The Instigator
MouthWash
Con (against)
Losing
2 Points
The Contender
Cody_Franklin
Pro (for)
Winning
6 Points

Infinite Regress disproves Moral Realism

Do you like this debate?NoYes+6
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
Cody_Franklin
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/29/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,804 times Debate No: 23323
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (25)
Votes (2)

 

MouthWash

Con

I have recently thought of a solution to the "infinite regress" problem which claims to refute objective moral facts. If my idea is ridiculous or is already known, it doesn't matter; I'm just trying learn about this subject right now.

An infinite regress in a series of propositions arises if the truth of proposition P1 requires the support of proposition P2, the truth of proposition P2 requires the support of proposition P3, ... , and the truth of proposition Pn-1 requires the support of proposition Pn and n approaches infinity. [http://en.wikipedia.org...]

Moral realism
is the meta-ethical view which claims that:
1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
2. Some such propositions are true.
3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion. [http://en.wikipedia.org...]

Rules:
(1) Please have at least some knowledge of ethical philosophy before accepting.
(2) No trolling, flaming, semantics, lawyering, etc.
(3) The first round will be acceptance only.

I thank my opponent in advance.
Cody_Franklin

Pro

Alright, MouthWash. Let's jam.

Before we begin, I want to lay out the position I will be taking. This will give MW the opportunity to familiarize himself with my argument and jargon, and it will also permit him to particularize his arguments to the thesis I will be defending.

I will be defending here a particular formulation of the infinite regress objection to realism which I term the Normative Contingency Thesis. I have articulated this objection in detail elsewhere [http://www.debate.org... | Round 2]; however, for the specific purposes of this debate, the NCT can be understood as claiming that ethics, commonly recognized, assumes a justificationalist structure: one or more normative conclusions derived from one or more meta-ethical value premises. Hence, normative conclusions and some value premises are contingent on higher-order value claims. In short, normative propositions are founded on, and derived from, meta-ethical value claims. But, in addition to the contingency of specific normative propositions, we can include also the contingency of the meta-ethical values posited to found systems of normative derivations (specifically, contingency on the discursive fiat of the speaker), demonstrating the underlying infinite regress obfuscated by the assertion of an axiomatic "first principle".

You're up, MW.
Debate Round No. 1
MouthWash

Con

I would like to thank my opponent for accepting the challenge and look forward to a good debate.

The objection to moral realism, I believe, can be summed up as such:

1. Moral statements require justification.

2. Justifications must be axiomatic or based on an axiom.

3. There are no axiomatic statements justifying moral statements.

4. Therefore, no moral statement is justified.

To put it even more simply, one could simply ask "Why?" to a moral statement and keep repeating it to every justification provided.

However by comparing it to more precise forms of logic we can discover the error in this reasoning. Asking "Why?" to 1+1 makes no sense, because it is irreducible and asking such a question makes no sense. By bringing it up to a more common scale we can infer that moral statements are, in fact, axiomatic.

Of course, nihilists circumvent this by establishing a difference between "morality" and "metaphysics." However, if one can demonstrate where metaphysics becomes morality, we can see that objective moral values exist.

The ontology of moral value can be compared to the ontology of color. Would you say that all stop signs are neither inherently red nor inherently any other color? Perhaps color designation is simply a complex set of labels that evolved to give a psychological or economic advantage to it's adherents. The concept of "red" is merely be a human invention necessitated by our senses, but does not have any sort of universal truth or reality behind it.


But it does. The infinite regress argument is flawed because there is a sense in which moral propositions (or color propositions) can be evaluated. They can be evaluated according to the psychological context that makes those propositions meaningful.

Now I don't think I've missed anything important so I'll end it here. Your turn, Pro.
Cody_Franklin

Pro

Round Theme: Prokofiev, "Dance of the Knights"

On to the arguments. I'll respond to Con in a line-by-line format.

