Is there anything objective about morality?

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Tyndmyr
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Aug 07, 2015 4:27 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:This is the part that's wrong. Moral objectivists still tie moral judgments to a framework. They simply believe that a best framework exists. Moral relativists do not.

What exactly makes a given framework superior in the objectivists eyes, if not morality simpliciter?

My guess is Tyndmyr answers this with something about "corresponding to reality", and continues not to elaborate in any informative way.


That's my particular answer*.

Religious folks might answer differently. Naturally, I view them as incorrect. However, not all objectivists are using the same system.

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:
morriswalters wrote:
The whole point of anti-realism is that we don't think that morality maps back to reality.
Then what use is it?

Who said something has to be useful? That being said, objective goodness not existing does not imply that all moral discourse is false. People can believe whatever the hell they like about morality, and can use those beliefs to further their goals.


There are an infinite number of beliefs that do not map to reality.

Honestly, just flip through the usual arguments presented by atheists for why believing in an untrue religion is bad. Same same, other morals.

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:Honestly, this is like asking what use money has


I can use money to purchase goods and services.

Without the usefulness of money, it....wouldn't really be any good, no. But money is kind of useful, that's why we use it.

*I have elaborated to essentially outline the scientific process. But yes, a model's usefulness depends on how much it corresponds with reality. If your mental model of how things works does not correspond to reality well...at an extreme, that makes you a crazy person in need of help. If you buy the existence of objective reality, then it's a valid basis for objective morality. If you go in for subjective reality, well, we'll need to take a step back and cover that first.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 07, 2015 4:46 pm UTC

My guess was correct.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Aug 07, 2015 5:10 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:You are, instead of arguing against my argument, simply defining it as invalid.

As the OP of this thread, I've defined the topic of this thread to be something different from what you're talking about.

Similarly, if you had come in and started arguing that the earth revolves around the sun, the thing to do would not be to argue against you, but to point out that it has nothing to do with what everyone else is talking about.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Aug 07, 2015 5:48 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:You are, instead of arguing against my argument, simply defining it as invalid.

As the OP of this thread, I've defined the topic of this thread to be something different from what you're talking about.

Similarly, if you had come in and started arguing that the earth revolves around the sun, the thing to do would not be to argue against you, but to point out that it has nothing to do with what everyone else is talking about.


Words mean things other than what you define them to mean. Sure, you set the topic, but that doesn't mean you can redefine the English language willy nilly.

If nobody is permitted to disagree with your definitions, which you provided in the same post you asked the question in, what is left to discuss? Saying "what can be said" is all well and good, but I am talking about something that is precisely on topic.

You just disagree with it is all. And that's fine. But it seems terribly hypocritical to complain in the OP about the lack of justification, and then attempt to exclude any such justification by definition.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Aug 07, 2015 7:19 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:If nobody is permitted to disagree with your definitions, which you provided in the same post you asked the question in, what is left to discuss?

Which (if any) of the positions that I've defined is true.

Tyndmyr wrote:You just disagree with it is all. And that's fine. But it seems terribly hypocritical to complain in the OP about the lack of justification, and then attempt to exclude any such justification by definition.

Which thread are you reading, that you think I've attempted to exclude justification for objectivism by definition? I mean, what the actual fuck?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Fri Aug 07, 2015 9:19 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:If nobody is permitted to disagree with your definitions, which you provided in the same post you asked the question in...
In all fairness, if definitions are provided, then using those definitions makes sense in the discussion. It's quite fair to point out that the definitions don't match what is commonly meant by the words, and that therefore the conclusions may not mean what others would ordinarily take them to mean.

If I define "earth" to mean turtle, and "duck" to mean a battleship, then it is true that the earth weighs less than a duck. However, using this conclusion outside of this context is just a failure to communicate.

Maybe this is what is happening. "Objective" means several different things to several different people. They are similar in some ways, but the differences are crucial in understanding the idea behind the expression of the conclusion.

OTOH, it might be that people disagree on the implications of a definition. That's a duck of a different turtle.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Aug 09, 2015 4:42 am UTC

The debate between moral objectivists and moral subjectivists seems to often fall on the same axis as the debate between grammatical prescriptivists and grammatical descriptivists.

A descriptivist might insist that grammar isn't real; it's just an amorphous cultural blob that varies from culture to culture -- and claiming that one type is superior over another type is as silly as claiming vanilla is superior to chocolate. A prescriptivist might insist that of course grammar is real; just because something is an amorphous cultural blob doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- and if you can't make claims that one type of grammar is superior to another, then 70 $P34|< L1|<3 '/0D4 7|-|r0U9|-| 4 L337 7r4|\|$L470r \/\/3 /\/\19|-|7 4$ \/\/3LL 734(|-| 3\/3r'/0|\|3.

(On the other hand, there are grammatical prescriptivists who claim that the laws of grammar are "real", in the same sense that the laws of physics are "real" -- as if grammar is something we can empirically test for rather than something we've developed and refined. I try not to make eye contact with prescriptivists like that.)

