Do You Have Any Preference?

“I reminded him of the debate between philosopher Frederick Copleston and the atheist Betrand Russell. At one point in the debate, Copleston said, “Mr. Russell, you do believe in good and bad, don’t you?” Russell answered, “Yes, I do.” “How do you differentiate between them?” challenged Copleston. Russell shrugged his shoulders as he was wont to do in philosophical dead ends for him and said, “The same way I differentiate between yellow and blue.” Copleston graciously responded and said, “But Mr. Russell, you differentiate between yellow and blue by seeing, don’t you? How do you differentiate between good and bad?” Russell, with all of his genius still within reach, gave the most vapid answer he could have given: “On the basis of feeling – what else?” I must confess, Mr. Copleston was a kindlier gentleman than many others. The appropriate ‘logical kill’ for the moment would have been, “Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors; in other cultures they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Do you have any preference?”

– Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (p. 182)

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13 thoughts on “Do You Have Any Preference?”

  1. ““Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors; in other cultures they eat them, both on the basis of feeling.”

    No. In some cultures they love their neighbors. In other cultures, they eat people who they do not consider their neighbors, and almost certainly do not consider people.

    The goal is to make people understand that we are all neighbors.

    1. Mr. NAS, there is one thing you do consistently whenever you comment on this blog, and that is miss the point. :)

      You say that “the goal is to make people understand that we are all neighbors.” And yet you, as an atheist, have no objective, transcendent moral standard to appeal to in service of this goal. You may not approve of cannibalism, but the cannibal does – who are you to judge him?

      In the end, you must find yourself in the same place as Mr. Russell: you may “feel” that such behavior is “bad”, but you cannot objectively say it is so. You say yellow, cannibal says blue. You say wrong, cannibal says tasty.

      1. “And yet you, as an atheist, have no objective, transcendent moral standard to appeal to in service of this goal.”

        So what? I, as a human, can have whatever objectives or goals I want to have. And that is one of mine.

        “You may not approve of cannibalism, but the cannibal does – who are you to judge him? ”

        I’m another human being. The cannibal might approve of cannibalism. But the person being cannibalized almost certainly does not. Who do we side with? Well, that depends…do you want to get eaten? Do you want to eat other humans? You tell me.

        “but you cannot objectively say it is so.”

        Sure I can. Because I define ‘bad’ to mean ‘harm’, and I can objectively show that cannibalizing someone causes harm to that person.

        1. “I’m another human being. The cannibal might approve of cannibalism. But the person being cannibalized almost certainly does not. Who do we side with? Well, that depends…do you want to get eaten? Do you want to eat other humans? You tell me.”

          I don’t want to eat other humans. Neither do you. But the cannibal does. “Who do we side with?” You tell me. Without a standard to appeal to, your answer is subjective. Who’s to say our desire to not get eaten is morally superior to the cannibal’s desire to eat? Why are our views on the matter “good” and his “bad”?

          “Sure I can. Because I define ‘bad’ to mean ‘harm’, and I can objectively show that cannibalizing someone causes harm to that person.”

          You can objectively show that it causes “harm,” but you cannot call it “wrong” in any meaningful sense of the word. That’s a different game altogether. Why is it wrong to harm another human being? Because you say so? Because I say so? You have no standard, and thus, you have no case.

          1. “Who’s to say our desire to not get eaten is morally superior to the cannibal’s desire to eat?”

            We are, because our desire involves the least harm.

            “Why are our views on the matter “good” and his “bad”?”

            Because our views don’t cause harm, and his do.

            “but you cannot call it “wrong” in any meaningful sense of the word. ”

            Sure I can. Harm = wrong.

            “Why is it wrong to harm another human being?”

            Because you are causing harm to them.

            “You have no standard”

            Sure I do. You just don’t like my standard. You prefer ‘might makes right’.

          2. Again, you have failed to provide an objective moral reason for why eating my neighbor is bad and loving him is good. Your personal preferences are apparent – but a standard above and beyond that? Nowhere in sight.

            “Why is it wrong to harm another human being?”
            Because you are causing harm to them.

            Circular reasoning at its finest. Harming your neighbor is wrong because it’s wrong to harm your neighbor? What? You still haven’t told me why harming someone else is a morally objectionable thing to do. And considering the framework you’re working with, you never will.

            I’d also like to point out that I never said anything about believing that “might makes right.” Attributing to your opponent viewpoints which he doesn’t espouse is a poor way to go about a debate.

  2. “Again, you have failed to provide an objective moral reason for why eating my neighbor is bad and loving him is good.”

    Sure I have. Harm can be shown objectively. It’s not my fault that it isn’t enough for you.

    “I’d also like to point out that I never said anything about believing that “might makes right.””

    Sure you did. You believe things are moral because a god you believe in said so. That is, without question, might makes right. Something is moral because the strongest thing said it is. No good reason…just because the being that you think will punish you said so.

    1. “Harm can be shown objectively.”

      Of course it can. I never said it couldn’t. The question is this: why is it wrong to harm someone, outside of your own personal preferences on the matter? It’s a simple question, but you keep dodging it. It’s a philosophical dead-end for you, just as it was for Russell.

      “You believe things are moral because a god you believe in said so. That is, without question, might makes right.”

      That is, without question, one of the worst caricatures of Christianity that I have ever heard. But just to play along… why is it wrong to believe that “might makes right”?

      1. “why is it wrong to harm someone”

        Because wrong is defined as harm. They are one in the same. It’s like asking “why is violet a shade of purple”? Because that’s the definition.

        “why is it wrong to believe that “might makes right”?”

        Euthyphro dilemma. Is something right because God said it, or did God say it because it’s right? If the first, then tomorrow God can tell you to eat your neighbors just because it would amuse him. If the second, then why do we need a god to tell us?

        1. “Because wrong is defined as harm. They are one in the same.”

          Says who? That’s the definition you give, but the cannibal would probably define it differently. Why is his definition less “correct” than yours? By what standard do you make that judgment?

          Is something right because God said it, or did God say it because it’s right? If the first, then tomorrow God can tell you to eat your neighbors just because it would amuse him. If the second, then why do we need a god to tell us?

          False dichotomy. You propose only two options when a third is possible. The third option is that what is good is based on God’s nature. The God of Scripture has not “discovered” that lying is wrong, nor has He arbitrarily decided that it is so (“just because it would amuse him”). He appeals to nothing besides His own character for the definition/standard of what is good. That definition/standard He then reveals to us in Holy Writ.

          Euthyphro’s dilemma is no dilemma at all because it misrepresents Christian theology.

          1. “but the cannibal would probably define it ”

            And he would be wrong.

            “The third option is that what is good is based on God’s nature.”

            And his nature used to be that you stoned people to death. Now, not so much. Tomorrow? Who can say.

  3. @NAS: ‘But the cannibal would probably define it differently.’ And he would be wrong.”

    Why why why why why? Why would he be wrong? I’ve asked you that from the start, and you still haven’t given me a proper response. You call it wrong, he calls it dinner. “Tomato, tomahto.” You cannot judge his action objectively because there is no standard for you to appeal to outside of your own opinion. And mere opinion isn’t cutting it.

    I’m closing this thread now because the discussion isn’t going anywhere productive, and I have other things to work on. For now, I bid you adieu.

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