Thursday, 19 February 2009

More on Moore

In my last post on Moore's Open Question argument I made the case that this was nothing more than a dressed up version of the Argument from Intuition. I want to expand on his argument with further objections that are sometimes used against a naturalistic reduction and end with some thoughts of the irony of moral subjectivists using this argument.

The "synonym" objection
This is the demand that the reductive definition be a synonym for "good". This is an unreasonable and unjustifiable demand. For example what is the definition of "big"? If one were to answer with "large" this would be rejected on the basis that it is a synonym and not a definition. So arguing the other way here is equally misplaced.

The "1:1 correspondence" objection
Mackie, in Inventing Right and Wrong, argued, correctly in my view, that "good" was an indetermined term - so I call it the "indeterminancy of good" argument. It might be indetermined but not necessarily more so than other relational terms such as "big", for example. One could also take a latter Wittgenstinian approach and argue that good is a term with multiple but related meanings with family resemblances. One needs to address particular meaning of "good" not a vague broad sense and so to demand a 1:1 correspondence is another unreasonable and unjustifiable demand.

Further, Mackie dealt with this by making explicit and internalising it with his reduction of good to "such as to satisfy the requiredments or interest or wants of the kind in question". The emphasized phrase "of the kind in question" captures this indeterminancy. And if one presents a specific definition which addresses a specific "kind in question" then it is an invalid ojection to use a differing meaning of good which makes reference to another kind of question not being answered in the presented definition. One can always make such a move but this is a fallacious basis to defeat a candidate definition.

The "obvious" objection
Can any successful definition of "good" be an "obvious" tautology? Well if it were truly obvious there would not be much debate would there? However is this demand useful in a hindsight usage of "obvious" - similar to, say, Huxley's usuage of "obvious" in responding to Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection - that once he had seen, it was so obvious that he was annoyed he had not thought of it first? Well even in this hindsight usage of "obvious" requires the willingness of the challenger to accept this "obviousness" yet that they are quite entitled to look for and criticise any definition even if it, once presented them, strikes them as obvious (they might be mistaken in seeing this obviousness after all) and this is the way to test the robustness of such a definition. To say that it is not obvious alone is another dubious riposte and is not sufficient to reject a definition. It might be obvious to the definer but not to the critic. As it would do not good for the definer to argue that it is obvious it also does not good for the critic to reject it because it is not obvious.

The "tautology" objection
Behind the obvious charge is the assumption that such a definition should be a tautology, although this objection can be made separately. Still is this justified? Well we are looking at providing a reductive definition, one that performs an ontological reduction in some empirical and not purely logical sense, whereas tautologies apply in the domain of logical relations. So no it is not justified.

How can moral subjectivists invoke any of Moore's naturalistic fallacies?

Moore's argument is popular with moral subjectivists which is ironic because Moore was making a case for moral objectivism, arguing for, in some sense, a modern version of Hutchinson's moral sense theory. Two names were applied to this theory, one was moral intuition where what was being intuited were objective features of the world. This theory, was unfortunately in my view, also called ethical non-naturalism which can cause confusion. A charitable interpretation is not that Moore was arguing for a supernatural based dualism, but rather he was using "natural" in a narrow sense - more akin to physicalism or materialism one might say - and arguing for a natural dualism, where I am here using "natural" in the broad sense. To expand, that is, a broad naturalist view of the world is not isomorphic with materialism or physicalism but can cater for some form of ontological dualism or pluralism, whilst still rejecting any form of supernaturalism. Using this distinction over naturalism for a charitable interpretation, we can then say that Moore was arguing for at least a natural ontological dualism - where the moral features and values of the world are still natural but not reducible to material or physical features. The moral sense and resulting intuitions were the means for us to detect these ontological distinct and objective features of the natural world. This works with all three versions of his naturalistic fallacy - basicness, non-materialness (used here as a better term for the distinction I noted in the previous post as "non-naturalness") and specialness - where methodological reduction fails because, we can say for our purposes here, it requires some form of ontological monism.

Here comes a potential problem for moral subjectivists. How can they argue that a reductive naturalist is committing the naturalistic fallacy - in any of Moore's senses - without also committing themselves to the supposition that such values objectively exist in some basic, natural but non-material or otherwise just special category immune to methodological reduction, that is commit themselves without contradicting their subjectivism? Indeed can they invoke any version of the naturalistic fallacy without contradicting there position?


The Barefoot Bum said...

I think you're correct that Moore's fallacies aren't fallacies, and I don't think ethical reductive naturalism is logically fallacious.

I personally object to reductive naturalism -- at least in the sense that ethical questions reduce to facts that reference only material reality outside the brain -- because it is insupportable by scientific methodology: it is not the simplest explanation to account for the facts in evidence.

The Barefoot Bum said...

(P.S. It would be nice if you put a link to the comment RSS feed in (or more prominently in) your template.)

faithlessgod said...

Hi I thought it was fairly clear in the second box on the left. Note I mapped this into feedburner which I will revert back to the orginal blogger feed. (I might add this my to recent comments widget). Where do you suggest I put it. I just looked on your blog and could not find it your anywhere! ;-)

The ethical naturalism I argue for does not "reference only material reality outside the brain" but references the relation between brain states and material reality outside the brain. This is a third position over narrow objectivists who reject (the content of) brain states or narrow subjectivists who reject material reality outside the brain. The third position is "both/and" and not the "either/or" of the other two.

And of course it was due to your previous input that I improved my discussion of Moore, glad to see you now agree over my long ago original but badly put fallacy fallacy argument.

Now what I do not follow is your statement "because it is insupportable by scientific methodology: it is not the simplest explanation to account for the facts in evidence" Could you expand on that?

faithlessgod said...

Got it! - you mean you want to see a rss comments link on the item (comments) page for each post? Will do when I next play with the template.

faithlessgod said...

Done - see "Post Comments Feed" below:

faithlessgod said...

"Now what I do not follow is your statement "because it is insupportable by scientific methodology: it is not the simplest explanation to account for the facts in evidence" Could you expand on that?
I missed that this was a follow on to the point we both agree upon. I understand this now. I think we are in agreement over rejecting a reductionism that excludes brain states as this is not the simplest explanation of the evidence (indeed is not supported by the evidence at all).

The Barefoot Bum said...

Done - see "Post Comments Feed" below:

I see it. Excellent! Gracias.

I missed that this was a follow on to the point we both agree upon.

Good. That was the sense I intended.