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The is/ought “problem”
Posted: 06 January 2015 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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StephenLawrence - 06 January 2015 12:59 AM

There is a purpose of science. So usually we don’t have the same problem as we do with morality.

There’s a purpose to morality—avoiding the WPMFE.  Some people don’t agree with that purpose.

There’s a method to science—(insert your version of the “Scientific Method” here).  Some people don’t agree with that method (for instance, the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, didn’t think evolutionary theory was science).

Why is this fuzziness of definitions only a problem for morality, but not health or science (or any number of other concepts)?

StephenLawrence - 06 January 2015 12:59 AM

Now I accept the purpose of morality is to reduce suffering but it’s back to whether there are facts about what is less or more suffering in various scenarios.

How could there not be?

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Posted: 06 January 2015 11:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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BugRib and Lausten,

I think these articles of John Shook of CFI are ‘must reads’:

A Confutation of both Sam Harris and Richard Carrier on Science and Morality
Sam Harris vs. The Philosophers on Morality

PS Shook uses the better word for the ‘is/ought problem’: not ‘border’ but the ‘is/ought gap’. There is no way you can get to an ‘ought’ with an ‘is’, without at least putting one ‘ought’ already in it somewhere.

[ Edited: 06 January 2015 11:46 PM by GdB ]
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Posted: 07 January 2015 12:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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BugRib - 06 January 2015 02:30 PM
StephenLawrence - 06 January 2015 12:59 AM

Now I accept the purpose of morality is to reduce suffering but it’s back to whether there are facts about what is less or more suffering in various scenarios.

How could there not be?

I think this is the crux of the matter, I think if you’re right about this everything else is pretty insignificant, so I’ll just focus on this.

The question is how could there be?

So lets take a simple case.

1) A world in which 70% of people are very happy and 30 % of people are extremely miserable

2) A world in which everyone is slightly miserable.

How are you going to come up with a fact of the matter about which is better??

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Posted: 07 January 2015 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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StephenLawrence - 07 January 2015 12:50 AM
BugRib - 06 January 2015 02:30 PM
StephenLawrence - 06 January 2015 12:59 AM

Now I accept the purpose of morality is to reduce suffering but it’s back to whether there are facts about what is less or more suffering in various scenarios.

How could there not be?

I think this is the crux of the matter, I think if you’re right about this everything else is pretty insignificant, so I’ll just focus on this.

The question is how could there be?

So lets take a simple case.

1) A world in which 70% of people are very happy and 30 % of people are extremely miserable

2) A world in which everyone is slightly miserable.

How are you going to come up with a fact of the matter about which is better??

That misses the point of the what is moral for the individuals. The answer to which is better is found by asking if the 70% very happy people are doing something that creates the misery for the 30%. If so, they are doing something immoral. It is not about attempting to create a greater amount of total happiness.

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Posted: 07 January 2015 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Lausten - 07 January 2015 05:20 AM

It is not about attempting to create a greater amount of total happiness.

I think BugRib was saying it is about that, so we’ll see. And you’ve said the goal is “human comfort” which certainly could be interpreted that way and if not how?

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Posted: 07 January 2015 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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StephenLawrence - 07 January 2015 11:13 AM
Lausten - 07 January 2015 05:20 AM

It is not about attempting to create a greater amount of total happiness.

I think BugRib was saying it is about that, so we’ll see. And you’ve said the goal is “human comfort” which certainly could be interpreted that way and if not how?

I also said a key factor of the goal theory is to refine the goal. This is just a discussion about is/ought, if I were discussing morality I add on “for all” or “not at the expense of other”, and probably a lot more.

I don’t see a big leap from simply existing to being comfortable. We exist, that just is. If you want to claim we ought not to exist, it’s up to you to reason that. Continued existence is no more in need of an explanation either, unless you know something about the future that I don’t. To continue to exist, we need rest, we need food, we need shelter, all the oughts stem there.

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Posted: 07 January 2015 02:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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GdB - 06 January 2015 11:44 PM

BugRib and Lausten,

I think these articles of John Shook of CFI are ‘must reads’:

A Confutation of both Sam Harris and Richard Carrier on Science and Morality
Sam Harris vs. The Philosophers on Morality

PS Shook uses the better word for the ‘is/ought problem’: not ‘border’ but the ‘is/ought gap’. There is no way you can get to an ‘ought’ with an ‘is’, without at least putting one ‘ought’ already in it somewhere.

