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  • Morality

    See the comments section here if you're interested in what has been said previously.

    Can't do PMs because my box is full and can't do comments because apparently there's a max. of 1000 characters to leave a comment on someone's profile, so...



    Originally posted by sordavie
    Truth is properly taken to be a feature of statements or propositions - in particular declarative statements or the semantic contents of declarative statement. A true statement or proposition is one that accurately declares or describes how reality is. A false statement is one that inaccurately describes how reality or part of reality is. 'Earth is flat' is a declarative statement that inaccurately describes how the Earth is. 'Sordavie has a computer' is a declarative statement that accurately describes how reality is. 'Goldbach's conjecture is correct' is a declarative statement that either accurately or inaccurately describes how reality is, but we don't know which it is.
    Now that's pretty interesting.

    Originally posted by sordavie
    2. You mean to say that our evaluation of the moral opinion can vary depending on who's moral framework we evaluate through. Think of moral frameworks like rules about how to evaluate these moral opinions. Think of evaluation as a process of determining what our framework says about given moral opinion's truth value. In other words, on this interpretation, you might be saying that different people will evaluate morality differently, disagreeing about which moral opinions are true and which are false. That seems plausible enough. But it does not imply that the actual truth value of the moral opinions change. You can I might disagree about whether Goldbach's conjecture is true or false. You might say it's false while I might say it's true. We might not be able to independently tell who's evaluation or assessment is correct. But it doesn't follow from this mere disagreement that the truth value of Goldbach's conjecture is just relative.
    This is the one.

    Originally posted by sordavie
    Suppose A beliefs X and B beliefs Y where X and Y are moral beliefs and contradict each other. According to moral relativism, X is true for A and Y is true for B, since moral truths are true only relative to a subject. It follows by logical principles that Y is false for A and X is false for B. Suppose A and B get in to a disagreement over whether X or Y is true. How should we evaluate such a disagreement? If you're having trouble evaluating the disagreement from a third, unbiased point of view, don't worry. It's not possible to evaluate it. The disagreement is not genuine. A and B are speaking past one another, since there's no reality in common between them to be talking about. A is talking about a moral reality holding for her while B is talking about a moral reality holding for him. They are just talking about different things. What appears to be an argument is just a huge miscommunication between A and B.
    Kinda funny when I think about it but doesn't this happen regularly in the Sandbox? :row__590:

    I've often had extremely long sandbox arguments that have ended up boiling down to a basic disagreement between what I, and the person I'm arguing with, believe to be "right" in terms of our particular basic moral values (or frameworks, or codes). At this point the only thing that you can do is say "agree to disagree" and walk away, as your moral values can often boil down to things like intuition, instinct, and your education (by this I don't necessarily mean just school education, it could just be how you grew up, where you grew up, your experiences, what your guardians have taught you from a young age, etc.).

    Also you go on to say...

    Originally posted by sordavie
    Moral realism is the view that reality contains a certain feature: morality. And that feature is independent of our wishes, desires, thoughts, beliefs, opinions and so on, just like the rest of reality is.
    Now I understand from your post why moral relativism is flawed and that it's stated that answers to moral questions are either universally true or false. What I don't understand is how do we ascertain what morality is? And how can it be "independent of our wishes, desires, thoughts, beliefs, opinions and so on," when these are the very things we use to judge which moral choice we should make?

    And what makes a moral choice, the right moral choice? And what are the correct moral values/frameworks/codes that allow us to find this "true" morality (billion dollar question, right? :row1_7:)? I may not be articulating it very well, but I think I'm trying to say that if there is such a thing as a universally true morality, then is there such a thing as a universally "true" set of moral codes (though they may not have been thought up yet)? And if so, how do we judge that this particular set of moral codes is more true than others?

    After all, morality is a man-made idea, so who's to say that morality A is more true than that morality B? Aren't we all subject to our own bias and our own separate thought processes when trying to find the correct moral choices?

    [Completely irrelevant random paragraph]Could you, in some ways, also compare morality to, say, God? A man-made idea, that many people (and groups of people) have a different idea about, but is impossible to prove either way because there's no real empirical evidence to prove that it exists or to prove which of these, interpretations - if any - are correct. (In this analogy, moral nihilism can be comparable to atheism)[/Completely irrelevant random paragraph]



    The above is something of a ramble. I was writing this response last night and then it got late and then I started again not long ago and my brain is hurting after a lot of typing, backspacing, thinking, (badly) articulating etc. Sorry if you can't make some sense of out of it.



    Originally posted by sordavie
    People use the first interpretation in finding the following statement plausible: there are no universal moral truths. They then use the second interpretation to try to understand what the statement meant, which results in a line of reasoning to moral relativism.
    I think I'm getting this because I lol'ed here.


    P.S. Sordavie, thanks for taking the time out to write a response. Not sure why others in the comments of that blog section were unhappy with what you were writing but I found all of your posts worth reading (well, not so much when you had to explain for the 3rd or 4th time that you weren't insulting Lien :row__579:).
    Anger is a gift - Malcolm X


  • #2
    Re: Morality

    Originally posted by SharinganTH1422 View Post
    See the comments section here if you're interested in what has been said previously.

    Can't do PMs because my box is full and can't do comments because apparently there's a max. of 1000 characters to leave a comment on someone's profile, so...





