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#123- Identity & Honesty A Conversation with Ezra Klein

 
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15 May 2018 18:33
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 May 2018 05:04 AM

. . .

If there is a thing-in-itself (just the thing as it is, the boiling point of water, as it were), and if we only know it through subjective access, how can we ever be confident that we have grasped its true nature in a way not dependent on consensus, a way through independent means or reference points outside of or transcending the subjectivity of that access?  How would the explanation of the boiling point of water ever be known to reflect the true properties of boiling, something you suggest both exists and can be known?

. . .

Close-tolerance measurements are often in order, as well as research review from potentially competitive peers. Once everything is apparently said and done, or becomes statistically close enough for jazzy science, some conclusions make sense to human-style bio-perceptions and some don’t.

Also, never put much faith in early-to-mid 20th-Century French philosophers. I know—that’s an entirely subjective opinion!

 
 
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16 May 2018 01:36
 

In this case the semantics changes everything.  In most philosophical argument I’m familiar with, “objective” usually refers to ‘mind-independent reality’ and “subjective” usually means ‘mind-dependent reality.’  That’s how I’ve been using them.  Your definition is closer to my own, a functional one.  For my part, “objective” refers to getting the same ‘output’ from the same ‘inputs’ in a method or operation, and “subjective” refers to when the ‘output’ is unique to a single instance of the method or operation for any inputs.  Yours refers to biases versus facts: “subjective” is bias or belief in coming to know facts; objective is fact independent of bias or belief.  Fair enough; that changes everything. 

(Incidentally, the arguments I’ve been rehearsing are not my own per se, and I’ve only invoked them because they would apply under an ontological meaning of objectivity and subjectivity.  Rather they are standard concerns that arise in modern philosophy, once problems are posed in a certain way. Like I indicated throughout, I think they represent a false problem, one that goes away under both your and my understanding of objectivity and subjectivity—a functional, as opposed to an ontological one.)

That said, without taking a stand myself on the objectivity or not of right and wrong, I still think your argument that right and wrong are subjective like Santa Claus—“when you stop believing, it goes away”—potentially has problems, in that under it that too much is make-believe.  Mathematics and language stop existing when we stop believing in them.  So does law.  Yet these things enter the realm of facts.  So are right and wrong just uniquely ‘belief-dependent,” or can they be belief-dependent in the way mathematics, language or law are belief-dependent, i.e. belief dependent with facts objectively true about them?  Or are there just no facts to be had about belief-dependent realities in general?

Although largely moot at this point (though I suspect a version of it may creep back into the conversation), the argument I’ve been making reads like this:

1. There is mind-independent (the world) and mind-dependent reality (perception, with its sensations, beliefs, symbols). 
2. The only means of access to the world is through perception (sensations, beliefs, or symbols).  That is, we can only know independent reality though mind-dependent means. 
3.  How then do we ever independently know what mind-independent reality is?  That is, how do we ever know our mind-dependent sensations, beliefs, or symbols reflect or mirror mind-independent reality, if the only means of knowing is those sensations, beliefs, or symbols?  How do we justify knowledge?

This philosophical dilemma is as old as Descartes and as new as Russell and the logical positivists.  It’s widely considered to have received its death blow only in the second half of the 20th century, with neo-pragmatists like Sellars and Rorty (I happen to think it was killed much earlier, with James and Dewey, but that’s an aside).  In any case, no one has resolved how we can have knowledge starting with the horns of this dilemma—a point now more or less moot both here and in philosophy after Dewey.

I get your 1-3; under some construals it makes perfect sense.  But now I wonder about how broadly you think belief-dependent reality contains no facts.  You’re not saying that only bona fide actual, material things like artifacts and natural things exist in such a way that facts can exist about them, and then be known, subject to our provisions for knowing these facts without bias; much less that only those things are real...are you?  Your definition of “objective” and “reality” isn’t as restrictive as that…is it? 

[ Edited: 16 May 2018 06:53 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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16 May 2018 01:45
 
nonverbal - 15 May 2018 06:33 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 May 2018 05:04 AM

. . .

