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Are there moral facts? A debate about moral/ethical realism
Posted: 27 December 2007 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This is honoring a request. I introduced myself, and suddenly there was a long thread on ethics.

Here is the outline of a case for moral realism, lifted bodily from the thread ‘Interested Philosopher’. Pardon the outline format and the rather intense abbreviation; changing both would only make the post even longer. Nothing here is excitingly new, but then ‘new and improved’ is for cereals and mini-vans, not necessarily arguments.

There’s another case to be made by taking apart Hume’s argument - his arg makes moral facts irrelevant, it is not a direct attack on their existence. But that’s not in this post. I won’t spend time altering some of the unclear parts, and the abbreviations are pretty obvious in context.

  B.  Generic arguments mostly con about moral facts (pp118-):

    1.  The ‘queerness’ of morals as facts:
      a.  The items and actions in a torture-chamber – unquestionably ‘facts’;
      b.  vs the wrongness of the actions – a rather different kind of fact:
  i.  it’s not a thing, it’s not quite measurable
      (how heavy is wrong?
      Does it make sense to ‘count’ the wrongs in the torture-chamber?)
  ii.  This is the bad consequence of accepting the idea
      that ‘oughts’ cannot be turned into merely a set of ‘izzes’
        – See ch IV, pp103ff, ‘The Naturalistic Fallacy’
        w/ the args of Hume (18th c.) & G.E. Moore (19/20th c.)
      - those args show that moral ‘oughts’ are independent of other facts;
        - they are not the usual kind of facts.
      - now in V we are asking if that independence rather
          prevents them from being really a kind of fact at all.

    2.  Informal evidence for moral facts:
      a.  Arg. 1:
  i.  Morals do seem to be discoverable,
      and beliefs about them seem stable, once discovered;
  ii.  Other fields where things are discoverable and stable
      have facts to be discovered, & facts to stabilize beliefs about them;
  iii. Therefore, morality is also rests upon a base of facts.

      b.  Arg. 2:
  i.  Judging things as good, better than, best of
      implies a standard – some facts – by which one can evaluate the things.
  ii.  We also make reasonable-seeming judgments about morals;
  iii. So, there are moral facts, that make such judgments intelligible.

    3.  Arguments against moral facts:

      a.  1st, recall the ‘queerness’ of morals if you think of them as facts, from 1. above.
  One way to support moral facts is to claim one can observe morals
      –with a non-physical, non-sensed moral intuition.

      b.  Con Arg. 1:
  i.  We cannot, and never have, observed such a ‘power’ or ‘faculty’,
      Altho’ we can observe our sense-faculties: eyes to see, our ears to hear etc.
  ii.  So the only way we ‘know’ we have a faculty of moral intuition
      is by pro Arg.1 – but there’s no way to independently confirm
      the existence of that power apart from that little argument.

  iii. possible Reply:
      Well, fine, we cannot independently confirm it
      But all that means is that
      pro Arg.1 is ‘demoted’ from a certain arg. to a probable or likely arg.
      Specifically, it’s an arg by analogy.

        Another arg by analogy:
        I have toothaches, and make certain sounds and motions;
        I observe someone doing the exact same sounds and motions;
        It’s probable or likely that that someone’s got a toothache –
          - but, I can’t independently confirm that, either.
              (he might lie, he’s across the hall & I can’t talk to him, etc.)

      c.  Con Arg. 2:
  i.  There are many other ways to describe why we moralize
      than by claiming there are moral facts;
  ii.  And given con arg.1, we have no independent evidence they exist:
  iii. Therefore, to claim ‘Morals are facts’
      is superfluous, extra, and a bit of a bad fix – it’s ad hoc.
          (Latin, ‘just for this’ – it was made up just to prove your point,
          not b/c it’s reasonable, or the most likely expln)

  iv. Possible Reply:
      So what if it seems like positing ghosts?
      As we shall see later in the chapter, all the other, non-realist theories
        have massive problems of their own.
      So, the non-realist really has given us a diff kind of problem:
        Wh. is worse?
        Entities that we have trouble confirming independently?
        Or theories with massive metaphysical or logical problems?
      Most ordinary people, it seems, allow for unseeable entities;
      so moral facts are still plausible, if not yet proven likely.
        Besides,
          ‘We can’t see moral facts’
        begs the question
          ‘Can we observe them?’
        It doesn’t seem weird to just know something’s going wrong
        when we look at a torture
          (Ex: I’ve never seen a torture before,
          yet I’m sure I’d know it’s wrong the minute I saw it taking place)

      d.  Con Arg. 3:
      This will sound like con arg 1, but it’s concentrating
      not on (failing to) observe this mysterious ‘power of moral intuition’
      But on what would the independent evidence look like
        to distinguish fact-based belief from fictional, mere belief?
  i.  OK, assume there’s this wonderful moral intuition – how could it work?
  ii.  We cannot observe any moral facts, different from other facts;
  iii. And when we do change our minds about some moral belief,
      often it’s b/c of some mere fact
      (ex: realizing a living man is being hanged, rather than ‘only a thief’
  iv. So therefore, just drop the idea of ‘separate’ moral facts.

