Author Topic: Moral Nihilism in Thelema  (Read 4261 times)

Offline Los

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Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« on: December 13, 2012, 04:43:33 pm »
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

It’s come to my attention that there are no threads on here that substantially discuss moral nihilism and its centrality to Thelemic theory and practice. Not only are such discussions lacking, it even seems that some people are hostile to them. Some time ago, a member expressed surprise that Crowley wrote statements such as “Ethics is balderdash.” More recently, a member told me that a reading of Thelema as morally nihilistic constituted a “weak reading” of Crowley, prompting me to list a half-dozen Crowley quotes from across his entire career, located from memory, that affirm that position.

At any rate, this strikes me as a necessary and important topic to bring up since it’s central to Thelemic theory and practice.

What is moral nihilism? The term is usually defined as the position that no actions are inherently good or evil. I prefer the formulation that it’s the position that there is insufficient reason to think that moral claims express inherent truths (such claims appear to be, at best, expressions of subjective value).

This position is obviously different than moral absolutism (which holds that actions *are* inherently good or evil in themselves) and is further different than moral relativism (which holds that actions are good or evil in different contexts). So while a moral absolutist would say that theft is always wrong, and while a moral relativist would say that theft is wrong in a particular culture or in certain circumstances (or perhaps wrong in “my own personal system of morality”), a moral nihilist would deny that “theft is wrong” expresses any kind of inherent truth and is ultimately meaningless except perhaps as an expression of the values of the individual speaking it (“Boo theft,” “Yay helping strangers” – on the same level as “Boo vegetables,” “Yay ice cream”).

Moral nihilism is the logical conclusion of properly applied skepticism, which observes that there is insufficient evidence for thinking that moral claims express any kind of inherent truth and that there is indeed insufficient evidence for thinking that the systems from which moral claims are derived are even coherent. We might appeal to Hume’s famous formulation of the “is-ought” problem (that is, his observation that one cannot logically derive an “ought” statement from “is” statements: starting with the evidence of reality, we cannot derive how things “should” be in any inherently true sense). We might also conduct a survey of the various moral systems of the world and observe their failings and contradictions.

Thelema, as expressed in the writings of Aleister Crowley, is a philosophy of individual conduct with skepticism at its heart. The natural result of this skepticism is moral nihilism, and moral nihilism, as we shall see, is a precondition of discovering what he calls the True Will.

First, a handful of quotes from Crowley on the subject – quotes spanning his entire career, right up until the end, to demonstrate that I’m not “cherry picking” this position from his writings – will show moral nihilism is a clear position of Crowley’s and an integral part of Thelema:

“There are no "standards of Right." Ethics is balderdash. Each Star must go on its orbit. To hell with 'moral Principle;' there is no such thing; that is a herd-delusion, and makes men cattle.” – New Comment to AL II:28

“murder of a faithless partner is ethically excusable, in a certain sense; for there may be some stars whose Nature is extreme violence. The collision of galaxies is a magnificent spectacle, after all. But there is nothing inspiring in a visit to one's lawyer. Of course this is merely my personal view; a star who happened to be a lawyer might see things otherwise!” – New Comment to AL I:41

“Until the Great Work has been performed, it is presumptuous for the magician to pretend to understand the universe, and dictate its policy. Only the Master of the Temple can say whether any given act is a crime. "Slay that innocent child?" (I hear the ignorant say) "What a horror!" "Ah!" replies the Knower, with foresight of history, "but that child will become Nero. Hasten to strangle him!"

“There is a third, above these, who understands that Nero was as necessary as Julius Caesar.” – MiTP XXI

“There is no grace, there is no guilt
This is the law: Do what thou wilt.” – Liber 333

“One can never be sure what is right and what is wrong, until one appreciates that "wrong" is equally "right."” – MWT, XVI

“For until we become innocent, we are certain to try to judge our Will by some Canon of what seems ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; in other words, we are apt to criticise our Will from the outside, whereas True Will should spring, a fountain of Light, from within, and flow unchecked, seething with Love, into the Ocean of Life.” – Little Essays
_______________

We also have Crowley in Book 4 Part 1 discussing “Nama and Niyama” (Control and discipline, or morality and virtue) in the context of choosing a “moral code” for the duration of yoga practice designed merely for the purpose of disturbing the mind the least. In doing so, he presents “moral codes” not as absolute or even relatively “true” codes of conduct but systems of behavior accepted temporarily for utility, in order to ease the work of meditation. He even discusses how moral rules, like non-killing, originally were recommended by Masters to prevent the student's mind from becoming excited (by discouraging hunting for sport, for example) but that over time they were mythologized into absolute (and restrictive) rules, such that some fear to step on bugs.

All of the above, then, is not only completely consistent on the idea that nothing is inherently good or evil, much of it is dependent on the idea and explicitly states it, as in the first quote I gave. Observe that the first quote occurs in the context of commentary on the Book of the Law and the last quote (from Little Essays) occurs in the context of discussing discovering and carrying out the True Will.

