Science can answer moral questions
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12-12-2013, 08:40 AM (This post was last modified: 12-12-2013 08:44 AM by nach_in.)
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(12-12-2013 08:28 AM)Chippy Wrote:  
(12-12-2013 07:38 AM)nach_in Wrote:  it was an example, not an argument. But have it your way, the individual desire to survive can be detrimental to the community if that individual has some sort of defect. That bias that favours survival of the individual is subjective, and he'll do whatever he can to survive, even though he might be hurting the species in the long run.
Again, morality is never objective, there are no rules floating out there for us to observe http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Objective_morality

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is an objective measure of price inflation. Humans created the CPI and the CPI wasn't "floating out there for us to observe" but it is still an objective measure of inflation. Objective means that it exists independently of the observing mind. Price inflation is also intangible, it can be caused by many things but the CPI remains an objective measure of it.

There are other indexes of inflation besides the CPI so the decision to use the CPI is subjective but the CPI itself is still an objective measure of inflation. Understand?

The central idea in Harris' book is that he believes there exists some objective mesaure of what is good for humans that neursoscience will discover. He calls this measure well-being. Assume for the sake of argument that neuroscience delivers and we can measure well-being as objectively as we can measure price inflation. Harris argues that once we have this we can produce an objective theory of value, i.e. we will be able to objectively rank things according to how the contribute to human well-being.

But this measure of well-being will be one of many possible measures of human value (just like there are many possible ways to measure price inflation) so the choice to use Harris' well-being scale will be subjective. But the subjectivity of the choice doesn't diminsh the objectivity of the measure.

Harris doesn't provide any detail (in his book) of how his subjectively chosen objective measure of value will connect with a system of ethics so we can't really talk about an objective morality in relation to Harris' proposal. All that Harris suggests is that ethical action would be related somehow to maximising this well-being which we will be able objectively measure. But again of course the choice of ethical system will be subjective.

Just because the choice is subjective doesn't mean the whole proposal is flawed. We can still objectively measure price inflation even though there might be disagreement about the composition of the CPI. Of course there can be disagreement about Harris' measure of value; that would be just the same as economists disagreeing about the best way to measure inflation. Just because economists can disagree about the best way to measure inflation it doesn't mean that measure such as the CPI aren't objective measures of inflation. Understand?

You appear to be confusing the subjective process of choosing amongst different means of measure and the objectivity of the actual measures. The choice of which tape measure I use is subjective but each tape measure objectively measures distance.

Also, rational wiki is awful. Much worse than Wikipedia.

First and foremost, a descriptive statement (price index) is not a normative statement.

I know there's an objective part of Harris' idea. But as you say, there's a subjective part, that part is the normative premiss that the well-being (as defined by Harris) is good.
The measurable part is objective, but the value he ascribes to it is subjective. That makes every conclusion subjective.
Check several pages before, we covered this.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it being subjective, but he claims objectivity, that can be dangerous when we talk about morality.


I quoted rational wiki just because it gives a good enough summary on how I understand "objective morality".

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12-12-2013, 07:35 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(12-12-2013 08:40 AM)nach_in Wrote:  First and foremost, a descriptive statement (price index) is not a normative statement.

No, it isn't, the point is that humans can and do invent objective measures of intangible things and price inflation is one of them.

You are appealing to the is-ought problem. That is fair enough, it has a long tradition in meta-ethics. Harris is challenging the legitimacy of the is-ought problem, he thinks it is a pseudo-problem. Whether he has succeeded I am not sure. But regardless of that you should at least give his proposed resolution a hearing and not dismiss it on principle.

Quote:I know there's an objective part of Harris' idea. But as you say, there's a subjective part, that part is the normative premiss that the well-being (as defined by Harris) is good.
The measurable part is objective, but the value he ascribes to it is subjective. That makes every conclusion subjective.

Refer back to the CPI. Within the context of some macroeconomic theory and some conception of what a "good economy" is the CPI can take on a normative dimension, i.e. its value can indicate that something ought or ought not be done in terms of fiscal and/or monetary policy. In relation to the CPI, some macroeconomic theory and the (normative) conception of what a good eceonomy consists in an economist would be able to objectively rank the goodness of various policies. Don't confuse relative with objective. Within a framework (to use DLJs language)--even though that framework is justified in ultimately subjective terms--objective measurement and ranking remains possible. Just because "good" is understood relative to some set of background assumptions (premises) it doesn't entail that "good" can not be objectively determined within that framework. Of course we can disagree about the framework itself and its background assumptions but that doesn't alter that we can make objective measurements within that framework.

Quote:I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it being subjective, but he claims objectivity, that can be dangerous when we talk about morality.

You are using objective and subjective without it being clear what you are referring to. Harris' book is thin on detail so I am necessarily filling in the blanks to try and explain what he is trying to do.

