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Is morality consistent with the Humanism perspective?
Posted: 29 April 2010 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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faithlessgod - 29 April 2010 08:48 AM

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.
[4.]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).

[NB:I’ve given the number 4 to the last premise here.]

3b doesn’t follow from 1 and 2. Indeed, neither does 3a, though it would if you include the (questionable though perhaps plausible) suppressed premise:

2a. For all X and all A, if A has a desire to do X then A has a reason to do X.

There is no similar credible premise:

[FALSE] 2c. For all A and all Q, if A has a desire to do Q then A ought to do Q.

So we’re down to the bare assertion in 4, namely that 3a and 3b express the same proposition. 4 doesn’t follow from anything stated previously, and is itself tendentious, since we can all think of cases where someone has a reason to do something but nonetheless ought not to do it. For example: killing the grocer would allow me to steal the money in the cash register. (Let’s say the grocer is very strong and very capable, so the only way I can get at the cash is by killing him, as per 2). So I have a reason to kill the grocer.

But nevertheless I ought not kill the grocer.
So 4 is false, as is 3b.

[ Edited: 29 April 2010 09:17 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 29 April 2010 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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dougsmith - 29 April 2010 09:14 AM
faithlessgod - 29 April 2010 08:48 AM

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.
[4.]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).

[NB:I’ve given the number 4 to the last premise here.]

3b doesn’t follow from 1 and 2. Indeed, neither does 3a, though it would if you include the (questionable though perhaps plausible) suppressed premise:

2a. For all X and all A, if A has a desire to do X then A has a reason to do X.

Lets leave this aside for now and stipulate it for the purposes of this argument?

There is no similar credible premise:

[FALSE] 2c. For all A and all Q, if A has a desire to do Q then A ought to do Q.

I disagree, I think you are confusing practial oughts with moral oughts, the above was only over oughts in general.

2c is true not false, on any practical usage of ought. “If you want to get to London tonight and there is only one train left to catch, then you ought to take that train”

So we’re down to the bare assertion in 4, namely that 3a and 3b express the same proposition. 4 doesn’t follow from anything stated previously, and is itself tendentious, since we can all think of cases where someone has a reason to do something but nonetheless ought not to do it. For example: killing the grocer would allow me to steal the money in the cash register. (Let’s say the grocer is very strong and very capable, so the only way I can get at the cash is by killing him, as per 2). So I have a reason to kill the grocer.

You are equivocating over ought.

If you want to take the grocer’s cash and the only way to do that is to kill the grocer, then you (practical) ought kill the grocer.

But nevertheless you (moral) ought not kill the grocer.
So 4 is true, as is 3b. since we are not discussing moral oughts (yet)

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Posted: 29 April 2010 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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I thought we were talking about morality here. Let’s not equivocate. When I say that there is an is/ought gap, and that “is” does not imply “ought”, I mean “ought” in a moral sense.

At any rate I’m willing to grant you 2a for the purposes of the argument.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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faithlessgod - 29 April 2010 07:00 AM

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.

What gives rise to the presumption that theistic-based morality amounts to subjectivism and relativism?  Your approach gives every appearance of amounting to a tu quoque fallacy rather than legitimate identification of a red herring.

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!).

Sounds self-contradictory, and therefore intriguing.  I do hope you’ll elucidate.

And both these classes of realism plus many subjective and non-cognitive approaches can all lead to similar normative ethics.

There’s the red herring if we ever need one.  grin

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”.

That seems like a statement in need of a supporting argument.

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.

Again we have the implication that there exists a relatively obvious hole in my skepticism, yet we get no specific evidence in its favor.  And why, if this answer is so evident, does it seem to escape most of those on the board who have responded to the thread?  I don’t seem to be the only one who detects a problem.

Perhaps faithlessgod has me on “ignore” status.  And perhaps that will safely protect him from being pressed for evidence in support of his far-reaching statements of propositional truth.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Doug’s discussion with flg progresses.

[ Edited: 29 April 2010 10:00 AM by Bryan ]
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Posted: 29 April 2010 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Doug

Then the next step requires going from general oughts to moral oughts.

