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The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

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GE Morton
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by GE Morton » November 1st, 2018, 10:43 pm

Karpel Tunnel wrote:
November 1st, 2018, 11:05 am

Certainly other facets of humans other than emotions should go into that, but one cannot come up with morals without emotions. How do we decide what axioms we have? What we value? How to prioritize consequences to avoid`? to see? These all need value judgments that must in part be emotional.
See last response to Fooloso.

A sound moral theory, and a set of moral rules derived from that theory, does not assume or assert any values. It is value- and interest-neutral. What it does assume is that everyone values certain things; that there is a hierarchy of values attached to each agent, and that those hierarchies differ from agent to agent. So the aim of the rules is to enable each agent to secure as many of the things he values as possible, i.e., to maximize his own welfare, by means that do not thwart the ability of others to do likewise.

Values are subjective and relative to agents. Value is a pseudo-property assigned to things by agents, not a natural or intrinsic property of anything. To say that something has value is to say that someone, some valuer, desires that thing and would give up something to attain it or retain it. That pseudo-property can be assigned to anything, not just material things. Anything that motivates an agent to act, whether securing food or a Picasso original, reaching a personal goal, winning the hand of Maryanne, understanding quantum theory, raising a child, curing AIDS in Africa, can be assigned a value by an agent. The value assigned, its rank in the hierachy, is given by what the valuer will give up to secure it.

Given that all values are relative to agents, and none have any objective existence, they cannot be assumed in the premises of a rational moral theory. But they are "built-in" to the theory because the rules of the theory are aimed at maximizing the welfare of all agents, and that welfare is a function of those agents' disparate values.

Sometimes the term "values" is used to denote someone's set of moral principles. That usage should be disparaged. A principle is a rule expressible in a proposition. Though it may express a value an agent places on something, it is not itself a value. And a moral principle that assumes a value of some particular thing is invalid prima facie, because it will certainly not be universal; it will not be true of or for all agents.
How do we even take the first step at coming up with a value without emotion?
We don't. Valuing something is itself an emotional response to that thing. But because emotional responses to things differ from person to person, they cannot be assumed in a moral theory, if it is to be universal (applicable to all agents in a given moral field). A moral theory that assumes particular values is biased at the outset.
We have no starting point without going on emotional evaluations.
Oh, but we do. We have the fact that people value various things, and the fact that each person's welfare, well-being, is a function of whatever he/she values. So we begin from those facts, not from anyone's idiosyncratic values.
Rational thinking has its place also, but without the emotions there is no reason to have goal X, or priority Y, or banning Z as part of our morals. And then to weight the grade of the effect of some action or consequence our emotional reactoins will again have to be involved.
Why? If, when faced with some moral choice, Alternative A will yield 10 units of welfare (per any scale you like) for Alfie, with no offsetting cost to anyone else, and Alternative B will yield 12 units, what role do our emotions have to play in making that decision?
OK, tell me an axiom of your moral theory that does not in any way come from you being a social mammal. One devoid of emotional interest.
Oh, moral and principles do indeed presume a social setting. They are only needed in settings where moral agents with diverse interests, values, goals, etc., are able to interact. But devising rules for those interactions requires no emotional involvement by the theorist, other than the desire to come up with a set of rules that does the job --- enabling all agents to maximize their welfare (the goal of the theory and its axiom).
But that caring is part of the axioms - we shall not harm someone without good cause, harm should be avoided.
No, caring is not part of the axioms, and cannot be, since it is not universal or self-evident. And the "do no harm" principle is a theorem derivable from the theory, not its axiom.
All moral stances will come out of emotionally influenced axioms.
If they do they will be invalid.
And you will not be able to rationally convince people with different emotional reactions - to the suffering of strangers or outgroup people - that they are wrong. You can point to consequences, but they will happily live with them. Sure, some weak poeple will get killed not because they were evil. Who cares? Others will feel, yes feel, this is unfair, cruel, whatever, based in part on empathetic feelings.
That is all true. But that some people will not, for non-rational reasons, be convinced by it is not a relevant objection, much less a refutation, of a moral theory (or any other kind of theory).

