Another philosopher of science doesn’t understand science

Maybe I’m having a philosopher-bashing week. After disagreeing with Susan Haack’s account of science I then came across an article in the TLS by David Papineau, philosopher of science at King’s College London. He does a good job of persuading me that many philosophers of science don’t know much about science. After all, their “day job” is not studying science itself, but rather studying and responding to the writings of other philosophers of science.

Papineau writes:

No doubt some of the differences between philosophy and science stem from the different methods of investigation that they employ. Where philosophy hinges on analysis and argument, science is devoted to data. When scientists are invited to give research talks, they aren’t allowed simply to stand up and theorize, however interesting that would be. It is a professional requirement that they must present observational findings. If you don’t have any PowerPoint slides displaying your latest experimental results, then you don’t have a talk.

I wonder, has he ever been to a scientific conference? “When scientists are invited to give research talks, they aren’t allowed simply to stand up and theorize, however interesting that would be.” Err, yes they are! This is entirely normal. Scientists who do that are called “theorists”; and yes, they do indeed stand up at conferences and talk only about theoretical concepts and models. Such people are a major part of science. Universities have whole departments of, for example, “theoretical physics”.

How could Papineau have such a gross misconception? I suspect it comes from trying to see philosophy and science as distinct disciplines. The philosopher knows that philosophy is largely about concepts, and also knows that science is about empirical data. So the philosopher then leaps to the suggestion that science is only about empirical data, and not about theorising and concepts. After all, if science were about both empirical data and theories and concepts, then philosophy would not look so distinct and exalted in comparison.

Yet the “not about concepts” claim makes no sense since science is just as much about theories and models as about data. Without theories science would have only raw, un-interpreted streams of sensory data. In actuality, science is an iteration between theories and models, on the one hand, and empirical data on the other. Both are as important, with the real virtue of science being the iterative interaction of the two.

Papineau displays further his lack of understanding of science:

Scientific theories can themselves be infected by paradox. The quantum wave packet must collapse, but this violates physical law. Altruism can’t possibly evolve, but it does. Here again philosophical methods are called for.

Not so. There is no physical law that prohibits wave-function collapse (which is not the same as saying we have a good understanding of it). And the theory of reciprocal altruism gives a satisfactory account of the evolution of altruism, even in unrelated animals (kin selection explains it readily for close relatives). In neither case have the advances in understanding been driven by philosophers.

But Papineau continues:

We need to figure out where our thinking is leading us astray, to winnow through our theoretical presuppositions and locate the flaws. It should be said that scientists aren’t very good at this kind of thing.

Ah yes, the conceit that only philosophers can do thinking, whereas scientists are not so good at it. This, one presumes, follows from the suggestion that science is merely about data, whereas philosophers deal with the concepts? Again, this is about as wrong as it is possible to get.

The theory of evolution; the theories of special relativity and general relativity; the theory of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory; the standard model of particle physics; the Big Bang model of cosmology; the theories of statistical mechanics and of thermodynamics — these are all the products of science, and are demonstrably highly successful in giving understanding of phenomena in the world, in making predictions about those phenomena, and in enabling us to manipulate the world around us and to develop highly sophisticated technology.

What have philosophers got that is even remotely comparable in terms of demonstrated success? But Papineau wants to suggest that it’s the scientists who are “not very good” at theorising and thinking!

When they are faced with a real theoretical puzzle, most scientists close their eyes and hope it will go away.

He really doesn’t know very much about theoretical physicists, or about scientists in general, does he! He then claims it a “great scandal” that:

Led by Niels Bohr and his obscurantist “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics, [physicists] told generations of students that the glaring inconsistencies apparent in the theory were none of their business.

This is just wrong. It’s not that there are “glaring inconsistencies” — quantum mechanics is consistent and works well in accounting for the data — it’s that the interpretation of it is unclear.

“Shut up and calculate” was the typical response to any undergraduate who had the temerity to query the cogency of the theory.

No it wasn’t. Generations of undergraduates have been told about the difficulties of interpretation. Papineau doesn’t realise the degree of whimsy in phrases such as “shut up and calculate”; it is not intended literally! In fact there is no subject that physicists have deliberated and discussed more over the last 100 years than the interpretation of quantum mechanics!

So, after touting the alleged superiority of philosophers when it comes to thinking, how does he then explain away the blatant fact that science has been vastly more successful and makes vastly more progress than philosophy?

He concludes that philosophy is simply harder!

The difficulty of philosophy doesn’t stem from its peculiar subject matter or the inadequacy of its methods, but simply from the fact that it takes on the hard questions.

I beg to differ. I don’t see the questions of philosophy as any harder. Instead the lack of progress is fully down to its methods, and the principal culprit is in seeing philosophy as distinct from science, rather than as a part of science. By regarding itself as separate from science, philosophy divorces itself from empirical data, and so from information about the real world. Humans are simply not intelligent enough to get far by thinking alone, without any prompts from nature. Scientists aren’t, and philosophers certainly aren’t.

Papineau finishes by giving one example of what he sees as actual progress in philosophy:

The deficiencies of established views are exposed . . . The “boo-hurrah” account of moral judgements was all the rage in the middle of the last century, but no-one any longer defends this simple-minded emotivism.

But no actual deficiencies of emotivism have been exposed; it may be out of fashion in the philosophical world, but that really is just fashion. Is this really Papineau’s example of progress? It’s as likely that it’s a retrograde step.

Emotivism — the idea that morality is a matter of value judgements, pretty much akin to aesthetic judgements, and amounting to emotional approval or disapproval of certain acts — is a widely held opinion within science. Indeed it is the only account of morals that is consistent with the fact that humans are evolved animals. If philosophers move away from that position, and wander off to explore other conceptual possibilities that don’t relate to how humans actually are, they will be condemning themselves to further irrelevance.

Advertisements

39 thoughts on “Another philosopher of science doesn’t understand science

  1. richardwein

    Hi Coel. You’ve done a good job of criticising Papineau’s errors regarding science. I thought I’d address some of his other errors.

    “Today’s philosophers still struggle with many of the same issues that exercised the Greeks. What is the basis of morality? How can we define knowledge? Is there a deeper reality behind the world of appearances?”

    Yes, many (not all) philosophers still struggle with those questions, more’s the pity.

    “What is the basis of morality?”

    This question is based on the incorrect assumption that there’s an objective morality that can in some sense have “a basis”.

    “How can we define knowledge?”

    I think we have a good enough understanding of the word “knowledge”. Problems only arise when philosophers look for an artificially precise definition.

    “Is there a deeper reality behind the world of appearances?”

    There’s the reality that physicists are in the business of telling us about. That’s all. The idea of a metaphysical “deeper reality” is mumbo jumbo.

    “Philosophical issues typically have the form of a paradox. People can be influenced by morality, for example, but moral facts are not part of the causal order. Free will is incompatible with determinism, but incompatible with randomness too. We know that we are sitting at a real table, but our evidence doesn’t exclude us sitting in a Matrix-like computer simulation.”

