• Isaac
    2.5k
    I ask that you just substitute every instance of “moral” with whatever you would label something that is actually normative, because normativity is entirely what I’m talking about.Pfhorrest

    What I'm saying is that normativity itself is an expressive act, there's no fact of the matter to be had in normativity of any sort because it's a category error to assume it's the sort of thing that's amenable to facts. All normative statements of any sort are expressions of the speaker's feelings, not statements of fact.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Norms are not facts, yes, but that is a difference only of direction of fit (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direction_of_fit), which says nothing at all about whether one’s opinions about what is normative are any differently apt for evaluation than one’s opinions about what is factual. You are merely assuming that they are not, and on account of that refusing to address the contents of those normative opinions at all, focusing instead only on the facts about people having those opinions. You’re just declining to engage in the conversation about what is or isn’t normative, which has no bearing whatsoever on that conversation.

    You’re doing essentially the same thing (but in reverse) as the social constructivist who claims that all assertions of supposed facts are in actuality just social constructs, ways of thinking about things put forth merely in an attempt to shape the behavior of other people to some end, in effect reducing all purportedly factual claims to normative ones. In claiming that all of reality is merely a social construct, such constructivism reframes every apparent attempt to describe reality as actually an attempt to change how people behave, which is the function of normative claims. On such a view, no apparent assertion of fact is value-neutral: in asserting that something or another is real or factual, you are always advancing some agenda or another, and the morality of one agenda or another can thus serve as reason to accept or reject the reality of claims that would further or hinder them.

    I imagine you disagree with that kind of view vehemently (as do I), but it is simply the flip side of the same conflation of "is" and "ought" committed by scientism like yours: where scientism pretends that a superficially prescriptive claim can only be evaluated in terms of descriptive claims, constructivism pretends that all descriptive claims have prescriptive implications.

    Constructivism responds to attempts to treat factual questions as completely separate from normative questions (as they are) by demanding absolute proof from the ground up that anything at all is objectively factual, or real, and not just a normative claim in disguise or else baseless mere opinion. So it ends up falling to justificationism about factual questions, while failing to acknowledge that normative questions are equally vulnerable to that line of attack.

    Conversely, scientism like yours responds to attempts to treat normative questions as completely separate from factual questions (as they are) by demanding absolute proof from the ground up that anything at all is objectively normative, or moral, and not just a factual claim in disguise or else baseless mere opinion. So it ends up falling to justificationism about normative questions, while failing to acknowledge that factual questions are equally vulnerable to that line of attack.

    Either error results in simply refusing to consider one kind of question, which is why both run counter to my principle of cynicism, because they inevitably lead to nihilism of one sort or another.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    You are merely assuming that they are not, and on account of that refusing to address the contents of those normative opinions at all, focusing instead only on the facts about people having those opinions.Pfhorrest

    I'm not merely assuming, there are cogent arguments for non-cognitivism, it's disingenuous to try to paint one position as more refractory than the other. I think it is more parsimonious to consider moral statements to be no more than they evidently are until we have good reason to change that. Since there's no evidence of an objective 'ought' it makes sense to assume there's no such thing until we have reason to believe there is. It's the same reason I don't believe in God.

    Conversely, scientism like yours responds to attempts to treat normative questions as completely separate from factual questions (as they are) by demanding absolute proof from the ground up that anything at all is objectively normative, or moral, and not just a factual claim in disguise or else baseless mere opinion.Pfhorrest

    Why do you caricature my position as 'demanding' whilst yours (which you are no less attached to, is painted as the more reasonable? I've made no 'demands' here. I've just said that I find it more plausible that apparently normative statements are actually just expressive. Is there some reason why my finding this more plausible annoys you so?
    it ends up falling to justificationism about normative questions, while failing to acknowledge that factual questions are equally vulnerable to that line of attack.Pfhorrest

    Who said I'm falling to acknowledge that factual questions are vulnerable to that line of attack. Have you read anything else I've written here? I'm strongly in favour of model-dependent realism. But normative and descriptive propositions are different. They may both be vulnerable to the same line of attack, but that doesn't oblige me to find their defences against those attacks equally plausible.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    I think it is more parsimonious to consider moral statements to be no more than they evidently are until we have good reason to change that.Isaac

