The Bad Stuff

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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01 October 2018 09:47
 

This may be overly simplistic but its a question that came up in conversation yesterday. I was getting a tattoo of all things and I was discussing art with the artist who was working on me. Specifically bad tattoos.

As someone employed in an industry he naturally had a lot of opinions about good tattoos and bad tattoos. We both admitted to a guilty amusement looking at really bad tattoos. He expressed distress at being frequently obligated to create them. I suggested that maybe the bad ones are necessary for context and for appreciation. He disagreed. He said that art doesn’t have represent the whole spectrum. It can been all good, all the time and we can know that’s it good without that frame of reference because good art can self-contain the continuum. In other words we can understand a principle of bad from good art and therefore we do not require bad art. I’m not sure if that’s true but it was an idea I hadn’t heard before.

Now, take tattoos and art in general as throwaway examples. Are there domains of attention and experience that can been wholly good or wholly bad or even wholly mediocre? Is a spectrum of quality necessary for our evaluation? Can we imagine a heaven or a hell where the counterpart falls away leaving the article intact? Of course I realize these are subjective, personal judgments in most cases but lets play out the string anyway. Can we have good without bad?

 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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01 October 2018 11:08
 
Brick Bungalow - 01 October 2018 09:47 AM

This may be overly simplistic but its a question that came up in conversation yesterday. I was getting a tattoo of all things and I was discussing art with the artist who was working on me. Specifically bad tattoos.

As someone employed in an industry he naturally had a lot of opinions about good tattoos and bad tattoos. We both admitted to a guilty amusement looking at really bad tattoos. He expressed distress at being frequently obligated to create them. I suggested that maybe the bad ones are necessary for context and for appreciation. He disagreed. He said that art doesn’t have represent the whole spectrum. It can been all good, all the time and we can know that’s it good without that frame of reference because good art can self-contain the continuum. In other words we can understand a principle of bad from good art and therefore we do not require bad art. I’m not sure if that’s true but it was an idea I hadn’t heard before.

Now, take tattoos and art in general as throwaway examples. Are there domains of attention and experience that can been wholly good or wholly bad or even wholly mediocre? Is a spectrum of quality necessary for our evaluation? Can we imagine a heaven or a hell where the counterpart falls away leaving the article intact? Of course I realize these are subjective, personal judgments in most cases but lets play out the string anyway. Can we have good without bad?

I think probably we would always use a “spectrum of quality” for evaluation.  As everything is never completely the same or equal, we would consider one end to be bad and the other to be good.  Following your art example, during the Renaissance the worst art might be better than most art today (my bias for more classical art), but people of that period would probably still see it as a large range of bad to good.  As your tattooist said, it doesn’t have to represent the whole spectrum.

I don’t think we need a whole spectrum in anything; we’ll only see and judge by what we’re acquainted with.  If we were to make it to heaven, and all the really bad people went to that other place, I suspect we’d still judge some people to be better than others, a range of good to not-quite-as-good (bad).  So, it’s not that we have to have the good with the bad, but that we’d judge it to be so by creating a new scale.

(But I may not have read enough philosophy yet to have gotten this right.)


[Edit:  And I’m really curious about the what and where of that tattoo.]

[ Edited: 01 October 2018 11:17 by Jan_CAN]
 
 
hannahtoo
 
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01 October 2018 20:25
 

When I lived in Los Angeles during the 1970’s, I remember reading a columnist who mused over whether people born in So. Cal. could fully appreciate spring, since they never experienced a bad winter of freezing cold and bare trees and biting wind.  I thought, of course we can because we have some trees that lose their leaves, and we see new green on hillsides in the spring.  However, once I moved to the Rocky Mountains, I realized that I could really appreciate the miracle of spring much more following 6 months of serious winter.

So yes, I think a range of experiences helps us rate them.  However, I don’t think we grade “on the curve” for everything.  For example, if we are lucky enough to grow up in a happy, loving family, we can just enjoy it, without needing to compare it to a dysfunctional family.  And when we enjoy music, we can think of it as good, without listening to discordance.  Of course “good” is subjective and can be an educated choice in many fields.  However, the feeling of happiness or awe or poignance, etc. when something is good is not dependent on comparison.

When I taught, I learned my school’s definition of a good book.  It would engage readers beyond the era in which it was written.  It would use language in an interesting way.  It would have themes that touched the heart.  Etc.  This is a sort of educated choice that I mentioned.  A 2nd grade boy will think Captain Underpants is the greatest book he ever read.  But it’s still not really a good book.  So I suppose an educated choice is one that requires a range of experiences.  Whereas a gut reaction does not.

