moral nihilism

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Junghalli
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Junghalli » 2012-07-10 01:00am

Darth Wong wrote:I just think it's interesting that when push comes to shove, everyone suddenly becomes a utilitarian. If utilitarianism is the moral argument of last resort when the others are deemed to fail (and it certainly seems to be, judging by the way people use it), then does this not represent a tacit admission that it's the better than the other morality systems? It certainly seems to suggest that the other systems are narrower in scope of application.
Actually this opens up an interesting subject - is it necessarily true that humans default to utilitarianism? I'm thinking of scenarios like the fat man variant of the trolley problem here. Even among people who believe the correct course of action in that scenario would be to kill the fat man (which is what utilitarianism would suggest), I wonder how many would actually do it when crunch time came?

It seems to me that human social instincts are not necessarily utilitarian.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Shadow6 » 2012-07-10 01:04am

Simon_Jester wrote:I think having actual rules that might hypothetically be counterproductive if the real world suddenly turns into a Jack Bauer fanfic is OK. It's better than having no rules about torture. Because having no rules about torture breaks in real life all the time. Every jackass with a grudge thinks he has a reason to brutalize enemies of the state to show them who's boss.

You're better off just straight never doing something that seems to end in tears every damn time, instead of leaving a loophole you know is going to be exploited constantly and that only helps in bizarre contrived scenarios.
I'm not sure how useful it is to discuss insincere moral agents; I don't think the absence of 'loopholes' (which is hardly assured in a deontological system) will present a significant boundary to them. I suppose you could also work it into a rule utilitarian equation ("How likely is my own state of mind going to affect the objectivity of my decisions?") and get essentially the same result as what you are proposing.

It's interesting that this sort of take on consequentialism mostly encapuslates the debate above about exceptional circumstances and unideal actors - in reality an 'act' utilitarian actor has only finite time, information (both of the present and future consequences) and faculties with which to make a decision. Hence to maximise utility, he might well need to formulate decisions for a given set of broad circumstances ahead of time and the general rules you're talking about would seem to come about as a matter of necessity.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 01:04am

Simon_Jester wrote:Let's just say that for historical reasons, I'm very suspicious of people who say "time to throw away the rules, the New Morality is the wave of the future!"
Who in public life (ie- with real power) ever actually says this, or anything like it? And more importantly, how they justify these changes? In my experience, when people change rules they tend to justify them with appeals to other (often older) rules which are deemed to supersede them.
That's something that needs to be thought about, probably thought about harder than modern society does. We've cast away a lot of rules about things like the nature of government and economics in the past two generations, and I think we're paying for it now.
The people who have cast away those rules have been doing so in the name of traditional values, the way things were done in the distant past, etc. The rules we cast away were in fact fairly recent rules, mostly dating from the early or mid 20th century.
So the next time I see someone get irritated because the rules don't let them sterilize genetic defectives, I'm not going to sympathize. Eugenics was the New Morality once before- arguably several times. Then it fell out of style.
Eugenics was never the "New Morality"; it dates back to ancient Sparta. In medieval times, people who deviated too much from expected standards were deemed to have been cursed by God, and treated accordingly. In slave-owning early America, blacks were not even considered humans, and were basically treated like two-legged farm animals. The idea that eugenics introduced some new horror into the world is a real distortion of history: it was just an excuse people cooked up to try to keep doing the things they used to do even more openly, like wiping out entire peoples that they deemed inferior. People deemed other people inferior long before they knew what "genetic" even meant.
Basic rules like "just don't torture, it always ends in tears" should not be overthrown for the sake of passing fads like "but we beat the communists, so now history is over and hypercapitalism has won which means that it's all going to be all right as soon as the new world order gets settled in!"
How do you tell what is a good or "basic" rule as opposed to a bad or presumably unimportant rule?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Junghalli » 2012-07-10 01:07am

hongi wrote:Compare it with sex. Sexual intercourse has a biological purpose and that's to propogate the species. But that's not how I think of sex. I think of sex as a way to get pleasure, the fact that kids can come from sex is secondary and actually opposite to what I want. The people who seem most cognisant of the fact that sex's purpose is to have babies are the Catholics, but that purpose is in the background for me and for a whole lot of other people.
Aside here: I would say it looks more like the biological purpose of human sex is as a social activity which occassionally produces babies.

If sex was biologically all about reproduction for us I would think we would mate more like a lot of animals do: the female would go into heat, the male would mount her for about five seconds, maybe do it a couple of more times to be sure it stuck, and that'd be it. Stuff like constant sexuality makes sense if sex has evolved to serve social functions.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 01:10am

Junghalli wrote:
Darth Wong wrote:I just think it's interesting that when push comes to shove, everyone suddenly becomes a utilitarian. If utilitarianism is the moral argument of last resort when the others are deemed to fail (and it certainly seems to be, judging by the way people use it), then does this not represent a tacit admission that it's the better than the other morality systems? It certainly seems to suggest that the other systems are narrower in scope of application.
Actually this opens up an interesting subject - is it necessarily true that humans default to utilitarianism? I'm thinking of scenarios like the fat man variant of the trolley problem here. Even among people who believe the correct course of action in that scenario would be to kill the fat man (which is what utilitarianism would suggest), I wonder how many would actually do it when crunch time came?

