academic freedom agit-prop, opinion manipulation and well-poisoning games brains and computation vs contemplation Darwinist rhetorical tactics Ethics Evolutionary materialism's amorality Food for thought Geo-strategic issues Governance & control vs anarchy Logic and First Principles of right reason Philosophy Politics/policy and origins issues Selective Hyperskepticism

Is it time to “reboot” our formal and informal education in ethics, to save our civilisation?

Spread the love

On reflecting on the ongoing discussion on ethical matters (as part of the science and worldviews in society theme of UD) in the thread in response to Sev on moral truth, I suggest yes. Not least, because the already in progress, suicidal moral bankruptcy of our civilisation will take down science, math, technology, sound governance systems, sound policy-making and linked engines of progress if we go over the cliff:

KF, 105: >>The onward exchanges are interesting, underscoring however the persistent, widespread failure of our current formal and informal ethical education. Thus, instead of being teachers to the world, we need to think afresh and go back to first, mother’s milk baby stage steps and principles. Our civilisation is like land that having been well seeded and watered, has been visited by night by one who has sown the well-nurtured field with thistles, thorns and tares and it has now put up a growing crop of toxic weeds that are choking out the hoped for good fruit. Looks like time for drastic measures to scorch the earth and turn weeds and their ruinous seed into fertiliser for a fresh sowing.

(Lesse if the classical allusions I just made will be recognised and understood.)

In particular, we see how entangled our reasoning about truth, justice/fairness, governance [including law and public policy as well as public morality implicit in such] and action on the ground are with moral considerations. IS and OUGHT are patently inextricably entangled, walk hand in hand in any thought or persuasion situation, then play out in action.

This means, it is vital to get them right, to get our thought, governance and action well-aligned to the actuality of what is, to reality.

For instance, I saw above a remark that absent us, there is no morally tinged reflection and action. In short, to have such, we need responsibly rational, sufficiently free contemplative creatures who can warrant, reflect, adjust etc. Where of course, such a process is itself inextricably entangled with moral government considerations.

But also, our culture is enamoured with the notion that reality is the spacio-temporal, physical domain, which then tends to reduce rational reflection to computation on substrates held to be shaped by forces that are essentially blind and non-rational — blind chance and/or mechanical causal necessity allegedly moving forward one small trial and error chance improvement at a time . . . implying an appeal to a vast continent of incrementally improvable configurations. Such, despite the strong evidence that functionally specific, configuration based organisation and associated information — precisely due to the tight requisites of right parts, correctly arranged and coupled — will come in deeply isolated islands of function. (And often, we don’t see the gap between the essentially mechanical and stochastic, non-rational nature of GIGO-driven computation on substrates and the rational insight and imagination required to design and effect such FSCO/I based systems! This is of course a central contention of intelligent design theory.

A web comic strip with three AI’s in imagined conversation. L-R: a former ship AI now of godlike powers resident in the galactic core, a ship AI and a “recorded” creature turned into an AI, it has also featured resurrection by recording neural state and reconstructing a body

[–> And yes, this points onward to the need to sort out the AI theme, as that is obviously driving the notion that the hard problem of conscious rational, responsible, creative and contemplative agency is solvable on imagined incremental evolution of computational substrates.] )

I suppose, we can now safely speak about “the well-behaved continent of incrementally improvable function” myth or fallacy.

The solution to such is precisely the same as we find for the world of Mathematics. As I clipped in the OP:

mathematical realities are not empirically observable but are very real, i.e. you are failing to recognise abstracta as having reality. It is subjects who perceive and reason out mathematical realities per first principles and logic, and the results hold objectivity by means of logical warrant. And yes, they have empirical consequences; so much so, that mathematical reasoning on the logic of structure and quantity is deeply embedded in the sciences. Where also, by being connected to the coherence of being, that abstract reasoning by subjects brings out powerful insights and predictive power. BTW, to observe and infer successful prediction are also subjective mental acts. To share such in writings and talks etc using textual or visual or aural symbols is again a mental process involving subjects. And more. So, it should be no surprise to see a direct parallel from the world of maths to moral first principles, logical reasoning on such principles, requisites of coherence in the world of agents and predictable consequences. Indeed, as a famous case in point, Kant’s Categorical Imperative in part highlights that a sound maxim of action is universalisable and by contrast, evils are not — they parasite off the premise that most people most times do not act like that. For instance, even in Crete, truth is the dominant form of communication, or else communication and community would utterly break down. (And BTW, that solves the so called liar paradox.) So, moral principles can be truths, referring accurately to the order of reality experienced, sensed and logically reflected on by agents. Indeed, without this, Mathematics, Science, Medicine, Jurisprudence etc would break down, as they all turn on the premise that our mental life is pervaded by duties to truth, reason/logic, prudence, justice etc. So, not only is moral truth real truth, but it is a critical component of our world of thought and thoughtful action, undergirding the engines of progress for our civilisation. The undermining of moral thought, knowledge, truth and action is therefore counter to the long term good of our civilisation.

