Friday, November 6, 2009

04 Moral subjectivism( and your own Philosophical Program)

After our latest discussion I realized that it would be a good thing, when I bring forward my personal view on Modern Theories of Ethics. For a good understanding it may be helpful to know in what way I am partial or biased.

Today I'll put my personal views against those of moral relativism and in particular moral subjectivism, which you may call a subspecies of moral relativism.

As we have seen is moral relativism relatively new. The first steps towards a subjectivist interpretation of moral judgement has a longer history.

It was David Hume who came close to classic subjectivism: “X is good” means “I like X.” in "A Treatise of Human Nature "(1739).

- quote - "Since morals have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows, that they cannot be derived from reason; and that because reason alone can never have any such influence.

Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of reason.

Reason is the discovery of truth or falsehood. Truth or falsehood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relationship of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact.

Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason.

Now ‘tis evident our passions, volitions, and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement. ‘Tis impossible, therefore, they can be pronounced either true or false, and be either contrary or conformable to reason.

Thus the course of the argument leads us to conclude that, since virtue and vice are not discoverable by reason, it must be by means of some sentiment that we are able to mark the difference between them. Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judged of."
- end quote -

The quintessence of moral subjectivism is that moral judgements are not factual statements about mind-independent qualities, but refer to attitudes of the individual person.

The hardest problem for moral subjectivism is to explain, how moral judgements can have authority over others. Hume himself found this problem on his path and tried to solve it more or less by saying:

-quote- "The notion of morals implies some sentiment common to all mankind, which recommends the same object to general approbation, and makes every man, or most men, agree in the same opinion or decision concerning it. This is the sentiment of humanity." -end quote- An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)

These thoughts of Hume had a great impact on modern theories of ethics and you'll find them in many variations in all kinds of subjectivist theories.

After only this few lectures on modern theories of ethics I cant ignore the feeling that I explicitly have to take a position in this discourse. Talking about these subjects is completely different from what I have done sofar.

Besides that it is important to have a philosophical program of your own. Those who have attended my lectures for some time, may have some idea what my personal program is, but with respect to this subject, ethics, I want to be explicit about it.

Although philosophers always are put in some ISM (empiricism, rationalism, existentialism) does this not mean that they had clear-cut theories about every philosophical question according to their "ism". It is us who love to organize philosophical thinking in 'isms"

To define you personal philosophical program, your way of philosophical dealing with for instance moral judgements, you may discover that you feel more attracted to certain arguments and more in disagreement with other arguments, even tho you may not yet have a good explanation for your preferences.

I hold the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false and that that ethical sentences express propositions about mind-independent facts of the world. Thence you may classify me as someone who believes that moral realism holds the best cards.

This is closely associated with my ontological standpoint that we are just matter and that we have to look for (philosophical) answers at evolution theory, biology, ethology, psychology and neurophysiology for instance.

This doesn't mean that I only need to read the few articles on moral realism and materialism and I'll have all my philosophical answers. This would turn philosophy into some kind of religion.

The contrary is actually the case: the more lectures I give the more desperate I become. There are so many arguments for and against ideas. However, what saves me from insanity, is my personal philosophical program.

In fact it is a rather pragmatic solution. In your personal history you discover, that you are inclined to prefer certain (philosophical) ideas above others. Don't waste time on questioning where that inclination has come from.

A personal philosophical program means not only that you study as much as possible what supports your ideas (that is only to make you feel good:-)

but especially, that you - in an almost Popperian mode - focus on what is brought AGAINST your ideas and are willing to enter the philosophical debate.

And in a way you may discover, that we may never find the definite truth, but that a good argumentation can make some philosophical standpoint untenable, which observation brings you closer to your personal views.

So, from this perspective I will present you my lectures on Modern Theories of Ethics.


