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Is morality consistent with the Humanism perspective?
Posted: 14 April 2010 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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mckenzievmd - 14 April 2010 09:04 AM

Could you point me to sources for some of the defenses for such an assertion, or perhaps sumarize them yourself? I can’t see any justification for this approach other than personal feelings or intuitions. In your example, we believe genocide is immoral, so we must assert it is always immoral everywhere for everyone. Why? Just because we feel it is?

Well, again, most of what one does in a course on ethics (which, in all honesty, was not one of my major philosophical interests) or metaethics is to provide defenses of these assertions. The most common forms of quasi-naturalist ethical reasoning include utilitarianism and kantianism, each of which tries to defend these sorts of assertions in a way that does not reduce merely to personal feelings. In utilitarianism, one searches out that which increases pleasure and reduces pain. In kantianism one treats persons as ends not means, etc. And there are more sophisticated versions of each; I’m not hugely familiar with all the options, and it’s been awhile, though if it interests you I could look around and point you to some.

And as I say, each system has to depend on postulates that cannot themselves be defended from within the system, that must be accepted as base truths if one is to accept the general system. Just as modus ponens must be accepted if one is to accept logical deduction as a valid form of reasoning. So, one might say that pleasure and pain is one thing and morality is another. Then that person will not be able to accept a broadly utilitarian ethics.

Re. justifying things based on personal intuitions: in the final analysis, all reasoned justification comes down to personal intuitions. It is our intuition that logical forms are valid. It is our intuition that the future will be like the past in certain important ways. It is our intuition that reason is better than whim. Now, we have evidence for these assertions as well, but it is our intuition that that evidence is generally relevant, that X, Y, and Z count as evidence, and that past evidence is good reason to accept future claims, etc.

So the point can’t be to throw out intuition in favor of some other way of gaining knowledge about the world. There is nothing other than intuition, when one gets right down to it. The question is how we distinguish reasoned intuition from unreasoning (or frankly contra-evidentiary) intuition.

mckenzievmd - 14 April 2010 09:04 AM

I honestly have trouble understanding how we can support this kind of reasoning without heading down the path of anyone who wants to declaring any precept they care about universal and innately true for everyone, which leads to just as chaotic a lack of distinction between opposing moral principles as relativism is supposed to lead to. Can we not choose between moral truths the way we choose between scientific truths—accepting those which work best in practice as “true enough” without having to argue that they are absolutely and incontrovertibly true in all cases? Wouldn’t this avoid both the presumed weakness of relativism (that all truths must be taken as equally valid, so that none are really valid) and of this assertion of universal objective truth (that anyone can make such a claim for any position, so it gives us no better tool for distinguishing between such claims than relativism does)?

Well, but I think this just boils down to the fact that there is disagreement in all things. It doesn’t follow, of course, from the existence of disagreement that there is no fact of the matter. In disagreements about physical things, we can perhaps point to physical evidence to reconcile the disagreement (although this doesn’t always work). With issues of logic, mathematics or other forms of pure reasoning, there is no route to looking for physical evidence to seal the case. So it may well be that these disagreements are to an extent undecidable. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is right. It just means that some people can’t see the truth that is before their eyes.

And any assertion about universal moral truths does not need to include the hypothesis that anyone can make a true ethical claim for anything. Much the opposite, I’d have thought. If we assume (for the sake of argument) that Kant was right about ethics, then although people may spin all sorts of nice-sounding ethical theories, and be quite adamant about ethical claims, those will only reflect the truth about ethics insofar as they eventually follow from Kant’s theory. And not otherwise.

(Again, I’m not asserting here that Kant was right. I have no idea about that, although I do find some elements of his theory plausible).

The only way to know which complete theory could be right is to do the same that we do with any theory: look at as many of its myriad implications as we can and see which one fits the best.

