• Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    This is not in the least bit true. Virtually everyone in the world believes their eyes (especially if you take as I presume it was rhetorically meant to imply senses in general), only the insane don't. There's nowhere near this level of agreement that pain is bad.Isaac

    You dismiss all the beliefs people have in things they can’t see, and disbeliefs people have about things they could see if they looked at the evidence, to say that empiricism is ubiquitous, when it’s really not. Some degree of it is, sure, but not a full commitment to it.

    Likewise, most people consider people who say they like to be hurt to be as crazy as people who see hallucinations. Who in their right mind wants to be tortured? That kind of partial hedonism (not liking to be hurt) is as ubiquitous as your partial empiricism (trusting your senses). But a full commitment to it is as rare as a full commitment to empiricism.

    In any case, how commonly something is accepted is besides the point. I was saying that lots of people reject these principles (both empiricism and hedonism), and those people are nevertheless wrong. I’m not saying “Look how everyone accepts these things! They must be right!” You’re doing that, and I’m denying the validity of that inference.

    Empiricism about the external world is indubitable because without it one would be unable to simply navigate 3D space.Isaac

    And one would quickly die if they didn’t care about pain at all.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    You dismiss all the beliefs people have in things they can’t see, and disbeliefs people have about things they could see if they looked at the evidence, to say that empiricism is ubiquitous, when it’s really not.Pfhorrest

    Empiricism is about the source of knowledge, not the source of beliefs. Whatever measure you use to distinguish between the two (I prefer a fuzzy gradation, myself) there is a difference.

    Likewise, most people consider people who say they like to be hurt to be as crazy as people who see hallucinations.Pfhorrest

    Firstly, that only works for personal hurt. Something which is morally bad is something which we ought not do. So all you get from this is a proscription against self-harm.

    Secondly, this only covers physical avoidable harm. Most people would find heavy exercise painful, but they do not think that pain is bad. People are even more ambiguous about whether various types of emotional pain is good or bad in the long term.

    ’m not saying “Look how everyone accepts these things! They must be right!” You’re doing that, and I’m denying the validity of that inference.Pfhorrest

    Perhaps it would be quicker and easier if you simply tell me (or direct me to) your method for demonstrating that judging moral rights and wrongs using hedonistic variables is more right than other systems. That seems to be the sticking point and so it might be better to just jump to it.

    And one would quickly die if they didn’t care about pain at all.Pfhorrest

    Again, it's caring about the pain of others which is required for your translation of hedonic values into moral ones. This is not equivalent to empiricism where it is my knowledge which is being sourced from my senses.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Empiricism is about the source of knowledge, not the source of beliefs. Whatever measure you use to distinguish between the two (I prefer a fuzzy gradation, myself) there is a difference.Isaac

    Knowledge is a species of belief, and the kinds of things I’m thinking of (theists and other spiritualists, flat earthers, etc) often claim knowledge despite lack of or contrary empirical evidence.

    Again, it's caring about the pain of others which is required for your translation of hedonic values into moral ones. This is not equivalent to empiricism where it is my knowledge which is being sourced from my senses.Isaac

    Developing an intersubjective agreement on what is or isn’t real depends on caring about other people’s observation at least enough to go and see if you have the same observation in the same circumstances, and then on account of that confirmation agreeing that reality actually is such a way that it continues to appear that way to them, even if you’re not making that observation yourself right at this moment.

    Likewise, my hedonic account of morality hinges on people confirming first hand as necessary that yes indeed it does hurt when someone does that, and then on account of that confirmation agreeing that it morally is wrong for people to do that, even if it’s not you experiencing the pain right at this moment.

    Sure you could just care about your own hedonic experiences to the extent that you say so long as you’re not a actively experiencing the pain then it’s not bad, but that would be akin to taking a solipsistic view of reality that anything that you’re not currently observing isn’t real. That’s the kind of thing my principle of objectivism is to guard against. Phenomenalism by itself isn’t my whole view; it’s phenomenal objectivism, or objective phenomenalism. Objectivity means not being biased toward your own perspective, but accounting for others’ too.

    Perhaps it would be quicker and easier if you simply tell me (or direct me to) your method for demonstrating that judging moral rights and wrongs using hedonistic variables is more right than other systems. That seems to be the sticking point and so it might be better to just jump to it.Isaac

    I’ve been asked not to link to my book anymore, but you can find it in my user profile. It’s the chapter called “Commensurablism”.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    the kinds of things I’m thinking of (theists and other spiritualists, flat earthers, etc) often claim knowledge despite lack of or contrary empirical evidence.Pfhorrest

    Yes, but limiting your sample to those people does not then contradict the argument that the vast majority of people are empiricist about the vast majority of things.

    Developing an intersubjective agreement on what is or isn’t real depends on caring about other people’s observation at least enough to go and see if you have the same observation in the same circumstances, and then on account of that confirmation agreeing that reality actually is such a way that it continues to appear that way to them, even if you’re not making that observation yourself right at this moment.

    Likewise, my hedonic account of morality hinges on people confirming first hand as necessary that yes indeed it does hurt when someone does that, and then on account of that confirmation agreeing that it morally is wrong for people to do that, even if it’s not you experiencing the pain right at this moment.
    Pfhorrest

    In the first case the equivalence is between what is sensed and what is real. The consideration is of other's senses to inform your understanding of what is real. There is already a belief that senses relate to reality in some way, we check others to confirm our own.

    In the second the equivalence would have to be between pain and 'badness' (as we've discussed this is nowhere near as certain as that between senses and reality). The consideration of other's pains would have to inform my understanding of 'badness' (there's even less certainty that there's any equivalence here, whereas there is with other's senses). There would have to be already a belief that pain relates to 'badness' (there isn't) and we'd have to be checking others to confirm our own (we're not).

