Objectivity in ethics

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hue-man
 
Reply Thu 25 Jun, 2009 10:14 am
@deepthot,
deepthot;71951 wrote:
The first example I gave of an "objective truth" was: it is a fact that George Washington was the first president of the U.S.

I went on to argue that objective truths in the field of, or area of, Ethics can be equally objective. I disagree with the notion that there is no objectivity without mind-independence -- whatever that is. What makes anything or any proposition "objective" is public consensus. Read the philosophies of
of Karl-Otto Apel,and, and their program of universal pragmatics.
Habermas.has written on communicative rationality - which is a mode of dealing with validity claims, which is in general not a property of these claims themselves.


Once a discipline becomes "established" it has gained public consensus, widespread agreement. This is what I aim for in the case of Ethics, as a body of legitimate knowledge.
Once one gains perspective, he comes to see that ethical truths can be subjective AND objective at the same time.
Do not commit murder! is an imperative which once it is derived by logic from an earlier 'neutral assumption' such as Hartman/Katz has managed to do, may be an example of a moral truth which can gain wide agreement.
(Note that it does not preclude killing of human beings.)
Murder is premeditated killing with malice aforethought.


Well that's not philosophical objectivity. You're speaking about objectivity in the sense of inter-subjectivity. Philosophical objectivity means something that has an existence which is independent of the mind, or actual reality that is independent of the mind's perceptions and perspectives.

I told you that our disagreement is mostly due to semantics. Instead of using the word objectivity, you should use the word universality, or universalism.
 
deepthot
 
Reply Thu 25 Jun, 2009 07:38 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;72051 wrote:
Here's a quote from the Amazon description of Habermas' dialog with Cardinal Ratzinger (whom since has had a change of name, and title):


This has no relevance to the points I was making. I only looked to Haberman with regard to his theories regarding communication and its bearing on facticity.This

---------- Post added at 09:10 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:56 PM ----------
jeeprs;72051 Deepthot - I propose that your understanding of the terms 'fact', 'subjectivity' and 'measure' are deeply confused.[/QUOTE wrote:


Since you give no reasoning to support this conclusion I accept it as your opinion - to which you have a right - but cannot take it seriously as anything more than that.



jeeprs;72051 wrote:

OK let's propose an experiment, hypothetical of course, to test this out. ...) You, meanwhile, declare that the distance to the moon is X, without consulting said table, on the basis that the distance is a 'factor of your perception'. Whose moonshot am I going to put money on?


I don't see how you tested anything with this "experiemnt," and I question that you know much about scientific experiments. {Philosophy of Science was my major on the Masters level; and as you know, I wrote a chapter on What Is Sckince? in my 90-page manual on ETHICS. You expressed no disagreement with my findings there. My Ph.D. dissertation was on Ethics and Value Theory. It was published with the title: TRENDS TOWARD SYNTHESIS. It's available from Axio-Press Publishers}

You completely mis-characterize my position on perception (and the fact that it is relative to the mind of the person perceiving.) The NASA people, using Math, are using their minds to select which branches of Math to use, and also to understand the Math. They also are using their minds to think about the Physics theories they employ, and are subjectively selecting which theories to use. There are many rival theories competing to explain the same phenomena. They have reached a consensus on certain models as being more reliable than others. To do this they had to think. And thinking is subjective. Michail Polanyi (1891-1976) has written extensively on how aesthetics enters the picture when scientists choose to what to give their attention. They have revised the measurements in re the diameter of the Earth several times. Who would assert there was no subjectivity before they arrived at what is not called "objective"? I notice you give no definition of "objectivity" that is imbedded in an explanatory framework exhibiting the structure of the concept. You also did not argue against the one I offered. I note no argumentation on your part just wild charges.
In science failures occur all the time, and most are not widely publicized. Remember that rocket that blew up soon after launch killing the entire crew on board. That wasn't supposed to happen.

My bother-in-law, Peter Stein, is one of the world's leading experts on Measurement Theory in Mechanical Engineering. He tells me that engineers make lots and lots of mistakes when they proceed to measure (say, measure the stress in some metal bonds.) How could this happen if subjectivity didn't enter into it? What is measurement?
Measureing is appliying a series of numbers to some data in an effort to match them up with the numbers.

Are you maintaining that no room for human error enters the process, and thus no subjectivity?

I repeat: everything that human beings do is dependent on their minds - assuming they have some. The challenge is for you, jeeprs, to name one human activity whick is mind-independent. Name one fact that was arrived at without the use of a mind.

Are you at all familiar with Jain Logic, and its Theory of Truth? I hope you are not one of those Systemic thinkiers whose only perspective is: It's got to be this or that! That's called "Black-or-White thinking" or "Either-Or thinking." It is a very narrow perspective. If so, I would recommend broadening it out.

I have taught Math in college, and regard it as a human invention. For example, Descartes conceived of Analytic Geometry. Euler devised certain specific algebraic series. Galois thought of Group Theory. You; have admitted you don't know Math. And yet you call me confused - and say I wouldn't use Math to figure the distance to the Moon. Where do you get this idea???? Beats me.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 26 Jun, 2009 03:39 am
@deepthot,
Hey nothing personal. I should have put it differently: I really don't understand how you can say that the distance to the moon depends on human perception.

