False dichotomies in ethics?
Posted: 30 January 2008 06:43 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I mentioned this in a previous thread which seems to have stalled but think it is suitable as a topic in itself.

There is an underlying principle here but I will only develop it in reference to the most basic and problematic dichotomy in ethics: moral subjectivism versus moral objectivism.

In science one endeavors to transcend one’s subjectivity - ones preferences, prejudices and perceptions - to formulate a mind independent (non-subjective) explanation of the phenomena under investigation. This is a challenge of knowing - epistemology - so one can call this “epistemic objectivity”. The phenomena under investigation can have different ontologies, science has been most successful examining objective (mind independent) ontologies - physics, chemistry, biology and so on. Still much of science today is occupied with mind dependent aspects of the world - that is with subjective ontologies - psychology, cognitive science, economic, anthropology and so on. All this is still possible whilst still aspiring to epistemic objectivity. (Of course there are scientific and philosophical debates on what can count as data but the distinction still counts).

When looking at meta-ethics, objective theories are mind-independent and subjective theories are mind-dependent - by definition. The false dichotomy that I am claiming is to see these as mutual exclusive and (not quite- unless one adds nihilism)  collectively exhaustive. If one makes the ontological/epistemological distinction this changes. Then, ontologically, moral objectivism is exclusive of minds and moral subjectivity is inclusive of minds (or brain states or whatever as one prefers), whichever solution is considered can still be examined with epistemic objectivity. So there are variants of objective and subjective morality that match the mutually exclusive configuration I started with but these are not exhaustive of the range of possibilities and it is mistake to assume otherwise

So it is quite possible to be (epistemically) objective about (ontological) moral subjectivity and this is the position that I take. 

Once this is understood this also applies at the normative ethics level. One can make (epistemically) objective claims about moral subjectivity.The object under study is that aspect of human subjectivity to do with morals or codes of conduct. Whether one use Humean belief-desire psychology, Belief-Desire-Intention (BDI) theory, 1st person intentionality (Searle), 3rd person intentionality (Dennett), even eliminativism (Churchlands) or some other brain-mind theory - and I am quite agnostic to which one is correct - this still applies.

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Posted: 30 January 2008 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hmmm. As usual, I’m not sure I entirely understand what you’re saying. I would disagree that science tries, or at least expects, to transcend one’s subjectivity. I think science contains mehcanisms for limiting the influence of this subjectivity on the process and the outcome. Subjectivity cannot be transcended entirely. Still, I’ll grant that an effort towards as much epistemic objectivity as possible is made and is, to a reasonable extent, successful.

I agree that from a meta-ethics point of view, all theories are mind-dependant, since without minds there would be no theories. What I think you might be saying, then, (and speak cslowly and in small words if I’m wrong) and which I know Doug has said in this regard, is that an attempt to apply scientific epistemic objectivity to normative ethics can be made. In that sense, there would be something objective about ethics. I suppose I agree, though I question how successful such efforts are when dealing with subjective ontologies such as those you list. I think the attempt may make conclusions about the pragmatic effects of normative principles more reliable. A moral statement that theft is wrong can be evaluated objectively in terms of some set of criteria to assess how it impacts society and people in the real world (more or less violence, more even or more uneven distribution of wealth, etc). I would still argue that from a wider perspective, all the principles and criteria by which we evaluate them are subjective/relative, of course, but I would agree that such analysis is superior to dogmatic assertions as the sole criteria for justifying a oral precept.

So if you are saying that objective and subjective are not mutually exclusive and that there can be objective and subjective elements to various aspects of the process of ethical reasoning, I’ll go along with that. My relativism is a mixture of pragmatic/proximate relativism (our ethics are highly dependant on individual, cultural, historical factors, etc) and meta-ethical/philosophical relativism (all ethics are just elaborations of beliefs and desires and have no existence apart from these), but there is room for the use of methods to obtain some epistemelogical objectivity in the process of establish and discussing ethical principles.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 02:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

Hmmm. As usual, I’m not sure I entirely understand what you’re saying.

And this is the point of this thread to clarify this. Thanks for responding.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

I would disagree that science tries, or at least expects, to transcend one’s subjectivity. I think science contains mehcanisms for limiting the influence of this subjectivity on the process and the outcome. Subjectivity cannot be transcended entirely. Still, I’ll grant that an effort towards as much epistemic objectivity as possible is made and is, to a reasonable extent, successful.

