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.

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119 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.

    6. verbosestoic

      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?)

      Sure it can, at least, because you’re mistaking the underlying moral principles for how you determine what is moral in the real world using them. Any morality that doesn’t completely ignore the desires of humans is going to have to consider those at some point when determining what is or isn’t moral, but they will do so appealing to moral principles that are deemed correct no matter what any specific person thinks of them. So, for Utilitarianism, you will always calculate utility on the basis of overall pain and pleasure, which is the objective part, while all specific decisions will involve finding out what specific pain and pleasure all the relevant parties will feel. But if Utilitarianism is right then if someone who is, say, a Stoic denies that and insists that pain and pleasure are irrelevant to morality they will be wrong.

      The subjectivism that objectivists like me worry about are the cases where the proposition “Slavery is morally wrong” depends on what a person or other grouping THINKS is morally right or wrong. That it may vary due to circumstances isn’t much of an issue for most of them, especially the typically objectivist Virtue Theories (who build that into their idea of virtues most of the time).

      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)?

      You count everyone equally in Utilitarianism because all people are moral units and there is no way to justify treating them unequally. This is indeed something that Utilitarianism gets challenged on, because there are arguments that at least sometimes you SHOULD do that. But it’s certainly not just based on feelings, and philosophically an objective justification for that is demanded of Utilitarians because they are expecting it to be objectively justifiable.

      (Also, as a reminder, I am NOT a Utilitarian [grin]. I just know lots about it from my work on moral philosophy).

      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.

      As to whether that is the correct aggregation to use, right? Because you often drift into arguing that if the aggregation is over subjective things that counts as well, which is not correct.

      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).

      The “right way to go” here is meant to reference correct, not morally right, which is the OTHER right you are talking about here. If I can’t ever use simple colloquial phrasings without you jumping all over it, we aren’t going to get anywhere [grin].

      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.

      But to deny that that is a moral implication — and thus that their moral view is incorrect because it holds that — you have to build a valid morality that doesn’t include or imply it. They have no reason to care about your insistence that they haven’t established it if you can’t show how a morality can work without, again, either explicitly stating or implying that statement. And if you can’t, then they have sufficient reason to think that they are on the right track.

      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!

      Nope, it’s a consequence of examining it and asking the question “Could we have anything that even remotely resembles ANYTHING like what we think is a morality if it includes the idea that you can hurt someone just because you don’t like them?”. There don’t seem to be any moralities that do that, and it seems for good reason. If you have to accept that idea to attack Utilitarianism, while it’s certainly not invalid for you to bite the bullet and accept that you aren’t going to get very far with a morality that does that, unless you have a VERY good argument for why that works. Which you haven’t provided, probably because you don’t actually believe it yourself [grin].

      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.

      But since those intuitions are pretty much the only empirical evidence we have of any kind of morality at all, if you want to dismiss them it seems that the burden of proof is on you, not on those who are at least consistent with them most of the time.

    7. Coel Post author

      So, for Utilitarianism, you will always calculate utility on the basis of overall pain and pleasure, which is the objective part, …

      But my argument is that you’ll need a utility function (even if it’s just “utility is maximised if you maximise pleasure and minimise pain”), and that choice of utility function is subjective. You can only get to it by the advocacy of a human, based on their preferences and values.

      The subjectivism that objectivists like me worry about are the cases where the proposition “Slavery is morally wrong” depends on what a person or other grouping THINKS is morally right or wrong.

      But that’s not really subjectivism, it’s a bastard mixture of subjectivism and objectivism that makes no sense. It is effectively saying that propositions such as “slavery is morally wrong” do have truth values, but that the truth value is dependent on someone’s opinion. That seems to me to be incoherent.

      In my form of subjectivism, “Slavery is morally wrong” amounts to the speaker declaring “I dislike slavery”. Someone else can, of course, declare “I like slavery”, but there is no more to it than those likes and dislikes.

      You count everyone equally in Utilitarianism because all people are moral units and there is no way to justify treating them unequally.

      There’s no way to justify treating them *equally*, either, except by human advocacy. There’s no way to determine what is a “moral unit” except by the advocacy of whoever it proposing that version of utilitarianism. There are no “defaults” here.

      As to whether that is the correct aggregation to use, right?

      Yes. The method of aggregation is a subjective choice. Just as is who counts as moral units, whether they all count equally, and what utility function to adopt. All of this cannot be established a priori, it all derives from the advocacy of the human advocating utilitarianism. That’s why it rests on subjective foundations.

      “Could we have anything that even remotely resembles ANYTHING like what we think is a morality if it includes the idea that you can hurt someone just because you don’t like them?”. There don’t seem to be any moralities that do that, and it seems for good reason.

      The good reason is that we all have a lot of human nature in common, so the moralities that we advocate all have a lot in common.

    8. verbosestoic

      But that’s not really subjectivism, it’s a bastard mixture of subjectivism and objectivism that makes no sense. It is effectively saying that propositions such as “slavery is morally wrong” do have truth values, but that the truth value is dependent on someone’s opinion. That seems to me to be incoherent.

      Except it isn’t. There is a truth value, for example, to the proposition “I like chocolate ice cream”, but it depends entirely on the subjective state of the person being referred to. Or perhaps a statement like “That hurt!” is better. It has a truth value, but its truth value depends on the internal state of that person; whether the thing hurt or not. So such a thing is not incoherent.

      But this is progress, as since you reject that sort of subjectivism you are boxed into a non-cognitivist approach, insisting that statements like “Slavery is immoral” CANNOT have a truth value. If you say they do, then you have to reject the subjectivist line, and so would have to take the objectivist line there. Thus, for you to maintain your specific subjectivism, it must be a non-cognitivist approach.

      There’s no way to justify treating them *equally*, either, except by human advocacy. There’s no way to determine what is a “moral unit” except by the advocacy of whoever it proposing that version of utilitarianism.

      What do you mean by “human advocacy” here? Utilitarians are defining it that way, and arguing for the definition. They are not merely declaring it because they like it better, and if they felt that their reasons were insufficient and so it was only based on personal preference they’d reject Utilitarianism. Thus, you need to deal with the arguments and not merely talk about a vague “human advocacy”, particularly in light of my other comments that someone may accept that X is the moral thing to do while still refusing to do it because they don’t see it as being in their own self-interest. So wanting something to be moral and believing it to be moral are two different things.

      All of this cannot be established a priori, it all derives from the advocacy of the human advocating utilitarianism. That’s why it rests on subjective foundations.

      Who says? You need the second part to be true before we have any reason to accept that the first part is true, making this a circular argument.

      The good reason is that we all have a lot of human nature in common, so the moralities that we advocate all have a lot in common.

      No, it seems like no morality that did that could achieve any of the things that we use morality to do. It’s not a good reason to think that just because we have some common ideas that things they advocate in common therefore have good reasons to be so. See “sweet tooth”, for example.

    9. Coel Post author

      … as since you reject that sort of subjectivism you are boxed into a non-cognitivist approach, insisting that statements like “Slavery is immoral” CANNOT have a truth value.

      Yes, I think that I am indeed taking a non-cognitivist approach. (Though I’m sure that I’m usually using such philosophical terms wrong. 🙂 ). It depends, though, on what one means by “slavery is immoral”. If by “is immoral” one meant “contrary to an agreed code as to how we treat each other” then “slavery is immoral” *would* have a truth value.

      One of the problems with the whole field of meta-ethics is that the moral realists have still not told the rest of us what “is immoral” is supposed to mean.

      What do you mean by “human advocacy” here? Utilitarians are defining it that way, and arguing for the definition. They are not merely declaring it because they like it better, …

      I submit that that is exactly what they are doing! They arrive at a utilitarian framework based on their own subjective values, then they have a gut feeling that there must be some objective justification for that framework, and so look for post-hoc justifications for it.

      Thus, you need to deal with the arguments and not merely talk about a vague “human advocacy”, …

      Agreed, and I’m happy to examine the arguments, though I’m fairly sure that one cannot arrive at a utilitarian framework from a priori reasoning; at some point you need to add in “moral axioms” and those come from people’s subjective value system.

      … particularly in light of my other comments that someone may accept that X is the moral thing to do while still refusing to do it because they don’t see it as being in their own self-interest.

      I’d be interested to ask such a person what they think they mean by “the moral thing to do” when they say “X is the moral thing to do”.

      It’s not a good reason to think that just because we have some common ideas that things they advocate in common therefore have good reasons to be so.

      You always intepret me as claiming some sort of objective justification (“… have good reasons to be so”). I’m not. The whole point is that there is nothing such. All I was doing was pointing to de facto widespread agreement based on widespread commonality in human nature. I was not saying “therefore it is justified that …”.

    10. verbosestoic

      Yes, I think that I am indeed taking a non-cognitivist approach. (Though I’m sure that I’m usually using such philosophical terms wrong. 🙂 ). It depends, though, on what one means by “slavery is immoral”. If by “is immoral” one meant “contrary to an agreed code as to how we treat each other” then “slavery is immoral” *would* have a truth value.

      Well, if you think that the proposition “Slavery is immoral” has a truth value, regardless of what criteria we use to determine what the truth value is, then you are a cognitivist. Which would mean that, as we agreed, you’d be boxed into an objectivist position, because you consider the subjectivist cognitivist position incoherent. And note that Hume’s emotivist position — that you seem to favour — is indeed non-cognitivist.

      So let’s stop just tossing labels around and get into positions. The subjectivist non-cognitivist position says that moral statements have truth values, but that you can only determine that truth value by referring to a specific group. These, then, generally encompass relativistic theories: the truth of a moral proposition can only be determined relative to the appropriate moral grouping. Individualistic relativistic theories say that that’s relative to the individual, meaning that you have to refer to a specific individual. Thus, the proposition “Slavery is immoral” has a truth value, but since the truth of that is determined by the individual itself, you need to refer to the individual. Thus, “Slavery is immoral” is true if and only if an individual accepts that slavery is immoral. Cultural relativism does the same thing, but the reference is to a culture, not to an individual. Thus, “Slavery is immoral” is true if and only if we are referring to a culture where slavery is considered immoral. And so on.

      Non-cognitivist theories say that asking if those propositions have a truth value is absurd, as they simply don’t have them. Hume’s non-cognitivism, is simply saying that we are expressing an emotional reaction or view of them, which is the “Boo”/”Hooray” theory. We would never say that it is true if we mean it a certain way, because we only EVER mean it, really, as that sort of expression. It’s the same thing as applauding or booing a performer; we aren’t really expressing a true statement like “This performer is good”/”This performer is bad”, but instead are merely expressing our personal reaction to them. And just like arguing from those reactions to a true statement about whether the performer is good or bad is an invalid argument, it is invalid to argue from that to the claim that a moral proposition is true or false. Yes, often people DO that, but it is invalid nonetheless.

      Here’s where I think the confusion is coming in, or at least how I think your position shakes out. I think that you are really a cultural relativist: you think that what is moral is defined by the culture/society someone lives in. This is consistent with what you say above and pretty much how you argue for this. But I also think that you agree with a different argument of Hume’s, which is that values are required for any kind of action, and that values or any kind of motivation require an emotional connection, and thus emotions are important for motivation. How that all shakes out can get complicated, but it’s at least a coherent position. However, you seem to miss that that applies to ALL actions, not merely moral or even normative ones, and so make that an important part of the definition of, well, any normative claim and especially any moral claim. This is what draws you to emotivism, and therefore to consider yourself a expressivist because emotivism is an expressivist claim. This also explains why you try to make all expressivist claims emotivist ones, because as you yourself say all values reduce to emotions. But values aren’t just moral values, and so we want to know what distinguishes moral values from other values. Hume’s move here is about motivations, and so applies to ALL values, including pragmatic ones. If I want to act pragmatically, I’ll need an emotional motivation underneath it, just as I’d need an emotional motivation underneath acting morally. Thus, strongly aligning morality with emotion is not a move you need to make; we can emotionally value and use that as a motivation to act morally without morals being just defined by our moral reactions to them. Again, we can reason ourselves into a moral proposition and that assignment can ITSELF generate the motivating emotion without any contradiction.

      So I think you conflate emotion and morality far too strongly, and in general fit the cultural relativist position better. But if you disagree, we can still use this framework to tease out what your position actually is without having to rely overmuch on labels.

      One of the problems with the whole field of meta-ethics is that the moral realists have still not told the rest of us what “is immoral” is supposed to mean.

      The examinations and the labels that we are talking about are meta-ethics’ attempt to tease out what, in detail, that’s supposed to mean. One of the reasons you keep asking questions like this is, in my opinion, that you don’t have enough knowledge of meta-ethics to see what the various positions imply, including what they problems are. Thus, you ask that like it’s a simple question when if we’ve learned anything from meta-ethics it’s that that’s not a simple question [grin].

      I submit that that is exactly what they are doing! They arrive at a utilitarian framework based on their own subjective values, then they have a gut feeling that there must be some objective justification for that framework, and so look for post-hoc justifications for it.

      Except it is clear that that ISN’T what they are doing, given the empirical results:

      1) Many of them come into, say, introductory ethics courses with no idea or with other ideas of what morality is, and are convinced that Utilitarianism is right by the arguments.

      2) Utilitarianism is actually strongly counter-intuitive in a number of scenarios and yet these results rarely get them to change their position.

      3) If you managed to convince them that their acceptance of Utilitarianism was nothing more than that, they’d abandon Utilitarianism.

      So you really need to stop treating them like this is what they are really doing. It is possible that their arguments cannot be justified any other way, but they are clearly not justifying it consciously that way, and think the arguments work. Thus, going beyond the arguments in any other way to insist that they are really basing it merely on intuitions is not going to make any progress in the debate.

      Agreed, and I’m happy to examine the arguments, though I’m fairly sure that one cannot arrive at a utilitarian framework from a priori reasoning; at some point you need to add in “moral axioms” and those come from people’s subjective value system.

      And this would be the first problem, as you see any “moral axiom” as being subjective, and they don’t. So if they ever introduce one — no matter how they support it — you will then claim that it has to be subjective. As we saw above, it’s easy to argue that your conflation of value and moral axiom is the real cause of the issue, but at a minimum that would have to be settled first before you could insist that they can’t do it a priori. In short, you often jump to dismissing their specific positions on the grounds that the axioms must be subjective when the real debate is over whether they could even possibly be objective.

      I’d be interested to ask such a person what they think they mean by “the moral thing to do” when they say “X is the moral thing to do”.

      I have no clue why you think that there’s some kind of interesting vagueness to explore here, but maybe I can clear this up with specific examples of how someone can choose to act counter to their own moral values, using Utilitarianism as the moral code:

      We have two people, Person A and Person B. Both of them are convinced Utilitarianism accurately describes morality. Both of them are put in a position where they can choose to save the life of either a renowned scientist who is close to a breakthrough that will save thousands of lives, or their spouse. Both accept that Utilitarianism says that the action with the most utility is to save the scientist and not their spouse. A decides to save their spouse, knowing that they are committing an immoral act, but not being able to bear letting their spouse die when they could save them. B decides to save their spouse, because they have decided that they not only do not care to act morally, but wish to deliberately flout morality and act immorally as a way of thumbing their nose at moral expectations. Again, both consider the moral thing to do to be what Utilitarianism says, and yet both deliberately go against that.

      In what sense is this puzzling?

      You always intepret me as claiming some sort of objective justification (“… have good reasons to be so”). I’m not. The whole point is that there is nothing such. All I was doing was pointing to de facto widespread agreement based on widespread commonality in human nature. I was not saying “therefore it is justified that …”.

      Well, since you were talking to me, you should have known or at least assumed that when I said “For good reason” I meant an objective, in this case meaning that it is a conceptual impossibility for something to count as a morality and yet not accept that. You then offered the “commonality” argument as that good reason, which then implies that it would fit into that objective good reason I was looking for. If you didn’t want that implication, you should have said that there IS no such good reason, not offered one [grin].

      Note that since some things that have evolved are now counter-productive — see the sweet tooth — it is even possible to demand a good reason like I did in the quote for an evolved sensibility, so if you accept evolution you have to accept that my demand is still reasonable: how do we know that we still have a good reason to act on that sensibility? It might now be maladaptive.

    11. Coel Post author

      I think that you are really a cultural relativist: you think that what is moral is defined by the culture/society someone lives in.

      Here’s my best attempt to explain my position using your explanation of the terms.

      1) The claim “slavery is wrong” does indeed have a truth value by reference to a particular moral framework or code. Thus, “according to Western moral codes, slavery is immoral” has a truth value. The sentence “according to Western moral codes, slavery is immoral” is a *descriptive* statement about Western moral codes.

      2) Most people are intuitive moral realists. Thus, when a Westerner says: “Slavery is immoral” they are intending to say that it is not just immoral “according to Western moral codes”, but that it is immoral in an objective sense.

      3) But, in thinking that, people are making an error. There is no such thing as “immoral in an objective sense”. “Immoral” is a value judgement and one cannot have a value without a valuer (that is a simple category error). Thus, to my mind, “slavery is immoral” does not have a truth value — in the shortened form its meaning is too unclear to have a truth value — though the longer form “according to Western moral codes, slavery is immoral” does have a truth value.

      Thus I would say that the superficial purport of the language is cognitivist (it *attempts* to make objective moral claims with truth values), but that this is an error [I thus hold to “error theory” about morals].

      4) So where do the moral codes come from? They are reports of people’s value systems. Thus what people are *actually* doing when they “slavery is immoral” is expressing their value judgement, and effectively saying: “I abhor slavery”. This latter is pretty much emotivism.

      So, attempting to put on labels:

      People saying “slavery is wrong” are purporting to make an objective moral claim with a truth value [the phrase *purports* to be cognitivist]. And if interpreted as meaning: “slavery is against my value system” then it *is* indeed cognitivist. But, the claim of objectivity is an error [error theory]. Thus “slavery is wrong” does not have a truth value [non-cognitivism]. The *underlying* meaning is a report of one’s emotional dislike of slavery [emotivism].

      So this is both cognitivist and non-cognitivist, depending on exactly what phrase one is talking about, where the disjoint between the two is the error that error-theory points to, and where the underlying meaning is emotivist.

      How does that sound to you? Am I misusing terms in the above?

    12. verbosestoic

      So this is both cognitivist and non-cognitivist, depending on exactly what phrase one is talking about, where the disjoint between the two is the error that error-theory points to, and where the underlying meaning is emotivist.
      How does that sound to you? Am I misusing terms in the above?

      Well, yes, so much so that you seem to be holding utterly incompatible positions and I can’t make heads or tails out of what you really think.

      So let me break it down for you with two related questions:

      1) When you use the phrase “X is immoral” what do you mean by it? What do you want me to take away from that and how do you want me to interpret it?

      2) What is the right way to view or use the phrase “X is immoral”? What OUGHT we mean when we use the phrase?

      In meta-ethics, that’s what we’re after: the right way to conceptualize morality. By mixing in so many diverse concepts, you end up with something that is conceptually contradictory, making it incredibly confusing. I’m not interested in what people other than you DO mean when they say that, but what you think they OUGHT to mean, if anything, and that should be consistent with what you mean when you say it if you are not inconsistent. So without using the terms, tell me what you mean by it. That should help clear everything up.

    13. Coel Post author

      When you use the phrase “X is immoral” what do you mean by it?

      I mean by it: “I dislike X”. (In some contexts I might mean: “I dislike X AND I consider that X violates accepted societal norms”.)

      What is the right way to view or use the phrase “X is immoral”? What OUGHT we mean when we use the phrase?

      As above, “X is immoral” indicates that the speaker dislikes X (and, again, in some contexts it could also indicate that the speaker also considers that X violates accepted societal norms).

      Edit: “I dislike X AND I consider that X violates accepted societal norms” could also be phrased: “I dislike X and consider that most people also dislike X”.

    14. verbosestoic

      I intend to get back to the other posts — including the ones on rights that I skipped the last time — but I want to get something out on this first so that it might help clear things up or move things along better.

      What you say is fine, but it is a bit like saying “Humans evolved from apes”. It’s a not-unreasonable summary, but a lot more needs to be fleshed out before we can understand what it all means.

      So, on this, I would say that I dislike raspberries, rap music, and walking in the rain so that I get wet. However, I wouldn’t consider any of these MORAL dislikes, and neither would pretty much anyone else. And the same thing applies to accepted societal norms. If you’ve read my essay on my blog “Fearlessly Amoral”, you’d know that we generally have a moral/conventional distinction, where we distinguish between moral maxims and conventional ones despite the fact that both of them might be accepted norms. In fact, it seems the reason that psychopaths do not act in a way we consider moral while autistics do is related to how psychopaths cannot make that distinction while autistics can. So, again, there seems to be a difference between something like a rule of etiquette — which fork should I use to eat my salad, for example — and a moral rule.

      For you, do these distinctions exist? If they do, how do you determine the difference? Note that “moral rules are more important” isn’t going to work as an answer here, because while we might align on which are more or less important, for most people the reason we consider the moral maxims more important is BECAUSE they are considered moral maxims. Since you’d need to describe the moral in terms of those being independently important, you’d need to show why we should consider those maxims more important without being able to say that it is because they are moral, or else your argument would be circular.

    15. Coel Post author

      For you, do these distinctions exist? If they do, how do you determine the difference?

      Yes, those distinctions do exist for me. But, given my anti-realist stance, there is no “fact of the matter” about what is a “moral” rule versus what is merely an agreed convention. Whether someone (or people in general) puts something in the “moral” category is itself largely a societal convention.

      The underlying concept of morality is about ways in which humans treat others humans, that advantage or disadvantage them. So acts of that sort tend to be regarded as in the “moral “category.

      But that’s not all there is to it. For example, some would put teenage masturbation in the “immoral” category, those mostly these days we think that’s silly. That illustrates that people will disagree on which acts are “morally” salient.

      Coming back to my point that most people are intuitive moral realists (though erroneously so in my eyes), I suggest that people put an act in the “moral” category if they think that it is *objectively* right or wrong (as opposed to mere conventions, such as driving on the left or on the right, where either would work as well; and as opposed to things like whether marmite tastes nice, over which people are happy to differ).

      Since their moral realism is (as I see it) an error, their judgements of what goes in the “moral” category would then be their own construct (and again there would be no fact of the matter).

    16. verbosestoic

      The important question here, though, is how to YOU determine what goes into what category? Same as before, the point is to suss out what your view is, not what you think the view of others is, especially if you think them wrong.

    17. Coel Post author

      The important question here, though, is how to YOU determine what goes into what category?

      Oh, ok. In that case, I’d put something in the “moral/immoral” category when people are being treated well in ways that I approve of, or are being harmed in ways that I disapprove of.

    18. verbosestoic

      So, after all of this, let me try to outline what I think is your view in a way that aligns with the philosophical terms and is consistent with both what you say and what the terms mean.

      I think that you’re a cognitivist. The reason, ironically enough, is that when you try to decide whether something is moral or, for lack of a better term, “conventional”, you a) have a distinction that b) is based on reasons that are c) propositional. In short, you think that being moral relates to how people are treated, whether in good ways or whether it causes them harm. This, then, means that you can give reasons for every determination you make — including whether it is moral or immoral — and those reasons mean that to you the statements always have a truth value. For non-cognitivist views, reasons don’t really apply, and it makes no sense to appeal to them. “Just ’cause” is not only a valid move, but the only one ALLOWED for non-cognitivist views. You at least allow for moral pronouncements to be based on reasons, and in fact generally insist on it.

      So, now we can turn to objectivism vs subjectivism. In general, despite the issues raised earlier, you do seem to be subjectivist. You allow for reasons, but those reasons are always constrained with “For you”. To turn it back to my comments long ago about the two types of objective vs subjective, you don’t really claim that someone CAN’T justify their morality to anyone else, but instead say that they don’t HAVE to justify their morality to anyone else. Yes, you use the PHRASING a lot, but in general you’d don’t use that to indicate that doing so is nonsensical, but instead use that to indicate that it is pointless: unless you can give reasons that apply that that specific person — eg they happen to have the same values as you — then it’s not going to matter to them. At all.

      I don’t think you’re an emotivist because your reasons never actually apply to or utilize emotions in any significant way at all. I think you got confused with Hume’s “Boo/Hooray!” theory and thought that your subjective view — that it’s based on what you like or dislike — implied that as well. You also — and I think this is the result of that as well — are conflating values with emotions and insisting that therefore it’s all emotional, but that’s not the level we’re talking about here. Additionally, we tend to feel emotional about our values but as I’ve said a number of times we can have and act on values without any strong emotional reaction, and weak passions (as per Hume) aren’t sufficient to make a position emotivist. In this discussion, I see no place where emotivism would make a difference in my understanding of your position, or in how you generally use it.

      So, that’s my take. Feel free to disagree or point out things you think I’ve missed (also feel free to agree, of course [grin]). But I think this is consistent and pretty much captures everything that seems important to you about morality.

    19. Coel Post author

      Well this is an interesting take! You seem to be saying that I’m not a non-cognitivist because, while I think the superficial moral-realist purport of moral language is an error, I do ascribe cognitivst status to the underlying meaning of moral language.

      Thus, “I dislike murder” is clearly cognitivist. But does that make me a congitivist? When you say:

      For non-cognitivist views, reasons don’t really apply, and it makes no sense to appeal to them. “Just ’cause” is not only a valid move, but the only one ALLOWED for non-cognitivist views.

      … you seem to me to be making non-cognitivism and emotivism into something that can have no sensible content at all. You’re allowing those views only the rawest of emoting — a toddler throwing a tantrum and saying “because!”.

      If one gives any account beyond that of why humans use moral language or what they might mean by that, then you’re suggesting it no longer counts as emotivism. But has any non-cognitivist or emotivist really proposed anything so crude?

      The wiki page gives what to me seems a clear intro to non-cognitivism:

      “Non-cognitivism is the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences do not express propositions (i.e., statements) and thus cannot be true or false (they are not truth-apt). A noncognitivist denies the cognitivist claim that “moral judgments are capable of being objectively true, because they describe some feature of the world”.[1] If moral statements cannot be true, and if one cannot know something that is not true, noncognitivism implies that moral knowledge is impossible.[1]

      Non-cognitivism entails that non-cognitive attitudes underlie moral discourse and this discourse therefore consists of non-declarative speech acts, although accepting that its surface features may consistently and efficiently work as if moral discourse were cognitive. The point of interpreting moral claims as non-declarative speech acts is to explain what moral claims mean if they are neither true nor false (as philosophies such as logical positivism entail). Utterances like “Boo to killing!” and “Don’t kill” are not candidates for truth or falsity, but have non-cognitive meaning.”

      That seems spot on to me, and pretty much summarises my position. So am I really actually a cognitivist?

    20. verbosestoic

      That seems spot on to me, and pretty much summarises my position. So am I really actually a cognitivist?

      Yes, because you violate the main criteria for a non-cognitivist stance, because the moral statements you make are propositions and have a truth value, as I demonstrated.

      I’m not talking about statements like “I dislike murder”. That’s a statement that would be true for most objectivists as well. In order for that statement to make you an emotivist, it has to be that what it means for a statement to be moral is JUST that. Yes, there’s more to it than that — that’s the equivalent of “Humans evolved from apes” — as I pointed out when I talked about linking these things to specific moral emotions — but at the end of the day that’s what the meaning of any moral statement boils down to.

      This is not true for you. For you, what it means for a position to be moral relates directly to how people are treated. For something to be moral, it means that people are being treated well, and for something to be immoral, it means that people are being treated poorly. This clearly has cognitive content, clearly makes them propositions, and clearly gives them truth values. By this, your view seems cognitivist, and there’s nothing in what you’ve told me to suggest otherwise.

      So now it’s on you: what do you think is missing in a subjectivist cognitivist account, that it can’t reflect what you really believe? What do you need or think fundamentally true that a subjectivist cognitivist approach can’t accommodate?

      … you seem to me to be making non-cognitivism and emotivism into something that can have no sensible content at all. You’re allowing those views only the rawest of emoting — a toddler throwing a tantrum and saying “because!”.

      This reflects a very impoverished idea of emotions, as you refuse to distinguish between anger as tantrum and anger as, say, righteous indignation. Thus, the views are indeed far less crude than you understand, which only indicates that you don’t really understand the view you purport to hold.

      Note that even in non-cognitivist or emotivist views we can find regularities and the like. But those regularities can’t be used as arguments to justify the moral position taken. As an example, imagine someone doesn’t like a particular food because they find it too spicy. If you measured the spice in a food that they like and note that it had more of that spice, that would not justify them changing their position to liking it, or even that they no longer think it’s too spicy. The same thing would apply to righteous anger, for example. Someone can find traits that they can apply to the things that make them feel righteous anger, but arguments that another case that bothers them less are worse wrt that trait are meaningless to non-cognitivists.

      If you find this position untenable, then that’s only further evidence that you aren’t an emotivist.

    21. Coel Post author

      Yes, because you violate the main criteria for a non-cognitivist stance, because the moral statements you make are propositions and have a truth value, as I demonstrated.

      But if I’m expressing *my* ideas about what is or is not moral, then other people will disagree, and that’s why the raw statements (“sex before marriage is immoral”) are non-cognitivist — there is no truth value to that statement.

      In order for that statement to make you an emotivist, it has to be that what it means for a statement to be moral is JUST that.

      But surely an emotivist would deny that there is any fact of that matter as to what “is moral”? Therefore they would not discuss what it means for something “to be moral”.

      For you, what it means for a position to be moral relates directly to how people are treated.

      To me there is no such thing as “what it means for a position to be moral”, unless we’re asking about that I like and dislike (and to which I might apply moral labeling). But if we’re doing the latter then other people will differ, which is why such statements (“X is immoral”) are non-cognitivist.

      If you find this position untenable, …

      I find the arguments in that paragraph entirely tenable. In essence they are an appeal to some sort of objective ranking (“if you find A bad then you should find B worse”), and to me there is no such ranking.

    22. verbosestoic

      I’m going to shuffle things around a bit to make the arguments flow better.

      To me there is no such thing as “what it means for a position to be moral”, unless we’re asking about that I like and dislike (and to which I might apply moral labeling).

      Except this is flat-out false, because I specifically asked you what it meant for a position to be moral — ie for it to be a position that relates to morality — and you specifically replied that it was about how people are treated, with people being treated well meaning that it was moral and with people being treated poorly meaning that it was immoral. That position has a truth value, and certainly isn’t “I like it/I don’t like it”. So that doesn’t seem like that’s the case for you, by your own words. At the very least, at least ONE of the things you’ve said that characterizes your position can’t do so.

      This is why the question I asked and you mostly ignored is so important: what is it that you think a subjective cognitivist position won’t let you say that a non-cognitivist position won’t? I’m not asking you to try to align your thinking to definitions — since I think you’re applying the definitions incorrectly — but to instead talk about what functionality or true statements can’t be expressed by cognitivism that makes you think that we need non-cognitivism. And again I’m not asking for what other people do or for you to attempt to characterize how they approach morality, but instead to simply talk about how YOU do it, and what you think is the right way to do so.

      But if I’m expressing *my* ideas about what is or is not moral, then other people will disagree, and that’s why the raw statements (“sex before marriage is immoral”) are non-cognitivist — there is no truth value to that statement.

      Like your focus on like/dislike, this simplification ends up missing the point. As I said in the last comment — and you ignored — even objectivists can truthfully, in general, say that they like moral things and dislike immoral things. Here, again, all of the categories can have disagreement, but what matters is what it means when people disagree.

      For objective cognitivists, it means that at least one of them is wrong, and they need to figure out what the right answer is. This is because they think there’s a global right answer to those questions.

      For subjective cognitivists, there is no global right answer. But there IS a right answer for each of them. So if they want to convince the other person to change their mind, they have to look at their beliefs and desires and use them to convince them. Taking your example, is I wanted to convince you to change your mind that something is moral that you thought immoral what I’d have to do is convince you that despite your determination that it treats people poorly by your own standards it actually treats people well. What I COULDN’T do is appeal to a global standard of morality, or use MY definition to convince you. Those are both irrelevant in a subjective cognitivist model.

      In a non-cognitivist position, there isn’t really disagreement, because non-cognitive positions aren’t justified by reasons (that’s why they have no truth value). All a person is doing is expressing their position, but it’s not a reasoned position in any way. So if someone says “I like chocolate” and someone else says “I don’t like chocolate”, there’s really no disagreement there. The first person likes it and the second person doesn’t, and that’s all there is. Obviously, the first person giving all the reasons they have for liking chocolate are irrelevant to the second person’s position, and there’s no consistent set of reasons that the second person has that can be appealed to to get them to change their mind.

      To be complete — and since you seem to have mischaracterized this view as well — Error Theory would say that there’s no such thing as disagreement because the statements don’t actually have any meaning, even though we think they do. That’s the hallmark of that position: when we examine moral statements, they are either meaningless, logically incoherent, or both. The error is not making a mistake about what is moral, but is in fact that we erroneously think they are meaningful when they aren’t.

      So saying that there is disagreement doesn’t mean the statements don’t have a truth value — and in general since disagreement relies on saying “X is not true/false” tends to imply that there IS a truth value –and so talking about disagreement does not in any way support the idea that any moral position — even yours — is non-cognitivist.

      But surely an emotivist would deny that there is any fact of that matter as to what “is moral”? Therefore they would not discuss what it means for something “to be moral”.

      Since the statement “X is immoral” still has to have meaning to a non-cognitivist, they still have to distinguish between statements that are about morals and statements that aren’t. For emotivists, that means attaching the statements to moral emotions, meaning that when they say “X is immoral” what they mean is that “X causes a negative moral emotion in me”. There is no objective fact that justifies this, or any chain of reasoning — even one that relies entirely on their subjective assessment — that they use to derive that emotion. That’s why they aren’t cognitivists but aren’t Error Theorists: moral statements have a meaning, but aren’t propositions and so aren’t the result of nor are amenable to reasoning (because logic manipulates and produces truth values, which they deny moral statements have).

      I find the arguments in that paragraph entirely tenable. In essence they are an appeal to some sort of objective ranking (“if you find A bad then you should find B worse”), and to me there is no such ranking.

      Except the statements in that paragraph are merely providing more examples of the position that you pretty much implied was making a strawman out of the non-cognitivist position. That you reacted that strongly immediately suggests that you don’t really hold that position.

      Also, you should note that there not being an objective ranking of those things would ALSO apply to all subjective cognitivist positions, by definition. So if that’s the big thing driving your non-cognitivism, it turns out that a subjective cognitivism would work at least as well on that point.

    23. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      Reading this reply, I have a better understanding of what you mean by “subjective cognitivism”. So let me respond to that as the main issue:

      For objective cognitivists, it means that at least one of them is wrong, and they need to figure out what the right answer is. This is because they think there’s a global right answer to those questions. For subjective cognitivists, there is no global right answer. But there IS a right answer for each of them. So if they want to convince the other person to change their mind, they have to look at their beliefs and desires and use them to convince them.

      So, for an objective cognitivist the “right answer” is the one that is right independent of any human opinion. For a subjective cognitivist the “right answer” is one that is in line with their own values and desires?

      While I may be wrong, I would not call the latter “cognitivist”. Let’s presume that Peter’s values are incompatible with slavery. Then the statements: “Slavery is morally wrong within Peter’s value system”, and “Peter holds slavery to be morally wrong” and “Peter would prefer that we didn’t allow slavery” would all be cognitivist.

      But that still does not make the bald statements: “slavery is morally wrong” or “you ought not hold slaves” cognitivist. *Those* statements don’t have truth values. They do have truth values given Peter’s value system” but that’s not the same as them having truth values, since “Given Peter’s value system slavery is morally wrong” is a very different statement from “slavery is morally wrong”.

      Wiki says: “A noncognitivist denies the cognitivist claim that “moral judgments are capable of being objectively true, because they describe some feature of the world”.

      The claim “slavery is morally wrong” is a moral judgement, and is normative, and cannot be *objectively* true or false, and so is non-cognitivist.

      The statement: “Given Peter’s value system slavery is morally wrong” is indeed objectively true and cognitivist, but it is a descriptive statement and not a “moral judgement”. (E.g. “Within Hitler’s value system killing Jews was morally virtuous” is not approval nor a judgement, it’s mere description).

      The Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy says: “In other words, non-cognitivism claims that the principal feature of normative sentences (their lacking of truth values) is a consequence of the illocutionary role of such sentences. In fact, these sentences are not bearing any cognitive meaning (such as assertions or descriptions), but they are just used to utter prescriptions”.

      That seems in line with how I’m using the terms. The *descriptive* statements have truth values, but the normative ones do not (they all depend on someone’s advocacy), and truth values for *normative* statements seem to be required for cognitivism.

      In a non-cognitivist position, there isn’t really disagreement, because non-cognitive positions aren’t justified by reasons (that’s why they have no truth value).

      It seems to me that you’re constructing a straw-man version of non-cognitivism and of emotivism. I’d say that you can seek to persuade a non-cognitivist in the way you’ve just described: “what I’d have to do is convince you that despite your determination that it treats people poorly by your own standards it actually treats people well”. Nothing about non-cognitivism requires that one’s own value system be irrelevant or arbitrary or inconsistent. And nothing prevents appeals to values to try to persuade one another.

      That’s the hallmark of that position [error theory]: when we examine moral statements, they are either meaningless, logically incoherent, or both. The error is not making a mistake about what is moral, but is in fact that we erroneously think they are meaningful when they aren’t.

      As I see it, the “error” is in thinking that normative statements of the form “slavery is morally wrong” have objective standing and are cognitivist, when actually only descriptive statements of the form “Given Peter’s value system slavery is morally wrong” are so.

      Since the statement “X is immoral” still has to have meaning to a non-cognitivist, they still have to distinguish between statements that are about morals and statements that aren’t.

      I don’t see that that follows. If the meaning of “X is immoral” is “I disapprove of X” coupled with “X is the sort of thing about which I use moral language” then one doesn’t need there to be a fact of the matter as to what things are in the category “moral”. The “sort of thing about which I use moral language” could be arbitrary and inconsistent and different from person to person — and will be if such language is largely rhetorical.

      So if that’s the big thing driving your non-cognitivism, it turns out that a subjective cognitivism would work at least as well on that point.

      I’d be happier about what you’re calling “subjective cognitivism” if I were convinced it was a proper use of the terms!

    24. verbosestoic

      Sorry for the late reply, as I’m getting into “hurry up and wait” mode at work, which isn’t conducive to writing thoughtful comments. I’ll try to dribble the comments out over the next few days.

      Reading this reply, I have a better understanding of what you mean by “subjective cognitivism”.

      Let me add something that might make it clearer: when you see “subjective cognitivism” you can probably replace it with “relativism” without losing too much. Which then will change my question to you to be “What’s missing from cultural/personal relativism that you feel you need emotivism?”. Relativism explicitly says that moral truths can only be defined by making reference to some kind of sub-division, which can be the individual or the society itself, and is not an objectivist theory. So why doesn’t it work for you?

      But that still does not make the bald statements: “slavery is morally wrong” or “you ought not hold slaves” cognitivist. *Those* statements don’t have truth values. They do have truth values given Peter’s value system” but that’s not the same as them having truth values, since “Given Peter’s value system slavery is morally wrong” is a very different statement from “slavery is morally wrong”.

      If the statement “X is morally wrong” always has to be evaluated against what a specific person or group defines morality to be, why can’t that statement have a truth value? We have individually specific truths all the time.

      Wiki says: “A noncognitivist denies the cognitivist claim that “moral judgments are capable of being objectively true, because they describe some feature of the world”.

      The problem is that both relativists AND objectivist non-realists — hello! — ALSO deny that objective claim. Relativists because they claim it isn’t objective and non-realists because they don’t think it has to apply to any real feature or object in the world. That wouldn’t mean that they aren’t cognitivists, at least in the sense that they would deny that the statements have a truth value.

