CPBD 038: Taner Edis – Science and Nonbelief

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 5, 2010 in Podcast,Science

cpbd038

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview physicist Taner Edis. Among other things, we discuss:

  • science and religion
  • methodological naturalism
  • a scientist’s view of intelligent design
  • a physicist’s view of the fine-tuning argument
  • a physicist’s view of time
  • a physicist’s view of the kalam cosmological argument
  • a physicist’s view of miracles
  • a physicist’s view of morality

edisDownload CPBD episode 038 with Taner Edis. Total time is 44:54.

Taner Edis links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Maitzen May 5, 2010 at 9:19 am

A very interesting interview. Good work again, Luke. I found the last few minutes, where Edis expresses skepticism about moral objectivity, to be especially interesting.

I’d like to know what he and others think about this idea: moral objectivity is no more spooky than objectivity about what counts as good reasoning. I think the following two claims are on a par both semantically and ontologically:

(1) “Affirming the consequent is bad reasoning: you shouldn’t rely on it; you’d be irrational to rely on it.”

(2) “Torturing children just for fun is morally wrong: you shouldn’t do it; you’d be immoral to do it.”

I think both (1) and (2) are objectively true — i.e., true regardless of what anyone believes — and I think both are normative claims (oughts). Now maybe they’re only descriptive claims that seem normative, but in any case they’re in the same boat.

So: Anyone who denies the objective truth of (2) needs to deny the objective truth of (1) or else explain how (1) and (2) are relevantly different.

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lukeprog May 5, 2010 at 9:26 am

Steve,

Personally, I think what’s going on here is that rationality terms are a bit more sharply defined than moral terms. If we can find a way to agree on what moral terms mean, then making objectively true moral claims would be much less controversial. I follow Brandt’s ‘reforming definintions’ approach a bit and propose that a set of definitions for moral terms should (1) generally capture as much as possible about what most people have tried to communicate when using moral terms, and (2) successfully refer. The set of definitions for moral terms that accomplishes these two feats – with the second being absolutely necessary – is the most reasonable set of definitions for moral terms with which to proceed in our examination of moral truths. At the moment, I think that the set of moral definitions proposed by desirism satisfies these two criteria best.

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Steve Maitzen May 5, 2010 at 9:53 am

Steve, Personally, I think what’s going on here is that rationality terms are a bit more sharply defined than moral terms. If we can find a way to agree on what moral terms mean, then making objectively true moral claims would be much less controversial.

Luke,

I dunno about that. Rationality is notoriously protean: there’s epistemic, prudential, economic, means-end, etc. More important, though: I don’t see how refining the definition of “irrational” or “immoral” would put (1) and (2) on a different footing. Futhermore, is it really the case that moral relativists and moral objectivists disagree because the former think that “immoral” isn’t well-defined? I didn’t get that sense at all from Edis’s remarks or from his online review of Martin (2003). He seems to understand what objectivists mean by “immoral” but can’t see how naturalism could accommodate the objective truth of (2). Ditto for (1), then, if he’s right — which is my challenge.

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Josh May 5, 2010 at 10:28 am

Luke,I dunno about that.Rationality is notoriously protean: there’s epistemic, prudential, economic, means-end, etc.More important, though: I don’t see how refining the definition of “irrational” or “immoral” would put (1) and (2) on a different footing.Futhermore, is it really the case that moral relativists and moral objectivists disagree because the former think that “immoral” isn’t well-defined?I didn’t get that sense at all from Edis’s remarks or from his online review of Martin (2003).He seems to understand what objectivists mean by “immoral” but can’t see how naturalism could accommodate the objective truth of (2).Ditto for (1), then, if he’s right — which is my challenge.  

I think the issue here is trying to understand what we actually mean when we say

“Affirming the consequent is bad reasoning: you shouldn’t rely on it; you’d be irrational to rely on it.”