[ Edited: 01 October 2018 20:28 by hannahtoo]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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02 October 2018 15:38
 
Brick Bungalow - 01 October 2018 09:47 AM

This may be overly simplistic but its a question that came up in conversation yesterday. I was getting a tattoo of all things and I was discussing art with the artist who was working on me. Specifically bad tattoos.

As someone employed in an industry he naturally had a lot of opinions about good tattoos and bad tattoos. We both admitted to a guilty amusement looking at really bad tattoos. He expressed distress at being frequently obligated to create them. I suggested that maybe the bad ones are necessary for context and for appreciation. He disagreed. He said that art doesn’t have represent the whole spectrum. It can been all good, all the time and we can know that’s it good without that frame of reference because good art can self-contain the continuum. In other words we can understand a principle of bad from good art and therefore we do not require bad art. I’m not sure if that’s true but it was an idea I hadn’t heard before.

Now, take tattoos and art in general as throwaway examples. Are there domains of attention and experience that can been wholly good or wholly bad or even wholly mediocre? Is a spectrum of quality necessary for our evaluation? Can we imagine a heaven or a hell where the counterpart falls away leaving the article intact? Of course I realize these are subjective, personal judgments in most cases but lets play out the string anyway. Can we have good without bad?

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

 
 
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02 October 2018 15:47
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 03:38 PM

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

I disagree.  I think we could like all the chosen tattoos, thinking all were good, and some were great.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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02 October 2018 17:38
 
hannahtoo - 02 October 2018 03:47 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 03:38 PM

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

I disagree.  I think we could like all the chosen tattoos, thinking all were good, and some were great.

Even if the chosen tattoos were the only tattoos you’d ever seen, or could remember seeing?

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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02 October 2018 20:39
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 05:38 PM
hannahtoo - 02 October 2018 03:47 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 03:38 PM

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

I disagree.  I think we could like all the chosen tattoos, thinking all were good, and some were great.

Even if the chosen tattoos were the only tattoos you’d ever seen, or could remember seeing?

Yes.  Maybe they all are pleasing to the eye.  After all, you said they were chosen as “good” tattoos to start with.  Have you never been at an art exhibit where you thought everything was good or great or amazing, and nothing really bad at all?  Or have you ever been at a concert where you thought all the music was at least good?  I disagree with the idea that good is only in comparison to bad.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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02 October 2018 20:50
 
hannahtoo - 02 October 2018 08:39 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 05:38 PM
hannahtoo - 02 October 2018 03:47 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 03:38 PM

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

I disagree.  I think we could like all the chosen tattoos, thinking all were good, and some were great.

Even if the chosen tattoos were the only tattoos you’d ever seen, or could remember seeing?

Yes.  Maybe they all are pleasing to the eye.  After all, you said they were chosen as “good” tattoos to start with.  Have you never been at an art exhibit where you thought everything was good or great or amazing, and nothing really bad at all?  Or have you ever been at a concert where you thought all the music was at least good?  I disagree with the idea that good is only in comparison to bad.

It would be interesting to test this. Somehow. The problem with your concert and art exhibit examples is that they’re being experienced in the context of other music and other art that have been experienced in the past.

 
 
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02 October 2018 21:12
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 08:50 PM
hannahtoo - 02 October 2018 08:39 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 05:38 PM
hannahtoo - 02 October 2018 03:47 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 03:38 PM

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

I disagree.  I think we could like all the chosen tattoos, thinking all were good, and some were great.

Even if the chosen tattoos were the only tattoos you’d ever seen, or could remember seeing?

Yes.  Maybe they all are pleasing to the eye.  After all, you said they were chosen as “good” tattoos to start with.  Have you never been at an art exhibit where you thought everything was good or great or amazing, and nothing really bad at all?  Or have you ever been at a concert where you thought all the music was at least good?  I disagree with the idea that good is only in comparison to bad.

It would be interesting to test this. Somehow. The problem with your concert and art exhibit examples is that they’re being experienced in the context of other music and other art that have been experienced in the past.

