Intelligent Design

Why CR’s “Ethics is Only About Solving Concrete Moral Problems” Argument Fails

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Critical Rationalist often says that morality is not about applying objective moral principles (which, according to him, do not exist) but about “solving concrete moral problems.”  Here is an example from a recent post:

Moral knowledge is relevant in the context of solving concrete moral problems, as opposed to existing independent of them in some abstract sense.  That’s because moral problems are what we actually face and they have concrete impact on the outcome.

The obvious problem with CR’s formulation is that the categories “moral knowledge” and “moral problem” cannot even exist if abstract moral principles do not exist, but that is the very proposition he denies.

Suppose I decide I want to shoot CR in the head because – like the guy in Folsom Prison in the famous song – I just want to watch him die.  Is the question whether I should go ahead and shoot CR for that reason a “moral problem”?  It should be obvious that it is a moral problem only if the abstract moral principal “do not commit murder” exists.  If that principal exists, I can compare my desire to shoot CR with the proscriptions embodied in the principal.  And when I do, I find it would indeed be immoral to shoot CR in the head just to watch him die.

I take it that CR does not deny moral rules as such.  Instead, he says there are no independent abstract objective moral rules.  Instead, what we call moral rules are merely tentative positions that are, in his words, hard to criticize.  So, CR would say the abstract moral principal “do not commit murder” does not exist.  Instead, he would say, in deciding whether to shoot him I should form a “conjecture” about whether the rule “don’t shoot CR in the head just to watch him die” is a position to which I should tentatively adhere.  And if I do decide tentatively to adhere to that rule, I should then attempt to criticize it.  And it the rule is “hard to criticize,” I should follow it, all the while being open to the possibility that new evidence might suggest the rule is actually not a good one to follow.  And if I do withdraw my tentative acceptance of the rule based on new evidence, I could go ahead and shoot him.

Rubbish.  CR’s conception assumes the very thing to be demonstrated.  He begs the question.  How?  When he says that we should make a conjecture about a moral question, I assume he does not mean that we should face every decision that could be characterized as a moral decision on an ad hoc basis.  If we did that, the very concept of morality would be meaningless.

On what, then, should our conjecture about moral rules be based?  It should be obvious that the only thing they could be based on is our preexisting moral knowledge.  Thus, CR’s formulation fails at the very first step.  We cannot make non-random moral conjectures without moral knowledge to begin with.

CR’s formulation also fails at the second step.  Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we can have a basis to accept, even tentatively, a moral conjecture in the absence of preexisting abstract moral knowledge.  What would CR have us do now?  Criticize that moral position.  But on what basis could we criticize a moral position?  The only basis on which to criticize a moral position is — you guessed it — whether it adheres to a preexisting abstract moral principal.

CR’s second step fails for another reason.  Having found a moral principle that is hard to criticize, he says we “should” follow it.  Why?  He doesn’t say.  If objective moral truth does not exist, why should I follow any moral rule for any reason?  Indeed, why should I not instead adhere to the principle:  “maximize Barry’s pleasure to the exclusion of all other considerations, including other people’s pain”?  The answer is, of course, like every other materialist ethical theory, CR’s smuggles in objective moral standards through the back door.  We should follow hard to criticize moral principles, because it is objectively good to do so and objectively evil not to do so.  If it were not objectively good to follow hard to criticize moral principles, the decision to do so would be completely arbitrary.

Finally, CR’s position fails at the third step.  CR says every moral position should be held tentatively, subject to correction based on new evidence.  Piffle.  Consider the proposition “the Holocaust was evil.”  Should I hold that position dogmatically or tentatively.  It is self-evidently morally monstrous that it is conceivable that new evidence would ever lead me to reconsider whether it is good and just to murder 18 million innocent men, woman and children.  Indeed, to even suggest that it is possible to reconsider that question is itself evil.  I should be dogmatic.  What about keeping an open mind, Barry?  Sigh.  The only reason keep an open mind to begin with is so that it can close around the truth when it grasps it.

In summary, CR’s moral theory fails at every step.  This is not surprising.  For materialists, ethics really is impossible, because ethics presupposes the existence of “good” and “evil.”  And as Dawkins is candid enough to admit, materialism absolutely insists there is, at bottom, no such thing as good and evil.  In a world governed by materialist principles, there is no morality.  There are only the strong and the weak, and the strong prevail and the weak succumb, and questions about whether that is right or wrong are literally meaningless.

UPDATE:

CR’s response to the above OP (moved from Comment 5 into the OP for emphasis):

CR doesn’t want to get shot in the head (as opposed to having a terminal disease and lacking the ability to kill myself) Hypothetically, Barry wants to shoot me in the head because he enjoys watching people die.

How is this not a moral problem to be solved?

Even if I wanted to die, the question would be, have I carefully considered the options? That’s a moral question as well.

He can correct me if I am wrong Local, but I think CR would say when it comes to morals there are no theorems or axioms.

As I’ve pointed out, there is no dichotomy between non-basic beliefs and basic beliefs. What you call axioms are hard to vary ideas that we currently lack good criticism of. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily will have good criticism of any idea. For one, we might give up or hold the belief that some ideas are immune to criticism. Or it might be that we never come up with a good criticism.

Nor has anyone presented a counter example to this.

We just muddle along with tentative rules until, for whatever reason, we jettison those rules for others we like better.

“Like better” is a rather vague, as compared to ideas that we lack good criticism of, wouldn’t you say? I mean, why not actually address the most strongest form of an argument, rather than a weak one? Why not actually fill in any gaps in my argument you might find to shore it up and then criticize that instead?

If you’re genuinely interested in having a discussion, doesn’t that seem like the most direct way of making progress.

