The Mediocrity of Modern Morality: A Faithful Nietzsche II

April 22, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:08 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Happiness,Life,orthodox,Politics,Truth

(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)

Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?

Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us.

The modern morality that Nietzsche objects to seeks to minimize suffering as much as possible, goals which he thought to be trite, vulgar and base. Greatness cannot be reduced to any quantity or quality of suffering. Indeed, it is only through suffering – sometimes enormous suffering – that greatness can ever be achieved. (This is not to say, however, that all suffering produces greatest or is morally justified.) It is in this sense that Aristocrats/Nobles/Masters have continually striven and fought to rise above and distinguish themselves from the “rabble” of mediocrity, aka “the world”. The more stratified a community is, the higher its nobles are, by very definition, able to soar! The world, in turn, responds by resenting this stratification by devaluating or, in some cases, actively demonizing these accomplishments and the distance that they have created between the two groups. The world has thus

“… waged a deadly war upon all feelings of reverence and distance between man and man, which is to say, upon the first prerequisite to every step upward, to every development of civilization – out of the resentment of the masses it has forged its chief weapons against us, against everything noble, joyous and high-spirited on earth, against our happiness on earth… Nowadays no one has courage any more for special rights, for the right of dominion, for feelings of honorable pride in himself and his equals – for the pathos of distance… The aristocratic attitude of mind has been undermined by the lie of the equality of souls.” (The Anti-Christ, 43)

It is absolutely central to Nietzsche that any type of other-worldly greatness was a mere disguise for a resentment aimed at those who were great within this mortal life. Mormons, however, find themselves in a unique position to take (rather massive) liberties with Nietzsche’s own views by extending “this life” to include pre- and post-mortal existences that, according to Joseph Smith, are supposed to be very similar to this life. (Quite obviously, Nietzsche despised the idea of an afterlife.) In other words, pain and suffering are almost certainly not limited to this (not so) “wretched” existence. The greater the similarity between this and the afterlife, the more enthusiastically we proclaim “yes!” to both; and the more we proclaim “yes!”, the more we too must confront the strong tensions between the Aristocratic and Democratic values that organize both lives.

A historical overview of the movements and people that Nietzsche loved and hated gives us a better feel for the tensions that he sees between the two moralities:

  • He loved Homer and the Sophists, but hated Plato.
  • He loved the Old Testament, but hated the New Testament.
  • He loved Rome, but hated Judea.
  • He loved Jesus, but hated Paul.
  • He loved the Medieval Nobility, but hated the Clergy.
  • He loved the Renaissance, but hated the Reformation.
  • He loved Machiavelli and Absolutism, but hated the French Revolution.
  • He loved Napoleon, but hated Moral/Bourgeois Society.

It is this last, Moral/Bourgeois Society that I wish to honed in upon, it being the morality that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard had both loathed so much. To illustrate, Nietzsche’s Germany had very recently been unified, becoming the first modern welfare-state which both created a strong spirit of nationalism that Nietzsche hated and (more to the point) created an enormous demand for well-educated administrators and professionals. This increased demand in education forced the very highly renowned German education system to open its doors to and be flooded with middle-class students who were totally ignorant to and uninterested in the Aristocratic subjects and tastes that had, up to that point, defined those elite institutions. This influx of middle-class students had the following effects: 1) It created a leveling effect within the school curriculum as the “publish-or-perish” dictum diluted the literature with mediocre work, which 2) created a market for the popularization (a worse insult from Nietzsche could hardly be imagined) of science, literature and philosophy, which 3) shifted the Mandarin academics of Germany to the political right in direct and intentional opposition to all nearly all the groups mentioned above.

The lesson to be taken from this phenomenon was as follows:

The number of people to which any speaker/leader/noble must justify himself is the degree to which we undermine and constrain their potential greatness.

In was in this sense that Socrates was able to make his noble interlocutors look so ignorant and stupid – they had never felt compelled to justify their actions before, let alone to a commoner. This is exactly what Nietzsche saw wrong in the Enlightenment rise of debating clubs, serial journals (Nietzsche often makes fun of newspaper readers), lodges, the Republic of Letters, the Encyclopedie and everything else that Habermas would include under the label “the public sphere”. Gouldner’s account of the rise of the Culture of Critical Discourse in his The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology tells a very similar tale.

It should be noted that these are the exact same associations, practices and mechanisms by which intellectuals still attempt to constrain and subvert Priesthood authorities within the church. They are a clear manifestation of the tensions between Aristocracy and Democracy that occupy Nietzsche’s attention. When my last post provided a Nietzschean argument for not forcing our living prophets to answer to the judgements of dead prophets or modern morality, this is exactly what I had in mind.  Compare the way in which Bloggernacle participants try to force their priesthood leaders to answer to an ever-larger audience with Nietzsche’s depiction of the priests of slave-morality:

“[They] know no other way to protect themselves against their bad conscience than to pose as the executors of more ancient or higher commands (of ancestors, the constitution, of right, the laws, or even of God). Or they even borrow herd maxims from the herd’s way of thinking, such as ‘first servants of their people’ or ‘instrument of the common weal.'” (Genealogy of Morals, 199)

Getting back to the modern invention of morality, it should be noted that the word “moral” was not used to describe persons until the 17th century. It was within this context that Absolute Monarchism had, due to the civil wars of religion, demoted all religious and moral beliefs to the status of “personal” opinion, stripped of all pretensions to public legislation. But within this strong separation of the private and public spheres emerged what would be called “moral society”. These were groups who sought to purify their private opinions through the process of mutual and public criticism that we now associate with “peer review”. John Locke was one of the first to theorize the importance of such free associations and their potential for moral development.  Indeed, it was precisely the freedom of these associations which gave credence to their pretensions to universality and equality. It was shortly after, in the mid-18th century that Pierre Bayle first theorized that the morality produced by these self-proclaimed universal and equal societies ought to have legislative authority over the state and religion. The French Revolution was thus a clear manifestation of this pretension by such groups to compel their noble masters to answer to “the people” which they very conveniently claimed to represent.  This historical process was the modern invention of the “dictates of morality”.

It is for this reason that we can only find the word “moral” within the scriptures once, and even then it seems closely bound up with the political freedom of association. Consider the following 19th century quote which should sound very familiar to Mormon ears:

“Where there is no free agency, there can be no morality. Where there is no temptation, there can be little claim to virtue. Where the routine is rigorously proscribed by law, the law, and not the man, must have the credit of the conduct.” (William H. Prescott, “History of the Conquest of Peru,” 1847)

Moral agency is spoken of here as a sphere of free association in which the rule of law (ecclesiastical or absolutist) did not hold sway. More importantly, it is only when such a freedom of association is protected, that moral praise and blame exist, according to this line of thought.

