Saturday, August 26, 2017

Science and Morality - revised ed.


Recently there have been some who have proposed that morality should be treated like a science.  Anyone who has taken anything from an introduction to ethics or is truly reflective on the subject of ethics knows why this is patently absurd.  Science, though not metaphysically sound, is reliable because human beings agree on the sensory data of the external world we share.  If I see a purple bottle, you are very likely to see the same.  Also, the bottle will act the same way regardless of if you or I act upon it.  But morality in the descriptive sense is the science of intuitions which vary widely based upon cultures and individuals.  And not only this, there is nothing from the impressions of moral feeling that tell us that something is right or wrong, just as there is absolutely nothing about any “fact” of science that can tell us whether this is the real world or not, and therefore what constitutes reality which is the domain of metaphysics.  This is why Skepticism seems the most honest response humans have come up with in regards to both the problems of knowledge (science) and the problems of living (applied ethics).
The moral realm of humanity is much alike the aesthetic realm.  People who like science fiction movies often think that Terminator 2 is great, but people who don’t like the genre are less likely to like the film.  People who have the moral intuition that what ought to be is a world of maximized happiness will promote policies that produce this; people who instead feel that what is right, what ought to be is utmost respect for human autonomy will instead promote a low tax rate and mention of the human suffering from laize-faire economic policies will not affect them unless their hearts can be stirred to change their implicit ought.  When we “reason” with a person’s morality, unless we are showing errors in their logic, we are really arguing with their hearts, not their minds, for the premises of morality come from the heart, the intellect being unable to produce premises of ethics that follow from reason.
Another distinction between the descriptive accounts of science (sense data) and moral intuitions is the former is not malleable while the latter is.  A person’s attitudes towards universal health care, abortion or a litany of other topics is in part based on their genetics but largely based on their upbringing and life experiences.  People are both inculcated into identifying with certain views and are likely to have the experiences to have certain viewpoints based on their geography, socioeconomic status and other factors. 
Unless an ethical system begins with a premise that is necessarily true all ethical systems constructed by Man begin with premises that do not follow from reasoning but from moral intuition or some other passion of the human animal.  Humans become convinced of their views as definitively correct, not because they are reasoning improperly, but because they believe they are acting with reason when they are instead acting upon their sentimental convictions.  Like a man of faith who believes he knows there is a God, when instead he has faith.  There is nothing wrong with faith, but it’s my conviction that we should be honest and know when we are acting upon reason and when we are acting upon sentiment. 
While skepticism of metaphysics produces no qualms for the lives of people living their daily lives, the reality of ethical skepticism does.  Reason can only give us conditionals, and which premise we accept we can have nothing but sentiment to choose from.  But we have to make a choice; normative knowledge is something we literally lack in entirety and yet it is the thing that is the most imperative for humans to have.  This acknowledgement allows people the freedom to see their sentiments as they are.  Just as a man of faith who sees his belief as unfounded by reason yet retains it.
That is not to say that logic is not used at all in ethical reasoning.  But rather, like almost all knowledge we have, it is a series of conditionals, or “if, then” statements that at their best are logically valid but the premise is still unproven.  That is to say, though the premise of Utilitarianism is ungrounded, if we accept it through our moral intuitions, it does follow that we should ban forced labor if we also have knowledge that it creates immense suffering and in the process removes actual and potential happiness.  Reason is invaluable to guide us to our goal but what our goals in life are only the passions can dictate.  A moral sentiment, one that guides us away from our most pressing inclinations for selfishness and instead follow a higher code or law, a premise that requires restraint is for humans equivalent to faith. 
It takes a kind of strength to believe what is not seen, just as it is a kind of strength to act on a premise that provides no immediate reward.  But while the Christian acts as if there is a God and Heaven, he assumes Heaven to be good and the divine order to be just.  The Moral Skeptic goes one further then the Agnostic Christian, for while the Christian is unlikely to have speculated if there ought to be a Heaven, the Moral Skeptic does not even know if his ethics are correct but must act as if they are.  Skepticism in the descriptive realm and skepticism in the ethical are as different as not knowing if there is a man behind the curtain and not knowing whether the man that may or may not be behind the curtain is your father.  The psychological implications, though not rational, is immediately understood by all.  Because being a human means we both feel and must act on sentiment.  Otherwise we could not live.

