The Objectivity of Morality

A place for more formal debate. Be a spectator, vote on the winner, or start one of your own. Read about how the forum works.

Moderator: Carleas

The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Carleas » Mon Nov 05, 2012 5:13 am

Mo_ vs. Flannel Jesus on the subject of objective morality, based on this challenge. Mo_ will go first.

Your humble moderator will play 'judge', and I'll intervene as little as necessary to keep the debate on track.

Discuss the debate here.

Let the debate begin!
User Control Panel > Board preference > Edit display options > Display signatures: No.
Carleas
Magister Ludi
 
Posts: 5405
Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2005 8:10 pm
Location: Washington DC, USA

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:32 pm

Well, I'd edit this more... but then it'd never get done. So here it is...

Introduction:

There’s an old Sufi myth about 5 blind men who wanted to figure out what the deal with elephants was. According to legend, each of the blind men went and grabbed a part of an elephant, to investigate once and for all, the final truth about elephants. One blind man grabbed the leg of the elephant, and announced to his colleagues, “dudes, an elephant is like a pillar”. Another blind man grabbed the tail, and explained to his fellows that an elephant was more like a rope. Presumably in disagreement, the man holding the trunk remarked that it was much more like a tree branch. And the one pressed against the side of the elephant described it more like a wall. Finally, one blind man happened to grab the elephant’s cock, and described it like a fire hose. As one may imagine, there was much to debate and discuss amongst the 5 blind men. And there were disputes.

I recount this affair as it was recounted to me, in my youth, because I believe the situation we face in morality is similar to that of the 5 blind men. We have many disagreements amongst us, and perhaps many of us have a hold on some part of the truth, though none of us on the whole truth. But the point I intend to prove in what follows is that there is indeed an elephant, and whether it is most like a rope, or a tree branch, or a wall, or a cock---I leave it to others to take up those worthwhile arguments.

Of course, those who involve themselves in discussions about morality will doubtless have heard it said that the moral course of action is the one that proceeds from the maxim that can consistently be willed to guide the action of any other person—a universal law. We owe to Immanuel Kant a number of sufficiently pedantic re-formulations of the same general sentiment as the Golden Rule. But I have heard others say, “no, no, morality is about character, and we ought to exhibit the trait that avoids the vices of excess and deficiency in any given situation”. Fine and good, I say. Others are more legalistically minded, and assume that morality has a contractual basis, in the agreements made between people. Still others reduce morality, (and considerations such as the ones above), to considerations of pleasure and pain—thinking that there they have found the core of what’s intrinsically valuable to creatures such as us.

Just as with the blind men, there is much to debate and dispute among the proponents of any of these theories. About this, I will say very little. I argue only that there exists an elephant, if not two or three or four. At this point, it’s time to lay some conceptual groundwork…

Important concepts:

Morality:
Quite simply, morality is the topic that concerns how you ought to act. Period.

No doubt, someone will at this point object, and say, “Yo, then what’s prudence?” To that, I will accuse my objector of operating with a phantom distinction—a distinction without a difference. In what follows, it’ll become clear that to say the prudent course of action is objectively determinable, but not so for morality, is like to object to the claim that you are a professional whore, but concede that you’ll sleep with whomever, for money.

There was no distinction betwixt prudence and morality for the ancient Greeks. The distinction arose in the religious Dark Ages, where superstition carried the day. And the distinction was essentially between that which is good for you in this world (prudence), versus that which is good for you in the world to come—i.e., God’s world (morality). Ladies and gentlemen, we are not in the Dark Ages, and we needn’t carry with us the distinctions of a more superstitious era, particularly when they cause so many needless confusions. Clearly, if one thinks there is an important distinction to be had betwixt prudence and morality, then it is incumbent on the person thinking so to argue on behalf of it.

While I think there is no essential distinction between prudence and morality—both concern how you ought to act—I do think there is a difference of degree. We can say that morality concerns how you ought to act when how you ought to act matters most to you. In other words, we use the term ‘moral’ when the stakes really matter. Thus, whether you masturbate with your left hand and or your right is not a moral issue, though perhaps can be a question of prudence, and even some importance. But whether you will save someone’s life with your left hand or you right is a moral issue, and it would be a serious moral failure to attempt with your left hand when you are right-handed, and your right hand is freely accessible. –Someone’s life is at stake man.

Perhaps there are still objectors. Suppose someone wants to say that prudence is what concerns you, and morality is what concerns other people. That can’t be right, since if I break a promise even to myself, and let myself down about some life-project I have, that is a moral failing. I’m entirely willing to entertain other attempts at an essential distinction, but recognize that any burden is not in my court. Let’s move on…

Let me reiterate the point: Morality is about how you ought to act. That makes it an inherently practical topic.

Cultural relativism:

Our discussion here is a normative one. That means; we're not talking about the descriptive truth that different cultures have different values. That's hardly worth arguing about. Cultural relativism is the view that actual normative force is generated by culture, or "inter-subjectively" if you prefer. This is why if you are a cultural relativist, you are committed to the view that genocide in Nazi Germany was actually morally right---i.e., something that ought to be done.

Of course Nazi genocide doesn't meet with your values, but if you are a relativist, your position is that if it meets with the Nazi values, then in that domain it's morally right----not descriptively (which is an obvious statement of fact), but normatively. And moreover, the relativist is committed to the view that there's not a single consideration you can levy upon someone who doesn't already agree with you. That’s because there’s no proper domain of moral facts to appeal to.

Moral skepticism:

I take it that my opponent is not a relativist, but is someone who denies that there is normative force anywhere in the world, at all. In other words, it’s not that morality is relative to culture, or individuals—it’s that there is no truth about morality whatsoever. Call it, ‘moral nihilism’, or ‘moral skepticism’ if we’re more epistemically humble. Though, this is a position that can be pushed back into a subjectivist/relativist view quite easily—since moral skeptics tend to deliberate about their actions, and when they do, their actions betray their theory. (And morality is inherently practical).

Moral realism and objectivism:

For clarity, I am two things: (1) a moral realist, and (2) an objectivist. Being a moral realist entails 3 things:

1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
2. Ethical propositions are truth-apt.
3. Ethical propositions are made "true" or "false" by facts about the world, independent of subjective opinion.

#3 is what makes me an objectivist. The goal here is to explain why moral realism is the more plausible view than thinking there’s no fact of the matter about how you ought to act. A few more clarifications, first.

Subjectivity and Subject-dependence:

There is one absolutely essential distinction that needs to be made before we get into the arguments. It is the distinction betwixt “subjectivity” and “subject-dependence”, since this may come up. The truths of many things rely on a subject to know them, and are true based on the kind of brain the subject has (such as math, or science, or logic---and ethics). That's subject-dependence. Something is subjective if its truth is based on opinion. Math, ethics, and so on, are subject-dependent, but not subjective.

Context-dependency:

A few brief distinctions: I will not argue for universal moral principles. Nor will I argue that there is only one right answer to any given moral question. I will simply argue that there can be a wrong answer, and that you can be wrong about it, regardless of what your opinion, or culture’s opinion, happens to be. Morality (how you ought to act) depends importantly on facts about the context. Facts justify how you ought to act.

Objectivity is not at odds with context-dependency. Suppose you think pain is objectively bad, and pleasure is objectively good. (This is just an example). One and the same action could be morally right in one culture, and not in another. That’s because one and the same action could cause pleasure in one culture, and pain in another---just based on contextual factors about both cultures. This is not at odds with the objective badness of pain, or the objective goodness of pleasure.

