Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Response to Frances the Magnificent Moral Relativist



This entry is part of the perpetual War on Moral Relativism.

This post is long overdue. It is a reply to the objections and questions raised by Francesthemagnificent in this post.

One of the first things I noticed is that Frances and I seem to be on disagreement about definitions of certain things. Lets see what Frances says about "good" and "bad":

I object to the words "good" and "bad" being used with respect to choices. I think you are presupposing that fulfilling one's values is "good" while not fulfilling them is "bad." However, that can't really be proven - "good" and "bad" are opinion words, as in "That was a good movie." Nothing is inherently good or bad. But this might be getting away from the point. I will certainly grant you that some choices fulfill one's values while other choices do not. I will also grant that fulfilling the value of caring for a cat is based upon facts. Cats need food, water, shelter, etc. - those are indisputable facts. From here, we move on...


Is it really an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to that which brings an individual closer to value fulfillment, while "bad" is that which takes an individual farther away from value fulfillment, even if said values are opinions, like a favorite movie?

I think Frances betrayed his own objection in his "That was a good movie," example. Even if "good" and "bad" are only opinion statements, isn't it still true that fulfilling one's values is factually good for them? I mean, if I liked V for Vendetta, and said "That was a good movie," isn't it still true that I'm using the word "good" to represent value fulfillment, in this case a movie that entertained me? If Frances hated the movie V for Vendetta, would he use the word "good" or "bad" to describe it? In this way, the words "good" and "bad" are fact based, because they relate to value fulfillment, and values are fact based (a point that Frances seems to agree on).

Frances then addresses my individualism and self-ownership claims:

The idea that "You own yourself because you are yourself" can't be proven. It's an assumption (an assumption, I must add, that I totally accept). If somebody walked up to you on the street and demanded proof that you own yourself, you couldn't really provide it other than to assert it. That's because "ownership" is an intangible concept, unless it's in the form of a contract or other paper-based transaction. Similarly, proving that I don't own you is also impossible. Indeed, there is no more any hard evidence that you own you than there is hard evidence that I own you.

I personally accept self-ownership. I defend it vehemently. But, I defend it from the perspective of my opinion, because there are no tangible facts whatsoever to substantiate the concept.


While Frances personally accepts my self-ownership position, he argues that it is an unprovable one. I, of course, totally disagree. Why? Because self-ownership is based on the law of identity. A = A. You are you. Frances is Frances; he is not Aaron. Because Frances is Frances, only Frances owns himself. Self-ownership is somewhat of a tautology because it is virtually identical to the law of identity. Aaron is Aaron, and Aaron owns Aaron.

Frances claims that I cannot prove that he does not own me, and in doing so, Frances confuses the burden of proof. It is Frances' burden to prove that he does own me, not the other way around. It is, of course, also my burden to prove the principle of self-ownership. Thanks to the law of identity, I can say that an individual inherently owns what it inherently is: itself. Is there really much of a difference between saying, "Aaron is himself" and "Aaron owns himself"?

Unfortunately, Frances does not have these logical tools at his disposal to support his claim that he owns me. Can Frances, by sheer force of will, make me comply with all of his demands and agree with all of his values? No, he must use physical force to comply with his demands (he can't do it with mere thought), and he cannot get me to agree with all of his values no matter what physical force he applies to me. That is because, like Frances, I am my own separate individual entity with my own individual values and I have my own direct control over my own body.

Frances then compares and contrasts morality and value fulfillment between individuals and a collectivist society:

What hard evidence is there that demonstrates morality is about individual value fulfillment? To me, that's another assumption. Why isn't morality about communal value fulfillment? That is, why isn't morality centered around that which is best for the society in which we live? Since morality is an intangible notion, one cannot factually speak of its inherent character; thus, defining it as individual value fulfillment is a presupposition, no more valid than defining it as communal value fulfillment. Or, maybe morality has nothing to do with value fulfillment at all. One of my most basic objections--despite the fact that it is buried here in my reply--is that you are presupposing a relationship between value fulfillment and morality. On what chart, and based upon what data, can this alleged relationship be substantiated?


Individuals exist as singular conscious entities. Societies don't. A society is just a collection of individuals with no singular consciousness. Morality is about individual value fulfillment because morality applies to the actions of a conscious entity, and only individuals are conscious entities. Defining morality as individual value fulfillment is no more of a presupposition than it is to "presuppose" that individual humans have individual and separate consciousnesses. It is honestly not that difficult to observe that, factually, individuals are singular, conscious entities and a collective society is not.

Frances then asks me to prove factually that morality and value fulfillment have a relationship. This is a definitional problem regarding the very word "morality"? It seems that Frances wants me to define "morality" and prove that the definition is valid. May I just say that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet? Can't we just agree on a dictionary definition or something? Whatever concept you want to assign the word "morality" to is irrelevant. That is because the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and value fulfillment, will always exist, regardless of what we call them. We can use the word "blark" for all I care.

But is there a relationship between value fulfillment and right and wrong behavior? Of course! That is because values are fact-based, as Frances conceded earlier. "Right" or "good" relates to fulfilling a value, and "wrong" or "bad" relates to not fulfilling that value, or fulfilling an anti-value. Certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a value. And to fulfill a value is "good" for the value holder, while not fulfilling the value is "bad". Right and wrong are definite things because values are definite things that require definite actions. I cannot fulfill my food value by eating rusty nails, or by refusing to eat altogether! Eating rusty nails or refusing to eat is "bad" if obtaining sustenance is a value that I hold.

Frances continues to attack individualism and defend collectivism:

If the relationship between morality and individual value fulfillment is based upon acceptance of the individualist philosophy, then morality is indeed relative; there's nothing inherently true about individualism anymore than communism or any other social philosophy. As such, individualists have their definition of morality, communists have their definition, and morality is relative in the overall sense.


The acceptance of individualist philosophy does not make said philosophy relative anymore than the acceptance of the law of gravity makes gravity relative. Anyone can define morality any way they want, but the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and the factual nature of values, will remain constant, regardless of what word is used to describe them, and regardless of the refusal of one to accept their truths.

Just because I reject that individuals exist doesn't make them cease to exist, does it? Just because I refuse to recognize that a high-speed metal projectile will destroy my brain if my skull intercepts it's path, doesn't mean that my head won't be blown off when someone shoots me, does it?

We can scientifically and factually prove that an individual human has a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. We cannot do the same for a collective group of people. In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not.

Frances then offers his conclusion in three points:

To conclude, I think your moral code is based upon several assumptions:

1. That morality and individual value fulfillment have a relationship. If that is just your definition of the word "morality," then morality is indeed relative because others are free to define the term differently.

2. That individuals own themselves, but don't own others. I have seen no hard evidence for this, only an assertion. I also question why this only applies to humans, and not the rest of animalia. If it does apply to the rest of animalia, then I question if owning a dog is in fact engaging in coercion against the dog.

3. That individual value fulfillment is somehow inherently superior to communal value fulfillment. I think this is only true if you happen to be an individualist, and I see no proof that individualism is somehow inherently correct, while communalism is inherently incorrect.


That is a nice sum up of his points. I'm not going to address them directly in this paragraph because I feel that I addressed all these points directly in earlier paragraphs. I feel that I refuted them adequately and defended my individualist position adequately, but I imagine that not everyone will agree with me on that.

I find it interesting that while Frances seems to agree with individualism on a personal level, he disagrees with it on a factual, principle-based, universal level. Why? Oh yeah, because Frances says:

I looked up the word "nihilism" on Wikipedia to get a more complete definition, and see if it truly does apply to me.

[From Wikipedia] Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that the world, and especially human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilists generally believe all of the following: God does not exist, traditional morality is false, and secular ethics are impossible; therefore, life has no meaning, and no action is preferable to any other.

Yeah, I'm definitely a nihilist.


Gross! I hate nihilism. But you know what they say, "hate the nihilism, not the nihilist."

Frances was also kind enough to provide a closing remark:

Of course, I mean no disrespect. But, I sincerely disagree with you on this issue, and don't want to back away from a potentially interesting discussion.


I feel the exact same way. I hope this post didn't seem harsh. Understanding the truth of individual self-ownership and a fact-based morality isn't always easy, especially in the world we Westerners are raised in. At the risk of sounding too evangelical or presumptuous, I do hope that I can convince Frances to adopt self-ownership not only on a personal level, but also on a universal one. Frances, you should look me up on Skype, where we can talk about these things much more quickly and efficiently than through blog posts and comments. There have been some very enlightening conversations on Skype as of late. Anyone interested in talking about these kinds of intellectual issues in real-time should download the software and then look me up.

57 comments:

LBBP said...

I am my own separate individual entity with my own individual values and I have my own direct control over my own body.

Thus, by your own logic you have proved moral relativism.

Aaron Kinney said...

Lbbp,

You are confused. The fact that people have different values does not make morality relative.

It is the principles behind those specific values that prove that morality is not relative. For example, what you quoted of me not only applies to me, but to every individual. This means that morality is based on facts and universal principles, which is incompatible with moral relativism.

An individualistic, fact-based morality depends on the recognition that like myself, ALL individual entities have direct control over their own bodies (or themselves).

A relative morality is a form of nihilism. Nihilism is incompatible with a morality based on facts and on universal principles like self-ownership.

Aethlos said...

PREACH IT AK

beepbeepitsme said...