    So whilst the two cases look superficially similar, on analysis, they're not.

    you could just care about your own hedonic experiences to the extent that you say so long as you’re not a actively experiencing the pain then it’s not bad, but that would be akin to taking a solipsistic view of reality that anything that you’re not currently observing isn’t real.Pfhorrest

    This only demonstrates that I should no more take a solipsistic approach to what is painful than I should to what is observable. I agree. A good way to find out if the thing I find painful really is painful is to see if others find it so, just like I do to check my vision. Where in any of that am I compelled not to cause that pain?

    It’s the chapter called “Commensurablism”.Pfhorrest

    I will have a read.
  • Kenosha Kid
    559
    For morally, it roughly means that everything is permissible until it can be shown to hurt someone, and the more and more such hedonic experiences we account for, the narrower and narrower the range of still-permissible options remaining, closing in on (but never reaching) the correct answer to the question of what we should do.Pfhorrest

    I think this answers my other question. In effect, your idea of objective moral truths are prohibitive and fundamental rather than extensive. (One need not, for instance, wonder if it is okay to sing Dennis Leary songs in church; it is sufficient to know that, since it harms no one, it is permissible.)

    So far this is hedonistic and liberal, as you say, but consistent with the idea of contingent moral truths rather than traditional ideas of objective morality. For instance, I am not offended by being called a mzungu in East Africa, but I know other racial slurs against other people in other places is bad. That this is logical by your nominally objective morality and yet completely consistent with moral relativism makes me wonder what is so objective about your objective morality.

    Is it the case that you believe that complex and seemingly contingent moral truths reduce to simpler truths, objective in themselves, but manifest differently in different contexts? "Do no harm" does seem to fit this bill, with "harm" being highly contingent. What about "Do no harm to animals?" or "Do no harm to the planet?" Morality is expanding beyond consequences for humans.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    I think perhaps you are conflating together several different dichotomies with regards to kinds of morality.

    I do take most of morality to be entirely contingent, but that doesn't make it non-objective. Most facts about reality are contingent (not necessarily true), but still objectively true. (I think there are some necessary moral truths, obligations, but they're rather vacuous without taking into account some contingencies: just like the only necessary descriptive truths are logical truths that only mean anything non-vacuous in terms of the contingent assignment of meaning to words, so too the only moral obligations regard rights, which I construe as all about property, and so depend entirely upon the contingent assignment of ownership).

    Non-contingent moralities are generally called "absolute" rather than just "objective". (And contingent ones are sometimes called "situational" in contrast). Objective in the sense that I mean it is often also called "universal". It's opposite relativism (which also has multiple senses, but it'll be clear which one I mean) in the sense that what is or isn't moral doesn't change depending on who you ask -- people will give you different answers, but some (if not all) of them are wrong -- even though it can change depending on context or circumstance.

    For a descriptive analogy, relativism would hold that inside the headquarters of the Flat Earth Society, the entire world is flat, because that's what people there believe. But as soon as you step outside of there, the entire world is round. Objectivism in contrast says that the shape of the world doesn't depend on who you ask: one of those views about it is wrong (and I'm sure you know which). But that doesn't mean that the world couldn't actually be shaped differently at different places: it's conceivable that there could be a flat side to the world and a round side. (Not conceivable in terms of actual science, but we can imagine a hypothetical world where that was so). In such a scenario, everyone should agree that it's flat over on that side and round on this side, and if people disagree about where it's flat and where it's round, at least one (if not all) of them is wrong.

    And yeah, my concept of morality is in no way limited to humans. It can be applied to animals, aliens, anything. (Paging Dr. Singer).
  • Kenosha Kid
    559
    (I think there are some necessary moral truths, obligations, but they're rather vacuous without taking into account some contingencies: just like the only necessary descriptive truths are logical truths that only mean anything non-vacuous in terms of the contingent assignment of meaning to words, so too the only moral obligations regard rights, which I construe as all about property, and so depend entirely upon the contingent assignment of ownership).Pfhorrest

    Let me put this way, if a scenario has the rights of one group of people, say trans women, at odds with the rights of another, say cis women, do you believe there is an objective moral truth that can resolve or override the conflict? These are the sorts of situations where I can genuinely see the argument from both sides, recognise that the good of one is the bad of the other. Any objective moral truth that cannot decide or override the conflict at least in principle doesn't seem to have much business calling itself objective.

    Non-contingent moralities are generally called "absolute" rather than just "objective".Pfhorrest

    For sure, relativism is not the opposite of objectivity insofar as an anti-objectivist is not necessarily a relativist and a anti-relativist is not necessarily an objectivist. Even in moral relativism a thing can be considered objectively true for that person/culture and objectively false for others though, again, it seems to me you can do away with the objectivity altogether.

    I think there's a myth, exacerbated by nihilists, that the baby is thrown out with the bathwater with moral relativism, which fails to observe that we have more in common than distinguishes us. My view is that we all have a self-rewarding drive toward altruism in our genetic inheritance, albeit competing with selfish drives. We all have the capacity for empathy, an empathy that is amenable to socialisation in what seems to be a staggeringly flexible manner. The application of these capacities beyond the environment they were selected for is the basis of moral philosophy: how to behave in a giant social group of mostly strangers. We had no need of objective morality when everyone we met was a relative or a neighbour. I feel we do have a duty of moral consideration now, and the illusion of an objective morality might have expediency. But that doesn't make it true.

    For a descriptive analogy, relativism would hold that inside the headquarters of the Flat Earth Society, the entire world is flat, because that's what people there believe.Pfhorrest

    I expect that you know that isn't true. There is a truth relativism, but it doesn't concern facts like the shape of the Earth, rather how systems of truth can be constructed differently with different truth values for the same questions. It isn't nearly as controversial as absolutists make out. For instance, all mathematical truths are true with respect to a mathematical framework: choice of axioms. Different axioms yield different outcomes of truth values. Most of us are pretty comfortable with this.

    There are some nutjob extremists though tbf.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Let me put this way, if a scenario has the rights of one group of people, say trans women, at odds with the rights of another, say cis women, do you believe there is an objective moral truth that can resolve or override the conflict?Kenosha Kid

    Yes. Rights in principle cannot conflict; if they seem to, at least one claim of rights is incorrect.