Summary of the Infinite Regress Objection

I want to clarify Con's second premise--it is not merely that justifications "must be based on an axiom". My thesis is that ethics, commonly-understood, is derivational. The concept of "normative contingency" denotes the dependence of prescriptive statements on conclusions or meta-ethical assertions which are logically prior. "Murder is immoral", for instance, might be contingent on the meta-ethical statement that "human life has intrinsic value". So, my argument is not, as the vague second premise might suggest, that an axiomatic statement is required to legitimate moral derivations; rather, I argue that the structure of normative ethics is derivational, so, ipso facto, normative contingency is applicable precisely because, to found the derivational structure peculiar to a given ethical framework, one necessarily has to posit as axiomatic some claim to meta-ethical objectivity. Infinite regress is problematic in epistemology for making certainty claims, and it's just as problematic in ethics for making moral claims. In short, to do normative ethics, you have to arbitrarily assert meta-ethical propositions. This, on my view, is philosophically irresponsible. Rather than admitting that there is a void where moral objectivity should be, we choose instead to pretend, through claims to meta-ethical self-evidence, that we can make objective moral claims.

Irreducibility and the Math Analogy

1. The naked assertion that questioning mathematical operations "makes no sense" is not an argument. I'm no mathematician, but there are plenty of people--philosophers of math, number theorists, etc.--who do dedicate or have dedicated their time and resources to exposing the logic underpinning whole numbers, addition, etc. If anyone has ever read Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, then you probably have some idea of how much work goes into what we take for granted as simple operations.

2. Bad analogy. The parallel to math implies, but does not explain, the (ostensible) irreducibility of moral statements. Since we're talking about value systems, Con's claim has to amount to "there is some fundamental, objective value/set of values", since that's the only condition that would stand up to regression; yet, it isn't clear to me that Con has made a case for that. At best, Con is wiggling his eyebrows in a manner that suggests there might be some self-evident (meta-)ethical propositions. Until he can explain their nature or provide examples, however, I think the normative contingency thesis demonstrates precisely why justificationalist ethics fails. Systems of derivation must, in Godelian fashion, appeal to something outside themselves for validation when they rely on axioms for their outputs. With ethics, this contingency goes all the way back to first principles; yet, if you push the thesis just a bit further, then the first principles themselves, the irreducibility of which Con merely tries to hint at by intuition, are exposed in their contingency on the agreement of whoever is party to the discourse.

To Con, I would pose the following questions: which moral statements are axiomatic? How can you be sure? What differentiates irreducible moral statements from reducible ones?

Moral Ontology and the Color Analogy (and Possibly Constructivism?)

1. I don't think that colors are objective conditions of the world. The fact that three individuals--one male, one female, and one colorblind person--can have different experiences of color (depth, qualia inversion, etc.) gives credence to the representationalist view that qualities like color, smell, taste, etc. aren't properties of objects, but rather, the subject's mental interpretation and internal representation of sense data.

2. On my view, the analogy works better for me. I think it's a false analogy, because the disparity between factual statements and normative/meta-ethical propositions, i.e., the fact/value gap, means you're comparing apples to oranges. Moral statements can't ever be reduced to pure facts, so interpreting color isn't much like moral valuation, but, if you're going to buy the analogy, I'll turn it on Con.

If you agree that color is one of many impositions of the mind on the external world, then you might see the analogy to moral evaluations. Similar to the way in which statements like "This is a beautiful piece of art" mistakenly attribute the property of beauty to an object (as opposed to recognizing that the concept of beauty is grounded in the reaction of a subject), statements like "human life is valuable" can be more reliably interpreted as "I value human life". Projecting our own evaluative frameworks on the world, we achieve the illusion of moral objectivity. This lines up perfectly with the NCT's claim that first principles, upon which subsequent derivations are contingent for validation, are themselves contingent on the fiat/agreement of whoever is party to the moral discourse.

3. I have no idea what Con's bit about "evaluation according to psychological context" means. Honestly, it sounds like "if everyone agrees that they want to live, it becomes meaningful to say that life is valuable". But, if that is true, then you still end up with collective subjectivity, which I already refuted in my discussion of the contingency of first principles on the agreement of parties to discourse. Con has to defend realism against infinite regress, and saying "there are psychological factors that make ethical discourse useful" isn't realism--it's constructivism, which is the view that, while objective ethics is a wash, morality still has useful social/regulatory functions, so we should just act as if it were objective.

Remember the definition of moral realism (Con's R1):

1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
2. Some such propositions are true.
3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion.


Given this condition, if "psychological context" is required to impart meaning and evaluability to moral statements, one might be inclined to believe that Con's argument, irrespective of the debate about regression, isn't advancing realism. And, if he's not doing that, the debate is mine.