    Now that's pretty interesting.
    People often seem to have trouble distinguishing between the concept of truth and the concept of believing something to be true. The first concept, truth, is one that applies to statements or propositions. The second concept, believing something is true, is one that applies to beliefs. Beliefs are things in our heads - perhaps phases or neurochemical activity in the nervous system or some such. Statements and propositions are not. Of course one can think about a statement or proposition and one can believe a statement or proposition. But again, same distinction. The former aren't in the head, while the latter are.

    Once you get the distinction, it's not hard to see how some statement can have a definite truth value (either being true or being false) but we just don't know which it is. It's also not hard to see that someone might have the belief that X is true, but it turns out that since X isn't true, the person's belief that it is true is mistaken. Merely getting clear on the distinction between these things goes a long way in clearing up fundamental confusions about truth and belief.

    This is the one.
    Ah, yes, as I figured. You don't really believe in relativism. I don't think people actually believe in moral relativism. There are few people who are moral nihilists, and it doesn't take much to see that moral relativism just is moral nihilism with some implausible thesis about the semantics of our words. People confuse themselves into expressing moral relativism for various reasons.

    Kinda funny when I think about it but doesn't this happen regularly in the Sandbox? :row__590:

    I've often had extremely long sandbox arguments that have ended up boiling down to a basic disagreement between what I, and the person I'm arguing with, believe to be "right" in terms of our particular basic moral values (or frameworks, or codes). At this point the only thing that you can do is say "agree to disagree" and walk away, as your moral values can often boil down to things like intuition, instinct, and your education (by this I don't necessarily mean just school education, it could just be how you grew up, where you grew up, your experiences, what your guardians have taught you from a young age, etc.).
    You point out that often discussion in the sandbox turn out to be merely people speaking past one another. That may be true, and it's likely a result of people being uncareful of what they say or people having different ideas about what the terms they use mean. This is why philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, historians, and the like make up jargon to explain their theories. Jargon or technical terms, unlike words in our natural language have a stipulated, usually precise, definition. They are terms that everyone in the discipline, ideally, has agreed to use with an exact meaning, so that we don't turn out to speak past one another. This is quite different than what I say about moral relativism. Since it's quite contingent whether we end up speaking past each other in the sandbox. It's dependent on how careful we are, how we use our words, and so on. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. But my criticism of moral relativism here is that if moral relativism were true, then in principle it's impossible for people to have disagreements because they necessarily speak past one another.

    You ought to distinguish this sort of speaking past one another from disagreeing about your foundational beliefs. Some of our beliefs are implied or justified by our other beliefs. This process of downward justification can't go on infinitely, so all of us must have some foundational beliefs that aren't justified by any other beliefs. Often some of our moral beliefs fall in to this category. We might all it out moral framework. You and I might disagree at this foundational level about some statement P, where we can't say anything about why we believe or disbelieve P. Thus we appear not to be able to convince each other that our positions are correct. This is a like sandbox disagreement where we just agree to disagree. This is not to speak past one another in the notion above. This is just to have a genuine disagreement over P, where neither of us has the evidential resources to convince the other. Speaking past one another in the sense above is just talking about completely different things. It's as if I were saying Q is true and you were saying P is false, where Q and P have nothing to do with one another. There's just no single subject matter in common that's being argued over. So the problem with moral relativism here is not merely like what goes on in sandbox disagreements.

    Also you go on to say...



    Now I understand from your post why moral relativism is flawed and that it's stated that answers to moral questions are either universally true or false. What I don't understand is how do we ascertain what morality is? And how can it be "independent of our wishes, desires, thoughts, beliefs, opinions and so on," when these are the very things we use to judge which moral choice we should make?

    And what makes a moral choice, the right moral choice? And what are the correct moral values/frameworks/codes that allow us to find this "true" morality (billion dollar question, right? :row1_7:)? I may not be articulating it very well, but I think I'm trying to say that if there is such a thing as a universally true morality, then is there such a thing as a universally "true" set of moral codes (though they may not have been thought up yet)? And if so, how do we judge that this particular set of moral codes is more true than others?
    Well to figure out what's true on the topic of morality in a rigorous manner is just like any other discipline of knowledge, we need to do a lot of research, figure out methods for evidence gathering and evaluation, and the like. Sure, it's not an empirical science like physics. The evidence we gather is typically not by mere perceptual observation and measurements aren't in terms of mass, length, distance, charge, and things like that. But as a discipline of knowledge, the principles are the same. This discipline is called ethics, and there are researchers who attempt to do these things. I could say more about the discipline if you'd like, but it has a long history - far longer than physics - so maybe specific questions would be better. The knowledge discovered by any of these disciplines filters down to the public slowly. So most of us hold our moral beliefs due to the teachings of our parents, teachers, friends, and more generally the societies and cultures we grow up in. We don't actually do the discovering. That work was done by ethicists previously. They, of course, continue to do work because we don't know everything and what we do think we know must always undergo continuous critical evaluation. The same goes for our mathematical beliefs, our beliefs about how biology works, our beliefs about physics, and so on. It's not particularly special in terms of academic disciplines.

