Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Is Morality all in the head?

14 comments
The explanation behind this post can be found here.

I want to give some flow to this post whilst at the same time not selecting items just in my favour. Difficult and I don't quite achieve this but think it fairer to Yair this way. So I quote primarily Yair's key response from his last significant post and then later add some key points from some previous ones. My response should then make sense of all this (whatever context is missing due to prior comments between us) as I answer these points. This post should stand on its own without needing to reference the orginal comments and also as development of a critique of Moral Relativism in general.


Statement
First the bigger fish - morality. I’m perplexed, but will try one more angle of attack. It has been said the all of philosophy is a footnote on Plato, but I rather think it is a footnote on Aristotle. So let us start with the very beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics,
If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life?
Would you agree with Aristotle and me that it is identifying and furthering these final desires, the ultimate ends of people, that is the core subject of morality? I hope that we can agree on this much, at least.

We also seem to agree that, as an empirical matter, we find desires, including ultimate desires, in the minds of humans. [Let us leave other creatures alone, at least for now.] I note that exploring the mental structures of humans, including elucidating the structure of human desires and any ultimate desires they have, is a wholly empirical scientific task, falling under psychology and neuroscience.

Now, you object to relativism. But does it not follow from the last point that it is a priori possible that different humans will pursue different final ends? And does not modern psychiatry indicate that sociopaths, for example, follow different final ends than normal humans do, in that their ends do not include consideration for others’ suffering? Does it not follow from modern neuroscience and biology that different people will have different brain structures and varied mental faculties, e.g. some people will be fairness-blind much like some people are color-blind? It therefore follows that to study the final ends of humans requires recognizing the variety within the human species, and therefore that relativism holds true.

At the same time, virtually every human will share the basic moral structures much like virtually every human shares the mental and cognitive structures related to vision. To quote Wikipedia, “Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition” - hence, this is humanism.

You seem to be arguing for another meaning of morality. You say,
the domain that morality … is caused by and is partly constituted by what I call the territory - the domain of voluntary social interactions. My main complain is that you have defined away this domain which keeps on indicating that you are talking about morality in name only
I have not defined this territory away, but nor am I restricting myself to it. The territory spanned by morality is whatever is spanned by human desire, and voluntary social interactions form only part (albeit the lion’s share) of this domain.

At any rate, I fail to see why it is the territory that defines morality and not the other way around. As defined by Aristotle, morality is about the final desires of humans. These, in turn, heavily involve social interactions. It’s the reverse causal relation.[Yair Comment #5]
Riposte

Preliminary comments
First of all there are two basic and related issues occurring here. The first is what is the domain of morality for which any proposed answer would address. The second is Yair's proposed answer - Moral Relativism.


Stacking the deck
Now a typical scenario when I debate a Moral Relativist is that they appear to stack the deck in their favour. They define morality such that Moral Relativism is the only possible conclusion but do this by assuming what they are trying to prove. This is of course question begging and not a real argument in support of Moral Relativism. So inevitably the discussion devolves into a question of what is morality.

Semantics
Another issue is equivocation of terms or related concepts such as "subjective", "objective", "relative" and "absolute". Alan Sokal summed this up ""When one analyses these writings, one often finds radical-sounding assertions whose meaning is ambiguous, and which can be given two alternate readings: one as interesting, radical, and grossly false; the other as boring and trivially true."" Note this was Sokal addressing cognitive relativism, not ethical relativism, and we both agree in rejecting cognitive relativism. However I often find that such methods are also employed in arguments for Moral Relativism.

A Definition of Moral Relativism
My final preliminary point is that it is unclear, at least to me, what Yair means by Moral Relativism. Much of his argument looks like an argument for stereotypical Moral Subjectivism rather than Moral Relativism in particular. I capitalize Moral Relativism as I think this is a quite specific thesis, one which I can provide arguments to reject. For now I will only state what I understand by Moral Relativism and Yair can agree or provide an alternative version which would, if that is the case, I predict, be closer to stereotypical Moral Subjectivism. Anyway this distinction is not substantive in my critique as it applies to both.

Moral Relativism is two related theses:

What a society (or sub-culture or group) says is good is good, what it says is bad is bad. This is how good and bad are defined. Clearly different groups might provide quite different reasons or grounds as to why the good is good and the bad is bad. However Moral Relativism asserts that there are no independent grounds or reasons upon which to determine which of any these different conceptions of the Good (and/or the Right) are, in fact, correct or incorrect.

