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.
[–> 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