Sunday, January 13, 2008

Some argument against objective moral values

Are there more than this? These were what I could come up with.

I. The argument from disagreement:
1. People and cultures disagree extensively about what is right and wrong.
2. Probably, if moral judgments were objectively true or false, people would not disagree extensively about what is right or wrong.
3. Therefore, probably, moral judgments are subjective.

II. The argument from nonphysical realities
1. Probably, there are no realities that are not physical in nature; that is, that do not exist at particular places and times and are not complex states of fundamental physical particles.
2. If objective moral values exist, then there would be realities that are not physical in nature.
3. Therefore, probably, there are no objective moral values.

III. Argument from atheism
1. Probably, unless there is a God, there cannot be objective moral values.
2. There is no God.
3. Therefore, probably, there are no objective moral values.

IV. Argument from science:
1. What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.
2. Science cannot discover which moral values are correct and which are not.
3. Therefore, mankind cannot discover which moral values are correct and which are not.
4. If we cannot in principle discover what moral values are right or wrong, then we ought to view them as subjective and not objective.
5. Therefore, we ought to view moral values as subjective and not objective.

18 comments:

Steve Lovell said...

Yes, there's the argument from "Queerness" or from "Objective Prescriptivity". This can be found in Mackie, but better (or clearer) expositions can be found in Michael Smith's "The Moral Problem" and other places. Jonathon Dancy has a nice version in "Moral Reasons". It's also related to Bernard Williams seminal paper "External Reasons".

The basic issues are these:

(1) Moral facts give reasons for action.
(2) Moral judgements motivate to action.

On (1):
It's very hard to see how things can give reasons for action unless they somehow link up with our desires. If I want to get somewhere by 10am, and if it will take 30mins to get there then the desire and fact together give me reason to leave by 9.30am. How could we be given a reason to act in cases where no similar desire is present? But if a desire must be present, then relativism/non-cognitivism follows.

On (2):
If someone judges that giving to charity is morally good then we expect them to be motivated to act in that way. Other desires may over come this motivation, but if the motivations weren't there we'd suspect the person of merely "espousing" this view and not really adhering to it. Perhaps they don't know what moral goodness really is, or are suffering from some sort of bad faith. Now if the judgement motivates, and if we endorse a standard belief/desire account of action, then the judgment must have some non-cognitive (desire based) element. But non-cognitive states cannot be true or false. Relativism/Non-Cognitivism Follows.

To convincingly avoid these arguments the "objectivist" must

(i) Either convince us that moral judgement and motiviation aren't internally connected or that the belief/desire account of action isn't right.
(ii) Show how we can have a reason to act in a certain way even if such action isn't "in our interests".

I was originally going to write my thesis on how Theism solves these issues, but got rather bogged down in the writings of John (not Josh) McDowell, and finally gave up and turned my attention elsewhere having only completed some related work on the Euthyphro Dilemma. It's a tough issue.

For anyone who is interested my PhD was supervised by Stephen Makin and Richard Joyce. Richard has gone on to author books for CUP with titles like "The Myth of Morality", which I'm guessing argues in much this fashion ... I've been meaning to read his stuff for ages, but it's rather expensive and not having a University Library to dip into it just hasn't happened.

Jason Pratt said...

I tend to go with (iii): demonstrate that fundemental reality should rationally be believed to have properties corresponding to what we broadly consider 'morality' or 'ethicality'. If that's ever established, the question of personal motivation in our own moral judgments would seem to be a petitio at best. (...erm... okay, 'petitio' may not be the right term, but hopefully it's close enough to get at what I'm meaning.)

I don't believe mere theism (including mere supernaturalistic theism, if one may call that 'mere'! {g}) can supply this, btw. Thus explaining the proper weight of most or all sceptical protests against appealing to theism (per se) as such a ground, insofar as those protests are respectable and not trivial, merely tendentious, etc.

JRP

W said...

I would say the "the argument from disagreement" is pretty strong if you make it abductive instead of inductive.

Jason Pratt said...

W,

Well, go ahead and rephrase it that way and put it up. (Not everyone reading Vic's site will know the difference without seeing it. It'll be good for reference.)

JRP

w said...

JRP,

Sorry, I was just responding to Victor's question without regard to other readers.

The abductive version would be the same as Vic's argument, but that premise two would be replaced with:

2. The best explanation for this fact is that moral judgments are subjective.

Jason Pratt said...

Seems to reduce (3) to being trivially true, though. In effect the 'strong' argument would be taking place tacitly somewhere else, between (1) and (2).

Still, thanks for the ref!

JRP

Steve Lovell said...

Jason,

I think you underestimate the strength of these arguments against objective moral values. Firstly, to demonstrate the existence of objective moral values is precisely to demonstrate the existence of reasons for action which are dependent on the subjects own interests, as such to attempt your three is to take on the argument from my (1) directly. The argument from my (2) is a direct argument against moral objectivism, you don't refute it by pointing to other arguments for objectivism.

