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Is cognitivism compatible with moral anti-realism?

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According to my professor, Sharon Street is both a cognitivist and a moral anti-realist. Are the
two compatible? How can a statement be truth-apt if there is nothing in the fabric of the world
that fixes its truth value?

metaethics

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edited Mar 2 at 3:22

asked May 11 '15 at 4:21

034718392934

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I think you're winding up feeling this conundrum because you may be confusing moral anti-
realism with a denial of the existence of moral claims in our discourse. I can't remember the last
time I read an article by Sharon Street, so I cannot comment on the truth of the claim in
question.
Cognitivism, in this context, is the view that there is a truth value associated with moral claims
(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-cognitivism/#Cog).

Moral anti-realism is not as easy to define as it sounds (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-


anti-realism/ N.b., I would also recommend the article itself for help in clearing up this issue). At
least part of it seems to be some form of negation of moral realism. One species is to deny that
the things we say about morality are about some knowable thing called morality (this would lead
to moral non-cognitivism). Another species, however, is to deny that that the things we say in
morality follow from things themselves (this is the species called there non-objectivism).

According to the article, Street is a type of constructivist. This is to say that on her view, there are
moral frameworks and they do something, but they are not inherently reflective of anything like
a natural law or moral order that is pre-built into nature. Thus, the claims of these moral systems
do have truth values, but they have them in light of the constructed "moral game".

Categorizing constructivists is messy business, because there are some constructivists who see
the shape and form of the moral system we construct as a necessary consequence of something
in our constitution, whether this is a basic evolutionary pathway or, as Christine Korsgaard
believes, a function of rational agency. (She thinks that being a rational agent generates the
system of morality and obligates all such agents -- she also thinks this is what Kant thinks).

To summarize, cognitivism is compatible with some definitions of moral anti-realism. And this is
for the species where the claim relates to the metaphysics of moral claims and their grounding
out there "in the world."

Is cognitivism compatible with moral anti-realism?

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According to my professor, Sharon Street is both a cognitivist and a moral anti-realist. Are the
two compatible? How can a statement be truth-apt if there is nothing in the fabric of the world
that fixes its truth value?

metaethics

shareimprove this question

edited Mar 2 at 3:22

asked May 11 '15 at 4:21

034718392934

764

add a comment

1 Answer

active oldest votes

up vote

down vote

I think you're winding up feeling this conundrum because you may be confusing moral anti-
realism with a denial of the existence of moral claims in our discourse. I can't remember the last
time I read an article by Sharon Street, so I cannot comment on the truth of the claim in
question.

Cognitivism, in this context, is the view that there is a truth value associated with moral claims
(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-cognitivism/#Cog).

Moral anti-realism is not as easy to define as it sounds (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-


anti-realism/ N.b., I would also recommend the article itself for help in clearing up this issue). At
least part of it seems to be some form of negation of moral realism. One species is to deny that
the things we say about morality are about some knowable thing called morality (this would lead
to moral non-cognitivism). Another species, however, is to deny that that the things we say in
morality follow from things themselves (this is the species called there non-objectivism).

According to the article, Street is a type of constructivist. This is to say that on her view, there are
moral frameworks and they do something, but they are not inherently reflective of anything like
a natural law or moral order that is pre-built into nature. Thus, the claims of these moral systems
do have truth values, but they have them in light of the constructed "moral game".

Categorizing constructivists is messy business, because there are some constructivists who see
the shape and form of the moral system we construct as a necessary consequence of something
in our constitution, whether this is a basic evolutionary pathway or, as Christine Korsgaard
believes, a function of rational agency. (She thinks that being a rational agent generates the
system of morality and obligates all such agents -- she also thinks this is what Kant thinks).

To summarize, cognitivism is compatible with some definitions of moral anti-realism. And this is
for the species where the claim relates to the metaphysics of moral claims and their grounding
out there "in the world."

Is there a cogent argument for whether there are objective moral facts?

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I just finished an introductory ethics course in college and we talked about different perspectives
in metaethics.
We spent most time on realist vs anti-realist arguements and for my purposes here let's just
define the sole differences between these two groups are their world-view on the existence
objective moral facts.

On one hand, realists argue that objective moral facts must exist because otherwise any moral
argument can simplify to emotional expressions (i.e your sports team is bad and mine is good).

On the other anti-realists argue that objective moral facts imply quite a bit about our universe.
For example, we talked about (Crito I think?) a story in which Aristotle basically said that there
are two scenarios for why a good is "good".

Either because God defined it that way, and therefore it is arbitrary, or that it is outside of the
God's control and therefore our beliefs about God is wrong. We didn't go into too much depth,
but I was wondering if there was more to either side of this argument. And generally what do
different schools say about objective ethics?

ethics metaethics realism

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edited Feb 28 '15 at 21:25

infatuated

946410

asked Jan 14 '15 at 2:21

ibanez221

184

Greetings, welcome to philosophy.se. While I see some text, I'm having some trouble seeing a
question... Also, Crito is dialogue written by Plato purportedly about Socrates. (i.e., Aristotle is
not connected with it). I'm also a bit at a loss as to how the last paragraph connects with the
Crito or Aristotle's main ethical work, the Nicomachean Ethics. virmaior Jan 14 '15 at 8:43

It's not clear what your question, but there is answer to some of the bad philosophical
arguments about queerness and that sort of thing:
philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/14675/5759. alanf Jan 14 '15 at 14:53

yeah i agree that real moral properties would be queer user6917 Jan 15 '15 at 1:39

it may be worth noting btw that some moral realitys, weak onces, don't believe in objective
moral facts, in facts that hold independent of what we say think and feel is the case user6917
Jan 15 '15 at 1:45

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4 Answers

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accepted

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer:

Think of a convincing argument. It would start from unobjectionable premises and then through
unobjectionable chains of inferences proceed inexorably to an unobjectionable conclusion. Such
a systematic treatment is so formalized, it could be checked (or even generated) by a machine.

In short, a rigorous argument that convinces all would be tantamount to a mathematical proof.
Now examine the structures of proofs. You either proceed from premises that all accept, or you
make your proof hypothetical (i.e.: if these conditions hold, then such a conclusion must
necessarily follow as shown by these steps).

Such proofs work because they demonstrate what "is".

Yet morality is about what "ought" to be. Can you even agree on an "ought"? What would your
(unobjectionable) premises be?

This isn't to say there aren't arguments for morality or that these arguments may not convince
some people. This is to say that such arguments would not have the force of a mathematical
proof.

Now if you're willing to accept a weaker argument that proceeds on the hypothetical (assuming
X holds, then Y must follow) then you could provide an argument that all would agree would
hold in a world in which the premises are true, but this doesn't mean they'd agree they hold in
our world.

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edited Jan 14 '15 at 16:37

answered Jan 14 '15 at 16:31

R. Barzell

1,594215

This is a poor argument because it invites us to imagine that an entire class of things does not
exist without doing more than throwing the question back to the reader: does it? One might
very well say: Fermat's Last Theorem is impossible prove because it any proof would require
knowledge of some complex structure of the natural numbers, but what is this structure? Rex
Kerr Jan 14 '15 at 23:24

@RexKerr First, you write of knowledge, whereas morality is basically opinion. Second, your
objection actually supports the latter part of my answer as modern interpretations of axiomatic
mathematics treats them as a hypothetical systems. In this case, one reads the proof as "if these
axioms hold then this consequence follows". Thus, mathematical knowledge = understanding
the hypotheticals. This is the sense in which one could present a moral argument as outlined in
the latter part of my answer. R. Barzell Jan 15 '15 at 13:23

Assuming that morality is basically opinion is begging the question. That it is mere opinion
(rather than fact-based) is what you are supposed to show! This is why it is a poor answer. You
get to the key point in the argument, then say: "Oh, I can't think of a way to do this, can you?"
and then continue as if you'd demonstrated that it was impossible. Rex Kerr Jan 15 '15 at 21:35

In the context of philosophy, this argument seems like it would quickly devolve into nihilism.
James Kingsbery Jan 27 '15 at 15:19

@JamesKingsbery and? :P R. Barzell Jan 27 '15 at 23:19

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There are a number of positions that advocate for the existence of objective moral facts. This is
typically called 'moral realism', and is a conjunction of a number of claims:

Moral claims are truth-apt.

Moral claims are objective.

There are at least some true moral claims.

We can know what these true moral claims are.


We'll focus on 1 and 2. 1 amounts to the claim that non-cognitivism is false: whatever moral
claims are, they aren't merely expressions of emotion. Rather, moral claims are on a par with
scientific or mathematical claims insofar as they purport to describe some feature of the world -
specifically, the moral features. Moral claims are true when they accurately represent the moral
facts, and they are false when they don't. The important bit is that they can be true or false at
all. So, for instance, the claim that 'sufferring is bad' is not an expression of my or anyone else's
emotions or feelings - it is an expression of a fact.

On to 2. Something is true objectively if it is true independent of anyone's thoughts, feelings,


beliefs or ideas about that thing. Something is true subjectively if it is not true objectively, i.e. if
its truth depends on what people think, feel, believe etc. about it. So 2 says that the truth-values
of moral claims do not depend on what anyone thinks, or feels, or believes about them. So, for
instance, if it is true that suffering is bad, then it is not because people believe that suffering is
bad, or think that it is bad, or feel that it is bad. (More carefully: is that it is not merely because
they think, feel, or believe that suffering is bad that it is bad).

3 entails the falsity of error theories, and 4 ensures that moral agents aren't isolated from the
moral facts - they're not outside of the domain of things that we can know at all.

So, that is the core of moral realism. It can be fleshed out in other ways as well. If moral realism
is true we might ask what kind of facts are moral facts. Are they natural facts, or non-natural
facts?

Now, what cogent arguments there are for moral realism will depend on the kind of moral
realism you accept. If you're a moral non-naturalist, then Moore and Huemer give compelling
cases for their view. Their arguments will typically take the following form: (i) they'll offer up a
prima facie plausible example of a moral fact, for instance, 'torturing innocent babies just for fun
is wrong'. (ii) they'll claim that any argument which implies the falsity of 'torturing innocent
babies just for fun is wrong' will be less prima facie plausible than the truth of the fact that
torturing babies just for fun is wrong. (iii) from (i) and (ii) they'll argue that moral realism is
correct.

Different arguments exist for the different flavours of realism (see below). The point, however, is
that there are cogent arguments for moral realism, and they do deserve to be taken seriously.
Here are some links that can get you started:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-realism/ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-
realism/ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/
http://www.owl232.net/5.htm (this is a chapter from Huemer's book)

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answered Mar 1 '15 at 0:47

possibleWorld

75929

I had upvoted this, but I should have read it slightly more carefully. When you state "Something
is true subjectively if it is not true objectively, i.e. if its truth depends on what people think, feel,
believe etc. about it," this claim is confused or in error. Subjectively true and objectively true are
different - not opposites. As normally defined, something is subjectively true when a subject
takes it to be true for them. This is an important notion for Hegel (and not completely
coincidentally Searle). Some social facts are subjectively true regardless of whether they are
objectively true. virmaior Mar 1 '15 at 6:55

But they can be both objectively true and subjectively true. To give an easy example, it is
objectively true that the earth orbits the sun. It is subjectively true for those individuals who
accept that. (O: T / S:T). It is subjectively true but objectively false for some tribe that believes
the sun orbits the earth. // Social facts are different. For instance, are any two people who say
they are married married? There may be no "objective" as in beneath the social analysis for that.
virmaior Mar 1 '15 at 6:58

I agree with you that the notion 'being true for oneself' is cogent, but I'm not sure that that is
the conception of subjectivity that it is best to work with (I could be convinced, however!).
Here's my thinking in the OP: there seem to be at least two ways in which moral claims can be
true (if they are the sorts of things that can be true): they can depend on human beliefs,
thoughts, interests etc., or the cannot. All I'm using 'subjective' for is to mark out the latter view
- that moral claims depend for their truth on human thoughts, beliefs, desires, interests, or
whatever. possibleWorld Mar 2 '15 at 3:28

I'd suggest adding a "merely" in that case. Similarly, you could add a "merely" to objectively true
moral claims that are not enforced in some place. For instance, people regardless of race or age
deserve full moral consideration may be objectively true but not effectively so in many societies.
virmaior Mar 2 '15 at 3:41

If ALL moral 'facts' or principles were subjective in some non-trivial way then the relativism of
morality would be an absolute truth.... 201044 Jan 18 '16 at 18:35

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The first few chapters of CS Lewis's work Mere Christianity start by discussing why there is such a
thing as an objective morality. I'm sure many would disagree with it, but it's a serious, thoughtful
argument to be taken seriously by those who would disagree with its conclusions.

In summary, it goes something like this:

You get on a bus.

Right before you sit down, someone pushes you out of the way and takes your seat.

You react, "That's not fair!"

Your reaction appealing to fairness assumes there's a measure of fairness. If there isn't then, the
person who stole your seat might not share the same as you, and appealing to a notion of
fairness would be non-sense.

Therefore, there exists some notion of an objective moral right and wrong.

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answered Jan 27 '15 at 2:37

James Kingsbery

5,08511136

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Yes, there is an objective basis for moral values but I believe such basis is spiritual not material or
this-worldly. Here's my thesis:

Moral values stem from the higher domain of existence where all virtues and goodness are
united in a non-composite whole. All acts or expressions of goodness and morality in the
material domain emanate from their perfect form in this higher domain. However the essentially
pluralistic, divisive nature of the material domain and its time-space restrictions both manifests
and at the same times degrades, dissipates and obscures this transcendental perfect goodness.
Mistaking this perfect transcendental goodness for its imperfect this-worldly manifestations is
considered to be the cause of all moral vice/evil. Because such an illusion leads one to pursue
goodness/virtue in sources other than the real transcendental source and through means other
than the spiritual.

To better makes sense of the above philosophy, here's a concrete example: a poor person desires
wealth for s/he sees many benefits in material possessions, e.g. physical comfort, better chance
of marrying a beautiful/handsome partner, public respect etc. However such identification of
goodness is an illusion. The illusion is in that physical comfort is only a degraded manifestation of
spiritual peace; likewise human beauty is a only descended form of angelic spiritual beauty and
public respect is only a this-worldly manifestation of God's majesty; and thus all the former sets
of perceived goodness are subject to the limitations I mentioned in the first paragraph of my
thesis.

While the pursuit of these lower this-worldly forms via this worldly means usually involve
immoral sentiments (e.g. greed, selfishness and pride) that in turn lead to such immoral
practices as hoarding wealth, being stingy, stealing, fraud, demagogy, etc leading to inflicting
harm on others, pursuit of goodness by going to its real transcendental source, on the contrary,
generates both personal and general good; for finding spiritual peace requires letting go off
stressful preoccupation with material pursuits, attaining real original beauty (which would be
similar to its transcendental source spiritual rather than material) requires establishing
communion with the higher source via prayer and meditation which would on the contrary lead
to humility, benevolence and charity rather than pride and selfishness etc. Thus the person not
only acquires the real original goodness whose illusion the former had only tasted, but the
society will also benefit from the external 'spill-over' of his/her internally realized goodness!
Such is the objective root of goodness and morality!

The above thesis draws upon Plato's idea of Perfect Forms, Neo-platonic theory of Goodness and
Intellectual Forms, and theistic view of goodness and morality.

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answered Feb 28 '15 at 12:07

infatuated

946410

This may be a poor observation but if we are all sensory and behavioural automatons or
'puppets' that 'follow' pre-determinate paths of action then any 'objective facts about anyones
behaviour could certainly be called 'moral' if the 'pre-determinate' actions are in line with some
'after-the-fact' interpretation that is 'called' morality. 201044 Jan 4 '16 at 4:12

@201044, Yes, but that's also why with naturalism (and its different formulations, i.e.
mechanism, physicalism etc) there can be no real morality. We tend to associate greed and
arrogance and savageness with immorality but those are just "natural" behaviors if we are purely
natural or mechanistic beings. infatuated Jan 4 '16 at 7:22

Could an accused person of some crime just claim that because of naturalism we are all puppets
with no more responsibility than an accidental fire has if it destroys priceless works of art.
201044 Jan 14 '16 at 8:14
Could certain people or writers promote the idea we are all behavioral and sensory automatons
or puppets so much other people listening or reading this might believe moral responsibilities
and behavior are just illusions. Actions carried out by 'pre-programmed instinctual activity 'hard-
wired' into the brain and any sense having a personal 'mental' intention to cause some actions is
phony. Therefore people might think morals do not exist. Of course the academics promoting
this could say since there are no morals and we are all puppets they are just doing what we are
'programmed to do. 201044 Jan 25 '16 at 15:31

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Your Answer

The Queerness Argument [closed]

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I am looking for the best way to counter the Argument from Queerness by Mackie.

Does anyone have a "standard" way to counter Mackie's argument? Is there an example which

metaphysics

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edited Jul 16 '14 at 20:11

Hunan Rostomyan

4,58531435
asked Jul 16 '14 at 17:22

mmundiff

1041

closed as unclear what you're asking by Joseph Weissman Nov 15 '14 at 17:47

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need.
As it's currently written, its hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for
help clarifying this question.

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Could you be clearer about what you mean by 'standard'? virmaior Jul 16 '14 at 20:14

Is "Argument from queerness" not just another way to say "Reductio ad absurdum"? Niel de
Beaudrap Jul 16 '14 at 21:37

natural moral properties WOULD be awful queer. surely the point is that actually there's no
imperative to objective etc. values. right ? user6917 Sep 15 '14 at 18:49

Is there any chance you could explore this a little further?? Joseph Weissman Nov 15 '14 at
17:47

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2 Answers

active oldest votes

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1
down vote

I haven't seen this anywhere, but I would raise the specter of laws of nature with causal powers
as 'queer' entities. We know that laws like F = ma are entirely descriptive; objects do not obey F
= ma [to various approximations] because of F = ma. A compelling reason to believe this is that in
certain regimes, F = ma is a very bad approximation: high gravity and relativistic speeds.
Therefore, F = ma has no causal power; the causal power relies somewhere else. (I will ignore
the Regularity Theory on the basis of Rom Harr's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity.)

What is the nature of these causally potent laws of nature? They dictate how [physical] things
must be and how they must change. But they don't lie in the things, as if they're another kind of
'thing-hood'. Indeed, they appear to be an entirely different ontological category than physical
things. These laws of nature have to be kind of like God: timeless and omnipresent. Edward
Feser makes this point:

First, when scientists like Carroll confidently proclaim that we can explain such-and-such in terms
of the laws of physics rather than God, what they are saying, without realizing it, is: The
explanation isnt God, its rather the laws of physics, where law of physics originally meant a
decree of God and where I dont have any worked-out alternative account of what it means.
Hence the alternative explanation, when unpacked, is really either a tacit appeal to God or a
non-explanation. In short, either it isnt alternative, or its not an explanation. The utter
cluelessness of this stock naturalistic alternative explanation would make of it an object of
ridicule if it were not so routinely and confidently put forward by otherwise highly intelligent,
educated, and widely esteemed people.

So, unless a non-God-like formulation of the laws of nature can be provided, where these
causally potent laws aren't very, very different from the normal stuff of physicalism (or
philosophical naturalism, I think), the defender of the queerness argument is engaged in special-
pleading by refusing to let moral laws be 'queer', while giving the 'queerness' of natural laws a
pass.

There is much debate and uncertainty about what 'laws of nature' really are; see for example
Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles.

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answered Nov 14 '14 at 18:40


labreuer

2,334623

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There is a counterargument to Mackie, albeit one that many philosophers wouldn't accept.

The argument from queerness is described by Mackie in "Ethical Theory: An Anthology", Second
ed., edited by Russ Shafer-Landau, Chapter 3, especially pp. 28-29. On p.24 he describes what
sort of values he denies:

A categorical imperative, then, would express a reason for acting which was unconditional in the
sense of not being contingent upon any present desire of the agent to whose satisfaction the
recommended action would contribute as a means or more directly: You ought to dance, if
the implied reason is just that you want to dance or like dancing, is still a hypothetical
imperative. Now Kant himself held that moral judgements are categorical imperatives, or
perhaps are all applications of one categorical imperative, and it can plausibly be maintained at
least that many moral judgements contain a categorically imperative element. So far as ethics is
concerned, my thesis that there are no objective values is specifically the denial that any such
categorically imperative element is objectively valid. The objective values which I am denying
would be action-directing absolutely, not contingently (in the way indicated) upon the agents
desires and inclinations.

...

If I have succeeded in specifying precisely enough the moral values whose objectivity I am
denying, my thesis may now seem to be trivially true.

So then what is the argument from queerness? On p. 28 he writes:


Even more important, however, and certainly more generally applicable, is the argument from
queerness. This has two parts, one metaphysical, the other epistemological. If there were
objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort,
utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we were aware of them,
it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different
from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else.

He then claims that the best way to counter this problem is to look for other similar knowledge
that is just as queer and gives a list of examples. He then goes on to write:

The only adequate reply to it would be to show how, on empiricist foundations, we can construct
an account of the ideas and beliefs and knowledge that we have of all these matters.

The emphasis is mine, not his.

No argument for anything can be constructed on empiricist foundations or on any other


foundations. If you assess ideas using argument then the arguments have premises and rules of
inference and the result of the argument may not be true (or probably true) if the premises and
rules of inference are false. You might try to solve this by coming up with a new argument that
proves the premises and rules of inference but then you have the same problem with those
premises and rules of inference. You might say that some stuff is indubitably true (or probably
true), and you can use that as a foundation. But that just means you have cut off a possible
avenue of intellectual progress since the foundation can't be explained in terms of anything
deeper. And in any case there is nothing that can fill that role. Sense experience won't work since
you can misinterpret information from your sense organs, e.g. - optical illusions. Sense organs
also fail to record lots of stuff that does exist, e.g. - neutrinos. Scientific instruments aren't
infallible either since you can make mistakes in setting them up, in interpreting information from
them and so on.

We don't create knowledge (useful or explanatory information) by showing stuff is true or


probably true for reasons so how do we create knowledge? We can only create knowledge by
finding mistakes in our current ideas and correcting them piecemeal. You notice a problem with
your current ideas, propose solutions, criticise the solutions until only one is left and then find a
new problem. We shouldn't say that a theory is false because it hasn't been proven because this
applies to all theories. Rather, we should look at what problems it aims to solve and ask whether
it solves them. We should look at whether it is compatible with other current knowledge and if
not try to figure out the best solution. Should the new idea be discarded or the old idea or can
some variant of both solve the problem?
In the light of this there is another problem with what Mackie is saying. He specifies that
morality would tell an agent to do something that is not contingent on "any present desire". But
any position can be undermined by proposing criticisms it can't answer and an alternative that
solves the resulting problems. Present desires are no different from any other position in this
respect.

But then how to we find moral knowledge? The answer is that you specify some goal and work
out what sort of behaviour would be required to do it if you take it seriously as an explanation
and apply it universally. And it turns out that no matter what goal you choose maximising the
extent to which you can do it pushes you in the direction of doing some things and not others.
And if you choose the wrong goal, that's all right too since the goal can be corrected by critical
discussion in the light of other explanations. For more on this topic see

http://www.curi.us/1169-morality.

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answered Jul 17 '14 at 14:52

alanf

4,485515

Again, your claims would be a lot better if you learned to tone down your universals (e.g. "No
argument for anything can be constructed on empiricist foundations or on any other
foundations"). A large swath of philosophers and others would disagree. virmaior Jul 17 '14 at
17:11

E.g. this appears to be a type of foundational claim: "We can only create knowledge by finding
mistakes in our current ideas and correcting them piecemeal" (and one stated in universal
terms) virmaior Jul 17 '14 at 17:12
My statements would be worse if I toned them down. Either I am right or I am wrong. If I am
wrong about that statement then that it important and somebody should come up with an
argument explaining why, which is a lot easier if I don't hedge and there is a true criticism. The
claim you cited is not foundational in the sense of providing a foundation from which to prove
stuff. It's a guess that has survived criticism. I guess about the consequences of the guess in the
light of other guesses. alanf Jul 18 '14 at 8:55

Toning down and hedging are two different things. virmaior Jul 18 '14 at 9:11

I'm not really sure how you prove anything without some manner of foundation -- even if that
foundation is only held tentatively. To give just a very basic foundation held implicitly by most of
us, it's that we believe in a consistent world in terms of the laws that govern it. If we thought
these changed arbitrarily, the very pursuit of knowledge would make no sense. virmaior Jul 18
'14 at 9:14

Creating knowledge doesn't involve proving anything: it involves guesses and criticism. Now you
say that the world has a consistent set of laws. Note that your argument against rejecting that
position is a criticism not a proof. If you changed that position arbitrarily, the pursuit of
knowledge would make no sense. You might say this argument is a proof because you claim that
the conclusion follows from the premises but I could point out potential flaws. What does
arbitrarily mean in this context? I can also do the same with any replacement you propose.
alanf Jul 18 '14 at 11:05

arbitrarily means in this case randomly, chaotically, or in some way that reflects mere caprice.
Don't have any idea how you are distinguish "criticism" and "proof" here. -- I don't have any idea
what you're talking about with your last sentence. virmaior Jul 18 '14 at 12:39

Criticism: an argument that a theory does not solve a problem. A criticism postulates a link
between a theory and some other idea that has a flaw. Proof: an argument that shows a theory
is true or probably true. In any proof you can pick one of the steps and say it might be false as a
result of a flaw in a rule of inference or premise. There is no way to rule out all conceivable flaws
and so there is no such thing as a proof. alanf Jul 18 '14 at 12:55

There is apparently such a thing as arbitrary definitions... virmaior Jul 18 '14 at 13:58
The definitions aren't arbitrary. Proof is pretty standard en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_(truth) The
way of using the word criticism used above is motivated by critical rationalism a la Popper and
Bartley. alanf Jul 18 '14 at 16:39

A criticism of the "only route to knowledge is criticism of guesses" is that (a) It's evident from
learning even a small amount of philosophy that pretty much any idea is criticised by those who
disagree, and (b) it's by no means apparent that the most compelling criticism has been made.
Thus by your definition there is (a) no knowledge and (b) no reason to suppose that a less-
criticised guess is more accurate than another - demoocracy is a rather blunt instrument to
determine truth! AndrewC Sep 15 '14 at 18:01

(+) To counter (a) you must appoint some arbiter between more valid and less valid criticism, and
suddenly you have moved from empiricism to belief or authority. Furthermore your implication
in comments that your theory of knowledge surpasses others because they lack criticism is as
self referential as asserting that truth is defined as what I assert; it's true only by its own
definition rather than external justification. Since I've now criticised this theory is it no longer
knowledge, or does (+) apply? AndrewC Sep 15 '14 at 18:02

Your argument about the invalidity of arguing from axioms is invalidated by your empiricism
criterion for knowledge, since no theory has proven more true empirically and withstood any
criticism leveled at it than arithmetic in particular, and much of mathematics in general. Science
itself hs a long history of discarded previously-accepted conclusions, mathematics has not.
Empirical truths don't stand the test of time as well as axiomatic or mathematical truths.
AndrewC Sep 15 '14 at 18:07

A criticism is an argument that an idea doesn't solve a problem. That argument is either right or
wrong and if it is wrong then it is a failed criticism. This has nothing to do with how many people
believe the criticism is right or with belief or authority. I have no empiricist criterion for
knowledge. I wrote: "No argument for anything can be constructed on empiricist foundations or
on any other foundations." Also, maths does have a long history of discarded previously
accepted ideas, see "Proofs and Refutations" by Imre Lakatos for examples. alanf Sep 16 '14 at
7:54
@AndrewC:but they can become irrelevant... Mozibur Ullah Sep 20 '14 at 8:56

Also Algebraic Geometry has gone through four iterations of theory building - Italian (naive),
Weil , Zariski (valuational), Grothendieck (schemes) - this century; with another one on the
horizon; thats quite a lot of theory discarding... Mozibur Ullah Sep 20 '14 at 9:07

does mackey really say that morality most be foundationalist? it's not clear he's saying that, i
believe u have misread him. user6917 Jan 15 '15 at 2:00

He specifically says moral knowledge would have to be constructed "on empiricist foundations",
see the quote from Mackie in my answer. alanf Jan 15 '15 at 9:29

Is there a cogent argument against the principle of sufficient reason?