Another example: You can have vastly different cultures, and predominant values within those cultures, that are significantly different than elsewhere. This is also not at odds with objective morality. Suppose the ideals of “equality” and “freedom” are both objectively valuable. (Again, the claim is not that they are, this is just an example). One culture could maximize “equality”---which always comes at the expense of “freedom”. This would mean that in that culture, everyone was equally well-off. The other culture could maximize “freedom”---which always comes at the expense of “equality”. This would mean some are very well-off, and some are very poorly-off. These cultures are incommensurable. That does not mean morality is subjective---because there is no conflict here with the idea that “equality” and “freedom” are objectively valuable. We do not need, even, to think of these cultures as incommensurable---it could just be that the same level of welfare exists in both, just with different distributions.

Many things taken to be clearly objective are incommensurable. For instance, some lengths are incommensurable, such as the length of the leg and the hypotenuse of an isosceles, right triangle. There are a host of other clearly objective things in which you find incommensurability. And morality is just one of them.
(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incommensurability/).

Neither of these cases brings you anywhere near cultural relativism. What cultural relativism says, is that what makes something right or wrong, in the first place, is just what the culture says. And as you can see, in the above cases of context-dependency, nothing about how you ought to act is invented by culture.

If objective facts are actually doing the justificatory work, then objectivity is absolutely entailed. You can certainly reference objective facts, without the objective facts doing any justificatory work---and that won’t entail objectivity. But if you think morality is justified based on objective facts, then you think morality is objective. This should be clear…

Arguments for objective morality:

Here’s a simple argument to the conclusion that moral realism is more plausible, just based on your experience.

P1. You experience that pain is irreducibly bad.
(In other words, pain itself isn’t bad because of something else; it’s simply bad.)
P2. Pain is real.
P3. If pain is bad, and real, then there is at least one thing intrinsically disvaluable.
C. Therefore, pain is intrinsically disvaluable.


You have good reasons to accept these premises. About P1, any number of experiments can be brought to bear to demonstrate its truth. Try having someone kick you in the balls. Or stab you with a fork. Or bend the knuckles on your fingers backwards. These are experiments you can do yourself, at home. I don’t advise it though. If P2 is not plausible to you after conducting such experiments, it’s likely because its self-evidently true.

A few comments about pain: Pain is a physiological condition, which means it has a physiological referent, and that means that it is in principle empirically quantifiable by science. In order to claim that it's not, you have to claim that pain is not a physiological condition, which would make it something like a spiritual substance.

Here’s another simple argument—very similar—based on experience.

P1. You think moral sentences are sometimes true.
P2. A sentence is true only if the truth-making relation holds between it and the thing that makes it true.
P3. Thus, true moral sentences are true only because there holds the truth-making relation between them and the things that make them true.
C. The things that make some moral sentences true must exist.


This argument is the equivalent of the first one, it just has nothing to do necessarily with pain. It could be about anything you think is intrinsically valuable or disvaluable. I suppose P1 would be the most objectionable to a moral skeptic. Do a thought-experiment: Imagine that I am carving your eyes out with a fork, out of the kindness of my heart, that I would not have you see what I am about to do to the ones you love. You think that what I’m doing isn’t kind at all. On the contrary, perhaps you think I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Plausible?

What’s the point, here? Well, this leads to another simple argument:

P1. You talk, think, and act as if morality were real.
P2. Common-sense would tell you there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t.
P3. The best explanation of common-sense, and how you talk/think/act is that there are moral facts.
P4. The best explanation is the one we consider true.
C. Moral facts exist.


There are very clear cases where we want to say that our judgements are more than mere matters of opinion. Moral judgements are often like the above. Imagine someone who risks his life to save a helpless suffering person, when no one is watching, and no one will hear about it. Should we call that brave? Yea, probably. Is it just our opinion? ---Doesn't seem like it, does it? Imagine someone raping and killing while he makes their loved ones watch. Should we call that cruel? Yea, probably. Is it just our opinion? ---Doesn't seem like it, does it?

And surely there are less clear cases, where we're not really sure what to say, about whether our opinion is doing the deciding. The reason we're not sure in those cases, is because people disagree. However, the fact that people disagree is no reason to think that all judgements are relative---only that it's "too close to call", that the values in play are incomparable, or etc. But, in clear cases like the ones above---it becomes obvious that the burden of proof is in the relativist’s court. So, offer an explanation as to how the above cases really are a matter of opinion---that'll put the burden back in my court.

Here’s an odd argument, that I’m not sure what to say about…

P1. If you attempt to describe a (im)moral act (e.g., rape), then your description refers to cognitive beliefs about objective (mind-independent) facts in the world. (E.g., the pain caused, the autonomy denied, the agreement broken, etc…).
P2. Your description of the (im)moral act will not make reference to your subjective mental phenomena (i.e., desires, wishes, past history).
P3. Therefore, (from P1 and P2) the simpler explanation of "morality" will make reference only to cognitive beliefs about objective (mind-independent) facts.
P4. The simpler explanation is the better one. (Ockham’s razor)
C. Therefore, morality is objective.


If you’re a relativist, here’s a disjunctive syllogism you should consider…

P1. Morality is either objective or it's not (i.e., it's relative somehow).
P2. The best arguments for relativism are wrong.
C. Therefore, morality is objective.


Why think the best arguments for relativism are wrong (as P2 says)? Well, here’s the best arguments for relativism:

#1
Argument #1:
P1. Different cultures have different moral norms.
C. Therefore, the truth of moral norms is relative to cultures.

If I were to run this argument in the case of any disputed scientific proposition, (and its disputants), I would rightly be booed off the stage. And nobody running such a bizarre argument is likely to want to allow the converse, namely:

P1. Different cultures agree about most moral norms.
C. Therefore, the truth of most moral norms is universal.


This is also a terrible argument, but it’s what a “relativist” is committed to if he commits himself to the first one. At this point, I could not think up another reason to be a “relativist”. So, I researched. I found the following, which is called the “Cultural Tolerance Argument”. It runs as follows:

#2
Argument #2:

P1. We should be tolerant of other cultures.
P2. To believe other cultures can be morally wrong is intolerant.
C. Therefore, moral relativism is true.


I would be ashamed of myself to adhere to an argument to the relativity of morality that contains as its first premise a moral premise (about what we should do). What happens next is bizarre… the truth of the conclusion would make the first premise false. And the truth of the first premise would make the conclusion false! Absurd!

This all supports P2 of the original disjunctive syllogism.

Want a constructive dilemma?

P1. Morality is either objective or its not.
P2. If it is objective, then we can consistently have productive discussions with other people/cultures and speak meaningfully (without talking past each other). We can even criticize each other, legitimately. We can do things we should be able to do, like reflect on our past, claim to have grown, etc. In fact, we do these things anyways.
C. Therefore, morality is objective.


Modus tollens?

P1. If cultural relativism is true, then genocide was moral in Nazi Germany.
P2. Genocide was not moral then. (This would be question begging, I suppose... except it's true under any moral theory ever talked about)
C. Therefore, cultural relativism is false.


Let’s put aside the arguments right now, and just talk about the benefits of morality being objective.

1. One benefit to claiming objectivity is to give you a reason to discuss moral questions with anybody else, in the first place. What would be the use of two scientists comparing notes, if they lived in utterly different empirical worlds? --But that's the case, (between individuals or cultures), when all normative force is just something you make up, with no boundaries for correctness. Oh, sure, you can go and tell someone, "I like this", "I like that", but you haven't a single consideration to offer a foreigner to care about what you like, or to keep listening to you. If you had something to appeal to in common with a foreigner, that would be grounds for going beyond your subjectivity.