When we turn to the Book of the Law – which is ultimately where the Law of Thelema derives from – we find this important line:
“Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.” – I:22

Morality – the belief that actions can be inherently “good” or inherently “evil” – is one of the primary ways that one can “make a difference” between two things. To think that any course of action is inherently “better” or “worse” than anything is a way of talking oneself into doing (or not doing) a particular action, regardless of one’s actual inclinations (True Will).

If we broaden our idea of “morality” to include all “should” statements generated by the conscious mind (“Hmm…I should really quite smoking,” “I should really go to this party to make her happy,” “I ought to start playing the piano again…after all, I studied it for so many years as a child”), we find that all “should” statements – even those that one believes are true “for oneself” in a “relative” sense – are ways of making a difference between one thing and any other thing.

In point of fact, it’s not “better” – in any inherent sense to smoke or not to smoke. It’s not “better” to go to party or not go to a party, etc.

We find, by the way, that all of these ideas – which we can call “moral” in the broadest sense of the term – all have one thing in common: the conscious mind is rationally deciding what the self *should* do, reasoning out a course of action.

“Quitting smoking will make me healthier, and it’s good to be healthy. I should quit smoking because it will let me achieve this good thing.”

“Going to this boring party will make my spouse happy, and it’s good to have a happy spouse. I should go to the party because it will let me achieve this good thing.”

“Starting to play the piano again will let me use the skills I acquired early in life, and it’s good to use all of one’s skills. I should play piano because it will allow me to achieve this good thing.”

See the common thread? Liber AL tells us:

Now a curse upon Because and his kin!
May Because be accursed for ever!
If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought.
(II:28-30)

Though these verses are commonly interpreted as a condemnation of reason as a tool for understanding reality, in the context of the passage in the Book, they are a condemnation of reason as usurper of the proper role of the True Will. (The Book does not at all condemn reason as a tool for coming to conclusions about reality: as Crowley says in his comments, the Book makes reason the "autocrat of the mind").

The True Will, in Thelema, has no “why.” It doesn’t have a “purpose” or any particular “reason” for being what it is. One’s True Will – that is, one’s natural inclinations – are what they are. One doesn’t reason one’s way to the True Will, and holding rationally-formed moral beliefs (even “personal morality”) is the surest way to obscure the True Will from oneself.

These kinds of ideas are everywhere in Crowley’s writings. Take, for example, a passage from Book 4 Part 1 in which Crowley discusses the importance of perceiving reality as it is, rather than as it appears through the lens of our emotions and, ultimately, moral opinions:

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Let [the young Magician] endeavour to see facts as facts, as simply as he would see them if they were historical. Let him avoid the imaginative interpretation of any facts. Let him not put himself in the place of the people of whom the facts are related, or if he does so, let it be done only for the purpose of comprehension. Sympathy, indignation, praise and blame, are out of place in the observer.

No one has properly considered the question as to the amount and quality of the light afforded by candles made by waxed Christians.

Who has any idea which joint of the ordinary missionary is preferred by epicures? It is only a matter of conjecture that Catholics are better eating than Presbyterians.

Yet these points and their kind are the only ones which have any importance at the time when the events occur.

Nero did not consider what unborn posterity might think of him; it is difficult to credit cannibals with the calculation that the recital of their exploits will induce pious old ladies to replenish their larder.

Very few people have ever "seen" a bull-fight. One set of people goes for excitement, another set for the perverse excitement which real or simulated horror affords. Very few people know that blood freshly spilled in the sunlight is perhaps the most beautiful colour that is to be found in nature.

The passage is funny – in a characteristically Crowley-humor way – but it’s also important for Thelema: people’s moral feelings and their emotional reactions to these things are impediments to seeing them clearly.

When he writes about the same bullfight in The Confessions, he makes this point again, this time explicitly linking it to Thelema:
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the average man's senses are deceived by his emotions. He gets things out of proportion and he exaggerates them even when he is able to appreciate them at all. I made up my mind that it should be an essential part of my system of initiation to force my pupils to be familiar with just those things which excite or upset them, until they have acquired the power of perceiving them accurately without interference from the emotions.

Immediately in the same passage, Crowley connects this issue of being deceived by the emotions to the issue of good and evil and to the passage from The Book of the Law that I quoted earlier:

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It is all a branch of the art of concentration, no doubt; but it is one which has been very much neglected, and it is of supreme importance when the aspirant arrives at the higher levels, where it is a question of "making no difference between any one thing and any other thing", and uniting oneself with each and every possible idea. For as long as anything soever escapes assimilation there remains separateness and duality, or the potentiality of such. Evil can only be destroyed by "love under will"; and so long as it is feared and hated, so long as we insist on attributing a real and irreconcilable existence to it, so long will it remain evil for us. The same of course applies to what we call "good". Good is itself evil in so far as it is separate from other ideas.