Re. the issue of “true enough” vs. “absolutely true in all cases”—so long as there is some objective sense in which “true enough” is true enough for everybody, and not simply true enough for me, then I have no issue with it. If “true enough” is just “true enough for me” then the same issue with the Nazis reasserts itself: they will say that the good of massacring the Jews was “true enough” for them.

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Posted: 14 April 2010 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Thanks, that was remarkably clear and cogent and very helpful!

I have to say I agree that ultimately intuitions underlie all positions (a concept I think I had a vague sense of for some time but which I believe I first heard articulated by you). I also agree that there are ways in which one can differentiate better and worse arguments and elaborations of intuition through reason and, sometimes, empirical data. I think this is harder to do with subjects like moral reasoning than with subjects pertaining to the nature of the material world, such as science, but I believe it is still possible to distinguish “better” and “worse” ideas and reasoning, with the usual caveat that inevitably there are assumptions or intuitions underlying the criteria by which we make such judgements.


I guess, then it just becomes a matter of emphasis. I am more suspicious and fearful of certainty and dogmatism than of uncertainty and wishy-washiness. For example, while I agree with the provisional but highly probable assertion that there is no God, I prefer to emphasize the limitations of our ability to make firm pronouncements on the subject, so I call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. I don’t differ (I think) from you much in my degree of conviction about the liklihood of a deity, only in where I choose to put the emphasis. Likewise, in the matter of morality I tend to feel more harm has historically come from overly confident assertions about absolute right and wrong than from ineffectual relativistic or postmodernist dithering, so while I agree that intuition underlies all assertions but some can be more effectively defended and are better in practice than others, I choose to call myself a moral relativist to emphasize that I prefer heavily qualified assertions about moral truth to confident ones. Of course, then there’s all the history and bagggage that goes along with such labels, which often leads to confusion about what it is I really believe on such subjects. But with anyone for whom it matters, I ca always elaborate and clarify my position, and anyone else is likely to read what they like into whatever label I use regardless of the nuances involved.
With respect to a universal truth that genocide is immoral, I’d be inclined to argue that one can defend such a truth very effectively so long as one is willing to accept the inevitable givens or assumptions (suffering is bad, persons have intrinsic value, and so on). These kinds of assumptions are, like the assumption that reality exists, fairly simple and sound. Though in the practice of abstract moral theorizing it is possible to question their validity, it seems appropriate to me to assume their truth in the pragmatic construction and defense of moral systems. Given such assumptions, then, one can make very strong statements about the universal applicability of the principle than genocide is wrong, even with the understanding (which I hold) that all such principles are subjective and relative on some deep level. Again, it’s a matter of emphasis, I think.

Anyway, at this point I think I’m just muddyig the waters you made so clear a minute ago, so I’ll stop. grin

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Posted: 14 April 2010 11:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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From Doug:

(T)he point can’t be to throw out intuition in favor of some other way of gaining knowledge about the world. There is nothing other than intuition, when one gets right down to it. The question is how we distinguish reasoned intuition from unreasoning (or frankly contra-evidentiary) intuition.

I think I can address two issues with this as the jumping off point.

Unreasoned intuition is to god’s commands as reasoned intuition is to a standard above {god’s commands per se}.

In other words, if our intuitions alone determined right and wrong, we would have a close analogy to the Euthyphro dilemma.

Is that which is reasonably intuited thus intuited because it is right?

Is that which is unreasonably intuited right because it is intuited?

The dilemma says nothing in either case wrt the validity of any object of intuition.  It isn’t that god could not serve as the personal foundation of morality.  It is that god’s commands could not serve that foundational role without being reasonably viewed as arbitrary (at least according to the dilemma).

On the other hand, even a legitimate set of real moral absolutes may be seen as truly “arbitrary” in a sense.  Suppose in a completely naturalistic system of moral absolutes consisted entirely of it being wrong to consume grasshoppers.