I know you are a moral relativist but the above makes me think you are more than just a moral relativist. grin I have to disagree here. I am not sure what you mean when you say “Subjectivity cannot be transcended entirely” - look at the hard sciences, where robust and accepted theories and models have experiments that can be reliably, independently replicated most specifically there is no mind dependency required to obtain those results, they are designed to be independent of any mind and succeed. If you are thinking in terms of the philosophy of science - Kuhn, for example with his the so-called paradigm shifts - to the extent he is correct we can say these are extra-scientific factors, ditto for other approaches. Science itself aims at using the best epistemic objective methods where best means most effective at eliminating error and minimizing mistakes including the numerous biases of human subjectivity. There is often much debate on those methods - one of the key processes in improving them - as well as over the targets of science.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

I agree that from a meta-ethics point of view, all theories are mind-dependent, since without minds there would be no theories.

No from a meta-ethical point of view we are all epistemic objectivists. That is one reason why this level was developed - to disambiguate some of these confusions. And moral objectivism do not have mind dependency, that is why they are called objective here, by definition!  To say that without minds there are no theories is to totally confuse this issue and is really missing the point.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

What I think you might be saying, then, (and speak cslowly and in small words if I’m wrong) and which I know Doug has said in this regard, is that an attempt to apply scientific epistemic objectivity to normative ethics can be made.

Good, that is what I am saying. More specifically I am saying it is applicable to normative subjective as well as normative objective theories.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

In that sense, there would be something objective about ethics. I suppose I agree, though I question how successful such efforts are when dealing with subjective ontologies such as those you list.

There can be reciprocal feedback with efforts in other domains. There is no doubt this is work in progress, otherwise we would not need to have this conversation! In order to question such efforts one has to look at it this way and the reason I starred this thread was that you seemed to understand more than most in the other thread but were still confusing these different types, IMHO. Hopefully now I can switch, explicitly when talking about being epistemically objective about normative subjectivity.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

I think the attempt may make conclusions about the pragmatic effects of normative principles more reliable. A moral statement that theft is wrong can be evaluated objectively in terms of some set of criteria to assess how it impacts society and people in the real world (more or less violence, more even or more uneven distribution of wealth, etc).

That is just one way but specifically not what I meant here. It is not so much analyzing moral statements but analyzing what is behind the words and going on in minds and brains when this is occurring that I am interested in. That is why I brought various brain-mind theories. Mind-dependence is also brain-dependence and this is physical and so ontologically objective. When studying normative subjectivity one can achieve epistemic objectivity by looking at how brain-minds work and one can allow the possibility that they all work on some level the same way as even as the specific content - and morals - are the results of the combination of genes, environment, culture and personal history. The challenge is to find that “some level the same way” that relates to morals. There is no a priori reason to rule out that possibility just by accepting that morals are subjective, relative or both.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

I would still argue that from a wider perspective, all the principles and criteria by which we evaluate them are subjective/relative, of course, but I would agree that such analysis is superior to dogmatic assertions as the sole criteria for justifying a oral precept.

So you are a subjective relativist. Again the only principles and criteria I am talking about are epistemically objective ones, and yours clearly are not. By this I mean that a successful epistemically objective analysis could well show that subjective relativism is correct. I do not think that is the case but this is the only way to overcome the usual objections to subjective relativism - or any other normative theory for that matter.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

So if you are saying that objective and subjective are not mutually exclusive and that there can be objective and subjective elements to various aspects of the process of ethical reasoning, I’ll go along with that.

No I am saying that one can be epistemically objective at the normative as well as meta-ethical level with regard to all moral theories and yes that normative subjectivity and objectivity are not mutually exclusive and that is a false dichotomy.

mckenzievmd - 30 January 2008 07:14 PM

My relativism is a mixture of pragmatic/proximate relativism (our ethics are highly dependant on individual, cultural, historical factors, etc) and meta-ethical/philosophical relativism (all ethics are just elaborations of beliefs and desires and have no existence apart from these), but there is room for the use of methods to obtain some epistemelogical objectivity in the process of establish and discussing ethical principles.

Hmmm, I am dubious as to whether there are any such ethical principles - absolute or contributory, I suppose am a particularist or pragmatist in this sense. There are guidelines or heuristics but these are abstractions from many similar cases. This is another mistake I think moral philosophy has made and one it inherited from totally invalid religious morality.

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Posted: 04 February 2008 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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1) The mind cannot be transcended. Any result has to be looked at and interpreted by a human mind. The data is viewed, a mind goes over it and a mind draws conclusions. Even the gathering of data is directed and focused by the mind. The fact is there is only subjectivity and conditional and temporary agreed upon conditions which we call objectivity.