Blogroll me? :)

TheJollyNihilist said...

Aaron,

Interesting response. I am working on a reply to that response. I will post it right here in the comments section, and as a new post at My Case Against God. That way, even more people will have a chance to weigh in on these issues.

I'm about half-way done with my reply at this point, but want 24 more hours to fine-tune it.

Scott "Scott Taylor" Taylor said...

I think Frances betrayed his own objection in his "That was a good movie," example. Even if "good" and "bad" are only opinion statements, isn't it still true that fulfilling one's values is factually good for them? I mean, if I liked V for Vendetta, and said "That was a good movie," isn't it still true that I'm using the word "good" to represent value fulfillment, in this case a movie that entertained me? If Frances hated the movie V for Vendetta, would he use the word "good" or "bad" to describe it? In this way, the words "good" and "bad" are fact based, because they relate to value fulfillment, and values are fact based (a point that Frances seems to agree on).
If the values I wanted to fulfill weren't to include getting any protein in my diet, then no. Moral relativism leaves no room for good and bad, it leaves no room for any kind of distinguishable moral differences between actions. You may be more of a utilitarian(unless I'm completely misenterpreting what you're trying to say).

bernarda said...

Aaron, you don't seem to have read my posts on Nietzsche and nihilism at the NoGodBlog. I suggest you do so. Also look up Nietzsche at Wikipedia.

You make some rather bold and hazardous statements,

"Individuals exist as singular conscious entities. Societies don't. A society is just a collection of individuals with no singular consciousness. Morality is about individual value fulfillment because morality applies to the actions of a conscious entity, and only individuals are conscious entities. Defining morality as individual value fulfillment is no more of a presupposition than it is to "presuppose" that individual humans have individual and separate consciousnesses. It is honestly not that difficult to observe that, factually, individuals are singular, conscious entities and a collective society is not."

Some who might disagree with you there are Jung, Wilhelm Reich, and even Freud. Jung's theories are still often used today in creating "personality" tests used in psychology and in business.

"In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not."

You criticized Frances for proposing to prove a negative and now you do the same thing you criticized.

bernarda said...

Sorry, it was in the "My Case Against God" blog.

Delta said...

I'm about to go for a run but thought I'd respond to something really quick.

Is it really an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to that which brings an individual closer to value fulfillment, while "bad" is that which takes an individual farther away from value fulfillment, even if said values are opinions, like a favorite movie?

Yes, it is an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to actions that result in individual value fulfillment and the "bad" is to the opposite. That's the essence of the debate. If I granted you those definitions I would agree with your statements in paragraph that followed, but I could no longer use the words "good" and "bad" when discussing moral issues since their casual definition has been stripped away and they are now simply codewords for whether or not something brings personal value fulfillment.

Because Frances is Frances, only Frances owns himself. Self-ownership is somewhat of a tautology because it is virtually identical to the law of identity

And how do you go from the fact that you are yourself to the claim that you also own yourself? A=A does does not mean A owns A (we don't have a symbol for "own" in math as far as I know ;) ).

Aaron Kinney said...

Bleep Bleep,

You are now blogrolled!

Scott Taylor,

You said:

If the values I wanted to fulfill weren't to include getting any protein in my diet, then no.

Just because you may not value protein doesn't mean that morality is relative. You still have to conform to the facts of existence in order to avoid protein successfully. And if I were to, for example, try to force protein down your throat, that would be immoral. Individualist fact-based morality is compatible with value contextualism, where people have different values. Individualist morality is based on factual principles, not on whether or not everybody values protein.

Moral relativism leaves no room for good and bad, it leaves no room for any kind of distinguishable moral differences between actions. You may be more of a utilitarian(unless I'm completely misenterpreting what you're trying to say).

Yes, you are correct. Moral relativism leaves no room for good and bad. In fact, it makes "good" and "bad" meaningless. I am not a utilitarian. I am an individualist. My morality is based on the principle of self-ownership and individual value fulfillment, which requires the recognition of facts and the identity of what kinds of actions are good or bad. That is why I reject moral relativism.

Bernarda,

Aaron, you don't seem to have read my posts on Nietzsche and nihilism at the NoGodBlog.

No, I dont think I have. I will have to check them out.

I suggest you do so. Also look up Nietzsche at Wikipedia.

I am familiar with Nietzche. I have read THus Spoke Zarathustra and I am making my way through the AntiChrist right now. They are the Walter Kaufmann translations. Would you like to provide some pieces of philosophy from Nietzche that would disagree with what I've written?

You make some rather bold and hazardous statements,

Thank you. But in what way were the things I said hazardous?

Some who might disagree with you there are Jung, Wilhelm Reich, and even Freud. Jung's theories are still often used today in creating "personality" tests used in psychology and in business.

I'm not too familiar with these three. But I am aware at least that many psychologists would disagree with my arguments. But I must say that I am more interested in what you think of the things I have written personally. I can interact with you directly; I cannot interact with Jung, Reich, or Freud.

You criticized Frances for proposing to prove a negative and now you do the same thing you criticized.

I am not exactly clear about where I criticized Frances for proposing to prove a negative? I think what I was trying to do was criticize his positions, not whether or not he tried to prove them (whether they were positive and negative). Negative statements don't have the burden of proof; positive statements do. And that is what I specifically offered arguments to meet the burdens that my positive statements shoulder. For example, I used evidence of individual humans as individual conscious entities to argue for self-ownership. I also refuted the positive claim of collectivism by pointing out that there is no singular conscious collective of humans, and therefore, there is no collective entity or collective interest - there is only individual entities and individual interests.

Delta,

Yes, it is an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to actions that result in individual value fulfillment and the "bad" is to the opposite.

Really? Then what do you define those words as?

That's the essence of the debate. If I granted you those definitions I would agree with your statements in paragraph that followed, but I could no longer use the words "good" and "bad" when discussing moral issues since their casual definition has been stripped away and they are now simply codewords for whether or not something brings personal value fulfillment.

Oh whoops! It looks like you define them as "codewords for whether or not something brings personal value fulfillment."

So since you agree with me, wheres the beef? If this is the central issue as you claim, then didn't you just concede the definitions right after insisting those definitions werent correct?

Besides, whether or not you use "Good" and "bad" for personal value fulfillment, the concept of personal value fullfillment will still exist and some other word will be used instead. A rose by any other name...

And how do you go from the fact that you are yourself to the claim that you also own yourself? A=A does does not mean A owns A (we don't have a symbol for "own" in math as far as I know ;) ).

Very true Delta about the math thing. Thats why I said its a tautology. In other words, saying A = A is the same as saying that A owns A. Why? because it is axiomatic that you own yourself. From both a logical standpoint and a utilitarian standpoint.

First of all, no argument that supports "other-ownership" could be valid because it would always fail the principle of universality, and it would also have no logical connection between consciousness A and consciousness B that it is supposed to "own".

Secondly, there is strong evidence to support self-ownership. You are you; your physical body will only automatically obey your own consciousness. Your consciousness depends on your own body for survival. Your consciousness and your body are one. Self-ownership is as axiomatic as A=A because any argument against self-ownership fails logically and factually. Thats why I said A=A and A owns A is a tautology.

Francesthemagnificent,

Im looking forward to your reply. I hope you enjoyed my response.

Everyone else, thank you again for your comments. Keep 'em coming! Make me defend individualism. Bring on your relativist attacks! :)

TheJollyNihilist said...

Is it really an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to that which brings an individual closer to value fulfillment, while "bad" is that which takes an individual farther away from value fulfillment, even if said values are opinions, like a favorite movie?

I think Frances betrayed his own objection in his "That was a good movie," example. Even if "good" and "bad" are only opinion statements, isn't it still true that fulfilling one's values is factually good for them? I mean, if I liked V for Vendetta, and said "That was a good movie," isn't it still true that I'm using the word "good" to represent value fulfillment, in this case a movie that entertained me? If Frances hated the movie V for Vendetta, would he use the word "good" or "bad" to describe it? In this way, the words "good" and "bad" are fact based, because they relate to value fulfillment, and values are fact based (a point that Frances seems to agree on).


Use of the words “good” and “bad” is tricky. Let’s use V for Vendetta as an example, since you brought that terrific movie up. I thought V for Vendetta was a good movie. In what context would I use the word “good”? I would use good as an adjective for the film because it aligned well with my preferences. This is exactly the same way I use “good” with respect to weather. Good weather aligns well with my preferences. However, I would not use “good” to describe my behavior of seeing the film because I do not recognize inherent value in fulfilling my preferences. Simply stated, fulfilling preferences isn’t “right” or “wrong”; it’s not something one is SUPPOSED to do. People can fulfill their preferences or be apathetic to them. Nobody is supposed to do anything.

While Frances personally accepts my self-ownership position, he argues that it is an unprovable one. I, of course, totally disagree. Why? Because self-ownership is based on the law of identity. A = A. You are you. Frances is Frances; he is not Aaron. Because Frances is Frances, only Frances owns himself. Self-ownership is somewhat of a tautology because it is virtually identical to the law of identity. Aaron is Aaron, and Aaron owns Aaron.

Frances claims that I cannot prove that he does not own me, and in doing so, Frances confuses the burden of proof. It is Frances' burden to prove that he does own me, not the other way around. It is, of course, also my burden to prove the principle of self-ownership. Thanks to the law of identity, I can say that an individual inherently owns what it inherently is: itself. Is there really much of a difference between saying, "Aaron is himself" and "Aaron owns himself"?

