Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reply to Beversluis on moral objectivity

With respect to Lewis’s moral argument, poses some questions about how Lewis structured the moral argument, but I think that we could consider his argument by using the structure provided by C. Stephen Evans:
1) Probably, unless there is a God, there cannot be objective moral obligations.
2) There are objectively binding moral obligations.
3) Therefore, probably, there is a God.
I realize that some of Lewis’s rhetoric suggests something stronger than the probabilistic argument I present here, but part of the responsibility of a philosopher succeeding Lewis is to develop and strengthen his arguments and to make reasonable conclusions as to what the arguments really do show.
An important part of Lewis’s defense of the moral argument is his argument for objective moral values. However, it is important to point out that Lewis had a considerable interest in defending moral objectivity per se. Hence, his book The Abolition of Man was a critique of subjectivist philosophy, particularly as it manifested itself in the underlying presuppositions of English textbooks. He criticized Lewis in the previous edition for comparing moral values, for the subjectivist, to a mere, private taste of his own, such as a liking for pancakes or a dislike for spam. In this edition he does admit that Bertrand Russell compared moral values to a taste for oysters, and maintained that there could be no debate concerning moral values. This we might call simple subjectivism. However there can be a more sophisticated type of subjectivism, and here he turns primarily to the philosophy of Hume to provide a foundation for the kind of subjectivist view that he finds unrefuted by Lewis’s arguments.
Indeed, if someone were to try to generate a moral system without appealing to anything which might embarrass a modern naturalist ontologically, such as Kantian synthetic a priori knowledge, Platonic forms, Aristotelian entelechies, or the Christian God, it’s hard to improve on Hume, at least as a place to start. The moral life, for Hume, rests on two pillars: social utility and sympathy. First, human beings have an interest in getting along peaceably with their fellows. Second, we all have sympathetic feelings toward others. Some feelings are private feelings of our own, such as when we call a certain person “my enemy.” If I have personal feelings of enmity toward someone, it may be simply that he and I are rivals for something that we cannot both have but which I desperately want. But if I call him vicious, Hume says that I am expecting other people to concur. So if I were to call, say, a serial killer vicious, I expect the sympathy of other persons toward his victims and their families to bring them to the same conclusion that I have drawn.
But I think there are some problems which attend Humean subjectivism which also attend other forms of subjectivism that say “Yes, moral judgments are subjective, but, they have characteristic X that puts them a cut above other subjective feelings. First, there is a social utility to much behavior that we call moral, but the social benefits of the moral life are rather contingent. If I have long ago committed a murder, and am living peacefully in another state, I can effectively ruin my social life by confessing the crime, and yet that is precisely what I ought to do. Slavery was pretty socially useful in undergirding virtually every society from the Egypt of the Pyramids to the antebellum South, but it is nevertheless a morally unacceptable practice.
At the same time, Humean sympathy seems to be one more emotion amongst many. Other people may find it agreeable to deal with people who have lots of sympathy in their emotional makeup, as opposed to, say, sadism, by why are these feelings thought to be superior to others. The following quote from Lewis on Instinct could also be used as a response to Hume’s attempt to ground morality on sympathy:
But why ought we to obey Instinct? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it?—an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement about psychological fact 'I have an impulse to do so and so' we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle 'I ought to obey this impulse'. Even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows, it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge. For even the Innovator admits that many impulses (those which conflict with the preservation of the species) have to be controlled. And this admission surely introduces us to a yet more fundamental difficulty.
Hume appeals to the universality of sympathy as a basis for the moral life, but does sympathy alone possess this universality? Competitiveness, the desire to get ahead of the other guy, is, so far as I have been able to tell, pretty universal in the human frame as well. (Drive a few miles in rush hour traffic and ask yourself whether sympathy or competitiveness has a greater purchase on human nature). Our morality is supposed to step in and act as a referee when we are pulled by two opposing impulses. So I am driving down the road on the way to an important meeting, and I see an injured person lying in the road. I want to get to the meeting, because a promotion hangs on my being there, and I want to climb the ladder at my job. But the person in the road needs my help. Yes, my sympathy is on the side of stopping by the side of the road, but I also want that promotion. Why should I obey my sympathy as opposed to my desire to get ahead? I don’t think Hume’s theory, or any other subjectivist theory, provides a good answer.

39 comments:

Clayton said...

