Ask Yourself A.K.A. Isaac #namethetrait logical fallacy (FriendEd discussion followup details)

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Ask Yourself A.K.A. Isaac #namethetrait logical fallacy (FriendEd discussion followup details)

Post by Philosophical Vegan » Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:46 am

Ask Yourself wanted an answer to something I couldn't give him (whether I would concede that he wasn't a moral objectivist, apparently the only concern he had). He was extremely insistent about it and became quite angry when I wouldn't agree with his argument.

The reason I could not answer his question is that his arguments for #namethetrait (and other arguments) contain logical fallacies (I will explain why that's relevant in a minute after I explain the nature of the fallacy):
P1 - Humans are of moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals, we contradict ourselves by deeming animals valueless
There are many viable arbitrary answers to this because the trait can be arbitrary. Arbitrarity is not the same as contradiction.

1. Divine command (or command by X): God said animals don't have souls/moral value. The trait is souls/The trait is God said so.
2. Moral subjectivism: I don't care about animals; the trait is my caring. If you care then it's wrong for you according to your morals. If somebody kills me on the basis of not caring about me then that is wrong according to my morals, but it may be OK according to their morals. They can make up any rules they want. There's no objective basis to call one better than the other.
3. Cultural moral relativism: According to my culture it's OK, so it's OK. If my culture changed then it might not be OK. In the past it was OK to keep slaves because that was culture. Other cultures have different rules, and their morals are wrong according to my culture's morals. My culture's morals might be wrong according to theirs. There's no objective basis to call one better than the other.

You could list these all day, mostly variations on the same theme.

C just does not follow from P1 and P2.
This is a non sequitur. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_sequitur_%28logic%29
P2 is irrelevant on its own, and doesn't lead to that conclusion without additional assumptions.
An additional premise or two (or three, depending on how you word them) is needed for the argument to be valid: P3 - Arbitrary assertions of moral value are not acceptable, moral value must be justified by some relevant non-arbitrary trait. Relevant traits can be defined in a way that leads into P2 in this argument: P4 - A relevant trait is a trait that would cause us to deem ourselves valueless if we lacked it.
In other words, you have to insert a variation of the golden rule into the discussion.
And possibly even a clarification upon what it means to deem oneself valueless so there is no question here (it's important to define things clearly, particularly when they have substantial implications to the conclusion and could be interpreted different ways as this can be): P5 - Any attempted defense of personal interests is an indication of self-value.

These premises can not just be assumed without stating them. That's sneaky stuff that apologists do when they're making tricky (and not valid) arguments to "prove" god. We don't need to take after apologists with bad form in argument. Carnists already claim we're mentally deficient due to lack of nutrients, we don't need to provide them support for that ridiculous assertion.

Let me be clear: The propositions I added are GOOD premises, and ones that have very strong arguments behind them. But they are also moral objectivist/universalist/realist premises.
A "moral system" can be arbitrary without having internal contradiction. By just adding these premises, you easily defeat all of these arguments:

Religion is arbitrary, unless you can prove your religion is true (even then it's a weak argument that a god can dictate morality non-arbitrarily, see Euthyphro https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro, the argument might have to be expanded to address theist concerns).
Moral subjectivism is completely arbitrary, being based on personal whim/opinion.
Cultural relativism is arbitrary both in terms of culture and how culture is defined (culture/subculture/individual), it deteriorates into subjectivism without any justifiable boundaries.

These are easy premises to add, and easy ones to defend (particularly that against arbitrarity): allowing arbitrary assertions makes morality meaningless and useless (which is basically the brunt of the argument against relativism/subjectivism).


This is what I wanted to discuss, but Ask Yourself had other ideas. He was set on "murking" me based on my claim that he's a moral objectivist as an implication of his hidden premises (an argument I don't think he bothered to read). He didn't care what my argument was and he pressed me to answer if I agreed that he wasn't a moral objectivist based on a definition he does not understand. I had to keep saying I don't know if he is or isn't, even based on robust realism.
The reason I could not answer is because of those fallacies and implicit premises in his argument (which become more apparently held when he states it informally during debates and responds to people's challenges).
Until discussing and resolving those fallacies (and I don't know how he would prefer to resolve them, he might dramatically change his argument) I don't actually know what position that would commit him to. Because of his acceptance of those fallacies and his belief that his argument is logically sound it is clear that he does not fully comprehend his own views and that they are not consistent.

