Thursday, November 12, 2009

05 Moral Objectivism

Among objectivist theories of morality, the most straightforward version declares that is it an objective fact, for example, that it is wrong to ignore a person in distress if you are able to offer aid.

This sort of theory asserts that the wrongness of such behavior is part of objective reality in the same way that the sun’s being more massive than the earth is part of objective reality.

Both facts would obtain regardless of whether any conscious being ever came to know either of them.

Thus is the claim put forward, that there exist moral facts, that morality is a property of things. Of course we immediately have to face the question "How can we know these moral qualities?"

Our five senses tell us how things are in the world, not how they ought to be. Nor can we reason from the way things are to the way they ought to be, since, as David Hume noted, “is” does not logically imply an “ought.”

Some postulate a special mode of perceiving for moral values, but that is problematic. We have a good understand of how our senses operate, but such a moral sense….what is it, how does it work?

Others see in the fact that there is such a widespread disagreement about moral values a proof of the subjectivity of moral values. However, that is a mistake. Widespread disagreement does not indicate that there is no objective fact to be known.

There has been a period of widespread disagreement about the fact whether the earth is round and rotating around the sun or flat. The disagreement doesn't justify that you can have it both ways. Eventually there are the facts.

If there is widespread disagreement and we claim that morality is a property of our world, then logically we support the assertion that one of the conflicting moral judgements is wrong.

When we accept that morality is a property in our world which not just depends on our mind, like the green color of the grass is a property of that plant independent of whether there is a perceiver or not, we could say ….

Ok…..I see that moral property, for instance of an action, but WHY should I be moral? Even if I am aware of basic moral standards, such as don’t kill and don’t steal, this does not necessarily mean that I will be psychologically compelled to act on them.

Here we have reached the quintessential question of ethics: how can we justify an objective (which means not entirely depended of an individual mind) base for morality.

We can claim that standards of morality are in some sense derived from, or entailed by, the nature of the world and the nature of human beings.

And since human beings are by nature rational beings, it is morally appropriate that they should behave in a way that conforms to their rational nature.

as Bentham once wrote, “nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.

On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne” (Bentham 1832).

If a moral philosopher asks “whence morality,” he is most likely to be concerned with the justification of moral principles or the source and nature of obligation. And this reference to our psychology can be an explanation of such a source.

We can go one step further and think of the claims made over thirty years ago with the emergence of sociobiology, when E.O. Wilson suggested that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized” (1975).

There are important potential connections between the scientific explanatory issues and philosophical ones. And one of the primary scientific questions could be: are we the only living being which is capable of normative guidance?

If so, then it would be part of evolved human nature to employ moral judgment in governing human behavior, rather than a mere “cultural veneer” artificially imposed on an amoral human nature.

How neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality is a new chapter in the philosophical discourse on ethics. We'll come to that later.

