Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Morality from the Ground Up

Martino and db0 have been carrying on a well-constructed debate derived from my post, “Trans-Cultural Morality”. I would like to advance that discussion some by addressing what appears to be db0’s most pressing question – the way in which ‘good’ can be ‘objective’.

First, to call something 'good' is to say that there are reasons to bring it about.

To explain this, I would like to start by looking at what it would mean for this to be false. Language is an invention, and we can certainly invent a language where ‘good’ does not tie some object of evaluation to reasons for action. However, if we did this, ‘good’ would also have to give up the implication that there are reasons to bring about that which is ‘good.’ That is to say, ‘good’ would no longer be prescriptive. There is no sensible way in which ‘good’ can both (1) be prescriptive – that is, identify things that there are reasons to bring about, and (2) divorce itself from all reasons for action.

Once upon a time I argued that the meaning of ‘good’ was captured in terms of relationships between states of affairs and desires. That was a mistake – one that persistent members of my studio audience eventually got me to understand. ‘Good’ does, ultimately, relate objects of evaluation to desires – but this is not true by definition. This is true because ‘good’ relates states of affairs to reasons for action, plus:

Second, desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

This is a statement about what exists and does not exist in the real world. We know about the existence of desires because they are used to explain and predict the motion of real-world material objects through space and time. Specifically, they are used to explain and predict intentional actions.

Eventually, we might eliminate desires from our view of the world. However, that will not happen (that makes no sense) until we have an alternative theory that does a better job of predicting and explaining human behavior. Until that happens, it makes sense to use the best theory we have today. The best theory we have today explains actions in terms beliefs and desires.

To say that desires are ‘reasons for action’ means that desires identify ends or goals and provide the motivation to reach those ends or goals. A ‘desire that P’ is a brain state that motivates the agent to act so as to realize any state of affairs in which ‘P’ is true. Nothing else exists (or has so far been discovered) that identifies ends and provides motivational force to realize those ends.

If another family of ‘reasons for action’ exists, I challenge the proponent to provide evidence – proof – in the form of the necessity of referring to that ‘reason for action’ to explain and predict events in the real world.

Third, true value statements must relate objects of evaluation to desires.

This is not ‘true by definition’. It follows from the first and second claims above. In order to be ‘prescriptive’, ‘good’ must relate an object of evaluation to real reasons for action. Desires are the only reasons for action that are real. Therefore, in order to be ‘prescriptive’, ‘good’ must relate objects of evaluation to desires.

We can – and do - have value statements that relate objects of evaluation to reasons for action that do not exist (God’s will, intrinsic value, categorical imperatives). However, any claim that takes the form, “There is a reason for action for doing X,” where that reason for action is not real (does not exist) is false. We can dismiss such a statement like we can dismiss any other false statement.

We can – and do – have statements that do not accurately describe relationships between objects of evaluation and reasons for action that do exist. We can, for example, tell a person, “You will love this movie,” and be mistaken. These value claims are also false, and can be dismissed as we dismiss any other false statements.

However, we can – and do – have statements that accurately describe relationships between states of affairs and desires. These value statements are true – true in the same way that any claim made in any science is true.

Applications

To see what follows from this way of thinking, I would like to apply it to a number of examples, to illustrate what it has to say about those examples.

Example 1

Let’s imagine a simple situation in which the following is true.

(1) Person A has a desire that P and a desire that Q.
(2) In state of affairs S, P is true and Q is false.
(3) In state of affairs T, P is false and Q is true.
(4) In state of affairs U, P is true and Q is true.

What can we say about this case?

In answering this question, we are going to stick to objectively true statements that we can make about this case. I am not going to introduce anything subjective.

In this case, A has more and stronger reason to realize U than to realize S or T. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that U is such as to fulfill more and stronger desires than S or T.

A third way to say the same thing is to say that A should realize U. However, ‘should’ in this case simply means ‘is prescribed by the most and strongest reasons for action that exist’. It makes no sense to say that A should realize state S when he has more and stronger reasons to realize state U. If you read this and assign more to the word ‘should’ than ‘is recommended by the more and stronger desires that exist’, you are reading things into this essay that I did not put there – that I explicitly and intentionally excluded.

Example 2

Example 2 is just like Example 1, except there is no state U in which both P and Q are true. The agent has only two options; an act that will realize state S, and an act that will realize state T.

However, in this case, we are going to add the stipulation that the desire that P is stronger than the desire that Q – that it provides more motivating force (or ‘reason for action’) than Q.