I can't question that mathematics requires intelligence to comprehend. But this doesn't make the distance to the moon a matter of subjective judgement. Therefore I am agreeing with Hue-man.

I don't believe numbers, nor scientific laws, exist only in the mind, or subjectively. I believe the mind recognises mathematical relationships and behavioural regularities that are somehow implicit in the fabric of the Universe. I don't claim to understand why this is so. I am still working on trying to understand it.

Nor do I agree that morality has an objective basis. I believe that there is a moral law, but that it is transcendent, neither objective nor subjective. I suppose this is a matter of faith, but it is something that can be verified, in my view.

---------- Post added at 08:06 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:39 PM ----------

Which is why I quoted the particular passage from Habermas. I agree with him that we can't just discard the judeo-christian basis for morality, nor also traditional metaphysics, and try and re-invent morality as an objective science. Can't be done.

---------- Post added at 08:07 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:39 PM ----------

I've also read Polanyi, if you could point me to a place where he says maths is subjective, I would be obliged.
 
deepthot
 
Reply Fri 26 Jun, 2009 02:47 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;72403 wrote:
...I really don't understand how you can say that the distance to the moon depends on human perception.

I can't question that mathematics requires intelligence to comprehend. But this doesn't make the distance to the moon a matter of subjective judgement. ... I believe the mind recognises ... behavioural regularities that are somehow implicit in the fabric of the Universe. I don't claim to understand why this is so. I am still working on trying to understand it.

Nor do I agree that morality has an objective basis. I believe that there is a moral law, but that it is transcendent, neither objective nor subjective. I suppose this is a matter of faith, but it is something that can be verified, in my view.--- Post added at 08:06 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:39 PM
... we can't ...re-invent morality as an objective science. Can't be done. st added at 08:07 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:39 PM


My view is that out of the infinite possibilities for interpreting the data we perceive, we each select our own set of data, and our own interpretation, and have our own unique perceptions -- and thus we each select our own reality (to which to give emphasis, as "real".) I agree with several other philosophers on this. it is always 'a miracle' when human individuals agree on anything! And it is to be celebrated. It is awesome when it happens!!

You claim we can't have an objective science (in any sense of 'science') which includes a concept "morality."

Yet (based on the foundational work of Robert S. Hartman) I have already done it. So I did the impossible. That's always more fun!
Some can't see it. I understand that. If one is sure something CAN'T BE DONE, one is not likely to notice it even if it is right before their eyes. Isn't that true?

[I heard once that a very-bright woman I know was sure a car in her garage was missing because she strongly expected it to be out somewhere. She had looked directly at it, then came in and told her husband it was missing. The human mind does little tricks like that. ]

We are too tiny relative to the known size of the universe to "recognize regularities" or to recognize much of anything. We like to think we do. We can't even account for Dark Matter which, it is claimed, makes up most of the known universe. We are smaller, relative to Arcturus, than a quark in an atom, in a molecule, in a cell in our thigh. Let's have a little humiility as to what we really perceive. Yes, we made up the measuring units, and the math, and figured out the distance - or so we believe. Is it possible we may be wrong? Most cosmologists I know will admit they can be. But with some folks here at the Forum I detect some dogmatism.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 29 Jun, 2009 04:08 am
@deepthot,
All well and good. I understand this idea when it is applied to philosophy of science, namely that we will select certain things to observe depending on the kind of hypothesis we start out with, and so on. I have read Kuhn and Feyerabend. But damned if I can understand how this means that 'one meter' is a different length for two different observers (OK then, provided they are stationary relative to each other.)

Quote:
We are too tiny relative to the known size of the universe to "recognize regularities" or to recognize much of anything


Compared to what, exactly? All science is built on recognising regularities, is it not? Aren't Newton's laws of motion valid because moving bodies behave in a predictable manner? Sure we can't account for dark matter, I started a thread on that a while back, and that might mean that our cosmology has some major problems.

Is it possible we may be wrong? Yes, I guess so. This is the traditional position of scepticism, then. I am sure someone here has all the pro- and anti- sceptical arguments down pat.

But I still don't understand what you mean.

---------- Post added at 08:08 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:08 PM ----------

I will have to look into this Hartmann.

---------- Post added at 08:09 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:08 PM ----------

Aha. Now it all begins to make sense.
 
deepthot
 
Reply Mon 29 Jun, 2009 04:07 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;73303 wrote:
All well and good.... damned if I can understand how this means that 'one meter' is a different length for two different observers (OK then, provided they are stationary relative to each other.)

It depends upon how fast the observers (and the meter-sticks) are accelerating - according to Relativity Theory.

jeeprs;73303 wrote:
Compared to what, exactly? All science is built on recognising regularities, is it not?

You are right: the theory part of science is indeed built on recognizing regularities. One of our gifts, as humans, is that we are pattern finders.

jeeprs;73303 wrote:
our cosmology has some major problems.

Yes, it has.

jeeprs;73303 wrote:

Is it possible we may be wrong? Yes, I guess so. This is ...

.....the beginning of wisdom. It is not only possible we may be "wrong." It is highly probable - in light of future findings, and the record of history.

jeeprs;73303 wrote:

But I still don't understand what you mean.- P

I will have to look into this Hartmann.
It is spelled with one 'n': R. S. Harman.


jeeprs;73303 wrote:


Aha. Now it all begins to make sense.

