ForumsWEPRPhilosophical Issues (Extended Cognition p. 5)

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Moegreche
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Moegreche
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Since I'm back for the foreseeable future, I thought it might be fun to consider some important philosophical issues. The idea I have in mind is to discuss issues - taking one at a time - that philosophers are currently thinking about. The goal is to introduce some of the member of the AG community to what philosophers do but more importantly to help develop critical thinking and argumentation skills for us all.

My role will simply be to (try to) guide the conversation and to fill in any theoretical gaps that appear. I know that my posts can be rather long-winded, so I'll try to sum up the conversation thus far with some handy bullet points at the end.

The topic I'd like to start with: how is knowledge more valuable than true belief?

This issue goes back as far as the writings of Plato, but is still an unanswered question - and one that is hugely important. There's an intuition that knowledge is, in fact, more valuable than true belief. The problem is actually providing an account of this value.

So let's suppose you're in Venice and you want to get to Rome, so you ask for directions. You have the choice between asking someone who has a true belief on how to get there or someone who has knowledge of the road to take. In either case, it looks like you're going to get to Rome. The first guy's belief is true (we've stipulated that) but so is the second guy's (since knowledge implies truth). So why would we prefer knowing over truly believing?

Summary:
Knowledge seems more valuable that (mere) true belief.
We can find plenty of cases where a true belief seems just as good as knowledge.
Is there a way to explain the value of knowledge over that of true belief? Or maybe knowledge doesn't have the value we think it has!

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Zahz
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Indeed it seems that any utilitarian theory must by nature slide into nature of the result moral systems and we're back in Kantian good-or-evil-for-it's-own-sake territory.

I can't quite tell what you're getting at here. It looks like it could be compelling, but I'm just not following.


Okay. Uh... Lemme try to fix that to be human who is not me readable. Note: Kids, if ya wanna do philosophy, take an English class.

Essentially I'm arguing that the value system inherent in any consequentialist theory is itself deontology. Take utilitarianism: Maximize utility for the maximum number of people. Under this we are not only allowed to kill the wanderer, we must. It does indeed maximize utility for the maximum number of people. For certain values of the word utility and ignoring empathy. Which is my point. Why then are the consequences of the act good or ill? Essentially because we all just agree that they are. The doctors case is a good one for my point: no representative sample will ever reach moral consensus on his actions. Now I'm as against allowing popular opinion to influence theory as the next guy, but we're in moral philosophy so that's a reasonable way to attempt access to the nature of the consequence. And we need the nature of the consequence to tell us why any of those 4 things I'm too lazy to copy/paste are or are not fulfilled by any value system. And value systems are required plug-ins for consequentialism. There. Was that better?


But in the meantime, could we construct a case against deontology?


Well, if we're being true to our own value systems, no. Not even a little. Deontology is self supporting that way. A good act is a good act because shut up. The same way in math. 1=1 because shut up identity property. Which is fine, axioms are allowed I guess. If you're a wuss. Point being a good act is always a good act because it's a good act. Period. Now we can argue what exactly are those good acts but the point is that by definition deontology can always tell us the moral state of any act always. Not only does it perform those four functions, it performs them perfectly every time. System: Drinking juice is wrong. Drink some juice and you're an irredeemable ******* and need a good kick. Also: Kick people who drink juice. Also: Moe, if you find a contradiction in this I'll cry. This is of course an oversimplification but it stands up to the four functions. Is it stupid and arbitrarily cruel to vegans? You bet. Is it wrong? Nope. It's completely correct because it says it is.

The argument then could point out that consequentialism has deontology inherent as I just pointed out and is therefor also always perfectly correct to which it must be replied that a horse by any other name is still a horse. At it's foundation consequntialism is deontology.

So how do we fight deontology? We either accept and we all try to make our axioms coherent, (Here I should note that deontological systems may indeed have contradictions and invalidate their perfect always because shut up status but I am arguing the validity of the type of system itself rather than the merits of any particular system.) or we go "Aw hail naw!" and fight the very idea of axioms. 1/=1 because shut up! We demand proof! Proof is of course axiomatic but we'll burn that bridge when we come to it! Then of course we have to give up even the notion of moral guidance and we all have to become daoisohgodwhereisthevodka?

tl;dr: We can indeed argue the nature of the act in theory as Moe said but the point stands that we just do not have a reliable way to access the nature of any moral object either action or consequence. Intuition fails trivially, axioms fail by their nature as we could argue but that ain't the topic, and theory is just a horse. Essentially consequence not only doesn't have a leg to stand on, it doesn't even exist because it is another thing and any deontological judgement may as well be a coin toss. Because juice.
Moegreche
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Moegreche
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Sorry for the slow response, Zahz. I knew responding to your post would take a fair chunk of time, so here we go. I'm going to have to take it piece by piece because there are a lot of moving parts.

