Monday, December 14, 2009

Global Warming and Probability

BDK mentioned Pascal's Wager in the context of global warming. I think it raises an interesting point.

Suppose the evidence really supports the claim that there is a 50% likelihood that some sort of global catastophe will happen if we don't control greenhouse gas emissions. (I take it this is a vastly weaker clam than what the scientists are actually claiming.) If we change to "green" energies, we eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, which effectively prevents us from being taken seriously as a benefactor in the Middle East. It looks as if a shift to different energy sources might encourage capitalism of a healthy sort, with many energy providers competing to do it the best, as opposed to the unhealthy capitalism where the primary energy sources are controlled by a few huge companies. Those are my initial reflections on the situation, and I am sure there are many other considerations.

Now, I suspect that conservatives are going to give us a very different cost-benefit analysis, and I would like to see what that looks like.

How likely does global tragedy caused by global warming have to be in order for it to be in our interest to try to prevent it. What if there's a 10% chance that things will go horribly wrong because of climate change? Then should we do something, or not?

Who has the burden of proof here, the GW skeptic or the GW defender? On the face of things, I say the skeptic. Can anyone prove me wrong?

54 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note I stole that idea from John McCain.

bossmanham said...

Dr. Reppert,

I, as a conservative, am fully for separating ourselves from a dependence on foreign oil. I am fully for developing new forms of energy. What I am against is regulations that would raise the cost of current energy and limit the acquisition of this energy, as has been done for years. We obviously need and will always have a need for oil and coal as sources of energy. But what the climate change fanatics are doing is pushing for regulations that would limit liberties of individuals and businesses and would raise the prices of energy.

So the application of Pascal's wager here doesn't really work, since the switch that is being called for would cause greater harm to personal liberty and the economy when compared to not forcing the 'green' legislation on people.

Jeremy said...

So basically, give me liberty or give me death?

Conservativism and (modern) Liberalism as ideologies fall flat on their faces here. IF man-made climate change is true, then no amount of libertarian grandstanding is going to do you well. If industry is ultimately killing us, then regulation is needed.

Also, I am curious as to whether one instance of an industry forsaking efficiency and cost-effectiveness for the sake of social/environmental good can be found; that is, without regulation, litigation, or the threat thereof.

I'm all for free markets and personal liberty, but I really struggle with the conservative idolization of the market (particularly whilst criticizing the liberal optimism regarding human nature).

Jeremy said...

hmm...by "fall flat on thier face", I really meant "are irrelevant."

Blue Devil Knight said...

"the switch that is being called for would cause greater harm to personal liberty and the economy when compared to not forcing the 'green' legislation on people"

That is precisely the issue, not something that can be assumed.

Indeed, the scientists that study the issue are pretty clear in their conclusions that humans have something to do with the warming trend observed in the past 150 years, a trend larger than any seen in 2000 years.

The skeptic needs data and reasonable models that support the intuitively implausible view that the warming trend (which has caused things like melting of icecaps in Antarctica and the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro) has nothing to do with human behavior.

Also, green legislation isn't just about global warming even though that strangely becomes the focus almost to a neurotic degree. Green policies would also address the unequivocal fact of destruction of resources such as species and biomes by humans. Only the kooks wouldn't want to curtail such destruction, and realize the need to balance it against narrow GNP/GDP measures.

I can certainly understand why the scientists would mock and get annoyed by the skeptics, with people calling them 'fanatics' and such. I would lash out too in my personal emails.

Victor Reppert said...

After 9/11, Americas were willing to accept all kinds of intrusions against their "personal liberties" to prevent the possibility of being killed by terrorists, as evidence by the Patriot Act. Do you think the oil companies, and the politicians they buy and pay for, are going to decrease our reliance on foreign oil when it benefits those companies to maintain that dependence?

bossmanham said...

Do you think the oil companies, and the politicians they buy and pay for, are going to decrease our reliance on foreign oil when it benefits those companies to maintain that dependence?

I don't think that's the case. I think if given the opportunity domestic oil companies would much rather drill on our own soil for oil. It would be more cost effective and that savings would be passed on to the consumer. However, the government won't allow them to do so.

Ron said...

I disagree that the burden of proof is on the skeptic here. Like in the case with the existence of God and the truth of the Christian faith, the burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim rather than on the one that denies it. I say this not because I'm a skeptic, (I am agnostic on the issue of anthropocentric global warming) but because it is a fair rule.

I don't see how this is terrible from the point of view of the GW proponents since they claim that the evidence and argumentation bear this out.

PatrickH said...

There is no point in America trying to become "independent" of foreign oil, since it is dependent on the world economy, which will continue to be dependent on foreign oil. If the US tries to use tariffs, taxes or some other means to price oil higher than green technologies, the US will simply be subsidizing foreign oil consumers at US taxpayer expense. Oil independence is a pipe-dream.

As for the costs of not doing anything about AGW, assuming the case for AGW has been made (it hasn't...and BDK's "intuitive implausibilty" isn't quite a high enough standard for me at least), well, what about the costs of doing something about it? Don't you have to compare course of action X with foregone course of action Y? Stopping AGW will cost trillions, said money being spendable on other things, including ways of coping with the consequences of AGW. And that assumes the proposed solutions will work. Kyoto sure didn't.