Why not crickets instead?  Arbitrary.  Yet if it is true that consuming grasshoppers is wrong in a morally real sense then it is no more arbitrary than the sky being blue or gravity working as it does rather than in some other fashion.

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Posted: 15 April 2010 03:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Dougsmith
It may be that all moral truths are conditional. I don’t know.

And Write4U, the passage you quote is ludicrous. E.g.: “The world is designed in a fashion that, should all things function as they ought to, we can achieve absolute harmony.” I think anyone looking at the natural world objectively would have to say that though it may be beautiful, the suffering that goes on as things function normally cannot be called literally harmonious, not in an ethical sense anyhow. Nature may be beautiful at times, but it is also “red in tooth and claw”. If there were a God, he would be responsible for it all.

I believe morality has nothing to do with harmony. I also believe that moral truths are conditional and situational. When presented with a moral dilemma where a certain moral truth is subject to a greater moral truth, subject to a still greater moral truth and we must choose the appropriate level of morality.
Professor Bartlett, in the lecture on exponential growth, cites an example of a moral dilemma. He argues that it is moral (good) to have all the things that make us live longer (medicine, science). And usually we say something is bad (immoral) that shortens our lifespan (sickness, war, smoking).
The dilemma lies in the fact that the morality of increasing the lifespan of humans creates an exponential growth in the world’s population, with the consequences of increasing harm to our environment. The earth can sustain a stable population of a certain size, but not an ever growing population. He argues that at some point we must stop the good things which prolong life, or practise the bad things which will stabilize population growth.
He answers this with a conclusion that Natural Law will not permit such imbalance and finds a way to have a balancing effect.

Thus I believe that there are levels of superceding moral truths. Wisdom lies in the selection of the appropriate one in a given situation.

[ Edited: 15 April 2010 03:18 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 15 April 2010 07:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Re. being arbitrary: any axiomatic system, including a moral system, will appear arbitrary from the point of view of someone who does not accept those axioms. When the question arises as to how to choose between differing axiomatic systems, the only way to do so is to look at the implications of such systems as best one can, and decide which ones fit the data, the evidence, best. Now, as regards descriptive systems, the data or evidence is the evidence of the senses, taken broadly. As regards prescriptive systems, the data or evidence has to be one’s best considered moral intuitions.

(I say “best considered” because one typically has knee-jerk or pretheoretic moral intuitions that one will discard under thorough consideration).

Saying that moral claims, or even a complete axiomatic moral system, comes from any particular source (e.g., one’s parents, one’s teachers, God) really does nothing to advance an argument for it. Because at base our acceptance or not of such a system must in the final analysis come down to the same intuitions we would require even were we not to know that the source existed. That is, assuming we are using reasoned intuition.

Or to put it another way:  assume someone says that moral claims come from some source G. Assume that these moral claims include the claim that genocide is morally acceptable and that it’s morally acceptable to kill someone for collecting firewood on a day which commemorates a vacation that G took long before. Reasoned intuition will tell one that source G cannot be a proper source of moral claims, since there is no sense in which those claims can be intuitively reasonable.

So our acceptance of source G as a source for moral claims will depend principally on our a priori judgment that the moral claims coming from G are themselves intuitively moral. Otherwise, we must reject G. This is another way of putting the Euthyphro.

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Posted: 15 April 2010 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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dougsmith - 15 April 2010 07:34 AM

Re. being arbitrary: any axiomatic system, including a moral system, will appear arbitrary from the point of view of someone who does not accept those axioms. When the question arises as to how to choose between differing axiomatic systems, the only way to do so is to look at the implications of such systems as best one can, and decide which ones fit the data, the evidence, best. Now, as regards descriptive systems, the data or evidence is the evidence of the senses, taken broadly. As regards prescriptive systems, the data or evidence has to be one’s best considered moral intuitions.

(I say “best considered” because one typically has knee-jerk or pretheoretic moral intuitions that one will discard under thorough consideration).

Discarded on the basis of what types of considerations?

