Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trans-Cultural Morality

I continue to find debates between moral objectivists and subjectivists frustrating – mostly because my own views fit solidly in both camps.

I hold that there are moral facts. The claim that there is an ‘is/ought’ distinction is false. We only have an ‘is/is not’ distinction. Value claims in general, and moral claims in particular, are either to be anchored firmly in the ‘is’ category, or they are floating free in the ‘is not’ category. If the latter, then they are as irrelevant to real-world decision making as any other myth or superstition. The subjectivist proposition that each person gets to make up his or her own morality is substantially consistent with the view that morality floats in the ‘is not’ category. What each person has the power to make up exists only in the realm of make-believe (fiction, myth, superstition).

At the same time, the facts that make up moral claims concern relationships between states of affairs and desires. Desires exist – they are as much a part of the real world as finger nails and laptop computers. However, they are mental states. Eliminate all desires from the universe, and you eliminate all value. Nothing has value except insofar as it has value to somebody, and no claim that something has value to somebody is true unless that ‘somebody’ has desires that are fulfilled by that thing.

When I criticize subjectivist they assume that I must believe that ‘intrinsic values’ (what they euphemistically and confusingly call ‘objective values) must exist. I agree with this – there are no intrinsic values. There are only relationships between states of affairs and desires. However, claims about those relationships between states of affairs and desires are objectively true or false.

When I criticize objectivists, they assume that I must believe that everybody gets to make up their own morality – that morality is ‘just a matter of opinion’. Of course, they point out how absurd it is to believe that one moral opinion is no better than any other – that this has all of the qualities of ‘make believe’. I agree with this; the idea that a person can make up a morality and have it ‘true for them’ is as absurd as the idea that a person can make up a God and have the claim that this God exists ‘true for them’. The only realm where the power to make something up exists is in the realm of fiction – fantasy.

In yesterday’s post, I referenced a dispute between objectivism and subjectivism and criticized some of the claims made by the representative objectivist.

Today, I will raise objections to the relevant subjectivist. Where the objectivist claimed that morality is like an owner’s manual, the subjectivist claimed that morality is like a legal system. Just as different countries can have different statutes, they can adopt different moral systems. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ is defined by the moral system adopted within a particular community.

Like the ‘owner’s manual’ concept of morality, a person is free to stipulate that they are adopting a particular definition of any term. However, it is a mistake to claim that this private, stipulated definition is the same as the public definition when, clearly, the two terms are used in substantially different ways.

In describing morality like a legal system, db0 wrote:

Strangely enough, even though these rules were written by consensus and do make the roads safer, you can still see that there are areas of the world where driving in a completely “illegal” way is the right, as in driving on the left side of the road.

However, please note that there is a significant difference between the standard where Americans drive on the right side of the road and British on the left, and the standard where Americans allow women to have drivers’ licenses and Saudi Arabia where people do not.

The former is not taken to be a moral standard. It is recognized in both cultures to be an arbitrary choice – that it does not matter which option people choose as long as they choose the same option. The latter, on the other hand, is taken as a moral choice. The Saudi Arabians are wrong to deny women the right to drive in a way that the British are not wrong to drive on the left side of the road. Even from the Saudi perspective, the choice not to allow women to drive is a moral choice in that it is wrong to allow women to drive.

Db0’s argument is like arguing, “Here is an example of a shape that is round. Squares are shapes. Therefore, squares can be round.” Imagine encountering this argument in a society where people clearly use the term ‘square’ to refer to something that is not round as if it proves something about squares that others do not seem to recognize.

Compare this to the argument, “Here (law) is an example where standards are arbitrary. Morality is a set of standards. Therefore, morality is arbitrary.” Imagine encountering this argument in a society where people clearly use the term ‘morality’ to refer to standards that do not cross cultures – where to say something is ‘wrong’ means that anybody who says that the same thing is ‘right’ must be mistaken.

A key, defining characteristic of moral claims that they are universal – that they apply to everybody, or they do not apply at all.

Db0 also writes:

I could even argue that if someone from another planet were to come here and observe our rules of the road he would find us absolutely bat-shit insane. Not because the rules do not work, but because in his planet, failing contact with our idea of rules, they have created something completely different and incompatible.

Again, when it does not matter that one culture has different standards than another, then we are talking about non-moral standards. If they hold that some alien culture decides that Again, we recognize the difference between cultural norms and morality. We find a culture in which the dietary habits or standard way of dress or even architecture is different than ours. They do things their way, we do things a different way. The mere fact that these are substantially arbitrary standards classifies them as cultural, but non-moral. Standards would not qualify as ‘moral’ unless they are universal. To claim that all standards are cultural is not to say that morality is cultural. It is to say that there is no such thing as morality – that all moral claims are false.

This may be true. However, this is also consistent with the proposition that ‘cultural morality’ makes as little sense as ‘owner’s manual morality’. If they, for example, hold that all headlights must be red (because their vision is such that they see red better than any other color) then we are not talking about non-moral differences. However, if we were to encounter a race that builds a segment of its population into their cars and imprisons them there against their will to serve as chauffeurs for everybody else, we may pass a moral judgment.

The difference is that moral judgments, unlike cultural judgments, are trans-cultural. A moral judgment is a judgment about what no culture may legitimately do. If an evaluation is culturally bound then it is, by definition, non-moral.

Finally, I want to make a quick comment about db0’s claim:

Nevertheless, what you are not considering is that these morals are still being considered by humans with their own subjective perspective which is firmly grounded in the western morality. They are not creating morals off the top of their head, but rather they are using their current idea or morality to try and find something better.

Please note: scientists do the same thing. No scientist ever creates a theory off the top of his head, but rather he uses the current ideas to try to find something better. This is the best we can do – all we can do. This may make science ‘subjective’ in a sense. However, it makes morality no less ‘subjective’ than science. It certainly does not provide a reason to believe that morality is less objective than science.

As I said, none of this proves that cross-cultural standards actually exist, or that it makes sense to talk about such things. Perhaps they do not exist and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actions have the same status as ‘divine’ actions – in other words, they do not exist. None of this changes the fact that people who speak about ‘morality’ referring to standards that are confined to a culture are inventing a language quite different from English. They are no more speaking English than the person who talks about round squares or married bachelors.

28 comments:

Dean Barnett RN BS said...

[quote]I continue to find debates between moral objectivists and subjectivists frustrating[/quote]I find it frustrating since I don't see "object" vs. "subject" to make a tinker's damn bit of difference. Looks to me like there is only "what I'll pay for" vs "What I'll make you pay for". For example, I despise anti-abortionist "sidewalk counselors" who haven't adopted a baby. Fuck them.

Divided By Zer0 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Divided By Zer0 said...

Alonzo, I have to object to the way you are using my quotes. You are misinerpreting what I was trying to show with my metaphors.

The example I gave about the rules of road was not supposed to give examples of morality but rather to counter the example of Apple. Instead of using the "owner's manual" way to think about morality I suggested this idea as something closer to reality. In order for this to work, for a minute we must put asside normal definitions of morality and assume that morality is the rules of the road.

What you are now doing is presuppositing normal, real morality over my assumed "morality", if you understand what I am trying to say.
Of course I do not assume that the rules of the road are moral choices. That would just be daft.

What my argument is that because this culture or this society defines these moral values, it does not mean that they are or will be universally accepted. Different situation require different moral choices.
To go back to the alien example (which was misinterpeted as well). If those car imprisoned Aliens were imprisoned to their cars because otherwise their uncurable bloodthirsty rampage would kill huge swaths of the population, then the same choice would be moral wouldn't it? If there is seemingly no reason to enslave them like this, then it just means that the reason is not obvious to you. In the same way that slavery is immoral, but it had reasons for spreading (evolutionary advantage), the rest of moral values have reasons as well.
You, however, are passing judgement with your own morality, and while it is quite probable that I will agree with you on most moral issues, others will dissagree with us. I am not saying that moral subjectivism is something good or something bad. I am saying that it just is. I said before that I would love for morality to be objective but unfortunately I know it isn't.

We should still keep working to raise awareness on what we consider immoral and base it up with facts and logic.
I know that my moral values are subjective but I still consider it better than others. There will never be a perfectly objective moral guideline because when the situations change enough, it may happen for it to be wrong. This was my argument with Apple.

Scientists do base their ideas on previous data, but previous data is based on the scientific method. It is a fact and this not something subjective. This makes his new ideas something objective as well. An Ethicist however cannot base his ideas on any facts but rather on commonly accepted moral values of the society he currently lives. As apple said, they may present their improved ideas but it is up to us to critisize them and accept them. The same does not apply to scientific facts.