Essentially I'm arguing that the value system inherent in any consequentialist theory is itself deontology


Okay, so a clear thesis - but one that is trivially false since deontology isn't a value system, it's a complete ethical theory. But perhaps you mean to say that consequentialist theories will slide into deontological ones so that there is no principled means of discriminating between the 2. Let's see what happens.

Why then are the consequences of the act good or ill? Essentially because we all just agree that they are.


Ah! Now I get it! So this is what we might call the hinge claim of your argument. I'll get into this a bit more later, but it's a claim that 1) neither camp would agree with, and 2) begs the question you're trying to prove.

Now I'm as against allowing popular opinion to influence theory as the next guy, but we're in moral philosophy so that's a reasonable way to attempt access to the nature of the consequence.


This ties into your hinge argument from earlier, so let's look at it closer. It looks like you're taking on moral relativism - a broad collection of views that states that there is no objective right or wrong. More formally, the moral relativist says that statement about whether action x is right are not objectively true or false - their truth value is respective to something else (e.g. majority opinion, culture, etc.).

The problem with this approach is that the theories under consideration are objectivist - there is a correct answer to ethical questions that is independent of what we think about them. This also means that certain acts fall into those 4 categories - not because we say they do - but because of some objective reason.

Now, you're more than welcome to argue against moral objectivism. You're even free to argue that the notion of ethical value is illusory (some people have). But there are some very serious issues with this approach (which we can discuss if you like).

A good act is a good act because shut up.


Haha! It's a shut up! I like it. But this isn't quite deontology - acts are wrong just because we (or the theory) say so. That would be a deeply unsatisfying ethical theory. For deontologists, acts are wrong because they violate some duty or because they go against our instrumental rationality (the specific answer depends on the theory). But notice this is now an open question - does action X violate a duty? What happens when duties conflict? Compare this to the closed question of 'action x is wrong because shut up'.

we just do not have a reliable way to access the nature of any moral object either action or consequence.


This, I think, is your strongest point and represent a very genuine problem for both camps. We don't have direct access to others' mental states, so trying to assess duties or maxims in play (in actual cases) is a challenge for the deontologist. Similarly, trying to determine all the consequences of an act is nearly impossible - there could be long-term unforeseen consequences that no one could have anticipated.
Even in our doctor example, a consequentialist could argue that we shouldn't slice up the traveller. This is because doing so would have the consequence of the doctor possibly losing his license to practice medicine, people might distrust the medical community as a whole, and so on.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the problems for each are distinct - although they can be very devastating. It's for these reasons (and others) that we don't see too many strict consequentialists or deontologists running around (Peter Singer comes to mind, though).

The upshot is that concerns like this one have motivated a move to other approaches to ethical matters. Virtue ethics and contract theories are just 2 examples of an attempt to get out of the hole dug by consequentialism and deontology.
Zahz
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Zahz
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Ah! Now I get it! So this is what we might call the hinge claim of your argument. I'll get into this a bit more later, but it's a claim that 1) neither camp would agree with, and 2) begs the question you're trying to prove.


Haha! It's a shut up! I like it. But this isn't quite deontology - acts are wrong just because we (or the theory) say so. That would be a deeply unsatisfying ethical theory. For deontologists, acts are wrong because they violate some duty or because they go against our instrumental rationality (the specific answer depends on the theory). But notice this is now an open question - does action X violate a duty? What happens when duties conflict? Compare this to the closed question of 'action x is wrong because shut up'.


That's... Not what I was trying to say. I think we may be talking past one another. The question I ask then is what precisely mandates the duties in deontology-as-a-generic-system? Is it good because the gods say it is or do the gods say it's good because it is? I think I'm trying to say that neither side meets their burden of proof and are themselves begging the question. I wasn't trying to use deontology interchangeably with axiomatic claims but it sure looks like I was. My point with the shut up is that eventually any ethical theory reaches the point of shut up in the stories it tells. Why is instrumental rationality good Kant? (I hate you Kant. Right in your face.) Why does being matter Descartes? A hypothetical ethicist can only answer so many "Whys?" before running out of justification. Just as Euyrithro(SP) can only answer so many questions about the nature of divinity. All the things I said before the line of mine you quoted last are in service to that line except the bits which are trying to feel out the axioms of both camps to prove they exist. It seems then that any system relying on axiomatic claims at any level, but especially foundationally (as they all must), is, in a non-trivial way, relativism. Sorta. I need to learn more words.

