• Janus
    5.4k


    I'm not clear how we are disagreeing over the meta-ethical status of morality. Wouldn't a naturalist say that status is given by nature?
  • mcc1789
    39
    I may have misunderstood. You stated:
    As you know I reject the very idea of there being an overarching (objective) meaning to human existence and life in general.
    That seemed like it meant you rejected objective morality too. Are they distinct for you? On your question though, yes in some sense, or rather some natural things are good objectively.
  • Wayfarer
    6.2k
    The word objective is ambiguous. It can mean "bright line rules", things most people in a given society understand such as speed limits, it can also mean "independent of humans". The sciences are the current most powerful authority on what exists without humans, on knowledge. Many hold the sciences to be the authority on knowledge. Correspondingly, conviction is not scientific.InternetStranger

    That's the issue as I see it, in a nutshell. That's why, unlike @Janus, I think that Hume's 'is/ought' distinction is of great significance in ethics. And that is because what is objectively the case often amounts to what can be measured; and what can be measured may or may not be ethically meaningful. In practice, in liberal cultures, what is ethically meaningful then becomes solely a matter for the individual; but as existentialism well knows, this is a power that many fear to exercise.

    I don't see why we should not think there be general objective facts about human flourishing, and about what kinds of behaviour contribute to, and what kinds of behavior are detrimental too, general human flourishing.Janus

    Which sounds very close to utilitarianism - the greatest good for the greatest number - expressed in the language of virtue ethics with the appeal to eudaemonia. But virtue ethics hails from Aristotle, and he most assuredly did believe in there being a real good, a summum bonum (although that expression was coined by Cicero).

    The instinctive basis for a lot of people for ethics is evolutionary - that humans have evolved to be altruistic, not to harm others, to learn to co-operate, and so on. This appears, then, to provide a kind of naturalistic warrant for ethics. The problem then is the kind of ethics that are at least implicit in Darwinian theory, lend themselves to a certain kind of political and social outlook - one which just happens to dovetail rather well with liberal economics. And so 'human flourishing' turns out, in practice, to be very much like progress and economic development; which I agree are by no means bad things (as I believe in science, progress and democracy); but it still leaves a lot of questions un-answered in my view.
  • Janus
    5.4k
    And that is because what is objectively the case often amounts to what can be measured; and what can be measured may or may not be ethically meaningful.Wayfarer

    This makes no sense to me. Perhaps you mean to say that the fact that some things can be measured may or may not be ethically meaningful. If you didn't mean that then perhaps you could present an example to clarify what you did mean.

    And then, what does "may or may not be ethically meaningful" mean to imply? If what you want to say is that whether or not it is ethically meaningful is arbitrary, would that not be the same as simply saying it is not ethically meaningful. Or else, what is the difference?

    Which sounds very close to utilitarianism - the greatest good for the greatest number - expressed in the language of virtue ethics with the appeal to eudaemonia.Wayfarer

    This seems confused to me. I don't see any connection between utilitarianism (which holds little appeal to me) and virtue ethics (which holds great appeal). Perhaps you could explain.

    If you think the "is/ ought" distinction is a valid one, then what other grounds could you have for moral realism, for the objectivity of right and wrong, other than what is established intersubjectively?

    And so 'human flourishing' turns out, in practice, to be very much like progress and economic development; which I agree are by no means bad things (as I believe in science, progress and democracy); but it still leaves a lot of questions un-answered in my view.Wayfarer

    I don't see why, on the views I have advanced, human flourishing turns out to be "progress and economic development" at all. Those conditions might (we would need to argue for that) turn out to be the best for human flourishing, or they might not. But even if it were established that they are, in their most desirable forms, the best conditions; the questions remain: 'Whose progress and what kind of progress, and whose, and what degree of, economic development?'.

    Other questions would be as to what are the human costs, in terms of physical and spiritual well-being, general happiness, peace, contentment and self-fulfilment, of progress and economic development. These sorts of important questions can only be answered, to the extent they can be answered, by empirical investigation. Perhaps these kinds of empirical questions were the ones you had in mind?
  • Janus
    5.4k


    OK, I think I see what you mean now. By "overarching" I meant transcendentally given from beyond nature; not dependent on the natural context at all.
  • mcc1789
    39
    Ah. I'm not sold on that either.
  • Wayfarer
    6.2k
    And that is because what is objectively the case often amounts to what can be measured; and what can be measured may or may not be ethically meaningful.
    — Wayfarer

    This makes no sense to me. Perhaps you mean to say that the fact that some things can be measured may or may not be ethically meaningful. If you didn't mean that then perhaps you could present an example to clarify what you did mean.
    Janus

    Well, it's fairly obvious, isn't it? It was put quite well in the post I quoted from Internet Stranger. Science generally is concerned with the domain of objective fact and measurement; it's chiefly quantitative. That's not controversial, I would hope - do you think it is?