I knew it would. You are open-minded and well-read. And Prof. Hartman is as clear as he is profound. Deep stuff yet most comprehensible. And sensible. Well-worth your time.

I commend you for not being dogmatic! And for taking the time to learn.

---------- Post added at 05:47 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:07 PM ----------

hue-man;72125 wrote:
... You're speaking about objectivity in the sense of inter-subjectivity. .


Yes I am. I am not sure I understand any other kind.
According to good dictionaries: Objectivity is the state or quality of not being influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts ; unbiased:
intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings;
being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject.

I question that "external to the mind" idea, as it does not specify whose mind, and how this is determined.

Maybe you can clear it all up for me. I would be grateful.


Hartman wrote a paper published in a Physics Journal on the theme "Universal Constants".


Also, he believed that "a good x" understood as 'the complete exemplification of x's meaning' would be recognized by intelligent life universally -- even by those from other planets in our galaxy, and other galaxies, when translated into their own tongue.
An x is a good one if it is "all there" under its concept. ...wherever the judge of the value happens to break off the set of predicates (in her mind) describing the meaning of x. The judgment is made at a moment in time, and the next moment, of course, the judgment could be otherwise.
 
deepthot
 
Reply Sun 2 Aug, 2009 08:05 pm
@deepthot,
Here is an excerpt from a paper I found by Peter Demarest, Harvey Schoof, and Dave Blanchard. It is relevant to our discussion.:

"We begin this discourse by defining what is meant bynatural principles. A principle is defined as a fundamental truth. A natural principle is a fundamental truth that exists in the very nature of the universe. Gravity is a natural principle. Also are bio-chemical reaction, and 'cause-and-effect.'

When we talk about natural principles we are not referring to subjective preferences, theories, or mental constructs of how things work, rather we speak of how things actually work independent of how we think they should work.

Whether we view these laws as natural phenomenon or as the creation of a divine intelligence is irrelevant - the law is the law and it is as immutable and unchangeable as mathematics.

Science endeavors to first understand and then to exploit the natural laws of the universe in an effort to continually add value to life (or, at least, one's perspective of what adds value). To some, scientific research is blasphemy. To others, it leads us closer to understanding the nature and magnificence of creation. To be sure, unless our ethics keep pace with our science, we will surely blunder, and we run the risk of self-destruction. Could it be that there is a natural principle that somehow protects us from discovering certain things until we are ready? Consider nuclear energy for example. Despite a handful of catastrophic missteps and concerns of terrorist groups acquiring nuclear weapons, as a race we have safely and responsibly harnessed the awesome.power of the atom. Yet, we have enforced self-imposed limits on nuclear proliferation precisely because we have understood the limits of our global human ethics.

But upon what basis do we adopt our ethics? Upon what principle do we choose what's right and what's wrong? How do we reconcile conflicting agendas, beliefs, and priorities and still celebrate the uniqueness of every human being? Like wisdom contained within a time-capsule
waiting for the perfect moment when the student is ready, neuro-axiology has revealed itself and is providing the answers to these questions.

Neuro-axiology is a convergence of sciences that brings together the pieces of an ancient puzzle.Namely - what makes us "tick," how can we learn to function better, and how can we establish a universal set of ethics that leaves no one behind and maximizes abundance.".

The entire paper is available from Harvey Shoof of 6 Advisors It appeared in a Journal devoted to Neuro-Linguistics.

 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Sun 2 Aug, 2009 10:11 pm
@deepthot,
I'm an ethical objectivist and believe, unsurprisingly, that there are correct standards defining good and evil, and that such standards are neither fictions nor human constructs. To be sure, there is conventional morality, which is universally created by us and for us--and no ethical objectivist denies the existence of conventional morality. But what they do insist on is the existence of a further, nonconventional morality (what philosophers call an objective morality), which can serve as a standard for assessing the merits of conventional morality.

For any claim to be objectively true, it must be true independently of what anyone, anywhere, happens to think of it. Mathematical truths are like this, as are truths in such areas as astronomy, microbiology, chemistry, and physics. We don't make them up. The true claims within these disciplines are not true because we think they are; we think they are true because they really are. We may have invented the vocabulary, but we didn't invent the fact (say) that the Earth is in a solar system, that genetic information is carried by DNA, that one oxygen and two hydrogen molecules will, at certain temperatures, bind to form liquid.

I believe that moral truths enjoy the same status as the truths I've just mentioned: they are objectively true. Sure, it is still fashionable in many circles to dismiss such an idea as the expression of dogmatic attitudes, or as ethnocentric, or as the product of outdated sensibilities. Just how can moral truths or moral facts be as objective as those of mathematics or the natural sciences? Whether values can exist in a scientific world is the big ontological question, right? The moral skeptic has a simple, readily understandable story about morality--we invent it all! Moral rules are products of our creative efforts, designed to reflect our tastes or interests, and nothing more. The intuitive appeal of this explanation of morality makes skepticism seem like the most reasonable, default position in moral ontology.

The basic reason for skepticism about ethical objectivism stems from an application of Occam's Razor. This skeptical argument asks us to survey the world and report on its contents (its ontology). And it tells us to do so by employing the following test: is the thing in question required to help us explain what we see in our world? If the answer is No, then we have reason to abandon any belief in it. And the moral skeptic claims that when we have a careful scientific look at what surrounds us, we'll have no need of the objectivist's assumptions that the world contains moral features or moral facts in addition to the empirical facts.