My own view is that saying that the proof is on the skeptic is just plain wrong. The burden of proof has to be on the one who proposes massive expenditures, expansion of regulatory apparatus, etc. The burden of proof is on anybody and everybody making great big honking assertions about the future. On those who say to the third world that you just can't industrialize, sorry nope, we can't let you, AGW you see.

The burden of proof has to be on anyone making any drastic claims about anything. It always has to be.

Unless, as I suspect, the massive expenditures, hyper-intrusive regulatory apparatus and lowered living standards so beloved of the AGW eco-armageddonists ARE the point.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"Like in the case with the existence of God and the truth of the Christian faith, the burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim rather than on the one that denies it."

They have already met the burden, like 20 years ago, so now the skeptic must show why the mainstream view in science is wrong.

unkle e said...

"Unless, as I suspect, the massive expenditures, hyper-intrusive regulatory apparatus and lowered living standards so beloved of the AGW eco-armageddonists ARE the point."

So, you think the "burden of proof" is on the climate change scientists? (1) As BDK has said, that burden has already been met. The models have been developed, their predictions are being shown to be true (though not always precisely) and the majority of scientists endorse the findings. (2) I wonder if you would like to supply the burden of proof for your accusation here?

Ron said...

BDK,

I hear this constantly from AGW proponents. What I'm saying though shouldn't be that controversial. The "burden of proof" is always on the proponent because he is asking us to believe in something. Arguing on the basis of scientific consensus is just an argument from authority. It's like saying, "Naturalism is true because most philosophers believe in it." The point has to be argued for rather than just resting on authority.

This is especially true in the AGW debate since the whole issue is in contention as PatrickH's quote, "As for the costs of not doing anything about AGW, assuming the case for AGW has been made (it hasn't..." demonstrates. Ditto to PatrickH's point about the AGW proponents being the one's proposing massive public expenditures.

Again, I don't think think my point is unreasonable. In fact, if AGW is borne out of the science, you would win the argument against the skeptics.

Shackleman said...

I think the root of the differences of opinion on this matter stems from trust.

Non-scientists (and even scientists who are not specifically climate scientists) are so far out of their league when it comes to the extremely complicated and inexact nature of climate-science, that in all actuality no layperson knows a thing about it. Laypeople are just parroting the positions of the "side" they trust. So, those who trust the institution of science, will tend to feel strongly that AGW is real and that society should do something about it---after all the "science" proved the case 20 years ago.

Those that distrust the institution of science remain skeptical because the motivations of the scientists are suspect and, scientists regularly admit the fact that they are frequently wrong, and that that's a *good* thing, but not to worry, *this* time they've got it right for *sure*...scout's honor.

If the scientific consensus is right then we ought to do something. But if they're wrong and we act anyway, billions of people will suffer---some financially, some because their countries will be unable to affordably industrialize which would carry with it a very large human cost.

The stakes are high. Sadly no one, especially laypeople, but not even the climatologists themselves, know for certain what part humans have to play in this picture.

As an aside, I'm curious why atheists and naturalists even care. According to their world-views we'd just be delaying the inevitable anyway. The world WILL come to an end someday. What's so damned important about tomorrow that it can't all just end today instead? Save it for our children? Why? They'll die anyway. Everything comes to a tragic and insignificant and *permanent* end sometime. Might as well just enjoy the weather. Um, right?

Mark said...

Shackleman, this brings up a related question: many naturalists confess to enjoying ice cream, but if naturalism is correct, they're eventually going to die and not eat ice cream anymore. So if naturalism is true, then one has to wonder what the whole point of eating ice cream in the first place is!

Doctor Logic said...

Nice one, Mark!


Shackleman,

As an aside, I'm curious why atheists and naturalists even care.

And I'm curious why you take so much pride in being God's dancing pet monkey. God held you back in school by 42 billion grades so you could trip on banana skins for his entertainment. That God! What a practical joker!

Shackleman said...

**shrug**

I suppose poking fun at me and being snarky answers the question then? Perhaps you should direct your sarcasm and insults toward the memory of Nietzsche. It is from him and his thoughts that I'm left to ponder the nihilistic implications of naturalism and atheism.

But I suppose being bullish and rude is just easier and more entertaining than addressing the substance of my questions. I hope you two have enjoyed yourselves and feel better. You deserve big pats on the back.

At least Nietzsche wasn't a coward and a brute.

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

I think Mark answered your question. I was being snarky, but making a valid point: there's nothing more aesthetically pleasing to me in your worldview than in mine.

The answer to your question is that people don't get to choose what they like. We don't choose to want to survive, and we don't choose to prefer pleasure over pain.

It is aesthetically pleasing for humans to struggle to make a better life, here and now. It satisfies our need for more pleasure and less pain, and we'll only stop when we think that struggling will do nothing more than prolong the pain without providing any pleasure.

But that's not the situation in which we find ourselves. My life is a very happy one. In many ways we live in a golden age (despite stagnant economic standards for working people in the U.S.). People today are likely kinder and more moral than at any time in history. You certainly cannot make the case that struggle will only prolong the pain without making more pleasure.

