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Philosophy Undergraduate Student’s Paper: “The Materialization of Morality: A Response to Sam Harris’s Scientific Basis for Ethics”

 
the Antinihilist
 
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the Antinihilist
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20 April 2016 14:33
 

Hello,

I am currently finishing up my senior year of my undergraduate studies in philosophy with a minor in ethics, and my junior year in undergraduate studies in biology with a minor chemistry. I have a deep interest in many of the topics Sam Harris covers, and currently wrote a paper response to his scientific basis for morality for a class on the philosophy of science. I thought I would post it here to see if others may want to offer their own comments back and start a discussion on this important topic we all deeply care about. Though my paper is an argument against Sam Harris’s position, I am thankful that this environment exists where we can have open dialogue on these philosophical topics which hold much importance in life.

Thank you. Here is the link to my paper.
http://theantinihilist.weebly.com/blog/the-materialization-of-morality-a-response-to-sam-harriss-scientific-basis-for-ethics

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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20 April 2016 18:45
 

hello, and welcome to the forum.

I made it through the first five pages or so of your paper. I found many occurrences of - maybe I’ll call it - lack of precision. I think you frequently mis-characterize what Harris has said. Not by a lot, but by enough to make a difference. I also feel that you conflate ideas that are often conflated but that - strictly speaking - ought not to be conflated. I also think that you slightly mis-characterize, and over-generalize atheism. Finally, for now, I found several times when you made conclusions without enough supporting evidence. For debating on a forum it’s not bad. I suppose if this is for an intro philosophy course it might also be acceptable. But it’s certainly got flaws.

 
 
the Antinihilist
 
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the Antinihilist
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20 April 2016 18:57
 

Icehorse,
Thank you for your comment. I appreciate any critique or response you may have. Could you be more specific on what weaknesses, conflations, or lack of supporting evidence you found?
Thank you,
Bethany

 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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20 April 2016 19:14
 

You may want to read the rest of the paper, icehorse.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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20 April 2016 19:38
 
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 07:14 PM

You may want to read the rest of the paper, icehorse.

This is an interesting comment. I must admit I had my editor’s hat on when I read the beginning. The consensus of the professional editors I work with is that if a document gets off to a rough start, it’s often best to focus on the start, and not edit the whole thing.

My general perspective is that if readers get confused or put-off early, they will just stop reading.

 
 
nonverbal
 
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20 April 2016 20:35
 

Nice dodge, icy.

 
 
icehorse
 
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20 April 2016 20:43
 
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 08:35 PM

Nice dodge, icy.

Not a dodge at all. Most papers build logically. If the beginning of a paper has flaws, the foundation of the entire argument is suspect.

That said, here are some comments concerning the first four pages. Given time, I could tease out more concerns, but this is all I can do for now:

2 - in this case i’m not sure if it should be “begging the question” or “raising the question” ?

2 - para 2: i don’t think yours is a common definition of atheism, or of materialism.

3 - para 1: perhaps you can link all of the claims in this paragraph together, but there seem to be several logical leaps here.

3 - para 1: Harris asks for one axiom, which is that we grant him that a universe in which every conscious creature suffers as much as possible for as long as possible is the worst possible universe, and that any other universe is better.

4 - para 1: again, many logical leaps here, IMO. Whenever you say “we must”, you’re making a large claim, one that really needs to be spelled out, not just assumed.

 
 
nonverbal
 
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20 April 2016 20:52
 

Just so you know, icehorse, the OP paper brings up an argument that Sam Harris had no response to in a blog comments section shortly after TML was published. I suspect you have no answer, either, so you conveniently choose not to read the relevant 2 or 3 pages.

 
 
icehorse
 
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20 April 2016 21:54
 
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 08:52 PM

Just so you know, icehorse, the OP paper brings up an argument that Sam Harris had no response to in a blog comments section shortly after TML was published. I suspect you have no answer, either, so you conveniently choose not to read the relevant 2 or 3 pages.

It wasn’t a dodge. If the good arguments followed the bad, that was a result of a poorly structured paper. My general stance is to stop reading when it feels the foundation is shaky.

Now it could be that the initial arguments are sound, but in that case many intermediate steps were skipped. That approach severely limits the target audience. The paper was presented to a general audience, as such, IMO all of those intermediate steps should not have been skipped.

 
 
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21 April 2016 03:59
 
icehorse - 20 April 2016 07:38 PM

My general perspective is that if readers get confused or put-off early, they will just stop reading.

As a one of the readers that you are referring to, I would like you to know that that’s is exactly what happens to me.

 
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21 April 2016 04:00
 
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 08:35 PM

Nice dodge, icy.

I would have said horsey.

 
jdrnd
 
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21 April 2016 04:02
 
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 08:52 PM

Just so you know, icehorse, the OP paper brings up an argument that Sam Harris had no response to in a blog comments section shortly after TML was published. I suspect you have no answer, either, so you conveniently choose not to read the relevant 2 or 3 pages.

Here is the real sad part.

I haven’t read this person’s article AT ALL.


Now I am going to have to read it.

Unfortunately I’m overbooked and on-call.

Later.

 
the Antinihilist
 
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the Antinihilist
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21 April 2016 09:10
 
icehorse - 20 April 2016 08:43 PM
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 08:35 PM

Nice dodge, icy.