I am if I understood the last sentence correctly, but you seem to be saying something I agree with. I just firmly believe that cross-cultural moral standard can only work if the cultures get more similar. This however will not make their moral values objectively correct but rather just universaly accepted.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Divided by Zer0

I have to object to your objection to the way that I was using your quotes. You are misinterpreting what I was trying to show with your metaphores.

Of course I do not assume that the rules of the road are moral choices. That would just be daft.

I did not accuse you of making such a claim. I accused you of claiming that morality is LIKE the rules of the road, and I claimed that they are not - just as squares are not LIKE circles (at least in the sense that squares can be round).

What my argument is that because this culture or this society defines these moral values, it does not mean that they are or will be universally accepted.

Whether a proposition will or will not be universally accepted is not relevant. The proposition that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old will never be universally accepted. The proposition that there is no God will never be universally accepted. There will always be at least one person who believes otherwise.

The question of what it takes for a proposition to be accepted is quite different from what it takes for a proposition to be true. It is not a valid argument to hold, "X will not be universally accepted; therefore, X is not objectively true."

Different situation require different moral choices.

A person who holds that there are moral facts (as I do) can also hold that different situations 'require different moral choices'. Desire utilitarianism, for example, holds that the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform. Change the situation, and you change the propositions that would be made or kept true by a given action, and you change the relationship between that state of affairs.

Science, also, holds that objects can have different properties under different situations. A collection of water molecules has different properties at -50 degrees C than it does at +50 degrees C. It is a fact that water has those specific properties under those specific conditions.

To go back to the alien example (which was misinterpeted as well). If those car imprisoned Aliens were imprisoned to their cars because otherwise their uncurable bloodthirsty rampage would kill huge swaths of the population, then the same choice would be moral wouldn't it?

Yes, as a matter of fact, it would be.

As a matter of fact.

This is just an application of the water under two different conditions case mentioned above. "If you heat the water up to 50 degrees C, it will go back to being a liquid, wouldn't it?"

Answer: Yes. Under those types of conditions (assuming standard pressure, of course) water is a liquid.

You, however, are passing judgement with your own morality

This does not distinguish morality from science. Whenever anybody makes any claim, I hold it up against other things that I know to judge whether or not it makes sense. We all do this - we can never do anything else.

I am not saying that moral subjectivism is something good or something bad. I am saying that it just is.

Recall, my argument is that moral subjectivism makes no sense. Your statement here is like claiming, "I am not saying that round squares are good or bad; only that they just are."

Moral subjectivism does not exist for the same reason that round squares do not exist. Moral subjectivism is "non-universal universal principles" - an inherent contradiction.

It is sensible to argue that morality itself does not exist - that there are no universal principles. But it does not make sense to say that universal principles are not universal.

Scientists do base their ideas on previous data, but previous data is based on the scientific method. It is a fact and this not something subjective.

Again, my point is that if people are NOT doing this, then they are engaging in a game of make-believe. Morality must either be anchored in fact, or people who make up moral principles are engaging in a game of 'make believe' or 'let's pretend'. As in, 'Let's pretend that the rape of a child is wrong. It really isn't, but for the purposes of this game we are going to pretend that it is."

If morality is subjective, then it is make-believe. Morality, like religion, would then be something that people simply made up. The person who uses morality, in this sense, to judge a law or an action is no different than a person who appeals to God. Both are referring to things that do not exist - things that belong in the realm of myth and superstition - things that should not be included when making real-world decisions. We should limit the propositions we appeal to in making real-world decisions to those that are true (to the best of our knowledge).

I just firmly believe that cross-cultural moral standard can only work if the cultures get more similar.

What does it mean to say that a moral standard 'works'? I am concerned with whether or not a moral claim is true or false. A moral standard 'works' only in the sense that it makes a true report about the world.

Because (as I take it) moral claims are claims about reasons for action that exist (reasons for action that do not exist are irrelevant in the real world), a moral claim that accurately describes the world also accurately prescribes some state of affairs. The relationship between that state of affairs and reasons for action that exist is real. People can have false beliefs about a state of affairs, about the reasons for action that exist, or the relationship between them. However, their false beliefs do not change the fact of the matter.

Divided By Zer0 said...

I did not accuse you of making such a claim. I accused you of claiming that morality is LIKE the rules of the road, and I claimed that they are not - just as squares are not LIKE circles (at least in the sense that squares can be round).

But I was making an analogy. YOu're using a worse analogy now to show why I was incorrect. I could, for example say that a square is like a parallelogram, but not quite. This analogy is more similar to mine. But in any case, this is beside the point and I don't think this argument (about correct analogies) is going to go anywhere. My point is that analogies cannot be perfect and I thought it was just closer to the truth than the "instruction manual".

The question of what it takes for a proposition to be accepted is quite different from what it takes for a proposition to be true. It is not a valid argument to hold, "X will not be universally accepted; therefore, X is not objectively true.

You have a point.

A person who holds that there are moral facts (as I do) can also hold that different situations 'require different moral choices'. Desire utilitarianism, for example, holds that the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform. Change the situation, and you change the propositions that would be made or kept true by a given action, and you change the relationship between that state of affairs.

BUt this kind of statement defines morality as even more subjective then! Not only are you not clearly defining moral facts but you are leaving the "correct interpretation" entirely to the person involved. I am not saying that this is a wrong approach mind you, just my perception of it.
Furthermore, the "good desires" are different for different people. Does Desire utilitarianism claim the acts by a person with good desires are always moral? For some reason the sentence which starts like: "The road to hell..." comes to mind...
Do you recognise a difference between "good desires for self" and "good desires for everyone"?

However I do not know enough about desire utilitarianism to judge it and this is just my initial impression now that you mentioned it.

Science, also, holds that objects can have different properties under different situations. A collection of water molecules has different properties at -50 degrees C than it does at +50 degrees C. It is a fact that water has those specific properties under those specific conditions.

I don't see how this relates to a moral fact. Care to offer an example?

Answer: Yes. Under those types of conditions (assuming standard pressure, of course) water is a liquid.

But you need to an initial basis to start right? You need to know that water, at x degrees at y pressure, is liquid. This is a fact. I just don't see the objective moral fact. Do you start defining that, say "stealing is bad"? Then you say, "that under x circumstances, stealing is good." or "if the person has good desires, stealing is good."? I find that sometimes even the definition of an act is ambigious.

This does not distinguish morality from science. Whenever anybody makes any claim, I hold it up against other things that I know to judge whether or not it makes sense. We all do this - we can never do anything else.

I agree. But while in science you are testing based on your own knowledge of science, if your knowledge is flawed, the test will not work. In ethics you have no such option. You hear a moral proposition, you critisize it and either accept it or reject it if it fits in with the rest of your subjective moral values. If your morals are flawed, you will accept or reject the wrong values.

It is sensible to argue that morality itself does not exist - that there are no universal principles. But it does not make sense to say that universal principles are not universal.

Ok, let me rephrase that. Objective moral values do not exist. Morality is subjective and open to change. Do you agree?

What is your position on morality? Is there any moral guideline that is always true? Can you give me an example?

Morality must either be anchored in fact

I can't grasp this.

Fact: Water is liquid at 50 degrees and 0 pressure
Fact: Abortion is moral because...
How does this work? What is the fact that defines the morality of abortion? Remember that you have two sides of the coin who can say different "facts" here.

My impression is that when morality is concerned, you are not dealing with facts anymore.

If morality is subjective, then it is make-believe. Morality, like religion, would then be something that people simply made up.

You're taking it too far. Morality is not make believe. It is an evolutionary advantage. A human did not know how to name this feeling of solidarity he felt with his fellow tribesmen, so he called it (say) altruism.
But evolution does not concern itself with what a human considers good. Where a moral value with a higher memetic and competitive advantage to appear, one which you & me consider immoral, your opinion would be irrelevant. It would take over and become accepted and "true". Unfortunate but true.

I am concerned with whether or not a moral claim is true or false.

I, on the other hand cannot understand how a moral standard can be "true". Can you define "true" please?
How can a moral claim describe the world?
Unfortunately I failed to understand your last sentence.

Eneasz said...

Hello Db0! I'm going to give this a quick shot, and hope Alonzo corrects me where I am mistaken. An "excersize for the pupil" if you will (I consider myself a Desire Utilitarian now :) )

Good = Tending to fulfill other desires (not just of the self - all desires in general.)
Bad = Tending to thwart other desires.

(you can use any word in place of Good or Bad, Blue and Red would work just as well, they are merely labels)

People have reasons to promote Good Desires in others, because doing so will make it easier to fulfill their own Desires - this is a desirable state, thus there are reasons to bring about this state by definition.
Likewise, people have reasons to eliminate Bad Desires in others, because doing so will make it less likely their own Desires are thwarted.

