Answering the problem of evil (vs good) Epistemology (the study of knowledge and its conditions) Logic and First Principles of right reason

Logic and First Principles, 6: Reason/Rationality and Responsibility (i.e. moral government) are inextricably entangled

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One of the common presumptions of our day is that facts and values are utterly, irreconcilably distinct. That is, that IS and OUGHT are irreconcilably separated by an ugly gulch that cannot be bridged. But, this is again one of those little errors in the beginning that have ruinous consequences as they spread out into our thinking and living in community.

Let’s start with Hume’s Guillotine argument from his A Treatise of Human Nature:

“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason. ”

This is a crucial error, one that commonly appears in our thinking.

(Notice, how, all along, there is an implicit assumption that the reader acknowledges a known duty to truth, right reason, fairness etc. That’s a big clue that we simply cannot sever IS and OUGHT, and that the only viable project is to discover how they are fused; also recognising that this must be in the world-root. As, only there can there be an undeniable bridging and fusion that allows us to freely and confidently bring both to bear in our cognitive endeavours. And, notice: this is NOT a proof, we are forced already to implicitly use that entanglement of IS and OUGHT at each and every step along the way. We cannot stand outside the circle, we cannot escape the entanglement. We are facing self-evidence and world-root level first principles here. Fully parallel to how we cannot but use distinct identity in thought and life, bringing with it LOI, LNC, LEM and the natural counting numbers etc.)

A good point to proceed from is an exchange that developed in the Getting at Truth thread, between Sev and myself:

SEV (with comments), 44: >>We’ve been over this ground before [–> Yes, we are currently doing a review of first principles because our civilisation has gone ruinously wrong at root level] but “Once more unto the breach…”

1] The first self evident moral truth is that we are inescapably under the government of ought.

I think the concept of self-evident truths outside formal systems like mathematics or logic is problematical but, regardless, since my view is that moral claims can be neither true nor false there can be no self-evident moral truths. [–> notice the worldview framing]

This does not preclude the possibility that there are acts, such as the rape and murder of a child, which almost everyone can agree is most egregiously immoral. [–> notice, community consensus (and so the edict of the power-brokers) as yardstick] You can say it is self-evidently immoral to us but is it self-evident in any universal sense? [–> it is always possible to cling to absurdity (think, Nazism/fascism and the as yet unfinished history of Communism), and there are those who are defective in thought, hence the pons asinorum principle in Geometry and elsewhere]

2] Second self evident truth, we discern that some things are right and others are wrong by a compass-sense we term conscience which guides our thought. (Again, objectors depend on a sense of guilt/ urgency to be right not wrong on our part to give their points persuasive force.

We certainly observe that in most if not all human societies codes of what is acceptable behavior emerge which people feel compelled to live by and which they feel bad about when they don’t observe. [–> conscience acknowledged but reframed in terms of cultural particularity]

3] Third, were this sense of conscience and linked sense that we can make responsibly free, rational decisions to be a delusion, we would at once descend into a status of grand delusion in which there is no good ground for confidence in our self-understanding.

It would only be delusional if there were an insistence that the sense of conscience were a manifestation of some natural moral law for which we could find no objective evidence [–> and, good sir, why is “objective evidence” of any significance, apart from duties to truth, right reason, fairness, etc? Also, if we have an illusory voice within that is ungrounded in reality but shapes our reasoning and arguing, that would perforce be evidence of grand, essentially universal delusion] . . . >>

KF, 47: >>Notice, how you [Sev] inadvertently inserted a presumption that shifted the goal-posts? That’s a signature of a worldview driving conclusions.

So, back to first principles: self-evidence is about start-points for warrant, in effect asking where is it that we are forced to accept premises antecedent to onward warrant, on which warrant builds. Thus, the concept that we come to the question with world-experiences and as going concern thinkers. Warrant cannot be chained forever or go in futile circles, so are there yardsticks that are naturally present? Yes, there are things which (once we understand) we see are so, are necessarily so and are necessarily so on pain pf patent, immediate absurdity on the attempted denial. That is, some sort of self-defeating explosion happens if we try to deny them.

Notice, that is broader than self-referential incoherence, precisely because we need something broader than that case, to operate in the world as responsible, rational thinkers.

For example, the project of responsible persuasive argument presumes known duty to truth, right reason, fairness etc. Try the denial of such duties and you reduce reasoned discussion to nihilistic, cynical manipulation by the more clever and ruthless, utterly corroding the fabric of society and undermining human thriving. Explosion. In a world of message dominance by irresponsible manipulation, there is no basis for reasonable discussion, only for suspicion and polarisation. (Resemblance to current political discourse and the media across our civilisation is NOT coincidental.)