Modern morality, then, was the product of a relatively recent process in which i) religion lost its privileged access to political legislation, ii) private opinion intentionally purged itself of supernatural and sacerdotal influence by way of mutual criticism, thus becoming the iii) “public opinion” which sought to reclaim the privileged access to same political privileges that had previously been occupied by religion.  Morality is not the same thing as (Kierkegaard’s) faithfulness or (Nietzsche’s) virtue; It was a replacement for such things.

What annoyed Nietzsche most about these moderns was how they pretended to be the one and only morality that earlier men had only seen vaguely:

“Morality in Europe today is herd animal morality … merely one type of human morality beside which, before which and after which many other types, above all higher moralities, are, or ought to be, possible. But this morality resists such a ‘possibility,’ such an ‘ought’ with all its power: it says stubbornly and inexorably, ‘I am morality itself, and nothing besides is morality.’” (Beyond Good and Evil, 202)

It was the Enlightenment coalition (especially the French philosophes) who would conflate their own particular morality that they had quite recently cultivated with the universal, timeless and “natural” laws to which all men were supposed to submit. The British expression of this tendency – which Marx rightly attacked – was to give the illusion of ahistorical “naturalness” to their own preferred Laissez Faire political economy. The German approach had largely been that of Hegel in which modern philosophy had been synthesized with and thereby become a “higher” expression of the Christian faith. The Enlightenment coalition, then, specifically branded their own particular morality as the universal, ahistorical and natural one as a socio-political strategy whereby they could gain and wield legislative control over the recently formed state. (It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of the scriptures were written to an audience that did not live in the shadow of the rationalized state that we know today. Missouri and Illinois clearly wouldn’t qualify.)

Nietzsche also had nothing but contempt for the modern metaphysics by which this Enlightenment Coalition sought to legitimize their own claims to “moral” authority:

“If one would explain how the abstrusest metaphysical claim of a philosopher really came about, it is always well (and wise) to ask first: at what morality does all this (does he) aim? Accordingly, I do not believe that a ‘drive to knowledge” is the father of philosophy but rather another drive has, here as elsewhere, employed understanding (and misunderstanding) as a mere instrument.” (Beyond Good and Evil, 6)

The modern metaphysics that Nietzsche objects to was meant to make man tame and calculable. It reduced all life to physical matter which was totally disinterested, lacking in any kind of willful activity and utterly equal (each and every quantifiable object is never any more nor less than another). It saw evolution in terms of the most “efficient”, mechanical and therefore passive response to changing conditions (this is why he hated Darwin). It forced the nobles to answer to the dictates of “nature” as judged by the crass sense-experience that was equally and universally available. Whereas leaders had previously made willful decisions of their own accord, they now were expected to calculate the mathematical optimum and obey the dictates of “reason” accordingly. These optima were calculated – especially within that most modern of all social sciences: Economics – according to the organizing assumption of equilibrium, harmony and reconciliation. The pre-modern virtues of triumph, overcoming, strength and greatness were now mere epiphenomena, at best.

How often are these interpretations leveraged against our own nobles within the church? How often do people within the Bloggernacle demand that these nobles answer to an ever wider critical audience as Socrates did to his interlocutors? How often do such people attempt to hide their preferences and intentions behind the disinterests of nature and reason?  How well, finally, do their complaints fit the following description:

“What they desire they call, not retaliation, but ‘the triumph of justice’; what they hate is not their enemy, no! they hate ‘injustice’.” (The Genealogy of Morals, I-14)

In summary, the moral indignation that often defines Mormon moral society and the Bloggernacle in particular stands condemned on two fronts: On the one hand, Nietzsche objects to it because it stands as an obstacle to mortal greatness within this mortal life. On the other, I object to it because it stands as an obstacle to spiritual greatness.


  1. Religious authorities of an aristocratic type perform miracles. It is not the herd that has brought the authority to its level, it is the failure of authorities to assume the mantle of pure priesthood power. And we do have no one to blame but ourselves that we don’t move mountains and walk on water.

    Comment by Martin James — April 23, 2016 @ 6:10 am

  2. Not sure that was the point.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2016 @ 7:53 am

  3. Martin,

    Moses, Jesus and Joseph Smith all complained that their ability to reveal highers laws, perform miracles and other ways in which they might lead their fold forward had been constrained and undermined by the doubting of their fold. I think the tension that Nietzsche points to offers a useful way of understanding such instances.

    The reason why Nietzsche came to like Jesus so much was because he was so willing to completely violate the morality of his time without indulging in the resentiment by which the Pharisees lived.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2016 @ 10:12 am

  4. There is too much resentiment of the resentiment class here and in the under 40 mormon crowd for my taste. My point wasn’t miracles for the masses as a sign of authority it was just that one is part of the herd if one doesn’t exercise miraculous power.

    Comment by Martin James — April 23, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

  5. I absolutely agree that N’s criticisms seem, at first glance, to be just as reactive as those who he is attacking.

    That said, however, his focus on thriving within this life is how he sets himself apart from the others….. Which is exactly how a faithful LDS can set him or herself apart from the naysayers that (s)he is attacking.

    Indeed, as far as LDS moralists go, they fall prey to 2 criticisms here: Their modern morality prevents greatness within this life (N’s criticism) and they stand in the way of eternal greatness (my criticism).

    For this reason, I don’t think that I or N fall prey to the “tu quo que” defense that you’re trying to marshal.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 23, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

  6. It’s worth noting that Nietzsche’s views in part come from a somewhat misleading view of evolution. He had a (more or less) ontology of striving for power than he saw in evolution. Thus when he sees morality, he tends to see it through that conception of power in how he sees evolution.

    Now there are a few ways to take this. I think the easiest is that he just exchanged Schopenhauer’s “everything is will” with “everything is power extension.” There’s more than a little truth to that. It’s aided by the fact that a lot of Nietzsche’s views of evolution are just plain wrong. (Not to be outdone lots of anti-evolutionists tend to pick up Nietzsche’s view)

    I think the other though is that if we think about things growing, with the successful continuing, that a lot more makes sense. The problem with Niezsches resentment conception is that it really is a kind of inversion of Hegel’s master/slave taxonomy. But at the same time, those who create successful ideas have power. That’s why Nietzsche likes Jesus. Jesus’ ideas were successful and transformed society. Nietzsche judges everything by it’s success. In a certain way Nietzsche is just concerned with what works.

