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Jay J
07-11-2009, 10:12 PM
Of course, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, when I use the word "war." Even the word debate would probably be a little strong for describing the discussion Bloggin and me are going to take up again. Hopefully this summary will be sufficient to the task of rekindling the discussion we were engaged in last summer (it was quite a long one, it would be a pity for it to go to waste).

Bloggin, if memory serves correctly, I was skeptical of the possibility that the view you were advancing could be properly classified as realist, in meta-ethics.

I'm less hung-up on disputes involving the proper place to draw these categorical lines, but I'm still interested in seeing where your view fits within the moral realist spectrum. I believe you may have offered me an olive branch by allowing your view to be called "minimal moral realism," at least temporarily. So I'm interested in seeing what your view is, for its own sake, and I'm also interested in seeing how a person who may consider their moral realism robust, (say, a Moorean non-naturalist) would respond.

I believe one way to start is by talking about normativity in general, and the interesting ways normativity permeates our lives and guides our concepts (am I on the right track here?).

The beef I expressed with your view is that I believe I saw morality as being something that is more... axiomatic, than, dare I say, "mere" normativity. For example, it seems to me that answering the moral skeptic is more difficult than answering the radical skeptic about the external world. The external world is very stubborn in that it comes back every time we're awake. I've never met a person who was genuinely skeptical about the external world.

However we do know of people, it seems, who are either completely violent and unfeeling (and thereby unresponsive to any ostensible moral facts) or are genuinely unconvinced that there are any such things as moral facts (moral skeptics). If someone is skeptical of the outside world, we can just tell them to use their senses to apprehend it, and assert that in the absence of contrary evidence, the most warranted position is to accept the existence of the external world. Of course I suppose it's within the realm of possibility that a person would deny that they sense the same thing we do, in which case there is no knock-down argument, just the fact that the vast majority of the people seem to apprehend the external world, and in a way that is virtually exactly similar to the way other people do, so it seems that the most warranted position is to accept the existence of the external world.

On the other hand, when someone denies the existence of moral facts, what are we to do?

Perhaps we can point to the explanatory power of noticing that Hitler's cruelty caused many of the events of WWII, but people like Gilbert Harmon believe that understanding the psychological facts of the individual participants will be sufficient (and I believe Harmon is a reductionist here, so it seems that a denial of reductionism is in order here for the moral realist, yes?).

But even if (hypothetically) we could all agree to be non-reductionists, the dispute would still pivot on what we expected from morality. I agree that if appeal to normative facts turn out to be explanatorily potent, that would be significant, but I wonder if the Moorean would agree that it's sufficient. The reason I wonder this is that morality seems to have to do with things like goodness, evil, etc, not just cruelty, bravery, etc. It also seems to have to do with more than a crude utilitarian calculus, since we have to figure out what good is in the first place (or accept that happiness is the real measure of goodness, in which case we have to let everyone decide what makes them happy, but we probably won't be content with just anything the greatest number declares worthy of happiness).

I'm afraid that if I continue I may go even further off the rails... so for now, I'll leave it here, and hope that this gives you something to work with. I'm particularly interested in how your view is an effective reply to moral skepticism. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jay J

Bloggin' Noggin
07-15-2009, 09:13 AM
Hi Jay,
You bring up a lot of things. I think I'll try to simplify by just going back to where I remember starting out.

When people make moral claims, is there a fact of the matter which is independent of what they think about the matter? Are moral statements ever true (in the ordinary sense, not some too-clever-by-half-sense reserved only for normative judgments) -- and more than that, are they ever true independent of what we (or anyone) believe those facts to be?

Many people believe they have some knock-down argument against the possibility that there could be moral facts. A good many of these arguments rely upon the contrast between "is" statements and "ought" statements -- between statements about how things actually are and statements about what one ought to do about them or what one ought to think about them. These arguments claim that it is either impossible or highly implausible that "ought" statements can ever be true independent of what some person or group of persons THINK should be done or thought.

Such arguments reject moral facts on the grounds that they would have to be normative facts (roughly, ought statements which are true whether we believe them or not). My claim about these arguments is that they "prove too much" -- that those who put such arguments forward generally seem to believe that there are SOME normative facts. They are putting forward a rational argument that we ought not to believe in normative facts. If the argument is inductive, it depends upon inference to the best explanation. If it invokes science and the scientific method, it surely invokes them as paradigms of rationality -- the virtue which actual reasoning may not always possess, but ought to.

In your remarks, you say that no one can (in a practical sense) really doubt the existence of the external world, while it is not so difficult to doubt the existence of moral facts. But if ones argument against moral facts depends upon rejecting all normative facts, it is not at all clear that we are in any more of a position (practically speaking) to accept this form of skepticism than the other. Normative judgments seem unavoidable, yet such judgments are undermined by an "anything goes" attitude toward them. I can like spinach while you do not, but if your knock-down argument against the existence of moral facts is merely expressive of your tastes in argument, what was the point of it?

More specifically, the people who make these arguments against moral facts on the grounds that there can be no normative facts seem to be undermining their own argument. If there are no normative facts, then there are no facts about what it is rational to believe and no argument you can offer will show that it is really irrational for me to believe in normative facts.

Looking at it the other way around, the practice of science seems to depend upon normative/evaluative judgments about what is the best explanation of the evidence and about what conclusions are a "reach" and which ought to compel a rational person's assent. If science must assume the truth of certain sorts of normative judgments to function, isn't that a strong argument that some normative judgments are true (or closer to the truth than others)?

Narrower objections to moral facts, ones which grant the existence of normative truth, but deny truth to moral facts are so far not affected by this argument. But once we have accepted the truth of rational norms for theoretical reasoning, one may be able to build upon that agreement, suggesting that there may be norms of practical reason as well (e.g., norms regarding ones own self-interest). And once norms of practical reason are granted, one may then be able to argue that moral norms are norms of practical reason (or consequences of such norms).
Once normative facts are granted, a hostage has been given by the skeptical side which may prove to be of further use. But for now, the question is whether you give this hostage or not.
Are there normative facts about what it is rational to believe?

AemJeff
07-15-2009, 09:54 AM
Looking at it the other way around, the practice of science seems to depend upon normative/evaluative judgments about what is the best explanation of the evidence and about what conclusions are a "reach" and which ought to compel a rational person's assent. If science must assume the truth of certain sorts of normative judgments to function, isn't that a strong argument that some normative judgments are true (or closer to the truth than others)?

Just on this narrow point: what you're referring to as a "normative fact," could that also be characterized as an heuristic? In other words, it implies no claim except that, as a decision making tool, it has seemed to work well in the past. If so, is there necessarily any implicit argument about the underlying truth of that judgment connected with choosing to abide by it?

Jay J
07-15-2009, 10:23 AM
Hi Bloggin,

Narrower objections to moral facts, ones which grant the existence of normative truth, but deny truth to moral facts are so far not affected by this argument. But once we have accepted the truth of rational norms for theoretical reasoning, one may be able to build upon that agreement, suggesting that there may be norms of practical reason as well (e.g., norms regarding ones own self-interest). And once norms of practical reason are granted, one may then be able to argue that moral norms are norms of practical reason (or consequences of such norms).
Once normative facts are granted, a hostage has been given by the skeptical side which may prove to be of further use. But for now, the question is whether you give this hostage or not.
Are there normative facts about what it is rational to believe?

Ok I think I see where the discussion is right now, but when you say,

Such arguments reject moral facts on the grounds that they would have to be normative facts (roughly, ought statements which are true whether we believe them or not). My claim about these arguments is that they "prove too much" -- that those who put such arguments forward generally seem to believe that there are SOME normative facts. They are putting forward a rational argument that we ought not to believe in normative facts. If the argument is inductive, it depends upon inference to the best explanation. If it invokes science and the scientific method, it surely invokes them as paradigms of rationality -- the virtue which actual reasoning may not always possess, but ought to.

I want to make sure we're on the same page here. See I just don't know if I am comfortable saying that a person OUGHT to think a certain way, but maybe this is just presentation. What I mean is, when I honestly search myself here, I do count thoroughly irrational people as somehow defective, and moral skeptics who are also naturalists seem to feel the same way. I just want to make sure that we aren't using a caricature of a moral skeptic, like a popular adherent to scientism or something. Someone who abides by all the reductionist doctrines, yet lectures the "naive" and "duped" on how they ought to think. A moral skeptic could accept the truth of reductionism, or be an adherent to scientism generally, w/o explicitly believing that others "ought" to do the same.

I would have a hard time imagining such a person though, not at least believing that those who go the Cornerstone Pentecostal Church, and believe in a 7-Day creation, were somehow less "evolved" (using that term loosely here) or defective. And as I acknowledged, though I am a bit uneasy saying anyone *ought* to think in certain ways, I do consider those who are very irrational or ungrounded to be a bit defective.

So does this appraisal of others rise to the normative?

Bloggin' Noggin
07-15-2009, 09:19 PM
Just on this narrow point: what you're referring to as a "normative fact," could that also be characterized as an heuristic? In other words, it implies no claim except that, as a decision making tool, it has seemed to work well in the past. If so, is there necessarily any implicit argument about the underlying truth of that judgment connected with choosing to abide by it?

Hi Jeff,
Why not begin with deductive logic? It is fallacious to affirm the consequent, yet people do sometimes affirm the consequent when arguing:
1. If it is over 200 degrees, butter will melt.
2. This butter melted.
3. Therefore it is over 200 degrees.

Would you admit that this is defective reasoning?

Or what about someone who admits that Socrates is a man and all men are mortal, but refuses to grant that therefore Socrates is mortal, no matter how often you go over it? Isn't this person's reasoning defective (assuming he even understands what he is saying)? Isn't it the case that if you grant the premises, then you OUGHT TO grant the conclusion (that S is mortal)?

Scientists and jurors judge inductive arguments as well. Suppose I myself saw the suspect running at the victim waving a sword. I looked away for half a second and when I looked back a bloody head was flying toward me and the suspect was apparently completing a sword-swing that would have connected with the victim's neck about a half second ago. And suppose many other people actually give testimony that they saw the whole thing. There are any number of imaginary circumstances consistent with this evidence in which the suspect was completely innocent.
But surely this evidence VERY strongly supports the conclusion that the suspect did behead the victim. If I have no inclination to believe that this was the case -- if in fact it makes me even more confident that the suspect is NOT guilty -- am I not being unreasonable? Shouldn't I have a fair degree of confidence that he really committed the crime?

