This will conclude my response to PJ--for now--after which I will allow him to make a rebuttal. I've attempted to keep my response brief. Naturally, I've failed. Should there be something which you believe I did not address sufficiently, do let me know so that I may revisit it.
Ah, but human nature does change and with it, the social world. Our "first," material-biological nature is the product of evolutionary forces, of course; but morality is a relatively new phenomenon, in the vast time-scales of the life sciences, and it can only emerge for beings who develop our kind of social "second" nature.
This strikes me as peculiar, and seems to add more questions than it provides answers. Supposing I accept your premise—which I cannot—several questions arise. I've given you more than enough to chew on without compelling you to answer all of them, but they are worthy of consideration. Is human nature equal in all its members, or are some humans “more equal than others?” Does one's moral code depend on one's place in the ever-evolving human nature? Is human nature moving towards something, away from something, or are these fluctuations essentially trivial in the grand scheme of things? I sense much Wells in you.
If you could provide a list of differing human natures and an ethic which would apply differently to two of them I would greatly appreciate it.
Rather, selfhood can only be cashed out in terms of irreducibly social commitments and identifications.
This seems to suggest that man draws his worth from those men around him. But if those men are similarly without value, whence does this value arise? If you sum zero infinitely, it is still zero. Unless man has worth—in my view because God bestows him with it—mankind is effectively worthless.
The "glass" is a mirror, the idea being that, reflecting on God, we are reflecting on ourselves without realizing that that is what we are doing.
Only if God's revelation isn't really what we claim. I think it mighty unfair to our ancestors to insist, looking down upon them from several centuries of perhaps not entirely worthless experience, that they were merely reflecting on ourselves—and projecting onto God? To revisit Moses, theoretically he could have been reflecting on himself, though one wonders why on earth he would insist that he should go confront Pharaoh over his Jewish problem. In addition, as Vox Day points out, “I Am Who Am” may be a silly thing for a bush to say, but it's also a silly story for a nomad existing several centuries before Christ to invent.
To be utilitarian, a theory must advance a single, comprehensive, conception of the good -- in terms of utility -- and then it must stipulate that the moral worth of an action is determined by the extent to which it maximizes that good. I, on the contrary, believe that there are a plurality of real goods and that we have to give priority to ourselves and the people close to us (although I won't directly defend the latter part of this claim, unless you're especially interested).
While I greatly enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, I'm no objectivist, so I won't fault you for believing we have some duty to those close to us. Still, while your plurality of goods makes a certain amount of sense—natural law theorists similarly posit a number of goods: knowledge, procreation, life, and sociability, if memory serves—it begs a question. I'm afraid it is one I have asked before: whence do these goods arise? It leaves you with something of a Euthyphro dilemma on your hands. The natural law theory points to God as the source of all good. Your goods point to... either satisfaction—which would be utilitarian—or... what?
The satisfactions of helping someone solve a difficult problem, of listening to a symphony, and of enjoying a glass of fine wine, for instance, are qualitatively distinct in such a way as to preclude quantitative comparisons.
Well, you could help someone with the problem of what on earth is to be done with his fine wine while listening to a symphony, but I agree. The problem is when we consider such acts which are not morally permissible ones. For instance, in choosing whether to violate a virgin, murder an old woman, or rob a bank, are we similarly left with the problem of quantifying our satisfaction. But if we add, to the list of options, “or read a Walker Percy novel”, of course you should pick Percy, but not because he is an excellent writer, but because this is your only permissible moral choice. Even if one derives no satisfaction from reading the novel--especially if one doesn't know how to read English very well--this is still the morally correct choice.
Now, obviously no one would ever be confronted with these bizarre choices, save perhaps in a novel, but the point is that the satisfaction which is implicitly posited as the determining factor in considering what one should do. No matter how much satisfaction our hypothetical character may derive from ravishing a virgin, moral standards prevent him from acting on what is essentially a utilitarian principle. Our virgin thanks him.
This isn't to say that all decisions are equally good or that it doesn't matter what one does with one's life, only that the relevant standards must be supplied by the individual's conception of "the good life," her sense of who she is and who she wants to become.
I don't wish to be more of a jerk than I've already been, but if we return to our virgin, if I wish to go about, being the best rapist I can be, what standards would you posit to compel me to do otherwise?
Notice, now, that working toward the good life requires a minimal kind of self-consciousness: it is not just a matter of activating pleasure-centers in the brain, but of achieving describable goals -- however these may shift about in the course of a life. It is, in other words, a matter of *self*-actualization.
You are pronouncing judgment against merely activating pleasure-centers in the brain. Well and good, but on what grounds? Michel Onfray, from the little I know of him, would vociferously disagree; he would assert that you are preventing him from attaining self-actualization. In addition, if self-actualization is the good at which man's life is aimed—yes I know, you say there are a number of goods, but unless I am mistaken, I see here a contradiction—then you are stating that man is the rule by which all things are to be measured. This makes sense from a God-less perspective, but it rather deflates any chance of promulgating a coherent and lucid system of ethics.
Furthermore, it is up for social negotiation whether my deeds fall under the act-description I invoke and whether I live up to the identity I claim for myself.
Again, I may be making mistakes here, but I'm unclear as to how society may dictate to me whether or not I am progressing towards self-actualization. If society has a claim to my behavior, fine, I suppose, but this can very certainly threaten my ability to become the self that I desire to be.
For example, there is no intelligible sense in which someone might "really" be a good professor in spite of his inability to capture the attention and imagination of his students and colleagues.
Sure there is. Perhaps his students are all dunderheads, or that they don't give a whit for the subject matter, or they're distracted by text messages from their friends. There are any number of, if not professors, writers who “succeed” despite an inability to write well. Those who pen harlequin romance novels are well-received by their audience, and I suppose we could bequeath upon them the title of Producer of Much Emotional Porn and Other Sundry Nonsense, or some such twaddle, but I don't think you or I would take the verdict of their audience without a grain of salt.
To be clear, what is important is not that there always be another person physically there affirming your success to you, but only that the standards by which you assess yourself are essentially social standards.
And again, I reject this. Moby Dick was very poorly received when it was written. If memory serves, some French interest revived the piece, and placed it in the pantheon of great American literature. Now, on the one hand, the social standards which Melville could have used to determine his worth as a writer failed him. On the other, one could argue that the verdict of posterity was essentially a social one, which is true; but then one would be forced to conclude that Melville was a good writer only because people rediscovered his book, and not because he was, in fact, a good writer.
Without shared social practices, standards, and ideals, human life would be reduced to a pathological hedonism. We have an obligation, therefore, to maintain the most fundamental of these networks -- the conditions of lawfulness itself -- by respecting the dignity of the self-conscious agents in which these networks subsist.
This strikes me as a particularly poor argument. Anarchy is undesirable, therefore, we must have law. You peer into the abyss, and because you don't like what you see, you embrace an ethical code which is neither clear not compelling. I don't think poorly of you because of this decision, but an emotional aversion to hedonism isn't the best base upon which to rest a system of ethics.
I eagerly await your response, and thank you again for continuing in this quest for truth.