Friday, November 6, 2009

03 Another analysis

Thesis 1:As a matter of empirical fact, there are deep and widespread moral disagreements across different societies, and these disagreements are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be.

The meta-ethical position usually concerns the truth or justification of moral judgments, which leads to

Thesis 2: The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

These are two theses which deal with different aspects of epistemology. T1 focuses on the question: What can I know, in which it assumes that sensory experiences is the source of our knowledge.

T2 assumes that we obtain data by sensory experiences and that we can formulate statements with truth-value based on them. Thence it asks how truth is established.

T1 registers that in some cultures you see that there is polygamy and in others there is not, which leads to a conclusion that monogamy is not a universal standard. T2 goes on step further and says "Polygamy is morally wrong".

When you say that this statement is true, T2 says that the truth is relative to a specific culture. Even stronger…we have no rational basis to decide on the fact that in culture A it is true, and in culture B it is false, with the more complicating factor that is can be relative to a group or different persons in one group even.

Against T2 we can bring forward moral objectivism, which holds that rationally we can prove that moral judgments are ordinarily true or false in an absolute or universal sense.

Or we can use even a heavier attack and claim that moral judgements can not have truth-value at all, because they are completely different from descriptive statements as used in science, like "The distance between the Moon and Earth is n km".

First of all we can challenge the focus on disagreement in T1. Before you can disagree with someone there must be a lot of agreement first, otherwise you could not even communicate with that other person as the meaning of every word could be challenged then.

If this is right, there cannot be extensive disagreements about morality. The agreements are more significant than the disagreements. T1 cannot be true.

Another way of criticism we encountered in Philippa Foot (1978) in my lecture on her ideas. She holds that words like 'good' or 'rude' or 'brave' not only have an evaluative content, but also a descriptive content.

This enables us to unveil the agreement we can have on moral terms based on the descriptive content of the term, which means the behavior, actions it refers to.

Again a reason to reject moral or cultural relativism is that it may be said that the supposed evidence is incomplete or inaccurate because the observers are biased.

For instance based on the fact that our language doesn't have words for certain phenomena in another culture and that the words we use represent them in a biased and colored way.

An other argument against the empirical evidence on which T1 is based is the anthropological assumption that cultures are rather discrete, homogenous, and static entities.

There are arguments to hold that a culture is an ongoing process, which changes and can be influenced and if this is so, it would be much harder to know the moral values of different cultures and to prove that the disagreements prevail.

Besides, these disagreements between cultures can also be caused by religious differences and that for instance the underlying conviction, that a person for instance has a right to his life can count on a general agreement.

And from that you can even go one step further and hold that the opposite of T1 is an empirical fact: there is a lot of agreement on fundamental moral values.

Take the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. You'll find it in many cultures like basic moral prohibitions against lying, stealing, adultery, killing human beings, etc.

Hans K√ľng (1996) and others even maintain that there is a common “global ethic” across the world's major religious traditions. As you see, there are a lot of ways to critizise T1.

This objectivist standpoint, the view that there is some kind of independent moral standard, leads to the conclusion, that we rationally could discuss moral disagreements.

By testing moral judgement against an objective standard you can rationally conclude that judgement A is right and judgement B is wrong.

A relativist would admit that it might be possible to resolve disagreements within one moral framework, but not when these judgements are taken from different moral frameworks.

Another consequence of an objectivist standpoint is that there only one right moral standard, which implies that this standard has to be superior to other moral standards.

In reality we see this idea about ethics expressed in matters as Universal Human Rights and the activities of Amnesty International,

or in the worldwide actions agains global warming. It seems that about all nations are convinced that the moral standard that one should preserve and protect life a universal moral standard is.

This may be a somewhat long and complicated lecture, but we cant escape that: the thesis that moral disagreements prevail and can not rationally resolved is easily stated, but way more difficult to defend, which counts for most philosophical standpoints.


