• Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k
    Introduction:

    Moral anti-realism is pretty common these days. It is arguably the dominant, "default" position. Fairly often, "pragmatism" is invoked as a replacement for the idea of "the Good." I'd like to argue that, at least in terms of many forms of anti-realism, this leads to substantial problems.

    By "moral anti-realism," I mean positions such as:

    1. There are no moral facts (facts about the goodness of different acts, people, events, etc.)
    2. "This is good" is just another way of saying "I prefer that x and I'd prefer it if you would too" (emotivism).
    3. Goodness doesn't exist but is rather a mirage enforced by the dominant party in society and is really just a form of power politics.

    I would not include under this label theories that seek to explain morality in terms of something else (e.g. biology). However, I would include most eliminitivist theories, i.e., those which make goodness "just an illusion, like ghosts and elves" (rather than say, a composite phenomenon explicable in terms of other phenomena).

    ---
    Argument: You cannot knock out the target of practical reason (goodness) and then claim you can "pragmatically select a moral code," in order to get on in the world. This leads to an infinite regress that, in reality, must terminate in arbitrariness.

    Ancillary point: abolishing the target of practical reason ends up destroying all of reason. You can't knock out this leg and still expect theoretical reason (whose target is truth) to stand. Eliminating the good ruins reason as a whole.


    ---

    Pragmatism Without Goodness:

    Let's think this through:


    If we don't think any sort of "goodness" exists, how do we choose between different paradigms of morality to use to set up laws, customs, norms of behavior, etc.? Most anti-realists still allow that there should be laws, some set of moral norms that prevail amongst men, etc. Yet in virtue of what are some moral standards, laws, or customs to be judged "better" (more good) than others?

    Well, it can't be because any of them actually are "more good," since goodness is illusory. Perhaps we say something like: "well we should pick the strictures that best prevent violent confrontations, increase economic growth and consumption, allow for an equal distribution of resources, etc." But then the next obvious question is: why are these standards good standards for judging the relative goodness of moral strictures and norms?

    Now, if we say, as a final answer: "because those things are correlated and have a casual relationship with the things people tend enjoy," then it seems we have already forfeited on anti-realism. What we are really saying is: "pleasure is goodness, and what is good depends on what maximizes pleasure in the world." Now, there are a great many problems with the "goodness = pleasure" line, but we'll pass over those for now because it is, in the end, not actually anti-realism.

    But the problem becomes more acute if we want to stick to our guns on anti-realism. For, unless we default on having any laws or customs at all, any norms of behavior between men, it seems we must select these based on some "pragmatic" standard. By what standard shall our selection occur? How do we tell which option is "most good?"

    Well, we pragmatically select a measure by which norms might be judged good! But then how do we justify our pragmatic standard as a good one? It cannot be because it is a really a "good standard." Such a thing does not exist. So we need a third pragmatic standard to justify the second... and then a fourth to justify the third... and so on ad infinitum.

    It ends up being "pragmatism all the way down." Yet, we do not ever actually carry out an infinite number of judgements, ending at the limit. Presumably, we stop somewhere, and when we do, we will stop in arbitrariness, the "pragmatic" determined by pure whim, justified in terms of nothing else but pure feeling.


    The Denial of Truth

    This same sort of problem crops up if truth is denied. That is, something along the lines of "nothing is either true or false, but only true or false in terms of some particular system. But we are free to pick such systems pragmatically."

    Such proposals often claim they "maximize freedom," but instead they reduced all judgements to arbitrariness (the opposite of rational, self-determining freedom). For, if truth is completely relativized, then there is never any truth about which epistemic or metaphysical system is better than any other, even when we limit the judgement to "for some particular purpose." After all, what are our "pragmatic" selections made in virtue of? They can't be made in virtue of any true standard. Again, we will eventually have to stop somewhere, in the bare, arbitrary preference of some standard of what constitutes "better" or "more pragmatic."

    "Democracy" as a Solution:


    Another common move here is to make an appeal to democracy. "Who are we to presume what is good (or true)? The standards that are best are the ones that allow the most people to attain their own standard of the good life, while not constricting the lives of others unduely." But of course, to say this is to have already pronounced on the standard by which goodness must be measured. And at any rate, in the realm of truth and facts, it seems that "democracy" is a very poor standard indeed for reaching the truth of things.

    The Ruin of Reason:

    As for the point about reason being "ruined", it's certainly quite common for people to deny moral facts and to use facts about "everything being atoms in the void," to justify this. Thus, they clearly think there are at least other sorts of (theoretical) facts but not moral/practical facts.

    But reason itself collapses with practical reason removed. For we might ask: "why prefer truth to falsity?" This is a question of which is better, "more good."

    Now if we say: "we'll, truth is pragmatically valuable. It helps us create technology, what could be more useful?" then of course we have invoked pragmatism without goodness and all the aforementioned problems follow.