This immediately means that rational life is inextricably entangled with moral duties, the responsibility that we have mentioned.

Now, that is not a proof, but it is a test of insight and good sense, AKA wisdom.

Let us come back to moral SET 1 (and 2): moral government attested to by the inner witness of conscience.

The testimony of conscience to duties violated or sometimes to duties fulfilled even at terrible cost, is an integral aspect of our conscious self-awareness. We cannot effectively deny its presence or influence in general, and for cause regard those with deadened or defective consciences as monstrous or at least severely damaged.

It cannot be denied, it is a commonplace of our common experience of the world. And, it is inextricably entangled with our rational enterprises as they pivot on known, acknowledged, expected conscious (and sub conscious) awareness of duties to truth and right reason, fairness etc.

Acknowledging this is a necessary start point for not only reasoning on moral subjects but on general topics.

Where, of course, conscience is a testimony not a legislator. We also know that it can be dulled or deadened, or even overly sensitive. The roots of duty lie elsewhere.

And post-Hume we know that elsewhere must only lie at the world-root or else we face fatal groundlessness, including for our project of collective reasoning and knowledge-building through adequate warrant.

Conscience is indeed a first and self-evident moral truth.>>

That is how much is at stake. END

25 Replies to “Logic and First Principles, 6: Reason/Rationality and Responsibility (i.e. moral government) are inextricably entangled

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Logic and First Principles, 6: Reason/Rationality and Responsibility (i.e. moral government) are inextricably entangled

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    Completely agree. We ought not believe things that are false.

  3. 3
    PeterA says:

    I like the entire series “Logic and First Principles”. Thanks.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    PA & Mung, thanks. The inextricable entanglement of reason and the moral sphere is something we have given far too little attention to, and yet it is of the greatest moment. KF

  5. 5
    StephenB says:

    Kairosfocus, a good presentation from beginning to end. Of special note, I appreciate and agree with the connection between the ought to and the is. What I mean is this:

    Can we derive an ought to from an is? Well, I submit that it depends on what we mean (excuse me, anyone who recalls Bill Clinton’s abuse of the point) by the “is.”

    If by “is,” we mean observed human behavior, and nothing else, then no, we cannot derive an ought to from the is..

    If by “is,” we mean the self-evident metaphysical truths about human existence, then yes, we certainly can derive an ought to from the is.

    I think that the second definition of is qualifies as the accurate definition.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    SB, always good to hear from you. Lost a response, just note that fact 1 antecedent to awareness of an external world is conscious self awareness which is en-conscienced. Also, what IS is whatever is real, including the abstract entities of Math etc. The issues in the OP follow. KF

    PS: Interesting non-appearance of the usual objectors.

  7. 7
    hazel says:

    kf writes, “PS: Interesting non-appearance of the usual objectors.”

    I’ve had a very interesting constructive discussion of some issues over on the Three Proofs thread. However, my overall impression is that people who have different views on some subjects, especially this one, are often met here with responses that are, may I say, considerably less than welcoming or constructive. One of the last I remember reading resulted in a number of participants either leaving over how they were treated, or perhaps being outright banned. I’ve run into some of this attitude myself. Steve_h has pointed to on characteristic response of this sort.

    So if you want to discuss with objectors, you and others here might want to think about how you respond to objection.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Hazel- Objections are very different from mere whining. Whiners get treated as you say. People with something of substance to say are treated very well.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    People with something of substance to say are treated very well.

    Where are these people?

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    H, objection on substance is welcome. The sort of slander and personal attacks I have seen and in some cases experienced too often over years is not. I have not been following threads closely enough to see what you are complaining of, but I am aware that there has been too much of toxic commentary here and in a penumbra of objector sites. I trust that both sides will turn down voltage and address substance. Where, this thread addresses a serious matter for not only this blog but our common civilisation. KF

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, please cease the back forth on a tangential matter. KF

  12. 12
    hazel says:

    kf, I don’t intend to continue, but I will point out that my comment was in response to something you, as author of the OP, wrote, so it seems that a reply was not out of line.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    H, I made a PS comment. After I noticed a tangential discussion I asked that that tangent cease. KF

  14. 14
    hazel says:

    That’s reasonable: I agree and will comply.

  15. 15
    vmahuna says:

    ” there are acts, such as the rape and murder of a child, which almost everyone can agree is most egregiously immoral.”