This leads to the second thesis, one which many Moral Relativists are prone to deny but still, nevertheless often invoke, namely that of Judgemental or Normative Relativism - one cannot judge the morality of another group, because there are no independent grounds to do so and there is no justification for preferring or privileging one's one cultural based (which can include religion or science) morality to evaluate others.

Smuggling in universal values
Now I am yet unclear if Yair supports this or a different view, I offer this not to put words in his mouth but this is what I can address and believe can refute. Further there are some typical implications of Moral Relativism which, again, I do not know if Yair supports, for example this being a justification and encouragement of tolerating other's views. There are significant problems with this, or rather for the solution implied by Moral Relatvism, which I have addressed in a previous post The Paradox of Tolerance.

With these preliminary comments over I will address the meat of Yair's actual argument above.

Diverse Final Ends
There is much that we agree upon. I like the quote from Aristotle's post but am somewhat dubious of the implication that Yair makes of it. The fact that people have final ends is uncontroversial and the fact that different people have different final ends too. Further I might add these ends can change over time for any person and that these can be influenced by a variety of factors including other people's ends. There is a dynamic interaction of these ends. Now I hold is that it is not up to us to dictate what ends people must have, each individual is the morally best qualified person to decide upon this. I think we would agree on that and that others dictating what our ends should be is deeply problematical both in theory - which is one reason why I reject simple first order utilities such as pain/pleasure (hedonism), happiness/misery (eudaimonia), man qua man (Randianism) and so on - and, in practice, as I think history can substantiate.

Still from all this Yair concludes that relativism is true and I do not. Secondly Yair concludes that this is the core of morality and I do not. Yair is using this argument to conclude with evidence as Moral Relativism or, at least, some form of stereotypical(?) Moral Subjectivism, but this fails either way, for the type of reason that my Sokal quote highlighted.

This recognition (which many fail to make) only establishes that people have different values and that is it. These ends are not formed in vacuo but partly from interactions with others as well as other factors due to age, health, looks and so on. Some people people might have a reasonable set of fulfillable ends and other might not. Some ends might be formed to deal with the "unfairness" of their position (due to differential power, status and so on) and in other circumstances might be quite different. It is insufficient to conclude that this is all there is and that one cannot investigate these interactions. Still the mere establishment that people, for whatever reasons, have variable and diverse ends is I think trivially true. However naming it "relative" and concluding some form of Moral Relativism or Moral Subjectivism is exactly the type of fallacy of equivocation and hasty generalisation that one needs to guard against.

The core of morality
I disagree that this is the core of morality but agree that this is an issue that any moral approach needs to deal with and many fail to adequately do so - they unduly, without real justification, interfere with people's ends. It appears that Yair, defining the core of morality his way, ensures that such issues are in some sense prevented, but he is then to some degree smuggling in a universal value - to protect the distinct and diverse ends of people by defining morality in such a way that they are indeed automatically sacrosanct (a similar point is made over tolerance in the above linked post). Surely this should be a conclusion of a moral theory and, indeed, a moral theory not acknowledging this distinction would be one we would both be motivated to criticise and we would hope to be able to provide reason and argument why it fails. But Yair has, presumably, disqualified himself from doing so otherwise he would not be, at least, an implicit judgemental relativist, so, in my view, is forced to introduce this defence at the wrong stage of developing such a theory as his. Anyway I have no wish to speculatively psychologise Yair, so lets leave this point.

An interesting side point is that alternatively Yair could criticise such theory from a meta-ethical basis in which case his Moral Relativism is irrelevant - or is it? It would still look like contradicting normative relativism as far as I can see and just highlights the problems of that specific thesis - which Yair may not support - it seems to disqualify one from meta-ethical debate!


What Yair fails to acknowledge, at least at this stage of his theory formation, is that these ends are formed by people interacting with each other, whereas I am am arguing that this needs to incorporated from the outset (he accepts this can be looked at later on). Still it is not a question of one or another but both. As Korzybski says "Not either/or but both/and". That is it appears that Yair unjustifiablly limiting the domain of morality and so stacking the deck. In another post Morality is a physical process, I talk about the map and the territory (thats from Korzybski too but note I am dubious of his some of his elaborations of his ideas) but to avoid any confusion both the maps - people's and inner feeling about morality, their ends, moral codes and so on - and the territory - the world of social interactions between agents are both part of the domain of morality. To exclude either one is to create a distortion of the problem space. I can only add that I have not seen any a priori justification to choose one over the other, certainly a theory might conclude that one has primacy over the other but they both surely must be at least relevant.