Again, ideas start out as conjectures. We could just as well say that we “like” conjectures and therefore decide not to criticize them. However, there is a moral imperative there to criticize even ideas that we might “like”.

The accent Greeks used to think it wasn’t murder if you left an infant out to die of exposure. After all, one of the gods might take them in.

The historical Greeks considered the practice of adult and child sacrifice barbarous,[29] however, the exposure of newborns was widely practiced in ancient Greece, it was even advocated by Aristotle in the case of congenital deformity — “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.”[30] In Greece the decision to expose a child was typically the father’s, although in Sparta the decision was made by a group of elders.[31] Exposure was the preferred method of disposal, as that act in itself was not considered to be murder; moreover, the exposed child technically had a chance of being rescued by the gods or any passersby.[32] This very situation was a recurring motif in Greek mythology.[33] To notify the neighbors of a birth of a child, a woolen strip was hung over the front door to indicate a female baby and an olive branch to indicate a boy had been born. Families did not always keep their new child. After a woman had a baby, she would show it to her husband. If the husband accepted it, it would live, but if he refused it, it would die. Babies would often be rejected if they were illegitimate, unhealthy or deformed, the wrong sex, or too great a burden on the family. These babies would not be directly killed, but put in a clay pot or jar and deserted outside the front door or on the roadway. In ancient Greek religion, this practice took the responsibility away from the parents because the child would die of natural causes, for example hunger, asphyxiation or exposure to the elements.

The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. Philo was the first philosopher to speak out against it.[34] A letter from a Roman citizen to his sister, or a pregnant wife from her husband,[35] dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

“I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.”,[36][37] “If you give birth to a boy, keep it. If it is a girl, expose it. Try not to worry. I’ll send the money as soon as we get paid.”[38]
In some periods of Roman history it was traditional for a newborn to be brought to the pater familias, the family patriarch, who would then decide whether the child was to be kept and raised, or left to die by exposure.[39] The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. The concurrent practices of slavery and infanticide contributed to the “background noise” of the crises during the Republic.[39]

What happened there?

 

Barry replies to CR’s response:

Let’s count the arguments in the OP that CR apparently has no response to other than spouting his talking points.

CR doesn’t want to get shot in the head (as opposed to having a terminal disease and lacking the ability to kill myself) Hypothetically, Barry wants to shoot me in the head because he enjoys watching people die. How is this not a moral problem to be solved?

Good grief CR. You don’t just get to skip over the OP without reading it. In the OP I wrote: “It should be obvious that it is a moral problem only if the abstract moral principal “do not commit murder” exists.”

1. You failed to respond to that argument; instead you spouted your talking points. Do you have a response?

I argued that initial conjectures about moral rules cannot be based on anything but our preexisting moral knowledge.

2. You failed to respond to that argument; instead you spouted your talking points. Do you have a response?

What you call axioms are hard to vary ideas that we currently lack good criticism of.

I argued that the only basis on which to criticize a moral position is whether it adheres to a preexisting abstract moral principal.

3. You failed to respond to that argument; instead you spouted your talking points. Do you have a response?

I argued that under CR’s position, we just muddle along with tentative rules until, for whatever reason, we jettison those rules for others we like better.

CR actually responded to this. He says the phrase “lacked good criticism of” is a better term than “like better” And he suggests I am misrepresenting his argument by using the term “like better.” Of course, I used a variation of CR’s preferred phrase (“hard to criticize”)  FIVE times in the OP.

I described CR’s position as follows: 1. Make a  conjecture about how to respond to a moral problem. 2. Criticize the moral principle that emerges from step 1. 3. Adhere to a moral principle that is hard to criticize. CR, if that is not your position, please enlighten us.

4. So with respect to the one statement I made that he does respond to, CR lies about whether I understand his position and quibbles about terms.

I argued that CR smuggles in objective moral standards through the back door. Otherwise his argument that we “should” follow moral principles that are hard to criticize would be arbitrary.

5. You failed to respond to that argument; instead you spouted your talking points. Do you have a response?

I argued that CR’s argument fails because it asks us to be open to changing our mind about self-evidently monstrous moral evil.

6. You failed to respond to that argument; instead you spouted your talking points. Do you have a response?

Finally, CR tried to change the subject to an examination of exposing infants in ancient Greece.

7. Instead of responding to my argument, CR tried to change the subject.

Let’s see CR’s score. CR failed to respond to five of the arguments I made and instead just spouted his talking points. He lied about whether I understood his argument and quibbled about terms with respect to one argument I made. He tried to change the subject. FAIL.

CR, I am beginning to suspect that you are incapable of responding to counterarguments and that spouting your talking points over and over and trying to change the subject is the only thing you can do.  Prove me wrong.  Respond to the arguments I made.

 

 

45 Replies to “Why CR’s “Ethics is Only About Solving Concrete Moral Problems” Argument Fails

  1. 1
    LocalMinimum says:

    How can you have theorems without axioms?

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    He can correct me if I am wrong Local, but I think CR would say when it comes to morals there are no theorems or axioms. We just muddle along with tentative rules until, for whatever reason, we jettison those rules for others we like better.

  3. 3
    harry says:

    Has anyone else noticed that atheists tend to be pro-choice on abortion? I have only met one atheist who claimed to be pro-life, and that was only through an online discussion. When I questioned him about the intellectual basis for his being pro-life he got totally flustered, realizing he had none. He just felt like abortion was wrong.

    It is not surprising that Christians, who have been taught that whatever we do to the least of the brethren of Christ we do to Him (see Matthew 25:31-46), make up the vast majority of the Pro-Life movement. Nor is it surprising that atheists tend to be the ones doing to Christ in the least of His brethren that which they will regret for all eternity if they don’t ever come to their senses.