2) There is no need to establish an absolute objectivity. Everything we do is based on subjective interpretations harnessed by larger, conditional objective truths.  Our lives have meaning because we direct our lives, and give purpose to our actions, the larger truth is that our life in 10000000 years from now will have no meaning.

3) Science is limited by induction, a very human, very pragmatic and very flawed logic that is entirely subjective and whimsical. Induction is neither standardized, nor logical in it’s application. Induction is, by it’s nature, a very poor fountain head.

4) the dichotomy between objective and subjective is false, in that all you really have is subjective “reality” and nothing else. Objective standards are conditional and change, and are therefore, themselves subjective in the end. The statement, in a million years life will have no meaning, is subjective. As is saying the sun will rise tomorow, or that my table is hard.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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faithlessgod - 30 January 2008 06:43 PM

So it is quite possible to be (epistemically) objective about (ontological) moral subjectivity and this is the position that I take.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

Thank you!

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Posted: 06 February 2008 02:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Not sure what exactly you re replying to here but…

goodthink - 04 February 2008 03:45 PM

1) The mind cannot be transcended. Any result has to be looked at and interpreted by a human mind. The data is viewed, a mind goes over it and a mind draws conclusions. Even the gathering of data is directed and focused by the mind. The fact is there is only subjectivity and conditional and temporary agreed upon conditions which we call objectivity.

And your point is? I was talking about epistemic objectivity, we can and do make repeatable mind-independent observations of aspects of reality. Restating the trivial point that “any result has to be… by a human mind” is as noted to another poster completely missing the point.

goodthink - 04 February 2008 03:45 PM

2) There is no need to establish an absolute objectivity. Everything we do is based on subjective interpretations harnessed by larger, conditional objective truths.  Our lives have meaning because we direct our lives, and give purpose to our actions, the larger truth is that our life in 10000000 years from now will have no meaning.

What is this strange “absolute objectivity” you are talking about here? What has this to do with epistemic objectivity? What has meaning to do with any of this?

goodthink - 04 February 2008 03:45 PM

3) Science is limited by induction, a very human, very pragmatic and very flawed logic that is entirely subjective and whimsical. Induction is neither standardized, nor logical in it’s application. Induction is, by it’s nature, a very poor fountain head.

Already excluded Humean arguments in the first place, although you are entitled to say otherwise but at least give some justification as to why this is important. Anyway what about abduction (not the alien kind before you jump to the wrong conclusion again)

goodthink - 04 February 2008 03:45 PM

4) the dichotomy between objective and subjective is false, in that all you really have is subjective “reality” and nothing else. Objective standards are conditional and change, and are therefore, themselves subjective in the end. The statement, in a million years life will have no meaning, is subjective. As is saying the sun will rise tomorow, or that my table is hard.

OK now you are really going all Pomo or new age on me. Utter tripe is all I can say, as you have to assume an objective reality in order to have any conversation withe me or anyone else for that matter. If you want to pursue this further, then do so without assuming an external reality within which we and everyone else exists. i cannot see how you can do this without self-refuting your position. Please show me otherwise.

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Posted: 08 February 2008 04:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The data is viewed, a mind goes over it and a mind draws conclusions.

This seems to imply that the data is transcendent.  That is, the data exists outside the mind, so how do you know it?

the larger truth is that our life in 10000000 years from now will have no meaning.

Why wait?  What gives our lives meaning now that will cease to exist some time between now and 10000000 years from now?

Induction is “flawed”, and “entirely subjective”, and “whimsical”, not standardized or logical?  How so?

“all you really have is subjective “reality” and nothing else”

But, according to 1) you also have data, which is not subjective.

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Posted: 24 February 2008 06:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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faithlessgod - 06 February 2008 02:21 AM

Not sure what exactly you re replying to here but…
And your point is? I was talking about epistemic objectivity, we can and do make repeatable mind-independent observations of aspects of reality. Restating the trivial point that “any result has to be… by a human mind” is as noted to another poster completely missing the point.

My point was that your concept of epistemic objectivity doesn’t correlate to anything in reality. I haven’;t missed the point of your argument, your argument doesn’t support the idea that epistemic objectivity exists. You fail to offer any serious rebuttal to countervailing arguments that exist and merely state your position as true.  It has been observed for some time that the mere act of observing changes the outcome of any experiment. What’s more we decide what data we want, what data we don’t and then draw distinctly different conclusions from this data.

Now a there was a good point.  Is the data, itself, not objective? I would have to state, no. What we do have is a shared consensus on what the data means to any given camp that purposes meaning for it. And yes, meaning is what we derive from data, not data or knowledge. One group might look at the geological record and see evidence for evolution, another it’s absence.  For each set of conclusions, often a seemingly contradictory set of conclusions can be drawn by other agents.