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Aug 09, 2015 7:39 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:I've been reading this thread for a bit, and I'm not able to make heads or tails of it (probably because I'm woefully incompetent when it comes to philosophy). That being said, I wanted to mention: The debate between moral objectivists and moral subjectivists seems to often fall on the same axis as the debate between grammatical prescriptivists and grammatical descriptivists.

A descriptivist might insist that grammar isn't real; it's just an amorphous cultural blob that varies from culture to culture -- and claiming that one type is superior over another type is as silly as claiming vanilla is superior to chocolate. A prescriptivist might insist that of course grammar is real; just because something is an amorphous cultural blob doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- and if you can't make claims that one type of grammar is superior to another, then 70 $P34|< L1|<3 '/0D4 7|-|r0U9|-| 4 L337 7r4|\|$L470r \/\/3 /\/\19|-|7 4$ \/\/3LL 734(|-| 3\/3r'/0|\|3.

(On the other hand, there are grammatical prescriptivists who claim that the laws of grammar are "real", in the same sense that the laws of physics are "real" -- as if grammar is something we can empirically test for rather than something we've developed and refined. Those prescriptivists tend to be -- uh -- what's the word I'm looking for? Oh, right -- dumb)

Interesting comparison but I think you could say that speech has an inbuilt purpose - facilitating communication so you can argue that random words (or character strings) nobody else knows are quite bad at that. Of course maybe you don't use speech to communicate with others but just use it to remember it yourself so if only you understand it that is quite alright. Or maybe you just use it to make noises you find pleasing. Or you are making up a secret language for your secret organisation. Anyway every argument that one type of grammar is better than another is based on some underlying value/goal. Otherwise you would have trouble answering the question "why is it better". In regards to morals I think that there is no default underlying value that morals can be measured against. Individual people have values and could maybe measure their morals or those of others against them. But the values themselves aren't objective and there is nothing objective to measure their values against. Edit: And yeah if you don't want loops or endless chains at some point (to make it objective) there needs to be a value that doesn't need to be measured against anything else. So it's a bit like whether you consider axioms in math to be self-evident, you would need a self-evident value.

And yeah I would say language and morals have many similarities. But the descriptivist/prescriptivist comparison only partly fits. Yes without some extra goal to compare it against you can't objectively call one set of morals better than another. But while descriptivist don't try to force language use on others, a subjectivist might. That you are aware that your morals are subjective doesn't mean they don't matter to you quite a bit.
Last edited by PeteP on Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:49 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby elasto » Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:02 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:But yes, a model's usefulness depends on how much it corresponds with reality. If your mental model of how things works does not correspond to reality well...at an extreme, that makes you a crazy person in need of help

I disagree: Take free will for example. Believing in free will is (almost certainly) wrong. But it's still a very useful model both subjectively and as a basis to manage society - and you'd probably go crazier and end up more in need of help if you tried to live your life believing in the opposite.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:48 am UTC

PeteP wrote:Interesting comparison but I think you could say that speech has an inbuilt purpose - facilitating communication so you can argue that random words (or character strings) nobody else knows are quite bad at that.
Morality has an inbuilt purpose too, doesn't it? We use it to express our values; we use it to navigate decisions in such a way that promotes our own welfare and the welfare of those around us. I'm sure there are some people who think of morality as just an excuse to spin Aunty Entity's wheel, but those people are analogous to the example you gave -- people who see grammar as a method to produce funny, amusing sounds.

Morality is fuzzier than language, but I don't think that fuzziness means we can't talk about it in absolute terms -- anymore than we can talk about anything in absolute terms. The Star Wars prequels are terrible movies. Sure, they made a lot of money; sure, some people enjoyed them. But the cinematography is crap. The pacing is crap. The characters are two-dimensional and wholly forgettable. The writing is barely above middle-school levels of proficiency. People who know a little something about how movies are made -- people who have been formally trained in the craft of making movies -- will tell you this.

Now, you might argue that movies shouldn't be rated purely by the aesthetics of the people who are trained to produce them -- and I'd agree with you! But I do think the people trained to produce them are capable of making objective statements about the quality of a movie -- despite the fact that we accept that our enjoyment of movies is often wholly subjective.

Similarly, I think we can make objective statements about the 'quality' of one's morality -- especially when we're talking about people who have put a great deal of effort into refining, developing, and improving their morality. It brings to mind efforts like effective altruism, which -- whether or not you agree with it in practice -- is, at least, as a premise, about refining and improving our morality into something that is objectively better than what it was before.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:04 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Spoiler:
PeteP wrote:Interesting comparison but I think you could say that speech has an inbuilt purpose - facilitating communication so you can argue that random words (or character strings) nobody else knows are quite bad at that.
Morality has an inbuilt purpose too, doesn't it? We use it to express our values; we use it to navigate decisions in such a way that promotes our own welfare and the welfare of those around us. I'm sure there are some people who think of morality as just an excuse to spin Aunty Entity's wheel, but those people are analogous to the example you gave -- people who see grammar as a method to produce funny, amusing sounds.

Morality is fuzzier than language, but I don't think that fuzziness means we can't talk about it in absolute terms -- anymore than we can talk about anything in absolute terms. The Star Wars prequels are terrible movies. Sure, they made a lot of money; sure, some people enjoyed them. But the cinematography is crap. The pacing is crap. The characters are two-dimensional and wholly forgettable. The writing is barely above middle-school levels of proficiency. People who know a little something about how movies are made -- people who have been formally trained in the craft of making movies -- will tell you this.