      The Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy says: “In other words, non-cognitivism claims that the principal feature of normative sentences (their lacking of truth values) is a consequence of the illocutionary role of such sentences. In fact, these sentences are not bearing any cognitive meaning (such as assertions or descriptions), but they are just used to utter prescriptions”.

      I was going to comment on how bad that article was, but it’s probably not worth taking the time to do so (in general, the author argues for their position instead of describing it, making what he says there somewhat suspicious). At any rate, the issue here is that there is a vanishingly small number of objective cognitivists who would accept his contention that if it is objective then it can only be descriptive. Almost all if not all of them would insist that moral statements are prescriptive, and then of course claim that prescriptive statements can have truth values. His statement about illocutionary role doesn’t help because while some illocutionary statements clearly don’t have truth values — commands and interrogatives, for example — that doesn’t mean that prescriptives don’t have truth values. And, in fact, it’s entirely possible to argue that any “ought” statement HAS to have a truth value, because we can always ask if it is true that that person really OUGHT to do that. So, if we say “X ought to do Y”, then it is always possible to say that that statement is false, and that X at least is not obligated to do Y. Thus, if a statement is going to be properly prescriptive it has to have a truth value, which would demolish his entire argument here.

      So that argument doesn’t seem to work, and certainly doesn’t work as a definitional statement as you seem to be using it here.

      That seems in line with how I’m using the terms. The *descriptive* statements have truth values, but the normative ones do not (they all depend on someone’s advocacy), and truth values for *normative* statements seem to be required for cognitivism.

      That they depend on someone accepting them as true makes them relativist, not necessarily non-cognitivist.

      I’d say that you can seek to persuade a non-cognitivist in the way you’ve just described: “what I’d have to do is convince you that despite your determination that it treats people poorly by your own standards it actually treats people well”. Nothing about non-cognitivism requires that one’s own value system be irrelevant or arbitrary or inconsistent. And nothing prevents appeals to values to try to persuade one another.

      This would run into the problem of “moral dumbfounding”, which is one of the biggest sources of empirical evidence for emotivism: where even when all of your reasons for considering the statement “X is immoral” are proven false, you maintain that it is nonetheless. This is the stance Prinz took in his book “The Emotional Construction of Morals” (although I think he claimed to be more relativist than non-cognitivist, but I don’t think non-cognitivism was that popular then). If I can easily reason someone out of their believe that X is moral or immoral, what role does emotion have at all? Essentially, I’d be arguing that “X is immoral”, say, is false and they’d be accepting that, no? Or how else can it work?

      As I see it, the “error” is in thinking that normative statements of the form “slavery is morally wrong” have objective standing and are cognitivist, when actually only descriptive statements of the form “Given Peter’s value system slavery is morally wrong” are so.

      That’s not error theory, though. Again, claiming that people are making an error is not sufficient to claim that your view is an error theory [grin].

      I don’t see that that follows. If the meaning of “X is immoral” is “I disapprove of X” coupled with “X is the sort of thing about which I use moral language” then one doesn’t need there to be a fact of the matter as to what things are in the category “moral”.

      First, they’d need to be able to define what counts as moral language, and second what they did here would indeed be the means they use to distinguish the moral from the immoral or amoral, which would then result in them answering that challenge. It would be a bit odd to insist that you don’t need to answer the challenge by demonstrating that you’ve answered it [grin].

      The “sort of thing about which I use moral language” could be arbitrary and inconsistent and different from person to person — and will be if such language is largely rhetorical.

      Or also if it is largely relativist, especially personal relativist. And the more arbitrary and inconsistent it is the less likely it will be to be able to convince them otherwise using arguments, so the more it has these features the less your persuasion example will make sense, which then shows the distinction between cognitivist and non-cognitivist approaches (relativistic cognitivist approaches CAN be inconsistent, but that’s pretty much the hallmark of non-cognitivist ones).

    25. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose, I’m finally getting round to replying:

      Relativism explicitly says that moral truths can only be defined by making reference to some kind of sub-division, which can be the individual or the society itself, and is not an objectivist theory. So why doesn’t it work for you?

      That, to me, is a very confusing way to use terms. As I see it, “X is morally wrong” has a truth value if and only if that truth value is fixed and independent of everything else, including human opinion.

      Thus, the sentence: “within Fred’s moral system, X is morally wrong” has a truth value. The sentence “X is morally wrong” does not.

      If the statement “X is morally wrong” always has to be evaluated against what a specific person or group defines morality to be, why can’t that statement have a truth value?

      Because that is not what I understand “having a truth value” to mean.

      We have individually specific truths all the time.

      Yes, but they then only have truth values in the specific case, not the general case. Thus “it snowed in London on Jan 3rd 1985” has a truth value. But “it snowed in London” could be either true or false depending when one is talking about.

      If I can easily reason someone out of their believe that X is moral or immoral, what role does emotion have at all?

      Facts and reason can affect how people feel about things, so just because moral judgements are effectively emotional ones doesn’t mean they can’t be altered by facts and reason.

      First, they’d need to be able to define what counts as moral language, …

      Why can’t it just be a widespread agreement? Thus, what “counts as moral language” has no fixed and precise definition, but humans do generally (but not always) agree on what comes into that category?

      In the same way, we don’t need a clear-cut definition of the concept “art”, we can just all agree, to a large extent (but not completely) about what things we regard as “art”.

      And the more arbitrary and inconsistent it is the less likely it will be to be able to convince them otherwise using arguments, …

      Whether or not we can use moral talk to persuade people is a very different question from what morality actually is. Most people (I assert) are under grave misapprehensions about what morality is. Thus, what they find persuasive will not be a good guide to the underlying reality about what morality actually is.

    26. verbosestoic

      Thus, the sentence: “within Fred’s moral system, X is morally wrong” has a truth value. The sentence “X is morally wrong” does not.

      This starts to get into semantical nitpicking, though, because to the relativist what is meant by “X is immoral” just is “Within Fred’s (or a culture’s) moral system, X is prohibited (avoiding the circularity)”. This is the same move you make when you say that what we mean by moral really is … whatever you think it means, because to be honest I STILL don’t know what you mean by that [grin]. So if you admit that that statement has a truth value, and that’s what they say the statement “X is immoral” really is, then their statement has a truth value. But it’s not an objective one because it only applies relative to a specific grouping, and isn’t a universal moral statement like moral objectivists demand.

      It also sounds an awful lot like what you argue when you try to say what morality really is. So, again, why doesn’t it work for you?

      Yes, but they then only have truth values in the specific case, not the general case. Thus “it snowed in London on Jan 3rd 1985” has a truth value. But “it snowed in London” could be either true or false depending when one is talking about.

      Sure, but it definitely HAS a truth value, and is absolutely a proposition. It’s just that we have to appeal to something specific to interpret it (we have to deambiguate it). Thus, any position that can be explained that way can’t be non-cognitivist. So, again, at what point do you feel that non-cognitivism is required to explain something?

      Facts and reason can affect how people feel about things, so just because moral judgements are effectively emotional ones doesn’t mean they can’t be altered by facts and reason.

      While that might be true, we don’t TYPICALLY reason people out of emotional reactions, and for your statement to hold here it would have to be the typical case. The typical case is that we use emotional appeals to change emotions, and rational appeals to change reasoned beliefs. Even by your reasoning here, you advocate using reason instead of emotion most of the time. That seems to imply that our moral beliefs are reasoned instead of emotional.

      So, to summarize, if in order to work with moral beliefs we have to or are supposed to treat them like reasoned beliefs (and, in general, even objective ones) how does that not give the advantage to the side that says that the reason we have to do that is because that’s what they really are?

      Why can’t it just be a widespread agreement? Thus, what “counts as moral language” has no fixed and precise definition, but humans do generally (but not always) agree on what comes into that category?

      Two problems here:

      1) This is incompatible with both philosophy and science, who would both insist that if we have that sort of widespread agreement there must be properties that we can discover that determine what that agreement is based on, and that using those properties we can filter out even agreed upon examples of moral language and say that people are in error when they say that this is an example of moral language. Think “gold vs fool’s gold”, for example. And since you think that most moral language is in error, you can’t even argue against this without causing massive problems for your own position.

      2) You ignored the, more important, second part of that comment, which said that whatever line they used to distinguish moral language from non-moral language would count as that sort of distinction. If you even have a widespread agreement to appeal to, we can still tell the difference, and that would be a fact of the matter about what makes something moral vs not making it moral. In short, just by positing a distinction between moral and non-moral language immediately means that there is a difference between the two and a way, no matter how loose, to determine that difference. Again, you’d be trying to refute the idea that there is such a distinction by providing the details of that distinction, which will never work [grin].

      In the same way, we don’t need a clear-cut definition of the concept “art”, we can just all agree, to a large extent (but not completely) about what things we regard as “art”.

      Bad example, as not only is determining this definition the basis of an entire field of philosophy — see my essay on “Is Art Necessarily Aesthetic?” — but it does seem like there is an objective, if blurry, distinguishing line between the two.

      Whether or not we can use moral talk to persuade people is a very different question from what morality actually is.

      You ignored the main point: that relativistic views can be inconsistent as well, but the more inconsistent and arbitrary it is the less likely it is that reasoning, your preferred method, will work. The more non-cognitivist a view is, the less likely rational persuasion will work. Thus cycling back to the same question: why do you insist on non-cognitvism when relativism seems to give you everything you want and avoids the problems you keep running into, by going strongly against intuitions and even the empirical experience of how we go about using or dealing with morality?

      Also, since you dropped this line, do you accept the idea that any prescriptive statement MUST have a truth value? Because if you do, then if you’re a non-cognitivst you’d have to deny that your moral statements are actually prescriptive. I’m not sure what impact that would have on your view, but it’s an important thing to consider when talking about morality.

    27. Coel Post author

      because to be honest I STILL don’t know what you mean by that …

      To me the label “moral” denotes approval or favourable feelings, similar to the words “delicious” or “beautiful”. The label “immoral” is like “ugly” or “disgusting”.

      It also sounds an awful lot like what you argue when you try to say what morality really is. So, again, why doesn’t it work for you?

      As you’ve stated it I would agree, yes, that’s right. It’s not how I would phrase it though. E.g.:

      and that’s what they say the statement “X is immoral” really is, then their statement has a truth value.

      To me the statements “X is immoral” and “Given Fred’s moral code, X is immoral” are very different. You say that the latter is what the relativist means by the former. But to me the former seems to imply that X is immoral regardless of what Fred thinks. As you say, this might be merely a semantical difference, but I’d prefer to state that the latter has a truth value but the former does not.

      To justify that, take the additional fact that “Given Sue’s moral code, X is not immoral”. Then “X is immoral” has two truth values, and the truth value changes from Sue to Fred. That’s incompatible with what I take “truth value” to mean, which requires that a given sentence (“X is immoral”) has one and only one truth value and that the truth value is independent of everything else, everything other than the sentence itself.

      I also dislike the term “moral relativism” for all sorts of connotations that it sometimes takes. These include the notions that such moral claims are “valid” (what’s that supposed to mean?), that one cannot or should not criticise one moral system using another one (why not?), and that such “relative” moral codes carry normative force (that begs the whole question).

      I think it much clearer to say that moral claims (e.g. “X is immoral”) do not have truth values, since they all derive from people’s values, and that people’s values are subjective.

      Sure, but it definitely HAS a truth value, and is absolutely a proposition. It’s just that we have to appeal to something specific to interpret it (we have to deambiguate it).

      So the disambiguated claim has a truth value, but the vaguer claim does not, since it needs an “interpretation”, and only the disambiguated claim is specific enough to have a truth value. If one can disambiguate it in different ways such that the truth of it would be different, then it itself does not have a truth value.

      The typical case is that we use emotional appeals to change emotions, and rational appeals to change reasoned beliefs.

      I’d suggest that the typical case is that we use a mixture of both in both cases. Especially given how prone people are to cognitive biases.

      1) This is incompatible with both philosophy and science, who would both insist that if we have that sort of widespread agreement there must be properties that we can discover that determine what that agreement is based on, …

      First response. Hundreds of millions of English-language speakers can agree on what certain phonemes mean even though those phonemes are arbitrary and have status only by collective agreement. (Agreement which changes over time.)

      Second response, people have a lot in common and much of human nature is shared in all of us. Thus the fact that we can reach widespread agreement doesn’t necessarily mean there is an objective property that we are all referring to. All it means is that in many ways we think alike.

      If you even have a widespread agreement to appeal to, we can still tell the difference, and that would be a fact of the matter about what makes something moral vs not making it moral.

      But while we have a widespread agreement it is not full agreement. There are plenty of things where we cannot agree on whether something is or is not in the “moral” category. Examples are gay sex, premarital sex, teenage masturbation, blasphemy, heresy, and lots of other things. The proper manners of children and how they act towards adults is, for example, something that has changed radically since Victorian England. Treatment of slaves, blacks, women, etc have also changed radically.

      All of this suggests that there is no fact of the matter as to whether something is or is not a “moral” issue.

      Bad example, as not only is determining this definition the basis of an entire field of philosophy …

      An entire field of philosophy that attempt to discern the fact of the matter when there is no fact of the matter to discern! Yes, it was a provocative example, but I’m not convinced that that quest is well conceived; indeed as a rule of thumb, if an area of philosophy tries for ages to do something and doesn’t succeed then maybe they are conceptualising the issue wrong.

      … but it does seem like there is an objective, if blurry, distinguishing line between the two.

      If that’s an appeal to intuition then, as usual, I’ll place less weight on it than you do. Humans do seem to have a cognitive bias to making “realist” interpretation when it is not appropriate.

      Thus cycling back to the same question: why do you insist on non-cognitvism when relativism seems to give you everything you want …

      As above, your version of relativism seems pretty in line with my version of non-cognitivism. But see above for why I adopt my labeling.

      Also, since you dropped this line, do you accept the idea that any prescriptive statement MUST have a truth value? Because if you do, then if you’re a non-cognitivst you’d have to deny that your moral statements are actually prescriptive.

      Prescriptive statements are instrumental, deriving from a human want or desire (e.g., “I want to be a Catholic priest; that requires celibacy; I should be celibate”). Or they could be commands: “you should tidy your room” (= “I want you to tidy your room”).

      In the descriptive sense they do indeed have truth values (it is indeed true that to be a good Catholic priest one needs to be celibate; and it is indeed true that the mum wants the child to tidy their room). The normative force, however, comes from human wants and desires. I would only apply truth values to the descriptive form of the statement.

    28. verbosestoic

      One of the main issues here, it seems to me, is that you seem to have a cobbled together view of morality (and a number of philosophical concepts). This means that often your discussions and arguments are inconsistent, and so it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. If I haven’t already recommended it, Prinz’s work might be something for you to look in to, as he’s far more systematic and yet still pretty much aligns with the view you at least claim to have.

      Anyway, moving on:

      To me the label “moral” denotes approval or favourable feelings, similar to the words “delicious” or “beautiful”. The label “immoral” is like “ugly” or “disgusting”.

      All this does, though, is cycle right back to the idea of specific moral emotions. I mean, if you came across a weeks dead animal, you’d probably consider it disgusting, but presumably wouldn’t find it immoral. So it seems to me that either you have a more detailed idea of what makes something moral and immoral, or else I find it implausible that this is really your view.

      This is why I commented above on the cobbled together theory. I suspect that you have taken on ideas that intuitively make sense to you or sound good, but don’t have a fully developed theory behind that to tease out what that really means. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t try to tell other people that THEIR view is wrong based on that incomplete view [grin].

      I think it much clearer to say that moral claims (e.g. “X is immoral”) do not have truth values, since they all derive from people’s values, and that people’s values are subjective.

      But the question is, in fact, whether subjective statements have truth values or not, and we again have entire fields dedicated to teasing stuff like that out. And for the most part, it seems to be the case that subjective statements, properly dereferenced, DO have truth values by the standard and accepted definition of truth value. After all, the statement “It snowed in London last night” is clearly a proposition, even if we have to figure out what London we’re talking about first, as is “I have a headache” even if we have to figure out who the “I” is first. And settling this is important because it seems to me that your view of what it means for something to have a truth value is what drives your notion that you have to be a non-cognitivist, and thus an emotivist, even if a number of your other positions are, at least, not easy to reconcile with the position.

      So let me look at what seems to be the biggest issue here:

      To justify that, take the additional fact that “Given Sue’s moral code, X is not immoral”. Then “X is immoral” has two truth values, and the truth value changes from Sue to Fred. That’s incompatible with what I take “truth value” to mean, which requires that a given sentence (“X is immoral”) has one and only one truth value and that the truth value is independent of everything else, everything other than the sentence itself.

      The problem here is that you conflate the logical proposition with the English statement. This is, of course, perfectly reasonable to do for simple declarative sentences, but it isn’t always the case. There’s an entire field of philosophy — philosophy of language — that has as a major component figuring that out (as it’s an important part of determining meaning). So let me ask you this question:

      Does the statement “Turquoise bicycle shoe fins actualize radishes greenly” have a truth value?

      Well, in order to figure that out, we’d need to determine if it expresses a proposition. In order to do that, we’d need to know what it really means or expresses first. So the first step in determining if a sentence has a truth value is figuring out what it is expressing.

      When it comes to the statement “X is immoral”, for objectivists the meaning is, essentially, just that. The proposition and the sentence, therefore, are identical. However, for subjectivists — or at least some subjectivists — the sentence “X is immoral” means “X is considered immoral by a specific person/group”, which is then the proposition that we are examining. Of course, this proposition is true for non-cognitivists as well, so we need to go one step further to find out what is really meant by moral. For cognitivist subjectivists, they would argue that the person or group stores moral claims AS propositions, while non-cognitivists would say that it is stored as something that isn’t an actual proposition (like an emotional response or state). Thus, to sum it up:

      Objectivsts says that moral claims are universal and independent propositions.

      Cognitivist subjectivists say that moral claims are propositions that are held by a specific group.

      Non-cognitivists would say that moral claims are not propositions at all.

      Thus, the first two positions say that they are propositions and have truth values, while the last one says that they aren’t. For the second, when we build the proposition properly, we can see that it is a proposition in some group’s structure and thus, when we refer to the right proposition, we can see that it, in fact, can only have one truth value, even if different groups have different truth values for the “same” proposition, because when properly understood they actually aren’t referring to the same proposition.

      And, again, the propositions don’t have to be universal to have a truth value, once we understand what the proposition really says. For example, the statement “I really like chocolate” definitely has a truth value and is true about me, even if for some other people it would be false.

      I also dislike the term “moral relativism” for all sorts of connotations that it sometimes takes. These include the notions that such moral claims are “valid” (what’s that supposed to mean?), that one cannot or should not criticise one moral system using another one (why not?), and that such “relative” moral codes carry normative force (that begs the whole question).

      While I have no idea what you mean by saying that there is an implication that relative moral claims have normative force — the normal OBJECTION to relativist morality is that the claims can’t have normative force — for the others that’s not a connotation, but a consequence of the theories, and particularly of the fact that they are subjective. The big problem that relativist theories have is with moral disagreement, and what that can mean if they are true. Imagine that you and another person are arguing over whether something is moral or not. If morality is subjective, then from the perspective of a third person, well, both claims are indeed equally valid, because it’s just them expressing their own personal view on the matter. I have no additional principle to appeal to to adjudicate the matter. Even if I, say, agree more with you than with them, being honest I’d have to concede that I don’t really have a REASON for that. It’d be like you and they were arguing over country vs rock music. Even if I like rock music more than country, that wouldn’t do anything to say that either they don’t really like country music or, more importantly, that they SHOULDN’T like country music more than rock music. They like what they like, and that’s all there is to it. And if you insisted that they shouldn’t like country music more than rock music, we’d see that that was an invalid argument. What you like doesn’t in any way mean anything with regards to what they like, and they are not making any kind of mistake or are in any way inferior if they like something better than you do.

      For these sorts of claims — music, food, etc — though saying “Country music is good” usually does just mean “I like it”, and so while we often make mistakes in arguing that there is some kind of objective truth here for the most part we can drop into the subjective meaning and still have the statements do the work we want them to do. It isn’t clear that we can do that for moral statements, though. If you say to mean that something that I think is moral is immoral, you generally want me to take that seriously and adjust my beliefs and actions as as response to that. If all that statement means is that you dislike it, I have no reason to listen to you, and certainly no more reason than if you said that it would upset you if I listened to country music. At which point, you probably should be appealing to personal, non-moral emotions instead of anything having to do with morality … but eliminating all cases where we appeal to morality does not seem to preserve morality at all, and so seems to be more eliminatory than explanatory. You might be right, but it’s a pretty dramatic claim that needs lots of proof before anyone will feel obligated to accept it.

      If one can disambiguate it in different ways such that the truth of it would be different, then it itself does not have a truth value.

      Except that they can only disambiguate it to a specific person/group. If two people disambiguate it to two different people or groups, then they aren’t talking about the same thing anymore and need to clear that up. In short, they’d disambiguate it to different propositions, come to different truth values, and then realize that and correct the misunderstanding.

      First response. Hundreds of millions of English-language speakers can agree on what certain phonemes mean even though those phonemes are arbitrary and have status only by collective agreement.

      Yes, we have an arbitrary assignment of sounds that map to concepts. There are in general still properties in each language that drives that general agreement, and what links them in the minds of people are the concepts and things they reference. So, for example, if people agree that tree points to a specific type of thing in the world, then there are properties that link all trees together and determines what it is to be a tree. So there is a set of properties to appeal to at all the levels where it really matters.

      But while we have a widespread agreement it is not full agreement. There are plenty of things where we cannot agree on whether something is or is not in the “moral” category. Examples are gay sex, premarital sex, teenage masturbation, blasphemy, heresy, and lots of other things. The proper manners of children and how they act towards adults is, for example, something that has changed radically since Victorian England. Treatment of slaves, blacks, women, etc have also changed radically.

      But even by listing those things, you implicitly agreed that those are, in fact, moral questions, which is what I’m referring to there. That we don’t agree on what the right moral answers doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to determine what questions are or aren’t moral ones, as again you assume that we can tell the difference by listing those questions and not others.

      All of this suggests that there is no fact of the matter as to whether something is or is not a “moral” issue.

      There is often a lot of disagreement and change in scientific theories. Does that imply that there are no scientific facts of the matter? You can’t simply point to things changing or there being disagreement and use that as your only evidence that there is no fact of the matter, because that has been true for pretty much ALL facts throughout history.

      An entire field of philosophy that attempt to discern the fact of the matter when there is no fact of the matter to discern!

      The claim that there is no fact of the matter to discern would be a claim in that field of philosophy, so you’d be dismissing the field while making claims that can only or can be best evaluated by it. And since it is a claim, you’d need to demonstrate that your claim is reasonable when measured against the reasons the field thought there was a fact of the matter to be discerned in the first place, which to be honest is the part of this discussion where I feel you are most lacking: you seem to, in general, be confused about why they think there is a fact instead of demonstrating that their presumptions are incorrect.

      … indeed as a rule of thumb, if an area of philosophy tries for ages to do something and doesn’t succeed then maybe they are conceptualising the issue wrong.

      And, in general, they’re way ahead of you in considering that, and have even tried the concepts that you suggest, only to find that they seem to cause serious if not more serious problems. You often do come across as someone wandering into a physics discussion with set ideas of how to solve tricky physics problems and then getting upset when they say that they’ve already considered it and it won’t work.

      If that’s an appeal to intuition then, as usual, I’ll place less weight on it than you do.

      It’s generally the results that we can, indeed, distinguish art from other things. For example, painting your walls isn’t art, but painting a mural on a wall is. You can say that this us just “human intuition”, but then again I’ll say that without that sort of human intuition we have NO way to determine any kind of meaning for the word or category referred to as “art”. For details on how to work out a meaning for that, you’ll have to read the essay.

      Prescriptive statements are instrumental, deriving from a human want or desire (e.g., “I want to be a Catholic priest; that requires celibacy; I should be celibate”). Or they could be commands: “you should tidy your room” (= “I want you to tidy your room”).

      I followed on from your own source and showed that prescriptive statements must have truth values, and so must be propositions. Commands aren’t propositions, and your first derivation is an argument, not a proposition itself. Since you gave that quote and source to clarify your view, I have to say that all it’s done is made it more confusing since you don’t even seem to agree with it [grin].

      Also, I disagree that normative force comes from wants and desires, because as I have said repeatedly it can be a normative statement for you to do something that you don’t want to do. So saying that isn’t in any way going to settle anything, so we’ll really have to dive into that in detail to work things out.

    29. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      All this does, though, is cycle right back to the idea of specific moral emotions. I mean, if you came across a weeks dead animal, you’d probably consider it disgusting, but presumably wouldn’t find it immoral.

      Agreed. So “moral” and “immoral” are words of approval or disapproval, functioning similarly to “beautiful” and “ugly”. But, we use moral language for a subset of the situations where we use approval/disapproval language.

      But that’s again similar. If we are tasting dish we would usually use the words “delicious” or “nasty”. But we could use the word “beautiful”; on the other hand you wouldn’t use the term “ugly” if you disliked it. All of this is just convention, and one imagine the language evolving such that “ugly” came to be a normal usage for “tastes bad”.

      The point is that “moral” language is a subset of aesthetic language, but there is no fact of the matter delineating that subset. There is no “extra meaning” applying to that subset, that the label “moral” connotes!

      [Clarification, some people think that there is an extra meaning, in that they use moral language when they *think* there is objective status to the good/bad, not just their opinion; but I regard this as an error.]

      When it comes to the statement “X is immoral”, for objectivists the meaning is, essentially, just that. The proposition and the sentence, therefore, are identical.

      Agreed.

      However, for subjectivists — or at least some subjectivists — the sentence “X is immoral” means “X is considered immoral by a specific person/group”, which is then the proposition that we are examining.

      OK, let’s accept that. But then does it follow that “X is immoral” has a truth value? “X is immoral in Group A’s value system” has a truth value. As does “X is immoral in Group B’s value system”. But the truth value can be different for those two. It thus seems to me wrong to say that the un-disambiguated “X is immoral” has a truth value.

      That’s where I’m disagreeing with you. I find it clearer to assert that “X is immoral” does not have a truth value (though “X is immoral in Group A’s value system”” does).

      For example, the statement “I really like chocolate” definitely has a truth value and is true about me, even if for some other people it would be false.

      As spoken or stated by someone, “I really like chocolate” would indeed have a truth value, since who the “I” is entailed by the context.

      But in “X is immoral” the value system being referred to is not specified. So it’s not a concrete enough statement to have a truth value.

      While I have no idea what you mean by saying that there is an implication that relative moral claims have normative force …

      There can be a connotation, under moral relativism, that someone’s value system is “right for them” and that one shouldn’t judge it using some other value system. Thus for example, the connotation can be that if one culture has adopted FGM then it is wrong for another culture to say they shouldn’t.

      If two people disambiguate it to two different people or groups, then they aren’t talking about the same thing anymore and need to clear that up. In short, they’d disambiguate it to different propositions, come to different truth values, and then realize that and correct the misunderstanding.

      OK, fine, so the dis-ambiguated version has a truth value, the un-disambiguated version does not (it is too vague to have one).

      But even by listing those things, you implicitly agreed that those are, in fact, moral questions, which is what I’m referring to there.

      No, by listing those I’m just giving examples of how people use the language. There is no fact of the matter as to what is in the moral subset of aesthetic responses and what is not in that subset.

      That’s what my list and examples were trying to say. There is no fact of the matter as to whether teenage masturbation is a moral issue or not. Some people regard it as such; others don’t. It is not the case that one group is right and the other wrong about that. There is nothing too this beyond how people use the terms.

      That we don’t agree on what the right moral answers doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to determine what questions are or aren’t moral ones, as again you assume that we can tell the difference by listing those questions and not others.

      No! I’m trying to say that we cannot tell the difference because there is no difference to tell!

      You can’t simply point to things changing or there being disagreement and use that as your only evidence that there is no fact of the matter, …

      But it’s not my only piece of evidence. Indeed, the fact that people can’t agree on what is in the “moral” category is itself only a weak piece of evidence. A stronger piece is that people cannot even give an account of what it would mean to place something in the “moral” category as oppose to outside it.

      … you’d need to demonstrate that your claim is reasonable when measured against the reasons the field thought there was a fact of the matter to be discerned in the first place …

      The only reason for supposing that there is a fact of the matter as to what is in the “moral” category is intuition, which I regard as weak evidence.

      … only to find that they seem to cause serious if not more serious problems.

      Feel free to expound on these!

      It’s generally the results that we can, indeed, distinguish art from other things.

      Is art by 5-yr-olds or by chimpanzees “art”? Some people say yes, some people say no. Why would one think there is a fact of the matter about that?

      Also, I disagree that normative force comes from wants and desires, because as I have said repeatedly it can be a normative statement for you to do something that you don’t want to do.

      Then it must either derive from another of my wants, or from someone else’s wants.

    30. verbosestoic

      Getting back to this now because I have a little time, although this comment is not something that addresses little issues [grin].

      I’m going to go a bit out of order, too.

      That’s where I’m disagreeing with you. I find it clearer to assert that “X is immoral” does not have a truth value (though “X is immoral in Group A’s value system”” does).

      The thing is that here you are making the same mistake that I called out in my LONG discussion of the meaning of moral sentences. To reiterate:

      English sentences do not have truth values.

      Propositions have truth values.

      So when you say that it’s clearer to say that “X is immoral” doesn’t have a truth value, I can’t see how that is possible because when you do that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE SAYING! Are you treating “X is immoral” as a proposition, the way objectivists do? Then it clearly has a truth value (if it has meaning at all). Are you treating it as an English sentence? Then, yes, it doesn’t have a truth value, but then neither does your alternative and that’s not meaningful. And you can’t treat the two statements differently if you want to compare them. So all this does is make things really, really confused.

      On top of that, doing this seems to confuse you as well, because you seem to think that the big disagreement is over whether or not these statements can have a truth value or if the truth value is vague or can even be determined, when the big clash between moral positions here is really over what those terms MEAN:

      Objectivists think that moral terms refer to a proposition in a universal and objective moral system.

      Relativists think that moral terms refer to a proposition in the moral system of an identifiable group or individual.

      Non-cognitivists think that moral terms refer to something that is non-propositional.

      Error Theorists think that moral terms have no possible consistent meaning.

      It seems to me that you miss this, and this causes you to build out the confusing system that you try to argue for. I think you take the shallow interpretation of “Non-cognitivism means that moral terms don’t have truth values” too strongly, and since you don’t think that the objectivist terms, taken as propositions, have a truth value that can be determined — because there is no such universal moral system in your mind — then you must be a non-cognitivist. But then you also assert that the proposition “X is immoral in Group A’s value system” has a truth value, and often treat that as if that is what moral terms mean, which would make you a relativist. And then you slip Error Theory into there as well, making this entire thing really, really confusing [grin].

      I think you need to stop thinking so hard about whether or not the statements have truth values and far more about what moral terms refer to. Especially since when I — roundaboutly, I admit — asked about what they refer to you ended up giving multiple, incompatible answers [grin].

      There can be a connotation, under moral relativism, that someone’s value system is “right for them” and that one shouldn’t judge it using some other value system. Thus for example, the connotation can be that if one culture has adopted FGM then it is wrong for another culture to say they shouldn’t.

      As I pointed out at length — and you didn’t respond to — that’s not a connotation, but instead is a consequence of ANY subjectivist view. If moral terms only refer to something possessed by a particular group or individual, there are no MORAL grounds you can use to condemn them that apply in their moral system except those that already exist inside of it. Thus, if their system allows from FGM then no moral argument from outside that system has meaning, and so they are being “proper” in maintaining that, and someone outside of both systems cannot choose between the two on the basis of anything except the system that they themselves possess. You”d have to appeal to something outside of the moral systems, like pragmatism, but then you wouldn’t be talking about morality anymore, making any kind of moral claim meaningless. So either you accept that their moral claims are as valid as yours or you simply stop talking about morality. The choice is yours.

      But that’s again similar. If we are tasting dish we would usually use the words “delicious” or “nasty”. But we could use the word “beautiful”; on the other hand you wouldn’t use the term “ugly” if you disliked it. All of this is just convention, and one imagine the language evolving such that “ugly” came to be a normal usage for “tastes bad”.
      The point is that “moral” language is a subset of aesthetic language, but there is no fact of the matter delineating that subset. There is no “extra meaning” applying to that subset, that the label “moral” connotes!

      Again, you seem to be getting hung up on analyzing specific English words instead of analyzing concepts, and it means that you end up equivocating. When we refer to aesthetic concepts, we are referring precisely to specific aesthetic experiences. When we use the word “beautiful”, for example, we are referring to different experiences when we talk about “a beautiful painting” or “a beautiful sunset” or “a beautiful woman” (although the first two are actually fairly close). And since we can get to different contexts and experiences in those cases, we can discover that they have different properties, and those differences define them. But through it all, there is a specific subjective experience that we appeal to and, in fact, refer to when we use those terms.

      Now, we CAN use the term “beautiful” to refer to generic approval, and ugly to refer to generic disapproval. But when we do that, we aren’t referring to specific aesthetic experiences anymore, but are instead making a comment where we determine the meaning by analogy: we tend to find beautiful things pleasant and ugly things unpleasant, so calling the situation beautiful means that I liked it and ugly means that I didn’t like it, and strongly so. But at this point we aren’t using the terms AS AESTHETIC TERMS anymore. “Beautiful” in that context is NOT an aesthetic term anymore, but is far closer to an idiom.

      So the same thing applies to moral terms. If you want to claim that they are aesthetic terms, then you have to be able to point out the specific aesthetic experience that they refer to. If you can’t and merely insist that they refer to generic approval or disapproval, then even in your view moral terms don’t really have any kind of meaning, and so using them in any way as expressing any important fact or providing any kind of argument is just plain wrong.

      And since factually we CAN distinguish what we would think of as moral emotions vs non-moral emotions, you’re actually far worse off if your position forces you to deny that such a distinction is possible.

      That’s what my list and examples were trying to say. There is no fact of the matter as to whether teenage masturbation is a moral issue or not. Some people regard it as such; others don’t. It is not the case that one group is right and the other wrong about that. There is nothing too this beyond how people use the terms.

      You really need to stop using moral disagreement as evidence that there is no possible right answer to these questions. In the disagreements you cite, most people think that there IS a right answer, and we can find rational links and differences there that suggest some kind of underlying concept that they are all trying to refer to. Disagreement doesn’t get you as far as you think because the sorts of disagreements you cite are precisely the sorts of disagreements that we had when discussing objective FACTS. You need to find a disagreement that we couldn’t have if we were appealing to a fact, and so far you haven’t given anything even remotely like that.

      A stronger piece is that people cannot even give an account of what it would mean to place something in the “moral” category as oppose to outside it.

      As usual, I have no idea what you mean by this, and we’ve cycled back and forth on this before. Putting aside whether such characterizations would be obviously correct and so no one could disagree with their assessment, what are you looking for that the myriad objective moral systems have not provided? For the most part, you seem to be, again, ultimately relying on moral motivationism, insisting that if the moral system doesn’t automatically make you want to pragmatically do it then it can’t be providing that sort of account. I counter that that insistence reduces morality to pragmatics, and so insisting on that simply means that you ELIMINATE any kind of morality whatsoever, and so that CAN’T be a proper demand.

      The only reason for supposing that there is a fact of the matter as to what is in the “moral” category is intuition, which I regard as weak evidence.

      The problem is that you include all of our experiences with morality in the “intuition” bucket, as I said leaving NO possible evidence for ANY of the properties of morality left, which includes your position. Since you even exclude how morality actually evolved in us, what’s left? By your stance, there is no evidence that can convince you because any evidence cited would be dismissed by you, but your evidence isn’t any different.

      Feel free to expound on these!

      I did already. The big one is about moral disagreement, which is about how can we have any kind of meaningful moral disagreement when the truth of a moral statement depends on some kind of subjective marker (or they don’t have truth values at all). The outcome is that under pretty much all subjectivist views — which, you’ll recall, to me includes emotivism — there is no reason to ever make a moral claim or debate a moral disagreement because it always either reduces to appeals to things that are meaningless to the person you are debating with, or to nothing moral at all (pragmatics, for example). This is a HUGE problem that many have tried to solve (Prinz, again, tried to do that in his work, but I don’t think he managed to succeed). And you can summarize problems with the views around that distinction:

      Objectivists clearly have meaningful moral disagreement, but have difficulty demonstrating the universal principles that allow for that.

      Subjectivists don’t have worry about demonstrating universal moral principles, but have issues explaining why someone should care about someone else’s moral view of their actions, which is required for any kind of meaningful moral disagreement.

      So far, from what I’ve seen you tend to insist that moral disagreement is meaningful — mostly by demanding proof that it isn’t — while always reducing it to either appeals to their specific system or to pragmatics, which as I commented reduce it to a similar question to “Do you like rock music or country music?”, which we can see isn’t really that sort of meaningful question to support your use of the questions.

      Is art by 5-yr-olds or by chimpanzees “art”? Some people say yes, some people say no. Why would one think there is a fact of the matter about that?

      Why did you ignore my example of how painting your walls clearly isn’t art, but that painting a mural on your wall is? The example you give here might be a corner case or it might be us conflating the colloquial with the conceptual, but that there ARE clear examples pretty much suggests that there IS a fact of the matter about it, even if we can’t always determine what it is. That most people consider your example to be corner cases AND can explain what considerations are driving their positions is only further evidence that we’re dealing with a fact of the matter here.

      And since you are using that some people classify them differently as evidence, how is that NOT appealing to intuition just as much as you insist everyone else does?

      Then it must either derive from another of my wants, or from someone else’s wants.

      Why? What’s the argument that someone cannot have a normative requirement to do something that they personally do not want to do in any way, and that isn’t itself derived from a specific want? And why would anyone else’s wants be at all relevant here?

    31. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      English sentences do not have truth values. Propositions have truth values.

      OK.

      Objectivists think that moral terms refer to a proposition in a universal and objective moral system. Relativists think that moral terms refer to a proposition in the moral system of an identifiable group or individual.

      OK, let’s go with those.

      So when you say that it’s clearer to say that “X is immoral” doesn’t have a truth value, I can’t see how that is possible because when you do that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE SAYING!

      I’m treating it as an *attempt* *at* a proposition. I’m saying it doesn’t have a truth value in any objectivist sense, since there is no “universal and objective moral system” against which to evaluate it. It is neither demanded by nor contrary to a non-existent moral system, so one cannot assign either “yes” or “no”.

      Nor does it have a truth value in the relativist account, since it does not identify the moral system it is refering to. Therefore in neither case it is a well-formed proposition about how things are. It is an english sentence but not a properly formed proposition. Therefore it does not have a truth value.

      Quoting Me: “There can be a connotation, under moral relativism, that someone’s value system is “right for them” and that one shouldn’t judge it using some other value system.

      You: “that’s not a connotation, but instead is a consequence of ANY subjectivist view. If moral terms only refer to something possessed by a particular group or individual, there are no MORAL grounds you can use to condemn them that apply in their moral system …”

      Agreed, I can’t condemn them using THEIR moral system, but I can comdemn them. Sure, nothing gives me moral *licence* to condemn them but nor is there any moral *prohibition* on me condemning them. The problem with the term “moral relativism” is it seems to imply that there is a moral prohibition on using one moral framework to judge another, but there isn’t (you’d need an over-arching framework to do that), instead the issue is undefined (in “moral” terms).