    Like ideas, atheism has consequences, all of which are terrible for humanity. I explained that at length in the “Be Afraid” thread.

  4. 4
    Barry Arrington says:

    harry:

    Has anyone else noticed that atheists tend to be pro-choice on abortion?

    Of course. A-Mat “ethics” boil down to the strong prevail and the weak succumb. And who is weakest of all?

  5. 5
    critical rationalist says:

    WE HAVE MOVED CR’S RESPONSE INTO THE OP TO EMPHASIZE IT. IT IS CLASSIC CR. WE WANT EVERYONE TO SEE IT AND CAN’T BARE TO HAVE IT BURIED IN A COMMENT THREAD.

  6. 6
    Barry Arrington says:

    CR, your comment at 5 has been moved into the OP. My reply to your comment at 5 is also in the OP.

  7. 7
    Bob O'H says:

    Sorry if this is slightly off-topic, but don’t worry. I won’t bring Canaanites into this. Anyway-

    It should be obvious that it is a moral problem only if the abstract moral principal “do not commit murder” exists.

    Doesn’t the description of a killing as “murder” already carry a moral judgment? So, for example “thou shalt not kill” is a clear statement about an act that one should not commit, but how do we (morally) distinguish killing from murder?

    Of course, there is a legal definition of murder, but if we use that, “do not commit murder” is only a moral imperative if the legal and moral definitions of murder align. But for myself and many regular readers of this blog this isn’t the case for US law (for different reasons for different people!).

    Before anyone complains, no this isn’t a “gotcha!” question. I’m genuinely curious about this. I suspect the issue is rather messy once looked at in detail.

  8. 8
    Origenes says:

    Barry: CR, I am beginning to suspect that you are incapable of responding to counterarguments and that spouting your talking points over and over and trying to change the subject is the only thing you can do.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  9. 9
    EvilSnack says:

    Here’s a concrete moral problem for you: Should I obey the order to drive this truckload of Jews to Auschwitz, or should I disobey it?

    How do you say anything but “floor it” without affirming, in some way, that we are more than molecules in motion?

  10. 10
    critical rationalist says:

    Good grief CR. You don’t just get to skip over the OP without reading it. In the OP I wrote: “It should be obvious that it is a moral problem only if the abstract moral principal “do not commit murder” exists.”

    The actual scenario you described doesn’t necessary entail murder, because watching people die doesn’t mean their death against their will. Or putting hypothetical Barry in a virtual reality environment where he shoots people in the head and watches them die.

    Or, although I find them barbaric, why not hire hypothetical Barry to work on a firing squad?

    All of these things are conjectures and I’m already feeling like there are a number of good criticisms against the firing squad solution. But, I’m suggesting, that’s the actual process we go though when we actually find ourselves in situations like this.

    Again, all of these thing suggest there are solutions to moral problems in which both parties are not forced to do things against their will.

    IOW, we can come up with a bunch of moral values an duties, but we will need to interpret them and decide when to defer to them on a problem by problem basis when we run into concrete moral problems to solve. Your scenario is one just example.

  11. 11
    Barry Arrington says:

    Let’s see CR’s score. CR failed to respond to five of the arguments I made and instead just spouted his talking points. He lied about whether I understood his argument and quibbled about terms with respect to one argument I made. He tried to change the subject. FAIL.

    CR, I am beginning to suspect that you are incapable of responding to counterarguments and that spouting your talking points over and over and trying to change the subject is the only thing you can do. Prove me wrong. Respond to the arguments I made.

    Are you going to get around to responding to those five arguments you’ve missed so far?

  12. 12
    Barry Arrington says:

    CR @ 11:

    IOW, we can come up with a bunch of moral values an duties, but we will need to interpret them and decide when to defer to them on a problem by problem basis when we run into concrete moral problems to solve. Your scenario is one just example.

    We can come up with moral values and duties? On what basis do we “come up with them”? By the application of abstract independent moral knowledge — the thing you deny exists.

    How do we decide whether to apply them? By the application of abstract independent moral knowledge — the thing you deny exists.

    Are you going to attempt a defense of your framework?

  13. 13
  14. 14
    LoneCycler says:

    After reading previous remarks on the subject of morality I agree with what Quaesitor remarked 3/8/2018 and citing Romans 2:14-15.

    The requirements of the law are written on our hearts.

    “Our shared sense of morality shows these are objective but non-physical things — like maths or logic.”

    Our shared sense of morality even across cultures is, I think, also evidence of design.

    Of course a/mats will deny it, but it’s not like they live their lives in accordance with what they say about morality. Typically they’re not bank robbers, child molestors or serial killers. It seems likely that the worst thing most that post here have likely done is pilfer some other boy’s belongings while at band camp one summer.

    If I’m wrong about that feel free to confess.

    The idea that there is no moral truth anyone can know is simple ignorance, professed by those who claim to have no personal beliefs themselves, and who become upset when they discover someone else does have them.

    How childish.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H: murder is the shedding of INNOCENT blood. Self defense is not murder, though it is a terrible thing to kill another man. I recall a soldier from Jamaica: Oh, mumma him dead! She was placed on leave and counselling as is policy; this was justifiable homicide in the course of duty in defence of the civil peace of justice. In the Winter War, Finnish machine gunners went through extreme PTSD, from having had to kill hundreds of Russians; they anguished over men with wives and families too. The point is that the human being is of quasi-infinite worth and violation of the person by stealing his or her life is an ultimate violation. Some of us would go further, it is blasphemy and sacrilege against the Lord who made us in his image. KF

  16. 16
    Bob O'H says:

    BO’H: murder is the shedding of INNOCENT blood.

    Ah, so killing a murderer is not murder then? Who gets to decide who is innocent?

