• ZhouBoTong
    378
    Not sure if this is Ethics or Political Philosophy. I think this post is mostly ethics? But the implications are more related to social interactions and governance.

    I would like to just hear what everyone thinks about the title question without an explanation, but that doesn't give anyone an incentive to respond. So I will add my thoughts, but please feel free (encouraged) to respond in a different direction. And if I am just whining about semantics, feel free to let me know that too.

    My feelings are that no one (no-thing) is "better" than anyone (anything), until a qualifier is added for "better". Yes you can be better than me at soccer, or differential equations, or stacking cups; but that does not make one entity "better" than another. I feel this is somewhat obvious, and anyone who is not a moral objectivist would agree, but it seems many people do view some people or things as better than others (not just a specific aspect of that thing - but the "whole" of one is better than the "whole" of the other).

    I am not sure if I am even close to getting to an actual point. So here are a few questions that may help shed some light on where I am trying to go (and you people who are good at philosophy may point out that whatever I am trying to get at, is just some tired old point that has been beaten to death in certain philosophical circles - in which case please just kindly point me in the right direction).

    Are those who are wrong, worse than those who are right? Are criminals worse than non-criminals? Are people better than ants?

    If the answer to any of these questions is yes, please support with as much reasoning/evidence as possible; because I will probably struggle to understand :grimace:
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    To say something is better than something else seems to entail a measurement of perfection.

    If we assign a purpose or ultimate goal (also known as a telos) to a person that this person has in virtue of being a person (and not a soccer player, movie star, soldier, mother or philosopher), then certainly it seems that we can evaluate how well this person is achieving their essential telos. And from there, we can compare persons against each other, perhaps by introducing the notion of virtues, or duties, or characters.
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    I think it's possible to be better or worse in a holistic way. Imagine person A is morally upright, good at football and bad at chess. Imagine person B is immoral, bad at football and an excellent chess player.

    As you can see there's a difference in what A and B are good at or bad at. It appears that neither of them are better or worse in a holistic sense due to their varied abilities or lack of them.

    However, when assessing or comparing A or B, one can choose one particular ability as the primary determinant of comparison. A person who is concerned about morality can say and may say that A is better than B in a holistic sense. A chess enthusiast's opinion will differ.

    So, there's nothing wrong in saying A is better than B or the inverse.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    Thanks for thoughts.

    @darthbarracuda
    I feel this "Telos" is adding a subjective qualifier. You may define it one way, while I define it another. Then we are basing "better" or "worse" relative to our invented ideas of what completes (sorry if wrong word usage) that person.

    @TheMadFool
    I think you have attacked the semantic component I was worried about. I get that when someone says "I am better than you", they are likely meaning that in a specific way: "I am better at soccer", or "I am stronger, etc." But I am addressing the way laws and norms are created based on the idea that whole entities are "worse" than others (for example, the ease with which I can crush an ant, and have no guilty feelings {although the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I should feel bad}, implies that I view ants as "worse" than people).

    Perhaps the below scenario will clarify a bit of what I am TRYING (struggling) to get at:

    I view morals subjectively. However, I am happy to view societies and decide that certain morals are more conducive to a successful community and therefor make rules that people are required to follow. That being said, I only "think" my chosen morals are "better". No one is "worse" for not following the rules. If a random supernova destroys planet earth tomorrow, everything is identical to how it would be if either Hitler or Gandhi did not exist. So why is Gandhi "better"? I would say, "because Gandhi reduced suffering while Hitler increased it." But that is just a moral opinion. Why is it better to reduce suffering?

    Maybe I am just whining about objectivists?
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I feel this "Telos" is adding a subjective qualifier. You may define it one way, while I define it another. Then we are basing "better" or "worse" relative to our invented ideas of what completes (sorry if wrong word usage) that person.ZhouBoTong

    I think you are correct that we can define it in different ways. But if we do actually define it, then presumably we have reasons for why we think this way. Which entails that we can argue and disagree and believe that one of us is actually in the wrong. Subjective qualifiers may inadvertently point to something that can be identified as objective.

    Of course, perhaps all this talk is just cobwebs in our minds. Perhaps nobody is right, and everyone is wrong, and we are all playing a game based on preferences, or what-not. But this is getting into the heart of meta-ethics, specifically error theory and the anti-realist camps. Which I think is what is really at stake in this thread.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.1k
    The only way it would be true that nothing is better than, larger than, hotter than, faster than... is if we lived in a two dimensional universe (which is impossible to imagine). We would have no perspective. We couldn't perceive that less is more, bigger is better, good food is better than bad food, or anything else. Comparison would be out of the question because we wouldn't see differences. Quality and quantity wouldn't exist in a 2-dimensional world.

    Fortunately for us highly opinionated, judgmental, comparison prone beings, we do live in a 3-dimensional universe. Make that 4-dimensional if you include time. Better than, worse than, before, after, useful, useless, good, bad, and so forth exist in this world.

    Since we are capable of perceiving moral differences, and because we have moral preferences, we can say that Gandhi is good, Hitler is bad, (or visa versa if you are THAT kind of person), and, yes, people are better than ants.

    It's possible to get all tied up in word games, and some people like that. "People are more than ants." Well, that may be true, but "There are more ants than people."

