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Jonathan Townsend
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I disagree with the position which has this presupposition: "That a "thing" isn't a thing without people to have an opinion about it is simply not true."

That cavemen did not know about electrons does not mean that there could not have been electrons back then - however, beyond the verifiable extents of our models of "reality" as a universe of discourse it looks awkward to treat things that are not verifiable as "real".

If you have a problem with that take it up with the small invisible flying pink elephant that says his name is "Elmer" who dictated that sentence above to me - also saying I should take it as good advice.

This is where you are supposed to ask (yourselves) "looks awkward? from what possible personal perspective is that?"
...to all the coins I've dropped here
stoneunhinged
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Jon, just how many of your 24,000+ posts were dictated by Elmer?

I wonder if the OP is still reading this thread? Positions with presuppositions, untruth and unfalsity, things and unthings...and the OP wanted to delete this forum and deprive us of Elmer!
writeall
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Stoneunhinged,
We might make more progress if we take on an example. I can play the pragmatist card, and bring it back around to conjuring as well.

Let us say that we agree, in the general case, that stealing is wrong. Here are two cases to compare:
The first case has one artist (not even a magician, but the example would be a parallel) who stole someone's act wholesale. http://raymondcrowe.com/rip_off.html or, if you just want the gist: http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubbt......r=247757

The consensus seems to be that this was an immoral act (pun unintended), and I agree.

Now, contrast that with other performances we see on the TV talent type shows where some singer sings another's song. The music, phrasing and lyrics are duplicated. In the extreme, we have the Vegas Elvis types, for whom the more exact the copy, the better. This isn't seen as immoral. In some cases, it's seen as honoring the original. Or, if you like, a concert pianist playing someone's song and trying to be technically perfect, note for note.

How, in your view, does this state of affairs fall into what we think of as moral? In one example, copying an act is stealing, in the other, it's fine. Lest we get mired in the side issue of legal permission, I'll remind you that the audience might not know that part but would still judge one as a flagrant rip-off and the other as acceptable. One is a wannabe failure and the other is a "beautiful interpretation." There's more here than law, there's a sense of moral outrage.

Where I'm going with this -- A rule that cannot be applied except conceptually has no external existence, save in the consequences of its subjective application.
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But your examples both use a concept of "stealing" which remains constant. I have no difficulty saying that all ethical decisions are situational. Nor do I have any difficulty saying that my application of a concept to a particular situation is in some way subjective. My difficulty lies with saying that a term like "stealing" has no content outside of the subjective definitions of human beings in different cultures in different times. I would claim that there remains an "idea" of stealing in all cultures that have any concept of property; and I am not aware of any culture which doesn't have such a concept. Property might be defined differently, of course. But taking someone/something else's property without permission is stealing.

And should one actually do the research you described above--quantifying different moral codes in different cultures--I suspect that there would be a lot of commonalities: concepts of murder, theft, impiety, etc. I think most moral codes have some basis in natural law, and natural law has its basis in...ah...uh...nature. And nature does teach us some general principles through pleasure and pain. If I whack my hand with a hammer or shove a nail up my nose, it's gonna hurt. Now, we can go to the sideshow forum and find people who whack their hands with hammers and shove nails up their noses, and their very existence confirms the general rule that it's not a good idea for most people to go around whacking their hands with hammers and shoving nails up their noses. That's natural law. There are exceptions. There are always exceptions. That's what made Socrates famous.

BTW: feel free to call me Jeff or Stone or Stoney, like my other Café friends do. Must I always be reminded that I am unhinged? Smile
writeall
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Jeff,
There's nothing like agreement to kill a conversation, and I find myself in agreement with you. Drat.
Devious
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Thom Bliss
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Writeall, it’s a bit hard to say why relativism and subjectivism are self-contradictory without having a fairly specific theory, and the arguments for it, as the exact way they go haywire differ from theory to theory. Generally, the arguments in support of moral relativism or moral subjectivism imply a more general relativism or subjectivism, one which is so general that it condemns itself. Thus, for example, if all beliefs are relative to the believer’s experiences (or the society in which the believer was raised, or whatever), which I think is part of what Jdmagic357 is arguing, then the relativist’s belief that all beliefs are relative to experiences (or whatever) must be relative to his experiences (or whatever). (By the way, relativism and subjectivism have similar defects but are not the same and are actually inconsistent with each other.)

Jdmagic357 says that “disscussing [sic!] right and wrong is wrong”. The question then is, what does Jdmagic357 mean by ‘is wrong’?

