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Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

In my most recent philosophical post, I have finally explained one of the most fundamental premises necessary for explaining and justifying my overall views on ethics.  I explained my view that goodness objectively means effectiveness and that all further true ideas of “good” should be understood only as derivative from the basic good of effectiveness.  Also in that post I defined beings as, essentially, the patterned functions of their component parts. In reply, James Gray quotes several passages from me, each followed by a question.  First he quotes me as writing:

Given the nature of being as functionality, there are two basic kinds of effectiveness. The first kind of effectiveness is the successful functioning of a function itself. A function exists through its functioning effectively. There is no function apart from the act of functioning. Ceasing to function makes a function cease to be. Since a being is a function, a being’s ceasing to function entails necessarily its ceasing to be.

And James asks in reply:

First, why is a being a function?

Beings (not being) are functions.  Each being is the function of its components.  This is because each being is comprised of parts which when they function in certain ways it exists and when they do not function, it ceases to exist.  There are many levels of increasingly complex beings.  A being like the human being is composed of an enormous number of physical functions, out of which even more complicated mental functions arise.

James also asks,

Second, even if a being is a function, why is proper functioning “goodness?”

Again, “goodness” is more elemental than function.  Goodness, in third-person, unprejudiced, factual terms simply means effectiveness.  A function is a kind of effectiveness by definition.  When the component parts which make a given function align in the necessary way to have a function, they effectively become that function and this is all it means for there to be a good functioning present.  To the extent that the function is weak, defective, or non-existent, the effectiveness of the function is missing and therein it lacks its good.

I also wrote:

So any being’s intrinsic good is to function effectively according to that function that the being is. Of course, as has already been described, each being is composed of many parts, each of which itself is a function composed of further parts. This means that increasingly complex beings are composed of increasingly numerous functions on increasingly numerous levels.

To which James queries:

Why is a beings intrinsic good to function effectively? What does “intrinsic good” mean here?

An intrinsic good can only be intrinsic, relative to an effectiveness to which it contributes necessarily.  Each necessary and each sufficient component part of an effective function is intrinsic to that function.  The goods which are intrinsic to a being include the component beings which interact to create the larger functionality which the being essentially is and which together they comprise.  The goods intrinsic to a being include external goods which the being must acquire, whether regularly or even only once, in order to sustain, perpetuate, and grow in the kind of being which it is.   Also intrinsically good to a being is the whatever possible arrangements of its component parts make for both its minimal functioning as the being it is and, especially, its maximal flourishing in that function.

And I made another key qualification in the post in question:

Let me stop to stress that functions are not defined by consciously given purposes. A river is a river because it functions in a river way, not because any intelligent being purposed it to act in that way. A heart is a heart because it functions in a heart way, not because any intelligent being decided it should act in that way.

And in reply to this James offers several key questions:

Then how do you know what the function of a thing is?

We can recognize what a thing is when we understand what components function to create that thing.  Understanding that 2 hydrogens binding to an oxygen in a particular way functions to create a water molecule is what it means to understand what water is.  To understand any thing in existence is to understand how it arises out of its constituent parts to create a particular kind of unity.  Now, water is a more precisely specifiable sort of functioning of its parts than rivers are.  There may be variabilities in conventions in how we distinguish types of bodies of water.  But insofar as these conventions isolate and describe true combinations of parts effectively performing together to create certain functional effects, these conventions describe reality with empirical accuracy.  It just may be that different combinations and functionalities are of more interest to us than others and so those guide our linguistic conventions.  But as long as we find parts combining for effects in distinct and regularly patterned sorts of ways, we can say that they function together to create a kind of natural being.

And why is the “intrinsic good” of a being so important?

An intrinsic good of a being is the precondition of the being’s very existence so, whether the being is aware of itself or its conditions of existence or not, it is by definition important to it.  If it would not be at all without the components which make it up, the externalities it must take into itself to sustain or grow itself, or the patterned interactions between all these things, then nothing could be more important than all these things for that being.

I don’t care about the intrinsic good of rivers. If a river goes away, that is just the way of the world, and it’s no big deal.

Yes, because you are not a river.  You need only care about rivers to whatever extent they impact your own intrinsic goods and you may further care about them insofar as they please you beyond your intrinsic goods.

But so what?  You are here introducing concerns for our goods and our desires.  The intrinsic goods of rivers are the intrinsic goods of rivers independent of human interests in them, just as the intrinsic goods of all the other species which predated us, who cohabitate the Earth today with us, and who will evolve after we are gone are each their own goods totally independent of human opinions, interests, or objective goods.

The issue here is the truth about objective goodness as both an objective constitutive and objective relational feature of things.  Human feelings or the feelings of mice or the lack of feelings of rivers are all irrelevant to the question of the objective nature of goodness itself.  Only in understanding the objectively human good or the objectively mouse good will each species’ respective feelings matter in some way.

If no consciousness ever existed, I don’t think any “functions” found in nature would matter. Why is any of it of moral significance?

I am not talking about morality, I am talking about value. Only with an adequate understanding of the factual character of objective value can we understand the objective value of moral ideas, feelings, patterns of behavior, etc. relative to objective human goods.

Consciousness has complicated relationships to value.  On the one hand, consciousness is a functional form of being both objectively and (usually) subjectively interested in its own maximization.   (And it is composed of numerous submodes of being each with their own effective functionalities to maximize).  Consciousness contributes to other higher order functions which go beyond its awareness to engage in complex tasks which are mental, physical, emotional, social, etc.