    Thus, removing practical reason ruins reason as a whole because there is no longer any possible, non-arbitrary explanation of why we should ever practically prefer one thing over another. Why prefer good faith arguments? Why prefer debate to violence? Why prefer truth? If we have pragmatism advanced as an answer, without goodness, we shall simply regress on these issues until we reach arbitrary whim.


    Conclusion:

    I should note here that I am absolutely no enemy of pragmatism or even certain sorts of moral relativism. However, some of these forms simply reveal themselves to collapse into the arbitrariness of "x is to be preferred because I prefer it and I prefer it because that's what I prefer." The choice ends up being in virtue of nothing but its own caprice. That, or, far more often, they turn out to posit that "goodness" is in fact reducible to some standard. That is, "moral anti-realism" ends up being a cloak for hiding the real suppositions about goodness lurking behind it (e.g. the pleasure example above).

    There are, of course, good epistemic grounds for preferring some of the positions rejected above. But the claim that "it is difficult to know the good, this we must hew to x, y, and z," is quite different from the claim that there is nothing to know.
  • Vera Mont
    3.8k
    What is pragmatism?
  • Bob Ross
    1.4k


    1. There are no moral facts (facts about the goodness of different acts, people, events, etc.)

    This should be “moral judgments do not express something objective”. Moral subjectivists believe in moral facts (or at least some of them do): it is just not the kind of ‘moral fact’ you are referring to here (e.g., facts about psychology).

    The rest of your OP exposes the key element of moral anti-realism that most people who are (defaulted to) moral anti-realism do not (and this is why I call the masses only half-way through Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra): all values collapse into non-objectivity, and all value disputes collapse into psychopathic/narcassistic struggles of power.

    A moral anti-realist that hails pragmatism is just exerting their power over others to try to force people to abide by their desires or beliefs without any underlying justification.

    One can perfectly (internally) coherently affirm this sort of view, and thusly respond adequately to your critiques, but it leaves a bad taste on ones mouth afterwards (;
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k


    A diffuse term indeed, but generally it refers to deciding things based on "practical considerations" or through a consideration of "usefulness." Pragmatism works fine in public policy for instance. We have to look at the best policy we can actually put into practice, what is politically feasible, what we can manage to, etc. But this assumes that we do indeed have some good in mind, or some things we think are appropriate, if imperfect proxies for the good.

    Likewise, pragmatism in epistemology, in Dewey for example, assumes that usefulness does, in fact, tie back to something that stands outside current desire and opinion. That's why it can still be coherent. But a pragmatist epistemology that denies the good and the true? It's nonsense.



    It depends on what you mean by coherence. Does it contradict itself? But why is contradicting oneself bad? Why is acting with any semblance of reason good?

    It might not contradict itself, but ultimately it reduces all action to the momentary or arbitrary victory of some impulse over others. It is inchoate, even if it is not inconsistent.

    But, as actually pursued, such a view is almost always inconsistent. Hence why the laity and academics alike constantly have to roll out "No True Nietzschean" arguments. "Yes, transvalue all values, that is good, but not like that!" Nietzsche the fatalist probably spends more time blaming other thinkers than any other thinker in the history of philosophy. He attacks the idea of reflexive, self-determination as a corner stone of freedom and then launches into diatribes about how the masses are pathetic for seeking comfort and the fulfillment of appetites. It's definetly not consistent when taken as a whole.

    Once you throw away the claim that being consistent or coherent matters, inconstancy seems sure to follow.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Pragmatism Without Goodness...Count Timothy von Icarus

    Good points. :up:

    The Denial of Truth...

    But reason itself collapses with practical reason removed. For we might ask: "why prefer truth to falsity?" This is a question of which is better, "more good."
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    Yep.

    "Democracy" as a Solution...Count Timothy von Icarus

    Right. :up:

    There are, of course, good epistemic grounds for preferring some of the positions rejected above. But the claim that "it is difficult to know the good, this we must hew to x, y, and z," is quite different from the claim that there is nothing to know.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Right: many seem to confuse themselves with Moore's Open Question.

    As I put it elsewhere:

    Following in the footsteps of Philippa Foot, many are accustomed to claim that morality is merely a matter of hypothetical judgments, or that non-hypothetical judgments are rare. To give an indication of how gravely mistaken this opinion is, consider the fact that acts and regrets are all non-hypothetical. Each time we concretely choose and act we are making a non-hypothetical, all-things-considered judgment. As soon as I decide whether to fix my car all of the previously-hypothetical considerations become non-hypothetical, and this is a large part of what it means “to make a decision” or “to decide.” To make a decision is to gather up all the hypothetical considerations and render an all-things-considered judgment.