    Our beliefs about how the world is or should be is not independent of our beliefs, desires, wishes, opinions and so on. But reality is. Unfortunately we don't know everything. Moreover we don't know what the extent of what we don't know is. To make matters worse, often what we think we know is just wrong, and often we can't tell whether its wrong or not. So we do the best we can. We have some amount of evidence. Hopefully we're rational and come to believe the best overall theory that fits that evidence, and then we use it to make judgments about things. If we were right, then our judgments are accurate. If not, then they are inaccurate, unbeknownst to us. This need not lead to skepticism about reality. Rather we ought to be epistemically humble. We ought to recognize that even if we think something is true, and even if we have lots of evidence that it's true, it's possible that we turn out to be mistaken. Indeed, it may be that even if morality is a feature of reality, it's impossible for us humans to figure out any reliable methods for discovering the moral truths. If so, it sucks to be us. We're just too stupid or don't have the right cognitive functions to find out, and we'll necessarily be ignorant on the matter. But all we can do is try out best in uncertainty.

    After all, morality is a man-made idea, so who's to say that morality A is more true than that morality B? Aren't we all subject to our own bias and our own separate thought processes when trying to find the correct moral choices?
    Morality, if there is such a thing in reality, is just like anything else in reality. It's some way or the other. Questions like, "who gets to decide which way it is," contain a mistaken assumption that someone must decide. No. Reality is not decided by anyone. It just is. If nobody existed, reality would still be some way or other. If morality is a feature in reality, then we discover it, just like we discover any other part of reality. If morality is not a feature of reality - people like to say that morality is made up by us - then moral nihilism is true and there is no morality. Most people believe that the laws of physics are real. Nobody's to say whether general relativity is more true than Newtonian mechanics. That's not something anyone decides. It either is or it isn't. We can discover evidence that one or the other is through various methods in physics, but we don't decide. If morality is real, then it's the same here. We discover evidence of which moral codes are true and which aren't through various methods in ethics.

    [Completely irrelevant random paragraph]Could you, in some ways, also compare morality to, say, God? A man-made idea, that many people (and groups of people) have a different idea about, but is impossible to prove either way because there's no real empirical evidence to prove that it exists or to prove which of these, interpretations - if any - are correct. (In this analogy, moral nihilism can be comparable to atheism)[/Completely irrelevant random paragraph]
    If you think God is a man-made idea and that explains why different groups of people have different ideas about it, then what you're claiming is that atheism is true and giving a hypothesis about why various cultures have beliefs about God. You can compare one kind of moral nihilism to this view. The view would be that moral codes are man-made. And so on. The idea here is that when one uses the phrase "man-made" to refer to ideas like these, what's really meant is the notion of a fiction. In the same way, Santa Claus, Unicorns, Pegasus, and Harry Potter are all man-made. None of them are features of reality.




    I think I'm getting this because I lol'ed here.
    Equivocation is a fairly common mistake to make in reasoning, especially when dealing with concepts that are vague or ambiguous where it's easy to slip from one meaning of the concept to another without noticing.
    Again this is exactly why scientists, philosophers, mathematicians and so on use jargon which is defined in order to to prevent vagueness or ambiguity.
    Last edited by sordavie; 05-21-2011, 10:04 AM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Morality

      Originally posted by sordavie View Post
      People often seem to have trouble distinguishing between the concept of truth and the concept of believing something to be true. The first concept, truth, is one that applies to statements or propositions. The second concept, believing something is true, is one that applies to beliefs. Beliefs are things in our heads - perhaps phases or neurochemical activity in the nervous system or some such. Statements and propositions are not. Of course one can think about a statement or proposition and one can believe a statement or proposition. But again, same distinction. The former aren't in the head, while the latter are.

      Once you get the distinction, it's not hard to see how some statement can have a definite truth value (either being true or being false) but we just don't know which it is. It's also not hard to see that someone might have the belief that X is true, but it turns out that since X isn't true, the person's belief that it is true is mistaken. Merely getting clear on the distinction between these things goes a long way in clearing up fundamental confusions about truth and belief.

      [...]

      Morality, if there is such a thing in reality, is just like anything else in reality. It's some way or the other. Questions like, "who gets to decide which way it is," contain a mistaken assumption that someone must decide. No. Reality is not decided by anyone. It just is. If nobody existed, reality would still be some way or other. If morality is a feature in reality, then we discover it, just like we discover any other part of reality. If morality is not a feature of reality - people like to say that morality is made up by us - then moral nihilism is true and there is no morality. Most people believe that the laws of physics are real. Nobody's to say whether general relativity is more true than Newtonian mechanics. That's not something anyone decides. It either is or it isn't. We can discover evidence that one or the other is through various methods in physics, but we don't decide. If morality is real, then it's the same here. We discover evidence of which moral codes are true and which aren't through various methods in ethics.

      If you think God is a man-made idea and that explains why different groups of people have different ideas about it, then what you're claiming is that atheism is true and giving a hypothesis about why various cultures have beliefs about God. You can compare one kind of moral nihilism to this view. The view would be that moral codes are man-made. And so on. The idea here is that when one uses the phrase "man-made" to refer to ideas like these, what's really meant is the notion of a fiction. In the same way, Santa Claus, Unicorns, Pegasus, and Harry Potter are all man-made. None of them are features of reality.
      Interesting read and pretty thought-provoking. Again, I'm just typing out my own semi-random thoughts here, but in tems of morality, in reality, is that necessarily true that it simply exists on its own, when it would not be around without people and people's thoughts? Plants, clouds, mathematics, physics, all of these things exist and are real, but without humans, would there be morality? Animals (with their lesser intelligence) have no system of morality, so is it therefore not a man-made creation? Or is this another example of equivocation, where "man-made" can be used to describe something fictional, but also to describe something that is created by man, but is still real - like tables, chairs, computers, clothes, the hadron collider - and just because something is created by man, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist/is not real, regardless...?