We also have life goals we want to achieve. We want to contribute to our family/tribe. It's a natural urge for us. Global warming will usher in more suffering, and that increases pain, and reduces everyone's pleasure. It's rational to make our lives as pleasurable, pain free and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Preventing AGW generally helps that goal. (Rationality tells us how to achieve goals, but never what ultimate goals should be.)

Our civilization could die out tomorrow, or 500 years from now, or never. If you say that under naturalism, you wouldn't care which, I would not believe you.

According to your worldview, the tragedy of this world is imposed as a deliberate act of another mind. And our ultimate end, once we die (once we destroy this planet through GW or whatever) is to sit on God's lap, pleasuring him forever and ever. We're God's foam-headed (cyberskin?) teddy bear. Ooh! Goody! Does that make you want to halt AGW, or accelerate it?

Shackleman said...

Mr. Logic,

It seems that you, at least for the moment, have backed off from your mood that you are superior to those with whom you disagree. If so I'd be delighted to engage further in a dialogue with you.

You say: "The answer to your question is that people don't get to choose what they like. We don't choose to want to survive, and we don't choose to prefer pleasure over pain."

One who is contemplating suicide and one who is a masochist would disagree with you.

You say: "It is aesthetically pleasing for humans to struggle to make a better life"

So is that your answer then? We should confront AGW because it's aesthetically pleasing to do so?

You say: "People today are likely kinder and more moral than at any time in history."

Why, given naturalism, is being kinder and more moral something we should be compelled to strive for? (That is, of course, if the word "moral" even has any meaning whatsoever given materialism).

You say: "We want to contribute to our family/tribe. It's a natural urge for us. Global warming will usher in more suffering, and that increases pain, and reduces everyone's pleasure."

But this doesn't address the point I was raising. For those who protest against the measures being brought forth from Copenhagen share your motivations. They only wish to reduce the suffering and pain that would be caused if economies suffer needlessly battling a problem we cannot solve, (or a problem that doesn't really exist). You trust the institution. They do not.

You say: "Our civilization could die out tomorrow, or 500 years from now, or never. If you say that under naturalism, you wouldn't care which, I would not believe you."

You missed the forest for the trees. It is an undeniable and indisputable *fact* that civilization will die out. Someday. Given naturalism, why should society be *compelled* to try to prolong itself? If your answer is because we're "wired" to do so, I'll accept that. It's unsatisfying to me, it seems hollow, and is a conversation killer, but at least it's an answer. It's up to you to decide for yourself if that's enough of a reason for you to care.

You say: "According to your worldview, the tragedy of this world is imposed as a deliberate act of another mind. And our ultimate end, once we die (once we destroy this planet through GW or whatever) is to sit on God's lap, pleasuring him forever and ever. We're God's foam-headed (cyberskin?) teddy bear. Ooh! Goody! Does that make you want to halt AGW, or accelerate it?"

I see your mood of feeling superior and condescending is back. It is not my world view that holds that when we die we become cabana boys for God for all eternity. I don't know what happens to me when I die. And neither do you. But both of us will. And so will our children. And their children.

For the record, I believe we should try to halt AGW. I agree with BDK's assessment and find his use of Paschel's wager to be directly on point. Which is why it's also relevant to the nihilistic implications of the materialist's world view.

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

Why, given naturalism, is being kinder and more moral something we should be compelled to strive for?

You can't get an "is" from an "ought". Given naturalism, you can explain how we come to feel we "ought", but no more.

Given naturalism, why should society be *compelled* to try to prolong itself? If your answer is because we're "wired" to do so, I'll accept that. It's unsatisfying to me, it seems hollow, and is a conversation killer, but at least it's an answer.

Yep. That's the answer. There are historical/evolutionary reasons why we're wired that way, but I'm pretty sure they won't be any consolation to you.

It's up to you to decide for yourself if that's enough of a reason for you to care.

It is a fact that I care. If you like, physical laws necessitate that I care.

I don't reason myself into caring, per se. Reason can tell me that I ought to care about X iff I care about Y. Eventually, the chain of reasoning comes to rest on some cares that are hard-wired (including my care for reason itself).

I think, by definition, I find it satisfying. Besides, I don't see any alternatives. Does it matter whether God or evolution was responsible for the hard-wiring?

Shackleman said...

Mr. Logic,

"You can't get an "is" from an "ought". Given naturalism, you can explain how we come to feel we "ought", but no more."

I agree. Which is why I'm not entirely sure that you're being honest here. I suspect you really think there's an *ought* involved when it comes to AGW...that there is an objective standard principle here that we ought to strive for. I don't believe you that you *really* think whether or not one believes it's right to stop AGW is a matter of accidental evolutionary wiring.

But now we're really coming to face the implications of materialism aren't we? And circling back to my original pondering.

Isn't the question *really* whether or not there exists an objective moral standard? Isn't the question of AGW a moral one? If so, and if you're right that our ideas of "oughtness" and morality, come to us by no other way than by evolutionary accidents, then who cares what the protesters in Copenhagen think about AGW? Their wiring is just *different* than yours. They're not *wrong* to do nothing and sit back to watch the planet burn. They're just *different*.

So, be honest now. Which is it? Is it wrong (period) to sit by and do nothing about AGW? Or is it instead, just a matter of personal preference, forced upon an individual by their own accidental wiring? If it's the latter, than I see no point to you or anyone taking issue with the AGW skeptics and protesters.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Mark said:
" So if naturalism is true, then one has to wonder what the whole point of eating ice cream in the first place is!"

