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How are moral assertions connected with the world of facts?

  1. Jan 22, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    http://www.edge.org/q2002/q_deutsch.html
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2005 #2
    Did anyone ever actually demonstrate that one cannot get an ought from an is? Or did the phrase just sound good?
     
  4. Jan 22, 2005 #3

    GeD

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    >Unlike many ancient philosophical problems, this one has, paradoxically, been made both more urgent and less tractable by the gradual triumph of scientific rationality. Indeed, the prevailing modern attitude towards it is a sort of dogmatic despair: ‘you can‘t get an ought from an is, therefore morality must be outside the domain of reason‘. Having fallen for that non-sequitur, one has only two options: either to embrace unreason, or to try living without ever making a moral judgement. In either case, one becomes a menace to oneself and everyone else.

    Morality has been made with the use of rationality and reason, how can it lie outside it? Morality has been under the guise of rational (& irrational) interpretation of actions. Morality does not exist on its own, we created it.

    So there is no reason to say that rationality is to be abandoned because morality does not exist (ie. embrace unreason). But the idea of 'not making a moral judgement' does not mean that we are forced to embrace nihilism or anarchy.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2005
  5. Jan 22, 2005 #4

    selfAdjoint

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    The phrase is a paraphrase of Hume's empiricist conclusions; you are free to read and refute him if you can.

    Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason in part to refute Hume. Some think he succeeded, others not.

    Hegel set out to refute Kant (not about ought and is). The subsequent history of Hegel's students and followers is, ummmm, lurid.

    How would you get a morality out of empirical facts?
     
  6. Jan 22, 2005 #5

    Les Sleeth

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    I can't give an exact answer to you question, but I do think there are external indicators that can help establish "morals," depending on how we define morality. I've never been able to accept that doing harm to myself should be a moral issue. Even if it is, I don't see how it is a matter for public decisions, so it becomes irrelevant to most discussions of morality.

    However, doing harm to others and the environment (i.e., what we all have to share) -- whether purposely, or from carelessness, or caused by selfish pursuits -- seems to me to be a good basis for morality.

    If that is the standard for determining morality, then there is a lot of evidence to show that doing what benefits (or at least does no harm to) others and the environment helps to ensure our survival as a species. And of course, since survival is well accepted as biologically wired into us, there's the empirical basis for morality! :biggrin:

    One of my favorite examples is how business management concepts changed as employers realized that treating employees like dirt hurt business. Unhappy employees work slower, uncreatively, and without commitment; they take more days off for sickness; they quit more; they steal and sabotage more. All of that costs the business both money and opportunities to make money. Figuring out and applying what helped employees thrive psychologically on the job benefitted everyone.

    A couple of interesting things to me is that (still using the business example) some might say they are being selfish, and therefore immoral, by being good to their employees. But self interest is part of our make up too (from the survival imperative). So doing something for oneself per se can't be considered "selfish" (in the sense of not caring about others). Another interesting thing is that in that business, when managers attempt to apply beneficial management techniques selfishly (i.e., manipulatively, such as really only caring about making money), they seem to screw it up (that's been my experience anyway). In fact, all such "behaviorist" moralists seem to screw up, so it turns out sincerity seems to be required to moral.

    Is sincerity more of a survival thing than we realize?
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2005
  7. Jan 22, 2005 #6
    There are facts which cannot be independently verified, but which are still facts. It is true that I can be sad, but how would you definitely know it? How would the term "sad" even make sense to you, other than with regards to behavior, if you had never been sad? How can you have any proof of the existence of feelings without relying on your own experiences?
     
  8. Jan 22, 2005 #7

    selfAdjoint

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    Your statement just about makes Hume's point, Les, since of course others describe suicide as a sin, and it's a felony in our legal system. Nobody has a system that works for everybody, and there are no universally accepted principles. Even the golden rule isn't considered valid everywhere.
     
  9. Jan 22, 2005 #8

    Les Sleeth

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    Well, I thought we were trying to find an empirical basis for morality, not a consensual basis. :cool:
     
  10. Jan 22, 2005 #9
    They are not, they are social / societal experiments accepted for time being.
     
  11. Jan 23, 2005 #10
    Building on my previous post, I would say that there are events that occur that have moral qualities ("goodness" and "badness"), and based on these value one can try to develop a system of action to minimize/maximize them. Of course, I can no further prove to you these moral qualities than I can demonstrate give you an equation that describes the smell of a flower.
     
  12. Jan 23, 2005 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    So you don't think I have a point that the idea "goodness" and "badness" have developed as part of the psychology of survival?

    Look at the history of humankind as we shifted from hunter-gatherer nomadic life to community life. Why is stealing considered bad? It used to be good for a tribe to be strong enough to steal from Rome, but not for a tribe member to steal from another tribe member. The isolation a tribe felt from nonmembers people allowed them to believe they could escape negative consequences of stealing, and so it helped survival. But it was clear that if you couldn't trust fellow tribal members, then that hurt the functioning of the group and potentially threatened survival.