Unfortunately, Frances does not have these logical tools at his disposal to support his claim that he owns me.


I would say there is quite a big difference between "Aaron is Aaron" and "Aaron owns Aaron." I'm not going to argue against A=A, because I think it’s logically sound. But, I do strongly object to A=A, therefore A owns A. That "principle" is nothing more than an assertion. And, I think you are prejudicially applying it. If "A=A, and therefore A owns A," anything can be put in the place of "A." That means my encyclopedia owns my encyclopedia; the daffodil owns the daffodil; and the horse owns the horse. Applying it only to humans would be ad hoc, and thus logically impermissible.

You can add "ownership" to my list of "gooey" words. It's kind of amorphous and meaningless, at least without hard evidence. There is plenty of hard evidence that I own this computer: I have the receipt; I can look up the credit card charge in my records; I am registered with Dell. There is no hard evidence that an individual owns him/herself. As I said initially, such a claim is just that...a claim. And, I am not making a positive assertion that, for example, I own you. Rather, I am saying there is just as much hard evidence that I own you as there is hard evidence that you own you - that is to say, none.

Can Frances, by sheer force of will, make me comply with all of his demands and agree with all of his values? No, he must use physical force to comply with his demands (he can't do it with mere thought), and he cannot get me to agree with all of his values no matter what physical force he applies to me. That is because, like Frances, I am my own separate individual entity with my own individual values and I have my own direct control over my own body.

I think it is erroneous to tie ownership and total control together. Just because one must use physical force on an entity to make it do what the individual wants, and just because the individual might not be able to get the entity to do everything he/she wants, doesn't mean the entity isn't owned by the individual. Let's again use my computer as an example. We can both agree I own my computer. If I want my computer to make an Excel chart, I must use physical force on it to make it do it. And, as any computer user knows, the computer does indeed disallow me from making it do certain things I want it to do. The fact that I must use physical force on the computer, and the fact that the computer doesn't do everything I want, doesn't somehow change the fact that I own the computer. Similarly, if I alleged to own another person, I might have to use physical force to get the person to do what I want, and the person might not do every single thing I demand, but that still wouldn't cancel out my ownership of the person, anymore than it does the computer. I think the computer analogy adequately demonstrates that ownership need not be accompanied by total control.

Individuals exist as singular conscious entities. Societies don't. A society is just a collection of individuals with no singular consciousness. Morality is about individual value fulfillment because morality applies to the actions of a conscious entity, and only individuals are conscious entities. Defining morality as individual value fulfillment is no more of a presupposition than it is to "presuppose" that individual humans have individual and separate consciousnesses. It is honestly not that difficult to observe that, factually, individuals are singular, conscious entities and a collective society is not.

I completely agree with you that individuals, not societies, are conscious entities. I will even agree that morality relates to the behaviors of a conscious entity, since only conscious entities have behaviors. But I don’t think this proves that morality is wrapped up in individual value fulfillment. Morality applies to the behaviors of individuals…in the context of what? Themselves? Society? The environment? The fact that morality involves the behaviors of individuals does not necessarily imply that morality relates to the way in which they fulfill or don’t fulfill their preferences. Morality could just as easily be wrapped up in how each individual’s behaviors affect the collective. Or, morality could just as easily deal with how each individual’s behaviors affect the environment. Just like with bodily ownership, there is no hard evidence at all to confirm ANY of those possibilities.

Frances then asks me to prove factually that morality and value fulfillment have a relationship. This is a definitional problem regarding the very word "morality"? It seems that Frances wants me to define "morality" and prove that the definition is valid. May I just say that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet? Can't we just agree on a dictionary definition or something? Whatever concept you want to assign the word "morality" to is irrelevant. That is because the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and value fulfillment, will always exist, regardless of what we call them. We can use the word "blark" for all I care.

Here’s the problem: I’m willing to define morality as “The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior.” However, that definition doesn’t incorporate the context. The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior…in the context of what? In the context of the individual? In the context of society? In the context of the environment? An individual’s behavior has an effect on all three; so, on what basis does morality restrict itself to only an individual’s behaviors’ effects on his/her preferences? I’m willing to accept that morality has to do with the effects of behaviors; I’m not willing to grant that morality has to do with the effects of behaviors on preferences (which, by necessity, must be held by individuals). I’d just as soon say morality has to do with the effects of behaviors on societies or on the environment.

But is there a relationship between value fulfillment and right and wrong behavior? Of course! That is because values are fact-based, as Frances conceded earlier. "Right" or "good" relates to fulfilling a value, and "wrong" or "bad" relates to not fulfilling that value, or fulfilling an anti-value. Certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a value. And to fulfill a value is "good" for the value holder, while not fulfilling the value is "bad". Right and wrong are definite things because values are definite things that require definite actions. I cannot fulfill my food value by eating rusty nails, or by refusing to eat altogether! Eating rusty nails or refusing to eat is "bad" if obtaining sustenance is a value that I hold.

I think the key disconnect here is that you build “should be strived for” into your definition of “values,” and I do not. To me, “values” are simply things an individual can do or not do that have tangible results in either case [this definitional disconnect is why I continually use the word “preferences” instead]. With that definition, the same list of values applies to everybody, since it is divorced from individual preferences. A good example is nutrition; an individual can fulfill nutrition or not fulfill it. Another example is sleep; once again, that’s a value that can be fulfilled or not fulfilled. Someone who fulfills the nutrition value and fulfills the sleep value will get certain results. Someone who doesn’t fulfill the nutrition or sleep values will get different results. And sure, individuals have preferences with regard to these things. For example, I prefer to fulfill my nutrition value and sleep value. But, that doesn’t mean I am somehow SUPPOSED TO. Nobody is supposed to do anything. If people want to strive for their preferences they can, and if they want to be apathetic to them they can. I look at humanity as just another part of animalia; I don’t think humans are supposed to do anything anymore than goldfish are.

The acceptance of individualist philosophy does not make said philosophy relative anymore than the acceptance of the law of gravity makes gravity relative. Anyone can define morality any way they want, but the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and the factual nature of values, will remain constant, regardless of what word is used to describe them, and regardless of the refusal of one to accept their truths.

What you describe (Individual preference fulfillment, with successful preference fulfillment being “right” and lack of preference fulfillment being “wrong”) is indeed one way to approach the issue of morality; however, the key words in that are “one way.” If one doesn’t accept that morality has any relationship with individual preference fulfillment, and instead defines the word slightly differently, how can morality (a word with multiple definitions) be universally objective? Individual preference fulfillment, as you describe it, is objective. To you, “good" relates to fulfilling a preference, and "bad" relates to not fulfilling that preference, or fulfilling an anti-preference. We can both agree that certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a preference. But somebody could just as easily say, “Morality deals with how individuals’ actions affect society” or “Morality deals with how individuals’ actions affect the environment.” Morality can have numerous definitions, since the definition I recognize, “The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior,” provides no context (on the individual?; on society?; on the environment?).

Just because I reject that individuals exist doesn't make them cease to exist, does it? Just because I refuse to recognize that a high-speed metal projectile will destroy my brain if my skull intercepts it's path, doesn't mean that my head won't be blown off when someone shoots me, does it?

I am not saying anybody has the right to deny the existence of individuals; the existence of individuals is undeniable. I reject the factual accuracy of individualism, a philosophy centered around the primary importance of the individual as compared to society, environment, etc. Primary importance is assigned arbitrarily; it could just as easily be assigned to society or the environment, with individuals viewed as secondary. That’s why neither Libertarianism nor Communism is objectively “correct.” It’s just a matter of the way in which one views things.

We can scientifically and factually prove that an individual human has a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. We cannot do the same for a collective group of people. In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not.

Again, I will gladly grant you that an individual exists as a singular, self-directing entity. And, I will grant you that a society is neither singular nor self-directing. What I will not rubber-stamp is the notion that, because individuals are singular and self-directing, they are somehow of primary importance. I would need to see a chart of some type, based upon scientific data, demonstrating a direct relationship between singularity/self-direction and “importance,” whatever the latter means. One could just as easily pluck out the defining characteristics of societies or the environment and then declare either of them to be of primary importance. It’s kind of like my arguments about human speciocentricity: Humans pick out a few of our defining characteristics (sentience, full range of emotions, etc.), arbitrarily declare them to be “value adding,” and then assert humans are the most valuable of all animal life. I don’t accept that, either.

Gross! I hate nihilism. But you know what they say, "hate the nihilism, not the nihilist."

What’s to hate about nihilism? I take two main points from it: 1. Nothing is self-evident. Absolutely everything requires hard evidence. 2. Nothing, intrinsically speaking, is preferable to anything else. The latter, especially, is the ultimate in individualism; it basically says that “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are all just a matter of opinion--an individual's opinion.

Thanks for engaging me, Aaron. Interesting comments all around.

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BlackSun said...

Aaron, I think you have done an excellent job defending your argument.

It seems a lot of this discussion has to do with semantics, and definitions of words.

You can only progress to the really interesting arguments when you have agreements on terms. Wouldn't it be more fun if people could just agree that facts are facts when they can be systematically and objectively observed?

Further, wouldn't it be great if we could establish a framework for getting people to concede points when they're made?

