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J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by h_k_s » September 12th, 2019, 3:46 pm

Kaz_1983 wrote:
September 4th, 2019, 10:40 pm
Moral Error Theory denies the truth to all ethical claims.

It's not an ethical system but a metaphysical system: a theory about what the world is truly like. Moral Error theorist claim that our morality is built on fundamental error: the belief in categorical reasons.
Ultimately ethics is an emotional issue.

If the topic gives you a positive emotional response then it is ethical.

If negative then not.

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 12th, 2019, 6:18 pm

Felix
So that we may retain our humanity you mean? I just do not know that the Universe cares that we do, life here on Earth may be just one experiment in a practically infinite number of them, and it need not be the stage on which Spirit, or Consciousness, to keep it secular, succeeds in knowing Itself. But since it apparently takes billions of years to construct a stage, it is wise not to take this marvelous opportunity for granted.
The meaning of what Mackie is saying gets lost in this kind of talk. The issue begins with, what is ethical goodness? All that empirical science might have to say about the matter, the random outcomes of "experimentation" or the ...... is off the table. Think of it as an examination of what is there that is moral, what makes it moral, that is, what its essence is that makes it what it is. Imagine the discovery of a new primary color, not derivative at all of others. Mackie say claims that ethics is objective are like this, for ethics as objective must have is grounding in a very unique concept of good and bad. It's not like a good or bad chair in that the good or bad of the chair can be determined according to context: a good chair is comfortable, suited for a human body and so on. But you may want an uncomfortable chair because you're a Zen Buddhist and its for long sitting and you don't want to fall asleep. Well then, the standard for what is good changes, doesn't it? Most goods and bads are just like this. But then comes ethics. Don't bludgeon your neighbor! Why? What standard in in place and why? The answer goes to purpose , but unlike the chair, the purpose seems to declare itself very quickly: because it hurts! You may relativize it by saying a society in which people bludgeoning each other is permitted will not survive, or the like, but in the end, with ethics, it always comes down to the hurt of the bludgeoning. Hurting a value, or a negative value, but it is bad in itself (of course, if you're a masochist then the hurting can be good, or you could say, what we generally call hurting is, for you, not hurting at all. It's the opposite.

But now the question is what makes hurt bad? I mean, if its not for something else, like a good chair is for sitting, but is bad in itself, then this utility of being good/bad is out the window. If something is bad in itself, then we have come upon Mackie's (Wittgenstein's, Moore's) philosophical problem. Bad in itself? What kind of thing is this?

If you're like me, you say there is such a thing as bad in itself and the "universe" (whatever that is) does this. It does no good to talk about how long it takes as it "experiments" around, it does this, period, and it is "doing"this as the poor wretched girl screams. My position is the condemned witch's suffering is not, such as it is, stand alone. There is, I say, an underpinning to our affairs in our sojourn in this place called the world that reveals in all cases a redemption of suffering.

Mackie says I am rewriting physics. Wittgenstein says I am speaking nonsense. The rabbit hole is really very deep once we consider the true gravitas is human suffering. Language occludes the Real, reduces it to something manageable, but this is an illusion.

Of all things

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 12th, 2019, 6:26 pm

Are we wise? It's hard to say, humankind has become hypnotized now by it's own ingenuity, which is often merely barbarism wearing a finely tailored suit. I am by nature an optimist but there is only so far one can descend into the abyss before the climb back out becomes impossible.
Humans may be barbaric, deluded, optimistic or pessimistic; the point of Mackie's Ethics is look objectively at the world and what is presents. Ethics, metaethics as here it is about the whether the good is GOOD and the bad is BAD, that is, I know this flame hurts my finger and I say with full justification it is bad, but this is the unanalyzed bad, the casual, everyday pronouncement of bad that we throw around freely. Ask if bad is BAD and you ask if there is something about this badness that in in the fabric of the world itself, not just over there, on that blue planet.