If Jdmagic357 thinks that when people, including Jdmagic357, say that something is right of wrong, they are merely expressing their own approval or disapproval of the thing, then, when Jdmagic357 says that discussing right and wrong is wrong, Jdmagic357 would be merely expressing Jdmagic357’s disapproval of discussions about right and wrong. If that were the case, then one might very well ask why Jdmagic357 would start a discussion Jdmagic357 himself (or herself) disapproves of. And of course, Jdmagic357’s disapproval of such discussions should have no consequences for those of us who see the need for such discussions. But, of course, that’s not what Jdmagic357 means, because Jdmagic357 also proposes the elimination of the right and wrong forum. So Jdmagic357 wants us, or at least whoever it is that could eliminate this forum, to share his or her disapproval of discussions of right and wrong. And while I confess that I don’t understand Jdmagic357’s arguments, the mere fact that he or she presents arguments in favor of the elimination of the forum shows that Jdmagic357 thinks that reasons can be given disapproving of such discussions.

Jdmagic357’s claim that “Whats [sic!] right for one will be wrong for the other” needs further explication. “4” is the right answer and “5” is a wrong answer to the question “What is 2 plus 2?” regardless of who is asking the question, regardless of who is answering the question, and regardless of anybody’s beliefs, feelings, upbringing, experiences, etc. Likewise, “1492” is the right answer and “1942” a wrong answer to the question “When did Columbus sail the ocean blue?” And Planet Earth is neither getting warmer or it isn’t, whether we belive it or not, and whether we like it or not. On the other hand, my tennis shoes might be the right size for me but the wrong size for Shaquille O’Neal. But still, there is a right answer to the question, “What size tennis shoe is right for Shaquille O’Neal?” and the right answer to that question is right regardless of anybody’s feelings, beliefs, upbringing, experiences, etc.

‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ are used to express approval and disapproval (or, more generally, favorable and unfavorable attitudes). The subjectivists are right about that. But then again, ‘true’ and ‘false’ are used to express belief and disbelief. But when we say that something is right or wrong (or good or bad) we are doing more than expressing (or feigning) approval or disapproval, just as when we say that something is true or false we are doing more than expressing (or feigning) belief or disbelief. We are, as it were, suggesting that the attitude or belief should be universal. And that, in turn, implies that there are objective reasons for having the attitude or belief.

Of course there are disagreements about what is right and what is wrong, just as there are disagreements about some matters of fact. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t discuss them. Quite the contrary.

Thom
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writeall
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Excellent response. Pardon me if I chop it up just a bit to make a couple of points in turn.

Quote:
On 2012-01-11 14:55, Thom Bliss wrote: (clipped some to get to here:)
Thus, for example, if all beliefs are relative to the believer’s experiences (or the society in which the believer was raised, or whatever), which I think is part of what Jdmagic357 is arguing, then the relativist’s belief that all beliefs are relative to experiences (or whatever) must be relative to his experiences (or whatever). (By the way, relativism and subjectivism have similar defects but are not the same and are actually inconsistent with each other.)


True enough, but not a contradiction. I admit that my stance is relative to me, subjective and based on my own experience. This doesn't invalidate it, it just changes the ground I need to plow when I'm out to convince you. Since I hold there is no objective standard outside of our evaluation, I am arguing to change your subjective opinion, not on the basis of calling out to some higher standard.

Quote:
Jdmagic357 says that “disscussing [sic!] right and wrong is wrong”. The question then is, what does Jdmagic357 mean by ‘is wrong’?


Indeed. To find out, we'd have to ask him. Obviously, since right and wrong are subjective, we cannot say what he means by just guessing at it.

Quote:
If Jdmagic357 thinks that when people, including Jdmagic357, say that something is right of wrong, they are merely expressing their own approval or disapproval of the thing, then, when Jdmagic357 says that discussing right and wrong is wrong, Jdmagic357 would be merely expressing Jdmagic357’s disapproval of discussions about right and wrong. If that were the case, then one might very well ask why Jdmagic357 would start a discussion Jdmagic357 himself (or herself) disapproves of. And of course, Jdmagic357’s disapproval of such discussions should have no consequences for those of us who see the need for such discussions. But, of course, that’s not what Jdmagic357 means, because Jdmagic357 also proposes the elimination of the right and wrong forum. So Jdmagic357 wants us, or at least whoever it is that could eliminate this forum, to share his or her disapproval of discussions of right and wrong. And while I confess that I don’t understand Jdmagic357’s arguments, the mere fact that he or she presents arguments in favor of the elimination of the forum shows that Jdmagic357 thinks that reasons can be given disapproving of such discussions.