    For my money, good food is better than bad food. Bigger is better. People who are honest, decent, kind, and loving are better than people who are liars, thieves, knaves, and scoundrels. Ants are fine in their place as long as they don't get too big and move in with me.

    Whether any of this would still be true (or false) if a supernova destroyed earth tomorrow, is not clear. We'd have to try it and see what difference a vaporized earth made to our discussion. Do you happen to have a handy star about to NOVA?
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    If I understand you correctly, do you mean that moral theories and norms derived thereof are better or worse in a narrow sense, applying only to certain aspects and not as a whole?

    If you are then you're right. Each moral theory seems to have, what it seems, absurd consequences or times where it conflicts with itself.

    Does it mean, however, that morality is subjective? I don't know. Subjectivism seems a way out, the easy way out. Subjectivism explains the situation if we consider morality as static - like a photograph. Yet, when we follow the history of morality (video), it seems we're arriving at some kind of objectivity. For instance, there was a time when slavery wasn't immoral. Now it is, and is universally so, save for a few regions that haven't experienced the effects of globalization or the like.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    @darthbarracuda@Bitter Crank@TheMadFool

    First off, thank you all. Your latest responses suggest my thoughts were at least mostly understandable. You each gave me things to think about, and there is not much to argue (but that is what I do, so there will be a little bit). Also, I am new here...I responded to all 3 in one post. If it is preferred to split up each individual response, just let me know.

    But if we do actually define it, then presumably we have reasons for why we think this way.
    @darthbarracuda

    In practice, I think this is how I operate. Use the available info to come to the best possible conclusion, and go with it (and that seems reasonable on a societal level as well). But I will always be aware I may be wrong, and even if I am right, it doesn't make me "better" than anybody.

    But this is getting into the heart of meta-ethics, specifically error theory and the anti-realist camps.
    @darthbarracuda

    Thank you. I knew I was getting into some sort of Descartes "how do I know this table is really a table, or even here at all?" type stuff, but my formal philosophy is rather limited.

    Ants are fine in their place as long as they don't get too big and move in with me.
    @Bitter Crank

    Too funny. I have this thought nearly word-for-word every time I kill an ant (or any bug) inside my house.

    better than, larger than, hotter than, faster than
    @Bitter Crank

    As this is part of my dilemma, I need (want) to point out that one of those adjectives does not fit with the other 3. I could say something is "better" because it is "hotter" or "larger" or "faster". But the other words have far more specific meanings. Very few things will fit "hotter" because it is "larger" or "faster" because it is "hotter". I get that Jupiter (or any star) fits the first example and gases (all matter) basically fit the second, but "better" can be applied to anything for any reason. So it feels wrong (pointless?, worthless?) to say that one whole entity is better than a whole different entity...without a relative description it is meaningless.

    we can say that Gandhi is good, Hitler is bad
    @Bitter Crank

    We can, and I do :grin: But what value does that statement have to anyone over 11? A child has limited cognitive abilities so simplifying things into good and bad is a neat shortcut. But for adults, can't we just lay out the things that they each did? Then relative to our ideas of what life / society / a person should be, we can see which action were most beneficial or most harmful...never-mind, that sounds like way too much work to expect that to happen with any regularity, oh well.

    It's possible to get all tied up in word games
    @Bitter Crank

    Yes, and as one that does tend to get tied down in semantics, I apologize for now and anytime in the future where I keep coming back to the usage of a specific word - but it is almost obsessive-compulsive at times (I expect that I can be annoying, so if anyone needs to tell me to go take a long walk off a short pier, I will understand).

    For my money, good food is better than bad food. Bigger is better. People who are honest, decent, kind, and loving are better than people who are liars, thieves, knaves, and scoundrels.
    @Bitter Crank

    Since I apologized, now I have free reign to attack word usage, right? I mostly agree with the opinions, but I prefer to express them as "I like good food more than bad." "I think bigger is better" (I may disagree with that some portion of the time, but I just realized that I am speaking with someone who prefers the company of men and this may have a loaded meaning). "I prefer to spend time with people who are kind, decent, etc." Yes, I get this is just semantics, and if someone on the street says to me "pizza is better than hamburgers" I assume they mean "I like pizza more than hamburgers" but when these shortcuts become so ingrained that people are comfortable saying, "I am better than you" or "Men are worse/better than women" or "English is better than Scottish" or "Americans are better than everyone" and certainly "Christians are better than non-Christians" there is a problem. And one solution (perhaps the most annoying possible) would be to challenge people every time they use the word in a way that requires more reasoning...for example:

    yes, people are better than ants
    @Bitter Crank

    Oh yeah, how so? No need to answer :grin: I know the reasons you would say, and you know I would say "so why does that make them better" and that could go on forever. People into philosophy already analyze everything to the nth degree, so I am not worried about you making bald unjustifiable assertions, but everyone who does not spend ANY significant time thinking about this stuff in depth, might be harmed by being allowed to take the same shortcuts.

    And no, hahaha, I am not preparing for any imminent incoming NOVAS, or quasars, or any of the other things they show me in those astronomy shows that could wipe us all out.