I also think you have misread me. I was not saying that the defender of objectivism must do either my (i) or my (ii), but that they must do both of them (my use of the word 'Either' as the first word within (i) probably encouraged this misreading).

Out of interest, what do you imagine your (iii) would look like when filled out? The use of the word "rationally" suggests something rather Kantian.

Steve

Jason Pratt said...

Steve,

{{I think you underestimate the strength of these arguments ((1) and (2)) against objective moral values.}}

I wrote that I agree with respectable sceptical arguments to the effect that (what I am calling 'mere') theism is not sufficient for ethical grounding. This would not normally be considered evidence that I am _under_-estimating the strength of our opposition. {g}

I agree, demonstrating (iii) would take on (1); though indirectly, as I myself said. There would be no need, given a demonstration of (iii), to take on (1) directly--the sceptical appeal represented by (1) would be as irrelevant as trying to Bulverize someone's acceptance of the existence of the sun by appeal to our personal motivations, though desires and reasons for action would be bound up somewhere in that as well. Demonstrating (iii) would 'eagle claw' all that: it would demonstrate the existence and character of that-which-we-subjects-are-being-relative-toward. To try to complain afterward that we are being relative toward the objective standard, would be a very dull thing to do. {g} I don't have to deny such relativity.


{{to demonstrate the existence of objective moral values is precisely to demonstrate the existence of reasons for action which are dependent on the subjects own interests}}

On the contrary, to demonstrate the existence of objective morality (be it 'moral values' or an intrinsically 'moral' character to foundational reality or whatever) is precisely to demonstrate something which exists _independenly_ of our own interests as subjects. Such a reality exists, _as_ such, whether we happen to be around to notice it or not (much moreso whether we happen to be able to detect it, have our own ideas and intentional relationships to it, or our own motivations in regard to it.) And we are going to be 'relative' to it in our own grounds, choices and motivations, whether or not we even notice its existence.

Sceptical argument (2) gets eagle-clawed in much the same fashion. Of course I'm going to have non-cogntive (desire based) elements in my judgments. But I can compare those to the standard, inasmuch as I can perceive of it, and (in Lewis' terms) decide which of those non-cognitive elements I should actively encourage or actively resist in any given circumstance.

For instance, I have a very strong non-cognitive desire to keep going with this, because I enjoy it so much; but I made a promise to help greet at at church today, and I'm already going to be somewhat late as it is. Comparing to the standard, I perceive that trustworthy personal relations are important; so I conclude that unless I want to bump my head against foundational reality (which I find I do not want), I had better go keep my word--and try to pay better attention to my timing in the future. But I could have ignored the standard, too; or thought about it in a different way; or I might have discovered my wants were different, though then again it should also be said that my 'want' to avoid bumping my head against reality is significantly less than my 'want' to stay here and keep writing this (which I greatly enjoy), much less than my 'want' to go greet at a door. Which explains why I will now be completely late, rather than only a little. {wry g}

Nevertheless, rationally I can judge that I _OUGHT_ to have done one thing (despite my strong wants in favor of doing the other.)


{{I was not saying that the defender of objectivism must do either my (i) or my (ii), but that they must do both of them}}

I tend to agree, fwiw. But I think (iii) effectively achieves those goals (even if in a somewhat different 'shape').

{{Out of interest, what do you imagine your (iii) would look like when filled out?}}

As it happens, I am beginning a series on this over at Christian Cadre this morning. (Victor's recent series of posts, with this being the latest one, was inspired by Chris Price's post over there earlier this week, which I've taken up some responsibility of continuing while he is out with his wife and newborn baby.)

It will however be a while before I work into that.

http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/

JRP

Steve Lovell said...

Firstly, I must apologise to Jason and other readers for a typo I made in my previous post. When I said that

to demonstrate the existence of objective moral values is precisely to demonstrate the existence of reasons for action which are dependent on the subjects own interests

I missed out a "not" in rather crucial place (before "dependent"). We seem, then to be in agreement over the argument from (1), although we are yet to see what the response to that argument looks like. Jason has hand waved towards a response based on his (iii) ... and I've a few ideas of my own. Anyone else want to jump against the argument from (1)?

As to the argument from (2), I think it may need spelling out a little more clearly for its full force to be appreciated. First allow me to say that the argument is that moral judgements themselves contain non-cognitive elements, not that they are based on or influenced by non-cognitive elements. This may be true but is beside the point here. The point is rather that non-cognitive states are not "truth-apt": desires are neither true nor false, they just are. As such, if moral judgements contain non-cognitive elements then they are not truth-apt either, and relativism/non-cognitivism follows.

The argument that moral judgements contain (or perhaps even are) non-cognitive mental states, is that only non-cognitive mental states can explain an inclination to act, and that moral judgements essentially involve such inclination. Again, whatever arguments we may have for moral objectivism along the lines of (iii), this argument will need addressing separately.

