• Pinprick
    613
    Because just having a range of acceptable possibilities doesn’t mean that that range is unlimited. We can be sure that some things are definitely wrong no matter who thinks they’re not, without having to know exactly what the optimal course of action is for everyone.Pfhorrest

    I agree with this, but it’s missing my point somewhat. I’m wanting to know how you justify that there is only one absolutely correct answer in any given circumstance. There always appears to be more than one acceptable answer, but you seem to try to claim that out of all the acceptable answers, there is one that is clearly better than all the others. I guess something like “limited relativity” is more in line with what I meant. But what is the criteria you use to determine which answer out the the acceptable ones is best? Assuming listening to music and exercising both relieve my anger equally, what could there possibly be to make one of these options better than the other?
  • counterpunch
    1k
    I seem to have missed your post somehow. Sorry about that.

    Ah, I see. For me, philosophy is a means to an end - and that end is the continued existence of the human species.
    — counterpunch

    But "why is that the end?" is a philosophical question itself.Pfhorrest

    I take a materialist view because that's all I can speak intelligibly about, and in those terms - existence is a pre-requisite to everything else. The continued survival of the human species is what makes anything else matter.

    But phenomenalism? Phenomenalism is essentially subjectivism. "Phenomenalism is the view that physical objects cannot justifiably be said to exist in themselves, but only as perceptual phenomena or sensory stimuli." Do you run back into rooms to see if everything is still there? Science is objectivism. Science assumes an objective reality exists independently of our experience of it.
    — counterpunch

    Did you miss the part earlier in this thread about distinguishing different kinds of "objectivism" and "subjectivism"?Pfhorrest

    I thought that's what you were doing; I don't remember why I thought that. My objection is that science is not phenomenalism - because phenomenalism is subjectivism, and science is objectivism. Science assumes that objects exist independently of our experience of them. Phenomenalism does not.

    Science is objectivist as in universalist, as in not relativist.Pfhorrest

    Epistemically, as in the knowledge it seeks to establish in general universal principles or laws that describe the way things are, and the way things act and interact. Sure!

    But it's also subjectivist as in phenomenalist, not transcendent.Pfhorrest

    How so? I think you're conflating senses here.

    Science deals entirely with the world as it appears in our observations (which is to say, our subjective experiences),Pfhorrest

    No. Take light - and the famous experiment by Newton with a prism. I'm sure you've heard of it. If science were subjective, it would be satisfied that light is white - but instead, Newton uses a device to begin to break down the electromagnetic spectrum, much of which is not apparent to the senses at all.

    Science seeks to get beyond the surface appearance of things, to account for observer bias and eliminate the subjective from the universal in the formulation of universal laws that apply to how things really are, not just how they appear. True, human beings subjectively experience reality - but that's not a welcome fact. Subjectivism is a methodological problem science seeks to account for, and eliminate from its findings.

    Consequently, science is not phenomenological. You've conflated senses - as I might have done had I said something like: "but the theory of relativity is science" - when you said "science is universalist, as in not relativist."
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    It would be rational to aim for their appetites to be sated, whether that would be by changing the world to sate their appetites or by changing their appetites to be satiable by the world. I'm not saying that people should never change and the world must bend to them exactly as they are now, just that somehow or another (within deontological limits beyond the scope of this teleological part of the conversation) the two should be brought together into alignment.Pfhorrest

    I've no qualm with this as an aim, but you used the word 'should'. What do you think 'should' means here? It can't mean 'it would be morally right too...' because what is morally right is what you're trying to establish, so an argument assuming it would be begging the question. What is the normative force of the above argument - we certainly could think of 'morally right' as being synonymous with matching the world to it's current and future population's appetites... but why should we?

    But that part aside, the only reason why the drug addictions and overeating disorders are bad are because they lead to other suffering, i.e. the dissatisfaction of other appetites, like from health problems, withdrawals, etc. "Normalcy" should have nothing to do with it.Pfhorrest

    We could instead see that consequent suffering as the problem, that's the point I was making (as you later allude to). So normalcy does have something to do with it, it's partly how we choose which suffering to treat.

    wanting something and not getting it, wanting something and getting it is better (more enjoyment) still.Pfhorrest

    Not really. It depends how you define 'enjoyment'. Both neurologically and phenomenologically, maximum enjoyment is not obtained by getting things you want. Gamblers aren't addicted to the payoff, they're addicted to the chance of a payoff. Even in mice, maximum dopamine response is achieved at the anticipation of a reward (of which there's a just above 50% chance of achieving), not the reward, or even the certainty of it. The human brain is extremely complex and this disneyfied 'eliminate the bad things and make all the good things' version of the way the world should be may well not match the actual neurological mechanisms behind our subjective judgements of state.

    To take the example above, the theory is that this particular dopamine system is evolved to sustain striving, to reward risk-taking (in a limited fashion). But we don't necessarily recognise that phenomenologically, nor did we know it neurologically until about a decade ago. But we did know it intuitively (if we didn't the evolutionary advantage would not have manifested. One of the reason I'm so opposed to any systematising of morality is that it's like tinkering with Formula One engine based on a superficial knowledge of how lawnmowers work. I know you're only advocating a meta-ethic here, and the actual ethic might well be 'don't do anything until we know more', but the advocacy of a rational (as opposed to naturalistic) meta-ethic has such implications whether you intend them or not.

    My ontology pretty much only rules out the utterly supernatural, and there being different actual realities for people who believe different things. Within that, anything goes, and it's beyond philosophy's scope to figure it out; that's for physics to do. Likewise, this teleological aspect of my ethics is only meant to be whatever is left after you rule out two things:Pfhorrest

    Yes, I understand that. I come from a very different environment I suppose. I do regularly forget the efforts some people go to to try and rationally disprove positions which were never rationally arrived at in the first place. It's not something that's even on my radar. If you want to construct a rational argument that says one shouldn't follow the instructions in a 2000 year old book as one's sole moral guide then be my guest.

    that who or how many people are of what ethical opinion or another has any bearing on what the correct ethical opinion is (e.g. that slavery was actually morally okay in societies where 'enough' of 'the right' people approved of it, and only became not-okay after they changed their minds).

    The deontological aspect of my ethics (about the methods of applying those criteria to the justification of particular intentions) is more useful for resolving ethical dilemmas between people who're already on board with that kind of thing,
    Pfhorrest

    You see, there's that duplicity again - when pushed on the problem of under-determination, you admit that it only eliminates extremes and that outside of those physiological limits your system offers no guide (should we match the data points to the preferred line, or match the line to the data points). Then you keep coming back to "my ethics ... is more useful for resolving ethical dilemmas". It's not. We've just established that. It provides nothing whatsoever by way of guidance in the resolution of such ethical dilemmas. Don't be a psychopath, and don't be a religious fanatic are the only positions your ethical system advises. Everything in between is arguable on the basis of being some form of matching world to appetites.

    But there's no point even getting into that methodological aspect with people who can't even agree on those two very broad limits on what makes for a good end, or state of affairs. And you've generally sounded like someone who's strongly attached to that second broad class of views that I would categorically exclude.Pfhorrest

    I'm not sure what's given you that impression, but that's not my meta-ethical position.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    I agree with this, but it’s missing my point somewhat. I’m wanting to know how you justify that there is only one absolutely correct answer in any given circumstance. There always appears to be more than one acceptable answer, but you seem to try to claim that out of all the acceptable answers, there is one that is clearly better than all the others. I guess something like “limited relativity” is more in line with what I meant.Pinprick

    Such "limited relativity" is just universality plus uncertainty (which is what I'm advocating). It accepts that everything is either permissible or impermissible in an objective/universal sense, and among the permissible things, it's possible for one to be objectively/universally better than another even though both are permissible, and when that is the case it's still possible that we may have no idea (and practically speaking very little hope of determining) which is better than the other even though one is.

    But what is the criteria you use to determine which answer out the the acceptable ones is best? Assuming listening to music and exercising both relieve my anger equally, what could there possibly be to make one of these options better than the other?Pinprick

    All of the innumerable consequences that come from doing one vs the other, that practically speaking you'll probably never know or care to know about.

    The point of liber(al|tarian)ism, like falsificationism, is to stop from focusing on pinning down one exactly correct solution, since we'll never get to there, and instead just focus on staying within (and narrowing down) the range of permissible/possible (respectively) solutions.

    I take a materialist view because that's all I can speak intelligibly about, and in those terms - existence is a pre-requisite to everything else. The continued survival of the human species is what makes anything else matter.counterpunch

    Sure, and I agree, but my point is that in defending that view you're already doing philosophy. Philosophical issues like what is a good end to strive for are logically prior to issues about practical means to particular ends.

    I thought that's what you were doing; I don't remember why I thought that. My objection is that science is not phenomenalism - because phenomenalism is subjectivism, and science is objectivism. Science assumes that objects exist independently of our experience of them. Phenomenalism does not.counterpunch

    Distinguishing different kinds of "objectivism" and "subjectivism" is what I was doing, and that's what you seem to not be doing here. The point is that "objects exist independently of our experience of them" can mean (at least) two different things:

    - There is something about those objects that transcends experience, such that nobody could ever tell from empirical observation whether those aspects or qualities or whatever of the object were there or not. This is "objectivism as in transcendentalism", which I'm against. (Phenomenalism is its negation, saying that there is nothing about the objects besides the observable properties of them, which is also the position that science takes.)

    or

    - The existence of those objects is not just relative to any particular person experiencing them at a particular time, but continues as the potential to be experienced even when not actively being experienced. This is "objectivism as in universalism", which I am for. (Relativism is its negation, saying that the objects are only real to those who are actively observing them, and science of course generally takes a position against that).

