndication: I feel like this post (and specifically, “because I don’t believe anyone’s life can be significantly improved by believing falsehoods”) is written in a way that is strongly divisive and therefore not suitable / goes against the suggested policy. Contrast this with bsmedberg’s post at the end of November just before Mozlandia; while that also discusses (and presumably hopes to spread) Christianity, it is inclusive and highlights the positive sides of the religion. It doesn’t mean that I think that you shouldn’t think what you do, or that you shouldn’t express them; just that I feel it would be better if they can be published in a way that doesn’t stir up such strong negative emotions in your readers.

    This comment was originally written and abandoned around the weekend; re-written in response to the continued thread in .governance. My hope is that this can be used to better shape the policy and get us all to focus back on the nearer-term things like how to make Mozilla awesome :)

    [1] Mostly from hearsay, because I try to avoid gawker.

    • I feel like this post (and specifically, “because I don’t believe anyone’s life can be significantly improved by believing falsehoods”) is written in a way that is strongly divisive…

      Really? I thought that was the least controversial part of it. Are there people out there who actually do believe strongly that people’s lives are improved by believing falsehoods?

      • Are there people out there who actually do believe strongly that people’s lives are improved by believing falsehoods?

        That depends on the reader’s point of view, does it not? More to the point, though, what made me focus on that sentence was how… flippant it felt. It gave me an impression of not respecting that others may have different beliefs. It’s quite possible (and probable, actually) that you’ve thought long and hard about it, filed it away as an axiom, and are just skipping the explanation because it’s no longer interesting. The rest of us, however, do not have that context, and so can only see what’s in the post.

        • Why does it give you that impression? Is it because you have a mental association between disagreement and disrespect? Perhaps you could break that association. It’s perfectly possible to disagree with a person’s position, ideas or ideology without being disrespectful. If this were not so, respectful political discourse would be impossible.

          • I hope I’ve been respectful while disagreeing with you, right now? :)

            I think it’s less disagreement and more not appearing to take other views into consideration. For example, one would actually have to respond to opponents (at least superficially) during political debate. I don’t think I wouldn’t have such a strong reaction if the initial wording wasn’t so absolute.

            • I do think I’ve done plenty of responding to those of differing views :-) What does it mean, though, to “take other views into consideration” in this context? I’m convinced that God has been undeservedly kind to me and shown me the truth about himself in the Lord Jesus Christ. I can’t say “but hey, it could all be an invention, that’s quite possible; I accept that point of view as valid” because I don’t. Giving validity to two mutually contradictory views isn’t being polite, it’s a path to madness.

              • You don’t have to agree with someone to be able to understand their assumptions and reason using their assumptions. Hypotheticals are a wonderful thing: the mind is quite capable of holding two conflicting thoughts in it at once, and building further reasoning on both, while questioning both. If you couldn’t do so, you could never change your mind about *anything*.

                If you’re going to evaluate someone else’s argument, you won’t get very far if you always just stop every time at the very beginning and say “I disagree with your assumptions”, without actually engaging with the rest. Nor will you get usefully unbiased results if you enter every such evaluation with a basis of “I know they’re wrong, now let’s figure out how”.

                You can evaluate whether someone’s conclusion follows from their assumptions and reasoning without actually *agreeing* with their assumptions.

          • It’s perfectly possible to disagree with a person’s position, ideas, or ideology without being disrespectful, yes. However, I don’t see how statements which fundamentally boil down to “if you don’t believe as I do, you’re going to hell, and I’m OK with that” can be taken as anything other than disrespect, to say the least.

            From your perspective, perhaps you see it as attempting to “save” people, and you value that more highly than not offending people. That is, at the least, self-consistent with what seem to be your assumptions.

            However, those same assumptions seem to lead you to very quickly devalue both other people’s beliefs and other people. Case in point, you don’t seem to see how your position could be taken as disrespectful, perhaps because it isn’t disrespectful *to you* or to people who believe as you do.

            In short, if you believe in moral absolutism, other people’s morals can’t possibly matter, so you don’t respect them.

  8. Regarding the “law of non-contradiction” you wrote about, are you a presuppositionalist? Because you are in a way presupposing that everything but your particular faith is falsehood (I wonder how narrow you go there, after all your wife’s faith might ever so slightly differ but do you think she follows falsehoods?).

    • Believing in the law of non-contradiction merely requires being a logician, not a presuppositionalist. But yes, I think I am. God knows who is saved and who is not; I can only make guesses based on what he’s said about it, and act accordingly. And yes, I do think my wife is saved, praise God :-)

  9. Out of reply stacks in the nested replies, so continuing at the bottom.

    OK. So presumably you don’t want to be picking a solution with intrinsically contradictory elements, right?

    Pretty much, though I’ll grant it was a bit of a broad generalization of the flaws in other solutions.

    How is your solution, which is not one of the above two, not “introducing intrinsically contradictory elements”? It looks rather like you waved a magic wand at this problem (which I agree is a big one) to make it go away. You don’t like the consistent conclusion that morals don’t exist at all (and indeed, it leaves you very open to criticism :-), so you just decided to ignore that bit.

    Well, I did sort of handwave it, partly to simplify the post, and partly because it was already sort of discussed in earlier posts. It’s mostly like rearranging a math problem, and recognizing that certain conclusions still make certain assumptions, and it may be the assumptions themselves that are flawed. IE:

    A ‘moral’ is defined as a ‘moral ought’.
    A ‘moral ought’ does not exist.
    Amoralist: Thus a ‘moral’ does not exist.
    Alternative: Thus a ‘moral’ is not a ‘moral ought’.

    Basically, the amoralist is making two separate conclusions, and it’s the second conclusion (that there are no morals at all) that gives it its name. However it’s the first conclusion (that a moral ought doesn’t exist) that’s critical in fixing Hume’s dilemma.

    It is, of course, easy to see where it would be difficult to make that distinction. Prior to the development of modern game theory, it would be difficult to even conceive of an idea of what a moral might be, if not a ‘moral ought’. One such attempt — defining morals as social contracts (which is actually a vaguely similar notion to the game theory idea) — is actually one of the other attempts to solve Hume’s dilemma.

    And it may be that the game theory approach is not the final solution. However whatever the true solution is, it will almost certainly still have to pass that that gate of defining a ‘moral’ independently of the ‘moral ought’.

    Still, even your new position has problems. What’s even the point of defining what a moral is and making it an analyzable behaviour, if you can’t come up with an “ought” at the end, a conclusion that actually affects the real world?

    This is a bit difficult to answer cleanly. There is an ‘ought’, it’s just not a ‘moral ought’ (in the traditional sense), even though by having a ‘moral’ and an ‘ought’ you might still put the words together, just not meaning the same thing as the original technical definition. It’s the same sort of ‘ought’ as, “You ought to take a corner square as your first move in tic-tac-toe to maximize your chances of winning.” That is, an ought that can be tied to a specific purpose, though people may try to shorten it by ignoring the purpose, making it look like a ‘moral ought’. EG: “You ought to take a corner square as your first move in tic-tac-toe.”

    Asking what the point is if it can’t affect the real world is sort of like asking that same question of any of the pure sciences regarding any aspect of them that doesn’t seem to have any immediate practical application. The point is to construct an understanding that -can- be applied to real-world problems.