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Consul » September 13th, 2019, 4:57 pm

Hereandnow wrote:
September 11th, 2019, 10:43 am
Here is what Mackie says about Hare:
Hare suggests that both where it precedes a functional noun and where it precedes a non-functional one, say ‘sunset’, ‘good’ means (roughly) ‘having the characteristic qualities (whatever they are) which are commendable in the kind of object in question’. Commendation, he holds, is the thread that ties the various uses of ‘good’ together. Where there is a functional noun about, commendable qualities are those that enable the thing to perform its function; but what is commendable in sunsets is determined, presumably, by the preferences of those who like looking at them. But what is it to commend something? Putting together two dictionary definitions, Hare infers that to commend is to mention as being good. But if so, to define ‘good’ in terms of what is commendable, though not

Mackie, J. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (p. 54). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Of course, this remains contingent for the good, that is, for x's being good (a sunset, an action, an activity, and so forth) x is to be commended; or, to be good is no more than to be commended, but the who and what of commendation varies. This is clearly right, when we say something is good it cannot be, for someone or something (rain is good for ducks, and good for making mud), commended for that person, animal or thing.
For the moral and non-moral uses of "good", see: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=15579&p=323817&hili ... on#p323817

"In sum, here are five subclasses of the class of ways of being good: the useful, skillful, enjoyable, beneficial, and morally good. Two points are worth drawing attention to before we move on." – Judith Thomson

What is good in one of the non-moral senses of the term can be (re)commended—be it an action, a person, or an object.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Consul » September 13th, 2019, 5:10 pm

I think the principle that moral properties supervene on non-moral properties (of actions or persons) is correct. But the former aren't entailed by and hence not logically inferable from the latter, such that moral judgments are justifiable in terms of but not deducible from non-moral facts.

"That moral properties supervene on non-moral properties means simply that acts, etc., have the moral properties because they have the non-moral properties ('It is wrong because it was an act of inflicting pain for fun'), although the moral property is not the same property as the non-moral property, nor even entailed by it. Someone who said that it was an act of inflicting pain for fun but not wrong would not be contradicting himself."
(pp. 21-2)

"[T]he objectivistic naturalist's project is the right one, though he executes it badly. But not all that badly. There is another very important truth he has got hold of. He has grasped that moral statements are made about actions for reasons, namely that the actions have certain non-moral properties. An act was wrong, for example, because it was an act of hurting somebody for fun. This property of moral statements, their supervenience on non-moral statements, is crucial to an understanding of them. But the objectivistic naturalist has misunderstood the nature of the 'because'. He mistakes supervenience for entailment, and thus makes into analytically true statements what are really substantial moral principles. That it is wrong to hurt people for fun is not an analytic statement. But still the act is wrong because it was that sort of act."
(pp. 126-7)

(Hare, R. M. Sorting Out Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.)
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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Consul » September 13th, 2019, 5:52 pm

Hereandnow wrote:
September 11th, 2019, 8:18 pm
Consul
Factual goodness-for/badness-for (* isn't moral goodness/badness!
And therein lies the rub: If the badness of torturing someone ( complex justifications aside) is, as morally bad, different from the badness of over chlorinating your pool or high winds being bad for trees, then how do we understand this? Is there some qualitative difference? Or is it just a categorial difference: moral badness is just for humans and perhaps animals and moral language is reserved only for these because they are blissful and suffer and and all contained therein, and moral language is reserved just for these, just as talk of quantum physics is reserved for particle behavior under certain well defined conditions. This is what categorial talk does with the world. But ethics: something Mackie will have no truck with, which presents a qualitative difference, a sui generis called value. This is what Wittgenstein was on about. Why he refused to speak of it, mostly. There is something unspeakable about torture (love, music, heartbreak, depression, and all the like) just as one cannot "speak" the color orange. one can only contextualize it, and speak relatively, contingently, about it.
There needn't be any (real) moral properties or facts in addition to the non-moral ones, because to call an action/behavior morally bad or wrong is simply to condemn it and to say Don't do it!. (Why not? Because it has some unwanted, undesired, or unpreferred non-moral aspects or consequences.)
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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 15th, 2019, 8:56 pm

Consul:
There needn't be any (real) moral properties or facts in addition to the non-moral ones, because to call an action/behavior morally bad or wrong is simply to condemn it and to say Don't do it!. (Why not? Because it has some unwanted, undesired, or unpreferred non-moral aspects or consequences.)