A good action is one that a person with Good Desires would do. "That children are not murdered" is a Good Desire (see definition above). Therefore a person with a desire that children aren't murdered would act to stop an attempted murder in progress.

We can determine - scientifically, objectively - which desires tend to fulfill other desires, and which desires tend to thwart other desires. Thus we can objectively determine if something is good or bad.

A moral claim can thus be true of false. The moral claim "Murder is good" is a claim that the desire to murder is a desire that tends to fullfil other desires. It can be objectively proven that this is either true or false.

Divided By Zer0 said...

eneasz I see what you are saying and it does indeed seem like a commendable moral guideline (And it sparked my interest to look into it more later)

I can also see how you can objectively determine what is good or bad.

Nevertheless, as a moral theory I don't see how it avoids subjectivity. as in, this mindframe, as good as it sounds, is still only your take on morality. Am I wrong?
Again, the fact that it is subjective, is not something wrong. It just is. I', saying this because I get the feeling that when people consider a moral theory as subjective, it is inherently flawed.

PS: I find it interesting on how this conversation has passed through 4 blogs by now. It started as a discussion on the irrationality of communism and on explaining desire utilitarianism.

That's the internet for you :)

martino said...

Hi Db0 I will join Eneasz in responding to our last comments with the same disclaimer as Eneasz wrt Alonzo.


db0: BUt this kind of statement defines morality as even more subjective then!
No it is a matter of fact as to what the person with good desires would perform in particular state of affairs. This is not subjective at all.


db0: Not only are you not clearly defining moral facts but you are leaving the "correct interpretation" entirely to the person involved.
No the view is not down to what the person thinks but what anyone who could consider the situation without prejudice and bias would consider to be good desires - where this is identical to desires that fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires. Indeed you could drop good, bad, ought and moral and just talk about the fulfilling and thwarting of desires and reasons for action.



db0: I am not saying that this is a wrong approach mind you, just my perception of it.
I think you are interpreting desires purely subjectively and this is your mistake. Do desires exist or not in the real world? If they do, and I agree with this, then they can be objectively evaluated wrt states of affairs. This I call moral realism and ethical naturalism (Alonzo may disagree) but is different to traditional moral objectivism which holds there are intrinsic values, independent of human desires. Both Alonzo and I hold that is false. You are trapped in the traditional and IMHO false dichotomy of subjectivism (subjective desires and no intrinsic values) versus objectivism (exclusive of desires and only intrinsic values). What DU proposes is that desires themselves are objective without requiring intrinsic values. This might be considered a third position not considered under the usual dichotomy.


db0: Furthermore, the "good desires" are different for different people
Part of moral reasoning is about what different people would do in the the same or equivalent situations, what is good for one must be good for all otherwise it is not moral in any meaningful fashion.

db0: Does Desire utilitarianism claim the acts by a person with good desires are always moral?
Yes by definition!

db0: For some reason the sentence which starts like: "The road to hell..." comes to mind...
This is not DU. Indeed DU criticizes intention based moral theories since it is not sufficient to have good intentions focused on declared goals but also to have desires to reasonably avoid unintended adverse consequences - those that thwart or tend to thwart desires. This way DU can explain the moral flaws of negligence and recklessness which intention based theories cannot.

db0: Do you recognise a difference between "good desires for self" and "good desires for everyone"?Good is evaluated and defined here against all desires - not just those of the self. Both the desires of the self and everyone else are both included in this process.

db0: Ok, let me rephrase that. Objective moral values do not exist. Morality is subjective and open to change. Do you agree?This is the false dichotomy I mentioned above. The first is true and the second is false. More specifically desires are not just subjective.


db0: I don't see how this relates to a moral fact. Care to offer an example?The value of a desire is dependent on the state of affairs. Change the state of affairs and you can change the value. Values are relational here not intrinsic of course. Usually it is wrong to lie under most states of affairs but when a Nazi comes knocking at your door to ask where the local Jew is hiding, the state of affairs has significantly changed and it becomes good to lie. However this still does not alter the fact that lying is still usually bad in most normal circumstances.


db0: Do you start defining that, say "stealing is bad"? Then you say, "that under x circumstances, stealing is good." or "if the person has good desires, stealing is good."? I find that sometimes even the definition of an act is ambigious. Stealing thwarts or tends to thwarts other desires that is why it is preferable to encourage an aversion to stealing. Such an aversion will lead to less thwarting of desires and that is good. It is nonsensical to say that "if the person has good desires, stealing is good." If a person has good desires then they would not want to steal and would think that stealing is normally bad. Unlike subjectivism and theistic theories DU is NOT arbitrary.

db0: What is your position on morality? Is there any moral guideline that is always true? Can you give me an example?
If I may read between the lines, you appear to operating under the relativism versus absolutism fallacy. No moral guideline is absolutely true under all circumstances - that is why it is a guideline not a law. Nonetheless an aversion to murder, lying, stealing, rape, slavery etc. are preferable guidelines to instill in people to their lack or their opposite.

db0: I, on the other hand cannot understand how a moral standard can be "true". Can you define "true" please?
It is a matter of fact whether a desires will fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires, similarly that another desire will thwart or tend to thwart other desires. Such statements that corresponds to these facts are true and ones that do not are false. This does not mean that in the real world such a production and evaluation of statement and related facts is easy or trivial, it may be very challenging and difficult but that still does not deny the possibility of generating statements that correspond to the facts and as such are true.

martino said...

dean: [quote]I continue to find debates between moral objectivists and subjectivists frustrating[/quote]I find it frustrating since I don't see "object" vs. "subject" to make a tinker's damn bit of difference.
It seems that you like, db0 are still victims of the false dichotomy between objectivism and subjectivism. Either there are intrinsic value or there are just emotions and/or opinions. Of course, you are not alone and many and most still are trapped in this dichotomy. It is a case of all-or-nothing reasoning or black-and-white thinking. Often in science and philosophy where such a dichotomy leads to problematic and objectionable results on both sides it implies the question is flawed. Well in order to understand DU one has to let go of this framework and see the colours (or greys) in between. See my longer answer to db0 for an adumbration of this.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Martino thanks for the clarifications. DU is starting to make more sense now.

I understand where you are coming from but my main argument, I believe remains. DU as a whole, is still subjective.
What I mean, is that in order to accept these moral facts and true moral standards you must first embrace DU. You must first accept the theory of "Good & Bad" as defined by DU.
It may very well be that DU is a superior moral guideline (It need more research on my part before I decide how much sense it makes) but it is still just one among many and as such must compete in an evolutionary sense with the other memes out there.

Please understand that I am not a moral subjectivist as the philosophic encyclopedia might define it (which was what the objectivist stepped on to personally attack me on). I do not consider all moral guidelines equal or whatnot. I just see that, unfortunately, morality is subjective.

No moral guideline is absolutely true under all circumstances - that is why it is a guideline not a law. Nonetheless an aversion to murder, lying, stealing, rape, slavery etc. are preferable guidelines to instill in people to their lack or their opposite.

I agree but just because I agree and it happens to be the standard in the western society, does not make it so. I believe I can think of situations in which the "good desire" as defined by DU might not be preferable to the society.

Eneasz said...

What I mean, is that in order to accept these moral facts and true moral standards you must first embrace DU. You must first accept the theory of "Good & Bad" as defined by DU.

This was by far what I disliked most about all other moral theories I could find before, and is what makes DU such a godsend for me (if you'll excuse the expression :) ).

When you really get down to it, this isn't true at all. And yes, it takes a while to read through it all and sort it through the mind, especially since it's counter-intuitive. DU works whether you accept it or not. Much like chemistry works whether you accept the existance of atoms or not. Nature doesn't care about anyone's acceptance.

DU posits a few basic entities, predominant among them - Desires, Beliefs, and Actions. It can be shown that these entities exist (or don't exist) scientifically, objectively. Desires and Beliefs are contained within humans as brain structures, hormones, and so forth. Actions are readily observable. Much like molecules can be show to exist (or not exist) scientifically.

People take Actions, all the time. All intentional Actions are the result of the actor's current Desires, in light of his/her Beliefs. This can also be proven or disproven.

Some Desires tend to thwart other Desires. This is demonstrable. Some Desires tend to fullfil other Desires. This is also demonstrable.

Nothing that has been said so far is based on anyone's opinions or feelings. Every item is a statement of fact. Now - it can be incorrect. We could be mistaken when we think "Desires exist", or on any other point. This is where the scientific process becomes very handy.

I'm not a scientist, but I believe that every fact-claim made above has been shown to be true. This leads us to this conclusion:

Where Desires tend to thwart other Desires, people in general have a reason to prevent these Desires. Where Desires tend to fullfil other Desires, people in general have a reason to encourage these Desires. This is true by definition if the prior statements are true.