    Even in moral relativism a thing can be considered objectively true for that person/culture and objectively false for others thoughKenosha Kid

    That sounds, again, like a weird use of “objective” to me; maybe you mean it as a synonym for “absolute” again? Different cultures consider different things moral absolutes, of course. Relativism would say that they’re each right, in their own cultures. Objectivism (as in universalism) would say that at most one (of any set of contrary claims) is right.

    I expect that you know that isn't true. There is a truth relativism, but it doesn't concern facts like the shape of the Earth, rather how systems of truth can be constructed differently with different truth values for the same questions. It isn't nearly as controversial as absolutists make out. For instance, all mathematical truths are true with respect to a mathematical framework: choice of axioms. Different axioms yield different outcomes of truth values. Most of us are pretty comfortable with this.Kenosha Kid

    Mathematical truths are of a different kind to claims about the world. They are logical truths, which depend only on the assigned meanings of the words used in them, the axioms of the logical system as you say, which are arbitrary; we could easily assign them differently. The moral analogue of that, on my account, is property rights, which depend entirely on who owns what, which is likewise arbitrary and could be assigned differently. But most of morality concerns supererogatory goods, which are the moral analogue of contingent truths. That’s why I gave a contingent descriptive scenario (about the shape of the earth) as an analogous form of relativism.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    It’s the chapter called “Commensurablism”. — Pfhorrest


    I will have a read.
    Isaac

    I read it. I can't find anything in there answering the question about how you show someone is wrong if they do not equate moral 'good' and 'bad' to hedonic 'pleasure' and 'pain'. The section on commensurablism seems to just repeat what was said in your OP, so I read the linked section on The Metaphilosophy of Analytic Pragmatism, but that just declares it to be the case that there's an equivalence, whereas you claimed to be able to demonstrate that a person was wrong for thinking otherwise. I know it's difficult with the restrictions on self-publicising, but could you just paraphrase, or copy-paste the argument here for me?
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    The argument isn't directly for hedonism, the argument is for those four principles, of which hedonism is only half of one (phenomenalism). The argument in question is the entire second section of that chapter, starting with "The underlying reason I hold this general philosophical view..." and continuing through the whole comparison with Pascal and so on.

    The most important part is:

    If you accept fideism rather than criticism, then if your opinions should happen to be the wrong ones, you will never find out, because you never question them, and you will remain wrong forever. And if you accept nihilism rather than objectivism, then if there is such a thing as the right opinion after all, you will never find it, because you never even attempt to answer what it might be, and you will remain wrong forever.

    There might not be such a thing as a correct opinion, and if there is, we might not be able to find it. But if we're starting from such a place of complete ignorance that we're not even sure about that — where we don't know what there is to know, or how to know it, or if we can know it at all, or if there is even anything at all to be known — and we want to figure out what the correct opinions are in case such a thing should turn out to be possible, then the safest bet, pragmatically speaking, is to proceed under the assumption that there are such things, and that we can find them, and then try. Maybe ultimately in vain, but that's better than failing just because we never tried in the first place.

    Plus just earlier:

    Phenomenalism, as anti-transcendentalism, is entailed by criticism: if you are going to hold every opinion open to question, you have to consider only opinions that would make some experiential, phenomenal difference, where you could somehow tell if they were correct or incorrect. (At least, unless you're willing to also reject objectivism for nihilism, and say that there are some questions about things beyond experience that simply can never be answered).

    Where hedonism is the normative half of what I mean by phenomenalism, as explained here.

    So there's an argument for commensurablism generally, half of which is criticism, which entails phenomenalism, half of which is hedonism.
  • Isaac
    2.5k


    None of that says anything about the equivalence between moral 'good/bad' and hedonic 'pleasure/pain'. That's the thing you said you could prove (or at least demonstrate to be less wrong). I'm trying here but you're being very evasive. The closest I can get from your quoted section is perhaps "if you are going to hold every opinion open to question, you have to consider only opinions that would make some experiential, phenomenal difference, where you could somehow tell if they were correct or incorrect." - but the best I can see this as an argument for would be that if morality is to be the sort of thing where opinions are held open to question, then it had better be measurable by some phenomenal difference. It makes no argument that we should take up this contingency.
  • Kenosha Kid
    559
    Yes. Rights in principle cannot conflict; if they seem to, at least one claim of rights is incorrect.Pfhorrest

    Now there's the dogmatism of objectivity I was looking for!

    That sounds, again, like a weird use of “objective” to me; maybe you mean it as a synonym for “absolute” again?Pfhorrest

    No, the opposite. Abortion may be right for Anna, wrong for Barbara. As I went on to say, though, in the bit after what you quoted, I find the compatibilism pointless myself.

    Mathematical truths are of a different kind to claims about the world. They are logical truths, which depend only on the assigned meanings of the words used in them, the axioms of the logical system as you say, which are arbitrary; we could easily assign them differently.Pfhorrest

    Exactly. They depend on systems, and in that sense are relative. Morality also depends on systems (moral codes), and systemisation can crop up where it ought (language) and where it ought not: systemic Western bias in history, system sexism in medicine, etc. The truths espoused are relative to those systems.

    I'm not a truth relativist btw, more a sceptical relativist. The method is useful for analysing structures of truth though (structuralism).
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Now there's the dogmatism of objectivity I was looking for!Kenosha Kid

    Just saying there is some correct answer or another is not dogmatic, when what that answer might be is completely open to question. Objectivism is not fideism; criticism is not nihilism.

    You’re doing exactly the conflation of different things that I describing in the OP, so... thanks for the demonstration I guess.

    Abortion may be right for Anna, wrong for Barbara.Kenosha Kid

    Sure. That’s not relativism though. That’s “situationism”. Relativism would say something more like that whether abortion is right for Anna depends on whether we ask California or Alabama, because whether people think it’s morally okay varies between those places.

