Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective
#1
Following is an edited transcript of a discussion with a Nirmukta member whose questions triggered this post, and whose kind consent I have obtained in making it available here.

Q: Although as rationalist one claims that there are no objective morality and it all depends on context, in that case can you tell me under what context holocaust or child abuse becomes good?... I have not recieved sufficient reasons to convince me that objective morality does not exist and it requires context.

A: Let us consider different ways in which moral persons of different backgrounds argue against a holocaust.

- A Bible-believer may point to the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. Moral philosophers call this approach 'Divine Command Theory'. This is an 'objective' morality in theory, because the 'divine command' is believed to have arisen independent of any one human's subjective influences.

- The next theory is 'Virtue Theory'. Aristotle defines virtue as the golden mean between the deficiency and excess of a trait. Aristotle, though he was a militarist who tutored Alexander, would condemn a holocaust since it is an *excess* of violence, and would also disapprove of refraining from violence when necessary. The virtue of 'Ahimsa' in Dharmic faiths rejects violence altogether.
Now is Virtue Theory an 'objective morality'? Since there is no objective measure of virtue, only subjective judgments are possible here.

- A utilitarian (like Bentham, or Peter Singer or Sam Harris) would reject genocide based on the principle of maximizing human well-being. People like Harris argue that differences in human well-being are objectively demonstrable and sometimes even quantifiable. However if I ask you "How well are you feeling today?", you will immediately realize that subjective judgments are unavoidable while talking of human well-being.

- Finally, we have the approach of 'deontology' i.e. a duty-based morality. Such morality is based on following a prescribed duty, irrespective of whether the action will produce well-being or not. Kant, one of the foremost philosophers in this school, gives one rule : "Act in such a way that your every action can be made a universal rule." If an invading general and every commanding officer followed that principle, they would never inflict upon any human settlement a genocidal atrocity.
Now is this an objective moral system? In practice, will the application of this rule guarantee identical decisions from very thinking person, without subjective influences?

So we have seen how persons following very different kinds of moral reasoning can reach a similar conclusion about a question, namely genocide. A rationalist can follow any such philosophy which is free of supernatural or unverifiable claims. That is one reason for freethinkers' rejection of divine command theory. Judgments are explicitly involved in virtue theory where we must judge whether an action conforms enough to a virtue, in utilitarianism to decide what human well-being means in a particular situation. However these judgments are collective and require agreement and in this sense they are 'intersubjective' i.e. they involve the concord of subjective judgments of several persons but are NOT objective in that they are not independent of any person.

A rationalist does indeed hold moral principles which are not dependent on context, but recognizes that these principles depend on intersubjective judgments, not received from some impersonal, 'objective' higher source.

Followup Q: The confusion that i encountered while thinking of objective is similar to how a peer reviewed independent reading of a theory validates a theory and hence we call it more objective or the theory has least of subjective biases. so the similar question in philosophy to such moral issues as good and bad are that such premises are inherently human construct and to attach objectivity to our conclusion is a bad argument or lacks honesty.

Followup of A:
I think we are on the same page now on the meaning and use of the word 'objective' in discussions on morality. I have Ajita to thank, for emphasizing the 'intersubjective' nature of morality. That is highlighted in this thread, where we address the fallacious notion that our morality is objectively determined by our evolutionary history.

This thread shows an example of ethical reasoning by freethinker, in which we can see both utilitarian and deontological influences.

Also, with the background of this message-trail, you may greatly enjoy watching the three videos linked here.
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#2
I have two comments/concerns here
1. How do we establish something as intersubjective truth?
Legal system can be of guidance here, but the problem is that not all moral choices have a legal judgement associated with them, and also that every legal system vary across the globe. So for e.g. for a statement like "Pursue arts instead of helping a poor", how do we establish whats the shared agreement on this.

2. All moral discussions, tend to be largely biocentric. Can't we try to have a moral framework that just doesn't revolve around humanity. Otherwise how are we to include other species/aliens?
For e.g. Sam Harris in this video states that "The worst possible universe is where most conscious beings are suffering for most of the time". This was so obvious to me that I didn't even give it a second thought and agreed with Harris. But on more introspection, it uncovers a prejudice. Humans code more emotional value in suffering that in happiness [for more refer this video]. Some other specie, or some humans, might say "The worst possible universe is where least number of conscious beings are happy for the least amount of time". These two statements lead us to two totally different pursuits which are minimization of suffering and maxmization of happiness.
How can such conflicts be resolved?
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#3
(16-Dec-2011, 08:33 AM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote: 1. How do we establish something as intersubjective truth?
Legal system can be of guidance here, but the problem is that not all moral choices have a legal judgement associated with them, and also that every legal system vary across the globe. So for e.g. for a statement like "Pursue arts instead of helping a poor", how do we establish whats the shared agreement on this.