  v.  Possible Reply:
      This con arg continues to assume that non-physical intuition is absurd;
      Well, many, many people do suggest they can observe (im)moral acts,
        although that doesn’t prove decisively that there are facts,
        It makes moral facts as likely as that we have ‘minds’ and that we’re ‘conscious’                and that 2+2=4 independently of physical things.
        Is the moral non-realist just attacking every non-physical object?
        That’s not strictly a moral theory position – that’s a metaphysical assumption –              and a diff subject – it seems we can talk about moral facts (or not)
          w/o having to know if
              physicalism, or monistic materialism,
              or philosophical naturalism is true.

      e.  Con Arg. 4:
  i.  While con arg. 2 complained that positing moral facts seems weird,
      this arg says it isn’t needed – it isn’t necessary,
  ii.  After all, there are other ways to explain your actions.
      (Ex: I think Hitler was depraved – but b/c I was brought up to believe it;
        I don’t need to posit a moral fact about his depravity.)

  iii. Possible Reply:
      ‘Need’ is a funny term here –
      I’m looking for what is so, not for how ‘thin’ my metaphysics can be constructed.
      I wasn’t saying that one ‘needs’ morals
        because no other explanation might explain actions,   
      Rather, I was looking for the true explanation,
        not the ‘thinnest’ or ‘least metaphysically heavy’
        or ‘least committed’ explanation.
      That suggests searching for the truth is like
        conserving water and food in the desert.
        Requiring ‘simplest’ or ‘thinnest’ or ‘metaphysically lightest’ theories
        is an absurd requirement.
      NB: Your instructor really has a grudge against ‘Ockham’s Razor’

      f.  Supervenience.
          (We shall not study this new twist on reducing moral ‘oughts’ to ‘izzes’. In your instructor’s opinion, none of the arguments about supervenience do much more than tell us about a ‘necessary condition’ for acting morally, which is accepted by many moral realists. Like this analogy: yes, containers are necessary for coffee-drinking, but coffee does not ‘supervene’ on coffee-cups. In fact it’s the other way around; we want coffee, and that requires getting a cup. Coffee isn’t *derived* from cups, even tho’ the coffee must ‘come from’ some cup or other; neither are morals ‘derived’ from scientific facts. Maybe next semester we’ll argue this in detail.)

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Posted: 27 December 2007 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here is Hume’s argument, a very famous one, and possible replies to it. This one doesn’t argue against moral facts: instead it argues that moral facts wouldn’t do us any good for being moral!

Again, i’ve just lifted it bodily from my outline for students; again, none of this is cloud-burstingly new.

  C.  Hume’s Anti-realist argument.
  Q: What motivates or moves a person to act?

    1.  A stronger case than the con args above – a distinction:

      a.  They argue that morals aren’t facts, but they still think of them as beliefs
      (It’s true that Gandalf has a long, white beard – it’s a true belief;
      It’s false that Voldemort is Potter’s friend – it’s a false belief.)

      b.  But Hume is arguing that morals are not even couchable as beliefs.
  i.  Hume hopes to show that morals are desires, not facts (real or fictional);

  ii.  Morals are said to ‘motivate’ one to action;
  iii. But mere beliefs – fact or fiction – do not motivate;
  iv. So, morals cannot be beliefs;

  v.  And only beliefs can be T or F.
  vi. So therefore, neither can morals be T or F.
  vii. As desires, morals can at best be ‘approved of’ or ‘disapproved of’
      - That kind of desire or ‘passion’ H~ calls *sentiments*.

    2.  Two assumptions of Hume’s theory:
      a.  ‘internalism’ – Moral beliefs must motivate one to act, by df.
        (or they aren’t worthy of being called moral beliefs).
      b.  a ‘belief-desire theory’ of mental contents:
      beliefs and desires are mutually exclusive sorts of things:
      no beliefs are desires; no desires are beliefs.

      That is, to be a moral Humean is to be a subjectivist and internalist.
        (p.133 – subjectivist, b/c ‘morals’ are desires in you.)