I read the links, and once again, I think people have simply misread Harris.  He never claims he’s bridged the is/ought gap.  If anyone can show where he’s made this claim, I’d really like to see it.  Until someone can do that, I contend that the arguments you linked to are committing the Straw Man fallacy.

His argument is basically that “the worst possible misery for everyone” is as close to being objectively bad as anything can be.  If you don’t think TWPMFE is bad, he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, and he doesn’t think you know what you’re talking about either.  If TWPMFE isn’t bad, then the word “bad” is meaningless.

He thinks we should use the scientific method (in the broadest sense) to figure out how to move us as far away from TWPMFE as possible.

That’s it.  That’s his argument.

He’s basically arguing for some form of consequentialism, an ethical position I think most philosophers subscribe to.  That is, he’s basically making the exact same argument about right and wrong that Peter Singer makes in Practical Ethics.  How many philosophers have derided Singer’s book for being poor philosophy or accused him of claiming to have bridged the is/ought gap?  Not many (none?).  I wonder why Harris is treated so differently.  Because he’s not part of “the club”?  “Sam Harris vs. The Philosophers on Morality”?

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Posted: 07 January 2015 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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StephenLawrence - 07 January 2015 12:50 AM

So lets take a simple case.

1) A world in which 70% of people are very happy and 30 % of people are extremely miserable

2) A world in which everyone is slightly miserable.

How are you going to come up with a fact of the matter about which is better??

Good point.

There are certainly facts about certain situations being better than others in terms of moving away from TWPMFE.  That being said, there are other situations (like your example) where it is difficult to say that one is factually better than the other.  But that doesn’t change the fact that there are indeed factual answers about how to move us further away from the WPMFE.

And that’s a factual fact!

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Posted: 07 January 2015 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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GdB - 06 January 2015 11:44 PM

A Confutation of both Sam Harris and Richard Carrier on Science and Morality

Okay GdB.  Here’s a quote from the above article where it seems like he’s misread Harris:

That it can be proven that truths ‘exist’ does not necessarily, by itself, either constitute a method for specifically learning those truths, or supplying the grounds for deducing those truths so that they can be known. Hence, this argument only creates the mirage that there are real answers, but there won’t really be any actual answers.

First of all, Harris repeatedly acknowledges that we may not, in practice, be able to uncover all of these truths.  In other words, Harris has readily conceded the point that John Schook is using as an argument against his position.  If they were face to face, the argument might sound something like this:

Harris: “We may not, in practice be able to uncover all of these truths.”

Shook: “Yeah, but who’s to say there’s a method that can actually uncover all of these truths?  Burn!”

Harris’ argument is not that we will, in practice, be able to uncover all of these truths.  It’s that the scientific method (in the broadest sense) is the best chance we have of uncovering them.  I wonder what method Shook suggests we use to solve moral dilemmas if not the “scientific” one?  Guessing?  Consulting a psychic?  Astrology?

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Posted: 07 January 2015 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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GdB - 06 January 2015 11:44 PM

There is no way you can get to an ‘ought’ with an ‘is’, without at least putting one ‘ought’ already in it somewhere.

So why is “is/ought” a problem for morality, but not other systems of thought that not everyone agrees on such as health (what is the exact definition of “health”?), and science (what, precisely, constitutes the “scientific method”?)?  In both “health” and “science”, we humans have “arbitrarily” assigned objectives to these fields.  We’ve bridged the is/ought gap (in a sense) by describing these fields in goal-directive terms and choosing what those goals are (i.e. we’ve defined these terms).  Why can’t we do the same for “morality”?

Nobody has been able to answer this question.

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Posted: 08 January 2015 12:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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BugRib - 07 January 2015 02:06 PM

His argument is basically that “the worst possible misery for everyone” is as close to being objectively bad as anything can be.  If you don’t think TWPMFE is bad, he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, and he doesn’t think you know what you’re talking about either.  If TWPMFE isn’t bad, then the word “bad” is meaningless.

If that is all, then it is absolutely trivial. It is just utilitarianism. As I already said, utilitarianism is grosso modo ok, but there are many problems in the details, and these details are definitely not all questions of science.

BugRib - 07 January 2015 02:06 PM

I wonder why Harris is treated so differently.

Because he does as if he did find out something great new stuff, and loves to present them in the spotlight?

BugRib - 07 January 2015 02:44 PM

First of all, Harris repeatedly acknowledges that we may not, in practice, be able to uncover all of these truths.  In other words, Harris has readily conceded the point that John Schook is using as an argument against his position.
...
Harris’ argument is not that we will, in practice, be able to uncover all of these truths. 