    If I understand you correctly, do you mean that moral theories and norms derived thereof are better or worse in a narrow sense, applying only to certain aspects and not as a whole?
    @TheMadFool

    Yes, that is dead on - or at least a BIG part of it. I have always thought the only way I could buy into an objective morality (besides the type of subjectively-objective Darthbarracuda and BitterCrank were discussing) I felt made sense, would be a series of if-then statements that cover every possible scenario a moral agent could ever encounter (seems unlikely).

    Does it mean, however, that morality is subjective? I don't know. Subjectivism seems a way out, the easy way out. Subjectivism explains the situation if we consider morality as static - like a photograph. Yet, when we follow the history of morality (video), it seems we're arriving at some kind of objectivity. For instance, there was a time when slavery wasn't immoral. Now it is, and is universally so, save for a few regions that haven't experienced the effects of globalization or the like.
    @TheMadFool

    This is the subjective-objective thing I mentioned above. And I am cool with that (in practice I feel I operate that way), but when I am dealing in theory or principles I have to acknowledge to myself that those things are "right" or "better" because I (and hopefully a much larger consensus) believe they are. If we establish goals, then we can be more objective...but how can the goals themselves be objective?

    Thanks all,
    ZBT
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    This is the subjective-objective thing I mentioned above. And I am cool with that (in practice I feel I operate that way), but when I am dealing in theory or principles I have to acknowledge to myself that those things are "right" or "better" because I (and hopefully a much larger consensus) believe they are. If we establish goals, then we can be more objective...but how can the goals themselves be objective?ZhouBoTong

    Moral principles seem to converge with time. If I'm right to assume that moral ''progress'' is correlated with the progress of rationality, it would imply that the convergence of moral principles (all cultures agreeing on what is good or bad) is caused by heeding good arguments either for or against a given moral tenet. This is objective isn't it because rationality is, by definition, objective, right?

    If there were no objective aspect to morality then cultures should diverge (be different from each other) on ethics. Am I right?

    What exactly is the basis for such a phenomenon - the meeting of various culutres on moral issues?

    I think the underlying foundation for it is the happiness-suffering paradigm that is universal.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.1k
    "I think bigger is better" (I may disagree with that some portion of the time, but I just realized that I am speaking with someone who prefers the company of men and this may have a loaded meaning).ZhouBoTong

    Thank you for catching that double entendre.

    "pizza is better than hamburgers"ZhouBoTong

    You emphasize the importance of modifiers and context. If two executives of a frozen food company are discussing products, they might agree that "Pizza is better than hamburgers" as a product that can be frozen, reheated, and still appeal to consumers. If, on the other hand, two people are in the food court, the one who likes Italian-type flavorings might say that "pizza is better than hamburgers". On the other hand, the lactose intolerant person is likely to think that "hamburgers are better than pizza".

    My personal opinion is that DIGIORNO® frozen pizza -- "It's not delivery, It's DiGiorno!" is better than several brands of made-to-order pizza that are delivered, like Dominoes. I have had definitive pizza shop product that was exquisite, but that place is no longer in business. (see Nobody ever went broke underestimating American taste.)

    "Americans are better than everyone"ZhouBoTong

    True, but don't tell the French that. Les Français sont facilement ennuyés. (see One Thousand Years of Annoying the French)

    The thing about language is that it works. True, one needs to be fluent in a language to handle all the multiple layers of meaning and usage for which any language can be deployed. The "quirkiness" of language trips up the language learner, and it doesn't matter what their native or new language is. But quirkiness is also what makes word play fun, and allows for double entendres, and the like.

    We can analyze language until hell freezes over, and as long as you enjoy doing that, great. Meanwhile billions of people wield language effortlessly 24/7. We are designed to wield language. Babies start learning it immediately (at least, they are listening, soaking it up).
  • Judaka
    364
    The answer to whether something is "better" than something else is the result of interpretation which is necessarily subjective. A subjective framework can make coherent rules for defining what makes one better than another but ultimately it's subjective. We can only say that someone is better at performing a particular action or achieving a certain goal.

    You said we can say "I am better at soccer than you" but is that really an objective truth? I could say Messi is better than Ronaldo and give me reasoning but there are still many who would disagree with that. Just how much better does one need to be at soccer until we can say that person is better at soccer and it's no longer subjective?

    You could say "I am better at kicking the ball further than you" because this is something which can be measured. However, we have not stipulated the rules for deciding kicking the ball further and I could include things like an energy output/distance kicked ratio as my main argument for why I am better at kicking the ball further than you rather than total distance covered.

    I don't really want to go further with this line of thinking, I am just pointing out it's not as simple as you described in your OP.

    Can someone be better than someone else? Yes but this can only be asserted by something subjective and so how much the claim matters is entirely subjective also.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    Moral principles seem to converge with time. If I'm right to assume that moral ''progress'' is correlated with the progress of rationality, it would imply that the convergence of moral principles (all cultures agreeing on what is good or bad) is caused by heeding good arguments either for or against a given moral tenet. This is objective isn't it because rationality is, by definition, objective, right?TheMadFool

    So I was going to respond: "rational = good / irrational = bad is subjective"

    But I do believe I have passed the point of utility in this argument. Your description above is good enough to be "objective" for practical purposes. Perhaps I should accept that as good enough...I think that may have been @Bitter Crank's point as well.

