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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 » October 28th, 2018, 9:59 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:
October 28th, 2018, 9:20 pm
GE Morton:
The only constraints morally binding on agents are those derived from a sound moral theory. That we sometimes refrain from doing immoral things for other, non-rational reasons doesn't change that.
Are you claiming that prior to the development of sound rational moral theory there were no moral constraints on cooking and eating the baby?
Yes. Any constraints were psychological or cultural (including religion).

Morality, like law, is a product of civilization, just as are science, politics, and the rest of philosophy.
When do you think the development of sound moral theory occurred?
Answered above.
Was there no distinctions between right and wrong or good and bad prior to that point?


Not right or wrong in the contemporary moral sense, i.e., in commanded or forbidden by some moral principle. But, of course, various acts were forbidden because they offended the sensibilities of other members of the community (or the gods).
You have stated that at least with the question of eating babies it is “hard wired” so it cannot be a matter of convention.


Correct. Humans, like many other animals, are instinctively protective of their young.

Steve3007
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Steve3007 » October 29th, 2018, 7:06 am

GE Morton wrote:An objective synthetic proposition is one whose truth conditions are public; i.e, the empirical facts which would render it true are accessible to anyone, and will be observed by anyone suitably situated.
Yes. In scientific terms: it is possible to describe a test/observation/experiment that anybody can do to either verify or falsify such a proposition. A proposition such as "it is wrong to kill for fun" can't, in itself, be verified or falsified by an experiment. What can potentially be verified or falsified is whether certain actions will lead to the achievement of pre-defined goals.
A subjective proposition is one whose truth conditions are private, apprehensible only by the utterer. "Paris is the capital of France" is an example of the former. "I have a headache," and, "Beethoven was a better composer than Mozart" are examples of the latter.
I agree to the definition of subjective propositions, although as an incidental point I'd say that the example of "Paris is the capital of France" is not a synthetic/empirically testable proposition in the sense that "it is raining outside" is. It's more an analytic proposition, similar to "1 + 1 = 2". It's a true by definition. It's not verified by travelling to Paris and measuring something, like the size of Notre Dame Cathedral or something. It's true by definition, just as Vichy was, by definition, the (de facto) capital of WW2 German occupied France.
Moral philosophy needs to be de-mystified. Devising an objective moral theory is no more difficult in principle than devising an objective theory concerning any other realm of phenomena, and the methodology is the same.
I think the specific part of the methodology that is (potentially) the same is the part which involves working out chains of cause and effect which link various actions to various outcomes. This methodology can help to tell us whether a given course of action is likely to achieve our underlying goals. But we still have to define those goals.

If it turns out that different people have the same underlying goals but differ in their opinions as to the best way to achieve them, then their argument can be an evidence-based one. If, for example, we both agreed as to what the underlying purpose of government is, but differed as to the best way to achieve that purpose, then we could have an evidence-based argument about it. But if we don't share views as to those axiomatic principles then we simply have to agree to differ (or fight! :D ).

Fooloso4
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Fooloso4 » October 29th, 2018, 9:49 am

GE Morton:
Any constraints were psychological or cultural (including religion).
A moral theory that eliminates the psychological and cultural eliminates the human.
When do you think the development of sound moral theory occurred?
Answered above.
It wasn’t. There have been several civilizations. You have not identified the sound moral theory or theories that underlie any of them. What you say below about the "contemporary moral sense" suggests that only now do we find a sound moral theory.
Not right or wrong in the contemporary moral sense, i.e., in commanded or forbidden by some moral principle.
And that is the point. Moral conduct and the distinction between right and wrong does not require some moral principle.

Eduk
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Eduk » October 29th, 2018, 10:08 am

If it turns out that different people have the same underlying goals but differ in their opinions as to the best way to achieve them, then their argument can be an evidence-based one.
And to complicate things further. We don't need to agree that we have the same underlying goals to have the same underlying goals. Also the underlying goals may be contradictory and impossible to judge against each other. Plus our underlying goals change as we do, so now we have to not only work out what our underlying goals actually are but what potential version of us has the best underlying goals. Simple.
Unknown means unknown.

