Taking The Moral Landscape to the next level?

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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29 September 2017 00:53
 

In this essay (https://analyticphilosophy.net/abstract-of-reflections-on-the-moral-landscape/), which is too long to post here, I attempt to take Harris’ view in The Moral Landscape to the next level after first granting the main thrust of what he is trying to do.  In this sense it represents no refutation, just a carrying of the project further into what I think are the more important aspects of moral theory.  The actual essay is located on the same menu “Essays” under this abstract.

I welcome any comments.  If anyone wants to discuss the piece, we should do so here.

Enjoy,

The Anus

[ Edited: 29 September 2017 01:23 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Kalessin
 
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Kalessin
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29 September 2017 17:25
 

Actually I got to the end of this one (I may have disrespectfully skated through some of it, with apologies) smile

A few opening thoughts. 

Firstly, I think there are some foundational elements which are not “proven” or a priori axiomatic despite widespread acceptance by many people both at an intuitive and philosophical level.  The “well being of conscious creatures” paradigm, or any variant of utilitarianism, which can be reduced to a statistical calculus, is still something I would like to see subject to rigorous philosophical scrutiny that at least starts with skepticism.  I can imagine this sounds outrageous to many people, but I am simply advocating fearless Socratic questioning.  I don’t have a personal agenda and actually I want to be able accept these premises intellectually rather than purely intuitively, although in honesty I do struggle a bit with the strident moral philosophy of Peter Singer and others ... but at the moment, the less foundational and absolutist the claims, the easier it is (for me, at least) to happily adopt or accept new, alternate ways of behaving and try and make the world a better place in any number of small ways. At some point I would really like to see these paradigmatic moral approaches put to a proper test.  Why is there any presumed “right” to anything?  Is “fairness” invariably beneficial and in what way is or can this be evidenced?  Does the “happiness of the many” always and necessarily outweigh the happiness of the one?  There are a range of trolley problems and other thought experiments that can be brought to bear on these issues.

Secondly, I do think abortion is a very useful and worthwhile vehicle for contextualising moral arguments, and in this case as in many others you rightly show how there is a very deep tension between the notion of scientific or evidence-based moral systems and this kind of “competing well-being” scenario.  Interestingly I saw a post on these forums which argued that along with a “right to choose” in reproductive terms, the woman’s essential “right to ownership of her body” always weighted the calculus in favour of the mother, as the child only has the “right to life”. 

Thirdly, I agree that a continuum of moral “bad vs good” doesn’t resolve “my good vs your good” problems, although I don’t think a more nuanced construct is necessarily impossible here (even the Eisenhower matrix is starting point for modelling competing pressures).

So all really interesting stuff smile.

However, I think you stopped short of what seemed to me a visible end point in your essay and in effect left it as an open question - I thought your notion that science as a basis for moral decisions would (or might) NOT inevitably result in generally (rather than individually) applicable or definitive solutions to such moral questions could in fact be challenged on the basis of some of the hypothetical scientific developments you postulated.  I truly hope I have understood your point and am happy for you to correct me if not.

I think probably my perception here comes back to misgivings about “right to life” or “right to choose” being fundamental and I can only make sense of this through trying out some trolley problem variants relevant to your essay.  We have the delicate and perhaps uneasy balance between mother and fetus and the ‘tipping point’ of fetal viability as you outlined.  Science may then deliver a number of evidential and quantifiable elements into the calculus.  These could range from fetal viability, measurements of the onset of consciousness, fetal insights based on genetics (or indeed the ability to manipulate genes), modelling of environmental variants, and similar analytics of the mother, as well as a ‘big data’ approach that fed all these into a larger societal algorithm. 

Do you not think that in the end, with enough sophistication and real-world testing, this combined volume of scientific data and knowledge WOULD be able to provide generally applicable moral rules?  I thought you were moving towards that in your essay until your conclusion.  If you accept a “WBCC” or otherwise utilitarian approach, even with a tricky tension between individual and societal moral considerations, I think one could at least envisage a hypothetically definitive “scientific morality” , albeit based on a fair bit of speculation.  But to make it easier, we have a large canon of brilliant science fiction that has done quite a lot of the work for us smile.  You could start with Philip K Dick’s Minority Report (thinking about ‘crime’), or Huxley’s Brave New World (face it, nearly everyone is happy there, aren’t they), and more.

Kalessin

[ Edited: 29 September 2017 17:27 by Kalessin]
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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05 October 2017 02:10
 

Hello again.

