Saturday, May 23, 2009

Objectivism & Politics, Part 11

Philosophy as derivation 2: Rand’s Ethics. In my last “Objectivism and Politics” post, I quoted Pareto’s devastating analysis of Kant’s famous categorical imperative. One thing that struck me as I wrote the post was how well many of Pareto’s criticisms of Kant would apply to Rand’s ethical reasonings. And so I decided, as a kind of thought experiment, to try to imagine how Pareto would have criticized Rand. Where applicable, I have tried to use Pareto’s own words, often following his exact phrases and sentences. Of course, it goes without saying that Pareto would have done a better job than I have. But it’s still rather fun to try to imagine Pareto commenting on Rand. So here goes:

Notorious is an ethical argument imagined by Rand and still admired by her disciples. It is Rand’s argument that “man’s life” is the “ultimate value,” and there are plenty of Objectivists who pretend to understand the logic behind it, though they can never make it clear to anyone who insists on remaining in touch with both logic and reality. Many followers of Rand have accepted her argument in order to retain their personal morality and yet be free of the necessity of having it depend on a personified deity. Of course, morality may be made to depend upon Jupiter, upon the God of the Christians, upon the God of Mohammed, upon the will of that most estimable demoiselle Milady Nature, or upon the “Objectivist” ethics of Rand. Whatever it is, it is all the same thing. Rand expresses the conclusion of her argument in a phrase, to wit: “Man’s life is his ultimate value, or man’s life qua man.” A customary trait in all such formulae is that they are so vague in meaning that one can get out of them anything one chooses. And for that reason it would have been a great saving of breath to say, “Act in a way pleasing to Rand and her disciples,” for “man’s life qua man” will in the end be dispensed with anyhow.

The first question that comes into one’s mind as one tries to get some definite meaning into the terms of Rand’s formula is (1) whether the phrase “man’s life” means that the individual values only his own life; or (2) whether "man’s life" refers to all human lives, irrespective of who is doing the valuing. In other words, is Peter supposed to value only his own life as the ultimate end, or is he also supposed to regard the lives of all human beings as ultimate values?

To judge by Rand’s commitment to egoism, she seems to accept the first interpretation, even going so far as to insist that a man’s “own life” is “the ethical purpose of every individual man.” Yet this violently contradicts the whole purpose of Rand’s ethics, which is to provide an “objective” morality based on “reason” (after all, it is the Objectivist ethics, not the Relativistic ethics). Something that is “objective,” like an “objective” fact, is true in the same way for anyone who grasps it. If, for example, the date of Christopher’s Columbus’ discovery of America was different for different people, this date could not be regarded as an “objective” fact, since it’s truth would be different for different people. The same analogy would appear to hold with an “objective” value: this, too, also has to be the same across the board. But if the individual’s life is only an ultimate value to himself, man’s life, in this sense, cannot be regarded as an “objective” value; for every individual would have a unique “ultimate” value (Peter’s life would be Peter’s ultimate value, Sarah’s life would be Sarah’s ultimate value, Paul’s life would be Paul’s ultimate value, but Sarah’s or Paul’s life would not be an ultimate value for Peter). How can an objective value, whether “ultimate” or otherwise, be different for every human being?

Rand’s phrase “man’s life” contains yet another ambiguity which we must attempt to resolve. The term life can, and frequently is, used in several different senses. It may mean, for example, merely “being alive” (i.e., survival); or it could refer to the period in which a person or organism has or will be alive; or it could refer to a person’s activities or fortunes or manner of existence. What sense of the word life is Rand using when she declares her ultimate value?

Rand seems, at least initially, to subscribe to the survivalist sense of life. Throughout the first portion of her essay, she discusses what is necessary for “man’s” survival. She even goes so far as to suggest that ethics is a science that tells human beings how to survive. “What are the values [man’s] survival requires?” she asks. “That is the question to be answered by the science of ethics.”

Nevertheless, after giving us “man’s life” (in the survivalist sense) as the ultimate value of her ethical system, Rand begins presenting us with other ultimate values, which come bobbing up no one knows from where: "[M]an’s survival qua man ... does not mean a momentary or a merely physical survival. [But wait a minute! Here Rand is qualifying what she means by man’s life. It’s not survival after all, but something else!] It does not mean the momentary physical survival [isn't all survival physical?] of a mindless brute, waiting for another brute to crush his skull [what about the "mindless brute" whose survival is longer than "momentary"?]. It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a crawling aggregate of muscles who is willing to accept any terms, obey any thug and surrender any values, for the sake of what is known as “survival at any price,” which may or may not last a week or a year. [What about “survival at any price” that lasts for decades?] 'Man’s survival qua man' means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice. "
As usual with ethical arguments of this sort, they end up raising more questions than they answer. To begin with, where did this “survival of a rational being” come from? Why wasn’t it mentioned earlier? And why is the survival of a rational being the only type that can qualify as an ultimate value? Why should non-rational men be excluded? Is it because only rational men can survive? If so, then rationality is merely a means to survival. So isn’t it redundant to suggest that only a rational man’s life is the ultimate value? And how is one supposed to distinguish a rational man from a non-rational one? If the non-rational one’s don’t survive, this suggests that everyone alive must be rational. Or does Rand merely mean to suggest that non-rational individuals will not live as long as the rational ones? But how does she know this? Where is her evidence?

It is rare for Rand to provide evidence for any of her assertions, and when she does, the evidence is usually vague or dubious. Human beings, she writes “cannot survive by attempting the method of animals by rejecting reason and counting on productive men to serve as their prey. Such looters may achieve their goals for the range of the moment, at the price of destruction: the destruction of their victims and their own. [Why does she suggest (or imply) that all looters necessarily reject “reason,” or that they seek to destroy their victims?] As evidence, I offer you any criminal or dictatorship.”

Well that certainly narrows it downl! She offers us “any” criminal or dictatorship! But in doing so, she immediately forfeits her case. For history is replete with dictators and even criminals who, despite Rand, refuse to destroy both themselves and their victims and live well beyond the range of the moment. Plenty of criminals, gangsters, autocrats, dictators have thrived to a ripe old age and prospered despite all their plunderings and assorted villainies. The aristocracies of Europe were essentially formed from sanguinary marauders. Many a great fortune, even among Rand’s favorite class of capitalists, is founded, at least in part, on some shady dealing or another, little distinguishable from outright plunder.

To complicate matters further, we soon find Rand shifting the ground of her argument once again. She tells us, without batting an eye, that “the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.” Since she earlier insisted on man’s “own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man” and “man’s life” as his “ultimate value," how can happiness be seen as “man’s highest moral purpose”? What possible difference can exist between “ultimate value” and “highest moral purpose”? Such inconsistencies are not noticed, because people reason on sentiments and not by logic.

In order to get around these equivocations in Rand’s ethics, one would have to reason as follows and say, “Although man’s life qua man may be his ultimate value, please do not let yourself be deceived by such phrases as ‘man’s life’ or ‘ultimate value.’ To say ‘man’s life’ and ‘ultimate value’ is just Rand’s way of saying. In reality, man’s highest moral purpose is his own happiness, which he can best attain by trying to survive in a ‘rational’ manner—that is, by forming concepts in a ‘proper’ way and pursuing many other fine virtues that will be explained to you at the proper time and place.” That much granted, one might just as well, from the logico-experimental standpoint, do away with “man’s life qua man” altogether, for it is thrown overboard in any event. But not so from the standpoint of sentiment. The appeal to “man’s life” serves the purpose of flattering egoistic sentiments and giving the hearer or reader the satisfaction that there should be an absolute norm which is superior to captious wranglings and petty human altercations—something established by Nature and “reason”; and then that sum of sentiments whereby we vaguely sense the utility of the principle that the decisions of judges should be made with reference to such rules and not against or in favor of any given individual.

The larger point in this exercise is to demonstrate that Rand’s ethics appeals, not to logic or fact, but to sentiment. No one who is intent on fact and logic will ever be convinced by the string of equivocations and non sequiturs that passes for the Objectivist ethics. Those who are convinced by such reasonings are led astray by their own sentiments, which blind them to the glaring weaknesses in Rand’s arguments. From these considerations we can conclude that the Objectivist Ethics is a mere derivation from sentiment; and as such, must be reckoned a secondary factor behind an individual's conduct, with little power, on its own initiative, to affect the social or political order.

178 comments:

Anonymous said...

"But if the individual’s life is only an ultimate value to himself, man’s life, in this sense, cannot be regarded as an "objective" value; for every individual would have a unique "ultimate" value (Peter’s life would be Peter’s ultimate value, Sarah’s life would be Sarah’s ultimate value, Paul’s life would be Paul’s ultimate value, but Sarah’s or Paul’s life would not be an ultimate value for Peter). How can an objective value, whether "ultimate" or otherwise, be different for every human being?"The same way "family is important" can be considered an objective value: Peter's family would be one of Peters' values, Sarah's family would be one of Sarah's values, Paul's family would be one of Pauls' values, but Sarah's or Paul's family would not be the same value for Peter as Peter's family is for him

Don't confuse something being objective with something being unchanging from person to person. As long as that something that changes is tied in an objective manner to elements that change from person to person which are sufficient to account for that change, that's still objectivity.

You've set up a bit of a false dichotomy when you state: "(1) whether the phrase "man’s life" means that the individual values only his own life; or (2) whether "man’s life" refers to all human lives, irrespective of who is doing the valuing." You should have also considered (3) the life you are able to live which saves this from being a subjective value (or at least allows one to make the case that it's objective)

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Don't confuse something being objective with something being unchanging from person to person.

Sorry Anon, but the only possible response to this comment is...BWAH HA HA HA HA HA HAH HA HA HA HA HA....!!!

Now I have truly heard it all.

Anon69 said...

"How can an objective value, whether “ultimate” or otherwise, be different for every human being?"

The Objectivist would reply: By raising the concrete fact to a level of abstraction that applies to all men. In this way, "Peter’s life would be Peter’s ultimate value, Sarah’s life would be Sarah’s ultimate value, Paul’s life would be Paul’s ultimate value" and at the same time, one's own life considered in the abstract - particularly at the level of abstraction "man", though certainly also at the levels of abstraction "animal" and "living organism", since Peter, Sarah, and Paul are all those types of things as well - would be the objective ultimate value for each of them. It's merely the difference between individual concretes and the concepts to which they all belong; such concepts are considered objective if formed by a proper process of concept-formation.

Daniel Barnes said...

Seriously Anon, you are talking drivel. An objective fact is a fact that is the same for everyone. All you're doing is perverting the meaning of "objective." Anon69 correctly describes how this is fudging is accomplished; that is, via a slew of gobbledygook about "concept-formation", a process which, it should be noted, cannot even be objectively observed. Unless you can read minds!

Daniel Barnes said...

After all, words have meanings!...;-)

Anonymous said...

Blogger Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Don't confuse something being objective with something being unchanging from person to person.

Sorry Anon, but the only possible response to this comment is...BWAH HA HA HA HA HA HAH HA HA HA HA HA....!!!

Now I have truly heard it all.

+++++


Blogger Daniel Barnes said...

Seriously Anon, you are talking drivel. An objective fact is a fact that is the same for everyone.
Yes, I know: if you read what I wrote more carefully, you'll see that nothing I said is in conflict with that statement.

Let me put it in another context and you'll more easily see what I'm talking about:

'Everyone's job is to play their position. The position of quarterback is to throw the ball. Peter is the quarterback. The position of wide receiver is to catch the ball. Sarah is the wide receiver. The position of lineman is to block the pass rush. Paul is the lineman. The job of Peter is to throw the ball; the job of Sarah is to catch the ball Peter throws; the job of Paul is to block for Peter'

What in any of that is incapable of being an objective fact?

Now, maybe you dispute that Peter and Paul and Sarah are so different in their nature that my analogy does not apply to the posted example. However, that's a problem with my analogy, not with the fact that I said something can be objective even if it varies from person to person.

Anon69 correctly describes how this is fudging is accomplished; that is, via a slew of gobbledygook about "concept-formation", a process which, it should be noted, cannot even be objectively observed.Anon69 is correctly describing this for someone who subscribes to the Objectivist ideas on concept-formation: I do not believe anything I said relies on subscribing to such ideas.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>What in any of that is incapable of being an objective fact?

Sorry to be impolite, Anon, I apologise. But we do hear a lot of doubletalk around here.

Anyway, the answer to your question is twofold, and quite simple once you think it through. There are two things confused here in your example.

1) The objective rules of the game. These rules, and the positions the players play, exist outside of the individual players' experiences. You can find them set out in a rule book for example. Further, Peter can be wide receiver instead of Sarah, who could play lineman, and this would make no difference to the rules, obviously. The rules and roles do not change according to who is playing the game. Thus they are objective: who plays in the position is irrelevant to the rulebook.

2) Then there is the subjective experience and thoughts of the players; for example, the way Sarah may choose to think about her position, or how she wants to play, or how much pain she is in when she takes a hard tackle, and including the personal ethical decision to play within the objective rules (or not to do so).

Anonymous said...

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>What in any of that is incapable of being an objective fact?

Sorry to be impolite, Anon, I apologise. But we do hear a lot of doubletalk around here.
No worries--I'm sure you do, and it's easy to confuse someone with a genuine point with someone who wants to lead you down the garden path.

Anyway, the answer to your question is twofold, and quite simple once you think it through. There are two things confused here in your example.

1) The objective rules of the game. These rules, and the positions the players play, exist outside of the individual players' experiences. You can find them set out in a rule book for example.
Well, what if a person believes that, say, there is a deity who has written a rulebook (leaving aside all the issues that brings up, just going with it for the sake of argument because it's the clearest example I can think of quickly)? Is the commandment "Honor thy father and mother" not objective because each batch of siblings will wind up with a duty to honor a different man and woman?

Further, Peter can be wide receiver instead of Sarah, who could play lineman, and this would make no difference to the rules, obviously. The rules and roles do not change according to who is playing the game. Thus they are objective: who plays in the position is irrelevant to the rulebook.What if the rulebook also included the rule that: "Peter is the quarterback; Sarah is the wide receiver; Paul is the lineman?"

Why wouldn't that be an objective set of rules? A silly set of rules, but just because something is silly does not mean it can't be objective, right?

2) Then there is the subjective experience and thoughts of the players; for example, the way Sarah may choose to think about her position, or how she wants to play, or how much pain she is in when she takes a hard tackle, and including the personal ethical decision to play within the objective rules (or not to do so).Yes, but I said "Everyone's job is to play their position" not "Everyone's job is to figure out based on their personal preferences how much to play within the objective rules" so I don't see how that pertains to my analogy.

Remember, Rand thought she solved the is/ought problem by finding a kind of "happiness" that corresponded to Aristotle's 'right living'. Don't confuse her thinking she solved a problem that she really didn't with her mistaking the subjective for the objective. From what I know of her philosophy, her "happiness" is not the result of "subjective experience and thoughts" but rather of living in accordance with an objective standard based on human nature.

Like I said, that's all based on her thinking she found a way to get an ought from an is; clearly there are issues to pick apart there. However, I don't think her confusing the subjective for the objective is one: I think it's more that she didn't 'prove' as much as she thought she did.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Is the commandment "Honor thy father and mother" not objective because each batch of siblings will wind up with a duty to honor a different man and woman?

It is objective commandment precisely because it doesn't matter which siblings and which parents it applies to.

>Why wouldn't that be an objective set of [football] rules?

Well it would be, because those rules exist outside of the subjective consciousnesses of the individuals playing (say for example in a rule book, or in aspoken agreement)

FYI, I am applying the Popperian cosmology here. I think it is the simplest and most coherent way of sorting out the longstanding confusions between terms such as "objective", "subjective", "physical" and "abstract." There is no reason to completely denigrate for example "subjective" the way Rand does. Ironically, she seems to merely rebrand things like her subjective introspections as "objective."

>...I don't see how that pertains to my analogy.

Just drawing the distinction.

>From what I know of her philosophy, her "happiness" is not the result of "subjective experience and thoughts" but rather of living in accordance with an objective standard based on human nature.

Yes that's right, but she uses "objective" and "subjective" in a highly confused and confusing way. Not that she's the only philosopher to do that...;-)

(Actually, her epistemology is reducible to a standard version of skepticism, it turns out! She did not realise this, but her differences are merely rhetorical)

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Remember, Rand thought she solved the is/ought problem by finding a kind of "happiness" that corresponded to Aristotle's 'right living'.

Yes you are quite right of course, but the real issue with Rand and is/ought is that like most of the philosophical issues she claimed to solve, she didn't understand the problem in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Well it would be, because those rules exist outside of the subjective consciousnesses of the individuals playing (say for example in a rule book, or in aspoken agreement)Okay--that's what I was trying to capture in saying: "Don't confuse something being objective with something being unchanging from person to person."

If it does not change according to things that "exist outside of the subjective consciousnesses of the individuals" and is instead changes according to objective facts that happen to be...I guess you could say 'uniquely correlated' with each person the same way a unique mother/father pair is correlated with a unique batch of siblings (leaving half-siblings and such out of this for clarity's sake, of course) then it can be both objective and varying from person to person.

So just like "Peter should honor Peter's mother/father but not Sarah's or Paul's" by virtue of the objective fact that his mother and father are, well, Peter's mother and father and he is Peter, Peter’s life would be Peter’s ultimate value by virtue of the objective fact that his life is Peter's life and he is Peter.

Just like 'honor thy father and mother' can be an "objective commandment precisely because it doesn't matter which siblings and which parents it applies to," my third option for interpreting Rand that what she means is 'the life you are able to live' can be an objective version of morality because it doesn't matter which "you" and which "life" it applies to.

I guess it might be less confusing if I said it varies '*from relationship to relationship* between a person and something else' instead of saying it varies 'from *person to person*'. It's that the relationship between a person and their life in the Rand argument is analogous to the relationship between a person and their parents in the Commandment: both relationships are established by objective facts and not by what the person's subjective beliefs about who their parents are/which life they are living, so both--whatever our opinion of their actual merits--are objective moral arguments.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>It's that the relationship between a person and their life in the Rand argument is analogous to the relationship between a person and their parents in the Commandment: both relationships are established by objective facts and not by what the person's subjective beliefs about who their parents are/which life they are living, so both--whatever our opinion of their actual merits--are objective moral arguments.

I agree that injunctions such as "live a moral life" or "honor thy parents" could be called objective cultural artefacts (like The Ten Commandments etc).

And i agree there is always an objective, factual element to ethical decisions; for example, the physical situation of the actor often limits the options available to them to act.

But these aren't the issues with Rand's theory. The key problems with Rand's ethical theory are that:
1) It doesn't solve is/ought, yet claims to have.
2) She equivocates between "life" as survival (which has obvious problems such as "prudent predator", suicide etc) and life as "man qua man", a phrase which even in its most charitable interpretation is near-meaningless, and in its most likely intepretation based on Rand's other writings means being an Objectivist, and is thus circular.

