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What is Morality, Anyway?

MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
edited March 2008 in Debate and/or Discourse
Metaethics is a field distinct from ethics: instead of asking what particular actions are ethical, metaethics asks a variety of questions about the nature of ethics itself. For instance: what does it mean to call an action ethical? Does it express a preference of the speaker? Does it attempt to express an fact about the world? If ethical statements can be true, what makes them true? Are ethical statements almost all wrong? Is common practice hopelessly confused, or generally correct? Is it possible to discover ethical truths using human reason? Or do we have to rely on some other faculty, or even linger in absolute and permanent ignorance?

Those are just some of the questions metaethics addresses, and not presented in any particularly systematic way: an introduction to the concepts involved. On this forum, I've on many occasions been told that I'm simple or quasi-religious for holding a particular set of metaethical views. I find this peculiar, as they don't seem terribly simple or quasi-religious to me. Here's a basic statement of my point of view:

I) Ethical statements have truth values: they're expressions of fact rather than emotion. Saying "murder is wrong" is not the same as saying "Boo murder!", even if saying the first usually implies the the speaker feels the second.

II) Despite not being available to the scientific method, ethical truths are nevertheless accessible to human reason. Through reflection, it's at least possible for people to come to know ethical truths, even if there's no guarantee they will.

In this post I will actively speak to the common objections to this point of view: in a later post, I may offer more in the way of affirmative reasons that I think these are true. The main objections I see are that people think that ethical statements having truth values would imply supernatural conviction, and that there are no truths accessible to human reason despite being neither scientifically provable nor mathematically demonstrable.

I can't much speak to the former intuition: why would anything supernatural be required to render the statement "murder is wrong" true or false? The statement is true because of the naturalistic facts about murder, about bodies, about the mind, about human sensation, and so on. Those facts are sufficient to make it true: no facts are required about God, or magical morality powder. I see people argue that morality requires mysticism as if it were self-evident, however, I have yet to come across much in the way of detailed argument for it. I think that some of it's intuitive support comes from people who believe the claim that there are no truths accessible to human reason that aren't either scientifically or mathematically provable, and hence for that reason moral truths would need to be mystical in nature. So I shall deal with that point now.

I think the best way to address this claim is through counterexamples. Fortunately, as a Philosophy major, I have quite a few, since what we spend our time talking about is generally matters that are neither mathematically provable nor scientifically demonstrable, though they are presumably accessible to human reason (with the exception of formal logic, which is mathematical in nature). So I shall now list off a few debates in Philosophy that hopefully all meet the following criteria:

1) There is a correct answer to the debate.
2) The debate is meaningful--the correct answer isn't that the terms in question are meaningless.
3) The correct answer is neither mathematically nor scientifically provable.
4) There are good reasons to believe one way or the other, regardless.

You may not think that all of these examples qualify on every ground, but hopefully you'll agree that at least some do. So, without further ado, some extremely abridged discussions:

A) Scientific Realism

This is a debate in Philosophy of Science. Namely, the question is whether the instrumental success of our scientific theories gives us good epistemic grounds to suppose that they literally describe the world, or that they are approaching a truthful description of the world. While the commonsense answer is yes, the view has been challenged on several grounds. Usually people think that the theories of science are approaching truth more and more closely as they are refined: however, a famous philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, has questioned whether it's at all possible to think of revolutions in science, such the switch from relativity to Newtonian mechanics, as being 'refinements.' He points out that the referent of mass is different in the two theories--it means different things in each case, and so they are not even talking about the same stuff, and hence it's not the case that Newtonian mechanics are a special case of relativity where speeds are small, or are particularly easy to subsume under the latter. Describing what exactly one could mean by the theories of science becoming approximately more true, or how revolutions in science could be seen as refining on older theories is an ongoing project for would-be realists.

There are also challenges to the realist's ability to make any sense out of quantum physics.

That took a long time, and was kind of beside the point. Now with greater speed!

B) What Sorts of Things Can Think?

Does Commander Data really want to be a human, or are we just attributing sentiment to a cold, dead, box that occasionally talks and moves around? Which animals have mental lives? Is it possible for a colony of ants to have a 'hive mind,' a sentience over and above its individual members?

C) Skepticism About the External World / Skepticism About Induction / Skepticism about Memory

The matrix: are we in it? How should we take uncertainty on the subject to effect our actions? Is there uncertainty on the subject? How much? Is it even possible to take seriously the idea that one might be a brain in a vat?

Does A following B in regular succession give good reason to suppose A will continue to follow B in regular succession? Is there any non-circular argument supporting that conclusion?

Does having memory of an event give good reason to suppose that it happened? Is there any non-circular argument supporting that conclusion?

D) Kripke's Puzzle About Meaning

Philosopher Saul Kripke has presented some puzzles about our ordinary attributions of meaning to language speakers. The puzzle, if insoluble, would mean that our ordinary notions of meaning and belief are incoherent and hence false. Is he right?

E) Does Causality Exist?

Causality seems like a basic property of human experience, yet, the language of causality disappears from four-dimensional physics. If we take the real features of the universe to be those that are described in our most fundamental physics (scientific realism again), then does that mean that there is no such thing as causality? Is it just an illusion?

There have also been struggles with giving a non-circular characterization of what, exactly, it means to say that A caused B. Should that lead us to doubt that causality exists as an inherent property of the universe?

And so on. Again, hopefully it should be clear that at least some of these satisfy all of:

1) There is a correct answer to the debate.
2) The debate is meaningful--the correct answer isn't that the terms in question are meaningless.
3) The correct answer is neither mathematically nor scientifically provable.
4) There are good reasons to believe one way or the other, regardless.

If so, then it signifies that 3) doesn't exclude 1) and 4). Hence, the fact that 3) applies to morality doesn't exclude 1) and 4) from applying as well.

MrMister on
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Posts

  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Let me just say that I expect over the course of the next handful of posts to be schooled by Mr^2. I still think that Kant has most correctly summarized ethics: ethics is not the study of how things are, but how they should be. Ethics the study of rational structures of human intersubjectivity and normative actions. Ideally, Ethics teaches us how to act. Ethics is not a punitive study to show when someone was wrong, but a guiding force to show us how to conduct our actions.

    But I am a little confused. Do you want to speak of epistemology before you get to the actual ethical discussion?

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  • taliosfalcontaliosfalcon Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    I'm also bit confused by this... How does 3 not exclude 1 and 4? Just because you're saying it doesn't for the the sake of the arguments? I read through it all and it doesn't seem like any of them meet 1, 3 and 4. In fact by my way of thinking its impossible for any of them to meet all of those factors. If we're just assuming they do for the sake of discussion thats fine, or is part of the post that you're trying to assert they actually do?

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  • stiliststilist Registered User
    edited February 2008
    In general, I would define morality as the commonly-held opinions of what most benefits a social group; it may be counter-balanced by what is believed to most benefit an individual. Religion doesn’t have to be involved, as general society is typically held to be secular, though religion can obviously inform morality.

