Thursday, May 21, 2009

Assorted Responses to Callahan on Value Theory

I

In the comments section of my post replying to some of his earlier points, Gene Callahan advanced a number of counterarguments that I think are deserving of a response. Because Gene's comments are separate responses to specific points I made, this reply will itself be a little disjointed. Rather than introduce the points by way of introduction, I will simply direct the reader to Gene's post to get a feel for what issues he raised; this post will respond to several of them in turn.

II

The first point Gene makes is that economists, acting within their capacities as economists, shouldn't have anything to say about value theory. He writes:
For economics, it is sufficient to to posit that, whatever the nature of value in a metaphysical or ontological view, market prices are determined by what economic actors *think* things are worth. To understand how a price for some good emerges from the market process, it makes no difference whether or not there is any objective yardstick by which value judgments may be measured as better or worse.

He continues:
...economists "should" be concerned with how actors' actual evaluations bring about market prices. There is no reason for an economist qua economist to concern herself with the ontological character of value.

Look at it this way – there is no need for a chemist to question what matter “really” is – it just does combine in such and such ways, whatever it is.

I have no interest in arguing about this point; I don't care if economists want to be interested in value theory qua economists or qua something else. In passing, I will say that many of the most important figures in the history of value theory have been economists, and many economic doctrines have been severely hampered in both the past and present by their lack of a proper understanding of the nature of value (for one obvious and important example: Marxian economics). But it will suffice to point out that this entire argument was brought about by me saying:
...it seems to me that this way of thinking is not entirely correct, in much the same way and for much the same reasons as the "realist" theories of value in economics were both ubiquitous, unsurprising, and false.

If what Gene wants is for me to recant the inclusion of realist theories of value under the heading of "economics," then fine. It is done. I repose:
...it seems to me that this way of thinking is not entirely correct, in much the same way and for much the same reasons as the "realist" theories of value in value theory were both ubiquitous, unsurprising, and false.

Hopefully that will dissolve the problem.

III

Gene's next point is built on the idea that in the past, scientists postulated the existence of many entities or objects (i.e., phlogiston, caloric, ether) which we now hold to have represented mistaken understandings of the phenomena being investigated. Surely, Gene points out, this shouldn't lead us to reject realist theories of science, which claim that the objects we are investigating really do exist (though perhaps we might reject realism for other reasons). He then tries to draw an analogy between this intuitive notion and the idea that pluralism about values is evidence in favor of anti-realism.

To put Gene's point another way: In the past, scientists claimed that certain things exist, and we now no longer think that those things ever existed. This should not, however, lead us to believe that nothing exists and that our own ideas about what exists are necessarily mistaken. In the same way, people in the past have held certain beliefs about what is valuable, and we hold different beliefs. And in the same way, this should not lead us to believe that nothing is valuable and that our own ideas about what is valuable are necessarily mistaken.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that scientific realists hold the belief that there are mind-independent objects that produce the kinds of phenomena we investigate in the natural sciences, where as moral realists do not (or at least, hopefully do not) believe that there are mind-independent moral truths that we are seeking to "measure" and "discover" through our "moral senses" in the realm of ethics. It is simply the nature of value that it is nothing more than a mental phenomenon, and we have what I take to be compelling empirical evidence that different people's minds work in different ways (even if only slightly so) in evaluating objects. If this is true -- if we know that different people's minds evaluate the same objects differently as a simple matter of the way that they work, and not because some are "faulty" and others "sound" -- and if it is also true that there is nothing to value besides these evaluations, then the objectivist and realist theories of value simply cannot stand.

The reason that this doesn't apply to the natural sciences is that we do think that there is something to empirical phenomena besides the mental states we directly experience. We think that there are mind-independent objects out there that produce these experiences. If we didn't believe this -- if we believed that empirical phenomena were just in our heads -- it wouldn't make sense to be scientific realists. And unless Gene wants to defend the idea that value is an existential property of an object, or the idea that -- contrary to my argument here -- everyone's mind really does work the same way in attributing value, then I simply don't see how either objectivism or realism can possibly work.