Now, you might argue that movies shouldn't be rated purely by the aesthetics of the people who are trained to produce them -- and I'd agree with you! But I do think the people trained to produce them are capable of making objective statements about the quality of a movie -- despite the fact that we accept that our enjoyment of movies is often wholly subjective.

Similarly, I think we can make objective statements about the 'quality' of one's morality -- especially when we're talking about people who have put a great deal of effort into refining, developing, and improving their morality. It brings to mind efforts like effective altruism, which -- whether or not you agree with it in practice -- is, at least, as a premise, about refining and improving our morality into something that is objectively better than what it was before.

(Spoilered for him being directly above me, I just like to have a quote to make it clear what post I'm answering)

Movie reviews are about assumed shared value and proxies for shared values, when you say "The characters are two-dimensional and wholly forgettable." that is relevant because you assume that others care about interesting characters (and judge two dimensional in a similiar way), that it's something that influences their judgement of a movie. And many people care about similar things in movies so talking about it works. Similarily many people share moral values so they can talk about the consequences of their shared values and the dialog works.

However when someone doesn't care about the same things you do and says "true but I don't care about that when judging a movie" in answer to a point there is little you can do (except appealing to other shared values). And when you go "that promotes our own welfare and the welfare of those around us" many people would agree that their morals are in a way about welfare. But even there the definition of "those around us" differ. Some also care about the welfare of animals others only if it has some effect on humans. Some consider the welfare of their own groups much more important than that of others be it on the level of countries, of cultural groups or even just friends and family. (Or nobles vs non-nobles, believers vs unbelievers etc.) Some think they should value the welfare of others above their own, some don't. And others have values that don't just stem from welfare and consider some rules absolute even when you can make welfare arguments against them in some instances.

So no I disagree, morals don't have an inbuilt purpose. "Welfare of you and others" is a widespread value but I wouldn't consider it one that is objectively privileged above others. (Though to make it clear if you have a clear set of values you can make objectively talk about why something better fits these values. I don't think anyone in this thread has argued against that, which makes it weird that Tyndmyr repeatedly brings it up as argument. So if you define morals as "rules that support welfare for every human" sure with that definition you can make objective arguments about some morals.)

------------------------------------------
Btw how I personally loosely define moral values: Those values you consider as always overriding other preferences, where you think trade-offs should at most be made against other moral values. And you probably also think others should follow them too. By which I mean: You might make a trade off like "the food at that location is bad but the music is good so I will go there" but probably not "Stealing that guys Jacket is bad, but I like the Jacket so I would feel good about wearing it so I will steal it.". However you might make a tradeoff like "this will do some harm to person X but prevents significantly more harm to Person Y"

Though of course people do constantly make tradeoffs like "this is just a little morally bad but would make me very happy" but they often feel a bit bad about it while most people don't feel bad about making tradeoffs like that. Maybe defining it over "should" would be clearer. *shrugs* I'm sure there are some good stringent definitions out there that I would agree with.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Aug 09, 2015 12:39 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:The debate between moral objectivists and moral subjectivists seems to often fall on the same axis as the debate between grammatical prescriptivists and grammatical descriptivists.

A descriptivist might insist that grammar isn't real; it's just an amorphous cultural blob that varies from culture to culture -- and claiming that one type is superior over another type is as silly as claiming vanilla is superior to chocolate. A prescriptivist might insist that of course grammar is real; just because something is an amorphous cultural blob doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- and if you can't make claims that one type of grammar is superior to another, then 70 $P34|< L1|<3 '/0D4 7|-|r0U9|-| 4 L337 7r4|\|$L470r \/\/3 /\/\19|-|7 4$ \/\/3LL 734(|-| 3\/3r'/0|\|3.

(On the other hand, there are grammatical prescriptivists who claim that the laws of grammar are "real", in the same sense that the laws of physics are "real" -- as if grammar is something we can empirically test for rather than something we've developed and refined. I try not to make eye contact with prescriptivists like that.)
No descriptivist would say grammar isn't real.
No descriptivist would deny that some ways of communicating are more effective at acheiving the communicator's goals than others.
It's descriptivists who believe grammatical rules are something to be discovered empirically and analyzed scientifically, while prescriptivists believe rules exist outside of the way language is actually used.
No linguists believe grammatical laws are as constant as the laws of physics.