I will fully agree that he thinks he is not a moral objectivist and that he thinks he is a subjectivist, but that was never a point of contention.

Since he is asserting at various points non-arbitrarity and the golden rule as unspoken assumptions (which are great assumptions, but they're ones of moral objectivism/universalism and they need to be clearly articulated), I think it would commit him in the least to minimal realism and universalism. Universalism is also seen as moral objectivism as per the definition. It wouldn't let him pass himself off as a subjectivist.

Aside from him indicating misunderstanding of universalism (He thinks it means that a moral system can be universalized or something like that, and that it's totally different from "moral objectivism"), he tried to argue in defense of his subjectivism.
His argument was that he thinks there can be many different consistent moral systems, but the only one I've seen him offer as an alternative is that of Hannibal Lecter. That's a weak argument, and I think most people could understand that the complete rejection of moral value does not make a moral system. Would the rejection of all numbers and mathematical operators make a mathematical system? No.

Hannibal could form a self-centered moral "system" that gave him moral value personally and denied it to others, but this clearly fails to comply with the "logic" (not actually valid logic) of even Ask Yourself's general argument.
P1 - I am of moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in others which if absent in me would cause me to deem myself valueless
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in others, I contradict myself by deeming others valueless
It's hard to imagine him disagreeing with that since he thinks his argument is valid and it uses the same form.
I would ask Ask Yourself to #namethealternativemoralsystem
I don't think he can.

That said, I am unsure if the resolutions of these contradictions would commit him to robust realism as per the first definition he highlighted:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_objectivism
Robust moral realism, the meta-ethical position that ethical sentences express factual propositions about robust or mind-independent features of the world, and that some such propositions are true.
But it's also not clear what he thinks mind independence is. I tried to nail him down on what he thought that was. He wasn't interested in answering my questions so that I could have the information I needed to answer his question.
That brief one sentence Wikipedia summary is not enough to encapsulate the definition of robust realism.

A much more useful outline of robust moral realism:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_realism
The robust model of moral realism commits moral realists to three theses:[14]
  • The semantic thesis: The primary semantic role of moral predicates (such as "right" and "wrong") is to refer to moral properties (such as rightness and wrongness), so that moral statements (such as "honesty is good" and "slavery is unjust") purport to represent moral facts, and express propositions that are true or false (or approximately true, largely false, and so on).
  • The alethic thesis: Some moral propositions are in fact true.
  • The metaphysical thesis: Moral propositions are true when actions and other objects of moral assessment have the relevant moral properties (so that the relevant moral facts obtain), where these facts and properties are robust: their metaphysical status, whatever it is, is not relevantly different from that of (certain types of) ordinary non-moral facts and properties.
The minimal model, i.e. moral universalism, leaves off the metaphysical thesis, treating it as matter of contention among moral realists (as opposed to between moral realists and moral anti-realists).
The final, metaphysical thesis is of some complexity. Inator and I discussed it at some length. I doubt Ask Yourself has given it any thought.

Is gravity an objective force? Does it fail to qualify if it isn't independent of mass?
Is Pi an objective concept? Does it fail to qualify if it isn't independent of circles?
What does independence mean? This is not a question that has been resolved by philosophers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_realism
The robust model and the minimal model also disagree over how to classify moral subjectivism (roughly, the view that moral facts are not mind-independent in the relevant sense, but that moral statements may still be true). The historical association of subjectivism with moral anti-realism in large part explains why the robust model of moral realism has been dominant—even if only implicitly—both in the traditional and contemporary philosophical literature on metaethics.[15]
What is the relevant sense?

https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2007/entries/moral-anti-realism/
Subjectivism (as it will be called here) allows that moral facts exist but holds that they are, in some manner to be specified, constituted by our mental activity. The slogan version comes from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Of course, the notion of “mind-independence” is problematically indeterminate: Something may be mind-independent in one sense and mind-dependent in another. Cars, for example, are designed and constructed by creatures with minds, and yet in another sense cars are clearly concrete, non-subjective entities. Much careful disambiguation is needed before we know how to circumscribe subjectivism, and different philosophers disambiguate differently. Many philosophers question whether the “subjectivism clause” is a useful component of moral anti-realism at all. Many advocate views according to which moral properties are significantly mind-dependent but which they are loath to characterize as versions of moral anti-realism. There is a concern that including the subjectivism clause threatens to make moral anti-realism trivially true, since there is little room for doubting that the moral status of actions usually (if not always) depends in some manner on mental phenomena such as the intentions with which the action was performed or the episodes or pleasure and pain that ensue from it. The issue will be discussed below, with no pretense made of settling the matter one way or the other.