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As far as I can see, there are no significant arguments against the principle that all events have a
cause, which is to say the principle of sufficient reason. (It's important to note that the seemingly
identical idea that all effects have causes is a circular argument based on the mutual definitions
of "cause" and "effect".) While the idea seems intuitively obvious and therefore self-evident, we
hold many counter-intuitive ideas to be true.

Has anyone proposed a serious argument that events sometimes are not caused?

Clarification: The question title may be misleading because it suggests that the question is an
epistemological one, but my actual question is metaphysical (or perhaps even ontological).
Whether or not we can always (or even ever) know the sufficient reasons for an event is beside
the point (unless it can be shown that we always can know the cause of every event).

I've been asked to define what I mean by an event. That's a bit more than I can take on at the
moment, but the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests that we have a "prima facie
commitment to entities of this sort." If I had to suggest a definition, I'd say an event is a discrete
observation or inference about a period of time. That I was married is an event that was
observed by many people. That the sun was formed is an event inferred by the current state of
the universe. Of course, that definition has an assumption buried in it that makes the question
less interesting: inference implies causation. So we need to find a definition that conforms to our
intuition of what an event is, but does not implicitly conform to our intuition that events are
caused.

For the purposes of this question, the best definition of an event is that it is something that
happens. Do things happen for which there is no cause?

metaphysics causation

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edited Apr 13 at 12:42

Community

asked Nov 17 '11 at 6:25

Jon Ericson

4,5952350

+1 I've always dismissed the idea of asking this question myself because I thought the answer to
be blatantly obvious (no). However, it is always better to ask and get "no" for an answer then not
ask at all and never know for sure. :) I eagerly await references to literature on this idea (if they
exist)... ^_^ stoicfury Nov 17 '11 at 7:05
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3 Answers

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Actually, there are a number of significant arguments against the principle of sufficient reason;
you can find them in Sextus Empiricus, Hume, Wittgenstein and Ngrjuna to name but a few.

In terms of accessibility, I suppose I'd recommend starting with Hume's view, which you can read
about here or here, followed by Wittgenstein on rule-following, which you can read about here.

Of course, if you are more familiar with classical literature, you can check out Sextus Empiricus
(Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Book III, if I recall correctly); similarly, if you are more familiar with
Buddhist philosophy, you can begin with Book I of the Mlamadhyamakakrik.

EDIT:

I should clarify that none of these thinkers suggest that there are events that are uncaused; this
is one of the positions that Ngrjuna explicitly rejects in the first verse of the
Mlamadhyamakakrik. Rather, each calls into question the notion of causality, and attacks
either the notion of "sufficiency" or the notion of "reason" with regard to the matter.

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edited Nov 17 '11 at 19:51

answered Nov 17 '11 at 12:51

Michael Dorfman
20.8k12657

Although I haven't read Sextus Empiricus, Ngrjuna, and (regrettably) Wittgenstein at any
length, I know that although Hume found no "necessary connexion" between events, he didn't
actually suggest that there are events which are uncaused and he agrees that we are still forced
to live by live by our notion of causality: "...We are nonetheless always determined to proceed in
accordance with this supposition. There is a natural basis or principle for all our arguments
from experience, even if there is no ultimate foundation in reasoning (EHU 5.45; SBN 4243)".
stoicfury Nov 17 '11 at 16:57

@stoicfury: Good point. I was attempting to answer the question in the title, not the final query
in the text of the question. I'll edit later tonight to reflect this point. Thanks. Michael Dorfman
Nov 17 '11 at 17:04

So this is really an answer to the question of "can we know the cause of all events?" not "do all
events have a cause?" The first is really an epistemological question whereas my question is a
metaphysical one. ;-) Jon Ericson Nov 17 '11 at 21:36

@JonEricson: It's an attempt to answer "Is there a cogent argument against the principle of
sufficient reason?" which has metaphysical and epistemological components. One easy entrance
to this is through contemplating the logical fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Michael
Dorfman Nov 18 '11 at 7:49

The question comes down to what we mean by "causality", which is much more complex than
people realize. What is the difference between saying "A happened, and then B happened" and
"B happened because A happened"? We might suppose, inferentially, that if B happens every
time A happens, then we can say that A causes B; but here we are into issues of Humean
regularities and Wittgensteinian rule-following. So let us switch tacks for a moment, and suppose
there were an uncaused event-- how would we know? What would be the distinguishing
characteristic of said event? Michael Dorfman Nov 18 '11 at 20:34

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1
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I'm not sure the idea of "reason" is sufficiently specifiable for the question to make sense. I am
not familiar with arguments that events are not caused, but there are at least a couple of
reasons to be worried.

Since quantum mechanics seems non-deterministic, one could argue that things do indeed
happen without reason...or one could broaden the definition of "things" and "reason" so that
QM fits nicely within the box.

Also, we don't have direct access to causes; all we have is sense data about what is happening. A
cause is thus a generalization of a statistical measurement on sense data; a reason invokes the
appropriate conditions and causes. However, in certain cases we have dreadfully little statistical
data (e.g. how many universe-creation-events have we witnessed, or does it even make sense to
think of this as an event?), so there is dramatically less reason to think that all events are caused
in such situations.

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answered Nov 18 '11 at 6:29

Rex Kerr

13.9k11036

But surely the entire enterprise of quantum mechanics and science in general is predicated on
there being causes to all events? Whether or not we can know the cause is an entirely different
question. Statistical causes may still sufficient causes even if we can't know deterministically
beforehand what will happen. Jon Ericson Nov 18 '11 at 19:56

@JonEricson - That depends what you mean by cause. Something caused something from the
set {X1, X2, X3, ...} to happen, but "nothing" may have determined which Xi was selected. Rex
Kerr Nov 19 '11 at 6:17
That seems an argument against determinism, not the principle in question. What I'm asking
about is the view that events may have the null set of causes. ;-) Jon Ericson Nov 20 '11 at
20:02

@JonEricson - What is an event? If I say that the-photon-passed-through-the-polarizer is the


event, then it was necessary for the photon to hit the polarizer, but not sufficient. If I say that
the-atom's-nucleus-ejected-an-alpha-particle, it was necessary to have an atom with a nucleus.
Events with a null set of causes can't really affect anything that exists, or you can add in
whatever the event affects as part of the event (otherwise you can't detect that it happened).
That makes them rather limited in everyday experience. Rex Kerr Nov 20 '11 at 22:19

@JonEricson - With that clarification, I reiterate that your question is equivalent to asking about
determinism, and determinism seems like a bad model given QM: if you ask why did that go left
(as the event) the answer is just, because sometimes it goes left instead of right as an answer.
That's pretty causeless, even if you can put numbers on the fraction left and fraction right, and
it's predictable. Rex Kerr Nov 22 '11 at 19:37

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It's difficult to know how an argument against the principle could begin. As humans, we seem to
have a deeply ingrained model of the universe that implies all events have causes. Our instinct
seems to be to assume a cause without having any explicit evidence that a cause can even exist.
Consider the case of the the beginning of the universe. If any event is likely to be causeless, it is
that event. And yet, there exist any number of theories that attempt to explain the Big Bang. Our
intuition that everything has a cause seems to literally have no boundsnot even the universe
can contain it.

One avenue of attack would be to suggest that our model of causation was itself uncaused and
therefore it is not reliable. But that naturally leads us to question how we can make an argument
against the idea of causation based on the principle of sufficient causes. (I am reminded of
Plantinga's concept of defeaters here.) And more damaging, the argument, if it succeeds, merely
shows that we can't trust our intuition, not that our intuition is false. It would be an attack on
the epistemological question, not the metaphysical one.
We aren't asking about Determinism, which says that if we know the current state of the
universe and the rules that govern it we can (in theory) know every other state of the universe.
There are certainly good arguments against that hypothesis. And if we could find an argument
against the "principle of sufficient reason", we could debunk determinism easily enough. (If
things just happen, we can't very well predict them.)

But showing that determinism is a bad model for reality has no bearing on this question at all. If I
find a coin on the ground with heads showing, there are any number of ways it could have
gotten there. But since we all accept the principle of sufficient reason, we all agree that
something must have caused the coin to be there and we all reject the idea that coins
spontaneously appear on the ground. Nor is it a problem that the coin is showing heads rather
than tails because there exist approximately equal number of causes that result in that state as
opposed to the other. A coin carefully balanced on its edge excludes a number of causes, but we
are certain that we will eventually find some set of causes that result in that state even if can
never be sure which particular cause actualized it.

Quantum mechanics is a model of parts of the universe that suggests a number of counter-
intuitive results, but as far as I can tell people who explore the model still expect to discover
some set of causes for everything they observe. A simple test of that assertion is to imagine
what will happen if a scientist notices something that the theory does not predict. They will
likely redo the experiment, reinterpret their results, adjust the theory, or some combination of
the above. What they won't do is say, "Oh well. Things sometimes happen that don't have any
reason at all to happen."

Summary

There's no evidence that disproves the principle of sufficient reason (and precious little that
proves it), so we can continue to behave as if it is true without fear of behaving irrationally.

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edited Apr 13 at 12:42


Community

answered Nov 22 '11 at 20:43

Jon Ericson

4,5952350

You have not properly characterized quantum mechanics. Because of Bell's Inequality, physicists
do not expect to find any reason for a particular choice of observable. They have simply
expanded their definition of "reason" to include "picks at random from such-and-so probability
distribution". Rex Kerr Nov 22 '11 at 21:34

@Rex Kerr: I fail to see how our discovery of quantum mechanics is materially different than our
discovery of probability. A probabilistic theory of causation is still a theory of causation. But we
seem doomed to be talking right past each other, so I think I'll just let this drop, if you don't
mind. Jon Ericson Nov 22 '11 at 21:49

You're missing the central point. Probability can be used either because there is a cause for each
outcome but we do not know it, so we talk about distributions of outcomes instead; or because
there is no cause for which outcome, only that there will be an outcome. But I agree that we are
talking past each other, so I will stop. Rex Kerr Nov 22 '11 at 21:56

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What are the most influential arguments for the existence of real external objects?
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I asked this in a previous form, but since I asked for a "proof" of mind-independent objects I
understandably got few takers.

It appears that ever since the "modern" subjective turn, from Descartes through Locke and Kant,
there has been a lingering agnosticism concerning the "real" existence of external or mind-
independent objects. Significantly, this was never even an issue for the ancients, though
"appearances" were. Even for modern empiricists and positivists it is not the naive "object" that
is directly perceived but our "idea" of the object.

Yet science gets on with its business, and even philosophical language seems to fall back on a
common-sense ontology, "sense-data" models, or a phenomenology that simply dispenses with
the problem.

Due to big gaps in my reading, I am unclear how this problem has been typically treated. What
are the most influtential contemporary arguments for a common sense ontology or the
existence of mind-independent objects? Or does the matter simply continue in a state of "as if"
agnosticism?

epistemology metaphysics reference-request empiricism

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asked Oct 9 '15 at 14:41

Nelson Alexander

7,1722934

3
I don't know enough to feel confident about responding (given my position that we can't tell and
it never mattered anyway), but I think the two main ones are pragmatics (we act as if they
existed) and consistency (the inter-relationships and stability of sense experience is most
parsimoniously explained by an external reality). R. Barzell Oct 9 '15 at 15:31

@ R. Barzell "it never mattered anyway" I think you miss the point of one of the most important
philosophical matters in the history of philosophy John Am Oct 9 '15 at 16:07

@JohnAm Something matters if it will change behavior, and by this definition, ontology doesn't
matter. For instance, if I bump my foot on a table, it's the pain that motivates me to act, not
some belief about whether the table really exists (whatever that means). In all fairness, my belief
that other minds exist motivates my stance towards them (that others can suffer gives weight to
consequentialist ethics), so in that sense, ontology matters. However, some philosophers (like
Berkeley) have proposed ways in which a idealism need not imply solipsism. R. Barzell Oct 9 '15
at 16:24

@R. Barzell Can you affirm logically that other minds exist or you rely on belief and you don't
care about the secureness of such a belief? Do you really think the philosophy has often wasted
time on silly problems? John Am Oct 9 '15 at 16:31

Worrall, the current proponent of structural realism, calls Putnam's no miracles argument the
"master argument" for realism courses.washington.edu/phil560/Worrall.pdf He admits though
that "representations of the NMA as either an attempted deduction or as an unadorned
probabilistic argument are... undeniably and straightforwardly invalid... The argument should
be thought of as doing little more than setting the default position." This "little more" lets him
argue "for" realism by arguing that no objection to it is conclusive. But one can make a similar
maneuver with solipsism. Conifold Oct 10 '15 at 21:34

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I consider the success of natural science the strongest argument for the existence of "real"
external objects. It is very influential in so far it convinces at least all natural scientists :-)

The results of natural sciences are intersubjectively testable. In general, the experts find
consensus whether a scientific claim should be accepted as valid or should be refused. In the
domain of experimental physics, measurements of one group must - and can - be confirmed by
measurements of other groups.

The most simple explanation for the fitting of the measurements of different groups is the
hypothesis that all groups measure properties of the same external objects.

On the other hand, I consider Kant's introduction of the concept "thing-in-it itself", about which
we do not know anything, a deep insight and a warning against a naive realism: We measure
only what passes the filter of our instruments and we construct our knowledge from this input.
Hence our knowledge about the external world is at first restricted in its scope. And secondly, it
is branded with the characteristics of our mental capabilities.

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edited Oct 12 '15 at 21:08

answered Oct 9 '15 at 21:56

Jo Wehler

11.4k1940

Again, I don't know who down voted,but this is a good answer, in the broad sense. It's true that
this question seems to have been off-loaded onto the "opinions" of scientists, some of whom are
positivists, some idealists, most pragmatist. Nelson Alexander Oct 10 '15 at 2:09

Success of science by itself is not an argument for realism since it can be explained along neo-
Kantian or naturalistic lines, there is even scientific anti-realism. The missing piece is something
like "it would be a miracle if science could be this successful without latching on to something
real", the Putnam's no miracles argument. Unfortunately, NMA is a case of the base rate fallacy,
and recourse to the inference to best explanation does not save it, as modern realists like
Worrall admit. courses.washington.edu/phil560/Worrall.pdf +1 for the last paragraph. Conifold
Oct 10 '15 at 21:47

@Conifold Could you please expand a bit: What does neo-Kantianism object against taking the
high consensus about measurements of independent groups as an argument for the existence of
real external objects? - My answer did not deal with the different question, whether the
predictive power of a certain theory is an argument in favour of its truth. Concerning that
question I tend to the view that we can never decide that a given scientific theory is true. Best
we can do, is to falsify a wrong theory and to state a better hypothesis. Jo Wehler Oct 10 '15 at
22:52

Let me give you Quine's version, neo-Kantians (e.g. Friedman) are less cynical. Paraphrasing, I
affirm says Quine that things, and less so electrons, really exist. Where "exist" means that we can
talk about them, and "really" that we can understand each other talking. Basically, both groups
believe that intersubjectivity is established through social practice here, not through
correspondence with x out there. Even Kant's things in themselves are realism in name only, for
all he lets on about them "they" might as well be Parmenides's One. Non-hollow realism proved
hard to defend. Conifold Oct 10 '15 at 23:31

@Conifold Please indicate a reference to corresponding papers of Quine and Friedman, thanks.
Jo Wehler Oct 11 '15 at 21:52

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Here i present a rational dialectical view. i.e. When i watch a painting of course i have an idea of
the painting but i know under certain circumstances that this is an objective idea. It corresponds
to the painting itself and it is not an idea of an elephant camouflaged as a painting tricking my
mind. Of course looking and thinking about the painting does not magically present me the
"whole reality" of this painting, but i can study it if i like i.e. the paper, the technique, the
meaning, the era everything, and at the end i will know that i study this specific painting
objectively and not some hidden elephant like the Kantian thing-in-itself. So here it is:
Considering "external reality of objects" is a bit tricky. External is regarded in opposition with
"ourselves"-minds. Reality is ascribed on objects that exist on themselves in contrast with
imaginations, some other type of false existence or non-existence. Objects are the things under
consideration.

So let's consider an example: I have here in my room a nice drawing above my bed. Is this
external object real? I watch it everyday for the last 2 years so it must be real. Is there a
possibility i watch an optical illusion for two years and i can also sense the paper etc? Sense and
assumption can fool me but let's speculate that i confirm the existence of the object in a rational
way. (i bring the poor scientists from the other answer so to make their tests on the painting and
on me). So it should be real. On the other hand this painting is a specific object. A lot of people
have drawings and have the same type of experience that these objects are real. Of course all
these paintings are not the same object. Each of these is a different one. And we all confirm
according to our experience tested in a rational way that these objects are real and different.

Now let's consider that I take the painting and shred it to pieces. Is the object of the painting still
real? No, now it is a shredded painting. Actually it is a mishmash of colored paper. What
happened to the reality of the painting? It no longer exists. I still have a memory of the painting
before i shred it to pieces. But from now on, it is no more an external but an internal
presentation in my memory of the object before i destroyed it. The reality of the painting object
was so fragile that it could stand only a small amount of force before it turns to its opposite. If I
come to your house and i brought with me a bulk of shred colored paper and i present it to you
and i say "here is a nice painting, i bring it to you as a gift", you will surely suppose that i' m a
fool.

Now i have a bulk of paper. Is it real? Yes it is real. What will happen if i burn it, will it still be
real? Of course not. The paper is gonna turn to ashes and energy. The paper/object i had has
disappeared and is no more real. Now i have to do with the reality of this lump of ash and the
heat that diffused in the environment.

So the most influential arguments for the "existence of real external objects" must take into
account all aspects of the being. Existence is a dialectical category and is contradicted with non-
existence. Worst of all, objects are real and not real at the same time. I'm real as a man but also
I'm not really an elephant.
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answered Oct 10 '15 at 2:05

John Am

1,084530

I gave an up vote for your effort, but wish you stop down voting all over the place because
answers are not your answers. The closest you get to a specific answer is: "arguments for
'existence of real external objects' must take into account all aspects of the being." That's not
very helpful. Nelson Alexander Oct 10 '15 at 2:21

Sorry, you seem to have interrupted my completed comment. That was a fragment. My
"permission" is irrelevant. You give no references in your answer. The fate of your "drawing" is a
reiteration of Descartes' famous identity of "wax," and your "contradiction of nonexistence"
seems like a bad or vague misreading of the early sections of Hegel's "Science of Logic." Your
arguments, minus citation, seem to rest on something like your "originality," your "certainty,"
and your "innate intelligence." Plus, when needed, Wikipedia. Forgive me, this is not a
compelling style of argumentation. Nelson Alexander Oct 10 '15 at 3:02

I am original, certain and innate intelligent. And at the same time i' m not. The same applies to
you. You are not always an anti realist, an illusionist, and a person who doesn't know the
meaning of the words. Life is simple. It's out there. John Am Oct 10 '15 at 14:57

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One of the big issues here is what you consider to be "real" and "external". We have to have
some sort of definitions of these terms. You seem to be implying by this that you want to know if
objects have existence independent of our own conscious perception of them.
The problem with this is that once you cease to be conscious your perspective ceases--so you
have no way of ascertaining the existence of anything. One possible argument would be that
there is a point during sleep where we cease to be conscious, yet consciousness is later revived.
There is still, however, a continuous experience, and we perceive in the world that this is the
result of continuous brain activity even during unconsciousness. Even if we doubted the reality
of the brain, we could imagine that a similar process might be at play with our mind--our
consciousness "sleeps" and "wakes" but continuous experience marches on.

So if our continuous experience finally ceased, we still have no evidence that there would be the
independent existence of anything. We can't because we are confined to our own perspective.

However, given that we cannot perceive anything prior to our continuous experience and we
cannot perceive anything following it, our continuous experience is the only reality we know--
and it makes sense to treat it as such. Within our continuous experience, we do observe that
objects continue on despite our period of unconsciousness, and there is no evidence within our
continuous experience that our mind is capable of producing such a vast, complex, and
persistent world whole cloth.

Therefore, short of a future revelation from beyond our present continuous experience that
gives us reason to doubt the "reality" and "externality" of objects around us, these objects are
the most "real" and most "external" things we know.

One could call this pragmatic, but really we have no way of defining anything more real or more
external than that which we know.

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answered Oct 9 '15 at 15:33

called2voyage

291211
Thanks, don't know who down voted, but I voted back up. Yes, this is somewhat like "object
permanence" in child psychology. We learn that objects are "gone" then return, seemingly the
same. (Hume might find this a very poor proof.) But it does not seem that anyone really makes
such inferences to solve some prior problem with the "given object." It's "just there." You may
be right, everyone has pramatically just set the problem aside as useless. Nelson Alexander Oct
9 '15 at 15:45

@NelsonAlexander For contemporary exploration of similar lines of reasoning, see Jrgen


Habermas. called2voyage Oct 9 '15 at 15:48

@NelsonAlexander Consider one approach people use to challenge the "realness" of reality: the
idea that it is all a simulation. The problem is that the simulation is what we are acquainted with
as reality, so the world beyond the simulation would be a "meta-reality" not a reality from our
perspective. called2voyage Oct 9 '15 at 15:52

I down voted because this answer don't address a rationalist way of argument, it argues based
only in experience and after a lot of unnecessary words it finishes exhausted, with only a mere
affirmation in quotation marks of the reality of external objects. John Am Oct 9 '15 at 16:03

@JohnAm My answer is not meant to conclude any reality, but instead point out the difficulty in
doing so. Rationalism is not explicitly mentioned, but is implied in that one cannot empirically
verify the existence of objects. Instead one has to reason that one cannot perceive any other
existence. Furthermore, an answer need not be exhaustive; other answers may supplement.
called2voyage Oct 9 '15 at 16:10

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What counters are there to Spinoza's argument that acts of free will create infinite regress?
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My 16-to-21-year-old self was very preoccupied with free will. When I was 21 years old I rejected
the notion as ill-defined as both my reason and my inner experience told me that my will was
caused and had to be caused. I thought that people who believed that their will was free had to
accept the existence of a bubble around themselves, protecting them from cause and effect. I
said to myself, "If my will were free, it would be able to decide to will some things and not to will
other things. For that, there would have to be a meta-will, willing to decide to will some things
and not to will other things. That would make my will bound by the meta-will, so for it to be free
they would both have to be one. And one with the further meta-wills." I found that to contradict
my inner experience. I later found that Spinoza argued against free will in a similar manner. (At
least, that's how I understood what I read from him.)

If I remember correctly, I settled on telling myself that the adjective "free" simply made no sense
next to the noun "will". I decided that will did not make any decisions so it couldn't be called free
at all.

I am not preoccupied with free will now, I'm not a teenager, I'm hopefully done with the mental
torment these questions (and lots of other things) caused me, and my inner experience has
changed very much. I'm actually not sure what I think about free will now and I see some weak
points in my younger-self's arguments. And I'm curious to read what people have thought about
this. And since I found Spinoza's arguments strikingly close to what I thought and felt, I would
like to know how people have countered them.

metaphysics philosophy-of-mind free-will spinoza neurophilosophy

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edited Sep 25 '16 at 23:56

Conifold

21.3k1978
asked Feb 17 '16 at 2:04

ymar

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This is obviously personal, but hopefully it makes enough sense to be a reasonable question.
Please let me know if that is not the case. ymar Feb 17 '16 at 2:13

Just wanted to echo that your short history is very similar to mine. I came to the conclusion that
most discussions about free will were meaningless, because the concept is ill-defined. There is a
decision-making mechanism in the brain, obviously (which I think is a mathematical chaotic
system), but 'free will' is as sloppy a term as something like 'vital essence' kbelder Feb 17 '16 at
17:09

Your choice of framing it purely in terms of Spinoza's philosophy with a backdrop of personal
philosophy should be more than sufficient to clear the "no personal philosophy" rule. Cort
Ammon Feb 18 '16 at 1:09

Spinoza said "people think they are free because they ignore the reasons that determines them".
Which I personally link to Freud's "es" in "ich, es, uberich". The "es" always wins. But I think he
was talking about determinism or the physical reasons behind why we behave like we do.
v.oddou Aug 5 '16 at 6:30

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The meta-argument you attribute to Spinoza is closely related to the rule-following regress
considered by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations. To apply a rule in a particular
situation we first have to interpret what it means, he muses. But then we need another rule to
make the interpretation, and another, and another. We can no more apply a rule, it seems, than
a runner can start running in Zeno's Dichotomy. Nonetheless, we do manage to follow rules, we
read, we write, we play chess (and runners do run). Therefore, concludes Wittgenstein, "there is
a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation".

Similarly, there is a way to "grasp" the willing without "an act of will". The meta-argument is
based on the so-called volitionist theory of action, usually traced back to Descartes, and
accepted by Spinoza, Leibniz, etc., before Kant. It is not an argument against free will, but one of
many arguments against that theory. As confirmed by psychological studies, we do not first
perform an act of will, which then causes us to do something, we just do it, willingly. This is
reflected in the language, rather than say "I willed my hand to rise, and it rose" we say "I raised
my hand".

Hacker's Human Nature places the theory of volition in the conceptual context of modern
philosophy and science. He summarizes Wittgenstein's response to the meta-argument
(Wittgenstein was influenced by Schopenhauer on the will issue) as follows (pp. 148-152):

"When one utters a sentence, every word is spoken voluntarily, but it would be ridiculous to
claim that one consciously performs successive acts of will, one for each word (or phoneme?) an
instant before utterance... The willing must not be conceived as doing something, the doing of
which then causes the movement of ones body. That would be a case of bringing about the
movement of ones body by doing something else. Rather, the willing would have to be an
immediate causing".