However the words are just labels, it is what they refer to that we are interested in. Both being reductive naturalist,  2a reduces reason to act to desires, or rather argues that the only reasons to act that exist are desires. 4, at this stage notes that 3a and 3b express the same proposition - when it applies to generic such as prudential oughts. Are we agreed on this? I can take a step back to reason to act if you prefer.

And as reductivists we do not need to refer to moral language such as “evil” or “ought”. It is interesting that both practical and moral oughts are both referred to as “oughts”. Language could have used different terms for both. However the use of similar terms is not an accident, even if there are the dangers of equivocation.

However I often speak to poepl who have some mystgerious and magical meaning to moral ought that thye are never able to communicate. I wan to avoid that here.

A moral ought is a prescription that is used within an institution of morality, as part of social reality. It is the investigation and understanding of this institution that is what I consider is the key problem of morality, the interactions of two or more agents employing the social forces to influence one another. The typical cross-cultural usage of moral terms such as moral oughts are that they are universal prescriptions, truth-apt and some are true. Universal is meant in two senses, that is the signature of moral claims includes generality (time- and place-transcendence) and universal applicability - anyone in the same situations is under the same obligations, permissions and prohibitions.

This is what I am seeking to describe but I need to check that you agree this is what a moral ought is. If not, we need to clarify that first.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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faithlessgod - 29 April 2010 10:11 AM

Then the next step requires going from general oughts to moral oughts.

However the words are just labels, it is what they refer to that we are interested in. Both being reductive naturalist,  2a reduces reason to act to desires, or rather argues that the only reasons to act that exist are desires. 4, at this stage notes that 3a and 3b express the same proposition - when it applies to generic such as prudential oughts. Are we agreed on this? I can take a step back to reason to act if you prefer.

And as reductivists we do not need to refer to moral language such as “evil” or “ought”. It is interesting that both practical and moral oughts are both referred to as “oughts”. Language could have used different terms for both. However the use of similar terms is not an accident, even if there are the dangers of equivocation.

However I often speak to poepl who have some mystgerious and magical meaning to moral ought that thye are never able to communicate. I wan to avoid that here.

A moral ought is a prescription that is used within an institution of morality, as part of social reality. It is the investigation and understanding of this institution that is what I consider is the key problem of morality, the interactions of two or more agents employing the social forces to influence one another. The typical cross-cultural usage of moral terms such as moral oughts are that they are universal prescriptions, truth-apt and some are true. Universal is meant in two senses, that is the signature of moral claims includes generality (time- and place-transcendence) and universal applicability - anyone in the same situations is under the same obligations, permissions and prohibitions.

This is what I am seeking to describe but I need to check that you agree this is what a moral ought is. If not, we need to clarify that first.

Agreed that moral claims are (or at least purport to be) universal prescriptions in that sense.

The crucial step you are trying to make is between practical oughts and moral oughts. As good philosophers, let’s introduce two terms: p-ought and m-ought. My hypothesis is that there is a p-ought/m-ought gap just like there is a gap between is and ought. At least, there is unless we allow some moral posit of the sort that occur typically in consequentialist ethics: e.g., one m-ought to do what increases pleasure and decreases pain.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Here’s a nice TED lecture about morality by Sam Harris:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

His main point is that moral issues can and should be framed in ways which are scientifically testable.  It sounds good to me.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 29 April 2010 12:46 PM

Here’s a nice TED lecture about morality by Sam Harris:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

His main point is that moral issues can and should be framed in ways which are scientifically testable.  It sounds good to me.

Classic Harris—a lot to agree with, and some that is questionable or way oversimplified. Be that as it may, he’s basically assuming what amounts to a version of utilitarian ethics, where he’s substituting the vaguer and more amorphous concept of “human flourishing” for the more standard notion of pain and pleasure. That’s OK as far as it goes—indeed, if we decide that the moral imperative is to increase “human flourishing”, and we believe that “human flourishing” is the sort of thing that can be measured by a machine, then indeed, science will have a lot to tell us about morality.

But note that there is no conceivable experiment that could show A to be true:

(A) The moral imperative is to increase human flourishing.