I don't think moral objectivity poses any problem for the naturalist, but that's something I've said before and we're not going to get anywhere going down that road again. I'm worried about the basic argument form:

"1) Probably, unless there is a God, there cannot be objective moral obligations.
2) There are objectively binding moral obligations.
3) Therefore, probably, there is a God."

That looks like this:
1. Probably, unless p, ~q.
2. q.
3. Probably p.

That looks like this:
1. Probably, unless someone rigs the lottery for me, I'll lose.
2. I won the lottery. (WOOOOOOOO!!!!)
3. Probably, someone rigged the lottery in my favor.

Big lotteries make 1. true, but they don't put the winner in any position to accept 3. Part of the problem is that you cannot assign a high prior probability to the hypothesis that there's someone with the means and the motive to rig the lottery. I think naturalists don't think there's a high prior probability that God exists.

Steve said...

Clayton,

I think your "probably" is in the wrong place in premise 1 of the lottery argument. The truth is not your 1, but

1'. Unless someone rigs the lottery for me, I'll probably lose.

This true premise would make the argument invalid. Your version therefore fails to show any problem with the basic argument form.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

Why should I obey my sympathy as opposed to my desire to get ahead? I don’t think Hume’s theory, or any other subjectivist theory, provides a good answer.

The subjectivist's theory doesn't purport to answer that question. It only purports to describe what you choose to do or the mechanism by which you choose it. The theory cannot say that your choice was right or wrong in an absolute sense.

There's no problem here for the subjectivist.

normajean said...

Doc- that's the first time I've read that admission. Thanks for being honest!

Doctor Logic said...

normajean,

I'm kinda surprised that anyone would think otherwise. I think the whole point of moral subjectivism is that morality can be objectively described, but not objectively prescribed.

So, moral subjectivism doesn't tell you what you ought to do. It tells you why you think you ought to do it.

Has the definition of subjectivism been lost on this forum's moral realists for all this time?

normajean said...

Doc— But I trust my moral and sensory experiences—I’m a realist about both. The fact is that we have sensory experiences and moral experiences, which we cannot get outside of in order to show their veridicality. As such, they share the same epistemological status. You simply accept them as fundamentally properly basic beliefs unless you’re given some reason to doubt them i.e. unless there is some sort of defeater for those beliefs.

Mark said...

Victor, could you say precisely what 1. means? I could think of a bunch of candidates:

A. P(no moral obligations|no God) is high;
B. P(moral obligations|God) is vastly higher than P(moral obligations|no God);
C. P(if no God, then no moral obligations) is high.

The argument using A. is invalid due to Clayton's reasons, i.e., probabilistic modus tollens is invalid. The argument using B. is perhaps valid depending on how we spell out "vastly higher," but I think Euthyphro gives an atheist good reason to doubt this premise is true. The same can be said of the argument using C. There's simply no reason to believe morality would exist if God existed, if there's no reason to believe it wouldn't exist if God didn't exist.

Clayton said...

Steve,

I'm sort of tired so if there's a mistake, I'll probably miss it. I don't see what the problem is with my 1. It looks a lot like your 1.

Mine: Probably, unless p, ~q.
Yours: Unless p, probably ~q.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Victor,

What is troubling to me about the moral argument for God's existence is that I fail to see how God provides better solutions for the types of problems that plague the ethical non-theist.

To take the pet critique of this post, you and Lewis ask why we should give more weight to our sympathy than to our competitiveness. I take this as a good critique of subjectivism, but can theism answer the question any better? It seems to me that theism typically just refers the question upwards - i.e., Why give more weight to following God's commands than our instincts? or Why give more weight to participating in the divine nature than to participating in the human nature? Etc.

I realize this is beyond the point of replying to Beversluis, so perhaps you could address this question in another post.

Joshua

Steve said...

Clayton,

They are, or at least can be, different. One says there is a connection between p and ~q and that connection is probabilistic. The other says there is probably a connection between p and ~q.

If, by 1, you state by the probable existence of a connection then the argument 1 through 3 is valid. If you state the existence of a probablistic connection then it isn't.

In many cases the probable existence of a connection and the existence of a probablistic connection go together so it's hard to find examples where they come apart. I don't have time to do that right now. I'll try to post again later.

Steve

Steve said...

Clayton,

Here's a example of a (1) through (3) style argument which is valid.

(1) Probably, unless a number is odd, it can be expressed as the sum of two prime numbers. (Goldbach's conjecture.)
(2) 54,174,359,742 is even
(3) So probably: 54,174,359,742 can be expressed as the sum of two primes.