Good point on the face, but it fails because the word 'wrong' is being used in two different senses. Saying that ultimate, objective right and wrong do not exist isn't contradictory. The one sense is meta to the other. When I make a statement about concepts I am relying on a higher level of concept, it isn't polluted by the lower. It looks like this. "All statements are wrong." Well then, that is a statement, so it must be wrong and all statements are right. But, the original "All statements are wrong" isn't talking about itself, it's describing another, lower set. The statement is about other statements. It would be inconsistent if I said, "This sentence is false" but only because I made it self-referential. If we are going to talk about right and wrong at all, we are going to be talking meta.

Quote:
Jdmagic357’s claim that “Whats [sic!] right for one will be wrong for the other” needs further explication. “4” is the right answer and “5” is a wrong answer to the question “What is 2 plus 2?” regardless of who is asking the question, regardless of who is answering the question, and regardless of anybody’s beliefs, feelings, upbringing, experiences, etc. Likewise, “1492” is the right answer and “1942” a wrong answer to the question “When did Columbus sail the ocean blue?” And Planet Earth is neither getting warmer or it isn’t, whether we belive it or not, and whether we like it or not. On the other hand, my tennis shoes might be the right size for me but the wrong size for Shaquille O’Neal. But still, there is a right answer to the question, “What size tennis shoe is right for Shaquille O’Neal?” and the right answer to that question is right regardless of anybody’s feelings, beliefs, upbringing, experiences, etc.


Ah, but you slipped something in there, didn't you? Here's an example. If I say, "Every single blompf is definitely glort" and ask you to state whether that statement is right or wrong, your method fails. Why? Because without the proper context, meaning and experience, you can't know if it's right, wrong or nonsense. Certainly I could try the 2 + 2 on an infant and get nowhere. While I agree that, as humans who take some concepts to be universally true we will agree on some questions, this is a matter of shared experiences and teaching, not some ultimate truth. If I cannot concieve of a situation where 2 + 2 = 5, it may be evidence more for a lack of imagination on my part than any truth value.

Another approach would be to ask a bacterium and see if they agree. This is impossible because we do not share the same attributes. We couldn't even communicate the question, much less get an answer. But this flows naturally from the subjective nature of mathematics. It makes sense only if you have the tools for it to make sense. When we say it is universally true, we are constructing a given, impossible to test but highly useful to our mode of being.

Quote:
‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ are used to express approval and disapproval (or, more generally, favorable and unfavorable attitudes). The subjectivists are right about that. But then again, ‘true’ and ‘false’ are used to express belief and disbelief. But when we say that something is right or wrong (or good or bad) we are doing more than expressing (or feigning) approval or disapproval, just as when we say that something is true or false we are doing more than expressing (or feigning) belief or disbelief. We are, as it were, suggesting that the attitude or belief should be universal. And that, in turn, implies that there are objective reasons for having the attitude or belief.


Ah, but we know one thing pretty well, don't we? That we have been incorrect in the past. So, while we may insist that something be accepted as right or wrong, that is just a manner of speaking, a way to test agreement between fellows, a setting out of axioms so that conversation may move forward.

Quote:
Of course there are disagreements about what is right and what is wrong, just as there are disagreements about some matters of fact. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t discuss them. Quite the contrary.

Thom
.


Good stuff, Thom. I find myself re-energized.
I'd only add that these things have serious, real-world consequences and are not just mental gymnastics played in a forum. How, for instance, am I to deal with a culture (perhaps the Taliban?) that so fundamentally disagrees with some core value I hold to be universal and right? Am I to insist, as loudly and at as great a length as they, that I am right and they are wrong? Shall we end up at an impasse, agreeing that Truth (with a capital T) is universal, while simultaneously disagreeing on what that is?
Thom Bliss
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First, to answer Billmarq’s question, “When right is wrong, what’s left?” Grave and acute.

Another answer to Billmarq’s question. The left is usually right.

The contradiction of relativism.

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong).
(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong.
Therefore, (1) is wrong.

Quote:
"All statements are wrong." Well then, that is a statement, so it must be wrong and all statements are right.


No, the denial of “All statements are wrong” is “some statements are not wrong,” which is true. So the original statement is false.

Quote:
But, the original "All statements are wrong" isn't talking about itself, it's describing another, lower set.

In either case, it’s false.

Okay, so somebody makes a moral judgment – for example, “It’s okay to steal from somebody who has no effective recourse if you steal from them” (a proposition a thief of my intellectual property recently proposed to me). That judgment is, I suppose, based on his up-bringing, his culture, his experience, or whatever. So, depending on the version of relativism, it is either true because he believes it to be true, or not true, because all moral judgments are based on (and polluted by) up-bringing (or whatever) and therefore none of them are true.

