Saturday, March 14, 2009

Morality debate, part 9 of 11

Weirdbrake's assessment continued...


Eph.... I had one thing on my mind after I read Cheetah's response post in Round 2 and while I was awaiting your post. I wanted to see how you'd answer her parsimony argument. It was an extremely good argument-- and quite damaging to your position-- and I felt like you had to answer it. You had to answer it in either one of two ways: 1) Argue that parsimony is not always a valid rule in all situations and not valid when applied to belief in OM (definitely not an impossible argument to make); or 2) Argue that OM is, in fact, more parsimonious than Cheetah's biopsychosocial explanation (the harder position to argue, in my opinion).

Or you could have tried to argue both.

But you did the worst possible thing, in my opinion. You didn't respond to it at all. This hurt you badly.

In that sizable fifth paragraph, you seem to attack Cheetah for implying that you can only gain knowledge through the senses. But I'm not sure she ever implied that. All she said was that the DIFFERENCE between belief in OM and belief in external world is that our senses consistently affirm facts about the latter but not the former. This implies only that she believes the senses are ONE way to gain knowledge-- a way that happens to be distinguishable from the way we might gain knowledge about OM (remember, she's trying to undermine your main argument: your comparison between belief in OM and belief in the external world).

You used this paragraph to attack her on this point, which I thought was rather misguided and outside the scope. One sentence in particular I had a big problem with: "George Berkley argued that postulating an external world to explain our sensory perceptions is ad hoc (invoking the same law of parsimony cheetah uses to reject morality) since perceptions occur strictly in our minds."

What point were you trying to make here? That Berkeley invoked the law of parsimony? That he DIDN'T? That Berkeley was right? That Berkeley was wrong? I didn't think this sentence was clear enough. Moreover, I couldn't understand why you'd even want to mention a thinker like George Berkeley in a debate like this. He basically rejected the idea of the external world. Why would you mention him in a debate where your whole argument depends on the external world being more reasonable to believe in than not? As a tactical matter, I didn't like that you made the Berkeley reference, and in any case, that sentence needed to be clearer because I just didn't understand how it fit in with your arguments.

You made a decent point about some things being known a priori and morality fitting into this paradigm. Though I thought you should have explicitly stated that this is why morality, like our a priori acceptance of the external world's existence, is more reasonable to believe in than not.

You then mentioned the law of non-contradiction (why there can't be four-sided triangles) and proceeded to compare it to Cheetah's (and other moral relativists') self-contradiction in rejecting OM. I didn't think this was a very strong argument. Even if Cheetah is contradicting herself, how does that mean that OM itself must necessarily exist? If OM doesn't exist, then people can believe in OM all they want, and their belief would still be false. And similarly, if OM doesn't exist, then those who pretend to reject OM but still express an implicit belief in it may be contradicting themselves. But that wouldn't change the fact that OM itself doesn't exist. This is why I didn't buy your argument that self-contradiction in rejecting OM is analogous to the actual logical contradiction of a four-sided triangle.

And it's also why I didn't feel your ad hominem attacks on Cheetah were very strong. Supposing that Cheetah is a total hypocrite (not saying you are, Cheetah!) that still doesn't make OM any more or less reasonable to believe in. All it does is possibly restate your Arg. 1, which you've already overstated throughout.

Then you wrote another paragraph that I had a major problem with:

"Cheetah argues that moral dispute is meaningful even if there are no OMV because it's possible to reach agreement based on self-interest. This argument fails for several reasons. First, it commits the is/ought fallacy. It doesn't follow that we ought to do X just because X is in our self-interest. Scenarios exist where killing an innocent man may be in the interest of all, but it isn't moral. Second, it confuses the pragmatic ought for the moral ought. We ought, in the pragmatic sense, to change the oil in our car, because it's in our self-interest, but it isn't immoral for us to refrain. Third, there's no principled way of resolving conflicts of interest. Fourth, scenarios exist where being moral is against self-interest, like risking your life to save a drowning stranger. It may be in self-interest to be immoral provided you won't get caught. Fifth, we simply don't argue morality that way. When we argue morality, we don't talk about utility and interest. We talk about fairness and obligation. Not even Cheetah argues morality that way. In the "$87 billion request" thread, cheetah demonstrated that she believes in some sort of just war theory. She thinks it's wrong to go to war for oil money."

The first problem is that you mischaracterize Cheetah's attack on your whole "moral debate implies belief in OM" (Arg. 1) idea. Her attack is not that rational self-interest is consistent with OM. It's that rational self-interest is an explanation for moral debate that ELIMINATES THE NEED for our assumption of OM. You seemed to treat it as though she were operating within the assumption of OM (instead of attacking it like she was), and in doing so, you were begging the central question of this debate: Is it more reasonable than not to believe in actual OM?

In short, you can't fault her on is/ought grounds when she's trying to explain away the objective "ought" entirely.

That was the essential problem with that paragraph: question-begging and thus assuming too much of your own conclusions.

In the final big paragraph, you make the point about Texans, Hindus, and Grandma in order to show that many times, "moral differences" are really less about a dispute over fundamental principles than a dispute about the worldviews and facts which inform those principles. I thought this was a good insight, but unfortunately, it does little more than restate Arg. 1 in yet another form.

Cheetah.... You elucidate a little more clearly about why Eph's Arg. 1 is not as strong as he thinks it is, and you do this by asking us to imagine a future world with radically different (but still eminently conceivable) moral values. This is your first argument in Round 3 that's directly relevant to the debate. Also, you elucidate more clearly about why the law of parsimony makes the biopsychosocial explanation for belief in OM more reasonable than Eph's assertion that OM actually exists. In doing so, you effectively "call on Eph" for not answering your parsimony argument. Needless to say, that's an appropriate context in which to restate your argument. I also like that you spell out the rule of parsimony and how it applies to OM: specifically, that assuming OM requires the CREATION of a new concept/entity while the biopsychosocial assumption uses the ones we already have and know about.

These points all go to the main issue.

Unfortunately for Eph and fortunately for you, Eph's lack of good "heart of the issue" arguments in his Round 3 posts means that, in my judgment, these good arguments of yours are sufficient to make you the winner of Round 3.

I therefore judge Cheetah to be the winner of Round 3.

And given that Eph won the first round, and Cheetah won the second round, I declare Cheetah as the winner of this debate.

Congratulations, Cheetah!

And congratulations to both of you for doing a great job. Thank you for allowing me to be the judge. I enjoyed reading all of your posts.

Part 10


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