Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby Boris Johnson » Thu Sep 20, 2012 7:23 am

Edit, after really screwing the dog the first time. I've changed this OP and thus hopefully make the discussion more focused

Anyway, thought I'd start a series of threads in philosophy, on actual philosophical topics which hopefully anyone can participate in, as, well, the philosophy forum so far on PCF has been a little bit stale (no offence intended, its just debating anarchist principles only has so much broad appeal).


To wit, I intend to start this with a topic I think everyone should have some sort of opinion on: the nature of morality.

Specifically I want to kick off the debate between morality being on the one hand Subjective (that is, morality consists only in the moral opinions of human beings, it is mind dependent) vs. Objective (certain things are true of morality regardless of the total opinions of all humans alive today e.g. everyone may be wrong, it may even be the case that certain things would be true of morality if there were no human beings).

And because I don't want to scupper this by just ranting, I'm going set the trend of BJPFT's by simply presenting a framing question after a brief explanation (which has just happened, yo!) and present a simple but not complete version of my opinion.

Caveat 1- I am arguing from a materialist standpoint
Caveat 2- I am not presuming free will
Caveat 3- Let's leave rationality aside for now.

Ok.

Lets do it.

Given the above 'vs' for this week being contingent on 'well it depends on what your talking about' allow me to start with the question: You have a moral entity that has committed no wrongs, is it morally blameless to kill this entity?

That's just a question to focus debate. The broader topic I want to address here, is that from an explanatory standpoint. The apparently obvious conclusion that morals are simply subjective, does explain moral disagreement across people, times and cultures. But does not, explain apparent moral agreement. For if morals have no basis outside of the mind or culture they are conceived in. how can explain, how, under their own lights there can be apparent agreement over matters such as the innate revulsion at certain patterns of behaviour e.g. unprovoked aggression. Or certain 'moral phenomenon' e.g. betrayal.

What I want to suggest on the other hand, though, I cannot offer a full positive thesis. That if morality were in some respect 'linked' to the fact we are social animals and some how certain moral outlooks are 'selected for'. Then there may in fact be some ground to consider morality in some important way as objective.

So that's what I would like to discuss, though it appears obvious to many on consideration that morals are subjective. Does this as an explanatory hypothesis for the nature of morality really explain morality as a phenomenon the best.

If it does not, what is morality?

If it in fact does, how can apparent moral agreement be explained?

-importantly here, under their own lights refers to a persons epistemic or cultural outlook.



Now, in the words of the great philosopher Mario "lessa go!"
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby The Dharma Bum » Thu Sep 20, 2012 9:42 am

It's mind dependent, therefore I prefer consequentialism as an ethical theory.

It would depend wholly on what the consequences of murdering and not murdering the child would be.
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby The Dharma Bum » Thu Sep 20, 2012 9:47 am

Also when deciding whether or not it is ok to kill someone what makes "innocence" such an overriding concern? Simple, it's our cultural paradigm. This viewpoint is not universal which shows morals/ethics are completely subjective.
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby Boris Johnson » Thu Sep 20, 2012 2:32 pm

It's mind dependent, therefore I prefer consequentialism as an ethical theory.

It would depend wholly on what the consequences of murdering and not murdering the child would be.

So you deny the possibility of successful vice?

Also when deciding whether or not it is ok to kill someone what makes "innocence" such an overriding concern? Simple, it's our cultural paradigm. This viewpoint is not universal which shows morals/ethics are completely subjective.

Well as i've mentioned the fact there is disagreement doesn't necessarily undermine the objectiveness of morality. What makes it impossible for example that everyone (that is every culture, or all but one, or whatever) is wrong?
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby The Dharma Bum » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:23 pm

Well as i've mentioned the fact there is disagreement doesn't necessarily undermine the objectiveness of morality.
It does indeed if you consider that morality is nothing more than an abstract concept. Morality is also a subjective concept, meaning it's character is found in how it relates to the subject in question. Morality is contained entirely within the human mind. There is no force or power outside of us that makes something right or wrong. This is an abstract concept, not a physical reality.

What if your culture's morality tells you an innocent child is a better sacrificial lamb and therefore it good to murder an innocent child? To their view murdering the innocent is beneficial to their society. And who is to say it doesn't serve some crucial social or biological function? Entirely subjective.

What makes it impossible for example that everyone (that is every culture, or all but one, or whatever) is wrong?