    Similarly, when we regret some act we are also making a non-hypothetical judgment. To say that one regrets an act is to judge that they should not have carried out that act, and this sort of judgment is never hypothetical; it never means, “I should not have done that if…” Such a hypo-thesis would undermine the regret itself, placing it in limbo. Therefore the idea that one can get along in life with only hypothetical judgments is absurd.
    Leontiskos

    As I understand it, Jordan Peterson is making a very similar argument in his new book, We Who Wrestle with God.
  • Vera Mont
    3.8k
    A diffuse term indeed, but generally it refers to deciding things based on "practical considerations" or through a consideration of "usefulness."Count Timothy von Icarus
    In order for something to be practical or useful, it would have to be purposeful. It must have a desired result. Why is one result more desired than another? Isn't that determined by a value?
    One result is better than another. Have more goodness.
    And no purposeful activity can proceed without a set of facts to work with.
    It cannot deny either what's good or what's true without breaking down altogether.
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    Argument: You cannot knock out the target of practical reason (goodness) and then claim you can "pragmatically select a moral code," in order to get on in the world. This leads to an infinite regress that, in reality, must terminate in arbitrariness.

    Ancillary point: abolishing the target of practical reason ends up destroying all of reason. You can't knock out this leg and still expect theoretical reason (whose target is truth) to stand. Eliminating the good ruins reason as a whole.
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    Full agreement.

    No one will ever avoid the presence of truth and good in any statement that has a beginning an end, like this sentence. If I lie, then my falsity highlights the truth that contradicts my lie, showing it to be a lie. In speaking, about anything, you either posit a truth or good, or you attempt to distance (but not eliminate) the truth and the good.

    Pragmatism and utilitarianism and any moral anti-realism simply assert we can satisfy the will to truth and good by ignoring the presence of truth and goodness (either in the truth or good of the pragmatic, utilitarian, anti-real statement, or in its looming presence in the infinite regresses you’ve made clear.)

    Total agreement.
  • Philosophim
    2.5k
    Well said Timothy! I agree. Just going to add to your already fine points.

    1. There are no moral facts (facts about the goodness of different acts, people, events, etc.)Count Timothy von Icarus

    Is this a fact? Seems to be that its a fact that there's no morality then.

    2. "This is good" is just another way of saying "I prefer that x and I'd prefer it if you would too"Count Timothy von Icarus

    Morality becomes, "Whatever I want to do", or, "There is no morality.

    3. Goodness doesn't exist but is rather a mirage enforced by the dominant party in society and is really just a form of power politics.Count Timothy von Icarus

    People confusing laws with morality.

    If we don't think any sort of "goodness" exists, how do we choose between different paradigms of morality to use to set up laws, customs, norms of behavior, etc.?Count Timothy von Icarus

    Exactly. Its idiocy for self-fulfillment of one's own ego.

    Well, we pragmatically select a measure by which norms might be judged good! But then how do we justify our pragmatic standard as a good one?Count Timothy von Icarus

    Because I like it, it benefits me, and I don't want to have to think about it beyond that.

    This same sort of problem crops up if truth is denied. That is, something along the lines of "nothing is either true or false, but only true or false in terms of some particular system. But we are free to pick such systems pragmatically."Count Timothy von Icarus

    Is this universally true or false? Uh oh...

    As for the point about reason being "ruined", it's certainly quite common for people to deny moral facts and to use facts about "everything being atoms in the void," to justify this. Thus, they clearly think there are at least other sorts of (theoretical) facts but not moral/practical facts.Count Timothy von Icarus

    My point is that maybe morality applies to those atoms as well. You may be interested in an attempt at an objective moral theory I've posted. Read it carefully though. Many people don't. https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/15203/in-any-objective-morality-existence-is-inherently-good/p1

    I should note here that I am absolutely no enemy of pragmatism or even certain sorts of moral relativism.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I am. Its intellectual laziness for selfish gratification of one's own ego. Anyone who says, "I can't figure it out, but it would be nice if I could say its because it doesn't exist at all," is the intellectual equivalent of a slob eating potato chips on the couch. With even a modicum of rational thought, one can realize how untenable the idea is.

    This may be bias on my part, but I've had the chance to talk live with quite a few of these people, and every single one has come across as an idiot who just wanted to justify doing whatever they wanted to do. My apologies if I'm a bit harsh, but this idea has always just struck me as being terrible and attracts the worst thinkers to it like bear turds attract flies.
  • Apustimelogist
    425
    This leads to an infinite regress that, in reality, must terminate in arbitrariness.Count Timothy von Icarus

    This is exactly the sort of thing that leads someone to be an anti-realist so I don't see that as a criticism. An anti-realist is led to the position precisely because they don't see any foundation for objective moral value.

    abolishing the target of practical reason ends up destroying all of reason.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I think there is a good Moorean argument for this... simply that anti-realists don't have any problem with reasoning or having their own ethics. Anti-realists just aren't that different to realists wrt ethics.