Of course, if the argument for/from (iii) were sufficiently compelling we might then have good grounds for thinking that the argument from (2) was somehow wrong, but it wouldn't tell us what was wrong with that argument. To think otherwise is like thinking that a demonstation of the existence of God will automatically refute the argument for the non-existence of God from the existence of evil and suffering.

Steve

Jason Pratt said...

Steve,

{{First allow me to say that the argument is that moral judgements themselves contain non-cognitive elements, not that they are based on or influenced by non-cognitive elements. This may be true but is beside the point here. The point is rather that non-cognitive states are not "truth-apt": desires are neither true nor false, they just are. As such, if moral judgements contain non-cognitive elements then they are not truth-apt either, and relativism/non-cognitivism follows.}}

That may be the sceptical argument (2), but I don't think much of its weight as presented. It is _entirely_ relevant whether the judgments are based on or influenced by non-cognitive elements. This is because the attempted conclusion is, "if moral judgments contain non-cog elements then they are not truth-apt either." So obviously _some_ kind of influence is being posited here. Just as obviously, the weight being requested for consideration is that at some point (certainly at 100% composition) a preponderance of non-cog influence renders an ostensible judgment (moral or otherwise) to be non-cog, in which case it isn't really a judgment in the first place. In which case the real irrelevancy is that the judgment was ostensibly a moral one.

Not incidentally, this is why in a progressive metaphysic I deal with cog/non-cog issues first, in relation to judgment, before going to questions of ethics. If non-cognitivism is going to be a problem, it's going to zorch me much earlier. If I can succesfully get past _that_ challenge, then I'm good to go here.

This has intimate connection with my (iii) proposal--not insofar as it eliminates any concern of non-cog factors influencing my moral judgment; but because it allows me to approach the question of ethical standards from a completely different direction: a direction that allows me to respect and acknowledge certain (typically though not exclusively) non-theistic explanations of 'ethical' behavior while still being critical of their weaknesses.

My current (as of today) entry in that discussion, over at the Christian Cadre, can be found here. (Assuming I got the html coding right. {wry g})

{{Of course, if the argument for/from (iii) were sufficiently compelling we might then have good grounds for thinking that the argument from (2) was somehow wrong, but it wouldn't tell us what was wrong with that argument. }}

Well, you just represented that argument as "The argument that moral judgements contain (or perhaps even are) non-cognitive mental states, is that only non-cognitive mental states can explain an inclination to act".

Accepting that description as accurate: if (iii) succeeds in giving us reason to accept that foundational reality is cognitive and that it has a strongly intrinsic character of a sort that we are otherwise in the habit of recognizing as 'ethical', and that we can expect this reality to be trying to relate to us along this line and trying to lead us to relate to itself and to each other similarly--then that would be good grounds for not only thinking that the argument from (2) was wrong, it would tell us what was wrong with the argument. There would be a direct conflict with the proposition "only non-cognitive mental states can explain an inclination to act." (Incidentally, given that statement is clearly _NOT_ beside the point in (2); consequently, neither your statement "whether moral judgments are based on or influenced by non-cog elements is beside the point" has to be false. As I mentioned a minute ago. {g} Come to think of it, I even pointed up why the topic has high relation to the question of moral judgment, and it was basically the same reason as you're reporting here. Um, go us! {g!})

Whether I can actually establish (iii), is another question, admittedly. Even if not, however, the technical option to try that route will remain open unless decisively closed by another argument via principle.


{{To think otherwise is like thinking that a demonstation of the existence of God will automatically refute the argument for the non-existence of God from the existence of evil and suffering.}}

Actually, depending on the relative character of the arguments, a demonstration of the existence of God _might_ do exactly that.

What it would _not_ automatically do, is render the problems related to anti-theodicy meaningless. They'd still have to be gone into and addressed insofar as possible, in a way that respects the concerns behind the problems. (And I would say there's a lot of respectability in those concerns. {s} Even if anti-theodicy proponents sometimes don't put those concerns very respectably.)

JRP

Steve Lovell said...

Jason,

I still think you aren't seeing the argument from (2). Let's spell it out more fully.

(2.1) Only non-cognitive states motivate to action.
(2.2) Moral judgements motivate to action.
(2.3) Therefore, moral judgements are non-cognitive states.

So far as I can see, you haven't explained how a response along the lines of your (iii) would show the one or both of the premises to be false. The discussion of the grounds of moral judgement is relevant to the question of the status of those judgements, it just isn't relevant to the argument I've presented from (2). For full detail on the argument read the first few chapters Michael Smith's "The Moral Problem".