If there is a thing-in-itself (just the thing as it is, the boiling point of water, as it were), and if we only know it through subjective access, how can we ever be confident that we have grasped its true nature in a way not dependent on consensus, a way through independent means or reference points outside of or transcending the subjectivity of that access?  How would the explanation of the boiling point of water ever be known to reflect the true properties of boiling, something you suggest both exists and can be known?

. . .

Close-tolerance measurements are often in order, as well as research review from potentially competitive peers. Once everything is apparently said and done, or becomes statistically close enough for jazzy science, some conclusions make sense to human-style bio-perceptions and some don’t.

Also, never put much faith in early-to-mid 20th-Century French philosophers. I know—that’s an entirely subjective opinion!

And here I thought ASD and I were all alone in our private corner of the Internet…

20th-century French philosophers?  Are you referring to the post-modernists?  The concerns here predate them and are, I think, somewhat different from theirs. For my part, I have no sympathy for French post-modernism.

Yes, it sounds like you are saying scientific conclusions, as ASD indicates, are always probable—“good enough,” given our best means, but never once-and-done, inviolable to future revision. If so, I agree (and so would Dewey, the man I’m pimping here…)

[ Edited: 16 May 2018 04:04 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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16 May 2018 11:42
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 16 May 2018 01:45 AM
nonverbal - 15 May 2018 06:33 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 May 2018 05:04 AM

. . .

If there is a thing-in-itself (just the thing as it is, the boiling point of water, as it were), and if we only know it through subjective access, how can we ever be confident that we have grasped its true nature in a way not dependent on consensus, a way through independent means or reference points outside of or transcending the subjectivity of that access?  How would the explanation of the boiling point of water ever be known to reflect the true properties of boiling, something you suggest both exists and can be known?

. . .

Close-tolerance measurements are often in order, as well as research review from potentially competitive peers. Once everything is apparently said and done, or becomes statistically close enough for jazzy science, some conclusions make sense to human-style bio-perceptions and some don’t.

Also, never put much faith in early-to-mid 20th-Century French philosophers. I know—that’s an entirely subjective opinion!

And here I thought ASD and I were all alone in our private corner of the Internet…

20th-century French philosophers?  Are you referring to the post-modernists?  The concerns here predate them and are, I think, somewhat different from theirs. For my part, I have no sympathy for French post-modernism.

Yes, it sounds like you are saying scientific conclusions, as ASD indicates, are always probable—“good enough,” given our best means, but never once-and-done, inviolable to future revision. If so, I agree (and so would Dewey, the man I’m pimping here…)

Out of curiosity, would you describe yourself as a Neo-Platonist of some shade? Or would a better guess be that you enjoy exploring a variety of philosophical takes without identifying with any one in particular, perhaps? I realize these are personal questions, and will understand any reticence on your part.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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16 May 2018 14:43
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 16 May 2018 01:36 AM

I still think your argument that right and wrong are subjective like Santa Claus—“when you stop believing, it goes away”—potentially has problems, in that under it that too much is make-believe.  Mathematics and language stop existing when we stop believing in them.  So does law.  Yet these things enter the realm of facts.

I’m not sure I see the problem with “too much” being make-believe. Yes, it’s a fact that in the English language, the word, “dog,” means a four-legged mammal that barks. It’s also a fact that the speed limit on most freeways is sixty-five MPH. It’s also a fact that the strike zone is an area over home plate extending approximately from the armpits to the knees of a batter when in the batting position. But none of these things were discovered; they were all invented, or defined. Which I say makes them “make-believe.” You and I could make up a game and call it Fizbin with our own set of rules. Those rules would be “facts” in the same way that the English word for a four-legged mammal that barks or the speed limit or the strike zone are facts. So I would say that right and wrong are not uniquely belief-dependent. They’re belief-dependent in the same way that laws and language and the rules of games are.

(Mathematics is apparently a little more ambiguous. The symbols we use are obviously invented, but what about the rules? Discovered, or invented? I’m inclined to say that the rules of mathematics are to mathematical symbols what a four-legged mammal that barks is to the word, “dog.” But I think there’s some disagreement about that.)