If someone out there imagines that something as complicated and intricately balanced as a social system can be incrementally governed through blind trial and error, something has gone deeply wrong. Updated social darwinism (hoping that altruism and cooperativeness make the key difference) is NOT plausible.

Instead, what we can and do find is the possibility of exploring a domain of reality and by discovering its key concepts and principles, with aid of key, paradigm-shaping test cases (see why dismissing that test case is so wrong-headed?) elaborating a body of more or less reliable knowledge of the moral domain. Knowledge, of course, being mostly used in the soft form sense. While there will be plumbline, self-evident core principles, most of the domain is shaped based on provisional but likely reliable warrant. And, as we are as prone to moral error — which implies moral truth! — as we are to Mathematical error, careful expert thinking counts, as does being open to well-warranted correction and reforms.

In short, we have laid out the skeleton for an organised body of objective moral knowledge that can then form a tradition. Yes, we can see emergence of a disciplined field of study, not a science but a valid domain of knowledge. In particular, a branch of philosophy (and of theology, which is closely linked) commonly termed ethics. Here is a quick outline of the focal issues and domains of study, by David Clarke and Robert Rakestraw:

Principles are broad general guidelines that all persons ought to follow. Morality is the dimension of life related to right conduct. It includes virtuous character and honorable intentions as well as the decisions and actions that grow out of them. Ethics on the other hand, is the [philosophical and theological] study of morality . . . [that is,] a higher order discipline that examines moral living in all its facets . . . . on three levels. The first level, descriptive ethics, simply portrays moral actions or virtues. A second level, normative ethics (also called prescriptive ethics), examines the first level, evaluating actions or virtues as morally right or wrong. A third level, metaethics, analyses the second . . . It clarifies the meaning of ethical terms and assesses the principles of ethical argument . . . .

Some think, without reflecting on it, that . . . what people actually do is the standard of what is morally right . . . [But, what] actually happens and what ought to happen are quite different [–> the IS-OUGHT gap] . . . . A half century ago, defenders of positivism routinely argued that descriptive statements are meaningful, but prescriptive statements (including all moral claims) are meaningless . . . In other words, ethical claims give no information about the world; they only reveal something about the emotions of the speaker . . . .

Yet ethical statements do seem to say something about the realities to which they point. [–> the issue of ethical truth, per accurate description of reality in the domain of life of morally governed creatures] “That’s unfair!” encourages us to attend to circumstances, events, actions, or relationships in the world. We look for a certain quality in the world (not just the speaker’s mind) that we could properly call unfair. [–> objective, intelligible reality conducive to discovery and statement of truth] [Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol. 1: Theory and Method. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp. 18 – 19.]

In that context, we can see for example that there are naturally evident ends, such as that the purpose or end of mindedness and its capability of rational, creative contemplation (and of linked discussion) is truth. So, we may understand that what is good for the mind is what promotes, supports or enables that end. What is bad is what undermines, diverts from or frustrates that end.

Thus also, evil can be seen as the privation as just summarised.

Now, too, that raises the issue of the causal source of that naturally evident end.

Yes, but that is an onward issue. (And yes, that points to root of reality issues and the need to bridge and fuse IS and OUGHT. Your candidate is: _______ , and it thrives through comparative difficulties on factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory balance because ________ , justifying that this is inference to best explanation as _____ . Clue no 1, evolutionary materialistic scientism, radical subjectivism, emotivism and socio-cultural relativism do not meet the grade.)

Further to all such, we can see that test cases then allow us to further elaborate the principles, e.g. as was further outlined in the OP above through the test case of an unfortunate school child. Let me again clip, as it seems there is a pattern of studiously ignoring:

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

(This is manifest in even an objector’s implication in the questions, challenges and arguments that s/he would advance, that we are in the wrong and there is something to be avoided about that. That is, even the objector inadvertently implies that we OUGHT to do, think, aim for and say the right. Not even the hyperskeptical objector can escape this truth. Patent absurdity on attempted denial.)

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. See what would be undermined should conscience be deadened or dismissed universally? Sawing off the branch on which we all must sit. [–> and remember, we are standing by some bushes, over a small, broken, abused, lifeless body. Even now, as the father approaches what remains of the child he sent off to school that morning.])

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. (That is, we look at an infinite regress of Plato’s cave worlds: once such a principle of grand global delusion is injected, there is no firewall so the perception of level one delusion is subject to the same issue, and this level two perception too, ad infinitum; landing in patent absurdity.)

4] Fourth, we are objectively under obligation of OUGHT. That is, despite any particular person’s (or group’s or august council’s or majority’s) wishes or claims to the contrary, such obligation credibly holds to moral certainty. That is, it would be irresponsible, foolish and unwise for us to act and try to live otherwise.

5] Fifth, this cumulative framework of moral government under OUGHT is the basis for the manifest core principles of the natural moral law under which we find ourselves obligated to the right the good, the true etc. Where also, patently, we struggle to live up to what we acknowledge or imply we ought to do.