I find it tough to believe that anyone would spend time arguing the meaning of "good" and "bad." Obviously, they have two different meanings when applied subjectively or objectively. To use your argument about food: eating protein can be said to be objectively "good" for survival--provided it's in the right amounts and proportions to other foods. This is an objective fact.

Subjective "good" and "bad" varies from individual to individual. It has to do with things supporting or hindering an individuals desires or wish-fulfillment. Let's not get started over whether someone fulfilling their desires is "good" or not. That's why they're called desires. People want something, and fulfilling their wants is what people do. Splitting hairs over these kinds of semantic arguments is a total waste of time.

These kinds of debates could be easily resolved if they could simply be seen to be about subjectivity vs. objectivity.

FTM, The same can be said for nihilism: You may feel that the tenets of nihilism make sense, and they may make you feel good, but that doesn't mean that applying them will bring you objective success, or can be supported empirically.

Nihilism is a state of mind, a point of view, and inherently subjective. It's a feel-good philosophy for the non-committal. It's a "fuck you" to hierarchical systems. But you cannot say that nothing matters, or that nothing is better than anything else. It doesn't hold up empirically for life forms. Our value system is based primarily on the survival instinct. So this sets our priorities and agenda. (Excepting the suicidal), if an entity does not prefer survival to non-survival, we are not talking about a living system.

Self-ownership: If I can will my hand or other part of my body to move, and no one else can, I can prove to control myself. Ownership as defined in the law is the "right to possess and control." If someone else owns me as a slave, they have the right to control me. It is the essence of ownership.

People, please read the dictionary. It's good to have consensus agreement on the definitions of words. Then let's get on to some real discussions.

bernarda said...

Aaron--"Frances claims that I cannot prove that he does not own me, and in doing so, Frances confuses the burden of proof. It is Frances' burden to prove that he does own me, not the other way around."

Aaron--"In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not."

Note the similarity of the argument "cannot prove he does own me", "prove that a collective group of humans does not have". So Aaron makes the same error as Frances. Aaron wisely modifies it in the second part where he says "support the claim" and not "factually prove".

Unfortunately the observable facts may not support Aaron's position. How for example can large flocks of birds or large schools of fish react and change direction more or less simulataneously?

Aaron--"That is because, like Frances, I am my own separate individual entity with my own individual values and I have my own direct control over my own body."

The observed facts also seem to contradict Aaron here. Our bodies are controlled by our evolutionary heritage and our immediate and extended environment. Aaron is assuming something called "values". What are "values" but a result of the evolutionary process? If one says that you can use individual values to exercise direct control, one is implicitly accepting the illusion of "free will". Our "values", whether you call them individual or not come from the processes described above.

Aaron--"Anyone can define morality any way they want, but the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and the factual nature of values, will remain constant, regardless of what word is used to describe them, and regardless of the refusal of one to accept their truths."

As per my previous comments, there is no "factual nature of values" outside of the evolutionary process. "Values" change along with evolutionary change. Maybe there are some persistant "values" that consistantly survive in the process of natural selection, but it is risky to say that they remain constant.


Frances--"That individuals own themselves, but don't own others. I have seen no hard evidence for this, only an assertion. I also question why this only applies to humans, and not the rest of animalia. If it does apply to the rest of animalia, then I question if owning a dog is in fact engaging in coercion against the dog."

Frances seems to be right here. Some ants, termites, and beetles farm other creatures for their benefit. Couldn't that be considered "ownership"?

"Ants, termites, and beetles were farmers long before people began to plow the Earth. Some 40 to 60 million years before people started to cultivate plants for food..."

"Noting that others had guessed that they ate the leaf bits, or roofed their nests with them, Belt then wrote, "I believe the real use they make of them is as a manure, on which grows a minute species of fungus, on which they feed;—that they are, in reality, mushroom growers and eaters." He was right, and his amazing insight has inspired scientists to explore this ancient agricultural system for more than a century."

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/ZooGoer/2004/4/antfarmers.cfm

" "The extreme myremecophilous [ant-loving] aphids have evolved to the status of little more than domestic cattle."
—E.O. Wilson, in Sociobiology (1975).

In addition to ant farmers, there are ant herders and nomadic pastoralists as well, with aphids playing the role that cattle and sheep do in human systems."

All that rather resembles "ownership".

"An extreme example cited in The Ants is that of the American corn-root aphid (Aphis maidiradicis) and an ant (Lasius neoniger). Colonies of this ant keep the aphids' eggs in their nests over the winter, and, when the eggs hatch into nymphs in the spring, carry them to the roots of the aphids' food plants. If the plants are uprooted, the ants retrieve the aphids and tote them to another food plant. The ants also repel potential predators and parasites from their aphid flocks and, similarly, the ants treat the aphid eggs as their own, by, for instance, carrying them to safety when the nest is disturbed. When the aphid nymphs turn into winged forms that disperse without the help of ants, they may be adopted by the ants that live in the aphids' new home."

Note that it says, "the ants treat the aphid eggs as their own".

There are more examples and explanations at the site.

bernarda said...

An addendum to my previous post. This also comes from the site I linked.

" "[Wheat] now covers more than 600 million acres of the surface of the planet. . . [People in the future] will classify us, perhaps, as puny parasites, victims of feeble self-delusion, whom wheat cleverly exploited to spread itself around the world. Or else they will see us in an almost symbiotic relationship with edible grasses, as mutual parasites, dependent on each other and colonizing the world together."
—Felipe Fern├índez-Armesto, in Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food (2002).

Only recently have scientists begun to wonder who has domesticated whom in human relationships with domestic animals and plants. Did people mold the ancestors of domestic cats, Felis sylvestris libyca, to suit their purposes, or did wild cats find tolerating people a small price to pay for the superabundant rats and mice that lived on human food and waste? This species certainly took advantage of people to move all over the globe and to achieve astonishing success: There are an estimated 70 million owned cats in the United States, a figure that doesn't include many million more feral cats. The relationships between people and domestic animals are likely far more complex than was once assumed."

Far more complex than once was assumed seems like a safe statement.

BlackSun said...

bernarda,

It's pretty much accepted that ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship and that ants control or "farm" the aphids. There is a clear hierarchy.

By your argument, we could take this to the absurd:

Humans are just shit's way of creating more shit. Not a logical postulate--any more than that humans are somehow subservient to domesticated animals. Neither shit nor domesticated animals have agency.

There are many examples of interdependence and symbiosis. I think it's important to distinguish hierarchical relationships between life forms. Bees pollinate flowers, but could probably exist without them. They could find other sources of food. Humans are agents for spreading plants and animals around the world. But humans could find substitutes for almost all plants or domesticated animals. The plants and animals, on the other hand, can be seen submitting to human will. Flowers utterly depend on insect pollination.

You bring up examples that question causality. But you haven't provided anything other than vague "what if" notions to support your claim. You haven't provided a mechanism for how wheat or animals are somehow 'controlling' humans.

What's your point?

bernarda said...

I didn't make a claim. I just gave some evidence to consider. Yes, it is "what if"? I was responding to someone who was quite certain of their arguments. I gave some possible counter-examples.

Sorry to say, but most of your post is not well argued. You make an analogy with "shit" which is not valid. Learn something about logic in debate.

Also, using charged words is not arguing the point, but an attempt to discredit the opponent.

What do you mean by "agency"? Do the ants farming the aphids have what you call agency? Those ants could not live if they didn't farm aphids. But I really have no idea about what you mean by "agency". Using vague undefined words is not a good debating tactic.

You apparently have not read the article I linked.

By your aggressive tone, I have the impression that I must have touched on some deeply held belief and may have caused some doubt in your mind that you don't want to consider. Maybe your should examine why you acted so passionately about my post.

bernarda said...

In contrast to the scientific article I linked, I found a good example of pseudo-science at a creationist site. A good example of sheer ignorance and stupidity.

"The ant's highly complex social structure, life cycle, strength, navigational abilities and the intelligence to 'farm' aphids, are all said to be the result of evolution. Such a claim defies logic and plain common sense.

When do evolutionists say that ants evolved? Britannica acknowledges that there is disagreement among entomologists as to when members of the order Hymenoptera first appeared on this planet. Some believe it was 225 million years ago (allegedly the same time as the first butterflies, moths and flies); others believe it was more like 150 million.

Britannica states that many fossil ants are known from the Early Tertiary Period (allegedly 60 million years ago), at which time 'males, females and workers were already clearly differentiated'. Some of these fossil ants—supposedly 60 million years old—have been assigned to 'living genera'.7 In other words, fossil ants look so much like ants today, they are classified in the same genus! What this really means is that fossil ants were ants—no evolution has taken place."

http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v24/i1/ants.asp

That writer really does defy plain logic and common sense.

BlackSun said...

Bernarda, first of all, a definition:

agency: 1 : the person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved

Since you are discussing hierarchy, and questioning commonly held beliefs about who is in control, then you should understand the concept of agency. To postulate that somehow domestic animals or wheat have agency with regard to humans is absurd. If you are going to make such absurd claims, then be prepared to back them up.

You missed my point with the shit example. It is clearly absurd. I'm saying that wheat for example has no more agency with humans than shit. If you are claiming otherwise, then the burden of proof is on you.

I did read your linked article. It's simply a description of evolutionary symbiosis and farming practices. It doesn't support any re-evalutation of hierarchies. Sure, a dominant symbiant might not be able to live without the partner--but that's simply because a dependency has been established that began as a mutually beneficial trading relationship.