    You people keep making the SAME stupid, short-sighted claims whilst continuing to argue that your personal, modern, Western, Christian system of Ethics is both universal and inherently human.

    A VERY long time ago, when I was in college, the school newspaper included a short piece in which it expounded the FACTS that a “king” in southern Africa had at one point managed to impregnate a “wife”, “slave”, “concubine”, “visiting tourist” who GAVE BIRTH (NOT “became pregnant”) at the age of 6 (SIX) to a daughter (girl baby). He then impregnated his daughter, who ALSO GAVE BIRTH at the age of 6. From a purely objective, amoral point of view, this series of events is noteworthy because this is the shortest KNOWN time (12 years) to produce 3 generations of humans.

    I’m SURE his people didn’t think their king immoral. In most human societies for most of history, “rape” is not a big offense. In fact, I’d bet there isn’t even a word for it. “Rape” is mostly a LEGAL term having to do with a guy “doing” a woman/girl who BELONGS TO some other guy. If the females in the pack are not clearly some particular man’s property, then what we’re talking about are clumsy attempts at “seduction”.

    It’s the same way with “murder”. Murder is ENTIRELY a Legal matter, dependent on the LOCAL legal system. As I’ve mentioned before, amongst the Norse, killing a person in cold blood (i.e., walk up to him, smile, say “hi”, whack his head off…) was only “murder” if the slayer attempted to HIDE the killing from the community. Otherwise, it was a purely family matter (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, detached head for a detached head…) as to whether anyone thought there was a need to avenge the killing. Etc., etc.

    In February, 1945, with the war won and German resistance collapsing on all fronts, the Americans and English chose to FIRE-BOMB Dresden. Dresden was the last surviving LARGE German city that had not been obliterated by the bombers. There were no military units occupying Dresden, and the city, a center of German culture and learning for centuries, produced no war materiel. But RAF Bomber Command and US 8th Air Force proceeded to bomb the defenseless city for 3 days and nights, igniting a firestorm that sucked oxygen (and PEOPLE) into the center of the man-made hurricane. Women, babies, the sick, the elderly, scholars, students, EVERYBODY was sucked into the furnace by the fire’s demand for fresh air. Civilians who had prudently taken shelter in “bomb-proof” air raid shelters were roasted alive. Several days after the fires burned themselves out and rubble had cooled to the point it could be touched, German rescue teams made guesses about how many had died in a particular shelter based on the volume of ASH heaped on the floor.

    Dresden is listed as a great “victory” for the English and Americans. The men who flew the bombers and the men who meticulously planned the atrocity are “heroes” who got medals and promotions for what international conventions said were war crimes…

    So where exactly is this “everyone can agree” standard of morality? A specific society at a specific time agrees amongst itself what is “wrong”. Outsiders frequently have other opinions on the definitions. And so, for example, it is of course a Capital Offense (i.e., execution REQUIRED) to “defame” that long-dead Arab holy man. And even Westerners are about to write this into THEIR laws. However, defaming, insulting, denying the existence of other religious icons (The Dagda of the Celts comes to mind; his adherents can’t generate much social pressure) has no legal downside, and is in fact widely REQUIRED by polite society. Again, where is the systematic logic of this “morality”?

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    VM, it is a sad commonplace for people to exploit power and impose abusive or oppressive systems much less behaviour. Indeed, Marxism generated a whole ideology of overthrow of social elites based on a grand elaboration of that observation. In your example of sexual abuse of two five or six year old girls, the second a daughter by the first, the invited reaction speaks for itself. More broadly, your argument turns on appealing to our implicitly accepted duties to truth, right reason, fairness etc. Yes, one can impose and cling to absurdity but that does not remove the absurdity. And, the fact that just to make your own case you could not but appeal to the inextricable entanglement of reason and responsibility i/l/o duties itself illustrates that there are inescapable, self-evident moral truths. The real point onward, is how can we ever bring IS and OUGHT together, leading to the issue that this can only ever happen at world-root, effectively requiring a necessary [thus, independent of other beings and framework to any world existing], maximally great and inherently good being at the root of reality. KF

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    SB @ 5: Could you please give us a few thoughts on why it is commonly held that is and ought cannot be bridged? I particularly note Hume’s “the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.” Where of course, he already has embedded in his argument: “this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given . . . ” I highlight the double use of “should” (and note the “necessary” implying compulsory force) as this is clearly an appeal to an ought with a corresponding ought not. It seems to me that right in the heart of Hume’s argument is an appeal that implies precisely duties to truth, right reason, fairness and more, pointing to the necessary unification of IS and OUGHT. KF

  18. 18
    Ed George says:

    KF

    there are inescapable, self-evident moral truths.