    Comment by Clark — April 24, 2016 @ 8:38 pm

  7. Well sort of. Hegel’s master/slave was about mutual recognition for the sake of developing consciousness. Nietzsche didn’t give two craps about recognition, and didn’t think consciousness was at all necessary to human greatness.

    Related to your comment at T&S, Freud actually started to read Nietzsche early in his career, but forced himself to stop because their ideas were far too similar. Freud thought that if he kept reading, he wouldn’t ever publish his own ideas.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 7:50 am

  8. Well, Nietzsche doesn’t focus on that quite the way Hegel does, it’s true. (Recognizing it’s been a while since I studied Nietzsche carefully) And many argue that something like the Hegelian recognition in Nietzsche. The question between the “herd” and the nobel community in Nietzsche is tricky and still debated. I think the key Nietzsche change is the rejection of a teleos from Hegel. I also think the relationship is different as the Master affirms values while the slave/herd push ressentiment.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2016 @ 8:59 am

  9. BTW – where I think Nietzsche is so interesting in morality is in questioning what the ends of morality are. Effectively he’s moving back to a kind of virtue ethics where the flourishing is best seen in terms of development and progression. That’s where I think Nietzsche is of most interest to Mormons even if we reject many aspects of his thought.

    The problem with far too many ethics, whether they be Kantian, utilitarian, natural law theories (typically Thomist approaches), or more recently Rawls is that they tend to devalue that role of development in preference to a kind of “ease.” You can see that in some things like utilitarianism where it’s easy to raise the problem of say being in a happy but vacuous drug riddled haze. We recognize there is something wrong with that idea – typically because it misses something important about flourishing.

    However for the Mormon believer giving too much place to Nietzsche it’s worth asking whether power-growth ought be the highest good. As the SEP notes

    higher types are solitary and deal with others only instrumentally. “Every choice human being,” says Nietzsche, “strives instinctively for a citadel and a secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the many, the great majority…”

    That sounds more like hell to my ears. This privileging of the solitary king always makes Nietzschean ethics seem like the ethics of a loner sociopath.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2016 @ 1:27 pm

  10. I agree that his ideas on what constitutes “progress” (he probably wouldn’t like that word) is totally at odds with the gospel, which is why I focused on the tension between Aristocracy and Democracy.

    I think you’re basically right about him advocating a kind of virtue ethics. Where I got confused is when he lumped the pursuit of eudaimonia in with utility and categorical imperiatives, etc. It seems to me that he does endorse a kind of eudaimonic approach, but I just don’t know enough about the latter to say for sure.

    My next and final post about Nietzsche will have address his theory of truth, which will have to bring up his views regarding interpersonal obligations.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

  11. Regardless of what one calls it “morality” or obedience, it has been around forever and isn’t a mere invention.
    Nietzsche philosophy is almost pointless and counterproductive in my opinion.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 25, 2016 @ 2:23 pm

  12. Yeah, it’s so different from traditional eudaimonia that I almost don’t want to use that term. This quote comes to mind:

    “Whether it is hedonism or pessimism, utilitarianism or eudaemonism – all these ways of thinking that measure the value of things in accordance with pleasure and pain, … are ways of thinking … on which everyone conscious of creative powers and an artistic conscience will look down upon not without derision. … Well-being as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that makes man ridiculous and contemptible – that makes his destruction desirable (BGE 225)”

    I think what Nietzsche wants is to get rid of the very idea of ends.

    Again it’s interesting to think through this in a Mormon context. While we will think of ends, the very idea of eternal life as eternal progression is somewhat at odds with ends. While Nietzsche pushes this too far, it’s worth asking with say a consequentialist calculus when we make the calculation of happiness to determine it’s maximization. If flux is ever-ongoing then that’s impossible to do.

    Still, if the good life for Nietzsche isn’t Aristotle’s happiness, it seems something about flourishing. I’d add that part of his criticism of happiness is that he sees it as at odds with suffering. But of course again the idea in Christianity of the suffering God suggests it is not as much at odds with happiness as some might portray.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

  13. That was the exact quote that I had in mind, Clark.

    Rob, I think you really missed the point of the post. It isn’t about whether morality exists or not. It’s about the tensions that exist between Democracy (modern morality) and Aristocracy (pre-modern morality).

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

  14. Clark,

    I wish I had time to explore the similarities and differences between Nietzsche’s socio-psychology of morality/truth and the various types of sociology of knowledge. In particular, I would be interested in exploring where Nietzsche fits in between analytic social-epistemology (Alvin Goldman), interest-oriented social-epistemology (the Edinburgh School) and politically oriented social-epistemology (Steve Fuller).

    I think Nietzsche’s main target of criticism is basically Goldman. I think that he is probably closest to the Edinburgh School. While I am closest to Fuller.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

  15. Probably the best presentation of Nietzsche in a more analytic philosophy form is Schacht’s Nietzsche. It’s part of that whole reconsideration of Nietzsche in the American tradition you see in people like Leiter. I think I’ve mentioned it before. Even if it misses portions of Nietzsche’s more literary aspects, it gets at what analytic philosophers are most concerned with: the arguments.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

  16. BTW – did you listen to The Partially Examined Life this week? They have John Searle on and his sounding more pragmatist than I’ve ever heard him.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

  17. I guess I did miss the point. Not really sure what the post is about. Im not sure anyone really knows

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 25, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

  18. Well, Rob, I did highlight and indent the main thesis. Not sure what more I could have done.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

  19. Jeff,
    All philosophy aside, it comes down to basic obedience and disobedience. A society that lives in basic disobedience will tend to scrutinize obedience and the prophets who preach such. Those who uphold the prophets are those who still cling to obedience and truth and live the gospel. Not sure why there has to be a confusing philosophy about something black or white?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 25, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

  20. Rob,

    You might have a point. Obviously, your point is exactly what is at issue. Unfortunately, soooo many people in the ‘nacle think that morality trumps obedience, and that is exactly what I am trying to call into question. I’m glad that you don’t think such an idea holds any water, but many, many others think it does.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 7:00 pm

  21. Jeff, I think the issue is more often a lack of epistemic humility rather than necessarily morality trumping obedience, although that ends up being the end result.