    3.  Replies to ‘Humeanism’
  MR-ists can attack one or both of the assumptions in 2:

      a.  Reply #1: deny the belief-desire division –
      That is, be an internalist ethical realist (fr. p133):

  i.  Hume’s cut b/t beliefs and desires is ‘tendentious’:
      We normally treat morals as both beliefs and motivations,
      Therefore, the MR could claim that moral beliefs
        just are a motivating kind of belief.
  ii.  A Counter:
      the MR fails to describe for us just why only those moral beliefs motivate,
      but not all our other non-moral beliefs.
        (Ex: no-one wd say that
          the fact that the Sun is yellow, then I see it,
          must motivate me to some action, just by itself.)

  iii. a possible reply to the counter:
      Well, they do move me – to believe w/ justification.
      Some facts move me to physical action;
      Some move me to knowledge.
        (Ex: I cannot internally assert ‘The Sun is green’
        now that I’ve seen the fact of the Sun’s yellow color.)


      b.  #2: deny ‘internalism’ – the realist’s ‘merry shoplifter’
      That is, be a realist but an externalist (p.133)
  i.  OK: maybe only desires motivate (accept what we denied in 3.a);
  ii.  So, if I want moral facts, fine: Morals don’t of themselves motivate:
                  they’re just like other facts.

      To fill in this gap, the MR posits that people have to have the right desire          
          built into them (by nature, by training, etc.)
  iii. This is moral externalism
        – the internal, mentally-held moral isn’t enough to motivate.

  iv. an Objection, and a Reply from the externalist kind of realist:
    (a)  It’s absurd to conceive of someone
      who ‘knows’ A is wrong, yet merrily does A.

      Ex: it seems that to shoplift ‘merrily’,
        you’d have to not really, truly believe that shoplifting is wrong.
        – if you really, truly believed it were wrong,
        that wd seem to be some drag on your shoplifting.

    (b)  reply: There’s empirical evidence of such people:
      (i)  like backsliders – or the morally weak:
        Most of us know some act A is right or wrong,
        yet fail to do the right A, or go ahead and do the wrong A.
        (Cf. Paul of Tarsus:
          ‘I do the evil You forbid, and do not do the good You demand’)
      (iii) And don’t’ forget the wicked –
        [a]  Shoplifters seem to know that it’s wrong to steal,
          Else it makes little sense why they’d hide their shoplifting.
        [b.]  And, if a shoplifter owned his own shop,
          you can’t go wrong thinking he’d protect himself from shoplifters!

    (c)  the anti-realist’s counter:
      it’s doubtful that they really know right from wrong.
      That is, the externalist analysis of moral weakness and moral wickedness isn’t obvious.

      (How to adjudicate? One might need to be very careful, and very introspective, and delicately examine one’s motivations one by one. Maybe then we could come down on one side or the other.)

  D.  An Indirect Argument for MR:
  Remember what an IA or Reductio proof (= RAA) is:
  let us support MR by showing how absurd or illogical it is to abandon it.

    1.  Subjectivism is an ‘error theory’:
      a.  Arg:
  i.  Moral judgments can be couched just like judgments about non-moral things:
      They are all assumed in our minds to be true:
      Non-moral Ex: The Sun is round = (Hey, it’s true that) the Sun is round.
      Moral     Ex: Murder is wrong = (Hey, it’s true that) murder is wrong.
      All statements, moral or non, when asserted, imply that
        the one who asserts it, thinks of it in the T/F way.

  ii.  But anti-realism like Hume’s claims that there is no T or Fness about morals;
  iii. So, the anti-realist claims imply that we are always in error about that.
      And that’s a pretty weird consequence –
        – that we are just always, every time we even think about morals,
          just wrong, wrong, wrong about what’s on our minds.

  iv. And the non-realist replies are pretty weird, too:

    (o) ‘bite the bullet’ (not in the text) – We are so epistemically screwed that
      we’ll never figure out why anti-realism is true – yet it is true.

  (Don’t forget to stamp your foot, or
        accuse MR’s of believing in ghosts or gods, or of being ‘medieval’
                      – all good rhetorical tricks.)

    (a)  ‘Projectivism’ – yep, it’s just the way we’re set up, by some trick of Nature.
      We ‘project’ our desires onto things, just like a child projects
          his dislike of spinach onto spinach, calling it ‘yucky,’

      This has all the faults of an ad hoc hypothesis
      – the anti-R posits some ‘thing’ in our nature that just deceives us,   
      massively – and in some weird way, this deception’s supposed to be good for us.
      – the anti-R is reaching for some ghostly error mechanism, just like
      he accused the MR of doing when he posited a realm of moral facts.
      – Projectivism is absurd: b/c it claims that
        living things that make lots of errors would survive at all.

    (b)  Cultural Relativism is back: that this or that is moral
      (i)  is just part of our social mechanism –
      as a group, we deceive ourselves that our morals are true or false
      (ii)  This theory, and projectivism too, has
      no explanation of what happens when we discover the deception:

      Ex. True, the Soviet people were deceived that Stalin was heroic;
      But when they discovered that it was propaganda,
          they could find out what he was really like.
        (NB: he might be heroic –
          but then they’d look for good reasons for thinking so.)

