Morality and Logic

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ++$_ » Thu Dec 18, 2008 7:58 pm UTC

ndansmith wrote:Show me one value that can be deduced using the formal rules of logic (once again, a syllogism would be helpful) and I will become a believer. Until then, I remain unconvinced.
I think the question is: deduced from what? I don't know what axioms you are willing to consider as a basis for the deduction.

At some level, in order to deduce any normative statement, there has to be at least one axiom that makes a normative assertion. Statements of morality (including "values") are normative statements. So in order to deduce a moral value, one must have an axiom that makes a normative statement.

The problem is that we recognize most normative statements as statements of morality. This means that we have to accept some statements of morality as axioms, and then deduce the rest from those.

Now, there are a few ways out of this problem.

Nihilism is one way out. You say, "Since we can't deduce morality without assuming it, the only moral system is the one with no axioms at all."

Naturalism (I don't know if this is the real name of this philosophy) is another attempt to escape. Generally, we accept a few normative statements as non-moral; for example, "you should eat." Naturalists take those statements as axioms and attempt to use them as the basis for a system of morality.

Personally, I find both of these approaches lacking. Nihilism is akin to saying that "Since we can't deduce anything about points, lines, and planes without assuming facts about those objects, the only geometry is the one with no axioms at all." This doesn't make sense, because the whole point of geometry is to assume a few facts and see what results. There may be multiple geometries -- in fact, there are -- and in the same way, there may be multiple moralities.

Naturalism does end up constructing a moral system, but it's not one that overlaps much with our common conception of morality. You end up with something very much like "You should do anything that you have to do in order to pass on your genes to the next generation." This is a moral system, but it's not the one that most humans accept, so naturalism is not a successful attempt to construct the commonly-accepted morality from non-moral axioms.

My personal belief is that morality, as I see it (which is probably similar to the way in which most people see it), can be deduced from a few axioms. However, I don't know what those axioms are. I am still trying to work them out. Because of the complexity of human interaction, I am concerned that there might have to be a fairly large number of axioms (perhaps 10 or more).

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby setzer777 » Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:19 pm UTC

ndansmith wrote:Humanism is mistaken insofar as it claims that moral values can be derived from logic. Said school of ethics may claim that they are deriving moral values from logic, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Like I said, I will believe it when I see it.


Well, by your criteria *nothing* is derived from logic, because you can never derive axioms from logic. What the phrase "derived from logic" almost always means is that something results from logical deduction applied to a relatively small number of (relatively non-controversial) axioms.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby diotimajsh » Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:29 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:But, yeh, its not the Aristolean thing I'm thinking of. She had something more like: 1. "something" 2. 'something" 3. "something". I think one was that we exist, i.e. she was dismissing philosophy that attacks the assumption that reality exists... and another was that as long as you always think and never act arbitrarily you won't be immoral. something like that.
I haven't actually read all of Atlas Shrugged, but I did read through John Galt's speech at one point. I don't remember all the details, but in this summary of the speech by David Kelley, Kelley says, "All thinking rests on the axioms that reality exists, that we are aware of it, and that things are what they are. A is A," and that sounds like the right three to me.

I think Rand tries to derive moral obligation from the tautology A=A (things are what they are)--Kelley describes it as, "The morality of reason follows from the axiom that existence exists and the choice to live." I find that a bit bollocks. Then again, I'm not that familiar with her work, so I no doubt dismiss it too quickly.


ndansmith wrote:2. Values cannot be deduced from logic.
Perhaps it would help if you clarified what you mean by "logic" here. Do you mean the general notion of rational inquiry, broadly construed? Or that which is deemed "rational" or "logical" in a general sense (as when Mr. Spock says, "That would not be logical"). Or, do you mean formal logics, where "to deduce from" means "to derive from the axioms of a particular logic and those axioms only"? (Actually, we can also derive conclusions from other propositions which were themselves licitly derived from axioms; but I can't figure out how to add that without being confusing.)

I'm also curious about what you would say can be deduced from logic alone, if not values? If we are trying to start from minimal logical principles and nothing else, bear in mind that this won't let us say a lot about the rest of the universe/reality. The point of a general formal logic is to describe universal relations that hold between any entities, not to supply specific facts about particular entities. (Now, when we do start with specific facts from an outside source, of course we can use logical relations to learn new specifics about other entities. But logical systems themselves do not give us specifics to begin with; otherwise they would lose their general applicability.) So in a bare bones logic, we can legitimately argue, "All S are M; All M are P; ergo all S are P." But we cannot deduce from that logic that "All cats are mammals; All mammals suckle their young; Therefore all cats suckle their young," because cats being mammals and mammals suckling young were never axioms. We can only learn that cats suckle their young from the first two premises when we supplement logic with outside information, not when we take logic itself as a foundation. (Consider again the valid/sound distinction. General logical systems never tell us what a sound deductive argument is, only what a valid one is.)

So, again, I don't see that being unable to deduce morality from logical principles alone is that surprising; just like we can't deduce any other non-tautological knowledge from logical principles alone.*

* Leibniz and other rationalists would surely disagree with me here, but they can bugger off =P. Also Ayn Rand and Kant to some degree, I think.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ndansmith » Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:39 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:At some level, in order to deduce any normative statement, there has to be at least one axiom that makes a normative assertion. Statements of morality (including "values") are normative statements. So in order to deduce a moral value, one must have an axiom that makes a normative statement.

If I am understanding your correctly, that is a good restatement of my position.

setzer777 wrote:
ndansmith wrote:Humanism is mistaken insofar as it claims that moral values can be derived from logic. Said school of ethics may claim that they are deriving moral values from logic, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Like I said, I will believe it when I see it.


Well, by your criteria *nothing* is derived from logic, because you can never derive axioms from logic. What the phrase "derived from logic" almost always means is that something results from logical deduction applied to a relatively small number of (relatively non-controversial) axioms.