6] Sixth, this means we live in a world in which being under core, generally understood principles of natural moral law is coherent and factually adequate, thus calling for a world-understanding in which OUGHT is properly grounded at root level. (Thus worldviews that can soundly meet this test are the only truly viable ones. If a worldview does not have in it a world-root level IS that can simultaneously ground OUGHT — so that IS and OUGHT are inextricably fused at that level, it fails decisively.*)

7] Seventh, in light of the above, even the weakest and most voiceless of us thus has a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of fulfillment of one’s sense of what s/he ought to be (“happiness”). This includes the young child, the unborn and more. (We see here the concept that rights are binding moral expectations of others to provide respect in regards to us because of our inherent status as human beings, members of the community of valuable neighbours. Where also who is my neighbour was forever answered by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Likewise, there can be no right to demand of or compel my neighbour that s/he upholds me and enables me in the wrong — including under false colour of law through lawfare; usurping the sword of justice to impose a ruthless policy agenda in fundamental breach of that civil peace which must ever pivot on manifest justice. To justly claim a right, one must first be in the right.)

8] Eighth, like unto the seventh, such may only be circumscribed or limited for good cause. Such as, reciprocal obligation to cherish and not harm neighbour of equal, equally valuable nature in community and in the wider world of the common brotherhood of humanity.

9] Ninth, this is the context in which it becomes self evidently wrong, wicked and evil to kidnap, sexually torture and murder a young child or the like as concrete cases in point that show that might and/or manipulation do not make ‘right,’ ‘truth,’ ‘worth,’ ‘justice,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘law’ etc. That is, anything that expresses or implies the nihilist’s credo is morally absurd.

10] Tenth, this entails that in civil society with government, justice is a principal task of legitimate government. In short, nihilistic will to power untempered by the primacy of justice is its own refutation in any type of state. Where, justice is the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. (In Aristotle’s terms as cited by Hooker: “because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like.”) Thus also,

11] Eleventh, that government is and ought to be subject to audit, reformation and if necessary replacement should it fail sufficiently badly and incorrigibly.

(NB: This is a requisite of accountability for justice, and the suggestion or implication of some views across time, that government can reasonably be unaccountable to the governed, is its own refutation, reflecting — again — nihilistic will to power; which is automatically absurd. This truth involves the issue that finite, fallible, morally struggling men acting as civil authorities in the face of changing times and situations as well as in the face of the tendency of power to corrupt, need to be open to remonstrance and reformation — or if they become resistant to reasonable appeal, there must be effective means of replacement. Hence, the principle that the general election is an institutionalised regular solemn assembly of the people for audit and reform or if needs be replacement of government gone bad. But this is by no means an endorsement of the notion that a manipulated mob bent on a march of folly has a right to do as it pleases.)

12] Twelfth, the attempt to deny or dismiss such a general framework of moral governance invariably lands in shipwreck of incoherence and absurdity. As, has been seen in outline. But that does not mean that the attempt is not going to be made, so there is a mutual obligation of frank and fair correction and restraint of evil.

So, can we start afresh?>>

Food for thought. END

33 Replies to “Is it time to “reboot” our formal and informal education in ethics, to save our civilisation?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Is it time to “reboot” our formal and informal education in ethics, to save our civilisation?

  2. 2
    ScuzzaMan says:

    I’m always torn between the obvious emphatic Yes! and the somewhat tired but near obligatory Indiana Jones quote:

    The world, Indy; it doesn’t want to be saved!

    I retreat to a more obscure but equally more pertinent quote from a 19th Century theologian:

    A more comprehensive education is needed, an education which will demand from teachers and principal such thought and effort as mere instruction in the sciences does not require. The character must receive proper discipline for its fullest and noblest development. The students should receive at college such training as will enable them to maintain a respectable, honest, virtuous standing in society, against the demoralising influences which are corrupting the youth.

    I know, it all sounds very Tom Brown’s Schooldays to the modern ear. But ask yourself if both science and our civilisation would not be better off if science both maintained and were deserving of a respectable, honest, virtuous standing in society?

  3. 3
    Allan Keith says:

    If someone out there imagines that something as complicated and intricately balanced as a social system can be incrementally governed through blind trial and error, something has gone deeply wrong.

    Strawman alert!!!

    Nobody has suggested blind trial and error incremental changes. All changes to our society are thought out, discussed and deliberated. You may not like some of the changes but to argue that they are blind trial and error actions is ignorant at best, lying at worst.

    Maybe we can better understand this statement if you can provide some examples of changes that were the result of blind trial and error actions.

  4. 4
    OldAndrew says:

    Forgive me, but this is utterly and entirely incomprehensible. Bolds, italics, varying font colors, diagrams, cartoons, numbered lists, and indentations do not help. It is all but impossible to read this and understand what the point is.

    No one is “studiously ignoring” it. I don’t think that’s even a thing. It’s an impenetrable wall of words written without any apparent awareness of how it sounds to others. One would have to spend hours analyzing it one sentence at a time in order to understand it well enough to agree with it or not. No one is going to do that.

    I know I’m being a bit blunt, and I apologize. But I’m trying to be constructive, not mean, and perhaps save you some time. To put it plainly, almost no one has any idea what you are attempting to communicate. This might as well be written in Klingon.