      Thus, if their system allows from FGM then no moral argument from outside that system has meaning, and so they are being “proper” in maintaining that, …

      No, they’re not being “proper” maintaining that, they’re being “proper given their framework”.

      someone outside of both systems cannot choose between the two on the basis of anything except the system that they themselves possess.

      Agreed. And I can indeed judge their system using *my* system. There is no prohibition on that! Though nor is there licence to do it. But then, de facto, I don’t need licence.

      You”d have to appeal to something outside of the moral systems, like pragmatism, but then you wouldn’t be talking about morality anymore, making any kind of moral claim meaningless.

      I don’t have to appeal to anything! Really, I do not need “moral licence” in order to try to influence the world to my liking. And yes, moral claims are indeed meaningless, if they’re taken to refer to anything objective. To me they are just words of approval or disapproval, aesthetic language akin to “nice” or “not nice”, “beautiful” or “ugly”.

      If you want to claim that they are aesthetic terms, then you have to be able to point out the specific aesthetic experience that they refer to.

      The “aesthetic experience” is the dislike you experience when you learn that a trusted member of the group has just cheated and betrayed the group, or the like that you experience when you learn that a member of your group in need was helped by a stranger.

      And since factually we CAN distinguish what we would think of as moral emotions vs non-moral emotions, …

      I bet you can’t produce an account that would tell us which would be placed in which category, that would apply to all humans.

      You really need to stop using moral disagreement as evidence that there is no possible right answer to these questions. In the disagreements you cite, most people think that there IS a right answer, …

      OK, but equally, the fact that most people think there is a right answer is not a strong argument that there is a right answer.

      … what are you looking for that the myriad objective moral systems have not provided?

      I’m not aware of even one “objective moral system”. All moral systems are reflections of the subjective values of those who promote them.

      how can we have any kind of meaningful moral disagreement when the truth of a moral statement depends on some kind of subjective marker (or they don’t have truth values at all).

      We can’t. Why is that a problem for my account?

      under pretty much all subjectivist views — which, you’ll recall, to me includes emotivism — there is no reason to ever make a moral claim or debate a moral disagreement

      Agreed, it is pure rhetoric, pure emotional appeals. (Though rhetoric and emotional appeals can be persuasive, which is why we use them!) Why is this a problem for my account?

      This is a HUGE problem that many have tried to solve (Prinz, again, tried to do that in his work, but I don’t think he managed to succeed).

      It doesn’t need “solving”, it needs accepting! That’s how things are! The problem with philosophers is that they have an *intuitive* sense that there must be more to it, and so go off on a wild goose chase (and along the way they invent whole edifices of conceptual constructs and associated terminology that don’t necessarily illuminate the matter).

      Subjectivists don’t have worry about demonstrating universal moral principles, but have issues explaining why someone should care about someone else’s moral view of their actions, …

      Well, de facto, how other humans act towards you depends on exactly this sort of thing, on how they view you.

      … which is required for any kind of meaningful moral disagreement.

      There is no meaningful moral disagreement! We could replace all moral discourse with the terms “I find that nice” and “I find that not nice”. And, really, things would be far clearer if we did that!

      So far, from what I’ve seen you tend to insist that moral disagreement is meaningful …

      Only in the sense that the phrases: “I find that nice” and “I find that not nice” are meaningful.

      [Re art:] … but that there ARE clear examples pretty much suggests that there IS a fact of the matter about it, …

      There is a fact of the matter about how humans use language. And because humans have a lot in common there are often examples where we all use language the same way. That does not always mean that there is an external, objective fact of the matter that humans are attempting to describe.

      Why? What’s the argument that someone cannot have a normative requirement to do something that they personally do not want to do in any way, and that isn’t itself derived from a specific want?

      Becuase I have no conception (literally, no conception at all) of what a normative requirement that does not derive from a want even is.

      And why would anyone else’s wants be at all relevant here?

      “Mother wants me to tidy my room; I ought to tidy my room, even though I don’t want to.”

      If no human cares whether the room is tidy, then there is no sense in which he “ought to tidy” his room.

    32. verbosestoic

      Nor does it have a truth value in the relativist account, since it does not identify the moral system it is refering to. Therefore in neither case it is a well-formed proposition about how things are. It is an english sentence but not a properly formed proposition. Therefore it does not have a truth value.

      But that’s the problem. The relativist would say that OF COURSE the proposition, if formally written out, has to explicitly reference the system. That’s what the proposition really IS to them, and what the English sentence really means. To ascribe the proposition “X is immoral” to them and then declare that their position is a failed attempt at a proposition is a huge oversimplification of their position that almost means that you strawman it.

      Thus, instead of saying “It doesn’t have a truth value”, it’s clearer to say in opposition to objectivists that there is no such universal or objectively justifiable moral system for them to appeal to, and for relativists … well, I’m not sure how you object to their position because you seem to agree with it most of the time [grin]. The claims about truth values seem problematic to me because it seems you either use those to derive or defend your non-cognitivism, but it does so in a way that logically doesn’t quite fit; you can’t get to any reasonable position of “Moral statements don’t have truth values” that way.

      Agreed, I can’t condemn them using THEIR moral system, but I can comdemn them.

      No, actually, you COULD condemn them using their moral system, because it’s the moral system that they have to respect and so have to respect arguments from that moral system. You can’t meaningfully condemn them using yours, because they have no moral reason to care about yours, meaning any moral claim you make about them or their actions that differs from theirs is either something that they can dismiss without thought or is actually another claim, like pragmatics (“You have to care about my morality because I can use force to get you to follow it”).

      The problem with the term “moral relativism” is it seems to imply that there is a moral prohibition on using one moral framework to judge another, but there isn’t (you’d need an over-arching framework to do that), instead the issue is undefined (in “moral” terms).

      It’s more that if you accept the relativistic position, you have no grounds for meaningfully doing that. Unless you are denying the truth of that or slipping in moral objectivity, you are making an error in attempting to apply your morality to them in a way that matters. For cultural relativism, for example, if a society thinks slavery is moral and institutes it, a society that doesn’t is making an invalid argument if they say that people in that slavery ought not own slaves because it would be immoral, because by their moral system it is in moral to own slaves. And this is true of ANY subjectivist philosophy: you can only reasonably say that someone is acting immoral according to their moral system, whatever it is, and not by yours.

      Attempts to impose your moral system on them, then, is like trying to impose your food preferences on them: unjustified and something that we generally think is an unacceptable imposition of force.

      No, they’re not being “proper” maintaining that, they’re being “proper given their framework”.

      That’s the only meaning that “proper” can have given that system, and so the meaning that they’d use. You certainly would agree that you couldn’t use “proper” in any objective way, right? Thus, what they are doing is proper by what the word means if we accept that proposition, as is what you are doing, even if they are incompatible actions or judgements.

      Agreed. And I can indeed judge their system using *my* system. There is no prohibition on that! Though nor is there licence to do it. But then, de facto, I don’t need licence.

      But it would also have no meaning to them, or at least it wouldn’t if they agreed with you about morality. So why even bother? Saying to someone “I think X is immoral” is a meaningless statement, like saying “My favourite colour is green”. Why say it in a context of judging or condemning them?

      I don’t have to appeal to anything! Really, I do not need “moral licence” in order to try to influence the world to my liking.

      But if they actually accepted your position, moral claims based on your moral system and not theirs WON’T influence them. So you’ll have to appeal to pragmatics, like saying that it will work out better for them to follow your moral system. But that’s an appeal to pragmatics, not morality. So, at that point, don’t all moral claims become meaningless statements, things that we should stop making and that thus will eventually disappear from our vocabulary? Without their link to judging people and influencing their behaviour, we don’t even seem to have the reason of reporting our preferences for others to consider — like considering what our favourite food is — in order to drive actions. And since we can derive our actions from pragmatics, there doesn’t even really seem to be a reason for US to maintain our moral systems, or act on them in any way.

      So, then, the question is: if your view is right, what use are moral statements? It’s certainly not what we use them for now.

      The “aesthetic experience” is the dislike you experience when you learn that a trusted member of the group has just cheated and betrayed the group, or the like that you experience when you learn that a member of your group in need was helped by a stranger.

      Great. These experiences have commonalities, and so if we break them down we can find those commonalities and thus determine when someone is having a moral experience vs a non-moral experience. But isn’t this what you were denying we could do?

      I bet you can’t produce an account that would tell us which would be placed in which category, that would apply to all humans.

      Of course not. That’s certainly not possible for that kind of subjectivist account. But I COULD derive the qualities of moral experiences, and so know what someone has to be feeling if they’re having one. Which, BTW, is what aesthetics in philosophy is pretty much doing …

      I’m not aware of even one “objective moral system”. All moral systems are reflections of the subjective values of those who promote them.

      But this is just you assuming your conclusion. As I’ve said before, I disagree, and specifically disagree for myself, since I think my subjective preferences are in some ways derived from that moral system, and a disagreement between my subjective preferences and my moral system means, to me, that I need to adjust my moral system. You can’t declare that they all just ARE that because your view says that that’s what they are. You need a convincing argument for that.

      We can’t. Why is that a problem for my account?

      Because you and others still seem to be trying to have meaningful moral disagreements nevertheless.

      Agreed, it is pure rhetoric, pure emotional appeals. (Though rhetoric and emotional appeals can be persuasive, which is why we use them!) Why is this a problem for my account?

      Because if people actually accepted your position as true, the rhetoric wouldn’t work anymore. Your use of moral claims only works because it is parasitic on the belief that morals are more objective than your position says they are. You can’t reconcile how you use moral claims with what you think they really are, because your use depends on others not accepting your position. In short, you’re a cheater [grin]. You want to think that your moral view is right while everyone else thinks it wrong so your moral rhetoric will have an impact. That, right there, is a sign of something wrong with your position that needs to be resolved one way or another.

      Well, de facto, how other humans act towards you depends on exactly this sort of thing, on how they view you.

      But if they accepted your position, then those considerations would be irrelevant, and they’d view you poorly for trying to make them relevant. Thus, these claims, if everyone accepted them, would become irrelevant and meaningless.

      There is no meaningful moral disagreement! We could replace all moral discourse with the terms “I find that nice” and “I find that not nice”. And, really, things would be far clearer if we did that!

      And everyone would reply “That’s nice” and not at all care about those statements. Are you willing to accept that?

      There is a fact of the matter about how humans use language. And because humans have a lot in common there are often examples where we all use language the same way. That does not always mean that there is an external, objective fact of the matter that humans are attempting to describe.

      I think you’re still trying to be too realist about these sorts of things. Here, there is some criteria that we can use to derive a concept of art such that certain statements about art are just plain wrong, like that someone merely painting their steps is doing art. Do you deny that? If so, why? Surely it’s just wrong to say that painting your steps is doing art.

      Becuase I have no conception (literally, no conception at all) of what a normative requirement that does not derive from a want even is.

      And I say that normative requirements have to drive wants, not be driven by them.

      At some point, we still really have to hammer out a definition of “normative” [grin].

      “Mother wants me to tidy my room; I ought to tidy my room, even though I don’t want to.”

      But this relies on the child WANTING, in some way, to do what their mother wants. So the desire categorization always has to end in a want inside the agent. Those wants can link to the wants of other people, but at the end of the day if the agent doesn’t want to do it, then they can use someone else’s wants to trigger it.

      If no human cares whether the room is tidy, then there is no sense in which he “ought to tidy” his room.

      Which is what I disagree with. Take pragmatic normative statements. It can be said that someone ought to do something that is in their self interest even if they are mistaken about their self interest and want to do something else. They would just be wrong and doing the wrong thing. The same thing applies to moral normativity, and normativity in general: someone can indeed be wrong about what they ought to do, and not want to do what they ought to do.

    33. Coel Post author

      The relativist would say that OF COURSE the proposition, if formally written out, has to explicitly reference the system.

      OK, so the proposition when formally written out and explicitly referencing a value system has a truth value. A bald “X is morally wrong” does not do that and does not have a truth value.

      Cutting to the crux of the next bit:

      Because you and others still seem to be trying to have meaningful moral disagreements nevertheless.

      To me the “moral” labelling is largely rhetorical. It signifies approval or disapproval. Thus “X is immoral” amounts to “I dislike X”. In the sentence “X is morally wrong”, the “morally” acts as an intensifier, amounting to “very”.

      You can’t meaningfully condemn them using yours, because they have no moral reason to care about yours, …

      I *can* meaningfully condemn them! As just stated, me condemning them morally amounts to me stating that I disapprove. That is meaningful. Now, yes, whether they care about my disapproval or not is another matter.

      But if they actually accepted your position, moral claims based on your moral system and not theirs WON’T influence them.

      Well, actually, human beings *are* influenced by the approval or disapproval of others!

      So, at that point, don’t all moral claims become meaningless statements, things that we should stop making and that thus will eventually disappear from our vocabulary?

      Yes, we could dispense with “moral” vocabulary and just talk about approval and disapproval.

      So, then, the question is: if your view is right, what use are moral statements?

      De facto they are rhetorically persuasive, because most people misunderstand them and treat moral statements as moral realist. If that were understood then, yes, they would become much less powerful.

      And everyone would reply “That’s nice” and not at all care about those statements. Are you willing to accept that?

      Yes.

      … we can use to derive a concept of art such that certain statements about art are just plain wrong, like that someone merely painting their steps is doing art. Do you deny that?

      There are indeed correct descriptions about how humans use the language and the term “art”, such that no-one would use the word about that.

      But this relies on the child WANTING, in some way, to do what their mother wants. So the desire categorization always has to end in a want inside the agent.

      Yes and yes. All “oughts” are instrumental, deriving from what some human wants.

      The same thing applies to moral normativity, and normativity in general: someone can indeed be wrong about what they ought to do, and not want to do what they ought to do.

      The ought here refers, presumably, to what they would want if they had full knowledge of the situation? That still sounds pretty instrumental.

    34. verbosestoic

      OK, so the proposition when formally written out and explicitly referencing a value system has a truth value. A bald “X is morally wrong” does not do that and does not have a truth value.

      It’s fine — if a bit confusing — for you to say that, as long as you understand that this has no relevance to the cognitivist/non-cognitivist debate. It seemed like either you used that argument to justify your non-cognitivism, or else presented is as a conclusion of your non-cognitivism. Neither is true.

      Well, actually, human beings *are* influenced by the approval or disapproval of others!

      Yes, but that generally only happens in two cases:

      1) Their disapproval is based on something, some kind of logic or reasoning that the other person cares or should care about.

      2) The disapprover is in a position of power and so their disapproval has pragmatic risks for the other person.

      If neither of these are true, we tend to find the other person’s disapproval irrelevant at best and invalid and them overstepping reasonable bounds at worst. Since you deny that the first is true, you’d have to be relying on the second. But, in general, you saying “I disapprove of you!” is not going to fit into that as well. _I_, for example, certainly have no reason at all to care about your disapproval due to a power imbalance, and neither do most people that you DO criticize. So, again, it seems like how you use morality doesn’t survive contact with your own moral theory.

      To me the “moral” labelling is largely rhetorical. It signifies approval or disapproval. Thus “X is immoral” amounts to “I dislike X”. In the sentence “X is morally wrong”, the “morally” acts as an intensifier, amounting to “very”.

      This doesn’t work if you treat it like an aesthetic property, though, because aesthetic properties have degrees, and if we are appealing to moral emotions — which is what you at least try to do here — then we can see that, yes, they have degrees as well. Thus, you can have a mild moral dislike of something, which might be overruled by a stronger emotion from another source. To use the example of beauty, someone can find a painting kinda pretty, but approve of it strongly because of nationalistic pride, as it’s a popular painting by a countryman. It’s also possible for someone to mildly disapprove of an action because of its morality, but approve of it because of its practicality. So even you can’t just say that disliking it morally means that you, overall, dislike it, let alone that you dislike it strongly, as long as you want to maintain the like to aesthetic properties and moral emotions.

      There are indeed correct descriptions about how humans use the language and the term “art”, such that no-one would use the word about that.

      But what if someone decided to? Would they be wrong, or at least referring to a different concept that they’d need to explain?

      Yes and yes. All “oughts” are instrumental, deriving from what some human wants.

      First, under your theory it has to derive from what THAT PERSON wants, not what “some” person wants. That was the whole point of my saying that, so claiming to agree and yet ignoring that entire point isn’t good. Second, why do you think that normative claims are instrumental? In general, in philosophy most normative claims are seen as being intrinsic, things that have value just because they do. Otherwise, you run into issues with them because they would always have to be justified by appealing to something else — in your case, desires — but then we have to ask why those are intrinsic and don’t need to be justified. And since we can evaluate and change our desires, you’d leave no rational way to do that or, at least, have to have base desires that we can’t ignore and don’t need to be justified. But you can’t get that from evolved desires because even evolved desires can be maladaptive, and even that would require that you use evolutionary benefit as the justification anyway, which can be challenged.

      So it doesn’t look like “human desires” can be themselves intrinsic, so you’d need a set of intrinsic desires anyway, and I don’t see any way for you to get there without running into the same problems as objectivists, or else becoming entirely Egoist, which has its own problems.

      The ought here refers, presumably, to what they would want if they had full knowledge of the situation? That still sounds pretty instrumental.

      Nope, that’s Carrier’s schtick. As I’ve said before, it is possible for someone to have full knowledge of the situation and decide not to be moral. All that means is that they are, at best, acting amorally, but does not mean that there is no normative statement about what the moral action would be in that case.

    35. Coel Post author

      Yes, but that generally only happens in two cases:

      I’m not so sure. People do care what others think of them. If someone is disliked and disapproved of by others then they care about that, even if they think that the reasons are unfair or wrong. Agreed, they then rationalise to themselves about others being wrong to have such attitudes, but it’s still true that they care.

      This doesn’t work if you treat it like an aesthetic property, though, because aesthetic properties have degrees, and if we are appealing to moral emotions — which is what you at least try to do here — then we can see that, yes, they have degrees as well.

      I’m not sure what your argument is here. Yes, our values and emotions have degrees and some of them conflict with others and can override others. Why is that in conflict with my position? Human psychology is complex and we’ll have a whole slew of partially coherent and partially conflicting values.

      But what if someone decided to? Would they be wrong, or at least referring to a different concept that they’d need to explain?

      They would be out of line with how the language is generally used, and if they were attempting to communicate then yes, they’d do well to explain, but they would not be wrong about some external fact of the matter.

      First, under your theory it has to derive from what THAT PERSON wants, not what “some” person wants.

      I don’t see that. That Johnny “ought” to tidy his room can derive from his mum wanting him to, not from himself wanting to.

      Second, why do you think that normative claims are instrumental?

      Because I don’t see any other form of oughtness that makes any sense to me.

      In general, in philosophy most normative claims are seen as being intrinsic, things that have value just because they do.

      Philosophers claiming that have hit a dead end and don’t want to admit it!

      So it doesn’t look like “human desires” can be themselves intrinsic, …

      Well it is a fact that humans do have desires! They are not justified rationally from anything else, but we do have such desires and we have them because it’s in our nature to have them, because that’s how we have evolved to be.

    36. verbosestoic

      I’m not so sure. People do care what others think of them. If someone is disliked and disapproved of by others then they care about that, even if they think that the reasons are unfair or wrong.

      Again, you are trying to be profoundly literal. There are two cases where we care if someone disagrees with us on these matters, to the point where they disapprove of our determination:

      1) We think that they might have access to some kind of fact that we don’t, and so by our own criteria we might have to reassess our assessment.

      2) There are negative consequences to us if we don’t gain their approval.

      Do you have any examples of any other case? After all, 2) is CLEARLY a case of “caring about their approval” but at the end of the day it’s all about the consequences of them not approving. If someone whose approval I care not one whit about disapproves, then that has no meaning to me.

      I’m not sure what your argument is here. Yes, our values and emotions have degrees and some of them conflict with others and can override others. Why is that in conflict with my position?

      It means, as I said, that if you say that you find something immoral then I don’t know if you dislike it strongly or mildly, and you claimed it meant that you disliked it strongly. Any aesthetic judgement can relate to strong or mild “feelings”, and again so much so that your pragmatic judgements — for example — might trump that: you think me immoral for doing so but respect my intelligence in using that to achieve my goals. From that, I can’t even really tell if, overall, you actually disapprove of the action. So it becomes a meaningless statement.

      They would be out of line with how the language is generally used, and if they were attempting to communicate then yes, they’d do well to explain, but they would not be wrong about some external fact of the matter.

      So they’d be referring to a different concept, then. So it would only be the case that they’d be wrong if they were referring to it as a concept as if that’s how everyone refers to it, but if they were just referring to theirs they’d be completely right and just have to clarify their use. This, then, implies that most people would always be referring to their own concept, and not to anyone else’s. Given that, you calling something immoral and them calling something immoral would be the two of you talking about different concepts, especially if you disagree, and thus always result in you talking past each other. At which point, again, talking about things as “moral” seems meaningless, because in general no two people will ever really mean the same thing by it.

      I don’t see that. That Johnny “ought” to tidy his room can derive from his mum wanting him to, not from himself wanting to.

      But as I said, if he doesn’t desire to do what his mother wants him to do, then by your own standards there is no reason he ought to do that, so it wouldn’t be normative for him by your own definition of normative.

      Because I don’t see any other form of oughtness that makes any sense to me.

      Not good enough. There are huge issues with trying to make normative claims instrumental, and you have not provided any reason to think that intrinsic values don’t make sense, and in fact you yourself NEED intrinsic values to make your case. That you don’t understand the work that has gone on in the field doesn’t make it wrong.

      Philosophers claiming that have hit a dead end and don’t want to admit it!

      Um, no. It is, in fact, instead a basic logical issue: every desire/claim can’t be instrumental because that means that it exists only in order to satisfy some OTHER desire/claim, so you need to have something that exists just because it does. Even you need that or else you can’t have any desires at all, even if you end up simply reducing it to desires that evolution has programmed us to instinctively hold. And as I said, those don’t work because they can be maladaptive, so you need something to evaluate them against.

      Well it is a fact that humans do have desires! They are not justified rationally from anything else, but we do have such desires and we have them because it’s in our nature to have them, because that’s how we have evolved to be.

      But we can ask if we ought to have and/or ought to follow the desires we have, and that’s precisely what we mean by normativity.

    37. Coel Post author

      It means, as I said, that if you say that you find something immoral then I don’t know if you dislike it strongly or mildly, …

      True, but that’s hardly a major flaw in my scheme! The same applies to a lot of other things. If someone says that takiong toiletries from a hotel for home use is “immoral”, that doesn’t tell you whether they think it milder or worse than, say, murdering a child.

      Given that, you calling something immoral and them calling something immoral would be the two of you talking about different concepts, especially if you disagree, and thus always result in you talking past each other.

      But this is inevitable, and is just how things are. There is no objective standard of morality that we can all compare to.

      But as I said, if he doesn’t desire to do what his mother wants him to do, then by your own standards there is no reason he ought to do that, so it wouldn’t be normative for him by your own definition of normative.

      The reasons why he “ought to do so” include not wanting to incur the disapproval of his mum and not wanting to be punished by his mum.

      and in fact you yourself NEED intrinsic values to make your case.

      Of course I need intrinsic values! These are values people hold, part of their nature. They are not objective (independent of humans).

      It is, in fact, instead a basic logical issue: every desire/claim can’t be instrumental because that means that it exists only in order to satisfy some OTHER desire/claim, …

      It is the *oughts* that are always instrumental, not the *desires”.

      … so you need to have something that exists just because it does.

      Agreed, and human values and desires exist like that, because we have evolved to be the sort of animals who have values and desires.

      But we can ask if we ought to have and/or ought to follow the desires we have, and that’s precisely what we mean by normativity.

      And the answer can only be in terms of our other values and desires.

    38. verbosestoic

      True, but that’s hardly a major flaw in my scheme!

      It is indeed a major flaw in your scheme when I asked you what meaning it could have that we would care about and you said that that’s what it meant! If when you utter that statement I can’t know that you disapprove strongly or even disapprove, then that’s not what is being communicated when you utter that statement, and again that is what you said was being communicated to justify that someone else should pay attention to you when you utter those statements.

      If someone says that takiong toiletries from a hotel for home use is “immoral”, that doesn’t tell you whether they think it milder or worse than, say, murdering a child.

      Yes, but this assessment is based on assuming that there is an assessment or judgement of moral or immoral that isn’t just a personal feeling, and that can express that without in any way expressing how strongly that was felt. Recall that you DENIED that that was the case for moral judgements and we only got here because I pointed out that you couldn’t hold that strong a view of moral judgements if you considered them aesthetic preferences, because aesthetic preferences allow for precisely those sorts of degrees. So, again, by retreating to this position while you may believe that you’ve addressed the objection it comes at the cost of invalidating the defense that you used against another argument. This tendency of yours is precisely why the debates go round and round in circles, as you retreat to more “moderate” views when hit with things that seem strange but miss that when you do that you change the position enough that you can no longer make a number of points that you made earlier, because the new view doesn’t allow for them. I’ve noted that this is a common mistake that amateur philosophers make, where they seem more concerned with defending against specific criticisms rather than defending the position as a whole. At some point, you can defend yourself into an entirely different position, but if you don’t realize that then you still try to use the benefits of the previous position while appealing to the different position to buttress that one.

      Again, here you argued that the strength of a moral criticism is what makes it one that others will or should pay attention to, and then when it was pointed out that your underlying system didn’t support that — because that’s not how aesthetic judgements work — you essentially accepted that that wasn’t how they work but ignored that the argument that got us here required that or else it didn’t work. And you’ve done that a number of times over the course of this discussion, which is why I’ve always been so very confused over what your position actually entails. At the end of the day, your position just comes across as incredibly incoherent.

      But this is inevitable, and is just how things are. There is no objective standard of morality that we can all compare to.

      Which then means that we can’t have any kind of serious and meaningful discussion using moral terms and judgements, because we never mean the same thing. Thus, moral disagreements are meaningless, and we should stop doing that. Recall, again, that that was my objection in the first place, and you were trying to defend them as still being meaningful. But if it reduces down to the two people not actually even talking about the same thing anymore, how can it be meaningful? It’d always be equivocation which would be logically invalid. So then the person who wants to discourage someone from doing something that they consider immoral should either appeal to something other than morality, or appeal to the OTHER PERSON’S morality to make their case. NEITHER of these are what you tried to defend when you tried to defend judging the morality of other people and having them take that as a meaningful criticism, when you tried to defend moral criticism.

      It is the *oughts* that are always instrumental, not the *desires”.

      Desires and values can be instrumental. You need a way to determine what values for desires are or should be intrinsic and which ones are or should be instrumental.

      But we can ask if we ought to have and/or ought to follow the desires we have, and that’s precisely what we mean by normativity.

      And the answer can only be in terms of our other values and desires.

      Except that by your base here ANY of our values and desires are things that we could ask that normative question about, and so ALL of them are instrumental and subject to normative questioning. We can ask whether we ought to have or ought to follow ANY of our values and desires. So, then, how can you answer the normative questions based on our other values and desires when they themselves can and possibly must be evaluated the same way? You need some values and desires that we simply cannot logically or reasonably ask if we should follow them or not. But what could those be? Even our evolved values and desires can be questioned because they might be maladaptive. And you can’t just say that we should try to maximize our current desires because we don’t know before looking if the majority of our desires are ones that we ought to have or follow. So what basis can you have for evaluating which desires are normatively valid and which ones aren’t until you have some that are just intrinsic? How do you determine whether a desire or value is intrinsically good and so cannot be normatively questioned so that you can have a basis for determining whether the OTHER ones are normatively valid or not?

      You can take Carrier’s tack and argue that there is something that someone just desires more than everything else, and so everything follows from that. You can even escape some of his issues because you can insist that there’s no right answer to that question, and so whatever they happen to value most is that basis, no matter what reason they have for doing that. Putting aside that this can lead to some VERY bad behaviours, you are still vulnerable to this reply from me:

      What I value most is being moral, whatever that means.

      This, then, requires some kind of external to me, at least — even if it isn’t “objective” — concept of morality, so I can’t just appeal to my own desires. For your view to work, this would have to be logically or conceptually invalid, but it doesn’t seem to be. It really does seem like someone could want to be moral more than anything else, and in fact such a person, conceptually, would really seem to be a far more moral person than someone whose morality was instrumental , where they act morally only because doing so will get them another desire that they want more (it gets them more money, for example). So it doesn’t seem just plain wrong for me to use that as my base desire, but if that I did so then your entire model would collapse into incoherence and impossibility.

      Moreover, the form seems to work as well as a base, intrinsic desire as pragmatism does. I can clearly set as my base desire my own self-interest and have that work. And yet, again, in general doing so and working from that basis is seen as resulting in, at best, AMORAL behaviour, not moral behaviour, so the two aren’t conceptually the same thing, at least not obviously. And the only moralities that DO equate the two — Egoisms, generally — actually argue FOR equating them because they know good and well that you can’t just equate the two, because the concepts don’t align that way naturally.

      All of this cycles back, again, to a question that you’ve never really addressed: I can have an internal idea of what I, at least, think is moral and yet not desire to act morally. Under the stance you take here, I’d have to still have a normative commitment to that, but earlier your entire point was that if I didn’t want to do it then I couldn’t have a normative commitment to it against my own specific desires. This is because here the normative ought is what I should be using to assess my wants, but then I can’t rely on my wants to determine what I normatively ought to do. This is a vicious cycle that you cannot resolve without introducing something outside of the instrumental wants and values of the agent, and you haven’t given any way to do that so far.

    39. Coel Post author

      Just getting back to this:

      It is indeed a major flaw in your scheme when I asked you what meaning it could have that we would care about and you said that that’s what it meant!

      I don’t see it as a major flaw. Moral language expresses the speaker’s approval or disapproval. People do indeed care about what others think. Maybe they don’t care that much, but, regardless, that’s all there is to it.

      If when you utter that statement I can’t know that you disapprove strongly or even disapprove, …

      You can know that I disapprove. That’s what the term “immoral” conveys. You’re right that it alone doesn’t convey how strong the sentiment is.

      This tendency of yours is precisely why the debates go round and round in circles, as you retreat to more “moderate” views when hit with things that seem strange but miss that when you do that you change the position enough that you can no longer make a number of points that you made earlier, because the new view doesn’t allow for them.

      While I confess that I can’t remember every detail of the discussion, I don’t think that’s fair. As I see it I’ve presented a consistent position. I think that at times you misinterpret my position, perhaps because you can’t actually believe that that’s what I actually mean. (People defending moral realism often feel that way!)

      Again, here you argued that the strength of a moral criticism is what makes it one that others will or should pay attention to, …

      No, I’ve not said that. I’ve not argued that people “should” pay attention to moral criticism (that’s a realist’s position), and I’ve not made claims about what gives “the strength of a moral criticism”.

      All I’ve said is that (1) moral langauge expresses approval or disapproval. (2) As a general rule, people do, at least to some degree, care about what others think. And if they don’t? Well, then they don’t. Then they don’t care about someone else’s moral criticism. And that’s all there is to it. The fact that “moral criticism” amounts to vastly less in my anti-realist scheme than under moral realism is not a flaw in my scheme, it’s a feature of it. Moral language really is to a very large extent empty rhetoric.

      At the end of the day, your position just comes across as incredibly incoherent.

      Sorry about that! I’m trying my best to explain it. To me, you come across as continually trying to read into my anti-realist scheme a moral-realist version. You’re continuing interpreting me as saying things that I’m not.

      Which then means that we can’t have any kind of serious and meaningful discussion using moral terms and judgements, because we never mean the same thing.

      Yes! Exactly!! Moral language functions as rhetoric, trying to big-up one’s own subjective feelings by implying that they are more than that. But they’re not, all there is is approval or disapproval akin to aesthetics.

      Thus, moral disagreements are meaningless, …

      No, they’re not meaningless. Expressing approval or disapproval has meaning. If I say “I dislike X” or “I disapprove of Y” then you know what I mean. But there is indeed no meaning *beyond* that pronoucement of aesthetic opinion. There is no moral-realist meaning. Again, this is not a flaw of my stance, it’s a feature of it.

      … and we should stop doing that.

      Moral language certainly causes far more confusion than clarity, given that most people interpret it in a moral-realist way.

      Recall, again, that that was my objection in the first place, and you were trying to defend them as still being meaningful.

      The moral language *does* have meaning, it expresses a speaker’s emotions and values.

      But, when I say it does have meaning you seem to be interpreting that as saying that it has more meaning than that, that in a “moral disagreement” there would be some objective standard or measure which the disputants could refer to. There is no such thing.

      But if it reduces down to the two people not actually even talking about the same thing anymore, how can it be meaningful?

      By expressing someone’s feelings on the matter!

      So then the person who wants to discourage someone from doing something that they consider immoral should either appeal to something other than morality, or appeal to the OTHER PERSON’S morality to make their case.

      What do you mean by “should” there? There is no objective shouldness. As a matter of fact, someone expressing disapproval based on their *own* value system *can* in some instances influence someone else.

      Your argument assumes the position that moral argument “should” proceed with reference to some moral framework that someone abides by. Well, that might indeed work, but there is no basis to *require* that approach. Some other approach might be rhetorically successful.

      NEITHER of these are what you tried to defend when you tried to defend judging the morality of other people …

      Sure, there’s no *requirement* to adopt one of those. As a matter of fact, someone arguing and trying to influence others by promoting their *own* value system can indeed work.

      … and having them take that as a meaningful criticism, …

      This is an example of you reading into me what I’ve not said. I didn’t argue that they should “… take that as a meaningful criticism”. I merely pointed out that people often do care what others think (not always), and that de facto such a tactic can indeed (sometimes) influence others.

      Desires and values can be instrumental. You need a way to determine what values for desires are or should be intrinsic and which ones are or should be instrumental.

      No, I don’t need a way for us to *determine* which values are intrinisic. All od our values can be influenced by all sorts of things. That doesn’t alter the fact that humans have values as part of our nature.

      Except that by your base here ANY of our values and desires are things that we could ask that normative question about, and so ALL of them are instrumental and subject to normative questioning.

      Agreed! And there is no bedrock, there is no primary starting point. Why would there be? The presumption that there need be comes from taking a moral-realist interpretation of what I’m saying.

      Humans have values. Those values can be influenced by all sorts of things including other people. That causes humans to have different values. Moral language is a report of those values. By using moral language we can influence each other. That’s all there is to it.

      But any attempt to look for bedrock or objective reference points is misguided — there aren’t any.

      We can ask whether we ought to have or ought to follow ANY of our values and desires.

      And there is no objective oughtness, so there is no answer to that question. The question is misguided. The only form of oughtness that exists is instrumental, deriving from our values. To ask whether we “ought” to follow our values is a misunderstanding of what oughtness is.

      So, then, how can you answer the normative questions based on our other values and desires when they themselves can and possibly must be evaluated the same way?

      You can’t. There is no objective normativity. no objective oughtness, no moral bed rock. That’s the whole point of my stance.

      You need some values and desires that we simply cannot logically or reasonably ask if we should follow them or not.

      No I don’t. Why would I need them? I would need them if I were trying to construct a moral-realist scheme but I’m not.

      So what basis can you have for evaluating which desires are normatively valid and which ones aren’t until you have some that are just intrinsic?

      That's a misguided and ill-posed question. There is no being "normatively valid" in the way that you're asking for. Moral realism is false!

      How do you determine whether a desire or value is intrinsically good and so cannot be normatively questioned …

      There is no such thing as “intrinsically good”! That’s another misguided and ill-posed question. Notions of “good” are value judgements we make. There is no objective or intrinisc goodness, nor any such oughtness nor shouldness.

      All along you’re making moral-realist presumptions, and trying to work our how my scheme fits in with a moral-realist presumption.

      You can take Carrier’s tack …

      Which I don’t. Carrier is yet another who has fallen for the delusion that there must be some objective standing to morality at the heart of all this. He’s wrong.

      All of this cycles back, again, to a question that you’ve never really addressed: I can have an internal idea of what I, at least, think is moral and yet not desire to act morally.

      That comes when we have competing desires. (Which we do a lot, such as the competing desire to eat cake and the desire not to get fat.)

      Under the stance you take here, I’d have to still have a normative commitment to that, …

      You’d have both a desire to do it and a desire not to do it.

      This is because here the normative ought is what I should be using to assess my wants, …

      There is no “normative ought”, there is no external and objective measure that tells you which of your desires “should” win out.

      This is a vicious cycle that you cannot resolve without introducing something outside of the instrumental wants and values of the agent, and you haven’t given any way to do that so far.

      Again, your presumption that I need anything such is a presumption that morality is objective; it isn’t.

    40. verbosestoic

      Sorry it took so long to get back to you; I’ve been distracted and figured I’d have to quote past comments to show you your inconsistencies, which takes some time. I’ll also warn you that in places I’m going to be pretty harsh to get across precisely why the inconsistencies are critical to your position.

      So, let’s start with this:

      While I confess that I can’t remember every detail of the discussion, I don’t think that’s fair. As I see it I’ve presented a consistent position. I think that at times you misinterpret my position, perhaps because you can’t actually believe that that’s what I actually mean. (People defending moral realism often feel that way!)

      I disagree strongly, so let’s start with the discussion that started off the comment and led to this statement. You said this earlier:

      To me the “moral” labelling is largely rhetorical. It signifies approval or disapproval. Thus “X is immoral” amounts to “I dislike X”. In the sentence “X is morally wrong”, the “morally” acts as an intensifier, amounting to “very”.

      This to me implies strongly if not flat-out states that moral emotions are always strong and always express strong disapproval. And then later I said this:

      It means, as I said, that if you say that you find something immoral then I don’t know if you dislike it strongly or mildly, and you claimed it meant that you disliked it strongly.

      You then claimed this, after completely ignoring my explicit statement that you had earlier claimed that saying it was moral meant that someone disapproved strongly:

      True, but that’s hardly a major flaw in my scheme!

      Which led to my response that since you claimed that moral claims just meant strong disapproval it definitely WAS a problem for you, which you then again completely ignored to restate a discussion about approval or disapproval and completely ignore the discussion about strength. So not only did you contradict yourself, at least seemingly, you completely ignored my attempts to point out that contradiction AND didn’t even address the strength point in your reply. Is it any wonder, then, given that this is just ONE relatively minor path through this discussion that I’m so frustrated [grin]? Especially since the most you can say about me is that you think I’m reading realism in (which I think incorrect, but more on that later, since in other points I’ll try to show that it’s YOU who is trying to maintain the implications of realism while holding a view that doesn’t allow for them)?

      You can know that I disapprove. That’s what the term “immoral” conveys.

      As I have pointed out repeatedly, aesthetic properties — and you think that moral experiences are similar enough to them (or possibly even just ARE those sorts of things) to make this comparison valid — don’t work that way. Presuming that when you talk about “disapproval” you mean that the person doesn’t want them to take an action, we can see lots of cases where aesthetic judgements don’t mean that. For example, a parent is likely not having a pleasant aesthetic experience when they look at their young child’s artwork, but they certainly want them to continue to do it. It is also possible for someone to not care for experimental music, but want them to continue doing it because it produces something new or for an audience that is not them. And even with morality, we can use the example of the first Survivor season on TV, where despite the game being set up so that if a player shafted others they’d face the judgement of those they shafted, at least one person voted for the manipulative Richard Hatch because even though they hated what he did and considered it immoral, they ultimately decided that he played the game better than everyone else, thus providing an example where they considered it immoral but still “approved” in the most relevant sense. So, no, I can’t know that you disapprove if I know that you consider it immoral. The most I can know is that if you bother to tell me about it you probably disapprove.

      And no, you CAN’T use conflicting emotions here, because at that point saying that it is immoral would STILL not tell me what the most rational response to that statement would be.