By my criteria, no values can be derived from logic. Facts or objective claims (which we can call a subset of axioms) can still be deduced from logic.

@diotimajsh: OK, now I am starting to worry that my point is not coming across well due to my misuse of terms for formal logic. At any rate, I think you and I actually agree. Rand posits that facts lead universally and inescapably to certain moral values. I disagree.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby setzer777 » Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:43 pm UTC

ndansmith wrote:
setzer777 wrote:
ndansmith wrote:Humanism is mistaken insofar as it claims that moral values can be derived from logic. Said school of ethics may claim that they are deriving moral values from logic, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Like I said, I will believe it when I see it.


Well, by your criteria *nothing* is derived from logic, because you can never derive axioms from logic. What the phrase "derived from logic" almost always means is that something results from logical deduction applied to a relatively small number of (relatively non-controversial) axioms.

By my criteria, no values can be derived from logic. Facts or objective claims (which we can call a subset of axioms) can still be deduced from logic.


How can you deduce facts from logic unless you assume some other facts as axioms? You can't derive anything from logic without starting assumptions - and if you *do* have starting assumptions you can derive values (you'll just be deriving them from other, axiomatic values).

Or are you saying that you can't derive values from logic if you don't have values in your assumption set? That you can't start with only factual axioms and derive values? In that case I agree with you.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Jessica » Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:44 pm UTC

ndansmith wrote:
Jessica wrote:Assuming you have a set of moral axioms, you can proceed logically to the rest of your morality.
Exactly. What I am arguing against is the idea that such moral axioms could be derived from logic.
Axiom
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ndansmith » Thu Dec 18, 2008 9:54 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:Or are you saying that you can't derive values from logic if you don't have values in your assumption set? That you can't start with only factual axioms and derive values? In that case I agree with you.

Bingo. :-)

Jessica wrote:
ndansmith wrote:
Jessica wrote:Assuming you have a set of moral axioms, you can proceed logically to the rest of your morality.
Exactly. What I am arguing against is the idea that such moral axioms could be derived from logic.
Axiom

Thanks?

Let me translate: What I am arguing against is the idea that moral values can be derived from logic.

My bad for the mis-use of the term "axiom." However, now I have to question whether or not the "moral axioms" which you referenced are possible:
I'm feeling lucky wrote:In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be either self-evident, or subject to necessary decision. Therefore, its truth is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other (theory dependent) truths.

In that light, could a moral value really be an axiom?

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Jessica » Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:11 pm UTC

Ok. Lets stop using the word logic. Because, by definition, you can't have what you want. You have to have some sort of basic knowledge to preform logic upon, so no you can't use logic to generate axioms. It's like a machine that takes apples and spits out apple sause. Without apples, you can't get applesause from the machine. And the machine can't create apples from nothing. So, at some point, you have to have a starting point.

But, these axioms can't be proven. That's part of how you define them. But, that doesn't mean you can't apply logic to them, to get other things.

I believe that rational axioms can be generated. If one goes biological (need to procreate, plus herd desires etc), or cognitive (I think therefore I am, extended to others, for example), sociological (throughout history certain morals have persisted, regardless of religion, location, race etc)... one can create a logical basis for ones moral system. Then one can apply logic to those basic tenants and expand from there into a full moral framework. You can even do this with religious axioms (The word of god exists...) and you can construct a rational moral system from these religious axioms.

You can also have illogical morality (no matter what axioms, or basic tenants you have, your beliefs don't follow.) Of course, that doesn't mean people won't believe them. People a great way to ignore fuzzy logic, or weigh arguments...

Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that a moral structure can be logically based. Axioms can be chosen from a variety of sources, and then the rest of your morality goes from there.

But, I'm not sure if that's what you're arguing or not...
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ++$_ » Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:19 pm UTC

ndansmith wrote:
++$_ wrote:At some level, in order to deduce any normative statement, there has to be at least one axiom that makes a normative assertion. Statements of morality (including "values") are normative statements. So in order to deduce a moral value, one must have an axiom that makes a normative statement.

If I am understanding your correctly, that is a good restatement of my position.
I guess I agree with you, then. :)
ndansmith wrote:I have to question whether or not the "moral axioms" which you referenced are possible:
I'm feeling lucky wrote:In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be either self-evident, or subject to necessary decision. Therefore, its truth is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other (theory dependent) truths.

In that light, could a moral value really be an axiom?
I think it could. You should keep reading:
Wikipedia wrote:In mathematics, the term axiom is used in two related but distinguishable senses: "logical axioms" and "non-logical axioms".
<snip>
Logical axioms are usually statements that are taken to be universally true (e.g., A and B implies A), while non-logical axioms (e.g., a + b = b + a) are actually defining properties for the domain of a specific mathematical theory (such as arithmetic). When used in that sense, "axiom," "postulate", and "assumption" may be used interchangeably. In general, a non-logical axiom is not a self-evident truth, but rather a formal logical expression used in deduction to build a mathematical theory.
In the domain of ethical philosophy, we can still use the ideas of logical axioms and non-logical axioms (although the names don't make terribly much sense anymore). Any axioms that form the basis for a moral system are going to be non-logical axioms -- essentially, they are the defining characteristics of the moral system.

The only exception I can think of is moral nihilism, where there are no axioms at all, but that's a trivial exception. In my previous post I basically argued that there are no other exceptions.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby setzer777 » Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:58 pm UTC

ndansmith wrote:
setzer777 wrote:Or are you saying that you can't derive values from logic if you don't have values in your assumption set? That you can't start with only factual axioms and derive values? In that case I agree with you.

Bingo. :-)


I just don't see what's so special about values in this case, in logic the principle holds for everything that can be derived from it - you can't derive values without values in the assumption set, you can't derive empirical facts without empirical facts in the assumption set, you can't derive mathematical truths without mathematical assumptions in the assumption set.