    Comment by Clark — April 25, 2016 @ 7:55 pm

  22. Jeff,
    Im not good at philosophy but the idea that some think morality trumps obedience is a paradox in itself. The very ones who claim to know morality but do not show obedience are the very ones who do not know what morality even is and thus do not know what obefience is either. As the Book of Mormon states- then are they led away to an everlasting destruction.
    My observation is that those who follow the prophets commandments are the only ones who are led in the paths of truth. And, only in that path can morality be known. Thus, if a person claims something to be moral but which in fact is immoral, such as SSM, then its true that they do not obey the prophets and thus are not in the pathway of truth.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 25, 2016 @ 8:32 pm

  23. It’s obvious that you didn’t read the post. The BoM never uses the word ‘moral’. Not even once.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 25, 2016 @ 8:43 pm

  24. What does the word “moral” not being in the Book of Mormon have to do with anything?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 25, 2016 @ 9:21 pm

  25. The Church, especially the last decade, has used the term moral relative to agency a lot. The phrase technically is scriptural (D&C 101) which implies that agency is wrapped up with morality.

    The whole obedience vs. morality seems a bit of a red herring in a certain way. I get what you’re getting at Jeff, but by and large the debate especially for liberal Mormons is what is right. That is it’s about how we know what’s right. So religious liberals think they are doing what places like 2 Nephi 2:27 talk about. The question is (from their perspective) how they know what that is.

    Now I disagree with them, but I really think the issue is epistemic humility (how willing are we to acknowledge our own fallibility). Most everyone acknowledges authorities might be wrong but the real issue is whether they are wrong on a certain class of issues – primarily tied to popular secular liberal political issues.

    Comment by Clark — April 26, 2016 @ 8:39 am

  26. “epistemic humility (how willing are we to acknowledge our own fallibility)”

    Okay, but this too is just one more moral virtue which is interpreted and enforced differently within different communities. I see no reason why all people should have the same epistemic humility on the same issues. I also think it quite obvious that sometimes the exact opposite of epistemic humility is what is morally required within some communities.

    As N would put it, humility regarding what we are willing to assert and believe is a pretty slavish virtue.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 9:06 am

  27. Nietzsche in some ways sees the selection of a lot of these issues as extra-rational. Thus his emphasis on literature so often. The competing Apollo and Dionysus aspects is something he’s quite attuned to. Although arguably he’s using both to push epistemic humility – especially relative to the times.

    Comment by Clark — April 26, 2016 @ 10:15 am

  28. Rob,

    Your were going on about what the BoM says about morality when it actually says nothing at all about it. That’s is why it’s relevant.


    I haven’t listen to the Searle podcast yet. To be honest, his lectures have always annoyed me a bit. Is it worth it on my part?

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 10:16 am

  29. Clark,

    I don’t think epistemic humility plays much any role at all for N. As far as I can tell, he thinks there are various interpretations of the world, some more life-affirming than others. The strong do not – as a matter of descriptive fact – allow others to dictate what perspective they will adopt while the weak – as a matter of descriptive fact – do. There is no “ought” involved upon which humility can gain any traction.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 10:22 am

  30. Jeff,

    Whether the word “moral” is found or not found in the Book of Mormon is irelevant. The BoM teaches almost entirely about morals ( the belief between what is right and what is wrong.) Sounds like a semantics argument.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 11:25 am

  31. Of course it’s a semantic argument. That is exactly what the post said. The difference is that you think semantics are trivial, when quite obviously they are not in this case. If I get to say that X, a term which I invent to refer specifically to the values that I endorse, just is any and all true values than have ever existed, then clearly I am stacking the deck in my favor.

    This is EXACTLY what happened, and when you say that the BoM is talking about morals, etc. you have completely bought into their words game where they make themselves look timeless, universal and necessary.

    If you’d actually read the post, you would know this.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 11:42 am

  32. Put differently “morality” is a secular word that was invented to give the illusion that all talk of virtue and righteous was actually just imperfect ways of talking about modern, secular values. When you say that the BoM is talking about morality, you’re falling for their trap.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 11:48 am

  33. Jeff, I read your entire post twice. I think you are making an assumption on semantics. The word “moral” comes from 14c latin which meant the proper behavior of a person in society. We use word in our day and age to mean what is right. But, it’s not us as people that get to eternally decide what’s right or wrong. And, specifically, it’s not the laws of government that should dictate or define what morality is-what it means. In proper use, seen from a purely godly or religious view, morality is only defined by God as what is right for us and through obedience to his commandments we can be led into truth to know what morality is. Thus, it is through the Holy Ghost that we learn about morality and how it is to be used in society. But, without obedience to the right, society can’t know morality because they know not the truth.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

  34. Jeff,
    Words themselves are not secular or religious in and of themselves.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

  35. Jeff, the fact the Book of Mormon doesn’t use the word “moral” doesn’t mean it says nothing about morality.

    Regarding Searle, I’ve never heard any of his lectures so I can’t compare it. I liked this episode quite a bit. He comes off as a grump curmudgeon and he’s not terribly fair to other philosophers, but it was a good discussion.

    Comment by Clark — April 26, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

  36. How different are ancient ethics and modern morality?

    Comment by Clark — April 26, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

  37. No, but they are invented by secular people for their secular reasons. Before 3/400 years ago, to be a religious person was largely meaningless. If anything is referred to those in the clergy. By creating a word for “religious” people, they thereby created a space for people to be “non-religious”… which is exactly what happened. Go read 1984 is you don’t think words and their meanings are important.

    You should also look a little deeper into the meaning of “proper” behavior. Proper did NOT mean “righteous” or (especially) “obedient. It meant behaving properly in high or “moral” society – in stark distinction to how the poor peasants, workers and Porter Rockwell behaved. It was this specific type of high/moral society that invented bourgeois morality, which they then sought to sell as “eternal” and “ahistorical” morality in the same way they tried to sell their economic laws – as if there had never been any viable alternatives. By making their own values and “laws” seem eternal, they could justify their attempts at subjecting kings and priests to these values which they themselves had created for their own reasons.

    The thing is, they actually accomplished what they sought to do. They actually convinced most people in the English speaking world that their particular morality was the one and only “real” morality that had no other viable alternatives. It is this specific claim that I am calling into question. When people leverage “morality” – as we have been taught it in schools, media, etc. – against the prophets, they are leveraging a very recently created and very secular value-system against the prophets.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

  38. Clark,

    That link of yours has a very useful chart to look at. Unfortunately, as it notes, it seems VERY limited with regards whose lifestyles count in the ancient world. Pick a human being at random from that world and it is a very safe better that they would not structure their life around that world in the least.

    But at least this distinction between the lifestyles of slaves and citizens prevented any obnoxious pretensions to universality, ahistoricity or necessity as the Bourgeois morality did. My suspicion is that this exact point is largely what motivates Nietzsche.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 12:58 pm

  39. As for Searle, that’s exactly why I have a hard time stomaching him: he acts as if his own position is flat out obvious and indisputable to the point where any person who disagrees with him must be out in la-la-land.

