Re: ESSAY: 'Debunking Hippy-Dippy moral philosophy'

From: Paul Fidika (
Date: Sat Jun 12 2004 - 07:24:23 MDT

Marc Geddes:
> But have the moral subjectivists seriously stopped to
> consider what their philosophy actually implies?
> Consider this question: Whose morality was better:
> Mahatma Gandhi's or Adolph Hitler's? If you believe
> that morality is just personal opinion what you are
> saying is that they are objectively both equivalent.
> It's just a matter of opinion and there is actually no
> real objective moral difference between them.

You're making the same mistake I made so long ago: you are conflating
"subjective" with "arbitrary". To understand the distinction I will give the
example which made me realize the difference; consider Pei Wang's NARS
system; the truth of the statement "bird -> animal" is measured by a
frequency-confidence pair; the frequency is (total amount of positive
evidence) / (total amount of evidence (both positive and negative) gathered
thus far for the statement), while confidence is (amount of evidence) /
(amount of evidence + some positive constant), which increases monotonically
with the amount of evidence. The frequency value of a statement is
subjective in the sense that it is determined by the experience of the
system, while it is not objective in the sense that, as the amount of
evidence goes to infinity, the frequency value cannot be guaranteed to
converge; it may assume any value in the interval [0,1] no matter how much
evidence the agent has gathered thus far. However, this does NOT mean that
the frequency value is arbitrary; the system is not free to choose any
frequency-value whenever it wants, the frequency value is reflective of the
system's past observations.

This is much the same with meaning in natural languages; the meaning of a
term (to us) is determined by how we have heard it related to other terms
(subjective). There is no "objective meaning" of most (non-technical) words;
usage defines meaning. What a word "means" is a consensus reached through
everyone's own subjective understanding of the word, but that does not make
any definition as good as any other (arbitrariness).

Just as with meaning, people do NOT choose their morality out of a sea of
possible moralities randomly, it is a product of their own experience.
Hitler morality is "decrease the freedoms of others (such as Jews), without
correspondinginly increasing the freedoms of anyone else", (negative-sum)
while Gandhi morality is "increase your own freedom, but not at the cost of
decreasing someone else's freedom (such as through violence)"
(positive-sum). Even if I generated a bunch of agents who held random
moralities and asked them to vote on whether they thought Hitler or Gandhi's
morality was better, Ganhi would win out everytime. Such a consensus is not
"objective" in the sense I think that you are using the word, but it's close
enough for me.

> If you believe
> that morality is just something made up [subjective], you are
> saying that there is no objective sense in which
> Hitler was worse than Gandhi.

This is a non-sequitur, analogous to saying "because there is no largest
integer, every integer is just as large as any other"; nonsense. Just
because there is no "best morality" (read: objective) does NOT mean that all
moralities are just as good as any other, or that subjective moralities are

> We have seen that the hippy-dippy ideas that morality
> is just a matter of opinion or perhaps some kind of
> 'social construct' are incoherent. Reasonable people
> must conclude that morality is something objectively
> real, something that we can use reason to discover.

We have seen no such thing; you will need more than
here-because-thought-experiments-with-Nazis-are-just-too-much-damn-fun to
derive such a strong conclusion.

Even if objective morality does exist, (1) I don't know what it is, and (2)
I have no idea to find out what it is, so, practically speaking, objective
morality's existence or inexistence is irrelevant, unless you have resolved
(2) Marc. Reaching a global moral consensus is not objective morality, but
it's close enough.

(Note: I apologize for the seeming lateness of this reply relative to when
Marc's original message was posted...)

~Paul Fidika

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