    How so? I think you're conflating senses here.counterpunch

    I'm doing the opposite of that, I'm de-conflating senses that it seems you are conflating. See above for the two senses of "objective" I'm differentiating from each other. Their negations in turn are the two senses of "subjective" I'm differentiating from each other. You can have one without the other: universalism doesn't require transcendentalism, so phenomenalism in turn doesn't require relativism. You can have a universalist phenomenalism, which is what science generally assumes: an empirical realism, where there is a reality independent of it being actively observed, but in no part beyond the potential for observation.

    No. Take light - and the famous experiment by Newton with a prism. I'm sure you've heard of it. If science were subjective, it would be satisfied that light is white - but instead, Newton uses a device to begin to break down the electromagnetic spectrum, much of which is not apparent to the senses at all.counterpunch

    And we learn about that by observing the output of the device with our senses. That's like "seeing the wind" (which is invisible) by its effects on the motion of leaves in the trees. That's indirect observation, which is still observation, and so still "subjective" in a sense that doesn't mean "relative" but just "phenomenal".

    I've no qualm with this as an aim, but you used the word 'should'. What do you think 'should' means here?Isaac

    I take all moral language, including my use of it there, to be essentially exhortative in function, so in saying that that kind of state of affairs 'should' be, I'm saying something to the effect of "let it be the case that [that state of affairs]".

    It can't mean 'it would be morally right too...' because what is morally right is what you're trying to establish, so an argument assuming it would be begging the question.Isaac

    In that case I was just clarifying what it is that I take a morally right state of affairs to be, which is to say, what state of affairs I would exhort to be. I was not just then arguing that it should be, just clarifying the conclusion of my argument.

    What is the normative force of the above argument - we certainly could think of 'morally right' as being synonymous with matching the world to it's current and future population's appetites... but why should we?Isaac

    Because that view is essentially composed of the negation of two positions (as discussed further below), and assuming either of those two positions would leave us operating under assumptions that would render us unable to conduct a rational investigation of what ought to be.

    On the one hand, the position that what is good or bad can be wholly unrelated to what what feels good or bad in our experiences would leave us stuck having to just take someone's word on it, leaving nothing to do but pick for no rational reason whose word to take without possibility of question.

    On the other hand, the position that what actually is good or bad can differ between different parties just because those parties differ in their opinions obviously leaves no room for rational reconciliation because all you'd have to appeal to is your own opinion and the other guys already disagree with that so that gets you nowhere.

    So if we hope to have any rational discourse about what ought to be, we have to assume the negations of those both (and at this point in our reasoning, assuming one way or the other is all we can do, because we haven't even established grounds for justification yet).

    Reconciling the negations of those both, figuring out some way of having a universal morality nevertheless grounded in phenomenal (hedonic) experience, in turn requires differentiating appetites from desires, because of the obvious impossibility of reconciling conflicting desires without a deeper concept like appetites to turn to.

    We could instead see that consequent suffering as the problem, that's the point I was making (as you later allude to). So normalcy does have something to do with it, it's partly how we choose which suffering to treat.Isaac

    I don't follow the connection between these two sentences. I agree completely with the first one: the reason why drug addiction, overeating disorders, etc, are problematic is because they cause later suffering, and we don't currently have the ability to prevent that consequent suffering, so we can only treat the behavior that causes it, even though that behavior is in the pursuit of enjoyment, as behavior should be.

    If it were possible to avoid that consequent suffering, or if there just wasn't consequent suffering at all, then those behaviors being unusual (abnormal) wouldn't be any reason for concern.

    It's like homosexuality no longer being classified as a mental disorder: it is unusual (statistically speaking), but harmless, so it's rightly no longer considered a problem. Or, I don't know if anything like "sexual promiscuity" was ever considered a mental health problem per se, but it's certainly been socially condemned, and for much of human history that may have been for good reason (there is plenty of suffering it could cause), but nowadays with birth control and disease prevention and treatment technologies, it's possible to be sexually promiscuous while avoiding the consequent suffering, which makes it no longer anything to condemn.

    Not really. It depends how you define 'enjoyment'. Both neurologically and phenomenologically, maximum enjoyment is not obtained by getting things you want. Gamblers aren't addicted to the payoff, they're addicted to the chance of a payoff. Even in mice, maximum dopamine response is achieved at the anticipation of a reward (of which there's a just above 50% chance of achieving), not the reward, or even the certainty of it. The human brain is extremely complex and this disneyfied 'eliminate the bad things and make all the good things' version of the way the world should be may well not match the actual neurological mechanisms behind our subjective judgements of state.

    To take the example above, the theory is that this particular dopamine system is evolved to sustain striving, to reward risk-taking (in a limited fashion).
    Isaac

    I was actually alluding to a phenomenological take on this very thing when I said that. Just not having any appetites for anything, not caring about anything, is not, phenomenologically, a very enjoyable state to be in. It's basically depression, speaking from experience as someone clinically diagnosed with that. It doesn't feel good to not want and not care about anything. In contrast it feels good to want things, to strive for them, to work up an appetite for a good meal, to look forward to an adventure, or a piece of entertainment, or to your favorite hobby, to get horny and want to fuck your significant other, etc.

    But then if you are denied those things you were longing for, it feels bad. You could avoid that bad feeling by not wanting them... but while that's often better than the disappointment, it's still not great. What feels best is to want for things... and then to get them. And then to keep wanting for things, and keep getting them, and keep that feeling of striving and winning and moving forward and making progress going.

    Then you keep coming back to "my ethics ... is more useful for resolving ethical dilemmas". It's not. We've just established that. It provides nothing whatsoever by way of guidance in the resolution of such ethical dilemmas. Don't be a psychopath, and don't be a religious fanatic are the only positions your ethical system advises. Everything in between is arguable on the basis of being some form of matching world to appetites.Isaac

    Not being a psychopath or religious fanatic is more useful for resolving ethical dilemmas than being either of those, I think you will agree.

    But that aside, you're missing part of the very thing you quoted to respond to with this. The "don't be a relativist or transcendentalist" thing is just the first layer of my ethical system. That's my "moral ontology". There's another layer, my "moral epistemology". And then a political philosophy modeled after the usual (ideal) practices of modern academia, what you might call a "moral peer review". But all these things build on top of each other, and whenever I try to work toward laying them out I can't get past the first part with you, the part about agreeing on the investigation into a morality that is both universal and phenomenalist, an altruistic hedonism. None of the rest of it is applicable if we can't even agree on that. But there is a "rest of it", I just never get to move on to that because you get all hung up on disputing the basic groundwork.

    I'm not sure what's given you that impression, but that's not my meta-ethical position.Isaac

    That's the negation of my principle of objectivism/universalism, and you keep objecting to that principle, which makes it sound like you favor its negation.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    I take all moral language, including my use of it there, to be essentially exhortative in function, so in saying that that kind of state of affairs 'should' be, I'm saying something to the effect of "let it be the case that [that state of affairs]".Pfhorrest

    How can moral language be exhortative if the meaning of moral terms is objective. Moral language must surely be propositional in that case?

    what it is that I take a morally right state of affairs to be, which is to say, what state of affairs I would exhort to be.Pfhorrest

    I've perhaps not made myself clear. You seem to be saying that we 'should' take 'morally right' to be that which maximises appetite satisfaction. It's like you're imploring us to accept that something ought to be the case on rational grounds, but then saying that something is that things ought to be the case on hedonic grounds. It's not the case that we we consider maximising hedonic values to be our utmost objective. Some people are more about maximising the virtues, others obedience to God etc. so you're not describing what is the case, you're describing what ought to be the case - which sounds like you've already got a system in place for deciding what ought to be the case.

    Notwithstanding that, your actual rational argument falls short. Firstly...

    On the one hand, the position that what is good or bad can be wholly unrelated to what what feels good or bad in our experiencesPfhorrest

    On the other hand, the position that what actually is good or bad can differ between different partiesPfhorrest

    These are not the only two options. For example following one's sense of virtue (for, say and ethical naturalist) would be an option which neither satisfied hedonic values nor differed between people.

    If it were possible to avoid that consequent suffering, or if there just wasn't consequent suffering at all, then those behaviors being unusual (abnormal) wouldn't be any reason for concern.Pfhorrest

    It is possible to treat the consequences of obesity. It's also possible to manage drug use without resort to weaning. We don't partly because of a presumption in favour of normality.

    it feels good to want things, to strive for them, to work up an appetite for a good meal, to look forward to an adventure, or a piece of entertainment, or to your favorite hobby, to get horny and want to fuck your significant other, etc.

    But then if you are denied those things you were longing for, it feels bad.
    Pfhorrest

    This is what I'm telling you is not true. We do not gain maximum happiness by any measure from the obtaining of that for which we're longing. It's just not the case.

    there is a "rest of it", I just never get to move on to that because you get all hung up on disputing the basic groundwork.Pfhorrest

    Then I'll take your word for that.

