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 Post subject: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:01 am 
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First, some info from Wiki:

"Philosophical theories on the nature and origins of morality (that is, theories of meta-ethics) are broadly divided into two classes:
Moral realism is the class of theories which hold that there are true moral statements that report objective moral facts. For example, while they might concede that forces of social conformity significantly shape individuals' "moral" decisions, they deny that those cultural norms and customs define morally right behavior. This may be the philosophical view propounded by ethical naturalists, however not all moral realists accept that position (e.g. ethical non-naturalists).[7]
[/b]Moral anti-realism, on the other hand, holds that moral statements either fail or do not even attempt to report objective moral facts. Instead, they hold that moral claims are derived either from an unsupported belief that there are objective moral facts (error theory, a form of moral nihilism); the speakers' sentiments (emotivism, a form of moral relativism); or any one of the norms prevalent in society (ethical subjectivism, another form of moral relativism).[b]
Theories which claim that morality is derived from reasoning about implied imperatives (universal prescriptivism), the edicts of a god (divine command theory), or the hypothetical decrees of a perfectly rational being (ideal observer theory), are considered anti-realist in the robust sense used here, but are considered realist in the sense synonymous with moral universalism."


I was recently in a debate about veganism with a moral anti-realist, and I realized I didn't have a good reason to give him to persuade him to go vegan. He argued that all a person's morals are simply constructs they create to fit their actions and upbringing, and that nothing has an absolute moral value. Therefore animals have no moral value, and veganism has no moral basis. There is no reason to not eat animals, because animals only have the value you assign to them. When I told him that humans assign value everyday, AKA why there is punishment for murdering a human, he replied that values and laws are assigned only for us to 'cover our own asses', and that there is no more value in a plant than in an animal. I was taken back, because I had never dealt with this philosophical approach before, and I am not sure what to think.

Thoughts?

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:17 am 
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That kind of thing is total bullshit, what you're dealing with is either a liar or something along the lines of a sociopath. If what he's saying is true, then outside society, he would say there is nothing "wrong" with anything you do. In a theoretical situation where there is just you and one other person, he's saying it's okay to kill, rape or torture that person because there is no "greater good", and there is no right or wrong, so go nuts. If that's the case, what you've got there is someone who just does not give a shit about other people besides himself. The alternative is that he's lying because he can't be bothered to address veganism in a real way

If what he's saying is true, he would feel no emotional connection with victims of crimes. For 99.9% of people, when they hear of a murder, rape, torture or even theft, it touches them and makes them feel that it is wrong, there is anger, frustration etc. If he's saying that the only reason we say these things are "wrong" is because we wouldn't want them to happen to us, then all we would feel is either fear (if we were in a position to be next in line), or feel nothing if it is unrelated to us. That's simply not true though

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:31 am 
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Fallen_Horse wrote:
I was recently in a debate about veganism with a moral anti-realist, and I realized I didn't have a good reason to give him to persuade him to go vegan. He argued that all a person's morals are simply constructs they create to fit their actions and upbringing, and that nothing has an absolute moral value.

Depending on how you define it, this is always true. At some level, moral values are constructed, even if you don't think they are. They can be constructed by your basest instincts and emotions, though, which is almost the same as moral realism. However, the universe doesn't care about morality. And if you get your morality from faith or God, then it's not absolute, because it depends on that faith. Any person's definition of morality can always be reduced to the set of factors from which it was constructed.

However ...
Fallen_Horse wrote:
Therefore animals have no moral value, and veganism has no moral basis.

... that doesn't make this statement true. The lack of an absolute morality in the strictest terms doesn't mean we don't have something that works effectively identically. For instance, the moral prohibition against murder is something that we created, technically. We base it on fear, empathy, guilt, the social contract, etc. At a deep level, it's subjective, but it's also so fundamental and intrinsically part of our culture and personalities that it may as well be an absolute.

Fallen_Horse wrote:
There is no reason to not eat animals, because animals only have the value you assign to them. When I told him that humans assign value everyday, AKA why there is punishment for murdering a human, he replied that values and laws are assigned only for us to 'cover our own asses', and that there is no more value in a plant than in an animal. I was taken back, because I had never dealt with this philosophical approach before, and I am not sure what to think.

He seems to be walking a fine line between ethical subjectivism and sociopathy. Value and laws exist for a few reasons. One is definitely to cover our asses. We don't want to be killed, so we have to agree not to kill people. However, we also don't want our friends and loved ones to be killed. We feel real, sincere grief. We don't even want _anyone_ else to die, because we have empathy. And we don't want to have to kill anyone, because we feel guilt. Are those all subjective, and some even unique to certain cultures? Sure, but that doesn't make them less real. It doesn't make them less valid.

On the other hand, we have these values because we don't want to feel grief or guilt or sadness, so at their core they're all based on selfishness. Don't kid yourself that altruism really exists. ;) If someone doesn't feel that empathy or guilt or grief, it's no longer in their self-interest to avoid those actions. And those people are sociopaths. I really can't say which side your friend falls on.

