From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

In a previous post, I laid out a number of reasons that people think values cannot be grounded in naturalistic ways or that if they were they would be values which would threaten vulnerable groups.

In this post, I want to address the charge of the naturalistic fallacy: i.e., the claim that you cannot derive any normative guidance, any “ought-statements”, any orders that “you must do that” or even merely that “you should do that” merely from the consideration of natural facts.

This charge can be put as a linguistic argument as Russell Turpin attempted in the comments section of my post on the reasons people give for denying ethical naturalism:

Allow me to expand and harden that gap. It’s not just that facts and values are different kinds of “things.” I’m not sure that either is a “thing,” and phrasing it this way makes this distinction sound like a claim about the universe. As if we maybe could stumble across a value, perhaps hiding out in the unresolved tension between general relativity and quantum mechanics. Or out past the orbit of Jupiter. But just so far have not.

Rather, that distinction is a fact about language, about the meaning of “is” and “ought.” Language that is purely descriptive doesn’t hold any normative content. (Even when it is about normative content! E.g., “many moral codes include some reciprocity rule” is not a normative claim.) If you start from language that is descriptive, and end up with a normative claim, it is because you have added some normative claims along the way.

This observation doesn’t say anything about where values originate. So no normative theory is implied by the is-ought gap. Only an account of language. As you pursue your project, look to where you first start embedding normative claims. It shouldn’t be hard, for a credentialed philosopher, to identify how they don’t strictly follow from any descriptive claims prior.

Here’s how I answer such objections.

First, let me specify that there are only two connotations of the word value that I am going to refer to in what follows.

One is the verb “to value”, by which I mean an agent’s subjective behaviors or consciousness whereby she implicitly and/or explicitly desires something, prioritizes it, feels strong favorable feelings towards it, and/or promotes its flourishing, etc.

The objective sense of the word value is its sense of “valuable for“. In this way value means the indisputably factual word ”effective”. When describing objective value facts, we are simply describing facts about effectiveness. “Head cold medicine is valuable” is a true statement if head cold medicine is effective at some specifiable objectives (say, clearing up cold symptoms or helping one sleep). Everything is effective at some things so everything has some value, even if the vast majority of things’ values are of total indifference to our human concerns. Our subjective valuing, our taking to be important does not give most things their values in the objective sense.

The only ways that our subjectively valuing—our preferring, desiring, wanting, prioritizing, promoting—creates objective value is that it makes some things become effective at satisfying our wishes. For example, independent of my desires, spinach is effective at being spinach and at making iron and increasing the iron in those who eat it. Those are objective values, objective kinds of effectiveness, that spinach has. And then when I also subjectively desire spinach, now spinach gains an extra effectiveness—it becomes effective at satiating my desire for it. When I love its taste (and I sure do!) it has become effective at creating pleasure sensations in me. So, these are ways that things gain kinds of effectiveness, i.e., kinds of value, even just from being liked.

Things may similarly gain objective value as irritants from the ways that they are subjectively valued. If I experienced grapefruit juice as gross (which I sure do!) then it would be effective at causing repulsion and therefore valuable for that end. (Since I would not be interested in being repulsed, I would not subjectively value it on that account, but I would recognize its objective value for grossing me out should I ever be in need of something to do the trick!)

So, when I say that values are objective, I mean value statements that can be cashed out purely in factual “effectiveness for” statements.

But where would norms come in at this point? How could norms be determined by facts? Of course the facts that any given person or people have adopted any given norms does not make them actually binding.

First, let me differ with Russell that there is an unbridgeable chasm between descriptive and normative statements. Normative statements which are true can all be rephrased as what are called “hypothetical imperatives”, which are, in effect, descriptive statements.

So, for example, here is a hypothetical imperative. “If you want to make an omelet, then you must scramble deshelled eggs and mix into the eggs at least one other food and heat it all together until the egg yolks and whites have turned firm.” This hypothetical imperative translates straight into facts. The definition of an omelet is cooked scrambled eggs with at least one other food mixed into the eggs. That is a fact. Effectively when there are cooked scrambled eggs with another food mixed in you have an omelet.