The impossible characteristics that would need to be present for morality to have an objective existence are why. Quite simply "right" and "wrong" are subjective, abstract concepts. The idea that your own culture is right but all others are wrong is not reasonable.

So you deny the possibility of successful vice?

Vice (and morality) is culturally defined. Some things one culture consider a vice other cultures do not. If morality is a subjective, abstract concept then vice and virtue are necessarily in the eye of the beholder.
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby The Comrade » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:49 pm

to assume a sort of objective morality is to assume a set of base premises, whatever they may be. why is murder wrong? one must assume life is _______ . why is theft wrong? one must assume private property is ______.

it makes it nearly impossible to say there are NATURAL AND INNATE morals in us. I should state that by morals i mean normative assertions. x IS wrong. y IS right. that does not mean we don't have a sort of... primitive ethics? but to rely on that would be unacceptable. not only is it nearly impossible to isolate that ethics due to culture bias (and the APA seems against raising children like wild animals in isolation to study them. can't figure out why) but even if one could they would be forever in flux depending on the relationship of an individual to his environment and an individual to his peers. what i mean is that lots of food=more egalitarian less food=might makes right(and who gets to eat). it's casting a very wide net as opposed to spearing a specific fish(to use a stupid idiom).

that said, there are ethics and morals we can REASON to be the best. this is where the two main groups come into play; utilitarianism and deontology. various issues always come down to which of these is better suited and the result is that both tend to be required otherwise you get all cocked up with different, outlier scenarios. the problem comes in that the two are pretty mutually exclusive so there is no perfect mixture of these two philosophies. the result is this kind of ad hoc ethics that has no structural justification (like rigid utilitarianism, or whatever system you like).


i think there are very basic morals we can derive are bad though using a strictly "this is obviously not good cause bad things happen as a result" assuming bad is some inherent human response.

SO! we generally would view murder as bad, i think at least because when viewing someone as truly innocent of any possible conflict with another, the murder of that individual would generally revolt a normal person (possibly culturally based but it's worked out so far so why change?). on top of that one can deduce from the actions of those close to the murdered individual that it's not cupcakes and rainbows to kill someone.
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby Boris Johnson » Fri Sep 21, 2012 4:34 am

The Dharma Bum wrote:
Well as i've mentioned the fact there is disagreement doesn't necessarily undermine the objectiveness of morality.
It does indeed if you consider that morality is nothing more than an abstract concept. Morality is also a subjective concept, meaning it's character is found in how it relates to the subject in question. Morality is contained entirely within the human mind. There is no force or power outside of us that makes something right or wrong. This is an abstract concept, not a physical reality.
I'm not seeing the move in reasoning here, Math's is abstract, its objective.

What if your culture's morality tells you an innocent child is a better sacrificial lamb and therefore it good to murder an innocent child? To their view murdering the innocent is beneficial to their society. And who is to say it doesn't serve some crucial social or biological function? Entirely subjective.

Again I don't see what secures them from being in error. No one's doubting the ability of culture to set normative values. What I contesting is that in doing so, those normative values are automatically as true as any others.

After all you yourself have in other threads claimed there is a naturalistic basis to morality (mutual aid).

What makes it impossible for example that everyone (that is every culture, or all but one, or whatever) is wrong?

The impossible characteristics that would need to be present for morality to have an objective existence are why. Quite simply "right" and "wrong" are subjective, abstract concepts. The idea that your own culture is right but all others are wrong is not reasonable.

Again im not claiming any one particular set of cultural norms is correct, i'm merely pointing out that there is a gap between claiming that there is moral disagreement and the much stronger claim that all moral disagreement is faultless.

So you deny the possibility of successful vice?

Vice (and morality) is culturally defined. Some things one culture consider a vice other cultures do not. If morality is a subjective, abstract concept then vice and virtue are necessarily in the eye of the beholder.

