Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Eritis sicut deus, scientes bonum et malum

I will make one more attempt to explain what I mean by absolute morality, because I am still absolutely confused as to what Marco means by saying he rejects it.

There is only one question we ever need to ask ourselves, and that question is, ‘what do I do now?’

My assertion is that all possible answers to that question, at any particular spot in space-time were you ask it, can be ranked in order from best to worst in a unique way. I am not saying that order is something that you know, or anybody knows; I am asserting that you do not know it. I am not saying that in the case of someone else, faced with a similar array of possible answers, they will be ranked in the same order; I am asserting that in all probability they will be ranked in a similar order.

All of Marco’s examples seem to be examples of incomplete information, which are irrelevant to the question of how good/evil something is. Let us represent all the possible answers by cucumbers in a field, and say that instead of ranking actions in terms of goodness, we will rank cucumbers in terms of northness. Because we are standing in different positions in the field, close to some cucumbers and far away from others, and neither of us are exactly sure where north is, of course we will get different orders of northness. Of course both of our orders of northness are probably wrong. This does not mean that there is not a unique order of northness, or that our rankings are necessarily of equal validity, or that there is no such direction as north. If someone gets a particularly bad order of cucumbers because they have a dodgy compass, we can give them special consideration when we mark their Cucumber Location 101 assignment; we do not have to punish them. But if we say that their north was just as good as our north, we are throwing away a useful directional concept just to spare their feelings.

8 comments:

Marco said...

I understand exactly what you're saying. What I'm saying is that if I don't believe in an absolute good, there are certain situations where good and bad are intertwined, and obviously I believe that my model reflects more accurately the reality of the situation in these cases. Clearly, my core beliefs lead to the conclusion that it isn't that we just don't know where north is - there isn't a North, and just because sages agree on where North lies, doesn't necessarily make it a more reliable model. When there is the question of what do I do now?, I try to imagine an "end" result that matches my conscience (which I listen to regardless of its absoluteness)and I see what means I have available to get there, using whatever predictive powers I have. In some cases, I may tread on some sensibilities, but I still think my conscience to be binding even if it is not absolute.

Dr. Clam said...

Piffle! So your relative morality 'for humanity' has evaporated like so much pus in a blast furnace. I wouldn't listen to your conscience if I were you, because you have no philosophical reason for doing so. Tell the bloody thing to piss off and leave you alone!
Henceforth I will not attempt to engage in rational discourse with you, but will take over Dave's abandoned role of mocking and belittling your puny beliefs. :D

Marco said...

Piffle yourself. I do listen to my conscience so therefore I must have a philosophical reason to do so - Even if there's a voice inside my head saying, "I'm not going anywhere, you can't escape, you have to live with me". To truly understand my philosophy, you would have to walk a mile in my shoes - i.e. make arguments that don't require an assumption of absolute good.

Dr. Clam said...

I can't understand your philosophy unless I am you? Then there is absolutely no point trying to talk to you at all- our core axioms are too divergent, and it would be more useful for me to spend my time trying to commnicate with our Cepahalopod Masters by telepathy. I make disparaging noises in the direction of your sloppy and subjective argument, pah!

Marco said...

I feel I should backpedal a little bit. I spend most of my life not even thinking about what my core axioms are. Most philosophical discussions I have are primarily to experience other peoples philosophy by taking their core assumptions up and seeing where it takes me. I have no interest in converting other people to my philosophy, and if my core assumptions change (via conversion etc.) then so be it. Non-euclidian geometry was discovered this way, and it is my way to finding absolute truth. Is euclidian geometry any less useful because it doesn't usually match non-euclidian? My attachment to relativism is only strong in areas where I think it models reality accurately. The extension of my relativism to moral issues is something I have much less attachment to, is instinctive in nature and is only a crutch to me in explaining other people's behaviour more accurately rather than my own. In a sense, I haven't really made up my mind about this extension into moral matters when I ask myself "what do I do now?" as opposed to "what will he do now?" if I'm talking about say Osama Bin Laden who I believe is a relativist pretending to be an absolutist. By continually asking me what I believe, you are essentially asking me to make up my mind. I don't even know what sort of things would convince me one way or the other.

Marco said...

To get back to the original argument, which is quantitative in nature, do you or do you not think that for cost benefit analysis you should multiply Q by a generally accepted value of $2.5 million US per life as a consideration we should give when deciding the benefits of a law change, and therefore the proportional resources we should apply in consideration to the unborn? Or do you think that our consideration of the resources applied should be a separate issue that should be democratically decided. Moral clarity must meet up with economic reality at some point - where do think the line "ought" to be drawn?

Dr. Clam said...

I think $2.5 M is too high for the value of a human life, and there would be very few people where their resources combined with the resources of the state and their insurance company would add up to that much in life-saving medical treatment- $100 K seems more realistic to me. More painful to me than the disparity in resources allocated to the unborn vs. the born is the quantitively more important disparity in resources allocated to the third world vs. the first world- if the economic value of human life was spread equally, as it should be, I think we would be pushing to achieve $10 K. But as for making the amount we should put into our economic model Q x V, that is what I would suggest, yes. In order to apply this you would have to rank proposals for legislation/medical treatment/whatever preventative measures in terms of their probable return in Q x V (integrated over time) as a function of expenditure required. I would have no trouble with this model giving rise to a system where medical treatment of the old was basically limited to painkillers.

I am curious as to why you would call Osama bin Laden a moral relativist.

Marco said...

$2.5 million is what I heard quoted recently that airlines use in the cost/benefit analysis of their safety calculations. Also, police put an amount of resources into homicide/suspicious death in proportion to a property crime of about that much, I would suggest. Reducing this in the first world would radically reduce the effectiveness of the police in homicides and the safety of airplanes. However, I see your point. I will answer on Bin Laden another time :-).