It seems to me that human social instincts are not necessarily utilitarian.
Well sure, because utilitarianism is a philosophy, and human social instincts are much less cerebral than that. I would imagine that very few people could bring themselves to shove the fat man onto the tracks to save five people, because they're looking right at him: he's a human being, and (barring sociopathy) they would have instinctive sympathy for him.

Having said that, we do make a diluted version of that choice when we send people to war. Let's say we send people to war: we know that we are putting them in harm's way. Many of them will perish. We do this because we believe that their deaths will save many more lives (let's assume this is a classic "just war" of self defense). Few people question this kind of moral calculation, yet it is basically the same calculation as the "fat man variant of the trolley problem".
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Eulogy » 2012-07-10 01:12am

Junghalli wrote:Though I think it's not just a case of "well what if there was an IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO STOP THE BOMB JACK BAUER scenario then your no-torture rule would be bad." Society is a hugely complex thing, which calls into question our ability to correctly diagnose the effects of policies and say whether they really lead to the greatest good or not.
It is not that hard to conceive of situations where causing someone great pain is, though not actually a good thing in general, at least necessary to prevent greater tragedy from coming to pass. Self-defense is a rather obvious example, but it is not impossible for say, someone who must undergo surgery without anesthesia. For example they could be out in the boonies and they can't be flown to the hospital in time, or the unlucky sap needs to be awake to tell the surgeon where it hurts.

Of course, it is very hard to tell when suffering is actually necessary or not.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by hongi » 2012-07-10 01:15am

Junghalli wrote: Aside here: I would say it looks more like the biological purpose of human sex is as a social activity which occassionally produces babies.

If sex was biologically all about reproduction for us I would think we would mate more like a lot of animals do: the female would go into heat, the male would mount her for about five seconds, maybe do it a couple of more times to be sure it stuck, and that'd be it. Stuff like constant sexuality makes sense if sex has evolved to serve social functions.
I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Wouldn't it make more sense to say that the social purpose of human sex is social cohesion or somesuch, but the biological purpose of human sex is to have babies?

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 01:17am

hongi wrote:
Questor wrote:Hongi, what, in your view, is the purpose of an ethical system?
I'm not sure ethical systems or moralities have purposes. I said at the beginning that I was uncomfortable with talking about the purpose of morality and I'll explain why. It's because even if there is a purpose to morality, like creating a stable society, I don't think people think of morality in this way, nor do they act as if this was its purpose.
Do you believe that altruism is moral? Apart from creationists and other assorted nutjobs, most people are willing to accept the scientific research which shows that altruism is a natural (and hence evolved genetic) trait. Ergo, the very first and most primitive moral instinct did in fact have a purpose: an evolutionary purpose. The fact that we can make far more complicated moral codes does not mean that morality did not originally have a recognizable purpose.
Compare it with sex. Sexual intercourse has a biological purpose and that's to propogate the species. But that's not how I think of sex. I think of sex as a way to get pleasure, the fact that kids can come from sex is secondary and actually opposite to what I want. The people who seem most cognisant of the fact that sex's purpose is to have babies are the Catholics, but that purpose is in the background for me and for a whole lot of other people.
Yes, but you think of sex as a way to get pleasure because you evolved to think that way. You have a natural impulse to seek sex for pleasure, and this impulse serves the original biological purpose of getting you to reproduce.

It's no different than the fact that strawberries taste good. Why do they taste good? Because they need to be desirable in order to attract animals to grab and eat them, thus passing the seeds in their stool and spreading the seeds of the plant. In our minds, we eat the strawberry because it tastes good, but there is a reason and a purpose behind the fact that it tastes good.
I think it's the same way for morality as well. Lets say morality's purpose is to create a stable and successful society. Who thinks of it like this? I don't.
It doesn't matter whether you think of it that way; it's still where the whole idea of morality came from. You ask yourself how we know right from wrong; why do you think we even believe there is such a thing as right and wrong? That belief is so basic that you never question it, or even acknowledge it.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Junghalli » 2012-07-10 01:23am

Shadow6 wrote:I'm not sure how useful it is to discuss insincere moral agents; I don't think the absence of 'loopholes' (which is hardly assured in a deontological system) will present a significant boundary to them.
An area that strikes me as one where rules may come in handy is when you have insincere moral agents interacting with sincere ones.