Saying that moral claims, or even a complete axiomatic moral system, comes from any particular source (e.g., one’s parents, one’s teachers, God) really does nothing to advance an argument for it.

Was it ever meant to do that?  It seems, rather, that we have a supposed rationale (from you, just to be clear) that certain sources automatically rule out certain systems on the basis of the Euthyphro dilemma.  I’d say that doesn’t follow.  One does not rule out the source of a moral system based on the apparent arbitrary nature of such a system as referenced above.  At least not logically.

Because at base our acceptance or not of such a system must in the final analysis come down to the same intuitions we would require even were we not to know that the source existed. That is, assuming we are using reasoned intuition.

“Reasoned intuition” might as well be unicorns for all the hard evidence we have of its existence.  Indeed, I think we have a better description of unicorns through this stage.

Or to put it another way:  assume someone says that moral claims come from some source G. Assume that these moral claims include the claim that genocide is morally acceptable and that it’s morally acceptable to kill someone for collecting firewood on a day which commemorates a vacation that G took long before. Reasoned intuition will tell one that source G cannot be a proper source of moral claims, since there is no sense in which those claims can be intuitively reasonable.

If there is no sense in which those claims can be intuitively reasonable then how could a deliberate genocide ever take place?  It seems to me that any planned genocide puts the lie to your claim.  Is it possible you’re substituting personal preferences for “reasoned intuition”?

So our acceptance of source G as a source for moral claims will depend principally on our a priori judgment that the moral claims coming from G are themselves intuitively moral. Otherwise, we must reject G. This is another way of putting the Euthyphro.

You might create that notion as a corollary to the Euthyphro dilemma, but I can’t see where it matches the point of the dilemma per se.  Otherwise, we could judge divine command theory or its alternative according to the same basis (our intuitions) and we wouldn’t really have a dilemma at all.

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Posted: 15 April 2010 09:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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citizenschallenge - 11 April 2010 04:14 PM

Is morality consistent with the Humanism perspective?

Morality is a cultural concept, character is the Humanist counterpart.
Responsibility by an individual, his/her character and earned assemblage, is the essence of being a Humanist, no matter what everyone else is up to. 

Morality is mob justice compared to character, without which there is little more than perversion.

[ Edited: 15 April 2010 09:50 PM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 15 April 2010 11:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Martinus - 15 April 2010 09:47 PM
citizenschallenge - 11 April 2010 04:14 PM

Is morality consistent with the Humanism perspective?

Morality is a cultural concept, character is the Humanist counterpart.
Responsibility by an individual, his/her character and earned assemblage, is the essence of being a Humanist, no matter what everyone else is up to. 

Reading these discussions it always strikes me that it’s all so learned and requiring extensive backgrounds to even keep abreast.  Thank you Martinus for keeping it simple.
Still, I return to my earlier question: Aren’t morals actually a down-home basic part of the rudest human’s life?

So what does “Humanism” have to do with those simpler, uneducated, but all too human others out there?

Are morals intimately tied to biology?  I ask this because I keep coming back to what I wrote earlier:

I have a sense that morality is tied to a feeling of connection and responsibility,
which is developed from a being’s first moments within their mother, then family, then tribe.

Where does this “ruder” foundation connect with the “Humanist counterpart”  ?

Martinus - 15 April 2010 09:47 PM

Morality is mob justice compared to character, without which there is little more than perversion.

could you explain that better?

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Posted: 15 April 2010 11:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Martinus - 15 April 2010 09:47 PM
citizenschallenge - 11 April 2010 04:14 PM

Is morality consistent with the Humanism perspective?

Morality is a cultural concept, character is the Humanist counterpart.
Responsibility by an individual, his/her character and earned assemblage, is the essence of being a Humanist, no matter what everyone else is up to. 

Morality is mob justice compared to character, without which there is little more than perversion.