Steve3007
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Steve3007 » October 29th, 2018, 10:32 am

Eduk wrote:And to complicate things further. We don't need to agree that we have the same underlying goals to have the same underlying goals. Also the underlying goals may be contradictory and impossible to judge against each other. Plus our underlying goals change as we do, so now we have to not only work out what our underlying goals actually are but what potential version of us has the best underlying goals. Simple.
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.

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. But obviously if they could show my scepticism to be unfounded that would be a fantastic thing.

Eduk
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Eduk » October 29th, 2018, 10:46 am

But obviously if they could show my scepticism to be unfounded that would be a fantastic thing.
In my experience that last time reality was so accommodating to my wants/needs was when I was a puddle lying in a perfectly puddle shaped hole.
Unknown means unknown.

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

Post by GE Morton » October 29th, 2018, 11:30 am

Fooloso4 wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 9:49 am

A moral theory that eliminates the psychological and cultural eliminates the human.
Oh, certainly not. It is the ability to reason that distinguishes humans from other animals, not emotional responses, instinctive behaviors, or social conditioning. Most animals display those. A human morality will be a rational one.
There have been several civilizations. You have not identified the sound moral theory or theories that underlie any of them.[
You're right; I haven't. I'm not even sure a sound moral theory has yet been devised. What changed with the advent of civilization was the attempt to formulate moral principles and rules in a thoughtful, systematic way, supported by rational arguments. Pre-civilized people did not reflect upon or debate moral issues, any more than they investigated or debated the causes of diseases or the movements of the planets. They simply acted on their instincts, accepted the "wisdom of the Elders" and obeyed what they took to be the commands of their gods.
And that is the point. Moral conduct and the distinction between right and wrong does not require some moral principle.
You're right; conduct may be deemed "right" or "wrong" for many reasons, most of them non-rational, preposterous, and destructive. History is rife with evidence of where those methodologies lead.

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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Fooloso4 » October 29th, 2018, 11:52 am

Steve3007:
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.
Many philosophers no longer have faith in modern rationalism. I sketch out some of the salient features of the history below as it relates to moral philosophy. This is quick and rough:

Reasoned thought, as it was conceived of by the ancients, stands in contrast to modern rationalism. Socratic skepticism is based in part on a recognition of the limits of reason. Whereas for Plato mathematics is a limiting case - knowledge of the just, noble/beautiful, and good are beyond what we can know via reason, but for modern rationalists (and the empiricists were rationalists in this sense) mathematics becomes the model for reason as objective and infallible. Mathematics is seen as the universal language, the language of nature. Descartes held that with his algebraic method he could solve for any unknown. Kant saw the limits of pure reason but based his moral philosophy, what he calls practical reason, on logical non-contradiction as determinate for practice. Nietzsche was a strong critic of modern rationalism. He returns to Aristotle’s notion of human flourishing as fundamental for ethics, except that he does not treat human nature as fixed and timeless. Two key features to Nietzsche’s moral analysis are the very things that GE Morton wants to jettison - psychology and culture.

Fooloso4
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Fooloso4 » October 29th, 2018, 12:03 pm

GE Morton:
Oh, certainly not. It is the ability to reason that distinguishes humans from other animals, not emotional responses, instinctive behaviors, or social conditioning. Most animals display those. A human morality will be a rational one.
Eliminate emotional responses, instinctive behaviors, or social conditioning and you have eliminated the human.
What changed with the advent of civilization was the attempt to formulate moral principles and rules in a thoughtful, systematic way …
You are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. This is an anachronistic view. As you have said, to be commanded or forbidden by some moral principle is a contemporary sense of morality.
History is rife with evidence of where those methodologies lead.
And where does your methodology lead? How have you solved the problem of abortion? Euthanasia?