      Originally posted by sordavie View Post
      You point out that often discussion in the sandbox turn out to be merely people speaking past one another. That may be true, and it's likely a result of people being uncareful of what they say or people having different ideas about what the terms they use mean. This is why philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, historians, and the like make up jargon to explain their theories. Jargon or technical terms, unlike words in our natural language have a stipulated, usually precise, definition. They are terms that everyone in the discipline, ideally, has agreed to use with an exact meaning, so that we don't turn out to speak past one another. This is quite different than what I say about moral relativism. Since it's quite contingent whether we end up speaking past each other in the sandbox. It's dependent on how careful we are, how we use our words, and so on. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. But my criticism of moral relativism here is that if moral relativism were true, then in principle it's impossible for people to have disagreements because they necessarily speak past one another.

      You ought to distinguish this sort of speaking past one another from disagreeing about your foundational beliefs. Some of our beliefs are implied or justified by our other beliefs. This process of downward justification can't go on infinitely, so all of us must have some foundational beliefs that aren't justified by any other beliefs. Often some of our moral beliefs fall in to this category. We might all it out moral framework. You and I might disagree at this foundational level about some statement P, where we can't say anything about why we believe or disbelieve P. Thus we appear not to be able to convince each other that our positions are correct. This is a like sandbox disagreement where we just agree to disagree. This is not to speak past one another in the notion above. This is just to have a genuine disagreement over P, where neither of us has the evidential resources to convince the other. Speaking past one another in the sense above is just talking about completely different things. It's as if I were saying Q is true and you were saying P is false, where Q and P have nothing to do with one another. There's just no single subject matter in common that's being argued over. So the problem with moral relativism here is not merely like what goes on in sandbox disagreements.
      Makes sense.

      Originally posted by sordavie View Post
      Well to figure out what's true on the topic of morality in a rigorous manner is just like any other discipline of knowledge, we need to do a lot of research, figure out methods for evidence gathering and evaluation, and the like. Sure, it's not an empirical science like physics. The evidence we gather is typically not by mere perceptual observation and measurements aren't in terms of mass, length, distance, charge, and things like that. But as a discipline of knowledge, the principles are the same. This discipline is called ethics, and there are researchers who attempt to do these things. I could say more about the discipline if you'd like, but it has a long history - far longer than physics - so maybe specific questions would be better. The knowledge discovered by any of these disciplines filters down to the public slowly. So most of us hold our moral beliefs due to the teachings of our parents, teachers, friends, and more generally the societies and cultures we grow up in. We don't actually do the discovering. That work was done by ethicists previously. They, of course, continue to do work because we don't know everything and what we do think we know must always undergo continuous critical evaluation. The same goes for our mathematical beliefs, our beliefs about how biology works, our beliefs about physics, and so on. It's not particularly special in terms of academic disciplines.

      Our beliefs about how the world is or should be is not independent of our beliefs, desires, wishes, opinions and so on. But reality is. Unfortunately we don't know everything. Moreover we don't know what the extent of what we don't know is. To make matters worse, often what we think we know is just wrong, and often we can't tell whether its wrong or not. So we do the best we can. We have some amount of evidence. Hopefully we're rational and come to believe the best overall theory that fits that evidence, and then we use it to make judgments about things. If we were right, then our judgments are accurate. If not, then they are inaccurate, unbeknownst to us. This need not lead to skepticism about reality. Rather we ought to be epistemically humble. We ought to recognize that even if we think something is true, and even if we have lots of evidence that it's true, it's possible that we turn out to be mistaken. Indeed, it may be that even if morality is a feature of reality, it's impossible for us humans to figure out any reliable methods for discovering the moral truths. If so, it sucks to be us. We're just too stupid or don't have the right cognitive functions to find out, and we'll necessarily be ignorant on the matter. But all we can do is try out best in uncertainty.
      Indeed, in my last post I was thinking about comparing this to other sciences, in that sciences have empirical ways of testing theories and either disproving these theories or producing evidence to support them. I didn't realise that the case was that there are other ways to come to scientific conclusions.

      I could now ask for detail about methods and processes in ethics, but like you said, that could take a while, so I can probably read it up on the interwebspacethingy or buy a book, since I think I've taken up enough of your time already.
      Anger is a gift - Malcolm X

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Morality

        Originally posted by SharinganTH1422 View Post
        Interesting read and pretty thought-provoking. Again, I'm just typing out my own semi-random thoughts here, but in tems of morality, in reality, is that necessarily true that it simply exists on its own, when it would not be around without people and people's thoughts? Plants, clouds, mathematics, physics, all of these things exist and are real, but without humans, would there be morality? Animals (with their lesser intelligence) have no system of morality, so is it therefore not a man-made creation? Or is this another example of equivocation, where "man-made" can be used to describe something fictional, but also to describe something that is created by man, but is still real - like tables, chairs, computers, clothes, the hadron collider - and just because something is created by man, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist/is not real, regardless...?
        It does seem plausible that there would be no morality if no people existed. But you should resist the temptation to conclude relativism from this intuition, unless you first find it plausible or have evidence that there is no such thing as morality at all. There are other sorts of phenomena that also would not exist if no people existed. Economics, for instance, is often thought of as an emergent system from the trading of goods and services between people. If there were no people, there would be no economics. But we don't believe that the features of economics is relative to whatever you want to believe about it. Some theories about economics are just wrong. Some are right. Perhaps we don't know which ones are right and which ones are wrong. But it's not the case that they're all right relative to whatever you choose to believe. Other examples of plausibly emergent phenomena include consciousness, meaning, and perhaps ordered society.