It was once said that humans are half-beast and half-divine, and there is no better example of this than the normative inclination.  Humans feel the world should be other than it is but can never demonstrate why, just as the beast feels its belly should be full but cannot provide an argument as to why.  If the divine in Man is His ability to reason, then the action of any logically valid source is in him the divine.  But what course he takes is a matter of faith.  It is not the same as the animals’ actions on sentiment however for the purely animal never considers if what it is doing is right.  The Ethical realm is the purely “divine” or above animal inclination realm for Man, for it is this realm where he ponders what he should do and must have the strength to either choose the moral path or live knowing he could have chosen a moral code but instead chose the path of self-indulgence.

Skepticism and Question of Universals


Recently I’ve thought of what a Skeptic would say of whether universals exist.  To the extent that we don’t know if the world is real is to the extent we cannot use our sensory experience as evidence confirming or denying its existence.  But if we take this into account and talk of the world we inhabit, regardless to whether it is metaphysical reality, then it appears that the moderate realist position is the one that follows.  For something to be a universal is to have a shared quality, something that does not exist in any one particular thing but is an attribute of something shared within a host of objects.  We see a tree and see it has yellow and green leaves.  To the extent it has green leaves is the extent it does not have yellow leaves or any other color of leaves, for to talk about something being green is to exclude it being any other color.  This must mean we know something about green.  Not how it manifests in something, or even if it really exists, but simply that it is a property that excludes other colors to the extent that it exists.
We see many things out in the world.  More than one of them is green.  Kant and other Idealists argue that universals exist only in the minds of beings.  It’s how we construct our perceptions of the world. But if this is the case then particulars must only exist in the mind as well.  For green is not a construct of reason, but of empirical sense data, as is every particular we see, taste, smell and so on.  A bird could be trained to prefer a green ball over a blue ball through pavlovian conditioning.  Therefore, it exists in their minds as well.  Since we’ve given skepticism assumption here, we don’t know the ontological status of any objects.  But to the extent we know the appearance of the tree and the ball, we know it shares the property “green.”  And we know that all corporeal objects have to share the properties of weight, height, density and so on.  A box with no height is not a box.  It is something which cannot exist as we understand what is a “box.”  Therefore, universals have to exist for any particular to be a coherent idea.
To Kant’s argument that it exists in the mind of the rational being (although seeing similarities does not seem to be a product of reason), I would bring up Hume’s argument of a new born not knowing what seems self-evident to us.  Just as a child would not know if a ball can bounce until it observes it, so no one would have knowledge of the concept of a certain texture until they experience it.  Over the person’s life they observe that many foods have the same or similar texture and through conversation with others learns a name for the experience.  Many universals exist on a sliding scale.  Like height.  Colors are a good example when one is discussing what is green or red.  Of course, we have specific colors like forest green and brick red, and to the extent that it’s one specific color it cannot be another, but color is something that can be mixed seen in leaves that are a mixture of primary colors whether homogenous or spotted throughout the leaf.  But the case remains, that to the extent that something is lime green is to the extent it cannot be tangerine.

The world may or may not exist only in our minds, and we have no way of verifying which is the case.  But the status of universals is not distinct from particulars, so though I would consider myself an Anti-realist, in the Nominalist-Realist-Idealist debate of universals the Moderate Realist position, or Aristotelian Realism, seems the most sensible.