Democracy is defined by Prof. Amartya Sen as a process of 'public reasoning' on morality, ethical conduct and justice. There are competing designs of how public reasoning maybe undertaken in order to achieve what can be considered a fair and representative intersubjective consensus. It is important for all public intellectuals involved in consciousness-raising for any cause, to have a working understanding of the framework of public reasoning they are operating. In an earlier post, I make a distinction between 'Statist' and 'Civil-society-led' frameworks of public reasoning, in a context of conflict resolution, but the frameworks remain applicable for the current discussion as well. One thing to be borne in mind is that seeking a 'global optimum' may not be a feasible criterion as a 'halting rule' for the process of public reasoning, and for practical purposes, an intersubjective consensus maybe frozen when a significant improvement in the state of affairs is attained, even if short of perfection. Prof. Sen calls such an approach 'realization-focused comparison' , explained in #3 in this post.

(16-Dec-2011, 08:33 AM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote: 2. All moral discussions, tend to be largely biocentric. Can't we try to have a moral framework that just doesn't revolve around humanity. Otherwise how are we to include other species/aliens?

It is an endeavour of some schools of moral philosophers to more broadly imagine a morality that is free from what they consider the undue human exceptionalism in speciesism. Philosophers like Peter Singer envision a society where speciesism is as stigmatized as racism is today.
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#4
In this recent, highly recommended talk at the Edge Foundation (audio and video links on this page), moral and political psychologist Jonathan Haidt, outlines the following terms of reference in undertaking any discussion on ethics and morality:

Rationalism and sentimentalism : The evolutionary history of reasoning as a human behavior suggests that it evolved as a means of 'justification of decisions' rather than of 'seeking truth'. A school of moral philosophy called sentimentalism, most notably advocated by David Hume, holds that moral principles are not reasoned conclusions but in fact, more primal to human nature than reason.

Systematizing and empathizing: Utilitarianism and deontology are the two foremost and influential attempts to systematize moral reasoning into a parsimonious set of rules, whose application result in conclusions which are impeccably reasoned, but do not very obviously 'feel right'. An empathizing approach is one in which more emphasis is placed on 'making sense' in individual instances, even at the cost of some elegance and parsimony. Virtue ethics, with its typically longer lists of virtues than either utilitarianism or deontology can be counted as an example of a moral framework that is more empathizing than systematizing.

Universalism and pluralism: Systematizing approaches to morality which admit to few or no exceptions, are likelier to result in a universalist morality. More empathizing influences, which can recognize diversity in human nature and hence diversity in moral judgments across cultures, are likelier to allow pluralist moralities.

Linguistic analogy and taste analogy : The dominant linguistic analogy which treats moral decision-making as attempts to design a discourse with a partly innate and partly codified 'moral grammar', can be usefully complemented with a taste analogy where moral perceptions and judgments are mediated by preferences we can consider to be 'moral receptors', operating alongside but not wholly controlled by reason.

Haidt observes that historically, the rationalist, systematizing and universalist view of morality has been dominant and that there maybe benefits of admitting more sentimentalist, empathizing and pluralist influences in our theoretical frameworks of morality. Such an exercise points towards a morality that is neither treated as objective reality nor is radically relativist, but treated as an intersubjective construct, or in Haidt's words, a 'consensual hallucination'.


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#5
Continuing a discussion from facebook:

link:http://www.facebook.com/groups/nirmukta/permalink/10150741386513152/
S_K wrote:
Quote:I was a fan of Peter Singer's views, though I am extremely skeptical about Utilitarian style of ethics. His views in this video shocks me :(
I think Kant is right here. What do you guys think?



