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Is the objectivity of morality relevant if human actions are determined?

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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14 August 2017 14:11
 
unsmoked - 14 August 2017 09:54 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 August 2017 12:10 PM

Can you give an example of an action whose “rightness” or “wrongness” can be determined by its effect on a single individual?

The effect on one of the dogs that Rene Descartes operated on?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

The effect on an individual who is being stoned to death?

What about the effect on Rene Descartes? Or the effect on the people who presumably benefitted by the results of his research? Or the effect on the people doing the stoning? Or the effect on the people who benefit from the deterrent effect of stoning adulteresses?

You can certainly choose to ignore the effect of these two actions on anyone or anything but the dog and the adulteress, in order to avoid “moral arithmetic,” but the fact is that they do affect more than just the dog or the adulteress. The choice to ignore everyone else isn’t right or wrong, but it is subjective. So you can hardly claim, as Mr. White appears to be doing, that objective rightness or wrongness can be determined without “moral arithmetic.”  At least, not based on these two examples.

 
 
unsmoked
 
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unsmoked
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15 August 2017 11:41
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 14 August 2017 02:11 PM
unsmoked - 14 August 2017 09:54 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 August 2017 12:10 PM

Can you give an example of an action whose “rightness” or “wrongness” can be determined by its effect on a single individual?

The effect on one of the dogs that Rene Descartes operated on?  http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html

The effect on an individual who is being stoned to death?

What about the effect on Rene Descartes? Or the effect on the people who presumably benefitted by the results of his research? Or the effect on the people doing the stoning? Or the effect on the people who benefit from the deterrent effect of stoning adulteresses?

You can certainly choose to ignore the effect of these two actions on anyone or anything but the dog and the adulteress, in order to avoid “moral arithmetic,” but the fact is that they do affect more than just the dog or the adulteress. The choice to ignore everyone else isn’t right or wrong, but it is subjective. So you can hardly claim, as Mr. White appears to be doing, that objective rightness or wrongness can be determined without “moral arithmetic.”  At least, not based on these two examples.

Three themes are coming to mind:  a) The Sorcerer’s Apprentice b) sophistry c) a verbal shell game (under which shell is there no immediate sense of right and wrong)

 

 

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lukefrmal
 
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lukefrmal
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02 September 2017 02:12
 

It comes down to human well-being vs. human suffering. Human well-being is more important to us than negating human-suffering, since we could completely stop human-suffering by killing every last human being. At the same time, human-suffering is at some point too great for people to want to continue striving for human well-being, and they think about and eventually commit suicide. Finally, even people who attempt to commit suicide, or who were depressed and then have a near-death experience, have been known to have a renewed hope in their lives after happening to survive the ordeal.

Clearly, perception drives the whole thing. I think if the right perception/ideology is in place, then the moral framework can be safely determined by the masses, like it basically is now. The only reason the current mass population is so bad at morality is because the average person is infected with extreme ideologies from various superstitious frameworks, like religion or free will, which are generally intolerant due to their not being neutral perspectives. The most truthful perception is one of complete neutrality, where good and evil do not exist, but are merely decided upon like the letters of words are; not having any inherent foundation beyond that which is agreed upon by the population at a given time, which allows a more dynamic and flexible moral framework to evolve.

After many people have become ‘neutralists’, what you would see in terms of a moral framework would be a lot of people becoming more and more tolerant of a wide range of behaviors which clearly promote human well-being globally, intolerant of behaviors that promote human-suffering globally, and a gradient gray area on behaviors that effect local groups positively or negatively, but it would all start from the current world affairs, not from some distant enlightened point, and it would slowly evolve along with us. We just have to set it up so that it can evolve dynamically, not be stuck in some ‘this is the final word of god and it will never change’ type dogma. No matter what our moral behavior ends up being at any given point in time, if it arises from a perspective of neutrality, then it should be the ‘best we can do’ given the circumstances.

One important capability that a neutral standpoint has is that it recognizes that some issues are so complex that there cannot always be a definitive best choice, and that it depends on the situation of an individual. So, for example, many people like to drink alcohol, it can help to de-stress and form social bonds where they may not have formed otherwise, and these social bonds can lead to long term well-being, and drinking alcohol has been known to injure and kill not only the people that drink it, but also people impacted by drunk person’s actions. If we were to ban alcohol, it might cause such a shock of suffering in the population that it causes more problems than it’s worth. Since we do not know the ramifications of taking a side in this and many other issues, we have to accept multiple behaviors; it is permitted to drink alcohol in certain circumstances, but we will do everything we can to minimize the negative effects of it without negating the positive effects of it by imposing conditional rules around its consumption.