    That's the negation of my principle of objectivism/universalism, and you keep objecting to that principle, which makes it sound like you favor its negation.Pfhorrest

    As I said above, I don't believe it's the only remaining option.
  • Joshs
    1.3k
    We do not gain maximum happiness by any measure from the obtaining of that for which we're longing. It's just not the case.Isaac

    I f we don’t it’s only because we sacrifice a particular longing for the sake of a richer and more fulfilling longing.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    I f we don’t it’s only because we sacrifice a particular longing for the sake of a richer and more fulfilling longing.Joshs

    No, it's not. It's because our limbic system responds to anticipation of potential reward more strongly than the receipt of it. You can't just make this stuff up, it's a biological mechanism you're talking about here. It behaves the way it behaves regardless of what you think about it.
  • Joshs
    1.3k
    It's because our limbic system responds to anticipation of potential reward more strongly than the receipt of it. You can't just make this stuff up, it's a biological mechanism you're talking about here. It behaves the way it behaves regardless of what you think about it.Isaac

    The neuronanatomy and neurophysiology of brian structures associated with affectivity offer o my impoverished models of how affectivity relates
    to cognition. I think the most promising accounts which integrate neurology of affect with conscious processes stem from Damasio and Panksepp, but even more so with researchers who have incorporated their work into new comprehensive modes which also tap into phenomenology. Matthew Ratcliffe in particular offers a particularly satisfying account.

    ur experience of the world.

    “...affect binds us to things, making them relevant and ‘lighting up' aspects of the world in such a way as to call forth actions and thoughts. Without the world-structuring orientation that they provide, we are disoriented, cut off from the world, which no longer solicits thoughts and actions and is consequently devoid of value. In effect, [William] James is saying that our very sense of reality is constituted by world-orienting feelings that bind us to things .” (Ratcliffe 2005)

    “...emotions play a role in constraining and structuring the realm of explicit deliberation, restricting deliberation to a small number of options and structuring patterns of reasoning, so that we remain focused and relevant in our activities, able to act towards goals without becoming distracted by trivia. Thus emotions and feelings serve to constrain and focus our attention, so that we only consider from a pre-structured set of options. Damasio's (1995, 1996) more specific hypothesis is that emotions are cognitively mediated body states. He christens this theory the “somatic marker hypothesis”. The idea is that somatic (body) signals are associated with perceptual stimuli, either as a result of innate or learned neural connections, and thus “mark” those stimuli. Different perceptions can be associated with various kinds of body states, which may serve as alarm signals or, alternatively, as enticing invitations. According to Damasio, a complex of such signals focuses and structures our cognitive interactions with the world. Once we incorporate complex learned associations between perceptions and body states, a vast web of somatic markers can develop. These signals serve to eliminate certain possibilities, which feel bad, from a choice set and focus deliberation upon other feel good signals. Thus cognition is constrained, enabled and structured by a background of emotion-perception correlations, manifest themselves as a changing background of implicit representations of body states.”(Ratcliffe 2002)
  • Isaac
    4.3k


    I don't know of anything in Damasio's or Panksepp's work which contradicts Knutson's work, nor that supports the assertion of yours I was commenting on, nor can i see how your quote relates to either. Perhaps you could cite some of Damasio's or Panksepp's work, or explain how the quote relates.
  • Joshs
    1.3k
    I just read a bit of Knutson. From my quick sampling, I gather that Knutson analyzes affect in terms of arousal and valence within a cognitive-behavioral paradigm. This kind of model tends to be reductive in the way it treats both affect and cognition. Affect functions as a reinforcement shaping behavior in ways that are mostly unintegrated with cognition and intention. Ratcliffe’s model, by contrast , brings affect into the heart of intentionality, making them inseparable. For Ratcliffe , the central role of affect is not that of blind arousal or pleasure-pain , but of semantic meaningfulness. The affective aspect of experiencing deals with how things matter to us, how they are relevant and
    significant to us, how salient they are for us. For instance , severe depression isn’t marked by affective ‘pain’ so much as a deprivation of relevance and meaning in the world.

    I notice that you seem to focus on affect as a mechanistic causal circuitry that bypasses or precedes complex cognitive assessment , such as in your exampleof the causes of obesity. It seems to me that this misses the the complex and reciprocal interplay of affect with attitudes, beliefs and intentions.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    I've perhaps not made myself clear. You seem to be saying that we 'should' take 'morally right' to be that which maximises appetite satisfaction. It's like you're imploring us to accept that something ought to be the case on rational grounds, but then saying that something is that things ought to be the case on hedonic grounds. It's not the case that we we consider maximising hedonic values to be our utmost objective. Some people are more about maximising the virtues, others obedience to God etc. so you're not describing what is the case, you're describing what ought to be the case - which sounds like you've already got a system in place for deciding what ought to be the case.Isaac

    Philosophical claims like we're discussing here are properly speaking neither descriptive nor prescriptive in the sense that claims about reality and morality (respectively) are, but have some characteristics of each. In arguing for empiricism, against someone who rejects empiricism, would one be making an "ought" claim of the same sort as an "ought" claim that e.g. one ought not rape? No, but then again one would also not be making merely an "is" claim that we do use empiricism, either.

    Philosophical claims are logically prior to either of those kinds of claims; they're a mix of analytic claims, which superficially seem descriptive but don't actually tell us anything about reality, and pragmatic claims, which superficially seem prescriptive but don't actually tell us anything about morality. They're about what we mean by our questions and proposed answers, and what we're aiming to do by asking them and what is effective toward that end.

    How can moral language be exhortative if the meaning of moral terms is objective. Moral language must surely be propositional in that case?Isaac

    It is propositional, it's just not indicative: moral language proposes that something be, not that it is, and such propositions can still be the correct or incorrect ones to make, though they of course must be made correct or incorrect by a different kind of criteria than indicative ones are. It's a kind of non-descriptive cognitivism, which I've tried to go into much detail on before (and is not my original invention even), but you just got hung up on the universalist implications of it and derailed that whole thread.

    These are not the only two options. For example following one's sense of virtue (for, say and ethical naturalist) would be an option which neither satisfied hedonic values nor differed between people.Isaac

    It's not at all clear to me what you mean by this, but the best sense I can make out of it is that "following one's sense of virtue" means doing what you think is the characteristic behavior of a good person, which then raises the immediate question of what to do when someone else thinks something different is the characteristic behavior of a good person.

    It looks like you've then just got two irreconcilable bare opinions that can't be analyzed into some deeper components that could potentially be reconciled by building a new opinion that factors in all of those deeper components together. So either both of your irreconcilable opinions are correct to each of you respectively, just because they're your opinions, in which case you've got relativism, one of the two options you say this avoids; or else there is some correct opinion on that matter but there is no way of telling which if either of your different ones is that, in which case you've got transcendentalism, the other of the two options you say this avoids.

    The "ethical naturalist" bit in there makes me suspect that you might say the way to reconcile differences of opinion about what is the characteristic behavior of a good person is to look at some empirical facts about what people do actually (tend to) do (on average), or perhaps what they (tend to) think is morally laudable (on average), but that's just falling into the naturalistic fallacy. What exactly about the fact that people do do or think that way implies anything at all about what anyone should do or think? You can't get an 'ought' from an 'is' like that.

    If you're not trying to make such an inference, but just saying what is, then you're refraining from moral commentary entirely, and if that reflected a lack of moral judgement entirely, that would leave you a moral nihilist, which in practice can't help but be a moral egotist, which is the most extreme form of moral relativism, which is one of the two things you say this isn't.

    And if you were trying to get an 'ought' from an 'is' in that way specifically, never mind for the moment that that's not a valid inference, you would end up either appealing to the authority of the largest group, where avoiding appeals to authority like is the very reason to reject transcendentalism; or else you might say that each different group that has agreement within itself on the question is right relative to itself, in which case you're back to relativism again.

    One way or another I don't see a way of avoiding both transcendentalism (or the dogmatism that is the reason to avoid it) or else relativism with this approach.

    It is possible to treat the consequences of obesity.Isaac

    Sweet, so there's some way I can eat all I want and not suffer any negative consequences from it? Do tell! Why doesn't my doctor seem to know about this?

    This is what I'm telling you is not true. We do not gain maximum happiness by any measure from the obtaining of that for which we're longing. It's just not the case.Isaac

    I'm acknowledging what you said about the wanting being more pleasurable than the having. But when you want for something, you eventually end up either (A) not getting it, or (B) getting it. Are you saying that wanting for things and then having yours wants dissatisfied is observably more pleasurable than wanting for things and then having them satisfied? Granted that in either case the main pleasure comes from the wanting, from the pursuit of the thing. But that ends eventually. The question is which way of it ending is more enjoyable.

    Then I'll take your word for that.Isaac

    Here's a very short (and so necessarily incomplete) overview of my answers to the whole stack of ethical questions:

    Moral semantics (what does moral language even mean?):
    Moral language is not indicative, but exhortative. Exhortations can still be correct or incorrect, just like indications can be, but they're made correct or incorrect by different criteria than indications are.

    "Moral psychology", or philosophy of will (what is the nature of willing and moral judgement?):
    To will or to intend something is the same thing as to judge it to be morally good: it is to reflexively evaluate your own desires and judge whether they are the desires you should have or not, by the same standards you would judge someone else's desires in your same circumstances. Your will is free when and to the extent that such self-judgement is effective upon your future behavior.