Logic-based moral systems do not ask: "Does happiness have value?", they ask: "If we assume happiness (and other things) have value, what follows from this?" - or to rephrase it: "If one values happiness, human dignity, etc. what course of action should one take to be most consistent with those values?" So in that sense morality can be largely based on logic - the only parts that aren't based on logic are the values present in the assumption set - but that's the case of any system built with logic. Morality is not unique in this aspect.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby diotimajsh » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:11 am UTC

ndansmith wrote:@diotimajsh: OK, now I am starting to worry that my point is not coming across well due to my misuse of terms for formal logic. At any rate, I think you and I actually agree. Rand posits that facts lead universally and inescapably to certain moral values. I disagree.
That may be. You and I do share some common ground. Except, my criticism of Rand is more specifically that logical facts are not an adequate basis for morality (or epistemology, really). That is, we can't get anywhere useful merely by arguing from premises like "for all P, P = P" or "for all P, it's not the case that P is both true and false," or any other fundamental logical concepts. I do however hold that other facts (if we call them facts) can be used to derive logical moral systems, and I think you'd tend to disagree there.

For example, you say here:
ndansmith wrote:By my criteria, no values can be derived from logic. Facts or objective claims (which we can call a subset of axioms) can still be deduced from logic.
What are you calling an objective claim? Something like, "The sky is blue," "Canada is north of the US," or "Planck's constant is 6.626E-34 Js (or whatever)"? By my thinking, we cannot derive those claims from logic alone either. We must supplement basic logic with additional assumptions in order to deduce those claims; and that's just what we do in practice.

The thing is, nothing about logic forbids values in axioms. We can, if we like, craft a logical system with axioms like, "Cats are inherently superior to dogs," or "Cheese is good," and draw conclusions from them. And this is really no different, from a logical perspective, than starting with claims like "The world exists," or "E=mc^2". See also setzer777's post above me.

(Quick terminological point: axioms are not "deduced from logic," really, so we shouldn't make "objective claims" a subset of axioms. Axioms are just assumed, posited. I may have blurred the distinction a little myself earlier in the thread, though :| )
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ndansmith » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:17 am UTC

Jessica wrote:If one goes biological (need to procreate, plus herd desires etc), or cognitive (I think therefore I am, extended to others, for example), sociological (throughout history certain morals have persisted, regardless of religion, location, race etc)... one can create a logical basis for ones moral system.

I still see the problem of a fact/value distinction (or description/prescription, or is/ought) when it comes to deriving a moral system from observations about biology or cognition (or whatever). I think this can be seen in the classic motherly retort: "Well if Billy jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?"

Perhaps I can construct an example of what I am talking about.

Observation: Humans regularly use violence to acquire property for themselves.
Moral Axiom A: Human beings should not use violence to acquire property for themselves.
Moral Axiom B: Human beings should use violence to acquire property for themselves.

I have derived two opposite moral axioms from my observation about violence in human societies. How do I determine which one is valid and which one is not? At some point it has to be decided by one of my subjective values. Logic cannot distinguish between the two.

Can anyone present a counter-example where an observation about nature leads inescapably to only one moral axiom?

EDIT: @diotimajsh & setzer777: OK, I think we all agree with my point that moral values cannot be derived from non-moral axioms ("logical facts"). I think I still disagree with both of you about whether values can be used in a logical construction (I say nay, you both say aye), but since that is tangential to my argument, I will concede the point.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Azrael » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:23 am UTC

When you apply the very rational basis that since you do not want violence visited upon *yourself* (and this was brought up earlier in the thread) then it becomes *very* simple to create a moral foundation -- you shouldn't do violence to others.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby BlackSails » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:34 am UTC

Azrael wrote:When you apply the very rational basis that since you do not want violence visited upon *yourself* (and this was brought up earlier in the thread) then it becomes *very* simple to create a moral foundation -- you shouldn't do violence to others.


Again, an axoim that cant be derived from logic. It may be a reasonable axiom, but you cannot prove that violence against yourself is undesireable. There are people who enjoy violence against themselves for various reasons such as pleasure (masochists) to fun and money (MMA fighters)

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Jessica » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:38 am UTC

People can and do have different axiom sets. This is easy to see. For example, some people believe that the word of god exists, and must be followed, and others do not. These are different axioms. From these axioms, you can come to two different logical conclusions. This is part of life. Not everyone HAS the same moral axiom sets.

But, lets say that we take the observation* that humans regularly use violence to acquire property for themselves.
Yes you can derive two different outcomes from this. And if you use those as your axioms, then you're right, there are issues valuing one as good and one as bad. But that's only if you use each of those as your axioms. I personally don't believe that those derived moral states are axioms. For one thing, they're derived from another axiom (that observed behavior can be used to form a moral framework). So, we can use this axiom (observation) on other situations, we can observe certain actions are seen as good and others as bad. We can combine these with our original postulate to give us a "good" and "bad" actions that are observed in society.

Note: This is completely off the top of my head. I may be wrong in that we can find a good and bad value for everything. Also, I don't think that observed behavior is the best way to base your moral system. But, I'm saying that you can come up with "good" and "bad" axioms (a behavior is good when, a behavior is bad when) and then use those axioms to determine when something is good or bad... theoretically. I'm not sure I'm making sense...

*Assumption.

@blacksails: Again, axioms are not derived. They are assumptions one makes so that one can then derive other things.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Azrael » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:44 am UTC

BlackSails wrote:
Azrael wrote:When you apply the very rational basis that since you do not want violence visited upon *yourself* (and this was brought up earlier in the thread) then it becomes *very* simple to create a moral foundation -- you shouldn't do violence to others.


Again, an axoim that cant be derived from logic.

Nor do I recall saying it was. Thus the difference between 'rational thought' and the hard logic requirement the OP has recently retreated from.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ++$_ » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:47 am UTC

BlackSails wrote:
Azrael wrote:When you apply the very rational basis that since you do not want violence visited upon *yourself* (and this was brought up earlier in the thread) then it becomes *very* simple to create a moral foundation -- you shouldn't do violence to others.


