Objectivity in ethics

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New Mysterianism
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 09:55 pm
@salima,
Zetetic11235:

Quote:
From a different perspective: How would you approach the position that morality is totally derived from human neurological structure? That is, the basis for human social interaction is entirely based in the physical, and thus so are morals......My perspective, laid bare, is this: Moral standards are indeed based in the structure of the human brain, and arise naturally from patterns in human social behavior. So then morality cannot be called objectively true nor objectively false, it is entirely emotive and psychological.


Throughout human history, individuals and societies have constructed moral standards to govern their behavior and to give expression to their normative viewpoints. We call the fruits of these efforts conventional morality. Conventional morality is created by us, for us, and serves an adaptive evolutionary role. Properly understood, there's no denying that conventional morality is reducible to brain activity. In fact, every kind of belief is reducible to brain activity, so there's nothing really unique about identifying moral beliefs with cognition. Beliefs of every kind have in common this feature of deriving from brain activity. No moral objectivist denies that conventional morality, as a set or system of beliefs, just is the product of brain activity. But our beliefs, moral or otherwise, might be objectively true for all that. My belief that the Rockies are taller than the Appalachians is totally derived from brain activity, to be sure, but it also happens to be the case that my belief is objectively true. So what the moral objectivist insists on is the existence of a further, nonconventional morality, which is true independent of human cognition, and which can serve as a standard for assessing the merits and shortcomings of conventional morality. In other words, objectivism allows that conventional morals are fallible and can sometimes be mistaken.

Much resistance to moral objectivism stems from puzzlement about how there could be nonconventional or objective moral standards that are not human creations. If brain activity doesn't fix the content of objective morality, then what does? Well, what fixes the objective content of natural laws in physics, biology, or chemistry? Certainly not our say-so. Indeed, our brains give us the vocabulary for expressing physical laws in symbolic language, but our brains aren't the final arbiters on their objective truth. Imagine a world prior to ourselves and the existence of any language. There actually was such a world--this one. There were still countless facts about the earth's nature, despite the absence of anyone who could have said what they were. Further, those facts would have remained facts even if human beings had never existed--even if there never were any beings capable of conceptualizing them and rendering them into symbolic language. More importantly, the physical laws governing those facts existed long before us, and will continue to exist, long after we are gone. These laws are objectively true because they obtained prior to, and independent of, human opinion.

So here's the point. Since objectively true physical laws governed the world and everything in it long before the emergence of brain activity, it must be true that not every principle expressible in symbolic language is necessarily dependent on, or reducible to, or totally derived from, human cognition. Gravity, which we discovered, operated long before we hit the scene, even though the principle of gravity, a human invention, "is based in the structure of the human brain." Now, if we can have objectivity independent of brain activity, and if we can have objective physical laws independent of brain activity, why can't we have objective moral laws independent of brain activity? More importantly, what is it about moral laws which exclude them from being objectively true in the same sense as physical laws?

One common response runs as follows: while scientific or physical laws are objectively true, normative laws--those that tell us what we ought to do, or how we should behave--are altogether different in nature. Even if we concede the existence of objectively true physical laws, we still need some reason to think that moral laws, which are obviously normative, are also objectively true. So, what the moral objectivist needs to show in order to build a plausible case for the possibility of objective moral laws are examples of objective normative laws, since objective normative laws would contain the same essential features objective moral laws would also contain (as opposed to objective physical laws).

Here's three examples: (1) the laws of logic and rationality are normative. They tell us what we ought to do. But no one invented them. We gave them a vocabulary, to be sure, but the law of non-contradiction, which states that something cannot be both P and not-P, obtains independently of human opinion--indeed obtained long before humans ever hit the scene. (2) If you have excellent evidence for one claim, and this entails a second claim, then you should believe that second claim. (3) If you are faced with contradictory propositons, and know that one of them is false, then you must accept the other.

None of these are moral principles. But they are normative ones. If any principles are objective, these are. So we have here objective normative laws, ones we use all the time in debates. These normative laws are beyond the purview or verdict of the physical sciences, yet they are objectively true. Just as brain activity is not the arbiter of objective physical laws, but an instantiation of them, so brain activity is not the arbiter of objective normative laws, but an instantiation of them. Lastly, laws and principles needn't be instantiated by brain activity in order to be objectively true, since physical laws, and the laws of logic, obtained long before humans ever hit the scene. Taking the limits of brain activity for the limits of a credible ontology is question-begging.

But suppose one insists that this is just white noise. These normative examples cannot be objective, we invented them, really! The difference being that evidence for physical laws is empirical, and that is why we can confirm that they alone are objective. Conversely, normative laws lack empirical evidence, so they cannot be objective. The problem with this rebuttal is that it undercuts its own authority by implicitly relying on the unquestioned objectivity of a normative claim. What do I mean by that? Consider:

P1: If one knows that a claim is true, then one must have adequate evidence for that claim.
P2: Adequate evidence must come in the form of empirical support.
P3: There is inadequate empirical support for any purportedly objective moral claim.
C: Therefore, there are no objective moral truths.

