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Jan 11 2014

Dan Fincke Has Another Blog

Dan Fincke’s plan to take over the world now that he has left the stressful world of adjunct living is right on schedule. He’s now opened up a second blog called Empowerment Ethics, which will focus on the that subset of philosophy that has been his primary focus as a scholar. As someone who has, quite frankly, given very little thought to the question of secular ethics, I expect to learn a great deal from it. Here’s how he introduces one of the key axioms of his approach:

The gist of what I am dubbing “empowerment ethics” is simple.

I think I can argue in objectively factual terms that there is an overriding good that all humans should be concerned with. The good we should all strive for is to be as powerful according to our potential abilities as we can be. Every human being is made up of a set of powers. We do not just have our powers but we are our powers. We do not just have the powers of rationality, we exist through them. We do not just have abilities to feel things emotionally, we exist through them. And the same goes for our powers of sociability, our bodily powers, our sexual powers, our creative powers, our technological powers, our artistic powers, and any other distinct categories of powers you can identify within us. Each of our major categories of powers is comprised of component powers and each of our powers can combine into larger powers.

That’s the power part. The empowerment part specifically comes in when we realize that fulfilling our powers to their maximum means empowering others through the exercise of our abilities. The most marvelous thing about human powers is how much they can spread into other people and how much we need other people to use their powers to empower us. Every ability we have grows in its effectiveness the more that it increases the total net powerful effectiveness of the total number of people. When I am so powerful as to be able to empower you to be more powerful, then I am powerful not just in myself but also in you and in those you further empower, and so it goes, on and on.

I think this truth should guide all of us. What is best for each one of us is that we make ourselves as effective creators of power in the world as we can, in order that we may be more powerful through all of that power that we generate. And the way to create the most power in the world is to make our endeavors the kinds that empower others.

And the ethics part comes in here: Sometimes we get shortsighted, myopic, and selfish. Ethical emotions, rules, character traits, practices, habits, attitudes, dispositions, etc. are developed by our brains and our societies to help us do what is empowering for the most people in the long run even when we are tempted not to. This is ultimately in our own interests since we depend on other thriving humans and their contributions to live maximally well ourselves and since our fullest realizations of our powers involve empowering others. While the best ethics may objectively vary with changing life conditions, we can reason out our general ethical principles and particular moral judgments the best when we make maximum empowerment our highest ideal.

And, in a nutshell, that’s what “empowerment ethics” is about. A more thorough overview of the views can be found in my post My Systematic, Naturalistic Empowerment Ethics, With Applications To Tyrants, the Differently Abled, and LGBT People, among others.

I plan to bring Dan here to Michigan later this year to give a lecture on secular ethics to our CFI Michigan chapter and I’m really looking forward to hearing him flesh out this basic structure with specifics.

48 comments

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  1. 1
    had3

    “When I am so powerful as to be able to empower you to be more powerful, then I am powerful not just in myself but also in you and in those you further empower, and so it goes, on and on.” That sounds like a lot of woo.

  2. 2
    DaveL

    This sounds suspiciously like utilitarian ethics with the word “power” substituted for “good”.

  3. 3
    Daniel Fincke

    “When I am so powerful as to be able to empower you to be more powerful, then I am powerful not just in myself but also in you and in those you further empower, and so it goes, on and on.” That sounds like a lot of woo.

    It’s not woo anymore than the realization people have legacies is woo. It’s not a magic substance, it’s a empirically observable effectiveness relationship. Nothing paranormal at all.

    This sounds suspiciously like utilitarian ethics with the word “power” substituted for “good”.

    Primarily my view is classifiable as a perfectionism. It’s not utilitarian in a number of ways. Identifying power as the fundamental good is quite different than rooting everything in subjective mental states of pleasure. I also don’t think that every action should be taken in a crudely calculating sort of consequentialist way in terms of short term effects. I also think that in many places people may thrive despite (or even because of, for the time being) not having the right actual understanding of morality, etc. So, I am in these ways an indirect consequentialist who prioritizes maximum human perfection, rather than maximizing subjective pleasure states or desire satisfactions. There are a number of other divergences from utilitarianism in my system too. It’s much more Aristotelian and Nietzschean in its fundamental influences. And neo-Kantians like Christine Korsgaard and contemporary moral realists like Peter Railton are also decisive influences. It’s very complicated. I’m integrating a great deal of literature into my own original systematic structure.

    Here’s a post where I tried to situate my thinking related to other major categories:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2010/07/my-perfectionistic-egoistic-and-universalistic-indirect-consequentialism-and-contrasts-with-other-kinds/

  4. 4
    dingojack

    “…. the stressful world of adjunct living …”
    So Dan, when exactly did stop being a zombie?
    ;) Dingo

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    It’s very complicated.

    That’s not auspicious.

  6. 6
    raven

    It’s very complicated.

    That’s not auspicious.

    Correct.

    You should be able to explain anything in terms your old aunt could understand. A lot of people, scientists included, try to make things sound complicated in the belief that it makes them sound intelligent. Theologians are even worse, explaining simple things that are silly in ways that hopefully, no one can understand.

    They sound more intelligent when they can explain complicated things in terms that most people can understand. This is where Darwin, Sagan, and Feynman excelled.

  7. 7
    stuartsmith

    It’s very complicated.

    That’s not auspicious.

    I disagree. The world is complicated. If your models are simple, they are probably not accurate. If they are accurate, they are probably not simple. If morality were simple and easily grasped, the world would not be in the moderately abysmal state it is now in.

    Explaining complicated things in simple ways is ultimately a form of lying, albeit one with great utility. Often you have to start with a simple explanation and move to a more complicated one as you push deeper into the subject matter, but that doesn’t make the simple version anything more than a stepping stone. Heck, Darwin managed to explain evolution in simple terms, so that anyone could understand it, and as a result there are still millions of people who think that evolution means we came from monkeys, or that evolution is an inherently teleological process with humans standing at the apex. The truth is, evolution is far more complex than that.

    Expecting that an expert in a field should be able to adequately explain their theory to non-experts is frankly kind of insulting. If it was simple enough for non-experts to get it easily, why would people need to pour a decade of their life into getting an advanced degree in the first place? If ethics were simple, why would we STILL be trying to find a better answer after literally thousands of years?

  8. 8
    raven

    Expecting that an expert in a field should be able to adequately explain their theory to non-experts is frankly kind of insulting.

    Wrong.

    It’s harder to explain complicated things in ways that most people can understand. It takes intelligence for one thing.

    BTW, the guy who told me about the aunt criteria is a prominent scientist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an achievement based honor. He was complaining that while I obviously knew what I was talking about, I wasn’t explaining it clearly. He was right.

    Explaining complicated things in simple ways is ultimately a form of lying, albeit one with great utility

    Wrong again.

    Explaining simple things in complicated ways is lying. It’s the basis of theology and much of politics.

    It all depends on your goals.

    1. If you want to attempt to make people think you are smart, explain things so that they can’t understand it.

    2. IF you want to actually be smart, explain things so that people can easily grasp them. Ideas propagate and are accepted best when people understand them.