    There are no paradoxes there, just confusions. People can be influenced by their moral values and beliefs, which are part of the “causal order”. The fact that the supposed moral facts are not causal is one very good reason for doubting that they exist.”Free will” is such a confused concept that I say there no good grounds for saying that it is or isn’t compatible with determinism. If “real table” means (in this context) a table that is not part of a Matrix-like simulation, then it makes no sense to say that we “know” we are sitting at a “real table”.

    “In the face of such conundrums, we need philosophical methods to unravel our thinking.”

    What kind of “philosophical methods” does Papineau have in mind? We certainly aren’t going to resolve those conundrums by means of the “philosophical methods” of Papineau and traditional philosophy. The primary problem with traditional philosophy is that it asks confused questions. There are some philosophers (such as Wittgenstein) who’ve made this point. In addition, I think that many philosophers and non-philosophers alike can sense that there’s something wrong with these “metaphysical” questions, even if they can’t quite put their finger on where the problem lies.

    “The difficulty of philosophy doesn’t stem from its peculiar subject matter or the inadequacy of its methods, but simply from the fact that it takes on the hard questions.”

    The difficulty of traditional philosophy stems (in large part) from our ability to ask questions that _sound_ meaningful without actually _being_ meaningful.

    Reply
  2. Mark Sloan

    Coel,

    I would much prefer philosophers to be coworkers in advancing the usefulness of science rather than adversaries.

    However, “If acceptance of an idea threatens one’s job, it is remarkable how difficult it can become to understand that idea.” I expect this is part of the problem this philosophers of science has – that the philosophy of science is just not nearly as central to science as he would like to think it is.

    In my experience, moral philosophers typically have an even more dysfunctional relationship with the science of morality because it even more centrally threatens their livelihood. Regarding moral philosophy, it seems to me a useful dividing line to demark science’s domain as about what ‘is’, and philosophy’s as about what ‘ought’ to be. I don’t know if there is a similar simple division for science in general and the philosophy of science.

    Reply
  3. Anton Szautner

    I was aware there were philosophers who don’t understand science, but until now I never imagined there were any philosophers OF SCIENCE that get it so utterly wrong. It’s downright breathtaking. It seriously makes me wonder if he knows what he’s talking about when he’s talking about his own field – of philosophy. Based on his grasp of science and its method, I sincerely doubt it. I once heard a stern and frequent critic of philosophy refer to the field as “The Science of Pontification”, adding that “its mostly about making stuff up while delighting in the sound of one’s voice”. I thought, surely, that must be exaggeration. Yet here is just an example of one who constructs statements that satisfy an appearance of meaningful communication but are largely bereft of veracity. He can lay claim to that talent, at least: the skill involved isn’t inconsiderable. Thinking clearly – and perhaps sincerely – however, doesn’t seem to be necessary.

    Reply
  4. Phil

    Coel writes, “So, after touting the alleged superiority of philosophers when it comes to thinking, how does he then explain away the blatant fact that science has been vastly more successful and makes vastly more progress than philosophy? ”

    Progress towards what? What is the knowledge explosion leading to? Utopia? Collapse? It seems less than superior thinking to assume “more successful” and “more progress” without considering that question. How many hair trigger nuclear weapons have to be aimed down our own throats before the science clergy will stop blindly assuming an out of control knowledge explosion to be a huge success??

    Again, science is great at developing new knowledge. Developing new knowledge does not automatically equal progress and success. The success of the “more is better” relationship with knowledge has created a radically new environment where that paradigm can no longer be assumed to be true.

    Some people get this. Few of them appear to be scientists.

    This is understandable. Why would a scientist inspect and challenge the “more is better” relationship with knowledge when their cultural authority and paychecks depend upon it? Why would a scientist stand back and observe the big picture of the knowledge explosion as a whole when the reductionist nature of science rewards those with a talent for burrowing deeply in to narrow areas of investigation?

    Reply
  5. Phil

    What I see in many posts across the blog, including the last two, is the very human need to belong to something, and for that something to be declared superior, “the answer”.

    We used to express this in the context of religion. Religion has been discredited for many, but this human need remains even after religion is dead, so we go looking for new flags to wave.

    Some of us have chosen reason and science as our new “one true way”. And just like we used to do with religion, there’s a tendency for modern seculars to need enemies to push back against as a mechanism for reinforcing our allegiance to our chosen flag.

    What observing this seemingly universal process as objectively as possible can teach us is that these divisions don’t arise from religion, or science, or any other philosophical perspective. They don’t arise from the content of thought, but from the nature of thought, from the way thought operates. Seeing this clearly tends to unite us, because we are all made of thought and subject to it’s properties.

    This seems a very worthy topic for scientists and philosophers to study together, for it is when these thought generated divisions become the most acute that the dangers presented by knowledge can become the most pressing.

    Reply
  6. Phil

    If we’re going to have a smack down competition between philosophers and scientists, here’s where I’d like to see the contest take place.

    Which writers, in any field, are talking intelligently about the assumptions which are the motor driving the knowledge explosion assembly line? As example, who is willing to inspect the “more is better” relationship with knowledge and investigate what the limits to that paradigm might be?

    Scientists might be seen as the factory workers who have built the knowledge explosion assembly line and continually tweaked it in to ever accelerating high performance. Thanks to them, we now have the ability to produce new knowledge at amazing rates. That’s great, applause is indeed warranted, but…

    Who is asking what the appropriate rate for the assembly line should be? I honestly don’t know and would welcome education on that score.

    I’m not really that interested in details about the new products coming off the end of the assembly line, AI, genetic engineering etc. Thus, most futurists tend to lose my attention.

    I’m interested in the assembly which is producing such powers. Which group or individuals can speak the most intelligently to that? Let’s have that competition.

    Reply
    1. Neil Rickert

      Which writers, in any field, are talking intelligently about the assumptions which are the motor driving the knowledge explosion assembly line?

      Science is not an assembly line.

  7. Eric Sotnak

    “it is the only account of morals that is consistent with the fact that humans are evolved animals.”

    I beg to differ on this point. I can think of ways to defend naturalistic versions of consequentialism (especially utilitarianism), contractualism, or virtue ethics.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      But every one of those would have to be rooted in human desires and preferences (and thus emotivism). Otherwise, what standing would (e.g.) utilitarianism have?

    2. verbosestoic

      Coel,

      If it based it entirely on a specific human’s desires, it would be Egoism, which it isn’t. But Utilitarianism does indeed base its morality on utility, which is global pain and pleasure. This clashes with some of our moral emotions — loyalty to family, for example — AND its reliance on that causes major issues for it that result in it suggesting strongly counter-intuitive solutions at times, which weakens the idea that our intuitive — and thus, our evolved — idea of morality can boil down to specifically human desires.

    3. Coel Post author

      But Utilitarianism does indeed base its morality on utility, which is global pain and pleasure.