To convince somebody with the moral rule "torture is wrong" to embrace torture you have to get him to reject that part of his morality. To do the same to a utilitarian you just have to present a convincing-sounding argument that it will result in benefits that outweigh the harm. Convincing-sounding being significant - most people are not interrogation specialists, truth is not necessarily required, sophistry can do. As creationists, global warming denials, anti-vaccers etc. show us, it's quite possible for laymen to be fooled by psuedoscience.

"Torture is wrong" creates a rigorous "smell test" for evaluating other people's moral arguments where "torture is wrong, unless the benefits outweigh the drawbacks" doesn't.
hongi wrote:I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Wouldn't it make more sense to say that the social purpose of human sex is social cohesion or somesuch, but the biological purpose of human sex is to have babies?
I would say that, humans being a social animal, sociality is part of our biology. I doubt our physical sex organs and functions would look the way they did if they were simply reproductive (our penises might have baculums, for instance), which would mean they are actually designed around their social role.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 01:28am

Junghalli wrote:
Shadow6 wrote:I'm not sure how useful it is to discuss insincere moral agents; I don't think the absence of 'loopholes' (which is hardly assured in a deontological system) will present a significant boundary to them.
An area that strikes me as one where rules may come in handy is when you have insincere moral agents interacting with sincere ones.

To convince somebody with the moral rule "torture is wrong" to embrace torture you have to get him to reject that part of his morality. To do the same to a utilitarian you just have to present a plausible-sounding argument that it will result in benefits that outweigh the harm. Plausible-sounding being significant - most people are not interrogation specialists, truth is not necessarily required, sophistry can do. As creationists, global warming denials, anti-vaccers etc. show us, it's quite possible for laymen to be fooled by psuedoscience.

"Torture is wrong" creates a rigorous "smell test" for evaluating other people's moral arguments where "torture is wrong, unless the benefits outweigh the drawbacks" doesn't.
And yet, however extreme, it is not difficult to concoct hypothetical scenarios where these same people who say "torture is wrong" would make an exception and say that it might be acceptable. We know this from experience. A couple of decades ago, almost all Americans staunchly believed that America just doesn't torture prisoners. In the short time since then, torture acceptance has shot way up, because people started rolling these hypothetical scenarios around in their heads.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-07-10 01:40am

Still creeped out.
Darth Wong wrote:Who in public life (ie- with real power) ever actually says this, or anything like it?
Pretty much every revolutionary political movement ever either says it outright or says it implicitly. It's all part of the process of turning mass murder and censorship into the good of the people.

Don't you remember the phrase "bourgeois morality?"
That's something that needs to be thought about, probably thought about harder than modern society does. We've cast away a lot of rules about things like the nature of government and economics in the past two generations, and I think we're paying for it now.
The people who have cast away those rules have been doing so in the name of traditional values, the way things were done in the distant past, etc. The rules we cast away were in fact fairly recent rules, mostly dating from the early or mid 20th century.
I don't know. In many ways neoliberalism is actually quite new.

Eugenics was never the "New Morality"; it dates back to ancient Sparta. In medieval times, people who deviated too much from expected standards were deemed to have been cursed by God, and treated accordingly. In slave-owning early America, blacks were not even considered humans, and were basically treated like two-legged farm animals. The idea that eugenics introduced some new horror into the world is a real distortion of history: it was just an excuse people cooked up to try to keep doing the things they used to do even more openly, like wiping out entire peoples that they deemed inferior. People deemed other people inferior long before they knew what "genetic" even meant.
When it keeps getting reintroduced I call it "New Morality." And seriously, read some of the stuff people were talking about in the twenties and thirties, about how they expected the 20th century to look.

http://www.zompist.com/predic.htm

You may disagree with him in detail, but seriously there's something important there at the top of the page. It's about how much the way we think about the world in the Anglosphere has changed from having to deal with the World Wars and their aftermath. We didn't get the future anyone in 1900 would have expected.

In some cases, what was expected was that what used to be old atrocities committed out of superstition would be refined into scientific practice. Like eugenics. Or the destruction of ecosystems, once a careless thing done by goatherds and now envisioned as the way to cleanse (sterilize) the world of tomorrow. And I don't think it can be simplified into "oh, well that was an old legacy of the bad old old old times." People were imagining their own vices, as well as their virtues, magnified onto a giant heroic scale by technology.

And I'd say that because of this, in political philosophy, newer is not always better. The period from 1900-1950 is a pretty good illustration of this. In some places and schools, progress. In others, regress into a horrible sort of totalitarian viciousness, something we'd call "barbaric" if only it weren't so organized and technocratic and efficient about its brutality.
Basic rules like "just don't torture, it always ends in tears" should not be overthrown for the sake of passing fads like "but we beat the communists, so now history is over and hypercapitalism has won which means that it's all going to be all right as soon as the new world order gets settled in!"
How do you tell what is a good or "basic" rule as opposed to a bad or presumably unimportant rule?
Persistence. If the problem that caused you to make it keeps coming up across cultures, if you can't point to anyone who ignores the rule and does fine, if people keep trying to ignore it and it keeps resulting in ugliness and death... yeah.