What I think we are trying to say is that “Affirming the consequent does not make any guarantees about he truth value of the antecedent. Therefore, if you are concerned with the truth value of the antecedent, then affirming the consequent is not likely to get you the knowledge you want.”

That seems like a perfectly objective statement that is utterly unrelated to the moral claim that you contrasted it with. It relies on the assumption that “rationality” has something to do with determining true things about the world, which I think is a quite reasonable definition. However, morality is completely ambiguous, which is why the analogy is a disanalogy.

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John D May 5, 2010 at 10:47 am

Steve,

I’m reading Russ Shafer Landau’s Moral Realism: A Defence at the moment. I am just curious, based on the above comment and other comments you have made, do you embrace a position that is something akin to his?

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lukeprog May 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Steve,

I didn’t mean to say that relativists and realists disagree because relativists think “immoral” isn’t well-defined. This is only true of ‘moral incoherentism’, defended by Don Loeb, but his position is most like non-cognitivism, not relativism.

What I’m trying to say is something like this:

We don’t have much trouble thinking about ‘objective facts’ concerning protons and houses because these terms are well-defined and used with relative consistency.

We have some difficulty thinking about objective facts concerning rationality because there are many different models of rationality, but philosophers are usually willing to give an operational definition (for their purposes), and then proceed from there to make objectively true or false claims about rationality given their definitions.

For some reason philosophers feel uncomfortable doing the same with moral facts, and I don’t think they need do. But the whole issue is confused by the fact that most moral theories define moral terms such that they refer to non-existent things like intrinsic value and divine commands and categorical imperatives.

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Bill Maher May 5, 2010 at 2:10 pm

If William Lane Craig was a real man, he would have a debate on time with this guy. http://timecube.com/

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Steve Maitzen May 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

@John D: It’s been a while since I read RSL’s book, but I do favor non-naturalistic moral realism in general and moral rationalism in particular, which explains my choice of (1) above.

@Luke: I’ll think further about your claim that there’s a definitional problem at the root of the dispute. It may come down to whether the uncontroversial existence of X requires the existence of an informative, or precise, or nonarbitrary definition of ‘X’. I’m inclined to think not. Tall oaks uncontroversially exist even though no such definition of ‘tall oak’ exists.

@Josh: Your parsing of (1) seems to do two things: (a) it tries to explain why (1) is true; (b) it translates (1) into a non-normative conditional whose consequent is a probability claim. Regarding (a), let’s not confuse (1) with an explanation of the truth of (1); those are distinct things. Regarding (b), the translation produces a non-normative claim, which casts doubt on it as a translation of the normative claim (1). But even if (1) is properly translated as you suggest, (2) can be translated into something analogous: “If you want to avoid doing what’s morally wrong, then torturing children just for fun is not likely to accomplish your goal.” True, you did give a reasonable (though contestable) definition of “rationality” in terms of “determining true things about the world” (notice that prudential rationality doesn’t fit that definition). Moral objectivists have given reasonable (though contestable) definitions of “morally wrong.” So we still lack a principled difference between (1) and (2).

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lukeprog May 5, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Steve,

I’m not claiming either way whether the uncontroversial existence of X requires the existence of a precise definition for X, I was more trying to take a guess at the psychology of philosophers and why they have had such trouble thinking that objective moral facts exist. It is quite easy to claim that objective moral facts exist if you define moral terms in certain ways. It’s just that other philosophers say, “Well, I don’t accept your definition.”

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Steve Maitzen May 5, 2010 at 3:26 pm

It is quite easy to claim that objective moral facts exist if you define moral terms in certain ways. It’s just that other philosophers say, “Well, I don’t accept your definition.”