I groaned when I got to, “mind-dependent reality.” (You and JB8989 would see eye to eye on this point.) To me, that’s an oxymoron, tantamount to saying, “subjectively objective.” Yes, I’m afraid my definitions of “objective” and “reality” really are as restrictive as you fear. Although, having said that, I feel like I just stepped on one of those bouncing betty landmines that wait until you step off them before jumping up out of the ground and exploding. That subtle little “click” that arms the detonator. I have no formal education in philosophy—most everything I pretend to know about it comes from debates right here on this forum. I was an engineer, so I have an engineer’s perspective on reality. “Mind-dependent reality” sounds to me like a recipe for disaster, the kind of thinking that leads to leaning towers and the like.

I get what you mean by “mind-dependent reality,” and maybe our disagreement is merely semantic, but the “reality” in our minds isn’t real reality, it’s a model thereof.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t facts to be discovered about the things in our “mind-dependent reality.” For example, it’s a fact that most children below a certain age in the West believe in Santa Claus. And it’s a fact that most of the children who believe in Santa Claus believe he’s a fat, jolly old white man. But there are no facts—in reality or in mind-dependent reality—about Santa Claus himself. There are only facts about the belief in Santa Claus.

Other than that, I agree with your three points, even if they’re irrelevant to my argument against objective right and wrong. My claim that right and wrong don’t exist in reality (real reality, not the mind-dependent model of reality) is deductive: If right and wrong exist in reality, then they must depend on something besides bias and belief. What is that something? What could it possibly be?

 
 
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17 May 2018 04:03
 

My claim that right and wrong don’t exist in reality (real reality, not the mind-dependent model of reality) is deductive: If right and wrong exist in reality, then they must depend on something besides bias and belief. What is that something? What could it possibly be?

Put deductively, your argument seems to go like this:

All reality is physical reality.
Right and wrong are not physical reality.
Therefore right and wrong are not real.

You could also phrase it…

If real, then physical.  Right and wrong are not physical.  Therefore right and wrong are not real.

While logically valid, I think that’s a weak argument.  “Physicality” does not readily encompass all that is real.  Material reality covers all that is materially real, sure, but there seems to be more that is real than what is just material.  You seem to want to call this “more” a model, but who or what makes the models?  Something not real?  Something just physical?  Something just physical using “make-believe” to get around in the real world?  That makes little sense to me.  Santa Claus, something entirely make-believe, does not make models.  Consciousness makes models.  Minds make models.  Or if you are worried about using “mind” and therefore positing two orders of reality—the mental and the physical—then ‘consciousness with language’ makes models.  If this is true, why is ‘consciousness with language’ not real?  If it’s not real, doesn’t that mean that something not real (consciousness) makes something not real (a model) about something real (physical things), yet in all this unreality real changes occur—i.e. an unreal entity creating unreal models creates real changes in the real world, without anything in this process but that physical world being real.  That sounds weird to me, and not just because those real changes in all that unreal processing by unreal entities are highly predictable and readily controllable.  For my part, it makes much more sense to say that both consciousness (or mind) and physical things (or matter) are real, but we’re not entirely sure how to reconcile these two senses of real, or even if they even need to be reconciled.  Your premise—all reality is physical reality—seems to throw the baby out with the bathwater just to make it stop crying about objective morality.  Consciousness and mind sure seem real, so much so that they appear to be our primary—if not only— access to what you call, exclusively, real things.  In any case, they are our only means of manipulating real things, and it’s hard to see how something unreal can manipulate something real.

I would put it to you this way: on what grounds is consciousness or mind or language not real just because it’s not physical?  Is it the fact that it’s not physical?  If so, that’s just a circular argument, and that won’t do.  It’s not enough simply to assert the premise of a deductive argument; one has to justify the premise, otherwise the conclusion, while logically valid, remains unjustified.  To my knowledge, you have yet to do this.  You only assert the premise, therefore the conclusion—that right and wrong cannot be real—is weak.  That conclusion may be true for other reasons, under a different premise or set of premises, but the burden seems to be on you to explain how so much that seems real—mind, consciousness, language, culture, sensations, emotions, relationships, etc.—remains possible without being real.  I happen to think all those things are real, and I don’t see how denying that is worth it just to go after objective right and wrong. 