So, to sum up, Crowley observes that people are easily deceived by their emotions, by their sense that something, like a bullfight, is either repelling or alluring. These emotions feed into a sense that things are “good” or “evil” in an absolute or even relative sense. Yet this very sense (this moral sense) is the primary means by which a person “gets things out of proportion and […] exaggerates them even when he is able to appreciate them at all.” In so doing, a person makes a difference between things by holding up one action as “better” or “worse” than another. In this way, a person pays attention to his rational ideas about reality, rather than reality itself, and can easily end up following an idea instead of his actual inclinations (or True Will).

We are now in a position to evaluate the last quote on my list above, from Little Essays:

“For until we become innocent, we are certain to try to judge our Will by some Canon of what seems ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; in other words, we are apt to criticise our Will from the outside, whereas True Will should spring, a fountain of Light, from within, and flow unchecked, seething with Love, into the Ocean of Life.”

Being misled by the emotions and the moral sense – as outlined above – is precisely how people “criticize [their] Will from the outside.” Importantly, this applies not only to morality learned from other people but to one’s own (self-generated) ideas about what’s personally “good” or “evil.”

What Thelema requires, then, is skepticism aimed at the mind’s own rationally-formed moral beliefs about what is “good” or “bad” – even (or especially) one’s own “personal morality.” Moral beliefs – understood broadly to mean all “should” statements, both explicitly and subtly formulated and accepted by the mind – are the largest and most significant obstacle to the discovery of the True Will.

The early stages of Thelemic practice consist in locating and rooting out one’s most deeply held moral beliefs. The most common practice is to attempt to catch one’s own thoughts making moral judgments and then appreciating that these judgments have no inherent or absolute validity. They are, at best, an expression of value along the lines of “Gee, I like that color for the wall.”

By so doing, the practitioner will slowly come to be no longer guided by ideas about what “should” be done or what is “best” to do – in some absolute sense – and thus comes to perceive, more and more, what he is actually inclined to do, not because it is “good” in itself but simply that it is his inclination. A curse upon Because. No grace, no guilt. There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.

Love is the law, love under will.
"Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might."
--William Blake

Offline Los

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2012, 04:50:15 pm »
There are a few objections to moral nihilism that commonly come up, so I think it would be productive for me to anticipate them and explain why they are faulty.

Objection #1: If we accept in moral nihilism, we’ll all start raping and killing indiscriminately!

A common concern people have about moral nihilism is that it renders indiscriminate murder or raping “not inherently bad.” Of course, it also renders it “not inherently good.” It just is what it is.

But fears that this attitude will lead to more instances of such behaviors demonstrates a lack of insight into how behavior actually works.

Consider the question of what normally accounts for how infrequently the average person engages in indiscriminate killing or raping. I’m willing to bet that everyone reading this post has not murdered anyone today. Why not? Did you avoid murder because you told yourself it was “wrong” (even though you really wanted to)? Or did you avoid murder because you had no inclination to do it and/or no inclination to suffer the penalties that society has set up for doing it?

I think the answer in almost all cases is the latter, so it is, in fact, not “moral beliefs” that prevent people from indiscriminately murdering or raping in the first place, but something else. Ergo, discarding moral beliefs will not increase instances of indiscriminate killing or raping.

It’s worth reflecting that the majority of rules in historical “moral codes” or “codes of law” – at least the main ones shared by various traditions across the world – tended to arise from codifications of actual behavior. That is to say, the vast majority of people simply don’t have the desire to kill others. It’s not that they avoid killing others because they think killing is wrong: rather, it’s that most societies have decided that killing is wrong because most people avoid doing it.


Objection #2: If we were all moral nihilists, there would be anarchy! There could be no laws!

This is simply false. Just as it’s not “morally wrong” for someone to kill, it’s also not “morally wrong” for a society to decide that they don’t want people indiscriminately killing and thus decide to lock up anybody that does.

Morality doesn’t have to enter into it: if a society wants to forbid an action – simply because they judge the action to interfere with certain goals they have for their society – then they can forbid/punish the action. It’s not “wrong” for them to do that.


Objection #3: You can’t be a moral nihilist because please think of the children!

This is the weirdest one. On another thread on here, another poster asked me, “would I be correct in assuming […] from your advocacy of "moral nihilism" that you do not have any children?”

As I correctly responded, this is a non-sequitur. The two things named are unrelated: being a moral nihilist has no bearing on whether one decides to have children.

The other poster didn’t respond to my point. Instead, he later bizarrely described this question as “a more-than-adequate refutation of the usefulness of "moral nihilism" as a practical matter.”

This makes little sense. I suppose, if I were to venture a guess, based on this “practical matter” comment, this other poster’s point is something like, “You can’t be a moral nihilist and raise children properly because properly raising children involves teaching them the difference between right and wrong.”