S_B
Quote:i think this link much of the answers to his rather "illiberal" stance that torture is justified if it is directed at a terrorist if that could save a city of a nuclear bomb..http://www.cs.brown.edu/~joe/docs/JosephPolitzSufficiency.pdf
i remember his podcasts wherein he says in a thought experiment that if a trolley train was heading towards a tunnel with 5 men working and there is a switch which can divert that trolley train, but with a caveat that in the process it will kill a man on the alternate route...taking that scenario with what i told earlier seems to make some sense...although at a personal level the stance of Pete is very uncomfortable to me...http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/id.4686/pub_detail.asp
A_M
Quote:I think these 2 links go to some lengths in detailing the pros and cons of utilitarian (consequentialist) views and deontological (categorical imperative) ethics

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.in/20...alism.html

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.in/20...ology.html

The entire series is fascinating, it was posted by someone here on Nirmukta, i don't remember who, but Thank you!

I'll look at the video and try my interpretation of it as well.

S_P
Quote:In reference to the video, i felt it would still be immoral for the "society to torture the little girl"... We have to realise that the police department is something that reflects the society's ethics.

So the trade-off is not between... Saving 10 kids v/s torturing one kid.
I would say it is something like... Kidnapper killing 10 kids v/s Society torturing one kid.
The society doing something cruel is something much much more significant than what an individual does. So, can the society set a horrible precedent like that? Something that will weigh heavily on the collective conscience of the people, maybe for generations.

I have heard about the one that Sanjay has brought up above. (trolley train, 5 men). I think that one is even more intriguing.

S_K
Quote:I have read some entries on that blog. I think I read about the different forms of libertarianism there.
I think the question is 'as an individual, what do you think is the morally right thing to do?'.
If as an individual you could save 10 kids life, do you think it is right to torture one kid?
Consequentialists would say it's right... like Pete Singer. Deontologists, especially Kant, would say it's wrong since using a human as a means to an end is wrong.

A_M
Quote:The funniest part is I had the EXACT same conversation with L_K some time back. Anyway, to the point.

There are some issues, here i feel not being addressed:

With Kantian Ethics:

Some part of the problem lies in making dignity a commodity, or part of the human experience. Something tangible. If it is something defensible, and possessed by humans, then it will be subject to give and take. Isn't it a little arbitrary to define dignity as untouchable, and untaintable? If every human has a right to it, it doesn't follow that every human has a right to abuse it. Somewhat like the freedom of speech, there are limits to it. You can't make hate speech.

Now this can answer back in terms of the kidnapper, he lowered the dignity of a boy by kidnapping him. Therefore, he loses his privileges to dignity and he should lose it in equal amounts... as in terms of confinement and subject to interrogation.

Now torture, is a different game. The torturer also loses some of their dignity by dehumanizing the kidnapper. It's very poorly defined if one can gain their dignity by punishing a morally bankrupt person. Apparently dignity can only be lost, not gained. But there might be collective dignity at play here, a society unable to prevent such an incident has much to gain in terms of dignity, by at least getting the boy back.

Does it then justify the torture faced by equally innocent kids? If dignity is measurable then it could be if the numbers are sorted out, like all give and take relationships.

Now this sounds horrible, and i feel something is wrong here. The problem is in the assumption of knowledge to be possibly gained in the future. The kidnapper assumes, he'll get off and get the money by being morally wrong. The police assume torturing him, will get the boy back. And even further, emotionally torturing the kidnapper via a third party MIGHT get the child back. It all goes back to validating emotional states, which are subject to many degrees of bias.

Since poor knowledge of possible outcomes lead to this scenario, the concept of knowledge becomes very important. If the kidnapper, was very crafty he would have avoided arrest, and this scenario would never come up. When he does get arrested, the police have to make a judgement call whether they should behave in a manner similar to the kidnapper in order to get information.

With Utilitarianism:
Utilitarianism assumes maximum benefit for society... again an assumption based on mostly heuristics. I don't think both of them are going in the right direction, based on the kind of knowledge they are acting on in this situation.

Some questions i want to propose:
More importantly, instead of just a philosophical bent... why is it not being questioned, in this hypothetical example.. that if the police can find family members capable of evoking emotion in the kidnapper, why can't they look more into his background to get clues as to where he might be hiding the child? Why is it assumed that there is a handicap of knowledge to be acquired? Why is a kidnapper confident enough of evading possible consequences (given that he is a rational person)? What kind of a society does the kidnapper live in where he assumes that such actions are in some way beneficial? Isn't such a society badly policed or at least composed of a set of people with dubious ethics? In such a scenario, why should the police's action of torturing other innocents be seen exclusive of the society as a whole?

