Thursday, April 13, 2017

Why the Is-Ought Problem Will Not Go Away: A Reply to Stardusty Psyche

Stardusty Psyche:
Carrier presents a well written summary of account for 9 aspects of reason on naturalism. The naturalistic account refutes the necessity of god to account for reason.
https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/reppert.html#rcn1

Reppert's response includes a claim to a supposed "is/ought" problem:
" I can show we are dealing with a conceptual chasm that cannot simply be overcome by straightforward problem-solving. An example would be the attempt to get an “ought” from an “is”."
http://maverickphilosopher.blogspot.com/2004/10/argument-from-reason-reppert-replies.html#main3
Victor is wrong in thinking there is an is/ought problem. Our morality comes from our sense of ought, which is what Carrier calls a confidence level output by a brain virtual model, or what I call a correlation score output by a brain correlation matching processing network.

In computing our sense of ought we do not follow a formal logical argument. It doesn't matter to our emotions that stating an "ought" does not follow in formal logical notation from an "is".

Our sense of ought is an evolved mechanism to drive our behavior. We feel we ought to get a sandwich, or we ought to go to work, or we ought to help that child. This sense of ought is simply an animal behavior mechanism.

Theists operate by this same sense of ought that we atheists do, always doing what they want in the aggregate because it is the only thing each of us can do. 
In short, Reppert is wrong on morality and reason.
VR: There is a simple argument that is used to generate the is-ought problem. It is called the open question argument, going back to G. E. Moore.
Here it is explained in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Moore's main argument against their view was what has come to be known as the “open-question argument,” though he actually stated in a couple of slightly different ways. Consider a particular naturalist claim, such as that “x is good” is equivalent to “x is pleasure.” If this claim were true, Moore argued, the judgement “Pleasure is good” would be equivalent to “Pleasure is pleasure,” yet surely someone who asserts the former means to express more than that uninformative tautology. The same argument can be mounted against any other naturalist proposal: even if we have determined that something is what we desire to desire or is more evolved, the question whether it is good remains “open,” in the sense that it is not settled by the meaning of the word “good.” We can ask whether what we desire to desire is good, and likewise for what is more evolved, more unified, or whatever (Principia Ethica 62–69). Sidgwick had used one form of this argument against Bentham and Spencer, but only in passing; Moore spent much more time on it and made it central to his metaethics.
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moore-moral/#1\

So, how does this work in the context of the discussion? We have an evolved mechanism to drive our behavior. Great. We have an evolved sense that we ought to help a child. You still have an is-ought gap, unless all statements like:

1) We have an evolved sense that we ought to help a child
Entails
2) We ought to help the child.

Why do we have moral dilemmas? Well, we have an evolved sense that we ought to protect small humans, and this includes those in the womb. We also have an evolved sense that we ought to allow women the right to make medical decisions that affect their own bodies without interference. This is called the abortion debate. Why would we disagree about this, if there were no is-ought gap?

In logic, our “evolved sense” permits humans to commit logical fallacies like affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent. My evolved sense of reasoning led me to conclude that I ought to accept the argument from reason. Richard Carrier’s same sense led him to reject it. SP said that I was wrong about reason and morality. How could that be? I evolved just the same way Richard Carrier did.

You can’t make the is-ought problem go away that easily.


15 comments:

Stardusty Psyche said...

" An example would be the attempt to get an “ought” from an “is”."
I would like to look closely at this particular wording to avoid speaking past each other. I deny there is a problem in getting an "ought", meaning our personal sense of ought, from an "is", meaning our physical existence on the naturalistic view.

I said: "It doesn't matter to our emotions that stating an "ought" does not follow in formal logical notation from an "is"."
By that I meant to acknowledge that there is a logical problem in constructing a valid formal argument accompanied by a valid set of notion which is sound and derives a logical "ought" from a logical "is". I am not aware of any such argument, the OP cites some counter examples, and I agree that the construction of moral tautologies is pointless.

