You Are an Inconsistent Thinker

Philosophy has taught me that my thinking—and everyone else’s, whether they know it or not—is irredeemably confused. Accepting this has made me a more honest—and less dogmatic—thinker.

Two good examples (concerning knowledge and moral luck) receive a very good discussion in a single short paper from 1976 by Thomas Nagel: “Moral Luck.” Here’s a teaser:

Prior to reflection it is intuitively plausible that people cannot be morally assessed for what is not their fault, or for what is due to factors beyond their control… Without being able to explain exactly why, we feel that the appropriateness of moral assessment is easily undermined by the discovery that the act or attribute, no matter how good or bad, is not under the person’s control. While other evaluations remain, this one seems to lose its footing. So a clear absence of control, produced by involuntary movement, physical force, or ignorance of the circumstances, excuses what is done from moral judgment. But what we do depends in many more ways than these on what is not under our control… And external influences in this broader range are not usually thought to excuse what is done from moral judgment, positive or negative.

There are people out there who think that morals are ‘bunk,’ but that only adds a further layer of incoherence, because no-one can consistently maintain such an outlook for long.

And I Call this a Blog

This weekend Skarphedin set out to embarrass other bloggers. First he put up a thoughtful description of twenty-five things about the New Testament that make him skeptical. (I expect I’ll be working through the list and responding to an item or two at a time over the course of the next month or so.) He then followed that up with a series of cultural surveys: Ancient Quotations: the golden rule in positive form (a very judicious selection); Ancient quotations: returning evil with goodComparing Christianity & Judaism with surrounding culturesAncient quotations: equality. Altogether a pretty amazing set of resources for thinking about Christianity and comparing its values with those of other ancient cultures and philosophies—and more generally for getting a sense of moral thought in the ancient world.