    A long time ago The Teaching Company put out a lecture series by him. While he is pretty engaging, the fact that he completely took the Chinese Room as a non-negotiable starting point drove me up the wall.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

  40. I think it’s irelevant as to how political societies used the word hundreds of years ago. Words change or evolve over time. What matters is how we use it today- that’s all that matters for us. I agree that society is using the word “morality/moral” in differing ways. But, it still doesn’t compute. For instance- we call ourselves “Christian” even though other denominations who also call themselves “Christian” don’t think we are Christian. There are many ideas on what morality is but it still comes down to basic black or white right or wrong. There isn’t no “trap”, but rather the immoral left trying to dictate immorality as being moral. That’s the trap- making right wrong and wrong right.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 2:34 pm

  41. I’ve lost the point you’re trying to make.

    I am quite clearly not arguing for an anything goes mentality. Once that red herring is set aside, however, I have no clue what you’re objecting to.

    “I think it’s irelevant as to how political societies used the word hundreds of years ago.”

    You act like there is no continuity in how the word is used today and the reasons for which it is used. That is a very strong claim to make.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 2:49 pm

  42. Perhaps this might be getting closer to your objection…

    I am not saying let’s just drop the word “moral” from our vocabularies altogether since it is 100% corrupt. Clearly the word has shifted in meaning to include all “moral” obligations that we have. (Notice the difficulty I have describing this set of obligations without appealing to the word “moral”.)

    What I am saying is that our modern morality – its actual content – is a mixed bag that we cannot accept without reservation. Thus, we cannot simply dismiss a commandment from the prophet because it is “immoral”.
    The very concept of morality was meant to constrain and subvert prophets in this way… which is exactly why we need to be a little hesitant about it.

    Sometimes, we – just like Abraham of old – are commanded to do utterly immoral things…. and we are still supposed to do them! This post was meant to explain why such a statement seems like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.

    Does that make more sense?

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

  43. I dont believe the word morality is corrupt. I do believe that peoples intelligence is lacking and they dont understand words, language, etc. For example- morality is a word to describe what is right. But, it can only be understood when one knows what “right” is. So, the philosophy is about defining what is right and what is wrong. When coupled with a religious belief, in good faith it is right, morality is doing what is right. No commandment God ever gave to man or his holy prophets was thus immoral because God doesnt give immoral commands. For example- Nephi being commanded to slay Laban was compketely moral because it was or is justifiable. God doesnt require anything immoral from us. Do, if someone claims such, its only because they lack understanding of laws, words, etc.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 5:10 pm

  44. “No commandment God ever gave to man or his holy prophets was thus immoral because God doesnt give immoral commands.”

    Says who? If killing your son is immoral – and if that isn’t contrary to modern morality, then I don’t know what is – and if God commanded Abraham to do just that, then God commanded something immoral.

    This doesn’t mean that Abraham should not have obeyed. Indeed, the whole point of my post is that he was supposed to obey, even though it was immoral by any person’s definition of the word.

    It is worth noting that this is pure Kierkegaard – not Nietzsche.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 5:38 pm

  45. I guess the main point is that

    A) Sometimes the prophets will command something that contradicts God’s feelings on the matter.
    B) Sometimes, the prophets will command something that we all deem to be immoral.

    So long as we both agree that A and B are not necessarily one and the same thing, there isn’t much to get worked up about here.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 5:45 pm

  46. Only our perception of morality clouds things. From Gods viewpoint nothing he does or commands is immoral.
    A prophet may command something that is immoral- even prophets are prone to the rare mistake. But, in modern times (right now) I dont see anything the prophets are doing or commanding that is immoral. Neither do I see us the members agreeing in general that we deem immoral ( such as preaching against SSM).

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

  47. Okay, but this post is about *modern* morality.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 26, 2016 @ 8:10 pm

  48. So give me an actual case in point regarding modern morality. Im a little slow I guess.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 26, 2016 @ 10:11 pm

  49. Having read the post twice, I’m sure you picked up on the multiple descriptions of modern morality found within it. I think you’re just playing dumb for the sake of protecting your own interpretation of that one word.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 7:07 am

  50. Jeff (37), I think Orwell engages in no small amount of hyperbole to make a point in 1984. That is I think he gives words too much power – in more academic terms he comes perilously close to accepting the Sapir-Worf hypothesis about language controlling thought. I think the evidence is pretty strong that’s a false view of language. That’s not to deny the power of language to bias. But bias is a far weaker term.

    As to “religious man” you’ll actually find that term both in the ancient era and medieval era. While I think the point you raise is important, I think you are pushing it far too far. There are differences between the modern and pre-modern but probably not as great as you portray.

    Interestingly Origen uses the term “religious man” to portray how we are between the poles of the divine and finite mortality. He uses it relative to how the dual natures of Christ are a type for us. (This is in “De Principiis”)

    I certainly agree that “proper” had the sense of appropriate and thus was wrapped up in social norms about polite society. I’d say that ethics and the proper are so entwined with each other that it becomes quite hard to separate them out. Throw in that the “proper” is often what is appropriate for a particular setting but ethics is often what is universally right and things get extremely confused. You see this in Mormon culture as well where there are things we are asked to do, such as the Word of Wisdom which are taken as eternal law. The ethical and the sense of appropriate obedience becomes entwined, twisted, and thereby confused.

    I just think you’re wrong to suggest that there never was this sense of the ethical before the modern. Either in terms of laws or even in terms of an ethical demand not made clear by rules. It’s true that the ancient world tended towards virtue ethics, or a view of what we should do to make ourselves happy. However the more modern sense of ethics in terms of what others should do (both to each other but also our duties to them) is just so common that the opposition between the two eras breaks down.

    What you say in the third paragraph I can more easily accept. (See my T&S comment from earlier this morning for a similar point I made in the Abraham thread) The real issue ends up being what our ethical obligations are. In that regard I think modernity made many positive contributions over the ancient world. (The end of slavery can’t be denied in ethical importance – although I’d note that in its development its often a modern ethics brought out from Christian justice) However it’s also true that there are places the modern and the religious are at odds with each other.

    This conflict between the ethics of secular society and the religious is where the real conflict is. I just think that seeing it as modern vs. pre-modern is misleading though. It oversimplifies two complex periods with lots of competing views.

    Jeff (38), It’s an important point to distinguish between what we view as important in the ancient world (largely philosophical writing) and how the average person thought. I’d say the same about the contemporary world.

    Jeff (39) if that’s what bugs you about Searle I suspect you’ll not like this episode. Part II will be discussing Searle’s book without Searle present.