Yes, I thought of that.  Perhaps a new form of art?  Like the first time I saw that type of 3D art called Magic Eye, that you stare at to make the image appear—maybe you’ve seen that?  Anyway, the book I first saw it in had many images.  All appeared “competent.”  Some were more detailed or aesthetically pleasing than others.  But none were poorly done.  So all were “good,” in my judgement.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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03 October 2018 22:55
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 02 October 2018 03:38 PM
Brick Bungalow - 01 October 2018 09:47 AM

This may be overly simplistic but its a question that came up in conversation yesterday. I was getting a tattoo of all things and I was discussing art with the artist who was working on me. Specifically bad tattoos.

As someone employed in an industry he naturally had a lot of opinions about good tattoos and bad tattoos. We both admitted to a guilty amusement looking at really bad tattoos. He expressed distress at being frequently obligated to create them. I suggested that maybe the bad ones are necessary for context and for appreciation. He disagreed. He said that art doesn’t have represent the whole spectrum. It can been all good, all the time and we can know that’s it good without that frame of reference because good art can self-contain the continuum. In other words we can understand a principle of bad from good art and therefore we do not require bad art. I’m not sure if that’s true but it was an idea I hadn’t heard before.

Now, take tattoos and art in general as throwaway examples. Are there domains of attention and experience that can been wholly good or wholly bad or even wholly mediocre? Is a spectrum of quality necessary for our evaluation? Can we imagine a heaven or a hell where the counterpart falls away leaving the article intact? Of course I realize these are subjective, personal judgments in most cases but lets play out the string anyway. Can we have good without bad?

I agree that you can’t have good without bad—but not for the reason you suggest. I think you might have cause and effect mixed up, in a sense. Suppose we rounded up a group of people with tattoos, but only those people with what you consider “good” tattoos. Now we erase your memory of all tattoos. I’m willing to bet that you would then divide up our group of people into “good” and “bad” tattoos.

In other words, it’s not that we need bad tattoos in order to appreciate good tattoos, it’s that we will always perceive good and bad tattoos.

That’s certainly a possibility but I don’t think we can know because there isn’t really a test for it. How could we possibly know if there are systemic deficits in our memory that inform our basic intuitions? Is there some clinical trial where we can induce insomnia?

We can test for other things like the influence of cultural background and trauma. There is certainly some evidence to suggest that preferences tend to reorganize themselves to adapt to circumstance. So I can entertain this idea on that level.

Still, I don’t think preferences are as arbitrary as that. In visual arts a majority of people do react in predictable ways to similar things. We tend to to like images of healthy people. We like depictions of water and shelter. We like certain kinds proportional geometric composition, we like triads of color and full ranges of value. This stuff is cross cultural, persistent across age groups and conforms to pretty established biological explanations.

I can agree that many people do have an innate desire to organize things into good, bad and neutral piles as a sort of obsessive compulsion. Much like the way we seem to enjoy alphabetizing or arranging things by size and color.

Split the difference I suppose.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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04 October 2018 16:01
 

Taking the question out of the realm of art and into evaluation generally, I would say that a spectrum of qualities is established by our evaluation; that to evaluate is to order qualities into some kind of hierarchy or priority; that this is an essential function—if not the essential function—of our cognitive life.  If so, the question becomes: whence the “standard” of quality—or perhaps better, by what is quality adjudicated, beyond merely asserting a preference and rationalizing it ex post facto?

One obvious “standard” for quality is the suitability of means towards ends.  Once an end-in-view is established, the question of suitability of means to achieve it becomes an empirical, answerable question.  In this respect, “quality” stands for suitability of means, and it has a rational basis: that which suits is prioritized over that which does not, and within that which suits, quality is ordered by what suits better than something else.  This clearly works for institutions, technologies, and even behavior, for instance, in that once one grants an end, what means are suitable for reaching it becomes an answerable question.  But this doesn’t work for evaluating art, which for the most part represents an end in itself.  And in any case it leaves open the question: what of those ends themselves?  Whence their hierarchy?  Why or how are they valued?

One obvious “standard” for that hierarchy is to value that for which we have suitable means.  In one respect, this makes perfect sense.  What rationality lies in valuing some end one has no hope of achieving?  Who values such things?  In a sense, ends are hierarchized and valued according to the availability of suitable means to achieve them, putting those with means most available at the top of the hierarchy and those with means less available at the bottom.  We do this constantly in daily life, and I propose it accounts for most of the value we put on various ends—ends that in themselves can simply be called “values.” 