The data itself, is not free from any human interjection. The measurements that we take are based on seemingly arbitrary definitions, themselves. What is a meter, why a meter? What is Kelvin, why? And so on. All of it comes from, is generated from and is supported by the mind.

So really what do we have? We have a data-set that is arbitrary and whose assigned values are themselves based on some standards that have little justification for use.  We have minds directing where and how this data is collected, and the data is, in many cases, changed through observation. From the data we do collect, we draw conclusions based on 2 fallacious modes of reasoning (primarily), those being induction and abduction (thanks btw, I guess aliens abducting people would not really fit into this discussion), and in many cases different conclusions drawn from the same data sets.

What is this strange “absolute objectivity” you are talking about here? What has this to do with epistemic objectivity? What has meaning to do with any of this?

Absolute objectivity, is what would be required for anyone to know what objectivity is. I thought that was pretty straightforward. You cannot study something that doesn’t exist, or more to the point, you cannot argue for epistemological objectivity until you establish there is a objective reality. 

Already excluded Humean arguments in the first place, although you are entitled to say otherwise but at least give some justification as to why this is important. Anyway what about abduction (not the alien kind before you jump to the wrong conclusion again)

I brought up the Problem of Induction because it is a very real problem. The heart of science, itself the tool for your data collection, isn’t justified logically. Yet, we are to simply accept that it works, that the data it collects represents any possible objective reality based on what exactly? If you’re going to make a rational plea, one should be rational. Induction is not rational, therefore something that relies on it is not justified rationally (although it could be sound) and all the products of that ‘something’ (science) are tainted by a lack of rational justification.

Abduction is as bad as Induction. Both are formal logical fallacies. Neither can be used as justification for a claim, in defense of a claim, and both have to be cast aside when evaluating a claim.

OK now you are really going all Pomo or new age on me. Utter tripe is all I can say, as you have to assume an objective reality in order to have any conversation withe me or anyone else for that matter. If you want to pursue this further, then do so without assuming an external reality within which we and everyone else exists. i cannot see how you can do this without self-refuting your position. Please show me otherwise.

My statement has nothing to do with Post Modernism and everything to do with the logical justification for your statements.  You presented an argument that was poorly tethered to any kind of support that was logically justified. Assumptions or conclusions made based on induction, abduction or parsimony/occum’s razor are tripe, as you put it. There is nothing New Age in logic, or it’s application.  Now, if you can point out any instance where I mention healing crystals, speak of transdental meditation, or homeopathy, I will be more than glad to cede your point.

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Posted: 25 February 2008 01:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thanks for providing some points for meaningful discussion

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

My point was that your concept of epistemic objectivity doesn’t correlate to anything in reality.

That is not what can be demanded of epistemic objectivity. It is about and knowing not ontology. It is through epistemic objectivity that one obtains the most unbiased/impersonal view of reality

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

I haven’;t missed the point of your argument, your argument doesn’t support the idea that epistemic objectivity exists.

What do you mean by “exists” here?

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

You fail to offer any serious rebuttal to countervailing arguments that exist and merely state your position as true.

No this is a means of obtaining truth, it is a process that leads to products, it is not a product itself.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

  It has been observed for some time that the mere act of observing changes the outcome of any experiment.

No this is false, not any experiment. We can look at quantum physics as a special case but that would divert discussion from the core point and can be dealt with once we are clear about this in general.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

What’s more we decide what data we want, what data we don’t and then draw distinctly different conclusions from this data.

No it is not about subjective decisions, at least when we are aiming at epsitemic objectivity.  Epistemic objectivity is a provisional, fallible, self-correcting, progressive process to enable minimizing mistakes, eliminating error and detecting and managing bias all this include the process of deciding which data is and is not relevant.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

Now a there was a good point.  Is the data, itself, not objective? I would have to state, no.

What information we draw from data is due to our interpretation. If our interpretation is biased etc. then that is not epistemically objective. If we have or develop impersonal means of interpreting such that anyone would obtain the same information by applying the same process to the same data regardless of any person’s preferences, prejudices and perceptions then that means is epistemically objective.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

What we do have is a shared consensus on what the data means to any given camp that purposes meaning for it.

This is a peculiar phrase “purposes meaning”. Often, purpose is the wrong way to obtain meaning (actually nearly all of the time except when it comes to some biological actions and human designed artifacts) .  It is one way but no the only one and is often a mistaken one. Anyway we are talking about data prior to assigning meaning not after, that is “information” as I distinguished it above.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

And yes, meaning is what we derive from data, not data or knowledge.

