Shades of Grey and Morality

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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby MarbitChow » Mon May 02, 2011 5:55 pm

Ominous wrote:
Would it help if, instead of using the terms 'objective' / 'subjective', we use 'unbiased' / 'biased', or will you assert that all knowledge is also biased by definition?

No, because that’s not what I’m arguing. I agree that a moral system can theoretically be unbiased. You have no argument there. My issue is with the statement that moral rightness and wrongness are objective values.


Good, now we're on a point of agreement, and hopefully a conversation can continue. From this point forward, let us acknowledge that, when some say 'objective' vs. 'subjective', they really mean 'unbiased' vs. 'biased'.
Let us also define 'right/good' to simple mean 'having a positive value in an unbiased system', and 'wrong/evil' to mean having a negative value in an unbiased system.

Now that we're all on the same page, let's ruminate a bit more about what would be the positives in an unbiased system.

We're dealing with a species, so actions that advance or protect the species as a whole would, I presume, be 'good'. Actions that are detrimental to the species would be 'bad'.

By this definition, experimentation on unwilling test subjects would, on the surface, have to be considered 'good', since the sacrifice of individuals to increase the knowledge and welfare of the whole would be a positive. However, when we factor in the practical backlash of the majority of the population, fearing that they may be the subject of such experiments, forcing an end to any such experimentation, the net result is negative. This conclusion can be reached without resort to requiring additional elements; whether you believe a particular individual's life to be inherently valuable or valueless, the same conclusion is reached.

Unbiased morality can, I believe, be achieved by weighing a limited set of criteria and determining the action's impact based on our understanding of human nature and human reactions.
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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby Ominous » Mon May 02, 2011 7:02 pm

MarbitChow wrote:Good, now we're on a point of agreement, and hopefully a conversation can continue. From this point forward, let us acknowledge that, when some say 'objective' vs. 'subjective', they really mean 'unbiased' vs. 'biased'.
Let us also define 'right/good' to simple mean 'having a positive value in an unbiased system', and 'wrong/evil' to mean having a negative value in an unbiased system.

The conversation is not likely going to include me, as that is not what I mean by objective, and, therefore, is not what I am discussing. Using that specific operationalization of the terms, we are probably in complete agreement, as what you are discussing is what I called "what works" and "what doesn't work" earlier in the thread, or for better terminology the "validity" or perhaps the "practicality" of a given action within a particular moral framework. Since we are in agreement using that operationalization, there is no need to continue debating.
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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby Sylvan » Tue May 03, 2011 6:50 pm

Finding it slowly harder to care about this discussion, starting from the moment you introduced that bit about "being intellectually honest". In my eyes, everything is changing, constantly. So, the fact that our vision, and our very brain itself, is set up to constantly redefine normality doesn't tell me that we don't ever see anything as it actually is. Everything is constantly changing, so where is this pure objective state you are describing? It doesn't exist. No one and nothing is an outside observer of nature.

About the god business, yes I understand what omniscient means. However, consider the following. Could a being that simultaneously views everything from every possible point of view even heffectively have a viewpoint of its own? I would argue that its viewpoint would be seeing everything from every angle, and having its own individual point of view in addition would contradict this. So, no, such a being could not actually set up any sort of objective morality that would have any meaning to anything other than itself.

Also, I think this sentence is the biggest part of the disconnect in the discussion

Ominous wrote:My issue is with the statement that moral rightness and wrongness are objective values.


If you are defining moral rightness and wrongness to be some sort of universal criterion, then yes we are running into a definition wall here. As I stated earlier, such a universally applied moral rightness and wrongness would have no meaning. It is linguistic nonsense to apply a self-defining term to something that is based off of actions which have occurred or will occur in real life. Not to put words in anyone elses mouth, but I'm fairly certain we are defining moral rightness or wrongness as being based off of specific criteria within a given and established set of goals/system. In other words, first we decide what the goal of a "system of morals is", and then we can objectively measure actions which either help of achieve this goal or which are contrary to it.

I'm fairly certain no one here is arguing for a deontological "lying is wrong in every single instance of the situation you run across, ever, even if it means saving the entire human race from destruction". As I said earlier, I consider morality to only be subject to the frame of reference you find yourself in. But then again, so is everything else, because that is the objective nature of the universe, as I see it.

Allow me to briefly reiterate. It isn't that we, as fragile humans with our flawed perceptions, are unable to recognize the objective state of things. The way I see it, the objective state of nature that you seem to be ascribing to doesn't exist as you describe it, due to the ever shifting nature of the universe. Quick, where is the Earth in relation to the center of the galaxy? Ohh, I'm sorry, by the time you answer this question we'll have moved a vast distance through space.
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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby BLANDCorporatio » Wed May 04, 2011 5:34 am

Ominous wrote:Agree entirely, except that there is an objective state. We just can’t know it. There is something out there serving as the foundation for the perceptions.


And some of us just go one step further and claim there exists a non-subjective basis for moral concepts.

Ominous wrote:I gave you a link that outlines how I think. I’m not going to reiterate everything written in those articles. That’s like someone in an argument over physics asking another individual to rewrite all of Einstein’s work, because he refuses to go read a nice summation elsewhere. The work has already been done, and, considering how behind I am on my research, I feel no reason to do it all over again.


There, there. You think you're the only one with other things to do? Besides, it was a quite simple question, that one I asked. Would take a lot less time to write an answer than it does to write the average post in this thread.