    "Moral ontology", or "teleology" (what makes for a good state of affairs?):
    States of affairs are good when they satisfy all appetites, and bad to the extent that they fall short of that; there is nothing more to a state of affairs being good besides everyone feeling good, and nothing short of everyone feeling good is a wholly good state of affairs. (This is where you and I always get stuck).

    "Moral epistemology", or "deontology" (what is a just or right action or intention?):
    Just actions are "good-preserving" in the way that valid inferences are "truth-preserving": a just action must not have any badness in its consequences that was not already there in the prior circumstances, and new goodness produced in its consequences does not excuse any new badness introduced, just like a true conclusion doesn't automatically make the inferences used to get there valid.

    "Moral peer review", or political philosophy (who gets to judge what's good or just?):
    This is really hard to write a short summary of, but I basically advocate for a kind of anarcho-socialism with people turning to independent defense and adjudication organizations to protect them from other people, where those organizations in turn use the product of a global collaborative process of moral investigation based on the earlier parts of the stack as their "law books" when adjudicating these conflicts, in the same way that schools use the product of a global collaborative scientific investigation as the basis of their textbooks that they teach from.

    Moral praxis, or empowerment (how to get people to do things that way):
    By showing people that supposed authorities can be not only insufficient but positively counterproductive, but that progress toward good things is nevertheless possible, by helping the people let down or violated by those supposed authorities, helping them to help themselves, helping them to help others, and to help others to help themselves, and others, in a positive feedback loop.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    I gather that Knutson analyzes affect in terms of arousal and valence within a cognitive-behavioral paradigm. This kind of model tends to be reductive in the way it treats both affect and cognition. Affect functions as a reinforcement shaping behavior in ways that are mostly unintegrated with cognition and intention.Joshs

    No, that's not Knutson's model, the experiment is just isolating one element in a wider system in order to inform that system, not replace it. If you can track it down, you might be interested to read his 2007 paper "Affective Influence on Judgments and Decisions: Moving Towards Core Mechanisms" (I only have a paper copy). I don't personally agree with all of his conclusions there, but it's basically a really thorough outline of his approach and the way in which he sees affect integrating with cognition and intention.

    For Ratcliffe , the central role of affect is not that of blind arousal or pleasure-pain , but of semantic meaningfulness. The affective aspect of experiencing deals with how things matter to us, how they are relevant and
    significant to us, how salient they are for us. For instance , severe depression isn’t marked by affective ‘pain’ so much as a deprivation of relevance and meaning in the world.
    Joshs

    The trouble with this is that it is so vague as to be difficult to find anything to either affirm or deny in it. No-one is suggesting that the consequences of changes in affect valence do not pass through areas of the brain responsible for conscious semantics. I don't think you'd find a single neuroscientists making such a claim. Nor would you find any (nowadays) who deny the feedback, inference and suppressive roles that these higher conscious cortices can have on signals from cortices below them in the hierarchy.

    If Ratcliffe is making a unique claim, then it would have to be accompanied by a good deal more specificity as to what constituted 'central', and how that differed from the integral role everyone already agrees semantics plays.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    Philosophical claims are logically prior to either of those kinds of claims; they're a mix of analytic claims, which superficially seem descriptive but don't actually tell us anything about reality, and pragmatic claims, which superficially seem prescriptive but don't actually tell us anything about morality.Pfhorrest

    OK, so could you describe how those elements apply to you 'philosophical claim' that we ought to see morality as a sort of matching of affect to world (or vice versa). What part of that claim is analytic and what part pragmatic?

    moral language proposes that something be, not that it is, and such propositions can still be the correct or incorrect ones to make, though they of course must be made correct or incorrect by a different kind of criteria than indicative ones are.Pfhorrest

    But surely the key element is such a claim is it's correctness. The implication is "it is correct that such-and-such ought to be the case..." otherwise it's nothing but an emotional exclamation.

    It's a kind of non-descriptive cognitivism, which I've tried to go into much detail on before (and is not my original invention even), but you just got hung up on the universalist implications of it and derailed that whole thread.Pfhorrest

    Surely the implications of it are the only relevant factor? That it is at least plausible is a given from the start (intelligent people have thought it through enough to publish papers on it, we can assume it's at least plausible).

    It's not at all clear to me what you mean by this, but the best sense I can make out of it is that "following one's sense of virtue" means doing what you think is the characteristic behavior of a good person, which then raises the immediate question of what to do when someone else thinks something different is the characteristic behavior of a good person.Pfhorrest

    What I'm saying is that for an ethical naturalist, something like that certain characteristics are virtuous is a fact about the physical state of our brains and the consequences thereof on our beliefs. A sort of 'evolutionary encoding of morality' approach could quite easily make claims about what is and is not moral as cognitive claims without reference to affect valence. Equally, a purely linguistic approach can make objective, factual claims about what is 'virtuous' or 'morally right' based on how we use those terms and still not reference affect. The re are numerous versions of ethical realism which are neither subjective, nor related to affect. It is not a matter of having to choose the latter by eliminating the former, they're not exhaustive.

    so there's some way I can eat all I want and not suffer any negative consequences from it? Do tell!Pfhorrest

    Yes, in theory. There are medicines which interfere with the absorption of fat, there's bariatric surgery...

    you eventually end up either (A) not getting it, or (B) getting it. Are you saying that wanting for things and then having yours wants dissatisfied is observably more pleasurable than wanting for things and then having them satisfied? Granted that in either case the main pleasure comes from the wanting, from the pursuit of the thing. But that ends eventually. The question is which way of it ending is more enjoyable.Pfhorrest

    It depends. Pleasure is largely generated by the same system (unlike displeasure which is very widely distributed across the endocrine response), it's may well be that some reward stimulates this system, it may be that it doesn't. That you interpret your current state as desiring something is not a reliable measure of how the receipt of that reward is going to affect your pleasure generating systems. Not only are these systems complex even unilaterally, but they are exposed to several suppressive and inhibitory feedback loops from higher cortices which may cut off an initially pleasurable response before we're even consciously aware of it. The question of which way of ending the wanting is more pleasurable is one which is highly dependant on both circumstance and upbringing, let alone biological underpinnings.

    Here's a very short (and so necessarily incomplete) overview of my answers to the whole stack of ethical questions:Pfhorrest

    I appreciate that, but obviously it would be outside of the scope of this thread for me to respond to them all. Nice to know though.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    OK, so could you describe how those elements apply to you 'philosophical claim' that we ought to see morality as a sort of matching of affect to world (or vice versa). What part of that claim is analytic and what part pragmatic?Isaac

    It's not that one part of it is analytic and another is pragmatic, but that the whole thing lies at the interface between the two. Basically we're asking what exactly we are trying to do with an answer to the question "what is moral?" The importance of the question, its pragmatic import, what we need to know the answer for, narrows in on which of the possible meanings of the question matters to us in that context, and with that understanding comes the start of the means of answering it.

    I'm taking the pragmatic import of the question to be one of selecting goals to direct our actions toward, basically building a blueprint for the world we want to make. The world we want to make is, tautologically, one where things are how we want them. The problem then is reconciling different ideas of what such a world would be like, because we're not just aiming for a world like I want or you want but a world like we want, so we have to reconcile those different wants somehow.

    The "we" part basically gives you the universalist aspect: what we're aiming for is independent of any particular person, we're not just asking what you or I or a majority or a particular authority figure want, but what is "wantable" some a more impartial sense than any of those. And the "want" part basically gets you the hedonistic aspect, the satisfaction of... I don't know what best to call them, maybe "imperative" states of mind, the umbrella category including intentions, desires, and appetites.

    The need to reconcile those two different things with each other then requires analyzing those "imperative" states of mind to a level that is potentially reconcilable, unlike intentions or desires, which brings us down to appetites.

    But surely the key element is such a claim is it's correctness.Isaac

    Yes, and I'm affirming that such claims are capable of being correct and incorrect (rather than just expressions of emotions), and elaborating on what criteria by which to judge them thus.

    Surely the implications of it are the only relevant factor? That it is at least plausible is a given from the start (intelligent people have thought it through enough to publish papers on it, we can assume it's at least plausible).Isaac

    When I brought it up I was hoping more for discussion on its merit as a theory of moral semantics, on whether it's a reasonable account of what moral language means that can accomplish the goals it tries to accomplish: an account of moral language that can support calling moral claims objectively or universally correct or incorrect, without either reducing them to claims of natural facts, or else introducing some kind of non-naturalist ontology. Objecting that it would imply that morality is objective then sort of misses the point...

    One prominent criticism of the concept of objective morality is that it would require either collapsing the is-ought gap, or else violating naturalist ontology, since (it's thought by such critics that) only descriptive claims, which must then refer either to natural or non-natural things in reality, are capable of being objectively true or false. If one then holds that naturalism is true (so there aren't non-natural things to refer to) and that the is-ought gap cannot be crossed (so moral language can't be referring to natural facts), one would then be forced to conclude that moral language cannot be of the type that is capable of being true or false, but must be something like expressions of emotions, or else that it is all categorically false attempts at referring to non-existent non-natural things.

    If, therefore, an account of moral language can be given according to which moral claims can be true or false in a way that doesn't violate either of those other principles, that particular argument against moral universalism bites the dust. So to say that such an account is then problematic because it would imply moral universalism... yeah, that's what it's for. It's a way of enabling a universalist account of morality without running into these particular semantic problems.