    I think the underlying foundation for it is the happiness-suffering paradigm that is universal.TheMadFool

    Again, close enough to objective for practical purposes.

    You emphasize the importance of modifiers and context. If two executives of a frozen food company are discussing products, they might agree that "Pizza is better than hamburgers" as a product that can be frozen, reheated, and still appeal to consumers. If, on the other hand, two people are in the food court, the one who likes Italian-type flavorings might say that "pizza is better than hamburgers". On the other hand, the lactose intolerant person is likely to think that "hamburgers are better than pizza".Bitter Crank

    The above is exactly my point with the word "better". Similar to the word "love", it has enough different meanings to be a near worthless word without contextual clues (or additional words that clarify meaning).

    I agree that language is generally sufficient, but it often fails when describing complicated topics (and regularly will fail if one is trying to describe complicated topics and they are not careful with words). I also understand that I am over-analyzing things...but isn't MOST of philosophy over-analysis of some topic?

    Finally, I got a couple good laughs out of that post, thanks.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    The answer to whether something is "better" than something else is the result of interpretation which is necessarily subjective. A subjective framework can make coherent rules for defining what makes one better than another but ultimately it's subjective. We can only say that someone is better at performing a particular action or achieving a certain goal.Judaka

    Ok, this is interesting, because I thought I was being the ultimate subjectivist, and clearly you understood me as saying something else. In any case, I agree with this at least 99% (probably 100%, but clearly there was some misunderstanding).

    You said we can say "I am better at soccer than you" but is that really an objective truth? I could say Messi is better than Ronaldo and give me reasoning but there are still many who would disagree with that. Just how much better does one need to be at soccer until we can say that person is better at soccer and it's no longer subjective?Judaka

    Good point. My point was that "Messi is better than Ronaldo at soccer" is at least somewhat measurable. It is at least certain that "Messi is better than me at soccer." However, what about the phrase "Messi is better than Ronaldo" minus the "at soccer" qualifier? See how that is an even bigger abuse than what you were referring too? That was the problem I was trying to address.

    Can someone be better than someone else? Yes but this can only be asserted by something subjective and so how much the claim matters is entirely subjective also.Judaka

    Agreed. And I actually thought that is what I was saying...oops.

    ...and you touched on a bit of a sensitive subject, everything is subjective to me except for the objective fact that Messi is better than Ronaldo at soccer, hehe.
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    So I was going to respond: "rational = good / irrational = bad is subjective"ZhouBoTong

    That rational is good and irrational is bad is not subjective. There are reasons for being rational and not irrational e.g. not getting killed by thinking that gravity doesn't apply to you or that cyanide is good for the bones.

    I've always had trouble distinguishing subjectivity from objectivity. After all objectivity seems to be just consensus of subjective observations.

    It seems that when an observation is consistent over time, space and person the probability of consensus of views increase. This perhaps is objectivity. For instance if I only observe a bright light in the sky then it could be that I'm mistaken. If, however, you and others agree that there is a bright light in the sky then the likelihood that there is, in fact, a bright light in the sky increases. This is probably the principle that underlies the scientific rule that observations must be repeatable to qualify as fact i.e. objectivity.

    So, my views and yours, alone, would be subjective but that of an entire community or people is probably not subjective but rather objective.

    Another view of objectivity is when it relates to being rational i.e. demanding evidence for a belief. We only believe in well-supported claims. This too is being objective, right?

    Objectivity, ergo, requires being rational about beliefs and consensus/consistency of observations.
  • Judaka
    364

    Well, I don't necessarily think it's wrong to think "I'm better than you". Generally, it's expressing a feeling of superiority and contempt than anything else. However, we can use a subjective framework to decide it as you agreed.

    The question is what has greater validity than doing something like this?

    I think that will define how you look at it.

    For me, the answer is, not much.

    My feelings are that no one (no-thing) is "better" than anyone (anything), until a qualifier is added for "better". Yes you can be better than me at soccer, or differential equations, or stacking cups; but that does not make one entity "better" than another. I feel this is somewhat obvious, and anyone who is not a moral objectivist would agree, but it seems many people do view some people or things as better than others (not just a specific aspect of that thing - but the "whole" of one is better than the "whole" of the other).ZhouBoTong

    Certain subjective frameworks are less contentious than others. To say Messi is better than me at soccer is a characterisation of the identification and qualification of both of our various skills in soccer. Those skills are ranked in importance and we get some kind of answer. It's the same for doing equations and stacking cups. I think this characterisation is necessarily subjective because it's an interpretation of the facts.

    Has universal agreement on particular standards for measuring something made the characterisation less subjective or more valid? You've distinguished between "One can be better AT something than another but one can't be better than another at nothing ".

    I disagree with this distinction, you've selected non-contentious comparisons which can be easily tested and there is a lack of variety of interpretations. It's a spectrum, I'm sure you will agree. If I went around saying "I am better at philosophy than Mr X" you'd be approaching that with the same perspective as if I said "Mr X, I'm better than you".

    If not, I see this as a contradiction.

    You could ask me why I think I'm better at philosophy than Mr X but all you're going to hear about are my interpretations and subjective framework. Exactly the same stuff you'd hear if you asked me why I thought I was better than Mr.X.