Dependency is not neccesarily subservience. Without establishing agency, you can't claim anything about wheat or domestic animals.

Humans clearly farm both, not the other way around.

bernarda said...

Total nonsense. Your so-called definition doesn't mean anything, except maybe to a jesus freak. What you are saying is that something like god acts through a person. Give me a break.

Did you even consider the "through which"? What is that power? Where does it come from? How does it act?

I can almost believe that you know how to read.

The ants clearly farm, but you are unwilling even to discuss that. Sorry if I am brutal, but I find you either extremely dense or maybe dishonest.

BlackSun said...

Your so-called definition doesn't mean anything,

It's from the dictionary, moron. Or are we questioning the dictionary now? This is a case in point of meaningless debate by someone who can't even define their terms.

The ants clearly farm, but you are unwilling even to discuss that.

I never said anything of the sort. Of course they farm.

Sorry if I am brutal

No you're not, you're weak and don't have an argument. You still haven't made any point.

bernarda said...

Dictionary or not. Your definition doesn't mean anything. Do you even think about what you write before you post?

Of course you never spoke of the ants before.

Go back to Sunday school. What you are saying can only be learned there.

What is the "person or thing" or the "power" you are talking about?

Are you totally incapable of independant thought?

BlackSun said...

Bernarda--

Do you have a point to make about Nihilism and evolutionary hierarchy, or are we going to go back and forth about semantics?

TheJollyNihilist said...

I find it tough to believe that anyone would spend time arguing the meaning of "good" and "bad." Obviously, they have two different meanings when applied subjectively or objectively. To use your argument about food: eating protein can be said to be objectively "good" for survival--provided it's in the right amounts and proportions to other foods. This is an objective fact.

Yes. I will agree with that. Eating protein is objectively good for survival. However, that does NOT mean eating protein is objectively good. For, to make that leap, one would have to demonstrate, with hard evidence, that survival is "good." The argument of the nihilist is that survival is neither good nor bad, intrinsically speaking. It's a matter of each individual's opinion.

Subjective "good" and "bad" varies from individual to individual. It has to do with things supporting or hindering an individuals desires or wish-fulfillment. Let's not get started over whether someone fulfilling their desires is "good" or not. That's why they're called desires. People want something, and fulfilling their wants is what people do.

I vehemently disagree. What if my desire was to kidnap somebody off the street, bring them to my basement, and turn them into various pieces of furniture? Would it be "good" for me to fulfill that desire? Was it "good" for Jeffrey Dahmer to fulfill his desires? Hey, let's not even get that extreme. I desire to stop going to work. I'd much rather stay home all day, reading and watching movies. Does the fact that I still go to work every weekday mean I am acting in an immoral way? People have myriad desires, some of which they pursue and some of which they don't.

And, I still have seen no convincing evidence that "morality" has any relationship to the way in which an individual's behaviors affect that individual. Why doesn't morality have to do with how an individual's behaviors affect society? Why doesn't morality have to do with how an individual's behaviors affect the environment? You are presupposing a relationship between the concept of morality and the concept of individual preference fulfillment.

FTM, The same can be said for nihilism: You may feel that the tenets of nihilism make sense, and they may make you feel good, but that doesn't mean that applying them will bring you objective success, or can be supported empirically.

I don't recognize the existence of objective success. "Success" is an opinion word. Nothing is intrinsically preferable to anything; that being the case, success is defined on a person by person basis.

Nihilism is a state of mind, a point of view, and inherently subjective. It's a feel-good philosophy for the non-committal. It's a "fuck you" to hierarchical systems. But you cannot say that nothing matters, or that nothing is better than anything else. It doesn't hold up empirically for life forms. Our value system is based primarily on the survival instinct. So this sets our priorities and agenda. (Excepting the suicidal), if an entity does not prefer survival to non-survival, we are not talking about a living system.

What is this "our value system" of which you speak? I don't think it exists. If you mean "our value system" to be synonymous with morality, then it's really just an individual-by-individual value system. And, I've seen no hard evidence that morality and survival instinct are related.

I'm honestly not sure what you mean when you say, "If an entity does not prefer survival to non-survival, we are not talking about a living system." Preferring non-survival to survival is perfectly legitimate. It's just a matter of an individual's subjective preferences: preferring chocolate to vanilla, preferring comedies to dramas, preferring blondes to brunettes, preferring non-survival to survival. Will such an entity probably end up dying rather quickly? Yes, of course. So what? The survival instinct isn't universally present, and even if it was, the onus would still be on you to demonstrate a relationship of some type between morality and instinct.

I have no burden of proof in this case because I'm an agnostic about the whole thing. I don't know what the fuck "morality" means objectively; I can only speak of my definition, which is my opinion.

Self-ownership: If I can will my hand or other part of my body to move, and no one else can, I can prove to control myself. Ownership as defined in the law is the "right to possess and control." If someone else owns me as a slave, they have the right to control me. It is the essence of ownership.

What I find interesting is that my computer ownership analogy is much closer to other-ownership than self-ownership. Indeed, for my computer to do what I want it to do, I must use physical force on it. And, there are some things I want the computer to do that it never will do. This seems perfectly analogous to one person owning another: the necessity of physical force, and the fact that total control isn't possible. But I think the death-blow to the notion of objective self-ownership is the fact that it's prejudicially applied. Does the rose own the rose? Does the horse own the horse? If not, why does the human own the human?

The fact that all these notions (morality, "should" and "ought to," and self-ownership) are only applied to humans is what makes me feel as though they are all invented. Nobody says "That goldfish should have done that!" Nobody says, "What that monkey did was immoral!" Nobody says, "Don't trap that frog! You're violating its self-ownership!" If none of these notions apply to the rest of animalia, why should they apply to this species? And, if all these things did spontaneously pop into existence, when did they do so?

Did morality and self-ownership apply to Homo habilis? Did they apply to austrapithecus afarensis? Did they apply to Neandertals? And, once you draw the line in a particular spot, demonstrate (with evidence) why the line belongs there.

As I've said before, there's ONE Tree of Life. Just one. That being the case, it makes sense to me that every species is more or less the same (not physically, but philosophically). On that basis, I deny the specialness of humans. When one says humans are basically the same as hedgehogs, it's very easy to embrace nihilism.

Seth said...

"Unfortunately the observable facts may not support Aaron's position. How for example can large flocks of birds or large schools of fish react and change direction more or less simulataneously?"

Because individuals, following some simple rules, make individual decisions that happen to move the flock or school in one direction, based on sense data. The math behind this is well understood and does not involve a collective mind, but rather emergent phenomena of local (individual) decisions. Facts support Aaron.

Absolute proof of my self ownership, of course, can be summed up thusly: "What number am I thinking of?"

bernarda said...

I would say there is some confusion about what is meant by nihilism. If it means that there are no objective moral values and that systems of authority and social customs are not moral, which seems to be Frances's view, I agree with him. But if you take it in another sense, the nietzschean sense, I think Frances is wrong to describe himself as a nihilist.

For Nietzsche, nihilism was the rejection of the real world by those who postulated an ideal world, usually in another life. For him, christianity was the epitomy of nihilism. What is more nihilistic than the supposed sacrifice of Jesus or the apocalypse in Revelations? Frances certainly doesn't identify with christianity.

Nietzsche saw nihilism as the will to nothingness and opposed that with the idea that each one had to create their own purpose, and that that purpose could only be in enjoying this world. He called this the revaluation of morals. Some examples of the damage done by christianity are the transformations of basic concepts: powerlessness became "goodness", baseness "humility", submission to people one hates 'obedience', "not-being-able-to-take-revenge" becomes "forgiveness".

Nietzche also saw nihilism in his time as inherent in European culture to the extent that it was based on the judeo-christian morality, and that since this culture was then bankrupt, general destruction or maybe de-structurization was inevitable.

There is far too much to say about this topic and books have been written about it.

Another aspect of recent posts has been the discussion of "value fulfillment". That is basically the utilitarian argument, notably by John Stuart Mill, who wrote, "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the abscence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure."

Nietzsche considered that to be a very limited view. Creating your own purpose required more than that.

For a very readable overview of some main philosophical concepts, try "The Consolations of Philosophy" by Alain de Botton.

bernarda said...

Trying to make some sense of blacksun's mystical "agency", I only found something that seems somewhat related called "human agency".

An article in Wikipedia differentiates it from "free will". "Human agency entails the uncontroversial, lower claim that humans do in fact make decisions and enact them on the world. How humans come to make decisions, by free choice or other processes, is not at issue."
...

"In certain philosophical traditions (particularly those established by Hegel and Marx), human agency is a collective, historical dynamic, more than a function arising out of individual behavior."

A rather more serious analysis of "agency" than blacksun's vague assertions can be found at the following site In Defense of Human Agency. The writer accepts agency, but presents the arguments against it too.

Please don't say I am making claims about something. I am investigating something I don't entirely understand and presenting possibilities. I am not a true believer like blacksun. For the moment, I am an agnostic on the subject.

http://www.kenanmalik.com/papers/engelsberg_nature.html

"Animals are objects of natural forces, not potential subjects of their own destiny. They act out a drama, not create it.

Humans, however, are not disenchanted creatures. We possess - or believe we possess - purpose and agency, self-consciousness and will, qualities that science has expunged from the rest of nature. Uniquely among organisms, human beings are both objects of nature and subjects that can, to some extent at least, shape our own fate."

