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27 year-old David Hume: 1, Sam Harris who should know better: 0

 
d0rkyd00d
 
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d0rkyd00d
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02 February 2017 07:15
 

Also, i still wanted to address your point about evidence making things better.  Can you agree this is true in some cases but not all, and that it is not necessarily so?

 
After_The_Jump
 
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After_The_Jump
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02 February 2017 07:36
 

@ d0rkyd00d

But there are other assumptions one can grant from the beginning that aren’t outlandish, that also lead to beneficial outcomes.

Which is *exactly* where I believe Harris is trying to push the conversation.

Utilitarian consequentialism isn’t the only game in town, but you wouldn’t know that listening to Harris.

Harris has said multiple times that every assumption has exceptions, presumably including axiomatic ones.

Also, i still wanted to address your point about evidence making things better.  Can you agree this is true in some cases but not all, and that it is not necessarily so?

Yes, I agree with that. Again though, the scope & scale of this is relevant. Example: in the world of health, it’s an observable fact that smoking is bad for one’s health. It’s also true that, in some cases, people who smoke their whole lives show no observable impact on their health. The exceptions regarding smoking’s impact on health doesn’t move the claim that ‘It’s better to not smoke’ from a ‘factual claim’ to a ‘normative’ one, nor does it render the claim simply an ‘intuition’.

Thus, I tend to agree with Sam when he says that the standards people demand for claims made in the domain of ‘morality’ exceed any rational or reasonable standard as it compares to the standards we apply to virtually any other domain of discourse.

 

[ Edited: 02 February 2017 07:39 by After_The_Jump]
 
After_The_Jump
 
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02 February 2017 07:54
 

@ generationofvipers

Both appear indefensible without at least one additional premise

*Everything* - from the concept of gravity to the concept of ‘oughts’ - is ‘indefensible without at least one additional premise’. That’s the point.

Yet, in every other domain, this overlaying veneer doesn’t stop us from identifying concepts supported by observable evidence as ‘factual’ claims. But when iit comes to the construct of ‘morality’, that overlaying veneer causes some of us to act as if there are no factual claims that can be made about ‘morals’ or ‘values’. In the domain of morality, suddenly anything goes. Again, the example Harris uses about the adviser to President Obama on bioethics claiming there’s no way to say it’s wrong to pluck the eyeballs from children - so long as the practice is ‘religious’ - seems quite salient here. What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way? What’s the logical basis for acting like there’s something uniquely different about the ‘one additional assumption needed’ to make factual claims in this domain versus in any other domain?

 

 
d0rkyd00d
 
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d0rkyd00d
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02 February 2017 08:24
 
After_The_Jump - 02 February 2017 07:54 AM

@ generationofvipers

Both appear indefensible without at least one additional premise

*Everything* - from the concept of gravity to the concept of ‘oughts’ - is ‘indefensible without at least one additional premise’. That’s the point.

Yet, in every other domain, this overlaying veneer doesn’t stop us from identifying concepts supported by observable evidence as ‘factual’ claims. But when iit comes to the construct of ‘morality’, that overlaying veneer causes some of us to act as if there are no factual claims that can be made about ‘morals’ or ‘values’. In the domain of morality, suddenly anything goes. Again, the example Harris uses about the adviser to President Obama on bioethics claiming there’s no way to say it’s wrong to pluck the eyeballs from children - so long as the practice is ‘religious’ - seems quite salient here. What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way? What’s the logical basis for acting like there’s something uniquely different about the ‘one additional assumption needed’ to make factual claims in this domain versus in any other domain?

 

Something fishy is going on here and I unfortunately am not smart enough to figure it out.  Perhaps somebody can articulate it better than I.

In short, my suspicion is you are applying this initial premises argument inconsistently.  The initial assumptions required to make progress in physics and other “hard sciences” are not the same as the assumptions required for a science of morality, but you equate the two when it is convenient, or state “Initial assumptions are required for everything!” when I bring up the fact that if we disagree with the way Harris has rigged the game in this case as it pertains to the assumptions required to buy into his science of morality proposition, it all falls apart.  But I think equating these assumptions is a mistake.

I feel like we are talking about different levels here, but we are moving up and down through these levels indiscriminately when it is convenient.  Not sure if that makes sense.

 
generationofvipers
 
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generationofvipers
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02 February 2017 08:34
 
After_The_Jump - 02 February 2017 07:54 AM

@ generationofvipers

Both appear indefensible without at least one additional premise

*Everything* - from the concept of gravity to the concept of ‘oughts’ - is ‘indefensible without at least one additional premise’. That’s the point.