If I (sincerely) assert with great confidence but without the slightest evidence that there is a teacup between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, am I not being irrational (reasoning defectively)? Should I think like that?
Should I not proportion my belief to the evidence?

How do you interpret all of these normative claims so that they turn out not to be normative after all? I think that's what you mean to do in your comment, but how plausible is that. when you say "scientific reasoning has worked very well in the past", are you simply making a factual statement? Or are you hoping to convey a normative statement sub rosa -- that we ought to continue reasoning in this way in the future -- that that would be the most rational thing to do in an uncertain world?
Would you really say, "scientific reasoning has worked well in the past, but that isn't to say you should use it -- try astrology!"

(I'm putting aside the point that of course "working well" sounds already evaluative/normative.)

AemJeff
07-15-2009, 10:34 PM
Hi Jeff,
Why not begin with deductive logic? It is fallacious to affirm the consequent, yet people do sometimes affirm the consequent when arguing:
1. If it is over 200 degrees, butter will melt.
2. This butter melted.
3. Therefore it is over 200 degrees.

Would you admit that this is defective reasoning?

Or what about someone who admits that Socrates is a man and all men are mortal, but refuses to grant that therefore Socrates is mortal, no matter how often you go over it? Isn't this person's reasoning defective (assuming he even understands what he is saying)? Isn't it the case that if you grant the premises, then you OUGHT TO grant the conclusion (that S is mortal)?

Scientists and jurors judge inductive arguments as well. Suppose I myself saw the suspect running at the victim waving a sword. I looked away for half a second and when I looked back a bloody head was flying toward me and the suspect was apparently completing a sword-swing that would have connected with the victim's neck about a half second ago. And suppose many other people actually give testimony that they saw the whole thing. There are any number of imaginary circumstances consistent with this evidence in which the suspect was completely innocent.
But surely this evidence VERY strongly supports the conclusion that the suspect did behead the victim. If I have no inclination to believe that this was the case -- if in fact it makes me even more confident that the suspect is NOT guilty -- am I not being unreasonable? Shouldn't I have a fair degree of confidence that he really committed the crime?

If I (sincerely) assert with great confidence but without the slightest evidence that there is a teacup between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, am I not being irrational (reasoning defectively)? Should I think like that?
Should I not proportion my belief to the evidence?

How do you interpret all of these normative claims so that they turn out not to be normative after all? I think that's what you mean to do in your comment, but how plausible is that. when you say "scientific reasoning has worked very well in the past", are you simply making a factual statement? Or are you hoping to convey a normative statement sub rosa -- that we ought to continue reasoning in this way in the future -- that that would be the most rational thing to do in an uncertain world?
Would you really say, "scientific reasoning has worked well in the past, but that isn't to say you should use it -- try astrology!"

(I'm putting aside the point that of course "working well" sounds already evaluative/normative.)

Last point first - "working well" in a scientific sense could be defined as experimental data matching theoretical predictions, would you agree? Is that really an evaluative judgment?

I don't think we need to assume that science is making any sort of objective claims - we can treat it as a game of trying to make successively better predictions. Playing that game well seems to make a difference in certain measurable aspects of our lives (longevity, material wealth, ability to accomplish complex goals, etc...) So by all means, yes, proportion your beliefs to the evidence, because that's how that game is played. If the alternative game of making predictions based on measuring the positions of the planets at the moment of your birth begins to yield results, then by all means play that game, too (or instead.)

Obviously we need to agree that longevity, material wealth, and all those other things are goods; but, do we need to do any more than recognize that most people hold the belief that they are so, apparently innately? (Do you agree with that assertion?) Certainly it's true that we could argue over the details, but it seems to me that the important judgment is that among the things that seem to flow from playing the game of Science, there are many that most of us seem to covet. Maybe I'm being disingenuous, but if so I'm not sure I understand how.

Bloggin' Noggin
07-16-2009, 12:55 AM
Last point first - "working well" in a scientific sense could be defined as experimental data matching theoretical predictions, would you agree? Is that really an evaluative judgment?

I don't think we need to assume that science is making any sort of objective claims - we can treat it as a game of trying to make successively better predictions. Playing that game well seems to make a difference in certain measurable aspects of our lives (longevity, material wealth, ability to accomplish complex goals, etc...) So by all means, yes, proportion your beliefs to the evidence, because that's how that game is played. If the alternative game of making predictions based on measuring the positions of the planets at the moment of your birth begins to yield results, then by all means play that game, too (or instead.)

Obviously we need to agree that longevity, material wealth, and all those other things are goods; but, do we need to do any more than recognize that most people hold the belief that they are so, apparently innately? (Do you agree with that assertion?) Certainly it's true that we could argue over the details, but it seems to me that the important judgment is that among the things that seem to flow from playing the game of Science, there are many that most of us seem to covet. Maybe I'm being disingenuous, but if so I'm not sure I understand how.

So you are a complete instrumentalist about science? It doesn't in fact discover the truth about electrons or quarks or anything not directly observable -- or if it does, that is just a fortuitous byproduct of a game we have worked out to get us from observable inputs to observable outputs?

There are a lot of problems with instrumentalism as an attempt to understand scientific practice, but I won't go into those now. What's interesting to me here is that if science is merely such a game of prediction with no commitment to any entities it talks about between the observable inputs and the observable outputs, then there may be a lot of other "games" with which it is not at all incompatible. For example, religious belief or belief in objective moral values may produce other goods than wealth or health -- perhaps they supply meaning to people's lives. So long as we don't confuse the objects of our different games, there is no reason not to believe in objective moral values -- according to you, yourself.

If science establishes materialism as true (or very probably true) then of course, that's a problem for a belief in immaterial souls or God. Scientific realism seems to conflict with religious belief, but instrumentalism minimizes the risk of conflict. So long as religions refrain from making refutable predictions, there is no bar to belief in God and heaven. You apparently don't yourself like to think that there may be objective moral truths, but you seem to be giving up any argument against them or against believing in them. If they play no role in the scientific game of prediction, then WITHIN THAT GAME you may have no reason to talk about them. But we all play other games -- e.g., living non-scientific ordinary lives. Perhaps moral truths come in handy there.

Normally people might say that belief in moral values "coming in handy" -- perhaps making us happier -- doesn't show that there's any truth to the belief, but that's not really an objection you can raise. Anything goes so long as it's part of a game someone sees a point to.

Have I understood your position?

Bloggin' Noggin
07-16-2009, 01:28 AM
Hi Bloggin,



Ok I think I see where the discussion is right now, but when you say,



I want to make sure we're on the same page here. See I just don't know if I am comfortable saying that a person OUGHT to think a certain way, but maybe this is just presentation. What I mean is, when I honestly search myself here, I do count thoroughly irrational people as somehow defective, and moral skeptics who are also naturalists seem to feel the same way. I just want to make sure that we aren't using a caricature of a moral skeptic, like a popular adherent to scientism or something. Someone who abides by all the reductionist doctrines, yet lectures the "naive" and "duped" on how they ought to think. A moral skeptic could accept the truth of reductionism, or be an adherent to scientism generally, w/o explicitly believing that others "ought" to do the same.

I would have a hard time imagining such a person though, not at least believing that those who go the Cornerstone Pentecostal Church, and believe in a 7-Day creation, were somehow less "evolved" (using that term loosely here) or defective. And as I acknowledged, though I am a bit uneasy saying anyone *ought* to think in certain ways, I do consider those who are very irrational or ungrounded to be a bit defective.

So does this appraisal of others rise to the normative?

Insofar as you are uncomfortable judging OTHER PEOPLE irrational, I'd make two points, one emphasizing the "other" and the other emphasizing the "people":
1. You can criticize your own reasoning in order to improve it. You can realize that you ought to have considered another possible explanation or that your argument assumes its conclusion. You could realize that your preferences are incoherent. When we criticize others, it's always possible that we haven't understood them correctly, but when it comes to ourselves that's probably less of a worry.

2. To call a person irrational is to rather severely condemn quite a lot. But to say that my reasoning was defective on some occasion does not condemn a whole person.

To answer your question, yes, your judgments do sound like normative judgments

Jay J
07-16-2009, 09:59 AM
Bloggin,

You agree that some people are thoroughly irrational yes? I mean, there are people like this? And that there are times when we are able to correctly come to this judgment? If so, then I think that will suffice for here.

As for the rest, if viewing someone as somehow defective is normative, then I suppose we can build on that rather than on asserting that people ought to reason correctly; I'm not sure that I believe that people "ought" to reason correctly.

But as for those who don't or can't reason correctly, I see them as having some sort of disability, or some defective feature somewhere. And if that is normative, then OK.

Let me know if this agreement is sufficient to move to the next rung of your argument, because I'm still not convinced that our tendency to asses the accuracy or lack thereof of people's assertions is normative. Accuracy or truth seems does not seem like a normative issue to me, and I'm not comfortable saying people ought to try to be accurate or track truth at all. So I'm hoping my view about defectiveness is a sufficient hostage taken from the skeptical side (sufficient to hold for a nice ransom).

ADDENDUM: I know this may be a little obsessive, but I just want to make sure, before we move on, that we're on the same page. So, if someone says , "look, I can see the bus, it's headed right at us," and if in fact the bus is headed right at us, then the claim is correct, or to use another word, true. I don't see anything normative here. Also, if my lawn mower malfunctions, I can say "this lawn mower isn't functioning as it should," and I may not mean anything normative at all. Of course, I might mean that the manufacturer had a moral responsibility to make a well-functioning lawn-mower, which would be normative. But I might rather mean that the lawn mower isn't doing what it was designed to do (without suppressing or adding the premise that products that don't do what they're designed to are bad, or that their manufacturers failed to uphold their moral duty). I do think though, (as I more or less said in the body of my post above), that if a person seems to always believe implausible things, or reason invalidly with frequency, then that person is somehow disabled, defective, or temporarily malfunctioning (and I see this kind of malfunctioning as different than the malfunctioning of the lawn mower, but not in the sense that the disabled are "bad"), and I concede that this is a normative judgement. I'm willing to agree to this, and as I said, I hope this is a hostage that will prove its worth.