    This probably wasn’t what you’re looking for, but I’m not that good at philosophy.

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  • stiliststilist Registered User
    edited February 2008
    Podly wrote: »
    Let me just say that I expect over the course of the next handful of posts to be schooled by Mr^2. I still think that Kant has most correctly summarized ethics: ethics is not the study of how things are, but how they should be. Ethics the study of rational structures of human intersubjectivity and normative actions. Ideally, Ethics teaches us how to act. Ethics is not a punitive study to show when someone was wrong, but a guiding force to show us how to conduct our actions.

    But I am a little confused. Do you want to speak of epistemology before you get to the actual ethical discussion?
    If I might ask a stupid question, what would be the correct terminology for studying how things are?

    Also, you seem to be implying that morality is applied ethics?

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  • PodlyPodly good moleman to youRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    stilist wrote: »
    Podly wrote: »
    Let me just say that I expect over the course of the next handful of posts to be schooled by Mr^2. I still think that Kant has most correctly summarized ethics: ethics is not the study of how things are, but how they should be. Ethics the study of rational structures of human intersubjectivity and normative actions. Ideally, Ethics teaches us how to act. Ethics is not a punitive study to show when someone was wrong, but a guiding force to show us how to conduct our actions.

    But I am a little confused. Do you want to speak of epistemology before you get to the actual ethical discussion?
    If I might ask a stupid question, what would be the correct terminology for studying how things are?

    Also, you seem to be implying that morality is applied ethics?

    Morality is a funny word.

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  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    stilist wrote: »
    If I might ask a stupid question, what would be the correct terminology for studying how things are?

    Descriptive claims address how things are; normative claims address how things should be.
    Poldy wrote:
    Ideally, Ethics teaches us how to act. Ethics is not a punitive study to show when someone was wrong, but a guiding force to show us how to conduct our actions.

    I agree.
    Poldy wrote:
    But I am a little confused. Do you want to speak of epistemology before you get to the actual ethical discussion?

    I was talking almost entirely about epistemology and not at all about applied ethics, because posters here have questioned whether there can really be an applied ethics, on the basis of epistemology.
    I'm also bit confused by this... How does 3 not exclude 1 and 4? Just because you're saying it doesn't for the the sake of the arguments? I read through it all and it doesn't seem like any of them meet 1, 3 and 4. In fact by my way of thinking its impossible for any of them to meet all of those factors. If we're just assuming they do for the sake of discussion thats fine, or is part of the post that you're trying to assert they actually do?

    I thought it would be clear that some of the examples meet 1, 3, and 4 all together. But I can go through a couple to show how they do. Take skepticism about the external world, for instance.

    1) There is a correct answer--either we're in the matrix or we aren't.
    2) The debate is meaningful--the answer isn't that we're somehow using words wrong.
    3) It's not scientifically or mathematically decidable--there's no way to mathematically or scientifically demonstrate whether we're in the matrix.
    4) There are nonetheless good reasons to believe one way or the other--well, some people are skeptical about whether this is true, but regardless, most people think that despite 3) we have good reason to think we aren't in the matrix.

    If you think that 4) fails, then you can repeat the 1-4, but instead of the truth of whether we're in the matrix, you can consider whether it's rational to act as if we're in the matrix. It's either true or false that it's rational to act as if we're in the matrix, the question is meaningful, it's not answerable using math or science, but regardless there are still good reason to believe one way or the other.

    If you want, you could point out which criteria you think some of them fail.

    Edit:
    I think you need to rename some of your 1) 2) 3) as A) B) C) etc, because at the moment it's not at all clear to which one two or three you are referring at any point.

    Done

  • Not SarastroNot Sarastro __BANNED USERS regular
    edited February 2008
    I think you need to rename some of your 1) 2) 3) as A) B) C) etc, because at the moment it's not at all clear to which one two or three you are referring at any point.

    PS Having cleared that up, I also think that you are falling into the trap of saying some things aren't mathematically or scientifically proveable simply because we cannot do so at the moment. I'm not seeing many actual paradoxes (well, quantum mechanics from what I understand of it) such as - my example - the existence of infinity within mathematics. Even in the case of these paradoxes, I would argue that they simply demonstrate that we have gotten one or both sides of the paradox wrong.

    And I don't believe: since we cannot currently explain something via other means, that therefore we should try to explain it via morality, which seems to be your point?

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Maybe I'm going to take this thread too far afield into realism and away from metaphysics, but I think the answer to your question is rather simple: morality is a set of social rules that govern animal behavior. When morality is enforced by groups of animals, it is called "Law." Morality evolves as culture and society evolve.
    I) Ethical statements have truth values: they're expressions of fact rather than emotion. Saying "murder is wrong" is not the same as saying "Boo murder!", even if saying the first usually implies the the speaker feels the second.
    "Murder is wrong" is a tautology; the word "murder" means "unlawful killing" or "wrong killing."

    To wit: the oft-cited Biblical commandment is You shall not murder, not You shall not kill. There are plenty of kinds of killing that are allowed or even commanded in the Bible. Similarly, in all modern societies, certain kinds of killing are legal and sometimes encouraged (as in war or self-defense).

    Your example, therefore, is not a meaningful truth-value, as it's just a tautology.

    Are there meaningful truth values to ethical statements? For example, "incest is wrong" or "killing strangers unprovoked is wrong"? Well, I absolutely disagree that there is some objective, impartial arbiter of ethical right and wrong. We are that arbiter, and incest and stranger-killing are only as right or as wrong as human society collectively says. But this isn't to say that moral judgments are fleeting whims. Our societies and our morals have evolved—the process is not random, but directed by various cultural and physical realities. But we have to realize that moral truths are adaptative, not objective or universal.
    II) Despite not being available to the scientific method, ethical truths are nevertheless accessible to human reason. Through reflection, it's at least possible for people to come to know ethical truths, even if there's no guarantee they will.
    Again, these truths are dependent on the society in which the human lives. Consider that certain moral questions did not even come up in pre-modern societies, because they lacked any vocabulary to even consider them. For example, how would a premodern Babylonian arrive at an ethical truth about whether or not it is okay to use stem cells to fight disease? Our Babylonian does not know what the fuck stem cells are and likely thinks diseases are caused by demons.

    Similarly, there are probably all sorts of moral questions that we—as humans living in 2008—are incapable of even asking because our society has not progressed to the point where we can glimpse them.

    And certainly, we've seen all kinds of moral truths change radically as society has changed—from the morality of slavery to the place of women. Did the abolitionists and suffrages all realize ethical truths that escaped the notice of their predecessors? Yes and no—in many cases, the economic and political structure of older societies prevented their predecessors from even realizing there was a moral question to ask in the first place.
    A) Scientific Realism
    As you can see, my ideas about the development and evolution of morality sound a lot like the development and evolution of science. Now, Thomas Kuhn is not going to help you here. While Kuhn did show that scientific progress is not as flawless as was once commonly thought, he did not show that science fails to progress. Paradigms still shift. Why do they shift? Because previous paradigms begin to fail at alargming rates.