    I realised I'm not willing to go around saying "I'm better than Mr X" you will hear me saying "I'm a better philosopher than Mr.X". I know it's not an objective truth but at the same time, I want to value my subjective framework and I don't think there's anything more valid or important than it. I think not valuing your subjective framework as a 100% subjectivist leads down the rabbit hole of dark nihilism, where a lack of objective meaning means no worthwhile meaning at all.
  • Terrapin Station
    11.4k
    What it is for anything to be better or worse is for an individual to come to that judgment about the thing in question, a judgment based on their preferences, their tastes, their desires, their goals. Things are better or worse to someone.

    Given that, yes, many people judge that some people are better, in whatever context, than others.

    It's not something anyone can be wrong or right about. We're just talking about persons' individual feelings/dispositions.
  • Christoffer
    543


    Is anyone "better" than anyone?

    If a person strives for the well-being of others and the self, combined; While holding knowledge and the pursuit for truth higher than the sum of their social projections and interactions - I would call that person better than those who do not strive for this.

    To be better than someone else in a specific topic, a contest etc. is irrelevant, superficial and an illusion. To "win", or be "better than someone else" at something can lead to master/slave-situations where the better one get comfortable within their own confidence and the one who lost, grows by overcoming weaknesses and learn to combine new knowledge with a confidence that is more balanced and nuanced. There are no winners and losers in the end, no one is better than anyone else because identity and performance always flow and change.

    To be better needs to be based on axioms of the human condition. What defines us, like: knowledge, emotions, communication. We can make people feel better, we can do it while at the same time maximizing that positivity within ourselves as well. We can strive to know more, gain knowledge in order to understand the complexities of life, we can value truth over what is comforting for our ego. It's hard to position the axis of these things under more complexity than good or bad about the human condition; Knowledge or no knowledge? There's no positive value in no knowledge. Truth or no truth? There's no positive value in no truth. Well-being or harm? There's no positive value in harm.

    If we combine the axioms into a map over the human condition, we can more easily see what is good and bad within being human and striving for good, which in turn shows which someone is better than someone else. The key here is not to "be good", because that's undefinable and relies on a causality measurement that is far too complex for anyone to calculate in their day to day life for every choice they make. But striving for these axioms is pretty much guaranteed to make you a better person, ignoring them pretty much guarantees you to be a worse person.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    Dang, @TheMadFool, you gave a nice concise response that I thought I could quickly respond to. Instead, I was typically long winded. I am enjoying our back and forth, but I understand you may have had this discussion before, and I may just be boring you. Respond to anything you find interesting :grin:

    That rational is good and irrational is bad is not subjective. There are reasons for being rational and not irrational e.g. not getting killed by thinking that gravity doesn't apply to you or that cyanide is good for the bones.TheMadFool

    First, once there are goals (your "reasons" above I think), then there can certainly be objective "best" methods of reaching that goal. But the goal itself is still subjective. Isn't this just the is/ought problem (any goal is suggesting what society ought to be)?

    I've always had trouble distinguishing subjectivity from objectivity. After all objectivity seems to be just consensus of subjective observations.TheMadFool

    While I agree with the difficulty of distinguishing between the two, in my mind, consensus just suggests that our subjective thoughts might be (the more consensus, the more likely) objective. I can even accept "objective enough for all intents and purposes", but objectivity would entail certainty (or at least the potential), and I don't see how that could happen.

    It seems that when an observation is consistent over time, space and person the probability of consensus of views increase. This perhaps is objectivity.TheMadFool

    I would say that it is tending toward objectivity, but just like infinity, it can never actually be reached. But notice that the concept of infinity has still proved useful despite no evidence that anything real is infinite (plenty of concepts, but for example we do not "know" that matter is infinitely divisible, but in theory, anything that can be labeled 1, can be called half of that one).

    Hmmm, I think I just combined math and philosophy in a way that is probably abusing some principle just to make my point. Feel free to destroy the above, I was just trying to clarify my thinking.

    So, my views and yours, alone, would be subjective but that of an entire community or people is probably not subjective but rather objective.TheMadFool

    So is the objective Christian community right, or the objective Muslim community? Sorry, couldn't help myself, and I get that was not fair to your position. But which views of an entire community actually align? Murder is bad. Fair (but by definition, so consensus is not needed). So you get life in prison? An intensive 10 year rehab program? The death sentence? No consensus there. I think the issues that there would actually be a solid consensus on, would be so vague as to be meaningless (ie stealing is bad)... are there a couple of good examples of specific objective items (one type of example would be laws and their corresponding penalties)? And just to prepare for one type of objection; abortion laws may appear objective if we look at several different communities (countries) that all end up with the same abortion laws...so those laws must be objective? That doesn't make sense, as the laws are just a compromise between the all of the various subjective opinions that real people actually have...I don't see how we can call that objective?

    Another view of objectivity is when it relates to being rational i.e. demanding evidence for a belief. We only believe in well-supported claims. This too is being objective, right?TheMadFool

    This to me sounds like a subjective agent striving toward objectivity, which is great; but I would say it is the best we can ever hope for. Don't we all have varying standards of what we count as "well-supported"? Aren't scientists' "well-supported" claims more objective than religious fundamentalists' "well-supported" claims? As long as we describe things as "more" or "less" objective, we are surely still describing things subjectively, right?