AemJeff
07-16-2009, 01:29 PM
So you are a complete instrumentalist about science? It doesn't in fact discover the truth about electrons or quarks or anything not directly observable -- or if it does, that is just a fortuitous byproduct of a game we have worked out to get us from observable inputs to observable outputs?

There are a lot of problems with instrumentalism as an attempt to understand scientific practice, but I won't go into those now. What's interesting to me here is that if science is merely such a game of prediction with no commitment to any entities it talks about between the observable inputs and the observable outputs, then there may be a lot of other "games" with which it is not at all incompatible. For example, religious belief or belief in objective moral values may produce other goods than wealth or health -- perhaps they supply meaning to people's lives. So long as we don't confuse the objects of our different games, there is no reason not to believe in objective moral values -- according to you, yourself.

If science establishes materialism as true (or very probably true) then of course, that's a problem for a belief in immaterial souls or God. Scientific realism seems to conflict with religious belief, but instrumentalism minimizes the risk of conflict. So long as religions refrain from making refutable predictions, there is no bar to belief in God and heaven. You apparently don't yourself like to think that there may be objective moral truths, but you seem to be giving up any argument against them or against believing in them. If they play no role in the scientific game of prediction, then WITHIN THAT GAME you may have no reason to talk about them. But we all play other games -- e.g., living non-scientific ordinary lives. Perhaps moral truths come in handy there.

Normally people might say that belief in moral values "coming in handy" -- perhaps making us happier -- doesn't show that there's any truth to the belief, but that's not really an objection you can raise. Anything goes so long as it's part of a game someone sees a point to.

Have I understood your position?

I think that science trucks in "observables." Theory may posit something more elaborate than what it is we can actually measure, and we might have a lot of confidence in a particular theory; but if it somebody invented a new physical theory that disposed of current ideas in favor of something completely different, but led to calculations with an average of an order of magnitude greater accuracy, we'd shift our viewpoint fairly readily and move on. In fact, that's not utterly unlike what actually did happen between 1905 and 1930, I think. Underlying physical reality does not seem to me to be the domain of scientific inquiry, and hasn't been, I'd say, since, at the latest, when Neils Bohr started thinking about electrons.

I don't know what alternative we have, except to "play games." I think there's an art to choosing those games, I mentioned heuristics earlier. I think we can make judgments between heuristics, and in marginal cases I think there's room for disagreement. However, in the case of epistemic games, there really don't seem to be any serious contenders other than empiricism. Certainly Religion lacks the track record of Science if we're measuring the degree of control over our environment that playing a particular "game" seems to have yielded to us.

In real life, as it were, I behave as if I believe science has a stronger claim to make than what I'm putting forth here. But, if we're engaged in the business of defining sieves to sort out our epistemology, I think we have to retreat to position more or less like what I've spelled out.

Bloggin' Noggin
07-16-2009, 11:32 PM
I think that science trucks in "observables." Theory may posit something more elaborate than what it is we can actually measure, and we might have a lot of confidence in a particular theory; but if it somebody invented a new physical theory that disposed of current ideas in favor of something completely different, but led to calculations with an average of an order of magnitude greater accuracy, we'd shift our viewpoint fairly readily and move on. In fact, that's not utterly unlike what actually did happen between 1905 and 1930, I think. Underlying physical reality does not seem to me to be the domain of scientific inquiry, and hasn't been, I'd say, since, at the latest, when Neils Bohr started thinking about electrons.
I suspect most scientists would disagree with you there. It certainly turns out that it's much harder for us to really understand (at least in any intuitive way) what is going on at the subatomic level. But we nevertheless know a good deal about subatomic particles. The fact that the subatomic world is very strange to us doesn't mean that realist views of it are impossible. Of course, the Copenhagen interpretation seems anti-realist, but there are other choices.

But of course, there's a great deal more that isn't directly observable that is nevertheless BOTH a matter of ordinary, non-spooky objective truth AND part of the domain of science. Natural history is not directly observable -- you can't literally look back millions of years to watch the branching of the hominid tree. Yet there is a fact of the matter about whether humans and chimps or humans and gorillas split off first. It is a fact which it's conceivable we might never have known -- time destroys a lot of evidence (what EXACTLY did Caesar say when he woke up on the ides of March in 44 BC?). Yet, as a matter of fact enough evidence survives, and we know which split off first. There are many facts of a completely mundane sort, which are not only unobservable now, but unknowable now. It may be satisfying to deny that there is a fact of the matter about the deep structure of matter -- but would you really be happy to say the same about the distant past?

I don't know what alternative we have, except to "play games." I think there's an art to choosing those games, I mentioned heuristics earlier. I think we can make judgments between heuristics, and in marginal cases I think there's room for disagreement. However, in the case of epistemic games, there really don't seem to be any serious contenders other than empiricism. Certainly Religion lacks the track record of Science if we're measuring the degree of control over our environment that playing a particular "game" seems to have yielded to us.

But I am NOT granting you that the only purpose of any such game would be prediction or control. Those are valuable, and when you want those things, you'd turn to science. But science doesn't according to you even tell us what to believe about unobservables (e.g., materialism or God). When meaning or deep understanding of the truths of the universe are desired, then we should turn to some other game. According to you, there is no inconsistency

In real life, as it were, I behave as if I believe science has a stronger claim to make than what I'm putting forth here. But, if we're engaged in the business of defining sieves to sort out our epistemology, I think we have to retreat to position more or less like what I've spelled out.

Why are you so ready to give up?

When we talk about the existence of objective moral values, are we talking in "real life" or are we talking in this more stringent epistemological realm?
I thought in the past that you felt that science gave us reason to doubt that there are objective moral values -- a reason that didn't just apply to every single knowledge claim about anything that is not directly observed.

Bloggin' Noggin
07-17-2009, 12:01 AM
Bloggin,

You agree that some people are thoroughly irrational yes? I mean, there are people like this? And that there are times when we are able to correctly come to this judgment? If so, then I think that will suffice for here.

As for the rest, if viewing someone as somehow defective is normative, then I suppose we can build on that rather than on asserting that people ought to reason correctly; I'm not sure that I believe that people "ought" to reason correctly.

But as for those who don't or can't reason correctly, I see them as having some sort of disability, or some defective feature somewhere. And if that is normative, then OK.

Let me know if this agreement is sufficient to move to the next rung of your argument, because I'm still not convinced that our tendency to asses the accuracy or lack thereof of people's assertions is normative. Accuracy or truth seems does not seem like a normative issue to me, and I'm not comfortable saying people ought to try to be accurate or track truth at all. So I'm hoping my view about defectiveness is a sufficient hostage taken from the skeptical side (sufficient to hold for a nice ransom).

ADDENDUM: I know this may be a little obsessive, but I just want to make sure, before we move on, that we're on the same page. So, if someone says , "look, I can see the bus, it's headed right at us," and if in fact the bus is headed right at us, then the claim is correct, or to use another word, true. I don't see anything normative here. Also, if my lawn mower malfunctions, I can say "this lawn mower isn't functioning as it should," and I may not mean anything normative at all. Of course, I might mean that the manufacturer had a moral responsibility to make a well-functioning lawn-mower, which would be normative. But I might rather mean that the lawn mower isn't doing what it was designed to do (without suppressing or adding the premise that products that don't do what they're designed to are bad, or that their manufacturers failed to uphold their moral duty). I do think though, (as I more or less said in the body of my post above), that if a person seems to always believe implausible things, or reason invalidly with frequency, then that person is somehow disabled, defective, or temporarily malfunctioning (and I see this kind of malfunctioning as different than the malfunctioning of the lawn mower, but not in the sense that the disabled are "bad"), and I concede that this is a normative judgement. I'm willing to agree to this, and as I said, I hope this is a hostage that will prove its worth.

But why the focus on people who are completely and incorrigibly irrational? I tried to point out in my last response that this wasn't necessary.
Most of us are irrational at times, but understanding our own irrationality can surely help us become more rational. For example, we can realize what bad decisions we've made in the past when we went hungry to the grocery store. We can practice making and critiquing deductive arguments and practice will make us better.
My reasoning can be defective on a particular occasion without MY being defective. And self-awareness allows me to improve and make it less defective in the future.
Lawn mowers don't redesign themselves. If they did, they might have some need of norms themselves.

Jay J
07-17-2009, 01:24 AM
But why the focus on people who are completely and incorrigibly irrational? I tried to point out in my last response that this wasn't necessary.
Most of us are irrational at times, but understanding our own irrationality can surely help us become more rational. For example, we can realize what bad decisions we've made in the past when we went hungry to the grocery store. We can practice making and critiquing deductive arguments and practice will make us better.
My reasoning can be defective on a particular occasion without MY being defective. And self-awareness allows me to improve and make it less defective in the future.
Lawn mowers don't redesign themselves. If they did, they might have some need of norms themselves.

Well, OK, we don't have to focus on people who are completely incorrigibly irrational. But I don't know what to focus on now, in terms of what we agree on that's normative. Umm, well, would it help if I just focused on myself? I doubt it will, because it's the same principle, but I just want to give it a shot:

OK so I count myself less defective than I used to be, and more "evolved" in a loose sense of the term. My reasoning seems more grounded, less hasty, more efficient, etc. I would say this constitutes self-improvement. Like I said, this is more or less the same principle I was touching on before, so I don't think we'll agree, but I'm just throwing it out there, hoping...

Bloggin' Noggin
07-17-2009, 09:06 AM
Well, OK, we don't have to focus on people who are completely incorrigibly irrational. But I don't know what to focus on now, in terms of what we agree on that's normative. Umm, well, would it help if I just focused on myself? I doubt it will, because it's the same principle, but I just want to give it a shot:

OK so I count myself less defective than I used to be, and more "evolved" in a loose sense of the term. My reasoning seems more grounded, less hasty, more efficient, etc. I would say this constitutes self-improvement. Like I said, this is more or less the same principle I was touching on before, so I don't think we'll agree, but I'm just throwing it out there, hoping...