Is morality in the head?

I think I have sufficiently addressed the core quote from Yair so only want add some short points in relation to Yair's other quotes which brought about the title of this post.
You maintain that morality is not “all in the head”. Where else is it? Your moral (or aesthetic) judgment is a bit like your taste-judgment, [Yair Comment #3]

I persist in my opinion that morality is more like taste than astrophysics. Astrophysics is about what the physical structure of the universe is, a reality that is not inherently related to humans at all. Morality is about what is the moral value of a given physical state, values that can only be determined by considering what a human thinks about the physical state - just like sweet taste can only be determined by considering human’s taste buds. These categorizations are inherently subjective because they are internal categorizations of the agent (to be used in his decision-making), rather than ones representing factual properties of the objects/states that are true regardless of the agent and his categorization schema.[My emphasis]
[Morality is] Just like taste, and artistic taste, and NOT like the rotational velocity of a star, or whether Ceasar had a beard… Sorry if that’s confusing, but I’m calling these kinds of relations “all in the head”.[Yair Comment #4]
What Yair appears to be doing here is the type of Sokal equivocation - at least implicitly if not explicitly. We agree that the belief and desires of agents are critical in moral analysis and that people can only be motivated by their own desires. However noting this, if I can present this in simpler terms than Yair used, and calling it subjective (or "calling this kinds of relations "all in the head"") does not imply Moral Subjectivism (or a support for Moral Relativism).

Secondly Yair is also stacking the deck by only focusing on this and excluding the surely just as trivial fact that desires make no sense if they have no effect on the world and looked at Yair's way that such an understanding of desire would be highly impoverished and likely misleading. To deny the reason that desire exists - to make or keep a state of affairs true - is an unjustified limitation on what the domain of morality means.

I note that he calls this an opinion (as I emphasis) but would hope he could do better than that to establish his case. With respect to the distinction between astrophysics and taste one needs to make two distinctions. The first is between desire and beliefs (and belief/desire formation) and their interactions with the world. One would not study the domain of astrophysics by just studying the beliefs and desires of astrophysicists and develop a theory of astrophysics. The second distinction is that just because part of the domain under investigation is, unlike astrophysics, the belief and desires of people, does not mean this must be studied in a radically different fashion. Yair accepts that one can perform at least some sort of an empirical analysis of such beliefs and desires but this is no justification to exclude their physical interactions and effects nor is anything substantively different to rational-empirical inquiry needed. Clearly the skill set and tools of the astrophysicist and, lets us call it, the moral philosopher-scientist are quite different, the former using tools and methods from other branches of physics, computing, engineering and mathematics, the latter more likely using tools and methods from neuroscience, cognitive and social psychology, biology, economics, history and game theory and so on. Still they are not both examples of rational-empirical inquiry?

Conclusion
I do not think, for the reasons above, that Yair has yet established a well supported argument for Moral Relativism or Moral Subjectivism. Hopefully I have done justice to his position at least in the selection of quotes I used. An amusing parting shot (amusing to me at least) is that Yair's insistence on his definition of morality looks like privileging his view over others, certainly mine (and many ethical philosophers my position is neither unusual nor aytpical of modern ethical thinking). Noting that meta-ethics is about using rational and empirical arguments to determine the contents of morality and not moral arguments from morality, his position looks somewhat self-refuting?

P.S. Maybe I will leave the second post for a while and see how we can progress on this topic first?


14 comments:

יאיר רזק said...

Alright, I'm not gonna work in order or answer all your points, as I'm trying to build a coherent post answering the main points; re-raise a point if you feel I should address it.

I also cut the reponse to parts, because of size limitations.

Preliminary Comments
Complaints about "stacking the deck" or the travesties Sokal talks down are not constructive. I ask you to try to refrain from such ad hominem retorts, and discuss the meat of what is wrong with my assertions. I, in turn, will try to use philosophical terms in more precise and conventional ways, as it seems that I'm not.

I'm also going to expand a little more than before about future developments of the theory, not just the basics, since you seem to be pushing that way. Perhaps that will serve to better clarify my position.

The Core of Morality I
In your "Diverse Final Ends" section, you maintain that I make a "fallacy of equivocation and hasty generalisation" by "naming [the fact people have variable and diverse ends]" relativism. I fail to see the fallacy I'm allegedly committing.

Aristotle defined the Good as the final end. We have agreed that different people have different final ends. From this it follows that different people have different, conflicting, Goods.

I think "moral relativism" is a good title for this conclusion, but if you insist on another name so be it. What I am more interested in is understanding where is the alleged error in the deduction.