2. Beliefs have consequences. Beliefs have consequences on how you act. If you honestly believe that actual normative force is generated by cultures, or individuals, that will lead you to be tolerant when tolerance is a bad thing. Suppose you see some cultural practice that someone might think is wrong. If you actually believe that normative force is generated by cultures, then that culture is doing exactly what they ought to do. And you know that, because that's exactly what your theory says. It's not a descriptive claim, it's a normative one. That's your belief. And it has consequences. You simply cannot respond by saying, "well my culture thinks it's wrong, and that I should impose". That's inconsistent with your relativism... it's like saying, "yes, cultures generate normative force... but just not that one". And if you ever feel justified in imposing to stop the stoning, or whatever, you are basically acting as if your culture was somehow more right than another---and that would be inconsistent.

3. How do you judge your own culture, if morality is a cultural construct? Your culture would be supplying the criteria by which to judge it's own criteria. And so what's the reason to ever think you could improve---if what counts as an improvement is defined by the culture. You'll likely say that, "oh, there's subcultures, and so small groups, and so on". ...Then I ask the exact same question about the subcultures and small groups. IOW your view is a recipe for not being a philosopher, and not reflecting on why you think what you do---because the justification of it is that you just happen to think it.

4. Another benefit is that claiming objectivity actually makes sense of how you feel, the phenomenology, how you talk, how you think, and how other people do. This doesn't make morality objective, but it does make it more likely that morality is objective. What's the use of a theory that's inconsistent with what you actually seem to think when you talk about morality?

5. Criticizing others. Allow me to emphasize: If you believe morality is subjective, then you act hypocritically any time you ever judge someone else's morality. That's because you believe that the source of any normative force is the subject himself, so for you to go and impose a view on some other subject you would violate/contradict your position that that subject is the source of his own normative force.

Someone may be wondering: What physical sense do we use to perceive objective morality?

I think there’s two general ways of answering this. The first would be the Rationalist’s way, who would tell you that your question is misguided or incoherent, or something along those lines. And the Rationalist might ask you what physical sense you use to perceive logic, or math—and then ask you if you think either of those are objective, (and of course they are).

But I’m inclined to think it’s a good question, and tell you that all 5 senses are open to you to use, just as you would if you were a scientist. Think about this answer by analogy to science. When you repeatedly observe the same thing, time after time, you can formulate a scientific law. Of course, as you know, there’s no physical sense used to perceive a law of nature. Doing science requires certain assumptions—that nature is orderly, that natural phenomena is causally related, etc.

It’s open to anyone to also adopt a moral law, or a law about value; something like, “pain is bad and pleasure is good”. What sort of empirical experiments would bear this out? Well, why don’t you go and stab yourself with a knife. And another time try drinking poison. And another time have someone kick you in the balls. And another time try going without food or sleep for 5 days. These things will give you pain. You’ll experience and observe them. If you want to say there’s no one sense used in all of this, that’s fine. Likewise, you can do these things to other people, and take a survey. In every case, you’ll find that you think pain is bad, and pleasure is good. And other people will tell you this, too.

Another answer in the empiricist line: Many scientific theories make ontological commitments about things they can’t observe in any way—things like quarks. They do this because of their explanatory role in explaining natural phenomena. Likewise, in morality you could do something similar with moral facts, to explain why you think and talk and act like an objectivist about morality—despite when you step back afterwards and say, “nah, it was just my opinion—yes, I said the painting was beautiful because of the brushstrokes and so on, but I really meant, ‘I was just making shit up in my head’”.

In conclusion, it's most plausible to think the elephant exists, whether it's like a rope, wall, pillar, or cock.








I am a river to my people.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Tue Nov 06, 2012 9:50 am

Wow, that was wordy.

There's a MAJOR contradiction in your post which needs reconciling, so I will limit my post to explaining this contradiction:

You equate morality to being prudent in "situations that really matter" or something like that, towards the beginning of the post. You're using prudence, in this case, I think to mean something akin to Acting Practically. Without a precise definition of what Acting Practically means to you, I will take it to mean "Maximizing expected utility (or at least attempting to do so)"

So, morality is maximizing personal expected utility in "situations that really matter." Ignoring, for the moment, the sloppiness of that definition, let me point out the more major error that comes from your post:

In the rest of your post, you make examples of things that you think, as far as I can tell, are "immoral" but you DON'T refer to how those actions relate to the expected utility of the actor as all, as if that relationship doesn't matter for morality.

Imagine that I am carving your eyes out with a fork, out of the kindness of my heart, that I would not have you see what I am about to do to the ones you love. You think that what I’m doing isn’t kind at all. On the contrary, perhaps you think I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Plausible?


If carving out my eyes maximizes your expected utility, then regardless of what I perhaps think about what you should do, it's certainly moral for you to do it. By your definition.

So which is it? Is morality just being prudent in situations that "really matter to you," or is it something different? You claim that it's prudent at first, but your examples betray your real beliefs. You're arguing using one definition, but your intuition leads you to use another. You don't truly believe that morality is prudence. I don't think you do. That's the definition you use so as to give yourself some philosophical leverage, but if you're not going to consistently use that definition, you can't have the leverage that comes with it.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:13 am

Hello my mortal enemy, (..nah j/k)

Yes, my post was long---but I highlighted the arguments you needed to address in blue, put them in syllogistic form so that they'd be easy to recognize and the assumptions explicit, and as far as I can tell they weren't overly convoluted. You could have skipped to the blue, if you wanted.

Your main (and only) criticism is that there was a major contradiction in something I said. I didn't notice a contradiction in what you pointed out---but what I think you want is for me to clarify how some of the examples I used are examples of not "maximizing expected utility of the actor".

Firstly, recognize that "maximizing expected utility of the actor" is your definition of prudence, and thus morality---(unless you're going to eventually argue for an essential distinction between them). It's not mine, and I think one possible strength of my arguments is that they apply no matter how you define prudence, or morality, or whether you think there's an essential distinction between them.

fj wrote:you make examples of things that you think, as far as I can tell, are "immoral" but you DON'T refer to how those actions relate to the expected utility of the actor as all, as if that relationship doesn't matter for morality.


As far as I can tell, this is your major problem with what I wrote. So let's address it. The example in question is one of me stabbing someone's eyes out with a fork. And you want to know why doing so is not going to "maximize expected utility for me". I wonder if my back is against the wall here, and that carving someone's eyes out with a fork really is what's best for me. I think you should recognize that the issue in this thread is with whether or not there's an objective answer to that question, not whether it's objectively true or objectively false in this case. But regardless, I think carving someone's eyes out with a fork is usually against your self interest (or "maximized...etc).

1. Humans are pack animals, and the pack tends not to look kindly on some member who treats others that way---whether there's social institutions, laws, or not. That's one reason to think being a serial killer is against your self-interest.
2. You're a social animal---which means you flourish and do better when relationships are possible for you. Relationships are less possible for you when you carve people's eyes out. People tend not to like that. Which means, carving someone's eyes out is likely not in your self-interest.
3. In our own day and age, you're likely to feel guilt, be shunned, be locked up, or have others against you. ---Again, not in your self-interest.

Obviously, this does not exhaust the reasons why I think you ought not carve someone's eyes out with a fork----but I'm just working with your own definition of prudence.

So which is it? Is morality just being prudent in situations that "really matter to you," or is it something different? You claim that it's prudent at first, but your examples betray your real beliefs. You're arguing using one definition, but your intuition leads you to use another.