Maybe there's an interesting point buried somewhere in this post (I'm pretty sure there is and even that I agree with what you're *trying* to get at), but your complete mischaracterization of linguists and linguistics makes it fairly difficult to discern.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Aug 09, 2015 12:54 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Morality is fuzzier than language, but I don't think that fuzziness means we can't talk about it in absolute terms -- anymore than we can talk about anything in absolute terms. The Star Wars prequels are terrible movies. Sure, they made a lot of money; sure, some people enjoyed them. But the cinematography is crap. The pacing is crap. The characters are two-dimensional and wholly forgettable. The writing is barely above middle-school levels of proficiency. People who know a little something about how movies are made -- people who have been formally trained in the craft of making movies -- will tell you this.
People who know how movies are made, make those crappy movies. How good they are isn't known until after the fact. Sometimes much later. Much like morals when you think about it.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Aug 09, 2015 5:40 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:So no I disagree, morals don't have an inbuilt purpose. "Welfare of you and others" is a widespread value but I wouldn't consider it one that is objectively privileged above others. (Though to make it clear if you have a clear set of values you can make objectively talk about why something better fits these values. I don't think anyone in this thread has argued against that, which makes it weird that Tyndmyr repeatedly brings it up as argument. So if you define morals as "rules that support welfare for every human" sure with that definition you can make objective arguments about some morals.)
There was a point in our history as a species when we spoke -- we had some primitive rules of grammar -- but we didn't really 'understand' language. We didn't understand why it exists, or why we did it (in the broader sense), or how it works. We just did it, because we enjoyed it -- and it made things much easier. Over time, we analyzed our own language, and enriched our comprehension. What initially existed to fulfill simple function ("I want Grok to bring me food. Therefore, I will use this sound to MAKE Grok bring me food") was revealed to have a much deeper function.

Why isn't morality the same? Just because we don't know the purpose now doesn't mean it doesn't have a purpose, and that we won't know this purpose a century from now. Maybe we're to morality as primitive humans were to language.

(I know that language is deeply linked to biology and neurology, and didn't develop separate from our brains; but neither did morality. I'd also argue that morality has a deep in-built biological purpose: To encourage altruism for the sake of fostering communities, which is a way more effective survival strategy than just trying to go at it alone)
gmalivuk wrote:No descriptivist would say grammar isn't real.
No descriptivist would deny that some ways of communicating are more effective at acheiving the communicator's goals than others.
It's descriptivists who believe grammatical rules are something to be discovered empirically and analyzed scientifically, while prescriptivists believe rules exist outside of the way language is actually used.
No linguists believe grammatical laws are as constant as the laws of physics.

Maybe there's an interesting point buried somewhere in this post (I'm pretty sure there is and even that I agree with what you're *trying* to get at), but your complete mischaracterization of linguists and linguistics makes it fairly difficult to discern.
In that case, my apologies; I have definitely spoken with people who have made the claim that the rules of grammar aren't 'real', and I've spoken with at least one person who thought that the laws of grammar should be treated like the laws of physics -- but none of them were trained linguists. I was under the (mistaken?) presumption that you didn't have to be a linguist to be a descriptivist or a prescriptivist. Maybe it'd be better for me to characterize them as 'anti-prescriptivists' and 'anti-descriptivists'?

My only point was to use a 'bad descriptivist' / anti-prescriptivist argument to demonstrate a parallel to what I see as a 'bad' moral subjectivism / anti-objectivism argument; the mistake strikes me as very similar. 'Morality isn't real' is along the same class of error as 'Grammar isn't real'; more relevantly, claiming one system of morality can't be 'superior' to another strikes me as very similar to claiming grammar can't be superior. Obviously, we all want to live in a society where we can understand one another and where we're not raised to stab each other in the face. A grammatical system that prevents us from understanding one another -- and a moral system that encourages us to face-stab each other -- are both clearly 'doing it wrong'.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Aug 09, 2015 6:39 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
(I know that language is deeply linked to biology and neurology, and didn't develop separate from our brains; but neither did morality. I'd also argue that morality has a deep in-built biological purpose: To encourage altruism for the sake of fostering communities, which is a way more effective survival strategy than just trying to go at it alone)

Oh I agree that it probably developed because it brought survival advantages. That just doesn't particularly matter imo. We have many traits for evolutionary reasons but what matters to us are the traits we have not the reason they brought an advantage. For the obvious one: sex feeling good is connected to procreation but that obviously doesn't mean we can't have sex solely to feel good and avoid procreation entirely. I see no reason to treat evolutionary reasons for morals any differently, if you don't have one?

As for the part before: Where do you suggest a purpose could come from that doesn't have the same problem as evolutionary reasons for it?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Sun Aug 09, 2015 7:09 pm UTC

The grammar equivalent would be the idea that there is a One True Language, which exists in an abstract sense, and that we should be striving to work towards that OTL.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Sun Aug 09, 2015 9:11 pm UTC

A universal grammar, if you will.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Sun Aug 09, 2015 9:37 pm UTC

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:A universal grammar, if you will.
Yes, exactly. I think that's rubbish too.
Spoiler:
It's an interesting idea whether or not our common "noun-verb-object" construction is especially suited to communicating, or to communicating things that happen in this world. It seems well suited in any case, but perhaps I'm just not imaginative enough to push the envelope more.

I suppose that's what the arts are. But literature is an art, so it's recursion heaven.
It would presumably come with a One True Dictionary too, wouldn't it?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby moiraemachy » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:10 pm UTC

elasto wrote:Believing in free will is (almost certainly) wrong. But it's still a very useful model both subjectively and as a basis to manage society - and you'd probably go crazier and end up more in need of help if you tried to live your life believing in the opposite.
I really don't see any practical difference between "X has free will" and "we are uncertain about the future actions of X", except that the second one is a more honest description of what people doing stuff looks like: we have first hand experience with things (and people) not going as expected, but no first hand experience with this metaphysical free will thing.