But more importantly there is a description of a value relationship. In order to have cooked eggs with another food mixed in, you must effectively scramble egg yolks and whites and mix another food in while you heat all of this together. That is how to effectively make an omelet. And it is a set of factual relationships being described. There is no sneaking in any “ought” judgments. The definition of an omelet is not even an “ought” judgment. There exists a kind of possible factual reality—cooked scrambled egg yolks and whites with other substances edible to humans mixed in. By convention we are just calling that “omelet”. The effective way to bring about “omelet” in the world is a fact.

The move to a normative statement, that you should scramble eggs, mix in another edible substance (a “food”) is a matter of norms of rational behavior. It is axiomatic that if I intend to create an x, and if I must do y to create an x, then it is irrational not to do y. So, if I intend to make an omelet, and if it is true that making an omelet involves cooking scrambled egg yolks and whites and while mixing in another food, then I must (on pain of irrationality) cook scrambled egg yolks and whites while mixing in another food.

Now, where would objective values come in for us? How can they guide our lives beyond just showing us what we ought to do if we want to make omelets? How can they create moral oughts for us? How can they, for example, tell us which ends which we should set for ourselves in the first place, i.e., what we ought to be concerned with? Sure, the hypothetical imperative for those looking to make omelets can be recast in descriptive terms, but can a statement like “You ought to make an omelet” be factually grounded? Or, since this is about morality, can “You ought not murder” be factually grounded?

Yes, it can. To give an account of how, we must first specify what human natures, in the loose sense of the phrase, are and what effectively humans (and our subcomponents) must do in order to fulfill our natures. Then we must show the connection between practical rationality and our objective value conditions. So, let me do both of those things now.

So to be objectively valuable means to be in an effectiveness relationship. This means either that what is objectively valuable is effective at bringing about another thing, or state of affairs, outside of itself or that what is objectively valuable is effective at bringing itself about. In other words, effectiveness can be both in creating or changing things outside an effective being or the activities by which the effective being maintains its own existence or grows its existence.

What is most objectively valuable to any given thing, as the kind of being it is, is what is most objectively effective at making it realize its own effectiveness as the kind of being it is. So, to go back to our simple, non-controversial example, what is valuable (i.e., factually effective) for omelets, as omelets, is the effective combination of cooked scrambled egg yolks and whites and other foods because that is what effectively makes omelets come into being at all.

What is most objectively valuable to humans are the physical and mental processes by which we are constituted. We exist only through the myriad biological and psychological processes that make up our bodies and our minds. We can only be rational agents, for example, through the effective operations of various regions of our brains, which in turn are dependent on countless effective organic processes throughout our bodies.

If we are to be at all, we must exist through the functionalities through which we exist. If we are to increase our being, we must increase the functional power of those constitutive parts of our bodies and minds through which we exist. These are facts about how we effectively can be what we are. And effectively being what we are is the same thing as being “objectively valuable” for us.

Now the move from objective values to norms comes in on the level of psychology. It is objectively valuable, in neutral descriptive terms of our natures as specific humans, that we flourish according to our unique capacities through which we have our being and can maximize our being. But how do we turn these reflections on what is objectively valuable (objectively effective at bringing us most powerfully into being) into normative oughts.

The implicit ought premise that Russell keeps asking me to make explicit is not a specifically moral one or one that reflects any idiosyncratic feelings of my own. It is simply this: it is a practical contradiction for a being to reduce or destroy its own net functional effectiveness. It is simply illogical. If any of our actions are to make sense and if any of our actions are to be rational, we must determine their sensibleness and their rationality via standards of logical consistency and avoidance of contradiction. If what the opponents of all normative objectivity mean is that they are against even logic itself, then they are against reason itself and might as well also start tearing down whatever allegiances they have to science and math if they are going to trash morality as lacking objectivity.