IV

Gene's next point is an objection to Mises' argument that it is vain to attempt to argue about ultimate ends. Mises contended that there is no argument you can possibly offer against the value of an ultimate end, and Gene noted:
Isn't this obviously falsified by our everyday experience? Don't we regularly witness discussions about "ultimate values" in which one party succeeds in convincing the other that his initial value judgment was wrong? On a grander scale, doesn't, say, the triumph of Christianity over pagan values or the spread of Buddhism in Asia also demonstrate that one can successfully argue about 'ultimate judgments'?

I've been reading Rawls lately, and here I am reminded of his notion of "reflective equilibrium." In A Theory of Justice, Rawls uses the concept of reflective equilibrium in talking about the design of the thought experiment involving a hypothetical "original position," where people are to imagine themselves having to decide on the principles by which basic rights and duties will be assigned and by which the advantages of social cooperation will be distributed. In the original position, we are supposed to imagine ourselves behind a "veil of ignorance," where we are deprived of certain knowledge, and the knowledge of which we are to be deprived is supposed to be determined by what we think should be irrelevant in determining the principles that we are to choose. Rawls says that we take it for granted that personal identity, social circumstances, etc., should not be taken as relevant in choosing a principle of justice, and so we should therefore imagine ourselves in the original position as not knowing who we will end up being, or in what social circumstances we will find ourselves, etc. In the context of that discussion, Rawls writes (18):
In searching for the most favored description of this situation [the original position] we work from both ends. We begin by describing it so that it represents generally shared and preferably weak conditions. We then see if these conditions are strong enough to yield a significant set of principles. If not, we look for further premises equally reasonable. But if so, and these principles match our considered convictions of justice, then so far well and good. But presumably there will be discrepancies. In this case we have a choice. We can either modify the account of the initial situation or we can revise our existing judgments, for even the judgments we take provisionally as fixed points are liable to revision. By going back and forth, sometimes altering the conditions of the contractual circumstances, at others withdrawing our judgments and conforming them to principle, I assume that eventually we shall find a description of the initial situation that both expresses reasonable conditions and yields principles which match our considered judgments duly pruned and adjusted. This state of affairs I refer to as reflective equilibrium. It is an equilibrium because at last our principles and judgments coincide; and it is reflective since we know to what principles our judgments conform and the premises of their derivation. At the moment everything is in order. But this equilibrium is not necessarily stable. It is liable to be upset by further examination of the conditions which should be imposed on the contractual situation and by particular cases which may lead us to revise our judgments.

In thinking about Rawls' point, consider the concept of the "reductio ad absurdum" in moral philosophy. In using this technique, we show that a principle, if followed consistently, leads us to conclusions that we find unacceptable. This, we take it, is evidence for rejecting the principle. But why? Why shouldn't we just accept the conclusion that we find unacceptable?

Rawls' point is that our judgments and principles can be revised from both sides. When our principles lead us to conclusions that we judge as extremely worrisome, we sometimes revise our principles so that they produce "better" judgments, and we sometimes revise our judgments -- we come to see that we are committed to things that we might have initially thought to be untrue. So it is that when we point out to the slave owner that he considers himself -- and all men -- to have rights, and that he has poor grounds for making the claim that his slaves are less human than the rights-bearing non-slaves, we force the slave owner to make a choice. He can reject the view that all people have rights, or he can reject the view that he is justified in keeping his slaves.

Mises' point is not that this sort of thing doesn't happen (or "can't" happen). His point is that there is no valid argument that will enable us to critique the principles in question so far as the holder of those principles is legitimately comfortable with the conclusions to which they lead. To use Rawls' language, Mises is saying that a person in reflective equilibrium will be satisfied with the principles that they have adopted (and have no reason to be unsatisfied!), and that it is possible for people to achieve different states of reflective equilibrium. This, I think, is at least in principle true, and is probably most clearly true in light of the kinds of problems that Gaus points out about prioritization.

V

Gene moves on to note that even if there is no definite knowledge of the true nature of eudaimonia -- the Aristotelian conception of an individual's ultimate good -- it would clearly not be irrelevant whether or not people are correct in their beliefs or quests towards it. He writes:
If I admit that there is no widespread agreement amongst scientists as to whether or not the universe will expand indefinitely, reach a stable sate, or begin to contract at some point, does that render it 'irrelevant' as to whether one of those views is objectively true? Should the scientist convinced of the first view just give up, shrug, and say, "Well, I guess those other views are just as good as mine!"

