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Comment 20 by Quine : How we set the axioms will always be subjective.

Depends. In one sense, you could say the same for any axiom, including those that lead us to statements we'd both accept as "objective." The question is whether you would be special pleading in the case of morality - insisting that this makes morality subjective where you don't insist in the other cases for axioms which undergird other "objective" statements. (Which is of course a point Sam makes).

It is subjective to decide you ought to live another day, or even another minute.

It's subjective for me to decide to measure my height and my mother's height. As was the determination of both the measuring system (e.g. development of Imperial System), and those things humans desired to measure. Yet this does not lead us to dispute "facts" such as "Michael Jordan is X inches taller than Danny Devito" are therefore merely subjective, not objective. The desire to measure and how to measure is subjective. But we want to measure what we think are "real" objective relationships in the world. If the same can be said for morality - that ultimately our moral statements aim to measure really-existing relationships in the world, for instance the relationship of desires to states of affairs that fulfill desires - then there's no reason to exclude moral statements from being "objective."

Hume was correct,

Let's remember Hume's claim was restrained to saying anyone moving from an "is" to an "ought" statement owes an explanation of how this is being done. Hume himself says he couldn't conceive of the answer. Though it's intriguing that he felt we ultimately had to make appeals to "The Passions" in our moral judgements. Which, ironically, is an essential part of the answer (insofar as this could mean an appeal to our "desires"). So when Hume says it just doesn't seem to work to "deduce" ought from is, in a way he's right UNLESS you recognize another element is necessary: The Passions (desires).

(The is/ought fact/value dichotomy can give some the impression that there is "the world of the is" and "the realm of the ought" and that we recognize both worlds in our language, but can't find the bridge. Which leaves the realm of "is" mysterious, and so you have many theists appealing to the magic realm of the Transcendent Supernatural for the source of "ought.")

If I started with a random system (for Sam that would be a noise level in the Moral Landscape), I almost certainly can think of improvements, thus we can think our way to a better system of oughts, but that will still be based on our subjective desires.

I still suggest you are falling into the trap of thinking that, because desires are at the core of what we value, that therefore morality itself must be subjective. I am persuaded by lines of argument that, if you really examine the ontology of "value," that is how it does or even could arise, you can see it anchored in objective facts..facts about the beings that desire, about what desires themselves are, what this says about the relationship between desires and the real world, and then what an "ought" would therefore HAVE to mean to offer any REAL reason to "do" anything.

If you go down this path, it can be argued that what you find ultimately is there isn't actually an is/ought divide as implied by the purported dichotomy. Rather, it turns out "ought" is simply a sub-category of "is." So there isn't another "realm of ought" that can not be bridged nor any "biting of a bullet" necessary. There is ultimately only "is" statements which therefore have truth values, and in that sense are objective. Example of a prudential value statement: "You ought to use this knife" to make sense would assume a desire, e.g. to cut open a coconut, and therefore is making a truth claim about what would fulfill that desire. Hence it is merely another way of saying: "This knife is such as to fulfill the desire in question." And to say the knife is "Good" would also reference how it is such as to fulfill a desire, which equates to "The knife IS such as to fulfill the desire in question." (This does not preclude that we can desire something as an "end" itself, rather than a means, but any end will have "value" only insofar as there is a desire it meets). So an "ought" statement is a sub-set of "is" statements.

Going further down the path (though this here is not the argument for it, just the outline of the claims), moral statements are a further sub-set of "is" statements. Given moral prescriptions by nature involve prescriptions for actions, and the only things that exist which give reasons for action are desires, then any moral prescription will necessarily relate to some set of desires. Anyone thinking otherwise would be mistaken. And given human desires are malleable, we can ask of desires themselves "which desires ought we encourage, which ought we discourage?" (Which is another way of saying "which desires do we have reasons to encourage/which do we have reasons to discourage). Given that, once again, the only reasons for action one can appeal to are desires themselves, the answer would reduce to the tendency of a desire to fulfill or thwart other desires. So desires themselves are the fundamental bedrock of morality - something only has "value" - is "good" - insofar as it has the tendency of fulfilling desires, INCLUDING desires themselves. So the desire to rape, since it is inherently desire-thwarting (it's very nature means that the rapist is forcing himself against the desires of the victim) would be "bad," whereas the desire that sex be between mutually consenting parties, fulfilling both desires, has the tendency of fulfilling desires, hence would be "good." And every time you say "you ought to do X" you would be making an OBJECTIVE claim - that "X is such as to fulfill the desire(s) in question" about which you could be objectively wrong or right.

Again, that's certainly not some full argument for that particular value theory. But it's an outline which, if the theory is ultimately sound, would mean that value/morality/ought is in the realm of the objective. (I am certainly not the one who came up with such theories, I hasten to add).

Anyway...thanks for listening.


Wed, 31 Aug 2011 01:30:50 UTC | #865726