Again, I explicitly did not take on a definition of morality. And my arguments are to the conclusion that you have better reasons to think morality objective---regardless of how you define it. I don't think my examples betray any essential difference, and I'm not sure where I've been equivocal with the particular definitions that I didn't offer.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:08 am

Absolutely none of your "syllogisms" in blue are good. Most of them are begging the question, some of them have clearly false premises, some are even nonsequiturs. I'll address them now.

P1. You experience that pain is irreducibly bad.
(In other words, pain itself isn’t bad because of something else; it’s simply bad.)
P2. Pain is real.
P3. If pain is bad, and real, then there is at least one thing intrinsically disvaluable.
C. Therefore, pain is intrinsically disvaluable.

This one was the closest that you got to a reasonable argument. Fails in the case of masochists. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and most certainly some people value pain. One example against is all I need to negate the "intrinsically" qualifier.

P1. You think moral sentences are sometimes true.
P2. A sentence is true only if the truth-making relation holds between it and the thing that makes it true.
P3. Thus, true moral sentences are true only because there holds the truth-making relation between them and the things that make them true.
C. The things that make some moral sentences true must exist.

P1 is false

P1. You talk, think, and act as if morality were real.
P2. Common-sense would tell you there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t.
P3. The best explanation of common-sense, and how you talk/think/act is that there are moral facts.
P4. The best explanation is the one we consider true.
C. Moral facts exist.

P1 is questionable.
P3 is false (and a bit nonsensical)

P1. If you attempt to describe a (im)moral act (e.g., rape), then your description refers to cognitive beliefs about objective (mind-independent) facts in the world. (E.g., the pain caused, the autonomy denied, the agreement broken, etc…).
P2. Your description of the (im)moral act will not make reference to your subjective mental phenomena (i.e., desires, wishes, past history).
P3. Therefore, (from P1 and P2) the simpler explanation of "morality" will make reference only to cognitive beliefs about objective (mind-independent) facts.
P4. The simpler explanation is the better one. (Ockham’s razor)
C. Therefore, morality is objective.

This is just a clusterfuck of an argument.
I don't think you know what "simplicity" is currently taken to mean in regards to Ockham's razor. It's a word people like to throw around a bit without understanding it, because they think they understand it. "God is the simplest explanation for the universe, therefore he exists." Simplicity isn't as simple as that. It's not about word-count -- the simplest explanation is not necessarily the explanation that takes the least words to describe.

Simplicity is about the algorithms necessary to simulate the thing in question. Read Here.

And besides, we don't need an explanation of morality. We don't need an explanation for something we haven't even established is true or exists. We don't need an explanation for unicorns. We don't need an explanation for goblins. You only need to explain things after you've reasonably demonstrated their existence. You don't need to explain nonexistent things -- so until you've demonstrated clearly the truthfulness/existence of objective morality (and you haven't), it doesn't require an explanation.

P1. Morality is either objective or it's not (i.e., it's relative somehow).
P2. The best arguments for relativism are wrong.
C. Therefore, morality is objective.

I don't even need to say what's wrong with this.

P1. Different cultures agree about most moral norms.
C. Therefore, the truth of most moral norms is universal.

Ditto

P1. Morality is either objective or its not.
P2. If it is objective, then we can consistently have productive discussions with other people/cultures and speak meaningfully (without talking past each other). We can even criticize each other, legitimately. We can do things we should be able to do, like reflect on our past, claim to have grown, etc. In fact, we do these things anyways.
C. Therefore, morality is objective.

Conclusion doesn't follow from the premises.

P1. If cultural relativism is true, then genocide was moral in Nazi Germany.
P2. Genocide was not moral then. (This would be question begging, I suppose... except it's true under any moral theory ever talked about)
C. Therefore, cultural relativism is false.

I'm not arguing for cultural relativism, but if I were, P2 is begging the question.

And I still maintain that while you explicitly equate morality to "prudence when it really matters," I'm pretty certain that when you say "something is immoral" you're NOT saying "it was imprudent of him to do that." I believe your definition, then, is a disingenuous intellectualized definition that you don't actually use except when you're trying to prove something.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:50 am

Flannel Jesus wrote:
P1. You experience that pain is irreducibly bad.
(In other words, pain itself isn’t bad because of something else; it’s simply bad.)
P2. Pain is real.
P3. If pain is bad, and real, then there is at least one thing intrinsically disvaluable.
C. Therefore, pain is intrinsically disvaluable.

This one was the closest that you got to a reasonable argument. Fails in the case of masochists. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and most certainly some people value pain. One example against is all I need to negate the "intrinsically" qualifier.


It doesn't fail at all in the case of masochists. In fact, you can recognize this in yourself, since there's the exact same tendencies in everyone as in the hardcore masochist. Have you ever played a rough and exhausting sport? Hockey is my go-to example. We did nothing but skate skate skate, get hit by bodies, pucks, exhausted... it's painful. There's no question but that playing competitive hockey is nothing but bodily pain. It was accompanied by what you can think of as a sort of psychological pleasure---which outweighed the bodily pain. I felt better than others, I felt recognized, I felt accepted, among other things. But make no mistake: the pain is not thereby good and valued, it's just simply outweighed by what pleasure is involved. If you think you would take pain for no greater pleasure, and only for the fact that it is painful---then you're incoherent.

This is what's going on in the case of the masochist---and it doesn't conflict at all with the argument above. We can hypothesize about what psychological pleasure is going on, in the case of the masochist, but first you need to make it more plausible that someone actually likes pain for no other reason than that it's painful. Do you have a better example?

P1. You think moral sentences are sometimes true.

P1 is false

"You should not carve my eyes out with a fork". You don't think that's a true sentence? Any reason?

And besides, we don't need an explanation of morality. We don't need an explanation for something we haven't even established is true or exists. We don't need an explanation for unicorns. We don't need an explanation for goblins. You only need to explain things after you've reasonably demonstrated their existence. You don't need to explain nonexistent things

Whether or not morality exists is quite obviously that it does. The only interesting question is whether or not it is subjective, and how it is to be explained. You can't go a single day without wondering about why you're doing what you're doing, and whether you should keep doing it. Maybe one day you'll have some part of your brain lobotomized, and manage that. But as it is, morality is the topic about 'how you ought to act'----and if 'how you ought' to act didn't matter to you, you'd have gone extinct with your hairy ancestors crazy uncles.

Morality may be a fiction, some strange language domain that doesn't correspond to any set of particles of matter in the universe---but to claim it doesn't exist is ridiculous. Clearly, if I ask you whether you should go throw your daughter off a bridge, you'll have an inclination about whether you think that's good or bad. You have thoughts about how you ought to act. The only interesting question is about whether there are right answers to those questions.

In the rest of your post, you took an argument and claimed you didn't need to say what was wrong with it. They you took the argument that I made on behalf of someone who would disagree with me, and you said the same thing. It didn't seem to matter what the actual argument was, and you didn't seem to care to say what was wrong with it. As a result, I think this is a good time to end the debate.

I'm pretty certain that when you say "something is immoral" you're NOT saying "it was imprudent of him to do that." I believe your definition, then, is a disingenuous intellectualized definition that you don't actually use except when you're trying to prove something.

That's exactly what I'm saying. And it strikes me as lazy on your part to call it disingenuous when presumably you must think it would be so easy to find a case that pulls them apart. Yes, carving eyes out with a fork didn't work for you, but perhaps you ould try harder in your own defense... give it another crack...

Otherwise, nice debatin ya.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:30 am

Speculating on the psychology of masochists is outside the realm of this thread. You said pain is intrinsically disvaluable. It's clear that some people value some kinds of pain -- and some people certainly value the pain of others. The statement would be slightly more feasible if you said that pain is intrinsically disvaluable to the person experiencing the pain.