Of course if the kidnapper is insane, it again begs the question about how he was left undiagnosed, unreported or uncared for? If his situation was a cause for concern to other around him, it is a failure of society that he wasn't institutionalized/ given appropriate attention as the situation demands.

The police aren't a stand alone agency in this case, if it is a matter of increasing maximum happiness, then a dull listless society which lets these activities flourish has a lot to question itself on. Torturing additional people will not cause a net increase in happiness no matter the number of kids being rescued > kids being tortured. Both systems, propose tangible concepts without verifying the knowledge base as a dynamic pool influenced by systemic effects. How can one quantify punishment and happiness by assuming distinct agencies acting independent of each other?

This was a really long post, sorry for that. If i made some errors in reasoning please do correct me.

S_K
Quote:'Isn't it a little arbitrary to define dignity as untouchable, and untaintable? If every human has a right to it, it doesn't follow that every human has a right to abuse it.'
I don't think it is. I think, like naturalism is a foundation to scientific principles, dignity *must be* the foundation for the arguments for fundamental rights.

I can't explain why exactly. But let me try.
The idea is that ethics deals with the 'ends' of an 'action' and 'rationality' deals with the best means to an action [Bertrand Russel's viewpoint]. A common denominator of all ethics is to do with suffering and its reduction thereof. Kant's point is that the best way to alleviate suffering is for everyone to consider humans as ends in themselves and not as means. I think that is the humanist viewpoint too. The utalitarians who think that they can decide the 'dignity' of a person based on a chance few actions of his, are deciding the moral worth of a human (a criminal perhaps) in a social vacuum and are refusing to acknowledge the affect a system can have in shaping the criminal.

The case in point here, about the kidnapper, directs us to the question, 'who judges that the kidnapper is of lower dignity? Have we added all his *deliberately* intended ill-deeds and subtracted all the *effects of the system* that led him there? Are you sure you are not in a privileged position while judging him? I think it is easily possible that we are privilege blind about so many things. Are we sure our definition of dignity is independent of our privileges? I think it is hard to define it in that manner.(I secretly believe it is impossible, though I may be wrong)

On the other hand, in Kantian framework, while we certainly loathe the man for his heinous crimes, we will *choose* not to use him as means to get revenge, or threaten to torture him. As free willed individuals, the choice rests with us to overcome our emotions and reason that lowering the dignity of a fellow human cannot be right. As the reporter says in the video, the opposite consequentialist mentality is the cause for much suffering.

I believe that human dignity is hard to measure, especially after accounting for the environmental factors (the societal affects). If someone could come up with a consistent framework for measuring ethics, then utalitarian viewpoint will make sense to me.

A_M
Quote:Kant's point is that the best way to alleviate suffering is for everyone to consider humans as ends in themselves and not as means
//
See i have a problem with that, humans are by no means completely an end to themselves we are extremely reliant on our parents from birth. We rely on the police, and fire fighters and hospitals. There's a network of mutual reliance built into society which makes broad decisions on how to act and how not to act, not that broad indeed.

The Kantian framework makes us immobile in this scenario, while a utilitarian framework makes us too ready to mete out any idea of 'justice', felt to be practical. Time is assumed to be in extreme paucity, and knowledge as un-acquirable.

Inaction needs to be justified, as well as over enthusiastic participation in torturing any and every one.

In extreme scenarios....such as a terrorist letting off a nuclear bomb in a crowded area within 1 day, who while being uninfluenced by torture will be affected on seeing a 'loved' one being tortured. The ridiculousness of it aside, utilitarian dynamics will come into play, because a million people affected can REALLY mess up human social condition globally and in this case, the threat to society as a whole is very real.

Here in the kidnapping case, i am not assuming a social vacuum. In fact i am objecting to holding the kidnapper, the policemen and society in separate vacuums. They are NOT mutually exclusive. If there relations can be teased apart and quantified, then we can make some statements on extreme inaction or action. Otherwise, practical knowledge available at that point in time, is as good as any.

It is not irrational for the police to behave with the amount of knowledge they have. They can fake torture the kidnappers loved ones as well. Assuming they are considerate enough to see their son's actions and comply with the police in getting a confession.