...

"Some scientists and philosophers argue that conscious and teleology are illusions, phenomena that natural selection has designed us to believe in, not because it is true, but because it is useful. As the neuroscientist Colin Blakemore has put it, when 'we feel ourselves to be in control of an action, that feeling itself is the product of our brain, whose machinery has been designed, on the basis of its functional utility, by means of natural selection'."

...

"A variation on this argument is provided by the psychologist Susan Blackmore who adopts Richard Dawkins' notion of a meme, a unit of culture that inhabits, or rather parasitises, our brains. Blackmore suggests that 'Instead of thinking of our ideas as our own creations, and working for us, we have to think of them as autonomous selfish memes, working only to get themselves copied.' Since 'we cannot find either beliefs or the self that believes' by looking into somebody's head, she argues, so we must conclude that there are no such things as beliefs or selves, 'only a person arguing, a brain processing the information, memes being copied or not'."

As the title indicates, the writer goes on to oppose these arguments. But as you can see, there are respectable people honestly holding different points of view on the subject.

TheJollyNihilist said...

I would say there is some confusion about what is meant by nihilism. If it means that there are no objective moral values and that systems of authority and social customs are not moral, which seems to be Frances's view, I agree with him. But if you take it in another sense, the nietzschean sense, I think Frances is wrong to describe himself as a nihilist.

I will clarify, and perhaps I am indeed taking some liberties with the term. For me, nihilism means two main things: 1. Nothing, intrinsically speaking, is preferable to anything else. 2. Nothing is self-evident; every single thing requires hard evidence, or else is doubtful. Finally, nihilism is also connected to my view that humans aren't "special" among the rest of animalia. I establish equivalency arguments between, say, humans and goldfish. If goldfish aren't "supposed to" do things, then neither are humans. If self-ownership doesn't apply to hedgehogs, then it doesn't apply to humans. If we cannot discuss morality with respect to Fido the dog, we can't discuss morality with respect to Joe the human. That's nihilism to me. And yes, it's very different from the Nietzschean sense.

For Nietzsche, nihilism was the rejection of the real world by those who postulated an ideal world, usually in another life. For him, christianity was the epitomy of nihilism. What is more nihilistic than the supposed sacrifice of Jesus or the apocalypse in Revelations? Frances certainly doesn't identify with christianity.

Nietzsche saw nihilism as the will to nothingness and opposed that with the idea that each one had to create their own purpose, and that that purpose could only be in enjoying this world. He called this the revaluation of morals. Some examples of the damage done by christianity are the transformations of basic concepts: powerlessness became "goodness", baseness "humility", submission to people one hates 'obedience', "not-being-able-to-take-revenge" becomes "forgiveness".


Well, my definition of nihilism certainly doesn't match up with that. As I said, I take nihilism to mean that nothing, intrinsically speaking, is preferable to anything else. What's better, power or powerlessness? Purely a matter of opinion. What's better, freedom or enslavement? Purely a matter of opinion. What's better, eating to fullness or starving to death? Purely a matter of opinion. Nihilists will gladly admit that individuals have myriad preferences, but the nihilist would also say that one isn't "supposed to" fulfill one's preferences. One can fulfill them, or be apathetic to them. Again, nobody is "supposed to" do anything, anymore than the goldfish is "supposed to" swim one way or the other.

Another aspect of recent posts has been the discussion of "value fulfillment". That is basically the utilitarian argument, notably by John Stuart Mill, who wrote, "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the abscence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure."

That's one way of looking at morality, though it's far from the only way. Who's to say "right" is connected with happiness while "wrong" is connected with unhappiness? The nihilist might ask how this applies to somebody who prefers to be unhappy. In that case, would "right" be associated with unhappiness and "wrong" associated with happiness? And happiness and unhappiness in the context of whom? The individual who is acting? The individual's peers in society? Certainly one could interpret it to mean the latter, since utilitarian philosophy is connected to the notion of "The greatest good for the greatest number," which is the antithesis of individualism. Once again, morality proves itself to be an incoherent word except when defined on a person-by-person basis.

Nietzsche considered that to be a very limited view. Creating your own purpose required more than that.

Purpose is also problematic. One can create a purpose for oneself, or not. Neither is preferable to the other. Then, if one makes a purpose for oneself, the person can either pursue it or ignore it. Neither is preferable to the other. One more time: Nobody is supposed to do anything. As an example of this, say I want an ice cream cone. I can either go and get it, or not go. There is no "supposed to" to be found. The key word of nihilism is, "Whatever."

TheJollyNihilist said...

"Animals are objects of natural forces, not potential subjects of their own destiny. They act out a drama, not create it.

Humans, however, are not disenchanted creatures. We possess - or believe we possess - purpose and agency, self-consciousness and will, qualities that science has expunged from the rest of nature. Uniquely among organisms, human beings are both objects of nature and subjects that can, to some extent at least, shape our own fate."


I am immediately suspicious of this for one main reason: The author is making a false distinction between humans and animals. Humans are animals. Our species is Homo sapiens sapiens. Therefore, saying, "For animals this is true but for humans this is true" is analogous to saying "For animals this is true but for dogs this is true." We are, quite simply, a complex animal that has a brain big enough to create the illusion of an "I" inside.

"Some scientists and philosophers argue that conscious and teleology are illusions, phenomena that natural selection has designed us to believe in, not because it is true, but because it is useful. As the neuroscientist Colin Blakemore has put it, when 'we feel ourselves to be in control of an action, that feeling itself is the product of our brain, whose machinery has been designed, on the basis of its functional utility, by means of natural selection'."

My point, exactly. There is no "I." It is purely an illusion created by my large brain.

"A variation on this argument is provided by the psychologist Susan Blackmore who adopts Richard Dawkins' notion of a meme, a unit of culture that inhabits, or rather parasitises, our brains. Blackmore suggests that 'Instead of thinking of our ideas as our own creations, and working for us, we have to think of them as autonomous selfish memes, working only to get themselves copied.' Since 'we cannot find either beliefs or the self that believes' by looking into somebody's head, she argues, so we must conclude that there are no such things as beliefs or selves, 'only a person arguing, a brain processing the information, memes being copied or not'."

I sympathize with this view, being a physicalist. All the features that we use to declare ourselves more important than other animals, particularly the notion of an "I" inside, are purely illusory. Why can't you find a "self" inside my body? Because there is no "self." One of the things a big brain is best at is fabricating justifications for speciocentricity.

Seth said...

I think I have the essense of the problem. Frances will not accept any possible definition of the word preferable, because all definitions of preferable are, in fact, preferences. So it doesn't matter what you believe, do, yadda yadda yadda.

Of course, Frances doesn't act like this is true at all. He has a set of preferences and he behaves according to them. He will not exchange them arbitrarily, for example, he will not wear the same pare of pink thong panties outside of his pants at all times for the next month because I suggest he do so. Well, why the heck not? How can your prefer not to? On what do you base that? Where does your opinion come from?

Frances, you have also misunderstood what "whatever" means. "Whatever" means "I do not care to argue this point right now, but if I did, I would win." It is an expression of a preference for slack over inevitable victory.

TheJollyNihilist said...

I accept the fact that everybody has myriad preferences. I can speak for myself as a direct example; I have many, many preferences. All I'm saying is that one isn't "supposed to" fulfill one's preferences. One can fulfill them, or ignore them. I fulfill some of my preferences (wearing glasses in order to see more clearly) and ignore some of my preferences (I go to work every weekday rather than doing what I would prefer - stay home). All I'm arguing is that one isn't "supposed to" do anything, including fulfill one's preferences.

Seth said...

Two things: first, you follow your preferences whenever you act. You prefer going to work to staying at home, otherwise, you would stay at home.

Perhaps you anticipate consequences and you are going to work to avoid them... doesn't matter. Thats a preference too, and you are definitely acting to fulfil it.

Second, no one is saying "supposed to" except for you. I am saying that actions have consequences. These consequences fall into natural categories, some of which, like life/death for one organism, are mutualy exclusive. Dividing these consequences, we arbitrarily label one discrete set as "good" and the other as "bad", and arbitrarily define "moral" as leading to good consequences.

We notice that life generally strives to survive, so we label the set that includes survival as good.

Your argument, as far as I can tell, is that we just can't define moral, good, and bad that way. Well, why the hell not? You agree that these categories exist, that the actions have the consequences, and that the sets are discrete. What possible grounds could you have for arguing that we can't describe these real things using these words?

Aaron Kinney said...

Because individuals, following some simple rules, make individual decisions that happen to move the flock or school in one direction, based on sense data. The math behind this is well understood and does not involve a collective mind, but rather emergent phenomena of local (individual) decisions. Facts support Aaron.

Absolute proof of my self ownership, of course, can be summed up thusly: "What number am I thinking of?"


THANK YOU SETH! :)

Seth said...

You are definitely welcome.

I'm listening to some chunk of the latest vox populi right now, where Frances is talking about being a nihilist... and yet, simply by talking on Vox, he is denying his nihilism. Wild.

TheJollyNihilist said...

OK...here's a question about self-ownership, then...

Does it only apply to humans, or does it apply to the whole of animalia? Does it apply to plants? What about inanimate objects?