    2.  Anti-realism is illogical (fr. Peter T. Geach, a contemporary philosopher):

  i.  Moral beliefs/statements are, uncontroversially, parts of arguments;
  ii.  You can only use T or F things in arguments;
  iii.  So morals must be at least T or F. (they may still be fictional)

      Ex:
      1.  Lying is wrong;
      2.  If (a) lying is wrong, then (b) getting your little brother to lie is wrong;
      3.  So, getting your little brother to lie is wrong.

      2. is uncontroversially a T or F kind of thing – a belief;
      but it needs a T belief in (a) to get you to assert the (b) part;

      Such as this arg, where all the sts can be uncontroversially T (or F):
      4.  The dam has broken;
      5.  If the dam has broken, then the town is destroyed.
      6.  The town is destroyed.

  iv. A reply from Simon Blackburn (contemporary, and very much online).
      Make all the parts of moral arguments attitude-expressions.
      So, no ‘category error’ (no sliding from one kind of thing to another very
        different-working kind – no slip back and forth b/t beliefs and desires
        actually happens)

      Counter:
      This is what your instructor jokingly calls
      a ‘balloon-dog’ or ‘whack-a-mole’ problem –
        In getting rid of the category error,
        B-burn has just turned this into a completely nonlogical problem!
        thus, taking it out of the philosopher’s domain entirely.

      (I call this a ‘balloon-dog’ problem, b/c, like trying to squeeze a balloon to get rid of a bulge, the bulge just appears somewhere else on the balloon. Likewise, in the kids’ game of whack-a-mole, hitting a mole on the head just makes another mole pop up from a different hole on the game-board.)

      Blackburn thinks of morals as attitudes pro and con, but they can be dealt with as if they are like beliefs /w facts behind them. This is quasi-realism. Either it solves all of the R/anti-R debates, or (really bad) it has all the problems of both!

  E.  Hume’s Reply to the MR’s objections:
  How can merely a bunch of attitudes be morals?
    1.  Four Assumptions about human nature:
      a.  Hume thinks these four are present in most normal human beings:
  i.  We do have a limited amount of benevolence toward others;
  ii.  We can sort of feel the feelings of another – we can sym-pathize;
  iii. We do have a sense of ‘fair play’ – we can be disinterested;
  iv. We have reasoning power to understand the consequences of our actions.

      b.  A Trenchant Reply (not in text):
        i.  Bull-ony – it’s at least debatable that human beings,
      w/o any training, are really all those things.
  ii.  Without training (which isn’t natural), in fact, it seems
      just as likely that children wd grow up to be selfish, grabby, and immoralist.
  iii. Of course Hume and us are benevolent, sympathetic, and disinterested!
      After all, he and we were trained to be so by our parents,
      who are usually pretty unrepentant moral realists!

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Posted: 27 December 2007 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks for that post Inthegobi.  Unfortunately I missed out on all the fun college courses and have to catch up in my free time.

I was just thinking of a related issue over the past week.  I caught myself saying “I believe we want to turn at the next stop light.”  I felt a little awkward claiming that as a belief, when what I really meant was “to the best of my knowledge.”  It appears the word belief may be getting a little semantically misconstrued in common language.

Using belief as a synonym for think doesn’t feel accurate.  I dissect this distinction to the element of faith.  I am comfortable saying “I believe that murder is morally wrong” because my degree of certainty is around 99%, nearly 100% or almost faith.  I am uncomfortable saying “I believe we want to turn at the next stop light” because my degree of certainty was around 60%.  This sounds like a good issue for Steven Pinker to pick apart.

My definition of the terms: moral, belief, think & faith sorts me in agreement with Hume; that morals are motivations & not facts.  I am not sure I want to give up the nuances & creative wiggle room of language in order to have the objective definitions necessary to establish Hume’s point as fact.  This reminds me of a similar problem; classifying Pluto as a planet.  Once the term planet was objectively defined, Pluto could no longer be classified as a Planet.  It is still possible for people not “in the know” to make the mistake, but at least, now, we have documentation.  If semantics continues to be a dividing issue, there may be a market for a more accurate dictionary and thesaurus that distinguishes when a word exceeds its usefulness and other words becomes more accurate.

[ Edited: 27 December 2007 10:41 AM by retrospy ]
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Posted: 27 December 2007 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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No, I just can’t follow the arguments and replies in this format. Very stacatto and interrupted. I agree with Occam, I’d drop the class if the prof handed me an outline like this unless he/she was an outstanding lecturer! grin Is there any way you can narrow the focus of your argument to pieces a bit more digestible for the non-specialist in philosophy?