      But any measure of “utility” can only be based on what humans care about. Further, there is no such thing as “global pain and pleasure”, there is only the pain and pleasure of individual humans. Thus Utilitarianism needs some way of aggregating over lots of humans, and yet there is no way of doing that except for people’s opinions about how to do it. And no human values all other humans equally, nor would they agree on who to value. Thus Utilitarianism’s claim to objectivity is spurious and illusory.

      This clashes with some of our moral emotions — loyalty to family, for example … which weakens the idea that our intuitive — and thus, our evolved — idea of morality can boil down to specifically human desires.

      This illustrates that attempts to make morality objective don’t work, but that *supports* (rather than weakens) the idea that all there is is people’s feelings and values.

    4. verbosestoic

      But any measure of “utility” can only be based on what humans care about.

      Done! Everyone pretty much cares about pain and pleasure. Seriously, this reasoning is pretty much the entire starting point for all hedonistic moralities, which includes Utilitarianism.

      Further, there is no such thing as “global pain and pleasure”, there is only the pain and pleasure of individual humans. Thus Utilitarianism needs some way of aggregating over lots of humans …

      Yes, which is why they solve that by … aggregating over all of the involved humans, and thus arriving at their notion of “global pain and pleasure”.

      … and yet there is no way of doing that except for people’s opinions about how to do it.

      So, are you insisting that Utilitarianism has to consider each person’s specific opinion on that before it can put forward its theory — and justifications — for why aggregating the total pain and pleasure of all relevant persons is the way to go? This would be you assuming that they CAN’T have a justification before they even get around to telling you what their justifications are …

      And no human values all other humans equally, nor would they agree on who to value.

      Sure, but Utilitarianism does not say or rely on all people agreeing, but instead insists that this IS the right way to go. And the only way to challenge them on this specific point is to build a morality that argues that it is okay for you to cause pain to someone else because you don’t like or don’t care about them. Any morality that would accept such a premise probably ought not be considered a morality at all (unless it’s explicitly Egoistic). From there, you can talk about the slightly tougher question of whether it is okay to withhold pleasure from someone because you don’t care for or about them, but again it seems pretty reasonable to say that someone who held that as a moral principle isn’t being moral at all. At which point, Utilitarianism seems to be off to a good start unless you can provide some justification for holding those sorts of moral positions, or at least that we ought not care about those implications.

      This illustrates that attempts to make morality objective don’t work, but that *supports* (rather than weakens) the idea that all there is is people’s feelings and values.

      How?

      1) These moral intuitions are SEEN as desire-independent moral conclusions, which is why these are seen as a problem for Utilitarianism.

      2) The point of that is that they EXPLICITLY DENY that calculating human desires and values is the determining factor there, which weakens the idea that morality can just be like that because we react rather violently to the idea that in those cases human desires and values trump morality.

      You can argue that they are wrong about that, but they clearly do not support your position and provide something that you need to explain and justify.

    5. Coel Post author

      Everyone pretty much cares about pain and pleasure. Seriously, this reasoning is pretty much the entire starting point for all hedonistic moralities, which includes Utilitarianism.

      But any scheme in which what is moral depends on people’s subjective feelings doesn’t give you an objective or moral-realist scheme (which is what Utilitarianism purports to be, isn’t it?)

      [“Moral Realism (or Moral Objectivism) is the meta-ethical view (see the section on Ethics) that there exist such things as moral facts and moral values, and that these are objective and independent of our perception of them or our beliefs, feelings or other attitudes towards them.”]

      Yes, which is why they solve that by … aggregating over all of the involved humans, and thus arriving at their notion of “global pain and pleasure”.

      But how do you do the aggregation? Does everyone count equally? If so, what’s your justification for that (if your justification is that it feels right to you, then that’s subjective)?

      So, are you insisting that Utilitarianism has to consider each person’s specific opinion on that before it can put forward its theory — and justifications — for why aggregating the total pain and pleasure of all relevant persons is the way to go?

      They’re very welcome to justify their method of aggregation, so long as it, at no point, depends on people’s subjective opinions on the matter.

      Sure, but Utilitarianism does not say or rely on all people agreeing, but instead insists that this IS the right way to go.

      Sure, but establishing that one way is *the* right way to go is a pretty tough hurdle. (No appealing to human judgement in doing that!) Even explaining what the phrase “the right way to go” means would be hard enough (“right” or “wrong” generally being value judgements, which need a person doing the judging).

      And the only way to challenge them on this specific point is to build a morality that argues that it is okay for you to cause pain to someone else because you don’t like or don’t care about them.

      I only have to do that if I first buy their claim that there is an objective “right way to do it”, and that morality is indeed objective. If I don’t accept those things I can simpkly tell the Utilitarians that they have not made their case.

      Any morality that would accept such a premise probably ought not be considered a morality at all …

      Is that your personal feeling on the matter? 🙂 Again, such claims depend on us having agreed what “morality” actually is, which is what he have not yet done!

      but again it seems pretty reasonable to say that someone who held that as a moral principle isn’t being moral at all.

      Again, is that an appeal to how people feel about the matter?

      These moral intuitions are SEEN as desire-independent moral conclusions, …

      Again, I’ll readily concede that human *intuition* is moral realist (which is why so many people try to construct moral-realist schemes that work). I just don’t accept that as a strong argument itself.

  8. verbosestoic

    I have a post coming out about your other post on Friday, because it involved getting deeper into some issues that I wouldn’t have room for there, but let me comment on this post here because I shouldn’t need to do that.

    How could Papineau have such a gross misconception? I suspect it comes from trying to see philosophy and science as distinct disciplines.

    I suspect rather that it comes from scientismists who insist that philosophy doesn’t base its claims on empirical data and then assert that that is why it can’t get truth and science can. If those claiming science’s superiority insist that it is because of how it grounds all of its propositions on empirical data, people will eventually start to believe that.

    Ah yes, the conceit that only philosophers can do thinking, whereas scientists are not so good at it. This, one presumes, follows from the suggestion that science is merely about data, whereas philosophers deal with the concepts?

    In my post on whether or not science can be trusted, the two major failings of science that I identified were that when science went wrong, it was that it didn’t consider potential confounds and/or overgeneralized. These would both be reduced if science did more philosophical style reasoning. In fact, in order to get a science degree do you ever have to take ANY courses that teach you specifically how to analyze and create valid arguments? I looked at the physics program at my old university and there’s nothing like that, and no direct, for example, course even on symbolic logic. Surely if science is going to theorize it really ought to put some emphasis on how to build well-structured logical arguments, since that’s what a scientific hypothesis ultimately is.

    What have philosophers got that is even remotely comparable in terms of demonstrated success?

    Well, science, for example. It seems ludicrous to deny that science is a product of philosophy, and look how well it’s doing [grin]. You might argue that science doesn’t need philosophy to justify it, or at least to continue justifying it, but it definitely was produced by philosophy. It’s only if you set up a very biased idea of “product” that you can deny philosophy proper credit for that product.

    By regarding itself as separate from science, philosophy divorces itself from empirical data, and so from information about the real world. Humans are simply not intelligent enough to get far by thinking alone, without any prompts from nature.

