Objective Moral Conundrum

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BertNewton
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Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by BertNewton » 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?

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Sculptor1 » July 21st, 2020, 4:32 am

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?
I'm sure Mr Harris would draw an exception in the case of aliens in favour of humans.
Just like Churchill made an exception against India at the end of WW2. After buring down their crops to "Deny" the Japanese invasion, he refused to provide aid on the grounds that nothing would be sufficient to help since Indians "breed like rabbits".
You can be as objective as you like, when it is possible to exclude and make exceptions for whom so ever you chose.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Belindi » July 21st, 2020, 5:09 am

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?
1. Pleasure is not comparable with wellbeing and lives .Sometimes the cause of wellbeing and lives is the antithesis of pleasure-giving.

2. Ends don't justify means. Even the alien invaders can't know the effects of their actions.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Terrapin Station » 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. And there aren't things that objectively count as wellbeing.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Gertie » July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am

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?
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.

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. And real life is complicated. (We can introduce objective criteria in how to best achieve the Ought-based goals we've decided on, but that's a different issue).

So I think we have to just accept that if the moral foundation of 'the well-being of conscious creatures' is the correct foundation for Oughts, , which I agree with, then we also have to accept we're dealing with awkward, messy, unmeasurable and idiosyncratic subjectivity. Similarly Goldstein talks about Mattering, which I think is a helpful attempt to get us out of the endless and unproductive Objective v Subjective debate. (Objective morality is mistaken, but completely subjective morality is a potential free-for-all). But it's hard to measure and compare Mattering. And the resulting moral judgements, the bases for Oughts, won't always be clear cut and tidy.

If that's the way it is, then we just have to try to do our best to get close to our goal by continually referring back to our foundational well-being touchstone rule of thumb, I think. Most people would agree that serious harm inflicted simply for pleasure is not morally justifiable, the harm should be prioritised here. At what point a switch is justifiable, say it's only one rape, well that's where we have tools to help us think it through (Ursula le Guin has a great thought experiment in the form of a short story exploring that https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4BbL7 ... edit?pli=1 , and Rawls' Veil of Ignorance is another useful approach). And there are various tools we can use to establish basic welfare standards and protections. Theoretical, like the notion of a social contract and rights, and practically instituting them in terms of laws, education, social mores, etc.

But it will always be messy, it's the nature of the subjective beast.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Terrapin Station » July 21st, 2020, 11:17 am

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

There are things Harris should be lauded for here.
I don't know, I'm thinking more and more that people arguing for objective morality are insulting or at least saying that they really don't care about people and their dispositions, their unique perspectives, and they often ultimately just want everyone to follow their own dispositions in a rather dictatorial way.

What we should get behind is people acknowledging that morality is something that persons do, where their morality is an expression of their dispositions, their concerns when it comes to interacting with others in a way that find acceptable, their desires for creating societies, etc. That seems to me like it would be much more valuable than someone trying to figure out some way to tell people that their concerns for interacting with others are wrong because of some imagined impersonal property of the universe.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Gertie » July 21st, 2020, 1:12 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 11:17 am
Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am

There are things Harris should be lauded for here.
I don't know, I'm thinking more and more that people arguing for objective morality are insulting or at least saying that they really don't care about people and their dispositions, their unique perspectives, and they often ultimately just want everyone to follow their own dispositions in a rather dictatorial way.
I don't think Harris is arguing for objective morality in terms that it is some independantly existing property of the universe which we can discover through reason or somesuch. Or have 'revealed' through some deity, which is the model he's seeking to replace. And by grounding it in qualiative well-being, it acknowledges some of the issues around subjectivity you raise. He analogises to physical health, or a moral 'landscape' of peaks and troughs. Rather than some calibrated scale you can calculate your way to and then give the answer. But then he says we can objectively measure the best actions to take, which is where it gets dodgy imo. (I might be remembering this a bit crudely, or incorrectly, Bert can correct me).
What we should get behind is people acknowledging that morality is something that persons do, where their morality is an expression of their dispositions, their concerns when it comes to interacting with others in a way that find acceptable, their desires for creating societies, etc. That seems to me like it would be much more valuable than someone trying to figure out some way to tell people that their concerns for interacting with others are wrong because of some imagined impersonal property of the universe.
That's a description of what Is, tho isn't it? How we're made. Which we're just beginning to understand in terms of the evolution of our neurobiology. Which has served us pretty well in evolutionary terms. But has unwelcome and anachronistic hangovers too, like how our tribal mechanisms play out in a globalised world. Are you suggesting we give up trying to work out bases Oughts, and just go with the consensus our natures lead us to?


I think we need something foundational, some moral touchstone for actions/oughts, which we can cohere around, the way people used to cohere around religion. And I think The Well-being of Conscious Creatures is the right one. It's messy and has to embrace our individual idiosyncratic subjective needs and desires, but also universalises those needs and desires by acknowledging our shared humanity that actions can have harm/benefit consequences for others too. Other animals also get a look in, which is a nice change.


Seems to me we're at a crossroads. We're beiginning to understand ourselves in terms of neurobiology, that there's nothing special about how we feel about right and wrong. And we've lost religion as an axiomatic moral authority. The Is of why we are the way we are is getting sorted by science, but the Oughts are are left in a po-mo limbo. Philosophy should be on the case, but people are still arguing over subjective v objective, rather than trying to think afresh. I say fair play to people like Harris and Goldstein for having a go at re-framing a fit for purpose morality in the light of where we're at.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Gertie » July 21st, 2020, 1:16 pm

I didn't check that over properly, hope it's intelligible!

