Current time: 24-07-2014, 07:47 AM Hello There, Guest! (LoginRegister)


Post Reply 
Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective
Author Message
arvindiyer Offline
Veteran of Freethought
****

Posts: 622
Likes Given: 164
Likes Received: 570 in 303 posts
Joined: Oct 2010


Post: #13
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

(29-06-2012 03:28 PM)RascarCapac Wrote:  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).

Here are some posts featuring critiques of some ideas Sam Harris' Moral Landscape. The objections are mainly towards his attempted equivalence of 'facts' and 'values' and his seeming dismissal of moral premises save his version of the utilitarian one. (1 , 2) Here is a case study of sorts illustrating the limitations of such premises in resolving a real-world ethical question.

Quoting from here, Sam Harris, more controversially, claims to have wrested Ethics from Philosophy into Science, but if anything, he only establishes how Science can inform our ethical choices and does not show that Science determines our ethical choices. Try as he might, he cannot reduce Ethics to an objective study as no empirical fact is objectively binding upon human ethical decisions (as Russell Blackford has often pointed out).

(29-06-2012 03:28 PM)RascarCapac Wrote:  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.

The landscape analogy applies to any optimization problem (that maybe ill-posed), where the 'landscape' represents some sort of utility function to maximize or a cost function to minimize. However, recent findings of ethical priorities in humans seem to suggest that our decision making is subject to multiple influences that may not all be neatly traceable to minimizing harm or suffering to oneself.

(29-06-2012 03:28 PM)RascarCapac Wrote:  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?

Each analogy works for the point it was intended to make i.e. the linguistic analogy works to the extent that some grammar-like rules can be discerned to underlie behavior , the taste analogy works to the extent that multiple preferences can be discerned in moral choices and the health analogy works to the extent that seeking an ethical option, like seeking good health, is an ill-posed problem, but with methods to obtain acceptable solutions for the situation at hand.

The practice of medicine has objective (eg. the numbers obtained as vital signs), subjective (the patient's sense of well-being) and also what maybe called intersubjective components which emerge from the doctor-patient interaction, such as those reported here by the group of Fabrizio Benedetti, author of The Patient's Brain. In fact, what maybe called an intersubjective component can be recognized not just in doctor-patient, but in most human interactions, in the form of what Steven Pinker here describes as mutual knowledge as opposed to 'individual knowledge'.
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Captain Mandrake Offline
Nirmukt Centurion
***

Posts: 237
Likes Given: 289
Likes Received: 48 in 38 posts
Joined: Aug 2012


Post: #14
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

*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 two unrelated objections to the question.

1) Let us say it can be proved that there is no context in which holocaust is morally good. Does that imply that an objective morality exists? I would say no. All we can say is that holocaust is objectively wrong irrespective of context. When it comes to other issues we can not say the same thing.

2) As to your question " in that case can you tell me under what context holocaust or child abuse becomes good? ", wouldn't you agree that in the context of Nazi desire for racial purity the Jewish holocaust was good. Ofcourse in the context of Jewish survival the holocaust was bad.

Am I missing something?
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
arvindiyer Offline
Veteran of Freethought
****

Posts: 622
Likes Given: 164
Likes Received: 570 in 303 posts
Joined: Oct 2010


Post: #15
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

(01-09-2012 09:19 AM)Captain Mandrake Wrote:  *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 two unrelated objections to the question.

1) Let us say it can be proved that there is no context in which holocaust is morally good. Does that imply that an objective morality exists? I would say no. All we can say is that holocaust is objectively wrong irrespective of context. When it comes to other issues we can not say the same thing.

2) As to your question " in that case can you tell me under what context holocaust or child abuse becomes good? ", wouldn't you agree that in the context of Nazi desire for racial purity the Jewish holocaust was good. Ofcourse in the context of Jewish survival the holocaust was bad.

Am I missing something?

A clear distinction between fact propositions and value premises at the very outset will help prevent a good deal of confusion in these discussions. These topics and the terminology assumed here are explained at length here.

"The Holocaust led to several million casualties." is a factual claim. Such a proposition can objectively be demonstrated to be true or otherwise.

"A million casualties is an acceptable price for maintaining a regime.", declares a belief about values. Such a belief is not 'true' or 'false', and its acceptability or otherwise depends on the premises held.