On the other hand, conscious beings, including humans, use both subconscious and conscious mechanisms available to us to (fallibly, but remarkably effectively) discriminate features of the world which are either intrinsically or extrinsically effective for enhancing our own functionalities of which we are constituted as humans.  Pleasures and pains are conscious experiences which have been highly (but nonetheless imperfectly) calibrated by evolution to clue us in to potential positive or negative contributors to our effective functioning.

But pleasures and pains or consciously formed preference attitudes, etc. are not themselves “conferrers” of goodness on things.  Goodness is intrinsic and our pleasures, pains, attitudes, reasoned judgments, can either effectively align with our objective goods and contribute to maximizing our attainment of them or fail to do so.

Your Thoughts?

The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.

The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”

Immoralism?

Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Why Misogynistic Language Matters

Sex and “Spirituality”

Can Utilitarians Properly Esteem The Intrinsic Value of Truth?

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    An intrinsic good of a being is the precondition of the being’s very existence so, whether the being is aware of itself or its conditions of existence or not, it is by definition important to it.

    Where did you get this definition for intrinsic good? It sounds a lot more like instrumental good to me.

    Why is existence by definition important to something? What does that mean? The existence of a river is important to a river?

    Why is the existence of dogs, monkeys, and dolphins important to me? Is that just my own desire and nothing more?

    Yes, because you are not a river. You need only care about rivers to whatever extent they impact your own intrinsic goods and you may further care about them insofar as they please you beyond your intrinsic goods.

    Why do I care about other people and other animals? I care about people in starving nations that will have no impact on me. I don’t think everything is about me.

    But so what? You are here introducing concerns for our goods and our desires. The intrinsic goods of rivers are the intrinsic goods of rivers independent of human interests in them, just as the intrinsic goods of all the other species which predated us, who cohabitate the Earth today with us, and who will evolve after we are gone are each their own goods totally independent of human opinions, interests, or objective goods.

    So, should I try to “help” rivers like I should try to help other people?

    The issue here is the truth about objective goodness as both an objective constitutive and objective relational feature of things. Human feelings or the feelings of mice or the lack of feelings of rivers are all irrelevant to the question of the objective nature of goodness itself. Only in understanding the objectively human good or the objectively mouse good will each species’ respective feelings matter in some way.

    Yes, but isn’t the good of things something we should care about or try to help?

    If no consciousness ever existed, I don’t think any “functions” found in nature would matter. Why is any of it of moral significance?

    I am not talking about morality, I am talking about value. Only with an adequate understanding of the factual character of objective value can we understand the objective value of moral ideas, feelings, patterns of behavior, etc. relative to objective human goods.

    Then how does value connect to morality? Is it irrelevant?

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    I realize you want to differentiate between intrinsic good and instrumental good, but I don’t fully understand how you are distinguishing the two. Sure, some things must be done to exist. I must have a heart and lungs to fulfill their particular functions. However, the goal/telos here seems to be “existence.” Our existence in particular (being a living/functioning human being and not a dead corpse) seems to be good — something that we should try to promote. However, doing what it takes to exist (or help others to exist) is merely instrumental to reaching the goal — even if it is a “necessary condition” or “part of the definition” of that goal (existence/survival).

    You say that we can know functions from the following:

    We can recognize what a thing is when we understand what components function to create that thing. Understanding that 2 hydrogens binding to an oxygen in a particular way functions to create a water molecule is what it means to understand what water is. To understand any thing in existence is to understand how it arises out of its constituent parts to create a particular kind of unity. Now, water is a more precisely specifiable sort of functioning of its parts than rivers are. There may be variabilities in conventions in how we distinguish types of bodies of water. But insofar as these conventions isolate and describe true combinations of parts effectively performing together to create certain functional effects, these conventions describe reality with empirical accuracy. It just may be that different combinations and functionalities are of more interest to us than others and so those guide our linguistic conventions. But as long as we find parts combining for effects in distinct and regularly patterned sorts of ways, we can say that they function together to create a kind of natural being.

    So, we define what a “human being” is, then decide what is “functional” based on that definition? How do we define what human being is? Does everyone have to conform to a single definition? What happens if I deviate from the definition of “human being?” Would I be exceptional or disfunctional? Isn’t Nietzsche’s Overman exceptional? Perhaps not even a “human being” any longer?

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    Your response to Keenan Steel sounds compatible with my idea that pain is intrinsically bad (or pleasure is intrinsically good) when you say, “But also effectiveness can refer to activities which are ends in themselves, which are their own effects.”

    Yes, I think avoiding pain is an end in itself, and seeking pleasure is an end in itself. They are good for their own sake. However, when you say that they “are their own effects,” I’m not sure what that means.

    When you said, “And goodness is simply a word for how well they fulfill this tendency and each particular being’s intrinsic goodness–i.e., it’s intrinsic effectiveness–refers to the functionality which is its natural tendency,” I’m not sure what this means either. How is being what you are “well” something good for its own sake? Isn’t it instrumentally good instead?

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com Mark Erickson

    Please get a thesaurus and look up “illuminate.” It’s getting old. And you are high if you think $86,500 per year is modest. I found this website with a calculator to find out that your modest salary places one in the 91st percentile for individual income. You’re not one of the 1% are you?

  • http://www.alivemedicine.com Vanessa Humeniuk

    Whoa, it can be useful and easy to be aware of !


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