Hmmm....not sure why you think we won't agree. I do think that's evaluative thought/normative thought. And I think you can evaluate a lawn mower (or say how it ought to behave if it is functioning properly).
I don't see why, if your reasoning has gotten better, why you wouldn't count yourself as having gotten (to that degree and on those occasions where you don't say fly off the handle now when you would have before) MORE RATIONAL. And when you learn that you shouldn't shop while hungry, might you not remind yourself of that by saying to yourself "I ought to eat a little something before I go to the grocery store."
You seem to be very concerned about issues of free will here. I suggest we bracket issues of free will for a while.

Jay J
07-17-2009, 10:15 AM
Hmmm....not sure why you think we won't agree. I do think that's evaluative thought/normative thought. And I think you can evaluate a lawn mower (or say how it ought to behave if it is functioning properly).
I don't see why, if your reasoning has gotten better, why you wouldn't count yourself as having gotten (to that degree and on those occasions where you don't say fly off the handle now when you would have before) MORE RATIONAL. And when you learn that you shouldn't shop while hungry, might you not remind yourself of that by saying to yourself "I ought to eat a little something before I go to the grocery store."
You seem to be very concerned about issues of free will here. I suggest we bracket issues of free will for a while.

It's not so much that I thought you wouldn't count my judgment as normative, but you wondered why I chose the example I did, and urged that perhaps the focus was off, on account of looking at people I considered thoroughly irrational. The point of tossing out that example was to try and come up with an example of what we could agree was normative, and would be an example we could agree was useful for moving on. If there was an issue about why I was focusing on people who were thoroughly irrational, then I'm not sure why simply looking at myself would change the underlying point, which is that in the abstract I count people who are able to see things in a grounded, mature way, and who can reason validly, as somehow in a more "evolved" state (again, using that loosely here), and that includes myself.

As for the lawn mower, the string of words, "if it is functioning properly," seems to be important. I mean, isn't that just common expectation? Couldn't I say, without losing any meaning, something like, "Given that this lawn mower has gone through a process that the manufacturer has assured me will result in a machine that will cut my grass, and given that the machine has cut my grass before, I expect this machine to cut my grass today." If the machine malfunctions, I could say "my expectations have been foiled." This seems like a hostage the skeptic would be more than happy to give up.

And as for saying to myself that I ought to eat before I go to the grocery store, I agree, because I have antecedently decided that my life is better when I reason better. And it's important to me that it work in this order. I simply cannot imagine myself to be under rational requirements generally, outside of the context of how it helps me to see things the way they are, and to avoid hasty, irrelevant, or ineffective reasoning. In terms of validity, we seem to be able to map out what we're talking about, but in general terms, we don't have a mechanical rule about what constitutes good reasoning, yet somehow you and me both know what we're talking about here. So it's important to me that good or bad reasoning is something you know when you see, and are willing to intuit a bit. Otherwise, we're left exalting valid chains of reasoning, which can serve purposes we would call good (IDK, umm, feeding the hungry: if you wish to fight world hunger, then you would be best served by employing method X) and purposes we would call evil (committing genocide: if you wish to be an effective mass murderer, then the you will be best served by employing method Y).

So I'm not comfortable saying that being more rational is to be better, if what we mean by rationality is simply validity, but I am comfortable saying that to be less rational is to be defective, if we have a more broad view of reason. Of course on balance, a rational, evil person wouldn't be better than a pure-in-heart, ineffective and wrong-headed thinking person. But they would experience certain goods in life than the ineffective, wrong-headed person couldn't.

So I don't think it's free will that concerns me. I'm just not ready to move ahead yet, unless I can have some idea of what we're agreeing to and why, in terms of what's normative about my judgment, lets say, of my prior self.

AemJeff
07-17-2009, 11:56 PM
I suspect most scientists would disagree with you there. It certainly turns out that it's much harder for us to really understand (at least in any intuitive way) what is going on at the subatomic level. But we nevertheless know a good deal about subatomic particles. The fact that the subatomic world is very strange to us doesn't mean that realist views of it are impossible. Of course, the Copenhagen interpretation seems anti-realist, but there are other choices.


Hi BN. My opinion has been formed reading about John Bell and David Bohm's work, in addition, of course, to that of Einstein and Bohr's Copenhagen shop. I won't try to summarize, but I do highly recommend Louisa Gilder's The Age of Entanglement (http://www.amazon.com/Age-Entanglement-Quantum-Physics-Reborn/dp/1400044170/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247865521&sr=8-1) as a lucid, non-mathematical account, and the opening chapters of Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong (http://www.amazon.com/Not-Even-Wrong-Failure-Physical/dp/0465092764/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247865625&sr=1-2) to help illustrate what the math looks like, what sorts of symbols are being considered and what they mean in quantum mechanics. As I read this stuff, we really don't experience electrons, for instance, we merely find ourselves making certain measurements, that we can correlate with certain other measurements. But the "wholeness" of the electron is not only missing, but partly because of the well-known uncertainty issues, (and other things, such as entanglement and wave/particle duality) is ultimately incomprehensible. As I understand it, we really don't have a completely consistent idea of what these "particles" represent. What we can do, and what our models do do very well, is calculate and make predictions about observables. But, despite the fact that an experimental particle guy is likely not to be too concerned with the ambiguity inherent in the word "electron," the guys who have made it their business to try to understand what the science really implies about underlying reality don't seem to have a lot of concrete ideas. (There are people among the commentariat here in the forum [osmium, Tyrrell McAllister - either of you guys want to weigh in, here?] who have a lot more sophistication than I do, who might have more to say [or may even refute what I'm trying to say.])

But of course, there's a great deal more that isn't directly observable that is nevertheless BOTH a matter of ordinary, non-spooky objective truth AND part of the domain of science. Natural history is not directly observable -- you can't literally look back millions of years to watch the branching of the hominid tree. Yet there is a fact of the matter about whether humans and chimps or humans and gorillas split off first. It is a fact which it's conceivable we might never have known -- time destroys a lot of evidence (what EXACTLY did Caesar say when he woke up on the ides of March in 44 BC?). Yet, as a matter of fact enough evidence survives, and we know which split off first. There are many facts of a completely mundane sort, which are not only unobservable now, but unknowable now. It may be satisfying to deny that there is a fact of the matter about the deep structure of matter -- but would you really be happy to say the same about the distant past?


I was thinking about this issue as I was typing the previous post. I think I would say something similar about the deep past. The law of large numbers applies. The more overlapping evidence there is telling the same story, the better the odds that that story is true. But that probability, regardless, bears an asymptotic relationship to certainty. There's also a significant difference, though, because generally, unless you're a cosmologist, the things about the past that interest you are human scaled and their nature is well defined on the scale of interest. In physics, the problem is far more subtle and intractable.


But I am NOT granting you that the only purpose of any such game would be prediction or control. Those are valuable, and when you want those things, you'd turn to science. But science doesn't according to you even tell us what to believe about unobservables (e.g., materialism or God). When meaning or deep understanding of the truths of the universe are desired, then we should turn to some other game. According to you, there is no inconsistency


Why are you so ready to give up?

When we talk about the existence of objective moral values, are we talking in "real life" or are we talking in this more stringent epistemological realm?
I thought in the past that you felt that science gave us reason to doubt that there are objective moral values -- a reason that didn't just apply to every single knowledge claim about anything that is not directly observed.

I donít think Iím backing away from anything Iíve said before; although, ďreal lifeĒ was a pretty lame metaphor. I need to make a distinction here, and I may be completely out of my depth (shocking, I know.) I might need to revisit this after I've thought it through some more. But: I think I hold at least three mutually inconsistent levels of belief about the world. If I'm pouring a cup of coffee, the cup is a cup, the coffee is hot and tasty, and that's nearly all I need to know. If I'm thinking about science, then the cup and the coffee are complexes of particles and fields and behave according to a set of rules of which I've tasked myself with gaining an understanding. It's a different view from the everyday ("coffee cup") view, and would be a burden if I tried to hold it while I was doing everyday "coffee cup" sorts of activities. This POV purports to tell me something about underlying reality, and while I'm engaging myself trying to hold it, I provisionally accept what it has to say about reality. But it is a provisional belief. If you ask me to justify my belief in science, then I need to engage another, far more skeptical, level of belief.
Iím not saying the only purpose of science (or any other such game) is ďprediction or control.Ē I want to know! I want complete ontological certainty. I donít think I get that. Frankly, I donít see how we ever know anything about ultimate reality with any certainty. But by playing these games we at least accomplish something that can stand as a proxy for that. Not all of those proxies are equal, in my judgment Ė for all the reasons Iíve already stated.

I'm SO awesome!
07-18-2009, 12:46 AM
pardon my interruption, guys, but can't we observe an electron?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32uEvwxNJvE

bob's so retarded about this i didn't bother to point out they released this vid a couple years ago and there's plenty more semi-direct observations. what is he looking for? does he want god to come down and spell it out for him? it seems so desperate on his part i just don't get it.

AemJeff
07-18-2009, 12:56 AM
pardon my interruption, guys, but can't we observe an electron?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32uEvwxNJvE

bob's so retarded about this i didn't bother to point out they released this vid a couple years ago and there's plenty more semi-direct observations. what is he looking for? does he want god to come down and spell it out for him? it seems so desperate on his part i just don't get it.

I'm not sure what they did to generate that image - but the word "semi-direct" sure does seem elastic, doesn't it?

graz
07-18-2009, 01:25 AM
pardon my interruption, guys, but can't we observe an electron?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32uEvwxNJvE

bob's so retarded about this i didn't bother to point out they released this vid a couple years ago and there's plenty more semi-direct observations. what is he looking for? does he want god to come down and spell it out for him? it seems so desperate on his part i just don't get it.
Bob uses the electron as an analogy for the difficulty of describing the ineffable. Just because you think you see an electron, doesn't mean you "know" it. Bob's latest interview might not irritate you as much. He really is refining his presentation (even if he felt compelled to offer the gratuitous Dawkins dig):
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/07172009/watch2.html

I'm SO awesome!
07-18-2009, 01:30 AM
the description on the right is pretty informative as far as the methodology. and i went with "semi-direct" because i don't know enough about it to say how direct it actually is so it may be completely direct but there's so many related vids and so many decades of evidence that bob using this as an example of a flaw in science just seems kinda funny to me. all i can think is "seriously? this is what he's going with?"
it just seems so weak. it's kinda like those metaphysical types who always cite the H. Uncertainty Principle and then so "so then, like, you can't really prove anything." he really is using an argument similar to what a creationist would use. oh well, it's just weird to me.