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by SimpleGuy » November 2nd, 2018, 7:31 am

Even if there would be a General Moral theory based on human rights, the implementation would be still a non-violent one from the Society which would apply These rules. Does this not include , some Unmoral element ? Is Moral after Nietzsche not a device that abolishes itself, to the favour of a nihilistic Point of view ?

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by GE Morton » November 3rd, 2018, 9:23 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:
November 1st, 2018, 9:56 pm

If one lacks care and empathy then one may not regard the feelings of others as important and will not be able to relate to them.
He doesn't have to relate to them. He only needs to realize that the parties affected have them, and that his decision will affect their welfare.
In considering the feelings of others the decision-makers own feelings come into play. He or she may feel that others do or should feel as they do, care for what they care about, be moved in a way that they feel appropriate.
Yes, that often happens. When it does the decision will likely be wrong.
And some of those affected might prefer one option and some another. The weight given to different aspects of the assumed consequences may vary. What one may see as an improvement another may not.
See response to Karpel Tunnel above, re: the subjectivity of values. The decision-maker must take into account the import of the various alternatives to the parties affected, not their value to him.
If it were that simple there would be little or no disagreement regarding moral issues. Principle based moral theory has not resolved those disagreements.
"Principle-based" moral theories have not resolved moral disagreements because many moral judgments do not flow from coherent, cognitive principles but from visceral feelings, intuitions, conditioned responses, and other impulsive, idiosyncratic, non-rational sources. Rational arguments are effective only against other rational beliefs. (It is something of a solecism to describe differing emotional responses to an event as a "disagreement").

Which causes me to wonder whether this discussion can lead anywhere. A philosophical debate presupposes a commitment by all participants to rational argument --- to the cognitivity of the propositions asserted and to the rules of logic.
We can agree on the number of accidents by a simple count. What stands as an improvement or reduction of the welfare of agents is a matter of opinion.
Yes, it is. But the only opinions that count are those of the affected parties; not that of the decision-maker. And in most cases (though not always) we will know what what the parties value (by observing their behavior).
The lives of all species differ from those of all other species. Are they all special?
How I might answer and how others would are not the same. Some value some lives more than others. I tend to put human life ahead of that of other species. In any case, this came up in relation to abortion. I do not see the relevance of bringing other species into it.
Well, I'd asked for an explanation of what makes human life "special," and offered moral agency as an answer. You rejected that, and offered instead that it "differs from the lives of other beings." So it was you who brought up "other beings." Which is obviously insufficient to make it special.
You may regard the belief that human life should not be taken or only taken in certain situations as baseless and dogmatic, but it is fundamental to most people. I do not know what your moral theory rests on if human life is disregarded.
It rests on the fact that people value things (including human life), which is universally true, but not upon any of the things they value, since that latter is idiosyncratic --- what things are valued, and the values assigned to them, varies from person to person.
In my opinion the confusion is in thinking that morality should disregard what people hold to be most important, sacred, and valuable.
It doesn't disregard them. But since what is most important, sacred, and valuable differs from person to person, inserting any one of those values into a moral principle would be arbitrary and prejudicial. But the fact that Aflie considers X to be valuable is certainly taken into account by the theory.
Are you claiming that there is no moral difference between an abortion is the first and ninth month?
Yes. (This issue really belongs in another thread).
It [a baby] has moral status.
This begs the question. What is the basis for it having moral status? Why does the newborn have moral status and the late stage fetus does not?
Are you familiar with the distinction between moral agents and moral subjects? Both have moral status; but the obligations and constraints imposed on agents are different for agents and subjects.

https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/vide ... oral-worth
Premarital sex does raise moral issues for some. The fact that it plays no role in your moral theory does not mean that others do not question the morality of it.
That's true. Anything can raise a moral issue for some. Elsewhere on this forum I drew the distinction between "public moralities" and "private moralities." Private moralities can embrace any behavior, and be based on anything (and often have some non-rational basis). Public moralities are only concerned with interactions between moral agents wherein the acts of one agent improves or reduces the welfare of other agents. Public moralities are indifferent to private moralities, unless they command acts forbidden by the public morality.
Yes, and that is the point. The answer to moral questions cannot be treated as the equivalent of counting car accidents or whether evolution is true.
Yes, it can. Whether an act will improve or reduce the welfare of the agents affected can often be determined empirically, and fairly precisely. In other cases it can be induced with high probability.
I would say that the job of moral philosophy is not to ascertain the right answers but to deliberate about what seems best. Unlike the bivalence of right and wrong, it is not a fixed determination and is subject to change. What is best is, all things considered, what seems preferable to the alternatives.
Seems preferable to whom? You continue to avoid the elephant in the room. Whose intuitions, preferences, feelings, shall govern? Or does each agent simply act as he sees fit, and the rest of us continue to suffer the consequences of that moral anarchy? The fascist, the jihadist, the racist, the bolshevik, the holy waarriors, are all to act on their feelings?