    Changing peoples’ minds is difficult. In some cases it’s impossible. There is 0.00% chance that you will have any desirable influence on anything or anyone by writing what no one understands.

  5. 5
    ScuzzaMan says:

    I had no trouble understanding it, at all.

  6. 6
    Allan Keith says:

    Oldandrew@4, well said. I didn’t say this because as a frequent opposer of KF’s views, I figured that he would just accuse me of attacking him personally. He may have a good point to make, but he is not making it clear. Which is why I asked for some examples in my comment above.

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    I think making ethics a basic part of any educational curriculum would be a very good idea.

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, I suggest that if — per your claims and implications — there is no moral truth then the rationalisations offered and the social engineering attempted are utterly uncorrelated with any order of reality. Thus, necessarily, they will be random: there is no intelligible order of reality for them to attach to. You have talked about a variant form of social darwinism and in effect argued that societies that live by certain patterns arrived at more or less by the outplay of power and persuasion are more likely to have long term descendants; explaining those patterns on that survival, but also appealing to the collapse of societies. My immediate comment to such draws on economics: bounded rationality vs the doctrine of unintended consequences (multiplied by shocks) will readily overwhelm any arbitrary social planning merely driven by might and manipulation and unguided by any genuine knowledge — there being no moral knowledge to do the guiding if there are no moral truths. My second, is that predatory classes and societies have done very well thank you, given that as no man lives forever, nor does any culture. The third is that your argument begins to sound a lot like trying to piggyback on the moral principles of the much despised Christendom without acknowledgement, where one of the principles of morality is that evils cannot be universalised; they parasite off most people most times not living like that. Even Cretans will normally tell the truth. KF

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, I would agree in principle, but fear the agendas at work would corrupt any curriculum development process. KF

  10. 10
    OldAndrew says:

    If someone wants a government which rules according to fixed moral principles, what they want is theocracy. Nothing less will do. What’s less than that is what we have now: a number of people, some corrupt, some not, attempting to provide just government, sometimes succeeding, and often failing. Sometimes governments and people do good things and sometimes they veer off into total evil.

    The trouble with theocracy is that no man or group of men can establish it. Period. The Bible does not instruct Christians to create a theocratic government. Some people can try to form governments that incorporate principles of morality. That’s mostly what goes on all around the world, regardless of the religious majority. And the result is pretty much always the same: We don’t have anarchy, murder and theft are illegal, and both the government and its subjects are mixed bag of trying to do what’s right and corruption. A “reboot” to save civilization just sounds like taking another stab at it and expecting a different result.

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    OA, I hear your perspectives. I agree that not everyone can interpret a diagram, much less how it may fit with neighbouring text. But equally, there are many people who draw more meaning from a diagram than from text with an equivalent description. I suggest, indentation is one style for longer citations. I suggest, varied text styles do communicate to some, especially in a post-linear world. The cartoon clip illustrates a pattern in Science Fiction, which envisions Artificial Intelligences as equivalent to natural ones. Indeed, the current story-line for the same cartoon has AI software avatars as “souls” of the departed living on for millions of years and wishing to go into oblivion. KF

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    OA, no. A theocracy is a government by a god or in the name of a god. That is quite different from the claim that there is such a thing as intelligible moral truth that can be so warranted as to become knowledge; which then guides our reasonable, responsible action. Truth, being the accurate description of reality. Reality, being what is there. As for the Bible and theocracy, the NT certainly does not seek to establish such by our launching some sort of uprising (and in that direct context teaches that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword) but it does explicitly call Christians to teach the nations Jesus’ principles of life, many of which are ethical and are tied to generally accessible moral principles. For example, forms of the golden rule are a commonplace insight in various ethical traditions. Similarly, the Apostle Paul teaches that the state has a duty to defend the civil peace of justice and that reasonable taxation is legitimate in support of such, then lays out the same rule in the form that love does no wrong to neighbour. Living by truth, diligence etc is enjoined. So is maintaining sound family life, and linked to that, strict sexual purity tied to creation order for family. KF

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: The specifically ignored summary on some basics of moral knowledge:

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

    (This is manifest in even an objector’s implication in the questions, challenges and arguments that s/he would advance, that we are in the wrong and there is something to be avoided about that. That is, even the objector inadvertently implies that we OUGHT to do, think, aim for and say the right. Not even the hyperskeptical objector can escape this truth. Patent absurdity on attempted denial.)

    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. See what would be undermined should conscience be deadened or dismissed universally? Sawing off the branch on which we all must sit. [–> and remember, we are standing by some bushes, over a small, broken, abused, lifeless body. Even now, as the father approaches what remains of the child he sent off to school that morning.])

    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. (That is, we look at an infinite regress of Plato’s cave worlds: once such a principle of grand global delusion is injected, there is no firewall so the perception of level one delusion is subject to the same issue, and this level two perception too, ad infinitum; landing in patent absurdity.)

    4] Fourth, we are objectively under obligation of OUGHT. That is, despite any particular person’s (or group’s or august council’s or majority’s) wishes or claims to the contrary, such obligation credibly holds to moral certainty. That is, it would be irresponsible, foolish and unwise for us to act and try to live otherwise.