    Prima facie they are attempts at asserting that something actually ought to be some way or other. You yourself in this same post say:

    apparently normative statements are actually just expressiveIsaac

    I say to just take that appearance at face value. People are trying to say things about what ought or ought not be, not just describing themselves, and they treat other people saying different things of that sort as contradicting their claims about what is moral, not merely describing a difference between themselves as people. That indicates that they are trying to claim that things objectively ought to be one way or another, not just trying to describe how some things make them feel. Non-cognitivism claims that they aren't really doing what they superficially seem to be doing, usually because doing that thing is held to be impossible.

    The burden of proof lies on the one who's saying that something is different than it seems, and that something or its negation is not possible. The starting point of any investigation is that anything and its negation is possible and so things might well be just how they seem until there's reason to think otherwise. You're saying that people making moral claims aren't really doing what they seem to be doing, and that the thing they seem to be doing isn't possible. I'm saying that there's no reason to think that, to think otherwise than that people are doing what it seems they're doing (making normative claims) and that that's a possible thing to do (some of those normative claims could be correct, and so their negations incorrect).

    Since there's no evidence of an objective 'ought' it makes sense to assume there's no such thing until we have reason to believe there is.Isaac

    There cannot be evidence either for against objectivity of either reality or morality. All there can be evidence of is that we either have so far, or else have not yet, succeeded in some attempt at modelling some part of our experiences or not. In the physical sciences, we have so far had tremendous success in many ways, but not yet had success in other ways. (Which is just to say, science isn't done; there are unsolved problems, that we merely assume we can eventually solve). In ethics, we have so far had less (but non-zero) success, and the remaining challenges have just not yet been overcome.

    Objectivity is an attitude to take in the approach to these topics, not something we can find "out there". We cannot escape our own limited experiences; we can only make assumptions about what is beyond them, and we cannot help but tacitly make such assumptions whenever we act. Objectivity or not is thus merely a question of how to act: try to make sense of things as an unbiased, unified whole, or else don't try.

    Why do you caricature my position as 'demanding' whilst yours (which you are no less attached to, is painted as the more reasonable?Isaac

    I proceed open-mindedly on the assumption that some normative claims might be correct in what they appear to be saying, yet also critical of each of them, mindful of ways that would show it to be wrong. You instead cynically want proof from the ground up that it is even possible at all for any normative claim to be right in what they appear to be saying. That guarantees that you "have" to reject all of them, because it initiates an infinite regress: any proof of any "ought" will be another "ought" and you'll require proof of that first which will be another "ought" for which you'll require proof ad infinitum. But the same problem applies to claims of fact...

    Who said I'm falling to acknowledge that factual questions are vulnerable to that line of attack.Isaac

    ...because if every "is" statement required proof before it could be accepted, that proof would be another "is", which would in turn require further proof, which would be another "is", which would require further proof, ad infinitum. If you subjected factual questions to this same degree of cynicism, you would be a nihilist about reality too.

    But instead, if I understand you at all, you accept that reality is at least possibly as it seems (to the senses, i.e. empirical experiences), until something else seems (empirically) to contradict that, and then you look for a new model that accords with all of that empirical experience. You don't (I think) demand that every claim of fact be proven incontrovertibly from the ground up. That would be impossible, as I think you know.

    If you took that same open-minded but critical approach to morality, then you would accept that morality is at least possibly as it seems (to the appetites, i.e. hedonic experiences), until something else seems (hedonically) to contradict that, and then you'd look for a new model that accords with all of that hedonic experience. But instead, you seem to want incontrovertible proof of any normative claim at all, before you'll accept the possibility that any of them might be right. That kind of proof is as impossible for norms as it is for facts.

    But that's not a problem for your approach to facts, so why is it a problem for an approach to norms?
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    Prima facie they are attempts at asserting that something actually ought to be some way or other.Pfhorrest

    What a thing is or is not prima facie is not an objective fact but another statement of your psychological state.