  17. 17
    Allan Keith says:

    Bob’OH@7, it is my understanding that the “Thou shalt not Kill” commandment is a bit confusing because of the translation, and that a proper translation would be closer to our legal definition of “murder”. The taking of an innocent life against their will. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  18. 18
    jdk says:

    Was dropping the atomic bombs on Japan evil?

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    JDK, was the atomic bombing a worse action than the realistic alternative, an invasion over several years against an enemy determined to die in the act of extracting maximum casualties — 5 – 10+ millions, anybody’s guess? (See what happened at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, including mass suicide of CIVILIANS rather than surrender.) Since WW2, EVERY Purple Heart awarded by the USA has come from the preliminary stock made up for the invasion of Japan. In short, the issue on such an act is not, is it an evil, but was it the least evil alternative? Likewise, put yourself in the shoes of Eisenhower speaking with the paratroopers about to board planes on June 5 1944, and hear the testimony of the Red Cross lady on his trembling hands as she gave him coffee and a doughnut, IIRC — not knowing who he was. Then, stand with Petain by the side of that sacred road to Verdun, watching 18 YO lads marching into “The Mincer,” say early March 1916, then watching the survivors come back, shattered with 1,000 yard stares a few days later. Even Haig had to be medically ordered not to go to see the wounded in hospital lest he collapse psychologically himself. And, British Generals took 20% casualties on the Western Front; no it was not the easy caricature of brave young lions led by cowardly, stupid donkeys. We need to ask ourselves as a race what is so radically wrong with us that many issues cannot be resolved short of a foretaste of hell on earth, war. KF

  20. 20
    LocalMinimum says:

    As I’ve pointed out, there is no dichotomy between non-basic beliefs and basic beliefs. What you call axioms are hard to vary ideas that we currently lack good criticism of.

    There’s a clear dichotomy between axioms and theorems. Axioms are assumed properties. Theorems are properties emergent from axioms. Basic definitions. Axioms are trivially varied, if one doesn’t pay respect to the emergent systems of theorems. But, on what basis would we respect the emergent systems of theorems?

    In physics, we’d apply them to input and output, and see how well they fit. In morality, we’d….how do we establish a moral domain and range again? You can map morally ambiguous cause and effect all day, but how do we map with respect to morality? Wouldn’t we need some rules, a function to produce a score?

    So where do we get these rules? Are they assumed or derived? Axiomatic or theoretic? You can’t have theorems all the way down; so you need lay hold of some axioms, even if they’re just to muddle along with until we find something we like better.

    So, to criticize your axioms on the basis of their systems of theorems, you introduce some axioms. Ooops. Ahhh, well.

    This doesn’t mean that we necessarily will have good criticism of any idea. For one, we might give up or hold the belief that some ideas are immune to criticism. Or it might be that we never come up with a good criticism.

    If your system of thought cannot demonstrably produce these “criticisms”, on what basis should we value it, or even expect it functions at all? Why shouldn’t we simply dismiss it as vacuous? You need some examples. If this is more than hypothesis, offer us what made it theory.

  21. 21
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H: That is why we have trials and juries. And the standard, reasonable doubt. Vigilantism or kangaroo courts have no justification. Justifiable self-defence is a reasonable issue, but to kill another human being is an awful, heart-tearing thing. Perhaps, you need to have a talk with a reformed murderer. BTW, do you not see what the line of argument you are putting up is pointing to? KF

  22. 22
    kairosfocus says:

    LM, notice, how you have not spoken to self-evident moral truth? Truth of moral character that is so, is seen to be so by those with adequate experience and understanding, is seen to be necessarily so. On pain of patent absurdity on attempted denial. Not Mathematics, but reason on being a responsible, rational creature in a world that we can in significant part understand enough to discern duty; a world in which wisdom is possible and indeed vital — and that too is one of those suspiciously “disappeared” words. Try, yardstick case 1: it is self-evidently evil to ambush, kidnap, bind, sexually assault and murder a young child for one’s pleasure. Case 2, it is self evident that our life of reason is morally governed by duties of care to truth, right, rights, justice etc. Ponder these and see if they do not have much to teach us. KF

  23. 23
    ET says:

    Bob O’H:

    Ah, so killing a murderer is not murder then?

    The term is capital punishment.

    Who gets to decide who is innocent?

    The evidence has a say

  24. 24
    ET says:

    Was dropping the atomic bombs on Japan evil?

    War is evil incarnate. It isn’t as if the bombs were dropped on December 6, 1941. That would be a more difficult question to answer. Would destroying two Japanese cities before Dec 7, 1941 be justified if it prevented WW2 from spreading beyond that date?

  25. 25
    jdk says:

    kf writes, “In short, the issue on such an act is not, is it an evil, but was it the least evil alternative? ”

    Exactly. A concrete moral problem.

  26. 26
    kairosfocus says:

    JDK, no-one denies that there are specific moral cases. What is clearly wrong is to suggest that there are no moral principles of governing character, starting with the duties of rationality itself. Or, do you deny that in reasoning, we have duties to truth, justice and much more? KF

  27. 27
    REW says:

    DELETED

    Internet troll crawled back into combox under another address and asked why he was shown the exit. The answer is “because you are an internet troll.”

  28. 28
    LocalMinimum says:

    KF @ 22:

    I’m operating ad argumentum while engaging “moral theory”, so I work with pure logic.

    I do experience and witness the Law “written on our hearts”. I expect CR does, too, and that that’s what he’s trying to reduce to pure logic. I’m trying to explain the limits of reason, in this regard.

