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Is Sam’s moral landscape deterministic?
Posted: 20 April 2011 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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“How exactly does Sam propose to aggregate utility functions of different creatures? “

-So again unless Sam can propose a finalised model including how to aggregate utility function there is no point in proceeding on the assumption that it is possible?


“The difference, presumably, is that they have a well defined operational method for measuring the temperature of the earth, and the meaning of the term is defined by that operational method.”

-that is a difference, but its irrelevant. At the epistemic starting point you first have to accept that there are variables that temperature is a function of. And thats before you have any operational method…but I guess the person who first that that they could perhaps make a model of temperature dynamics was misguided for not already knowing the structure of the model in advance.


“How illuminating.”

-LOL. I dont think Sam has argued that he has said anything profound. In fact he has made a point of showing that it isnt when seen in comparison to things like health or other parts of science. Dyou think Sam has proposed a model of wellbeing? If so you are out of the ballpark. What he has suggested is something that is fairly straight forward (so much so that you belittle it). That whatever wellbeing is, if it is a reality, then acting on the assumption that it can be in principal understood is the only valid DIRECTION to having any chance of understanding it. Thats it. The moral landscape image is just a means to make it presentable.

Do you come from some anthropology field or social science field that he has pissed off? Or is it that you dont like ideas being encapsulated in a nemonic format? Dyou feel undermined somehow? You keep referring to scientists in the third person too.

“Just to be clear, then, you agree that Sam’s “moral landscape” is a nonsense model?”

-no I was using language relative to yours.


“And having your fundamental concepts not mean anything in particular is a “good thing””

-Now youre just playing semantic games. “Meaning” is being used to mean a semantic definition and a predictive model of understanding. Health doesn’t mean anything by your hyper-stringent standards. So no-one could ever get off the starting block in trying to understanding health? You wouldnt allow it apparently. There is a difference between what the word health means and us having a functional (partial) model of it.


“I don’t know what the hell anything I’m talking about means, but believe me anyway.”

What exactly is it that you dont agree with? You keep flapping about not having precise idea of what wellbeing is…which is obviously the focus of the pursuit!

D’you think wellbeing doesnt exist?

D’you disagree that morality is concerned with wellbeing?

D’you disagree that whatever wellbeing is it can be in principal understood with science?

D’you disagree that you have to first acknolwedge the possibility that something can be understood in order to ever understand it?


The Temperature Thing:

First there is a difference between measuring the overall temperature of the earth and having a model that can predict it. The point is that if we knew nothing about what gives rise to the average temperature of the earth, and in fact even if we didnt know what temperate was, we could at least (and would intrinsically have to in order to do science) argue that there are some variables of which earths temperature is a function. And we could conseptualise that in precisely the same way Sam has conceptualised the moral landscape. And asking what those variables would be part of the pursuit…not a requirement for the pursuit to start.

[ Edited: 20 April 2011 02:18 PM by MarcoTenshi]
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Posted: 20 April 2011 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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“Nobody has a clue about what the moral landscape means.”

That isnt true. You are stretching semantics. Its perfectly clear what it means. Its not perfectly clear what its structure is.


By analogy: The so called tree of life. What is the x axis? What does it ‘mean’? By your argument nothing, its meaningless, it is worthless. Except its not.

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Posted: 20 April 2011 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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I appreciate both your reply and your attempt at making your own views clear with respect to the original posts question. However, to your points.

Firstly, and while I am sure there are “fans” of Harris defending almost anything to do with him (he is after all a charismatic, brave, intelligent, thoughtful and sincere man) but just because these people exist this does not mean there is some significant portion merely taking things on faith. My own father exhibits all of these characteristics, and yet I am often found bemoaning his latest fax pas. Since the nature of the forum (admittedly hopefully) attracts the kinds of people who’s very nature is the antithesis of taking things on face value,  I am somewhat unconvinced people are on mass deferring to “the wisdom of Harris” in any significant number. I am also otherwise at a loss as to why if you have a knock down theory apparently infinitely superior to Harris’ (or anyone else to read your words) you have not provided it, much less taken the time to author one with the very real threat of personal injury or death. Am I championing Harris for merely being brave enough, or even stupid enough, you take your pick? Honestly, no. I will attempt to answer any reasonable injunction to my almost but not quite complete support for not just The Moral Landscape but anything he has authored to date, and I can only hope my reply is not somehow tainted with the stain of hero worship and again, you may be the judge of that for yourself as I am sure you indeed will.

As for Harris completely and glibly dismissing the entire body of philosophy penned with regard to questions of morality and ethics, I struggle to see your meaning. Very evidently Harris has made concerted effort in availing us of what they are and what they mean both in the book and in talks. It’s just that a thoroughgoing catalogue of them somehow injected into a sentence or chapter is (and this is especially true in moral philosophy) might get a bit let just say- unwieldy. Furthermore, there has to be some level of assumption that the reader is at least aware of alternative views, even if they are his or her own, and as they say, “the information is out there”. Nevertheless, I am otherwise with Harris on his opinion of the “is”, “ought” dilemma in that at it base, and all things duly considered, a simple waste of valuable time. I do not see this as dismissive in the least and as I say, I have given this due consideration, though (and of course) you are entitled to your own opinion. I just see this philosophical dead as being precisely what it is, that is to say, ultimately paralyzing.