Of course, I doubt you share any of those fanaticisms, but unless you can butress them with some rational argument your feelings are no more substantive or credible than theirs.
In general, to cause harm and suffering is bad, and to minimize them is good. To flourish is good, well-being is good, and these require good health, nourishment, shelter, and so, what promotes their attainment is good and what prevents there attainment is bad.
They are required for some people, to varying degrees, but not for all. And for most much more is required.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Fooloso4 » November 4th, 2018, 10:47 am

I think we have stated our differences. You treat morality from the outside as if you are a disinterred observer who can establish principles and rules binding on everyone in every situation from which the right answer can be determined. I think that such an approach will fail. It is not possible to establish in advance rules that will hold for every situation. There will be an endless process of additional rules to cover exceptions and contingencies.

I do not think morality is about finding the right answer but about determining what is best from the perspective of those who must choose and those who are affected. It is about how to think as a moral agent. The orientation is from what “I” should do not from what others should do. Recognizing other “I”s may see things differently moral discourse also takes place at the level of “we”. Where “I” or “we” stand on moral issues is not something that occurs in a timeless placeless realm, but here and now.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Steve3007 » November 5th, 2018, 7:13 am

GE Morton wrote:
Steve3007 wrote:Yes, good points. On the first one: I've observed that in political and ethical arguments people often seem to think that their underlying goals are different when, on closer inspection, they're not. And, as you've said, our goals change as we change.
And,
So I'm sceptical of people who try to make out that ethical differences are, in principle, objectively solvable in such a way that any rational, intelligent person would come to the same conclusions about questions as to what is the morally right and wrong course of action in any situation.
Those two statements seem to be at odds.

But it is important not confuse the idiosyncratic goals of individuals with the goal of a moral theory. People may be able to agree on the latter no matter how diverse their personal goals.
I can see why you'd say that. But one of the reasons for the second statement was that, although we sometimes find that the underlying goals are the same, when we do not find that then it seems to me impossible for any rational argument to be had between the two positions. The other reason is the complexity of cause and effect. Even if we share the same deep, underlying goals it seems to me that it's often impossible to demonstrate beyond doubt what courses of action will tend to serve those goals. It is my observation that most ostensibly moral arguments are arguments over chains of cause and effect that the complexity of life makes it impossible to unpick.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Steve3007 » November 5th, 2018, 7:25 am

But it is important not confuse the idiosyncratic goals of individuals with the goal of a moral theory. People may be able to agree on the latter no matter how diverse their personal goals.
They may be able to agree on it as a very general, abstract principle. As you've said, they may dream up such ideas as Utilitarianism, Kant's Categorical Imperative or Aristotle's concept of "The Good Life". But, so far at least, no such abstract high-level ideas seem to have unified us all. There has not yet been discovered a universally, usefully, practically applicable Grand Unified Theory of ethics. The situation seems strangely similar, in a way, to that of the fundamental principles in physics. No matter how profound they might be, they generally can't be used in everyday practical situations. For those situations, more heuristic rules have to be found. The physicist Ernest Rutherford famously dismissed all science that is not physics as "mere stamp collecting". He may have been right in a sense, but the kind of "stamp collecting" that he was metaphorically talking about has practical uses that the broad abstract concepts of physics don't have. Likewise with ethical "stamp collecting".

