Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Morality debate, part 8 of 11

Weirdbrake's assessment continued...


Eph... You quickly attacked Cheetah's "why be moral?" tautology, which I thought was a good point. You also went on to attack the her suggestion that we must know where OM came from before we can believe in it. I liked your point about the universe-- how there's dispute over the origin but no one disputes its existence. This was a good counter-argument. I also liked your point about how epistemological skepticism is ultimately pointless and ad infinitum and thus not a good argument against OM (given that such skepticism could be equally aimed at the external world).

These were all decent insights. But I wanted you to go for Cheetah's jugular (so to speak). I wanted you to attack Cheetah's alternative biopsychosocial explanation for belief in OM. What you should have done is say something like, "Sensory input, too, comes from biological processes, but that doesn't mean it doesn't correspond with reality. Just because there's a biological explanation for vision doesn't mean the table we see in front of us isn't really there. And similarly, even if we grant that there could be a biological/psych/social explanation for our belief in OM, it doesn't follow that OM itself isn't real."

You needed to say something like that. You needed to emphatically restate your central argument-- that you are COMPARING the belief in OM to the belief in the external world (and that if one is reasonable, the other has to be, too). You should have pounced on Cheetah for not dis-analogizing sufficiently. Instead, you spent way too much time at the end restating your Arg. 1 in different forms (all those references to the Holocaust, Nazi, genocide, and the crime against James Byrd doesn't do anything for your argument except re-demonstrate that most of us believe that stuff is wrong-- a point you already made in Arg. 1). Same with the reference to "sociopaths."

Your attack on Cheetah's dialogue was an attack on small-fry points but not an attack on the main one. I wanted you to show why her dialogue was ineffective in proving the circularity of OM belief and why her dialogue didn't dis-analogize belief in OM from belief in the external world. Here you came up with this great argument, and you didn't attack her dialogue from that angle.

I did like your point, however, in the sixth paragraph up from the bottom where you basically said that disagreement on moral norms doesn't necessarily mean disagreement on whether there IS an objective morality (rescuing yourself from Cheetah's attack on your Arg. 1).

Cheetah... Here you start to better elucidate your whole biopsychosocial explanation of our belief in OM. "Cutting it down to size," so to speak. I liked the peeing in your pants example (please don't quote me out of context on what I just said!).

Then you begin to do what you should have done in your first response post to Eph: dis-analogize between belief in OM and belief in the external world. Your points about corroboration, testability, and consistency for the external world (as opposed to the cultural variance on moral norms) are very much on-target. These points support the idea that comparing belief in OM to belief in the external world is not a good analogy and hence why Eph's argument is not valid (and therefore why belief in OM is actually less reasonable than not).

I thought this was a great way to attack Eph's main argument.

I also liked your attack on Eph's assertion that moral debate implies a belief in OM (his Arg. 1). You said there are also more down-to-earth bio/psych/social and rational self-interest (individual or collective) reasons for engaging in moral debate, and therefore such debate doesn't automatically imply a belief in OM. I thought that was a good point. If I argue that society should adopt Policy X, it may not imply that I believe Policy X to be on par with objective moral truth. Maybe I simply feel that those in my community and those I emotionally care about will benefit more from Policy X.

Then you made what I thought was your best argument in this whole debate: the argument from parsimony.

Now I admit, I had to go to webster's online dictionary and look up parsimonious. First it told me something like "stingy to the point of frugality." And I was like, "Huh??" So I looked up parsimony and it made a reference to the principle of Occam's Razor. Ah-HAH! Cheetah was making an Occam's Razor argument against OM!

Just to clarify (for those in our live studio audience), Occam's Razor is an old philosophical principle articulated by the medieval thinker William of Occam, who said, "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." Or, as Jodie Foster's character explains it in the movie Contact, "All things being equal, the simplest explanation for something tends to be the right one."

In essence, Cheetah argued that the belief in OM is less parsimonious (and more unnecessarily complicated) than the belief that bio/psycho/social influences cause us to believe in OM. Cheetah's explanation for belief in OM employs concepts and factors that we already know about, things we know to be at least somewhat measurable and testable-- biology, the body, the brain, psychology. Eph's explanation for belief in OM requires the assumption of another concept/entity: a sort of "cosmic rule book" where OM is written. Therefore, because Cheetah's explanation is simpler, it is also more reasonable-- as in accordance with Occam's Razor (parsimony).

I say again- I thought this was a great argument against Eph's position. This arguments takes you much further than your original articulation of the biopsychosocial argument in Round 1. Your original biopsychosocial argument simply demonstrated that this was an alternative explanation for belief in OM. But your parsimony argument shows why it is SUPERIOR to belief in OM. Which is, of course, a more emphatic argument as to why Eph's position is less reasonable than not.

In conclusion, and judging only Round 2, I think that Eph made some decent points but ultimately did not attack Cheetah on the main points. He spent too much time attacking her on smaller, less important matters. Cheetah, on the other hand, made some great arguments that went to the heart of the whole issue.

I therefore judge Cheetah to be the winner of Round 2.

Part 9


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