Sylvan wrote:Finding it slowly harder to care about this discussion, starting from the moment you introduced that bit about "being intellectually honest". In my eyes, everything is changing, constantly. So, the fact that our vision, and our very brain itself, is set up to constantly redefine normality doesn't tell me that we don't ever see anything as it actually is. Everything is constantly changing, so where is this pure objective state you are describing? It doesn't exist. No one and nothing is an outside observer of nature.


I think you need more care in speaking about what an "objective state"/"ground truth" means. The notion certainly does not need an outside observer. Nor does it need an unchanging system.

Of course, there can be no absolute metaphysical certainty that such a "ground truth" about what is going on in the universe exists, but like your first post elegantly sums it, "who cares?" It's a functional, internally consistent approach to believe that there exists a true state (what's really going on) about which you have imperfect (but in principle, improvable) knowledge.

Sylvan wrote:Quick, where is the Earth in relation to the center of the galaxy? Ohh, I'm sorry, by the time you answer this question we'll have moved a vast distance through space.


There is an entire field of study which, TL;DR ("too long, didn't read [here's a summary]") says that "argument" is bunk. Orbital planning.

Granted, we didn't yet need to plan trajectories that involve the center of the galaxy. And sometimes the units of measurement get mixed up resulting in embarrassing errors. But when it works, we're able to plan slingshot maneuvers involving a mote of dust (a space probe) and a ball of gas (a planet) millions and millions of miles away. We are able to plan orbits so well that it is conceivable to send three satellites in space and have them keep the same distances between themselves, in hopes of detecting gravitational waves (the proposed LISA and DECIGO missions).

So "can't say anything, because everything changes" is bunk.
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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby Sylvan » Wed May 04, 2011 8:51 am

I think you are misinterpreting my words, BLAND.

First, because it is easier to address, is orbital planning. My point here was simply that you have to take several variables into account in order to accurately describe sufficiently complex matters. Take the previously mentioned Earth in relation to the center of the galaxy. It isn't just a matter of knowing where the earth is, and where the center of the galaxy is. You also have to have a "when" that you're looking for, and you have to know the speed at which our solar system is moving through space. Our solar system has been in many different parts of space and it is constantly moving. The fact that it is possible to plot out where it has been and shall be supports my position, and yours. We don't have any contention here. I was merely trying to show that context can be just as important as fact itself.

Never once did I say "can't say anything, because everything is changing". What I was saying is "facts only matter when placed in context".

Second, I did not imply that an objective state needs an outside observer. I simply said that no one/nothing is an outside observer. There is a difference between those two statements, and in any case the statement that I actually made was not connected to the "a pure objective state as you describe it doesn't exist" in the way you read it to be. What I was saying here is that you cannot simply isolate a collection of data and claim that is the "objective state" of something. In order to *truly* understand something you have to understand it in context.

This is hard for me to put into words, but I'll try to give a few examples. Its like you can't say "this is the objective state of a rock, or a hydrogen atom (isotopes), or an amusement park". Each of these things can occur in various incarnations. To understand the thing you have to understand the qualities that it may possess, and the qualities that make it that thing. That is the objective state of a thing. All of the ways it could occur, and not necessarily any one particular instance. Every collection of molecules can be "built up" or "degraded". Every atom can lose an electron, or share it with another atom, or have a different number of neutrons, or be split in a supercollider.

And if you disagree with this assessment of an objective state, I would ask you what the objective state of the universe is. You can't describe it by size, because it is constantly expanding. You can't describe it by listing the atoms it contains and their configuration, because every element heavier than iron (I may be wrong on the exact atomic weight limit here, but I'm pretty sure this is close) came from a supernova, and thus wasn't around at a certain point in time. It is a logical fallacy to say that past experiences will always predict the future, because there may be data we haven't considered/run into yet, so you can't even come to a conclusion about it that way.

I'm not trying to say that we can't understand anything. I'm trying to say that everything has to be understood in context. There is no other way. The simpler the context you are working with, the easier something is to understand. It is possible that we will never know the objective state of the universe, assuming we have no way to move beyond this one.

And I'm not saying everything is like Plato's Forms, where all that we see is an imperfect copy and there exists some "perfect" notion of everything out there in the realm of some "(G)god" that I don't even believe in. My view on an objective state is much like my view on morality. First you define what your context is, then you can get your answer. If you have no context, or don't know what context you're in, everything will be meaningless. There is nothing you will be able to say with any form of certainty. You will never find anything in nature to be without a context. Even if you're looking at a hydrogen atom floating along through empty space, that is still a type of context.

This is a really hard concept for me to describe, so my apologies if I am doing it poorly. The most important thing to take away from this is what I am not saying, and that is that the change itself is what keeps us from knowing things, or being able to say something with anything approaching certainty. I would argue that the more we know about how something is changing, or affecting the world/space around it, the more certainty we have about it and the closer we come to being able to understand what it actually is. Remove context and you also remove knowledge, until there is nothing left.

Before we move much further along with this, here are my own definitions. They may not match everyone elses here, but I'm pulling these up from dictionary.com

Objective - not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion.
Subjective - existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought ( opposed to objective)
Fact - a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true (listed because of objective, based on facts)
State - the condition of a person or thing, as with respect to circumstances or attributes

Objective State - The condition of a thing as based on true observations (does anyone disagree that this necessarily includes context? Also, this is the only definition not from an outside source. It is instead based on the definitions of objective, state, and facts, if you could not already tell)
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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby BLANDCorporatio » Wed May 04, 2011 1:49 pm

Oh ok then.
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Re: Shades of Grey and Morality

Postby Sylvan » Wed May 04, 2011 9:34 pm

Man, I can never tell when you are serious and when you are sarcastic.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter, just got a bit on my mind today.
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