The Discussion

[13:19] herman Bergson: So much on this approach of ethics
[13:20] herman Bergson: If you have questions or remarks...feel free
[13:20] oola Neruda: i think that parenthood ... we and animals have some instinct to protect and nurture our young... and the tribe takes care of the tribe... is it not possible that morals are partially instinct made formal/rational
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes oola that is one of the ideas of sociobiology
[13:20] BrainCrave OHare: i'd like to go back to your comment: "Here we have reached the quintessential question of ethics: how can we justify an objective (which means not entirely depended of an individual mind) base for morality."
[13:21] BrainCrave OHare: for, how can it be moral if not perceived by the mind?
[13:21] oola Neruda: that is what i was getting at
[13:21] oola Neruda: based on instinct
[13:21] Frederick Hansome: Please elaborate on what is meant by a biological basis of morality. I have no idea what that means
[13:21] herman Bergson: I see....
[13:22] herman Bergson: What I mean is the difference created by the mind opposed to perceived by the mind
[13:22] BrainCrave OHare: i'm sorry - i don't see a difference
[13:22] herman Bergson: So morality is a property one can perceive
[13:22] BrainCrave OHare: unless you're getting into freud and subconscious
[13:22] BrainCrave OHare: yes - morality must be perceived
[13:23] herman Bergson: The subjectivist would say that all moral values are his personal idea
[13:23] BrainCrave OHare: that doesn't make it true though
[13:23] herman Bergson: He creates them himself
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: each person you mean??
[13:23] BrainCrave OHare: relativism
[13:23] herman Bergson: no...
[13:23] herman Bergson: but moral judgements do not need to be propositions with truth value
[13:24] BrainCrave OHare: why not?
[13:24] herman Bergson: a number of philosophers hold that view
[13:24] BrainCrave OHare: if it is not truthful, it is not moral - by definition, no?
[13:24] Cailleach Shan: Aren't moral values defined by ethnicity.... i.e. Sharia Law?
[13:24] herman Bergson: the next lectures I'll discuss this group: emotivism and prescriptivism
[13:25] Frederick Hansome: it seems to me that morality is a human construct quite apart from physical facts: i.e., the relative size of the sun and earth
[13:25] herman Bergson: Well Cailleach, that would reduce morality to cultural relativism
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: OMG!!!
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: omg ys
[13:26] BrainCrave OHare: relativism, by definition, means there are no universal standards
[13:26] herman Bergson: a human construct
[13:26] Frederick Hansome: what is the matter with that?
[13:26] Cailleach Shan: Well, to a degree I think that's true.. Each society evolves a moral construct to ensure the survival of the tribe.
[13:26] herman Bergson: depends on how you read that...
[13:26] BrainCrave OHare: but you cannot remove humanity from the definition of morality
[13:26] herman Bergson: Is the construct a product of the mind or a rational conclusion based on observation for instance
[13:27] BrainCrave OHare: i'm sorry - i, again, don't understand the difference
[13:27] Frederick Hansome: can morality be introduced into any other animal or life form?
[13:27] Cailleach Shan: Can't it be both?
[13:27] herman Bergson: yes Cailleach....
[13:28] herman Bergson: some modern philosophers hold the view that it is possible that part of morality is relative while another part is objective
[13:28] BrainCrave OHare: i would see that as a contradiction
[13:29] BrainCrave OHare: and, if you follow Rand's views, contradictions don't exist so one of the premises must be wrong
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: if you do follow her that is
[13:29] BrainCrave OHare: :)
[13:29] Apmel Ibbetson: Rand? OMG
[13:29] herman Bergson: I see no problem in the fact that polygamy is for instance culturally biased while stealing is not
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: they could be simply different, rather than contradictions
[13:30] oola Neruda: biology... maintaining family name and species
[13:30] herman Bergson: One of my lectures on RAnd is missing from the blog :-(
[13:30] Cailleach Shan: One can observe the manifested results of the constructs of the mind.
[13:30] Apmel Ibbetson: i didn´t steal it..promise
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: oh????
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: wow
[13:31] herman Bergson: The most critical one ㋡
[13:31] oola Neruda: one's genetic code... is what i meant
[13:31] BrainCrave OHare: but should culture have anything to do with morality?
[13:31] herman Bergson: One option is indeed to look for a biological explanation of behavior
[13:32] Frederick Hansome: just because stealing is universally condammed (if it is) it can still be culture based.
[13:32] herman Bergson: There is a close relation between culture and moral values
[13:32] Cailleach Shan: Yes, The Golden Rule pops up in most cultures.
[13:32] herman Bergson: Well Frederick....that is what I'd like to find out
[13:32] Paula Dix: i think like Oola, there is a biological base, then each culture builds on it... like language
[13:32] BrainCrave OHare: but that might be considered based on education and experience rather than what is universally right or wrong
[13:33] oola Neruda: perhaps it is not an either/or thing... perhaps it is in a grey area between biology and culture
[13:33] Paula Dix: yes
[13:33] oola Neruda: both at once
[13:33] herman Bergson: I prefer that idea too oola
[13:33] BrainCrave OHare: but does that imply there aren't any standards then?
[13:34] herman Bergson: But at least the claim is now that there is an objective base for moral values
[13:34] Frederick Hansome: if lower animals, say chimps, can be shown to punish oner of their kind for stealing, it might be possible to establish a biological basis for morality.