    In fact, Kuhn's portrayal of scientific development is incredibly similar to the evolution of human culture (or even biological evolution). Paradigms, like cultures or biological body parts, are adaptations. As such, they are susceptible to better adaptations that absorb them or replace them. But like biological evolution and probably like cultural evolution, the process is not random—it is directed by natural selection. In science's case, the selector is experimental validity.

    I think morality should be viewed the same way. As our society grows and changes, morality adapts with it—and a morality that better adapts to human society is the morality that will be selected and culturally passed down.
    B) What Sorts of Things Can Think?

    Does Commander Data really want to be a human, or are we just attributing sentiment to a cold, dead, box that occasionally talks and moves around? Which animals have mental lives? Is it possible for a colony of ants to have a 'hive mind,' a sentience over and above its individual members?
    I don't think you need to go that far afield: chimpanzees have culture and rules that govern their behavior. It is just incredibly rudimentary compared to human culture (and thus human morality).

    I don't think ants have morals, since they don't have much in the way of learned behavior. Most insects function almost entirely on instinct. Morality only makes sense in the context of learned behavior.
    C) Skepticism About the External World / Skepticism About Induction / Skepticism about Memory
    Unanswerable questions. (Same with your D)
    E) Does Causality Exist?
    What difference does it make to our subjective existences? I don't see what the question has to do with morality. Even if every moment in our lives was preplotted on a universal template (which is what I believe), this would not matter at all to our subjective existences—which are incidentally the only existences we will ever have.

    Again, I think if we limit questions about morality to questions about learned behavior in animals, debates about morality make much more sense. :)

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    PS Having cleared that up, I also think that you are falling into the trap of saying some things aren't mathematically or scientifically proveable simply because we cannot do so at the moment. I'm not seeing many actual paradoxes (well, quantum mechanics from what I understand of it) such as - my example - the existence of infinity within mathematics. Even in the case of these paradoxes, I would argue that they simply demonstrate that we have gotten one or both sides of the paradox wrong.

    I'm not talking about paradoxes at all. I'm interested in knowing, however, what mathematical or scientific result you think could ever tell us whether we're in the matrix or not. Or what scientific result could tell us that science accurately portrays the world (realism), or what scientific result could ever confirm the scientific process itself (induction).
    And I don't believe: since we cannot currently explain something via other means, that therefore we should try to explain it via morality, which seems to be your point?

    You got my point wrong. I gave a laundry list of questions that are neither scientifically nor mathematically answerable, but are none the less significant and legitimate subjects of reasoning with objective answers. That demonstrates that such questions exist. Hence, the fact that morality isn't scientifically or mathematically answerable doesn't demonstrate that it isn't a significant and legitimate subject of reasoning with objective answers.

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    Are there meaningful truth values to ethical statements? For example, "incest is wrong" or "killing strangers unprovoked is wrong"? Well, I absolutely disagree that there is some objective, impartial arbiter of ethical right and wrong.

    There need be no God for morality--and if there were one, it wouldn't matter. All a God could possible do is offer rewards and punishments: he could no more make actions just or unjust than an especially domineering parent could. I don't know why you think it's necessary that there be some impartial arbiter: unless, of course, you're put off by our lack of epistemic access to moral truths. In which case, I would refer you to my list of example of questions where we lack scientific access, but can (and must) nonetheless reason on the issues.
    And certainly, we've seen all kinds of moral truths change radically as society has changed—from the morality of slavery to the place of women. Did the abolitionists and suffrages all realize ethical truths that escaped the notice of their predecessors? Yes and no—in many cases, the economic and political structure of older societies prevented their predecessors from even realizing there was a moral question to ask in the first place.

    The answer is solidly yes: abolitionists were right about a matter of fact. The fact that previous economic and social structures had kept their predecessors from realizing slavery was wrong does not, in fact, mean that slavery wasn't wrong. Similarly, the fact that Babylonians were ill-equipped to understand the debate over stem cell research doesn't mean that there isn't a determinant answer.

    We may not blame prehistoric slave-owners as much as we blame modern slave-owners for their transgressions, due to mitigating factors and so on, however, that doesn't mean that slavery was right. We often don't blame people for their wrong actions due to mitigating factors, but again, that doesn't mean that those actions are then good. It just means we're less willing to hold the actors responsible.
    I think morality should be viewed the same way. As our society grows and changes, morality adapts with it—and a morality that better adapts to human society is the morality that will be selected and culturally passed down.

    I have a question for you, then: when I am making a decision, why should I ever care about the moral value of that decision? If morality is nothing more than evolving social consensus, why should I feel any compulsion to follow it? Sure, there are practical reasons--a desire not to attract social censure, for instance. However, those reasons fail to account for the full scope of morality in our decision-making: for instance, I would normally think that my moral beliefs would be sufficient grounds for me to take actions that actively attract social censure (for instance, engaging in an interracial marriage), and that they would be sufficient grounds to prevent me from engaging in behavior that's socially sanctioned but which I find abhorrent (buying repossessed goods from an interned Japanese-American).

    How could your notion of morality ever motivate me to do those things? It seems that once I jump on the Qingu boat, I suddenly see through morality, realizing it's merely a social construct. Social constructs have no binding force. Something with no binding force cannot play the role of morality in our instrumental reasoning. So I don't think you're analyzing morality--I think you're eliminating it.
    B) What Sorts of Things Can Think?
    Does Commander Data really want to be a human, or are we just attributing sentiment to a cold, dead, box that occasionally talks and moves around? Which animals have mental lives? Is it possible for a colony of ants to have a 'hive mind,' a sentience over and above its individual members?
    I don't think you need to go that far afield: chimpanzees have culture and rules that govern their behavior. It is just incredibly rudimentary compared to human culture (and thus human morality).

    I don't think ants have morals, since they don't have much in the way of learned behavior. Most insects function almost entirely on instinct. Morality only makes sense in the context of learned behavior.

    The idea of the examples was not that they bore directly on moral issues--rather, that they typified questions that are neither mathematical nor scientific, but rather philosophical. Admitting the existence of that class of question opens the door to admitting morality is a legitimate question.

  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited February 2008
    I'd like to know more about Kripke's puzzle.

    I hope this counts as a useful contribution to the thread.

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  • Grid SystemGrid System Registered User
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    And certainly, we've seen all kinds of moral truths change radically as society has changed—from the morality of slavery to the place of women. Did the abolitionists and suffrages all realize ethical truths that escaped the notice of their predecessors? Yes and no—in many cases, the economic and political structure of older societies prevented their predecessors from even realizing there was a moral question to ask in the first place.
    We haven't seen moral truths change. We've seen beliefs change. Now, you may argue that morality is a case where beliefs about it determine the truths about it, but you haven't offered any reason to think that that is the case.