    Um, except that philosophy does not divorce itself from empirical data as a presumption or matter of principle or of method. Philosophy not only accepts empirical data in some cases, it in fact even SEEKS IT OUT when it thinks it will help. When philosophy says “Empirical data won’t settle this question”, it is because it has done an analysis and discovered that trying to use empirical data for that question has massive issues and, in general, won’t settle the question. Philosophy does not think that empirical data is “icky” and not worthy of philosophy, but has noted that for a lot of the questions it is looking at empirical data can’t settle them (see the naturalistic fallacy, for example).

    But no actual deficiencies of emotivism have been exposed; it may be out of fashion in the philosophical world, but that really is just fashion. Is this really Papineau’s example of progress? It’s as likely that it’s a retrograde step.

    Except that emotivism DOES have serious problems, and philosophical views don’t go out of fashion unless those problems seem insurmountable. To list a couple of less purely theoretical problems with emotivism (and so ones that you should be concerned about):

    1) If you base your view on evolution, how do you account for the fact that we seem to have intuitive/natural views of what makes a proposition aesthetic and what makes a proposition moral, and we DON’T think that they are the same thing or act the same way? Sure, we can be wrong, but it seems like it will be difficult for you to empirically justify accepting those intuitions that support your claim while denying those intuitions that clash with your claim, and for the most part we think that aesthetic judgements, at the end of the day, need not be justified and don’t have any real truth value, but think that moral judgements do need to be justified and have a specific truth value. To add more empirical evidence to the fire, the group that treats moral views more like aesthetic judgements happen to be psychopaths (see the essay “Fearlessly Immoral” on my blog) who are seen as acting immorally by pretty much everyone.

    2) How do you distinguish your view that morality is determined by us having specifically moral emotions like righteous anger — regular anger is not seen by anyone as being necessarily moral, so it won’t work for your purposes — from the view that moral emotions follow from a judgement — conscious or otherwise — that something is moral or immoral based on what we have developed as our own morality? The empirical evidence even supports this, as it explains why we think moral rules are more than simply aesthetic judgements, as that is baked into our concept first and the emotion comes later.

    Emotivism — the idea that morality is a matter of value judgements, pretty much akin to aesthetic judgements, and amounting to emotional approval or disapproval of certain acts — is a widely held opinion within science.

    No, it isn’t. Science has no official field studying this and has no formal theories making this an opinion in science. Most scientists even in the closest fields don’t have ANY opinion on this. What we have are SOME scientists who think that the empirical data leads to it, but that’s insufficient to make it widely held.

    Indeed it is the only account of morals that is consistent with the fact that humans are evolved animals.

    No, pretty much ALL deontolgical, consequentialist and Virtue Theories are at least compatible with evolution, and Social Contract theories are a better explanation than evolved emotions since it explains, again, why we think moral rules are so serious and have objective meaning, as well as why they differ from culture to culture but don’t generally differ from individual to individual in the same social grouping. As above, you overstate your case, which is not something that will help the image of science and scientists.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      I have a post coming out about your other post on Friday, because it involved getting deeper into some issues that I wouldn’t have room for there, …

      I look forward to it!

      … the two major failings of science that I identified were that when science went wrong, it was that it didn’t consider potential confounds and/or overgeneralized.

      Your major examples of science going wrong are about human health. This area suffers from four big problems: (1) humans are about as complicated as things get; (2) different humans are different; (3) you can’t do properly controlled trials for ethical reasons; and (4) since human health matters, messages are often dumbed down and simplified for public consumption, even when the science is accepted as less clear. It’s thus not surprising that “orthodoxy” gets revised a lot.

      As for Newtonian mechanics, it is not “wrong”, it works very well in nearly all the domains that we need mechanics for. It is still used all the time for a vast array of purposes. Yes, we do now know that in some domains it breaks down, but the point that science can only be trusted to the extent that it has been tested, and thus in domains where it has been tested, is pretty much accepted.

      These would both be reduced if science did more philosophical style reasoning. In fact, in order to get a science degree do you ever have to take ANY courses that teach you specifically how to analyze and create valid arguments?

      No, scientists don’t (in general) take formal courses of this nature. They learn “on the job”. But I’m not convinced that they are any worse than philosophers at creating and analyzing valid arguments, and I’m not convinced that formally studying philosophy would actually help them.

      Surely if science is going to theorize it really ought to put some emphasis on how to build well-structured logical arguments, since that’s what a scientific hypothesis ultimately is.

      Well no, not really. Scientific hypothesizing and theories don’t usually come from “well-structured logical arguments”, they come from all sorts of things, including intuition and guesswork. One then critiques and tests such models in terms of how much expanatory and predictive power they then have, and to *test* the theories one should indeed be pretty rigorous.

      It seems ludicrous to deny that science is a product of philosophy, and look how well it’s doing …

      I don’t accept that science is the product of “philosophy”, if by that one means philosophy as understood today, and as distinct from science. Rather, there was a time that what we now call “philosophy” and “science” were pretty much the same thing done by the same people. They would use both empirical methods and conceptual reasoning, as appropriate and as they saw fit. Thus “science” today is really the product of proto-(science+philosophy).

      Science today, *still* uses “both empirical methods and conceptual reasoning, as appropriate and as scientists see fit”. Philosophy, though, has somewhat lost its way by seeing itself as distinct from science and by trying to get places by conceptual analysis alone.

      Philosophy not only accepts empirical data in some cases, it in fact even SEEKS IT OUT when it thinks it will help.

      What do you see, then, as the difference between a scientific approach and a philosophical one?

      Philosophy […] has noted that for a lot of the questions it is looking at empirical data can’t settle them

      Even in science, empirical data *alone* never settles anything, it is always a matter of both empirical data and reason and concepts. You always need the concepts in order to evaluate what the empirical data point to.

      Reply to be continued …

    2. verbosestoic

      Your major examples of science going wrong are about human health. This area suffers from four big problems: (1) humans are about as complicated as things get; (2) different humans are different; …

      You realize that these two reasons are, in fact, the two big reasons I gave FOR specific failures in those areas? However, if you look at my link to a case where I found confounds, that seems to be as objective and universal a claim you’re going to FIND in psychology … and I still easily found the potential confound — starting from Computer Science — that if the array had a loading time and if that loading time was sufficiently long, then their experimental numbers would be overwhelmed by it. We can extend the same sort of thinking to the Libet experiments to find confounds with the idea that conscious deliberation is the result of rather than an active player in making decisions, by noting that Libet was testing decisions made at random, and in general in computing when you do that you set an “alarm” and tell the random number generator to wake you up when it gives you an answer and waits that long. So it wakes you up and takes the action at that random time, and also tells you what the answer was. The Libet experiments also have an issue where if we really made decisions subconsciously up a second before we were aware of what that decision was for actions taken immediately we ought to notice that we start the action a second before we realize what decision we made, and so, for example, we would decide to go to the fridge to get a snack and then notice that we are already standing up to go there when we “decided” to have a snack. We’d almost certainly notice that [grin].