Again, an axoim that cant be derived from logic. It may be a reasonable axiom, but you cannot prove that violence against yourself is undesireable. There are people who enjoy violence against themselves for various reasons such as pleasure (masochists) to fun and money (MMA fighters)
"Violence against myself is undesirable" is a perfectly reasonable axiom that has nothing to do with morality. We don't have to prove it, as it's not an axiom. That's not the point.

The point is that Az implicitly used a moral axiom (the reciprocity principle) in his argument.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ndansmith » Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:02 am UTC

Azrael wrote:When you apply the very rational basis that since you do not want violence visited upon *yourself* (and this was brought up earlier in the thread) then it becomes *very* simple to create a moral foundation -- you shouldn't do violence to others.

By making this a subjective judgement, haven't you contradicted the humanist principle of universal morality?

At any rate, by invoking "wants" I think you have shown that you and I ultimately agree: moral systems are predicated on values.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby jjono » Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:11 am UTC

Many of the posts in this thread are along the line - "You can't derive moral statements from logic alone, but, then, neither can you derive mathematical statements from logic alone. What's the difference?"

I'm going to propose a relevant difference between moral statements and mathematical statements.

There is generally no problem with one mathematician working within different axiomatic frameworks at different times (depending on her mood, the field, or the particular application in mind). She will not usually believe she is being inconsistent in working from one set of axioms sometimes, and from others at other times. Further, if she's asked a question like "Do parallel line meet?", she may be happy to answer "It depends on which geometry you are using."

On the other hand, people generally don't feel comfortable changing their moral views in the same way. Indeed, if other people do this we may charge them with hypocrisy. Many (but not all) people would feel uncomfortable answering "Is murder wrong?" with "It depends on your moral axioms."

So, while in mathematics we may be comfortable working with several parallel systems based on different axioms, in the moral sphere we feel differently. I think this is because morality is more intrinsically "action-guiding" than is mathematics. This means that, although it is true that you cannot derive mathematical or moral statements from logic alone, in the first case it presents little problem whereas in the second it does.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby setzer777 » Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:36 am UTC

ndansmith wrote:
EDIT: @diotimajsh & setzer777: OK, I think we all agree with my point that moral values cannot be derived from non-moral axioms ("logical facts"). I think I still disagree with both of you about whether values can be used in a logical construction (I say nay, you both say aye), but since that is tangential to my argument, I will concede the point.


I'm confused by what you mean by this. I mean it seems pretty simple for me to use values as follows:

P1. Torture is always immoral

P2. Water boarding is torture

P3. Water boarding is always immoral
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby ndansmith » Fri Dec 19, 2008 3:38 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:
ndansmith wrote:
EDIT: @diotimajsh & setzer777: OK, I think we all agree with my point that moral values cannot be derived from non-moral axioms ("logical facts"). I think I still disagree with both of you about whether values can be used in a logical construction (I say nay, you both say aye), but since that is tangential to my argument, I will concede the point.


I'm confused by what you mean by this. I mean it seems pretty simple for me to use values as follows:

P1. Torture is always immoral

P2. Water boarding is torture

P3. Water boarding is always immoral

Yeah, on second thought I think you are right.

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Gelsamel » Fri Dec 19, 2008 4:25 am UTC

The most important thing is to make sure you're consistent with your axioms and method for deciding what is moral and what is not. I don't mind people disagreeing with me, or saying I'm doing it wrong. But when they're inconsistent that really pisses me off.

Being consistent is really the only thing you can do, since it could never possibly be complete - so that's all I ask.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby jjono » Fri Dec 19, 2008 4:37 am UTC

@Gelsamel

Is consistency really all you ask for? What if someone's moral views were consistent but differed in a huge way from your own? Like they believed that morality consists in inflicting as much suffering as possible on others?

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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Gelsamel » Fri Dec 19, 2008 4:47 am UTC

jjono wrote:@Gelsamel

Is consistency really all you ask for?



Of course.

What if someone's moral views were consistent but differed in a huge way from your own? Like they believed that morality consists in inflicting as much suffering as possible on others?


I'm not sure what you mean. Of course I would disagree with them entirely and abhor their view. It's not like what they're doing would suddenly be "okay" by me. It's just that if they're consistent in their belief then I can say that their sense of morality is much much more developed and logical than say... A devout Christian who doesn't proselytise to everyone regardless of repercussions.

If you're inconsistent then it shows a fatal flaw in your reasoning or logic, and it doesn't matter whether it comes out aesthetically "nice", it still doesn't change that you're entirely wrong.

Basically, what I meant was; If you're consistent then the best I can say is "I disagree with your axioms", I can't even say you're wrong or evil because the differences occur due to differing fundamental assumptions. However if you're inconsistent then I can (and do) say "You're wrong" regardless of how "nice" or "bad" it is.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Rinsaikeru » Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:05 am UTC

I sincerely doubt anyone is capable of complete consistency however--so it seems like a lot to ask for.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Philwelch » Fri Dec 26, 2008 5:16 am UTC

This thread calls for a philosopher.

tantalum wrote:The only role that logic can ever play in morality is in ensuring that your moral philosophy is self-consistent. But even that seems a bit tricky - if you start with a whole bunch of axioms that are not really carefully chosen, the resulting moral theory is not very likely to be completely self-consistent.


Unless your axioms also include rules about which axioms override which other axioms, similar to the move W.D. Ross makes in his theory of "prima facie duties".

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:1. It is always unacceptable to take the life of a human being.
2. Murderers must be put to death.

These two statements are contradictory. If both are accepted, there will be situations where following one rule would necessarily violate the other (i.e. when punishing a murderer.


Not straightforwardly: it could be the case that we must do unacceptable things from time to time. Which, again, is similar to some axioms overriding other axioms.

Azrael wrote:I think Humanism is the beginning and end of your search. So ... yes, morality *can* be based around logic (or at least rationality) and has been in varying degrees and methods for 2600 years or so.