  • TarranonTarranon Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    MrMister wrote:
    The statement is true because of the naturalistic facts about murder, about bodies, about the mind, about human sensation, and so on

    Pardon, could you elaborate on this?

  • RocketSauceRocketSauce Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Isn't the burden of proof on the accuser (someone suggesting alternate realities), rather than on science to prove it?

    It's all well and good to say "whoa, what if we were in the matrix", but it's another thing to say, "science, proove we're not in the matrix". Having the idea of something, is not the same as having proof that that idea is in fact reality.

  • Grid SystemGrid System Registered User
    edited February 2008
    It's not a question of "accuser vs. science" though. Science is a tool that the accuser might want to use to show that we are in the matrix, except that it's impossible to do that. It's also impossible for science to show that we're not in the matrix.

  • senor_xsenor_x Registered User
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    And certainly, we've seen all kinds of moral truths change radically as society has changed—from the morality of slavery to the place of women. Did the abolitionists and suffrages all realize ethical truths that escaped the notice of their predecessors? Yes and no—in many cases, the economic and political structure of older societies prevented their predecessors from even realizing there was a moral question to ask in the first place.
    We haven't seen moral truths change. We've seen beliefs change. Now, you may argue that morality is a case where beliefs about it determine the truths about it, but you haven't offered any reason to think that that is the case.

    A "moral truth"? Is this some sort of absolutism vs. relativism thing?

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    MrMister wrote: »
    There need be no God for morality--and if there were one, it wouldn't matter. All a God could possible do is offer rewards and punishments: he could no more make actions just or unjust than an especially domineering parent could. I don't know why you think it's necessary that there be some impartial arbiter: unless, of course, you're put off by our lack of epistemic access to moral truths. In which case, I would refer you to my list of example of questions where we lack scientific access, but can (and must) nonetheless reason on the issues.
    I didn't bring up God ... let me try to rephrase. If you think there are objective, universal moral truths, then how are these truths established? In other words, how do you tell if a certain moral stance is true or false?

    In mathematics and science, there are specific arbiters for truth—experimental validity for science, and adherence to assumed postulates for math (note: I am not a mathematician). The point here is that there is a framework for establishing truths in both of these spheres, and the framework is certainly not objective.
    The answer is solidly yes: abolitionists were right about a matter of fact. The fact that previous economic and social structures had kept their predecessors from realizing slavery was wrong does not, in fact, mean that slavery wasn't wrong. Similarly, the fact that Babylonians were ill-equipped to understand the debate over stem cell research doesn't mean that there isn't a determinant answer.
    I think your reasoning here is fundamentally backwards.

    You think that slavery is wrong in the same way that you think the earth revolves around the sun. I agree. But how do we know that the earth revolves around the sun? Why is this considered a "fact"? After all, it seems perfectly obvious that the sun revolves around the earth, and the only reason we know otherwise is through complex mathematical and physical experimentation.

    I submit to you that the reason heliocentrism is a "fact" is because the theoretical system of heliocentrism is better adapted than its geocentric predecessor. This is straight out of Kuhn, really. The "fact" of the sun's relationship to the earth changed as one theoretical system broke down and another rose to take its place. This "fact" is wholly dependent on our current theoretical system's ability to withstand empirical testing.

    Similarly, the "fact" that slavery is wrong is likewise wholly dependent on a cultural system. We know slavery is wrong because our anti-slavery culture is superior to pro-slavery cultures. And by "superior," I mean in a wholly darwinist sense—economies function better with free agents than with slaves; the North won the war. Thus, the moral "fact" about slavery is, like the scientific "fact" of heliocentrism, wholly dependent on its parent system's ability to withstand an evolutionary process.
    I have a question for you, then: when I am making a decision, why should I ever care about the moral value of that decision? If morality is nothing more than evolving social consensus, why should I feel any compulsion to follow it?
    Because you are part of society and very often an agent of that consensus? Morality is not a one-way street; it is not imposed top-down from a faceless The Man at the top of society. Rather, morality emerges; a society's constituent's inform and determine its morality, which is then passed down and enforced, and very often changed with succeeding generations based on the aggregate actions of individuals such as yourself.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    And certainly, we've seen all kinds of moral truths change radically as society has changed—from the morality of slavery to the place of women. Did the abolitionists and suffrages all realize ethical truths that escaped the notice of their predecessors? Yes and no—in many cases, the economic and political structure of older societies prevented their predecessors from even realizing there was a moral question to ask in the first place.
    We haven't seen moral truths change. We've seen beliefs change. Now, you may argue that morality is a case where beliefs about it determine the truths about it, but you haven't offered any reason to think that that is the case.
    See my above response. I don't think you can separate moral "truths" from their parent cultures, anymore than you can separate scientific "facts" from their supporting scientific theories.

    To wit: "The earth revolves around the sun" is not true regardless of whether or not heliocentrism is true. Its truth is dependent on heliocentrism's truth, and heliocentrism's truth comes from its adaptability under the selective pressure of empirical experiment.

  • Grid SystemGrid System Registered User
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    I submit to you that the reason heliocentrism is a "fact" is because the theoretical system of heliocentrism is better adapted than its geocentric predecessor. This is straight out of Kuhn, really. The "fact" of the sun's relationship to the earth changed as one theoretical system broke down and another rose to take its place. This "fact" is wholly dependent on our current theoretical system's ability to withstand empirical testing.
    This is incredibly strange.

    Sol's relationship to Earth never changed. If people got things wrong before, then they were just wrong, weren't they? Geocentric notions were never facts, because they failed to accurately describe the way things actually work.
    Similarly, the "fact" that slavery is wrong is likewise wholly dependent on a cultural system. We know slavery is wrong because our anti-slavery culture is superior to pro-slavery cultures. And by "superior," I mean in a wholly darwinist sense—economies function better with free agents than with slaves; the North won the war. Thus, the moral "fact" about slavery is, like the scientific "fact" of heliocentrism, wholly dependent on its parent system's ability to withstand an evolutionary process.
    What is it about "withstanding evolutionary processes" that makes the beliefs of a cultural system true?
    Qingu wrote: »
    I don't think you can separate moral "truths" from their parent cultures, anymore than you can separate scientific "facts" from their supporting scientific theories.
    Why not?
    To wit: "The earth revolves around the sun" is not true regardless of whether or not heliocentrism is true. Its truth is dependent on heliocentrism's truth, and heliocentrism's truth comes from its adaptability under the selective pressure of empirical experiment.
    What determines the degree to which a theory can adapt under the selective pressure of empirical experiment?