Since most beings are non-mental beings this is irrelevant to anything they will ever do. But for us rational beings, it is irrational to reduce or destroy our own net functional effectiveness in the world. From our perspectives as beings who inescapably are afflicted with and responsive to desires in order ever to act, it is the precondition of fulfilling any desire whatsoever that we exist. And we only exist through our functional powers or through their functional effects and so these are the fundamental goods which should determine what we ought to do and be. It is only rationally consistent to treat the functional powers, and their effects, through which we exist as objectively effective for us in the highest degree (i.e., as maximally valuable and worth subjectively valuing the most).

Even when we benefit others at the expense of some of our pleasures or desires, we should be sure to compensate on net by gaining in functional power through the benefits we are responsible for in those we have aided. In other words, the reason it is good for me to do for you is that I effectively function well as one who enhances things for you and, so, help realize some of my characteristic effective functionalities through which I realize and maximize my own being.

With the one principle of practical reasoning assumed, we can set about looking at how all the facts of the world which relate to our own objective value/effectiveness relationships and figure out how objectively to relate to them such as to maximize our own ultimate net effectiveness. Of course we must do many careful (frequently imprecise) estimations of which effectiveness according to which functional power is of greater ultimate effectiveness to our full realization of our total power than which other functional power which competes with it for our energies. While effectiveness relationships are always matters of fact, they do not always admit of exact scientific measurement, by any means. We must employ a good deal of philosophical judgment in assessing relative effectiveness. But it objectively exists and is what “objective value” should be understood to mean.

Having explained how values can be found in nature (as facts about effectiveness), I can turn soon to answering the rest of the objections to naturalism and then I can explain how the goodness of homosexuality can be assessed naturalistically. Since I wrote this piece, Russell has challenged my notion of a practical contradiction in an interesting way which will merit its own post, probably to be posted next week.

I have written a few posts already fleshing out answers to various common objections to these positions (including the charge that it is impossible to rank competing functions to see which is a better and which is a worse one to fulfill and also the charge that this account might wrongly sanction bad things, like murdering, since they too are forms of effectiveness).

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

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    But for us rational beings, it is irrational to reduce or destroy our own net functional effectiveness in the world.

    Does this mean doing something seemingly irrational is actually the rational thing to do, so long as it increases net functional effectiveness?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      You would have to specify what you mean by “seemingly irrational.” Sometimes, some things which are formally irrational might be practically necessary for effectiveness. Bailing out the banks was formally irrational, it was a practical contradiction, and that’s why it created a moral hazard–if they always bailed out banks for bad investment practices then all the risk would be removed and they would behave even more irresponsibly.

      And yet, it was the right thing to do under the circumstances because the actual economic consequences of not doing it were heading to be far worse and more certain than the merely potential threat of banks learning the wrong lesson from the action. Sometimes a formally irrational action can be chosen for the sake of greater net effectiveness.

  • http://www.secularcafe.org/index.php davidb

    I’ve long thought that the old aphorism that ‘you can’t get an ought from an is’ is analogous to the other old aphorism ‘You can’t get life from non life’.

    The answer being the same in both cases – yes, you can, given time and evolutionary algorithms.

    David B

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    After reading this, I imagined trying again to get a remote in-law, math professor, and heroin addict into rehab, by applying this theory of ethics. After some chit chat about guns, primitive cultures, and dark matter, we get into it…

    Me: You know your habit is unhealthy. Don’t you value your health and longevity?

    Lee Williams: Well, of course I value those things. But I also value getting high. I value heroin enough that I’ll take a shorter life with it than a longer life without.

    Me: But what about fulfilling your nature, as an effective human being?

    Lee Williams: People who try to pin ethics on human nature forget that human nature encompasses all that we are, not just what they want us to be. A man can no more go against human nature than Mars can decide to move into a square orbit. Human nature includes murder, rape, and war as well as poetry, charity, and math. If you were to give a couple of lectures in my Logic for Liberal Arts majors, you might think that last was the least natural of all! Anyone who thinks recreational drug use goes against human nature needs to read up on opiate receptors.

    Me: Look, I’ve been reading this Fincke fellow, and he says “it is a practical contradiction for a being to reduce or destroy its own net functional effectiveness.”

    Lee Williams: Well, he has some interesting ideas. You’re right, I likely do four things that are finke-practical-contradictions. Before lunch. Five, if you count the bacon, biscuits, and gravy I have for breakfast. So?