    Comment by Clark — April 27, 2016 @ 8:42 am

  51. To add, what I think is a more fruitful avenue is the distinction between justice as a duty to others versus ethics as rules or calculation. That loses you the nice simple opposition between modern and pre-modern but gives you a much more valuable contrast. The problem is that of course even if contemporary secular “ethics” you can find both sides.

    Part of this is that you are right to a point that the modern rejects authority. The ancient and medieval worlds often embraced authority if only because writing otherwise would put one in danger of the local rulers. (There was this practical concern behind all writing) Once authority gets called into question (in part due to the ridiculous justifications it had built up in Europe) then you need something else. However as a practical matter this is independent of religion since God just wasn’t sending prophets typically – especially not to the secular society.

    People portraying themselves as such continued, often getting the obedience train going but while we accept Joseph and others as prophets we have to acknowledge there are vastly more false prophets than prophets. Far more figures David Koresh or Jim Jones than Gordon B. Hinkley. Once as a practical matter you don’t have a trustworthy authority it’s unsurprising authority itself becomes questioned.

    The problem I think you’ll have in your questioning here though is what role God himself plays in this rise of the questioning of authority. Especially in a Mormon context where the rise of philosophy enabling the US Constitution and conception of nation as well as the role of the protestant revolution all play in the groundwork for Mormonism. Mormons almost always consider such things inspired, even if incomplete. If this modern rejection of authority and rise of ethics is such a problem, why is it simultaneously so necessary?

    Comment by Clark — April 27, 2016 @ 8:51 am

  52. Jeff,
    I’m still trying to understand your point. Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t use the word “morality” because it’s been hijacked and redefined to try to justify immorality?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 11:02 am

  53. Rob, that’s getting much closer.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 11:11 am

  54. It’s gone full circle then. So, what this is really all about is the age old dilemma of the wicked trying make what is wrong justifiable- right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right.
    Morality is morality no matter how one trys to twist it. In other words- righteousness is still righteousness, right is still right and wrong is still wrong. As a Scoutmaster, we recite the Scout oath every week. Part of that oath states that we pledge to be “morally straight”. In its proper light it means being in the right in everything we do, not as society sets to define it but by how God defines it. Men do not have the right to define what is right and wrong. We may only aknowledge what is inherently right and wrong according to our concious which concious is the light of Christ of which is the truth of God’s eternal laws.
    So even though society sets to make their own definitions of what is right and how it separates from the wrong (morality), they have not the true right to redefine what is right or wrong. You picked but just one word out of a myriad that the wicked seek to redefine to justify their wickedness. I don’t care which word one picks and it can be shown how it is being redefined to justify wickedness.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 11:33 am

  55. Rob,

    “Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t use the word “morality” because it’s been hijacked and redefined to try to justify immorality?”

    The problem is that those secular people are the ones who invented the word, so it doesn’t make much sense to say that they highjacked it.

    That’s what you’re not getting. You think that God or the prophet invented the word and then it was corrupted by secular minds. If anything, the exact opposite is the case in that it was invented by secular people and religious people began using that secular tool to religious ends.

    I don’t have a problem with this so long as we acknowledge that such a tool – designed to secular ends as it was – will quite often come into conflict with the religious ends that it was meant to subvert. Not always, but sometimes.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

  56. Clark,

    “As to “religious man” you’ll actually find that term both in the ancient era and medieval era. While I think the point you raise is important, I think you are pushing it far too far. There are differences between the modern and pre-modern but probably not as great as you portray.”

    You’re probably right. What I have in mind is that found in Tyler Robert’s Encountering Religion in a Post-Secular Age:

    …not only were debates about religion at the center of the effort to define “modernity,” but that the very concept of religion itself, as we use it today, was a product of this questioning—an idea that emerges as Western thinkers struggle to understand what it means to be modern.
    If you asked someone in premodern Europe whether they were “religious,” they would have thought that you were asking them whether they were a monk or a nun? To be religious, or to be more precise, to be a religious, in premodern Europe meant that you were part of a Catholic order; a religious was a monk or a nun.
    Today, of course, we use the word differently. We talk about religion as a set of beliefs, and practices, and institutions that constitute a sphere of human life that we distinguish from other spheres of life—such as politics, or art, or science. So, what I am suggesting is that this way of talking about religion—that is common sense for us today—only really emerged as Western intellectuals in the 18th and 19th centuries, struggled with the question of modernity—and as a result, starting looking at the world in a new way, started dividing things up, categorizing the world in new ways.

    So, yes, saying that the word was meaningless is definitely an overstatement on my part. Speaking of religion as a largely self-contained aspect of life, largely isolated from the other parts, however, is definitely a very modern phenomena.

    “I’d say that ethics and the proper are so entwined with each other that it becomes quite hard to separate them out.”

    I think this really is the main point. I think the refusal to disentangle the two is exactly what motivated Kierkegaard and, to a lesser extent, Nietzsche.

    “I just think you’re wrong to suggest that there never was this sense of the ethical before the modern.”

    Well, that’s not what I’m claiming. Rather, I am claiming that the modern, democratic morals that we have today are a very recent invention and that they do not have any power over the prophets. Indeed, even if they weren’t all that recent of an invention I would still believe this, but that’s not the main focus of this post.

    “The end of slavery can’t be denied in ethical importance”

    While I agree with you, Nietzsche most certainly did not. His feelings on slavery were neutral, at best, and thought that all feminist attempts to find slavery in every aspect of life were totally misguided. Slavery, in his mind, is what allowed the civilizations of the past to become great! Again, I can’t get on board with this one bit, but I don’t think we can take it for granted. After all, the OT itself is pretty open to slavery.

    -I should point out that the tension I’m trying to highlight in the post isn’t really about time periods. It’s about different social organizations and the moral discourse that coordinates them.

    -Both Nietzsche and I reject the idea that philosophical writing was what was important about the ancient world, albeit for rather different reasons.

    “what I think is a more fruitful avenue is the distinction between justice as a duty to others versus ethics as rules or calculation”

    Unsurprisingly, I think all such abstractions aren’t worth the ink they’re printed on. What matters is who actual people listen to, and in what contexts. Whether abstract theories can be imposed without remainder upon such phenomena is doubtful, if not irrelevant.

    “we have to acknowledge there are vastly more false prophets than prophets.”

    I don’t think it’s so cut and dry. Yes, each person is certainly compelled to reject the vast majority of pretended prophets in order to follow the few/one. But, the whole notion of a stewardship totally undermines the idea that a prophet is either true for everybody or false for everybody.

