1. Joined
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    26 Oct '05 03:381 edit
    "The central thesis of this paper is that religious morality is infantile."

    So begins an essay I read recently called Morality: Religious and Secular by Patrick Nowell-Smith. However, Nowell-Smith's arguments are not infantile and he goes on to raise some interesting points. Nowell-Smith makes use of some research conducted by Jean Piaget in the area of child psychology and moral development. In particular, Piaget conducted a study concerning how children of varying ages react to a game of marbles. Piaget found three distinct stages of development:

    1. For very young children, the "game" of marbles invariably degenerates into the child tossing marbles around according only to his every whim. In this "premoral" stage, the child does not yet grasp the concept of a rule, and his game play is not in accord with any governing guidelines. Toward the end of the stage, the child's play may appear to be somewhat in accord with the rules of the game but only inasmuch as he begins to imitate older children who do play according to specified rules.

    2. The second stage (ages around 5-9) is what Piaget calls the "heteronomous" stage and what Nowell-Smith also terms the "deontological" stage, although I think that may be misleading terminology. I like to call it the "Divine Command" stage. According to Piaget, in this stage "the rules are regarded as sacred and inviolable, emanating from adults and lasting for ever. Every suggested alteration in the rules strikes the child as a transgression." The child understands what a rule is, but he does not yet understand (or even inquire) what the rule is for. In the child's view, the rules are beyond question and have been essentially handed down as though on stone tablets. While the child may at times disobey the rules, he does not question the authority of the rules as written.

    3. Finally, older more enlightened children understand not only what a rule is, but also what purpose the rules of the game serve. According to Piaget, "The rule is now looked upon as a law due to mutual consent, which you must respect if you want to be loyal, but which it is permissible to alter on condition of enlisting the general opinion on your side." This is the "autonomous" or "teleological" stage in which the children may view themselves as final authorities in the sense that "what tradition gave them they can change; from 'this is how we learnt to play' they no longer pass unquestioningly to 'this is how we ought to play'...the rules are no longer regarded as sacred, as worthy of obedience simply because they are what they are, but as serving a purpose, as rules for playing a game that they want to play. Rules there must certainly be; and in one sense they are sacred enough. Every player must abide by them; he cannot pick and choose. But in another sense there is nothing sacred about them; they are, and are known to be a mere device, to be molded and adapted in the light of the purpose which they are understood by all the players to serve."

    Obviously, in Nowell-Smith's view, the religious moralists and Divine Command Theorists are like the childish younger players who just haven't quite figured out yet what the rules are really for; whereas those who take a more secular view toward morality are like the older more enlightened children. On that notion, I completely agree with Nowell-Smith -- Divine Command does seem rather infantile and silly.

    However, if I am interpreting the essay correctly, Nowell-Smith goes on to basically reject any notion of deontological attitudes toward ethics. To me this seems to lead to some absurd conclusions. The tough question surrounding such a view seems to be in how we are to interpret the enlistment of "general opinion on your side" as Piaget says. For example, if during The Holocaust everyone excluding those who died (I have seen the figure at 11 million, but have also seen figures as high as 26 million) would have viewed the ensuing acts of genocide as permissible, would that have constituted the "general opinion?" If so, then according to Nowell-Smith's view it seems like there are circumstances under which the mass destruction of life during The Holocaust would have been morally permissible at the time. I think that is an absurd conclusion. So while I agree whole-heartedly with Nowell-Smith concerning the notion of Divine Command, I disagree with his rejection of all deontological principles. In particular, I think we need a way to avoid the absurd conclusion that moral permissibility may be determined solely by the largest, most powerful faction, if indeed the ideology of such a group constitutes "general opinion." The problem I think is that life, unlike marbles, is not a game that can be halted and abandoned if a group of chronic cheaters forms. But also, if everyone in a game of marbles collectively "gangs up" on a single player and systematically limits his playing privileges through rules adopted under "general opinion," then under Nowell-Smith's view, that would seem to be a suitably fair game; but this conclusion does not seem reasonable.

    Has anyone else read this essay?
  2. Hmmm . . .
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    26 Oct '05 03:57
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    "The central thesis of this paper is that religious morality is infantile."

    So begins an essay I read recently called Morality: Religious and Secular by Patrick Nowell-Smith. However, Nowell-Smith's arguments are not infantile and he goes on to raise some interesting points. Nowell-Smith makes use of some research conducted by Jean Piaget ...[text shortened]... bly fair game; but this conclusion does not seem reasonable.

    Has anyone else read this essay?
    Haven’t read the paper, though I recall reading something about Piaget’s developmental observations before.

    I would say that “religious moralists” and “Divine Command Theorists” are not necessarily the same thing;
    not even all theists are DCTers—let alone Vedantists, Taoists, Buddhists, as well as members of monistic religious expressions in what are otherwise theistic religions (Sufis, Kabbalists, the Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart, etc.).
  3. Joined
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    26 Oct '05 04:171 edit
    Originally posted by vistesd
    Haven’t read the paper, though I recall reading something about Piaget’s developmental observations before.