The open question argument demonstrates flaws in attempting to construct a formal argument for "ought from is".

"Great. We have an evolved sense that we ought to help a child. You still have an is-ought gap, unless all statements like:
1) We have an evolved sense that we ought to help a child
Entails
2) We ought to help the child. "
Sorry, I do not follow this point. Yes, 2) is a part of 1) so 1) entails 2). You say we have an is-ought gap unless 1) entails 2) and 1) does entail 2) therefore your own statement seems to be that we do not have an is-ought gap. I doubt you meant to say that so I admit not apprehending your point here.

"Why do we have moral dilemmas? ... Why would we disagree about this, if there were no is-ought gap? "
Because we are different. Our senses of ought vary. Each individual sense of ought is a direct naturalistic consequence of our individual "is" (our individual physical configuration).

There is no gap between each individual's physical configuration and each individual's personal sense of ought.

" My evolved sense of reasoning led me to conclude that I ought to accept the argument from reason. Richard Carrier’s same sense led him to reject it. .. How could that be? I evolved just the same way Richard Carrier did. "
Not just the same. You are physically different than Richard Carrier, therefore you have a different sense of ought than Richard Carrier, and I suppose you consider yourself fortunate in that respect :-)


"You can’t make the is-ought problem go away that easily."
By carefully defining our terms, and using sound argumentation we can see there is no need to invoke god to account for morality. Morality arises from our physical configuration naturally. That is because morality is a personal sense of ought, an individual brain process with no need to follow formal rules of logic in the form of "is -> ought", no need to be the same from individual to individual, and no need of a source of morality external to the individual brain process.

Jimmy S. M. said...

"That is because morality is a personal sense of ought"

That's my opinion as well. I would guess there's a question-begging definition of "ought" hidden in Vic's argument, as in an ought is an externally imposed command from an authority, whereas to this naturalist, it's a brain state that compels us to act one way instead of another.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, you can avoid all of this problem by just denying moral facts, which is pretty much what you're doing.

But there is ought and is in epistemology, too. W. K. Clifford said "It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence." We have rules we ought to follow to determine whether X is evidence for Y. I don't see how epistemic oughts fare any better than moral oughts, on naturalism. We feel, or don't feel, that S is good evidence for Y. It is a fact about our brains that we think this way. If you call it, say, confirmation bias, a good consistent naturalist has to say, no, to call something bias is to say something about how the brain ought to work. But there are no facts of that type in existence, and certainly none available us with our brains.

But with our correct and incorrect reasoning, how is science even possible?

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" Yes, you can avoid all of this problem by just denying moral facts, which is pretty much what you're doing."
I have never heard a moral fact, or a demonstrably absolutely right or wrong moral proposition, or a moral absolute of any sort. I cannot conceive of how there could be such a thing and I am thus personally convinced there is no such thing as absolute morality. But if you have a counter example, please do share it here, I would be truly grateful for the favor of a new and unique experience in my life.


" We have rules we ought to follow to determine whether X is evidence for Y."
Who says or what says we ought to follow those particular rules?


" I don't see how epistemic oughts fare any better than moral oughts, on naturalism."
Indeed.

" But with our correct and incorrect reasoning, how is science even possible?"
Because science doesn't do proof. Science is based on fundamental provisional postulates that most people who call themselves scientists or scientifically minded provisionally accept by convention.

Once we mutually agree on certain postulates we can navigate logically, control for biases, and analyze evidence, all absent any absolute epistemic oughts.


So again, the supposed is-ought gap is illusory. There is no gap between our individual "is" (physical configuration), and our individual epistemic oughts, since our individual sense of what constitutes valid means of gathering knowledge is personal and a direct consequence of our individual "is".

Nor is there an is-ought gap in our communal epistemic oughts, because they are provisional postulates agreed upon by convention, not formally provable absolutes.


April 14, 2017 1:15 PM

Victor Reppert said...