This looks like a good example of the valid form. Of course, you still have a point ... it may be that the argument is intended to be a "best explanation" or bayesian style argument in which case the conclusion doesn't necessarily follow and needs some further premises to get it working properly. That is what Mark is asking about. Of course these discussions of the form of the argument don't help us get very far about evaluating the argument. I reckon I'd endorse both the deductive version I've painted and the bayesian variant too. Not saying I could persuade many people, just that I think they'd be sound arguments.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

normajean,

But I trust my moral and sensory experiences—I’m a realist about both. The fact is that we have sensory experiences and moral experiences, which we cannot get outside of in order to show their veridicality. As such, they share the same epistemological status.

I disagree.

You'll agree that I can't be wrong about how I currently feel or what I currently sense. If I feel cold, I can't be wrong about that. The room might not be cold, but I can't be wrong about how it feels to me.

However, physical realism doesn't rest purely on how things feel to me. What makes the physical world real are evidences that assure us that it's more than just what we feel in the moment.

Physical realism is known because physics doesn't only predict how objects will interact with me, but also how objects will interact with other objects. The physical world that we infer from our senses is predictive. We can show that how I feel about temperature correlates with how temperature acts on things that lack opinions. For example, a hot flame melts a candle, even though the candle has no opinions, sensations, etc.

In contrast, morality predicts nothing except how I feel. In this respect it is just like aesthetics or gastronomic taste. If I don't like onions, then that predicts that I probably won't like onion soup, but it doesn't predict anything about the soup otherwise. Morality is just like that.

Moral realism is illusory because the only things ever involved in moral judgments are personal feelings. Morality is divorced from consequences... an "evil" man can profit from his evil, and that doesn't stop him being evil. We don't know the good people by how much they have profited. Similarly, a good man can be punished. So punishment isn't a test for evil either. There's simply no way to tell good from evil apart from how you personally feel about it. It's subjective.

We could biologically engineer Osama bin Laden to feel good and evil the same way as you do, but that wouldn't prove your morality was right. There's no possible way to be assured that your moral tastes are right any more than you can prove that your taste in food or music is right.

So, it's not a level playing field between physics and morality. Morality has no basis for ever being incorrect. Your moral opinions are incorrigible. Of course, others may not like your opinions, and may act to change you, but what does that prove?

normajean said...

Doc- I'm not sure you've succeeded in showing how we "get outside" of our experience to show veridicality. But your response is interesting either way (your good at insight). Let me think about what you've written.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"Has the definition of subjectivism been lost on this forum's moral realists for all this time?"

To put it another way: the moral realists have failed in fulfilling their obligation to offer sound arguments, and if they intentionally did so, then they have acted immorally, unless they feel otherwise. :-)

Doctor Logic said...

Francis,

That was a joke, right?

Hey, you're a philosophy professor.

I'm curious. Do you disagree with my definition of subjectivism?

Subjectivism is the claim that absolute "oughts" do not exist. That is, a person's moral opinions might be objectively described, but not objectively, morally judged.

According to subjectivism, moral claims are objective only to the extent that we might have an objective understanding of how the claimant reached his/her judgment, but the claim itself has no intrinsic/absolute truth value.

Subjectivism supports no objective "oughts". There's nothing I ought to do, purely in light of subjectivism being the case. Subjectivism simply means that any moral axiom to which I hold is assumed on my own shoulders, not on any other basis.

Agree?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Doctor Logic:

Given your claims, what do you suggest I now do in order to properly reform my cognitive life?

Frank

Doctor Logic said...

Francis,

Given your claims, what do you suggest I now do in order to properly reform my cognitive life?

Well, my suggestions would be relative to my subjective view of what is "proper". And, of course, you would only accept my advice if it ultimately seemed subjectively proper according to your own morality also. (That's how persuasion works.)

In theory, I could threaten to impose some penalty on you if you fail to comply, and that might nudge you to feel that accepting my advice was a more proper course of action in the grand scheme of things. I don't see much chance of that here, however.

So, in order to persuade you to alter your policy, I would have to appeal to something you value. For example, you might be more committed to verifiable truth than to dogma or preconceptions about the nature of moral persuasion.

So, I would suggest that you not assume that my subjectivism contradicts my efforts to persuade others to my moral opinions. It sounds to me as if you think moral persuasion requires objective morality, whereas it actually requires either (1) some mutually-held (intersubjective) value, or (2) coercion.

(The principle that one ought to grant others the freedom to do anything that's not objectively wrong is an objectivist principle, not a subjectivist/relativist one.)

