Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The dangers of drugs.

This is an interesting study, purporting to trace the dangers of drugs and calculate a "danger rating" for each type. Given that there's no information on how the ratings were calculated, the results have to be taken with a grain of salt, but the ranking is interesting. Here's a summary:
Ranking by Dangers:

Over 2/3:
  1. Heroin
  2. Cocaine
  3. Barbiturates
Over 1.5/3:
  1. Street Methadone
  2. Alcohol
  3. Ketamine
  4. Benzodiazopines
  5. Amphetamines
  6. Tobacco
  7. Buprenorphine
Over 1/3:
  1. Cannabis
  2. Solvents
  3. 4-MTA
  4. LSD
  5. Methylphenidate
  6. Anabolic Steroids
  7. GHB
  8. Ecstasy
Less than .5/3:
  1. Alkyl Nitrites
  2. Khat
UK Legal Ranking by Classes:

Class A:
  1. Heroin
  2. Cocaine
  3. Street Methadone
  4. 4-MTA
  5. LSD
  6. Ecstasy
Class B:
  1. Barbiturates
  2. Amphetamines
  3. Methylphenidate
Class C:
  1. Ketamine
  2. Benzodiazopines
  3. Buprenorphine
  4. Cannabis
  5. Anabolic Steroids
  6. GHB (Class C)
Legal:
  1. Alcohol
  2. Tobacco
  3. Solvents
  4. Alkyl Nitrites
  5. Khat

As can be seen, the classification of drugs as illegal is all over the place in comparison to the dangers of the drugs. Which then prompts a straightforward question: so what the hell justifies the illegal list?

There would be some obvious problems with trying to make the illegal list match the danger list. Alcohol is on the left at #5, but on the right at #15. Trying to make alcohol illegal has never worked terribly well -- there's too many social factors in play. So, one could argue that any drug that is less dangerous than alcohol should be made legal. But this would legalize the street use of BZPs, amphetamines, solvents, LSD, and ecstasy, just to name a few. So, that won't fly.

Perhaps instead we should make illegal any drug more dangerous than some threshold. But, ecstasy is, on the left, all the way down at #18. If we want to keep ecstasy illegal, then we would have to make tobacco and alcohol illegal, keep cannabis illegal -- and, basically, only legalize alkyl nitrites and khat (which, I should note, already are legal). So, that doesn't work.

What we have here, I think, is what's technically called a "grain problem". (No, it doesn't have something to do with alcohol.) That is, the filter "danger" is insufficiently fine-grained to filter these drugs into their current legal/illegal categories; but, the filter "illegal" is insufficiently fine-grained to filter these drugs into their current dangerous/not dangerous categories; and, the filter "danger" is insufficiently fine-grained to filter these drugs into a prima facie desirable legal/illegal categories. In other words, even if we accept that the current legal/illegal ratings are not right, just looking at danger isn't going to get us a socially desirable result. The mere fact that some very dangerous drugs are currently legal does not justify making legal more dangerous drugs.

Hence, I would argue that we should stop looking at "danger" as a way to solve the problem, and instead look towards "acceptable risk". For some reason, we consider the use of alcohol and tobacco to be "acceptable risks", but the use of LSD or ecstasy not. We need to get straight why the former are acceptable, and the latter not. It can't be just that the former are less dangerous -- as this list shows, they are not. But: what is it?

16 comments:

undergroundman said...

Or you could just forget all that paternalistic nonsense and legalize all drugs.

Seriously, however, I think you need to take that list with a HEAVY grain of salt. As a recreational marijuana smoker I've been around a lot of drugs, and Ecstasy is the one that I have noticed doing the most severe damage. It seems very psychologically addictive, and people end up becoming depressed zombies. I've seen it constantly. My guess is that your body stops producing dopamine and serotonin after the receptors have been flooded.

Too much marijuana use can have the same effect, albeit higly reduced. Some of the biggest risks with using cocaine and heroin today is that they're often cut with nasty other stuff (note that heroin killed a lot of people recently because it was cut with fentanyl). MDMA is even worse - usually cut with meth, heroin, and cocaine all together. Lots of E probably doesn't even have any MDMA in it.

That would be a deterrent if drug users were more rational, but most don't seem to care, in my experience.

You hear about that movie, A Scanner Darkly? Damn good, based on a book by Philip K. Dick. By the same director of Waking Life, which was mostly psuedo-intellectual nonsense dressed up as philosophy. It was interesting nonetheless, and if you want to see what intellectual kids are watching, check it out.

ADHR said...

If there was something necessarily wrong with paternalism, sure. But there isn't, so it really won't fly.

Without some knowledge of the methodology behind the study, it's really just some interesting speculative fodder. That is, what if something like this list was true? I agree, though, that anecdotal observations don't completely jive with the list. As said, though, unless we know how they calculated the ratings, it's not really that useful.

Actually, if drug users aren't rational, that's a justification for paternalistic treatment. Usually, those who aren't completely rational (e.g., young children, the insane) are considered legitimate targets for paternalistic interventions.

Heard about the book, but didn't know there was a movie. Dick's writings tend to make for interesting movies, even if the executions leave something to be desired (Total Recall and Paycheck being botches, while Minority Report worked fairly well).

I've found that, generally, whenever there's a movie made about something that academics do, the details get botched, badly. A Beautiful Mind, for example, is much more watchable as a love story than as a portrait of mathematicians. Similarly, Good Will Hunting is much more tolerable as a story about a roguish underdog.

undergroundman said...

There's nothing wrong with paternalism? That's like saying there's nothing wrong with stealing. When I steal I say I have more right to control your property than you. When I apply paternalistic rules on people I say I have more right to control your actions than you do. Both of them rest on questionable assumptions. Among them:

1.That might makes right (essentially).
2. That the dominant person will act in the best interests of the weaker person.
3. That people cannot choose in their own best interests.
4. That paternalistic laws will be effective.

Individual freedom and paternalistic laws (I'm assuming these are applied in victimless crimes) are contradictory. Holding both at the same time is the reason why our War on Drugs continues to fail. If we want to impose paternalistic laws, we have to be ready to surrender all our freedoms to the government. I hope you said that just to get a rise out of me.

The paternalism problem notwithstanding, the "war on drugs" is handled entirely wrong. It should be called a war on users. Instead of focusing on suppliers and rehabilitating users (reducing demand), the gov't cracks down on (often well-functioning) users and doesn't hit supply all that hard (look at Afghanistan).

I said that drug users don't seem to be rational, but we can never know for sure if they are rational or not. They may simply hold different assumptions than the rest of us - one of them being that short-term pleasure and damage is better than long-term stability; really, what does it matter in the long-run, anyway? Why live a "constructive", normal, mediocre life if you aren't satisfied with it? We have no right to judge such a decision.

The movie A Scanner Darkly is one of the best I've seen in a long time - it actually expresses some of the ideas I'm stating fairly well.

Here's a link to a page analyzing the philosophy of Waking Life. I may have given it an overly swift judgment. It's heavily existential.

http://publish.uwo.ca/~dmann/waking_essay.htm

ADHR said...

Your analogy is of questionable relevance, because you are conflating various disparate cases. As I pointed out, we very often do act paternalistically, with a clear sense of justification, when dealing with the very young or the insane. In other words, there is a basic competence test underlying the analogy you make: I am not justified in stealing from you only insofar as you are competent to control your own property (and, of course, the property is legitimately yours). Moreover, there are harm considerations to take into account as well. If your possession of certain property (say, fissile material) constitutes a clear and significant risk of harm to the general population, I am justified in taking it from you. So, on both grounds, we can similarly justify paternalistic intervention: either because you are not competent to make the decisions yourself, or because allowing you to make the decisions yourself carries too great a risk of too great a harm.

This is not, of course, to say that current drug laws make any sense. Part of the issue I was discussing in the original post is that they probably don't, but that it's also not clear what would be a sensible policy. It should combine a general presumption of allowing people to make their own choices (individual freedom), with some "soft" government intervention (e.g., the anti-smoking campaigns; it's not barred, but you are discouraged from doing it), and also a recognition that not everyone is competent to make these decisions on their own (young children, those with significant mental problems), and also a recognition that, in some cases, the harms are sufficiently significant to justify intervention (e.g., maintaining the ban on crack cocaine, because of its lethality).

"We have no right to judge such a decision" is itself a judgement founded on the claim that everyone has a basic right to pursue their own conception of the good, no matter how debased (i.e., far off from the actual good) it may be. That's a pretty common view, but it's not one I share. So, on different grounds (particularly, those favouring human flourishing) I tend to think I can say it's irrational to pursue short-term pleasure and damage rather than more long-term projects. (Which is not to say, of course, that it's government's role to enforce these judgements. There are other enforcement mechanisms within a society that strike me as more appropriate.)

If it's heavily existential, I think your judgement was probably dead on! The basic problem with existentialism, as I see it, is that it presumes you can make a significant choice about your life without any prior constraints or standards. But this just looks incoherent. If there are no prior constraints or standards, then there is no ground upon which the claim that the choice is significant can be founded. Therefore, the choice is not significant. Therefore, being an existentialist entails accepting all arbitrary choices as equally valuable -- i.e., valueless.

undergroundman said...

Your analogy is of questionable relevance, because you are conflating various disparate cases.

Could you clarify that? Seems like a great analogy to me.

In other words, there is a basic competence test underlying the analogy you make: I am not justified in stealing from you only insofar as you are competent to control your own property (and, of course, the property is legitimately yours).

Right. We assume that people are rational and competent in other areas; why hold the double-standard when it comes to drugs? How does this justify criminalizing drug use across the board?

Moreover, there are harm considerations to take into account as well. If your possession of certain property (say, fissile material) constitutes a clear and significant risk of harm to the general population, I am justified in taking it from you.

Taking the analogy very far, I see. I suppose this would justify 'stealing' freedom when it comes to constructing bombs, but I don't see how it applies with drugs. (Paternalistic laws are, by definition, applied to victimless crimes, yes?) I suppose by conceding that point I concede the argument, to an extent -- paternalism is justified when it prevents major damage to the society outside the user. But what if simply damages the user? Do you really believe paternalism is justified in those cases? Do you believe you (or anyone else) should be put in the position to judge whether a fellow adult is rational enough to make his own decisions? (Reminds me of a recent comment I read about I Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - that Ken Kesey, a man who used a lot of illicit substances and still managed to write damn good literature, thought these people had been judged unfairly simply because they didn't conform to the mainstream view. Others who've used lots of drugs include Philip K. Dick and Hunter S. Thompson, who quite rationally killed himself at the age of 67 when life's burdens had exceeded its benefits.)

You might try to argue that a person using drugs constitutes a danger to society, because that user's brain rots and he becames deranged and potentially dangerous. Or the addict becomes a burden on society. My reply is twofold: 1) The harms of drug use have been greatly exaggerated by the status quo, and 2) people do it anyway.

Part of the issue I was discussing in the original post is that they probably don't, but that it's also not clear what would be a sensible policy.

Yeah, and I didn't exactly respond to your question. The reason, of course, that we criminalize the newer psychoactive drugs is the traditional fear of the unknown and some (IMO exaggerated) evidence that they have more long-term effects (this despite the fact that alcohol likely contributes more towards dementia than any of these other drugs combined).

the harms are sufficiently significant to justify intervention (e.g., maintaining the ban on crack cocaine, because of its lethality).

Wait. I thought you said damage to the general population, not the person himself. People can be well-informed of the dangers of crack cocaine through the media, personal experience, and when purchasing it. People can do what they want with their own bodies -- they just can't do anything to other peoples' bodies.

"We have no right to judge such a decision" is itself a judgement founded on the claim that everyone has a basic right to pursue their own conception of the good, no matter how debased (i.e., far off from the actual good) it may be.

Or simply that the "actual good" is your good, but not my good. Your values are normative claims. They may be based on reasons, but so are my values. How do you refute that?

The basic problem with existentialism, as I see it, is that it presumes you can make a significant choice about your life without any prior constraints or standards. But this just looks incoherent.

I don't follow. Why can't I make choices about my life based on my own prior constraints and my own standards?

Therefore, the choice is not significant. Therefore, being an existentialist entails accepting all arbitrary choices as equally valuable -- i.e., valueless.

Or as uniquely valuable, but not valuable to everyone. Am I wrong?

ADHR said...

Could you clarify that? Seems like a great analogy to me.

I thought that's what I did immediately after, by pointing out that paternalistic intervention is justified in the cases of incompetence or significant harm, but otherwise not. The stealing example seems to be a case of intervention in the doings of a competent individual, without any significant harm at stake.

Right. We assume that people are rational and competent in other areas; why hold the double-standard when it comes to drugs? How does this justify criminalizing drug use across the board?

It doesn't, at all. It's the harm principle that really does the work for drug criminalization. The best one could get out of the incompetence criterion would be a ban on exposing children to drugs.

Taking the analogy very far, I [snip] benefits.)

If the harm is significant, I don't see why not. We'd have to figure out what "significant" means, but that doesn't really affect the general shape of the argument.

I also tend to think that no one is so isolated that their actions have no effects outside themselves. So, there's not really a distinction to be had between harming others and harming oneself: harming oneself is harming others. In many cases, though, the harm to others is insignificant. In some cases, however, the harm is significant: the risk of death to pedestrians if one drinks and drives, for example. We can justify a ban on drinking and driving, and punishment for those who do it, because it is a significant harm to others. The same could be said for the cocaine addict who fails to provide for his children.

You might try to argue that a person using drugs constitutes a danger to society, because that user's brain rots and he becames deranged and potentially dangerous. Or the addict becomes a burden on society. My reply is twofold: 1) The harms of drug use have been greatly exaggerated by the status quo, and 2) people do it anyway.

The harms may be exaggerated, but that only suggests that the harm criterion has been misapplied due to an empirical error. As for (2), people murder even though they shouldn't; should we decriminalize that? There's always a gap between what people do and what people should/shouldn't do.

Yeah, and I didn't exactly respond to your question. The reason, of course, that we criminalize the newer psychoactive drugs is the traditional fear of the unknown and some (IMO exaggerated) evidence that they have more long-term effects (this despite the fact that alcohol likely contributes more towards dementia than any of these other drugs combined).

Which, following the harm criterion, would suggest that alcohol use should be restricted. Of course, there's a practical (policy) issue here about methodology. Prohibition didn't work, but perhaps something "softer" might.

Wait. I thought you said damage to the general population, not the person himself. People can be well-informed of the dangers of crack cocaine through the media, personal experience, and when purchasing it. People can do what they want with their own bodies -- they just can't do anything to other peoples' bodies.

As said above, I don't think this is a really valid distinction. No one's isolated enough.

Or simply that the "actual good" is your good, but not my good. Your values are normative claims. They may be based on reasons, but so are my values. How do you refute that?

By restating the point! We're looking at value in two different ways. You seem to be saying that I have mine, and you have yours, and they are, in some sense, incommensurate. I'm saying there's a real value that we can approximate better or worse, and judgements can be made relative to that value. The former is a judgement of value, just as much as the latter. The former values self-determination (authenticity), the latter values accuracy (truth-seeking). These are competing value frameworks that exist at the metaethical level; the question, really, is which is right. I think the former is basically incoherent. It claims that there's something good about determining your own good, while simultaneously saying that there's no overall standards by which to judge goods.

I don't follow. Why can't I make choices about my life based on my own prior constraints and my own standards?

That's not what I understand existentialism to be about. What I understand existentialism to be saying is that, in principle, I could reject all prior constraints and standards and still make a significant choice.

Or as uniquely valuable, but not valuable to everyone. Am I wrong?

Yep. Sorry. :P What I understand existentialism to be claiming is that I can reject all prior standards and still make a choice that is significant. But what makes the choice significant if I reject all prior standards? There's nothing that could confer the status of value upon it (unless value is created out of nothing, which is something that would need to be defended). So, the choice is really arbitrary, and not significant. If that's so, though, then it seems all choices reduce to that same level -- whether or not I choose to accept the basic standards by which I evaluate other choices is itself an arbitrary choice. Thus, all choices are, really, valueless and grounded on nothing.

To say that the choices are all equally valuable, but somehow agent-relative, is quite a different claim. For values to be agent-relative, there is still a ground: the agent's instantiation of the value. I don't think that's what existentialism is all about; it sounds a little too mild for their tastes.

undergroundman said...

I thought that's what I did immediately after, by pointing out that paternalistic intervention is justified in the cases of incompetence or significant harm, but otherwise not.

Seemed to me like you just clarified something already in the analogy, which shows that it was a great analogy. :)

As for (2), people murder even though they shouldn't; should we decriminalize that? There's always a gap between what people do and what people should/shouldn't do.