    What I'm saying is that for an ethical naturalist, something like that certain characteristics are virtuous is a fact about the physical state of our brains and the consequences thereof on our beliefs. A sort of 'evolutionary encoding of morality' approach could quite easily make claims about what is and is not moral as cognitive claims without reference to affect valence. Equally, a purely linguistic approach can make objective, factual claims about what is 'virtuous' or 'morally right' based on how we use those terms and still not reference affect. The re are numerous versions of ethical realism which are neither subjective, nor related to affect. It is not a matter of having to choose the latter by eliminating the former, they're not exhaustive.Isaac

    That approach runs into the is-ought problem that I detailed in my previous post, along with how that then runs into either relativism or transcendentalism(/dogmatism). I'm aware that there are other ethical theories like that that claim to wiggle out of this trilemma (of universalist phenomenalism else relativism or transcendentalism), but I'm arguing that they actually cannot do so.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    we're asking what exactly we are trying to do with an answer to the question "what is moral?"Pfhorrest

    Good question, but since you've used 'we' not 'I', the answer would seem to be an empirical one, no?

    what we need to know the answer for, narrows in on which of the possible meanings of the question matters to us in that contextPfhorrest

    I agree, but again 'us' not 'me'. I'm not seeing how you answer these questions for 'us' only by introspection of 'you'.

    the "want" part basically gets you the hedonistic aspect, the satisfaction of... I don't know what best to call them, maybe "imperative" states of mind, the umbrella category including intentions, desires, and appetites.Pfhorrest

    You've jumped here from the way we want the world to be (independent of any other people's wants) to the way we want the world to be (including other people). We're social beings, no? Why would you separate out our affects and those of others and then seek to reconcile them rationally. Would you not expect evolution to have had at least a significant impact on social cohesion by those very affects? Is not the seeking of a compromise solution (rather than bashing one's opponent's brains out) already the satisfaction of a affect valence embedded by evolution to help us co-operate. It seems somewhat superfluous to convince people of a met-ethical position by arguing that it provides us with a toll that only people of a certain ethical position would even want. It's a done deal by then.

    I'm affirming that such claims are capable of being correct and incorrect (rather than just expressions of emotions), and elaborating on what criteria by which to judge them thus.Pfhorrest

    I thought that's how it seemed. But affirming something is a propositional claim, not an exhortative one.

    If, therefore, an account of moral language can be given according to which moral claims can be true or false in a way that doesn't violate either of those other principles, that particular argument against moral universalism bites the dust. So to say that such an account is then problematic because it would imply moral universalism... yeah, that's what it's for. It's a way of enabling a universalist account of morality without running into these particular semantic problems.Pfhorrest

    That's not what I'm arguing. I'm saying that you've failed to cross the is-ought divide in your account. You've declared that there is a state of affairs which represents the best fit for all appetites. You've told us that this is what you mean by moral, you've told us that it is what you think would make a trouble-free meaning for moral. None of this has yet approached an 'ought'. Why ought we seek that state of affairs? Why ought we have trouble-free meanings? Why ought we even have only one meaning for morally right?

    To answer any of these questions you have to assume an audience who have a natural understanding of what 'ought' means. Thus rendering an account of it rather useless.

    That approach runs into the is-ought problem that I detailed in my previous post, along with how that then runs into either relativism or transcendentalism(/dogmatism).Pfhorrest

    That depends on what you take 'ought' to mean.

    I'm aware that there are other ethical theories like that that claim to wiggle out of this trilemma (of universalist phenomenalism else relativism or transcendentalism), but I'm arguing that they actually cannot do so.Pfhorrest

    I don't see such an argument.

    Let's say actions which are virtuous cause neurological effects which attract us toward them and repel us from their antipode. Let's say that as our language developed we came to use 'morally right', in some contexts, to refer to such behaviours. In such a case, a person using the term 'morally right' to refer to some other behaviour would be objectively wrong. Even if they themselves (perhaps due to some genetic flaw) found themselves attracted to some unseemly activity, the term 'morally right' doesn't refer to their private feelings but the the general case.

    How would you oppose such a position?
  • Joshs
    1.3k


    I found
    Affective Influence on Judgments and Decisions: Moving Towards Core Mechanisms" (Isaac
    free online and read it.
    The paradigms of cognitive- affective interaction the article is operating from ( ther are more that one cited but they are related in their superordinate aspects) takes me back to my grad school days in experimental
    psychology. My focus was then and still is on the relation between affectivity and cognition. I was unsatisfied by the larger framework of suppositions that informed the models( they seem to be glorified versions of stimulus response reductive positivism) , but before I get into that I want to say that of all the commenters on my OP , you seem to be closest to my position on the origin and basis of moral thinking. Like me you reject metaphysical groundings of moral blame, either religious or rationalistic.
    So where I want to focus with you is the relation between your preferred model of cognitive affective neuroscience and a set of underlying suppositions that organizes your empirical worldview. I suppose we could start with what I just said , which reveals it’s own pre-suppositions concerning how empirical claims justify themselves.

    To be brief, I follow Kuhn and Feyerabend rather than Popper in terms of my philosophy of scientific practice and change. I am not a scientific realist. Whereas Popper beliefs one can falsify an empirical
    model by making reference to standards of method , validation, etc that transcend local
    practices, I agree with Kuhn and there are no such universally justifiable standards, so that scientific change has much in common with changes in political culture and developments in the humanities. How does this relate to your psychological model? I notice
    that Knutson describes the brain in the old cognitive language of encoding, storage and processing. And I notice you referring in a previous post to stimuli that are received by a cognitive system. So I’m wondering what your understanding of perceptual
    process is. Do you take a representationalist view of perception and cognition, wherein we encounter ‘raw’ stimuli that we then process? Non-representationalist accounts replace the idea of mind corresponding with an indepdendently existing external
    world with an enactivist embodied framework .Perception not as representation but as interaction. ( Varela, Thompson, Alva Noe). According to this view there would be no raw uninterpreted stimuli. Instead, our expectations drive what is considered a stimulus. I also saw that you mentioned theory of mind. This connects with another debate within psychology between those who advocate theory of mind models
    to explain empathy with other minds, and those who embrace interactionism.
    These differences with the field are reflective of metatheorical , philosophical differences. On the one side are realistic positions(Dennett) and on the other postmodern accounts(Rorty, Shaun Gallagher)
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    Good question, but since you've used 'we' not 'I', the answer would seem to be an empirical one, no?Isaac

    I agree, but again 'us' not 'me'. I'm not seeing how you answer these questions for 'us' only by introspection of 'you'.Isaac

    In those passages I'm using the first-person plural the way a mathematician would, or as philosophers sometimes do, the writer walking through a problem together with the reader in a shared first-person perspective.

    Then when I switch to first-person singular, then I'm no longer talking about general how to do philosophy stuff, but identifying the particular philosophical question (singled out in the way advised in that general philosophy stuff) that I am addressing for the rest of it. I'm not saying that that's the only question -- other people might be asking other questions, and those could be worth answering too -- I'm just identifying which one I'm talking about here.

    You've jumped here from the way we want the world to be (independent of any other people's wants) to the way we want the world to be (including other people). We're social beings, no? Why would you separate out our affects and those of others and then seek to reconcile them rationally. Would you not expect evolution to have had at least a significant impact on social cohesion by those very affects? Is not the seeking of a compromise solution (rather than bashing one's opponent's brains out) already the satisfaction of a affect valence embedded by evolution to help us co-operate. It seems somewhat superfluous to convince people of a met-ethical position by arguing that it provides us with a toll that only people of a certain ethical position would even want. It's a done deal by then.Isaac

    I do expect that we have evolved tendencies that already lean in the general direction that I'm advocating. We have empathy, we often care not to see other people suffer, we often enjoy making other people feel good.

    But we've similarly got a pretty good-enough intuition about what is real, because of evolution, and that doesn't negate the usefulness of the scientific method as a way of improving on those intuitions. I'm likewise seeking to build a way of investigating more rigorously into the kind of topic that we already generally consider morality, to do better than those intuitions, just like the natural sciences do better than our intuitions about reality.

    thought that's how it seemed. But affirming something is a propositional claim, not an exhortative one.Isaac

    You've apparently missed the part where exhortations are propositional (albeit with a different direction of fit to their propositions), they're just not indicative. But in any case, assuming you meant "indicative, not exhortative", that goes back to what I was saying about philosophical matters like this being logically prior to either of those kinds of things.

    I'm saying that you've failed to cross the is-ought divide in your account.Isaac

    I'm not trying to cross the is-ought divide. I don't think that's possible. I'm trying to establish a means of figuring out "oughts" entirely on their own, just like we have a means of figuring out "ises" entirely on their own.

    Why ought we seek that state of affairs?Isaac
    Assuming we each already feel like we ought to seek states of affairs where we ourselves each find our appetites satisfied, seeking a state of affairs that fits that criteria for ourselves as well as others eliminates conflict with others and gives us something to cooperate toward, which is more efficient than fighting over it.

    Why ought we have trouble-free meanings?Isaac
    "Trouble" is itself a normative word, so it's basically tautological that we ought to avoid troublesome things, because "troublesome" things are things to be avoided, by the nature of the words. Calling the meanings "trouble-free" means that they avoid things we're aiming to avoid.