      No, I’ve not said that. I’ve not argued that people “should” pay attention to moral criticism (that’s a realist’s position) …

      Despite my telling you on multiple occasions to stop conflating “ought” and “should”, you continue to do so. Why do you keep doing that? What other word can I use to reflect the idea that a person who is rationally assessing the situation will come to a conclusion about what is the best and most rational/reasonable response and so that that is the preferred response to make, if “should” is so confusing for you?

      Moral language really is to a very large extent empty rhetoric.

      And if it is indeed that, as you assert, and I come to accept your view of that, then clearly the most rational response would be for me to ignore it. This means that I would, in general, rightly ignore all moral propositions from you as being empty rhetoric. And yet you still use them and insist that they have use. But we can clearly see that they only have use or an impact against people who think that they express an objective truth. Thus, you insist on their utility by appealing to people holding the WRONG idea of morality, according to you. Thus, you rely on them understanding morality incorrectly in order to get the effect you want. This is, of course, intellectually dishonest … and it does nothing to show what would happen in a world where everyone accepted what you think is the RIGHT view.

      See, that’s the big problem here: you always talk from your side, the side of the person trying to convince someone not to do something, but constantly ignore what the person who accepts your view and yet has you say that to them would do. So do that here. Imagine that I’m convinced of your view and you say “X is immoral”. What response should I give, and what reasoning should I use to determine what the most reasonable response is?

      (And if you get caught up on arguing about “should” this conversation is over [grin]).

      Yes! Exactly!! Moral language functions as rhetoric, trying to big-up one’s own subjective feelings by implying that they are more than that. But they’re not, all there is is approval or disapproval akin to aesthetics.

      So, then, clearly in a world where everyone accepts your view we would stop using it for that purpose, correct? Thus, almost all of the cases where we currently use moral language would be cases where we don’t do that anymore, and appeal to something else. THIS IS MY OBJECTION TO YOUR VIEW! Moral language would be used completely differently than it is now, so much so that it would be hard to imagine that they were EVER THE SAME THING! And yet you keep at least dodging that and continue to talk as if for the most part we could use them in those cases. Can we? In what real, practical sense would moral language be used? Please give an example of a conversation using moral language to show what the meaning would be and how it would be used in a world where everyone accepted your view of morality.

      But, when I say it does have meaning you seem to be interpreting that as saying that it has more meaning than that, that in a “moral disagreement” there would be some objective standard or measure which the disputants could refer to.

      No, it’s more that I want to know why anyone should care at all about the moral character of the statement, in short that it is, itself, an expression of moral emotions or a moral code. As I said before — and you ignored — someone saying that they like the taste of something has a primary meaning of expressing that emotion, and we care mostly because it gives us an idea of their tastes so that we can make better decisions about them in the future, or because if we have similar enough tastes it gives me an idea of something that _I_ might enjoy. But there doesn’t seem to be any similar benefits to talking about morality unless we rely on the view of morality that you insist is incorrect. And from that we can even wonder if it would be better for us to extirpate moral emotions entirely, which doesn’t make sense for the other aesthetic emotions.

      So, again, what reason would we have for keeping moral emotions at all, let alone telling others about them? What purpose could that serve?

      Your argument assumes the position that moral argument “should” proceed with reference to some moral framework that someone abides by.

      Yes, because if you’re going to make a moral argument presumably it’s going to have to relate to morality specifically — and not something else — and it had better relate to some kind of relevant morality to the people considering the argument. Otherwise, it becomes an irrelevant statement, like saying that “Parallel lines never cross in Euclidean geometry” when we’re discussing how long to cook the turkey. It is of course a true statement, but it’s hard to see how it relates to the discussion at hand [grin]. By the same token, if someone makes an explicit moral argument about a moral system that I clearly don’t hold, then it is also hard to see how it can relate to a discussion where moral character — and thus the moral argument — matters. If morality is objective, then it clearly does because there is only one right moral system to use in such discussions. But if it doesn’t, then surely if moral argument is going to matter at all it’s MY moral system that is relevant here, not anyone else’s. And, again, you can’t argue that sometimes people are influenced anyway because we have to be considering the case where both people accept the “right” way to view morality, and you have given no reason to think that in that case a reasonable person would indeed be influenced by the moral arguments of someone who holds a different moral system than they do.

      As a matter of fact, someone arguing and trying to influence others by promoting their *own* value system can indeed work.

      Again, assuming that all parties accept your view of morality and are acting rationally, HOW can that work? Because the only way I can see that working is if the person being influenced holds the wrong view of morality, which then would be intellectual dishonesty on the part of the person who is making the moral argument and hoping that it will work, as they would be hoping that the person thinks morality is objective while knowing that it isn’t.

      No, I don’t need a way for us to *determine* which values are intrinisic. All od our values can be influenced by all sorts of things. That doesn’t alter the fact that humans have values as part of our nature.

      Despite my describing this to you at least once YOU STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS FOR A DESIRE TO BE INSTRUMENTAL. An instrumental desire is a desire that is only held of the sake of achieving other desires. For example, if you go to the fridge and look for a can of soft drink and notice that there aren’t any in there, you will form an instrumental desire to go to the store to get some. That desire only exists because you want a can of soft drink. If before you went to the store you found that there was some left in the fridge, you would no longer desire to go to the store because it no longer served any purpose. So if all desires are instrumental, then when we try to do this (which is your claim and not one I pushed you into):

      But we can ask if we ought to have and/or ought to follow the desires we have, and that’s precisely what we mean by normativity.

      And the answer can only be in terms of our other values and desires.

      You end up with infinite regress, since every desire we have can be assessed in the same way, even the ones that we are appealing to in your own statement above. Thus, we need something that we cannot reasonably assess in that way. This is PRECISELY what you denied we needed, despite clearly needing it. So you can see why I’m confused and frustrated here [grin].

      Humans have values. Those values can be influenced by all sorts of things including other people. That causes humans to have different values.

      But YOU claimed that we could assess them to determine what values/desires we ought to follow, which is what normativity is. That means you can’t rely on “We just have them” to get you out of this fix, and remember YOU SAID THIS YOURSELF EXPLICITLY. So which is it? How do you square what seems to be a circle?

      Moral language is a report of those values.

      No, it isn’t. Everyone has a large number of values and desires that are in no way related to morality. We can have a subset of values or desires that FOLLOW FROM our views of morality, but that’s not what moral language just necessarily is. You conflate normativity with morality, as usual, which just gets things more and more confused.

      And there is no objective oughtness, so there is no answer to that question. The question is misguided.

      And yet, it is the question that you explicitly said WE COULD ASK. If I can’t even ask the questions you say we can ask without being totally misguided, what does that say about your view?

      You can’t. There is no objective normativity. no objective oughtness, no moral bed rock. That’s the whole point of my stance.

      At which point, that thing you said we could do by appealing to our other values can’t be done, and so that entire point was eliminated … BY YOU. Hope you didn’t need that for anything [grin].

      (Like, say, having rational desires …).

      There is no such thing as “intrinsically good”! That’s another misguided and ill-posed question. Notions of “good” are value judgements we make. There is no objective or intrinisc goodness, nor any such oughtness nor shouldness.
      All along you’re making moral-realist presumptions, and trying to work our how my scheme fits in with a moral-realist presumption.

      You’d be right if I was even TALKING about morality here, but I’m not. I’m simply talking about desires, so this entirely misses the mark.

      Which I don’t. Carrier is yet another who has fallen for the delusion that there must be some objective standing to morality at the heart of all this. He’s wrong.

      It is most frustrating that you took the time to respond pointing out the obvious that Carrier is an objectivist about morality AND IGNORED WHAT I SAID ABOUT THAT TACK … which included that, as a subjectivist, you had an out THAT HE DIDN’T and my point on why that still wouldn’t save you. Let me restore it so that you can give an actual response this time:

      You can take Carrier’s tack and argue that there is something that someone just desires more than everything else, and so everything follows from that. You can even escape some of his issues because you can insist that there’s no right answer to that question, and so whatever they happen to value most is that basis, no matter what reason they have for doing that. Putting aside that this can lead to some VERY bad behaviours, you are still vulnerable to this reply from me:

      What I value most is being moral, whatever that means.

      Maybe you don’t take that tack, but it’s not its objectivity that will get that for you, and it’s better than the absolute non-response to the issue that you’ve been giving. And that’s even if it isn’t true that this is the move you at least subconsciously make.

      That comes when we have competing desires. (Which we do a lot, such as the competing desire to eat cake and the desire not to get fat.)

      And you say this despite my making it clear that the desire WAS COMPLETELY ABSENT? This is indeed one way to get amorality: someone has an internal moral idea of what is and isn’t moral, but has no desire to actually act on that in any way, either morally or immorally. It seems like this is a contradiction by your view, and yet it’s perfectly sensible and likely even happens in the world.

      There is no “normative ought” …

      Since normativity essentially applies to “oughts”, what you’ve just said is that there is no ought ought, or no oughtness at all. Either you need to be more careful in your terminology or you’ve just contradicted yourself. And this is even more egregious since as I’ve already quoted you TALKED about what normativity is, which then could be applied as oughts as per normal, so taking that into account your position becomes nonsensical. This, then, is why I conclude that your position is at least inconsistent.

      Again, your presumption that I need anything such is a presumption that morality is objective; it isn’t.

      And since, again, I’m not even REFERENCING morality here this is an utterly irrelevant answer, which is as good an indication I can give that you really aren’t getting what I’m talking about.

    41. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      I’ll also warn you that in places I’m going to be pretty harsh to get across precisely why the inconsistencies are critical to your position.

      No problem! 🙂

      First, let me go meta a bit. If moral realism is correct, then one could expect that there is a rational and coherent account of morality, akin perhaps to mathematics, in which there would be clear-cut answers as to what moral language means, and about what is moral, and these answers would be attained by rational analysis.

      However, my whole stance is to reject that whole conception. My anti-realist conception is that moral language is effectively aesthetic language and is part of human psychology. That means that moral language will not be coherent or consistent, and that different people will use the language in different ways, and may not even be consistent themselves at different times.

      Thus, there is no fact of the matter as to what moral language means, and so there is no fact of the matter that can be arrived at by rational analysis. What moral language then means will be highly dependent on the speaker and on context, in the same way that the meanings of value-judgement terms such as “naff” or “cool” or “scrumptious” are. The term “wicked” means a very different thing if spoken by a 14-yr-old about a computer game, as opposed to a 60-yr-old evangelical about abortion.

      So, saying that something is “immoral” indicates disapproval, but asking how strong a disapproval it indicates is like asking how strong a dislike “naff” entails.

      I stand by the suggestion that — as a rule of thumb — “moral” in “morally wrong” is often used as an intensifier, so that “morally wrong” means “very wrong” or “I dislike it a lot”. People tend not to use moral language about minor stuff. But these are just rules of thumb about how humans use language, there is no fact of the matter underlying any of this.

      As I see it, a lot of your questioning supposes that there is an underlying, coherent, moral-realist fact-of-the-matter about morality, and that you’re faulting my scheme for not mapping to it clearly and coherently. But, the rejection of this is the whole point of my scheme, not a flaw in it.

      As I have pointed out repeatedly, aesthetic properties — and you think that moral experiences are similar enough to them (or possibly even just ARE those sorts of things) to make this comparison valid — don’t work that way.

      Yes, I think that moral feelings simply are aesthetic feelings, or very much akin to aesthetic feelings, being human subjective value judgements, though applied to different subject matter.

      Presuming that when you talk about “disapproval” you mean that the person doesn’t want them to take an action, we can see lots of cases where aesthetic judgements don’t mean that.

      Yes there are differences, but these result from the different subject matter that the aesthetic judgements are about.

      Tom loves Mozart and classical concerts in general; therefore he wants to attend the Mozart-gala concert next week.

      Fred strongly dislikes it if children are mistreated; therefore he wants Dan to stop mistreating a child.

      I don’t see that the differences refute the underlying point, that moral value judgements are human subjective judgements akin to aesthetic ones.

      For example, a parent is likely not having a pleasant aesthetic experience when they look at their young child’s artwork, …

      I’ll bet that in many cases they are!

      … but they certainly want them to continue to do it.

      Because as well as having aesthetic feelings about the artwork itself, they have aesthetic feelings about the child and about the child’s development and exploration, etc.

      … at least one person voted for the manipulative Richard Hatch because even though they hated what he did and considered it immoral, they ultimately decided that he played the game better than everyone else, …

      So here we have competing value judgements, dislike of aspects of his behaviour outweighed by recognition of and admiration for other aspects. Human psychology is complicated! We all have myriad different competing value judgements. Thus we can have a loveable rogue, we can enjoy a film about and side with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, even though they were violent criminals and we disapprove of violent bank robbing.

      So, no, I can’t know that you disapprove if I know that you consider it immoral.

      Yes you can! The labelling as “immoral” expresses disapproval. That disapproval might co-exist with other emotional evaluations including approval. Human psychology is like that, it’s hugely complex and not necessarily consistent.

      And no, you CAN’T use conflicting emotions here, …

      Oh yes I can!

      … because at that point saying that it is immoral would STILL not tell me what the most rational response to that statement would be.

      You’re right, it wouldn’t. Why are you supposing that morality and moral talk would be about “rational responses” when actually it’s all about emotion and value judgements? That, again, is a moral-realist presumption.

      Despite my telling you on multiple occasions to stop conflating “ought” and “should”, you continue to do so. Why do you keep doing that?

      Because I hadn’t grasped that you were trying to make the distinction that you now clarify:

      What other word can I use to reflect the idea that a person who is rationally assessing the situation will come to a conclusion about what is the best and most rational/reasonable response and so that that is the preferred response to make, if “should” is so confusing for you?

      Morality is not about rational responses, it’s about values! A completely rationa robot with no values or desires would not make any response, indeed it would not do anything because it would have no motivation to do anything, because reason alone does not provide motivation. Aims, desires and values provide motivations.

      Therefore you cannot get a “should” from reason, you can only get a “should” from an aim or desire. The only form of “shouldness” that exists is instrumental “shoulds” deriving from our desires and values.

      Therefore, again, your whole attack on my position presumes a moral-realist conception of morality that is independent of subjective human values and that is arrived at by rational analysis.

      And if it is indeed that, as you assert, and I come to accept your view of that, then clearly the most rational response would be for me to ignore it.

      Yep! (And the reason that moral language is effective in the world is that humans are not purely rational creatures.) Though it is indeed rational to assess and take into account the emotional state of your fellow humans, since such states will affect how they act.

      And yet you still use [moral terms] and insist that they have use.

      They do, they have rhetorical use!

      But we can clearly see that they only have use or an impact against people who think that they express an objective truth.

      I’m not so sure, humans can be influenced simply by the fact that other humans have strong opinions and emotions. Expressing purely subjective opinions can influence other people. Thus, if someone notable expresses an opinion about an artwork or novel or about clothing fashion, it can influence how others feel about those things.

      Let’s take a clear example: in many cases, a young boy will support the same sports teams as his father. This choice is purely subjective, not in any way rational, but the fact that his dad supports a particular team can strongly influence how the boy feels about that team.

      But, I do grant you, the concept that “moral” claims are backed up by objective truth does assist the rhetoric and make the claims more convincing — which is exactly why we’re programmed to think that way.

      … and it does nothing to show what would happen in a world where everyone accepted what you think is the RIGHT view.

      I suggest that if everyone accepted the subjectivity of moral claims then de facto moral discourse would continue much the same (though being less fraught). For comparison, aesthetic language is common and useful in society.

      So do that here. Imagine that I’m convinced of your view and you say “X is immoral”. What response should I give, and what reasoning should I use to determine what the most reasonable response is?

      Again, your question supposes that morality is about reasoning and rational responses. It isn’t, it’s about values. But to answer the question:

      If I said, “X is immoral”, let’s say I suggest “separating immigrant kids from their parents is immoral”, then you would interpret me as saying: “I dislike kids being separated, I consider it harmful, and want the rules changed to prevent it”. Note that all parts of that (“dislike”, “harmful”, “want”) are subjective value-judgement opinions.

      Your response would then be to agree with me or disagree with me, doing so based on your own values, and evaluations of harms, and on what sort of society you want to live in.

      And that, actually, is pretty much how these things work, with people discussing competing values (desire for an orderly and controlled border versus desire not to harm kids).

      So, then, clearly in a world where everyone accepts your view we would stop using it for that purpose, correct?

      We could do, we could drop moral talk entirely, and instead have the above discussion in terms of subjective values. But, de facto, we won’t, at least in the medium term, because that language is too deeply embedded into how we talk.

      Thus, almost all of the cases where we currently use moral language would be cases where we don’t do that anymore, and appeal to something else.

      But likely it would not be that different. Take the above case, the discussion does *not* just go: “it’s immoral”, “no it isn’t”, “yes it is”. De facto, the discussion quickly becomes about values, harm to kids, wanting a secure border, etc. Thus the discussion *does* become about subjective values, with the “moral” language being a rhetorical veneer. Anyone who can’t back up their veneer of “immoral” in terms of values gets ignored.

      Indeed, that has to happen, since even if moral-realism were true, we don’t have an agreed method of discerning what the moral-realist truth values actually are, and so de facto the conversation proceeds in terms of our subjective values. That would hardly change.

      In what real, practical sense would moral language be used?

      It would be used as expressing value judgements.

      Please give an example of a conversation using moral language to show what the meaning would be …

      Does the above example suffice?

      No, it’s more that I want to know why anyone should care at all about the moral character of the statement, …

      If you’re asking for a reason based on rational analysis for why you should care, then there isn’t one.

      If you’re asking why you should care about other humans’ value judgements, it’s because such judgements affect how they act and that can affect you.

      And from that we can even wonder if it would be better for us to extirpate moral emotions entirely, …

      Not at all! Nothing in my scheme implies that. As humans, values are a central part of our nature and are all-important to us.

      So, again, what reason would we have for keeping moral emotions at all, …

      A baffling question! Just imagine if none of us even cared if people got killed, raped, or if children starved on the streets, or died of treatable diseases because no-one cared. Would you want to live in such a society? If not, then there’s your answer.

      Me: As a matter of fact, someone arguing and trying to influence others by promoting their *own* value system can indeed work.

      You: Again, assuming that all parties accept your view of morality and are acting rationally, HOW can that work?

      Note your phrase “and are acting rationally”. The idea that morality is about rational concepts is a moral-realist one; in my anti-realist position morality is not about rationality, it’s about values.

      Humans are not purely rational creatures. For an example of how someone “promoting their *own* value system” can influence others, consider the above example of a father supporting a football team can influence his son to support the same team.

      An instrumental desire is a desire that is only held of the sake of achieving other desires.

      Agreed.

      So if all desires are instrumental, then when we try to do this …

      It’s not the case that all our desires are instrumental. Evolution has programmed us with “human nature” which includes a whole raft of innate desires and values. That doesn’t alter the fact that those desires and values can also be influenced by environment, as well as by our genes.

      You end up with infinite regress, since every desire we have can be assessed in the same way, even the ones that we are appealing to in your own statement above. Thus, we need something that we cannot reasonably assess in that way.

      We have plenty of non-instrumental desires and values, these are desires that we just have, as a result of our genes and our development and upbringing. These are where the regress ends. Obvious ones are desires to breath and eat, to avoid pain, sexual desires, etc. These are not instrumental, they are part of our nature.

      But YOU claimed that we could assess them to determine what values/desires we ought to follow, which is what normativity is.

      Where did I say anything like that? My whole stance here is that there is no such thing as “what we ought to follow” in the abstract. All “oughtness” is instrumental, deriving from our values.

      What I have said is that some desires and values can be over-ridden by other desires and values. But, at root, having desires and values is part of our nature.

      That means you can’t rely on “We just have them” to get you out of this fix, and remember YOU SAID THIS YOURSELF EXPLICITLY.

      Where? My whole stance all along is that we have values as part of our nature, which is the foundation of all of this.

      Everyone has a large number of values and desires that are in no way related to morality.

      Agreed. But the “moral” values and desires are a subset of our overall set of values and desires. The ones that tend to get labelled “moral” are mostly ones about how people treat each other. Thus a desire that people don’t murder each other is one salient to morality, but a desire for a snazzy car is not (though some would say that spending money on a snazzy car, instead of third-world aid, is a moral issue; again, there is no fact of the matter).

      And yet, it is the question that you explicitly said WE COULD ASK.

      Where did I say that? I strongly suspect that you’re reading into me moral-realist presumptions that I’ve not said.

      At which point, that thing you said we could do by appealing to our other values can’t be done …

      What I’ve said is that we CAN over-ride one value using another value. That is NOT saying that we can assess the two values and determine what we OUGHT to do!

      Those are not the same thing at all! The latter is a moral-realist notion, and my whole stance rejects anything such. All I’ve said is that humans do have a whole host of competing values, and that often some values over-ride others. That is purely descriptive.

      That is not at all the same thing as “But YOU claimed that we could assess them to determine what values/desires we ought to follow, …”.

    42. verbosestoic

      Let me start by doing the dirty work of proving that you really did say what you now claim you didn’t say:

      But YOU claimed that we could assess them to determine what values/desires we ought to follow, which is what normativity is.

      Where did I say anything like that? My whole stance here is that there is no such thing as “what we ought to follow” in the abstract. All “oughtness” is instrumental, deriving from our values.

      You said this in a previous comment:

      But we can ask if we ought to have and/or ought to follow the desires we have, and that’s precisely what we mean by normativity.

      Yes, you added that that follows from our values, but that wasn’t what I was challenging there nor was it relevant to my interpretation. You argued that we can assess our desires and whether or not we should follow them, and my objections were based on that. Then when I followed up with that pointing out that later you were contradicting that, you denied saying the thing that you explicitly and directly said. This is not conducive to rational discussion [grin].

      Okay, I don’t want to have to do that anymore, so denying that you said things that I explicitly say that you said is probably something you should avoid doing in the future. At least ask first where I got that from before denying it. Let me move on to a bit of a long preamble trying to untangle the mess we’re in, because you keep asserting that I’m trying to make morality rational — by which you seem to mean objective — in places where I’m not talking about morality itself, but instead about our reactions to moral claims.

      So let me start here: what it means for an action to be rational is that given a set of beliefs about the world and a set of desires, there are better and worse approaches one can take to satisfying their desires. The rational approach is the one that maximizes the satisfaction of those desires. This does NOT mean that those beliefs and desires are themselves objective or must be the same for all people. By their very nature, they belong to the person who has them and differ from person to person. However, if I know the beliefs and desires that a person has then I can determine rationally what the best and therefore most rational way to satisfy them would be, and I can do that regardless of whether or not they agree. There’s a best way for them to satisfy their desires even if they don’t believe that that is the best way to do so. This is a minimal rationality to me, but again does not make beliefs, desires and values objective.

      So when I talk about determining a rational response to something, that’s all I mean: given a set of beliefs and desires there is a best way to respond to any given situation or stimuli. In this case, the question I’ve been constantly asking is what the rational response to someone saying “That is/would be immoral!”, in terms of what action they should take or what beliefs they should change or whatever.

      This, then, gets into what morality has meant and what it means under your view. Typically, when it comes to taking action morality has been assumed to be an overwhelming motivation. If I decide that an action is immoral, then that gives me all the motivation I need to not do it, and pretty much trumps all other possible values or desires I have. If immoral, don’t do it is the operative structure here. And if morality is objective then if someone else says that an action is immoral then that would be treated like a violation of my own moral code, and so again give me an overwhelming motivation not to do it. Thus, in general, we have the belief that morality trumps all other motivations and that morality being objective means that someone else expressing that an action is immoral also means that their assessment trumps all other motivations as long as they are right about that.

      Making morality subjective takes away the second assessment. Even if I hold that morality always trumps all other motivations, that would have to be assessed against the moral code that _I_ hold. I granted your assessment validity when there was only supposed to be one true moral code, but now that we accept that there are multiple moral codes and that the only one that’s really valid for me is my own, your assessment no longer has that force. That’s why your comments of “Well, sometimes people respond to those assessments!” don’t work, because for the most part they respond because they still hold the outdated idea of what morality is — which, as I said, it is intellectually dishonest for you to rely on — and beyond that they may be able to find other motivations to take your assessment to heart but none of them would be based on that assessment being a MORAL one. It would only be if they happen to agree with you that their actions would be based on morality, and in most cases if we accept subjectivism about morality that won’t really be true, or will at least be coincidental (or culturally programmed).

      But wait, there’s more! Your next move is to reduce morality to an aesthetic preference, but this ALSO has consequences, because while morality is always seen as a trumping motivation — and, in particular, that moral motivations trump self-interested ones — aesthetic preferences are always seen as being subordinate to self-interested ones. To us the Buckley’s cough syrup ads as an example, it tastes awful, but it works, and so the rational thing for us to do is sacrifice our aesthetic preference to the self-interested greater good of curing my cough. In general, while we always have some motivation to seek comfort and pleasure and pleasurable experiences and avoid uncomfortable and painful ones, we are always expected to accept those if our overall self-interest would be enhanced if we ignored those aesthetic preferences. If morality is the same way, then we would be expected to, again, only act morally if it was in our long-term self-interest, and if it wasn’t, then we shouldn’t do that. This is a radical departure from how we use morality, and would change the dialogue entirely if we actually accept the rational consequences of our own beliefs. I should only act according to your assessment of the morality of a situation if a) I agree with it and it is in my self-interest to act on my morality in that case or b) it is in my direct self-interest to act according to your assessment even though my own morality doesn’t agree. This is why I said that the only motivations one can have to caring about your assessment of their morality under your view are that they agree with you or that you have power over them, because those are the only rational motivations that could trump their own moral assessment AND where morality can trump self-interest.

      And you can’t really deny this sort of basic or minimal rationality, because to do so would wipe out about 90% of what you do in blog posts and in comments. You can’t criticize people as being irrational for believing God exists because you would have denied even minimal rationality as being a motivating factor in determining what someone ought to do. And you can’t criticize them for claiming that faith is a good way to for beliefs because you’d have to call them irrational for doing so, and you’d have eliminated rationality as any kind of argument. So in defending the irrationality of morality, you strongly risk making rationality pointless.

      So morality really should work differently under your view if we are minimally rational, unless you can distinguish morality from aesthetics in a motivated and properly argued way. And that’s what you haven’t done. Case in point:

      Yes there are differences, but these result from the different subject matter that the aesthetic judgements are about.
      Tom loves Mozart and classical concerts in general; therefore he wants to attend the Mozart-gala concert next week.
      Fred strongly dislikes it if children are mistreated; therefore he wants Dan to stop mistreating a child.
      I don’t see that the differences refute the underlying point, that moral value judgements are human subjective judgements akin to aesthetic ones.

      The problem here is that you considered them “different” by comparing a positive case in the case of the aesthetic and a negative one in the case of morality, but of COURSE those are going to be different. They’re different in pure aesthetic judgements, too. So you never DID show how context and subject matter, well, matters. You are PRESUMING it does because those things trigger more strongly in your “moral” case than in the aesthetic case, but if you accept your view then you’d have to accept that that isn’t the case for all people, especially considering that we know of people — psychopaths, for example — where that ISN’T true. If you make morality subjective and based on moral emotions, you have to accept that others will not have the same emotions as you and so cannot simply use those as demonstrations of how they’re different, because to someone else it might not be AND since we know that then it isn’t necessarily so and so there’s no necessary difference there, so it can’t be used as an argument or example to prove your point.

      Which then gets into the nature of morality itself. If morality is subjective, then at first blush it seems that what is moral just is what a person THINKS it is. Thus, it is entirely reasonable for me to conclude that that Stoic idea of morality is what morality really is to me. Except that the Stoic idea eliminates moral emotions as being what it means to be moral. As long as I accept that that moral code is, in fact, only mine, I’m not violating moral subjectivism, and so it’s hard to see how you could oppose my holding that view. But if I do so, then it is clear that what defines the moral is NOT moral emotions. That’s what it is to YOU perhaps, but not what it is in general. So, again, by trying to deny a common meaning to moral language you end up leaving yourself unable to say what morality is and so unable to actually argue that morality is in fact an aesthetic property. It is for you, perhaps, but to me it’s like a personal code of honour, and both views seem valid under your own system.

      Which leads me to this comment in response to my question about why we need them at all:

      A baffling question! Just imagine if none of us even cared if people got killed, raped, or if children starved on the streets, or died of treatable diseases because no-one cared. Would you want to live in such a society? If not, then there’s your answer.

      Except that we can get to that purported “caring” though other means. I can adopt a Stoic moral code, declare that morality trumps all else, and act accordingly. I could also, however, adopt an entirely self-interested view and come to the same conclusion. Why? Well, it’s as you said: a society where those rules didn’t exist and weren’t followed is a society that is not in my personal self-interest, thus I accept those rules existing and follow them … for as long as it IS in my self-interest. And both of these rational approaches are superior to moral emotions because moral emotions can misfire and cause me to act in ways that are not in my self-interest or are not consistent with the moral code I have chosen to adopt. Moral emotions, then, risk me violating minimal rationality, and since minimal rationality always tells me what’s in my own best interest given the beliefs and desires I have it’s not a good thing to violate them. Thus, I have good reasons to eliminate the very things you think absolutely critical.

      Okay, let me clean up a few dangling things from the rest of the comment.

      Yes you can! The labelling as “immoral” expresses disapproval. That disapproval might co-exist with other emotional evaluations including approval. Human psychology is like that, it’s hugely complex and not necessarily consistent.

      But in light of the above, what would be important is whether your OVERALL assessment is positive or negative. If positive, then I can expect a positive response from you if I do it and if negative I can expect a negative one from you. Presuming that I have reason to care about your reaction, if emotions can conflict then what I really need to assess is what your overall state is or will be at the end of all the assessments. Saying “That’s immoral” doesn’t tell me that, unless you insist that someone wold only say that if that was their overriding feeling (which would contradict aesthetic language). But in that case you’d still be relying on the old notion of morality, as you’d expect everyone to know or accept that morality was overriding when, in general, it isn’t. If morality is an aesthetic judgement, then expressing it does not, in and of itself, express strength NOR does it imply that it’s overriding, both of which you need to claim that moral language would be used pretty much the same way if everyone accepted your view.

      Let’s take a clear example: in many cases, a young boy will support the same sports teams as his father. This choice is purely subjective, not in any way rational, but the fact that his dad supports a particular team can strongly influence how the boy feels about that team.

      The problem is that you keep using children as examples of how it can happen, when children aren’t expected to be rational. The only reason adults can maintain this sort of belief is because it isn’t important; WHICH team I cheer for doesn’t make me happy, but rather it’s cheering FOR a team that makes me happy. So while there might be better or worse teams to cheer for — cheering for a team in another city so you can never see them live seems not ideal, for example — that’s not what it’s about and so we are willing to accept that simple assessment for that belief.

      This is not true of all of them, however. For example, I doubt you would be so sanguine about my belief in God and holding Catholicism, despite the fact that it came from my parents. I also doubt that you’d accept someone who was racist because their father was. In general, subjective beliefs are beliefs that we claim it is generally difficult or impossible to reason someone out of while objective beliefs are those that we think we can reliably do that for, and moreover that people who don’t do that are wrong not to do. That is clearly the case for you for God beliefs, is generally the case for racist beliefs, and is not at all the case for aesthetic beliefs like favourite team or favourite style of music.

      It’s not the case that all our desires are instrumental. Evolution has programmed us with “human nature” which includes a whole raft of innate desires and values. That doesn’t alter the fact that those desires and values can also be influenced by environment, as well as by our genes.

      The problem is that our evolutionary desires are ones that can and often are not conducive to our overall happiness. Thus, we quite often need to override them to achieve happiness. If they are intrinsic, then we couldn’t do that without undercutting our entire value structure; we’d have nothing to value because the things that we value just because are, at least in that instance, no longer things we really value. In short, we stop valuing the things we are supposed to just value, or at least value other values THAT ARE NOT THEM more. This, then, breaks minimum rationality. So, in general, we have one overarching value and assess all of our other desires and values wrt how well they help us achieve that one. In general, happiness is assumed to be that one value, but for you — unlike Carrier — we can legitimately decide what is our base value. This still leads into how to handle my saying that being moral is my base value. Carrier’s view becomes logically circular at that point, but yours can survive it by simply claiming that I’m wrong to pick a logically unachievable base value. But then we can see that your view of morality is again quite different from the typical view, as it subordinates morality to happiness. Thus, we wouldn’t use moral language in at all the same way, which gives us reason to doubt that you, yourself, are talking about the same thing we are when you talk about morality.

      I think I’ll end it here. But the short summary is that your view reduces morality from an overriding motivation to a subordinate one, while you still use it as an overriding one to claim that we’re even talking about the same thing, which to me seems like an inconsistency. Moreover, your own view doesn’t let you make the bold statements about moral emotions that you’ve been making. So we need to settle all of that before there can be a consistent view here to discuss.

    43. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      Let me start by doing the dirty work of proving that you really did say what you now claim you didn’t say

      There’s been some miscommunication, owing to a screwed up blockquote (my fault, sorry). The words you attribute to me was actually me quoting you, and then replying to it. But I messed up the quoting thus misleading you. Reviewing the thread:

      Me: “Well it is a fact that humans do have desires! They are not justified rationally from anything else, but we do have such desires and we have them because it’s in our nature to have them, because that’s how we have evolved to be.”

      You: “But we can ask if we ought to have and/or ought to follow the desires we have, and that’s precisely what we mean by normativity.”

      My reply: “And the answer can only be in terms of our other values and desires.”

      And in giving that reply I quoted your above sentence, but made it look like it was part of what I was saying. From there, you thought I had said something, whereas I was confident that I hadn’t.

      So let me start here: what it means for an action to be rational is that given a set of beliefs about the world and a set of desires, there are better and worse approaches one can take to satisfying their desires.

      Agreed.

      So when I talk about determining a rational response to something, that’s all I mean: given a set of beliefs and desires there is a best way to respond to any given situation or stimuli.

      Agreed.

      In this case, the question I’ve been constantly asking is what the rational response to someone saying “That is/would be immoral!”, in terms of what action they should take or what beliefs they should change or whatever.

      By your own account as just stated (and which I agree with) the rational response that someone should take on hearing such a thing would then depend on their own values and desires. So one can’t give an answer without knowing what those are.

      [The previous times you’ve asked the question I’ve interpreted it as asking about a rational response that they “should” make, regardless of their own aims and desires, which is a moral-realist notion.]

      Typically, when it comes to taking action morality has been assumed to be an overwhelming motivation. If I decide that an action is immoral, then that gives me all the motivation I need to not do it, and pretty much trumps all other possible values or desires I have.

      Agreed, that is how a lot of people have conceived of “immoral”. I consider this to be a moral-realist conception that is false.

      Making morality subjective takes away the second assessment. Even if I hold that morality always trumps all other motivations, that would have to be assessed against the moral code that _I_ hold.

      Agreed.

      That’s why your comments of “Well, sometimes people respond to those assessments!” don’t work, because for the most part they respond because they still hold the outdated idea of what morality is …

      I agree that to a large degree that is why they respond to moral assessments. But, that it is not the only reason. People are indeed influenced by other people’s approval or disapproval, quite regardless of notions of morality.

      Let’s take an entirely subjective topic such as fashion in clothing. It is a fact that what people decide to wear is influenced by other people’s approval or disapproval of those choices. You wouldn’t turn up at a job interview for a law firm while dressed for the beach.

      Thus it is not the case that moral language (that is, expressions of approval or disapproval) would have zero effect unless we accept moral-realist interpretations.

      To us the Buckley’s cough syrup ads as an example, it tastes awful, but it works, and so the rational thing for us to do is sacrifice our aesthetic preference to the self-interested greater good of curing my cough.

      As I see it, the desire to be fit and healthy is also effectively an “aesthetic” preference. Or, rather, all our desires and values (whether about being healthy, or liking the taste of food, or enjoying art, or disapproving of how someone is behaving) are all pretty much the same thing.

      We can usefully use labels to denote different types of preferences and desires, but they’re all variants of the same thing and they can all trade off against each other. Evolution has programmed us with these preferences, but evolution doesn’t care whether it is a “moral” preference, a “self-interested” one or an “aesthetic” one. They are all just patterns of activity in our neural-net brains, whizzing around, interacting with each other, trading off against each other, and competing to influence the “output commands” to our muscles.

      This is a radical departure from how we use morality, and would change the dialogue entirely if we actually accept the rational consequences of our own beliefs.

      It is indeed a radical departure from our *commentary* *about* morality, but I don’t think it’s that radical a departure from how we de facto think and act.

      This is why I said that the only motivations one can have to caring about your assessment of their morality under your view are that they agree with you or that you have power over them, …

      Not really true; again, humans *do* care about how others think about them. Let’s suppose a prominent Canadian person says something derogatory and insulting about Mexicans. Many Mexican people would care about it, even if (a) they disagreed with it, and (b) the Canadian had no power over them.

      … because those are the only rational motivations that could trump their own moral assessment AND where morality can trump self-interest.

      Recall from above that we’re agreed that the “rational” response here is in terms of one’s own desires and motivations. Well, one desire people (in general) have is to be well regarded and well thought of. It’s about reputation, social standing and “face”; it matters to people. If someone is being called “immoral” it matters to them! That is still the case even if that “immoral” label is (rightly) interpreted as “mere” aesthetic disapproval.

      Just imagine being a 15-yr-old girl who gets criticised by the popular kids in the class for having a lousy dress sense and being utterly uncool. This *will* have an effect on them! She will care! And it will influence her, even if everyone accepts that ideals of dress sense and coolness are entirely subjective.

      We are social animals, de facto we are influenced by the evaluations of our follow humans.

      … especially considering that we know of people — psychopaths, for example — where that ISN’T true.

      OK, agreed, psychopaths and sociopaths are less influenced by these things, but don’t those exceptions show that most of us are?

      If morality is subjective, then at first blush it seems that what is moral just is what a person THINKS it is.

      Under my subjectivism, there is no such thing as “what *is* moral”. All there is is reports of people’s values.

      Thus, it is entirely reasonable for me to conclude that that Stoic idea of morality is what morality really is to me.

      So, based on your value system, you’re choosing a Stoic moral system as encapsulating your values and being how you want to act. That’s fine, but it is a choice based on your value system. It’s not what morality “really is” whether “really is to me” or not. (And then error theory is a large part of my analysis; most people’s assessment of what morality “is” is false.)

      As long as I accept that that moral code is, in fact, only mine, I’m not violating moral subjectivism, and so it’s hard to see how you could oppose my holding that view.

      If all you’re doing is reporting your moral codes and your value system then I don’t disagree. If you’re arguing that it’s what morality “really is”, then I’ll suggest you’re in error.

      It is for you, perhaps, but to me it’s like a personal code of honour, and both views seem valid under your own system.

      But I don’t see how you can have an emotion-free code of honour. Codes of honour are reports of value and emotion systems.

      I can adopt a Stoic moral code, declare that morality trumps all else, and act accordingly.

      Yes you can, but you can only do so based on your own values and emotions, how you want to act and what sort of society you want to live in.

      I could also, however, adopt an entirely self-interested view and come to the same conclusion.

      True, but evaluations of “self-interest” can only come from what you value, and what sort of society you want to live in.

      And both of these rational approaches are superior to moral emotions because moral emotions can misfire …

      I think you’re taking way too narrow a conception of what “emotion” means here to an emotivist. It includes all “I care” thoughts, and is contrasted with statements of pure fact or reason. Thus all values, all desires, count as “emotions” to an emotivist.

      So, both of your above analyses are emotivist. In one you’re adopting a Stoic moral code owing to your *values*, in the second you’re evaluating “self interest” which can only be done based on what you *want*.

      The contrast here is with traditional moral-realist conceptions of there being things we “should” or “should not” do that are entirely independent of our values or of what we want. These are attempts to derive shoulds purely from facts or reason. The emotivist denies that this is possible and says that shoulds can only derive instrumentally from our values and desires (aka emotions).