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by The Beast » July 21st, 2020, 1:42 pm

It is hard to conceive such a uniform group: Aliens. It is established that they are predatory and possibly very smart since they are predatory and do not eat humans. Predatory behaviors are well known so we should learn from our own examples. Predatory humans are not common or perhaps they may fall into the scale assign to consciousness from a previous post. Maybe the Aliens think they are very smart, and we humans are easy prey. If they are so able to travel, they may have scientific knowledge… superior to ours. In this deductive trend Aliens have superior knowledge and they are predatory. They may use confrontational tactics like labeling those who are not Alienpeople so they can get away with impunity. We should design drugs and experiment with the Aliens to find the proper one with the effect of turning them to each other. This will solve the raping part which seems to be/is the only concern.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by BertNewton » July 21st, 2020, 3:21 pm

Belindi wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 5:09 am
1. Pleasure is not comparable with wellbeing and lives .Sometimes the cause of wellbeing and lives is the antithesis of pleasure-giving.

2. Ends don't justify means. Even the alien invaders can't know the effects of their actions.
I understand your first point e.g. A rapist raping, but I don't quite understand your second point.
Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am
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.
Harris argues that the subjective claims of conscious states map on to the physical brain and so can be objectively observed. Endorphins are the feeling of pleasure, cortisol is the feeling of anxiety. In my example we could hook up both aliens and humans to an MRI and make an objective claim about which group is experiencing more pleasure.

But yes, there are so many different scenarios it would be ridiculous to connect every human to an MRI for every situation and so we may as well call many experiences subjective. I think that is what you're saying.
Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 10:16 am
Most people would agree that serious harm inflicted simply for pleasure is not morally justifiable, the harm should be prioritised here.
Yes but this is a subjective statement and I'm trying to avoid that. But also, as I said, stopping the aliens causes harm too - even more harm, so this argument justifies the aliens behaviour, and I'm trying to avoid that.

So far, no one believes an objective argument can be made to stop the aliens?

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Terrapin Station » July 21st, 2020, 7:06 pm

Gertie wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 1:12 pm
Are you suggesting we give up trying to work out bases Oughts, and just go with the consensus our natures lead us to?
I'm not saying anything about going with consensuses, but giving up trying to work out base/basic "oughts," yes, as there's nothing to work out in the sense of a "correct answer" there. How about dealing with people as a collection of individuals who have all sorts of different views about how to interact with each other, where things are thus not at all black & white in that, and where we need to be responsive and adaptable given whatever situation is/whatever collection of individuals are at hand?

Basically, give a **** about people as unique individuals who have all sorts of different views, dispositions, desires, etc. That's more than an adequate foundation. Care about people and their unique views.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Belindi » July 22nd, 2020, 5:36 am

BertNewton wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 3:21 pm
Belindi wrote:
July 21st, 2020, 5:09 am
1. Pleasure is not comparable with wellbeing and lives .Sometimes the cause of wellbeing and lives is the antithesis of pleasure-giving.

2. Ends don't justify means. Even the alien invaders can't know the effects of their actions.
I understand your first point e.g. A rapist raping, but I don't quite understand your second point.

My second point is ends don't justify means. The aliens may even have thought they were bringing a regime of great happiness for the greatest number of individuals, but the aliens could not know how the terms of their invasion affected the original inhabitants.

As an individual I cannot balance the life and happiness of one original inhabitant against the lives and happiness of a million happy invaders. As a politician I could balance the lives and happiness of one original individual against the lives of a million happy invaders and it would be my duty to do so.In the latter case, a a politician, I'd sacrifice the few hopeless remnants of original inhabitants for the lives and happiness of the invaders.

Circumstances alter cases. If the invaders were viruses, bacteria , or computers, even as a politician I'd contend against them to the death.This is because if there is an over riding virtue that virtue is freedom to seek meaning which is a human virtue. Viruses, bacteria, and computers can't seek meaning.

If the alien invaders were a lovable species like horses or polar bears and if I were a nature loving politician, I'd sacrifice the remaining humans to the cause of life on Earth as represented by the nice animals. Situation ethics are best.
Real life cases such as Britain alone against Nazis, or Romano- British Arthur against invading Angles and Picts, are not quite the same because there was hope for the British against the Nazis, and for Romano-British against the Angles and Picts there was hope. In hopeless cases such as that of the indigenous Americans against invading Europeans, or that of enslaved Africans against Europeans, the indigenous American or enslaved politician should counsel not resisting the invader, in order to conserve indigenous or African lives. There has to be some vestige of reasonable hope before an invader is opposed.Situation ethics is the best formula for ethics.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Marvin_Edwards » July 22nd, 2020, 6:12 am

Morality is species specific. What is good for the lion is bad for the gazelle. Aliens viewing us as sport or food should not surprise us, because we treat other species the same way. Racial slavery was "justified" by treating the African as a different species. Racial justice treats them as our own. Getting along with aliens will require treating each other as the similar species. Science fiction has long suggested that "intelligent species" be treated the same as us.

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Sculptor1 » July 22nd, 2020, 7:25 am

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
July 22nd, 2020, 6:12 am
Morality is species specific. What is good for the lion is bad for the gazelle. Aliens viewing us as sport or food should not surprise us, because we treat other species the same way. Racial slavery was "justified" by treating the African as a different species. Racial justice treats them as our own. Getting along with aliens will require treating each other as the similar species. Science fiction has long suggested that "intelligent species" be treated the same as us.
I think you need to go further.
Morality is groups specific. Groups can be defined in a multitude of ways.
And can range from ...
To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women. Mongol General
to...
“Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.”
― Mahavira (Jainist religion)

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Re: Objective Moral Conundrum

Post by Sculptor1 » July 22nd, 2020, 7:46 am

Genghis Khan
Man's highest joy is in victory: to conquer one's enemies; to pursue them; to deprive them of their possessions; to make their beloved weep; to ride on their horses; and to embrace their wives and daughters.

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