(1) Person A has a desire that P and a desire that Q.
(2) In state of affairs S, P is true and Q is false.
(3) In state of affairs T, P is false and Q is true.
(4) A’s desire that P is stronger than his desire that Q.

In this case, A has more and stronger reason realize state S rather than state T. In other words, he ‘should’ realize state S. The claim that he ‘should’ realize state S is as objectively true as the claim that there are more and stronger reasons to realize state S. This is as objectively true as the claim that S will fulfill more and stronger desires than T.

Example 3

In this example I am going to split our two desires – a desire that P and a desire that Q – into two different agents.

(1a) Person A has a desire that P
(1b) Person B has a desire that Q
(2) In state of affairs S, P is true and Q is false.
(3) In state of affairs T, P is false and Q is true.
(4) In state of affairs U, P is true and Q are true.

In this case, A has equal reason to realize S or U, but no reason to realize T. If A tries to realize S, he will come up against opposition from B. B’s only reason for action in this case is a reason to act so as to thwart A’s attempts to realize S.

However, if A tries to realize U, he will find B to be quite cooperative. B’s only reason for action also gives him a reason to realize U.

Faced with B’s opposition in realizing S, and his cooperation in realizing U, A has more and stronger reason to realize U than S. At the same time, B has more and stronger reason to realize U over T (since attempting to realize T will draw A’s opposition).

All of these claims are objectively true. Importantly, it does not matter what S, T or U actually are. What matters is the relationship between states of affairs and desires, not their content.

Example 4

In this example I wish to take Example 3 and introduce two changes. First, I wish to add the stipulation that A’s desire that P is stronger than B’s desire that Q. Think of this in terms of the two desires existing in a single person – A. In this case, if he cannot find a way to fulfill both P and Q, A would act to fulfill the desire that P (the stronger desire) and simply leave Q unfulfilled. Then, take this second desire and, without altering its strength, moving it to Person B.

Second, I am going to remove the possibility of a state in which both the desire that P and the desire that Q can be fulfilled.

(1a) Person A has a desire that P
(1b) Person B has a desire that Q
(2) In state of affairs S, P is true and Q is false.
(3) In state of affairs T, P is false and Q is true.
(4) Person A’s desire that P is stronger than B’s desire that Q.

Look at this situation from the point of view of A. A’s only reason for action is to realize state S. B’s only reason for action is to realize state T. A has a stronger reason for action, but B does not have any reason for action to take that into consideration. Our initial assumptions do not give B any concern over what A wants – or give A any concern over what B wants.

A cannot reason with B to get B to realize S. There is no true proposition that A can provide to B that gives B a reason to realize S. With all of those true propositions, B will still have a desire that Q, and that desire only gives him a reason to realize T.

A cannot bribe B into realizing S. The only bribe B has reason to listen to is an offer to realize state T. However, P is false in T, so A has no reason to offer such a bribe.

A cannot threaten B into realizing S. The only bribe B has reason to listen to is a threat to prevent the realization of T. However, if B yields to the threat, T will be prevented anyway. So, B has no reason to yield to the threat.

These two agents are locked in conflict. There is no sense adding any discussion of ‘morality’ to this situation. A is going to act so as to realize S, and B is going to act so as to realize T. The winner will be the one that defeats the other.

If you don’t like this answer, then, you have reason to avoid getting into this type of situation. However, that is grounded on your desires, not the desires of either of the agents in this hypothetical situation. Conflict in this type of situation is inevitable, and that is an objective fact.

Example 5

For this example, I am going to give A the power to choose B’s desire. B could have a desire that Q, or B could have a desire that R, depending on what A decides. A could either choose to give B a desire that Q – setting up the situation described above. Or A could give B a desire that R. Let us also assume that there is a possible state V where P and R can both be true.

(1a) Person A has a desire that P
(1b) Person A can give Person B a desire that Q, or a desire that R
(2) In state of affairs S, P is true and Q and R are false.
(3) In state of affairs T, Q is true and P and R is false.
(4) In state of affairs V, P and R are true, and Q is false.

What is objectively true about this situation?

Again, A’s only reason for action is his desire that P. His desire that P is a reason to bring about either state S (where P is true) or V (also where P is true). If A gives B a desire that Q, then B only has a reason to act to realize state T – which would conflict with what A has reason to realize. What possible reason could A have to give B a desire that Q?

