A Little Morality Goes a Long Way

Hello, all!

This week’s post will be a little short. For those who don’t know, Brooke and I are expecting a little girl to join our family this week or next! Brooke is just over 39 weeks pregnant and Scout LeAnne Stickles is highly anticipated!

With that being said, I did not have much time to prepare for this post.

I thought about what I should write on and the subject of morality came to mind. Morality and ethics are something everyone has thought about. There is an innate sense we have regarding moral actions, justice, and goodness. There have been many different answers as to why humanity has a sense of morality, but today’s post will focus on a simple aspect of the moral dialogue—the “good” and the “right”.

When people discuss moral issues, whether it is a historical issue or a current one, the conversation often confuses the terms “good” and “right”. Many think these things are the same thing, much in the same way as they think “bad” and “wrong” are synonymous. However, this would be a mistake. “Good’ and “bad” are value terms. They express the value of an action. This is probably what most people mean to indicate when they say “good” or “right”. Yet, “right” and “wrong” are action terms, or terms referring to one’s moral duty. So, from these definitions, we can see value and duty terms are not expressing the same thing. In fact, they are very different in their meaning.

At this point, some of you may be thinking that even though they express different kinds of things (value or duty), they could still be used the same way. For, what is good should be the right action and what is bad should be the wrong action. And, I would agree only in part with this estimation. Kicking a baby for the fun of it is a bad action. It is also a wrong action. No one should ever kick a baby for the fun of it. (Also, discussions of morality and ethics often use very dark examples. This is just to make a point easily show that the author is trying to make.) So, in this case, the bad and wrong can both be applied to the same action. Much like saving a baby from being kicked by someone who thinks it is fun is a good and right action.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem arises when there is a conflict of absolutes, or in other words a conflict of principles. This is when someone is faced with only bad options; which is the right choice? Now, not everyone agrees that conflicting absolutes ever happen. Perhaps there is a third, hidden choice. Though I will not argue against this position, I do think it would be very difficult to show that our moral principles are never conflicting in the diverse discourse of life.

Thus, let’s assume that our moral principles sometimes do conflict. We’ll use a fun example. In the third X-Men movie, The Last Stand, it is shown that Charles Xavier put mental blocks in Jean Grey’s mind in order to stop her alternate personality, the Phoenix, from taking over. Aside from brutally ruining the comic version of the Phoenix, Logan (Wolverine) is appalled at what the Professor has done. Logan proceeds to tell Xavier how bad of a person he was by putting mental blocks in Jean’s mind without her knowing. Xavier defends himself by saying, “I had to choose between the lesser of two evils.” What Professor X is saying is that he was given two choices and both were bad: 1) stop Jean’s alternate personality from killing multitudes of people by placing mental blocks, 2) allow Jean to continue to act as the Phoenix and kill more people. However, Professor X believed that he could choose the lesser of the two evils, which was placing the mental blocks. In this scenario, a bad choice was the right choice, according to Professor X. Additionally, he wasn’t saying that because both options were bad, he was justified in placing the mental blocks. He felt remorse for his actions. Instead, he chose the lesser of the evils and recognized it as evil.

A lesson to be learned here is that the right choice should not always be justified. Sometimes it is better to recognize an evil action as evil even if it is the right action.

So, in the case that moral principles do conflict, there will be times when moral actions are bad, but still the right decision. Yet, if an action is bad, what makes it the right one? In the X-Men case above, putting the mental blocks was the right action because it was the lesser of two evils. This, however, is not the only answer that could be given, but it is an answer that will suffice for now.

I hope the rest of your week goes well! And hopefully, our week goes well with the addition of a new member to our family! Until then, think well my friends.

Advertisements

12 Logical Fallacies to Avoid

Hi, all.

I hope you are doing well. This week will be a short post, as promised!