Yet, in every other domain, this overlaying veneer doesn’t stop us from identifying concepts supported by observable evidence as ‘factual’ claims. But when iit comes to the construct of ‘morality’, that overlaying veneer causes some of us to act as if there are no factual claims that can be made about ‘morals’ or ‘values’. In the domain of morality, suddenly anything goes. Again, the example Harris uses about the adviser to President Obama on bioethics claiming there’s no way to say it’s wrong to pluck the eyeballs from children - so long as the practice is ‘religious’ - seems quite salient here. What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way? What’s the logical basis for acting like there’s something uniquely different about the ‘one additional assumption needed’ to make factual claims in this domain versus in any other domain?

 

Obfuscation. I can’t even begin to set this argle bargle straight. Sam and you have taken a page from the Christian apologist’s playbook.  When logic and reason do not support your argument, drag a red herring (ie., the “concept” of “gravity” is “indefensible without another premise?” What on earth could that possibly mean and what on earth could that have to do with the is/ought controversy?) across the path, make a false equivalency, poison the well, and just hope that people lose the scent. 

I regret to tell you that “people do it in other areas too so it’s not fair to pick on us” is not a cogent line of reasoning.

And really, it is disingenuous to ask “What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way?” when that ‘reason’ is the very thing Hume gave you over 200 years ago, and it is that ‘reason’ I have repeatedly pointed out to you. Can you really, truly, not see what he was talking about? Or is this a bit of affectation on your part?

Again, if you would construct an sound argument wherein you arrive at an ought conclusion from strictly is premises, I will be the first to admit my error (and you should be prepared to become famous). If not, I think we must side with Hume, and we should stop talking about science giving us values.

 
After_The_Jump
 
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02 February 2017 09:40
 

@ generationofvipers

And really, it is disingenuous to ask “What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way?” when that ‘reason’ is the very thing Hume gave you over 200 years ago, and it is that ‘reason’ I have repeatedly pointed out to you.

Yes, exactly. Our only reason for doing so is because someone from 200+ years ago said we can. This seems to me to be the biggest barrier when it comes to discussions about morality; our inability to put into context the thoughts of moral philosophers who lived in an age where letting go of the arbitrary assumption of deistic and/or theistic existence was substantially more difficult than today.

 

 

[ Edited: 02 February 2017 09:43 by After_The_Jump]
 
d0rkyd00d
 
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d0rkyd00d
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02 February 2017 11:21
 
After_The_Jump - 02 February 2017 09:40 AM

@ generationofvipers

And really, it is disingenuous to ask “What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way?” when that ‘reason’ is the very thing Hume gave you over 200 years ago, and it is that ‘reason’ I have repeatedly pointed out to you.

Yes, exactly. Our only reason for doing so is because someone from 200+ years ago said we can. This seems to me to be the biggest barrier when it comes to discussions about morality; our inability to put into context the thoughts of moral philosophers who lived in an age where letting go of the arbitrary assumption of deistic and/or theistic existence was substantially more difficult than today.

C’mon man, that isn’t even relevant.  Just because Newton was a theist from the 17th century doesn’t render his work in calculus and physics obsolete.  I am confident you have a better response than an ad hominem attack on Hume.

 
generationofvipers
 
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02 February 2017 11:37
 
After_The_Jump - 02 February 2017 09:40 AM

@ generationofvipers

And really, it is disingenuous to ask “What’s the logical basis for segmenting out ‘morality’ in this way?” when that ‘reason’ is the very thing Hume gave you over 200 years ago, and it is that ‘reason’ I have repeatedly pointed out to you.

Yes, exactly. Our only reason for doing so is because someone from 200+ years ago said we can. This seems to me to be the biggest barrier when it comes to discussions about morality; our inability to put into context the thoughts of moral philosophers who lived in an age where letting go of the arbitrary assumption of deistic and/or theistic existence was substantially more difficult than today.

 

 

Now we are channeling Lawrence Krauss? 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtH3Q54T-M8

This was essentially his (very difficult to hear from a man I used to respect) point. Hume was a while ago. QED.

 
After_The_Jump
 
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02 February 2017 12:39
 

@ generationofvipers & d0rkyd00d

C’mon man, that isn’t even relevant.  Just because Newton was a theist from the 17th century doesn’t render his work in calculus and physics obsolete.  I am confident you have a better response than an ad hominem attack on Hume.