All in all, I think morality drives itself just fine naturally, without special philosophical focus, it’s just that ideological viruses like religion and superstition take moral issues off the rails. Imagine how much better off we would all be without any religions or superstitions; no religious division (my-god-divides-me-from-you superstition), no individual division (free-will-mini-god-of-self-fate superstition). Even without a hashed out moral framework, I think global morality would vastly improve in a world without superstition.

 
dhave
 
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10 September 2017 14:11
 

Great discussion.  I just ordered Sam’s morality and free will books in hopes of reducing blown smoke.  unsmoked also had a good suggestion, Sapolsky’s “Behave”.  In the meantime, a couple of comments fwiw.  (That was a values joke.)

Antisocialdarwinist - 05 August 2017 03:01 PM

Sure, certain behavior makes us “feel good” and certain behavior makes us “feel bad.” That much is fact. But the specific behavior that makes us “feel good” or “feel bad” is determined by culture. People who’ve been raised to believe that stoning adulteresses is “right” feel good stoning an adulteress. People who’ve been raised to believe that stoning adulteresses is “wrong” would presumably feel bad, stoning an adulteress. So the idea that certain behavior is objectively right or wrong based on what makes us “feel good” or “feel bad” ends up with mutually exclusive claims both being true: stoning adulteresses is both right and wrong.

Bingo.

Antisocialdarwinist - 06 August 2017 12:46 PM
Brick Bungalow - 05 August 2017 11:16 PM

Presumably you would affirm that your own statement is accurate or you would not have made it. This could not be the case without an ethic of truth. If truth were arbitrary no argument of any kind would have meaning.

The ethic of truth is not the same as truth itself. Truth would be truth with or without an ethic of truth. Without an ethic of truth, our perception of truth would be arbitrary—not truth itself.

I was going to call category error on BB since your comments were not value judgements but observations about value judgements. Your answers are better.

I am not familiar with the expression “ethic of truth.”  Maybe it refers to abstracting ethical propositions into sentences and asking if they are “true” or “false”.  Like the expression “moral truth”, these always confuse me like an oxymoron or another category error.  I’ve been assigning The Beautiful to subjectivity (“I”), putting intersubjectivity in charge of The Good (“we”, culture), and letting objective science own The True.  This seems simpler but I’ll try to remain open to suggestions.

jstevewhite - 12 August 2017 07:20 AM

“Wrong”, as I see it, in discussions like this, means “immoral in respect to some code of conduct”. This can be viewed as ‘objectively wrong’ only if one accepts the code of conduct.

No, that’s just intersubjective agreement at best, cultural, not objective since I see it differently.

That is, “It’s objectively true that you killed that person in violation of this code of conduct”. This, of course, places the burden of objectivity on the code of conduct.

No. As AD might say, whether you killed a person is objectively true or false, you did it or you did not.  Codes of conduct seem like a separate issue.  Mixing them together like Jordan Peterson obfuscates things hopelessly.

It’s why we can train dogs with treats. The experience is subjective - the taste of a dog treat - but the reward is objective - brain chemistry and neural states.

It still begs the question, Steve.  Just like AD’s stoning example, the stoners will have happy brain waves!  Both stoners and non-stoners are happy about it!

Antisocialdarwinist - 12 August 2017 02:21 PM

It never ceases to amaze me that people can stop (or refrain from) believing in God, but not the single most dangerous aspect of religion: the idea that certain behavior is objectively right or wrong. It’s like an alcoholic quitting drinking, but only on Sundays.

Bingo again?

Regards,
Dave.

 

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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13 September 2017 14:02
 
dhave - 10 September 2017 02:11 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 06 August 2017 12:46 PM
Brick Bungalow - 05 August 2017 11:16 PM

Presumably you would affirm that your own statement is accurate or you would not have made it. This could not be the case without an ethic of truth. If truth were arbitrary no argument of any kind would have meaning.

The ethic of truth is not the same as truth itself. Truth would be truth with or without an ethic of truth. Without an ethic of truth, our perception of truth would be arbitrary—not truth itself.