First, I agree completely that the essay ends with an open question, that it stops short of resolving the issues it raises.  That was my intent: to raise an issue as a prelude to solving a problem, not solve a problem per se.  So you are entirely correct to point that limit out. 

Second, I also agree that Harris’s position on the well-being of conscious creatures as a ‘basis’ for morality deserves more scrutiny that I subject it to in the essay.  But I didn’t subject it to anything at all and and embraced it fully because the point I was trying to make could perhaps best be made by granting, for the sake of argument, everything that Harris says and then noting that granting that still doesn’t raise the moral questions we really need to raise.  Where you suggest that we should question further whether in fact everything can be so granted…well, I agree, and at some point I am going to give that more thought. 

In any case, the thought you end with, that “this combined volume of scientific data and knowledge WOULD be able to provide generally applicable moral rules” is interesting, and I would take it up in the following way: what we need from “science” is not a body of knowledge that tells us moral propositions are true as a much as guidance for a method of applying true moral propositions to solving specific moral problems.  So “science,” as it were, furnishes inspiration for a method, not a body of knowledge.  For instance, I think it is entirely irrelevant to the real moral issue that well-being is an empirically knowable brain state of conscious creatures; what is needed instead is a criterion for adjudicatively applying empirically verifiable moral principles about enhancing well-being to morally problematic situations.  That we can describe those states of well-being using the language of neuroscience is true , of course, but that is immaterial to the question of which moral principle to apply, except in so far as it enables us to predict the consequences of applying one principle or another.  And to that issue, since science is the only known method of inquiry leading to real explanations and verifiable knowledge, so we need to look to how that is done in physical and social inquiry and then imitate that METHOD in moral inquiry as well.  That is about as far as I will go in saying that “science determines human values”—it inspires an outlook and method, not provides a body of knowledge.

Of course, that too needs much more thought, which is all I was hoping to provoke in the essay.  One could also challenge the very idea of a foundation for moral theory as Harris seems to conceive it, but that too is a topic for another time.

Thank you again for the thoughtful reply.

[ Edited: 06 October 2017 02:52 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
IrieCycle
 
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IrieCycle
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29 November 2017 03:56
 

The Moral Landscape is certainly laying out blueprints for a foundational approach to reconstituting societal underpinnings.  I believe much of Sam Harris’s theory here is primarily rooted in proposing a new Sociological Paradigm (not theory).  It is clear that Sam has a stronger grasp on social conditioning than most leaders in the Business world so as to prove his theories.  I look forward to what is next…

 
 
Twissel
 
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29 November 2017 04:43
 

There are many things wrong with the Moral Landscape, thought the concept is intriguing.

 
 
IrieCycle
 
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IrieCycle
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12 December 2017 04:33
 

Dear Anus,
  Thank you Kindly for the arduous work of wading out into the ‘thick’ of the Moral Landscape as purposed by Sam, and reiterating it all into a concise synopsis.  Not such an easy task to comprehend all of Mr. Harris’s interrelated thesis’s.  You came back from your hunt just to share the game meat with the rest of the tribe.  Well done, however, I tend to like mine medium rare, if you please.  So here is my response to the synopsis you have provided. 
In recognition of the similarities in the macrocosm and microcosm discernible differences can be distinguished; and more over ascertained as applied to a new sociological theory or perhaps even paradigm.  Therefore, it could be said, that the moral truths stemmed arising in conflict within society is only serving as the Protagonist to support the moral truths inherently within Peace. 
In this way ‘The Moral Landscape’ is in effect serving as a vehicle by which to progress into new moral truths.  In comparing and contrasting the two, the moral truths of conflict and Peace, nuances can be ascertained and formulated to provide an expanded version of morality. 
The Moral Landscape is the alchemical synthesis of the cutting edge in the subject of Ethics or Philosophy plus Science, to formulate new Sociological moral truths, that hopefully have yet to be presented, thereby will expand the moral capacity by which the good of Humanity can be founded upon.

 
 
segalbe
 
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segalbe
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12 December 2017 15:06
 

Unless you can undermine one of the following premises, Utilitarianism cannot do what we want it to do (tell us how we ought to behave), even in principle:

(1) If every member of a group prefers X to Y, the group prefers X to Y.
(2) If the group prefers X to Y and Z enters the race, the group prefers X to Y.
(3) There is no dictator who decides for the the group X over Y.
(4) There is no way to compare my preference for X over Y, to you preference for X over Y in any reliably quantifiable and measurable sense.