      And these sorts of analyses are precisely what philosophy not only aims for and trains itself for, but is really, really good at. In fact, one of philosophy’s biggest hurdles has ALWAYS been that it continually finds ways in which arguments or theories don’t necessarily prove what they claim to which it then has to take seriously, while science is far more willing to take the best current theory and run with it.

      Yes, we do now know that in some domains it breaks down, but the point that science can only be trusted to the extent that it has been tested, and thus in domains where it has been tested, is pretty much accepted.

      Doesn’t this greatly impact the utility of science, though, if we can only trust it in cases where it has explicitly tested them? One of the reasons we think science works is that if the THEORY is sufficiently tested, then we can use the implications of that theory to reliably figure out what will happen in the cases that we haven’t tested. Sure, it might get some of them wrong, but it gets enough of them right — if the theories are sufficiently analyzed and tested — for us to rely on those theories in those cases. If science is only trustworthy for the cases that it has explicitly tested, then all of its methodology and particularly its conceptualizing are pointless … or, perhaps, it’s rather that they are only useful for deciding what should be tested.

      Conforming knowledge to directly tested empirically observed statements or phenomena is, in fact, the easy thing to do, and isn’t what most impresses us about science’s success. I’d actually even say that if science is only trustworthy for the things that it has directly tested, then science can no longer be said to “work”.

      But I’m not convinced that they are any worse than philosophers at creating and analyzing valid arguments …

      So, you aren’t certain that the field that has as its entire methodology creating and analyzing arguments and determining their validity and formally teaches every possible method for that is better at it than a field that only does so tangentially? I’m not sure you can hold that view and not be forced to claim by implication that you are anti-philosophy.

      You also won’t want to claim that critical thinking is important, since critical thinking pretty much IS the main philosophical method, and so it’s going to be hard to claim that we should all learn critical thinking while claiming that the field that explicitly teaches it doesn’t do it very well.

      Now, scientists may not benefit from doing much formal philosophy, but I definitely think they ought to learn directly how to construct valid arguments, and if they aren’t willing to do that then should turn them over to the field where analyzing arguments for validity is their raison d’etre … just like if scientists weren’t willing to formally train in mathematics they should let mathematicians check over their math to see if they’re doing it right.

      Scientific hypothesizing and theories don’t usually come from “well-structured logical arguments”, they come from all sorts of things, including intuition and guesswork.

      I didn’t say they came from well-structured logical arguments, but that at the end of the day they ARE well-structured logical arguments. They say that if certain things are true — the premises — then their conclusion is true. They then use these implications to determine what should be tested and what it means if a test fails, which includes noting what premises are broken and what it means for the overall theory if those premises are false. Even confirmation relies on this, because if you have multiple competing theories to confirm one over the other means that you have to make a valid argument saying that if X is seen, then one theory is confirmed. This is vulnerable to confounds, where the observation of X can support more than one theory if certain things are true. As an example, take the argument of “Changes in brain state causing changes in mental state refutes Cartesian dualism”. Since Cartesian dualism is explicitly interactionist, it in fact INSISTS that changes in brain state can cause changes in mental state, so that result doesn’t actually disconfirm it. Proper analysis of hypotheses and theories can find these confounds in advance and thus produce better tests that would make science more reliable.

      Looking at the “Finish your antibiotics” example, one could analyze the theory — which I think was that the ones left behind would be the more resistant ones and so if they continued to multiple what you’d have left were the resistant ones — and balance that against an argument that the longer the antibiotic is in the system and interacting with bacteria the more likely it is that they will develop a stronger resistance, and test accordingly to see what it really the case using that analysis. But this sort of analysis is what philosophy does.

      Science today, *still* uses “both empirical methods and conceptual reasoning, as appropriate and as scientists see fit”. Philosophy, though, has somewhat lost its way by seeing itself as distinct from science and by trying to get places by conceptual analysis alone.

      Except it doesn’t. It uses empirical reasoning and conceptual analysis as appropriate, and always has. Which fields try to “naturalize” stronger varies with advances in science and with which problems are being considered, but as I have repeatedly said when philosophers dismiss some empirical data it isn’t because they are saying “That’s icky empirical data!” but because they are, in general, saying “We tried that already and it didn’t work”.

      Science — and particularly most scienitismists — are far, far more dismissive of conceptual analysis than philosophy is of empirical analysis.

      What do you see, then, as the difference between a scientific approach and a philosophical one?

      Other than the differences in method that I have mentioned before — science is more directly reliant on the empirical and less skeptical than philosophy is — the big difference is focus. Philosophy is primarily about conceptual analysis with a side of “We’ll also look at any question that either no one else is looking at or that bridges too many disciplines, since we look at all of them”, while science is primarily about the empirical world. What this means is that philosophy uses empirical data as a tool when it will help it answer conceptual issues, while science will use conceptual analysis as a tool to help it answer issues with the empirical world. And except for a few people — whom I find misguided — both are happy with that division of labour. Science’s focus on the empirical world makes it far better at analyzing it than philosophy is, and philosophy will be more than happy to appropriate anything science discovers that they find interesting. And science is more than happy to do the same for philosophy, like it does for mathematics.

      To be honest, I see the purported divide being more a result of “New Atheism”, where often the scientifically minded members of that movement distrusted philosophy for purportedly providing succor to theology, and then tried to wade into philosophical matters insisting that science would solve all of them … failing miserably and most often simply promoting ideas that philosophy had already considered and ignoring philosophers who pointed out what the issues with those ideas were.

    3. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      And these sorts of analyses are precisely what philosophy not only aims for and trains itself for, but is really, really good at.

      But those analyses could as readily be regarded as psychology rather than philosophy and I’m not aware of any evidence that philosophers in general are any better than scientists at such analyses. It seems to me that philosophers like to assure each other that they are the experts at incisive thinking, but I’m convinced. In the area of science that I know best, physics and astrophysics, I’m not aware of much in the way of incisive-thinking contributions from philosophers.

      Doesn’t this greatly impact the utility of science, though, if we can only trust it in cases where it has explicitly tested them?

      It’s not so much about *cases* where it hasn’t been test, as *domains* where it hasn’t been tested. So, if you (say) make the gravitational field 10,000 times stronger than the regimes where you’ve test the model, you should indeed be cautious. And this does indeed impact the utility of science; but then science isn’t about being perfect, it’s about trying to do as well as we can do.

      So, you aren’t certain that the field that has as its entire methodology creating and analyzing arguments and determining their validity and formally teaches every possible method for that is better at it than a field that only does so tangentially?

      Correct, I’m not. Except that science isn’t about arguments and thinking only tangentially, those things are central to all of science.

      it’s going to be hard to claim that we should all learn critical thinking while claiming that the field that explicitly teaches it doesn’t do it very well.

      So far my argument isn’t that philosophy doesn’t do critical thinking very well, it’s that — in general — it doesn’t do it any better than science.

      I definitely think [scientists] ought to learn directly how to construct valid arguments, …

      You’re presuming that they don’t already, or that science’s “on the job” methods of teaching it are worse than philosophy’s formal approach.

