Re: [sl4] normative language is rational

From: Dimitry Volfson (
Date: Sun Feb 15 2009 - 01:13:50 MST

Peter Voss wrote:
> Rational ethics.
> For those you haven't seen this before (I post this every few years)
> Hope it helps.
> Best,
> Peter
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On Behalf Of Stathis Papaioannou
> Sent: Saturday, February 14, 2009 6:39 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [sl4] normative language is rational
> 2009/2/15 Dimitry Volfson <>:
>> What exists:
>> There are certain outcomes we find pleasurable and want.
>> There are other outcomes we find hurtful and don't want.
>> Many actions do not clearly lead to one or the other, or lead to some of
>> both. And the complexities of some situations are what lead some people to
>> believe they need a deity to tell them what to do.
>> Rationality:
>> If we link some action to some outcome(s) convincingly, we can rationally
>> say whether or not we want the action to happen.
>> Normative language is not necessarily rational. But it can be rationally
>> based. If you find a dead end of "it's wrong because it's wrong" then it's
>> not rational.
> I think capital punishment is always wrong, while others think capital
> punishment is justified under some circumstances. We could have a
> rational discussion to see if we disagree on a matter of fact; for
> example, the question of whether capital punishment reduces the murder
> rate, or the relative utility of retribution. But in the end we might
> agree on all the facts and still disagree on whether capital
> punishment is right or wrong. The rational discussion has served its
> purpose in elucidating mutually incompatible ethical premises, which
> are themselves irreducible.

We might agree on all the facts, but weight the facts differently -
based on personal experiences that have calibrated our weighting
schemes. If we give weight to all salient aspects the same as each
other, such as reduction of murder rate and value of retribution to the
victims' friends and family, then we will come to the same conclusion.
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