Objective Moral Conundrum

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LuckyR
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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by LuckyR » July 24th, 2020, 1:31 pm

BertNewton wrote:
July 20th, 2020, 10:40 pm
I just read The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris and thought it was wonderful however, I wonder how he would answer this conundrum, considering that he argues for objective morality based on wellbeing:

Imagine 100 billion aliens arrive on earth, they go on a constant rampage of rape and murder. The more they rape and murder the more pleasure they get. Their pleasure far outweighs the suffering of the human race and their suffering, if stopped, would far outweigh the pleasure of the human race.

Is it wrong to stop them? Are there any objective arguments one could make to justify stopping them?
No need to make up an example, you're basically describing the human race from the perspective any other species on earth.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by GE Morton » July 24th, 2020, 9:05 pm

BertNewton wrote:
July 20th, 2020, 10:40 pm

Imagine 100 billion aliens arrive on earth, they go on a constant rampage of rape and murder. The more they rape and murder the more pleasure they get. Their pleasure far outweighs the suffering of the human race and their suffering, if stopped, would far outweigh the pleasure of the human race.
There is no means of "weighing" the pleasure of one agent against the suffering of another, because there is no defined, empirically measurable unit of pleasure/displeasure. Hence the question is meaningless.
Is it wrong to stop them? Are there any objective arguments one could make to justify stopping them?
Yes, there is an objective argument --- the aliens are violating rights, which is an empirical fact, and thus objective. Whether it is (morally) wrong to stop them depends upon the moral theory you hold.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by GE Morton » July 24th, 2020, 9:13 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 8:11 am
Morality isn't objective. There's nothing objective about "it's better to promote wellbeing than to squelch wellbeing" or anything like that.
Actually, "It is better to increase well-being than to reduce it" is a tautology. "Well-being" implies "better."
And there aren't things that objectively count as wellbeing.
Of course there are. Anything Alfie devotes time, resources, efforts to secure promotes his well-being. What he devotes time, effort, resources to secure is empirically determinable, and thus objective.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by GE Morton » July 24th, 2020, 9:39 pm

Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am

There are things Harris should be lauded for here. Firstly making a serious attempt to find a post-religious grounding for morality, and secondly recognising the key role in morality of conscious qualitative (what it is like) experience in his formulation of maximising the well-being of conscious creatures. I think without the advent of conscious creatures in the world, who experience qualiative well-being, morality is irrelevant.
Agree.
However, there's a problem in making claims to objectivity when your foundation is subjective experiential states, which isn't observable or measurable. So it's impossible imo to create a scale for measuring harms and benefits, except in intuitively clear cases.
We don't need to measure the subjective experiential state. I.e., we don't need to know what psychic state is induced in an agent who achieves some goal or secures some desired good; we don't need to know what goes on in anyone's head. We only need to be able to observe the agent's actions, what he pursues. We can assume that whatever he pursues, he does so to attain some desired experiential state. And that is objective.

The problem you mention is why we can't make interpersonal comparisons of utility --- an intractable problem for utilitarian social and economic theories. We can estimate, however, the relative amounts of satisfaction delivered to a given agent by various goods and actions --- we can observe the amounts of time, effort, other resources he devotes to their pursuit.

The major, indeed fatal, flaw of Harris' approach is his failure to recognize that what counts as well-being is idiosyncratic, agent-dependent. What's good for Alfie is not necessarily what's good for Bruno.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Belindi » July 25th, 2020, 6:02 am

GE Morton wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 9:39 pm
Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am

There are things Harris should be lauded for here. Firstly making a serious attempt to find a post-religious grounding for morality, and secondly recognising the key role in morality of conscious qualitative (what it is like) experience in his formulation of maximising the well-being of conscious creatures. I think without the advent of conscious creatures in the world, who experience qualiative well-being, morality is irrelevant.
Agree.
However, there's a problem in making claims to objectivity when your foundation is subjective experiential states, which isn't observable or measurable. So it's impossible imo to create a scale for measuring harms and benefits, except in intuitively clear cases.
We don't need to measure the subjective experiential state. I.e., we don't need to know what psychic state is induced in an agent who achieves some goal or secures some desired good; we don't need to know what goes on in anyone's head. We only need to be able to observe the agent's actions, what he pursues. We can assume that whatever he pursues, he does so to attain some desired experiential state. And that is objective.

The problem you mention is why we can't make interpersonal comparisons of utility --- an intractable problem for utilitarian social and economic theories. We can estimate, however, the relative amounts of satisfaction delivered to a given agent by various goods and actions --- we can observe the amounts of time, effort, other resources he devotes to their pursuit.