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:34 am 
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Richard wrote:
That kind of thing is total bullshit, what you're dealing with is either a liar or something along the lines of a sociopath. If what he's saying is true, then outside society, he would say there is nothing "wrong" with anything you do. In a theoretical situation where there is just you and one other person, he's saying it's okay to kill, rape or torture that person because there is no "greater good", and there is no right or wrong, so go nuts. If that's the case, what you've got there is someone who just does not give a shit about other people besides himself. The alternative is that he's lying because he can't be bothered to address veganism in a real way

No, if he's a traditional moral anti-realist, what he's saying is that there is no absolute moral law saying that killing the other person is wrong. However, it's still wrong within the construct of society, and it's still wrong in that we feel it's wrong. Presumably, he will feel guilt and sadness if he harms the other person, so he won't do it in any situation. It's possible to recognize that your feelings and emotions and beliefs are not absolute truths.

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:15 pm 
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Fallen_Horse wrote:
First, some info from Wiki:

"Philosophical theories on the nature and origins of morality (that is, theories of meta-ethics) are broadly divided into two classes:
Moral realism is the class of theories which hold that there are true moral statements that report objective moral facts. For example, while they might concede that forces of social conformity significantly shape individuals' "moral" decisions, they deny that those cultural norms and customs define morally right behavior. This may be the philosophical view propounded by ethical naturalists, however not all moral realists accept that position (e.g. ethical non-naturalists).[7]
[/b]Moral anti-realism, on the other hand, holds that moral statements either fail or do not even attempt to report objective moral facts. Instead, they hold that moral claims are derived either from an unsupported belief that there are objective moral facts (error theory, a form of moral nihilism); the speakers' sentiments (emotivism, a form of moral relativism); or any one of the norms prevalent in society (ethical subjectivism, another form of moral relativism).[b]
Theories which claim that morality is derived from reasoning about implied imperatives (universal prescriptivism), the edicts of a god (divine command theory), or the hypothetical decrees of a perfectly rational being (ideal observer theory), are considered anti-realist in the robust sense used here, but are considered realist in the sense synonymous with moral universalism."


I was recently in a debate about veganism with a moral anti-realist, and I realized I didn't have a good reason to give him to persuade him to go vegan. He argued that all a person's morals are simply constructs they create to fit their actions and upbringing, and that nothing has an absolute moral value. Therefore animals have no moral value, and veganism has no moral basis. There is no reason to not eat animals, because animals only have the value you assign to them. When I told him that humans assign value everyday, AKA why there is punishment for murdering a human, he replied that values and laws are assigned only for us to 'cover our own asses', and that there is no more value in a plant than in an animal. I was taken back, because I had never dealt with this philosophical approach before, and I am not sure what to think.

Thoughts?


If he went so far as to say there is no absolute right and wrong and you CONTINUE your argument then you're more insane than he is.

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:33 pm 
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There are anti-realist vegan philosophers. Like this guy - http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/20 ... -moralist/


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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:03 pm 
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blabbate wrote:
No, if he's a traditional moral anti-realist, what he's saying is that there is no absolute moral law saying that killing the other person is wrong. However, it's still wrong within the construct of society, and it's still wrong in that we feel it's wrong. Presumably, he will feel guilt and sadness if he harms the other person, so he won't do it in any situation. It's possible to recognize that your feelings and emotions and beliefs are not absolute truths.


Yeah I can see that. But this guy said that he will eat animals. Whether or not he feels guilty or sad (not stated), he is still doing it.

The other reason why I don't agree with this is that I believe that ethics can actually be argued from a logical point of view, but it requires compassion. You can argue that compassion doesn't fall into the realms of logic or whatever I suppose. But all you need is even a drop of compassion, and you can analyze the ethical value of any action. For instance, at the very basic level, you can say:
"I don't want people to murder me, so I will assume that others don't want to be murdered, so I won't murder other people"
"I don't want people to steal from me, so I assume others don't want to be stolen from, so I won't steal"

and so on. You just transfer your own feelings onto others, and treat them with respect. It is logical, it's not plucked out of thin air or random. But, if you lack even that tiny drop of compassion to start with (sociopath), then of course this chain of compassionate thinking, extending to animals, will not even exist at all. My point is that if you do feel even this small amount of compassion, a willingness to be "nice", you can see a very logical set of rules. I believe that there can be different ideas on how to create a "perfect society", or "perfect set of rules", but in terms of what is actually right and wrong, I believe it can be proven, but it does take a willingness to be good or nice.

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:06 pm 
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Is he confusing objects with sentient beings?

Low selt-esteem maybe? Does he even have moral value for himself?

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:52 pm 
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veghead25 wrote:
Is he confusing objects with sentient beings?

Low selt-esteem maybe? Does he even have moral value for himself?


I guarantee if this type were to be put under the same amount of stress, terror, torture, and pain these same beings are under then they would develop a "tangible" ethics code very, VERY quickly.

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:09 pm 
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These are great responses! I'm glad it has brought up a useful discussion topic. I am continuing the debate, and I will let you guys know how it goes :D

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:14 pm 
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vegimator wrote:
There are anti-realist vegan philosophers. Like this guy - http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/20 ... -moralist/


Good article!