Friday, August 25, 2017

On Science and Morality (work in progress)


Recently there have been some who have proposed that morality should be treated like a science.  Anyone who has taken anything from an introduction to ethics or is truly reflective on the subject of ethics knows why this is patently absurd.  Science, though not metaphysically sound, is reliable because human beings agree on the sensory data of the external world we share.  If I see a purple bottle, you are very likely to see the same.  Also, the bottle will act the same way regardless of if you or I act upon it.  But morality in the descriptive sense is the science of intuitions which vary widely based upon cultures and individuals.  And not only this, there is nothing from the impressions of moral feeling that tell us that something is right or wrong, just as there is absolutely nothing about any “fact” of science that can tell us whether this is the real world or not, and therefore what constitutes reality which is the domain of metaphysics.  This is why Skepticism seems the most honest response humans have come up with in regards to both the problems of knowledge (science) and the problems of living (applied ethics).
Another distinction between the descriptive accounts of science (sense data) and moral intuitions is the former is not malleable while the latter is.  A person’s attitudes towards universal health care, abortion or a litany of other topics is in part based on their genetics but largely based on their upbringing and life experiences.  People are both inculcated into identifying with certain views and are likely to have the experiences to have certain viewpoints based on their geography, socioeconomic status and other factors.  The moral realm of humanity is much alike the aesthetic realm.  Humans share similarities in their tastes but also differ greatly.  People who like science fiction movies often think that Terminator 2 is great, but people who don’t like the genre are less likely to like the film.  People who have the moral intuition that what ought to be is a world of maximized happiness will promote policies that produce this; people who instead feel that what is right, what ought to be is utmost respect for human autonomy will instead promote a low tax rate and mention of the human suffering from laize-faire economic policies will not affect them unless their hearts can be stirred to change their implicit ought. 
When we “reason” with a person’s morality, unless we are showing errors in their logic, we are really arguing with their hearts, not their minds, for the premises of morality come from the heart, the intellect being unable to produce premises of ethics that follow from reason.

Unless an ethical system begins with a premise that is necessarily true all ethical systems constructed by Man begin with premises that do not follow from reasoning but from moral intuition or some other passion of the human animal.  That is not to say that logic is not used at all in ethical reasoning.  But rather, like almost all knowledge we have, it is a series of conditionals, or “if, then” statements that at their best are logically valid but the premise is still unproven.  That is to say, though the premise of Utilitarianism is ungrounded, if we accept it through our moral intuitions, it does follow that we should ban forced labor if we also have knowledge that it creates immense suffering and in the process removes actual and potential happiness.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Confusing Every and Only


I’ve thought about starting making videos on Youtube.  I don’t know how to edit and I know making a “theatric” or visually appealing video is time consuming, but I think I might start just to make introduction to logic videos.  My first idea was to explain a very basic concept in logic.  And that is that every x and only x are very different things.

POP QUIZ:  If I were, in theory, a racist, and as two Australian men walked by my house I remarked, “only Australian people are criminals.”  Would this, were it to be true, be sufficient to know whether they were criminals?

A – Yes
B – No

The answer is No.  For the statement, “only Australian people are criminals,” says nothing about these two Australian gentleman.  It only indicates that they could be criminals.  Not that they necessarily are.  If I saw two Arabic gentlemen walk by my house, and if the proposition “only black people are criminals,” were true, then I knew they couldn’t be criminals because they weren’t black.  In theory, there could be only one criminal in the world.

Now, remove the above statement and replace it with, “all black people are criminals.”  If the statement were true then what would we know about a black man and a white man walking past us?

A – Neither are criminals
B – Both are criminals
C – We know the black man is a criminal but know nothing of the white man
D – We know the white man is a criminal but know nothing of the black man

The answer is C.  For if the statement were true, and if the man is black, then to have the statement both be true and the black man not be a criminal is a logical impossibility.  However, just knowing all black people to be criminals (in theory of course) says nothing about the criminality of people of different races.  Every black and white person could be a criminal.  Every black person and all white people save one could be criminals.