      Science — and particularly most scienitismists — are far, far more dismissive of conceptual analysis than philosophy is of empirical analysis.

      Absolutely not, scientists spend all of their time working with concepts and analysing them.

      I see the purported divide being more a result of “New Atheism”, where often the scientifically minded members of that movement distrusted philosophy for purportedly providing succor to theology, and then tried to wade into philosophical matters insisting that science would solve all of them … failing miserably and most often simply promoting ideas that philosophy had already considered and ignoring philosophers who pointed out what the issues with those ideas were.

      That’s rather a strawman about New Atheists!

    4. Coel Post author

      Hi verbosestoic,

      … how do you account for the fact that we seem to have intuitive/natural views of what makes a proposition aesthetic and what makes a proposition moral, and we DON’T think that they are the same thing or act the same way?

      My suggestion is that evolution has programmed us to *think* that morals are objective, and more than “merely” our preferences, since that makes moral intuitions more effective. They seem to matter more so we act on them more. But, anyhow, human intuition is very fallible. I don’t think we should place much store on it unless it can be backed up by solid argument or external verification.

      … we think that aesthetic judgements, at the end of the day, need not be justified and don’t have any real truth value, but think that moral judgements do need to be justified and have a specific truth value.

      I agree that most of us think that. Again, I think we’re wrong to think that, and that evolution has caused us to think like that purely because it makes us regard moral sentiments as more important.

      But no-one has backed up this moral-realist intuition with any reasoned account of what objective morality even amounts to. If you ask a moral realist what it even means to say: “We are morally obligated to do X”, they don’t even know.

      How do you distinguish your view that morality is determined by us having specifically moral emotions like righteous anger …

      Well I wouldn’t say that morality is “determined by” anything, as though righteous anger establishes a truth value. I’d say it is a “matter of …”. But to answer the question:

      … from the view that moral emotions follow from a judgement — conscious or otherwise — that something is moral or immoral based on what we have developed as our own morality?

      I woudn’t necessarily distinguish those two. We have indeed developed our own sense of morality, but that moral sense is a matter of our moral judgements and emotions.

      But again, your arguments boil down to the fact that most human intuition is moral realist. And that really is the only argument for moral realism. But I don’t see that as carrying much weight unless it can be backed up. If one starts constructing actual moral-realist schemes they do not work (unless they, ultimately, fall back on people’s personal value judgements).

      No, it isn’t. Science has no official field studying this and has no formal theories making this an opinion in science.

      Whenever science deals with morality (such as in psychology or similar fields) de facto it assumes emotivism. That is, it assumes that what science is studying is human values and judgements (indeed human psychology!), and that that’s all there is to the matter.

      No, pretty much ALL deontolgical, consequentialist and Virtue Theories are at least compatible with evolution …

      No scheme of *objective* morality is compatible with evolution since no such scheme can explain what objective morals actually are, and no such scheme can explain how humans know about objective morals. Human intuitions result from our evolutionary heritage, but what matters for evolution is how we act and how other humans act, and that is determined by our feelings and values and by other people’s feelings and values. Those are what our moral sentiments will be about, not any hypothetical objective scheme.

      … and Social Contract theories are a better explanation than evolved emotions since it explains, …

      Yes, “social contract” is indeed what a lot of morality as about. But social contracts have to derive, ultimately, from the values and judgements of each of us. Thus a social-contract account is entirely in line with emotivism.

      … again, why we think moral rules are so serious and have objective meaning, …

      Social contracts derive their standing from the advocacy of humans. They don’t give an objective moral scheme complete with truth values.

      … as well as why they differ from culture to culture but don’t generally differ from individual to individual in the same social grouping.

      That is entirely in line with emotivism. We are all, of course, affected by our culture. And the fact that moral differ from culture to culture is a problem for any objective scheme in which moral statements have truth values, but is not a problem for emotivism.

  9. Phil

    Which scientists or philosophers are willing to examine and challenge the “more is better” relationship with knowledge which is the foundation of science?

    Is there anyone from any side up to this? If not, why are we concerning ourselves with a chest thumping contest between the two groups?

    Reply
  10. Phil

    Ok then….

    Until such time as someone can provide a list of scientists and/or philosophers who are willing and able to inspect and challenge the “more is better” relationship with knowledge, I propose there is little point in listening to either group, and a contest between the two can be defined as irrelevant to anything other than the egos of those involved.

    This position can be reached with the most elementary logic.

    What would happen if we had a “more is better” relationship with power in regards to our children? As example, what would happen if we handed out loaded handguns, the keys to a car, and a case of booze in a junior high school? It’d only be a matter of time until tragedy struck, right?

    That’s where all these blind “experts” are leading us, off a cliff. Until that’s fixed, nothing they are working on today really matters because it’s all going to be swept away in a coming crash. All those gloriously complex papers by the philosophers, pointless. All those clever experiments by the scientists, leading nowhere. All of it, a waste of time.

    In all of nature a failure to adapt to a changed environment typically leads to extinction. Until we see the list being requested here, we have to assume we are failing to adapt to the new environment being created by the knowledge explosion.

    Reply
  11. Eric Sotnak

    “But every one of those would have to be rooted in human desires and preferences”

    I agree to a point (though I would leave out “human”). I don’t think any moral theory can lay claim to plausibility unless it accepts that all cases of mattering are cases of “mattering to”.

    But emotivism is just one particular model – a very simplistic one, in my view – of what is involved in mattering.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      I don’t think any moral theory can lay claim to plausibility unless it accepts that all cases of mattering are cases of “mattering to”.

      Agreed.

      But emotivism is just one particular model – a very simplistic one, in my view – of what is involved in mattering.

      One thing that I’ve learned about philosophical terms, such as “emotivism”, is that they gain very narrow definitions in terms of the precise wording of whoever first used them. Then, other philosophers come along, emphasize things a bit differently, and their version becomes another and distinct -ism. Thus we get emotivism, expressivism, subjectivism, and probably several others, that are all pretty much the same thing.

      It may be that the vast number of terms for different theories of morality serve to confuse the issue more than clarify it.

      There really are only two major possibilities: either morality is about human preferences and values, and about people’s moral judgements based on their feelings and value (=> morality is subjective), or there are supra-human reasons why humans are obliged to act in particular ways (=> morality is objective).

    2. verbosestoic

      “One thing that I’ve learned about scientific terms, such as “electron”, is that they gain very narrow definitions in terms of the precise wording of whoever first used them. Then, other scientists come along, emphasize things a bit differently, and their version becomes another and distinct term. Thus we get electron, subatomic particle, molecule, and probably several others, that are all pretty much the same thing. ”

      Yeah, I have no idea what philosophers you are reading or studying that caused you to “learn” precisely the opposite of what philosophy does. Post modern philosophy — which I don’t subscribe to — deliberately tries to subvert categories and categorization, and analytic philosophy pretty much categorizes the same way science does: it puts things into categories based on useful or important similarities and creates new ones — and even subcategories — based on sufficiently different implications.