---

"You should not carve my eyes out with a fork" is not necessarily a universally true statement. Since you're the one arguing that morality is about prudence, YOU have to prove that there is no conceivable scenario in which carving my eyes out with a fork is the prudent option. I don't think you can prove that, because I can quite easily think of scenarios in which it is a prudent option.

Like, if you very much want to eat someone's eyes, and you have no sense of empathy/compassion/guilt, and you have made sure you won't get caught (or don't care if you get caught), and I'm tied up in front of you -- if all of those things are true simultaneously, seems like a pretty good option to carve out my eyes and eat them. Seems pretty...prudent.

But you're saying it's never prudent. Why?

----

If it's obvious that morality exists, then wtf is this debate for? Why don't you just post a video of morality? Or a pic? I've never seen one before.

Again, generalizing morality to "how you ought to act" is disingenuous. Whether I ought to masturbate with my left or right hand is, as you said, not a matter of morality. Morality is CLEARLY limited to something more specific than that. You're not being clear on your word usage, being flippy-floppy, meaning one thing here and another there. If you can't even clearly define what you're talking about, then I agree, let's end the debate here.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:38 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:You said pain is intrinsically disvaluable. It's clear that some people value some kinds of pain -- and some people certainly value the pain of others.

That's absolutely wrong---and you do nothing to justify it, or make it even seem plausible. Nobody values pain, just for the fact that it's painful. The fact that an action causes pain is a reason for not doing it. People value the things I said you can't get without some pain. That doesn't mean they value pain itself. If I have to eat broccoli before a chocolate cake---it doesn't mean I like broccoli.

"You should not carve my eyes out with a fork" is not necessarily a universally true statement.
No shit. Morality has nothing to do with universality----we're arguing about objectivity in this thread.

Since you're the one arguing that morality is about prudence, YOU have to prove that there is no conceivable scenario in which carving my eyes out with a fork is the prudent option.
There can be many conceivable scenarios where carving your eyes out is the right thing to do. It saves humanity, for example. Universality is not objectivity. Keep them straight. This was in my first post.

If it's obvious that morality exists, then wtf is this debate for? Why don't you just post a video of morality? Or a pic? I've never seen one before.
Man, I can imagine you saying the same thing in the case of numbers, and me thinking the same thing. You seem to think a moral fact is a thing like a unicorn or a goblin. Why...I have no idea. Moral facts are ordinary facts about the world that give you a reason to act one way rather than another.

Again, generalizing morality to "how you ought to act" is disingenuous. Whether I ought to masturbate with my left or right hand is, as you said, not a matter of morality. Morality is CLEARLY limited to something more specific than that. You're not being clear on your word usage, being flippy-floppy, meaning one thing here and another there. If you can't even clearly define what you're talking about, then I agree, let's end the debate here.

I said exactly what morality is, and about its place along a continuum with prudence. The word usage is uttery clear, it hasn't changed, and it hasn't been equivocated on. You act like I'm somehow on a fringe because I think morality is about "how you ought to act"----but not a single person has ever defined it differently in the history of philosophy. You toss out some pretty extreme accusations and support them with nothing.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 6:53 pm

Of course morality is about how you ought to act, but it's not merely about how you ought to act. This is what you said -- "But as it is, morality is the topic about 'how you ought to act'" Implying that any time we're talking about how one ought to act, we're talking about morality. That's the implication of your statement. And that's clearly not true. We can talk about how we ought to act in loads of scenarios without talking about morality -- again, by your own admission. So, can we agree that morality is not just the topic about how you ought to act? Can we agree that it's actually a more specific sub-topic of the broader topic about how you ought to act?

Now, when you say "morality exists," and then you defend that statement by saying, "You can't go a single day without wondering about why you're doing what you're doing, and whether you should keep doing it," that really, really confuses me. "Morality exists" to you is the same thing as saying "people sometimes wonder whether they should do something." That's a pretty shallow form of existence. Yes, people sometimes wonder what they should do. I completely agree. If that's what you want "morality exists" to mean...I guess I can agree to that, though I'll cringe while doing it. It's a weird use of the term, but...I guess tentatively acceptable. I'd prefer if you left "existence" out and just explicitly said "people sometimes wonder what they should do," as that would be more direct and avoid confusions. Most people mean something different by the phrase "morality exists," I'm pretty sure.

In fact, that last suggestion, about leaving 'existence' out of it -- if we continue, that's actually going to be a very important motif. Reducing your terminology into more clear, precise terms that have no ambiguity.

So, if you want to continue, I'd appreciate it if you removed some of the ambiguity about what morality itself means. We can't properly talk about the existence/objectivity of something if what we're talking about isn't even clearly defined. Do you want to stick with some form of the definition, "Prudence in situations that really matter"? If so, prudence HOW? Personal expected utility? Personal expected value? Group expected utility? Group expected value? Upon what criteria is prudence judged? And how are we judging what "really matters" as well?

Now, I want to throw a caveat out there, something that wasn't explicitly stated before: if you define morality in such a way that it's objective, but not binding (ie it doesn't really matter if I behave morally or not), or the definition has some other clear failure along those lines, you've not won. You've just defined morality into a useless but trivially 'objective' corner.

For example, if I define moral actions as "Those actions which have the highest likelihood in resulting in me getting twinkies," then the case could certainly be made that that form of morality is 'objective' in the sense that some actions have objectively higher likelihoods of me getting twinkies than others. But it's so far removed from anything anybody else means by morality, and there's no sense of binding-ness to it, so that wouldn't be any sort of convincing victory in the case of this debate. Proving morality is objective in such a way is like proving God exists by defining God as a Payless Shoe Store.

So, even if your definition does turn out to be demonstrably 'objective', whichever definition you choose, it may not hold in other areas of moral relevance -- like being binding, or remotely resembling anything anybody else means by morality. If you prove that it's objective, but have to define it into uselessness to do so, then you've not won.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 7:54 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:Of course morality is about how you ought to act, but it's not merely about how you ought to act. This is what you said -- "But as it is, morality is the topic about 'how you ought to act'" Implying that any time we're talking about how one ought to act, we're talking about morality. That's the implication of your statement.

That's exactly right. And if you think that's clearly not true, then feel free to explain the difference. Morality is about how you ought to act, period. I'm just using the predominant view in the history of philosophy. At the start, you wanted me to explain to you what morality was. Now, having had it explained quite clearly to you, you want to say that that's not what it is, (as if you didn't really want it explained to you at the beginning), and you're also saying that whatever morality is, it doesn't exist. This is clearly inconsistent on your part.

I don't think it can get any simpler or more straightforward than defining 'morality' as the topic concerning how you ought to act, and 'objectivity' as the position that there are right and wrong answers to those questions, independently of your opinion. What could be more clear, unambiguous, and straightforward? Now what you're asking me to do is argue on behalf of a moral theory---i.e., a specific set of criteria for answering moral questions, and argue that it is better than other moral theories. I'm happy to do that, but it's a tangent from the point of this debate, because the only way to object to any given moral theory is by implicitly assuming that morality is objective, in order to argue that it's objectively false. My arguments work regardless of your theory. If you want a specific criteria, take the pain argument---and my response to the poor objection of masochism.

That's a pretty shallow form of existence. Yes, people sometimes wonder what they should do. I completely agree. If that's what you want "morality exists" to mean...I guess I can agree to that, though I'll cringe while doing it. It's a weird use of the term, but...I guess tentatively acceptable. I'd prefer if you left "existence" out and just explicitly said "people sometimes wonder what they should do," as that would be more direct and avoid confusions. Most people mean something different by the phrase "morality exists," I'm pretty sure.