    You arr talking as if there are certain things that just ought to exists and I don't think this is how it works. You may postulate something exists, look for it and then find that you have no evidence that it exists. Completely reasonable to not believe it exists.
  • Philosophim
    2.5k
    ↪Philosophim

    You arr talking as if there are certain things that just ought to exists and I don't think this is how it works. You may postulate something exists, look for it and then find that you have no evidence that it exists. Completely reasonable to not believe it exists.
    Apustimelogist

    I would agree if there was absolutely no evidence of its existence. But we have plenty. Universally there are moral sentiments such as "Don't murder, don't steal," that transcend culture. Most people understand that laws are societal enforcements, but that laws themselves can be moral or immoral. It is used in vernacular and in culture. The job of philosophy is to find those things, find a logical way to verbalize them and bring them into discussion beyond intuitions. As there is plenty of evidence for morality, to say it does not exist is normally someone who is bothered that they can't personally figure it out, so throws up their hands in the air.

    Now, if you specifically want to give an argument against it, I can take it seriously. Most are simply lazy people who self-centered motives, but maybe you aren't.
  • Outlander
    2k
    Goodness doesn't exist but is rather a mirage enforced by the dominant party in society and is really just a form of power politics.Count Timothy von Icarus

    This I think will be a major point of contention and source of engagement, both positive and negative, throughout the course of this discussion. That is to say, this sentence alone could fill a library.

    This seems to revert to, or perhaps I neglect to observe that which distinguishes it from: the classic eternal debate of right and wrong, goodness and evil, etc. A common footing or shared truth is: we, at least in most respects, are physical beings. Requiring certain absolute qualities to exist. Air, food, shelter from the elements and that which create existential threats to our bodies. Therefore, things are "good" when the contribute to the existence of life, and things are "bad" when they knowingly become of detriment to said existence. This doesn't define or answer much of course, the most obvious reasoning being "all that glitters is not gold", pragmatically meaning, sometimes the apparent best option is far from. Whether by mere happenstance or the doing and will of another.

    So, perhaps your argument is likely to be mirrored or seen as the also classic argument of the old tale: The Tortoise and the Hare. That is to say, both argumentatively conflicting parties both agree on the same truth yet remain in complete polarity and disagreement as to the best means to, and this is the important part, not only reach but maintain such an environment of benefit or "goodness" or pragmatism (which I substitute as a near indenticality of "efficiency").

    So we basically have the popular dynamic of debate where no one is "wrong", per se, that is to say we sleep soundly in shared truths, but the methodologies in reaching and prolonging said truths differ to the point of argument. If that makes sense.

    Meaning, the reason you feel the need to encapsulate goodness with quotation marks and not pragmatism is the point of disagreement or contention. Others would argue against your assertion one is lessly or rather more poorly defined than the other, I believe.
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    who just wanted to justify doing whatever they wanted to doPhilosophim

    Or, who didn’t want to justify whatever they wanted to do.
  • Apustimelogist
    425
    But we have plenty. Universally there are moral sentiments such as "Don't murder, don't steal," that transcend culture. Most people understand that laws are societal enforcements, but that laws themselves can be moral or immoral. It is used in vernacular and in culture.Philosophim

    My issue with this is that there is absolutely no requirement to postulate objective goodness to explain these things, and to my mind the ontology of "objective goodness" doesnt even make sense.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k


    This is exactly the sort of thing that leads someone to be an anti-realist so I don't see that as a criticism. An anti-realist is led to the position precisely because they don't see any foundation for objective moral value.

    To be sure. But I didn't write an argument against anti-realism, but rather against those who claim that "pragmatism" is a panacea for it. If people think everything comes down to arbitrary inclination and power struggles they ought to have the decency to say as much instead of cloaking it (though, no doubt, the committed anti-realist denies this "ought" has any claim on them. Why, after all, is honesty good?)

    But like I said, I don't even think most anti-realists believe the position themselves, even if they think they do, since they generally end up pointing to some standards as the benchmark of the good. Even pronouncements about how such anti-realism can enhance freedom or "fight fascism," presume that freedom is good and fascism is not. And indeed, they often make this the standard that justifies everything else. So, I don't even see myself as that far from them in the end. I too put a premium on freedom, I just think they badly misunderstand its essence by only considering it terms of potency/power.

    I think there is a good Moorean argument for this... simply that anti-realists don't have any problem with reasoning or having their own ethics. Anti-realists just aren't that different to realists wrt ethics.

    Or less generously you could call it "lacking the courage of one's own convictions," at least as respects some maximalist positions staked out vis-á-vis the individual's heroic ability/duty to stake out there own morality. You know, "question all norms, transvalue and create without limit. What, racism? Sexism? Pedophilia? No, don't create like that!"

    For example, it seems quite common for the advocates of "might makes right," to bemoan how "unfair" their opponents are.




    :up:

    Aquinas makes this argument in a few places in service of different points.