Look, I'm not being tediously romantic about the matter when I say that the moral "property" of getting your teeth removed without Novocain has more to it than Don't do it! It is patently absurd.
"That moral properties supervene on non-moral properties means simply that acts, etc., have the moral properties because they have the non-moral properties ('It is wrong because it was an act of inflicting pain for fun'), although the moral property is not the same property as the non-moral property, nor even entailed by it. Someone who said that it was an act of inflicting pain for fun but not wrong would not be contradicting himself."
This last statement is the telling one. It is where I find adamant disagreement. It is granted that moral acts' wrongness is defeasable in entangled real moral situations,but I think Hare's point is about this essentially that the non moral natural act which is simply a description of the event, has no moral property to it; that is, the factual account as such produces no ethical account whatever, but it is the notion of supervenience of a moral property upon this that makes the act moral at all. But this kind of reasoning proves to be no more than an attempt to see how, analytically, supervenience serves the explanatory need. ISadly.in the end, supervenience is certainly not clearly understood; in fact, just the opposite. For if natural nonmoral property A and moral property B are related such that if there is a change in B there is a concomitant (that is, nomological) change in A, the exact nature of the relation remains undefined. The best that is to be gotten is, as in many nomological relations, an apparent correspondence, which is, vacuous, really.
Moore was the one who placed the term supervenience to explain the relation between moral and non moral properties/acts, and I thought he was on to something.
But now I take issue: it is the insight that moral properties are qualitatively distinct from any natural description of an event that makes for an uncrossable chasm: one can never explain what the ??#@#?! a non natural quality actually is. At all. This makes Hare's point, in my view, just gratuitous analysis.

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Felix » September 17th, 2019, 2:19 am

Hereandnow: it is the insight that moral properties are qualitatively distinct from any natural description of an event that makes for an uncrossable chasm: one can never explain what the ??#@#?! a non natural quality actually is.
Yes, it is supra-rational - like agape love.
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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Consul » September 17th, 2019, 10:26 am

Hereandnow wrote:
September 15th, 2019, 8:56 pm
Consul wrote:There needn't be any (real) moral properties or facts in addition to the non-moral ones, because to call an action/behavior morally bad or wrong is simply to condemn it and to say Don't do it!. (Why not? Because it has some unwanted, undesired, or unpreferred non-moral aspects or consequences.)
Look, I'm not being tediously romantic about the matter when I say that the moral "property" of getting your teeth removed without Novocain has more to it than Don't do it! It is patently absurd.
Your example isn't a moral property. Examples of moral properties are goodness, badness, rightness, wrongness.
Hereandnow wrote:
September 15th, 2019, 8:56 pm
Consul wrote:"That moral properties supervene on non-moral properties means simply that acts, etc., have the moral properties because they have the non-moral properties ('It is wrong because it was an act of inflicting pain for fun'), although the moral property is not the same property as the non-moral property, nor even entailed by it. Someone who said that it was an act of inflicting pain for fun but not wrong would not be contradicting himself." – Richard Hare
This last statement is the telling one. It is where I find adamant disagreement. It is granted that moral acts' wrongness is defeasable in entangled real moral situations,but I think Hare's point is about this essentially that the non moral natural act which is simply a description of the event, has no moral property to it; that is, the factual account as such produces no ethical account whatever, but it is the notion of supervenience of a moral property upon this that makes the act moral at all. But this kind of reasoning proves to be no more than an attempt to see how, analytically, supervenience serves the explanatory need. ISadly.in the end, supervenience is certainly not clearly understood; in fact, just the opposite. For if natural nonmoral property A and moral property B are related such that if there is a change in B there is a concomitant (that is, nomological) change in A, the exact nature of the relation remains undefined. The best that is to be gotten is, as in many nomological relations, an apparent correspondence, which is, vacuous, really.