    Darwin, Sagan, and Feynman knew they were smart and didn’t have to impress people. They wanted their ideas understood and accepted.

  9. 9
    Nepenthe

    They wanted their ideas understood and accepted.

    Yes and no. They had ideas suited for popular consumption that they explained in easily graspable ways. They also had scientific work that the did not write for the educated layman. Feynman didn’t win his Nobel for “6 Easy Pieces”, he won it for his work on quantum electrodynamics, which is a bit more involved than pictures with squiggly lines.

  10. 10
    raven

    Feynman didn’t win his Nobel for “6 Easy Pieces”, he won it for his work on quantum electrodynamics, which is a bit more involved than pictures with squiggly lines.

    If no one understood it, he wouldn’t have won the Nobel prize. If he couldn’t explain it, he wouldn’t be Feynman, the guy everyone has heard of. There are plenty of cutting edge physicists that no one outside their field has heard of.

  11. 11
    raven

    As I found out a few decades ago, no matter how simple you make something, there are always people who can’t understand it. I’ll make one more attempt and then forget it.

    1. As a scientist, my job is to come up with complicated ideas, get them to work, publish them, and then explain them. If I couldn’t explain them to a lot of different audiences, I would have had to do something else. It’s not easy to persuade someone to fund you up to $300 million.

    2. I was also involved in an intellectual property court case as an expert witness. The law firm was one of the best. They were known for being able to explain complicated law and science to juries of lay people.

    They got paid a lot for this, ca. $25 million. We won after 3 years of trials and appeals. It wasn’t just communication abilities because we had the law and facts on our side. But without being able to explain it in a court room to a judge and jury, we would have lost.

    3. It’s really simple. If you can’t explain yourself, you will fail and be irrelevant.

    This is in fact, the problem with philosophy. A lot of people think it is all bullcrap. It’s not, but most of it is. And a big part is that it isn’t accessible to most people. Whole books and papers of what look like gibberish and when you decipher it, is actually…gibberish.

    If their goal is to impress a few other philosophers, they can succeed this way.

    If their goal is to be relevant and worthwhile in the real world and have some impact and influence, then they fail.

  12. 12
    raven

    One more for the road.

    1. Anyone can write incomprehensible gibberish that may mean something and frequently doesn’t.

    2. It takes a lot more intellectual ability to write clearly so that people understand what you are trying to say. Which is why it is uncommon and those who can, are those who have influence and relevance.

  13. 13
    Nihilismus

    @ Dan Finke in OP and #3

    Ethical emotions, rules, character traits, practices, habits, attitudes, dispositions, etc. are developed by our brains and our societies to help us do what is empowering for the most people in the long run even when we are tempted not to. . . . While the best ethics may objectively vary with changing life conditions, we can reason out our general ethical principles and particular moral judgments the best when we make maximum empowerment our highest ideal.
    . . .
    I also think that in many places people may thrive despite (or even because of, for the time being) not having the right actual understanding of morality, etc. So, I am in these ways an indirect consequentialist who prioritizes maximum human perfection, rather than maximizing subjective pleasure states or desire satisfactions.

    Italics added for emphasis.

    So if I am understanding this correctly, the “right actual understanding of morality” is one that prioritizes maximum human perfection (empowering for the most people in the long run) — that we should all be striving for a “general” ethics that can be applied to most people, even when, in an individual case, a particular person might benefit more during their entire life from focusing on their own subjective happiness? What makes this the “right” understanding of morality?

  14. 14
    Nick Gotts

    The naivete of thinking there is one overriding good is risible.

  15. 15
    had3

    I guess when I said that it sounded like woo, I meant “woo” as in questionable use of language to mean something other than the usual meaning of the word; and may have then been guilty of it myself. For instance “Every human being is made up of a set of powers. We do not just have our powers but we are our powers. We do not just have the powers of rationality, we exist through them. We do not just have abilities to feel things emotionally, we exist through them,” sounds like it’s supposed to mean something different than what the words usually mean. We are not made of powers any more than we’re made of vapors (assuming the normal meaning of those words). For that matter, this sentence makes just as much sense if you substitute the word “vapors” for “powers.” If one says it doesn’t, but powers doesn’t mean what we usually mean when we say we exist through that power (strength, ability to influence, etc), then why use the word? Alas, I’m not terribly vested in this and a closer reading may shed more light in terms of what the author means, but my first glance at it struck me as more word salad/woo than I was wiling to commit effort to understand.

  16. 16
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    I’d take Sam Harris’s “The Moral Landscape” over this “empowerment ethics” any day.

  17. 17
    spacejunkie

    Dan, have you read any of Roberto Unger’s work? A comparison between his “pragmatism” and your “empowerment” approaches would be interesting.

  18. 18
    Nick Gotts

    I’d take Sam Harris’s “The Moral Landscape” over this “empowerment ethics” any day.

    They are basically the same sort of drivel: both Harris and Fincke are pretending (to themselves) that there is an objective morality, because they want there to be one.

  19. 19
    Nick Gotts

    my first glance at it struck me as more word salad/woo than I was wiling to commit effort to understand.

    Your first glance gave you the correct impression: we are not “made up of a set of powers”, and Fincke provides no grounds for his assertion that we are.

  20. 20
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    They are basically the same sort of drivel: both Harris and Fincke are pretending (to themselves) that there is an objective morality, because they want there to be one.

    When we say something is true, we are demarking it from things which are false. To say something is true requires that we employ a method which identifies true things and which identifies false things.

    When we say that something is objectively true, we are saying that it is true, and the method used to determine that it is true is objective. An objective method is one which comes to the same conclusions for any rational person. We say that the rules for judging soccer are objective, and the rules for judging figure skating are less so. Obviously, objectiveness is not absolute black-and-white, but a matter of degree.

    So, in order to call something true, we need to have a method which allows us to identify what is true and what is false. For questions of material fact, this method is evidence based reasoning. Otherwise known as scientific method, both formal and informal. Furthermore, any reasonable person looking at the evidence will come to the same conclusion, at least a great majority of the time, and thus science is an objective system.

    However, if I ask you why should you use evidence and science to inform your beliefs, you have no possible good answer. You cannot say “it works”, because “works” is defined in terms of science, and thus you’re using the scientific method to justify the scientific method, which is a nakedly circular argument.

    I’m asking you for a justification. I’m asking a “why” question. Why does science work? As the great Feynman said: This kind of question is asking me to explain the fact in terms of other facts which you’re more familiar with. To answer a why question, you must be in a framework where you allow something to be true. Otherwise you’re perpetually asking “why” questions. So, why does science work? I cannot explain to you why science works in terms of something which you’re more familiar with, because I do not understand why science works in terms of something you’re more familiar with. Why should you use science? I cannot argue that you should value using science in terms of other values which you’re more familiar with, because I do not hold the value that we should use science as a consequence of other values.

    To avoid factual-knowledge nihilism, you must accept some axiom. You must accept without justification that science works. You must also accept the value that you should use science to inform your beliefs.