Now, take the statements above and combine them.  All black people are criminals, and only black people are criminals.  Apply this to the same scenario as above and answer the same question:

A – Both are criminals
B – We know the black person is a criminal but don’t know if the white person is
C – We don’t know if either are criminals
D – We know the black person is a criminal and the white person isn’t

The answer is D.  For if both statements are true then we not only know that any black person is a criminal (from the all statement), we know that any other person who is non-black cannot be a criminal (from the only statement).


Adam from YMS, Ben from the Drunken Peasants and numerous others commit the logical error of mistaking “all” and “only” statements.  Logic is important.  Though I can’t ground that statement in pure logic to know that it’s necessarily true.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Most Valuable Construct in Logic


Of all the tools in a logician’s tool kit, the material conditional or “if, then” is the most invaluable.  Unless the Rationalists of the Early Modern Era of Continental Philosophy are correct, very little has been demonstrated using pure logic.  And considering it doesn’t implicitly follow that what you or I see, hear, taste, smell and touch is “objective reality,” we don’t know anything certain from the senses either.  If the senses are valid (valid in this sense meaning a reliable way of ascertaining information of the “real world”) then the knowledge the senses give us are valid.  However, there’s no way of knowing, i.e. scientific anti-realism.  If human autonomy is something that should be respected, then slavery is wrong for it is in direct violation of basic human autonomy.  But do we know for a certain fact that human autonomy is something that is an ethical imperative?  Or do we feel such is the case because of moral intuition rather than from pure reason?
Human beings have to make choices, even if their choices lead them to pursue a course of action that has the intention to no longer make other choices.  Even lying in bed refusing to do something is a choice that has implicit “if, then” presumptions contained within said choice.  The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus said, “first decide who you want to be, then act accordingly.”  This is an example of a “if, then” statement with certain implicit values.  First off, it assumes that what we ought to do is determined by who we want to be.  Or determined by the type of life we want to live.  This of course is what is assumed in Virtue Ethics which predominated Ancient Greece.  But if we presume this, and if being this ideal person can be realized (or an approximation can be realized) by my actions is assumed, it does follow that I should act in a way that would realize this self I desire.  I was going to type “this self I desire for myself” but this is another assumption that one could argue assumes Egoism.  One could in theory wish an ideal self to be realized with different motives in mind.  But a Divine Command Theorist would say that who you want to be has nothing at all to do with what you ought to do.  A Consequentialist and Deontologist would agree and say that who you ought to aspire to be has to do with the realization of their ethical theories rather than who you want to be.
What starting premises we assume is totally up to us (whether it’s predetermined or we have free will or Compatibilism is true or whatever the case might be), but what the conclusions are is determined by logic.  The logical conclusions that typically have numerous assumptions that are unstated.  If all people are evil then we should kill everyone might sound sound to some but might sound ludicrous to others.  One must assume not only that everyone is evil (which is certainly debatable) but that we should kill the evil.  This assumption was unstated but its validity is just as important as whether or not a person is evil in the decision of whether or not they should be killed.