Same with grammar/math/physics in the platonist sense. We only have first hand experience with people agreeing with us about our ideas of math/grammar/physics when we try to express them, or feeling good when stuff happens and we feel it went accordingly to our models of math/grammar/physics. Describing "feels good" as "taking a glance into the world of forms" is just mystification.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:10 pm UTC

MIT claims to have found a “language universal” that ties all languages together
The Great Hippo wrote:Why isn't morality the same? Just because we don't know the purpose now doesn't mean it doesn't have a purpose, and that we won't know this purpose a century from now. Maybe we're to morality as primitive humans were to language.
Tried something very similar. It didn't end well. And of course morals have a function, otherwise we wouldn't have them.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:31 pm UTC

Just for clarification, "language" is the adjective, and "universal" is the noun. Although the words evoke "universal language" (which works as clickbait), the actual thing being discussed is rather, well, trivial IMHO. "Words related to each other in a sentence tend to be near each other." Hardly a deep thought. Had they found the opposite, it would be worthy of note.
Spoiler:
They use an example, “John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen,” or “John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out.”, to illustrate the point, and the first thing I though of was German, for which the latter is perfectly natural. (They are also well known for piling on clauses, and finishing with the verb at the end. Germans must have a tall stack.)
moiraemachy wrote:I really don't see any practical difference between "X has free will" and "we are uncertain about the future actions of X", except that the second one is a more honest description of what people doing stuff looks like...
The difference is in the assignment of responsibility, and in the idea that there is an "X" to have this free will in the first place. As we learn more about how the brain operates and how susceptible it is to hormones, drugs, and trauma, some things are being externalized (newly thought of as "being outside of X"). This is why we don't consider the victim of a date rape drug to be "asking for it", even if literally they might have been, while still preserving the fiction of free will.
Spoiler:
A similar discussion occurs in politics regarding the poor and underprivileged.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby moiraemachy » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:51 pm UTC

Practical difference. I don't need free will in my model to make sense of the practical aspects of assigning responsibility. You seem to be implying that without free will, one has no reason to, say, punish criminals. I disagree strongly with this.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:09 pm UTC

ucim wrote:Just for clarification, "language" is the adjective, and "universal" is the noun.
I can read. And I took it as what it says it is. It indicates unsettled science. One more piece in a blank jigsaw. I just saw it as amusing in this particular turn of the conversation.
ucim wrote: "Words related to each other in a sentence tend to be near each other." Hardly a deep thought.
Like most science, it's one thing to think you know, and another to be able to show it.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:26 am UTC

moiraemachy wrote:You seem to be implying that without free will, one has no reason to, say, punish criminals. I disagree strongly with this.
Oh, there are reasons, but without free will, you don't (fairly) have the reason "he deserves it". And if you punish somebody who doesn't deserve it, it's (at least!) the first step towards monstrousness.

morriswalters wrote:Like most science, it's one thing to think you know, and another to be able to show it.
That is certainly true. But it's not usually groundbreaking to show something you already know.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:42 am UTC

If you don't have free will and you punish someone, doesn't that mean that you do it because you have no free will either. You are forced to do it, much as the person you punished was forced to commit a crime. Language can twist you in knots.
ucim wrote:But it's not usually groundbreaking to show something you already know.
I was aware that someone had proven it. I'm not sure they have.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:51 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:If you don't have free will and you punish someone, doesn't that mean that you do it because you have no free will either.
Yes. But not having free will is not the same as believing (or acting as if) you don't have free will.

But more to the point, we are finding that the "freeness" of free will is variable (depending on how one wants to define it). By this I mean that somebody who is drugged is rightly regarded as having less free will than the same person, not drugged. The one doing the judging may have more free will than the person being judged. When that is the case, my example holds up. That is the purpose of that example. We are learning some clear (and some not-so-clear) cases where the "free will" of a person is not so free. It comes down to defining what is meant by "X" (the "person" doing the "willing") under various circumstances.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 10, 2015 12:58 pm UTC

Free will exists or it doesn't, IMO it doesn't. In any sense that matters though, the difference is moot. The number of factors controlling it is large, perhaps in the millions, given that you are programmed by experience. Best to play it as if it exists, while recognizing that in a lot of obvious ways that it doesn't. It just doesn't seem to be predictable. You could make the same argument for morality in the sense, that even if there is no objective meaning, it might be best to treat it that way. So the statement murder is wrong, would become an objective moral statement. You can quibble about what that means, in terms of the definition of murder. But the meaning is close enough to something everyone can agree on. And IMO there are any number of statements about basic actions, that fit that bill.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:16 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote: So the statement murder is wrong, would become an objective moral statement.
Being objectively wrong and pretending it's objectively wrong are two very different things. It's important to know which one you're doing (both for morality and for free will). And once you know that, call it that.