    Objectivity, ergo, requires being rational about beliefs and consensus/consistency of observations.TheMadFool

    Some chunk of our disagreement seems to just be some combination of word usage, semantics, or definitions.

    Thanks
    ZBT

    ...I owe 2-3 more responses to other posters. I will get to those.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    Certain subjective frameworks are less contentious than others.Judaka

    Agreed, and in my mind, the more qualifiers or stipulations we add, the less contentious (more objective...but not objective) it becomes.

    I think this characterisation is necessarily subjective because it's an interpretation of the facts.Judaka

    I am a little confused here. If Susie can stack 30 cups in 10 seconds, and Billie can stack 20 cups in 10 seconds, Suzie is objectively better (the rules of the game include the objective of stacking more cups in the same amount of time - no I don't rules exactly, but needless to say they exist). Yes humans invented the rules, so they were created subjectively; but the game does not exist without the rules so once established, they are objective (yes still subject to interpretation, but surely we can both name plenty of games where there is little to no fear of interpretation {tic-tac-toe}. Maybe I missed what you were getting at?

    Has universal agreement on particular standards for measuring something made the characterisation less subjective or more valid?Judaka

    The standards themselves are still subjective. However, once the standards are created, assuming they are comprehensive, they can be followed objectively, can't they? Since you are the only one so far to say that I am labeling too much as objective, I am rather interested in your thoughts.

    You've distinguished between "One can be better AT something than another but one can't be better than another at nothing ".Judaka

    Yes, nailed it. That is exactly what I was trying to do. It seems so obvious when you phrase it simply like that...and yet I get the sense that you have a problem with that statement...please be specific and I will try to address it, but I am not exactly sure where the problem is.

    I would say that one can be better "at something" because many "somethings" have stated goals For example, the hundred meter dash has the goal of running 100 meters in less time than anyone else. So, while it may be subjective to say Suzie is better at running than James, it could be objective to say Suzie is better at the 100 meter dash, because, by definition of 100 meter dash, "better" is completing the same distance {100m} in less time.

    I disagree with this distinction, you've selected non-contentious comparisons which can be easily tested and there is a lack of variety of interpretations. It's a spectrum, I'm sure you will agree. If I went around saying "I am better at philosophy than Mr X" you'd be approaching that with the same perspective as if I said "Mr X, I'm better than you".Judaka

    This just sounds like I need to be more specific. As per my example above, I cannot say "A is better than B at any random thing". But as soon as I am specific with my words, I can easily makes objective statements. Obviously it will be difficult to say "A is better than B at philosophy" because what the heck do you mean by the word "philosophy"? But as soon as I put in specific words, it works fine; "A is better than B at chess" - Now if we compare to 2 mediocre, two poor, and two genius chess player, my statement does not hold up (still subjective), but if we are comparing Bobby Fisher and an average 8 year old, I don't need any additional qualifiers to accept this as objectively true. Under what circumstances could it NOT be true?

    It's a spectrum, I'm sure you will agree.Judaka

    After taking all that time to say the above, I re-read your post. I do agree it is a spectrum of more or less objective/subjective. But I do think that definitions, once created, can create a type of objectivity.

    I think not valuing your subjective framework as a 100% subjectivist leads down the rabbit hole of dark nihilism, where a lack of objective meaning means no worthwhile meaning at all.Judaka

    Well I think we are good here. My lack of belief in objectivism (not Rand - but i don't like that objectivism either) has lead to certain amounts of nihilism, but eventually I just decided to TRY to make my subjective opinions as well-supported (yes VERY subjective words there) as possible and run with it. I am still a bit of an objective nihilist...basically amounts to "well nothing REALLY matters, but I decide that I like x, y, and z so I should work toward those ends, because I want to."
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    It's not something anyone can be wrong or right about. We're just talking about persons' individual feelings/dispositions.Terrapin Station

    I agree with the overall spirit of your post, and view your words as true enough to live by; but this is a discussion forum where we over-analyze things that most of the world has no interest in :grin: .

    I had a small disagreement with your final lines. If we are specific with our words, there are times where definitions create objectivity (or definite right vs wrong). For example, if I were to say, "at age 30, Hussein Bolt was a better runner than Stephen Hawking was at that same age", I can only be right. While "better" is often vague, in this case the difference between the two things being compared is so vast, that even a vague descriptor like "better" must be true...or am I missing something?
  • Judaka
    364

    I am trying to distinguish between facts and interpretations of facts. Interpretations being necessarily subjective. It is a fact that Susie can stack cups faster than Bob, it is not a fact that Susie is better at stacking cups than Bob because that is an interpretation of the facts. Being non-contentious just reflects wide-scale agreement and a lack of variety of interpretations.

    I am still a bit of an objective nihilist...basically amounts to "well nothing REALLY matters, but I decide that I like x, y, and z so I should work toward those ends, because I want to."ZhouBoTong

    I don't like this perspective, characterising subjectivity as preference. Though you can think that way and still avoid dark nihilism.