All humanism proves is that morality can be based around some sort of vague respect for human beings—something that a number of more rigorous ethical theories already do more coherently. But all humanism does is take respect for humans as an axiom: it doesn't even replicate Kant's project of deriving axiomatic moral principles that all rational beings are logically compelled to follow.

Jessica wrote:I believe that rational axioms can be generated. If one goes biological (need to procreate, plus herd desires etc), or cognitive (I think therefore I am, extended to others, for example), sociological (throughout history certain morals have persisted, regardless of religion, location, race etc)... one can create a logical basis for ones moral system. Then one can apply logic to those basic tenants and expand from there into a full moral framework. You can even do this with religious axioms (The word of god exists...) and you can construct a rational moral system from these religious axioms.


Until you find bugs.

Here's a nice moral axiom: It is your duty to help create the best possible world.

Arguably, this axiom will (in some cases) require you to kidnap hoboes, kill them, and deliver their freshly killed bodies to hospitals for organ transplants. After all, which is a better possible world: one in which five productive human beings who are engineers and painters and architects and philosophers and forum moderators can survive the rest of their natural lives and help us build a better world, or a world in which a single hobo survives to freeload on our railways and rob our garbage cans? Yet most of us would agree that it's immoral to hunt down and murder hoboes simply to harvest their organs.

Here's another nice moral axiom: Do unto others as they would do unto you.

Suppose you are a masochist. I guess you should go beat the shit out of people you don't know. Or, at least, we need to refine this moral axiom until it's more clear.

Here's a slightly refined moral axiom: Always act so that your actions can be universal laws. For instance, lying to people can't be a universal law because if we all lied to people, nobody would even listen to each other and communication would become meaningless. Lying relies upon expecting the listener to think you are telling the truth. (I am glossing over Kant very very quickly here but suffice it to say that Kant's attempt at providing a universal ethics for all rational beings led to the conclusion that you're never allowed to lie.)

Suppose you're housing an escaped political prisoner and the Secret Police knock on your door, inquiring about the whereabouts of said Escaped Political Prisoner. The moral thing to do is to lie, contrary to what your moral axioms may advise.

Azrael wrote:When you apply the very rational basis that since you do not want violence visited upon *yourself* (and this was brought up earlier in the thread) then it becomes *very* simple to create a moral foundation -- you shouldn't do violence to others.


Not true. Maybe I should do violence to others as a deterrent. Maybe I should pretend to be a peaceful person but secretly commit acts of violence when I think I can get away with it.

Seriously, "I shouldn't commit violence against others" does NOT follow from "I don't want to be the victim of violence". You need some sort of closure principle—something like "I should respect the wishes of others, and others have the same basic wishes I do". Which runs into serious problems—for instance, since I do not want to eat brussels sprouts, your (implicit) argument seems to tell me that I shouldn't serve brussels sprouts to others.

There are a lot of serious issues here you're totally handwaving over.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Maurog » Fri Dec 26, 2008 5:55 am UTC

Axiom 1: Everyone should have the same set of moral axioms.
Axiom 2: I have the perfect set of moral axioms.

1 & 2: Everyone should behave as I would do.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby roc314 » Fri Dec 26, 2008 6:30 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:Seriously, "I shouldn't commit violence against others" does NOT follow from "I don't want to be the victim of violence". You need some sort of closure principle—something like "I should respect the wishes of others, and others have the same basic wishes I do". Which runs into serious problems—for instance, since I do not want to eat brussels sprouts, your (implicit) argument seems to tell me that I shouldn't serve brussels sprouts to others.
Sure, if you apply it so shallowly, it does run into problems. However, if you apply it deeper (instead of saying "I don't like Brussels sprouts, therefore I shouldn't serve them to others", say "I don't like eating foods that I think taste bad, therefore I should try to avoid serving others food that they dislike"), most of those problems are removed. The same with your masochist example. Don't say "because I enjoy pain, I should give pain to others", say "I enjoy certain things in life, and I should act in such a way so that others can enjoy life also, or even act to increase their opportunity to enjoy life". Rather than applying it to very specific instances, apply it to more flexible rules. Naturally, in order to apply this to specific events, you must know more about the other person than you would have to for the previous version of the Ethic of Reciprocity (what does the other dislike eating?), but that is a small pay-off.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Philwelch » Fri Dec 26, 2008 6:40 am UTC

roc314 wrote:
Philwelch wrote:Seriously, "I shouldn't commit violence against others" does NOT follow from "I don't want to be the victim of violence". You need some sort of closure principle—something like "I should respect the wishes of others, and others have the same basic wishes I do". Which runs into serious problems—for instance, since I do not want to eat brussels sprouts, your (implicit) argument seems to tell me that I shouldn't serve brussels sprouts to others.
Sure, if you apply it so shallowly, it does run into problems. However, if you apply it deeper (instead of saying "I don't like Brussels sprouts, therefore I shouldn't serve them to others", say "I don't like eating foods that I think taste bad, therefore I should try to avoid serving others food that they dislike"), most of those problems are removed.


Most, but not all.

First, you have to not only articulate your reciprocity principle enough to get past these problems, you also should give a more-than-ad-hoc rationale for doing so.

Second, you have to do so in a way that doesn't introduce bugs. For instance: Take reciprocity too far and you get Kant, who will turn over the political prisoner to the Secret Police because he doesn't want other people to lie to him.