    Similarly, if you ask me “Why should I value the well-being of myself and other conscious creatures?”, I cannot argue from other values that you should hold that value, because I do not hold that value as a consequence of other values. If you want to avoid moral nihilism, you must accept some moral axiom. You must accept the values of humanism. E.G.: you must accept that you should choose your behavior according to the values of humanism, informed by your knowledge of material facts by science.

    tl;dr You say that there is no objective morality. By your requirements for “an objective knowledge system”, there is no discoverable objective knowledge of our shared reality either. Science lacks an “objective basis” to the same extent that humanism does. You are mistaken when you think that science is somehow privileged or “more justified” than humanism. Both are axiomatic frameworks which require you to accept some values entirely without justification.

    Finally, if you do not accept the values of science, then I denote you as colloquially insane. If you do not accept the values of humanism, then I denote you as colloquially psychopathic. Either way, I need not waste my time further on the insane or psychopathic.

  21. 21
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Also, here’s the source for the Feynman “quotes”:

  22. 22
    Michael Heath

    Nick Gotts writes:

    . . . both Harris and Fincke are pretending (to themselves) that there is an objective morality, because they want there to be one.

    Neither are outliers:

    . . . more than half of philosophers at PhD-granting programs believe there are objective moral truths!
    Cite: http://goo.gl/ZfMqeT

    That same research suggests that well over half of philosophers are atheists. So perhaps you’re the one fooling himself.

    You also misrepresent what Sam Harris argues. He doesn’t argue that an objective morality exists separate from human constructs as religionists do, but instead asserts humans can (and do) create a moral construct that is effectively objective.

  23. 23
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Michael Heath

    You also misrepresent what Sam Harris argues. He doesn’t argue that an objective morality exists separate from human constructs as religionists do, but instead asserts humans can (and do) create a moral construct that is effectively objective.

    To be fair to the other poster, it’s very easy to misunderstand Sam on this point. It’s common for me to watch videos of his lectures, and have over half of the Q&A dedicated to this very topic. I’ve tried to talk with him over email to get him to fix how he addresses this, but he will not.

    Sam doesn’t like talking about it in terms of an axiomatic belief framework like I’ve done in the post above, but that’s exactly what Sam is doing, and I think it would avoid a great deal of confusion if you present it as such.

    What Sam does well is he identified that we all already hold the values of humanism, and it’s just a matter of persuasion to make others realize that they already are humanists. Sam is also very right when he identifies that science is founded on some unjustifiable values, and humanism is on just as sound footing as science, or depending on your perspective just as weak footing.

    I sound like a presuppositionalist now, don’t I? Lol.

  24. 24
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Hmmm… also, one other thing. Sorry for not realizing it earlier.

    The earlier poster probably is confused about the difference between “objective morality” and “moral realism”. Humanism is an objective moral system, but it is not a system of “moral realism”.

    “Moral”, “good”, “bad”, are not substances or properties of things in our shared material reality like weight, mass, length, color, are. By the value of science, we have discovered that weight, mass, length, color, etc., are substances and properties of things in our shared material reality. “Good” and “bad” are not. I can describe you to a coherent plausible alternative way the world could have been if there was no color. (Perhaps all electromagnetic radiation had the same wavelength. I understand that this has consequences on other laws, but all of them could be suitably modified, and there’s nothing incoherent about that possibility.) On the other hand, I can give you no coherent way to discriminate and distinguish between a world with “moral realism” and a world without “moral realism”. “Good” is not a property of material objects like “mass” is a property of material objects. There is no way to determine which one of the two possible worlds you live in because they are observationally identical.

    Sam’s position is not one of moral realism. It is one of objective morality, and if you disagree with the starting values (which you actually don’t – you’re just confused if you do), then we are free to disregard all of your input when the rest of us determine what kind of world we want to live in.

  25. 25
    Nick Gotts

    Michael Heath@22,
    Truth is not decided by majority opinion, even among “philosophers at degree-granting programmes”; although if all or most of these believers in objective moral truths agreed on what those truths are, and how they can be arrived at, then their opinion would be worth taking seriously. Do they?

    asserts humans can (and do) create a moral construct that is effectively objective.

    “Effectively objective” is drivel; either an assertion is objective, or it is not. If, as Enlightenment Liberal says, Harris is actually talking about what one can deduce from an axiomatic starting point, then what follows from that starting point is indeed an objective matter, if the starting point is well-defined; but the starting point itself is not objective, i.e. cannot even in principle be deduced from any set of logical or empirical facts. I suspect Harris is systematically unclear because he’s disguising this from himself. I do not accept his starting point, both because “human flourishing” is ill-defined, and because I consider an axiomatic approach to morality to be fundamentally misconceived. Ethics starts from concrete issues, not philosophers’ abstractions – and Harris’s own appalling ethical judgments don’t recommend his method. Ethical judgements are not objective, but they can be rationally criticised and defended. In this, they resemble esthetic judgements. If I say: “George Eliot wrote better novels than Geoffrey Archer”, I can give reasons for my claim (in terms of depth of characterisation, choice of adjectives and metaphors, avoidance of cliche, appreciation of the interplay between individuals and their social milieu…), but I can’t oblige someone who disagrees to agree with me by force of argument – for example, they may take total sales or their own personal preference as their sole criterion of “better” among novels. Similarly, ethical judgements can be rationally criticised, on the grounds of logical incoherence, dependence on factual errors, unconsidered consequences, etc., but their truth or falsity can’t be logically derived from facts about the world – which is what “objective” means.

  26. 26
    Nick Gotts

    Addendum to #25,

    Indeed, it’s more accurate to avoid characterising ethical judgments as “true” or “false”, but some of them, such as those which are self-contradictory (e.g. “taking human life is always wrong, and murderers should be executed”) are “indefensible”.

  27. 27
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    but the starting point itself is not objective, i.e. cannot even in principle be deduced from any set of logical or empirical facts

    Ethical judgements are not objective

    but their truth or falsity can’t be logically derived from facts about the world – which is what “objective” means.

    Taken together, this is a naked assertion that the values of science are better than the values of humanism. You have absolutely zero basis for that distinction. This is made clear when we start talking in terms of axiomatic frameworks, which Sam is unwilling to do. Because of arguments like yours, this is precisely why I adopt this particular phrasing.

    You’re right that I cannot deduce the values of humanism from other values. Protip: You cannot deduce the values of science from other values either. Go ahead. Think of a hypothetical person who does not value evidence-based reasoning. Instead, he has the value that he decides his life based on astrology, or what the contents of his holy book say. Go ahead and try to convince him that he’s wrong. What are you going to do? Use evidence? He doesn’t accept evidence-based reasoning.

    The problems you attribute to Sam is projection. You have the exact same problems yourself with regard to science.

    I really don’t like the way Sam talks about it, but I thank him for making me see this. He’s saying the same thing, but in a particularly obfuscated way.