I was going to call category error on BB since your comments were not value judgements but observations about value judgements. Your answers are better.

Harris makes a similar claim when he says that science depends on values: in order to “do” science, he says, it is first necessary to value facts and evidence, etc.. But this is clearly not the case. Science is a process that draws conclusions about reality from facts and evidence, etc.. Whether the scientist “values” facts and evidence is irrelevant. If her conclusions are based on facts and evidence, she’s “doing” science whether she “values” facts and evidence or not. If her conclusions are not based on facts and evidence, she’s not “doing” science—even if she “values” facts and evidence. Valuing facts and evidence is neither necessary or sufficient to “do” science.

 
 
dhave
 
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13 September 2017 15:42
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 September 2017 02:02 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 06 August 2017 12:46 PM

The ethic of truth is not the same as truth itself. Truth would be truth with or without an ethic of truth. Without an ethic of truth, our perception of truth would be arbitrary—not truth itself.

Harris makes a similar claim when he says that science depends on values: in order to “do” science, he says, it is first necessary to value facts and evidence, etc.. But this is clearly not the case. Science is a process that draws conclusions about reality from facts and evidence, etc.. Whether the scientist “values” facts and evidence is irrelevant. If her conclusions are based on facts and evidence, she’s “doing” science whether she “values” facts and evidence or not. If her conclusions are not based on facts and evidence, she’s not “doing” science—even if she “values” facts and evidence. Valuing facts and evidence is neither necessary or sufficient to “do” science.

I recall Sam saying he believes science can make important contributions to morality and ethics but not that science *depends* on values.  Could you please share a podcast or book reference?  If he uses this claim, he’s making the Jordan Peterson move which left him speechless in their first podcast.

Regards,
Dave.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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14 September 2017 13:39
 
dhave - 13 September 2017 03:42 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 13 September 2017 02:02 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 06 August 2017 12:46 PM

The ethic of truth is not the same as truth itself. Truth would be truth with or without an ethic of truth. Without an ethic of truth, our perception of truth would be arbitrary—not truth itself.

Harris makes a similar claim when he says that science depends on values: in order to “do” science, he says, it is first necessary to value facts and evidence, etc.. But this is clearly not the case. Science is a process that draws conclusions about reality from facts and evidence, etc.. Whether the scientist “values” facts and evidence is irrelevant. If her conclusions are based on facts and evidence, she’s “doing” science whether she “values” facts and evidence or not. If her conclusions are not based on facts and evidence, she’s not “doing” science—even if she “values” facts and evidence. Valuing facts and evidence is neither necessary or sufficient to “do” science.

I recall Sam saying he believes science can make important contributions to morality and ethics but not that science *depends* on values.  Could you please share a podcast or book reference?  If he uses this claim, he’s making the Jordan Peterson move which left him speechless in their first podcast.

Regards,
Dave.

I recall that from The Moral Landscape.

 
 
dhave
 
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14 September 2017 14:15
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 14 September 2017 01:39 PM
dhave - 13 September 2017 03:42 PM

I recall Sam saying he believes science can make important contributions to morality and ethics but not that science *depends* on values.  Could you please share a podcast or book reference?  If he uses this claim, he’s making the Jordan Peterson move which left him speechless in their first podcast.

I recall that from The Moral Landscape.

Ah. You reminded me to check the porch. The book just arrived. Now i can reference pages and name names.

Regards,
Dave.

 
 
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15 September 2017 07:49
 
dhave - 14 September 2017 02:15 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 14 September 2017 01:39 PM
dhave - 13 September 2017 03:42 PM

I recall Sam saying he believes science can make important contributions to morality and ethics but not that science *depends* on values.  Could you please share a podcast or book reference?  If he uses this claim, he’s making the Jordan Peterson move which left him speechless in their first podcast.

I recall that from The Moral Landscape.

Ah. You reminded me to check the porch. The book just arrived. Now i can reference pages and name names.

Regards,
Dave.

I don’t have the book anymore, but I took some notes when I read it years ago. Here are my notes from chapter 3:

“Scientific validity is the result of ... [valuing] principles of reasoning that link [beliefs] to reality ...”
Is this tantamount to saying that “science has always been in the values business?”
Is, “You should value evidence” the same as saying “You should not be cruel?”
Yes, it is, but science doesn’t say you should value evidence.
Science says we should value science because science promotes the WBCC, and we know we should value WBCC because science says we should.
Cannot defend one’s factual [true] or moral [false] position by reference to one’s preferences
“No facts without values.”