I mean, come on, this is the large scale equivalent of safety rules like "don't play around the electric fence." Sure, sometimes the power is off and playing is awesome, but you'd be out of your mind to tell people that they should avoid the electric fence only sometimes.

Whether morality is absolute or subjective or evolved or constructed, some things are the practical equivalent of "don't go playing around the electric fence."
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-07-10 01:53am

One minor note: the sentence "Or the destruction of ecosystems, once a careless thing done by goatherds and now envisioned as the way to cleanse (sterilize) the world of tomorrow." should have been changed to make it clear that I meant this was what people thought in the '20s and '30s. The idea of draining all the swamps in the world, or turning the Mediterranean Sea into a desert basin for the hydropower, were... a lot more likely to get traction, back in those days before Silent Spring and the rise of the environmental impact study.

Can't edit, though.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 02:05am

Simon_Jester wrote:Still creeped out.
Why? A troll got deleted. I made no secret of who he was. Get over it.
Darth Wong wrote:Who in public life (ie- with real power) ever actually says this, or anything like it?
Pretty much every revolutionary political movement ever either says it outright or says it implicitly. It's all part of the process of turning mass murder and censorship into the good of the people.
Do they really? It seems to me that they usually accuse their opponents of having warped and twisted their morality away from True Morality, not of having a perfectly valid but old morality which they will now replace with a newer better version.
Don't you remember the phrase "bourgeois morality?"
That seems like a good example of people being accused of having warped and twisted their morality away from True Morality.
I don't know. In many ways neoliberalism is actually quite new.
Granted, Ayn Rand's objectivist morality is one of the few legitimately "new" morality schemes out there, but even objectivism claims to be based on timeless principles. When it attacks older morality schemes, it does so not by claiming that they are outdated, but by claiming that they were always wrong.
When it keeps getting reintroduced I call it "New Morality." And seriously, read some of the stuff people were talking about in the twenties and thirties, about how they expected the 20th century to look.

http://www.zompist.com/predic.htm

You may disagree with him in detail, but seriously there's something important there at the top of the page. It's about how much the way we think about the world in the Anglosphere has changed from having to deal with the World Wars and their aftermath. We didn't get the future anyone in 1900 would have expected.
Obviously, there have been a lot of changes. But at no point did people openly discard old morality. They just keep thinking that their new morality is the old morality, and that people in the old days were simply being immoral. Take his example of civil rights for black people. People today don't say "we replaced the old morality of hating blacks with the new morality of liking blacks". They say "it was immoral to hate blacks".
In some cases, what was expected was that what used to be old atrocities committed out of superstition would be refined into scientific practice. Like eugenics. Or the destruction of ecosystems, once a careless thing done by goatherds and now envisioned as the way to cleanse (sterilize) the world of tomorrow. And I don't think it can be simplified into "oh, well that was an old legacy of the bad old old old times." People were imagining their own vices, as well as their virtues, magnified onto a giant heroic scale by technology.

And I'd say that because of this, in political philosophy, newer is not always better. The period from 1900-1950 is a pretty good illustration of this. In some places and schools, progress. In others, regress into a horrible sort of totalitarian viciousness, something we'd call "barbaric" if only it weren't so organized and technocratic and efficient about its brutality.
Now you're introducing all sorts of issues of social progress and technological progress and progression of public awareness of issues that are interesting but not relevant to the original issue of whether people openly discard old moralities and adopt new ones.
How do you tell what is a good or "basic" rule as opposed to a bad or presumably unimportant rule?
Persistence. If the problem that caused you to make it keeps coming up across cultures, if you can't point to anyone who ignores the rule and does fine, if people keep trying to ignore it and it keeps resulting in ugliness and death... yeah.
I hope you realize you just fell back on a utilitarian method in order to justify what constitutes a "basic" moral rule. You are determining what constitutes a good moral rule by seeing what effect it has, or which problem it solves.
I mean, come on, this is the large scale equivalent of safety rules like "don't play around the electric fence." Sure, sometimes the power is off and playing is awesome, but you'd be out of your mind to tell people that they should avoid the electric fence only sometimes.