    There are certainly inescapable, self-evident truths. We need oxygen, water and food to live. What is less inescapable is the existance of self-evident moral truths. The holocaust was made possible because many people thought it was morally justified based on centuries of perceived bad behaviour by the Jews. And some of these false perceptions were propagated and amplified by the churches.

    Abortion access is considered to be morally acceptable by the majority because they feel that the rights of the woman exceed that of the fetus.

    Homosexuality and same sex marriage is considered morally acceptable by the majority because the arguments against it were not convincing.

    The treatment of prisoners by the Japanese during the war is considered morally unacceptable by western standards. But by Japanese culture and standards of the day, surrendering was the ultimate sign of weakness and inferiority. By their standards, the treatment of the prisoners was morally acceptable.

    Human sacrifice, including infant sacrifice, cannibalism, the subjugation of women, slavery, child labour, the killing of homosexuals, adulterers and blasphemers were all considered to be morally acceptable in various societies.

    Personally, I believe that objective morals exist, but given the fluidity of their application over the centuries, I don’t think that anyone can provide a compelling argument that they are self-evident.

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    EG, specific cases were already put on the table. For one, just by arguing that I am in error and implying that I have duties to truth, right reason, fairness etc, you illustrate the point. This case also shows that moral truths and linked duties cannot be separated from reasoning or from community life. Further, there is a specific, highly instructive yardstick moral truth on the table: it is wrong, wicked, evil to kidnap, bind, sexually assault and murder a child for one’s pleasure. See what the attempted denial of such achieves, absurdity. And from this many relevant moral truths can be drawn out. The rejection of knowable and in some cases self-evident truths of moral character is one of the great blunders of our civilisation in recent centuries. One consequence of that rejection is that principled discussion on morally tinged matters (including on law, rights and truth) is ever more undermined by utterly corrosive subjectivism and relativism, leading to manipulation and imposition of evils and falsities under colour of law and rights or knowledge and science. The further consequences if left uncorrected will be predictably ruinous. And BTW, whether those whose process of thought has been so corrupted find particular arguments or truths unfashionable or unpersuasive is utterly irrelevant to their actual warrant. Indeed, the argument to un-persuasiveness (often, backed by the fallacy of selective hyperskepticism) is a telling sign of the corrosion at work. So is the use of oh, practice-X is or was regarded as acceptable in society Y. I guess you also missed the point that if cultural norms decide morality for given societies, then automatically, the would-be reformer is wrong. KF

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    Amusing . . .

    (Especially, given the point being made. You can bet that if it were readily knocked over, there would be a swarm to do so.)

  21. 21
    ET says:

    Ed George:

    Abortion access is considered to be morally acceptable by the majority because they feel that the rights of the woman exceed that of the fetus.

    If true all it shows is the majority don’t have a clue

    Homosexuality and same sex marriage is considered morally acceptable by the majority because the arguments against it were not convincing.

    I haven’t heard of any convincing arguments for it. Changing definitions of words to suit mob rule is never a good thing

  22. 22
    Ed George says:

    ET

    f true all it shows is the majority don’t have a clue.

    Nobody is suggesting that the majority is always right. The majority once believed that women were inferior intellectually to men.

    I haven’t heard of any convincing arguments for it.

    Legal restrictions are often removed because, after investigation, no justifiable reason can be presented to maintain them. Extending the vote to blacks and women are good examples. As was removing the restriction on gays in the military.

    Changing definitions of words to suit mob rule is never a good thing

    I would agree that it is often not a good thing, but there are times when it is.

  23. 23
    ET says:

    LoL! I always know when Ed George posts here- its sock puppet is busy posting garbage in the swamp.

    The majority once believed that women were inferior intellectually to men.

    Again with the unverifiable nonsense and acting like it is an argument.

    And the rest is just gibberish that doesn’t even address what I posted. Typical

  24. 24
    kairosfocus says:

    H’mm,

    Still amusing, given the pivotal issue in the OP (never mind various fashionable but ill-supported talk-points):

    Notice, how, all along [in Hume’s guillotine argument intended to undermine the rational foundations of ought], there is an implicit assumption that the reader acknowledges a known duty to truth, right reason, fairness etc. That’s a big clue that we simply cannot sever IS and OUGHT, and that the only viable project is to discover how they are fused; also recognising that this must be in the world-root. As, only there can there be an undeniable bridging and fusion that allows us to freely and confidently bring both to bear in our cognitive endeavours. And, notice: this is NOT a proof, we are forced already to implicitly use that entanglement of IS and OUGHT at each and every step along the way. We cannot stand outside the circle, we cannot escape the entanglement. We are facing self-evidence and world-root level first principles here.