(P2) is false. In fact, if it were true, then we would not be justified in believing it, since there is no determinative empirical evidence that would substantiate (P2)! (P2) is a normative claim, and as such cannot be decisively vindicated by reference to empirical evidence, according to its own criterion. (P2), therefore, is self-contradictory. Moral claims, being normative/philosophical ones, are largely a priori and so not subject to empirical confirmation. The moral skeptic is in a bind here. He can either:

(1) Bite the bullet and accept that (P2) is false, in which case he must abandon the argument from empirical support and find another to levy against moral objectivism.

(2) Insist that (P2) is true, in which case he is arguing against objective normative claims on the basis of an objective normative claim, which is contradictory.

Given that we now have examples of (nonmoral) normative laws that are objectively true, it is becoming increasingly plausible that objective (moral) laws might also exist as well. I certainly haven't proven that to be the case--far from it. Proofs are notoriously difficult to come by in philosophy. But I believe I have cast sufficient doubt on the assertion that because conventional moral principles are the product of brain activity, this must rule out the possibility of an objectively true morality obtaining independently of human cognition.
 
richrf
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 10:35 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
Zetetic11235:
What the objectivist insists on, however, is the existence of a further, nonconventional morality, which is true independent of human cognition, and which can serve as a standard for assessing the merits and shortcomings of conventional morality.


How is this morality going to be articulated independent of a human mind? I mean, one can argue that the Ten Commandments are such a case, but then again, there are all versions of the Ten Commandments.

Quote:
In other words, objectivism argues that conventional morals are fallible and can sometimes be mistaken.
Yep, something that we have to live with.

Quote:
Well, what fixes the objective content of natural laws in physics, biology, and chemistry?
Good question. I have never known such to be fixed. It seems like it is constantly changing. Something new is being discovered all the time. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal today that discussed how biologists once thought up until the 80s, that hearing hair follicles, could not regenerate, and then they discovered fish (and probably others species) where it could. Special Relativity totally upended the concept that time is constant in all frames of reference, and Quantum Physics upended the notion that light was a particle, or that light was a wave. It is neither. But what is it? The laws of nature seem to be constantly changing, beginning in ancient times.

Quote:
Certainly not our say-so.
Or maybe it is. Rupert Sheldrake suggests that the laws of nature are habits subject to change. Seems like an interesting idea to me in light of my own observations that science is constantly (and I mean day by day) changing its mind on things.

Quote:
Further, those facts would have remained facts even if human beings had never existed--even if there never were any beings capable of conceptualizing them and rendering them into symbolic language.
An interesting belief, but hardly fact. Even physicists do not want to grapple with that which preceded the Big Bang and even what is happening afterward is subject to debate. The thing is, we really have no idea the impact that human consciousness has on things and what preceded human consciousness - if anything did indeed precede it. Anyone can guess, speculate, have faith in, or whatever, but whatever conclusion one arrives at, it is a subjective belief - even if it has the backing of a consensus. Consensus tends to change over time.

Quote:
More importantly, the physical laws governing those facts existed long before us, and will continue to exist, long after we are gone. These laws are objectively true because they obtained prior to, and independent of, human opinion.
Something that you can take on faith and believe in, but no way of knowing for sure.

Quote:
Here's three examples: (1) the laws of logic and rationality are normative. They tell us what we ought to do. But no one invented them.
They may tell you what to do. They certainly don't tell me. I go by the gut feeling all of the time. When I choose to date someone, it really has zero to do with logic or rationality. Never enters into the picture.

Quote:
(3) If you are faced with contradictory propositons, and know that one of them is false, then you must accept the other.
Most of the time though, one has no idea what is true, false or whatever. One just has to do the best they can. My friend is in the process of getting an unexpected divorce. He is in a sad state. He is doing the best he can. There are no right or wrong answers.

Quote:
Given that we have now examples of (nonmoral) normative laws that are objectively true, it is becoming increasingly plausible that objective (moral) laws might exist as well.
I can understand someone who believes that somehow science has come up with some way of finding laws that are unchanging and therefore deserve the respect of the human population at large, may yearn for something similar when it comes to philosophy or ethics.

But, follow the scientific literature (particularly biological or medical) and observe how invariably new studies come out contradicts some prior study (this is by necessity of the profession, which has to come up with new stuff in order to survive), and you may not be so convinced about laws as you are now. They change - though some may think they don't if they ignore all of the constant new developments.

Personally, I am fine with constant change, impermanence, and uncertainty. Actually, makes life more interesting - though possibly less comforting. But like the Uncertainty Principle, you can't have one without the other.