I'm pretty sure they don't. And you can verify this by answering whether you think the sentence, "You should not stab my eyes out with a fork" is true. If the answer is that you don't think that's true, then please offer some sort of explanation----because explanations are required when you say outlandish things, go against ordinary languge, go against ordinary phenomenology, ordinary experience, etc. By your rationale, these strange bizarre things called "numbers" don't exist---they're like goblins and gremlins. And that doesn't strike you as odd.

If you prove that it's objective, but have to define it into uselessness to do so, then you've not won.
You keep thinking I've committed to a specific moral theory, but there's no point theorizing in the first place, unless you take morality to be objective---and the arguments I've made work regardless of what you theory you use. If I tell you that you always have a reason to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, are you going to say, "aha, no sometimes you should maximize pain and minimize pleasure"---because that's incoherent. You need to do the experiments that I offered in my first post. You know, bend the knuckles on your fingers backwards, and tell me if a physiological creature of the type you are likes pain. Pain gives you a reason to act one way rather than another. It can be outweighed. But whatever else you want to claim morality is, it at least involves that. And every one of my arguments works even if avoiding pain has nothing to do with how you ought to act.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:09 pm

First you say that whether you ought to masturbate with your left or right hand is not a moral issue, but then you insist that every question about how you ought to act is a moral question. So, I'm a bit befuddled.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:37 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:First you say that whether you ought to masturbate with your left or right hand is not a moral issue, but then you insist that every question about how you ought to act is a moral question. So, I'm a bit befuddled.


This is what I said:

While I think there is no essential distinction between prudence and morality—both concern how you ought to act—I do think there is a difference of degree. We can say that morality concerns how you ought to act when how you ought to act matters most to you. In other words, we use the term ‘moral’ when the stakes really matter. Thus, whether you masturbate with your left hand and or your right is not a moral issue, though perhaps can be a question of prudence, and even some importance. But whether you will save someone’s life with your left hand or you right is a moral issue, and it would be a serious moral failure to attempt with your left hand when you are right-handed, and your right hand is freely accessible. –Someone’s life is at stake man.


It was clear then that when we use the word 'prudence' it's on one end of a continuum, and 'morality' on another. If you're having trouble understanding this, then here's an analogy that might help: What is the difference between an adult and a child? (This is going to be an analogy about how prudence and morality are different by degrees, not kind---both concern how you ought to act). The difference between an adult and a child is a difference of degrees. Sure, you can attempt to put an essential distinction between adult and child, and say that anyone over 18 years is an adult... but clearly not everyone under 18 years acts like a child. Just think of someone caring for a sick parent, looking after everything himself. And clearly not everyone over 18 years old is an adult---someone dependent, no competent to look after themselves, makes immature decisions, and so on. But the moment you think of the difference between adult and child as between who can look after their affairs and who can't---or something along those lines---you admit of degrees between what counts as an adult, and what counts as a child----and when you use either term, you use them by degrees. You may even have some cases where you're not sure which word to use. I call masturbating with your left hand or your right not a moral issue----but that's not because it's not technically within the domain of how you ought to act, it's just because we happen to communicate better when we don't rigidly apply terms even when they technically do apply. We have subtlety in language. This is the difference between morality and prudence---a difference of degree. And the moment you accept objectivity in what we ordinarly call prudential issues, you're going to admit of objectivity in what we call moral issues.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:41 pm

*facepalm* I really am done now. If that means I forfeit, I'm fine.

First he says not all oughts are moral issues, then he insists they all are, and then he says they're not again. I can't get anywhere.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:08 pm

Just pacing around, I figured out a clearer way of expressing some of my thoughts on the matter:

What we need to do is break down what it means to say "You ought to do X"

Now, some of the disagreement in this thread has come from you comparing morality to prudence. So, let me start by reducing what a prudent 'ought' is:

In the prudential sense, when I say "You ought to do X," what I'm saying is something very much like "If you do X, you will enjoy the results" (or, alternatively, if you don't do X you won't enjoy the results)
"You ought to go see this new movie" = "If you see this new movie, you will enjoy it"
"You ought to fuck that bitch" = "You would enjoy fucking that bitch"
"You ought to shut the fuck up" = "You won't enjoy the feeling of my fist on your nose if you don't shut the fuck up"

You can also rephrase the prudential ought in terms of, as I said before, expected value or utility. There are a lot of ways to reduce prudential oughts, and they'll usually look something like the one I said above.

Now, when we reduce the prudential ought like that, I think it's pretty clear that it's fundamentally different from a moral ought. When people say "You ought not commit adultery," they're not saying "If you commit adultery, you won't enjoy it." Enjoyment is pretty much a non-issue in the way the vast majority of people use the moral ought. A person could VERY MUCH enjoy adultery, murder, rape, etc, and the people using these moral oughts would still say "You ought not to do it."

And so, I have made it I hope a bit clearer why just saying that morality is like prudence, but "higher in degree" or whatever, does not cut it. It reduces differently. It doesn't make reference to whether the actor enjoys the action in question, the expected value for the actor, or anything like that. It reduces down to something else. What it reduces down to, I don't know. Probably some mystical mumbo jumbo, but if you can reduce it down to something that actually corresponds to how it's used by most people and isn't just nonsense, I'd eagerly listen.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:31 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:In the prudential sense, when I say "You ought to do X," what I'm saying is something very much like "If you do X, you will enjoy the results" (or, alternatively, if you don't do X you won't enjoy the results)

This assumes pleasure is an intrinsic good, and if it's an intrinsic good then it gives you a reason to act one way rather than another. That's real, that's objective. And it's also one of the oldest moral theories going back to Protagoras or Epicurus. Call it ethical hedonism---pleasure is the highest good, and you should act so as to get pleasure. That's clearly a moral imperative, and has been since philosophy began.

Now, when we reduce the prudential ought like that, I think it's pretty clear that it's fundamentally different from a moral ought. When people say "You ought not commit adultery," they're not saying "If you commit adultery, you won't enjoy it." Enjoyment is pretty much a non-issue in the way the vast majority of people use the moral ought. A person could VERY MUCH enjoy adultery, murder, rape, etc, and the people using these moral oughts would still say "You ought not to do it."

A few possibilities:
1. You could just be replacing one theory with another---a theory that implies you have obligations to others beyond your own pleasure. And one of these theories might be false---but guess what you need to assume in order to think one of the theories is false? The answer is: objectivity. The thing you're supposed to be denying.
2. You can still be an ethical hedonist and think adultery is something you ought not do. Socrates, for example, argued that it was better to suffer than to cause suffering---because to cause it was a greater harm to your psyche, and not simply your body.
3. I'm not sure why you're assuming adultery is wrong.

The bottom line is that you don't know what the proper domain of morality is, and yet you don't accept a simple ordinary-language understanding of it---you insist it's something else, but you're not sure what. And even though you're not sure what you think it is, you're very confident it doesn't exist. This strikes me as a bizarre approach. If I told you that I had no idea what a Jabberwock was, but also that I am positive it doesn't exist----would that make much sense to you? If not, then feel what I feel.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 10:17 pm

It's no more bizarre than knowing that it exists but not knowing what it is. If you told me that you know jabberwackies exist but don't know what one is -- can't even give a vague idea -- not only is it bizarre, it's a nonsensical statement. "Jabberwackies exist" "What's that?" "I don't know, but people think about them all the time, so Ockham's razor says they exist." Doesn't really make much sense.