Also, there isn't anything logically necessary in respecting other persons—it's kind of arbitrary. Mill will abandon reciprocity and propose we just try to maximize the amount of happiness in the world. What makes reciprocity right and building a better world wrong? Or, for that matter, the other way around?
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby roc314 » Fri Dec 26, 2008 7:06 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:Also, there isn't anything logically necessary in respecting other persons—it's kind of arbitrary. Mill will abandon reciprocity and propose we just try to maximize the amount of happiness in the world. What makes reciprocity right and building a better world wrong? Or, for that matter, the other way around?
I was using it as an axiom, although you could probably come up with a stronger basis for it. For that matter, why are the two completely exclusive?
Most, but not all.
...
Second, you have to do so in a way that doesn't introduce bugs. For instance: Take reciprocity too far and you get Kant, who will turn over the political prisoner to the Secret Police because he doesn't want other people to lie to him.
Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem: no logical system is both consistent and complete--this includes moral systems. We can't have a moral system that covers every possible situation and is bug free. The best we can strive for is to have the incomplete and/or inconsistent parts be very unlikely to happen in reality (our morality doesn't tell us what to do if Martians invade--so what?).

On Kant: We can have "I don't want others to lie to me" and "I don't want to be taken prisoner when I am innocent" and, like you said, have some way of determining precedence of our axioms. In this case, the second axiom would take precedence.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Philwelch » Fri Dec 26, 2008 8:36 am UTC

roc314 wrote:
Philwelch wrote:Also, there isn't anything logically necessary in respecting other persons—it's kind of arbitrary. Mill will abandon reciprocity and propose we just try to maximize the amount of happiness in the world. What makes reciprocity right and building a better world wrong? Or, for that matter, the other way around?


I was using it as an axiom, although you could probably come up with a stronger basis for it. For that matter, why are the two completely exclusive?


They conflict when it comes to the hobo-organ-harvesting case.

roc314 wrote:
Most, but not all.
...
Second, you have to do so in a way that doesn't introduce bugs. For instance: Take reciprocity too far and you get Kant, who will turn over the political prisoner to the Secret Police because he doesn't want other people to lie to him.
Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem: no logical system is both consistent and complete--this includes moral systems. We can't have a moral system that covers every possible situation and is bug free. The best we can strive for is to have the incomplete and/or inconsistent parts be very unlikely to happen in reality (our morality doesn't tell us what to do if Martians invade--so what?).


I'm not talking about internal logical inconsistencies—I'm talking about points where our moral system produces unconscionable duties through straightforward application.

Furthermore, you'd have to do more work to see if Gödel applies here. Gödel's theorem hinges upon the difficulty of handling liar-paradox style statements such as "This statement cannot be proven in system T". I am more than willing to exclude such statements from my moral consideration.

roc314 wrote:On Kant: We can have "I don't want others to lie to me" and "I don't want to be taken prisoner when I am innocent" and, like you said, have some way of determining precedence of our axioms. In this case, the second axiom would take precedence.


That's not Kant, though. Kant comes down pretty heavily on the side of not lying.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby roc314 » Fri Dec 26, 2008 7:48 pm UTC

Philwelch wrote:They conflict when it comes to the hobo-organ-harvesting case.
I don't agree that they necessarily conflict in this case. Reciprocity obviously says you shouldn't harvest the organs.

Going by the good of the many, if we have a society that's willing to kill you if it's felt necessary for the greater good many problems would arise which would disrupt the greater good. The potential for the abuse of this is enormous. In order to avoid the damage to the greater good that would be caused by one unscrupulous person/group getting the power to decide whose organs to harvest (killing off dissenters has a negative overall impact on society), we have to include in our rules a limitation to what can be done for the greater good, else we unintentionally defeat the greater good.
Philwelch wrote:I'm not talking about internal logical inconsistencies—I'm talking about points where our moral system produces unconscionable duties through straightforward application.

Furthermore, you'd have to do more work to see if Gödel applies here. Gödel's theorem hinges upon the difficulty of handling liar-paradox style statements such as "This statement cannot be proven in system T". I am more than willing to exclude such statements from my moral consideration.
The first is a logical inconsistency; we have morality X we are following but when applied to situation A, it contradicts morality Y (which is our idea of what is an "unconscionable duty") which we are also following. Using the moral system X + Y, we reach a contradiction at A. A more basic example of how two different axiom sets can lead to a contradiction is the two axioms "P is true" and "P is false"; by bringing in two different sets of axioms, we reach a contradiction.

A is not a contradiction in only X, but to claim X is the only piece of our morality is a lie. We could look at a hypothetical situation where our only morality is X, but X still would have some issues somewhere.

In our context, X is the ethic of reciprocity. We have the axiom "I want others to treat/judge me according to the basis of my morality" which, through reciprocity, leads to "I should treat/judge others by the basis of their morality". Say you meet someone who goes completely by the idea of the greater good. According to how reciprocity is applied, you shouldn't use reciprocity towards them. But according to reciprocity, you should use reciprocity towards everyone. This is a contradiction.

Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem shows up usually in situations involving self reference, direct or indirect. If we have rules regulating which axioms have priority over which other axioms, then eventually, we will reach a situation where one of these rules contradicts itself/leads to an unanswerable question (assuming we don't reach this sooner). I agree with you though that (if our morality is designed well), these contradictions or incompletenesses will be in a situation that we never need to consider. The problem lies with finding a moral system where this is the only area of lack.
Philwelch wrote:
roc314 wrote:On Kant: We can have "I don't want others to lie to me" and "I don't want to be taken prisoner when I am innocent" and, like you said, have some way of determining precedence of our axioms. In this case, the second axiom would take precedence.
That's not Kant, though. Kant comes down pretty heavily on the side of not lying.
I know it's not Kant. I was suggesting a way to remove the paradox in Kant's idea of lying.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Philwelch » Fri Dec 26, 2008 8:59 pm UTC

roc314 wrote:
Philwelch wrote:They conflict when it comes to the hobo-organ-harvesting case.


I don't agree that they necessarily conflict in this case. Reciprocity obviously says you shouldn't harvest the organs.

Going by the good of the many, if we have a society that's willing to kill you if it's felt necessary for the greater good many problems would arise which would disrupt the greater good. The potential for the abuse of this is enormous. In order to avoid the damage to the greater good that would be caused by one unscrupulous person/group getting the power to decide whose organs to harvest (killing off dissenters has a negative overall impact on society), we have to include in our rules a limitation to what can be done for the greater good, else we unintentionally defeat the greater good.