  • taliosfalcontaliosfalcon Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    I don't think you can separate moral "truths" from their parent cultures, anymore than you can separate scientific "facts" from their supporting scientific theories.
    Why not?
    Because "moral truths" are just learned behavioral patterns formed to help a society survive and grow, and different societies/cultures will need different morales to survive due to differing circumstances?

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  • Grid SystemGrid System Registered User
    edited February 2008
    How could persecution of women, for example, help a society survive and grow?

    Like, ever?

  • ScalfinScalfin __BANNED USERS regular
    edited February 2008
    Here is a little question that should be tough: why, given the effectiveness of condoms and contraceptives, is sex immoral? The only argument that I can think of remaining is the Christian concept that anything done for a purpose other than serving god is sinful (I believe this is St. Augustine, but I can't remember).

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Sol's relationship to Earth never changed. If people got things wrong before, then they were just wrong, weren't they? Geocentric notions were never facts, because they failed to accurately describe the way things actually work.
    Dude, this is metaphysics. What does wrong mean? What does fact mean?

    Geocentrism is wrong because it isn't true—okay. How do you determine when something is true and when it isn't? In science, the determinant, the arbiter of truth, is whether or not a theory can withstand empirical experiment. This is what "truth" means.
    What is it about "withstanding evolutionary processes" that makes the beliefs of a cultural system true?
    I'm not arguing that there is moral truth.
    Why not?
    This Socratic-style dialogue doesn't actually contribute to the discussion. You haven't really criticized or responded to anything I've said here.
    What determines the degree to which a theory can adapt under the selective pressure of empirical experiment?
    Mr.Mister brought up Kuhn, who dealt extensively with this subject. Basically, theories represent "paradigms" or ways of thinking. "Normal science" operates by assuming this paradigm is true and making repeated experiments under the paradigm. Eventually (possibly inevitably) experiments turn up anomolies. Normal scientists try to reconcile those anamolies into the prevailing paradigm.

    But when there are too many anomolies (see Ptolemaic epicycles, or problems with Newtonian space), people start suggesting new paradigms. Most new paradigms are crazy and are rejected outright. The few that seem to fit the experimental evidence must compete with the existing paradigm and win over new followers, and often need revisions themselves (see Copernicus, who also needed to use epicycles like Ptolemy and whose heliocentric paradigm wasn't reallly that elegent until he incorporated Kepler's ideas into it).

    At no point do scientists discover objective, impartial "facts." Those "facts" only make sense within the context of their respective paradigms. For example, take the fact that oxygen is responsible for combustion. Did someone "discover" this fact? No! Someone had to invent a framework theorizing what oxygen is before this fact can even be presented—beforehand, people thought that a substance called phlogisten was responsible for combustion. The oxygen-fact framework is in turn dependent on a whole paradigm of chemistry, which had not too long ago replaced the paradigm of alchemy and quasi-magical thinking.

    This isn't to say that scientific truths are meaningless, just relative. The same should be said for morality. There are no objective moral "truths"; instead, there are behaviors and cultures which are better adapted to prevailing reality and society—relative to competing behaviors and cultures.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Scalfin wrote: »
    Here is a little question that should be tough: why, given the effectiveness of condoms and contraceptives, is sex immoral? The only argument that I can think of remaining is the Christian concept that anything done for a purpose other than serving god is sinful (I believe this is St. Augustine, but I can't remember).
    Is anyone here arguing that sex is immoral?

  • saggiosaggio Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Sweet, Kripke. He's a cool guy.
    Poldy wrote:
    I still think that Kant has most correctly summarized ethics: ethics is not the study of how things are, but how they should be.

    Too bad the entirety of his ethical project was an attempt to defend conventional morality.
    Ethics is not a punitive study to show when someone was wrong, but a guiding force to show us how to conduct our actions.

    That doesn't seem consistent with Kant's project, either. Or really any modern ethical system save Virtue Ethics. Modern moral philosophy (leaving aside both Aristotle and Virtue ethics, of course) has been primarily concerned about equipping moral agents with a means to make value judgements on ethical matters. Now, obviously, there is a lot more going on in a number of different areas, but for any kind of ethical theory to be valid or viable, there must be a mechanism by which moral agents arrive at moral judgements. Kant obviously provides that with the Categorical Imperative and his test of universalisation, and various other theories provide a variety of means to achieve this.
    Qingu wrote:
    morality is a set of social rules that govern animal behavior.

    On what basis are these social rules created?

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  • Grid SystemGrid System Registered User
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    Dude, this is metaphysics. What does wrong mean? What does fact mean?
    I'll say that "wrong", in this context, means "not corresponding to facts" and "fact" means "an attribute of the universe existing independent of observation, understanding and interaction".
    Geocentrism is wrong because it isn't true—okay. How do you determine when something is true and when it isn't? In science, the determinant, the arbiter of truth, is whether or not a theory can withstand empirical experiment. This is what "truth" means.
    Correspondence theories of truth would disagree. Maybe your flavour of coherence-truth works better, but I haven't seen any major strengths that would make up for its considerable unintuitiveness.
    Mr.Mister brought up Kuhn, who dealt extensively with this subject. Basically, theories represent "paradigms" or ways of thinking. "Normal science" operates by assuming this paradigm is true and making repeated experiments under the paradigm. Eventually (possibly inevitably) experiments turn up anomolies. Normal scientists try to reconcile those anamolies into the prevailing paradigm.

    But when there are too many anomolies (see Ptolemaic epicycles, or problems with Newtonian space), people start suggesting new paradigms. Most new paradigms are crazy and are rejected outright. The few that seem to fit the experimental evidence must compete with the existing paradigm and win over new followers, and often need revisions themselves (see Copernicus, who also needed to use epicycles like Ptolemy and whose heliocentric paradigm wasn't reallly that elegent until he incorporated Kepler's ideas into it).
    So, basically, a theory works until it can't explain observed things in the world. Now, unless you have significant doubts as to the reliability of our perceptions, the things in the world we observe do, in some way, reflect the way the world actually is. If this is the case, then ultimately what matters is how closely a theory comes to actually describing the way things are.
    Qingu wrote: »
    How could persecution of women, for example, help a society survive and grow?

    Like, ever?
    This is not particularly hard to explain. First of all, there is a biological explanation: in most primate species females form harems around dominant males. Biologically speaking, the behavioral role of women has evolved to be subservient to men (unfortunately for women); women are physically weaker than men (on average), rarely hunt or fight for dominance.

    As you can imagine, there has always been intense competition among men for female sex partners, which often led to injury or death. Also, since women could not fight or hunt, they were sometimes a drain on resources. Some early human cultures developed rules to govern the women issue, which revolved around their development of economies.
    I'm not an expert in anthropology or anything, but from what I understand, the productive roles played by women in a lot of societies as gatherers outweighed the productive capacity of men as hunters.

    That's not the point though.