    Me: Well. He says its unethical.

    Lee Williams: I say differently.

    Me: It’s illogical.

    Lee Williams: Ah, Russell, you know better than that. Illogical would be me asserting X and asserting Y, where X and Y are in logical conflict. And you haven’t caught me doing that. Those four finke-practical-contradictions I do before lunch don’t require me to assert anything. I’ve made some assertions about my actions here. But not any contradictions.

    Me: But, that behavior isn’t rational.

    Lee Williams: You should wear Spock ears when you say that. There are a variety of notions of rationality connecting action and thought. I’ll admit it would be irrational if I didn’t understand what I was doing. Or was in denial about the likely consequences. Or didn’t weigh the consequences against what I get from it. But none of those are the case. I’ve just chosen a manner of life you disapprove.

    Well, at that, he had me. I left, before he roped me into grading logic exams.

    • mazeRunner

      Disclaimer : My only philosophical learning has been through skimming blog posts, some of which I cant even parse. So please cure my ignorance / correct my mistakes wherever I cluelessly venture far beyond my ken.

      rturpin:

      Me: Look, I’ve been reading this Fincke fellow, and he says “it is a practical contradiction for a being to reduce or destroy its own net functional effectiveness.”

      Lee Williams: Well, he has some interesting ideas. You’re right, I likely do four things that are finke-practical-contradictions. Before lunch. Five, if you count the bacon, biscuits, and gravy I have for breakfast. So?

      Me: Well. He says its unethical.

      Lee Williams: I say differently.

      By what I understand from Daniel’s post, if I understand correctly at all, wouldn’t “valuing getting high” on Lee’s part be part of his human nature and thus a part of his “functional effectiveness”? Doesn’t the way Daniel set up and define “functional effectiveness” preclude seeming “fincke-practical-contradictions” from occurring?

      I know this runs the risk of devolving into runaway relativism, but what puts the stick in the wheels is a way to distinguish between truly, by which I mean empirically, logically and rationally weighed and justifiable claims of “functional effectiveness”es and flat-out whatever-goes, every-judgement-is-equal, blind-faith, no-weighing-required claims which would be admissible, not just admissible but mandated by relativism.

      All this only makes sense if I have understood Daniel correctly and if I have, then if I’m not missing some glaring obvious gap in my philosophically unsophisticated observation.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      mazeRunner writes:

      By what I understand from Daniel’s post, if I understand correctly at all, wouldn’t “valuing getting high” on Lee’s part be part of his human nature and thus a part of his “functional effectiveness”? Doesn’t the way Daniel set up and define “functional effectiveness” preclude seeming “fincke-practical-contradictions” from occurring?

      To my reading, those are valid points. And is sort of another spin on my pointing out that humans can’t do anything but fulfill human nature. Or rather, that human nature neither more nor less than all that humans do. Which is why I think attempts to reference human nature as a measure of ethics inevitably rely on assumptions — often brought in later — about which are the better parts of our nature. Which makes the reference to human nature a bit of a dodge.

      But, we’ll have to see what Daniel says in response.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      we’ll have to see what Daniel says in response.

      I’ll get there, be patient with me, and in the meantime, thanks for all the challenging fodder.

    • mazeRunner

      rturpin:

      mazeRunner writes:

      By what I understand from Daniel’s post, if I understand correctly at all, wouldn’t “valuing getting high” on Lee’s part be part of his human nature and thus a part of his “functional effectiveness”? Doesn’t the way Daniel set up and define “functional effectiveness” preclude seeming “fincke-practical-contradictions” from occurring?

      To my reading, those are valid points. And is sort of another spin on my pointing out that humans can’t do anything but fulfill human nature.

      Eeer actually, sorry if I came across like that, but I did not aim to agree with you. I guess I was ambiguous in how I worded that. What I meant to do was point out the impossibility of a practical contradiction in that specific instance i.e of Lee’s cocaine habit which he’d count as a functional effectiveness measure. But I did sound like I was trying say its futile to appeal to human nature for ethical guidance, which is not actually my, ahem*caveat emptor again*ahem, underinformed opinion.