*update*
ok, i get it now. i seem to remember him using a much stronger version of that analogy than in the Moyers interview but maybe i'm mistaken. nevermind!

I'm SO awesome!
07-18-2009, 01:51 AM
you scooped me on a Moyers! AND it was the single time it was a Bob Wright/Moyers! that's the worst link-burn i've ever got and you weren't even trying. they couldn't have posted that more than a couple of hours ago so that was quick on your part. anyway, thanks for that one. it seems like the best summary I've seen for Bob's positions that i've seen so far. and, yes, the electron analogy makes fine sense to me now but i seem to remember him using it as much stronger bait a couple of weeks back but i can't remember exactly what he said.
i haven't taken a huge interest in this whole debate so far 'cuz it seems a little too "evo-psycho" to me and is thus is, ultimately, unprovable but this interview is good enough to bait me into it.

bob, if you're reading this you're now officially a player (because you were on Moyers) and I can't make fun of you anymore...................welllll.......maybe not the last part but it was a damn fine job you did talking to Bill. nice work!

claymisher
07-18-2009, 02:03 AM
I will have spent more time listening to Bob talking about his book than I spent reading it!

Francoamerican
07-18-2009, 05:01 AM
More specifically, the people who make these arguments against moral facts on the grounds that there can be no normative facts seem to be undermining their own argument. If there are no normative facts, then there are no facts about what it is rational to believe and no argument you can offer will show that it is really irrational for me to believe in normative facts.

Looking at it the other way around, the practice of science seems to depend upon normative/evaluative judgments about what is the best explanation of the evidence and about what conclusions are a "reach" and which ought to compel a rational person's assent. If science must assume the truth of certain sorts of normative judgments to function, isn't that a strong argument that some normative judgments are true (or closer to the truth than others)?

Narrower objections to moral facts, ones which grant the existence of normative truth, but deny truth to moral facts are so far not affected by this argument. But once we have accepted the truth of rational norms for theoretical reasoning, one may be able to build upon that agreement, suggesting that there may be norms of practical reason as well (e.g., norms regarding ones own self-interest). And once norms of practical reason are granted, one may then be able to argue that moral norms are norms of practical reason (or consequences of such norms).
Once normative facts are granted, a hostage has been given by the skeptical side which may prove to be of further use. But for now, the question is whether you give this hostage or not. Are there normative facts about what it is rational to believe?

Pardon my intrusion Bloggin, but I have a question for you. You seem to be urging a Kantian line of reasoning here: practical reason, like theoretical or scientific reason, starts from certain "rational norms" that no one could call into doubt. We must "believe" these norms if we are at all rational. You call these norms "normative facts."

I think I know what a fact is and I think I know what a norm is, but I have trouble with the notion of a "normative fact." Fact: Water is H20. Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. Norm (law, custom, convention): It is wrong to steal. Contracts are to be honored. Helping others, especially those in need or in pain, is good etc. etc.

How is a normative fact different from a norm? If you are saying that normative facts have the same kind of compelling evidence as ordinary garden-variety facts, that they compel the assent of any rational person, you would still have have to explain why it is rational to perform any of the acts that norms enjoin. Norms enjoin acts, not beliefs. I would be irrational to dispute that Stockholm is the capital of Sweden, but would I be irrational to renege on a contractual agreement if I thought that my self-interest would be better served by treachery and that I could get away with it?

Bloggin' Noggin
07-18-2009, 09:41 PM
Pardon my intrusion Bloggin, but I have a question for you. You seem to be urging a Kantian line of reasoning here: practical reason, like theoretical or scientific reason, starts from certain "rational norms" that no one could call into doubt. We must "believe" these norms if we are at all rational. You call these norms "normative facts."

First of all, I don't claim that normative facts are norms that "no one could call into doubt".
Second, my point so far is NOT to make a positive argument FOR moral norms or for any particular rational norms. So far, all I'm doing is responding to a certain style of argument AGAINST the possibility that moral claims cannot be matters of fact, because moral claims are normative. This assumes that normative claims cannot be matters of fact. I am trying to argue that even the people who make arguments against the reasonableness of belief in moral facts clearly don't accept this assumption -- since they seem to believe that some norms of evidence and argument are better or more nearly correct than others.

I think I know what a fact is and I think I know what a norm is, but I have trouble with the notion of a "normative fact." Fact: Water is H20. Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. Norm (law, custom, convention): It is wrong to steal. Contracts are to be honored. Helping others, especially those in need or in pain, is good etc. etc.

How is a normative fact different from a norm? If you are saying that normative facts have the same kind of compelling evidence as ordinary garden-variety facts, that they compel the assent of any rational person, you would still have have to explain why it is rational to perform any of the acts that norms enjoin. Norms enjoin acts, not beliefs. I would be irrational to dispute that Stockholm is the capital of Sweden, but would I be irrational to renege on a contractual agreement if I thought that my self-interest would be better served by treachery and that I could get away with it?


By a "normative claim", I simply mean a claim about what ought to be done or believed -- as opposed to what actually IS done or believed.
Customs and conventions can certainly enter in to our normative judgments in a number of ways, but I would not accept a definition of a norm according to which all normative judgements are merely conventional.

I also disagree that norms don't cover beliefs. We do make normative claims about what one ought to believe given certain evidence -- what a rational person would believe. If I am confronted with a valid argument for a conclusion that I don't like which is based on premises I accept with considerable confidence, it is open to me to re-examine the premises I thought I believed or to accept the conclusion. But I may in fact refuse to make a choice. The person who offers me the argument would likely respond that whether or not I ACTUALLY draw the conclusion, I OUGHT to draw that conclusion (or reject one of the assumptions).

At this point, I have said absolutely nothing about moral skepticism. What I've suggested so far is just that it is much harder to be a consistent across-the-board NORMATIVE skeptic than people tend to imagine (understanding 'normative' in my sense).
So far it's conceivable that although there are norms of theoretical reason, there just aren't any norms of practical reason.
But once you've granted some non-convention-based norms of theoretical reason, I don't see why you'd reject at least a few minimal norms of practical reason: for example, "one ought to take adequate means to one's ends". Suppose you see a man jumping up and down. He tells you he's doing this because he wants to visit the moon. You point out that jumping is never going to get him to the moon -- and he says in scornful tones, "I know THAT!!" Isn't there something irrational about this guy?

Beyond this, I have not tipped my hand about how I intend to argue when it comes to morality. The view I am at some point going to set forth is not really the Kantian one you seem to be expecting.

Francoamerican
07-19-2009, 08:58 AM
First of all, I don't claim that normative facts are norms that "no one could call into doubt".
Second, my point so far is NOT to make a positive argument FOR moral norms or for any particular rational norms. So far, all I'm doing is responding to a certain style of argument AGAINST the possibility that moral claims cannot be matters of fact, because moral claims are normative. This assumes that normative claims cannot be matters of fact. I am trying to argue that even the people who make arguments against the reasonableness of belief in moral facts clearly don't accept this assumption -- since they seem to believe that some norms of evidence and argument are better or more nearly correct than others..

A fact is a fact. A norm is a norm. You haven't even acknowledged the difference. Of course, a moral claim is normative: that's what "moral" means! But a claim is still not fact. Give me an example of a "moral fact," and I may be able to see what you mean by its reasonableness. But I will make things easy for you: Give me an example of a "moral claim" that is self-evident in the same way that factual statements or matters of logic are self-evident, and I will bow to your argument.

My belief in certain norms of argument (logic, coherence, clarity) is completely useless when it comes to evaluating normative claims such as those I gave as examples in the previous post. If you think that all you have to do to convince a moral skeptic is to say: voilŗ, c'est logique! then all I can say is that you have a naive faith in the power of logic. But even a non-skeptic could agree that the norms of argument are rational or reasonable without jumping to the conclusion that moral claims aka normative claims are based on reason.


By a "normative claim", I simply mean a claim about what ought to be done or believed -- as opposed to what actually IS done or believed.
Customs and conventions can certainly enter in to our normative judgments in a number of ways, but I would not accept a definition of a norm according to which all normative judgements are merely conventional..

You are now talking about "normative claims" whereas before you were talking about "normative facts." Fine, but why the change of vocabulary? A claim is still not a fact. And in any case, you have made things far too easy for yourself by defining a claim "as what ought to be believed or done." The claim that water is H2O tells me what is the case. The claim that theft is wrong (ought not to be done) tells me what ought to be the case. I see nothing similar in these two statements except the accident of language that allows speakers of English to use the same verb to make factual statements and normative statements (it would be difficult to say the same thing in French where there is no exact equivalent of the English "claim")

PS. I didn't say that all norms were conventional (but for the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived the distinction between what is conventional and what is right or good has probably been vanishingly small).

I also disagree that norms don't cover beliefs. We do make normative claims about what one ought to believe given certain evidence -- what a rational person would believe. If I am confronted with a valid argument for a conclusion that I don't like which is based on premises I accept with considerable confidence, it is open to me to re-examine the premises I thought I believed or to accept the conclusion. But I may in fact refuse to make a choice. The person who offers me the argument would likely respond that whether or not I ACTUALLY draw the conclusion, I OUGHT to draw that conclusion (or reject one of the assumptions)..

True, but as I said above, irrelevant. A person who refuses to accept an argument that is factual, logical, perspicuous etc. is simply being irrational. That he ought to accept such an argument follows from the norms of rationality that we all do accept when we have mastered a language and.... received an education. How is a person who refuses to act morally--to accept normative claims---being irrational?