Ok, then what do you think of Hume's theory of the virtues and vices.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume- ... natvirtues

He would argue there is a naturalistic and utilitarian basis to framing them, that is not merely subjective.
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby Boris Johnson » Fri Sep 21, 2012 4:42 am

The Comrade wrote:to assume a sort of objective morality is to assume a set of base premises, whatever they may be. why is murder wrong? one must assume life is _______ . why is theft wrong? one must assume private property is ______.

it makes it nearly impossible to say there are NATURAL AND INNATE morals in us. I should state that by morals i mean normative assertions. x IS wrong. y IS right. that does not mean we don't have a sort of... primitive ethics? but to rely on that would be unacceptable. not only is it nearly impossible to isolate that ethics due to culture bias (and the APA seems against raising children like wild animals in isolation to study them. can't figure out why) but even if one could they would be forever in flux depending on the relationship of an individual to his environment and an individual to his peers. what i mean is that lots of food=more egalitarian less food=might makes right(and who gets to eat). it's casting a very wide net as opposed to spearing a specific fish(to use a stupid idiom).

that said, there are ethics and morals we can REASON to be the best. this is where the two main groups come into play; utilitarianism and deontology. various issues always come down to which of these is better suited and the result is that both tend to be required otherwise you get all cocked up with different, outlier scenarios. the problem comes in that the two are pretty mutually exclusive so there is no perfect mixture of these two philosophies. the result is this kind of ad hoc ethics that has no structural justification (like rigid utilitarianism, or whatever system you like).


i think there are very basic morals we can derive are bad though using a strictly "this is obviously not good cause bad things happen as a result" assuming bad is some inherent human response.

SO! we generally would view murder as bad, i think at least because when viewing someone as truly innocent of any possible conflict with another, the murder of that individual would generally revolt a normal person (possibly culturally based but it's worked out so far so why change?). on top of that one can deduce from the actions of those close to the murdered individual that it's not cupcakes and rainbows to kill someone.

Thing is here in stating that certain moral codes are better reasoned than others, you are somewhat implicitly presuming an objective standard to what there reasoned to.

As i've noted with the TDB. Everyone, even the hard core subjectivity seem to like utilitarianism. I personally think its one of the better standpoints in a lot of practical ethics (though I think the idea its either consequentialism or deontology is a very false dichtomy.).

Howevever the entire point of utilitarianism is its basically saying 'an action or state of affairs is good in virtue of how much welfare/pleasure/whatever there is in the world in virtue of that action or state of affairs'.

IT is.. attaching morality to a set of natural properties. Something objective.

Exactly how this is objective gets a little bit tricky with things like pleasure, however lets presume that we can detach the mind dependent nature from it, by asking this question:

There are two states of affairs in a world which we are not within (and thus get around the problem of our normative assessment being mind dependent), but can consider. Now this world is inhabited by groups of self replicating automaton or whatever, who are capable at least of either prospering (make up your own criterion here) or being destroyed. Thus I would argue based on the ratio of prospering to being destroyed being weighted to the left side of the ratio, we can say there is welfare, yes?

Now which state of affairs is better/preferable/whatever

1) One in which more prosper than suffer
2) one in which more suffer than prosper

Now there's some explaining to be done in the fact that 1) appears to be intuitively screamed at us as the best.

And of course it can be argued that 'oh well you could have a culture that loves suffering and they'd say 2)' but the fact we exist as a culture in which 1) appears to be the innately preferable option makes that question moot.
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby The Dharma Bum » Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:54 am

Math's is abstract, its objective.

Math measures quantity of objects. Morality measures the social value of thoughts. With math the qualities it measures have an objective basis. not so with morality. It measures something that only exists within the imaginations of people, and is a judgement heavily informed by their culture. The result of a mathematical equation is the same in all cultures at all times.

After all you yourself have in other threads claimed there is a naturalistic basis to morality (mutual aid)

I never recommended mutual aid as a better moral calculation. It's a matter of utility, not morality.

Again im not claiming any one particular set of cultural norms is correct, i'm merely pointing out that there is a gap between claiming that there is moral disagreement and the much stronger claim that all moral disagreement is faultless.
Moral disagreement is completely subjective, though. In an argument between a Catholic priest and a Aztec priest about the morality of human sacrifice both stand on equal ground as far as the natural world is concerned. One can't reasonably say that one culture is morally superior than the other.

One could say one culture is objectively better on utilitarian grounds however. Perhaps it is better to inform our ethical standards thusly? If something brings the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people it can said concretely to be "good".

Let me read the Hume thing before I continue...
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Re: Boris Johnson's Philosophy fun-time. Part:1

Postby The Dharma Bum » Fri Sep 21, 2012 11:14 am

I seem to remember you considering Objectivism to be a flawed philosophy BoJo. What changed your mind?
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