Note that I have not discussed the structure and dynamics of these desires. I accept that they can change over time and so on, but the above deduction is independent from such issues. That is why I insist on making it first, before taking the precise content and dynamics of human desires into account in further developments of the theory.

The Core of Morality II
What is the core of morality? You apparently disagree with Aristotle that the ultimate good is the final end, but I fail to see the alternative.

Aristotle defined a useful field of inquiry. Every agent would want to obtain a moral theory, since it would increase his capability to fulfill his own desires. Why is this definition not acceptable? Morality as defined by Aristotle is something humans would want to follow; and moralities are not upheld at gunpoint (at least for those holding the guns). If you define something else, even on the same domain, why would people want to follow it? Why then call it morality?

Note that this definition incorporates both the maps (final ends) and territory (desires). It does not exclude these, but rather offers more room than you do. It leaves room for the possibility that discovering truth or creating beauty is a final end, for example, that there are Goods that are unrelated to human interaction.

יאיר רזק said...

Clarifications
Firstly, I emphatically reject both theses of Moral Relativism, as you defined them. Under my (Moral Subjectivism?) understanding, there is an independent ground on which to determine whether concepts of Good are correct, namely "do they reflect the final ends of people?". I would like to argue that the final ends of humans are not determined by culture, so that culture is actually irrelevant here. Rather, the final ends are determined by human nature, which is nearly uniform and largely biological, leading to a single Humanistic moral theory (which covers a certain normative diversity), plus outlying moralities (for sociopaths and so on) that no one bothers developing.

However, note that there are no independent grounds to prefer one correct morality over others. There are several correct moralities, each correct for certain portions of humanity - the morality of a sociopath is not that of a normative person. Normative persons do make a choice to uphold their own morality, and this is a Good choice, but it is Good in a dependent way - it is Good within the normative, Humanistic, morality.

Whether you want to call this Relativism or Subjectivism or Yairism or whatever - I do not know.


Secondly, I have never concluded that "one cannot investigate these interactions", or denied said interactions. On the contrary, I maintain that it is essential to study and understand these interactions in order to make correct moral choices, since such knowledge is part of the input human evaluation of the goodness of the situation and of the consequences of taking this or that action.

Thirdly, I am most certainly not "smuggling in a universal value - to protect the distinct and diverse ends of people", if only for the simply reason that I oppose this value! Protecting the diverse ends of people would only be good, in practice, if it is part of the normative Humanistic morality, and I'd be hard pressed to say that it is. Allowing plurality of different ends to flourish, yes; protecting people's autonomy, yes; protecting diversity of ends for its own sake - no; protecting ends conflicting with Humanistic ends - most definitely no, the very opposite, they should be stamped down.

Fourthly, I most definitely don't deny that desires are about making or keeping a state of affairs true. It is a cornerstone of my analysis - I start from the fact that people follow their desires, seeking to act in the real world so as to fulfill them.

Fifthly, I am not at all advocating that studying human desires (or culinary taste) is not a field of rational-empirical inquiry. On the contrary, I keep saying that it is only empirical research that can reveal to us the real desires of humans.

יאיר רזק said...

Morality Is In The Head
Would you agree that culinary taste is, at least primarily, in our head? Certainly, it has to do with chemical composition and so on. But the sweet taste of candy is not to be found in its chemical composition. It is to be found in the response of the human brain to sugar. This is why I say taste is in the brain. For a crocodile, candy won't taste sweet at all [presumably; I know little of crocodiles...].

The same situation exists in regards to moral judgments. The judgment is certainly about external things, but it is to be found in the person's head. We abhor a child's death because this is how human brains are wired to respond to this event. A lion might take great pleasure in seeing a human child die, for all I know. The moral judgment is in our brain, not in the event.

This does not, by itself, mean that Relativism is correct. No. Relativism follows from the fact that there are different judgments in different heads [plus the definition of morality, as above].

It does, however, imply that values are not intrinsic. Values are human - man is the measure of everything. I call this Subjective, to contrast it with Objective values that exist out there in the world regardless of humans (like a star's angular velocity). Perhaps this is not the best name?

Conclusion
I maintain that the only reasonable ethics is one people would want to follow, one that cultivates their own desires, and therefore that the Good is the final cause, just as Aristotle defined. I maintain that in light of the variety of final ends there are multiple, conflicting, Goods. I maintain that there is no a priori way to determine which end you, as a moral agent, should support; rather, your Good is determined a posteriori by your own desires, for as a real (de re) agent you act according to them. Finally, I maintain that the determination of the actual desires is an empirical question that should be left to the empirical sciences, but that it appears that a Humanistic broad morality can be constructed on the basis of the shared psychological makeup of human beings.