    Whereas, the domain of ethics needs to be centred on questions that are by their nature subject to value judgement, the nature of meaning, and what is the basis for values. This has been the subject of volumes of commentary - I recall a discussion in the concluding chapter of History of Western Philosophy (the first philosophy text I read) about this very point.

    even if it were established that they [progress and economic development] are, in their most desirable forms, the best conditions; the questions remain: 'Whose progress and what kind of progress, and whose, and what degree of, economic development?'.Janus

    Indeed! That is what I meant by saying they leave many questions unanswered.

    But you said:

    I don't see why we should not think there be general objective facts about human flourishing, and about what kinds of behaviour contribute to, and what kinds of behavior are detrimental too, general human flourishing.Janus

    And, whilst I agree - what is the basis for that? If it's not a utilitarian ethos - the 'greatest good for the greatest number' - and it's not based on a transcendent good, then what kind of general ethic might we be talking about?
  • Janus
    5.4k
    Science generally is concerned with the domain of objective fact and measurement; it's chiefly quantitative.Wayfarer

    Perhaps physics and chemistry, not so much geology, biology, ecology, and others of the softer natural sciences, not to mention the human sciences. Of course measurement or quantification comes into play to some degree in all the sciences, but so does qualification, creative imagination and aesthetics (in the sense of both judgement and elegance). To the extent that ethics is the gaining of knowledge about how best to live then to that extent it is a science.

    If aesthetics consists in knowledge and understanding of what constitutes the beautiful and what comes into play in our judgements of beauty then it is a science too. On the other hand all of the sciences are in fact also arts; there is no hard dividing line between the two main.aspects of all human activity; creative imagination or speculation and judging and knowing. All human activities consist in attention, understanding, insight, reason, judgement, and responsibility (to loosely paraphrase Lonergan)..

    It's not surprising that Russell would support a hard exclusive division between matters of fact and matters of judgement: I don't think such a strict division is warranted.

    And, whilst I agree - what is the basis for that? If it's not a utilitarian ethos - the 'greatest good for the greatest number' - and it's not based on a transcendent good, then what kind of general ethic might we be talking about?Wayfarer

    Note that consequentialist ethics relies on the notion that the greatest good for the greatest number is strictly quantifiable. I think that's strictly nonsense, the greater good cannot be used as a criterion for calculation about what must be done in specific instances, totally and inhumanly overriding any affective sentiments, deontological principles or principles of individual virtue and practical wisdom. In ethics there is no rule-based principle or method of ensuring that we get it right; what is important is good will and the right orientation in my view.

    The problem is people demand either absolute proof or unimpeachable authority in these matters, rather than acknowledging that judgement is always fallible (and that includes scientific judgements, too). So in the absence of proof or the acceptance of the unimpeachable authority of dogma, some thinkers throw up their hands and declare that it must all be merely subjective, then. I think this shows the most unhelpful kind of black and white thinking. It's certainly far from enlightened thinking.
  • Michael
    6.8k
    What sort of fact would a moral realist fact be? Is it like a physical fact that can be emperically measured? Is it like a mathematical or logical fact that can be derived from some formal system of axioms and rules of inference?

    I think the very notion of obligation, of right and wrong, fall apart under moral realism. What, exactly, does it mean that I should do something? I can make sense of the term by referring to some rule which in turn I can make sense of by referring to some rule-giver, who for one reason or another we accept as having authority over us, but in lieu of any of that there doesn’t seem to be any sense to the term(s) at all.

    To quote Anscombe:

    I should judge that Hume and our present‑day ethicists had done a considerable service by showing that no content could be found in the notion "morally ought"; if it were not that the latter philosophers try to find an alternative (very fishy) content and to retain the psychological force of the term. It would be most reasonable to drop it. It has no reasonable sense outside a law conception of ethics; they are not going to maintain such a conception; and you can do ethics without it, as is shown by the example of Aristotle. It would be a great improvement if, instead of "morally wrong," one always named a genus such as "untruthful," "unchaste," "unjust." We should no longer ask whether doing something was "wrong," passing directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should ask whether, e.g., it was unjust; and the answer would sometimes be clear at once.
  • Aleksander Kvam
    15
    how would moral realism work in society, if followed by everyone?
  • Marcus de Brun
    275
    How does this explain things happening people profoundly dislike, if it's just thought?mcc1789

    By virtue of the fact that we must engage with reality solely through the medium of thought. THERE IS NO OTHER MEANS.