I feel odd trying to reconstruct the other poster’s premise because there’s really not a logical way to phrase it, and the above – admittedly very faulty – formulation is only one possible thing the poster might have been trying to say.

Regardless, it should be obvious that not believing in any inherent morality to actions has no bearing on communicating information or values to others.

Take, for example, the issue of touching a hot stove. I don’t think it’s “morally wrong” to touch a hot stove, but I sure as hell don’t want to do it. And the mere fact that I don’t think it’s “morally wrong” doesn’t mean I wouldn’t say to my kid, “Careful! The stove is hot! Don’t touch it or you’ll get burned.”

In the same way, not thinking that stealing, for example, is morally wrong doesn’t mean that one cannot honestly tell one’s children that “stealing is a bad idea for a lot of different reasons.”
"Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might."
--William Blake

Offline ayino

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2012, 05:24:41 pm »
This is a great post Los.

While many of these things might be easy for the individual to agree on and even practice to some degree, one always ends up to from time to time to be tested of his beliefs by this chaotic collective mass of morals, ethics and codes which is called 'society'. I salute everyone who remains even relatively sane :)

The modest one. He who is modest with people shows his arrogance all the more with things (the city, state, society, epoch, or mankind). That is his revenge.

http://www.thelema.ca/156/People/Crowley/vindication_of_nietzsche.htm
"The Vindication of Nietzsche" is one of my favorite texts by AC. It may have seen better days, considering it was written almost 100 years ago, but the general message is still very dear to me. I always come back to it after my brain has been drained dry by bureaucracy or if I did the worst mistake of them all; read the newspaper in the morning.

And because I'm in the right mood, I finally feel it's time for me for the first time to use this phrase on this forum:

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

I ASSERT THE ABSOLUTENESS OF THE QABALISTIC ZERO

Offline ignant666

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2012, 08:51:44 pm »
As the unnamed person to whom you were responding above, I thought it might be useful to respond.

As to Thelema & moral nihilism: No one would question that AC/Thelema reject a priori traditional moral standards, and in particular strongly reject the idea that sexuality has anything whatever to do with morality, something that was largely taken for granted in AC's time in "polite society". Indeed, acceptance of those "moral" codes as to sexuality was the defining criterion of membership in that "polite society" against which AC struggled. I think it is important to remember this context when considering AC's many comments against "morality".
However, I think Thelema proposes a new moral standard: is a given action "under will"? In the earlier thread, I asked how you'd respond to the following from Eight Lectures on Yoga (Third lecture, point 7):
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“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” What is this injunction? It is a generalisation of St. Augustine’s “Love, and do what thou wilt.” But in the Book of the Law, lest the hearer should be deluded into a spasm of antinomianism, there is a further explanation: “Love is the law, love under will.” [emphasis added]
You said you could explain "[t]he significant differences between moral nihilism and antinomianism..."; I am genuinely curious to hear you do so, as I'd take them to be pretty synonymous terms or ideas.

As to "moral nihilism" generally: If, in your formulation of "moral nihilism", both individuals and societies can choose actions as more or less desirable or useful in a given situation and thus avoid (as individuals) or sanction (as societies) behaviors, how can we distinguish this from a "relativist" or "situational" morality in practice? Is it the reasoning from utility, rather than a priori ethical/moral principles? if so, how isn't utility acting here as an a priori ethical-moral principle?

Bringing it back Thelema: Aren't you actually arguing for a form of moral relativism? If so, I think you are in good company, as exemplified by this paragraph from "Morality", MWT 70:
Quote
Concentrate on "...thou hast no right but to do thy will."  The point is that any possible act is to be performed if it is a necessary factor in that Equation of your Will.  Any act that is not such a factor, however harmless, noble, virtuous or what not, is at the best a waste of energy.  But there are no artificial barriers on any type of act in general.  The standard of conduct has one single touchstone.  There may be—there will be—every kind of difficulty in determining whether, by this standard, any given act is "right" or "wrong": but there should be no confusion.  No act is righteous in itself, but only in reference to the True Will of the person who proposes to perform it.  This is the Doctrine of Relativity applied to the moral sphere.

As to my perception that "moral nihilists" and "parents" are sets with little overlap: It's not that I think we need a priori morality in order that my son should learn not to steal, but rather that I prefer a world where others behave predictably in ways that are conducive to his physical safety.

As to your extensive discussion of the practical implications of all this, I as usual find little there to disagree with.

Finally: I can't help noting the wisdom of the humanist classic Lebowski Magnus on nihilism: "These men are nihilists; there's nothing to be afraid of."