The law of cause and effect, a.k.a. the principle of sufficient reason, is another postulate of
traditional metaphysics, once considered impeccable but controversial today. Belief in it leads to
determinism, which unlike the volitionist theory is coherent if implausible. The traditional
arguments for it often confuse causes with reasons, and reasons with necessities. Philosophers
started broadly questioning it after Kant, who limited it to "phenomena". According to the
standard interpretations of modern physics, determinism is false, there are effects that have no
causes, or are self-caused depending on terminology. Physics itself however, as empirical
science, can not settle metaphysical matters. There has been a burst of interest in free will in
light of recent neuroscience experiments designed to test "folk intuitions" about it. Roskies
surveys their results in How Does Neuroscience Affect Our Conception of Volition?, and
concludes that "to date no results have succeeded in fundamentally disrupting our
commonsensical beliefs".
The modern consensus is that libertarian free will, as it is called, is coherent and unfalsifiable,
but so is determinism, and the two are incompatible (there is also compatibilism which redefines
the meaning of "free" in "free will"). So we have a choice to believe or to disbelieve it. As William
James put it, "My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will". Information Philosopher
gives a nice overview of historical and current views on free will.

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edited Dec 13 '16 at 4:32

answered Feb 17 '16 at 19:26

Conifold

21.3k1978

"According to the standard interpretations of modern physics determinism is false" would love a
link on why that is. I studied physics a lot in prep school but my impressions after it, were that
everything seemed to point to determinism=yes. maybe i just didnt go far enough. v.oddou
Aug 5 '16 at 6:36

@v.oddou See a survey here plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/#StaDetPhyThe If


you mostly dealt with classical physics (mechanics, electromagnetism) then it is not surprising,
indeterministic interpretations are possible but unconventional, however in quantum theory and
general relativity the mathematical formalism is usually interpreted as indeterministic, and
deterministic interpretations would require either altering it in one way or another, or redefining
what "determinism" means (as in Everett's Many Worlds). Conifold Aug 8 '16 at 20:45

There is a strong possibility that physics is non-deterministic on a fundamental level, but what
replaces it is randomness, which behaves very different than what most philosophers mean by
free will. "Free will" seems to imply neither determinism nor randomness, which is one of the
reasons I think it's ill-defined. kbelder Oct 14 '16 at 16:50

@kbelder I agree that indeterminism is only necessary for free will, not sufficient. But
"randomness" is equally vague. If it means classical randomness then we know from Bell
inequalities that it does not exhaust negation of determinism, quantum entanglement is
indeterministic and non-classical, nor does it decompose into something deterministic and
classically random. In the end, I think free will is a very complex notion that is not exhausted by
its indeterministic aspects, it clearly involves some element of control, but us not having a
theory of it yet doesn't mean it is ill-defined. Conifold Oct 15 '16 at 21:37

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Arguments for determinism

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Has any well-known philosopher tried to "prove" that determinism is true? This means, has
anybody given a metaphysical argument for the necessary truth of determinism?

I searched for examples, but did not find anything. The argument doesn't have to be convincing,
it's enough that it is not obviously flawed.

It's important to note that there is a subtle difference between predeterminism ("no alternative
possibilities") and determinism. It has to be an argument for determinism, which is:

Given the state of the whole universe, every subsequent event can theoretically be determined.

The "history" of the universe must not be included in the state of the universe.

metaphysics determinism
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edited Mar 8 '16 at 17:48

asked Mar 8 '16 at 17:42

wolf-revo-cats

1,044523

What has your research uncovered so far? Joseph Weissman Mar 8 '16 at 21:53

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Most philosophers didn't feel that determinism needed to be proved per-se. Instead they
thought determinism to be a logical corollary of materialist universe governed by the laws of
physics. Democritus was arguably the first determinist, with his concepts of physical
determinism and logical necessity, both of these positions he saw as consequences of his
materialist atomist theory of the universe, where everything was causally determined by the
motion of atoms, thus removing any need for supernatural gods and fates. Similar views on
causality and materialism were held by the Stoics.

Similarly, most modern philosophers saw determinism as a direct consequence of successful


classical physical theories like Newton's laws of motion. Again, they saw the issue as an obvious
consequences of these physical theories, and one that didn't require a proof in itself. Laplace's
demon is probably the most famous statement of such a position:

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its
future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion,
and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough
to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the
greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would
be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.

Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

It should be noted that the type of determinism you mention has been disproved, first by the
empirical results of quantum mechanics, and more recently by Wolpert's theorem. Wolpert's
result is particularly interesting, since it puts a limit on what an intelligent agent can predict in a
universe, regardless of whether the universe is random (by QM) or not, effectively showing that
Laplace's demon is impossible.

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answered Mar 8 '16 at 18:27

Alexander S King

15.3k21677

Quantum mechanics doesn't prove determinism wrong. The randomness observed could come
from an unknown deterministic source, or it could be explained by the deterministic many
worlds interpretation. Houshalter Mar 8 '16 at 19:34

@Houshalter : The OP clearly mentions two different type of determinism, and is asking about
the second type "Given the state of the whole universe, every subsequent event can
theoretically be determined." -- this type of determinism has been disqualified by QM, even in
the MW interpretation, where from the point of view of an observer in one universe, the events
still seem random. Also hidden variable theories (your 'unknown deterministic source') have
been disproven by Bell's theorem in the 1960s and Aspect experiments confirming it in 198.
Alexander S King Mar 9 '16 at 17:50

Very interesting, but sadly not an answer to the question. I found it mentioned somewhere that
there were indeed philosophers who tried to give a metaphysical "proof" for determinism
(supposedly even Bertrand Russell). It would be interesting to analyze those arguments for
errors wolf-revo-cats Mar 10 '16 at 19:54

@AlexanderSKing Bell's theorem just proves there are no local hidden variables. However it's
impossible to prove if a source of randomness is truly random or not. Houshalter Mar 10 '16 at
20:15

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Many, although not all, determinists are also materialists (as Alexander King said above, for them
determinism is just the corollary to the laws of physics). Since for these, there isn't really much
to meta-physics, one wouldn't expect meta-physical arguments.

Within the theologic philosophy/philosophy of religion, however, there are those who are
deterministic but not materialistic, so their attempts seek to explain things on a more
metaphysical basis. See for example, Martin Luther's On the Bondage of the Free Will -

For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion
can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?

and

But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the
control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according
to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to
me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or
pluck me from Him.

According to Martin Luther then, because of the nature of sin and what it's done to our souls,
we are "forced to serve sin," and it is only by God's grace that we are prevented from sinning - in
either case, it is not our own doing.

(A list of quotes from the work).


Fault in Leibniz's counter argument to Absolute Space

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Melamed and Lin contend that for Leibniz,

Leibniz thinks that space and time cannot be substances or anything else absolute and must
ultimately be a system of relations that obtain between bodies. (e.g., LC, L, 3.5) This is because if
space, for example, were absolute, then there would be space points and such points would be
indiscernible from one another. God would treat these space points differently from each other
insofar as he orients his creation in space one way rather than another. This would have to be an
arbitrary decision for the reasons outlined above. So, space and time are not absolute (SEP entry
on Sufficient Reason).

Is this compatible with Leibniz's Identity of Indiscernibles? Doesn't this contradict the existence
of indiscernible Space Points?

More importantly, aren't these Space Points are by definition distinct since they are different
Points of the Absolute Space, so being treated differently would not contradict the Principle of
Sufficient Reason since they are actually inherently different.

Am I misunderstanding something?

metaphysics leibniz

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edited May 7 '16 at 13:31


Mauro ALLEGRANZA

17.2k11237

asked May 7 '16 at 0:37

user20561

161

I've brought more of the quote into play here and made clearer who is saying what. I've also
modified the way the question is asked to make it on-topic ("am I right?" questions are off-topic
here). virmaior May 7 '16 at 5:51

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In what sense:

distinct points are "different" points of the Absolute Space ?

The argument used by Leibniz to confute the fancy of those who take space to exist
independently of spatially related things, is the following:

if space was an absolute being, something would happen for which it would be impossible to
give a sufficient reason which is against my axiom [the Principle of Sufficient Reason]. And I
prove it thus: Space is something absolutely uniform, and without the things placed in it, one
point of space absolutely does not differ in any respect whatsoever from another point of space.
Now from this it follows (supposing space to be something in itself, besides the order of bodies
among themselves) that it is impossible there should be a reason why God, preserving the same
situation of bodies among themselves, should have placed them in space after one certain
particular manner and not otherwise.

Physical things are located by way of "measuring" them (through coordinates) against some
reference frame.

If we assume the existence of points in the absolute space, they have no intrinsic properties that
can differentiate them from one another: we cannot "measure" them against the Absolute Space
because they are the absolute space (we cannot measure our height comparing us with
ourself...).

Thus, distinct "real" points cannot be discerned [here he use the priciple of Identity of
Indiscernibles] and all the purported distinct points must collapse into a sort of "singualrity".

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edited May 8 '16 at 15:53

answered May 7 '16 at 9:05

Mauro ALLEGRANZA

17.2k11237

"Points in the absolute Space have no intrinsec properties that can differentiate them from one
another", then how do you argue that they're distinct (which is implied by the use of points)?
user2268997 May 7 '16 at 15:48

if "one point of space absolutely does not differ in any respect whatsoever from another point of
space" then how could there be an absolute space, (that objects can be measured against)? i.e:
doesn't that contradict the definition of absolute space? user2268997 May 8 '16 at 15:37

@user2268997 But aren't the two things you object to implied by the notion of substance? The
atoms of mercury are mercury by being alike. The idea that one is here and the other is there
has to do with space, and not mercury. It is like Feynman's notion that there could really be only
one electron, all electrons being identical, but it is somehow reflected into apparent duplicates
by travel through time or space. We like the idea of electrons, but we can't be sure. jobermark
May 8 '16 at 17:11

@jobermark, and you conclude that...? user2268997 May 14 '16 at 12:00

@user2268997 I don't really like this notion of substance, property etc. But within that
framework, his logic holds. Space is something different from a collection of objects identified by
their properties. Location is not a property of a point, because it can be specified only relative to
the other points, and that leads us to a circular reference. Nothing absolute should devolve into
circularity in this way. But location is all a point has, so the point has no usable properties. Since
the properties of an object are what make it an object, points are something different.
jobermark May 14 '16 at 18:37

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It follows the same way that the notion of existing can't be a property. What is 'real' or 'unreal'
can only be determined by reference to 'reality' which is either real or unreal itself, and we are in
a loop. To prevent the loop, you have to decide that 'real' is not a property, it is something
different and more basic than properties can be. jobermark May 14 '16 at 18:42

Determinacy of thoughts as an argument for the incorruptibility of the soul

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As far as I understand the Aristotelian arguments (including those made by Aquinas), they
conclude from the determinacy of thoughts that intellectual thinking cannot be wholly material
and so we have a soul, which is partially immaterial and incorruptible.

Material is just a word it has to be filled with content. It does not seem so clear what
Aristotle means with material, though it is obvious that it is much richer than the modern
scientific conception of material (or rather physical). For example consciousness is clearly
material for Aristotle.

If we look around us in the realms of physics and biology we presumably don't see anything as
determinate (general, normative thoughts are about the truth and inherently meaningful) as
our human thoughts (though, maybe, there are other intelligent species we don't know about).
Some philosophers like Dennett (see his two-bitser example) would disagree, but we'll put those
objections aside for now.

But imho from this we can at best conclude that humans are somehow special contrary to other
animals (when homo erectus? homo ergaster? humans became special is another puzzling
question, which probably can be turned into a counterargument, but let's leave that aside, too).

Of course we can use definitions for material and immaterial which are so, that humans have
an immaterial component while other animals are wholly material. But what have we gained by
this? The conclusion the Aristotelian or Scholastic wants to prove is some kind of incorruptibility
of the soul.

Why should the immaterial not be corruptible, too?

It's a very defensible position to believe that our thinking can produce conclusions which are
timeless: What Euclid proved is true forever and at all times. And his conclusions were about
objects which are timeless and incorruptible, like geometrical figures, numbers or other
mathematical structures (if they exist what Plato would have accepted but Aristotle would
afaik have denied).

But this does not help, either. A bit similar as Robert Pasnau argues in Aquinas and the Content
Fallacy (thanks to the user Conifold, who mentioned it), I say: Like a teapot can contain tea, but
it is not itself remotely tea-like, whatever makes it possible for us to have thoughts about what is
incorruptible, it does not mean that it must be incorruptible itself.

Does all of what I wrote rest on a misunderstanding of the argument? Did some Aristotelian or
Scholastic make the step from the determinacy of thoughts to incorruptibility more
convincingly? Or can you give a good restatement of the argument which tackles those issues?

metaphysics philosophy-of-mind history-of-philosophy aristotle

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asked Feb 28 at 19:41

wolf-revo-cats

1,044523

You may want to look at OCallaghan's response to Pasnau and Ross's reconstruction of the
argument. But this is not the only problem. Kant pointed out that these arguments can be
flipped into "proving" that the soul is material, see What are the problems with the argument
from immateriality of thoughts? Conifold Mar 1 at 3:53

@Conifold thanks, embarrassingly I don't have access to O'Callaghan's response. :-( I know it's
not okay to ask you for a short summary, but if you find the time... wolf-revo-cats Mar 1 at 4:47

Unfortunately, I do not have the full text either, I only read the abstract at the link. I am not even
sure Acta Philosophica posts electronic copies online, their website only has tables of contents
and abstracts, so the full text may only be available in paper copy. Conifold Mar 1 at 21:33

@Conifold ok, the university library in my city has it in print. I'll have a look at it when I find the
time. wolf-revo-cats Mar 2 at 0:02

@Conifold maybe Aquinas thought something like If a universal appears in a material object it
can only do so by instantiation. Instantiation or de-instantiation is the hallmark of corruptibility.
A circle in the imagination is an instantiation of a circle, so imagination is material. But in
abstract cognition the universal can appear directly. So something incorruptible must partially be
active, to prevent instantiation. While this reduces the force of Pasnau's argument, I'm not so
sure it refutes it. Or maybe this is misguided? wolf-revo-cats Mar 2 at 0:55

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The reason is thus: immateriality has an unbound number of degrees of freedom in which to
solve the massive constraint problem that is life itself, whereas materiality is bound to it`s matter
and the history (some would argue design) of substantia.

To say "incorruptible", however, isn't quite right. It's just that, because of the unbounded nature
mentioned above, it can rebound back to it`s purity quickly.

I would say animals are equally incorruptible, however.

As to why our thought should be unique to humans, the Bible remarkably has the most
interesting answer: the apple. Sugar is the substance that creates the extra force in the brain
that allows it its extra step of self-awareness. What was the first thing Adam and Eve did after
eating it? A: Knew that they were naked.

Now presumably, it takes more than eating sugar for that self-awareness to occur otherwise
other animals would exhibit these qualities This is where Jewish theology is a bit more
sophisticated: it took also the act of disobediance. Going against the perfection of God by eating
from the Tree which was explicitly forbidden was the act that some Jewish texts cite as the
source of our freed-thought.
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answered Mar 2 at 20:00

TheDoctor

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Can moral objectivism be reconciled with the fact that some unethical behaviors are human
nature?

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A constant argument I've been hearing recently is that people should be forgiven for engaging in
unethical behavior if it is "natural" for them to do so. Examples:

It's natural for people to be ethno-centric, nationalist, tribal, etc...

It's natural for men to objectify women.

It's natural for people and groups to put their own self-interest ahead of the greater good.

It's natural for politicians and business leaders to resort to cronyism and influence peddling to
further their careers and agendas.

It's natural for people to take advantage of whatever loopholes and legal ambiguities to avoid
paying their fair share of taxes or to avoid honoring contractual agreements, etc....

Assuming all of the above examples are indeed cases of immoral behavior, how can one still
maintain moral objectivism in the face of the fact that these behaviors are somehow natural?

For example how can feminist principles be morally objective if it is men's nature to be
misogynists?

How can one claim that racism is objectively bad if it is "human nature" to be tribal and to want
associate "with one's own kind"?

If moral principle go against human nature, then doesn't that mean that they are arbitrary social
constructs that can be easily dispensed with since there is no use trying to enforce them?

The only way I can think of defending the objectivity of moral principles is if they had some
theistic or platonic otherworldly existence.

Bur from a secular or materialist point of view, how can one reconcile moral objectivism with the
fact that humans are naturally immoral?

ethics metaethics social-ethics

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asked Dec 6 '16 at 22:26

Alexander S King

15.3k21677

So some behaviors are objectively immoral and at the same time natural for those who engage
in them, what is the problem? Just because moral and natural are both objective (let's say) does
not mean that they have to coincide. Naturality can serve as a mitigating factor because, say, it
weakens the will and hence responsibility, not because it makes immoral any less immoral.
"What is natural can't be immoral" seems like a non-sequitur to me, and so do "if not natural
then socially constructed", and "if socially constructed then arbitrary". Social norms may well in
part reflect objective needs. Conifold Dec 6 '16 at 23:07

@Conifold I'm trying to counter arguments of along the lines of "Tribalism is natural so why
should we impose diversity on people?" -- i.e. trying to go against natural (presumably
genetically inherited) behavior is useless and maybe even in itself bad. Alexander S King Dec 6
'16 at 23:31

I knew this sounded familiar, "whatever is natural is not shameful" is attributed to Seneca. But...
"In rejecting anger, Seneca does not argue that we should try to deaden the natural impulses
that sometimes result in anger -- that is, he distinguishes between anger and our impulsive
response to, for example, moral wrongdoing, but argues that this impulse should be governed by
reason rather than given over to anger". Only the impulse gets off on the "natural", not the
actual response, which is also subject to reason. Conifold Dec 6 '16 at 23:58

you've asked at least 5 distinct questions. mobileink Dec 7 '16 at 0:52

For Kant, human nature is in fact the radical evil, as he expresses it in the Religion. But my guess
would be that you confuse a completely social construct of 'natural' in the sense of 'common'
with a notion of 'natural' that includes necessity or being essential. I totally agree that it is very
common to act immorally. Kant even speaks of the possibility of no single act of morality at all,
but how does this say anything about the objectivity of a moral principle? Moreover, if there
wasn't such a thing, how could we even think of something common as being wrong coherently?
Philip Klcking Dec 7 '16 at 1:06

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accepted
I would adopt a naturalized version of Kantian theory here.

Empathy is also natural. Children spontaneously empathize across conventional boundaries


where we socially decide to withhold empathy. This has become a sort of feel-good truism
nowadays, showing Black and White babies getting along much better than Black and White
adults, or dogs and hippos developing trans-species friendships. But stripped of the tendency of
its presentation to jump straight to a saccharine oversimplification, it is a compelling argument.
To some degree, the Categorical Imperative survives as a genetic fact.

Also, we cannot necessarily adopt Kant's dictum that true duties do not conflict, but we can look
at the historical plasticity of our culture and see that we can make them not conflict for a large
majority of the population. Humans seem to be capable of adopting almost any habit given
adequate motivation.

We can take empathy and the motivation to be thought-well-of as human nature at a more basic
level than, say, sexual objectification, because individual and cultural arguments that outlaw
rape, are readily adopted and spread. It should be noted that self-governing collectives of men at
sea generally adopted strict punishments for the rape of women, even when those women were
mostly natives of places far from any governmental authority. (Sorry to say, my reference is an
episode of QI.) That does not mean that the two competing natural motivations are not both
natural, as history says we still have to actually enforce those punishments.

So there is a call for a certain level of empathy for the devil. Disapproved perspectives cannot
simply be eliminated from discourse, real motivation to submit has to be part of the social
contract, or evading punishment simply generates mass corruption out of the natural inclination
to seek power and freedom at very high cost. It seems clear that the European crime rates were
not lower in the Victorian period, when laws were far more strict and moral opprobrium much
higher, than they are now. (Comparing http://www.historytoday.com/clive-emsley/victorian-
crime to http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate-
per-million-people.)

It makes sense, from an overall humane perspective, to let the more basic, more broadly
experienced motivation win. And contrary to our perceptual bias, the stronger motivation is
toward good citizenship and reasonable treatment of one another. (One might argue that this
perceptual bias itself is an expression of this very fact. We notice violation to a degree that we
do not notice productive contribution, because we have an inborn wish for it to become ever
rarer. Many of us feel more guilt than is logical, because we intend to be better than is possible.)

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answered Dec 7 '16 at 20:53

jobermark

16.5k740

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up vote

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You should ask yourself two kinds of questions:

First, are humans in fact naturally immoral? Why would those statements be true? Does the
lived experience of men tell you anything about how they necessarily view people of other
genders? Where would such behavior even come about, and is it not more plausible that it is
inculcated in us by society?
(Consider the motives of those who say such things. If somebody is telling you that "it is men's
nature to be misogynists" my guess is they aren't doing it out of a spirit of honest intellectual
inquiry.)

And second, are humans in fact naturally anything? The idea that humans have free will is not a
new one. If that's the case, then while there are biological requirements of humanity, there are
no behavioral requirements. The idea that we "have" to act in some way is false, so there is no
conflict between our "natural" obligations and our moral obligations.

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edited Dec 6 '16 at 23:09

answered Dec 6 '16 at 22:58

Canyon

53513

"my guess is they aren't doing it out of a spirit of honest intellectual inquiry" - regardless of their
own motivations. I don't care about their motivations, I do care about countering their argument
by providing a basis for the objectivity of such values. Alexander S King Dec 6 '16 at 23:04

True, and edited. Also relevant, though---what do you, or they, even mean by "natural"?
Canyon Dec 6 '16 at 23:10

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Your Answer

Does any meta-ethics claim moral discourse is impossible?


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Background

Suppose that what makes a value judgment moral, is its intrinsic rationality. In comparison: that I
should take this bus, seems (both instrumental and) a judgment which depends upon contingent
facts.

And supposing that it can't be shown that nothing is intrinsically rational, then perhaps meta-
ethics is fairly trivial and cannot entail moral nihilism.

Moral Nihilism = Nothing is morally wrong. Moral nihilism here is not about what is semantically
or metaphysically possible. It is just a substantive, negative, existential claim that there does not
exist anything that is morally wrong.

i.e. there is something that is moral. This is entirely trivial, and how could anyone object: except
that this "morality" makes no sense?

So to assuage any interest in morality, I think moral discourse, whatever its status as true or
false, real or unreal, subjective, objective, relative or absolute (though the impossibility of either
of those would have bearing), must also be possible.

Question

Non-cognitivism famously claims that we don't assign properties in moral judgment. But does
anyone say that moral discourse is impossible?

metaethics moral-skepticism
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edited Apr 13 at 12:42

Community

asked Aug 29 '15 at 16:40

user6917

please don't just downvote i am continually proving myself very happy to edit posts user6917
Aug 29 '15 at 17:13

Isn't Habermas interested in discourse ethics and communicative rationality? Mozibur Ullah
Aug 30 '15 at 16:32

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active oldest votes

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accepted

I do not know about any philosopher who claims that moral discussion is impossible. Probably
one can ascribe such a claim to a solipzist, who can have a moral discussion only with himself.

The fact that there are many moral discussions in this blog, i.e. discussions about moral decisions
as well as discussions about moral and ethics itself, show that such discussions are possible.

But it is considered controversial, whether it is possible to recognize values to guide moral


decisions or to give an ultimate justification for such values.

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edited Aug 29 '15 at 19:00

answered Aug 29 '15 at 18:51

Jo Wehler

11.4k1940

hi, yeah i tend to agree; i'm less interested in specific moral discourses tho user6917 Aug 29 '15
at 18:56

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I find it quite difficult to make sense of your second paragraph; ie it's actual argument - you say:

And supposing that it can't be shown that nothing is intrinsically rational, then perhaps meta-
ethics is fairly trivial and cannot entail moral nihilism

For rearranging this in axiomatic form (giving it the Spinozoan treatment):

axiom-a: anything of value must be intrinsically rational

axiom-b: nothing is intrinsically rational

Now, the argument goes;


ethics is something

Therefore given axiom-b, it cannot be intrinsically rational

Therefore given axiom-a (it's contra-positive), it cannot be of value

and given that ethical values are values, then ethics cannot have value.

But does this entails moral nihilism? Possibly:

For when nothing is moral, everything is permitted, ie everything is moral

Thus no distinction or judgements are made: no law, no courts, no right of appeal, no freedom of
expression ... thus no governance as the expression of a social contract, or general will, or
impartial spectator

But is this the reading what you were suggesting; given your conclusion in your paragraph is
diametrically opposite to this one?

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edited Aug 30 '15 at 17:52

answered Aug 30 '15 at 17:34

Mozibur Ullah

24.7k42393

i have to reread your answer a few times but did you misread "it can't be shown that nothing is
intrinsically rational" as the "it can ne shown" user6917 Aug 31 '15 at 8:41

@mathematician: possibly I'm looking too closely; it looks like Wehler has grasped the intent of
question. Mozibur Ullah Aug 31 '15 at 20:16

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Your Answer

Has/can moral relativism be refuted and what are its implications for a true and useful ethical
calculus?

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It seems that the existence of moral relativism undermines the entire enterprise of ethics, as it
devolves into a bunch of, albeit very smart, people abstractly formulating what is ultimately just
a particular neurological sentiment.

While I hope that it can be refuted, as I would very much like to see ethics as moving us towards
an objectively better life, I find it hard to envision ethics ever being truly prescriptive in the same
sense that, for example, medicine is. If a doctor says you need to do something that is
uncomfortable or very painful or seems counterintuitive, they can convince you to do it because
they can demonstrate, or, more likely, we trust that it has been demonstrated that following
their recommendation will heal us or improve our condition. At a fundamental level, this can
happen because we don't have medical relativism. Either a disease is cured or it is not. A person
can walk faster or not etc.

How can ethics hope to capture this type of prescriptiveness? Is that even a goal? As a non-
ethicist but someone who works with the law, environment, and human health, I would hope it
would be the goal, as having an ethical equivalent to "medical knowledge" would be very helpful
in weighing options.
So, is moral relativism dead? Can we honestly condemn some actions as ethically wrong just as
we can classify some actions as medically/biologically harmful (ignore, for the sake of this
question, the confusion surrounding nutrition and other "observational-study" dependent
sciences, as they are messy and may be much more political).

To the ethically minded (and other ethical optimists like myself), do you see a way out and a path
towards a prescriptive ethics? One that can command action even if the recommended course is
prime facie undesirable or counterintuitive?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Expansion per Michael's comment:

... 1st, we've got to define with more clarity what moral relativism is, and 2nd, we've got to
understand the cause of your dislike for it and [y]earning for the ethical gurus able to shed the
light on one and only true ethics."

The first point: I see moral relativism as the belief that every person's ethics is sui generis, and
ethics as a whole lacks an objective basis for comparing differing ethical systems. This is in
contrast to, say, medicine, where there is a clear basis for what medicine is "about", even though
different doctors may hold varying philosophies about treatment approaches (sometimes
passionately) and different approaches work better for different people. In other words, there is
still quite a bit of subjectivity and diversity of opinion, but, they all agree on the overall point of
this enterprise called "medicine". A moral relativist denies this type of "teleological coherence"
for ethics, and hence all moralizing is conditional upon an unchallengeable set of moral axioms,
with no basis for comparison.