Information is what we derive from data. What it means - it s significance and relevance - depends on the person’s desires, preferences, interests and skills etc.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

One group might look at the geological record and see evidence for evolution, another it’s absence.  For each set of conclusions, often a seemingly contradictory set of conclusions can be drawn by other agents.

That is not an argument against epistemic objectivity. The question is as to what biases etc. one or both groups are not accounting for. Of course contradictory conclusions can be drawn from any data but then one group is right and the other wrong. Through methodological naturalism there can be a reliable means (certainly in the case of your example) to discern what the evidence for and against evolution is. A group can ignore the facts of evolution (or the facts of anything), but only at the cost of giving up epistemic objectivity and creating subjective and mistaken conception of reality. It is not about consensus and not about everyone just agreeing, truth is not democratic.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

The data itself, is not free from any human interjection.

Not sure what you mean by interjection. Epistemic objectivity is the process to discover and track invariants, those parts of reality that do not change regardless of who is doing the data reading. Of course, the person so doing has to want to achieve epistemic objectivity, if not then they are operating in a more or less anything goes subjective reality and their views do not count.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

The measurements that we take are based on seemingly arbitrary definitions, themselves. What is a meter, why a meter? What is Kelvin, why? And so on. All of it comes from, is generated from and is supported by the mind.

You are talking about standardized units of measurement. The units are arbitrary but what they point to is not. These uses and measurement devices are designed to operate more or less consistently, reliably and robustly and so accurately report the facts of the matter regardless of who operates them - provided they are competent enough to use such devices. These devices are designed to operate in a mind-independent fashion and to the degree that they do , they serve their purpose.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

So really what do we have? We have a data-set that is arbitrary and whose assigned values are themselves based on some standards that have little justification for use.  We have minds directing where and how this data is collected, and the data is, in many cases, changed through observation. From the data we do collect, we draw conclusions based on 2 fallacious modes of reasoning (primarily), those being induction and abduction (thanks btw, I guess aliens abducting people would not really fit into this discussion), and in many cases different conclusions drawn from the same data sets.

As you can see from my points I do not think this conclusion follows. The whole point of epistemic objectivity and methodological naturalism is to avoid this conundrum you have posited as a conclusion here.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

Absolute objectivity, is what would be required for anyone to know what objectivity is. I thought that was pretty straightforward. You cannot study something that doesn’t exist, or more to the point, you cannot argue for epistemological objectivity until you establish there is a objective reality.

Still “absolute”  is an unnecessary and misleading qualifier. Epistemic objectivity aims at obtaining the best (in terms of error elimination, mistake and bias minimization) view of external reality, which the reality that exists beyond or before all or any representations of it. All methodological naturalists are interested in is obtaining the best current knowledge, whatever this is it is not absolute or certain, it is provisional, fallible, correctable and progressive. 

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

I brought up the Problem of Induction because it is a very real problem. The heart of science, itself the tool for your data collection, isn’t justified logically. Yet, we are to simply accept that it works, that the data it collects represents any possible objective reality based on what exactly? If you’re going to make a rational plea, one should be rational. Induction is not rational, therefore something that relies on it is not justified rationally (although it could be sound) and all the products of that ‘something’ (science) are tainted by a lack of rational justification.

Well as Quinian here I have to ask where this does this logic comes from? grin  The challenge then is what are the minimal set of assumptions needed to most reliably understand reality and then everything else I have said follows. Any other answer, I have seen to date, make more assumptions with far less rational and reliable justification than this approach. If you think otherwise show me what these alternatives are.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

Abduction is as bad as Induction. Both are formal logical fallacies. Neither can be used as justification for a claim, in defense of a claim, and both have to be cast aside when evaluating a claim.

No these are empirical methods and more reliable than alternatives. That is all that is required here. If you want to propose alternatives show what they are and why they are more reliable.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

My statement has nothing to do with Post Modernism and everything to do with the logical justification for your statements.  You presented an argument that was poorly tethered to any kind of support that was logically justified.

Well one has to start somewhere. If you want to be a universal skeptic then that is your choice, but, if I have understood you correctly, then you have no grounds for making any claims without self-refuting your position and so, it appears, your claims are worthless.

goodthink - 24 February 2008 06:26 PM

Assumptions or conclusions made based on induction, abduction or parsimony/occum’s razor are tripe, as you put it.

No they are not. Assumptions ignoring these and proposing nothing better in their place and so saying anything goes are pure tripe. If you want to be universal skeptic I am sure you will have no problem walking blind folded across the M25 during rush hour. Now why would you not do this?