[13:34] herman Bergson: or said otherwise....we didn't invent it, but discovered it
[13:35] oola Neruda: named it...
[13:35] herman Bergson: Yes Frederick.....someway along that line of thinking
[13:35] Apmel Ibbetson: to call them lower was a moral statement :)
[13:35] BrainCrave OHare: if a chimp can reason, then a chimp can be moral
[13:35] Frederick Hansome: I think it was objective
[13:36] Paula Dix: there is something like that between chimps. One that lies is put aside, nobody trust him
[13:36] Apmel Ibbetson: should future robots also be called lower when we install morals in them?
[13:36] herman Bergson: My personal opinion is clear on this issue....I focus on moral realism
[13:36] Frederick Hansome: that i want to see... a robot with morals!!!! :)
[13:36] Cailleach Shan: Anthropomorphic?
[13:37] oola Neruda: i think the idea of morals implies self discipline and choice... which a robot would not really have
[13:37] Rando Luckless: A moral is a completely human fallacy.
[13:37] Apmel Ibbetson: well we are biological what is the moral difference
[13:37] Rando Luckless: The idea of 'proper' morals changes from culture to culture
[13:37] Frederick Hansome: no free will, Apmel?
[13:37] herman Bergson: This would bring us back to our discussion on 'Can my computer think?' ㋡
[13:38] Rando Luckless: No
[13:38] Apmel Ibbetson: yes as far as chimps and robots have it
[13:38] Rando Luckless: not creatively at least
[13:38] oola Neruda: nor do they take responsabilitiy for the answers they come up with...
[13:38] Cailleach Shan: Heheheheh...... define 'think'
[13:38] Rando Luckless: The closest to creative thinking that we've come is supercomputers that try random permutations, and test the most efficient design (for cpus)
[13:39] Apmel Ibbetson: I will not continue on this will get off the subject..sorry herman
[13:39] herman Bergson: If my computer could think it would also be able to make moral judgements ㋡
[13:39] oola Neruda: they have no choice in the matter of moral questions... responsibility/self control
[13:39] Rando Luckless: herman, what makes you say that
[13:40] herman Bergson: We are far way from that still
[13:40] Rando Luckless: Thinking and morals have nothing to do with each other
[13:40] BrainCrave OHare: yikes
[13:40] Cailleach Shan: Thank the Universe for that Herman.
[13:40] BrainCrave OHare: i wouldn't agree with that
[13:40] oola Neruda: did you hear me say self discipline Rando?
[13:40] Rando Luckless: You doubt that psychopaths can think?
[13:40] herman Bergson: Well Rando, in stead of thinking use the concept of rationality
[13:40] herman Bergson: the fact that we are rational beings
[13:41] Frederick Hansome: how could one exercise morality without thinking?
[13:41] herman Bergson: that we can refrain from actions by choice and judgement
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: a psychopath is the exception that proves only the exception
[13:41] herman Bergson: It is our rationality that makes us moral beings
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: oops
[13:41] Cailleach Shan: lol.... Party party Gem.
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: cliked the chimera
[13:42] herman Bergson: I guess you want to party Gemma ㋡
[13:42] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:42] Cailleach Shan: Is it moraly appropriate to dance in a philosophy class?
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:42] Rando Luckless: I disagree. Morals are ambiguous.
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes it is :-)
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: glad i added to the class
[13:43] Rando Luckless: but we can agree to disagree :P
[13:43] oola Neruda: yes...they are ambiguous...but they nevertheless exist
[13:43] herman Bergson: What do you mean by that Rando?
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: ethics disambiguates them
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: that is all we do in philosohy class
[13:43] Paula Dix: herman there is not some kind of moral between animals also? Like that thing that a lion wont attack a zebra while she is drinking water
[13:43] Rando Luckless: no
[13:44] Rando Luckless: a lion will fucking kill a zebra if it's hungry
[13:44] herman Bergson: I would say that that is a matter of instincts
[13:44] Paula Dix: i see that with the dog and cats here also, sometimes cats go eat dog food and she don't do anything to them, even if she is much bigger
[13:44] herman Bergson: Morality emerges when you can make choices based on observations and judgements
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: Yes, and when morality declines we start killing each other!!
[13:45] Apmel Ibbetson: where does the judgement have to lie.. instinct are judgements to..made by evolution
[13:46] Rando Luckless: Morality does not decline when we start killing eachother. In fact that's when it emerges
[13:46] herman Bergson: instinct behavior is determined behavior
[13:46] Paula Dix: but... some objective basis for morals wont be also something equivalent to instinct?
[13:46] Rando Luckless: There's no good without evil
[13:46] Paula Dix: i mean, without decision?
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: Augustine believed there was no evil...
[13:47] Rando Luckless: Morals are indoctrination from an early age into the social structures that be.
[13:47] Frederick Hansome: it is still to be established that there is any objective basis for morality
[13:47] herman Bergson: That, Paula , is the big question....
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: true
[13:47] herman Bergson: if we regard instinct behavior as determined, responsability disappears
[13:48] BrainCrave OHare: the objective basis for morality must be a rational (i.e., thinking) mind
[13:48] herman Bergson: Everything would only be one big chainreaction
[13:48] Frederick Hansome: instincts, on the other hand, are objectively demonstrabel
[13:48] Apmel Ibbetson: then you have to start defining what constitutes a do you program it ?
