The Instigator
TheSkeptic
Pro (for)
Winning
6 Points
The Contender
Dorb
Con (against)
Losing
3 Points

In Defense Of Practical Moral Skepticism

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/26/2010 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,951 times Debate No: 12362
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
Votes (3)

 

TheSkeptic

Pro

It's been a while since my last debate, so I figure I'll start a debate in response to several forum threads I've posted in (concerning ethical issues). My position and burden is to demonstrate that practical moral skepticism is a sound stance that would probably lead one to readily reconsider the nature of ethics, though obviously I'm interested only in proving the former goal. My opponent can deny my position in any way possible, except semantics and other foolery.

Practical moral skepticism is interested in only one, albeit pivotal, meta-ethical question: "why should I be moral?" A few things need to be clarified about this question, as it will be the center feature of this debate:

1. It is meta-ethical in nature, meaning a debate about which ethical system is superior is misguided. So don't come into this debate arguing in favor of Kantian ethics or Objectivism, unless you can demonstrate how the respective philosophies help answer this question.

2. The basic claim is that there is no necessary reason to always act morally, thus calling into the question of the force of ethics even if a system were to be found correct. I can expand into this in greater detail later.

The point of this debate is to defend moral skepticism, since several people have asked me about my moral skepticism before. I'll be the first to admit that I am not entirely confident of my position, nor have I remain stagnant about it (my skepticism has involved into other forms). However, I have to be true to my beliefs and this is what I feel to be the correct meta-ethical theory.

What my opponent must do is present arguments that will negate my position. This can be done by either attacking my position directly, or arguing for another ethical position who's truth will deny skepticism. Note, however, that if I can expose flaws in their proposed ethical system then they are left with no way to counter moral skepticism.

I await the first challenger.
Dorb

Con

I thank TheSkeptic for this debate. It is a real interesting topic and should prove to be an exciting debate. To begin, my opponent states that his "burden is to demonstrate that practical moral skepticism is a sound stance." I will wait till my opponent provides specific arguments for this position in the next round before attacking it directly. In this round, on the other hand, I will indirectly argue against moral skepticism by proposing an alternative ethical position (one of the ways that my opponent states that I can negate his argument).

Before doing so, however, I'd like to pose what I think will be some important meta-ethical questions: Why does ethics exist? What is the function of ethics? And as an anthropological corollary to these questions, Why is ethics everywhere? What is the explanation for the fact that every society has some ethics or other (sociologists and anthropologists generally agree about the universal presence of some kind of ethical norms in all societies)?

In answering these questions, I think we will begin to see why there is a reason to act morally. The questions and answers are somewhat related: ethics exists everywhere, across all societies, because it performs a function that humans in association everywhere have found extremely important. This much seems obvious enough. And this "important" function would help us begin to understand why ethics exists in the first place.

Now, it is clear that the actions of a particular person are necessarily connected with the actions of some other person; the outcome of some action you do varies depending upon what I do. I am not saying all actions are always connected in this way, but at least sometimes, they are. When actions are connected in this way, we can call them mutually connected. The function of ethics, I contend, is to coordinate our actions with those of others to mutual benefit in a way that goes beyond the coordination achieved through evolutionarily instilled patterns of behavior; the coordination ethics achieves is more extensive and better adapted to new and changing circumstances.

This background helps us understand why ethics exists in the first place. In other words, ethics exists because at least sometimes it is possible to coordinate actions to mutual benefit. It is a fortunate fact that the world presents us with many opportunities for coordinated action to mutual benefit; you would have to invoke quite elaborate science-fiction scenarios to imagine a world with no opportunities at all for cooperation to mutual benefit. So, when we are able to coordinate our actions to achieve mutual benefits that go beyond the benefits we would achieve alone or through evolutionarily instilled behavior, ethics emerges.

This of course explains why there are so many different moralities across societies: since coordination can take many different forms, there is no limit to the variety of coordination schemes. The ethical beliefs that would emerge in any society would differ in different situations (for example, in climatic or geographical factors, in social history, in inherited social situations, etc.).

The main point about this ethical system that must be made is that it is not invariant; in other words, it is always changing according to the particular circumstances that emerge. The ethical beliefs that it gives rise to, ethical beliefs that help us facilitate closer coordination among people to mutual benefit, are subject to change at any moment when different beliefs become known or necessary for better coordination to mutual benefit.

The ethical position I propose, then, is an emergent ethics, an ethical system that emerges in each circumstance according to the specific ways in which two people or more can coordinate their actions to mutual benefit. Ethical beliefs emerge in this system, but they do not define the ethical system itself. To act morally here is only to act in such a way as to coordinate one's actions with another to their mutual benefit.