Lets go back for example, to “moral facts.” What are these? Are they moral rules or beliefs that are universal? That are intrinsic in the universe in some way? Or that are just individual moral rules or standards that we can discuss, irrespective of the debate about whether they are relative or absolute? I’m not sure I can discuss whether they are “real” (another word I’m having trouble with here) or universal or relative to culture etc. since I’m not sure exactly what you mean by the expression.

My basic position is that moral rules are devices that allow and facilitate social living. They may be evolved in a biological sense (sets of rules for behavior encoded in the brain as Universal Grammar is said to be sets of rules for language encoded in the brain), though this is unproven in my opinion. Or they may evolve independantly to be very similar in different cultures because the common requirments of group living require certain fundamental core principles (sort of a cultural form of convergent evolution). But they have no existence outside of human beliefs and desires. They are not “real” in the sense that facts about the physical universe are, though they may be consistent across cultures and discoverable or describable according to some universal system (or they may not). I’m not even sure, based on your posts, if we disagree about this or not.

Sorry if you’re accustomed to more educated or better informed conversation partners, but as this is a “public square” there are participants at all levels, and sadly I’m way below yours in this area.

[ Edited: 27 December 2007 11:22 AM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 27 December 2007 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I find issues of morality particularly interesting because of the role they play defining in-group / out-group relationships between theists & non-theists as well as theists & theists.  I agree that the shorthand notes introducing this thread are extremely brief and can easily be overlooked.  I would appreciate it if we could go over the arguments for moral relativism vs. moral realism in a casual debate piece by piece.  This could get new readers involved instead of reading earlier multi page threads and help explain some issues in Lehman terminology.

dougsmith - 24 December 2007 07:24 PM

It’s totally standard in philosophy to distinguish between “realists” and “relativists” within any given subject matter.

Moral realism is the view in philosophy that there are objective moral values. Moral realists argue that moral judgments describe moral facts.

Moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to assess an ethical proposition’s truth.

Positions:

Mriana – ?

Morgantj – Moral Relativist
Brennan – Moral Relativist
Scott – Moral Relativist

Occum – Moral Relativisit claiming Moral realism?  smile

Doug – Moral Realist
Kirk – Moral Realist?

Correct me if I am wrong.

[ Edited: 28 December 2007 07:07 AM by retrospy ]
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Posted: 27 December 2007 04:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I have a problem understanding the use of the word ‘realism’ in relation to ethics.  I prefer the dichotomy of “absolute” and “relative”, but maybe we are talking at cross purposes or about entirely different things.

I also don’t care for bothering with morals since I see ethics as the fundamental rules on which morals are based.

In any case, this is my view about ethics.
The inanimate universe merely exists - there are no laws and there are no truths, only reality.  These are human inventions to help us understand and codify the universe.  One of the problems we have is getting so used to our way of classifying it that we confuse our own constructs with external reality.  We extend our descriptions beyond the physical processes that occur, to purely human activities and attach the same absoluteness to these as we do with the laws we have assigned to those physical processes.

Neglecting the possibility of extra-human sentient existence, there would be no such things as good, bad, ethics, morals, pleasure, love, and all sorts of other constructs without humans.  In the past women were universally recognized as inferior, subservient beings.  Based on that, ethical behavior between men of equal stature was quite different than between a male and a female.  Would the philosophers of that time arrive at the same “absolute” or “universal” rules of ethics as applied to such relationships as do the philosophers of today? 

We can say that they were just not enlightened so arrived at erroneous conclusions.  However, how can we be sure that we, too, are not behaving according to some ideas that will seem quaint at best and evil at worst to ethical philosophers a few centuries from now?  As such, some of what we consider absolute ethics may have to be modified, that is, the absolute or universal may not be as absolute or universal as we think it is at present. 

In other words, I see ethics as absolute in terms of the society, but relative in terms of other societies.

Occam
(Damn, I went over ten lines. LOL )

[ Edited: 27 December 2007 04:06 PM by Occam ]
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Posted: 27 December 2007 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Occam,

It was worth the extra lines! I certainly agree with your position, and despite our preference for slightly different labels, I don’t see any real difference in our views on the subject.

Retrospy,

For your defintions, I’m still not sure what the first one means since I’m not sure what the realists mean by “facts” and “absolute” I’d definately agree to holding the Relativist position as you define it with the caveat that universal moral rules might exist (though I’m not convinced, and I doubt such actually exist), but while this would mean moral rules were not relative to culture/personal circumstances, etc, it still wouldn’t necessarily mean they were “absolute” or “objective,” if these terms are intended to refer to a foundation outside of human beliefs and desires. Moral facts cannot be facts in the sense that facts of physics and biology are facts, but they can be facts in the sense that within the context of human beliefs and desires they are true.

