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#123- Identity & Honesty A Conversation with Ezra Klein

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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18 May 2018 14:24
 
nonverbal - 18 May 2018 01:48 PM
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.

Well, I think that things that don’t exist in reality tend to be abstract, if that’s what you mean? But just because something is abstract doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist. So no, I don’t think that’s it.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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18 May 2018 16:50
 

“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.”

Those two propositions aren’t equivalent. The second switches “to depend” for “to be”, and to depend on something isn’t the same as to be something.  But in any case, it’s your bailiwick, not mine.  You even spell out the first proposition here (just put anything purporting to be objective—like “Santa Claus”—in for X, and read “belief” in the conditionals as ‘an acceptance of’ or ‘a believing in’):

“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.”

After reading “belief” in this way, those conditionals only say that beliefs like “Santa clause exists” must be based on something other than either other beliefs or the act (or fact) of believing itself in order to be objective (this is why a belief like “Santa Claus exists” cannot be objective, but one like “the cat is on the mat” can).  And what’s more: given your own definition of “objectivity”, “belief” in those conditionals has to be read this way, not just as a belief in the sense of ‘a proposition that is accepted or believed’ (more on why in a second).  In any case, those conditionals are just a way of defining “objectivity,” not a deductive argument against an objective basis for morality.

We both agree that “objective” means “independent of bias or belief.”

No, again, your bailiwick, not mine. I said how I think of “objective” here:

“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.”

 
But setting that aside and returning to the above point, defining “objective” as “independent of bias or belief” doesn’t make sense if “objective” is a be a property of “conclusions” or “facts” (you’ve referred to both “objective conclusions” and “objective facts”) while “belief” is supposed to refer only to ‘a belief’ as ‘a proposition’ (the other mistake in your cat example) because conclusions and facts must also be beliefs .  You can’t have it both ways. You can’t exclude “belief” as a proposition from the definition of “objectivity” and have objective facts and conclusions because objective facts and conclusions are also beliefs, even as you have to include “belief” as a mere acceptance in order for any definition of “objectivity” to make sense. Thus this statement is problematic…

According to that meaning, there’s no such thing as an “objective belief,” is there?

I honestly can’t tell if this question is rhetorical because of course there are such things as “objective beliefs.”  A belief is “objective” if the meaning of the proposition refers to a fact independent of both the proposition itself and the act of simply believing it . Above you effectively define “objectivity” this way, and that definition applies to your Santa Claus example.  The belief “Santa Claus exists” can’t be objective because there is no Santa Claus; that belief can only refer to other beliefs or dispositions to believe, not to a real Santa Claus. Thus there is not “something else” other than belief to ‘support’ it.  But the belief “the cat is on the mat” can be objective, if in fact the cat is on the mat.  The subject of that belief may or may not exist in reality; if it does exist, then the belief is based on “something else” than belief, and is therefore objective.  You seem to be working under the misunderstanding that a true or objective fact or conclusion is somehow different from a true or objective belief.  That’s simply not the case (and if you have some other idea what a “fact” or a “conclusion” can be without also being “a belief,” it will be an original one).  So again: if “belief” in your own conditionals and definitions is not also used as ‘an acceptance of’ or ‘a believing in’ instead of only as ‘the proposition accepted or believed’, then neither those conditionals and definitions make sense, if “objective” is to apply to “facts” or “conclusions”—as you say elsewhere say it does.  For both facts and conclusions have to be beliefs. To put the matter succinctly, “belief” can refer to both an acceptance of a proposition and the proposition that is accepted—i.e. it can refer both to a believing and a belief.  That’s why “Beliefs have to depend on something other than belief in order to be objective” makes perfect sense.  If “belief” is understood correctly, your own conditionals say that.

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?