Whether morality is absolute or subjective or evolved or constructed, some things are the practical equivalent of "don't go playing around the electric fence."
That's more an issue of how you present your morality to the plebs, not how you should actually conceptualize it.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Straha » 2012-07-10 02:18am

mr friendly guy wrote:
Ziggy Stardust wrote:I realize this is now obsolete, but Darth Wong, I think, was spot on about Bakustra having some sort of subconscious religious influence to his thought. Not to armchair "psychologize" (fun word, right?), the way he talked about logic and philosophy seems to suggest it, and I really cannot think of any other way to categorize his reactions to neuroscience/evolutionary psychology except as an underlying anti-scientific mindset.
Maybe thats why he has a grudge against utilitarianism and "outcome based ethics". Seriously in those ethical debates he would rant against it, but refuse to actually state his ethical principles. Instead he would go on that utilitarianism can be constructed to justify torture rar rar. At which point I accused him of dodging my point since I wasn't advocating torture, and it seemed like a variation of the Creationist trick to attack evolution, but not put up his own position for analysis. After a while I realised he was actually arguing that I was advocating torture, and the strawman was so "out there" I didn't even see it.
Actually, there were multiple times when he stated his position outright and he was more than happy to relate his position in private. See the consequentialism thread from way back when, for instance. If I may be so bold to put words in a dead man's mouth his stance was that ethics is never complete. Ethics, in order to be truly ethical, has to always question itself an the very premises it bases itself on, otherwise it becomes a new form of fascism/totalitarianism. The second we can say we've found the formula for good/right we're done as ethical beings.


Alyrium Denryle wrote:The reason you need to is because when you argue by counter-example, you need to be able to articulate why that Terrible Thing(tm) you are bringing up is wrong.

Of course, once you reject the philosophical assumption of universality whereby Utilitarianism must be true in all worlds whether they exist or not, you realize that in the world WE live in, there is no logical pathway from Utilitarianism to torture because torture categorically does not work to obtain information.

Bull fucking shit. Look at the moral status of the prisoner, or the animal. Torture isn't just allowed, it's supported as a moral good. Until falls apart at the stage where it tries to figure out who counts, and then goes to some horrifically awful places from there.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Questor » 2012-07-10 02:43am

hongi wrote:And even in this discussion, removed and distanced as it is from real life, I can't understand why people can say so confidently that slavery or honour killing is wrong in relation to this supposed true purpose of morality. Shouldn't this merit more of a discussion? Even if there is an objective purpose, how do you know that Muslim fundamentalists aren't the ones following it most closely?
I've got a bit of a deontological bent in my preferred ethical system (not pure deontological, by far, but duty/responsibility is a significant concept in my personal system), so I'm going to actually be a bit closer to those fundamentalists than some others on this forum. For me, there are a number of cracks in the "honor killing" concept - and yes, I'm going to present some of this in terms of duty/responsibility, simply because it's what I'm most comfortable with. If someone else would care to tackle it from another perspective, I think we can really get some good discussion going.

Firstly, the problem with your view of the honor killing is that you are still oversimplifying down to one party. Of course, in isolation from all other things, and in the mind of the killer, it is impossible to say that honor killing is wrong. Where my understanding of your system falls apart is that there are other beings out there, and I choose to believe that they are just as valid and real as the actor. The actor is ending that being - or at least removing it from influence with our world, depending on your views on the afterlife - without regard for it's wishes and desires. This will also affect other beings in either a positive or negative way.

Secondly, and certainly more specific to my more responsibility based system, in the cases of most honor killings, the actor and victim are members of the same family, specifically, the victim is usually a dependent of the actor in some way. This creates bonds of responsibility and loyalty that cannot simply be dissolved on a whim. As part of the parent/child relationship, parents are expected to help and guide their children, killing them because they made a mistake doesn't exactly fit in with that.

I also disagree with capitol punishment. Not in the "It's an absolute wrong" way, but in the "if we're going to do this, we have a responsibility to make sure we're right, and since we're not omniscient, we can't do that" way.

There's a lot of other interesting little annexes to what I believe, but this isn't the thread.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Shadow6 » 2012-07-10 03:19am

Junghalli wrote:An area that strikes me as one where rules may come in handy is when you have insincere moral agents interacting with sincere ones.

To convince somebody with the moral rule "torture is wrong" to embrace torture you have to get him to reject that part of his morality. To do the same to a utilitarian you just have to present a convincing-sounding argument that it will result in benefits that outweigh the harm. Convincing-sounding being significant - most people are not interrogation specialists, truth is not necessarily required, sophistry can do. As creationists, global warming denials, anti-vaccers etc. show us, it's quite possible for laymen to be fooled by psuedoscience.

"Torture is wrong" creates a rigorous "smell test" for evaluating other people's moral arguments where "torture is wrong, unless the benefits outweigh the drawbacks" doesn't.
Ok, point. I'm not sure if there is a good answer to this - it is all very well for me to say that my hypothetical actor should evaluate the strength of their own reasoning when weighing their decisions but that hardly helps if they're unable to make such an evaluation. Of course, people can be just as fallible in choosing the rules they follow and people will still fall prey to persuasive arguments, just not as easily (which may in itself be a bad thing, in the case of harmful rules).
Straha wrote:Bull fucking shit. Look at the moral status of the prisoner, or the animal. Torture isn't just allowed, it's supported as a moral good. Until falls apart at the stage where it tries to figure out who counts, and then goes to some horrifically awful places from there.
Why does it have to fall apart? The goal/'utility function' (and who it applies to) of any particular brand of consequentialism can be decided as arbitrarily as the subjects of a deontological rule. Unless you mean the specifc brand of 'social'/'human' utilitarianism being promoted by others, in which case I have no comment.