Now that's a bad analogy. Criminalizing murder has been shown to be an effective deterrent; drug use hasn't. Also, murder is directly harmful whereas drug use is only indirectly harmful. We automatically criminalize all directly harmful actions; we criminalize relatively few indirectly harmful actions. Criminalizing drug use hasn't reduced the harms it imposes, but it has imposed quite a few harms of its own (the harms of prohibition likely outweigh the harms of drug use in terms of human lives lost and human potential for happiness destroyed). And so, if our value is human life, autonomy, or happiness, criminalizing drugs is a bad idea.

As said above, I don't think this is a really valid distinction. No one's isolated enough.

As you said, tons of things we do by ourselves our harmful to others indirectly, but we don't criminalize them. You have to prove that drug use is more harmful than our other daily (self-harming) activities to justify restricting it.

We're looking at value in two different ways. You seem to be saying that I have mine, and you have yours, and they are, in some sense, incommensurate. I'm saying there's a real value that we can approximate better or worse, and judgements can be made relative to that value.

There's a real value? Like the Platonic Good? Or some psychological value which humans intrinsically possess and therefore must biologically value? Look, values are normative claims. They are not based on a "real value" -- they're based on people responding to real facts and situations and judging which one is more important. But that judgment is a personal opinion. Some values have been passed down from society, but that doesn't make them any more deductively valid than my personal values. You value societal happiness and autonomy (while attempting to restrict autonomy), I value honesty and beauty. We both have reasons for valuing what we value, but these reasons just support pragmatic arguments for valuing one over the other. Morality is pragmatism.

What I understand existentialism to be claiming is that I can reject all prior standards and still make a choice that is significant. But what makes the choice significant if I reject all prior standards? There's nothing that could confer the status of value upon it (unless value is created out of nothing, which is something that would need to be defended). So, the choice is really arbitrary, and not significant.

Interesting. Don't you see that you've constructed a strawman argument to condemn existential as nonsensical?

To say that the choices are all equally valuable, but somehow agent-relative, is quite a different claim. For values to be agent-relative, there is still a ground: the agent's instantiation of the value. I don't think that's what existentialism is all about; it sounds a little too mild for their tastes.

Well, why don't you forget your view of existentialism and deal with my argument? (Which I think more accurately represents the views of existentialism, or at least Nietzsche. No wonder there's such hostility to existentialism if your conception is common.)

ADHR said...

Seemed to me like you just clarified something already in the analogy, which shows that it was a great analogy. :)

Fair enough. But then, the presentation of the analogy clearly wasn't clear enough to begin with. ;)

Now that's a bad analogy. Criminalizing murder has been shown to be an effective deterrent; drug use hasn't. Also, murder is directly harmful whereas drug use is only indirectly harmful. We automatically criminalize all directly harmful actions; we criminalize relatively few indirectly harmful actions.

It was a pretty crude analogy, yeah. What about drinking and driving, though? That's only indirectly harmful: if the drunk driver gets into an accident, then he will harm someone, hence we criminalize drinking and driving per se. Statutory rape is another, as are laws against vagrancy, hate speech (arguable, I suppose), squatting on abandoned properties; and laws preventing minors from signing contracts. These all look like indirect harms.

Criminalizing drug use hasn't reduced the harms it imposes, but it has imposed quite a few harms of its own (the harms of prohibition likely outweigh the harms of drug use in terms of human lives lost and human potential for happiness destroyed). And so, if our value is human life, autonomy, or happiness, criminalizing drugs is a bad idea.

On the basis of harm, this is very possible. It seems to be getting empirical, though, which really means the question should be thrown over to the sociologists, et al, who can crunch the data and find out which is the less harmful policy.

The other criterion, though, is left untouched. We could still prevent minors, the demented and insane (or otherwise mentally incompetent or impaired), and so on from using drugs.

As you said, tons of things we do by ourselves our harmful to others indirectly, but we don't criminalize them. You have to prove that drug use is more harmful than our other daily (self-harming) activities to justify restricting it.

I did allow that there may be policy considerations involved here. That is, we could be morally justified in prohibiting drug use, but we may prudentially want to use something softer, like public health campaigns, in order to achieve a better result.

There's a real value? Like the Platonic Good? Or some psychological value which humans intrinsically possess and therefore must biologically value

Sort of Platonic, but sort of not. It builds off the explanatory relevance criterion of the real that I used in the God argument. Whatever is explanatorily relevant can be considered to be real. There are, as a matter of fact, widely-shared moral judgements. (I did some research on this for my MA thesis.) The best candidates for explaining this are: similar environmental circumstances, similar genetic circumstances, or real values. The former is not true, as a matter of fact. The latter can't account for the normativity: it could explain common behaviour, but it can't explain common standards of behaviour. (This is just an is-ought problem.) So, real values are what's left.

That's condensed, but that's the idea.

Look, values are normative claims. They are not based on a "real value" -- they're based on people responding to real facts and situations and judging which one is more important. But that judgment is a personal opinion.

See, now, this is the bit that doesn't follow. We make all kinds of judgements all the time, on the basis of standards that are not just personal opinions. Perceptual judgements are a good class in this regard. We judge, in a perfectly good sense of "judge", the size, shape, and colour of objects, all the time. But we can be completely wrong in these judgements, and others can correct us. Moreover, we can compare our judgements to the standards as we understand them and correct ourselves. Why isn't moral judgement just like that? In many cases, the phenomenology seems identical. I see a red book and immediately judge "that's a red book!". I see a wrong act and immediately judge "that's wrong!". (Consider, say, seeing two boys setting a cat on fire.)

Some values have been passed down from society, but that doesn't make them any more deductively valid than my personal values. You value societal happiness and autonomy (while attempting to restrict autonomy), I value honesty and beauty. We both have reasons for valuing what we value, but these reasons just support pragmatic arguments for valuing one over the other. Morality is pragmatism.

That's not quite the same as the "personal opinion" view. If you allow a social source to some values, then there's more going on than personal opinion, clearly.

Furthermore, to say that morality is pragmatic is to say that we fuse moral reasons and pragmatic reasons: what is right/good is whatever works, and what is wrong/bad is whatever doesn't work. But that flies in the face of some basic moral phenomenology, which means either our general impressions are grossly in error, or there's a real distinction to be had here. For instance, I can say that it's easier for me to make money by robbing banks than working a steady job. (And, for the sake of the example, let's presume I'm right: it really is easier.) It doesn't follow from that that it's right: I have strong moral reasons against the action of robbing banks even though I have strong pragmatic reasons in favour of it.

You could try to argue that the reasons against the action are really just pragmatic ones as well, but it's hard for me to see how that could be, without flipping the definition around. That is, without defining the pragmatic in terms of the moral, rather than the moral in terms of the pragmatic.

Interesting. Don't you see that you've constructed a strawman argument to condemn existential as nonsensical?

It's only a strawman if that's what I was trying to do. If it's an honest error, then it's an error; making a mistake in one's interpretation is not the same as maliciously constructing a bad interpretation in order to make the view look silly.

Well, why don't you forget your view of existentialism and deal with my argument? (Which I think more accurately represents the views of existentialism, or at least Nietzsche. No wonder there's such hostility to existentialism if your conception is common.)

The problem, I think, is that Nietzsche isn't the only existentialist-styled thinker, and he's not even the most prominent. Sartre is, and he's notoriously hard to interpret. Heidegger is also quite prominent, and my (second-hand) understanding is that what I've given is plausible as a version of what they're trying to say.

Sticking to what I've gleaned from you so far, though, it looks like the view is what I'd call an individual relativism. That is, I (somehow) form standards and values, and use them as the basis for my further judgements. But they themselves are never really the target of a potentially devastating critique; at best, I can test standards against each other, but I can never entirely dispose of them in one fell swoop and come up with some new ones. (That was the problem I have been focusing on, that if you can dispose of every standard all at once, the choice of standards thus becomes completely arbitrary.)

Individual relativism is not incoherent, but it is deeply implausible. It has empirical problems, in that there is more commonality in actual moral judgements than one would expect if any kind of relativism were true. This fact has to be explained.

It also has phenomenological problems, one of the most serious being that moral argument looks cognitive. That is, it looks like we argue over moral judgements on the basis of which judgement is right. But, if all we are doing is judging based on our own personal standards, then it seems that we're really talking past each other. If I say "A is right" what I really mean is "A is right for me"; if you say "A is wrong" what you really mean is "A is wrong for me". Because the "me" in both cases is different, these claims actually don't contradict, so we don't really disagree at all. Thus, we are deeply in error. Why we don't see that needs to be explained.

Finally, individual relativism has deep moral problems, one of the most serious being that it isolates us. My values are mine and mine alone; yours are yours and yours alone. There is no sense of a shared community with a mutual (possibly highly dynamic) understanding of what is and is not valuable. This lack of community looks like a significant moral problem: one of the fundamental promises of morality is that it tell us how to best live with others; if morality ends up cutting us from others entirely, this promise has been completely undermined.

(And this is when you tell me that's not actually the view you wanted to talk about. lol.)

undergroundman said...

That's only indirectly harmful: if the drunk driver gets into an accident, then he will harm someone, hence we criminalize drinking and driving per se.

Yep. We criminalize relatively few indirectly harmful actions. Arguably the reason we criminalize untraditional sex acts is similar -- because they are harmful to the mores of society, an indirect harm to everyone.

It seems to be getting empirical, though, which really means the question should be thrown over to the sociologists, et al, who can crunch the data and find out which is the less harmful policy.

Or economists.

We could still prevent minors, the demented and insane (or otherwise mentally incompetent or impaired), and so on from using drugs.

Sure. (As long as it's actually possible, which I believe it is. If you make a policy which doesn't accomplish its purpose, it's a pointless policy.)

hat is, we could be morally justified in prohibiting drug use, but we may prudentially want to use something softer, like public health campaigns, in order to achieve a better result.

That's not really prohibiting. That's discouraging. And I would argue that we should do the same for all partying; hell, we should discourage video game usage, maybe (a tax on it?) and television watching. Video game harms education, which harms me in several ways, and television brainwashes people.

It builds off the explanatory relevance criterion of the real that I used in the God argument.

Which I take issue with. Judging whether something is true based on whether it is "relevant" considering what we know (or rather, you "know") at this point is nothing but a hypothesis.

There are, as a matter of fact, widely-shared moral judgements.

Widely shared but certainly not universal.

The best candidates for explaining this are: similar environmental circumstances, similar genetic circumstances, or real values.

Why not a combination? Values and morals have most often been directed at maximizing human welfare (although historically, it seems they were most focused on the ruling classes' welfare). Genetic and environmental circumstances cannot be separated, nor can the reality of the universe (which is really just an environmental factor anyway). Values and morals are uniquely human (sprouting from human self-consciousness) social constructions. Much of their basis lies in the extreme abstraction of the self as a concept and thus a recognition of common human feelings -- taken to its logical conclusion, my ego is no more important in the grand scheme of things than others.

The former is not true, as a matter of fact.

Oh really?

The latter can't account for the normativity: it could explain common behaviour, but it can't explain common standards of behaviour.

Normativity? Standards? Why can't we all act similarly the same because of our unique genetic nature? I think the reason we do act similarly (and in some cases strangely) is environmental and genetic, and the psychological literature strongly supports me in this case.

(This is just an is-ought problem.)

Meaningless to me.

So, real values are what's left.

Do these "real" values exist anywhere other than individual human minds?

We make all kinds of judgements all the time, on the basis of standards that are not just personal opinions.

Who's to say it's not just an assumption?

We judge, in a perfectly good sense of "judge", the size, shape, and colour of objects, all the time. But we can be completely wrong in these judgements, and others can correct us. Moreover, we can compare our judgements to the standards as we understand them and correct ourselves. Why isn't moral judgement just like that?

Huh? Well, in the first case, you're judging two very disparate cases. Perception deals with matter. Values/morals deals with a social construction of what's more important. There is a standard/criterion that exists, of course, relative to whatever you want to make it relative to -- but my point is that your judgment of what's important is no more deductively valid than my judgment of what's important. In the area of "what it's important for humans to do relative to humanity" (which is what all human ethics are, anyway) I can value one thing, you can value another, and neither of us is wrong. The judgments are completely subjective. I can value knowledge, you can value pleasure -- one is more empirically beneficial to human society, perhaps, but perhaps that is at the cost to the individual. And who's to say that valuing the society over the individual is "right"? Further extending the example, what is most important for humans to do relative to the universe? Nobody knows and nobody really cares, because there is no "right" way for the universe. The point I'm making is simply to clarify that our values are constructed relative to humanity. Obviously they are not the best for nature. In some cases I may value nature over society -- am I wrong for valuing nature so highly?

In many cases, the phenomenology seems identical. I see a red book and immediately judge "that's a red book!". I see a wrong act and immediately judge "that's wrong!". (Consider, say, seeing two boys setting a cat on fire.)

What do you mean? Isn't phenomenology subjective? I would say that my phenomenology sees it differently. But we have good reasons for discouraging cat-fires. Pointless sadism is scary and pointless. Still, children and adults participate in sadism. I would argue that the reason more morally developed people flinch at cat torture is because e judge that cats are somewhat self-conscious, and thus include them in our abstraction of ourselves, which we don't like to hurt. What happens when kids torture fish? Or stomp on insects?


That's not quite the same as the "personal opinion" view. If you allow a social source to some values, then there's more going on than personal opinion, clearly.


The social source doesn't make the value more true. It's like an informal fallacy: simply because something is instinctual or accepted by the majority of society doesn't mean it's right.

Furthermore, to say that morality is pragmatic is to say that we fuse moral reasons and pragmatic reasons: what is right/good is whatever works, and what is wrong/bad is whatever doesn't work.

I was saying that historically that was the case (obviously your example can't be propogated as a societal value or there would be chaos). And that major point that I'm making is that we ultimately create our values and rules for the empirical consequences that those values and rules have.

You could try to argue that the reasons against the action are really just pragmatic ones as well, but it's hard for me to see how that could be, without flipping the definition around. That is, without defining the pragmatic in terms of the moral, rather than the moral in terms of the pragmatic.

Right. Chaos. Kant's CI is a manifestation of this societal tendency to discourage selfish acts -- acts which are bad for society but good for the individual. Society (at least mainstream society) discourages such things.

It's only a strawman if that's what I was trying to do. If it's an honest error, then it's an error; making a mistake in one's interpretation is not the same as maliciously constructing a bad interpretation in order to make the view look silly.

True. But it seems to launch a powerful attack against existentialism which renders it completely nonsensical - how would they respond to such an attack? (I imagine that they would respond similar to the way I have.)

That is, I (somehow) form standards and values, and use them as the basis for my further judgements. But they themselves are never really the target of a potentially devastating critique; at best, I can test standards against each other, but I can never entirely dispose of them in one fell swoop and come up with some new ones.

Hmm. I think you lost me. To what does the pronoun "they" refer to -- judgments or standards? And yes -- we can test standards. We'll stay within what's best for humanity and humans (should we include animals?). I can say that we should value what it best for the individual, and you say we should value what's best for society. Then we argue it by explaining why we should value one over the other. I say what is best the pinnacle of human excellence - a society should be judged by its highest peak, for these reasons (perhaps because such a society is actually best for humanity, but basically, because I like it). You say, as economists and some philosophers are wont to say, that society should be judged based on GDP or the sum of human happiness, even if 3/4ths of them live pointless, hedonistic lives. We could reach a compromise by saying that philosophy should be judged by the sum of the excellence of its people, perhaps.

(That was the problem I have been focusing on, that if you can dispose of every standard all at once, the choice of standards thus becomes completely arbitrary.)

Can you give examples of the standards you mean? Values are somewhat arbitrary, in that I think that none of them are deductively more valid than others. But they can be argued for with reasons.

It has empirical problems, in that there is more commonality in actual moral judgements than one would expect if any kind of relativism were true. This fact has to be explained.

So you say, but you don't show. I disagree, in any case.

It also has phenomenological problems, one of the most serious being that moral argument looks cognitive.

What's that mean?

That is, it looks like we argue over moral judgements on the basis of which judgement is right.

How is that cognitive?

But, if all we are doing is judging based on our own personal standards, then it seems that we're really talking past each other.[snip]Because the "me" in both cases is different, these claims actually don't contradict, so we don't really disagree at all. Thus, we are deeply in error. Why we don't see that needs to be explained.

I've wondered why people don't see it, actually. I go into a bar and I tell everyone to start studying philosophy. Is that really reasonable? Is philosophy really right for everyone? I'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it, and if you went to bars, maybe you would too. The human habit for universalizing their particular moral beliefs has often lead to strife across the world. Do you really want me to go into examples? (Hell, look at sexuality.) That's not to say that I can't try to convince people that my way is right, but I have to convince them, because my way is not automatically the right way.