The best that can be said of Rand's ethics is that she aims at a kind of eudaimonism as Greg has already written elsewhere on the site. (see some of the many articles under Ethics in the sidebar)

gregnyquist said...

Anon69: "The Objectivist would reply: By raising the concrete fact to a level of abstraction that applies to all men. In this way, 'Peter’s life would be Peter’s ultimate value, Sarah’s life would be Sarah’s ultimate value, Paul’s life would be Paul’s ultimate value' and at the same time, one's own life considered in the abstract - particularly at the level of abstraction 'man', though certainly also at the levels of abstraction "animal" and 'living organism', since Peter, Sarah, and Paul are all those types of things as well - would be the objective ultimate value for each of them."

Yes, that is certainly one way than an Objectivist could meet the objection. However, it leads to other difficulties. For just about any moral theory, including various brands of subjectivism, can apply across the board, thereby making them "objective" in the sense implied above. Using the same reasoning, one could defend describing the ultimate value "man's whims" as an objective value.
In this way, "Peter’s whims would be Peter’s ultimate value, Sarah’s whims would be Sarah’s ultimate value, Paul’s whim's would be Paul’s ultimate value" and at the same time, one's own whims considered in the abstract - particularly at the level of abstraction 'man', though certainly also at the levels of abstraction "animal" and 'living organism', since Peter, Sarah, and Paul are all those types of things as well - would be the objective ultimate value for each of them."

So the fact that an abstraction (or rather a principle) may apply equally to all individuals will not, in and of itself, make it objective. So then where does the objectivity come from? Does it come from the other Anon's "objective manner" which gives a "sufficient account" of the "changes" from individual to individual. Well that's a bit more promising line of reasoning, but even here, there are issues to be resolved—that perhaps cannot be resolved at all! Deriving the objectivity from the method by which values are discovered (or justified) could lead us to something akin to an "objective" value if we assume (per impossible) that all human beings are homogenuous. If, however, we choose not to "confuse something being objective with something being unchanging from person to person," we will, in the end, making our values agent-relative. The moral unit becomes the individual, not men in general (i.e., not "man"). This means that there would be different objective values for different individuals. But should such different values really be called "objective"? Of course, one can use what ever term one likes, but when someone chooses to flout common usuage, he should, in all decency, be up front about it. Under common usage, if Peter "objectively" values black and abhors white, while Paul "objectively" values white and abhors black, these values are not "objective" but relative. So before calling them "objective" one should really come out and say: "I am using the term 'objective' in the way that most people use the term 'relative.'"

The real issue with the Objectivist Ethics is that Rand didn't actually think these issues all the way through. Per usual, she wanted something that was impossible: a value that was "objective" without being "intrinsic." So she simply asserted that her values were objective without being intrinsic and left it to her critics to try to make sense of the confusion that results from proceeding in this fashion.

gregnyquist said...

Daniel: "The best that can be said of Rand's ethics is that she aims at a kind of eudaimonism as Greg has already written elsewhere on the site."

Rand would have made things so much easier for herself, her admirers and her critics if she had been willing to whole-heartedly embrace eudaimonism, rather than holding her nose up at it because she imagined it smelled of subjectivism. If she had merely insisted that the happiness to be valued must be pursued intelligently, with every ounce of wisdom at one's command, and that it must aim at the broader, long-range interests of the individual, she could have preserved all the better elements in her ethics while dispensing with all its confusions and inner contradictions.

Anon69 said...

Greg Nyquist said: "So then where does the objectivity come from?"

The issue here (to the Objectivist) is that Peter's life can be taken as Peter's ultimate value, but Peter's whims cannot. Since taking Peter's whims as his ultimate value would be wrong, it cannot serve as a valid basis of a conceptual abstraction when combined with Sarah and/or Paul.

Candidly, I will admit that this is where my understanding of Objectivism's moving parts breaks down. Since the root "choice to live" is logically arbitrary, I see no reason why Peter's whims couldn't be Peter's ultimate value. It might follow that a code of rational ethics couldn't apply, in which case, fine, Peter simply doesn't need one. It seems that the Objectivist ethics apply (in a circular fashion) only to Objectivists.

Anon69 said...

I also considered the possibility that even if Peter held his own whims as his ultimate value, but Sarah and Paul held each one of their own lives as their ultimate values, that Rand's process of concept-formation with its eye on fundamental characteristics ("metaphysically, that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, the one that explains the greatest number of others") would somehow ferret out "man's life" as the objective ultimate value. But that's a rathole I can't fathom going down. It's hard enough believing that Rand always abstracted consciously from concretes. It's much harder to believe she did it while bean-counting the numbers of distinctive characteristics made possible/explained, and it's impossible to figure how this would solve the life vs. whims dilemma. So I'll stick to my previous answer: in the Objectivist view, Peter's whims cannot be an ultimate value.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon69:
>Greg Nyquist said: "So then where does the objectivity come from?"

Apparently this can be "objectively introspected." However, this seems to be oxymoronic, not to mention not independently verifiable (unless one can read minds, how do you know someone's introspection is "objective"?) It's all rather ludicrous, and is covered by handwaving about "based in" reality.

Well consider this: according to Rand all human imagination is based in reality. So if "based in reality" is the criteria for "objectivity" even the most far-fetched and whimsical flights of fancy can and indeed must qualify.

gregnyquist said...

Anon69: "I also considered the possibility that even if Peter held his own whims as his ultimate value, but Sarah and Paul held each one of their own lives as their ultimate values, that Rand's process of concept-formation with its eye on fundamental characteristics ('metaphysically, that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, the one that explains the greatest number of others')"

Well that's a nice attempt to reverse engineer the Objectivist rationalization, but unfortunately, fundamental characteristics won't solve the problem: for neither "man's life" nor "man's whims" are characteristics of the concept "utimate value"—on the contrary, they are each examples of ultimate values. There is a crucial difference between something that is an x and something that is a property or attribute of x.

gregnyquist said...

"Is the commandment 'Honor thy father and mother' not objective because each batch of siblings will wind up with a duty to honor a different man and woman?"

You could, by sort of analogy, describe such a commandment as "objective" in the sense that it applies equally to everyone, but it would be closer to standard usage to say that it's an "absolute" moral law. However, here we are talking about a moral rule or injunction, not an ultimate value. So this example does not answer the question as to whether a value that is different for different people can still be "objective" in the standard usage sense of the word.

So this leads to another question: if a rule could be considered, by a kind of analogy, "objective," doesn't this mean that value upon which the rule is based must also be consider objective? But the answer to this is clearly in the negative: and this for the very simple reason that we have decided that the objectivity of the rule derives from the fact that it applies equally to everyone.

What if we use the analogical objectivity of the rule and apply it to Rand's "man's life." We might place Rand value in a phrase, such as "Each man's life is an ultimate value to himself" and claim that it is objective because it applies to everyone equally. But again, to repeat what I said in an earlier comment, if it is applicability to everyone that makes a value principle "objective," then why isn't the value-principle "Each man's whim is an ultimate value to himself" also objective?

These are all troublesome issues that arise from trying to redefine "objective" so that it does not equate with what Rand meant by "intrinsic." Objectivity in values only makes sense if the value exists in the object—either as in Plato, as independent existents, or as in Moore, where the good becomes a property of the object. The middle (or alternative) position between "anything goes" and the "intrincism" of Plato and Moore is not Objectivism, but relativism. To describe a value as "objective" (or "true") is simply to indulge in a vague sort of praise, a mere reiteration of an automatic impulse, like crying "Amen!" It's also a way of evoking various sentiments. The term "objective" evokes in people notions of impartiality and disinterestedness; and people enjoy the illusion that their values are not merely personal preferences, based on innate sentiments colored by experience, but independent of all such horridly "subjective" factors.

Michael Prescott said...

"people enjoy the illusion that their values are not merely personal preferences, based on innate sentiments colored by experience"

I don't think I'd go so far as to call it an illusion. To take an extreme example, can we reduce the Holocaust to a mere clash of personal preferences - Hitler's personal preference that Jews (and others) be annihilated, vs. his victims' personal preference to go on living?

It seems to me that any ethical position that leads us to this conclusion must have made a wrong turn somewhere.

(I don't know precisely where it went wrong. But there's gotta be a mistake. It's like adding up a long column of positive whole numbers and getting "2" as the result. You may not know where you miscalculated, but you know the answer isn't right.)

gregnyquist said...

Michael: "I don't think I'd go so far as to call it an illusion. To take an extreme example, can we reduce the Holocaust to a mere clash of personal preferences - Hitler's personal preference that Jews (and others) be annihilated, vs. his victims' personal preference to go on living?"

While this certainly an effective argument from an emotional point of view (who wants to be put in the position of saying the difference between Hitler and his victims is personal preference?), it is nonetheless an argumentum ad hominem (which happens to be the only type of argument in ethics). Keep in mind that if genocide were an "objective" evil, so that it were evil "intrinsically," as the Objectivists say, that would mean that its evil would be independent of the natural and vital sentiments and interests of human beings. Would that really be a better situation for all concerned? Do we really want the horror of genocide to be based on the idea that "there's gotta be a mistake" in the position that morality is relative to the natural needs and sentiments of human beings, even though we have no idea where this "mistake" of relativism of might reside? The horror of genocide (and in murder in general) expresses a natural affection of kindred for one another, and the need to live in safety and mutual trust. To look suspiciously at these natural affections and preferences because they are supposedly "subjective" (in the disparaging sense of the word) is a mere prejudice (and also "subjective").

Even if there were some kind of transcendent law against murder and genocide, enforced by some kind of deity, even under these assumptions, the basis of ethics would still be natural preference. For why would anyone pay attention to such a law? What would be the motive in following it? What force could it have over the human heart unless that heart had an innate preference for following it? If we are not to murder people and commit genocide because God will roast us forever in hell, there still must be a preference against being roasted for the law to have any basis or relevance.

Michael Prescott said...

Greg, you make a very interesting point, but it seems to me that when you speak of "the natural and vital sentiments and interests of human beings" and "the natural needs and sentiments of human beings," you're getting perilously close to objectivity in ethics. If we have certain "natural interests" and "natural needs," then it's only a short step to arguing that to be successful, a life must be lived in accordance with these interests and needs.

This is similar to Rand's meta-ethical argument, but without her confusion between "survival at any price" and "living life to the fullest." It's more like Aristotle's ethics of eudaimonism - the goal is a life well lived, and to achieve this goal certain objective considerations ("natural interests and needs") must apply.

Ah, but here's the rub: what constitutes a "successful" life in the first place? I don't think we can reason our way to this conclusion. But I also don't think it's a mere matter of personal preference. Rather, I think the moral intuitionists are on the right track when they say that ultimate truths in ethics are self-evident, just like ultimate truths in other fields.

(But, G.E. Moore cautions, just because a truth is self-evident, it doesn't follow that everyone will see it. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but consider: The truths of higher mathematics are self-evident to those versed in the subject, but would not be evident at all to someone who's never studied math.)

gregnyquist said...

Michael: "But it seems to me that when you speak of 'the natural and vital sentiments and interests of human beings' and 'the natural needs and sentiments of human beings,' you're getting perilously close to objectivity in ethics."

Well, that all depends on how one sees "objectivity." I would argue that the only possible "objective" ethics is one that, like Plato or Moore, makes good and evil either as an independent existent or the property of the act under consideration. Moral relativism, in the form it takes in philosophers like Spinoza and Santayana, involves a relationship between the natural and vital sentiments and interests of human beings on the one side and the practical circumstances of everyday life on the other side. It's a complex sum of objective and subjective elements. It's the subjective elements in the equation that Rand and Moore have trouble accepting. And this is in some respects understandable. Under this sort of moral relativism, the moral unit becomes the individual, which raises the possibility of individuals having different morals (this is why it really is not an objectivist ethics). The natural needs and sentiments of human beings may differ among individuals. This opens up the possibility of moral conflict between individuals—including conflicts which, under extreme circumstances, might only be resolved through war.

You're right that it's like the eudaimonism of Aristotle. But it could also be made consistent with Hume's and Smith's moral sentiment theory as well. It avoids Hume's is-ought problem by taking moral ends as givens, rather than as something to be proved logically.

G. E. Moore's warning about the truth not being self-evident is, of course, a wise one. But it brings in a major problem with his position: if the good can only be recognized by the few, what are those who are incapable of recognizing the good supposed to do? There is an elitism and even a kind of intellectual snobbery in Moore's view. No wonder it was so popular among the Bloomsbury crowd. In the twenties, Santayana penned a critique of Moore's ethics that was so devastating that Bertrand Russell ceased following that creed. Since reading Santayana's critique, I find it difficult to take any objectivist view of morality all that seriously. I can sympathize with what Moore and his followers are trying to achieve: but it seems to me they are attempting to do what is impossible.

Michael Prescott said...

"if the good can only be recognized by the few, what are those who are incapable of recognizing the good supposed to do?"

I don't think the moral intuitionist position is that the good can be recognized only by the few. Rather, it is that nearly everyone recognizes certain things as good. But there are always going to be a few people who think (or claim to think) that there's nothing wrong with, say, torturing babies. It is to counter this position that the intuitionists say unanimity is not essential to establish that something is self-evident.

In his appendix to The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis presents a good compendium of moral precepts from cultures throughout the world, showing that certain ethical positions are (more or less) universal. There will always be a minority of people who reject these common moral standards, but so what? A small minority of people think the earth is flat, but we don't say the shape of the earth is not an objective fact just because a few people hold a contrary view.

Xtra Laj said...

Greg :I can sympathize with what Moore and his followers are trying to achieve: but it seems to me they are attempting to do what is impossible.

_____________

Exactly. Making the good independent of the nature of particular individuals is a tortured exercise in (ultimately) self-righteous rhetoric. People try to dance around this point by taking extreme liberties with the similarities amongst individuals while conveniently omitting the real diversity (sorry to use the buzzword) that leads to genuine disagreement over ethical questions.

Xtra Laj said...

In his appendix to The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis presents a good compendium of moral precepts from cultures throughout the world, showing that certain ethical positions are (more or less) universal. There will always be a minority of people who reject these common moral standards, but so what? A small minority of people think the earth is flat, but we don't say the shape of the earth is not an objective fact just because a few people hold a contrary view.___________________________________

I think that, as Patrick O'Neill stated in his criticism of Rand's ethical arguments, that there is a very clear difference between moral "facts" and say, mathematical/physical facts. You can fail to understand both, but you can't violate mathematical/physical facts, but you can violate moral "facts" very often.

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, but has anyone seen the Simpsons episode "four great women and a manicure"? It's a spoof of The Fountainhead as the last segment, and bears mentioning here.

gregnyquist said...

"In his appendix to The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis presents a good compendium of moral precepts from cultures throughout the world, showing that certain ethical positions are (more or less) universal. There will always be a minority of people who reject these common moral standards, but so what?"

Are these moral precepts "universal" because they represent some objective good subsisting in actions or because they represent natural sentiments and needs of most people? Lewis' compendium of moral precepts is consistent with both the moral "intuitionism" of Moore and the moral relativism of Santayana. The main difference is that Santayana (and the proponents of the moral sentiments school as well) don't hypotasize the good, bringing in it's train all kinds of insoluble philosophical problems.

gregnyquist said...

Laj: "I think that, as Patrick O'Neill stated in his criticism of Rand's ethical arguments, that there is a very clear difference between moral 'facts' and say, mathematical/physical facts."

This is true. Strictly speaking, there are no moral facts, only moral judgments. Nor is there really any such thing as moral "truth," except as a kind of metaphor. That's why the term "objective value" could very easily be described as a contradicto en adjecto.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Exactly. Making the good independent of the nature of particular individuals is a tortured exercise in (ultimately) self-righteous rhetoric. People try to dance around this point by taking extreme liberties with the similarities amongst individuals while conveniently omitting the real diversity (sorry to use the buzzword) that leads to genuine disagreement over ethical questions. - Laj
___________________________________




Not that I necessarily disagree with your above statements, but whatever happend to the common sense morality that was good enough for you that you were talking about?




___________________________________

I don't think the moral intuitionist position is that the good can be recognized only by the few. Rather, it is that nearly everyone recognizes certain things as good.- Michael Prescott
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Nearly every white people in U.S. recognized blacks were inferior about a hunred years ago.







___________________________________

It is to counter this position that the intuitionists say unanimity is not essential to establish that something is self-evident. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





Okay, so unanimity is not essential, but majority consent is by itself sufficient?





___________________________________

A small minority of people think the earth is flat, but we don't say the shape of the earth is not an objective fact just because a few people hold a contrary view. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





A small minority of white people in U.S. about a hundred years ago thought that blacks deserved equal opportunity.







Michael, your statements above are below your usual quality.




___________________________________


But there are always going to be a few people who think (or claim to think) that there's nothing wrong with, say, torturing babies. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





Torture inflicted on enemy civilian population, including babies through blockade induced starvation and strategic bombing was "wrong"?


How many in U.S. thought it was wrong to torture the population of Germany and Japan, including their babies during WW2?

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>Completely off topic, but has anyone seen the Simpsons episode "four great women and a manicure"? It's a spoof of The Fountainhead as the last segment, and bears mentioning here.

No, but I'll keep an eye out, thanks for the heads up.

Xtra Laj said...

Not that I necessarily disagree with your above statements, but whatever happend to the common sense morality that was good enough for you that you were talking about?

___________________________________


I don't see common sense morality as an objectivist term - it's a empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

I don't see common sense morality as an objectivist term - it's a empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments. - Laj
on 5/27/2009 01:51:00 AM
-----------------------------------
On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM

From "Objectivism & Politics, Part 2"
___________________________________

Xtra Laj said...

Red,

I think the consistency of both statements is blatantly obvious. Contrast the last sentence of what I wrote with

"If you don't accept common sense morality, you're irrational."

The difference in implication and the implicit refusal to lodge a long logical argument in defense of common sense morality should be fairly obvious. I also didn't attach any moral evaluation to your disagreement.

The phrase "empirically frail" is my admission that the use of a phrase like "common sense morality" makes a claim to know what is common sense without having done any serious scientifically empirical inquiry on the subject. It settles an empirical question in mostly speculative fashion, but it is still an attempt to appeal to experience, though probably more realistically, sentimentally influenced experience.

Michael Prescott said...

"Are these moral precepts 'universal' because they represent some objective good subsisting in actions or because they represent natural sentiments and needs of most people?"

In pointing out that some moral precepts are effectively universal, I'm simply replying to your argument that "if the good can only be recognized by the few, what are those who are incapable of recognizing the good supposed to do?"