    “The problem I think you’ll have in your questioning here though is what role God himself plays in this rise of the questioning of authority.”

    I think this is the best and most relevant comment yet. For starters, I think the issue of living stewardship is pretty relevant here as it relates to the charge of US-centrism in the church. That said, I absolutely think that the freedom of association that is built into the US constitution (VERY revolutionary from a European standpoint – it absolutely shocked Tocqueville) is absolutely inspired and non-negotiable, especially within the modern world.

    While he does not come out and say it, it seems to me that Nietzsche really and truly laments the “enclosure” of land such that banishment as a form of punishment was no longer feasible. From what I can tell, he thought that banishment was the ideal form of punishment for crimes, but enclosure forced us to invention prisons and disciplinary institutions. Thus, I see the freedom of association as the restoration of banishment as a form of punishment. It is only within such a context that faith and obedience can be freely chosen, in the same way that pre-modern socialization was (in a complicated sense) freely chosen.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

  57. Jeff (56) Yeah, I’m pretty skeptical of that passage as you quote it. There’s no doubt that the protestant revolution transformed how common people saw religion. I think though that saying that to be religious was to be a priest or nun goes beyond hyperbole into nonsense. I’m not sure upon what basis he is making that claim. It certainly goes against what I’ve read. Admittedly I tend to focus more on philosophers than what the common people did. But that just goes against what I’ve encountered. Then, as now, there’s a blurry line. Religious festivals, much like Christmas or Easter today, can be practiced with a non-religious focus. Yet religion was important to the folk and many scholars argue the distinction between folk and elite religion in problematic.

    Now speaking of religion as an isolatable social feature is more recent. However I’m skeptical it can in any way be seen as a feature of modernity. Again until relatively recent religion was intertwined in most of what people of all classes did. There was a rise of atheism (or deism) but even those figures are engaging with religion in crucial ways that can’t easily be separated. (Think of say Thomas Jefferson for instance)

    Perhaps we can say modernity introduces a trajectory such that by the late 19th century Nietzsche can say God is dead. Yet even then that was a rather shocking thing to say. And I think he’s right that the religion of Kant and Hegel killed him. But that doesn’t make the religion of Kant or Hegel separable from their thought, no matter how much many neo-Kantians (like the positivists) might have tried.

    Now to your point that contemporary public morals are recent and have no authority, I fully agree. It’s when you go beyond that I think you skate to thinner and thinner ice.

    What’s interesting to me is how there aren’t a single set of public morals but several competing ones. Yet the public are expected to treat them as authoritative and proper despite their contradictions and despite contradicting what much of the country holds as moral.

    To Nietzsche’s views on slavery I’m less interested in. I think I was speaking more broadly. (Let’s be honest, Nietzsche in many ways hasn’t had a positive effect on morals – his popularity among college students is much more his tearing down the old scaffolding)

    Regarding morals, ethics and justice as practice, I agree it matters who is listened to. I just think the why they are listened to matters a bit more than you do.

    Regarding stewardship, I actually agree that solves a ton of problems. The place of stewardship as a key part of Mormon thought I think we both agree upon. It’s rather interesting to me how neglected it is as a regulatory notion it is by more liberal Mormons.

    I do hope you think through and write up your thoughts of the functional role of modernity, the protestant reformation, and the place of the ideals of the founders. In particular the latter has a problematic place in Mormon thought I’ve long noticed.

    Comment by Clark — April 27, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

  58. Jeff,
    It’s kind of pointless to address who came up with the word hundreds of years ago as it applies today. Like I said before, Words change meaning over time- they evolve and as such, it makes no difference how it was used and for what purpose it was used for hundreds of years ago. We use words to convey meaning in communication. All that is important in today’s world is what the word means. This is a semantics issue and not a historical issue.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

  59. Clark,

    I’m not sure what you’re driving at here:

    “Now speaking of religion as an isolatable social feature is more recent. However I’m skeptical it can in any way be seen as a feature of modernity. Again until relatively recent religion was intertwined in most of what people of all classes did.”

    My approach to modernity is largely that of Weber, Habermas and Bourdieu in which different “spheres” (political, scientific, artistic, etc.) branch off into largely self-contained communities that are able to pursue their own “logic”, independent of religion. Under this reading, the relative autonomy of these fields is very much the direct product of modernity.


    If that’s the case than in what sense can we speak of anybody “highjacking” a concept if the actual creators of the concept are irrelevant? You say that some people have “redefined” morality… but those were the people who originally defined it! How can that not be relevant? How can their original definition be a “highjacked redefinition”?

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

  60. Clark,

    Just to unpack my view of ethical theories a bit more…

    I see the physical sciences as coming up with mathematical models of the physical world for the primary purpose of controlling it. Anything above and beyond this is an attempt at controlling people rather than the natural world, which is why I get to hostile.

    Thus, when it comes to social and ethical theories, there is simply nothing to control other than people… which makes me VERY suspicious.

    In largely Bourdieuian terms I would say that logic which governs the physical and human sciences differ as follows:

    The physical sciences are largely grounded in the ability to control nature. Thus, the struggle for grants and patents places a strong pressure to pursue and build upon an established paradigm. Yes, distinction from one’s peers is also important, but mostly in terms of receiving grants, patents and other such practical standards.

    The human sciences, by contrast, do not lend themselves well to grants and patents. Thus, the ability to distinguish oneself through the production of non-paradigmatic theories plays a MUCH larger role in terms of stratifying distinctions. The primary force which pulls such people into semi-established paradigms is because of the control which such paradigms are able to exert over people. In other words, social and ethical theorists defend a paradigm to the extent to doing so is good for those who wield the paradigm in everyday social life – the same as the non-social, physical world does in the physical sciences.

    Thus, any abstract ethical theory that is supposed to “get it uniquely right” is, to me, nothing more than intellectual imperialism.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

  61. Jeff,
    The concept of “morality” has been around for eternity. Its just been called different things. Like I said before, its really all about right vs. wrong. Morality isnt some new concept. Since the dawn of men we have had aknowlegment of morality in society. Eternal law itself is moral law. The eicked always seek to try to make what is wrong right. But just because they call themselves moral doesnt make it so.
    The semantics of it has a huge bearing with communication. The synonyms for “moral” are along the lines of aboveboard, blameless, chaste, conscientious, correct, courteous, decent, decorous, dutiful, elevated, exemplary, good, high-minded, honorable, immaculate, incorruptible, innocent, just, kindly, kosher*, laudable, meet, meritorious, modest, moralistic, noble, praiseworthy, principled, proper, pure, respectable, right, righteous, saintly, salt of the earth, scrupulous, seemly, square, straight, true-blue, trustworthy, truthful, upright, upstanding, virtuous, worthy

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 5:17 pm

  62. I see what you’re saying. Basically, the people who invented modern morality were hijacking and twisting what being a good person entails and what we are supposed to do and not do. Yes, that is right.