    I am guilty of trying to produce mechanics for things that go beyond human mechanical reasoning, but I would say I reason along the lines of “what’s sufficient to make necessary”, rather than “what’s necessary to make sufficient”; i.e. produce practical means to consider a subject, rather than explain it in whole or reduce it. I don’t value my own frameworks beyond immediate sufficiency. I’m more perspiration than inspiration. I like to build abstract structures, that I don’t necessarily want to live in.

  29. 29
    Origenes says:

    Barry @12, CR

    Barry (to CR): We can come up with moral values and duties? On what basis do we “come up with them”?

    According to CR, there is no basis at all. No position (moral or otherwise) can have a basis (justification). Moral values (conjectures) just emerge from nowhere — out of the blue.

    After its emergence the conjecture is criticized. Criticism, mind you, has also no basis or justification. Like conjectures, criticism emerges out of the blue.

    After this process of conjecture and criticism we draw tentative conclusions ,but, and this is important, these tentative conclusions are not connected to, or justified(!) by, the process of conjecture and criticism — that would be justificationism, which CR rejects. As CR has stated many times:

    “No theory can be justified or even established as ‘probable’”

    Clearly, this also applies to “tentative conclusions.”

    Summarizing: conjecture, criticism and tentative conclusions all emerge out of the blue and have no justification whatsoever.

    Popper put it like this:

    We never know what we are talking about. [UNQ 27].

  30. 30
    vividbleau says:

    Barry

    Origenes has already demonstrated in another thread that CR’s worldview is self refuting, incoherent and therefore cannot be possibly true. Because of this when I see anything written by him I just skip it since i know that whatever he is bloviating about is utter nonsense I would suggest others do the same. After all once one has abandoned rationality they are beyond hope.

    Vivid

  31. 31
    Barry Arrington says:

    Origenes @ 29: A succinct summary of many of the arguments in the OP. CR did not respond to any of those arguments when he commented. I asked if he intends to. The answer is “apparently not.”

    “No theory can be justified or even established as ‘probable’”

    Great quote. I would ask CR: “Let’s assume my theory of ethics leads to one and only one conclusion: We should not slaughter 6 million men, women and children for no reason other than that they are Jews.”

    Is my theory not “probable”?

  32. 32
    john_a_designer says:

    A question @ #18,

    Was dropping the atomic bombs on Japan evil?

    According to the version of Just War Theory which I think is the most consistently ethical and moral, it is morally unacceptable to target civilian non-combatants, especially women and children. Notice that this does allow targeting civilians if they are directly involved in something which supports the war effort. This makes them combatants. It also recognizes the fact that you are going to have civilian non-combatant casualties (including so-called human shields) who happen to live around or near a legitimate military target. Such casualties while regrettable are to be expected.

    However, I do think the WW II fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo by the allies and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans were deliberate attacks on the non-combatant civilian populations and, therefore, were not legitimate. In particular Dresden was a German cultural center with very little strategic military value. The same could be said about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Evil? Was the overall intent of the Allies in WW II evil? I would say that the attacks were immoral but not necessarily evil.

    However, if you are a moral subjectivist you can’t claim that anything is really evil. That may be your opinion and you may strongly believe it but you can’t really say it was evil.

  33. 33
    Origenes says:

    Barry @31

    Barry: Is my theory not “probable”?

    If CR responds to your question, he will definitely say that your theory cannot be established as “probable.”

    “No theory can be established neither as certainly true nor even as ‘probable’” (Popper)

    For clarity, CR might add that there can be no justification for your theory.

    CR: no position can be positively justified …

    One may point out to CR that both quotes are self-defeating statements and therefore false, but CR ignores all that.

    Often CR extends the last quote with:

    … but it is quite likely that one (or more) will turn out to be better than others in the light of critical discussion and tests.

    It’s difficult to believe that CR is quite serious about this, since it is utterly incompatible with everything else he said.
    According to CR’s own theory, “critical discussion and tests”, like all positions/theories/statements, cannot have a basis or justification. Also, since, according to CR, it cannot be the case that a thought is justified by anything, there cannot be “critical discussion and tests” which justify anything.
    Thirdly, CR enters the realm of probability and tentative conclusions, but at the same time he quotes Popper saying that this is impossible.

  34. 34
    critical rationalist says:

    @Barry

    The obvious problem with CR’s formulation is that the categories “moral knowledge” and “moral problem” cannot even exist if abstract moral principles do not exist, but that is the very proposition he denies.

    My point is and has been, reason always comes first.

    You must use reason to identify an infallible source of morality, then use reason to interpret an infallible source and determine when to defer to it when faced with concrete moral problems.

    Without a concrete moral problem, how can you interpret it and determine if you should defer to it.

    From this article

    So, there you were, visiting the Vatican and you took a wrong turn and found yourself witnessing the pope as he solemnly declared that there is no force of gravity. You happened to have purchased, from the souvenir shop, a checklist of the official requirements for a declaration to count as ex cathedra, and you took the trouble to verify that each one was met. None of this constitutes direct observation of what you need to know. Did you observe infallibly that it was the pope? Did you do a DNA test? Can you be certain that souvenir checklists never contain typos? And how is your church Latin? Was your translation of the crucial phrase “no force of gravity” infallible? Have you never mistranslated anything?

    The fact is, there’s nothing infallible about “direct experience” either. Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. If you doubt this, look at the work of psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, and verify by direct experience the fallibility of your own direct experience. Furthermore, the idea that your reminiscences are infallible is also heresy by the very doctrine that you are faithful to.

    I’ll tell you what really happened. You witnessed a dress rehearsal. The real ex cathedra ceremony was on the following day. In order not to make the declaration a day early, they substituted for the real text (which was about some arcane theological issue, not gravity) a lorem-ipsum-type placeholder that they deemed so absurd that any serious listener would immediately realize that that’s what it was.