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Posted: 27 December 2007 06:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I would consider myself a semi-comfortable moral realist. That is, I do believe that there are moral facts, and that therefore moral error is possible. However I am not as certain of this as that there are other sorts of facts (e.g., facts about material objects, relations, laws, modal abstracta, etc.)

These may end up being relational facts—that is, facts of the form “If there are persons, then ...”; this is something of a Kantian move, dependent at least in part on what the concept of a “person” is. Also I can recall awhile back reading some stuff from David Brink on moral realism that I found persuasive. It’s been awhile and would take me some time to reconstruct my memory or re-read his work, but just FYI.

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Posted: 27 December 2007 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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So Doug, what is a “moral fact?” If it is qualitatively different from a “fact” as usually understood, then what is it? It seems that as a relativist I would be obliged to disallow the existence of such a thing, as I gather from what you and Kirk have said, but I’m not sure I do since I’m not sure what you mean by it. Certainly, the condition you suggest (“If there are persons, then….”) seems an obvious and necessary one for moral rules or facts or whatever. If there were only non-sentient living beings, morality would be a meaningless concept. Granted, that means we have to decide what a person is, what sentience is, etc. But the trouble I’m having is that I still don’t see where we disagree because I don’t think I understand your position. If moral rules are not relative to human beliefs and desires, and yet are not facts about the material world, what are they?

Sorry, I know this is probably Phil. 101 terminology, but I’m just not sure we’re talking about the same thing.

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Posted: 28 December 2007 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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retrospy - 27 December 2007 12:37 PM

Moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to assess an ethical proposition’s truth.

Positions:

Mriana – ?
Morgantj – ?

 


I’m not crazy about titles, but in this case I would be classified as a “Moral Relativist.”

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Posted: 28 December 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Brennen, a “moral fact” is a fact about morality. It’s not a different sort of fact, it’s a fact about a particular subject matter. Just like there are “physical facts” and “biological facts” and “psychological facts” there are also “moral facts”.

The question of reductionism is an interesting one (does one sort of fact reduce without remainder into another) but is a separate issue. One can have facts at different levels of abstraction.

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Posted: 28 December 2007 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I should add that I mean “moral facts” to be the same sort of thing as “moral truths”, etc. I’m not trying to introduce a new terminology here.

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Posted: 28 December 2007 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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mckenzievmd - 27 December 2007 11:04 AM

No, I just can’t follow the arguments and replies in this format. Very stacatto and interrupted. I agree with Occam, I’d drop the class if the prof handed me an outline like this unless he/she was an outstanding lecturer! grin Is there any way you can narrow the focus of your argument to pieces a bit more digestible for the non-specialist in philosophy?

I’m a pretty good lecturer; and of course there’s a whole book the outline outlines. I *hoped* that the outline could stand alone. Ha.

Lets go back for example, to “moral facts.” [1]What are these? [2] Are they moral rules or beliefs that are universal? [3]That are intrinsic in the universe in some way? . . . [4] I’m not sure I can discuss whether they are “real” (another word I’m having trouble with here) or universal or relative to culture etc. since I’m not sure exactly what you mean by the expression.

R1: It’s a fact that we can discuss if something is independent and existent without having a good handle on what it is. Ex: Most ordinary adults can judge when they’re looking at pornography, but few of us have a good, tight definition of what it is. So we can deal with the ‘insides’ of morals separately from asking if they’re factual or fictional.

R2: Hm, you’ve mixed two different things here, that aren’t exclusive of each other. i have beliefs, which are ‘habits’ or attitudes (in my mind or in my brain), and those beliefs can be in reference to rules (like ‘I believe that one ought to be charitable in debate’) just like other beliefs are about non-moral ‘rules’ or regularities (like ‘I believe that mammals are warm-blooded’).

R3: ‘intrinsic’ to a special part of the Universe, no? There are wrongs intrinsic to torturing a man, but whe all the people are gone, even a moral realist would not claim that The Rules are ‘floating’ still in the air of the torture-chamber, and were ‘there’ before any torture took place. Morals are a bit like angels: they can *apply* themselves anywhere and maybe everywhere, but there must be moral agents existing for the morals to apply.

R4: Yes, you can discuss their reality apart from a metaphysics - you dont’ need to know whether DAwkins or Haught or Aquinas or Kant are rigth about the definition of morals to ask ‘yeah, but are they up to us or not? Are they fictional or ‘factual’? And ‘Factual’ might well mean ‘necessary to perpetuate the species.’ Altho’ this avoids asking why the species must be preserved (what’s any species ever done for *me*? I thought several individuals - my parents and teachers, and myself - made me.)