You wrote:
Incidentally, given that statement is clearly _NOT_ beside the point in (2); consequently, neither your statement "whether moral judgments are based on or influenced by non-cog elements is beside the point" has to be false. As I mentioned a minute ago. {g} Come to think of it, I even pointed up why the topic has high relation to the question of moral judgment, and it was basically the same reason as you're reporting here. Um, go us! {g!})


I have no idea what you're talking about here. Your sentence structure appears to have gone to pieces. The "neither" is especially confusing.

Also, you do not refute an argument by demonstrating that it's conclusion is false. You refute an argument by showing why it shouldn't persuade you of it's conclusion. Consider the following arguments:

(A1) Someone with 1,000,000 hairs on their head is not bald.
(A2) If Someone with N hairs on their head is not bald, then someone with N-1 hairs on their head is not bald.
(A3) Therefore someone with only three hairs on their head their head is not bald.
(A4) Greg has only 3 hairs on his head.
(A5) Therefore, Greg is not bald.

(B1) Someone with only 3 hairs on their head is bald
(B2) Greg has only 3 hairs on his head.
(B3) Therefore Greg is bald.

Now, (B1)-(B3) is an argument for the falsehood of the conclusion of (A1)-(A5), but it certainly isn't a refutation of the argument. If we had much riding on B3, we'd want to know what was wrong with the argument (A1)-(A5). Similarly, the defender of moral objectivity should want to know what's wrong with the argument (2.1)-(2.3), and in the absence of a stronger argument for the contrary conclusion, we'd not only want to know what was wrong with the argument, we'd be rationally obliged to provide a response. Since all we have so far is a sketch of the argument to/from (iii), I think we remain under that obligation ... and even if we don't remain under the obligation, we still want to know where that argument goes wrong, and you've offered no enlightenment on that.

Steve

Jason Pratt said...

Steve,

Yes, that quoted paragraph was put together and then recomposed under distractions and time constraints. The "neither" is a composition blip from an earlier version of the paragraph, which I missed removing; and I'm also missing a "this" that I forgot to include when recomposing the paragraph structure. Completely my fault in both cases, and I'm glad someone caught it.

The sentence should read, "Incidentally, given that this statement [i.e. "only non-cognitive mental states can explain an inclination to act"] is clearly _NOT_ beside the point in (2); then consequently your other statement "whether moral judgments are based on or influenced by non-cog elements is beside the point" has to be false."


On re-reading, it occurs to me that I may be misunderstanding what you mean by 'cognitive' and 'non-cognitive'. The distinction I'm perceiving includes (intentive) action vs. (non-intentive) reaction. If you're not including that distinction between the meaning or implications of those terms, then admittedly establishing (iii) may not be directly refutational to (1) and (2), because (iii) might not be about identifying foundational reality as 'cognitive' in the sense or senses applying there.

If that's the case, then no, I'm not yet seeing the argument from (2).

I was however seeing the form, because insofar as (iii) establishes that a cognitive reality can-and-can-be-expected-to motivate us to action, then premise (2.1) (as most recently stated) would be refuted. Which is one of the things I was saying before. But if we mean significantly different things by 'cognitive', then admittedly this may not be applicable.


{{The discussion of the grounds of moral judgement is relevant to the question of the status of those judgements, it just isn't relevant to the argument I've presented from (2).}}

Strictly speaking that might be true; but only if (2) is then divorced from being applied as an argument against accepting moral objectivity. Going back to your original comment on (2), it looks to _me_ as though you were trying to present (2) as being some kind of challenge to accepting the notion of moral objectivity (and/or the notion of objective morality.)

If that _isn't_ the case, then admittedly a discussion of the grounds of moral judgment may not be relevant to the argument you're presenting in (2) (most recently anyway.)

If that _is_ the case--which is implied from your bothering to contribute the discussion on the arguments in the first place, to a thread Victor started on "Some Arguments Against Objective Moral Values", and also seems implied from your conclusion to your original mention of (2) ("then the judgment must have some non-cognitive (desire based) element. But non-cognitive states cannot be true or false. Relativism/Non-Cognitivism Follows.")--then a discussion of moral grounding seems (to me anyway) to be _very_ relevant.

Wasn't (2) (and (1) for that matter) supposed to be about moral grounding? If so, then I confess I don't see how a discussion of moral grounding could be irrelevant to engaging those arguments. (The _method_ of reaching the moral grounding might or might not trump (2) and/or (1), but the discussion would still be relevant.) If not, then I am confused about why you bothered mentioning them at all.

Also, I think the premise has shifted--which by the way I recall mentioning before. There's a difference between a judgment having _some_ non-cog (desire based) element, and a judgment _only_ having non-cog (desire based) elements. Your new formulation of (2) clearly requires the latter at (2.1), as does some parts of your prior discussion of (2). Your original mention of (2), however, only explicitly involved the former: only involved 'some', so to speak. (As did some other portions of your subsequent discussion.)