My values are mine and mine alone; yours are yours and yours alone. There is no sense of a shared community with a mutual (possibly highly dynamic) understanding of what is and is not valuable. This lack of community looks like a significant moral problem: one of the fundamental promises of morality is that it tell us how to best live with others; if morality ends up cutting us from others entirely, this promise has been completely undermined.

See my above answer. Because no morality is deductively any more valid than any other, we have to argue for our morality with inductive, empirical facts. Beauty looks good. Philosophy makes you smarter and helps you appreciate beauty. Math is a form of beauty. Ect. These are inductive observations. This is actually better for the community because it fosters a sense of respect for other people's values -- a recognition that they have those values for a reason. It also opens us up to the possibility of completely new values instead of constraining us to the ones that we happened to evolve with.


(And this is when you tell me that's not actually the view you wanted to talk about. lol.)


I think this is exactly what I wanted to talk about. :)

ADHR said...

That's not really prohibiting. That's discouraging. And I would argue that we should do the same for all partying; hell, we should discourage video game usage, maybe (a tax on it?) and television watching. Video game harms education, which harms me in several ways, and television brainwashes people.

I know it's not really prohibiting; that's my point! We may be morally justified in prohibiting, but it would, in actual fact, be ineffective. So, on balance, we should not prohibit but instead discourage. That is, the moral judgement is mollified by pragmatic concerns.

Which I take issue with. Judging whether something is true based on whether it is "relevant" considering what we know (or rather, you "know") at this point is nothing but a hypothesis.

It's a philosophical position. I haven't defended it, no, but it's the assumption that's underlying most of my claims. Explanatory relevance is the criterion of the real (not the true, incidentally). That's just what I'm claiming. Again, I haven't argued for it.

Widely shared but certainly not universal.

There are universal moral judgements. Sorry to say!

Why not a combination? Values and morals have most often been directed at maximizing human welfare (although historically, it seems they were most focused on the ruling classes' welfare). Genetic and environmental circumstances cannot be separated, nor can the reality of the universe (which is really just an environmental factor anyway).

They are conceptually seperable, even if not seperable in fact. If neither of the former has any explanatory relevance on its own, then the explanatory work must be done by the latter -- unless, I suppose, you want to argue that explanatory relevance somehow emerges from the combination of two or more of the three factors. But that sort of "emergence" is opaque.

Values and morals are uniquely human (sprouting from human self-consciousness) social constructions. Much of their basis lies in the extreme abstraction of the self as a concept and thus a recognition of common human feelings -- taken to its logical conclusion, my ego is no more important in the grand scheme of things than others.

I don't think impartiality is peculiarly moral. I think it's a particular conception of the moral, but one that is challengeable. In any event, you're once again trying to derive a constructivist conclusion without adequate support. Just because you have to have humans in order to have values or morals does not mean the values and morals are "social constructions". That would be like saying tails are a "social construction" because you need to have beings with tails in order for their to be any tails. You need the tailed things, certainly, but that doesn't constitute a tail. No more does the requirement that there be humans imply that society constitutes values.

Normativity? Standards? Why can't we all act similarly the same because of our unique genetic nature? I think the reason we do act similarly (and in some cases strangely) is environmental and genetic, and the psychological literature strongly supports me in this case.

Psychological literature won't tell you anything about genetics: you're looking in the wrong place! And, as said, the issue is not whether we do act the same way. That's behaviour. The issue is the common standards.

Meaningless to me.

Is-ought problems: derived (supposedly) from Hume, the idea that an "ought" claim (normative or prescriptive) does not follow from any collection of "is" claims (descriptive).

Do these "real" values exist anywhere other than individual human minds?

Yes, otherwise we have an explanatory puzzle. Given that there are at least some universal judgements, underwritten by real values, if the real values are all held in individual minds, we would have to hypothesize a massive coincidence of development: it just so happened that every human mind developed the same values. Unless we have some very good story to tell which points to a common cause, this is deeply implausible. Real mind-independent values, however, dodge the problem: what exists in human minds comes from a common, extra-mental source.

Huh? Well, in the first case, you're judging two very disparate cases. Perception deals with matter. Values/morals deals with a social construction of what's more important.

This is question-begging. I'm showing a parallel between the two cases of judgement in order to argue that values are just as much a matter of "matter" (of some kind) as perception. You can't just assume I'm wrong in order to argue against the argument!

There is a standard/criterion that exists, of course, relative to whatever you want to make it relative to -- but my point is that your judgment of what's important is no more deductively valid than my judgment of what's important. In the area of "what it's important for humans to do relative to humanity" (which is what all human ethics are, anyway) I can value one thing, you can value another, and neither of us is wrong. The judgments are completely subjective. I can value knowledge, you can value pleasure -- one is more empirically beneficial to human society, perhaps, but perhaps that is at the cost to the individual. And who's to say that valuing the society over the individual is "right"? Further extending the example, what is most important for humans to do relative to the universe? Nobody knows and nobody really cares, because there is no "right" way for the universe. The point I'm making is simply to clarify that our values are constructed relative to humanity. Obviously they are not the best for nature. In some cases I may value nature over society -- am I wrong for valuing nature so highly?

Let me extend a challenge: you're clearly presuming a heavily-subjectivized view of morality, and it's one I've been arguing against. I know what your position is, but I have yet to see why I should take it to be true. Give me an argument for the claim that value-judgements are completely subjective (keeping in mind that disagreements about value look cognitive).

What do you mean? Isn't phenomenology subjective? I would say that my phenomenology sees it differently. But we have good reasons for discouraging cat-fires. Pointless sadism is scary and pointless. Still, children and adults participate in sadism. I would argue that the reason more morally developed people flinch at cat torture is because e judge that cats are somewhat self-conscious, and thus include them in our abstraction of ourselves, which we don't like to hurt. What happens when kids torture fish? Or stomp on insects?

Phenomenology may be subjective, but whether it is has to be established before an appeal to phenomenology can be undercut. In any event, you're not focusing on the right issue: the point is to further drive home the parallel between perceptual and moral judgement, by noting that both judgements seem immediate. There's no "figuring-out" involved in moral judgement -- I don't observe, and then recall that cats may also be self-conscious, connect that to my own experience of pain, etc. I just judge.

The social source doesn't make the value more true. It's like an informal fallacy: simply because something is instinctual or accepted by the majority of society doesn't mean it's right.

Sure. But you're not a subjectivist if social sources have some kind of independent power.

I was saying that historically that was the case (obviously your example can't be propogated as a societal value or there would be chaos). And that major point that I'm making is that we ultimately create our values and rules for the empirical consequences that those values and rules have.

A realist consequentialist morality would agree with you, and yet not accept that morality is just pragmatism. The point is that this claim doesn't follow.

Right. Chaos. Kant's CI is a manifestation of this societal tendency to discourage selfish acts -- acts which are bad for society but good for the individual. Society (at least mainstream society) discourages such things.

Now it looks like you're arguing a kind of reductive value-realism: the good is whatever allows society to continue.

True. But it seems to launch a powerful attack against existentialism which renders it completely nonsensical - how would they respond to such an attack? (I imagine that they would respond similar to the way I have.)

Which is a fair way to respond, but existentialists have to take some of the blame for not presenting their views in a way that rejects this sort of interpretation. It would be like Hegel complaining that people just don't understand him: he's so incredibly obscure that it's at least partially his fault.

Hmm. I think you lost me. To what does the pronoun "they" refer to -- judgments or standards? And yes -- we can test standards. We'll stay within what's best for humanity and humans (should we include animals?). I can say that we should value what it best for the individual, and you say we should value what's best for society. Then we argue it by explaining why we should value one over the other. I say what is best the pinnacle of human excellence - a society should be judged by its highest peak, for these reasons (perhaps because such a society is actually best for humanity, but basically, because I like it). You say, as economists and some philosophers are wont to say, that society should be judged based on GDP or the sum of human happiness, even if 3/4ths of them live pointless, hedonistic lives. We could reach a compromise by saying that philosophy should be judged by the sum of the excellence of its people, perhaps.

I was agreeing that we could test standards. How we do it is not really at issue. The point was, though, that the kind of existentialist I originally argued against would hold that standards could all go at once, on the basis of nothing more than a choice. This kind of choice is simply arbitrary.

I'm not any kind of a hedonist, though. I'm not sure where you got that idea from.

Can you give examples of the standards you mean? Values are somewhat arbitrary, in that I think that none of them are deductively more valid than others. But they can be argued for with reasons.

I'm not sure why you've invoked deductive validity here. That's not a property values can have; it's only a property of arguments. Anyway, giving examples defeats the point. It's completely formal: any judgement has to be made on the basis of some standard, or else it is arbitrary; if all standards are taken away, by a voluntary choice, then that choice is arbitrary.

So you say, but you don't show. I disagree, in any case.

Incest taboo is one (all societies on record regard parent-child or sibling incest as wrong). Charitable behaviour is another (all societies on record regard rendering aid to the poor as right). The anthropological literature is rife with these examples. There's much more commonality to human behaviour than you seem to think.

That is, it looks like we argue over moral judgements on the basis of which judgement is right.

How is that cognitive?


That's the definition of "cognitive". Cognitive means "has truth-value". Noncognitive is the contradictory. Emotions are standard examples of something non-cognitive: there's no truth to rage or love, they're just felt. Propositions are standard examples of something cognitive: they can be true or false (or neither, if you like many-valued logics).

I've wondered why people don't see it, actually. I go into a bar and I tell everyone to start studying philosophy. Is that really reasonable? Is philosophy really right for everyone? I'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it, and if you went to bars, maybe you would too. The human habit for universalizing their particular moral beliefs has often lead to strife across the world. Do you really want me to go into examples? (Hell, look at sexuality.) That's not to say that I can't try to convince people that my way is right, but I have to convince them, because my way is not automatically the right way.

The point I'm making cuts deeper than that. In order for your convincing people to be anything more than just sophisticated brow-beating, there has to be some fact of the matter that you're arguing about. Consider a different example: suppose you're trying to convince people that you are studying philosophy, but they just don't believe you. On an individual relativist account of the propositions, there's no real disagreement. You say (i) "I am studying philosophy", but you mean (ii) "I am studying philosophy is true for me". They say (iii) "you are not studying philosophy", but what they mean is (iv) "you are not studying philosophy is true for us". The former propositions of the pairs ((i) and (iii)) are, apparently, contradictories, but the latter two ((ii) and (iv)) are not. If (i) just means (ii) and (iii) just means (iv), though, then the appearance of contradiction between (i) and (iii) is just illusion. The so-called "argument" was just a confusion about what everyone meant to be saying.

This is a really bad model for understanding what claims about basic facts actually mean. I trust that is obvious by how ludicrous the example was! It's also a bad model for morality. If I'm actually arguing with someone, and I'm not just trying to force them to believe what I believe because it makes me feel good, then we have to be genuinely disagreeing: I say that p, you say that ~p. If I'm saying p and you're saying q, then we really aren't disagreeing. In moral cases, it looks like we genuinely disagree. You might say "studying philosophy is great and everyone should do it!". Others might turn to you and say "studying philosophy is stupid and not everyone should do it!". For this to be an actual disagreement, we have to understand these propositions at face-value: they are, as they appear to be, cognitive claims, i.e., propositions. If we understand them as having some implicit relativizing clauses, though, we lose our grip on the disagreement: it vanishes. But then, why think that this is really a disagreement (rather than, say, a fight)?

That's not the same, incidentally, as saying that studying philosophy may not be for everyone. That's a standard liberal claim, namely that everyone has their own conception of the good life. Moral liberals hold that the good life must satisfy some general requirements (e.g., not interfere with anyone else's pursuit of their good life), but that, within these requirements, there's a lot of room for personal choice. Moral liberals are not moral relativists; moral relativism is much, much stronger than that. A moral relativist wouldn't even say there are general requirements: a conception of the good life which says that treating all other people as property is a perfectly good conception of the good life, to a consistent relativist.

undergroundman said...

We may be morally justified in prohibiting, but it would, in actual
fact, be ineffective. So, on balance, we should not prohibit but instead
discourage. That is, the moral judgement is mollified by pragmatic
concerns.


To recap, my argument is that moral judgments that you oh so routinely
dish are subjective and, at their root, based on the practical
implications of you claiming that it is the "truth."

A moral relativist wouldn't even say there are general requirements: a
conception of the good life which says that treating all other people as
property is a perfectly good conception of the good life, to a consistent
relativist.


Call me a moral relativist with a brain then, although I still think that
you are, again, hitting moral relativism with a straw man -- most moral
relativists and existentialists don't live in an Ivory bubble and preach
morals which essentially come down to "do no harm." Instead some live with
motto "do the greatest good" because they recognize that, ultimately, the
morals you preach are just conventional and mainstream, and each
individual is free to choose their own conception of the moral. I suppose you're using the "standard definition" of moral relativism, but it doesn't have to be so that extreme. Morals are all relative, but that doesn't mean I can't fight for my particular conception of the good.

Notice that if every conception of the good life is deductively valid (or
invalid), then I'm left with a dilemma: which do I choose? Why not choose
the one which is inductively the best, or the one that I feel like picking
based on the circumstances, instinct, and the knowledge I've acquired?
(Essentially it comes down to a personal decision, but I've never said
that I can't try to convince someone to agree with my personal decision -
I recognize that other people's values should be backed up with inductive
reasons in this inductive world.) There are morals that we can agree upon,
but that doesn't mean they are universal - to say such a thing implies
that they are universally true for the entire universe, even for
rocks and such things. Which is ridiculous.

With that said I'll go through some of your other comments.

I haven't defended it, no, but it's the assumption that's underlying
most of my claims. Explanatory relevance is the criterion of the real (not
the true, incidentally). That's just what I'm claiming. Again, I haven't
argued for it.


Trying to say that the burden of proof lies on me? I presented an argument
for why it is not trustworthy - it is inductive. As you pointed out in the
Jesus post to me, it has a disadvantage: it might not be true. Which is a
pretty huge disadvantage when you're arguing that you know the "truth" of
whether something exists, cause the truth is not supposed to be uncertain.
Now, you might say that science is inductive as well -- but I've made a
choice, based on what I know, to use scientific knowledge, in large part
because it's useful. I haven't made the choice to use your inductive
conclusion, in large part because it's not useful at all. It's pointless
to propogate a belief which might be true as true when it's not useful.


There are universal moral judgements. Sorry to say!

You're basing that off empirical historical evidence, I suppose? I would
say that there's certainly a range of moral judgments and an even smaller
range of reasonable moral judgments which can be adopted by humans. You
claim that incest is universally immoral yet people have been doing it
since the beginning of time! You claim that they didn't value it when
doing it, or that they considered it immoral when doing it? How can you
know such a thing?

If you are going to make such a statement, you should at least qualify it
by stating that there are universal moral judgments for humans. Or
perhaps even for self-conscious beings.


They are conceptually seperable, even if not seperable in fact. If
neither of the former has any explanatory relevance on its own, then the
explanatory work must be done by the latter -- unless, I suppose, you want
to argue that explanatory relevance somehow emerges from the combination
of two or more of the three factors.


Explanatory relevance is a bad argument, but nevertheless these
explanations are the essence of relevant explanations for why morality
exists. Simply because something is separable doesn't mean it should be
separated. We can see social, genetic, and circumstantial (environmental)
reasons for why morality exists (incest is one strong example) -
circumstantial is the key word, one that cannot be truly be separated.
Values have developed from our circumstances. If we can see the link, then
we have explanatory relevance, no?

This is question-begging. I'm showing a parallel between the two cases
of judgement in order to argue that values are just as much a matter of
"matter" (of some kind) as perception. You can't just assume I'm wrong in
order to argue against the argument!


You assume I'm wrong all the time! :p It does seem question-begging, but
it's actually an argument. Perception is actually a step removed from
matter, and values are a further step removed from actual matter. The
standard for perception is constantly imposed upon us: it is hard to
refute, if you are healthy and sane. The standard for values/morals and
such is much more plastic; in fact, it's a social construction as well.
Strictly speaking, by the way, both perceptions and values are subjective,
but we assume that our perceptions are 'true' when they adhere to the
normal standard. All I truly know with certainty is that I exist.

I don't think impartiality is peculiarly moral. I think it's a
particular conception of the moral, but one that is challengeable.


As are all, which is my point.

In any event, you're once again trying to derive a constructivist
conclusion without adequate support.


I don't know what you would consider adequate support. My support is
obvious and scientific: humans have historically created values for some
purpose; it's a conscious decision on what is most important. Unlike most
animals, humans have fluid values. Values are efficient decisions on
what's important.

Just because you have to have humans in order to have values or morals
does not mean the values and morals are "social constructions".

That's not their entire definition, maybe, but it's a large part. Values
are individually created and spread via social influence. When you phrase
it as you do, it seems fallacious, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. My
actual definition of values is above (and elsewhere): they are decisions
on what's important (by humans, in this case).