[5] My basic position is that moral rules are devices that allow and facilitate social living. [5.i] They may be evolved in a biological sense (sets of rules for behavior encoded in the brain as Universal Grammar is said to be sets of rules for language encoded in the brain), though this is unproven in my opinion. [5.ii] Or they may evolve independently to be very similar in different cultures because the common requirements of group living require certain fundamental core principles (sort of a cultural form of convergent evolution). [6] But they have no existence outside of human beliefs and desires. They are not “real” in the sense that facts about the physical universe are, though they may be consistent across cultures and discoverable or describable according to some universal system. [7] I’m not even sure, based on your posts, if we disagree about this or not.

On [7]: First, I’m a moral realist. I believe that the ‘truthmaker’ for a moral belief is some fact of the matter, not made-up. However, i dont’ think we have a special moral ‘detector’. We get non-natural information through our natural senses. So in a way i’m an ‘empiricist’ but not the modern kind. they prefer to say that we can only know what we get *from* the senses rather than ‘through’ them. (I only get sounds from the telephone, but i can get non-natural moral advice and non-natural truths about mathematics or canons of reason through the telephone, for maybe you, a non-natural thing, are on the other end talking to me.) So also, none of the arguments against moral facts I gave in the notes have much ‘bite’ for me, since I dont’ posit a special morality-detector.

So I disagree with [6] - although there are a large set of morals that *are* manufactured by us, on the basis of the moral fact that ‘promises are to be kept’ So there’s a moral fact about murder, but not explicitly about traffic flow - but when we make group decisions about it, sure, then the ‘keep your promises’ moral grounds the morality of driving the right speed, or letting the guy on the left of a four-way stop go first. (is it the left? I never remember)

Since I also will claim that morals are not reducible to any biological or cultural impulses, I reject both variations of [5] as *definitions* of ‘moral’. ‘Moral’ is its own atttribute and is not reducible to other less offensive attributes like brain-chemistry or arbitrary contracts. Sure, they place certain limits on us - If I lack certain connections in my brain, I won’t be able to act on my moral impulses; if my frontal lobes are damaged I might be unable to plan any long-range moral goods like ‘care for your family’. But necessary conditions are not sufficient ones. It’s insufficient to collapse morals into brain-chemistry as in 5.i or social contracts as in 5.ii.

Here’s a dilemma:
[first part] If you pick 5.ii as your *definition*, then you don’t get to smuggle in ‘and of course we all want our group to survive’ for that’s not part of the definition ‘mutually agree to do this and not do that.’ Yes, i know, *if* we want our group to survive and pass on our genes; but ‘further our group or species’ just needn’t come from ‘let’s all agree to do this and not do that.’ So if you like 5.ii, which is social contract theory, you have to allow that a group that wants to committ suicide as a group are doing so morally, *exactly because* they mutually agree to it. If ‘mutual agreement of the group’ is our *definition* of ‘moral’, then all *and only* such contracts are ‘moral’. That’s just how definitions work.
[second part] So if we go by your choices, we’re stuck with claiming 5.i as the *real* ground for morals. But we don’t like 5.i either, for the reason you gave. Further, it’s really doubtful we could get any decent-sized list of morals out of mere biological impulses - especially to people who I have no interest’ in. Charity is *out* on this view, and the ‘altruistic’ behavior allowed under evolutionary theory alone is pretty slim stuff. Mother Teresa and indeed any random act of charity to a stranger is ill-explained. So if these are the only two choices, we’re rather boned either way.

Sorry if you’re accustomed to more educated or better informed conversation partners, but as this is a “public square” there are participants at all levels, and sadly I’m way below yours in this area.

Nay, i’m accustomed to *no* conversational partners. When I was a chemist, my colleagues were chattier; philosophers it turns out love to sit alone at their desks, and seem to hate discussing their ideas - maybe b/c they are afraid they’re not well-formed enough yet. Maybe i’m just too mouthy, too. I really do need to talk out the kinks in my ideas. That’s not normal. So I’m grateful for the dialogue.

cheers,

Kirk

BTW, i think you’ll find that the outline-notes avoid technical terms until they’re well-introduced. But that’s no guarantee they make sense.

Kirk

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Posted: 28 December 2007 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith - 28 December 2007 07:04 AM

I should add that I mean “moral facts” to be the same sort of thing as “moral truths”, etc. I’m not trying to introduce a new terminology here.

Heh heh, definitional food fight!

Ex: There’s Gandalf truths (It’s true that Gandalf has a long white beard), but they’re fictional truths (what ties down the ‘truth’ isn’t a fact of the world, but something Tolkein made out of other facts plus his own creative head).

But i agree with the general thrust that if there are no moral facts, then it makes moral truths hard to understand as *universally* applicable. Not impossible, but an odd position to hold.