Rich
 
prothero
 
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 11:33 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
Zetetic11235:
Given that we now have examples of (nonmoral) normative laws that are objectively true, it is becoming increasingly plausible that objective (moral) laws might also exist as well. I certainly haven't proven that to be the case--far from it. Proofs are notoriously difficult to come by in philosophy. But I believe I have cast sufficient doubt on the assertion that because conventional moral principles are the product of brain activity, this must rule out the possibility of an objectively true morality obtaining independently of human cognition.


I could not quite follow. Are you claiming that reason and logic are a priori (not dependent on experience) and that moral sensibiliteis have the same a priori status?
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 12:36 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;81344 wrote:
I do wonder, Value Ranger, if you mix up your word processor with your food processor at times. :bigsmile:

And I wonder why burgeoning philosophers here go round-n-round without straight solves...
 
richrf
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 01:06 am
@ValueRanger,
ValueRanger;81374 wrote:
And I wonder why burgeoning philosophers here go round-n-round without straight solves...


Maybe because life is a spiral an not a straight line? Just guessing, but I don't see any straight lines in nature but I see lots and lots of spirals. Spirals are much more flexible and easier to shape into new things. Straight lines, are rather inflexible. I prefer flexibility. What do you prefer?

Rich
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 01:14 am
@deepthot,
Well I reckon I put up a fairly good rebuttal but it was more or less brushed off. I still maintain there is no object without a subject, but that is a metaphysical argument and I don't think it will get any traction here.

Certain knowledge is possible but it requires moral purification. This is because the self is full of vested interests and factors which unconsciously distort your apprehension of reality. This is what gives rise to the 'wisdom of the sages' in the traditional sense. Because they are wholly disinterested, their perception is no longer occluded by selfishness. But you can't arrive at that point just by ratiocination and logical argument. Of course nobody believes any of this kind of thing anymore. It is all just ancient history.
 
richrf
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 01:25 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;81380 wrote:
Well I reckon I put up a fairly good rebuttal but it was more or less brushed off. I still maintain there is no object without a subject, but that is a metaphysical argument and I don't think it will get any traction here.


I think this is a reasonable observation. I guess the discussion is about whether the object can exist independently of the subject, or are they entangled. I go the entanglement route, simply because I cannot imagine it otherwise. And my imagination counts a lot with me. Smile

Quote:
Of course nobody believes any of this kind of thing anymore. It is all just ancient history.
I think there are people who believe this. I think there are people who believe that they have achieved it. The problem is, when I observe them, I see otherwise. So, I guess, they see themselves differently than I do.

Now, this is what I use as my yardstick. I view criticism as others as autobiographical (I borrow from Oscar Wilde). When someone suggests that they know that they have achieved some sort of enlightenment but at the same time they criticize someone else for this or for that ... well, ... I guess you know where I am going.

As a counter example, I avoid criticism of others, because of what it may indicate. Maybe I'm enlightened!! No, that would be cheating. I know I criticize others sometimes non-verbally (in my mind). So, I guess I have a ways to go. Smile

Rich
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 01:46 am
@deepthot,
well anyways, I certainly envy 'New Mysterian's' logical coherence and rigour, and would like to be able to come up with a counter-argument which is of the same quality. I don't think I have yet.

That said

Quote:
every kind of belief is reducible to brain activity


I think it is true to say that every kind of belief or indeed every mental act has a neurological correlate. But it is also inherently subjective. The subjective dimension of existence can't be described in terms of 'brain activity' any more than the meaning of a set of figures on a computer screen can be described in terms of CPU activity. Certainly without the CPU, there is no computation, but the meaning of what is computed, and its consequences in the world, cannot be simply understood just in terms of the physical basis of its production. What a belief means in terms of the consequences on a believers actions and his or her relationships with other subjects and the world at large - can this be understood as the output of brain activity? What is the utility of that view?

Conscious acts are meaningful only in the context in which they occur, which is that of an embodied being interacting with a multi-dimensional environment. Part of the whole continuum is physiological, for example the information that is provided by the sensory faclities and the role played by the empathetic nervous system and indeed the rest of the body.

I suppose the idea that a belief is reducible to brain activity indicates the notion that there is a 'representation of reality' encoded in the amino acids and so on in the brain. This is actually very much like Locke's original idea of 'impressions' or 'sensible ideas' isn't it? It doesn't take into account the millions of other cellular activities that are required to construct the whole experience of conscious being and embed them in a meaningful sequence with all that this entails. I believe that disciplines like linguistics and semiotics also undermine the idea that reality is somehow represented in neural states.

This is basically neurological reductionism, isn't it? Doesn't this just assume that mind is an activity or an output of the brain. 'The world is full of objects, some of them just happen to think'.

It is of course true that the brain is required for thinking but I don't think the whole of consciousness can be ascribed to the brain - after all, no brain has ever been observed to be conscious when not embodied in a live human. I don't know whether it is even nearly accurate to say that 'consciousness is something that happens in the brain'.