However, if A gives B a desire that R, then B has reason to act so as to realize V. A also has reason to act to realize V. One of the ways that A can act so as to realize V is to give B a desire that R. So, A (1) should give B a desire that R, and (2) should act so as to realize V.

Once again, ‘should’ simply means that there are more reasons for action that exist for doing an action than for doing some alternative action. In this same sense, giving B a desire that R is better than giving B a desire that Q.

Now, instead of asking A to give B a desire, let us ask B to choose a desire. What desire should B choose? Should he choose a desire that Q that puts him in conflict with A? Or should he choose a desire that R that will allow him to cooperate with A?

The fact is, this is a nonsense question. B has no desires. Thus, B has no reasons for action. Until B has a desire, B is just a lump on the carpet, and asking a lump on the carpet to make a choice is strictly nonsense. Yes, choosing Q would create conflict, but B has no aversion to conflict. Choosing R would allow all desires to be fulfilled, but B has no desire that all desires be fulfilled. B has no desires. B, in other words, does not care one way or another what desire he gets.

Let’s give B a desire, and then ask him to choose? Let’s give him a desire that Q that puts him in conflict with A. In this case, B still has no reason to give up his desire that Q and replace it with a desire that R. His desire that Q only gives him a reason to realize state T. Since giving up his desire that Q will not help him to realize his desire that T, he has no reason to give up his desire that Q. Yes, switching to a desire that R could eliminate conflict and allow all desires to be fulfilled, but B still has no aversion to conflict or desire that all desires be fulfilled. B only has a desire that Q, and a desire that Q gives B no reason to switch to a desire that R.

Correspondingly, A cannot reason B into adopting a desire that R. Here, too, there is no true proposition that A can make B aware of that gives B a reason to choose a desire that R.

However, we are assuming that A has some tool that will switch B’s desire to a desire that R. A certainly has a reason for action to use that tool and to give B a desire that R, thus fostering an age of cooperation that will allow A to realize a state in which P is true.

Conclusion

Okay, this post is way too long. However, it establishes a pattern that should allow an interested person to continue this thought experiment into more complicated situations. Add more people, more desires, more states of affairs, but confine yourself only to making objectively true claims about these entities, states, and relationships. Eventually, all of the features of morality will emerge without adding a single intrinsic or transcendental value, God, or subjective moral ought.

I started this essay with the intention of explaining how a value proposition can be objectively true. The above examples all illustrate a set of basic propositions relating to the objectivity of value.

A prescription is a description of a relationship between an object of evaluation and reasons for action. Desires are the only reasons for action that exist. All objectively true prescriptions are objectively true descriptions of relationships between objects of evaluation and desires. A prescription that is not an objectively true description of a relationship between an object of evaluation and desires is objectively false. It either falsely claims that reasons for action other than desires exists, or it makes false claims about the relationship between the object of evaluation and desires that do exist.

9 comments:

martino said...

An excellent post indeed I think one of your best ones to capture and explain the core of the reasoning behind DU. I do have an objection - which i do not think is fatal to DU - but I feel it would be a diversion to put it in this thread at this point.

I am more interested to see how db0 (and others) understands and responds to this.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Ok, lets take things slow as this is a heavy post and sentences like "A prescription is a description of a relationship between an object of evaluation and reasons for action." are liable to make my brain overheat.

First, to call something 'good' is to say that there are reasons to bring it about.

This is a strange claim. You explanation below does explain why good always needs reasons to bring is about, but it does not explain why having a reason to bring something about makes something good.

To my understanding, "good" is a fallacy. There is not good and there is no evil but rather only expressions of egoism. Perhaps this is identical to your meaning of "desires" and indeed it seems so from your later explanation but you're going the opposite way.
Where I say that a desire or reason for actions that exist or expression of egoism, can be labelled as good or bad by the society around you and the commonly accepted norm (or just even yourself, depending on your upbringin); You say that good is defined by having reasons to bring this about.
To me, this does not follow

Can you elaborate on this? Then we can continue.

martino said...

Yes lets take things slowly. Unfortunately you have been too brief still! I need to look at the implications of what you are saying and expand it. This will speed up our dialogue. I must emphasize that in order to achieve this speed up I am not trying to (1) put words in your mouth, (2) create strawmen nor (3) talk down to you. Instead I am reflecting my understanding of how someone typically reaches your conclusion - but it is easier to address this to you, please allow me this indulgence - and the ones above. Indeed to the degree you disagree and/or can give alternative answers I expect we will be making progress. I will add that at this point in time you have confirmed my suspicion stated at the end of the other thread. Let me explain:

Given a concept of value or prescription as being an attribute of events and objects, actions and consequences independent of human interests, desires, motives, goals, requirement and preferences then I think we all agree that this concept is in error and anyone who operates with this is mistaken.