Now suppose I make a moral judgment about his moral judgment, for example, “The idea that stealing is okay if you can get away with it is wrong.” My statement, is “meta” – that is, second order, a moral judgment about a moral judgment. But if we believe that all first order moral judgments are based on our up-bringing (or whatever), why isn’t my second-order or meta- judgment also based on my upbringing (or whatever), and therefore either true because I believe it, or “polluted” by my upbringing (or whatever). Alternatively, if my second order judgments can be unpolluted by cultural bias, why can’t my first order judgments somehow avoid the pollution?

And somebody might challenge my second-order moral judgment with a third-order (or meta-meta- ) judgment. But the same question about bias would arise.

Granted, I don’t know what
Quote:
"Every single blompf is definitely glort"

means, and that
Quote:
without the proper context, meaning and experience, you can't know if it's right, wrong or nonsense
I don’t know everything. There is a great deal that I don’t know and also a great deal that I don’t know that is false. My knowing it or not knowing doesn’t change its true or falsity, rightness or wrongness.

Quote:
… but we know one thing pretty well, don't we? That we have been incorrect in the past.

But realizing that we have been wrong is not just changing our view. It recognizes that there is something that we can be mistaken about.

Thom
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writeall
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Quote:
On 2012-01-13 18:35, Thom Bliss wrote:
First, to answer Billmarq’s question, “When right is wrong, what’s left?” Grave and acute.

Another answer to Billmarq’s question. The left is usually right.

The contradiction of relativism.

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong).
(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong.
Therefore, (1) is wrong.


I'll try to fix that little logical puzzle to remove the contradiction for you.

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong) from your perspective.

(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong. Therefore, from my perspective, (1) is wrong.

It really isn't much different than you or I disagreeing on how tall a distant building is. If we are looking at it from different distances, I might say, "Well, obviously, it appears to be as big as my thumb." You may say, from your perspective, "Well, that's not right. When I look, it's as big as my hand."

Because our irises are not as large as a building, there is no perspective from which either of us could say, "It is 40.3 ft high" if we are honest about the appearance in our own eye. If the objection to this is that by comparing to a known standard (as when I typed "ft" above), everyone can agree, then I should like to know what is the known standard, the yardstick, for judgements about right and wrong?
LobowolfXXX
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Quote:
On 2012-01-15 00:59, writeall wrote:
Quote:
On 2012-01-13 18:35, Thom Bliss wrote:
First, to answer Billmarq’s question, “When right is wrong, what’s left?” Grave and acute.

Another answer to Billmarq’s question. The left is usually right.

The contradiction of relativism.

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong).
(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong.
Therefore, (1) is wrong.


I'll try to fix that little logical puzzle to remove the contradiction for you.

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong) from your perspective.

(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong. Therefore, from my perspective, (1) is wrong.

It really isn't much different than you or I disagreeing on how tall a distant building is. If we are looking at it from different distances, I might say, "Well, obviously, it appears to be as big as my thumb." You may say, from your perspective, "Well, that's not right. When I look, it's as big as my hand."

Because our irises are not as large as a building, there is no perspective from which either of us could say, "It is 40.3 ft high" if we are honest about the appearance in our own eye. If the objection to this is that by comparing to a known standard (as when I typed "ft" above), everyone can agree, then I should like to know what is the known standard, the yardstick, for judgements about right and wrong?


I think it's more like two people looking at two buildings, and one of them saying, "Building 1 is taller," and the other saying, "Building 2 is taller." Each is stating the truth as he or she believes it to be from his or her perspective, but (at least) one of them is wrong. Perception ISN'T reality.
"Torture doesn't work" lol
Guess they forgot to tell Bill Buckley.

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writeall
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This part was good too:
Quote:
Okay, so somebody makes a moral judgment – for example, “It’s okay to steal from somebody who has no effective recourse if you steal from them” (a proposition a thief of my intellectual property recently proposed to me). That judgment is, I suppose, based on his up-bringing, his culture, his experience, or whatever. So, depending on the version of relativism, it is either true because he believes it to be true, or not true, because all moral judgments are based on (and polluted by) up-bringing (or whatever) and therefore none of them are true.


In a sense, it restates the original objection. This time, you've switched in the idea of an absolute truth. So, when you say, "it is either true because he believes it to be true, or not true, because all moral judgments are based on (and polluted by) up-bringing (or whatever) and therefore none of them are true," you are relying on some outside, absolute truth. Really, we are talking about some particular person's judgement and nothing else.

The problem is, if you wish to claim either of these absolutes, I should then ask how it is that you would go about demonstrating they are absolute. Isn't it a case of two people with an authentically held difference of opinion, or is there something outside of our own moral judgement (which may differ) to which we can appeal? I'd go with Kant's categorical imperative, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." Others might prefer the golden rule in one of its various forms. I would claim neither to have absolute authority, but either generates a consistent system we could appeal to when trying to settle arguments.