    It's not a question of societies managing while persecuting women. None of us would be here now if that weren't the case. But it's a lot harder - maybe even impossible - to show that those societies didn't survive despite their treatment of women instead of because of it. By the same token it's equally difficult to prove the opposite, but then I don't have to.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    saggio wrote: »
    On what basis are these social rules created?
    They emerge in aggregate as cultures evolve, just like economic rules. (Economic rules may be seen as a subset of moral rules). Early morals probably developed to govern or direct behaviors we inherited from our nonspeaking primate ancestors.

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    I didn't bring up God ... let me try to rephrase. If you think there are objective, universal moral truths, then how are these truths established? In other words, how do you tell if a certain moral stance is true or false?

    Rational reflection. It doesn't always work, but it doesn't never work either.
    Similarly, the "fact" that slavery is wrong is likewise wholly dependent on a cultural system. We know slavery is wrong because our anti-slavery culture is superior to pro-slavery cultures. And by "superior," I mean in a wholly darwinist sense—economies function better with free agents than with slaves; the North won the war. Thus, the moral "fact" about slavery is, like the scientific "fact" of heliocentrism, wholly dependent on its parent system's ability to withstand an evolutionary process.

    So, in economic situations conducive to slavery, slavery is right? Child soldiers and scorched earth could be wonderful tools for societies to maintain competitive advantage: are those things right? Is the fact that slavery is now wrong because it's ineffective? I think any halfway decent person would acknowledge that even if slavery gave our society a comparative advantage, it would still be wrong.
    I have a question for you, then: when I am making a decision, why should I ever care about the moral value of that decision? If morality is nothing more than evolving social consensus, why should I feel any compulsion to follow it?
    Because you are part of society and very often an agent of that consensus?

    Why should I even care to make an input into that consensus? Why should I care what social consensus we adopt? What is my motivation, as an agent, to propagate any particular set of values through society?

    My explanation is simple: I want to spread certain values because I think they're factually correct, and their adoption is important on that basis. I don't think you can give any reason at all from within your framework.
    Qingu wrote:
    Geocentrism is wrong because it isn't true—okay. How do you determine when something is true and when it isn't? In science, the determinant, the arbiter of truth, is whether or not a theory can withstand empirical experiment. This is what "truth" means.

    That's absurd. You're confusing our means of testing for truth with truth itself. A physical theory is true if it correctly describes reality. It's entirely possible (in fact, guaranteed) that there are multiple, incompatible physical theories which account for the same data. Yet only one can be true, as they are mutually incompatible by hypothesis. Hence, accounting for the data is not an arbiter of truth, unless you want to embrace the abominable conclusion that mutually contradictory statements can both be true.

    Of course, that doesn't seem to be that far off from the tortured ontology you're already pushing. The sun orbited the earth until it didn't? People may have thought one and then thought the other, but nothing above the surface of the earth changed. One idea may have been better supported by the data, and then the other, but the one that was correct was always the same. Consider a mundane example from life: I read the newspaper, and it says that 50 people died in Iraq yesterday. The next day I read a correction, stating that the number was actually 25. On the first day my best evidence supported the theory that 50 people had died, and on the second day my best evidence supported the theory that 25 people had died. When I believed 50 people had died on the first day I was wrong, because my beliefs failed to track reality. I certainly wasn't correct on both days.

  • taliosfalcontaliosfalcon Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    MrMister wrote: »
    Qingu wrote: »
    I didn't bring up God ... let me try to rephrase. If you think there are objective, universal moral truths, then how are these truths established? In other words, how do you tell if a certain moral stance is true or false?

    Rational reflection. It doesn't always work, but it doesn't never work either.
    Similarly, the "fact" that slavery is wrong is likewise wholly dependent on a cultural system. We know slavery is wrong because our anti-slavery culture is superior to pro-slavery cultures. And by "superior," I mean in a wholly darwinist sense—economies function better with free agents than with slaves; the North won the war. Thus, the moral "fact" about slavery is, like the scientific "fact" of heliocentrism, wholly dependent on its parent system's ability to withstand an evolutionary process.
    So, in economic situations conducive to slavery, slavery is right? Child soldiers and scorched earth could be wonderful tools for societies to maintain competitive advantage: are those things right? Is the fact that slavery is now wrong because it's ineffective? I think any halfway decent person would acknowledge that even if slavery gave our society a comparative advantage, it would still be wrong.

    *snip*

    Well, thats where we'll have to agree to disagree I suppose. The problem with slavery is it leads to revolts, not to mention our technology has pretty much advanced to the point where its counter productive. If it still gave an advantage to societies I have absolutely no doubts it would be considered morale.

    edit: just to clarify right now I find the idea of slavery repulsive, however looking at it logically I can easily see people (including myself) thinking of it as morale if thats how they were raised, and what their culture was based on

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    I'll say that "wrong", in this context, means "not corresponding to facts" and "fact" means "an attribute of the universe existing independent of observation, understanding and interaction".
    But later you connect scientific truth to observation by assuming that we observe reality: "Now, unless you have significant doubts as to the reliability of our perceptions, the things in the world we observe do, in some way, reflect the way the world actually is. If this is the case, then ultimately what matters is how closely a theory comes to actually describing the way things are."

    Your truth is entirely contingent on your assumption that we can observe true things. Now, I happen to agree with this assumption, but the point here is that there is no truth out there without an arbiter, and in this case the arbiter is empirical experiment (loosely, observation).

    Now, there is a catch here in that our observations are largely colored by our paradigms through which we are observing. Again, nobody discovered oxygen by looking around and seeing it—they had to invent oxygen's framework before they could observe and confirm it's existence.

    And there is another catch in that, as humans, our ability to observe true things may very well be limited. We already know that there are limits to what we can observe in quantum mechanics. It is entirely conceivable that an AI or transhuman entity with different perspective capabilities will be able to observe a different reality than us. In fact, I would argue that this is already sort of the case—Galileo's argument for heliocentrism was highly dependent on his use of the telescope, a technology that radically enhanced his human powers of observation.
    Correspondence theories of truth would disagree. Maybe your flavour of coherence-truth works better, but I haven't seen any major strengths that would make up for its considerable unintuitiveness.
    I disagree that it is unintuitive ... I don't think evolution is unintuitive.
    I'm not an expert in anthropology or anything, but from what I understand, the productive roles played by women in a lot of societies as gatherers outweighed the productive capacity of men as hunters.
    Eh, I think you're leaving out warfare and reproduction from the equation.
    It's not a question of societies managing while persecuting women. None of us would be here now if that weren't the case. But it's a lot harder - maybe even impossible - to show that those societies didn't survive despite their treatment of women instead of because of it. By the same token it's equally difficult to prove the opposite, but then I don't have to.
    I'm not sure why the burden of proof is on me, and your claim—if I understand it—sounds ridiculous. Are you saying that all of these premodern societies knew full well that women should be treated equally to men but chose not to, despite the moral truth/survival benefits?