Morality is a science. Aristotle [actually, it goes back to at least Socrates] identified the core meta-ethical principles that, along with general epistemology, define this scientific domain. It is now up to scientists to uncover the real structure of desires, their dynamics, and the effective methodologies to maximize their fulfillment. Unfortunately, morality is an underdeveloped science, but pending further evidence I believe Humanism is the correct morality.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Yair

I will give two replies. This one to clarify any issues or misunderstandings and based on this, the next to further address your points. Hopefully you do not need to respond to this comment only the next one.

Ad Hominems
Sorry if you read some of this as ad hominem, it was not intended.

Stacking the Deck
Nevertheless "stacking the deck" is a particular type of circular reasoning, one that I still believe you are committing here (without implying why you are doing it). This type of circular reasoning is such that one is forced to discuss what the problem space is, rather than seek solutions within the problem space.

If your meta-ethical theory is correct, or at least better than alternatives, you should be able to show this using reason and evidence in comparison to other theories all starting from a neutral and mutually agreeable grounds. This is where I am trying to get to.

"Stacking the deck" is the name I give to when this neutral ground is prevented from occurring and I will not agree to a biased definition of the problem space. The same comparison arguments (which are still unavoidable) now have to be applied what the problem space is, which is what we are doing here and is, in my view, messier and less clear.

Sokal Equivocations
This more pertain to relativistic argument but are very similar to the subjectivist argument you are providing. If you don't like the label I will drop that. Still I will point out equivocation etc. wherever I see it. Let us call it the "Subjectivist equivocation"?
I will expand as needed in the following comments.

Moral Subjectivism
It seems, as I suspected, that you are not arguing for moral relativism but moral subjectivism. That is progress (apart from anything else it makes more sense of your humanistic claim, which is quite contrary to relativism, still I have issues with that). Certainly with semantic and conceptual clarity it would be better to call a spade a spade, don't you think?

Still it is unclear whether you accept or reject normative relativism. This issue will be explored in the following comment(s).

So I now take that I am addressing an argument for moral subjectivism not moral relativism.

On to the next comment

faithlessgod said...

"You maintain that I make a "fallacy of equivocation and hasty generalisation" by "naming [the fact people have variable and diverse ends]" relativism...From this it follows that different people have different, conflicting, Goods...I fail to see the fallacy I'm allegedly committing...I am more interested in is understanding where is the alleged error in the deduction."
Noting something is relative (or subjective) might be necessary but is not sufficient to say it is Moral Relativism or Moral Subjectivism (lets stick tot he latter from now on).

You are equivocating when you note something is necessary (and trivially true) for your thesis without providing an argument that it is sufficient (which is often substantive and false, but until you make the argument we do not know).I distinguish these senses using capitalisation for the latter.

It is also a hasty generalisation to go from what is necessary to think that is sufficient without providing an argument that that is the case.

Finally it is also a genetic fallacy, this is specific to subjectivist equivocations, merely noting the people have different ends and the origin of these ends is in the head, does not mean it is all in the head. Again an argument needs to made and I am still waiting for one.

"You apparently disagree with Aristotle that the ultimate good is the final end, but I fail to see the alternative. "
The point is moot, I have different views on "ultimate ends" (maybe not substantively significant for our purposes) but this needs to be discussed within a mutually agreed problem space not prior to one. "Stacking the deck" is the name I give to such situation.

The problem space of morality is different people pursuing their different ends and part of what constitutes this is their interactions. This is not something you add on afterwards it just is part of the problem space. To deny this makes any your conception of morality look absurd. It might make sense of a Robinson Crusoe one man on an island but that is not the core type of moral issue everyone is concerned about.

"Every agent would want to obtain a moral theory, since it would increase his capability to fulfill his own desires. Why is this definition not acceptable?..."Morality as defined by Aristotle is something humans would want to follow;""
This is insufficient to serve as the problem space. What and how people do this occurs within such a space but you simply cannot define the space so that this is all there is.

One needs an external, neutral point of view to see the space. You already have used such a neutral, external point of view in order to see that people have different ends but then you stop prematurely and without a sound justification.