But you can't accept anything by convention without presupposing the laws of logic. Thus, I can include as a convention that pawns capture and only capture diagonally one square, in chess. But that is only possible if, in saying that, I am denying its contradictory. If contradictions are allowed, then no convention is even possible.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" But you can't accept anything by convention without presupposing the laws of logic."
The astute naturalist provisionally postulates the principles of logic as part of our mutually agreed upon convention.

I avoid the word "presuppose" because it is sometimes defined as "tacitly assume". I explicitly provisionally postulate, rather than tacitly assume the principles of logic.

" If contradictions are allowed, then no convention is even possible."
Indeed. The principle of non-contradiction is a fundamental provisional postulate of the principles of logic. Without mutually agreeing to apply this principle I don't see how we would be able to reason together.


April 15, 2017 2:17 PM

Aron Zavaro said...

"We have rules we ought to follow to determine whether X is evidence for Y. I don't see how epistemic oughts fare any better than moral oughts, on naturalism."

X is evidence for Y is P(X|Y)>P(X|~Y). This is a necessary truth a probability. It's true in all possible worlds, so I don't see how naturalism has a problem accounting for this.

Perhaps you mean naturalism accounts for the obligation to follow this rule of inference. If you interpret Clifford's maxim as as a categorical imperative, then I think you're right that naturalism can't explain it. But I think we generally see epistemically oughts as conditional hypothetical imperatives -- i.e., IF you want to have true beliefs, THEN you ought to follow these norms, and that is simply because following these norms is a more reliable way of deriving beliefs than simply picking beliefs out of a hat. Naturalism has no problem with that

Victor Reppert said...

The principle of non-contradiction is not a provisional postulate, it is a necessary truth based in reality. If it isn't, we are screwed. Our science is about cloud cuckoo land, not reality. Logic is ontologically prior to the material world. Reality is fundamentally intelligible, and at the foundation of everything is a rational, not a material explanation. Even the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is careful to avoid any theistic implications for this line of reasoning, realizes this.

If you say we agree to the convention, that implies we could have done otherwise. We can't. We bump up against reality, not our own rules, when we do so. When we agree to conventions, we could have done otherwise. When we are facing reality, we cannot do otherwise without, well, scraping ourselves against reality.

Victor Reppert said...

But is truth a naturalistic concept? It sure looks like a mentalistic one to me.

We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer’s brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.{18}

C. S. Lewis "De Futilitate"

What is more you have a set of material symbols on the screen, which to you and me represent Bayes' theorem, but can only have determinate meaning through the interposition of a mental interpretation. The complete set of material states in the world is logically compatible with various meanings for those symbols, or no meaning at all. So, yes, it is a huge problem for naturalism.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" The principle of non-contradiction is not a provisional postulate, it is a necessary truth based in reality."
Please prove it from first principles that are not themselves founded on provisional postulates.

" If it isn't, we are screwed. Our science is about cloud cuckoo land, not reality."
Please prove I am not god and you are not a figment of my divine imagination.

" Reality is fundamentally intelligible,"
Again, please prove this from first principles that are not themselves provisional postulates.

" If you say we agree to the convention, that implies we could have done otherwise. We can't. We bump up against reality,"
We who? Some people live, so to speak, in a world of their own reality. We consider them insane, but they consider us insane. If you were insanely delusional and thought you were sane could you necessarily discover your own insanity?

" When we agree to conventions, we could have done otherwise."
Indeed, and over history other conventions have been agreed to different from our modern conventions, and I think prudence calls for the possibility that future conventions will be different from present conventions.

" When we are facing reality, we cannot do otherwise without, well, scraping ourselves against reality."
Please prove your perceived reality is really real based on first principles that are not themselves provisional postulates.

One thing I like about the presuppositional interrogation technique is its similarity to the child incessantly demanding "why" "why" "why" "how do you know" how do you know" "how do you know". Descartes did something similar, finally doubting himself all the way back to cogito ergo sum. But he found himself unable to build back up again, nor has anybody been able to since.