However you go further than Alonzo and I. That is you accept this creates a fact-value dualism. You seek an answer within this dualism whereas Alonzo and I reject it. The answer you have come up with is IMHO the best one could do given the acceptance of this dualistic framework so no argument there.

Now I want to show how you are unwittingly the victim of this fact-value dualistic framework. That is to make you aware of it. Please consider the following carefully.

We all reject value as described above - "intrinsic precriptivity" in the philosophical jargon. You are apparently making a number of additional steps.

1. Hasty generalisation - since this concept of value is false then no concept of value can be true.
2. A (technical) argument from ignorance. You cannot imagine another concept of value could work.
3. Together these get you to accept the challenge of fact-value dualism (with this concept of value) and seek the best answer within this framework which leads one to moral subjectivism - non-cognate expressivism in your case.

To repeat without realizing the mistakes of 1 and 2 I too would be led to the conclusion of 3.

Now by calling this concept of value "intrinsic prescriptivity" (or equivalent) we can allow that there are other concepts of value that might be true and seek to find it. This is the first thing I ask you to do and you have previously stated - by implication - that you are open to this. So to do this I am asking you to is to see how it is possible that you are operating within the framework I have posited here. (If, like me, you do not like being being misled by others you should be very interested to at least understand this. I must emphasize I am not talking down to you but trying to pre-empt what , in my experience, is the most difficult and common barrier in such debates as here. This is a very subtle but crucial point that many in the past have failed to or point blank refused to acknowledge - the reason being that they fear that acknowledgment alone it will dismantle their position. This is a very important point and barrier to understanding for others and in other fields - including for me!).

Now this framework leads one to think that fact and value are mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories. This is the mistake of the non-cognitivists and it is an a priori and non-empirical position and that makes any objective theory impossible by fiat. As long as fact and value are so defined no progress is possible and one needs to realize this and instead question this.

Lets explore this further. Typically with such a philosophical question - and this is a philosophical point - when a question does not permit answers without problems (this is not a question of a desirable or comfortable answers but about issues per se) the wrong question is being asked. The challenge is to find a better question that can permit issueless answers, so to speak - I did say issue less not issue free! So how to do this here? Well it is to recognize that the issue is accepting the fact-value dualistic framework. Let us reject that. Let us identify the reasoning the led to the, till now, unwitting acceptance of it. This is what I have tried to show you above.

Now what are the implications of rejecting such a fact-value dualism? Well as expected the questions change. We need to find a concept of value that can exist within the world of facts. How could this work? We need to describe prescriptions. We can describe both prescriptions that exist and those that do not. Looked at this way we can all describe prescriptions that do not exist but our search is find those that do, if they do. That is fact-fiction framework, but this is not new since which everyone (at least scientists) use it everywhere else in investigating the natural world. Or as Alonzo puts it "is/is not".

Nicely this next deals Hume's you cannot derive an ought from an is challenge to "vulgar philosophies". We are not trying to derive an ought - we are seeking to recognise existing actual oughts, as well as reject non-existing oughts. This is no vulgar philosophy.

Finally, and this gets back to a key question of yours, this approach resolves the supposed naturalistic fallacy and the open question argument (this is what i think you meant by "good is a fallacy"). In Alonzo's post he gives a description of good which is immune to such a fallacy (indeed once you reject the fact-value dualistic framework this fallacy is itself a fallacy). It is not sufficient just to restate the fallacy but you need to show that the presentation is still victim to such an argument and you have not yet done so and I do not believe you can. Now you are entitled to claim that I am arguing from ignorance - if you can show me I am mistaken :-)

Phew! More than I planned to write but I hope I have established the bridge to get you from where you appear to be to be, or I think you are at, to Alonzo's post that started this thread.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

db0

Okay, "good" is a fallacy.

(Technically a 'fallacy' is an invalid or unsound argument. I suspect that you mean to be saying that 'good' is a fiction.)

So, 'good' is a fiction. Go with that.

Relationships between objects of evaluation and reasons for action are no fiction - we are surrounded by them.

Nothing that I wrote regarding relationships between objects of evaluation and reasons for action changes.

In fact, you may not have noticed that after using the term 'good' in the first section, I quit using the term entirely.