    I would say that “religious moralists” and “Divine Command Theorists” are not necessarily the same thing;
    not even all theists are DCTers—let alone Vedantists, Taoists, Buddhists, as well as members of monistic religious expressions in what are o ...[text shortened]... erwise theistic religions (Sufis, Kabbalists, the Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart, etc.).
    Good point. You are correct in that religious moralist does not necessarily imply DCT. I should have qualified: Nowell-Smith is most interested in showing that there are many elements within the Christian view of morality that he thinks are infantile (heteronomy, deontology, moral realism). His arguments are aimed more or less at the DCT -- the idea that morality is dictated through some divine moral authority -- and he tries to show that such thinking seems to be due to something resembling stunted moral development. But your observation is correct in that his arguments would probably not be extendable to many other types of "religious moralists." But Nowell-Smith would probably chide them too if they exhibited heteronomous or deontological views toward morality -- generally, Nowell-Smith is against the idea that morality is absolute and/or externally imposed.
  4. Donationbbarr
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    26 Oct '05 04:351 edit
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    Good point. You are correct in that religious moralist does not necessarily imply DCT. I should have qualified: Nowell-Smith is most interested in showing that there are many elements within the Christian view of morality that he thinks are infantile (heteronomy, deontology, moral realism). His arguments are aimed more or less at the DCT -- the idea th ...[text shortened]... generally, Nowell-Smith is against the idea that morality is absolute and/or externally imposed.
    Why does he think moral realism is infantile? Moral realism is simply that claim that at least some first-order moral judgments are true. If he thinks that it really the case that we have a moral obligation not to throw puppies into wood chippers, then he is a moral realist.

    Anyway, his problem isn't with rules themselves. His problem is with the justification of rules. Mill's Rule Utilitarianism is deontological, but the justification for the rules is consequentialist. Kant is the father if deontology, but the rules are supposed to follow from principles of practical rationality (that is, to the extent a person is autonomous, they will of rational necessity endorse the rules Kant calls "categorical imperatives" ). Aristotle's virtue-theoretic account is teleological, but there are still rules (Rosalind Hursthouse, calls these "V-rules" ) that one can employ to guide one's behavior. So, the real problem NS has with rules is that often it is the case that people endorse rules without giving any thought to the justification of those rules. This is infantile.
  5. Hmmm . . .
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    26 Oct '05 04:37
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    Good point. You are correct in that religious moralist does not necessarily imply DCT. I should have qualified: Nowell-Smith is most interested in showing that there are many elements within the Christian view of morality that he thinks are infantile (heteronomy, deontology, moral realism). His arguments are aimed more or less at the DCT -- the idea th ...[text shortened]... generally, Nowell-Smith is against the idea that morality is absolute and/or externally imposed.
    I’m wondering if, in a sense, the heteronomous stage doesn’t also need to be considered pre-moral as well, if there is no understanding of moral rightness/wrongness, only obedience/disobedience, perhaps with the consequences of reward/punishment. The child might not even have a concept that it is “wrong” to change the rules, let alone why.
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    26 Oct '05 05:131 edit
    Originally posted by bbarr
    Why does he think moral realism is infantile? Moral realism is simply that claim that at least some first-order moral judgments are true. If he thinks that it really the case that we have a moral obligation not to throw puppies into wood chippers, then he is a moral realist.

    Anyway, his problem isn't with rules themselves. His problem is with the justi ...[text shortened]... ndorse rules without giving any thought to the justification of those rules. This is infantile.
    I must admit that NS's claims about moral realism and how they relate to his thesis that the Christian view of morality is infantile were lost on me. As an example of how he says moral realism enters into the Christian view, he cited the example of love/compassion. He states that under the Christian view, one is supposed to be loving and compassionate not because of the good it brings society and individuals but because a loving/compassionate nature is supposed to be the only way one can become a good Christian according to the guidelines laid out in the Bible under God's word. NS goes on to say that this is infantile in the same way that a child may perceive something to be right only in that the deed is favorable in the eyes of his parents. Like I said, I was a little lost on how this relates back to realism.

    So, the real problem NS has with rules is that often it is the case that people endorse rules without giving any thought to the justification of those rules. This is infantile.

    Yes, precisely. NS calls stage 2 the "deontological" stage expressly because the rules are followed without being questioned.