It seems clear enough to me that "Relativism/Non-Cognitivism Follows", only when some significant portion of the judgment is actually non-cog in its elements. As I mentioned earlier, 100% non-cog would be a significant portion. Not surprisingly, you formulate the argument so that we're talking about 100% non-cog. Why not only partly non-cog? The answer seems clear enough to me: because that wouldn't certify the argument.

It also seems clear enough to me that (2) depends entirely on a completely non-cog account of judgment. If so, then it is only incidentally true as a corollary that this would apply to moral judgments as well: topically relelvant, admittedly, but still I call it incidental because we now have something far more important to be debating.

Argument (2.1-3) would then be expanded as follows:

(2.1) Only non-cognitive states motivate to action.

(2.2a) Judgments motivate to action.

(2.2b) Moral judgments are judgments.

(2.3a) Therefore, [all] judgments are [only] non-cognitive states.

(2.3b) Therefore, moral judgments are non-cognitive states.

There are, however, some other portions of (2) you forgot to include in your recent rephrase.

(2.4) Non-cognitive states cannot be true or false. (Clearly stated as being important in your original account of (2).)

(2.5a) Therefore all judgments cannot be true or false.

(2.5b) Therefore, moral judgments cannot be true or false. (i.e. "Relativism Follows." i.e. this counts as "Some Argument Against Objective Moral Values", which Victor was asking readers to supply, beyond the ones he himself mentioned.)

From here I pose two questions: are any of the conclusions (2.3a), (2.3b), (2.5a), (2.5b) judgments? And are any of the premises given elsewhere in the argument judged to be true?

3 Option 1.1) None of the conclusions of argument (2) are judgments. Therefore, (2) is worthless as an argument.

3 Option 2.1) At least some of the conclusions of (2) are judgments. Therefore, per (2), those conclusions cannot be true or false. Therefore those conclusions are worthless for any practical purpose, including for further argument built on those conclusions.

3 Option 1.2) None of the premises of argument (2) are judged to be true. Therefore, (2) is worthless as an argument.

3 Option 2.2) At least some of the premises of (2) are judged to be true. Therefore, per (2), judgments about the truth of those premises cannot be true or false. Therefore, those premises are worthless for subsequent argument.

This rebuttal is not to be construed as (iii), by the way.

Now: was there something I missed or misunderstood in this? Or were you trying to present a different argument than this, for (2)?


{{Also, you do not refute an argument by demonstrating that it's conclusion is false. You refute an argument by showing why it shouldn't persuade you of it's conclusion.}}

If my argument that I should believe God exists involves (among other things) a refutation of non-cognitivism; and if an argument against objective moral values depends on non-cognitivism; then this would count as "depending on the relative character of the arguments", wouldn't it? (Which is how I qualified my statement that "a demonstration of the existence of God _might_ do exactly that.") There are other ways it could be done, too, depending on the relative character of the arguments.

Let's not mix apples and oranges, though. I was replying there to your contention that a demonstration of the existence of God would not automatically refute the argument _for the non-existence of God_ from the existence of evil and suffering. One bridging argument could, in theory, be:

Observation 1.) I know of a deductive argument to the effect that I should believe God exists, based on my acceptance of my reasoning capability.

O2.) I know of an inductive argument to the effect that I should believe God probably doesn't exist, which argument tacitly requires my acceptance of my reasoning capability.

Conclusion 1.) Therefore, I conclude that my deductive argument's existence and character refutes the conclusion that I should believe God _probably_ does not exist.

I can do this without having to disrespect the strength of the anti-theist's concerns (insofar as they are respectable concerns in the first place--which as I said I often find they are.) On the contrary, the concerns remain in place, and need to be addressed on their own merits, even to the point of integration into the overall progression of the metaphysic, where applicable.

If the anti-theistic AfE&S was presented as a deductive argument, and assuming I didn't already see something wrong with either deductive argument as given, my conclusion might be more along the line of: I should accept the conclusion-to-believe which follows more primarily from my acceptance of my rational capabilities, with a stronger (though not certain) expectation of finding something wrong eventually with the other argument.

Since in each case the two competing arguments reach different conclusions on the same topic, in ways where I cannot accept both conclusions in either case; and since in each case I would have shown why the sceptical argument shouldn't persuade me of its conclusion; and since you wrote, "You refute an argument by showing why it shouldn't persuade you of its conclusion"--then, _to that extent_ the argument stands effectively "refuted".

Is it refuted in a technical sense? Maybe, maybe not, depending on whether the logic and/or premises of the argument were addressed explicitly or implicitly in the "refuting" argument. Which again counts as (as I said) "depending on the relative character of the arguments". I'm obviously aware that the merits of the "refuted" argument still may need consideration in themselves; otherwise I couldn't have been granting significant _credit_ to some anti-theistic AfE&S arguments, could I?

From apples to oranges: if an argument purports to attack "objective moral values", then one way to defend against it is to successfully call coup against its premises and/or logical validity--which I was doing in part of my comments above, and have now done far more specifically in _this_ comment above. (Though really I think this thread was supposed to be more about _listing_ such arguments, than hashing them out.)