    I say to just take that appearance at face value.Pfhorrest

    At face value people who pray very much appear to be speaking to an all powerful God. People who put ivy over the door appear on face value to be sending messages to actual evil spirits. Neither can be disproven. Are you suggesting we take no further steps to assess the likelihood of each prima facie belief but simply presume they're true?

    The burden of proof lies on the one who's saying that something is different than it seems, and that something or its negation is not possible.Pfhorrest

    Yes, and non-cognitivists feel they've adequately met that burden. The fact that they haven't convinced you personally doesn't damn the entire enterprise.

    You instead cynically want proof from the ground up that it is even possible at all for any normative claim to be right in what they appear to be saying.Pfhorrest

    Again, where have I asked for proof. The fact that I don't find the position plausible is not this obstinate demand you keep trying to caricature it to be.

    If you subjected factual questions to this same degree of cynicism, you would be a nihilist about reality too.Pfhorrest

    Yes. But I don't. Because I find the idea of an external reality more plausible than I find the idea of an objective morality.

    But that's not a problem for your approach to facts, so why is it a problem for an approach to norms?Pfhorrest

    I don't know how many times I have the interest to keep saying the same thing... Because facts and norms are two different things. I'm not obliged to find arguments for realism in either case equally plausible.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    What a thing is or is not prima facie is not an objective fact but another statement of your psychological state.Isaac

    I quoted what you agreed was prima facie too. You said "apparently normative statements" yourself; they appear normative to you too, but you think that appearance is deceiving. And you know, we could always ask the speakers themselves what it is they're trying to do. I strongly doubt a majority of them will say they're just expressing their feelings. If so, then we wouldn't have moral arguments.

    At face value people who pray very much appear to be speaking to an all powerful God. People who put ivy over the door appear on face value to be sending messages to actual evil spirits. Neither can be disproven. Are you suggesting we take no further steps to assess the likelihood of each prima facie belief but simply presume they're true?Isaac

    They appear to believe they are doing those things, in the same way that people making moral claims appear to believe that they are true. Those are examples of descriptive, (purportedly) factual beliefs though, not prescriptive, (purportedly) normative beliefs, though, so we check them in respectively different ways.

    I can easily check if God or evil spirits actually seem to exist as far as my experiences go: I can try praying or hanging ivy over the door and see if anything different seems to happen. If not, then those beliefs won't seem true to me, and I'll be inclined to disagree unless they can walk me through something that does make them seem true to me. If we all check each other's claims against our experiences thoroughly like that, then we can gradually build up consensus about what seems to be true or false universally.

    And I can likewise check if supposedly bad things actually seem bad as far as my experiences go: I can undergo those supposedly bad things and see if they feel bad. If they do, then yeah, I'll be inclined to agree that those are bad. If not, then I'll be inclined to disagree unless they can walk me through something that does make them feel bad to me. If we all check each other's claims against our experiences thoroughly like that, then we can gradually build up consensus about what seems to be good or bad universally.

    You are denying somehow that the latter counts the same way that the former does. If I tell you that it's bad for people to get punched in the face, and you disagree, you can try getting punched in the face, and I expect you'll agree that that sure seems bad!

    Maybe you can point out how the only available alternatives to getting punched in the face would seem even more bad, and that would be a sound argument for why in that context getting punched in the face could be okay -- like undergoing the pain of dentistry to avoid even greater future pain of tooth decay -- but in that case you'd at least be agreeing on the criteria by which we can assess such things.

    Or you could agree on those criteria, but just disagree that anyone's experience but yours matters -- you getting punched in the face is bad, but it doesn't matter whether anybody else gets punched in the face -- but then we're back to the moral equivalent of solipsism, and you presumably reject solipsism about reality, you continue believing in things you can't currently see, so this isn't asking anything more than that.

