A Theory of Public Morality

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GE Morton
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A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » October 9th, 2018, 9:44 pm

A Theory of Public Morality

Definitions:

A Moral Agent is a sentient creature who
a) has interests and some capacity for pursuing them, and
b) is capable of recognizing other qualifying creatures as moral agents who likewise have interests, which may differ from his own, and
c) is capable of understanding and formulating moral principles and rules and acknowledges the need for them in a moral field.1

A Moral Field is a setting wherein there exists more than one moral agent, and wherein it is possible for each moral agent to interact with at least one other moral agent (i.e., a social setting).

An Interest is a good or an evil.

A Good is a thing, condition, or state of affairs which an agent seeks to acquire or retain.
a) A Means Good is a good sought because the agent believes the good is necessary or useful for obtaining an end good.
b) An End Good is a good sought by the agent “for itself,” i.e., because he believes it in se will afford him some benefit or satisfaction.

An Evil is a thing, condition, or state of affairs which an agent seeks to avoid or be rid of.

The Value of a good is given by what the agent will give up to acquire or retain it (positive value), or to avoid or be rid of it (negative value).

An Interaction is an encounter among two or more moral agents whereby an interest of at least one of the agents is affected, either positively (pursuit of the interest is furthered) or negatively (pursuit of the interest is hindered).

A Moral Duty is an obligation upon a moral agent to perform a specific act given specific circumstances, derived from and commanded by a sound moral theory.

A Moral Constraint is an obligation upon a moral agent to refrain from a specific act, given specific circumstances, derived from and commanded by a sound moral theory.

Postulates:

1. Postulate of Liberty: There are no a priori moral duties or constraints. The only duties and constraints binding upon moral agents are those derived from a sound moral theory.
Corollary: Postulate of Free Agency: The agents in the moral field are not parties to nor bound a priori by any universal agreement or compact.
Corollary: Postulate of Autonomy: The agents in the moral field are not related as elements of an organic unity, and are not subject to any external imperatives or constraints other than those imposed by the laws of nature.

2. Postulate of Relativity: All goods and evils, and the values thereof, are relative to moral agents, and are not defined except with reference to moral agent (a valuer). I.e., “X is good (or evil)” is ill-formed and non-cognitive. “P deems X to be good” is well-formed and cognitive. Likewise, “The value of X is V” is ill-formed and non-cognitive. “The value of X to P is V” is well-formed and cognitive.

3. Postulate of Individuality: Goods and evils and the values thereof differ among agents in the moral field.

4. Postulate of Indifference: Agents do not necessarily take an interest in the interests of other agents.

5. Postulate of Equal Agency: All agents in the moral field are of equal moral status, i.e., all duties and constraints generated by the theory are equally binding on all.
Corollary: Postulate of Neutrality: The theory is neutral as between goods and evils, and the values thereof, as defined by agents.2

AXIOM (The “Fundamental Principle”): All agents in the moral field should adhere to rules per which goods can be maximized, and evils minimized, for all agents.

1. Two additional definitions, not required for the present theory, can be derived from these criteria:

A Moral Subject is a sentient creature for whom a), but not b) nor c) is true.
A Moral Imbecile is a sentient creature for whom a) and b), but not c), are true.

2. The rules generated by the theory govern only the acts of agents, and is indifferent to the ends of actions. However, if a certain end should entail a violation of the rules, i.e., it cannot be pursued without violating a rule of the theory, it is effectively ruled out as a permissible end (a malum in se).

Readers are invited to scrutinize and criticize these postulates and speculate as to what theorems may follow if they are true.

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Hereandnow
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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Hereandnow » October 10th, 2018, 11:00 pm

GE Morton
2. Postulate of Relativity: All goods and evils, and the values thereof, are relative to moral agents, and are not defined except with reference to moral agent (a valuer). I.e., “X is good (or evil)” is ill-formed and non-cognitive. “P deems X to be good” is well-formed and cognitive. Likewise, “The value of X is V” is ill-formed and non-cognitive. “The value of X to P is V” is well-formed and cognitive.
The question is where to start and here seems good enough. To say that 'x is good (or evil) ' is ill formed and non cognitive is something I would take to task. Wittgenstein wrote that an ethical claim is an absolute judgment of value and not a judgment of fact, and he thinks any statement of this kind taken as an absolute is simply trying to break beyond the boundaries of language, which can't be done. Mine is a different thought on the matter: ethical statements, even contingent ones like a person should obey the law which are reducible to something just as foundational as a person shouldn't bludgeon her neighbor, are absolutes, or are reducible to absolutes, and therefore are apriori facts in the world, and therefore are cognitive and well formed (thought tis says nothing about any particular statement and its truth of falsehood). The "deeming" of something being ethically good of bad is significant insofar as judgment is an essential part ethical "presence".