    5] Fifth, this cumulative framework of moral government under OUGHT is the basis for the manifest core principles of the natural moral law under which we find ourselves obligated to the right the good, the true etc. Where also, patently, we struggle to live up to what we acknowledge or imply we ought to do.

    6] Sixth, this means we live in a world in which being under core, generally understood principles of natural moral law is coherent and factually adequate, thus calling for a world-understanding in which OUGHT is properly grounded at root level. (Thus worldviews that can soundly meet this test are the only truly viable ones. If a worldview does not have in it a world-root level IS that can simultaneously ground OUGHT — so that IS and OUGHT are inextricably fused at that level, it fails decisively.*)

    7] Seventh, in light of the above, even the weakest and most voiceless of us thus has a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of fulfillment of one’s sense of what s/he ought to be (“happiness”). This includes the young child, the unborn and more. (We see here the concept that rights are binding moral expectations of others to provide respect in regards to us because of our inherent status as human beings, members of the community of valuable neighbours. Where also who is my neighbour was forever answered by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Likewise, there can be no right to demand of or compel my neighbour that s/he upholds me and enables me in the wrong — including under false colour of law through lawfare; usurping the sword of justice to impose a ruthless policy agenda in fundamental breach of that civil peace which must ever pivot on manifest justice. To justly claim a right, one must first be in the right.)

    8] Eighth, like unto the seventh, such may only be circumscribed or limited for good cause. Such as, reciprocal obligation to cherish and not harm neighbour of equal, equally valuable nature in community and in the wider world of the common brotherhood of humanity.

    9] Ninth, this is the context in which it becomes self evidently wrong, wicked and evil to kidnap, sexually torture and murder a young child or the like as concrete cases in point that show that might and/or manipulation do not make ‘right,’ ‘truth,’ ‘worth,’ ‘justice,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘law’ etc. That is, anything that expresses or implies the nihilist’s credo is morally absurd.

    10] Tenth, this entails that in civil society with government, justice is a principal task of legitimate government. In short, nihilistic will to power untempered by the primacy of justice is its own refutation in any type of state. Where, justice is the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. (In Aristotle’s terms as cited by Hooker: “because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like.”) Thus also,

    11] Eleventh, that government is and ought to be subject to audit, reformation and if necessary replacement should it fail sufficiently badly and incorrigibly.

    (NB: This is a requisite of accountability for justice, and the suggestion or implication of some views across time, that government can reasonably be unaccountable to the governed, is its own refutation, reflecting — again — nihilistic will to power; which is automatically absurd. This truth involves the issue that finite, fallible, morally struggling men acting as civil authorities in the face of changing times and situations as well as in the face of the tendency of power to corrupt, need to be open to remonstrance and reformation — or if they become resistant to reasonable appeal, there must be effective means of replacement. Hence, the principle that the general election is an institutionalised regular solemn assembly of the people for audit and reform or if needs be replacement of government gone bad. But this is by no means an endorsement of the notion that a manipulated mob bent on a march of folly has a right to do as it pleases.)

    12] Twelfth, the attempt to deny or dismiss such a general framework of moral governance invariably lands in shipwreck of incoherence and absurdity. As, has been seen in outline. But that does not mean that the attempt is not going to be made, so there is a mutual obligation of frank and fair correction and restraint of evil.>>

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    SM, appreciated. KF

  15. 15
    Allan Keith says:

    KairosFocus,

    AK, I suggest that if — per your claims and implications — there is no moral truth then the rationalisations offered and the social engineering attempted are utterly uncorrelated with any order of reality.

    “Social engineering” is a big tent. What specific social engineering are you referring to? Banning slavery? Civil rights movements? Granting women the vote? Granting non land owners the vote? Stopping jailing homosexuals? Not firing people because they are homosexuals? Taking native Americans away from their parents and forcing Christian teaching on them? Specific examples would be appreciated.

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, all of the above. If there is no objective moral order, there is no moral reality to be referred and it is impossible to design a system to conform to it. You list a series of items that you believe we will look on favourably, but if there is no objective moral order there is no base for arguing that non-slavery is a good while slavery is an evil. And across history many societies got on quite well based on slavery in some form or another. You may be appealing to emotions or to perceptions that were somehow indoctrinated but that’s all. On such premises. KF

  17. 17
    Allan Keith says:

    KairosFocus,

    If there is no objective moral order, there is no moral reality to be referred and it is impossible to design a system to conform to it.

    But who determines what that objective moral order is? You? Me? Hitler?

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, again, that would be a what not a who. Similar to Mathematics, which is a discipline of the abstract. See the OP. KF

  19. 19
    Allan Keith says:

    KairosFocus,

    AK, again, that would be a what not a who. Similar to Mathematics, which is a discipline of the abstract. See the OP. KF

    OK, what determines what that objective moral order is, and who tells us?

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, what determines the mathematical order and who tells us? KF

  21. 21
    Allan Keith says:

    KairosFocus,

    AK, what determines the mathematical order and who tells us? KF

    So, are you suggesting that moral values are mathematical in nature?