Furthermore, in this system, to act morally or ethically is always to act in your self-interest. Because ethical beliefs in this system always coordinate your action with another so as to achieve a greater benefit than you could achieve without coordinating your action with another, the only reason not to be moral in this system would be in the case that someone does not want to benefit themselves. This leads to a philosophical problem however, as each individual's personal interest is defined individually and uniquely; each individual determines what is good for them. What this means is that a person cannot not act to their benefit, as they will always act in their interest, and if they do not act in their interest, they have in effect redefined what their interest is. In other words, it is impossible not to act in one's interest, whether that interest is conscious or not. Whatever the case, whatever someone believes is in their best interest, their will always emerge some possibility to coordinate one's actions with another to mutual benefit, whether one knows they are doing this or not. In other words, what emerges is an ethic specific to their particular person and situation.

This is an important point, and I want to keep stressing that this ethical system is circumstantial, it is specific to the situation and to the people involved, and as such, it only emerges in and through the situation at hand. What it means to act morally in this ethical system is always being redefined, but the important point is that this ethical system does provide a reason to act morally. In some sense, we can almost say that in this ethical system, it is impossible not to act morally when the opportunity to act morally presents itself according to each individual's circumstantial and emergent ethical system.

Finally, some people may not act in such a way as to maximize their mutual benefit, but this does not mean they are not acting morally. As long as someone coordinates their actions such that it does lead to mutual benefit, it does not matter. Sure, they may be able to act more morally; even so, they are still acting morally irrespective of how much better or worse they can be doing. It is in this that this system is so powerful.

This is the alternative ethical position I propose to moral skepticism. It is a sound system that makes room for all the variation in particular ethical systems, while simultaneously providing a reason to act morally. It also requires no invariance to any of its ethical norms, as these norms are constantly shifting with the change of circumstance.

Before concluding this turn, I would also like to present another way to negate moral skepticism: if it can be shown that there exists some characteristic or property of people in virtue of which they are owed moral behavior. If this can in fact be convincingly argued for, then it seems reasonable that moral skepticism would be negated: there would in fact be a reason to act morally to anything with this characteristic. I will take this argument up in the next round as I do not have room for it here. Suffice it to say, the candidates for this characteristic are the usual ones: being rational, being an agent, being sentient, being conscious, or some other variant of these (they are all related). I tell this to my opponent in case he would like to begin preparing an argument to refute this position.

Again, I thank TheSkeptic for a very interesting debate, and I am excited to see where my opponent will take this debate in the coming round(s).
Debate Round No. 1
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for his response - he supplies an interesting moral theory.

First of all, it's been noted that I have a burden to demonstrate that practical moral skepticism (PMS) is a sound stance. Interestingly enough, my defense it won't be anymore extensive than noting there doesn't seem to be any necessary reason to always act morally (the exact observation that PMS supports). For my opponent, all he needs to do is to demonstrate one dis-confirming instance of this claim, whereas my burden is to demonstrate a flaw in his demonstration. As for any particular argument in favor of this, I haven't come across one besides appealing to the fact there seems to be no necessary reason to always act moral. Be wary, as this is not an argument from ignorance as in evidence, I propose that it is sometimes rational to choose some choice over a moral one (interestingly, I want to contrast a moral choice with a self-interested choice, but you conflate the two - I will expound on this later).

Remember that PMS focuses explicitly on reasons for actions.

My opponent proposes a background introduction, and then a short summary of his "mutual benefit" ethical theory (MBE). I will first demonstrate several problems, and then go on to show how it's unsatisfactory as a response to PMS.

====================
Opponent's "Mutual Benefit" Ethical Theory -- Inherent Problems
====================

The inherent problems:

1. You seem to conflate the anthropological fact that ethics exist in human society (and are likely a product of multiple factors including social, evolutionary, etc.) with the normative nature of ethics - a common problem I see with many ethicist is to trespass the boundaries between descriptive and normative ethics.

You are correct in observing the pattern of all human societies to have a code of ethics, but it becomes sketchy when you claim that they all aim at a sense of being mutually benefit. Quite to contrary, it seems that many ethical codes result not in both parties being mutually benefited. Rather, it often includes one side of the party being the victim, one side of the party dishing out the punishment, and some object/entity towards whom the moral action is being done for the sake of. In the case of religion, doing a moral act would be justified because it's the code the gods gave us, and we do it because it is the moral thing to do (divine command theory). In fact, it's evident in most societies that ethics doesn't form in mutual benefits but arcane, abstract laws.