Second point: I am not seeking a pre-written code of ethics nor a prescriptive set of rules, I only
"yearn" (to use your terminology) to see ethics actually develop principles that allow us to
improve the human condition, as opposed to merely fill books with "alternatives" lacking any
way to compare them. I don't think for a moment that such a system would be a cookie-cutter
set of rules as the thinkers of the Enlightenment thought. For example, based on what we see in
the world today, some principles of a widely applicable ethical calculus could be something like
this:
Human psychology is such that values and priorities are not homogenous between societies nor
individuals. However, living in accord with ones values and priorities brings the most happiness
and contentment. Unfortunately, there will be inevitable conflicts between priorities, with a high
potential for a zero-sum situation. Therefore, the freedom of association should be maximized to
allow for moral variability and an efficient system of inter-societal transfer should be established
for those individuals or groups that find other societies in better accord with their morals.
Government should aim to ensure peaceful coexistence between groups and not interfere
except to protect from aggression and to arbitrate disputes.

Granted, my principles have a very American flavor, which may undermine my point, but I was
trying to convey the gist of what I am thinking. I want to point out the central role psychology,
sociology, and neurology will play in an ethical calculus. Its not the rules, per se, but the
development of a systematic method for accommodating moral diversity. I think that, like
medicine, ethics has a goal, which is to allow people to experience more happiness, less
suffering, more peace, less violence...all of which are fundamentally psychological/sociological.
To the extent that the human brain has a common base of drives and rewards, we can hope to
formulate a flexible ethical calculus that allows for diversity and happiness.

Anyway, sorry for making this long post even longer. I still think it means something to say
"ethics", and its not just "whatever I think is ethics" (which could include chess, beer drinking, or
a number of other unrelated areas of activity)

ethics relativism metaethics consequentialism

shareimprove this question

edited Nov 17 '13 at 1:22

asked Nov 16 '13 at 1:37

user4634

Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue has a lot to say about this. labreuer Nov 16 '13 at 1:58

Thanks for clarification and +1. I don't have much to add though from teleological viewpoint,
except that there could be a bit of coherence with another on of yours, but I'm sure you noticed.
:) Michael Nov 18 '13 at 2:37

I don't know if there is much absolutism even in medicine. The medical analogy was applied
early on in ethics, as even Socrates taught virtue as a sort of medicine of the soul. But doctors in
the end are little more than physiological technicians. Consider euthanasia: At what point,
nearing the end of life, is the pain and suffering so great that suicide becomes an agreeable
option? No doctor can answer this absolutely, and doctor's often have to adopt values, their
own, society's, or their patients', to guide their practice. Kevin Holmes Nov 18 '13 at 13:20

The crux of ethical absolutism is political. It asks, essentially, if my moral opinions should
outweigh someone else's moral opinions, and how to decide when this is true. This is why this
issue keeps coming up, and why people want to refute ethical relativism. The only honest
answer to the problem of ethics, in my opinion, came from Nietzsche who saw not a single
morality, but many different moralities, and the evolution in moral systems over time. In each
morality he found a basic will to power, and historically, morality has in almost all cases been a
tool for power than the reverse. Kevin Holmes Nov 18 '13 at 13:29

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6 Answers

active oldest votes

up vote

down vote

accepted

I don't see a path all the way out, but there's a lot more to do to define which bits of what we
call ethics can be put on solid objective footing and which bits are matters of style (where
anything may work, or where any of a number of different schemes may work).

Studies of innate morality and evolution of morality are particularly interesting in this regard,
since it is unlikely that we can reliably retune our innate moral sense. And what our innate
morality is is not the least bit subjective: it is what it is, even if it is very difficult to untangle what
it is (as our expression of morality is shaped very heavily by cultural and intellectual context).
There is good reason to believe, though, that a good portion of our morals are not our choice in
any meaningful sense. For example, there is a very strong disparity in willingness to engage in
apparently morally equivalent acts: people being run over by trains is not like some people
eating others to survive, even though in the end you end up with M of N people dead in order to
save the (N-M) others. I think there is lots of room for non-relativism here.

Also, reality is non-relative. There is plenty to be done by philosophers and (mostly) others to
understand what makes people happy and how to construct societies such that they are; and
also to understand what enables the survival of humanity. There may be many strategies that are
acceptable in both regards but there are also doubtless many that are not, and these are surely
matters of morality and close to inarguable. (Since you will end up with statements equivalent to
things like, "It is good that people go extinct.")

The pragmatic way to go--as found in many sciences--is to make objective progress in areas
where objectivity is not agonizingly hard, and then see how far you can get. Maybe you'll get
everywhere, and find that your original conception wasn't even coherent. (See early
philosophical arguments about life vs. a modern understanding of it, for instance.)

shareimprove this answer

answered Nov 18 '13 at 8:59

Rex Kerr

13.9k11036

+ 1: Superb answer! And not just because I happen to agree ;-) This appears to be what Sam
Harris was getting at in his book as well. Threre is something actually out there to discover,
hence ethics and morals are not just a matter of choice. Of course, the issue of choice and free
will bring up a whole slew of other arguments, most of which seem to be reacting to yet another
example of the Copernican Principle: We are not the center of things -- not even our own
choices, or so it would seem. You've articulated exactly what I was after..there is an objective
base, but various outcomes. user4634 Nov 18 '13 at 14:52

@Eupraxis1981 - I think Sam Harris was getting at the same thing, but I don't think he makes the
case very well, or at least he didn't as of a few years ago: he was taking a traditional definition of
morality, and then papering over well-known difficulties with expressions of disbelief that there
was even a problem. You have to give something up; philosophers are not just wrong that there
is something tricky going on with is/ought relationships, for example. But the general idea of
something to discover is correct, I think, as long as one remains appropriately modest about the
scope. Rex Kerr Nov 18 '13 at 19:37

I totally agree. I don't hold any illusions of an exact calculus. Solutions will be underdetermined,
but at least we will have a framework. Coming from an operations research background, I can
appreciate that even in highly quantifiable, non-emotional situations, mathematics and precision
only go so far, at some point, it comes to to a more or less arbitrary (or, to be kinder,
organization-specific) choice among vetted alternatives. This is especially true in multi-objective
problems with a complex efficient frontier...and this is just simple econ and business! user4634
Nov 18 '13 at 20:01

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I'd like to discuss a couple of points here: 1st, we've got to define with more clarity what moral
relativism is, and 2nd, we've got to understand the cause of your dislike for it and earning for the
ethical gurus able to shed the light on one and only true ethics.

In order to understand what moral relativism is let's switch for a moment to poli sci and take a
brief look anarchism, where there are no laws; libertarian-style democracy, with its flexible
overall structure; and authoritarian rule of an oligarchy. Which societal structure would be most
analogous to the ethics of moral relativism? I would guess that in your opinion moral relativism
is analogous to anarchy; in my opinion it's closer to libertarian democracy: relativism is not
absolute.

Talking about political systems, believe it or not, there were and still are societies that prefer
authoritarian rule to democracy. I think the major psychological reason for that it the laziness of
the mind, the desire for some benevolent authority that would do all the thinking for you, that
would make all your neighbors trim grass to the same level, whether they want it or not, and
would also relieve you from the effort of choosing the level of the grass in your front yard. "Ein
Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer" they used to chant 75 years ago. "Sign condominium agreement that
specifies the color of your window blinds" they say now.

I think the desire for universal ethics of Kantian breadth that applies to us all is caused by the
same psychological reasons: laziness of the mind that wants to defer one's moral choices to an
external authority and the desire for comforting uniformity of all your neighbors thinking the
same way you think (really, delegating thinking to the same authority). If the Bible says
"sodomite must be stoned to death", and you choose Bible as your moral authority, then there is
no reason for you to exert your brain in thinking about gay rights, and you are confident that
your neighbors would join you.

And here we come to one of the causes of moral relativism: in the above example biblical code
of ethics was your own only because you chose to subscribe to it. Every moral code that you
follow is your choice, even if you believe that it's universal.

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answered Nov 16 '13 at 8:36

Michael

1,276516

+1: Thanks for the challenging response. I've expanded my post to accommodate your questions.
user4634 Nov 17 '13 at 1:22

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Even if it were conclusively shown that morality isn't objective, it wouldn't follow that moral
relativism is true. After all, there are many different metaethical theories that deny moral
objectivity, and moral relativism is only one of them (see e.g.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/). Indeed, I would wager that the
profession regards moral relativism as the least plausible of these theories.
And so even if moral relativism is dead, this itself would provide little if any support for moral
objectivity, as long as the other theories are alive and kicking.

shareimprove this answer

answered Nov 2 '15 at 4:07

76987

912

I'm not completely sure you'd win that wager. There have been two substantial and plausible
defenses of views calling themselves moral relativism in recent years: David Wong and Gilbert
Harman. Of course, these versions are more subtle than the boogeyman version villified
elsewhere. virmaior Nov 2 '15 at 5:47

I didn't say that moral relativism is regarded as completely hopeless. What I'm saying that it's not
nearly as highly regarded as error-theory, (non-objective forms of) expressivism, fictionalism, etc.
76987 Nov 2 '15 at 17:39

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down vote

There is a school of philosophy (considered by many to be folk philosophy) that claims to have
discerned a non-relative objectively defined ethical calculus - namely Ayn Rand's Objectivism,
which, she claims flows directly from Aristotle's axiomatic logical propositions. There are now a
few scholarly critiques of her claims. Be aware that her works are extremely controversial and
her writings are almost impenetrably hostile to any logical questioning.

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edited Oct 30 '15 at 17:30

Alexander S King

15.3k21677

answered Oct 30 '15 at 17:03

M Willey

952

Then maybe you could provide some references for that claim? Keelan Oct 30 '15 at 17:08

@CamilStaps Does he need to provide more than what is already mentioned? He gives the
author's name and the name of the school of thought in question, what more should be
provided? Alexander S King Oct 30 '15 at 18:28

@AlexanderSKing there's no reference for "Rand's claims are controversial" etc. There is no
reference at all in this whole post. What do you mean, "more than what is already mentioned"?
Keelan Oct 30 '15 at 19:25

If someone asks a question, and my response is "Per Wittgenstein's logical atomism,...." isn't that
enough reference, or do I need to provide more precise information? Alexander S King Oct 30
'15 at 20:32

What claim are you referring to? Her entire body of work and school of philosophy (Objectivism)
is based upon this idea. Therefore any book of hers (including her novels) provides a entry point
to this school of thought. See in particular her "Objectivist Epistemology". Any casual internet
search will unearth plenty of evidence of persons regarding her as being controversial. M
Willey Oct 31 '15 at 21:03

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up vote

down vote

Meta-ethics is not my area of expertise, but I'll make the broader point that the problem of
ethical relativism might not be very substantial, and is partly based on dubious assumptions. (I
don't deny that it is substantial in the sense that relativism is itself a moral position, ask anyone
who accepts Christian ethics.)

Commonly in these popular discussions about morality, people take for granted an overly
simplistic picture of the contrast between ethics and science. This same simplification also
affects popular discussions about mathematical knowledge vs. empirical knowledge.

The problem is that even in the case of empirical knowledge it is not philosophically clear how
knowledge could be understood as access to reality independent of our (normative) practices (of
proving, verifying, talking etc.).

So let's not simply assume that the difference between ethical disagreements and
disagreements about mathematical proofs or empirical results, is that only in these latter two
cases we have access to the truth out there (whatever that means). Rather the difference might
be that, in the case of mathematics and science, disagreements among humans don't arise so
easily, period.

So only in this deflated sense there might not be "ethical truths" like there are "mathematical
truths". I say deflated because in this picture of mathematical/empirical knowledge, agreement
makes truth possible, not the other way around. We can only have truth with a small "t".

In mathematics and science this background of agreement includes things like similar judgments
about validity, agreement about observations, and perhaps most fundamentally common
judgments about the correct use of language.

(If you know about the later Wittgenstein, you know where this kind of thinking is coming from.)
Notice also that precisely when deep disagreements about validity in mathematics arise (e.g.
between intuitionistic and classical mathematics), these differences can be as hard to reconcile
as ethical differences. And the tactics of argumentation can in both types of cases seem similar
(appeals to intuition, or apparently circular argumentation etc.). So ethics and mathematics are
not so different after all.

Notice also that even in ethics we actually do have some of these similar background
agreements: For instance we seem to have agreements about language, most people agree that
if you hold that X is a just act, you ought to be disposed to do X. So perhaps there is common
ground, I think philosophers have made some progress by starting from common minimal
assumptions in ethics.

Is this whole picture too anti-realistic? I don't know, but in my view certainly not obviously so, I
think it has a lot going for it.

(I was just reading an article Truth and Proof: The Platonism of Mathematics, by W. W. Tait, that
prompted this answer.)

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edited Nov 6 '15 at 13:55

answered Nov 5 '15 at 6:40

Johannes

744212

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up vote

-1

down vote
Two things to think about from the question:

Moral relativism is the idea that no set of rules for living can be regarded as objectively correct.

If moral relativism is correct, the entire enterprise of ethics is "undermined."

About 1. Moral relativism is almost certainly correct. Morality, in any situation, seeks to answer
"What is the right thing to do in this situation?" "Right" there is the problem word; none of these
arguments are defining it. As it stands, everyone is assuming that they know what "right" means
there, but the very presence of the word "right" turns the answer to this question into "The right
answer to this question is the correct one."

To answer it, you have to define a community. If you were the only thing in existence, there
would be no moral aspect to your decisions -- if you were the last living thing on Earth, and
guranteed to remain so, it wouldn't matter if you littered.

So, first, morality requires choosing a community. Possible communities: 1. Myself only 2. My
immediate family 3. My extended family 4. The citizens of my town 5. Members of my race 6.
Citizens of my country 7. Members of my species 8. Members of my order 9. Members of my
kingdom 10. Earth-based life forms 11. Consciousnesses 12. All things made up of matter

For each community, "right" would then mean, "the action that I can take that would produce
the greatest total benefit to all of the members of that community." Here, in this sentence, is the
second problem -- how shall we determine benefit?

Now, you're beat, honestly -- there's no way you're going to be able to solve this. We can "thou
shall not kill," but killing other humans might very well create the best outcome if our
community is #10 on the above list (depending on your beliefs about global warming or
whatever, though we many of us almost certainly cause cows and chickens more pain that we
contribute happiness to others). Plus, dead matter on the ground is a boon for scavengers.

Because any concept of morality either presupposes or requires choosing a community (which
makes it relative, by definition), morality is relative. Any other claim is wishful thinking, borne
out of a desire for certainty that simply is not available to us.
However, and probably most importantly, the fact that moral relativism is correct does not
require that one adopt the attitude that all positions are morally equivalent. In fact, one must
choose both a community and a definition of benefit. Within that community, moral reasoning is
on much better ground.

In addition, one can be a partial member of communities or a full member. I strive to regard my
community as number 7, though at my worst, I fall to number #2. As a member, I am committed
to at the minimum, not injuring other humans in the pursuit of their values (which is not being
evil) and trying to help other humans further their values (which is being good). This means that
I should not jeopardize or use the time, money, health, safety, self-esteem, or personal
relationships of others without their consent. I should also take improving those outcomes for
others as a positive good.

Membership in #7. means, to me, that you don't feel that the killing of people in the Middle East
is less wrong than the victims of September 11.

If someone chooses a different community from me, they are not wrong, and their choice does
not mean that I should expel them from my imagined community. If I choose human and
someone else chooses "Christians," it does not follow that I can treat them without considering
my morals. They are still human.

The arguments that there exists a objective morality because all humans share certain biological
predispositions is clearly flawed, I think. If a person has hardwired into their head rules that
cause it to help or favor those things that are genetically closer to them, how can it be argued
that this is anything other than a particularly clever evolutionary result?

Since one must choose an imagined community to be a member of, it's also foolish to disregard
the choices of others. If a person elects to consider themselves fundamentally Christian, a
mammal, an Objectivist, or whatever, those are all valid choices.

However, I would argue that, all other things being equal, the person who chooses the imagined
community with the most members has the strongest moral position. This means that
vegetarains are morally superior to people (like me) who eat meat. I don't think they are helping
more, but they are definitely striving to include more people in their moral calculus.

shareimprove this answer

answered Nov 6 '15 at 14:29

user3616935

11

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What is the difference between metaphysical, natural and normative necessity?

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down vote

favorite

What are the different varieties of necessity? I saw in an article that there are three fundamental
varieties, which are metaphysical, natural and normative necessity, but I didn't understand well
how we can distinguish between them. Further, what is the range of applicability for each
variety?

philosophy-of-science

shareimprove this question

edited Mar 28 at 15:51

none

1185

asked Mar 16 at 22:50

Bilal

11

You can see Varieties of Modality and The Epistemology of Modality for an overview of the
different meaning of "necessary". Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 17 at 7:34

add a comment
Positive vs. Normative--Is falsification required?

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I have some confusion on positive vs. normative.

I am under the impression that a positive claim is a claim regarding a state of reality, while a
normative claim is one of a value judgment on reality.

However, I have gotten some disagreement from someone who thinks that a positive statement
requires falsifiability. Thus, any statement which cannot be falsified is by definition (according to
him) a normative claim.

It seems to me that that's confusing "positive statement" with "positivism"--and misusing


normative.

Am I wrong? I've never seen falsification as a requirement of a positive statement--merely that it


point to an objective reality.

The person I'm talking with has referenced Popper and the positivists--but I don't think that
makes his point regarding the term "positive statement" and its relation to "normative
statements", and everything I've ever seen has talked about positive statements in terms of
truth value, not in terms of falsification.

philosophy-of-science terminology popper positivism

shareimprove this question


edited Oct 28 '13 at 7:36

user3164

asked Oct 28 '13 at 5:37

user4650

112

Some related Wikipedia entries: 1, 2, 3, 4. Now have a look at 3. The second paragraph talks
about "operationally meaningful". Click on it, et voil, you end up at "Falsifiability"! :) user3164
Oct 28 '13 at 7:25

I think you're right and your interlocutor is wrong. As regards his/her misuse of the word
'normative', I think it's just a consequence of his/her belief (is it justified? I don't know!) that
what he/she calls 'positive' and 'normative' are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. Hunan
Rostomyan Oct 28 '13 at 7:54

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3 Answers

active oldest votes

up vote

down vote

You are not wrong in your general response. The word "positive" is not generally used this way
by philosophers of science, and was rarely used that way even by most positivists. The positivists
also did not think of it as requiring falsifiability. One could, following Popper, argue that claims
which are substantive not only must be derived from observation statements but also must be
falsifiable, but that requires some argumentation. It is, that is to say, not a point you get for free
just by using the word "positive." It's also not the case that any claim which cannot be falsified is
a normative claim. "Normative" generally means "involving evaluation or prescription." One
could go further, but certainly a tautology like "I am under arrest or not under arrest," is not
falsifiable, and also descriptive, rather than normative.
One clarification: positivists also did not think of positive statements as "pointing to an objective
reality." Positivists deny the meaningfulness of talk about objective reality over and above what
is contained in observation sentences or other "positive sentences."

My speculation about your interlocutor is that he has read some of AJ Ayer's Language, Truth,
and Logic and his attack on the cognitive-meaningfulness of normative statements like "stealing
is wrong." But even from that position the inverse does not follow, that all unfalsifiable
statements are normative.

shareimprove this answer

edited Dec 9 '16 at 0:12

answered Oct 28 '13 at 14:32

ChristopherE

4,2271827

For clarity's sake, the statement that was claimed to be normative due to its unfalsifiability was
"God exists". I was saying that is a positive claim--and that all statements which refer to a state
of being/existence would be positive claims. He claimed that because it was unfalsifiable, it was
by definition normative. I appreciate your answer--assuming that I am correct and that it is a
positive claim, is there a way I could respond that would demonstrate to him that he is incorrect
in a way that he would accept, as he and I seem to be disagreeing on definitions? user4650 Oct
28 '13 at 18:33

(Well-expressed question!) I guess I would ask what he means by "normative." If he means


"evaluative" or having to do with goodness/badness, then you could offer as a counter-example
a statement like the tautology I mention above which is not evaluative. If he's using the word
normative in a different way, you'd want to know what that is to respond. ChristopherE Oct 31
'13 at 15:44

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Your friend is confused about a few things, at least based on how you reported them, and
incorrect about the claim that every non-"positive statement" is therefore a normative
statement.

The basic problem is that the terms used in the discussion are not jointly exhaustive in their
domain of application. (Two sets are jointly exhaustive iff everything must belong to one or the
other.) So, given two sets A and B, one cannot derive that an element is in B, just because it is
not in A.

A terminological point: Contrasting the term "positive statement" to "normative statement" is a


bit awkward. The contrasting notions are usually "descriptive" vs. "prescriptive" or "normative"
statements. There are, after all, descriptive statements that negate something. (You specified in
a comment that the statement under discussion is "God exists", so I guess the attribution
"positive" comes from that context, as it (mis)used in the deism/atheism folk-debate to argue
about burden of proof and similar things.)

More importantly, a descriptive (positive or negative) statement is not necessarily an empirical


statement (what I think you mean by a "claim regarding a state of reality"). Think of the
statement "The number 5 is odd". To give a charitable reading, however, let's take your

impression that a positive claim is a claim regarding a state of reality

as a limiting definition. Then, the claim that "a positive statement requires falsifiability" is the
claim that an empirical statement is necessarily falsifiable which is a basic claim of Popper's
epistemology and was shared by most, if not all members of the Vienna Circle.

Regarding your friend's claim that

any statement which cannot be falsified is by definition a normative claim

Well, any claim can be correct "by (using a convenient) definition". If she defines falsifiable and
normative statements to be jointly exhaustive, then she is correct.
The question is if the definition used is useful for ends other then qualifying a statement as such.
Supposing that by "cannot be falsified" she means "a non-empirical statement", this is clearly
incorrect.

Remember (2) and you can show this to be a non-sequitur: How would she classify the
statement "The number 5 is odd"? Supposing she agrees that this is not a falsifiable claim, she
would have to come to the conclusion that by asserting that statement one is really claiming that
"the number 5 ought to be odd" I think she would concede that "positive statements" in
mathematics cannot be understood like this and, therefore, that there are "positive statements"
that are non-falsifiable.

Please note that even by changing the claim in (3) to include larger classes of statements, the
claim remains incorrect. Change (3) to cover all truth-apt statements as you do - such that all
non-truth-apt statements are normative - and it still doesn't work. For there are a lot of non-
truth-apt statements that still aren't normative statement. Think of wishes, congratulations,
oaths and other so-called speech acts.

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edited Apr 13 at 12:42

Community

answered Oct 29 '13 at 10:31

DBK

4,6591533

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No, falsification is not required for a statement to describe objective reality (vs. objective
morality). You want to look at Michael Polanyi's 1974 Personal Knowledge. On pages 43-48, he
talks about crystallography, and how it is an unfalsifiable theory which is nonetheless empirically
useful.

The principle of crystal symmetry was discovered by assuming that crystals contained only six
elementary symmetries (mirroring, inversion, twofold, threefold, fourfold and sixfold rotations).
From this it was concluded that the 32 possible combinations of these six elementary
symmetries represented all distinct kinds of crystal symmetry.

The only sharp distinction laid down by this theory is that between the 32 classes of symmetry.
They are distinct forms of a certain kind of order.

[...]

We may now turn to the question, on what principles our acceptance of crystallographic theory
rests.

[...]

A classification is significant if it tells us a great deal about an object once this is identified as
belonging to one of its classes. Such a system may be said to classify objects according to their
distinctive nature. [...] Yet this system was supremely vindicated, as was the geometrical theory
of crystals in general, by its classificatory functions. [...]

Here stands revealed a system of knowledge of immense value for the understanding of
experience, to which the conception of falsifiability seems altogether inapplicable. Facts which
are not described by the theory create no difficulty for the theory, for it regards them as
irrelevant to itself. Such a theory functions as a comprehensive idiom which consolidates that
experience to which it is apposite and leaves unheeded whatever is not comprehended by it.
(44-47)

Contrast this to the following from Karl Popper's 1934 The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Karl
Popper developed falsificationism.
In this formulation we see that natural laws might be compared to 'proscriptions' or
'prohibitions'. They do not assert that something exists or is the case; they deny it. They insist on
teh non-existence of certain things or states of affairs, proscribing or prohibiting, as it were,
these things or states of affairs: they rule them out. And it is precisely because they do this that
they are falsifiable. If we accept as true one singular statement which, as it were, infringes the
prohibition by asserting the existence of a thing (or the occurrence of an event) ruled out by the
law, then the law is refuted. (48)

Popper talks a bit about axiomatic systems (e.g. p53), but for now I'll stop short of providing full
Popperian reasoning for the folks who would give a 'Yes' answer.

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Normativity in Science

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According to the description of language and norms in Analytic Philosophy (and especially in the
way Rorty talks about it in Contingency Irony and Solidarity) we cannot judge one vocabulary
using our own vocabulary for the simple reason that we have different norms. This description's
origin is the understanding that Kant's a-priori space and time are not a-priori anymore after
Einstein's new theory of gravity. If so, the normative notion is correct for every system of
concepts (vocabulary) including science itself. And yet, I can't see a reason to say that it's
impossible to judge between Einstein's and Newton's theories. There are empirical evidences
that prove Einstein's.

The only claims I can think of for the normative impossible judgement argument could be: 1.
evidences are also language depended - which I can't see how it's correct. 2. Even though we
have evidence we still go with our old theory because it uses our norms and to them we are
committed - which betrays the way science works.
Is one of these claims incorrect? (an example is needed, I assume) or rather it's possible to
choose a better normative vocabulary, and then give up the whole Kuhnian idea of gestalt
switch?

philosophy-of-science kant logical-positivism rorty

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asked Apr 27 '15 at 16:25

Amit Hagin

409310

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accepted

Both of your reasons are true:

Option 1 happens:

Evidence is definitely language-dependent. If I want to do statistical analysis on the genome of


rabbits, I need to know what is and what is not a rabbit, so I can go to my taxonomy and get the
definition of a rabbit, and then go find some. Twenty years ago I could also do that for dinosaurs,
and find that they were all extinct. But now, if I do the same, I find that birds fit the definition
given for dinosaurs.
So whether or not all dinosaurs are extinct depends upon a definition that is subject to change.
This is not the way we ordinarily think of science working, but it is not so exceptional.

For a worse case, consider the definitions of mental disorders, these have been rewritten five
times since the 30's. If I am running experiments on psychiatric drugs, that means that there are
people who might not have met the diagnosis in DSM IV, but will in DSM VI. Whether or not my
drug 'works', in the sense of reducing the symptoms of a given described disease, might depend
on when I tested it.

Theory moves around not just facts, and statistics, but definitions, as it evolves.

Option 2 also happens.

From a Kuhnian point of view, a group of definitions, statistics, and laws holds together into an
organized whole, that he calls a paradigm. Paradigms shift, when the paradigm starts failing to
cover known data, or begins to have odd limitations on its explanations.

The transition from Newtonian to Relativistic notions of space in Astronomy is such a paradigm
shift. Newtonian physics did not accommodate our measures of light's speed. So various things
had to be shifted to accommodate this. This happened pretty cleanly, but other such transitions
were not as quick.

A slower example is the atomic theory of matter. Various alternative explanations fought it out
for consideration, and each way of covering the facts turned out to be inconsistent with other
accepted parts of the paradigm they were trying to expand. These dead theories are sometimes
recounted in courses on the subject. Boltzmann, for instance, was so disparaged for promoting
atoms as an alternative that he was forced out of physics and into philosophy. Ernst Mach,
otherwise known as being as brilliant in physics as philosophy, is famous for holding out to the
bitter end in his opposition to these theories.