    Now if you will all excuse me a moment of embracing polemic... the move to "pragmatism all the way down," seems to come from two different angles:

    On the one hand, you have Analytics who, burnt by incompleteness and undefinablity, decided that, since truth couldn't be defined to their satisfaction, it simply could not exist. The rules of their "games" were thus the ultimate measure of truth, and since they had very many games there must be very many truths, with no game to help them choose between them.

    Elsewhere in the Analytic camp were those who became so committed to the idea of science as the "one true paradigm of knowledge," that they began to imagine that, if science couldn't explain conciousness, then conciousness (and thus conscience) must simply be done away with (i.e. eliminative materialism, which gets rid of the Good and the agent who might know it).

    From the other side came Continentals who came to define freedom as pure potency and power, and so saw any definiteness as a threat to unlimited human liberty. On such a view, anything that stands outside man must always be a constriction on his freedom. Everything must be generated by the individual. Perhaps we can allow the world to "co-constitute" with us, but only if a sort of freedom and agency, which in the end is really "ours" anyhow, is given to the world.

    The result is a sort of pincer move on the notions of Truth and Goodness (and we might add Beauty here too.) We might envisage the two armies of Isengaurd and Mordor. The first is motivated by belief that it cannot win. The second, by pure considerations of power, and so it assumes that everyone else must have the same motivations.

    And if that's to polemical, I could probably frame it in terms of baseball too, but the whole "everything is power relations," thing makes me think a bit more of conflict.
  • Apustimelogist
    425
    But like I said, I don't even think most anti-realists believe the position themselves, even if they think they do, since they generally end up pointing to some standards as the benchmark of the good.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I think you can believe something is good without simultaneously believing that good is an objective property, hence the difference between ethics and the other meta-ethics!
  • Wayfarer
    21.4k
    A common footing or shared truth is: we, at least in most respects, are physical beings.Outlander

    To which the philosophia perennis would respond, ‘well, there’s your problem! As everything physical is compound and subject to decay, then your identification with it is bound to result in loss and suffering’. But as contemporary culture regards only the physical as the real, then there’s no way to make sense of that. I think that is what underlies the mythology of heaven and higher planes of being, although the symbolic form in which that intuition is clothed is no longer part of today’s cultural lexicon. Or to riff on the song, 'we are spirits in the material world'.

    Elsewhere in the Analytic camp were those who became so committed to the idea of science as the "one true paradigm of knowledge," that they began to imagine that, if science couldn't explain conciousness, then conciousness (and thus conscience) must simply be done away with (i.e. eliminative materialism, which gets rid of the Good and the agent who might know it).

    From the other side came Continentals who came to define freedom as pure potency and power, and so saw any definiteness as a threat to unlimited human liberty. On such a view, anything that stands outside man must always be a constriction on his freedom. Everything must be generated by the individual. Perhaps we can allow the world to "co-constitute" with us, but only if a sort of freedom and agency, which in the end is really "ours" anyhow, is given to the world.
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    "nihil extra ego".
  • Janus
    15.9k
    1. There are no moral facts (facts about the goodness of different acts, people, events, etc.)
    2. "This is good" is just another way of saying "I prefer that x and I'd prefer it if you would too" (emotivism).
    3. Goodness doesn't exist but is rather a mirage enforced by the dominant party in society and is really just a form of power politics.
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    1. I'd say there are no moral facts as such, because the idea is a kind of category error. On the other hand I'd say there are human facts, facts about humans and human flourishing, which justify the most socially important moral injunctions. I mean, they are justified just because they are socially important.

    2. I believe we all have some sense of the good, but that what various individuals believe is actually good is often distorted by inappropriate social conditioning which can only be remedied by determined self-examination.

    3. Goodness or the Good doesn't exist as an object which is open to observation in the way phenomena are, obviously, so in that sense there is no objective good. But I believe there are objective facts about what leads to human flourishing and what works against it.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k


    objective property

    I mean, we'd have to unpack what "objective" means. Round these parts, far too often it seems "objective" is taken to mean something like "noumenal," "existing 'in-itself' without reference or relation to anything else," or "completely mind independent." I don't know why this definition of "objectivity" is so widespread, given the relatively short tenure of the "objectivity approaches truth at the limit, and objectivity is the view of things as seen from nowhere" camp as a dominant strain of philosophy (or its spectacular collapse). Obviously, I am not a fan.

    I would rather say something is objective if the relevant subjective biases are removed. Objectivity is not bivalent. A statement can be more or less objective.

    For instance, I don't think it should be controversial to say that "Michael Jordan was a good basketball player." Yet, on some accounts of "objectivity" this is impossible, because basketball is a social practice and all social practices are taken to be somehow less than fully real. Thus, practical judgements made relative to them entirely "subjective."

    Obviously , this would make saying anything objective about the human good impossible, since all sorts of human goods are filtered through normative measures. Such measures are indeed socially constructed and historically contingent, although they are not arbitrary.