At this point, as an aside… You seem to suggest that right and wrong, models, and Santa Claus are all of apiece because all three are “make believe.”  But Santa Claus is “make-believe” in entirely a different way than a model is “make-believe,” in that a model (usually) captures something about the physically real, while Santa Claus, as “make-believe,” has no real referent at all; therefore it is entirely make believe. Santa Claus can never be real, period, but “dog” or “two” or “the Pythagorean theorem” can be —at least the instances those models represent can be real.  With this distinction in mind, it’s possible that right and wrong are models that allow us to capture something real about reconciling self-interest with the well-being of others, just like mathematical models capture something real about physical process, thus permitting objective statements about those processes.  If this is so, then in so far as mathematical models permit of objective statements about real relations, statements of right and wrong could be objective too.  In any case, I get that you don’t even want to acknowledge that, but saying right and wrong are entirely make-believe like Santa Claus is entirely make believe takes a separate argument than just saying models, Santa Claus, and right and wrong are all make-believe because they are “mind-dependent” and therefore invented, not discovered.  Even among the “make-believe” there is ‘make-believe’ and then there is make-believe.

Also, a quick note: I have yet to make any argument of my own that right or wrong are or are not objective.  Up to this point I have only rehearsed standard arguments given certain interpretations of “objective” and “subjective.”  I mention this because you note at the end, “other than that, I agree with your three points, even if they’re irrelevant to my argument against objective right and wrong.”  Strictly speaking those are not my three points, meaning they are not my argument one way or another on this issue.  I just wanted to be clear on that.

 

[ Edited: 17 May 2018 06:00 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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17 May 2018 04:39
 
nonverbal - 16 May 2018 11:42 AM

Out of curiosity, would you describe yourself as a Neo-Platonist of some shade? Or would a better guess be that you enjoy exploring a variety of philosophical takes without identifying with any one in particular, perhaps? I realize these are personal questions, and will understand any reticence on your part.

 

No reluctance to discuss this at all. 

For my part, I couldn’t be further from a Neo-Platonist than I am, for I think Plato was so mistaken that no one could take him seriously for the rest of human history, and we’d miss out on no useful knowledge.  As an artist, yes—beautiful—but as a philosopher, a dead end we never should have taken. This is not to say that some of the issues he addressed aren’t important, even critical, but I think the way he posed questions, his style of argument, and his answers (such as they are; there’s debate whether he actually had any of his own) are worthless, save as errors not to make.  At least as far as I’ve been able to tell. 

You are right that I don’t identify with any particular philosopher, or any particular school.  But that said, it would be safe to say I think Dewey was the most important philosopher of all; that with him we finally get someone who explains how we actually obtain real knowledge, even as he came up with some himself.  I read him more than any other now, though I still read others for purposes of writing about them.

As for background, I am ‘classically’ trained, meaning my education focused on traditional, historical figures, especially in 20th century Europe (I didn’t learn about the Americans until after graduate school).  I mention this because my background is quite different than most philosophy education in this country.  That school is “analytic,” and in its programs one rarely reads—or when I was in them, rarely read—classical philosophers.  Instead, the focus is on logic and argument, with only a side interest in how philosophers in the past have posed questions and answered them.  This is not to say that I haven’t carefully read analytic figures; I have.  But as my website indicates, I am not an analytic philosopher.  Hence my moniker here—TheAnal-lytic Philosopher.  It’s an irony or parody that would spoil itself if actually explained….

[ Edited: 17 May 2018 06:41 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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17 May 2018 11:19
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 17 May 2018 04:39 AM
nonverbal - 16 May 2018 11:42 AM

Out of curiosity, would you describe yourself as a Neo-Platonist of some shade? Or would a better guess be that you enjoy exploring a variety of philosophical takes without identifying with any one in particular, perhaps? I realize these are personal questions, and will understand any reticence on your part.

 

No reluctance to discuss this at all. 

For my part, I couldn’t be further from a Neo-Platonist than I am, for I think Plato was so mistaken that no one could take him seriously for the rest of human history, and we’d miss out on no useful knowledge.  As an artist, yes—beautiful—but as a philosopher, a dead end we never should have taken. This is not to say that some of the issues he addressed aren’t important, even critical, but I think the way he posed questions, his style of argument, and his answers (such as they are; there’s debate whether he actually had any of his own) are worthless, save as errors not to make.  At least as far as I’ve been able to tell. 

You are right that I don’t identify with any particular philosopher, or any particular school.  But that said, it would be safe to say I think Dewey was the most important philosopher of all; that with him we finally get someone who explains how we actually obtain real knowledge, even as he came up with some himself.  I read him more than any other now, though I still read others for purposes of writing about them.