The major, indeed fatal, flaw of Harris' approach is his failure to recognize that what counts as well-being is idiosyncratic, agent-dependent. What's good for Alfie is not necessarily what's good for Bruno.
But conscious intentions are mental and given that the agent has or will have some powers to act on their intentions the agent's psychic state does matter. It matters not only for academic purposes by also for anyone such as parents, or judges, or clinicians, who have a duty of care. Agents' psychic states matter to ruling regimes including oppressive ones that aim to keep the people obedient.

Interpersonal comparisons of utility depend to variable extents upon the prevalent cuture of belief as to what constitutes a person. People who wanted the institution of slavery rationalised that negroes did not and could not attain the status of human beings. Similarly Nazis vis a vis Jews. Similarly those people who hate homosexual men and wish them ill. Comparisons of utility should consider judging not only individuals and their acts but also the culture of belief .

Cultures of belief are so important for evolution of morality that under some circumstances wars and killing are justifiable.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Pattern-chaser » July 25th, 2020, 9:26 am

GE Morton wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 9:05 pm
Yes, there is an objective argument --- the aliens are violating rights, which is an empirical fact, and thus objective. Whether it is (morally) wrong to stop them depends upon the moral theory you hold.
As we all know, the term "objective", as it appears in the topic title, and in your text, can carry a spectrum of meaning. Your position would seem to be that "objective" simply means "corresponding to Empirical Reality". I'm not convinced that this is the meaning intended by the title of the topic we're discussing. If I'm right, then you are arguing something quite different from this topic, and my confusion is directly due to your choosing a different meaning for "objective" than other contributors are using.

I retain my belief that "objective" is misleading, and that we should use other terms instead, maybe even terms that specifically define the thing we're trying to describe? 😮 [ These terms exist. "Unbiased", "impartial", "empirically-verifiable", "detached", "error-free", and so on. ] What's so difficult about being clear in our communications?
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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Pattern-chaser » July 25th, 2020, 9:28 am

LuckyR wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 1:31 pm
BertNewton wrote:
July 20th, 2020, 10:40 pm
I just read The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris and thought it was wonderful however, I wonder how he would answer this conundrum, considering that he argues for objective morality based on wellbeing:

Imagine 100 billion aliens arrive on earth, they go on a constant rampage of rape and murder. The more they rape and murder the more pleasure they get. Their pleasure far outweighs the suffering of the human race and their suffering, if stopped, would far outweigh the pleasure of the human race.

Is it wrong to stop them? Are there any objective arguments one could make to justify stopping them?
No need to make up an example, you're basically describing the human race from the perspective any other species on earth.
😆👍 That about sums it up. ... But, on reflection, maybe I shouldn't've posted a laughing smiley following the conclusion that our species and our world are doomed, by us....
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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by GE Morton » July 25th, 2020, 10:16 am

Pattern-chaser wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 9:26 am

As we all know, the term "objective", as it appears in the topic title, and in your text, can carry a spectrum of meaning. Your position would seem to be that "objective" simply means "corresponding to Empirical Reality". I'm not convinced that this is the meaning intended by the title of the topic we're discussing. If I'm right, then you are arguing something quite different from this topic, and my confusion is directly due to your choosing a different meaning for "objective" than other contributors are using.
Yes, the adjectives "objective" (and "subjective") have two common meanings. One applies to propositions, the other to persons. A proposition (and whatever can be expressed in a proposition, such as beliefs, claims, opinions, hypotheses, etc.) is objective if it has public truth conditions, i.e., the state of affairs which would render it true are confirmable/disconfirmable by all suitably-situated observers. If its truth conditions are private, perceptible only by the speaker, it is subjective.

A person is "objective" if his beliefs, opinions, judgments, etc. are not derived from or dependent upon factors irrelevant to the truth of the proposition asserting the judgment or belief, such as prejudices, personal values, emotional predispositions or reactions, etc. I.e., if those propositions are objective in the first sense.

All discussions of the objectivity of morality with which I'm familiar intend "objective" in the first sense.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by GE Morton » July 25th, 2020, 10:49 am

Belindi wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 6:02 am

But conscious intentions are mental and given that the agent has or will have some powers to act on their intentions the agent's psychic state does matter. It matters not only for academic purposes by also for anyone such as parents, or judges, or clinicians, who have a duty of care. Agents' psychic states matter to ruling regimes including oppressive ones that aim to keep the people obedient.
Of course they matter; I didn't deny that. I said we (third parties) don't need to know what those are to determine the extent of an agent's well-being. We can, of course, infer those from behavior and personal interactions with a particular agent, and attempt to alter them if they lead to destructive or otherwise undesirable behaviors. But we can't presume them a priori for all agents, and don't need to do so.
Interpersonal comparisons of utility depend to variable extents upon the prevalent cuture of belief as to what constitutes a person. People who wanted the institution of slavery rationalised that negroes did not and could not attain the status of human beings. Similarly Nazis vis a vis Jews. Similarly those people who hate homosexual men and wish them ill. Comparisons of utility should consider judging not only individuals and their acts but also the culture of belief.
Well, I agree that if we (irrationally) deem different groups of humans to be, in some sense, non-human, then we'll likely impute different psychic states to them than we would to "real" humans. But imputing any subjective experiential state to anyone a priori, before observing their behavior and interacting personally with them is a mistake. And the problem of interpersonal comparisons of utility persists even among those we consider "real" persons.
Cultures of belief are so important for evolution of morality that under some circumstances wars and killing are justifiable.
Well, I agree that the morality one adopts will depend upon many non-moral beliefs one holds. So a prerequisite of an objective morality is that those non-moral beliefs also be objective.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Terrapin Station » July 25th, 2020, 11:26 am