My point is that the good is not recognized only by the few, but rather by most people. Therefore, the premise of your argument is mistaken.

I'm not trying to prove anything beyond that. A thorough, and lively, discussion of the whole subject can be found in Ethical Intuitionism, by Michael Huemer, which I recommend.

By the way, Greg criticized my earlier argument as "ad hominem," even while saying, "There is an elitism and even a kind of intellectual snobbery in Moore's view. No wonder it was so popular among the Bloomsbury crowd."

And Xtra Laj says it's just "self-righteous rhetoric."

Aren't these also ad hominems? (No doubt unintended, but still.)

Oh, and Red Grant: the position "blacks are inferior" is not a moral judgment; it's a mistaken empirical (biological) claim.

As C.S. Lewis pointed out somewhere, people didn't stop burning witches because they developed a higher moral sense. They stopped burning witches because they stopped believing there were such things as witches.

When enough people stopped believing the erroneous biological view that blacks were inherently inferior or even subhuman, the rationale for slavery evaporated.

Many of the "moral disagreements" people cite turn out, on closer inspection, to be disagreements over questions of empirical fact. Huemer gives the example of abortion. Those opposed to abortion think the fetus is a person and therefore abortion is murder. Those in favor of abortion think the fetus is not a person and therefore abortion is not murder. Both sides, however, agree on the moral precept that murder is wrong. The dispute concerns the ontological status of the fetus, which is not an ethical question.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

The phrase "empirically frail" is my admission that the use of a phrase like "common sense morality" makes a claim to know what is common sense without having done any serious scientifically empirical inquiry on the subject. It settles an empirical question in mostly speculative fashion, but it is still an attempt to appeal to experience, though probably more realistically, sentimentally influenced experience. - Laj
___________________________________





I agree with your statements above, but......


__________________________________

I don't see common sense morality as an objectivist term - it's a empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments. - Laj
on 5/27/2009 01:51:00 AM
-----------------------------------
On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM

From "Objectivism & Politics, Part 2"
-----------------------------------
"If you don't accept common sense morality, you're irrational." - Laj
___________________________________





Does this mean then you believe that one is necessarily irrational if one does not necessarily absolutely accept what is empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments, a claim to know what is common sense without having done any serious scientifically empirical inquiry on the subject?


and for you, accepting what is empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments, a claim to know what is common sense without having done any serious scientifically empirical inquiry on the subject, is good enough as your moral value?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Oh, and Red Grant: the position "blacks are inferior" is not a moral judgment; it's a mistaken empirical (biological) claim. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________




Okay, so white supremicist racists are no more "immoral" than you are?

They are just scientifically mistaken?

In another way, you are no more "moral" than white supremicst racists?

Just scientifically more enlightened?


Doesn't your statement above contradict what you told Greg earlier?


___________________________________

I don't think I'd go so far as to call it an illusion. To take an extreme example, can we reduce the Holocaust to a mere clash of personal preferences - Hitler's personal preference that Jews (and others) be annihilated, vs. his victims' personal preference to go on living?

It seems to me that any ethical position that leads us to this conclusion must have made a wrong turn somewhere. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________








___________________________________

As C.S. Lewis pointed out somewhere, people didn't stop burning witches because they developed a higher moral sense. They stopped burning witches because they stopped believing there were such things as witches. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





Okay, so following your logic, the Holocaust was not an issue of ethics?

It was a misunderstanding on the part of Nazis?




___________________________________

When enough people stopped believing the erroneous biological view that blacks were inherently inferior or even subhuman, the rationale for slavery evaporated. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________




Okay, so following your logic, the rationale for slavery evaporated because enough people stopped believing the erroneous biological view that blacks were inherently inferior or even subhuman?

If so, then why were blacks discriminated for so long after the end of slavery?





___________________________________

Many of the "moral disagreements" people cite turn out, on closer inspection, to be disagreements over questions of empirical fact. Huemer gives the example of abortion. Those opposed to abortion think the fetus is a person and therefore abortion is murder. Those in favor of abortion think the fetus is not a person and therefore abortion is not murder. Both sides, however, agree on the moral precept that murder is wrong.

The dispute concerns the ontological status of the fetus, which is not an ethical question. - Michael Prescott
-----------------------------------
I don't think I'd go so far as to call it an illusion. To take an extreme example, can we reduce the Holocaust to a mere clash of personal preferences - Hitler's personal preference that Jews (and others) be annihilated, vs. his victims' personal preference to go on living?

It seems to me that any ethical position that leads us to this conclusion must have made a wrong turn somewhere. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________






So you believe the Holocaust was a matter of disagreement of empirical fact?

Not of what you would call "morality", or ethics?

Michael Prescott said...

Red, those are all good questions. I would say that many "moral" controversies turn out, upon closer inspection, to be largely disagreements over matters of fact. Not all moral controversies fit this description, but many do. If we eliminate factual disputes from the list, we have a smaller (though not negligible) list of controversies over morality as such.

Regarding racism, I think it was historically the result, in large part, of the false view that nonwhites were congenitally inferior and therefore did not have the same panoply of human rights that Caucasians were afforded. There were other factors, such as the economic interests of slaveholders, the force of tradition, and culture. I don't think it's correct simply to say that people back then were evil and people nowadays are good. I doubt that human nature has improved that much, if at all.

The Holocaust is a rather different story. Though much pseudoscientific twaddle was peddled in Germany about "inferior races" and "racial purity," I find it doubtful that the Germans who organized and participated in the genocide really believed the people they were killing were fundamentally different from themselves. After all, the victims were their former friends and neighbors. And the Holocaust occurred in the modern era, when people should have known better.

I do think historical context is important. Many practices of the past that strike us as barbaric were based on incorrect information or an outdated and discredited worldview. For instance, human sacrifice was widely practiced by ancient societies. Today's societies abhor the idea. But if we still believed, as they did, that it was necessary to sacrifice people in order to make the sun rise, wouldn't we do it? We've stopped making such sacrifices because the belief system that justified them is defunct. Morality has little to do with it.

Some of our present practices may be condemned by our descendants. Right now our solution to violent crime is to lock the criminal in a cage and keep him there. A hundred years from now, perhaps people will shudder at how cruel we were. But if they do, it will be because they have developed a more humane but equally effective way of handling the problem. Their knowledge base will have expanded; but their moral sense will probably be much the same as ours.

That's how I see it, anyway. A fuller discussion is provided in Heumer's book.

Michael Prescott said...

I should add that I do think moral progress is possible. I just don't think it happens quickly.

An idea can be self-evident once it's been pointed out, but someone somewhere still has to be the first one to do the pointing. The Golden Rule, for instance, is found in most cultures, and is simple enough to be understood by children. But in each culture, somebody had to be the first to observe and articulate it.

It's sort of like the famous picture that can be either a teapot or two faces kissing, depending on how you look at it. You may not see one of the two images at first; but once you do see it, you cannot "un-see" it and you wonder how you ever missed it.

I think great moral truths are like that. We need them pointed out, but once they are seen, they cannot be "un-seen."

Of course, just because we see a truth doesn't mean we will necessarily apply it. Free will, you know. But that's a whole different kettle of fish, or can of worms.

Xtra Laj said...

And Xtra Laj says it's just "self-righteous rhetoric."

Aren't these also ad hominems? (No doubt unintended, but still.)
I was posting a response to someone who I thought agreed with me, so even if the statement is ad hominem, it was more self-congratulatory than anything else. I am allowed a bit of pomp every now and then, am I not?

My substantive point was made in a response directed at you, which was that whenever I've heard people use "self-evidence" to defend objectivist morality l in the manner you did, they place moral "facts" and scientific facts on the same level, something that Hume pointed out the problem with centuries ago.

Xtra Laj said...

Red,

I can't make head or tail of your last question to me.

Moreover, since it is not obvious from your post that you realized/understood that the last quote you took from me on "common sense morality" on this thread of comments was a hypothetical claim to be contrasted in quality with the original claim I made on the Objectivism and Politics, Part 2 and you quote them as if they refer to a position I actually hold, I'll point that out and wait for you to make your point clearer if it is still salient.

Xtra Laj said...

Michael,

Did you read the criticism of Kant by Pareto that Greg posted in Part 10 of this series (and which inspired this post by Greg)?

If so, what did you think of it?

Thanks.

Michael Prescott said...

"Did you read the criticism of Kant by Pareto that Greg posted in Part 10 of this series (and which inspired this post by Greg)? If so, what did you think of it?"

I read it, but to be honest I know little about the details of Kant's ethics, so I don't know if Pareto fairly summarizes the Kantian position or not.

I agree with the general conclusion of Greg's post - namely, that Kantian ethics has not had much, if any, practical impact and certainly is not the cause of totalitarianism.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Moreover, since it is not obvious from your post that you realized/understood that the last quote you took from me on "common sense morality" on this thread of comments was a hypothetical claim to be contrasted in quality with the original claim I made on the Objectivism and Politics, Part 2 and you quote them as if they refer to a position I actually hold,... - Laj

5/27/2009 04:22:00 PM
___________________________________





So you don't necessarily believe in "If you don't accept common sense morality, you're irrational."?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Regarding racism, I think it was historically the result, in large part, of the false view that nonwhites were congenitally inferior and therefore did not have the same panoply of human rights that Caucasians were afforded. There were other factors, such as the economic interests of slaveholders, the force of tradition, and culture. I don't think it's correct simply to say that people back then were evil and people nowadays are good. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________




So you are just as "moral" as racists and anti-semites, just more scientifically enlightened?




___________________________________

The Holocaust is a rather different story. Though much pseudoscientific twaddle was peddled in Germany about "inferior races" and "racial purity," I find it doubtful that the Germans who organized and participated in the genocide really believed the people they were killing were fundamentally different from themselves. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________






First of all, why do you think the Nazis killed the Jews?


If Nazis really believed that Jews were reall different and deserved to be killed for whatever psuedo-scientific theory they peddled, then would you believe that the Holocaust was just a matter of misunderstanding on the part of Nazis?


After all, wasn't that what Hitler believed?

If so, then you wouldn't consider Hitler as an "evil" man, simply scientifically unenlightened?

Another word, Hitler was just as "moral" as you, just scientifically unenlightened with regard to the Jews?


Of course, here "moral" I used is according to whatever you claim as "moral".

gregnyquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gregnyquist said...

Michael: "Aren't these also ad hominems? (No doubt unintended, but still.)"

Yes, they are ad hominem—and, at least in my case, it was intended. The problem is that, while my ad hominem is merely a secondary argument which I could easily dispense with, yours is central to your entire position. Moral intuitionism has no coherent way of determining how the individual "intuits" independent moral qualities in conduct; so it has no choice but to appeal to moral sentiments. People tend to be shocked at the notion that their moral passions are relative to their own sentiments, rather than being an intrinsic or primary quality existing independent of what anybody thinks or feels, like an external fact. But declaring, ex cathedra, that some goods (or some evils) are universal properties does not solve the problem of incommensurable goods. If two people disagree on whether conduct X is "good," how is this dispute to be resolved? By intuition? What if my intuition is different than yours? Then what? By majority opinion?

Majority opinion may seem to work on the broad stuff that nearly everyone seems to agree on. Who would dare say that murder is not wrong? Yet people's notions of what constitutes murder, and how bad an evil it really is, has changed a great deal over time. Under the early Roman republic, it was lawful for a father to kill his children and his slaves. In the early middle ages, if an aristocrat murdered a peasant, his punishment might not be anything more than the payment of a fine. Many cultures believe it is entirely fine and honorable to kill an "enemy" (with "enemy" being defined as anyone one desires to kill). Nearly everyone but a few pacifists believe there is nothing wrong in killing enemy combatants. In the American south only a few generations ago, many people found nothing wrong in killing blacks or in fathers killing the unwanted suitors of their daughters. So how, under this moral intuitionism scheme, are we supposed to determine what kind of killing qualifies as murder and what doesn't? And how are we to settle disagreements on this score? Remember, whatever our solution, under Moore's ethics, we must arrive at notions that are independent of the desires, sentiments and feelings of individuals; because anything founded on emotion can hardly be reckoned as universal or objective, since it is well known that emotions differ from individual to individual. So how are we to settle these questions without consulting the natural sentiments and needs of human beings? If no point of reference and no criterion is admitted to be relevant, it becomes impossible to find a solution to this problem, except by sereptiously consulting one's own sentiments and then pretending that these sentiments are a kind of oracle that allows one to access to universal moral truths. But that is not an entirely above board manner of proceeding, now is it?

Xtra Laj said...

Red,

No, I don't necessarily believe it, and I almost definitely do not.


Michael,

The criticism of Kant is also interesting because it criticizes Kant's version of the Golden Rule -> the Categorical Imperative. Strictly speaking, the two are not the same, but the arguments (or some modified versions of them) that Pareto made against the Categorical Imperative can also be shown to apply fairly easily to the Golden Rule.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red,

No, I don't necessarily believe it, and I almost definitely do not. - Laj
___________________________________



I am glad to hear that.


So what did you mean then when you said:

___________________________________

On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM
___________________________________

?

Xtra Laj said...

Red,

Feel free to interpret it however you want to. If you misinterpret it, I'll let you know. Hopefully, not much is hanging on it.

Michael Prescott said...

Greg wrote, "If two people disagree on whether conduct X is "good," how is this dispute to be resolved?"

Huemer deals extensively with this issue in his book Ethical Intuitionism, which you might find interesting (though not, I suspect, persuasive).

He gives five arguments against the objection that intuitionism cannot resolve disputes. One of his points is that there is a double standard involved; "no other metaethical theory is typically subjected to the demand to provide a method of resolving all moral disputes - and no other metaethical theory can do so."

There are ways of resolving some moral disputes under intuitionism (see Huemer for a discussion), but there's no way of resolving all moral disputes under any ethical system.

It's true that the concept of murder has changed through the centuries. I would ascribe this to (at least) two factors: 1, some moral progress has been made in accepting the idea that every life has value, mainly (in the West) because of the acceptance of Christianity; 2, greater affluence has reduced Malthusian pressures on the head of the household to dispose of unwanted offspring (which can be necessary in a subsistence economy).

Historically, it was the early Christians who took the lead in opposing infanticide, often rescuing babies from death by exposure and later (after Christianity became the official religion) agitating to make infanticide illegal. Their attempts, however, probably would not have been successful if the Roman Empire hadn't been relatively prosperous. In impoverished parts of the world even today, infanticide continues to be practiced.

Huemer gives the example of Eskimos who (until recently) practiced infanticide: "It initially seems that the Eskimos ... have very different values from us. But their acceptance of infanticide is explained by the harsh conditions under which they live, in which food is in short supply. In these conditions, families may be unable to provide for all infants, and attempting to so do may threaten the survival of others. Thus, in their circumstances, infanticide makes sense; it need not indicate a lesser respect for life on the part of Eskimos, nor fundamentally different values from ours."

Greg wrote, "So how, under this moral intuitionism scheme, are we supposed to determine what kind of killing qualifies as murder and what doesn't?"

How are we supposed to determine the answer to that question under any ethical system? Does ethical naturalism give us a clearcut answer? Again, there seems to be a double standard, insisting that intuitionism must resolve every ethical dispute, a demand not made of alternative theories.

I suspect that Greg's view of intuitionism is what Huemer calls "the Caricature." He describes the Caricature as the view that "(i) All moral questions can be resolved by *direct* appeal to intuition. There is no place for reasoning or any other process of investigation ... (ii) Intuition is infallible. And (ii) ... Everyone can immediately obtain any answer to any moral question by simply consulting his intuition.... So everyone will agree."

The actual position is considerably more interesting and nuanced than the Caricature. But since I can't reproduce Huemer's entire book, I recommend that people interested in this topic get hold of it. It's sold by Amazon.

Incidentally, I'm not arguing that there are no problems with intuitionism. I think there are problems with all ethical theories. Intuitionism strikes me as probably the best of the bunch, but nothing is perfect.

Michael Prescott said...

Red Grant, in my earlier comments I already addressed your latest questions. You're just restating them in slightly different words. To briefly recapitulate: Historical context matters. There is less excuse for racism today than there was in earlier eras when people's knowledge was far more limited. To be a racist or a Nazi in the modern world requires the evasion of a host of facts unknown to our ancestors. Nearly everyone in the ancient world accepted slavery as part of the social order. Were they all evil? Doesn't it make more sense to look at them the way Huemer looks at the Eskimos, as people doing the best they could in their historical/social context? I think this is the more charitable view.

Red Grant said...

So what did you mean then when you said:

___________________________________

On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM
___________________________________

?


===================================

Red,

Feel free to interpret it however you want to. If you misinterpret it, I'll let you know. Hopefully, not much is hanging on it.

5/28/2009 03:32:00 PM
___________________________________






Laj, I merely asked you to clarify what you meant by your statement.


All you have to do is state what you meant by your statement.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

To briefly recapitulate: Historical context matters. There is less excuse for racism today than there was in earlier eras when people's knowledge was far more limited. To be a racist or a Nazi in the modern world requires the evasion of a host of facts unknown to our ancestors. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





So does this mean then you believe if whether one can be a racist or an anti-semite without being an "evil" person depending on historical context?


So the Holocaust would not have been "evil" if carried out in ancient times when people lacked enough knowledge (per your definition) instead of 20th century?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Nearly everyone in the ancient world accepted slavery as part of the social order. Were they all evil? - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





My dear Mr. Prescott, that is why I have asked often in the past, "Who decides what is evil in universally objectively valid sense?".


I can ask a question in similar vein, nearly everyone who called oneself a Christian in the early part of middle ages were dyed in the wool anti-Semites.

Were they not evil according to your definition of evil?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

It's true that the concept of murder has changed through the centuries. I would ascribe this to (at least) two factors: 1, some moral progress has been made in accepting the idea that every life has value, mainly (in the West) because of the acceptance of Christianity; - Michael Prescott
___________________________________







Is that why the Holocaust happend in the West?

Abolaji said...

Red,

I know what you asked. I've also given you a response that I find satisfactory because I think my answer would satisfy most people. If you find it unsatisfactory, then you have to show me what you find unsatisfactory about it. Otherwise, I'm happy to leave it standing as is.

Feel free to repeat the request, but in the absence of a specific objection, I see no reason to explicate further. I see people using the phrase "common sense" everyday and we are free to interpret them however we choose.

Red Grant said...

First of all, Laj, why do you use different handle?

Abolaji is Laj.

Is there a reason why you use different handle?





Besides, Laj/Abolaji, you have not explained what you meant by your statement:
___________________________________

On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM

From "Objectivism & Politics, Part 2"
___________________________________






If you have, then please show me where, when, and how you explained what you meant by your statement above.


What did you mean when you said, common sense morality is good enough for you?