That any evaluation of any belief about values is meaningless without acknowledgment of premises, is the point made in #2 above, and explained at length earlier here. Questions on ethics cannot therefore be reduced to factual claims alone (an example is presented here) and therefore, cannot be reduced to an objective evaluation of factual claims. Also, arbitrary premises unconstrained by the imperative of survival and untested for economy of assumptions or ease of applicability, cannot serve as recognizable and enforceable guides of behavior. It is because morality is neither reducible to objective evaluation of facts nor constructable out of arbitrary premises that it is said that morality is neither objective nor arbitrary.

Neither the process of objective evaluation of facts nor the process of choice of suitable premises from available options, is a solely individual activity that can yield outcomes acceptable to all concerned individuals, and the necessity of implicit or explicit collective participation in the processes makes the construction of morality an intersubjective one.
[+] 1 user Likes arvindiyer's post
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
arvindiyer Offline
Veteran of Freethought
****

Posts: 622
Likes Given: 164
Likes Received: 570 in 303 posts
Joined: Oct 2010


Post: #16
A case for a theory and practice of Intersubjective Morality

Since this thread is cited often in discussions on the foundations of morality, it maybe useful to address here for the record some concerns in such discussions about whether the use of the term 'intersubjective' here may be non-standard and hence counter-productive or misleading. In particular, a concern expressed is whether an 'intersubjective consensus' may end up ratifying and dignifying as moral some practices that may be incompatible with human flourishing or human freedom.

Exploring the origins of the term 'intersubjective':

'Intersubjectivity' as a philosophical concept seems to have emerged as a counterpoint to 'solipsism' (the notion that the Self is all there is, common for example in Vedantic traditions), and seems to only later have been applied to Ethics and Politics. Its application to Ethics is encouraged by the realization that morality is neither objective nor arbitrary.

Intersubjective morality seems to be a less common term than say 'contractarian ethics' (which is the term preferred in political philosophy as the foundation of democratic values) or 'consensual morality' (which happens to be the term used most often, and disparagingly, by the religious right-wing in America to distinguish consent-based morality from an ordained 'divine command' morality).

Dealing with the objections of 'immoral consent' and 'making a virtue of a necessity':

Unease with the notion of intersubjective morality, often comes from an understandable unease with the seemingly unprincipled expediency of making rules as one goes along, which if uncritical of the company one keeps may result in as clandestine codes of conduct as honor among thieves. This is the unease that underlies the religious mind's distaste for 'willing adulterers'. Another source of unease less likely to emerge from religious quarters, and perhaps more nihilistic, is that any process of intersubjective deliberation is a primate activity whose consequences are determined by yet-to-be-elucidated laws of nature, and to consider the results of such a process to be 'morality' amounts to a romanticizing of just one more aspect of ethology. This is similar to a view in evolutionary psychology that what is now called 'moral reasoning' emerged from justifications of behaviors that were evolutionarily determined without any prior reasoning. While both the religious and the nihilistic refuse the equivalence between the 'intersubjective' and the 'moral', the former do so because they think that the two occupy different realms namely the human and the divine and the latter do so because they consider it to be an equivalence between a descriptive construct and an irrelevant fictional construct.

Mindful of those objections, a case for a theory and practice of intersubjective morality can be made as follows.

Relevance of the intersubjective framework in theory: The nihilists are right to the extent that morality is at best a human construct, but this construct is an abstraction of something real: of empirically discernible human flourishing or human freedom. Historically, both the conceptions and deconstructions of the notion of 'morality' reveal that underlying it are these very notions: human flourishing (in Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism, or for that matter in Divine Command Theory's assumption of a rewarding afterlife) and human freedom (in the notion of the autonomous reasoning being in Deontology, or even the Libertarian notion of rights as sacrosanct). So 'ethics' is as good a name as any other, and not a particularly objectionable shorthand to study how social primates regulate non-instinctive, learned behaviors in a manner that is compatible with flourishing or the prevalence of a 'preferred' state of affairs. The outcomes of these behaviors of course are subject to the test of evolutionary fitness that are an obvious natural constraint to flourishing of any sort. However, since the current level of understanding does not permit a full deterministic account of these behaviors, it remains useful to describe them in a level of abstraction where functions such as those mediated by mirror neurons are abstracted as 'empathy' and where observed behaviors of reciprocity and solidarity are described as 'intersubjective' to convey the group context in which these operate.