You could retort be claiming that in the grand scheme, ethics help maintain social order and prevent tons of conflict. However, this seems to be the product of evolutionary instilled behaviors which you both note and contrast as something we need to escape, or "go beyond". If you do aim at an ethical theory focused on mutual benefits, appealing to anthropological roots falls on it's face in numerous ways.

2. The concept of "mutual benefits" is incredibly vague. Mutually beneficial in what sense? Beneficial to whom? You're going to need to explain what benefit means, how people are connected in your moral evaluation, and in what sense these two concepts are interlinked.

====================
Opponent's "Mutual Benefit" Ethical Theory -- Unsatisfactory Response to PMS
====================

While self-interested benefits may seem to be as a good reason for explaining why we should act morally, it doesn't explain why we should ALWAYS act morally. Do remember that PMS states that there is no necessary reason to ALWAYS act morally -- it accepts the distinct possibilities of there being reasons to act morally (in the case of it being in your self-interest).

To note, you espouse psychological egoism as part of your theory. I reject this as a clear empirical doctrine - feel free to defend this.

Nonetheless, even if psychological egoism were true it seems to be one hell of a claim for you to make that all acts of mutual benefits will result in self-interest. In other words, is it not conceivable for there to be an act which solely (or mainly) benefits me and yet satisfies my self-interest? For example, raping a woman would likely highly benefit me while being highly damaging to the woman.
Dorb

Con

TheSkeptic raises some interesting points. I will try to address them all here as best and clearly as I can.

This is Pro's argument for PMS: that it is "sometimes rational to choose some choice over a moral one." As evidence, Pro simply states that there is no "necessary reason to always act morally." As his argument, then, Pro merely states a working definition of PMS twice using different words. This is not really an argument; it is merely a repetition of a claim.

Because it is Pro's burden to prove PMS, I really think he should offer a more substantive argument than just stating the claims of PMS.

I propose this: if there is no reason to always act morally, provide at least one case in which there is overriding reason not to act morally. If Pro can provide one such case that cannot be negated on closer scrutiny, then Pro would have an argument for PMS. On the other hand, if Pro cannot provide even one case in which there is reason not to act morally, then we can conclude, until proven otherwise, that there is ALWAYS reason to act morally.

Now, before getting to the 2 "inherent" problems Pro locates in MBE, let me address Pro's argument that MBE is an "unsatisfactory response to PMS."

First, Pro rejects "psychological egoism" as a "clear empirical doctrine." This is also not much of an argument. It is the equivalent of saying, I reject "gravity" as a "clear empirical doctrine." This can be generalized to any statement derived scientifically (as science is empirical), and is really an empty way of attempting to reject something. To reject something because it is empirical, Pro would have to show why an "empirical doctrine" should be rejected.

Second, Pro states that "self-interested" actions that produce benefits do not provide reason that "we should ALWAYS act morally." That is fine. I grant Pro that not all reasons (in general) must be self-interested. This point is irrelevant, however, when we consider MBE.

Why? Because the only other kind of reason besides self-interested reasons are reasons that concern others. Per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on PMS, there are two possible interpretations of "reason" in the question "Why be moral?": (1) that "all reasons are self-interested"; or (2) that "some reasons concern effects on others (rather than oneself) or do not concern any effects on anyone" [1].

Reasons that do not concern effects on anyone are irrelevant because they cannot be classified as immoral/moral. Therefore, when we talk about morality, there are only reasons that are self-interested or reasons that concern others. MBE derives its strength because it provides both kinds of reasons. The concept of "mutual benefit" is that there is benefit to yourself and to at least one other person. As such, MBE permits reasons that concern effects on others (rather than oneself) and self-interested reasons. In either case, there is ALWAYS a reason to act morally.

Third, Pro states that it is "one hell of a claim for you to make that all acts of mutual benefits will result in self-interest. In other words, is it not conceivable for there to be an act which solely (or mainly) benefits me and yet satisfies my self-interest? For example, raping a woman would likely highly benefit me while being highly damaging to the woman."

Just because there is a possible action that solely (or mainly) benefits you and satisfies your self-interest does not mean that all acts of mutual benefit will not ALSO result in your self-interest. The connection Pro makes between the two cases is faulty. Now, with respect to the case of raping a woman, there are two possible cases.

First, while it may be in your benefit and self-interest to rape the woman, there could still exist (in this hypothetical situation) an OVERRIDING reason not to rape the woman. For example, it is conceivable that not raping the woman would produce a magnified benefit (more benefit than raping the woman) to all concerned (including you, the woman and any others). Hence, between rape and not rape, there would be more reason to not rape because it provides more of a benefit to you as well as to the woman.