You have not answered it.

Abolaji said...

Red,

You have not given me a reason to explain it.

I have two gmail addresses - I sometimes post on different blogs as either/both.

Red Grant said...

__________________________________

I don't see common sense morality as an objectivist term - it's a empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments. - Laj/Abolaji
on 5/27/2009 01:51:00 AM
-----------------------------------
On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj/Abolaji on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM

From "Objectivism & Politics, Part 2"
___________________________________





Does this mean then what you consider as empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiment is good enough for your personal "morals"?

Xtra Laj said...

Red Grant,

What does this have to do with my personal "morals" and what do you know about my personal "morals" and what I do or do not do on a daily basis?

Red Grant said...

On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know. - Laj/Abolaji on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM

From "Objectivism & Politics, Part 2"

Red Grant said...

I don't see common sense morality as an objectivist term - it's a empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiments. - Laj/Abolaji
on 5/27/2009 01:51:00 AM

Red Grant said...

Does this mean then what you consider as empirically frail attempt to appeal to popular sentiment is good enough for your personal "morals"?

5/30/2009 07:10:00 AM

Michael Prescott said...

Xtra Laj wrote, "The criticism of Kant is also interesting because it criticizes Kant's version of the Golden Rule -> the Categorical Imperative. Strictly speaking, the two are not the same, but the arguments (or some modified versions of them) that Pareto made against the Categorical Imperative can also be shown to apply fairly easily to the Golden Rule."

Sorry I neglected to respond to this comment. My personal view is that the Golden Rule is a very useful rule of thumb, but it has to be applied intelligently, not mechanically.

The Categorical Imperative is not as useful as the Golden Rule, but it can come in handy at times.

I think the mistake made by Kant, which Pareto and others have picked up on, is trying to take a rule of thumb and make it into an absolute that holds true in every context.

Red Grant wrote, "...nearly everyone who called oneself a Christian in the early part of middle ages were dyed in the wool anti-Semites. Were they not evil according to your definition of evil?"

They were not evil. They were badly mistaken, just as the Aztec priests who conducted human sacrifices were badly mistaken.

To my mind, the insistence that nearly every person in the world, at least prior to modern times, was "evil" is hard to understand. Cicero and Marcus Aurelius owned slaves. So did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Were they all evil? How about people who didn't own slaves but had no objection to the practice? How about the slaves themselves, who went along with the custom rather than rising up in rebellion? Some people even sold themselves into slavery. Were they evil?

No doubt some of the customs of the modern world will strike future generations as backward and repugnant. Maybe our descendants will find it reprehensible to eat meat, own pets, or participate in contact sports. (Even today, some people object to these things.) Customs change. Partly this is because there is some slow moral progress being made; mainly it's because our knowledge base is expanding.

"Is that why the Holocaust happened in the West?"

I said we've made *some* moral progress, not absolute progress. But you already knew that.

As Willow would say, "Bored now ..."

Xtra Laj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xtra Laj said...

Red,

I think the response I gave makes more sense when juxtaposed with your original question and not in the out-of-context manner you have posted it.

You could of course juxtapose both for anyone who happens to be reading this and wondering whether it the original discussion had any bearing on my personal morals. A more accurate interpretation of what I wrote was that common sense morality is good enough for the purposes of the point that I was trying to get across.

However, I'm no longer surprised that you are taking this line of argument.

Xtra Laj said...

I think the mistake made by Kant, which Pareto and others have picked up on, is trying to take a rule of thumb and make it into an absolute that holds true in every context.__________


Michael,

I think that this is one of way of viewing the error of going from general principles to particular circumstances, but I think it misses the thrust of Pareto's actual criticism.

It is that the general rule is so vague that its practical value is limited. The rule is open to interpretations that suit just about any instance you want it to suit. Therefore, you have to get more and more into the details to really understand what is going on. General rules do not withstand statistical differences and diversity very well. And since we live in a statistical world in many regards, the rules break down very easily without a good mathematical sense.

Of course, as human beings, we need to conceptualize and organize our thoughts so we cannot dispense with something like general principles. However, we often want to hold on to these general principles when it is clear that actual experience must inform real decision making.

People who deal empirically with any field always knows the limitations of general principles, but for whatever reasons, finds them more alluring when dealing with fields outside of their expertise.

In the case of morality, the defense of the Golden Rule would require so much nuance to make it sensible. If I'm a masochist and I like pain, do I then inflict pain liberally on others? A defender of the Golden Rule will say that that is not the spirit of the Golden Rule etc. or that applying the Golden Rule cannot solve all moral problems.

In your response to Greg, you pointed out that criticisms of Ethical Intuitionism might be directed at a caricature. I think that my position (and most likely Greg's too) is that Ethical Intuitionism is really trying to claim that our moral sentiments are more than they really are (personal expressions).

Everything you've written about Ethical Intuitionism as espoused by Huemer is compatible with just about every common sense naturalist ethics out there. The problem is that for whatever reason, there seems to be this notion of privileged, objective insight into higher truth that the name "Ethical Intuitionism" claims. It is that privileged insight that a naturalist ethics more grounded in the emotions and sentiments of human beings denies.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

A more accurate interpretation of what I wrote was that common sense morality is good enough for the purposes of the point that I was trying to get across. - Abolaji/Laj

on 5/30/2009 10:28:00 AM
___________________________________





That was why I had asked you what you meant by


"On who defines what is moral: common sense morality is good enough for me. If it's not for you, let me know." - Laj/Abolaji on 4/09/2009 08:27:00 PM

From "Objectivism & Politics, Part2.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

To my mind, the insistence that nearly every person in the world, at least prior to modern times, was "evil" is hard to understand. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





Michael, just want to clarify (just in case), I'm not one of those.




___________________________________

Red Grant wrote, "...nearly everyone who called oneself a Christian in the early part of middle ages were dyed in the wool anti-Semites. Were they not evil according to your definition of evil?"

They were not evil. They were badly mistaken, just as the Aztec priests who conducted human sacrifices were badly mistaken. - Michael Prescott
___________________________________





...and I salute you for your intellectual courage.

Most people would have remained silent than give the answer you had given due to the fear of being falsely accused of being an apologist for anti-semites.


As for my position, I think you could be right, but I'm neither a moral relativist nor a moral absolutist.

Maybe moral agnostic?

Michael Prescott said...

Xtra Laj: "It is that the general rule is so vague that its practical value is limited."

With reference to the Golden Rule, I don't think this is correct. Speaking purely from my own introspective experience, I use the Golden Rule all the time and find it enormously useful.

Pareto's criticism of the Categorical Imperative is fair enough, since Kant's extreme rationalism renders him vulnerable to such an attack.

My problem with naturalistic ethics is that most of the arguments made in its support seem to commit the naturalsitic fallacy, as identified by G.E. Moore. (This might be better known as the reductionistic fallacy, since it applies to any attempt to reduce "goodness" to its constituents. Moore's view was that goodness is irreducibly simple - one of those things that resist all attempts at intellectual dissection.)

Naturalistic ethical arguments also frequently stumble over the is-ought problem.

Efforts to get around both the naturalistic fallacy and the is-ought problem usually end in something close to subjectivism or nihilism, with the ethicist declaring that "goodness," since it cannot be reduced to simpler properties or directly tied to natural facts, must either be a matter of personal preference or a non-issue.

But of course objections can be raised against any ethical theory, certainly including intuitionism. My best guess (which may be mistaken) is that the intuitionists are on the right track, but I'm not saying they've solved every problem.

Red Grant, thanks for the kind words.

Cavewight said...

That was a long post which covered territory which has already been covered by many Rand critics. Some of it boils down to the "prudent predator" counter-argument which states that, according to Rand's own argument, a "predator" such as a criminal or a dictator could rationally defend his way of life. If the consequences for predatory or "parasitical" behavior never occur, then it could be argued that the predator or parasite has lived a long and moral existence.

Rand believed that consequences for immoral (read "irrational") behavior were inevitable, but that is not necessarily the case. And thus her argument for Objectivist morality fails.

Cavewight said...

"Pareto's criticism of the Categorical Imperative is fair enough, since Kant's extreme rationalism renders him vulnerable to such an attack."

Yet another Kant criticism from the peanut gallery. A simple Google search of "Kant rationalism empiricism" brings up a slew of pages showing that Kant argued for a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism.

Xtra Laj said...

With reference to the Golden Rule, I don't think this is correct. Speaking purely from my own introspective experience, I use the Golden Rule all the time and find it enormously useful.____________________________________

Michael,

I have no doubt that you apply some version of reciprocal ethics. The question is whether this is really the Golden Rule.

After all, ethics is about how we would like to treat self/others and in trying to empathize, we often extend our self-knowledge to understand how others might think/behave.

However, the question here is whether one can distinguish between behavior predicated on the Golden Rule or not. Maybe you could state the version of the Golden Rule you practice and it might escape the objection(s) I make below.

Consider the following:

A poor man gives a rich man food. The rich man asks why the poor man is giving him food. The poor man says he is practicing the Golden Rule. The rich man says well, why are you giving me what I have more than enough of?

So, when practicing the rule, do you just do to other people exactly what you want to be done to you, or something that takes into account their personal preferences as well?

Well, then consider this:

a rich man kills a poor man (I'm being anti-capitalist). When asked whether he treated the poor man how he as a rich man would like to be treated, the rich man says, "Well, if I was poor, I would like to be killed."

I hope the point is clear. Pareto's point was that the Categorical Imperative has problems, either with a strict interpretation, or an interpretation that allows for individual differences, and it's even worse if it combines both, as then people just pick and choose which version they want when it suits them. Therefore, it can be used to justify just about any behavior that is in line with personal sentiments.

Generally, this is the case with ethics. We have sentiments that reliably determine where our loyalties lie, and the reasons for what we do are usually provided after the fact.

Xtra Laj said...

Naturalistic ethical arguments also frequently stumble over the is-ought problem.

Efforts to get around both the naturalistic fallacy and the is-ought problem usually end in something close to subjectivism or nihilism, with the ethicist declaring that "goodness," since it cannot be reduced to simpler properties or directly tied to natural facts, must either be a matter of personal preference or a non-issue.
I guess the real question is this: what is the scary, nihilistic consequence of goodness being a matter of "personal preference"? I may be wrong, but there seems to be to be a radical, blank slate conception of human nature underlying this kind of claim.

Naturalistic ethics think that human ends are given for the most part. That is how the "is-ought" problem is handled. Reason is used to harmonize these ends or as Hume said, "Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions." (By the way, interpret this charitably, or at the very least, if you want to argue against it as written, note that Hume's actual writing and personal practice do not support that kind of interpretation). You reason about how to determine those ends, and sometimes, the means we use to achieve our ends might not be fully compatible with those ends. Or we might understand the ends/means better with more reflection. This is all compatible with a subjectivist view of ethics with our evolutionary heritage (or whatever you think is the fundamental determinant of human nature) determining most of our ends.

Xtra Laj said...

Yet another Kant criticism from the peanut gallery. A simple Google search of "Kant rationalism empiricism" brings up a slew of pages showing that Kant argued for a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism.Cavewight,

How are you doing? I don't know much about Kant, but I think very few people would consider his *ethics* anything other than very rationalistic (we are not discussing Kantian epistemology here). And that is the topic of discussion on this page. But I might be quite wrong and I'm open to being shown otherwise.

Cavewight said...

I'm fine, thank you. I'm afraid that Kant isn't the topic here. But I'll venture forth a little more on the subject and say that, unlike yourself, I wouldn't cite some unknown majority on this issue, so I offered a way to find numerous links to the contrary of Kant's "extreme rationalism" via Google search. As far as I know, citing some unknown majority does not trump my findings from Google.

I will offer this much, however: One of the tests of the CI is to ask, "Would the world be a better place if such and such a maxim were practiced universally?"

That is not rationalism, nor is it extreme. Kant simply assumes that his reader is benevolent enough to wish and hope for a better world. That seems empirical enough to me, albeit idealistic.

Xtra Laj said...

I'm fine, thank you. I'm afraid that Kant isn't the topic here. But I'll venture forth a little more on the subject and say that, unlike yourself, I wouldn't cite some unknown majority on this issue, so I offered a way to find numerous links to the contrary of Kant's "extreme rationalism" via Google search. As far as I know, citing some unknown majority does not trump my findings from Google._________________________


It's not just an unknown majority. The phrase "extreme rationalism" misses the point here. You can search for Kantian rationalism in ethics but you won't find anything that says Kantian empiricism in ethics. In fact, you might find sources that say that Kant rejected empiricism in ethics. I don't know of anyone who interprets Kant and says that his ethical standards did not deny any place for personal emotions in analyzing ethical decisions, or who finds Kantian rationalism admitting exceptions to his principles.

I'll quote two philosophers, but if you think that there is an alternative interpretation of Kant, let me know:

Blanshard, Reason and Goodness, pg. 141 : "Kant held that if the rule of truth telling pased the test of rightness at all, it allowed no exceptions whatsoever."

Abstract of a philosophical paper from Google:

"Contrariwise, Husserl fights against relativism in ethics and praises Kant for the discovery of an absolute moral imperative. He considers Kant's ethics as a rationalistic position that is too formal and that does not take into account that every will must be motivated by some concrete material good that is evaluated in our feelings or emotions."

Kantian deontologism can be contrasted with that of say Sir David Ross, who admitted exceptions to principles and was probably more of an ethical intuitionist.

___________________________


I will offer this much, however: One of the tests of the CI is to ask, "Would the world be a better place if such and such a maxim were practiced universally?"______________________________

And you don't think that this test is extremely rationalistic in nature? Let's look at some of the problems with it.

1. A better place according to who?
2. Do we need a ceteris paribus qualification?
3. Do emotions or individual interests play any part in this evaluation of whether the world is a better place or not?
4. How do we test this claim?

In the end, your evaluation of just about any answer to your question will depend on how you feel about the act under consideration in the first place, and not on any genuine test of whether the world would be a better place if everyone practiced whatever principle was proposed.

____________________

That is not rationalism, nor is it extreme. Kant simply assumes that his reader is benevolent enough to wish and hope for a better world. That seems empirical enough to me, albeit idealistic._____________________

First of all, the Categorical Imperative is not the only aspect of Kantian ethics that leads to the charges of rationalism. But I will make another point.

As Greg pointed out earlier, the only argument in ethics is really argumentum ad hominem. So if I think Kant is rationalistic, impractical and horribly wrong, am I guilty of not wishing for a better world? And if there are more naturalistic ways that treat human nature more realistically that are compatible with wishing for a better world, can I not take them seriously if I consider Kantian rationalism in ethics to be too impractical?

Cavewight said...

Charges without evidence add up to nothing. I offered evidence.

But now you have another possible ace up your sleeve: Kantianism is "impractical." And again, it was offered without grounds in evidence.

The word "Impractical" has different possible meanings. But let's not pussyfoot around endlessly hashing over definitions and consider what Kant actually said on morality -

To willfully tell a lie, to steal, and to break promises is never good for a rational agent, no matter how "good" the consequences of the action seem to be at the time. Indeed, it is true that if nobody ever willfully lied, stole, or broke promises, the world would be a better place.

The personal empirical goal here is not to improve the world, or even to be happy, but to prove oneself morally worthy of happiness. Kant argues that anybody who pursues happiness as an end will never achieve it. I would therefore hardly call the pursuit of eudaimonia practical. His moral system does not guarantee happiness, but if you are moral, he does guarantee that you will have proven yourself worthy of being happy. It is therefore more practical to prove oneself worthy of happiness than to pursue the fruitless end of being happy.

And that is why Kant's moral system is practical and not impractical at all. It is practical because it offers realistic guarantees as ends, while other systems offer unrealistic, therefore impractical ends.

Cavewight said...

"As Greg pointed out earlier, the only argument in ethics is really argumentum ad hominem. So if I think Kant is rationalistic, impractical and horribly wrong, am I guilty of not wishing for a better world?"

Quoting Greg's earlier point is argument from authority. I see no reason to agree with him anyway. I don't even see where it helps your cause.

However, your reference to "guilt" has no meaning here. You are not guilty for believing in anything, or for wishing for anything. You are not guilty for thinking that Kant was a bad man. Philosophers are not thought-police, that is the PC crowd, those fascists who believe that thought can be regulated and controlled by using punitive methods to change behavior - the ends justify the means.

So let's take the nasty word "guilty" out of your statement. If you think that Kant was an extreme rationalist, are you therefore against the idea of a better world? No, it only means you don't understand Kant's system of morality.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

I offered evidence of at least two philosophers who agreed with my interpretation of Kant. I asked you to find someone who did not, and you have not. So I assume that you agree with my interpretation of Kant, especially my point about his not allowing for the role of emotions and interests in determining the moral evaluation of an act, but disagree with my evaluation of whether his ethics is practical or even worthy of admiration.

So I will support my impractical charge by stating that *everything* science has to say on the workings of our moral faculties says that our moral faculties are influenced by emotions and cannot function without them. You can read Antonio Damasio's works "The Feeling of What Happens" or "Looking for Spinoza" as evidence based arguments against the idea that reason can be separated from emotion. This is the very emotion that Kant has no place for in his ethical evaluations of right and wrong.

_____________________________

To willfully tell a lie, to steal, and to break promises is never good for a rational agent, no matter how "good" the consequences of the action seem to be at the time. Indeed, it is true that if nobody ever willfully lied, stole, or broke promises, the world would be a better place.__________________________

So what is the empirical support for this claim?

Kant was unaware of the claims of evolutionary theory and modern neuroscience which show his view of human rationality and morality to be dubious.

_______________________________
The personal empirical goal here is not to improve the world, or even to be happy, but to prove oneself morally worthy of happiness. Kant argues that anybody who pursues happiness as an end will never achieve it. I would therefore hardly call the pursuit of eudaimonia practical. His moral system does not guarantee happiness, but if you are moral, he does guarantee that you will have proven yourself worthy of being happy. It is therefore more practical to prove oneself worthy of happiness than to pursue the fruitless end of being happy.__________________________

Quite frankly, I can't take this seriously - hopefully, others far smarter and wiser than I am can. Maybe you could show me what evidence Kant presented in arriving at this conclusion. Did he talk to real people? Did he analyze the people around him? After all, this is supposedly empirically inspired and practical philosophy.

Or maybe your definition of practical is different from mine.
________________________________

And that is why Kant's moral system is practical and not impractical at all. It is practical because it offers realistic guarantees as ends, while other systems offer unrealistic, therefore impractical ends._________________________________

If you say so.

_____________________________

So let's take the nasty word "guilty" out of your statement. If you think that Kant was an extreme rationalist, are you therefore against the idea of a better world? No, it only means you don't understand Kant's system of morality._____________________________

So could you please present the interpretation of Kantian morality that contradicts mine?

