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The Ethics of Belief
Posted: 05 October 2013 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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inthegobi - 04 October 2013 05:00 PM

Occam,

I agree that such words as reason, belief, faith, truth, reality, logic, rational, irrational, etc. and various subtle aspects of their meanings and interrelationships are great grist for discussion.  However, I see ethics as a very different concept that’s sort of noncoplaner with all of the prior ones.

We should distinguish *irrational* from *immoral*. It’s immoral to intend to throw word-dust in your eyes to throw you off; it’s just my confusion if I do it while trying to be clear. Consider the physicist Krauss. He has a book out The Universe from Nothing. His claim is to conflate the quantum fluctuation of spacetime with ‘nothing’. That’s *dumb*, because that’s just not what is meant by, well, *nothing*, not-anything a’tall. He’s been taken to task by a lot of people, including other physicists. But is he being immoral? Meh. He thinks philosophy is so on the ropes that we can take the strict meaning of nothing and throw it out without regret. So he does justify his move, even if most of us think that is an *unjustified* move. But again, an unjustified move, even as weird as his - and it seems he’s gotten stubborn about it now - doesn’t seem like *unethical* or *immoral* thinking.

Chris

Chris, I’m fascinated by your complete lack of ability to understand what the words and meaning of my post was.  Your response was amazingly off the point.  Disgusting that since I’m a moderator, I can’t put you on ignore, because your posts make no sense at all in terms of reference to the prior ones.

Occam

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Posted: 05 October 2013 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Occam,

Chris, I’m fascinated by your complete lack of ability to understand what the words and meaning of my post was.  Your response was amazingly off the point.  Disgusting that since I’m a moderator, I can’t put you on ignore, because your posts make no sense at all in terms of reference to the prior ones.

Occam

Sweet fancy Moses, that’s amazingly insulting.

As far as I could see, you didn’t *say* much of *anything*. So here is what I *really* thought:

- First, you said a bit of nothing about how tough it is to deal with all these ‘subtle’ words.
- Then you spoke a truism (they provide ‘great grist for discussion’) without actually doing any discussing. This suggests it was more a sneer than a contribution, so I had two reasons to ignore it. I could be wrong about the sneer except, well, here’s a great big sneer right in front of me.
- You think ethics is non-coplanar with all the other terms. That’s a remarkably clotted way to say ‘they are very different things’ but never mind. I’d finally found something to hang onto! And that’s where I thought I could at least partly agree with you, and partly disagree with you.
- I moved on to a possible example of an intellectually immoral move. Then I questioned if it was a real example - thus suggesting you may still be right.

Okay? Is this a little better? Am I getting closer? You’re a *moderator*?

Chris

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Posted: 05 October 2013 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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that’s amazingly insulting.

Really?  I was just trying to give an honest evaluation.

Okay? Is this a little better? Am I getting closer? You’re a *moderator*?

No, no, and yes.

Occam

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Posted: 05 October 2013 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Lausten - 04 October 2013 08:43 PM

Is it necessary that we be led to a specific ethical structure? Could we leave that structure somewhat in the background, until a specific ethical dilemma raises its head? As far as I know, no one has created the perfect ethical structure, so if we start going down that road, either we’ll get lost or we’ll be famous. I think the difference between where belief or non-belief leads you is far enough apart that it can be discussed without specifics of exactly where those two roads are.

How’s this for a specific ethical dilemma: Jenny McCarthy. Her son was diagnosed with autism shorty after receiving vaccinations. Since then she has ignored all available evidence and has gone on numerous television shows advising parents to not have their children vaccinated against diseases. Children have died after their parents followed her advice, yet she continues to telling people vaccinations cause autism.

This case illustrates my wider point about the ethics of belief, and what Paul has argued. Believing things without evidence is unethical in a general sense. At best it leads people to blindly embrace new-age mysticism or other forms of woo. At worst it leads people to not vaccinate their children, or follow political and religious leaders who preach all manner of nonsense. Look how many people in the United States don’t believe in the Theory of Evolution. The most passionate of those work to get Creationism taught in public schools, and we spend our time and tax dollars fighting those forces of ignorance. Global Warming deniers are guilty of the same ethical lapse. They do not want to believe the scientists who devote their careers to studying the climate, and use all manner of subterfuge to spread doubt among the general populace, which in the United States includes millions of people who will not bother reading the science behind global warming, but choose rather to believe the denial machine’s misinformation. The people and corporations funding the denial think-tanks are obviously guilty of ethical failures, but so are the people who believe their lies because those people could easily educate themselves about the truth, but willingly refuse to do so.