    I do not think it makes sense to say there are no objective facts about what it means to "be a good doctor," "be a good accountant," etc. A doctor who intentionally makes her patients ill so that she can glean more money out of them for treatment is not violating a wholly arbitrary or "subjective" standard about what constitutes "good medical treatment." And such standards are also "objective" in the sense that every mentally competent adult in a community knows what they are. There are, of course questions about what the ideal normative measure should be, but this does not preclude saying anything "objective" about what being good vis-á-vis certain forms of life entails. It would be bizarre to assert that a mechanic who pours sugar in his customers' gas tanks is being a "bad mechanic" in only a purely subjective sense.

    I also don't think it should be a stretch to say that being enslaved, tortured, maimed , and intellectually disabled objectively hinders human flourishing or a person's ability to "live a good life." The human good may be hard to pin down, and it is hard to pin down precisely because it is always filtered through historical/cultural contingency and historically contingent social practices, but this does not require asserting a sort of total nescience about it, such that a child imprisoned in a dungeon by some psychopath cannot "objectively" be said to be harmed.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k


    Goodness or the Good doesn't exist as an object which is open to observation in the way phenomena are, obviously, so in that sense there is no objective good. But I believe there are objective facts about what leads to human flourishing and what works against it.

    I can get behind that. I think objectivity is a red herring, particularly if it's taken as a Lockean property that "inheres in an object as it relates to nothing else." I really think this standard was simply a massive metaphysical blunder.

    And what you've said jives with Plato's view, which I tend to agree with. Words inherently deal with relative good. You're not going to find "the Good" under a microscope or in the text of a philosophical or religious treaties. But relative good covers much of what we'd term "morality." Indeed, I tend to agree with Hegel that institutions are exactly what objectivity morality in the world, at least to some large extent.
  • Wayfarer
    21.4k
    we'd have to unpack what "objective" means. Round these parts, far too often it seems "objective" is taken to mean something like "noumenal," "existing 'in-itself' without reference or relation to anything else," or "completely mind independent." I don't know why this definition of "objectivity" is so widespread, given the relatively short tenure of the "objectivity approaches truth at the limit, and objectivity is the view of things as seen from nowhere" camp as a dominant strain of philosophy (or its spectacular collapse). Obviously, I am not a fan.Count Timothy von Icarus

    But isn't that itself a consequence of the kind of relativism that you're calling into question? What has been thrown into doubt is the whole category of transcendent truths, which I know for sure will be rejected by many of the participants in this conversation. The 'transcendent' is basically regarded as being synonymous with, or tantamount to, religious conceptions of 'divine law' etc. I think from a philosophy of religion viewpoint, that is the underlying issue in this debate.
  • Tarskian
    301
    Moral anti-realism is pretty common these days. It is arguably the dominant, "default" position.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Yes, because there is ultimately no rational reason for morality. In absence of an underlying non-rational spiritual reason, morality is simply nonsensical.

    You can easily learn to extensively torture and mercilessly kill captives for the mafia. It is certainly a pragmatic choice because they pay you good money for doing that. If you can become an executioner for the official ruling mafia, and learn to enjoy your job, why not become one for an unofficial mafia? It even pays better. It has more perks and more fringe benefits. I don't see any "reason" not to do it.
  • Philosophim
    2.5k
    My issue with this is that there is absolutely no requirement to postulate objective goodness to explain these things, and to my mind the ontology of "objective goodness" doesnt even make sense.Apustimelogist

    An objective goodness is a definition of goodness that can be rationally used by everyone despite our own personal subjective viewpoints. Its the difference between, "Rain is heavy cloud precipitation that falls to the ground," versus, "Rain is a feeling of rainness."
  • apokrisis
    6.9k
    Abolishing the target of practical reason ends up destroying all of reason. You can't knock out this leg and still expect theoretical reason (whose target is truth) to stand. Eliminating the good ruins reason as a whole.Count Timothy von Icarus

    The problem is that pragmatism spits out two answers in terms of what it means by "goodness".

    On the one hand, you have some notion of functionality or reasonableness. Peirce's idea of the good was about living as a thinking community that was able to sustain its being in evolutionary fashion – the biosemiotic idea of goodness. Making life work for us as humans and part of a biosphere.

    And he wanted to extend this human-centric definition to the Cosmos as a whole. The Universe is good in the sense it is a universalised growth of the quality of functional and self-organising reasonableness. Logic could apply to the structuring of a sustainable existence.

    We could call this principle of the good, as applied to the Universe, pansemiosis. The reasonable universe inhabited by its reasonable creatures.

    But the problem is that the Universe lacks actual semiotic mechanism. It is not being organised by an informational code. Life and mind have genes, neurons, words and numbers by which to model existence and so stand outside the Cosmos so as to take mechanical control of its entropic potentials.

    It is "good" in a pragmatic sense that a human community can feed and house itself, grow its numbers, repair and reproduce in the fashion of an evolutionarily functional organism. That is the pragmatist good that is easy to recognise. The ability to take sunlight, fossil fuels, or whatever entropic gradient is on offer and turn it into a world in which we can live.