If it only applies to humans, why is that the case? Did it apply to our ancestors, such as australapithecus afarensis? What about homo neanderthalensis?

If the notion is precise and scientific, you should be able to pinpoint the moment at which it took effect.

Seth said...

First, it isn't true that if a notion is scientific, I can "pinpoint the moment it took effect." When did life arise from non-life? Just because you can't answer that doesn't mean that living things have different properties from non-living things, or that the concept of life is not scientific.

Second, I could argue that self-ownership can only be observed to apply to humans. I am a human, it applies to me, you are a human, so based on our shared humanity, I assume it belongs to you. I can't make the same statement about a dog.

However, this doesn't mean that amoeba don't own themselves, because I can apply the fact that this is a living creature with data about their internal state that I cannot access. Therefore, they own themselves.

So if I assume that the world exists, and that living creatures are not qualitatively equivalent to rocks, than I might conclude that all living things own themselves.

This doesn't mean that the relationships between living things are all the same, of course, any more than carbon is chemically identical to helium.

TheJollyNihilist said...

First, it isn't true that if a notion is scientific, I can "pinpoint the moment it took effect." When did life arise from non-life? Just because you can't answer that doesn't mean that living things have different properties from non-living things, or that the concept of life is not scientific.

The concept of life is scientific because you can pinpoint the distinctions between living things and inanimate things. I am asking you to pinpoint the distinctions between entities that have self-ownership and entities that don't have self-ownership. That's all. I think you are applying the concept arbitrarily.

Second, I could argue that self-ownership can only be observed to apply to humans. I am a human, it applies to me, you are a human, so based on our shared humanity, I assume it belongs to you. I can't make the same statement about a dog.

Right, but I'm not willing to grant that it applies to you.

However, this doesn't mean that amoeba don't own themselves, because I can apply the fact that this is a living creature with data about their internal state that I cannot access. Therefore, they own themselves.

If non-human animals have self-ownership, is having a pet equally as immoral as having a slave?

Let's go back a bit, since I didn't reply to some of your comments...

Absolute proof of my self ownership, of course, can be summed up thusly: "What number am I thinking of?"

Disagree. You are presuming a relationship between the concept of ownership and knowledge of unspoken thoughts. With a chart, employing scientific data, demonstrate such a relationship exists.

Two things: first, you follow your preferences whenever you act. You prefer going to work to staying at home, otherwise, you would stay at home.

Perhaps you anticipate consequences and you are going to work to avoid them... doesn't matter. Thats a preference too, and you are definitely acting to fulfil it.


Disagree. I follow some of my preferences, and ignore some of my preferences. I prefer to stay home, rather than go to work. But, I also prefer to earn money at a job than be unemployed. Those are two conflicting preferences. I ignore the former, and follow the latter. Even though I go to work every day, I still would prefer to stay home. Therefore, not all preferences are followed.

I am saying that actions have consequences. These consequences fall into natural categories, some of which, like life/death for one organism, are mutualy exclusive. Dividing these consequences, we arbitrarily label one discrete set as "good" and the other as "bad", and arbitrarily define "moral" as leading to good consequences.

I agree with some of that. My main argument is that death, for example, could be defined as either "good" or "bad." It's abitrary, and decided on a person-by-person basis. Moreover, nobody has yet proven to me that morality deals with consequences for individuals. Morality could just as easily have to do with how individuals' behaviors affect society at large, or the environment. You are presuming that morality has some relationship to the effect of behaviors on individuals.

We notice that life generally strives to survive, so we label the set that includes survival as good.

No. WE don't do anything. All these arbitrary decisions are made on a person-by-person basis. There is no "we" in morality. It's a person-by-person thing...a term only coherent in the context of "to me."

Seth said...

"Even though I go to work every day, I still would prefer to stay home. Therefore, not all preferences are followed."

Frances, if you have two courses of action or desires and you pick one, you prefer the chosen action. I think you may be confusing the word "preference" with "desire".

And I'm stopping on that point. I will not discuss any other issue until we resolve this point, one way or the other.

TheJollyNihilist said...

Frances, if you have two courses of action or desires and you pick one, you prefer the chosen action. I think you may be confusing the word "preference" with "desire".

And I'm stopping on that point. I will not discuss any other issue until we resolve this point, one way or the other.


This might well be irreconcilable. I PREFER to stay home, rather than go to work. I PREFER to earn money from a job, rather than be poor. Those are conflicting preferences. Therefore, I follow one preference, and ignore the other preference. Hence, some preferences are followed, and some preferences aren't.

Another example: When I play the lottery, I prefer to win. Sometimes (most times), I don't win. Therefore, my preference to win the lottery isn't fulfilled.

Some preferences are fulfilled, and some preferences aren't.

Seth said...

Then we need a new word, because we can't use "preference" if we don't share a meaning of the word. You use preference interchangeably with fantasy and desire, and I don't.

I'm going to define a term: "preferred choice"

1. an entitiy has a range of options.
2. the entity takes a choice.
3. this is the choice the entity prefers, or, the "preferred choice."

You have two choices. You can go to work. You can stay at home. For whatever reason, your preferred choice is to go to work.

Another way to look at it is as the dominating preference, that is, given a hierarchy of preferences where some dominate others, the one that dominates in a particular situation.

In the sense I'm using the term here, winning the lottery can not be preferred and cannot dominate, because it is not an option. Playing the lottery can be preferred over spending money in some other way, however.

Bear in mind, everywhere I've used the word preference in this discussion so far, I have actually meant preferred choice or dominating preference. I have never used the word in the sense you mean it.

So, your dominating preference is to go to work. All living creatures (statistically speaking) have a dominating preference for life.

Okay, on to self ownership! You request a chart and scientific data. I'm assuming that you are joking, because I don't think you are actually that petty and stupid.

But in case you actually don't see the relationship between knowledge of self and ownership of self, I will explain:

When I say "own" I mean to "have possession of." When I say "self" I refer to an emergent phenomena that occurs (apparently) inside the skull of the physical being commonly thought of as me, I.E., "self" is inseperable from information content... it is a property of interacting memes. It is clear to me that there is no way that another being can possess this phenomena.

To use a metaphor: if I steal a read only thumb drive with unbreakably encrypted contents, there is no meaningful sense in which I own the information on the drive. I simply do not have possession of the information, because I can't acess it, I have no knowledge of the contents. I have no means to confirm that it is there. I can't even destroy it without destroying the medium itself. I can't sell the information and I can't alter it. Most importantly, there is no difference between having this thumb drive and having any other thumb drive with any other information.

What if this information has an intelligent agent program on it, that alters and updates the contents of the drive every time it is connected to a power source. I don't own the agent either, I can't confirm it is there or control its behavior, I have no idea what it does with the information on the rest of the drive and I can't control that. Posession of the container does not confer possession of the agent program.

"I" am defined as information, my "self" is an emergent phenomena of my thoughts. You cannot possess this thing, this self, because you have no acess to it, no means to confirm its contents, no way to confirm its existence. I have possession of the information and you don't.

Or, more succinctly, "What number am I thinking of?"

I suspect that you are probably going to argue about this. I request that you define "self" and "own" before you do so, because I don't want to spend another three days figuring out that when you say "own" you mean "be in the vicinity of" or something like that.

TheJollyNihilist said...

Then we need a new word, because we can't use "preference" if we don't share a meaning of the word. You use preference interchangeably with fantasy and desire, and I don't.

I'm going to define a term: "preferred choice"

1. an entitiy has a range of options.
2. the entity takes a choice.
3. this is the choice the entity prefers, or, the "preferred choice."

You have two choices. You can go to work. You can stay at home. For whatever reason, your preferred choice is to go to work.

Another way to look at it is as the dominating preference, that is, given a hierarchy of preferences where some dominate others, the one that dominates in a particular situation.

In the sense I'm using the term here, winning the lottery can not be preferred and cannot dominate, because it is not an option. Playing the lottery can be preferred over spending money in some other way, however.

Bear in mind, everywhere I've used the word preference in this discussion so far, I have actually meant preferred choice or dominating preference. I have never used the word in the sense you mean it.

So, your dominating preference is to go to work.


So now, correct me if I'm wrong here: Every action, by definition, is moral. Why? Because moral actions are those done in accordance with one's preferences. And, as you just said, every action we take is the execution of a preference. Therefore, every action is done in accordance with one's preferences, and thus every action is moral. Right?

All living creatures (statistically speaking) have a dominating preference for life.

That's untrue. On any given day, people commit suicide. Therefore, on any given day, some living things prefer death. Therefore, you cannot say all living things have a preference for life. Some prefer life, and some prefer death.

Okay, on to self ownership! You request a chart and scientific data. I'm assuming that you are joking, because I don't think you are actually that petty and stupid.

But in case you actually don't see the relationship between knowledge of self and ownership of self, I will explain:

When I say "own" I mean to "have possession of." When I say "self" I refer to an emergent phenomena that occurs (apparently) inside the skull of the physical being commonly thought of as me, I.E., "self" is inseperable from information content... it is a property of interacting memes. It is clear to me that there is no way that another being can possess this phenomena.

To use a metaphor: if I steal a read only thumb drive with unbreakably encrypted contents, there is no meaningful sense in which I own the information on the drive. I simply do not have possession of the information, because I can't acess it, I have no knowledge of the contents. I have no means to confirm that it is there. I can't even destroy it without destroying the medium itself. I can't sell the information and I can't alter it. Most importantly, there is no difference between having this thumb drive and having any other thumb drive with any other information.