Communication is key. Period. It is used in relationships, community, society, or anything that involves people. Often times, however, we communicate very poorly. There are many reasons for this, but one of the problems (that I often see on social media) are logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is simply an argument that implements incorrect thinking. There are two types of fallacies 1) Formal fallacies and 2) Informal fallacies. For this post, we are concerned with informal fallacies. An informal fallacy is an argument that follows the formal rules of logic, but are incorrect in terms of their content—the evidence in the argument does not lead to the conclusion. Here is an example before moving on to our list:

  • Pure-blood wizards are vanishing in the Harry Potter universe.
  • Sirius Black is a pure-blood wizard.
  • Therefore, Sirius Black is vanishing.

There is nothing wrong with the formal rules. If you want to impress your friends or bore your enemies, the above syllogism is an example of modus ponens:

  • If p then q,
  • p,
  • Therefore q.

But, we would still say the ‘Harry Potter’ argument is incorrect. Sirius Black is not vanishing. There must be an informal fallacy lurking in the background here. But what? Well, check out this list of informal fallacies to avoid when communicating!

 

1) Hasty Generalization

An argument that forms a conclusion on the basis of insufficient evidence.

Example: This political party said blank, therefore it must be bad!

Just because the disliked political party said it, doesn’t mean that it was wrong or bad. Sometimes the people you don’t like are correct.

2) Sweeping Generalization

An argument that applies a general principle to a specific case to which it does not apply.

Example: If you have a college degree in ‘x’, then you must be qualified for job ‘x’ over someone who doesn’t have a degree.

A college education is good, but it does not entail that that person is more qualified than someone else. If I got a college degree in music, specialized in voice, I would not be more qualified to be the lead vocal in The Avett Brother’s band. Trust me, they are more qualified!

3) Weak Analogy

An argument based on an analogy that does not fit the situation

Example: “Destroying this gate will be easy. I once destroyed a pillow fort wall of blankets!” Gimli said to Legolas as they approached the Black Gate.

Well, Gimli is in for a surprise! His analogy of the pillow fort blanket wall doesn’t quite stand up to the task at hand of storming the Black Gate…. By the way, Gimli never actually said this. Dwarves are prideful, but not stupid!

4) Equivocation

An argument that uses the same word multiples times, but changes its definition during the argument.

Example:

  • Pure-blood wizards are vanishing in the Harry Potter universe.
  • Sirius Black is a pure-blood wizard.
  • Therefore, Sirius Black is vanishing.

The word “vanishing” applied to “pure-blood” is meaning that there are not many pure-blood witches and wizards around. They are marrying non-magic people and, therefore, they are not having pure-blood children. However, Sirius Black, though being a pure-blood, is not vanishing. The word used this way is ill-equipped to describe Sirius Black’s condition.

5) Complex Question

The conclusion is assumed in the question presented in the argument.

Example: You are an avid DC comics fan and hate Marvel Comics and your archenemy is attempting to ruin your day:

“Are you a Marvel fan?”

“Absolutely not!!”

“Does your wife know you are a Marvel fan?”
“Umm….”

The second question is a favorite of little kids. At least, when I was in elementary school this question was posed often as a way of catching the other little tike in a bind—though it wasn’t usually about comic companies. It assumes that you are a Marvel fan in asking whether your wife knows it. So, this question isn’t a valid question to answer. So, make sure your children know and are equipped to handle the logical fallacies of grade school!

6) Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning)

            An argument that never addresses the issue at hand, but assume the issue is settled (This is very close to the Complex Question, but is slightly different).

Example: I am undefeatable at the board game Settlers of Catan because I cannot lose!

Essentially, the problem here is that the statement is repeating itself. You could rephrase it as I am undefeatable because I am undefeatable. It doesn’t prove anything. Especially in Settlers of Catan…only the dice decide your fate. And it is often not pretty.

7) Ad hominem

Latin for “against the person,” this is an argument against the opponent, not their arguments.

Example: Christianity can’t be true because there are bad people who claim to be Christians and did terrible things.