    And indeed, you did realize this; and as a result, you reinterpreted your “direct experience,” which was identical to that of witnessing an ex cathedra declaration, as not being one. Precisely by reasoning that the content of the declaration was absurd, you concluded that you didn’t have to believe it. Which is also what you would have done if you hadn’t believed the infallibility doctrine.

    You remain a believer, serious about giving your faith absolute priority over your own “unaided” reason (as reason is called in these contexts). But that very seriousness has forced you to decide first on the substance of the issue, using reason, and only then whether to defer to the infallible authority. This is neither fluke nor paradox. It is simply that if you take ideas seriously, there is no escape, even in dogma and faith, from the obligation to use reason and to give it priority over dogma, faith, and obedience.

    But, by all mean, please explain how you can avoid employing reason first.

  35. 35
    critical rationalist says:

    @originies

    I’ve clarified my position. If you’re genuinely interest in making progress, why not criticize the strongest version of the argument presented?

    Do you have any questions? Have to done any follow up on Popper’s writings? My guess is “No” because you don’t have any genuine interest in having a discussion.

    And my guess is that neither has Barry.

    Why bother? After all, the idea that is not subject to criticism is the idea that some ideas are not subject to criticism. It’s self perpetuating.

  36. 36
    Quaesitor says:

    Even if we grant that “reason comes first”, without abstract moral principles there would nothing to reason about in the context of ethical decisions.

    Or perhaps I’m just not understanding …

  37. 37
    Origenes says:

    CR @, Quaesitor @

    CR: I’ve clarified my position.

    As I understand your clarification, your position is incoherent.

    If you’re genuinely interest in making progress, why not criticize the strongest version of the argument presented?

    Tell me, which version of the argument did I not criticize?

    Do you have any questions?

    Yes many, and so does Barry — e.g. see #12 and #31. You steadfast refuse to address them.

    Have to done any follow up on Popper’s writings? My guess is “No” because you don’t have any genuine interest in having a discussion.

    Is that why you do not answer questions?

    And my guess is that neither has Barry.

    Can you justify those guesses?

    – – – – – –

    Quaesitor: Even if we grant that “reason comes first”, without abstract moral principles there would nothing to reason about in the context of ethical decisions.
    Or perhaps I’m just not understanding …

    I think you are understanding perfectly. Of course reason needs to be about something — content. One of the many questions that CR refuses to answer is why observation doesn’t come first. Another question would be: why does consciousness not come first? A third would be: Since you claim that “No position is justified” why make upbeat statements like “Reason always comes first” or “No position is justified” at all? IOWs where does the certainty come from?
    By ‘reason’ CR seems to mean ‘conjecture out of the blue’ — unjustified and abstracted away from nonessential stuff like consciousness and observation. He seems to be worried that this does not raise questions, but I can assure him that his concern is totally unjustified.

  38. 38
    critical rationalist says:

    @origines

    You do understand? You could have fooled me, as I’ve said multiple times, Popper did not being every statement with “this is a conjecture:”. So what? Popper has indicated that’s exactly what his position is. And it is mine as well.

    Yet, you keep making the very same argument as if I’ve never clarified it, by quoting me, then suggesting that my stateless are not conjectures.

    Furthermore, I’ve clarified the term justificationism and how it applies to the topic, which refers to a very specific philosophical position in respect to authoritative sources of knowledge.

    Yet you keep leaving comments that ignore this as well.

    So, if you understand, then what’s with all the equivocation and misrepresentation? Is this some game of whack-o-mole?

  39. 39
    Origenes says:

    CR @

    You do understand? You could have fooled me, as I’ve said multiple times, Popper did not being every statement with “this is a conjecture:”. So what?

    This is getting ridiculous! I have debunked the above at least 10 times. No response from you whatsoever. Okay, here it goes for the umpteenth time:

    CR/Popper: No position can be justified

    Again and again I have pointed that this, applied to itself, is a self-defeating statement. Did you not get that? Hello?

    For the umpteenth time:
    – – – –
    1. No position can be justified.
    2. “No position can be justified” is a position.

    Therefore, from (1) and (2)

    3. There is no justification for “No position can be justified”

    Therefore

    4. “No position can be justified” is self-defeating or meaningless at best.
    – – – –

    Self-defeating statements, like “No position can be justified”, are false. CR are you listening? This is important. I repeat: self-defeating statements are FALSE.

    Okay, now you propose to fix a false statement by adding the prefix “this is a conjecture:”. So we get:

    this is a conjecture: [FALSE STATEMENT]

    As I have explained many times, this does not change the verdict “false.” Why not?
    Because the conjecture is necessarily WRONG. If one conjectures a false statement one makes a WRONG conjecture.

    Did you get it this time? Hello?

  40. 40
    critical rationalist says:

    @Origenes

    CR/Popper: No position can be justified

    O: Again and again I have pointed that this, applied to itself, is a self-defeating statement. Did you not get that? Hello?

    Again, I’ve clarified what I mean by this statement. You’ve ignored it once again. Its is reference to justificationism and positive justification.

    Because the conjecture is necessarily WRONG.

    Huh? How did you get that from what I wrote? I don’t seem to recall ever saying a conjecture is always a false statement. Perhaps you’re assuming that knowledge is justified true belief? But I’ve again clarified my view on this as well. if one conjectures a statement that has some truth in it, then we can try to weed out the errors it contains. Or we might throw it out all together and start with a new conjecture.

    What in particular about this that you do not understand?

    Furthermore, I’ve pointed out I am a fallibilist, clarified what that means and even indicated how other people have acted like a fallibilist when presenting a specific proposition, such as 2+2=4, from a number of candidate propositions as a means to determine which would best make their supposed point about propositions supposedly being immune to criticism.

