Moral disputes...

Are witness to the objective nature of morality:

"The discordance over moral codes witnesses to the fact of moral experience. You cannot quarrel about unknown elements. The basis of every discord is some common experience, discordantly realized." -- Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason, p. 86

This is very reminiscent of Wittgenstein's point that we can only disagree on a matter upon which we largely agree. For instance, one of the readers of this blog can refer to me as a "retard" on property rights only because we largely agree as to what property rights are. If I thought property rights were flying purple snakes that lived in my dreams, we would simply be talking about completely different things, and not disagreeing about the same thing.

15 comments:

  1. I'm not quite sure how that follows. I mean, I believe that there are good things and bad things, but most people, if they were to use this as evidence of anything, would use this as evidence that there is no objective morality. Are you a subscriber to Aristotelean teleology, intuitionism, or something else?

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    1. Yes Samson, Whitehead and Wittgenstein hardlyy would have made a point of this if it were obvious!

      Let us take the most subjective thing possible, one's dreams. I imagine you have never had anyone dispute with you the contents of your previous night's dreaming? There would be no point, right?

      Similarly, one person likes vanilla ice cream, and another likes chocolate. But only very silly people try to argue with their friend and convince him he really likes some other flavor than his favorite.

      It is not the difference that is the sign of the objectivity of morality: it is the fact that we bothered disputing about it. If both disputants did not feel there was something objective at stake, what would be the point?

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    2. Oh, and I am a subscriber to both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

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    3. Let us take the most subjective thing possible, one's dreams. I imagine you have never had anyone dispute with you the contents of your previous night's dreaming? There would be no point, right?

      True. There doesn't seem to be anyway to convince me that I dreamed something other than what I dreamed.

      It is not the difference that is the sign of the objectivity of morality: it is the fact that we bothered disputing about it. If both disputants did not feel there was something objective at stake, what would be the point?

      Holy ****! That's an excellent point! Something just clicked in my brain after pondering that one for a bit.

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    4. Oh, and I am a subscriber to both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

      Ha ha, very funny. After the brain blast I had on the above part, I'll write this down as some form of moral intuitionism.

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    5. "Holy ****!"

      The same feeling I had when I first read Wittgenstein's argument!

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    6. Oh, and I guess I'd say Aristotle had a lot to say here, but really, I try not to "subscribe" to views, but to examine and understand them.

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    7. If your argument is that people would only bother disputing something if they believe there's something objective at stake, then isn't the logical conclusion merely that people *believe* that morality is objective, not necessarily that it *is* objective?

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    8. Of course, MathMan. But what it shows is that people who claim morality is all subjective but dispute it nonetheless have a problem.

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    9. And also, secondly, we might take it that, if people continue to dispute something over many, many centuries, there suspicion that something objective is at stake gains some historical support.

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    10. "their" not "there"

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    11. Following up with MathMan's point, is that why you say "witness" and not "evidence"?

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    12. Whitehead said that, not me. But perhaps that is why.

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  2. Are disputes concerning aesthetics witness to the objective nature of beauty? (BTW, I believe in objective morality, I'm just playing devil's advocate.)

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    1. Yes, I think indeed they are.

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