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Well, my suggestions would be relative to my subjective view of what is "proper". And, of course, you would only accept my advice if it ultimately seemed subjectively proper according to your own morality also. (That's how persuasion works.)

So, if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that if I disagreed with this account I would be wrong in doing so. Am I right in drawing this conclusion?

If you answer, "yes," but then I go about telling everyone I know that you said "no," would I have committed a wrong? But if you answer, "no," but you should have answered "yes" because you know that I am right, would you have committed a wrong against me?

Doctor Logic said...

Francis,

So, if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that if I disagreed with this account I would be wrong in doing so. Am I right in drawing this conclusion?

What I am saying is that if you subjectively hold up rationality and honesty as ideals, and you look at what subjectivism means (it has an objective definition), then you'll conclude that my description of subjectivism is correct, and agreeing with me is subjectively the right thing to do.

The rightness and wrongness you leave dangling in your question without refinement (and open for equivocation, I might add) would be relative to your own deepest moral fondness for truth and reason. If honesty and rationality aren't among those principles, then you may not be wrong by your own standards to reject my claims, even if you find them technically correct.

If you answer, "yes," but then I go about telling everyone I know that you said "no," would I have committed a wrong?

You would have committed a wrong against the morality of honesty and transparency. If you don't hold to those moral ideals, then you probably won't find what you're doing to be wrong.

The vast majority of people hold to those principles as ideals, if not as practical standards. That doesn't make them absolutely right, of course. But, since you are a person, I do give pretty good odds that you hold rationality and honesty as ideals, too.

Again, moral persuasion is relative to the receiver's subjective moral principles. My moral appeal to you will be effective if it resonates with your own moral position.

Example: Suppose you want to convince me that abortion is wrong in all cases, and you hold that view because you think that personhood begins at conception, and you hold that all fetuses are persons. While I may agree that personhood entails a right to protection from harm, I don't believe that a fetus is a person. So you might then try to make the case that abortion is somehow bad for mothers, because I will then accept your argument against abortion on the grounds that mothers are known to be persons. However, if I did not think persons have a right to protection from harm, then your arguments would not be persuasive.

Again, moral subjectivism is the claim that our moral thinking can be objectively described, but moral claims don't have any independent truth value. It is not contradictory for a moral subjectivist to hold (and enforce) a moral position any more than it is contradictory for a musical subjectivist to prefer to listen to a particular kind of music.

Well, I just googled you, and I found an article entitled "Why I Am Not A Moral Relativist." You quote Tom Beauchamp who rightly points out that a principle such as "One must tolerate any moral practice that is not objectively wrong" is itself an objective moral principle. But if one is not a moral realist, then that principle goes out the window. As a subjectivist, I don't have to tolerate the actions of people I subjectively find offensive. I can consistently fight Hitler even if Hitler is not objectively wrong. And I can fight the forces of irrationality and dishonesty, even if they're not objectively wrong. As in WWII, most people will be on my side.

In your paper, you say Since nobody’s morality is in principle superior, should we then flip a coin or simply conclude that "might makes right"?

Might does not make right. It simply wins.

It looks like neither you nor Victor understands moral subjectivism. What gives? Isn't this your job?

Doctor Logic said...

I'll just add that there are certainly some moral relativists who fall prey to the fallacy that Beauchamp refers to. That is, there are some relativists who use moral relativism to argue that we all absolutely should be tolerant of other moralities. I am not one of those who falls for this.

However, moral realists fall prey to the fallacy even more uniformly, IME. When a moral subjectivist comes before him, the realist typically suggests that the subjectivist is being inconsistent by acting against moralities that the subjectivist dislikes. The realist typically claims that the subjectivist has no objective reason to oppose, say, racism or slavery, so the subjectivist is being inconsistent by opposing racism and slavery. Of course, the realist is wrong because under subjectivism, we don't need objective moral reasons for our moral behavior. We only need subjective reasons.

When you see a realist fall prey to this fallacy, it just shows they don't know what they're talking about.

(Even if moral realism were true, people would still only have moral behavior if they subjectively desired that behavior. Being good isn't automatically a rational choice if moral realism is true.)

normajean said...

Doc- wouldn't it be better to describe you as a moral nihilist?

Doctor Logic said...

normajean,

Doc- wouldn't it be better to describe you as a moral nihilist?

I don't think so. Not unless we're all musical and gastronomic nihilists, too.

Nihilism about X suggests a lack of importance of X or a desire to eliminate X.