"Note that this definition incorporates both the maps (final ends) and territory (desires).
No it does not. You are distorting the problem space again. The maps are what is inside everyone's head the territory is the world of interactions that are what the maps refer too (accurately or not).
You are still continuing to deny a priori without justification that what people do in general and to each other in the pursuit of their ends is nothing to do with morality.

"It does not exclude these, but rather offers more room than you do."
It excludes the actual world!!!

"It leaves room for the possibility that discovering truth or creating beauty is a final end, for example, that there are Goods that are unrelated to human interaction."
Nothing I have said excludes such ends, there is no necessary required interaction (with other agents) for a particular end I am only emphasizing interactions because you are excluding many ends - where agents interact and pretty much all the problems of morality occur.

Seems I have only properly addressed your first comment but to sum up it still seems you are making your solution the definition of the problem rather than the best answer to the problem.

faithlessgod said...

Actually I think I have covered your first two comments and I will now address the third. Just discovered this 4096 character limit. Not bad prevents comments getting too long.

"Would you agree that culinary taste is, at least primarily, in our head?"
This is not relevant because...
"The same situation exists in regards to moral judgments."
Who disputes that moral judgments occur it the brain? However just because they do does not entail that morality in the brain. Any scientific, detective, historian judgement occurs in the brain none of these entail that science, detecting crime and history in the brain yet this is the reasoning you are fallaciously using to argue that morality (not just moral judgements) is in the brain.

You are denying the grounds upon which moral judgements are made about what to do in the real world including a world with other people with possibly conflicting or compatible ends. No amount of discussing taste or aesthetics can show this is otherwise.

"This does not, by itself, mean that Relativism is correct. No. Relativism follows from the fact that there are different judgments in different heads [plus the definition of morality, as above]."
This is the same subjectivist error I highlighted in the previous post.

I disagree on your defence of intrinsic value but that is a different point not pertinent to the basic issues at hand.

"I maintain that the only reasonable ethics is one people would want to follow"
We have always agreed on this

"one that cultivates their own desires, and therefore that the Good is the final cause, just as Aristotle defined".
This is not quite right but we need to get the question of the problem of morality sorted out first. Certainly people will only act upon their own desires.

"I maintain that in light of the variety of final ends there are multiple, conflicting, Goods."
And it is this that generates the problem space which you define away. It is no good to acknowledging it and think that this is somehow dealt with later. It is constitutive of the problem and must be a key part of any proposed solution yet I have seen absolutely nothing so far.

I maintain that there is no a priori way to determine which end you, as a moral agent, should support;
There certainly is not, this is not in dispute.

"rather, your Good is determined a posteriori by your own desires, for as a real (de re) agent you act according to them."
The is stating a descriptive trivial truth which completely fails to address the problem of morality. It is as I noted in comments on the other blog a non-solution.

The problem of morality is what are the (a posteriori) factors to affect ones desires and whether these are acceptable (or not) including what "acceptable" means.

יאיר רזק said...

I'm going to stick to a single point: the essence of morality.

You are equivocating when you note something is necessary (and trivially true) for your thesis without providing an argument that it is sufficient... t is also a hasty generalisation to go from what is necessary to think that is sufficient
Huh? All I did was prove that my theory was right given the assumptions.

I'm going to go more formal. Perhaps that will assist us.

D1 A "desire" is a mental constituent that drives choices. A person will always act to maximize the fulfillment of his current desires, to the best of his abilities.
D2 A "fundamental desire" is a desire that is "free-standing", not desired to further another desire.
D3 An "Aristotelian Moral Theory" allows an agent with a set of final desires X to optimize his fulfillment of his desires by elaborating X, rationally producing secondary desires, and rationally and wisely considering how different choices affect their fulfillment.

D4 A "Moral Theory" is a theory that guides making moral choices, i.e. choices involving moral desires.

Theorem 1: All Moral Theories must be Aristotelian Moral Theories for them to function in the world.

Proof by Contradiction:
T1.0 Let us assume that moral desires constitute a subset of desires that is is not identical to the set of fundamental desires.

T1.1 Then, given a Moral Theory and an Aristotelian Moral Theory, the agent will choose to use the Aristotelian Moral Theory because the maximization will be over all his desires, not over the moral subset, and therefore superior.
T1.2 Therefore, the Moral Theory will not govern his moral decision making.
T1.3 By D4, it will not be a Moral Theory in practice.

What is the use of contemplating theories that are not applicable? It is better to concede that our fundamental desires are identical to our moral desires, i.e. that the Good is final end, as Aristotle claims.

Other so-called "Moral" theories are just not useful. They are just self-righteous attempts to deter certain desires.

faithlessgod said...

