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Objective Morality: A Back-of-the-Napkin Sketch

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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11 June 2018 15:12
 

It seems to me that most of the posters in this thread have missed your point, or perhaps more accurately, imported definitions and qualifications of their own that obscure it.  In any case, I like what you write here, and but for a small clarification I think it establishes what you intend to establish.  I question, however, how much it establishes, not because I don’t think it establishes much but because I am not sure it establishes everything that we need in qualifying moral judgment as objective

I’ll start with the clarification before moving on to general agreement and the questions.

Non-moral goodness

I follow the philosopher Peter Railton in providing first an account of non-moral goodness to serve as a sort of conceptual stepping stone to an account of moral goodness. Suppose I am given a choice between eating a slice of apple pie and a nutritious salad. I desire to eat the apple pie, but it seems I really ought to desire to eat the salad; it is, after all, healthier for me. We might say that while eating the apple pie will provide some temporary pleasure, eating the salad is in my better long-term interest (Railton would say that the apple pie constitutes a subjective interest of mine, while the salad constitutes an objective interest).

Now, what, if anything, makes these sorts of judgments—judgments about what’s really best for me, independent of my transient desires—true, or at least justifiable? I submit that it’s the existence of a more general desire—say, a desire to be in good health—that is in several important respects superordinate in my cognitive ecology to my desire for the apple pie. These sorts of superordinate desires, unlike transient desires, tend not to be exhaustible and tend to have as their objects not momentary events or achievements but stable states of the world (you don’t just acquire good health; you cultivate and maintain it—or fail to do so). They are also, I think, more central to one’s identity, in that they are much harder to change or replace than transient desires. Henceforth, I’ll call this special subset of desires values.

On this account, the proper analysis of the claim that I ought to choose the salad over the apple pie would be something like: “Eating the salad will (partially) satisfy the value of being healthy, while eating the pie will not, and satisfying this value is more important for my overall well-being than satisfying the transient desire for apple pie.” The various facts about my values, transient desires, and the conditions of their satisfaction are the truthmakers of any claims about what is good for me. Insofar as these claims are justified, then, my values give me reasons to act accordingly. Failure to heed these reasons would constitute a failure of instrumental rationality.

This analysis of non-moral goods seems to establish a distinction between real and apparent goods based on transient versus enduring interests more than it establishes non-moral goodness as such.  For instance, eating apple pie is “good” if the end-in-view is satisfying a craving for sweets, and this good only becomes “apparent” and not real upon invoking an equal or superordinate conflicting value, say maintaining overall health.  If in fact eating the pie will diminish overall health—say one’s already had enough sweets for the day—then eating the salad would be the real good over the apparent good of eating the pie.  But say in fact one is two days out from a marathon; here eating the pie is probably the real good, and the salad the apparent one, on the grounds that performing well in the race is superordinate to the general goal of overall health (or in any case, it may be part of promoting overall health, as running races is, or its negative effect is entirely offset from running the race, as it would be).  In this pie versus salad example, real or apparent goodness depend on the value acting as the end-in-view more than the existence of goodness as such is established—in other words, the example is more about real versus apparent goods relative to superordinate and subordinate values than non-moral goodness as such.  The difference between real and apparent goods is an important one, to be sure, but a different one than establishing non-moral goodness itself.

I think for your argument all you need for non-moral good is the general idea that “good” refers to the “conditions of satisfaction” for established values, regardless whether those values reflect short-term or long-term interests.  That is, “good” would reflect the means as properly adjusted to meeting ends—in this example, either eating the pie or the salad, depending on the end to be achieved.  In this way, non-moral goodness is flexible enough to accommodate any desire or interest or value—meaning that it’s a general feature of an instrumental reason that adjusts means (any means) toward an end-in-view (any end-in-view)—even as it leaves open the possibility of real versus apparent goods, depending on any hierarchy of values in question.  In any case, this more general notion of “goodness” as a ‘condition of satisfaction’ in any valuation seems to be the basis from which you derive moral goodness. 

This derivation can be seen in the following way. 

You point out that “not all value satisfaction conditions are context- and situation-dependent,” meaning that “to satisfy any value” (emphasis added), liberty, healthfulness, and knowledge are required.  As you note without my emphasis, any value, even—recurring to your example—valuing apple pie over salad, or vice versa.  For any valuation, liberty, healthfulness, and knowledge are “meta”-means to any end generally, whatever specific adjustment one is making—i.e. whatever the specific valuation, its context, and its situation.  So long as one has an end in view, the ability to reach it (liberty and health) and the knowledge for doing so (knowledge of “relevant parts of the world”) are necessarily implied.  In this way, P1 and P2 are valid, and C follows. 

As you can see, nothing really hinges on pointing out that your derivation of non-moral goodness is more a differentiation between real and apparent goods than an argument for goodness in general because in fact you argue from goodness as a general ‘property’ for any valuation to get to “objective goods” necessary for those valuations—again, liberty, healthfulness, and knowledge.

As far as it goes, I think you show that the liberty to pursue valuations, the ability to do so, and the knowledge for their realization are objective moral standards.  For any adjustment of means towards ends, i.e. for any realization of the good in any scheme of values, it’s in everyone’s mutual self-interest to promote liberty, ability, and knowledge.  One could even say that structurally these three goods are necessary for the realization of all others; that these three are necessarily implied in any adjustment of means towards ends.  That said, though, would you say, that these three objective goods are the superordinate goods from which all other goods can be derived—or perhaps better, to which all other goods are subordinate?  Would you say that these three are enough to arbitrate the diversity of actions we call moral, with a mind to real versus apparent goods pursued in these acts?  In other words, are these three objective values both necessary and sufficient for differentiating real from apparent goods in all unsettled moral disputes, or are they more like three values that must be maintained if we’re to recognize an “objective space” for settling disputes in the first place, not all of which can be settled as matters of liberty, ability, and knowledge?

On first blush it seems to me that we’d need more than these three standards to solve the lion’s share of moral disputes in an objective way.  But that said, these three do seem like “common goods necessary for [the] satisfaction” of all the others, and therefore worthy of special advocacy.  That much, I think, follows from your novel—and I think correct—derivation.

 

 

[ Edited: 22 December 2018 05:53 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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11 June 2018 16:17
 

A, have you considered offering your creative services to the branch of the AI community in charge of programming self-driving cars and personal aircraft? If you were to position your talents effectively, you could name your price as a consultant. Of course, positioning your talents effectively would involve hiring me to be your personal communications consultant, and I’m not cheap . . . er . . . that is, I’ll become a bit less cheap. Nice analysis!

 

[ Edited: 11 June 2018 16:20 by nonverbal]
 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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12 June 2018 10:28
 
nonverbal - 11 June 2018 04:17 PM

A, have you considered offering your creative services to the branch of the AI community in charge of programming self-driving cars and personal aircraft? If you were to position your talents effectively, you could name your price as a consultant. Of course, positioning your talents effectively would involve hiring me to be your personal communications consultant, and I’m not cheap . . . er . . . that is, I’ll become a bit less cheap. Nice analysis!

Hey, how’s the Dewey coming?  Thanks for the thought.  If only, right?

 
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