Second, in the rare case that raping the woman does provide more benefit than not, we would have to conclude that raping is a moral action. This redefinition of rape as moral is possible because MBE allows for any and all variation in moral schemes. Why? Because it allows for any and all variation in coordination schemes to mutual benefit. Rape may produce benefits to yourself and to those that you are concerned with (mutual benefit). The magnified benefits to all concerned would outweigh the benefits of not raping. I can imagine one such case being a society in which all woman desire to be raped. Such extreme cases of rape becoming a moral action, however, are usually only possible in some science-fiction scenario (like the one I describe). It is unlikely this happen in our world. Either way, the point is that rape would in this highly contrived case still be considered moral according to MBE.

Now, the "inherent" problems Pro locates in MBE: the first is result of Pro's wrong (or at least unsupported) assumptions, the second a lack of clarity on my part. Neither of these things are actually problems with MBE itself.

1. See Pro's "1" above for the relevant points I address below.

First, there is nothing wrong with relating anthropological fact to normative ethics (also note, I do not "conflate" the two as Pro argues; I use one to derive consequences relevant to the latter).

Second, if there is an absolute boundary between descriptive and normative ethics, what is it? I see no reason not to account for both under a complete ethical theory if it is possible to do so. I claim it is possible to do so with MBE. To negate this, Pro must show otherwise. Pro has not done this.

Third, Pro's claim that "it's evident in most societies that ethics doesn't form in mutual benefits but arcane, abstract laws" completely loses sight of the fact that these "laws" themselves must have come from somewhere. MBE provides the framework to explain how and where these "laws" come from. So if Pro wants to argue this point, I put the question to him: if not from coordinating actions to mutual benefit, where did these "laws" come from?

According to MBE, before it had these "laws," each society used a combination of our evolutionary biology (maximizing survival) and game-theoretic-style reasoning to derive ethical beliefs that would coordinate our actions to mutual benefit for all concerned. These beliefs became "laws" so that we would not have to go through the process of reasoning each time we chose an action. We could simply use the law to help facilitate the coordination of our actions to mutual benefit (without having to reason each situation on its own terms).

2. Pro argues that another problem with MBE is that the "concept of ‘mutual benefits' is incredibly vague." As a result, Pro states, "You're going to need to explain what benefit means, how people are connected in your moral evaluation, and in what sense these two concepts are interlinked."

The concept of "benefit" is quite simple. It can include anything that gives an advantage or desired effect. Some benefit B1 could carry more weight than benefit B2. This means that through (game-theoretic) reasoning we'd choose the action that led to B1, not B2, even though both are benefits.

A "mutual benefit" is a benefit that benefits more than one person, usually persons whose actions are mutually connected.

I defined "mutually connected" actions in Round 1. That is how "people are connected" in my "moral evaluation." As I stated in R1, it would require an elaborate science-fiction scenario to imagine a world without mutually connected actions, and as a result, without the possibility to coordinate action to mutual benefit.

[1]http://plato.stanford.edu...
Debate Round No. 2
TheSkeptic

Pro

My opponent has responded with a well thought response, and brings up some points about PMS that show I should have been more clear and detailed. However, this doesn't escape the pitfalls MBE has.

====================
Practical Moral Skepticism
====================

First, let me address my opponent's concern that I haven't given an argument for PMS, and instead stated a working definition of PMS twice in different forms. Embarrassingly enough, it seems I forgot to include my argument or merely didn't make it obvious enough - nonetheless, my opponent is correct when he surmises that one way I can do this is "provide at least one case in which there is overriding reason not to act morally." I agree with this assessment, and at face value it seems quite simple as well.

As for a situation in which there is a reason overriding moral reasons, there's quite a lot. Criminals every day present clear examples of people who had reasons to not act in a moral way in favor of another reason (most likely desires relating to self-satisfaction such as monetary gain, passion, etc.). Of course, it is contentious whether these criminals are acting in contrast to moral reasons (since this would assume a moral framework already), but the point is that for virtually all moral systems there are external reasons that can be chosen. It'd be hard to refute the idea that if action/rule/etc. X is moral, then there is no reason to ever act in violation of this commitment. Take the example of gratuitous murder, for which most would regard as immoral: a possible reason for choosing to murder (thus not choosing the morally virtuous act) would be a reason of passion, or of monetary gain, of revenge, etc. The argument is literally as simple as that.

====================
Opponent's "Mutual Benefit" Ethical Theory -- Inherent Problems
====================

1. I used the word conflate as a linguistic tool, so I apologize for that slight misunderstanding. Nonetheless, you show nothing to demonstrate why anthropological facts lead to an understanding of normative ethics. You claim that I haven't shown there is "an absolute boundary between descriptive and normative ethics"...so you surmise that you are thus correct? You state it's possible to do with MBE, but you demonstrate nothing as to how this is so. The burden is on you, you're making the claim. I'm not concerned with other discrepancies involving descriptive analysis of ethics until you can demonstrate the 'bridge'.