So, in one respect, what we value is dictated by what we can achieve, just as, reciprocally, what we value is the means to achieve these ends.  This sounds circular, and in a sense it is.  But also in a sense it’s an existential circle we happily live within, for we simultaneously value things we can achieve and the means to achieve them, reciprocally, and most evaluation consists of the concordance of this reciprocal availability and suitability.  This reciprocity serves as the origin of our values as a function of a never ending cognitive process called evaluation.  It constitutes the beating heart of our lives.

At this point a question inevitably arises: which values are “right” and which ones are “wrong”?  Or more to the point, how can we adjudicate between conflicting values, i.e. when one person values one end and another values another end, but only one end can be the end sought?  But before answering, consider this: the question just posed about conflicting values is a slightly different question than the one that is usually posed, to wit, the question of “objective values.”  For by the above stipulations, values are already objective.  They represent the reciprocal suitability and availability of means and ends.  It’s just that under this new question objective values come into conflict, as respective parties seek different ends.  Traditionally, this conflict has been asked about and purportedly answered in terms of “objective values,” in that a basis by which a conflict between values can be adjudicated is sought.  But really, two different adjudications are at work here: determining the suitability and availability of means and ends and settling conflicts between ends.  Once these adjudications are separated, the question of “right and wrong” values becomes clearer.  That is, instead of a question of which values are objective, the question becomes: how do we resolve conflict over different ends, ends the “objectivity” of which isn’t really a question?  And that is a very different, much more straightforward question. 

I propose that at the heart of the question of so-called “objective values” lies the different question, how do we resolve conflicts over different ends, ends that always already imply objective values?  And I propose that the only answer to this question is consensus, for consensus de facto resolves conflict, thus solving the problem.  So from there, the question underlying the traditional and mis-specified question of “objective values” becomes practical, and in my opinion much more sensible, namely: what are the best ways for achieving consensus, and what are the best ways of compromising when we don’t? But again, these are different questions than the red-herring question of “are values objective?”  For they already are.  The real question is what to do when mutually exclusive ends conflict, and disagreement lies not in the objective means for reaching them but the selection of them as such.

Ok, that’s my shot.  Any return serves?

[ Edited: 04 October 2018 16:10 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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04 October 2018 20:50
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 04 October 2018 04:01 PM

Taking the question out of the realm of art and into evaluation generally, I would say that a spectrum of qualities is established by our evaluation; that to evaluate is to order qualities into some kind of hierarchy or priority; that this is an essential function—if not the essential function—of our cognitive life.  If so, the question becomes: whence the “standard” of quality—or perhaps better, by what is quality adjudicated, beyond merely asserting a preference and rationalizing it ex post facto?

One obvious “standard” for quality is the suitability of means towards ends.  Once an end-in-view is established, the question of suitability of means to achieve it becomes an empirical, answerable question.  In this respect, “quality” stands for suitability of means, and it has a rational basis: that which suits is prioritized over that which does not, and within that which suits, quality is ordered by what suits better than something else.  This clearly works for institutions, technologies, and even behavior, for instance, in that once one grants an end, what means are suitable for reaching it becomes an answerable question.  But this doesn’t work for evaluating art, which for the most part represents an end in itself.  And in any case it leaves open the question: what of those ends themselves?  Whence their hierarchy?  Why or how are they valued?

One obvious “standard” for that hierarchy is to value that for which we have suitable means.  In one respect, this makes perfect sense.  What rationality lies in valuing some end one has no hope of achieving?  Who values such things?  In a sense, ends are hierarchized and valued according to the availability of suitable means to achieve them, putting those with means most available at the top of the hierarchy and those with means less available at the bottom.  We do this constantly in daily life, and I propose it accounts for most of the value we put on various ends—ends that in themselves can simply be called “values.” 

So, in one respect, what we value is dictated by what we can achieve, just as, reciprocally, what we value is the means to achieve these ends.  This sounds circular, and in a sense it is.  But also in a sense it’s an existential circle we happily live within, for we simultaneously value things we can achieve and the means to achieve them, reciprocally, and most evaluation consists of the concordance of this reciprocal availability and suitability.  This reciprocity serves as the origin of our values as a function of a never ending cognitive process called evaluation.  It constitutes the beating heart of our lives.