    Yes, and non-cognitivists feel they've adequately met that burden. The fact that they haven't convinced you personally doesn't damn the entire enterprise.Isaac

    You haven't put forth any of their arguments here, just said that they disagree with me and you agree with them. But I suspect the main thrust of it is that moral facts would be a really weird kind of fact, necessitating the existence some kind of bizarre non-physical stuff. And I agree, which is why I don't strictly think in terms of in "moral facts" or "moral beliefs", though I might sometimes sloppily use that common language. Morality is not about facts, or reality. Moral claims don't imply the existence of anything. It's not like I think there's some big object out in deep space, or in some other dimension, or some abstract Platonic realm, that is "the objective morals", that we can somehow find.

    Prescription is a different kind of speech-act than description, and saying that prescriptive statements can be evaluated for their correctness doesn't have to have any implications on any descriptive statements at all. I am a non-descriptivist about metaethics myself, which is often lumped under non-cognitivism, but there are non-descriptivist cognitivist metaethical views, like my own. They are newer and so far rare, but they address all the complaints non-cognitivists have about moral realism without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Again, where have I asked for proof. The fact that I don't find the position plausible is not this obstinate demand you keep trying to caricature it to be.Isaac

    I'm not saying you're actively asking me to give you proof. Just that you're rejecting the very possibility of there being any correct normative assertions, in such a way that one would first have to prove some normative assertion correct from the ground up in order to convince you of any. I know you're not asking to be convinced, but your apparent standards of evidence are unreasonable.

    Yes. But I don't. Because I find the idea of an external reality more plausible than I find the idea of an objective morality.Isaac

    So your argument here is just "I disagree". That's not much of a rebuttal of anything.

    I don't know how many times I have the interest to keep saying the same thing... Because facts and norms are two different things. I'm not obliged to find arguments for realism in either case equally plausible.Isaac

    Unless you can point our relevant differences between them that deserve different treatment, then on pain of hypocrisy you are.

    My entire argument here is just asking what's the relevant difference that makes one deserving of different treatment than the other. Your response so far seems to be just "I feel like treating them differently, like these [non-cognitivist] guys do." The non-cognitivists at least have supposed reasons. I'm happy to shoot those down. But you're not even appealing to them.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    I quoted what you agreed was prima facie too. You said "apparently normative statements" yourself; they appear normative to you too, but you think that appearance is deceiving. And you know, we could always ask the speakers themselves what it is they're trying to do. I strongly doubt a majority of them will say they're just expressing their feelings. If so, then we wouldn't have moral arguments.Pfhorrest

    None of this makes it not about psychological states.

    I can likewise check if supposedly bad things actually seem bad as far as my experiences go:...

    If I tell you that it's bad for people to get punched in the face, and you disagree, you can try getting punched in the face, and I expect you'll agree that that sure seems bad!...

    you getting punched in the face is bad, but it doesn't matter whether anybody else gets punched in the face -- but then we're back to the moral equivalent of solipsism, and you presumably reject solipsism about reality, you continue believing in things you can't currently see, so this isn't asking anything more than that.
    Pfhorrest

    There's little point in continuing if you're just going to repeat stuff we've already been through. All of the above presumes that moral statements are merely statements about what feels bad to whom. These are not what moral statements are about. Moral statements are about the behaviour, not the feelings it generates. In your example, the moral claim is not that one ought not to punch another in the face (we don't teach children morality by individual action, one at a a time). The moral claim is that you ought not make another person feel bad. Facts like that another person feels bad when punched in the face are used to determine which circumstances fall under the moral claim and which don't, they are not the moral claim themselves.

    So I cannot test, in any way, the moral claim "you ought not make another person feel bad". It simply stands as an assertion, in exactly the same way as "God exists" stands as an untestable assertion. We can argue about the exact nature of that existence (and theologians do), just as we can argue about exactly what actions make another feel bad, but there are no further tests we can carry out to check the objectivity of "god exists", and there are no further tests we can carry out to check the objectivity of "you ought not cause another to feel bad".

    You haven't put forth any of their arguments herePfhorrest

    Some I have, others not. At the moment I'm merely opposing your assertion that moral propositions and factual propositions are sufficiently similar that they need be treated the same. To oppose that I only need point out the differences, not present arguments about the consequences of those differences. In short form, however...