The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: Thank you ^_^
[13:21] Apmel Ibbetson: wow..
[13:21] herman Bergson: If you have questions or remarks..plz fele free..
[13:21] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:22] herman Bergson: Well... I didnt silence you, did I ? ㋡
[13:22] Apmel Ibbetson: you seem to have done just that :)
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: so, philosophical and maybe mathematical objects are real
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes....seems so, Apmel
[13:23] oola Neruda: does this approach mean that all people will adhere to the same morality?
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: at least in the sense that they have phenomenal analog?
[13:23] herman Bergson: two questions...
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: analogs?
[13:24] herman Bergson: Why do you come to that conclusion, Repose?
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: well, math "works"
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: non-Euclidean geometry was discovered
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: before it was used to model the world
[13:25] herman Bergson: that is a debate "discovered" or "invented" ?
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: would a realist say "discovered"?
[13:25] Kurk Mumfuzz: would it exist if our species did not...?
[13:26] herman Bergson: I have to think about that....
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: I don't know
[13:26] herman Bergson: in a way I would say yes...
[13:26] Startwinkle Aya: natural laws are there wether we are or not
[13:26] herman Bergson: there are two parties here....the mind and reality...
[13:26] Apmel Ibbetson: I´ve been away for two years..but I missed that herman said he was a mathematical realist just now
[13:26] herman Bergson: the math may be the result of the interaction between the two
[13:27] Apmel Ibbetson: he said he was a ethical realist
[13:27] Kurk Mumfuzz: but it is merely our interpretation of those laws... a feeble grasp, at best... ㋡
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: true Apmel
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes indeed Apmel...
[13:27] herman Bergson: but ontologically I can be called a realist or naturalist I suppose
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: but does the argument apply to philosophical and thus ethical objects, i wonder
[13:27] herman Bergson: But to answer oola's question...
[13:28] herman Bergson: That is in fact one of the main issues...
[13:28] herman Bergson: Hume had to take refuge to an idea of humanity....a kind of universal human quality
[13:29] herman Bergson: In another way I am inclined to follow that idea...
[13:29] oola Neruda: that is what i was wondering
[13:29] herman Bergson: I mean, regarded as a basic ingredient of an organims
[13:29] herman Bergson: It doesnt mean that I know what these basics are
[13:30] herman Bergson: But exactly that is my program...
[13:30] herman Bergson: It might take a lifetime to get the answer or get close to an answer...
[13:30] Kurk Mumfuzz: i am a bit uncomfortable with the notion that ethics is determined by a social consensus… what if that concensus is wrong...?
[13:30] herman Bergson: But that makes the philosopher tick ㋡
[13:31] Apmel Ibbetson: I´m with you on that one Kurk
[13:31] herman Bergson: I wouldnt say that ethics is determined by social consensus
[13:31] herman Bergson: part of it is, you could say, determined by culture
[13:32] Milo Threebeards: Social consensus = mores for the society at the time represented. You can apply the ethics term to that if you like. Throughout history as we move on these things change
[13:32] herman Bergson: But as Hans K√ľng already believed....there is some general or universal ethics
[13:32] herman Bergson: In fact something like Hume also refered to
[13:33] herman Bergson: At least speaking for myself, I think that the human organism is universal in its qualities to some extend..
[13:33] herman Bergson: like we all have two legs and two eyes
[13:33] Apmel Ibbetson: so ethics is the same as species?
[13:33] herman Bergson: So to some extend the body has a universal shape
[13:34] herman Bergson: I am inclined to focus my research on that idea Apmel
[13:34] Apmel Ibbetson: ok..daring answer
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: Milo makes a good point...
[13:35] herman Bergson: And that is the important point Milo....
[13:35] herman Bergson: would you say that we have a different idea of ethics than for instance the Greek 300 B.C?
[13:36] Milo Threebeards: Well ethics are usually represented by the majority of what society believes is correct. I think that the basics remain the same but do bend
[13:37] Milo Threebeards: For example issues of clothing and appearance as opposed to crime and punishment
[13:37] herman Bergson: I agree Milo.....that is what in the former lecture was pointed at...
[13:37] herman Bergson: the philosophy of today on ethics holds a number of thinkers, who believe in a mixed situation
[13:38] Kurk Mumfuzz: there may be reason to believe that emergin ethical perspectives are like evolutional abberations… a radical awareness that behavior and thought must be changed in order to survive...
[13:38] herman Bergson: on the one hand there isa layer of subjectivism / relativism an don the other hand there is some objectivity yet
[13:39] herman Bergson: Yes Kurk...another chapter...the relation between ethics and evolution
[13:39] Kurk Mumfuzz: k... ㋡
[13:39] herman Bergson: I believe there definitely is one, tho I stilll havent got answers
[13:40] herman Bergson: but it is part of my program
[13:40] Kurk Mumfuzz: well, it strongly suggests that ethics is an on-going strugle to maintain...
[13:41] herman Bergson: Who knows...
[13:41] herman Bergson: But in Science fiction they sometimes come up with the idea that mankind will evolve in a kind of MIND only beings
[13:42] Kurk Mumfuzz: i think the maintenance of ethical systems is real... not fiction...