Yes, the complete framework, the moral theory would be ultimately subjective but within the framework objective measurement would be possible and with a set of premises an objective ranking of options would also be possible. Yes, the scales, "calculus" and normative premises would be relative to the system but that doesn't preclude objectivity. Think about what objectivity means: existing independently of an observing mind. That doesn't mean it "floats in space" it just means that it doesn't rely on a mind for its attributes/value with the consequence being that different minds using the same procedure/instrument will arrive at the same attribute/measure/value.

Quote:I quoted rational wiki just because it gives a good enough summary on how I understand "objective morality".

I don't think it is a good summary of "objective morality". Key terms are misunderstood. The example ironically undermines the argument presented:

1 + 1 = 2 is false for base-2, In base-2 1 + 1 = 10

1 + 1 = 2 is objectively true relative to base-10 numeration, i.e. it is not always true. But that doesn't mean that given base-10 numeration 1 + 1 = 2 is not objectively true.

Objective does NOT mean:
--tangible, material
--absolute, i.e. not relative to something else
--self-evident
--not an artifact
--simple
--not contentious
--found in all cultures at all times

Something that is objective may incidentally have one or more of these attributes but it is not defined by them.
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12-12-2013, 08:10 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
Of course I'm referring to the is-ought problem, I've said so myself. I'm questioning Harris' presumed success on calling it a pseudo-problem.

Quote: its value can indicate that something ought or ought not be done in terms of fiscal and/or monetary policy

Not by itself, it can't. There's a volition, a subjective will that defines what that ought/not should be. The CPI is the factual element to which the normative element is applied.

Quote:Yes, the complete framework, the moral theory would be ultimately subjective

Thank you, that's exactly my point, not more, not less.


The mathematical thing you mentiones is mathematical semantics. 2 in base 10 is exactly the same as 10 in base 2. At least yo the extent of your example.

Quote:Objective does NOT mean:
--tangible, material
--absolute, i.e. not relative to something else
--self-evident
--not an artifact
--simple
--not contentious
--found in all cultures at all times

Something that is objective may incidentally have one or more of these attributes but it is not defined by them.

Never claimed any of those things.


I insist, there are factual elements in a moral judgement, those elements are objective. But to make a valid moral judgement we need a normative element, that one is always subjective in some form. That makes the entire framework subjective.

I have no problem with a subjective moral code, they usually turn out to be the best. Those codes that claim objectivity (always wrongly as far as I can tell) usually lead people to try to impose them by force, as if it were some sort of law of nature, which is weird as a natural law should apply by itself, but that's beyond this discussion.

I've pointed to where the subjectivity of Harris' theory lies, that shows that its claimed objectivity is false. Now give me some proof that objective morality is an actual objective thing, or call it a day. I'm getting tired of going around the same stuff over and over...

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12-12-2013, 10:01 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(12-12-2013 08:10 PM)nach_in Wrote:  The mathematical thing you mentiones is mathematical semantics. 2 in base 10 is exactly the same as 10 in base 2. At least yo the extent of your example.

The truth or falsehood of any proposition comes down to semantics.

Quote:I have no problem with a subjective moral code, they usually turn out to be the best. Those codes that claim objectivity (always wrongly as far as I can tell) usually lead people to try to impose them by force, as if it were some sort of law of nature, which is weird as a natural law should apply by itself, but that's beyond this discussion.

That's a fair concern but you should take the argument on its own merits. I don't know what Harris' political philosophy is and he doesn't state one in his book.

Quote:I've pointed to where the subjectivity of Harris' theory lies, that shows that its claimed objectivity is false. Now give me some proof that objective morality is an actual objective thing, or call it a day. I'm getting tired of going around the same stuff over and over...

I've explained--using the example of CPI--that something can be subjective at one level but objective at another. I'm not certain that Harris is claiming that his (rough) scheme is objective in the sense that you have conceived the term objective. Even the concept of healthcare is premised on the subjective normative idea that health is preferable to illness but that doesn't entail that all of modern medicine is therefore subjective in its recommendations. Having accepted the subjective normative premise that health is preferable to illness we can make objective normative statements about certain aspects of health, e.g. people should get vaccinated, people should not ingest lead etc.
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13-12-2013, 12:27 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(12-12-2013 10:01 PM)Chippy Wrote:  
(12-12-2013 08:10 PM)nach_in Wrote:  I have no problem with a subjective moral code, they usually turn out to be the best. Those codes that claim objectivity (always wrongly as far as I can tell) usually lead people to try to impose them by force, as if it were some sort of law of nature, which is weird as a natural law should apply by itself, but that's beyond this discussion.

That's a fair concern but you should take the argument on its own merits. I don't know what Harris' political philosophy is and he doesn't state one in his book.
Let's say that Harris' position is that of an "objective" measure of well being in a human (as long as Harris' definition of well being is acceptable to his audience and his proposed method of measuring that is accurate and objective).

Given this, what practical application is there with regards to acceptance of this objective measurement?
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13-12-2013, 08:08 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(12-12-2013 10:01 PM)Chippy Wrote:  
(12-12-2013 08:10 PM)nach_in Wrote:  The mathematical thing you mentiones is mathematical semantics. 2 in base 10 is exactly the same as 10 in base 2. At least yo the extent of your example.