This is the most concise rejection of utilitarianism I can formulate. The first three propositions cannot all be held true, by any system which seeks to aggregate the order of our preferences. Preference orders, therefore, cannot be aggregated.  After reading your brief extrapolation, you seem to have independently arrived at this impasse. It is formally known as Arrow’s impossibility theorem. The final supposition undermines a unitary measure of value. If there is no way we can compare the order of our preferences and we cannot measure how much we value things, there is no remaining legs upon which utilitarianism can stand. Social Choice theorists (modern utilitarian economists) either say one of the first three criteria is too strongly stated, or they presuppose some magical objective unit of utility. Neither option is acceptable as far as I can muster.

[ Edited: 12 December 2017 15:12 by segalbe]
 
mapadofu
 
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12 December 2017 16:26
 
segalbe - 12 December 2017 03:06 PM

Unless you can undermine one of the following premises, Utilitarianism cannot do what we want it to do (tell us how we ought to behave), even in principle:

(1) If every member of a group prefers X to Y, the group prefers X to Y.
(2) If the group prefers X to Y and Z enters the race, the group prefers X to Y.
(3) There is no dictator who decides for the the group X over Y.
(4) There is no way to compare my preference for X over Y, to you preference for X over Y in any reliably quantifiable and measurable sense.

This is the most concise rejection of utilitarianism I can formulate. The first three propositions cannot all be held true, by any system which seeks to aggregate the order of our preferences. Preference orders, therefore, cannot be aggregated.  After reading your brief extrapolation, you seem to have independently arrived at this impasse. It is formally known as Arrow’s impossibility theorem. The final supposition undermines a unitary measure of value. If there is no way we can compare the order of our preferences and we cannot measure how much we value things, there is no remaining legs upon which utilitarianism can stand. Social Choice theorists (modern utilitarian economists) either say one of the first three criteria is too strongly stated, or they presuppose some magical objective unit of utility. Neither option is acceptable as far as I can muster.

My impression is that (2) , and maybe (3), aren’t uniformly true for real people [rejecting (2) might be based on psychology experiments that demonstrate that the set of options provided or the order in which they are provided, affect peoples’ responses].  For ideal/theoretical/formal representations of peoples’ preferences (4) is not required.  Indeed, the whole idea of a “moral landscape” is to evoke the idea of a cardinal representation of “goodness”, and to draw upon geometrical intuitions in understanding how the value of this function might change as other variables are varied.

[ Edited: 12 December 2017 16:29 by mapadofu]
 
segalbe
 
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segalbe
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12 December 2017 16:37
 

2 and 3 aren’t up for grabs due to psychology. 1, 2, and 3 simply cannot be mathematically present in any system of aggregation. This is true at the mathematical level, leaving psychology out of the equation (such is the might of Arrow’s impossibility theorem). That a single person would dictate every group decision, seems completely irrational and antithetical to the “general will.” 4 simply must be true. Value is principally subjective. Going to “health” as subjective in principle is no rescue. The specific preferences we have for the factors which might comprise health are not capable of aggregation, again due to Arrow’s impossibility theorem. Harris backdoor’s his way to the impasse, with a little intellectual slight of hand.

[ Edited: 12 December 2017 17:20 by segalbe]
 
segalbe
 
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12 December 2017 17:05
 
mapadofu - 12 December 2017 04:26 PM
segalbe - 12 December 2017 03:06 PM

My impression is that (2) , and maybe (3), aren’t uniformly true for real people [rejecting (2) might be based on psychology experiments that demonstrate that the set of options provided or the order in which they are provided, affect peoples’ responses].  For ideal/theoretical/formal representations of peoples’ preferences (4) is not required.  Indeed, the whole idea of a “moral landscape” is to evoke the idea of a cardinal representation of “goodness”, and to draw upon geometrical intuitions in understanding how the value of this function might change as other variables are varied.

Harris makes the case that we share certain subjective preferences. He doesn’t even begin to make the case for cardinal ranking. Rather, he reiterates that whatever well-being is, it must be measurable at the level of the brain.  He merely begs the question. He doesn’t begin to describe how a unit of utility is even conceptually coherent. It doesn’t make sense. His primary analogies do no work for him here.

 
IrieCycle
 
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12 December 2017 18:09
 

In regards to Utilitarianism, it’s antithesis is Co-operativism.  A more refreshing, pragmatic and contemporary reconstitution of Socialism.  In Co-operativism there is the implication of volunteerism except with a specific purpose and function.  What makes it special is that it can harness the empowerment of an interdependent group to create synergy as it’s effect.  Ideally Co-operativism is enacted through the form of Stewardship, where a group is working together to achieve a common goal.  In this scenario there is a win-win frame of mind without a leader and follower per say.  It is a possible alternative to the pyramid model.

