Friday, March 20, 2009

Morality debate, part 11 of 11

Cheetah's final reflections

WeirdBrake, I too am impressed with your analysis and appreciate your comments. I'm glad you offered to moderate. Now, I haven't had a chance to finish reading ephphatha's final notes, but in case he didn't say it, I think one thing that hampered us, as we discussed via PM, was that 1500 words turned out not to be enough at all. Many things, particularly in round 1, that you thought were lacking in my post were actually in the original post, but were cut due to space. In retrospect, I definitely cut the wrong stuff in post 1. I had a whole section on ephphatha's conclusion, but at the time it was not clear to me how central that was to his argument, and by cutting it out, I essentially wasted time. I think I saw hints that ephphatha could have really used the extra space to address some of your comments, too, and I know from his PM that he had some significant space issues also. Ah well, we live and learn.

Another thing is that, for the record, I don't even believe everything I said. I am still squarely on the side of subjectivism if I had to CHOOSE, but I don't think it is comprehensive enough.

On another note, I have never participated in a formal debate online and it turned out to be a bit disconcerting. I really wanted to draw ephphatha out on a few points, but didn't always have the space. I would love it if we could have sort of a "Socrates Cafe" format (heard of these?) where we could really go back and forth and get each other to elaborate on items that we feel could benefit from more description.

Also, I'm glad you got the meaning of parsimony. Late last night, as I was doing the final edits to my final post, I hit F7 to see what the Word Thesaurus had for it and it said frugal, etc. and I was shocked! Almost the only time I ever hear or use parsimonious is in the scientific sense, and yes, Jodie Foster's character in Contact encapsulates this perfectly. I wondered by context if ephphatha also did not know the true meaning of the word, as I got the sense he wasn't using it correctly in Post 3, but again, I didn't have space to explain the meaning of parsimony, only how it applied to my argument!

Finally, about the "nice" thing. I'm a little surprised by that, but that may have just been another mistake in judging my audience/opponent in the first post mostly. With the average audience, I believe it would have been critical to show that there is still the ability to have a smooth, community-based system that treats people with value and dignity, even if it is not objective. This is important, I have found, on some Christian foums where fundamentalists think being an atheist, and therefore not believing in an independent higher power, automatically means we "have no morals." Anyway, this wasn't quite the right tack, though I presisted in showing that what we do have in this world, a fairly successful community-based system, is not inconsistent with subjectivism.

Now, I have a couple more posts to read...


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Morality debate, part 10 of 11

Ephphatha's final reflections

I hope that I'm allowed to give a few reflections. I'll try my best not to "debate." :-)

First of all, congratulations to Cheetah! Good job!

Second, I just want to thank Weirdbrake and say that I'm impressed with your feedback. It's obvious that you gave a lot of time and thought to it, and you were very fair. One of the most frustrating things for me when I'm debating--especially on message boards where the "common folk" hang out--is that an unusual amount of time has to be spent just explaining the arguments, because people have hard time following it. I got the impression that the reason cheetah didn't directly attack my argument in her first post is because she didn't understand it, and that's why her characterization of it in her dialogue was incorrect. But you obviously DID understand it, and I was impressed by that--not to mention relieved! LOL

I almost completely agree with your critique (until the third round), but there are a couple of exceptions. You thought that we spent too much time distinguishing between cultural relativism and individual subjectivism rather than on whether or not OMV exist. There's a reason we did that. It had to do with how the question for this debate was framed. If it had been simply, "Do objective moral values exist?" then you would've been entirely correct. The burden of proof is on he who asserts, and since I would've been the affirmative in the debate, it would be pointless and unnecessary to explore alternative moral theories, such as egoism, subjectivism, nihilism, etc. But the second part of the question placed part of the burden of proof on cheetah. "Is morality subjective?" That means that it wasn't enough for cheetah to rebut all of my arguments. She had to make a case for her own position. Since her own position was cultural relativism and not individual subjectivism, I made the distinction and attacked cultural relativism. So I don't think the distinction, as far as this debate is concerned, was unimportant.