  22. 22
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, I suggest they are abstracta, and are accessed in the end through rational, responsible reflection guided by first principles, which may be done in a shared community. Let me add, there is a case in outline in a dozen steps in the OP; one that turns on the unfortunately RW case of a kidnapped, sexually abused, murdered child. KF

  23. 23
    Allan Keith says:

    KairosFocus,

    AK, I suggest they are abstracta, and are accessed in the end through rational, responsible reflection guided by first principles, which may be done in a shared community

    So, you agree that they are subjective. That is all I was asking.

  24. 24
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, are mathematical results subjective? They are pondered by subjects but relate to reasonable criteria which renders them objective. The same obtains for any scheme of serious principles, including ethical ones. That is why it is a what not a who that counts. KF

    PS: Collins ED is helpful:

    subjective (s?b?d??kt?v)
    adj
    1. belonging to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered
    2. of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc: subjective views.

    objective (?b?d??kt?v)
    adj
    1. (Philosophy) existing independently of perception or an individual’s conceptions: are there objective moral values?.
    2. undistorted by emotion or personal bias

  25. 25
    Bob O'H says:

    kf @ 24 – but aren’t the axioms that mathematicians assume subjective? (they may be rational, but they’re not the only possible axioms that could be used) What follows after that is (or at least should be!) objective, of course.

  26. 26
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H:

    No. Instantly, an axiomatic framework is an element of a modelling exercise that is open to discussion, argument, warrant and required coherence with an existing body of estabished knowledge.

    Coherence of the system is a major constraint on whims and fancies [which is where something would become subjective, captive to a subject’s imagination], and is tied to our rich, deep and widely accessible experience of structure, quantity and linked reasoning. So, for instance, the main structure of mathematics, numbers, emerge from the world-framing fact of distinct identity so that a world W = {A|~A}, thence two-ness and what flows from that.

    Such issues are so deeply embedded that we tend to overlook their significance.

    I think I also need to point out that objectivity is not synonymous with either infallibility or absolute truth. Something is infallibly true where it is beyond possibility of error, typically due to some form or other of self-evident undeniability, e.g. that

    ||| + || –> |||||

    which we may symbolise as 3 + 2 = 5.

    Absolute truth is the whole, untainted, undiluted correct description of a matter in hand: truth, the whole relevant truth, nothing but the truth. (Hence the famous court room oath.)

    By contrast, objective truth is about the degree of truth that is externally accessible (i.e. in principle available to “anyone”) and is so warranted as credible (thus, reliable) that it is is worthy of belief and willingness to act i/l/o the degree of warrant. It is fallible, but a responsible party aware of its warrant should act on it with confidence. (And yes, this all brims over with the inextricably entangled, intertwined hand-in-hand links between the IS and the OUGHT. That is in part why it is so important that we bridge IS and OUGHT at world-root level.)

    Knowledge is of course our normal term for warranted credibly true and reliable belief; as “belief” implies it is clearly held by subjects who come to believe. And likewise the warranting process is an active process created by subjects and evaluated by subjects. Subjectivity is inevitable in knowledge but that obviously does not lock out the objective nature of well warranted truth claims. Nor does it reduce knowledge to subjectivism.

    Likewise, abstracta are not parts of the world of the direct senses, they are inferred, conceptualised, reflected on. But that does not make them subjective in the relevant sense, i.e. lacking in objective warrant and locked into some individual subject’s perceptions, potential for error, bias, gaps etc. The possibility and actuality of cross checking greatly enhances reliability.

    Perhaps a simple exercise similar to Babbage in the ninth Bridgewater Thesis will help.

    Suppose subject s1 believes some claim c is true on some point of warrant w that is accessible to other subjects in a relevant community, s1 to sn. Now, w has a probability of error in the case of an individual subject sj, say 0.001. Obviously, providing the odds of error are independent and stable, the cumulative odds of the entire community being in error run like e^n. For n = 3, E_3 = [10^-3]^3 = 10^-9 already. For n = 11, E-11 = 10^-33, and for n = 500, E_500 = 10^-1500. Reliability rises very quickly indeed with multiple independent witnesses with fairly reliable means of warrant. [Of course, with error-prone subjects, the odds of SOMEBODY in the chain/community being wrong also rise with the number. Odds that no-one is in error run like (1 -e)^n, which exponentially falls toward zero.]

    Where also, the low likelihood of error in the process itself creates a pattern where a super-majority already will most likely be correct. And of course if the process of warrant is itself accessible to independent cross-checking, odds of overall and consistent error in warrant and/or in conclusion will fall.

    Of course, if the community is so interconnected that they reduce to being in effect a single observer, the odds rise back to e. This leads to the significance of multiple, independent lines of warrant w1 to wk that converge on the same verdict: coherence is exponentially mutually reinforcing in squeezing out the likelihood of error. Classically, in the mouth of two or three [independent] witnesses shall a word be established.

