Re: Arrow of morality

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Sun Jan 04 2004 - 23:45:21 MST

Perry -

Thanks for the discussion (one of many you've got going.) For me it's the
start of a busy work week and I won't be able to give this the attention I'd

In any case, I agree with your points below as I think you intended them.

I do suspect, however, that there's a meta-level of thinking about morality
that hasn't been properly addressed, and I'll try to organize and write out
my thoughts on this in a way that I hope will prevent getting bogged down in
the old arguments about absolute vs. subjective morality, and the confusion
between doing the "right" thing (values) and the "optimum" thing (utility
measured against goals) with maximal consistency between nested contexts.

- Jef

Perry E. Metzger wrote:
> "Jef Allbright" <> writes:
>> Perry E. Metzger wrote:
>>> "Jef Allbright" <> writes:
>>>> I'm not talking about concensus morality here. In fact it is
>>>> certain that the moral advice of a higher intelligence would not be
>>>> widely accepted if communicated directly, but humans will be
>>>> persuaded by the indirect, but tangible fruits of following its
>>>> direction.
>>> What if there are no answers that yield obviously superior results
>>> for society? There is no answer, for example, to the meat question
>>> -- and yet there is great rage among some about killing and eating
>>> animals. Many thorny moral questions have no objective answer, which
>>> is why they are thorny in the first place.
>> As you clearly state, there are no simple answers to what we call
>> "moral" questions. These issues are context-dependent and the
>> terminology we customarily use confuses by presuming absolutes that
>> can't be attained. Discussion and understanding would be improved if
>> we all talked in terms of goals and utility.
>> My point in presenting the "arrow of morality" concept is to find out
>> whether we can agree that with increasing wisdom (intelligence and
>> knowledge) comes increasing morality. If we agree on this, then we
>> can work together intentionally to improve our part of the universe.
> I don't think that any amount of wisdom or intelligence can answer the
> meat question or a myriad of other questions, because they have no
> answers. I'm not sure there is an "arrow of morality" here, just a
> tendency of more intelligent creatures to find themselves in
> increasingly complicated situations that they need good rules of thumb
> for.
>> The statement "morality is subjective" often carries the implication
>> that it is therefore meaningless to compare or evaluate the relative
>> morality of various actions.
> Yes. It is. There is no test that will provide units of moral
> measurement.
> It is not meaningless to ask "will humans that cooperate with their
> fellows rather than trying to kill them have a greater chance of
> survival" -- that has a measure on it and can be tested, at least in
> theory. Asking "is it more moral to leave other humans alone or to eat
> them" is meaningless, as there is no way to ascertain an answer except
> via definitionalism.
>> This strikes me as very similar to the post-modernist view
>> that reality is ultimately subjective and all points of view are
>> therefore of equal value.
> "Value" is subjective. Reality isn't, since one can test what is real
> and what is not. (All of reality might ultimately turn out to be a
> simulation, but that's another story and in no way invalidates tests
> of the reality of particular propositions within the context of the
> simulated system.)
> The folks you speak of in cultural theory and the like start with a
> reasonable sense of ideas that they get from other fields and then,
> largely because they're ill equiped to understand them, misinterpret
> them and come up with ridiculous conclusions. (What do you expect
> though -- they're largely in English departments -- they're not
> philosophers.)
>> I'm not implying that you espouse the po-mo point of view -- far
>> from it. I would suggest, however, that it may be more useful to
>> say "morality is context-dependent" than to say "morality is
>> subjective".
> It is not per se context dependent (though for some persons it might
> be) -- it is subjective. There is a difference. To some people, the
> "right thing to do" doesn't change with context -- but what "the right
> thing to do" is shifts between person to person. Thus, subjective, but
> not (necessarily) context dependent.

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