It’s simply a posit of the theory. Again, that’s OK with me, it seems like a pretty good place to start, though not one that will be so simple to unpack as Harris seems to believe. Yes, when talking to an audience of centrist, educated americans of the sort that attend TED lectures, he’ll find a lot of agreement on what “flourishing” amounts to. But if that audience had included folk from the states in red on one of his slides, or folks from other countries and cultures, he’d find that there was little agreement. And my feeling is that this is not agreement which, in the final analysis, will be simply eradicated by running the right experiments. It will likely depend on further stipulations of the form:

(B) Human flourishing involves basic personal autonomy

or the like. That is, while a machine may well be able to tell us if we’re ill or not, I am dubious of the claim that it will ever be able to tell us whether or not we’re “flourishing”. At least, not without that machine being programmed with a lot more moral posits which could have gone either way.

None of this is to disagree with his basic premise, BTW, which is that there may be an objective morality, and that at any rate our disagreement about morality is no evidence that there isn’t an objective morality. It’s just to say that the issue is considerably more complex than he’s letting on. I also definitely do think that science will have a lot to tell us about morality going forward—however, what science will tell us will depend in part on these sorts of basic moral posits, which science cannot help with.

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Posted: 29 April 2010 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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[NB: I should probably have said “conscious flourishing” rather than “human flourishing” for Harris’s view, but that doesn’t make a difference to the rest of my point.]

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Posted: 30 April 2010 03:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Doug

Ok lets make my original generic ought prescription g-ought too. Lets see how all three relate.

g-ought means “that there are reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”.

p-ought and m-ought are species of the genus g-ought

p-ought means ” “that the agent has reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”.

m-ought means “that people generally have reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”. (a universal prescription).

The difference between p-ought and m-ought is that with m-ought some agents may not p-ought have those m-ought reasons, if they do not this is where the institution of morality comes into play, using praise and blame, reward and punishment. The question then becomes to establish what is praiseworthy and blameworthy, which I ground in a reductive naturalism. That is the next step, first are we clear on the above or not?

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Posted: 30 April 2010 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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faithlessgod - 30 April 2010 03:56 AM

Doug

Ok lets make my original generic ought prescription g-ought too. Lets see how all three relate.

g-ought means “that there are reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”.

p-ought and m-ought are species of the genus g-ought

p-ought means ” “that the agent has reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”.

m-ought means “that people generally have reasons to act of the kind such as to keep or bring about the state of affairs in question”. (a universal prescription).

The difference between p-ought and m-ought is that with m-ought some agents may not p-ought have those m-ought reasons, if they do not this is where the institution of morality comes into play, using praise and blame, reward and punishment. The question then becomes to establish what is praiseworthy and blameworthy, which I ground in a reductive naturalism. That is the next step, first are we clear on the above or not?

I don’t agree with the proposed definitions of p-ought and m-ought. Here are better ones:

(P) p-ought: “For all A, A has prudential reasons to act ...”

(M) m-ought: “For all A, A has moral reasons to act ...”

They are both universal propositions. If one person (the “agent”) has a prudential reason to act in a certain context, so too would everyone in that context.

Also, your g-ought and p-ought are functionally the same, which is tendentious. (If there are reasons, then there are reasons for someone. Reasons don’t exist without agents). If the generic ought is supposed to cover both cases, then it has to be more generic than either one. In my case I can recover that with:

(G) g-ought “For all A, A has reasons to act ...”

G generalizes over P and M now.

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Posted: 30 April 2010 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Well the whole basis of my approach is to deal with the fact that the agent may not possess specific reason to act. There may be reasons to act that exist that the agent does not have.

However your above alternative formulation appears to miss this.  It seems that what I was making explcit you have been making implicit. What is the difference between your p-ought and m-ought? Without knowing what the difference is between prudential reasons and moral reasons I cannot tell.

Could you please unpack these.

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Posted: 30 April 2010 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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faithlessgod - 30 April 2010 04:55 AM

Well the whole basis of my approach is to deal with the fact that the agent may not possess specific reason to act. There may be reasons to act that exist that the agent does not have.