People who were advocates for the paradigms that eventually failed to explain heat and other
effects without atoms, did exactly what you indicate. They kept doing what they thought was
justified, and the overall paradigm shift was not complete until they were hegemonized out,
backed into irrelevance by the incoming data, and the way it affected opinion and
understanding.

To a lesser degree, every science always has smaller versions of this kind of paradigm shift going
on. For instance genetics has a gap between continuity in evolution that makes statistical
tracking of mutations a way of measuring past populations, and the notion of punctuated
equilibrium: that change, especially extinction, tends to happen suddenly, so that measuring this
kind of thing over time, presuming it has some kind of smooth rate of accumulation, is
misleading -- big die-offs are going to skew your distributions too much. This is an ongoing tiny
little paradigm dispute.

(An example of where they conflict: By the continuous standard you can estimate seventeen
women from the neolithic era reproduced for every man, from a more 'punctuated' point of
view, it is more likely three, with mass eradications of whole nations of men at regular intervals
that left the corresponding women with heirs. This is the downside of patrilineality...)

And people on either side are just going on doing what they think is right. Eventually some new
data will make one or the other position better, but how much better it has to look, before you
buy in, depends on who you are, and how you are positioned in the 'politics' of this issue.

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edited Apr 27 '15 at 19:19

answered Apr 27 '15 at 18:56

jobermark

16.5k740

Thanks a lot. Really nice examples! Amit Hagin Apr 27 '15 at 21:35

Insightful take on the scientific endeavor! Cicero Jun 15 '15 at 23:32


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I'm not sure that judging between Newtons and Einsteins theory in the way you suggest is
useful; it's generally accepted that Newtons theory is a good approximation at the right energy
scale - at large scales and low speeds.

It isn't quite correct I think to say that Kants a priori notions of space and time have been
completely ruled out - though it's fair to say it isn't mainstream; for example it is implicit in the
thinking of Physicists of the stature of Bohm & Rovelli.

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answered Apr 27 '15 at 19:14

Mozibur Ullah

24.7k42393

Well, even though they might be used as basic assumptions in other theories, they have been
ruled out from relativity theory, for example. It's enough for saying that they are not a priori.
Amit Hagin Apr 27 '15 at 21:37

Have a look at this answer where it's discussed; it's definitely not a mainstream opinion;
relativity like Newtonian mechanics takes a background metaphysics of naive realism; but this
doesn't mean that other positions aren't available. Mozibur Ullah Apr 27 '15 at 23:43

The concept that Einstein and Poincare retained after putting the notion of Mozibur Ullah Apr
27 '15 at 23:46

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Your Answer

Are normative definitions possible in ordinary language philosophy?

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If I recall correctly, analyzing a concept in ordinary-language philosophy involved taking inventory


on how the term for the concept is used by the speakers of the language across contexts, thus
revealing a family of related concepts for which the word stands.

At first blush, this methodology doesn't seem to leave much room for discussions of what a
given term ought to mean, or what concept or concepts ought to answer to a given term.

But is this a mistaken or limited view of ordinary language philosophy? Could ordinary language
philosophers discuss what, for example, what terms such as "morally permissible" ought to
mean?

philosophy-of-language

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asked Apr 6 '12 at 3:18

James Grossmann

20126
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From my understanding, ordinary language philosophers take it upon themselves to determine


how a certain term is used in language, as a means to denote how it ought to be used. Thus, I
would say that there certainly is room for discussions, but it's important to note what these
discussions will be centered on.

Ordinary language philosophy tries to formally define terms based on how they are already used
in languages, not come up with new semantics themselves. This means that ordinary language
philosophers would argue on how exactly to turn the use of a term in common language into a
more formal definition. To use Wikipedia's example of "reality," ordinary language philosophers
would debate on how the word's use in common language ought to translate into some agreed
upon definition and context for the word.

The idea that ordinary language philosophy does not leave much room for such argumentation
would come from the fact that this philosophy does not really try to create theories for itself,
unlike most other philosophies. Instead, it builds theories on existing language, and the fact that
it has this foundation could lead one, as you say, to arrive at this conclusion "at first blush."
However, the foundation of language is a very flexible and loosely defined one; ordinary
language philosophers are tasked with determining how they ought to build their definitions and
concepts upon these foundations, and so there is certainly much room for argumentation.

Therefore, the answer to your question:

Could ordinary language philosophers discuss what, for example, what terms such as "morally
permissible" ought to mean?

Is: certainly, but you have to keep in mind their specific source of epistemology. All philosophers
argue from their own epistemology; primarily logic, but there are also many points of difference,
such as when a rationalist argues from theory while an empiricist argues from physical
observations (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Ordinary language philosophers argue
from the epistemology of existing language, and it is about how different philosophers perceive
this language that there would be argumentation. Therefore, you could expect significant
argumentation among ordinary language philosophers about what certain terms ought to mean,
and you will find that they try to establish normative definitions - it's just that these definitions
and arguments take their epistemology from language.

In summary, this parallelism is useful: Empiricists create normative definitions and argue about
what terms ought to mean from their physical observations. Rationalists create normative
definitions and argue about what terms ought to mean from their mental reasoning. Ordinary
language philosophers create normative definitions and argue about what terms ought to mean
from their observation of language.

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edited Apr 6 '12 at 17:29

answered Apr 6 '12 at 4:21

commando

5,69442564

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I think you might have ordinary language philosophy backwards. My recollection of the origin of
ordinary language philosophy was that it appealed not to a statistical/empirical analysis of what
a large number of people said about how they use words, but instead appealed to what one
native speaker thought about the usage of the word after quizzing oneself.

I think it was the critics of that method that suggested that a sample of one is a poor sample,
and in order to do ordinary language philosophy properly, one ought to do surveys of how words
are used 'in the wild'.

There's really interesting questions about skepticism embedded in there - the notion that the
only way you can get to what a word means is by asking everybody else what they think it means
rather than just asking yourself. If it's a technical term that's not well understood... you must ask
someone else. But if it's an ordinary word?

I'm not sure about "morally responsible", but I thought a good example of how appeals to
ordinary uses of language influences a philosophical debate is that ridiculous so-called paradox:
"This sentence is false." In ordinary use, the question that arises is "Which sentence?". The
'paradox' appears to emerge when that sentence is taken out of ordinary use and made a thing
in itself. Instead of pointing to something else, people make it point to itself.

I don't think ordinary language philosophy is 'positive' in the sense that it leads to the "really
real". Human is the best it aims at. I got the sense that its role is, in a way, negative: to bring
things back to the everyday concepts and dispel philosophical 'problems' which only appear to
be problems when the language, removed from their human contexts, is taken to be something
which it is not - a thing in itself.

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answered Apr 11 '12 at 13:26

Jeong Kim

30815

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Your Answer
How to tell if a statement is normative or descriptive? (Hume aesthetics)

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Would this quote by Hume be normative or descriptive?

All sentiment is right; because sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always
real, wherever a man is conscious of it.

aesthetics hume

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edited Nov 8 '16 at 12:14

Keelan

5,11742245

asked Nov 8 '16 at 1:35

Karl

92

Welcome to Philosophy.SE. It is good practice to provide references when quoting. That being
said - what do you think is the right answer and why? Or: I presume you have working definitions
of normative and descriptive; which part do you not understand that makes that you cannot
apply them in this case? Keelan Nov 8 '16 at 12:15

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Can I assume that Normative Ethics (Moral theory) all about Justice?

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It seems that absolute goodness is impossible to convince or to prove logically other than within
religious communities.

Q1) Am I thinking right here?

If there is no absolute goodness except from religious point of view, isn't normative ethics(moral
theory) only about "Justice"?

Please enlighten me with some "Moral theories" that don't assume some virtues are absolutely
good but can help deciding "What do I do?" in real human affairs?

Q2) Especially the ones that discuss more than "Justice".

ethics genealogy-of-morals

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asked Jul 23 '14 at 11:04

msk

1405
What do you mean by "Justice" in quotes? virmaior Jul 23 '14 at 11:38

@virmaior as in the antiquity ethics context. or though more vague than I hope, relative virtue
that involves more than two parties or humans so that taking both party into consideration is
required. msk Jul 23 '14 at 12:16

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accepted

Are there non-religious traditions that acknowledge "absolute goodness?"

Here are a couple approaches:

Objectivism considers there to be such a thing as correct and incorrect moral choices, and
happens to originate from an atheist.

Descartes took only his own existence as axiomatic, and from that used only reason to derive
moral right and wrong. Of course, he happened to be religious, but I non-religious people since
have taken similar approaches.

Isn't ethics about justice?

If you read about ethics and justice, you will see that justice is only a part of the study of ethics,
but it is obviously an important part and it is difficult to discuss ethics without discussing justice.
If
Normative ethics involves arriving at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct.

then it's difficult to discuss right and wrong conduct without discussing what other people are
due.

"Moral theories" that don't assume some virtues are absolutely good but can help deciding
"What do I do?" in real human affairs?

All moral theories I know are entirely about how to decide what to do in real human affairs -
Christianity, Marxism, Stoicism, Consequentialism, Libertarianism, Socialism, etc., all make claims
about how we should order our lives and how we should make moral decisions. Some take
virtues as their starting point, others start somewhere else but arrive at something much like it. I
would challenge you: is there such a thing as a moral theory that doesn't say something about
what to do in real human affairs?

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answered Jul 23 '14 at 14:00

James Kingsbery

5,08511136

Hi, James. For the challenge: all moral theories are to help "What do I do" in some sense but the
statements are too simple or definitive without any logical convincing or they are based on the
philosopher's subjective selection of preferential virtues. Though they are not religious, my take
is that they are belief-based theories. I understand that Kantian ethics is different but it does not
give normative actions but too much of intra symbolic reasoning or self-examination,
theoretically strong but practically it provides only a justification mechanism. msk Jul 24 '14 at
4:22

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First of all i would say that the absolute good is only consistent within a certain theory and can
not be proven scientifically but it can be far removed from any religious point of view. For
example: 'The Analogy of the Sun', which was written by the philosopher Plato, tries to define
goodness.

As he said:

Not life is the highest good, but the good life. 'Good' life is as much as noble and righteous.

To explain all this would go beyond the frame. Visit


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analogy_of_the_Sun for more information.

If you are interested in that topic you should also check out the teaching of Epicurus (hedonism)
and of course Aristotle and acutally all theories about 'Summum bonum'(lat. for "the highest
good"). To Answer your question in terms of 'justice': I would say justice and the absolute
goodness are two different things, which can be set in relation naturally.

EDIT : I almost forgot the greatest of all: "Immanuel Kant". His moral philosophy was a milestone
for today's understanding of human rights and for moral behavior in general. His ideas of
freedom and his try to convert our everyday, obvious, rational knowledge of morality into
philosophical knowledge was revolutionary.

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edited Jul 23 '14 at 12:36

answered Jul 23 '14 at 11:47

Ubuntix

84
Not sure what "proven scientifically" means that excludes the possibility of an absolute standard
of good... virmaior Jul 23 '14 at 12:14

Your concern is right in a way but regardless of that there is no absolute standart of good for
several reasons...There are philosophical theories, which have made it possible to have at least
proven a "moral standart". The absolute good in a philosophical view is much more than that
and it differs from theory to theory. I have completed my answer. Ubuntix Jul 23 '14 at 12:43

There are also several interpretations of quantum mechanics. and for that matter mechanics in
general. Hasn't stopped us from thinking of them as "scientific" virmaior Jul 23 '14 at 14:11

@Ubuntix I admire Kant for his indefatigable seek of reasonings. But as a simple mortal with
limited capability of intra-reasoning but too easily inclined to manipulate the internal
justification without consciousness, the theory seems too ideal but only good for mind gamings.
What I am after is to find, non-nihilistic philosophical theories than are more logical that just
stating the philosopher's preferential virtues. As a novice in thinking and a starter in reading
philosophical material, your response is of great help nonetheless! Thank you. msk Jul 24 '14 at
4:28

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Is there a term for the logical arguing of what *should* be done, as opposed to what is true?

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I'm trying to explain to someone that an appeal to consequences is a fallacy in formal logic, but
is appropriate when you're discussing policy, for instance, or more generally, when choosing
between multiple possible actions. Is there a word for this latter type of argument? I've
considered, "rhetoric", "debate", "discourse", and "informal logic", but I'm not sure if any of
those are correct.

ethics terminology debate rhetoric

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edited Sep 30 '13 at 1:56

Joseph Weissman

5,35763170

asked Sep 20 '13 at 13:14

brianmearns

1704

Deontic logic deals with what "should" be the case. You can base a very natural logic of action on
such a basis by explicating "x should do y" as "it should be the case that x is brining about y".
Hunan Rostomyan Sep 20 '13 at 19:57

This seems to be related to counter-factuals. Baby Dragon Sep 21 '13 at 4:08

its the realm of praxis (action) & politics. Mozibur Ullah Sep 21 '13 at 8:04

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Deontic logic is concerned with what is optional, recommended, forbidden, etc.

Doxastic logic, on the other hand, is about beliefs.

I would argue that policies (as per the OP) can be expressed by using deontic logic and perhaps
doxastic logic as well if you want to capture actual adherence to stated policies. As a practical
example, ISO/IEC 24744, a standard language for the description of methodologies, uses deontic
markers to express whether specific tasks are compulsory, recommended, optional, discouraged
or forbidden.

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answered Sep 25 '13 at 21:38

CesarGon

360113

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up vote

down vote
Normative ethics is the study of prescriptive ethics, what should be done, as opposed to
descriptive ethics, which studies ideas of the good.

Normative ethics studies purposive action. It is also referred to as morality.

Here is the Wikipedia

There is also some good rounded out info here: Britanica

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edited Sep 25 '13 at 5:22

answered Sep 21 '13 at 1:57

inTEGraTOR

914

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Ask: is the consequence good, or bad? This will reveal [a] hidden premise(s). Then you can
transform the argument from A implies B to:

B is good.

Doing A results in B.

Therefore A ought to be done.

This might seem correct, but there are still problems looming. For example, let me add a possible
hidden premise:
B is good.

C is better than B and mutually exclusive with B.

Doing A results in B.

Therefore A ought to be done.

Here, #4 is clearly false. Another possible hidden premise which would defeat the conclusion is
there existing no moral (virtuous) way to get B from A. Of course one could be a Machiavellian,
but unless this is a premise, the issue is underspecified and no should is reached.

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edited Oct 8 '13 at 1:13

answered Oct 7 '13 at 19:36

labreuer

2,334623

@iphigenie: Are you saying that #3 does not follow? If so, I agree, but my point is that this
exposes the fallacy more clearly. To add more, #1 does not say how good B is compared to other
things. labreuer Oct 7 '13 at 23:12

No. I'm sorry, I should have been more thoughtful. I've read something wrong into your answer.
(If you edit it, I will most certainly remove the downvote that is entirely misplaced). iphigenie
Oct 8 '13 at 0:23

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Is there such a thing as a 'necessary truth'?


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Wikipedia (note the redirect) defines 'necessary truth' as statements which "could not be
untrue", and I assume that this is how the term is usually used. A search through the SEP shows
that while there is no article dedicated to the topic, this phrase is used in over 100 articles.

This question is in two parts:

What is a necessary truth?

Are these three definitions equally correct:

(A) A statement that cannot be untrue

(B) A statement which is true in all possible worlds

(C) A statement whose negation implies a contradiction

The only way I can imagine (A) or (B) to be applicable would be if (C) is also applicable. Is there
any other way to determine if something is a necessary truth other than by showing (C)?

Do necessary truths exist?

Based on qualification (C) above, I assume that the answer hinges on whether or not logical
contradictions are impossible (and is therefore closely related to a few questions already seen on
this site, such as this one and this one). However, it appears to me that Quine (in "Two Dogmas
of Empiricism") disagrees. Would someone care to shed light on the issue?

logic truth quine

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edited Apr 13 at 12:42


Community

asked Jul 10 '14 at 5:49

Matt

9221616

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I do not think you can find a brief answer to this debated issue.

See at least Modal Logic, Varieties of Modality, The Epistemology of Modality and Possible
Worlds.

Def (A) of necessity

A statement that cannot be untrue

is quite useless; "cannot be" means "impossible". Thus, necessity is simply the negation of the
possibility of the negation, which is quite "standard" in modal logic, but only moves the problem
one step back.

Def (C)

A statement whose negation implies a contradiction


reduces necessity to (logical) entailment. But the relation of entailment is basically the
formalization of "logical necessity" : B necessarily follows from A iff A entails B (i.e. iff B is logical
consequence of A).

And also a contradiction is "defined" as a logical impossibility.

So again, we have a sort of "circularity".

Def (B)

A statement which is true in all possible worlds

is the base of the modern semantics for the languages of modal logic [see SEP's entry] :

The power and appeal of basic possible world semantics is undeniable. In addition to providing a
clear, extensional formal semantics for a formerly somewhat opaque, intensional notion, cashing
possibility as truth in some possible world and necessity as truth in every such world seems to
tap into very deep intuitions about the nature of modality and the meaning of our modal
discourse.

Unfortunately, the semantics leaves the most interesting and difficult philosophical
questions largely unanswered [emphasis added].

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edited Jul 10 '14 at 7:24

answered Jul 10 '14 at 6:27

Mauro ALLEGRANZA

17.2k11237

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According to Wittgenstein, necessary truths are rules for the governance of language. Their role
is therefore normative, and to be contrasted with empirical or contingent truths, which are
descriptive.

This is a simple and insightful solution to a problem which has confounded, and continues to
confound, philosophers.

For more, see this answer: How fundamental is logic?

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edited Apr 13 at 12:42

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answered Jul 10 '14 at 15:52

adrianos

1,070711

I'm afraid that it continues to confound myself as well, though I'm no philosopher. Do you mind
elaborating a bit, please? In what way is a 'normative' truth 'necessary'? Based on your link, does
this imply that 'necessary' is really the wrong word? Matt Jul 11 '14 at 18:50

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I'd say that in the Western philosophical tradition, the notion of truth as a stable category has
been a constant since at least Aristotle.

In Buddhism, in particular the philosophy of Nagarjuna he negates the truthfulness of truth; in


broad terms this follows from the analysis of impermenance; hence Nagarjuna would deny that
there are neccessary truths; it part of the doctrine of sunyata.

What is a necessary truth? Are these three definitions equally correct:

This can be certainly discussed. But another direction one can take is that we have three
different but workable definitions of truth that are useful, for example (B) is how the semantics
of intuitionistic logic is discussed in mathematical logic - in this example (C) does not hold, at
least in the form of the law of the excluded middle.

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answered Jul 15 '14 at 5:52

Mozibur Ullah

24.7k42393

If the truth of 'truth' is being denied, how can we discuss the definitions of necessary truths- if
truths don't exist than certainly necessary truths don't exist! (This a request for clarification;
sorry that I've never studied eastern/Buddhist philosophy and find many of your answers
difficult to understand) Matt Jul 15 '14 at 6:09

@Matt: its a difficult topic, I agree; the Buddhist tradition in logic is very different from the West,
and I am only an amateur studying it; if I could be clearer I would! Their notion of truth is linked
to their notion of ontology rather than being formal - which is the mainstream tradition of logic.
However one way to approach it through the same formal appartus of western logic is to follow
the second suggestion that I noted above and that is to look at exotic logics that might loosen
the hold that 'binary' thinking has. Mozibur Ullah Jul 15 '14 at 6:22

At least to show that other possibilities other than just true & false are possible. You're right that
the truth of 'truth' is denied then neccessary truths don't exist either; the question here then is
to understand why he would deny the truthfulness of truth; one angle into this is to see that
truths should not be contingent - the platonic tradition - for example 1+1=2 is a neccessary truth
Mozibur Ullah Jul 15 '14 at 6:32

So, denying the 'truthfulness' of truth here is to deny that this truth (which for Nagarjuna is a
conventional one) is not neccessary. Mozibur Ullah Jul 15 '14 at 6:35

but then I've asserted that the truth is necessary! Do you mean denying the truth merely means
denying that it is necessarily true? I thought I was following you until that last comment Matt
Jul 15 '14 at 6:38

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Your Answer

Are there philosophical theories that are either confirmed or refuted by the majority of experts?

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Do there exist any philosophical theories that have been either confirmed or refuted by the
majority of experts? That is, confirmed or refuted such that a consensus has been established
about the validity of the theory - similar to the consensus of the experts in scientifc disciplines
like physics or biology.

Based on my impression, that's not the case.

One reason, I suppose, is the lack of concrete specifications of problems to be solved by a


philosophical approach. But of course, there are many more reasons which I don't want to
enumerate in the context of the present question.

Note. I know that philosophical answers cannot in general be validated or refuted by experience
like results from natural sciences.

metaphilosophy validity

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edited Oct 8 '15 at 14:37

asked Oct 7 '15 at 8:46

Jo Wehler

11.4k1940

The scientific method itself: Confirmed or refuted in your opinion? Jo Wehler Oct 7 '15 at 9:08

Strictly speaking neither of course, but I would think there's quite massive support for the
method. Keelan Oct 7 '15 at 9:10

3
The scientific method has not been developed by philosophers but by working scientist like
Brahe, Galilei, Newton and many others from later centuries. - Afterwards the scientifc method
has been the subject of philosophical investigation, rational reconstruction and comments by
philosophy of science. But - ascribed to Feynman - Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists
as ornithology is to birds. Jo Wehler Oct 7 '15 at 9:17

@JoWehler, Feynman's facetious comment may apply to "working scientists" but not to
"science" itself. Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, Pascal, Leibniz, Mach, and many others were
"philosophers" as well as foundation figures in physics. Einstein acquired a frame of reference
from Spinoza, computer science arose from Frege, Russell, and others; and it is hard to image
any modern science without the broad framework of Aristotle. More accurate to say that there
are great physicists like Feynman who don't read philosophy, so don't know how deeply they are
indebted to it. Nelson Alexander Oct 7 '15 at 13:44

Comments are not a forum! Please consider taking discussions to chat. Joseph Weissman Oct
7 '15 at 17:26

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6 Answers

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Yes, there are many "philosophical theories" that have been refuted by the majority of experts.

An obvious example is Thales identification of "water" as the irreducible substance. Many pre-
Socratic "theories" of this sort spring to mind. But the "refutation" only comes about by the
subdivision of philosophy itself into other fields of "expertise," notably physics, mathematics,
history, doctrinal theology, or psychology, in which the refutation occurs.

Once the propositions become "refutable" by expert consensus, they are almost by definition no
longer "philosophy." Thus, in regard to your question, people often scoff that philosophy "makes
no progress" or "arrives at no conclusions." But this is because it constantly seeds other fields
that are able to "progress scientifically" towards consensus by no longer being philosophy.

A more recent example may be Cartesian dualism, which we can at least say is "extremely
unfashionable" in philosophy and appears to have "calved off" almost entirely into psychology,
cognitive sciences, and so forth. Various other theories, such as vitalism, Aristotelian cosmology,
certain identity theories, the positivist reduction of math to logic, proofs of god, strict
correspondence theories of truth, etc., appear to have been jettisoned by broad consensus for
the foreseeable future.

But philosophy remains historical, dialectical, and open. Any topic can be ingeniously reopened.
It also remains a huge, growing body of textual expertise still divided into the two (Continental
and Anglo-American) genealogies set in motion by Husserl and Frege, and thus culturally
impervious to any "consensus of experts." Since the aim of each new theoretical project is,
ideally, to become "irrefutable," consensus would mean the death of dialectic and any sort of
expert "refutation" by appeal to experiment or logic would mean reclassification as a "science"
or mathematics.

It is also worth noting how those dominant, massively influential philosophical projects that
attempt to "wrap it all up," e.g. Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Hegel, Wittgenstein's Tractatus no
sooner engender a body of "experts" than they fall prey to skeptical analysis, redefinition, and
Oedipal, generational assault.

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answered Oct 7 '15 at 13:28

Nelson Alexander

7,1722934

Did you see a recent PhilPapers poll of academic philosophers? According to that external world
really exists (82%), it is mostly how science describes it (75%), God does not exist (73%), we have
a priori knowledge (71%), analytic/synthetic distinction can be drawn (65%) and free will is a
compatibilist illusion (59%). Nonetheless, I do not think these issues are ready to become
science. It's not that there isn't a majority agreement, it's that it is not treated as deferentially as
in science. philpapers.org/surveys/ Conifold Oct 8 '15 at 3:38

@Nelson, What does "generational assault" and "Oedipal" mean here? Pacerier Oct 8 '15 at
7:04

To Conifold, interesting. The 25% dissenting will probably dominate the next generation. Was
this all stateside? To Pacifier, I just mean the anxiety of influence and the tendency of each
generation to repudiate the "accepted wisdom" and "Settled truths" of the previous, a historical
dialectic that begins with Aristotle's rebuttals to Platonic idealism, or earlier. It's in the very DNA
of philosophy. Perhaps Oedipal was misplaced, his "reasoning" challenged the oracles. Nelson
Alexander Oct 8 '15 at 13:08

The poll was made by Bourget and Chalmers:"we chose as a target group all regular faculty
members in 99 leading departments of philosophy. These include the 89 Ph.D.-granting
departments in English- speaking countries rated 1.9 or above in the Philosophical Gourmet
Report. They also include seven departments in non-English-speaking countries (all from
continental Europe) and three non-Ph-D.-granting departments". They admit selection bias
towards analytic philosophers philpapers.org/archive/BOUWDP Conifold Oct 8 '15 at 21:23

I accept this answer because it states the most examples of theories refuted by the majority of
experts, e.g., Ionian philosophy of nature, Cartesian dualism, Aristotelian cosmology, vitalism,
proofs of god. - I wonder that you consider "the aim of each new theoretical project [...] to
become "irrefutable". I consider as one of the main philosophical insights from the history of
natural science: We can only improve our hypothesis, certain knowledge is not possible. Do you
express your personal view or do you think that it is also shared by the majority of contemporary
philosophers? Jo Wehler Oct 12 '15 at 9:43

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A problem in your question has to do with the concept of refutation and confirmation. If you
think of refutation as empirical refutation, then trivially, only empirical sciences refute
hypothesis. Concluding that philosophical inquiry is therefore not valuable is question begging: it
amounts to adopt a specific philosophical position that would say that only empirical refutation
is valuable. However one can have a broader notion of success than empirical success.

A position regarding the role of philosophy is that it aims at making intractable questions
meaningful so that they can be addressed by scientific inquiry. According to this position you
should not judge philosophy by its ability to answer philosophical questions, but by its ability to
transform these questions into scientific questions, through a process of conceptual clarification.

By this standard philosophy has several achievements, since most (if not all) scientific disciplines
have their root in philosophical inquiry. For example, contemporary psychology originated in the
doctrine of behaviorism, which was initially a philosophical position. The theory of evolution was
inspired by philosophical debates on fixism and evolution of animals (which was observed in
breeding for example). Special relativity was motivated by purely scientific problems in classical
physics and electromagnetism, but also inspired by debates on the metaphysical nature of space
by Leibniz, Newton and Descartes. Classical mechanics's focus on movement as the central locus
of explanations has its roots in Aristotelian physics. The reduction of thermodynamics to
statistical physics was informed by a long tradition of debates on atomism and also
epistemological debates on empiricism, etc. If philosophers had not clarify these issues and draw
the landscape of possible positions on them until they can be easily formalised and related to
experience, the development of these theories would not have been possible.