Just to clarify what would be a useful standard or "moral law." Consider the laws of physics, say the law of gravity. I can deny it, disbelieve it, refute it until I'm blue in the face -- at the end of the day, when I drop my coffee cup, it falls on my foot. The law is a statement about something I cannot escape or philosphize away. It has consequences I cannot control. This is what I would demand of an outside, non-relative moral law. This is the challenge for absolutism.
writeall
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Thanks Lobo.
"I think it's more like two people looking at two buildings, and one of them saying, "Building 1 is taller," and the other saying, "Building 2 is taller." Each is stating the truth as he or she believes it to be from his or her perspective, but (at least) one of them is wrong. Perception ISN'T reality."

Two things. I'd need a diagram to show you that buildings of equal height could be seen by different observers, each disagreeing that one is taller than the other, but I take your point. My point is with the assumption there is a single dimension, like height, and a correct answer, if only we could find it.

I agree that perception isn't reality. In fact, this is the basis for moral relativism. We agree that no observer is in any special position and that any one perception cannot be claimed to be on a higher moral plane than any other.

The way we do it in practice is embodied in the court system, where we ask a disinterested, representative pool of citizens to make a judgement. Generally, this works fairly well. The result is relative to a larger culture and this trumps a single opinion which may be more prone to bias. Of course, even that is still relative, as we can see by the different legal systems put in place in different cultures and different judgements about things like human rights or property rights.
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Quote:
On 2012-01-15 01:23, writeall wrote:
This part was good too:
Quote:
Okay, so somebody makes a moral judgment – for example, “It’s okay to steal from somebody who has no effective recourse if you steal from them” (a proposition a thief of my intellectual property recently proposed to me). That judgment is, I suppose, based on his up-bringing, his culture, his experience, or whatever. So, depending on the version of relativism, it is either true because he believes it to be true, or not true, because all moral judgments are based on (and polluted by) up-bringing (or whatever) and therefore none of them are true.


In a sense, it restates the original objection. This time, you've switched in the idea of an absolute truth. So, when you say, "it is either true because he believes it to be true, or not true, because all moral judgments are based on (and polluted by) up-bringing (or whatever) and therefore none of them are true," you are relying on some outside, absolute truth. Really, we are talking about some particular person's judgement and nothing else.

The problem is, if you wish to claim either of these absolutes, I should then ask how it is that you would go about demonstrating they are absolute. Isn't it a case of two people with an authentically held difference of opinion, or is there something outside of our own moral judgement (which may differ) to which we can appeal? I'd go with Kant's categorical imperative, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." Others might prefer the golden rule in one of its various forms. I would claim neither to have absolute authority, but either generates a consistent system we could appeal to when trying to settle arguments.

Just to clarify what would be a useful standard or "moral law." Consider the laws of physics, say the law of gravity. I can deny it, disbelieve it, refute it until I'm blue in the face -- at the end of the day, when I drop my coffee cup, it falls on my foot. The law is a statement about something I cannot escape or philosphize away. It has consequences I cannot control. This is what I would demand of an outside, non-relative moral law. This is the challenge for absolutism.


The statement "Really, we are talking about some particular person's judgement and nothing else," itself, fails to address the same sort of challenge as the appeal to transcendent morality - it is a truth claim that is unverifiable. You may reasonably expect the burden of proof to fall on the proponent of the claim, i.e. the one who argues for the outside moral law, but regardless, that's a side issue. You accept as true the unprovable proposition that there is no outside, non-relative moral law.

I don't think it's a problem, per se, to claim an absolute; one does, however, have to recognize that it's not subject to "proof" as we think of it. It's not really subject to "knowledge," in the way that we equate knowledge to verifiability, and so it's not really the subject of "useful" argumentation; however, many things that are unverifiable are nonetheless true. One may be able to persuade another of an unverifiable claim, but ultimately it's a matter of faith. Again, though, the fact that an assertion cannot be proven or verified doesn't render it false. The claim isn't untrue merely because it's unknowable.
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I cut a bit to get to this:
Quote:
You accept as true the unprovable proposition that there is no outside, non-relative moral law.


I accept it as relatively true. Since I am arguing the relative side, I could hardly make an absolute claim, otherwise, I'd be claiming special knowledge and contradict myself.

Quote:
I don't think it's a problem, per se, to claim an absolute; one does, however, have to recognize that it's not subject to "proof" as we think of it. It's not really subject to "knowledge," in the way that we equate knowledge to verifiability, and so it's not really the subject of "useful" argumentation;


Iheartily agree. This is why I am a pragmatist.

Quote:
...however, many things that are unverifiable are nonetheless true. One may be able to persuade another of an unverifiable claim, but ultimately it's a matter of faith. Again, though, the fact that an assertion cannot be proven or verified doesn't render it false. The claim isn't untrue merely because it's unknowable.