As for the boundary, as an elementary understanding descriptive ethics refers to what "is", in the sense of what people believe to be moral, why they believe so, how this has evolved, etc. Normative ethics refers to what "ought to be", in the sense of figuring out what people should believe to be moral irrespective of what they do (a clear analogy would be an examination of whether people believe in evolution, and whether people should believe in evolution).

2. Your theory is quite similar to a utilitarian theory in the sense of prioritizing psychological results (benefits, happiness, etc.), and of purportedly arguing for an egalitarian ethics. And instead of asking you the same criticisms utilitarianism receives (e.g. utility monsters), I suppose a central question I can ask would be the following: what is the meta-ethical foundation for this theory? At this point, if it isn't obvious enough, this section will likely collapse with the following section concerning the cogency of MBE in the face of PMS. I won't even bother with any other criticism, since I want this debate to focus on PME.

====================
Opponent's "Mutual Benefit" Ethical Theory -- Unsatisfactory Response to PMS
====================

It seems evident to me that my opponent has made a crucial error in forgetting that PMS makes a slightly more specified claim than he appears to be reflecting: PMS states that there is no NECESSARY reason to ALWAYS act morally. Take note what this is saying and is not saying. It states that while there may always exist a moral reason in every possible scenario, it rejects that in every possible scenario such moral reasons will NECESSARILY motivate us. In other words, PMS can be fulfilled if there is one situation in which a non-moral reason is preferred over the moral reason. There is a distinct difference between there being always being a moral reason, and there always being a moral reason that motivates you (after all, when you are contemplating doing action A, there is usually a set of mutually exclusive motivations taken into consideration). Highlighting this important element is what undermines the majority of my opponent's responses.

As for the issue of psychological egoism, I really want to sidestep it since it's another debate altogether, but I'll briefly respond to my opponent's misunderstanding. I don't reject psychological egoism because it's an empirical doctrine (that would be silly), but because AS an empirical doctrine it's inconclusive. Consider the following:

1. It's an empirical doctrine given that it makes claims regarding descriptive accounts of human behavior.
2. To make an absolute claim that "all actions are in self-interest" is quite the burden, especially given that it's an empirical doctrine.
3. There has yet to be any strong empirical evidence to claim that the human brain works in such a way - it's conceivable that another strategy for you to even support this theory would be to define "self-interest" in such a foreign way that it's akin to acting in accordance with your desires, which ultimately trivializes your position (and in this case, doesn't further your ethical theory).
Dorb

Con

Introductory Remarks:

First, let me note once again that psychological egoism (and Pro's argument against it) is irrelevant to MBE. According to MBE, all moral actions benefit two people, yourself and another person whose actions are mutually connected with yours. This means that there are always two potential reasons for an action: (1) self-interest, or (2) concern for another.

Second, according to Pro, "PMS states that there is no NECESSARY reason to ALWAYS act morally." I have no disagreement with this, but to make my argument easier to follow, I want to reword this as follows: PMS states that not all immoral actions are irrational [1]. The two claims are equivalent, so I hope Pro has no problem with this. As such, I must only show that all immoral actions are irrational.

Third, let me clarify and summarize a few key points in this debate. I must either show that PMS is unsound or provide an alternative ethical system. So far, I have provided an alternative ethical system. But now that Pro has provided his argument for PMS (through examples of cases in which a non-moral act is rationally preferred over a moral one), I will also attack PMS directly (specifically, the arguments Pro has made). In other words, while it will seem I am only taking one approach here, I ask Pro and the reader to note that I am actually making two distinct arguments: one against PMS generally, the other for MBE. As long as one of my arguments are sound, PMS is negated.

On Pro's Section "Practical Moral Skepticism":

First, Pro gives the example of criminals. I am not exactly sure what Pro hopes to achieve with this example, however, as Pro himself notes that it is disputable whether "criminals are acting in contrast to moral reasons (since this would assume a moral framework already)." Indeed, by definition, being a criminal means you are breaking a law, but breaking the law is not necessarily an immoral act.

Pro claims that the point of the "criminal" example is to show that "for virtually all moral systems there are external reasons that can be chosen." Of course, there are always any number of reasons to motivate us, but it does not matter if these reasons are irrational. To show that not all immoral actions are irrational, Pro must show that acting immorally is rational in at least one case. This does not mean showing that there may exist a reason behind an immoral act; it means showing that an immoral act is rationally preferred over a moral one.