Moore was the one who placed the term supervenience to explain the relation between moral and non moral properties/acts, and I thought he was on to something.
But now I take issue: it is the insight that moral properties are qualitatively distinct from any natural description of an event that makes for an uncrossable chasm: one can never explain what the ??#@#?! a non natural quality actually is. At all. This makes Hare's point, in my view, just gratuitous analysis.
"A supervenience thesis is a denial of independent variation" (David Lewis); and moral supervenience isn't nomological, because there aren't any moral laws of nature. Hare believes that there aren't any moral properties either (in addition to non-moral ones), so his supervenience talk isn't meant to describe an ontological relationship between two different sets of real properties. From his antirealistic perspective, "good" and "bad", "right" and wrong" don't express real moral properties, but are simply terms of commendation or condemnation (of actions or persons). So what he means to say is that what makes an action or person commendable or condemnable is a certain non-moral property of it/her/him, on which its/her/his moral goodness (= commendability) or moral badness (= condemnability) depends or supervenes.

As for non-natural moral properties as postulated by non-naturalistic moral realism, it is indeed very hard to draw a clear distinction between them and natural properties: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mora ... aturalism/
They would have be a sort of "abstract properties" that are neither physical, mental, nor social/cultural ones.
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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Consul » September 17th, 2019, 10:41 am

Consul wrote:
September 17th, 2019, 10:26 am
"A supervenience thesis is a denial of independent variation" (David Lewis); and moral supervenience isn't nomological, because there aren't any moral laws of nature. Hare believes that there aren't any moral properties either (in addition to non-moral ones), so his supervenience talk isn't meant to describe an ontological relationship between two different sets of real properties. From his antirealistic perspective, "good" and "bad", "right" and wrong" don't express real moral properties, but are simply terms of commendation or condemnation (of actions or persons). So what he means to say is that what makes an action or person commendable or condemnable is a certain non-moral property of it/her/him, on which its/her/his moral goodness (= commendability) or moral badness (= condemnability) depends or supervenes.
Actually, the moral goodness or badness of an action or person depends not only on some non-moral property of it/her/him but also on some non-moral properties of us, namely that we (many of us at least) like or prefer actions or persons that have the morally good-making non-moral property in question or lack the morally bad-making non-moral property in question.
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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Sculptor1 » September 17th, 2019, 10:44 am

Felix wrote:
September 9th, 2019, 6:14 pm
Sculptor1: At once you seem to support the theory, then you make a rather obviously false moral claim, obviously "categorically" false.
Oh, I was no longer really talking about social morality, which I think mostly has to do with emotional intelligence. I was talking about broadening one's mental/emotional horizons, which in my experience tends to make one more empathetic and moral. You have no inclination or incentive to hurt others for personal gain, and in fact the very idea of "personal gain" becomes banal to you. I'm suppose I'm saying you can't get there through logic, love and compassion are not logical.
So nothing to do with grace at all.

I do actually think you are in fact still talking about social morality. And think the reason you think you are not is due to a false claim that social morality is driven by logic, which it simply is not.
On this point you'd probably like Hume who suggests that all moral judgements are primitively emotionally driven, even though logic can be used to try to rationalise and formalise.
In practice we tend to formalise morals through what anthropologists might call social logic, which can start with seemingly clear even obvious, but illogical premises.
Such unknown knows such as arranged marriage, or competitive gift giving might be obvious to some cultures but absurd to others.

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 17th, 2019, 11:59 am

Consul
They would have be a sort of "abstract properties" that are neither physical, mental, nor social/cultural ones.
Before I look more closely at some of the things Hare says (you've inspired me to read on), as well as other interesting things, I would ask a fair and direct question: How would you account for terrible suffering? The word "account' is meant to leave the response open to your genuine thoughts. Terrible suffering is, I have often said, the worst the world can do, and it stands out as possessing most vividly the business of ethics.