So even if one were to take a vantage of scientism whose near-emptiness of assumptions or premises is for practical purposes nihilistic, an intersubjective framework remains relevant as a phenomenologically useful one, even in a description devoid to the extent possible of normative elements.

Practicability of intersubjective consensus:

To be practicable (or at least less susceptible to degradation as feared by the religious) mediation of intersubjective consensus must not be synonymous with simple majority rule nor must it be devoid of due process without which the writ of influential insiders and special interests may prevail as law. Quoting from here:

Quote:Intersubjective premises are not simply a matter of brute majority votes later ossified into fiat, but the provisional results of a process of public reasoning subject to peer review. Peer review is emphasized here over any notions of expert review, because as humans we aren't exactly more or less expertly sentient than others and it is sentience that in some way underpins most contemporary notions of human rights.

There is no absolutist stance in the intersubjective framework where the epistemic limits of the reasoning process are well-acknowledged. Declaring someone immoral without allowing a chance to participate in the process of public reasoning does indeed amount to the worst form of disenfranchisement, but this is precluded almost by definition as the intersubjective approach is itself meant to universalize inclusiveness into the process of deciding what is moral.

The indeterminate connotation of the term 'intersubjective' itself provides some realism to the discourse and serves as a useful reminder of the nature and challenges of evolving a morality that is always provisional yet always practiced, considerately inclusive without ill-considered populism, corrected by History but not dictated by tradition, and informed by Science without mistaking its findings as norms in themselves.
[+] 2 users Like arvindiyer's post
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
unsorted Offline
Nirmukt Centurion
***

Posts: 135
Likes Given: 90
Likes Received: 70 in 33 posts
Joined: Jun 2010


Post: #17
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

I've been pondering something on the subject of intersubjectivity. Intersubjective morality involves moral reasoning amongst peers. My question is, who forms that peer group? When you take social identity into account, one realises that certain moral propositions will be better understood and better reasoned about by certain social groups. Then add to this the fact that all groups are not equal - there are axes of privilege which separate them. Additionally, privileged groups have more social status and hence a louder "voice" when it comes to such processes of public reasoning - they're the ones who get published more, interviewed more, who write more articles and so on. So if a moral proposition is particular to a low status social identity group, should people belonging to higher-status groups get to be part of the reasoning process?

This excellent article by Anu Ramdas titled Casteless Academe, Name-calling Dalits? partly tackles this issue, and it also gives an answer which I am coming to agree with. In it, she asks the question, "Can there be debates on caste without the acknowledgment of the caste location of the debaters?".

She goes on to write:
Quote:At Savari, one of the explicit first practices while conversing among ourselves is to locate oneself as clearly as possible. We do this because we are training ourselves to be alert to not allow a situation where intellectual authority gets tilted unfairly or settles itself into a gradation. Caste, religion, political affiliations and even age as identifying axes are laid out, as each of these may carry with them inherent privileges and vulnerabilities. Power, however miniscule cannot be neutralized by keeping it hidden. We name and interrogate everything.
And:
Quote:When academics, who in my book are professionals paid by the people via the state to pursue truth, deny their participatory role in maintaining caste barriers, what is one to do? Accept without proof that they have magically stepped outside this reality while they address caste, objectively? In other words, we are to see academics studying Indian society as casteless people!

I think her notion of naming your locations is key to the intersubjective process. I.e., everyone should be part of that peer group, as long as their "locations" are included as premises in their arguments. More specifically, their locations, and the enhanced/impaired reasoning ability that is the consequence of those locations. So if I offer an argument about caste, for instance, I need to be honest and include my caste privilege as a premise, and acknowledge that the resulting impaired comprehension can weaken every argument I make on the subject.

Such premises are almost always missing in certain kinds of moral arguments one sees - e.g. when men argue about sexism, or upper castes argue about casteism, or whites argue about racism, they often argue as if they are equally located - but they are not.
[+] 2 users Like unsorted's post
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Kanad Kanhere Offline
Super Moderator
******

Posts: 253
Likes Given: 157
Likes Received: 99 in 69 posts
Joined: Aug 2011


Post: #18
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

Some personal revelations on objective vs subjective nature of morality.

