Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ayer's ethical emotivism

A link discussing A. J. Ayer's emotive theory of ethics.

9 comments:

Andrew T. said...

My apologies for going off-topic.

Victor, in the "apologetics" post, you write:

As an apologist, all I am doing is saying "I have been following the argument where it leads as best I can for years now, this is where it has led me, let me tell you why I came to believe what I do and what holds my beliefs in place."

Do you have a post somewhere that summarizes your position on the arguments and where they lead? I would be interested in reading (and engaging with) such an account.

Gregory said...

Citing a statement by Ayer, involving his criticism of "intellectual intuition", taken from the link provided:

"For it is notorious that what seems intuitively certain to one person may seem doubtful or even false to another."

Ayer's statement, cited above, fails to meet his own "verificationist" criterion; in that it is neither definitionally true, nor empirically ascertained. For instance, how could Ayer pontificate about another person's "intentional" state of doubtfulness, of which it is impossible to verify via empirical sensation? Also, the affirmation of "mental" concepts, such as "intuition" and "doubt", are hard to justify from Ayer's materialist perspective.

Andrew T. said...

Gregory:

I don't know that Ayer was (or anyone is) really a hardcore materialist in the manner you suggest. Consider the following reductio:

-----
Gregory: How old are you?

Atheist: 35.

Gregory: Ah, but "35" is an intangible concept! It does not exist empirically, and, as a hardcore materialist, you are forbidden from relying on any such intangible concepts. Therefore, I have caught you in an internal contradiction!
-----

I don't understand even hardcore materialists to be making the (silly) claim that nothing intangible exists. Rather, my understanding is that materialism is the proposition that empirical claims require empirical evidence.

Here's where Ayer's "verification" criterion comes into play. If I claim that I am 35, that has an empirical component and is therefore (to Ayer) meaningful. My age can be verified by extrinsic evidence, even if the internal referent is itself intangible.

The bottom line is that it's perfectly okay for materialists to be 35, or to fall in love, or to appreciate the aesthetics of a painting, or whatever.

Anonymous said...

"perfectly okay for materialists to be 35, or to fall in love, or to appreciate the aesthetics of a painting, or whatever."

I agree. The problem is that it would be just as ok for the materialist to lie about his age, rape instead of love, or to destroy rather than enjoy the aesthetic painting.

I just see no way around this without the materialist invariably begging the question.

Gordon Knight said...

In one of Ayer's books, he is quite critical materialism (I think the book was a history of 20th century philosophy, forget the exact title.

Ayer was a hardcore empiricist, not a materialist.

Andrew T. said...

Anonymous: "I agree. The problem is that it would be just as ok for the materialist to lie about his age, rape instead of love, or to destroy rather than enjoy the aesthetic painting."

I interpret this statement as claiming that materialists have no basis for ethics. I suppose one could make an argument that that's so, but it doesn't seem self-evidently true, and so far, you haven't made that argument.

Anonymous said...

"I interpret this statement as claiming that materialists have no basis for ethics. I suppose one could make an argument that that's so, but it doesn't seem self-evidently true, and so far, you haven't made that argument."

You are correct and thank you for understanding that I am not saying that materialists cannot be ethical.

The problem I see for the materialist is how to ground purpose.

We ride with our backs to the engine don't we?

Are we in Act I or Act IV?

Can a story be understood if you have not heard the whole of it?


Without this knowledge we can hardly affirm that such and such is objectively good.

Good why?

Well, because it benefits humanity.

But how can we know that acts that benefit humanity are ultimately good?

I agree with you that if materialism is true that it is not self evidently ethically subjective. But I take this to be an illusion. The parts of "us" (whatever that means) work just as the parts of trees, ants, and cancer work, namely mechanically.

I guess you could pull some purpose out of all this, but how does one determine whether the purpose is "good or bad?"

Thank you for any help that you can offer in this area.

I just don't see it.

Andrew T. said...

Anonymous: It seems to me that you're presuming that all materialist/secular ethics are, at their core, utilitarian. ("Good why? Well, because it benefits humanity. But how can we know that acts that benefit humanity are ultimately good?")

This is a category error. Although utilitarianism is one possible form of secular ethics, it is far from the only one. Go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and read up on the Rationalists, in particular Immanuel Kant, and you'll see that the landscape of secular ethics is rich and varied.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I used utilitarianism as "one" example of how secular ethics are
ill equiped to ground purpose objectively.

If you do not mind let's hear how you ground purpose objectively.

All the best