Gene's point seems to be based on the idea that if there is no way to objectively say what is best, then everything is just as good as everything else. But this seems clearly false. For one thing, people's views could be inconsistent. These views would clearly be wrong, even if we couldn't say that there was a single correct view. Also, going back to Rawls, we could note that some people's views commit them to conclusions that they would find unacceptable, so that if those people knew about those conclusions, they would want to reject their own views. That would also seem to count as a bad sort of view, even if there were no objectively right answer.

But if we were to find ourselves in a world where everyone was in reflective equilibrium, and no one was inconsistent or unaware of the full entailments of their views, but there was still pluralism that simply could not be resolved (by the nature of such a situation), then it wouldn't be relevant if (unbeknownst to them all) there were actually a truth about the matter that none of them could see. When I say that it's not relevant, I don't mean that the truth wouldn't be relevant if they knew it. I mean that since they don't and can't know it (again, but stipulation), it has no bearing on the situation.

Here's an illustration off the top of my head that will probably be open to a host of objections not relating to my point: Imagine that there's one group of people convinced that Blue God exists, and that what Blue God wants is for people to wear blue all the time; if they don't, Blue God will send them to Hell to suffer for eternity. And imagine that there's another group of people convinced that Red God exists, and that what Red God wants is for people to wear red all the time; if they don't, Red God will send them to Hell to suffer for eternity. Now, let's imagine that there's no good way for any of them to actually figure out whether it's Blue God or Red God who exists, but actually it's Red God. In this world, would it be constructive in any way for a member of either group to start calling all the members of the other group Heathens, or trying to convince them to convert? I don't think so. It may be true that both groups think that they're right and that the other group will be going to Hell to suffer for all eternity. And if any of these groups had any good reason for believing that their position was more plausible than the other group's position, then it would make sense to try to convince people. But they don't have any reason like that in support of their position (remember, we're comparing this to a world in which everyone is in reflective equilibrium).

Now, an obvious counterargument would be that actually, we can know the true nature of eudaimonia, and therefore it isn't irrelevant to get all worked up about it. Ultimately, I just don't think this is true, and I think that all the attempts I've seen at working towards such an understanding are clearly wanting (admittedly, though, I have not sat through many; most often, the fatal problem is that they fall victim to the kinds of concerns raised by Gaus -- they identify stuff that we all generally think is valuable, but they fail to give a compelling account of how we should weigh each value against other values). But if I'm wrong about this, then clearly I'd also be wrong about thinking that the concept is irrelevant. I'm okay with that. If there's an Aristotelian out there who would like to explain to me exactly the manner in which she proposes that we might go about determining what value system is objectively most appropriate for human beings, then I'm open to hearing about it, but until then, I'm just going to stick to the assumption that reflective equilibrium is as far as we're going to get, and that reasonable pluralism will continue to be the name of the game.

VI

Here's a quick one. Gene says:
If the procurement of an object *really* makes its acquirer better off, isn't that evidence that it *really* was valuable, rather than evidence for the contrary?

If by this Gene means, "If acquiring an object really did promote a value upheld by the aquirer, isn't that evidence that it *really* was an appropriate means for promoting that value," then yes. If, however, he means, "If acquiring an object really did promote a value upheld by the aquirer, isn't that evidence that the aquirer ought to have upheld that value," then clearly no. The value subjectivist is comfortable with this.

VII

Gene's final point is, again, that no experience is purely subjective. But this time he takes it in a different direction:
...every experience is intrinsically an experience *of* something, and that *something* must be, to some degree *objective*.

I take it to be objectively true that one directly experiences one's experiences, and therefore the phenomenal nature of one's experiences is directly accessible. But what does it mean for a phenomenal object to be "objective"? If I draw a picture of a dragon, it is a picture of a dragon, but what does it mean to say that the dragon is therefore "objective"? Are we saying that "the picture of the dragon" is objective -- that it exists? That seems okay -- and so too is it okay to suggest that we experience moral sentiments. But I don't see how moral sentiments entail the existence of moral truths (even though they are, in a sense, experiences "of" those moral truths) any more than a picture of a dragon entails the existence of a dragon (even though it is a picture "of" a dragon). This sounds like the "We can have a concept of God, so therefore God must exist" line of argument. But perhaps I misunderstand what Gene is trying to say...