Speaking of burden of proof, you 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 think you're completely mistaken in what I have in bold. Assuming cheetah's argument that you're discussing is sound, all it amounts to is a rebuttal, not a refutation. By dis-analogizing my comparison of OMV and the external world, all cheetah will have shown is that I haven't carried the burden of proof, but that would not have shown that belief in OMV is less reasonable than not. It only would've left us at an impasse until she built up her own case against OMV. Cheetah could've torn down every single argument I made, and it still would not have made OMV less reasonable to believe in than not until she gave some positive arguments against OMV and/or for cultural relativism.

Speaking of positive arguments against OMV, I completely agree with you that cheetah's argument from the law of parsimony (i.e. Occam's razor) was her strongest argument. In fact, I think that's the only argument for her case she made that was valid. (That was a very good argument, cheetah, and something you ought to continue to develope.)

The fact that you understood my arguments (and I'm guessing cheetah's as well) in the first two rounds made it all the more surprizing to me that you completely MISunderstood my third post. I can only guess that your misunderstanding was my fault. You obviously have a strong ability to follow an argument, and you were able to understand my first two posts, so I guess I just wasn't as clear in my third post as I should have been.

To be specific, you made the surprizing comment about the parsimony argument that I didn't respond to it at all. What was even more surprizing was that you quoted my response to it! Perhaps I just wasn't clear. My response to that argument was to say,

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.
I answered the argument exactly like you said I should have--by showing that the law of parsimony does not hold in every case. And in this case, I go back to the comparison of the external world and OMV. Here's my argument in a syllogism:

1. If cheetah's argument is sound, then Berkley's argument is sound.
2. Berkley's argument is not sound.
3. Therefore, cheetah's argument is not sound.

Do you see how I'm sticking to the original comparison I made between how we know the external world and how we know morality? We know them both in the same way--by strong mental intuitions. It could be that in both cases, the perception of OMV and the external world only exist in the mind, and the law of parsimony would dictate that they do, but the law of parsimony doesn't work in these cases because it requires us to reject that our intuition knowledge is correct. Berkley and cheetah were both mistaken for the same reason.

You also misunderstood my "ad hominem" attacks on cheetah. I was not arguing that since cheetah is inconsistent, then I must be right. I was merely pointing out that cheetah affirms my position. It seems to me that when your opponent affirms your position, you win the debate.

In my "moral dispute" paragraph that you had a problem with, I think you misunderstood my point as much as cheetah did. You said,

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.
My whole point was that if you're arguing from self-interest, then that is by definition not a moral debate! Read the paragraph again with that understanding. It makes perfectly good sense. You also said,

In short, you can't fault her on is/ought grounds when she's trying to explain away the objective "ought" entirely.
I didn't fault her for trying to explain away the objective "ought." I faulted her for explaining away the moral "ought." My argument would apply whether she was assuming subjective or objective morality because she was arguing from a pragmatic "ought" and not a moral "ought". In her view, the pragmatic ought and the moral ought are one and the same, committing the is/ought fallacy.

I agree, in a sense, that I spent too much time arguing that everybody believes in objective morality rather than arguing that their beliefs are correct. The reason I did that, though, was because I was thinking practically. I could either win this debate or I could pursuade people. I was more interested in pursuading people. Since my moral epistemology involves intuitive knowledge, my strategy was to cause the reader's intuitions to rise to the surface so the person would realize that they already believe in objective morality. I use the exact same strategy when arguing with people who deny logic. That's why I kept bringing up the clear case examples, such as the Nazi's, James Byrd, rape, etc. I wanted to make obvious to each reader what may not have already been obvious to them.

But anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your critique, and I appreciate the time and thought you put into it. And thanks again to cheetah for debating with me. I shall print a copy of this debate with Weirdbrake's assessment and treasure it always. :-)


Part 11

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

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

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Morality debate, part 7 of 11

Weirdbrake's assessment


First, I want to say that I think both of you did a spectacular job in this debate. I'm impressed by how rigorous your arguments were, how articulate and persuasive you both were in your writing, and most importantly, how you both managed to remain relatively civil to each other while debating opposite sides of an extraordinarily hot-button philosophical issue. This is all extremely difficult, and I applaud you both.