Usually an abstract philosophical position is sufficiently malleable to resist objections but that
doesn't mean that the original position remains the same. To the contrary, the objections
generally make the position more precise and coherent. Debates strengthen philosophical
positions until they are mature for empirical confrontation. For example, dualism is not refuted
today but the position is much more subtle than at the time of Descartes (contemporary dualists
defend property dualism rather than substance dualism). The position is not refuted because we
don't have a consensual theory of consciousness today but hopefully current debates will inform
cognitive sciences.

So it seems that only science confirm or refute hypothesis, but one should not forget that most
hypothesis were philosophical before being expressed in a specific theoretical framework. The
philosophical question was in a sense settled through science, yet the role of philosophy in the
process is not negligeable.
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edited Oct 7 '15 at 16:53

answered Oct 7 '15 at 12:37

quen_tin

4,021517

The definition you give of philosophy is really good, but it fails to describe one of its important
aspects related to metaphysics and politics (that is, as human beings, why and how should we
live?). Even if the purpose of these questions is not to make sense of the world (and thus are in
no way theories in its natural sense), but to justify existence, there's somehow a "theory part"
that can indeed be rejected by experiments (I don't want to use the word falsify), that is: does
the politics achieve what it was made for or does it fail hard at it? Marxism is in this respect a big
failure. sure Oct 8 '15 at 7:54

Of course this definition does not pretend to be exhaustive, or the only one. quen_tin Oct 8 '15
at 9:22

As the lone downvoter (at this point), I feel I owe an explanation. First, it is a very finely written
note with some interesting ideas that could (should?) be expanded upon. Absent such
expansion, references to resources where the reader could pursue the topics in more depth.
Without that, you told them where the journey begins, so to speak, but didn't really give much
by way of instruction.... Dennis Oct 14 '15 at 4:42

Also, it's not clear to me that it answers the question asked by OP (as I read the question). I
believe OP is asking if there are theories of which you could say that there's a consensus that
they've been confirmed/refuted. I think it has some great ideas in it and could be a great answer
if you added some references to further literature to read and perhaps said something along the
lines of what Dave said re: verificationism. Dennis Oct 14 '15 at 4:45

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"Logical positivism is dead, or as dead as any philosophical movement ever becomes", J.


Passmore The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 1967 (also related by S. Shankar in Philosophy of of
Science, Logic and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century). Among the problems that lead to its
demise are

the issues with verificationism, which go back to the problems of induction related by Hume, and
were attacked with renewed vigor by Popper in the 20th century; and

the issues with the analytic/synthetic split, as defined within positivism, demonstrated by Quine,
(and similar issues with the split between theory and observation, c.f. work by Hanson).

These and related works are widely considered to be deathblows to logical positivism in the
philosophical community. It's my impression that most philosophers view these results as
invalidating the positivists' programme to "formalize science" in much that same way that
Goedel's results invalidated Hilbert's programme to "formalize mathematics".

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edited Oct 8 '15 at 12:45

answered Oct 7 '15 at 19:09

Dave

3,272733

This is the only answer that actually answers the question asked (rather than a tangential
question about what constitutes "confirmation" or "refutation"). Furthermore, it's the only
answer that mentions verificationism, which is by far the most common "stock example" of a
refuted philosophical theory (though it should, perhaps, be clarified that it is the verificationist
theory of meaning which is typically lambasted; it is self-defeating since the principle that only
"verifiable" claims have meaning would seem to be meaningless according to the criterion it
establishes). Dennis Oct 7 '15 at 23:45
The claim about Quine's arguments in "Two Dogmas..." is a bit more contentious. There are
plenty of philosophers (David Chalmers, I believe, is one) who think the analytic/synthetic
distinction is alive and well. What you say about it showing there are "issues" with a particular
understanding of the distinction (the positivists' understanding) seems to be right. Another
(better) example might be Quine's "Truth by Convention" which, I think, is taken to pretty
definitively refute the Carnapian understanding of conventional truth. Also, +1 for actually giving
sources in a Phil.SE answer. Dennis Oct 7 '15 at 23:49

Quine is still a (liberal) subjectivist that doesn't at all describe what (scientific) theories really are.
What he argues is certainly less shitty as what popper argues for, but it fails to make sense of the
purpose of science: to make sense of (some parts of) existence itself, not just to predict
phenomenon. sure Oct 8 '15 at 7:57

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Philosophic approaches from different cultures can be confirmed and refuted by different
philosophers. The eastern concepts of Chi and the Dao are oft "refuted" by western
philosophies, but "confirmed" by eastern ones. The refutation usually consists of translating Chi
or Dao into a western concept, and then refuting this western translation.

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answered Oct 8 '15 at 7:35

Cort Ammon

9,995625

Could you please add a reference to Western philosophers refuting the Chinese concepts of Chi
and Dao? - Aside, your statement does not exactly reply to my question. Because I asked for
theories which are either confirmed or rejected by a majority. That philosophical concepts are
disputed, that's evident. Jo Wehler Oct 8 '15 at 7:40

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Many important philosophies no longer live and are discussed as historical curiosities, or for
their contribution to philosophy. Does anyone really believe Hegel in its entirety?

And some ideas have stayed the course. Who would disagree that the relation between signifier
and signified is in some sense arbitrary - like Saussure said (and the structuralists elaborated
on)?

But then neither of these authors can be rejected or accepted in toto.

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edited Oct 8 '15 at 10:24

answered Oct 8 '15 at 9:54

user6917

It's the opposite, most philosophies are alive through their impact on the development of the
philosophical thought. About Hegel, objective/dialectic idealism is a very coherent and precise
theory still considered between the most advanced schools of philosophical thought. Even
Thales theory about water as an originating principle, the importance is not at the element he
choose but at the originating principle and the singularity of a material substance. John Am Oct
8 '15 at 10:13

@MATHEMATICIAN Please note that I asked about the evaluation of philosophical theories, not
about the evaluation of the work of philosophers on the whole. Do you consider a certain theory
of Hegel confirmed or refuted by the majority of philosophers? Jo Wehler Oct 8 '15 at 10:15
Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
virmaior Oct 8 '15 at 10:46

At some point, it's time to just up or down vote relative to what one thinks of an answer... (i.e.,
comments are not for extended discussion or debate). virmaior Oct 8 '15 at 10:48

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-1

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Yes.

I think we can at least agree that "confirmed" or "refuted" means that we can assign an absolute
truth value to a proposition. Therefore science cannot be refuted or confirmed because science
accepts a priori that its conclusions may be invalid ! What science really does is heuristically
executing a set of observations (experiments), setting up axioms on how the observations should
be evaluated and proposing theories to fit a set of observations. Then it tries to assign
probability values to conflicting theories and choose the one(s) which fits the observations best.
Because there is always room for error, science can never be confirmed or refuted in a logical
sense, it does not matter how successfull it is.

What is left ? You can

show that a proposed philosophical theory contains a contradiction, so it must be false in the
proposed form. It is refuted. Often there are hidden logical fallacies like begging the question.

show that the proposed conclusion does not follow from the arguments. It could be plain wrong
or inconclusive.

show that a proposed philosophical theory does not contain statements which allow to come to
a logical conclusion. It is not able to make a proposition, it is effectively senseless.

One of the really interesting victims of refutation was the syllogistic logic of Aristoteles which is
replaced by the modern predicate logic. It can be shown that predicate logic is much more
powerful and stringent, you can formulate paradoxes and undecidable problems in syllogistic
logic which are not possible in predicate logic. It should be also said that logic is not
mathematics. Mathematic logic build the foundation for conclusions, but the objects on which
the arguments are based must be provided by philosophy (if philosophers can reach an
agreement which is quite an achievement).

Another quite famous victim are the "God proofs" of Aquin. It can be shown that their assertions
are contradictory or inconclusive. Henri Bergson's "philosophy" is quite colorful, but it has
nothing to do with logical conclusion.

So yes, there are many, many philosophies which are not taken seriously anymore.

Are there some facets of perceptual experience which cannot be characterized as conceptual?

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Some philosophers (e.g John McDowell) argue that the content of perceptual experience is
necessarily characterized by conceptual terms; namely - the content of the experience is entirely
built of concepts possessed by the subject of experience. Others (e.g. Hubert Dreyfus) claim that
there are necessarily some aspects of the perceptual experience which cannot be characterized
as conceptual.
My question: To what extent the content of our perceptual experience is conceptual? Are there
any examples demonstrating that some facets of perceptual experience cannot be characterized
as conceptual? What do we have to assume in order to arrive at a conclusion that perceptual
experience must be conceptual "all the way down" ?

Notes:

(1) In light of a comment received below - let me further clarify: The notions of 'concept' and
'experience' belong to abstract and concrete realms respectively. The question I posed seeks to
find out - in what ways a perceptual experience can or cannot be devoid of concepts? (The
question could be seen in some way as parallel to the question of the relation between theory
and observation; though the one I raised is more basic)

(2) My current tentative conjecture is that if we talk of some kind of religious experience than we
have an extreme example of some possibly perceptual experience that is devoid of concepts by
means that it is ineffable. But I will welcome any other directions - perhaps such that are drawn
in addition from philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, phenomenology and philosophy of
science.

epistemology philosophy-of-science philosophy-of-mind philosophy-of-language phenomenology

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edited Dec 23 '15 at 18:38

Joseph Weissman

5,35763170

asked Nov 26 '15 at 0:41

Jordan S

1,174418
1

How would you propose that we answer this question? As worded, it's fishing for opinions on
the question rather than helping you to understand something in philosophy. virmaior Nov 26
'15 at 1:53

This sounds like "mysticism" which is a topic some people do study (in medieval philosophy inter
alia). It also sounds like something William James researched as well. virmaior Nov 27 '15 at
7:38

But there's a very large amount of literature on concepts and experience more generally some of
which might matter, but much depends on whether you think it's possible to have experience
without concepts at all (which is what Kant denies - "concepts without precepts are empty;
precepts without concepts are blind") virmaior Nov 27 '15 at 7:39

I have just recently began explore the topic - and found out that it involves philosophy of
language plus philosophy of neuroscience (perception and memory) and yes - also philosophy of
religion. So...it is why I find the fundamental question I raised somewhat difficult to address. Will
look into William James' texts - thank you very much for this kind guidance. Jordan S Nov 27
'15 at 7:41

Try the work of Stephen Kosslyn (mental imagery), Lawrence Barsalou (perceptual
symbols/imagery), Germund Hesslow (simulation), Andy Clark (good all rounder!), Rick Grush
(emulation theory), Michael Anderson (neural reuse/redeployment), Thomas Metzinger (mind
wandering). Also this Youtube (4 part) series with Henrik Svensson should help:
youtube.com/watch?v=bCRd-G5ZzEQ. Concepts all the way down vs. precepts all the way up?
jimpliciter Nov 27 '15 at 22:55

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1 Answer

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accepted

I take your term "conceptual" to really be getting at representational, where information is really
being represented and "deliberated" on. Allow me to give some examples:

Many studies show (as Dreyfus argues in many papers) that skilled labor actually occurs in a non-
representational fashion. For example, a chess-master need not consciously deliberate on the
"best" or most "rational move" in order to play well. In fact, this conscious deliberation causes
people who engage in skilled labor to become more inept than they normally are. To take a
mundane example, when I see someone who is angry, I don't need to actively represent some
information about anger to verify that a person is indeed angry.

There is some complexity that goes into this, and I would recommend a paper called
"Intelligence Without Representation," that talks about being-in-the-world and maximum grip
theory very succinctly.

By contrast, even Dreyfus admits to the fact that some representation does occur. For example in
self-reflection or the rational deliberation of a particular belief/propositional attitude (i.e How
many people are in the U.S? should people gamble?)

However, some such as Richard Moran argue that even though information is being represented,
our primary means of introspection is non-inferential/non-perceptual/immediate, meaning that
propositional attitudes are actually self-constituted by introspection.

To complicate things further, take one of the tenets of the somatic marker hypothesis, which
argues that some of our emotional states are actually a conscious or unconscious representation
of a particular emotional body state, suggesting that some parts of phenomenal consciousness.
Similarly, if part of our conscious deliberation is based on emotional content, then some parts of
prop. attitudes might actually be non-representational.

Needless to day, any argument that floats around "fully conceptual" would be facile in its
approach without addressing the concerns of many, many philosophers.
From an intuitive perspective, it's hard to believe that every decision we make is some rational
deliberation of evidence (for example. every step you take in a particular direction) but it also
feels strange to admit to the fact that all decisions don't depend on some so-called "conceptual
content" or informational representation.

This is ignoring mind-extension theory, how conceptual content might alter phenomenal
experience (vice versa), causal pathways in the mind, potential metaphysical reduction, self-
knowledge (what kind of "concepts" exist?) and so forth.

There is a lot going on, so it is a difficult question to answer in this kind of format. I would
suggest starting with that Dreyfus essay. Perhaps Moran's "Authority and Estrangement," some
Ned Block David Chalmers etc., perhaps some literature on the somatic marker hypothesis. It
sounds like you would also enjoy donald davidson's "mental states" and Charles Taylor

Thanks for reading, Andres

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What is the modern solution to the mind-body problem for those who still hold the mind is
separate?

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Ren Descartes gave us the problem of how the mind interacts with the body in its modern
formulation. Essentially, he asked how the incorporeal mind was able to influence the material
body. He also pointed out that the mind was influenced by the body, which was a more novel
suggestion (and clearly a true one given what we now know about biochemistry). He landed on
the pineal gland as the point where the mind and body interact. This turns out to be a simplistic
solution and at least incomplete, if not outright wrong.

It seems the most usual solution to the problem these days is to simply eliminate the concept of
a mind separate from a body. Therefore our thoughts are something of an illusion that arise from
complex operations of the brain, nervous system and hormone secreting glands. Assuming this
conception of the mind is acceptable to a thinker, the solution is perfectly serviceable.

But what is the current thinking about the mind-body problem among philosophers who still
maintain a separate mind? Are there any dualist philosophers still in existence?

metaphysics philosophy-of-mind descartes mind-body dualism

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asked Dec 21 '11 at 16:31

Jon Ericson

4,5952350

Did Descartes accept that the soul does not exist in time and space? Or was Descartes only
concerned with the mind and considered the soul to be a separate question? What exactly is
meant by "mind" in the context of Descartes? Is this related to "consciousness" or "sentience"?
Are these words used with similar meaning in French and English (or even German)? (The
meaning of "body" and "soul" is probably the same in different languages, but I'm less sure
about the other words.) Thomas Klimpel Dec 22 '11 at 0:55

@Thomas: I'm afraid I've not actually read Descartes except short excepts translated to English.
Presumably anyone answering the question will have a better handle on what he meant than I
do. (However, I would imagine he started with Cogito ergo sum and reasoned from there.) Jon
Ericson Dec 22 '11 at 16:00

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3 Answers

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accepted

Wikipedia is brief:

Dualism in modern and contemporary philosophy

The American philosopher Arthur Oncken Lovejoy in his The Revolt Against Dualism (1960)
develops a critique of the modern new realism, reproposing a form of dualism based on a "fork
of human experience."

Arthur Oncken Lovejoy, founded Journal of the History of Ideas wrote the paper Dualism and
Paradox of Reference

His complete works and biography can be accessed here.

On the other hand, Thomas Nagel, of "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" (1974) fame is known for his
stance against reductionism. In the same wikipedia entry:

In "What is it Like to Be a Bat?", Nagel argues that consciousness has essential to it a subjective
character, a what it is like aspect. He states that "an organism has conscious mental states if and
only if there is something that it is like to be that organismsomething it is like for the
organism." His critics have objected strongly to what they see as a misguided attempt to argue
from a perfectly true fact about how one represents the world (trivially, one can only do so from
his own point of view) to a false claim about the world, that it somehow has first personal
perspectives built into it. On that understanding, Nagel is a conventional dualist about the
physical and the mental. This is, however, a misunderstanding: Nagel's point is that there is a
constraint on what it is to possess the concept of a mental state, namely, that one be directly
acquainted with it. Concepts of mental states are only made available to a thinker who can be
acquainted with his/her own states; clearly, the possession and use of physical concepts has no
corresponding constraint.

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answered Dec 22 '11 at 5:44

user1207

Thanks for the answers and especially the links. I don't think this answers the question of how
mind and body interact, however. Perhaps the answer is that nobody has proposed answers to
the question lately? Jon Ericson Dec 22 '11 at 16:12

You are correct Jon it doesn't answer that question. It was an attempt to the question if there are
any dualist philosophers still in existence, but it was too long for comment. user1207 Dec 22
'11 at 22:26

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It is common nowadays to distinguish substance from property dualism. No major philosopher


has advocated substance dualism since Descartes himself, but a large number of philosophers
have advocated property dualism. This is a view which classifies the properties of objects as
being of two kinds, physical and mental, while maintaining monism or quietism about the
ultimate nature of substance.

Advocates of this view include Donald Davidson (his theory of Anomalous Monism), Richard
Rorty (non-reductive physicalsim), Wilfrid Sellars (in his A Semantical Solution to the Mind Body
Problem). They have all argued that there are events which simultaneously have both physical
and mental properties, and that these properties are not reducable to one another. All have
asserted the ontological identity of properties without asserting epistemological identity. Like
Frege's way of differentiating the meaning of two co-referring terms by attributing to each a
distinct 'sense', they are suggesting that physical attributes and mental attributes ultimately
belong to same entities, but that the very notion of a property or attribute is inseparable from
human understanding, i.e. it is epistemic in nature, and hence arises the mind-body problem.

Indeed, of the main schools of thought in philosophy of mind in the last few decades-identity
theory (type and token), functionalism and a so-called 'new materialism'- all of them have
asserted ontological identity of physical and mental properties while respecting the
epistemological irreducibility of physical and mental predicates.

The majority of philosophers asserting views of these kinds would probably accept being called
'non-reductive materialists', i.e. mental properties are physical properties in some metaphysical
but conceptually irreducible sense. The mental-physical relation is one of identity for them, so
they do not give ontological priority to mind or matter, yet they call themselves 'materialists'.
That is because while all objects and events have physical properties, only some of them have
mental properties. In that sense, everything is physical, but not everything is mental.

Many others have rejected this thesis, and the label 'materialism', and rejected the metaphysical
or ontological identity of mental/physical properties, e.g. Jackson, Sprigge, Honderdich. A good
summary is in Chalmers 1996 p. 166+. Rejecting materialism implies a strong dualism about
properties without saying anything about the ultimate nature of substance, or that every event
is physical. The position is close to that of Descartes. Others have adopted a quietism where the
ultimate nature of things is unstated (e.g. the so-called 'New Mysterians' such as Colin McGinn
actually say the mind-body relationship is ultimately unknowable to the human mind).

Most philosophers would agree not all states or events have mental properties (i.e. some events
are purely physical), only some do. Some of these mental events we would characterise as
thoughts, having conceptual properties such as an inferential role or a logical syntax. Other
mental events are not thoughts, e.g. pain. But for materialist philosophers, all mental events are
identical to physical events, i.e. the same event under a different description (e.g. pain is the
firing of C-fibres). The key points of interest for all is the conceptual and metaphysical relations
between the mental and physical properties of such events. The metaphysical level is usually
taken as identity, while the conceptual level is usually characterised as a mutual dependence
relation, which is given the name 'supervenience' (Jaegwon Kim writes extensively on this
relation).
I tend to think that classifying properties in a dualistic way is in a sense fundamental to our way
of thinking about the world, and though it leads to paradox (the mind-body problem), we have
no better schema, idealism and materialism notwithstanding.

Tyler Burges' paper Philosophy of Mind: 1950-2000 in his book Foundations of Mind,
Philosophical Essays vol. 2 provides an excellent summary of recent philosophy of mind.

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edited Jan 14 '12 at 10:49

answered Dec 29 '11 at 13:11

adrianos

1,070711

Welcome to Philosophy.SE! Do these views suggest that there can be events which have mental
properties but no physical properties? Do all events that have mental properties fall under the
label of "thought"? Jon Ericson Dec 29 '11 at 17:31

Hmm... I would have imagined that pain has at least as many (if not more) physical properties
than mental ones. While there electrical signals of pain must have an effect on the mind, it
seems strange that we would say those signals have mental properties since we can measure
them like other physical events. Further, some pain events bypass the mind altogether. At any
rate, you given me a lot to think about. Jon Ericson Jan 10 '12 at 1:20

I updated the answer and deleted out my comments to remove duplication. adrianos Jan 11
'12 at 11:51

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It seems the most usual solution to the problem these days is to simply eliminate the concept of
a mind separate from a body. Therefore our thoughts are something of an illusion that arise from
complex operations of the brain, nervous system and hormone secreting glands. Assuming this
conception of the mind is acceptable to a thinker, the solution is perfectly serviceable

I am not sure if it is indeed as straightforward as you think.

To give you an example, if someone has a brain-stroke (i.e. in laymen terms: the brain suffered
(severe) damage) nobody takes the person to the mental-institution or psychiatry but to the
hospital.

Also there has been medical operations where part of the brain has been removed, but the
patient's memory was not also partially lost.

In many such cases, one would expect that the opposite would happen if your assumption was
indeed the case.

I don't think that up-today we know enough about the function of the brain to fully reject this
concept of duality/separation which originates from Greek philosophers.

Aristotle on the interaction of mind/body gave a specific example:

If someone is drunk then his personality/psichi also appears altered.

And if someone is under a specific psychological condition i.e. in fear or stress or joy then his
body seems to also present relative points to accompany the state of mind.

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edited Jan 11 '12 at 17:56


Jon Ericson

4,5952350

answered Jan 11 '12 at 17:25

Jim

31013

As a point of reference, I actually believe the mind is separate from the body. The considerations
you've mentioned are important one, but many can be explained physically. For instance,
scientists believe that the brain carries multiple copies of important memories. (It's actually
more complicated than that, but that's the general idea.) Jon Ericson Jan 11 '12 at 17:53

I understand what you are saying.But I don't think that the theories that try to explain these
observations in a physical manner are so good.I have actually read a case that more than 50% of
the brain had to be removed from a patient (as part of a surgical operation) and the patient
successfully survived.A strict logician would expect that if more than 50% of the brain was lost,
then at least 50% of the subject's memories would be lost as well.This did not happen.The
subject had lost various aspect of his persona (of course) but he did not forget anything. Jim
Jan 11 '12 at 18:01

The problem with today's science is that it is separated into specific areas and scientists usually
do not know many thing except their area of concern.So it is easy to miss such observations
when you are a neurologists if you focus on this area and don't view the aspect from the physical
or psychological perspective and vice-versa.This did not happen earlier where there was the
attempt to be expert in many fields Jim Jan 11 '12 at 18:03

@Jim 50% + of the brain removed? I'm finding that hard to believe. Can you cite the reading?
You've got me interested. MGZero Jan 11 '12 at 21:15

@MGZero, people undergo hemispherectomies from time to time -- which by definition involves
the loss of roughly 50% of the brain. (And sometimes more, since the right hemisphere is larger
than the left in some individuals.) Apparently patients often recover with only minor side-effects
when the operation is performed at a young age. senderle May 21 '14 at 13:38

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Does Foucault take a position in Discipline and Punish?

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I am new to Foucault and was studying his essays on Discipline and Punish, I was however
uncertain whether or not he is taking a specific position in this regard. Is the "pan-optical"
method of observation his proposal for overcoming crime? Or is he simply a genealogist, laying
out historical facts?

foucault

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asked Apr 1 '15 at 16:39

O.A.

1728
I think Foucault would argue that genealogy isn't quite history. Mozibur Ullah Apr 1 '15 at
17:27

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His intention is not to lay out a method for criminology (if anything he views the panopticon as
highly oppressive) but rather to examine the genealogy of the penal system to better understand
how power relates to knowledge.

A major trend which emerges from the minutiae of his impressively detailed study is that public,
violent displays of state power were ultimately less effective than the prison system at achieving
their goal of the control of subjects. Publicly torturing or executing prisoners, as was common
before the Enlightenment in Europe, created a spectacle of state power which was external, and
thus just as likely to intimidate its witnesses as it was to give them a rallying point in channeling
their anger against the force of the state. Foucault cites the example of public executions which
were broken up when the assembled crowd became a mob driving away the executioner and
other state officials.

On the other hand, a prison system functions by controlling a population through observation. A
person's movements are micromanaged, and if they break their routine they are punished. the
possible absence of an external witness (the panopticon is set up so that a guard may be
watching the prisoners at any time, but he is invisible to them), means that the authority of the
state is internalized, and the subject begins to "police" his own actions. This is a logic which is
not limited to prisons, but employed in schools, factories, barracks, and society at large. It is how
social normativity functions in general.

Part of Foucault's goal in exploring this transition is to undermine the progressivist narrative of
the Enlightenment. That common story claims that the Enlightenment was driven by humanism
to create a more just society where the rights and human dignity of formerly marginalized or
mistreated people (and sometimes animals) were recognized. Foucault claims on the contrary
that the transition which occurred was motivated by and accomplished a heightening of state
power and the oppression of its subjects by causing them to internalize the state authority.

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answered Apr 1 '15 at 18:24

Jonathan Basile

633210

Foucault, in his essay "Panopticism", mentions the following: "To return to the problem of legal
punishments, the prison with all the corrective technology at its disposal is to be resituated at
the point where the codified power to punish turns into a disciplinary power to observe".
Doesn't this imply that he is actually proposing panopticism as an efficient means to control
crime? O.A. Apr 3 '15 at 9:00

I strongly disagree. Foucault does not think that increasing the forces of repression or
subjugation through observation is a good thing. And he does not think these forces are limited
to the penal system. They are at work in every strata of society. Here is a quotation from his
debate with Chomsky: "one of the tasks which seems immediate and urgent to me...is this: that
we should indicate and show up, even where they are hidden, all the relationships of political
power which actually control the social body and oppress or repress it." he is diagnosing what he
views as a form of oppression Jonathan Basile Apr 3 '15 at 20:46

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What does Michel Foucault mean by the micro-physics of power?


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I was wondering if anyone could help me understand what Michel Foucault means by the
"micro-physics" of power in Discipline and punish:

What the apparatuses and institutions operate is, in a sense, a micro-physics of power, whose
field of validity is situated in a sense between these great functionings and the bodies
themselves with their materiality and their forces.

Are they the specific details pertaining to each individual that the "body politic" observes and
examines in order to gain more control?

foucault

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edited Jan 6 '16 at 1:43

Joseph Weissman

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asked Apr 3 '15 at 17:05

Artist

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Going on the basis of this passage only; Foucault appears to be describing an ontology of power;
which isn't flat ie of one form - only the large institutions of power, whose motions are
commonly the subject of politics and history; or the counter-narrative pioneered by Marxism
and Social Darwinism which reduces these situations to individuals - to the personal, the self and
the body: ie 'each individual'.