The truth or falsehood of any proposition comes down to semantics.

Quote:I have no problem with a subjective moral code, they usually turn out to be the best. Those codes that claim objectivity (always wrongly as far as I can tell) usually lead people to try to impose them by force, as if it were some sort of law of nature, which is weird as a natural law should apply by itself, but that's beyond this discussion.

That's a fair concern but you should take the argument on its own merits. I don't know what Harris' political philosophy is and he doesn't state one in his book.

Quote:I've pointed to where the subjectivity of Harris' theory lies, that shows that its claimed objectivity is false. Now give me some proof that objective morality is an actual objective thing, or call it a day. I'm getting tired of going around the same stuff over and over...

I've explained--using the example of CPI--that something can be subjective at one level but objective at another. I'm not certain that Harris is claiming that his (rough) scheme is objective in the sense that you have conceived the term objective. Even the concept of healthcare is premised on the subjective normative idea that health is preferable to illness but that doesn't entail that all of modern medicine is therefore subjective in its recommendations. Having accepted the subjective normative premise that health is preferable to illness we can make objective normative statements about certain aspects of health, e.g. people should get vaccinated, people should not ingest lead etc.

"people will get ill if not vaccinated" that's objective. "people should get vaccinated" that's subjective.
why? because it values health more than illness, and that's a subjective appreciation of the facts.

That's why there are special mechanisms to take decisions in some medical cases (medical boards?). Because the science by itself can't answer the questions, should we let the people live? should we let them keep the baby? and a myriad of different decisions. The answers can not be derived from the observation of the facts alone, there always must be some decision making based in some value, and that act is subjective.
Changing the frame of reference to "make it objective at another level" is just absurd, like trying to say that there's a solar eclipse because I cover the sun with one finger.

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14-12-2013, 08:05 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(13-12-2013 12:27 AM)Stevil Wrote:  Given this, what practical application is there with regards to acceptance of this objective measurement?

Good question. I assume it would be that it would assist in resolving moral dilemmas, it would provide a common meeting ground in a discussion/debate and that being objective it would easier to rationally justify a position. I suppose it would be the general benefits that come from objectivity.
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14-12-2013, 09:29 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(13-12-2013 08:08 AM)nach_in Wrote:  "people will get ill if not vaccinated" that's objective. "people should get vaccinated" that's subjective.
why? because it values health more than illness, and that's a subjective appreciation of the facts.

No. The statement of value, i.e. "health is preferable to illness", is subjective. The statement "people should get vaccinated" is objectively true given the preceding statement of value. If we accept the (subjective) statement of value and it is true that vaccination promotes health then it is objectively true that people should get vaccinated. That this is the case can be appreciated by comparing with economic policy.

If it is true that inflation is bad and it is true that monetary policy can control inflation then it is objectively true that the central bank should contract the money supply. Just because the notion of a good economy is subjective, the objectvity of the CPI and the desirability of a contracting money supply is not rendered subjective.

Quote:That's why there are special mechanisms to take decisions in some medical cases (medical boards?). Because the science by itself can't answer the questions, should we let the people live? should we let them keep the baby? and a myriad of different decisions. The answers can not be derived from the observation of the facts alone, there always must be some decision making based in some value, and that act is subjective.

I think you are referring to bioethical boards and panels of hospitals.

If you have ever taken a course in bioethics or read a book on the topic you would realise that the need for bioethics panels actually counts in favour of Harris' project. There are a multiplicity of bioethical theories each based on a different school of moral philosophy. The members of the panel basically argue and then vote. An ethical system that is based on an objective theory of value--as Harris is proposing--would simplify decisions in bioethics.

The reason questions go to bioethics panels is because there are no clear-cut fundamentals for the medical practitioner to reference: no theory of value, no definition of personhood, no definition of life, no calculus for measuring the relative ethicality of available options, pretty much nothing.

Quote:Changing the frame of reference to "make it objective at another level" is just absurd, like trying to say that there's a solar eclipse because I cover the sun with one finger.

No, it isn't "absurd". If it is "absurd" for ethics it is also "absurd" for healthcare, economics and TQM. Merely because a human activity is motivated by some theory of value it doesn't entail that no aspect of that human activity has objectvity. In healthcare, economics and TQM some action A is objectively evaluated with respect to how it promotes some (subjective) value V. If we have decided on the desirability of V then we can objectively measure how A moves us towards or away from V.
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14-12-2013, 10:29 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(14-12-2013 09:29 PM)Chippy Wrote:  No. The statement of value, i.e. "health is preferable to illness", is subjective. The statement "people should get vaccinated" is objectively true given the preceding statement of value. If we accept the (subjective) statement of value and it is true that vaccination promotes health then it is objectively true that people should get vaccinated.

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14-12-2013, 10:47 PM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
... and I am detecting that your Taqometer needs adjusting.

Argue the point (not the man) or you risk repeating the embarrassment witnessed in the Objective Morality thread.

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