"Huh? All I did was prove that my theory was right given the assumptions".
Your assumptions have not yet provided a moral theory and so nothing is proved. They are assumptions I broadly agree with but do not yet pertain to morality. It is your assumption not argument that this is a "moral theory" I am disputing. It explains and predicts no moral questions at all.

In order to provide a candidate theory as a solution to a problem, you first have to acknowledge what the problem is that the solution resolves, and this is what I am asking and you are avoiding.

I could say most of what you said in your Aristotlian model say far more simply.

Everyone, individually, wants to substitute a more fulfilling state of affairs for a less fulfilling one. A more fulfilling state of affairs is determined by their desires, they attempt to bring about this more fulfilling state of affairs by acting on their more and strongest of their desires, given their beliefs.

This is part of data that must be acknowledged both as contributing to the problem of morality and in any proposed solution. However just saying this is morality is no solution at all.

"D1 A "desire" is a mental constituent that drives choices. A person will always act to maximize the fulfillment of his current desires, to the best of his abilities."
OKay

"D2 A "fundamental desire" is a desire that is "free-standing", not desired to further another desire."
More properly this is now called a final desire as opposed to intermediate desire.

"D3 An "Aristotelian Moral Theory" allows an agent with a set of final desires X to optimize his fulfillment of his desires by elaborating X, rationally producing secondary desires, and rationally and wisely considering how different choices affect their fulfillment."
This is a prudential model, that is all, a model of idealised practical reasoning. You have yet to define what the problem of morality is nor how this addresses that problem.

"D4 A "Moral Theory" is a theory that guides making moral choices, i.e. choices involving moral desires."
For which you need to determine or explain what "moral" is, as a choice and as a desire.

"Theorem 1: All Moral Theories must be Aristotelian Moral Theories for them to function in the world."
This is not saying anything. It is just semantics. It is a constraint on what moral theories can claim, not a moral theory itself.

Your proof by contradiction proves nothing since you have just assumed what you are trying to prove and have defined the problem in terms of your solution. All this "proof" does is restate that "ought" implies "can" and that any theory that requires otherwise is flawed. Well there are quite a few theories that can pass this test. However you have proposed none yourself, just defined this test as a moral theory.

faithlessgod said...

A shorter answer is simply to say from you quoting Aristotle "Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life?" Trivially yes, of course, however such knowledge alone is not, itself, a moral theory and you have provided no argument, let alone anything substantive at all, only an arbitrary a priori definition that it is.

יאיר רזק said...

This is part of data that must be acknowledged both as contributing to the problem of morality and in any proposed solution. However just saying this is morality is no solution at all.
Why isn't it a solution? To be more precise, why isn't "the establishment of knowledge to better optimize said attempts" the problem of morality? This is the problem of morality as I've stated all along (and not at all avoided), what I called the "core of morality" - from my very first post, where I said "With such an understanding, we could come to shape and better follow our own heart’s desires." This was always the problem that sought solution.

This is not saying anything. It is just semantics. It is a constraint on what moral theories can claim, not a moral theory itself.
It is an extremely strong constraint. It says that all suggested moral theories are either Aristotelian, identifying the Good with final desires ['fundamental' is a better term, but whatever], or not convincing. Not convincing to anyone thinking clearly, someone following "idealized practical reasoning". Why do you insist on developing theories that are convincing only to people who do not think clearly? Will you follow your own theory?

I note that you have suggested no definition of morality. All you did was to define a domain, not the problem morality attempts to solve. What is the problem, according to you?

A shorter answer is simply to say ...knowledge alone is not, itself, a moral theory and you have provided no argument, let alone anything substantive at all, only an arbitrary a priori definition that it is.
Words are categories we use to slice nature up into chunks. I might equally say that you have presented no argument for the domain of morality, only an arbitrary a priori definition of what it is.

I have shown that defining Good/morality in the way I did is a traditional way (not a radical, arbitrary, change of meaning), which is useful. You haven't defined it, let alone shown that your definition is useful. I have further shown that my definition covers your domain, so that it is useful for anyone interested in that domain, but also in other domains.

Let me offer yet another definition of morality, this time prescriptivism: ethical statements are imperatives, cries for the other to do or don't do something. I have also shown that you lose this test - you are less convincing.

Why would anyone, including you, follow your ethics? If no one would, why is it a subject worthy of philosophical contemplation?

faithlessgod said...