GE Morton wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 9:13 pm
Actually, "It is better to increase well-being than to reduce it" is a tautology. "Well-being" implies "better."
Someone could easily feel that it's better to reduce well-being. A sociopath might easily think that for example.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by GE Morton » July 25th, 2020, 2:52 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 11:26 am

Someone could easily feel that it's better to reduce well-being. A sociopath might easily think that for example.
It may well be better for him, in which case his own well-being is improved. But what is better for others is for them to say, not the sociopath.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Gertie » July 25th, 2020, 3:28 pm

GE Morton wrote:
July 24th, 2020, 9:39 pm
Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am

There are things Harris should be lauded for here. Firstly making a serious attempt to find a post-religious grounding for morality, and secondly recognising the key role in morality of conscious qualitative (what it is like) experience in his formulation of maximising the well-being of conscious creatures. I think without the advent of conscious creatures in the world, who experience qualiative well-being, morality is irrelevant.
Agree.
However, there's a problem in making claims to objectivity when your foundation is subjective experiential states, which isn't observable or measurable. So it's impossible imo to create a scale for measuring harms and benefits, except in intuitively clear cases.
We don't need to measure the subjective experiential state. I.e., we don't need to know what psychic state is induced in an agent who achieves some goal or secures some desired good; we don't need to know what goes on in anyone's head. We only need to be able to observe the agent's actions, what he pursues. We can assume that whatever he pursues, he does so to attain some desired experiential state. And that is objective.

The problem you mention is why we can't make interpersonal comparisons of utility --- an intractable problem for utilitarian social and economic theories. We can estimate, however, the relative amounts of satisfaction delivered to a given agent by various goods and actions --- we can observe the amounts of time, effort, other resources he devotes to their pursuit.

The major, indeed fatal, flaw of Harris' approach is his failure to recognize that what counts as well-being is idiosyncratic, agent-dependent. What's good for Alfie is not necessarily what's good for Bruno.
I don't have the time for that, and I don't know the motivation behind every person's every action.

What we can do is recognise a basic degree of commonality of needs (which can provide a useful basis for creating rights and welfare-based laws), and ask about the rest. Either individually, or at a societal level via democracy. Ensuring those rights and laws provide scope for freely pursuing individual goals which aren't significantly harmful to others undermining the foundational wellbeing of conscious creatures. Where you draw those lines isn't something which can be objectively measured. It's something societies work out in different ways, but there are better and worse ways of going about it, and having a foundational touchstone to check with is helpful in negotiating blurry lines.

And btw we don't have to limit moral consideration to 'moral agents', any experiencing conscious creature's well-being is of moral concern. Other species, children, people with certain disabilities, etc. Though the ability to experience in different ways will require different types of consideration. For example transactional arrangements between 'moral agents' is inappropriate in the case of toddlers or cows, but they are still worthy of appropriate moral consideration because they have conscious qualiative wellbeing.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Terrapin Station » July 25th, 2020, 3:35 pm

GE Morton wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 2:52 pm
Terrapin Station wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 11:26 am

Someone could easily feel that it's better to reduce well-being. A sociopath might easily think that for example.
It may well be better for him, in which case his own well-being is improved. But what is better for others is for them to say, not the sociopath.
Someone could feel that it's better for well-being to be reduced and could be tormented by the fact that they feel (and subsequently act) that way.

In what sense would anyone's well-being be improved in that case?

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Terrapin Station » July 25th, 2020, 3:36 pm

GE Morton wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 2:52 pm
You seem to not be recognizing the complex varieties of human thought and feeling. Different individuals can think and feel anything imaginable, really.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Sculptor1 » July 25th, 2020, 5:04 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 3:36 pm
GE Morton wrote:
July 25th, 2020, 2:52 pm
You seem to not be recognizing the complex varieties of human thought and feeling. Different individuals can think and feel anything imaginable, really.
Moral objectivity is a species of megalomania, the result of a deep sense of parochialism and narrow mindedness.
A good dose of antropology, archaeology and history are the most effevtive cures to this malady.

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