    This has gone completely unanswered beyond what is essentially a emphatic “I’m not a fallibilist!” and ignores the criticism presented.

    Again, words are ultimately undefined. This is because those words would depend on other words, which would need to depend on other words, etc. Rather, words are shortcuts for ideas. And we should be open to using the definitions of others while having a discussion. Otherwise, we can never make any progress.

    Again, the example is starting out with the definition of knowledge as justified, true belief, in which we’ve never get anywhere. The same can be said with justification which was again clarified in respect to sources as justificationism.

    Of course, I’ve pointed this out before as well with no effect and despite having given clarification.

    So, I’ll ask yet again: If you really understand the ideas behind the words I use, then what’s with all the equivocation and misrepresentation? Is this some game of whack-o-mole?

  41. 41
    Origenes says:

    CR@

    O: Because the conjecture is necessarily WRONG.

    CR: Huh? How did you get that from what I wrote?
    I don’t seem to recall ever saying a conjecture is always a false statement.

    I do NOT argue, as you suggest, that every conjecture is always necessarily wrong. Instead, I argue that conjecturing a false statement, as you continue to propose, is always necessarily wrong.

    Try again.

    Your attempts to wiggle your way out of this are transparent and pathetic.

  42. 42
    critical rationalist says:

    Origines wrote…

    this is a conjecture: [FALSE STATEMENT]

    As I have explained many times, this does not change the verdict “false.” Why not?
    Because the conjecture is necessarily WRONG. If one conjectures a false statement one makes a WRONG conjecture.

    I responded…..

    CR: Huh? How did you get that from what I wrote?
    I don’t seem to recall ever saying a conjecture is always a false statement.

    Origines responded…

    I argue that conjecturing a false statement, as you continue to propose, is always necessarily wrong.

    And what false statement might that be and why is it necessarily wrong?

    If you’re referring to you having paraphrased my view as “no position can be justified”, I’ve already clarified what I mean in that, multiple time.

    Specifically, I’ve indicated I am a fallibilist, what it means to question fallibilism via quotes, an entire article and examples of other people here criticizing ideas that they supposedly hold immune from criticism.

  43. 43
    critical rationalist says:

    @Origines

    From this article

    2. The Failure in the Market of Ideas

    Liberalism is a non-authoritarian creed. It draws its strength from the non-coercive power of reasoned argument, in contrast with systems that depend on brute force or intimidation by intellectual or moral authorities. The survival and progress of liberalism depend on free trade in ideas, unconstrained by the cramps on trade in criticism that are imposed by cartels, monopolies and various forms of protectionism in the mind industry. Bartley’s book Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth provides a wealth of detail on that topic (Bartley, 1991). On top of this, people tend to be hostages to the first ideas that they take on board.

    “Every new theory encounters opposition and rejection at first. The adherents of the old, accepted doctrine object to the new theory, refuse it recognition, and declare it to be mistaken. Years, even decades, must pass before it succeeds in supplanting the old one. A new generation must grow up before its victory is decisive.” (Mises, 1978, 196)

    This has hardly changed with the advent of mass primary, secondary and lately higher education. Clearly education and instruction alone do not furnish the habits and disciplines that are required for continuing intellectual growth and for the imaginative criticism of received opinions. Bartley’s work provides an explanation and an antidote to this situation. Inspired by Popper’s critique of the authoritarian structure of western thought in epistemology and politics, noted in the extract at the head of this essay, Bartley explored the logical limits of rationality and the problem of bringing criticism to bear upon fundamental beliefs. He confronted the perennial problem of validation and the dilemma of the infinite regress versus dogmatism. This dilemma arises as follows: If a belief claims validation by a supporting argument, what justifies the support? Where and how does the chain of justification stop? If one attempts to provide reasons for the supporting argument then an infinite regress can be forced by anyone who presses for more supporting statements which in turn demand justification. It appears that this can only be avoided by a dogmatic or arbitrary decision to stop the regress at some stage and settle on a belief at that point. [Note 2]

    This dilemma creates conscientious objections to open-mindedness because a logical chain of argument apparently justifies dogmatism and resistance to counter arguments. To the despair of people who want to make full use of evidence and arguments to pursue both scientific truth and more effective actions, their opponents can defeat the principle of rationality on impeccably logical grounds. Bartley followed up an insight from Karl Popper who located a barely recognised and previously uncriticised assumption regarding justification and the justification of beliefs that permeates Western thought; this can be summed up in the formula.

    Beliefs must be justified by an appeal to an authority of some kind, generally the source of the belief in question, and this justification makes the belief either rational, or if not rational at least valid for the person who holds it.

    Bartley labeled this theory “justificationism” and he showed how it created a demand for positive justification which can never be met for the reasons outlined above. The solution is to abandon the quest for positive justification and instead to settle for a critical preference for one option rather than others in the light of critical arguments and evidence offered to that point. A preference may (or may not) be revised in the light of new evidence and arguments. This appears to be a simple, commonsense position but it defies the dominant traditions of Western thought which have almost all taught that some authority provides (or ought to provide) grounds for positively justified beliefs. An important contribution to the literature on this topic is Notturno’s explanation of the way traditional foundationalism morphed into what he called “floating foundationalism” in an attempt to take on board the idea that our knowledge is fallible while maintaining the framework of “justified true belief” (Notturno, 2003).