To me this existence argument just begs the question at issue.  You seem to be saying this: “right and wrong don’t exist in reality (like unicorns don’t), they exist only as bias and belief (like unicorns do), but objective fact depends on reality (not imaginary things like unicorns); therefore judgments of right and wrong can’t be objective fact—and the onus is on Harris to prove otherwise, i.e. the onus is on him to show right and wrong (unicorns) do exist, that their existence is based on something other than bias and belief, that objective fact can be determined about them.”  You also seem to think that saying this is an argument against Harris’ moral realism, not a question-begging demand, one fortified by your own definitions and assumptions.  But the question at stake in the “foundation” of morality—the question Harris addresses—is this: “Are right and wrong objective and real (i.e. they exist whether one believes in them or not) or are they merely subjective and conventional (i.e. they are based solely on feelings, bias, or merely the act of believing in them)?”  For his part, Harris offers an independent argument (a bad one) that well-being is a value that is both objective and real, one about which bona fide right and wrong exist; and he builds from that foundation.  What I see you doing is making assumptions about “existence” and “reality” and stipulating definitions of “subjective” and “objective,” then “deducing” the result you’ve assumed all along—to wit, that there is no objective basis for moral judgment, period. And for questions like the one Harris answers, that’s all deductive arguments do—make assumptions and stipulations that beg the question by loading what one wants to conclude into the starting point.  Your other criticisms of Harris strike me as right on point, but I don’t see how this “existence” argument goes anywhere you don’t already lead it.  And in any case, it’s just stipulation for objectivity, a condition Harris already [sic] meets with his own (bad) “existence” argument.

I guess what I’m saying is you can’t deductively show there is no objective basis for moral judgment; no one can.  That’s just not what deduction does.  At bottom deduction relies on assertion requiring independent justification; for its conclusion to be sound, non-deductive reasoning is required to support that assertion.  I don’t see you providing that.  I see you making an assertion and demanding Harris prove it’s otherwise, using your stipulations and definitions to do it.  I don’t think that’s a productive way to do philosophy.  Or a valid one.

As for the tree, the tree makes a sound if you define “sound” as ‘the transmission of waves in air caused by variations in pressure,’ and it doesn’t make a sound if you define “sound” as ‘the sensation a hearer hears upon receiving those transmitted waves’.  One definition refers to “objectivity” (it depends only on states of the world in order to be true) and the other to “subjectivity” (it depends on there being someone to perceive those states of the world in order to be true).  But both sounds are real.  So yes, depending on how you define it—or “believe in it”, if you wish—if there is no one there to hear it, the sound “might or might not go away.” 

I’ve enjoyed this conversation thus far.  I hope it doesn’t become personal now.

 

[ Edited: 21 May 2018 05:07 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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19 May 2018 14:05
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 18 May 2018 04:50 PM

We both agree that “objective” means “independent of bias or belief.”

No, again, your bailiwick, not mine.

Pardon me for assuming you had accepted that meaning:

TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 16 May 2018 01:36 AM

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.  [Emphasis added]

Is it fair to assume that if you were to accept my meaning of objective, then we would both agree morality cannot be “objective?”

If so, then the crux of our disagreement is semantic: the meaning of “objective;” and my tack at this point is to, for the sake of argument, accept your meaning and see what else becomes “objective” along with right and wrong. But first I think I need to understand your meaning better. For example, does it mean that if we ask a six-year-old whether Santa Claus exists over and over and over, and every time she answers, “Yes!” then that makes Santa’s existence “objective?” Or does it mean that we have to ask all six-year-olds whether Santa exists, and if they all say, “Yes!” then that makes Santa’s existence “objective?” In both cases, we get the same “output” from the same “input.”

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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20 May 2018 04:42
 

(All I meant by what you italicize is that your definition changes the direction of the discussion; that my previous assumptions needed changing.  After saying that, I changed both those assumptions and the direction of the discussion and focused, if I recall correctly, on the general issue of “make believe.”)

Is it fair to assume that if you were to accept my meaning of objective, then we would both agree morality cannot be “objective?”

No, it’s not.  It’s a useful definition in most contexts, but in this context, the only way that definition is decisive is through assumptions about what “real” means, and defining “real” is even more problematic than defining “objective”.  When anything hinges on that rabbit hole, I think it’s best just to change tacks.

In any case, at this point, I would caution anyone in our position against putting more effort into defining “objective,” as though that definition is decisive for whether or not objective propositions about right and wrong are possible.  All Harris means by “objective” morality is ‘real in a way that one can be right or wrong about it,’ meaning that the truth of the matter as it exists is independent of what one might believe about the matter.  As a working definition, it’s a decent one.  It’s not too far off from the take-home message of your conditionals, or from your definition as “independent of bias and belief”—once “belief” is read with its proper ambivalence as both ‘acceptance’ and ‘proposition.’  As for mine, mine is more idiosyncratic and is meant for different contexts than the question of a “foundation” for morality, so it would be a bad place to start.