Tell me if I have misrepresented something. I'll rectify

S_K
Quote:"See i have a problem with that, humans are by no means completely an end to themselves we are extremely reliant on our parents from birth. We rely on the police, and fire fighters and hospitals. There's a network of mutual reliance built into society which makes broad decisions on how to act and how not to act, not that broad indeed."
I do not see how humans cannot be ends in themselves in the above argument. I would say that our network of mutual reliance is due to the fact that we believe humans are ends in themselves. I *must* emphasize that I *can* understand, perhaps, institutions/organizations doling out utilitarian justice and this makes sense because institutions are formed with specific purposes in mind. And the moment you accept a organization in the society, you are agreeing to an implicit contract (I am talking about police,army, govt institutions) and that changes things (Basically Kant to Rawls :P).

I think utilitarian ethics is meaningful only in the context of having a particular purpose. Even the much argued, controversial notion of affirmative actions is mostly argued on a utilitarian base, but implicit in the idea is the notion of *expected equality of all humans* as a purpose. The idea is that that the (social)systemic inequality is so high that the individual did not get a fair chance to represent themselves and in a way affirmative actions account for that. I think it is important to observe that here we are assuming that the *government* has a purpose of meting out the privileges held by certain classes. Redistribution of wealth that Singer talks about also has a similar foundation, I think. It even makes sense to me that humanist FB forums should be more accommodating of the minority, as a form of affirmative action.

However I think, as individuals we should not indulge in utilitarian ethics as a basis for our actions. To be precise, unless we sort out a purpose for humanity (or even harder, each particular human), utilitarian ethics is tricky ball game.

Coming back to your example of the terrorist. I have two points:

1) Even utilitarians *should* deal with the problem of missed detection (we torture him and he does not tell) in the real world. We do not know before hand whether the terrorist will submit. That is what the War Reporter is implicitly condoning in the video and Devangshu Datta is pointing out. And the cost for missed detection is very high. [As a side note, it is astounding to me that in methods of fighting crime, social evils, we try to whip out punishments as opposed to giving incentives to the criminals.] Simply put, torturing and failing to get the information is a price, most humans are not willing to pay and that's why the cost for this action is too much to bear.

2) The ethics gets muddy when it comes to organizations, especially the government, since it has a lot of purposes. So I can understand a government's goal of saving as many people as possible, with the understanding of the implicit agenda of *promotion of equality* as *the* premise of the government and therefore the purpose just gets down to saving maximum number of people. There are many layers to this (we have to look at consents carefully), I wont go into it right now.
To summarise, if I was on a trolley that could save 5 people at the cost of one, given I turned my trolley, I would have to say I would not choose to turn the trolley. But if our army was in the trolley and I was on the other tracks and I get killed due to the army turning around, I would not think it is wrong!

About "If there relations can be teased apart and quantified, then we can make some statements on extreme inaction or action. Otherwise, practical knowledge available at that point in time, is as good as any"
Again I ask, can one *quantify* these relations so that they directly measure the person's intent?

Arvind Iyer wrote:
Quote:‎S_K , A_M ,Do feel free to continue this forum thread which among other issues deals with the topic of how best can contemporary ethical reasoning draw on both utilitarianism and deontology. Feel free to archive some of the above posts there.
http://nirmukta.net/Thread-Lying-and-eth...-new-ebook

Another thread that maybe relevant : http://nirmukta.net/Thread-Morality-Neit...subjective
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#6
Sri kanth,

Again, you are just arguing against a utilitarian view, while upholding a deontological view. I'm against both of them exclusively.

To deontologists, I still need to see a workable definition of dignity. Why is it OK for the dignity of a kidnapped child to be denied, but we HAVE to consider the dignity of a kidnapper? And to a utilitarian, how is utility being increased by torturing innocents? (the kidnappers relatives, as mentioned in the video). How can a utilitarian compute utility, while ignoring the situations which led, to this kidnapping in the first place?

I don't know which system of ethics exists, which makes best use of available knowledge without assuming people to be knowledgeable in some way (as in possessing dignity/virtue or being able to recognize virtue/dignity in others) .

On a practical scale, incentivizing criminals is detrimental, as it encourages criminal behaviour. That doesn't even need to be said. It doesn't take care of future possibilities where a criminal can repeat this behaviour. Not everyone repents. However it is practical, in cases where an out-of-court settlement will save time and harassment for everyone.

Punishment, has always been a deterrent to criminal activity, yet criminal activity subsists. There is also a gradation to punishments, so that a criminal, prone to these tendencies doesn't end up murdering people for every little crime. Punishment for murder, is therefore the harshest.