    Pragmatism and consistency to the subjectivist framework are the answers to dark nihilism. If nothing has objective meaning, then objective meaning never had any objective meaning either. That we don't have it means nothing unless we interpret it to mean nothing.

    Interpreting it to mean things like "life is meaningless" and "there's no point to do anything" is unnecessary and very unpragmatic. It's the same with objective morality, if you interpret it to mean all morals are equal then that's something you decided using your subjective framework and personal interpretations and it's unpragmatic.

    I'm not assuming you struggle with dark nihilism but you seem to lean towards some notions I consider unhelpful. Giving rules and language objectivity status, devaluing subjective frameworks and so on.

    I am not talking about a spectrum of objectivity/subjectivity but a spectrum of contentiousness. Objectivity as intersubjective verification is a term best saved for talking about objective truth. You can't bolster the validity of interpretations through intersubjective verification. The interpretations implicit in language and rules shouldn't get special treatment, which makes their inherent arguments contestable.

    "We measure who's better at stacking cups by seeing how many cups they can stack in 30 seconds, whoever stacked the most is the best". We've created objectivity!

    No? I reject your premise, without a true premise, your premises are false, the argument is invalidated. Simple.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    @Christoffer
    Thank you for the unique and interesting approach to this topic. However, my mind has been so focused on subjective vs objective in this thread that I am not sure how to address this one. I see an occasional point that my compulsive side just wants to yell, "well that is subjective"; but that was not the focus of your post, so who cares? You have laid out a nice framework, and if everyone operated based on that, it would be a world I would be happy to live in.

    But just a couple of points, I am not clear on:

    To "win", or be "better than someone else" at something can lead to master/slave-situationsChristoffer

    I am a bit confused, while sports are not the only thing that can be "won", they are likely one of the first examples that spring to mind when one hears, "win"; so how do sports lead to slavery?

    There are no winners and losers in the endChristoffer

    You mean because we are all dead? If so, I am with you. If not, I need more clarification.

    no one is better than anyone else because identity and performance always flow and change.Christoffer

    Here I agree with the first half -"no one is better than anyone else" - but disagree with the second. Things do change, but surely we can admit some extremes...No paraplegic will ever be better than Messi is right now at soccer (without a rules change), and a Field's Medal winner is better at math than most people with down syndrome. These are obviously trivial examples, but is there any question the statements are 100% true? So in general, I agree, no one is better than anyone else. But you have not convinced me that qualifiers do not change this. For example, "no one is better than anyone else at math" seems obviously wrong to anyone that has carefully observed a room full of people doing math.

    But striving for these axioms is pretty much guaranteed to make you a better person, ignoring them pretty much guarantees you to be a worse person.Christoffer

    Again, I like the sound of this. But I worry we will not all agree on the axioms.

    And again, this post felt different so I may have butchered your position a bit. Feel free to straighten me out.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    I am trying to distinguish between facts and interpretations of facts.Judaka

    Well then, wasn't I just creating facts with everything I was trying to label as objective? Are definitions of words facts?

    "We measure who's better at stacking cups by seeing how many cups they can stack in 30 seconds, whoever stacked the most is the best". We've created objectivity!Judaka

    But this was not exactly how I said it. I described a game. The rules of the game are that whoever stacks the most cups in 10 seconds is the winner (best), whoever stacks the second most cups gets second place (2nd best, but better than 3rd) and so on. According to these rules there are objectively (by definition) better cup stackers. They are defined as better based on the rules...and if you are following different rules then you are not playing the same game. What am I missing? Maybe I cannot call 1st place best? But they were the "best" based on the rules of the game?

    Sorry got to run for the night, but thank you for your thoughts.
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    First, once there are goals (your "reasons" above I think), then there can certainly be objective "best" methods of reaching that goal. But the goal itself is still subjective. Isn't this just the is/ought problem (any goal is suggesting what society ought to be)?ZhouBoTong

    I think rationality applies to everything under the sun without exception. We can use it to ascertain whether our goals were subjective or objective as you yourself have done. That there are differences in our preferences doesn't entail that all our preferences are subjective. I don't know how far we've progressed in determining the objectivity or subjectivity of morality though. Suffering-happiness seems an objective fact. We could build our moral edifice on that. That's just my opinion. Yours may differ.

    While I agree with the difficulty of distinguishing between the two, in my mind, consensus just suggests that our subjective thoughts might be (the more consensus, the more likely) objective. I can even accept "objective enough for all intents and purposes", but objectivity would entail certainty (or at least the potential), and I don't see how that could happen.ZhouBoTong

    Objectivity entails certainty? Well, I think it's the converse. Certainty entails objectivity. Being objective (a mental posture, unbiases observations, etc) doesn't mean the world will reveal its secrets to you. However, if one wants certainty, a 100% assurance on claims, we have to get rid of our biases i.e. be objective.
  • Judaka
    364
    Well, the end result may be agreeing to disagree but here's what I'm saying.

    If you are going to say that it's totally legitimate to create a subjective framework such as rules or definitions and use that to create uncontestable conclusions then your OP is arguing against contentiousness or the validity of subjective frameworks. You don't see "rules" as arguments/interpretations and it's a bit silly imo.

    Game
    Rule: The best cup stacker is the one who can stack the most cups in 30 seconds
    Susie can stack more cups than Bob in 30 seconds
    Objective conclusion: Susie is a better cup stacker than Bob.