That's DU in a nutshell. Everything else pretty much flows from that. Fully objective and falsifyable, as far as I can tell.

martino said...

We are getting somewhere I think! :-)

db0: What I mean, is that in order to accept these moral facts and true moral standards you must first embrace DU. You must first accept the theory of "Good & Bad" as defined by DU. It is not a question of accepting it or not. Eneasz has covered this so I won't repeat it. This is an empirical theory that can be scientifically challenged and if found flawed - say desires don't exist but something else in the brain does - can then be improved upon. It is simply not a question of acceptance as Alonzo already stated. This is an empirical theory to model and evaluate societies on, amongst other targets of analysis.

I believe I can think of situations in which the "good desire" as defined by DU might not be preferable to the society. We all can but unless the society can empirically show its view is better than DU then that society is in error. That is it would be better off applying DU to benefit of all its members and/or neighbours. Maybe you should produce some examples we can analyse?

Alan Lund said...

Alonzo said:


A key, defining characteristic of moral claims [is] that they are universal – that they apply to everybody, or they do not apply at all.


While I also would classify myself as a "desire utilitarian", this statement touches on something that I still find confusing. If morality is universal, but is also grounded on desires as the only reasons that exist, and if desires are not themselves universal (constant across both time and space/people), what does it mean for morality to be universal?

The good action is the action that a person with good desires would choose. Good desires are desires that tend to promote and not thwart other desires. Across time and space, given different contexts, it seems likely that this interaction between desires will not be constant, so that what is considered good will not be constant either. (Some things will be more constant than others, just as some desires are more fixed than others and some desires and actions more reliably promote or thwart other desires than other desires and actions.)

Of course we can say, in such-and-such a context, this-and-that are good desires or actions and this-other-thing is bad. But by making it contextual, in what way is it universal? Alternatively, if we formulate the answer so abstractly as to make it universal, can it be practically applied universally?

In some theoretical sense, it makes sense to me to say that morality is universal. We can say that, in any situation, a good action is the action that a person with good desires would do. That is a universal statement. And maybe that is all that is necessary to say that morality is universal. But, practically speaking, does that not leave the door open to a respectable amount of context-specific, or even culture-specific, differences? Differences based on changes in technology might be another example, as would aliens with an entirely different evolutionary history. In all these cases we can retreat to the general principle while simultaneously agreeing that there is an objective answer (however difficult to find) to each specific case. Is that the only sense that morality is truly universal? Am I making a big deal over nothing? Am I making any sense?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

This is turning out to be quite a good discussion. Thank you Eneasz and Martino for your attempts to answer. Since those answers are substantially the same as I would give, you saved me a lot of effort.

Eneasz

(1) There is a distinction between generic good/bad and moral good/bad. Generic good/bad has to do with the fulfillment or thwarting of some set of desires. However, there are lots of different sets of desires, thus a lot of different types of goodness/badness. Moral good/bad is a species of generic good/bad – the species that has to do with whether malleable desires tend to fulfill or thwart all other desires.

At the same time, it was particularly good to note that all value-language can be removed from the theory without changing the theory at all. The theory does not depend in any way on the language that is used to express it.

This is relevant to the answer Martino gave to, “Do you recognize a difference between ‘good desires for self’ and ‘good desires for everyone’.

Of course, there is a difference between the relationship that a desire has in relation to all desires, and the relationship that a desire has to the desires of the agent.

However, it is still the case that whatever is objectively true of the relationship between a desire and all desires is objectively true of that relationship, and what is objectively true of the relationship between a desire and the desires of an individual is objectively true of that relationship.

For example, I recognize a difference between where Denver is relative to LA, and where Denver is relative to New York. However, the objective facts that describe the relationship between Denver and LA remain objectively true, as to the facts describing the relationship between Denver and New York.

The fact that these different relationships exist does not change what is objectively true of relationships between desires and all other desires.

(2) It is a bit problematic to talk about something like “murder is good’. Murder is wrongful killing. Wrongful killing is wrongful by definition. The real question is not whether murder is good/bad, but whether an act of killing (abortion, euthanasia, dropping a bomb on a house full of children because a Taliban member might be inside) is murder.

Neither of these are actually criticisms, just clarifications of items that might cause confusion.

Martino

(1) You stated that I may disagree with your claim that desire utilitarianism is to be classified under ‘moral realism’ and ‘ethical naturalism’.

I do not disagree. Moral properties are real relationships between malleable desires and other desires. These relationships are natural properties – as natural as the property of an ‘orbit’ by which the Earth orbits around the sun. There are people who are caught in the false dichotomy you mention who equate moral realism with intrinsic-value realism Of course, I do not fit into that camp. Moral properties are real, but they do not take the form of intrinsic values.

(2) I simply want to add something to your shortest answer. Db0 asked whether the acts of a person with good desires is always moral. You stated, “Yes, by definition.”

Just to be more precise, a right act (duty, obligation) is the act that a person with good desires would perform. A wrong act (moral prohibition) is the act that a person with good desires would not perform. If a person with good desires might or might not choose to perform a particular action, then the action is permissible – neither obligatory nor prohibited. (Note: Contra act-utilitarianism, all obligatory acts are permissible, but not all permissible acts are obligatory.)

In addition

(1) I want to address db0’s statement, “Objective moral values do not exist. Morality is subjective and open to change.”

Objective moral values do not exist. Objectively true moral propositions do exist. However, objectively true moral propositions do not refer to objective values. They refer to real-world relationships between malleable desires and all other desires that exist.

A proposition describing these relationships is either true or false, and it does not depend one iota on the whim or wish of the speaker.

(2) I want to address db0’s question, “Is there a moral guideline that is always true?”

Answer: Yes. “X is wrong under conditions C”, when it is true, is always true. And when it is false, it is always false. However, “X is wrong under conditions C” does not imply “X is wrong under conditions D”. It is possible (and is often the case) that the first proposition is true when the second proposition is false, or vica versa.

Take the proposition, “X is six feet away from C at time T”. When this is true, it is always true. When it is false, it is always false. However, this does not imply, “X is six feet away from D at time T” or even “X is six feet away from C at time U.” It is possible for the first statement to be true when the second and third statements are false.

This type of variability does not affect the fact that all three of these are perfectly objective, perfectly scientific, statements to make. In fact, I would like to know if there is a scientific research paper anywhere that discusses physical ‘absolutes’.

Even the speed of light is relative – the speed of light changes depending on the medium that light is moving through, so that the speed of light in glass is not the same as the speed of light in a vacuum.

(3) I would like to address db0’s statement, “I, on the other hand cannot understand how a moral standard can be "true".”

This actually supports the claim that what you are talking about when you talk about morality is different from what common English speakers talk about – because, to them, it makes perfectly good sense to say that moral propositions are true or false. To test this, put a set of moral propositions on a paper, pass them around, and tell people to mark them true or false. They may give different answers. However, few of them (if any) are going to have any trouble with the assumption that moral statements are true or false.

At least the common concept of ‘morality’ – the thing that people are talking about when they speak about ‘morality’ – is something that allows some moral statements to be true and others false. If your own theory does not allow people to assign truth value to moral claims, then what you are talking about when you speak of morality, and what they are talking about when they speak of morality, are not the same thing.

(4) I would like to address db0’s claim, “I believe I can think of situations in which the "good desire" as defined by DU might not be preferable to the society.”

Then do so. Note that a “good desire” is a desire that there are more and stronger “reasons for action that exist” to promote than any other desire. Desires are the only “reasons for action that exist”. From this, it follows that you are claiming to be able to think of situations where a desire that a society has the most and strongest reasons to promote is not ‘preferable’ to that society.

As Martino says, the fact that one can “think of a situation in which” does not mean that any such situation exists in the real world. My ability to “think of a situation in which Santa is delivering presents to all the good boys and girls” does not prove that there is a Santa. The real challenge here is to show that the “good desire” as defined by DU is something that a society in fact has less reason to favor than some other desire.

To make this claim, you are going to have to postulate “reasons for action that exist” other than desires. If all of the desires that exist recommend desire D, but you are saying that the society has reason not to promote desire D, then what reason do they have? And how do you know its real? I will claim that there are no such “reasons for action that exist” – that the only reasons for action that actually do exist are desires. Of course, the villagers can believe that there are “reasons for action that exist” not to promote this “good desire” – but they would be wrong.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Hello and thanks all for the comments. I will try to reply to where I disagree since you said a lot while I was away.

The way I understand DU until now is in the same way as my previous discussion with a commenter (Miguel) on my site. That is: That DU proposes that the correct moral action at any given situation can be objectively discovered. To which I agree.