At this point a question inevitably arises: which values are “right” and which ones are “wrong”?  Or more to the point, how can we adjudicate between conflicting values, i.e. when one person values one end and another values another end, but only one end can be the end sought?  But before answering, consider this: the question just posed about conflicting values is a slightly different question than the one that is usually posed, to wit, the question of “objective values.”  For by the above stipulations, values are already objective.  They represent the reciprocal suitability and availability of means and ends.  It’s just that under this new question objective values come into conflict, as respective parties seek different ends.  Traditionally, this conflict has been asked about and purportedly answered in terms of “objective values,” in that a basis by which a conflict between values can be adjudicated is sought.  But really, two different adjudications are at work here: determining the suitability and availability of means and ends and settling conflicts between ends.  Once these adjudications are separated, the question of “right and wrong” values becomes clearer.  That is, instead of a question of which values are objective, the question becomes: how do we resolve conflict over different ends, ends the “objectivity” of which isn’t really a question?  And that is a very different, much more straightforward question. 

I propose that at the heart of the question of so-called “objective values” lies the different question, how do we resolve conflicts over different ends, ends that always already imply objective values?  And I propose that the only answer to this question is consensus, for consensus de facto resolves conflict, thus solving the problem.  So from there, the question underlying the traditional and mis-specified question of “objective values” becomes practical, and in my opinion much more sensible, namely: what are the best ways for achieving consensus, and what are the best ways of compromising when we don’t? But again, these are different questions than the red-herring question of “are values objective?”  For they already are.  The real question is what to do when mutually exclusive ends conflict, and disagreement lies not in the objective means for reaching them but the selection of them as such.

Ok, that’s my shot.  Any return serves?

I think it’s important to avoid tautology here. Are you saying that value is conferred by evaluation? That may not be wrong but I think it may be circular and thus not especially informative.

That aside… I basically would agree that it is human preference which projects and establishes values as we understand them. However, I don’t think it’s arbitrary. I think there are better and worse things to value from the perspective of personal well being, genetic fitness, community fitness and so on. People do exhibit a very wide array of preferences but I think its fair to say some of these are inherently unfit, toxic and unsustainable.

I guess the question is whether the concept of good has any ontology or not. I think it does. I think there is an independent good. I can’t really explain or qualify but it’s something I apprehend and intuit. I have no case to make for it though except to suggest that others might find a similar intuition through reflection and creative exploration.

Even if it doesn’t I would still argue that it’s useful to distinguish ‘The Good’ as an independent concept apart and above simply that which we experience and understand to be good. I think our personal and social moral progress demands it. I think we must observe the deficits and harms that occur around us in the context of failures to pursue and understand this good. This is just in our constitution.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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05 October 2018 03:02
 

Brick Bungalow - Posted: 04 October 2018 20:50

Are you saying that value is conferred by evaluation?

No, I would say the spectrum is established, not the values themselves, and especially not the qualities that serves as the ‘basis’ for values and goods.  The qualities themselves are real, out there in the world, so to speak; so yes, they are ontologically real.  As are the values and goods.  The “human preferences,” as it were, establishes the hierarchy and constructs an ordering of the goods, but not the goods themselves.  As matters of suitability and availability of means and ends, values and goods are ‘out there in the world’ and are as objective—albeit ontologically distinguishable—as events and things.  Values and goods are to be found as much as the laws of physics.  The qualities on which the goods and values are ‘based’ are as real as the bodies and motions examined by physics.

Of course some can be entirely made as well.

As for what “the goods” are, I would say whatever they are they involve the interaction of the organism and its environment; that from this interaction emerge qualities that are hierarchized and prioritized as goods.  This invokes a place for our biology establishing preferences and the environment offering affordances, and the nexus of these two, in some sense, constitute the qualities (eventually goods) that get taken up in evaluation.  So again, these qualities have to be objective, out there to be picked up in the world by cognition.  Coming from the nexus of interaction between organism and environment, they are as real as the organism and the environment.

The Good as a concept is an ideal end of the ordering of all specific goods—an imaginary telos, if you will, that guides the ordering.  But there is no single good that makes up The Good.  Rather there are just goods hierarchically organized and prioritized in an ordering established by evaluation, with a view toward The Good as a ‘master concept’ in the organizing principles.  But there is no specific good that is The Good against which all others are assessed (that is the error of traditional foundations for morality, of which Harris is perhaps the most focused example).

Even if it doesn’t I would still argue that it’s useful to distinguish ‘The Good’ as an independent concept apart and above simply that which we experience and understand to be good. I think our personal and social moral progress demands it.

Exactly so. 

 

[ Edited: 05 October 2018 04:13 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]