At this point, I have said absolutely nothing about moral skepticism. What I've suggested so far is just that it is much harder to be a consistent across-the-board NORMATIVE skeptic than people tend to imagine (understanding 'normative' in my sense). So far it's conceivable that although there are norms of theoretical reason, there just aren't any norms of practical reason..

Since you have already defined "normative" to mean what we ought to believe and what we ought to do, you have more or less asserted that reason is both theoretical and practical! But what is true by definition (analytically) tells us nothing we don't already know.

....ADDED: As I already said, I don't think that the norms of logic or of evidence tell us anything about what we ought to do, or that theoretical and practical reason are the same, but your statements do seem to point in that direction.


But once you've granted some non-convention-based norms of theoretical reason, I don't see why you'd reject at least a few minimal norms of practical reason: for example, "one ought to take adequate means to one's ends". Suppose you see a man jumping up and down. He tells you he's doing this because he wants to visit the moon. You point out that jumping is never going to get him to the moon -- and he says in scornful tones, "I know THAT!!" Isn't there something irrational about this guy?.

True. The adjustment of means to ends is a paradigm of rationality since Plato and Aristotle, but, as Kant pointed out (see his contrast between "hypothetical imperatives" and "categorical imperatives") hypothetical imperatives (=proper means for the attainment of self-chosen ends) tell us nothing about what we OUGHT to choose as our ends.

Beyond this, I have not tipped my hand about how I intend to argue when it comes to morality. The view I am at some point going to set forth is not really the Kantian one you seem to be expecting.

I am not expecting anything.

Bloggin' Noggin
07-19-2009, 02:41 PM
Hi BN. My opinion has been formed reading about John Bell and David Bohm's work, in addition, of course, to that of Einstein and Bohr's Copenhagen shop.

Jeff,
The issue between us is instrumentalism about unobservables. I think that Quantum Mechanics tells us something about unobservable reality. Your view seems to be that all talk about unobservables is eliminable -- it is just a useful way of talking to get from observable inputs to observable outputs. Talk about electrons and quarks could just as readily be replaced by talk of Martians and fairies, if the laws about these Martians and fairies are at least as simple and efficient in getting you from observable inputs to correct predictions about observable outputs. You believe that what scientists say about unobservables is not really an attempt to describe an unobservable reality that underlies our observations.
You also believe that Quantum Mechanics actually SETTLES this philosophical issue in your favor -- and apparently, you assume that my view that it DOES NOT settle this issue in your favor is based on ignorance of the science.
I don't claim to have read Bohm and Bell myself, and I don't think you claim that either. I certainly have read a number of very good philosophically sophisticated accounts of QM and of its interpretation, however. Based on that reading, I feel quite confident in disagreeing with you -- nothing about QM settles the question of whether an empiricist philosophy of science is correct or whether a more realist philosophy of science is correct.

You are of course right that a view of individual electrons as point particles satisfying the Locality condition must be rejected. But it doesn't follow that we cannot conclude anything about the quantum mechanical reality. The realist will say that we have learned that electrons do not satisfy Locality. The mechanistic hope that all features of larger systems can be explained entirely in terms of their parts (parts satisfying the Locality constraint) is dead. Perhaps there's something misleading in talking about particles where Locality is not satisfied, but insofar as it makes sense to talk of these particles, we know something about them as they really are -- they do not satisfy Locality. The fact that we do not have a ready imaginative grasp of this quantum reality is just what a realist would expect -- we did not evolve to deal with quantum phenomena.
I don't deny that the measurement problem is a deep puzzle about QM, but as far as I can see this puzzle could be formulated as a puzzle for an instrumentalist as well. As David Albert presents it, the wave function predicts that when we take a measurement, our measurement device and we ourselves will be in a superposition of different states. Yet this prediction seems to be wildly wrong -- we get determinate answers and we have determinate beliefs about the result of the experiment. The Schroedinger equation is therefore supplemented with another rule about how "measurement" "collapses" the wave function. But, again, as Albert presents it, the problem is how to formulate this second law, this measurement-exception. Measurement is not a physically definable notion.
I do not see how this problem is in any way solved by instrumentalism -- even the instrumentalist has to find a way to define "measurement" so that a consistent exception can be made. The problem can be formulated at the level of the laws themselves, not at the level of what unobservables may account for the laws.

As I read this stuff, we really don't experience electrons, for instance, we merely find ourselves making certain measurements, that we can correlate with certain other measurements.
You misunderstand me if you think I said we experience electrons directly. I thought I said pretty much the opposite.

I was thinking about this issue as I was typing the previous post. I think I would say something similar about the deep past. The law of large numbers applies. The more overlapping evidence there is telling the same story, the better the odds that that story is true. But that probability, regardless, bears an asymptotic relationship to certainty. There's also a significant difference, though, because generally, unless you're a cosmologist, the things about the past that interest you are human scaled and their nature is well defined on the scale of interest. In physics, the problem is far more subtle and intractable.

You are not really coming to grips with the question here. Let's imagine that the first thing Caesar said on the day that he crossed the Rubicon was "Where's the chamber pot?" (which I believe would be "Ubi matella est?"). No one bothered to write this down, and let's suppose there is no other way, however ingenious to establish that he said this when he woke up on that particular day or something else. Is there really no fact of the matter about what he said?
If someone commits the perfect murder leaving no evidence that he did it and takes a drug that wipes his memory of the event, is there no fact of the matter about who murdered the victim? If we can't even be sure that the victim was murdered based on all the evidence that persists into the present, is there no fact of the matter about whether he was murdered?

I donít think Iím backing away from anything Iíve said before; although, ďreal lifeĒ was a pretty lame metaphor. I need to make a distinction here, and I may be completely out of my depth (shocking, I know.) I might need to revisit this after I've thought it through some more. But: I think I hold at least three mutually inconsistent levels of belief about the world. If I'm pouring a cup of coffee, the cup is a cup, the coffee is hot and tasty, and that's nearly all I need to know. If I'm thinking about science, then the cup and the coffee are complexes of particles and fields and behave according to a set of rules of which I've tasked myself with gaining an understanding. It's a different view from the everyday ("coffee cup") view, and would be a burden if I tried to hold it while I was doing everyday "coffee cup" sorts of activities. This POV purports to tell me something about underlying reality, and while I'm engaging myself trying to hold it, I provisionally accept what it has to say about reality. But it is a provisional belief. If you ask me to justify my belief in science, then I need to engage another, far more skeptical, level of belief.
Iím not saying the only purpose of science (or any other such game) is ďprediction or control.Ē I want to know! I want complete ontological certainty. I donít think I get that. Frankly, I donít see how we ever know anything about ultimate reality with any certainty. But by playing these games we at least accomplish something that can stand as a proxy for that. Not all of those proxies are equal, in my judgment Ė for all the reasons Iíve already stated.

Once I get out of this response, I'll try to go back and see how we got into this, because by this point we seem to have wandered away from whatever point we were talking about initially.
From what I recall we were not talking about certainty at all.
How about we go back to where we started again?

Here's an argument:
1. By definition, a normative claim is a claim about what someone ought to do or believe.
2. A normative fact, by definition, is a normative claim which is true independently of whether someone believes it.
3. To believe that there are normative facts is to reject the world-view supported by science.
4 It would be irrational to reject the scientific world-view, since the evidence for that world-view is overwhelming.
5. Therefore, it would be irrational to believe in normative facts.
6. Therefore we ought not to believe in normative facts.

For the moment don't focus on the argument itself. Is the conclusion true (even if people stubbornly refuse to believe it)? If so, the conclusion is itself a normative fact by 1 and 2). So, if the conclusion is true, it is false. The denial of (6) does not lead back to the affirmation of (6). Therefore, I conclude that we may (rationally) believe in normative facts. There is no rational requirement that we not believe in any normative facts -- for if there were there would be at least one normative fact.
What do you say to this?

Bloggin' Noggin
07-19-2009, 03:47 PM
A fact is a fact. A norm is a norm. You haven't even acknowledged the difference. Of course, a moral claim is normative: that's what "moral" means! But a claim is still not fact. Give me an example of a "moral fact," and I may be able to see what you mean by its reasonableness. But I will make things easy for you: Give me an example of a "moral claim" that is self-evident in the same way that factual statements or matters of logic are self-evident, and I will bow to your argument.

If your first three sentences imply that "never the twain shall meet", then of course, I don't acknowledge THAT, since it amounts to the denial of my view. I certainly would acknowledge that not all normative claims are facts and that many facts are not normative.
I differ with you if you are saying that "moral" and "normative" are the same. I do accept that moral claims are a subset of normative claims.
I don't believe there are very many truly self-evident claims of any sort -- especially if that means claims that no one could possibly raise some kind of doubt about. Descartes's Cogito has been doubted by those who wonder whether one can be certain that there is a thinker beneath the thoughts.

Again let me reiterate that I am not assuming the burden of proof at this point that there are moral truths -- and I am most especially not making any claims so far about how "self-evident" they are.
What I am doing so far is pointing out a problem with a CERTAIN KIND of ARGUMENT AGAINST the possibility of moral truths.
The kind of argument I'm talking about rests upon the assumption that we it would be unreasonable (in the face of some supposed evidence or argument) to believe that there are any NORMATIVE truths whatsoever.
Is this claim normative? Then according to itself, it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then the argument against moral facts is unsound.
If the claim is not normative, then it doesn't tell us anything about what we ought to believe -- it leaves us free to continue believing in normative truth.

It is possible to admit that there are normative truths and yet produce an argument against there being any specifically moral truths. I have not yet addressed such arguments. Much of what you say against me assumes that what I have said is intended to address such arguments. It is not so intended. I do eventually intend to move on from here, but I think it's wise to take things step by step.

It sounds like you agree with me that some normative claims (certain claims of rationality) are actually true independent of belief or convention. It is not merely a convention that one should match ones means to ones ends.
If so, we are in agreement so far.