    They depend on systems, and in that sense are relative. Morality also depends on systems (moral codes),Kenosha Kid

    One could equally (wrongly) claim that truth in general (even about contingent things like the shape of the world) depends on belief systems, which was my point about the shape of the world changing when you enter or leave the Flat Earth Society HQ. The prevalent belief systems change between those places, so if one held truth relative to belief systems the way moral relativism holds goodness to be relative to moral systems, then the truth would change as you walked through the door.

    Objectivism as I mean it is the opposite of that. About both reality and morality. What people think the correct opinion is doesn’t matter. (But what people experience does). The correct opinion, about reality or morality, is independent of what anyone thinks it is.

    It makes no argument that we should take up this contingency.Isaac

    The argument for that part was the main thing I was directing you to, and the first bit I quoted in my last post.

    But here, let me walk you through the whole thing backwards as a reductio.

    The opposite of hedonism as I mean it is the supposition that some things are bad even though they don’t feel bad to anyone; they just are. The supposition that there is such a thing as a victimless crime, morally speaking.

    If that were the case, the only way of telling which things were good or bad would be to take someone’s word for it. You would not be able to confirm that something is bad to someone by standing in their place and seeing if it felt bad to you too. You’d be stuck just agreeing or disagreeing with no manner of adjudication.

    One could get around this problem of having to take someone’s word on what is good or bad by denying that anything is actually good or bad, saying all there is is people’s words about it and if those differ between people then what is good or bad differs between them too.

    But if you do that, then if there is such a thing as the right opinion after all, you will never find it, because you never even attempt to answer what it might be, and you will remain wrong forever.

    So we’re back to having to take someone’s (maybe your own) word for it without any way of questioning it. But then if your opinions should happen to be the wrong ones, you will never find out, because you never question them, and you will remain wrong forever.

    There might not be such a thing as a correct opinion, and if there is, we might not be able to find it. But if we're starting from such a place of complete ignorance that we're not even sure about that — where we don't know what there is to know, or how to know it, or if we can know it at all, or if there is even anything at all to be known — and we want to figure out what the correct opinions are in case such a thing should turn out to be possible, then the safest bet, pragmatically speaking, is to proceed under the assumption that there are such things, and that we can find them, and then try. Maybe ultimately in vain, but that's better than failing just because we never tried in the first place.

    So we try by proceeding under the assumption that there is such a thing as a correct opinion, in a sense beyond mere subjective agreement, but that there is always a question as to which opinion, and whether or to what extent any opinion, is correct. And if you are going to hold every opinion open to question, you have to consider only opinions that would make some experiential, phenomenal difference, where you could somehow tell if they were correct or incorrect.

    So when it comes no normative questions, we’re left appealing to shared normative experiences: we agree (from our firsthand experience) that this feels bad to people like so in situations like such, so subjecting people like so to situations like such is bad.

    And since if you are going to hold that such a thing as a correct opinion is possible, you have to give every opinion the benefit of the doubt that that one might possibly be it (otherwise you would be forced to dismiss all opinions as equally incorrect out of hand), we have to proceed on the assumption that anything else might as well be good enough until it can thus be shown bad.


    Most of this post is things I already wrote either here or in the essay I sent you to, just rearranged to address this one specific point.

    I really didn’t intend this whole thread to be a defense of just one small part of my own principles. I wanted to talk about systemic principles in general and gave mine as an example of the kind of thing I mean.
  • Kenosha Kid
    559
    Just saying there is some correct answer or another is not dogmatic, when what that answer might be is completely open to question. Objectivism is not fideism; criticism is not nihilism.

    You’re doing exactly the conflation of different things that I describing in the OP, so... thanks for the demonstration I guess.
    Pfhorrest

    I wasn't being wholly serious. It is certainly a stricter position. "One of you is wrong, and that's that!" My beef with this is that, unless we have a means of evaluating the objective truth, there's nothing going on inconsistent with the view that there isn't one. Referencing our discussions elsewhere, belief in it appears unjustified to me.

    Sure. That’s not relativism though. That’s “situationism”. Relativism would say something more like that whether abortion is right for Anna depends on whether we ask California or Alabama, because whether people think it’s morally okay varies between those places.Pfhorrest

    No, it's forwarded by some in relativism too (I'll dig a link out later). The idea being that what is good for Alice is objectively good for Alice, even if it is objectively bad for Barbara. I'm not arguing it's merit, just saying it's out there. As someone who believes that, even if there were an objective truth out there, we wouldn't know it, I think it's an exacerbation of a bad idea.

    One could equally (wrongly) claim that truth in general (even about contingent things like the shape of the world) depends on belief systems, which was my point about the shape of the world changing when you enter or leave the Flat Earth Society HQ. The prevalent belief systems change between those places, so if one held truth relative to belief systems the way moral relativism holds goodness to be relative to moral systems, then the truth would change as you walked through the door.Pfhorrest

    Sure, and you'll find nihilism at an extreme end of relativism that not only acknowledges that facts determined scientifically, technologically or otherwise empirically are with respect to systems that may contain biases, but that therefore all facts yielded by those systems are as dubious as any other. To say this is the position of relativists, though, would be like describing atheists as Stalinists. It's a weak pejorative, and leading proponents of relativism like Rorty thought it was as stupid a conclusion as you and I do. Relativism says little about the relative merits of facts, but it is quite easy to see that a fundamentalist Christian's biases are more numerous, more impactful, and more wrongheaded than any odd slight bias in science. You're talking about a small number of idiots who made a big splash because their ideas were the right kind of controversial: clickbait before the click.

    On which, and I've had this discussion with other anti-relativists in different fields, science is pretty friendly to relativism. While a lot of theist postmodernists during the science wars tried to use deconstruction to lower science's standing, it had the opposite effect. At university, I was taught to be mindful of unconscious biases in a way that previous generations of physics undergraduates were not. What doesn't kill us... Which is why I've always had a fondness for people like Latour, wrongheaded as his motivations were. We owe him a debt, as we have done to every philosopher who held a mirror to us. (I still say "us" like I'm still doing active research, what a pretentious bellend!)