    I submit that we look at the history of women's rights. In doing so, we see that women's rights in any given time correspond almost entirely with the society's economic situation. Early tribal societies apparently treated women much the same as chimpanzees do. In premodern states, women are tied to men through economic structures (marriages, brideprice). It is no coincidence that the women suffrage movement coincided with the industrial revolution.

    There are obviously other factors. Most religions are entirely repressive of women, for example and religious morals tend to resist societal/economic change better than other morals. However, these religious morals are themselves products of cultural evolution—as I said, the Bible's laws about women are identical to the nascent Mesopotamian legal structures in the time it was written. (That's the reason religious morals seem so repressive to us today—they are vestiges from premodern societies).

    And interestingly, in modern times, even fundamentalist Christians who believe we should follow all of the Old Testament laws would be repulsed if someone stoned a non-virgin bride on the doorstep of their father's house—because modern fundamenatlist Christians' morality is highly dependent on modern culture, economy, and technology.

  • templewulftemplewulf Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    I'd like to build on what Qingu said earlier about ethics being social rules governing animal behavior. In a sense, he's right. Our view of right and wrong is influenced by thousands of years of hardwiring certain taboos and incentives for behaviors.

    Our language is influenced by our thinking, and in large part ethics is a struggle to clarify language of fundamental concepts. For instance, "good" is a subjective value judgment. It's so fundamental to our language and thinking that it's difficult to elaborate on. In this way, I think metaethics is almost a post hoc attempt to justify how we are hardwired. Metaethics, from this viewpoint, is entirely tautological. Things are good because of how we defined "good", and we define "good" based on things we instinctively label as "good".

    One of the few explanations of "good" that I like is the Aristotelian version. It makes the assumption that "good" is a word and not an inherent quality. Rather than trying to discover which things are inherently good, it explores what people mean when they say it. The conclusion, largely, is that "good" means "fulfills its intended purpose", where "intended purpose" is the thing it does "uniquely well".

    E.g. a spoon can be used as a hammer, but it makes a poor hammer. That doesn't mean it's a bad spoon. What it does uniquely well is completely unrelated to hammering. I like this approach, because it takes context into account by using the way we build our language rather than fighting against it. Of course, to discover whether or not a person is "good" means you have to decide whether or not they are fulfilling their unique purpose, the definition of which is an even more difficult argument to make.

    PS: It's been a few years since I've taken psychology or ethics and I'm doing this off the top of my head. Correct my post as necessary. :)

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  • Grid SystemGrid System Registered User
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    Your truth is entirely contingent on your assumption that we can observe true things. Now, I happen to agree with this assumption, but the point here is that there is no truth out there without an arbiter, and in this case the arbiter is empirical experiment (loosely, observation).
    MrMister wrote: »
    That's absurd. You're confusing our means of testing for truth with truth itself.

  • saggiosaggio Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    saggio wrote: »
    On what basis are these social rules created?
    They emerge in aggregate as cultures evolve, just like economic rules. (Economic rules may be seen as a subset of moral rules). Early morals probably developed to govern or direct behaviors we inherited from our nonspeaking primate ancestors.

    So, allow me to try and make sense of your position. Ethical and Moral "Laws" are simply social rules, of which economic rules are a subset? And that these social rules arise primarily because of cultural considerations, which then themselves give rise to economic rules?

    I'm going to need some more clarification. What exactly are these social rules? Would our ideas of table manners or the religious dietary restrictions be considered social rules? What about social taboos or gender roles?

    Now, what would be the motivating factor in determining these cultural considerations? When I generally understand cultural standards, I generally take a Marxist kind of approach to such things, seeing cultural standards and differences mostly a result of economic factors. How could it be that these cultural considerations give rise to social modes of conduct and eventually economic modes of conduct without the economic "rules" already existing?

    Furthermore, it sounds as if you are advocating a position where all differences in morality across cultures are equally valid, and that there is no kind of underlying, unifying force for morality, of which all the various cultural variations derive. That's an interesting position, but I don't want to strawman you, so I'm going to ask for some more clarification. If what you said before is correct, that cultural considerations give rise to social rules, which then give rise to economic rules, is there any basis by which the cultural considerations are formed or changed? Would there be any kind of unifying factor that would animate all cultural considerations of all humans? Or would each individual culture derive these rules from completely particular bases?

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    MrMister wrote: »
    Rational reflection. It doesn't always work, but it doesn't never work either.
    Not coincidentally, rational reflection happens to be an adaptive measure in both individuals and society. It's not surprising that the most educated and rational societies are the most economically, ideologically and militarily successful.
    So, in economic situations conducive to slavery, slavery is right?
    It was considered right for thousands and thousands of years and is repeatedly allowed and commanded in the Bible.

    I think it is wrong, but that is because I would rather live in a modern society than a pro-slavery society, and I believe most people would as well.
    Child soldiers and scorched earth could be wonderful tools for societies to maintain competitive advantage: are those things right? Is the fact that slavery is now wrong because it's ineffective? I think any halfway decent person would acknowledge that even if slavery gave our society a comparative advantage, it would still be wrong.
    The problem with your argument is that societies that use child soldiers and slavery do not maintain competitive advantages. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. A slave economy fails to compete against industrial and post-industrial economies. Child soldiers do not get educated and grow up to be doctors and scientists. I imagine a rather big reason is that nobody wants to live in those societies when they can emigrate to ones like ours.
    Why should I even care to make an input into that consensus? Why should I care what social consensus we adopt? What is my motivation, as an agent, to propagate any particular set of values through society?
    Well, nobody is holding a gun to your head; you certainly don't have to, and if you have crappy moral ideas I'd prefer that you didn't. :)
    My explanation is simple: I want to spread certain values because I think they're factually correct, and their adoption is important on that basis. I don't think you can give any reason at all from within your framework.
    This is somewhat circular. We're in a debate about what it means for a moral to be "factually correct," and you're citing your belief that morals are factually correct as a motive for you propogating them?
    That's absurd. You're confusing our means of testing for truth with truth itself.
    Truth does not exist to us until we test it, observe it, read about it, whatever.

    Maybe there is an objective truth apart from our subjective human observations and brains. But since I am a human and as far as I know I cannot escape my subjective existence, I fail to see what on earth the point is of speculating on the nature, existence, or nonexistence of such a thing.

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    Child soldiers and scorched earth could be wonderful tools for societies to maintain competitive advantage: are those things right? Is the fact that slavery is now wrong because it's ineffective? I think any halfway decent person would acknowledge that even if slavery gave our society a comparative advantage, it would still be wrong.
    The problem with your argument is that societies that use child soldiers and slavery do not maintain competitive advantages. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. A slave economy fails to compete against industrial and post-industrial economies. Child soldiers do not get educated and grow up to be doctors and scientists. I imagine a rather big reason is that nobody wants to live in those societies when they can emigrate to ones like ours.