      The problem is that you keep using children as examples of how it can happen, when children aren’t expected to be rational.

      And nor are adults! Yes, I’m using children as examples for that reason, that it makes things clearer. But adults are just grown-up children, they’re still humans and have all the foibles of human nature.

      The problem is that our evolutionary desires are ones that can and often are not conducive to our overall happiness. Thus, we quite often need to override them to achieve happiness. If they are intrinsic, then we couldn’t do that without undercutting our entire value structure

      That’s not true. It would be true if a value system were foundational, deriving from axioms or fixed “intrinsic” values. But human brains don’t work like that. Values are actually patterns of activity in our neural network, influenced by all sorts of things (genes, upbringing, environment, sensory inputs, etc). Thus our values are a web, and one can change parts of it, any part of it, with knock-on consequences for other parts of the web, but without the whole thing collapsing.

      So, in general, we have one overarching value and assess all of our other desires and values wrt how well they help us achieve that one.

      I don’t think so. We have a whole web of values, and all of them influence, reinforce, or compete with, other values.

      This still leads into how to handle my saying that being moral is my base value.

      I don’t accept the concept of a base value (though I readily accept that some values are more influential than others).

      But the short summary is that your view reduces morality from an overriding motivation to a subordinate one, …

      Not really, morality is not something different from or apart from motivations and values, moral language is simply a *report* of motivations and values. It’s a way of talking, but not the underlying reality.

    44. verbosestoic

      There’s been some miscommunication, owing to a screwed up blockquote (my fault, sorry).

      To be honest, I probably would have caught that myself if I had been able to reply to the comment earlier. Which, of course, I’m still failing to do. I’m less busy and more distracted, which causes me to not really find the block of time to dedicate to replying to comments.

      On top of that, though, you didn’t actually disagree with me about what normativity is. This, then, makes me wonder what reasoning you’re using to say that normativity doesn’t exist, or what definition you’re using to rely on that. Your comment talks about having to reference other values and desires, which might be true — although it’s vulnerable to my conceptual view of normativity — but is another debate entirely. So, again, at this point I’m totally confused about what you mean by normativity.

      To be honest, I think focusing on, at least, refuting objective morality would be better for you. Trying to define and then refute/refine normativity is probably above your philosophical pay grade [grin]. I myself, if I wanted to, say, claim that normativity couldn’t be subjective would either have to do a lot of research to see if there are views where it can be, or at least have to come up with a very strong argument that it is conceptually impossible for normativity to be subjective. You seem to be going further than that without any such strong arguments. Is the lack of normativity that critical to your views on morality? If it is, how is it that critical? What does it do for you?

      Note that in discussions of morality the big reason to make them normative is to avoid making them descriptive, and thus to avoid simply saying that we are merely cataloguing the existing moral beliefs of people and that there is no notion about what morals — or actions — someone should take. We do this to avoid the problems I’ve been raising and you’ve been kinda dodging, which is the idea that if someone considers it moral to rape and murder people, all we can do is report that that is what their morality is. Whether we end up appealing to their own values or to objective values, at the end of the day we still want to be able to say that despite what they believe they are mistaken, which we can’t do if morality is merely subjective-descriptive. And note that aesthetic properties are, in fact, subjective-descriptive; I can’t be wrong about what I find visually pleasing.

      By your own account as just stated (and which I agree with) the rational response that someone should take on hearing such a thing would then depend on their own values and desires. So one can’t give an answer without knowing what those are.

      How many different sets of values and desires would be in play here? I’m not asking for a complete table, but at a minimum an idea of “This is what it means to them, and thus I must consider that this way in my decisions”. Remember, we’ve chased the “They have to care about their disapproval” chain around quite a bit, and I still maintain that there are a limited number of cases where someone has a set of values and desires where if morality is just an expression of disapproval they should care about it if they accept that. I still also maintain that you keep relying on the fact that people think that morality is objective — and thus that a challenge to the moral claim they are making is an actual claim that their morality is incorrect — to support your contention that we should still consider moral claims important and react to them the same way we do now, both consciously when you talk about it as useful rhetoric and unconsciously when you insist that people still do often care about the disapproval of others.

      So, knowing that all it means is that they don’t like it, again why should anyone care about their disapproval? More on that later.

      [The previous times you’ve asked the question I’ve interpreted it as asking about a rational response that they “should” make, regardless of their own aims and desires, which is a moral-realist notion.]

      You are expanding moral realism far beyond the realm it actually has. Even asking what one should morally do doesn’t require moral realism, as all moral subjectivisms and even moral emotivisms have an answer to that question. It’s only error theory and other eliminativist theories that considers the question pointless or unanswerable. PLEASE be more careful in what terms you use, because at times you seem to make moves like this and then use the fact that you reject moral realism to refute the other claim, when they don’t rely on each other at all.

      Also note that I myself am not a moral realist, but remain a moral objectivist, so in general refuting moral realism is going to do nothing to my position.

      Agreed, that is how a lot of people have conceived of “immoral”. I consider this to be a moral-realist conception that is false.

      But if I reject that, then all moral values will be instrumental, and thus must be justified by some other value or set of values. This would be, as I have said, a radical departure from how we view morality. In general, I think the best option is always going to be “I’ll only act moral if it is my best interest — given my evaluation of my own values, desires, and beliefs — to do so”. Since most traditional moral claims clash with self-interest and seem to exist — and have evolved — to limit my self-interest, this would again result in radically different moral systems. And since all of those moral claims would ultimately be justified by self-interest — for example that I keep promises because if I don’t no one will accept my promises and won’t keep them with me — then moral values and claims seem redundant. I can simply drop down to rational self-interest and leave morality out of the picture entirely (see Objectivism for a morality that does exactly that).

      But I can’t really see any other sane and rational way to go from here. Do you have any other options, or is this where you expect things to end up?

      Let’s take an entirely subjective topic such as fashion in clothing. It is a fact that what people decide to wear is influenced by other people’s approval or disapproval of those choices. You wouldn’t turn up at a job interview for a law firm while dressed for the beach.

      Because they wouldn’t hire me if I did, therefore it is not in my self-interest because they have power over me. I don’t care about their moral assessment and don’t consider myself morally bound to do so. If I had a personal moral code that said that I couldn’t dress that way, doing that would be choosing self-interest over morality. So again, at that point you take morality out of the picture, which makes it meaningless to actually take the claim into the realm of morality.

      As I see it, the desire to be fit and healthy is also effectively an “aesthetic” preference. Or, rather, all our desires and values (whether about being healthy, or liking the taste of food, or enjoying art, or disapproving of how someone is behaving) are all pretty much the same thing.

      At which point, your view and terminology becomes so eccentric that discussion seems impossible. You don’t mean by words what everyone else means, but then just toss them around and expect everyone to follow along with them, which they can’t. This really, really comes across as — it seems inadvertent — equivocation. You are making the amateur philosopher mistake of redefining words and positions but treating them as if they have the same implications. They don’t.

      If all values are the same, then I say that there is NO SUCH THING as moral values and it is simply equivocation to say there are and to make any appeal to morality, and thus that doing so is intellectually dishonest. Since you still do that, you’d be at a minimum making an incredible mistake, and at worst would be deliberately equivocating (if you’re aware of that and yet don’t care).

      We can usefully use labels to denote different types of preferences and desires, but they’re all variants of the same thing and they can all trade off against each other. Evolution has programmed us with these preferences, but evolution doesn’t care whether it is a “moral” preference, a “self-interested” one or an “aesthetic” one. They are all just patterns of activity in our neural-net brains, whizzing around, interacting with each other, trading off against each other, and competing to influence the “output commands” to our muscles.

      The problem is that we label things with different labels because they have different properties and thus implications than each other. So to collapse them all into each other as a response to an argument simply doesn’t work, because the argument relies, in fact, on those different properties. And as it turns out your arguments about neurology and evolution are incorrect, because those properties prompt different behaviours in us, and evolution selected them and molded them based on those differences. Essentially, here your argument is like saying that because both water and strychnine are, at the base of things, made up of atoms you should be able to drink both without any problems. The arrangement of atoms is important, as is the different properties of things like aesthetic preferences, morals and self-preservation instincts and desires. Thus you can’t just declare morals and self-preservation instincts and desires to be the same as aesthetic preferences when it suits your argument, since that has implications for what they are that goes beyond the argument you’re making.

      Instead of simply saying “These are essentially aesthetic preferences”, you really should take the long road and outline what specific properties you think these things have that deal with the refutations or support your argument, without making any appeals to them being the same as other things except perhaps as analogies. You’ve done the analogical argument before, but ruin it by insisting on an ontological similarity of them being “the same”.

      It is indeed a radical departure from our *commentary* *about* morality, but I don’t think it’s that radical a departure from how we de facto think and act.

      But couldn’t that be because most people do not actually consistently ACT on their moral beliefs, and instead act on self-interest and rationalize it? Thus, even if you’re right, that’s only because most people already have reduced everything to self-interest and aren’t willing to admit it, and thus if they accept your view they, rationally, would have to accept it and just cut morality out of the picture entirely.

      And you want people to act rationally. As I said — and you disturbingly dodged — that’s the basis of your opposition to religion and advocacy of scientism. So for you to abandon it as you so often do in these cases smacks of “convenient argumentation”: it’s a reasonable response to say that we sometimes act irrationally only when it suits your argument, and not when it works against you. That leads to frustrating discussions, so you really need to address this with some sort of consistent position, and one that matters.

      Let’s suppose a prominent Canadian person says something derogatory and insulting about Mexicans. Many Mexican people would care about it, even if (a) they disagreed with it, and (b) the Canadian had no power over them

      They’d be offended, sure, but not so much that it would cause them to change their actions based on it without one of the other factors being in play. And that’s what moral claims are always aimed to achieve: a change in behaviour, either yours or theirs.

      Just imagine being a 15-yr-old girl who gets criticised by the popular kids in the class for having a lousy dress sense and being utterly uncool. This *will* have an effect on them! She will care! And it will influence her, even if everyone accepts that ideals of dress sense and coolness are entirely subjective.

      Except in general that WOULD be self-interest; she’d be conforming because not doing so will make her life miserable. And, of course, there are those that won’t conform based on other kinds of principles, including moral ones. So at this point, it’s not a moral claim anymore and again reduces to an appeal to self-interest, and so isn’t in any way trumping self-interest.

      We want to make moral claims to convince people to not take actions that are in their self-interest (see objections to Objectivism, for example). Your view doesn’t allow for that unless they themselves decide to value morality above self-interest and are acting on their own moral code, at which point you telling them what your moral code says is irrelevant, and thus if it reduces to “disapproval” reduces it to an appeal to self-interest, which as I said means it can’t trump it.

      OK, agreed, psychopaths and sociopaths are less influenced by these things, but don’t those exceptions show that most of us are?

      No, because you have no cause to say that they are in any way wrong or deficient — and thus are important exceptions — AND can’t really defend your view from the charge that WE are wrong and should be more like them.

      Under my subjectivism, there is no such thing as “what *is* moral”. All there is is reports of people’s values.

      Then you’re not a subjectivist, but instead are some kind of eliminativist. I’d say that you were a straight error theorist except you use that term wrong [grin].

      So, based on your value system, you’re choosing a Stoic moral system as encapsulating your values and being how you want to act. That’s fine, but it is a choice based on your value system. It’s not what morality “really is” whether “really is to me” or not.

      On what grounds can you argue that if I say that when I say “X is immoral” I mean “X violates my personal Stoic moral code” that I’m wrong? That requires you to make SOME kind of objective claim about what morality really is, which is what you deny you can do.

      (And then error theory is a large part of my analysis; most people’s assessment of what morality “is” is false.)

      Error theory doesn’t mean that people sometimes get moral claims wrong. From wikipedia:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_skepticism#Moral_error_theory

      Moral error theory is a position characterized by its commitment to two propositions: (i) all moral claims are false and (ii) we have reason to believe that all moral claims are false. The most famous moral error theorist is J. L. Mackie, who defended the metaethical view in Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977). Mackie has been interpreted as giving two arguments for moral error theory.

      The first argument people attribute to Mackie, often called the argument from queerness,[2] holds that moral claims imply motivation internalism (the doctrine that “It is necessary and a priori that any agent who judges that one of his available actions is morally obligatory will have some (defeasible) motivation to perform that action” [3]). Because motivation internalism is false, however, so too are all moral claims.

      The other argument often attributed to Mackie, often called the argument from disagreement,[3] maintains that any moral claim (e.g. “Killing babies is wrong”) entails a correspondent “reasons claim” (“one has reason not to kill babies”). Put another way, if “killing babies is wrong” is true then everybody has a reason to not kill babies. This includes the psychopath who takes great pleasure from killing babies, and is utterly miserable when he does not have their blood on his hands. But, surely, (if we assume that he will suffer no reprisals) this psychopath has every reason to kill babies, and no reason not to do so. All moral claims are thus false.

      You in general don’t seem to be a moral skeptic, and emotivist positions aren’t morally skeptical. And yet you seem to be trying to claim that you are both, which seems logically impossible [grin].

      True, but evaluations of “self-interest” can only come from what you value, and what sort of society you want to live in.

      It’s the other way around, at least for society. I can’t decide what sort of society I want to live in without knowing what sort of society it is in my best interest to live in. Unless I push self-interest aside and make ANOTHER value paramount, but doing so would pretty much destroy your view, especially if I made being moral paramount.

      Self-interest is one motivation or value that pretty much everyone has and is always important to them. Generally, then, we need reasons to put it aside, which is why so many moral systems ultimately reduce to it, and why so many moral arguments end there as it’s the only thing that everyone pretty much has in common.

      think you’re taking way too narrow a conception of what “emotion” means here to an emotivist. It includes all “I care” thoughts, and is contrasted with statements of pure fact or reason. Thus all values, all desires, count as “emotions” to an emotivist.

      It’s clear that you have been influenced by Hume — either directly or indirectly — and so you make the same mistakes he does: insisting that “calm passions” are the same thing as emotions because they have an emotional underpinning. It was an argument against Stoicism that since calm passions are emotions and the Stoics want to eliminate emotions, they would have to eliminate that as well and have no motivation and be unable to reason. The problem is that that is not what the Stoics mean by “emotion”, and so would allow all of the emotions that are directly required to reason while eliminating or limiting the ones that are in opposition to it. And since we know from things like the treatment of phobias and anger management that that can be done without eliminating reason their view is plausible. Thus, no emotivist can extend emotions to the calm passions and have any kind of argument since all rationalist or anti-emotion positions would have access to all of those “emotions” as well. So for an emotivist to have a distinct position from a rationalist, they HAVE to be talking about the more limited view of emotions. And, on top of that, those emotions ARE directly comparable to actual aesthetic properties and experiences, and so fit your own position better, whereas calm passions aren’t.

      So I’ll stick with my view of emotivism, which happens to be the more common one (again, see Prinz for that).

      The contrast here is with traditional moral-realist conceptions of there being things we “should” or “should not” do that are entirely independent of our values or of what we want. These are attempts to derive shoulds purely from facts or reason. The emotivist denies that this is possible and says that shoulds can only derive instrumentally from our values and desires (aka emotions).

      Since deriving normative facts from descriptive facts about the world violates the is-ought fallacy, almost all moral philosophers and objectivists won’t do that. Some moral objectivists WILL derive moral values from other values (Carrier, for example, tries to do just that). Not all objectivist positions are rationalist as well. And you have emotions wrong anyway, as you can’t reduce all values to emotions and still have a position that has any meaning. So this isn’t the way to build a consistent argument [grin].

      And nor are adults!

      No, adults ARE expected to be rational, except in cases where reason isn’t relevant. They aren’t always rational, but any adult who acts irrationally when they should act rationally is not forgiven for it like children are. Again, this is the thrust of your arguments for scientism and against religion, so it’s far too convenient for you to abandon that now.

      Thus our values are a web, and one can change parts of it, any part of it, with knock-on consequences for other parts of the web, but without the whole thing collapsing.

      But we end up with a disjoint and confused web if we do that, and thus a massively suboptimal one, which is why we generally have at least one overarching value that we evaluate it against when adjusting our values. And “it evolved” is not usually that criteria, because evolved values can be incredibly harmful to us at times, and we can override pretty much any evolved value if we want to.

    45. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      This, then, makes me wonder what reasoning you’re using to say that normativity doesn’t exist, …

      I’d say that objective normativity doesn’t exist; subjective normativity does.

      From wiki: “Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad or undesirable or impermissible”.

      Any such normativity then derives instrumentally from human desires and values (and is thus subjective).

      Is the lack of normativity that critical to your views on morality? If it is, how is it that critical?

      If we had objective normativity, wouldn’t that effectively be objective morality?

      We do this to avoid the problems I’ve been raising and you’ve been kinda dodging, which is the idea that if someone considers it moral to rape and murder people, all we can do is report that that is what their morality is.

      There’s nothing at all to stop us deploring their views and actions based on our own values. We can argue for the sort of society we want to live in, and we can argue that they should not be allowed to rape and murder. If we persuade enough people we can then pass laws prohibiting such things. This, de facto, is how morality works in the world, and it doesn’t need objective foundations, it is based on each of us advocating for the sort of society we want.

      … at the end of the day we still want to be able to say that despite what they believe they are mistaken, which we can’t do if morality is merely subjective-descriptive.

      Agreed, humans do indeed want to say that others are mistaken in an *objective* sense, that they’re violating *objective* standards. That would add weight to people’s critique of others. But, I still maintain that all such notions are misconceptions, and that there is nothing but subjective notions of right and wrong deriving from subjective values.

      I still also maintain that you keep relying on the fact that people think that morality is objective — and thus that a challenge to the moral claim they are making is an actual claim that their morality is incorrect — to support your contention that we should still consider moral claims important and react to them the same way we do now, both consciously when you talk about it as useful rhetoric and unconsciously when you insist that people still do often care about the disapproval of others.

      Yes, maybe you are right. Maybe it is the case that, because people consider morality to be objective, they care more about moral condemnation by others. I fully agree that the fact that people think that morality is objective makes moral talk more rhetorically effective.

      But I don’t accept that that is a good argument that morality is therefore objective. To me, all it indicates is that humans have been fooled into thinking that morality is objective precisely because it makes it more likely to influence behaviour (and influencing behaviour is why evolution has programmed us with moral sentiments).

      So, knowing that all it means is that they don’t like it, again why should anyone care about their disapproval?

      Why should one care about others and how they feel? Because their attitudes and conduct can affect you. If most people in society deplore rape and murder, and so have instigated laws against it, then self-interests suggests one should avoid such behaviour, regardless of one’s own attitude to rape and murder.

      Also note that I myself am not a moral realist, but remain a moral objectivist, …

      For my education, can you explain the difference? I’ve never really understood the distinction.

      But if I reject that, then all moral values will be instrumental, and thus must be justified by some other value or set of values.

      Yes, agreed. Except that at some point our values are just the values we have, rather than being “justified”.

      This would be, as I have said, a radical departure from how we view morality.

      Agreed, it is.

      In general, I think the best option is always going to be “I’ll only act moral if it is my best interest — given my evaluation of my own values, desires, and beliefs — to do so”.

      Ok, agreed …

      Since most traditional moral claims clash with self-interest and seem to exist — and have evolved — to limit my self-interest, this would again result in radically different moral systems.

      Not really. We need to distinguish between narrow-sense “self interest” and broader-sense self interest. It might be narrow-sense self-interested to cheat, lie, steal and be selfish, but in the wider sense whether we prosper depends on how others think and feel towards us, and being thought honorable, kind and self-less can actually be more in our long-term interests.

      And since all of those moral claims would ultimately be justified by self-interest — for example that I keep promises because if I don’t no one will accept my promises and won’t keep them with me — then moral values and claims seem redundant. I can simply drop down to rational self-interest and leave morality out of the picture entirely…

      Agreed, one could. One could re-word moral discourse in ways that don’t use moral terminology.

      Indeed, that’s a necessary feature of having explained morality and what it is, that we can translate it into other terminology. Moral realists who cannot translate moral language into non-moral language don’t understand what they mean by their moral language!

      But I can’t really see any other sane and rational way to go from here. Do you have any other options, or is this where you expect things to end up?

      Yes, that’s where I expect things to end up. That’s meta-ethics stripped down to bed-rock and settled. Moral language is language we use to discuss our values, how we want people to be treated, and what sort of society we want to live in.

      Of course applied ethics is then still wide open, we then have to argue for the sorts of society we want and to discuss with and seek to persuade each other.

      You are making the amateur philosopher mistake of redefining words and positions but treating them as if they have the same implications. They don’t.

      As I see it, what I’m doing is using a scientific perspective to get at the truth of the matter, and suggesting that the distinctions that philosophers make are not really tenable. All our “values”, desires, and aesthetic preferences are much the same thing in that they’re all attitudes that our neural-net brains have, and they’ll all inter-twine and affect each other, and trying to make them distinct and separate is not really tenable.

      If all values are the same, then I say that there is NO SUCH THING as moral values …

      OK, so there is no such thing as “moral” values, at least there is no substantive distinction between “moral” values and any other value.

      … and it is simply equivocation to say there are and to make any appeal to morality, and thus that doing so is intellectually dishonest.

      Or, as I would phrase it, moral language refers to my values. By using it I am referring to my subjective values (just as everyone else does, de facto). If other people misunderstand it by thinking that I am trying to refer to objective values then they are misunderstanding owing to misunderstanding morality. The idea that morality is subjective has a long history, so it’s not that outlandish to use the language in this way.

      Instead of simply saying “These are essentially aesthetic preferences”, you really should take the long road and outline what specific properties you think these things have that deal with the refutations or support your argument, …

      But I really do mean that “moral sentiments” are essentially just aesthetic preferences. This is not just some hare-brained scheme of mine, it was first suggested by Darwin in Descent of Man. It’s a pretty mainstream opinion in scientific circles. Darwin suggested that evolution had simply co-opted existing aesthetic preferences (what sort of food we like etc) and re-purposed them to police social interactions (adding in aesthetic preferences about how we treat each other).
      In both a hardware sense and an evolutionary sense, it doesn’t make sense to distinguish between “aesthetic” sentiments and “moral” sentiments. By that insight, Darwin effectively settled meta-ethics.

      And you want people to act rationally. As I said — and you disturbingly dodged — that’s the basis of your opposition to religion and advocacy of scientism.

      No, I don’t want people to act rationally, if by that one means solely rationally. Reason alone is never a motivation to act. We act owing to our values. Reason then informs our acts, telling us how to attain what we want, but reason is only ever “a slave to the passions”.

      … So at this point, it’s not a moral claim anymore and again reduces to an appeal to …

      Your comments seem to carry the implication that if one can translate a moral claim into a non-moral claim, then this is a problem for or a refutation of my scheme. I entirely disagree. That is a *feature* of my scheme, and is a necessary feature for any account of morality that actually explains meta-ethics.

      We want to make moral claims to convince people to not take actions that are in their self-interest …

      Agreed, people *want* moral claims to be rhetorically persuasive, and for most people they *are* more persuasive if they are held to be objective. But that doesn’t mean that that is the case! It just means that humans are being fooled by rhetoric.

      Your view doesn’t allow for that …

      Correct!

      On what grounds can you argue that if I say that when I say “X is immoral” I mean “X violates my personal Stoic moral code” that I’m wrong?

      I wouldn’t say you were wrong! I’d say that you, based on your values, have adopted a Stoic moral code as an encapsulation of your values, and so when you say “X is immoral” you mean “X is out of line with my values”, which is also what I mean by it. 🙂

      Error theory doesn’t mean that people sometimes get moral claims wrong.

      Agreed. I’m using “error theory” to mean: “people think that there is such a thing as objective morality, but they are wrong to think that”.

      You in general don’t seem to be a moral skeptic, …

      I would have thought that I was, but then I’m often told that I’m using philosophical terms wrong. 🙂

      … and emotivist positions aren’t morally skeptical.

      Aren’t they?

      I can’t decide what sort of society I want to live in without knowing what sort of society it is in my best interest to live in.

      But you can’t decide what is in your best interests except by reference to your values, to what you want. “Best interests” cannot be some abstract concept unrelated to your prior desires and values.

      It’s clear that you have been influenced by Hume — either directly or indirectly …

      True!

      … and so you make the same mistakes he does: insisting that “calm passions” are the same thing as emotions because they have an emotional underpinning.

      Yes, as above, I’d regard them as the same thing. Again, in a hardware sense or an evolutionary sense it wouldn’t be possible to make a clear distinction between them.

      So for an emotivist to have a distinct position from a rationalist, they HAVE to be talking about the more limited view of emotions.

      I’d expect that emotivist would reply “but I am indeed taking the broader view of emotions, and if others wish to join me then great!”.

      So I’ll stick with my view of emotivism, which happens to be the more common one (again, see Prinz for that).

      One thing I’ve learned about philosophers is that they are very keen on micro-splitting of positions into distinct “-isms”. Scientists tend much more to be synthesizers, looking at different positions and saying that the differences are not significant.

      So, let me re-state that I regard all emotions, desires, values, passions (calm or ferocious), aesthetic preferences, etc, as much the same thing. They’re all subjective. And the only sort of normativity that exists derives instrumentally from these subjective values. And moral terminology is a report of these preferences. And thinking that moral terminology is more than that, and instead refers to objective values, is an upping of the rhetoric that has no basis in fact.

      That’s my scheme in a paragraph. You’re welcome to tell me how to label it! 🙂

    46. verbosestoic

      Sorry it took me so long to get back to this, but things have been a bit hectic lately. But I definitely wanted to get back to this to talk about realism. so let me start there:

      For my education, can you explain the difference? I’ve never really understood the distinction.

      There’s an implication about realism that I think is confusing and causes issues, as it implies that if morals are “real” that there’s some kind of object in the world that we can examine in some way and read its properties off to determine what it is, and thus those properties are “objectively true”. If we don’t have a material object for that, then it would have to be some kind of actual immaterial object, which then devolves into a host of philosophical complications. I think we fall into this for two reasons. The first one is the scientistic idea that all knowledge has to be empirical, and so in some way has to be “read” from reality. As I’ve already explained, my notion of conceptual truths clearly shows that this isn’t necessary: there are truths and therefore knowledge that we can come to using logic and definitions, even if we may not be able to do that for all relevant propositions. Second, there’s an overextension of the common line that objective truths are “mind-independent”, which people then conclude can be objects in the mind at all, which then forces there to be an object outside of mind that it refers to. However, mind-independent does not refer to location, but in fact to JUSTIFICATION. Does the TRUTH of the proposition depend only on what justifications exist in my own mind, or does it have an independent truth value where I need to have the right justifications to come to the right conclusion?

      While I know you slightly disagree with this, consider mathematical truths like 2 + 2 = 4. While you insist that this truth is still “empirical”, what’s relevant here is that we don’t go looking out in the world to find 2, 4, + and = objects whose properties we read to determine the truth of that statement. It’s true because of what the concepts of those things mean, not because of any material or immaterial objects that we’ve observed. I say it’s the same thing for moral claims: we don’t need moral “objects” to have objective moral truths, and realism implies moral objects.

      From wiki: “Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad or undesirable or impermissible”.

      You didn’t link it, and I can’t find the quote again (I found it a month ago, oddly), but you’re talking about NORMS, not NORMATIVITY. To define normativity this way would be to beg the question of whether we can have true normative statements outside of societal approval, and if you go that specific way you end up as a cultural relativist, not an emotivist, which is important because it undercuts your aesthetic argument and your evolutionary one: the statements are true because the society says they are, and the aesthetics and the evolution thereof are irrelevant to the truth of the statements or the nature of normativity/morality itself.

      Any such normativity then derives instrumentally from human desires and values (and is thus subjective).

      Why would that necessarily be subjective? We can certainly care about what humans desire and value inside an objective moral system while still having there be specific notions about how one determines what is moral or not that is, in fact, objectively true. Again, the big issue with subjectivism has ALWAYS been that a moral statement may be true for one person and not for another, in the sense that for one person it may be true that murder is morally wrong and for another it is false that murder is morally wrong IN THE EXACT SAME CIRCUMSTANCES. So we’re not looking at conditions, but at the moral truths at their base (to forestall a constant confusion that many people often make, and that I believe you’ve made in the past, to treat the case where the truth of the proposition may change based on the conditions under which it’s evaluated as it is a case of subjective morality, which it isn’t. It’s only if the proposition’s truth value can reasonably vary by subject when all relevant conditions are accounted for that makes a morality subjective).

      So if human desires or values are involved doesn’t make it subjective in and of itself, or at least not in a way that matters for this part of the discussion, at least. (Yes, you tend to shift around arguments in ways that make them irrelevant to what we’re actually disagreeing about [grin]).

      If we had objective normativity, wouldn’t that effectively be objective morality?

      No, because not all normative claims are moral claims. It’s possible for us to have some objective normative claims while morality still ends up not being objective because it can’t use any of those mechanisms. This is another common confusion you seem to make, where you assume that all normative or value claims are moral claims somehow. But they aren’t (more on that later).

      So at a minimum you’re going to have to show that any objectively normative claim would have to be an objectively moral claim, because at a minimum that’s not obvious.

      There’s nothing at all to stop us deploring their views and actions based on our own values. We can argue for the sort of society we want to live in, and we can argue that they should not be allowed to rape and murder. If we persuade enough people we can then pass laws prohibiting such things. This, de facto, is how morality works in the world, and it doesn’t need objective foundations, it is based on each of us advocating for the sort of society we want.

      Except that’s NOT how morality actually works in the world. We retreat to laws and the like when we accept that not all people will act morally. We don’t think that someone who doesn’t consider rape immoral but who choose not to commit it because it is illegal are actually moral people who are acting morally. So that’s not how it works at all. Now, you will likely maintain that those people who think that way are wrong about that, but this leads to a tension in your position, where you appeal to how people think and act wrt morality when it supports your position, but dismiss all evidence from that when it contradicts it. You can’t have it both ways. Either how we ourselves act on and view morality is relevant, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then this argument is meaningless and can be dismissed. If it is, then the fact that we do distinguish between morality and these cases undercuts your argument here.

      But I don’t accept that that is a good argument that morality is therefore objective. To me, all it indicates is that humans have been fooled into thinking that morality is objective precisely because it makes it more likely to influence behaviour (and influencing behaviour is why evolution has programmed us with moral sentiments).

      My point there is not to use that as an argument that morality is objective, but is instead to point out that your subjectivist view has consequences that you seem to be dodging. In short, to show that if your opponents accepted your own view of morality your own charges that they are actually acting immorally would not have the weight that you need them to have to work as arguments in the way you’re using them. In short, that if you really bought your own position you’d have to act a lot differently than you do now. And your common response up until now has been to deny that those consequences existed, hence the discussion.

      Why should one care about others and how they feel? Because their attitudes and conduct can affect you. If most people in society deplore rape and murder, and so have instigated laws against it, then self-interests suggests one should avoid such behaviour, regardless of one’s own attitude to rape and murder.

      So why call that a moral choice rather than a self-interested one? Why care, then, if rape and murder are considered immoral at all?

      In practice, we start from morality and then switch to self-interest if the first is not successful. Under your view, though, there is little reason to not go straight for self-interest and leave morality out of the picture entirely.

      Yes, agreed. Except that at some point our values are just the values we have, rather than being “justified”.

      Um, you agreed with me and then completely disagreed with me here. “Instrumental” means that the values are justified by appeal to other values. We CAN’T have any instrumental values that we “just have”. Any value that is not justified by an appeal to other values is “intrinsic”. Now, what’s important about intrinsic values is that we don’t usually include values that we just happen to have without any known justification, but instead have them be ones that we can’t reasonably or at least have no reasonable need to justify in any way. Thus, for values, they will either be instrumental and thus be justified by how they help us achieve other values, or will be intrinsic and be not really reasonable to question. Any value that just exists will have to either be justified instrumentally, proven intrinsic, or abandoned in order for the person to have a rational set of values, which you yourself do, at least at times, think is important.

      Can you give an example of a value you have that you just have with no justification?

      Not really. We need to distinguish between narrow-sense “self interest” and broader-sense self interest. It might be narrow-sense self-interested to cheat, lie, steal and be selfish, but in the wider sense whether we prosper depends on how others think and feel towards us, and being thought honorable, kind and self-less can actually be more in our long-term interests.

      So how come you’re not an Enlightened Egoist or an Objectivist, then? They’re the only moral systems that work that way, and they get there by starting from morality and working to those conclusions, which is not what you do (more on that later).

      Indeed, that’s a necessary feature of having explained morality and what it is, that we can translate it into other terminology. Moral realists who cannot translate moral language into non-moral language don’t understand what they mean by their moral language!

      But your reduction is definitional, not explanatory. Sure, you have to be able to talk about moral terms in ways that aren’t just limited to the technical terms, but that’s done in ways that don’t make the moral terms the non-moral terms by definition, and even includes things like analogies and the like. Even the Objectivists, as I just pointed out, start from a notion of what someone’s concern should be an CONCLUDE that one can calculate the moral thing to do by calculating their own broader self-interest. But you don’t do that. You say that morality JUST IS self-interest. But the realm of self-interest already exists. It’s called pragmatics. So you end up saying that morality just IS pragmatics. Fine. But then it’s reasonable to ask why you still insist on talking about morality and not just switch to talking only about pragmatics. Does morality even exist if it’s “really” pragmatics? And your answer to that has been to essentially argue that calling it morality works out better for you. I’m sure it does, but that’s only because the people you’re arguing with haven’t made the connection you’ve made. If they have, then it obviously wouldn’t do that anymore. So, then, what use morality?

      You have never really been able to say what morality is if it isn’t just a misunderstanding of broader or societal self-interest, and that, then, is the issue we’re running into here, because you keep using the term despite having no real definition of it that I can see that would allow you to rationally keep using it as an argument if people accepted your position.

      Moral language is language we use to discuss our values, how we want people to be treated, and what sort of society we want to live in.

      Except, again, it’s not. We have all sorts of distinctions between our various values, including ones about morality and self-interest, and lots of ways to talk about how to organize society and treat people including morals, social norms, laws, rules of etiquette and so on. If you try to collapse them all together you’re still going to have to account for the differences AND explain why they should be considered moral instead of something else.

      As I see it, what I’m doing is using a scientific perspective to get at the truth of the matter, and suggesting that the distinctions that philosophers make are not really tenable. All our “values”, desires, and aesthetic preferences are much the same thing in that they’re all attitudes that our neural-net brains have, and they’ll all inter-twine and affect each other, and trying to make them distinct and separate is not really tenable.

      Except that you’re making the same mistake that determinists like Jerry Coyne make: reducing everything down to its lowest level — it’s all determined! — and ignoring the different consequences that those things have. Sure, all of that stuff may well be “in the brain”. But their activations produce strikingly different behaviour in us. For example, most people have a sharp and it seems mostly inherent concept of the distinction between morals and conventions. Psychopaths don’t learn that distinction. If you reduce all of those values to the same thing, do we treat them like morals — where we won’t violate them for any reason — or like conventions, where we violate them when it makes sense to? For example, one convention is not eating in class, which we all accept we can violate during parties and for special events. Do we want to treat it like morals and make it an ironclad rules? Also note that psychopaths fail with them by either treating morals like conventions — that can be violated when convenient — or conventions like morals and claiming, at least, that they can’t be violated. So, in short, psychopaths are, in general, acting according to your explicit argument here if they really are all the same thing. So should we act the same for both sets of values? And if we shouldn’t, then what do you gain by insisting that they are all the same thing, when we have to act differently according to which type of thing they are?

      Again, you may be right on one level that they are the same, but they, like our decision-making terms, have different enough consequences that you are almost certainly going to have to re-introduce those distinctions under new terms to have any kind of sensible theory. And, in practice, that’s exactly what you’ve been doing throughout this comment thread.

      Or, as I would phrase it, moral language refers to my values. By using it I am referring to my subjective values (just as everyone else does, de facto). If other people misunderstand it by thinking that I am trying to refer to objective values then they are misunderstanding owing to misunderstanding morality. The idea that morality is subjective has a long history, so it’s not that outlandish to use the language in this way.

      A few points here:

      1) You know that most of the people you’re arguing with don’t accept your position or, at least, don’t see it that way, so this comes across very much like “If they come to the wrong conclusion based on this misunderstanding that I know they’ll make, that’s their problem” which is not intellectually honest.

      2) The long history of subjective morality has included the idea that the sorts of moral pronouncements you make aren’t valid and are meaningless, so even someone who knows the history is more likely to conclude that you don’t mean it that way and so that it’s a contradiction in your position at best.

      3) You’re using the same terms here, so there is no way for anyone to know that you are referring to the subjectivist position without either diving into your history or else — as has happened, I believe — without turning the position on you and getting met with a “But morality is subjective so I don’t have to care!” response, which again isn’t intellectually honest.

      So, no, you are, consciously or no, relying on misunderstandings to make your case and at least by now should be aware that that’s what’s happening. That’s on you, not on them.

      But I really do mean that “moral sentiments” are essentially just aesthetic preferences.

      But then you have to account for the differences between the two. Most philosophers who argue for that position do so. You don’t really do that, and in fact here instead of accepting my advice to stop getting involved in that spinning and instead just be clear insist on continuing to uphold the confusion. Again, I have no clue what “aesthetic preferences” actually MEANS to you at this point. At least outlining the properties would avoid the issues over labeling.

      This is not just some hare-brained scheme of mine, it was first suggested by Darwin in Descent of Man. It’s a pretty mainstream opinion in scientific circles. Darwin suggested that evolution had simply co-opted existing aesthetic preferences (what sort of food we like etc) and re-purposed them to police social interactions (adding in aesthetic preferences about how we treat each other).
      In both a hardware sense and an evolutionary sense, it doesn’t make sense to distinguish between “aesthetic” sentiments and “moral” sentiments. By that insight, Darwin effectively settled meta-ethics.

      1) That it was suggested by a non-philosopher doesn’t mean that’s not hare-brained, no matter how good a scientist he is. That’s like taking a famous philosopher’s idea of quantum mechanics and insisting that it’s reasonable because he said it. He might be right, but we really want the physics community to sign off on it first, since it’s in their domain. The same thing applies here.

      2) I don’t believe that this is the mainstream scientific consensus.

      3) Even if it was, that doesn’t really matter since, again, this is the domain of philosophy.

      4) I haven’t read Darwin’s theory here — so you’d need to fill it out in much more detail for me to accept it — but it seems to me from what you said that moral claims co-opted the same reward/punishment structure that we get from aesthetic preferences — ie feeling good or feeling bad — to enforce moral norms. That’s not in any way controversial and is probably true, but doesn’t make them the same thing.

      5) From an evolutionary sense, it clearly DOES make sense to distinguish aesthetics from morals because they cause us to behave differently, and thus have different survival criteria, and thus exist and aim at completely different things.

      6) From a mechanical standpoint, again they produce different behaviours and so HAVE to be mechanically distinguished.

      7) And we know that aesthetic preferences can be maladaptive, so we still have to ask if our moral senses are appropriately configured to track social consequences which requires an external to our evolved senses notion of morality, and thus it can’t be reduced to a simple aesthetic sense. And note that it actually seems to be nonsensical to ask that for things like food preferences, which adds another distinction to the mix.

      And this is if we accept that morality is determined by our evolved moral senses, which most objectivist moralist philosophers will deny because it makes morality descriptive and not prescriptive, and thus not normative.

      So, no, it doesn’t settle meta-ethics at all.

      No, I don’t want people to act rationally, if by that one means solely rationally. Reason alone is never a motivation to act. We act owing to our values. Reason then informs our acts, telling us how to attain what we want, but reason is only ever “a slave to the passions”.