    Why ought we even have only one meaning for morally right?Isaac

    I'm not saying that we ought to have any meaning or other, or how many of them we should have. I'm saying that here is one objective these kinds of words are often used to name, and here is an analysis of the a priori practicality of different ways of pursuing that objective.

    To answer any of these questions you have to assume an audience who have a natural understanding of what 'ought' means. Thus rendering an account of it rather useless.Isaac

    A vast swath of majority is about giving a more rigorous account of things we already have an intuitive understanding of, usually to resolve some kind of problems that arise from the use of that intuitive understanding. We all have an intuitive notion of what "a set" of things are, yet naive set theory runs into problems so mathematicians more rigorously defined what exactly they mean by "set", in a way that still fits the use of the word we intuitively understand, without running into those problems that our naive understanding of it leads to.

    That's what pretty much all of ethics is doing. Everyone has some notion of what good, bad, right, wrong, etc, mean, in a naive sort of way, but then all kinds of dilemmas and other problems crop up when applying those naive conceptions. The point of ethics is to sort out exactly which rigorously formulated concept both generally fits with our naive use of such words and also avoids the problems that that naive conception leads to.

    I don't see such an argument.Isaac

    I just gave it two posts ago, so I'll just quote it here again:

    What exactly about the fact that people do do or think that way implies anything at all about what anyone should do or think? You can't get an 'ought' from an 'is' like that.

    If you're not trying to make such an inference, but just saying what is, then you're refraining from moral commentary entirely, and if that reflected a lack of moral judgement entirely, that would leave you a moral nihilist, which in practice can't help but be a moral egotist, which is the most extreme form of moral relativism, which is one of the two things you say this isn't.

    And if you were trying to get an 'ought' from an 'is' in that way specifically, never mind for the moment that that's not a valid inference, you would end up either appealing to the authority of the largest group, where avoiding appeals to authority like is the very reason to reject transcendentalism; or else you might say that each different group that has agreement within itself on the question is right relative to itself, in which case you're back to relativism again.

    One way or another I don't see a way of avoiding both transcendentalism (or the dogmatism that is the reason to avoid it) or else relativism with this approach.
    Pfhorrest

    Let's say actions which are virtuous cause neurological effects which attract us toward them and repel us from their antipode. Let's say that as our language developed we came to use 'morally right', in some contexts, to refer to such behaviours. In such a case, a person using the term 'morally right' to refer to some other behaviour would be objectively wrong. Even if they themselves (perhaps due to some genetic flaw) found themselves attracted to some unseemly activity, the term 'morally right' doesn't refer to their private feelings but the the general case.

    How would you oppose such a position?
    Isaac

    That would be a merely quotational sense of "morally right", as in "the kinds of things that are called 'morallly right'", without that entailing any kind of endorsement of those things by applying that label to them. For illustration, consider terms like "bad boy" or "bad girl". Plenty of people think that a "bad" boy/girl is good in a way, they like "bad" boys/girls more than "good" boys/girl, and they don't actually think that the things the "bad" boys/girls do are actually wrong in their own honest evaluation, as in, they don't see any cause to condemn their "bad" behavior, if anything they might laud it.

    It's a kind of performative contradiction to say something like "that behavior is morally wrong, but that's perfectly okay", or "that is good but I don't intend it", in exactly the same way that "that is true but I don't believe it" is a performative contradiction. It's certainly possible for people to believe things that are false, or disbelieve things that are true, or to intend things that are bad, or not to intend things that are good, but in saying that something is true/false or good/bad you're demonstrating something about your own attitude toward that state of affairs, so if you also say something contrary about your attitude toward that state of affairs, you're saying something about yourself contrary to what you're demonstrating about yourself.

    An account of moral language that doesn't include that kind of demonstration of one's own attitudes toward the thing being called good/bad/etc, therefore is lacking something that moral language as we usually use it has.
  • Isaac
    4.3k


    I think it's probably best if I very briefly outline my preferred models as they seem to be crucial to answering your questions.

    Firstly, my preferred model of cognition in general is the active inference model (or you might have heard it referred to as the Bayesian Brain theory). Basically that the brain is a system for minimising the free energy associated with surprise, it is trying to make ever more surprise-minimising models of the hidden states which cause sensation. This models the brain as a set of hierarchically related areas each of which filters and modulates the signals from the areas below it using a a model of the signals it is expecting them to deliver, then feeding back to our interaction with those hidden states with actions aimed at reducing the surprise in the models. Basically we and the world (including our sensory organs as 'the world' here, are in a constant dynamic relationship whereby we interpret it according to prior models, manipulate it to match those models and it passively resists those attempts where those models are too inaccurate. Something like that anyway. Here's the seminal paper on the approach which explains it much better.

    https://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/~karl/Active%20Inference%20A%20Process%20Theory.pdf

    As far as affect goes, I'm broadly in line with Lisa Feldman-Barrett's integration of active inference with affect. She treats our interocepted sensations as hidden states in a Bayesian model and emotions as the interpretive model attempting to minimise surprise in those states. The main paper is here.

    https://www.affective-science.org/pubs/2017/barrett-tce-scan-2017.pdf

    Both of these approaches integrate conscious thought in the modelling process, but without giving it any authoritative position. It's a modelling tool, used as an when it's pragmatic to do so.#

    So, your questions

    I agree with Kuhn and there are no such universally justifiable standards, so that scientific change has much in common with changes in political culture and developments in the humanities. How does this relate to your psychological model?Joshs

    Yes. I don't think scientific theories have any privileged place over any other models, they are just highly formalised versions of predictive models with resultant actions aimed at confirming them. Popper was mistaken, I think, in that he assumed it was possible to simultaneously hold a model to be true and yet attempt to falsify it. I don't believe that to be psychologically possible. The state of holding a model to be true integrates it into our perceptive process in such a way as to direct our interpretations of hidden states in favour of that model to the extent that is possible. Hence Kuhnian paradigm shifts.

    I notice you referring in a previous post to stimuli that are received by a cognitive system. So I’m wondering what your understanding of perceptual process is. Do you take a representationalist view of perception and cognition, wherein we encounter ‘raw’ stimuli that we then process?Joshs

    No. The active inference model was actually developed initially using perception. Anil Seth at Sussex has really carried the torch on this now though and his papers are well worth a read (if you haven't already). I broadly follow a 'Controlled Hallucination' approach to perception where we see what we expect to see according to our priors and seek only that information which could confirm it, or, in the case of catastrophic failure of that model, that information which caused the failure. The stimuli are from our sensory organs, but the brain has to interpret those, those the 'raw' signals are hidden states, we do not have access to them to interpret, we can only infer from them, but we do so not from a 'raw' data set, but from a filtered and even, at times, downright fabricated data set.

    This connects with another debate within psychology between those who advocate theory of mind models
    to explain empathy with other minds, and those who embrace interactionism.
    These differences with the field are reflective of metatheorical , philosophical differences. On the one side are realistic positions(Dennett) and on the other postmodern accounts(Rorty, Shaun Gallagher)
    Joshs

    I do think Theory of Mind models have an important place in psychological modelling of empathy. I have some sympathy with interactionist approaches but I don't think they can replace theory of mind, only add another mechanism. I see the two as overlapping systems, not as one replacing the other.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    It's a kind of performative contradiction to say something like "that behavior is morally wrong, but that's perfectly okay", or "that is good but I don't intend it", in exactly the same way that "that is true but I don't believe it" is a performative contradiction. It's certainly possible for people to believe things that are false, or disbelieve things that are true, or to intend things that are bad, or not to intend things that are good, but in saying that something is true/false or good/bad you're demonstrating something about your own attitude toward that state of affairs, so if you also say something contrary about your attitude toward that state of affairs, you're saying something about yourself contrary to what you're demonstrating about yourself.Pfhorrest

    I'm going to start with this because I get the feeling it might be central to the disagreement, but I need some clarity first on what you mean. By introducing someone saying the opposite in the same sentence you've added an element to my scenario which was not there in the original and I'm not sure why, so I want to explore that before answering the rest.

    My scenario was one where 'morally right' is a public definition which encompasses certain behaviours, such even if a person thought they ought to do X, if X is termed 'morally wrong' they'd be objectively mistaken to label such behaviour 'morally right'. You added that they would verbalise this state as "X is something I ought to do, but it's morally wrong", which would indeed be a contradiction. I, however, was referring to someone who intended to do X, and saw no morally relevant problem with that intent, in a society where the correct label for X is 'morally wrong'.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    I'm going to start with this because I get the feeling it might be central to the disagreementIsaac

    I agree, now that I know you're an ethical naturalist, because I think the whole problem with ethical naturalism or any kind of ethical descriptivism is that it ends up not saying anything at all about what is or isn't moral in the sense I'm talking about, instead talking entirely about a specific subquestion of what is or isn't real, and merely labeling that fact about reality "morality", while entirely missing out on the function that distinguishes prescriptive, moral language from descriptive language.