    Such of course highlights the potential and dangers of a peer-review system, as if the system becomes captive to a common, enforced ideology, its reliability falls drastically due to reducing from multiple, mutually reinforcing lines of convergent warrant to being a single line of claimed warrant.

    Nor, does the possibility of multiple options in axioms change the matter of objectivity.

    As can be seen with classical Euclidean Geometry, multiple alternative axioms are possible but functionally equivalent (esp. relative to the parallel lines axiom). And where significantly diverse axioms are possible, their effect is to materially change the subject, here, from a Euclidean space to an elliptical or spherical or hyperbolic one, etc. And always, coherence is treasured across domains, so that the system of the logic of structure and quantity is in its heart mutually and freely accessible and reinforcing.

    Action of subjects does not automatically force subjectivity of truth claims resulting from such actions, once we have externally accessible warrant and for preference independent, converging lines of mutually reinforcing evidence and argument.

    Using the analogy of a spider’s spiral web, the central parts may not be directly accessible to external anchor-points, but they function to tie the whole together through providing a node that unifies the external anchor points, with the spiral web providing a common path from any point to any other.

    KF

  27. 27
  28. 28
    OldAndrew says:

    A theocracy is a government by a god or in the name of a god. That is quite different from the claim that there is such a thing as intelligible moral truth that can be so warranted as to become knowledge; which then guides our reasonable, responsible action.

    Yes, the stated justification is different, but the end result is exactly the same. Follow this principle or law because the Bible says so vs. follow the same principle or law because it’s established as a fixed reality by appeals to various authorities, and pay no mind to the coincidence that it’s identical to my religious beliefs.

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    OA, nope.

    Above, you will see that I nowhere appeal to scripture texts as decisive authorities on general moral issues. I am not even discussing generic ethical theism, the God of philosophy. I am instead speaking to cases that show the significance of moral governance as evident, as inextricably entangled and intertwined with the life of reasoned thought, and of how specific cases open up our intuitive understanding of evils such as kidnapping then sexually assaulting and murdering a child for one’s pleasure is manifestly and undeniably evil.

    From such cases, rooted in our rational intuition that we are under moral government, we then see what happens when one tries to deny — instant absurdity. From this, we then reach the point of drawing out principles and extending them as far as government in the community.

    This is not by any means a specifically Christian morality or a theistic one. However, it does raise the onward issue that if IS and OUGHT are so closely intertwined, then the issue of coherence obtains. That points to world root level, and I am pretty confident that there is just one serious candidate for a best explanation, the inherently good Creator God, a necessary and maximally great being, worthy of loyalty and the reasonable, responsible service of doing the good in accord with our evident nature.

    In short, when we do wrong, we know so on rational grounds antecedent to debates over its roots or relationship to God. But this issue pervades our world of thought as responsible, rational, significantly free subjects. That then leads to worldviews, root-reality issues. Where, coherence and consilience are valid indicators of truth. Were the logic of moral government utterly at odds with theism, that would be used as a decisive argument against it, indeed those who think morality is a delusion routinely do that.

    It is not proper to then try to play heads I win, tails you lose.

    The roots of reality issue is a significant one, and indeed on many converging grounds, we need a world-root being capable of sourcing a world as we observe it, including its moral domain. That God is a serious candidate, consistent with the facts and the logical requisites, is a sign that something is there, not a reason to reject hyperskeptically.

    And no, a generic notion of God is broadly consistent with the God in the Bible but is by no means able to give us the sort of detailed picture found therein. And BTW, that point is actually there in the Bible too, if you want to go down that line; e.g. we are already aware of our moral struggle, bondage and guilt as well as of the destructive consequences of rampant evils in lives, families and communities, long before Paul of Tarsus walks into town.

    That is not a focus of interest for either this thread or this blog in its main lines of discussion.

    KF

  30. 30
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: We may then look, again, at the twelve point argument, pivoting on that sadly real world case,

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

    (This is manifest in even an objector’s implication in the questions, challenges and arguments that s/he would advance, that we are in the wrong and there is something to be avoided about that. That is, even the objector inadvertently implies that we OUGHT to do, think, aim for and say the right. Not even the hyperskeptical objector can escape this truth. Patent absurdity on attempted denial.)

    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. See what would be undermined should conscience be deadened or dismissed universally? Sawing off the branch on which we all must sit. [–> and remember, we are standing by some bushes, over a small, broken, abused, lifeless body. Even now, as the father approaches what remains of the child he sent off to school that morning.])

    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. (That is, we look at an infinite regress of Plato’s cave worlds: once such a principle of grand global delusion is injected, there is no firewall so the perception of level one delusion is subject to the same issue, and this level two perception too, ad infinitum; landing in patent absurdity.)

    4] Fourth, we are objectively under obligation of OUGHT. That is, despite any particular person’s (or group’s or august council’s or majority’s) wishes or claims to the contrary, such obligation credibly holds to moral certainty. That is, it would be irresponsible, foolish and unwise for us to act and try to live otherwise.

    5] Fifth, this cumulative framework of moral government under OUGHT is the basis for the manifest core principles of the natural moral law under which we find ourselves obligated to the right the good, the true etc. Where also, patently, we struggle to live up to what we acknowledge or imply we ought to do.