      The point here was that you insist that people act “rationally” BY YOUR OWN STANDARDS right up until the point that I insist that doing something would be irrational, at which point you claim that it’s okay to be rational. NEITHER of us meant “without appealing to values here”, so this is utterly irrelevant to the discussion. You want people to act rationally but are willing to accept utter irrationality by your own standards with “Well, we aren’t always rational!” when I point out that acting rationally and consistently would imply an outcome you don’t like. If your response was to appeal to a specific value that justifies it, that would be one thing, but instead you simply appeal to inconsistencies or that they just happen to have a value and try to have that end the question. But it’s still an inconsistency in your position, because if you can allow others to reject the consequences of your moral position due to irrationality, then they can do it just as reasonably for scientism or atheism, which you are loathe to let them get away with.

      Your comments seem to carry the implication that if one can translate a moral claim into a non-moral claim, then this is a problem for or a refutation of my scheme. I entirely disagree. That is a *feature* of my scheme, and is a necessary feature for any account of morality that actually explains meta-ethics.

      As I said above, you don’t translate, you eliminatively reduce. That means that if your position is held morality is eliminated, like eliminative materialism does for mind. Is that what you’re going for? Because you keep rejecting the consequences of that if you are, but all of your arguments always end up as “There is no morality, there is only X and we are confused if we think that there is a morality beyond X”, which is eliminative.

      Agreed, people *want* moral claims to be rhetorically persuasive, and for most people they *are* more persuasive if they are held to be objective.

      That’s not what I said. I said we want to make moral claims to get people act against their self-interest, broader or not. By your definition, that’s not possible, which then is a radical shift in what morality is and in how we’d act towards it.

      I wouldn’t say you were wrong! I’d say that you, based on your values, have adopted a Stoic moral code as an encapsulation of your values, and so when you say “X is immoral” you mean “X is out of line with my values”, which is also what I mean by it.

      Except that’s NOT what I mean by that. I mean exactly what I said: it violates my personal Stoic moral code. So I don’t mean what you say I mean. Am I wrong? What objective evidence can you bring to bear to show that I’m wrong about what I really mean when I say that?

      Agreed. I’m using “error theory” to mean: “people think that there is such a thing as objective morality, but they are wrong to think that”.

      Again, Error Theory does not refer to people making an “error” about what morality is. Even objectivists will insist that others are making errors about what morality is. It instead claims that we are in error to think that moral claims and propositions have any real meaning at all. So please don’t call yourself an error theorist if you think that the terms DO have meaning.

      On moral skepticism, moral skeptical claims are skeptical that anything like morality exists. You keep insisting that it does even when I point out that you seem to be eliminating it, and emotivists think that morality does exist but is strongly linked to/determined by emotional mechanisms.

      Yes, as above, I’d regard them as the same thing. Again, in a hardware sense or an evolutionary sense it wouldn’t be possible to make a clear distinction between them.

      Except that, again, they produce completely different behaviours and so are different both evolutionarily and mechanically.

      I’d expect that emotivist would reply “but I am indeed taking the broader view of emotions, and if others wish to join me then great!”.

      But doing so doesn’t end the disagreement. The rationalist was never advocating against the calm passions, but only the strong ones. So lumping all of those together in “passions” simply puts the two of them together, but then the rationalist will simply point out that if “passions” are required, passions like anger, joy, hate, love are NOT required, still produce bad behaviours, and can be managed. Thus, the combination does absolutely nothing to settle the argument UNLESS the emotivist plays a dirty trick and insists that all emotions just are emotions and so they HAVE to oppose the calm passions as well or be inconsistent, which any smart rationalist will refuse to play along with. So in any actual reasonable intellectual debate, this move does nothing except confuse terms. The old issues still come up again and again.

      One thing I’ve learned about philosophers is that they are very keen on micro-splitting of positions into distinct “-isms”. Scientists tend much more to be synthesizers, looking at different positions and saying that the differences are not significant.

      No, both scientists and philosophers divide up theories for precisely the same reason: the theories have different consequences that, importantly, means that they have different strengths and weaknesses and thus can be proven or disproven differently. In general, theories get lumped together because they have a similar enough core that they stand and fall together on certain specific key points. Thus, as just shown, trying to lump them back together only reintroduces those distinctions because attempts to refute those theories will only refute some of them and not the others. No, philosophers don’t just classify theories for the heck of it [grin]. They do it because the differences ARE significant.

      So, let me re-state that I regard all emotions, desires, values, passions (calm or ferocious), aesthetic preferences, etc, as much the same thing. They’re all subjective. And the only sort of normativity that exists derives instrumentally from these subjective values. And moral terminology is a report of these preferences. And thinking that moral terminology is more than that, and instead refers to objective values, is an upping of the rhetoric that has no basis in fact.
      That’s my scheme in a paragraph. You’re welcome to tell me how to label it!

      I can’t, because it’s a mishmash of a number of different philosophical fields that aren’t all directly related to morality [grin].

      The first part is a rough idea of what values themselves are, which is not morality per se, and relates to it only if you include moral values in the same category (as you seem to). It’s also problematic, because as shown above it’s true in some sense but false in others, and importantly false in what we’d need to consider for morality (the consequences of having that value as a moral value). Second, that those are subjective is definitely true in some sense, but that’s again a theory about values. What we’re interested in is not what values someone has, but about what values they OUGHT to have, and that question is still reasonable under this view of values. Your comment about normativity is a theory on normativity, but since you don’t define what normativity actually means to you — and this one contradicts your definition at the start of the comment, since that one was about societal norms and this one is clearly individual — you don’t really have that. At best you could be arguing that all oughts only follow from the values someone has, but this is a stronger position than my own personal “I can only act on values I actually have” position but seems to get you no further. That moral terminology is a report of these preferences is at least a direct link to morality, but seems problematic since all of our evolved and mechanical mechanisms for values in general and morality in particular distinguish between values and specifically between moral values, so moral terminology doesn’t in general refer to ALL of those values, only a subset of them.

      Let me outline why it would be hard to determine your actual position here:

      You probably aren’t an objectivist, but note that appeals to evolution CAN be objectivist positions, because it refers to the truth of a statement outside of an individual or individual grouping. A person can be wrong about morality under that view if they go against the evolved justifications for morality.

      You want to be a subjectivist here, and you probably are some vein of that, although again your appeals to evolution undercut that a bit.

      You aren’t likely a moral skeptic, because you think that moral terminology refers to a specific real thing. You could only get there if you wanted to be eliminativist about moral terminology, which here you don’t claim to be.

      You don’t really seem to be an emotivist, because your view applies no matter how values are implemented. An AI with no actual emotions but with hard-coded “values” would work just as well, and so if you just used how morality and moral values works for us that would be descriptive of us, but the term morality should apply to anything that has the capacity to be moral, which in your case means that is has the capacity to have values. If you define values as having to have emotions, then you’d lean emotivist, but that’s still not treating emotions as critically as emotivists generally do.

      The issue here is that like many amateur philosophers you’ve picked up a number of ideas from a range of positions and put them together into something that makes sense to you. This isn’t a bad thing; sometimes progress can be made by seeing that these elements aren’t as incompatible as they might seem. However, you still try to use the labels and DO ignore that sometimes they have consequences that are incompatible, or at least simply toss those aside, which results in a very confusing position and one that seems to shift in response to arguments. That makes it hard to assess in any interesting way.

      Is it possible that you’re right? Maybe, but your view is too piecemeal to be convincing.

    47. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      I say it’s the same thing for moral claims: we don’t need moral “objects” to have objective moral truths, and realism implies moral objects.

      Thanks for the explanation of the difference between moral “realism” and moral “objectivism”. One thing I’ve learned is that terms and concepts are harder to define in philosophy than physics. Even academic philosophers might interpret commonly-used philosophical terms differently, whereas this is not really the case in science. I’m presuming that this is because scientific terms tend to be defined in terms of observables.

      It’s only if the proposition’s truth value can reasonably vary by subject when all relevant conditions are accounted for that makes a morality subjective.

      To me, the concept that “truth values” can vary is incoherent. If a “truth value” can vary according to subjective opinion then it isn’t a “truth value”. This is why relativism makes no sense to me (interpreting relativism as: “there are moral truth values; the values are different for different people”).

      I’d interpret subjectivism as: “there are no moral truth values; all there are are reports of people’s values”.

      Except that’s NOT how morality actually works in the world.

      In discussing how morality works in the real world we have to distinguish between the moral-objectivist rhetoric (given that most people are moral objectivitists and so pursue a discussion in those terms), and the underlying reality, which de facto is subjectivist because that’s all there is.

      I fully grant that you can readily point to moral-objectivist rhetoric, and claim that “how morality works” is not subjectivist, but I still claim that underlying the rhetoric it *is* subjectivist.

      We don’t think that someone who doesn’t consider rape immoral but who choose not to commit it because it is illegal are actually moral people who are acting morally. So that’s not how it works at all.

      There you are pointing to moral-objectivist rhetoric. But, as I’ve said, part of my stance is that the moral-objectivist rhetoric is an incorrect veneer that doesn’t tell us about the underlying reality.

      … your subjectivist view has consequences that you seem to be dodging. In short, to show that if your opponents accepted your own view of morality your own charges that they are actually acting immorally would not have the weight that you need them to have …

      You are entirely right. Most people do indeed find moral-objectivist rhetoric more convincing, and yes, you are entirely right, if they adopted my subjectivist view they might indeed find moral advocacy far less convincing. Moral advocacy arguments might indeed not then work, or not nearly as well.

      None of that is, however, an argument against subjectivism being the fact of the matter. My argument is that evolution has fooled us into being moral objectivists precisely because we then find moral-objectivist rhetoric more persuasive.

      And your common response up until now has been to deny that those consequences existed, hence the discussion.

      No, I’ve not denied those consequences. I fully accept that accepting subjectivism can make moral rhetoric less convincing. Again, the idea that objectivism prevails not because it is correct, but because it is rhetorically persuasive, is at the heart of my position.

      What I have denied is that the persausiveness would fall to zero given subjectivism. It wouldn’t, it would be lessened, yes, but not to zero. Because, de facto, human being do care about other people’s subjective opinions!

      If a 16-yr-old boy tells a girl in his class that she is ugly, then the girl cares. If someone tells another human that their actions are deplorable, then, even if everyone accept that this is a subjective opinion, then they still care. They might care to a lesser extent than if they’re told that their actions are objectively immoral, but it is not true that they don’t care at all.

      So why call that a moral choice rather than a self-interested one? Why care, then, if rape and murder are considered immoral at all?

      One could indeed drop “moral” language and just talk about our values and what sort of society we want to live in. Is there a rational justification for adopting moral language? No, there isn’t. But we adopt it because it is rhetorically more persausive (and it is so because most people are intuitive moral objectivists).

      Under your view, though, there is little reason to not go straight for self-interest and leave morality out of the picture entirely.

      Yes, agreed.

      “Instrumental” means that the values are justified by appeal to other values. We CAN’T have any instrumental values that we “just have”. Any value that is not justified by an appeal to other values is “intrinsic”.

      Yes, agreed, that’s what I meant by my comment. Some of our values are justified in terms of other values; some of our values are just innate and instrinsic.

      Any value that just exists will have to either be justified instrumentally, proven intrinsic, or abandoned in order for the person to have a rational set of values, which you yourself do, at least at times, think is important.

      I don’t think there is any such thing as a “rational set of values”, if by that we mean values arrived at purely by reason.

      In the end it comes down to our innate, intrinsic values, that we have because of our nature, as programmed into our genes by evolution. Everything about morality then rests on those.

      Can you give an example of a value you have that you just have with no justification?

      An example is a mother’s love for her child. It is primary, it is not derived from reasoning, nor is it instrumental on anything else. (Of course we can give reasons why evolution has programmed us to be like that.)

      Even the Objectivists, as I just pointed out, start from a notion of what someone’s concern should be an CONCLUDE that one can calculate the moral thing to do by calculating their own broader self-interest.

      Which is why I’m not an Objectivist, since I deny that there is any such thing as “what someone’s concern should be” as a starting point. Any account that attempts a rational analysis from axions, resulting in what we “should do” is misguided.

      You say that morality JUST IS self-interest.

      No, I’m not saying that. What we call “morality” is our feelings about how we interact with each other. You can’t say more than that.

      Does morality even exist if it’s “really” pragmatics?

      No, morality does not exist — as anything other than a word we use to discuss our feelings about how we treat each other.

      You have never really been able to say what morality is if it isn’t just a misunderstanding of broader or societal self-interest,…

      Morality isn’t anything! The problem here is that you, being a moral objectivist, start from the presumption that morality must be something, there must be some objective reality to it, so you try to interpret my position in those terms.

      But my whole position is that there isn’t anything such. We have — programmed into us by evolution — feelings about how we, as social animals, interact with each other. That’s all there is to it. From there, “moral” is just a term of approval. If we say a sunset is “beautiful” then we’re expressing approval and aesthetic appreciation. If we say an act is “moral” then we’re expressing approval and aesthetic appreciation. If we say it’s “immoral” than we are expressing disapproval and a preference that people don’t act that way.

      That’s all there is to it.

      If you try to collapse them all together you’re still going to have to account for the differences AND explain why they should be considered moral instead of something else.

      We use different aesthetic terms regarding a sunset or painting (“beautiful”) than we do about a meal (“delicious”). You won’t usually call a sunset “delicious”. But, still, the terms are just different forms of aesthetic appreciation. But, having different terms for different types of aesthetic appreciation is useful, so that’s what we do.

      If you reduce all of those values to the same thing, do we treat them like morals — where we won’t violate them for any reason — or like conventions, where we violate them when it makes sense to? For example, one convention is not eating in class, which we all accept we can violate during parties and for special events. Do we want to treat it like morals and make it an ironclad rules?

      There are no right or wrong answers to such questions! Feel free to advocate which of those you prefer, and to seek agreement with others on them.

      But then you have to account for the differences between the two.

      My account of the differences between “moral” terms and other forms of aesthetic expression would be similar to my account of why we use “beautiful” for a sunset but “delicious” for a meal. That distinction would be about one being primarily visual and the other being primarily about the sense of taste. In philosophical terms, the distinction doesn’t amount to much that is important. If we used the terms the other way round, people would understand.

      Similarly, we tend to use “moral” language about how people treat each other, whereas we use other aesthetic terms about other things.

      Again, I have no clue what “aesthetic preferences” actually MEANS to you at this point.

      Things I like versus dislike.

      At least outlining the properties would avoid the issues over labeling.

      But my whole point is that there are no substantive differences! You’re asking me to make clear distinctions, when my argument is that there are no clear distinctions!

      1) That it was suggested by a non-philosopher doesn’t mean that’s not hare-brained, no matter how good a scientist he is.

      I didn’t mean that it can’t be hare-brained if it was by a scientist, I just meanst that it’s an idea with history and pedigree.

      3) Even if it was, that doesn’t really matter since, again, this is the domain of philosophy.

      I don’t agree. I think the scientific perspective on this is the better way of thinking about it, and gets to the truth of the matter better.

      5) From an evolutionary sense, it clearly DOES make sense to distinguish aesthetics from morals because they cause us to behave differently, and thus have different survival criteria, and thus exist and aim at completely different things.

      Visual aesthetics (“beautiful”) and taste aesthetics (“delicious”) are also different in similar ways. But, the most important point is that they’re both different forms of aesthetic judgement.

      And this is if we accept that morality is determined by our evolved moral senses, which most objectivist moralist philosophers will deny because it makes morality descriptive and not prescriptive, and thus not normative.

      That’s not a reason for denying it. Maybe the truth of the matter is that morality is indeed not prescriptive, and thus not normative?

      As I said above, you don’t translate, you eliminatively reduce. That means that if your position is held morality is eliminated, like eliminative materialism does for mind. Is that what you’re going for?

      Yes. Or, rather, I’m eliminating it as anything other than a variation of our aesthetic systems. To me, explaining moral senses as a subset of our aesthetic senses is an explanation of morality. The only thing it eliminates is realist/objective morality.

      That’s not what I said. I said we want to make moral claims to get people act against their self-interest, broader or not. By your definition, that’s not possible, which then is a radical shift in what morality is and in how we’d act towards it.

      Yes it is possible to persuade people to act against their self-interest. And no I have not defined morality as “self interest”.

      On moral skepticism, moral skeptical claims are skeptical that anything like morality exists. You keep insisting that it does even when I point out that you seem to be eliminating it, and emotivists think that morality does exist but is strongly linked to/determined by emotional mechanisms.

      Well, aesthetic preferences certainly exist, and expressions of those preferences exist. Since that’s what morality “is” it exists, but it doesn’t exist in any form other than that.

      I can’t, because it’s a mishmash of a number of different philosophical fields that aren’t all directly related to morality [grin].

      OK, so philosophy has no “ism” label for the stance I’m describing. Which, perhaps, is not that surprising since it’s an account of morality coming from science, not from philosophy.

      At best you could be arguing that all oughts only follow from the values someone has, …

      Yes, I am.

      The issue here is that like many amateur philosophers you’ve picked up a number of ideas from a range of positions and put them together into something that makes sense to you.

      Well not really, no. I’ve not picked up these positions from philosophy. I’ve arrived at them from the direction of science. All of these discussion convince me that that’s a better way of doing it.

      However, you still try to use the labels and DO ignore that sometimes they have consequences that are incompatible, or at least simply toss those aside, which results in a very confusing position and one that seems to shift in response to arguments.

      OK, guilty to some extent. I have indeed tried to use philosophical terms for such things when discussing with those from a philosophical background. (If I was talking purely to scientists I wouldn’t.) As a result I may be mis-using the philosophical language. But then one has to communicate somehow!

      Is it possible that you’re right? Maybe, but your view is too piecemeal to be convincing.

      It only appears piecemeal to you because you try to map it to philosophical concepts and isms. It may be that those are conceptualised in ways that make it hard to get at the truth. Viewed from a scientific perspective, my stance is straightforward and pretty clear (and has persuaded many within science).

    48. verbosestoic

      Again, life considerations got in the way, so I’m replying to this now. I’m going to start with the key issue, which is communication or, rather, the lack of it:

      OK, guilty to some extent. I have indeed tried to use philosophical terms for such things when discussing with those from a philosophical background. (If I was talking purely to scientists I wouldn’t.) As a result I may be mis-using the philosophical language. But then one has to communicate somehow!

      Look, my first degree is in science (Computer Science). During which I took physics in first year and astrophysics in second year. I also started a Cognitive Science degree, which is interdisciplinary. I’ve specifically taken psychology courses AND have had lots of exposure to neuroscience both in my Cognitive Science degree and in my philosophy degree. I’m more than capable of understanding the scientific perspective, and so if I can’t understand what you’re saying that should be seen as a HUGE problem for you. The fact that I moved from “I think you’re wrong” to “I have no idea what you’re talking about” should be a MASSIVE concern for you, not something to be dismissed as “You’re just being too philosophical” or with the implied “I use the philosophical terms incorrectly because you’re too ignorant of science to understand the science!”. If anyone can understand your position and even place it properly in the philosophical contexts, I’m one of them. But I need you to help me out here. So if it’s clearer from the scientific side, why not outline it from that perspective? Unless you think I’m too stupid or too ignorant to get it …

      Minor quibble:

      It only appears piecemeal to you because you try to map it to philosophical concepts and isms. It may be that those are conceptualised in ways that make it hard to get at the truth.

      1) In this latest comment, you ASKED me to try to do that, so I did. Using that against me here is therefore rather dirty pool.

      2) YOU are the one who started from dropping in philosophical concepts and isms, not me. And in fact, in a point I’ll return to later, I explicitly ASKED you to stop doing that and just outline it as properties and details, and you said you couldn’t. So again, don’t blame me for that when it’s YOU who tries to stick to that much of the time.

      3) Philosophy is explicitly about examining how things are conceptualized. If it’s conceptualized incorrectly, philosophers are the ones that are the most experienced in finding the problems with conceptualizations (scientists outside of theoretical physics can usually let empirical evidence determine the right conceptualization, while that’s usually not true for philosophy). So, again, if they are getting in the way of getting at the truth then you should be able to explain that to me and we should be able to work through that together. That I’ve gone from thinking that your view was flawed to that it’s nigh nonsensical reflects my not being able to UNDERSTAND your conceptualization in any way. But I’m trained to understand differing conceptualizations and disagree with them instead of being confused by them. Something is wrong if at this point I can’t even find a coherent conceptualization to assess.

      Okay, but let me take a stab at what I think is the basics of your position, a starting point that we can correct and build on:

      You think that everything eventually relies on our values. Since the set of values we have is always personal, that makes anything that relies on values subjective. Morality critically depends on values, so morality is critically subjective and can never be objective. Also, no universal overarching value can be defined, and so we can have no “value axiom” that all must accept and then derive what they ought to do from that. What someone ought to do is always derived from their own personal values, including whatever value or values that they most value.

      So, some questions that you need to answer. Yes, you need to answer ALL of them (you tend to skip things you don’t want to address at times, which is really annoying. More on that later).

      1) If I take someone’s full set of values, can I identify that some values are moral values and some are not, or are all values merely undifferentiated values?

      2) Can I judge someone’s actions or values as rational or irrational if I am careful to limit that assessment to only what follows from the values they hold, including those values that they themselves deem most valuable?

      3) Do you accept that beliefs matter, so that I can call someone’s actions or values irrational if they take those actions or hold those values based on false factual beliefs about the world?

      4) If someone holds a value but doesn’t particularly feel emotional attachment to it, but acts on it, are they still acting in accordance with your theory or is that lack of emotional attachment sufficient to say that they don’t possess that value at all?

      I’m leaving out the “aesthetic preferences” part because for the basics we don’t really need it, but I’ll touch on that later and if you can be clear about your view we might be able to put it back in later.

      Moving on (in order this time):

      One thing I’ve learned is that terms and concepts are harder to define in philosophy than physics. Even academic philosophers might interpret commonly-used philosophical terms differently, whereas this is not really the case in science. I’m presuming that this is because scientific terms tend to be defined in terms of observables.

      Not really. I don’t find philosophy any worse at that than science, and remember I have experience with both. The issue is over context, as both in talking about things in detail often assume that people reading it will understand the context and history and so won’t need to know the details. For example, with realism those who think that you need actual objects for realism and for objectivity won’t often mention that and just assume that everyone understands that they mean that. Since that’s a pretty common view right now, it makes more sense for me to deny it when it is relevant because I have the eccentric position of denying that direct link. That being said, it IS a long-held and acceptable position in philosophy, so I’m not just being a crank either [grin].

      You lack the philosophical context for a lot of things, and so don’t pick up those subtle distinctions, which then corrupts your position when you try to place it in the philosophical context.

      To me, the concept that “truth values” can vary is incoherent. If a “truth value” can vary according to subjective opinion then it isn’t a “truth value”. This is why relativism makes no sense to me (interpreting relativism as: “there are moral truth values; the values are different for different people”).

      But “truth values” aren’t independent things. They are always associated with propositions. So what subjectivists are saying is that the truth value of the proposition “X is immoral” depends entirely on what the person THINKS is immoral, as I said, You need to deference it to the individual’s moral beliefs first. Objectivists say that you don’t need to do that, and that the truth value is entirely independent of what the individual believes it is. That’s the heart of that debate.

      To give an example, it’s the difference between “I’m cold” and “It’s cold outside”. Even if a person doesn’t believe it’s cold outside, it’s still cold outside, and if someone says that they’re cold that can be true even if it’s 30 degrees Celsius where they are. Subjectivists hold the latter, Objectivists the former.

      I’d interpret subjectivism as: “there are no moral truth values; all there are are reports of people’s values”.

      Which isn’t how anyone means it, so interpreting that way is NOT going to help with communication. In fact, that would be a case that’s ALMOST actually error theory, and so would be a better defense when you’re asked if you’re an error theorist than “I think they make mistakes about morality” [grin].

      In discussing how morality works in the real world we have to distinguish between the moral-objectivist rhetoric (given that most people are moral objectivitists and so pursue a discussion in those terms), and the underlying reality, which de facto is subjectivist because that’s all there is.

      Yeah, but YOU were the one trying to defend your position by explicitly appealing to how it works in the real world, not me, and so it not being that way in the real world HAS to be a problem for you. My frustration with your attempts to use empirical evidence has been that, in practice, your appeals to us having incorrect views about morality and thus which empirical evidence must be accepted or can be ignored has lined up precisely with your theory: you ignore all empirical evidence that contradicts it and accept any that supports it. But no one — not even scientists — will let you get away with that unless they accept your theory first, which means that you have to demonstrate it to them. If you want to do that using the empirical evidence, you are not going to be able to appeal to your theory to dismiss the evidence that contradicts you. And that’s all I’ve ever seen from you here. So if you have other scientific or philosophical ways to demonstrate your theory or at least make those distinctions, I’m all ears. But I’m not going to let you insist on using how we view morality when it supports your case and yet dismiss it when it doesn’t. At the very least, you’re going to have to consider all the evidence and show that your view is a better explanation than the alternatives. Which has to include, obviously, my “conceptual truth” answer.

      If a 16-yr-old boy tells a girl in his class that she is ugly, then the girl cares. If someone tells another human that their actions are deplorable, then, even if everyone accept that this is a subjective opinion, then they still care. They might care to a lesser extent than if they’re told that their actions are objectively immoral, but it is not true that they don’t care at all.

      But the question is not “Do they care?” but is instead “SHOULD they care?”, because we know that by any criteria there are times when they shouldn’t. For your 16 year old girl case, if someone is saying that because they want to hurt her and are lying about finding her ugly, then she DEFINITELY shouldn’t care about specifically being called ugly or consider herself such, which is what would bother her (normally). I submit that under your view of morality, the same thing holds for moral claims: you’re saying something that is at a minimum not true (because you can’t actually say that the other person is immoral under your view in a way that has a relevant truth value). So, if they care, it’s not that they are immoral, just as for the girl it’s not that they are ugly. Instead, it’s about the implications of them SAYING that that would make them care. For the girl, it’s about why that person is trying to hurt her feelings. For the person accused of immorality, it’s about that person thinking less of them because of their “immorality”. But at this point, again, the claim itself is irrelevant.

      Thus, simply saying “I strongly dislike what you did there” would be sufficient if morality doesn’t have differing properties that we need to consider, and you have not shown that it does. And then I can decide if I care that you dislike what I do or not. Adding in morality is doing the same thing as adding in ugly in the girl example: it’s a lie aimed specifically at bothering the person more than it would if you simply told the truth. And in both cases, then, it would be completely dishonest and akin to bullying.

      But we adopt it because it is rhetorically more persausive (and it is so because most people are intuitive moral objectivists).

      So explain to me why doing this doesn’t make you a completely dishonest bully, something that you probably shouldn’t want to see happen in any reasonable society that you’d want to live in. I’m not tossing this out as an attempted “Gotcha!” or rhetorical flourish, so please to answer this. Why is this not unacceptably dishonest behaviour?

      I don’t think there is any such thing as a “rational set of values”, if by that we mean values arrived at purely by reason.

      I actually just mean “logically consistent”, as I think should have been obvious. And I still don’t know if you accept that as a desirable goal either, so please answer that original question.

      In the end it comes down to our innate, intrinsic values, that we have because of our nature, as programmed into our genes by evolution. Everything about morality then rests on those.

      You realize that we can override those with values that aren’t programmed by evolution, right? Like the sweet tooth, for example? If I overwrite those values, am I still moral?

      An example is a mother’s love for her child. It is primary, it is not derived from reasoning, nor is it instrumental on anything else. (Of course we can give reasons why evolution has programmed us to be like that.)

      Fair enough, although again that’s a value that can be overridden … and most moralities will insist needs to be overridden at times.

      And this leads to another question: if a woman was born without that value, is it still possible for them to be moral people? If they deliberately override it in order to be in accordance with what they think is moral, are they moral or immoral?

      Which is why I’m not an Objectivist, since I deny that there is any such thing as “what someone’s concern should be” as a starting point.

      So if someone decides that their main concern is their own self-destruction, or the self-interest of others, is that something that still works for you? Are you defining their main goal being their own self-interest entirely on their goals, even if those explicitly reject that? Or is “self-interest” an irrelevant aside that you got sent down when trying to think about how to convince others to do the things you wanted them to do while still being able to appeal to moral language because that actually DOES convince some people in and of itself?

      No, I’m not saying that. What we call “morality” is our feelings about how we interact with each other. You can’t say more than that.

      Except I can have utterly amoral feelings that are nevertheless relevant there. Your stance would invalidate the entire moral/conventional distinction in psychology, that has LOTS of empirical support for it. The group that acts as if there is no such distinction are psychopaths. Psychopaths are not anyone’s best example of proper morality, and I suspect that even you don’t consider them such. So how do you say what you just said while either still preserving the moral/conventional distinction or else accepting that psychopaths get morality right because they collapse it?

      Note that here I’m not going to jump on you if your answer is that that short comment was imprecise. What I’d be after here is just to understand if you think there IS any distinction and/or making it clear that there are consequences if you don’t think there is.

      Morality isn’t anything! The problem here is that you, being a moral objectivist, start from the presumption that morality must be something, there must be some objective reality to it, so you try to interpret my position in those terms.

      Nope, as should have been clear by my REJECTION OF MORAL REALISM above. But the world “morality” has some kind of meaning. There’s something you mean when you talk about that word. And I want to know what that means to you. I can’t accept that you’re right about “morality” if I have no idea what that word means when you say it. Even if what you mean by that IS nothing, I need to know what you mean by the term that leads you to that conclusion. And this is not helped by the fact THAT YOU KEEP USING THE WORD. If you can’t tell me what the word means, how am I ever going to figure out what you mean by it when you use it?

      So this rant here is invalid. You mean something by the word, and you ought to be able to tell me what that is. I guessed a misunderstanding of broader self-interest and you bit my head off for daring to guess at the meaning of a purportedly meaningless word. Fine. I ain’t guessin’ anymore. YOU tell me what you mean by it.

      From there, “moral” is just a term of approval. If we say a sunset is “beautiful” then we’re expressing approval and aesthetic appreciation. If we say an act is “moral” then we’re expressing approval and aesthetic appreciation. If we say it’s “immoral” than we are expressing disapproval and a preference that people don’t act that way.

      So, is moral approval and aesthetic approval the same thing? Is moral approval and pragmatic approval the exact same thing? If not, what makes them different? If they are the exact same thing, then how is having different terms for them not the same sort of potential confusion, at least, as having the terms Evening Star and Morning Star for the planet Venus, as it implies that they are different things? And if you accept that that confusion would exist, why do you insist on continuing to use the term “moral”, not just when talking to others but even when explaining your theory.

      But, still, the terms are just different forms of aesthetic appreciation. But, having different terms for different types of aesthetic appreciation is useful, so that’s what we do.

      Which we do because they have differences that are relevant in some circumstances. So if the same thing is true for “moral”, then what are those differences? And if you explain those differences, then like I would for visual aesthetics and taste aesthetics I’ll actually understand what you’re talking about when you talk about moral aesthetic judgements. So why are you so adamant about not explaining or ever talking about them? What problem are you trying to avoid by refusing to mention them?

      There are no right or wrong answers to such questions! Feel free to advocate which of those you prefer, and to seek agreement with others on them.

      But we and evolution have already done that. You lost. So why do we have to argue for those things that most of us already accept about morality? You know, those things that you tell us we’re wrong about? Either there are right answers and you can say we’re wrong, or there aren’t any right answers and we can only go by what most people accept, which is NOT what you accept.

      In philosophical terms, the distinction doesn’t amount to much that is important. If we used the terms the other way round, people would understand.

      The TERMS, yes, but not the properties. Those sorts of properties are what I asked you to provide for moral aesthetics. If you couldn’t provide them for visual or taste aesthetics, I’d rightly say you didn’t know what those things were. I say the same thing is true for moral aesthetics.

      And no, I’m NOT accepting “About people” as an answer, for reasons I outlined above [grin].

      Let me outline some more empirical evidence here: autistics don’t start with a natural way to distinguish the moral and conventional. However, they learn the difference, usually through reasoning. This implies that these sorts of distinctions really DO exist, at least in how most people approach the world, but this works against you claiming that morals are just feelings about other people.

      Things I like versus dislike.

      Which is not how anyone uses the term, and so is horribly confusing. Moreover, saying this ignores all of my previous arguments about how that doesn’t work, such as that I can dislike things that are beautiful, which makes it at best an oversimplification, and you have never addressed the idea that the link between the aesthetic and likes/dislikes is causal, not by definition, where I like beautiful things BECAUSE they’re beautiful, and not because they’re really the same thing. And I think the science is DEFINITELY on my side with that last one.

      But my whole point is that there are no substantive differences! You’re asking me to make clear distinctions, when my argument is that there are no clear distinctions!

      No, I’m asking you to outline the specific properties that you need to make your case for your theory without branding it as anything first. So, if we were talking about trees, to outline the properties of trees that matter for your argument — tall, plants, etc — without ever calling them trees. If you can’t do that, then I question whether you know what you;re talking about here.

      It’s not about distinctions. I don’t care about distinctions here, or ANY of the terms. What properties are important to your argument, even IF all of them have them?

      I don’t agree. I think the scientific perspective on this is the better way of thinking about it, and gets to the truth of the matter better.

      You realize that this was an entire progressive argument, right, and so you can’t just skip over steps and have things make sense, right?

      Here, even if it was the scientific consensus — which I am skeptical of — that it’s the scientific consensus is not reasonably going to get philosophers to drop their consensus and replace it with that one. It needs to be argued for.

      Visual aesthetics (“beautiful”) and taste aesthetics (“delicious”) are also different in similar ways. But, the most important point is that they’re both different forms of aesthetic judgement.

      To a blind person, the specifics of visual and taste aesthetics are more important. It depends on the context. And you haven’t even given me the differences so I can decide IF the differences matter, and refuse to do so. Since I keep asking for them because I think they exist and I need them to stop being confused, simply saying they aren’t important is not exactly helpful [grin].

      That’s not a reason for denying it. Maybe the truth of the matter is that morality is indeed not prescriptive, and thus not normative?

      Perhaps, but again you’re going to have to argue that. The point was that for your argument to hold that presumption had to be accepted, and your opponents were not going to accept it as a presumption and so weren’t going to go along with you. Thus, the argument would be a non-starter unless you can ESTABLISH your presumption (at which point it wouldn’t be a presumption anymore [grin]).

      I’ll leave the rest because it needs clarification and hopefully things will make more sense later. But I DO hope you can understand my frustration here.

    49. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      The fact that I moved from “I think you’re wrong” to “I have no idea what you’re talking about” should be a MASSIVE concern for you, …

      Sorry! I’m trying my best to communicate! If you’re not understanding me then perhaps I’m bad at explaining. As I see it my stance is very simple. Here it is in a nutshell:

      Animals evolved aesthetic preferences. We evolved to like things that are beneficial (e.g. nutritious food) and dislike things that are harmful (e.g. rotten meat). Animals that developed a highly social way of life then needed to evolve aesthetic preferences about how we interact with each other. Thus we like some ways of interacting (e.g. loyalty, generosity) and dislike others (e.g. cheating, stealing). To express such value judgements we use the term “moral” for things we like and “immoral” for things we dislike. That’s all there is to it. Lastly, if anyone thinks that there is more to morality than subjective feeling, and that by moral langauge they are expressing objective truths, then they are wrong.

      That’s my account of meta-ethics, and it seems to me straightforward and simple to communicate.

      So if it’s clearer from the scientific side, why not outline it from that perspective?

      How does the above do?

      If anyone can understand your position and even place it properly in the philosophical contexts, I’m one of them.

      But I also think that my position doesn’t may that well onto the philosophical way of conceptualising the issue. That’s because, it seems to me, much philosophical conceptualising about morality presumes moral objectivism (which, given the above is wrong), and even the “subjectivist” accounts mistakenly presume some elements of objectivism.

      So turning to your summary of my position:

      You think that everything eventually relies on our values.

      Yes. Or, rather, everything about morality *is* our values. There is no distinct thing, “morality”, that then “relies on” our values. There is only our values (and language we use to express them).

      Since the set of values we have is always personal, that makes anything that relies on values subjective.

      Yes.

      Morality critically depends on values, so morality is critically subjective and can never be objective.

      Yes, though again morality *is* our values, not something that “depends on” our values. Moral language is expression of our values.

      Also, no universal overarching value can be defined, and so we can have no “value axiom” that all must accept and then derive what they ought to do from that.

      Correct. To me the idea of a non-subjective value is a category error, the idea of a value without a person doing the valuing doesn’t make sense.

      What someone ought to do is always derived from their own personal values, including whatever value or values that they most value.

      Yes, “oughts” are always instrumental, deriving from our values.

      1) If I take someone’s full set of values, can I identify that some values are moral values and some are not, or are all values merely undifferentiated values?

      No, one cannot identify any clear demarkation between “moral” values and other values. They are all just values. Of course it is useful for humans to have different words for different types of value, just as we use somewhat different aesthetic language for what food tastes like, than for admiring a sunset or enjoying companionship, but these will be fuzzy-edged human-made categories that are not necessarily fully consistent.

      2) Can I judge someone’s actions or values as rational or irrational if I am careful to limit that assessment to only what follows from the values they hold, including those values that they themselves deem most valuable?

      Yes, someone’s values can be inconsistent or irrational or contradictory, so you can indeed make judgements that someone’s actions or values are rational or irrational.

      3) Do you accept that beliefs matter, so that I can call someone’s actions or values irrational if they take those actions or hold those values based on false factual beliefs about the world?

      Yes on both counts.

      4) If someone holds a value but doesn’t particularly feel emotional attachment to it, but acts on it, are they still acting in accordance with your theory or is that lack of emotional attachment sufficient to say that they don’t possess that value at all?

      If they have *zero* emotional attachment to a “value”, then more or less by definition it is not one of their values. But one can have weak values, weakly held preferences. (For example, I might prefer milk in coffee, but it’s a weak preference, and I’ll readily drink black coffee.)

      I’m leaving out the “aesthetic preferences” part because for the basics we don’t really need it, …

      Except that, to me, moral sentiments *are* aesthetic preferences, they are the same thing — where that statement is totally literal, it’s not an analogy.

      So what subjectivists are saying is that the truth value of the proposition “X is immoral” depends entirely on what the person THINKS is immoral, …

      I would say that a moral *relativist* would say that, but a subjectivist would not necessarily do so. In saying that I may be using the terms wrong, so let me avoid the -ist language:

      What I would say is that “X is immoral” is not a proposition and so does not have a truth value. It is, instead, a declaration of how the speaker feels about something. “X is immoral” amounts to “I dislike X”.

      The propositions: “The speaker dislikes X”, “The speaker considers X to be immoral”, and “In the speaker’s value system X is deprecated and so labelled immoral” all do have truth values (and they all mean much the same thing). But those propositions are all descriptive and are all describing the speaker and the speaker’s value system.

      If you want to do that using the empirical evidence, you are not going to be able to appeal to your theory to dismiss the evidence that contradicts you.

      But I’m genuinely not aware of any empirical evidence that contradicts me! By which I mean contradicts the claim that a declaration “X is immoral” amounts to “I dislike X”.

      Of course there is plenty of evidence that people *think* there is more to it than that (most people are intuitive moral objectivists), but I’m not aware of any evidence that there *is* anything more to it than that.

      But the question is not “Do they care?” [what other people think of them] but is instead “SHOULD they care?”, because we know that by any criteria there are times when they shouldn’t.

      First, the fact that people *do* care is sufficient for us to have evolved moral sentiments, and for morality to operate in human society. Evolution depends on what does actually happen (not on abstract notions of what “should” happen), so if people *do* care and behave accordingly then that is sufficient.