Another way would be to demonstrate the existence of a reality which would count as being objectively real and intrinsically of characteristics that match some proposed notion of morality, especially the proposed notion of 'morality' the anti-objectivist argument is aiming against. (Or 'ethical' if that term is preferred and a relevant distinction can be applied, which in some systems is the case.) After that, appeals to our desires as inescapably crippling our moral judgments into worthlessness, become a petitio at best: or as I put it, the argument has been "eagle-clawed". Going this route, I don't have to address its premises and/or logical validity to reject its conclusion (though as it happens I can do that, too. {g}) The argument may not have been technically refuted, but it will have been practically refuted by being logically trumped by a more primary argument. (And if the more logically primary argument includes portions which involve effectively critting the premises and/or validity of the anti-objective-morality argument, then it gets technically refuted in passing, too.)

Since I haven't given (iii), I don't expect anyone to accept that I have done this. But that wasn't the point to _mentioning_ (iii). The main point was simply to add another procedural option to the list; the secondary point was to note that _if_ it was accomplished then we wouldn't need to bog down in addressing motivations (except insofar as (2) and/or (1) rely on nuking judgmentation altogether. In which case the topic of morality would be irrelevant and we would be better advised to move to the more primary debate.) The tertiary point is that I happen to prefer going (iii) route, and still would prefer to try it in principle (even if I didn't think I had accomplished it in practice), because it accomplishes a bunch of other things, too, in the process.


{{Now, (B1)-(B3) is an argument for the falsehood of the conclusion of (A1)-(A5), but it certainly isn't a refutation of the argument.}}

Conclusion (A3) wouldn't be a refutation of Premise (B1), if given in answer to Argument B? It may not be a _good_ refutation, but to me it looks like it would be at least _a_ refutation; and if it's a refutation of the premise, it's a refutation of the rest of B argument.

Is Conclusion (B3) a refutation of (A5)? Strictly speaking what is being compared (if Argument B is given in reply to Argument A) would be premise (B1) to argument (A1-3). ((A4) and (B2) are identical observations; so the disparate conclusions of (B3) and (A5) follow from the differences between Premise (B1) and argument (A1-A3).)

If the intention is to give (B1) in contravening answer to (A1-A3), even if the arguments were developed independently originally, then the intention is to refute (A1-A3) with (B1).

Is it a _successful_ refutation? Well, normally a mere premise vs. a stated argument would be considered to lose, _unless_ it could be demonstrated that Proponent A happened to accept (B1), too. (Which by the way highlights that arguments and premises don't refute each other. _People_ refute each other _with_ arguments and premises.) Proponent B hasn't done this. There is no bridging argument to the effect that Proponent B is giving a logically more primary argument than Proponent A, either, so that can't be evaluated.

In principle though, if Proponent A was giving an argument that was trying to assassinate the possibility of rendering a judgment of baldness at all by positing inescapable non-rational motivations as totally hampering such a judgment (which is not happening here); and if Proponent B gives an argument for baldness where no such non-rational motivations can be identified, then insofar as it goes Proponent B has refuted A.

Now Proponent A has to demonstrate non-rational motivations exist to a crippling degree in Proponent B's argument--which by the way means, if you accept Proponent A has a possibility of a case at all along this line, you must also accept it is possible to logically refute an argument without examining its premises and conclusions! Otherwise Proponent A would have no case at all and would have to try something else.

If Proponent A attempts to ensure this counterrefutation by calling all judgments into inextricable scepticism (based on motivation of nonrational desires or otherwise), then he can only counterrefute Proponent B by slitting his own throat, too. After which, his own counterrefuting argument is useless.

A has refuted _himself_: B doesn't need to do any more work. Proponent B doesn't even need to point out that (A1-A3) is dubious in the extreme by calling attention to Premise (A2), since by its definition (as given) someone with zero hairs on his head is still not bald! If it doesn't matter whether someone has hair on their head or not, they still aren't bald, then the question needs to go back to: what the heck is being meant by 'bald'?! What was the topic about in the first place?!

Proponent A would be in better shape if he posited that someone with non-zero positive numbers of hair is not bald, compared to someone with zero hairs on his head. Then we would have competing premises (A2) and (B1), and in lieu of any reason to choose between them, neither argument could be said to successfully refute the other in any sense beyond the refutation inherent in the action of one person asserting a premise against another person's premise.

All of which exemplifies the kind of complexity I was thinking of, when I was talking about refuting (2) in various ways.

JRP

Steve Lovell said...

Jason,

Let's cut to the chase. Firstly, the argument isn't intended as a general argument for non-cognitivism, only as a argument for non-cognitivism about ethics, so I'm not sure why you've spelled out the argument in all those variations.

Let's assume that all mental states having content can be broadly classified as belonging to one of two classes: "Beliefs" and "Desires". There are of course some states which don't fit in neatly, but let that slide for now.