    Objectivism as I mean it is the opposite of that. About both reality and morality. What people think the correct opinion is doesn’t matter. (But what people experience does). The correct opinion, about reality or morality, is independent of what anyone thinks it is.Pfhorrest

    RE: emphasised point... not a little bit dogmatic? I, as I said, am a sceptical relativist, but that doesn't particularly define a solid position on either. I believe that there is some objective reality behind phenomena, and that scientific modelling is a way of gaining insights on the limitations of its behaviour. But I do not believe that science is revelation. We do not access objective reality; we see the results of interactions between its parts. I suspect objective reality is something quite fundamentally different from our state-of-the-art models and, while we will always improve the accuracy of those models, we might never have a faithful representation, or know it if we do have it.

    Morality is a different matter. It is quite clear to me that human morality is defined by human biology, sociology, history, and moral philosophy. Being as it is comprised of individuals who generate that morality and who have very similar genetic heritage and, in the West at least, very similar socialisation, it is no surprise that there is usually consensus on moral matters, giving the illusion of objective moral truth. Applied scientifically, this would predict that cultures whose social structures are very different ought to have different moral structures too. This wins out. It would also predict that individuals from one social structure ought to be, given the opportunity, as amenable to the moralities of other social structures as their own. This wins out. The biological bases of morality point to fairness, empathy and altruism, suggesting that, over history, the trend ought to point in those directions as we consider more and more historic cases. This wins out. Moral objectivity simply fails to justify its existence.

    However, getting back to the OP, there's not much pragmatic difference in believing in a right answer that we do not have access to and believing there is not always a right answer. I think we're aligned on everything else, and I notice we tend to agree on things (I'm glad we have something to disagree on, actually, other than the meaning of the QM wavefunction, as you're great to talk to), so hopefully that suggests the errors you see I have mostly escaped, by luck if not by design.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    I really didn’t intend this whole thread to be a defense of just one small part of my own principles. I wanted to talk about systemic principles in general and gave mine as an example of the kind of thing I mean.Pfhorrest

    That's fine, I won't continue this line of enquiry then, another time maybe.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    unless we have a means of evaluating the objective truth, there's nothing going on inconsistent with the view that there isn't oneKenosha Kid

    In my replies to Isaac in the same post you’re replying to, I gave my reasons for why to proceed on the assumption that there is one, and explained why I advocate hedonism specifically because of the need for a common ground to evaluate it by.

    No, it's forwarded by some in relativism tooKenosha Kid

    It sounds like we’re just disagreeing about terminology here. I acknowledge that there is a lot of variation in what people mean by different terms in this area, and all I can do about that is be clear what I mean by my use if them. The reasonable kinds of things you’re saying are not what I mean by the things I say I’m against. The unreasonable stuff I’m identifying these terms with are the things I am against. Being mindful of biases, different contexts, individuals differences, etc, is not relativism in the sense that I am against. That’s rather things like criticism in the sense I am for. Failing to distinguish between these kinds of things are the errors I was on about in the OP.

    What people think the correct opinion is doesn’t matter.
    — Pfhorrest

    RE: emphasised point... not a little bit dogmatic?
    Kenosha Kid

    Nope, quite the contrary. Dogmatism boils down to “because I say so”, and I am saying it doesn’t matter who says so, they still might be wrong.

    I believe that there is some objective reality behind phenomena, and that scientific modelling is a way of gaining insights on the limitations of its behaviour. But I do not believe that science is revelation. We do not access objective reality; we see the results of interactions between its parts. I suspect objective reality is something quite fundamentally different from our state-of-the-art models and, while we will always improve the accuracy of those models, we might never have a faithful representation, or know it if we do have it.Kenosha Kid

    I agree completely; and then I take an analogous approach to morality as well. Objective anything, reality or morality, is just the limit of increasingly improved fallible models. Objectivism in the sense I mean it is basically just acknowledging that there is some notion of “improvement”, some way of assessing one fallible model as better or worse than another, so that there is some notion of a limit being approached.

    you're great to talk toKenosha Kid

    Thanks, I enjoy talking to you too.
  • Kenosha Kid
    559
    It sounds like we’re just disagreeing about terminology here.Pfhorrest

    There's maybe more to it than that. I think any philosophical position with any value will, as it is refined and developed, have offshoots that begin to resemble other refined developments of other philosophical positions. Your objective morality is a lot less strict than others, allowing for contingencies that some more fundamental mind/person/culture-independent moralities (e.g. Plato, even Kant) might not. My nominal position takes instead those contingencies as a starting point, and allows for the possibility of a distant objective morality without justifying any belief in it, far from the nihilistic potential of short-sighted and opportunistic pomo critics. I think any practical approaches to moral philosophy from different assumptions would have resemble others in this way or die, or, worse, become insane ab initio rants.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Yes, and my principles are intended to do exactly that kind of taking the good from both sides. My principles of criticism and phenomenalism are the “skeptical” side of things contra fideism and transcendentalism. But my principles of objectivism and liberalism are the other side, contra nihilism and cynicism. I feel like people tend to pin the overall picture they paint as belonging to one side or the other depending on which principles I state first. When I’ve argued against fideism first thing, the people who come out arguing are the religious supernaturalist folks. But they’re nowhere to be seen here now in this thread where I opened with objectivism...
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    @Isaac I've repurposed this thread to be about discussion of my principles (since that's entirely what the conversation became about) and made another one for the purpose that this one was meant to be for, so if you want to resume our discussion here we can now.
  • Isaac
    2.5k


    OK. Can I first paraphrase you to check I've understood what you're saying so far? I have something like...

    There is such a thing as correct opinion which we may only approach, but never claim to have reached for certain, and the measure of having gotten closer to it is agreement with some shared phenomenal experience.

    Where there is no shared phenomenal experience there's no correct opinion.

    Where we don't know if there's shared phenomenal experience, we're better off proceeding as if there is because that we we might approach a correct opinion, whereas presuming there isn't rules out that possibility.

    You seem then to be arguing that with morality, we are in this third position. It's not clear that there's a shared phenomenal experience of what's right and wrong, but we're not going to find a correct opinion unless we proceed as if there is.