      Second, in my stance, all “shoulds” are instrumental, and thus any “should they care?” question has to be properly phrased in terms of what people’s aims and values are, what they are trying to achieve.

      If someone’s aim and desire is to be popular and socially successful, then yes they should care about how others see them, even if those judgements by others are subjective and capricious.

      For your 16 year old girl case, if someone is saying that because they want to hurt her and are lying about finding her ugly, then she DEFINITELY shouldn’t care about specifically being called ugly or consider herself such, …

      OK, agreed, but she should care that at least one person in her class wants to hurt her, and she should care that he might influence others in the class, et cetera.

      I submit that under your view of morality, the same thing holds for moral claims: you’re saying something that is at a minimum not true (because you can’t actually say that the other person is immoral under your view in a way that has a relevant truth value).

      But if 90% of society think “X is immoral”, by which they mean “we dislike X”, then yes you should care and may want to avoid doing X, even if you don’t see anything wrong with X. That’s because doing something that other dislike might make you unpopular and could get you punished. If you’re concerned with your social standing and well-being, you do need to care about such things!

      All along, you, as a moral objectivist, are trying to analyse my position and find some objective, rational reason why a moral code has any force and why you “should” care about it.

      The answer is, because other people’s moral codes — other people’s feelings — will affect how they act towards you, and that can matter to you. That’s why moral sentiments evolved, even though all aspects of it are entirely subjective.

      So, if they care, it’s not that they are immoral, just as for the girl it’s not that they are ugly. Instead, it’s about the implications of them SAYING that that would make them care.

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

      For the person accused of immorality, it’s about that person thinking less of them because of their “immorality”. But at this point, again, the claim itself is irrelevant.

      Except that the “moral” language is people telling you how they feel, and how other people feel does matter to members of a social species. [You’re right that any supposed *objective* content of the message does not matter, and indeed is not actually present.]

      Thus, simply saying “I strongly dislike what you did there” would be sufficient …

      Yes! Saying “that is immoral” is ENTIRELY EQUIVALENT to saying “I strongly dislike what you did there”.

      Adding in morality is doing the same thing as adding in ugly in the girl example: it’s a lie aimed specifically at bothering the person more than it would if you simply told the truth.

      Adding in moral language is only adding in something extra if one interprets it as having additional objective content. It’s better to understand it as simply the wording we use to convey certain types of attitudes.

      Once one does interpret the phrase: “that is immoral” as being entirely equivalent to saying “I strongly dislike what you did there”, then there is nothing being added.

      But you’re right, one could avoid confusion (avoiding any moral-objectivist connotations) by dropping moral vocabulary entirely, and simply using (other) aesthetic vocabulary.

      So explain to me why doing this doesn’t make you a completely dishonest bully, something that you probably shouldn’t want to see happen in any reasonable society that you’d want to live in. I’m not tossing this out as an attempted “Gotcha!” or rhetorical flourish, so please to answer this. Why is this not unacceptably dishonest behaviour?

      The problem for someone like me is that most people are moral objectivists and thus moral language is likely to be interpreted as moral objectivist. But I have to use the same language as everyone else. It would be a huge distraction if, whenever I was advocating positions on free speech or circumcision or whatever, I first had to get bogged down in a whole side-track about meta-ethics.

      The reason I don’t consider this dishonest is because I have been entirely explicit about what I mean by the moral language that I use. Further, this “emotivist” interpretation of moral language has a legitimate standing, being advocated by notable scientists and philosophers. Thus, if people aren’t aware that moral language can be intended in this way then that’s not fully my fault!

      Given that my interpretation of moral language is both explicit and defendable, I don’t think it’s dishonest to not raise the issue unless I’m specifically discussing meta-ethics.

      I actually just mean “logically consistent”, as I think should have been obvious. And I still don’t know if you accept that as a desirable goal either, so please answer that original question.

      Is being logically consistent a desirable goal? Some of the time it is, yes! Such a question can only be answered in terms of prior goals and aims. If we want a functioning iPhone, then logical consistency of the design would indeed be desirable.

      But suppose we wanted to be socially successful. Regarding oneself as more knowledgeable, likeable and capable than one really is might lead to act in ways that led to greater social success, even if the claim to being knowledgeable, likeable and capable is inconsistent with all the evidence.

      The set of attitudes and values in our brains is likely not fully consistent, and it would be wrong to assume that it would be better for us if they were self-consistent. Humans are prone to cognitive biases, and it may be that having some cognitive biases is evolutionarily favoured.

      You realize that we can override those with values that aren’t programmed by evolution, right?

      Yes, we can override some of our values — but only in the cause of other values. We can deny ourselves sweet foods that we crave, but only if we desire good health and not being fat.

      Like the sweet tooth, for example? If I overwrite those values, am I still moral?

      Your question is a moral objectivist one, that presumes that there is such a thing as “being moral”. All there are are value judgments. So the question can only be along the lines: “If one denied oneself sweet foods, would one regard oneself as more virtuous?”, or would you or others regard you so? Which is the same as asking “would you or others approve of you denying yourself sweet foods in order to stay healthy and slim?”. (To which the answer is “some people would, some would not”.)

      And this leads to another question: if a woman was born without that value, is it still possible for them to be moral people?

      Your question is a moral objectivist one, that presumes that there is such a thing as being “a moral person”. All there are are value judgments. So the only question would be: “would people regard someone who lacked Value A as being moral”, which is equivalent to: “would people approve or disapprove of the value system of someone who lacked Value A?”.

      To which the answer is that most people would want a mother to love her children, and would disapprove if she didn’t (though they might have compassion and pity for her).

      If they deliberately override it in order to be in accordance with what they think is moral, are they moral or immoral?

      Again, that would only be a sensible question to ask if morality were objective. Up above you suggest that I’m not succeeding in communicating. As I see you are repeatedly misunderstanding me because you, as a moral objectivist, are simply not conceiving of a properly emotivist account of morals where such questions are simply not properly posed questions. Thus you repeatedly try to map my scheme on to a moral objectivist framework.

      I actually understand that! For the first half of my life I was a moral objectivist, and it took me years to train myself not to think like that. Moral objectivism really is so intuitive that it is hard not to automatically think like that.

      So if someone decides that their main concern is their own self-destruction, or the self-interest of others, is that something that still works for you?

      I don’t understand the question! Again, are you trying to ask whether they “should” have those concerns?

      Are you defining their main goal being their own self-interest entirely on their goals, even if those explicitly reject that?

      I’m not defining “their main goal” at all! Are you asking about that because you are looking for some anchoring point of my system? There isn’t anything such!

      We all have a whole set of values (not necessarily self-consistent ones). Those values can change, being influenced by our other values, by other people, by updated knowledge of the world. But, at any one time we will have a set of values and that will lead us to making value judgements.

      Except I can have utterly amoral feelings that are nevertheless relevant there.

      Agreed.

      Your stance would invalidate the entire moral/conventional distinction in psychology, that has LOTS of empirical support for it. The group that acts as if there is no such distinction are psychopaths.

      Psychopaths lack some sorts of sympathy for others that are present in most of us. So their value system is different. That means there is a real difference between them and most humans.

      I agree that there is a moral/conventional distinction in how people THINK about morals. That’s the same thing as saying that most people are moral objectivists. And yes they are, that is indeed how most people think.

      So how do you say what you just said while either still preserving the moral/conventional distinction or else accepting that psychopaths get morality right because they collapse it?

      I don’t know whether psychopaths are moral objectivists or not. If they’re not then yes, they have got *that* right. That doesn’t alter the fact that the main difference is that they lack sympathy for others that most people have.

      [And to head off a possible reply, I don’t think they lack sympathy for others *because* of reasoning from their meta-ethics, they have a different set of values simply because that’s how they are made; they lack certain normal values in the same way that people can be born lacking normal kidneys or a normal immune system.]

      There’s something you mean when you talk about that word. And I want to know what that means to you. I can’t accept that you’re right about “morality” if I have no idea what that word means when you say it.

      To me “morality” is a subset of “aesthetics” (quite literally). Moral language is expressions of approval or disapproval in the same way that so are the terms “delicious”, “yucky”, “beautiful” and “ugly”.

      So, is moral approval and aesthetic approval the same thing?

      Yes. (Though, as humans use the words, they’re usually applied to different subject matter.)

      Is moral approval and pragmatic approval the exact same thing?

      “Moral approval” would mean “it accords with my values”. “Pragmatic approval” means “it isn’t *directly* approved of given my values, but it will *indirectly* achieve things I want so I will accept it instrumentally”.

      If they are the exact same thing, then how is having different terms for them not the same sort of potential confusion, at least, as having the terms Evening Star and Morning Star for the planet Venus, …

      Having different terms for them does indeed lead to confusion! And yes, realising that the Evening Star and the Morning Star were both manifestations of the same object was an intellectual advance. In a similar way, realising that electricity and magnetism were both manifestation of the same underlying electromagnetic force was a great advance.

      Realising that moral sentiments and aesthetic sentiments are just different manifestations of the same thing would be a similar advance. Indeed it was proposed by Darwin in Descent of Man, so it’s about time the idea caught on! 🙂

      And if you accept that that confusion would exist, why do you insist on continuing to use the term “moral”, not just when talking to others but even when explaining your theory.

      Well if I’m trying to explain what “morality” is then I need to use the terms as part of the explanation. But yes, one could indeed replace moral language with (other) aesthetic language, such as “like” and “dislike”.

      And if you explain those differences, then like I would for visual aesthetics and taste aesthetics I’ll actually understand what you’re talking about when you talk about moral aesthetic judgements. So why are you so adamant about not explaining or ever talking about them?

      I thought I had explained! Moral language is the subset of aesthetic langauge we use for approval or disapproval of how people treat each other. E.g.:

      Approval/enjoyment of the taste of food = “delicious”
      Approval/enjoyment of the look of a sunset = “beautiful”
      Parental approval/enjoyment of interaction with a child = “love”
      Approval of how Fred acts towards others (being generous, loyal) = “moral”
      Disapproval of how Sue acts towards others (lying, cheating, stealing) = “immoral”.

      All of these are fuzzy-edged categories, since there is no clearly demarked fact of the matter as to sub-categories of aesthetic sentiments.

      Either there are right answers and you can say we’re wrong, or there aren’t any right answers and we can only go by what most people accept, which is NOT what you accept.

      There is no need for people to “go by what most people accept”. They can dislike the majority opinion and disagree, or even seek to persuade.

      This implies that these sorts of distinctions really DO exist, at least in how most people approach the world, but this works against you claiming that morals are just feelings about other people.

      They certainly do exist in how people THINK about morality, because most people are intuitive moral objectivists. Again, I’m not attempting to deny that, I fully accept.

      But most people thinking that God exists, or thinking in ways that only makes sense if a god exists, isn’t the same as God actually existing. People who think they have a relationship with God are wrong, even if that’s genuinely how they think. Moral objectivists (I assert) are wrong, even if that’s genuinely how they think.

      Which is not how anyone uses the term, and so is horribly confusing.

      I know it’s not how people use the term. I’m trying to get at the fact of the matter underlying the (moral objectivist) terms that they do use.

      and you have never addressed the idea that the link between the aesthetic and likes/dislikes is causal, not by definition, where I like beautiful things BECAUSE they’re beautiful, and not because they’re really the same thing. And I think the science is DEFINITELY on my side with that last one.

      There will indeed be a fact of the matter as to what things you find beautiful. But to me, trying to draw a distinction between you finding it beautiful and you liking it is puzzling. (Of course it would be easy to like *some* aspects of something and dislike other aspects of it.)

      Here, even if it was the scientific consensus — which I am skeptical of — that it’s the scientific consensus is not reasonably going to get philosophers to drop their consensus and replace it with that one.

      Do philosophers have a consensus on meta-ethics? I thought (Borges/Chalmers survey) that they were split down the middle?

    50. verbosestoic

      Sorry! I’m trying my best to communicate! If you’re not understanding me then perhaps I’m bad at explaining.

      On consideration, I’m not sure that you’re bad at explaining. I think that you have a Frankenstein’s monster of a moral theory, cobbled together from bits and pieces of other models, and so they often end up working against each other and frustrating anyone who wants to try to understand and/or criticize it because your defenses against some charges rely on aspects that seem to contradict other aspects of the theory. There’s nothing wrong with trying to combine aspects of various theories, but when you do so you need to be very careful that you don’t put their contradictory aspects — the reasons that they are generally considered separate theories — into the same theory.

      I’m going to try to build a theory that I think works better for you in a while. This may seem arrogant, but it has the benefit that I’m going to explain why it seems to work better for you AND it isn’t a theory I myself subscribe to, so I’m not trying to redefine your position into something I agree with. First, though, I think I need to highlight why I think you have incompatible or wrong elements in your theory and what that means.

      Now, I’m not going to take this next part as seriously as it might sound, but it’s a good framing device for this:

      As I see you are repeatedly misunderstanding me because you, as a moral objectivist, are simply not conceiving of a properly emotivist account of morals where such questions are simply not properly posed questions.

      So, despite the fact that I’ve directly studied and discussed emotivist theories in formal courses and had to show that I understood it both to people who knew them really, really well and even to people who HELD those positions, and did that well enough that they agreed that I understood the position, somehow the problem between us is that _I_ don’t understand emotivist theories or can’t understand them outside of an objectivist outlook? That … doesn’t seem credible [grin].

      Since I’ve been doing this formally for years, I have responses for most of the typical moral theories. Please don’t try to respond to them, just to the reason I bring them up (which I’ll get to at the end). The content of them would be useful for you to know, though.

      For emotivism, I tend to argue that if they want moral judgements to be taken seriously emotions can’t ground that. Not only are our emotional reactions often incorrect wrt the facts, even our specific moral emotions often recommend that we do things that viewed rationally we consider horribly immoral. So emotions only work if they are in accordance with reason, at which point we might as well just abandon them and go with reason as directly as we can. And if they just go for a straight descriptivist/subjectivist line — they are what they are — then I aim my response at subjectivism itself.

      For error theories, I take the same tack you take wrt hard determinists about free will: you can eliminate or make the moral statements meaningless if you want to, but we are still going to need terms for the behaviours of what we call “morality” and need something to fill in the gaps that removing morality would create. At this point, you’d pretty much be nitpicking over terms unless you can show a significant difference in meaning or behaviour for the replacement terms.

      For evolutionists, I point out that evolved sensibilities can be maladaptive, so they still need some kind of criteria for determining both what counts as a moral term and when we need to update it. So pointing to evolution can’t justify the terms, which is about the only reason to appeal to it. And if they simply want to be descriptivist, then we have to argue over that specifically.

      For Social Contract theorists … well, I don’t really argue against them because I’m sympathetic to the position, and certainly think that’s how things like laws and social conventions work. The most I do is point out that laws and social conventions are not morals to pretty much anyone, and so if you want to use that as a moral position you need to be able to make the link from those things to something properly called moral … ie you need to justify the distinction between the moral and the conventional, unless you want morals to have no meaning, which means that you aren’t a Social Contract theory anymore.

      For Egoists, I tend to point out that most of morality seems to be aimed at limiting considerations of personal self-interest, and that if they make that move then they collapse morality and self-interest at which point there is no point in talking about moral reasoning at all, and instead sticking strictly to practical reasoning.

      And for subjectivists, I tend to respond that if that’s the case then there is no reason for me to care about their moral judgements of me, and then ask what the point of morality at all is if that’s true (some of them have some answers, BTW).

      Now, what’s interesting about this? These are all RADICALLY different and sometimes completely incompatible theories, and yet against your view I have used EVERY SINGLE ONE of these rebuttals, and all of these in response to something that you have directly said and even agreed to that put you into their camp. This really does suggest that you’re mixing theories, which again isn’t a bad thing. But it makes your theory hard to understand, especially if you aren’t careful to separate the contradictory aspects.

      So, let me move on to talking about some of those aspects:

      1) You claim that in your view moral statements are aesthetic judgements, just like any other. However, aesthetic judgements and statements have a specific content: they are meant to express that the person is having a specific internal experience. We INFER from that statement and from what experience means to us whether or not they like or dislike the experience. So someone says that the painting is beautiful, we infer that they are having a beauty experience, we know that in us a beauty experience is pleasant, and so conclude that they liked it. For morality, this would lead us to conclude that they had a specific moral emotion experience, and conclude that the pleasant moral emotions mean they liked it, and that the unpleasant ones mean that they didn’t like it. This would be an emotivist theory AND, in fact, has to accept that moral statements express a specific and unique content, even if it is similar to or in the same family as other aesthetic expressions.

      2) You deny that moral statements have any real or meaningful content. This is an Error Theorist position, but also would mean that moral statements CAN’T be aesthetic statements.

      3) You argue that these moral sentiments evolved because they benefited us, and use Darwin’s claim about hijacking the existing mechanisms to justify their existence. The issue here is that this would tend us towards accepting that any parts that were required for it to evolve have to be properly considered a key part of the definition of morality, which would include that they are objective.

      4) Your claim is that the big benefit of morality is that it provides for society and communities. This is a Social Contract Theory, but also generally implies that it has to be considered objective or else it loses its power.

      5) You ultimately claim that the reason to follow it is that it’s ultimately in our own self-interest to do so, because of the benefits to society. Ultimately, this is an Egoist view.

      6) And finally, you insist that morality is subjective, meaning that there is no set, hard-coded answer to any moral question (it’s vague how far you need to or go with this, so this is about as far as I’m willing to take it here).

      So, you’re definitely mixing theories. Let me now try to resolve them simply by putting emphasis in different places than you generally tend to:

      When we say “X is immoral”, what we are really trying to convey is “I believe X violates the Social Contract to an unacceptable degree”. Everyone cares about the Social Contract because it benefits everyone so much, and thus from that we can conclude the less important but still true statement that the person dislikes it and, more importantly, will be willing to take actions to prevent you from doing so. Evolution would select for this because it is necessary for any society or community to thrive, as it would be especially important that the person continue to act according to the Contract when people aren’t directly looking (hence the emotion of guilt). It would do so by piggybacking on the aesthetic systems already established: not “beauty/ugly” but instead “Appealing/Repugnant” and those emotional mechanisms. Thus, moral emotions would be useful guides to violations of the Social Contract. Since every society is different and every individual’s place in society is different, there’s no overarching moral principle that one can rationally use to justify what is and isn’t moral — ie breaking the Social Contract — in any society. There are some that no society could survive if it accepted them — murder being the obvious example — but outside of that it all depends on the details of the people and the society itself. This also means that people can argue over whether an accused violation and even be in some sense right or wrong about that without having to accept some kind of fully rational moral principle that settles the issue unequivocably for everyone in all cases. It allows us to justify having a separation between social conventions and morals by pointing out that social conventions can be violated without risking breaking the Social Contract but morals can’t. It also allows us to admit that we can have non-morally relevant dislikes like, say, a dislike of lima beans. But what we consider a violation is, again, going to depend on our own values because they will help define our place in a society. This also would let you ground rights as being things that must be in place for the Social Contract to be maintained without having to have any kind of objective and separate notion of them, and yet still leave room for them to be argued over.

      This isn’t where your emphasis is, of course, but it seems to me that it captures what really is most important to you and what most of your defenses ultimately depend upon: the idea that morality is important and crucial because of its relation to societal harmony. It maintains the link to aesthetic properties and evolution that you insist upon, but cleans up some of the inconsistencies between the views. Yes, you have to drop the Error Theory claim, but you seem to still want moral statements to have weight and that pretty much eliminates Error Theory out of hand (and you don’t seem to use that for much except browbeating opponents, so it shouldn’t be that big a loss). It’s still subjectivist/relativist — or, at least, in the way you need it to be — because it is determined by the interaction of the individual and the society they are a member of. So I think it captures everything important about your view and, more importantly, all the FACTS you had supporting your view. If you think this is incorrect or unacceptable, then please let me know and we can work from this as a basis to determine what your theory really is or requires.

      I’ll clean up some of the small leftovers:

      But I’m genuinely not aware of any empirical evidence that contradicts me! By which I mean contradicts the claim that a declaration “X is immoral” amounts to “I dislike X”.
      Of course there is plenty of evidence that people *think* there is more to it than that (most people are intuitive moral objectivists), but I’m not aware of any evidence that there *is* anything more to it than that.

      What this entire point was aiming at was that the only empirical evidence you have for your position amounts to what people think morality is. So you appeal to what people think morality is when it supports your position and deny it when it doesn’t. Thus, there is lots and lots and lots of empirical evidence that contradicts your view, but you dismiss it because it doesn’t fit your theory. They’re just wrong about morality, you continually argue. And they may be. But you have no other argument for why that empirical evidence should be ignored other than that by your theory that’s just the mistake they are making. No one who does not accept your theory will not accept that as an argument, and if you don’t have better arguments for dismissing it YOU SHOULDN’T EITHER. Not if you want to claim to be doing science, since doing what you’re doing here amounts to ignoring empirical counter-evidence which is verbotten by any reasonable, rational science anyone should practice.

      The problem for someone like me is that most people are moral objectivists and thus moral language is likely to be interpreted as moral objectivist. But I have to use the same language as everyone else. It would be a huge distraction if, whenever I was advocating positions on free speech or circumcision or whatever, I first had to get bogged down in a whole side-track about meta-ethics.
      The reason I don’t consider this dishonest is because I have been entirely explicit about what I mean by the moral language that I use. Further, this “emotivist” interpretation of moral language has a legitimate standing, being advocated by notable scientists and philosophers. Thus, if people aren’t aware that moral language can be intended in this way then that’s not fully my fault!

      Well, here are the problems with it:

      1) You aren’t, in fact, generally clear about how you are using the terms in the discussions when they come up. The vast majority of the time, you use them without any explanation and then we end up in a meta-ethical debate once it becomes clear that you don’t mean it the same way as everyone else does … usually when someone demands that you justify your moral position objectively and you then insist that that can’t be done. So, no, you DO use it in a confusing way.

      2) Since you don’t conform to the standard emotivist position either, even someone familiar with emotivist positions — Hello! — is not going to come up with the idea that that is what you are trying to express, and probably won’t even get what you are saying AFTER you tell them you’re an emotivist, as we’ve see in this entire discussion.

      3) You could easily short-circuit the entire debate by appealing directly to the two pillars of your response once it gets down to brass tacks: societal impact or personal self-interest. So you don’t really ever have to use moral terms when in general you end up appealing to one of those two things anyway. All starting from morality does, in general, is make for a longer and more annoying discussion before you get to that point.

      So there seems to no real reason for you to start from moral claims. Why is it so important for you, then, to keep using them?

      Note that this is another advantage of my altered theory for you: it gives you a reason to keep using moral language even when we understand your theory properly.

      I don’t know whether psychopaths are moral objectivists or not. If they’re not then yes, they have got *that* right. That doesn’t alter the fact that the main difference is that they lack sympathy for others that most people have.

      The point here was that you keep insisting that there is no way to distinguish morals at all, at least in general, and yet the group that actually does that is the one that seems to completely lack an understanding of what morality is. So either you have to concede that the empirical evidence suggests that there IS such a distinction — that you want to deny — or else you have to concede that they, in fact, get that distinction right and thus have a BETTER understanding of morality than most people. It’s not so much of a gotcha as a “There are grave consequences from making such a blythe dismissal, and it doesn’t seem like you need to do that for your theory to work”.

      Again, an advantage of my reworked theory is that you can accept the moral/conventional distinction without having to give up any other part of your theory, even its subjectivity.

      There will indeed be a fact of the matter as to what things you find beautiful. But to me, trying to draw a distinction between you finding it beautiful and you liking it is puzzling. (Of course it would be easy to like *some* aspects of something and dislike other aspects of it.)

      Odd, because doing so is, in fact, a common staple of at least the old cartoons, where an evil character finds beauty repulsive. Conceptually, it holds, even as in us it rarely happens. But you need it to be impossible conceptually to make your case, and again even little children can grasp that idea at a conceptual level.

      Do philosophers have a consensus on meta-ethics? I thought (Borges/Chalmers survey) that they were split down the middle?

      No, but they have a consensus that things aren’t as easy as your view here implies [grin]. That’s all I was talking about here: Philosophers are aware of the theory and the consensus is that it’s not enough to settle the question.

    51. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      Except this is flat-out false, because I specifically asked you what it meant for a position to be moral — ie for it to be a position that relates to morality — and you specifically replied that it was about how people are treated, with people being treated well meaning that it was moral and with people being treated poorly meaning that it was immoral. That position has a truth value, and certainly isn’t “I like it/I don’t like it”.

      It seems that either I misinterpreted your question or you misinterpreted my answer. Your question (up thread) was:

      “The important question here, though, is how to YOU determine what goes into what category?”

      I replied:

      “Oh, ok. In that case, I’d put something in the “moral/immoral” category when people are being treated well in ways that I approve of, or are being harmed in ways that I disapprove of.”

      Now that reply was intended to me merely a report of how *I* use the language, bsince that’s what I thought you were asking for.

      That was preceded by your question:

      “For you, do these distinctions [between things that are morally salient and things that aren’t] exist? If they do, how do you determine the difference?”

      I then replied:

      “I don’t think that there is any “fact of the matter” about what is a “moral” rule versus what is merely an agreed convention. Whether someone (or people in general) puts something in the “moral” category is itself largely a societal convention.”

      So, to clarify, there is no fact of the matter as to what is morally salient and how we make a distinction between a “moral” rule versus a mere agreed convention.

      We can indeed talk about how humans use language and give a descriptive account of that. Thus I gave the above answer about how I personally use labels such as “moral”. Other people use the terms differently. I was not suggesting that my account was of facts of the matter as to what “moral” actually means in some objective sense. To me, “moral” labelling is empty rhetoric, not a reflection of anything factual. We could dispense with the rhetoric entirely and just talk about what sort of society we wanted.

      Thus I was not trying to answer your question as you understood it. (“I specifically asked you what it meant for a position to be moral — ie for it to be a position that relates to morality …”.) My reply to *that* question is that it is a misconceived question because it implies that there is a fact of the matter about “what it meant for a position to be moral”, and I don’t think there is.

    52. verbosestoic

      Well, okay, the point of asking that was to sidestep a couple of issues. The first was to sidestep your attachment to your stated position and get down to brass tacks so I could see and understand what your position was. We were simply spinning around definitions before that. And the second reason was to cut out the descriptive part, where you kept talking about how other people — presumably mostly those who don’t properly understand morality — talked about it. I was trying to get at what the right way to talk about morality was if someone understood it and presumed that the way you preferred to talk about morality would at least be consistent with that proper understanding. Hence why I asked you for that and once you had answered I translated that to a cognitivist position, because your moral language was based on things that had truth values and you never used emotions at all in talking about morality. And once I did so, note that we’re immediately spinning around definitions again and you are back to talking about how other people talk about it, which I don’t care about because it seems that even to you they don’t talk about it in the right way.

    53. Coel Post author

      . . . once you had answered I translated that to a cognitivist position, because your moral language was based on things that had truth values and you never used emotions at all in talking about morality.

      I’m constrained, when talking about morality, by how the language actually is. (And since the language is moral realist, that can make me sound like a moral realist.) I do think, however, that moral language really just refers to how we would like things to be, whether we like or dislike something, and thus I could avoid moral language altogether and talk merely in those terms.

      Though, as you have noted, moral language has rhetorical advantages (owing to its moral-realist connotations).

    54. verbosestoic

      I’m constrained, when talking about morality, by how the language actually is.

      In this case, you really aren’t. Describe it any way you’d like, and the way you think best describes it without dipping into moral realist language. You’re not trying to convince me of a moral principle here, but just trying to convince me what morality really is. If getting that across requires you to use different but more accurate terms, isn’t that the better way to go?

      Though, as you have noted, moral language has rhetorical advantages (owing to its moral-realist connotations).

      Promoting false or at least misleading language because of a rhetorical advantage does not seem consistent with your scientism or skeptical atheism.

    55. Coel Post author

      1) Many of them come into, say, introductory ethics courses with no idea or with other ideas of what morality is, and are convinced that Utilitarianism is right by the arguments.

      That’s because utilitarianism’s tenets comport (superficially!) to a lot of human moral intuitions.

      2) Utilitarianism is actually strongly counter-intuitive in a number of scenarios and yet these results rarely get them to change their position.

      Yes, some of the implications are strongly counter-intuitive, but they don’t persuade people to give up utilitarianism because of (as above) the fact that the tenets of utilitarianism appeal to human intuition, and because they are moral realists and think that something along these lines must be the case, so they instead conclude that they haven’t quite got the right version of utilitarianism, and so then construct all sorts of variants.

      3) If you managed to convince them that their acceptance of Utilitarianism was nothing more than that, they’d abandon Utilitarianism.

      Persuading moral realists against moral realism is hard, isn’t it? (Since moral realism is so intuitive!) Any idea how to do it?

      … but they are clearly not justifying it consciously that way, and think the arguments work.

      Absolutely, they are not *consciously* indulging in post-hoc rationalisation, in an attempt to design something that comports with their value system, but that’s still what they are doing.

      All the axioms of utilitarianism come from human advocacy, from their values (where else could they come from?), and the art of being a utilitarian is to scheme up a set of axioms that best matches ones moral intuitions (what else would one use to choose axioms?).

      I have no clue why you think that there’s some kind of interesting vagueness to explore here, but maybe I can clear this up with specific examples …

      OK, and indeed your example neatly illustrates the ambiguity:

      We have two people, Person A and Person B. Both of them are convinced Utilitarianism accurately describes morality.

      Interesting phrasing: “… Utilitarianism accurately describes morality”. So there is a thing called “morality” and utilitarianism accurately describes it? I’ll invoke Euthyphro here. Is something “moral” because it comports with utilitarianism, or is utilitarianism “moral” because it comports with “morality”? If the latter, can we then just ditch utilitarianism and discuss actual “morality”?

      A decides to save their spouse, knowing that they are committing an immoral act, …

      OK, so what do they mean by “an immoral act”? If they simply mean “one that does not accord with utilitarianism” then ok, but then we’re back to that phrase that “Utilitarianism accurately describes morality” and I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.

      Indeed, my basic problem with every meta-ethical system other than emotivism is that if morals are not ultimately about human values and emotions then I don’t know what the is meant by the term.

      Again, both consider the moral thing to do to be what Utilitarianism says, and yet both deliberately go against that. In what sense is this puzzling?

      It’s puzzling because I don’t know what they think “the moral thing to do” *means*. If by the “moral thing to do” they mean “the thing that is in accord with Utilitarianism” then all that says is that “the thing that is in accord with Utilitarianism is the thing that is in accord with Utilitarianism”.

      If they don’t mean that, if by “moral” they mean something other than utilitarianism, then why don’t we bypass utilitarianism and discuss actual morality (whatever that’s supposed to be).

    56. verbosestoic

      That’s because utilitarianism’s tenets comport (superficially!) to a lot of human moral intuitions.

      That doesn’t explain the people who come out of the classes as deontologists, Virtue Theorists, or relativists, or those who start with one of these and change their minds as they delve deeper into the issues. It’s much more reasonable to assume that the arguments are resonating with them than that it’s a simple reliance on intuition. Yes, in some sense everyone accepts the argument that makes the most sense to them, which involves intuitions, but that’s what we do for all arguments all the time AND is also what you do when accepting your position. There is no special psychological state here for objectivists that is confusing them but not you.

      Yes, some of the implications are strongly counter-intuitive, but they don’t persuade people to give up utilitarianism because of (as above) the fact that the tenets of utilitarianism appeal to human intuition,

      Or, rather, than they feel the arguments in favour of it outweigh the counter-intuitive conclusions, exactly the same way as it works for you with your position.

      Persuading moral realists against moral realism is hard, isn’t it? (Since moral realism is so intuitive!) Any idea how to do it?

      1) They wouldn’t necessarily abandon moral realism, just Utilitarianism, unless you convinced them that moral realism was false.

      2) Since presumably you started as a moral realist, you should already know how to overcome that, since you did it for yourself.

      3) I’m actually just a moral objectivist, not a moral realist, so the two can come apart (the reason moral objectivists are often moral realists is that they think that there has to be an object out there in the world for them to be hooked up to to make an objectivity claim. I think that conceptual truths can be — and always are — objective about concepts without having to have concept thingies floating around in the real world).

      Absolutely, they are not *consciously* indulging in post-hoc rationalisation, in an attempt to design something that comports with their value system, but that’s still what they are doing.

      I was not aware that you had telepathic powers [grin].

      Look, insisting that that is what they are doing because that’s all they COULD be doing is you assuming your conclusion, and I have provided much evidence that they clearly AREN’T doing that, either consciously or subconsciously. You probably should stop psychoanalyzing your opponents and instead work on understanding their arguments, because no one will accept that they are wrong based on your assessment of their subconscious motives when they have the arguments all laid out.

      As for the specific notion about values, let me use the defeater I use against Richard Carrier against you here:

      The thing I value most of all is … being moral. Under your view, this is an impossible and incoherent value, but it seems not only perfectly reasonable but the heart of what it means to be moral. Why, then, is it incoherent if I don’t simply assume that you are correct? After all, your base view reduces down to values, and that seems a valid value that people can and do have. Why isn’t it?

      So there is a thing called “morality” and utilitarianism accurately describes it? I’ll invoke Euthyphro here. Is something “moral” because it comports with utilitarianism, or is utilitarianism “moral” because it comports with “morality”? If the latter, can we then just ditch utilitarianism and discuss actual “morality”?

      Morality is a concept or conceptual framework, and they think Utilitarianism captures it, at least in the practical sense of how to live your life morally. Sort of like how Euclidean geometry is a conceptual framework and you can use its rules to work out math problems using it.

      OK, so what do they mean by “an immoral act”? If they simply mean “one that does not accord with utilitarianism” then ok, but then we’re back to that phrase that “Utilitarianism accurately describes morality” and I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.

      Again, you skip the examples to focus on something other than the primary point of the examples and discussion up until that point. The point there was that we can consider something immoral and yet not want to do it, which you found contradictory. I gave two examples of that, and for my examples to work all that was required was for them to BELIEVE that the action was immoral. They did, and yet still didn’t want to do it and wanted to do something else more, meaning that in line with my example above they valued something else over being moral. Do you concede that this is a valid state, or do you want to continue to argue that it is nonsensical or at least problematic?

      If they don’t mean that, if by “moral” they mean something other than utilitarianism, then why don’t we bypass utilitarianism and discuss actual morality (whatever that’s supposed to be).

      Let me invoke Russell’s distinction between morality and ethics here. One of these is used to describe the underlying principles, and the other is to start from those principles and determine how to apply them as moral agents. Utilitarianism is a better description of the latter than the former, with “Maximize pleasure and minimize pain” as the principle that drives that. Thus, it doesn’t really make sense to talk about “actual morality”, as they think that their principles capture the essence of the concept of morality and the moral rules how to act like a moral agent. And they do this by looking at what we think morality is and deriving the simpler principles that let us capture all of those notions, discarding the ones that don’t make sense but don’t seem that important either. Thus, again, there’s no “actual morality” to describe outside of the conceptual framework trying to capture it; we’re just trying to make, say, a conceptual model to describe the concept that we think we know implicitly but which is hard to describe when we think it out.

  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. verbosestoic

      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.

      No, because its about the logical validity of the argument and if there is the possibility of the conclusion being false while the premises are true. If any field is obsessed with that and so should be good at it, it’s philosophy.

      It’s not so much about *cases* where it hasn’t been test, as *domains* where it hasn’t been tested.

      But how do you know that? Science has made mistakes in both cases and in domains, and only justifies either cases or domains using the overgeneralization of induction. It’s actually easier for science to doubt conclusions across domains than it is across cases, and so science is in general less likely to insist that the conclusion holds across domains without directly testing it than it does across cases, and so is LESS likely to hold a strong conclusion that is wrong about domains than it is about cases. So it seems, again, that it’s the cases part we should be worrying about, and likely where most of the errors crop up.

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

      Arguments play the same role — or even a slightly less central role — than mathematics does, and mathematics is tangential to science. Meaning, science uses both frequently because it needs to, but considers both tools, not necessary components.

      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.

      What’s your evidence for that? Remember, philosophy explicitly makes that — or at least the key components of it — part of its core curriculum, and science doesn’t. You’re coming dangerously close to making a claim like arguing that philosophers are better at physics than physicists are [grin].

      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.

      We agreed that it isn’t part of the curriculum, at least not directly, and I think I’m justified in saying that formal training is better than ad hoc training unless you can provide evidence that it isn’t.

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

      And often dismiss it when it comes to producing anything actually useful or anything true.

      That’s rather a strawman about New Atheists!

      Jerry Coyne once dismissed two philosophers’ opinions about whether an examination would be of interest to philosophy precisely because it involved assuming — for the sake of argument — that a theological point was “true”, so they could examine the conceptual consequences of it. And HE thinks that philosophers are actually good at doing and teaching reasoning, which you deny. And both of you are STILL more accepting of philosophy than a lot of other New Atheists are, outside of the Horsemen.

    5. Coel Post author

      And HE thinks that philosophers are actually good at doing and teaching reasoning, which you deny.

      I’m not suggesting that philosophers are *bad* at reasoning and correct thinking, but I’m not convinced they are generally better at it than others. A lot of fields require correct reasoning, including science, mathematics, engineering, the law, etc.

      The argument that philosophers are better at it because that’s what they particularly study doesn’t convince me. If I wanted evidence that engineers were fairly good at correct reasoning, I wouldn’t point to any formal study of it, I’d point to the fact that the products of engineering generally work. The problem with much of philosophy is that is has no comparable method of validation.

    6. verbosestoic

      The argument that philosophers are better at it because that’s what they particularly study doesn’t convince me.

      If someone tried to sell you on a professional mechanic by telling you they knew as much about cars as most people who tinker with them, wouldn’t you take that as meaning that they aren’t all that great at fixing cars? The reason for that is that a professional mechanic has all of the time to learn about and get experience working on cars, and so should be better at it than someone who doesn’t. Thus, if philosophers do logic all the time but aren’t better at it than those in other fields, shouldn’t we take that as a sign that they aren’t very good at it? Thus, you need to provide evidence that they aren’t better at it than scientists, not merely assert that they aren’t and demand proof that they are.

    7. 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.

    8. verbosestoic

      Sorry about the delay in replying, but things were pretty hectic for the past couple of weeks. Also, I’m not going to refresh myself on all the comments, so some comments may touch on things that come up later.

      Anyway,

      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 from an evolutionary perspective, isn’t that what gives it its survival value, or at least contributes greatly to it? Anyone taking an evolutionary line can argue that morality only exists BECAUSE it is taken as universal, and thus that from an evolutionary perspective that’s part of what it means for a rule or judgement to be a moral one. Thus, you can’t argue that morality isn’t a universal judgement while still being consistent with evolution, which is important to you. And they can make this objective in the important way by taking the Social Contract line, and arguing that morality allows for stronger social groupings, which is why it exists, and then moving from that to arguing that there are some rules that are required for any society to function and thus are moral or immoral by definition, while others may depend on the specific society, but there is still an objective criteria for determining what is or isn’t moral: does it foster the survival of the society or not? This, contrary to your comment later, is a far cry from emotivism.

      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.

      But if you are willing to jettison evolution and willing to jettison intuition and are suspicious about conceptual analysis (from philosophy), what’s left? Given all of this, it looks like you are just as much asserting your view without evidence as those you oppose.

      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 since this is what most people accept, why is the burden of proof on those who accept it and not you who argues against it? Most of your arguments boil down to “It’s mistaken to think that way” but I have not seen any strong or convincing argument that your view is right.

      But no-one has backed up this moral-realist intuition with any reasoned account of what objective morality even amounts to.