    6] Sixth, this means we live in a world in which being under core, generally understood principles of natural moral law is coherent and factually adequate, thus calling for a world-understanding in which OUGHT is properly grounded at root level. (Thus worldviews that can soundly meet this test are the only truly viable ones. If a worldview does not have in it a world-root level IS that can simultaneously ground OUGHT — so that IS and OUGHT are inextricably fused at that level, it fails decisively.*)

    7] Seventh, in light of the above, even the weakest and most voiceless of us thus has a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of fulfillment of one’s sense of what s/he ought to be (“happiness”). This includes the young child, the unborn and more. (We see here the concept that rights are binding moral expectations of others to provide respect in regards to us because of our inherent status as human beings, members of the community of valuable neighbours. Where also who is my neighbour was forever answered by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Likewise, there can be no right to demand of or compel my neighbour that s/he upholds me and enables me in the wrong — including under false colour of law through lawfare; usurping the sword of justice to impose a ruthless policy agenda in fundamental breach of that civil peace which must ever pivot on manifest justice. To justly claim a right, one must first be in the right.)

    8] Eighth, like unto the seventh, such may only be circumscribed or limited for good cause. Such as, reciprocal obligation to cherish and not harm neighbour of equal, equally valuable nature in community and in the wider world of the common brotherhood of humanity.

    9] Ninth, this is the context in which it becomes self evidently wrong, wicked and evil to kidnap, sexually torture and murder a young child or the like as concrete cases in point that show that might and/or manipulation do not make ‘right,’ ‘truth,’ ‘worth,’ ‘justice,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘law’ etc. That is, anything that expresses or implies the nihilist’s credo is morally absurd.

    10] Tenth, this entails that in civil society with government, justice is a principal task of legitimate government. In short, nihilistic will to power untempered by the primacy of justice is its own refutation in any type of state. Where, justice is the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. (In Aristotle’s terms as cited by Hooker: “because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like.”) Thus also,

    11] Eleventh, that government is and ought to be subject to audit, reformation and if necessary replacement should it fail sufficiently badly and incorrigibly.

    (NB: This is a requisite of accountability for justice, and the suggestion or implication of some views across time, that government can reasonably be unaccountable to the governed, is its own refutation, reflecting — again — nihilistic will to power; which is automatically absurd. This truth involves the issue that finite, fallible, morally struggling men acting as civil authorities in the face of changing times and situations as well as in the face of the tendency of power to corrupt, need to be open to remonstrance and reformation — or if they become resistant to reasonable appeal, there must be effective means of replacement. Hence, the principle that the general election is an institutionalised regular solemn assembly of the people for audit and reform or if needs be replacement of government gone bad. But this is by no means an endorsement of the notion that a manipulated mob bent on a march of folly has a right to do as it pleases.)

    12] Twelfth, the attempt to deny or dismiss such a general framework of moral governance invariably lands in shipwreck of incoherence and absurdity. As, has been seen in outline. But that does not mean that the attempt is not going to be made, so there is a mutual obligation of frank and fair correction and restraint of evil.

    If you want, here is how Locke set out to ground modern liberty and democratic self-government by a free people:

    [2nd Treatise on Civil Gov’t, Ch 2 sec. 5:] . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [This directly echoes St. Paul in Rom 2: “14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them . . . “ and 13: “9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law . . . “ Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [Eccl. Polity ,preface, Bk I, “ch.” 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.] [Augmented citation, Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sect. 5. ]

    I suggest, that there is a world of difference between being imposed upon by some august magisterium, whether dressed in clerical robes or in lab coats or judge’s robes or academic garb and being willingly subject to cumulative bodies of evidence and reason so that one acts on conviction of truth in community, being open to correction of error.

  31. 31
    Allan Keith says:

    Kairosfocus,

    AK, are mathematical results subjective?

    The interpretation of some mathematical results may be subjective, but I agree with you in general on this.

    But, many of the rules of mathematics were established subjectively. For example, in the following equation:

    3 + 2 x 7 = ?

    We would both agree that the answer is 17. But that is only because we follow arbitrary rules that were established by humans. Following a different set of rules we could just as easily have said that the answer is 35.

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:

    AK, the convention for representation of the facts and operations is indeed a cultural agreement but the underlying realities are not. It is not arbitrary that x distributes + for example [think of how a decimal number is a compressed power series], though precedence of operations per BOMDAS is a convention. Just as, I so strongly favour RPN logic calculators that I have a HP 50 and a 12C, also HP 48 emulators on PC and phone, also tablet. If you try to key in the conventional way, it will not work: no. enter no. binary operation. This pattern of conventions is classically present in Physics, where the seven foundational quantities and units are convention, but the associated realities are there. And, that some person x is 1.98 metres tall is a reality, never mind the conventions involved. Indeed, the English, the alphabet and the computer and communication conventions are all just that but are very much in objective touch with realities. And, the dynamical and logical coherence involved is one of the strong signs of being in contact with reality. KF

  33. 33
    jdk says:

    Yes to 4.

Leave a Reply