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "I will offer this much, however: One of the tests of the CI is to ask, 'Would the world be a better place if such and such a maxim were practiced universally?' That is not rationalism."

Whether it is rationalistic or not is besides the point: it's just not very relevant (nor is it quite what Kant's CI actually says, but that's another issue). Undoubtedly, it's fun to imagine how things would if everyone behaved better. But the individual only has one control of one person: himself. That is why Kant tries to phrase it in a way that it could be used to regulate the conduct of the individual. So Kant says "Act as if the maxim of your conduct were to become, by your will, a universal law of nature." We know from the previous post that this law fails as a regulative principle. It's just too vague to lead to any specific conduct.

Cavewight said...

Greg,

Very interesting comment as usual, but your interpretation is also overshadowed by your personal philosophy which I read about in your book. And so where you say it is (no doubt) "fun" to imagine how everybody would behave in a better world, that is just your nihilistic "horns" poking through. It serves to downplay my comment, yet it has nothing to do with the CI.

And you mentioned only one version of the CI, which you claimed fails as being too vague. However, none of these principles determine any behavior for you. They are general, negative principles of the will, determining what you should not do in any event. Positive principle of the will are generally imperfect duties. For example, it is not necessarily the case that everybody should seek to better themselves, as the maxim against laziness may find its solution in some other positive maxim depending upon the individual's subjective constitution. And so even on that grounds, the CI is not rationalistic as it ultimately leaves room for subjective choice in the positive sense.

In the murderer at the inn example, Kant only says the innkeeper has a perfect duty not to lie to the murderer. He does not dictate to the innkeeper exactly what he should do in the positive sense. Whatever his positive choice will be, it will be based on an imperfect duty to do such and such circumstantially. And at any rate, Kant stated in the essay that nobody is owed the truth except for the subjective truth of his own soul.

On rejecting his notion of a better world (or better, Kingdom of Ends), Kant would have you imagine your only moral alternative: a condition where there really was an immanent Heaven with a God, an ultimate and omnipotent moral judge, residing therein, and how everybody would then act. Kant stated that nobody would do the wrong thing since the consequence of moral behavior, along with your judge, jury, and executioner, were ever-present before your eyes, you would be so terrified of the consequences that you could then willfully do no wrong.

This is the scenario religion asks people to have faith in: to always behave as if Big Daddy were forever standing over you with a whip, with the promise of Heaven (a better, even perfect, world in the after-life) along with those streets of gold, as your eventual reward for good deeds. The idea is to use faith to induce terror and the promise of eventual salvation from eternal punishment: rewards and punishments. The victim of this type of philosophy is your will, as the method is to use your natural, subjective states of being to subject your will to desires for pleasure and avoidance of pain, thus to use your fears and desires to enslave your will to an external, heteronomous authority. Heteronomy means enslavement. For Kant, however, your will is autonomous and must remain that way in order for morality to work.

For Kant, to seek toward a better world is not a perfect duty.
It is an imperfect duty, partially determined by subjective principles, as it assumes a moral agent who desires such a world. It is, however, the basis for endless or eternal progress toward a Kingdom of Ends as conditioned merely by the idea of immortality. For it is only under such a condition that eternal progress can be deemed possible or even practical at all.

Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj wrote:
"So I will support my impractical charge by stating that *everything* science has to say on the workings of our moral faculties says that our moral faculties are influenced by emotions and cannot function without them."

You are falling right into Kant's hands with that statement. Kant never asked anybody to disengage reason from emotion. And in fact, he stated that one can never know if one's actions are truly lacking in inclination (emotion, whim, etc.) or is perfectly based in morality. In that case, one will simply have to keep trying, never knowing if the Holy Will is ever actually achieved.

Thus Kant's moral system relies on the idea of immortality: "In respect, then, of the holiness which the Christian law requires, this leaves the creature nothing but a progress in infinitum, but for that very reason it justifies him in hoping for an endless duration of his existence." (CHAPTER II. Of the Dialectic of Pure Reason in defining the Conception of the "Summum Bonum")

And what is hope? Is its source seated in the emotions, or in reason? Hope is a feeling, for which Kant gives rational grounds in the idea of Immortality.

Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj wrote:

"Or maybe your definition of practical is different from mine."

I don't know what your definition of "practical" is. All I'm saying is that it is not very practical, according to Kant, to place happiness at the apex of your moral system when the goal itself is impossible to achieve.

I'm not talking about happiness in this or that moment. Anybody can achieve a momentary happiness. A lottery winner may achieve happiness at the moment his or her numbers are drawn, but the reality of being burdened with so much wealth eventually begins to set in.

So the only realistic happiness is that which is more-or-less momentary, and at any rate, that would not make for a very practical moral purpose. Morality, for Kant, does not involve the hope for any momentary pleasures, but for a permanent, lasting state of being. This state of being he called "bliss," which is a state of perfect, continuous happiness.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

For the record, I never wrote anything about *happiness*. I wrote about emotion. The truth is that Kant is wrong - contra Kant, one is always acting according to inclination and it is Kant's obsession with trying to divorce reason from emotion and the relative ignorance about human psychology at that time that makes him think it is possible to lack inclination when acting. Spinoza's rendition of what motivates human beings is far more realistic and in line with cognitive science.

I have little interest in discussing Kant (or ethics in general) apart from whether his claims are practical or in line with facts about human nature/psychology. If you have some practical application of Kantian ethics/psychology that you can bring to bear on this matter, let me know.

I'll propose a question for you to consider should you choose to do so: how do you use Kant's ethics to guide a depressed man?

Cheers.

Cavewight said...

"it is Kant's obsession with trying to divorce reason from emotion...

I showed where Kant did not divorce reason from emotion. I can show further where happiness plays a crucial role in his theory. To further one's own happiness is an indirect duty, in that happy people tend to do good.

You may despise Immanuel Kant, but you should never underestimate Immanuel Kant.

Cavewight said...

"I'll propose a question for you to consider should you choose to do so: how do you use Kant's ethics to guide a depressed man?"

If he is diagnosed with clinical depression, he should go on anti-depressants. But you want to know how Kant's ethics would guide him to the anti-depressants. That would be via the indirect duty I recently mentioned here. A depressed man is not likely to care about morality, therefore he needs to do something about his depressed state to the point where he can at least acknowledge the need for morality and have something to hope for.

As I mentioned before, "hope" plays an integral role in Kant's moral system. A depressed man has lost all hope. Maybe it will require years of anti-depressants to get him back to a more hopeful state again, to get his "spirit" back on its feet. But it is his moral duty to take the medication whether he feels like it or not, whether he likes it or not, whether he even cares to live or not.

Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj,

I'll certainly agree with you that people will misconstrue Kantian morality as divorcing emotion from reason. Emotion is simply not used as moral guidance, morality is a rational pursuit. There is no wisdom found in emotion or in pursuing emotional states.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

OK.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "And so where you say it is (no doubt) 'fun' to imagine how everybody would behave in a better world, that is just your nihilistic 'horns' poking through."

I'm astonished that you would mention my nihilistic horns without also giving props to my nihilistic cloven feet and (my proudest possession of all) my nihilistic retractable tail, which I occasionally yank out to swish away the miscelaneous fly on a hot summer day. I'm less astonished, however, to find you attributing to me a nihilistic appendage, because after all, I have stated that all arguments over ethics must ultimately reduce themselves to an argumentum ad hominem; so it is only fitting that you should be helping corroborate this assertion by playing the ad hominem card against me, even though you previously stated you saw "no reason to agree with" this position. And it is only fitting that the rest of your post merely confirms my general position that Kant's ethics cannot, on its own, serve as a moral guide. Because of its vagueness, the interpreter of it can draw whatever he likes from it—or, if he's too scrupulous to rationalize, nothing at all. First you say that the murderer at the inn only has, according to Kant, "a perfect duty not to lie to the murderer." One would think this would mean that the innkeeper must tell the murderer the truth. But no, not at all. Kant, according to your interpretation, "does not dictate to the innkeeper exactly what he should do in the positive sense."
Then what should our poor innkeeper do? "Whatever his positive choice will be, it will be based on an imperfect duty to do such and such circumstantially." But making a distinction between perfect and imperfect duty does our innkeeper little good. I can hear him shouting impatiently, "Enough with your perfect and imperfect duties! Just tell me what I'm supposed to do and be done with it!" But alas, that is precisely what neither you nor Kant can say. Instead, we are treated to the mystifying platitude "Nobody is owed the truth except for the subjective truth of his own soul." While that's undoubtedly a marvelous piece of sapience (so wonderful, in fact, that it deserves to be embalmed within a fortune cookie), I have no idea what it means; and I can't even begin to imagine what the innkeeper would make of it.

Cavewight said...

I think you will agree, anyway, that philosophy always stays aloof, that its principles always express the highest (or "vaguest") generalities, and that if it were not so, then it would no longer be philosophy.

And anyway, if Kant were to dictate to you an answer covering every situation, he would be criticized on some other grounds. But that someone will always criticize him for something is a foregone conclusion, even if they have to make up a reason for it.

Your comment reminds me of something Kant said in his essay on Enlightenment: Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. In this case, it means moral understanding. So if he were the dictator over all your moral decisions, he could not very well be a proponent of autonomy over heteronomy, autonomy being grounds for moral maturity.

On the other hand, Kant's morality does not exist to further the existence of immaturity, he is not there to hold your hand through your every moral decision. He has indeed offered nothing new in the moral sense, his moral precepts have been extant for centuries. All he has added is a new formula, or rather, three of them. So if you happen to be a person who believes in honesty in all your dealings with others, the CI will explain to you why honesty is a good thing, and why it is good for you to believe in it. It shows that your belief in honesty does not have to be dogmatic or merely faith-bound belief, but that it is based in reason and is neither relativistic nor subjective. The CI only confirms what people already know albeit in vague or incomplete fashion.

Kant states as much throughout the CoPR. He constantly harps on the fact that, to wit, "people already know this," or, "it is obvious to everybody." Kant is not telling you what to believe, he is telling you why, in the transcendental, a priori sense, you already believe it.

And so there are these two most common and related criticisms of Kant's moral system: it is too vague to be applied to everyday life; and, Kant must be some kind of dictator. But according to his own words, neither criticism can apply here. Kant cannot be a dictator without violating his own theory of autonomy; and his moral precepts must be "vague," that is, general, or else he will be in the position of dictating to you your every deed, for which he could be rightly criticized if that were the case.

If you want to see a textbook in moral immaturity, consult your local Randroid!

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote:
I'm astonished that you would mention my nihilistic horns without also giving props to my nihilistic cloven feet and (my proudest possession of all) my nihilistic retractable tail, which I occasionally yank out to swish away the miscelaneous fly on a hot summer day. I'm less astonished, however, to find you attributing to me a nihilistic appendage, because after all, I have stated that all arguments over ethics must ultimately reduce themselves to an argumentum ad hominem; so it is only fitting that you should be helping corroborate this assertion by playing the ad hominem card against me, even though you previously stated you saw "no reason to agree with" this position.I'm not agreeing with your position, but I do sometimes enjoy dealing back to them the cards that others play. So if you believe that principles are based on emotional commitments, it is not inconsistent to point out your own emotional commitments by calling them your "horns."

The argument has to circle back around on the claimaint. Anybody who claims as a priori the principle that "everybody's ideas are based on emotional commitment" must admit that this very idea itself must also be based on emotional commitment in order for it to be consistent. Otherwise there is a double-standard.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Could you quote the source for your claim,

"everybody's ideas are based on emotional commitment"

?

Thanks.

Cavewight said...

http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2009/05/objectivism-politics-part-10.htmlThe reference was to "all non-empirical thinking," whatever that means.

Vague it may be, but I take it that all ideas are ultimately based in non-empirical ideas, which are based in Pareto's "residues" or emotional commitments. So it is an easy step to go from "non-empirical ideas" to all ideas in general.

At any rate, David Hume said it first. And if true, the principle itself must be circularly employed.
The idea that non-empirical ideas are derivations of residues must itself be a derivation of a residue.

Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...

Consider all the ideas that Pareto's non-empirical" could possibly refer to.

http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00001759/

A scientific theory, in order to be accepted as a part of theoretical scientific knowledge, must satisfy both empirical and non-empirical requirements, the latter having to do with simplicity, unity, explanatory character, symmetry, beauty.Simplicity - emotional, according to Pareto.

Unity - emotional, according to Pareto.

Explanatory character - emotional, according to Pareto.

Symmetry - emotional, according to Pareto.

Beauty - emotional, according to Pareto.

Science is therefore laced with emotional residuals and derivatives. If he has devastated Kant (as was claimed), then he has also succeeded in taking science down with him, and all its ideas.

Causality - emotional, according to Pareto.

Since a great many of our judgments about the world are based on cause-and-effect, Pareto is saying that such judgments, seemingly so objective, are actually derivative, and emotionally residual.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

So let's get this straight - you didn't literally quote Greg - you substituted your interpretation for what he wrote and quoted your interpretation?

And you see no problem with that?

Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj,

A blog is not a Ph.d dissertation thesis paper. And anyway, I have already raised the bar simply by bringing Kant into the discussion.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Not at all. You see, Greg's post that you sloppily misquoted was the 10th in a series of posts, and in one of the much earlier posts, he explained what Pareto meant, and while whether the terminology in the post you cited is Greg's or Pareto's is unknown to me, it would help if you at least traced back those posts to the beginning to see what Greg might have meant by the statement you take issue with. To aid you in your quest:

http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/search/label/Politics

Whether you have raised the bar by sloppily misquoting Greg is for you to decide.

The distinction between empirical and non-empirical in the scheme that Greg explained is whether one will give up the theory when one sees facts that contradict it, or whether the theory is held onto despite evidence that brings it into question.

I have no problem with your raising questions about Pareto/Greg's schema if you do understand it. What I'm fairly tired of is your (thus far) sycophantic defense of Kant. It's almost like rather than admit that Kant's schema has obvious problems, you are always willing to reinterpret it as generously as possible and accuse everyone else of misunderstanding it, rather than admitting that Kant's writing (or the English translation) is often obscure, unclear and open to multiple interpretations, of which even the most generous are problematic.

I can empathize to some degree with what Kant was trying to do, but even if you are an Ethical Intuitionist or a Deontologist or a Humean Skeptic or a Spinozist (like myself), it is not that hard to admit what the problems with your ethical positions are. That is the intellectually mature thing to do (my parting ad hominem).

Cavewight said...

The link you provided loops me back to the same page, politics part 11.

Cavewight said...

I shouldn't have called it a "link," it was a URL. But it wouldn't work even if you provided it with some handy html.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

Then go to any "Objectivism and Politics, Part X" post and click on the tag "Politics" at the bottom.

Michael Prescott said...

Xtra Laj: "However, the question here is whether one can distinguish between behavior predicated on the Golden Rule or not. Maybe you could state the version of the Golden Rule you practice and it might escape the objection(s) I make below."

My version is, "Treat others as you would like them to treat you."

I find this a useful reminder and rule of thumb. I don't think it's the same thing as "reciprocal ethics," since (as I understand it) reciprocity involves treating others the way they actually have treated you.

The idea is to treat others the way you would like to be treated, not the way they have treated you. For instance, if someone insults you, reciprocity would entail insulting them in return, while the Golden Rule would entail either overlooking the insult or gently calling attention to it.

"a rich man kills a poor man... When asked whether he treated the poor man how he as a rich man would like to be treated, the rich man says, 'Well, if I was poor, I would like to be killed.' "

That's just silly.

"what is the scary, nihilistic consequence of goodness being a matter of 'personal preference'?"

Well, it depends on the personal preferences. If Ted Bundy's personal preference is to kidnap and kill people, then it seems "scary and nihilistic" to call this behavior "goodness."

Michael Prescott said...

I guess I should explain why "it's just silly."

When applying a rule of thumb, you have to use a measure of common sense. A rule of thumb can't be applied mechanically or unthinkingly.

Some would argue that any attempt to apply common sense and context to a general rule invalidates the rule by introducing complications and qualifications. I think this is erroneous. In human affairs, every general rule is going to have exceptions and qualifications. So either we can say there are no rules, or we can say that the rules, while useful, are open to interpretation. I think the latter position makes more sense.

Cavewight said...

The Golden Rule is really very simple. It applies to the double standard we all have in that we always seek to be treated better than the way we treat others in society.

For example, it is very common to find thieves who utterly hate to have their stuff stolen from them. They have a strong sense of personal property, but it does not extend very often to other people. Others' property seems to exist only to be stolen, but the thieve's property does not.

The solution in the Golden Rule is to treat others' property with the same respect granted to one's own.

Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj wrote:
The distinction between empirical and non-empirical in the scheme that Greg explained is whether one will give up the theory when one sees facts that contradict it, or whether the theory is held onto despite evidence that brings it into question.My belief in causality is non-empirical, I always hold onto it despite evidence to the contrary.

Michael Prescott said...

I wrote, "Pareto's criticism of the Categorical Imperative is fair enough, since Kant's extreme rationalism renders him vulnerable to such an attack."

Cavewight wrote, "Yet another Kant criticism from the peanut gallery."

I could be wrong. As I said in one of my comments, I don't know that much about Kant's ethics. If he was not overly rationalistic in this area, then Pareto's critique is misguided.

My general impression of Kant is that he was rationalistic in his ethics because he was trying to justify certain preconceived conclusions. (I think Rand did much the same thing, the main difference being that Kant's conclusions were in line with Judeo-Christian tradition.)

On the other hand, Kant's epistemology - especially his idea of mental categories that shape our perceptions - strikes me as extremely insightful and centuries ahead of its time.

Xtra Laj said...

Mike,

Again, I don't like debating words too strenuously, but the "ethics of reciprocity", "the Golden Rule", "reciprocal ethics" etc. are all the same to me.

One of the points of my questions/hypotheticals was whether you treated people *exactly* how you would like to be treated, or whether you treated them as you would like to be treated if you were them. It is more likely the latter, and the latter allows all kinds of distinctions that make applications of the rule often a matter of personal sentiment, though many will disguise such personal sentiment as being objective. This is what I claim what is hiding under your desire for "interpretation" of the rule.

Now, you considered my scenario "just silly", but in an extreme manner, I was making the point that if you need to intelligently apply the Golden Rule, the next question is whether such "intelligent" interpretation/application is open to all kinds of subjective conditions. And I think it is fairly obvious that it is, and that those subjective conditions will depend on the sentiments of the individual who is practicing the rule. An approving attitude towards what you would like will necessarily affect your application of the rule. We can't distinguish between right and wrong applications of the Golden Rule without some admission on the part of the practitioner based on what you have written, since you are free to intelligently apply it.