      We went down this rabbit hole before, and from what I recall it ended up with you demanding a precise and proven specific morality, not merely a notion of objective morality in general. So before I engage you on this, you need to tell me what you want such a reasoned account to be and what questions you want it to answer, otherwise we’ll just be talking past each other again.

      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.

      My question goes beyond that, because it talks about causation. Do we feel a moral emotion and thus “read” our moral judgements from that, or do we form a moral judgement which causes us to feel a moral emotion? Your position insists on the former, while mine is consistent with the latter.

      To put it another, is it possible to make a moral judgement dispassionately, without feeling a moral emotion? If it is, your view is wrong, and it is important to examine your empirical evidence to see which theory it is most compatible with (from my perspective, it seems that it is more compatible with the latter case, as the emotions tend to come FROM the things we think moral and don’t tend to themselves change what we think is moral or immoral. But other views may differ).

      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.

      Emotivism is about emotions, not about values. Psychology, in general, reads off what humans THINK is moral or immoral, sure, but it also tends to assume that we think that there is a right answer to moral questions, and thus that they have a truth value, and thus that humans are not expressivists about morality.

      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.

      Most objective moral views don’t insist that we have direct or inherent access to the truth values of moral statements, and so only argue that we have a capacity to learn morality and act morally. Thus, we could evolve that just as we’ve evolved a capacity to do mathematics. That does not mean that moral propositions can have truth values any more than it means that “2 + 2 = 4 in base 10” can’t have a truth value.

      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.

      As I touched on later, there’s an issue here with moral motivism; you are asking why humans would want to act moral, which has to come down to desires, but are trying to use that to define what morality is. That’s like asking why someone would want to buy a car before determining what it means for something to be a car.

    9. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose,

      Anyone taking an evolutionary line can argue that morality only exists BECAUSE it is taken as universal, …

      Yes, perhaps so. But saying that people survive and reproduce better if they *think* that morality is objective is not the same as morality actually being objective.

      In the same way, people might survive and reproduce better if they think they are well above average in driving ability, leadership ability, likeability and sexual attractiveness, but that isn’t the same as those things being true.

      Thus, you can’t argue that morality isn’t a universal judgement while still being consistent with evolution, which is important to you.

      No! I can argue that there are evolutionary reasons why 70% of students rate themselves above the median on leadership ability and 85% rate themselves above the median on ability to get on well with others, AND that such opinions are largely false.

      And they can make this objective in the important way by taking the Social Contract line, and arguing that morality allows for stronger social groupings, which is why it exists, …

      Agreed, that’s true. And that’s descriptive not normative, and it is only the *description* that is objective. Any normativity comes from human advocacy, so is subjective.

      and then moving from that to arguing that there are some rules that are required for any society to function and thus are moral or immoral by definition, …

      So you are defining “moral” as “enables society to function”? Yes, if you adopt an axiom such as that, *then* morality is objective. But the whole issue is that axiom.

      but there is still an objective criteria for determining what is or isn’t moral: does it foster the survival of the society or not?

      Sure, but that requires the axiom that “moral” means “fosters the survival of the society”.

      This, contrary to your comment later, is a far cry from emotivism.

      No, it’s not far from emotivism. It starts from “I *want* society to function, I *want* to live in a society that functions, and thus *I* *declare* the axiom that “moral” equates to whatever achieves that aim. And *that* is emotivism: what gets labelled as moral depends on our wants and desires.

      I recall it ended up with you demanding a precise and proven specific morality, not merely a notion of objective morality in general.

      I’d be quite happy with any notion of objective morality that did not, ultimately, rest on human wants and desires. Who is it who wants societies to survive and function? Is it termites? Is it trees? Is it rocks? Is it inhabitants of Alpha Centauri? Or is it humans? Is it *humans* who decide on the utility metrics, based on their values? If so, you have subjective morality not objective morality.

      But there is nothing wrong with that! And note that then making objective *descriptions* of the subjective morality schemes that humans declare does not make the morality objective.

      Do we feel a moral emotion and thus “read” our moral judgements from that, or do we form a moral judgement which causes us to feel a moral emotion? Your position insists on the former, while mine is consistent with the latter.

      I’d say that both are so entwined in the brain (that’s how neural networks work) that it doesn’t make sense to distinguish them.

      To put it another, is it possible to make a moral judgement dispassionately, without feeling a moral emotion? If it is, your view is wrong, …

      Agreed. Or, to put it another way, it is not possible to make a moral judgement without a value judgement being part of it.

      Emotivism is about emotions, not about values.

      Here I disagree. As I see it, “emotion” (as used in “emotivism”) is a broad term including all human desires, wants and values. These are all subjective, and all pretty much the same thing.

      Most objective moral views […] argue that we have a capacity to learn morality and act morally. Thus, we could evolve that just as we’ve evolved a capacity to do mathematics.

      We have evolved a capacity to do maths because maths maps to the real world. Somone who adopts the model “1+1=2” will be better able to model the real world than someone who adopts “1+1=5”. What features of the real world map to moral realism? Which moral-realist aspects of the real world would evolution have traction on?

      If the answer to that is that our survival is affected be being able to model other humans’ *behaviour* and their *brain states*, then agreed. That’s where evolution programming for morality came from. But what matters for that is what humans THINK about morality, and thus their subjective brain states. That would not be about any objective independent-of-humans morality.

      Which independent-of-humans aspects of the real world give evolution traction on objective morality?

    10. verbosestoic

      Yes, perhaps so. But saying that people survive and reproduce better if they *think* that morality is objective is not the same as morality actually being objective.

      The strong evolutionary argument would be that morals can only mean what they were evolved to mean, particularly if that meaning is required for them to have been selected. Since even you admit that morals need to be considered to be objective for us to have evolved that sense, this means that from evolution morals are objective and there is no way to justify any other meaning of morals and our moral sense. Thus, morals must be objective, at least to any species that evolved a sense of morality where they are considered such and that definition is critically responsible for them evolving and surviving in the first place. Given this strong position, how can you argue that your view is compatible with evolution? What non-evolutionary justification can you provide that trumps the evolutionary definition?

      In the same way, people might survive and reproduce better if they think they are well above average in driving ability, leadership ability, likeability and sexual attractiveness, but that isn’t the same as those things being true.

      All of those have independently — read: objectively — defined meanings that we can appeal to outside of what it means to a specific person. You have denied yourself any such objectively defined definition, and so you can’t use that to say that there is more to what it means to be moral than what we have evolved to think it is.

      No, it’s not far from emotivism. It starts from “I *want* society to function, I *want* to live in a society that functions, and thus *I* *declare* the axiom that “moral” equates to whatever achieves that aim. And *that* is emotivism: what gets labelled as moral depends on our wants and desires.

      Except, that’s not what they do. They don’t argue that we want it that way, but that the Social Contract requires an objective morality, and morality evolved because it facilitates that. Thus, if someone decided that they didn’t care about the Social Contract, they’d STILL be acting immorally, because that’s all morality is or can be, which makes it objective in the stronger sense. Additionally, it means that there is a right or wrong answer to moral questions — does this facilitate the Social Contract — which emotivism denies as it denies that they have truth values. And we’ve already talked about the problems with how loosely you define well-known terms like “emotivism”, which relates to emotions and not necessarily merely desires (which can, in fact, under some theories have truth values).

      I’d be quite happy with any notion of objective morality that did not, ultimately, rest on human wants and desires.

      And what, precisely, do you mean by that? Recall the issues with motivism: if someone agrees with what is moral but decides that they don’t want to be moral, would you consider that to be morality resting on human wants? Because I’d just consider them to be at best amoral and at worst immoral, but that that would clearly not refute the objectivity of the moral principles being appealed to, and most of your counters tend to come down to arguing about what happens if someone doesn’t want to act morally in those cases (usually on the basis of personal benefit).

      I’d say that both are so entwined in the brain (that’s how neural networks work) that it doesn’t make sense to distinguish them.

      The brain has many faculties that are intertwined and yet can be distinguished, so this view is inconsistent with neuroscience. And as I have pointed out, we can have the judgements separate from the emotions — judging without emotion, and emotion when our judgement is counter to that — which means that we must have some mechanism in the brain that allows them to fire independently. So, to reiterate, is your view that the emotion triggers the judgement or the judgement triggers the emotion? The evidence tends to suggest that it’s the latter.

      Or, to put it another way, it is not possible to make a moral judgement without a value judgement being part of it.

      That’s not the same thing, though. And you have to be very careful about “value judgement”, because using your terms a moral judgement under MY view is ITSELF a value judgement, and thus there is no need for any emotion or anything else whatsoever, but it still remains objective under my view. In short, value judgements are not necessarily subjective.

      Here I disagree. As I see it, “emotion” (as used in “emotivism”) is a broad term including all human desires, wants and values. These are all subjective, and all pretty much the same thing.

      That’s not how it is used in emotivism, let alone how it is used by anyone else. It might be best if you didn’t use terms in such idiosyncratic ways as if it helps to shorten/clarify your position, when it just leads to people assuming standard ideas that you then deny you hold.

      Onto this: is there anything in humanity’s mental life that is NOT subjective and an emotion to you? What about beliefs/facts?

      We have evolved a capacity to do maths because maths maps to the real world.

      That’s a specific evolutionary benefit, but there can be other evolutionary benefits that are not that that could spawn morality, as we already discussed above. Thus, we don’t need “real world” here, and note that our mathematical ability extends beyond mere descriptions of the world. Thus, we have a capacity to extend beyond the real world that evolved because it had an evolutionary benefit. The same thing, then, could be said for morality, and so we don’t need to have any “moral objects” in the real world to hook up to to evolve a capacity to determine objective moral propositions, if that view is correct.

    11. Coel Post author

      The strong evolutionary argument would be that morals can only mean what they were evolved to mean, …

      I don’t see how that follows. To give an example, one can easily see why thinking that one is “god’s gift to women” in looks might be evolutionarily favoured over thinking that one is ugly, regardless of the truth of the thoughts.

      Since even you admit that morals need to be considered to be objective for us to have evolved that sense, …

      No, I only think that “thinking morals are objective” makes them more effective. I think they could still have evolved without that (even if they were somewhat less effective).

      More replies later …

    12. verbosestoic

      I don’t see how that follows. To give an example, one can easily see why thinking that one is “god’s gift to women” in looks might be evolutionarily favoured over thinking that one is ugly, regardless of the truth of the thoughts.

      You are still confusing the objective criteria with the internal impression of it. We have an external definition of “sexually attractive” that we can measure someone against. If they possess the traits, then they are “sexually attractive”, to varying degrees. Then we can note that SECOND category, which is the person’s internal view of their own attractiveness. Yes, it indeed can be beneficial for them to consider themselves extremely attractive even if they aren’t — it might make them more aggressive in pursuit, for example — but there is still something to compare their impression to that is objective and is defined by evolution.

      By your definition, we only have one of these two categories. If we only have the second, then morality is just defined by that impression because there is nothing else to compare it to. And if we only have the first, then it is still the case that what it means to be moral is just what we have evolved to think it means to be moral, just as what it means to be sexually attractive is just what we have evolved to find sexually attractive. There is no separate way to view sexually attractive, and so there wouldn’t any separate way to view or define morality either.

      No, I only think that “thinking morals are objective” makes them more effective. I think they could still have evolved without that (even if they were somewhat less effective).

      If you are going to talk about natural morals as opposed to societally imposed ones, it seems unlikely that you could get people to follow them if they didn’t consider them objective, and it is certainly the case that if they didn’t consider them objective they wouldn’t trust that anyone else was following them either, leading straight to Prisoner’s Dilemma problems which would make their use as a cohesive force for communities at a minimum extremely problematic [grin].

    13. Coel Post author

      … it is certainly the case that if they didn’t consider them objective they wouldn’t trust that anyone else was following them either, leading straight to Prisoner’s Dilemma problems which would make their use as a cohesive force for communities at a minimum extremely problematic [grin].

      Which is a comment about the usefulness of moral concepts (and thus about why they might have evolved), not a comment about their truth.

    14. verbosestoic

      Which is a comment about the usefulness of moral concepts (and thus about why they might have evolved), not a comment about their truth.

      See, here is where the discussions get frustrating:

      1) You completely ignored the critical part of the comment about how your examples don’t work because you conflate the impression with the thing itself, which means that they have an objective basis that you claim morals lack, without acknowledging that you agreed with my analysis, meaning that at some point later you are likely to make the argument again without acknowledging that I already addressed it.

      2) This part of the argument was me claiming that without morals being considered objective they WOULDN’T have evolved, which you seem to concede here but then insist that that doesn’t mean that the theory is true … in the context of an argument where I was giving the evolutionary argument saying that morals just are what they evolved to me, justified by 1). Which was in response to you insisting that your view better aligned with evolution and my saying that it doesn’t.

      So, strike as non-responsive [grin]?

    15. Coel Post author

      This part of the argument was me claiming that without morals being considered objective they WOULDN’T have evolved, which you seem to concede …

      No, I don’t concede it. I think morals could still have evolved when considered as subjective, just in a somewhat less effective way.

      in the context of an argument where I was giving the evolutionary argument saying that morals just are what they evolved to me, justified by 1).

      I don’t really understand the argument you’re making here. You seem to be arguing that if morals evolved such that we consider them to be objective, then likely they are objective (or even must be objective). I don’t see how that follows.

    16. verbosestoic

      No, I don’t concede it. I think morals could still have evolved when considered as subjective, just in a somewhat less effective way.

      Then you need to demonstrate that in light of the arguments I made — and you ignored — that it couldn’t have had the impact necessary if they were considered to be subjective.

      I don’t really understand the argument you’re making here. You seem to be arguing that if morals evolved such that we consider them to be objective, then likely they are objective (or even must be objective). I don’t see how that follows.

      Then you need to address the arguments I made that for all of your other cases, we have an objective principle determined by evolution — attractiveness, for example — and that our sense of that can be separated from it, whereas under your own view of morality there is nothing OTHER than our sense of what is or isn’t moral.

      So, in order to understand these things, you really need to address the arguments I made in the comment you replied to.

    17. Coel Post author

      Then you need to demonstrate that in light of the arguments I made — and you ignored — that it couldn’t have had the impact necessary if they were considered to be subjective.

      We know that purely subjective preferences can evolve, since we have our aesthetic senses, and we know that they are powerful enough to have a major influence on how we behave.

      Thus the idea that moral sentiments are merely re-purposed aesthetic sentiments is fairly prosaic and parsimonious. Does anyone argue that aesthetic sentiments need to be objective in order for them to have evolved?

      Then you need to address the arguments I made that for all of your other cases, we have an objective principle determined by evolution — attractiveness, for example — and that our sense of that can be separated from it …

      But surely standards of beauty are subjective? Doesn’t this support me?

    18. verbosestoic

      We know that purely subjective preferences can evolve, since we have our aesthetic senses, and we know that they are powerful enough to have a major influence on how we behave.

      You can’t just say “We have some subjective notions!” and try to use that prove your point in light of my counter that the main survival benefit for morals is that people will follow them if they think them objective and will ignore them when convenient if they don’t, and so people can “trust” others to follow them without having to keep them under constant observation. We don’t need that for things like aesthetic senitments.

      But surely standards of beauty are subjective? Doesn’t this support me?

      As stated above, no, especially since the argument here was about a distinction between someone’s sense of their own attractiveness and their actual evolved attractiveness, which is a split that you DON’T have for morals; under your view, all we have is our own sense of morals, and nothing else.

    19. Coel Post author

      You can’t just say “We have some subjective notions!” and try to use that prove your point in light of my counter that the main survival benefit for morals is that people will follow them if they think them objective and will ignore them when convenient if they don’t, and so people can “trust” others to follow them without having to keep them under constant observation.

      But is it really true that we follow them because we think them objective, or do we think them objective because we want them to be adopted? And can we really trust other people to follow them without being watched?

    20. verbosestoic

      But is it really true that we follow them because we think them objective, or do we think them objective because we want them to be adopted? And can we really trust other people to follow them without being watched?

      What would be the reasoning behind us thinking them objective for the purpose of having them be adopted? If we believe that the rules are subjective, then the only person who determines what the rules are is me, which means that everyone has their own personal set of rules that others don’t know, and that they can change at any time. But if they are believed to be objective, then people, once they accept that, will follow that set that we know, and won’t change them on a simple whim.

      As for the last question, it isn’t a guarantee, but it generally keeps people following them better than the alternative.

    21. Coel Post author

      What would be the reasoning behind us thinking them objective for the purpose of having them be adopted?

      First, it is not pure “reasoning” that leads people to think them objective — people are not pure reasoning machines!.

      But, if you persuade *yourself* that the values are objective, then you’re likely to try harder to get them to prevail. And if you can persuade *others* that the values are objective, then those others are more likely to adopt them. The thinking of them as objective is a way of kidding yourself and others.

      If we believe that the rules are subjective, then the only person who determines what the rules are is me …

      No, since “rules” must necessarily be a negotiation with the rest of your community.

      But if they are believed to be objective, then people, once they accept that, will follow that set that we know, and won’t change them on a simple whim.

      Which is exactly why the “thinking they are objective” tends to spread. In meme talk, consider two scenarios:

      Meme 1) Don’t work on the Sabbath. Meme 2) This idea is just my preference. Versus:

      Meme 3) Don’t work on the Sabbath. Meme 4) That is an objective rule, not just a mere preference.

      For reasons that you have outlined, the combination 3+4 is likely to spread better than the combination 1+2. Therefore we’ll likely end up with people thinking 3+4 purely because it spreads better, and so will be more widely adopted, not because it is true.

    22. verbosestoic

      First, it is not pure “reasoning” that leads people to think them objective — people are not pure reasoning machines!.

      Your argument, essentially, was talking about the benefit of taking something that we presumably believed subjective but trying to convince others was objective so that they would adopt them. This runs into the issue of why we would do that instead of having everyone just consider them subjective, or instead having us consider them objective.

      Saying how good it is if they are considered objective doesn’t help you here, because that’s MY argument: they need to be considered objective or else they won’t have survival value and so won’t evolve. You need to either show that they can evolve if subjective or that we mistakenly believe that they are objective when they aren’t. And remember this started from an argument you made that your view fit evolution better, which I denied, adding in that a strict evolution argument can say that since we evolved the concept as an objective concept, and since that objectivity itself provides sufficient utility, then the concept is objective according to evolution, pointing out that your examples of believing one thing to be true having utility when it was really false implied that there WAS a thing to appeal to other than what we believed, which is missing for things like morality. So there’s a lot of work for you to do here, none of which is helped by talking about how good these things being seen as objective is [grin].

      No, since “rules” must necessarily be a negotiation with the rest of your community.

      Not if we all accept the “truth” that they are all subjective, it doesn’t. Then imposing them in negotiation with the community would be seen as completely wrong.

    23. Coel Post author

      Your argument, essentially, was talking about the benefit of taking something that we presumably believed subjective …

      No, we first fool *ourselves* into thinking it objective (Feynman — “yourself is the easiest person to fool”).

      … but trying to convince others was objective so that they would adopt them. This runs into the issue of why we would do that instead of having everyone just consider them subjective, or instead having us consider them objective.

      It’s definitely that last.

      Saying how good it is if they are considered objective doesn’t help you here, because that’s MY argument: …

      It’s also my argument! We (most people) think they are objective because that makes them more effective in persuading people (including persuading ourselves).

      No-one cares about imposing a liking of Marmite on everyone in society, since we accept that liking as subjective. People, however, do want to impose *moral* codes on others in society, because they (falsely) regard them as *objectively* normative.

      … they need to be considered objective or else they won’t have survival value and so won’t evolve.

      That’s where I disagree. If they were considered subjective they would still have value, and so still evolve, but they simply would be less effective. After all we know that likes/dislikes accepted as subjective have indeed evolved (e.g. Marmite).

      You need to either show that they can evolve if subjective …

      Aesthetic preferences are accepted as subjective, and they evolved. So this is possible.

      My whole argument is that “moral” preferences are in essence aesthetic preferences, adapted by evolution for a slightly different role (policing cooperative living), and that we evolved to regard them as objective because that made them more effective.

      The fact that some people hold *aesthetic* preferences to be objective shows that humans can take a subjective preference and (wrongly) regard it as objective. Those two steps (subjective preferences evolve; people come to regard subjective preferences as objective) are all I need.

      Not if we all accept the “truth” that they are all subjective, it doesn’t. Then imposing them in negotiation with the community would be seen as completely wrong.

      No it wouldn’t! Society needs agreed rules, even if they are subjective. For example, we need to agree which side of the road to drive on, even if the choice is arbitrary. We would not regard it as “wrong” to impose that rule on everyone.

    24. verbosestoic

      No, we first fool *ourselves* into thinking it objective (Feynman — “yourself is the easiest person to fool”).

      And how or why did we do that? And how do you know that happened as opposed to us seeing it as objective for the start?

      It’s also my argument! We (most people) think they are objective because that makes them more effective in persuading people (including persuading ourselves).

      But since my comment was that the evolutionary definition of them has them as being objective because they wouldn’t have evolved otherwise, arguing the great benefit them being considered objective has doesn’t help you counter that. You either have to show that they could have evolved if they were considered subjective as well or spend more time arguing that we shouldn’t just use the evolutionary definition — ie the one it gave us — as the real definition, by giving some other definition that’s proven right WITHOUT appealing to what we evolved to believe.

      Aesthetic preferences are accepted as subjective, and they evolved. So this is possible.

      That other things have evolved as subjective doesn’t mean that THIS thing could have, so you still need a specific argument for why we should think that these things could have evolved if considered subjective despite the fact that they, as far as we know, DIDN’T.

      My whole argument is that “moral” preferences are in essence aesthetic preferences, adapted by evolution for a slightly different role (policing cooperative living), and that we evolved to regard them as objective because that made them more effective.

      But then you might as well toss out the whole “more consistent with evolution” argument, because at best you can make your theory as consistent with how morals evolved as the objectivists can. So if you see them as being aesthetic preferences, then we need to determine what it means for something to be an aesthetic preference, and then determine if morals fit that. I deny that they can work as aesthetic preferences because they become meaningless. What is your best argument for them being that that doesn’t rely on evolution or on saying that you don’t see any reason for them to be objective? At this point, the burden of proof seems to be clearly on you, because you haven’t, as far as I can tell, given any good reason for anyone to agree with your determination, while most people’s evolved intuitions suggest otherwise. Yes, we could all be making a mistake, but we aren’t likely to believe that unless we’re given a reason to do that.

      For example, we need to agree which side of the road to drive on, even if the choice is arbitrary. We would not regard it as “wrong” to impose that rule on everyone.

      Laws, though, are considered socially relativistic, for the precise reasons you give. We often, however, think that morals can trump laws. So you’d need to adopt some kind of cultural relativism about morality to get to the point you’re trying to get to here. If they are truly just aesthetic preferences, then imposing them on the minority because the majority prefers them always seems wrong to us (like forcing everyone to listen to classical music because it’s what most people like).

    25. Coel Post author

      You either have to show that they could have evolved if they were considered subjective as well or spend more time arguing that we shouldn’t just use the evolutionary definition — ie the one it gave us — as the real definition, …

      I don’t agree that evolution programming us to think morality is objective makes morality being objective the “evolutionary definition” of morality.

      I also don’t see any problem with suggesting that (1) subjective preferences can evolve (we know this is true from aesthetic preferences; ours are different from those of a dung beetle), and (2) we can then be fooled into thinking that subjective preferences are objective.

      That other things have evolved as subjective doesn’t mean that THIS thing could have …

      It tells us that one sort of subjective preference did evolve, therefore it’s hardly outlandish that other sorts of subjective preference can evolve.

      At this point, the burden of proof seems to be clearly on you, because you haven’t, as far as I can tell, given any good reason for anyone to agree with your determination, while most people’s evolved intuitions suggest otherwise.

      I don’t agree that the burden of proof is on me. We have:
      1) subjective preferences can evolve;
      2) morality being subjective preferences can account for everything that needs accounting for;
      3) human intuition on such things is notoriously fallible and should be discounted.

      From there, it seems to me, the burden of proof is on anyone wanting to argue for objective moral facts.

    26. verbosestoic

      I don’t agree that evolution programming us to think morality is objective makes morality being objective the “evolutionary definition” of morality.

      It’s the only one we have as per evolution, meaning that it’s the one evolution gave us. If you want another definition, you need to justify it and show that it is compatible with evolution. It’s the first part of this that is sorely lacking in your argument, which is why I say that you have a burden of proof to show why your definition is one that anyone should find convincing. And saying that you aren’t convinced that it’s objective isn’t good enough for anyone who doesn’t share your opinion.

      My overall view on the burden of proof is this: the burden of proof is on someone who is making a claim. When you insist that they are subjective, you are making a claim. And, yes, so am I when I say that they are objective. Both of us have to prove our claims, but I’m not going to accept that if I don’t have enough to convince you that therefore your claim is the one that wins by default.

      I also don’t see any problem with suggesting that (1) subjective preferences can evolve (we know this is true from aesthetic preferences; ours are different from those of a dung beetle), and (2) we can then be fooled into thinking that subjective preferences are objective.

      The problem here is two-fold. First, even if this worked, it would only get you to “This COULD have happened”. We want to know if it DID happen. Second, we actually know that it DIDN’T happen, because we know that these evolved as objective preferences and not subjective ones, which is why you need to appeal to the “fooled” in the first place. So this is like trying to deny that there’s a tree in your front yard because even though we see the tree, we could be having a hallucination and your own personal worldview works better if the tree isn’t there. I’m not saying that you’d have to be wrong, but we’re gonna need more than that to doubt our senses and our intuition here. Because while our intuitions can be wrong, they have been a pretty good guide to the world at the everyday level for a long time. We refine our intuitions, not abandon them.

      It tells us that one sort of subjective preference did evolve, therefore it’s hardly outlandish that other sorts of subjective preference can evolve.

      I never claimed that it was outlandish. I claimed that we have no reason to think that THIS one did just because others have, especially since this one acts completely differently than those ones.

      1) subjective preferences can evolve;
      2) morality being subjective preferences can account for everything that needs accounting for;
      3) human intuition on such things is notoriously fallible and should be discounted.

      So, let me break this down:

      1) is not support for your claim, as it at best says that it could have happened, and so at best is merely a way to weakly refute comments that it couldn’t have happened. However, even my strongest argument is not that it couldn’t have happened in a generic sense — ie that subjective preferences cannot evolve — but that THESE would not have evolved if they were subjective preferences because they wouldn’t have provided enough benefit. Your reply that we have to fool ourselves into thinking them objective when they are really subjective pretty much puts the kibbosh on 1) being relevant to this discussion, as that says that it wouldn’t have evolved as a strict subjective preference. Yes, it could still be subjective, but it didn’t evolve as a subjective preference in the way that other subjective preferences did, so appealing to them cannot help you.

      On 3), that our intuitions COULD be wrong one this doesn’t mean they are, so you still need to provide some kind of evidence for your contention. If you dismiss all intuitions, as stated above you cut yourself off from the largest and most accessible empirical evidence we have, and that you have to do that because it DOESN’T support your contention is not a good sign and, of course, does not alleviate your burden of proof.

      Which then leads to 2). I have been continually pointing out that it DOESN’T account for everything that needs accounting for, at least not directly or easily. By 3) you have to dismiss all of our intuitions about morality to make that work. It also contradicts the evolutionary benefit morality had for us, by your own admission (that’s why we have to be “fooled” into thinking it objective). It also leaves us wondering what role appealing to morality could rationally have. And all sorts of other problems. Saying that it accounts for everything while on a number of occasions having to flat-out dismiss things doesn’t work. So it’s 2) we’re fighting over, because the objectivist account ALSO accounts for everything important. So you need to provide some evidence that objectivist accounts don’t account for some specific important evidence. That requires you to present evidence. And that’s pretty much a burden of proof by any definition.

    27. Coel Post author

      It’s the only one we have as per evolution, meaning that it’s the one evolution gave us. If you want another definition, you need to justify it and show that it is compatible with evolution.

      The way you are using “definition” here is weird. Evolution does not give us a “definition” of morality (a statement that gives the meaning of the term), what it does do is give us an intuition as to whether morality is objective. As stated, I regard mere intuition as weak evidence on this topic.

      My overall view on the burden of proof is this: the burden of proof is on someone who is making a claim. When you insist that they are subjective, you are making a claim.

      OK, but surely everyone would accept that many of our ideas about morality are indeed subjective? That is, people have different ideas about what is moral. They disagree on what is moral, and so these opinions must be subjective.

      The question then is whether there is something more to it, whether there is an objective reality that our subjective ideas are attempting to reflect. Saying there is not is then parsimonious in that it deletes one whole category from our ontology. That’s why I see the burden of proof as on those arguing for objective morality.

      Second, we actually know that it DIDN’T happen, because we know that these evolved as objective preferences and not subjective ones, …

      No, we do not know that. We know that they evolved as what we think are objective preferences, but that’s different from them evolving as actually objective preferences.

      Because while our intuitions can be wrong, they have been a pretty good guide to the world at the everyday level for a long time. We refine our intuitions, not abandon them.

      Yes, they work well where it would have been evolutionary advantageous for them to accurately reflect reality. Thus we have good intuitions about whether falling over a cliff or stepping on a snake is dangerous. But we do not have good intuitions otherwise; science tells us that. Whenever we go beyond things that would have been evolutionarily advantageous to be true then our intuitions are unreliable.

      Further, in some cases it would have been evolutionarily advantageous for our intuitions to be *wrong*; and if so they likely will be wrong. This is where cognitive biases come from. Over-active pattern-seeking detectors are one example. The Lake Wobegone effect is another (it is likely advantageous for people’s self-opinion to be higher than the truth).

      This is why suggesting that our intuition of morality being objective is merely an illusion is a sufficient argument. As we both accept, *thinking* that morals are objective makes them more effective.

      So it’s 2) we’re fighting over, because the objectivist account ALSO accounts for everything important.

      Except that objectivist accounts posit a whole new ontological category, namely “moral truths” that have normative force and which place obligations on us, and no philosopher has succeeded in producing a workable account of such things.

    28. verbosestoic

      The way you are using “definition” here is weird. Evolution does not give us a “definition” of morality (a statement that gives the meaning of the term), what it does do is give us an intuition as to whether morality is objective.

      A definition is what we think a certain concept or word means. In this case, you are arguing that we have evolved to think that morality exists and has certain properties through evolution. So, what we think morality means is derived from an evolved concepts. Thus, the definition we are at least drawn towards for morality is the one evolution gave us. If you want to say that that’s the wrong definition, you have to give us something else to appeal to to show that the evolved concept is wrong or misleading.

      OK, but surely everyone would accept that many of our ideas about morality are indeed subjective? That is, people have different ideas about what is moral. They disagree on what is moral, and so these opinions must be subjective.

      People disagree over whether the world is round or flat. That doesn’t make those opinions subjective. It just makes some of them WRONG [grin].

      No, we do not know that. We know that they evolved as what we think are objective preferences, but that’s different from them evolving as actually objective preferences.

      We know the properties that subjective properties have, and we know how they evolved. Morality doesn’t have those properties and didn’t evolve in the same way. It could still be subjective, but when we look at those subjective things you refer to things like morality really don’t seem to be the same way. And that’s not appealing to intuition, but appealing to evolutionary history and the properties that we use to identify those things as those sorts of things in the first place.

      This is why suggesting that our intuition of morality being objective is merely an illusion is a sufficient argument. As we both accept, *thinking* that morals are objective makes them more effective.

      But we could think that they are objective because we are wrong about that, or because they ARE. Both would work. Leading to:

      Except that objectivist accounts posit a whole new ontological category, namely “moral truths” that have normative force and which place obligations on us, and no philosopher has succeeded in producing a workable account of such things.

      This would work if I agreed with you that the subjectivist account explains everything important. But, as you know and as I said, I clearly don’t. Thus, you look to me like the solipsist — which, you’ll recall, I’m NOT — looks to you. If you think they justifiably have the burden of proof, then it would seem that by the same logic you have one, too.

      (Note: I DO think objectivists have a burden of proof. I just also think that subjectivists have a burden of proof, too).

    29. Coel Post author

      We know the properties that subjective properties have, and we know how they evolved. Morality doesn’t have those properties and didn’t evolve in the same way.

      Except that we accept that aesthetic preferences are subjective and did evolve, and actually moral sentiments are in many respects very similar (I’d argue that they are indeed a subset of aesthetic preferences).

      … but when we look at those subjective things you refer to things like morality really don’t seem to be the same way.

      They look pretty similar to me! Darwin first proposed that moral sentiments are effectively the same thing as aesthetic sentiments, having evolved the same way. This idea is now widely held among scientists, and I’ve not seen any serious attempt to refute it.

      This would work if I agreed with you that the subjectivist account explains everything important. But, as you know and as I said, I clearly don’t.

      What do you think is lacking in the subjectivist account?

    30. verbosestoic

      Except that we accept that aesthetic preferences are subjective and did evolve, and actually moral sentiments are in many respects very similar (I’d argue that they are indeed a subset of aesthetic preferences).

      In what ways are they similar?

  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. verbosestoic

      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.

      The point of that was to give you an example of something using your reasoning that looked as ridiculous to you as your original reasoning seemed to me. It looks like I succeeded [grin]!

      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.

      This is entirely false. Philosophy does the same sort of conceptual categorization that science does (unless you’re doing post modern philosophy, which is a bit different but has a reason for what they do). Things that are interestingly similar enough are grouped into categories, even if that means creating an overarching category to fit them in (see Expressivism as the upper category and emotivism and the others as separate views in it). When views are split, it is because they are interestingly incompatible and have significantly different implications so that they can’t be the same theory.

      Take Stoicism. Despite the fact that the Greek and Roman Stoics had radically different claims at times — Seneca, for example, seems to have a different idea of what makes something a passion than the Greek Stoics did, as well as whether the indifferents can be desirable in any way or not — they are all still called Stoic views, because they all agree on the key aspects of Stoicism. Another example is that Bentham’s and Mill’s Utilitarianism are still Utilitarian views despite the fact that they radically differ in how to determine utility, and Rule and Act Utilitarianism are also both Utilitarianisms despite them having radically different implications. Substance and property dualisms are both dualisms. Philosophy introduces differences when they are seen to matter to the concepts, not because the two have some small difference that the originator didn’t think of.

      But your quote doesn’t tell us what the “propositions” are.

      But why does that matter? If you think that moral statements ARE ANY KIND of proposition, then you aren’t being an expressivist by definition, and thus aren’t being an emotivist. If you think they are expressing a proposition but that the truth value depends critically on what the person believes, then you fit into the more classical subjectivist line, and so aren’t an emotivist either.

      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.

      I couldn’t find that quote in the Stanford encyclopedia, but it looks like he was doing that to try to avoid a confusion that would come up in the context of that post, and it seems to me that the Stanford encyclopedia argues more than it simply describes. So I’m not sure you should take that as far as you have here; it’s a special case where subjective is used in two different senses.

      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?

      Typically, to the statement “X is morally right” or “X is morally wrong”. “I disapprove of X” is not generally considered to be saying that a moral proposition has a truth value, all the way back to Hume, and emotivist positions tend to tie it directly to the experienced emotion, which is even further away.

      Agreed. But such terms have often acquired so much baggage, and come in several different versions, that such terminology can often hamper discussion.

      But other than “objective/subjective”, YOU are the one who tossed that terminology around. If you think it hampers discussion, you can feel free not to use it. Some philosophers will look down on your for it, but I’d rather you simply say what you mean than attempting to tie it to views that have implications that you may not be aware of and don’t accept. I’m more interested in a good discussion than a quick win [grin].

      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.

      Not while I’m trying to define what morality is or what the right morality is or determine if morality is objective or subjective, I don’t. You can argue from personal motivation to the claim that morality must be subjective then, because motivation is always subjective but that doesn’t mean that morality has to be in the sense required to make your various cases. To take on your view more directly, you can argue that I’d need to be emotionally invested to act morally, but that doesn’t mean that moral judgements are determined by and follow the emotions that we are having.

      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.

      I’d need you to clarify what you mean by that, as I said just before. There are some simple ways to do that, but they don’t seem to be what you’re looking for.

    5. 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
  18. Mark Sloan

    Hi Coel and verbosestoic,

    Your conversation on moral realism versus emotivism parallels several Coel and I have had on the subject.

    With your forbearance, and based on your interests in moral realism and emotivism, perhaps I could get your reactions to the following?

    Coel said: 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.

    if we take *objective* morality to refer to what is universally moral, independent of opinion or emotions, then I do have a candidate.

    We could look for a candidate universal moral principle in the origins and function of ‘moral’ behaviors in biological and cultural evolution. But evolution is only the ‘means’ by which morality was encoded in our biology and cultural norms. Evolution is not morality’s ultimate source.

    That source is the cross-species universal cooperation/exploitation dilemma that must be solved by all beings that form highly cooperative societies: how to obtain the benefits of cooperation without future benefits of cooperation being destroyed by exploitation. Solving this dilemma can be difficult because exploitation is virtually always the “winning” strategy in the short term and can be in the longer term. Fortunately for us, our ancestors chanced across ‘morality’ – the diverse, contradictory, and sometimes strange elements of cooperation strategies encoded in our moral sense and cultural moral norms.

    All these cooperation strategies begin by solving the cooperation/exploitation dilemma in an in-group, even when cooperating to exploit or make war on out-groups. To sustainably obtain that cooperation, people in the in-group are not exploited. Solutions to the cooperation/exploitation dilemma thus have a necessary universal component, a universal moral principle: “Solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma without exploiting others”.

    The cooperation/exploitation dilemma is simultaneously the ultimate source of descriptively moral norms (norms described as moral in one culture, but perhaps not in others) and the universal moral principle – universal because it is a necessary component of all those descriptively moral cooperation strategies.

    Societies may prefer this universal principle for refining their moral codes as an instrumental ought, the moral principle most likely to meet their common needs and preferences. For example, it advocates increased cooperation which increases material goods benefits as well as the emotional rewards triggered by cooperation, in particular cooperation with family and friends. These cooperation strategies are innately harmonious with our moral sense since our moral sense was selected for by the benefits of cooperation it motivates. Also, the principle is practical; common moral heuristics such as the Golden Rule and “Do not kill” are universally moral when they exploit no one and increase the benefits of cooperation, but immoral if benefits are decreased. Finally, this moral principle is a useful objective reference for resolving moral disputes because it accurately tracks what is universally moral as a necessary component of cooperation strategies.

    In moral philosophy, “universally moral” commonly refers to what everyone, everywhere ought to do regardless of their needs and preferences. No such imperative ‘ought’ is generally agreed to exist. However, science’s universal moral principle appears to be culturally useful without claiming any such mysterious, “magic” bindingness. Morality’s universal principle is real: any imperative innate bindingness is an illusion.

    In summary, the universal moral principle is “Solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma without exploiting others” and applying it to common moral heuristics we can get universally moral norms such as:

    “Increase the benefits of cooperation by ‘Doing to others as you would have them do to you’ without exploiting others“.

    “Increase the benefits of cooperation by following ‘Do not kill’ without exploiting others“.

    Our moral emotions and intuitions are biological heuristics for motivating behaviors that increase the benefits of cooperation. However, they are not always reliable indicators of what is universally moral because 1), as fallible heuristics, they do not always increase the benefits of cooperation and 2), due to our evolutionary history, they can motivate increasing the benefits of cooperation by exploiting others.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Mark,

      In summary, the universal moral principle is “Solve the cooperation/exploitation dilemma without exploiting others” …

      What do you mean by “moral” when you label this principle a “moral” principle? What commentary or description are you adding to the principle by labelling it “moral”?

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