His micro-physics of power is situated between these two canonical ontologies of power; so it's
in-between, more temporal and transient.

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answered Apr 5 '15 at 12:03

Mozibur Ullah

24.7k42393

I do not quite understand your answer, Foucault explains most of the terms he uses, for instance
"body politic" he claims is: "A set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons,
relays, communication routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest
human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge". But there is little
clarification in "Discipline and Punish" for what he concretely means by "Micro-physics of
Power". I would appreciate if you could clarify your answer. Artist Apr 5 '15 at 21:07

I'm not sure if I'm explaining his term; more that I'm rephrasing it; it doesn't seem to have made
it clearer; does it help to say that micro-physics is about the tactical and strategic usage of power
as opposed to its possession by the state or body? Mozibur Ullah Apr 6 '15 at 10:12
This made me think of metaxy; have you come across this term? labreuer Apr 6 '15 at 15:10

Only very vaguely: I see it was referenced in Simone Weils work which is where I probably saw it;
she uses it in the sense of connection - a wall seperates but it also connects. Mozibur Ullah Apr
6 '15 at 15:49

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Does 5 + 7 = 12 really say anything new?

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I'm not sure why 5 + 7 = 12 should say anything new: I take it to be a shorthand notation to give
a name to 5 + 7, which anyway is nothing but 5 times the unit + 7 times the unit, so there is not
really anything "new" here. Or is there?

If we see it the other way around, as 12 = 5 + 7, maybe 5 + 7 is not contained in 12: we have a set
of 12 objects, and we say that we can see it as a subset of 5 objects + a subset of 7 objects, so
we say that that subdivision of the original set of cardinality 12 exists. But is that really "new"?

Of course, 5 + 7 = 12 is cited as an example at the beginning of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason,


when he explains his view of analytic and synthetic knowledge. The question here though is not
meant to criticize analytic judgments, but rather to criticize synthetic a priori judgments. I
believe (for the sake of argument) that mathematics is composed entirely of analytic judgments,
not synthetic ones, and I am trying to understand why Kant could argue at all that mathematics
was in the synthetic camp.
More precisely. To define analytic and synthetic judgments, Kant writes at the beginning of the
Critique of Pure reason, 2nd ed (emphasis mine):

Entweder das Prdikat B gehrt zum Subjekt A als etwas, was in diesem Begriffe A
(versteckterweise) enthalten ist; oder B liegt ganz auer dem Begriff A, ob es zwar mit
demselben in Verknpfung steht. Im ersten Fall nenne ich das Urteil analytisch, in dem andern
synthetisch.

Which can be translated as:

Either the predicate B belongs to the subject A, as somewhat which is contained (though
covertly) in the conception A; or the predicate B lies completely out of the conception A,
although it stands in connection with it. In the first instance, I term the judgement analytical, in
the second, synthetical.

So my question is why does Kant further say that Der arithmetische Satz ist also jederzeit
synthetisch (Arithmetical propositions are therefore always synthetical): what is ganz auer in 5
+ 7 = 12, if we see 12 as just a convenient short name for 5 + 7?

philosophy-of-mathematics kant analytic-synthetic-divide

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edited Apr 2 at 23:38

asked Apr 2 at 0:20

Frank

19718

Depends on whether you're a Platonist or a formalist. user4894 Apr 2 at 1:07

@user4894 - can you elaborate? Frank Apr 2 at 1:26


If you're a Platonist, you believe that 5 + 7 = 12 expresses a truth about the world. If you're a
formalist, you see it as a definition in a game of formal symbol manpulation. It's like asking if the
way the knight moves in chess is meaningful in the real world. Of course not, it's a formal game.
To a formalist, so is math. user4894 Apr 2 at 2:54

@user4894 I don't see how this touches upon the issues presented by OP. You point to a
distinction in truth, but truth was not what was at stake. The question is one of something like
"sameness of meaning (or definition)". Even a formalist can distinguish between the definitions
presented by arithmetic and those presented by set theory, e.g., they'd just tend to make the
distinction in something like syntactic or deductive terms. Dennis Apr 2 at 3:49

@user4894 - I agree with Dennis - I think the problem touched upon here is quite different from
a platonic/formalist problem. And 5 + 7 = 12 is from the beginning of the Critique of Pure Reason
by Kant, when he talks about analytic v synthetic knowledge. Frank Apr 2 at 4:38

@Frank I'll have to yield to the Kantians, but I've always found the analytic/synthetic distinction
murky. user4894 Apr 2 at 4:52

@user4894 - it makes a lot of sense to me as a demarcation criterion between maths and the
natural sciences. Frank Apr 2 at 14:44

this is precisely Frege's problem. see loyno.edu/~folse/Frege.html mobileink Apr 2 at 19:39

Possible duplicate of Was Locke right that analytic knowledge is vacuous? Conifold Apr 2 at
20:21

@Conifold - no this is not a duplicate. I do not make the point that analytic knowledge is
vacuous, only that mathematics is not synthetic a priori, and instead, completely analytic. My
question would be perfectly answered by an explanation of why Kant believed mathematics was
synthetic a priori. Frank Apr 2 at 21:34
You are simply using the words differently than Kant, your question will be answered once you
spell out what "analytic" means to you (I am guessing something like "derivable from axioms by
logic alone"). To him "analytic" was essentially synonymous to vacuous because his "logic" was
Aristotle's syllogistic, and with no "axioms" allowed. Frege, Russell, etc., changed what "logic"
means today, but that was a century after Kant. Aside from Kant though, the legitimacy of
epistemic closure, which your viewpoint assumes, is highly dubious. Conifold Apr 2 at 21:49

@Conifold - I am using the word analytic at least very closely to the meaning in Kant: the
predicate B belongs to subject A, it is contained in it. I think that's different from vacuous,
although it does feel somewhat tautological. I have no use for epistemic closure in my question,
which is: how could Kant make maths synthetic a priori. I do not even talk about knowlege at all.
The status of mathematics with respect to knowledge is yet another question. Frank Apr 2 at
21:58

Sorry, but you are not. To him "contained" means contained conceptually, and you can not help
yourself to some external axioms that relate concepts to other concepts, e.g. the axioms of
arithmetic. But even if you could try deriving 5+7=12 using only syllogisms. When you say "was
contained anyway in the original axioms" what you mean (to make it true) is was entailed by the
original axioms, and under the full force of modern logic, not syllogistic. So your requirement on
"new" (knowledge) is that it is not entailed by the "original", which is exactly epistemic closure.
Conifold Apr 2 at 22:09

@Conifold - thanks for the correction. Let's drop any axioms from the question to simplify it. I
don't think they are needed here. The question remains: is there anything "new" here. And what
does synthetic a priori mean anyway? I am currently understanding synthetic as "adding
something new" and analytic as "not adding something new, but better understanding
something" (the predicate B belongs to A, das Prdikat B gehrt zum Subjekt A als etwas, was in
diesem Begriffe A (versteckterweise) enthalten ist). Frank Apr 2 at 22:39

"Adding something new" is too vague to mean anything. You can define "something new" as
beyond epistemic closure under modern logic extended or not by special axioms, you can select
any list of such axioms and/or weaken/strengthen the logic you allow at your leisure. On the
austere end of it, with only syllogistic and no axioms, you'll find Kant's version of "something
new" as "synthetic". The substantive question is how much is needed for the kind of elementary
arithmetic you focus on (primitive recursive arithmetic will do), without specifying that the
"question" is about choice of words. Conifold Apr 2 at 23:09
@Conifold - agreed on the vagueness - I will introduce a clarification in the question. I would like
the question to stay focused on understanding synthetic a priori though, more than being about
mathematics - although I would love to ask questions about the epistemological status of
mathematics too. Frank Apr 2 at 23:19

Since you already accepted an answer it might be a good idea to post a new question that
focuses more precisely on what you are looking for rather than edit this one (in particular,
elaborate on your informal notions of "synthetic" and "analytic"). It will go to the top of the
queue and attract more attention. You can link to this question to provide context if necessary.
Conifold Apr 2 at 23:31

@Conifold - let me see what I can do - but on second thought, I think the answer below is still
appropriate. Sorry for lack of precision in the original question - at least we got many interesting
pointers from my OP. I'll surely post more questions later. Let me ask one about the status of
maths as "knowledge". Frank Apr 2 at 23:40

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You seem to have hit upon the paradox of analysis, or at least issues in the vicinity. The whole
SEP article on Conceptions of Analysis in Analytic Philosophy is worth a read, but the section on
G.E. Moore is particularly relevant.

A little snippet:

Consider an analysis of the form A is C, where A is the analysandum (what is analysed) and C
the analysans (what is offered as the analysis). Then either A and C have the same meaning, in
which case the analysis expresses a trivial identity; or else they do not, in which case the analysis
is incorrect. So it would seem that no analysis can be both correct and informative.

As the same paragraph notes, the paradox is also discussed in Plato's Meno and various writings
of Frege.

Since you tagged the question "Kant", I'll note that the same page has some quotations from
Kant on analysis. Famously, Kant thought of math as synthetic -- and so not engaged in analysis --
and he is taken as the inspiration for Intuitionism as well as Frege's later views on geometry. I've
never been able to make much sense of Kant, though, so I won't venture to explain his views or
comment on whether those inspired by him "got the right idea" from his writings.

As for why Kant thought math was synthetic a priori, I refer you to the SEP article on Kant's
philosophy of mathematics. In particular, the section "Kant's theory of the construction of
mathematical concepts in 'The Discipline of Pure Reason in Dogmatic Use'" contains the most
relevant information:

The central thesis of Kant's account of the uniqueness of mathematical reasoning is his claim
that mathematical cognition derives from the construction of its concepts: to construct a
concept means to exhibit a priori the intuition corresponding to it.... Kant claims further that
the pure concept of magnitude is suitable for construction because, unlike other pure concepts,
it does not represent a synthesis of possible intuitions, but already contains a pure intuition in
itself. But since the only candidates for such pure intuitions are space and time (the mere
form of appearances), it follows that only spatial and temporal magnitudes can be exhibited in
pure intuition, i.e., constructed. Such spatial and temporal magnitudes can be exhibited
qualitatively, by displaying the shapes of things, e.g. the rectangularity of the panes of a window,
or they can be exhibited merely quantitatively, by displaying the number of parts of things, e.g.,
the number of panes that the window comprises. In either case, what is displayed counts as a
pure and formal intuition, inspection of which yields judgments that go beyond the content
of the original concept with which the intuition was associated. Such judgments are
paradigmatically synthetic a priori judgments (to be discussed at greater length below) since
they are ampliative truths that are warranted independent of experience (Shabel 2006).

In 2.2 they discuss the argument you start off with and some of the disagreements in
interpretation.

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edited Apr 2 at 4:31

answered Apr 2 at 3:28

Dennis

3,19111033

Yes, this is taken from Kant, who uses exactly that example to show that mathematics has to be
synthetic a priori, which I do not subscribe to. I like the analytic/synthetic distinction, but I
believe that mathematics is on the analytical side. So I was trying to make sense of Kant's
argument to make mathematics synthetic a priori. It seems to me he missed important things
about mathematics. Frank Apr 2 at 4:20

@Frank from the little I know it has to do with knowledge of math deriving from our intuition of
space and time and thus being more akin to observation -- but "observation" delivered by pure
intuition as opposed to the empirical sciences (hence it being a priori). I'll update the answer to
include links relevant to that issue. Dennis Apr 2 at 4:25

Thanks a lot. Hmmm. It sounds like I need to dig into this one. My view is that mathematics is a
game of logical deduction from arbitrary axioms, where we have left any kind of intuition by the
wayside, as well as any kind of connection to "the real world" which is the domain of empirical
(synthetic for me) sciences. I also think that derivations from axioms using logic do not contain
more that what is already in the axioms. Frank Apr 2 at 4:30

I think that, historically, Kant's view of mathematics could not be sophisticated enough: this
would require the emergence of non-euclidean geometries, and other modern developments,
that make it more obvious that you can do a lot of (modern) mathematics without a priori
intuitions of space and time. Topology or algebraic geometry extend light-years beyond any
intuitive idea we might have of space, by now. Frank Apr 2 at 4:36

@Frank yea, Kant is VERY difficult due to the systematicity of his thought and its relative
unclarity without substantial study. I've not made those efforts, myself, but I find that every time
I think I've made sense of something he says an expert comes along and shows how I've failed to
take something crucial into account. Good luck! Dennis Apr 2 at 4:37
@Frank yea, the relevance of non-Euclidean geometry to his thought is a substantial area of
debate. I've been told that it's not as devastating as might be thought that he was ignorant of
those matters, but that's where my interest and patience for Kant wears out. Dennis Apr 2 at
4:39

@Frank: Apart from Gauss probably being influenced by Kant (too lazy to search for the question
it is mentioned in), the real question is what is to be understood under synthetic. If 7+5=12, or,
for that matter, 12=5+7 could be understood solely out of the understanding (or, more
specifically, experience) of 12, this would totally be an analytic truth. But is this really the case?
Do we, by experiencing "twelveness", really analitically have to subsume 5 and 7? Or is it more
some kind of additional operation of the mind that brings 5, 7 and 12 together, for that matter?
Philip Klcking Apr 2 at 4:54

@PhilipKlcking - there is no "experience" of 12. There is an intellectual construction of


arithmetic from a few arbitrary axioms and the use of logic. The words "experience" and
"intuition" in my opinion have nothing to do here, and even more, we want to eradicate them to
construct arithmetic. The only "operation of the mind" involved would be logical inference. To
me, 5, 7, and 12 are just convenient names we give to |||||, ||||||| and ||||||||||||, each
mark obtained by adding another "|" to the previous one, which is allowed by the axioms. "+ 1"
only means "adding one more |". Frank Apr 2 at 14:50

@Frank: Dewey would (and I think rightfully so) criticise that this is intellectualistic
reconstruction out of concepts that are abstracted out of experience much later - genealogically
speaking - taking these abstract concepts as primary. The fact that the axioms have - historically
speaking - been formulated very late supports this view. Philip Klcking Apr 2 at 19:12

@PhilipKlcking - this is not a very impressive critic in general. It is not true that all of
mathematics was abstracted out of experience after the fact. Today, it is possible to posit axioms
a priori, ex nihilo, and apply logic to infer by deduction. That goes back to the discussion about
non-euclidean geometries, which Kant could historically not know about. In any case,
mathematics should be free to posit arbitrary axioms, this is a liberating move, it would be quite
uninteresting if mathematics had to follow experience. Frank Apr 2 at 19:32
Isn't the statement "5+7=12" new to a student just learning arithmetic? If this is so, at what
point does "5+7=12" cease to be new to the student? If we ask whether "5+7=12" SAYS anything
new, don't we need to consider the word SAY. Does it mean SIGNIFY or COMMUNICATE? If it
means COMMUNICATE, it clearly can say something new. If it means signify, does the idea of
NEW actually mean anything? Who is there for it to be new to? Philip Roe Apr 15 at 20:31

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What arguments are there against counter examples to Kant's perfect duties?

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What arguments are there against counter examples to Kant's perfect duties? By counter
examples I mean "repugnant conclusions" like the duty never to lie to stop a murderer, as well as
trivial conclusions like the duty never to try and win a game of chess.

I personally like the idea that what we have perfect duties toward are character traits, like
generosity and benovolence, because it seems reasonably intuitive to say that we should never
have a deceitful character nor a competitive attitude, but that honest people can still lie.
Alongside the imperfect duty to e.g. give to charity, like Kantians suggest.

What sort of solution is that?

ethics kant categorical-imperative virtue-ethics

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Your double negative in the first sentence is a little confusing, are you asking what arguments
support the notion that perfect duties should be followed through despite the repugnant
conclusion? Or arguments which crowbar Kant's ethics into something that fits what people
already know about how to behave and have done for thousands of years? Isaacson Feb 9 at
7:58

either is fine, tho i don't think that the phrase is a double negative? @Isaacson also your's is very
clearly a false dilemma and unhelpfully worded user6917 Feb 9 at 11:25

False dilemma how? I'm referring specifically to your final question "What sort of solution is
that?", solution to what problem? Isaacson Feb 9 at 11:53

eh then it's really badly worded, if you're asking a question about my "solution", then you seem
to asking whether i think that it entails going through with repugnant conclusions? @Isaacson
why would you say that "or"? to cause offense? that's strange user6917 Feb 9 at 11:59

You seem to have accepted that there exist counterexamples to Kant's perfect duties. You have
then asked if there are any arguments which counter these counterexamples, suggested one
possibility and asked what sort of solution that would be? That Kant might be wrong (on account
of the counterexamples you admit exist), that is not a problem that requires a solution. We do
not need to "make Kant right" in some sense. Isaacson Feb 9 at 12:54

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From the Groundwork section 2, emphasis mine:

[C]ondescension to popular concepts is certainly very commendable if the elevation to the


principles of pure reason has already happened and been achieved to complete satisfaction; and
that would mean first founding the doctrine of morals on metaphysics and, when it has been
established, afterwards obtaining access for it by means of popularity. But it is without rhyme or
reason to want to comply with it in the first investigation, on which all correctness of principles
depends... It is clear from what has been said that all moral concepts have their seat and origin
completely a priori in reason...

The best response to a "counterexample" to Kant is, "So what?"

Providing counterexamples completely misses the point. Kant's task is to start essentially at the
beginning, by analyzing the pure concepts of morality, duty, freedom, etc, and to see what he
can make with them. While we would of course like to have the results of this investigation
match up with our every moral intuition, we cannot possibly require this. Then we would be
stipulating the correctness of our intuition, something which we have no justification for.

A small note: All of that is seperate from the morality of any given action, but I find most of the
really repugnant conclusions stem from a misunderstanding, or an artificially constrained set of
options.

While you can't lie to a murderer, you can very easily refuse to answer. And if you are being
tortured, and so forced to answer, would anyone really blame you for breaking?

Of course you can try to win a game of chess. You shouldn't play someone at chess simply to win,
but rather because you want to have an enjoyable experience with them. And you're not
contradicting their rational will by struggling with them for victory, because they do not in fact
have a will but rather a wish to win. Winning a game of chess is not completely in our control,
but rather relies at least in part on the actions of another, so while we can desire it, we cannot
will it in the same way we would, say, will that we stand up.

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edited Apr 11 at 23:07


answered Feb 10 at 11:10

Canyon

53513

You're missing the point of the counterexamples. It's not that the maxim "never lie" is wrong, it's
that making two or more maxims categorical can lead to situations in which it is impossible to
follow both. In your first example above, what would you do if your categorical maxim was
"never lie, or refuse to answer questions". Isaacson Feb 10 at 14:34

In order to avoid the problem that would cause you'd have to say that you would not want it
universalized because of the difficult situations it could get you in, but then you just have
consequentialist ethics instead. How is that an improvement on saying that you should not lie
but instead refuse to answer question, in that particular scenario because of the consequences
you can predict would result from not doing so. Isaacson Feb 10 at 14:41

We don't have a perfect duty to answer questions. Therefore we can choose to not answer
questions, for a great number of personal reasons. We do, however, have a perfect duty to tell
the truth. Canyon Feb 13 at 5:42

The question is not can we get around the problem of never lying as a perfect duty, it is do we
need to. It is a problem which plagues interpretations of Kant, this effort to show how one can
use Kantian ethics to arrive at the conclusions that we wanted to arrive at in the first place (not
helping the murderer in this case). We're not trying to 'make Kant right', we're trying to establish
which system for analysing moral choices assists us best in making the right choice. Isaacson
Feb 13 at 8:12

The fact that Kantian ethics can produce the right answer merely affords it entry to the
competition, what matters is whether it does so better than consequentialism, evolutionary
ethics, religion etc. For this we would need to see it reach conclusions which were a) counter-
intuitive (so that the system is required at all), b) turned out to be "right" in the end (which we
may establish empirically, or by reason) and c) would not have been equally concluded by other
ethical systems (otherwise one could conclude that any ethical system works equally well.
Isaacson Feb 13 at 8:13

Why would we judge an ethical system on its results as compared to our tenuous moral
opinions, when we could (and, it seems to me, should) judge it on its metaphysical rigor?
Canyon Feb 13 at 10:05

What do you mean by "metaphysical rigor"? What would be an example of a possible ethical
system which failed the test of metaphysical rigor and how might it fail? Isaacson Feb 13 at
10:07

Kant's ethics are, for instead, pretty firmly tied to his metaphysics. You may not buy his
metaphysics, but the foundations are there. Compare that to Adam Smith's theory of moral
sentiments. It relies only on our personal feelings of sympathy, and these feelings are far from
universal. Notably he prove that we in some way ought to have such feelings, only that we
generally do---or even that we ought to follow them. Smith reasons entirely a posteriori, failing
to create any kind of imperative or universality. Canyon Feb 13 at 10:14

If you have to first "buy" the metaphysics then you have a religion, not a rational ethics, it
becomes as pointless as debating whether one should face mecca to pray, if you "buy" the Islam
then you should because that's what it says in the book, if you don't then you need not. There is
no discussion to be had. In order to dismiss Adam Smith one has to "buy" the idea that our
sentiments are not universal, something which evolutionary ethicists would take issue with.
Isaacson Feb 13 at 10:30

Let us continue this discussion in chat. Canyon Feb 13 at 10:33

What sources discuss the polemic over the Feder-Garve review of Kant's Critique of Pure
Reason?
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The affair with the Garve-Feder review of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in the Gttinger
Gelehrten Anzeigenand is a well-known story (Kant felt misrepresented, and complained bitterly
in the Appendix to his Prolegomena). But there is a second issue in the story, the fact that the
review was shortened by Feder, which apparenty leaves us in the dark as to the original review
by Garve. According to Wikipedia:

"When the original, longer review was published by Garve in the Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek
("General German Library"), it still attracted Kant's censure. Kant consequently wrote his own
Anti-Garve".

But the content is not discussed, and sources are missing. Does anyone know sources that
discuss the original review, and the "anti-Garve" that Kant apparently wrote?

reference-request kant

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edited Apr 21 at 2:08

Conifold

21.3k1978

asked Apr 20 at 15:55

Cure

303112

See Kant's Early Critics. Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 20 at 16:10


1

It seems that Kant's "Anti-Garve" was only a project, later incorporated into his Groundwork for
the Metaphysics of Morals Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 20 at 16:23

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First of all, I agree on both points made by @MauroAllegranza (as I often do).

Regarding "Anti-Garve" and its origins

Timmermann in the introduction to his commentary on the Groundwork (2007, Cambridge UP)
refers to a letter from Hamann to Scheffner (February 1784), where he describes the project as a
counter critique ("Antikritik") against Garve's translation of Cicero's De officiis from 1783 and -
more importantly - an indirect answer against the (complete) review of Garve as published in the
Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek.

It should be emphasised that this is from hearsay (the letter begins with "Einer Sage nach",
which can be translated as "according to accounts received")!

I could not find a complete English translation of this letter, the German original can be found
e.g. here.

The word of the "ever prolific" (xxvii) Hamann is not to be taken too seriously, though, as
Timmermann himself acknowledges in his remark:
It was again Hamann who, in a letter to Scheffner in February 1784, reported that Kant was
working on a Counter-Critique (Antikritik) of Garves Cicero that was, as a matter of fact,
intended as a retort against the unabridged review of the Critique (IV 626). It is difficult to say
whether Hamanns testimony is credible.

In a letter to Herder two weeks earlier, he also says that "it is said that Kant works on" the
Antikritik (see above link).

Interestingly, though, Hamann reports only about six weeks later to Herder, that his "counter-
critique to Garve's Cicero" (own translation) would have transformed into a "prodrom of morals"
[Prodromum der Moral] (German original letter), i.e. into a groundwork.

Regarding a comprehensible story and more sources

I think the most readable summary of how things were and the philosophical drive produced by
the reviews is in Eckart Frster's The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy (2012), pp.48-53.

It is a good compromise between length, readability and academic quality.

There, it is made clear that Feder essentially mutilated Garve's review and added a comparison
to Berkeley, which Kant so bitterly adressed in the Prolegomena. He received Garve's original
review by mail (on Aug 21st 1783, see below), and found valid criticism of his arguments about
freedom and morality, as Frster argues:

In the dialectic Kant had, on the one hand, shown that we cannot know anything about God and
that theoretical cognition of supersensible objects must be ruled out as impossible in principle.
On the other hand, he argues that certain propositions of practical reason cannot be true, or
rather, cannot motivate action unless we can assume the existence of God and a future life. It is
thus the validity and obligatory force of the moral law itself which reintroduces God into
theoretical cognition, while at the same time it is the idea of God which serves to explain the
bindingness and validity of the law . For reason finds itself constrained to assume the existence
of God, Kant writes in the Critique, since otherwise it would have to regard the moral laws as
empty figments of the brain (A811).
Kant is thus guilty of a petitio principii which only becomes clear to him through Garves
objection (for the published version [i.e. Gttinger Anzeigen] of the review had passed over this
point as incomprehensible). His explanation presupposes the very thing it is supposed to explain.
(The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy, p.52)

Frster is one of the main proponents of reading the Groundwork as essentially an 'Anti-Garve',
even down to its structure, btw.

Also, together with Timmermann's commentary, a lot of sources can be found for further
reading on the discussion.

For a different take with further sources, see Allison's commentary (Oxford UP, 2011), pp. 5-10
and 52ff. He takes a third stance, saying it is the challenge Garve's Cicero puts on "the very idea
of a metaphysics of morals" (p. 6).

Good sources not mentioned in either of the commentaries, nor Frster (but only in German,
just like the mentioned, excellent Schnecker, Beister, Reich, etc.): Immanuel Kant in Rede und
Gesprch by Rudolf Malter (ed.) and Kant und das Problem des metaphysischen Idealismus by
Dietmar Hermann Heidemann

Regarding Kant's own perception of the difference between the two versions of the review

Kant did indeed, in a letter to a third person, clearly express the severe differences between the
reviews as published in the Gttinger Anzeigen and the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek
respectively (to Johann Schultz, Aug 22nd, 1783)

I have the honor, dear sir, of transmitting for your evaluation the Garve review forwarded to me
yesterday by Herr Oberconsistorialrat Spalding. I have only been able to skim it quickly, there
being various other distracting tasks lying in the way; however, dispite his frequently mistaking
my meaning, which is hardly avoidable, I found the review quite different and far more thought
through than what is contained in the Gttinger Anzeige (which was supposed to be by him).
(Ak. 10:349-50, translation taken from the Cambridge Edition Correspondence, p. 206)

Keep in mind that he writes this before he even had the time for an in-depth analysis of the
arguments! Together with Frster's reasoning, it makes Timmermann's remark that "Kant still
had little reason to be impressed" by the full review (xxvii) rather improbable.

As a counter-argument to that another letter from Hamann to Herder should be considered that
deals with the Garve-review as well (from Dec 9th, 1783):

Kant is not satisfied with it and complains of being treated like an imbecile. He won't answer it;
but he will answer the Gttingen reviewer, if the latter dares to review the Prolegomena as well.
(translation from Corr., p.201, fn.1)

This translation is not entirely correct, though. Hamann originally writes "Er soll nicht damit
zufrieden seyn", i.e. "Kant is said not to be satisified". Again - heresay. He points out the
sentence before that he did not have the heart to ask Kant personally when visiting him,
although this was the original purpose of his visit. One might argue that the contents of his
reports are generally quite accurate, though.