May I ask what kind of truths we are talking about? That it is unhealthy to eat too much fat? Or that animals do not play a part in our moral considerations about ‘the greatest good for the maximum of sentient beings’?

BugRib - 07 January 2015 02:44 PM

I wonder what method Shook suggests we use to solve moral dilemmas if not the “scientific” one?  Guessing?  Consulting a psychic?  Astrology?

I cannot answer that for Shook. But a permanent rational dialogue between moral subjects might do. Do you really think that moral dilemmas always can be ‘solved’, and that this solution is true, whatever people feel or think about it?

BugRib - 07 January 2015 02:54 PM

So why is “is/ought” a problem for morality, but not other systems of thought that not everyone agrees on such as health (what is the exact definition of “health”?), and science (what, precisely, constitutes the “scientific method”?)?  In both “health” and “science”, we humans have “arbitrarily” assigned objectives to these fields.  We’ve bridged the is/ought gap (in a sense) by describing these fields in goal-directive terms and choosing what those goals are (i.e. we’ve defined these terms).  Why can’t we do the same for “morality”?

The answer is simple: because everybody agrees on it. ‘TWPMFE’ just isn’t precise enough, and never will. As said, it is great as a first start, but soon after the start it will waver out in all of different kinds of values. Animals anyone?

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Posted: 08 January 2015 12:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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BugRib - 07 January 2015 02:15 PM

There are certainly facts about certain situations being better than others in terms of moving away from TWPMFE.  That being said, there are other situations (like your example) where it is difficult to say that one is factually better than the other.

 

But is it just difficult to say or is there no fact of the matter?

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Posted: 08 January 2015 05:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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We seem to be hitting often on the problem of “perfect is the enemy of good”. Applied to morality: Science can’t answer all moral dilemmas, so science shouldn’t be applied to morality at all. Or: Not everyone will agree on all moral rules, so we shouldn’t try to get anyone to agree on any of them.

Harris makes much more lengthy and eloquent arguments against this fallacious thinking.

Gdb still thinks he has an argument against applying moral treatment to animals although I don’t remember him actually making on.

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Posted: 08 January 2015 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Lausten - 08 January 2015 05:25 AM

We seem to be hitting often on the problem of “perfect is the enemy of good”. Applied to morality: Science can’t answer all moral dilemmas, so science shouldn’t be applied to morality at all. Or: Not everyone will agree on all moral rules, so we shouldn’t try to get anyone to agree on any of them.

I never said something like that. I just say that science cannot answer which values we should take: it can only answer what means we have to reach goals we already have defined.

Harris is just a utilitarian, or he is wrong.

Lausten - 08 January 2015 05:25 AM

Gdb still thinks he has an argument against applying moral treatment to animals although I don’t remember him actually making on.

Right, I never gave an argument. I use it as example that ‘TWPMFE’ cannot answer the question if we should include animals in our considerations, not even with help of science. Including animals or not is a value question, not a scientific one.

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Posted: 08 January 2015 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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GdB - 08 January 2015 07:44 AM
Lausten - 08 January 2015 05:25 AM

We seem to be hitting often on the problem of “perfect is the enemy of good”. Applied to morality: Science can’t answer all moral dilemmas, so science shouldn’t be applied to morality at all. Or: Not everyone will agree on all moral rules, so we shouldn’t try to get anyone to agree on any of them.

I never said something like that. I just say that science cannot answer which values we should take: it can only answer what means we have to reach goals we already have defined.

Harris is just a utilitarian, or he is wrong.

I think he says that. If Harris is a utilitarian, then everything we do is utilitarian and words have no meaning. This is essentially the argument against acting morally, nothing matters so do what feels good.

GdB - 08 January 2015 07:44 AM
Lausten - 08 January 2015 05:25 AM

Gdb still thinks he has an argument against applying moral treatment to animals although I don’t remember him actually making on.

Right, I never gave an argument. I use it as example that ‘TWPMFE’ cannot answer the question if we should include animals in our considerations, not even with help of science. Including animals or not is a value question, not a scientific one.

Value question sure, but you arbitrarily define a value question to be separate from science. Philosophy that is not informed by science is pseudo-philosophy. It’s the type of thing philosophers did a thousand years ago. They had no concept of where humans came from or how their actions affected the environment on a global scale. We know it now, but people don’t want to know that their iPhone is made in slave like factories, so we make up lies about Chinese culture and how it’s okay. Same thing for how we treat chickens. Factory farming developed by doing it in secret. As more people find out where their food comes from, the laws are changing. We are constantly applying science to morals.

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