A recent thread by Jonny concerning putting our dogs to rest sparked the resurface of an ethical question I've been battling throughout my life, as I'm sure many of you have as well.
What makes our actions right or wrong?
While some of us may have an absolute moral code which determines the morality of our actions (on this blog they sometimes go by N.U.T.s [Non-negotiable, Un-alterable Terms]), where does the morality of our actions stand when circumstance dictates we break our code to make a decision, as no outcome will result in a "right" choice following our ethical absolutionism? Yet, if we break our codes, how can our choice even be deemed right given the now broken integrity of the very system that determines what is right or wrong?
At the same time, many reject the idea of moral codes, saying that what is right and what is wrong depends entirely on the moment, the environment, the people and the situation. Furthermore, by this it is impossible to determine whether a single decision is the best or not, rendering real morality utterly impossible. And, by rejecting moral codes, we liberate ourselves from our actions so that we need not question them, eliminating the line between right and wrong, making the determination impossible to boot.
I am at odds.
Do you have an absolute moral code that determines whether your actions are right or wrong?
If so, what are your N.U.T.s?
If you break your code, is your action still right or wrong? Why? Why not?
Do you think this is all rubbish and that we should all go with our gut instinct?
Do you think the answer is a combination of doctrines?
What do you think?
My view is: right and wrong is what it is, whatever I may think of it. This doesn't mean I can codify it in a set of principles. "The Way that can be named is not the true Way."
The principle of ethics is the good. What is the good? Well, the good is the good.
"If I am asked, What is good? my answer is that good is good, and that is the end of the matter. Or if I am asked How is good to be defined? my answer is that it cannot be defined, and that is all I have to say about it. But disappointing as these answers may appear, they are of the very last importance.
My point is that good is a simple notion, just as yellow is a simple notion; that, just as you cannot, by any manner of means, explain to anyone who does not already know it, what yellow is, so you cannot explain what good is."
G E Moore, Principia Ethica
Well, the good is also the concern of politics. The public, or common good. Disagreements on what constitutes that, different answers to the question: What is the public good?, lead to different regimes, to civil wars, & to wars throughout the world & history. If there is no reasonable answer to questions about the good, then disagreements will only have one answer: War. So much for the insanity you quote...
Moore is more of a metaphysician than a ideologist. He is after the truth and not the socially useful. He's gunning for bigger game than political expediency.
I hate to speak for dead men, but he may agree that at least some common agreement of "the Good" is necessary for a working modus vivendi, or political arrangement. But the question he would ask is "Is that REALLY the Good?"
Clearly, the usefulness of a thing does not ensure its truth. The religions of Egypt allowed for millennia of internal social cohesion, but the myths of Egyptian cosmology, etc., are patently false. Furthermore, granting your assumption about war, the negative consequences of a thing do not make it false or insane. That which is, is. To ignore it for expediency is ideology, and anti-philosophy. I don't like the dirt on the floor either, but I'm not going to sweep it under the rug, and pretend it doesn't exist for mere convenience sake.
That said, I don't think you've refuted Moore one bit.
Let's expand upon the same analogy he gives, and see if it can shed some light on the problem.
Assuming you and I (!) have working cones and rods, we can both agree about what yellow is. We know we are in agreement about yellow because when I point to a yellow object and ask "Yellow?" you nod your head in agreement, and when I point to a non-yellow object and ask "Yellow?" you shake your head in disagreement. Over the course of several experiments of this nature we induce that when we say "yellow" we both mean yellow. We could not have known we were in agreement about yellow by any other means.
Having established our agreement, you and I can do plenty with it. For instance, we can use it to coordinate traffic or to signify danger, etc. Our agreement about yellow proves quite useful.
But if we tried explaining yellow to a color blind man, we would surely fail for the same reason we could not confirm our agreement except by experiment: we cannot directly communicate the 'raw feel'. The best we'd be able to do is tell the blind man what it is like, under what wave length it falls in the electro magnetic spectrum, or perhaps what it is useful for.
Sure, our explanations will approximate an account of yellow, but our explanations would ultimately be inadequate to fully explain yellow. We could say with truth "Yellow is the color of a lemon" or that "In traffic, yellow means to slow down." But we could never bring the color blind man to know yellow, not even by our best explanations. For an adequate knowledge of yellow requires the 'raw feel' of it. In order for anyone to know yellow, it must be experienced.
In the philosophical jargon, we would say that any effable account of yellow must be synthetic: anything that is predicable of the subject "yellow" is not logically entailed in the concept of it. Logically, there is nothing that we can say of yellow that could not have been otherwise. Science could have discovered, for instance, that the color falls on some other wavelength than 570–590 nm, but that still would not have changed our concept of the color, which I take to be equivalent to its 'raw feel'. That is, of course, excepting the statement "Yellow is yellow."
So the moral of the story is that we don't let the color blind man drive a car, we don't let him judge art, and we don't let him shop for our lemons because the sad news is we could never bring the color blind man to know yellow. There is an epistemic problem with simple notions. While you and I, with our working rods and cones, know yellow, we cannot communicate its nature. But if we do agree that it has a real nature, then what is it? What is very nature of yellow? The only answer we can give is that yellow is yellow.
In the same manner, Moore takes 'the Good' to be an incommunicable simple notion. Our best accounts of it can only approximate it. Consider the statements, "The Good is pleasure," or the "The Good is action in accord with reason." These statements are similar to the statements above ("Yellow is the color of a lemon"). They are true, but they only give a partial account of the Good. We can come to agreement about the Good, by reaching a consensus about what events or states of affairs instantiate the good. But we could never communicate the concept to each other adequately by words alone. Much less, to a person who does not have the necessary biological equipment. A mentally ill person, for instance. It is by this agreement that a working political arrangement is possible. But the conception of the Good that is useful for political arrangement is not adequate either. "The Good is that which facilitates eudemonia," is not comprehensive.