Not a dodge at all. Most papers build logically. If the beginning of a paper has flaws, the foundation of the entire argument is suspect.

That said, here are some comments concerning the first four pages. Given time, I could tease out more concerns, but this is all I can do for now:

2 - in this case i’m not sure if it should be “begging the question” or “raising the question” ?

2 - para 2: i don’t think yours is a common definition of atheism, or of materialism.

3 - para 1: perhaps you can link all of the claims in this paragraph together, but there seem to be several logical leaps here.

3 - para 1: Harris asks for one axiom, which is that we grant him that a universe in which every conscious creature suffers as much as possible for as long as possible is the worst possible universe, and that any other universe is better.

4 - para 1: again, many logical leaps here, IMO. Whenever you say “we must”, you’re making a large claim, one that really needs to be spelled out, not just assumed.

Icehorse,

2 – By begging the question, I did mean the fallacious use of the phrase. I saw Sam Harris’s position that science can tell us what we ought to value, not only what we value, as begging the question since he provided no reason for the claim aside from an argument regarding sentience—which still has no moral grounding either.

2 – para 2: What would you say are more accurate definitions of materialism and atheism? I felt the definitions I used were most accurate.
3 – para 1: You would have to be more specific on what logical leaps you are referring to.

3- para 1: And the “granting” of that axiom is precisely the enormous leap I see present in his argument which I am pointing out in my paper—something that philosophically cannot be granted under his presuppositional materialistic, naturalistic worldview. The dilemma would still remain, how can any pain or pleasure, something entirely biological, materialistic and amoral, ever be morally better or worse?

4 – para 1: I think you are referring to this section: “Logically, we must accept the notion that there exists a uniformity to nature not only through time, but also across living things in various forms and degrees in order to allow this evidence to speak to us, if you will. But how is this explained under a naturalistic worldview where there is no real foundation to trust the consistency of the laws of nature?” I explained this statement if you kept reading further on the paper, I am referring to the problem of induction which is unsolvable under a materialistic worldview.

Thank you,
Bethany

 

 
the Antinihilist
 
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21 April 2016 09:28
 
icehorse - 20 April 2016 09:54 PM
nonverbal - 20 April 2016 08:52 PM

Just so you know, icehorse, the OP paper brings up an argument that Sam Harris had no response to in a blog comments section shortly after TML was published. I suspect you have no answer, either, so you conveniently choose not to read the relevant 2 or 3 pages.

It wasn’t a dodge. If the good arguments followed the bad, that was a result of a poorly structured paper. My general stance is to stop reading when it feels the foundation is shaky.

Now it could be that the initial arguments are sound, but in that case many intermediate steps were skipped. That approach severely limits the target audience. The paper was presented to a general audience, as such, IMO all of those intermediate steps should not have been skipped.

The paper was not meant for a general audience, as it was for a level 480 class… However, If you felt the paper was basic or for a general audience, perhaps it is because the philosophical issues I found the need to be addressed which were not addressed in TML are indeed fundamental philosophical issues. Hume’s problem of induction, the Is-Ought problem, the incoherency of determinism, the problem of reductionism, the fallacy of begging the question etc. Certainly, these are fundamental philosophical problems, but they are significant nonetheless—and were never addressed in TML or any other work I have come across.

 
GAD
 
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21 April 2016 09:55
 

OK, you ask, so here’s my opinion, your paper is as wrong and dismal as Harris’s The Moral Landscape just in the other direction.

Notes:

- The Moral Landscape is wrong in it’s premise and a shitty written book

- Morality is the consensus of personal preferences of a group regarding right and wrong

- Morality and right and wrong are human inventions and completely subjective

- You ask “What is morality for a materialist or naturalist? For an atheist?”; the same as for anyone else

- Freewill is an illusion, I’d ask you to prove that wrong but I know you can’t, and that’s why millions of man years are spent arguing about it

- Determinism (causality) is provable, indeterminism is not, your view was too incoherent to even follow

* Icehorse is the champion of the Science of Morality, it operates and does exactly what morality does it just sounds cooler because it has the word “science” in it, but even better would be the Science of Quantum Morality tm., doesn’t that sound really cool!

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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21 April 2016 11:05
 

Hey Bethany -

The opinions I held before I read your paper were:

- TML seems to have merit and would be a boon.
- Freewill - I agree in theory, in practice I think the conclusions are wrong

I’m unsure of your goal. It could be one or more of these, or something else:

1 - Harris is inconsistent
2 - Taken together, TML and Freewill are inconsistent.
3 - TML on its own is wrong

It would be great if you were willing to clarify your main goal(s) for this paper.

If your goal is to prove that Harris is inconsistent, I wouldn’t have much to push back on, since I agree.

If your goal is to say that TML on its own is wrong, then we could pursue that discussion.

== specifics

- begging the question - got it
- materialism: how do you classify energy, like radio waves?
  - how do you classify “thoughts” ?
- atheism: I don’t think atheism is a philosophy. It might be that many atheists share a similar philosophy, but that’s a different claim.

- logical leaps - i’d like to defer until we have goals nailed down

- the WBCC axiom - hmmm. Again this seems dependent on your goals. I would contend that if we look at TML alone, it’s a reasonable axiom, lest we slip into a relativistic swamp.

- uniformity to nature - again, i’d like to defer until i understand your goal(s)

 
 
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