Luke,

I see the situation very differently. Utilitarians and Kantians agree that there are objective moral facts, but they disagree on how to define, for instance, “morally wrong.” Neither side says, “Sure, objective moral facts exist if we accept your definitions.” Quite the contrary. Moreover, I don’t think the complaints of error theorists like Mackie are answered by agreeing on definitions. Mackie grants the (projective) definition of “moral fact” tacitly used by the folk but denies the existence of moral facts, so defined, because (a) we disagree about what they are (which disagreement he exaggerates, I think) and (b) he finds them metaphysically queer.

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Josh May 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

@Steve

I see your point, but I think there is a fundamental difference here. I guess if you had to press me about it, I would hold that neither of your claims (1) or (2) are objectively true, but that (1) has more of a sense of objectivity because in context it’s quite clear why it might be an unwise choice to affirm the consequent. Of course, if you don’t care about the truth value of the antecedent, then it doesn’t matter if you affirm the consequent. But we assume that you are making an argument BECAUSE you care about the truth value of the antecedent when we advice you about the irrationality of affirming the consequent.

On the other hand, we have no knowledge of your position when we say that something is immoral. If you don’t care about raping children, then raping children is a non-issue, in the same way that if you don’t care about the truth value of the antecedent, then the charge of irrationality is somewhat useless. However, there is a good reason for affirming the consequent to be irrational on the assumption that you are affirming the consequent for the reason of saying something about the antecedent. With the moral claim, there is no such similarity. If you think that raping children is morally acceptable, then my claim that is morally unacceptable is just completely useless to you, unless we agree on a common set of moral axioms, in which case I agree with Luke’s assessment (I think).

To summarize: The difference is that when we are telling someone that they shouldn’t affirm the consequent, it’s because there is a precise context in which you might be affirming the consequent so that we implicitly agree on a set of “rationality axioms”. However, for morality, we almost certainly don’t implicitly agree on our moral axioms, so the two statements are just different.

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Josh May 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm

I should also state that I think all normative claims need to be translated into some sort of conditional statement, in which case they have truth values. For example, I’m not entirely sure what “murder is wrong” means, but I think it needs to be translated into “On my theory of morality, murder is wrong”. That statement, of course, has a truth value (and it may be false!). I think this would be called subjective realism, which is a descriptive theory of moral realism—but I have no problem with that.

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Steve Maitzen May 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I guess if you had to press me about it, I would hold that neither of your claims (1) or (2) are objectively true

I wonder if Edis would say the same thing. Would he deny the objective truth of all categorical normative claims about reasoning?

Of course, if you don’t care about the truth value of the antecedent, then it doesn’t matter if you affirm the consequent.

It may not matter to that reasoner, but it makes him/her an objectively bad reasoner (to that degree), whether or not the reasoner cares.

If you think that raping children is morally acceptable, then my claim that it is morally unacceptable is just completely useless to you

Let’s distinguish what’s true from what someone might find useful or might care about. You seem to be saying that I can’t reason badly if I don’t care about reasoning well, and I can’t act immorally if I don’t care about acting morally. But I don’t think you really mean to say that; at least there’s nothing about the relevant concepts that invites it.

(Let me take this chance to retract the third and fourth sentences of my most recent reply to Luke. I got carried away and don’t need them. Keep the rest.)

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lukeprog May 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Steve,

Yeah, I see what you’re saying – that whole approach has always seemed backwards to me. I don’t think it’s how we treat other systems of knowledge.

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TaiChi May 5, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I think both (1) and (2) are objectively true — i.e., true regardless of what anyone believes — and I think both are normative claims (oughts). Now maybe they’re only descriptive claims that seem normative, but in any case they’re in the same boat.
So: Anyone who denies the objective truth of (2) needs to deny the objective truth of (1) or else explain how (1) and (2) are relevantly different. 

I think you’re right that they’re semantically on a par. Whether or not they’re ontologically on a par depends upon whether the world exhibits a structure in which ‘torturing children just for fun’ fails or thwarts the purposes of morality, whatever those are.

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Steve Maitzen May 5, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I think you’re right that they’re semantically on a par. Whether or not they’re ontologically on a par depends upon whether the world exhibits a structure in which ‘torturing children just for fun’ fails or thwarts the purposes of morality, whatever those are.