Now torture, is an activity which has an intent to bias the sufferer into revealing knowledge. Since torture has extremely negative effects on a person's psychological well being, information gained in this manner should be subject to intense scrutiny and criticism. People will often confess to random or arbitrary 'truths' to avoid torture in the short term, without caring for long term consequences.

There is also a scenario, where an individual who is the only one to know about a certain piece of knowledge, like the kidnapper, has nothing to gain by revealing the truth, if they believe that they'll face horrible consequences as a result. In such a scenario, it is possible to incentivize the criminal that confessing would lead to a reduced sentence, or less harsh sentence. Since this a binding contract, a heinous criminal can receive a sentence much lower than what they deserve simply due to a contract negotiated to extract information. This is the kind of costs borne due to absence of knowledge.

In this German case, the police office gained information under 'threat' of torture. That is all there is to it. There is no need to glamorize his actions, but it might be beneficial to understand the dynamics which led the officer to believe that the threat to work. What kind of knowledge, he operated upon. Proceedings brought against him, though are unfair, are a part of the system under which he is operating. It is safe to assume, that he knew the consequences. Yet he can still be defended, and the system reformed, so that it doesn't heavily penalize the officer, for solving a case. A case of arbitrary justice in this case.

These reasons are why i don't like both schools of thought. Utilitarianism relies on heuristics and deontologies on arbitrary values allocated to humans only, which are not practical or quantifiable. There is a way to define practical ethics which take into consideration systemic effects, and acquiring maximum knowledge. Utility should include the concept of increasing knowledge, rather than just mmaximising 'happiness' or minimising 'sadness'. The very approaches are childish, and biased when considering the human condition.

Obviously my post isn't about ethics, as it is about practical applications of them. I am not that great in philosophy. I would appreciate, if someone could try to reduce my views into their system of thought. It will be very beneficial for me.

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#7
(04-May-2012, 04:17 PM)Anuj Menon Wrote: These reasons are why i don't like both schools of thought. Utilitarianism relies on heuristics and deontologies on arbitrary values allocated to humans only, which are not practical or quantifiable. There is a way to define practical ethics which take into consideration systemic effects, and acquiring maximum knowledge....
Obviously my post isn't about ethics, as it is about practical applications of them. I am not that great in philosophy. I would appreciate, if someone could try to reduce my views into their system of thought. It will be very beneficial for me.

Jonathan Haidt, for one, in the talk linked above, suggests that the one-track focus on a single principle to the exclusion of all others, which characterizes both utilitarianism and deontology, could arise from the Asperger-like personalities of the founding advocates of these schools! Ian Shapiro in his introductory lectures to the Moral Foundations of Politics counsels students to be wary of buying into any such Enlightenment tradition of moral reasoning in toto, because each school chooses to emphasize one influence on moral reasoning as if nothing else matters, which in practice of course is an oversimplification.

The question of whether the notion of 'fairness' is the only or the most important influence on moral reasoning in practice, has been discussed at length here. Jonathan Haidt, a co-founder of what is coming to be known as Moral Foundations Theory, suggests that a fuller account of how humans reason morally can be obtained by accounting for the following influences on moral reasoning, with fairness as part of a larger mix:

  1. Care/harm
  2. Fairness/cheating
  3. Liberty/oppression
  4. Loyalty/betrayal
  5. Authority/subversion
  6. Sanctity/degradation

It maybe a worthwhile exercise to use the above as checklist whenever we wish to examine our moral intuitions about any issue that poses an ethical dilemma. Another exercise that may interest us here is participation in YourMorals.org which is a platform for volunteers to contribute to an empirical investigation of the relative contributions of each of the above influences on our moral reasoning.

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#8
Sorry,this was too funny,had to share.
[Image: 20120528.gif]
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#9
(12-Jun-2012, 03:07 PM)LMC Wrote: Sorry,this was too funny,had to share.
[Image: 20120528.gif]

Yeah, well the Lazarus pits fuck things up 10x so i really dunno......... :P
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#10
Oh, I had forgotten about this thread :(

Anuj:

I will come back to your particular questions about torture and your worry that I am upholding deontological thoughts after some time. I have to read some more. As of now, I can only say that I think in certain matters deontological thought seems to be a necessity for me to feel just. I do not want to engage in relativism, and I will certainly get back to you.

Arvind:
Since I am reading a some material on ethics, I realized that ethical philosophy like any other philosophy has the following quirks:

1) Philosophy has no answers, only questions: It does not settle questions by answering them but rather piques the mind by asking whether one has considered beliefs different from our own.