Offline Palamedes

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2012, 09:12:37 pm »
Los, you are confusing relativism with nihilism. Crowley argued that the canons of morality are not universal but relative to the circumstances. From a related point of view, they are also relative to individual Will. But although we are all individuals, as Brian in "Life of Brian" said, we are also a part of the society and larger environment. It would be philosophically unsound to imply that there should be a clash between these relative elements or units if you will (individual, society, nature). I think that your mistake stems from the premise that since there is no outside lawgiver, one is free to do whatever one choses and thus is not "required" to help a fellow man. But if I am truly a King (in that metaphorical sense often employed not only in Thelema but in many or most of world religions), then I care for the other not because I must but because I will and I will it because it would be against my nature as a King to be an arrogant little prick. Of course, one has the right to be an arrogant little prick, there is no outside lawgiver to snub him for being one, but as long as he is so and such, he cannot be a King. We may split hairs as much as we want but if we consider Thelema seriously, it states only one thing under two modes, and the second mode that explains the first states that love is the law. And that is not a moral nihilism.   

Offline obscuruspaintus

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2012, 09:25:36 pm »
Dude!
Obscurus by choice.

Offline Los

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2012, 09:50:31 pm »
However, I think Thelema proposes a new moral standard: is a given action "under will"?
In the sense I’m using the terms – that is, in the sense that a moral action is “that which should be done” – carrying out the True Will isn’t moral.

There is no injunction that one should do one’s True Will: rather, “True Will” is a term for what one naturally does when one puts aside all moral ideas (again, I’m broadly defining “moral” and somewhat simplifying for the sake of convenience).

Quote
As to "moral nihilism" generally: If, in your formulation of "moral nihilism", both individuals and societies can choose actions as more or less desirable or useful in a given situation and thus avoid (as individuals) or sanction (as societies) behaviors, how can we distinguish this from a "relativist" or "situational" morality in practice? Is it the reasoning from utility, rather than a priori ethical/moral principles? if so, how isn't utility acting here as an a priori ethical-moral principle?
There’s a difference between descriptive ethics and proscriptive ethics.

Descriptive ethics describes how people really behave in the real world, and it describes the kinds of choices they make when faced with what we might call “ethical dilemmas” and the criteria they use to make those choices.

Proscriptive ethics actually advocates action based on certain criteria.

When I say that societies can (and do) choose to outlaw certain actions based on the desirability or utility of their outcomes, I’m talking in terms of descriptive ethics. I’m describing what these societies do, and *not* necessarily advocating it as a universal or absolute “ought.” (Of course, I obviously do like most of the laws created by my society -- probably not surprising, since I was raised in that society)

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Bringing it back Thelema: Aren't you actually arguing for a form of moral relativism?
I’ve seen moral nihilism described as moral relativism taken to its logical conclusion (that is, if “right” and “wrong” only exist in a given context, then, even in those contexts they’re nothing more than arbitrary expressions of values).

In terms of how I’m using the terminology, I’m not arguing in favor of moral relativism because a moral relativist, as I’ve defined it, would consider an act good or bad in his particular frame of reference. I deny that actions or events can be inherently “good” or “bad,” in any frame of reference, and that the ideas “good” and “bad” don’t really have a meaning besides vaguely indicating “stuff I like” and “stuff I don’t like.”

Now sure, Crowley says, in one isolated place, “No act is righteous in itself, but only in reference to the True Will of the person who proposes to perform it,” Which suggests that in the context of a True Will, an act could be considered “righteous,” which could arguably indicate the moral relativist position, not the moral nihilist position. But three points: 1) I’m not sure Crowley’s meaning here is to endorse the moral relativist position in careful distinction to the moral nihilist position so much as it is to indicate the stark contrast with moral absolutism, 2) Even if he is adopting a moral relativist position in this one place, we’ve already seen that moral nihilism can be considered a logical extension of relativism, and 3) Even if Crowley goes on record in one place as a moral relativist, there’s still all the things he wrote that suggest moral nihilism and, more important for Thelema, there’s Liber AL, which seems to support a moral nihilist position.

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As to my perception that "moral nihilists" and "parents" are sets with little overlap
You never did make your objection clear, so I still don’t know what your point is or how it is a “refutation” of moral nihilism.

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It's not that I think we need a priori morality in order that my son should learn not to steal, but rather that I prefer a world where others behave predictably in ways that are conducive to his physical safety.
As I suggest in my response to Objection #1, people have lots of reasons for having predictable, safe behavior besides morality. Quite apart from the fact that what we prefer does not enable us to determine what is.

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You said you could explain "[t]he significant differences between moral nihilism and antinomianism..."; I am genuinely curious to hear you do so, as I'd take them to be pretty synonymous terms or ideas.
This is a tangential point, but basically moral nihilism is the position that nothing is inherently good or bad in itself and/or that moral claims are meaningless. Antinomianism differs in that it’s a Christian position that one is saved through faith in Christ and that therefore, one is no longer bound by the law.