      Let’s look at the terms you mention here, start with emotivism (from Wikipedia):

      Emotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes.[1][2] Hence, it is colloquially known as the hurrah/boo theory. Influenced by the growth of analytic philosophy and logical positivism in the 20th century, the theory was stated vividly by A. J. Ayer in his 1936 book Language, Truth and Logic,[3] but its development owes more to C. L. Stevenson.[4]

      Emotivism can be considered a form of non-cognitivism or expressivism. It stands in opposition to other forms of non-cognitivism (such as quasi-realism and universal prescriptivism), as well as to all forms of cognitivism (including both moral realism and ethical subjectivism).

      It’s a form of expressivism, but there are other expressivist views that are incompatible with it, so you can’t use the terms interchangably. And what is expressivism (from Wikipedia):

      Expressivism in meta-ethics is a theory about the meaning of moral language. According to expressivism, sentences that employ moral terms – for example, “It is wrong to torture an innocent human being” – are not descriptive or fact-stating; moral terms such as “wrong,” “good,” or “just” do not refer to real, in-the-world properties. The primary function of moral sentences, according to expressivism, is not to assert any matter of fact, but rather to express an evaluative attitude toward an object of evaluation.[1] Because the function of moral language is non-descriptive, moral sentences do not have any truth conditions.[2] Hence, expressivists either do not allow that moral sentences have truth value, or rely on a notion of truth that does not appeal to any descriptive truth conditions being met for moral sentences.

      So then we can compare this to subjectivism (again, from Wikipedia):

      Ethical subjectivism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

      1) Ethical sentences express propositions.
      2) Some such propositions are true.
      3) The truth or falsity of such propositions is ineliminably dependent on the (actual or hypothetical) attitudes of people.[1]

      This makes ethical subjectivism a form of cognitivism. Ethical subjectivism stands in opposition to moral realism, which claims that moral propositions refer to objective facts, independent of human opinion; to error theory, which denies that any moral propositions are true in any sense; and to non-cognitivism, which denies that moral sentences express propositions at all.

      So it’s not compatible with expressivism because it think that moral statements are propositions, but that their truth value depends on what people THINK are moral, which expressivism, as stated, rejects. And it’s important that you understand the differences when you toss terms around, because otherwise it becomes very difficult to understand what your view actually is (for example, the 3) above is compatible with your view, but if I recall correctly you tend to deny that moral statements are propositions. If you claim to be an emotivist, that makes sense, but if you claim to be a subjectivist, that doesn’t make sense at all). It also stops you from losing credibility for tossing around terms that you don’t seem to understand, and thus looking like the equivalent — when it comes to moral philosophy — of someone arguing “Those stupid biologists talking about how we evolved from apes! We’re clearly different races, and so can’t interbreed”. You aren’t at that level, of course, but often you seem to insist on things about philosophy that are, indeed, completely counter to what philosophy actually does or says.

      There really are only two major possibilities: either morality is about human preferences and values, and about people’s moral judgements based on their feelings and value (=> morality is subjective), or there are supra-human reasons why humans are obliged to act in particular ways (=> morality is objective).

      Here I think you make the same mistake that so many people do and are inadvertently changing the question from “What is morality?” to “Why should I act morally?”. The last sentence where you talk about humans being OBLIGED to act in particular ways for supra-human reasons pretty much makes that clear (and is the same move that Richard Carrier makes). And this is common in philosophy as well; there is an assumption that once we understand what morality is we will therefore have sufficient justification and motivation to act morally. What I now think is that that is the wrong way to look at morality. You don’t need any kind of underlying motivation or reason to act morally other than the fact that it is the moral thing to do. And the reason I think this is that the search for an underlying, non-moral reason to act morally leads to this case: you can have two people who agree on what morality is, but one of them says that it isn’t in their best interest to act morally and so they don’t. Under the motivism theory, this would be a problem for the morality, but when we look at it more carefully we can see that the person who doesn’t want to act morally because it isn’t in their self-interest is actually, at best AMORAL, because they actually agree on what it means to be moral but choose other, non-moral priorities over being moral. Since in that case we would conclude that the person accepts a moral premise but act amorally, then you can’t argue that a moral system can’t be correct simply because it wouldn’t provide that motivation; you need to argue that motivation MUST be included, and so the two of them simply COULDN’T be talking about a valid morality. And that’s a claim that most people who argue for this don’t make.

      There are two big distinctions that you — and others — tend to not make here:

      1) Conflating what makes a specific action in a specific situation moral or immoral with what determines what, in general, makes an action moral or immoral. Objectivists have no problem with a specific action being considered moral or immoral because of the personal preferences or desires of a specific person, but argue that what determines when those preferences are to be used, which preferences are to be used, and whose desires are to be used is not dependent on the personal preferences or desires of a person.

      2) Conflating what is moral with the motivation to be moral. Again, someone can be amoral because they are incapable of understanding what is moral, but also because they don’t CARE to be moral, even if they understand and accept what it means to be moral.

    3. Coel Post author

      “One thing that I’ve learned about scientific terms, such as “electron”, is that they gain very narrow definitions in terms of the precise wording of whoever first used them. …”

      But scientists don’t do that. They take a term, such as “electron”, then adapt it and improve it to make it better (a better model of reality). The *original* definition of it gets superseded and loses relevance. In contrast, in philosophy, terms are often taken as tied to whoever first defined them. If you want something different (even if only slightly different) you define a new term.

      So [subjectivism is] not compatible with expressivism because it think that moral statements are propositions, but that their truth value depends on what people THINK are moral, which expressivism, as stated, rejects.

      But your quote doesn’t tell us what the “propositions” are. So let’s now quote the Stanford Encyclopedia:

      “The present discussion uses the label “non-objectivism” instead of the simple “subjectivism” since there is an entrenched usage in metaethics for using the latter to denote the thesis that in making a moral judgment one is reporting (as opposed to expressing) one’s own mental attitudes (e.g., “Stealing is wrong” means “I disapprove of stealing”).”

      So it’s not that simple! If “subjectivism” is taken as expressing propositions of the form “I disapprove of stealing” — which does have a truth value! — then subjectivism is indeed compatible with emotivism and expressivism.

      In other words does the “proposition” and the cognitive status apply to the superficial purport of the language, or to the underlying “translation” of the language?

      And it’s important that you understand the differences when you toss terms around, because otherwise it becomes very difficult to understand what your view actually is

      Agreed. But such terms have often acquired so much baggage, and come in several different versions, that such terminology can often hamper discussion. Given that academic philosophy is pretty split down the middle on moral realism versus anti-realism, and doesn’t seem to be making any sort of progress towards a consensus, I suggest that how they’re approaching the topic is sub-optimal.

      … and are inadvertently changing the question from “What is morality?” to “Why should I act morally?”.

      I agree that those are distinct, but they are closely related, and any moral-realist account (or indeed any meta-ethical account) needs to answer both.

      You don’t need any kind of underlying motivation or reason to act morally other than the fact that it is the moral thing to do.

      OK, but you then need to give an account of what “the moral thing to do” means. I’m not aware of any moral realists answering that in a way that doesn’t just beg the question.