So I take it you think the world exhibits a structure in which affirming the consequent thwarts the purposes of reasoning. Now, particular reasoners have purposes in using reasoning, but “the purposes of reasoning,” full stop? I don’t know what to make of that phrase, so I don’t know if I accept your criterion for ontological parity.

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TaiChi May 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Now, particular reasoners have purposes in using reasoning, but “the purposes of reasoning,” full stop?

There’s no full stop: “the purposes of reasoning” just identifies the goals common to particular reasoners when they engage in what we would call “reasoning”. It’s what we take reasoning to be ‘for the sake of’.

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TaiChi May 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm

I should add that I don’t think it necessary to know the purpose of a given field of normative discourse to recognize it as normative. Often we learn a host of examples of ‘correct’ normative statements before we get to learning just what purposes may justify them (particularly as children). Further, we can often pick just what would count as a normative statement on the basis of similarity to known examples despite lacking cognizance of the purposes. So whilst I think that morality must have (presupposes) some goal or other for its normative statements to be true, I don’t think that those who use moral statements must operate with an explicit conception of that goal.

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Josh May 5, 2010 at 7:28 pm

There’s no full stop: “the purposes of reasoning” just identifies the goals common to particular reasoners when they engage in what we would call “reasoning”. It’s what we take reasoning to be ‘for the sake of’.  

I think that this is a very concise way of saying most of what I was trying to say.

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Steve Maitzen May 6, 2010 at 7:32 am

All this talk of purposes and goals is interesting. Folks here seem to favor one or the other of these views:

(A) Any objectively true apparently normative (ought) statement is really a non-normative statement in disguise: it’s equivalent to a conditional having only a descriptive antecedent and consequent. There’s no oughtness in the world. [Josh seemed to favor this view in one of his replies to me.]

(B) Objectively true ought-statements exist, but they’re all hypothetical (i.e., conditional). “If you want to avoid checkmate, you objectively ought to move your king.” Normativity exists in the world, but it’s always hypothetical. [Mackie seems to hold this view, and I got the sense that Luke and TaiChi may also.]

On A, there’s no special problem with moral normativity, since no other kind of normativity (rational, aesthetic, etc.) exists either. Moral anti-realists who hold B must think there’s a special problem with moral normativity, as Mackie clearly does.

In his thesis a few years ago, a student of mine argued against B on the grounds that hypothetical imperatives (if they’re not just descriptive statements in disguise, as A claims) are queer because they (often, if not always) presuppose a “duty to oneself”: “If you want to avoid checkmate, you really owe it to yourself to move your king.” I think he’s right to suspect something odd about an objective duty to oneself, even a hypothetical one. It’s a problem for B.

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Daniel A. Wang May 6, 2010 at 10:27 am

Helpful link on Mackie’s arguments for the “error theory”:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/moral-error-theory.html

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TaiChi May 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I think he’s right to suspect something odd about an objective duty to oneself, even a hypothetical one. It’s a problem for B.

Maybe, but does it follow that because the hypothetical imperative can only appeal to the interests of the actor, the duty prescribed would be towards oneself? Suppose a promising basketball player takes himself to be committed to his family, and so the following conditional is motivational for him..

P: If you want to improve the welfare of the family, you ought to leave college and enter the NBA draft.

It seems to me that if this conditional describes an obligation of any sort, then it describes an obligation toward his family, for the reason that he ought to enter the NBA draft is for the sake of that family, and not for the sake of himself. So my suggestion would be that if one has a duty, then one has that duty to those persons other than oneself whose interests are cited in the antecedent of a hypothetical imperative, where that antecedent is satisfied for oneself.