What I'm saying is not that some unknown entity doesn't exist. There are a limited number of concepts which can agreeably be called "objective morality," judging by common usage. Maximizing enjoyment is NOT one of them. I have a very strong intuition that all possible concepts which can reasonably be called "objective morality" are either nonsensical, nonbinding or nonexistent.

But until you reduce the moral ought into something less abstract, I can't tell you which one of those applies to yours, if any. So go ahead, reduce it. And no, not enjoyment. That doesn't match common usage. If it did, then a person that enjoyed rape and was in a situation in which he could get away with it is morally obliged to rape. I don't think that matches common usage, so I reject it as a feasible definition in the same way that Payless is not a feasible definition for God. Morality does not reduce to personal enjoyment. Try something else.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 10:38 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:It's no more bizarre than knowing that it exists but not knowing what it is. If you told me that you know jabberwackies exist but don't know what one is -- can't even give a vague idea -- not only is it bizarre, it's a nonsensical statement. "Jabberwackies exist" "What's that?" "I don't know, but people think about them all the time, so Ockham's razor says they exist." Doesn't really make much sense.


I haven't claimed not to know what morality is---I gave you a very straightforward definition: it's the topic that concerns how you ought to act. And I'm arguing that the most plausible position is to think that there are objective facts that decide questions about how you ought to act, in any given context. I even gave you an example of such a fact---the intrinsic badness of pain. You are the one who is like, "explain to me what morality is", and then I do, and your response is, "no no, that's not what I think it is, I'm not sure what I think it is, but it doesn't exist!". You contradict yourself at least twice in one sentence.

What I'm saying is not that some unknown entity doesn't exist. There are a limited number of concepts which can agreeably be called "objective morality," judging by common usage. Maximizing enjoyment is NOT one of them.
Clearly it is---if the history of philosophy matters at all.

But until you reduce the moral ought into something less abstract, I can't tell you which one of those applies to yours, if any. So go ahead, reduce it. And no, not enjoyment. That doesn't match common usage. If it did, then a person that enjoyed rape and was in a situation in which he could get away with it is morally obliged to rape.

You seem to think a person ought not rape when they can get away with it. If that's what you think, then you need to read my arguments again---because you've just undercut your own criticism of them (echoing what I said before). And you should have to object to the arguments I actually presented first, and defend your objection----because every single argument I made works no matter what you think is at rock bottom intrinsically valuable. The arguments work no matter what your particular theory.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:13 pm

None of your arguments worked. I demolished them one by one. The only two I didn't were the obvious non-sequiturs that don't really deserve that level of attention.

Now, apart from the enjoyment approach to morality being clearly wrong because it produces results like "you're morally obliged to rape if that's what's going to produce the most enjoyment for you," it also relegates morality into the realm of uselessness. See, if left-handed masturbation is more enjoyable than right-handed masturbation, then you don't need to convince someone that it's more moral for them to masturbate that way. All you need is to convince them that it's more enjoyable. Right? Once I find out it's more enjoyable, then wtf use is morality? Morality becomes this superfluous nothing, this unnecessary add-on. People ALREADY want to do what's enjoyable, they don't also need to be told that it's also more moral.

I don't think a person ought not do or ought do anything, in the moral sense. You put those words in my mouth. I don't think that moral oughts are useful. I think practical, or prudential oughts are useful. Moral oughts are, as demonstrated, not the same type of thing. But, I do think that if a moral theory produces results like "You're morally obliged to rape" or "You're morally obliged to masturbate with your left hand," it's got some major problems.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:24 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:None of your arguments worked. I demolished them one by one. The only two I didn't were the obvious non-sequiturs that don't really deserve that level of attention.


LOL. Good then, I'm happy to leave it now to the judges. I don't recall you even saying more than a one-liner, and even in some places arguing against the argument that I presented as against my position. So, to the judges then.

Now, apart from the enjoyment approach to morality being clearly wrong because it produces results like "you're morally obliged to rape if that's what's going to produce the most enjoyment for you," it also relegates morality into the realm of uselessness. See, if left-handed masturbation is more enjoyable than right-handed masturbation, then you don't need to convince someone that it's more moral for them to masturbate that way. All you need is to convince them that it's more enjoyable. Right?

EXACTLY RIGHT, if that's all there is to deciding how you ought to act. This may surprise you, but some people think there are other factors present in deciding questions about how you ought to act. And 'morality' hasn't become a "superfluous nothing"---that's like calling someone a name after they beat you, just because they beat you. Yes, people want to do what's enjoyable. And people want to be moral---no shit.

I don't think that moral oughts are useful. I think practical, or prudential oughts are useful.
You're just begging the question again. You haven't demonstrated anything other than a moral ought, and the ought you thought was not moral---is one of the most famous and common oughts in the history of moral philosophy.

If this were boxing, I would not want to look at your face. I think we're done here. You have a choice going forward, you can cling to some airy mystical conception you have of morality, that you seem to want to cling to, but aren't sure what it is, but think it doesn't exist... or you can shake your head and decide to use concepts in the way that they're used in philosophy.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Carleas » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:41 pm

I'll offer a judgement, but if I raise anything in it that you'd like to respond to, or help in anyway to put the two positions squarely against each other, I hope you'll continue the discussion.

So, right off the bat, I'll say that Flannel Jesus's position seems the more likely of the two, but that isn't in itself a commentary on the quality of the arguments. It's inherently easier to argue that something doesn't exist than that it does. I think FJ was right in the disagreement that came up recently: if you don't know what a Jabberwock is, for all intents and purposes you don't believe that it exists.

I thought Mo_ made some interesting points that attempted to reframe the question of morality in his favor, and Flannel Jesus didn't seem to address this directly. Take this syllogism for instance:
P1. You talk, think, and act as if morality were real.
P2. Common-sense would tell you there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t.
P3. The best explanation of common-sense, and how you talk/think/act is that there are moral facts.
P4. The best explanation is the one we consider true.
C. Moral facts exist.

Mo_ had said in the lead up to this debate something to the effect that his position was a practical one. This syllogism makes me understand that as an almost scientific understanding of objectivity: science is not truly objective, and there is plenty of room for questioning whether scientific objectivity is possible (solipsism is a hypothesis that doesn't seem disprovable), but if Mo_ can prove that morality is as objective as science, while we might still have skeptical worries about its ultimate objectivity, most people will be satisfied. I don't think FJ was responding to this framing, and I think he could reject that standard of objectivity on solid principle, but it would be interesting to hear the response.

FJ made good use of his position as 'disprover', by invoking the exceptions that can't exist in a truly objective morality (although maybe they can in a scientifically objective morality). For instance, when Mo_ used the concrete example of pain, FJ pointed to masochists as a counter example. I didn't find Mo_'s response about hockey here compelling, but not being a masochist I don't really know. And when Mo_ says,
Mo_ wrote: every single argument I made works no matter what you think is at rock bottom intrinsically valuable

that seems sort of question begging: if we assume that there's something intrinsically valuable, objective morality is let in the back door. FJ attacks this claim directly:
Value is in the eye of the beholder, and most certainly some people value pain. One example against is all I need to negate the "intrinsically" qualifier.

Again, this exhibits the strength of the "no it doesn't" position in a debate like this. The point is, if there is nothing intrinsically valuable at rock bottom, do the arguments still work? I didn't feel like this problem was well addressed. However, since Mo_'s proof of objective morality is scientific, top down, it may be that within that definition we can have a morality with a black box at the bottom the same way we can know that diamonds are made of carbon without having a good grasp of quarks.