Moral feelings and opinions are real enough. And they're important to me. They just exist only as subjective feelings.

normajean said...

Doc- I suspect a nihilist will have subjective 'meaning'. But if 'meaning' has no objective correlate then one persons good is another's evil. That doesn't seem to me to be informative. I think the nihilist tag works.

Perhaps you can avoid a lot of confusion by sticking to words like ‘opinion’, ‘feeling’, or ‘prefer’. For most of us, the ordinary meaning of ‘morality’ carries the idea of duty, obligation, or has imperatival force. A lot of theists think your borrowing capital or doing folklore.

Do you have any thoughts on the piece below?

Blogger Lewis Moore gives us two reasons to think preferences are different than morals:

1. People feel obligated to perform moral actions, but not preferences.

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis makes the distinction between moral obligation and instinct. I think the same distinction could be made between preferences and morals. No one feels obligated to eat cookie dough instead of vanilla ice cream, but everyone feels obligated to keep promises, remain faithful to their spouses and so on. So we obviously feel something about moral statements that we do not feel about preferences.

2. “What I prefer” and the “good” are not interchangeable.

Lewis Moore explains: If “good” and “what I prefer” are the same thing, then they can be used interchangeably. However, I can always ask, “Is it good that I prefer this to that?” and I am obviously not asking, “Is it preferable to me that I prefer this to that?” Likewise, if I say, “what I prefer is good” I am obviously not saying, “What I prefer is what I prefer.

p.s. Do you have any further thoughts on how we "get outside" of our experience to show veridicality?

Doctor Logic said...

normajean,

1... No one feels obligated to eat cookie dough instead of vanilla ice cream, but everyone feels obligated to keep promises, remain faithful to their spouses and so on. So we obviously feel something about moral statements that we do not feel about preferences.

This is true, but I don't think it makes any difference.

Morality usually enters when we are conflicted between our short-term desires and our long-term ideals. In these cases we feel that our short-term desires will lead to a lot of unpleasantness down the line. Since we humans have empathy, we can be troubled even if we are not materially harmed. For example, if I break a promise for a short-term gain, and my promise-breaking remains secret, I can still be troubled because my empathy for the promisee causes me pain. However, none of this suggests anything more than feelings. If you killed-off my empathy, there would be no downside to breaking promises if I knew I wouldn't get caught and the consequences of breaking the promise were materially beneficial.

Lewis Moore explains: If “good” and “what I prefer” are the same thing, then they can be used interchangeably. However, I can always ask, “Is it good that I prefer this to that?” and I am obviously not asking, “Is it preferable to me that I prefer this to that?” Likewise, if I say, “what I prefer is good” I am obviously not saying, “What I prefer is what I prefer.

Good is an idealization of the way we want things to be. It's not how we feel in the moment.

The good is the behavior we would want if the world was ideal. In an ideal world, there would be no revenge. In an ideal world, we wouldn't be wasteful or polluting. The list goes on. But when push comes to shove, we don't live in an ideal world, and we make compromises. I'm under stress, in a hurry, and I'll compromise on the ideal behavior. I'll buy the drink with high fructose corn syrup in the plastic bottle, drink half of it, and just throw the bottle in the trash.

But none of the above constitutes more than feelings or desires. Isn't it possible for us to have feelings about what an ideal world would look like, and isn't it possible for our immediate desires to be contrary to our ideals?

Doctor Logic said...

normajean,

p.s. Do you have any further thoughts on how we "get outside" of our experience to show veridicality?

Okay, so the first test I mentioned was to look for the effects of objective properties on entities without subjectivity. For example, we can see that the temperature of an object has effects on other objects, not just subjects. This is where prediction comes in.

Another approach is to see if we're fabricating. Suppose that musical taste is subjective. If that's true, then beauty in music is something we invent from what is objective about music, i.e., the sounds, the pressure waves. Since we are inventing the beauty in our brains, there is no beauty emanating from the source. There are no waves of beauty coming from the loudspeaker, only sound waves. There's no barrier we can erect that hides everything about the object except the beauty. We can't set up a barrier such that we can't hear the song, but we know the music is beautiful.

If you look at objective quantities like mass, temperature, shape, color, position, etc., it's possible to create a very simple barrier through which only those objective pieces of information can pass. We can know something is heavy without knowing anything else about the object.

If good and evil were objective, and not inventions of the mind, then we should expect to be able to create a curtain, and walk up to this curtain, and say "Something evil is happening on the other side!"