I hold that all value in the world is absolute.

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 27th, 2019, 9:21 pm

Comment originally posted in the thread, "Are we forced to accept moral relativism?"
Felix wrote:
June 27th, 2019, 7:19 pm

To take just your first postulate [abbreviated somewhat for the sake of concision . . . :
1. Postulate of Liberty: There are no a priori moral duties or constraints.

Corollary: Postulate of Free Agency: The agents in the moral field are not parties to nor bound a priori by any universal agreement or compact.

Corollary: Postulate of Autonomy: The agents in the moral field are not related as elements of an organic unity, and are not subject to any external imperatives or constraints other than those imposed by the laws of nature.
Participation in civil society requires moral agents to relinquish some personal autonomy for the sake of other members of the society they live in. If they do not want to do that, if they do not want to be subject to any societal imperatives or constraints other than "the laws of nature" as you said, they are free to go live apart from society. This conclusion seems to be evident to every participant in this thread except you, you may want to ask yourself why that is.
Your objection begs the question. If living in a civil society requires members to surrender some autonomy, then to what extent and for what purposes needs to be derived from some sound moral theory. That some extant society makes certain demands along those lines is irrelevant to the task of devising a moral theory. That is the point of saying that no such obligations exist a priori, i.e., prior to a theory from which they can be derived. That is putting the cart before the horse. It is equivalent to saying that before Galileo can propose a theory of the solar system he must accept the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Felix » June 28th, 2019, 1:44 pm

GE Morton said: "If living in a civil society requires members to surrender some autonomy, then to what extent and for what purposes needs to be derived from some sound moral theory."

The purpose should be obvious: to optimize the welfare of every member of society and establish social harmony rather than just focus on fulfilling the egotistical desires and needs of the individual as your moral theory does, which results in it's vacuous and inconsistent postulates.

GE Morton said: "It is equivalent to saying that before Galileo can propose a theory of the solar system he must accept the doctrines of the Catholic Church."

That's actually a good analogy for your system, it's akin to examining the attributes of a single celestial body, while ignoring the course of all other objects in the sky, and then attempting to devise an astronomical theory based on the movements of that single object. Just as one cannot construct a sound astronomical theory in this way, one cannot construct a fair and equitable moral theory by taking only the idiosyncratic drives of the individual into account, one must consider the needs of all members of society. If one doesn't, one will end up with the sort of morally bankrupt, "each man for himself, devil take the hindmost," theory you've presented.

Your moral theory is completely impractical, as evidenced by the fact that you cannot even come up with concrete examples of how it would address important moral issues. When I asked you for examples, the only one you could offer was a brainless do or die moral dilemma, i.e., the trolley problem.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 28th, 2019, 3:29 pm

Felix wrote:
June 28th, 2019, 1:44 pm

The purpose should be obvious: to optimize the welfare of every member of society and establish social harmony rather than just focus on fulfilling the egotistical desires and needs of the individual as your moral theory does, which results in it's vacuous and inconsistent postulates.
Er, Felix, a society is nothing but individuals. The needs and desires of the individual are the only needs and desires there are; the welfare of the individual is the only welfare there is. And of course, the theory explicitly states that it applies to every member of society, to all individuals. In that respect your objection is contrived and frivolous.

You do introduce a couple of extraneous concepts, though. The aim of the theory is to allow all agents to maximize their welfare, not "optimize" it. Optimization implies an external criterion of optimality. No such criterion is obvious, and any proposed would have to be derived from the postulates of the theory (whatever theory you're assuming). Per what criterion do you decide that X is the "optimum" level of welfare for Alfie? How did you derive it?