Finally, Pro provides the example of a "gratuitous murder." This is a faulty example by definition: "gratuitous" means "being without apparent reason, cause, or justification" [2]. As such, a "gratuitous murder" is irrational, without reason, and therefore, a faulty example.

I assume, then, that what Pro intends is simply an immoral "murder." Well, what exactly is an immoral murder? We must first realize that murder, as it is usually understood, is a legal term. In and of itself it has nothing to do with being immoral; rather, it has to do with breaking the law (and the law is not the moral code, especially if we accept MBE as our ethical system).

Let's continue exploring this example, as I think it will yield some interesting insights. There are two kinds of actions: irrational and rational. Likewise, there exists murder motivated by irrational reason (or no reason at all) and murder motivated by rational reason. To make his case, Pro would have to show that murder motivated by "rational reason" is immoral.

Before concluding this section, I remind Pro that MBE is an emergent ethics. This means that MBE adapts to every situation; what it means to be moral is redefined according to the circumstances at hand. Pro states that "it'd be hard to refute the idea that if action/rule/etc. X is moral, then there is no reason to ever act in violation of this commitment." Thing is, in MBE, this action/rule/etc. X is constantly redefined such that there is no "commitment." Rather, there is only game-theoretic reasoning for specific to each situation. In some sense, we can even say that through the notion of mutual benefits, we gain ethical objectivity in the sense that moral actions become equivalent to any rational action specific to any situation.

On the Supposed "Inherent Problems" of MBE:

1. Pro claims I have overstepped some boundary between descriptive and normative, but I think this is evidence of Pro's misunderstanding of MBE. MBE states that moral actions are those that coordinate action to mutual benefit. This is what "ought" to be. What actually "is" is irrelevant to my argument. People all the time are motivated by "irrational" reasons. People all the time believe "irrational" things. I do not care what people actually believe.

What I stated in R1 was that ethics clearly had an extremely important function because we find it everywhere. That was the only claim I derived from anthropological fact. I think it is reasonable. Pro has not address the actual claim I made. Rather, Pro merely makes some abstract claims about descriptive/normative ethics without actually locating any place where I do overstep boundaries. Again, Pro has not really made much of an argument here.

2. MBE is not quite a utilitarian theory. What MBE does is provide a reason why every action either benefits me or benefits the person that this action is mutually connected with. This means that for people that my actions are not mutually connected with, no benefit is necessary. For example, suppose my action A1 is mutually connected with another's action A2. Another person whose actions are not mutually connected can easily be harmed by actions A1 and A2, but this does not make actions A1 and A2 immoral. As long as these actions A1 and A2 are mutually beneficial for the doer of A1 and A2, then it is moral. Furthermore, it does not matter how mutually beneficial the action is. It is not about maximizing mutual benefits, but about having them in the first place. As such, getting into arguments about utilitarianism would be quite fruitless.

Pro asks, "what is the meta-ethical foundation for this theory," and states MBE would collapse while attempting to answer this question. Pro, however, has not shown how it would collapse. Again, Pro has made a lot of claims but rarely supports them with any evidence. I would answer the question if it were more specific and Pro explained where he believed MBE to be faulty. Otherwise, the answer to that kind of question would take far more space than what Pro could reasonably expect me to elaborate on here. This is an unreasonable request if done without specificity.

On the Section "Unsatisfactory Response to PMS"

Pro argues that "while there may always exist a moral reason in every possible scenario, it rejects that in every possible scenario such moral reasons will NECESSARILY motivate us. In other words, PMS can be fulfilled if there is one situation in which a non-moral reason is preferred over the moral reason."

That is precisely my point: PMS can ONLY be fulfilled if it can be shown that there is a situation in which a non-moral reason is PREFERRED over a moral reason. Pro has not actually shown a case in which it would be rational to be immoral. The reason Pro has not been able to do so is because Pro would have to show that this immoral act is actually preferred over the moral one RATIONALLY. This is a lot to ask, and would require far more extensive arguments than the ones Pro has given so far.

Since I have nothing else to refute, I wait for Pro to attempt to find such a case in the following round.

[1] http://plato.stanford.edu...
[2] http://dictionary.reference.com...
Debate Round No. 3
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for this debate, especially since it's helped me refine my thoughts on PMS (criticism always helps, especially from others). At this juncture, I'll do several things alongside with one that may be controversial. I'll explain later on in the debate.