One more comment. Suppose a virus infected all humans and reversed our sense of hot and cold. This would be peculiar, but it wouldn't affect thermometers. You may recall I said that I could not be wrong about feeling cold, even if the room was not cold. Well, after being infected, the story would be similar. I could not be wrong about feeling hot, even if the room was not hot. In both cases, the thermometer settles the debate in a predictive way.

In the case of morality, this won't work. If we were all infected by a virus that made us feel that murder was morally good, how could we possibly know we were incorrect? And if we can't know, then how do we know we are right now (in our uninfected state) when we feel murder is morally evil?

normajean said...

Doc wrote: physical realism doesn't rest purely on how things feel to me. What makes the physical world real are evidences that assure us that it's more than just what we feel in the moment.

NJ: So in other words, if there were no people with evidence, then the world wouldn’t exist.

Doc—

Many thanks for interesting responses! I don’t believe you’ve addressed my fundamental concern though. I have stated, essentially, that we trust the reliability of our belief forming mechanism when it informs us of an external physical universe (we could be brains in vats). But in cases where a belief forming mechanism delivers convictions about the existence of God, the human condition, and moral values, “proof”, for objectivity is demanded. I take that to be a double standard maneuver.

I’m making the strong claim that as the intellect is causally related to the physical universe, it too is causally related to an objective moral realm—And while the degree of certainty for knowledge on physical objects is stronger (under reliability assumptions) than the degree of certainty on moral objectivity, lack of certitude isn’t enough to undercut ones justification for belief in OMV’s.

You’ll assert that my experience of an objective moral realm is illusory, but in order to show this you’ll need to "get outside" of our experiences to test for veridicality. I have no idea why I’ve even asked you to do this because the task is impossible—it is impossible to be objective in any REAL sense.

You wrote: Okay, so the first test I mentioned was to look for the effects of objective properties on entities without subjectivity. For example, we can see that the temperature of an object has effects on other objects, not just subjects. This is where prediction comes in.

These types of responses are sneaky, but, of course, inadequate because you are not being objective. All you’ve done is broaden the scope of your subjective data pool. Can you see how evidentiary arguments fail to answer my question? There is no getting outside of the voices in our head to test for veridicality.

You’ve offered a variety of stories to show justification for belief in the external world, but knowing and showing are separate domains.

Doc, for any argument you run for moral skepticism, a parallel argument as to why we should be skeptical of our sensory experience of the physical world can be made. This is a point Craig makes.

Have the last word...

normajean said...

Doc—you waste A LOT of time when you defend the voices in your head when it's unestablished that they are reliable to begin with. I'm not sure how else to say this, I’m very tired tonight. Our discussion here is like a talk I’ve had with a Catholic about private revelation. He asserted that the Protestant subjectivises the scriptures when he reads it by himself. The Catholic thinks that by affirming the authority of church he skirts all charges of subjectivism. That's just nuts!

normajean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said...

What would a society of pure moral subjectiveness look like?

Doctor Logic said...

Martin,

Exactly like the one we live in. :)

Doctor Logic said...

normajean,

Here's where I think you're getting hung up.

Yes, everything that reaches our consciousness comes in by way of our subjectivity. Subjectivity, in this context, is defined as the way things seem to us. Everything we know about the world comes from the way things seem to us.

However, we know something as objective when we see a certain pattern to that subjective input. A certain pattern in the way things seem to us allows us to infer that the pattern is objective, and more than just how things seem to us.

We have no way of knowing what is objective otherwise. We have to make an inference to objective properties from the subjective way things seem.

I've laid out the means by which I infer something is objective.

I have yet to see an inference coming out of the moral realists.

If objectivity is something you just "know" incorrigibly, then there's no point in us arguing about it. I don't come to these blogs to say "Metallica is the greatest band ever!" and be met with responses like "No, Barry Manilow is the greatest!" That is, we're not in a debate about how things seem to us. We can't be wrong about how things seem to us. The question is, "how ARE things, independent of how they seem?"

As I've pointed out, in the case of morality, there's nothing more than how it seems to us. That's the hallmark of a subjective domain. Morality fails every test of objectivity that physical realism passes.

Moral realism commits the ultimate fallacy: wishful thinking. It goes like this.

1) I strongly feel that people ought to be good = not commit murder, theft, etc.

2) If morality is merely subjective, then there's no OBJECTIVE imperative for people to be good.

3) Therefore, people will not be good.

4) (3) is seems horribly unpleasant.

5) Therefore (2) must be false!

This sort of thinking is a crime against reason.