        So since the existence of emergent phenomena depend on the existence of the phenomena on which it's grounded, if we believe that there can be emergent phenomena that's not relative, then we have an answer to how morality can be nonrelative yet depend on the existence of people. It's nonrelative emergent phenomena grounded on individuals (perhaps with free will) regarding the permissibility of actions toward one another.

        There are other kinds of nonrelativistic moral theories that hold straightforwardly that morality cannot exist without people. For instance, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes held some form of social contract theory. The rough view is that the true moral code is the one that ideal rational agents would agree to when setting up a society. Notice this is not relativistic, since by their definition, the notion of a ideal rational agent is not relative or subjective.

        Indeed, in my last post I was thinking about comparing this to other sciences, in that sciences have empirical ways of testing theories and either disproving these theories or producing evidence to support them. I didn't realise that the case was that there are other ways to come to scientific conclusions.

        I could now ask for detail about methods and processes in ethics, but like you said, that could take a while, so I can probably read it up on the interwebspacethingy or buy a book, since I think I've taken up enough of your time already.
        Well we could be careful and say that what we term a 'science' is an empirical science. And we can think of an empirical science as a discipline that uses primarily observation of the universe as its main method of discovering how the universe works. On this definition, physics, chemistry, biology, and the like turn out to be empirical sciences. Philosophy and mathematics for instance turn out not to be empirical sciences. We must keep in mind that observation is not the only way to know things about the universe. It is a good way to know about the physical universe and various physical regularities. But what's true of reality encompasses much more than the physical universe and those regularities. And here I'm not talking about noncorporeal substances like ghosts.

        Let's take knowledge to roughly be justified statements that we believe about the universe that turn out to be true. Since knowledge is a matter of our beliefs accurately corresponding to reality, belief must be a component of it. But we don't count luckily true beliefs knowledge. For instance, if I randomly believed that for some high number N, there are N stars in the 4 closest galaxies and I happen to get it right. We don't say that I know there are N stars. In order for a true belief to count as knowledge, it must be a justified belief.

        With this notion of knowledge in hand, we can understand disciplines that seek knowledge, like science, mathematics, philosophy, history, and so on, to be ones that attempt to figure out which declarative statements are true through a process of evidence evaluation and attempting to justify them. Science, plausibly, has had the most success here. But notice that there must be truths about the universe that aren't empirically justifiable. Here are some examples: the scientific method is inherently reliable; the set of rational numbers is larger than the set of integers, though the set of integers is not larger than the set of even integers; simplicity or theoretical parsimony is a reliable guide to the truth of a theory; and the correct interpretation of the mathematical model that best describes the physical forces at the atomic matter (standard theory in quantum mechanics) includes a commitment to genuine indeterminacy. (The last one is a great example of how scientists themselves use various nonempirical methods in evaluating and interpreting their own theories.)

        Most scientists believe all of these are true. But none of them believe so because of any empirical observation or evidence. It would be foolish to think that the only true statements there are are those that can be empirically justified. (There was a large school of thought in philosophy and in science that held this in the first half of the 20th century. It was soon realized that this very belief of theirs was self-defeating, since claims like 'the only truths there are are those that are empirically justifiable' are themselves not empirically justifiable.) If these are true statements, they aren't justifiable by looking at the universe. It requires some other kind of evidence to justify them. Most moral philosophers think that the true moral code, if there is one, falls within a class of statements like these.

        So how do you go about figuring these things out? That's a hard question. This is why empirical science has been very successful. By focusing mainly on a very narrow, reliable, and particular method (in conjunction with other methods), they are able to generate evidence for a lot of truths among a class of statements. It turns out that knowing these is highly pragmatically useful to us. We can build bridges, skyscrapers, bridges, and such with this knowledge.

        I say the method is narrow because there are many other methods for finding evidence that various kinds of statements are true. But we generally find them to be harder to evaluate. These include various sorts of inferences to the best explanation, conceptual analysis, meta-analysis, evaluation of various sorts of theoretical virtues, intuition pumps, and so on. Though it turns out scientists use a lot of these nonempirical methods as well in doing science.

        In the case of ethics, we may use all of these. For instance, there is a long history of conceptual analysis on the notions of good and right, as well as the respective notions of bad and wrong. The method involves taking a complex concept and attempting to break it down in to its constituent parts. For instance, we know that the notion of bachelorhood is complex. Bachelorhood involves the concepts of maleness and unmarriedness (as well as perhaps the notion of marriageableness). We often use intuition pumps to help us delineate the borders and boundaries of our complex notions. You might have thought that being a bachelor is just a matter of being an unmarried male. But consider a 2 year old baby boy. Does our concept of bachelor apply to this individual? Many intuit not. So our concept is more nuanced than we might have first thought. The more we do this, the better our explicit grasp on the concept is. The reason mathematics has been so successful since the late 19th century - if you know the history of mathematics, it was all over the place before then - is that mathematicians began to very rigorously analyze our mathematical concepts and develop very precise definitions for them. This allowed other methods to become more reliable with the vagueness and ambiguity gone. The thought is the same with moral concepts. Getting clearer on what these concepts are allows our other methods to become more reliable in generating evidence for various truths concerning morality.