The other is "social harmony." "Harmony" has a couple of senses; a strong sense and a weak sense. In the weak sense it merely means peace, or tranquility, i.e., the absence of strife. In the strong sense it means cooperation, coordinated efforts in pursuit of a common goal. There will never be harmony in the strong sense in any civilized society, for structural reasons. That is a Quixotic goal. Harmony in the weak sense, while a worthwhile goal, will never be perfectly attainable either. The rules of the theory will reduce it as far as possible without violating the Fundamental Principle.

And, again, if you consider the postulates inconsistent or vacuous, you have to show the inconsistency or inapplicability, not merely assert it. Which postulate is inconsistent with which other postulate?
GE Morton said: "It is equivalent to saying that before Galileo can propose a theory of the solar system he must accept the doctrines of the Catholic Church."

That's actually a good analogy for your system, it's akin to examining the attributes of a single celestial body, while ignoring the course of all other objects in the sky, and then attempting to devise an astronomical theory based on the movements of that single object. Just as one cannot construct a sound astronomical theory in this way, one cannot construct a fair and equitable moral theory by taking only the idiosyncratic drives of the individual into account, one must consider the needs of all members of society.
Again, the theory does embrace every member of the society, explicitly. It does not consider anyone's needs, however, since each person's needs are for him to define. It acknowledges and protects his freedom to satisfy those needs, however he defines them, by any means he chooses, as long he infringes the similar freedom of no other agent.
Your moral theory is completely impractical, as evidenced by the fact that you cannot even come up with concrete examples of how it would address important moral issues. When I asked you for examples, the only one you could offer was a brainless do or die moral dilemma, i.e., the trolley problem.
Well, the trolley problem is something of a classic. If it is "brainless," which other moral problem would you propose?

Finally, I have not presented a moral theory; only the progolomenon (the definitions and postulates) for one. Apparently you think they will lead to moral rules with which you disagree. If those presumed rules do follow from the postulates, then you need to refute one or more of the postulates, not merely dismiss them.

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Felix » June 28th, 2019, 9:38 pm

GE Morton: The needs and desires of the individual are the only needs and desires there are; the welfare of the individual is the only welfare there is. And of course, the theory explicitly states that it applies to every member of society, to all individuals.
Where is this theory that applies to all individuals? You have not presented one, you say so yourself: "I have not presented a moral theory; only the progolomenon (the definitions and postulates) for one."

And that is precisely the point. You haven't presented a moral theory based on your postulates, and I don't think you can because they are one-dimensional, so it's just a pointless semantic exercise.
Which postulate is inconsistent with which other postulate?

Postulate of Liberty: The only duties and constraints binding upon moral agents are those derived from a sound moral theory.
What is the sound moral theory that could rightly constrain moral agents actions?
Postulate of Individuality: Goods and evils and the values thereof differ among agents in the moral field.
What is the sound moral theory that would apply to every individual regardless of their moral values and interests?
AXIOM (The “Fundamental Principle”): All agents in the moral field should adhere to rules per which goods can be maximized, and evils minimized, for all agents.
If moral values are merely relative and differ from one agent to another, as stated in your aforementioned postulate ("Goods and evils and the values thereof differ among agents in the moral field."), than who decides which goods/evils shall be moderated?
the trolley problem is something of a classic, which other moral problem would you propose?
Genuine real world moral issues rather than purely hypothetical ones, e.g., abortion, capital punishment, animal rights, et. al.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 28th, 2019, 11:42 pm

Felix wrote:
June 28th, 2019, 9:38 pm
GE Morton: The needs and desires of the individual are the only needs and desires there are; the welfare of the individual is the only welfare there is. And of course, the theory explicitly states that it applies to every member of society, to all individuals.
Where is this theory that applies to all individuals? You have not presented one, you say so yourself: "I have not presented a moral theory; only the progolomenon (the definitions and postulates) for one."
The progolomenon, which is a part of the theory, covers the scope of the theory, i.e., that it applies to all individuals, via the Fundamental Principle. You don't need a complete theory to establish that much. Your objection, which implied that not all members of society were considered, is hollow. You're grasping at straws.
Postulate of Liberty: The only duties and constraints binding upon moral agents are those derived from a sound moral theory.

What is the sound moral theory that could rightly constrain moral agents actions?

Postulate of Individuality: Goods and evils and the values thereof differ among agents in the moral field.