But again, I see no reason to find a definition of “objectivity” more restrictive or precise than any of the ones in play so far.  American analytic philosophers have spent (in my opinion wasted) a lot of time trying to come up with necessary and sufficient conditions for terms like “truth,” “knowledge”, and “reality”; I’d hate to see “objectivity” join those ranks.  I think it’s best to leave these notions fluid and to attack arguments for them in the particular, when they are used to describe certain things.  Things like morality.  That means attacking the arguments for why something is or is not objective, not attacking the concept “objective” itself.  In this vein, I’d suggest attacking Harris’s assertion that morality is objective by attacking his particular argument(s), not attacking “objective” and “real” and then saying that morality can’t be that, therefore Harris is wrong.  Once his argument falls the slate is clean and then one can find arguments for why objective judgments about values are impossible.

Like I said in my last post, the question for Harris is (modified slightly): “Are right and wrong objective and real (i.e. they exist as such whether or not one believes in them) or are they merely subjective and conventional (i.e. they are based solely on feelings, opinion, or merely the act of believing in them)?”  It’s an ancient debate, as old as Plato, and in some respects I think it’s a false dilemma.  But either way, I don’t think resolving it rests much on how we define “objectivity” or “reality” because the truth of the matter rests no more on our definitions than the truth of gravity rests on our equations.  The truth to know here is what it is, and the answer to the question is what it is.  In this sense, your opening quote to this discussion is applicable: the reality of the answer to this question remains even when we stop “believing” in it, so by extension this reality exists regardless of how we define the terms through which we come to grips with it.  It’s the reasons we give for the answers we arrive at that are most vulnerable, not the concepts or definitions. 

So, that said, I think the best way to attack Harris is to attack how he argues that values are objective and real, not refute him through definitions of “real” and “objective.”  I suggest we turn to that, perhaps selfishly, I guess, because I’m working on it now anyway.  But I do think it would be a valid approach to criticizing The Moral Landscape....

Either way, I’m flexible…

[Incidentally, in your child and Santa Claus example, the ‘input’ is the question, the ‘operation’ is the child answering it, and the ‘output’ is his answer.  In the case of the single child, based on my definition, the proposition “this child believes in Santa Claus” would be objectively valid because the answer is ‘objective’, so to speak.  In the case of all the children, the proposition “six year old children believe in Santa Claus” would be objectively valid, again, because the answer is ‘objective’.  In both cases, it is reliably the real answer.

The actual existence (or not) of Santa Claus has nothing to do with the input, the operation, or the output, so it is a different issue entirely).]

 

[ Edited: 21 May 2018 08:25 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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21 May 2018 17:17
 

Good luck on the essay!

 
 
Alex_f
 
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Alex_f
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21 March 2019 23:09
 

All the way through the podcast I felt like both sides are missing something. Both provide valid arguments, but for some reason failing to answer the question asked.
I think I finally can put my finger on something that I think was the missing link.

Sam brought a very good illustration about DNA of Neanderthal found in all but African people (and perception would be different if it was found to be reverse).
And this is why this illustration is not really to the point: I think the measurement of IQ is a lot less objective than DNA findings: we can apply a properly designed scientific approach to measure it, however, all we can achieve is to measure ability of individual to solve a particular set of problems. General IQ is somehow linked to all of those different abilities, however, I would not accept it as universal measure of Intelligence. If so, the argument of scientific truth becomes invalid: such measure of IQ is by no means an absolutely objective one.

What I would agree with is to present any findings in such research the way they actually are: as a system of metrics describing a spectrum of cognitive tasks and results achieved by different groups of people resolving them.
Such approach would not loose any scientific content and would eliminate any notion of political agenda behind it.
I don’t really think racism is ever driven by any philosophers, but their thoughts and findings quite often being picked up by less educated mob to justify violence and inspire racist movements. I think that it is something that was not considered by Murrey: I would not suggest pretending that such differences may not exist, but I would expect authors touching flammable subjects treating them with care and if any mis-interpretation is possible (and that I could see happening here) than it should be explained clearly, which this podcast failed to achieve.

 

 
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