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Steve Maitzen May 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm

P: If you want to improve the welfare of the family, you ought to leave college and enter the NBA draft. It seems to me that if this conditional describes an obligation of any sort, then it describes an obligation toward his family, for the reason that he ought to enter the NBA draft is for the sake of that family, and not for the sake of himself. So my suggestion would be that if one has a duty, then one has that duty to those persons other than oneself whose interests are cited in the antecedent of a hypothetical imperative, where that antecedent is satisfied for you.

If the duty isn’t owed to the one whose desire is cited in the antecedent ["If you want..."], then why say that the imperative is only hypothetical, i.e., premised on the antecedent? The main verb of the antecedent clause is “want”; the consequent is premised on a desire. So either the imperative isn’t hypothetical (contrary to B), or else its hypothesis is that the agent desires something, in virtue of which desire he ought to leave college. Given his desire, he owes it to himself (or else to no one) to leave college. Otherwise, we should say that he ought to leave college for his family’s sake, regardless of his desires.

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Josh May 6, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Steve,

I think that’s about right with what I believe. Also, your point about presupposing a duty to oneself is interesting and I will think about this.

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TaiChi May 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm

If the duty isn’t owed to the one whose desire is cited in the antecedent ["If you want..."], then why say that the imperative is only hypothetical, i.e., premised on the antecedent?

I’m sorry, but I don’t think I understand your point. Yes, the agent desires something, in virtue of which desire he ought to leave college. I’d even say that he has a duty in virtue of this desire of his, and that the duty is contingent. Fine. I don’t see how it follows that we should describe him as having a duty to himself.

For instance, take the following conditional:

Q: If Tom has a duty to enlist in the army, then Tom ought to enlist in the army.

This a hypothetical imperative, and not just in form, because the duty may only arise when there’s a war, and probably only when it’s just. The antecedent clause assigns a duty to Tom, that is it’s point, and the consequent is premised on the duty assigned. Does it follow that Tom has a duty to himself, because Tom is the main subject of the antecedent clause? No? Then how can you infer from the basketball player’s being the main subject of an antecedent clause that the player must also be the target of a duty which the conditional grounds?

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Steve Maitzen May 7, 2010 at 4:00 am

Q: If Tom has a duty to enlist in the army, then Tom ought to enlist in the army.

Thanks for the example, but I don’t find it persuasive. I regard the logical form of Q as simply the tautology

“If O(Tom enlists in the army), then O(Tom enlists in the army)”

where O is the deontic “It is obligatory” operator. I treat “Tom has a duty” and “Tom ought” interchangeably. Conditional form isn’t enough to make an imperative into a hypothetical imperative, or else every imperative is hypothetical, since for any P, “If P, then P” holds.

Maybe you and I understand “hypothetical imperative” differently. I understand it in the way I think Mackie does: an imperative (a duty) that depends on (that arises only because of) the interests or desires of the agent to whom the imperative applies. There’s no sign that Q is a case of this. (The presence of a war, even a just war, says nothing about Tom’s interests or desires.)

So I’m left where I was: puzzled about how an agent’s duty can arise solely because of his interests unless he owes that duty to himself. I think you’re right that it doesn’t follow from a duty’s dependence on the agent’s desires that the duty must be to the agent himself. But I can’t see how it could be a duty to anyone else if it arises solely because of the agent’s desires.

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TaiChi May 7, 2010 at 4:58 am

Maybe you and I understand “hypothetical imperative” differently.

Yes. I took the relevant contrast between hypothetical and categorical imperatives to be that the former applies depending upon circumstance, whereas the latter applies regardless of circumstance. That’s why I mention the contingency of war, or of a war’s being just. But this doesn’t look to be important, and I’m happy to admit I’m probably wrong on this.

You’re right that it doesn’t follow from a duty’s dependence on the agent’s desires that the duty must be to the agent himself.

I’m glad we agree – this was all I wanted Q to demonstrate.

But I can’t see how it could be a duty to anyone else if it arises solely because of the agent’s desires. 