How would you know this part, "many things that are unverifiable are nonetheless true"? But I agree with this part, "The claim isn't untrue merely because it's unknowable." This is actually the power of the relativist position. It doesn't demand that absolutes exist, but may act as if they do. There is some loss of hubris, but it works in practice.

An example comes to mind. I was of two minds on whether to put up a website about building props. I realized it would entail some exposure. Still, I really wanted to do it. Knowing I'm as biased as the next guy/gal, I asked here in the Café. I wanted to get a community sense of it. The sense I got was that it should at least be password protected and not easily searchable from Google, and probably not a good idea in any case. In a very real way, I tapped into a perspective that wasn't my own and benefitted from it. I honestly wanted to know if what I intended was right or wrong. Not universally so, not absolutely so, but in the eyes of people I respect and with whom I share a similar experience -- the love of this art.

I think the fear that moral relativism leads necessarily to chaos and vice is incorrect. All it really does is get people to listen attentively to other opinions, introduce a little doubt, and keep us away from a kind of toxic certainty.
LobowolfXXX
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On 2012-01-15 02:49, writeall wrote:
I cut a bit to get to this:
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You accept as true the unprovable proposition that there is no outside, non-relative moral law.


I accept it as relatively true. Since I am arguing the relative side, I could hardly make an absolute claim, otherwise, I'd be claiming special knowledge and contradict myself.

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I don't think it's a problem, per se, to claim an absolute; one does, however, have to recognize that it's not subject to "proof" as we think of it. It's not really subject to "knowledge," in the way that we equate knowledge to verifiability, and so it's not really the subject of "useful" argumentation;


Iheartily agree. This is why I am a pragmatist.

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...however, many things that are unverifiable are nonetheless true. One may be able to persuade another of an unverifiable claim, but ultimately it's a matter of faith. Again, though, the fact that an assertion cannot be proven or verified doesn't render it false. The claim isn't untrue merely because it's unknowable.


How would you know this part, "many things that are unverifiable are nonetheless true"? But I agree with this part, "The claim isn't untrue merely because it's unknowable." This is actually the power of the relativist position. It doesn't demand that absolutes exist, but may act as if they do. There is some loss of hubris, but it works in practice.

An example comes to mind. I was of two minds on whether to put up a website about building props. I realized it would entail some exposure. Still, I really wanted to do it. Knowing I'm as biased as the next guy/gal, I asked here in the Café. I wanted to get a community sense of it. The sense I got was that it should at least be password protected and not easily searchable from Google, and probably not a good idea in any case. In a very real way, I tapped into a perspective that wasn't my own and benefitted from it. I honestly wanted to know if what I intended was right or wrong. Not universally so, not absolutely so, but in the eyes of people I respect and with whom I share a similar experience -- the love of this art.

I think the fear that moral relativism leads necessarily to chaos and vice is incorrect. All it really does is get people to listen attentively to other opinions, introduce a little doubt, and keep us away from a kind of toxic certainty.


With respect to the claim that many things which are unknowable are true (which in itself is a position that may qualify!), if you accept, for instance, the law of the excluded middle, then it becomes fairly easy to demonstrate, by considering any assertion that is uncertain.

For instance, if you agree that it's impossible to "know" whether or not the sense, "Objective, transcendent moral principles exist" is true or not, then it follows that you would have to agree that it's impossbile to "know" that the statement "Objective, transcendent moral principles do not exist" (since if you could know whether the second is true, you'd know whether the first was true, as well). But per the law of the excluded middle, exactly one of the two statements is true. This example of a true thing which is "unknowable" (indeed, we still don't "know" which of the statements it is that's true!) can be extended to any uncertain proposition p, for which either "p" or "not p" is true but unknowable.

With respect to your example, I think it works just as well from an absolutist point of view. As someone who doesn't adhere to the relativist position, I frequently solicit input from people whose beliefs I respect. Not because I believe that their consensus creates or defines a truth, but rather because I think that on the close calls, I'm more likely to come to the correct conclusion. This is related to your last paragraph, as well; I don't think that moral relativism is needed to get us to listen to others' opinions or introduce doubt (though it may help). What's required is the humility to recognize that although (assuming the absolutist position for the sake of illustration) there is a (capital-R transcendent) "Right," that doesn't mean that my belief about what is Right is correct. I could be wrong about my moral judgment, just as I could be wrong when I eyeball a close measurement. It's one thing to say, "There's definitely 'a' 'Right'," and it's another thing to say, "There's definitely 'a' 'Right', and all of my moral judgments comport with it perfectly."