The other question that occurs to me is, laws regarding the movement of bodies are described by the laws of physics, and laws describing the interaction of substances defined by the laws of chemistry. If ethical principles are lawful in the same manner, what is the science which describes it? Previously, the answer would have been 'religious tradition' or 'confucian ethics' or 'Mosaic law' or 'the Buddhist tipitaka' and so on. What are the basic texts of moral objectivism? Does it form a coherent body of law in this sense?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 05:31 am
@deepthot,
Quote:
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.


Actually I think I have to dispute that also. I mean, how old is the statement in philosophy 'know thyself'? Wasn't that inscribed over the entrance oracle of Delphi? So this was never possible during all this time?

Anyway, be that as it may, if, for example, you were to practise Buddhist Insight 'vipassana' meditation, you would be provided with quite an exact method to understand yourself very well indeed. The aim of this method is to deconstruct the notion of self by understanding the dynamics of the process whereby it is created. I daresay Descartes never reached anything like this point because the method was unknown to him at the time. And while it is undertaken in respect to the 'normative framework' of Buddhist ethical teaching, belief in the supernatural or miracles or acceptance of religious beliefs concerning Buddhism or any other matter are not required and in fact are discouraged in order to practise the method successfully.

But I suppose this is outside the whole realm of 'Western empirical philosophy' notwithstanding that it is empirical and embodies a philosophy.

That is the best I can manage with regards to an argument.
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 08:24 am
@richrf,
richrf;81378 wrote:
Maybe because life is a spiral an not a straight line? Just guessing, but I don't see any straight lines in nature but I see lots and lots of spirals. Spirals are much more flexible and easier to shape into new things. Straight lines, are rather inflexible. I prefer flexibility. What do you prefer?

Rich

Why is there a straight line integrated with a spiral in a caduceus?

Why do effects evolve from direct causal sequences (chains, sequitur, metrics, measurement, philosophy, etc.)? How do species spin-off from the core equation? How do centripetal and centrifugal physics forces play out in the balance of philosophy and genetics?
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 08:29 am
@ValueRanger,
Richrf:

Quote:

Me: Well, what fixes the objective content of natural laws in physics, biology, and chemistry?

You: Good question. I have never known such to be fixed. It seems like it is constantly changing. Something new is being discovered all the time. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal today that discussed how biologists once thought up until the 80s, that hearing hair follicles, could not regenerate, and then they discovered fish (and probably others species) where it could. Special Relativity totally upended the concept that time is constant in all frames of reference, and Quantum Physics upended the notion that light was a particle, or that light was a wave. It is neither. But what is it? The laws of nature seem to be constantly changing, beginning in ancient times.

Or maybe it is. Rupert Sheldrake suggests that the laws of nature are habits subject to change. Seems like an interesting idea to me in light of my own observations that science is constantly (and I mean day by day) changing its mind on things.

But, follow the scientific literature (particularly biological or medical) and observe how invariably new studies come out contradicts some prior study (this is by necessity of the profession, which has to come up with new stuff in order to survive), and you may not be so convinced about laws as you are now. They change - though some may think they don't if they ignore all of the constant new developments.


From the fact that scientific theories approximate and refine their understanding of physical laws when new and/or conflicting data is discovered, it does not follow that the physical laws themselves are constantly changing. Here's a useful analogy: Jones, who is a novice at chess, plays the game everyday, increasing his knowledge of its rules and strategems. Thoroughly confident that his practice has gradually turned him into a pro, he enters into his local chess tournament, which includes a world-renowned grandmaster. Jones expertly wins match after match until, finally, he finds himself seated across from the grandmaster. Things are going quite well for Jones until, mid-game, the grandmaster executes a devastating castling move. Jones is immediately perplexed, having never seen this kind of move before. "Hey, wait a minute!," cries Jones, "that's an illegal move! The rules of chess are fixed, not in flux, mister. You can't just change the rules to win the game." The grandmaster sighs softly and replies "No, Jones. Castling violates no rule in chess, and the rules, rest assured, remain fixed." Incredulous, Jones darts an inquisitive and hopeful glance at the presiding referee, who, to his dismay, nods affirmatively towards his opponent, the grandmaster. Jones sheepishly accepts the ruling and resumes the game.

The point here is that just because the admission of new data initially conflicted with, and later refined, Jones' incomplete understanding of the rules of chess, it does not follow that the rules themselves are constantly changing. Indeed, it would be intellectually immodest to suppose that our current scientific theories give us an omniscient understanding of physical laws. We can never be certain of this. But absent further argument, there is no good reason to suppose that physical laws themselves are constantly changing, anymore than Jones had good reason to suppose that the rules of chess had been violated by his opponent. Jones is your everyday scientist, the chess rules are the physical laws, and the grandmaster's castling move signaled the introduction of new, seemingly conflicting data.