    1. Moral statements appear to be statements assigning properties to behaviours, they make claims that behaviour X has the property 'morally bad'.
    2. As Moore points out, we cannot 'work these claims back' because we end up infinitely asking ourselves "but why is it bad to...?". - As in... "It is bad to punch someone in the face", "Why is that bad?", "Because it will make them feel bad and it is bad to make another person feel bad "Why is that bad?"...
    3. As such, the assignation of 'morally bad' to a behaviour must be either a brute fact of reality (not derived from other facts), or an arbitrary assignation (not derived from facts at all).
    4. The latter fails to explain the otherwise unlikely coincidence of assignation across cultures (there's a universal sense one must 'justify' harming another whereas one need not 'justify' going for a walk - harming another seems to be a special category of behaviour). So we accept the former, behaviours being morally bad is a brute fact.
    5. So the question, whence the brute fact. Either it is of the physical realm, or it is of its own realm. Inventing realms just to hold propositions when they can be easily explained within the realm we already believe in is non-parsimonious, so we reject the latter.
    6. Damage to certain portions of the brain alters what the injured party thinks are morally good/bad behaviours. Being brought up in a particularly violent or uncaring culture affect what behaviours those people think are morally good/bad. Very young babies appear to have senses of justice, as do chimpanzees. So, altogether, the most plausible candidate for the physical origin of the brute fact of the morally good/bad properties of behaviours is in the brain, manipulated by the culture in which that brain develops.
    7. Moral statements are therefore an expression of this psychological state.

    My entire argument here is just asking what's the relevant difference that makes one deserving of different treatment than the other.Pfhorrest

    Basically, propositions about physical reality have an obvious candidate for the mechanism by which they are made true. An external physical reality. Normative propositions have no such obvious candidate for an external truth-maker. In fact, their unanimity can be completely explained using the external physical reality we have already committed ourselves to, namely that this unanimity is the result of a shred culture acting on a shared brain-structure. Thus making moral statements expressions of this mental state.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    None of this makes it not about psychological states.Isaac

    Only to the same degree that claims about reality could also be said to be about psychological states. There is a very plausible sense in which an ordinary claim of fact is pushing a belief or perception from the speaker to the listener, trying to induce in the listener the same psychological state as the speaker. But that is different from making a statement ABOUT the speaker’s beliefs or perceptions. The former has implications on the latter, as evidenced in Moore’s Paradox, but not vice versa. Likewise, moral claims imply things about the speaker’s psychiatry states, but they are not ABOUT them.

    There's little point in continuing if you're just going to repeat stuff we've already been through.Isaac

    I agree, and I’m getting tired of repeating myself, and looking forward to this conversation ending because I really don’t foresee getting through to you.

    All of the above presumes that moral statements are merely statements about what feels bad to whom.Isaac

    No, they presume that moral statements are about what IS bad (or good), and that the obvious starting point for an investigation into the truth of such statements is whether it SEEMS bad (or good) “to the senses“, the “senses” by which things seem good or bad, the appetites. Exactly as statements about what is true or false are not directly statements about who observes what, but are most obviously judged by what SEEMS true to sensorial observation. (And again, there isn’t even universal agreement that that is how to judge reality, so disagreement about how to judge morality is beside the point).

    So I cannot test, in any way, the moral claim "you ought not make another person feel bad". It simply stands as an assertion, in exactly the same way asIsaac

    ...”reality is whatever accords with empirical observation”.

    You can’t experientially verify that experience is the way to verify things, whether we’re talking empirical or hedonic experience, verifying what is real or what is moral. That’s why discussion of these things is philosophical, not scientific. We’re discussing reasons why or why not to trust experience versus something else. You can’t turn to experience for an answer to that.

    But we’ve been over this before...

    there are no further tests we can carry out to check the objectivity of "god exists"Isaac

    Does God’s existence have any empirical import? That is how we check for existence after all. If so, we check if those predictions pan out. If not, then claiming that God exists is descriptively meaningless, and even if he does exist it’s the same as if he didn’t, so no matter what he’ll seem not to, and we’re to conclude he doesn’t. That’s different from the philosophical claims in the paragraph above, because neither of those is making a
    claim about the existence of something. That you think my metaethical position is more like a claim about God than a claim about empiricism belies that you still don’t understand it at all. I’m beginning to suspect willfully.