[ Edited: 12 December 2017 18:15 by IrieCycle]
 
 
mapadofu
 
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18 December 2017 06:54
 
segalbe - 12 December 2017 04:37 PM

2 and 3 aren’t up for grabs due to psychology. 1, 2, and 3 simply cannot be mathematically present in any system of aggregation. This is true at the mathematical level, leaving psychology out of the equation (such is the might of Arrow’s impossibility theorem). That a single person would dictate every group decision, seems completely irrational and antithetical to the “general will.” 4 simply must be true. Value is principally subjective. Going to “health” as subjective in principle is no rescue. The specific preferences we have for the factors which might comprise health are not capable of aggregation, again due to Arrow’s impossibility theorem. Harris backdoor’s his way to the impasse, with a little intellectual slight of hand.

Your assertions that X or Y just simply are true are unconvincing.  I am aware of indications, from the psychology literature, that it may be the case that individual relative rankings can be affected by context, e.g. the contrast effect.  Thus, it is not obvious that the formal mathematical model embodied in Arrow’s theorem applies to real world decision making.  The possible counter example I have in mind for dictators is the case of highly paternalistic families.  In some religious traditions the husband is the headship of the family with near dictarial power.  If you ask the subordinate members their preferences, they will bend to the headship’s.  Now the question of wether this bowing to authority is a genuine one is a complex psychological and philosophical question.  But again, within these kinds of small groups Arrow’s theorem may be an inapt formal description of what’s actually occurring.

If instead you want to focus ideal theoretical descriptions of decision making, then my inclination is to go for a cardinal description.  Indeed if you want to protect your decision making from Dutch book scenarios, you are pretty much forced to a quantitative description of preference.

 

 
segalbe
 
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18 December 2017 11:25
 
mapadofu - 18 December 2017 06:54 AM
segalbe - 12 December 2017 04:37 PM

2 and 3 aren’t up for grabs due to psychology. 1, 2, and 3 simply cannot be mathematically present in any system of aggregation. This is true at the mathematical level, leaving psychology out of the equation (such is the might of Arrow’s impossibility theorem). That a single person would dictate every group decision, seems completely irrational and antithetical to the “general will.” 4 simply must be true. Value is principally subjective. Going to “health” as subjective in principle is no rescue. The specific preferences we have for the factors which might comprise health are not capable of aggregation, again due to Arrow’s impossibility theorem. Harris backdoor’s his way to the impasse, with a little intellectual slight of hand.

Your assertions that X or Y just simply are true are unconvincing.  I am aware of indications, from the psychology literature, that it may be the case that individual relative rankings can be affected by context, e.g. the contrast effect.  Thus, it is not obvious that the formal mathematical model embodied in Arrow’s theorem applies to real world decision making.  The possible counter example I have in mind for dictators is the case of highly paternalistic families.  In some religious traditions the husband is the headship of the family with near dictarial power.  If you ask the subordinate members their preferences, they will bend to the headship’s.  Now the question of wether this bowing to authority is a genuine one is a complex psychological and philosophical question.  But again, within these kinds of small groups Arrow’s theorem may be an inapt formal description of what’s actually occurring.

If instead you want to focus ideal theoretical descriptions of decision making, then my inclination is to go for a cardinal description.  Indeed if you want to protect your decision making from Dutch book scenarios, you are pretty much forced to a quantitative description of preference.

What Arrow talked about, was not how preferences can be influenced, but rather whether preferences as they exist across people at a specific time, cannot be aggregated.  If I, using the threat of force, or perceived authoritarian power, dictate what is best for the group, I may realign my preferences, but it makes no sense to say that the dictator chooses the preferences that the entire group already has, automatically, every time. This phenomenon has nothing to do with psychological effects (can’t find the specific source for this atm, but bear with me. This is from the Stanford Encyclopedia:
“In fact there is more to the non-dictatorship condition than meets the eye. An Arrovian dictator is just someone whose strict preferences invariably are a subset of the society’s strict preferences, and that by itself doesn’t mean that his preferences form a basis for social preferences, or that the dictator has any power or control over these. Aanund Hylland once made a related point while objecting to the unreflective imposition of D in single profile analyses of social choice:

In the single-profile model, a dictator is a person whose individual preferences coincide with the social ones in the one and only profile under consideration. Nothing is necessarily wrong with that; the decision process can be perfectly democratic, and one person simply turns out to be on the winning side on all issues. (Hylland 1986: 51, footnote 10)”

I’ll try and hunt down the specific source about the non-psychology at some point.