They are entirely different positions, even though they both entail considering morality not binding on the individual.
"Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might."
--William Blake

Offline Los

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2012, 09:53:58 pm »
if I am truly a King (in that metaphorical sense often employed not only in Thelema but in many or most of world religions), then I care for the other not because I must but because I will and I will it because it would be against my nature as a King to be an arrogant little prick.
Maybe, but it also might very well be your will not to help the other guy. That is, maybe your will isn’t to be “an arrogant little prick” toward him but to do something else besides help him, like keep driving to make it to your friend’s birthday on time or whatever.

My point is that one cannot distinguish one’s True Will by reference to some mental idea about what one’s Will must be: one cannot – if one wants to practice Thelema intelligently – go around looking for opportunities to act like (what one thinks is) a “King.” One has to see through all such moral ideas.

“Helping someone out” isn’t any better or worse than not doing so. To think that is to make a difference between things. So the proper Thelemic practice is to endeavor to avoid looking at the world through the distorting lens of one's favored moral beliefs and instead look at one's actual inclinations, which may not line up with ideas one has imbibed about what one "should" be doing.

Remember, Liber AL tells us:

“For these fools of men and their woes care not thou at all!” (I:31)

And also:

"Beware therefore! Love all, lest perchance is a King concealed! Say you so? Fool! If he be a King, thou canst not hurt him.
"Therefore strike hard & low, and to hell with them, master!" (II:59-60)

Now these aren’t necessarily injunctions to go out and “care not” or to attack others, but they are simple statements of fact that no one is under any obligation to care for others or to avoid harming others. A “King” isn’t necessarily going to act in ways indistinguishable than how the Christian pastor tells his congregation to act. In fact, it’s likely he’ll act very differently.
"Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might."
--William Blake

Offline ignant666

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2012, 03:02:31 am »
Los
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This is a tangential point, but basically moral nihilism is the position that nothing is inherently good or bad in itself and/or that moral claims are meaningless. Antinomianism differs in that it’s a Christian position that one is saved through faith in Christ and that therefore, one is no longer bound by the law.
So you are saying that when AC says
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“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” What is this injunction? It is a generalisation of St. Augustine’s “Love, and do what thou wilt.” But in the Book of the Law, lest the hearer should be deluded into a spasm of antinomianism, there is a further explanation: “Love is the law, love under will.”
what he means is that Thelema is different from a specific Christian heretical doctrine that rejects all morality, but nonetheless does so for different reasons?
From the prior thread where I previously asked how you can reconcile AC's rejection of "antinomianism" with your claim that he embraced "moral nihilism":
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Please note that it is very, very clear in context that AC is not using "antinomianism" in the strict sense of Christian theology of an alleged doctrine that faith in Christ is sufficient to ensure salvation, & that those who have faith may safely violate all moral laws- he is using the term in a way that is precisely cognate with your "moral nihilism" and that refers only to that latter half of the Christian theological definition, the idea that a "new dispensation" (in this case, Thelema) allows us to "not give a fuck about [our] fellow man".
This certainly isn't remotely a tangential point (nor it is it nitpicking, changing the subject, or an effort at a "gotcha")- it is AC explicitly rejecting the argument that Thelema involves "moral nihilism".

Offline Los

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2012, 05:07:05 am »
it is AC explicitly rejecting the argument that Thelema involves "moral nihilism".
First, with regards to this specific quote, it seems to me that Crowley is denying – as he does elsewhere – that Thelema is a “do whatever you want” philosophy. The heresy of antinomianism is deciding that “grace” means that he's free to do whatever; a Thelemite is similarly in danger of thinking that “Do what thou wilt” means that he can just do whatever the hell he wants.

We’ve seen this sort of “Thelemic antinomianism” on these forums before, where people have argued that “Do what thou wilt” simply means “do what you want.” One sadly confused fellow used to loudly proclaim around here that since “wilt” is simply an antiquated way of saying “want,” then “Do what thou wilt” must mean do whatever you want!

“Love is the law, love under will” informs us that our acts of love – that is, our experience, since all experience is love (defined in Thelema as an act of union with some aspect of the universe/possibility/Nuit) – must be “under will.” This is the counterweight to Do what thou wilt: doing what thou wilt involves putting one’s love “under will.”

As Crowley says in Liber II:
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“Do what thou wilt” does not mean “Do what you like.” It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond.

Do what thou wilt—then do nothing else. Let nothing deflect thee from that austere and holy task. Liberty is absolute to do thy will; but seek to do any other thing whatever, and instantly obstacles must arise. Every act that is not in definite course of that one orbit is erratic, an hindrance. Will must not be two, but one.

Second, there’s a separate, methodological question of interpretation that needs to be addressed. I’ve spent a considerable time today preparing a post that brought together a number of strands from Crowley’s thought – spanning his entire career – and from Liber AL, and I tied these threads together with what I feel are strong close readings.

That’s not the sort of thing you can undo with a single, isolated quotation from Crowley, even if the quote you’ve selected means exactly what you think it means.