Finally All I was saying was that epsitemic objectivity is what methodological naturalism aims at regardless of the ontology under investigation.

[ Edited: 25 February 2008 02:20 AM by faithlessgod ]
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Posted: 25 February 2008 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Logic, is axiomatic. That is to say, itself, not justified, but self evident and taken as truth. But logic, itself, doesn’t claim to be a system of truth, or attaining truth, but a means of evaluation, a tool. There is a difference between asking for a sound argument, or making a pragmatic leap. We can assume for arguments sake that induction, though seriously flawed, is necessary, but that’s not the argument, nor the case. You asked for an alternative, there has always been one, deduction, which is justified and as Popper largely attempted to do, applicable to scientific inquiry.

Herein lies the problem, you are making a logical argument about the nature of knowing what is objective. Though largely unstated, this also means there has to be a higher thing than a conditional or shared objectivity that is arrived at through consensus or shared experience. 


Let’s run a small thought experiment. We have at our disposal the means to track every monetary unit spent in China and the USA. We know when something was bought, by whom and what they purchased. We know everything about the financial record of the State. and absolutely nothing else We have a mass of data at our disposable.

We query the database and ask how many dollars were spent in China over the course of the last year. The data tells us only 1 billion was spent in China for the entire year. We ask how many dollars were spent in the US over the course of a year and arrive at a figure of some trillions. We conclude that the USA is a much richer nation, with a more robust economy.

Next we ask query data to find out how many transactions took place over the last year. China it turns out has 20x the transactions in a year than the US. We conclude that china must have a more robust economy (in terms of activity and overall consumption), but that they spend less dollars than they do in the US.

We query the database to find out how much food product was bought in the US compared to China. We conclude from this data that the populations of both countries must be roughly equal.

Next we ask the database how many cars are bought per year, and how much gas is purchased and conclude that the US must be a larger country and China must be much smaller.

Then we ask our database, how many warranty returns there have been. but our database didn’t track transactions that didn’t involve money.

We ask the database what kind of government each country has, but our database doesn’t include anything on politics.

Our database was also unaware that each country, aware that data collection was in progress, had populations spend more money to appear more affluent.

The type of data collected, was directed. It was a subjective call on the type, quantity, and kind.  The type of data we collected was arbitrary. And finally, the meaning derived from the data (data is information, any conclusion derived from it is meaning) while correct, does not necessarily correspond to anything that is necessarily truthful, but could be agreed upon by the data. If we didn’t know much of anything about China or the US but the financial information, all we would have is our conditional objective conclusions based on data that was subjectively aimed at the study groups, with data that was arbitrary to begin with and conclusions drawn based on abduction and induction, that have nothing to do with any kind of absolute objective thing behind the measurements.

I will get into some semantics here and define some terms as I use them in this discussion.

Meaning: conclusions drawn from information gathered as to the purpose, nature or quality of a thing.

Data: The quantification of things in like, kind and number.

Subjective: Experiences or processes that originate in the mind(s) of an individual(s), which include the generation of theories and hypothesis’s which direct inquiry and derive meaning largely through inductive or abductive means. 

Conditional Objectivity: A set of agreed upon conditions that appear to be an objective truth, which may or may not bear any resemblance to the thing(s) or process(es) in question. A set of conditions which may change with additional knowledge.

Absolute Objectivity: The quality or state of knowing everything about something. The base nature of something as it is, not as it is understood to be.

Now we could claim the scientific method is axiomatic, and I would have no problem with that, nor would I have a problem with pragmatic concessions that science works and has proven itself valid and our faith in it, reasonable. However, science can use deduction, and limit the use of induction and abduction and rely less on parsimony in general.  However, I don’t think one can conclude that there is any kind of objective information gathering concerning the nature of things given that everything we use is derived from our minds and has no rational correlation to ‘real’ things. The best we can say is that we have a process through which we can derive conditional objective data regarding ‘real’ things. Part of that condition is our human mind(s) seeking answers using axiomatic means and flawed forms of reason with pragmatic cause.

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Posted: 25 February 2008 08:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Logic, is axiomatic. That is to say, itself, not justified, but self evident and taken as truth. But logic, itself, doesn’t claim to be a system of truth, or attaining truth, but a means of evaluation, a tool.

As, for our this puposes here, an instrumentalist I agree. So what?

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

There is a difference between asking for a sound argument, or making a pragmatic leap. We can assume for arguments sake that induction, though seriously flawed, is necessary, but that’s not the argument, nor the case. You asked for an alternative, there has always been one, deduction, which is justified and as Popper largely attempted to do, applicable to scientific inquiry.