That would be like saying tails are a "social construction" because you
need to have beings with tails in order for their to be any tails. You
need the tailed things, certainly, but that doesn't constitute a tail. No
more does the requirement that there be humans imply that society
constitutes values.


True. But it's impossible to talk about values without talking about
society, just as it's impossible to talk about tails without talking about
tailed beings. Tails are an extended appendage from the back of the torso
of a tailed animal, we might say. It's impossible to explain what a tail
is without explaining how it is connected to the world. The same applies
to values.

Psychological literature won't tell you anything about genetics: you're
looking in the wrong place! And, as said, the issue is not whether we do
act the same way. That's behaviour. The issue is the common standards.


Common standards arise from genetics (or would you say they arise from
something else? What, pray tell?). If our genetics or our conscience (an
instinct!) tells us something is right, is that necessarily 'right'?

Is-ought problems: derived (supposedly) from Hume, the idea that an
"ought" claim (normative or prescriptive) does not follow from any
collection of "is" claims (descriptive).


I agree. So why are you using this to back up your claim that "real
values" exist? Values are normative claims, based on a socially created
standard (the conventional one being, I suppose, human happiness).

The point was, though, that the kind of existentialist I originally
argued against would hold that standards could all go at once, on the
basis of nothing more than a choice. This kind of choice is simply
arbitrary.


No, the choice is personal. Try reading some articles on what
Existentialism actually is about. I checked out that Stanford
Encyclopedia's entry and here's what it said: "In value theory,
existentialists tend to emphasize the conventionality or groundlessness of
values, their "ideality," the fact that they arise entirely through the
projects of human beings against the background of an otherwise
meaningless and indifferent world. Existential moral psychology emphasizes
human freedom and focuses on the sources of mendacity, self-deception, and
hypocricy in moral consciousness. The familiar existential themes of
anxiety, nothingness, and the absurd must be understood in this context.
At the same time, there is deep concern to foster an authentic stance
toward the human, groundless, values without which no project is possible,
a concern that gets expressed in the notions of "engagement" and
"commitment."
<

"As when one repeats a word until it loses meaning, anxiety
undermines the taken-for-granted sense of things. They become absurd.
Things do not disappear, but all that remains of them is the blank
recognition that they are — an experience that informs a central scene in
Sartre's novel Nausea. As Roquentin sits in a park, the root of a tree
loses its character of familiarity until he is overcome by nausea at its
utterly alien character, its being en soi. While such an experience is no
more genuine than my practical, engaged experience of a world of meaning,
it is no less genuine either. An existential account of meaning and value
must recognize both possibilities (and their intermediaries). To do so is
to acknowledge a certain absurdity to existence: though reason and value
have a foothold in the world (they are not, after all, my arbitrary
invention), they nevertheless lack any ultimate foundation. Values are not
intrinsic to being, and at some point reasons give out."

Yes, otherwise we have an explanatory puzzle. Given that there are at
least some universal judgements, underwritten by real values, if the real
values are all held in individual minds, we would have to hypothesize a
massive coincidence of development: it just so happened that every human
mind developed the same values.


That's really not very hard to explain given our common genetic nature.
These judgments are not even as universal as you'd like to think: we
always have sociopaths (genetic abnormalities).

Real mind-independent values, however, dodge the problem: what exists
in human minds comes from a common, extra-mental source.


Spiritual source? :p

I'm not any kind of a hedonist, though. I'm not sure where you got that
idea from.


Most economists and many philosophers seem to take a position in which they value peoples' happiness regardless of how they are attaining that happiness. What are you, then? Where do you draw the line of moral duty, say, in a
world like this? How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice to help
other people, and how moral is such an action? If you don't value
pleasure, then what do you value? (Perhaps a discussion reserved for a different post.)

I know what your position is, but I have yet to see why I should take
it to be true. Give me an argument for the claim that value-judgements are
completely subjective (keeping in mind that disagreements about value look
cognitive).


OK. Keep in mind that although value-judgments are and can be subjective,
most people value what: 1) they're told to value and 2) what they feel
like valuing. My argument is this:

1. Value-judgments are made relative to a standard.
2. Standards are constructed relative to the valuer and its circumstances.
3. Value-judgments are relative to the valuer.

No value-judgments are objectively correct. I don't know how to express
something that seems to obvious to me. You can reason for them with
inductive reasons, but none of them has more deductive validity than any
other -- as you said. Freedom is something I will always value because I'm
advocating freedom, and by extension I oppose, at least to a certain
extent, things which restrict freedom.

Phenomenology may be subjective, but whether it is has to be
established before an appeal to phenomenology can be undercut.

I'm not all that familiar with phenomenology -- have you read
Husserl/Heidegger? In any case, I don't understand what you're talking
about here.

In any event, you're not focusing on the right issue: the point is to
further drive home the parallel between perceptual and moral judgement, by
noting that both judgements seem immediate.


Eh? They don't seem immediate to me, so that argument is immediately null.
I actually had to be taught morals, and still do immoral things without
even really caring. And I don't think I'm all that strange. Sure, I feel guilty if I screw over a friend, but I'd have little problem with setting a strange cat on fire. Shocked?

There's no "figuring-out" involved in moral judgement -- I don't
observe, and then recall that cats may also be self-conscious, connect
that to my own experience of pain, etc. I just judge.


Cats and other creatures are immediately considered "self-conscious." How
long it would really take people to recognize this is an empirical
question, but I doubt it's long at all, and in most people it's already
ingrained and established. There's studies saying that some 60% of people
think of their pets as people. Please. You may just "know" (I doubt it),
but it's not a good argument. Even if that is the case, instinct != right.
You may be right -- morals may be immediate. But that doesn't mean they
are universally "right".

Sure. But you're not a subjectivist if social sources have some kind of
independent power.


Eh? Certainly values are created by a subject under the influence of
society. That's all I'm saying. And most values today are simply
conventional. Also, social scientists do a good job of describing the
power that social sources have. But really, I have no idea what you mean
by this statement. Keep in mind that many of statements are just for the
sake of argument. I wouldn't put myself into any kind of system at this
point.

Now it looks like you're arguing a kind of reductive value-realism: the
good is whatever allows society to continue.


Only in the sense that I'm coming up with reasons why particular senses of "the good" may
have been propogated throughout society. I'm not saying that they are
the good myself. Big difference.

Which is a fair way to respond, but existentialists have to take some
of the blame for not presenting their views in a way that rejects this
sort of interpretation.


I suppose you're right. They like to use literature and such. I read
Nausea and found nothing philosophical (I should have read some
straight philosophy first). Plainspoken philosophers are unfortunately
rare. Analytical ones try to dazzle you with theory and continental ones
are reluctant to get into theory. Even you, who I find fairly clear, like
to use obscure words and latin phrases in places where they aren't even
truly necessary. It keeps up tradition and makes people work for their
knowledge -- I suppose that's the point?


I was agreeing that we could test standards. How we do it is not really
at issue.


Why not? We do it by judging the values that the standard results in and
the effects of that standard, would you say?

A realist consequentialist morality would agree with you, and yet not
accept that morality is just pragmatism. The point is that this claim
doesn't follow.


I was making the argument that morality developed with a pragmatic
objective underlying it; that incest, murder, robbery, and homosexuality
were discouraged because they brought about harm to society (or were
thought to). God was worshipped because that appeased it. Ect. Morality is
at least somewhat pragmatic, isn't it? (Is it no longer pragmatic if the
person knows that the thing isn't true - that it becomes practical?) The
parts that aren't just sheer animal nonsense or abstracted philosophical
mumbo-jumbo? Pragmatism is a realistic consequentialist morality, or
perhaps the realistic consequentialist morality. You call something
true (or truly right, or truly wrong) because of the effects it will have
on society and the world; the good it will bring.

I'm not sure why you've invoked deductive validity here. That's not a property values can have; it's only a property of arguments.

Ah-ha! My point all along.

Anyway, giving examples defeats the point. It's completely formal: any judgement has to be made on the basis of some standard, or else it is arbitrary; if all standards are taken away, by a voluntary choice, then that choice is arbitrary.

Or that choice is made based on a personal standard (Sartre placed special importance on freedom, for example, and Nietzsche focused on power directed in certain areas). Like I said, this idea that existentialists do away with all standards is false -- they do away with so-called "objective" or common standards and replace them with personal standards.

That's the definition of "cognitive". Cognitive means "has truth-value". Noncognitive is the contradictory. Emotions are standard examples of something non-cognitive: there's no truth to rage or love, they're just felt. Propositions are standard examples of something cognitive: they can be true or false (or neither, if you like many-valued logics).

I thought cognition was simply mental awareness. I suppose you're using a philosophical definition that I wasn't aware of.

That's the definition of "cognitive". Cognitive means "has truth-value". Noncognitive is the contradictory. Emotions are standard examples of something non-cognitive: there's no truth to rage or love, they're just felt. Propositions are standard examples of something cognitive: they can be true or false (or neither, if you like many-valued logics).

In order for your convincing people to be anything more than just sophisticated brow-beating, there has to be some fact of the matter that you're arguing about.

There is. As I've said before many times, there are real empirical effects to the values. How people judge these effects (good, bad) is up to them. I read your blurb after this and all I can say is that I don't believe in extending relativism to perceptible things as well as values, and using that argument doesn't really help you from what I can see.

If I'm saying p and you're saying q, then we really aren't disagreeing.

I disagree. That's really just semantic spin. Symbols aren't really that appropriate in this area because we aren't making truth-claims; we're making normative claims. If my q (say, that nobody should kill, ever) opposes your p (that killing is ok sometimes) then we're really disagreeing, but these aren't cognitive. How could they be? They're simply opinions. I'm saying q for my own inductive reasons, and you're saying p because, well, I don't know -- you came up with that value based on your standard (which, I might add, is certainly very different from my own).

That's a standard liberal claim, namely that everyone has their own conception of the good life. Moral liberals hold that the good life must satisfy some general requirements (e.g., not interfere with anyone else's pursuit of their good life), but that, within these requirements, there's a lot of room for personal choice.

Do liberals have a degree of relativism in their beliefs, then? Liberalism is a moral theory co-opted by society, it, like all mainstream moral theories, is descriptive of what society has decided is right.

Moral liberals are not moral relativists; moral relativism is much, much stronger than that.

Anyone who admits that moral relativism exists is a moral relativist, but yes, good moral relativists carry it to its logical conclusion. That doesn't mean they don't issue injunctions against those who violate their idea of the good life. In truth moral relativists have more freedom in deciding how they wish to act; they're free to consider that there's not a lot of room for personal choice, and judge people accordingly.

Whew.

ADHR said...

To recap, my argument is that moral judgments that you oh so routinely
dish are subjective and, at their root, based on the practical
implications of you claiming that it is the "truth."


"Subjective" means that they do not bear truth-value. As soon as you say a moral judgement, to any extent,

can be true, you're denying that they're subjective. At that point, the issue is whether the truth of the

judgement is relative.

To say that a judgement is based on practical implications of anything is not to say that the judgement is

subjective, nor is it to say that it is relative. Practical implications are empirically observable and

traceable, in principle, and are thus (prima facie) paradigms of objectivity.


Call me a moral relativist with a brain then, although I still think that
you are, again, hitting moral relativism with a straw man -- most moral
relativists and existentialists don't live in an Ivory bubble and preach
morals which essentially come down to "do no harm." Instead some live with
motto "do the greatest good" because they recognize that, ultimately, the
morals you preach are just conventional and mainstream, and each
individual is free to choose their own conception of the moral. I suppose you're using the "standard

definition" of moral relativism, but it doesn't have to be so that extreme. Morals are all relative, but

that doesn't mean I can't fight for my particular conception of the good.


It does mean, though, that this "fight" is not a moral fight. There's no non-relative moral standards, so

the appeal is either to some other non-relative standard (e.g., what is rational, what is sensible,

or some such) or the appeal is basically arbitrary. That would be subjectivism, but I've outlined

the basic problem with subjectivism several times.

Saying that each individual is free to choose his own conception of the moral is, again, a core tenet of

standard moral liberalism, which asserts that everyone choosing his own conception is itself good

and violating that choice is itself wrong. As soon as you start saying things like that, you're not

any kind of "relativist" any more. You're arguing for a broad range of possible acceptable moral codes,

but not for the "anything goes" consequences of pure relativism.

X-ish relativism means that y counts as x in c. For example, moral relativism

could be the claim that (y) judgements count as (x) moral in (c) particular social

circumstances. It could also be the (different) claim that actions count as moral for particular

individuals. And so on, substituting differently for y (what kind of thing is being relativized),

x (what feature of that thing is being relativized), and c (the index these are being

relativized to). It's important to notice how deep this runs: once you change c's -- for example,

if you change social circumstances -- then whether the ys count as x any more will also

change.

In principle, relativism, unless it is extremely carefully defined, is a scorched-earth philosophy.

It leaves nothing left. There are no universal standards to apply any more; no final court of appeal; no

ground on which to stand to argue that one's own view is in any way superior. The only thing a consistent

relativist can do in order to promulgate his views is to force other people to believe them.

This is an entirely different position, it seems, than the one you insist on calling "relativism" or

"subjectivism". The position you seem attracted to is one that allows for a heavy influence of individual

and social factors in determining the particularities of moral codes, as well as one that respects the

choice of the individual in which codes (or which pieces of which codes) to follow. That is, standardly,

referred to as "moral liberalism".

You have to keep these three views seperate, or you're dangerously close to talking literal

nonsense to me.

There are morals that we can agree upon,
but that doesn't mean they are universal - to say such a thing implies
that they are universally true for the entire universe, even for
rocks and such things. Which is ridiculous.


That would be ridiculous, if that is what "universal" meant. But there's no reason to read it that

strongly. There's a sense of universal as "applying to all things", which is the one you're trying to

read; but there's a weaker sense of universal, which is mine, as "applying to all relevant things".

Particularly, applying to those things that have the relevant capacities. You can't, for example, apply

the property "floats on water" to all things. But the property is nonetheless universal in the weaker

sense, for it applies to all things that have the capacity to float on water. Only those things that lack

the capacity lack the property.

Trying to say that the burden of proof lies on me? I presented an argument
for why it is not trustworthy - it is inductive. As you pointed out in the
Jesus post to me, it has a disadvantage: it might not be true. Which is a
pretty huge disadvantage when you're arguing that you know the "truth" of
whether something exists, cause the truth is not supposed to be uncertain.


I'll bring back that word "parochial" again. I don't see that the truth has to be uncertain. Indeed, if

you want certain truth, you're in Descartes' maze: the only thing you really know for certain is

"there is a thought". Maybe. The standard is impossibly high.

Now, you might say that science is inductive as well -- but I've made a
choice, based on what I know, to use scientific knowledge, in large part
because it's useful. I haven't made the choice to use your inductive
conclusion, in large part because it's not useful at all. It's pointless
to propogate a belief which might be true as true when it's not useful.


How is it not useful to have more knowledge than "there is a thought"? That seems highly useful to me.

Your scientific knowledge is impugned by your claim that truth must be certain. Science is not certain,

almost by its nature. Hence, nothing science says is ever true. If it's not true, it's not knowledge at

all
. There's no "scientific knowledge" for you to use.

You're basing that off empirical historical evidence, I suppose? I would
say that there's certainly a range of moral judgments and an even smaller
range of reasonable moral judgments which can be adopted by humans. You
claim that incest is universally immoral yet people have been doing it
since the beginning of time! You claim that they didn't value it when
doing it, or that they considered it immoral when doing it? How can you
know such a thing?


This is a double-edged sword: how can you know it's false? Raising a possibility of error is not the same

as demonstrating an actual error.

Looking at the evidence at hand, those who commit incest, when discovered, are always treated as

committing a serious offense deserving of punishment. You also don't find cases of open incest: it's

committed covertly and secretly. Both these together imply (abductively) that everyone believes it is

wrong. Else, it's hard to explain the treatment of the incestuous, and it's equally hard to explain the

secretive nature of incest.

Explanatory relevance is a bad argument, but nevertheless these
explanations are the essence of relevant explanations for why morality
exists. Simply because something is separable doesn't mean it should be
separated. We can see social, genetic, and circumstantial (environmental)
reasons for why morality exists (incest is one strong example) -
circumstantial is the key word, one that cannot be truly be separated.
Values have developed from our circumstances. If we can see the link, then
we have explanatory relevance, no?


Not independent explanatory relevance, no. The explanatory relevance is at best derivative, which is the

point I was making. Take the three factors (genetic, social, real fact) and run each one on its own and

see if an explanation pops out. The first two fail: they cannot explain if there is no real moral fact.

The third can do it. Thus, the third is the really explanatory relevant factor; the other two gain their

explanatory relevance because of connections to the third.