        Of course we may always step back from a particular moral claim that we're attempting to evaluate, and wonder whether there are any moral truths at all. Liken this to wondering about whether science really gets at truth or whether it's just getting us pragmatically useful information, or wondering about whether mathematics doesn't discover mathematical truths but really invents them. Scientists and mathematicians don't consider those claims - not when they're doing science or mathematics anyway. Those are matters of philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics. Likewise, there's the matter of metaethics, which studies whether morality is real or not. Whatever the answers to these wonderments are, ethicists, scientists, and mathematicians continue their regular work.

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        • #5
          Re: Morality

          The space around Sordavie's immense posts actually curve space-time with their gravitational pull, creating a pocket wherein time travels more quickly than non-curved space. Simply put, the larger Sordavie's post is, the less of his time you're actually "wasting". He was actually done with his post days ago, we've just now caught up to the point where he completed it.

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          • #6
            Re: Morality

            Originally posted by sordavie View Post
            So since the existence of emergent phenomena depend on the existence of the phenomena on which it's grounded, if we believe that there can be emergent phenomena that's not relative, then we have an answer to how morality can be nonrelative yet depend on the existence of people. It's nonrelative emergent phenomena grounded on individuals (perhaps with free will) regarding the permissibility of actions toward one another.
            This is just sparking off another random thought (again about "God"):

            If we keep following a downwards spiral of phenomena dependent on previous phenomena (as pretty much everything probably is) there must be a (or a number of) basic phenomena that account for our universe. Obviously some would say there is one phenomena, and that is "God" or some other higher being, but I was wondering if you know what is the general scholarly thinking behind what the basic phenomena are that account for the universe. I'm guessing that these are probably going to just be the forces/atoms/laws of physics/laws of the universe.

            Originally posted by sordavie View Post
            There are other kinds of nonrelativistic moral theories that hold straightforwardly that morality cannot exist without people. For instance, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes held some form of social contract theory. The rough view is that the true moral code is the one that ideal rational agents would agree to when setting up a society. Notice this is not relativistic, since by their definition, the notion of a ideal rational agent is not relative or subjective.
            Bolded part is especially interesting.

            Originally posted by sordavie View Post
            Well we could be careful and say that what we term a 'science' is an empirical science. And we can think of an empirical science as a discipline that uses primarily observation of the universe as its main method of discovering how the universe works. On this definition, physics, chemistry, biology, and the like turn out to be empirical sciences. Philosophy and mathematics for instance turn out not to be empirical sciences. We must keep in mind that observation is not the only way to know things about the universe. It is a good way to know about the physical universe and various physical regularities. But what's true of reality encompasses much more than the physical universe and those regularities. And here I'm not talking about noncorporeal substances like ghosts.

            Let's take knowledge to roughly be justified statements that we believe about the universe that turn out to be true. Since knowledge is a matter of our beliefs accurately corresponding to reality, belief must be a component of it. But we don't count luckily true beliefs knowledge. For instance, if I randomly believed that for some high number N, there are N stars in the 4 closest galaxies and I happen to get it right. We don't say that I know there are N stars. In order for a true belief to count as knowledge, it must be a justified belief.

            With this notion of knowledge in hand, we can understand disciplines that seek knowledge, like science, mathematics, philosophy, history, and so on, to be ones that attempt to figure out which declarative statements are true through a process of evidence evaluation and attempting to justify them. Science, plausibly, has had the most success here. But notice that there must be truths about the universe that aren't empirically justifiable. Here are some examples: the scientific method is inherently reliable; the set of rational numbers is larger than the set of integers, though the set of integers is not larger than the set of even integers; simplicity or theoretical parsimony is a reliable guide to the truth of a theory; and the correct interpretation of the mathematical model that best describes the physical forces at the atomic matter (standard theory in quantum mechanics) includes a commitment to genuine indeterminacy. (The last one is a great example of how scientists themselves use various nonempirical methods in evaluating and interpreting their own theories.)

            Most scientists believe all of these are true. But none of them believe so because of any empirical observation or evidence. It would be foolish to think that the only true statements there are are those that can be empirically justified. (There was a large school of thought in philosophy and in science that held this in the first half of the 20th century. It was soon realized that this very belief of theirs was self-defeating, since claims like 'the only truths there are are those that are empirically justifiable' are themselves not empirically justifiable.) If these are true statements, they aren't justifiable by looking at the universe. It requires some other kind of evidence to justify them. Most moral philosophers think that the true moral code, if there is one, falls within a class of statements like these.

            So how do you go about figuring these things out? That's a hard question. This is why empirical science has been very successful. By focusing mainly on a very narrow, reliable, and particular method (in conjunction with other methods), they are able to generate evidence for a lot of truths among a class of statements. It turns out that knowing these is highly pragmatically useful to us. We can build bridges, skyscrapers, bridges, and such with this knowledge.

            I say the method is narrow because there are many other methods for finding evidence that various kinds of statements are true. But we generally find them to be harder to evaluate. These include various sorts of inferences to the best explanation, conceptual analysis, meta-analysis, evaluation of various sorts of theoretical virtues, intuition pumps, and so on. Though it turns out scientists use a lot of these nonempirical methods as well in doing science.