First of all, (3) is false. People will not be evil unless they subjectively want to be. And, people don't subjectively want to be. (Moreover, even if (2) were false, some people still would not care, and would not be good.)

Second, even if (3) and (4) were true, it wouldn't justify (5). The way things are is not conditioned by whether we like them or not.

Arguments like the one above are not inferences to objectivity of morality.

mattghg said...

However, we know something as objective when we see a certain pattern to that subjective input. A certain pattern in the way things seem to us allows us to infer that the pattern is objective, and more than just how things seem to us.

Eh?

J said...

No Doc, moral realism is not quite that simple. Consider a lying or corrupt Judge . Judge has sworn an oath to tell the truth (of course, in DL's world's that's more or less meaningless). Then say he puts away an innocent person accused of a crime (or helps the jury to do so).

First, he lied. So he told a falsehood ; ie he said X killed Y, when X did not kill Y. And say everyone in the town is pleased: even with the scapegoat. The nihilist who denies morality of any sort, merely says, who cares? In effect, the nihilist says falsehoods will do as well as truth--and in effect, that's what Doc L suggests.

Now, whether that implies a Justice meme floats in some platonic abode is another question. Ultimately, it could be cognitive, realized in the brain--then sanity might be cognitive as well ....

For that matter, there is a naive empiricism to some of Doc L's points. We don't see say integers or integrals or logical operators in nature. "And" does not refer to something So according to Doc L they don't exist either.

Truth..in a nutshell

Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

However, we know something as objective when we see a certain pattern to that subjective input. A certain pattern in the way things seem to us allows us to infer that the pattern is objective, and more than just how things seem to us.

Eh?


Everything, including the objective stuff, is going to have a subjective appearance. That is, even the objective stuff will seem to me to be a certain way.

For example, every time I witness a theft, it will seem wrong to me. There's no epistemic difference between this and the fact that every time I listen to Hootie And The Blowfish, this will seem unpleasant to me (albeit less unpleasant than witnessing a theft). Similarly, when I lift a bag of feathers versus a bag of lead shot, the bag of lead feels a lot heavier.

However, the reason that I think lead is objectively heavier than feathers isn't because it always seems that way to me. Nor is it the fact that most people of my species agree with me which convinces me of its objectivity. The reason why the subjective "seemings" relating to weight are objective is that I have good evidence that weight is not just a matter of my personal opinion. Here are the sorts of evidences that tell me that regular feathers a really are lighter than the same volume of lead shot.

1) I can build a scale. The scale can't distinguish between lead and feathers, per se. But it can distinguish heavier ovbjects from lighter ones.

2) A giant bag of feathers weighs more than a tiny bag of lead shot.

3) You can blind me to the contents of the bags, and I can still predict which bag is lead and which is feathers.

4) Create two stacks of corrugated cardboard. Leave a 1 gallon bag of feathers on one stack, and place the 1 gallon bag of lead on the other. A week later, show me the stacks of cardboard. I will tell you which one supported the feathers versus the lead. And yet cardboard has no subjective opinions.

None of these sorts of tests work with morality. Morality does not leave traces on entities that lack a subjective sense of morality. Also, there is no way to detect evil or to detect good without knowing all the other facts of the situation. In contrast, physical and mathematical quantities do have properties that can be seen in isolation.

Doctor Logic said...

J,

First, he lied. So he told a falsehood ; ie he said X killed Y, when X did not kill Y. And say everyone in the town is pleased: even with the scapegoat. The nihilist who denies morality of any sort, merely says, who cares? In effect, the nihilist says falsehoods will do as well as truth--and in effect, that's what Doc L suggests.

No, that's 100% wrong. A subjective feeling is a care. The moral subjectivist does not say that he does not care about injustice. What he says is more akin to "Injustice is a care!"

(A nihilist may say something different, but I'm not arguing for moral nihilism.)

Again, morality is caring. Morality is the sense that moral decisions seem to matter to us.

Your argumentation reeks of wishful thinking. Why should our caring about the corrupt judge have any bearing on whether or not morality is objective? What we wish for does not determine the way things are.

The underlying assumption you make is that if morality is not objective: (a) we don't care, (b) we absolutely ought not care, and (c) the consequences are so terrible that we must reject the premise.

Neither (a), (b) or (c) are true! I don't think they're generally true even under assumptions of moral realism.

Both Victor and Frank are making mistake (b). The claim that "we ought not care about subjective things" is an absolute moral claim which does not hold if subjectivism is true. So trying to use (b) in any argument against subjectivism is illogical. (It also displays an ignorance of what moral subjectivism entails.)