[13:49] herman Bergson: yes....and the rational mind can refrain from an insctinct driven animal cant
[13:49] Paula Dix: yes, surely we can act against our instincts... but that ought feel strange :)
[13:49] BrainCrave OHare: agreed
[13:49] Apmel Ibbetson: hmm..that uis not blacj and white the way I see is a matter of drgree
[13:49] herman Bergson: My first reaction would be: a decision is defined by the action it entails
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: seems to me also apmel
[13:50] Paula Dix: yes, so we go back to what oola said, a biological basis upon which we build
[13:50] BrainCrave OHare: if it is gray (i.e., not black or white), by definition, it is not objective as there is no standard
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: ohoh no standard
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: ??
[13:50] herman Bergson: Grey is a standard too, I would say
[13:51] oola Neruda: a complex standard
[13:51] BrainCrave OHare: what is the standard?
[13:51] BrainCrave OHare: how do you define it?
[13:51] oola Neruda: the way art is not just one thing
[13:51] oola Neruda: it is sort of ambiguous also...
[13:51] oola Neruda: not direct
[13:51] herman Bergson: We are stuck in binary thinking.....
[13:51] Apmel Ibbetson: the best standard we have is the standard model in physics :)
[13:51] Rando Luckless: grey is a flexible standard.
[13:51] herman Bergson: it is yes or no....either or
[13:51] BrainCrave OHare: A is A - aristotle - is there gray?
[13:52] herman Bergson: Maybe that is not the only way to answer a question
[13:52] Paula Dix: like it start with a strong standard then it goes vanishing...
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: and, yet, Apmel, where is quantum gravity?
[13:52] Rando Luckless: A is not A. An A in times new roman is not identical to an A in sans serif
[13:52] Apmel Ibbetson: true repose..
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: just teasing a bit...
[13:52] Apmel Ibbetson: i said the best..not the final :)
[13:52] Rando Luckless: There's an infinite amount of distinctions to be made in any situation. How does one judge what is relevant?
[13:53] BrainCrave OHare: by one's own self-interest
[13:53] herman Bergson: Ok....
[13:53] Cailleach Shan: Absolutely Brian... total selfishness.
[13:53] oola Neruda: morals/art... standard... need to be flexible for the time and circumstances where it is applied... flexible, as Rando says... is actually a necessity
[13:53] herman Bergson: Future research will focus on finding this objective base, a justification of moral values that not only depend on our mind
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: we better find one
[13:54] Rando Luckless: There will never be one
[13:54] oola Neruda: i believe there are people who speak of an evolution of what/who God is... that it changes with time, place and circumstances
[13:54] herman Bergson: Next few lectures will however deal first with those philosophers who don't regard moral judgements at propositions
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...first application I've seen for intensionality/extensionality
[13:55] herman Bergson: May I thank you for this lively discussion ㋡
[13:55] Rando Luckless: Morals in viking times were far from morals as we see them now
[13:55] Cailleach Shan: Excellent..
[13:55] BrainCrave OHare: thank you herman
[13:55] oola Neruda: nods
[13:56] Apmel Ibbetson: thank you herman
[13:56] herman Bergson: Gemma needs to organize her birthday party
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: that is what we are discussing rando
[13:56] Qwark Allen: ty herman
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: oh lol
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: avilion next
[13:56] Abraxas Nagy: o A o!
[13:56] Cailleach Shan: Yay.... can I come?
[13:56] Qwark Allen: Hooooooo!!!!!!! \O/
[13:56] Qwark Allen: |
[13:56] Qwark Allen: / \
[13:56] Qwark Allen: Hoooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: no party today
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:56] Cailleach Shan: sob.
[13:56] Abraxas Nagy: o A o!
[13:56] herman Bergson: ok:-)
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: we just had the big anniversary one
[13:56] herman Bergson: We can wait Gemma
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:56] Qwark Allen: mmm
[13:57] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ㋡
[13:57] oola Neruda: be well all
[13:57] Apmel Ibbetson: have to leave you all and program a moral next time!
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thursday
[13:57] Cailleach Shan: Bye all. Haere Ra.
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: hahaha free flight
[13:57] Qwark Allen: cya friends later
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: c ya m8
[13:57] Frederick Hansome: Thank you herman, adn all who participated
[13:57] herman Bergson: ok Apmel Good luck with th eproject
[13:57] Violette McMinnar: thank you, great discussion see you all next time
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: bye Violette
[13:57] Rando Luckless: Peace. Thanks for the intelligent conversation everyone.
[13:58] BrainCrave OHare: thank you all
[13:58] bergfrau Apfelbaum: unfortunately I must go:-/ thanks herman! see u thursday, class :-))) Gemma!! wonderful birthday to you!
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: thanks
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: :_)
[13:58] Rando Luckless: Herman, Where did you get that pipe?
[13:58] herman Bergson: I made it myself
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: i bet he made it
[13:58] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[13:58] Rando Luckless: nice
[13:58] herman Bergson: want one?
[13:59] Rando Luckless: yes!
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:59] herman Bergson: moment
[13:59] Rando Luckless accepted your inventory offer.
[13:59] Rando Luckless accepted your inventory offer.
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