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Friday, September 04, 2009

Freedom's Just Another Word for...

I'm attending a British Idealism conference in Manchester. A speaker who admitted he wasn't very familiar with Brish Idealism (he is a Isaiah Berlin scholar, I take it) was questioning the idealist conception of freedom. Someone in the audience explained it as 'the will to subjectively choose what is objectively correct.'

'Ah,' the speaker, 'objectively correct to whom?'

What a curious muddle! Something that is correct only 'to' someone is subjectively, not objectively, correct. What 'objective' means is precisely 'to any and all possible perceivers.' And, of course, it is simply a further muddle to introduce beings incapable of perceiving the objective item in question, as if that raised doubts about its objective status. 'Would this be objectively correct for ants?' makes no more sense than 'Is it objectively true for ants that Mars has two moons?' It is objectively true, not 'for' anyone, that Mars has two moons, and it is also objectively true that ants are a kind of being that cannot peer through telescopes or count to two. It is objectively true that murder is wrong, and if ants were the sort of being capable of murder, which they are not (as far as we know!), it would be wrong for them to commit murders.

12 comments:

  1. So the answer to the guy's question is "to everybody", no?

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  2. Thanks Gene. The older I get, the more I understand why Ayn Rand decided to declare, "A is A."

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  3. scineram9:02 PM

    It is objectively true that murder is wrong

    What is the evidence for that?

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  4. Shonk, yes, that's one way of putting it, but I don't like that formulation -- what about the guy in a coma? Is the objectively correct "to him"?

    scineram, please read Plato, the Nichomachean Ethics, the New Testament, the Tao Te Ching, Summa Theolgica, etc for your answer.

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  5. Jon Robinson12:14 AM

    Is it wrong for a bear to murder a bear? Is it wrong for a bear to murder a human?

    Also, where is there any evidence that murder is wrong in the New Testament?

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  6. "Is it wrong for a bear to murder a bear? Is it wrong for a bear to murder a human?"

    Jon, did you somehow overlook the whole bit about ants above?

    "Also, where is there any evidence that murder is wrong in the New Testament?"

    "Evidence" in a moral issue consists in moral arguments. If you're looking for scientific evidence, well, that would only be relavent to scientific, and not to moral issues, wouldn't it?

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  7. Anonymous11:06 PM

    " "Evidence" in a moral issue consists in moral arguments."

    Moral arguments are statements of the form: "If you believe X is morally wrong, you would also logically believe that Y is morally wrong"? If so, you are but steps away from proving the notion of "objective morality" incoherent.

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  8. Well, anonymous, you should pay a little attention to recent moral and ethical philosophy, and you will see that you have not gotten this right at all. You might look, for instance, at why Ronald Dworkin, an atheist (or perhaps agnostic) and materialist feels it unproblematic to state, "Ethical value is objective not subjective."

    Although I plan to post on this point tomorrow, consider why, when your friend says "I don't like olives," you are not tempted to argue that he really should like them, but when he says "I enjoy bashing innocent little puppies heads in," you do want to argue that he is being immoral.

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  9. Anonymous4:02 PM

    But if those puppies were guilty....

    bashing in the heads of guilyt puppies certainly should be ok.

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  10. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Especially when they are big. Big, guilty puppies are free game.

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  11. But if those puppies were guilty....

    Good point anon. If the puppies had murdered someone, Gene would say they acted immorally. No canine relativism here!

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  12. scineram7:49 PM

    Although I plan to post on this point tomorrow, consider why, when your friend says "I don't like olives," you are not tempted to argue that he really should like them

    Ask me about this with MU or Real instead of olives! Or Del Potro.

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