You're up, MW.
Debate Round No. 2
MouthWash

Con

Lol... OK, it's clear that I'm outmatched here. I might try to explain my thinking more clearly, but even from my standpoint my whole idea seems flawed now. Next time I'll open a book on philosophy instead of just BSing my way through the debate.

Vote Pro.
Cody_Franklin

Pro

Con's conceded; if you ever want to debate this again, let me know.
Debate Round No. 3
25 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
1. BOP is on moral realists to demonstrate that mind-independent values exist. My argument is that they don't, and just regress to whatever point everyone agrees at. So, it's not that human life actually has value--you'll just be shunned and shamed if you disagree with that proposition--and imprisoned if you act contrary to it.

2. "You can't disprove the axioms" <-- Of course you can't "disprove" them--they're just *assumed* to be true, which makes them unfalsifiable. It's like a scientific hypothesis that isn't falsifiable--it just gets thrown out ex ante because it's an infinite negative BOP.

3. I'm not "just asserting" that value claims are subjective. That's literally the only way that it could be. There's nothing in a specific action or mode of existence that you can identify as "rightness" unless you just define it so that you get the outcome you want. But then, if you do that, you're subject to infinite regress because people can always question your meta-ethical assertions, which *always* turn out to be asserted by fiat/collective agreement to be true.

So, point is, you have to default to moral nihilism because realism gets screwed by infinite regress due to its justificationalist structure. It's the same reason why we have to give up on certainty in epistemology.

If you want to challenge me on normative contingency, you're welcome to do so. But don't think you can just bat my arguments around in the comments all day.
Posted by CriticalThinkingMachine 4 years ago
CriticalThinkingMachine
Pro won this debate by default. I will demonstrate why his arguments fail.

Round Two
Pro says that to found the derivational structure, one must posit an axiomatic claim, and that to do normative ethics, you have to arbitrarily assert meta-ethical propositions.

*Just because axioms are posited does not make them false, and he gives no argument for his belief that the assertions are arbitrary. He just asserts it, and that is not an argument.

Pro says that a lot of work goes into simple axioms that we take for granted.

*That may be true, but it does not make the axioms false.

Pro says that ethics is like beauty in that the value claims are in the beholder. He says that "...statments like 'This is a beautiful piece of art' mistakenly attribute the property of beauty to an object (as opposed to recognizing that the concept of beauty is grounded in the reaction of the subject)..." and that we project "our own ethical frameworks on the world [and] achive the illusion of morality."

*Again, this must be argued for, not simply asserted. Why Con did not call him on this is a mystery to me. Read C. S. Lewis's book The Abolition of Man to understand why the view that values are subjective is absurd.

In short, MouthWash loses because he concedes, but Cody Franklin's arguments still fail.
Posted by abstractposters 4 years ago
abstractposters
Nihilism is beyond me. Give yourself some credit. I have a descriptive ethical debate called Time is Essence.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
I guess, yeah. I mean, since I'm a nihilist.
Posted by abstractposters 4 years ago
abstractposters
normative ethics = slavery
Posted by abstractposters 4 years ago
abstractposters
1st comment (major) = infinite regress +/or moral realism
2nd comment (minor) = moral realism
3rd comment (conclusion): moral realism

Sartre's 'existence precedes essence' argument ought to read 'existence precedes space-time'.

As I am sure you can keep up, I command you to observe my debate.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Are you trying to say "correct position = just = normative concept of justice = relevance?" Because that would be the most peculiar case of equivocation and hazy defining I've ever seen.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Uh... neither of those things were relevant to normative ethics. And I reread them both several times.
Posted by abstractposters 4 years ago
abstractposters
I presented a moral realist position and an infinite regress position. My position: If I see no flaws in my position, then my assertion is just. Justice is always relevant.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 4 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Okay, well, that isn't relevant to this debate. So I'm not really sure what your intentions are.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by SuburbiaSurvivor 4 years ago
SuburbiaSurvivor
MouthWashCody_FranklinTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: "Next time I'll open a book on philosophy instead of just BSing my way through the debate." Made me laugh, so conduct to Con. Arguments obvious.
Vote Placed by Ron-Paul 4 years ago
Ron-Paul
MouthWashCody_FranklinTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: Humble concession by con.