      Allow me to elaborate:

      While I think Daniel’s definition of functional effectiveness does seem impervious to practical contradictions I think this could be a strength rather than a weakness of this approach, in that one could imagine a hierarchy of effectiveness measures, as Daniel says elsewhere, which trump each other according to where they stand in the hierarchy, thus pre-empting any practical contradictions.

      So I do think its possible to, at the very least, broadly delineate the general scope and boundaries of ethical valuations or strike down invalid ethical claims, by investigating and appealing to human nature.

      In the second paragraph (not counting the disclaimer and the quote) of my comment above, I did try to say we could filter functional effectiveness measures by empiricism, logic and rationality to save this approach from degenerating into relativism, but I suppose it did not come across clearly enough. How exactly we’d do that, I have gleaned but only the faintest idea from Daniel’s post, so I’d like it very much if he were to elaborate a little more with a few concrete examples.

    • mazeRunner

      In retrospect, I missed out saying this which would have made it clearer:

      Of course, one would still run into principled contradictions which is how we’d weigh and judge measures of functional effectiveness. But once we agree on the principles, and have set up the hierarchy of measures, we’d not have to worry about practical contradictions.

      Now I’m going shut up until Daniel does his post, since I feel I’ve said more than I should be allowed to, given how little I know about this stuff. Really.

      Thanks.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Don’t feel insecure or presumptuous working out your ideas or interpreting my ideas, mazeRunner, you’re doing well by my lights.

  • DSimon

    It’s very possible that I’m misunderstanding, but as far as I can see this post merely re-labels the question instead of solving it.

    Before this discussion started, the question was “How can we determine what ought to be done from an objective, naturalistic perspective?”.

    You say in response (and please correct me here if I’m wrong): Asking “What ought to be done?” is the same as asking “What action should we take in order to best achieve objective value?”. And furthermore, that objective value from an entity’s perspective is whatever increases that entity’s effectiveness as the kind of being it is.

    But as far as I can tell, that doesn’t give us any new tools to work with! The question is now “How can we determine what we ought to be effective at?”, and that’s just as slippery as the initial problem.

  • Axxyaan

    “Head cold medicine is valuable” is a true statement if head cold medicine is effective at some specifiable objectives (say, clearing up cold symptoms or helping one sleep). Everything is effective at some things so everything has some value, even if the vast majority of things’ values are of total indifference to our human concerns. Our subjective valuing, our taking to be important does not give most things their values in the objective sense.

    I disagree. This is not how people talk about values. Nobody says “The ebola virus is valuable” even if it is very effective at some specifiable objectives. We only value cold medicine because we care about what cold medicine is effective in.

    You also make the word valuable meaningless because everything is valuable the way you use it because everything is effective in being what it is.

    The only ways that our subjectively valuing—our preferring, desiring, wanting, prioritizing, promoting—creates objective value is that it makes some things become effective at satisfying our wishes

    That doesn’t make it an objective value. Een objective charateristic of something is something you can tell about that object or substance without a need to mention another object or substance. So something satisfying our wishes is not an objective characteristic of the thing is question because it doesn’t say anything about the thing in itself but about our relationship with it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I disagree. This is not how people talk about values. Nobody says “The ebola virus is valuable” even if it is very effective at some specifiable objectives. We only value cold medicine because we care about what cold medicine is effective in.

      1. I don’t care how people talk. Language is confused or, sometimes, elides things which are assumed. If we want philosophical clarity about the implications of our concepts, we have to speak more specifically than we do in everyday life. Usually no one says “The ebola virus is valuable” because usually the assumption of a non-specified “is valuable” statement is “for humans in general.”

      But, say a couple of malicious would-be havoc wreakers were discussing their tools for sending people into panic, one could flatly say “The ebola virus is valuable.” and we would know precisely what was meant—effective for the assumed purpose implied by the context of the statement.

      You also make the word valuable meaningless because everything is valuable the way you use it because everything is effective in being what it is.