VIII

In any case, I think that about does it. As I mentioned in my response to Roman yesterday, I'm going to be trying to shift my focus away from metaethics and onto Rawls where I think it belongs. But thanks go to Gene for his thoughtful comments, encouragement along the way, and enthusiasm about carrying on this discussion. It's really been a fantastic learning experience and a lot of fun as well. Of course, this doesn't mean that the conversation needs to end, and I'll do my best to track down any future posts on this subject on other blogs and post links to them here.

32 comments:

duncandancer said...

Love your blog. Really interesting and well-thought out, research thoughts and commentary. Just wondering if you have thought about going to FreedomFest, the annual liberty conference out in Las Vegas (I think it's July 9-11 this year). You would find a lot of great people to connect with! The website is www.freedomfest.com. You should be there!

Danny Shahar said...

Thank you for the kind review! I'm actually going to be in Michigan at a FEE seminar on those days, so unfortunately I won't even be able to consider going. Maybe next year, though; if it's in Vegas every year I imagine I'll have to come eventually -- Arizona's too close to pass it up forever!

Gene Callahan said...

"...it seems to me that this way of thinking is not entirely correct, in much the same way and for much the same reasons as the "realist" theories of value in value theory were both ubiquitous, unsurprising, and false."

And now the statement is no longer true. All that was ever shown was that a realist theory of value is unnecessary for economics. See Roderick Long making the same point.

"The problem with this line of reasoning is that scientific realists hold the belief that there are mind-independent objects that produce the kinds of phenomena we investigate in the natural sciences, where as moral realists do not (or at least, hopefully do not) believe that there are mind-independent moral truths that we are seeking to "measure" and "discover" through our "moral senses" in the realm of ethics."

Danny, of course moral realists believe there are moral truths indepndent of any subjective mind! That's what it is to be a moral realist! What in the world did you think you were arguing against?

"And unless Gene wants to defend the idea that value is an existential property of an object, or the idea that -- contrary to my argument here -- everyone's mind really does work the same way in attributing value, then I simply don't see how either objectivism or realism can possibly work."

Ridiculous. Platonic realism about mathematical entities certainly does not rely on thinking that, say, square roots are tucked inside physical objects, or that no one has ever made a mathematical error!

Danny Shahar said...

I don't understand...you're arguing that the wrongness of capricious killing is an analytic fact?

Radical Hippo said...

Would it be possible to jump from a general moral fiction account to some sort of specific realist account of morality?

Suppose we accept that all value is subjective, like an emotional reaction, and that when people speak about morality they are really just expressing sentiment rather than some objective truth about the universe. From here we can say that it is true that the only source of value is the mind, but that it is handy to pretend it isn't so.

What this could lead to is an objective fact about morality independent of a fictionalist account, a higher tier or a meta-tier if you will: i.e. that when we harm another person we impinge on a source of value, which, while largely independent and disjoint from our value-world, actually has some say in the matter (e.g. collective value items like money, friendship, community, etc. which only exist when a large number of people have the same set of value ideas). In this way we would consider moral values to be 'real' in the sense that values lie within the mind of the person who holds it - so it does in fact exist, but it exists in many forms in the thoughts and ideas of many people, and these morals interact in a sort of market 'economy'.

So yes, we can say that morality is not this sort of platonic form, we can perhaps think of it as a bit more real than a fictionalist account first seems to indicate.

Thoughts?

Stan said...

Why are you trying to think of it as "a bit more real?" Why would any of us want to?

I think building another meta-layer is counter-productive, but that depends on the answer to the above--your reason for considering the jump.

Gene Callahan said...

Come on, Danny, didn't Quine and Putnam pretty much kill off this 'analytical' business?

Radical Hippo said...

Stan,

I don't think the idea necessarily lends itself to being useful, but consequences of certain theories do not have to be useful to have some truth. I'm more concerned with getting a proper account of things than getting a necessarily useful account of things.

So does it necessarily follow from the fictionalist standpoint that actually it's not really completely fictional?

Danny Shahar said...

Hi, Radical Hippo, and thanks for the comment! Unfortunately, though, I'm not entirely sure I follow. It sounds to me that what you're saying is something like this:

Even if values exist only in people's minds, they manifest themselves as attitudes that people objectively do hold. And when people do things to damage or eliminate objects that are valuable to other people, they do something that produces an objectively extant reaction in those people. Accordingly, there is something real about values, even if they aren't really "out there."