One could ask what about one of the few things I claim certain knowledge of?  Namely that a tree cannot be all red and all green simultaneiously.  This is irrespective of whether trees exist or not, or any other question that is irrelevant to the question at hand.  To be all red is to be consisting of no other colors.  If a tree could be all red and polka dots of red and blue at the same time then the very concept of being all red becomes meaningless.  And logic no longer becomes a tool which is operating under its proper purview.  To say that a tree can be all red and all green is worse in my mind then saying “if all the trees in the world are tall then we should chop them all down.” Because though the latter seems absurd in theory one could put a number of conditionals on it to make it logically valid, even though it seems likely to us that a number of those conditionals would not be true.  One can create an “absurd valid” argument using valid reasoning but premises which to us seem (or let’s assume, are) patently nonsensical because they contradict our senses.  But in another dimension let’s say, Doc Brown could be a mad man rather than a brilliant scientist (or both) and coffee could be the favorite drink of our velociraptor overlords.  Essentially every observalbel “fact” of our world does not follow from reason just as our sensory world being mind-independent reality in no way follows from reasoning.  In fact, though I disagree with Berkeley’s conclusions, he argues we can conclude that what we know is that we see is not mind independent rather than that it is.  My point is if knowledge of these things are important to you (if knowledge of these things and being a reasonable person is something you aspire towards, to take a page from Epictetus) then it is important to recognize the difference between what follows from reason and what knowledge we get from our senses.  Both are invaluable tools in essentially every philosopher’s arguments and in daily conversation.  Every political and religious discussion involves a combination of sense-data and reasoning.  When you look for errors in someone’s arguments try to see if you disagree with their data, their reasoning, or both.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Good Place as a Kantian Work


I love The Good Place.  It is funny and well written.  A lot of the humor is fairly simple but that doesn’t stop it from being funny (what?  A cactus?  That’s not a file!  Janet!).  But more than that I love that it teaches ethics while simultaneously demonstrating that people of our generation care more about a person’s moral’s (motives in their behavior) than their faith.  The fact that in the modern era it’s less controversial to have a depiction of Heaven without reference to God or Jesus than it is to have a Heaven where billions of innocent suffer endlessly just for not being part of the “right religion” speaks bounds for the ethics of our culture.  Far from perfect, but it’s my view that even if Kantianism is wrong it is far superior to the doctrine of Sola Fide that is one of the most wicked, unethical and nonsensical doctrines in the Christian faith.
The show seems initially split between Kantianism and Utilitarianism.  At first we learn that all souls have their deeds tallied upon their death.  High scores go to The Good Place and it seems that low and negative scores go to The Bad Place.  Since all the deeds mentioned are one’s that have great impact on others, it seems to implicit be arguing for Utilitarianism.  Then the character who is trying to save herself in episode eleven flat-out says that all actions done to save herself (self-preservation) have absolutely no moral worth.  Only one’s done out of “genuine goodness” or moral intent do – i.e. Kantianism.
I for a moment thought that the show could be essentially Buddhist in calculating Karmic consequences, but this would be (this is a simplification of Karma I realize) a synthesis of Utilitarianism and Kantianism so her actions which we assume have good consequences but not good intentions should still have some effect on her “soul meter.”
Ultimately it seems the show swings Kantian both because it is good deeds done for the “right reason” that cause it to move (and deeds done out of selfishness either have no effect or cause her to lose points) and because the show seems to be hitting at the moral intuitions most people have.  This is shown in the end with the final reveal of the two supposedly good people being in The Bad Place with the other two.  Though Chidi is more deserving of Hell in an Existentialist can’t-handle-freedom way than a Kantian one.  Kant took incredibly long to make a decision on his marriage and both left by the time he made his choice, so I think he’d be cool with that.
A good person isn’t a successful person.  That is the Greek idea that the Utilitarians have taken from.  Instead, a good person is one who simply wants to help other people and whose action reflect a genuine commitment to others.  This is far more along the lines of both Kant and Schopenhauer.  For despite their differences, they share a criticism of Greek and Utilitarian ethics in focusing on whether one lives the “good life” for the former or one is successful in creating happiness for the latter; instead, both emphasize a commitment to others that is more important than the happiness one makes it is focused on the self or not.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Gloriest to Aristotska

Unlocked Endless.  I played one ten minute round but I don't think I'll explore much further.  It's a good game though.  The only flaw I think in the game is you're supposed to let the people through when they say they're planning to stay for a year and yet it says two weeks on their travel visa.  You question them and they say, "oh yes, I stay only fourteen days."  You get money for detaining people and I assume this would be something you could detain someone for.  This would be a good game to play on a touch screen.

Also beat Bioshock again.  I still think it's one of the best first person shooters.