I do differ with you in your apparent assumption that rational norms are all a priori. If you believe there are rational norms governing inductive argument, then it's highly implausible to think these norms are all knowable a priori. (See Goodman's "New Riddle of Induction" for one reason I believe this.) I think that scientific practice teaches us, not only about the world, but also about how to improve our inductive reasoning. I think it's very unlikely that the refinements of inductive reasoning that science has discovered over the years could have been known ahead of time by somebody thinking deeply in an armchair.
That point may become relevant later. But for now, we seem to agree that there are normative truths which are true independent of my own beliefs or the conventions of my society.

Francoamerican
07-20-2009, 07:03 AM
Again let me reiterate that I am not assuming the burden of proof at this point that there are moral truths -- and I am most especially not making any claims so far about how "self-evident" they are. What I am doing so far is pointing out a problem with a CERTAIN KIND of ARGUMENT AGAINST the possibility of moral truths. The kind of argument I'm talking about rests upon the assumption that it would be unreasonable (in the face of some supposed evidence or argument) to believe that there are any NORMATIVE truths whatsoever. Is this claim normative? Then according to itself, it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then the argument against moral facts is unsound. If the claim is not normative, then it doesn't tell us anything about what we ought to believe -- it leaves us free to continue believing in normative truth..

Sorry, I can't follow you here. You are again using normative in an equivocal way. Norms of argument, logic and evidence are not the same as moral norms (or "facts" if you insist). Someone who denies the former inevitably falls into self-contradiction, as you point out. To deny that there are any normative truths is a normative statement. Socrates ridicules Protagoras in Plato's dialogue Protagoras for precisely the same reason: as soon as you say that there is no possibility of knowing the truth, you are contradicting yourself because you are affirming the possibility of knowing at least one truth, namely that there is no truth. A similar argument has also been used against 19th century historicism: As soon as you say that all truths are relative to the historical moment, you are still affirming that there is one truth that isn't relative to the historical moment, namely the truth that all truths are relative to the historical moment.

Some people find this game amusing. I find it boring. In any case, it is only game. Once you have established to your satisfaction that the denial of the possibility of knowing the truth (or normative truths) is self-refuting, you are no better off than before. Maybe you are a bit wiser but you are still far from knowing if there are any moral truths (facts). Knowing that the norms of logic and reasoning impose certain constraints on our speech is of little help in understanding the constraints that moral norms impose on our conduct.


It is possible to admit that there are normative truths and yet produce an argument against there being any specifically moral truths. I have not yet addressed such arguments. Much of what you say against me assumes that what I have said is intended to address such arguments. It is not so intended. I do eventually intend to move on from here, but I think it's wise to take things step by step..

Good luck!

Bloggin' Noggin
07-20-2009, 08:34 AM
Hi Jay,
I think I just put my original point slightly better in a reply to Jeff. Let me paste that in here and then reply.

Here's an argument:
1. By definition, a normative claim is a claim about what someone ought to do or believe.
2. A normative fact, by definition, is a normative claim which is true independently of whether someone believes it.
3. To believe that there are normative facts is to reject the world-view supported by science.
4 It would be irrational to reject the scientific world-view, since the evidence for that world-view is overwhelming.
5. Therefore, it would be irrational to believe in normative facts.
6. Therefore we ought (rationally) not to believe in normative facts.

For the moment don't focus on the argument itself. Is the conclusion true (even if people stubbornly refuse to believe it)? If so, the conclusion is itself a normative fact by 1 and 2). So, if the conclusion is true, it is false (on the assumption that we ought not to believe falsehoods). The denial of (6) does not lead back to the affirmation of (6). Therefore, I conclude that we may (rationally) believe in normative facts. There is no rational requirement that we not believe in any normative facts -- for if there were there would be at least one normative fact.

You seem reluctant to infer (6) from (5), but you appear ready to grant that nevertheless (5) is normative. If you grant that, then the same question can be raised as above. Is (5) true? If it isn't, then I seem to be free to believe in normative facts. If it is true and normative, then it is its own counterexample. If it is true but not normative, then whatever it means, it doesn't seem to govern what I ought to do. It isn't action-guiding, so once again, I'm perfectly free to believe in normative facts.

So far as my point is concerned, it doesn't seem to matter very much precisely what I mean by 'normative.' You can decide what you mean and I will have a response whatever you say.

Still, it might be wise to say a little bit more.
For now, here's the intuitive idea. Consider the following claims:
A. There are sharks in the water.
B. You shouldn't go into the water.

C. Scientists unanimously agree that the earth is round.
D. I should also believe the earth is round.

Normativity in general
B and C appear to direct you explicitly what to do or what to believe. They are intrinsically action-guiding (or belief-guiding in the case of D). A and C are intrinsically non-normative claims, yet in ordinary circumstances they SUPPORT B and D, and they could be used to direct people to stay out of the water or to believe that the earth is round. Still, we can imagine cases where B and D might not follow. If you are a student of sharks and have your protective gear along with you, then A doesn't support B -- it actually supports the opposite. If all scientists have been kidnapped and brainwashed by a round-earth cult, then their agreement is not much guide about what to believe about the shape of the earth. Normative statements generally include "ought" statements or evaluative claims (e.g., "it's rational to believe this"), and they are normative insofar as they explicitly direct you toward one belief or action over another (not just implicitly, as in A and C).

Rational Norms in particular
In the case of reasoning about what to do or believe, the standard (normal) case is that when we decide that we have most reason to take option B, we will simply DO option B, or if we think we see overwhelming reason to believe something, we will simply believe it. If this were not standard, it would be hard to even understand the ascription of beliefs, desires or reasons to us. But we are imperfect creatures and it is still possible to ascribe beliefs, desires and reasons to us in cases where we behave irrationally. Suppose I decide I have most reason to go to work right now, but I continue to write this post. The conclusion need not be that I was wrong -- that I really have most reason to write this post. The conclusion can be that I ought to go to work, but something is standing in the way of my doing the rational thing. The same goes for my having overpowering evidence that my brother is dead, but i refuse to believe it, not on evidential grounds, but simply because I don't want to believe it. Given the evidence, I ought to believe he's dead, but I don't.

Well, I actually do have to go to work, so I hope that's intuitively helpful for now.

Bloggin' Noggin
07-20-2009, 08:54 PM
Sorry, I can't follow you here. You are again using normative in an equivocal way. Norms of argument, logic and evidence are not the same as moral norms (or "facts" if you insist).

I don't deny that moral norms and other norms are different -- that's what makes them moral norms rather than some other kind of norm. But do you seriously think that moral norms and other norms don't share something in common -- i.e., their normativity? You seem to be claiming that moral norms and othe norms are 'norms" in name only -- the way that sides of rivers and financial institutions are both "banks".
But the thing that moral and rational norms share is that they explicitly direct choice -- they tell you explictly what beliefs or actions to prefer over other beliefs or actions. So far this seems like a very general property that divides normative statements from non-normative statements.
If I claim that moral norms and other norms are all norms, it does not follow that I think there is no difference between moral norms and other norms. If someone claims that whales and chipmunks are both mammals, he isn't committed to the view that you'll find whales climbing trees.

Some people find this game amusing. I find it boring.
How long you are bored is entirely up to you, so I won't feel guilty.


In any case, it is only game. Once you have established to your satisfaction that the denial of the possibility of knowing the truth (or normative truths) is self-refuting, you are no better off than before.
It isn't actually contradictory to say "I don't believe in any normative truths." But there's a kind of pragmatic self-contradiction in offering an argument for the claim. It's more like saying "I don't exist" or "The earth is round, but I don't believe it is."
The advantage is that the challenge, is somewhat easier. You no longer have to show how you can get someone who denies all "oughts" to accept some "oughts". You can probably start with some set of rational norms, even if fairly minimal, and try to show how you might build moral norms upon rational norms. You have transformed modern moral skepticism into ancient moral skepticism. The seemingly metaphysical question about moral facts can be transformed into a question about what reason one has to be moral. Ayer, Mackie and Harman dissolve into Thrasymachus or Callicles.

Maybe you are a bit wiser but you are still far from knowing if there are any moral truths (facts). Knowing that the norms of logic and reasoning impose certain constraints on our speech is of little help in understanding the constraints that moral norms impose on our conduct.

Rational norms are not merely constraints on speech. If it is irrational for me to believe in the face of the evidence that my great grandmother is alive or that God exists, then it isn't just irrational for me to SAY these things. I shouldn't believe them or act on the presumption that these beliefs are true. That is already a constraint on my conduct. If it is irrational not to match means to ends or to act in total disregard of my future good (as many people would concede), then these are constraints on my conduct of an even more direct sort.

Jay J
07-20-2009, 09:07 PM
Hi Bloggin,

Here's an argument:
1. By definition, a normative claim is a claim about what someone ought to do or believe.
2. A normative fact, by definition, is a normative claim which is true independently of whether someone believes it.
3. To believe that there are normative facts is to reject the world-view supported by science.
4 It would be irrational to reject the scientific world-view, since the evidence for that world-view is overwhelming.
5. Therefore, it would be irrational to believe in normative facts.
6. Therefore we ought (rationally) not to believe in normative facts.

For the moment don't focus on the argument itself. Is the conclusion true (even if people stubbornly refuse to believe it)? If so, the conclusion is itself a normative fact by 1 and 2). So, if the conclusion is true, it is false (on the assumption that we ought not to believe falsehoods). The denial of (6) does not lead back to the affirmation of (6). Therefore, I conclude that we may (rationally) believe in normative facts. There is no rational requirement that we not believe in any normative facts -- for if there were there would be at least one normative fact.

You seem reluctant to infer (6) from (5), but you appear ready to grant that nevertheless (5) is normative. If you grant that, then the same question can be raised as above. Is (5) true? If it isn't, then I seem to be free to believe in normative facts. If it is true and normative, then it is its own counterexample. If it is true but not normative, then whatever it means, it doesn't seem to govern what I ought to do. It isn't action-guiding, so once again, I'm perfectly free to believe in normative facts.

As for (5) being true but not normative, I'm not sure that this possibility is that promising for anyone. Fortunately, I won't claim that (5) is true but not normative, so...