What I still object to is that DU is not subjective. You see, the way I understand it, you a proposing these two moral guidelines:

- Do stuff that promotes other desires.
- Do not do stuff that thwarts other desires.

This for me is the subjective part. Wither it is superior to any other moral theory is irrelevant. It is still subjective. It is still something that you must embrace prior to classifying actions as moral or immoral. Good or Bad. Do you disagree?

The example I wanted to propose for a society that you would now consider immoral is this:
A Society in the ancient times wants to improve its standard of life. However it finds itself out of territory and out of resources. They have however this desire to improve their standard of life and thus they start a war with a neighbouring city based on this desire. Nobody among them consider this immoral. However I would expect that we, as we're looking back in the past are finding this immoral. Now, once they win the war, they take slaves which they use as cheap resources. They do not consider this immoral. Their standard of life improves considerably as does their power. Their future generations advancement is much more quick than their neighbours and their superior lifestyle gives ample space for philosophy to flourish. Eventually they discover theories and sciences that improve the whole world. This would not have happened if they did not initiate wars or take slaves. However warmongering and slavery gave the society an evolutionary advantage.
We now consider these values immoral (I would argue because they are unnecessary) but it does not change the fact that if they would be worse off as a society back then if they followed DU.
This is why I say it is subjective. For them, doing some stuff that thwarted other desires (as long as they were not of their own) is good. Doing stuff that promoted only their society's desires is also good. In fact, there two guidelines, which are similar but different than what DU promotes are better for the society.

Keep in mind that this is a based on historical examples and is not something thought up.

Objective moral values do not exist. Objectively true moral propositions do exist. However, objectively true moral propositions do not refer to objective values. They refer to real-world relationships between malleable desires and all other desires that exist.

I'm not certain if this is the same to what I was saying before. That you're talking about the objectively best course of action. The same goes for point 2. However as I said before, the moral values that you will use to decide on the best course of action are subjective. In your case it would be the base of DU.

because, to them, it makes perfectly good sense to say that moral propositions are true or false
I disagree. In such a test, it makes perfect sense to use true or false but it is an incorrect use of language. The correct options would be "I agree" or "I disagree". Replacing them with "True" and "False" just means that the reader will use common sense to realize what they really mean ("I Agree/Disagree"). If you notice, most such test do not even use a two option choice but rather a variable scale of 1-6 or 1-4 with values from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree.

As for the point 4. I believe that I gave an example above how a good desire as defined by DU is something that the society has less reasons to favour. And indeed they did. I hope I made sense

martino said...

db0 :What I still object to is that DU is not subjective. You see, the way I understand it, you a proposing these two moral guidelines:

- Do stuff that promotes other desires.
- Do not do stuff that thwarts other desires.


This is close but I think subtly incorrect. It is more than DU shows that (1) one acts on the more and stronger of one's desires, given one's beliefs and so one should ensure that one has correct beliefs and (2) that when given the correct beliefs that one includes in the more and stronger of desires an accompanying desire to prefer desires that fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires over those that thwart or tend to thwart other desires.

So clearly anyone who acts - or not - according to this is still operating according to their actual subjective desires and beliefs. DU shows what reasons to act that do exist and those that do not, and so can evaluate these subjective states and resultant actions.

Searle's distinction between epistemic objectivity and subjectivity and ontological objectivity and subjectivity might be useful here. One's beliefs and desires are ontologically subjective but we can epistemically evaluate these objectively. Science is about achieving epistemic objectivity which does not only mean studying ontologically objective states of affairs - the location and size of a mountain - but can also study ontologically subjective states of affairs the beliefs and desires of a person - Does this make sense? There are differing notions of subjectivity and I don't think you are equivocating but this is a danger we want to avoid when dealing with such terms.

So now your qualm of subjectivity is I think why would anyone want to follow DU. The key point is want and, secondly, in your historical example is there any actual benefit? First one can reason with them and can sometimes show that their beliefs are flawed or mistaken and sometimes they will reject such (assumed here) correct argument. You are left then with the alternative of trying to change their desires directly which cannot be done through reason. You are left with conditioning, that is changing desires this can only be dealt with behaviouristically through reward and punishment; commendation and condemnation; adulation and ridicule. And this applies whether you embrace DU or not.

Now I recognize your historical example as ancient Greece of course. DU views morality as progressive and so Greece did succeed with flawed moral approach. Maybe it succeed because it was relatively better than its neighbors, they were all flawed but it less so. However we enter with trepidation the world of hypotheticals and counter-factuals. It could well have been the case that a less morally flawed Greece could have flourished and succeeded for far longer - after all the knowledge we value today was lost for centuries. Another example would be Rome which one main argument says ultimately failed because of its reliance on the slave economy. The steam engine could have been developed there - as indeed in Greece too - but both cultures slave economies prevented development of such lines of innovation. Lets stop this reasoning here :-)

I will leave the rest to Alonzo as interesting as this I have work to do :-)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

db0

What I still object to is that DU is not subjective. You see, the way I understand it, you a proposing these two moral guidelines:

- Do stuff that promotes other desires.
- Do not do stuff that thwarts other desires.


Actually, no. A person with good desires will sometimes do things that thwart other desires, and not do things that fulfill other desires.

The "Hitler's nursemaid" case is a useful example. Hitler's nursemaid would have prevented the thwarting of a great many desires if she had killed Hitler as an infant. It is true that the act of killing Hitler as an infant would have prevented the thwarting of many future desires, whether the nursemaid knows this or not. A command to "do stuff that fulfills (or prevents the thwarting) of other desires" would still be a command to kill Hitler as an infant.

However, a person with good desires would not kill Hitler as an infant. Because a person with good desires would have an aversion to killing infants. Society in general has many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to killing infants - even if this aversion means that an occasional Hitler to grow into adulthood.

The only way an agent could follow the guidelines you mentioned above is if that agent had only one (or possibly two) desires. He would have to have a desire to fulfill other desires, and an aversion to thwarting other desires.

He cannot have any other desire because, if he did, then he would sometimes act to fulfill those other desires, rather than these two. A person will always act so as to fulfill the more and stronger of his desires, given his beliefs. If the agent has any other desire (e.g., aversion to pain), then there are circumstances, however rare, in which that agent will choose the avoidance of pain over promoting other desires or not thwarting other desires.

So, not only does desire utilitarianism not endorse the standards you suggest, desire utilitarianism holds that it is not even humanly possible for somebody to follow such a standard.

Desire utilitarianism holds that people have a great many desires - a desire for sex, for foods (and some foods more than others), for drink, for pleasure, for freedom from pain, for companionship . . . lots of things. Many of those desires are maleable - they can be changed through outside forces. To the degree that they are maleable, people generally have reason to shape those desires in ways that tend to fulfill other desires, and away from ways that tend to thwart other desires - to the degree that it is possible (and cost-effective) to do so.

Just as a person with an aversion to pain will sometimes choose freedom from pain over fulfilling other desires, a person with an aversion to lying will sometimes tell the truth, even when telling the truth thwarts desires. A person with a desire that his or her child be healthy and happy will act to provide their child with health and happiness even when this does not fulfill other desires.

See, the question is not whether the act itself fulfills or thwarts desires, but whether the desires motivating the act are of a type that fulfill or thwart other desires. If the desires are good desires - if they are desires that tend generally to fulfill other desires, then people generally have reason to promote those desires through social forces such as reward and praise.

As for your hypothetical case, it includes the proposition,

"This would not have happened if they did not initiate wars or take slaves."

This is false.

Do you actually believe that there is no way for a society to advance other than through conquest and the taking of slaves? I would like to know what evidence you can provide for such a belief.

If your intent was to say, "Assume that it is the case that this would not have happened if they did not initiate wars or take slaves," my response is that this assumption is not relevant in the real world, because this statement is not true in the real world.

Assume that wood catches fire at 20 degrees C. If this was true, then we should not build houses and furniture out of wood. However, in the real world, the claim that "we should not build our houses and furniture out of wood because it catches fire at 20 degrees C" is still knowably and objectively false.

In the real world, "This would not have happened if they did not initiate wars or take slaves" is a false statement, and thus it is irrelevant to questions of what is right and wrong in the real world.

However as I said before, the moral values that you will use to decide on the best course of action are subjective. In your case it would be the base of DU.

Nope. The 'best course of action' is the action supported by the most and strongest reasons for action that exist. Desires are the only reasons for action that exist. To counter this you either need to show that (1) it is not the case that the best course of action is supported by the most and strongest reasons for action that exist, or (2) desires are not the only reasons for action that exist.

Which one of these two statements is 'subjective' in your sense? Which one of these two propositions is true only because I believe it is true?