The problem is that you're just creating an ad-hoc utilitarian justification for not killing hoboes, one that we could argue about all day long (keep in mind that I chose hoboes specifically because they tend to be migratory vagrants who wouldn't be missed, and further that nothing in my argument implies any sort of institutional enforcement, it could just be a doctor or nurse who goes out killing hoboes), but one which doesn't provide convincing evidence that there isn't something like the hobo case that bring reciprocity and utilitarianism into conflict.

Other areas of conflict:

*Recriprocity is between persons. How do we deal with animals? A strict reciprocity view would say "animals lack moral status but they can be property so don't steal your neighbor's chickens", while a utilitarian view hinges upon the fact that animals can both suffer and feel pleasure.
*Torture. With full recognition of its impracticality in most cases, there are thought experiments (ticking time bomb scenarios, for instance) where torturing someone would in fact produce the greatest good for everyone concerned. Let's separate the legal question from the moral question here—I could easily imagine a blanket law against torture that the torturer would have to evade or be pardoned for in this specific case.
*For that matter, any clear-cut "the ends justify the means" situation.
*Can we travel back in time and murder Hitler while he is still a baby? Reciprocity says no (no murder), utilitarianism says yes.
*Is self-harm immoral? Utilitarianism says yes, reciprocity says no (or that it isn't within the scope of morality).

roc314 wrote:
Philwelch wrote:I'm not talking about internal logical inconsistencies—I'm talking about points where our moral system produces unconscionable duties through straightforward application.

Furthermore, you'd have to do more work to see if Gödel applies here. Gödel's theorem hinges upon the difficulty of handling liar-paradox style statements such as "This statement cannot be proven in system T". I am more than willing to exclude such statements from my moral consideration.


The first is a logical inconsistency; we have morality X we are following but when applied to situation A, it contradicts morality Y (which is our idea of what is an "unconscionable duty") which we are also following. Using the moral system X + Y, we reach a contradiction at A. A more basic example of how two different axiom sets can lead to a contradiction is the two axioms "P is true" and "P is false"; by bringing in two different sets of axioms, we reach a contradiction.


Hate to say it, but most of the time when some flawed moral theory gives us an unconscionable duty to turn our friends over to the Secret Police or to murder hoboes, the only thing being contradicted with is our intuitions—not some part of the theory under question.

I suppose I'm assuming that our intuitions are not a logically rigorous system the way we would like our ethics to be. In particular, my intuitions are not a logically rigorous system. If yours are, more power to you.

roc314 wrote:In our context, X is the ethic of reciprocity. We have the axiom "I want others to treat/judge me according to the basis of my morality" which, through reciprocity, leads to "I should treat/judge others by the basis of their morality". Say you meet someone who goes completely by the idea of the greater good. According to how reciprocity is applied, you shouldn't use reciprocity towards them. But according to reciprocity, you should use reciprocity towards everyone. This is a contradiction.


The problem is with your axiom, of course. The axiom should be, "I want others to treat/judge me according to the ethic of reciprocity" if you believe in reciprocity. But again, such an axiom is implicit by scope—it is not part of the ethical theory per se so much as it may be part of the metaethical unpacking of what moral claims mean.

Any ethics that leads to the proposition "I should treat/judge others by the basis of their morality" (assuming it doesn't contradict itself) is no ethics at all—it is a recipe for sycophancy. It would compel us to positively judge anyone whose actions were consistent with their moral beliefs. Which is counterintuitive—normally we don't give positive moral judgments to Nazis.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby roc314 » Fri Dec 26, 2008 11:07 pm UTC

Philwelch wrote:The problem is that you're just creating an ad-hoc utilitarian justification for not killing hoboes, one that we could argue about all day long (keep in mind that I chose hoboes specifically because they tend to be migratory vagrants who wouldn't be missed, and further that nothing in my argument implies any sort of institutional enforcement, it could just be a doctor or nurse who goes out killing hoboes), but one which doesn't provide convincing evidence that there isn't something like the hobo case that bring reciprocity and utilitarianism into conflict.
I'm sorry, I didn't do a very good job enunciating my main point.
roc314 wrote:We have to include in our rules a limitation to what can be done for the greater good, else we unintentionally defeat the greater good.
Is a society in which anyone can do anything so long as it is justifiable as causing the greater good better than a society that limits what may be done to others, even if it would cause the greater good? If yes, then an unlimited utilitarianism is justifiable (under utilitarianism); if no, then only a limited utilitarianism is justifiable.

A few examples of actions that were considered justified at the time/place because it was thought they would cause the greater good (whether explicitly or implicitly the reason): the Stalinist purges, the Holocaust (haha, Godwin's Law), the Patriot Act, the Japanese-American internment camps in WWII, the American genocide of the Native Americans, the "White Man's burden", the crucifixion of Jesus, and Guantanamo Bay prison (sorry for the America-centrism, but my most detailed history education is in that area, so it's what I know the most examples from).

There is a direct parallel between the concepts of utilitarianism and democracy. One says we should do what is best for the most and the other says we should do what is wanted by the most. However, one integral component of a democracy is some kind of bill of rights--something to prohibit the majority from abusing the minority. Much like we need to prevent the tyranny of the majority in democracy, we need to prevent the tyranny of the greater good in utilitarianism. It's not an ad-hoc rule in only one circumstance, it's an essential rule in utilitarianism.

Look at it this way, in many of the above examples, the ones carrying it out honestly thought at the time that what they were doing was truly for the greater good. However, with the advantage of history and hindsight, we can see that it truly isn't. Because humans are fallible, we will make mistakes in determining what is the greater good. Certain actions have such large negative side-effects that if we are wrong that they will lead to the greater good, then huge harm will be caused to society. To avoid that huge risk, we have to make sure that certain actions are prohibited, even if it seems they will lead to the greater good and no matter who is causing them (whether a doctor, a dictator, or even the majority populace).