Here's one more example. "At what temperature does water boil?", Jones wonders. Intrigued, Jones decides to conduct an experiment by placing a pot of water on a burning stove, gradually turning the dial, and meticulously recording the rising temperature with his thermometer: 50C...nothing, 75C...getting warmer...100C, eureka! Jones performs this same experiment numerous times and replicates the same results. Jones concludes that "water boils at 100C." One weekend, Jones decides to hike up the mountain, where he has a cabin in the woods. Once there, Jones is famished, so he places a pot on the stove to cook some macaroni. To his astonishment, the water reaches 100C, but doesn't boil! Jones frantically pulls out his thermometer to check the temperate: 105..., 120..., 130...boiling! How can this be? How can he explain this anomaly? Simple. Jones makes the following revision to his earlier theory: water boils at 100C at sea-level. Now, did the laws of chemistry actually change, or did the raised elevation of his cabin have something to do with the different boiling points? You be the judge.

Quote:

Me: In other words, objectivism allows that conventional morals are fallible and can sometimes be mistaken.

You: Yep, something that we have to live with.


Many people, while voicing skepticism about objective morality, nevertheless embrace views that entail a commitment to its existence, as you have just shown here. Unless you are a moral objectivist, you cannot acknowledge with consistency that conventional morality is fallible. Moral subjectivism's and moral relativism's picture of ethics as a wholly conventional enterprise entails a kind of moral infallibilty for individuals or societies. No matter the content of the ultimate commitments of either individual sentiment or collective endorsement, these can never be wrong. By rejecting the possibility of objective morality, you implicitly acknowledge that our own basic moral commitments can never be wrong. We, or our society, are morally infallible, at least with regard to what we hold dear, and the same holds for other individuals and other societies (moral equivalence). According to subjectivism and relativism, the ultimate decrees of conventional morality cannot be mistaken. One might, of course, disagree with an element of a competing conventional morality, but that doesn't signal any error on its part. If conventional morality is the final word in ethics, then the wholly consistent Nazi, or the flawlessly rational terrorist, who perfectly embody their own conventional morality, are also perfectly morally virtuous, without moral flaw. Besides, there are no objective standards that could serve as the basis for measuring errors between competing conventional moralities. In other words, you cannot reject moral objectivism and yet state with consistency that conventional morality is fallible. If the answers to moral questions are given just by personal opinion (subjectivism), or by collective endorsement (relativism), then any moral view is just as (im)plausible as any other. If subjectivists or relativists are right, then the basic views of all individuals or all societies are morally on par with one another, on equal moral footing. In conclusion, you cannot consistently hold to either the subjectivist or relativist view of moral equivalence between competing conventional moralities and also submit that conventional morality is fallible, period.
 
richrf
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 08:50 am
@ValueRanger,
ValueRanger;81419 wrote:
Why is there a straight line integrated with a spiral in a caduceus?

Why do effects evolve from direct causal sequences (chains, sequitur, metrics, measurement, philosophy, etc.)? How do species spin-off from the core equation? How do centripetal and centrifugal physics forces play out in the balance of philosophy and genetics?


There are other points of views worth considering.

One is the Taiji symbol, where straight lines are a manifestation of the internal spiral, sort of like tangential lines. In other words, they are tangential to the fundamental movement. They have meaning, but emanate from the spiraling force. I like this image, since I get the sense of the eye seeking to look at itself. BTW, the source for the Taiji symbol is the Yi Jing (I Ching), and it was intuited by observing nature.


http://topren.net/travel/culture/taiji/taiji.gif

The Kaballah has its own reditions:

Ein sof



http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/15/Ein_sof.png

And then there is the Kabballah embedded within the Flower Tree of Life:

http://www.theinfovault.net/vault/spirituality/floweroflife_files/page317_18.gif

So, there are different models to consider. All of which I find fascinating.

Rich
 
prothero
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 01:13 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;81421 wrote:
Many people, while voicing skepticism about objective morality, nevertheless embrace views that entail a commitment to its existence, as you have just shown here. Unless you are a moral objectivist, you cannot acknowledge with consistency that conventional morality is fallible. Moral subjectivism's and moral relativism's picture of ethics as a wholly conventional enterprise entails a kind of moral infallibilty for individuals or societies. No matter the content of the ultimate commitments of either individual sentiment or collective endorsement, these can never be wrong. By rejecting the possibility of objective morality, you implicitly acknowledge that our own basic moral commitments can never be wrong. We, or our society, are morally infallible, at least with regard to what we hold dear, and the same holds for other individuals and other societies (moral equivalence). According to subjectivism and relativism, the ultimate decrees of conventional morality cannot be mistaken. One might, of course, disagree with an element of a competing conventional morality, but that doesn't signal any error on its part. If conventional morality is the final word in ethics, then the wholly consistent Nazi, or the flawlessly rational terrorist, who perfectly embody their own conventional morality, are also perfectly morally virtuous, without moral flaw. Besides, there are no objective standards that could serve as the basis for measuring errors between competing conventional moralities. In other words, you cannot reject moral objectivism and yet state with consistency that conventional morality is fallible. If the answers to moral questions are given just by personal opinion (subjectivism), or by collective endorsement (relativism), then any moral view is just as (im)plausible as any other. If subjectivists or relativists are right, then the basic views of all individuals or all societies are morally on par with one another, on equal moral footing. In conclusion, you cannot consistently hold to either the subjectivist or relativist view of moral equivalence between competing conventional moralities and also submit that conventional morality is fallible, period.