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by GE Morton » November 5th, 2018, 2:44 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
November 5th, 2018, 7:13 am

I can see why you'd say that. But one of the reasons for the second statement was that, although we sometimes find that the underlying goals are the same, when we do not find that then it seems to me impossible for any rational argument to be had between the two positions.
The reason for that is, that when the disagreements are moral, one or both of the positions taken are based on non-rational grounds, thus making them impervious to rational argument.
Even if we share the same deep, underlying goals it seems to me that it's often impossible to demonstrate beyond doubt what courses of action will tend to serve those goals. It is my observation that most ostensibly moral arguments are arguments over chains of cause and effect that the complexity of life makes it impossible to unpick.
I certainly agree that consequences of a choice are not always fully foreseeable, and hence not all moral problems have definitive solutions. There are "hard cases." But most of them are rationally solvable.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by GE Morton » November 5th, 2018, 3:05 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
November 5th, 2018, 7:25 am

They may be able to agree on it as a very general, abstract principle. As you've said, they may dream up such ideas as Utilitarianism, Kant's Categorical Imperative or Aristotle's concept of "The Good Life". But, so far at least, no such abstract high-level ideas seem to have unified us all. There has not yet been discovered a universally, usefully, practically applicable Grand Unified Theory of ethics.
No, there hasn't. Except for mine, of course. :-)

But even if there was one --- one whose axioms and postulates are indubitably true, whose logic is impeccable, and whose rules captured the most widely shared principles (as reflected in the laws and customs of most civilized societies), it would not necessarily be adopted by everyone --- simply because, as noted previously, many "vernacular" moralities are non-rational. And dogmas absorbed "on mama's knee" are not easily dislodged, especially when they reinforced by the agent's micro-culture.
The situation seems strangely similar, in a way, to that of the fundamental principles in physics. No matter how profound they might be, they generally can't be used in everyday practical situations. For those situations, more heuristic rules have to be found. The physicist Ernest Rutherford famously dismissed all science that is not physics as "mere stamp collecting". He may have been right in a sense, but the kind of "stamp collecting" that he was metaphorically talking about has practical uses that the broad abstract concepts of physics don't have. Likewise with ethical "stamp collecting".
Heh. That quote is somewhat apocryphal. Keep in mind, though, that physics embraces not only quantum theory, but Newtonian and Einsteinian physics as well, which have innumerable practical uses.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by GE Morton » November 5th, 2018, 7:38 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:
November 4th, 2018, 10:47 am
I think we have stated our differences. You treat morality from the outside as if you are a disinterred observer who can establish principles and rules binding on everyone in every situation from which the right answer can be determined.
I think you mean "disinterested" there, not "disinterred," which means "removed from a grave." :-)

Yes, the moral theorist strives to approach the problem as a disinterested observer, much as does a traffic engineer. That approach has been advocated by several moral philosophers (google for "ideal observer theory"). I don't imagine, however, that the approach will yield the right answer in every situation. Sometimes the consequences of the various alternatives are uncertain, and sometimes essential information is lacking. There are "hard problems." But it will yield the best answer (improve the welfare for the most agents) most of the time.
I think that such an approach will fail. It is not possible to establish in advance rules that will hold for every situation. There will be an endless process of additional rules to cover exceptions and contingencies.
There is no limit to the number of rules. The only requirement is that the rule applied be derivable from the axiom and postulates.
I do not think morality is about finding the right answer but about determining what is best from the perspective of those who must choose and those who are affected. It is about how to think as a moral agent.
Thinking as a moral agent implies thinking rationally.
The orientation is from what “I” should do not from what others should do. Recognizing other “I”s may see things differently moral discourse also takes place at the level of “we”. Where “I” or “we” stand on moral issues is not something that occurs in a timeless placeless realm, but here and now.
Well, the only alternatives to rational analysis when "we" disagree on a moral issue are, "If it feels good, do it," and "might makes right." Both of which assure the perpetuation of conflict.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Fooloso4 » November 5th, 2018, 9:12 pm

Our disagreement is not a matter of rational analysis versus something else but rather a disagreement over what it means to be rational.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by GE Morton » November 6th, 2018, 1:07 am

Fooloso4 wrote:
November 5th, 2018, 9:12 pm
Our disagreement is not a matter of rational analysis versus something else but rather a disagreement over what it means to be rational.
Well, my understanding of that term is fairly conventional:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/defin ... ationality

What is yours?