    Argument
    Premise: The best cup stacker is the one who can stack the most cups in 30 seconds
    Susie can stack more cups than Bob in 30 seconds
    My Conclusion: Susie is a better cup stacker than Bob.

    So you called a premise a rule and now you're being objective, very cool. I want to try.

    Rule: People who are have more financial assets and better looks are better than those who don't.
    Susie has more financial assets and better looks than Bob
    Objective conclusion: Susie is better than Bob.

    The only difference I can see is contentiousness, you give "official" rules special treatment because of their status. You really Bob is a worse cup stacker than Susie is an objective truth?

    Why 30 seconds? Bob may have stacked more cups in 1 minute. Why stacking more cups than Bob make Susie better when Bob made 0 mistakes and she made a few? Why doesn't that count for anything?

    Your interpretation of what makes a better cup stacker being made into rules doesn't elevate their status. From my perspective, your argument is invalid because you've ignored many factors I consider important in determining who the best cup stacker is.

    Now if we compare to 2 mediocre, two poor, and two genius chess player, my statement does not hold up (still subjective), but if we are comparing Bobby Fisher and an average 8 year old, I don't need any additional qualifiers to accept this as objectively true. Under what circumstances could it NOT be true?ZhouBoTong

    Your main argument is contentiousness. There is the truth and there are interpretations of the truth. Interpretations of the truth have degrees of contentiousness. You seem to think high in contentiousness means high in subjectivity and low in contentiousness means high in objectivity. I just don't agree.

    Bobby Fischer might beat someone 10000000 times in a row, you'd say he's objectively better at chess than that person. Okay, but to do that you defined what being better at chess means, you did that subjectively, there's no alternative.
  • Terrapin Station
    11.4k
    "at age 30, Hussein Bolt was a better runner than Stephen Hawking was at that same age", I can only be right.ZhouBoTong

    No you can't. It entirely depends on what an individual counts as "better running"
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    Suffering-happiness seems an objective fact. We could build our moral edifice on that. That's just my opinion. Yours may differ.TheMadFool

    Now this I can go with. Suffering and happiness exists. We should (ought) base our morality on that. It is still subjective, but as good a starting point as I can think of.

    Objectivity entails certainty? Well, I think it's the converse. Certainty entails objectivity.TheMadFool

    Entirely fair...I was struggling to word that portion (and that was why I even added "the potential for certainty" because I was sure it was somewhat wrong).

    However, if one wants certainty, a 100% assurance on claims, we have to get rid of our biases i.e. be objective.TheMadFool

    Hmmm, I think I messed up somewhere. I feel like EVERYONE in this thread has a slightly different idea of what they mean by "subjective/objective" and this is leading to much of the disagreement. In fact, the longer it goes, the more I am questioning myself as to what exactly I mean by those words. I am usually thinking more along the lines of "facts are objective, opinions are subjective", but that is at least incomplete, at worst someone else could have an entirely different meaning (heck, on a philosophy site, I am sure there are plenty of people that question whether there are objective facts).

    We could start a thread like this with definitions, but that is likely to derail the discussion before it starts...maybe that is just the nature of philosophical discussions?
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    @Judaka

    I am definitely still not getting something that you are trying to say. Maybe this will help me:

    Is math objective? Why not?

    Are you just saying that ALL information must be interpreted by an agent, so it is all subjective? So does that mean if life disappears then everything vanishes because there are no agents to interpret?

    Sorry, I am taking it to extremes to try to understand.
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    No you can't. It entirely depends on what an individual counts as "better running"Terrapin Station

    Cool. But once we take it to this extreme, language has lost its purpose. Hmmm, this may be what @TheMadFool and @Bitter Crank were saying I was doing. I think by the time I am done with this thread, I will be entirely confused on subjectivity/objectivity.

    Thanks for the contribution to my indecision :grin:
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    Your main concern seems to be about the subjective/objective nature of morality.

    So, tell us what you mean by ''subjective'' and ''objective''.

    I proposed a paradigm for objective morality grounded on the universality of suffering/happiness. Do you think suffering and happiness are subjective? Why?
  • ZhouBoTong
    378
    Your main concern seems to be about the subjective/objective nature of morality.TheMadFool

    Nailed it.

    I proposed a paradigm for objective morality grounded on the universality of suffering/happiness. Do you think suffering and happiness are subjective? Why?TheMadFool

    I think the existence of happiness and suffering is objective. The idea that reducing suffering is good, I would count as subjective (I whole-heartedly support this as a good starting point for morality - analyzing the facts as objectively as possible leads me to BELIEVE that is as good a starting point as any), but isn't morality by definition, "how one ought to live"? Doesn't the ought make it subjective?

    So, tell us what you mean by ''subjective'' and ''objective''.TheMadFool

    Well this thread has caused me to question this a little. In the past, I just went with facts are objective, opinions are subjective. But as you have clarified, BEING objective is more about being impartial and letting facts speak for themselves...but as I type this I think my original definition still makes sense. So maybe I should wait for your thoughts...

    I will stick with, facts are objective, opinions are subjective.

    Gotta run for the night, thanks for the input.
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.