The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: So, I guess this is enough to give you a headache ㋡
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:23] herman Bergson: If you have a remark or question...plz
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: re: global warming -- the end of life is the end of moral possibility. Pretty easy to agree on that...
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: but something that CAN be agreed upon...
[13:24] Abraxas Nagy: is it?
[13:24] herman Bergson: I think that there are moral motivations involved
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: no?
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: so one objective standard we will have is the person's right to life
[13:24] Frederick Hansome: You mentioned testing moral judgement against an objective standard. What would an objective standard look like?
[13:24] Prof Cerise: but a person's right to life may be waived in war
[13:24] herman Bergson: Well Gemma....the quintessence is indeed if it is possible to get to objective standards
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: or seppuku
[13:25] herman Bergson: moral relativism denies that
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: but even now in some countries that is completely ignored
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: still ethnic cleansing
[13:25] herman Bergson: That may be true, but you still can ask the question : is that right
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: true
[13:25] herman Bergson: Besides...
[13:26] herman Bergson: Things as ethnic cleansing is most of the time motivated by religious or ideological views
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:27] herman Bergson: that means that the underlying moral judgements...a right to live for instance are not accessible rationally
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: oh, yes...
[13:28] herman Bergson: What strikes me in the debate is that many philosophers try to stick to one approach
[13:28] Prof Cerise: but if arguments can be made for a person's right to life even from within a culture, rational grounds are given
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: buried still in myth...
[13:28] herman Bergson: it is either relativism or objectivism
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: nothing between???
[13:28] Prof Cerise: I agree. False dichotomy
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes...
[13:29] herman Bergson: There are however a few these days who hold that some standards are universal, objective and others can be relative
[13:30] Prof Cerise: any normative standard we hold is always taken to be universal
[13:30] herman Bergson: In the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia you can find some names
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: always?
[13:30] herman Bergson: I wonder.....
[13:30] Prof Cerise: well, it doesn't mean that it is unchangeable though
[13:30] herman Bergson: Universal for the person who holds the moral standard yes...
[13:31] Prof Cerise: yes
[13:31] herman Bergson: but if=n fact is that just a form of subjectivism
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...so what does that say about the claim to universality, then?
[13:31] herman Bergson: YEs Repose....
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: if it is changeable?
[13:32] herman Bergson: the thing is that certain moral judgements claim authority..
[13:32] herman Bergson: claim
[13:32] herman Bergson: and the question is....on what is this authority based
[13:32] Prof Cerise: what about the notion of contextualized universality?
[13:32] herman Bergson: what is the justification of that authority
[13:33] herman Bergson: Would that not be a kind of relativism Prof?
[13:33] Prof Cerise: how about a kind of split between relativism and absolutism?
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: split?
[13:33] Prof Cerise: not absolutely relative, not absolutely absolute
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...
[13:34] herman Bergson: That is in fact one of the modern developments in the philosophical discourse on ethics
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: Coleridge: The hallmark of a mature mind is its ability to tolerate ambiguity"
[13:34] herman Bergson: Personally I am inclined to look at evolutionary factors in human behavior
[13:34] Prof Cerise: it also allow for change in our morals based on the change in context
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: I prefer "embrace"
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: we do a lot of that here repose
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:35] herman Bergson smiles
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: i swim in it, Gemma :))
[13:35] herman Bergson: I am inclined to look for moral justification in our biology
[13:36] Prof Cerise: how so?
[13:36] herman Bergson: As the basic drives of a living organism
[13:36] Prof Cerise: is does not derive ought
[13:36] herman Bergson: in our evolution we have learnt to stick to certain rules
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: wondered about that myself
[13:37] herman Bergson: No...the OUGHT is a human invention
[13:37] herman Bergson: a product of the mind
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: ah
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: everything is a product of the mind
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: that is an assumption, though
[13:37] Prof Cerise: of course, but you still cannot derive morals from facts, can you?
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: sure
[13:38] herman Bergson: that is what Hume already noticed , yes..
[13:38] Startwinkle Aya: there are natural laws too
[13:38] Prof Cerise: just because something is a certain way does not mean it "should" be that way
[13:38] herman Bergson: But this implies that moral statements are factual statement
[13:38] herman Bergson: or actually not
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: naturalistic fallacy, yes -- but ethics may ultimately ground in the transrational
[13:38] Prof Cerise: yes
[13:38] herman Bergson: Like Hare suggested....moral judgements are prescriptive statements...commands