On a more serious note, many have used this as an argument against Christianity, citing the Crusades as points against Christianity. The point in acknowledging this fallacy is that a religion cannot be judged based on the people. Religions should only be judged based on the teachings of that religion—this goes for any beliefs, political groups, worldviews, etc. For one, the person claiming a certain religion may not be following the religion’s teachings. The Crusades do not disprove Christianity. All it proves is that some used the banner of Christianity to wage war on others.

8) Ad populum

            Latin for “argument to the people,” this is an argument that appeals to a large number of people instead of appealing to explanatory scope or evidence.

Example: Everyone believes Superman could beat Batman. Therefore, Superman could beat Batman.

This argument doesn’t prove anything. Batman might fool everyone and beat Superman. Or, maybe Superman would beat Batman. Or perhaps, they might learn that their mothers had the same name and become best friends….Okay, okay. That last one was a joke. No way that would ever happen, right? Right? Anyways, the argument doesn’t prove anything by appealing to a large number of people.

9) Red Herring

An argument that diverts the attention off of the subject at hand to another, irrelevant subject.

Example: People against abortion must hate women.

The abortion debate, whether you are for or against, revolves around the unborn fetus in determining whether it should be considered a human life or not. The argument in no way revolves around women’s worth or someone’s feelings regarding women. And bringing up this “argument” only distracts from the real, helpful conversation.

Another, lighter example would be any episode of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Child-version Freddy accused the school bully, Red Herring, as the person in the monster costume every episode. No wonder why they named the bully Red Herring. Better luck next time Freddy.

10) Straw Man

            An argument when one distorts and inflates another’s position and proceeds to argue against the inflated position

Example:

  • People should avoid Harry Potter because it has witchcraft in it.
  • Witchcraft is evil and wicked and teaches people to be evil and wicked.
  • Anything that teaches people to be evil and wicked should be avoided.
  • Therefore, people should avoid Harry Potter.

Harry Potter does not teach people to be evil and wicked. This argument inflates what the Harry Potter series is actually about. Anything that teaches people to be evil and wicked should be avoided, but since Harry Potter does not teach people to be evil and wicked, this argument accomplishes nothing.

11) Argument from Ignorance

An argument formed from the lack of evidence

Example: “Well Timmy, I didn’t see a monster under the bed. So, I guess there is no monster.”

Yikes! Look out, Mom! Not only did you base your conclusion on the absence of evidence—therefore being convicted of committing an informal fallacy—but you also might have a monster on your hands! She’s in double-Jeopardy, here. I mean, for all she knows, the monster could be invisible.

12) Genetic Fallacy

            An argument that attempts to explain the other opponent’s belief in order disprove that belief.

Example: “You only believe in God because you can’t handle the harsh reality of life.” (Both Freud and Nietzsche used this argument against religion)

These kinds of arguments should be avoided because they don’t say anything worthwhile. Explaining the reason for a belief does not disprove the belief. The explanation could even be true, but it wouldn’t disprove the belief. Maybe people can’t handle the harsh reality of life. Yet, perhaps God knew people couldn’t handle it so he put it in the heart of people to look for Him. And this is why we have religion. You could also call this a “just-so” story. It “just-so” happens that you believe ‘x’ because of (whatever). Just-so stories amount to, “Cool story, bro,” but not much else.

Well, I hoped you liked this list of a few informal fallacies to avoid in a conversation! And as always, think well and have a good week.

Is Time Travel Possible?

Happy Fourth of July!

I decided to write a very patriotic post for this year’s 4th of July. It is a tradition of mine, passed down from my father, to watch the SyFy Channel’s 48-hour Twilight Zone marathon. So naturally, science fiction usually comes to mind when I think about the birth of my country.

This week’s topic will be on the possibility of time travel!