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by mr friendly guy » 2012-07-10 03:25am

Straha wrote: Actually, there were multiple times when he stated his position outright and he was more than happy to relate his position in private. See the consequentialism thread from way back when, for instance.
Too bad he never did when we debated. I admit he has a habit of obfuscating things like a troll (sometimes to the extent where in a thread it was clear he disagreed with the viewpoints made, he never actually said which one, or which posters he actually disagreed with, and refused to elaborate except ambiguously when Simon Jester asked who he actually disagreed with). However when he outright states to me he doesn't have to address any of my points in violation of board rules, I think its quite clear unambiguously in that case he simply refused to address the point.
Straha wrote: If I may be so bold to put words in a dead man's mouth his stance was that ethics is never complete. Ethics, in order to be truly ethical, has to always question itself an the very premises it bases itself on, otherwise it becomes a new form of fascism/totalitarianism. The second we can say we've found the formula for good/right we're done as ethical beings.
That is the problem. Not because ethics shouldn't continue to question itself, its that his point is tangential to the argument he himself got into (at least with me). So what if he thinks this? So do I. So does Darth Wong as evidence by this thread. Does that mean he rejects all ethical systems? Does he have a preferred ethical system despite its limitations. Saying that ethics must always question itself doesn't actually explain why he thinks a particular action is wrong. Its tangential to the point and a red herring.

Edit - its like saying someone states their position outright numerous times about Roger Federer, when all their statements are about Pete Sampras. :D

He gets himself into an argument, uses gross misrepresentations and strawmen, use ambiguous terms and refuses to even clarify when asked, and finally tries to have the argument he wants (which is different from the argument he jumped into) and then gets puzzled when the opponent doesn't play his game.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Kuja » 2012-07-10 03:37am

KhorneFlakes wrote:Holy fuck, that was one of the stupidest things I've seen in a while. Several people ignore the rules which were quite clearly listed, go batshit with their "HURRDURR DARTH WONG IS TYRANT" bull, and then they keep at their whining.

Oh, and then they got banned.

I haven't seen anything like that in what, 2, maybe 3 years when I used to lurk constantly? Dear god. Stupid people have poorer reading comprehension then I thought they did.
The 10th anniversary of StarDestroyer.Net wouldn't be complete without some sacrificial bloodshed.

That one-liner out of the way...what the actual fuck? I was following this thread out of curiosity earlier, I turn my head away from the board for a day or two and a nuke goes off. Jesus.
Can you just hurry up and put in a rule 'don't argue with Darth Wong'?
I always have to shake my head when someone posts this kind of dumbass line, because I know that if it were actually true I'd have been banned three or four times over. And not even over anything worthwile, just arguments about stupid mecha shit.
Still creeped out.
Take a breath, Simon. Deletion's happened before, and it'll happen again. D13 was probably far and away the highest-post member it's happened to, though.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Alyrium Denryle » 2012-07-10 04:38am

Bull fucking shit. Look at the moral status of the prisoner, or the animal. Torture isn't just allowed, it's supported as a moral good. Until falls apart at the stage where it tries to figure out who counts, and then goes to some horrifically awful places from there.
The moral status of the prisoner is not relevant to a discussion of utilitarianism because utilitarianism typically does not condone retributive punishment of the sort found in say, our prisons.

As for animals, you assume that
A) We torture animals (I do animal research BTW)
B) We dont care what happens to them
C) They have the same degree of moral consideration a person warrants.

We do not torture animals. I repeat, we do not torture animals. Not anymore anyway. If painful procedures are performed, they are done under anesthesia, barring the replication of natural occurrences like predation. If the animal's quality of life is diminished by a procedure, that procedure will either not be done, or the animal will be euthanized to end its suffering.

We do, as researchers, deeply care for the animals we use in research, and even if we do, we have ethics committees who do.

You have no basis other than your own say-so upon which to argue the last assumption you always make, as you have repeatedly demonstrated every time you argue. I am not arguing that animals are not worthy of any moral consideration. They are, because of and proportionate to their cognitive traits that impart moral consideration(such as but not limited to the capacity to feel pain, I am not a strict utilitarian). There may even be species in the cosmos with a higher claim to ethical protections than us, on a one to one basis.

If you think animals are worthy of the same moral consideration as humans, I suggest you go kill yourself in moral despair right now, because every time you eat vegetables, untold numbers of insects died in the harvesting process, and if you insist on absolutely uniform ethical consideration for animals, you cannot exempt them.