    What are the roots of justificationism? Perhaps there is some biological basis, or it may arise from the fact that we all grow up surrounded by larger people who know more than we do and constantly remind us of this. It may arise from the nature of conventional education, which promotes dogmatic modes of thought. But in addition to all these factors there is the tradition of justificationism itself, which states that we should strive to obtain justified beliefs, a theory endorsed by almost all Western philosophers from Plato to the present day. In the words of Ayer

    “For what would be the point of our testing our hypotheses at all if they earned no greater credibility by passing the tests? We seek justification for our beliefs, and the whole process of testing would be futile if it were not thought capable of providing it” (Ayer, 1982, 134).

    So justificationism persists as a subjective attitude or disposition, supported by a pervasive and powerful intellectual tradition. In addition to the influence of academic philosophers in perpetuating this tradition (by example and practice, if not by overt articulation) it is likely that all the “true belief” religions propagate the same mindset by appealing to the appropriate authority to support the doctrines of the faith.

    3. Responses to the dilemma of the infinite regress versus dogmatism

    In the light of the dilemma of the infinite regress versus dogmatism, we can discern three attitudes towards positions: relativism, “true belief” and critical rationalism [Note 3]

    Relativists tend to be disappointed justificationists who realise that positive justification cannot be achieved. From this premise they proceed to the conclusion that all positions are pretty much the same and none can really claim to be better than any other. There is no such thing as the truth, no way to get nearer to the truth and there is no such thing as a rational position.

    True believers embrace justificationism. They insist that some positions are better than others though they accept that there is no logical way to establish a positive justification for an belief. They accept that we make our choice regardless of reason: “Here I stand!”. Most forms of rationalism up to date have, at rock bottom, shared this attitude with the irrationalists and other dogmatists because they share the theory of justificationism.

    According to the critical rationalists, the exponents of critical preference, no position can be positively justified but it is quite likely that one (or more) will turn out to be better than others in the light of critical discussion and tests. This type of rationality holds all its positions and propositions open to criticism and a standard objection to this stance is that it is empty; just holding our positions open to criticism provides no guidance as to what position we should adopt in any particular situation. This criticism misses its mark for two reasons. First, critical rationalism is not a position. It is not directed at solving the kind of problems that are solved by fixing on a position. It is concerned with the way that such positions are adopted, criticised, defended and relinquished. Second, Bartley did provide guidance on adopting positions; we may adopt the position that to this moment has stood up to criticism most effectively. Of course this is no help for people who seek stronger reasons for belief, but that is a problem for them, and it does not undermine the logic of critical preference.

    is there something about the above you do not understand?

    So, I’ll ask yet again: If you really understand the ideas behind the words I use, then what’s with all the equivocation and misrepresentation? Is this some game of whack-o-mole?

  44. 44
    Barry Arrington says:

    CR has yet to respond to most of the arguments made in the OP. There are limits to the bad faith that will be tolerated here at UD. CR has passed those limits. He is in the moderation sandbox. When he addresses the arguments in the OP, he will be let out. I do not expect that to happen.

  45. 45
    Origenes says:

    CR: If you’re referring to you having paraphrased my view as “no position can be justified”, I’ve already clarified what I mean in that, multiple time.

    That sentence needs no clarification. Its meaning is clear as day and it is also clear as day that it is self-defeating — see #39.

    CR: Specifically, I’ve indicated I am a fallibilist …

    Yes, and fallibilism is a self-defeating theory as I have demonstrated again and again — e.g. see here

    CR: what it means to question fallibilism via quotes, an entire article and examples of other people here criticizing ideas that they supposedly hold immune from criticism.

    Yes you did. And I have thoroughly debunked that article over and over — e.g. see here

    CR/Bartley: If a belief claims validation by a supporting argument, what justifies the support? Where and how does the chain of justification stop? If one attempts to provide reasons for the supporting argument then an infinite regress can be forced by anyone who presses for more supporting statements which in turn demand justification. It appears that this can only be avoided by a dogmatic or arbitrary decision to stop the regress at some stage and settle on a belief at that point.

    As has been pointed out to you many times, it is absurd to reject self-evident truths. For instance, it is in no way ‘dogmatic or arbitrary decision’ to state: ‘I exist’, since one’s existence is undeniably true to oneself. Also A = A, 2 + 2 = 4. See also here.

    CR/Bartley: The solution is to abandon the quest for positive justification …

    Utter nonsense. This cannot be a solution. What’s more ‘to abandon the quest for positive justification’ cannot be justified. So why not do exactly the opposite? And even if we grant Bartley his ‘no position can be positively justified’, then we have no ground under our feet whatsoever. That would be the end of rationality.

    CR/Bartley: … and instead to settle for a critical preference for one option rather than others in the light of critical arguments and evidence offered to that point.

    More nonsense. Both ‘critical arguments’ and ‘evidence’ suffer the same fatal condition as any statement/position/claim/theory: they are not justified. IOWs they cannot restore the ground under our feet. If it is your (self-defeating) position that “no position can be positively justified”, then there is no sense in trying to justify one’s position with anything — ‘critical arguments’ and ‘evidence’ included.

    Here Bartley tries is again:

    Bartley: According to the critical rationalists, the exponents of critical preference, no position can be positively justified but it is quite likely that one (or more) will turn out to be better than others in the light of critical discussion and tests.

    So, according to Bartley, no position can be positively justified. IOWs no evidence, argument, observation, critical discussion and/or test can support any position. But fear not, says Bartley, we can use critical discussion and tests to justify a position.
    What? That’s just crazy talk.
    As the founder of fallibilism once (self-defeatingly) stated:

    “No theory can be established neither as certainly true nor even as ‘probable’” (Popper)

    Bonus:
    1. “No theory can be established neither as certainly true nor even as ‘probable’”
    2. (1) is a theory
    therefore
    3. (1) cannot be established neither as certainly true nor even as ‘probable’.
    4. “No theory can be established neither as certainly true nor even as ‘probable’” is self-defeating or meaningless at best.

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