[13:42] Kurk Mumfuzz: e.g., when we invented nuclear weapons, notions of "limited violence" became fashionable...
[13:43] herman Bergson: but that was just a variation on what we already do for centuries
[13:43] oola Neruda: last week i wanted to bring up Oppenheimer… and his delimia
[13:43] herman Bergson: we kill justified and unjustified
[13:44] herman Bergson: yes...it must be a terribly difficult situation when you know you use physics only to make something very destructive
[13:44] herman Bergson: ethics in the weapon industry..
[13:45] herman Bergson: sounds almost contradictory
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: ambiguous
[13:45] Kurk Mumfuzz: but there is an ethical system there... we may not see or understand it... but it exists...
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: too
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:46] herman Bergson: There definitely will exist some rationalizzation
[13:46] Apmel Ibbetson: maybe that is what ethics is all about?
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: is ethical rationalization still ethics?
[13:47] herman Bergson: yes Apmel......a kind of rationalization of our animalistic drives
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: oh...
[13:47] Apmel Ibbetson: hmm..we seem to agree a lot today herman :)
[13:47] Kurk Mumfuzz: well, that is the interesting part... Hume tells us it cannot be rationalized... but I will bet their ethical system in the weapons industry is chillingly rational...
[13:47] Kurk Mumfuzz: ㋡
[13:47] Frederick Hansome: it seems that the ultimate question relates to what we base our ethical position on.
[13:48] herman Bergson: yes interesting subject....
[13:48] Frederick Hansome: who (or what) is to say one criteria is preferabel to another
[13:48] herman Bergson: Well...at least I have made clear what my philosphical starting point is in this project
[13:49] herman Bergson: That, Frederick, is in fact the whole debate in ethics
[13:49] Frederick Hansome: well, please give us the definitive answer! :)
[13:50] oola Neruda: smiles
[13:50] herman Bergson: as we saw with cultural relativism...there is no criterium to decide by....
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: lol
[13:50] herman Bergson: Yoy are asking too much, Frederick
[13:50] Frederick Hansome: smiles
[13:50] herman Bergson: But in fact is that your personal program....
[13:51] herman Bergson: You have to put your ideas to the test
[13:51] Apmel Ibbetson: not really herman..you said you were an ethical realist..so that must be some "true" ethics then?
[13:51] herman Bergson: the only tool you have is logical argumentation
[13:52] Frederick Hansome: but virtue and ethics do not lend themselves to logic
[13:52] herman Bergson: ethical realist means that moral judgements have mind-independent references...
[13:52] herman Bergson: Like for instance Philippa Foot suggested that a value word like 'rude' or 'courageous' have empirical content
[13:53] herman Bergson: besides their function as value word
[13:53] Kurk Mumfuzz: to me that suggests that i cannot predict what decision you might make in any given question...
[13:53] Apmel Ibbetson: yes..and if it does..then you can try to find the true corrrespondens to that fact
[13:54] herman Bergson: yes Apmel and thus become moral judgements rationally debatable..
[13:54] herman Bergson: This is therefore contrary to Hume's idea
[13:55] Startwinkle Aya: im needed i must go be well all
[13:55] Kurk Mumfuzz: but how do we communicate that to others to establish the consensus of what is right and what is not...? make rules...?
[13:56] herman Bergson: If moral judgements are rationally debatable, we can use logical argumentation
[13:56] herman Bergson: Which in fact already happens in all kinds of negociations
[13:57] oola Neruda: i think it could be hard to tell a logical argument from some rationalizations
[13:57] Kurk Mumfuzz: if i tell you that i am an epicurian hedonist, then we have a place to begin a discussion of my ethical system... where do we begin with a "ethical realist"...?
[13:58] herman Bergson: Oh...there are millions of obstacles oola....but the point is to follow that idea and put it to the test yet
[13:58] herman Bergson: Well...
[13:59] herman Bergson: Maybe with a debate on the empirical mind-independent content of moral judgements
[14:00] Frederick Hansome: sorty, have to leave
[14:00] herman Bergson: How to justify that....analyze the semantics of moral judgements
[[14:00] Violette McMinnar: Good night all
[14:00] Repose Lionheart: "realist" is an epistemological term, right? to know where to start with an ethical realist, do we need to know his or her ontology?
[14:00] herman Bergson: Ok....I guess our time is up for today :-)
[14:01] herman Bergson: May I thank you for your participation
[14:01] Kurk Mumfuzz: ㋡ thank you for this... :)
[14:01] itsme Frederix: thank you for the lecture
[14:01] Apmel Ibbetson: thank you herman..
[14:01] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[14:01] Apmel Ibbetson: I´ll try to be back sooner than two years from now:)
[14:01] oola Neruda: thank you for allowing us to see your point of view in this
[14:01] herman Bergson: yes Repose..the qualification 'realisme' has many ramifications
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: Yes, thanks for the personal view, Prof
[14:02] herman Bergson: especially it is an important concept in epistemology
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: yes, picked that up from the bits of reading i do...
[14:03] Kurk Mumfuzz: k.. take care, all... ㋡
[14:03] herman Bergson: You can find a number of lectures on realism in the blog of the philosophy class Repose :-)
[14:03] herman Bergson: Bye Kurk
[14:04] Repose Lionheart: Thanks, I look them up!
[14:04] Apmel Ibbetson: bye all
[14:04] Repose Lionheart: them
[14:04] herman Bergson: Bye Apmel...
[14:05] bergfrau Apfelbaum: danke herman! :-)

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