However your above alternative formulation appears to miss this.  It seems that what I was making explcit you have been making implicit. What is the difference between your p-ought and m-ought? Without knowing what the difference is between prudential reasons and moral reasons I cannot tell.

Could you please unpack these.

First let me reword them slightly, because it seems to me that one crucial distinction between p-ought and m-ought is that p-ought is desire relative:

(P*) p-ought: For all A, S, D, X, Y: if A is in situation S with desire D, where D is of the form “I want X”, then if Y appears to A to achieve X most efficiently,  A has a prudential reason to do Y in S. (A p-ought to do Y in S).

M-ought has to be slightly reworded as well:

(M*) m-ought: For all A, S, P, Y: if A is in situation S, where moral principle P is of the form “Do/don’t do Y in S”, then if A is aware of P, A has a moral reason to do/not to do Y in S. (A m-ought to/ought not to do Y in S).

This still leaves up in the air what makes something a moral principle, and clearly we are going to want to distinguish between true moral principles and false ones, where the false ones may appear to someone to provide a reason but do not in fact. (The analogous thing happens in the prudential case, where Y may appear to A to achieve X most efficiently, but in fact does not. In that case, it may appear to A that he has a prudential reason to do Y, where in fact he is mistaken).

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Posted: 30 April 2010 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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dougsmith - 30 April 2010 06:36 AM

First let me reword them slightly, because it seems to me that one crucial distinction between p-ought and m-ought is that p-ought is desire relative:

(P*) p-ought: For all A, S, D, X, Y: if A is in situation S with desire D, where D is of the form “I want X”, then if Y appears to A to achieve X most efficiently,  A has a prudential reason to do Y in S. (A p-ought to do Y in S).

Ok we are getting closer. You have unpacked prudential but not moral yet. That is still the issue.

(p**) p-ought:  For all A, C, S, D, P, Y: if agent A is in circumstance C with desire D that P, then if action Y makes P true in state of affairs S,  one could say that “A has a prudential reason to do Y in C (to bring about P in S)”. (A p-ought to do Y in C).

The goal of a reduction is to reduce reference to “moral” (and its cognates) to other natural facts. That is we can only introduce it in the “one could say” clause as I just did with the “prudential” above but not before. Could you please unpack your use of “moral” below in the same way?

(M*) m-ought: For all A, S, P, Y: if A is in situation S, where moral principle P is of the form “Do/don’t do Y in S”, then if A is aware of P, A has a moral reason to do/not to do Y in S. (A m-ought to/ought not to do Y in S).

(The analogous thing happens in the prudential case, where Y may appear to A to achieve X most efficiently, but in fact does not. In that case, it may appear to A that he has a prudential reason to do Y, where in fact he is mistaken).

Expanding on your prudential point
(p***) p-ought:  For all A, C, S, D, P, Y,B: if agent A is in circumstance C with desire D that P and a belief B that “action Y makes P true in state of affairs S”,  one could say that “A has a prudential reason to do Y in C (to bring about P in S)”. (A p-ought to do Y in C).
This can be false if
a) belief that B is false (action Y does not make P true in S)
b) desire that P is unfulfillable, There is no S where P is true given that A is in C.

This still leaves up in the air what makes something a moral principle, and clearly we are going to want to distinguish between true moral principles and false ones, where the false ones may appear to someone to provide a reason but do not in fact.

Yes, hopefully p*** helps in that regard.

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Posted: 30 April 2010 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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our disagreement about morality is no evidence that there isn’t an objective morality.

Why not? Of course, it is not definitive evidence, but it does suggest that if there is such a thing as objective morality it is not obvious or readily identitified since people can’t seem to agree on what it is. And it is at least consistent with the proposition that there is not universal, objective morality.

Is this not a bit like the situation with respective to the variety of religious myths? The fact that different cultures have different mythologies whicht they all claim to be the one true religion seems to me to be a point of evidence agains the claims and in favor of the notion that such mythologies are simply stories that arise in a particular context. Can we not apply the same logic to the differing moral precepts in different cultures/historical moments?

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