2) A demanding philosophy is too narrow to be intersubjective: It cannot be empirical, but is mostly experiential. My Vedantic friends attempt to convince me that there is nothing special about the naturalist philosophy (which has given rise to much of freethought and atheism). I am not swayed by that. However, any defense that I offer for naturalism can only be consequential ("benefits of scientific methods"/"benefits and advances of Science") or deontological ("Naturalism works. Period"/"Duty towards Naturalism"). It would be hard for me to prove/'establish beyond reasonable doubt' that Naturalism must be *the* outlook for everyone. This makes it hard to persuade people to adopt scientific methods, especially people who are deontologically supernaturalists.

3) Multiple philosophies are contradictory: (2) was perhaps a simplification. I can be like Haidt and admit that there are multiple 'tastes' to naturalism. Intersubjectivity of a particular philosophy seems like a compromise to allow relativism in our thinking. To hit the nail on a freethinker's head, it is allowing superstitious thought and rational ideas to breed under a common mind. While the naturalist philosopher will reject such behavior as irrational, a Haidtian philosopher (like Haidt) will attempt to use moral receptors and evolution to explain why it is true, which brings me to my final objection.

4)Philosophy is arbitrary: David Hume's is-ought problem is a fundamental problem for any philosophy. My position is that descriptive and prescriptive answers to our questions stem from beliefs and knowledge respectively. But then belief and knowledge depends on our philosophy. Thus in a sense, philosophy can justify any position consistent with the philosophy and there is no external way to verify that unless we invoke another philosophy. Then we run into (3).

Critique of Haidt's ideas:
My main critique of Haidt stems from the following observation: I feel his method of understanding ethics is very descriptive and thus we are still stuck at Hume! Haidt's attempt seems to use historical narratives and culture to establish the reasons for our wide range of 'moral taste'. He, additionally, uses history to claim that Kant and Mill might have suffered from Asperger's. I see no value in this argument, for even if that were true, what about so many others who agree with Kant or Mill? And if all of them had Asperger's, then is Asperger syndrome really a disability?

Another point is that Haidt's idea seems like a middle ground to persuade the majority of the debaters and strengthen the intersubjectivity. The 'consensual hallucination', at best seems like sitting on the fence, and at worst, it looks like equivocating. My point is that it seems like persuading using this brand of ethics looks like a power play that would encourage pleasing a lot of people. Intersubjectivity has that problem. But I could have said the same about Popper's notion of falsifiability and Linda Goodman's theory of Astrology. It's disturbing to say the least :(

Finally, I think, general theories of ethics seem arbitrary and the solution is to consider particular problems. If I am a naturalist, I would be persuaded by the observable consequences of a problem and the success rate of an ethical theory based on evidence. Perhaps that would be the predominant approach of the people here.
A case in point is Sanjay Banerjee's methods of learning poor people's economics. He points that little advances were made in Economics when people wanted a general theory of poverty. But by asking specific questions, getting real world data and using randomised control trials, they are able to answer a lot of questions accurately now. I am reading his book now.

P.S:
A) On a side-note, I very much fear that forums that are very strict in incorporating it's ideals (like our site, this one) can run into the risk of being counterparts of WEIRD societies.

B) My critique of Haidt stems only from his talks and not his papers. So I might have prematurely judged him. Correct me if I am wrong.
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#11
From philosophy to worldview:
A function of Philosophy, besides 'piquing the mind', is to supply meta-narratives of different human endeavours, as disciplines like 'Philosophy of Science' and 'Philosophy of Law' attempt. In practice, however, anything stated as a 'paradigm' is likely to be treated as an 'agenda' by practitioners of the said endeavours. There even an attempt at pure description (like the statement of a paradigm or archetype or an 'is' statement) can lend itself to more prescriptive treatments (the paradigm or archetype being treated as a paragon to be emulated, or 'ought' to be attained). This interplay is a recurring theme in many discussions on ethics. Most of the contemporary debate on ethics (like this Edge Conference on The New Science of Morality) is on whether (or more usefully, to what degree) the paradigm of human well-being now being defined by improving scientific access to the workings of human bodies and brains, can be made the central tenet of ethical endeavour.