As for background, I am ‘classically’ trained, meaning my education focused on traditional, historical figures, especially in 20th century Europe (I didn’t learn about the Americans until after graduate school).  I mention this because my background is quite different than most philosophy education in this country.  That school is “analytic,” and in its programs one rarely reads—or when I was in them, rarely read—classical philosophers.  Instead, the focus is on logic and argument, with only a side interest in how philosophers in the past have posed questions and answered them.  This is not to say that I haven’t carefully read analytic figures; I have.  But as my website indicates, I am not an analytic philosopher.  Hence my moniker here—TheAnal-lytic Philosopher.  It’s an irony or parody that would spoil itself if actually explained….

Thanks for being both direct and candid, and for inspiring me look into Dewey.

 
 
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17 May 2018 12:20
 

Fuck Ezra. The guy sounded like a pompous wannabe, and he was miserable about staying focused on the issue. He couldn’t proceed without poaching irrelevant facts. Sadly most people’s minds follow their emotional gut, and since he fancies himself on the right side of SJ warriorness, he figures he could dig in and double down without missing a beat. Except he missed most of em.

 
 
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17 May 2018 17:08
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 17 May 2018 04:03 AM

. . . If real, then physical . . . why is ‘consciousness with language’ not real?

I did not mean to imply that only “physical” things are part of reality, although I’m making an assumption about what you mean by “physical.” At any rate, consciousness exists in reality. So do beliefs. But I still say we need to distinguish between beliefs, which exist in reality, and the subjects of beliefs, which may or may not.

For example, I believe that stoning adulteresses is wrong. That belief exists, presumably as some combination or configuration of neurons and synapses. But the belief in wrongness is not the same thing as wrongness itself. If stoning adulteresses is wrong in reality, then its wrongness does not depend on my—or anyone’s—belief that it is wrong.

The model created by the process of consciousness exists in reality. But the things modeled may or may not exist.

I’m not sure if that addresses your point, and I think I may have complicated things unnecessarily by claiming that right and wrong don’t exist in reality. How about this:

“If X doesn’t depend on belief, then X must depend on something else (assuming we live in a deterministic universe). If there is nothing else that X can possibly depend on, then X must depend on belief. If X depends on belief, then X is not objective.” Which rules out right and wrong being objective without bringing up their existence in reality—unless you can think of something besides belief that they depend on.

 
 
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17 May 2018 19:25
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 17 May 2018 05:08 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 17 May 2018 04:03 AM

. . . If real, then physical . . . why is ‘consciousness with language’ not real?

I did not mean to imply that only “physical” things are part of reality, although I’m making an assumption about what you mean by “physical.” At any rate, consciousness exists in reality. So do beliefs. But I still say we need to distinguish between beliefs, which exist in reality, and the subjects of beliefs, which may or may not.

For example, I believe that stoning adulteresses is wrong. That belief exists, presumably as some combination or configuration of neurons and synapses. But the belief in wrongness is not the same thing as wrongness itself. If stoning adulteresses is wrong in reality, then its wrongness does not depend on my—or anyone’s—belief that it is wrong.

The model created by the process of consciousness exists in reality. But the things modeled may or may not exist.

I’m not sure if that addresses your point, and I think I may have complicated things unnecessarily by claiming that right and wrong don’t exist in reality. How about this:

“If X doesn’t depend on belief, then X must depend on something else (assuming we live in a deterministic universe). If there is nothing else that X can possibly depend on, then X must depend on belief. If X depends on belief, then X is not objective.” Which rules out right and wrong being objective without bringing up their existence in reality—unless you can think of something besides belief that they depend on.

Is the difference you’re getting at equivalent to the difference between a word that is either concrete or only mildly abstract, and a highly abstract word? Does your argument depend upon degree in any way?

 
 
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18 May 2018 02:48
 

I did not mean to imply that only “physical” things are part of reality, although I’m making an assumption about what you mean by “physical.” At any rate, consciousness exists in reality. So do beliefs. But I still say we need to distinguish between beliefs, which exist in reality, and the subjects of beliefs, which may or may not.