Our absolute truths are founded on our self awareness. I know of none that extend further outward beyond certainty that there is an existence as opposed to absolutely nothing at all.

The rest is provisional postulates and convention. Perhaps we are screwed, but there it is.


April 18, 2017 3:39 PM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" The complete set of material states in the world is logically compatible with various meanings for those symbols, or no meaning at all. So, yes, it is a huge problem for naturalism."

Sorry, I missed the problem !-)

Seriously, what problem? Truth on naturalism? Carrier made some good points on the subject in his 9 items I referenced previously, but his is just one expression of the same basic set of ideas on materialism.

It seems reasonable that there is some existent reality, that existence is fundamentally structured in some particular way, and that is then a fundamental physical truth. At present our understanding of that fundamental structure is approximate at best. We might be in principle barred from ever determining that fundamental structure with certainty and accuracy.

The brain is a computing device, or an information processing system, or a stimulus response network, or whatever similar descriptors one prefers. We calculate probabilities, or correlation scores, or confidence levels. We might attach the binary label of "true" or "false" to a thought when our confidence level crosses a threshold value.

The symbols on the screen are part of our stimulus response information processing system. I really do not see how you have uncovered any sort of problem for naturalism by raising the subjects of truth and symbols.


April 18, 2017 3:50 PM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" The principle of non-contradiction is not a provisional postulate, it is a necessary truth based in reality. "
Allow me to follow up with one bit of resource, at time 1:30 W L Craig lists a number of alleged shortcomings of science. Craig fundamentally misunderstands what a "scientific proof" means, but he correctly identifies logic and math as unprovable.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiVOhj6ehlw

Craig uses the term "presuppose" where I prefer the term "provisional postulate". Craig is not strictly wrong to say "presuppose" in some definitions of the word, but if the word is taken to mean "tacitly assume" then he would be mistaken in its use.

Further, you might fairly criticize my use of the qualifier "provisional" in front of "postulate", because a postulate properly understood is inherently provisional and therefore my qualifier could be considered redundant. My justification is that sometimes a technical redundancy is used for emphasis of a feature that might otherwise not be emphasized in the mind of the reader.

Craig fails to realize "scientific" is also a qualifier for "proof". Science is necessarily provisional. To say "scientific proof" is therefore to say "provisional proof", which therefore makes no claim to be an absolute proof.

Thus, other items on Craig's list he asserts cannot be scientifically proven, in fact can be scientifically proven because science is explicitly provisional and is explicitly founded on provisional postulates, such as the postulates of logic, math, and the basic reliability of the human senses.


April 18, 2017 3:39 PM

Jimmy S. M. said...

"But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense."

I want to reword this:

"But to talk of one bit of matter Representing another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense."

Is the globe on my desk nonsense? Are the Jpeg's on my hard drive nonsense? I don't see why. It's a word game, nothing more.

Legion of Logic said...

Is it a provisional postulate to believe that all logic is based on provisional postulates? If so, perhaps all logic is not based upon provisional postulates. If not, we've discovered truth.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Legion of Logic said...

" Is it a provisional postulate to believe that all logic is based on provisional postulates?"
Depends on the precise claim.

To say "I believe X" can be an absolute truth, because I experience myself believing X, I am self aware of my belief in X which is what I mean by saying "I believe".

To say "X is a provisional postulate I make" inherently leaves open the possibility of future correction. It is an assertion of being unaware of ~X, and not being able to think of a way ~X could be the case, but also not being able to strictly prove X from first principles that are not themselves provisional postulates.

" If so, perhaps all logic is not based upon provisional postulates."
On the logic giver god hypothesis this would be the case from our point of view, but does not ultimately solve the problem, merely pushing it back a step to god.

" If not, we've discovered truth."
The "discovery" in this case is only of the certainty of our uncertainty. I am certain that I experience my lack of absolute certainty about X outside of my own experiences.


April 19, 2017 1:04 PM