I am still after the proof that there is any objective morality. I understand that there may be an objective morality and I am personally committed to the notion. Slavery, murder, rape and torture are wrong, were wrong and will always be wrong. However, I do not think one can prove the presence of objective morality with either reason or science. The notion of objective morality is largely a matter of faith and subjective truth. It is true the really meaningful values in individual lives typically are in the realm of subjective and not objective truth. We do not generally fight and die over scientific truth but over freedom, love, beauty and other values.
Our really important values are neither scientific, objective or entirely rational.
 
Zetetic11235
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 02:02 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
Zetetic11235:



Throughout human history, individuals and societies have constructed moral standards to govern their behavior and to give expression to their normative viewpoints. We call the fruits of these efforts conventional morality. Conventional morality is created by us, for us, and serves an adaptive evolutionary role. Properly understood, there's no denying that conventional morality is reducible to brain activity. In fact, every kind of belief is reducible to brain activity, so there's nothing really unique about identifying moral beliefs with cognition. Beliefs of every kind have in common this feature of deriving from brain activity. No moral objectivist denies that conventional morality, as a set or system of beliefs, just is the product of brain activity. But our beliefs, moral or otherwise, might be objectively true for all that. My belief that the Rockies are taller than the Appalachians is totally derived from brain activity, to be sure, but it also happens to be the case that my belief is objectively true.


There is a problem here; the Rockies are taller than the Appalachians may be a result of brain activity, but it is still also a result of sensory input. It is strictly a posteriori knowledge. There is not necessarily anything about the architecture of the brain that affects the truth of that statement, neither is it the case that such a fact is present in the brain prior to the requisite sensory input, as I have claimed is possibly true with moral standards. So the knowledge of moral standards would not be a posteriori, or even a priori, but totally implicit and emotive. The consequences of morals may be synthetic a priori, but this is not the case of the morals themselves. I am afriand that this seems to me to amount to little more than a straw man.


New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
So what the moral objectivist insists on is the existence of a further, nonconventional morality, which is true independent of human cognition, and which can serve as a standard for assessing the merits and shortcomings of conventional morality. In other words, objectivism allows that conventional morals are fallible and can sometimes be mistaken.
Much resistance to moral objectivism stems from puzzlement about how there could be nonconventional or objective moral standards that are not human creations. If brain activity doesn't fix the content of objective morality, then what does? Well, what fixes the objective content of natural laws in physics, biology, or chemistry? Certainly not our say-so. Indeed, our brains give us the vocabulary for expressing physical laws in symbolic language, but our brains aren't the final arbiters on their objective truth. Imagine a world prior to ourselves and the existence of any language.
There actually was such a world--this one. There were still countless facts about the earth's nature, despite the absence of anyone who could have said what they were. Further, those facts would have remained facts even if human beings had never existed--even if there never were any beings capable of conceptualizing them and rendering them into symbolic language. More importantly, the physical laws governing those facts existed long before us, and will continue to exist, long after we are gone. These laws are objectively true because they obtained prior to, and independent of, human opinion.

So here's the point. Since objectively true physical laws governed the world and everything in it long before the emergence of brain activity, it must be true that not every principle expressible in symbolic language is necessarily dependent on, or reducible to, or totally derived from, human cognition.


Just a friendly coveat. This is in fact, debatable. Given that I have my qualms about the other side of the debate and am too inept in modern quantum mechanics to evaluate the opposing point of view, I will refrain from any such attempt at debate here.

New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
Gravity, which we discovered, operated long before we hit the scene, even though the principle of gravity, a human invention, "is based in the structure of the human brain." Now, if we can have objectivity independent of brain activity, and if we can have objective physical laws independent of brain activity, why can't we have objective moral laws independent of brain activity? More importantly, what is it about moral laws which exclude them from being objectively true in the same sense as physical laws?
One common response runs as follows: while scientific or physical laws are objectively true, normative laws--those that tell us what we ought to do, or how we should behave--are altogether different in nature. Even if we concede the existence of objectively true physical laws, we still need some reason to think that moral laws, which are obviously normative, are also objectively true. So, what the moral objectivist needs to show in order to build a plausible case for the possibility of objective moral laws are examples of objective normative laws, since objective normative laws would contain the same essential features objective moral laws would also contain (as opposed to objective physical laws).


New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
Here's three examples: (1) the laws of logic and rationality are normative. They tell us what we ought to do.

I disagree for the reason stated in my next response and final paragraph.

New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
but the law of non-contradiction, which states that something cannot be both P and not-P, obtains independently of human opinion--indeed obtained long before humans ever hit the scene.