    My scenario was one where 'morally right' is a public definition which encompasses certain behaviours, such even if a person thought they ought to do X, if X is termed 'morally wrong' they'd be objectively mistaken to label such behaviour 'morally right'. You added that they would verbalise this state as "X is something I ought to do, but it's morally wrong", which would indeed be a contradiction. I, however, was referring to someone who intended to do X, and saw no morally relevant problem with that intent, in a society where the correct label for X is 'morally wrong'.Isaac

    That would be a society where the words "morally wrong" didn't function the way they do in our society, where they didn't have any imperative, normative, prescriptive force, where something being "morally wrong" was as dry a fact as something being red or triangular or, closer to the point, unpopular. That would be a society where the words "morally wrong" were purely descriptive, and one could coherently say that something was morally wrong without in the process condemning it or otherwise discouraging anyone from doing it. In that society, "X is something I ought to do, but it's morally wrong" would be a perfectly coherent thing to say, if "ought" meant what it does in our society -- i.e. if using it demonstrated a specific attitude of the speaker approving of the action, such that thinking something ought to happen entailed intending for it to happen -- but "morally wrong" only meant a description of common attitudes toward it without any implication about the attitudes of the speaker. In that society, saying that would be much like someone in our society saying "X is something I ought to do, but it's unpopular", which makes perfect sense in our language.

    It can of course be an objective fact that something is unpopular, or red, or triangular, and in a society that used words like "morally wrong" in the way you describe, it could be an objective fact that something fit that description. But that would not constitute an objective morality, in the sense of that word used in our society, because it would not constitute any commentary on morality at all. People calling things "morally wrong" in that society would not be performing the prescriptive kinds of speech-acts typical of moral language in our society.

    It's the fact that sentences like "I intend to do something I shouldn't do" seem somehow contradictory in our language that shows that a purely descriptive account of moral language is insufficient.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    now that I know you're an ethical naturalist,Pfhorrest

    I'm not an ethical naturalist. You didn't ask me what my own meta-ethical position was. I'm simply presenting challenges to yours in order to draw out aspects of it that I can't make sense of.

    I think the whole problem with ethical naturalism or any kind of ethical descriptivism is that it ends up not saying anything at all about what is or isn't moral in the sense I'm talking about, instead talking entirely about a specific subquestion of what is or isn't real, and merely labeling that fact about reality "morality", while entirely missing out on the function that distinguishes prescriptive, moral language from descriptive language.Pfhorrest

    This doesn't make sense. It seems to presume that 'labelling' behaviour has no consequences. Labelling behaviour has a function. It's not just a tourettes-like exclamation. People apply labels for reasons, the same as any other speech act. With moral language, that reason is mainly to try and persuade the other person to act how you want them to act. Implying social pressure, by giving their behaviour it's label is one way to do that. Basically, if someone's acting in a way I don't like, and that behaviour happens to be behaviour which is publicly defined as 'morally bad' then one speech act I have at my disposal to get them to stop is to label their behaviour as such. If, on the other hand, their behaviour is not so classed, I'll have to think of some other speech act to get them to stop. In neither case does the speech act have no functional element. It's all functional element. there's nothing else to language apart from its function.

    That would be a society where the words "morally wrong" didn't function the way they do in our society, where they didn't have any imperative, normative, prescriptive force, where something being "morally wrong" was as dry a fact as something being red or triangular or, closer to the point, unpopular.Pfhorrest

    As above, it's demonstrably wrong to assert that labelling something has no normative force.

    if "ought" meant what it does in our society -- i.e. if using it demonstrated a specific attitude of the speaker approving of the action, such that thinking something ought to happen entailed intending for it to happenPfhorrest

    I don't agree that that's what 'ought' generally means. We have many uses of 'ought' where we're referring to social conventions, for example, that the speaker might have no intention of causing to happen. "I ought to help, but I can't be bothered" is a perfectly understandable sentence.

    that would not constitute an objective morality, in the sense of that word used in our society, because it would not constitute any commentary on morality at all. People calling things "morally wrong" in that society would not be performing the prescriptive kinds of speech-acts typical of moral language in our society.Pfhorrest

    You're begging the question. You claimed to be investigating moral language whilst having a premise which assumes all along what moral language is. What evidence do you have that moral language is universally (or even majoritatively) used this way?

    "I intend to do something I shouldn't do" seem somehow contradictory in our language that shows that a purely descriptive account of moral language is insufficient.Pfhorrest

    I don't find that sentence remotely contradictory.
  • Wittgenstein
    353


    Beauty will save the world

    If everyone of us were as beautiful as Delon, would we be philosophizing or enjoying our finite life instead


  • SophistiCat
    1.6k
    For Kelly, sense making is inherently in the direction of the greater good in that it entails our acting not only in our own best interest in situations but also in the best interest of other as far as we understand their intent , motive, point of view and needs.Joshs

    Can you explain? The way it sounds to me is that every individual always seeks to accommodate everyone else around them to the best of their understanding and ability. But that can't be true.

    I understand that we are constantly construing the world in order to make sense of it. And since our world includes other people, we include them into our construals. This is indeed where ethics comes into play.

    So from Kelly’s vantage , the other can’t do wrong morally. Every situation is like that of the bear mauling. Our blaming the other is just our failure to understand his actions from his own point of view.Joshs

    Kelly wouldn’t label the act as ‘wrong’, ‘criminal’ because he would believe that from the robbers’ perspective the act WAS sufffused with a sense of ethical primacy.Joshs

    This doesn't make sense to me. The preposterous notion that everyone at all times is "suffused with a sense of ethical primacy" isn't even the worst of it - let's grant that for the sake of an argument. The most confusing part is what I pointed out earlier: an attempt to construe moral valuation as an objective, deperspectivized view from nowhere. One is supposed to evaluate a situation from everyone's perspective, not just their own. If you disapprove of someone's actions, but that person (being "suffused with a sense of ethical primacy") takes the opposite stance, then your two positions cancel out and no one is either right or wrong! Whose construct is this? What does it have to do with how people actually think?

    "The damned thing about life is that everybody has their reasons," said a character in Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game." True enough, and understanding other people's reasons certainly affects our judgement of their actions. But understanding, when it happens, doesn't displace moral valuation, much less replace one's valuation with someone else's.

    You say that in a moral act , “whether the act was objectively, universally wrong is simply beside the point”. But objectivity, and universality do come into play in our very definition of wrongdoing and blamefulness. For instance, in your example of the robbers, your assessment that what they did was wrong pre-supposed not only that the robbers did the act , but that they intentionally meant to cause harm and to steal what wasn’t theirs. So your definition of wrong implies intent. Many older tribal cultures did not include intent in their definition of moral wrong because their psychological understanding did not grasp the concept of intent. It is a more recent empirical discovery . So a certain culturally and scientifically informed notion of wrong as requiring psychological intent is not beside the point in your example, but an important part of your definition of blameworthiness.Joshs

    Let's take this in parts. How much does intent matter in assessing culpability? I am rather skeptical of your claim that some cultures don't grasp the concept of intent; or rather, I am skeptical of the relevance of this claim. Attributing intent is such a basic cognitive skill that it is not even specific to the human species. Whether one can articulate a concept of intent doesn't matter; what matters is being able to read it and act on it. But I take your point that the role of intent in assigning blame can vary, and that culture has a part in this.

    Now, how does this observation relate to what I said?

    I hold the perpetrators morally responsible for what they did, because (a) they did it, and (b) what they did was wrong. Whether the act was objectively, universally wrong is simply beside the point; all that matters, as far as me holding people morally responsible, is how I relate to the incident.SophistiCat

    There is a fact of the matter that I am holding someone responsible for an action. How I came to this conclusion is no longer relevant - it already happened. Whether someone else in my place would have come to the same conclusion doesn't matter either. I am me, not someone else. I don't need to integrate over every mind in the history of the world before I conclude anything.

    So there is a wide range of viewpoints on what constitutes moral wrongJoshs

    This isn't remotely controversial. So what? A modest conclusion that such diversity of opinion may suggest, in the absence of any generally recognized moral truthmakers, is that there are no objective moral facts - only facts about moral attitudes. But that isn't an argument against anyone's moral attitude.

    Given the fact that in an important sense, Gergen , Foucault and a host of other postmodern thinkers do believe that all acts of criminality are performed by actors with a sense of ethical primacy, and you clearly disagree with that positionJoshs

    Well, yes, it's a ridiculous position. But even in an imaginary world in which this was true, I don't see what difference this would make to the matter of assigning blame.
  • Joshs
    1.3k
    Would you say that Barrett’s
    model is consistent with Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy or Albert Ellis' rational emotive therapy, in that each of these involves a predictive processing in which
    interpretive schemes attempt to anticipate environmental-social events ? mismatches result in negative emotional responses such as depression, and the cognitive system can also produce distorted interpretations of environment input , which can result in ‘pathological’ forms of depression , etc.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    Basically, if someone's acting in a way I don't like, and that behaviour happens to be behaviour which is publicly defined as 'morally bad' then one speech act I have at my disposal to get them to stop is to label their behaviour as such.Isaac

    That presumes that they care to avoid behavior that's labelled that way, which in turn is to assume that they are a relativist, who already thinks that whatever other people approve of is the thing they ought to do.

    That's the general problem with all descriptivist accounts of moral semantics (NB that we're now off the topic of which states of affairs are good, and on to what it means to say that something is or isn't good). All you're ever stating is an "is", and letting your interlocutor supply their own "oughts" to combine with that. You never actually say anything about what you think actually ought to (or ought not) be, you only ever inform your interlocutor of what you think that thing is, and let them do with that information whatever they will.