Sitting in a boat, you get up from the stern and walk to the bow. Where does the boat end up?
Spoiler:
You push against the boat as you start off, and you push against the boat when you stop. But the boat pushes against the earth (friction with the water), so when you reach the bow and sit down, you will be transferring your momentum to a boat that's going slower. The extra will cause the boat to (slowly) return to its original position (WRT earth), carrying the center of mass with it.

But in the absence of friction, this does not happen. The center of mass does not move.

The difference between zero and "almost zero" is much greater than the difference between "almost zero" and anything else.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 10, 2015 2:48 pm UTC

ucim wrote:Being objectively wrong and pretending it's objectively wrong are two very different things. It's important to know which one you're doing (both for morality and for free will). And once you know that, call it that.
You can't possibly know if you have free will and when you are exercising it. Tell me how.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 10, 2015 2:55 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:You can't possibly know if you have free will and when you are exercising it.
Correct. And you can't possibly know if rocks and electrons are "objectively real" either. I'm not sure what your point is.

The flaw in the free will argument is not in the "free" or the "will", it's in the "I" - the idea that there is an fundamental entity (to wit: a person) that is making the decisions in the first place.
Spoiler:
I'm not arguing that people don't exist, I'm arguing that they're not fundamental.
Simple illustration: If somebody is drugged and then does things that they wouldn't ordinarily do, do you blame the person or the drug?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Aug 10, 2015 4:47 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
ucim wrote:Being objectively wrong and pretending it's objectively wrong are two very different things. It's important to know which one you're doing (both for morality and for free will). And once you know that, call it that.
You can't possibly know if you have free will and when you are exercising it. Tell me how.
Who cares? Why are you trying to make this a discussion about epistemology suddenly?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 10, 2015 4:59 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Who cares? Why are you trying to make this a discussion about epistemology suddenly?
Why not?

@ucim

What this seems to come down too, is that it is either an intellectual argument, where we construct marvelous syllogisms in which case, pooh. Or it's about how you know what you know, either about free will or morality. In either case I find that I know nothing that I didn't know from the start. And since TGB says we are doing it wrong, I think I will leave it here.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby moiraemachy » Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:04 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
moiraemachy wrote:You seem to be implying that without free will, one has no reason to, say, punish criminals. I disagree strongly with this.
Oh, there are reasons, but without free will, you don't (fairly) have the reason "he deserves it". And if you punish somebody who doesn't deserve it, it's (at least!) the first step towards monstrousness.
The way you use the word "deserves" then differs from mine, and relies on some metaphysical stuff. To me, "X deserves punishment" simply means "my ethical framework prescribes that it would be good if X were punished", and absolutely nothing else. And to me, my way of using this word is superior since I lose no expressiveness (I can work from any ethical framework, including one that depends on free will) but I avoid a lot of misunderstanding since people now need to lay out their ethical frameworks for comparison before meaningfully disagreeing on whether X deserves something or not.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Whizbang » Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:18 pm UTC

Re: Criminals, Free-will, and punishment.

Say I hold someone at gunpoint and force them to commit a crime. Are they then deserving of punishment (under whatever ethical framework you fancy)? Now pretend there is no free will for anyone (either because of an Omni-God or because we are all slaves to cause and effect and will do what we do because of that nature, and free-will is just an illusion) can you define an ethical framework in which these words ("Crime" and "Deserve") even make any sense?

That doesn't even touch on whether or not criminals (of any sort, free-will or no) should be punished at all. But that's a conversation for another thread.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:51 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:The debate between moral objectivists and moral subjectivists seems to often fall on the same axis as the debate between grammatical prescriptivists and grammatical descriptivists.

A descriptivist might insist that grammar isn't real; it's just an amorphous cultural blob that varies from culture to culture -- and claiming that one type is superior over another type is as silly as claiming vanilla is superior to chocolate. A prescriptivist might insist that of course grammar is real; just because something is an amorphous cultural blob doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- and if you can't make claims that one type of grammar is superior to another, then 70 $P34|< L1|<3 '/0D4 7|-|r0U9|-| 4 L337 7r4|\|$L470r \/\/3 /\/\19|-|7 4$ \/\/3LL 734(|-| 3\/3r'/0|\|3.

(On the other hand, there are grammatical prescriptivists who claim that the laws of grammar are "real", in the same sense that the laws of physics are "real" -- as if grammar is something we can empirically test for rather than something we've developed and refined. I try not to make eye contact with prescriptivists like that.)


Potentially. This is complicated by the fact that even subjectivists appear to accept some superiority for systems. They may not accept a singular best system, but have little difficulty declaring one system superior to another.

If we relate this over to grammar, I can certainly see similarities, though. Perhaps there is an ideally efficient syntax for communication. If so, it's almost certainly not anything we use, and of course, it'd be useless to speak a language nobody else uses. However, one definitely can improve the grammar one uses so that you're more frequently and accurately understood. It's possible that a theoretical optimimum exists even using modern language. This, of course, is mostly only an abstract point, as the quantity of languages makes it unlikely that anyone could even converse in all of them, let along master grammar perfectly for each.