Conversely, a relativist position could (although it certainly doesn't have to) lead one to more closed-mindedness, in that one who rejects the notion that there's "a" Right may stop the analysis at that point and do whatever (s)he wants. Ultimately, I don't know that either position is inherently more conducive to moral sensitivity and inquiry, because the belief about whether there are transcendent moral truths isn't really a moral position; it's sort of a general philosophical one, and I think that people of good, average, or bad moral character (whatever that means) may find that either position seems right.
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Guess they forgot to tell Bill Buckley.

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writeall
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For instance, if you agree that it's impossible to "know" whether or not the sense, "Objective, transcendent moral principles exist" is true or not, then it follows that you would have to agree that it's impossbile to "know" that the statement "Objective, transcendent moral principles do not exist" (since if you could know whether the second is true, you'd know whether the first was true, as well). But per the law of the excluded middle, exactly one of the two statements is true. This example of a true thing which is "unknowable" (indeed, we still don't "know" which of the statements it is that's true!) can be extended to any uncertain proposition p, for which either "p" or "not p" is true but unknowable.


This only works if you already accept the idea of an absolute truth. In logic and conceptual analysis, this is a defined, axiomatic thing. In relativism, it's the very thing we are interested in, so we shouldn't be introducing it to set up the excluded middle.

The answers are very similar sometimes, except we say things like, "This seems true/false/right/wrong to me." This gets us away from the burden of your construction above and becomes a comment about a specific person instead of the larger idea. As far as whether I would argue "true or not" in the situation above, I'd add a kind of duality to it. So, for example, I might reject the notions of objective and trancendant as nonsensical and the test phrase neither true nor false on that basis. If those parts are repaired, I would point to the subjective nature of the experience and claim that there are multiple correct answers on offer, depending on who is deciding the issue.

I don't see how we can rise above our own humanity in this. While I think there are better places to stand than just a minute's idle reflection, there does not seem to be a place to stand that is untainted by our own concerns, experiences and biology. In short, Man is truly the measure of all things.

One of my favorite examples of what you describe (the part I quoted above) is here: http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_9.html#dysonf
It is predicated on the structure of mathematics and evinces how undecidables are handled.
Jonathan Townsend
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On 2012-01-15 01:18, LobowolfXXX wrote:... Perception ISN'T reality.


Often, it's all that's offered to back up a claim of reality where reality usually means independently verifiable.

Who specifically is asserting the presence of (or better yet attempting to install) a fear associated with moral relativism?

What permits one to claim ethical notions that differ from verifiable patterns of reward and expected rewards in a society?
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Thom Bliss
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As I said in an earlier post, “it’s a bit hard to say why relativism and subjectivism are self-contradictory without having a fairly specific theory, and the arguments for it, as the exact way they go haywire differ from theory to theory.”

In my next post, I tried it anyway. I offered an argument to show that one form of relativism was self-contradictory:

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong).
(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong.
Therefore, (1) is wrong.

I took (1) to be a statement of one form of relativism. And (2) is true – at least it is true that I believe that (1) is wrong. I’m not sure that it’s because of my up-bringing, etc., that I believe that (1) wrong, but I think relativists would be hard pressed to say it was something else.

But writeall’s “fix”, changing (1) to
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No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong) from your perspective,
doesn’t fix it at all. Surely when writeall says he is a relativist, he does not merely mean that he believes that each of us believes what he or she believes! I think that all of us can agree about that! As C. S. Peirce once said, “we think each one of our beliefs to be true, and, indeed, it is mere tautology to say so” (“The Fixation of Belief,” iv, Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 12 [November 1877], p. 6).

At any rate, all that relativists can claim, on this view, is that they accept relativism. Which we already knew. Yet they are so eager to get the rest of us to accept their view. Why is their view any better than anybody else’s? And if it isn’t, why do they want the rest of us to accept it, to have their perspective?

When people think that something is right (or wrong), what are they thinking? Surely each person is not merely thinking that it is right (or wrong) from his or her perspective! That would involve an infinite regress – the next step would be From my perspective this is right from my perspective (or wrong from my perspective). Then we could go to From my perspective it is my perspective that this is right from my perspective (or wrong from my perspective). And we still won’t have said what it is that we think it is, by thinking that it is right (or wrong), even if our judgments that it is or isn’t may be clouded by our culture, or whatever.

And what about the possibility of being mistaken? Does “I was wrong” mean “From my perspective, I was wrong about my perspective”?

To say that an action, practice, or policy is right is, at least in part, to say that it merits or deserves universal acceptance; to say that it is wrong is to say, at least in part, that it merits or deserves universal condemnation. Of course our judgments about what does or does not deserve universal acceptance or condemnation are shaped in part by our up-bringing, our culture, the people we associate with, and many other things. And so are our judgments about Evolution, the Big Bang Theory, Global Warming, Supply-side Economics, Queen Anne's mortality, and Obama's birthplace.