    But the Cosmos lacks this level of organismic purpose. It just is what it is. A physical system self-organising to dissipate entropic gradients – the Big Bang being the foundational gradient upon which all the material complexity is being constructed.

    So from the Universe's point of view – to the degree it has one – entropification is good as a general goal as it allows the negentropic complexity that functionally accelerates that grand enterprise. A star is doing a cosmic solid in rounding up a dust of matter particles and wasting them to background radiation. It is a self-organising furnace serving the Second Law of Thermodynamics in a way that is "good" from the true pansemiotic point of view.

    So pragmatism – as analysed by its founder – ends up giving two senses of good. There is the functionality of constructive reason and the functionality of entropic acceleration.

    From a human point of view, this is why we are conflicted. We both love a fast car and appalled by a fast car. A Maserati is equally a thing of beauty and a thing of waste. It is good as an example of human reason bending fossil fuel to our collective will. And it is also bad as we fill up our world with Maserati's and start to encounter the communal and environmental consequences of chasing that particular entropy accelerating goal.

    So yes, pragmatism certainly delivers clear answers on what is "moral" in an objective and measurable sense. But we have to then be sensitive to the dichotomy that the answer provides.

    In the end, the goodness of reason-constrained entropification has to be itself a dynamical balance. We have to burn through our world to exist, but also can't afford to burn through it too fast.

    This dilemma is usually at the base of moral codes. We kind of always know that trading the short term thrill of freedom for the long term value of collective constraint is the wise way to go.

    But humans are immature creatures – in the ecological sense. We haven't lived long enough in the world created since the industrial revolution to develop a collective code – one respected across the whole planet – that will indeed provide the pragmatically functional and good way of life.
  • Tom Storm
    8.7k
    Yes, because there is ultimately no rational reason for morality. In absence of an underlying non-rational spiritual reason, morality is simply nonsensical.

    You can easily learn to extensively torture and mercilessly kill captives for the mafia. It is certainly a pragmatic choice because they pay you good money for doing that. If you can become an executioner for the official ruling mafia, and learn to enjoy your job, why not become one for an unofficial mafia? It even pays better. It has more perks and more fringe benefits. I don't see any "reason" not to do it.
    Tarskian

    Well, in fairness, people can also be part of the Catholic church and rape and abuse children with few consequences (unless you're caught by the secular legal system and sent to jail). Or in the case of Islam, follow a religion which was established by a pederast with a 9 year-old wife.

    Behaving like a a mafia boss is pretty much a suitable account of how gods behave in Abrahamic religions. They bully, kill and torment anyone who doesn't follow orders. Sometimes they even commit genocide.

    The problem with religions is that they provide no objective foundation for morality. All we have is people's interpretations and personal preferences about what they have determined any given account of a god considers to be good. Hence, even within the one religion, there is no agreement on morality, about abortion, the role of women, trans rights, capital punishment, stem cell research, homosexuality, euthanasia, killing in war, etc etc.
  • Tom Storm
    8.7k
    1. I'd say there are no moral facts as such, because the idea is a kind of category error. On the other hand I'd say there are human facts, facts about humans and human flourishing, which justify the most socially important moral injunctions. I mean, they are justified just because they are socially important.

    2. I believe we all have some sense of the good, but that what various individuals believe is actually good is often distorted by inappropriate social conditioning which can only be remedied by determined self-examination.

    3. Goodness or the Good doesn't exist as an object which is open to observation in the way phenomena are, obviously, so in that sense there is no objective good. But I believe there are objective facts about what leads to human flourishing and what works against it.
    Janus

    Hard to disagree with this. Well put.
  • Wayfarer
    21.4k
    So from the Universe's point of view – to the degree it has one – entropification is good as a general goal as it allows the negentropic complexity that functionally accelerates that grand enterprise. A star is doing a cosmic solid in rounding up a dust of matter particles and wasting them to background radiation. It is a self-organising furnace serving the Second Law of Thermodynamics in a way that is "good" from the true pansemiotic point of view.apokrisis

    But isn’t the implicit end-point of this process non-existence? The ‘heat death’ of the universe?
  • Apustimelogist
    425


    I get this view but it seems kind of trivial to me because clearly what is "objectively good" depends on each specific context and what people happen to want and like. Yeah, you could think about that as objective in some sense but it seems kind of trivial.

    That's not the deepest problem though. It doesn't necessarily follow from saying that there are objective things that people like, that an obligation to moral behavior is implied (or that what we call moral or pro-social behavior is good, in other words). Clearly, objective morality has already been presumed. Where does that come from? People just seem to agree that we should have moral rules to guide behavior, and that agreement has probably emerged for various reasons related to our biology and the emergence of functioning societies.

