Shafer-Landaus Argument Analysis
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Mindscape 107 - Russ Shafer-Landau on the Reality of Morality
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I can't even imagine what it means. Whereas the down-to-earth sort of rightness, judged by the standards of an individual or a group or a society, makes perfectly good sense. And the human need that word again to establish such standards is such that they're not just arbitrary or idiosynscratic. They actually can help social creatures like us live together effectively, for example. Steve Zara I thought about that myself a while back.
Being that specific moral sets seemingly can differ on virtually any point, isn't it possible for this hypothetical transcendent morality to coincide with what no worldly moral set would consider good? How would things pan out in a universe in which the transcendent morality was both known and in opposition to all moral sets held by any actual being? Sure, anon. We have motivations such as that. But that wouldn't demonstrate objective wrongness in not calling out. It would only demonstrate that there is, depending on the facts, a good reason to call out based on our purposes such as you mention. Shafer-Landau wants to say that we have a reason that transcends all that.
I can't see why we should think so, at this stage of the discussion, where nothing like the existence of objective rightness and so on has yet been established, to think tht there are any such transcendent reasons. So he fails to convince me. But I agree that in practice that there will be overlapping non-transcendent reasons. They don't rationally bind the demon, which has no sympathies, doesn't have to live in society with us, is too powerful for us to be able to punish it, and so on. But the point is that human beings are not actually like powerful, pitiless, self-reliant demons.
Given what we actually are like, we have perfectly good, non-transcendent reasons to call out. Those reasons include facts about what we desire, value, need for our purposes, and so on, and in that sense but not some more worrying sense are subjective. You say you can't imagine what sort of "a reason" S-L is alluding to. But I think he's just alluding to familiar reasons like just as an example "this is a person whose life has special value. Maybe he's actually vile and disgusting--covered in festering sores or something. I feel absolutely nothing. Yet I do have "a reason" to stop him from falling--he's a person with special value. Saying that's "a reason" isn't saying it's decisive or could trump all competing reasons. Maybe I'm in a huge hurry, because my child just got bitten by a snake.
Or whatever. Maybe, in fact, that reason has only a little bit of weight with me. Still--it's something! I don't think his point requires him to say anything stronger than that. Russell, I'm pretty much on the same page as you regarding metaethical issues, especially after your posts and comments prompted me to read more about error theory and clarify some of the misconceptions and fuzziness in my thinking. Reading your post made me think of a widlife photographer observing a leopard hunt down and kill a young gazelle that he had been following for days.
We know that this happens and yet I have never heard anyone chastising a photographer for this. But what if the victim of the leopard was a chimpanzee and thus of greater moral worth? Presumably if there was a universal moral reality it would have to be based upon something like Singers model of sentience, consciousness etc. It appears that in this example we are operating outside of a morality. Like the demon. Jean, I just find that incomprehensible. The demon doesn't find this person's life of special value. The demon doesn't care. You and I value the person's life of course, but Shafer-Landau has asked us to imagine someone who doesn't. This being knows all the facts and makes no errors of logic or anything of the kind.
It's very difficult to see where it's making a mistake at all. Of course, we prescribe that the demon save the man. But that's because we feel sympathy for the man, or place a value on his life, or whatever. The demon doesn't do any of those things. So, if I'm asked whether I'd have a reason to act in a certain way if I were like the demon At the very least, it's not intuitively obvious that I would which is what Shafer-Landau's argument requires. As I say, at this stage of the argument, where we are not assuming the existence of anything such as a "special value" or an objectively prescriptive property, or whatever. To assume that would be circular.
Without making that sort of assumption, there seems to be no mistake about the world or irrationality when the demon goes ahead and lets the guy die. Fortunately for us, we don't encounter these demons. We encounter psychopaths, and we encounter business corporations, etc. Not easy , but easier. If the monster thought it would be morally wrong if someone else let him fall off the cliff, would you consider him to be irrational or inconsistent? Or what if we attempt to reason with the monster by getting him to admit that he would not desire if someone let him fall off the cliff, and also get him to admit that he values his own life no more than the person about to go over the cliff values her life.
The question is, could we consider him irrational if he admitted these things, but still saw no reason to prevent the person from falling off the cliff? Or would it be rational for him to simply say "I value my life, but I don't value her life"? Charles, if the monster is thinking straight it wants to be saved from falling off cliffs. It may even prefer to live in a jurisdiction where there is a duty of easy rescue to give it some protection against falling off cliffs. The monster doesn't have to be opposed to social contructs or systems of social norms.
But it doesn't regard someone who is disclined to save monsters from falling off cliffs as "morally wrong" in her conduct if that means failing to take an action that is objectively prescribed for all rational creatures. It can know that the person who is disinclined to save it may have no relevant desires, etc. That person may not have a reason to save monsters My point, though, was about being able to find a reason that one would have to accept summed up morality using only moral terms, without appealing to non-moral ones.