I think this is basically right, but I'm not sure about its moral implications. Remember, morality is supposed to tell us what we ought to do. The previous paragraph, however, only brought up factual observations; the moral nihilist would be happy to concede those points. But maybe I'm not appreciating your argument properly; is there something I'm missing? Have I gotten it totally wrong?

Danny Shahar said...

Gene, at this point I think I just have no idea where you're coming from. Let me see if I can get us to my understanding of the nihilist's position, and then you can tell me which step you think is wrong and why:

1) Value is a mental phenomenon which proceeds from evaluation (conscious or unconscious); without evaluating minds it would be incoherent to speak of value.

(To anticipate a possible objection, the value of a means is contingent on the value of the end for which it is a means; without evaluating minds there would be no valued ends, and so there could be no valuable means)

2) People's minds work differently in ascribing value to objects, and there is the potential for irresolvable and reasonable pluralism about the value of ultimate ends (particularly with regard to the priority of values).

3) If (1) and (2) are correct, then there is no objective standard by which all value claims can be judged definitively.

(To preempt another possible objection, this doesn't mean that all value claims are equally good; it just means that it is not necessarily true that one hypothetical comprehensive account of value is correct and all accounts inconsistent with that correct account are incorrect.)

4) Moral claims purport to state facts about the world. The claims are built on the idea that an object can literally be valuable (allowing for the idea that "being valuable" could involve only conformity to an objective standard of value and not to a mind-independent property).

5) If (1) and (3) are correct, then no object can literally be valuable.

6) If (4) and (5) are true, then the purported facts stated by moral claims are false.

Obviously, you believe that at least one of these claims is wrong, but I'm not able to figure out exactly what the problem is.

P.S. Crazy running into you yesterday at AIER; hope the rest of your day went well!

Radical Hippo said...

Danny,

I think you've adequately summarized my thoughts.

Although... you mention there is no moral implication, and I agree. That being said, I don't really see the moral implications of your fictionalist account anyway. It seems that whatever we tell ourselves about how morality works is really just a story. We have moral feelings or ideas and then we try to explain them coherently, not typically the other way around.

Danny Shahar said...

Well right; there aren't any moral implications of my view, since it's pretty much a moral nihilistic perspective. I thought you were trying to rehabilitate a view closer to realism. Did I misunderstand?

Stan said...

Hippo, we already intuitively act as if Morality is not fiction. That Morality often takes the form of a story, and further, is a narrative connected with our self-concept. We like that to be consistent, mostly for our remembered self. Our experiencing self is a hedonist of the present, although not unchecked. These are gross simplifications, and there is plenty of interplay, but as you observe, we have moral feelings or ideas and then we try to explain them coherently, not typically the other way around. Precisely. The narrative is rationalization, so disagreements between people about policies and the results of existing policies should be no surprise. Our delusions have significant consequences.

Concepts of intrinsicness tend to crack and crumble under the microscope of science. Signaling cooperative heuristics morality (schmorality) is the real morality (the should), even though Morality (the Should) is perceived and intuited as reality.

In your meta-layer, if I understand, the objective fact would be that a bunch of people share similar concepts of value about many things, which we would expect because people are so physiologically and psychologically similar. If we look at reactions and relationships between people that suggest they hold concepts of value, the only thing objectively real is that they are both signaling to one another and have some notion of how that signaling is perceived. I feel like you're searching for something more, though, and that's why I asked "Why?"

I don't think your proposal is more proper, either, because to get a proper account of an organism, you have to dive into what it is and does. In the words of the late Amos Tversky, you take what the terrain gives. Philosophers that work mostly on logic, but don't bother with the science of evidence-supported premises, tend to ignore the terrain of reality. They generally ignore data that challenges their simplified theories, but there's a less obvious problem: they don't actively look for that data. If one cares about getting at the truth, one should peer at to the terrain. Often, it won't fit into our narrative.