    Over the centuries we've learned a lot about long term consequences, and also basic human psychological needs. W have learned, for example, (some of us anyway) that if a government is too oppressive it creates more problems than treating people fairly. In other words, we are learning that when people thrive psychologically, they are more likely to contribute to the general good, rather than damage it. As people gathered into larger and larger groups, the community aspect became more and more important, even between communities (e.g., where we used to believe in the "glory" of war, now it is the "evil" of war.)

    If morality is ultimately determined by what helps us survive, then why are there still questions about it? Well, there are still lots of things we aren't sure if they help us survive or not. Should we put law breakers in prison, treat them like dogs, make them suffer, etc. Does that help us better survive? Or should we educate them, treat them humanely, etc. and see if that is better for survival (of the community). What about abortion? Save the baby, but what about the impact to society of having mothers either who can't or won't take care of the baby?

    Even religious morals can be seen as trying to do what God wants in order to survive (go to heaven).

    Now, I do think there is another avenue to the same thing. If morals is the "outward" behaviorist approach, then the "inner" approach is to be attentive to how things make one "feel." For me, it has turned out that kindness, love, compassion, honesty, understanding, being unselfish . . . all of it makes me happier than not being that way. I personally prefer to do what makes me feel good because it is easier than remembering a bunch of morals, and a lot more natural too. :smile:
     
  13. Jan 24, 2005 #12

    GeD

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    I agree that while both those inner and outer behaviorist approach can be helpful...What happens when you feel better being mean, hateful, malevolent, dishonest, ignorant and selfish? ;)

    Just as a little question/advice, what do you think of not 'relying' completely on how you feel and/or not 'relying' completely on "rational morals"? It doesn't mean that you should forget your feelings or just abandon rational thinking.
    Basically, why not put thinking along with feeling and the senses in every decision whenever you can - according to the situation or the moment. Why not just forego universal or unchangeable principles and reactions. Adapt to the situation - if the situation changes around you, how come your actions do not?
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2005
  14. Jan 24, 2005 #13

    Les Sleeth

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    That sounds reasonable to me. I would say that the "feeling" side of it has taken me the major part of my life to recognize it to the degree I have. Conditioning can cloud sincere feeling and so, as you say, it might feel good to someone to harm another person.

    The thing is, some things that feel good in the short term, do a number on one's psyche later and cumulatively. It might take a bit of living to discover what feels good from start to finish, and leaves one happier overall. In the meantime, I agree it is smart to study the situation or the moment and adapt.
     
  15. Jan 31, 2005 #14
    I think that your feelings are useful as a basis for knowledge, with respect to morals, because you learn of what pleasure and pain are. They do not directly tell you external facts, and even in the case of sensation, there are exceptions to correctness of the senses. However, based on knowledge of the existence of feelings, once can use reason to develop a system of ethics/morals.
     
  16. Jan 31, 2005 #15

    learningphysics

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    Pain in itself is bad. Pleasure in itself is good. This is unprovable, but I'm certain it's true.

    The situation can get more complex when more than one person is involved... long term pain vs. short term.... long term pleasure vs. short term... etc.

    Would anyone challenge this assertion:
    "A universe where all beings are happy, is better than a universe where all beings are miserable."
     
  17. Jan 31, 2005 #16
    Better than pleasure is health. Happy, ineffective morons are not as good people as unhappy, effective geniuses are.
     
  18. Feb 1, 2005 #17

    GeD

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    The point is, not everyone feels the same phenomena, especially not in the same manner or intensity.

    And of course, one can use reason to develop a system of ethics/morals based on the most common fit - we already have them. The problem is that ethical/moral phenomena do not exist. In relation to this, the definition of 'pain' as bad and 'pleasure' as good, is strictly something interpreted as good and bad in such a moral system. Unfortunately, it is only an interpretation, which even if useful, is neither universal nor free from subjective/relative grading.

    It would better to simply adapt to the moment (or perhaps setting up a system that can be rapidly and easily changed to the situation), than to simply set up a rigid system of rules and values that is to be followed to the letter.
     
  19. Feb 1, 2005 #18
    It's not an interpretation. Pain and pleasure are moral phenomena. They have the qualities that they have regardless of how I would "interpret" them.
     
  20. Feb 2, 2005 #19

    GeD

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    Assuming that we don't need to prove the existence of moral phenomena, pain and pleasure are not moral phenomena - they're feelings that are a result of stimuli.

    I agree with you that pain is pain, and pleasure is pleasure, but it does not tell us how strongly or weakly different people feel such pains and pleasures. There is simply no basis. Thus, if there were ever a moral system involving pain and pleasure, it would always be a relative grading system - a utilitarian faces this dilemma all the time (but instead with the levels of happiness). Your moral system does not become free of such effects simply because you choose to ignore it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2005
  21. Feb 2, 2005 #20
    Obviously, one cannot be completely sure of what others are feeling, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is no basis. As structurally and behaviorally similar creatures, we can often make rather accurate inferences.

    Who says that it has to?
     
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