    See the steady resort to ungrounded oughts, even in support of fashionable five-minute old talk points?

    The underlying lesson can be highlighted from Cicero, De Legibus:

    —Marcus [in de Legibus, introductory remarks,. C1 BC]: . . . the subject of our present discussion . . . comprehends the universal principles of equity and law. In such a discussion therefore on the great moral law of nature, the practice of the civil law can occupy but an insignificant and subordinate station. For according to our idea, we shall have to explain the true nature of moral justice, which is congenial and correspondent [36]with the true nature of man. We shall have to examine those principles of legislation by which all political states should be governed. And last of all, shall we have to speak of those laws and customs which are framed for the use and convenience of particular peoples, which regulate the civic and municipal affairs of the citizens, and which are known by the title of civil laws.

    Quintus. —You take a noble view of the subject, my brother, and go to the fountain–head of moral truth, in order to throw light on the whole science of jurisprudence: while those who confine their legal studies to the civil law too often grow less familiar with the arts of justice than with those of litigation.

    Marcus. —Your observation, my Quintus, is not quite correct. It is not so much the science of law that produces litigation, as the ignorance of it, (potius ignoratio juris litigiosa est quam scientia) . . . . With respect to the true principle of justice, many learned men have maintained that it springs from Law. I hardly know if their opinion be not correct, at least, according to their own definition; for “Law (say they) is the highest reason, implanted in nature, which prescribes those things which ought to be done, and forbids the contrary.” This, they think, is apparent from the converse of the proposition; because this same reason, when it [37]is confirmed and established in men’s minds, is the law of all their actions.

    They therefore conceive that the voice of conscience is a law, that moral prudence is a law, whose operation is to urge us to good actions, and restrain us from evil ones. They think, too, that the Greek name for law (NOMOS), which is derived from NEMO, to distribute, implies the very nature of the thing, that is, to give every man his due. [–> this implies a definition of justice as the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities] For my part, I imagine that the moral essence of law is better expressed by its Latin name, (lex), which conveys the idea of selection or discrimination. According to the Greeks, therefore, the name of law implies an equitable distribution of goods: according to the Romans, an equitable discrimination between good and evil.

    The true definition of law should, however, include both these characteristics. And this being granted as an almost self–evident proposition, the origin of justice is to be sought in the divine law of eternal and immutable morality. This indeed is the true energy of nature, the very soul and essence of wisdom, the test of virtue and vice.

    When one undermines the force of the law of our morally governed nature, one is left only with manipulating the “naive” lingering recognition of the force of ought on the part of those targeted by might and/or manipulation. Further, if one adheres to cultural relativism — and of course the linked lockout of those beyond the current location of the Overton Window — necessarily the would be reformer is wrong.

    This is the context in which for 40+ years we have enabled holocaust of 800+ millions of living posterity in the womb, now proceeding at about another million per week. With that on the table, the utter corruption of moral sense is manifest and the judgement of this generation’s dominant factions and of those who enable them is manifestly utterly untrustworthy. Particularly on evils and perversities connected to sexuality and the family.

    The old fashioned language is “reprobate minds.”

    Our reasoning is inescapably morally governed and those who undermine such one way or another lose all ability to reason soundly.

    The shibboleths (oh, the modern words are “memes” and “mantras”) of such a generation marching in lockstep to the cliffs are utterly worthless. Bloodguilt is the most corrupting influence there is.

    KF

    PS: The pivotal issue on ever so many agenda items is the claim to “rights.” What is a right, if it is not a binding moral claim on others regarding duties to us in particular respects, such as to our lives, property and innocent reputations etc? Only, a rhetorical club sustained by agit prop and lawfare.

    Fail.

    A right, inherently is a moral claim that demands support. So, we may only properly claim a right when we are manifestly in the right on a given particular issue.

    For, there can be no just demand to be upheld in the practice of evil, falsity and so that perversity that delights to do wrong and then demands to be enabled stands exposed as monstrous iniquity that would impose the praising of evil and condemnation of the good on others.

  25. 25
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: Resemblance to far too much of modern agit prop and lawfare is NOT coincidental.

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