      No, it does nto make the phrase “objectively valuable” meaningless, it pins it tightly it to a specifiable set of factual relationships. That’s precisely what makes it meaningful. What you seem to be saying is that it wouldn’t make the word valuable track only value interests for us, such that when we always said “is valuable” it distinguished that something was valuable for us. But that’s an anthropocentric definition of value. If we make “is valuable” only mean “is valuable to us” then it is definitionally just a subjective valuing. But there are two kinds, objective value relationships which we refer to frequently (this is good for that) and subjective valuing relationships (this is something I prioritize, desire, like, etc.—often based on my objective value relationship to the thing).

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Also, on the bus today I overheard someone making fun of the pitcher Arthur Rhoades. He said, when he would come in to pitch against the Yankees he was “good for 9 runs”, it’s bad for pitchers to give up 9 runs, but he is effective at giving them up so the word “good for” made perfect sense on my definition.

    • Axxyaan

      I don’t care how people talk. Language is confused or, sometimes, elides things which are assumed. If we want philosophical clarity about the implications of our concepts, we have to speak more specifically than we do in everyday life.

      But you don’t speak more specifically. What you do is mixing meanings from homonyms and because they are spelled the same, treat them as the same word. “chicken” and “chicken” are two different words (although somewhat related). The first is the bird, the second is the meat of the bird. Now it should be obvious that if one has a charecteristic that in no way implies the other has the same characteristic.

      But as far as I can tell that sort of thing is exactly what you are trying to do. “Good” and “good” are two different words. The first means effective the other means valuable. But because they are spelled the same you are trying to transfer the characteristic from one to the other. And you try that by not speaking more specifically, because you always use “good” instead of using the more specific words like “valuable” and “effective.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      No, I’m not just using homonyms. I specifically delineated two distinct meanings. Objective value, which is effectiveness relationships—the one sense of “good” or “valuable” (which are strict synonyms as far as I am concerned) which has the kind of objective meaning that settles disputes. Disputes about relative goodness where we mean relative effectiveness are the ones where you can say, “Look, you said this would be better but the outcomes were worse by our agreed upon metric, so you were wrong.” That’s all goodness in the effectiveness sense.

      Since that is the only goodness/valuable that has a straightforward, objective sense that helps us adjudicate disagreements (as long as we specify metrics) that is the one that is grounded in the natural world and acceptable to naturalists (like me). It should be acceptable to scientific people because it can be cashed out in facts.

      The other sense of valuable I clearly delineated was “subjective valuing” which I am saying is the mental (or subconscious or behavioral) prioritizing, preferring, feeling inclined towards, etc. This subjective valuing, as a verb, is implicitly aimed at effectiveness. When looking for what to call good we are essentially looking for what will be effective for our interests and for our flourishing. When we call something good we are expressing our belief that something is effective for what we prioritize and, so, is itself worth prioritizing. The valuing itself is an action or a kind of thought and not the effectiveness that such thoughts and actions try to track. And I do not conflate the two things.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Plus chicken the bird and chicken the meat are not really homonyms. Bat the flying rodent and bat the tool for hitting in baseball are homonyms. Referring to the whole chicken by reference to its flesh turned into meat is some sort of synecdoche.

      And the chicken bird is related to the chicken dinner in a way that makes the uses of the word chicken in both cases legitimate. Similarly with objective and subjective value. Objective value is effectiveness relationships (even ones in which we have no interest or which work against our own effective being, i.e., what is objectively valuable for us to thrive. What is objectively good for the virus is objectively bad for us at the same time).

      Subjective valuing evolutionarily arose as our way of trying to pick out the effectiveness relationships which were effective for us and for our priorities.

    • Axxyaan

      This subjective valuing, as a verb, is implicitly aimed at effectiveness. When looking for what to call good we are essentially looking for what will be effective for our interests and for our flourishing.

      Which doesn’t make it objective. The length of a rod is an objective given because it is a characteristic of the rod itself; it doesn’t depend on the person measuring it. The effectiveness of something in making people flourish is not a characteristic of the thing itself. It depends on the person interacting with it. So what is effective in making someone flourish is subjective.