    4. Phil

      verbosestoic writes, “Post modern philosophy — which I don’t subscribe to — deliberately tries to subvert categories and categorization, and analytic philosophy pretty much categorizes the same way science does: it puts things into categories based on useful or important similarities and creates new ones — and even subcategories — based on sufficiently different implications.”

      I’d like to read more about post modern vs. analytic philosophy, specifically their relationship with categorization. Why does post modern philosophy deliberately try to subvert categorization?

      Philosophers can contribute by helping us shift some focus from the content of thought to the nature of thought. Categorization seems an example of how thought operates by a process of division. The reductionist structure of science is another example.

      It seems fairly easy to see how this division process is the source of thought’s power, as it allows us to rearrange reality in the form of conceptual objects in our heads, ie. be creative.

      The price tag for this division driven power is illusion, distortion. We see division everywhere we look (things, categories etc), but the division we perceive is a property of the tool we are using to observe reality (thought), and not reality itself.

      Point being, as both philosophy and science relentlessly attempt to create better thoughts, it seems quite helpful to at the same time have an awareness that the medium of thought introduces distortion as a waste product of how it operates.

      Do you see the problem here? If the operation of thought generates distortion then it would seem to be impossible to think one’s way to an observation of reality free of such distortion. Having a better thought (philosophy and science) doesn’t transcend the distortion because the better thought is made of thought too, and thus also inherits the same distortion.

      To further complicate matters, we aren’t just using thought, we ourselves are made of thought psychologically. The thinker is of course, a thought.

      It seems to me the inherently divisive nature of thought will always be a kind of boundary line for both philosophy and science, restricting both to a limited sphere which will never be able to fully grasp reality, due to the limitations of the medium itself.

      This isn’t an attack upon either discipline, but rather an attempt to use them to see their own limitations, thus perhaps cracking open a door to somehow transcending those limitations.

    1. Phil

      So critique the article and give us the other part of the picture. Your next blog post, on a silver platter. 🙂

  12. Phil

    Objective morality exists in the general sense, but not in the specific sense, which means….

    OBJECTIVE: Morality is a collection of rules which address the fundamental human condition, the sense we all have that we are alone and separate, an illusion created by the inherently divisive nature of what we’re all made of, thought. Moral rules help ease the pain of that illusion by more closely binding us to other living things. Morality is objective in this general sense because it is a response to something beyond personal opinion, the human condition.

    SUBJECTIVE: Morality is subjective in the specific sense, in that different people and groups of people will come up with different moral rule systems. Which moral rules work best for a particular group of people is a matter of opinion.

    Reply
  13. Phil

    Coel writes, “OK, but you then need to give an account of what “the moral thing to do” means.”

    The moral thing to do is whatever binds you more closely to that which is not you.

    Reply
  14. Phil

    From my perspective, when discussing morality let’s forget about “good” and “bad”. Instead, let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t work.

    By “works” I mean, whatever addresses the fundamental human condition, 1) the thought generated illusion that we are separate from reality, and 2) the fear/pain/conflict that arises from that illusion.

    As example, here’s some Christianity translated in to secular language.

    Jesus says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Replace the word “Lord” with the word “reality” and we see a prescription for healing the illusion of division between “me” and “reality”.

    Jesus says, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” This is the same prescription aimed at our relationship with our fellow humans.

    Jesus says, “Die to be reborn.” Same message again, just different words. Die to “me” and be reborn in to union with everything, that is, transcend the thought generated illusion of division at the heart of the human condition.

    These moral statements are objective, in that they work for pretty much every human being. They are objective morality because they address something that is beyond personal opinion, the fundamental human condition. Even Hitler loved his dogs at least, his own meager effort to escape the tiny prison cell of “me”.

    Sticking the brand name “Christianity” or “Jesus” on these procedures is subjective, a matter of personal preference and opinion. We could alternately label these procedures effective psychological insights.

    If anyone has become allergic to the word “morality” due to all the clerical guilt tripping etc that has been associated with that word, the solution is to simply discard the word morality and the clerics too and approach the illusion of division from some other angle one is not allergic to. For example, in the East the focus is often on meditation, which attempts to heal the illusion of division by reducing the volume of thought, that which is generating the illusion.

    The logical person doesn’t spend a lot of time arguing about which approach is best, and is content with a “to each their own” philosophy. The logical person instead focuses their time on addressing the fundamental human condition by whatever method is best suited to them.

    If this typoholic sermon doesn’t actually answer your question, apologies, please try again.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      I’m simply asking for a straightforward, one-sentence statement of what, in your opinion, the word “moral” means, in a statement such as “it is moral to do X”.

  15. Phil

    I gave you that sentence already above…

    The moral thing to do is whatever binds you more closely to that which is not you.

    Reply
  16. Phil

    Coel asks, “But what do you mean by “moral” in the phrase: “the moral thing to do”?”

    By “moral” I mean, that which works in addressing the fundamental human needs of the person taking the action.

    Me stealing your money would not be moral because such an act would strengthen my own sense of isolation, my own pain. Me giving you money in a time of need would be moral because as I loosen my tight grip on “my” money, I’m also loosening my tight grip on “me”, the illusion based concept which divides me from everything else.

    The good/bad judgments typically associated with morality are just a social reward/punishment system designed to guide us towards what is in our own enlightened self interest. As example, if a child is too young to intellectually grasp the dangers of a hot stove, we simplify the conversation to “Good!” and “Bad!”

    Religions tend to rely heavily on the simplistic good/bad, reward/punishment system because most human beings are not sophisticated enough to participate in a in depth exploration of the fundamental human condition.

    But that’s what morality is at heart, a collection of suggestions designed to help us liberate ourselves from the thought generated illusion of division, separation, isolation.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      By “moral” I mean, that which works in addressing the fundamental human needs of the person taking the action.

      So things like eating and going to the loo when needed are “moral” acts? That’s somewhat out of line with most people’s conception of the term. It’s also somewhat different from your other definition, that:

      “The moral thing to do is whatever binds you more closely to that which is not you.”

  17. Phil

    I’ve explained what I mean by “fundamental human need” over multiple pages of your blog, including above in this thread. A few posts above I explained it as…

    ….the fundamental human condition, 1) the thought generated illusion that we are separate from reality, and 2) the fear/pain/conflict that arises from that illusion.

    Science attempts to harness the great power of thought, religion and moral systems more generally attempt to address the price tag that comes along with that power, the illusion of division. The power and the price tag arise from the same source, thought operating by dividing the single unified reality in to conceptual parts.

    That process of conceptual division allows us to rearrange reality in our minds, giving us great power. This same division process also divides us from reality psychologically, making us somewhat nuts. As example, we are brilliant enough to know how to create nuclear weapons, and mad enough to actually do so.

    The fundamental human condition, the power and the price tag, arises out of the nature of what we’re made of, thought. Moral systems are an attempt to manage the price tag on both the social and psychological levels. I’m addressing the psychological level in my comments because what is happening externally is just a mirror of what’s happening internally.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s