    The general rebuttal to all accounts of this type is G.E. Moore's Open Question Argument.
  • Joshs
    1.3k
    Given the fact that in an important sense, Gergen , Foucault and a host of other postmodern thinkers do believe that all acts of criminality are performed by actors with a sense of ethical primacy, and you clearly disagree with that position
    — Joshs

    Well, yes, it's a ridiculous position. But even in an imaginary world in which this was true, I don't see what difference this would make to the matter of assigning blame.
    SophistiCat

    I explained why it would make a difference in assigning blame. The very definition of blame is inseparable from , and incoherent outside of the pragmatic use of the concept in terms of determining punishment or recompense, the types as well as what magnitude is propoetionate to the ‘ crime’. Gergen’s concept of blame in all these pragmatic respects is almost unrecognizable in relation to more tradition a notions of moral blame.

    A modest conclusion that such diversity of opinion may suggest, in the absence of any generally recognized moral truthmakers, is that there are no objective moral facts - only facts about moral attitudes. But that isn't an argument against anyone's moral attitude.SophistiCat

    It’s an argument against an individual’s general concept of blame ( not their application of the concept in a particular situation) in the same way that a new scientific paradigm is an argument against a scientific paradigm it purports to overthrow. General concepts of moral blame belong to eras of thought just as scientific paradigms do.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    Would you say that Barrett’s
    model is consistent with Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy or Albert Ellis' rational emotive therapy, in that each of these involves a predictive processing in which
    interpretive schemes attempt to anticipate environmental-social events ?
    Joshs

    Yes, definitely. As Feldman Barrett says...

    In a Bayesian sense, the effects of CBT may reflect changes in the way that precision-weighting pyramidal cells in the viscerosensory cortex adjust the weight of prediction-error signals that are communicated to agranular cortices, thus altering the sampling of inputs that become the ‘empirical priors’ in subsequent predictions.

    CBT may have its effects by helping a person construct new concepts that, as prediction signals, modify the gain on prediction errors via the salience network. Over time,this process may alter the sample of inputs that eventually become the ‘empirical priors’ that agranular limbic cortices use to initiate subsequent predictions

    Basically, she's suggesting almost exactly what you posit, that CBT may have an effect on our priors in such a way as to make alternative predictive models more available in response to the usual interoceptive triggers. She goes on to demonstrate some confirmatory evidence for this...

    CBT is very effective in treating depression in individuals with low activity in the anterior insula before treatment (presumably because CBT helps them to change their predictions, potentially by improving their processing of prediction errors and corresponding concept learning via salience network changes); alternatively, CBT is largely ineffective and medications are more effective in treating depression in individuals with high anterior insula activity before treatment

    So it seem likely that not only does the interoceptive inference approach predict the effectiveness of CBT, but it even predicts the situations in which it is less effective.
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    That presumes that they care to avoid behavior that's labelled that way, which in turn is to assume that they are a relativist, who already thinks that whatever other people approve of is the thing they ought to do.Pfhorrest

    Why on earth would that be the case? If suggest to my colleague that we go to the cafe after work and he says "Yes", does that prove that my colleague only ever does things because I suggest them to him? Of course not, what a ridiculous thing to say - just when I though we were starting to have a decent conversation about your ideas you go and throw in this kind of rubbish. People take into account all sorts of factors in determining what they 'ought' to do, one of which might be whether that action is sanctioned or proscribed by the community one is acting in.

    we're now off the topic of which states of affairs are good, and on to what it means to say that something is or isn't goodPfhorrest

    Those are the same thing. The meaning of a word is the use it is put to. In this case labelling certain behaviours or states of affairs. If you, alternatively, have some God-given source for the 'proper' meaning of words I'm sure we'd all be keen to know it.

    You never actually say anything about what you think actually ought to (or ought not) be, you only ever inform your interlocutor of what you think that thing isPfhorrest

    Informing someone of what 'is' can imply that it 'ought' to be depending on the context. again, you're importing your own very specific definition of 'ought' and assuming it applies to all contexts. If I say "Swearing in front of children is bad" I mean that you ought not do it, but the 'ought' in that case might mean any one of three different things depending on the context.

    It might reflect my personal preference that you don't. That I would be happier without you doing so.

    It might reflect my assumption that you want roughly the same ends as me and this behaviour is contrary to those ends. A purely pragmatic 'ought', like "You ought to use the right size spanner if you don't want to round the bolt heads".

    It might reflect a warning that the society you're in does not condone that behaviour - given either out of kindness (to help them avoid recriminations) or as a method of correction (to make them fear recriminations).

    you only ever inform your interlocutor of what you think that thing is, and let them do with that information whatever they will.Pfhorrest

    This would be no different in any case if you informed them of your state of mind. That I have a state of mind wherein I think X is a state of affairs that would satisfy all our hedonic appetites is still an 'is'. It's making a declaration about my state of mind which is simply a fact about reality. They still then do whatever they will with that information.

    The general rebuttal to all accounts of this type is G.E. Moore's Open Question Argument.Pfhorrest

    I don't see how that's at all relevant here. Notwithstanding the sense/reference objection, I've just outlined how at least three different interpretations can be shown to the use of words like 'good' and 'ought', thus making any and all propositions of the form X is Good, merely translational between senses.
  • SophistiCat
    1.6k
    Uh, maybe try this again when you are sober? Otherwise I think we are done here.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.4k
    It seems like we're talking about different things here. I'm not looking to assess what any particular words "really mean"; that's (if anything at all) an empirical matter, beyond the scope of philosophy, and if it weren't then it would only be relevant to philosophers speaking a particular language anyway. The contingent assignment of signs is arbitrary and of no philosophical importance.

    The point I'm trying to make is that there is an important kind of speech-act, often even if not necessarily always associated with moral/normative/ethical/prescriptive language, that the kind of speech-act you're equating all moral speech to does not perform. The earlier thread about this where we got sidelined talking about moral universalism was not even specifically about moral language, but about language more generally.

    The key point of that thread was that there are a lot of different things that we can do with words than the thing we usually do with indicative assertions:

    - One the one hand, rather than making a statement, we can ask a question; which is to say, rather than pushing some ideas or attitudes toward such ("opinions" as I broadly term them) from ourselves onto others, we can solicit them from others to ourselves.

    - Additionally, rather than pushing our opinions onto others, i.e. rather than effectively telling them to think something (what I call "impression"), as assertions usually do, we can also merely show that we ourselves think something (what I call "expression"). (Or parallel in the case of questions instead of statements, rather than soliciting an opinion directly from someone in particular as in a usual direct question, we can merely show our own lack of clear opinion and openness to input from anyone, wondering aloud).

    - And lastly, rather than pushing (or soliciting) opinions with mind-to-world fit, i.e. descriptive opinions, beliefs, we can also push (or solicit) opinions with world-to-mind fit, i.e. prescriptive opinions, intentions.

    It is that function of impressing an intention that moral language in the way you would account for it would utterly fail to do. Some other positions in moral semantics, like expressivism, also fail on that point in different ways: expressivism would have it that we're only ever expressing our prescriptive opinions, never impressing them. On the other hand you would have it that moral language merely impresses a belief, describes something to someone, and then they take that belief or description and combine it with whatever intentions they already had, whatever prescriptions they already endorsed, to guide their actions. Which is something people totally do when given descriptive information like that, yes. But if you would have it that that is all that moral language ever does, you miss out on the function that is truly unique to moral language, and not found elsewhere: impressing intentions onto people. Prescriptivity.

    That's the main thrust of the Open Question Argument. If you tell someone that something or another fits into the purely descriptive category "good", you're telling them to believe that the thing is in a category of things called "good things", but you're not at all telling them whether or not to intend for those things to be the case. If all you're doing is describing, then that always remains an open question: "am I to intend that this be the case, or not?"

    It's really hard to find a way to even phrase that question without using any kind of moral language, because only moral language serves that linguistic purpose. Even that phrasing I just used, "am I to...?", is just an obscured way of phrasing "ought I...?" or "should I...?" Consider, although we can in a way impress intentions via commands, how would you ask a question to which the answer is to be a command, other than moral language? Your superior could tell just you “do this” or “do that”, without any “ought” or “should”, but if he hasn’t yet and you need him to direct you, what can you ask him besides “should/ought I do this or that?”


    Furthermore: When someone asserts a descriptive opinion to you, tells you something supposedly about reality, it's not given that you definitely will believe the belief that they're pushing at you. The question of what makes such an assertion true is the question of when it is warranted/justified/correct/right to believe the thing they're trying to make you believe by asserting that; what are the truth-makers of such claims? That is a different question than the question of what it even is to make a descriptive assertion in the first place.

    Likewise: When someone asserts a prescriptive opinion to you, tells you something supposedly about morality, it's not given that you definitely will intend the intention that they're pushing at you. The question of what makes such an assertion true is the question of when it is warranted/justified/correct/right to intend the thing they're trying to make you intend by asserting that; what are the truth-makers of such claims? That is a different question than the question of what it even is to make a prescriptive assertion in the first place.

    Empirical realism is an answer to that question of what the truth-makers of descriptive claims are, i.e. when to believe the beliefs that other people push at you: when those beliefs satisfy all empirical experiences (sensations, observations, etc).

    Likewise, my hedonic altruism you're always criticising is put forth as answer to that question of what the truth-makers of prescriptive claims are, i.e. when to intend the intentions that other people push at you (via moral assertions): when those intentions satisfy all hedonic experiences (appetites, pains, hungers, etc).
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