====================
Practical Moral Skepticism
====================

My criminal example was to highlight the value most ethical theories have about gratuitous (unnecessary in the sense of not creating enough virtue/happiness/etc. to overrule it in a consequentialist framework) murder, and demonstrate that there are many rational reasons to commit it despite moral prohibitions. Here's a detailed scenario: a man, working under the pretense that Kantian ethics is sound, contemplates whether or not to murder someone he knows. He plans to do this because the man just wronged him horribly, and he is unable to get rid of his vengeful feelings unless he murders him. He then commits the act. There are two ways of analyzing this:

It can be considered rational in the restricted sense of acting in accordance with your interest, even if it may result in haphazard consequences (i.e. you going to jail). However, I sense you're probably conceiving of another usage of rational, in which negative consequences are not generated from your act. Even then, such a scenario is imaginable (i.e. a murder in which you get away with). I'm convinced that it be conceived of in the first sense, in which even seemingly destructive acts (in contrary to moral reasons) are not irrational. This is simply because whatever is rational can only be determined in context with your goal -- if you wish to gain truth, it's rational to obey the laws of logic and reasoning. If you wish to gain happiness, it's rational to stick to what would likely garner you happiness (i.e. engage in your favorite activities, don't commit crimes as they may likely result in jail time, etc.). In the relevant sense, it isn't truly "stupid" for someone to do a senseless act like murdering someone for petty reasons and getting caught. Whatever reason they may have for committing that murder, it isn't necessarily irrational if you allow a wide range of contexts/goals. However, again I stress that even if this former formulation fails the latter should not.

However, despite all that I had an initial worry about my example, and it's grown to the point of where I realize a flaw in the formulation of PMS - it's out of my bounds to claim that there seems to be no reason(s) to always act morally for morality per se, but rather that there doesn't seem to be a necessary reason to always act morally for all ethical systems currently known. There is a distinct epistemic distinction, and I've overstepped my bounds. Not only can I not prepare for some potential ethical theory that somehow equates rationality with moral acts (i.e. acting is moral), but I also can't prepare for the mere possibility of an ethical theory that, either by theory or coincidence, happens to have all it's moral claims align with all possible reasons. So while I can provide counterexamples for an existing ethical theory, since I have a framework to work off of, I can't do this with any other potential ethical theories in which I have no knowledge of the particular.

As I've hinted in my introduction, at this point I have technically conceded this debate. I propose that my resolution be changed to a softer version, in which PMS references only to ethical theories currently known. If my opponent has any problem with this, and decides to simply say I have lost per the definitions, this is absolutely fine. If the voters feel I lost per technical definitions, then this is absolutely fine. However, if either the voter or my opponent have a more relaxed approach, then feel free to take my last round into consideration. Either way it's an enjoyable debate that has made me realize a silly mistake in PMS that I should've noticed, albeit at the same time it has helped fortified my belief in this new version as well :).

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Opponent's "Mutual Benefit" Ethical Theory -- Inherent Problems & Unsatisfactory Response to PMS
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1. Perhaps I have mis-characterized your ethical theory, but in all honesty given your current formulation it's incredibly mundane. However, I want to stress that your formulation of MBE thus far has been quite vague, and an occurrence of straw men coming from my part is probably due to the aforementioned vagueness.Since this point is foregone, I'll explain my previous statement in further points. If you want to claim ethics is extremely important function, sure I'll accept that. I'm not sure why you have to observe that, as it's a pretty simple and uncontroversial fact.

2. I never stated MBE is a utilitarian theory, but a similar one (taking ethical analysis into account by considering others, and their combined psychological facts). As such, you'd expect similar criticisms to arise. And it's at this point I have to stress the utmost vagueness of your theory:

*You state that MBE adapts to every situation, but you never fully explain nor justify this maxim. You refer to processes of game-theoretic reasoning and mutual benefit, but you never give a comprehensive survey of it. How am I to criticize a maxim if I can't have it's proper formulation. Kantian ethics and pragmatism both utilize a maxim that hopes to adapt to every situation, so in a similar fashion you need to provide justification for it let alone an explanation.

*You say that even if someone is negatively affected by the acts of others, this wouldn't make it immoral if they weren't involved in the process of mutual beneficial actions. Your theory makes sense when considering two or more rational, consenting parties. However, what about one party gaining benefit from action A1 whereas the other party does not, and in fact gains problems from action A1. There is no mutual benefit (cases like rape, murder, as you've mentioned).

*However, as you have aptly noted in your previous round, you talk about this potential problem citing magnified benefits with other parties not just including you and the woman being considered. And this is exactly why I used utilitarian as a key analogy - you seem to have a consequentialist theory, and thus it falls prey to the criticisms I mentioned in the last round. These would include utility monsters (or in your case, benefit monsters). You could bite the bullet and accept it dead on, but it makes more incredulous (albeit still sound in some sense, I suppose). If you do take that round, there still exists a fundamental question:

Why should I care about mutual benefits? Is it because it's ALWAYS rational to seek mutual benefits? If you claim such, is it not conceivable for you to come across situations in which acting for your own benefit is more preferred than acting in mutual benefit? I could easily see examples of this -- instead of ordering pizza for me and my friend, I secretly order the pizza and eat it all for myself. My friend never knows about this, but I enjoy the spoils of enjoying more pizza without him eating it. Hell, maybe I even used his money and he just forgets.