Time is a very paradoxical thing. It’s the one thing everyone knows about, but most cannot explain. Take, for instance, St. Augustine, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” This is one reason why I wrote my thesis on the nature of time and God’s relationship to it. Time fascinates me. I remember I use to have conversations with a friend of mine in college about time travel and what that would entail. It’s partially due to these conversations that I set my mind to reading and discussing time in a philosophical context.

But, time is a tricky thing. If you ask someone what is time and what is its nature, there is a wide range of answers you’ll get. A range as far as from saying time is everything and around everything to claiming that time is nothing at all—it’s just a human measurement of change. So, before we can actually get to the topic of time travel, we’ll have to briefly discuss what time is.

Theories on the Nature of Time

There are three theories on the nature of time. The names are rather unhelpful, but they will suffice for now.

1) The A-Theory of time.

This is probably the more intuitive theory of time. The two major components of the A-Theory are that it affirms a privileged moment (the present) and the passage of time. I call the “present” a “privileged moment” because the A-Theorist believes that the present is different from any other moment in the past and future. It has a privileged existence if you will. This privilege is defined as not just what is available to us, but also that it is the only moment in time existing. The past used to exist and the future will exist, but only the present actually exists. Most people say that times passes and that there is such a thing as the present. I mean, we talk about the “now” and we reference other days based on the present. The word “tomorrow” indicates the day after today and “yesterday” indicates the day before today; they both derive meaning from the idea of the present. The A-Theory is also called presentism.

2) The B-Theory of time.

I know, helpful terms, right? This theory denies both of A-Theory’s propositions. It affirms that there is no privileged moment and time does not pass. This view is not very intuitive at first, but it does have redeeming qualities. The idea of no present seems like crazy talk. But, the B-Theorist claims that the present is merely an illusion – we have the psychological occurrence of a present moment, but it holds no ontological existence. Additionally, on this theory, the idea of the passage of time is also an illusion. Again, this is a psychological occurrence that gives the appearance of the passage of time. This is also the view most scientists hold. Einstein’s theory of relativity seems to lean this way, though it is not a consensus. This is also the view most TV shows take, such as Agents of SHIELD, The Flash, and Dr. Who. If you’ve heard time explained as a four-dimensional cube, then you’ve heard some version of this theory. One way to think about this is to view time as we view space. There is no privileged space named “here” and space does not pass, we pass through space. So, as “here” is a relative term with no ontological preference, so “now” is also. You still may not like this view, but using the spatiotemporal analogy helps understand this position. This view is also called static theory.

3) The denial time altogether.

Many think that time isn’t really anything at all. It’s just the rate at which the Earth passes around the sun and rotates on its axis. I think we lose a lot if we deny the existence of time, but if you’re going to deny time, then at least acknowledge that there would still be time floating statically in space. Time can’t be reduced to the movement of the sun and the rotation of the earth. If you deny time, then time is simply all change, not just the earth’s change. So, the change of your cells regenerating and dying, the change of your conscious mind, the change of the earth’s position to you—these are all things that would constitute the conception of time. In other words, time = change. However, if time is not a real thing, then time travel would have to be impossible. So, this view will not be considered any further.

There are many variations to the first two positions, but I have only mentioned the mainstream views of each for time’s sake. Heh! Time jokes are very timely when writing on time….Okay, I’m done. Before moving on I want to point out that I am assuming the nature of reality is not contradictory. Meaning, a contradiction is only of the mind not fully understanding something. An apple cannot both be an apple and not an apple at the same time and in the same way.

So, based on this, is time travel possible?

Trials of Time Travel: Questions to Answer for the Possibility of Time Travel

1) The Theory of Time trial

Right off the bat, if A-Theory tickles your fancy, then time travel seems impossible. If only the present exists, then there is no past or future in which you can travel to. You might salvage time travel to the past if you held to a growing block theory of some sort. This theory claims that the present exists and the past enjoys a less than full existence, but the future does not exist at all. On this view, you could only travel to the past. However, you’d have to affirm that existence isn’t binary. Meaning, existence isn’t something that is either on or off, it can come in levels. This is because a Growing Block theorist would view the present as having ontological privilege (it’s the real time) and the past having a less-than real existence, but it’s still real; unlike the future that has not ontological status. This seems very strange; how could someone only partially exist? Some do affirm this view of existence, though it would be necessary for the growing block theory. If you hold to B-Theory, time travel might be possible.