So Harris may not have said explicitly that science depends on values (my bad there), but I think that last quote, “No facts without values” is false for the same reason “science depends on values” is false.

 
 
dhave
 
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15 September 2017 08:52
 

I was not going to launch into a book review yet but, what the heck, there is at least one listener, I’ll jot some early notes in case others want to play.

From “The Moral Landscape”, Sam Harris, 2011 edition.

Page 11: “(2) the very idea of ‘objective’ knowledge (i.e., knowledge acquired through honest observation and reasoning) has values built into it, as every effort we make to discuss facts depends upon principles that we must first value (e.g., logical consistency, reliance on evidence, parsimony, etc.);”

Well sure, duh, everyone already has a value system, and if your core values are doing God’s will and spreading his word, you may not be attracted to a career in physics.

Out of context, the expression “science depends on values” sounds like one is saying the methodology of science depends on values but this is not what Sam says here.  He just says if you like science then logic and reason are already part of your value system.

The more interesting question, then, is what are these value systems, who has them, how do they change, etc., which I’ve blathered about elsewhere.

Page 14: “Factual beliefs like ‘water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen’ and ethical beliefs like ‘cruelty is wrong’ are not expressions of mere preference.  To really believe either proposition is also to believe that you have accepted it for legitimate reasons.”

Here I disagree without hesitation.

I believe in factual stuff because I love science, love to figure things out using rules derived from a few basic laws.  I could say I “believe” science, but it sounds funny because this “belief” is just the fact that I know everyone else will find the same answers if they play this game.

I make no claims about reasoning myself into the values I happen to have.  That’s ludicrous.  My value system is a mixture of innumerable things, genes, culture, life experiences, etc., etc.  I like my values, feel like they have shifted slightly over the years, and accept that others may have different values and that any disagreements we have are more often than not a reflection of these core value systems.

I hope I’m not too jaded early in the book!  I’ll try to keep an open mind and read on, maybe Sam will change my value system…

(And i’ll watch for your quotes, AD.)

Regards,
Dave.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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15 September 2017 09:56
 

We had some pretty good discussions about TML when it first came out. I’ll refrain from voicing any more of my own opinions until you’ve had a chance to finish reading.

dhave - 15 September 2017 08:52 AM

Out of context, the expression “science depends on values” sounds like one is saying the methodology of science depends on values but this is not what Sam says here.  He just says if you like science then logic and reason are already part of your value system.

I agree somewhat, although I think what he’s saying is more along the lines of, science can’t be “done” unless the person “doing” it values facts and evidence, etc.. So science itself doesn’t depend on values, but following the process called “science” does. But either way, I think he’s trying to make the case that because science either can’t be done without values (my take) or is only done by people who hold certain values (your take), we shouldn’t be so quick to assume science can’t determine values. In effect, it seems like he wants to “lower the bar” in terms of what evidence we should accept and still claim we’re “doing science.” If “doing science” depends on values, then we should accept values (some values, anyway) as evidence of (objective) rightness or wrongness.

That said, I don’t think this idea is necessarily crucial to his thesis. He might still convince you that science can determine human values even if you don’t buy this particular claim.

 
 
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15 September 2017 11:42
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 15 September 2017 09:56 AM

We had some pretty good discussions about TML when it first came out. I’ll refrain from voicing any more of my own opinions until you’ve had a chance to finish reading.

Yes.  I’m late.  I’ll keep the volume down and try to read faster.  It is good to read, i do not read enough books.

dhave - 15 September 2017 08:52 AM

Out of context, the expression “science depends on values” sounds like one is saying the methodology of science depends on values but this is not what Sam says here.  He just says if you like science then logic and reason are already part of your value system.

I agree somewhat, although I think what he’s saying is more along the lines of, science can’t be “done” unless the person “doing” it values facts and evidence, etc.. So science itself doesn’t depend on values, but following the process called “science” does. But either way, I think he’s trying to make the case that because science either can’t be done without values (my take) or is only done by people who hold certain values (your take), we shouldn’t be so quick to assume science can’t determine values. In effect, it seems like he wants to “lower the bar” in terms of what evidence we should accept and still claim we’re “doing science.” If “doing science” depends on values, then we should accept values (some values, anyway) as evidence of (objective) rightness or wrongness.