    You could say that a lot of people agree on this point, but then the same problem regresses again. It isn't implied objectively from the fact that many people agree about morality that we should engage in moral behavior as an objective fact. And I don't need to appeal to objective good to explain why people agree, only biology, social science, physics (in principle). Maybe you could still call it objective good, but it is pretty flimsy given that not everyone might agree and that people can and have engaged in different moral behaviors in different places and times. If objective good is pinned down on whatever people just happen to do, then that suggests it can change, which seems quite a flimsy standard for objectivity. You can label something as "objective" good but if it has a propensity to change with context then it seems trivial.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k


    I get this view but it seems kind of trivial to me because clearly what is "objectively good" depends on each specific context and what people happen to want and like. Yeah, you could think about that as objective in some sense but it seems kind of trivial.

    I don't see it that way. For one, I don't see how "the human good is filtered through context and normative measure," implies anything along the lines of "what is good is reducible solely to what people want and like." The people of the society of A Brave New World certainly like a good deal of what their society offers, but I certainly wouldn't say that Huxley is offering up a utopian vision of human flourishing due to this fact.


    That's not the deepest problem though. It doesn't necessarily follow from saying that there are objective things that people like, that an obligation to moral behavior is implied (or that what we call moral or pro-social behavior is good, in other words). Clearly, objective morality has already been presumed. Where does that come from? People just seem to agree that we should have moral rules to guide behavior, and that agreement has probably emerged for various reasons related to our biology and the emergence of functioning societies.

    Two things here:

    First, assume for the sake of argument that Aristotle is right. There are things we can learn about the human good, and what will make us truly most happy/flourishing. Given this, who would prefer to be ignorant in this regard? Who would want to be profoundly misled about the nature of the world and themselves and to hold false beliefs that would make them unhappy? Would someone freely choose what they consider to be the worse? Would they intentionally choose to be unhappy? And here, I don't mean choosing between goods such that one is unhappy, but choosing to be unhappy simpliciter, to live what the person themselves would acknowledge to be an unhappy and unworthy life, a "bad life?"

    I would say the answer to the above is no, which in turn seems to answer the question of "why should I do what is good?"

    Second, you do raise a good point. As Moore notes, we can always ask of something "but why is it good?" or "is it truly good?" without a loss of coherence. Questions of practical reason are "open ended." But Moore misses something pretty important: this is just as true for aesthetic reason and theoretical reason. We can always ask "but is it truly beautiful?" or "why is it beautiful?" We can always ask of any proposition "but what if it were false?" People do this all the time. They doubt reason itself. This is the bread and butter of radical skepticism. "But what if modus tollens is a bad inference rule?" "But what if something can be true and false?" These go along with "what if other minds don't exist?" or "what if the world is flat, or ruled by aliens, or a simulation?"

    Reason is transcedent. It allows us to go beyond what we currently are, beyond current belief and desire, in search of what is truly good and truly true. This is why Hegel sees it as our link to the true/good infinite. This is why Plato thinks the rational part of the soul has rightful authority and why only it can unify the soul. If open endedness is a knock against the existence of the Good, then it is just as much evidence that Truth cannot exist either.



    Maybe you could still call it objective good, but it is pretty flimsy given that not everyone might agree and that people can and have engaged in different moral behaviors in different places and times.

    People can and do disagree about the germ theory of disease, evolutionary theory, or the shape of the Earth. Not only that, but such beliefs are socially and historically conditioned. If you grew up in a great many social settings, you likely assumed the Earth stayed still and the Sun moved around it. Does the existence of disagreement about these facts, or that agreement is socially and historically contingent, make the Earth's rotation around the Sun subjective or only objective in a trivial way?
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    On the one hand, you have Analytics who, burnt by incompleteness and undefinablity, decided that, since truth couldn't be defined to their satisfaction, it simply could not exist. The rules of their "games" were thus the ultimate measure of truth, and since they had very many games there must be very many truths, with no game to help them choose between them.

    Elsewhere in the Analytic camp were those who became so committed to the idea of science as the "one true paradigm of knowledge," that they began to imagine that, if science couldn't explain conciousness, then conciousness (and thus conscience) must simply be done away with (i.e. eliminative materialism, which gets rid of the Good and the agent who might know it).

    From the other side came Continentals who came to define freedom as pure potency and power, and so saw any definiteness as a threat to unlimited human liberty. On such a view, anything that stands outside man must always be a constriction on his freedom. Everything must be generated by the individual. Perhaps we can allow the world to "co-constitute" with us, but only if a sort of freedom and agency, which in the end is really "ours" anyhow, is given to the world.

    The result is a sort of pincer move on the notions of Truth and Goodness (and we might add Beauty here too.)
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    That is really good analysis. Both sides want to eliminate the cake, yet eat it too.

    I’m with you, Count.
  • apokrisis
    6.9k
    Sounds a little zen, no? Eternalised equilibrium. The end of restless change in a pure state of Sunyata?
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.