    "just thought?"

    THOUGHT is everything and everything is thought. That is not to say that there are not things... there may well be, but we have only one witness to existent reality (if there is such a thing) and that witness has yet to be thoroughly cross examined.

    M
  • Marcus de Brun
    275


    Moral Realism can only work in the presence of a moral authority, one that can decide between apparently intellectually valid moral proposals. In this world of human 'demi-gods' logic, reason, reality and morals are almost always privately applied and bow to the Gods of private motive and human instinct.

    The 'belief' in a God, is a somewhat primitive assertion of the universal human aspiration towards Moral Realism. God is indeed quite dead but the aspiration towards Moral Realism lives, it is the ultimate but as yet illusive hope of all Moral Philosophy.

    If our species survives the present self imposed ecological threat to its continued existence, Moral Realism will be its salvation.

    Trump is a potent example of the present evolution of 'white' moral realism. In my estimation it will take too much time to evolve into a functional salvation, yet the aspiration remains as beautiful and as unreal as the God-concept.

    M
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.1k
    The word objective is ambiguous. It can mean "bright line rules", things most people in a given society understand such as speed limits, it can also mean "independent of humans".InternetStranger

    You forgot the meaning of "objective" which unites both of these two distinct meanings, and that is "the objective", in the sense of a goal, or aim. The objective, in the sense of a goal, is what we agree upon, to work together toward. This is what inspires us to accept the rules, the thought of working together toward objectives. And, being common to many, the objective's real existence will be independent from each of us, therefore "independent from humans".
  • InternetStranger
    155


    OED gives: "A Traveller is not to imagine pleasure his object." 1665

    It's a confused meaning, in connection to this subject matter, since what it says is someone makes the object of their senses, e.g., gold, into their object. Their thang, as it were. The thing they are about, e.g., a man greedy for pelf or gain makes money his goal. His[/i] object. This is somehow not what telos or even 'final cause' in Scholastic usage means. Aquinas may have played a role in bringing this into the language. Phusei dikaion, natural justice, refers to a way of being, not a getting of something. A just man lives according to Dike or justice. He doesn't seek it as an objective.

    More starkly: A courageous man is courageous, he doesn't seek the ends of courage as a goal or as his object. Courage is not his objective, but what he is according to nature.

    So far as one does not trace back through the "second cave", that of historical usage, one becomes a sophist arguing about title cards and signaling fealty to slogans. The whole of the contemporary philosophic professoriate are sophistic puzzle solvers in this sense.
  • Janus
    5.4k


    "Moral realist facts" are not isolable entities like empirical facts, but general facts about human nature. They are not strictly empirically verifiable by means of repetitions of controlled experiment and observation, but are phenomenologically corroborable by attentive, intelligent and reasonable intersubjective understanding of our common human condition.

    I think Anscombe is just plain wrong if she thinks that Aristotle does not think that we "ought' to live virtuously because virtuous living is the way to actualization of human potential, to eudamonia.
  • Wayfarer
    6.2k
    What sort of fact would a moral realist fact be? Is it like a physical fact that can be empirically measured? Is it like a mathematical or logical fact that can be derived from some formal system of axioms and rules of inference?Michael

    If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. — David Hume

    Couldn't help notice the similarity :-)
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.1k
    OED gives: "A Traveller is not to imagine pleasure his object." 1665InternetStranger

    That's odd, my OED says "something sought or aimed at; an objective point"

    This is somehow not what telos or even 'final cause' in Scholastic usage means.InternetStranger

    I disagree, I think that's exactly what telos or final cause is. Why do you think it is otherwise?
  • InternetStranger
    155


    "Why do you think it is otherwise?"

    For the reasons already given. You bore me unutterably. Courage is obviously not an external goal.
  • mcc1789
    39
    That didn't answer the question. I don't think we engage with reality solely by thought. In any case, that does not tell us it's entirely thought. Your claims were to me rather extreme, such as claiming before people believed in heliocentrism, it wasn't true. I see no basis for that.
  • Michael
    6.8k
    I think Anscombe is just plain wrong if she thinks that Aristotle does not think that we "ought' to live virtuously because virtuous living is the way to actualization of human potential, to eudamonia.Janus

    That sense of "ought" is akin to what we mean when we say that we ought brush our teeth to keep them healthy. That doesn't seem to be the sense of "ought" that the moral realist intends when he says that we ought not do something because it's wrong.
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