You insecticidal monster.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 09:34am

Kuja wrote:The 10th anniversary of StarDestroyer.Net wouldn't be complete without some sacrificial bloodshed.

That one-liner out of the way...what the actual fuck? I was following this thread out of curiosity earlier, I turn my head away from the board for a day or two and a nuke goes off. Jesus.
In hindsight, it was probably inevitable. When a social clique forms and starts getting the idea that they should be above the rules, there's bound to be a confrontation sooner or later, unless the staff avoids it by letting them have their way.

Hell, they even knew which rule they were breaking; JSF actually mentioned it, and then claimed that it's unjust to enforce it. That's a pretty good sign that a clique has gotten pretty full of itself.
Questor wrote:
hongi wrote:And even in this discussion, removed and distanced as it is from real life, I can't understand why people can say so confidently that slavery or honour killing is wrong in relation to this supposed true purpose of morality. Shouldn't this merit more of a discussion? Even if there is an objective purpose, how do you know that Muslim fundamentalists aren't the ones following it most closely?
I've got a bit of a deontological bent in my preferred ethical system (not pure deontological, by far, but duty/responsibility is a significant concept in my personal system), so I'm going to actually be a bit closer to those fundamentalists than some others on this forum. For me, there are a number of cracks in the "honor killing" concept - and yes, I'm going to present some of this in terms of duty/responsibility, simply because it's what I'm most comfortable with. If someone else would care to tackle it from another perspective, I think we can really get some good discussion going.
I'm not hongi, but I can't help but imagine that he will ask why your sense of duty/responsibility should be considered any more morally valid than a Pakistani tribesman's sense of "honour". This is the root problem of arguing ethics: people are accustomed to judging an action by their ethical principles; they are not accustomed to judging their ethical principles by anything.
Firstly, the problem with your view of the honor killing is that you are still oversimplifying down to one party. Of course, in isolation from all other things, and in the mind of the killer, it is impossible to say that honor killing is wrong. Where my understanding of your system falls apart is that there are other beings out there, and I choose to believe that they are just as valid and real as the actor. The actor is ending that being - or at least removing it from influence with our world, depending on your views on the afterlife - without regard for it's wishes and desires. This will also affect other beings in either a positive or negative way.

Secondly, and certainly more specific to my more responsibility based system, in the cases of most honor killings, the actor and victim are members of the same family, specifically, the victim is usually a dependent of the actor in some way. This creates bonds of responsibility and loyalty that cannot simply be dissolved on a whim. As part of the parent/child relationship, parents are expected to help and guide their children, killing them because they made a mistake doesn't exactly fit in with that.
I would be curious how neighbouring families react in (for example) a Pakistani tribal area when someone actually does this. Do they all think "yeah, she deserved it, good for him" or do they sort of look away and pretend nothing happened?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Surlethe » 2012-07-10 09:55am

Junghalli wrote:Actually this opens up an interesting subject - is it necessarily true that humans default to utilitarianism? I'm thinking of scenarios like the fat man variant of the trolley problem here. Even among people who believe the correct course of action in that scenario would be to kill the fat man (which is what utilitarianism would suggest), I wonder how many would actually do it when crunch time came?

It seems to me that human social instincts are not necessarily utilitarian.
Human social instincts are complex, overlaid, and not necessarily even consistent. I tend to view the construction of moral philosophy as an attempt to
  1. subject our moral intuitions (which are non-arbitrary, locally consistent, and globally inconsistent) to scrutiny and
  2. construct appropriate, consistent models which apply generally.
The fat man variant of the trolley problem is an excellent example of how people's moral intuitions often distinguish between "active" and "passive." You can find applicable real-world examples in libertarianism, which (one of my favorite things to point out) distinguishes between active harm and passive harm: it is wrong to tax people (actively cause harm) in order to stop people from, say, starving to death (passively causing harm).
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Channel72 » 2012-07-10 10:46am

Darth Wong wrote:I love the way you try to sound reasonable while still hopelessly mangling the concept. Are you really this dense? That's the whole point of group advantage-based ethics (or any system of ethics which is based on a goal rather than a set of "self-evident" rules): you can't absolutely nail down what necessarily works best. You have to try things and see. It's entirely possible that there is more than one system which works equally well, or that a system which works well at one stage of societal development does not work so well at another. And yes, that opens up the door for "moral debate", which is a good thing, because it means that the system is flexible and can adapt to changing conditions, unlike hard-coded rule-based systems (which most other systems are).
I think Bakustra had one point which I still don't think has been satisfactorily addressed: there are certain moral precepts which we all probably intuitively agree with, due to our Western upbringing, (like say... slavery is bad), which aren't necessarily derivable from a goal-oriented, evolutionary morality based around societal fitness.