For that matter, there is a naive empiricism to some of Doc L's points. We don't see say integers or integrals or logical operators in nature. "And" does not refer to something So according to Doc L they don't exist either.

First, just because something is subjective doesn't make it unreal, non-existent or unimportant.

Second, mathematics is objective because it is predictive in just the same way as physics. The difference is that mathematics is knowledge about the results of procedures. If certain axioms are followed, the results are always the same. I can make a simple machine that lacks subjectivity, and does nothing but follow my orders. This machine will (usually) get the same results as if I do the calculation by hand.

I can also blind myself to the totality of the problem, and still solve it. If mathematics were subjective, then maybe the rules of arithmetic when applied to 3 x 7 do not yield 21. (Maybe I subjectively desire 3 x 7 to equal 22.) However, I can devise experiments in which I don't know which numbers I'm dealing with, and yet the product turns out 21 anyway. I could, for example, do my math in binary. Upon converting back to decimal, I'll see the result is the same.

Or, we could compute the answers to a dozen arithmetic problems simultaneously in binary, iteratively doing a single step of a different math problem in random order. Effectively, I would not know which math problem I was solving while I was solving it. So my preferences for the results in each problem cannot affect the results.

J said...

It's not merely about about caring in this case.

First, there is a falsehood. Do you want to say Truth = ~(Truth)? Then, you can care or not, but irregardless a judge (or corrupt juries) chose to ignore the facts, lie, and sentence an innocent person to prison (this is a brief version of an argument from Keith Lehrer). Why do we think that is wrong, if not injust? Just because of conditioning, emotions, or Hume's "passions"? Unlikely....when we say that was wrong, injust, or use normative language ("Bush is Evil") we suggest something like a universal, not merely different strokes for different folks...


The empirical-naturalist arguments you give say nothing about truth, numbers, equations, etc. The same thing you suggest could be said about numbers, and equations really as justice, with some tweaking.

We have no sensation which corresponds with Pi, obviously. So where did Pi come from? According to naturalism must be from sensations......at least there's a rather involved cognitive story

Doctor Logic said...

J,

Then, you can care or not, but irregardless a judge (or corrupt juries) chose to ignore the facts, lie, and sentence an innocent person to prison...

Okay, sure. It's an objective fact that some people lie, and that some people are held as if in violation of the law when they were in fact not in violation of the law.

...(this is a brief version of an argument from Keith Lehrer).

Do you have a link?

Why do we think that is wrong, if not injust? Just because of conditioning, emotions, or Hume's "passions"? Unlikely....when we say that was wrong, injust, or use normative language ("Bush is Evil") we suggest something like a universal, not merely different strokes for different folks...

That's not an argument.

Some people think morality is objective, therefore it is?

Even if the existence of opinion that P was proof of P (which it isn't), I don't even buy the premise.

What we know is that we feel compelled to act on our moral feelings. We feel compelled to stop what we regard as injustice, and we don't feel that the moral opinions of other people will alter our course. A person could rationalize this situation as:

1) If every I feel compelled, then I must be compelled by an objective external force.

2) Therefore, there is an objective external morality which compels me to act to favor fairness, justice, etc.

However, it's plain to see that (1) is bogus. There's no reason that all compulsions need be external to the self.

I feel compelled to grimace when I hear Klezmer music, but it's not because some external force makes me grimace. There's an external stimulus to be sure, but it's not an objective feature of Klezmer music that it is grimace-inducing. The grimace-inducing feature is within myself, not in the music. It is the reaction of the music with my self that actually causes the grimace.

J said...

Well, if you buy "Bush is Evil" is meaningful (and not merely an expression of emotion) then you accept the implied argument for moral realism in some sense (an enthymeme if you will).

There are other arguments for moral realism (don't really have time to outline--check Kant, Rawls, Gewirth, others) but my point was mostly semantic: normative language does suggest something like a universal which is not merely consensual....thus, ethical statements do have meaning (contrary to positivists' claim), just as guilty or non-guilty do....

If you side with Rudy Carnap (not to say DarwinCo or behaviorists) you would say (and even seem obligated to say) any ethical statement is meaningless--even if an expression of emotion (sort of like a bark or, bird squawk for an churchlandian sort)--and affirm nihilism.

normajean said...

Doc- Many thanks for your very good responses! I'm afraid, however, we'll be agreeing to disagree. Take care.