In evaluating the winner of this debate, I decided to judge it per round. I would judge a winner of Rounds 1, 2, and 3. And whoever won two out of three rounds would be the winner of the debate.

In judging who the winner of each round was, I looked only at your arguments. Eph (hope you won't mind if I refer to you as Eph throughout this post) set the stage for this debate in his first post in Round 1. He said he'd be arguing that OM (objective morality) was more reasonable than not to believe in. Therefore, in judging Eph, I only looked at all the substantive perspectives, insights, reasons, etc. that he provided in support of his main assertion that belief in OM is more reasonable than not (and also his counter-arguments against stuff that cheetah said). In judging cheetah, I did the same thing, only in the opposite direction-- stuff she said that would support the idea that belief in OM is LESS reasonable than not (or counter arguments against stuff that Eph said).

I deliberately ignored stuff like writing quality (because it wouldn't be fair; this debate is about the quality of the ideas and arguments, and I didn't want to get hung up on writing style; plus, you both write excellently). And I also deliberately ignored any insights or arguments-- however intelligent-- that were outside the scope of the debate.

Both of you seemed to have a bit of trouble with that. You both got hung up on things that I didn't think were relevant to the debate. In particular, both of you seemed to get hung up on the distinction between individual subjectivism and cultural relativism. I didn't care about that. I wanted to know what made OM more or less reasonable to believe in. If it's less reasonable, then the default belief is probably some form of subjectivism, either cultural or individual. But I didn't really think it needed the discussion that both of you gave to it.

Eph... my main criticism is that you spent way too much time overstating points that you already made. You had a tendency to "beat a dead horse" on certain things, particularly the Nazi references. I know Nazi references are the inevitable side dishes to the feasts of moral debate, but this was overkill. You spent too much time exploring every unwholesome permutation that moral subjectivism/relativism could lead to, and unfortunately, I couldn't give you credit for repetition.

Cheetah... my main criticism was similar but opposite. You also had a tendency to overstate your points, but for you, it was more the "But I'm a nice person!" syndrome. It was as though you wanted to defend yourself as still a nice person against Eph's assertion that rejection of OM belief leads to nihilistic evil. So you spent a fair amount of wordspace talking about how nice, sweet values can still be imposed under subjectivism. This isn't relevant to the issue of whether OM is more reasonable to believe in than not. Even if nice, sweet values CANNOT exist under subjectivism, OM could still be less reasonable to believe in. And even if nice, sweet values COULD exist under subjectivism, OM could still be more reasonable to believe in.

For the record, I think Cheetah is nice, I think Eph is nice, and I have no doubt that all three of us share the same sentiments toward the Holocaust.


Eph provided what are essentially four arguments that fit together logically to form one huge argument in support of his ultimate position that OM is more reasonable to believe in than not.

Arg. 1: Most of us believe in OM because we act in ways that imply a belief in OM. And also, most of us believe in OM because we intuitively DISAGREE with the logical implications of subjectivism.

Arg. 2: Therefore, because our minds implicitly accept the objective nature of morality and implicitly reject the subjective nature of morality, our belief in OM is thus analogous to our belief in the external world (whose existence we also implicitly accept).

Arg. 3: And therefore, if our belief in OM is analogous to our belief in the external world, then we must give equal credibility to our cognitive faculties which provide us with both beliefs.

Arg. 4: And therefore, given that it is more reasonable to believe in the external world than not, it is thus similarly more reasonable to believe in OM.

I thought this was a well-crafted, sophisticated, and highly rigorous argument. I liked your reasons in support of Arg. 1 (though you went on a little too long and beat it to death; notice how only your last four paragraphs under "Conclusion" dealt with Arg. 2, 3, and 4.). I LOVED your insight about how moral debate implies a correct answer. I think you made good points.