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

Post by GE Morton » October 29th, 2018, 3:19 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 12:03 pm

Eliminate emotional responses, instinctive behaviors, or social conditioning and you have eliminated the human.
I think I addressed that above. There is nothing distinctively human about those motivators/determinants of behavior. They are legacies of our mammalian/primate heritage, and they are no more useful or reliable as sources for a coherent, workable moral code than they are for a coherent understanding of cosmology or economics or medicine or geophysics. Chants and spells will not prevent or cure any disease, sacrificing virgins won't prevent the eruption of a volcano, and fear of divine retribution or of arousing angry spirits are absurd bases for a moral rule.
You are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. This is an anachronistic view.
I'm not sure what you're saying there. Are you suggesting that the task for moral philosophy is to rationalize pre-existing moral intuitions? Which intuitions? Whose intuitions?
As you have said, to be commanded or forbidden by some moral principle is a contemporary sense of morality.
Yes. A moral principle is not a moral intuition. It is an articulable statement of a rule, a proposition, which has a truth value and can be debated, criticized, and perhaps refuted.
And where does your methodology lead?
Impossible to say, since it has yet to be widely adopted.
How have you solved the problem of abortion? Euthanasia?
You solve the problem of abortion by determining whether a human fetus is a moral agent. And I wasn't aware there was any moral problem with euthanasia, as long as it's voluntary. Religion-based objections don't qualify as problems.

Karpel Tunnel
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Karpel Tunnel » October 29th, 2018, 3:42 pm

GE Morton wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 3:19 pm
I think I addressed that above. There is nothing distinctively human about those motivators/determinants of behavior.
They distinguish humans from other mammals, say, but they are absolutely inherent in the human. You are conflating distinctiveness with characteristic or essential qualities.
They are legacies of our mammalian/primate heritage, and they are no more useful or reliable as sources for a coherent, workable moral code than they are for a coherent understanding of cosmology or economics or medicine or geophysics. Chants and spells will not prevent or cure any disease, sacrificing virgins won't prevent the eruption of a volcano, and fear of divine retribution or of arousing angry spirits are absurd bases for a moral rule.
Damasio, a neuroscientist, has shown that people who do not have functioning and in decision making participatory emotions, cannot be rational about social situations. They are confused and do not act rationally. Further you cannot create values without emotions. All our morals hook back into precisely our being social mammals. The limbic system is a part of the human brain. Remove it, and you do not have humans. And likely it and emotions are part of our success. That problems can come from this system do not make it less human, nor does it justify keeping it out of play in our decision making.

We have digestive systems as a legacy from earlier mammals also.

You solve the problem of abortion by determining whether a human fetus is a moral agent.
That's a moral value that cannot be determined just rationally. Others might argue that if it experiences it should be allowed to continue to live, even if it cannot make moral choices. Our axioms, at the very least, will necessarily have emotional components in them. Even caring in the least about another adult's life, iow considering it something to value, is based on social mammal, limbic system biases that cannot be proved to be correct or deduced.

Fooloso4
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Re: THE NECESSITY OF MORAL REALISM (MORAL OBJECTIVISM)

Post by Fooloso4 » October 29th, 2018, 4:18 pm

GE Morton:
There is nothing distinctively human about those motivators/determinants of behavior.
It is not a matter of what is distinctively human but of what is human. A rational animal is still an animal and rationality is not independent of drives, desires, and feelings.
I'm not sure what you're saying there.
What I am saying that you have defined morality in such a way that according to this conception morality did not exist for most of human history.
It is an articulable statement of a rule, a proposition, which has a truth value and can be debated, criticized, and perhaps refuted.
Where do we find such principles in the ethics of Aristotle or Kongzi for example?
Impossible to say, since it has yet to be widely adopted.
Rule or principle based morality is not something new. It is widely accepted and the basic of many texts used in classes in ethics.
You solve the problem of abortion by determining whether a human fetus is a moral agent.
Not everyone accepts your assumption that moral agency is the determining factor. There is a significant percentage of the population, including some moral theorists, who hold that the determining factor is human life, and a human fetus is alive. Another significant percentage holds that the developmental stage should be the determining factor. Most hold that a newborn is not a moral agent, and so, if it is permissible to terminate a fetus because it is not a moral agent then it is permissible to terminate the life of a baby.
And I wasn't aware there was any moral problem with euthanasia, as long as it's voluntary.
Voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide is a main topic in medical ethics textbooks. They are illegal in most US states.