[13:38] Prof Cerise: transrational?
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: molecules may be 8 shapes at once
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: moral life can't be 2?
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: is/ought?
[13:39] Startwinkle Aya: why not?
[13:39] Startwinkle Aya: for each concept
[13:39] Prof Cerise: but hare was an emotivist, right?
[13:39] Startwinkle Aya: each view
[13:39] herman Bergson: yes
[13:40] Prof Cerise: so he wasn't keen on normative judgments at all
[13:40] herman Bergson: but a fact is that we are organisms guided by rules, by normativity
[13:40] Prof Cerise: but we still want to say that killing is wrong is an appropriate moral standard
[13:41] Prof Cerise: aren't rules norms?
[13:41] herman Bergson: yes
[13:41] Prof Cerise: ah, sorry...misread
[13:41] herman Bergson: if you take the thesis: killing is wrong
[13:41] Prof Cerise: yes, we are guided by rules, but we can still question them and look for rational basis
[13:41] herman Bergson: would that be universally accepted?
[13:42] Prof Cerise: and without a rational basis, they would be unjustified
[13:42] herman Bergson: that is the point Prof....
[13:42] Prof Cerise: so back to biology...
[13:42] herman Bergson: we say killing is wrong, but.....and then our (irr)rationality kicks in :-)
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: what grounds reason, then?
[13:42] Prof Cerise: how can you rationally ground a moral norm in biological facts?
[13:43] Startwinkle Aya: needs
[13:43] herman Bergson: this has several aspects...
[13:43] herman Bergson: the first is a descriptive approach...
[13:43] herman Bergson: the human organism behaves
[13:44] herman Bergson: does things and leaves other actions...
[13:44] herman Bergson: so we choose.....have motives for actions
[13:44] herman Bergson: and this can be regarded as a product of evolution
[13:45] Prof Cerise: so where does normativity come in?
[13:45] herman Bergson: where we have complicated our lives in respect to other primates by the fact that we can question our motives and actions
[13:45] herman Bergson: the normativity would come from survival
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: it is self-reflexive?
[13:46] herman Bergson: we are....
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: i see your position...
[13:46] Prof Cerise: but the fact of a survival instinct does not justify any standard, right?
[13:46] Prof Cerise: I am trying to understand
[13:47] herman Bergson: so eventually you could conclude that moral s is learnt behavior
[13:47] Prof Cerise: Yes
[13:47] herman Bergson: and not based on a specific culture....that is the surface
[13:47] herman Bergson: but based on human nature in a biological sense
[13:48] Prof Cerise: but whenever we talk about justification, we surpass facticity and learned behavior
[13:48] Lovey Dayafter: what is the topic for next time?
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: very interesting
[13:48] Prof Cerise: so how can we ever have a justified moral law?
[13:49] Prof Cerise: or do we just have to say that we have moral laws (simpliciter) and not ask for their rational bases?
[13:49] herman Bergson: well...that depends on what you mean with justification...
[13:49] Prof Cerise: yes it does
[13:50] Prof Cerise: justification would involve anything with reasons
[13:50] herman Bergson: if it is logical deducability…that might be difficult unless you accept normativity in the premisses
[13:50] Prof Cerise: and these reasons could very well be contextualized (actually, they would always have to be)
[13:51] herman Bergson: and this normativity could be biologically justified
[13:51] Prof Cerise: how would biology justify "thou shall not steal?"
[13:52] herman Bergson: that would be behavioristically justified
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: sociobiologists could probably find a way, Prof C. I wouldn't find it compelling, most likely...
[13:52] herman Bergson: the organism has learnt that it does not contribute to its survival in the long term
[13:53] herman Bergson: dont ask me for all answers... ㋡
[13:53] Prof Cerise: :)
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: lol
[13:53] herman Bergson: I only can give you my tentative frame of mind
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: we are a young species!
[13:53] Prof Cerise: lol
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:53] herman Bergson: Oh yes...
[13:54] herman Bergson: human development has been very slow
[13:54] Abraxas Nagy: mmm are we?
[13:54] Sartre Placebo: night
[13:54] herman Bergson: some arent Abraxas
[13:54] Abraxas Nagy: indeed
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: new science: evolution speeded up 500% in past 10k years psyorg.com
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: i have to go to the newspaper for a meeting now
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: i will be here thursday
[13:55] herman Bergson: Ok...
[13:55] Lovey Dayafter: c u Gemma
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: bye, Gemma!
[13:55] herman Bergson: Bye GEmma :-)
[13:55] Prof Cerise: bye gemma
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: poof
[13:55] Startwinkle Aya: bye gamma, waves
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: SLN!
[13:55] herman Bergson: I think it is time to dismiss class
[13:56] herman Bergson: I hope all this has given you enough to think about :-)
[13:56] Abraxas Nagy: I'd say
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: Yes, Prof
[13:56] herman Bergson: Then I thank you for your participation again
[13:56] Abraxas Nagy: thank you professor
[13:57] Prof Cerise: thanks professor!
[13:57] bergfrau Apfelbaum: oh yes! tysm! herman
[13:57] Frederick Hansome: nite, all. Thank you, herman
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: Thank you!
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: nite Fred
[13:57] Startwinkle Aya: be well all
[13:57] bergfrau Apfelbaum: byebye frederick :-)
[13:57] Violette McMinnar: Thank you Herman, good night all
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: WOOOOOOOO
[13:57] herman Bergson: Bye StarTwinkle
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: free flight
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