Here is a fuller discussion:

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/xLm9mgJ ... ationality

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Burning ghost » November 6th, 2018, 1:27 am

Emotions are required to direct rational thought and rational thought is required to direct emotions - is that a simple summation to put this back and forth to bed or not?
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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Steve3007 » November 6th, 2018, 5:55 am

GE Morton wrote:The reason for that is, that when the disagreements are moral, one or both of the positions taken are based on non-rational grounds, thus making them impervious to rational argument.
I think we disagree as to the meaning of the word "rational" in this context. To me, the word "rational" applies only to the logic of an argument, not to the axiomatic beliefs - the underlying goals - on which it might be based. The argument is irrational if it contradicts itself or misuses factual evidence. My point here was that if two people have different underlying goals then they are unlikely ever to agree, even if the arguments that they build on those goals and use to generate proposed actions are perfectly rational.
I certainly agree that consequences of a choice are not always fully foreseeable, and hence not all moral problems have definitive solutions. There are "hard cases." But most of them are rationally solvable.
In saying "most of them are rationally solvable" you seem to be saying that although the consequences of some choices are not foreseeable, most are. I don't think so. If we take any political disagreement between two people at different positions on the political spectrum where their disagreement stems from a disagreement as to the consequences of competing political policies, I think we usually find that it's not unambiguously possible to resolve their dispute and demonstrate unambiguously one of them to be right and the other wrong.
No, there hasn't. Except for mine, of course. :-)

But even if there was one --- one whose axioms and postulates are indubitably true, whose logic is impeccable, and whose rules captured the most widely shared principles (as reflected in the laws and customs of most civilized societies), it would not necessarily be adopted by everyone --- simply because, as noted previously, many "vernacular" moralities are non-rational. And dogmas absorbed "on mama's knee" are not easily dislodged, especially when they reinforced by the agent's micro-culture.
It would be interesting if you could give an example of this, so we can see if there is indeed a failure of reason involved.
Heh. That quote is somewhat apocryphal. Keep in mind, though, that physics embraces not only quantum theory, but Newtonian and Einsteinian physics as well, which have innumerable practical uses.
Yes, the quote may be apocryphal but I think the idea expressed is still interesting. Something like quantum theory is a particularly apt example. I studied physics at University and learned that, in quantum mechanics, any physical system more complex than a single helium atom is not generally solvable analytically. They are only solvable using various approximate, numerical methods. This general principle that numerous heuristic "rules of thumb" (stamp collecting) must replace precise, simple analytical rules gets progressively more pronounced as we move up the scale of complexity from single helium atoms to the vast collections of billions of atoms known as living creatures.

Hence the old joke, which I've often quoted before, which has various different forms, of which this is one:

https://boingboing.net/2010/10/30/a-sci ... for-y.html
A geneticist, a physiologist and a physicist were summoned to meet a wealthy racehorse magnate. He told them he would give a million pounds to the one who could accurately identify race-winning horses. After six months of hard work, they returned to present their results to the expectant millionaire.

The geneticist said, "I've looked into all the current genetic research, checked blood-lines going back decades, but there are just too many behavioural and environmental factors. I can't help."

The physiologist said, "I've looked at muscle mass, bone volume and density, and all the other factors I can think of, but the problem's too complex. There's just no guarantee of predicting a winner."

Finally, the physicist calmly walks up to the millionaire and gives him an index card. "Here you go," he says "I've found an equation that solves the problem for you."

"Wow," said the millionaire, "That's impressive...I'll get my cheque book."

"Great. But there's one thing you should know," said the physicist. "It only works for a spherically symmetric horse travelling in a vacuum."
Theoretical physicists and ethical theorists usually have to assume that the "horse" is spherical and is travelling in a vacuum. It rarely, if ever, is.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by SimpleGuy » November 6th, 2018, 7:20 am

Moral is a subjective value to the inside, a necessety of a Moral realism Needs Provision from an outside , Society constructed , Moral.
A Moral realism, truly misleads it's own concept of Moral, due to the equalizing of Moral to People of different social Standard and different
philosphical viewpoint.

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Re: The Necessity of Moral Realism (Moral Objectivism)

Post by Fooloso4 » November 6th, 2018, 9:30 am

GE, I have already made clear where our differences lie with regard to reason. Reason as I understand it is not some timeless, abstract, objective, universal method.

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