As, for our this puposes here, a sophisticated Popperian I agree but this all besides the point I was making.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Herein lies the problem, you are making a logical argument about the nature of knowing what is objective. Though largely unstated, this also means there has to be a higher thing than a conditional or shared objectivity that is arrived at through consensus or shared experience.

No this is not the argument I was making. I was taking it as given that there is an external reality beyond our representations of it, but it arguing that it is a mistake to fuse different versions of objectivity and I was making them distinct - the difference between epistemic objectivity and ontological objectivity. Methodological naturalism is about the former and nothing prevents it investigating subjective ontologies too. This is just one argument to make about the false division between moral subjectivity and objectivity.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Let’s run a small thought experiment. We have at our disposal the means to track every monetary unit spent in China and the USA. We know when something was bought, by whom and what they purchased. We know everything about the financial record of the State. and absolutely nothing else We have a mass of data at our disposable.

We query the database and ask how many dollars were spent in China over the course of the last year. The data tells us only 1 billion was spent in China for the entire year. We ask how many dollars were spent in the US over the course of a year and arrive at a figure of some trillions. We conclude that the USA is a much richer nation, with a more robust economy.

Next we ask query data to find out how many transactions took place over the last year. China it turns out has 20x the transactions in a year than the US. We conclude that china must have a more robust economy (in terms of activity and overall consumption), but that they spend less dollars than they do in the US.

We query the database to find out how much food product was bought in the US compared to China. We conclude from this data that the populations of both countries must be roughly equal.

Next we ask the database how many cars are bought per year, and how much gas is purchased and conclude that the US must be a larger country and China must be much smaller.

Then we ask our database, how many warranty returns there have been. but our database didn’t track transactions that didn’t involve money.

We ask the database what kind of government each country has, but our database doesn’t include anything on politics.

Our database was also unaware that each country, aware that data collection was in progress, had populations spend more money to appear more affluent.

The type of data collected, was directed.

Of course, you don’t collect data willy nilly but for whatever type of analysis you want to test. 

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

It was a subjective call on the type, quantity, and kind.

Huh? This does not follow from your previous statement. Why is it subjective?

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

  The type of data we collected was arbitrary.

No it is not. Given the specification, the data collected is not arbitrary at all. Anyone with that specification would obtain the same data, if they are being epistemologically objective.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

And finally, the meaning derived from the data (data is information, any conclusion derived from it is meaning) while correct, does not necessarily correspond to anything that is necessarily truthful, but could be agreed upon by the data.

Different questions - interpretations - asked of the data - provide different information. What it means is still to be determined. Since there are different ways of asking the question which produce contrary information therefore more work needs to be done to resolve this. That is all one could provisionally conclude from your thought experiment. Not sure what “truth” got to do with this especially since you seemed above to be taking a somewhat Popperian, instrumentalist approach, to which I am agreeing for the purpose of debate -  which would lead to a deflationary version of truth certainly not correspondence.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

If we didn’t know much of anything about China or the US but the financial information, all we would have is our conditional objective conclusions based on data that was subjectively aimed at the study groups, with data that was arbitrary to begin with and conclusions drawn based on abduction and induction, that have nothing to do with any kind of absolute objective thing behind the measurements.

There you go again with that term “absolute objective” I see you define it somewhat incoherently IMHO below.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Meaning: conclusions drawn from information gathered as to the purpose, nature or quality of a thing.

Meaning and purpose are usually quite separate. There is not much purpose, if any, to most things under study.  Equality dubois about “nature or “quality”. This is all very unclear.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Data: The quantification of things in like, kind and number.

There can be qualitative data too.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Subjective: Experiences or processes that originate in the mind(s) of an individual(s), which include the generation of theories and hypothesis’s which direct inquiry and derive meaning largely through inductive or abductive means.

 
So these are not triggered by prior external processes? I call this ontological subjectivity. However after your “which” there is an interdependency with the external world, without which there be no need to formulate theories and it is unclear how one is more primary than the other here, since the external world constrains such theory formation in severe ways. T Plus one needs to understand the external world first in order to make such an argument as you are making here grin

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Conditional Objectivity: A set of agreed upon conditions that appear to be an objective truth, which may or may not bear any resemblance to the thing(s) or process(es) in question. A set of conditions which may change with additional knowledge.

This looks like some form of relativism to me. What do you mean by “objective truth” ontological or epistemic objectivity? I think you mean ontological objectivity here? It is unfortunate that you did not provide a definition of “truth”.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Absolute Objectivity: The quality or state of knowing everything about something. The base nature of something as it is, not as it is understood to be.