At the very minimum, you have to include the element of probability in utilitarianism.

Of course, all this is skirting the issue that determining exactly what the greater good is difficult--if not impossible.
Philwelch wrote:Hate to say it, but most of the time when some flawed moral theory gives us an unconscionable duty to turn our friends over to the Secret Police or to murder hoboes, the only thing being contradicted with is our intuitions—not some part of the theory under question.

I suppose I'm assuming that our intuitions are not a logically rigorous system the way we would like our ethics to be. In particular, my intuitions are not a logically rigorous system. If yours are, more power to you.
Heh, my intuitions are not in anyway close to logically rigorous.

Our intuitions aren't logically set forth, all derivable from a few basic principles. Instead, they are a collection of ideas that we take for granted and mostly don't even think directly about. They are treated as axioms. By including our intuition in our moral calculation, all we are doing is throwing in a large number of axioms, often ad-hoc, not necessarily well-thought out or even consciously recognized; it's no surprise that they would cause contradictions in conjunction with another moral system.
Philwelch wrote:The problem is with your axiom, of course. The axiom should be, "I want others to treat/judge me according to the ethic of reciprocity" if you believe in reciprocity. But again, such an axiom is implicit by scope—it is not part of the ethical theory per se so much as it may be part of the metaethical unpacking of what moral claims mean.
Point taken.
Philwelch wrote:Any ethics that leads to the proposition "I should treat/judge others by the basis of their morality" (assuming it doesn't contradict itself) is no ethics at all—it is a recipe for sycophancy. It would compel us to positively judge anyone whose actions were consistent with their moral beliefs. Which is counterintuitive—normally we don't give positive moral judgments to Nazis.
Which is why I don't think we should go by pure, unlimited reciprocity (much like we shouldn't go by pure, unlimited utilitarianism).

Questions for you:
  • When our moral system contradicts our intuition, when do we go with the moral system and when do we go with the intuition?
  • Why is ad-hoc bad in a moral system? I agree that it's not as elegant as having everything decided by the same, few rules, but it is helpful in overcoming contradictions between our intuitive moral ideas and our rigorous moral system.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Philwelch » Fri Dec 26, 2008 11:16 pm UTC

roc314 wrote:Questions for you:
  • When our moral system contradicts our intuition, when do we go with the moral system and when do we go with the intuition?
  • Why is ad-hoc bad in a moral system? I agree that it's not as elegant as having everything decided by the same, few rules, but it is helpful in overcoming contradictions between our intuitive moral ideas and our rigorous moral system.


Your first question is one I've struggled with—nearly every theory in philosophy (not just ethics) ends up holding some intuitions at the expense of others.

Even more difficult is the observation that we have nothing better than intuition to draw our axioms from. This observation, for me, makes it all the more difficult to (epistemically) justify an ethical theory. If our intuitions conflict with each other when unpacked (as we observe when we study the history of philosophy), why should we trust any of them?

As for your second question: It's not necessarily bad, but it does conflict with the project of having a logical, rational morality.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby diotimajsh » Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:36 am UTC

I have not been following this discussion too closely since I last posted, so please forgive me I'm way out of the ballpark--but it seems to me that we could fix the ad hoc quality of roc314's answer by adopting a form of rule utilitarianism, as opposed to strict act utilitarianism. That is, we favor general rules that lead to the highest utility (for example, "We ought to value our friends," or more relevantly, "The state should not be allowed to harvest organs non-consensually"), over the individually evaluated consequences of an act at a time. The idea here is that people will be overall happier following general rules that match their intuitions, even if those rules sometimes dictate actions which do not appear to maximize utility in the short run.

I believe we can also modify this to incorporate other values and virtues. I'm pretty sure there've been at least a few proponents of a sort of "consequentialist/utilitarian virtue ethics," where they try to choose action-guiding virtues in accordance with their expected overall consequences. Sorry, don't remember any names right now, though >_>
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby roc314 » Sun Dec 28, 2008 4:29 am UTC

That's actually really similar to what I was thinking. The way I was looking at it, take normal utilitarianism and add in a rules about what can't be done. Don't make it entirely about rules (keep it focused on individual acts), but have some areas ruled by rule utilitarianism. Kind of combine the two.

I like hybrid philosophies.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby EsotericWombat » Sun Dec 28, 2008 9:27 am UTC

So we've more or less come to a sticking point around

1) Logic cannot function without axioms.

2) Logic cannot provide said axioms.

It seems to me that creating an entirely logical system of morality is similar to the problem of creating a perfect acid or base. Or for that matter, distilling 100% alcohol.

It isn't a matter of whether we can accomplish these things entirely or not. We can't. It's a matter of how close we can come.

It stands to reason, then, that what we're looking for is a system which requires as few axioms as possible.

Humanism deals with respect for human beings and builds from there. But what we're looking to do here is keep it compact.


If I were to limit myself to three lines, I believe that these would be them.

Human beings are understood to have a number of inalienable rights. Given alternatives, it is unacceptable to infringe upon them.

The most happiness for the most people is to be valued

No action is wrong which violates neither of these principles.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby Philwelch » Sun Dec 28, 2008 7:27 pm UTC

EsotericWombat wrote:If I were to limit myself to three lines, I believe that these would be them.

Human beings are understood to have a number of inalienable rights. Given alternatives, it is unacceptable to infringe upon them.

The most happiness for the most people is to be valued

No action is wrong which violates neither of these principles.


Those axioms are logically inconsistent, which even a cursory familiarity with the history of ethics would teach you. Example being the hobo case I already pointed out.

What more, even utilitarians explicitly accept the idea that what is moral under utilitarianism (the greatest happiness for the greatest number) will often involve infringing upon the supposed rights of individuals and numeric minorities.
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Re: Can morality be based on logic?

Postby EsotericWombat » Sun Dec 28, 2008 7:54 pm UTC

Which is why, as I worded it, human rights have a clear priority.
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