The desire to be moral does this by definition, and seems to me to be a basic desire that cannot be justified in terms of non-moral desires. If you want me to justify wanting to be moral in terms of other wants, I can quite reasonably say that at that point it stops being moral. Thus, if the demon internalizes a moral code and possesses a desire to be moral but never acts on it, I think we can quite rightly say that the demon is not being moral in a way that even the demon must accept.
The demon doesn't have to act moral and I think most objectivist positions do not really claim that morality provides an actual compulsion to act morally, but the demon would have to accept that if the demon doesn't act out of a desire to act morally then they aren't in any way acting morally. This, then, I think, gets us out of the discussions about reasons and the like, since we'd have to be talking about moral agents and it must be the case that to be a moral agent wanting to act morally must be possible for that agent.
At which point we can turn back to what I think is the more key argument over what, if anything, actually counts as a moral code. I'm genuinely confused by this, V. We are at a point where we are asking if the monster or demon or whatever it was has a reason to save the guy. At this stage we are trying to derive a moral requirement from non-moral reality and practical rationality, so we can't yet assume that anything like a moral requirement whatever that really is exists. What I say is that the monster has no reason.
Maybe you're not saying it has. But all I'm saying is that Shafer-Landau claims that there is a reason for me even if I become like the monster and presumably even for the monster if I am replaced by the monster. All I'm then saying is that I can't see that any reason has been provided. And if no reason has been provided, then I don't see how the monster is compelled, on pain of showing some sort of irrationality or making a mistake, to act in a way that we'd normally classify as morally good. Which is just to say that morally good action is not something that's objectively required of us by the nature of non-moral reality the only reality we know of at this stage of the argument and practical rationality, irrespective of our actual desire sets which is what Shafer-Landau has been addressing at this point of the book.
I don't claim objective morality, if it existed, should force us psychologically - e. Or even if we are I suppose it's still possible that we won't respond to reason's demands because of weakness of will or something. But we should at least be wrong about something when we decide not to act in the relevant way. But again, it's hard to see that there's anything the monster is actually wrong about. It can know all the facts and not make any errors of reasoning as it ponders how to respond to them. And there's nothing self-defeating in what it does. It's a dangerous critter to have around, but what mistake has it actually made that it can't dismiss as not being a mistake at all, or as something that it is not required by reason to take into consideration?
I can see none. So, Shafer-Landau's thought experiment fails to demonstrate his point. We, on the other hand, with our actual psychologies - sympathies, desire sets, and so on - have plenty of reasons to act in ways that are usually classified as morally good. There's almost an embarrassment of riches if we're looking for reasons for creatures like us, as we actually are, to act in those ways. But maybe you agree with all this. Sorry if I'm still misunderstanding you and not being responsive to the point you're wanting to make.
Russell, Ah, I see the problem. I'm rejecting the idea that you can ever derive a moral requirement from non-moral desires. I'm arguing that the right way to look at this is to appeal to the moral reason of wanting to be moral and do the moral thing, which is something that all moral agents have the capacity to want and prioritize over everything else and that if you can't or won't act in the name of, you aren't acting morally. So, for regular folk in the thought experiment, they will always have a potential reason to call out -- presuming that that is moral -- which is that they want to act morally.
And if they don't call out for that reason, they still aren't acting morally. Your demon either is incapable of internalizing a morality and forming a desire to act morally that it can make the top priority -- at which point it is amoral, just like psychopaths -- or it has all of those things but chooses to act in opposition to them, at which point it is immoral. To me, trying to justify moral desires or actions in terms of non-moral desires or priorities immediately makes the decision at least amoral. At first glance, this should raise a few questions. When we speak of nomological laws such as those found in physics or chemistry, there seem to be potentially relevant disanalogies between such laws, on the one hand, and moral laws, on the other.
Already we seem to have come across two disanalogies with moral laws. A moral objectivist would likely say this is objectively true, and perhaps for the modally minded even necessarily true. The second disanalogy might be even more important: the physical laws arguably describe the behaviors of bodies falling through space and the like, whereas the moral laws prescribe how it is we are to behave. Now, a fair question at this point is how relevant and telling such disanalogies are. What it depends on, of course, is what work SL thinks the analogies are doing. This is, needless to say, a painfully narrow point that SL is making, but thus delimited it has some value.
Still, it strains credulity to think that many atheists would have so unrefined and unnuanced a reason for thinking that moral objectivity requires God. SL continues to direct his attention at undermining the notion that laws require authors by suggesting that, without it, the following train of thought collapses: Rules require authors, so objective rules require nonhuman authors, so objective moral rules require a nonhuman author, and that must be God. Again, SL reminds atheists that they already believe that objective laws of the sort we find in mathematics or astronomy are not of our own creation.
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