To answer your question--So does it necessarily follow from the fictionalist standpoint that actually it's not really completely fictional?--no, but it's relative. Is a fictionalist a human being, or a perfect superrational entity of only descriptive perception? Our meatware is wired in such a way where we're always creating Morality--a sort of prime directive that also creates a coherent narrative about who we are and what we should do. Vichy has this too. We act as if it's inrinsic to who we are. I would argue we also do this out of necessity: we don't have the capacity to keep a backlog of all the belief data points, much like the peak-end rule for pain (we average the peak pain point and end pain point of an experience to create a single data point for remembered experience). If we didn't have a pseudo-consistent self-concept, we couldn't function as human beings.

The moral implications are certainly present. We are people, and when we use objectivity to attempt to make choices with better long-term consequences, we must remember why we're using objectivity in the first place. We must scientifically pursue schmorality to find the most reasonable morality, while trying to correct for the rationalizations inherent in Morality. During that juggling act, morality will update Morality a little bit here and there, and we'll make a little more progress.

Gene Callahan said...

Yes, Dan, #1 is certainly wrong, just as it is true that, without mathematicians, 2 + 2 would still equal 4.

See this for more.

Radical Hippo said...

Danny and Stan,

What I'm trying to find is something about the world besides a fictional account of right and wrong to justify our moral ideas and the actions that result from these ideas.

We are in the curious position of having real feelings and creating values while simultaneously acknowledging that these feelings are best justified through a certain fiction, which is to say that there's no other justification other than the feeling itself. It seems that essentially we are acting as moral nihilists who can pretend otherwise; the fiction helps us explain our actions to moral realists, but does little to satisfy me as a fictionalist. I can't knowingly deceive myself this easily.

That being the case, I think I was looking for something more tangible to account for our moral intuitions (why they exist, how they can be justified), and the result was a sort of universalized/rationalized empathy. Whether this is sufficient or accurate is debatable, and that's why I brought it up. Danny used the example of Vichy to show that this is not necessary, but that doesn't imply that it isn't sufficient.

Danny Shahar said...

Gene, 2+2=4 is just an application of definitions of those symbols. It is simply a feature of what a "2" is that when a "2" is "added" to another "2," they "equal" a "4." If someone wanted to deny that, then they simply would be demonstrating a lack of understanding of the meaning of at least one of the relevant terms.

I'm not sure that the same thing is clearly true of something like "Capricious killing is wrong" or "You ought not to kill capriciously." It's at least not so obviously true that you can just assert it as if it's self-evident.

Danny Shahar said...

Radical Hippo, maybe it will help to point out that you don't really need to justify the things you value. If you really try to get down to it, the universe is just a collection of stuff evolving in the manner in which it's designed to unfold. Caring about it -- or any aspect of it -- is strictly not something that can be justified.

But we're humans, and we're here. And we value stuff! It's really okay; it's part of being a living thing, and being the sort of living thing that is constitutionally inclined to be attracted to stuff (like beauty, love, and Queen), to be inclined to be repulsed by stuff (like pain, seeing other people in pain, and people who treat other people like they don't matter), etc. We're people in a world of people, and it makes sense to act accordingly, even if at the end of the day, we're also just cosmic dust in a particular configuration for the moment.

If what you're looking for is Meaning, I'm not sure you're going to find it. But if you're looking to find a way to enjoy your time while you're here, then that's a different story. And that's what fictionalism is all about.

Gene Callahan said...

"If you really try to get down to it, the universe is just a collection of stuff evolving in the manner in which it's designed to unfold. Caring about it -- or any aspect of it -- is strictly not something that can be justified."

Hmmm... now is that an empirical truth you discovered by doing some sort of experiment, or is it an analytical truth?

Gene Callahan said...

"Gene, 2+2=4 is just an application of definitions of those symbols."

Danny, I know some professor told you to say this, but doesn't it bother you that it was blown up by Quine almost 60 years ago? (Not that it ever made sense in the first place, but some analytical philosophers did believe it for a time.)

Gene Callahan said...

Danny, you might also see Chapter VI of Brand Blanshard's Reason and Analysis for a thorough takedown of the positivist notion that all a priori truths are analytical, or C.H. Langford, 'A Proof that Synthetic A Priori Propositions Exist', Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 46. And do have a look at the problem I posted for you at Crash Landing.

Radical Hippo said...

"being the sort of living thing that is constitutionally inclined to be attracted to stuff (like beauty, love, and Queen)"

Well yeah. Who doesn't like Queen?

