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

From: Marc Geddes (
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 01:10:44 MDT

 --- Paul Fidika <>
> 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).

I accept this. Of course 'subjective' does not have
to mean arbitrary. At the beginning there I was
referring to individual subjectivity, which is
arbitrary. But if you look at what I actually wrote
after this, I then went on to consider the possibility
that morality is not arbitrary but is a social
construct made by a society. I rejected this latter
possibility also.

> 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
> incomperable.

I don't think this is a good analogy. In the most
general sense of the term a morality is goal system.
Of course once a society has achieved consensus about
some super-goals, sub-goals can then be determined in
an objective manner. But the question of which
super-goals to shoot for in the first place has been

Your attempt to show that it was possible to have
moralities of differing merit without objectivity only
worked because you implicitly slipped in some initial
moral assumptions (super-goals) without justification
(namely you stated that postitive-sum was BETTER than
negative sum).

> > 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
> 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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