    “human flourishing” is ill-defined

    It’s really not. I like Sam on this. It’s like saying “physical health” is not defined because I cannot give you right now a crisp clear definition, yet you’re not going to doubt that missing an arm is generally considered less healthy than having an arm, and that having a sickness, fever, or cold is generally considered less healthy than not. Etc.

    Harris’s own appalling ethical judgments don’t recommend his method

    I cannot think of one – minus the airport screening debacle.

    For example, if you actually read what he wrote on torture, it can be described as: I can contrive obscure scenarios where torture would be effective and moral. However, because those scenarios are so obscure, and because of the dangerous slippery slope, torture should always be illegal in every case, and we should always prosecute it.

    [moral and cultural relativism]

    If it is within my power, and there is no fear of blowback, then you damn well better expect me to use force to end slavery in a faraway country, and my own too. Of course, persuasion should be tried first, but failing that, force is called for. Not only is violence morally acceptable, it is morally obliged that you use violence to end slavery. Otherwise you are not a decent human being. Pacifism is unjustifiable. Moral and cultural relativism is one of the heinous evils of our time, and you are part of the problem.

  28. 28
    Nick Gotts

    Enlightenment Liberal@26,

    Taken together, this is a naked assertion that the values of science are better than the values of humanism.

    No, it isn’t. It’s simply a reassertion of the fact/value distinction.

    Think of a hypothetical person who does not value evidence-based reasoning. Instead, he has the value that he decides his life based on astrology, or what the contents of his holy book say. Go ahead and try to convince him that he’s wrong. What are you going to do? Use evidence? He doesn’t accept evidence-based reasoning.

    So. Fucking. What? You are clearly unable to distinguish between being right and being able to convince someone you are right. In the case of (say) mathematical assertions, or assertions about historical events or the physical properties of gold, there is an objective difference between truth and falsity, i.e. one that holds quite irrespective of whether anyone knows the facts in question, or has ever thought about them. There are facts about values – e.g., that adopting scientific values will improve an individual’s or society’s capacity to distinguish truth from error, but the values themselves are not assertions, and so are not true or false.

    “Human flourishing” is grossly ill-defined. We have objective measures of physical health, such as longevity, decline in physical and cognitive capacity, and individuals’ own assessment of what aspects of these matter most to them (where we don’t require inter-individual agreement). With regard to “human flourishing”, it is clear to causal observation that individuals and socities differ fundamentally on what they mean by this. Are we to prioritise achievement or happiness? The particularly talented few or the many? Liberty or security? Would “transhumanism” be the end of “human flourishing” or a new and glorious stage in it? How much weight should we give to the interests of non-human animals, to biodiversity, to cultural diversity? These are among the real issues we face, and waffling about “human flourishing” gets us precisely nowhere in relation to them.

    I have actually read what Harris wrote on torture, and it’s vile. Here he is, in an article specifically intended to clarify his position in response to “controversy”:

    we keep torture illegal and maintain a policy of not torturing anybody for any reason—but our interrogators should know that there are certain circumstances in which it would be ethical to break the law. Indeed, there are circumstances in which you would have to be a monster not to break the law. If an interrogator found himself in such a circumstance and broke the law, there would be little will to prosecute him (and interrogators would know this). If he broke the law Abu Ghraib-style, he will go to prison for a very long time (and interrogators would know this too). At the moment, this seems like the most reasonable policy to me.

    So, he doesn’t have the guts to say that torture should be legal, but we’re to give a nod and a wink to interrogators that they should go ahead and do it anyway. Yuck.
    There is also his espousal of pre-emptive genocide, and his justification for killing people for what they believe, to be found in the same article – and none of his mealy-mouthed “context” makes either of them any better.

    If it is within my power, and there is no fear of blowback, then you damn well better expect me to use force to end slavery in a faraway country, and my own too. Of course, persuasion should be tried first, but failing that, force is called for. Not only is violence morally acceptable, it is morally obliged that you use violence to end slavery. Otherwise you are not a decent human being. Pacifism is unjustifiable. Moral and cultural relativism is one of the heinous evils of our time, and you are part of the problem.

    Where the fuck does this come from? I would do exactly the same as you, and I’m neither a pacifist nor a “moral and cultural relatvist”. My recognition that my values are not objective has no relevance whatever to my commitment to them. That you think it does just indicates your own gormless lack of comprehension.

  29. 29
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts
    In order to say that “This is a chair”, you have to accept several things “on faith”.

    You have to take “on faith” that we live in a shared reality. You cannot avoid the problem of hard solipsism with mere evidence.

    If I ask you why do you do some thing, you’ll likely answer “because it works”. This is a value which you hold. There is no justification for that. It’s a value which you have to take “on faith”. Note that we define “works” in terms of evidence-based reasoning and the scientific method, so attempting to justify science with “it works”, or attempting to justify “works” with evidence or science, is a nakedly circular argument.

    These are completely arbitrary, subjective values which you hold, for which there no possible logical defense. Without those subjective values, you have absolutely zero “objective facts”.

    There is no such thing as an “objective fact” as you define it. It’s all the results of your subjective values.

    PS: As for your other complaints about Sam: You are just reading what you want to be there. For example, “he doesn’t have the guts to say that torture should be legal, but we’re to give a nod and a wink to interrogators that they should go ahead and do it anyway” is not in any way a reasonable reading of what he has written on the topic. You are not being a reasonable person in this discussion.

  30. 30
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Also: (emphasis added)

    Ethical judgements are not objective, but they can be rationally criticised and defended. In this, they resemble esthetic judgements. If I say: “George Eliot wrote better novels than Geoffrey Archer”, I can give reasons for my claim (in terms of depth of characterisation, choice of adjectives and metaphors, avoidance of cliche, appreciation of the interplay between individuals and their social milieu…), but I can’t oblige someone who disagrees to agree with me by force of argument – for example, they may take total sales or their own personal preference as their sole criterion of “better” among novels. Similarly, ethical judgements can be rationally criticised, on the grounds of logical incoherence, dependence on factual errors, unconsidered consequences, etc., but their truth or falsity can’t be logically derived from facts about the world – which is what “objective” means.

    My apologies, I think. I saw “force”, and didn’t notice “force of argument”. I thought you disavowed using violence in moral matters. AFAIK, you did not, and thus my accusation of pacifist or moral relativist was unfounded.

  31. 31
    Nick Gotts

    In order to say that “This is a chair”, you have to accept several things “on faith”. You have to take “on faith” that we live in a shared reality.

    No, you don’t. Realism is a high-level hypothesis, which could turn out to be false. Indeed, it sometimes does, when I realise I’m dreaming.

    If I ask you why do you do some thing, you’ll likely answer “because it works”.

    Well in general, I would try to give a more informative answer, if it was a genuine question, specifying the grounds I have for believing that it works.

    These are completely arbitrary, subjective values which you hold

    They are not values at all, but beliefs, and they are neither arbitrary, nor subjective. “Arbitrary” means that it makes no difference or doesn’t matter what beliefs (or values) you hold, which is obvious crap that even you clearly don’t believe. “Subjective” means it’s a matter I can and must decide, because I can’t check with external sources whether my beliefs are true, or whether my values have the consequences I think they do, which I can.