In short: stories are all well and good but some stories tell us about dragons and no one believes them. (Intended as a reduction not a straw-man but I'm bad at English.) Also: invocation of Descartes' demon intended to throw a light on the argument.

P.S. If our only goal is a compelling ethical theory then it's going to have to be extremely tailored to culture and individual in which case why bother?
Moegreche
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Moegreche
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Okay, I think I'm catching on now. I keep trying to fit your ideas into a nice, neat little box with a label on them. And maybe I'm just shoving too hard in this metaphor. But there are two things you said that I think can help keep us from talking past one another. I'll go ahead and quote both:

My point with the shut up is that eventually any ethical theory reaches the point of shut up in the stories it tells. Why is instrumental rationality good Kant?


It seems then that any system relying on axiomatic claims at any level, but especially foundationally (as they all must), is, in a non-trivial way, relativism.


So it looks like the big question before us is this: where do these particular ethical theories get their justification? Action X is bad because it violates duty D. Violating duty D is bad because of Y. Y is bad because of Z. And so on. What we end up with looks like just a bunch of arbitrary statements about morality without anything really backing them up. At least, I think this is what you're getting at.

The justification - that foundational level you're looking for - is ultimately going to come down to a particular value theory. So consequentialists say that pleasure is the only thing with ethical value and pain is the only thing with ethical disvalue. They don't usually present much of an argument for this because it seems (to a lot of people, at least) intuitively true. Maybe not the 'only' part, because there could be other things with value out there. But the point is that this is where their story ends. And that's okay! There's this thing with value, we want it, and here's how to get it.

For Kant, our rationality is what sets us apart from other creatures. It's what makes us human and what gives us our value as individuals. Actions are wrong for Kant because they violate this rationality - in a nutshell, wrong actions are contradictions in Kant's story. But again, we see value and we see how to get the most out of that value.


So what that second quote suggests to me is that you don't buy any of this. And you're certainly not alone. But moral relativism has its own problems as well, and some pretty deep rooted ones too. There also seem to be some actions that are wrong no matter what culture you're in. Microwaving a live puppy, for example, just seems wrong! It doesn't matter if you live in Brooklyn or Botswana. It doesn't matter if you're an Atheist or a Catholic. It's just wrong!
Moral relativism has a hard time of making sense of these kinds of claims. But that's really another matter entirely.

So here's the heart of the issue:

If our only goal is a compelling ethical theory then it's going to have to be extremely tailored to culture and individual in which case why bother?


And, again, you could very well be right. So now you've got to decide which box you want to go into. Are you a moral relativist - that ethical statements are true or false, but only within a certain context. So action A is wrong in context C, but not in context C*.

Or maybe you're a moral nihilist - that ethical statements simply aren't the kinds of things that can be true or false. Some moral nihilists even hold that any ethical statement is false, since it is a flawed attempt to get at the structure of reality.

You might even be a value nihilist, or at least an ethical value nihilist. In this case, nothing is finally value (that is, valuable for its own sake) - we simply say that certain things are valuable but that doesn't make it so. Thus we can't develop compelling ethical theories since there's no value theory to plug into it.
Kyouzou
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Quick question about consequentialism: How exactly does one determine if the results are positive or negative, is that dependent on a collective effect or on the individual effect?

Take for example the classic: man steals bread to feed starving family, consequentialism would judge this issue paradoxically, because from the individual view point, the theft of the bread had a positive effect on the thief, and a negative on the owner. Would it then collectively have no ethical effect at all, or does one judgement take precedence?

EmperorPalpatine
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because from the individual view point, the theft of the bread had a positive effect on the thief, and a negative on the owner

I guess it would depend how much the thief values it compared to the owner, the amount of pleasure vs pain of the action.
Moegreche
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I guess it would depend how much the thief values it compared to the owner, the amount of pleasure vs pain of the action.


Exactly. And Kyouzou brings up an interesting point about consequentialism, because many actions may cause pleasure to some and displeasure to others. But if we could measure the overall happiness before and after the act, then we'd have an answer. If the their gained more pleasure from stealing and eating the bread than the displeasure suffered by the store owner, then stealing the bread is the morally correct choice.

Now consider the 4 categories from earlier - which one does stealing the bread fall into? Is it morally permissible or morally obligatory according to consequentialism?
Zahz
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Moral/value nihilist huh? Seems about right when working with binary truth values. I'd say that that view is merely the high truth or closer to it. Moral relativism seems more like a reasonable middle truth and microwaving puppies can be false. Seems to go like this: A thing may be false. 1+1=teakettle. Just wrong. Next a thing may be true: 9*9=81. True within certain parameters. And high truth: numbers are means of interpretation with no inherent truth value beyond what is given to them. It would seem then that a moral/value system can indeed have value. Just because value is assigned does not make it less real, an ethical claim may indeed be true or false like math but neither are concerns in the realm of high truth. So yeah, nihilist. I can work with that. Does that fit the box? Boxes can be useful. Never did learn to use 'em well though.