    But also, NS seems to make it clear that he rejects the notion that morality can be absolute or immutable. This would be a separate issue from the question of whether there is thought given to the justification, wouldn't it?
  7. Donationbbarr
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    26 Oct '05 05:29
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    I must admit that NS's claims about moral realism and how they relate to his thesis that the Christian view of morality is infantile were lost on me. As an example of how he says moral realism enters into the Christian view, he cited the example of love/compassion. He states that under the Christian view, one is supposed to be loving and compassionate ...[text shortened]... te issue from the question of whether there is thought given to the justification, wouldn't it?
    I'm not sure what 'absolute' or 'immutable' mean in this context. Any number of things have been meant by these terms, and they have been applied to more or less general first-order moral judgments and to second-order, metaethical judgments. A first-order moral judgment like "hitting another person for no good reason is wrong" may not be immutable, for instance, if humans evolve some hard exoskeleton (a silly example, but you get the point). A more general first-order moral judgment like "causing another person unnecessary suffering is wrong", which may encapsulate and explain the truth of the more spedific first-order judgment above, may be immutable. All metaethical views, if correct, are both absolute and immutable.
  8. Standard memberKellyJay
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    26 Oct '05 05:50
    Originally posted by vistesd
    I’m wondering if, in a sense, the heteronomous stage doesn’t also need to be considered pre-moral as well, if there is no understanding of moral rightness/wrongness, only obedience/disobedience, perhaps with the consequences of reward/punishment. The child might not even have a concept that it is “wrong” to change the rules, let alone why.
    I coached a jr high baseball team, those kids once a rule was set
    down, was keen on making sure there wasn't any breaking of it by
    any coach or for that matter another kid. To break a rule was a strong
    taboo. I was amazed at how they viewed fairness, and justice among
    themselves.
    Kelly
  9. Standard memberDavid C
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    26 Oct '05 05:53
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    I must admit that NS's claims about moral realism and how they relate to his thesis that the Christian view of morality is infantile were lost on me. As an example of how he says moral realism enters into the Christian view, he cited the example of love/compassion. He states that under the Christian view, one is supposed to be loving and compassionate ...[text shortened]... te issue from the question of whether there is thought given to the justification, wouldn't it?
    Like I said, I was a little lost on how this relates back to realism.

    Not that I'll even pretend to understand what you eggheads are on about, but it seems to me that although the author feels the xtian morality is infantile, it serves a purpose...that is, love and compassion are beneficial qualities for everyday life and society, whether the individual understands the reasoning (realism) or simply exhibits the quality because they've been commanded to do so (deontological).

    ps - I had to google up "deontological". Damn you college boys.
  10. Joined
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    26 Oct '05 06:11
    Originally posted by bbarr
    I'm not sure what 'absolute' or 'immutable' mean in this context. Any number of things have been meant by these terms, and they have been applied to more or less general first-order moral judgments and to second-order, metaethical judgments. A first-order moral judgment like "hitting another person for no good reason is wrong" may not be immutable, fo ...[text shortened]... nt above, may be immutable. All metaethical views, if correct, are both absolute and immutable.
    Well from my understanding, deontology holds that people have unchanging moral obligations to abide by certain specific principles; and that the rightness of an action is at least to some extent an intrinsic property of the action. In that sense, the rightness of the action is absolute or immutable, and even if the entire world population unanimously decided that the action was wrong, it would not change the undeniable fact that the action is right. This is what I think NS would challenge. I think he would say that if the entire world population unanimously voted the action to be wrong, then the action is wrong; likewise if they all voted the action to be right, then the action is right. There seems to be at least an implicit expression in his essay that the "general opinion" can decide morality; and thus morality cannot be absolute or immutable since in principle the general opinion may change. If we follow his marble analogy, he would say that each generation has the ability to adapt or change the rules according to general opinion, and thus the rules are not absolute or immutable. I guess moral relativism is the word for it. But NS implies that this relativism (or at least a complete rejection of deontology) is essential to humanism. I don't see why that would be true.
  11. Subscriberno1marauder
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    26 Oct '05 06:181 edit
    I'd rather play a game of marbles then get involved in this Ivory Tower discussion. Does anybody want to help me develop an internet Marbles Site?

    EDIT: Damnit, these corporate swine have already beat me to it! http://www.gamedesire.com/online.game-marbles.arcade.html😠
  12. Hmmm . . .
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    26 Oct '05 06:25
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    I'd rather play a game of marbles then get involved in this Ivory Tower discussion. Does anybody want to help me develop an internet Marbles Site?

    EDIT: Damnit, these corporate swine have already beat me to it! http://www.gamedesire.com/online.game-marbles.arcade.html😠
    Yeah, but we can make up our own rules, right?

    Nice to see ya back, No1!
  13. Subscriberno1marauder
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    26 Oct '05 06:31
    Originally posted by vistesd
    Yeah, but we can make up our own rules, right?

    Nice to see ya back, No1!
    Yeah, but we can make up our own rules, right?

    Not and believe in God.
  14. Joined
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    26 Oct '05 06:36
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    I'd rather play a game of marbles then get involved in this Ivory Tower discussion. Does anybody want to help me develop an internet Marbles Site?

    EDIT: Damnit, these corporate swine have already beat me to it! http://www.gamedesire.com/online.game-marbles.arcade.html😠
    The Ivory Tower will probably be the safest hideout in all of Fantasia as The Nothing continues to ravage other threads, especially in General.
  15. Standard memberBosse de Nage
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    27 Oct '05 08:42
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    But NS implies that this relativism (or at least a complete rejection of deontology) is essential to humanism. I don't see why that would be true.
    Perhaps the stage at which the children grow up is when they acquire the wisdom to understand that ganging up on marginal elements is in nobody's own best interest--that the rules, although susceptible to change, must continue to be fair. Otherwise the current alpha squad run the risk of falling out of favour and being torn apart by some new mob. (If you see what I mean; I share David C's difficulty with the terms employed in this discussion).
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