    The point that the post is getting at is that their invention of the word “moral” played a major role in this process. Better?

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 5:23 pm

  63. I get where you are coming from but it still comes down to the basics of language and how we use the word and understand it now. I use the word moral to speak of righteous godly ideals. I have always understood it to mean such and when I teach and expound to others I use the word that way and my audience understands it that way. As a “moral” society, we generally still all understand it that way and as such our dictionaries still understand it that way. We should uphold that.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 5:54 pm

  64. Rob,

    I think you’re really underestimating the tension that is at play with the invention of morality. (The following all part and parcel Kierkegaard.)

    Consider the follow case:

    Tell ten people to write down 10 immoral things.

    Now, count up how many of those things God has actually commanded somebody to do in the scriptures. My guess is the number would be at least 50%.

    This is not a mere coincidence. The whole idea of morality was invented in opposition to the idea of obedience to persons who can change their minds, be effected by passions, give different commands to different people, etc. It is modern morality that has convinced us that these are bad (“arbitrary” is their derisive word for it) things.

    Thus, morality is a set of rules or laws governing disembodied actions and are supposed to hold no matter who says what for or against. A moral person is one who obeys the dictates of reason as interpreted by him or herself, not the dictates of any external person (aka, obedience).

    Finally, the very fact that it took us so long just to articulate what we the issue is shows how much our ideas of right/good and wrong/bad behavior has been conflated with the idea of impersonal rules of (moral) action. We simply have a difficult time imagining that a supremely righteous person (God) could command us to do something that violates these impersonal rules of action. And yet, this is exactly what the scriptures depict God as doing over and over again.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 27, 2016 @ 7:14 pm

  65. I think we are arguing the semantics. My idea and belief of “morality” is strictly tied to obedience of Gods laws. I do not believe someone, or a group, or society can invent an ideal that is already ingrained in our conscious. From your angle, there may be a minority of people who believe the bible who also say it is immoral, but whose views themselves on “morality” are corrupted.

    Take the Book of Mormon for example, the general LDS masses see no examples whatsoever of God commanding an immoral act. Why? Because the majority of LDS know and understand what morality is and do not have a corrupted definition of morality. Even the extreme example of Nephi slaying Laban, no one I ever went to church with describes Nephis act as immoral. As you get more to the fringe Mormons side then you begin to have the opposite. And, as we all know, every fringe Mormon spends more time finding fault with their church and leaders and doctrine than anti-Mormons themselves! This group, this small minority, is the group you describe I am guessing. Yes, this small minority claim all kinds of immoralities that God has commanded. But, this is just a true sign of their wavering faith and their inroads into strange paths.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 9:50 pm

  66. Jeff (59) Ah, I see. So the feature of modernity you see as important is just the more pluralistic acceptance of different views. While there was some of that earlier it was far more limited. At least after Christianity pushed out paganism in the west – the Islamic empires were often far more pluralistic than Christianity but still nothing like the diversity that developed in modernism not to mention the pluralism that arose in the 19th century.

    I thought you were coming at an angle slightly different from the pluralistic one. My bad. That clarifies a lot for me. I thought the very meaning of moral was univocal in a new sense in modernism. But if you just mean that morality because autonomous in pluralistic ways then a lot of what I’ve been critiquing of late is beside the point.

    Rob (65) I sometimes wonder how fringe this group is. I think there’s far more than you suggest. That said, I do think the typical member sees far less of a problem than many especially on the popular blogs do.

    Comment by Clark — April 27, 2016 @ 9:58 pm

  67. Clark,
    I think there is a mystery of sorts as to why I run into so many fringe Mormons in the blogs and forums but yet at church I rarely see any. Perhaps they all live in Utah, eh eh. Fringe Mormons pose the greatest threat to Gods Kingdom in my opinion because they tend to be more militant towards our church and our leaders than those outside the church. I believe its largely these types that distort truth, redefine morality, and justify sinfulness. But, in general, these types arent really true Christians and for sure are not true Latter Day Saints.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — April 27, 2016 @ 10:58 pm

  68. Rob I think most people just don’t share their views at Church. So how would you know who is or isn’t holding more fringe views? For that matter what counts as fringe. There are still a reasonable number holding rejected views from the 70’s and 80’s on various issues related to race and so forth that are well outside of the mainstream. There are members who are at least sympathetic to questionable apocalyptic, survivalist or alternative practices more characteristic of conservatives. There are members who are at least very sympathetic to “reforming” the church in light what liberal secular values. There are those who simply are fringe in very broad ways.

    Comment by Clark — April 28, 2016 @ 8:12 am

  69. Clark,

    I don’t know if pluralism is the right word for the branching out of these different “spheres” of activity that Weber and Habermas point to, and Bourdieu most definitely sees different spheres as being, in some sense, in competition with one another.

    I guess I’m not sure what you mean by the term.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 28, 2016 @ 8:18 am

  70. By pluralism I just mean allowing multiple views with some degree of tolerance. The views can still compete and argue with each other. But there’s not the level of intolerance that you see when Kings dominated in the middle ages to maybe a century or so after the rise of modernism. (Arguably in many European countries until well into the 20th century)

    So I think religions other than my own are wrong, but I think they should be able to believe and practice what they want.

    Of course pluralism as a principle does run into the problem that sometimes something is seen as so wrong people aren’t willing to be tolerant. Abolitionists in the 19th century are a good example of that.

    Comment by Clark — April 28, 2016 @ 2:49 pm

  71. Interesting. I guess I’d never really thought of this process in terms of a tolerant pluralism…. although I guess that’s sort of what it is. I just worry that this makes it seem like pluralism was the goal of modernity rather than a largely unintended byproduct of other conflicts.

    I’m about to start a series about Weber which will lead directly to a post or two about Habermas. As such, I’m sure I’ll touch more on this subject.

    Comment by Jeff G — April 28, 2016 @ 3:21 pm

  72. Well I’m not sure a broad category like modernity has a goal. I think pluralism is an important aspect of modernism. Yet it’s also the case there are other trends at work. As you noted people in different traditions often hated each other and even fought wars over ideas and influence. Yet there’s still that presumption of thinking through things even when the ideology becomes intolerant of dissent. (Think communism or fascism – arguably both modern movements through and through)

    Comment by Clark — April 29, 2016 @ 12:09 pm