Thank you for answering my question. These two sentences do not talk about the same thing at all. The first is like epsitemic objectivity - except that is never complete. The second - whilst I balk at “base nature” - is ontological. Still balk at the use of the term “absolute” too.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

Now we could claim the scientific method is axiomatic, and I would have no problem with that, nor would I have a problem with pragmatic concessions that science works and has proven itself valid and our faith in it, reasonable.

Sorry I don’t have nor need faith in science.

goodthink - 25 February 2008 07:50 AM

However, science can use deduction, and limit the use of induction and abduction and rely less on parsimony in general.  However, I don’t think one can conclude that there is any kind of objective information gathering concerning the nature of things given that everything we use is derived from our minds and has no rational correlation to ‘real’ things. The best we can say is that we have a process through which we can derive conditional objective data regarding ‘real’ things. Part of that condition is our human mind(s) seeking answers using axiomatic means and flawed forms of reason with pragmatic cause.

Sorry this all seems very unclear plus you only used two of your definitions here!  You are making demands that no-one with a Popperian/pragmatic/instrumentalist sensibility which is implied at the beginning of your post would make.  As best I understand you are talking about epistemic objectivity, so what is your problem?

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Posted: 29 February 2008 03:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I brought up the Problem of Induction because it is a very real problem. The heart of science, itself the tool for your data collection, isn’t justified logically.

I love the idea of proving that logic does not work using logic.  The complaint about induction is either completely sceptical, or is a complaint about how induction is actually used.  In any case, an argument like that is based on induction: I see that induction does not work because I have observed many cases of it not working.

Anyway, before noting, with Hume, the lack of necessary connections, maybe a thought about why you see things as separate is in order.  If I see a tree, and then I see that tree again, what necessary connection is there to its mere existence from moment to moment?  How can you prove to me that it’s the same tree?  You cannot, according to Hume, if you assume that the existence of the tree now is caused by the existence of the tree before.  It is a misapplication of the idea of cause and effect, and a misinterpretation of cause and effect as two objects rather than as aspects of one.

You either recognize that 5+7=12 because every time you add 5 to 7 I get 12, which Hume would say is spurious, or you simply recognize that 5+7 and 12 are ways of saying a different thing to indicate precisely the same thing (with different relations to other things, to be sure).

So, when you disparage laws of nature by saying “the sum has risen every morning of my life, but I cannot be certain it will rise again tomorrow”, you might be saying something about your knowledge of how the laws of nature work, but nothing about the laws themselves.  If you are shagging a fly ball, and you place yourself ten feet from where the ball comes down, it is you that have made the error, not the ball.

There is no need to establish an absolute objectivity. Everything we do is based on subjective interpretations harnessed by larger, conditional objective truths.

Well, that’s a wee contradiction, isn’t it?  If a truth is conditional, then it is not objective.  If you an I agree that apples are bananas, that does not mean we have established some “conditional” objective truth.  We always have to refer back to something that goes beyond any conventionally agreed upon fact.

This “absolute” objectivity you are talking about is not so much unnecessary as a bad mix of epistemological and ontological concerns.  It is utterly absurd to demand any kind of “full” or “perfect” knowledge of something in order to assert that it exists.  That is skepticism, and skepticism is, for lack of a polite word, stupid.  On the other hand, it is equally absurd to claim that things only exist only to the extent of our knowledge of them.

There is a lesson from Africa (this version is from http://www.runester.com/trickster/):

“Perhaps the most famous Yoruba story about Eshu concerns two inseparable friends who swore undying fidelity to one another but neglect to acknowledge Eshu. These two friends work on adjacent fields. One day Eshu walks on the dividing line between their fields, wearing a cap that is black on one side and red (or white) on the other. He saunters between the fields, exchanging pleasantries with both men. Afterwards, the two friends got to talking about the man with the cap, and fall to violent quarreling about the color of the man’s hat, calling each other blind and crazy. The neighbors gather about, and then Eshu arrives and stops the fight. The friends explain their disagreement, an Eshu shows them the two-sided hat—all this to chastise the friends for not putting him first in their doings. The lesson of the tale is obvious, but just as interesting is where it places the god. Moving along the seam between two different worldviews, he confuses communication, reveals the ambiguity of knowledge, and plays with perspective.”

The business about perspective is interesting enough, but the lesson here is that Eshu, or the objective, exists, and what you know about it comes from it, imperfectly.  What subjectivism and relativism fail to acknowledge is that directionality.  They might even reverse the direction, which tends toward solipsism, which is as stupid as skepticism.

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