We may think of Tom Clark's preference of the word 'worldview' over 'philosophy', as in keeping with the attempt to acknowledge the presence of an accompanying agenda along with paradigms. To acknowledge upfront that the endeavour is more than academic, creates the necessary space for policy initiatives and the inevitable political negotiations to propose a 'cultural naturalist' way of dealing with such issues as sustainable food consumption or counter-terrorism.

Holding up the mirror to the solipsist:
The argument that the 'moral sense' and the 'ethical impulse' is wholly 'experiential' and hence irrevocably 'individuated', when carried to its logical extreme, pushes ethics to the speculative dead-end of radical solipsism. Perhaps the single-most compelling argument against radical solipsism, is that we are rendered anatomically susceptible to stimuli experienced by another organism, by the mirror system, which have been hypothesized to underlie language parity as well as empathy. The notion of reciprocity, perhaps the most primal one in ethics can be thought of as founded in this parity of experience and the very words central to ethical discourse in a number of Indo-European languages i.e. com-passion, हम-दर्दी and सह-अनुभूति, quite literally allude to 'shared experience' involving more than one subject. Admittedly, the experiencing subject and the observing subject do not undergo an identical experience, but it is definitely one they can choose to (or some scientists may say, are predisposed to or wired to) identify with.

The inescapable intersubjective devil in the details:
Even while attempting to follow the textbook utilitarian prescription, the ill-posed nature of the problem of optimizing human well-being, can operationally be resolved only by a 'peer-reviewed' process declaring a given solution acceptable (from here). Attempting to follow the textbook deontological prescription means first acknowledging the 'autonomy' and 'reason' of the persons concerned, which in turn means that their consent is a pre-requisite for further decision-making. Mediation of consent is necessarily intersubjective and the design of this mediation is the subject matter of politics.

Psychohistorians, Encyclopedists...:
Jonathan Haidt's official job title is 'social psychologist' rather than moral philosopher, though this need not, and gladly does not, preclude his participation in debates on what maybe called moral philosophy. In a discussion on fairness, considering alongside each other the questions of 'Does fairness matter to people?' and 'Should fairness matter to people?' yields useful insights. The first question seems to fall squarely within the domain of the social psychologist, whose cataloging of moral behaviors and proposals of paradigms of moral flourishing maybe serve as useful suggestions to those attempting to create conditions for such flourishing, in yet another instance of how descriptive and prescriptive endeavours feed off each other.

Haidt, 'hivishness' and hawkishness:
While Bentham's view of the human being is that of a 'slave to pleasure and pain' and Kant's view is that of 'an autonomous being with reason', Haidt views 'hivishness' or hive-like-ness as the characteristic of the human being most central to the understanding of moral behavior, as he states in this RSA talk. So, for all the somewhat snide accusations Haidt makes regarding Bentham and Kant about obsessing over a particular aspect of human nature to the exclusion of all others, his own view accords similar emphasis to another aspect of human nature, namely groupishness, notwithstanding his ostensible emphasis on the plurality of moral foundations.

Haidt maybe viewed as having conservative leanings in certain circles, partly due to his stance that traditionally conservative views on moral flourishing are not hypotheses to be dismissed outright in empirical endeavours like his research programme. For instance, while participating in this panel along with Dalai Lama at USC, he states Adam Smith's defense of parochialism supplies a legitimate hypothesis to be tested and that the empirical evidence regarding the Marxist hypotheses has been in the main, unflattering. Unsurprisingly, Haidt is quoted approvingly in this article from the Hoover Institute, a conservative think-tank, and the favourable stance towards the hypothesis that the West discovered a demonstrably more effective system for human flourishing even sounds similar to the views expressed in this Reith Lecture by Niall Ferguson, who is viewed as a 'hawkish neoconservative' historian in certain circles. To be fair to Haidt though, to his credit, he has also been among the foremost researchers studying the mutual influences of our moral and our political leanings, acknowledging upfront that the two do not operate in isolation.
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#12
If someone could direct me to a specific criticism of Sam Harris' Moral Landscape; I feel a little lost here (I remember Ajita Kamal mentioning that he couldn't possibly believe what he writes, I'd like to know why in a little detail).

As Sam Harris mentions the analogy of health not being a vacuous concept despite the difficulty in pinning down its definition, it seems to me that Kanad Kanhere's dilemma of minimizing suffering or maximizing happiness is similar to the deal with health, where I believe we do prioritize minimization of suffering and all else later.

I'm not very clear on how or where the health analogy to well-being fails, but if morality is intersubjective, can the same be said for the way we approach medicine?
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