      “John finds the pie tasty” may be an objective statement, it doesn’t make the tastyness of the pie an objective characteristic.

      In the same way can “Praying is effective in calming John down” be an objective statement. That doesn’t make the effectiveness of prayer to calm people down an objective characteristic of prayer.

      Or we can have: “Studying the violin made John flourish”. This being an objective statement doesn’t make studying the violin an objective method for making people flourish.

      In order for something to be objective period, you need more than people for who it is this something.

  • Cuttlefish

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2011/10/19/2020-hindsight-or-the-basis-of-objective-morality/

    Your topic is, more or less, the subject of my class’s lessons today.

    Axxyaan–”that doesn’t make it an objective value”. The trick is, we don’t get objective values. We get “objective” values, and “absolute” truths, on which different groups disagree.

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

    1. Do categoricl imperatives exist or only hypothetical?

    2. Why should one instrumental value (involved with our nature) tell us what we morally ought to do?

    3. Should we try to function well “all things considered?”

    4. Are you an egoist? Why shouldn’t I sacrifice myself to save 5 lives? If their lives have value, then what sort of egoistic rule could invalidate such altruism?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      1. Ultimately all categorical imperatives are actually hypothetical, though some are best followed as though categorical.
      2. Our natures are not instrumental values for us, they are our intrinsic good since they constitute our being and we only manifest and express our being through the powers which constitute our natures.
      3. Yes, we should try to function as well as possible to the maximum net effectiveness as what we are internally and as creating the most aggregate human power outside ourselves. And where we can also yield net increases, rather than decreases, in more general power (say of animals), then this is objectively better too.
      4. I am an egoist on an abstract level, though I recommend many attitudes which are focused on empowering others as generally motivationally better and more effectively productive of good than self-consciously self-serving ones. You should sacrifice 5 lives because the net effect of losing their power in the world if you don’t, is a worse effect for you as a power creator—unless you can live a life that produces more net good than all the lost good of those 5 lives and of all the good they would have generated, which is a tall order for just one person.

  • abb3w

    Or, since this is about morality, can “You ought not murder” be factually grounded?

    Yes, it can. To give an account of how, we must first specify what human natures, in the loose sense of the phrase, are and what effectively humans (and our subcomponents) must do in order to fulfill our natures. Then we must show the connection between practical rationality and our objective value conditions.

    Implicitly presumes the OUGHT proposition that fulfillment of human natures is a “good” thing relative to the non-fulfillment of human natures — loosely denoted, (F > (¬F)). An alternative with equal internal consistency results from taking Refutation instead of Assertion, or from simply reversing the ordering.

    To get from IS to OUGHT, you still need at least one OUGHT axiom, to convert the set of IS-choices to a poset ordering OUGHT relationship on the set of choices. Or, even more pedantically, to indicate which relationship you’re talking about — since for a non-empty set of choices, the existence of a non-empty set of such posets can be constructively established via the Axiom of Power Set. (You might also need the Axiom of Choice if you’ve an infinite set to choose from; I’m not sure.)

    Now, once you have one OUGHT statement to start with (such as the favoring fulfillment of some defined “human nature” over the non-fulfillment), it’s generally possible to infer further ought-statements. And, in so far as such a starting premise may be widely accepted as valid, it may be a philosophically useful approach. Contrariwise, any disagreement on conclusions may simply indicate that your premise imperfectly corresponds to an arbitrary conception of OUGHT, as the sum of angles in a triangle being more than π radians means the sense of “line” you’re dealing with is non-Euclidean and based from an alternate 5th postulate.

    Like many post-Hume philosophers, your approach seems to be trying to find an OUGHT basic enough enough that no-one notices it’s not actually an IS. But that’s not getting from IS to OUGHT. That’s more getting from a small proposition of an OUGHT-axiom to a bigger proposition OUGHT-theorem… for some ordering relationship on propositions. =)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I did not deny that there was an ought statement. I spelled it out in terms of the avoidance of an existential practical contradiction and in terms of a practical contradiction in our desires if we desire what is not (at minimum) the precondition of all our goods (and I might now add it hardly seems rational to me to desire anything less than our maximum greatest good either). We ought to do whatever is the precondition of our very existence and specifically, psychologically, it is simply inconsistent to do what will thwart all our desires.