That said, I don’t think this idea is necessarily crucial to his thesis. He might still convince you that science can determine human values even if you don’t buy this particular claim.

Agreed.  It feels like the effort to collapse “is” and “ought” will be a recurring theme here.  We shall see.

Ciao,
Dave.

 
 
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16 September 2017 13:53
 

2c on 2 chapters.

Chapter 1, Moral Truth.

A. Page 29. Sam redefines “objective” in efforts to make sense of the expression “moral truth”.  If you lie to me freely, it is an objective lie.  If you lie to me because I’m holding a gun to your head, it is a subjective lie.  Obfuscating semantics is bad for discourse, worse for science.  Stick with subjective = first person perspective, objective = third person perspective.

B. Sam is two-dimensional. Page 30: “... many people seem to think that because moral facts relate to our experience ... all talk of morality must be ‘subjective’ ...”.  He ignores the interpersonal dimension in this chapter (second person perspective, intersubjective) which is where morality really lives in my really humble opinion.

C. Mixing The Good and The True, collapsing is/ought, just leads to an intellectual morass.  What happens when a moral truth (intersubjective) conflicts with a scientific truth (objective)?  Which truth is more truer?  Jordan Peterson evidently favors the moral truth even to the point of preventing scientific inquiry which, in addition to befuddling Sam, puts Jordan in the same basket as the SJW’s he criticizes with their suppressive effect on free speech.

Chapter 2, Good and Evil.

A readable survey of research and issues surrounding morality.  I’d be interested to know what readers think the final sentence means:

Page 112:  “The illusion of free will is itself an illusion.”

Regards,
Dave.

 
 
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17 September 2017 13:08
 

I may skim the rest of this, it is kinda boring and i kinda still prefer Haidt’s stance.

We agree i think that an assertion like “science depends on values” is misleading and that, nevertheless, Sam is trying to collapse is/ought so has many expressions like “facts depend on values” which on closer examination just means facts depend on (people with rational) values which, as such, is an empty assertion since we can also say religion depends on (people with religious) values, and substitute value systems into the blanks ad nauseum.

Also, I think an educated answer to the OP probably lies in the short section in Chapter 2 on Free Will.  The OP is similar to assorted posts I see about the paradoxes that show up when we suggest free will is an illusion.  Don’t know if i’ll tackle this here, but include one excerpt from page 103: “As Daniel Dennett has pointed out, many people confuse determinism with fatalism.  This gives rise to questions like, ‘If everything is determined, why should I do anything?’”

The book does help me appreciate the first Jordan Peterson podcast.  Jordan apparently read this book before the podcast and his mischievious goal seems to be to take Sam’s mixing of Good and True and flip it into probably one of several confusing scenarios that this is/ought collapsing business exposes.  From about 1:42:43 into the podcast, Jordan speaking:

“The claim I’m making is that scientific truth is nested inside moral truth and moral truth is the final adjudicator and your claim is No, moral truth is nested inside scientific truth and scientific truth is the final adjudicator.”

Maybe better to stick with Occam’s razor on these word definitions.

Regards,
Dave.

[ Edited: 17 September 2017 13:36 by dhave]
 
 
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17 September 2017 18:03
 

One more, then I’ll shut up.

The original poster, Yaqub, asked a question along the lines of “If everything is determined, why should I care (subjectively or objectively) about anything?”  Then we never heard from Yaqub again and the conversation spun off into an engaging debate about whether morality is objective or cultural in which I clapped every time AD spoke.

Getting back to the OP, the answer will lie in Sam’s mentioning of Free Will in Chapter 2 of TML and his Free Will book which I just read and will recommend to all old people because it is short, written on textured paper with rough edges, and with big print.  All books should be like this.  I mean, is there really that much to say?

So the question was never properly addressed but may be beaten to death elsewhere so I’ll browse there before further comment.  I’ll also disagree with the OP’s interpretation of Sam’s view before I stop.

I don’t know why I am stopping.  I could continue typing.  I’m just tired of talking about this topic and want to go.  I can prove this is a good move.

Regards,
Dave.

 
 
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