Since I have demonstrated a pattern in Crowley’s thought that leads to a consistent interpretation, in order to challenge my position, you would have to – at the very least – present a rival pattern in Crowley’s writing that itself yields a consistent interpretation. Then we could argue about which interpretation is the better one, etc. But you haven’t done that yet.

A far better quote you might have used, for example, would have been MWT, Letter XLIX (and from here on out in this post, I'm going to play devil's advocate by first presenting a quotation that could be used to argue against me, and then I will show how it actually does not challenge my argument):

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Robbery in any shape is a breach of the Law of Thelema. It is interference with the right of another to dispose of his property as he will; and if I did so myself, no matter with what tactical justification, I could hardly ask others to respect my own similar right.
(The basis of our criminal law is simple, by virtue of Thelema: to violate the right of another is to forfeit one's claim to protection in the matter involved.)
First, Crowley suggests not that robbery is morally wrong but that it violates the principles of Thelema. We’ll return to that point in a moment. Second, Crowley reveals in his parenthetical note that he is above not talking about Thelema per se, but a “criminal law” – that is, the secular law of a society – as informed by the Law of Thelema. He presents this criminal law and Thelema as separate things, grammatically, because they are.

I strongly disagree with Crowley’s suggestion that “interference with the right of another” is necessarily a “breach of the Law of Thelema,” and I disagree on the grounds that The Book of the Law contradicts this idea multiple times (as far as I’m concerned The Book trumps Crowley’s interpretation every time, if and when we can detect a discrepancy). The Law of Thelema is breached, however, when an individual restricts his own will by abandoning its path in order to meddle needlessly in someone else's affairs. In this sense, we can say that "interference" violates the Law of Thelema, but the thing that constitutes this intereference is departure from one's own will, not the violation of someone else's supposed rights.

I do agree that if we were to formulate a criminal law that revolved around the idea of avoiding violating specifically defined “rights” (on the grounds that our own “rights” could then be violated), then – in that case – robbery would be a violation of that law. But in this case, I would argue that such a criminal law isn’t aligned with the Law of Thelema, which clearly indicates that one’s own will is the whole of the Law (which means that if one’s actions are being dictated by anything else, then they are not in conformity with the Law by definition).

I would argue that it’s impossible to set up a temporal criminal law that enforces the Law of Thelema because the Law of Thelema isn’t supposed to be a social code of conduct (Crowley’s attempts to create social laws based on it notwithstanding). If the Law of Thelema requires each individual to follow his/her will (and only that will), then secular law would need a way of determining exactly what every person’s True Will is, in every situation, in order to properly judge cases (which, by the way, is exactly what Crowley proposes in "A Scientific Solution of the Problem of Government"). Of course, it's not possible to determine what someone else's True Will is, so it's not possible to create such a law.

The best way to read Crowley’s words above is as attempting to set up a criminal law that would be most conducive to a society of Thelemites, that would run the least risk of getting in the way of what would likely be the Will of the majority of the citizens. It’s still not a moral code in the sense that I was using the term in the OP.

And, it should go without saying, that even if Crowley is advocating a moral code here (which he’s not), this is but one isolated quote, written at the end of his life, in a letter to a rank beginner, explaining some of his ideas in the most basic, dare I say “dumbed down” form. Not the sort of thing that rises to the level of a substantial challenge to the case I presented.
"Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might."
--William Blake

Offline N.O.X

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2012, 05:56:50 am »
I just wanted to add that there is another modern usage of "antinomianism" that you two seem to be overlooking.  One that certain magical Lodges are actively working with: Transgression.  And with that, I respectfully bow out of this thread in (mostly) agreement with Los (Surprise!) except that........I DO "give a fuck about my fellow man".

"He who is illuminated with the Darkest Shadow will shine with the Brightest Light"-Andrew Chumbley

Offline N.O.X

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #11 on: December 14, 2012, 06:35:56 am »
Also, that I take Moral Nihilism to the next level: that of Cosmic Nihilism.
"He who is illuminated with the Darkest Shadow will shine with the Brightest Light"-Andrew Chumbley

Offline ignant666

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2012, 01:28:53 pm »
Los: I think you've provided a good explication of what AC was rejecting with your discussion of "Thelemic antinomianism"; I'm not sure you've explained the difference between "moral nihilism" and antinomianism.
As to your points on method: You mention that I ought to either "present a rival pattern in Crowley’s writing that itself yields a consistent interpretation" or agree with you; I will thus reiterate my views that AC was consistently inconsistent- there are lots of "patterns" (that often contradict one another). Also, quite frankly, I have neither the time nor the energy to produce posts of the length of some of yours. Nonetheless, the quotation I provided is directly on point- why would the argument be stronger if I showed he said this more often (as he does)?
Further as to method, you present another quotation about Thelema and ethics, and proceed to argue that this additional rejection of "moral nihilism" does not undercut your argument that AC consistently supports "moral nihilism" throughout his career because you "strongly disagree" with it (on multiple points) because of your interpretation of AL (one you admit differs from AC's) and for other reasons, and anyway it's just another isolated quotation , in a "dumbed down" version of Thelema. Don't you see that this is not a very strong argument as to what AC thought? It may well be a strong argument for what is "true" (like many of your arguments), but it's a very weak argument as a matter of interpreting a body of texts, since it's based on your arguments that you say contradict AC's.
This gets at another (very certainly tangential) point: when it is pointed out to you that AC disagreed with you on something, you say that he was insufficiently Thelemic on this point, and support this with arguments based on your interpretations of AL. Since I'm assuming your rejection of all spirituality means that AL is just something written by the man AC, from where does it derive this superior authority over other writings of the man AC? I assume this very elementary interpretive point is something you've addressed in the past & if so, please just point me that way, as I'm not trying to derail this discussion, but have been wondering about this.