I agree, the term “morality” is a communal standard, where the most common transgressions (immorality) against “public interests” are restricted by law.
Individual morality is defined as “character” and is the intuitive and/or reasoned behavior of an individual. One can argue that a Humanist is a person of good character and morals.

[ Edited: 15 April 2010 11:48 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 16 April 2010 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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citizenschallenge - 15 April 2010 11:16 PM

Still, I return to my earlier question: Aren’t morals actually a down-home basic part of the rudest human’s life?

So what does “Humanism” have to do with those simpler, uneducated, but all too human others out there?

Are morals intimately tied to biology?  I ask this because I keep coming back to what I wrote earlier:

I have a sense that morality is tied to a feeling of connection and responsibility,
which is developed from a being’s first moments within their mother, then family, then tribe.

Where does this “ruder” foundation connect with the “Humanist counterpart”  ?

E.O.Wilson’s “Sociobiology” in the 70’s demonstrated the roots of altruism as found in the logic of inheritance. Apparent sacrifice of the phenotypes (bodies) of ants e.g. promote the transmission of their genes forward into the next generation. Part of the genetic economy.

Martinus - 15 April 2010 09:47 PM

Morality is mob justice compared to character, without which there is little more than perversion.

could you explain that better?

When you give yourself over to “morality” in the name of some cause or scheme, you surrender responsibility, which no Humanist ever does - lest he end up on the public purse, a priest speaking in tongues in some philosophy dept. somewhere, desperately feigning some knowledge of science. Sad, really.

[ Edited: 16 April 2010 06:53 AM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 29 April 2010 07:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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The first few posts lay down the question - sort of - that this thread is mean to answer. Now whilst I have looked at some of these answers they mostly seem to assume that the question is coherent and so capable of answers, but it is quite unclear to me that it is.

But I don’t see how an atheist/skeptic can justify knowing broad moral prescriptions that are real in a manner consistent with atheism/skepticism.  It seems to me that the process entails the sort of magic that atheist/skeptics frown on in others.”

An atheist has available to them all the various meta-ethical and normative ethics tools bar one form of subjectivism and relativism, namely theistic-based morality. One the other hand there is no necessary connection between being a theist and only endorsing theist-based morality, other theists has equally available to them all the other approaches. So an atheist/theist divide on morality issue is not so much a category error but a red herring, and largely irrelevant to meta-ethics.

Now a sceptic, I agree, is a tighter constraint, this does exclude some other meta-ethical positions, but even that is not very clear.

However since Mackie, a self- proclaimed Moral Skeptc, redeveloped Hume’s Projection thesis with his Argument from Queerness, a new moral realism has become the dominant theme within ethics since the 1980s. This involved going beyond error theory, as Mackie himself did, including what Railton labels Mackie’s position as a pragmatic moral realism, whilst still rejecting, as any good skeptic would, spooky or magical moral properties such as intrinsic value or natural laws. So Mackie himself whilst still being traditional moral irrealist is a modern realist (and indeed one of the founders of this approach!).

And both these classes of realism plus many subjective and non-cognitive approaches can all lead to similar normative ethics.  Further, the variety of moral realisms available such as evolution-based, desire-based, belief-based,  reasons-based reductive and non-reductive naturalisms are available to any atheist (and many theists) as well as skeptics none employing “magic”.

The one exception to the above is over moral relativism but it is not a surprise to me that Brendan agrees with the questioner here, as they are both advocating moral relativism albeit with different universal conclusions.

Dealing only with humanists from the atheist/skeptic camp, I doubt that their world views or philosophical presuppositions allow much purchase for a knowable moral realism…

If the author of the question cannot see this, then I suggest they read up on modern ethics if they are interested. Then again, the implication over the use of atheists here is that they mistakenly think that theistic-based morality supports moral realism, which is incoherent.

The OP was quite correct to wonder what the author of the question meant.

“Is morality consistent with the Humanism perspective?”