For example, I believe that stoning adulteresses is wrong. That belief exists, presumably as some combination or configuration of neurons and synapses. But the belief in wrongness is not the same thing as wrongness itself. If stoning adulteresses is wrong in reality, then its wrongness does not depend on my—or anyone’s—belief that it is wrong.

The model created by the process of consciousness exists in reality. But the things modeled may or may not exist.

I’m not sure if that addresses your point, and I think I may have complicated things unnecessarily by claiming that right and wrong don’t exist in reality. How about this:

If X doesn’t depend on belief, then X must depend on something else (assuming we live in a deterministic universe). If there is nothing else that X can possibly depend on, then X must depend on belief. If X depends on belief, then X is not objective.” Which rules out right and wrong being objective without bringing up their existence in reality—unless you can think of something besides belief that they depend on.

Yes, this clears some things up, but I honestly don’t see what your new argument (the italics) gets you, other than setting up a tautology where beliefs about right and wrong can’t be objective.  What you seem to be saying overall is that beliefs have to depend on something besides beliefs in order to be objective; right and wrong depend on beliefs; therefore they can’t be objective.  Like all deductive arguments of this kind, though, this one doesn’t produce “new knowledge.”  All it does is set up is the truth-conditions for its own assertion that right and wrong can’t be objective.  All Harris needs to do in reply is deny your implied premise—that right and wrong are not real.  In other words, all he has to assert is that right and wrong are real, therefore judgements about them don’t have to depend on anything but that reality; therefore they can be objective (assuming subjective bias is set aside).  As far as I can tell, you’ve done nothing beyond assert that they are not real, so this counter-assertion on his part seems equally justified.

Unless I’m missing something.  For my part, I’ve never understood the utility of this kind of deductive argument.  It always seem to beg the question.  In other words, they seem to exposit truth-conditions for something presumed known, not yield “new knowledge.”  In this case, your argument seems to presume as known that right and wrong can’t be objective; then it sets up syllogisms where this has to be true.  The thing is: it doesn’t have to be true.  It may be that right and wrong don’t “depend on” reality (or anything else) because they are reality, and as reality, judgements about them could be objective (given your definition of objectivity).  They would just be a reality that is not physical, like consciousness or mind or culture, etc…At some point, this question of reality has to creep back in.

Again, unless I’m missing something, which in all sincerity may be true.  My moniker is TheAnal-lyticPhilosopher in part because I’ve never understood arguments of this kind, as common as they are in analytic philosophy.  It may just be that I lack the chops to be that kind a philosopher—to get at truth in this way.  In short, you may be right about right and wrong not being objective because of your deductive arguments, and it’s just that I can’t see it.

And again, just to be clear: I’m not saying that right and wrong are real and therefore are objective.  All I’m saying is that it looks to me like you have only asserted that they are not—not proven it.  In my view, deductive arguments can’t prove anything without begging the question through its own articulated truth conditions, conditions it sets up in order to meet them. 

(For a future reference…there might be parallel to be drawn here between your deductive arguments against objective right and wrong and Harris’ own thought-experiment for deducing well-being as the only irrefutable objective value—his ‘worst possible misery for everyone’...another argument that I don’t think proves much beyond meeting its own truth conditions…)

 

 

[ Edited: 18 May 2018 12:07 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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18 May 2018 13:34
 
nonverbal - 17 May 2018 07:25 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 17 May 2018 05:08 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 17 May 2018 04:03 AM

. . . If real, then physical . . . why is ‘consciousness with language’ not real?

I did not mean to imply that only “physical” things are part of reality, although I’m making an assumption about what you mean by “physical.” At any rate, consciousness exists in reality. So do beliefs. But I still say we need to distinguish between beliefs, which exist in reality, and the subjects of beliefs, which may or may not.

For example, I believe that stoning adulteresses is wrong. That belief exists, presumably as some combination or configuration of neurons and synapses. But the belief in wrongness is not the same thing as wrongness itself. If stoning adulteresses is wrong in reality, then its wrongness does not depend on my—or anyone’s—belief that it is wrong.

The model created by the process of consciousness exists in reality. But the things modeled may or may not exist.