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:51 pm 
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I've come across this kind of thing before, and always it's just been theoretical. When it actually comes down to it, they are not so callous as they maintain, and they really do have a sense of right and wrong which can be applied to all situations. It's just that they find it easy to say that they don't have a moral compass, to get out of things like veganism or caring about things that would complicate their life. Normally these things (like people starving or otherwise dying in other countries, animal abuse etc) are not directly witnessed by the person, so it's easy to dismiss them and say that there are no moral absolutes and all that. But if you show them a video of an animal being abused or someone being tortured or raped etc, they will not blankly stare at it and say "Yes there is nothing wrong with this". Especially if you do this when you're not in the middle of a debate like this, you can catch them unawares, and make them say something which destroys their whole point of view.

But if someone genuinely cannot see that anything is ethically wrong on principle, if they went to a psychiatrist, they would be diagnosed as having a mental problem. To me, that's how it works, it's not a viable philosophical notion, it's a mental condition, the inability to feel empathy

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 3:46 pm 
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Richard wrote:
I've come across this kind of thing before, and always it's just been theoretical. When it actually comes down to it, they are not so callous as they maintain, and they really do have a sense of right and wrong which can be applied to all situations. It's just that they find it easy to say that they don't have a moral compass, to get out of things like veganism or caring about things that would complicate their life.

Yes, this. It's pretty common. After all, as you said, if he's actually that callous, he's genuinely sociopathic.

Richard wrote:
But if someone genuinely cannot see that anything is ethically wrong on principle, if they went to a psychiatrist, they would be diagnosed as having a mental problem. To me, that's how it works, it's not a viable philosophical notion, it's a mental condition, the inability to feel empathy

Well, ethics and morals are different. I absolutely believe that someone can be perfectly emotionally healthy while believing there is no such thing as a moral absolute. In fact, I'm counting on it being possible, since it's how I feel. :) I genuinely don't believe there are immutable, absolute moral principles.

However, I do believe in a set of ethics for human behavior that should more-or-less apply to everyone. They're still situational in that they apply only to people in (relatively) civilized society. Incidentally, veganism is NOT one of those ethics, because I'm also a moral relativist. I don't think someone is immoral for eating meat if that's how they've been raised and if that's what their culture has cemented as "normal." I do want them to stop, of course, because I'd prefer everyone were vegan, but I don't condemn them for it.

Hopefully I'm not a sociopath. Although, would I really know if I were?

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 5:43 pm 
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How do you distinguish morals and ethics? I tend to just use the word "ethics", because I guess there is some kind of social or religious implication with "moral"... so I just say "ethics", as in "what is right and wrong", rather than what is a "sin because it says so in this book".

I would say that if someone does not consider anything to be wrong, then that person has a mental problem.

I personally believe there are ethical absolutes, but they're not simple and it does depend on individual circumstances. But even so, you can say for any given situation, "this is right or wrong", and back it up with evidence. If you can't back it up with evidence, then I don't see why it should be given any respect. "Homosexuals should be killed, that's just my opinion" - that's where it leads, because if you don't have to back it up, and if you automatically have respect just because it's your opinion, then you can say whatever you like, and ridiculous statements like that get made. Whereas, what I'm saying is, if someone comes out with some crap like that, you can say "where's your evidence?" and then discount their opinion when they don't have a logical explanation. Otherwise you're forced into respecting and accepting extremist and clearly unfair views

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 Post subject: Re: Debating a 'moral anti-realist'?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:27 pm 
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Richard wrote:
How do you distinguish morals and ethics? I tend to just use the word "ethics", because I guess there is some kind of social or religious implication with "moral"... so I just say "ethics", as in "what is right and wrong", rather than what is a "sin because it says so in this book".

When there's a distinction to be made, which isn't always necessary, "morals" are the absolutes and "ethics" are the study of morals or the application of morals to particular people, circumstances, cultures, etc. For instance, the same moral beliefs can have different expressions in Christian ethics vs legal ethics vs community ethics.

Richard wrote:
I would say that if someone does not consider anything to be wrong, then that person has a mental problem.

In an absolute sense, nothing is wrong until we define it as such. The "wrongness" is in our interpretation. Murder is wrong because we define it as such, and we define it that way because it causes us pain and impedes our desires. It makes us feel terrible. If a person does not feel those emotions, does not have empathy, that's where the mental illness is.

Richard wrote:
I personally believe there are ethical absolutes, but they're not simple and it does depend on individual circumstances.

If it depends on circumstances, it's not absolute.

Richard wrote:
But even so, you can say for any given situation, "this is right or wrong", and back it up with evidence. If you can't back it up with evidence, then I don't see why it should be given any respect. "Homosexuals should be killed, that's just my opinion" - that's where it leads, because if you don't have to back it up, and if you automatically have respect just because it's your opinion, then you can say whatever you like, and ridiculous statements like that get made. Whereas, what I'm saying is, if someone comes out with some crap like that, you can say "where's your evidence?" and then discount their opinion when they don't have a logical explanation. Otherwise you're forced into respecting and accepting extremist and clearly unfair views

But if you follow that same line of questioning in the other direction, you end up without "evidence" as well. It comes down to rational self-interest.

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