Huh?!

So something can't be enjoyed unless you will be able to enjoy it for an eternity? There is a strange assumption I often see in Christians, that something (like my life) only has a meaning if it will never end. I don't even know what to make of such a foreign assumption.

Indeed, to me some of the most meaningful moments are quite evanescent and rare. E.g., the birth of a child.

Shackleman said...

"There is a strange assumption I often see in Christians, that something (like my life) only has a meaning if it will never end."

Given naturalism, then in the future, when the cosmos finally succumbs to heat-death *all* things become annihilated. Including "meaning".

Perhaps you just don't ponder such things. Most people in my estimation don't. But is it not true?

When you, and all memory of you, and all accomplishments attributed to you is *inevitably* swallowed up into the abyss of nothingness, what then?

Laugh and point fingers and make fun if you must. But these are serious questions I'm asking. Nietzsche asked them too.

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

Isn't the question *really* whether or not there exists an objective moral standard? ... If so, and if you're right that our ideas of "oughtness" and morality, come to us by no other way than by evolutionary accidents, then who cares what the protesters in Copenhagen think about AGW?

You seem very confused about the nature of "oughts" and "cares".

To put it as simply as possible: a care is an ought is a want.

I can't think that I ought to X without caring about X, and I can't care about X unless I want something from X.

Maybe you think that oughts and cares are separate because I will sometimes do what I think I ought not do. For example, I might say that "I ought to do the homework which is due tomorrow before I go to the party," and then not do my homework despite my statement. What does it mean for me to not do what I ought to?

All it means is that I have conflicting wants and cares. What I truly meant, if I had been explicit, was "I ought to do the homework which is due tomorrow before I go to the party, because I will be too tired to do my homework (or do it well) after the party, and that will cause me to get a bad grade, and I care about getting a good grade in the long term, because I care about getting a good job in the long term, and a good job will make me happy, and I care about being happy."

IOW, I ought to X because I care about X.

If I didn't care about anything, then I would be subject to no oughts whatsoever.

Objective standards are irrelevant.

Suppose we had an oracle that could tell us what was in this "objective moral standard" of yours. Why should we care what is in the standard? Seriously? Who cares about a standard for the standard's sake? No one.

People champion moral standards because they have invented those standards as idealizations of their personal moral views, i.e., as idealizations of their personal cares and wants.

Your response suggests that unless the other guy is in violation of some abstract standard (whether I care about that standard or not), I ought not take action against the other guy. Where would you get such an idea?

The reality is that we each invent moral standards as idealizations of our cares and wants, and then we hold other people responsible for meeting those standards in order to satisfy our cares.

Mark said...

BDK, I was parodying Shackleman's point about why naturalists shouldn't care about the effects of global warming since people are going to die anyway.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crap, sorry Mark. I don't know how I lost the thread. Unfortunately your parody is actually an instance of a real type of reasoning, so Poe's Law was in effect I guess. :)

Shackleman said...

No Mr. Logic,

You care because you're wired to care. Not because you ought to care. Remember?

Someone's confused here, but it isn't me.

But alas, instead of addressing my posts, it's easier to just label me a crackpot as BDK did.

Just keep laughing and the questions will answer themselves.

Anonymous said...

Shackleman's got a point. It's a point which sticks in the craw of some naturalists, perhaps. But a point is a point.

People who eschew moral realism, intrinsic meaning, and real purpose should not be surprised when their talking as if those things existed gets them slapped. Trying to laugh it off, or whining about it, doesn't work.

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

You care because you're wired to care. Not because you ought to care. Remember?

Exactly! But our hard-wired cares are expressed as "oughts". Phenomenologically, "I ought to X" if and only if "I care about X" (or the consequences of X).

Here's the moral realist view. There are mysterious universal "oughts" floating in the ether. Our ethereal antennae detect these "oughts", and so we all know what we "ought" to do. A person with a "good" heart cares about all the "oughts" they detect, and acts accordingly. An "evil" person also detects these very same "oughts", but doesn't care about them (and, therefore, deserves to burn in hell, etc.).

However, few of us are globally evil or good. Instead, people are evil or good with respect to specific issues. A person who is good with respect to X not only sees that X is a universal ethereal ought, but also cares about X being an ought.

Now, I ask you, what is the difference between these two views when it comes to moral appeals?

On the materialist view, my moral appeal to you works if you share my care about X (or about X's consequences).

On your view, the moral appeal works if... you share my care about the "oughtness" of X.

Either way, moral appeals rely on the other person caring about X.

But it gets crazier. In your model, how do our moral antennae work? How do we know that, say, torturing a cat is wrong? Because we are hard-wired to care about tortured cats! That's how we know what's "right" and "wrong".

If your ethereal oughts existed, what would we expect to see? We would expect those people whose cares opposed moral reality (a) to consider themselves to be evil people, and (b) to be comfortable with their evilness.

Are you seeing that? I'm not.

If our moral antennae informed us all that torturing children was absolutely right, would you prefer to be good or evil? Personally, I would be proud to be evil!