For example, would you give a poor man on the street a thousand dollars of your money? And if you say no, is it really because it is not something you would like someone else to do for you?

As for your comments on personal preference, I think that your choice of a serial killer stacks the deck in your favor quite a bit, but this is an ethics discussion, so we must use such arguments to make our points. If Ted Bundy tried to advocate his values to society, do you think that people will reject him because no one agrees with him or thinks that he is "objectively right", or because his views/sentiments are a minority?

Most people do not share the sentiments of Ted Bundy about murder. But we cannot argue that there is something wrong about Ted Bundy's actions without looking at their effects on the welfare of human beings and the sentiments others share on what he did. And when making these arguments, we will be expressing personal sentiments and trying to get others to agree with us with all kinds of emotional arguments.

There are other related points, but I will leave those aside for now.

Xtra Laj said...

My belief in causality is non-empirical, I always hold onto it despite evidence to the contrary.___________________________

A couple of points are relevant here.

1. What is the evidence you speak of? Just curious (and also wondering about whether this is just a case of devilish advocacy).

2. Calling an idea non-empirical, if I understand Greg correctly, does not mean that it is good, bad, right, wrong, correct, incorrect, true or false. What it does mean is that the principle does not admit to exceptions and informs experience, rather than being amenable to it. Therefore, people who defend such claims will often try to expand or reinterpret them so that they are less and less empirically defeasible, rather than formulate them so empirically that they can be put to tests.

Most of the issues that Greg discusses are when experience can inform/contradict the non-empirical claim, and when the claim is made in such a way that it can be interpreted to suit the beliefs of just about anyone.

Cavewight said...

Michael said:
My general impression of Kant is that he was rationalistic in his ethics because he was trying to justify certain preconceived conclusions.

The key to this is your choice to use the word "rationalistic." What you're talking about is rationalizing previously held beliefs which is rationalization, what I'm interpreting you as saying is along the lines of rationalism vs. empiricism.

Xtra Laj said...

"My general impression of Kant is that he was rationalistic in his ethics because he was trying to justify certain preconceived conclusions."
____________________________________

Most philosphers do the same thing, so that is not my problem with Kant, but on the other hand, I do admit that this is not what I understood you to mean so my discussion did not support your statement.

Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj,

Here is the part of your comment I want to focus on:

What it does mean is that the principle does not admit to exceptions and informs experience, rather than being amenable to it.

That goes right to the heart of what I'm saying, and of course I am taking this to the Kantian perspective. Because he wrote that causality is a principle that does not admit to exceptions and also informs experience. Causality, indeed, is not amenable to experience, it cannot be corrected or amended by experience.

THAT is why I keep harping on Kantianism. Not because I am so obsequious to his ideas, but because they fit in so well with this topic. THAT is why I brought up causality as, indeed, non-empirical, although as you say, informing experience.

And it is why I locate Pareto within the Humean skeptical school of thought.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

OK.

Michael Prescott said...

Xtra Laj: "the 'ethics of reciprocity', 'the Golden Rule', 'reciprocal ethics' etc. are all the same to me."

I guess you're right. A Google search turns up many articles asserting that the Golden Rule = the ethics of reciprocity. I would have thought there was a subtle difference, but what do I know?

"One of the points of my questions/hypotheticals was whether you treated people *exactly* how you would like to be treated, or whether you treated them as you would like to be treated if you were them. It is more likely the latter, and the latter allows all kinds of distinctions that make applications of the rule often a matter of personal sentiment ..."

I think it's a matter of intelligent interpretation, rather than sentiment. Of course, the interpretation involves what has been called "emotional intelligence". It is not just a matter of weighing facts in a disinterested way. So if we are not coldly weighing facts, are we then purely creatures of sentiment? I would say no; emotional reasoning can be just as valid, and subject to as many rules, as any other kind of reasoning. But perhaps I've misunderstood what you mean by "sentiment."

"If Ted Bundy tried to advocate his values to society, do you think that people will reject him because no one agrees with him or thinks that he is 'objectively right', or because his views/sentiments are a minority?"

I think most people would reject him because they have a strong moral intuition that murder is objectively wrong. This moral intuition on the part of most people is precisely what makes Bundy's views a minority position.

I gather you would say that it is not moral intuition but sentiment that determines the majority view. In practice, it may not make much difference; the bottom line is that the average person will reject "Bundyism" more-or-less instinctively, even if he cannot formulate a philosophical argument about it. I would say he rejects it on the basis of the intuition of timeless truths, while you (I think) would say that he rejects it on the basis of sentiments inculcated by society or hardwired by evolution.

The disagreement probably comes down to differing views of the nature of man and reality. Personally, I'm skeptical of any explanation grounded in "evolutionary psychology," for reasons discussed at length by David Stove in his book Darwinian Fairy Tales (a critique of sociobiology/evolutionary psychology). Instead, I'm inclined to look for answers in the so-called "perennial philosophy" and its offshoots, and so I'm more likely to see moral truths as irreducible features of reality than as social or biological constructs. Naturally, society and biology will reflect those truths to some extent, but I would not say that society and biology are the source of moral truths, any more than a mirror is the source of the object reflected in it.

In the end, though, it probably doesn't matter what theory one accepts. Either way, our moral behavior will largely be guided by non-theoretical considerations - either intuition (my view) or sentiment (yours). This is where we can probably both agree that the Objectivists have it wrong; abstract moral theories have little force in comparison with deep-seated non-intellectual "knowing."

Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking conversation.

Cavewight said...

Michael said:
In the end, though, it probably doesn't matter what theory one accepts. Either way, our moral behavior will largely be guided by non-theoretical considerations - either intuition (my view) or sentiment (yours).I understand the word "sentiment" according to this definition found on the web: "opinion: a personal belief or judgment that is not founded on proof or certainty."

And so, regarding Pareto's charge against Kant, I don't see Kant inventing, or "founding," any new moral precepts or personal beliefs.

Rather, I see him arguing that morality is to be universal rather than relative, and rationally rather than emotionally justified. And this is based on something we should all rationally agree on: the existence of free-will.

It is not rationalization to point out that free-will exists or that moral precepts exist. It is rationalization to merely pick and choose those elements that lend support to one's argument, ignoring or evading elements that could bring it down. However, in order to even be a moral system, there has to be at least the assumption of free-will and free choice.

And then there are the moral precepts. The CI is like a mathematical formula, it is only "vague" in the sense that the quadratic formula is also "vague" at least until numbers are substituted in for the variables. And so it is also very precise because of the precise answer it generates.

The CI of Universalization is very precise in that it precisely determines whether or not a precept of your will could possibly find support in a system of morality. The most common and easy example is that of lying. Lying as a moral precept could not be universalized, since the very standard for what counts as a lie is honesty. So if lying were universalized all honesty would cease to exist - in other words, the very foundation in possibility of lying would cease to exist. And so the moral precept of lying is logically self-defeating.

The concept of honesty makes lying possible. If there was only lying, honesty would vanish as a concept, taking the concept of lies down with it. If there were no longer any concept of honesty (having universalized lying as your moral precept), lying would be rendered impossible as a concept.

One wonders then, since this is such basic Aristotelian logic being employed here, whether or not Pareto thinks Aristotle's logic should be considered "non-empirical" or biased in any way, and whether he should just abandon all attempts at logic whatsoever.

At any rate, that leaves us with only the task of pondering the status of the three moral ideas of God, Freedom, and Immortality. Freedom - necessary for morality, as I said above. God gives as a limit at least the idea of moral perfection to strive for, just as a painter has an ideal image he strives for on canvas, or the Olympic athlete has an ideal of physical perfection. And Immortality gives us reason to hope for the future.

These three ideas are obviously borrowed from Christianity. However, there isn't much left over for Kant to ignore or evade, no evidence to the contrary which he has not accounted for. And so, by Pareto's own standard, Kantian morality is empirical.

And besides, there is the little known fact that Kant considered his Freedom postulate to be arguable as a postulate, stating that if anybody wants to argue toward a new basis for morality they are certainly free to do so. So it is hardly "non-empirical" for him to be so open-minded to evidence to the contrary.

It would help if Pareto had actually read the books, and as a result of his ignorance he got it completely wrong.

Xtra Laj said...

"Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking conversation."Same to you.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

How much psychology and neuroscience have you read?

Cavewight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavewight said...

Xtra Laj,

I don't know, I have never counted all the books and articles I've read on these subjects. However, if you find your answers in psychology and neuroscience, more power to you! For me, they only add evidence to my empirical beliefs, I don't treat them religiously.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

So could you provide a list of some of the psychologists/neuroscientists you've read and what your take on what they have written is?

I'm just trying to understand what empirical psychology influences your understanding of free will, or whether you consider the topic to be strictly a philosophical matter.

After all, you mocked me a while ago for posting without citing references and when I cited some, you still mocked me despite your not having cited any till now.

I find your mindset very interesting and I just want to know what informs it. I thought initially that you and Greg were acquainted in some manner, but the more I read, the more and more unlikely I find that to be.

Cavewight said...

Free will is not an observable, and so is not empirically testable. What then can empirical psychology possibly have to say about it?

And what does Kant say about it? That it is at least possible that free-will and determinism can co-exist in the same world without contradiction. Nature is not necessarily completely determined, some parts of it may be undetermined, thus free.

And besides, for moral and legal purposes, it is always assumed that people have a choice, that they are not completely driven by their upbringing or genetics.

And I'm not mocking you. To mock someone is a base form of imitation designed to be insulting. I only intended to point out that assertions don't cut it with me. But perhaps you were only throwing out some of your ideas to "test the waters."

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

I don't believe you answered my question as to which psychologists and neuroscientists you have read. All I hear are philosophical conclusions (all well and good) which might be informed by looking at the data from neuroscience and genetics. So I'd like to know what neuroscience and genetics in particular you've read that you've found compatible with those philosophical conclusions.

Free will is not empirically testable, but there are theories about free will that are definitely not compatible with what neuroscience has discovered. So I want to know what empiricism informs your notion of free will. As a person who experienced debilitating addiction first hand, I have fairly strong views on the subject.

Cavewight said...

Laj wrote:

Free will is not empirically testable, but there are theories about free will that are definitely not compatible with what neuroscience has discovered.Then let me put the answer you so demand this way: Neuroscience has not informed me on free will because neuroscience has not discovered free will, to the contrary of what you wrote above.

But if neuroscience ever does discover free will, please let me know about this amazing finding. Because as far as I know, neuroscientists don't tend to be compatibilists as Kant was.( Or rather, Kant was a qualified compatibilist, stating that free-will was "not incompatible" with determinism.)

What neuroscientist wouldn't be laughed right out of his profession after having claimed to have found free-will residing amongst the neurons?

Then you ask me about psychologists I have read. Well, I've read a lot of psychology textbooks, but have I remembered the names of the authors who remain shrouded in the background behind their works? And have they informed me on free-will? Not really. They either take it for granted as an assumption, or they don't. But mostly what I hear these days is that one may assume free-will or whatever will help the patient in overcoming an addiction such as yours which you vaguely referred to.

No psychologiest I know of really takes a stand on the issue of free-will, however, beyond the merely pragmatic sense of saying "whatever works for the patient."

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

OK. Can you please cite or list some of the books/textbooks on psychology or neuroscience that you read?

Neuroscientists comment fairly often on the nature of free will or components of free will. They talk about its biological basis, they discuss common understandings of the terms and contrast them with what a scientist studies, and they even incorporate or discuss the views of philosophers when doing this.

As for psychologists, there are various kinds of psychology, from empirical to clinical etc. and there is even behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology. Again, you get all kinds of psychologists venturing opinions on free will directly or indirectly, from Thomas Szatz to Sigmund Freud to Arthur Jensen etc.

Again, this kind of reading might not inform your philosophical views, but then again it might. I'm trying to understand who and what does. I tend to find that people who say all kinds of things about free will without talking about how constrained the will actually is or how much progress has been made in understanding the biological correlates of mental processes (with which it is now pretty well known that these processes cannot exist) or the influence of genes on different mental behaviors tend to be far more circumspect about what they say.

Cavewight said...

Laj wrote:

OK. Can you please cite or list some of the books/textbooks on psychology or neuroscience that you read?

SIGHHHHHHHHHHH...

Neuroscientists comment fairly often on the nature of free will or components of free will. They talk about its biological basis...

WHAT biological basis???? WHERE is this biological basis?

I first had this kind of conversation over 10 years ago about the alleged neurological basis of free-will, and my neuroscientific interlocutor ended by saying, "You'll see!"

Well, I am STILL waiting to see this alleged neurological basis. They can talk about it all they want, or about little green men on a Mars if they want to.

Don't you and others who think the same way as you see the problem here, Laj? Once you have "found" the neurological basis for free-will -- you have then killed it dead.

Free-will, by its very definition, cannot have a basis in the physical, that is, in the world of determinism. Free-will is not an effect of any other cause, it is a cause-in-itself. Now if you want to argue that this cause-in-itself is not what neuroscientists are looking for, then you are no longer talking about free-will by definition.

Cavewight said...

Laj wrote:
I tend to find that people who say all kinds of things about free will without talking about how constrained the will actually is or how much progress has been made in understanding the biological correlates of mental processes (with which it is now pretty well known that these processes cannot exist) or the influence of genes on different mental behaviors tend to be far more circumspect about what they say.

We know there are constraints on the will, we know that addictions detract from will-power. A great deal of what Kant discusses has to do with strengthening the will against inclinations which detract from morals. Although it is not necessarily the case that having a strong will implies having a good will.

However, the rest of what you say, albeit more vaguely than I would prefer, has more to do with answering the question of this or that mental process. This assumes that everything that goes on in the mind is a process. And upon so assuming, it is then only natural, in an ad hoc sort of way, to assume that these processes correspond to physical processes.

In other words, the neuroscientist assumes, circularly, what he sets out to prove from the start, without ever questioning the assumptions which go into the investigation.

What leads me to question his assumptions? Philosophy. From your posts I have been reading, Laj, it seems you prefer a home-grown philosophy based on certain sciences, along with their meta-scientific assumptions. This requires a certain amount of faith on your part, faith that the assumptions of science are correct, wherever they happened to come from.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

The personal empirical goal here is not to improve the world, or even to be happy, but to prove oneself morally worthy of happiness. - cavewight on 5/30/2009 08:29:00 PM
___________________________________





Who decides what is moral?

Michael Prescott said...

Laj: "... progress has been made in understanding the biological correlates of mental processes (with which it is now pretty well known that these processes cannot exist)"

Correlation isn't causality. I don't doubt there is close correlation between brain states and mental states, but it does not necessarily follow that brain states give rise to mental states. One could just as easily argue the reverse - that brain states follow from (and conform to) mental states. This would still give us the same correlation.

My personal view is that the mind is an extracerebral phenomenon that operates through the brain as long as the brain is functional. The exhaustive (but, sadly, expensive) book Irreducible Mind by Kelly & Kelly et al presents a compendium of evidence consistent with this conclusion, and inconsistent with materialism.

Something like the "transmission theory" proposed by William James or the "self and its brain" hypothesis put forward by Popper and Ecles may turn out to be surprisingly close to the truth.

(Sorry to gang up on you, Laj, but this "correlation" argument always gets me going!)

Xtra Laj said...

Michael,

So what is causality? Explain to me how you distinguish causality from a correlation.

If you do so, then maybe I can present some evidence for causality. If not, then I will find it interesting that you can claim causality when it suits you but deny it when it does not (which is pretty much what most people do).

Cavewight said...

Michael:

It's not just the correlation argument that poses difficulties. They will discover correlations all day long and never get to the heart of the matter. And that is: it is not necessarily the case that everything that exists is measurable thus reducible to phenomena. That is why neuroscientists will always find evidence correlating with what they believe in, but will never find evidence for what they don't believe in or don't already assume to be the case a priori.

That is why I follow philosophy and not neuroscience. I am not denying them their correlations, but I do understand they are limited to measurable phenomena, processes.

And that only answers the easy problem of consciousness. It doesn't even come close to answering the hard problem of consciousness, which is the problem of qualia.

Xtra Laj said...

Cavewight,

How do you know that scientists fail to find evidence for what they do not believe in? Is that a self-serving a priori claim, or do you think that there are no scientists who are open to perspectives or interpretations they didn't originally have when performing the initial experiment? Or that the scientific method has no controls?

One of the advances of science is that often, things that were considered unmeasurable became more and more tractable with the advent of behavioral genetics and other statistical techniques.

The hard problem of consciousness has been framed in a way that it might probably never be answered. If I frame the problem of gravity as asking how material bodies can attract each other at a distance, then I might never be able to answer it. And I admit that qualia as currently defined seem to be dangling out there. But at least, we can tell what the physical correlates of many qualia are, and we can affect them using drugs, or even reconfigure the biological bases of our senses to change how we apprehend them (think Lasik eye surgery). No one (ok, some physicists do, to be honest) says that the invisible nature of gravity means that we must be silent in claiming that it is latent property of material bodies. But of course, when it comes to consciousness, we look at these correlates and say "well, you're just correlating - that doesn't prove anything!" Of course that is nonsense - it is very significant, and it provides interesting insights into aspects of mental causation.

So what I find interesting is how anti-materialists like to denigrate the very kinds of discoveries and facts that they would never have predicted on the basis of their philosophy. Or at least admit how limited their philosophy is in explaining some very significant facts about the human nervous system.

There was a time when people would have laughed out loud if they were told that there were drugs that would make them lack a desire to drink alcohol or engage in smoking. Or that passing electrical charges through brains could actually stimulate memories. Some people still get treated for addictions using 12 steps and that is great (and these programs are now better informed by the work done in neuroscience). But understanding the biological basis of depression and how foods interact with brain processing has been very helpful in dealing with things that some people like to put down to airy notions like willpower (I'm not sure if willpower is without use, but as a former addict, I could tell it didn't do much for me).

To get to the point here again, please tell me how you distinguish between causality and correlation and then I can try to provide for you some evidence for causation.

Cavewight said...

I wasn't talking about causation vs. correlation. I only agreed with Michael that it was a good point and then went on to express my own point.

But I think there is a way to make his distinction work with my own point. A correlation is nothing more than a relationship standing between two or more observables without knowing the precise mechanism relating them. With causation the mechanism relating the observables is known, at least partially. With a correlation the relationship is only theoretical, it could be based in mere coincidence after all.

In the case of mental processes studied by neuroscience, there is a correlation being drawn (or imagined) between a subjective and an objective state of affairs. But where is the mechanism relating the two causally?

And if that wasn't difficult enough, the hard problem of consciousness is not concerned with processes as it is with qualia, that is, the experience itself. A process is one thing, but actually experiencing the process, as occurring "internally" to the mind, is quite another. Experience itself is not only subjective, it stands somehow "beneath" the process of which it is aware.