[Insert quote of above three posts here.]

I guess the thief story and it's ethical assignment depends on the weight of individual vs. group weighting. I prefer to ignore the individual completely and go entirely with aggregate levels of suffering and pleasure as it seems more true to the spirit of the argument and makes for slightly subtler straw man-ing. (Rhetoric and pulmic argument are like old lovers of mine. I know they're wrong but they do things my wife won't even think about.) This presents some problems of measurement but we'll assume for a moment sufficiently advanced aliens can measure a universe worth of data on dopamine levels and are willing to share because shut up. Yay! Consequentialism is solved! Not so fast sonny Jim! How do we assign the four categories? Especially permissible versus obligatory? We can cook up some system of arbitrary degrees but that gets back to more-axioms-as-a -plan which is dumb. Instead it seems we must go to extremes: Any act that reduces aggregate suffering by any degree and/or increases aggregate pleasure by any degree as balanced against one another both equal and opposite is morally obligatory. Any act that does the opposite is morally impermissible. Any act that does not effect the balance in any way is both permissible and neutral but good luck finding such an act.

But nobody likes being responsible for the full weight of cosmic suffering all the time so lets get some more axioms before we all have to start being civil to one another.

Kyouzou
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In that sense consequentialism is essentially "For the greater good." put into a rather brutal practice. Ethically, I would rather there be a middle ground where both the individual and the aggregate can reach a suitable level of happiness. After all, if you continue to cater to the aggregate, I feel as though eventually you will reach a point where enough individuals have been wronged and will no longer allow it.

Consequentialism, particularly in the way we're looking at it, makes it rather difficult to place any action into the one of the four tiers, no? Because if that piece of bread in question would prevent the family from starving to death, the action, despite it's immoral nature, would be morally obligatory. At the same time, if the bread had been stolen from someone whom had bought it for the purpose of feeding their own starving family, the action could very well be considered impermissible. The middle-ground then, could most likely only be reached in the rather specific scenario where the thief desires the bread, but doesn't actually need it to stave of death. And the owner of the bread would not be so affected by it's loss that other individuals would come to harm as a result of the theft.

Moegreche
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Well you guys hit the nail on the head - the same nail that may be the final one in the coffin of conequentialism. Double metaphor!

As both of you pointed out, it looks like the stealing bread case, depending on how we spell out the details, will either be morally obligatory or morally impermissible. But these results don't seem to match up with our intuitions about the situation. Some people might see the case as morally impermissible, which is fine. Others might view it as a morally permissible act - one that has some ethical disvalue but is still permissible. But to call it obligatory seems crazy! For consequentialism to allow for this possibility might suggest that it can't fit cases into those 4 categories in the right way.

But more to the point, other heinous acts against people would also be obligatory under consequentialism. Sacrificing an innocent man to quell an angry man, for example, would be obligatory. If you failed to sacrifice that person, you would be held as blameworthy. It just seems strange.

There is a version of consequentialism called Rule Consequentialism. It solves some of the problems but creates others. There are also other distinct ethical theories out there, most notably, Virtue Ethics.
So I'm wondering if we should shift focus to VE, or another topic, or maybe it's time to let this thing die.

Zahz
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New topic! Virtue ethics is... I reject virtue ethics for the same reason I reject deontology. Plus it's just not compelling.

Kyouzou
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Virtue ethics, from the little understanding I have of it, seems to take the middle ground between Deontology and Consequentialism. At the same time, it seems to me that it's a very temperamental system, changing easily the whims of a particular society or culture. Although I do like the idea of approaching the morality of any one action based on it's own merits rather than a blanket statement that allows all such action or an exclusion system that may allow malevolent action if it results in good somewhere else.

Maverick4
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I vote for new topic; we just did a bit with ethics. ^^

Kyouzou
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I'm just commenting on the virtue ethics, I would prefer a new topic.

MageGrayWolf
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Although I do like the idea of approaching the morality of any one action based on it's own merits rather than a blanket statement that allows all such action or an exclusion system that may allow malevolent action if it results in good somewhere else.


Of course we are left with the problem of determining what a malevolent action is. Seeing as there seems to be a vote to switch topics I will end with proposing that perhaps some sort of hybrid of the two would be in order?
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