Finally, unversed as I am in the science of economics I do somewhat see what you are getting it. But to suggest the pursuit of truly meaningful aggregates are but a fools errand I fail to see how this could be so being that they form every sphere of our lives. This being Harris’ point, at least in my humble opinion.

I look forward to your reply.

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Posted: 21 April 2011 02:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Im not really entirely sure what people mean when they say things are subjective, especially when were talking about brains, but in the case of morality it is subjective and objective. If I am aware of an action and perceive some moral valance, it being ‘good’ is a subjective experience on my part. The thing doesnt have ‘goodness’. That process can, however, be understood (in principal) objectively. Brains inhabit the same reality as all the other objectively understandable stuff out there. If you want to simply assert that it cant be understood objectively, fine, but Id like evidence. Good luck with that.

You (buybuy) said that this is your disagreement but you actually also said that you disagree that WBCC is the basis of morality. This to me is a separate disagreement to the subjectivity one. And you said that measuring WBCC incurs measurement problems. As Ricky pointed out there being problems measuring WBCC isnt the same as there being nothing to measure. That is a red herring. If WBCC isnt the basis of morality then…what is? You see the problem with that is that, well, its wrong. WBCC IS the basis of morality. ALL morality. Whether it is stipulated or not (I happen to think that it never needs to be stipulated, you can get away with letting it be implicit, so we do). If people want to insist that morality might not be to do with WBCC, to me it just seems like extreme obscurantism. Why in the face of morality to people turn into epistemic hyper-skeptics?

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Posted: 23 April 2011 02:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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MarcoTenshi - 21 April 2011 06:37 AM

Im not really entirely sure what people mean when they say things are subjective, especially when were talking about brains, but in the case of morality it is subjective and objective. If I am aware of an action and perceive some moral valance, it being ‘good’ is a subjective experience on my part. The thing doesnt have ‘goodness’. That process can, however, be understood (in principal) objectively. Brains inhabit the same reality as all the other objectively understandable stuff out there. If you want to simply assert that it cant be understood objectively, fine, but Id like evidence. Good luck with that.

I completely agree with all this. And I’d add that the way in which you describe morality here is equally applicable to yummy, hip, cool, stylish, sexy, etc. All these things we call subjective are equally objective in each of us. We don’t run by magic. I find something yummy or sexy because of how I am put together, because of what I am.

Sam says that morality is Objective, not in the sense that what you find moral is objectively determined by what you are, and what I find moral is objectively determined by what I am, but in the sense that what is objectively moral is a universal truth applying equally and completely to all of us. It is true and applicable to you regardless of who and what you are, and regardless of how it conflicts with your morality, your goals, or your being. The same for me, and anyone else.

You (buybuy) said that this is your disagreement but you actually also said that you disagree that WBCC is the basis of morality. This to me is a separate disagreement to the subjectivity one.

Again, I agree; it is a separate issue. But it is a related issue. If there is no objective morality (as I would claim), then WBCC, or anything else, cannot be objectively moral. If there is no Batman, then Bruce Wayne is not Batman.

And you said that measuring WBCC incurs measurement problems.

That’s not really the point. I’m saying it’s an undefined term, that we all have our own private meanings for, and the usefulness of it is mainly as an expression of an individual, subjective preference, just like yummy. If the Samites ever got specific enough to try to take a measurement of WBCC, to reduce it to a number (as you do in Science), they would soon find themselves unable to agree on what measurements to take, because the measurements that fit one private meaning will not fit the others.

“Philosophers can say anything they please, because they don’t have to get anything right.” Sam is just peddling a doctrine based on unagreed upon terms that a bunch of people can nod their heads to, much like “God”.

Really, is “well being” anything more than good being, being I like, being I approve of, being I desire? Discovering that “The Good” is “Good Being” really hasn’t taken us that far.

But Sam does go further, and says it is the Good Being of All Conscious Creatures. Whatever Well Being is, Sam has committed himself to Collectivism, to Utilitarianism, where those who knowingly will not sacrifice a “unit” of their own well being for 1.00000001 units of well being in others are Evil.

If WBCC isnt the basis of morality then…what is?

I am. For me.

WBCC IS the basis of morality. ALL morality.

That’s a horrific creed that proclaims I was born a slave; that I have no right to pursue my own happiness with any more vigor, effort, or energy than I pursue my brother’s happiness.

If people want to insist that morality might not be to do with WBCC, to me it just seems like extreme obscurantism. Why in the face of morality to people turn into epistemic hyper-skeptics?

If people don’t agree with your faith based goal for life, they are just obscurantists? Those who believe they should serve the cause of Reason, of the Race, of the Class, of God, all feel the same way about you. The world is full of people looking to serve some cause, any cause, as long as it is not their *own cause*. I’m not one of those people.