To get a better sense of what is at stake here, consider the following example put into the mouth of a common moral skeptic:

"Have you ever seen evil? You may think so. Perhaps only in films, if you're lucky. But what have you really seen? Two persons, perhaps, one with a rifle, hauling a child out of her home and pushing her to her knees. Soldiers are nearby, laughing and encouraging their comrade. The one with the rifle casually lifts it to the chest of the little girl. You hear a noise. The girl falls in a heap. Blood leaks from her body. The soldiers move on, buoyant, looking for another victim. You inwardly experience something you call "moral outrage," but so what? What you in fact saw wasn't evil, dear friend. For you could provide a full empirical description of all the actions of such a scene, and never once mention evil. You'd mention the position of the rifle and his victim, the soldier's words, the way he manhandled his victim, her look of fear, the impact of the bullet, etc. You don't need to cite the "evil" of the action to completely explain what happened. All the explanatory work can be done without it. The girl didn't die because of evil--she died because of a bullet to her chest, plain and simple. You have to mention that to explain her death, but you don't have to mention evil at all."

Because reference to the moral quality of the interaction above is optional, it isn't required. And Occam's Razor tells us that, therefore, we have no good reason to believe that the moral features are real. Don't multiply entities beyond necessity, right? No evil, just the facts. Moral skeptics capitalise on this and allege that either evil is nonexistent, or that evil is a human construct. There is no such thing as objective evil, or badness, or wrongdoing, or for that matter goodness, or kindness, or compassion. If evil exists at all, it is only as a result of our projecting onto a value-free world our emotional repugnance at actions that, taken in themselves, are entirely morally neutral. Wilful murder, the epitome of "vice," can be wholly described without reference to any moral vocabulary. So Occam's Razor and the scientific outlook support moral skepticism in denying ethical objectivism.

If you've made it this far, you may be wondering why the heck I'm still an ethical objectivist. I certainly haven't even begun to build a case for ethical objectivism, but have instead presented the strongest challenges marshalled by its opposition, moral skepticism. Morality is in real danger of being cut out from the ontological inventory. I don't believe in gods or trolls or unicorns. Indeed I've never laid eyes on them, and I have never needed to rely on them in order to explain anything in my experience. Perhaps I should take my leave of moral facts for the very same reasons?

No. There is one way out for the ethical objectivist, but it is the hard way, and it will require copious amounts of philosophical ingenuity:

Ethical objectivists must reject the claim that something exists only if there is an explanatory need that it fulfills.

As I stated previously, moral facts aren't necessary to explain anything, but they may exist for all that. There are at least three arguments objectivists can rely on to defend the counter-claim that something can exist without fufilling some explanatory need. However, these arguments are truly awesome to behold, so I will save them for a later time.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 2 Aug, 2009 11:56 pm
@deepthot,
Fascinating. I think your basic problem is 'nature of truth'.

Quote:
For any claim to be objectively true, it must be true independently of what anyone, anywhere, happens to think of it


The arguments from various species of scepticism, I believe, are sufficient to demonstrate that no such claim can be made with regards to any particular domain of truth. You may believe that there is such a basis, but this is an act of faith. There is no way to demonstrate it. Now pragmatically we can act as if this were true, but if you try and show that it is true, it is impossible to sustain.

I am entirely sympathetic to what I understand the argument to be, I just don't think you can make a completely logical or self-sustaining argument for it. I don't see how you can bootstrap morality out of empirical experience. I think it comes from a different level of perception which has traditionally been regarded as spiritual or religious.
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 07:39 am
@jeeprs,
Sorry, double post.
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 09:30 am
@deepthot,
Objective ethics: does The Golden Rule of equal and opposite action apply to limited, far removed interaction on a philosophy forum?

Removed: the farther the axiomatic physics set, the less needed that objective is to subjective trajectories.

The Golden Rule and six degrees of separation: when I consistently apply too far (rarely a peer value addition, in the moment) removed value sets, I accelerate the devaluation of myself and my fellow man.

Equal and opposite: when I consistently apply too near (too selfish and self-centered. One-way, narcissistic, parasitical behavior. Taking too much, compared to giving, in The Golden Rule) value sets, I accelerate the devaluation of myself and my fellow man.

The Law of Inverse Proportion (see: Golden Proportion): we can also give and take too little or much, equally as far or near.

True and False are just as controvertible/adaptable, to the highest and best proximal ethics.
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 10:03 am
@ValueRanger,
Quote:

The arguments from various species of scepticism, I believe, are sufficient to demonstrate that no such claim can be made with regards to any particular domain of truth.


You appear to be endorsing (or perhaps presenting for argument's sake) not only moral skepticism, the view that there is nothing right or wrong independent of human opinion, but also global skepticism: the view that there is no objective truth at all. This is an interesting approach. Let's combine global skepticism and moral skepticism into one schematic argument:

P1: If global skepticism is true, then moral skepticism is true.
P2: Global skepticism is true.
C. Therefore, moral skepticism is true.

Though (P1), as a bi-conditional statement, is certainly true, since global skepticism logically entails moral skepticism, (P2) is false. Why? Let's investigate.