This doesn't happen because we don't have antennae for detecting oughts. Our oughts are idealized from our hard-wired cares. Very very few people consider their idealized cares to be evil. People may consider themselves weak for not living up to their ideals, but their ideals almost never depart from their intuitive oughts.

Anonymous said...

What does the "A" stand for in
AGW? (I assume the GW is for Global Warming.)

Shackleman said...

Anon,

The "A" in AGW stands for Anthropomorphic. In other words, man-made.

So, everyone agrees the Earth is warming. That's not the debate. The debate is whether or not humans have contributed to the rate at which it's warming, and also, if we do contribute to it, if there's anything we can or should be doing about it.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Logic,

Will all due respect, it's becoming difficult to take you seriously. When you suggest that if it was "good" to torture babies, you'd proudly call yourself "evil", you are tacitly *admitting* that there really are objective moral standards, and the rest of your post therefore is nothing more than an exercise in semantics.

Forgive me, sir, but if you really do not believe that it's absolutely objectively wrong to torture babies for one's own personal amusement then you are batshit crazy and a danger to society.

I may not be able to prove it with language.....oh nevermind....this has become completely and utterly ridiculous. You know it's wrong. Period. You already sort of admitted it. Just say it. Stop denying what you already know to be true. You'll be able to reclaim a bit of your dignity and humanity once you do.

Mark said...

Shackleman, with all due respect, it's becoming difficult to take you seriously. Moral non-cognitivism is a well-respected philosophical tradition which you don't seem to have any prior awareness of. It doesn't entail that we don't have moral obligations, such as not torturing babies. Instead, it offers an alternative understanding of what it means to "have" a moral obligation, based on tacit expressions of moral attitudes rather than predication of free-floating and ontologically real moral properties.

For an introduction to non-cognitivism, of which you seem to be in dire need, go here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-cognitivism/. If you continue to insist that non-cognitivists are a "danger to society," then probably further discussion with you is pointless.

Shackleman said...

Mark,

Merry Christmas.

Mark said...

You too.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackleman: an incredulous stare is not an argument. I can understand that you would find antirealism about morals unpalatable, but that doesn't mean it is wrong. Pointing at baby rapists and such is emotionally powerful stuff, but still not a proof. It could just as easily prove that brains of a certain type are wired to have a response of disgust to such things. This is one of those big divides in thinking about morality.

My view is similar to DLs though a bit less specific. Being human partly means having a brain that paints the world with a moral hue. This doesn't bother me metaphysically any more than being an animal with a brain that paints the world with colors that aren't actually out there.

Also, it doesn't preclude the discovery of beauty, morality, and wonder any more than it would preclude the perception of shades of red.

This is not something I will be able to prove to a moral realist, it's more like arguments about God. It's one of those big-picture dealies that depends on a host of other beliefs about how the world is likely structured (e.g., if you are already happy with antinaturalism, then moral realism is no big deal).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Leave it to Victor's blog. We start with global warming, and end up with the ontology of moral propositions. Egads. Christians ya guys need to accept that we atheists can have moral arguments, bringing the discussion to the level of "Well how can you find anything moral anyway" is a red herring.

I think we can all agree that baby raping is wrong, and agree on a huge number of premises in the argument to that fact. It is amazing how much we can get by arguing about most policy issues without having to waste time on meta-ethics and other unanswerables.

Shackleman said...

BDK,

"Leave it to Victor's blog. We start with global warming, and end up with the ontology of moral propositions."

That's because the issue of Global Warming is rather obviously a moral one. If it weren't, there wouldn't be protesters on the streets in Copenhagen on the one side, and people incredulously staring at those protesters on the other.

I actually don't take issue with anything you've said in your 2:39 post. And I agree with your use of Pascal's wager which started the topic going.

What I disagree with is the notion that one needs a watertight philosophical, linguistic proof in order to know it's wrong to torture babies.

I don't believe anyone here actually believes that it's a matter of personal preference. So I don't believe anyone here is actually batshit crazy.

I'm willing to admit that I don't have all the answers, and that God doesn't answer all questions. I'm also willing to admit that it is *possible* that there is no God. I don't know everything.

Sadly though, some here appear so blinded by their unwaivering commitment to materialism, and so cocksure of themselves, that they've lost their common sense, and evidently in some cases their civility.

So, when confronted with crazy talk, I will continue to incredulously stare. As will most sane people I'd imagine. I don't need a rock solid intellectual proof to know right from wrong. And neither do any of you.

And on that note, I bid you all a very Merry Christmas!

Blue Devil Knight said...

"What I disagree with is the notion that one needs a watertight philosophical, linguistic proof in order to know it's wrong to torture babies. "

Who ever asked for such an argument? Who would disagree and say it isn't wrong to torture babies?

The disagreement is about the metaethical claims, the meaning of the terms 'wrong' or whatever. Luckily we can agree on enough to reach the same conclusions without going all meta. In most cases, anyway. There are some issues where the particular moral claims will be different because of the parties' metaethical views, but this is actually fairly rare. Even the abortion debate this isn't the main difference: the main difference is how soon after fertilization an ovum becomes a person. Both parties agree that it is wrong to kill persons without just cause, but disagree on whether a zygote is a person. And this comes down to ontology, not metaethics.

Anonymous said...