    I'm talking about a counterfactual situation. If it were the case that enslaving people and otherwise doing terrible things allowed a society to dominate the globe, would that then be moral? Imagine the slave-o-matic ray comes out tomorrow, or whatever you want in order to make it plausible to you.
    My explanation is simple: I want to spread certain values because I think they're factually correct, and their adoption is important on that basis. I don't think you can give any reason at all from within your framework.
    This is somewhat circular. We're in a debate about what it means for a moral to be "factually correct," and you're citing your belief that morals are factually correct as a motive for you propogating them?

    I'm arguing that your account of morality is eliminitavist. If we take it seriously, then we become nihilists and take morality to be empty and beside the point. For people who are more confident in the existence of morality than they are in your argument, this is a reason to reject your argument.
    Maybe there is an objective truth apart from our subjective human observations and brains. But since I am a human and as far as I know I cannot escape my subjective existence, I fail to see what on earth the point is of speculating on the nature, existence, or nonexistence of such a thing.

    If everyone died tomorrow, 2+2 would still be 4, and the Earth would still be round. So yes. There is a truth apart from subjective human observation and brains. The point of acknowledging that fact is that it doesn't lead you into any of the absurd relativist traps that you've so clearly fallen into.

  • ScalfinScalfin __BANNED USERS regular
    edited February 2008
    Qingu wrote: »
    Scalfin wrote: »
    Here is a little question that should be tough: why, given the effectiveness of condoms and contraceptives, is sex immoral? The only argument that I can think of remaining is the Christian concept that anything done for a purpose other than serving god is sinful (I believe this is St. Augustine, but I can't remember).
    Is anyone here arguing that sex is immoral?

    (Premarital[usually]) sex rates are often used as some sort of measure of immorality (usually by those saying we're all going to hell). Is this an accurate or valid measure or indicator?

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  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    saggio wrote: »
    So, allow me to try and make sense of your position. Ethical and Moral "Laws" are simply social rules,
    Well, not exactly—to be precise, I think "laws" are a subset of morals, namely those which are enforced. Though there is a lot of wiggle room as to what "enforced" means (for example, are table manners enforced through social cues?)
    And that these social rules arise primarily because of cultural considerations, which then themselves give rise to economic rules?
    I don't believe I speculated on the order in which they arose.
    I'm going to need some more clarification. What exactly are these social rules? Would our ideas of table manners or the religious dietary restrictions be considered social rules? What about social taboos or gender roles?
    They are all of them morals/social rules.
    Now, what would be the motivating factor in determining these cultural considerations? When I generally understand cultural standards, I generally take a Marxist kind of approach to such things, seeing cultural standards and differences mostly a result of economic factors. How could it be that these cultural considerations give rise to social modes of conduct and eventually economic modes of conduct without the economic "rules" already existing?
    Like I said, I don't know which came first. From what I know, early societies did not distinguish between economic laws and some hypothetical, "non-economic moral laws" (see the Code of Hammurabi and the Bible, for example; stealing is a crime right next to blasphemy and adultery; actually adultery is considered a property offense like stealing).
    Furthermore, it sounds as if you are advocating a position where all differences in morality across cultures are equally valid,
    No way josé. Morals evolves. This means certain morals are better adapted to human society and to reality than others.
    If what you said before is correct, that cultural considerations give rise to social rules, which then give rise to economic rules, is there any basis by which the cultural considerations are formed or changed? Would there be any kind of unifying factor that would animate all cultural considerations of all humans? Or would each individual culture derive these rules from completely particular bases?
    Again, I didn't speculate on the order of their arisal. But to respond to your general point, there are plenty of factors that would cause such rules to change. No society is in perfect stasis. Hunter-gatherers moved around and had to adapt to new conditions, often with new technologies (see Inuit inventing harpoons), and new technologies required new economic and cultural frameworks to produce and use.

    Human societies of all sizes and stages of development were constantly going to war with another. Warfare is highly dependent on technology, economic development, and interpersonal rules—see, for example, how the Greek hoplites dominated over neighboring states. Hoplite warfare required certain technologies, as well as a battlefield and social ethos which rewarded courage, brotherhood and patriotism. As hoplites expanded against neighboring states, non-hoplites were either assimilated or crushed. The same thing happened later with Macedonian phalanxes and Roman legions—successful warfare spread the cultural and economic morals on which the warfare style depends.

    Trade is possibly even more important than warfare. Trade increases wealth, but trading is highly dependent on a number of technologies and morals, such as writing, transportation, and laws ensuring fairness and punishing fraud and theft. Societies that traded more had more wealth and thus survived and spread better than non-trading societies. Because they survived and spread, the moral factors that underlied their ability to trade spread with them.

  • QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    MrMister wrote: »
    I'm talking about a counterfactual situation. If it were the case that enslaving people and otherwise doing terrible things allowed a society to dominate the globe, would that then be moral? Imagine the slave-o-matic ray comes out tomorrow, or whatever you want in order to make it plausible to you.
    How on earth could I say? It's a meaningless hypothetical, and if it existed I would not be the same person and my opinion would be different than what it is now.

    I mean, you might as well ask me if I'd think Islam was wrong if I was raised in a Muslim society. If I was raised in a Muslim society I probably would not think Islam was wrong at all.
    I'm arguing that your account of morality is eliminitavist. If we take it seriously, then we become nihilists and take morality to be empty and beside the point. For people who are more confident in the existence of morality than they are in your argument, this is a reason to reject your argument.
    I don't think that's true at all—I'm saying morality is dependent on culture, but I'm not saying all cultures are equal or that cultures can't be morally improved. In the same way, I think scientific truth is dependent on paradigms and theories, but obviously this doesn't mean we should stop doing science.

    If anything, I think my conception of morality is more motivational than yours—it functions as a progress, just like scientific knowledge. I certainly want to accelerate that progress.
    If everyone died tomorrow, 2+2 would still be 4, and the Earth would still be round. So yes. There is a truth apart from subjective human observation and brains. The point of acknowledging that fact is that it doesn't lead you into any of the absurd relativist traps that you've so clearly fallen into.
    You're ignoring what I said.

    I never said the earth wouldn't be round if everyone died. I said that nobody would give a shit if the earth was round if everyone died.

    Truth apart from the human experience is meaningless.

  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited February 2008
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    I'd like to know more about Kripke's puzzle.

    I hope this counts as a useful contribution to the thread.

    Apparently it didn't. :(

    Maddie: "I named my feet. The left one is flip and the right one is flop. Oh, and also I named my flip-flops."

    I make tweet.
  • TarranonTarranon Registered User regular
    edited February 2008
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    I'd like to know more about Kripke's puzzle.

    I hope this counts as a useful contribution to the thread.

    Apparently it didn't. :(

    I, too, know the sting of being brushed off in this thread.

    Let's make our own. There can be pie!

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