Let's say you target (1). To deny (1) is to say that it is possible that the most and strongest reasons for action that exist do A, but that we should nonetheless do not-A. However, to say that we should do not-A is to say that reasons for action exist for doing not-A. In fact, it means that more and stronger reasons exist for doing not-A than for doing A. That is a contradiction.

Let's say you target (2). Show me evidence of an existing reason for action that is not a desire.

If you say, "desires are subjective", I answer that if by this you mean that desires are mental states, that this is true. However, mental states exist. They are part of the real, objective world. They are entities used to explain and predict the behavior of real-world objects (human bodies through space and time) and can be studied scientifically as a result. We can know what reasons for action exist, so we can know what actions are supported by the most and strongest reasons for action that exist.

Divided By Zer0 said...

I will try to reply only to the points where I have an objection to make. If I do not reply to something assume that I agree unless agreeing with it would mean that a subsequent reply does not make sense, in which case I misunderstood something.
@Martino:
One's beliefs and desires are ontologically subjective but we can epistemically evaluate these objectively.

But how can we epistematically evaluate subjective beliefs and desires. What is the method that rates this or that belief/desire as good or bad?


@Alonzo:
To the degree that they are maleable, people generally have reason to shape those desires in ways that tend to fulfill other desires, and away from ways that tend to thwart other desires - to the degree that it is possible (and cost-effective) to do so

Is this a fact? How is this proven?

If the desires are good desires - if they are desires that tend generally to fulfill other desires, then people generally have reason to promote those desires through social forces such as reward and praise

How do we decide what a "good desire" is?

This is false.

Do you actually believe that there is no way for a society to advance other than through conquest and the taking of slaves? I would like to know what evidence you can provide for such a belief.


This is not false. This is absolutely true. What I mention would not have happened any other way that it did. Why? Because the Egyptians and the Greeks and the Romans embraced what we now consider immoral and became competitive. We cannot think with "what ifs" and I see that your beliefs are the same on this (i.e. your opinion on the trolley car dilemma). Thus it happened how it happened because it could not have happened any other way.
History has proven that societys who embraced these practice (slavery, war etc) as moral had the competitive advantage over the others. There might have well been a society that was Desire Utilitarianists in the past but were not competitive enough to have their ideology propagate and become the norm.

This is not my opinion people. This is history.

So, in the end, I do not "assume that it would not have happened if they did not take slaves". In the real world, it is proven, that taking slaves and making conquest was the step necessary for advancement in an ancient-medieval age society. Not because you cannot do it any other way, but because you will not have a chance to do it any other way. You would be conquered and enslaved were you to try.

If you say, "desires are subjective", I answer that if by this you mean that desires are mental states, that this is true. However, mental states exist. They are part of the real, objective world. They are entities used to explain and predict the behavior of real-world objects (human bodies through space and time) and can be studied scientifically as a result. We can know what reasons for action exist, so we can know what actions are supported by the most and strongest reasons for action that exist.

Ok, so you can observe that person A has desire B. You can predict that based on his desire, in situation C, he will do D. I agree that you can. You can do that for many people. Can you explain to me, how from this point you define Moral Facts?
Desires and beliefs are indeed mental states, that is why they are subjective. Studying them, will not make them any less subjective.

Furthermore, my opinion from my observations on history, is that ultimately it does not matter what you, or me consider moral and if we consider it to be objectively moral or not. Society will define morality via an evolutionary method. This does not mean we cannot do anything about it. We are members and we can shape the world to come hopefully.

martino said...

@do :But how can we epistematically evaluate subjective beliefs and desires. What is the method that rates this or that belief/desire as good or bad?

Bear in mind I am using John Searle's terminology not Alonzo's. (Also John Searle argues for desire-independent reasons for action but I will purse that at another time).

With respect to beliefs one can be epistemically objective about them by looking for formal and informal fallacies and unsound assumptions. The whole point of beliefs -as opposed to knowledge - is that the believer is committed to the truth of the assertions and still they might be mistaken in so doing. You compare the beliefs about reality to the facts of reality aided by the tools of critical reasoning and so on. The evaluations is to determine the truth status of these beliefs, or a probabilistic assessment or equivalent.

You can do the same for desires - ideally once one has eliminated distorted, erroneous and fallacious beliefs - but here the tools of evaluation are comparing these desires to all desires and your evaluation is based on whether they fulfill or thwart other desires. Now the epistemically objective evaluation is good and bad. The existence of all the desires is an objective fact. Of course, it may be difficult to determine these desires, what scope of desires one looks at, and evaluations can be matters of degree but there is nothing in principle that prevents one doing this and anyway the equivalent issues apply to evaluating beliefs.

Importantly it is entirely optional as to whether one labels these evaluations good and bad, the analysis still stands and any ordinary, suitably skilled observer could lead to the same conclusion given the same data. This is why it is (epsitemically) objective. It is not up to the desires or whims of the evaluator as to what is good and bad. Of course, one needs to control for and detect such biases. Indeed it is a fundamental requirement, or part of the definition, of science that one can achieve epistemic objectivity (transcending one's biases, preferences, perceptions etc.) regardless of the target under investigation and this includes subjective ontologies as that of desire.

Anyway thats my view I think Alonzo and I might differ here, certainly on terminology.

martino said...

On reflection I have some issues with what I just posted but no time to update this for a couple of days.

martino said...

db0, I will answer your question again and, since Alonzo seems to busy with more recent posts attempt to answer your questions to him too. Remember I am trying on DU for size here and what better way to understand it but to try and defend it. Of course I might be mistaken as well as learn from this exercise.

@Martino:
One's beliefs and desires are ontologically subjective but we can epistemically evaluate these objectively.


@dbo :But how can we epistematically evaluate subjective beliefs and desires. What is the method that rates this or that belief/desire as good or bad?

I think my introduction of Searlian terminology may have been distracting here and possibly besides the point. To carry on with the minimum of disruption:

To epistemically objectively evaluate something is to evaluate claims, here objective means beyond personal preferences and other biases. There is no reason in why this cannot be applied to subjective beliefs and desires when regarded as claims. These are claims that can be evaluated qua claims and as to how they relate to the underlying facts of the states of affairs to which they refer.

The method for the assignment of good and bad is to evaluate the desires under examination against all other desires. I am sure you know the expansion by now e.g if the target desire thwarts or tends to thwart other desires this is what it means to be bad and vice versa. It is an objective (in the ontological sense now) fact of what this relation is, to which the terms good and bad are by stipulation assigned. Whether you agree to this stipulation or not, the objective facts still hold. Your agreement may subjective but the reasoning used here is objective.

Further any other moral approach I have seen to date fails in one way or another to accurately refer to the objective facts of the matter. If you think it is desirable to, if possible, achieve an objective analysis of moral situations, then you have a reason to seek the best method to that. As far as I can see the sophisticated moral subjectivism you currently espouse in inferior to this. The fact that you are still here, like me, is, I hope, that you do think that an objective approach is possible but you are just trying to understand how it is possible. Hopefully my answers are helping (well they are certainly helping me!)

Now lets answer your questions to Alonzo:

@Alonzo:To the degree that they are maleable, people generally have reason to shape those desires in ways that tend to fulfill other desires, and away from ways that tend to thwart other desires - to the degree that it is possible (and cost-effective) to do so

@dbo:Is this a fact? How is this proven?
Not sure what you are asking? I assume here you accept that some desires are indeed malleable and there is plenty of scientific research to back this up starting with the behaviourists onwards.

Reasons are not causally sufficient antecedents, that is why they are reasons not causes. If a desire a) is malleable and b) contrary to one's interests as in the DU formulation here - but this is a more general point - then given that one could change this desire given (a) and (b) then that is indeed a reason for action (whether you act on this is another mater - we are only looking to establish reason for action here). It is an empirically substantiated set of observations that is such a proof - that a reason is possible. This is best to see in the contrary case with non-malleable desires then there is no (real) reason that could actually change such a desire. Again the proof is empirical.

@Alonzo:If the desires are good desires - if they are desires that tend generally to fulfill other desires, then people generally have reason to promote those desires through social forces such as reward and praise

@db0:How do we decide what a "good desire" is?
(Moral )Good here means "such as to fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires". It is not a question of deciding what is so but rather DU presents a naturalistic basis for reducing good and bad to facts of the matter - desires, states of affairs and the relations between them. You and many others are free to decide otherwise but this does not alter the facts of the matter. Indeed such decisions can be shown to be in error using the same analysis and again one could disagree with that too. An objective theory is true whether people decide it is true or not. Alonzo has already covered this.

@Alonzo:This is false. Do you actually believe that there is no way for a society to advance other than through conquest and the taking of slaves? I would like to know what evidence you can provide for such a belief.