I’m sympathetic if a man wants to make ‘true’ and ‘real’ synonyms, even tho’ they aren’t *technically* synonyms at all. ‘True’ versus ‘false’ is a feature of the ‘ribbon’ that ties my belief to a somewhat, and ‘real/factual’ versus ‘fictional is a feature of the somewhat at the other end of the ribbon, so to speak.

Is that a good metaphorical way to put it, doug?

kirk

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Posted: 28 December 2007 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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mckenzievmd - 27 December 2007 05:51 PM

I’m still not sure what the first one (moral realist) means since I’m not sure what the realists mean by “facts” and “absolute”

dougsmith - 28 December 2007 07:04 AM

I should add that I mean “moral facts” to be the same sort of thing as “moral truths”, etc. I’m not trying to introduce a new terminology here.

I need an example of an empirical or objective moral fact/truth.  How do you come by this knowledge and validate your hypothesis?  EDIT: (I’m not satisfied with authority said so, looking for reason)

inthegobi - 28 December 2007 07:05 AM

Morals are a bit like angels: they can *apply* themselves anywhere and maybe everywhere, but there must be moral agents existing for the morals to apply.

Would Moral realists agree that there is some degree of possibility that all of the morals they hold now, could be proven false in the future?  Are present morals as equally a fact as claiming a geocentric universe back in 1450 could have been considered a fact?  How is claiming moral realism possible without absolute knowledge?  Do I have to take it on faith, like angels?

I agree with Brennen here:

mckenzievmd - 27 December 2007 05:51 PM

I’d definately agree to holding the Relativist position as you define it with the caveat that universal moral rules might exist (though I’m not convinced, and I doubt such actually exist), but while this would mean moral rules were not relative to culture/personal circumstances, etc, it still wouldn’t necessarily mean they were “absolute” or “objective,” if these terms are intended to refer to a foundation outside of human beliefs and desires.

[ Edited: 28 December 2007 07:57 AM by retrospy ]
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Posted: 28 December 2007 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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retrospy - 27 December 2007 12:37 PM

Moral relativism is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. Moral relativists hold that no universal standard exists by which to assess an ethical proposition’s truth.

Right.

Being relative is opposed to being universal in application. (Crummy evidence for morals being essentially relative: Objection: Most any moral rule you can think of is either not being practed by some group or wasn’t in the past. Reply: True, but not relevant - for to be universal only requires that it be applicable anywhere; just so, the pythagorean theorem is universally true, at all places and times, even before it was accepted as true anywhere, and even though some groups don’t have an agreed opinion on it.)


(Let’s restrict the ‘vs’ to ‘contraries:’ things that can’t both be present at the same time, like being tan *or else* pale.) They’re two ends of a single variable, is a math-way of putting it.)

Being relatively vs universally moral is still holding to a standard - unless one’s theory is that only one’s *individual* say-so or feelings makes any act a moral issue. No-one here’s gone round that bend yet!

So am I right here? Most here accept these two starting-points or assumptions: morals ‘exist’ (as facts or fictions, as rules or virtues or goals, as biology or outside of Nature), and that morals are a standard (whether a universal std or one relative to various local conditions, whether factual or fictional, no matter the nature of the standard).

Btw:
Another kind of ‘relative’ is opposed to being ‘absolute’. That’s a metaphysical distinction, not strictly applicable to moral talk. Exx from space and time are easiest to understand the difference. If you’re an old-fashioned geocentrist, you probably believe in only *relations* of ‘place’ - there’s a principled difference where you stand in the Universe - the center-of, the edge-of - apart from whatever stuff is near to you. If you’re Isaac Newton you believe in the *absolute* properties that hold in *any* region, and you’ll not call it Place but merely Space. On time, maybe you think ‘now’ is real all by itself - ‘being now ’ is an absolute property of time. Maybe you’re a ‘bar of butter’ theorist about time - you think it’s just a bunch of time-points all in a big timeless row, and ‘now’ and ‘past’ are just illusions we make up, like there being no natural place to slice the butter-bar. You’re a relativist (less misleading, a *relationist*) about time - there’s only ‘before this other time-point’ or ‘after this other time-point’ relations.

It’s weird to think about, but contemporary philosophers rarely use the word ‘real’ though they love to use the word realism!  If you want to speak informally, moral anti-realists can think morals as ‘real’ but not as *really* real, and moral realists claim that morals aren’t just sorta real, they’re really real!

So picky terms like ‘exist’, ‘fact’, ‘fiction’ are tough to use at first, but are worth the mental investment unless you don’t mind the ‘really real’ kind of talk - which works too, I think! The ideas I believe anyone can understand; but it’s true too that the technicalized conventional terms help fix those ideas in the mind.

kirk

[ Edited: 28 December 2007 08:55 AM by inthegobi ]
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