His claim about the Good may be vacuous, and I think that is what you dislike. But any statement about the very nature of a simple notion is necessarily vacuous. Any non-vacuous statement about a simple notion could not speak to its nature except but partially.
"The good is the good." It's a logical truth. Can you really disagree with that?
I love the way you consider politics merely a matter of agreement. Does it strike you at all that there is also a question, is the political association natural, that is to say, reasonable?
Your Moore implies that is not possible; that's no proof, though. But causing--or removing the breaks to--perpetual war is insane. You can say he did it in the name of truth--but then you would have to prove for him that politics is fundamentally unnatural. You have proved that somehow? If not, we go back to insanity... The best you could say is, the man was honest, or intellectually honest. I suppose for idiots, that's an achievement.
Let me further point out the insanity in your working assumptions. Men who see--see yellow. Men who do not--do not. Now, which men understand good & which men are blind to it? Further, is seeing a fundamentally human thing? Or seeing yellow? Is knowledge of the good fundamentally human or not? Does the experience of sight really compare to the knowledge of the good?Do these questions even come up when you go on with your fairy-tale replacements for philosophical inquiry? Do you realize how silly your game is? The moral of your story is that abject servility to authority is best, or the only thing at all. Do you realize that?
Moore's assumptions are worthless without proof. Let the dead man die. Argue for him, if you think you are capable. But to argue, you would first have to think. The good is pleasure is true, you say? So men who get pleasure in the destruction of war do what they do for the good? How about the pain that medicine creates in order to repair health? Is that not good? Stop thinking about communication & stop assuming you already know the good. It is not as obvious as yellow. The silliest single thing about your talk is this: People do agree about yellow & science has nothing of interest to add to that. The good is something about which people as obviously disagree as they agree about yellow. Science also seems worthless here. But you ignore this extraordinary difference, which only makes sense if you believe that popular agreement or disagreement is something of no worth to the philosopher. Maybe you should revisit that assumption & pay more attention to people's opinions. It might save you the embarassment of comparing the good with the color yellow. Now, to the serious point about disagreement. All partial accounts are only partial in relation to a whole. Part is meaningless except part of a whole. What is the whole? All the partial claims must contradict each other unless their claims are understood to be partial, & that depends on the understanding of the whole. Do you have that? How do you know the parts if you do not know the whole of which they are parts? I am bored. I will no longer point out the absurd implications--& the ignorance--of your mini-lecture. If you want to show you have a head on your shoulders, try to make sense at least of some of these fundamental questions: What are the parts of the good in relation to the whole? Why do people disagree about the good? Is politics or ethics even possible without knowledge of the good?
By the by, however amused I am by your Kantian jargon--how best to think than to parrot a philosopher's phrases?--I like the suggestion you make, that science is a parasite on the human experience of the world & can never replace it. I wonder whether you think through the implications of that suggestion.
Titus, what are you doing outside of your hole?
Why is it that I can have good conversations with people here but never with you? If you really think I'm an inadequate thinker, then do us both a favor and ignore me. Please.
I may be mistaken about things. Clearly, that bothers you. But you don't care to correct my errors; you only care to make yourself feel smart by them.
I take it you are pursuing an advanced degree? If my ignorance bothers you so much, then don't ever go into teaching. You'd be absolutely horrible. And the worst thing about it, you'd think you were brilliant. You are a waste of my time.
Not fun when you're pretend-lecture & pretend-thinking is shot through with criticism, is it? How fun is it to learn about yourself that you'd rather not know you were not really thinking than not have fun? What does that say about the good? What does it say about that idealistic talk about loving truth more than agreement? I bet you have enough of a head on your shoulders to realize you've been had, & in the simplest way...
But I don't make fun of you simply for the fun of it; you should know thinking is always like this--but you have to learn to make fun of yourself. If you cannot see your flaws, how will you ever bear with anyone who points them out? Where is the manly daring to see what is what rather than flattery, which is the effectual truth of agreement? My questions about the good are serious, though--I just really, really despise the idea that thinking can be done for you. If you cannot control your temper, what's the use of thinking? Satisfy your passions?
You are a fool if you think you are not making assumptions and that your thinking is not flawed. I assure you it is, but you are impossible. What's more, you are a fool, if you think I am only regurgitating what others have said. I am not. But you do assume that. I have not once said I agree with Moore.
Now, this is tricky. I not only not said you agree with Moore, but not even that Moore agrees with you, hence calling him 'your Moore.'
As for my assumptions & thinking: Well, maybe there are flaws. Who among us is Plato? But the point is: Is this your way of arguing? I point out the many mistakes in your game & you say, but you have flaws, too! Try pointing them out: You'll find it takes as much time & patience to read & understand as it took me with your prose. I may take offense at what I called silliness, but I put in time & thought. Can you do that?
Or hadn't you better say that you actually prefer agreement to truth? That the difficulties thinking faces, the humiliations the thinker suffers, & the self-control required for thinking are not your game?
No, I don't have to say that.
I don't care if someone disagrees with me. Disagreement is great. And I will gladly concede a point if I am shown to be in error. You on the other hand, I have not seen you do that once. You think you are always right, proof be damned. And you think you can call others silly? Look at yourself.
But I also don't care to engage someone who insists upon being a goddamned prick about disagreement. Pointing out my mistakes is fine. It's your attitude that makes me want to make you a target for darts.
You can call it attitude, but that changes nothing. Anger trumps reason. You can blame me for it. Doesn't anger require blaming other people or things? Hell, people stumbling over inanimate things curse them, how much more will they blame people when they suffer! So for example, if I call your game silly, then you can call me a fool--who needs argument when you can have revenge, right?