    There is no such thing as an “objective fact” as you define it.

    That appears to be a claim of objective fact. If it isn’t, what is it? Either realism is true, or it isn’t, and whichever is the case, this is an objective fact, even if no-one can ever know it. You appear to be confused about the distinction between what is true, and what we can know. Really, this is like arguing with a teenager who’s just discovered that solipsim is irrefutable. Of course it is, and so what?

    For example, “he doesn’t have the guts to say that torture should be legal, but we’re to give a nod and a wink to interrogators that they should go ahead and do it anyway” is not in any way a reasonable reading of what he has written on the topic.

    Yes, it is. It’s most certainly closer than your gross distortion@27, where you claim he can be paraphrased:

    torture should always be illegal in every case, and we should always prosecute it.

    Now if you look at the quote I gave, you will see that the second part of that is simply false, and if you are an honest person, you’ll admit that. As for the other matters I raised, am I to take it you agree with Harris on pre-emptive genocide and killing people for their beliefs?

    @30,
    Well although I’d find an avowal that Geoffrey Archer wrote better novels than George Eliot outrageous, I certainly would not employ force to make the perpetrator take it back! (Joke) But I’m interested to learn whether you believe there are “objective esthetic facts”.

  32. 32
    Nick Gotts

    @31:

    “Subjective” means it’s a matter I can and must decide

    should be something like:

    “Subjective” means it’s a matter I can and must decide purely in terms of my own intuition or preferences

  33. 33
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    “Arbitrary” means that it makes no difference or doesn’t matter

    And how do you determine when it makes a difference? By using evidence? How do you determine that it matters? When you use scientific reasoning? Why should you use scientific reasoning? Why should you privilege facts which make a difference or which matter? Those are values.

    You’re engaging in some rather fallacious arguments where you win by redefining terms. You’re redefining arbitrary from “not derived from more basic beliefs or values” to “a claim is arbitrary if it’s not based on scientific reasoning”. That definition of “arbitrary” specifically says scientific reasoning is special but gives no justification for that. Ergo, special pleading.

    You still haven’t answered the basic question – why should one use scientific reasoning over astrological reasoning? Or over Christian biblical reasoning?

    “objective esthetic facts”.

    Not really, no, but moral facts are different than “aesthetic facts”.

  34. 34
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Also, about Sam Harris on torture… and you’re right. /sigh
    Sam, why do you do this to me?

    He still has a pedantic true point in there somewhere, but it’s smothered by stupid.

  35. 35
    Nick Gotts

    And how do you determine when it makes a difference? By using evidence? How do you determine that it matters? When you use scientific reasoning? Why should you use scientific reasoning? Why should you privilege facts which make a difference or which matter? Those are values.

    No, they are not; you are merely demonstrating your ignorance. They are pragmatic decisions based on beliefs. I believe scientific reasoning is much more likely to produce correct answers than astrology. This is a high-level hypothesis, and I am open to the possibility that it could be false – for example, I could be in a simulation where all the irritating, invincibly ignorant numpties like you are merely experiments to test my reactions, or where astology actually works. Or maybe there really is such a thing as magic, and again, some form of astrology works or would work perfectly, if only we knew which. My beliefs in realism and the usefulness of evidence-based reasoning are therefore neither values, nor matters of faith. Once again, in a repeated effort to drive it through the concrete, they are hypotheses.

    Incidentally, everyone, apart possibly from the severely demented or otherwise cognitively severely limited, uses evidence-based reasoning continually in everyday life; it’s quite impossible to live independently without doing so. It’s evidence-based reasoning that prevents the most woo-soaked astrologer or purblind creationist blithely stepping out of a tenth-floor window in the confidence that they will be able to fly, or will float gently to the ground. It’s evidence-based reasoning that tells them they can’t walk through walls and that their senses sometimes deceive them.

    You’re redefining arbitrary from “not derived from more basic beliefs or values” to “a claim is arbitrary if it’s not based on scientific reasoning”.

    That’s a barefaced lie: I never used the definition you quote as mine. There are many claims that are not arbitrary that are not based on scientific reasoning: for example, mathematical claims, or claims based on personal memory. “Arbitrary” is actually a word with multiple meanings, but nothing depends on a particular definition. If you want to use yours, then all values (but not assertions of fact) turn out to be arbitrary, since the chain of justification must stop at some point (in the case of assertions of fact, the chain of justification ends in reality, in how things actually are). So, amusingly, it turns out to be you whose values are arbitrary by your own definition, and you who is the complete moral and cultural relativist. Sam Harris would be most disappointed. By my definition, values are not arbitrary, since what values we adopt makes a huge difference in terms of the consequences of doing so.

    You still haven’t answered the basic question – why should one use scientific reasoning over astrological reasoning? Or over Christian biblical reasoning?

    Because reality is such that scientific reasoning is a more reliable way of arriving at the truth. Can you really be as stupid as you appear? Now of course, you’ll go back to “How do you know that.” I don’t “know” it, if by “know” you mean: “Have logically watertight absolute certainty”, but so what? Such certainty is not possible with regard to anything at all, as there could always be some powerful agency distorting all our perceptions and reasoning. As I said above, everyone but the most severely cognitively limited relies on evidence-based reasoning all the time: it’s not a matter of choice, so even in your sense, it’s not arbitrary to do so. On the contrary, it’s arbitrary (in your sense) to stop doing so when it comes to particular beliefs, as astrologers and Christians do.

    moral facts are different than “aesthetic facts”

    Why? Why do you believe in moral facts but not esthetic ones? Surely you’re not being, er, arbitrary here? Unthinkable.

    Oh, and by the way, you srill haven’t explained what your claim that:

    There is no such thing as an “objective fact” as you define it.

    is, if it is not a claim of objective fact.

    Sam, why do you do this to me?

    He still has a pedantic true point in there somewhere, but it’s smothered by stupid.

    He does it because he’s neither anything like as clever nor anything like as ethical as you and he appear to think. Maybe abandoning the hero-worship evident in your plaint would be a good idea.

  36. 36
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick
    You’re entirely missing my point. For example, you say that you’re open to a universe where astrology works. That’s missing the point. When you say that, you are implicitly endorsing the values of science. You’re evaluating astrology according to the values of science. You’re so steeped in scientific values and scientific thinking that you cannot step outside the box. I’m not asking you to consider the possibility that astrology works. I’m asking you to consider living your life without considering whether things have been demonstrated to work.

    It is self-evident that we should live our life according to what has been demonstrated to work. It is just as self-evident that we should live our life to avoid the worst possible eternal suffering of everyone. Both are axiomatic, unjustifiable values. Neither is “more reasonable” than the other. Neither is “more objective” than the other.

  37. 37
    Nick Gotts

    EnlightenmentLiberal,

    For example, you say that you’re open to a universe where astrology works. That’s missing the point.