2) The Backward Causation trial

Secondly, if time travel is possible, then you would have to affirm backwards causation. Backwards causation is exactly what it sounds like. Typically, causation is this: first there is a cause, then there is an effect. Backwards causation, however, states that the effect can come before the cause. So, if you think backwards causation isn’t possible, then you’d have to affirm that time travel is impossible, too. At least, time travel to the past. Let’s say that you take a gray DeLorean from the year 2017 to 1917. The cause is the gray DeLorean reaching 88 mph and using a flux capacitor. The effect is you arriving in 1917. On a timeline, the effect (1917) is 100 years before the cause (2017). Thus, the effect is before the cause. In addition, if you believe that you could travel to the future, then you would not be able to get back unless backwards causation is possible.

To summarize, if you hold to A-Theory, then you probably can’t time travel. Though, the growing block theory might help you out. Also, if you think backwards causation is impossible, then time travel is out, too. Except for traveling to the future. However, if you hold to both A-Theory, or the growing block theory, and the impossibility of backwards causation, then time travel is out completely. So, at this point, only the B-Theorist who believes that backwards causation is possible can also believe that time travel is possible. Unless you wanted to believe that you could only travel to the future, then backwards causation wouldn’t be necessary. In this, time travel could be viewed as spatial movements—you can go back in forth in space; therefore, you can go back and forth in time.

This discussion has revolved around the metaphysical possibility of time travel: 1) Time would need to be a real thing, 2) B-Theory would have to be affirmed, and 3) backwards causation would have to be affirmed if you want to keep time travel to the past viable. This does not mean, however, that it is actually possible. So, even if it is metaphysically and logically possible, it may still be actually impossible. For instance, it is metaphysically and logically possible that I can jump 30 feet in the air. There is nothing illogical about this. But, I can assure you that I cannot jump 30 feet in the air. So, this conversation will not conclude with explaining how time travel might actually work. I will conclude with a few quick notes on what time travel would be like if it is an actual possibility.

On the B-Theory of time, the universe is a static block of spacetime stuff. The timeline would be static, meaning that it is not flowing and changing like a river, as some have described it. Instead, time should be viewed as a road, stationary and solid. Sometimes the road is straight other times the road is curvy. It is rough in some parts and it is smooth in other parts. This will be seen more clearly in the following questions of the nature of time travel:

Questions about the Nature of Time Travel

  • Could you meet your past/future self?

Yes. Some shows will say that this would create a time vortex or some paradoxical relapse, but this seems unreasonable. If you traveled to your past to meet yourself, you would have a memory of meeting your future self. Moreover, if you traveled to meet your future self, then your future self would have a memory of meeting his future self.

  • Could you kill your ancestor so that you were never born?

No. Remember, if you assume that reality does not actually contain contradictions, then this could not be possible even if time travel was possible. If you killed your ancestor so that you never existed, then you wouldn’t exist to go back in time and kill your ancestor. If you did go to the past to kill your ancestor, you would ultimately fail at killing them. I don’t mean this in the sense that some magical force would stop you or curve the bullet so that it hit someone else. Instead, you would either never get the chance or change your mind about killing your ancestor because, in your history, your ancestor didn’t die prematurely – obviously, because you exist. You would not lack the power to kill your ancestor, you would lack the power to bring about a contradiction. You wouldn’t be able to kill your ancestor because that’s not what happened. This leads us to the next question. (However, there is another theory that might allow you to kill your ancestor so that you were never born. This is will be discussed below.)

  • Could you change anything at all?