You can drop the term out of the first section. You can substitute the term 'prescription' in its various forms for 'good'.

It doesn't matter.

Prescription requires reasons for action. The essay concerns the prescribing of action based on reasons for action that exist. It is an objective account of how prescription works.

You can develop the whole theory without ever using the term 'good'.

I would argue that, once you finish, if you then look at how the term 'good' is used by native English speakers, you would have an amazingly good fit.

In short, you are asking me to do what cannot be done with any word in any field of study - to prove that a word must have a particular meaning as a matter of metaphysical necessity. I can't do that with any word. Words do not work that way.

Yet, this fact does not interfere with the objectivity of math, logic, astronomy, biology, or any other field of study. The fact that 'planet' does not have a fixed meaning as a matter of metaphysical necessity does not matter to the astronomers. The fact that 'good' does not have a fixed meaning as a matter of metaphysical necessity should not matter to the value theorist.

If you're hung up on the meaning of a word, then just get rid of it. Substitute something else in its place - something without all the baggage - and move on.

martino said...

Hi db0 I want to add both an alternate reply to my previous comment and to Alonzo's own response to you.

My previous comment was partly generated by a blog post in preparation that I thought was relevant here. However whether your agree or not it was not quite to the point - the one mentioned almost in passing in my last paragraph and the one that Alonzo directly addressed. I wish to fix this here.

First let me quote myself:
@martino: this approach resolves the supposed naturalistic fallacy and the open question argument (this is what i think you meant by "good is a fallacy"). In Alonzo's post he gives a description of good which is immune to such a fallacy (indeed once you reject the fact-value dualistic framework this fallacy is itself a fallacy). It is not sufficient just to restate the fallacy but you need to show that the presentation is still victim to such an argument and you have not yet done so and I do not believe you can.

This really was the direct response, as inadequate as I made it there, to your:

@db0 :This is a strange claim. You explanation below does explain why good always needs reasons to bring is about, but it does not explain why having a reason to bring something about makes something good.

So lets clarify this. Now, in line with my first comment, if you decide a priori that "good is a fallacy" or as Alonzo interpreted you "good is a fiction" then you are best off accepting Alonzo's argument in his response. Still hopefully you might find the rest of this post interesting.

The question in scenario 1 is what could anyone's general notion of good possibly mean there? And Alonzo gave an answer and I agree with it. This is not a definition but an explication of what good could possibly mean in that scenario. You do accept that "good always needs reasons to bring it about" but ask "it does not explain why having a reason to bring something about makes it good". I was wrong since you were, I realize now, applying the Open Question argument and I wish to answer this here.

The preliminary point is the danger of equivocation over 'good'. Alonzo was not yet talking about 'moral good'. I suspect you thought otherwise. The concept of 'moral good' cannot apply to scenario 1, hence we can call this 'generic good'. These scenarios were designed to provide the grounds of morality to derive 'moral good' from 'generic good' (a point that some Objectivists do not seem to comprehend, if you have been following that thread on another blog - you know the one I mean).

Now you can apply the same analysis of how good can apply to each scenario and each time ask 'but is it good?' . As one proceeds through each scenario there are more and different reasons to act that need to be considered. As long as one does not consider all the reasons to act, it is quite legitimate to ask 'but is it good?'. However once all the reasons to act have been considered and therefore exhausted there is nothing else left for the question to demand, it is now closed. And this is what I mean by how Alonzo's analysis deals with and this, if I am correct in inferring from your statements, is what I believe needs to be shown otherwise by you in order to make your case.

Hopefully one can see that by applying the Open Question method (lets us call it here)to scenarios where there are multiple agents and multiple reasons to act, both directly and indirectly, on the object of evaluation and how this object of evaluation affects and is affected by the relevant outcomes of all other reasons to act that one ends up with Alonzo's formulation of 'moral good' = 'desires that fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires'.

So far from the Open Question argument demolishing this approach or showing it is another naturalistic fallacy, it actually can be used to derive the model of moral good as Alonzo posits and justifies why all relevant desires - not just those of the agent - must be taken into account - at least if we are talking about moral good. Once they are there is nothing else for the question 'but is it good?' to demand and it has been exhaustively answered. If you think otherwise please show me how.

Divided By Zer0 said...

First of all, let me clarify that I am not versed in philosophy in any academic way and also that English is not my first language. I do my best but sometimes I just cannot understand what you guys are trying to say and may require some dumbing down.