I see morality as having a function in decision making. Again, this gets back into the mapping back into the real world. If your morality does not contribute to your decisions as to how to act, it would seem to be poor at fulfilling it's function. Or at least, the morality you express verbally is. I'd contend you have an *actual* morality you're using regardless of your verbally expressed choice. The guy who is all about soliphism still goes and eats a sammich afterwards. He still *acts* as though the world is real. So, you have a discrepancy between words and actions.

elasto wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:But yes, a model's usefulness depends on how much it corresponds with reality. If your mental model of how things works does not correspond to reality well...at an extreme, that makes you a crazy person in need of help

I disagree: Take free will for example. Believing in free will is (almost certainly) wrong. But it's still a very useful model both subjectively and as a basis to manage society - and you'd probably go crazier and end up more in need of help if you tried to live your life believing in the opposite.


Why must we believe in free will?

World seems pretty deterministic regardless, what's the big problem with accepting that those rules also apply to us?

PeteP wrote:Though to make it clear if you have a clear set of values you can make objectively talk about why something better fits these values. I don't think anyone in this thread has argued against that, which makes it weird that Tyndmyr repeatedly brings it up as argument.


It's come up a whole bunch. It's basically been an end back and forth between the following objections to objective morality.

1. You can't objectively set any values. (my counter is that if reality is objective, you have objective values to work with)
2. You can't measure somehow because reasons. (Even if it's not measurable with current tech, that doesn't mean it's unmeasurable in principle)

When I address one, we circle back around to the other.

ucim wrote:The grammar equivalent would be the idea that there is a One True Language, which exists in an abstract sense, and that we should be striving to work towards that OTL.

Jose


*shrug* People try to alter language all the time. Sometimes even with the intent of improving it. A one true language may well exist. In more technical fields, communication protocols can be fairly accurately compared against each other, can they not? No harm in working towards an ideal.

ucim wrote:
moiraemachy wrote:You seem to be implying that without free will, one has no reason to, say, punish criminals. I disagree strongly with this.
Oh, there are reasons, but without free will, you don't (fairly) have the reason "he deserves it". And if you punish somebody who doesn't deserve it, it's (at least!) the first step towards monstrousness.


Why do people deserve it? Why is this necessary?

If my front doorstep keeps causing me to slip because it's broken, I fix it. I don't care if it deserves it or not. It's merely the course of action that results in a superior outcome.

morriswalters wrote:If you don't have free will and you punish someone, doesn't that mean that you do it because you have no free will either. You are forced to do it, much as the person you punished was forced to commit a crime. Language can twist you in knots.


Ugh, I was trying to avoid the free will rabbit hole.

It doesn't mean that you can't *do* things. There are different ways of constraining someone, and the whole "do we have free will" argument revolves around different definitions of free will, mostly.

You can accept that you are now making a choice based on the information you currently know, and also accept that, if the information you knew was different, then your choice would also have been different. The "If I'd known x, then of COURSE I'd have done y" example. We work pretty deterministically, sure, but everything is(disregarding quantum crap for the moment). We're not specially constrained.

Now, if you lock someone in jail, you are externally constraining them, and that is wildly different than "you are a product of your past".

ucim wrote:
morriswalters wrote:You can't possibly know if you have free will and when you are exercising it.
Correct. And you can't possibly know if rocks and electrons are "objectively real" either. I'm not sure what your point is.

The flaw in the free will argument is not in the "free" or the "will", it's in the "I" - the idea that there is an fundamental entity (to wit: a person) that is making the decisions in the first place.
Spoiler:
I'm not arguing that people don't exist, I'm arguing that they're not fundamental.
Simple illustration: If somebody is drugged and then does things that they wouldn't ordinarily do, do you blame the person or the drug?

Jose


Human language refers to objects discretely all the time when they may not actually be singular. Referring to a human as an entity is convenient. Just like referring to a nation is. Like a nation, a person is made up of little bits that are not entirely consistent with respect to time. We all understand this, but it's handy to skim over that complexity to concisely discuss an unrelated idea.

The idea that we have to blame exclusively the person or the drug is simply imprecise. The effect of the combination is clear, and if you have a certain desired outcome in mind(ie, avoiding the drugged actions), then your course of actions is similarly clear. So, why the worry about blame*?

*This is similar to moir's objection. I don't mind using "blame" or "deserves" as shorthand for logical conclusions, but this seems to go beyond this somehow.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby moiraemachy » Mon Aug 10, 2015 6:00 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:Say I hold someone at gunpoint and force them to commit a crime. Are they then deserving of punishment (under whatever ethical framework you fancy)? Now pretend there is no free will for anyone (either because of an Omni-God or because we are all slaves to cause and effect and will do what we do because of that nature, and free-will is just an illusion) can you define an ethical framework in which these words ("Crime" and "Deserve") even make any sense?

Uh, I just did? I'm really just taking the metaphysics out and claiming it still makes sense.

Lets say my ethical framework prescribes that killing is bad, that people who kill should be imprisoned, and says nothing about chocolate. Then, killing is a crime. If X kills someone, X deserves to be imprisoned. Now, lets say X eats chocolate, and I decide to imprison X for that. In that case, I am not ethically justified (in that framework) to imprison X. However, I might have other reasons (I just dislike chocolate and people who like it). You might say this way of putting things is useless ("it's just people doing things for reasons"), but it is useful to distinguish if these reasons are moral or not, since most people only tolerate different ideas when these ideas are not ideas of the moral type.