A questionable and difficult to defend claim. Please further expaciate so that I might see your reasoning. I fail to see how logic can be considered normative. I consider logic to be descriptive, I also consider physics to be descriptive.


New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
(2) If you have excellent evidence for one claim, and this entails a second claim, then you should believe that second claim. (3) If you are faced with contradictory propositons, and know that one of them is false, then you must accept the other.


None of these are moral principles. But they are normative ones. If any principles are objective, these are. [/QUOTE] Your second two examples are simply consequences of your first and therefore only example. You don't really need 3 examples anyway; it is a very arbitrary number.


New Mysterianism;81361 wrote:
But I believe I have cast sufficient doubt on the assertion that because conventional moral principles are the product of brain activity, this must rule out the possibility of an objectively true morality obtaining independently of human cognition.


If your original point amounted to more than a straw man ( a very good and subtle straw man, but a straw man nonetheless), you might have been correct here.

I would like to further explain my position by saying that rationality is logic with emotive impetus and is inexorably linked to morality (and may in fact constitue the bulk of morality as the emotive impetus to moral action is not totally distinguishable from the emotive impetus of rationality). Logic is totally descriptive and thus can be considered objective.
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 05:07 pm
@Zetetic11235,
Zetetic11235 wrote:
There is a problem here; the Rockies are taller than the Appalachians may be a result of brain activity, but it is still also a result of sensory input. It is strictly a posteriori knowledge. There is not necessarily anything about the architecture of the brain that affects the truth of that statement, neither is it the case that such a fact is present in the brain prior to the requisite sensory input, as I have claimed is possibly true with moral standards. So the knowledge of moral standards would not be a posteriori, or even a priori, but totally implicit and emotive. The consequences of morals may be synthetic a priori, but this is not the case of the morals themselves. I am afriand that this seems to me to amount to little more than a straw man.


(If I've misrepresented your view, then what I politely suggest you do, as I have done, is attempt to schematize your main argument into a premise-conclusion style format. That way, it will render your position crystal-clear. What I'll attempt to do in the meantime is address what I think your view is).

So the objectivity of a descriptive claim is subject to empirical verification, whereas the objectivity of a moral claim, being normative, is not? True. I agree that we cannot gain knowledge of objective moral truths through sensory-experience alone. However, this point isn't sufficient to categorically rule out the possibility of moral knowledge. Why? Because your assertion that one cannot know a claim is true unless it has empirical support is intractably problematic. I introduced this problem in my previous response, viz., the argument from empirical support. Here it is again:

P1: If one knows that a claim is true, then one must have adequate evidence for that claim.
P2: Adequate evidence must come in the form of empirical support.
P3: There is inadequate empirical support for any objective moral claim.
C: Therefore, we cannot have knowledge of objective moral truths.

Essentially, your position rests on the truth of (P2). In particular, you suggest that because we cannot empirically confirm objective moral truths, we cannot know them. Alternatively, you might also be arguing that any claim not subject to empirical confirmation is, in addition to being unknowable, strictly "emotive." In either case, this bears repeating: (P2) is false. In fact, if it were true, then we would not be justified in believing it, since there is no determinative empirical evidence (sensory or otherwise) that would substantiate (P2). (P2) is a normative claim, and as such cannot be decisively vindicated by reference to empirical evidence. Therefore, by its own criterion, (P2) is self-refuting. Moral standards, as normative claims, are largely a priori (independent of experience) and so not subject to empirical confirmation. Instead, we must uncover philosophical evidence for an objective morality.

Zetetic11235 wrote:
A questionable and difficult to defend claim. Please further expaciate so that I might see your reasoning. I fail to see how logic can be considered normative. I consider logic to be descriptive, I also consider physics to be descriptive.


Okay, there's at least two points to cover here. First, you express skepticism about a logical principle (e.g., non-contradiction) obtaining independently of human minds. Understand that unless we want to cast all of philosophical discourse into a skeptical bog, we must relax our epistemic standards by allowing things to obtain independently of human minds. Otherwise, your distinction between mind-dependence and mind-independence, which forms the basis of your distinction between the empirical verifiabilty of descriptive vs. normative claims, loses all its relevance. Indeed, without any mind-independent facts, all talk simply becomes baseless opinion, and that's it. This brand of wholesale doubt--that we cannot know for certain whether physical laws obtained prior to us--largely paralyzes discussion and casts us into a skeptical bog. If we insist on certainty as a precondition for knowledge, we can know only the most trivial truths. It is plausible to assume that the Earth was here prior to human beings. It is plausible to assume that logical principles, like non-contradiction (something cannot be both P and not-P), obtained for physical objects prior to human beings. For example, can my pencil both be in my left hand and not be in my left hand? No, that would be contradictory. It either is or isn't. I don't believe anyone can legitimately dispute this. Is it plausible to assume that this logical principle failed to obtain for physical objects prior to human existence? Very doubtful. At any rate, you're free to be skeptical in this regard, but it won't foster much progress in philosophy, since it brings all discussions to a standstill.