One thing I found fascinating was that a couple very fundamental questions ended up being addressed only at the very end, and not in any great depth. What is morality, and is the existence of morality distinct from the existence of objective morality? The first question is obviously quite hard to answer, and the discussion here made clear that it is especially hard to answer in a meta-ethical sense, without espousing a particular moral philosophy. The second question seems particularly important here. The Jabberwock comparison is enlightening: FJ is taking the position that objective morality doesn't exist because there is no meaningful or important definition of morality itself; if this had come out earlier in the debate I think the whole discussion might have gone differently (or maybe it would have just been shorter).

At this point, I think FJ has won the question, but Mo_ has had a better showing in the debate. The scope of FJ's rebuttal is limited by what was necessary to refute Mo_'s arguments, but Mo_ presented some interesting ideas that FJ could have hit on. I also at times got the feeling that FJ was being too skeptical. It's less interesting to say that objective morality doesn't exist because nothing is objective. FJ didn't go that far, but conceding more positions, or making 'even if' arguments to e.g. defeat objective morality 'even if' intrinsic value exists, would have made the position much stronger and would have made for a more interesting debate. In particular, accepting some minimal definition of morality (enough to know that e.g. both utilitarianism and deontology are moral positions) would have gotten us to more interesting ground. If, on the other hand, FJ found it necessary to reject as much as he did to make his point, I think that is itself a credit to Mo_.

I'd love to see more if you have more in you, otherwise, it's been interesting to read. Thanks and well done to you both.
User Control Panel > Board preference > Edit display options > Display signatures: No.
Carleas
Magister Ludi
 
Posts: 5405
Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2005 8:10 pm
Location: Washington DC, USA

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Thu Nov 08, 2012 5:09 pm

I'm ok with those results :)

In retrospect, I would really have rather done it the way I originally suggested in the first thread. The idea that it's a "debate" sort of makes it something to win, instead of an opportunity to actually learn something.

The way I suggested in the first thread naturally gives rise, I think, to an essential practice in philosophical conversation: it forces reducing abstract words into what the person really means by them. Instead of saying "morality exists," for example, you just say what you mean: in this case, "people sometimes ask themselves what they should do, or if what they're doing is 'good'" And then we might have to reduce "good" as well.

Maybe we can make another non-debate thread, in which we can actually strive for clarity and agreement. One often finds that when the offending words are taboo'd, two parties agree on most things. For example, one person might say "The tree in the forest doesn't make a sound if no one is around to hear," and the other person might say, "The tree does make a sound, even if no one hears," but when you taboo the word "sound" you find that they both agree that (a) compression waves in the air still happen regardless of anybody being present and (b) obviously those compression waves are not interpreted by any brains into an auditory experience, because no brain is there to do so. We might find similar agreements if we are able to coherently reduce the words under discussion.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Thu Nov 08, 2012 7:16 pm

If you look at FJ's responses to the arguments in his second post---where he addressed the actual arguments---all you find is a one-line sentence, to each argument, denying some premise, (e.g., "P1 is false"). That's not a refutation, that's just a denial of a premise. If there's some reason to think the premise false, it needs to be layed out. I think I've said plenty to render the premises initially plausible. You seem to recognize this when you say that I had a better showing in the debate, but somehow lost it. That strikes me as incoherent. I'm not sure what it is supposed to reveal but that you think one position is less true from the start, and thus harder to argue for. Typically that's something to avoid for a judge; it's like saying, "yes, your side presented the better evidence for your case, but I thought your case wrong moreso from the start, so you had further to go".

Carleas wrote:I think FJ was right in the disagreement that came up recently: if you don't know what a Jabberwock is, for all intents and purposes you don't believe that it exists.
This is patently false. If I am talking with someone who is talking about Juxtaglomerulars, Agammaglobulinemia, and Amazias----I have no idea what these are, but I have no reason to think they don't exist simply because I don't know what they're supposed to refer to. And if I were to suppose they didn't exist, I would be dead wrong.

What you want to ask is what they refer to. If you want to know what a moral fact is, it's a fact about the world (including the kind of creature that you are) that gives you a reason to act one way rather than another. Take the example of pain. That an action causes pain is an objective fact about the world, and it often furnishes you with a reason not to act in a certain way. I took it to be quite straightforward. If some people like pain, then it doesn't show that moral facts don't exist, it shows that whether pain gives you a reason to avoid an action is non-universalizable. Personally, I think that's false, but it's tangential to the debate. Masochists get a sort of psychological pleasure that outweights any physical pain, and can't be gotten without the physical pain. That doesn't mean they like physical pain, and would pursue it even in the absence of the greater psychological pleasure. That both of you are standing here saying, "yo, pain is good" is incoherent. But even if you could make sense of that claim, then it would support my position---because it's a fact about the world that gives you a reason to act one way rather than another.

Again, this exhibits the strength of the "no it doesn't" position in a debate like this.
There's simply no strength in a "no it doesn't" position unless you justify the denial. This isn't an argument on a playground.

The Jabberwock comparison is enlightening: FJ is taking the position that objective morality doesn't exist because there is no meaningful or important definition of morality itself; if this had come out earlier in the debate I think the whole discussion might have gone differently (or maybe it would have just been shorter).

Morality is just defined by a set of questions to outline the topic that it is: E.g., "How should I act?", "What is good and bad?", "What is right and wrong?". All I have to do is show you that there are objective facts that give you reasons to act one way rather than another. And if that's the case, then I've won, unless FJ wants to claim that the fork example, the rape example, the throwing his child off the bridge example don't actually give him any reasons to act one way rather than another, or unless he wants to argue that moral facts are subjective. If the latter, that's fine---but then there's a handful of arguments about that that he is yet to address at all. What FJ wants is someone to lay out particular criteria for answering moral questions, so that when they do, he can say that that is not what he means by morality. That's tantamount to insisting on defining morality as something non-sensical in order to prove it's non-sensical. If ordinary language matters at all, then that's unjustified.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Thu Nov 08, 2012 8:31 pm

Mo_ wrote:You seem to recognize this when you say that I had a better showing in the debate, but somehow lost it. That strikes me as incoherent.

I think the idea might be that you clearly put in a bit more effort. I was a bit lazy, but just had generally more agreeable points -- I could have elucidated more, as I think he said, but even just lazily thrown out there, the points looked solid. You put a lot of back into it, but had less obviously agreeable points, and though you used a lot of words to defend them, they still never really had much philosophical stability, so to speak.

That's my interpretation of his interpretation anyway.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Thu Nov 08, 2012 8:43 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:I think the idea might be that you clearly put in a bit more effort. I was a bit lazy, but just had generally more agreeable points -- I could have elucidated more, as I think he said, but even just lazily thrown out there, the points looked solid. You put a lot of back into it, but had less obviously agreeable points, and though you used a lot of words to defend them, they still never really had much philosophical stability, so to speak.

That's my interpretation of his interpretation anyway.

You did a fine job of stating that you disagree, but never really why you disagree. Call it laziness if you want---I'll give you benefit of the doubt.
User avatar
von Rivers
ILP Legend
 
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun May 09, 2004 4:24 am

Re: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Thu Nov 08, 2012 9:23 pm

Well, some of them were statements about me. Surely I'm more of an expert on me than you are. Surely I get to make unsupported claims about myself that you do not get to make. If you, for example, tell me that I like anal sex, and I say I do not, then without evidence from you my word is held above yours.
The rest of them were unsupported by you and not very likely in the first place, or clearly nonsequiturs, and I think our beloved judge saw that in the way that I did.
User avatar
Flannel Jesus
For Your Health
 
Posts: 5158
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:32 pm

Next

Return to Chamber of Debate



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users

cron