@Alonzo: I am trying to wrap my head around what you are saying. I am confused by the word "prescription" as its meaning does not fit in the context for me :-/
What do you mean when you say that "The essay concerns the prescribing of action based on reasons for action that exist. It is an objective account of how prescription works."

I agree that words can confuse, but we need to be talking about the same thing in order to start discussing.

You tried to answer my pressing question - "The way in which 'good' can be 'objective'. But taking out the word 'good' and changing it to 'prescription' or something else just confuses me.

You state three claims, of which the third is based on the first two. The first claim is based around the word 'Good' (which I find to be a fiction as you corrected me). . If you replace 'good' with 'prescriptive' as you define it later on ("identify things that there are reasons to bring about") then the first claim stops making sense. I am not absolutely certain what you mean as "various forms of prescription"

Can you clarify this form me?

@Martino: I will attempt to reply to your lengthy post later on as I am running out of break time

martino said...

@db0:First of all, let me clarify that I am not versed in philosophy in any academic way and also that English is not my first language. I do my best but sometimes I just cannot understand what you guys are trying to say and may require some dumbing down.

Thanks for this. My posts could have been shorter but then I felt it might appear that I am insulting your intelligence and I have been wary of trying to avoid that in what I have written.

Be warned that if you tread the path of understanding the structure of morality, you will end up necessarily teaching yourself the philosophy through these debates and otherwise. On my own blog I make an argument, that I think avoids this, whilst I hope, but we shall see, leads to similar conclusions in application to Alonzo's approach. Either way I do reject moral subjectivism of any kind but still it does contain some elements of truth - just not all of it - and this is what misleads people.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

db0

Prescription

The short answer: Any 'ought' or 'should' statement is a prescription.

The longer answer: statements are divided into two categories: description and prescription.

A description is a 'mere fact' - like Water = H2O. A description tells you the way things are - it does not tell you what to do.

A prescription uses words like, 'should' or 'ought' - it is a recommendation and not merely a description.

Received wisdom is that these are two distinct types of statements - that a statement can be a description or a prescription but never both.

I deny that this is the case. I hold that a prescription is a description of a relationship between an object of evaluation and reasons for action that exist. The 'prescriptive force' of a prescription - its 'shouldness' or 'oughtness' - comes from the reasons for action that exists.

Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

To prescribe (recommend, make a 'should' or 'ought' statement concerning) some action when no reason for doing that action exists is nonsense. It is just as much nonsense to fail to prescribe an action where reason exists to perform that action, and no reason for action exists not to.

Of course, as I illustrate in Example 3 of my post, it may be the case that there is a reason for action to bring about T, and an even stronger reason for action not to. The more and stronger reasons for action win out over the weaker and fewer.

However, weaker reasons for action do not disappear simply because they are outweighed. Even if a person realize S and T it remains (objectively) true that the agent should realize both S and T if he can find a way to do.

Meanings

Yes, it helps to be talking about the same thing. However, in this regard, it is important to note that the assignment of words to things is arbitrary.

For example, let's say that we want to talk about planets having a diameter of between 10000 and 20000 kilometers. We agree - just between us - that we will use the word 'donkey' to refer to this set of planets.

We can have a perfectly intelligent discussion about donkeys.

Anybody who comes along and insists that the word 'donkey' can never be used except when we are talking about a certain type of mammal is, quite simply, mistaken.

If he objects that our statements are false because no mammal has a diameter of between 10000 and 20000kilometers, then he does not understand the nature of language.

Words have no necessary meaning.

As Martino has pointed out, you sometimes seem to be arguing that 'good' has a necessary meaning and that it refers to something subjective. If this is true, it is like somebody argung that 'donkey' has a necessary meaning and it must refer to mammals.

If you're stuck on that, then it would be a mistake for me to suggest that we use the word 'donkey' to refer to planets of a particular size. You will always be confused by this, saying things like, "No. That can't be right. There are no mammals with a diameter of between 10000 and 20000kilometers."

So, I'm saying, let's not go that route. Let's use some term that you can use to speak about planets of a particular size without getting confused.

In the ethics case, I am recommending that we get away from the use of the term 'good' and go to 'prescription' instead. To prescribe an action is to say that there are reasons for action that exist for performing that action.

Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

So, to prescribe an action you must describe its relationships to desires (reasons for action that exist) - and those descriptions are either objectively true or objectively false.

Divided By Zer0 said...

Thanks for the reply Martino and Alonzo. I believe the clarification will allow me to understand and reply to what you are trying to say. I will read, digest and respond in due time ;)