@dboThis is not false. This is absolutely true.
Very wary of qualifier "absolutely" here. Alonzo is asking you to make the case, lets see:

@dbo: What I mention would not have happened any other way that it did.
There are discussions based on actual evidence of inventions that if they did not have the "slave economy mentality" they could brought about the steam age nearly 2000 years earlier. If happened the way it did, there is no dispute on that, but certainly with hindsight we do see how it could have been different and better and this is a common use of historical analysis applied to the problems of today.


db0: Why? Because the Egyptians and the Greeks and the Romans embraced what we now consider immoral and became competitive. We cannot think with "what ifs" and I see that your beliefs are the same on this (i.e. your opinion on the trolley car dilemma). Thus it happened how it happened because it could not have happened any other way.
This is a questionable argument. And it is not so much that they embraced this as much as it was then part of the fabric of their social reality and one that they unfortunately did not question. (Compare to the Buddha dealing with the Indian cast system 2500 years ago - this is just empirical evidence that it could have been questioned and nothing more). We all agree that dealing with counter-factual histories is deeply problematic but you cannot assert that it was determined to happen this way without generating such questions which are simply answerable - they could have done better but did not.

db0:History has proven that societys who embraced these practice (slavery, war etc) as moral had the competitive advantage over the others. There might have well been a society that was Desire Utilitarianists in the past but were not competitive enough to have their ideology propagate and become the norm.
Now you are moving into counter-factual reasoning, which is unavoidable given what you are trying to argue for here.

A more modern argument is that Britain sacrificed it's (relatively) "good" empire - it was the first empire to both ban slavery and go to war to stop it happening elsewhere - to prevent the widely perceived (and empirically on DU grounds) "bad" empires of Germany and Japan.

db0: This is not my opinion people. This is history.
What is your point here exactly?

db0:So, in the end, I do not "assume that it would not have happened if they did not take slaves". In the real world, it is proven, that taking slaves and making conquest was the step necessary for advancement in an ancient-medieval age society.
First note that there have been plenty of empirically bad empires that the world would have been better off without such as the Roman Catholics in the Middle Ages (to mention an atypical example). Secondly this claimed "proof" of yours has been discussed and challenged by historians and I have repeatedly given you one example (look it up) of how these empires could have been better and in DU terms too.

The fact that many other people, so you claim, think otherwise, is just an argument ad populam.

db0: Not because you cannot do it any other way, but because you will not have a chance to do it any other way. You would be conquered and enslaved were you to try. Well the empire that did invent the steam age did abolish slavery. And again the DU here is for moral progress. One can proceed by being relatively better than one's neighbours. This is not an absolute theory - there are always new challenges such as the scope of desires to evaluate target desires against.

What have you got as an alternative? Nothing as far as I can see, just a fatalism that can and continue to justify all sorts of immorality - because there still may be no choice but to do so. This appears to be what you are implying, but I am not trying to create a strawman.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Martino, I think we are starting to move around in circles. Before, I tried to define what DU states as:

- Do stuff that promotes other desires (AKA Good).
- Do not do stuff that thwarts other desires. (AKA Bad)

Which both you and Alonzo stated was incorrect. But then you say:

The method for the assignment of good and bad is to evaluate the desires under examination against all other desires. I am sure you know the expansion by now e.g if the target desire thwarts or tends to thwart other desires this is what it means to be bad and vice versa.

So what is it? All I want is to understand how DU defines an objective moral value, or a moral fact. If you can make this point clear I would appreciate it.

Further any other moral approach I have seen to date fails in one way or another to accurately refer to the objective facts of the matter. If you think it is desirable to, if possible, achieve an objective analysis of moral situations, then you have a reason to seek the best method to that. As far as I can see the sophisticated moral subjectivism you currently espouse in inferior to this

Look, we can analyse a moral decision and we can even do it objectively as far as deciding what the best course of action for the subject would be, but I fail to see how it is possible to declare an action as objectively moral and avoid judging it by our own moral standards. How can you know that your moral values are objectively the best ones? Or is DU good just at determining the best course of action in any given situation? then all is great but I still fail to see it declaring moral facts.

Also can you explain how a moral approach can "fail to accurately refer to the objective facts of the matter"? I don't even understand what this sentence means...

Not sure what you are asking? I assume here you accept that some desires are indeed malleable and there is plenty of scientific research to back this up starting with the behaviourists onwards.


I understand how a desire may be maleable and how a desire can be contrary to ones interests. What I do not understand is why "people will generally have reasons to shape those desires in ways that tend to fulfill other desires". Why is this a fact? Where is the proof?

(Moral )Good here means "such as to fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires".
Once again, we are going back to my previous to last post where your replies to which informed me that this statement is inaccurate.

You have shown me how DU can objectively find out which action is good or bad as DU states it. What you have not shown me is how what DU states as morally good or bad is objective.

There are discussions based on actual evidence of inventions that if they did not have the "slave economy mentality" they could brought about the steam age nearly 2000 years earlier.
What ifs do not matter however. Of course with our current knowledge we know that we would have done it better, but this still does not change the fact that they did not do it in any other way because they had a flawed morality, a morality that even though considered wrong now, provided a competitive advantage enough to become the norm. I do not say that what they did was right, I just say that what they did was moral (for a reason) for them and you and me are judging them with our own subjective morality.

This is a questionable argument. And it is not so much that they embraced this as much as it was then part of the fabric of their social reality and one that they unfortunately did not question.
I have already explained how morals become the norm. They are not so much embraced any more than any other meme. It is just that societies with this specific mentality (slavery is good) has enough of a competitive advantage to extend this morality. Of course people questioned it but until the industrial revolution any society that would abolish slavery (in any form, now that you mentioned castes) would be at a competitive disadvantage and thus extinct by now.
I can assert that it was determined to happen this way because we are not dealing in "what ifs". As far as Alonzo has shown me, possible and theoretical situations are irrelevant. No?

Now you are moving into counter-factual reasoning, which is unavoidable given what you are trying to argue for here
Only because we are not dealing with possible outcomes.

A more modern argument is that Britain sacrificed it's (relatively) "good" empire - it was the first empire to both ban slavery and go to war to stop it happening elsewhere - to prevent the widely perceived (and empirically on DU grounds) "bad" empires of Germany and Japan.

This does only proves that morals are subjective. When a sufficiently large amount of Britain's population realized that they did not need slaves any more, then the moral paradigm changed and caused GB to act as it did.

What is your point here exactly?
That history is undisputable. You can theorize all you wish on what would have happened if the Egyptians did not take slaves or whatnot but it just did not happen.

First note that there have been plenty of empirically bad empires that the world would have been better off without such as the Roman Catholics in the Middle Ages (to mention an atypical example)

You are fighting a strawman. I am not saying that societies could not have been better off without slavery, of course I think they would. What I am saying is that slavery became an accepted moral value for a very specific reason, evolutionaty advantage. Of course slavery is flawed which is why it took down the societies that took it to extremes (like the Romans) but this does not oppose my thesis.

Secondly this claimed "proof" of yours has been discussed and challenged by historians and I have repeatedly given you one example (look it up) of how these empires could have been better and in DU terms too.
Once again. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. It does not matter. Of course they would have been better off but such a morality was unatainable then. It was just not competitive enough. I am not claiming that other people think like me and this is why I am right. You do (see theoretical challenges by historians). My proof is history itself.

Well the empire that did invent the steam age did abolish slavery.
Of course. I've mentioned before that the industrial age was the necessary catalyst for the abolition of slavery.

And again the DU here is for moral progress. One can proceed by being relatively better than one's neighbours. This is not an absolute theory - there are always new challenges such as the scope of desires to evaluate target desires against.

I have to mention again that I do not challenge the moral superioty of DU. I just see the inescepable subjectivity in it. I still want to see how an objective moral fact is decided.

What have you got as an alternative? Nothing as far as I can see, just a fatalism that can and continue to justify all sorts of immorality - because there still may be no choice but to do so. This appears to be what you are implying, but I am not trying to create a strawman

Just because I have not stated an alternative does not mean that DU proves that there are objective moral facts. This is akin to saying that just because I cannot explain what created the universe, there must be a God. Or, in older ages, just people could not explain how life was created, God was supposited.
My morality is probably quite close to DU as it is. I just know it is subjective and why. This does not make it wrong or equal to all other moralities because I can explain why I think what I do. However, since it is not objective, it is also subject to change if a better moral value comes along.

martino said...

@dbo:Before, I tried to define what DU states as:

- Do stuff that promotes other desires (AKA Good).
- Do not do stuff that thwarts other desires. (AKA Bad)

Which both you and Alonzo stated was incorrect.