Perception is actually a step removed from
matter, and values are a further step removed from actual matter. The
standard for perception is constantly imposed upon us: it is hard to
refute, if you are healthy and sane. The standard for values/morals and
such is much more plastic; in fact, it's a social construction as well.
Strictly speaking, by the way, both perceptions and values are subjective,
but we assume that our perceptions are 'true' when they adhere to the
normal standard. All I truly know with certainty is that I exist.


You can't know that unless you know what "I" is certainly. And you don't (no one does, really). Descartes

was wrong; introspection only reveals the presence of a thought, it does not reveal a diachronic

procession of thoughts and it does not, at all, reveal a thing that thinks the thoughts.

Anyhow. You're still question-begging, but it's not quite as bad. Your model is in opposition to mine. I

say that perceptual judgements and moral judgements are on all fours with each other: both are made by

humans about (Kantian) phenomena. You're saying that there are real things, about which we form perceptual

judgements, and we may then make moral judgements about the perceptual judgements (which is the best sense

I can make of the "further step" idea). The reason you're offering to favour your model is that it best

explains (ah hah!) why moral standards are more fluid than perceptual standards.

However, perceptual standards are more fluid than you realize, and moral standards more static. I've

argued the second point already above, re: incest, so I'll give you an example to illustrate the former.

Look at an object which is one solid colour: say red. Then turn the lights off, so you're in (near-)total

darkness, and look at it again. Is it still red? In one sense, you want to say it is: it's the same

object. In another sense, though, it isn't: it doesn't look red any more. So, the standard for deciding

whether the judgement "this object is red" is correct depends on some external circumstance: lighting

conditions. If the lights are off, the standards change, and seem to become more historical in character.

If the lights are on, the standards change, and seem to become more immediate-observation in character. It

gets worse if different-coloured lights are introduced. Under green light, a red object looks black. So,

not only is it a matter of whether the lights are on but of the properties of the lights themselves!

I don't know what you would consider adequate support. My support is
obvious and scientific: humans have historically created values for some
purpose; it's a conscious decision on what is most important. Unlike most
animals, humans have fluid values. Values are efficient decisions on
what's important.


But this is an assertion and entirely non-obvious. That's the root of the problem. You're assuming

that values are just created by conscious decision, but you're not arguing the point. In essence,

you're proposing a competing model rather than giving a counter-argument.

That's not their entire definition, maybe, but it's a large part. Values
are individually created and spread via social influence. When you phrase
it as you do, it seems fallacious, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. My
actual definition of values is above (and elsewhere): they are decisions
on what's important (by humans, in this case).


The genesis of anything and its spread are not arguments necessarily relevant to its nature. Even if it's

true (and you have not established that it is) that humans have "created" values, perhaps in the sense of

writing down moral codes, it does not imply that what morality is is just a matter of social

construction. Compare it to colour again: colour vision emerged as an evolutionary adaptation, let us

suppose, in order to detect ripe (and thus edible) fruit from unripe (and thus inedible or dangerous)

fruit. This may not be true, but it's a plausible basis for an example. Humans who did not see colours

died out because of eating bad fruit, while humans who did see colours prospered and reproduced, passing

on the trait. So, the genesis of seeing colour is evolutionary advantage, and the spread is through

reproduction. Does that story tell us anything about what colour is?

True. But it's impossible to talk about values without talking about
society, just as it's impossible to talk about tails without talking about
tailed beings. Tails are an extended appendage from the back of the torso
of a tailed animal, we might say. It's impossible to explain what a tail
is without explaining how it is connected to the world. The same applies
to values.


Your point is completely obscure now. That values "connect to the world" is exactly my idea: they're

in the world, there to be discovered! Just like tails.

Common standards arise from genetics (or would you say they arise from
something else? What, pray tell?). If our genetics or our conscience (an
instinct!) tells us something is right, is that necessarily 'right'?


It depends on whether the "conscience" is well-functioning and well-trained. Just as we have to be trained

to distinguish verbally between red and blue, we have to be trained to distinguish between particular

cases of right and wrong, good and bad. Again, though, that we are genetically disposed to detect values

says nothing about whether the standards are constructed by genetics or whether they are simply

found through a genetically-based capacity.

I agree. So why are you using this to back up your claim that "real
values" exist? Values are normative claims, based on a socially created
standard (the conventional one being, I suppose, human happiness).


That's where you go wrong. Descriptive claims about social practices can explain common behaviour, but it

cannot explain common standards. The common standards are normative claims. They have to be explained by

something else, something that is already normative. Social creation is not a normative process, by

definition.

No, the choice is personal. Try reading some articles on what
Existentialism actually is about. I checked out that Stanford [snip]


Money quote:

While such an experience is no more genuine than my practical, engaged experience of a world of

meaning, it is no less genuine either.


That's the essence of "arbitrary". The idea of "genuine" loses all significance if everything has it

equally.

That's really not very hard to explain given our common genetic nature.
These judgments are not even as universal as you'd like to think: we
always have sociopaths (genetic abnormalities).


I'm not convinced that sociopaths exist. They're certainly claimed to exist, but there is a genuine

problem of distinguishing the deeply-mistaken person, who has just made an error about what morally

correct behaviour is, from the deeply-weak person, who cannot bring himself to do what he knows is right,

from the person who simply doesn't make the judgements at all. The latter is the genuine sociopath. The

former is just ignorant, and the median, as said, is weak. We also have to consider the possibility that

the sociopath is someone who just doesn't care to make moral judgements, just as someone might not

care to make scientific judgements, say about the explanatory power of evolutionary theory. If we can

blame the scientific illiterate, why can't we blame the moral illiterate?

Real mind-independent values, however, dodge the problem: what exists
in human minds comes from a common, extra-mental source.


Spiritual source? :p


Why not? But it really depends how you define "nature". As we've discussed, "nature" standardly means what

contemporary science can discover, test, measure, etc. That entails that values are not natural. However,

if "nature" actually should be taken to mean what a perfect science can "see", then values may be

perfectly natural.

In any event, nature itself is common and extra-mental. Mountains aren't in my mind, and they're around

for anyone to go and look at.

Most economists and many philosophers seem to take a position in which they value peoples' happiness

regardless of how they are attaining that happiness. What are you, then? Where do you draw the line of

moral duty, say, in a
world like this? How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice to help
other people, and how moral is such an action? If you don't value
pleasure, then what do you value? (Perhaps a discussion reserved for a different post.)


Economists, maybe, but I think their definition of "happiness" is a bit parochial -- something like

efficacious satisfaction of immediate face-value desires. Philosophers, not at all. Have you read Kant? Do

what is right out of respect for the moral law.

I haven't got a set monistic theory of value; I tend to be a value-pluralist. Lots of things are valuable

-- love, happiness, welfare, justice, knowledge, etc. I'm not sure anything, really, is valuable in

itself
, though. I have concerns about the very concept of "intrinsic value".

That aside, I'm also what's called a "moral partialist", which means that the closeness of a person in

relationship to me bears moral weight. That is, all things being equal, I have duties to my wife before a

random stranger.

Further, as I believe we've discussed, I also hold there's a difference between what one is

obligated to do and what it would be good if one did. This is something of a "thin theory" of obligation.

So, dealing with the "helping other people" business: I help those close to me first and foremost, and

others second (and third, etc., as distance increases). At a certain point, though, obligation gives out

completely, and, while I may continue to help in order to be a good or splendid person, I

(morally) can stop and simply be a minimally decent person. (Judith Thomson's seminal article on

abortion ends with a discussion of the difference between being splendid and being minimally decent.)

1. Value-judgments are made relative to a standard.
2. Standards are constructed relative to the valuer and its circumstances.
3. Value-judgments are relative to the valuer.


I'll accept (1).

(2) I disagree with, on the basis of the explanatory puzzle of universal moral judgements. Why does every

society on record condemn incest, value charity, etc. if standards are just constructed? We'd expect to

see at least one society, somewhere, which thought incest was just great and charity was for

suckers.

(3) doesn't follow. You've committed the genetic fallacy in claiming that the origin of value-judgements

necessarily has consequences for the nature of value-judgements. You've also, oddly, ommitted the

reference to circumstances that appeared in (2).

No value-judgments are objectively correct. I don't know how to express
something that seems to obvious to me. You can reason for them with
inductive reasons, but none of them has more deductive validity than any
other -- as you said. Freedom is something I will always value because I'm
advocating freedom, and by extension I oppose, at least to a certain
extent, things which restrict freedom.


Isn't that something you claim is objectively correct? Or are you willing to go as far as to say that

someone who did not value freedom -- Hitler, say, or Stalin (pick your favourite dictator, really) --

would have a moral code just as good as yours?

I'm not all that familiar with phenomenology -- have you read
Husserl/Heidegger? In any case, I don't understand what you're talking
about here.


Not the same sense of phenomenology. I have successfully avoided Husserl and Heidegger, for the most part.

"Phenomenology" in this sense means nothing more than Descartes' method: I look at what I do as closely as

I can. So, the appeal to phenomenology is the appeal to how things seem to be working in me when I make

perceptual and moral judgements.

Eh? They don't seem immediate to me, so that argument is immediately null.
I actually had to be taught morals, and still do immoral things without
even really caring. And I don't think I'm all that strange. Sure, I feel guilty if I screw over a friend,

but I'd have little problem with setting a strange cat on fire. Shocked?


Not really. That may depend on a non-moral judgement about cats (e.g., they can't feel pain). It may also

depend on a (in my view mistaken) judgement that cats don't have any moral value. That doesn't show you're

not making moral judgements, as your invocation of screwing over a friend suggests. Why on earth do you

feel guilty if you don't immediately judge that you're doing something wrong?

That you had to be taught a particular moral code does not show that your moral judgements are

non-immediate, for two reasons. First, we're really talking about how mature adults work here; children

are involved in a process of development, so they present unique and tangential problems. Second, your

intuitive morals may differ widely from those of your society, and hence you had to be taught how to bring

your behaviour in line with social standards. That doesn't establish that your moral judgements are

non-immediate, though, unless you actually accept the social standards as your moral code! If you still

have an underlying, more intuitive code that you really appeal to first, only then consciously

applying the social standards you're "supposed" to use, it is only the first judgement that's

relevant here. The second is an entirely different problem, regarding whether one's own moral code should

or should not cohere with the social code.

Cats and other creatures are immediately considered "self-conscious." How
long it would really take people to recognize this is an empirical
question, but I doubt it's long at all, and in most people it's already
ingrained and established. There's studies saying that some 60% of people
think of their pets as people. Please. You may just "know" (I doubt it),
but it's not a good argument. Even if that is the case, instinct != right.
You may be right -- morals may be immediate. But that doesn't mean they
are universally "right".


Agreed, but that's not the argument. The argument is that moral judgements parallel perceptual judgements.

Perceptual judgements are objective. Hence, moral judgements are also objective. You challenged the

parallel on the basis that the moral judgements are not immediate.

Now, if the recognition that cats and other creatures is indeed immediate, then that seems to bolster my

case. Not only is that "that's wrong" moral judgement immediate, but the judgement about the underlying

relevant properties (e.g., self-consciousness) is also immediate. Immediate judgements are flying

about all over the place!

Eh? Certainly values are created by a subject under the influence of
society. That's all I'm saying. And most values today are simply
conventional. Also, social scientists do a good job of describing the
power that social sources have. But really, I have no idea what you mean
by this statement. Keep in mind that many of statements are just for the
sake of argument. I wouldn't put myself into any kind of system at this
point.


I mean what I said: if you're a subjectivist, then the subject is sovereign. Social sources only have

power if the subject says so. If social sources have their own, independent influence over a subject, then

you're not a subjectivist any more. This is just about what subjectivism means.

Only in the sense that I'm coming up with reasons why particular senses of "the good" may
have been propogated throughout society. I'm not saying that they are
the good myself. Big difference.


Fair enough. But, look at it this way: if the good is propagated because what is good = what helps

society, then we have a realism about value. This is because what helps society is an objective and

observable matter. If value reduces to this objective and observable matter, then value just is an

objective and observable matter. So, you have to deny the claim that what is good = what helps society,

and instead claim something like what is called "good" = what helps society. But then that would be

tangential: the issue isn't moral language, the issue is moral ontology.

I suppose you're right. They like to use literature and such. I read
Nausea and found nothing philosophical (I should have read some
straight philosophy first). Plainspoken philosophers are unfortunately
rare. Analytical ones try to dazzle you with theory and continental ones
are reluctant to get into theory. Even you, who I find fairly clear, like
to use obscure words and latin phrases in places where they aren't even
truly necessary. It keeps up tradition and makes people work for their
knowledge -- I suppose that's the point?


It's habit, partially. When you're around a group of people who all present their ideas in a certain way,

you tend to fall into the forms without even realizing it. It's also partially a concern with accuracy. If

I use an obscure, even Latin, word or phrase it's because I'm trying to nail down a very specific meaning,

and ordinary English just ain't up to the job. Ordinary English, as I'm sure you know, is pretty

rough-and-ready: it gets the basic idea across, works wonders if you're just trying to coordinate actions,

but tends to fall flat on its face when you get down to details of very complex problems. This is why

mathematicians and scientists will often switch into symbolic languages, which have clear rules of meaning

and proper usage. It's the same kind of phenomenon, a way to introduce rigour into a non-rigorous

language.

Why not? We do it by judging the values that the standard results in and
the effects of that standard, would you say?


Not entirely. We also judge it by whether it's right. :P

I was making the argument that morality developed with a pragmatic
objective underlying it; that incest, murder, robbery, and homosexuality
were discouraged because they brought about harm to society (or were
thought to). God was worshipped because that appeased it. Ect. Morality is
at least somewhat pragmatic, isn't it? (Is it no longer pragmatic if the
person knows that the thing isn't true - that it becomes practical?) The
parts that aren't just sheer animal nonsense or abstracted philosophical
mumbo-jumbo? Pragmatism is a realistic consequentialist morality, or
perhaps the realistic consequentialist morality. You call something
true (or truly right, or truly wrong) because of the effects it will have
on society and the world; the good it will bring.


How moral codes develop is a different question that what morality is. Most moral codes are a hodge-podge: there's some moral stuff, but also some stuff that's just good advice, and some pieces are nothing more than dogma. In that sense, then, there's something pragmatic about morality. But that's a different claim than saying practical concerns are what define or determine or constitute morality. It seems to me to be the other way around: moral concerns, at least partially, determine what is practical. That is, the fact that something is wrong is taken to be a pragmatic reason against doing it.

The claim that something is true because it brings good looks circular to me. How can we say it is true that something brings good? Well, "true" means "brings good". So, it is true that something brings good when something bringing good itself brings good. But when is that true? We've got a regress on our hands.

I'm not sure why you've invoked deductive validity here. That's not a property values can have; it's only a property of arguments.

Ah-ha! My point all along.


How is it an interesting point, though? It's just be definitional fiat. Values also can't have the property of being inductively strong, nor can they have the property of being blue.

Or that choice is made based on a personal standard (Sartre placed special importance on freedom, for

example, and Nietzsche focused on power directed in certain areas). Like I said, this idea that

existentialists do away with all standards is false -- they do away with so-called "objective" or common

standards and replace them with personal standards.


Fine. But then the personal standard has to stand, come what may. You can't sweep that one away. If you can, then on what basis do you do so? Either some objective standard that has been covertly imported into the picture; or some other, more fundamental, personal standard; or on the basis of nothing, i.e., the choice is ultimately arbitrary.

I thought cognition was simply mental awareness. I suppose you're using a philosophical definition that I wasn't aware of.

Jawohl. See what I mean about using jargon even if you're not aware of it? It's a borrowing from epistemology.

There is. As I've said before many times, there are real empirical effects to the values. How people judge these effects (good, bad) is up to them. I read your blurb after this and all I can say is that I don't believe in extending relativism to perceptible things as well as values, and using that argument doesn't really help you from what I can see.

Two points. Why can't one define the values as the empirical effects, i.e., perform a reduction? And, why not extend relativism to perceptible things? What makes them different from values?

I disagree. That's really just semantic spin. Symbols aren't really that appropriate in this area because

we aren't making truth-claims; we're making normative claims. If my q (say, that nobody should kill, ever)

opposes your p (that killing is ok sometimes) then we're really disagreeing, but these aren't cognitive.

How could they be? They're simply opinions. I'm saying q for my own inductive reasons, and you're saying p

because, well, I don't know -- you came up with that value based on your standard (which, I might add, is

certainly very different from my own).


There's no such thing as a non-cognitive disagreement. There can be a fight, but not a disagreement. As soon as you go non-cognitive, you've done away with the apparatus of reasons. Reasons for a claim are reasons for its truth; reasons against it are reasons for its falsity. To say that there's a disagreement is to say that, in principle, we could resolve who is right and who is wrong by appeal to reasons. Non-cognitivism defeats this whole structure; it sweeps it away. All we're left with is standing nose-to-nose and screaming at each other.