Believing things without evidence has real and tragic consequences. The fundamentalist Christians who let their children die instead of getting medical treatment are extreme examples, but there are far too many people, especially in the United States, who ignore hard realities and choose to believe things simply because their beliefs make them feel good.

Edit: reworded last sentence for clarity.

[ Edited: 05 October 2013 05:49 PM by DarronS ]
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Posted: 05 October 2013 06:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Occam. - 05 October 2013 01:01 PM

that’s amazingly insulting.

Really?  I was just trying to give an honest evaluation.

‘I was just’. You don’t say.Even sincerely-held truths can be used as insults.

But let my intemperateness pass. Perhaps you could have spared me that particular burst of honesty and instead laid out what you meant in words I can understand. And if you can spare the time, could you comment on the example I provided of Krauss’ latest book. Is it an example of doing something if not grossly unethical then intellectually shady?

Btw, our interest in reason suggests that we *should* reason a certain way - that the rules of reasoning have a moral import. Validity in argumentation implies we should care about it too. Otherwise invalid or formally unsound arguments can’t be condemned; we could not criticize people for reasoning badly, let alone censure them.

Chris

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Posted: 05 October 2013 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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inthegobi - 05 October 2013 06:01 PM

And if you can spare the time, could you comment on the example I provided of Krauss’ latest book. Is it an example of doing something if not grossly unethical then intellectually shady?

Chris

No Chris, what Krauss is doing is cutting edge theoretical physics. I replied to that in post #8. Perhaps you missed it.

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Posted: 05 October 2013 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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DarronS - 05 October 2013 05:46 PM

Jenny McCarthy. Her son was diagnosed with autism shorty after receiving vaccinations. Since then she has ignored all available evidence and has gone on numerous television shows advising parents to not have their children vaccinated against diseases. Children have died after their parents followed her advice, yet she continues to telling people vaccinations cause autism.

This *is* bad, but:
She is sincere, and thinks she has enough evidence. She’s *incorrect* - but we can’t go around making all incorrect reasoning *wicked* just in itself - it’s more about application, no?
Adults are supposed to have developed their own reasoning faculties (Paul noted laziness).
Thus the phrase caveat emptor. These people have been brought up through years of schooling and socializing in a large and technologically advanced country: they should believe their doctors on medical matters, get a second opinion, etc.

On ‘blindly embrace’, it seems the devil is that McCarthy is not *blindly* embracing her belief. She’s all too aware - of a false connection. (let’s assume; none of us are experts in this, right?) Of the people who go along with her, some have accepted the same bad evidence (but of course think it’s good evidence), but some have decided that she is a more trustworthy authority than Big Pharma. They are not always good for trusting. Exx: the Tuskegee experiments; medical hijinks in Africa.

As an aside, other countries, especially in Europe, take much more activist approach on beliefs you can publish abroad. National socialism for example.

On think-tanks etc. Now this is maybe a specifically intellectual ethical problem: the belief that knowledge is just an instrument to make your point. Hitler was infamous for writing that his library was specifically for refuting his opponents and supporting his own ideas. He wasn’t learning, just using. that attitude is tailor-made for playing up some facts and suppressing others as inconvenient.

Chris

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Posted: 05 October 2013 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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inthegobi - 05 October 2013 06:27 PM
DarronS - 05 October 2013 05:46 PM

Jenny McCarthy. Her son was diagnosed with autism shorty after receiving vaccinations. Since then she has ignored all available evidence and has gone on numerous television shows advising parents to not have their children vaccinated against diseases. Children have died after their parents followed her advice, yet she continues to telling people vaccinations cause autism.

This *is* bad, but:
She is sincere, and thinks she has enough evidence. She’s *incorrect* - but we can’t go around making all incorrect reasoning *wicked* just in itself - it’s more about application, no?
Chris

Yes, it is about the application. You question Krauss on theoretical physics, then defend McCarthy when she is indirectly responsible for children dying. You are being unethical. Did you read what I wrote in post #8 about your category error?

I will also noted that “wicked” carries a much stronger implication than “unethical.” I did not say McCarthy is wicked. Unethical, yes.