Secondly, you express skepticism at the idea that logical rules are normative. Here's the two I gave:

NewMysterianism wrote:
(2) If you have excellent evidence for one claim, and this entails a second claim, then you should believe that second claim. (3) If you are faced with contradictory propositons, and know that one of them is false, then you must accept the other.


Another normative principle is bivalence: for any proposition P, either P is true or P is false. Normative statements tell us what we should, must, or ought to do when reasoning. Conversely, physical laws (like those in physics) are wholly descriptive precisely because they don't tell us what we should, must or ought to do. The formal laws of a physical theory are justified by a process of repeated controlled observations. This from a physicist's point of view is the meaning of the empirical nature of these laws. Your final paragraph doesn't shed much light on why you think logical rules are descriptive, so I haven't much to say in response but to reiterate what distinguishes descriptive statements from normative statements in elementary logic (which I did). I think you can sympathize with the fact that your two or so isolated sentences on this point tell me very little about your view. Therefore, it would be really helpful if you schematized your whole position and coupled it with some further explanation. This way we can avoid allegations of strawmans--something I'm not accustomed to doing.
 
New Mysterianism
 
Reply Wed 5 Aug, 2009 09:40 pm
@New Mysterianism,
I will still be active in this thread, but I invite anyone who's interested in exploring this subject more deeply to read and add to my blog entry on the subject, which will be the first of many to that effect. I'm getting the sense that interests are beginning to cool on the subject, which typically happens whenever threads reach double-digit pagenation. So, I hope to see you there.

http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/blogs/new-mysterianism/406-moral-objectivism-nature-problem.html
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 01:35 pm
@richrf,
richrf;81422 wrote:
points.

Rich

A caduceus, like any other metric, has a lifeline origin X, and a death, Y. Between these two points, is the singular myriad of choice points (see: matrix theory) that evolve from The Law of Opposites, to a myriad of aesthetic potentials.

You can map life through 6x6 interconnected, modular and scalar matrices. Sequiturs from Newton, to Einstein, to the current top problem solver, equally evolve potentials.

What logic system do you think equitably follows boolean, to systems theory, to......?
 
Zetetic11235
 
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 02:29 pm
@New Mysterianism,
I am well aware of the meaning of the word Normative in philosophical context, however; I need to reconsider my stance. Ethics is not a subject that I have put much time into considering as I have dismissed it as a subset of rational decision making and principally emotive in origin.

I think that I have been unclear in presenting my points, as you have misunderstood me. I will have to study this topic a bit and fine tune my position as it is not developed enough for a good debate.

Here is my view point currently as I can best express it:

Logic is distinct from reasoning and is in fact descriptive in the same manner as physics. The logical form of an object is part of an object and is totally objective. Logic itself stands apart from reasoning as objective but not normative; reason is the normative counterpart to logic and represents the equilibrium between objective logical description and subjective desire for a specific outcome. So logic remains as a descriptive aspect of reality that can elucidate the consequences of an action or set of actions when considered through the lens of experience and emotive impetus or desire at which point one has reason.

I conceive of morality as an emotive mediator with the purpose of social efficiency. The reason for this is that it is often requisite for a desired outcome that one knows how other sentient beings will react and what the ultimate view of his actions will be. It allows one to search for a better solution in light of social considerations.

In this way, I would agree that morality is objective; there is a set of correct actions and behaviors that elicit the best possible outcome in any circumstance and morality constitutes a large part of this set. Just as patterns of social behavior are objective (in your sense of the word), so to is any fruitful analysis of these patterns of behavior. If I say I ought to do X in order for Y, then this is a verifiable and objective statement.
 
richrf
 
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 02:41 pm
@ValueRanger,
ValueRanger;81634 wrote:
A caduceus, like any other metric, has a lifeline origin X, and a death, Y. Between these two points, is the singular myriad of choice points (see: matrix theory) that evolve from The Law of Opposites, to a myriad of aesthetic potentials.

You can map life through 6x6 interconnected, modular and scalar matrices. Sequiturs from Newton, to Einstein, to the current top problem solver, equally evolve potentials.

What logic system do you think equitably follows boolean, to systems theory, to......?


Hard for me to conceive of Life as a straight line. It has so my cyclical aspects to it. And if we need another logic system to accommodate, then so bit. It is all contrived in any case.

Rich
 
Zetetic11235
 
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 02:43 pm
@ValueRanger,
ValueRanger;81634 wrote:
A caduceus, like any other metric, has a lifeline origin X, and a death, Y. Between these two points, is the singular myriad of choice points (see: matrix theory) that evolve from The Law of Opposites, to a myriad of aesthetic potentials.

You can map life through 6x6 interconnected, modular and scalar matrices.


So what does misusing words and mathematical concepts in a strange way (I suppose you mean to create some sort of metaphor rather than a pointless nonsequitur ) do for you and what do you hope to accomplish or show us?
 
 

 
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