            In the case of ethics, we may use all of these. For instance, there is a long history of conceptual analysis on the notions of good and right, as well as the respective notions of bad and wrong. The method involves taking a complex concept and attempting to break it down in to its constituent parts. For instance, we know that the notion of bachelorhood is complex. Bachelorhood involves the concepts of maleness and unmarriedness (as well as perhaps the notion of marriageableness). We often use intuition pumps to help us delineate the borders and boundaries of our complex notions. You might have thought that being a bachelor is just a matter of being an unmarried male. But consider a 2 year old baby boy. Does our concept of bachelor apply to this individual? Many intuit not. So our concept is more nuanced than we might have first thought. The more we do this, the better our explicit grasp on the concept is. The reason mathematics has been so successful since the late 19th century - if you know the history of mathematics, it was all over the place before then - is that mathematicians began to very rigorously analyze our mathematical concepts and develop very precise definitions for them. This allowed other methods to become more reliable with the vagueness and ambiguity gone. The thought is the same with moral concepts. Getting clearer on what these concepts are allows our other methods to become more reliable in generating evidence for various truths concerning morality.

            Of course we may always step back from a particular moral claim that we're attempting to evaluate, and wonder whether there are any moral truths at all. Liken this to wondering about whether science really gets at truth or whether it's just getting us pragmatically useful information, or wondering about whether mathematics doesn't discover mathematical truths but really invents them. Scientists and mathematicians don't consider those claims - not when they're doing science or mathematics anyway. Those are matters of philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics. Likewise, there's the matter of metaethics, which studies whether morality is real or not. Whatever the answers to these wonderments are, ethicists, scientists, and mathematicians continue their regular work.
            This should be in some kind of prospectus for undergrads considering becoming researchers :p.
            Anger is a gift - Malcolm X

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Morality

              Sorry, the last bit was pretty rambley now that I look back on it. That's what happens when you post when you're sleepy. :p

              Ethicists often distinguish between three subfields in their line of research: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. The first encompasses research on the principles that ground ethics, whether there are any, the nature and semantics of the good and the right, the epistemology and methodology of ethics, and the like. Normative ethics encompasses research on general principles concerning right and wrong actions. Most people probably have a passing familiarity with normative ethics. Here we get theories like consequentialism, Kant's ethics, divine command theory, moral relativism, and the like. Applied ethics concerns research toward answering particular ethical questions and dilemmas. For instance, whether targeted killing is morally permissible, and if so in what circumstances. Or whether abortion is morally permissible. These are topics everyone is familiar with, though they may not know where various academic advances come from.

              The question of what moral truths are grounded upon is a question in the field of metaethics, the one most people are least familiar with. The past century has seen a lot of academic effort put in to theorizing about where morality's place is in a naturalistic world - i.e. a world without god. Very few philosophers think that moral realism as a thesis requires assuming the existence of God - even philosophers who are theists don't accept that claim. Unfortunately there are many various theories about how to fit morality into a world where physics describes the fundamental stuff. But here are some general categories these theories fall in to. Here are three examples:

              First we might theorize that morality itself is a fundamental part of reality, in the same way we might think various mathematical phenomena is a fundamental part of reality. The idea here is to deny naturalism in a way that doesn't get us supernatural stuff. Moral rules and mathematical rules are just fundamental laws of the universe, not to be explained in terms of anything else. If moral and mathematical phenomena are fundamental parts of reality, then some fundamental stuff can't be studied by the natural sciences. That's a denial of naturalism. However, it doesn't go so far as to suppose there's some supernatural being which grounds these moral and mathematical phenomena. The basic criticism is that these things don't seem fit to be fundamental for various reasons. Other theories that can explain how they are grounded by the fundamental stuff fit our evidence better.

              A more mainstream attempt is to try an explain how morality is an emergent phenomena from the naturalistic fundamental stuff. To say that it's emergent from the fundamental stuff is to say that there is an ontological dependence but no explanatory dependence. In other words, it's to say that the emergent stuff's existence depends on the fundamental stuff's existence, but nothing about the fundamental stuff explains the emergent stuff. Of course you might wonder how that can work, and many philosophers and scientists find the notion of emergence to be spooky. But recent theoretical work in quantum mechanics suggests that we need to believe in emergence anyway. It turns out, on these interpretations of the mathematical models of quantum mechanics, that some properties of the entire universe cannot be explained by the totality of the local properties at each part of the universe, though of course we wouldn't have the entire universe without all its parts. That's emergence. Of course, in the case of morality, it's hard to even say why morality would be emergent from physical laws or subatomic particles or fields of forces.

              A final attempt to fit morality in to a naturalistic universe makes use of the notion of a convention. The idea here is that conventions are part of the natural universe. Conventions are like rules that we agree to. The rules of monopoly are conventions. The gentleman's agreements for various games on TG are conventions. Some conventions we explicitly state and agree to, like driving on the right side of the road in the US or driving on the left side in the UK. Other conventions about our social interactions might plausibly be thought of as arising from human nature. Perhaps something like helping each other out is a necessary convention for human beings, as social creatures. We can refuse to follow the convention. But at that point you're not human (in some nonbiological sense) or perhaps you're not playing the game of being a human. One thought is that morality comprises some of these necessary conventions. The social contract theory might be an example of this sort of attempt to locate morality in these kinds of necessary conventions.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Morality

                Originally posted by sordavie View Post
                Sorry, the last bit was pretty rambley now that I look back on it. That's what happens when you post when you're sleepy. :p
                Heh, no need to apologise, I meant it in a good way. Quite a fascinating read.