You're right, I am a little squeamish about inferring (6) from (5). And I am more comfortable that (5) is normative, because I think to call someone is irrational is to call them defective or at least temporarily less sophisticated or something. After all, tailoring our beliefs to the evidence seems normative, so perhaps this is the place where we agree most. But you're right, I pause when I hear the word "ought" thrown in, because, IDK, maybe there's ambiguity here. It may mean nothing more than what I've agreed to, but it may mean more; it may indicate something like an obligation... As for the rest, I suspect (but don't know) that we're going to have more trouble here, we'll see:

For now, here's the intuitive idea. Consider the following claims:
A. There are sharks in the water.
B. You shouldn't go into the water.

C. Scientists unanimously agree that the earth is round.
D. I should also believe the earth is round.

B and C appear to direct you explicitly what to do or what to believe. They are intrinsically action-guiding (or belief-guiding in the case of D). A and C are intrinsically non-normative claims, yet in ordinary circumstances they SUPPORT B and D, and they could be used to direct people to stay out of the water or to believe that the earth is round. Still, we can imagine cases where B and D might not follow. If you are a student of sharks and have your protective gear along with you, then A doesn't support B -- it actually supports the opposite. If all scientists have been kidnapped and brainwashed by a round-earth cult, then their agreement is not much guide about what to believe about the shape of the earth. Normative statements generally include "ought" statements or evaluative claims (e.g., "it's rational to believe this"), and they are normative insofar as they explicitly direct you toward one belief or action over another (not just implicitly, as in A and C).

I'll start with your second example first here, so as for C and D, I suppose my only squeamishness here is the word "should." Maybe I'm being overly cautious, not sure. I do agree that the words rational and irrational are evaluative, so maybe that's a start.

As for A and B, I agree that this is action guiding, but as you point out, action-guidance is sensitive to circumstances. So it matters not only whether one is a student of sharks, but whether one is trying to commit suicide or perhaps hunt sharks or herd hungry sharks over toward swimming children. For what we're said so far, one action-guidance is as good as another, yes?

Francoamerican
07-21-2009, 05:38 AM
But do you seriously think that moral norms and other norms don't share something in common -- i.e., their normativity? You seem to be claiming that moral norms and othe norms are 'norms" in name only -- the way that sides of rivers and financial institutions are both "banks"..

Norms of rationality and norms of conduct may have something in common. Kant certainly thought so. But your examples fall far short of anything Kant claimed for the unity of theoretical and practical reason. Norms of logic, norms of evidence, norms of induction are compelling for anyone who accepts the norms of scientific inquiry as the paradigm of rationality. You seem to think that assenting to them has implications beyond the sphere of science, but so far you have not said what they are. Could you at least give me an inkling of how the norms of scientific rationality are related to moral norms?

But the thing that moral and rational norms share is that they explicitly direct choice -- they tell you explictly what beliefs or actions to prefer over other beliefs or actions. So far this seems like a very general property that divides normative statements from non-normative statements..

Once again: a norm compelling belief (=assent) is not the same as a norm compelling choice or action. This is nothing but an equivocation on your part. Give me an example of a moral norm that compels choice in the same way that logic or induction compels assent, and I will bow to your argument. But you are just playing with words when you say that belief (assent) and choice are the same thing. This seems to me a pretty elementary distinction. No one--no major philosopher that I can think of--has ever thought that rational assent to a proposition (A=B, B=C, therefore A=C) is the same as the choice of a course of action. If moral choice were like a syllogism or a problem in mathematics, the world would be a far better place than it is!


Rational norms are not merely constraints on speech. If it is irrational for me to believe in the face of the evidence that my great grandmother is alive or that God exists, then it isn't just irrational for me to SAY these things. I shouldn't believe them or act on the presumption that these beliefs are true. That is already a constraint on my conduct. If it is irrational not to match means to ends or to act in total disregard of my future good (as many people would concede), then these are constraints on my conduct of an even more direct sort.

Rational norms are contraints on speech in the sense that speech is the embodiment of reason. As you know, the Greeks used the same word--logos--for both speech and reason. Obviously, people can SAY whatever they like, no matter how nonsensical, but eventually philosophers will catch up with their nonsense!

AemJeff
07-22-2009, 01:31 AM
...

BN, just pinging to say that I haven't lost track of this conversation. I'll have a response posted ASAP.

Bloggin' Noggin
07-24-2009, 09:05 AM
Let me take your points out of order:

Once again: a norm compelling belief (=assent) is not the same as a norm compelling choice or action. This is nothing but an equivocation on your part. Give me an example of a moral norm that compels choice in the same way that logic or induction compels assent, and I will bow to your argument. But you are just playing with words when you say that belief (assent) and choice are the same thing. This seems to me a pretty elementary distinction. No one--no major philosopher that I can think of--has ever thought that rational assent to a proposition (A=B, B=C, therefore A=C) is the same as the choice of a course of action. If moral choice were like a syllogism or a problem in mathematics, the world would be a far better place than it is!

First of all, let me reiterate that to say that norms of practical and theoretical reason have something in common (being norms and more specifically norms of reason) is not to say that they are "the same".

I think you are making a very strong assumption about "compelling belief" in your further argument. I think Kant is right to see "ought" as expressing a kind of necessity. But neither he nor I would claim that compelling reasons can really compel people to think or act rationally. Rather, the claim is just that a fully rational person would necessarily come to a certain belief or choose a certain action. You assume that in the case of belief, we always really must believe whatever we ought to believe, while in the case of action, we don't have to do what we ought to do (in terms of practical reason). (You further assume that I am equating practical reason with morality -- I am not making any such claim or assumption -- see my reply to the other part of your post below.) Perhaps the evidence shows that I ought to believe P, but if my desires make me want to believe the opposite, or if I am not a very sharp evaluator of evidence, I may nevertheless believe not-P. We can form irrational or unreasonable beliefs and we can perform irrational or unreasonable actions.
You seem to want to imagine that theoretical reasoning is always easy and always automatic. In fact, belief can be a matter of deliberation, just as action is -- juries deliberate on their verdicts. Scientists attempt to step back from their preconceptions and make a rational CHOICE between theories based on evidence. you want to drive a wedge between theoretical reason and practical reason. There may of course be many differences between them so far as i'm concerned, but the contrast you are trying to draw here is actually based on a very biased sampling of each side of the divide.

Norms of rationality and norms of conduct may have something in common. Kant certainly thought so. But your examples fall far short of anything Kant claimed for the unity of theoretical and practical reason. Norms of logic, norms of evidence, norms of induction are compelling for anyone who accepts the norms of scientific inquiry as the paradigm of rationality. You seem to think that assenting to them has implications beyond the sphere of science, but so far you have not said what they are. Could you at least give me an inkling of how the norms of scientific rationality are related to moral norms?

You seem to want to interpret me as making a positive argument with an extremely strong conclusion, but as either having no idea how far I have to go to get to that positive conclusion or concealing large portions of the argument. Once again, I am NOT (at the moment) making a big positive argument for the existence of moral facts. I am pointing out that the anti-realist case is based either on mere assertion (the "but everybody knows" kind of case you have been making) or on arguments that do not establish their conclusion. More than that, I've been suggesting that certain of these arguments employ such a broad rejection of normative truth that their own employment of rational norms counts as a counter-example to the very principle employed. So far my point is simply to knock down a certain sort of opposing argument.
Although you are reluctant to admit it, it seems you agree with me that the norms of reason are genuinely normative and are actually true independent of what people believe about them. If I believe that affirming the consequent is rational, that doesn't make it "rational for me." If I believe that thwarting all my own aims is rational, it still isn't true that such a course is "rational for me." This appears to constitute a counter-example to the claim (on which the antirealist argument under consideration depends) that
(P) There is no fact of the matter about norms independent of what norms we actually accept.

When faced with a counter-example, the norms of philosophical reason suggest that one should attempt to reformulate one's principle so that it doesn't face that counter-example or to try to show that the apparent counter-example is no counterexample to the principle after all. This is the point we have reached so far in the argument.

You seem to object that this whole "counter-example" game is silly -- why don't I pull out my secret Cartesian argument from first principles and nuke the opposition? I don't believe argument works this way, either in science or in philosophy. What arguments I give to you must depend upon assumptions you are willing to grant. So, how you would reformulate principle P is essential to how I continue my argument with you. As I think Plato and Aristotle would agree, argument from first principles can be deductive, but argument toward first principles must be dialectical -- it must start from what one's opponents will grant and gradually work its way through the dead-ends of argument. There is no Cartesian deductive royal road from self-evidence to knowledge of the correct theory of everything.

So, how would you reformulate (P) to make a sound argument against the possibility of belief-independent facts of the matter about normative moral claims?
(I have some sympathy for your question about how i see moral and rational norms as being related. I have no time right now for that -- but i will try to address it a bit more in the thread with Jay J. My next reply to him should lay out the philosophical landscape a bit more.

Francoamerican
07-25-2009, 03:06 PM
I think you are making a very strong assumption about "compelling belief" in your further argument. I think Kant is right to see "ought" as expressing a kind of necessity. But neither he nor I would claim that compelling reasons can really compel people to think or act rationally. Rather, the claim is just that a fully rational person would necessarily come to a certain belief or choose a certain action..

You will admit, won't you, that in assenting to a logical or empirical or scientific proposition we really have no choice to think otherwise, whereas in adopting a moral course of action we do have a choice? Morality presupposes freedom, the freedom to choose an immoral course of action. That is all I meant. Your examples in the next paragraph--the deliberations of a jury or of scientists evaluating rival scientific theories--do not imply moral choice. Presumably, jurors and scientists are expected to weigh the evidence for and against with a view to coming to the truth about the matter. They have NO choice if they understand what the norms of evidence and logic entail.

I think it is now generally understood that Kant runs together two meanings of freedom---"rational" freedom (the categorical imperative etc.), and the more ordinary commonsense idea of freedom as the freedom to choose between moral and immoral course of actions. Kant would like us to believe that in choosing to be moral we are acting rationally, whereas in choosing to be immoral we are acting irrationally. That may be so, but you really have to accept quite a bit of metaphysics to understand his argument.


(I have some sympathy for your question about how i see moral and rational norms as being related. I have no time right now for that -- but i will try to address it a bit more in the thread with Jay J. My next reply to him should lay out the philosophical landscape a bit more.

I look forward to seeing a bit more of the landscape.