I see that Karpel Tunnel touched on some of these same points.

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

Post by GE Morton » October 29th, 2018, 7:21 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 7:06 am

Yes. In scientific terms: it is possible to describe a test/observation/experiment that anybody can do to either verify or falsify such a proposition. A proposition such as "it is wrong to kill for fun" can't, in itself, be verified or falsified by an experiment. What can potentially be verified or falsified is whether certain actions will lead to the achievement of pre-defined goals.
Exactly right. So the fundamental axiom of a moral theory will set forth a goal --- a statement of what a set of moral rules aims to accomplish. Then we can assess, empirically or logically, whether a proposed rule advances that goal, thwarts it, or does neither.
I agree to the definition of subjective propositions, although as an incidental point I'd say that the example of "Paris is the capital of France" is not a synthetic/empirically testable proposition in the sense that "it is raining outside" is. It's more an analytic proposition, similar to "1 + 1 = 2". It's a true by definition. It's not verified by travelling to Paris and measuring something, like the size of Notre Dame Cathedral or something. It's true by definition, just as Vichy was, by definition, the (de facto) capital of WW2 German occupied France.
I don't think whether a city is a capital is entirely a matter of definition. There is a functional aspect. But this is a tangent.
I think the specific part of the methodology that is (potentially) the same is the part which involves working out chains of cause and effect which link various actions to various outcomes. This methodology can help to tell us whether a given course of action is likely to achieve our underlying goals. But we still have to define those goals.
Yes, we do.
If it turns out that different people have the same underlying goals but differ in their opinions as to the best way to achieve them, then their argument can be an evidence-based one. If, for example, we both agreed as to what the underlying purpose of government is, but differed as to the best way to achieve that purpose, then we could have an evidence-based argument about it. But if we don't share views as to those axiomatic principles then we simply have to agree to differ (or fight! :D ).
That's true too. So we need a goal upon which everyone can agree. Unfortunately, there likely is no such goal. But we might be able to find one which satisfies certain other conditions, such that it is agent- and interest-neutral and it captures the central aim of influential moral theories developed over the centuries, such as utilitarianism and those of Aristotle and Kant.

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

Post by GE Morton » October 29th, 2018, 7:28 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 10:32 am

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.

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

Post by GE Morton » October 29th, 2018, 8:12 pm

Karpel Tunnel wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 3:42 pm

They distinguish humans from other mammals, say, but they are absolutely inherent in the human.
Was that a typo? No, they do not distinguish humans from other animals. Yes, they are inherent in humans (so is digestion, as you point out below), but that doesn't make them suitable, much less optimum, foundations for a moral code.
Damasio, a neuroscientist, has shown that people who do not have functioning and in decision making participatory emotions, cannot be rational about social situations. They are confused and do not act rationally.
I'm sure that's essentially true (though some of Damasio's conjectures are dubious). But it doesn't impact my thesis. I have not argued that emotions have no role in human life; only that they have no role to play in moral theorizing.
Further you cannot create values without emotions.
I agree. But a sound moral theory is not concerned with values; it is concerned with the means of pursuing one's values and attaining one's goals in a social setting.
All our morals hook back into precisely our being social mammals.
Again, I agree. I take the aim of a moral theory to be developing rules of interaction between moral agents in a social setting.
You solve the problem of abortion by determining whether a human fetus is a moral agent.
That's a moral value that cannot be determined just rationally.
No, it is not. It is an empirical question, though it does depend upon the definition of "moral agent."
Others might argue that if it experiences it should be allowed to continue to live, even if it cannot make moral choices.
Then you may not swat mosquitoes.
Our axioms, at the very least, will necessarily have emotional components in them.
No, they will not. And if they do they will not qualify as axioms, which must be self-evident.
Even caring in the least about another adult's life, iow considering it something to value, is based on social mammal, limbic system biases that cannot be proved to be correct or deduced.
That's correct. But a moral theory is not concerned with what or who you care about, or how much you care about them. It is only concerned with how you act with regard to them.

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