As a basic exercise in freethinking or skepticism one can come to a conclusion that morality is not absolute. Infact one can be even convinced about the harm that can be caused if it is absolute. Hence it leads one to the notion that morality is relative.

This was the impression that I had and I was mistaken. The mistake lies, paradoxically, in the is-ought problem. There is no absolute morality. But morality is a human construct (a rational agent's construct to be precise). So we shouldn't be looking for it in nature anyways, just like freethinker's don't look for "purpose" in nature. Universe doesn't have a purpose doesn't mean, we cannot have one. Its not a problem of *is* but a problem of *ought*.

So once this is clear, it is extremely easy to argue that morality ought not be relative, or basically it cannot be relative. The argument goes as below
1. Q: What is the purpose of morality? A: Minimally: describe a code of conduct that makes rational agents get along.
2. From the purpose itself, its obvious that morality is not for a particular rational agent per se but for the group of rational agents, although the code is to be followed by every individual. The intent is harmony between rational agents and hence the rules can't be relative.

EDIT: relative here means approach conveyed by sentences such as "it might be moral for me but not for you".
(This post was last modified: 13-07-2013 12:58 AM by Kanad Kanhere.)
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Captain Mandrake Offline
Nirmukt Centurion
***

Posts: 237
Likes Given: 289
Likes Received: 48 in 38 posts
Joined: Aug 2012


Post: #19
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

(13-07-2013 12:49 AM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote:  This was the impression that I had and I was mistaken. The mistake lies, paradoxically, in the is-ought problem. There is no absolute morality. But morality is a human construct (a rational agent's construct to be precise). So we shouldn't be looking for it in nature anyways, just like freethinker's don't look for "purpose" in nature. Universe doesn't have a purpose doesn't mean, we cannot have one. Its not a problem of *is* but a problem of *ought*.

Not sure if I follow what you are saying. Let me paraphrase what I understand you are saying. "Just because there is no absolute morality it does not mean that we should not seek to improve the moral framework that we are currently using." Is that what you are saying?

(13-07-2013 12:49 AM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote:  So once this is clear, it is extremely easy to argue that morality ought not be relative, or basically it cannot be relative. The argument goes as below
1. Q: What is the purpose of morality? A: Minimally: describe a code of conduct that makes rational agents get along.
2. From the purpose itself, its obvious that morality is not for a particular rational agent per se but for the group of rational agents, although the code is to be followed by every individual. The intent is harmony between rational agents and hence the rules can't be relative.

EDIT: relative here means approach conveyed by sentences such as "it might be moral for me but not for you".

If the set of rational actors I mostly engage with are different from the set of rational actors that you interact with would it not be possible to argue that "this might be moral for you but not for me."
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Kanad Kanhere Offline
Super Moderator
******

Posts: 253
Likes Given: 157
Likes Received: 99 in 69 posts
Joined: Aug 2011


Post: #20
RE: Morality: Neither objective nor arbitrary, but intersubjective

(13-07-2013 02:27 AM)Captain Mandrake Wrote:  Not sure if I follow what you are saying. Let me paraphrase what I understand you are saying. "Just because there is no absolute morality it does not mean that we should not seek to improve the moral framework that we are currently using." Is that what you are saying?

Nope. Thats not what I am saying. I am arguing against philosophical moral relativism, or that morality being subjective (depends on an individual).

(13-07-2013 02:27 AM)Captain Mandrake Wrote:  If the set of rational actors I mostly engage with are different from the set of rational actors that you interact with would it not be possible to argue that "this might be moral for you but not for me."

Yeah ofcourse. I am talking in terms of fixed group. If we contact intelligent aliens tomorrow, our morality is bound to change because new rational agents have been added. But given a fixed group (say all humans, or all self aware beings etc), then morality can't depend on individual rational agents subjective experience.
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 


Possibly Related Threads...
Thread: Author Replies: Views: Last Post
  Morality, liberty and happiness Kanad Kanhere 9 2,822 08-09-2012 10:29 PM
Last Post: arvindiyer
  Morality of freethinkers Kanad Kanhere 9 4,060 13-01-2012 02:07 PM
Last Post: Lije



User(s) browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)