Kant, whom I love to cite here, never himself stated that experiencing was a process, and indeed all representation in space and time is only passive. If it is true that experiencing is not a process, then your neuroscientists are going to have a very difficult time studying and then correlating it with anything objective.

You may then reply that Kant only assumes that experiencing is passive, perhaps because he wants to avoid the possibility that experiencing can be correlated with something physical. Here is the problem with that kind of response. If it turns out that experiencing is an active mental process, then the result of the experiencing, the content of experience (things in awareness) can no longer be proven to be objective, that is, it can no longer be necessarily related to objects. Therefore, science is also reduced to subjectivity because science cannot then prove its results to be objective. If science attempts to reduce qualia to processes, then the result will be self-defeating.

If, on the other hand, experience is a passive awareness, then we are not in the position of having to prove the results of some process or other, which is the content of experience, to have objective validity. But if experiencing is an active process, then this activity becomes questionable, the results prone to error. And the proper metaphysical or scientific stance to take only skepticism. But experience is not the result of a process, it simply is, therefore the content of experience cannot be questioned, and science is on a firmer foundation.

As long as science doesn't attempt to "touch" the qualia with its process theories, science itself then finds itself on a firmer foundation. And that foundation is simply experience.

Michael Prescott said...

Laj: "So what is causality? Explain to me how you distinguish causality from a correlation."

There are many correlations that clearly are not cause-and-effect relationships. For a while, every time the NFC team won the Super Bowl, the stock market would go up that year. But no one claimed that the Super Bowl outcome caused the stock market to go up. It was a coincidence.

Distinguishing a cause-and-effect relationship from a coincidence always involves induction, which is not as well understood as deduction; inevitably there will be gray areas and room for doubt. But broadly speaking, if we can establish a logical connection between event A and event B, showing how the former is likely to give rise to the latter, we have grounds to suspect causality. For instance, if event A is "it rained today" and event B is "the swimming pool overflowed," it is not too hard to work out a logical connection between these two events. (Rain means more water in the pool, more water in the pool means the water level will rise, a rising water level may lead to an overflow.)

On the other hand, since there is no logical connection between the Super Bowl and the stock market, we would naturally assign that correlation to coincidence - always leaving open the possibility that some causal link could be discovered in the future.

As for the usual arguments about drugs and brain damage affecting perception and cognition, there is nothing in these data that would preclude James' transmission theory from being true.

As an analogy, someone who knew nothing of technology might assume that TV shows originate inside the TV. Further evidence for this contention would be that if the TV is damaged, the show does not come in clearly anymore; picture and sound are affected.

Nevertheless, the show actually does not originate inside the TV set; it originates as a signal, and the set merely acts as a receiver and decoder of the signal. The damage to the TV affects its ability to receive and decode the signal, but this fact says nothing about the origin of the signal.

I would say that consciousness originates outside the brain but operates through the brain, which may be said (loosely) to receive and decode the "signal" of consciousness. If the brain is damaged or altered in some way, its ability to receive and decode the signal will be affected.

Cavewight said...

Michael:

I think you are confusing "correlation" with "coincidence." Admittedly, I used the latter term somewhere in my own explanation. But "coincidence" is somewhat "beneath" correlation, which is somewhat "beneath" causality, as the hierarchy of concepts goes. But I prefer my definition of "correlation" which I gave in the same post: A correlation is nothing more than a relationship standing between two or more observables without knowing the precise mechanism relating them. In other words, some mechanism creating the relationship is assumed, perhaps only taken for granted or is hypothetical, but there is something about the relationship between observables which rules out coincidence (where there is no known mechanism or relationship involved), and causality (where the mechanism is known).

Cavewight said...

Red:

I think I found the hole in my argument you pointed to, but I'm not sure. Is it:

Who decides what is moral?

There are I think two distinct answers to that question, one which goes outside of man and one which is internal to man's rational nature.

It has been demonstrated somewhere that variations of the Golden Rule have been found in many cultures throughout history. (The link points to only one such source out of many.) So morality has apparently always been with us, perhaps since the dawn of civilization, many of these old social codes having to do with economic ties standing between people in early civilizations. An economy cannot stand if people refuse to pay their bills and break their contracts. And as Greg showed in an earlier post, civilization cannot stand if it is too poor to defend itself against barbarian assaults.

But saying that is kind of a cop-out, because it begs the question of origin. All such origin has to be a priori in order to receive proper justification. And so it is not a question of "who gets to decide" (since morality is not anybody's property, nor is your soul anybody's property but your own), but of "how it is properly justified."

Cavewight said...

I'd like to expand on this comment of mine a little:

But if experiencing is an active process, then this activity becomes questionable, the results prone to error.

Some here may point out that consciousness is indeed prone to error. There are many examples giving evidence of this or that error of awareness. However, all I am saying is that, "error" or not, the content of consciousness is that which is simply given. It is not processed awareness, it is simply awareness.

And as I said, that does not detract from neuroscience at all, it merely limits its application - but its application does not thereby limit consciousness to processes.

Giving awareness itself as a limit is really the saving grace for neuroscience, as without such a limit even awareness would be reduced to a process, which would mean it is no longer a given. And once we start pointing out errors of consciousness, there is no reason for this to ever end, and the argument reduces to absurdity.

Xtra Laj said...

Michael,

At the risk of sounding redundant, how do you tell the difference between correlation and causation?

Could you be very specific about it? I read through your response but I might have missed where the answer was embedded so I'm hoping you can be direct about your answer.

I had written a long response, but I thought I might be better off asking you to point out what the answer was, rather than for me to explain what was wrong with a response that never answered the question.

Maybe you were claiming induction is the solution. So how does induction turn a correlation into causation? If that helps focus your response, please feel free to respond.

Thanks.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red:

I think I found the hole in my argument you pointed to, but I'm not sure. Is it:

Who decides what is moral? - cavewight on 6/03/2009 02:23:00 PM
___________________________________





Partially.




___________________________________

It has been demonstrated somewhere that variations of the Golden Rule have been found in many cultures throughout history. (The link points to only one such source out of many.)

So morality has apparently always been with us, perhaps since the dawn of civilization, many of these old social codes having to do with economic ties standing between people in early civilizations. An economy cannot stand if people refuse to pay their bills and break their contracts. And as Greg showed in an earlier post, civilization cannot stand if it is too poor to defend itself against barbarian assaults. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 02:23:00 PM
___________________________________





So you think whatever rules a society adopts that makes that society's economy functioning as efficiently and as effectively as possible is morality?





___________________________________

Who decides what is moral?

There are I think two distinct answers to that question, one which goes outside of man and one which is internal to man's rational nature. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 02:23:00 PM
___________________________________




Are both answers fully compatible with Kant's philosophy as you have explained?




___________________________________

But saying that is kind of a cop-out, because it begs the question of origin. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 02:23:00 PM
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Great beginning, but.....






___________________________________

All such origin has to be a priori in order to receive proper justification. And so it is not a question of "who gets to decide" (since morality is not anybody's property, nor is your soul anybody's property but your own), but of "how it is properly justified." - cavewight on 6/03/2009 02:23:00 PM
___________________________________





Properly justified by whom?

and employing what standard?

Cavewight said...

Red:

I don't know that both answers are fully compatible with Kantianism.

I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer.

The internal answer is not based on social or collective needs, whether the need for social order or whatever. The reason they are accepted by people is that they also need to find an internal order to their lives as well as an external order. They need to find an internal order which sets them on what they believe to be the correct path in life.

Many moral codes can serve this purpose, I'll admit, as long as the internal order does not conflict with the external, social order. Or vice versa, of course. These internal codes come from various places, parents, church, one's own reflecting on values, or, as the Randroids like to call it, by "social osmosis."

So what do you think? Got any opinions on your side?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red:

I don't know that both answers are fully compatible with Kantianism. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
___________________________________




Does this mean then you believe you might disagree with Kant on the subject of morality?




___________________________________

I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
___________________________________




Does this mean then you believe the external morality is relative?


As for me, I am inclined to agree with your statements above with qualification that (as I see it right now) there are external moralities (in terms as you have explained more or less) that are not necessarily the same.

1. the external morality the society claims to believe in, but may not necessarily believes in,
1a)but still practices

1b)but still pretends to practice,

1c)does not practice

2. the external morality the society thinks and/or wants to think it believes in, but may not necessarily believes in.

2a)but still practices

2b)still pretends to practice

2c)does not practice



3. the external morality the society actually believes in, but may neither necessarily claims to believe in nor necessarily thinks it believes in.

and practices.






___________________________________

The internal answer is not based on social or collective needs, whether the need for social order or whatever. The reason they are accepted by people is that they also need to find an internal order to their lives as well as an external order. They need to find an internal order which sets them on what they believe to be the correct path in life.

Many moral codes can serve this purpose, I'll admit, as long as the internal order does not conflict with the external, social order. Or vice versa, of course. These internal codes come from various places, parents, church, one's own reflecting on values, or, as the Randroids like to call it, by "social osmosis." - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
___________________________________



Does this mean then you believe internal moral code is relative?

Cavewight said...

Red,

Your posts are hard to read because I ended up using an old 15" Compaq Presario monitor. My flat screen monitor went tits up earlier this year so I borrowed one from my boss. But then he borrowed it back because he doesn't like using "the big kind," and I ended up using "the big kind" borrowed from work. So reading your posts requires a lot of scrolling up and down.

I guess there are some cheap flat-screens at Walmart but I don't expect one to last longer than 6 mos. to a year.

Cavewight said...

Red,

After scrolling up and down a few times to read your post, I'm not sure if your statements about external morality either add or detract from my own.

No, I don't think internal morality is relative. Even an atheist morality (Objectivism) has its version of "God, Freedom, and Immortality."

These three so-called regulatory principles by Kant are really just intellectual ordering principles. Any moral code is therefore oriented around three basic purposes related to these three principles: God, as the highest moral ideal attainable serving as the ultimate end of all his striving; Freedom, without which any moral code would be impossible; and Immortality, which gives man reason to hope for the future.

The only choice in the matter is whether or not your moral code is based in heteronomy or autonomy. Heteronomous moral systems use methods to detract from freedom of the will; autonomous systems attempt to further freedom of the will.

As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. Yet through his system of politics there runs a certain dualism based in reality: there is the moral/political end around which society is oriented, and then there is the moral needs of the citizens.

Therefore there are actually two external moral codes to consider, a point which you did not elicit in your response. There is the moral will of the people, and then there is the will of the political establishment to direct the people toward some end of its own devising, whether that end is a highly unrealistic communist utopia or the more down to earth goal of eliminating racism and poverty (yes, some people see poverty as a great evil to be eradicated).

A moral political body, however, does not attempt to stomp the moral code of the people out of existence. It attempts to further its ends, albeit through gentler means, pushing more for the evolution of society toward an ideal moral/political end than some immediate form of revolution as with the Bolsheviks.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
Does this mean then you believe you might disagree with Kant on the subject of morality?

No, I'm saying that anything I write extemporaneously on the matter won't necessarily correspond with anything Kant or any other philosopher would agree with. I am not and never will be the Kantian version of a Randroid.
I have known too many Randroids over the years who have given their very selves up to the abyss of Objectivism with its empty platitudes and empty axioms, and I don't intend to follow their example.

Kant made a distinction between following the letter of the law versus following the spirit of the law. Following the letter of the law requires mere obedience to its dictates - Randroids are merely looking for an external master, or rather, a "mistress" as it were. Following the spirit of the law, on the other hand, requires the co-determination of the will through one's own reason, and not through the reason of another, requiring not the submission of your will to the law but your voluntary agreement through this co-determination.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Many moral codes can serve this purpose, I'll admit, as long as the internal order does not conflict with the external, social order.

Or vice versa, of course. These internal codes come from various places, parents, church, one's own reflecting on values, or, as the Randroids like to call it, by "social osmosis." - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
-----------------------------------
No, I don't think internal morality is relative. Even an atheist morality (Objectivism) has its version of "God, Freedom, and Immortality." - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
___________________________________



But based on your statements from 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM, you are, in essence, saying the internal moral codes are relative to where they come from.





___________________________________

As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
___________________________________






So who decides what should be the certain moral end you're talking about above?






___________________________________

These three so-called regulatory principles by Kant are really just intellectual ordering principles.

Any moral code is therefore oriented around three basic purposes related to these three principles: God, as the highest moral ideal attainable serving as the ultimate end of all his striving; Freedom, without which any moral code would be impossible; and Immortality, which gives man reason to hope for the future.

The only choice in the matter is whether or not your moral code is based in heteronomy or autonomy. Heteronomous moral systems use methods to detract from freedom of the will; autonomous systems attempt to further freedom of the will. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
___________________________________




But you're contradicting yourself here,

At one point you're saying, in essence, no moral code is possible without freedom.

But at another point you're saying one can have a moral code/system that detracts from freedom of the will.





___________________________________

Therefore there are actually two external moral codes to consider, a point which you did not elicit in your response. There is the moral will of the people, and then there is the will of the political establishment to direct the people toward some end of its own devising,... - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
___________________________________




My dear cavewight, you've forgotten something.

When I classified external moral codes on previous post, I had already let you know I was classifying based on the external moral code as you have explained.


Just below are your own words of how you said you saw external moral code.




___________________________________

I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
___________________________________




There you are, cavewight, your own words.





Laj, this turned out to be a lot easier than I thought.

Swiss Cheese.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red wrote:
Does this mean then you believe you might disagree with Kant on the subject of morality?

No, I'm saying that anything I write extemporaneously on the matter won't necessarily correspond with anything Kant or any other philosopher would agree with. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:59:00 PM
___________________________________




So you might disagree with Kant on the subject of morality.

gregnyquist said...

Michael: "Correlation isn't causality. I don't doubt there is close correlation between brain states and mental states, but it does not necessarily follow that brain states give rise to mental states."

I suspect that the view that it's only a correlation is just as implausbile as the view that brain states are the sole cause of mental states. We know, as a matter of fact, that brain states can causally affect mental states. The most dramatic examples are those suffer some kind of lesion or damage of the brain.

The trouble with all these arguments about mind-body issues is that they fail to appreciate how complex the reality appears to be, and also how poor the mind is at modeling complexity. The mind wishes to reduce the complexity of the reality confronts to a human scale—to something it can grasp without bewilderment and confusion. So there is a tendency to try to reduce causation into something simple and linear, when, as a matter of fact, causation is very complex. It is plural, rather than linear, involving many factors that must come together in order for the requisite event to occur. Morever, these many factors may themselves be influencing one another. It gets very confusing very fast. Hence, no mind-body theory that is understandable to the human intellect will likely be very adequate in describing what actually occurs between spirit and matter, mind and body, intellect and brain.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
At one point you're saying, in essence, no moral code is possible without freedom.

But at another point you're saying one can have a moral code/system that detracts from freedom of the will.


But doesn't this latter assume the existence of freedom, of some element to detract from? And what kind of moral code is this? The kind that asserts the evilness of the will, the idea that the will is used only to subvert the good which is heteronomous to the will, coming from the outside, as the will of God (or the will of society, or some other external authority representing the omnibenevolent).

Kant's system of autonomy, on the other hand, asserts the goodness of the will over natural inclinations to subvert this good-will. Heteronomous morality attempts to use the inclinations (e.g., fear of going to Hell) against the will in order to invoke obedience to external authority.

(You may have written something about the will of the people in your previous post, but reading it takes a lot of scrolling up and down so it was like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without actually touching the pieces.)

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
So who decides what should be the certain moral end you're talking about above?

In at least one modern case, the answer turns out to be Karl Marx. In the case of the US, the answer turns out to be the Founders.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
But based on your statements from 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM, you are, in essence, saying the internal moral codes are relative to where they come from.

That is not usually what is meant by the term "relative" in this context.
Moral relativism, as I understand it, states that every code of morality is good relative to the social context it derives from. There is, therefore, no absolute right or wrong but only that which a social group decrees. Since there is no absolute right or wrong, there is no way to judge moral codes outside one's own, and so the proper moral response to those codes must be toleration.

So as you can see, moral relativism violates its own principle by asserting that toleration is an absolute good. It asserts that there is only external morality, that all morality is therefore a heteronomous relative social product - while at the same time implying that there is one good that is not a relative social product, that of toleration.

Therefore, I am not the one contradicting himself, moral relativism is the self-contradiction here, and I am in no way propounding any such nonsense.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red wrote:
At one point you're saying, in essence, no moral code is possible without freedom.

But at another point you're saying one can have a moral code/system that detracts from freedom of the will.

But doesn't this latter assume the existence of freedom, of some element to detract from? And what kind of moral code is this? The kind that asserts the evilness of the will, the idea that the will is used only to subvert the good which is heteronomous to the will, coming from the outside, as the will of God (or the will of society, or some other external authority representing the omnibenevolent).

Kant's system of autonomy, on the other hand, asserts the goodness of the will over natural inclinations to subvert this good-will. Heteronomous morality attempts to use the inclinations (e.g., fear of going to Hell) against the will in order to invoke obedience to external authority. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 06:23:00 AM
___________________________________



___________________________________

I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
___________________________________





Please read your statements above carefully and see if your answer from 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM is compatible with what you referred to Kant's system of morality is compatible.

Xtra Laj said...

Greg,

Why does your objection apply specifically to the mind/body problem and not just about everything known to man?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
===================================

So who decides what should be the certain moral end you're talking about above? - Red Grant on 6/03/2009 10:01:00 PM
===================================
In at least one modern case, the answer turns out to be Karl Marx. In the case of the US, the answer turns out to be the Founders. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 06:26:00 AM
___________________________________




So political establishment decides what is moral according to you, and Kant?

Doesn't that contradict what you referred to as Kantian moral system?

According to you, Kantian moral system , the political establishment supports the freedom of the people while directing them to a certain moral end, but if the
political establishment itself decided what should be that certain moral end, then they can define whatever they want as that certain moral end and use the system of law and punishment to detract the freedom of the will toward that certain end.

Of course, that means Kant as you have described contradicted himself?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
-----------------------------------
As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
___________________________________




So you disagree with Kant after all on the subject of morality.

Red Grant said...

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Red wrote:
But based on your statements from 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM, you are, in essence, saying the internal moral codes are relative to where they come from.

That is not usually what is meant by the term "relative" in this context.
Moral relativism, as I understand it, states that every code of morality is good relative to the social context it derives from. There is, therefore, no absolute right or wrong but only that which a social group decrees. Since there is no absolute right or wrong, there is no way to judge moral codes outside one's own, and so the proper moral response to those codes must be toleration.

So as you can see, moral relativism violates its own principle by asserting that toleration is an absolute good. It asserts that there is only external morality, that all morality is therefore a heteronomous relative social product - while at the same time implying that there is one good that is not a relative social product, that of toleration.