Global skepticism is the view that there is no objective truth at all, anywhere. Moral skepticism is just the specifically ethical application of this wholesale doubt. If there is no objective truth, there cannot, obviously, be any objective moral truth. Many people find such an argument appealing. Their attraction to global skepticism is usually conveyed in something like the following terms: reality, it is said, differs from person to person (or culture to culture). What is true for me needn't be true for you. Before we came upon the scene, there was no truth. We don't just dictate what's good or evil; everything, every truth, is a product of human investment and creativity.

Why do people say such things? There are several reasons, but perhaps the most prominent one stems from puzzlement people feel at trying to identify a uniquely correct perspective from which to view reality. This isn't a silly worry. But even if we fail to remove such puzzlement, this shouldn't lead us to take up global skepticism. People might have absolutely irreconcilable differences about the origins of the universe, about whether there is some essential difference between male and female natures, or whether abortion is immoral, and yet there can be, despite such differences, some objective truth that awaits our discovery on each of these issues.

That's just a promissory note, however, since global skepticism is itself an indefensible position. Why? It's self-refuting. An absolutely fatal flaw remains for those who base their moral skepticism on their allegiance to its cousin, global skepticism. And that fatal flaw is that global skepticism is self-refuting. Let's see why.

Suppose someone is a moral skeptic because he endorses global skepticism. There are no truths at all. That's why there are no moral truths. But if there are no truths, then what of the global skeptic's claim, that there are no truths at all? If there are no truths at all, then global skepticism itself cannot be true. If we correctly apply the theory, it turns around and undercuts its own authority! If global skepticism is true, then there is at least one truth, and that is contrary to the claim that global skepticism makes. Being self-contradictory, it cannot be true.

Since global skepticisim cannot be true, it cannot serve as a plausible basis for anything, much less moral skepticism. Something else might, but not it. After all, if moral skepticism is true, then there is still at least one truth (i.e., moral nihilism). And that still contradicts global skepticism. So moral skeptics do best to look elsewhere for support.

Bear in mind that a similiar story can be told for both global subjectivism and global relativism. Suppose you are a moral subjectivist because you have become convinced of global subjectivism--the idea that truth in every area is in the eye of the beholder. If global subjectivism is true, then subjectivism about ethics must be true as well. But what is the status of global subjectivism? Global subjectivism really amounts to the following view: a claim is true if, and only if, I believe it. Suppose global subjectivism is true. Now also suppose that I don't believe it (I don't). I believe that I am mistaken about some things, even though I don't, at present, know just what they are. I recognize my own fallibility, and so reject the idea that something is true just in case I happen to believe it. I think that global subjectivism is false.

According to global subjectivism, a claim is true if I believe it. Yet I believe the claim: (1) Global subjectivism is false.

Therefore, if global subjectivism is true, then (1) is true, since I believe it. (1) says that global subjectivism is false. Therefore, if global subjectivism is true, then global subjectivism is false. Global subjectivism is not directly self-refuting, as global skepticism is, but once we add the true claim that someone (anyone) believes it to be false, then it contradicts itself, as we have just seen. Because it does, it cannot supply a plausible basis for moral subjectivism.

Relativism suffers a similiar fate. Global relativism claims that all truth is relative to a society. More specifically, it claims that a proposition is true just in case it is endorsed as such by a society, or is implied by a society's fundamental commitments. According to global relativism, there is no objective truth; no truth independent of social endorsement, hence, moral relativism. Global relativism, like global subjectivism but not global skepticism, is not directly self-refuting. But it must be false for any society that rejects it. And every society does. Consider a random sampling of predominant views held within U.S. society: the Earth is round, Winter follows Autumn, the Rockies are taller than the Appalachians. Does anyone believe that these true propositions are true just for us Americans? Or true only so long as we believe them?

By its own lights, global relativism must be false for those of us who are reading this and are situated in societies whose commitments imply a rejection of global relativism. If we correctly apply global relativism, then it can be true only if a society thinks it true. No society thinks it true. Therefore it is false.

The general lesson here is that any effort to reject objective truth is bound to undercut its own authority. If a theory denies the existence of objective truth, then the theory itself cannot be objectively true. If global skepticism is correct, then there is no truth at all, and so global skepticism cannot be true. If global subjectivism is correct, then it is true only if I believe it to be. If I don't, then it's false. If global relativism is true, but my culture rejects it, then it is false. If we correctly apply these theories to themselves (which is only fair), we find that each theory, if true, implies its own logical falsity.

Indeed, none of this demonstrates that moral skepticism, or moral subjectivism, or moral relativism is false, but using their self-contradictory or implausible global cousins as support for them leads to intractable problems, as we've seen. Therefore, moral skeptics of all stripes should rethink their strategy and look elsewhere for a knock-down argument against moral objectivism. Logically speaking, the falsity of (P2) doesn't demonstrate the falsity of (C); that is, (C) could still be true by way of some argument, but not by way of the argument from global skepticism. You'll need to work with moral skepticism from the ground up, without reference to global skepticism, in order to argue against moral objectivism.

In particular, you (or anyone) could undertake this meta-ethical project against moral objectivism by arguing for one of three views:

(1) Moral Nihilism: the view which claims that there is nothing right or wrong; alternatively, the view that there are no moral truths. The two kinds of moral nihilism are error-theory and non-cognitivism.
(1.1) Error theory: the kind of moral nihilism which claims that moral language tries, but always fails, to accurately describe moral reality (because there is none to describe).
(1.2) Non-Cognitivism: the kind of moral nihilism which claims that moral language does not attempt to describe anything, but instead is used to persuade, encourage, prescribe or be expressive of one's feelings. As such, moral judgments cannot be true or false.