Offline Los

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2012, 03:01:37 pm »
Reordering your points

Since I'm assuming your rejection of all spirituality means that AL is just something written by the man AC [or some other flesh-and-blood person –L], from where does it derive this superior authority over other writings of the man AC?
What we know about Thelema comes from three places: 1) The Book of the Law, 2) Crowley’s writings, 3) Other sources.

I consider Thelema to be completely defined by The Book of the Law, which is why it has the top authority when it comes to the question of what Thelema is. It’s not that it has some oogity-boogity magical spiritual authority. It’s just that it’s the text that defines Thelema, so when there’s any kind of conflict on the subject of defining Thelema, it wins.

Now, while Thelema is completely defined by Liber AL, it is not necessarily completely explained by Liber AL, since – as we all know – AL can be a cryptic little book with lots of nuance and obscure passages. Much of what we call Thelema comes from Crowley explaining the Book.

But Crowley obviously wasn’t infallible, and if we can demonstrate – with reference to the Book – that he was wrong about some aspect of Thelema, then the Book wins, as far as I’m concerned.

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You mention that I ought to either "present a rival pattern in Crowley’s writing that itself yields a consistent interpretation" or agree with you
Just to be clear, I never mentioned anything about “agreeing” with me. You’re free to agree or not agree. I was just talking about what a person would have to do in order to build a case against the one I’ve made.

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Nonetheless, the quotation I provided is directly on point- why would the argument be stronger if I showed he said this more often (as he does)?
Well, since you open your post by admitting that I “provided a good explication of what AC was rejecting” in that 8 lectures quote – and my explication is consistent with the position I’ve been arguing – then you implicitly acknowledge that the quotation doesn’t in fact contradict my argument, and while it might be generally relevant to a discussion of morality and Thelema, it’s not “directly on point” in terms of refuting my argument.

Similarly, the other quote from MWT I referenced is not – as I demonstrated – a quote about morality or Thelema per se, but a quote about the possibility of erecting a secular law on the basis of Thelema (distinguishable from Thelema itself). It’s another quote that might arguably be relevant to this topic generally, and it might seem to contradict the point I’m making, but when we actually sit down and look at it, it doesn’t challenge my argument.

So let’s review. I’ve pointed to a pattern in Crowley’s writing that seems to express a morally nihilistic position, with quotes that span his career, and I’ve further connected this pattern to a consistent and practically useful interpretation of Liber AL that coincides with Crowley’s own. I consider that argument, therefore, very strong.

I’ve additionally addressed two quotes – one offered by you and one brought up by myself – that seem to contradict my position, but I’ve indicated how they only seem to contradict my position and that they actually do not.

The only substantial possibility of a conflict is found in the quote offered by Palamedes: this quote might actually conflict with the position I’m arguing for, except that – as I argued – it’s not an instance of Crowley carefully distinguishing between moral relativism and moral nihilism (which are fairly close, philosophically), but an instance of Crowley insisting on the difference between Thelema and systems of moral absolutism (without carefully making the kind of philosophical distinction I’m making).

As to the question of why a counterargument would be stronger if it could demonstrate a pattern,  the answer is so obvious that I almost don’t know how to respond: if I argue that Thelema is a system of moral nihilism and support my claim with quotations from Crowley in work after work, spanning a great period of time, and from readings of Liber AL and make them all add up to a consistent, satisfying, practical interpretation, and then some other guy argues the opposite and supports it by pointing to a single quotation that sorta appears to say something a little different…which argument is more compelling?
"Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might."
--William Blake

Offline ignant666

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Re: Moral Nihilism in Thelema
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2012, 03:32:20 pm »
In your previous post, you have summed up what I think is the core of AC's rejection of "moral nihilism" or "antinomianism":
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In this sense, we can say that "interference" violates the Law of Thelema, but the thing that constitutes this intereference is departure from one's own will, not the violation of someone else's supposed rights.
As to AL's authority: but if it is simply a "cryptic little book" written by the man AC, how can he be wrong about some aspect of its meaning? I must rush to catch a train & must thus apologize for the brevity of this.