The way a moral anti-realist believes things are "wrong" is in such a way that drains it of all real meaning, yet the language is retained because - let's face it - it sounds better. "I believe torturing babies is wrong in the same way I believe hamburgers are delicious. Totally subjective, a matter of taste." There you go.

But what I'm seeing here is, frankly, a sad attempt at having one's cake and eating it too. Being able to completely deny the reality of morality, while at the same time at least *sounding* as if that really wasn't the case. And doing one's damndest to obfuscate when called on it, talking about how moral obligations can still exist for the moral anti-realist, they simply have a different understanding which, yadda yadda. It's as lame as Dennett's weird attempt at insisting Stalin was a theist rather than an atheist because Stalin acted as if he was God. Sorry, but no. Not even if it's coming out of the mouth of a "respected philosopher".

Call Shackleman ignorant of respected philosophical traditions or ignoring the metaethical particularities or whatever other scheme desired. The man makes a strong point.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: luckily we can still argue about particular ethical claims and you don't need to know my metaethical views at all: rarely will it make any difference.

My hunch is you'd agree with my claim that baby raping is wrong, even if you disagree with my ultimate analysis of what I mean by the word 'wrong.' By saying it is wrong one implication is that I think people should not do it. I hope that is one minimal commitment we both share.

When having a perfectly reasonable discussion of some ethical claim, the metaethical arguments are a red herring, no matter how interesting they are (and I admit they are very interesting and tough issues there for all parties naturalist and theist alike).

Anonymous said...

No, BDK, I wouldn't agree. Because what you mean by "baby raping is wrong" is utterly different from what I mean by "baby raping is wrong" as a moral realist. And I have no interest in aiding that particular obfuscation, or glossing over it in the hopes of cheerfully coming to at least SOME agreement.

Again: You think baby raping is wrong in a way that ultimately amounts to a sense of taste. Baby raping is wrong the way Hellraiser 3 was a bad movie, or some set of drapes are tacky.

As for "rarely it will make any difference", I highly doubt it. But as I said, moral anti-realists are typically in the game of trying their damndest to appear just like moral realists in practice. Using the same language, displaying the same moral indignation, etc, even though it's an illicit con. Thankfully, the value of honesty is just a matter of taste. Right?

Doctor Logic said...

Anonymous,

Because what you mean by "baby raping is wrong" is utterly different from what I mean by "baby raping is wrong" as a moral realist. And I have no interest in aiding that particular obfuscation, or glossing over it in the hopes of cheerfully coming to at least SOME agreement.

You're wrong about this. Moral relativism doesn't
posit any differences in the phenomenology of morality.

Moral realism is the idea that the propositions we use to state our moral opinions have truth values that are independent of any phenomenology.

Moral realism is the idea that, even if you believe that murder is wrong and have an aversion to murder, murder could actually be an absolute moral good (or vice versa). That is, moral realism holds that certain moral propositions about murder are true no matter what anyone thinks or feels. Of course, moral realists are convinced that their personal opinions guide them to absolute truth, and, curiously, solely on the basis of their opinions. They're quite convinced, despite the fact that it is impossible to remove our moral bias through any sort of blind testing. (Why is it that religious folk are always stuck defending claims that are indistinguishable from bias?)

BDK is correct. Moral realism is irrelevant to any specific moral argument. Your moral realism is just a sort of moral-superiority badge you stick in our faces. Apart from that, it serves no purpose.

Anonymous said...

Save the smoke-blowing for someone else, DL. I'm pointing out that there are grave differences between the moral realist and the moral anti-realist, and this constant whining about "badges" and "moral superiority" won't change those facts. Nor will whimpering about bias, as if "religious folks" are the only ones who have such - and as if the existence of such bias can't be used against the moral anti-realist just as easily.

What is "wrong" for a moral realist is deeply different from what is "wrong" for a moral anti-realist. I know this really gets your goat, since inevitably someone asks you if baby raping is wrong and after you struggle to hug your subjectivity and your desire not to be regarded as a moral monster in the making, you have to admit that 'well, no, it's not REALLY wrong.. but it still doesn't suit my tastes and that should be good enough!!!'.

It's not. Deal with it. And for God's sake, don't whine about it. There's no morality you can appeal to, remember?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon:
Please provide an example where the difference in our analysis of "wrong" would lead to a difference in our first-order moral judgments. I can provide hundreds of examples where it just doesn't matter (I already explained one above: abortion).

You don't get to legislate the semantics of moral terms, no matter how much derision you pile on. Luckily, even though there is no universal semantics for moral terms (we have deontological, utilitarian, subjectivist, divine command theory, etc), we can still argue about what should be done.

To suggest that two people who disagree on the semantics of 'wrong' cannot discuss first-order moral claims is proven false by the data. However, if you want to live in a bubble where you only talk about moral claims with people that agree with your moral semantics, be my guest. Good luck getting legislation passed with that attitude. :P Maybe you'd be happier in Saudi Arabia, where secular justification is not the ideal.

Note also I I never said moral judgement was a matter of taste like what type of soup I like. That's not a moral judgement. I wouldn't say that people ought not to eat tomato soup, but I would say they ought not to murder. They are different.