(2) Moral Subjectivism: the view which claims that an action is morally right if and only if one approves of it, and a moral judgment is true if and only if it accurately reports the sentiments of the one who holds it.

(3) Moral Relativism: the view which claims that an action is morally right if and only if it is permitted by the ultimate conventions of the society in which it is performed, and a moral judgment is true if and only if it is endorsed by the ultimate conventions of the society from which it derives.

I'm prepared to defend...

Moral Objectivism: the view which claims that there are correct moral standards, and that these standards are true independently of what any society, or anyone, anywhere, happens to think of them (i.e., objective).

...against all three.

Edit: There is one more argument open to you, and one which I think best matches your earlier thoughts: epistemic moral skepticism, which refers to doubts about the possibility of moral knowledge, rather than to doubts about the ontological status or existence of objective moral truth. There can be those who are skeptical in both ways, of course--moral nihilists who, since they reject the possibility of moral truth, also reject the possibility of moral knowledge. But one might reject moral nihilism, or be neutral about the existence or nature of moral truth, and nevertheless insist that even if there is any, we cannot know it. This latter sort of view, known as epistemic moral skepticism, is also available to you. I'm prepared to defend moral objectivism against it as well.
 
Zetetic11235
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 05:04 pm
@New Mysterianism,
You have a very silly view of skepticism, there needs to be a major alteration to your definition of Global Skepticism if it is going to be meaningful beyond refuting a handful of confused people. Let me make a suggestion:

Global Skepticism is the assertion that Weakly verifiable (it rained last week) truths are not Strongly verifiable (you are reading this) [this is tautology though] and that what is commonly considered to be objectively true is not provably necessary.

The Global Skepticism you speak of is contradictory to the definition of skepticism, that is all that you have expounded in much of your lengthy post.

Edit:Wow, I didn't read all of that, but you played some pretty flawed word games in there, I mean, you redefined relativism in a way that makes it patently false. You went astray when you started ascribing the possibility of truth to morals. Morals are decision making systems by which one measures his or her choices after careful consideration of possible outcomes, they are not true or false. Ducks aren't true or false either (though, their existence in a given point in space time might be debatable).

Edit Again: I suppose this means I'll be taking an alteration of the Non-Cognitivist approach
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 06:36 pm
@Zetetic11235,
Quote:

Edit Again: I suppose this means I'll be taking an alteration of the Non-Cognitivist approach


Good. Now formulate a recognizable argument with supporting reasons to back your claims, preferably in a premise-conclusion style format, and be sure to define and clarify any important terms used. You can use my previous post as a model, disregarding its length.

Be prepared to divulge the foundations upon which your assertions rest. For example, it is not acceptable that one proclaim, "you played some pretty flawed word games," or "you have redefined relativism," or "you went astray when you did X," or "morals are not true or false, but X," without offering substantive reasons supporting or explaining how and why such proclamations really are the case. Reasonable argument involves compelling others to accept your propositions and conclusions through appeals to reason and by logical or inferential linkage to well-supported premises. Merely reporting your views or opinions does not make an argument, but fallaciously begs the question. Please refrain from writing in an unnecessarily petulant or cocksure tone, and avoid deflamatory words like "silly." People generally don't respond well to rudeness. I take some pains to ensure that my posts convey their points as clearly and as charitably as possible. Rejecting my conclusions is fine, even encouraged, but doing so with an air of callous dismissal, and not with reasons, is inappropriate in a philosophy forum, no matter how objectionable you find my conclusions to be. If you genuinely feel "wow'd" by my allegedly poor presentation or reasoning abilities, "wow" us in turn by offering substantive reasons and backing. Furthermore, claiming that I have either misrepresented or unwarrantedly redefined a traditional and well-documented philosophical theory--and I cannot say for certain whether it was global or moral relativism you had in mind, since you never specified--without any backing is baseless assumption. The definitions I have presented are accurate and are easily found, almost verbatim, in the philosophical literature, written by professionals who specialize in meta-ethics. Look up Gilbert Harman on relativism or read the relevant Stanford entry for your edification: Moral Relativism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). And no, I'm not making an appeal to authority here. An appeal to authority occurs when one claims that because person A has an extensive and specialized knowledge of B, and has posited theory C to explain B, B must be true. Rather, the definitions I have presented are widely accepted as giving accurate descriptions of their respective theories within academic circles.

Use concision and an economy of expression when introducing your claims and terms. For example, one can only speculate on what you mean with ambiguous claims like "morals are decision-making systems," absent further argument. Why does Zetetic11235 claim that "ducks are neither true nor false"? Well, it's impossible to say, since he stated it as though it was an accepted fact. Lastly, extend to me the same courtesy I have extended to you by reading my entire post before submitting a response. This will benefit you as well by keeping your edits to a minimum. If you are either unwilling or incapable of playing by these tried-and-true philosophical rules, we cannot have this discussion.
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 09:32 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;81145 wrote:
logical linkage to well-supported premises

Actually, failure is equally supported in breaking less valuable premises, toward more valuable.