    No, it isn’t. Astrologers, unless they are conscious frauds, believe their system works. They are wrong. (Most) Christians believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. They are wrong. I differ with both on facts, and beliefs about facts influence, although they do not wholly determine, values.

    As I pointed out, everyone of minimal cognitive competence makes extensive use of evidence-based reasoning; this is not a matter of choice, and therefore requires no commitment to values. That science is better than astrology or religion at error-correction, and therefore likely to be more useful in pursuing a very wide range of goals, is a (contingent) fact, not a value. Commitment to the truth for its own sake, OTOH, is a value, but to call any value “self-evident” is just bullshit: if it were self-evident, it would be impossible to disagree with it, and it would thus not be a value. Such a commitment to truth may well conflict with other valuess, such as maximising one’s own or another individual’s happiness (there is evidence that depressed people are more realistic in their assessment of their future prospects than those who are not depressed), or social stability. All “self-evident” means in practice is “Shut up, that’s why.” You’ve managed to bamboozle yourself into exactly the same position as Christian presuppositionalists, who refuse to engage in rational discourse about their beliefs because they regard them as self-validating.

    It is, BTW, laughable that you use the nym “Enlightenment Liberal”. Here’s a “standard” definition of the Enlightenment, according to the wikipedia article on the subject (emphasis added):

    Enlightenment was a desire for human affairs to be guided by rationality rather than by faith, superstition, or revelation; a belief in the power of human reason to change society and liberate the individual from the restraints of custom or arbitrary authority; all backed up by a world view increasingly validated by science rather than by religion or tradition.

    The part I have emphaised is of central importance: those actually involved in the Enlightenment believed as a matter of fact that reality is such that human reason can achieve certain ends. They differed with those opposing them not only over values, but over matters of fact; and in matters of fact, one can be right or wrong. The facts remain the facts, whether you choose to “live your life according to what has been demonstrated to work”, or not.

    Incidentally, I note that you still haven’t said what your claim that:

    There is no such thing as an “objective fact” as you define it.

    is, if not a claim of objective fact. Nor have you explained the difference in status you claim to discern between “moral facts” and “esthetic facts”.

  38. 38
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts
    I’ll avoid replying in detail to your non-sequiturs and ad hominems.

    I can show quite formally that every system of knowledge and belief must be axiomatic or fallacious. Science, all religions, all moral systems, etc., are axiomatic or fallacious.

    I can model bits of knowledge and belief as nodes in a directed graph and justifications as edges in the directed graph. Human knowledge is finite, and thus the graph is finite. Cycles in the graph correspond to circular reasoning, which is always fallacious. From there, it is formally provable in the mathematical sense of “proof” that there are nodes in that graph which lack justifications (or the graph is empty). You cannot avoid this, despite your protestations otherwise.

    All voluntary human behavior is necessarily informed by values. They have to answer the question “Why am I taking this action instead of another action, or instead of no action?”. That question permits only a value answer.

    Most people are what we call sane. They answer “I have goals. I want to achieve those goals. Some actions are more likely to achieve certain goals than other actions.” The mere existence of goals is necessarily based on values. Also, the idea that one should take actions which are likely to achieve those goals is also a value. It’s an obvious value which is held by every sane person, but it is a value.

    The above answer begs more questions: “What are your goals?” “What actions are more likely to achieve certain goals?”

    There is a “natural” distinction between answers to the first and answers to the second. The first you are calling “morality”. The second you are calling “objective facts”. This is what Hume identified with his is-ought distinction.

    Science is an answer to the second question. People who use science fiat by axiom that there is no problem of induction, and scientific reasoning identifies actions which are likely to achieve their goals. Religions also answer the second question with fiat by axiom that holy books, tradition, and revelation identifies actions which are likely to achieve their goals.

    But it’s all arbitrary. There is no good reason why they should adopt the scientific answer or the religious answer – or any other answer. You try, but fail. For example, you try when you say:

    everyone of minimal cognitive competence makes extensive use of evidence-based reasoning;

    You are right, but this is how we define the words “minimal competence”, so what you said was tautological, and thus vacuous. Similarly, we also define the word “works” in terms of the scientific method, and any attempt to say “science is better because science works” is fallaciously circular.

    When I answer the first question “What are you goals” by saying “Humanism”, that answer is just as arbitrary as when you answer the question “What actions are more likely to achieve certain goals” with “Science”. You cannot talk about “objective (scientific) facts” without appealing to several fiat axioms. There is no logical basis for science, and there is no logical basis for humanism. Both are axiomatic. Both I will label with “obvious”, “self-evident”, and the like.

    It is no less arbitrary to say “I am sitting on a chair” as it is to say “we should act to avoid the worst possible eternal suffering of everyone”.

    You are right that this is the argument of a presuppositionalist. I am one. I “presuppose” that we should use science, and I “presuppose” that we should be decent human beings. I believe as a scientific factual matter that almost everyone “deep down” agrees with me on both points, and anyone who says otherwise is just confused. Here, it’s a war over axioms. No rational logical argument can exist here. All that remains is persuasion, and perhaps using logic to pick apart possible inconsistencies in the other person’s possible to set in cognitive dissonance to make them realize that they actually already have the values which I have.

    PS: You are wrong when you say that I ever say that my beliefs are self-justifying. That’s just another term for “circular reasoning”, and I reject circular reasoning out of hand. I don’t say that science and humanism are self-justifying. I say that they are axiomatic.

    PPS:

    Nor have you explained the difference in status you claim to discern between “moral facts” and “esthetic facts”.

    One thing at a time. First I have to get you to accept that your system of knowledge and belief about scientific facts is an axiomatic value system which is completely arbitrary in the sense that it cannot be derived from any more basic truths, and that there is no possible logical argument in favor of it. Then, we can move on to the harder questions. If I tried to answer that now, it would just be confusing, because it’s couched in terms and understandings which you currently reject.

  39. 39
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    I just wanted to add. Maybe I have a hero complex for Sam Harris. I respect the man a great deal.

    It’s really unfortunate that he says a few very-stupid things from time to time, because he is the go-to expert on this topic. (Well, him, and Matt Dillahunty.) It is unfortunate, because I was discussing his work in The Moral Landscape, and because of completely unrelated but stupid things he’s said, you reject his arguments in The Moral Landscape. This is textbook ad hominem and non-sequitur. So, my frustration was less than a hero was disappointing me, and more that I cannot reference an expert’s work in this subject area without having ad hominems and non-sequiturs thrown about.

  40. 40
    Nick Gotts

    Enl;ightenmentLiberal,

    I’ll avoid replying in detail to your non-sequiturs and ad hominems.

    You evidently do not know what an ad hominem is. Look it up.

    I can show quite formally that every system of knowledge and belief must be axiomatic or fallacious.

    No, you can’t. See below.

    I can model bits of knowledge and belief

    The fact that you believe all knowledge and belief can be adequately modelled in this way is merely evidence of your ignorance. Much knowledge and belief is tacit. Attempts to produce artificial intelligence by the kind of modelling you mention have failed abjectly, outside restricted formal domains such as logic and chess. (I was involved in such attempts for the best part of two decades.)