    To oppose that I only need point out the differences, not present arguments about the consequences of those differences.Isaac

    You really do though. If you said a white person was a better fit for a job than a black person and I asked why and all you could point to was the color of their skin, I’d be right to demand you explain why skin color matters.

    1. Moral statements appear to be statements assigning properties to behaviours, they make claims that behaviour X has the property 'morally bad'.Isaac

    Already disagree on two points:

    Moral judgement applies to more than just behaviors, but also to states of affairs more generally. Behaviors are just one feature of states if affairs that can be good or bad.

    And “is good” does not appear to function like an ordinary descriptive property, but rather expresses a judgement in the same was “is true” or “is real” does, but a judgement with a different direction of fit than those.

    2. As Moore points out, we cannot 'work these claims back' because we end up infinitely asking ourselves "but why is it bad to...?". - As in... "It is bad to punch someone in the face", "Why is that bad?", "Because it will make them feel bad and it is bad to make another person feel bad "Why is that bad?"...Isaac

    Moore meant this an an argument against ethical naturalism, and I agree with it for that purpose. He instead proposed that there must be non-natural moral facts to ground claims in, and I’m pretty sure we both disagree with that. You say you support non-cognitivism but in the end you come back to identifying moral claims as being about some descriptive, natural, psychological facts. My stance is much closer to non-cognitivism, in that I escape Moore’s non-naturalism despite accepting this argument by saying moral claims aren’t even trying to describe anything at all. But then I differentiate such non-descriptivism from non-cognitivism by saying that non-descriptive claims can still be evaluated on their own terms.

    Anyway, what you’re really describing here is an infinite regress argument, and they apply equally well to claims of fact too. (This is what I mean about you “demanding” things of normative claims that you don’t demand of factual claims). Why is X true? Because Y is true. But why is Y true? Because Z is true. But why is Z true? Etc. You either pick some brute fact that you don’t question (foundationalism), some circle of reasons collectively equivalent to a brute fact (coherentism), or you accept that nothing can ever by justified... or, you stop asking for complete ground-up justification before admitting things as tentative possibilities in the first place, and instead focus on weeding out possibilities that have active problems.

    Back on the topic of the OP, that last bit is precisely what my principle of “liberalism” says to do. Without differentiating between factual or normative claims, because there’s no reason to.

    3. As such, the assignation of 'morally bad' to a behaviour must be either a brute fact of realityIsaac

    You still think moral claims are trying to describe reality.

    4. The latter fails to explain the otherwise unlikely coincidence of assignation across cultures (there's a universal sense one must 'justify' harming another whereas one need not 'justify' going for a walk - harming another seems to be a special category of behaviour). So we accept the former, behaviours being morally bad is a brute fact.Isaac

    Or we tentatively accept the fallible appearance of certain behaviors seeming bad, and focus instead on sorting them into those that continue to seem so consistent with more such appearances, and those that don’t.

    5. So the question, whence the brute fact. Either it is of the physical realm, or it is of its own realm. Inventing realms just to hold propositions when they can be easily explained within the realm we already believe in is non-parsimonious, so we reject the latter.Isaac

    If moral claims were describing reality, this would be a good point, but since they’ve not, it’s irrelevant.

    I just want to be clear that I am absolutely a physicalist and do not posit any kind of moral realm or anything like that. If you think I am, you gravely misunderstand me. Normative judgements are a different kind of judgement about the same world as factual judgements, and normative claims assert those judgements the same way factual claims assert factual judgements.

    Basically, propositions about physical reality have an obvious candidate for the mechanism by which they are made true. An external physical reality.Isaac

    In other words, empirical experience. Things looking true or false.

    Normative propositions have no such obvious candidate for an external truth-maker.Isaac

    It’s clear to me they do: hedonic experiences. Things feeling good or bad.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    I’m getting tired of repeating myself, and looking forward to this conversation endingPfhorrest

    Well then there's little point in continuing.
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