Now, beliefs can be either true or false. Desires, on the other hand, cannot. How, in a standard Belief-Desire account of action, desires provide the motivating force and beliefs inform those desires and direct the agent as to the best way to satisfy them.

Now, are "moral judgements" beliefs or desires? Which category do they belong to? We'd naturally want to put them in the belief category, but the following argument gets in the way ...

(2a) If an agent judges that action X is morally good, then that agent will, just in virtue of making that judgement, be motivated, to some extent, to do X.
(2b) If someone is motivated to do X just in virtue of the fact that they judge X to be morally good, then the judgement that X is morally good is what does the motivating.
(2c) If the judgement that X is morally good is something which motivates to action, then, by the Belief-Desire account of action, that judgement should be classed as a desire.
(2d) So, if the belief-desire account of action is correct, then moral judgements are desires.
(2e) The belief-desire account of action is correct.
(2f) Therefore, moral judgements are desires.
(2g) If moral judgements are desires, they are not truth-apt.
(2h) Therefore, moral judgements are not truth-apt.

Hope that clarifies things. You'd be better off reading Michael Smith than reading me.

Steve

Jason Pratt said...

Steve,

I wasn’t aware I had posted up all that many variations of (2) in my most recent post. I posted up one expanded version where the logic behind the (apparent) strength of the argument is spelled out more explicitly, and then ported that into a couple of illustrations afterward, where applicable. The rest of the comment was about other arguments. For purposes of topical focusing, though, I don’t mind discounting those portions.

My point in direct regard to (2) was, and is, that (2) tacitly involves an appeal to general non-cognitivism in order to be put forward at strength. Your formuation of (2), as previously given, clearly requires general non-cog at 2.1.

When a proponent of (2) (and I know you aren’t, but this is how you have represented them) says at 2.1 that _only_ non-cognitive states motivate to action, and then gives an example of one _kind_ of judgment motivating to action in 2.2, the tacit corollary is that where judgments per se motivate to action at all they can _only_ be non-cog states.

You (or your sources) introduced the ‘only’ yourself. I just spelled out the tacit results.

In my expansion, I retained 2.1 exactly as you wrote it; I expanded 2.2 into its component elements; and I expanded 2.3 into its resultant component elements.

After which I added in, at 2.4, a piece you yourself clearly stated as being important to the application of (2) against objective moral values.

I then presented the same conclusion you yourself gave for (2)’s representation originally when you wrote about it, putting that into 2.5 but spelling out its resultant component elements.

You wanted to know what my specific problems were with (2), apart from the propriety of my using an eagle-clawing tactic (discussed separately). So, I explicitly spelled out the argument according to the information _you_ provided, keeping in mind the necessary corollaries, and then went on in counterargument set (3) to work out the results of the questions I asked regarding the conclusions of (2).

This seems extremely straightforward, to me.

So, let’s cut to the chase. {g} Do you realize that you yourself wrote for (2.1) “_Only_ non-cognitive states motivate to action”?

Once that “only” is in the account, then either _all_ judgments fall under it, or else some judgments can’t even possibly motivate to action unlike moral judgments. But judgments which can’t even possibly result in any motivation to action, are practically worthless (assuming such judgments can even exist), so far as I know.

So, what judgments _don’t_ fall under 2.1, thus _don’t_ (and can’t possibly ever) motivate to action, yet are _not_ practically worthless?


{{Let's assume that all mental states having content can be broadly classified as belonging to one of two classes: "Beliefs" and "Desires".}}

Maybe the problem is here, then. For judgments result in beliefs; they aren’t themselves beliefs. But judgments aren’t merely desires, either, unless rational action has been excluded from an account of mental states. If _that_ is the case, though, then debating the existence of objective morality (in any of several senses of that phrase) becomes merely trivial. We’re back to a general contention about cognitivity.

If rational action being excluded from an account of mental states entails non-cog, then it entails non-cog generally including for judgments generally.

If rational action being excluded from an account of mental states does _not_ entail non-cog, then some kind of explanation needs to be given for why we would then single out moral judgments as being related to non-cog. I don’t believe this can be done by linking moral judgments to motivations, without then asking why these and not other judgments should either be linked to motivations, or else condemned in some cases for being linked to motivations but not in other cases.


{{Now, are "moral judgements" beliefs or desires? Which category do they belong to? We'd naturally want to put them in the belief category...}}

I would naturally want to put them in the category of ‘judgments’, myself. {g}

Since moral judgments are by inclusive tautology judgments, your question then becomes: are judgments beliefs or desires? It seems obvious to me that they are neither. But whatever they are, sauce for one kind of judgment is sauce for the other kind of judgment.

This can be shown by doing what seems to me to be the painfully obvious thing, and treating moral judgments as judgments; and then restating your argument (from your most recent comment) as follows:

(2a) If an agent judges in favor (morally or otherwise) of action X, then that agent will, just in virtue of making that judgement, be motivated, to some extent, to do X.