Really this getting pointless.I am not interested in silly semantics. I thought you had a moral theory we could discuss and analyse and instead you have a pseudo-solution to an imaginary problem (whatever that is) that you named similarly to another real problem that is what everyone else is concerned about called "morality".

faithlessgod said...

One last stab at this.

If you actually had a theory then you could state what disconfirming evidence would show your theory is wrong. It would have to be the type of evidence that would bear on any conventional (not your idiosyncratic) moral area or issue - that is something to do with the interactions of two or more moral agents.

יאיר רזק said...

This is getting pointless. You insist on arbitrarily and a priori defining for yourself what the domain of morality is, to imagine things existing in the world without any justification and against evidence to the contrary, and to turn a blind eye to your is-ought jumps and to the fact that your arbitrary domain is already covered by the broader definition, thank you. You confuse your uncritical understanding of what morality is with The Truth, and ignore the philosophically useful - and venerable - definition. I hope one day you'll wake up from your dogmatic slumber.

Until then - please make sure to always clarify that you're talking about what needs to be done to maximize X, not what you or anyone else actually would ever want to do. Don't let people waste their time believing you're actually giving them advice they'd want to heed on how to behave, when in fact your advice is designed to further X.

If you actually had a theory then you could state what disconfirming evidence would show your theory is wrong.
Humanism would have to be abandoned if psychology will reveal human nature to be too varied to be well-defined, and/or to not be driven by the values humanism assumes are basic, such as empathy, equality, and liberty.

The meta-ethical position on what is the good, however, cannot be overridden by evidence since it is a matter of philosophically-useful definitions, a question on how best to carve existence rather than what existence is.

faithlessgod said...

Well I am moving on to other posts, at least inspired by this failed dialogue with you. You are welcome to provide input there, as is any other commenter.

"You insist on arbitrarily and a priori defining for yourself what the domain of morality is"
Looks like you are looking in the mirror.

"to imagine things existing in the world without any justification and against evidence to the contrary"
You are confusing what the question is with candidate answers which you clearly shown you are incapable of evaluating in terms of justification and evidence due to your dogmatism.

"and to the fact that your arbitrary domain is already covered by the broader definition, thank you"
Your definition is arbitrarily narrower than the domain under question, that is the fact.

"You confuse your uncritical understanding of what morality is with The Truth"
Ooh, you are invoking "the Truth" with a capital T, always a good sign of dogmatism, get over it there is no such thing as "the Truth".

"and ignore the philosophically useful - and venerable - definition"
One quote from Aristotle does not make a summer. You have to do better than that to make an argument. Since I broadly agree with the quote anyway it is irrelevant and you are confusing a tentative definition of morality with the the domain of morality. Anyway Aristotle did not stop here but used that to develop a virtue ethics, interesting that is what DU is too, just a more refined version of Aristotle's approach incorporating Hume too and so it is not surprisingly based on the same assumptions.


"I hope one day you'll wake up from your dogmatic slumber."
From our dialogue, it would be irrational hold such a hope for you. I suggest you read Kant and then re-read Hume, that might help you but I make no predictions, I cannot based on the evidence you have presented.


"Don't let people waste their time believing you're actually giving them advice they'd want to heed on how to behave, when in fact your advice is designed to further X.
FU NEX? I F 8 10 D X


"Humanism would have to be abandoned if psychology will reveal human nature to be too varied to be well-defined, and/or to not be driven by the values humanism assumes are basic, such as empathy, equality, and liberty."
We are talking about your theory not humanism. Since your theory does not lead to humanism and DU does this is a good reason to abandon your theory.

I asked what tests of your theory could invalidate it. I see no issue with human nature being quite varied as a reason to abandon humanism. As for basic values, we certainly have the capacity for these virtues it is an interesting thought that we might discover that we do not. Still you have not presented anything that could differentiate your position - as unsound as it is - from DU and many other theories.

"The meta-ethical position on what is the good, however, cannot be overridden by evidence since it is a matter of philosophically-useful definitions, a question on how best to carve existence rather than what existence is."
So you now prefer philosophically inert definitions rather than a realistic ratio-empirical approach. After all that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, what a surprise :-)


Until then - please make sure to always clarify that you're talking about what needs to be done to maximize X, not what you or anyone else actually would ever want to do.
Oh dear. You wish to revert to your misunderstandings of this solution, when you have already acknowledged these were misunderstandings. Hardly the action of someone who value rational and ethical discourse. This clear evidence that I can no longer presume that you wish to engage on charitable and honest debate, previously I thought this was getting nowhere as I said "pointless", however now I know you have no intention of this going anywhere. This conversation is terminated.