What is the sound moral theory that would apply to every individual regardless of their moral values and interests?
You claimed that the postulates were inconsistent. That the postulates of a theory are not the whole theory --- they never are --- does not constitute inconsistency in those postulates. There would be inconsistency only if one postulate contradicts another. So, again, where is the inconsistency?

You're tossing out terms "inconsistent," "vacuous," you think have negative connotations, are condemnatory, without paying attention to what they actually mean. Resulting, of course, in false charges.
If moral values are merely relative and differ from one agent to another, as stated in your aforementioned postulate ("Goods and evils and the values thereof differ among agents in the moral field."), than who decides which goods/evils shall be moderated?
Well, first, the values addressed in the theory are not "moral values" (whatever those are). They are values in the ordinary sense, i.e., things an agent desires and seeks to acquire or retain. Values are neither moral nor immoral; only the means the agent chooses to attain them can be moral or immoral. The theory constrains actions by agents that would inflict harm or losses on other agents, but there is no presumption that any agent's values need to be "moderated." What is the basis of of that presumption?
the trolley problem is something of a classic, which other moral problem would you propose?
Genuine real world moral issues rather than purely hypothetical ones, e.g., abortion, capital punishment, animal rights, et. al.
I offered the trolley example in response to your claim that all moral decisions rest on "subjective values." It showed a decision based on rational calculation, not on anyone's values. But the abortion issue can supply another example. Most philosophical defenses of abortion since Maryanne Warren's rest, not on anyone's values, but on the claim that fetuses (at least in the early stage) are not moral agents, or even moral subjects. That is an epistemological and metaethical argument, not an emotional one. No subjective values are involved.

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Felix » June 29th, 2019, 4:24 am

GE Morton: The progolomenon, which is a part of the theory, covers the scope of the theory, i.e., that it applies to all individuals, via the Fundamental Principle.
Yes, your "fundamental principle" which applies to all individuals is: "All agents in the moral field should adhere to rules per which goods can be maximized, and evils minimized, for all agents."

So then, what are these goods and evils that are regulated? (maximized or minimized), what are the rules that regulate them?, and who decides these rules?
GE Morton: The theory constrains actions by agents that would inflict harm or losses on other agents, but there is no presumption that any agent's values need to be "moderated."
You are talking nonsense, you have not proposed any theory that would constrain agents evil actions, and in fact you said that your unstated theory is "neutral as between goods and evils, and the values thereof, as defined by agents."
GE Morton: So, again, where is the inconsistency?
I just gave you a couple of examples. Logically speaking, it is inconsistent throughout.
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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 29th, 2019, 2:45 pm

Felix wrote:
June 29th, 2019, 4:24 am

So then, what are these goods and evils that are regulated? (maximized or minimized), what are the rules that regulate them?, and who decides these rules?
You keep asking questions that are explicitly answered in the essay, and making claims that are explicitly refuted in the essay. First you claim that theory doesn't cover everybody, which the theory clearly does, and now you're asking what goods/evils are considered, which the theory clearly defines. The goods and evils considered are anything desired by an agent, which of course varies from agent to agent.

Nor do "minimized" and "maximized" mean "regulated." It means every agent may take any action he wishes to increase his welfare, i.e., to gain what he consider goods and avoid what he considers evils, as long as his actions do not inflict harms or losses on other agents. And no one "decides the rules." The rules follow logically as theorems from the postulates and the axiom; they are not dictated by monarchs, politicians, public opinion, or gods.
GE Morton: The theory constrains actions by agents that would inflict harm or losses on other agents, but there is no presumption that any agent's values need to be "moderated."
You are talking nonsense, you have not proposed any theory that would constrain agents evil actions, and in fact you said that your unstated theory is "neutral as between goods and evils, and the values thereof, as defined by agents."
You're playing word games. The theory defines "goods" and "evils." That definition does not embrace agent actions. Goods and evils refer to things desired by agents, right and wrong apply to agent actions, with wrong actions being those forbidden by the theorems of the theory (the generated rules). The rule forbidding actions that reduce other agents' welfare is derivable from the Equal Agency postulate.
GE Morton: So, again, where is the inconsistency?
I just gave you a couple of examples. Logically speaking, it is inconsistent throughout.
Well, you studiously ignore what I said before re: inconsistency. Two propositions are inconsistent IFF one contradicts the other, e.g., one says, "A is B," and the other says, "A is -B." You have given no example of such a contradiction. Your "inconsistency" charge is vacuous and frivolous.