At the end, you seemed to mention something about "assuming our cognitive faculties aren't faculty"-- and I think you did this to argue that believing in the external world was more reasonable than not. I didn't think that was necessary. I grant that the external world is more reasonable to believe in than not, and since cheetah never contested the point, I take it she conceded it as well.

I was, however, troubled by a missing premise. Specifically, "If we can reasonably rely on our cognitive faculties for one thing, it's equally reasonable to rely on them for other things." Or, put more generally, "Something we can rely on for one thing is equally reliable for other things." Maybe you should have added some support for that idea-- maybe by talking in a little more depth about how our five senses, despite how different they each are, nonetheless act consistently to give us a coherent experience of reality. And then maybe drawing an analogy between the different-but-consistent reliable senses and the "moral sense" our mind has. Thus demonstrating that our minds' different functions were equally reliable (otherwise, I'm asking myself, "Why should we assume our cognitive faculties will be equally reliable when OM is such a different form of belief than is belief in the external world?").

I think you were on the right track, but I think you needed to explain that part of it a little more deeply.


Your main counter-argument was that there are more down-to-earth biological, psychological, and social explanations for our implicit agreement on certain moral norms. This attacks Eph's assertion that our belief in OM signals the actual existence of OM, comparable to the way our belief in the external world signals an actual external world. Obviously, if your alternative biopsychosocial explanation holds true, then belief in OM is a mere "social construction" and Eph is not correct in saying that belief in OM is more reasonable than not.

This is a decent argument against Eph's position. But my problem was that you didn't clearly distinguish between our belief in OM and our belief in the external world. Eph's main argument is his comparison of our belief in OM (which he's arguing is more reasonable than not) to our belief in the external world (which we already agree is more reasonable than not). I was waiting for you to attack this comparison. I wanted you to say that there were more down-to-earth bio/psycho/social explanations for our belief in OM... AND THIS IS WHY IT'S DIFFERENT THAN OUR BELIEF IN THE EXTERNAL WORLD. But you never did that.

I wanted you to perhaps say things like, "Unlike our belief in the external world-- which stems from raw sensory input-- there are REASONS (bio/psych/social) for the CONSTRUCTION of moral beliefs, independent of their actual, objective reality." I wanted you to say things like, "Unlike our implicit belief in the physical world-- which is almost totally consistent for everyone but a few psychotics-- there is widespread disagreement on moral norms." These would be possibly good ways to dis-analogize. Maybe you would have thought of your own ways. But I had a problem with the fact that you didn't dis-analogize at all. I thought it was an omission.

When you say, "But, saying something should be done begs the question, why should it be done?" in that second paragraph above your Objectivity heading, it's not a good counter-argument. In that paragraph, as Eph correctly points out in his Round 2 post, you are essentially saying, "Why should one be moral?" which is tantamount to asking the meaningless tautology, "What should one do what one should do?" It does nothing to advance your position that belief in OM is less reasonable than not.

As far as the points you made under your Objectivity heading were concerned, I was on the fence as to whether those were good arguments or not. On the one hand, the questions of where OM originates or how we know it (as Eph later points out) are irrelevant to whether it ACTUALLY exists or not and is more reasonable to believe in. On the other hand, you seemed to be making an underlying point which I felt did have some merit. That is, "Why should we believe in OM if we can't establish WHAT it is?" You made a good point about OM not being like a tree, whose existence you can check on and readily ascertain and describe.

This is a good point. I remember in my philosophy classes, this type of point came up regarding that mother of all philosophical entities: God. The problem was essentially this: Why is it reasonable to believe in God when you then go on to say that God is "totally beyond our understanding"? Isn't that like saying, "I believe in a geedonk. I can't tell you what it is, I can't describe it for you, but I expect you to believe in it nonetheless."

You also seemed to argue that widespread disagreement on moral norms raises the question, What does it even mean to say that "most people" believe in OM? I interpreted this as an attack on Eph's Arg. 1. This was also a decent point, though not as clearly articulated as it could be. You should have spelled it out more directly.