I think it’s a mistake to say that the duty arises solely on the agent’s desires. It depends on the desires of those whose desires are nested within the agent’s desires, too. It’s disconcerting to have you summarize away the very explanation I’m pointing to.

Well, I guess we’re at a stalemate. I find it intuitive that if P is applicable in the case I’ve described, then the obligation is to the family, and not to the basketball player. You don’t (do you?), but can’t offer me more than your own intuitions that duties arising from hypothetical imperatives must be egocentric. I’ll admit that B-theorist owes an account here, but I’m not yet convinced that no account can be given.

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Steve Maitzen May 7, 2010 at 5:39 am

I took the relevant contrast between hypothetical and categorical imperatives to be that the former applies depending upon circumstance, whereas the latter applies regardless of circumstance. That’s why I mention the contingency of war, or of a war’s being just. But this doesn’t look to be important, and I’m happy to admit I’m probably wrong on this.

Right. I have a duty to educate my children only if my children exist, but that by itself doesn’t turn my duty into what’s usually thought of as a hypothetical imperative.

I’m glad we agree – this was all I wanted Q to demonstrate.

But Q doesn’t demonstrate what you just claimed it does, since Q never mentions an agent’s interests or desires. If anything demonstrates it, it’s the conditional P that you gave earlier. I’ll think more about P and get back to you.

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RA May 7, 2010 at 5:44 am

Hmmm. This is not where I would have expected this thread to go. This is very Inside Baseball. Did Steven Maitzen say what I think he said?

That the very idea that the desire to act in the moral interest of others is in fact only your own interest to fulfill your interest in acting for others, therefore, it is only your own self interest you are acting on? And that makes the concept of desirism more of less invalid in his mind.

If that were true, it would really blow my mind. How could that be? It would almost make sense but not quite.

Do I have that right?

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Steve Maitzen May 7, 2010 at 7:50 am

Hmmm. This is not where I would have expected this thread to go. This is very Inside Baseball.

Inside Basketball, it turns out.

Did Steven Maitzen say what I think he said? That the very idea that the desire to act in the moral interest of others is in fact only your own interest to fulfill your interest in acting for others, therefore, it is only your own self interest you are acting on? And that makes the concept of desirism more of less invalid in his mind.

No, he didn’t. His point had to do with the nature of hypothetical imperatives. Have another look at it.

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RA May 7, 2010 at 8:02 am

Having another look will not do me any good. I’m lost in the terminology. But thanks for clarifying.

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Steve Maitzen May 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I think it’s a mistake to say that the duty arises solely on the agent’s desires. It depends on the desires of those whose desires are nested within the agent’s desires, too. It’s disconcerting to have you summarize away the very explanation I’m pointing to.

@TaiChi: Sorry to disconcert you. I’ll try a different tack. I think it’s enough to cast doubt on hypothetical imperatives if they imply a duty to oneself, even when they also imply a duty to others. Suppose you’re right that the player’s hypothetical duty depends on both (i) his desire to improve his family’s welfare and (ii) his family’s desire that their welfare improve. So absent either (i) or (ii), he has no obligation to leave college. In that case, you say that his obligation (if any) is to his family rather than to himself. But why not both, since each of (i) and (ii) is necessary? It seems more natural to say, “Given your desire and your family’s desire, you owe it to yourself and your family to leave college” than to say, “Given your desire and your family’s desire, you owe it to your family to leave college.” I see this as evidence that such imperatives imply a duty to oneself even when they also imply a duty to others. It’s of course a separate issue whether the former implication is as bad as I think it is.

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TaiChi May 7, 2010 at 8:04 pm

@TaiChi: Sorry to disconcert you. I’ll try a different tack. I think it’s enough to cast doubt on hypothetical imperatives if they imply a duty to oneself, even when they also imply a duty to others. Suppose you’re right that the player’s hypothetical duty depends on both (i) his desire to improve his family’s welfare and (ii) his family’s desire that their welfare improve. So absent either (i) or (ii), he has no obligation to leave college. In that case, you say that his obligation (if any) is to his family rather than to himself.

