Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Settling for a Branch

Many atheists, when trying to ground moral values, appeal to something like human well being as a guide for morality. This seems to be patently insufficient of a ground for morals, because it itself is simply a moral judgment. It is good to promote human well being and bad to stifle it is a moral value itself, and therefore can't be the ground of moral values. As I said to one commenter on Sam Harris' attempt to use this as a ground, "Saying that well-being of some sort is good is simply another moral claim, so it hasn't reached any sort of ontological base at all. If this is Harris' base, then he seems to have stopped short of a true ground for morality and settled for a branch. [In other words] you can't say that a moral value is itself the ground of moral value."

This is why most attempts at ethics today are silly little exercises in futility.

Modern Science Rejects Teleology

So I'm picking on my ethics teacher again, which may turn into quite a habit for the next 12 weeks or so. This statement (the title of this post) was one of the supposed problems with Thomas Aquinas' natural law theory. My teacher really didn't argue for this assertion. How has Science done this?

Is it because it can now explain how things work? What does that have to do with whether they have an end they were designed for?

It seems to me that this is just an assumption that flows from, at least, methodological naturalism. But even if you accept that science can't access the reason for which something was created, but can only tell us how it was created/works, it certainly doesn't follow that it wasn't created for some reason.

Not to mention that this seems to be patently untrue anyway. Certain fields of science seem to make their living on detecting teleology. Archaeologists do this often.

I must say, some things my prof. states don't seem very well thought out, and when I challenge him he seems incapable of 1) listening without interrupting and 2) understanding what I'm talking about (though I suppose this could be my fault). He's not a dumb guy in the least. I don't get it. I thought this stuff I talk about all the time was pretty well known in philosophy departments...I guess not.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Justin Bieber Will be Attacked

I'd never heard about the kid until recently. Chalk it up to me not keeping up on the teen pop scene. But someone that makes as much money as he does is bound to be heard of by most people at some point, so yes I am vaguely familiar with him.

Well this kid has more in the way of below the waist spherical objects than most adults in his profession, not being scared at all to give his opinion on abortion. In a Rolling Stone interview he says, "I really don’t believe in abortion...It’s like killing a baby?" (The question mark is apparently maybe being unsure, or maybe it's rhetorical in the way teens typically talk). He also didn't back down when asked about his thoughts on the issue in the case of rape. Of course he's going to be maligned and drug through the mud until he "clarifies" his position, which I assume his agent or someone working around him will convince him to do. But I hold out hope for the young man, and will pray for God to give him strength to stand up for this position in the face of the impending media pounding (which has already started).

On a more negative Bieber note, he jokingly called Americans who think people should have control over their own health care by keeping the purse strings to themselves "evil." Being anti abortion is a tad stronger than being stupid on health care, so we'll say he's slightly above water at this point.


Now we'll get to listen to a bunch of poorly conceived, emotionally charged, non-rational arguments for abortion for the next week or so on every station imaginable. YAY!

Are JL Mackie's Arguments Against Objective Moral Values Any Good?

In my ethics class, we talked about JL Mackie's short essay The Subjectivity of Values. My teacher, while not seeming to be impressed by the first argument I'll go over, did indicate that we could consider the other two as pretty good. I've found that my teacher and I differ pretty greatly on what constitutes a good argument. I'll go over the formulations my teacher presented and critique them here.

Argument from relativity

P1. Moral values vary from culture to culture, from time period to time period, and from class to class in the same society.
P2. Radical differences in normative values cast doubt on the objectivity of moral values.
C.  Therefore, there is good reason to think that moral values are subjective.

My first thought about this argument is that it's hard to see how it's even valid. Seems to me that the most we can say from these two premises is C' There is reason to think that moral values are subjective. Why should even radical differences give us good reason to doubt objective morality? It certainly doesn't follow from the premises in a strict literal sense.

Premise one seems to be subtly begging the question for subjectivism. The objectivist would say that moral values don't vary from these cultures, though cultural norms, which may or may not line up with whatever objective morality may exist, could vary in this way. It would be more correct to say that what cultures hold to be the correct moral values may vary from culture to culture, etc.