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Felix » June 29th, 2019, 3:27 pm

The bottom line is that your doctrine is too vague to have practical value, don't know why you can't see that. In essence it is "anything goes as long as it does not harm another moral agent." And what constitutes "harm" is ambiguous, as is to be expected, since agents will have differing opinions as to what will improve or curtail their welfare. Your example of how your doctrine would apply to the issue of abortion clearly demonstrates it's inadequacy.
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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 29th, 2019, 7:51 pm

Felix wrote:
June 29th, 2019, 3:27 pm
The bottom line is that your doctrine is too vague to have practical value, don't know why you can't see that. In essence it is "anything goes as long as it does not harm another moral agent." And what constitutes "harm" is ambiguous, as is to be expected, since agents will have differing opinions as to what will improve or curtail their welfare.
Indeed they will. But that does not mean "harm" is ambiguous. It only means it varies from person to person. A harm has been done to Alfie if, prior to some act by Bruno, his level of welfare was W, after the act it is W - x, and the reduction was caused by Alfie's act.

The abortion example was presented as another counterexample to your earlier claim that all moral judgments rest on "subjective values." It had nothing to do with "my doctrine," i.e., the Theory of Public Morality (the topic of this thread).

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Felix » June 29th, 2019, 8:29 pm

The claim that "fetuses are not moral agents," is clearly not an objective proposition, it is a subjective opinion, which is why it is controversial. As I said, such conclusions show that your doctrine is inadequate and impractical.
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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 29th, 2019, 9:17 pm

Felix wrote:
June 29th, 2019, 8:29 pm
The claim that "fetuses are not moral agents," is clearly not an objective proposition, it is a subjective opinion, which is why it is controversial. As I said, such conclusions show that your doctrine is inadequate and impractical.
Well, whether it is a moral agent depends upon one's definition of "moral agent." My progolomenon gives a definition of that term, which essentially tracks with most others in the literature.

https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/moral-agent

An argument can be made for each of the definitive traits, and would be required for any additional trait proposed. But it is not a matter of opinion. If the definition is adequate then whether a fetus satisfies it is a matter of fact.

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by Hereandnow » June 30th, 2019, 12:31 am

GE Morton
Readers are invited to scrutinize and criticize these postulates and speculate as to what theorems may follow if they are true.
I need help understanding how your thinking about public morality excludes systematic brutalities. You seem to think it is covered by the term "sound moral theory". Sound? In what way, that is, by what standard of sound? Can a moral theory be sound and be unjust; or, if you think justice is defined by soundness, then the question really comes to, what is it that makes such a system self correcting so that certain groups, like women, minority races, the sexually different, and so on, are delivered from discrimination?

What is a sound moral theory anyway??

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Re: A Theory of Public Morality

Post by GE Morton » June 30th, 2019, 12:09 pm

Hereandnow wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 12:31 am

I need help understanding how your thinking about public morality excludes systematic brutalities.
What do you mean by "excluded"? Do you mean the theory does not consider them, or that it prohibits them? All brutalities are forbidden by the theory, systematic or otherwise. (I take it that by a "brutality" you mean some sort of injury inflicted upon one moral agent by another).
You seem to think it is covered by the term "sound moral theory". Sound? In what way, that is, by what standard of sound?
I use "sound" in the usual logical sense. A theory is sound if its premises are true and its theorems follow from them without logical error.

https://www.iep.utm.edu/val-snd/
Can a moral theory be sound and be unjust; or, if you think justice is defined by soundness . . .
No, justice is not "defined" by soundness. A sound moral theory will define justice, if it is reasonably complete (a theory may be sound but incomplete). If it does not it will leave an important moral question unanswered.
. . . then the question really comes to, what is it that makes such a system self correcting so that certain groups, like women, minority races, the sexually different, and so on, are delivered from discrimination?
Well, that begs the question. That there a moral obligation not to discriminate (on those grounds or any other) must be derived from the postulates of the theory. It cannot be assumed a priori. I haven't considered it carefully, but I doubt such an obligation can be derived from this theory. Some additional postulate would be needed.

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