I’m not sure if that addresses your point, and I think I may have complicated things unnecessarily by claiming that right and wrong don’t exist in reality. How about this:

“If X doesn’t depend on belief, then X must depend on something else (assuming we live in a deterministic universe). If there is nothing else that X can possibly depend on, then X must depend on belief. If X depends on belief, then X is not objective.” Which rules out right and wrong being objective without bringing up their existence in reality—unless you can think of something besides belief that they depend on.

Is the difference you’re getting at equivalent to the difference between a word that is either concrete or only mildly abstract, and a highly abstract word? Does your argument depend upon degree in any way?

I don’t think so. Even if a conclusion is 99% based on objective facts and only 1% on subjective preference, the conclusion is still not objective. If that’s what you mean?

 
 
nonverbal
 
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18 May 2018 13:48
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 May 2018 01:34 PM
nonverbal - 17 May 2018 07:25 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 17 May 2018 05:08 PM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 17 May 2018 04:03 AM

. . . If real, then physical . . . why is ‘consciousness with language’ not real?

I did not mean to imply that only “physical” things are part of reality, although I’m making an assumption about what you mean by “physical.” At any rate, consciousness exists in reality. So do beliefs. But I still say we need to distinguish between beliefs, which exist in reality, and the subjects of beliefs, which may or may not.

For example, I believe that stoning adulteresses is wrong. That belief exists, presumably as some combination or configuration of neurons and synapses. But the belief in wrongness is not the same thing as wrongness itself. If stoning adulteresses is wrong in reality, then its wrongness does not depend on my—or anyone’s—belief that it is wrong.

The model created by the process of consciousness exists in reality. But the things modeled may or may not exist.

I’m not sure if that addresses your point, and I think I may have complicated things unnecessarily by claiming that right and wrong don’t exist in reality. How about this:

“If X doesn’t depend on belief, then X must depend on something else (assuming we live in a deterministic universe). If there is nothing else that X can possibly depend on, then X must depend on belief. If X depends on belief, then X is not objective.” Which rules out right and wrong being objective without bringing up their existence in reality—unless you can think of something besides belief that they depend on.

Is the difference you’re getting at equivalent to the difference between a word that is either concrete or only mildly abstract, and a highly abstract word? Does your argument depend upon degree in any way?

I don’t think so. Even if a conclusion is 99% based on objective facts and only 1% on subjective preference, the conclusion is still not objective. If that’s what you mean?

What I meant was that a highly abstract word refers to distant and often fuzzy logic and by its nature lacks accountability such as what science-oriented researchers might demand. Words such as moral, good, right, wrong, evil would seem to qualify as being highly abstract.

 
 
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18 May 2018 14:19
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 18 May 2018 02:48 AM

Yes, this clears some things up, but I honestly don’t see what your new argument (the italics) gets you, other than setting up a tautology where beliefs about right and wrong can’t be objective.  What you seem to be saying overall is that beliefs have to depend on something besides beliefs in order to be objective; right and wrong depend on beliefs; therefore they can’t be objective.  Like all deductive arguments of this kind, though, this one doesn’t produce “new knowledge.”  All it does is set up is the truth-conditions for its own assertion that right and wrong can’t be objective.  All Harris needs to do in reply is deny your implied premise—that right and wrong are not real.  In other words, all he has to assert is that right and wrong are real, therefore judgements about them don’t have to depend on anything but that reality; therefore they can be objective (assuming subjective bias is set aside).  As far as I can tell, you’ve done nothing beyond assert that they are not real, so this counter-assertion on his part seems equally justified.

“Beliefs have to depend on something other than belief in order to be objective” sounds to me like something out of Alice in Wonderland. It’s like saying, “Cats have to be something other than cats in order to be reptiles.”

We both agree that “objective” means “independent of bias or belief.” According to that meaning, there’s no such thing as an “objective belief,” is there?

Returning the “existence” argument: if I claim that unicorns exist in reality, is the onus on you to prove they don’t? Or on me to prove they do? If Harris is claiming right and wrong “exist,” the onus is on him to prove they do. What I’m saying is that all he has to do to prove they exist is suggest something that they might depend on besides bias or belief. I don’t think that’s a tautology. Unless you’re asserting that a thing can both depend on bias or belief and exist in reality? Reality depends on our belief in it? Trees falling only make sound if a human being is in the woods to hear it? Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, might or might not go away?

 
 
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