                Originally posted by sordavie View Post
                Ethicists often distinguish between three subfields in their line of research: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. The first encompasses research on the principles that ground ethics, whether there are any, the nature and semantics of the good and the right, the epistemology and methodology of ethics, and the like. Normative ethics encompasses research on general principles concerning right and wrong actions. Most people probably have a passing familiarity with normative ethics. Here we get theories like consequentialism, Kant's ethics, divine command theory, moral relativism, and the like. Applied ethics concerns research toward answering particular ethical questions and dilemmas. For instance, whether targeted killing is morally permissible, and if so in what circumstances. Or whether abortion is morally permissible. These are topics everyone is familiar with, though they may not know where various academic advances come from.

                The question of what moral truths are grounded upon is a question in the field of metaethics, the one most people are least familiar with. The past century has seen a lot of academic effort put in to theorizing about where morality's place is in a naturalistic world - i.e. a world without god. Very few philosophers think that moral realism as a thesis requires assuming the existence of God - even philosophers who are theists don't accept that claim. Unfortunately there are many various theories about how to fit morality into a world where physics describes the fundamental stuff. But here are some general categories these theories fall in to. Here are three examples:

                First we might theorize that morality itself is a fundamental part of reality, in the same way we might think various mathematical phenomena is a fundamental part of reality. The idea here is to deny naturalism in a way that doesn't get us supernatural stuff. Moral rules and mathematical rules are just fundamental laws of the universe, not to be explained in terms of anything else. If moral and mathematical phenomena are fundamental parts of reality, then some fundamental stuff can't be studied by the natural sciences. That's a denial of naturalism. However, it doesn't go so far as to suppose there's some supernatural being which grounds these moral and mathematical phenomena. The basic criticism is that these things don't seem fit to be fundamental for various reasons. Other theories that can explain how they are grounded by the fundamental stuff fit our evidence better.

                A more mainstream attempt is to try an explain how morality is an emergent phenomena from the naturalistic fundamental stuff. To say that it's emergent from the fundamental stuff is to say that there is an ontological dependence but no explanatory dependence. In other words, it's to say that the emergent stuff's existence depends on the fundamental stuff's existence, but nothing about the fundamental stuff explains the emergent stuff. Of course you might wonder how that can work, and many philosophers and scientists find the notion of emergence to be spooky. But recent theoretical work in quantum mechanics suggests that we need to believe in emergence anyway. It turns out, on these interpretations of the mathematical models of quantum mechanics, that some properties of the entire universe cannot be explained by the totality of the local properties at each part of the universe, though of course we wouldn't have the entire universe without all its parts. That's emergence. Of course, in the case of morality, it's hard to even say why morality would be emergent from physical laws or subatomic particles or fields of forces.

                A final attempt to fit morality in to a naturalistic universe makes use of the notion of a convention. The idea here is that conventions are part of the natural universe. Conventions are like rules that we agree to. The rules of monopoly are conventions. The gentleman's agreements for various games on TG are conventions. Some conventions we explicitly state and agree to, like driving on the right side of the road in the US or driving on the left side in the UK. Other conventions about our social interactions might plausibly be thought of as arising from human nature. Perhaps something like helping each other out is a necessary convention for human beings, as social creatures. We can refuse to follow the convention. But at that point you're not human (in some nonbiological sense) or perhaps you're not playing the game of being a human. One thought is that morality comprises some of these necessary conventions. The social contract theory might be an example of this sort of attempt to locate morality in these kinds of necessary conventions.
                Another fascinating read. I would like to continue this, unfortunately I'm out of questions/ideas :row__590:.

                Although, I'm now wondering why they don't teach ethics in school. Thought-provoking, and I would've thought giving kids ethical dilemmas and challenging their ideas on right and wrong might be fundamental to their maturing, although we did have ethically-based discussions in some science lessons, as well as Religious Education and Personal, Social and Health Education classes.
                Anger is a gift - Malcolm X

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Morality

                  Well they don't teach much in school these days. I think it's due to three main factors.

                  1) The enormous practical success of science and technology has left some thinking that philosophy is an outdated subject. Of course what they don't realize is that even in entertaining that thought, they are entertaining a philosophical topic. So long as humans are in the discipline of seeking knowledge, the topic of philosophy is unavoidable. That's because of the broadness and the malleability of the discipline. Still, the common thought around is that it's not a necessary topic of education.

                  2) In the last few decades we've begun to push the idea of universal advanced degrees. We want everyone to have HS diplomas and we push everyone to go to college. There are two ways to go about doing this: we can pump a lot of money and effort in to developing and hiring really great teachers everywhere. Or we can lower the bar everywhere. We've done the latter. Our focus on standardized testing these days takes the focus off actual education and places it on test taking strategies particular to those exams.

                  3) We treat education as an investment in a diploma, which we treat as an investment in a future job or career. This in turn forces schools to be run like businesses, catering to the demand of the consumers. In conjunction with the first two, it changes the landscape of education for the worse.

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