Of course it doesn’t render his work useless and obsolete. Hume’s work isn’t useless and obsolete either. But that doesn’t mean saying “because Hume said so” constitutes a good argument either. And specific to moral philosophy, if Hume had some degree of theism (or, more likely, deism) in his worldview, then that would seem to be quite a salient fact as it relates to his thoughts about ‘oughts’.

Anyhow, perhaps a simpler way to look at the question we’re discussing isn’t “how can one derive an ought from an is” but rather “how you can one derive an ‘ought’ from anything?”

Short of celestial edict, Hume’s distinction leaves no room at all for ‘oughts’, period. I’ll happily concede that there may indeed be no such thing as an ‘ought’. However, if one is going to claim there are indeed ‘oughts’, then a scientific development of ‘oughts’ can be just as objective as any other evidence based fact claim we develop.

In other words: if your claim is that there are no such things as ‘oughts’, fair enough - I can stipulate to that (because we’re still left with the same problem we’ve been discussing all along). If your claim is that there are such things as ‘oughts’, then I’ll reference back to everything I’ve said to this point.

 

 

[ Edited: 02 February 2017 12:49 by After_The_Jump]
 
eucaryote
 
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12 February 2017 14:35
 
generationofvipers - 24 January 2017 12:49 PM

I guess this is the hill upon which Harris’s philosophical reputation will die, because nothing he has written on the is/ought subject has any credibility outside of his narrow realm of modernist science fan boys and girls, and he can’t seem to find the good sense to just move on. No matter, though. The idea that science can give us our values was stillborn before Sam even joined the fray, and he hasn’t been able to vivify its corpse enough to even mount a decent stink. 

I have watched with pained chagrin as a man who I used to admire has proven completely incapable of grasping the obvious and fundamental distinction between what is and what should be.  One look in a dictionary might be sufficient to tell him that the two terms mean different things; and a primer in the philosophy of science would help him understand the limitations of the method he is touting. If Sam did more science, instead of talking about it, he would soon realize that he did not discover any values anywhere in his scientific labors. 

Yet Sam continues to contort himself in ways that even a Christian apologist would find bizarre, all so that he can just..maintain..his…pre..con…ceptions!  Ouch.  This is as painful as watching Einstein struggle against Heisenberg or the Vienna Circle argue for the verification principle when Popper’s critique was so obviously true. Another fine but rigid mind that proves incapable of progressing past a line he has laid in the sand years ago.

Yes, your thinking mirrors mine. Harris scarcely considers doing any actual research into the thoughts of others. This “is/ought” “issue”, is not the only one in which Harris refuses to acknowledge any thinking into a subject deeper than one of his shallow thought experiments. See Harris on consciousness or Harris on free will. Same thing. He does some preliminary “reasoning” and then creates bizarre thought experiments to convince himself of the truth of his preconceived notions. His notions about science or philosophy tend to show that he practices or pays attention to neither.
.

generationofvipers - 24 January 2017 12:49 PM

It is a sad state of affairs when a person becomes so enamored with their own wit and erudition that they start to believe their own bullshit. Maybe it is a danger inherent to all men past a certain age, as I am sure I suffer from it. But one would think that a man who claims to be a lover of rational discourse would see that discourse as more than a method to entrench himself further in a rather indefensible position.

YES to all of that. Again Harris has entrenched himself in a small number of in-defensiable positions . Predictably he never changes his stance. I still shake my head at his expressed astonishment over the idea that the only ones who agreed with him and participated in his xenophobia and disproportionate fear of Islam are “actually fascists”!

 
 
icehorse
 
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13 February 2017 13:04
 

For those of us in the peanut gallery, can you guys clarify a few points please:

1 - Is one side of the debate coming from a pure relativist position?
2 - If not, what foundational axioms are you using, upon which to base your arguments?

Thanks!

 
 
After_The_Jump
 
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15 February 2017 06:58
 

@ icehorse

1 - Is one side of the debate coming from a pure relativist position?
2 - If not, what foundational axioms are you using, upon which to base your arguments?

For my part, regarding question #1 (and eventually question #2):
- It’s been hard to ascertain that as well. Personally, For my part, I think there tends to be a general permeation between (1) the philosophical world where we don’t truly know anything about anything - a world where the very definition of words is now called into question -  and (2) the philosophical world where the basic assumption that a rational understanding of the universe is good creates a common ground for substantive discussion, and creates the space for a claim like “maximizing well-being of conscious creatures is good”.