    I agree with the first three propositions, It's the last one I'm having trouble with (to the extent that I'm not even sure I've characterised it correctly). So the opinion that I'm asking about is the opinion that right/wrong equates to pleasure/pain. That opinion seems not to be one which benefits from much shared phenomenal experience - people seem to disagree quite widely about it. So that would clearly fall under the second proposition above.

    You seem to then make some jump (which I'm unclear about) to saying that we might benefit under the third proposition, if we just equated good/bad with pleasure/pain - despite the fact that this would contradict many people's phenomenal experience - simply because it enables us to measure it against something which is shared phenomenally and so approach a correct opinion.

    But this last seems like a very weird trick to pull. I might say the same about art appreciation (which is not shared phenomenally), let say that the good-art/bard-art distinction (which is currently not shred phenomenally) actually maps to looks-like-what-it's-a-picture-of/doesn't-look-like-what-it's-a-picture-of - something that contradicts many people's phenomenal experience of good-art, but it enables us to measure it against something which is shared phenomenally and so approach a correct opinion.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Where there is no shared phenomenal experience there's no correct opinion.Isaac

    This doesn’t sound quite like what I mean, but I’m having difficulty explaining quite why.

    I think a good illustration would be the parable of the three blind men and the elephant, which I presume you’re familiar with. As the story goes, none of the three men have shared their phenomenal experiences of the elephant yet. But there is still the correct opinion, that it is an elephant they are feeling. That correct opinion has to be consistent with all of their separate experiences. Nobody is going to come to that opinion without having all of those different experiences to combine together; and even someone who has had all of these different experiences still has to think up something that would account for all of them together.

    So for any of these blind men to figure out what they’re really touching despite their differences of opinion (that all seem well-founded to each of them based on their limited experiences), someone is going to have to stand where the other ones stood and feel what they felt in order to have the full set of experiences with which their hypotheses about the thing in question need to accord. If the blind man doing that checking doesn’t feel what the other blind men reported feeling there, he’s got to figure out what is different between them to account for why they feel different things in the same circumstances.

    That doesn’t mean he has to figure out what could possibly be a tree, a snake, and a rope all at the same time. It means he’s got to figure out what feels like a tree to this kind of person in this context, feels like a snake to that kind of person in that context, and feels like a rope to another kind of person in another kind of context. In the end, the investigative blind man will have a bunch of experiences with which the hypothesis of an elephant is consistent.

    Where we don't know if there's shared phenomenal experience, we're better off proceeding as if there is because that we we might approach a correct opinion, whereas presuming there isn't rules out that possibility.Isaac

    It’s more that, as described above, we should proceed on the assumption that our phenomenal experiences are in principle sharable: that we can figure out what is different about ourselves and the circumstances we’re in that accounts for the differences in our experiences, and then build a model that accounts for every kind of experience anybody would have in any circumstance. That might be really hard to do, but we have a better chance of getting closer to doing it if we act as though it’s possible by trying to do it, than if we say it’s not possible and so don’t try.

    So the opinion that I'm asking about is the opinion that right/wrong equates to pleasure/pain. That opinion seems not to be one which benefits from much shared phenomenal experience - people seem to disagree quite widely about it.Isaac

    This seems like a category error to me. When I talk about pleasure and pain etc, I mean them in a way that isn’t separable from the things seeming good or bad. If you like some experience, enjoy having it, then it doesn’t seem correct to call that painful to you.

    You might still decide to bear some pain to get something else you enjoy, but if it’s truly pain to you then it seems analytic that you would prefer to avoid it if possible. If you could get a healthy fit body (which is enjoyable to have) without suffering from your workouts, you’d want that. You decide to bear the pain of the workout for the greater pleasure of fitness because the alternative seems to you like even greater suffering overall. You’re picking the path that seems least bad, even though it is still kinda bad — “bad” in terms of suffering and enjoyment, pleasure and pain, etc.

    That is all a purely subjective assessment of good and bad so far; not an assessment that pain is bad etc — that’s just analytically true, “pain” is “whatever feels bad” — but an assessment of what is best on account of merely your own pain etc. Making it objectively just means concerning yourself in the same way with experiences that you personally aren’t having right now. In the same way that you could be an empiricist and be a total solipsist, believing that things you personally don’t see are not real; making such empiricism objective just means accounting for everything that “seems true” (empirically) to everyone in every context. Likewise, hedonism can be made objective by accounting for everything that “seems good” (hedonically) to everyone in every context.

    The alternatives in both cases are either denying that anything at all is actually true/good (and so all our empirical/hedonic experiences of things seeming true/good are just subjective illusions all equally baseless), or else that whatever it is that is true/good is so in virtue of something besides our experiences (in which case we have nothing against which to gauge what is true/good, and just have to take someone’s word as to what it is).

    And if we’re not even sure whether anything is true/good or whether we can figure out what it is, we stand a better chance of figuring out what it is (if that turns out to be possible after all) if we try, acting as though something is true/good and we have some access to (experience of) what that is, and then trying to account for as many pieces of that access (as many experiences) as possible.

    When applied to questions of what is true, that results in empirical realism. When applied to questions of what is good, that results in hedonic altruism.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    It’s more that, as described above, we should proceed on the assumption that our phenomenal experiences are in principle sharable: that we can figure out what is different about ourselves and the circumstances we’re in that accounts for the differences in our experiences, and then build a model that accounts for every kind of experience anybody would have in any circumstancePfhorrest

    Well, that sounds like a laudable aim, but you've rejected that approach already. You're saying "let's assume moral goodness is equivalent in some way to hedonic pleasure" and just ignoring that fact that millions of people feel differently. In what way does your approach try to "figure out what is different about ourselves and the circumstances we’re in that accounts for the differences in our experiences"?