Danny Shahar said...

Gene, god willing, I will never have to learn exactly why I am wrong about the possibility of analytic reasoning (though I would point out that I never said that a priori claims need to be analytic; I'm not a positivist!). But I'll grant the point.

What I'm trying to convey is that I don't understand what it could possibly mean for something to be valuable independently from all valuers. It seems to me that to call something objectively valuable means "objectively worthy of being valued," as opposed to "objectively capable of inspiring valuing reactions in people," and I just don't know what it would mean to say that something is "objectively worthy of being valued." You're going to have to get me there; it doesn't seem like this is like "2+2=4" to me, and just saying "It's like how 2+2=4 is true" seems question-begging. 'Cause...well...nuh uh!

As for the problem on your blog, my brain panics when it sees that many symbols. What point does it make?

Danny Shahar said...

"Well yeah. Who doesn't like Queen?"

Communists, Hippo. Communists.

Gene Callahan said...

No one (that I know of) ever said that analytical reasoning is impossible! But you ought to figure this out -- you can't get political philosophy right unless you first get philosophy in general right!

Secondly, I never said "It's JUST LIKE 2 + 2 = 4."

I gave that as an example of something non-material that is objectively true, a class you seemed to be asserting is empty.

To discuss these sorts of things, I think it's important not to attribute arguments to one's discussion partner that that person never made!

Danny Shahar said...

Haha but I don't think I ever said that non-material things can't exist; is there a particular quotation you had in mind?

(If I'm slow in responding, it's 'cause I'm leaving for an IHS seminar in North Carolina tonight)

Danny Shahar said...

Just to clarify, I said:

1) Value is a mental phenomenon which proceeds from evaluation (conscious or unconscious); without evaluating minds it would be incoherent to speak of value.And you said:

Yes, Dan, #1 is certainly wrong, just as it is true that, without mathematicians, 2 + 2 would still equal 4.And I took that to mean exactly what you claim to never have said:

Secondly, I never said "It's JUST LIKE 2 + 2 = 4."You at least have to admit it sounds a little like that's what you were saying!

Gene Callahan said...

Well, they are alike in they are both true! (They are both examples of non-material things about which there is an objective truth.) That, of course, does not mean they are alike in every, or, indeed, even any other way.

Danny Shahar said...

Hmm...the formatting seems to be off... Let me try that again:

Just to clarify, I said:

1) Value is a mental phenomenon which proceeds from evaluation (conscious or unconscious); without evaluating minds it would be incoherent to speak of value.~
And you said:

Yes, Dan, #1 is certainly wrong, just as it is true that, without mathematicians, 2 + 2 would still equal 4.~
And I took that to mean exactly what you claim to never have said:

Secondly, I never said "It's JUST LIKE 2 + 2 = 4."~
You at least have to admit it sounds a little like that's what you were saying!

Danny Shahar said...

But so what I'm saying is that you have to provide a reason to think that they are both true. I agree that 2+2=4 as a matter of objective fact, and I don't think I ever said that value can't be objective because it isn't material. I just said that it's not clear what it would mean for something to be valuable outside of alluding to some statement or counterfactual about how evaluating minds do or would evaluate the thing.

Stan said...

What I'm trying to find is something about the world besides a fictional account of right and wrong to justify our moral ideas and the actions that result from these ideas.
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If you're looking for some inherent "rightness" outside of cooperative heuristics, I agree with Danny's response, excluding his last paragraph. You don't need to justify. I'd say it's natural to be uncomfortable with moral skepticism at first. I think you've made what I call a "truth-value equivalence error." We can't help it, and I'll try to explain why, and what it is.

In the following, I'll use "you" for convenience, but it applies to any of us; I'm not accusing you of anything I wouldn't admit doing myself.

We think in fiction, aka metaphors. Now, applied to thinking about morality: you held a fiction about intrinsic, real moral value, puzzled it out with us, and are now dissatisfied with the loss. The sense of loss, or dissatisfaction, results from a truth-value equivalence error. When you talk about "pretending" and "deceiving," you're revealing an underlying language of value. Consider: we could call using metaphor "deception." Metaphors are abstracted, misleading things. We could also admit that metaphor is the only way we could actually arrange our perceptions into chunks for manipulation. Aka, thinking. So if Morality doesn't "make sense" except as fiction, why does that bother you? (As it bothered me, btw.)