Correct. We all have desires and we try to fulfill them. The question of morality comes in only when we ask what is a good and bad desire? This is a specifically moral question - that is how do our desires interact and affect everyone else's desires and their attempts at fulfilling those ones? The moral evaluation is to check it objectively against all other desires.

@dbo:So what is it? All I want is to understand how DU defines an objective moral value, or a moral fact. If you can make this point clear I would appreciate it. Moral facts are the relations between relational values. It is objective because a) desires and states of affairs exist as a matter of (descriptive) fact b) the relation between these two exist - as relational not intrinsic values and this is a descriptive fact too but you are now describing a prescription c) the relation between relational values can be derived as a matter of fact - the evaluation is objective whatever you call it. Now (a) and (b) are about any value (c) is specifically about moral value as described by DU and is again a description of a prescription. It is a matter of fact that whether a desire that P fulfills or tends to fulfill desires and the assignment of good and bad is just a shorthand for the description of the prescription. Whether you chose to follow the prescription or not, the theory objectively describes what will happen - within the usual constraints of empirical analysis. If you claim to be moral and once aware you ignore this analysis then your claim becomes empirically suspect etc.

@db0:Look, we can analyse a moral decision and we can even do it objectively as far as deciding what the best course of action for the subject would be,
This is what DU does and the empirical question is to ask what, if, any other system does it better.

dbo:but I fail to see how it is possible to declare an action as objectively moral and avoid judging it by our own moral standards.
Our own moral standards are irrelevant we are being objective. Now you might respond that the DU is "our own moral standard" and what makes it better than any other. Well any other theory - that I am aware of has in flawed assumptions such as having (not all are) irreducible subjective component in it, in this case such that varying that component changes the resulting analysis. DU does not and the test of any other moral theory is to have at least the equivalent objectivity. Can it be applied without using moral speak, can it be applied by anyone impartially to achieve the same conclusion? DU can and this is a basic requirement of any other ethical naturalistic theory. This is also the most consistent approach with everything else that has been done in science. Any extra assumptions need extra justification which eventually leads back to empirical justification


db0: How can you know that your moral values are objectively the best ones?
They are not my values. They are based on everyone's values all desires including their mistaken ones such as those based on false beliefs and unrealizable desires. DU treats them all equally in terms of analysis with no subjective preference or bias.

Or is DU good just at determining the best course of action in any given situation?
Empirically DU is a means of finding the best possible approach and making explicit unresolved issues - disputes over what the desires really are etc. It is not guaranteed to advocate the best course of action but can certainly show how and where other theories go wrong. This is a progressive theory and there is always something new to discover when applying it in novel situations.

@db0: then all is great but I still fail to see it declaring moral facts. Then drop the notion of "problem of morality" and drop moral speak. The problem still remains how can two or more individuals with malleable desires maximise fulfilling their desires and minimise any clashes between them in so doing. DU answers this. This is commonly taken to be what the Problem of Morality is about (unless you are an Randian Objectivist or theist etc.) certainly in ethics and this is what DU offers in response.

These are the key points before we can pursue other aspects further.

Divided By Zer0 said...

The moral evaluation is to check it objectively against all other desires.

Check it objectively for what? If it fulfills or thwarts other desires and label the desire as good or bad based on that? But then my understanding was not inaccurate!

Moral facts are the relations between relational values
I fail to understand that. Can you provide an example?

I can see how desires and states of affairs can be objectively observed. I can see how the relations between a desire and a state of affairs can be derived. What I do not see is how you label a desire as good or bad based on moral facts.

Whether you chose to follow the prescription or not, the theory objectively describes what will happen - within the usual constraints of empirical analysis

So, by judging any moral decision by the prescription of DU you would be able to accurately predict the outcome? This is a pretty big claim...

This is what DU does and the empirical question is to ask what, if, any other system does it better.

Just because a moral system is superior, does not mean that it is objective.

Now you might respond that the DU is "our own moral standard" and what makes it better than any other.

I am not claiming that. I am claiming that "the DU is our own moral standard." Fullstop. My point is that morality is subjective wether you like it or not. It might very well be true that DU is superior and introduces a level of objectivity in our moral decisions never used before but performing mental acrobatics will not make it any less subjective.

I have stated this before and always feel that I need to say it again. Just because morality is subjective does not make it bad. It just is. Believing that your morality is objective will only lead to stagnation as you will be loathe to modify it. Perhaps DU can avoid that fate, but it will still be subjective.

DU does not and the test of any other moral theory is to have at least the equivalent objectivity
Yes, because DU definition of morality is exceedingly broad afaics.
Either you judge objectively the best course of action for the subject or you judge the morality of the subject's actions subjectively.


Can it be applied without using moral speak, can it be applied by anyone impartially to achieve the same conclusion?

Only if that someone has the moral prescription that DU requires.

They are not my values. They are based on everyone's values all desires including their mistaken ones such as those based on false beliefs and unrealizable desires. DU treats them all equally in terms of analysis with no subjective preference or bias

And then decides which ones are morally bad or good depending on the DU prescription?

It is not guaranteed to advocate the best course of action but can certainly show how and where other theories go wrong. This is a progressive theory and there is always something new to discover when applying it in novel situations.

Very good.

Then drop the notion of "problem of morality" and drop moral speak

I have not raised "a problem of morality". I am only here because Alonzo opposed my article on morality on the basis that there exist "Moral facts". I am just trying to see what these moral facts are and if they can stand up to my questioning. If so, I will accept them, if not then perhaps you will have learned something.

he problem still remains how can two or more individuals with malleable desires maximise fulfilling their desires and minimise any clashes between them in so doing. DU answers this. This is commonly taken to be what the Problem of Morality is about (unless you are an Randian Objectivist or theist etc.) certainly in ethics and this is what DU offers in response.

And I find that very interesting and a reason to explore DU more. Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with my objection to Alonzo's post.

martino said...

@db0:And I find that very interesting and a reason to explore DU more. Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with my objection to Alonzo's post.
I have not been answering Alonzo's post on behalf of Alonzo. I have been answering resulting questions you have asked in the comments.

Nonetheless lets look at the key question of moral facts. One main point is that many have decided a priori that there can be no such thing as moral facts. No amount of empirical argument can work with those who cannot consider such a possibility.

Instead one can only deal with those logical arguments such as the "is/ought" distinction which Alonzo answers here with the "is/is not" distinction. Until these are dealt with no amount of empirical discussion will be effective.

So lets go one step at a time. Do you accept this or not? If you do not we need to deal with this as I suspect is the case.

Divided By Zer0 said...

I have not been answering Alonzo's post on behalf of Alonzo. I have been answering resulting questions you have asked in the comments.

I only said that because you asked me to drop the "problem of morality " which I never raised.

Nonetheless lets look at the key question of moral facts.

Lets

One main point is that many have decided a priori that there can be no such thing as moral facts. No amount of empirical argument can work with those who cannot consider such a possibility.

Generalizations aside, I have not decided that there can be no moral facts no more than I have decided there is no God.

So lets go one step at a time. Do you accept this or not? If you do not we need to deal with this as I suspect is the case.

My understanding is that the are no moral facts and I have explained why I believe that. You and Alozo's whole argument seems however to be based on their existence, so I agree that we should first clarify that point, which, btw, is what I was asking for from the start.

Lets first decide what a "moral fact" definition is.

For me a moral fact is defined as a moral decision that any sentient form from any culture and any evolutionary path will agree with in the same situation.
Currently, the closest I can see to that is the human altruism in the generic sense which is a byproduct of our specific evolutionary path.
I could even argue that since we are trying to define a "fact" and not just something that is theorized by beings capable of thought it would have to apply to animals and insects as well, as do the laws of physics.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

db0

You wrote: For me a moral fact is defined as a moral decision that any sentient form from any culture and any evolutionary path will agree with in the same situation.

Nope.

On this standard, a proposition like, "There is no God" or "The earth is 4.5 billion years old" cannot be 'facts' because, I suspect, we will never be able to get everybody to agree.

Whatever 'facts' are, they cannot depend on universal agreement.

A 'fact' is a true proposition. 'God exists' is a fact if and only if it is a true proposition. If it is not a true proposition, then it is a fiction. Whether a proposition is true or false does not in any way depend on universal agreement. It depends on whether it accurately describes the world.

"Rape is immoral" is a fact if and only if it is a true proposition.

If "rape is immoral" is not a fact, then it is a fiction.

This is what I mean when I say that there is no 'is/ought' distinction. There is only an 'is/is not' distinction - fact or fiction.

There is no third option.

Anyway, my newest post (Dec. 11) attempts to establish how moral facts are possible.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Very well, barring a reply from Martino here, I will continue the debate there.