Incidentally, your example doesn't really work! If p = killing is okay sometimes, and q = nobody should ever kill, it follows that p = ~q [not-q]. My idea was to suggest two entirely different claims, such as, "I believe killing is okay sometimes" vs. "I believe that nobody should ever kill". The truth-values of these claims are independent of each other; it can be true that I believe the former, false that I believe the latter, or any other combination (F-T, T-T (I can believe inconsistent things), F-F (I could believe that killing is okay always!)).

The problem with the relativist move (which is not necessarily non-cognitivist, I should note) is that it drops an implicit claim at the end of each of p and q -- something like "is true for me" or "is accepted as true by my social group". So, I say "killing is okay sometimes" -- that means something like "killing is okay sometimes is true for me" or "killing is okay sometimes is accepted as true by my social group". And the same goes for the other claim. This puts us in the same situation as sketched in the previous paragraph: we have two claims whose truth-values are entirely independent of each other. How can that be a disagreement? To disagree we have to have some matter about which we have formed opposing opinions; that is, we each claim something whose truth-value depends in some way upon the truth-value of what the other is claiming. If the claims are independent, we lose the disagreement.

Do liberals have a degree of relativism in their beliefs, then? Liberalism is a moral theory co-opted by

society, it, like all mainstream moral theories, is descriptive of what society has decided is right.


It's more like liberals have a thin theory (that's John Rawls' very descriptive term for it) of the good. Instead of specifying in great detail what the good is, they give some general, rather vague requirements, and let people do what they want in those limits.

It may be that liberalism describes what society has decided is right. But society could be, independently of how it decides, right or wrong in the code it chooses to adopt. Maybe fascism is right! Maybe Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism is right.

Anyone who admits that moral relativism exists is a moral relativist, but yes, good moral relativists

carry it to its logical conclusion. That doesn't mean they don't issue injunctions against those who

violate their idea of the good life. In truth moral relativists have more freedom in deciding how they

wish to act; they're free to consider that there's not a lot of room for personal choice, and judge people

accordingly.


That's not relativism any more, though. All a relativist can do, really, is judge each person according to his own standards (or, in group form, judge each member of a group by the standards of the group). So, if my standards say it's morally permissible to bludgeon babies to death, and I bludgeon a baby to death, a relativist has to say that this action was morally permissible. A liberal, by contrast, can say that the action was not permissible, because the standards were defective: for one thing, I failed to take the baby's right to liberty into account, as I imposed my conception of the good life (lots of bludgeoned babies) onto the baby. (Or, if you like, onto the parents of the baby. The point still works.)

undergroundman said...

I'm gonna try and cut down my responses to only the necessary areas, if I can. Might be difficult though.

<"Subjective" means that they do not bear truth-value. As soon as you say a moral judgement, to any extent, can be true, you're denying that they're subjective. At that point, the issue is whether the truth of the judgement is relative.

Then I would say I am a subjectivist when it comes to values, but I can create my own standard, which is that I believe that morals should be based on their empirical, practical effects.

Practical implications are empirically observable and
traceable, in principle, and are thus (prima facie) paradigms of objectivity.


Prima facie does not help me to understand you. (Obvious) example/model of objectivity says the same thing, I presume? You say it's objective (or a standard for judging something objectively?), but it's not. It's a subjective assessment based on a subjective standard.

It does mean, though, that this "fight" is not a moral fight.

Consider it a fight between standards and their resulting beliefs, then. Ultimately which one we choose to side with will come down to a choice, perhaps based on conscience. It won't be the truly right thing to do, but it will be the thing we choose to do - which is fine because there is no truly right thing to do.

There's no non-relative moral standards, so the appeal is either to some other non-relative standard (e.g., what is rational, what is sensible, or some such) or the appeal is basically arbitrary. That would be subjectivism, but I've outlined the basic problem with subjectivism several times.

Right. And I continue to reply: it's not arbitrary, it's personal. True, one might call the difference semantic, but the former implies that it's made on a whim. It's not. It's made with the whole person judging what he truly feels is right. It's a rejection of the social values. That's all. What morals ultimately come down to is "what we believe is right". Under existentialism that doesn't change - but it's a personal decision.

As soon as you start saying things like that, you're not
any kind of "relativist" any more. You're arguing for a broad range of possible acceptable moral codes,
but not for the "anything goes" consequences of pure relativism.


I'm a relativist, trust me. But I still hold to my belief that everyone should be allowed to choose their version of the good life - it's been ingrained in me by society. If I'd existed 500 years earlier I would have thought very different things and would be no less wrong. Inconsistent? I think not - simply honest.

For example, moral relativism
could be the claim that (y) judgements count as (x) moral in (c) particular social circumstances.


My current morality does not agree with that

In principle, relativism, unless it is extremely carefully defined, is a scorched-earth philosophy.
It leaves nothing left. There are no universal standards to apply any more; no final court of appeal; no
ground on which to stand to argue that one's own view is in any way superior.


Which is why mainstream philosophy refuses to admit that it's true, I would guess - even though it is so obviously true. Your anthropocentric values are not necessarily the most moral.

The only thing a consistent
relativist can do in order to promulgate his views is to force other people to believe them.


Force? No. The mainstream forces other people to adhere to its views by calling outlying values 'immoral'. We can still argue, we can still debate standards and act based on them. We're simply no longer restricted to the standard anthropocentric values (which come in utilitarian and deontological forms). Even when we do adopt anthropocentric values, we are not restricted to our conscience (or rather, your conscience - the conscience of the mainstream).

All it means is that you recognize that you don't have a monopoly on truth; when it comes to values, no one does. We base our values on something other than truth. We base it on emotion - ultimately, we do what feels right, and people can come up with different notions of what feels right for them.

This is an entirely different position, it seems, than the one you insist on calling "relativism" or
"subjectivism". The position you seem attracted to is one that allows for a heavy influence of individual
and social factors in determining the particularities of moral codes, as well as one that respects the
choice of the individual in which codes (or which pieces of which codes) to follow. That is, standardly, referred to as "moral liberalism".


No. You can be a relativist and a liberal. All relativists have values, after all. They assert that these values are "right" - but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are.

That would be ridiculous, if that is what "universal" meant. But there's no reason to read it that
strongly...


What do you say to people who say that the environment has value regardless of whether it is around for humans to enjoy? It's called an eco-centric morality. What about if only monkeys are around to view that environment? Or cats (since you say that cats have moral value)? What do you say to the idea that sacrificing people to save the environment is ok? Would you sacrifice people to save the last tree?

My point is that when we construct values, we're stating what humans should do, especially ourselves. Are you saying that we must necessarily follow our conscience because it tells us the right thing to do?

Science is not certain,
almost by its nature. Hence, nothing science says is ever true. If it's not true, it's not knowledge at
all. There's no "scientific knowledge" for you to use.


I'm willing to accept science (with a margin of doubt) because it's useful, as I said. Your statement on whether God exists or not is not useful unless it is certain (or at least more certain).

Else, it's hard to explain the treatment of the incestuous, and it's equally hard to explain the
secretive nature of incest.


So you stick with the idea that incest is wrong. Under what grounds, other than the fact that our instinct tells us? Why shouldn't a brother and sister who love each other be able to marry? Some biologists even say that natural selection would work better if incest was allowed.(Obviously I agree that incest with children is bad - no need to argue that.)

The explanatory relevance is at best derivative, which is the
point I was making. Take the three factors (genetic, social, real fact) and run each one on its own and
see if an explanation pops out. The first two fail: they cannot explain if there is no real moral fact.


You really lose me here. Why run them on their own? How can they be separated? That's not clear.

The third can do it. Thus, the third is the really explanatory relevant factor; the other two gain their explanatory relevance because of connections to the third.

It can? How?

I say that perceptual judgements and moral judgements are on all fours with each other: both are made by humans about (Kantian) phenomena.

Ah, right. Here you like to be specific and certain. Since you say that, we can never truly know if either reality of values exist, right?

We assume that a reality exists under the hood of our perceptions because they are fairly consistent. But we don't assume, at least today, that what our perceptions show us is the full truth. It's just part of the picture.

Similar to the way our sense organs give us an idea of noumena(they do give us at least an idea, no?), so our conscience gives us an idea of the true values - is that essentially your agument?

I don't buy it. Note that you have no other reason to trust your conscience than that it exists. On the other hand, it may be that all our actions, good or evil, are guided by a conscience - which is really just an overriding sense of duty. Perhaps Hitler was guided by his conscience.

However, perceptual standards are more fluid than you realize, and moral standards more static.

Point taken. Perceptual standards are fluid, but they are consistent. There's a plethora of differing moral beliefs. Did I tell you that I had a friend in high-school who wanted to kill everyone on the planet to save the environment?

But this is an assertion and entirely non-obvious. That's the root of the problem. You're assuming
that values are just created by conscious decision, but you're not arguing the point. In essence,
you're proposing a competing model rather than giving a counter-argument.


Did I give you a counter-argument above? I don't see how to construct a counter-argument, and I'm not sure which argument I should counter. Also, why is a competing model not an argument, especially if it's a model which better explains the thing in question?

The genesis of anything and its spread are not arguments necessarily relevant to its nature.

So you say, but again, you don't show. I can't see how tailed things are not relevant to the nature of a tail. Sorry. Not obvious to this idiot. :p

Even if it's
true (and you have not established that it is) that humans have "created" values, perhaps in the sense of writing down moral codes, it does not imply that what morality is is just a matter of social
construction.


The underlying moral code may not be completely socially constructed, but if you believe that human beings are self-conscious, then certainly they must be. Leaving the deterministic question out, I am a self-conscious being which adopted my values consciously - no? At least the values overlaying the ones which you consider "universally human".

What if your conscience told you to murder someone for money? What if the human conscience developed like that? Both would fall into the same class: a powerful instinct in human beings telling them what is right and wrong. Yet you wouldn't consider both to be moral.

Also, I should add that I reject your major pr

Humans who did not see colours
died out because of eating bad fruit, while humans who did see colours prospered and reproduced, passing on the trait. So, the genesis of seeing colour is evolutionary advantage, and the spread is through
reproduction. Does that story tell us anything about what colour is?


Yes! Lacking scientific investigation, what else can we know about color?

Your point is completely obscure now. That values "connect to the world" is exactly my idea: they're
in the world, there to be discovered! Just like tails


LOL. No, they're connected to the world through sentient beings creating them. If they are simply "a part of us", like tails, they don't even need to be discovered. They're a priori? (They are a part of us, btw - humans always have values.)

Again, though, that we are genetically disposed to detect values says nothing about whether the standards are constructed by genetics or whether they are simply
found through a genetically-based capacity.


I don't know about conflating values and morals(right and wrong, I mean). Is that a good practice? Are all values necessarily right or wrong?

cannot explain common standards. The common standards are normative claims. They have to be explained by
something else, something that is already normative.


Lost me again.

Social creation is not a normative process, by definition.

Don't see that one, either. Social creation seems to me the definition of normative claiming.

That's the essence of "arbitrary". The idea of "genuine" loses all significance if everything has it equally.

No. Look at it again. What's genuine for one person is not necessarily genuine for another. Genuine is personal. People are different, therefore they will have different yet genuine moral conclusions. He's not saying another person's morality would be genuine for him by any means.

We also have to consider the possibility that

the sociopath is someone who just doesn't care to make moral judgements, just as someone might not

care to make scientific judgements, say about the explanatory power of evolutionary theory.


So why is that person not a sociopath?

Look at history. Look at how the Greeks and Romans treated the slaves. Look at how the Middle Ages treated the serfs. Look at how we treated slaves. Look at the genocides and massacres across the world. Look at Nazi Germany. These people may not have been sociopaths, but they did not adhere to your morality.

Whatever you want to call a sociopath, people who don't adhere to normal morality exist, and I doubt they felt all that guilty about it. Your universal moral values premise is very weak.

Do what is right out of respect for the moral law.

A little, yeah. But why should I do what people tell me to do? That's appeal to the majority. And that's what you try to do: label certain things as moral and others as immoral based on your own beliefs and the beliefs of the mainstream. What is this moral law? Who made the law?

At a certain point, though, obligation gives out completely, and, while I may continue to help in order to be a good or splendid person, I (morally) can stop and simply be a minimally decent person.

That point would depend upon your means, I suppose? Basically your moral compass simply describes a mainstream liberal, and that is its foundation: what society and your instincts have told you to do.

Why does every society on record condemn incest, value charity, etc.

Why not? Incest makes deformed babies and charity funnels money from the rich (those who can afford it) to the poor. This lowers violence and starvation - less of a burden on the state. There are prudent reasons. I'm not sure why you say these have no explanatory relevance.

You've committed the genetic fallacy in claiming that the origin of value-judgements

necessarily has consequences for the nature of value-judgements. You've also, oddly, ommitted the

reference to circumstances that appeared in (2).


I should have said 'relative to the standard'. But yeah, I've committed the "genetic fallacy" all over the place, mostly to point out the possibility of error rather than to show the error itself. Morality precedes from an anthropocentric presupposition - my argument is that that presupposition may not be right. (I don't believe that.) Or, even if we believe in an anthropocentric set of values, our current ones may not be the most effective and rational. (Valuing ice-cream, movies, and relatives over feeding the poor and cleaning up the environment? Or accepting that idiots have a right to life? It's nice to be anonymous.)

Isn't that something you claim is objectively correct? Or are you willing to go as far as to say that
someone who did not value freedom -- Hitler, say, or Stalin (pick your favourite dictator, really) --
would have a moral code just as good as yours?


All I'm saying when I say I'm a relativist is that values are individual feelings, nothing more, and highly influenced by society. Thus, they are not objectively true - they are simply opinions. That doesn't mean I think other people's values are just as good as mine. Just that they're both not "true" in the general sense of the word.

This is just about what subjectivism means.

Give me another word, then? I don't know. :p

If I use an obscure, even Latin, word or phrase it's because I'm trying to nail down a very specific meaning, and ordinary English just ain't up to the job.

And using tu quoque, inter alia (when the Latin meaning is different from your meaning), and prima facie gets that specific meaning across? I have my doubts. Tu quoque could be said with one word: hypocrite. Hypocritical, perhaps. Inter alia: all things considered (rather than its Latin meaning, among other things). Prima facie: ostensibly? On the surface of things?

We also judge it by whether it's right. :P

Based on an instinctual standard and nothing else. :p Yeah, genetic fallacy blah blah blah.

Most moral codes are a hodge-podge: there's some moral stuff, but also some stuff that's just good advice, and some pieces are nothing more than dogma.

But then, what is the root of your morality? Human welfare? Why do you consider incest immoral?

It seems to me to be the other way around: moral concerns, at least partially, determine what is practical. That is, the fact that something is wrong is taken to be a pragmatic reason against doing it.

Examples? Incest? Even incest has a practical reason behind it. I can think of no moral (besides dogmatic ones, and even those have practical reasons) that doesn't have practical reason behind it.

The claim that something is true because it brings good looks circular to me.

Your claim that something is wrong because it's wrong (or because our conscience says so) seems somewhat circular to me.

The claim that something is true because it brings good looks circular to me. How can we say it is true that something brings good? Well, "true" means "brings good". So, it is true that something brings good when something bringing good itself brings good. But when is that true? We've got a regress on our hands.

It's a standard pragmatic claim, and it means more that we call something true for the good it brings - right? The last bit I don't understand. Philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

How is it an interesting point, though? It's just be definitional fiat. Values also can't have the property of being inductively strong, nor can they have the property of being blue.

Yet you consistently try to apply to them the property of being right or wrong.

Fine. But then the personal standard has to stand, come what may. You can't sweep that one away. If you can, then on what basis do you do so? Either some objective standard that has been covertly imported into the picture; or some other, more fundamental, personal standard; or on the basis of nothing, i.e., the choice is ultimately arbitrary.

Certainly. You notice that Sartre lived a live devoted to acting in the world? It was not an arbitrary choice - it was a personal, genuine, moral choice. It wasn't on the basis of nothing. Heh.

Jawohl. See what I mean about using jargon even if you're not aware of it? It's a borrowing from epistemology.

I did look it up in the dictionary (and Wikipedia) before saying that and it said nothing about truth-claims. It has more to do with the mental processing of information.



Two points. Why can't one define the values as the empirical effects, i.e., perform a reduction? And, why not extend relativism to perceptible things? What makes them different from values?


How would the reduction work? We could extend relativism to perceptible things, but they've been so consistent thus far in my life that I don't think it would be productive. Morals, on the other hand, have no consistent standard (at least not for me). I feel more guilty about the Brazilian rainforests being destroyed than the Africans dying, and I want to help them only to save their environment.