I am not sure who is asking this but this looks even more hopelessly confused. Humanism was the thesis, born in the enlightenment, that political, moral and intellectual matters were to be debated and understood in human rather than metaphysical or transcendental (religious and theistic) terms.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Doug

When the question arises as to how to choose between differing axiomatic systems, the only way to do so is to look at the implications of such systems as best one can, and decide which ones fit the data, the evidence, best. Now, as regards descriptive systems, the data or evidence is the evidence of the senses, taken broadly. As regards prescriptive systems, the data or evidence has to be one’s best considered moral intuitions.

You appear to be assuming a description-prescription dualism, that they are mutually and exhaustively exclusive. For sure many proposed prescriptive models are descriptively false or in error, but such a dualism is an non-empirical metaphysical claim. One notes there is a distinction and if a prescription is not a fact, then it is a fiction - such a prescriptions based on deities or intrinsic values or categorical imperatives. I would have thought your own moral approach, to the degree I understand it, is based on only rational and empirical connections to biology and so on and does not need any special moral constructs nor intuition. (I thought you were a reductive naturalist like me, although there are differences between us, but within that category).

Saying that moral claims, or even a complete axiomatic moral system, comes from any particular source (e.g., one’s parents, one’s teachers, God) really does nothing to advance an argument for it. Because at base our acceptance or not of such a system must in the final analysis come down to the same intuitions we would require even were we not to know that the source existed. That is, assuming we are using reasoned intuition.

I disagree, Our intuitions (reasoned or not) can misfire, and we can mis-read what reasons to act are relevant to any particular moral (universally prescriptive) claim. If we cannot rationalise (and I do not mean do apologetics or ad hoc rationalisations on them) our intuitions, that is explicate or adumbrate their basis, then I argue it is unsound to use them in evlauting moral claims.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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faithlessgod - 29 April 2010 07:20 AM

You appear to be assuming a description-prescription dualism, that they are mutually and exhaustively exclusive. For sure many proposed prescriptive models are descriptively false or in error, but such a dualism is an non-empirical metaphysical claim. One notes there is a distinction and if a prescription is not a fact, then it is a fiction - such a prescriptions based on deities or intrinsic values or categorical imperatives. I would have thought your own moral approach, to the degree I understand it, is based on only rational and empirical connections to biology and so on and does not need any special moral constructs nor intuition. (I thought you were a reductive naturalist like me, although there are differences between us, but within that category).

I don’t think I’m precisely “assuming” the fact/value distinction; I believe it has been logically proven. An “ought” can’t follow from an “is”. Looking to biology is a red herring.

I consider myself a reductive naturalist about descriptive facts; though I do also believe in abstracta like mathematical objects and universals (natural properties); I consider it to be an interesting and somewhat persuasive hypothesis that moral values are sorts of abstracta, interestingly related to our biology, etc., but not strictly derived from it. Logically, they couldn’t be. We might perhaps be willing to accept a basic definition or stipulation of the kind: if description D is correct of Y, then Y is moral/immoral. But these definitions or stipulations would have to be accepted as basic posits, following in no fashion directly from the descriptions themselves.

In fact, biology already uses a naturalized form of value when it talks of proper function, through a trait’s etiology. It’s possible that all of morality can be linked in some fashion to etiology, though I very much doubt it. Traits or behaviors that are biologically proper may also be immoral. (E.g., killing off one’s competitors). And traits or behaviors that are biologically improper may be moral. (E.g., taking birth control). So one has to be very careful about linking biology to ethics. Clearly, some of the causal roots of human and animal altruism are biologically based, but that’s a subtly different claim.

faithlessgod - 29 April 2010 07:20 AM

Saying that moral claims, or even a complete axiomatic moral system, comes from any particular source (e.g., one’s parents, one’s teachers, God) really does nothing to advance an argument for it. Because at base our acceptance or not of such a system must in the final analysis come down to the same intuitions we would require even were we not to know that the source existed. That is, assuming we are using reasoned intuition.