Therefore, I am not the one contradicting himself, moral relativism is the self-contradiction here, and I am in no way propounding any such nonsense. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 06:35:00 AM
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Easy, I have never said you were a moral relativist or proponent of one, at least not in a witting sense.

I was simply saying the internal moral codes as you have referred to in one stance depend on wherever they had come from.

Therefore, the internal moral codes as you referred to at least in one instance are relative to wherever they come from.

Of course, that doesn't mean necessarily you think all moral codes deserve equal respect.



Just to refresh your memory....




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Many moral codes can serve this purpose, I'll admit, as long as the internal order does not conflict with the external, social order.

Or vice versa, of course. These internal codes come from various places, parents, church, one's own reflecting on values, or, as the Randroids like to call it, by "social osmosis." - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
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No, I don't think internal morality is relative. Even an atheist morality (Objectivism) has its version of "God, Freedom, and Immortality." - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
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So if anyone accuses of you of contradiction, then it would be not due to you being a moral relativist, but due to you claiming morality is relative in one instance, but claiming it is not on the other instance.

Michael Prescott said...

Laj: "At the risk of sounding redundant, how do you tell the difference between correlation and causation? Could you be very specific about it?"

I thought I answered this when I wrote:

"Distinguishing a cause-and-effect relationship from a coincidence always involves induction, which is not as well understood as deduction; inevitably there will be gray areas and room for doubt. But broadly speaking, if we can establish a logical connection between event A and event B, showing how the former is likely to give rise to the latter, we have grounds to suspect causality. For instance, if event A is 'it rained today' and event B is 'the swimming pool overflowed,' it is not too hard to work out a logical connection between these two events. (Rain means more water in the pool, more water in the pool means the water level will rise, a rising water level may lead to an overflow.)

"On the other hand, since there is no logical connection between the Super Bowl and the stock market, we would naturally assign that correlation [the stock market going up when the NFC team wins] to coincidence - always leaving open the possibility that some causal link could be discovered in the future."

If you want some mathematically precise way of distinguishing the two ... well, there isn't one. Induction doesn't lend itself to mathematical precision the way deduction does.

Still, there is obviously a distinction between correlation and causality, and we draw this distinction all the time.

I think in this case, and in the case of the Golden Rule, you're looking for a degree of precision that's not attainable in general principles pertaining to human affairs. Then when you can't find it, you conclude that the principles in question are worthless or invalid - that there is no value to the Golden Rule, or there is no way to distinguish between correlation and causality.

I would say "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Common-sense approaches are useful and generally valid, even if not infallible or mathematically precise.

"The street is wet because it rained" is self-evidently more plausible than "the street is wet because my favorite song just came on the radio."

Red Grant said...

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would say "the perfect is the enemy of the good." - Michael Prescott
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Sorry for interjection, but I thought "Perfect/Best is the enemy of good enough.".

Different meaning, you know.

Red Grant said...

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As for me, I am inclined to agree with your statements above with qualification that (as I see it right now) there are external moralities (in terms as you have explained more or less) that are not necessarily the same.

1. the external morality the society claims to believe in, but may not necessarily believes in,
1a)but still practices

1b)but still pretends to practice,

1c)does not practice

2. the external morality the society thinks and/or wants to think it believes in, but may not necessarily believes in.

2a)but still practices

2b)still pretends to practice

2c)does not practice



3. the external morality the society actually believes in, but may neither necessarily claims to believe in nor necessarily thinks it believes in.

and practices.
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Btw. Laj, Jay, my statements above are basically paraphrasing of Pareto from "Mind and Society".


Did Hume ever mentioned something even close?

Xtra Laj said...

Michael,

If I am free to do so, I'll probably respond more fully sometime on Sunday. I think Greg brought out one of my problems with your application of "correlation isn't causality" in the particular instance of brain states vs. mental states - it's just a denial of the obvious. What you probably meant was that it's not necessarily true that all mental states are a result of brain states - it's quite possible for some brain states to be a result of mental states.

I know you're very interested in parapsychology and that might explain your respect for James' transmission theory. It's not the thing that I can debate seriously without having looked at the evidence for it, but I think that if you find parapsychology convincing, then the evidence for brain states influencing mental states is far stronger and should not be even resisted by yourself. Even transmission theory would admit that as the body gets weaker, there are limitations on what the mind's abilities are. But there is even more evidence from neuroscience about the limits of self-awareness, the discrete nature of consciousness (as opposed to the continuous analog nature that we all assume) etc. that can show that the manifest image of the mind isn't always scientifically defensible.

Cheers.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
So political establishment decides what is moral according to you, and Kant?

I don't know why you focus so much on the question of who decides what morality for you. A college professor decides to follow the external morality of the PC crowd because he desires to keep his job, and because he doesn't like the idea of submitting to PC training. This decision might be based on inclination or on moral reasoning. Either way, it is his decision, not theirs.

Back in Hammurabi's day, people followed his external code because they did not want to be drowned in the river as punishment.

This is so obvious it is hardly worthy of philosophical mention.

The question is: what does this really have to do with morality which involves exerting the will toward an end which is good in itself, intrinsically, and not good merely because it serves this or that extrinsic end? But what then is a good in itself? There is only one, and that is the development of the good-will.

Now you may ask, who determines this good in itself? Kant determined it, open-endedly. First he argued for the existence of an intrinsic end in itself, then he argued for the good-will as that end. Then he stated that it may be possible to find a different end in itself, but that the need for an intrinsic end in general is not debatable.

Red Grant said...

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I don't know why you focus so much on the question of who decides what morality for you. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 12:02:00 PM
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Hold a second, I never asked you who decides what is moral for me.

I asked you who decides what is moral in your statements above in this thread because you pepper your statements with moral code/systems, and when I asked you further who decides what is moral in your statemnents, you started giving contradicitory definition of morality either per you or per Kant as paraphrased by you.


I'll recap below:


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I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
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As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
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So you disagree with Kant when it comes to what is an external morality.

Red Grant said...

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As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
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So who decides what should be the certain moral end you're talking about above? - Red Grant on 6/03/2009 10:01:00 PM
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In at least one modern case, the answer turns out to be Karl Marx. In the case of the US, the answer turns out to be the Founders. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 06:26:00 AM
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So political establishment decides what is moral according to you, and Kant?

Doesn't that contradict what you referred to as Kantian moral system?

According to you, Kantian moral system , the political establishment supports the freedom of the people while directing them to a certain moral end, but if the
political establishment itself decided what should be that certain moral end, then they can define whatever they want as that certain moral end and use the system of law and punishment to detract the freedom of the will toward that certain end.

Of course, that means Kant as you have described contradicted himself?

6/04/2009 07:45:00 AM

Red Grant said...

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Now you may ask, who determines this good in itself? Kant determined it, open-endedly. First he argued for the existence of an intrinsic end in itself, then he argued for the good-will as that end. Then he stated that it may be possible to find a different end in itself, but that the need for an intrinsic end in general is not debatable. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 12:02:00 PM
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Okay, so now you're saying for a moral system to be proper it has to meet the criteria set by Kant?


But didn't Kant already contradict himself as paraphrased by you previously as I have consequently shown?


Besides, according to you, Kant argued for an open end, which could be different from the concept of good in itself as defined by Kant per your paraphrase of Kant.

This then leads to an end that is different from the good in itself as defined by Kant.

What would be the possibility then?

An end that would be not so good, even bad end as defined by Kant?


Furthermore, does this mean you believe Kant decided what is good in universally, objectively, valid sense?

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
So you disagree with Kant when it comes to what is an external morality.

Not at all. I used the word "evolved" in the material you quoted, so I am not saying we are living in a Hammurabi-like era. Moving from a dictatorship form of government (ancient kingdoms) to a republican form of government today required an evolution in political thought.

But then there may always be some dictatorial element involved in government, so the Constitution was designed to limit this element.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
This then leads to an end that is different from the good in itself as defined by Kant.

What would be the possibility then?


I don't know, but it would have to be transcendental to the moral topic.

An end that would be not so good, even bad end as defined by Kant?

No, as I said, a moral end in itself must be intrinsically good. Kant then only postulated the good-will as being that intrinsic good. But as a mere postulate, it is therefore debatable. It's not that he didn't argue for it, but someone could eventually argue for yet another postulated end in itself. Kant left room for debate.

That is why I sincerely question the knowledge of those who claim that Kant dictated the rules of morality. Nobody who dictates leaves any room for question. The very basis of Kantian morality is left open for debate.

Furthermore, does this mean you believe Kant decided what is good in universally, objectively, valid sense?

Kant decided, but then he left room for rational debate by declaring his end in itself a mere postulate of practical reason.

Cavewight said...

Red wrote:
So if anyone accuses of you of contradiction, then it would be not due to you being a moral relativist, but due to you claiming morality is relative in one instance, but claiming it is not on the other instance.

In this two quotes there is a distinction between a moral code and a moral theory. For the latter, I should better have expressed it as a meta-morals, that which stands a priori to all moral code in general.

Michael Prescott said...

Laj: "the evidence for brain states influencing mental states is far stronger"

Of course brain states influence mental states. This was well known even in William James' time. (If a guy got a railroad spike through his noggin and lived, his behavior would be affected.)

The point of the transmission theory is that even though brain states influence mental states, it doesn't follow that brain states give rise to consciousness. The TV set analogy is an attempt to explain this.

Perhaps a better analogy is the Mars Rover. If some Martian were watching the Rover move around, he might assume the Rover had a mind of its own. In fact, however, it obeys a signal sent from Earth. If the Rover is damaged, it may not pick up the signal anymore, or it may not pick it up as clearly, or it may have trouble carrying out the signal's instructions. The Rover's "brain states" influence its "mental state" - i.e., its built-in circuitry influences its ability to receive, decode, and utilize the signal.

Moreover, the Rover is also sending back data to Earth, and these data influence the future instructions that are sent. If the Rover beams back a picture of a cactus, you can bet the Earthbound controllers are going to instruct the Rover to mosey on over and take a closer look. On the other hand, if the Rover beams back a picture of a bottomless pit, the Earthbound signalers will tell it, "Stay away from that pit!"

So there is interaction between the two; it's not a one-way street.

Furthermore, the Rover presumably has some sort of firmware built into it that can operate even in the absence of a signal from Earth. I would assume that, like the Roomba vacuum cleaner, it can detect a precipice and automatically back away. So some of the Rover's behavior may be the result of built-in mechanisms not dependent on an external command. Similarly, I wouldn't doubt that some human behavior is the result of reflexes and instincts.

It's a complicated interplay, which we certainly don't understand. Will we ever understand it fully? Maybe not; as Greg suggests, it may be impossible for the mind to fully encompass itself.

In any event, the correlations of neuroscience cannot address the chicken-and-egg question of which came first, mind or brain. (Or did they arise together, as neutral monism would have it?)

You might say there's no point in considering such a complicated theory when it's more parsimonious to assume that the brain generates the mind. This would be true if there were no evidence to the contrary. In my opinion, however, there is a great deal of evidence
to the contrary - evidence for ESP, life after death, etc. Obviously this evidence is controversial. But if you believe, as I do, that much of it is legitimate, then the transmission theory or something like it begins to look like the best explanation.

It doesn't matter, incidentally, if the evidence of neuroscience is "stronger" than the evidence of parapsychology. It's not a competition. The evidence of neuroscience can peacefully coexist with the evidence of parapsychology if something like the transmission theory is correct. Conflict comes in only when some neuroscientists start interpreting their evidence in line with materialist presuppositions. But then we don't have a disagreement of evidence; we have a disagreement of worldviews.

BTW, I owe the Mars Rover analogy to The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, though I've expanded it somewhat.

gregnyquist said...

Laj: "Why does your objection apply specifically to the mind/body problem and not just about everything known to man?"

It all depends on the complexity of the subject. With billiard balls striking each other on the table, one can focus exclusively on the balls, because all the other factors (such as the incline of the table, the texture of the surface, etc.) are assumed to be constant. But in mind/brain interaction, there are a great many other factors, none of which are clearly observed or even understood, particularly if we assume the sort of doltish mechanism prevalent among materialists.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red wrote:
So you disagree with Kant when it comes to what is an external morality.

Not at all. I used the word "evolved" in the material you quoted, so I am not saying we are living in a Hammurabi-like era. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 01:19:00 PM
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Now, cavewight, you're trying to change the original subject at issue. I never said you said we were living in a Hammurabi-like era.

My question was, "Who decides what is moral?".

Your answer was the external morality came allegedely came from some form of primitive gods.

And then you claim Kant decide what is proper political system that gives external morality.


So you disagree with Kant as for the origin of external morality.

Red Grant said...

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Red wrote:
This then leads to an end that is different from the good in itself as defined by Kant.

What would be the possibility then?

I don't know, but it would have to be transcendental to the moral topic. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 01:27:00 PM
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Cavewight, now, you're contradciting yourself here.

Here you're talking about a moral end that is supposed to be good.

It cannot be transcendental to the notion of good or evil.

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

An end that would be not so good, even bad end as defined by Kant? - Red Grant
===================================

No, as I said, a moral end in itself must be intrinsically good. Kant then only postulated the good-will as being that intrinsic good. But as a mere postulate, it is therefore debatable. It's not that he didn't argue for it, but someone could eventually argue for yet another postulated end in itself. Kant left room for debate. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 01:27:00 PM
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Cavewight, you're being a sophist now.

You're saying, moral end in itself must be intrinstically good.

___________________________________

Now you may ask, who determines this good in itself? Kant determined it, open-endedly. First he argued for the existence of an intrinsic end in itself, then he argued for the good-will as that end. Then he stated that it may be possible to find a different end in itself, but that the need for an intrinsic end in general is not debatable. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 12:02:00 PM
___________________________________


So Kant defined good-will (whatever he meant by it) as the moral end.

Yet, Kant also believe another (per your statemetns)different end (that is, other than what Kant defined as good) could be the moral end.

If that's the case, then what is universally, objectively, good according to Kant?

If Kant cannot define what it is, only arguing for its existence, then here you don't have a moral system.

You only have Kant's personal opinion that there is open-ended absolute morality. And it could be something other than what Kant argued for as good.



Talk about oxymoron!

Red Grant said...

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Furthermore, does this mean you believe Kant decided what is good in universally, objectively, valid sense? - Red Grant
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Kant decided, but then he left room for rational debate by declaring his end in itself a mere postulate of practical reason. - Cavewight on 6/04/2009 01:27:00 PM
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Another example of contradiction from you.


You said external morality came from primitive gods.


___________________________________

I just think that if we were in Hammurabi's day, then the answer would be simple: Hammurabi sets the rules we live by, and he got the rules from some Babylonian deity.

These days, the rules are set by either the Church or the PC crowd.

But this answer is not interesting. The question is: where do they come from in the first place? They evolved from some simple, primitive code allegedly coming to man from deities. That is my external answer. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 07:15:00 PM
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Red Grant said...

___________________________________

As for external morality, a proper political system, according to Kant, supports the freedom of the people while attempting to direct it toward a certain moral end using a judicious system of laws and punishments. - cavewight on 6/03/2009 08:42:00 PM
===================================

So who decides what should be the certain moral end you're talking about above? - Red Grant on 6/03/2009 10:01:00 PM
===================================
In at least one modern case, the answer turns out to be Karl Marx. In the case of the US, the answer turns out to be the Founders. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 06:26:00 AM
___________________________________




So political establishment decides what is moral according to you, and Kant?

Doesn't that contradict what you referred to as Kantian moral system?

According to you, Kantian moral system , the political establishment supports the freedom of the people while directing them to a certain moral end, but if the
political establishment itself decided what should be that certain moral end, then they can define whatever they want as that certain moral end and use the system of law and punishment to detract the freedom of the will toward that certain end.

Of course, that means Kant as you have described contradicted himself?

6/04/2009 07:45:00 AM

Xtra Laj said...

Michael,

Since the empirical core of what your theory contributes is based on parapsychology, and I haven't reviewed the evidence for parapsychology, then there is no meaningful way to distinguish it from contemporary identity-theory inspired neuroscience. What you have to show is what you expect your theory to explain that current neuroscience does not.

Your theory is for the most part a version of dualism and I think that most of the criticisms of dualism clearly apply to it. The method of interaction between consciousness and the brain is taken for granted and none is presented (an empirical theory would need to be distinguishable from contemporary neuroscience) and not just accommodate it.

If parapsychology has any value, it will eventually be embraced by mainstream science. Posing the question of mind vs. matter as a chicken and the egg problem is IMO another example of the limits of speculative reasoning. Just as in the free will vs. determinism problem, there are paradoxes here that people try to answer in a rationalistic fashion rather than by looking at actual experiments. I think that by focusing on the questions we can actually answer and seeing whose theory actually drives people to investigate those questions, we get a better idea of what is at stake in this debate.

Any dualism that is fully acquainted with the evidence of experimental science into the correlations between mind and body (including the fact that mental injuries can affect morality) is good enough for me. But I always have this lurking suspicion that most people who are dualists haven't even looked at things like synaesthesia and asked how they would come up with a theory to explain this that rivals the ideas generated by materialist neuroscientists.

Xtra Laj said...

"It all depends on the complexity of the subject. With billiard balls striking each other on the table, one can focus exclusively on the balls, because all the other factors (such as the incline of the table, the texture of the surface, etc.) are assumed to be constant. But in mind/brain interaction, there are a great many other factors, none of which are clearly observed or even understood, particularly if we assume the sort of doltish mechanism prevalent among materialists."

Greg,

What are these other factors, none of which are clearly observed or even understood? And if they are not clearly observed or understood, how do you know the exist and have any impact on what is going on? And given your response, how should we view the "doltish mechanism" from these materialists who are trying to work with what they can understand and observe to generate great insights into the functioning of the brain/mind?

The billiard ball example is pretty self-serving. Why do you not lodge such criticisms at astronomy or weather forecasting, both complicated fields that should fall victim to your objections if consistently applied as well?

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

Red wrote:
This then leads to an end that is different from the good in itself as defined by Kant.

What would be the possibility then?

I don't know, but it would have to be transcendental to the moral topic. - cavewight on 6/04/2009 01:27:00 PM
___________________________________




Cavewight, now, you're contradciting yourself here.

Here you're talking about a moral end that is supposed to be good.

It cannot be transcendental to the notion of good or evil.

6/08/2009 10:47:00 PM

Cavewight said...

Red,

I see the confusion here. The "good in itself" is the good-will. If there is another "good in itself" for morality, then it has to be as transcendental as the will.

For example, the concept "life," which is transcendental according to Kant, could arguably serve such a function.

Red Grant said...

No, there's no confusion here.

Who decides and using what standard what is good and bad as in "good in itself" as in good-will?


If not morality?