I had a major problem with your dialogue that attempted to show the circularity of the belief in OM. Again, the crux of Eph's argument is his comparison of belief in OM to the belief in the external world. So while I'm looking at your dialogue, I'm plugging in Eph's comparison to see how well it fits.

Q: What is the external world, objectively?

A: It is X.

Q: How do you know?

A: We experience it in our minds.

Q: But psychotics and schizophrenics experience it otherwise!

A: Humans can sometimes be wrong and it does not take universal agreement to know that something is objective.

Q: Well, how do you know YOUR view is right?

A: Because we experience in our mind that X is the external world.

Does this now mean that our beliefs about the external world are circular, too? Doesn't seem so by the dialogue. And if plugging the external world idea into your dialogue doesn't show circularity, then the dialogue fails to show why belief in OM is similarly circular (given that Eph is comparing belief in OM to the belief in the external world).

In conclusion, and in judging only Round 1, I think that Eph made four fairly rigorous and creative arguments in support of his position that belief in OM is more reasonable than not. And they fit together logically. Cheetah, on the other hand, made some decent points but also some bad ones, and she did not sufficiently attack the main argument that Eph was making-- the analogy to the external world.

I therefore judge Eph to be the winner of Round 1.

Part 8

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Morality debate, part 6 of 11

Cheetah's closing statement

ephphatha questions what the motivation is to act in accordance with subjectivity, and then tells me I show weakness for offering an answer! In fact, I didn't say that people should only be moral if they're personally motivated. I'm not sure where he got that idea, since I specifically stated that if people chose not to follow the moral code they would be considered immoral. Another strawman.

ephphatha implies that moral systems cannot be valid unless there is obligation to follow it, which makes it objective. I disagree that obligation stems from objectivity, and ephphatha certainly didn't explain that leap in logic. The moral agents may agree, implicitly or explicitly, thus creating an “obligation,” and that is not objective. Still, it is not objectively moral to follow society's code, there is only an obligation due to the participation of the agents, and motivation due to the incentives/disincentives put in place. The question is, what obligation is there in an objective system? An obligation to ourselves? Well, then psychopaths must never act immorally, because they do not feel an obligation to themselves to act in what we might call a “moral” way, which, under ephphatha's scenario, means there is no valid moral system.

He again tries to “prove” nothing at all exists. As I said before: useless argument. Witness: either nothing exists or everything everyone proposes exists does actually exist. The Pet Psychic senses thoughts of animals. Far be it from us to deny her! A schizophrenic senses that he's god. Who are we to say his senses are wrong? I sense that I have a special power to cure cancer and insist that the NIH give me vast amounts of funding. Don't ask for evidence! All senses are equal to ephphatha! But, that's not the way the world works, and we should either agree to work within our system, or give up discussion. There is such a thing, whether it's only “senses” or not, that we call evidence and agree will qualify certain experiences/research for acceptance. Measurement of the universe qualifies. Nothing in OMV does.

I'm amazed by ephphatha's “written on the mind” hypothesis. I personally didn't have the fact that triangles are three-sided objects “written” on my mind. I had to learn that in school. I also learned through experience that when two things contradict each other, there is a conflict that needs to be resolved. This is one component of critical thinking, which many say schools aren't teaching well enough nowadays. Similarly, morals weren't “etched in my mind” but were taught to me by my family and through interaction in my society. And again, this is why subjectivism is more parsimonious than objectivism. Because it doesn't require some unsupported idea (the idea that some facts are etched in minds, while others have to be learned). It stems from the a priori knowledge that there are processes in society that create this, and other, systems.

For a third time, and although I have provided rebuttals twice, ephphatha insists that, in subjective morality, people cannot pass value judgments on others. I had hoped ephphatha would address my responses so I could see what he thought was amiss, but instead he responds with the same argument, as if I had never even attempted to respond. I will refer the reader back to my first and second posts for a refresher.