(2b) If someone is motivated to do X just in virtue of the fact that they judge X to be worth doing (for whatever reason, morally or otherwise), then the judgement that X is worth doing is what does the motivating.

(2c) If the judgement that X is worth doing is something which motivates to action, then, by the Belief-Desire account of action, that judgement should be classed as a desire.

(2d) So, if the belief-desire account of action is correct, then judgements about anything being worth doing for any reason at all, are desires.

(2e) The belief-desire account of action is correct.

(2f) Therefore, all judgements about actions are desires.

(2g) If all judgements about actions are desires, they are not truth-apt.

(2h) Therefore, all judgements about actions are not truth-apt.


This can only escape being a blanket indictment of practical judgment (which would seem to be _any_ judgment, insofar as any judgment could possibly be a practical one), by somehow treating moral judgments as not being practical judgments from the getgo. If moral judgments are proposed not to be practical judgments from the outset, then one hardly needs to devote an argument to showing that it follows from this they are not truth-apt either!

Hope that clarifies things. {s}

Out of curiosity, does Michael Smith classify moral judgments as judgments, or as something else? If he classifies moral judgments as judgments, does he consider judgments to be beliefs, desires, or something other than either of these? If he doesn’t classify moral judgments as judgments, why does he call them moral judgments at all?

JRP

Steve Lovell said...

Jason,

I no longer have the Michael Smith volume, so I wouldn't like to pronounce on points of interpretation. (The Smith volume had a good presentation of this argument, but then spends most of the rest of the book putting together a completely hopeless response to it.)

The point of using the term "moral judgements" is simply to allow a short, non-question begging description of someone thinking that some action/state-of-affairs has some moral property.

If these "thoughts" were called beliefs from the outset, then the argument would have to be a reductio and some people prefer not to argue that way. If, on the other hand, they were called desires at the outset this would beg the question. Other points of interpretation aside, Michael Smith does think these "thinkings" are beliefs (or at least did when he wrote the book in question).

On the generalised version of the argument you present, I'd pretty much agree (see * below for for my quibble), although it still isn't an argument for global non-cognitivism. It's only an argument for non-cognitivism about values. One might argue that non-cognitivism about values entails a wider non-cognitivism, but that's rather contentious. The A.J.Ayer of Language, Truth and Logic was a non-cognitivist about value but certainly not about science. Advocates of this argument from (2) for non-cognitivism would, I think, happily accept the wider argument to non-cogntiivism about value judgements in general, but not about non-value judgements, at least not without a further argument.

(That argument may be possible, but I expect that the kind of non-cognitivism which would then be in play would be a wider kind still, according to which beliefs even though truth-apt would still could as non-cognitive states because they do not have rational determinants. Either way, that is, as I say, a further argument and not to the point here.)

* My quibble is that from (2d) to (2f) you jump from "all judgements about anything being worth doing for any reason at all" to "all judgements about actions". Putting a global non-cognitivism to one side, we can certainly form genuine (cognitive) beliefs about actions, just not about the value of actions (moral or otherwise). For reasons that should already be clear, this is merely a quibble: I accept that the general form of the argument commits it's proponent to non-cognitivism about "value judgements".

Steve

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I wonder if you have read Shafer-Landau's response to the problem as found in his _Moral Realism: A Defense_? If you have, what are your (brief) thoughts on his section on motivation? Thanks.

Chris said...

Good greetings, all

I'm just wondering if anyone has ever read Peter Kreeft's work in this area. He's written a book in dialogue form called 'A Refutation of Moral Relativism' and also there are a number of lectures on the internet freely available; http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/05_relativism.htm
which is in a straight lecture form and is quite a well composed lecture, http://www.veritas.org/media/talks/285
is a dramatic dialog between a relativist and Socrates examining the case for both relativism and objectivisim.

He makes some good points about how often relativist arguments often beg the question (for example, the argument from cultural relativism; this requires the premise that culture determines morality, moralities differ with cultures, therefore moralities differ, therefore morality is not absolute. Relativism here had to be assumed for the premise that culture determines it instead of an objective law)

He makes alot of sense to me but I'm wondering if his arguments are not developed enough? If anyone else is familiar with his work, would they care to comment?


Thank you all for such interesting and intelligent discussion.

CB

EDWARD said...

How can you say there is no god when you cannot prove it? And many cultures do have similar morals. No culture condones the killing of innocent people for no apearent reason. There are morals that don't just go by human nature but throughout all of nature as a whole. No animal will kill without reason. There are many other morals to compare this to but these are just what come to mind first. But this is trying to argue that there has to be objective moral values and that there must be some higher power to give us these morals. It is too much of a chance that every living thing would shame others for things like un-lawfull murder. Anyone, please tell me how you feel about this. If I am way off or not.