For example, it seems to be entirely possible for a society which continously exploits another society to thrive indefinitely. Suppose Group A exploits Group B as a cheap source of slave labor, and implements effective methods for preventing rebellion. As long as Group A continues to "succeed", how do we label Group A as "immoral"? You might point out that in reality, no actual society which exploited slave labor has lasted indefinitely - but there's so few data points here that that we can't necessarily say why this is so. The American South, for example, may have been able to exist and flourish indefinitely if it weren't for the Industrial Revolution. You could argue that any society which oppresses a certain class/race is less stable, but this isn't necessarily so - (e.g. the Hindu caste system lasted thousands of years.)

Ideally, we want a model of morality that allows us to derive something like an "enlightened Western mindset", where individual human rights are important, leaders are elected democratically, and individual freedoms and happiness are maximized to the extent permitted by the overall stability of the society. Let's call this the EWS ("Enlightened Western Society"). How do we know than an EWS is necessarily the most stable society? Given the limited data, we don't know this yet. Non-EWS societies, like Ancient Rome, etc., lasted for centuries, and the cause of their collapse is not immediately attributable to being a non-EWS society. Perhaps EWS societies tend to eventually collapse, due to unsustainable growth/economic factors.

So how does the evolutionary model allow us to say that EWS societies are the best?

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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Darth Wong » 2012-07-10 11:13am

Channel72 wrote:I think Bakustra had one point which I still don't think has been satisfactorily addressed: there are certain moral precepts which we all probably intuitively agree with, due to our Western upbringing, (like say... slavery is bad), which aren't necessarily derivable from a goal-oriented, evolutionary morality based around societal fitness.

For example, it seems to be entirely possible for a society which continously exploits another society to thrive indefinitely. Suppose Group A exploits Group B as a cheap source of slave labor, and implements effective methods for preventing rebellion. As long as Group A continues to "succeed", how do we label Group A as "immoral"? You might point out that in reality, no actual society which exploited slave labor has lasted indefinitely - but there's so few data points here that that we can't necessarily say why this is so. The American South, for example, may have been able to exist and flourish indefinitely if it weren't for the Industrial Revolution. You could argue that any society which oppresses a certain class/race is less stable, but this isn't necessarily so - (e.g. the Hindu caste system lasted thousands of years.)
From a pure utilitarian standpoint, I think the simplest argument would be that society is better off without slavery (after all, the slaves still count as part of "society", so their severely depressed living standard drags down the average).
Ideally, we want a model of morality that allows us to derive something like an "enlightened Western mindset", where individual human rights are important, leaders are elected democratically, and individual freedoms and happiness are maximized to the extent permitted by the overall stability of the society. Let's call this the EWS ("Enlightened Western Society"). How do we know than an EWS is necessarily the most stable society? Given the limited data, we don't know this yet. Non-EWS societies, like Ancient Rome, etc., lasted for centuries, and the cause of their collapse is not immediately attributable to being a non-EWS society. Perhaps EWS societies tend to eventually collapse, due to unsustainable growth/economic factors.
The "enlightened western society" with its democracy and individual freedoms was made possible by technology. Could you have democracy before the printing press? I doubt it; democracy requires widespread public knowledge.

It also has its applicable limits: every democracy reserves the right to declare martial law for emergencies: tacit admission that democracy is terrible at handling serious crises.

It may well be that severe crises are not the only situation that democracy is terrible at dealing with. Historians two centuries from now may scoff at our notion that you can necessarily improve societies by introducing democracy to them; many of them scoff at this notion already.
So how does the evolutionary model allow us to say that EWS societies are the best?
Right now, it allows us to say that they're the best because they're the most materially successful, not just in terms of wealth but in terms of improving the health and well-being of their citizens. Western democracies even help increase the health of outside citizens, spending billions to fight disease in Africa for example. The "green revolution" was a western invention, thus helping end starvation (until population growth made it return, but that's another subject). I admit that I cannot guarantee that this judgement will always be true forevermore, but is that a bad thing? Why should we judge a moral system based on its ability to tell us that our current values are the best and always will be?
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Lord Revan » 2012-07-10 11:40am

Kuja wrote:
Still creeped out.
Take a breath, Simon. Deletion's happened before, and it'll happen again. D13 was probably far and away the highest-post member it's happened to, though.
true but he's probably also the one Mike (and/or the admins) tolerated the longest, that clique had been playing proverbial russian roulette with the staff for quite some time from what I've heard(with the clique being the only ones holding the gun too), so this was pretty much bound to happen sooner or later.

so relax Simon, you're safe as I said before only ones who get deleted are those who really deserve it.
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Re: moral nihilism

Post by Civil War Man » 2012-07-10 12:31pm

Darth Wong wrote:The "enlightened western society" with its democracy and individual freedoms was made possible by technology. Could you have democracy before the printing press? I doubt it; democracy requires widespread public knowledge.
Just a nitpick, Athens had democracy long before it had the printing press. They didn't have universal suffrage, but that's a relatively new concept politically.

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