The only one of the five reasons ephphatha listed that addresses the undermining of the idea that moral dispute is valuable in a subjective system is the third one. All the others address subjectivity specifically, and are variations on ideas we've already discussed. For the record, I don't think it's moral if a man risks his life to save a drowning person. It's noble, but if he chose not to do it, I certainly wouldn't call him immoral. And we do talk about utility and interest in moral discussion. We talk about what value we place on things. I think war for oil is immoral because I've been raised to believe in sovereignty, property rights and that lives have value above oil (plus more reasons). That's not objective. Other societies don't have those same values, but we can certainly talk about why developing those values is in someone's best interest, and therefore make a moral judgment on those values. But, back to the third argument. The third says there's no principled way to resolve conflict in moral subjectivism. Nevermind that ephphatha ignored my proposal that moral dispute is useless in objectivism, because there's no realistic way people who disagree based on something “etched in their minds” can come to an agreement if their minds are differently etched. In reality, there is both a principled and realistic way to address dispute in moral subjectivism. It's through discussion, documentation of differences and unveiling of facts, leading to judgments by the agents. I don't see what is “unprincipled” about these types of efforts.

Ephphatha says that you cannot get ought from is, which requires us to start from a moral premise. Actually, ephphatha didn't prove this at all. Why can't we get ought from is? Society “is” interested in facilitating the interaction between humans. Society “has” decided, through its moral agents, that X is unacceptable to society. We “ought” to follow those codes of conduct since we implicitly agreed as members of that society to do so, and since we will suffer repercussions if we don't, which again, “is” not in our best interests as biologically-driven organisms. And, finally, we “ought” to because we were taught to.

Now, the Nazis again. I would like to see what people say about us, 10,000 years from now, when they consider how we treat non-human apes. I would like to see what people think about us 100 years from now, when they consider how we treat homosexuals. If those future societies decide homosexuals have equal value and rights as the rest of humans, they have made a moral judgment that is subjective. Maybe in the future, research may convince people that apes are so valuable and intelligent that they deserve the same rights humans enjoy. This has been the trend over human civilization. Rights have been extended in gradations to more and more people and even animals (think ASPCA). The point is, those future humans, past humans and us present humans have placed value on certain other things/organisms. Humans really don't have objective value. The only way you or I have any value is by being assigned value by a moral agent, perhaps ourselves, perhaps another human being, even a non-human, since we all know apes, dogs and cats can ascribe value to “their” humans. But, that value is there because of the subjective experience of another moral agent.

That may be tough to understand and to swallow for some people that don't want to admit they aren't objectively “special.” But, my argument for subjective morality doesn't require that you buy into that particular idea anyway. All it asks is: why would you believe something mysterious and partially veiled is “etched in your brain,” an idea with which most of us are totally unfamiliar, placed there through an unknown power, with unknown properties and values, when it is more reasonable and parsimonious to realize that the moral codes which we ascribe to in our family unit, in society, and in this increasingly connected world, are a product both of our biological drives and our social conditioning?

Most of this post centered around digging deeper into objectivity, only to understand that it does require a lack of rigorous questioning and belief in, essentially, magic. ephphatha simply insists that the former scenario presents no problems for a reasonable person. And I say that, if this is so, we all ought to believe in ESP, that schizophrenics are gods and that I can cure cancer. ephphatha tries to dismiss the idea that any proof is required for his theory but only succeeds in proving that no proof is required for anything, ever, as long as someone, somewhere, senses something that is “etched on their brain.” Indeed, we do need to be honest with ourselves. An objective reality is not impossible. However, the knowledge and evidence that we have simply does not support this at this time. We don't need magic to explain why we do what we do. We have more parsimonious explanations. So, until that changes, it is most reasonable to subscribe to the subjective morality system as I have described it here.

Thanks again for the debate. I'll look forward to hearing WeirdBrake's thoughts on this debate specifically and I also hope that others on this board will be interested in putting differing thoughts forward for consideration on the subject of subjective vs. objective morality (and all its variations) as a whole.

Part 7