But to say that people disagree about such things, and that their disagreements are at least in part the result of different environments, experiences, etc., does not imply that all of them are right, that all of them are wrong, or that all of them are of equal value.

Thom
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writeall
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I think this is the high point of my day. One gets so little opportunity to practice deep thinking.
"Once more into the fray!"
Quote:
On 2012-01-16 22:50, Thom Bliss wrote:
As I said in an earlier post, “it’s a bit hard to say why relativism and subjectivism are self-contradictory without having a fairly specific theory, and the arguments for it, as the exact way they go haywire differ from theory to theory.”

In my next post, I tried it anyway. I offered an argument to show that one form of relativism was self-contradictory:

(1) No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong).
(2) But, because of my up-bringing, culture, or whatever, I believe that (1) is wrong.
Therefore, (1) is wrong.

I took (1) to be a statement of one form of relativism. And (2) is true – at least it is true that I believe that (1) is wrong. I’m not sure that it’s because of my up-bringing, etc., that I believe that (1) wrong, but I think relativists would be hard pressed to say it was something else.

But writeall’s “fix”, changing (1) to
Quote:
No matter who you are, if, because of your up-bringing, culture or whatever, you believe that something is right (or wrong), then it is right (or wrong) from your perspective,
doesn’t fix it at all. Surely when writeall says he is a relativist, he does not merely mean that he believes that each of us believes what he or she believes! I think that all of us can agree about that! As C. S. Peirce once said, “we think each one of our beliefs to be true, and, indeed, it is mere tautology to say so” (“The Fixation of Belief,” iv, Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 12 [November 1877], p. 6).


Actually, I do believe it's tautological. This is why moral relativism finds a nice partner in materialism. A similar construct would be to remark, "I am right handed because I am right handed." It also has a similar grounding in observation.

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At any rate, all that relativists can claim, on this view, is that they accept relativism. Which we already knew. Yet they are so eager to get the rest of us to accept their view. Why is their view any better than anybody else’s? And if it isn’t, why do they want the rest of us to accept it, to have their perspective?


Here is the rationale (too long to make the case here): http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1698090

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When people think that something is right (or wrong), what are they thinking? Surely each person is not merely thinking that it is right (or wrong) from his or her perspective!


Whose perspective, other than their own, are they using? (We have mentioned that they may be informed by society and upbringing, but to make absolutist claims, they'd need something else, something beyond these.)

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That would involve an infinite regress – the next step would be From my perspective this is right from my perspective (or wrong from my perspective). Then we could go to From my perspective it is my perspective that this is right from my perspective (or wrong from my perspective). And we still won’t have said what it is that we think it is, by thinking that it is right (or wrong), even if our judgments that it is or isn’t may be clouded by our culture, or whatever.


True in the abstract, but limited in the real world by biology. You can try this yourself to see how many steps you can go on such a chain with mental effort alone. Perhaps trying to hold in mind a sequence of "smaller fleas to bite 'em" until you can no longer do so clearly. I find I can't do more than about five without introducing shortcuts and a loss of meaning in the relationships. This is also a well studied cognitive phenomenon.

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And what about the possibility of being mistaken? Does “I was wrong” mean “From my perspective, I was wrong about my perspective”?


No. In the relatvist view, it means, "What I thought before I now think is wrong." This works because perspective shifts with time. One's own perspective is considered undeniable in the sense of "I am incapable of denying it." This isn't the same as a remark on "outside of me" but, again, reflects limitations on what we can believe or manage to disbelieve.

Quote:
To say that an action, practice, or policy is right is, at least in part, to say that it merits or deserves universal acceptance; to say that it is wrong is to say, at least in part, that it merits or deserves universal condemnation. Of course our judgments about what does or does not deserve universal acceptance or condemnation are shaped in part by our up-bringing, our culture, the people we associate with, and many other things. And so are our judgments about Evolution, the Big Bang Theory, Global Warming, Supply-side Economics, Queen Anne's mortality, and Obama's birthplace.


I certainly agree with this.

Quote:
But to say that people disagree about such things, and that their disagreements are at least in part the result of different environments, experiences, etc., does not imply that all of them are right, that all of them are wrong, or that all of them are of equal value.


We are circling round the same issue. I would not say that they are "right" or "wrong" other than in a relativistic way. The very fact of such undecidable disagreements is the point of relativism. Einstein's special relativity and how time is treated is a very good analogy here. There is no universal time or clock. Still, each person, in their own intertial frame, experiences time in the same way. The "truth value" is relative to the observer.

Good stuff Thom. Thank you.
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