    Making it objectively just means concerning yourself in the same way with experiences that you personally aren’t having right now. In the same way that you could be an empiricist and be a total solipsist, believing that things you personally don’t see are not real; making such empiricism objective just means accounting for everything that “seems true” (empirically) to everyone in every context. Likewise, hedonism can be made objective by accounting for everything that “seems good” (hedonically) to everyone in every context.Pfhorrest

    You keep repeating what you claim to be possible, and I understand that, what I'm asking is why. If I were to say "you know how when you push a ball it rolls down hill? Well so it's the same with helium balloons", you'd tell me that despite me saying they fall into the same category, they don't. It's like that with your descriptive and normative categories. All you're doing is saying that however we treat descriptive theories, we can do the same with normative theories, but you're not presenting any arguments to make your case, simply declaring that it can be done.

    Descriptive practices are different from normative ones, they have different properties and different sociological roles, as such it's not the case that however we treat the former we can do so with the latter.

    We can analyse how different people feel in different circumstances, sure. Then we'd have a good description of how and when people feel good/bad. At no point in time in such an investigation will we have even touched on an argument as to why we ought to make others feel either of these ways.

    Imagine I have an absolutely perfect understanding of what makes people feel good - I have a 100% accurate model. Why ought I carry out behaviours to bring that state about?
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    You're saying "let's assume moral goodness is equivalent in some way to hedonic pleasure" and just ignoring that fact that millions of people feel differently.Isaac

    You keep making some kind of category error in talking like these things can come apart, like the "good" and "bad" in "feels good or bad" is a different sense than in "morally good or bad". Hedonic experiences analytically just are things that feel good or bad, in the same way that empirical experiences analytically just are things that look true or false. You can doubt either one, but then you're either doubting whether these experiences you're considering are enough, or else whether any experiences matter at all.

    If no experiences matter at all, then you're left either holding no opinion whatsoever on the matter, or taking someone's word for it (maybe just your own). In either of those cases, you have at best a random guess's chance (whoever's word you might choose to take) at arriving at the correct opinion, if such a thing is possible, which at this point in the inquiry we're not sure of yet. So if you want to arrive at the correct opinion, if that should turn out to be possible, and have more than that tiny chance of guessing right the first time, then you've got to proceed as though there is one, but that you can't take anyone's word for what it is -- those are my principles of "objectivism" and "criticism" -- and then try to narrow in on what it might be. And if you're doing that, the only thing you have left to turn to is the experiences of things seeming correct, of things looking true or false, and feeling good or bad.

    Now that we've ruled out doubting whether any experiences matter at all, we're left with doubting whether these particular experiences are enough or not. If not, that means what you need to do is account for more experiences. In the case of moral questions, that's more experiences of things feeling good or bad -- since that's the only kind of good or bad we have left to turn to, having ruled out just taking someone's word for it. It's entirely likely that the experiences you alone are having right now aren't enough to go on. That just means that you also need to account for experiences other people are having, and experiences you and they might have later. The only direction left to turn besides that is to just give up, in one of the ways described in the paragraph above.

    In what way does your approach try to "figure out what is different about ourselves and the circumstances we’re in that accounts for the differences in our experiences"?Isaac

    Bob has never had a certain unpleasant experience that Alice has had, because Bob has never been in the circumstances that Alice has been in to experience it. Bob may therefore be callous toward Alice's plight. My approach says Bob should consider the different circumstances Alice has been in, and why those would lead to different experiences that Bob hasn't had. If Bob doesn't believe Alice that those experiences in those circumstances are unpleasant, my approach says he should go stand in those circumstances himself and undergo the experience himself, to confirm that it is actually unpleasant. If still Bob doesn't find it unpleasant even though Alice reports that she does, my approach says they should look into what is different about themselves that gives rise to Alice experiencing such displeasure in those circumstances while Bob does not. The moral conclusion they should derive is that it is bad to subject people who are like Alice in the relevant way to such circumstances, because it causes displeasure in them, but it's okay to subject people like Bob to it, since those people don't experience displeasure in those circumstances.

    What Alice or Bob say they believe "is morally right" isn't relevant, any more than the beliefs of scientists conducting experiments is relevant to the science. It's just the experiential data that matters. We don't ask them their opinions on hedonism, just whether things feel good or bad to them. This is why it's a category error for you to ask for this procedure to prove hedonism itself. You can't ask scientists to do an empirical experiment that proves empiricism is true without begging the question, either.

    You keep repeating what you claim to be possible, and I understand that, what I'm asking is why. If I were to say "you know how when you push a ball it rolls down hill? Well so it's the same with helium balloons", you'd tell me that despite me saying they fall into the same category, they don't. It's like that with your descriptive and normative categories. All you're doing is saying that however we treat descriptive theories, we can do the same with normative theories, but you're not presenting any arguments to make your case, simply declaring that it can be done.Isaac

    I'm not just saying "it's possible, take my word for it", I'm saying nobody has given a good reason why it's not possible.

    The default state of any inquiry has to be one where all the options and their negations are merely contingently possible, neither impossible nor necessarily true. This is part of not taking anybody's word on anything, leaving everything open to question, plus the necessity of giving everything the benefit of the doubt because otherwise you fall down an infinite regress and can never get any justification off the ground, leaving you stuck holding no opinions on anything again, which again is just giving up on trying. (This last bit is my principle of "liberalism").

    Out of that initial state of inquiry, the burden of proof is on whoever wants to say that something is either impossible or necessary to show that the relevant alternatives can somehow be ruled out, leaving only that option for necessary truths, or anything besides that option for impossibilities.

    Starting in that initial state of inquiry, I've given arguments why rejecting either of my principles of objectivism or criticism leaves you no hope of figuring out what the correct answers are, even if there are any that can be figured out, and why assuming those principles is therefore necessary. Those principles in turn entail liberalism and phenomenalism, the normative half of the latter being hedonism.

    But your concern doesn't seem to be so much with hedonism vs its alternative (just taking someone's word for what's good or bad), but rather with moral objectivism. So that's a much more straightforward problem: you either assume moral objectivism, or you give up all hope of figuring out what's good and bad by simply assuming (on no grounds) that nothing could possibly be actually good or bad.