[...]

Second, it is not clear that maintaining the “mind-independence” clause as a defining feature of the realism/anti-realism division really does make psychological realism a “non-starter.” Perhaps all that is needed is a more careful understanding of the type of independence relation in question. Certainly there is a trivial sense in which the truth or falsity of a psychological claim like “Mary believes that p” depends on a mental fact: whether Mary does believe that p. On the other hand, there is also a sense in which whether Mary has this belief is a mind-independent affair: The fact of Mary's believing that p is not constituted or determined by any of our practices of judging that she does so believe. We could all judge that Mary believes that p and be mistaken. Most people would accept that even Mary might be mistaken about this—erroneously judging herself to believe that p. In the same way, although the moral claim “Mary's action was morally wrong” may be true only in virtue of the pain that Mary's action caused (or because of Mary's wicked intentions), this may not be the right kind of mind-dependence to satisfy the subjectivist clause.
Well, that wasn't very helpful, but it does throw some doubt on the whole affair of that being any kind of qualifying test of subjectivism/objectivism or even any necessary part of robust vs. minimal realism.

The fact that Ask Yourself thinks it's adequate to brush these questions under the rug indicates to me that either he has not thought much on their answers, or he isn't even aware of the questions. Neither says much about his competence in philosophy.

In terms of his claims to subjectivism specifically, it's useful to see Wikipedia on Ethical subjectivism (redirects from moral subjectivism): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_subjectivism
Generally speaking, subjectivism is a form of relativism unless you are religious and subscribe to divine command (or something almost indiscernibly similar).
See also this to further confuse things (although there is general agreement on pretty much that point I made above): https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2007/entries/moral-anti-realism/moral-subjectivism-versus-relativism.html
Conversely, the subjectivist need not be a relativist. Suppose the moral facts depend on the attitudes or opinions of a particular group or individual (e.g., “X is good” means “Caesar approves of X,” or “The Supreme Court rules in favor of X” or “God commands X,” etc.), and thus moral truth is an entirely mind-dependent affair. Since, in this case, all speakers' moral utterances are made true or false by the same mental activity, then this is not strictly speaking a version of relativism, but is, rather, a relation-designating account of moral terms (see Stevenson 1963: 74 for this distinction).

He can pick and choose his definitions, but I never claimed he specifically subscribed to robust realism and I made that clear. I'm agnostic on that point. He might, he might not. But universalism isn't something distinct from "moral objectivism" in the way that Randian Objectivism is that would permit you to ignore it as part of the "may refer to" list Wikipedia recommends.
What seems increasingly clear is that he has no idea what he believes because he doesn't even know what these things mean or care to look closely at them to find out.
And when FriendEd said that Ask Yourself wasn't a Subjectivist, by all accounts of the implications of Ask Yourself's arguments and behavior, FriendEd was right. He was also correct to identify the broad category of moral objectivism as standing in opposition to subjectivism.

I did not take FriendEd's claims to be an assertion that Ask Yourself subscribed to robust moral realism. I don't know why FriendEd gave ground on this in the discussion, maybe because he just didn't want to deal with it or didn't understand how philosophically questionable it is to grant such a distinction hinging only on the metaphysical thesis and an ambiguous claim of mind-independence that doesn't seem to mean anything.
Ask yourself can complain that he has only ever defined moral objectivism as robust realism, but that's really not helping his case that he's a subjectivist and given his broad misunderstanding of these concepts it doesn't really convince me even that he's not a robust realist (I don't care if he is or isn't).

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Post by Philosophical Vegan » Thu Sep 28, 2017 6:25 pm

A formal response to Ask Yourself may be in the works. This is posted here for convenience, and is in no way meant to be construed as Philosophical Vegan's response to Ask Yourself's criticism.

This thread will remain locked/reserved for the formal response for the time being (please post any other responses in new threads). If and when the response is posted, it will be announced on twitter, follow: PhiloVegan

Here are some informal discussions on the topic with other individuals (again, not to be construed as a response to Ask Yourself):

http://philosophicalvegan.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=3469

This list will be updated as needed. Thank you.

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