      So, in this way, I am not challenging the naturalistic fallacy at all, since I am admitting an ought premise. Where I challenge the charge of naturalistic fallacy is not on the level of norms but on the level of values in nature. Objective goodness, i.e. objective value (distinct from the subjective valuing process and related uses of the word “good”), can be entirely naturalized in terms of effectiveness (i.e., power). In this way there are objective values and they are factual. And then when we can validly introduce a rationally binding ought it can be responsive to all these objective goods, adequately explicated and ranked for priority, etc.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    Axyann writes:

    This subjective valuing, as a verb, is implicitly aimed at effectiveness. When looking for what to call good we are essentially looking for what will be effective for our interests and for our flourishing.

    Which doesn’t make it objective. The length of a rod is an objective given because it is a characteristic of the rod itself; it doesn’t depend on the person measuring it. The effectiveness of something in making people flourish is not a characteristic of the thing itself. It depends on the person interacting with it. So what is effective in making someone flourish is subjective.

    “John finds the pie tasty” may be an objective statement, it doesn’t make the tastyness of the pie an objective characteristic.

    In the same way can “Praying is effective in calming John down” be an objective statement. That doesn’t make the effectiveness of prayer to calm people down an objective characteristic of prayer.

    Or we can have: “Studying the violin made John flourish”. This being an objective statement doesn’t make studying the violin an objective method for making people flourish.

    In order for something to be objective period, you need more than people for who it is this something.

    Things can be in objective relationships to other things. In fact everything can only be understood in terms of its objective relationships to other things, either as composed of them, as functioning as part of them, as interacting with them, etc. There is nothing unobjective about all of this.

    Yes, some properties of things are more intrinsic to them, i.e., more indifferent to how they are affect other things than other properties. But relationships are real and objectively describable. And understanding something in terms of its objective effectiveness on other things, its objective value for producing certain kinds of effects, means observing precisely measuring these relationships.

  • Midwest Skeptic

    it is a practical contradiction for a being to reduce or destroy its own net functional effectiveness

    I do not agree with this. If someone no longer desires to live, then, for example, suicide makes perfect sense. People general do care about their own effectiveness, but I do not think there is any logical fallacy in their failing to care about this, i.e. the case of the suicidal person.

    Morality is often concerned with the interactions between people, but I don’t see how this can be extended beyond the individual. Stealing from a stranger that I don’t care about (assuming I don’t get caught) would not destroy my own net functional effectiveness. It might reduce the effectiveness of the stranger, but what requires me to care about them? I don’t see any inherent contradiction in being purely self interested.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I talk about our self-interested motives to be moral in http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/11/17/why-be-morally-dutiful-fair-or-self-sacrificing-if-the-ethical-life-is-about-power/ and http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2010/07/11/how-our-morality-realizes-our-humanity/

      And whether or not someone cares about their own intrinsic good does not make it any less an intrinsic good. You can’t ask for a definition of an intrinsic good and then object to it solely on the grounds some people don’t care about it. It’s irrational not to care about it—especially when everything they do care about actually hinges on it whether they are emotionally properly aligned with this fact or not.

    • Midwest Skeptic

      It’s irrational not to care about it

      I think you have a very narrow definition of rational. It is perfectly rational for a terminal cancer patient in pain to commit suicide.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Only because they’re dying already. Their constitutive powers are already disintegraging and their pain is a debilitating obstacle to exercising those they have left.

      They’re an exception case. It would be irrational just to kill oneself from curable short term pain. It would be irrational to kill oneself if unobstructed powerful living could return, etc.

      And even when your best option is suicide, it’s still an awful option. It’s death. It’s not a good, it’s a surrender, it’s a calculation that too many of your objective goods as a living being are done and the only ones left for you are in your legacy and the happiness of those in whom you are invested.

    • Midwest Skeptic

      Suicide is rational whenever yor future offers a net of more negatives than positives.