The problem occurs when you swap camera views (1st to 3rd person obj), but invariably take a little of the other view along. You make value judgments in objective space even though objective space is purely descriptive, and value judgments should be made only in subjective space. You can't help it, though, because you're not actually in objective space, you're in a virtual objective space. You're creating a metaphorical abstraction of objectivity. You create maps of the terrain. They are snapshots of possibly valid and sound objectivity, sorted and assigned value based on how valid or sound they seem to be. In other words, you value your objective snapshots by how true they seem.* In your objective, should-be-descriptive analysis of human behavior, "value-creep" occurs. Fiction you observe being held as truth by people is devalued, because it is fiction. Further, you were hoping Morality wasn't fiction, because you knew that would devalues it for you. At least, that is how I interpret you trying to find something that can't be. The irony for us: we may "know" that truth is not the same as value, but when thinking, we can't help "feeling" they're equivalent.

So, if what I said made any sense at all, and you're now aware of the value-creep, you have to consider whether you should continue to be dissatisfied by something that is a hallucinatory side-effect of reasoning--as a human being, and with the only equipment available to you--about why we human beings do things.

Morality's a very touchy area, because while we may want the metaphor to be real, we don't have to abandon the cooperative heuristics if we admit it's fiction. That's why I posted here to attempt to explain--badly, I might add, given the results--a reasonable and scientific approach to combine the strengths and weaknesses of Danny and Vichy's positions, while sloughing off the less functional bits.

*I'm simplifying. Plenty of room for cognitive bias, but, assuming you're in "system 2" reasoning mode, you're attempting to sort by truth.

Radical Hippo said...

"We think in fiction, aka metaphors. Now, applied to thinking about morality: you held a fiction about intrinsic, real moral value, puzzled it out with us, and are now dissatisfied with the loss. The sense of loss, or dissatisfaction, results from a truth-value equivalence error. When you talk about "pretending" and "deceiving," you're revealing an underlying language of value. Consider: we could call using metaphor "deception." Metaphors are abstracted, misleading things. We could also admit that metaphor is the only way we could actually arrange our perceptions into chunks for manipulation. Aka, thinking. So if Morality doesn't "make sense" except as fiction, why does that bother you? (As it bothered me, btw.)""This doesn't describe me in my present state, although perhaps some reservations still exist from my loss years ago when I rejected Christianity around the age of 17 and lost any basis for a certain variety of Morality that I had held. What bothers me at present is that we allow for a 'metaphor' to logically justify our moral conclusions because we can't find anything better. In other words as I understand the process:

1: I hold some subjective value (e.g. it is wrong to murder).
2: But this really just means "I don't like it when people are killed in certain ways."
3: If I were to try to use this subjective view of morality to come to other moral conclusions it fails to function as intended.
C: Therefore: We need to use the fiction from (1) (e.g. it is wrong to murder) in order to speak cogently about morality.

"The problem occurs when you swap camera views (1st to 3rd person obj), but invariably take a little of the other view along. You make value judgments in objective space even though objective space is purely descriptive, and value judgments should be made only in subjective space. You can't help it, though, because you're not actually in objective space, you're in a virtual objective space. You're creating a metaphorical abstraction of objectivity. You create maps of the terrain. They are snapshots of possibly valid and sound objectivity, sorted and assigned value based on how valid or sound they seem to be. In other words, you value your objective snapshots by how true they seem.* In your objective, should-be-descriptive analysis of human behavior, "value-creep" occurs. Fiction you observe being held as truth by people is devalued, because it is fiction. Further, you were hoping Morality wasn't fiction, because you knew that would devalues it for you. At least, that is how I interpret you trying to find something that can't be. The irony for us: we may "know" that truth is not the same as value, but when thinking, we can't help "feeling" they're equivalent."I think I follow you. What I am after is truth and honesty in our portrayal of moral ideas and our actions pursuant to them. If we admit that a person subjectively creates all values and that they do not really lie in objective space, why do we pretend they do - so we can use logical propositions to defend and explain them? The whole process is one of knowingly misusing the tools at our disposal. I want to throw away the metaphor and see what is left.

Stan said...

Hippo, I've created a blog entry in response here.

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