Saturday, September 05, 2009

Conversation Topic 09: Moral Realism

I am away from my blog for a couple of weeks. This is an experiment in posting some conversation topics while I am gone.

The two questions to answer relevant to the statement below is are:

• Is it true?

• Is it important?

(9) Some moral statements are true, and their truth value is substantially independent of the beliefs or the desires of the speaker.


Samia said...

OK, I'll start the discussion. Though I stand ready to be convinced otherwise, I would hold that this statement is true, but unimportant, so long as it remains specified 'of the speaker'.

anton said...

TRUE on both counts. Unfortunately, many who profess a "personal morality" will not countenance anybody pointing out that the "beliefs or desires of the speaker" do not coincide with his/her actions.

Eneasz said...

Samia, can you elaborate? If it's true that a moral statement's truth value is independent of who speaks it, how is this unimportant?

SexyVegan said...

I used to believe otherwise, but today I believe the answer to be False and Yes it is important to me.

Morality, as I see it, is behavior or conduct based on a judgement or judgements of what a particular group, society, and even an individual believe to be 'good' (or 'not good' for that matter) actions.

Since I don't believe that what constitutes 'good' can ever be truly objective, I don't believe that morality is objective and therefore cannot be identified or considered "truthfull" or "true" in the way that the following statements can be objectively identified as being truthfull (true) or not: "2 + 2 = 4" or "The earth is a perfect square."

Eneasz said...

Hi SexyVegan. Could you accept that it is objectively provable that certain actions will thwart a great many desires, and that certain actions will fulfill a great many desires?

Objective in the same way that "The earth is a sphere" is objective, I mean.

And can you agree that people therefore have reasons to prevent actions that thwart a great many desires, and have reasons to promote actions that fulfill a great many desires?

SexyVegan said...

Hi Eneasz,
I'm not sure I understand your question but let me asnswer it in the spirit of what I believe you to be asking. I do accept that it is possible that it is objectively provable that today, in the particular society I live in, that certain actions external to the subject COULD thwart certain desires held by that subject. It is possible also that certain external actions may lead to a subject's particular desire being fulfilled and I believe that this can be provable objectively.

Yes, people do have reasons to attempt to promote or attempt to prevent certain desires of a great many people.

I hope that I have understood and answered your questions in a way that you may find satisfactory.

Eneasz said...

Hiya SexyV. The second answer is much closer to what I was asking, thank you. The first one was intended more generally. Not just that certain actions could provably thwart/fulfill the desires of the subject, but that certain actions will generally thwart/fulfill a great many desires in general (of all people, not just the subject)? As an extension of your previous answer (and to save time), I will assume that you agree that you agree this is objectively provable as well. Please stop me if this is not the case.

If it is true that A) certain actions/desires will objectively and provably thwart/fulfill many other desires, and B) people have reasons to attempt to promote/prevent certain desires in other people (due to A), does it not also follow that C) therefore some moral statements are true, independent of the beliefs/desires of the speaker?

IE: Is it not the case that the moral statement "All people should have an aversion to killing others" is objectively true (independent of the beliefs/desires of the speaker) because all people have reasons to promote in others an aversion to killing, since a lack of that aversion will tend to thwart their own desires?

SexyVegan said...

Hi Eneasz,

Perhaps you've lost me a bit here...I don't believe that morality is objective but I do believe that certain actions could thwart certain desires and this could be objectively proveable.

As for, "All people should have an aversion to killing others" seems quite subjective to me. Is there another way you can rephrase this statement or give me an entirely different statement because what you see as clearly objective, I do not but this may only be a result of me not reading correctly what you are intending to communicate. I believe, it is the word "should" that is throwing me.

Emu Sam said...

I find accurate definitions of the words used in ethical discussions are often necessary because they are frequently not the same as the definitions for the same words used in everyday life. What's more, they have a level of precision that is not often met with if one is not already an ethicist.

I remember the first time I read one of Alonzo Fyfe's blog posts. I thought it "beautiful, like a mathematical equation" and went around for a couple of weeks thinking it was the most perfect thing I'd ever read. (Now I can't even remember which post it was.) The level of precision he used made it impossible to misunderstand. The logic was such that I could have disagreed with the postulates, but not that the conclusion led from those postulates. Not every post is up to that level, but it still sometimes amazes me.

"Should" in Desire Utilitarian terms means "given current desires and accurate, complete beliefs, would." It is what you would do if we didn't change anything you wanted, but made it so you know everything. What people generally should do is what they have reason to encourage others to do, given the current state of all desires that all people hold, and introducing a perfect understanding of how the universe works.

"People generally" is another term that sometimes throws me. It doesn't exactly mean "everyone" or "the average person" or "a whole lot of people very close to the average person."

So "All people should have an aversion to killing others" means something like "If we discourage the desire to kill and promote an aversion to killing, people generally will have more and stronger desires fulfilled."

There's no actual unit of desire to measure which ones are stronger when two desires are close in strength, but we can easily tell whether a person has a stronger desire to go swimming or read a book by watching which they do.

I hope this helps a little. DU can be described in a very few sentences, but it's taken years of reading this blog and the comments section to hope I understand what those sentences mean.

SexyVegan said...

Emu Sam, thank you for your generous comments. I'm assuming you are expounding on Eneasz's last post and that you are addressing your post to me...yes?

Am I to assume that Eneasz agrees with your explanation? I just don't want to assume anything is said on behalf of another without verification.

Thanks for understanding.

Emu Sam said...

Sorry, SexyVegan - yes, you are correct in your assumptions in your first paragraph. I'll leave Eneasz to speak for themself whether they believe the same, but I guess they'll be able to refine my comments, agree some places, and disagree others.

Eneasz said...

Hi SexyV. Sorry, I'm a bit sick right now, I haven't been keeping up.

Yes, Emu Sam speaks very well for me.

"All people should have an aversion to killing others" seems quite subjective to me.

We agree that some things thwart a great many desires, objectively. We agree being killed is one of those things. We therefor have many strong reasons to not be killed, objectively. When others have an aversion to killing, we have a provably smaller chance of being killed by them. By extension, we have many and strong reasons to promote in others an aversion to killing.

The above statements are objectively true about anyone and everyone. Yes? So isn't summing those sentences up into a single statement of "All people should have an aversion to killing others" also objective?

Emu Sam said...

For the sake of completion, let's add "...and few or weak reasons to permit or promote a desire to kill." If reasons to promote killing were weighted anywhere near reasons to discourage it, we would be having an enormous debate over it.

Is it easier to accept "should" if we add "All things considered" to phrases including it? Or perhaps "All humans have more reason to condemn killing than to promote it"?

I'm interested in an efficient way of portraying "shoulds" that preemptively addresses subjective arguments.