As Obama once said, if you see someone who is about to kill their child, you shouldn't let them go ahead with it just because they claim God told them to do it. They need to be able to provide a justification for their actions that meets the rather strict demands of our secular institutions of justice. That may actually be a good case where the metaethical views might differ: I, of course would say we should stop the person from killing their kid. Anonymous would say it depends on whether the guy is lying or not.

Anonymous said...

BDK, who mentioned "God" here? Why not head on over to the philpapers survey and take a note about how many philosophers, despite atheists being very well represented, are nevertheless moral realists? You're just all worked up at having the unfortunate truth pointed out about your moral anti-realism. Doesn't sound so nice when you dump philosophical maneuvering and boldly state it, does it?

And no, of course "discussions can take place". But what would be discussed between the parties would differ greatly, and you damn well know it. What 'wrong' would mean would be vastly different for the moral realist versus the moral anti-realist. Saudi Arabia, you will find, is entirely capable of passing secular laws. I also love the idea of "secular justification" being the ideal. Yes, because that's the most moral method for a moral anti-realist, right? Oh, wait a minute.

Finally, your last quip is idiotic. Not only did I not bring God into this conversation, but are you telling me that if God exists and God commands an act of murder, that the truth of "God said to do this" could not be compelling to allow it, or would not be evidence it's good? For Darwin's sake, think before you type.

Wait, why should you? It isn't a moral good. ;)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon, as I expected you didn't answer my first question. Give a case where a difference in our analysis of the term 'good' would necessitate different answers to first-order ethical questions. Put your money where your mouth is.

There is a good analogy here with philosophy of mathematics. Some are realists, some are conventionalists, some are fictionalists. Once they get down to arguing about mathematical propositions (e.g., 1+1=2), they usually can do so just fine. Similarly we can have perfectly meaningful conversations about what people ought to do, even though we differ on the ultimate analysis of the word 'right' and 'wrong.'

That is the kernel I've argued for, it is obviously true, and you've denied it. Frankly I am starting to get troll vibes here, as it is so obviously true. The opposite view is falsified by the data (i.e., just look at congress or people on the street--people don't need to stop to make sure their meta-ethics match up before they have conversations about whether global warming legistlation should be passed). It is falsified by common sense. Perhaps the real silly one is me, taking the troll bait.

While your vitriol is entertaining but increasing your volume while saying something silly doesn't make it less silly.

To sum up: people with different views on the nature of right/wrong behavior can have meaningful conversations about right/wrong behavior.

You are right not all moral realists are theists. That doesn't change any of the above.

Again, for anyone following this thread, I'm still wondering when Anon is going to give an example of where this will matter for discussion of a real issue. He dismissively said it would matter, but I'm still waiting for a single example. Until then I'm done here.

Shackleman said...

I know I bowed out of this thread some days ago, but I was struck by this from you, BDK:

"Similarly we can have perfectly meaningful conversations about what people ought to do, even though we differ on the ultimate analysis of the word 'right' and 'wrong.'"

I don't think you can be so dismissive of Anon's point and I don't think you can so easily declare the above. What one "ought" to do is a consequence which flows from what is right or wrong. Therefore, establishing what is right and wrong is paramount in the discussion. If two disagree on the definition of the words "right" and "wrong", then two much first flesh that out before the two can establish the outness that is entailed thereby.

The point is made clear if we use Mr. Logic's thoughts and apply them in an extreme case.

To paraphrase, if it is indeed true, as Mr. Logic claims, "wrong" is most accurately defined as "somthing which displeases the senses", then if one's senses are pleased by torturing babies, then one is not engaging in anything "wrong", by definition, and therefore we _ought not_ prosecute them in the courts. Or, we _ought_ to let them. Or, we _ought_ to [fill in the blank].

What we _ought_ to do flows from what is right and what is wrong, and therefore defining those terms, and how we arrive at those definitions *is* the meaningful part of the conversation.

BDK, it seems to me that you're hiding from Anon's points by putting the cart before the horse.

And lastly, your supplying your own vitriol will not do anything to quell the vitriolic atmosphere of the discussion. We *ought* to all stand and look squarely in the mirror before accusing others of ill temper and bad manners.

Doctor Logic said...

...then if one's senses are pleased by torturing babies, then one is not engaging in anything "wrong", by definition, and therefore we _ought not_ prosecute them in the courts. Or, we _ought_ to let them. Or, we _ought_ to [fill in the blank].

Where did all these oughts come from, Shackleman? Do moral anti-realists hold that there is an absolute ought not to prosecute people for breaking non-absolute rules? Wouldn't that be acceptance of an absolute moral law?

Sigh.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Logic,

Perhaps my point would be more clear to you if you had paid closer attention to the context of my post.

I was not arguing for absolute "oughts", I was arguing that discussion of oughts can only be had once the definition of "right" and "wrong" is agreed to, or at least understood by the discussing parties. That is because my position is that oughts are logically entailed by one's definition of right and wrong. Would you like to argue that point or engage in further discussion about it?

Perhaps I didn't make my case. That's fine. Perhaps you would like to show me my error. That'd be fine too. But it would be helpful if we were at least discussing the same topic.

Either way, I'm puzzled. Why do you feign exasperation toward me? My thoughts are, after all, just a product of my accidental neurological misfirings. Remember? Why get frustrated at a chemical machine when its function is merely a product of its necessary chemical arrangements?