I disagree, Our intuitions (reasoned or not) can misfire, and we can mis-read what reasons to act are relevant to any particular moral (universally prescriptive) claim. If we cannot rationalise (and I do not mean do apologetics or ad hoc rationalisations on them) our intuitions, that is explicate or adumbrate their basis, then I argue it is unsound to use them in evlauting moral claims.

Well, I’m not sure we’re disagreeing there. We do have to rationalize our intuitions in order for them to be sound. But the problem is, those rationalizations themselves will always depend upon their own intuitions, and any rationalization or argument must depend ineluctably on certain basic posits or stipulations which themselves will not be rationalizable from within the system, except as I say by unanalyzed intuition or by virtue of seeing in general how the whole system works as compared with other whole systems.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Doug said:

” We do have to rationalize our intuitions in order for them to be sound. But the problem is, those rationalizations themselves will always depend upon their own intuitions, and any rationalization or argument must depend ineluctably on certain basic posits or stipulations which themselves will not be rationalizable from within the system, except as I say by unanalyzed intuition or by virtue of seeing in general how the whole system works as compared with other whole systems.”

Agreed, attempting to impose logic on poorly understood or posed systems does not create ‘morality’. Like religious doctrines, the result is often completely anachronistic - e.g. two Christian nations at war with each other, citing moral causes. And therein lies the real danger.

Every human being understands personal responsibility, dating back to their first spanking. They don’t benefit thereafter from schools of thought, catechisms, nationalism, or any other loaded approaches to life’s franchise. As Humanists we must always be true to ourselves.

[ Edited: 29 April 2010 08:58 AM by Martinus ]
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“Our lives teach us who we are.”
-Salman Rushdie

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Posted: 29 April 2010 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Doug

I don’t think I’m precisely “assuming” the fact/value distinction; I believe it has been logically proven. An “ought” can’t follow from an “is”. Looking to biology is a red herring.

We agree with respect to biology. One cannot derive morality from biology.

However I disagree that the fact/value distinction is logically proven. There are many posited values that are not facts, they are fictions. So there is a fact/fiction distinction and the question becomes as to whether there are any values that are facts.

It is well know that an “ought” conclusion can follow from “is” premise provided one of them contains an “ought”. That is, if there are “oughts” statements which are also “is” statements.  So can we do this?

“Oughts” are action guiding recommendations or prescriptions. I would say that a prescription is a description of reasons to act and their relations to states of affairs that is the object of the prescription. A more formal version of this, which I am still experimenting with, is a prescription means “that there are reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”.

This is both a prescription and a description. As a description it is truth-apt.

By convention, we use the label “(generic) good” for the “keep or bring about” relation between reasons to act and states of affairs and “(generic) bad” for the “stop or prevent” relation between reasons to act and states of affairs. So one way a prescription can be false is if the relation is mis-labelled ie.we do not usually say (slang usage aside) it is bad if there reasons to bring about states of affairs.

The other way a prescription can be false is if it refers to reason to act that do not exist, or are not of the relevant kind to bring about the state of affairs. Here is where there is a link to biology (and psychology) since AFAIK the only kind of reasons to act that exists are desires - those brains states that motivate us to act.  So now referring to desires rather than reason to act, an example of an irrelevant desire might be god’s desires, they are reasons to act for god to bring about the state of affairs but not for us, that is what god might consider good is not the same as what we might consider good. (But I have just been discussing generic not specifically moral oughts in this comment). And, of course, if god does not exist, god’s desires do no exist and so these reasons to act do not exist.

So back to ought-is:
1. if Agent A desires that P
2. If phi’ing is the only way to bring about P
3a. A has a reason to Phi
3b. A ought to Phi.
Both 3a and 3b express the same proposition

We have reasoned to an ought conclusion but only because one of the is premises was also an ought premise (a desire).

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