The objectivist could also say about premise one that it is blatantly false. Though some values may differ from culture to culture, there seem to be some that not only do transcend cultural lines, but are necessary for the survival of a culture (ie the culture would cease to exist in time if something like murder or lying were thought to be morally good). These would be the moral values. They could pass the others off as values of taste.

Premise 2 also seems to be very weak. Who says that differences of these sorts should cast doubt on objective morality? Just because people are behaving badly we ought not to think that they are actually behaving badly? That's ridiculous. Differences in moral behavior doesn't really seem to entail anything with regard to whether moral values are an ontological reality.

So, this argument not only doesn't seem to be sound, but also seems to be invalid, at least in the form given by my teacher. But he didn't really have much good to say about this one either.

Metaphysical argument from queerness

P1. If moral values were objective, then we would expect there to be moral properties out in the world.
P2. There are no moral properties out in the world (for such properties would be very queer and utterly unlike ordinary properties like heaviness, roundness, or numbers).
C. Therefore, moral values are not objective.

While I tend to agree with the first premise, there are objectivists who would classify objective morality in other ways, though I'm not entirely sure how that would work.

Premise two, I think, is really bad. First off, how does something being odd, strange, queer, weird, unlike something else, whatever you want to call it, entail its non existence? The quantum physical world is extremely strange. Does that mean we should doubt its existence?

Furthermore, Mackie is simply stacking the deck here by classifying things so that his argument goes through. Who says that moral properties are queer? Who says they are weirder and utterly unlike the other properties listed? Frankly, you can say that any property listed there is unlike the other. Roundness is not like heaviness in pretty profound ways. Likewise, numbers, as abstract objects, are also extremely strange in the minds of most philosophers. Unless one holds to some sort of reductionist materialism I don't see any reason to support the contention that one of these types of properties is queer to the point that we should start to question its existence.

Epistemological argument from queerness

P1. If there were moral properties in the world, then we would need a separate faculty from perception to detect them.
P2. We do not seem to have such a faculty.
P3. So, even if there are moral properties in the world, we can't know that.
C. Therefore, it is not reasonable to believe that moral values are objective.

I first off would begin by questioning the way premise one is worded. I assume when my prof. says "perception," being a product of latent positivism in the establishment philosophy departments, he means physical perception. What we perceive with our five senses. He needs to make that clear, since I would say there is moral forms or perception, similar to how there is a logical perception (perceiving the logical status of an argument for instance). But, if he means physical perception, then I would agree with premise one.

Premise two is ridiculous. I wonder if Mackie actually ever went outside his office. Moral perception is something that we encounter every day. You can't help but have a moral feeling/perception/sense about anything you hear about. You can simply sit there and think of a moral situation, say someone brutally beating a woman for trying to learn how to read, and immediately and irrepressibly you have a moral sense about that act. Somewhat like your physical senses, it forces itself upon you whether you like it or not. I think it's eminently clear that we have a faculty that picks up on the moral properties some act has. I think Mackie's materialism is undergirding this claim. Because our moral sense doesn't act on a strictly material level, it simply can't be true. But I think our moral sense is more obvious than our physical senses, because there doesn't have to be any sort of external stimuli to judge the moral status of an act, because you can imagine an act in a dark room and your moral sense will react to it. I have no more reason to question my moral sense than I do my physical senses.

Premise three relies on premise two.

My teacher seemed to think that both of the queerness arguments were pretty good here. But I don't think so at all. I honestly wonder where he's coming from, because these arguments, to me, rely on a vary large amount of unbacked assumptions and really are pretty poor. This makes me want to get into a philosophy department in a university or something even more, so I can give another perspective other than this latent assumed naturalism in university philosophy departments. If my Lord is willing, maybe I will!

Why anyone takes Mackie's subjectivism seriously is beyond me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Yeah, I went there

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Posts Coming Soon

My brief lull in posts will come to an end fairly soon. Stay tuned.