I don't kick my computer when it blue screens. Okay, I do. But it's pointless to do so.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman: example? That's all I want. One example of where this will matter.

If you want a discussion of the nature of right and wrong, fine. Very cool topic. But a different topic.

While that's a very interesting topic in its own right, it is thankfully not necessary to have that conversation before talking about whether people ought to torture babies.

As for decorum in blogs, you might just consider where were are interacting. People who come into a blog and treat others with respect, humility, self-searching, will be treated with the same (e.g., Gordon Knight). Those who come in overconfidently spouting put downs, who are ignorant, not addressing the topic, earn a solid internet beatdown and vigorous refutation (e.g., Ilion). In other words, if someone acts like a know-it-all, and insults everyone, then they should expect to get some fire back.

You have made various comments about me being mean, or dismissing you, or whatever, I think this is the third or fourth time. Nobody else has done this (except perhaps Ilion once and that puts you in very bad company). I think maybe you should ignore my posts because you are a bit too thin skinned and it is frankly awkward to have the conversation brought to this level this often by you in particular. Or perhaps please just ignore all my posts. Anonymous can take care of himself, obviously, he is handling himself just fine.

At any rate, this interesting topic of global warming got turned into a weird red herring spiral.

Have a good holiday everyone. Don't torture any children. It is behavior that you ought not to do, frankly, I personally think it is wrong. Perhaps your metaethics makes you want to disagree with me. In that case, stay away from my kids.

Shackleman said...

BDK,

My example served to answer your demand. I showed how if one's definition of wrong was "doing something that displeased the senses", then the arguments of what one ought to do or ought not to do would be different than if one's definition was something other than that.

I met your challenge quite plainly. What else would you be looking for?

Secondly, my posts have been met with unsolicited snark and insult by Dr. Logic (who admitted such), Mark, who has been belittling and sarcastic, and you, who evoked Poe's law in reference to my post, which I'm sure you're aware insinuates that I'm a crackpot and an ignoramus.

Now, my skin isn't too thin for such petty internet tough guy bullshit. But when ***you*** complain about people being vitriolic, then you're a hypocrite because you participate in such petty bullshit yourself.

That you don't like having that pointed out to you isn't my problem.

I try to be respectful and genuine in my critiques. I also try to be humble and come at this blog in the spirit of dialogue, intellectual debate, and sharing. I've also over the years fully admitted that I'm a layperson with a strong interest in philosophy. I come here to share my layperson's perspective, and to learn from other smarter, more learned people than I am. But when I'm met with sarcasm, snark, insult, and pettiness, without instigating any such bullshit, I feel well within my rights to defend myself against the mob.

You tend to hold people to a different standard of civility than you hold yourself to. It's here for all to see.

Perhaps, since you are a good example of one who can dish it but cannot take it, it is *you* who should refrain from responding to my posts as I fully intend on continuing to point out hypocrisy when I see it. You'll have to find a way to deal with it.

Mark said...

Shackleman, I was sarcastic for the sake of providing a reductio against your original point (which you never really responded to). I was belittling in response to your ignorant and offensive reaction to Doctor Logic's perfectly friendly comment. I think you should start engaging with the substance of our points instead of complaining about our impatient (but not inappropriately so) tones.

To paraphrase, if it is indeed true, as Mr. Logic claims, "wrong" is most accurately defined as "somthing which displeases the senses", then if one's senses are pleased by torturing babies, then one is not engaging in anything "wrong", by definition, and therefore we _ought not_ prosecute them in the courts. Or, we _ought_ to let them. Or, we _ought_ to [fill in the blank].

That's not how "wrong" is defined according to expressivists. According to expressivists, "wrong" doesn't have a definition at all. To call something wrong is to perform a particular action, namely, an expression of one's own (actual) attitude. If it were the case that my attitudes were pro-infant torture, then yes, I'd refrain from calling infant torture wrong, since my moral attitudes wouldn't prohibit it. This gives me the counterfactual claim C1: "If I were pro-infant torture, I wouldn't call infant torture wrong." But since my attitudes actually prohibit infant torture, and since calling something immoral is an expression of my actual attitudes, I can't conclude the following counterfactual claim C2 from C1: "If I were pro-infant torture, infant torture wouldn't be wrong." It's C2, not C1, that you need in order to refute expressivism as a serious theory, but unfortunately for your case you can't get there.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman:
My example served to answer your demand. I showed how if one's definition of wrong was "doing something that displeased the senses", then the arguments of what one ought to do or ought not to do would be different than if one's definition was something other than that.

Please clarify. What specifically would this lead to, and what specific moral theory are you talking about?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Michael Shermer asks the Christian one simple question: “What would you do if there were no God? Would you commit robbery, rape, and murder, or would you continue being a good and moral person? Either way the question is a debate stopper. If the answer is that you would soon turn to robbery, rape, or murder, then this is a moral indictment of your character, indicating you are not to be trusted because if, for any reason, you were to turn away from your belief in God, your true immoral nature would emerge…If the answer is that you would continue being good and moral, then apparently you can be good without God. QED.”

That's from Loftus.

In the comments thread, I critiqued this argument, and Loftus had some good and bad responses to my critique.

My first response is here.