Sure.

But why not both, since each of (i) and (ii) is necessary? It seems more natural to say, “Given your desire and your family’s desire, you owe it to yourself and your family to leave college” than to say, “Given your desire and your family’s desire, you owe it to your family to leave college.”

Don’t you find it a little odd to be recommending to me as natural the very thing you find problematic? I don’t see why I shouldn’t just reverse the order of reasoning here, and raise the stakes: a duty to oneself is self-contradictory, so either your more ‘natural’ interpretation is not natural at all, or it does not imply the duty you take it to imply. If the latter, you’ve made an error; if the former, then your method of extracting a duty from a hypothetical imperative must be wrong.
If I have to point out where you go wrong, then I’ll say that you go wrong in failing to appreciate that ‘has a duty to’ is an irreflexive relation, and so you are applying the relation to cases that are properly ignored. What is left with regard to P, once the player’s duty to himself is ignored as self-contradictory, is his duty to his family.

(Can I get away with that? ;) )

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Steve Maitzen May 8, 2010 at 4:24 am

Don’t you find it a little odd to be recommending to me as natural the very thing you find problematic? I don’t see why I shouldn’t just reverse the order of reasoning here, and raise the stakes: a duty to oneself is self-contradictory, so either your more ‘natural’ interpretation is not natural at all, or it does not imply the duty you take it to imply. If the latter, you’ve made an error; if the former, then your method of extracting a duty from a hypothetical imperative must be wrong.
If I have to point out where you go wrong, then I’ll say that you go wrong in failing to appreciate that ‘has a duty to’ is an irreflexive relation, and so you are applying the relation to cases that are properly ignored. What is left with regard to P, once the player’s duty to himself is ignored as self-contradictory, is his duty to his family.

Clearly we’re on the same wavelength: you replied exactly as I feared you would! For what it’s worth, a conjunction (S & F) could be more natural in some context than F even if S isn’t more natural than F in another context. In any case, you’ve laid out the alternatives nicely. My argument:

1. If a hypothetical imperative generates a duty at all, then (on pain of arbitrariness) it generates a duty to oneself, whatever other duty it generates. [That's why I invoked naturalness.]

2. It can’t generate a duty to oneself: no such duty exists. [As you say, the relation is irreflexive.]

3. Therefore, no hypothetical imperative generates a duty at all.

(And I hereby protest your attempt to ignore the implied duty to oneself as we might ignore the negative square root of 16 in doing a physics calculation. Can I get away with that?)

A hypothetical imperative can tell us what’s advisable or prudent for the agent to do given his desires and interests, but not what the agent morally ought to do given those. I wish I had a better argument for that claim, though! Anybody?

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TaiChi May 8, 2010 at 6:06 pm

(And I hereby protest your attempt to ignore the implied duty to oneself as we might ignore the negative square root of 16 in doing a physics calculation. Can I get away with that?)

Ha!

A hypothetical imperative can tell us what’s advisable or prudent for the agent to do given his desires and interests, but not what the agent morally ought to do given those.

Ok, here’s one difference. What it is prudent for an agent to do depends upon the agent’s desires as a whole, and what may be prudent on some subset of those desires is overruled by what is prudent on the whole. Thus, the desire to travel may indicate that you ought to start booking your flights, but this can be swamped all sorts of other desires you have, to attend college, stay close to familty and friends, etc.. Importantly, these other desires actually make it false to say that you ought to start booking flights.
In contrast, no welter of other desires you have suffices to make it false that you morally ought to (say) refrain from torturing others. It may still be true in spite of all your other desires. In fact, your other desires only count as an excuse for not fulfilling a moral imperative on the assumption that the moral imperative is true. So this suggests that moral imperatives cannot be assimilated to hypothetical imperatives.

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