There's no such thing as a non-cognitive disagreement. There can be a fight, but not a disagreement.

Semantics.

As soon as you go non-cognitive, you've done away with the apparatus of reasons.

OK, then we're not going non-cognitive. Instead we're arguing over standards and values with two things in mind: 1) Why I like my belief more and 2) Why you should adopt my belief. At the same time I'm willing to admit that my belief isn't intrinsically "right" - it's just what I believe works best.

Reasons for a claim are reasons for its truth; reasons against it are reasons for its falsity.

Values are neither false nor true. Reasons for values are reasons for adopting it as a belief; reasons against values are reasons for not adopting it. It's actually very simple.

So, if my standards say it's morally permissible to bludgeon babies to death, and I bludgeon a baby to death, a relativist has to say that this action was morally permissible. A liberal, by contrast, can say that the action was not permissible, because the standards were defective: for one thing, I failed to take the baby's right to liberty into account, as I imposed my conception of the good life (lots of bludgeoned babies) onto the baby.

I would step away from your dichotomy and say that I don't agree with the bludgeoner's belief (unless, of course, the baby was severely retarded - the money spent on him would be better spent on poor African children) and would fight his right to do that under the law. But I wouldn't say his belief is intrinsically wrong - I just don't agree with it and don't believe it's practical in our society.

ADHR said...

Practical implications are empirically observable and traceable, in principle, and are thus (prima facie) paradigms of objectivity.

Prima facie does not help me to understand you. (Obvious) example/model of objectivity says the same thing, I presume? You say it's objective (or a standard for judging something objectively?), but it's not. It's a subjective assessment based on a subjective standard.


Prima facie = at first glance or on the face of it.

Let's back up a step here. Here's my understanding of your argument:

(1) Practical effects are subjective.
(2) Values are judged based on their practical effects.
(3) Therefore, values are subjective.

The logic isn't great here, since that values are judged based on x doesn't imply that all the properties of x transfer to values. But, put that aside, and focus on (1) for a minute. Saying that practical effects are subjective means that there is no truth or falsity to whether something has a particular practical effect. It is, to coin a phrase, "just a matter of opinion".

If that's not your view, then you accept that practical effects are objective. So then the subjectivity has to emerge from the process of judging. That is, in judging a practical effect I somehow strip away the cognitivity, and what results is not a bearer of truth-value. I'm not sure why you would think that; so, if you do think that, can you explain?

Right. And I continue to reply: it's not arbitrary, it's personal. True, one might call the difference semantic, but the former implies that it's made on a whim. It's not. It's made with the whole person judging what he truly feels is right. It's a rejection of the social values. That's all. What morals ultimately come down to is "what we believe is right". Under existentialism that doesn't change - but it's a personal decision.

Well, that's not arbitrary, that's emotive. If the appeal is to "what I feel", then that's a non-relative standard, in one important sense of "relative": namely, that everyone decides on the basis of that same standard. (It is, of course, relative in another sense, namely that what is felt will differ from person to person. But this is a non-troubling sense of "relative"; the same sense in which we can say the meaning of the sentence "it is now raining here" is relative.)

Which is why mainstream philosophy refuses to admit that it's true, I would guess - even though it is so obviously true. Your anthropocentric values are not necessarily the most moral.

That's a different question. You have to keep the two distinct: (1) is there a right answer? (2) is this the right answer? It's entirely possible that there is a right answer, but we'll never know what it is. (Sucks to be us!) But you sort of missed the point: is there a final court of appeal? Or is it really "anything goes"; in principle, anything could be moral? (So, say, Nazi ethics wasn't bad or wrong, just different.)

Force? No. The mainstream forces other people to adhere to its views by calling outlying values 'immoral'. We can still argue, we can still debate standards and act based on them. We're simply no longer restricted to the standard anthropocentric values (which come in utilitarian and deontological forms). Even when we do adopt anthropocentric values, we are not restricted to our conscience (or rather, your conscience - the conscience of the mainstream).

All it means is that you recognize that you don't have a monopoly on truth; when it comes to values, no one does. We base our values on something other than truth. We base it on emotion - ultimately, we do what feels right, and people can come up with different notions of what feels right for them.


See, now, the first paragraph there sounds reasonable. And it's really more to do with question #2: what is the right answer? It's the second paragraph I have a problem of; you're skipping a lot of argument when you move from "look, we may not have the right answer, and we have to be open to other possibilities" to "it's all a matter of emotion and there's no truth to it at all".

No. You can be a relativist and a liberal. All relativists have values, after all. They assert that these values are "right" - but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are.

Different sense of liberal. You mean "liberal" in the US political sense, I think. I mean "liberal" in the classic sense of one who values personal liberty. That is inconsistent with relativism, for that kind of liberalism asserts a universal value (i.e., liberty).

What do you say to people who say that the environment has value regardless of whether it is around for humans to enjoy? It's called an eco-centric morality. What about if only monkeys are around to view that environment? Or cats (since you say that cats have moral value)? What do you say to the idea that sacrificing people to save the environment is ok? Would you sacrifice people to save the last tree?

My point is that when we construct values, we're stating what humans should do, especially ourselves. Are you saying that we must necessarily follow our conscience because it tells us the right thing to do?


Couple of points. I think ecocentric moralities are nonsense; values without humans (or relevantly human-like creatures, i.e., moral agents) don't exist. You need humans to have values.

However, that doesn't mean that humans are supremely valuable, nor that human life cannot be traded off against other values. Again, this is a different kind of question, more like question #2, about what the right moral code should look like.

Furthermore, what we should do and what is valuable are different kinds of question. It doesn't follow straight from the fact that something is valuable that I ought to do it. Indeed, if something like liberty is the really valuable thing, then such a claim would be almost incoherent: I should encourage or sustain liberty, even though I may not want to? But then I would not be truly at liberty! So, the connection between the evaluative and the deontic depends on other views.

I'm willing to accept science (with a margin of doubt) because it's useful, as I said. Your statement on whether God exists or not is not useful unless it is certain (or at least more certain).

So, you have different criteria for whether something counts as knowledge? How can you justify that?

So you stick with the idea that incest is wrong. Under what grounds, other than the fact that our instinct tells us? Why shouldn't a brother and sister who love each other be able to marry? Some biologists even say that natural selection would work better if incest was allowed.(Obviously I agree that incest with children is bad - no need to argue that.)

Just as said: the instinctive and universal reaction points to a real value, as nothing else adequately explains the reaction. As said, though, the value and the norm are different: even though incest is morally bad, it may not be morally wrong. To bridge the gap, I think we start having to do some psychology and figure out how values, generally, get worked up into reasons for action.

The explanatory relevance is at best derivative, which is the point I was making. Take the three factors (genetic, social, real fact) and run each one on its own and see if an explanation pops out. The first two fail: they cannot explain if there is no real moral fact.

You really lose me here. Why run them on their own? How can they be separated? That's not clear.


The point of running them on their own is to see what each contributes to the explanation. The seperation, as I previously said, is conceptual: I don't need to understand or do anything regarding genetics in order to evaluate a hypothesis about something social. So, the genetic and the social are conceptually seperable orders or categories.

The third can do it. Thus, the third is the really explanatory relevant factor; the other two gain their explanatory relevance because of connections to the third.

It can? How?


I didn't already explain that? The same way the real fact about the existence of a mountain explains the universal belief that there is a mountain. Real fact is perceived, enters the perceiver's psychology, gets worked up into a psychological state, is realized in action. This is a familiar perceptual story; I'm just extending it into morality.

I say that perceptual judgements and moral judgements are on all fours with each other: both are made by humans about (Kantian) phenomena.

Ah, right. Here you like to be specific and certain. Since you say that, we can never truly know if either reality of values exist, right?


Sure. But it may still be incoherent to think or believe that they don't. (This is Kant's move.)

Strictly, I'm not comfortable with the noumena/phenomena distinction. I think it's basically right, but I think there's also a class of noumena we can at least infer exist. I'm not sure how to delineate that class, though.

We assume that a reality exists under the hood of our perceptions because they are fairly consistent. But we don't assume, at least today, that what our perceptions show us is the full truth. It's just part of the picture.

Similar to the way our sense organs give us an idea of noumena(they do give us at least an idea, no?), so our conscience gives us an idea of the true values - is that essentially your agument?


Pretty much, yep.

I don't buy it. Note that you have no other reason to trust your conscience than that it exists. On the other hand, it may be that all our actions, good or evil, are guided by a conscience - which is really just an overriding sense of duty. Perhaps Hitler was guided by his conscience.

I doubt Hitler had a conscience. That boy was really screwed up.

In any event, what other reason could there be, in principle?

Point taken. Perceptual standards are fluid, but they are consistent. There's a plethora of differing moral beliefs. Did I tell you that I had a friend in high-school who wanted to kill everyone on the planet to save the environment?

I would doubt your friend's sincerity (which we could test by giving him/her a cache of weapons and a running start and see what happens).

Although there may be a greater range of moral beliefs than perceptual ones (and I'm not sure that's actually true, but I'll accept it for now), what is supposed to follow from that? Morality is arguably even more important for humans than perception, so the range of different beliefs simply points to our greater interest in (wait for it) getting it right.

But this is an assertion and entirely non-obvious. That's the root of the problem. You're assuming that values are just created by conscious decision, but you're not arguing the point. In essence, you're proposing a competing model rather than giving a counter-argument.

Did I give you a counter-argument above? I don't see how to construct a counter-argument, and I'm not sure which argument I should counter. Also, why is a competing model not an argument, especially if it's a model which better explains the thing in question?


That would be using a model in an argument; the claim of greater explanatory power makes it an argument. But you haven't substantiated that!

The genesis of anything and its spread are not arguments necessarily relevant to its nature.

So you say, but again, you don't show. I can't see how tailed things are not relevant to the nature of a tail. Sorry. Not obvious to this idiot. :p


Well, let me back up a step and ask you if we could theorize about tails even if there were no tailed things? "It's sort of like a tentacle, but comes off the end of the spine." Doesn't that work? (Indeed, I should point out that fiction is a wonderful resource for discourses about things that don't exist, whose natures are nonetheless very well-described.)

The underlying moral code may not be completely socially constructed, but if you believe that human beings are self-conscious, then certainly they must be. Leaving the deterministic question out, I am a self-conscious being which adopted my values consciously - no? At least the values overlaying the ones which you consider "universally human".

What if your conscience told you to murder someone for money? What if the human conscience developed like that? Both would fall into the same class: a powerful instinct in human beings telling them what is right and wrong. Yet you wouldn't consider both to be moral.

Also, I should add that I reject your major pr


As you admit, though, this is a different idea of "morality". Now we're not talking about morality in the universal sense, but "morality" in a more personal, socialized, context-sensitive sense. (This is sometimes, but not usually in philosophy, referred to as the difference between morality and ethics.) So, yes, the real morality has to get worked up somehow into a set of rules and practices. Law is a good example of a very codified version of this process. But, so what? You can't kick the chair out from under the process and deny that there's any real morality at bottom without it becoming something of a mystery why the code emerged in the form it did.

Humans who did not see colours died out because of eating bad fruit, while humans who did see colours prospered and reproduced, passing on the trait. So, the genesis of seeing colour is evolutionary advantage, and the spread is through reproduction. Does that story tell us anything about what colour is?

Yes! Lacking scientific investigation, what else can we know about color?


That tells us what colour is? Okay. What is it?

Your point is completely obscure now. That values "connect to the world" is exactly my idea: they're in the world, there to be discovered! Just like tails

LOL. No, they're connected to the world through sentient beings creating them. If they are simply "a part of us", like tails, they don't even need to be discovered. They're a priori? (They are a part of us, btw - humans always have values.)


See, the part that you consider a "part of us" I'd call reasons, not values.

Social creation is not a normative process, by definition.

Don't see that one, either. Social creation seems to me the definition of normative claiming.


Whether or not something is socially created is a fact, not a value or an ought statement. Whether or not particular peoples have adopted particular practices is, again, purely descriptive. That's what I mean by social creation not being a normative process. You could, in principle, forget about anything other than what you see and perfectly accurately describe a process of social creation of anything. When we start saying, though, that something is valued, we move to a different order of claim.

That's the essence of "arbitrary". The idea of "genuine" loses all significance if everything has it equally.

No. Look at it again. What's genuine for one person is not necessarily genuine for another. Genuine is personal. People are different, therefore they will have different yet genuine moral conclusions. He's not saying another person's morality would be genuine for him by any means.


Agent-relativity isn't the problem, though; I accept that as a possibility. The problem is the claim that everything is equally genuine. It's one thing to say that the "genuine" is individually instantiated somehow. That leaves open the possibility that any given case of instantiation goes wrong, and the individual ends up with something less (or more) genuine than some other individual. The problem is that, no matter how you instantiate it, everything gets to be just as genuine as everything else. We're not distinguishing anything by using the word "genuine".

We also have to consider the possibility that the sociopath is someone who just doesn't care to make moral judgements, just as someone might not care to make scientific judgements, say about the explanatory power of evolutionary theory.

So why is that person not a sociopath?


I'm not saying he isn't a sociopath, I'm just saying that the reason he's a sociopath is that he has no moral interest at all. In other words, he's psychologically malformed in some way. For your point to work, you need a sociopath who genuinely believes the horrible things he's doing are okay.

Look at history. Look at how the Greeks and Romans treated the slaves. Look at how the Middle Ages treated the serfs. Look at how we treated slaves. Look at the genocides and massacres across the world. Look at Nazi Germany. These people may not have been sociopaths, but they did not adhere to your morality.

Whatever you want to call a sociopath, people who don't adhere to normal morality exist, and I doubt they felt all that guilty about it. Your universal moral values premise is very weak.


Didn't they? You're presuming that they had all the same other beliefs as well. The Greeks and Romans may have believed that slaves were less human, and the same could apply to medieval serfs. The same can also apply to genocides and massacres, and particularly to Nazi Germany. Hitler was explicit about the idea that only the "Aryan" race was truly human, and those who didn't "fit" were to be exterminated. We can say that Hitler et al were morally wrong by virtue of the moral consequences of this non-moral mistake, but it doesn't follow that Hitler didn't share our values.

The treatment of slaves in Canada and the US is a different problem. In that case, you have many genuine cases of immorality: people who knew they were doing something wrong (i.e., didn't believe sincerely that slaves were non-human), but did it anyway. But, so what? To be immoral requires accepting the basic framework of morality, and choosing to do the wrong things instead of the right ones.

This is why what we call a sociopath really does matter. I can easily accommodate anything but a genuine case of a normal person who has a very different, yet non-erroneous, conception of morality.

A little, yeah. But why should I do what people tell me to do? That's appeal to the majority. And that's what you try to do: label certain things as moral and others as immoral based on your own beliefs and the beliefs of the mainstream. What is this moral law? Who made the law?

You can make this same point about scientific laws. Who made them? What are they? You just label certain things as "genetic" and "non-genetic" based on your own beliefs and the beliefs of the mainstream. Point being, none of this amounts to anything other than a general skeptical strategy. It undercuts everything.

At a certain point, though, obligation gives out completely, and, while I may continue to help in order to be a good or splendid person, I (morally) can stop and simply be a minimally decent person.

That point would depend upon your means, I suppose? Basically your moral compass simply describes a mainstream liberal, and that is its foundation: what society and your instincts have told you to do.


Not necessarily upon means. More upon distance (in terms of relationship) between oneself and other people. I can give clear paradigms (obligated to my wife; not obligated to random stranger living three hundred years ago), but the line is fuzzy.

I'm hardly a "mainstream liberal". The idea that instincts tell me to do something is exactly my point, though. The foundation of the instincts is real value -- that's the bit you don't want to accept.

Why not? Incest makes deformed babies and charity funnels money from the rich (those who can afford it) to the poor. This lowers violence and starvation - less of a burden on the state. There are prudent reasons. I'm not sure why you say these have no explanatory relevance.

Those reasons don't necessarily favour those practices. We can eliminate deformed babies by increasing infant mortality -- we lose non-deformed babies, too, but that will also serve to reduce starvation and poverty. Less people means more resources to go around. We can also lower violence and starvation by workhouses and prisons. Once we get enough people in there, the violence and starvation are no longer a broad social problem, particularly if the prisons and workhouses are brutal enough.

Morality precedes from an anthropocentric presupposition - my argument is that that presupposition may not be right. (I don't believe that.) Or, even if we believe in an anthropocentric set of values, our current ones may not be the most effective and rational. (Valuing ice-cream, movies, and relatives over feeding the poor and cleaning up the environment? Or accepting that idiots have a right to life? It's nice to be anonymous.)

Again, this is a question #2 issue.

All I'm saying when I say I'm a relativist is that values are individual feelings, nothing more, and highly influenced by society. Thus, they are not objectively true - they are simply opinions. That doesn't mean I think other people's values are just as good as mine. Just that they're both not "true" in the general sense of the word.