Sequitur contains non-sequitur in the set, just as truth contains false.

You are an equal opportunity employer.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 12:23 am
@deepthot,
I agree that simple-minded scepticism is self-defeating along the lines of 'all statements are false, including this one'. However that is not what I really had in mind. What I have in mind is the equation of 'truth' with 'objectivity'. This is what interests me. Of course, in common usage when we say that something is 'objectively the case', we mean 'what is really there'. We mean 'what is really given' as distinct from the 'subjective' view of 'what I think about it'. I suppose a simplistic way of putting it is 'reality minus the observer'.

But you see, this in itself represents a certain outlook on life. Since the scientific revolution, we moderns find ourselves in the situation of being thinking subjects in a world of objects and forces. This anyway is the scientific view of the matter, largely derived from the outlook of Galileo and Descartes and the like. So our intellectual background is quite different from the traditional philosopher in this regard. Certainly for a medieval philosopher there is implicitly the idea of the 'revealed truth' which is something neither objective nor subjective but Truth with a capital T. Insofar as you give assent to 'revealed truth' as the basis of your ethical judgements, then you have some basis which is not subjective, but also not objective. It is transcendent, beyond or not described in either subjective and objective terms. God's Word, as it was known.

I have come across this very interesting phrase that I have quoted a few times on this forum in connection to this idea, specifically that of 'Cartesian anxiety':

[QUOTE]Cartesian anxiety refers to the notion that, ever since promulgated his highly influential form of body-mind dualism, Western civilization has suffered from a longing for ontological certainty, or feeling that scientific methods, and especially the study of the world as a thing separate from ourselves, should be able to lead us to a firm and unchanging knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. The term is named after Descartes because of his well-known emphasis on "mind" as different from "other", from "body", "self" as different from "other". [/QUOTE]
(Beyond Objectivity and Subjectivity, by Richard J. Bernstein. )

But - why 'anxiety'? I think the anxiety comes from the fact that it is clear that nothing is absolutely objective. I don't think we know 'what is really there' or even if anything is 'really there', or at least not in the sense that you are presuming - that is, completely distinct from or separate from the act of knowing it. (So I guess I am being sceptical after all.) This has become especially clear in the study of quantum mechanics. But there are other ways of demonstrating it.

There is no 'absolute object' - so-called 'atoms' are actually evanescent or even 'virtual' according to many descriptions. I really think most moderns still implicitly assume an outlook of philosophical atomism - specifically that 'what really exists' are the 'fundamental units of reality'. But no such have been found. And in fact there has been a variety of arguments against atomism since Democritus first proposed the idea. But I bet most moderns, specifically secular moderns, basically presume that atoms are real and that is what everything is made from.

I have no doubt that trees, mountains, etc, and the objects of ordinary experience really do exist and are real. I don't think the world is an illusion in that vulgar sense. But in many respects, the physical structure of the world is not the subject of the discussion. All that it provides is the background, a kind of physical container, for the realm of intentional objects and inter-subjective relationships that human beings inhabit. And within this matrix of meanings, subjects, intentions, and so on, I think the ideal of 'objectivity' to designate 'what is really there' a pretty vain hope, really. I think we're kind of reaching out to science to be the ultimate arbiter of 'what is really there' in saying that, and I don't think science is up to the task. What you and the person next to you really agree are the 'objective facts' about any number of actual situations will vary enormously (and often with very frustrating consequences). Hopefully, to the extent that we are rational and well-educated with a common base of values, a workable consensus is achievable and indeed that is what we often see in democratic liberalism. But I don't believe it has any absolute value in reality. It does not provide us with truth, with a capital T, but at best a workable social contract and tools with which to go out an look for it, if indeed we believe it is there to be sought. And that is what I mean by 'scepticism'.
 
prothero
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 01:37 am
@deepthot,
Compassion (subjective identification of self with the other) is the basis of ethics not reason or science (objective truth).
Reason and science as easily justify domination of the weak by the strong and nature red in tooth and claw as any more altruistic ethic.
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 09:31 am
@prothero,
prothero;81158 wrote:
Compassion (subjective identification of self with the other) is the basis of ethics not reason or science (objective truth).
Reason and science as easily justify domination of the weak by the strong and nature red in tooth and claw as any more altruistic ethic.

Actually, each word object, as any differentiation in time and space, are easily bridgeable.

It is the wiser that, across every level of need, from life-and-limb, to the loftiest ideals, that are eloquently equal to the task (meet the need at hand, and toward a more valuable future).

Pragmatically, we do this ethics act every moment, every day, every...

We sequitur the dots constantly. Our very bodies are byproducts of these physics, and externally balancing an internal civilization, is the very essence of nobility.
 
richrf
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 09:34 am
@ValueRanger,
Hi,

Can someone give me an example of something that would be considered an objective ethic? Thanks.

Rich
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 10:09 am
@prothero,
Jeeprs:

Quote:
I have come across this very interesting phrase that I have quoted a few times on this forum in connection to this idea, specifically that of 'Cartesian anxiety':


And here's a distressing bit of news about Cartesian anxiety. Philosophers have never solved this problem. They have never conclusively demonstrated the existence of an external world--a world that exists outside of your thoughts, a world whose details are mirrored in your thoughts, a world of 3-D stuff that exists independently of you, or me, or anyone. We all believe, or attempt to believe, to some degree, that there is such a world, but none of us can prove it.