In the possible situation in which my argument is yet another straw man, I can't stress enough the ambiguity in your philosophy. If we ever have a go at this again, I would like to hear a comprehensive explanation of it first.
Dorb

Con

Before beginning, I'd like to thank TheSkeptic for this debate. Like TheSkeptic, it has helped me refine my thoughts both on PMS and on MBE.

So, it seems as though in this last round my opponent "technically conceded this debate." He notes a "flaw in the formulation of PMS – it's out of my bounds to claim that there seems to be no reason(s) to always act morally." So in this round, I won't be attempting to refute PMS (as that's already been taken care of). I leave the rest to voters.

Instead, I want to briefly clarify a few things about MBE.

First, MBE has only one unchanging rule: that we coordinate our actions towards mutual benefit.

Ethical beliefs can be derived from this unchanging rule, but these ethical beliefs are always conditional and circumstantial. This means that they depend on the situation at hand, and that these ethical beliefs are subject to change to meet the demands of MBE's unchanging rule if the circumstances present themselves in which such a change is required. None of this is as vague and ambiguous as my opponent claims. It is simply very open and flexible.

Pro seems to have two main criticisms of MBE. First, Pro asks, "what about one party gaining benefit from action A1 whereas the other party does not, and in fact gains problems from action A1. There is no mutual benefit (cases like rape, murder, as you've mentioned)." Second, Pro asks "Why should I care about mutual benefits?" These two amount to the same criticism: is it always rational and preferable to seek mutual benefits?

I believe it is, and I provide game theory as the case for this. Game theory is a branch of mathematics that looks at mutually connected actions and attempts to predict behavior and to determine the best possible decisions. Unfortunately, I cannot go into a lengthy survey of how game theory works here; it would require more time and space than I have.

What I can say is that game theory can show how mutual benefits are (1) more rational choices than others, and (2) that an action that produces mutual benefit reduces to self-interest (in the case that you believe actions are or can be motivated only by self-interest, the only real criticism I see of MBE from Pro).

In game theory, if a person P1 benefits another person P2, person P2 is more likely to act in such a way that benefits P1. Now you apply this logic across society, and it becomes clear that coordinating actions towards mutual benefit produces more benefit for an individual because of the benefits that person will receive from others. Conclusion: mutual beneficial actions are always preferable to acting for your own benefit.

Pro's question, is it "not conceivable for you to come across situations in which acting for your own benefit is more preferred than acting in mutual benefit," has a clear answer: acting for you own benefit IS acting in mutual benefit.

The final reasoning for this is the concept of "Tit for Tat." This is considered an optimal theoretical strategy, and basically states that a person cooperate as long as others cooperate. As soon as a person stops cooperating, however, then the other person will not cooperate as well. To stop acting for mutual benefit upsets the equilibrium, and therefore, it decreases the overall benefit for the person. [1]

In other words, through game theoretic reasoning, we see that coordinating actions towards mutual benefit is ALWAYS rationally preferred over actions that only produce your own benefit.

Again, I'd like to thank TheSkeptic for this debate. It has really helped me think through some difficult ethical problems and to formulate a clearer response to PMS. I hope our audience has also enjoyed it.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Dorb 7 years ago
Dorb
The point would be that an infinite regress is still a coherent and sound, if somewhat unstable, position. It's kinda interesting since such an infinite regress would never lead to a point at which there is not a reason precisely because it's infinite. In some sense, it might be argued that there is both a reason and not a reason simultaneously, or something like that; a simultaneous absence/presence. But this is getting into like Derridean deconstruction or something, and I really don't know too much about that. Suffice it to say, I'm not going that direction in the debate, but I do think it an interesting and worthwhile path to explore.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
@Dorb: Wouldn't that just generate an infinite regress?

@badger: Practical is the key :)
Posted by Dorb 7 years ago
Dorb
If I take this, can the "necessary reason to act morally" itself be an ethical reason (or at least a normative one), or would any "necessary reason" have to be stated in nonethical terms (naturalistic terms or whatnot)?
Posted by badger 7 years ago
badger
never mind... the practical probably makes sense of it, right?
Posted by badger 7 years ago
badger
how is arguing that there's no reason to always be moral defending moral skeprticism?
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
lol, I'm too tired to type it all up right now >.>
Posted by Kinesis 7 years ago
Kinesis
Whoops. :)
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J.Kenyon
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