[ Edited: 23 April 2011 03:41 AM by buybuydandavis]
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Posted: 23 April 2011 02:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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MarcoTenshi - 20 April 2011 06:25 PM

“Nobody has a clue about what the moral landscape means.”

That isnt true. You are stretching semantics. Its perfectly clear what it means. Its not perfectly clear what its structure is.


By analogy: The so called tree of life. What is the x axis? What does it ‘mean’? By your argument nothing, its meaningless, it is worthless. Except its not.

It’s perfectly clear what gloob is. It’s just not clear what it’s structure is.

A tree is a connected graph of nodes and branches and does not have axes. Metaphors matter.

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Posted: 23 April 2011 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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Rickylad - 20 April 2011 07:10 PM

Firstly, and while I am sure there are “fans” of Harris definding almost anything to do with him (he is after all a charismatic, brave, intelligent, thoughtful and sincere man) but just because these people exist this does not mean there is some significant portion merely taking things on faith.

I’m going by the responses I’ve received here and at Project Reason to discussions of Sam’s book. Of the people who I have seen engage in these discussions, which is maybe a dozen or two, maybe 4-6 said something of the kind.

My own father exhibits all of these characteristics, and yet I am often found bemoaning his latest fax pas. Since the nature of the forum (admittedly hopefully) attracts the kinds of people who’s very nature is the antithesis of taking things on face value,

Believers in Reason can be just as faith based as anyone else. They usually aren’t, but there are always a few.

I am also otherwise at a loss as to why if you have a knock down theory apparently infinitely superior to Harris’ (or anyone else to read your words) you have not provided it, much less taken the time to author one with the very real threat of personal injury or death.

One cannot refute gibberish - one can only confront it and challenge people to make meaning out of it. I have done so, and continue to do so.

Happily for me, I do not need to write the book myself, as Max Stirner has done a wonderful job in The Ego and His Own, with which I agree on the fundamentals. And as far as providing it, I was part of an effort in the 90s to make the book available online for the first time. Though I can’t say I felt a lot of personal risk - more just annoyance with copyright law.

I will attempt to answer any reasonable injunction to my almost but not quite complete support for not just The Moral Landscape

If you are willing to be Sam’s champion, and give meaning and validity to his arguments, I will attempt to show you how they fail. Would you like to start on how Sam (or you) propose to aggregate preference functions, since you seem to have some familiarity with the issues involved?

As for Harris completely and glibly dismissing the entire body of philosophy penned with regard to questions of morality and ethics, I struggle to see your meaning.

It’s one of his standard lines he trots out in his public speaking. Are you unaware of this? Never heard it? I think it was part of his stock speech for his book tour and interviews. If you really have never heard him discuss why he hasn’t confronted the literature on this subject, I could find a quote for you.

Nevertheless, I am otherwise with Harris on his opinion of the “is”, “ought” dilemma in that at it base, and all things duly considered, a simple waste of valuable time.

If Sam wants to say that he feels it is obvious that there is no is ought distinction, and he’s just going to take that as an assumption, and ignore the objections against it, then I would say fine. State your assumptions. If others think they’re false, they then know what to make of your argument. But he doesn’t just state it as an assumption, he spends much effort, to little effect, in arguing that the is/ought distinction is false. The argument does not hold. If you want to say it is true regardless, then fine. I’m saying the argument does not hold.

I have given this due consideration, though (and of course) you are entitled to your own opinion. I just see this philosophical dead as being precisely what it is, that is to say, ultimately paralyzing.

It’s only paralyzing if you feel unable to move without an objective morality to order you about. I move just fine without it.

Look, if Sam just said - “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I’m not going to argue about it”, then fine. He would be wrong, and I’d just ignore him. But he argues the case. And in reply, I argue that his argument is piffle.

Finally, unversed as I am in the science of economics I do somewhat see what you are getting it. But to suggest the pursuit of truly meaningful aggregates are but a fools errand I fail to see how this could be so being that they form every sphere of our lives.

There are no end of meaningful aggregates - that’s the problem, there are no end to them. Why this one, and not that one, or the one over there?

But Sam has not picked a single meaningful one, because that would have filled the magic box he left empty for everyone to fill with whatever they believed in. It’s a standard method in psychoanalysis (and psychics and politicians and ad men) to speak without content, letting your listener fill in the meaning themselves with something they imagine you said, but did not.

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Posted: 24 April 2011 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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  If WBCC isnt the basis of morality then…what is?

I am. For me.

Before I expend any energy in a reply, much less a lengthy one, please explain what this is?

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Posted: 24 April 2011 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Rickylad - 24 April 2011 07:24 PM

  If WBCC isnt the basis of morality then…what is?

I am. For me.

Before I expend any energy in a reply, much less a lengthy one, please explain what this is?

I have my own set of preferences, some of which are moral preferences. I am the basis of those preferences, not supernatural bogeymen or rationalistic incantations.

Root beer floats are yummy. What is the “basis” of that? Me. I find them yummy. Maybe God says they’re not yummy, maybe you have some argument that you claim proves that they are not. Don’t care either way. I find them yummy.

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