    From there, it is formally provable in the mathematical sense of “proof” that there are nodes in that graph which lack justifications (or the graph is empty). You cannot avoid this, despite your protestations otherwise.

    I have not protested otherwise, you purblind numpty. One important point in which we differ is that you think, wrongly, that in any system of knowledge or belief, some elements must be made axiomatic, and thus placed beyond the possibility of revision. Outside limited formal domains, knowledge and belief are simply not axiomatic systems. We start, both as individuals and as societies, from the regularities our sensory-motor systems have evolved to detect and use, and these forms of knoweldge and belief are encoded in a distributed, messy way in the connections within our nervous systems, and between those systems, the rest of the body, and the external world. They are not axiomatic, and make no use of justification. Even when we (individually or collectively) acquire language, words and sentences do not have precisely defined meanings, nor do we build up our knowledge of and beliefs about the world by selecting a set of axioms and rules of inference and proving results from the former using the latter. Most individuals, and most societies, never axiomatise anything. Axiomatization is an extremely useful tool in certain limited domains, such as logic and mathematics; it is very seldom used even in the empirical sciences, let alone in everyday life. Even in mathematics and logic, axioms are not selected arbitrarily, but because experience indicates that they are useful, and rules of inference because they appear to be truth-preserving.

    All voluntary human behavior is necessarily informed by values.

    Crapola. For a start, values depend on language, but voluntary behavior, human or not, does not depend on possessing language.

    [to be continued]

  41. 41
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    We start, both as individuals and as societies, from the regularities our sensory-motor systems have evolved to detect and use, and these forms of knoweldge and belief are encoded in a distributed, messy way in the connections within our nervous systems, and between those systems, the rest of the body, and the external world. They are not axiomatic,

    Appeal to nature fallacy.

    There is no reason to go further than this.

    If someone says that they believe something, either they believe it as a consequence of other beliefs, or they don’t. The second is an unjustified belief. If they believe it as a consequence of other beliefs, either it’s circular, or it’s not.

    If you want to argue that these questions are not well-formed because actual human reasoning is not that precise and formal, then that’s the appeal to nature fallacy. I am making an argument about how we ought to try and reason, not how people commonly reason. I’m arguing about what is a proper epistemology, not what epistemologies are commonly practiced. Our ideas ought to be distinct, and our justifications (if any) for those reasons ought to be distinct. If you do not consent to this, then there is no further use of conversation. You might as well say that logical consistency isn’t a requirement – for that is the practical effect of your position.

    For people who want to hide in ambiguity, they should be mocked.

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; ” – Thomas Jefferson.

    I ridicule your position. It is not worthy of further comment.

  42. 42
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    PS:
    Quoting Nick:

    You evidently do not know what an ad hominem is. Look it up.

    Also quoting Nick:

    and Harris’s own appalling ethical judgments don’t recommend his method.

    I thought it ad hominem – you attack Sam’s moral opinions on particular questions, in order to attack his character, in order to attack unrelated arguments – but you are right. You didn’t do that.

    Instead, the only plausible reading is that you think Sam’s position of using science and caring about human suffering – because that’s the only relevant bits of Sam which I really brought up here – somehow lead to beliefs and actions which cause needless suffering (are “appalling”). That’s worse than ad hominem. That’s just incoherent.

    I again think that you’re not giving Sam Harris a fair reading – nor me. There’s no other explanation for you saying something so utterly nonsensical.

  43. 43
    Nick Gotts

    All voluntary human behavior is necessarily informed by values. They have to answer the question “Why am I taking this action instead of another action, or instead of no action?”. That question permits only a value answer.

    Only if you make “value” so vague a term that “I just felt like it” or “I don’t know” or “That’s just what I do” expresses a value. Many of the voluntary actions people perform are done from habit.

    People who use science fiat by axiom that there is no problem of induction

    No, they don’t. Of course there’s a “problem of induction” in the sense that you cannot validly deduce a universal generalization from any finite collection of instances. But (a) much of science is not about universal generalizations and (b) where we are concerned with such generalizations, and indeed in many other cases, we can adopt the hypothetico-deductive method: tentatively adopt a hypothesis, deduce what we should expect to find if that hypothesis is true, then go and look. If we fail to find it, the hypothesis is abandoned. (Of course, this is a considerable simplification, since there are in general “auxiliary hypotheses” we can choose to abandon instead, but that fact points to the real nature of science, and of knowledge and belief systems in general: they are not made up of isolated “bits of knowledge” that provide unilateral “justification” for each other, as you naively suppose. Rather, a system of knowledge or belief is a more-or-less well-integrated system of explanation applied to some aspect of the world, of which parts may be replaced while the rest remains in being.)

    You are right, but this is how we define the words “minimal competence”

    No, it isn’t. If you dispute this, find a citation for that definition.

    so what you said was tautological, and thus vacuous

    And tautologies are not in general vacuous. If you do not know the definition of a prime number, say, and I tell you that it is a positive integer exactly divisible by no other positive integer, apart from 1, I have given you useful information; and indeed this goes beyond the merely linguistic: I have told you implicitly that mathematicians find this property an interesting one.

    When I answer the first question “What are you goals” by saying “Humanism”, that answer is just as arbitrary as when you answer the question “What actions are more likely to achieve certain goals” with “Science”.

    Well that’s true in the sense that neither answer is arbitrary. In the first case, your answer may be true or false – and in fact it may be false even though you believe it is true. In the second case, for certain goals, the answer is true and for others, it is false, so again, the answer is not arbitrary.

    There is no logical basis for science, and there is no logical basis for humanism. Both are axiomatic. Both I will label with “obvious”, “self-evident”, and the like.

    Neither is axiomatic. Both have in fact been constructed largely “bottom-up” over time, starting from concrete, specific observations and issues, and from what “seems obvious” within a particular social context, and by replacing parts of the resulting structure when either internal inconsistencies, or failure to deal adequately with existing or new questions, became evident and sufficiently troublesome. No part of the structure has the kind of primacy that axioms have in formal systems, any part may be subject to modification or rejection, and at any given time, each is likely to include internal inconsistencies, although it will not necessarily do so. You are evidently entirely ignorant of intellectual history. Of course, given the dogmatic stupidity and ignorance of your approach, you find yourself using empty words such as “self-evident”.

    It is no less arbitrary to say “I am sitting on a chair” as it is to say “we should act to avoid the worst possible eternal suffering of everyone”.

    Well again, true, because neither is arbitrary. But one is an assertion of (contingent) fact, and the other is an ethcal judgement. The first has truth conditions: it is true if and only if I am, in fact, sitting on a chair. The second urges the performance of actions aimed at achieving a particular goal (although a most peculiar one, since there is no reason to believe eternal suffering is even possible).

    You are right that this is the argument of a presuppositionalist. I am one.

    So I’m wasting my time arguing with you, since you are impervious to reason. You might have had the decency to let me know this earlier!