The question is meant to direct your attention not to how we feel about ethical matters, our approbation or otherwise, but to the actuality of the suffering itself. For example, imagine applying a Bunsen burner to your index finger. I want to know what you think that event is about, its content, the screaming agony, if I may. I would also ask you avoid the reductionist tendency to put theory first. I am not interested in how terms work; I am interested in accounting for the world first, in the most primordial sense of the idea.

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Felix » September 18th, 2019, 4:16 am

Hereandnow: For example, imagine applying a Bunsen burner to your index finger. I want to know what you think that event is about, its content, the screaming agony, if I may.
Its an intense sensation, and it's possible to interpret it subjectively as just that and nothing more (speaking from personal experience). What more can one say about it? The more enmeshed one is in bare reality, the more painful it seems, logic will not help one realize that.
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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 18th, 2019, 12:04 pm

Felix:
Its an intense sensation, and it's possible to interpret it subjectively as just that and nothing more (speaking from personal experience). What more can one say about it? The more enmeshed one is in bare reality, the more painful it seems, logic will not help one realize that.
Well, at the risk of repeating myself (I have argued this many times, but then, I am on something of a mission to get people to see this),it goes like this:
this intense sensation at issue here, it is Bad, and I'll give it a capital 'B' to set it off from things like bad couches and wiper blades, things the badness of which is plainly dependent on something other than what they are, like a bad couch directs one to comfort, appearance and the rest. This is bad with a "B" is the ethical Bad (reading Wittgenstein's Tractatus, his Lecture on Ethics; reading Mackie's book, the one in this thread, is very helpful; also, getting familiar with phenomenology helps a great deal to remove philosophical thinking from the "naturalist" perspective of empirical science, as it recognizes the derivative nature of it). So the answer to your question "What more can one say about it?" is that the flame burning the flesh of a conscious person with an uncompromised nervous system is Bad. It's not about the act of doing this to someone and calling the act Bad; not yet. Before we get to the entangled affairs where defeasability steps in, that is, where one Bad mixes with the utility of others, Goods, Bads, whatever, we want to know what all the fuss is about in the first place. And the fuss's source is in the Badness or Goodness of things we care about, like not having your kidney speared.
The philosophical issue arises here, of course, when we ask the question, what is it? Two things present themselves: One is the description of the Bad event and the other is the event being Bad. The former is rather easy: the nerves are duly excited at the finger tip, exciting other nerves that excite more nerves in the brain, where the "event" of pain occurs. In this description, no matter how scientifically detailed, you will not find the ethical Bad. It does not present itself for objective observation. Empirically, it doesn't exist at all, and is not among the "facts" at all (Wittgenstein). Again: the event does reveal itself in extraordinary detail to the neurologist, but she will never locate this ethical Badness. That makes this, Mackie, says, queer beyond belief.
Mackie's conclusion is that there simply is no such thing as ethical Badness at all, just as there are really no Platonic forms or demonic possession. These are just fictions of bad thinking.

The reason I like Mackie is that he presents a strong argument, and he does it clearly, and when someone does this they are either going to convince you or they will strengthen your opposition, having looked clearly and integrated it into your thinking. For Mackie is simply wrong in his conclusion that there are no objective values. He is "absolutely" wrong. Observe the burning finger on your hand. This is a given in the world, not a confusion in thinking.
I will argue this further if you have an interest.

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Re: J.L .Mackie's Moral Error Theory

Post by Hereandnow » September 18th, 2019, 12:49 pm

I should add one thing to the "what more can one say about it? question: IF ethics is grounded absolutely (putting aside for now the making sense of the term 'absolute") then the Bad must be redeemed. That is the nature of ethical Badness and Goodness. If the horrors of the world were simply localized affairs, like a volcano over there or a supernova out there, and for these events, the localized description exhausts the accounting, then being burned alive, say, would be no more than a localized event. But ethical matters are anything but this. Ethics: ethical Badness adds a whole different dimension to the "what" of the what the world is. It makes the world itself ethical at the level of Being itself. It would be Ethics/Value-in-Being.

One has to understand that one is NOT in the empirical scientist's world; this is phenomenology: the analyses of things here are about the existence of things as they appear, are "shown", in experience.

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