Thursday, 23 July 2015

why I can't make up my mind about ethics

You can still have a kind of normativity without free-will. Consider ubuntu (recognition of social determinism), or consequentialism (based on a set of desirable outcomes which have no moral judgment, e.g. economic outcomes, biological flourishing outcomes)
Hence, I think that my position is consistent or coherent..

So let's start with my moral theory. Please bear in mind that this is not a philosophy seminar or a journal, so my account is going to be brief, rough, and faulty. You are welcome to point out the faults, as I am not invested in my position enough to really care if it is true at this stage.

My view is confused. I admit it. I have sympathies for two positions. I am sympathetic to consequentialism, and I am sympathetic to skepticism.

The skeptical position is one of metaethics: Whether there is such a thing as 'good' or 'evil' or 'bad' or 'morally right'. I am more sympathetic to this position than any other.

The argument goes as follows, roughly. The phrase "it is good" or "it ought to be done" is in fact meaningless. If it is not meaningless, the meaning escapes me. I interpret it at most to mean "I expect that you shall at a future date do X" = "you ought to do X". I do not see the modal force of the "ought". Unless it refers to determinism, it has no modal force whatsoever. So, "it ought to be done" could mean "It shall be done" or "I insist that you do X", but doesn't say by what means, in virtue of what force, or in virtue of what authority.

Short of threat of dire punishment (retributivism) I do not see the force.

So, for example, this means that human rights are mere deontology, the same as the ten commandments.
"Thou shalt not steal" is coextensive with "You have a right to property", that is, both terms extend (refer) to the proposition "Property ought to not be taken without permission of the owner". But since I am perfectly unclear what "ought" and "owner" mean, I don't see the force of either "thou shalt not steal" or "you have a right to property". They're both just deontology < Deon, law. This is the law. Whether the force of the law is divine or the UN Charter of Human rights or whatever, it's just an arbitrary law.

Now: Whence these moral or legal laws? Well, presumably they're responses to psychological tendencies. So, we get pissed off when someone takes our stuff, so moral laws, and legal laws, are inventions to say, "you ought to not do x, and you ought to do Y", so as to satisfy this weird psychological atavism that we have.

I just do not see the force of any actual, real moraltiy here. I just see satisfying a psychological tendency with laws.

Now, that deals with deontology. Consequentialism is more tricky. Look. Consequentialism says that what is right is that which brings benefit. So, we ought to have a democracy, say, becuase most people will benefit, rather than the few, e.g. as in a plutocracy. Likewise, we can say, if there's a fat guy and a train, and throwing him in the path of the train by pulling a lever, say, as the only way to save people tied to the tracks (this is a STANDARD philosophical paradox), you end up with the result that it's best to push the one fat guy into the train's path to stop five people tied to the tracks from dying. So this is consequentialist logic: What is the best consequences we can expect, or aim for? And that is then "the good".

I have two problems with it, and it should be obvious. One: Says who that "it is good" rather than "more promoting of life" ? what is the difference? Why add that extra label? Second: What point in the distant future counts as enabling "it is good" ? consider if the five people tied to the tracks were Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and other friends of theirs. Would it still be best to push the fat guy (Churchill) into the way of the train? No? So it depends on a whole bunch of future contingencies which may be unknown as to whether an act is IN FACT good. That is, how it turns out, determines whether it's good, and since we're not omniscient, we can't tell how it will turn out.

What this means is that democracy loses its consquentialist foundation as a morally correct system. It also means that consequentialism fails.

In short, consequentialism is false because something that brings benefit now (whether to me, or to society), may at a later date inevitably cause something worse. We can’t predict without omniscience. So, if we can’t tell, because of consequentialism, whether this is good or bad here or now, we have to choose an arbitrary cutoff point such that good in the short term = good, and good which later causes bad in the long term = unfortunately collateral damage. But that still means the general principle of “future benefit = good” is false.

If consequentialism and deontology both fail, what are we left with? Well, ubuntu, exemplar ethics, duty (supererogation). Each of these have their problems. The most common problem is self-refutingness. That is, they all beg the question of what "and it is good" means. If "good" means "ultimately benefits us", then that's enough. So, if by "it is good that you do ballet" means "you will receive a benefit of discipline and training and elegance", say, then I don't see that you need to add "and it is good". Adding "it is good" adds no new further information.

From this, I conclude that technically, ethics don't refer; they're meaningless.

What I can however see is that we do have norms of behaviour and ideas of fairness. But I think those are built into us biologically and are the proper study of ethologists, not philosophers.

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