    Once you're assuming moral objectivism, you can either take someone's word for what objective morality is, which is just another form of giving up on trying to be correct, or else you can question everything and try to narrow in on what might be right.

    If you're going to question everything, you've got to give every possibility the benefit of the doubt, or else infinite regress quickly takes you back to assuming nothing is possible.

    And if you're going to whittle away at those options you're giving the benefit of the doubt, without taking anybody's word on it, all you've left to go on is experiences of things seeming good or bad, as many such experiences as you can account for.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    You keep making some kind of category error in talking like these things can come apart, like the "good" and "bad" in "feels good or bad" is a different sense than in "morally good or bad". Hedonic experiences analytically just are things that feel good or bad, in the same way that empirical experiences analytically just are things that look true or false.Pfhorrest

    No they're not. Moral judgements of good and bad apply to behaviours, not to experiences. Hitting children is a behaviour which most think is morally bad, being hit is an experience which most think is hedonicly bad. The two are not the same. Assuming they are assumes a kind of 'Golden Rule' morality without any justification.

    The moral conclusion they should derive is that it is bad to subject people who are like Alice in the relevant way to such circumstances, because it causes displeasure in them, but it's okay to subject people like Bob to it, since those people don't experience displeasure in those circumstances.Pfhorrest

    You've given no argument as to why this is the moral conclusion. Is all you're saying here that you prefer 'Golden Rule' type morality because it's easier to work out?

    I'm not just saying "it's possible, take my word for it", I'm saying nobody has given a good reason why it's not possible.Pfhorrest

    But then I don't understand what your argument is. We all already knew it was possible. all meta-ethical positions are possible and no-one has given any reasons why any of them are not possible. So what's new here?

    And if you're going to whittle away at those options you're giving the benefit of the doubt, without taking anybody's word on it, all you've left to go on is experiences of things seeming good or bad, as many such experiences as you can account for.Pfhorrest

    I agree. But what seems good and bad in morality is behaviour, not experiences. It's my behaviour to to others that seems morally good/bad to me, not my experiences.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    It's my behaviour to to others that seems morally good/bad to me, not my experiences.Isaac

    But on what grounds does your behavior toward them seem good or bad, if not either their experiences, or because someone else just said so?
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    But on what grounds does your behavior toward them seem good or bad, if not either their experiences, or because someone else just said so?Pfhorrest

    My feelings, my neurological wiring, unconscious following of social norms, predictions of positive outcomes for me, God, the effects of the moral ether, aliens controlling me because we're living in a simulation...
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    My feelings

    Those are your experiences.

    my neurological wiring

    That’s a cause, not a reason.

    unconscious following of social norms

    That’s “because someone said so”.

    predictions of positive outcomes for me

    Gauged by your expected experiences?

    God

    “Because someone said so”.

    the effects of the moral ether, aliens controlling me because we're living in a simulation...

    Causes, not reasons.
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    My feelings

    Those are your experiences.
    Pfhorrest

    Yes, not their experiences.

    my neurological wiring

    That’s a cause, not a reason.
    Pfhorrest

    What's the difference as far as a proper understanding of morality is concerned?

    unconscious following of social norms

    That’s “because someone said so”.
    Pfhorrest

    No its not, no one need say anything, we learn social norms from birth.


    predictions of positive outcomes for me

    Gauged by your expected experiences?
    Pfhorrest

    Yep my experiences. I need not care in the slightest about the valence of the experiences of others, only their likely responses.

    God

    “Because someone said so”.
    Pfhorrest

    No. He might have instilled the instinct to act that way in me. No one need say anything at all.


    the effects of the moral ether, aliens controlling me because we're living in a simulation...

    Causes, not reasons.
    Pfhorrest

    Again, you'd need to clarify the difference in this context.


    We might just not 'work out' what the morally right course of action is at all. It doesn't mean that no right course of action exists (nihilism) nor does it mean we can't say that some course of action is better than another, but 'better' might be by almost any measure. You're just picking 'because it makes most people happy', it could be 'because it makes you happy', or 'because it makes society more productive'....
  • Isaac
    2.5k
    In summary, it seems to me that you're saying

    1. Let's assume that there is an objective moral right and wrong because that way we've got a chance of finding it

    - I find this suspect from the beginning because we don't presume there's an aesthetic right and wrong on the same grounds. I don't presume there's a right and a wrong type of hat to wear on the same grounds. So why would I presume there's an objective moral right and wrong, just because that maximises my chances of finding one isn't a sufficient justification.

    ...but assuming it is for now, you then say...

    2. If there is an objective right and wrong, it must be measured by the hedonic pleasure/pain those behaviours cause other people because that's the only measure that isn't either subjective or arbitrary.

    - Again, I don't agree that this is the only non-subjective, non-arbitrary measure. Neurological wiring is non-subjective and non-arbitrary and might well show what is objectively right and wrong (in that it is a behaviour which universally causes those moral feeling in all similar circumstances). Such knowledge would provide us with scientifically predictive models to say "if you do X (in circumstance Y) you will feel morally bad about it , that's just the way your brain is wired". That would undoubtedly indicate that X was morally bad. I'm not saying fixed neurology is the right answer, just showing that your 'Golden Rule' isn't the only non-subjective, non-arbitrary measure. Social norms are another such measure ("you will feel bad about behaviour X because it is opposed to your societies norms").

    Basically, you're making the assumption that moral statements are normative, I don't agree. I think moral statements are expressive.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.5k
    Basically, you're making the assumption that moral statements are normative, I don't agree. I think moral statements are expressive.Isaac

    It sounds then like you are using the same words to refer to something different than I am. Rather than arguing about whose use of the word “moral” is right, 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.

    This is exactly the same is-ought problem I was just explaining to @Kenosha Kid in the postmodernism thread. If you want to reduce all attempts at prescriptive discussion to descriptive discussion, what you end up doing is just ignoring the prescriptive discussion entirely. Refusing to attempt to answer a question doesn’t somehow show that it is unanswerable.
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