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Posted: 05 October 2013 07:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Darron,

You question Krauss on theoretical physics, then defend McCarthy when she is indirectly responsible for children dying. You are being unethical.

Well, yeah, maybe I am a little - if we ignore consequences for a moment (those of McCarthy are obviously more serious.) Krauss is much more educated. McCarthy is mistaken and sincere; Krauss he seems to know that he’s spitting in the eye of common English and serious philosophy, and has gotten stubborn in the face even of his fellow physicists. It’s not just the title of the book (at the risk of getting all Rumpelstiltkin about it); Krauss has organized the whole book on how cool it is that physicists have ‘discovered’ that something - in fact everything - really does come from ‘nothing’.

Chris

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Posted: 05 October 2013 07:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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inthegobi - 05 October 2013 07:44 PM

Darron,

You question Krauss on theoretical physics, then defend McCarthy when she is indirectly responsible for children dying. You are being unethical.

Well, yeah, maybe I am a little - if we ignore consequences for a moment (those of McCarthy are obviously more serious.) Krauss is much more educated. McCarthy is mistaken and sincere; Krauss he seems to know that he’s spitting in the eye of common English and serious philosophy, and has gotten stubborn in the face even of his fellow physicists. It’s not just the title of the book (at the risk of getting all Rumpelstiltkin about it); Krauss has organized the whole book on how cool it is that physicists have ‘discovered’ that something - in fact everything - really does come from ‘nothing’.

Chris

I will not ignore consequences. Krauss is engaging in theoretical physics. No one dies if he is wrong. Children have died after their parents have believed McCarthy’s advice. This is not a little bit unethical, it is the difference between life and death.

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Posted: 06 October 2013 12:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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inthegobi - 05 October 2013 07:44 PM

Darron,

You question Krauss on theoretical physics, then defend McCarthy when she is indirectly responsible for children dying. You are being unethical.

Well, yeah, maybe I am a little - if we ignore consequences for a moment (those of McCarthy are obviously more serious.)

Chris

It’s all about consequences.

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Posted: 06 October 2013 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Chris, as I see your views fleshed out in discussions with others, my original take on your views is being confirmed. It’s as though you want to live in a world where all things are merely hypothetical. No one can do that. To live as you suggest would result in chaos and needless suffering. A firm grounding in reality is an essential component of ethics and for that matter, morality, spirituality and useful religion.

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Posted: 06 October 2013 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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PLaClair - 06 October 2013 05:39 AM

Chris, as I see your views fleshed out in discussions with others, my original take on your views is being confirmed. It’s as though you want to live in a world where all things are merely hypothetical. No one can do that. To live as you suggest would result in chaos and needless suffering. A firm grounding in reality is an essential component of ethics and for that matter, morality, spirituality and useful religion.

Excellent point Paul

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Posted: 06 October 2013 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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DarronS - 05 October 2013 05:46 PM

How’s this for a specific ethical dilemma: Jenny McCarthy. Her son was diagnosed with autism shorty after receiving vaccinations. Since then she has ignored all available evidence and has gone on numerous television shows advising parents to not have their children vaccinated against diseases. Children have died after their parents followed her advice, yet she continues to telling people vaccinations cause autism.

This case illustrates my wider point about the ethics of belief, and what Paul has argued. Believing things without evidence is unethical in a general sense.

Basically I agree. A distinction I’d like to draw is, global warming has had pretty strong evidence from the start and was well researched before average people started weighing in on it. The vax-autism connection grew out of anecdotal evidence, plus that one bad study, then there were a few years of research to build the consensus. Part of the response from the vaccine makers was to remove mercury from their formula, even though only weak evidence existed that it was causing anything. I’m glad I was not a parent who had to make that decision during that time.

Now, after the studies, it’s easy to say Jenny McCarthy is acting unethically. I’m not making excuses, but there is some psychology to be understood here. There is such a thing as bad science, and it is not always easy for non-scientists to recognize it. There are also decisions that have to be made before the science is in. If science was always reliable, there would be no problem. But it’s not and that makes terms like “reliable”, “trustworthy” and “belief” difficult for some people to sort out.

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Posted: 06 October 2013 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I disagree that this anti-vax paranoia is substantially different from AGW denialism. Vaccines have been around a long time and have done demonstrable good. Many, many people are alive today who would have died in childhood before vaccines were widely available. If people based their beliefs on evidence they would not take the word of an empty-headed blonde who got famous for looking good naked.

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