What follows? Just this. If you insist on certainty as a precondition for knowledge, as Descartes did, then get ready for some disappointment, because you can know almost nothing. You can know that you exist (cogito ergo sum), so long as you are thinking, though you can't know anything much else about yourself. You can also know things appear to you in certain ways--you can be certain that there seems to be words you are reading, right in front of your nose, that there appears to be a sun and a moon and other people about. Of that you can be sure. But you can't be sure that there really is a page here, or a sun, or a moon, or other people. You could be dreaming, or you could be systematically deceived by a malevolent demon. You can't prove that you're not.

So here is the choice. Insist on certainty, in any field, and you foreclose the chance of getting real knowledge. Or, you can relax the standards required for gaining knowledge. This latter choice is what almost every philosopher has done, especially since Descartes. Philosophers have taken from Descartes precisely the opposite message that he intended to convey: don't insist on certainty as a requirement for knowledge, because it sets the bar impossibly too high!

Now, if we accept that we can have knowledge of objective scientific laws without Cartesian certainty, then we might also have knowledge of objective moral standards without the need for certainty either. It would be unfair to hold moral knowledge to standards higher than those in any other area. Certainty promises a kind of epistemic purity. But it is a false promise, holding out hopes that can never be realized. If knowledge requires certainty, then we must abandon hopes for moral knowledge. But then we must give up on every other kind of knowledge as well, scientific knowledge included!

So let's summarize the argument from certainty you've alluded to with respect to moral knowledge:

P1: Knowledge of objective moral truths requires certainty.
P2: We can never be certain of the objective truth of our moral beliefs.
C: Therefore, we can never have knowledge of objective moral truths.

(P1) is either false, or it rules out the possibility of knowing virtually anything but the most trivial truths. Thus, if moral knowledge has to go, so too does knowledge about everything else, including scientific knowledge, except for the momentary content of one's thoughts.

Quote:
What you and the person next to you really agree are the 'objective facts' about any number of actual situations will vary enormously (and often with very frustrating consequences).


True. This is essentially the argument from epistemic disagreement. Let's apply it to objective morality as well:

P1: If well-informed, open-minded people intractably disagree about some claim, then that claim cannot be objectively true.
P2: Well-informed, open-minded people intractably disagree about all moral claims.
C: Therefore, there are no objective moral truths.

(P1) is false. Intractable disagreement in nonmoral areas, such as physics and biology and geology and chemistry, does not indicate a lack of objective truth in such sciences. So it begs the question to assume that such disagreement entails skepticism just for morality, when it fails to have that effect elsewhere. Further, moral disagreement is a species of philosophical disagreement. The presence of intractable disagreement within philosophy does not signal a lack of objective truth. There is an objective truth about whether there is a God, or free will, or good and evil, despite intractable philosophical disagreement on these issues. Absent further argument, there is every reason to offer the same diagnosis when it comes to the existence of objectively true moral standards.

Quote:

There is no 'absolute object' - so-called 'atoms' are actually evanescent or even 'virtual' according to many descriptions. I really think most moderns still implicitly assume an outlook of philosophical atomism - specifically that 'what really exists' are the 'fundamental units of reality'. But no such have been found. And in fact there has been a variety of arguments against atomism since Democritus first proposed the idea. But I bet most moderns, specifically secular moderns, basically presume that atoms are real and that is what everything is made from.


What I write here in response is slightly off-topic, but worth expounding on a bit. Scientific Realism is the view which holds that our best and most well-confirmed scientific theories give approximately true descriptions of both the observable and unobservable aspects of a mind-independent reality. Perhaps it is true that atoms, as currently modeled, don't exist, but given our predictive successes in the natural sciences, something certainly seems to behave like the atoms we've theorized; otherwise, we wouldn't have predictive success! It is true that we've never observed an atom, but their effects are detectable. Through rigorous experimentation, prediction, and control, we've had good reasons to infer that something unseen behaves quite like the approximated models we've drawn up and called atoms. The same goes for genes, electrons, and physical laws. So long as these scientific models generate predictive success and fulfill an explanatory need for observable phenomena, it would be too quick to be overly skeptical of their existence.
---------- Post added 08-04-2009 at 12:34 PM ----------

Richrf:

Quote:
Can someone give me an example of something that would be considered an objective ethic? Thanks.


This is an inappropriate question to ask, and I don't mean that in a patronizing way. Here's a useful analogy: asking for an example of an objective moral standard in a discussion about moral realism is the same as asking for an example of an objective number in a discussion about mathematical realism. We aren't suffering from a poverty of examples in numbers or moral standards. The actual point of discussion here is whether conventional moral standards--the morals we ourselves create--have an ontological status that is also objective (true independent of human opinon) or merely relative (invented by human opinion, period). So to answer your question, an example of a possible objective moral standard, prior to its discovery, would be any normative claim you can think up, just as an example of a possible objective number, prior to its discovery, would be any mundane number you can think up. Numbers, like morals, are either invented or discovered, so there's nothing particularly special about the content of objective numbers or morals vis-a-vis the content of conventional numbers or morals. In fact, the only real difference between them would be their ontological status, namely, that objective numbers and morals, if real, are true independent of human opinion, whereas conventional numbers and morals are not. I hope that's clear.
 
 

 
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