Regarding a translation of both reviews

In case it helps for research: a translation of both reviews, as referenced in the Correspondence
translation by Arnulf Zweig (pp.206-7, fn.1),

may be found in the appendices to James C. Morrison's translation of Schultz's Exposition of


Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (University of Ottawa Press, 1995).

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edited May 6 at 20:01

answered Apr 21 at 7:20

Philip Klcking

5,30611034

I will definitely check Frster's book. At the moment I'm finding some contradictions about the
matter. According to Frster (you said) Feder mutilated Garve's review, but according to a
different source, Asenji Gulyga, "Kant found there was little difference between it and the
Gottingen invariant" (Immanuel Kant: His Life and Thought, p 119; available at googlebooks:
goo.gl/58tTzS). Cure Apr 21 at 18:00

@Cure: Having read both, I find it hard to imagine. Garve did not misunderstand Kant to a level
where he even could describe it as essentially the same as Berkeley's idealism, nor is the
criticism of the circular argument in the Canon of Pure Reason included, the main drive that led
towards the Groundwork. Kant himself points out severe differences in a letter to Garve! On a
side note, Paul Guyer will soon publish about another possible dimension overlooked in the
genesis of his refutation of idealism in the B-edition of the first critique: Mendelssohn's
arguments against idealism. Philip Klcking May 3 at 8:44

Thank you. Do you have a source for Kant's letter to Garve? It would help me a lot for a project
I'm writing.. Cure May 4 at 14:59

@Cure: Sorry, I mistook the very respectful and benelovent letter to Garve where Kant responds
to Garve's "coming out" regarding the "authorship" of the Gttingen review (Ak. 10:336-43, Corr.
pp. 195-201) with another letter. I quoted and referenced it in the almost completely re-written
answer. Philip Klcking May 6 at 15:25

What is intuition for Kant?

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Intuition appears to be a relatively abstract concept, an incomplete cognition, and thus not
directly experienceable. Kant says that all knowledge is constituted of two parts: reception of
objects external to us through the senses (sensual receptivity), and thinking, by means of the
received objects, or as instigated by these receptions that come to us ("spontaneity in the
production of concepts").
(The above is entirely based on Critique of Pure Reason, Paragraph 1, Part Second,
Transcendental Logic I. Of Logic in General)

He says that in order to have a cognition we need both intuition and conceptions. Is intuition,
then, some kind of highly momentary un-reflected state of passive receptivity? Is it more of a
theoretical concept which does not form an experienceable part of cognition?

Even the second part of the process (conceptual part) he describes in the telling phrase:
"spontaneity in the production of concepts". If concepts are also occurring spontaneously,
without much active, controlled thinking taking place, then is the entire knowledge producing
activity very transitory as seems to be implied?

epistemology philosophy-of-mind kant

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edited Apr 21 at 2:51

Conifold

21.3k1978

asked Mar 19 at 20:15

Ootagu

311

You can see Kirk Dallas Wilson, Kant on Intuition, PhilQ (1975) as well as Lorne Falkenstein, Kant's
Account of Intuition, CanJouPhil (1991). Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 19 at 21:01

this sort of question would be good for the community wiki, imho user3293056 Apr 21 at
10:07
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Not exactly. You are trying to map Kant into modern cognitive psychology, which is a natural
thing to do, but can only give us an idea of what Kant might have been getting at from our
modern perspective, not how he actually thought about it. In his own mind he was not working
with introspective data, nor was he trying to build a dynamical model of mental cognitive
processes. In the Preface to Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science he explicitly writes that
"the empirical doctrine of the soul will never be "a properly so-called natural science", see
Steinert-Threlkeld's Kant on the Impossibility of Psychology as a Proper Science.

In his mind Kant reasoned from characteristics of knowledge (of the kind available to us) to
functional elements that must be in place to make it possible, these are his signature
"transcendental arguments". These elements included sensibility, productive and reproductive
imagination, understanding, reason, the cryptic "transcendental unity of apperception", and of
course the a priori forms of intuition. Characterizations like "highly momentary un-reflected state
of passive receptivity", or anything else like that, would sound insufferably psychologistic to
Kant. "Spontaneity" is not anything psychologistic either, it refers to the fact that concepts are
not read off from empirical input, or seen through intellectual mindsight, as most philosophers
thought before him, but rather are produced by the subject herself, as part of those functions
necessary for having knowledge. Kant does mention in Critique of Pure Reason (A78/B103) that
productive imagination is a "blind but indispensable function of the soul, without which we
should have no knowledge whatsoever, but of which we are scarcely ever conscious"
(A78/B103), but he is far from concerning himself with whether it is controlled, transitory, etc.

Now what of intuition? It helps to put it into the context of Kant's time as well. It has little to do
with the modern colloquial meaning, something like what Peirce called "instinct for guessing
right". According to Adams, the Latin term intuitio was introduced by scholastic authors:

"[For Duns Scotus] intuitive cognitions are those which (i) are of the object as existing and
present and (ii) are caused in the perceiver directly by the existing and present object. [...]
According to Ockham, an intuitive cognition of a thing is that in virtue of which one can have
evident knowledge of whether or not a thing exists, or more broadly, of whether or not a
contingent proposition about the present is true."

But by the time of Kant belief in such special faculty of immediate knowledge was severely
undermined by nominalists and then empiricists. Neither Platonic/Aristotelian theories of direct
perception of forms, nor "rational intuition" based on "innate ideas" a la Descartes, etc., had
much credibility left. So Kant's notion of intuition is much reduced compared to its predecessors.
Here is Hintikka's description of how Kant understood intuition:

"The only notion of intuitiveness that was alive for him was a diluted one amounting to little
more than immediacy. But Kant gave this immediacy a special interpretation. He thought that
our representations (Vorstellungen) could relate to objects in two different ways, either
indirectly, via the general characteristics (Merkmale) they have, or else directly, as particular
objects. Thus intuitiveness came to mean for Kant simply particularity...

As a consequence, Kant does not normally speak of intuitive knowledge. Intuitiveness is for him
in the first place an attribute of representations (Vorstellungen), not of items or kinds of
knowledge. For him, intuitions in the minimal sense of the word are nothing but singular
representations in contradistinction to general concepts. Intuition was not a source of truths or
insights, but merely the medium of representing particulars, and intuitive knowledge was for
him, not knowledge proclaimed to me by a special oracle called intuition, but simply knowledge
obtained by means of such representations, especially by the method of exhibiting general
concepts by means of their particular representatives... There was for Kant no definitory link
between intuition and sense-perception or imagination. Purely symbolic algebraic symbols could
be "intuitive" merely because they represent particular numbers."

Kant himself talks not as much of intuition being the medium of representing particulars
("undifferentiated manifold of sensation" is more of that for the sensory cognition) as of
individual intuitions as particulars there represented. The intuition/concept duality is explicitly
analogized in the Amphiboly of Concepts of Reflection to Aristotle's matter/form. So it is as hard
to put a finger on what intuitions by themselves are as on what Aristotle's prime matter/pure
potentiality might be, divested of all form. In CPR A68/B93 we read that "whereas all intuitions,
as sensible, rest on affections, concepts rest on functions", which suggests that intuitions might
be akin to what is now called "qualia", but without the subjective/psychological connotation.
However, as Pippin remarks in Kant on Empirical Concepts, the role of intuitions remains murky.
He does try to offer a reconstruction:
"That is, relatively little attention, either in Kant or in the literature, has been devoted to the
positive details of his theory of empirical knowledge, the exact way in which human beings are in
fact guided by the material of sensible intuitions... Any intuited this can be a this-such or of-
a-kind, or, really determinate, only if a rule is applied connecting that intuition (synthetically)
with other intuitions (or remembered intuitions) in one consciousness. Or, finally, to say that
one concept includes or refers to many representations is not to assert a problematic relation
between one abstract entity (like a universal) and many other entities. It is only to express that a
rule can be applied in many different instances of intuiting. More generally, we can say that
concepts thus do not refer to anything; they classify conceptual activities and are thus used
universally and do not name a universal."

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edited May 5 at 4:10

answered Mar 19 at 21:33

Conifold

21.3k1978

Two remarks: First, could you add the citation for the quote of Kant in the middle of the post?
Second, I miss a definite answer of what intuitions are. I guess it is rather clear from the famous
"Concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind" that intuitions are
representations [Vorstellungen] of the manifold of sensibility that are conceptually structured by
imagination and understanding through the categories. This could work as hypothesis for a
positive determination, couldn't it? Philip Klcking Apr 21 at 6:55

@PhilipKlcking I added the citation and tried to add some clarity on intuitions, but even Pippin
says that Kant is obscure on what they are exactly. Conifold Apr 21 at 20:38

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Kants universalization explained, How does one universalize a thing?

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I am having some doubts in understanding universalisation of maxims in Kants Categorical


Imperative.

For instance, one can determine whether a maxim of lying to secure a loan is moral by
attempting to universalize it and applying reason to the results. If everyone lied to secure loans,
the very practices of promising and lending would fall apart, and the maxim would then become
impossible.

How would I apply in cases like: Should I eat meat, or should I drive under speed limit?

How does one universalize a maxim?

kant categorical-imperative universals

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edited Nov 8 '16 at 13:03

asked Nov 8 '16 at 12:27

Matas Vaitkevicius

7471826

We do not universalize a "thing" but a maxim for actions. E.g. "should I drive under speed
limit ?" YES, because if all do not stay within speed limits the occurrence of car crashes will
increase dramatically. Mauro ALLEGRANZA Nov 8 '16 at 13:03
1

Perhaps you could clarify the problem you're having. The example you've given seems to capture
the process fairly well to me. Isaacson Nov 8 '16 at 16:27

@Isaacson Hi, so for example with Should I eat meat one could take extreme example and say
that we will eat all the animals and then will die from starvation - which obviously is nonsense,
same could be applied to most of things when taken extreme case it will be bad,... I am not
trying to argue the Kant, it's just not obvious how one is expected to universalize a maxim,... I
hope I am making sense... :) Matas Vaitkevicius Nov 8 '16 at 16:49

@mobileink: Nope, "I should do X" is not a maxim. "I should do X" is an imperative. And Kant
invests quite a lot in pointing out the difference. Philip Klcking Nov 9 '16 at 3:35

@Mr.Kennedy: I am pretty sure that what Kant tried is pointing out the necessary conditions of
the possibility of our moral intuitions (= transcendental philosophy), beginning from his example
of a liar in CPR (B582-84), where he just points out that we hold persons morally responsible for
their doings even if we can explain their action completely through empirical findings (read:
science). His ethics, and the CI in particular, investigate how this may be possible as "real" (and
not mere chimera) at all. Especially considering the time I think that to be pretty advanced truth-
seeking. Philip Klcking Nov 9 '16 at 3:42

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What is a maxim?

Jens Timmermann argues in his not translated book "Sittengesetz und Freiheit" (DeGruyter,
2003) Chapter IV that there are at least three different senses in which Kant uses the term
"maxim".

The one important for the question is neither what could be called "basic principle", nor what
could be called "higher order maxims" or "meta-maxims" (maxims that rule (the choice of)
maxims). It is the simple sense of the particular subjective principle of a particular action (see
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Ak. 4:400, 420 fn).

Furthermore, according to Timmermann, each single maxim contains

A particular situation

A particular intent/end [Zweck] the action is aiming for

The particular means/action for achieving the intended outcome (and thus what Kant calls
"practical rules")

The mentioned example

In Kant's own words, he describes it as follows:

Another sees himself pressured by need to borrow money. He knows full well that he will not be
able to repay, but also sees that nothing will be lent to him unless he solemnly promises to repay
it at a determinate time. (Groundwork, Ak. 4:422)

We can rather easily see how the maxim should look like: Being in financial distress [Situation], I
shall to give a false promise [means] in order to get money [intention/end]. Kant himself gives
the following formulation:

When I believe myself to be in need of money [Situation] I shall borrow money, and promise to
repay it, [means] even though I know that it will never happen [situation] (ibid)

As you can see, the actual intent/end of getting money is only implicit in this case, but should
nevertheless always be taken into consideration when it comes to fully fleshed out maxims.
Your examples

I would argue that you examples are not proper maxims at all, and that's why it is hard to
universalise them per application of the Categorical Imperative. They lack situational and
intentional dimensions.

Regarding universalisation in general

Henry Allison argues in his Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary,
Chapter 9 (Oxford UP, 2011) that in order to correctly understand the Categorical Imperative, we
have to apply a certain mode of universalisation. He further argues (and I strongly disagree with
him here), that the original formulation would only include intra-subjective universalisation,
while the Formula of Autonomy would necessarily include inter-subjective universalisation.

Inter-subjective here means that we explicitely keep our subjective standpoint and reason from
our feelings and knowings, not abstracting from ourselves. Inter-subjective, on the other hand,
means that we explicitely take into consideration the conceivable needs, thinkings, and positions
of others, essentially not asking "can I", but "is it possible to think at all".

I think that while the term inter-subjective universalisation is good, Allison misunderstands the
whole argumental arc of part two of the Groundwork by not pointing out that the chapter is
analytical and therefore all that happens is an explication of what is contained in the original
formulation.

Explaining Kantian universalisation

But how can we understand this form of universalisation? It means that we basically have to put
ourselves into the shoes of every single rational being (in the Kingdom of Ends) and, using this
perspective, decide wether our maxim is morally acceptable or not.

To make this a bit more explicit: At the same time we have to imagine
a) that every single person would in this situation necessarily act the same way our maxim
proposes (as per the Formula of Law of Nature) and

b) that we have to respect the dignity of every single person in our decision, always treating
them as autonomous agents, never as mere means (as per Formula of Humanity). This does
explicitely not exclude using people as means, otherwise being an employer could end up being
immoral.

In a second step, considering these two aspects, we will see wether there

a) already is an inner contradiction in this thought ("it cannot even be thought") - For example
the false promising would destroy the whole social instrument of promising as nobody would
believe in promises anymore if we knew that everybody will necessarily lie the moment he
thinks to be in trouble. But the maxim relies on that very presupposition (see comment below as
well). So there is a inner tension (or contradiction) in trying to make false promising a
(necessary!) general law for everybody. Because for making the promise (or communication in
general) work it is essential that people believe what you are saying. But a law like that would
undermine the credibility of such utterances. That means a principle like this as a general law
violates logic and is in this sense "unthinkable" - coherently. Or

b) looking at how society would end up like if everyone would necessarily do it the way you do
cannot be wanted by you (read: as an empathetic, rational being! Sado-masochists could be fine
with everyone slapping random persons for sexual stimulation, but this is not what we're talking
about!). This account is insofar not trivially consequentialist as it is completely irrelevant what
the actual consequences of your actions would be. All that counts is what a society of sentient,
rational, and potentially morally perfect beings would end up like (abstracting from specific
cultural and situational circumstances) if your maxim would become one of its general laws.

This is basically the argument he presents over the course of the second part of the
Groundwork, summarised in 4:435-40.

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edited Apr 30 at 9:37

answered Nov 9 '16 at 3:18

Philip Klcking

5,30611034

IMO this doesn't quite get to the point of question, which seems to be about quantity. Even if
the questioner hasn't proposed a "regular" maxim, doesn't his questions relate to some possible
maxim? For instance: "when in hunger, I'll eat meat to my satisfaction". This leaves out how
much meat someone should eat. But the behavior of a gluttonous person, when generalized to
the whole population would produce a shortage of meat. The problem is: how to proceed when
the mean used is something else than a binary variable (e.g. "lying" or "not lying"), such as a
quantity of meat (e.g. 100g)? ejQhZ Nov 9 '16 at 4:29

@ejQhZ: Don't you think that it is included in the evaluation (the last b) in my answer? If for
satisfying my hunger, eating only meat until my stomach bursts would, in universalisation, lead
to shortage, messed up digestion and so on (and this WOULD happen!), how can I want this? Not
to speak of the problems with vegetarians ;) I think that without heavy situational restraints, the
test would fail. This is what most people do not get: For Kant, in order to be a virtuous person,
you need to know a hell lot about how the world works first. It is made explicit in his later works.
Philip Klcking Nov 9 '16 at 4:40

Frankly, I wasn't sure it is included, because it doesn't tackle this issue explicitly. But writing out
the maxim, it occurred to me as well that in so far as everyone eats to their satisfaction (after all,
it said "to my satisfaction", not to the satisfaction of Henry VIII), there would be no issue at all.
And in other maxims as well, if everyone acts to produce the ends they desire according to
sound judgement, sensible results may follow and the maxim will be generalizable. ejQhZ Nov
9 '16 at 5:02

@ejQhZ: Regarding lies...Kant is so rigorous about it because in his view, the whole of human
communications relies on the premise that lies are exceptional. Introducing a general law (as per
CI) that not only allows lying, but rather obliges not only you, but everyone else as well, to
necessarily lie in according situations (while you cannot possibly know everyone's situation),
makes human communication as such unreliable in his view. That is why lying is contradictory in
thought, as he puts it (4:424). Philip Klcking Nov 9 '16 at 5:09

I am told that Kant did in fact weigh in on the quantity of meat one should consume -- that it is
touched upon in a discussion of 'degrading the proper sentiments' as an aspect of 'using oneself
as a mere means'. But this was in a course 20 years ago and I cannot find the reference. Can't
universalize never eat meat, becase to deny someone eating anything could mean someone who
has just that starves. But shouldn't encourage levels of production that render workers callous by
need. Using oneself in a way that violates empathy lowers the future ability to universalize
correctly. jobermark Nov 9 '16 at 15:02

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I do not think that universalizing a maxim is a deterministic process, it is more of a negotiation


with yourself and the logic of the maxim. The same intuition can take the form of several
different maxims. But Kant theorizes that the cohesive nature of intelligence and the limitations
of the human will are going to make them agree in principle. (That is a huge assumption, which
requires an almost religious level of faith to accept, even after thousands of pages of
argumentation. Fortunately for Kant, he was already religious.)

One way of looking at the goals in that negotiation are these:

Everyone should be considered: You should determine whether there are people whose state
you are ignoring, or whose autonomy you are infringing.

Duties should not conflict: You should always see if some competing rule is more likely to be
universalized.

All good wills should agree: When you have refined the thought you should try to imagine an
arbitrary person of good will and see if they would be harmed in any way.

The intention should be simple (not easy): At the same time, you should make the maxim itself
as broad as possible, and exclude accidental conditions. (Accidental conditions render the maxim
not 'categorical' enough.)

The statement should be forthright: This is less important, but to my mind, it implies avoiding
negation (especially negation of negative terms) and using simple terms and minimal grammar.

If you can make changes on any of these fronts, you should modify the maxim and try again.

You should not lie to get a loan because you should not lie. (You can broaden the maxim, so you
should try.) You would not want to be the person lied to. (Who are you not considering?) We
want to avoid ambiguity as to what lying is, since people want to lawyer about, for example, lies
of omission. We don't need to consider that case yet. So it is nice to flip this injunction over. (We
are seeking simplicity.) The maxim 'When you speak, say what you believe' should not offend
anyone. If someone has asked you a question and expects to hear from you something you do
not believe, his intent is to use you as a means: to bolster his ego, or to maintain a fiction for
others, for instance. (If a generic example of someone who would disagree is automatically
acting in bad faith, then all the well-intended would agree.) Lying to get a loan, like all other
kinds of lying, involves saying things you don't believe.

(There are still weaknesses here. We have not chosen explicitly not to address the case of lying
by omission, but we have firm agreement that applies to our case. To deal with lying by
omission, we can come up with an independent maxim for when one is obligated to intervene in
someone else's error. Then, if one is not obligated to intervene, then remaining silent is moral,
even when it is dishonest.)

Consider "Don't eat meat." There are whole tribes of primitive peoples with no arable land and
no way to store food who live off cattle. We should not consider poverty and bad conditions sins,
so it should be OK for them to eat a cow when it dies. So this cannot be a duty. Can we flip it
over? "Eat all the meat you want." Well, how do we get meat? Someone produces it. Why don't
we all produce it ourselves? Well, it would bother us. Why? Not just because it is dirty or hard,
but also because using an animal as a tool involves withholding empathy: we do not like being
used as mere means, and we naturally, if inappropriately, extend that empathically to animals. Is
it just uncomfortable to withhold empathy, or is it bad? Well, for a Kantian, if we were totally
subject to empathy, we would lose our autonomy, so some low level of it must be OK. But it
obviously becomes bad at some point, because our whole process of moralizing involves
empathy. Can we do the job at all without being bad? Yes, at some level, like the dairy cow that
dies on its own, it is clearly possible to simply harvest the meat. Without going into the details of
exactly where the cutoff lies, it is possible at some level to raise cattle and not be bad to them.
We can trust that call to someone else. But we can use the idea now, and do the research later.
"Consume at most that quantity of any given product that can be humanely raised and fairly
distributed in your society." Who would object? Farmers that want to make more money than
they can while being humane are actors in bad faith. Who else? I can't think of anyone.
"Should I drive under the speed limit". Well, you should probably not do things that violate other
people's expectations in a way that make them unable to keep themselves safe. I think you can
universalize "Obey the local customs when they are safe and moral for you and others." In
Chicago that means obey the speed limit, when violating it might endanger anyone, and break it
if going slowly might be less than safe. (If you go 55 on all of our 55MPH roads, you will
eventually cause an accident.)

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edited Nov 9 '16 at 20:57

answered Nov 9 '16 at 18:39

jobermark

16.5k740

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The problem with Kant's ethics in general is that he adds so many caveats and footnotes to make
it fit reality that he ends up providing no real insight that was not already there in the instinct of
the person reading it. Your problem with universalizing to the extreme is covered by just such a
set of caveats, namely that;

Firstly, a maxim should be derived by reason in the first place and must only be universalized
through categorical (as opposed to hypothetical) imperative to apply to everyone. So "I should
eat meat" would only be a rational maxim used in a categorical imperative if it were phrased "I
should eat a reasonable amount of meat" and so avoid the extreme you cite. This, of course
requires that the person deriving the maxim already knows what sort of outcome would be
acceptable prior to the universalizing, and so doing so has not yielded any real insight.

Secondly, general principles cannot always be applied to specific cases (undermining the whole
point of general principles). If individual judgement can be trusted on which cases it applies to
and which it does not, then there is no meed for the moral law in the first place. This applies to
your "always drive below the speed limit" maxim, which, in special cases, may need to be
broken.

Thirdly, Kant admits that there are conflicting maxims which may advise contradictory actions at
any one time. This, again, leaves the agent to make a decision which, if they have the ability to
do so, they do not need the law in the first place. This does not relate directly to your issues, I've
added it for the sake of completeness.

Your doubts may simply be asking Kant's ethics to do more than it is capable of.

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edited Nov 10 '16 at 9:44

answered Nov 8 '16 at 18:43

Isaacson

1,067110

1) Judging Kant's ethics without including his later works into the reading cannot do him justice,
as he explicitely states in his Anthropology and hints at in the Groundwork already. 2) A maxim is
made up by our appetitive faculty, to be explicit our "Willkr", which is to be distinguished from
our "Wille", although both may be translated as "will". The latter is practical reason and imposes
rules upon the appetitive faculty, as expressed in the table in the CoJ. 3) I think if someone asks
for help in understanding Kant, it is not a good move to argue against him without
comprehension of it Philip Klcking Nov 9 '16 at 3:25

@Philip You are mistaking disagreement (and also some degree of brevity demanded by the
format) for lack of comprehension. I'm well aware that much of Kant's ethics extends to his later
works, these comprise the "caveats and footnotes" I mention in my first paragraph, which
together require so much of the intuition and individual judgement as to make little more than a
complicated description of ethics. Isaacson Nov 9 '16 at 7:56
The rules imposed on our appetitive faculty I have attempted to describe in layman's terms in
the second paragraph I see no sense in just repeating Kant when the OP was clearly looking for a
translation into something more understandable in normal terms. Isaacson Nov 9 '16 at 7:57

Finally I think many people, certainly in my academic experience, have the root of their "failure"
to understand a philosopher in the expectation that they are going to say more profound than
they actually do. Knowing what limits can be placed on what has been said is an essential step to
proper understanding, otherwise we have something little more than hero worship. Isaacson
Nov 9 '16 at 8:02

For me, it is simply painful to read about maxims treated as imperatives, although maxims are
subjective, imperatives objective principles of acts. These are obvious things, not caveats or
footnotes. Furthermore, yes, it is important in philosophy to understand the boundaries and
flaws of a text. But in order to do so, the first step is to make the text as strong as possible and
understand it historically, systematically and exegetically as good as possible. The flaws and
problems that remain are proper objections. If you miss the first part, your criticism will have to
be superficial. Philip Klcking Nov 9 '16 at 19:29

1) I think in Kant there is no intention to motivate us to discover moral principles, only to refine
our existing intuitions. The whole thing could never work unless have what is moral built into us
naturally, we could not rely upon our will as a standard of reference. 2) There are contingent
duties. So there is no intention that a general principle should apply to specific cases, autonomy
means that it is just fine for lots of specific cases to remain undetermined and subjective. 3)
Duties do not conflict for Kant, so if maxim conflict, one of them is flawed or incomplete.
jobermark Nov 9 '16 at 20:14

@Philip I had mistakenly used the word imperative in my second paragraph where I intended to
be talking about maxims throughout. I don't know if this what your first sentence refers to, but
thanks for highlighting the error anyway, I have now edited it. I don't agree that the first step is
to make the text as strong as possible. We do not owe Kant anything, he chose to publicise his
ideas for a reason, that opens them up to public critique, the onus is on the author to make the
concepts clear, not the reader to try and see them in the most positive light. Isaacson Nov 10
'16 at 8:54
Two things to consider: Firstly, maxims are not hypothetical or categorical, it's imperatives that
are. If you want to use these terms at all, maxims are always hypothetical, as they are
conditioned by both the situation and the intent. Secondly, these texts are more than 200 years
old. They presuppose the knowledge and understanding of Leibniz, Wolff, Hume, Spinoza, and
many others. It is just the writing style of their time. The "make concepts clear" style is in the
tradition of analytic philosophy, that hardly has a history of 130 years. Measuring each text on
that standard seems arrogant. Philip Klcking Nov 10 '16 at 9:40

@Philip Again, I have edited to make what I was trying to say more clear, thanks. The point I was
trying to make was that in order to universalize to all, his maxim would have to be phrased
differently as in its current form it's really saying "If I'm hungry, I should eat some meat to satiate
my hunger" which is appropriate for a hypothetical, not categorical imperative. I hope I have
now made this more clear. Isaacson Nov 10 '16 at 9:48

@Philip Secondly, I'm not "measuring" the text by any standard, we are not here to give Kant a
score out of ten, what matters is the value of the ideas in current thinking. Historians can invest
themselves in debates about what Kant meant, Philosophers are better occupied with what
seems to be regardless of whether Kant actually meant that or not. A considerable amount of
learning time is wasted trying to interpret older texts when the ideas of value have already be
drawn out and expanded upon by more rigorous and readily comprehensible philosophers.
Isaacson Nov 10 '16 at 9:58

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