So, what's the basis for saying that your values are better?

And using tu quoque, inter alia (when the Latin meaning is different from your meaning), and prima facie gets that specific meaning across? I have my doubts. Tu quoque could be said with one word: hypocrite. Hypocritical, perhaps. Inter alia: all things considered (rather than its Latin meaning, among other things). Prima facie: ostensibly? On the surface of things?

Well, notice that the definition of inter alia uses three English words, and prima facie requires probably four (on the face of it) or three (at first glance). Ostensibly means something different, incidentally, as it implies that the appearance is deceptive. The same applies for defining tu quoque as hypocrisy. There's a shade of condemnation to the word "hypocrisy" that doesn't exist for tu quoque. Tu quoque is pointing to an inconsistency; it can be resolved just be admitting that the point kicks back on one's own position as well. A hypocrite, however, is someone who is refusing or unwilling to admit this.

But then, what is the root of your morality? Human welfare? Why do you consider incest immoral?

Whatever is explanatorily relevant for actual human moral codes. This may be human welfare, butit probably isn't.

Examples? Incest? Even incest has a practical reason behind it. I can think of no moral (besides dogmatic ones, and even those have practical reasons) that doesn't have practical reason behind it.

The practical reason against incest is heavily context-dependent. In times of high infant mortality, one would expect the practical reason against incest to become unnoticeable. That is, the survival rate of infants is bad enough that the increase in mortality risk to incestuous offspring is simply overwhelmed. Yet, even in those situations, it still isn't considered right or permissible.

The claim that something is true because it brings good looks circular to me.

Your claim that something is wrong because it's wrong (or because our conscience says so) seems somewhat circular to me.


Isn't that just your claim, though? Something is wrong because it feels wrong?

The claim that something is true because it brings good looks circular to me. How can we say it is true that something brings good? Well, "true" means "brings good". So, it is true that something brings good when something bringing good itself brings good. But when is that true? We've got a regress on our hands.

It's a standard pragmatic claim, and it means more that we call something true for the good it brings - right? The last bit I don't understand. Philosophical mumbo-jumbo.


That it's a standard pragmatic claim doesn't mean it's right! It's one of the many problems I have with pragmatism. Also, there is a difference between something being true and us calling it true. We may call things true because they bring good, and those things may actually be true. But they need not be.

Didn't you say something earlier about an infinite regress? Anyway, the problem is that whenever we try to spell out the truth-conditions for any given claim, we're always asking whether it brings good. But in order to establish whether it brings good, we need to answer whether it's true that it brings good. Which can only be answered by answering if it, in turn, brings good. And so on. We never get to an answer.

How is it an interesting point, though? It's just be definitional fiat. Values also can't have the property of being inductively strong, nor can they have the property of being blue.

Yet you consistently try to apply to them the property of being right or wrong.


I'm not sure about consistent. I don't think I've been terribly consistent here! Values can be real or unreal. Reasons can be right or wrong. That's my settled view.

Certainly. You notice that Sartre lived a live devoted to acting in the world? It was not an arbitrary choice - it was a personal, genuine, moral choice. It wasn't on the basis of nothing. Heh.

Which means there is a universal standard: do what feels right.

I did look it up in the dictionary (and Wikipedia) before saying that and it said nothing about truth-claims. It has more to do with the mental processing of information.

Did you use a philosophical dictionary? See here for an explanation of cognitivism in ethics.

How would the reduction work? We could extend relativism to perceptible things, but they've been so consistent thus far in my life that I don't think it would be productive. Morals, on the other hand, have no consistent standard (at least not for me). I feel more guilty about the Brazilian rainforests being destroyed than the Africans dying, and I want to help them only to save their environment.

The reduction works just as said: something is good = something has beneficial practical effects. In which case, values are real. (This is basically ethical naturalism.)

It may not be productive to extend relativism to perceptible things, but you do grant that your position doesn't give you much reason not to?

There's no such thing as a non-cognitive disagreement. There can be a fight, but not a disagreement.

Semantics.


No. Important distinction.

OK, then we're not going non-cognitive. Instead we're arguing over standards and values with two things in mind: 1) Why I like my belief more and 2) Why you should adopt my belief. At the same time I'm willing to admit that my belief isn't intrinsically "right" - it's just what I believe works best.

Hooray! No non-cognitivism!

Why should I adopt your belief if all my beliefs are the ones I like more?

Also, keep in mind the question #1 vs. question #2 distinction: my actual beliefs on anything could be dead wrong, but there could nonetheless be a right answer that I am (trying to) achieve.

Values are neither false nor true. Reasons for values are reasons for adopting it as a belief; reasons against values are reasons for not adopting it. It's actually very simple.

I agree. And I thought that's what I said. Or is there a difference between something being true and one having reason to believe it?

I would step away from your dichotomy and say that I don't agree with the bludgeoner's belief (unless, of course, the baby was severely retarded - the money spent on him would be better spent on poor African children) and would fight his right to do that under the law. But I wouldn't say his belief is intrinsically wrong - I just don't agree with it and don't believe it's practical in our society.

But it is a perfectly okay moral code, right? Just as a moral code, not worrying about law for a minute or if it will have detrimental practical effects. (I could rig the example to deal with the latter, in any event. Suppose the bludgeoner has super-powers and only bludgeons babies who were going to die in five minutes anyway. And it takes him exactly five minutes to bludgeon the baby to death. And the baby is anaesthetized first.)

undergroundman said...

Let's back up a step here. Here's my understanding of your argument:

(1) Practical effects are subjective.
(2) Values are judged based on their practical effects.
(3) Therefore, values are subjective.


Hmm. Sort of. If by (1) you mean that one person may judge some value and the effect it has as better than another person, then yes.

The logic isn't great here, since that values are judged based on x doesn't imply that all the properties of x transfer to values. But, put that aside, and focus on (1) for a minute. Saying that practical effects are subjective means that there is no truth or falsity to whether something has a particular practical effect. It is, to coin a phrase, "just a matter of opinion".

Assuming anthropomorphism, within limits. Even not assuming anthropomorphism there are limits. There are, after all, only so things to value and each has an ensuing effect. To go back to the real world: one person values knowledge (and calls it good) because it helps him do something. Another calls video-games good because it gives him pleasure. Oh, I think I see your confusion -- the practical effects are less subjective than the value that is placed on those practical effects. So (1) is not subjective, but (2) is.

If that's not your view, then you accept that practical effects are objective. So then the subjectivity has to emerge from the process of judging. That is, in judging a practical effect I somehow strip away the cognitivity, and what results is not a bearer of truth-value. I'm not sure why you would think that; so, if you do think that, can you explain?

What do you mean, the cognitivity? The value is normative; it's produced from a personal feeling. It doesn't exist in the real world - it exists in you. The real world doesn't have values in it. Incidentally, we may share common values because of our common genetic heritage and societal background, but that doesn't mean they exist in nature objectively.

Well, that's not arbitrary, that's emotive. If the appeal is to "what I feel", then that's a non-relative standard, in one important sense of "relative": namely, that everyone decides on the basis of that same standard.

A non-relative standard which produces relative values, sure. I can agree with that. And I maintain that feelings can be influenced by reasons.

But you sort of missed the point: is there a final court of appeal? Or is it really "anything goes"; in principle, anything could be moral? (So, say, Nazi ethics wasn't bad or wrong, just different.)

I feel that they were wrong. Does that mean they were 'really' wrong? Nah. The Nazis (notably Hitler) simply felt differently than I did. Each of us has our reasons (based on feelings about practical effects) for considering our views moral. I could tell the Nazis my reasons and they could tell me theirs. Then we could identify what we value differently (I value freedom and diversity, they value the perfect Aryan race -- diversity vrs purity. But neither are 'objective' human values.)

Couple of points. I think ecocentric moralities are nonsense; values without humans (or relevantly human-like creatures, i.e., moral agents) don't exist. You need humans to have values.

*chuckles* It seems like our anthropocentric values are increasingly becoming 'sentient-centric' -- perhaps in the future they will even become 'bio-centric'. I think that it's little ridiculous.

Indeed, if something like liberty is the really valuable thing, then such a claim would be almost incoherent: I should encourage or sustain liberty, even though I may not want to? But then I would not be truly at liberty!

Eh? If you don't want to sustain liberty, then you don't consider liberty valuable. The criterion for what is valuable is, after all, how you feel about it.

I'm willing to accept science (with a margin of doubt) because it's useful, as I said. Your statement on whether God exists or not is not useful unless it is certain (or at least more certain).

So, you have different criteria for whether something counts as knowledge? How can you justify that?


I'm not following. Your argument doesn't hold up to my standard of 'useful', because whether God exists or not doesn't matter to me.

Just as said: the instinctive and universal reaction points to a real value, as nothing else adequately explains the reaction. As said, though, the value and the norm are different: even though incest is morally bad, it may not be morally wrong.

Our common genetic and social heritage will ensure that most of us consider some of the same things bad, yes(that's what you mean by a real value?).

To bridge the gap, I think we start having to do some psychology and figure out how values, generally, get worked up into reasons for action.

I can tell you that they've all been worked up based on their practical effects (incest causes birth defects).

The point of running them on their own is to see what each contributes to the explanation.

They contribute plenty.

I didn't already explain that? The same way the real fact about the existence of a mountain explains the universal belief that there is a mountain. Real fact is perceived, enters the perceiver's psychology, gets worked up into a psychological state, is realized in action.

Again, I point out that incest (nor murder, nor any other moral command) is not universally considered wrong. So it's not a real value. It's a value strongly reinforced by our genetic and social circumstances.

In any event, what other reason could there be, in principle?

That what it leads you towards is valuable in its own right (moving towards a standard of value not based on feeling or on conscience but on practical effect -- this is Nietzsche's move).

Well, let me back up a step and ask you if we could theorize about tails even if there were no tailed things? "It's sort of like a tentacle, but comes off the end of the spine." Doesn't that work?

You're excluding a fair portion of its nature if you exclude why this concept of yours arose(even if it was an idea to make a point). Perhaps I like a different definition of nature (everything pertaining to the existence of a thing).

That tells us what colour is? Okay. What is it?

It tells us that color-sense is a faculty which helps us distinguish between different objects of sense-perception. I consider that relevant insight.

When we start saying, though, that something is valued, we move to a different order of claim.

Should be valued, you mean.

The problem is the claim that everything is equally genuine. It's one thing to say that the "genuine" is individually instantiated somehow. That leaves open the possibility that any given case of instantiation goes wrong, and the individual ends up with something less (or more) genuine than some other individual. The problem is that, no matter how you instantiate it, everything gets to be just as genuine as everything else.

Sure. They're all equally genuine, but that doesn't mean that the person has the right to act on their "genuine" values. That's decided by the majority through law (or, in historical societies, by the rulers).

You can make this same point about scientific laws. Who made them?

Only I can't change the scientific laws.

The practical reason against incest is heavily context-dependent. In times of high infant mortality, one would expect the practical reason against incest to become unnoticeable. That is, the survival rate of infants is bad enough that the increase in mortality risk to incestuous offspring is simply overwhelmed. Yet, even in those situations, it still isn't considered right or permissible.

Deformed children are not good regardless of whether they survive. Besides, traditions hold strong.

Isn't that just your claim, though? Something is wrong because it feels wrong?

That's the typical foundation for morality. One can (perhaps) move past that.


That it's a standard pragmatic claim doesn't mean it's right! It's one of the many problems I have with pragmatism. Also, there is a difference between something being true and us calling it true. We may call things true because they bring good, and those things may actually be true. But they need not be.


Now you're getting into a skeptical argument.

Didn't you say something earlier about an infinite regress? Anyway, the problem is that whenever we try to spell out the truth-conditions for any given claim, we're always asking whether it brings good.

No. I think pragmatism is a way through skepticism -- if something makes sense but it might not be true, then we accept it as true because it's useful. We don't ask it of everything. The reason we accept science, I would argue, is pragmatic.

The reduction works just as said: something is good = something has beneficial practical effects. In which case, values are real.

What is beneficial is subjective. :p

It may not be productive to extend relativism to perceptible things, but you do grant that your position doesn't give you much reason not to?

It's usually (always?) a result of defects in sense-perception faculties, so I'm not so worried about it.

Why should I adopt your belief if all my beliefs are the ones I like more?

You shouldn't. If my reasons don't convince you, then don't. But I'll try to convince other people, and when we have the majority, it won't really matter. In the meantime I will act according to my beliefs and you will act according to yours. If mine are better, it will likely show.

Or is there a difference between something being true and one having reason to believe it?

I'd rather use a more plain and strict definition of the truth. Something can be true regardless of whether you have reasons to believe it or not. Humans rarely have the truth.

ADHR said...

What do you mean, the cognitivity? The value is normative; it's produced from a personal feeling. It doesn't exist in the real world - it exists in you. The real world doesn't have values in it. Incidentally, we may share common values because of our common genetic heritage and societal background, but that doesn't mean they exist in nature objectively.

Sure. But the mere fact that values require feelings, and are in some sense "set up" by heritage and background, doesn't imply that they don't exist in nature objectively. You're presuming a lot here. It's at least not obvious that a real value wouldn't (1) produce feelings and (2) become institutionalized by heritage and background. You seem to want to say this is the whole story, but it's very unclear why -- there still looks to be a hole in the story.

Our common genetic and social heritage will ensure that most of us consider some of the same things bad, yes(that's what you mean by a real value?).

Not me, no. Some do, though. Peter Railton, David Brink, et al -- the so-called "Cornell Realists". Their idea is that moral properties supervene on natural properties -- that is, two worlds, w-1 and w-2, which are identical in natural properties will also be identical in moral properties. That would be a reductive definition.

I'd resist that move, though, on the grounds that there's a lingering is-ought problem. Why does something that's genetic or social result in normativity, i.e., the sense that certain behaviour is appropriate even if it is not actual?

Again, I point out that incest (nor murder, nor any other moral command) is not universally considered wrong. So it's not a real value. It's a value strongly reinforced by our genetic and social circumstances.

Now you're just denying the data. Follow the link to my academic webpage, and look under the "Papers" section for my MA Thesis. That discusses the data on the incest taboo.

Only I can't change the scientific laws.

Why not? And that doesn't imply no one made them, only that it wasn't you. ;)

Deformed children are not good regardless of whether they survive. Besides, traditions hold strong.

Agreed, but you missed the point. Let me try again. In circumstance A, the normal infant mortality rate is 1%. The infant mortality rate for incestuous offspring is 10%. The difference is so significant that we could explain an incest taboo on the basis of survival considerations: the taboo helps to continue the species by increasing the number of viable births. In circumstance B, however, the normal infant mortality rate is already 10%. (For incestuous offspring, it remains 10%.) So, there is no significant different in infant mortality between incestuous and non-incestuous unions. Thus, there should be no particular taboo about incest. There might also be a taboo floating around about deformed children, but that shouldn't apply just to incest: that should also apply to, say, cases of fetal alcohol syndrome.

So, in circumstance B, we would expect to not see an incest taboo particularly. The explaining feature that was cited in circumstance A is, ex hypothesi, eliminated in circumstance B. But, as a matter of fact, we do see incest taboos in cases like circumstance B. Why?

What is beneficial is subjective. :p

I think you have to mean "agent-relative". If it were subjective, then I couldn't be wrong (or right) about what is beneficial to me. But, of course, I can be.

It's usually (always?) a result of defects in sense-perception faculties, so I'm not so worried about it.

Why can't I run that argument back against the moral case? i.e., the only reason morality might look relativistic is because of defects in moral senses.

You shouldn't. If my reasons don't convince you, then don't. But I'll try to convince other people, and when we have the majority, it won't really matter. In the meantime I will act according to my beliefs and you will act according to yours. If mine are better, it will likely show.

Isn't that just an ad populum? How could being accepted by the majority be a measure of whether reasons are better, when morality is just subjective?

I'd rather use a more plain and strict definition of the truth. Something can be true regardless of whether you have reasons to believe it or not. Humans rarely have the truth.

I phrased that badly. The issue is whether having reason to believe something is sufficient for truth, not whether having reason to believe something is necessary for truth. What I'm saying is that reasons are the best truth-trackers we have. Hence, if we have reason to believe something, we have to (provisionally) accept it as true. It may turn out that we made a horrible mistake, but the revelation of the mistake is a reason in itself: a reason to think that something else is true.

So, it's possible that there are things we have no reason to believe, but are nonetheless true. Thus, there can be truths humans don't know.

However, if you want a "stricter" definition, you're going to have to say something like: there can be truths which humans can't know. Which is a dangerous line to follow, for it becomes a skeptical argument. How can we ever know that the things we think are true are actually true? Doesn't this line just cut us off from the truth entirely?