No. B-Theory commits you to a static universe. Thus, you would not be able to change anything. If you went back to stop Kennedy’s assassination, you would ultimately fail because you have knowledge of this past event. This means that it happened. This would go for the future too. Change would be impossible on two fronts. One, the metaphysical, which is what we have been talking about. The Kennedy assassination would be in your history. That means that this happened and it happened in a static universe. So, if you went back in the past to change this, you would lack the power to bring about a contradiction. The other front is an epistemological one. How could you ever know that you changed the past? If you changed the Kennedy assassination, then your memory of history would change; therefore, removing the memory of Kennedy being assassinated because it never happened. This also might mean that you would never have gone into the past to change it in the first place because it never happened. Which means, if you never go back into the past, then Kennedy does get assassinated. So, changing the past would be impossible in a static universe, but it would also cause an epistemological contradiction. Yet, this is not to say that you couldn’t be the one who assassinates Kennedy. It might be that you were always the one who assassinates Kennedy. Maybe this is why the shooter was never found…the shooter was a time traveler!

However, this answer and the above answer assume that the Branching Theory of time does not exist. The Branching Theory of time is the idea that time and other dimensions are possible and may be caused by our world. This is very close, and compatible with the multiverse theory, thought slightly different. The Branching Theory could account for making changes in the past. Let’s say that you go back in time and stop the Kennedy assassination. This seems like it would be reasonable. You do not lack the power to stop such a thing given your knowledge of the event from history books. So, why couldn’t you stop it? In the event that you do stop the assassination, this event is no longer compatible with your history (timeline). What has happened is the timeline has branched off from your previous timeline and began another world (meaning dimension). This is the theory that the X-Men movies used when they made X-Men: Days of Future Past. In this event, you are able to bring about a change, but not a change in the way that we typically think of. The change would not be reflected in your history. Instead, the branch timeline would be different from your timeline. So, the change isn’t a change in the sense that one object contains contradictory properties at different times. Instead, the change only be two different timelines. So, you are in a way changing something, but the term “change” wouldn’t be the used in the normal fashion. Regarding the previous question concerning killing your ancestor, you would still exist because your timeline was not changed, but the new branched timeline would not contain a version of you. Though, it is not certain that you could ever return to your original timeline. Dimensional hopping is different than time traveling. This will be discussed briefly below.

Branching Theory

  • Then, does B-Theory rule out free will?

No.  B-Theory is compatible with libertarian free will, soft determinism, and determinism (or some call this predestination), but it does not necessarily entail any of these views. Saying the spacetime continuum is static says nothing about the will and the ability to act. B-Theory commits one to determinism no more than a history book commits one to determinism.

  • Perhaps time travel in TV shows is just dimensional hopping?

In my estimation, probably. In Dr. Who, The Flash, and Agents of SHIELD, they all have the ability to travel to different times and change the past and future. But, as we have seen, time travel is only possible under very strict circumstances and necessarily removes the ability to change things for that particular timeline. Thus, to keep these shows’ continuity, they might just be dimensional hopping  into different spacetimes and changing things or they are creating multiple branches of timelines off of the original. This would answer the question of how they know they changed the timeline as we saw in the question regarding change.

So, those are my thoughts on time travel! A very interesting conversation and one I hope you enjoyed! For some further reading on the metaphysics of time try these books and articles:

  • “The Unreality of Time” by JME McTaggart (1906) This is where A-Theory and B-Theory were coined.
    • This is a fairly high academic article on time.
  • Travels in Four Dimensions: The Enigmas of Space and Time by Robin Le Poidevin
    • This book is a great introduction to the time discussion on an academic level.
  • Experiencing Time by Simon Prosser
    • More of a higher academic level book.
  • Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Mumford
    • A more simple read, containing one chapter on time, but other chapters on change and causation.

I hope you have enjoyed this rather long blog! Next week I will return to my 600-word guideline. Until then, think well and live an examined life.