What if this information has an intelligent agent program on it, that alters and updates the contents of the drive every time it is connected to a power source. I don't own the agent either, I can't confirm it is there or control its behavior, I have no idea what it does with the information on the rest of the drive and I can't control that. Posession of the container does not confer possession of the agent program.

"I" am defined as information, my "self" is an emergent phenomena of my thoughts. You cannot possess this thing, this self, because you have no acess to it, no means to confirm its contents, no way to confirm its existence. I have possession of the information and you don't.

Or, more succinctly, "What number am I thinking of?"

I suspect that you are probably going to argue about this. I request that you define "self" and "own" before you do so, because I don't want to spend another three days figuring out that when you say "own" you mean "be in the vicinity of" or something like that.


"Self" can be defined myriad ways. "Own" can also be defined myriad ways.

I define "self" as my physical being. My hand is part of my "self." My thoughts are part of it. My toes are part of it. The entirety of all my parts and physical phenomena is my "self."

I define "own" as having legitimate possession of (having complete understanding of or unfettered access to isn't necessary).

The reason I reject the factuality of self-ownership is because the words of which the term of comprised can be interpreted differently. Somebody could define "own" as "Having general physical control over." In that case, the person could take another individual prisoner and, according to that definition, own the prisoner. Another person could define "own" as "Having government-legitimized paperwork indicating possession of." In that case, if a country had legalized slavery, the master could claim legitimate ownership of the slave.

You have a definition of self, as do I. You have a definition of own, as do I. But, the nihilist in me says that there is no "correct" definition. Incorporating a sales receipt as a necessary part of ownership is equally as legitimate (or illegitimate) as any other standard. This is what nihilists mean when they say objective truth cannot be found (at least with respect to philosophical matters, such as ownership).

Seth said...

Oh... you should have said that you refuse to define terms. I wouldn't have bothered talking to you in the first place. I don't engage in transactions with fundamentally immoral people.

Or, in a word: "Whatever."

Seth said...

I said: "All living creatures (statistically speaking) have a dominating preference for life."

Frances said: "That's untrue. On any given day, people commit suicide. Therefore, on any given day, some living things prefer death."

Or, to translate... that's not true, some living creatures are dead!

Wow... I mean, just... wow.

TheJollyNihilist said...

I don't engage in transactions with fundamentally immoral people.

"Immoral" by the arbitrary definition of whom?

Or, to translate... that's not true, some living creatures are dead!

Proper translation: Some living creatures kill themselves. If they preferred survival to death, they wouldn't do that.

BTW, I have been very upfront in my nihilism. I already said I don't believe objective truth can be found, philosophically speaking.

Seth said...

In case anyone else is reading this exchange, and is wondering why I refuse to debate Frances under these conditions: Frances has just said that in order for "self-ownership" to be a valid principle, I must be able to show that Fred Flintstone is the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Why? Because someone might define "self" as "Fred Flintstone" and "own" as "be the son of the FSM" and there are no grounds to prefer any definition over any other.

This is clearly bullshit. So why play in it?

Seth said...

"Proper translation: Some living creatures kill themselves. If they preferred survival to death, they wouldn't do that."

Thus, making them dead creatures, of course. I can't believe you keep walking into this.

TheJollyNihilist said...

Thus, making them dead creatures, of course. I can't believe you keep walking into this.

Not all living creatures prefer survival. Creatures don't prefer death and then suddenly die. They might have to set up the mechanism of death, for example a noose and a chair. From the moment death is decided upon to the moment death occurs, that living creature prefers death. Since that's the case, you cannot say all living creatures prefer survival.

Seth said...

"From the moment death is decided upon to the moment death occurs, that living creature prefers death..."

...and stops being a living creature! Its like talking to a wall.

What's the most amusing about this is how HARD frances is debating this point, almost as if he thinks that "statistically, all living creatures prefer survival" is a phrase that has some kind of meaning that can be preferred over some other meaning, or can be seen as objectively true!

TheJollyNihilist said...

I never said there is NO objective truth in ANYTHING. The fact that I live in New York is objectively true. The fact that I work for a magazine is objectively true. The fact that I have 10 fingers is objectively true. That fact that George Bush is president is objectively true. I just don't see objective truth in intangible notions like ownership, morality or spirituality. Those terms are amorphous, gooey and entirely malleable.

...and stops being a living creature!

That's right. Who's debating that? All I'm saying is, at any given moment, some living creatures prefer death. I never alleged that those creatures continue living afterward. I'm satisfied with the fact that, at any given moment, some living things prefer to die.

Seth said...

"That fact that George Bush is president is objectively true."

President of what? Isn't objective a gooey term? What does it mean? Prove to me that George Bush even exists, and then we'll talk about his "presidency," whatever that is supposed to refer to.

Besides, preference is a pretty gooey term, we've established that. So how can you make these absolute statements about it? What is amorphous... that term doesn't sound very objective to me, and neither does gooey, for that matter.

Of course, these terms don't mean anything... if a person determines to die, are they already dead? Depends on how I define death, doesn't it?

Being a nihilist is fun! I can't be wrong about anything!


Anyway, statistically speaking, no living creatures prefer death... even when someone committs suicide, only about .0001% of the creatures involved chose death.

And I might go so far as to say, no living creatures AT ALL prefer death, I can tell this, because it takes enourmous effort for a memeplex to kill off a biological entity it is installed in.

Seth said...

The larger point, for anyone who is still reading this increasingly dull exchange, is that there is no way that a nihilist can draw a line and say "This is a term with an objective meaning, this is a term without."

I'm a skeptic, so I accept a basic number of ground rules, such as "the universe exists." and "observation transfers information from the universe to the observer." According to my ground rules, there is a phenomena that I label "self".

Frances' entire argument is based on the ridiculous premise that I cannot use the word "self" to refer to this real thing because other people may use the word differently. To which I say, so frickin' what? Add a number in your internal dictionary entry: "X) n. In meme theory, an emergent phenomena that is produced by the interaction of memes in a human brain. See also "selfplex."

Gravity has several meanings too, but that doesn't mean we can't use the word gravity when we want to talk about the attractive force between masses in the universe. And in fact, that is the "right" meaning of gravity in that context.

TheJollyNihilist said...

President of what? Isn't objective a gooey term? What does it mean? Prove to me that George Bush even exists, and then we'll talk about his "presidency," whatever that is supposed to refer to.

I don't consider this to be valid. Not all words are "gooey," as I like to call them. President of the United States is a very hard, specific term. There's no way to legitimately debate what the term itself means. However, if you ask 10 million people what "ownership" entails, you are probably going to get a number of varying answers. All I'm saying is that none of those answers, intrinsically speaking, is preferable to any other. You have a definition of ownership that you've already laid out. Somebody else has a definition of ownership that absolutely requires the presence of a sales receipt. Why should I accept your assertion that your definition is better?

Ownership is gooey; president of the United States is not.

Anyway, statistically speaking, no living creatures prefer death... even when someone committs suicide, only about .0001% of the creatures involved chose death.

You cannot use "statistically speaking" and "no living creatures" together in this way. Certainly, SOME living creatures prefer death. According to official statistics, about a million people commit suicide annually, more than those murdered or killed in war. As for 2001 in the USA, suicides outnumber homicides by 3 to 2 and deaths from AIDS by 2 to 1. However, it is probable that the incidence of suicide is under-reported due to both religious and social pressures.

Since that's the case, the best you can do is say "Few living creatures prefer death." And I'm OK with that, since my point is still proved valid.

Frances' entire argument is based on the ridiculous premise that I cannot use the word "self" to refer to this real thing because other people may use the word differently.

That's not my argument. I wonder if you're still reading this increasingly dull exchange. All I'm saying is that your definition isn't the "correct" one, to the exclusion of the others. That's it. Someone could legitimately define the word "self" differently. It's a simple assertion, proved by the fact that other people do, indeed, define the word "self" differently.

Seth said...

"There's no way to legitimately debate what the term itself means."

So you say. But I disagree, and I'm just as right as you are.

Seth said...

ME:"Frances' entire argument is based on the ridiculous premise that I cannot use the word "self" to refer to this real thing because other people may use the word differently."

FRANCES:"All I'm saying is that your definition isn't the "correct" one, to the exclusion of the others. That's it. Someone could legitimately define the word "self" differently."

Who besides me notices that the semantic content of these two paragraphs is identical? Raise your hands.

Seth said...

Just to recap: Self ownership IS an observable, testable, real phenomena. It can be observed to apply to all living things, and it is adequately demonstrated and proven by the phrase "What number am I thinking of?"

Frances apparently argues that this real, testable, observable phenomena does not exist becuase someone else might use the words to describe some other thing, which is about as ridiculous an argument as I have ever heard.

bernarda said...

What is relativism? Oh, you know, That is relative.

Seth said...

Not to slam too many comments in a row, but I have to start a new semester tonight so I'm going to have to drop out of this discussion, and all discussions, for abou three weeks.

Final words: there are actually several positions in evidence. Aaron does not subscribe (I don't think) to my absolutist position of biologically derived morality. This position is explained on my blog for anyone who is interested.

However, the point that we both are making, I think, is that "objective" simply means that we have some objective foundation on which a moral system is built, and that subjective morality is a moral system that lacks such a foundation.