    I “presuppose” that we should use science, and I “presuppose” that we should be decent human beings. I believe as a scientific factual matter that almost everyone “deep down” agrees with me on both points, and anyone who says otherwise is just confused.

    *chuckle*
    Add history in general, psychology, sociology and anthropology to the subjects on which you are completely ignorant. But in any case, by your own lights, this belief is completely arbitrary. Why should I, or anyone else, or you yourself, take it seriously?

    perhaps using logic to pick apart possible inconsistencies in the other person’s possible to set in cognitive dissonance to make them realize that they actually already have the values which I have.

    But how can you justify the use of logic? It’s well-known that any formal system rich enough to express elementary arithmetic cannot prove its own consistency, unless it is inconsistent. So your reliance on logic, is, by your own lights, just as arbitrary as anything else.

    You are wrong when you say that I ever say that my beliefs are self-justifying.

    I’ve never said that you do. I don’t know what you are referring to, but the words “self-justifying” appear nowhere in this thread until you used them in the sentence I quote.

    I don’t say that science and humanism are self-justifying. I say that they are axiomatic.

    However often you say it, you’ll still be wrong.

    First I have to get you to accept that your system of knowledge and belief about scientific facts is an axiomatic value system which is completely arbitrary in the sense that it cannot be derived from any more basic truths

    Well since I’m not going to accept such a load of ignorant piffle, that rather neatly gets you out of attempting to answer questions you clearly have no adequate answer to. As I’ve said before (although not in quite these words), the amenability of reality to scientific investigation is a high-level hypothesis, which I am ready to abandon if it comes to appear untenable. It is thus not an axiom, nor a value.

    because of completely unrelated but stupid things he’s said, you reject his arguments in The Moral Landscape. This is textbook ad hominem and non-sequitur.

    Harris’s vile views on torture, racial profiling, killing people for their beliefs and pre-emptive genocide either follow from his starting point, or they don’t. If they do, that is sufficent grounds to reject that starting point; if they don’t, clearly he has not been able to use that starting point to produce answers on real ethical issues. But in fact I reject his views in The Moral Landscape because I regard any attempt to derive ethical values from facts about the world as fundamentally misconceived – as, indeed, do you.

    Now, unless you have anything really new to say, I will not respond further. Ed Brayton is very tolerant, but I think we’ve exploited that tolerance to carry on a private argument long enough.

  44. 44
    Al Dente

    EnlightenmentLiberal @42

    Instead, the only plausible reading is that you think Sam’s position of using science and caring about human suffering – because that’s the only relevant bits of Sam which I really brought up here – somehow lead to beliefs and actions which cause needless suffering (are “appalling”). That’s worse than ad hominem. That’s just incoherent.

    Sam Harris holds some immoral beliefs. That tells me that whatever he says about morality is at best suspect and more probably can be discarded. His skirting of a call for genocide (Harris is not stupid enough to actually say “kill the rag-heads” but he implies it very strongly) tells me that he doesn’t have a clue about what morality is all about. As a result, since I believe Harris is personally immoral, then I don’t bother to pay any attention to his pontification on morality. I suspect Nick Gotts agrees with me.

  45. 45
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Al Dente
    Your argumen effectively is: “Using science and caring about lessening human suffering leads to more human suffering”. It’s incoherent. It’s a poor attempt at an ad hominem by a confused person. It’s no better than those who try to dispute consequentialism by appealing to its consequences.

  46. 46
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick
    I’m still wondering if you’re going to stick to your position that a proper epistemology cannot be modeled by my simplistic math-graph theory approach. I didn’t realize we needed to go so basic. All proper belief and knowledge is axiomatic, e.g. founded on unjustified value assertions. This includes science.

    What I think Hume’s is-ought distinction means is that you cannot derive ought statements from only scientific descriptive statement. This is different than saying that “science is a privileged value system” which seems to be your position. There is no more justification for the values / axioms of science than there is for the values / axioms of humanism.

    PS: Your argument against The Moral Landscape is still incoherent. See previous post.

  47. 47
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Hm… I wasn’t clear enough I’m afraid. Let me try again.

    In order to talk about “(scientific) objective facts”, you need to be in a certain axiomatic value system, the axiomatic value system of science. To do science or hold scientific beliefs, you need to accept the axioms of science, aka the values of science.

    One of the rules of the scientific system is that you cannot derive proscriptive statements from an argument which consists purely of statements in the system labeled “facts”. This is what is meant by Hume’s is-ought distinction. Hume’s is-ought distinction says nothing about whether the axiomatic value system of science is somehow “better grounded” or “more justified” than other axiomatic value systems. Hume’s is-ought distinction does not get you to concluding that science is better than, or better grounded than, or better justified than, Christian biblical faith. Hume’s is-ought distinction does not get you to concluding that science is better than, or better grounded than, or better justified than, humanism. That’s simply a different point altogether.

  48. 48
    Nick Gotts

    EnlightenmentLiberal@47,

    Of course all knowledge and belief can’t be modelled by your graph-theory approach, for reasons I made quite clear@43. You have not attempted to answer the points I made there.

    To do science or hold scientific beliefs, you need to accept the axioms of science, aka the values of science.

    Values and axioms are not the same thing at all: axioms are assertions, to be accepted as true within a formal system; values are commitments to act in particular ways, or pursue particular goals. Science is not “an axiomatic value system”, although a claim to practice it implies a claim to hold some values, in particular a commitment to use empirical methods in an attempt to discover the truth, and to report the results of investigations honestly.

    Since you claim it is an axiom system, no doubt you will be able to specify what the axioms of science are, and show that science cannot be practised without accepting them.

    Your argument against The Moral Landscape is still incoherent. See #45

    I made my position clear @43 and you have not attempted to answer it. You’re very fond of unsupported claims that others are “incoherent” or “confused” whenever you have nothing substantive to say.

    Hume’s is-ought distinction says nothing about whether the axiomatic value system of science is somehow “better grounded” or “more justified” than other axiomatic value systems.

    Since science is not an axiomatic value system, the question doesn’t arise.

    Hume’s is-ought distinction does not get you to concluding that science is better than, or better grounded than, or better justified than, Christian biblical faith.

    Your inability to understand any position different from your own is both exasperating and amusing. That scientific investigation is a better method of arriving at truths about the world than Christian biblical faith is simply a contingent fact; it’s nothing to do with the is-ought distinction. If the Christian god existed, then Christian biblical faith would presumably be a better method for arriving in heaven than science; again, this would be nothing to do with the is-ought distinction.

    Can you possibly get it into your head that I am not a foundationalist? There are no such things as basic beliefs or values, accepted independently of anything else: no belief or value can be assessed or even understood in isolation from other beliefs or values, or from practice. We start, as individuals, from the tacit beliefs and values implicit in our brains and bodies as societies, we inherit those of earlier generations (which, of course, are in general rife with internal inconsistencies); but neither our innate beliefs and values, nor those we inherit socially, take the form of axiom systems; these are a recent innovation, used in very limited circumstances; your attempt to cast all knowledge, belief and values in the form of axiomatic systems is simply ignorant and foolish.

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