The question of whether, say, being forced to commit murder is a crime depends entirely on your framework. Most people however have this notion that acts only become crimes if mens rea is present, but some may disagree. ("people born in February are evil and should be punished")

You may believe that frameworks that require mens rea are superior, but you can only possibly show that people are more receptive to them.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 10, 2015 7:14 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:...even subjectivists appear to accept some superiority for systems. They may not accept a singular best system, but have little difficulty declaring one system superior to another.
But that only works within a context where the two share a common attitude. Otherwise it degenerates into "IMEO this system is superior".

In grammar, communication is the purpose, but there are many tradeoffs. The thing being directly communicated is not always the important thing in an exchange, and ambiguity is itself useful information which can act as a social lubricant. And social interactions are the primary reason for communication.

Tyndmyr wrote:Why do people deserve it? Why is this necessary?

If my front doorstep keeps causing me to slip because it's broken, I fix it. I don't care if it deserves it or not. It's merely the course of action that results in a superior outcome.
There are (presumably) no moral implications in fixing your doorstep. But if the neighbor's dog is barking, shooting the dog also gives a "superior outcome". It is however morally repugnant (to me). Neither the dog nor the neighbor deserved it (and I'm not implying that "somebody deserved it" is sufficient justification for vigilantism).

Tyndmyr wrote:Referring to a human as an entity is convenient [...] it's handy to skim over that complexity to concisely discuss an unrelated idea.
But sometimes skimming over it leads to the wrong conclusion.

Tyndmyr wrote:The idea that we have to blame exclusively the person or the drug is simply imprecise. The effect of the combination is clear, and if you have a certain desired outcome in mind(ie, avoiding the drugged actions), then your course of actions is similarly clear. So, why the worry about blame*?
Because besides being a marker for ethics, blame is a shorthand for identifying the correct cause of the behavior.

moiraemachy wrote:...most people only tolerate different ideas when these ideas are not ideas of the moral type.
Trouble happens not when they are ideas of the moral type, but rather, when they are ideas that run counter to the listener's morality.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Aug 10, 2015 8:22 pm UTC

A descriptivist can objectively evaluate speech acts in terms of how effectively they achieve the speaker's objectives in making the speech act. They can thus say, objectively, that one utterance is superior or inferior to another based on those objectives.

Similarly, there is no disagreement that you can objectively evaluate how well an act leads to an actor's moral goals (including both how well a charity acheives its goals and how well a donation to that charity acheives the goals of the donor).

The objective/subjective disagreement is over the question of whether one set of (ultimate) goals can be said to be superior to another. Checking which goals "correspond to reality" more closely still hasn't been adequately defined (in the sense of saying what it means for a goal to correspond to reality), let alone well justified.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Azrael » Tue Aug 11, 2015 2:22 am UTC

Free will discussions are suuuuuuuuper boring.

Because they're all the same.

Don't do it again here (not that you have a choice).

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Aug 11, 2015 3:32 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:...even subjectivists appear to accept some superiority for systems. They may not accept a singular best system, but have little difficulty declaring one system superior to another.
But that only works within a context where the two share a common attitude. Otherwise it degenerates into "IMEO this system is superior".

In grammar, communication is the purpose, but there are many tradeoffs. The thing being directly communicated is not always the important thing in an exchange, and ambiguity is itself useful information which can act as a social lubricant. And social interactions are the primary reason for communication.


It's not a perfect analogy, sure. But I understand why it was used, and it's alright.

I dare say, however, that differing motives are also responsible for claimed moral codes. Maybe that dude doesn't *really* believe that, but just wants to fit into the social group or whatever. Same, same.

Tyndmyr wrote:Why do people deserve it? Why is this necessary?

If my front doorstep keeps causing me to slip because it's broken, I fix it. I don't care if it deserves it or not. It's merely the course of action that results in a superior outcome.
There are (presumably) no moral implications in fixing your doorstep. But if the neighbor's dog is barking, shooting the dog also gives a "superior outcome". It is however morally repugnant (to me). Neither the dog nor the neighbor deserved it (and I'm not implying that "somebody deserved it" is sufficient justification for vigilantism).


The boundaries of what situations are "moral" and which are not seems interesting. And also a little arbitrary. Who you sleep with might be highly a moral decision to one person, and not at all to another. There's significant overlap between different folks on what, exactly is a moral decision, but it's not universal agreement for sure.

Now, your SPECIFIC fix of simply shooting the dog may not be the most desirable way to fix the problem. It probably isn't, in fact. It'll cause further difficulties. But why should the process of considering how to fix this disturbance differ from the process of considering how to fix your doorstep?

Tyndmyr wrote:Referring to a human as an entity is convenient [...] it's handy to skim over that complexity to concisely discuss an unrelated idea.
But sometimes skimming over it leads to the wrong conclusion.


Right. And that's merely a communication issue. You've got to use the appropriate descriptions for the contexts. But handy abstractions are necessary for brevity. Language kind of needs them. However, we shouldn't confuse miscommunication for actual disagreement on underlying principles.


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