I have tried to embed my comments in philosophical world #2 because philosophical world #1 seems like a space where conversation is rendered useless generally. A foundational axiom that a rational understanding of the universe is good gets us quite a long way in the framing required for a meaningful discussion. First, it requires some kind of generally accepted definition of words. Two, it requires observation and acknowledgment of observable facts.

Along those lines, I think the primary rub in discussion here comes from people who object to the notion that objective “good” and “better” statements can confer “should” and “ought” statements as being equally objective .  I think objection to that notion does in fact track right back to the two questions you asked. It would seem, if we’re operating in philosophical world #2 (i.e. a world premised on a foundational axiom that a rational understanding of the universe is good), there isn’t any substantive daylight between objective statements of “good/better” and statements of “should/ought”. I tried to illustrate that point by using an example like smoking while pregnant. Objective evidence makes clear that smoking while pregnant is bad, and that not doing so is good/better. If we’re granting primacy to evidence (i.e. assuming a rational understanding of the universe is good), what else would be needed to say, objectively, that we ‘ought’ not smoke while pregnant? In pure evidentiary terms, it seems the ‘good/better’ statement isn’t any more or less objective than the ‘should/ought’ statement.

That’s why I continued to make reference to celestial edict; because that seems to be the only way to wedge space between objective (1) notions of ‘good/better’ & (2) notions of should/ought. Examples of this abound. Comprehensive sex education and access to contraception is one such example. There’s ample objective evidence showing that comprehensive sex education and access to contraception is a better way to achieve objectively better health outcomes for the general populace. It seems it requires abandoning evidence entirely - and instead embracing some version of divine edict - to make the claim that we ‘ought not’ facilitate comprehensive sex education and access to contraception.

As I’ve said elsewhere: i’m not saying there’s no such thing as normative ‘ought’ claims. For example, the claim that we ‘ought’ to drink one kind of beer versus another because it tastes ‘better’ is a normative claim. But, that kind of claim is simply not the same kind of claim as one like “we ought to refrain from smoking while pregnant because doing so is ‘better’ than not doing so”. That’s been the point I’ve been driving at and all it requires is grounding a conversation in philosophical world #2 as opposed to philosophical world #1, as stated above.

 

[ Edited: 15 February 2017 07:09 by After_The_Jump]
 
icehorse
 
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16 February 2017 09:25
 

ATJ - thanks!

You said:

...a world premised on a foundational axiom that a rational understanding of the universe is good…

So is it possible we could - albeit crudely - call this your foundational axiom? (Either way, it seems to me to be a good one.)

It’s probably fairly well known around here that I try to build up from WBCC. So it could be interesting for WBCC to debate with “understanding is good” (UG?)  : )

 
 
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16 February 2017 09:59
 

@ icehorse

So is it possible we could - albeit crudely - call this your foundational axiom? (Either way, it seems to me to be a good one.)

Yes.

And further than that, it seems virtually all of us - as a population - accept this as a foundational axiom as it relates to essentially every other domain except morality. As I stated earlier (and as Harris has stated), it takes an acceptance of this foundational axiom to give *any* truth claim meaning.

So it could be interesting for WBCC to debate with “understanding is good” (UG?)  : )

It could be that one is a subset of the other as well; i.e. it takes some relevant degree of WBCC for “understanding” to even be possible.

 

 
Lausten
 
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16 February 2017 11:07
 
generationofvipers - 02 February 2017 07:13 AM
After_The_Jump - 01 February 2017 06:35 PM

There is so much jumping back and forth in each of your replies that I can’t really begin to parse out what you are proposing.

          This is a conversational cop out; it’s an attempt - intentional or not - to make your argument without ever having to make your argument.

 

Agreed. It is a cop out, because this eel is too slippery to grab. But for two examples of what I refer to see above.

It is simple enough in theory to prove me wrong, and I will be the first to acknowledge my error. Simply construct a sound argument with purely descriptive premises that yields a prescriptive conclusion.  Give me a string of pure “is’s” and mine for me the “ought” contained in them.  And please do not employ the Sam Harris ‘hide the premise’ sleight of hand.  That is so transparent that I am nearly convinced that he actually does see the fallacy of his position and is trying to deceive us into missing it.

He doesn’t hide the premise, he completely acknowledges it. That’s what science is based on, a few basic premises, like laws apply equally in all space and time. Obviously you can’t prove that with data because you don’t have all the data of all space and time. And is/ought like you ask for has to start somewhere, like 16th century Saudi Arabia or something. Obviously there are a lot of shared assumptions in just that simple starting point.

 
 
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