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


Psiomniac said...

It has been very interesting to read the moderator's verdict and your response.

There is a flaw with the appeal to intuition though. I know that you already know that.

They are funny these debates aren't they? You can deploy your most potent arguments, and somebody can respond with the equivalent of 'whatever'. There are rarely moderators, and when there are, we disagree with their deliberations if they are not in our favour. It isn't like chess. At least there is an unambiguous outcome with chess.

Sam Harper said...

In most of the debate books I have, the chapters that come after the debates by the non-participants who comment on the debate are always the most interesting to me.

Yeah, why can't debating be like chess? I like chess. There's no ambiguity.

Psiomniac said...

Hey Sam, maybe we should have a game sometime.

Sam Harper said...

Well c'mon over, Psiomniac!

Psiomniac said...

Ah, I fear we might have to resort to a postal game. Though, if I ever get to your neighbourhood, I hope you won't mind if I look you up.

Postal games are easy on here. I've done two via email. One went to a conclusion, in the other my opponent resigned because we fell out over an argument about doxastic logic. No I'm not making it up!

Anyway, it is 2am and I should go to bed before I clutter any more of your thread with trivia...

Sam Harper said...

I had an email game of chess with a friend once, but it didn't work out because apparently there was a miscommunication somewhere along the line, and her chess board didn't look like my chess board.

Right now, my biggest worry is my cats. I'd have to keep the chess board somewhere they can't mess it up. But let's try it. You can email me at banana underscore nut underscore bread at hotmail dot com.

I'd love to meet you if you're ever in Texas.

Psiomniac said...

Ok I'll try that. A discrepancy occurred in my other game too, but since we had the full list of moves in each email, we just corrected the error by each playing through the list carefully.

I'm not very good though.

DagoodS said...


The most frustrating thing in a trial is to spend hours and hours on a certain point, while the opposing side counters that point, and then talk to the jury later to hear them say, “Oh, we didn’t think that was important at all. What WE wanted to know was this—what color was the dog?”

Argg…(We want to point out, that if two lawyers and a judge, all of whom know the law, thought it important, doncha think, maybe it is? But that doesn’t matter, of course. It is what the trier-of-fact thinks is important.)

One thing that would at least be helpful in these debates is to get some interaction. It would have made a better debate (in my lowly opinion) if the moderator made comments after each round. This would have given more direction as to what the moderator was looking for.

One thing I liked about the debates at iidb were the peanut galleries. At least you could read how people were responding to the posts; what they thought was important or not. And some of the more interesting discussions occurred in the peanut galleries.