The Instigator
JustCallMeTarzan
Pro (for)
Tied
6 Points
The Contender
Ragnar_Rahl
Con (against)
Tied
6 Points

On Balance, Non-Cognitivism is the Proper Moral Model

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 5 votes the winner is...
It's a Tie!
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/10/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,528 times Debate No: 9463
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (12)
Votes (5)

 

JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

The proposition on offer is that there are simply no moral truths. In short, morality is non-cognitive in nature.

Please note that I would like my opponent to accept and introduce his first round no EARLIER than 6 PM CST on Saturday the 12th.

************************************************

Relevant Definitions:

Morality: conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct. (http://dictionary.reference.com............)

Moral Proposition : a statement of the form X is right/wrong. Example: slavery is wrong.

Moral Truth : The ability to describe a moral proposition as true or false.

Truth Value : the designation True or False.

Cognitive : the position that moral propositions have a truth value.

Non-Cognitive : the position that moral propositions have no truth value.

************************************************

Contentions:

1) Cognitive morality consists of the following viewpoints.
-----a) All moral propositions are false (error theory)
-----b) At least 1 moral proposition is true
----------i) Subjectivism (whatever I say goes)
----------ii) Conventionalism (whatever most people say goes)
----------iii) Idealism (whatever John Doe would say goes)
----------iv) Religious appeal (whatever God says goes)
-----c) Naturalism
----------i) Analytic (nature describes what goes)
----------ii) Reductive (we can infer what goes)

2) All of the above points have at least 1 problem with them.

3) Until these problems are solved, rational beings should endorse non-cognitivism in theory, if not in practice.

************************************************

I've made this debate 4 rounds because I don't believe CON will want to argue all of the cognitive points, so I'll let him choose which one(s) to defend and we'll start actual argumentation in the 2nd round.

As always, comments are welcome before the debate commences to clarify terms, etc...
Ragnar_Rahl

Con

Moral statements, like any statements, are made within a specific context. For example, stating "Gravity is absolute" without clarifying generally indicates that it is absolute in the physical universe as we know it for matter on a human scale. It is TRUE despite the fact that when one sends a player character to look at Outland in World of Warcraft, one observes rocks (or their representations) floating with no gravitational effects due to the Twisting Nether having flooded in due to the opening of Dark Portals. That fictional universe was outside the context of the statement.

Obviously, conduct can only be "right" in view of a given end. That end, express or implied, is the context any given moral statement is made in. When one does not express differently, the default end conveyed in the average sentence is generally the end of living a human life-- after all, this end is shared by everyone, except the dead who are not part of this conversation, demonstrated by the fact that life requires volitional actions.

In light of this particular end at least, the question of whether "truth" or "Falsity" can be ascribed to the statement "X conduct is right" or "X conduct is wrong" depends-- does it objectively promote life? Or does it objectively serve as an obstacle?"

Are there statements in which "X is wrong" would be an X that objectively serves as an obstacle to one's life? "Shooting oneself is the head is wrong" is obviously true for starters. It is true for any given person, that shooting oneself in the head drastically reduces one's odds of survival, for no benefit comparable to the event. Nature dictates that many vital functions are regulated by one's brain, which would be damaged, and sustained by food circulated through blood, which would be lost, as a result of such an action.

Would this be true outside the context of the end? No, it's not wrong for a programmed automaton to shoot itself in the head-- it pursues no end, let alone life (which is impossible to it anyway). But no truth lacks context.
Debate Round No. 1
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

My opponent's opening statement seems to be only spuriously related to the issue at hand... I have a simple rebuttal to offer...

Statements like "shooting oneself in the head is wrong" are emotive statements, essentially akin to saying "BOO! to shooting oneself in the head." If an event occurs, and someone responds by saying, "BOOO!" one does not describe this as true or false. Moral propositions are emotive statements, and as such carry no truth value.

In order to defend a cognitive standpoint concerning morality, my opponent must be able to provide a response to:

1) Define "wrong"
2) Define "good"
3) Define "the good" - all without using a tautology.

4) How can emotive statements be described as true or false? OR;
5) How are moral propositions not emotive in nature?

If an unsatisfactory answer is given to any of these, the resolution should be

AFFIRMED.

PS - please hold off on the next round till Saturday =)
Ragnar_Rahl

Con

"
Statements like "shooting oneself in the head is wrong" are emotive statements"

This is not true. I made the statement as an intellectual one, not an emotional one. I know you can be above straw mans, so please refrain from saying the meaning I intend is other than it is when you know better :).

"essentially akin to saying "BOO! to shooting oneself in the head.""
This is also not true. Consensual pedophilia I would say boo to. I'd rather people not engage in it, it's inaesthetic and generally icky. But I don't think it's wrong. Therefore there is a distinction.

"
1) Define "wrong""
Given the default presumed end I gave above-- "Wrong" is a descriptor of actions that reduce the odds of having one's life to live.

"
2) Define "good"
Good-conducive to having one's life to live.

"
3) Define "the good" - all without using a tautology."
Obviously, in the context of the goal of life, there are MANY good things. Therefore, "The good," since "the" is a definite article, HAS no meaning without further context-- in the current context, many things qualify as good and thus no one can be isolated as "the good," i.e. the only good. A medicine that cures an illness you have is good. Food in moderation is also good. Declaring something "the good" would deny one of this truths and many more.

:5) How are moral propositions not emotive in nature?
If they were, I would make different ones because nasty bits of emotion like to attack some of mine. A moral proposition about any action consists of stating of the answer to the question: "Does this action, in fact, further the end I am seeking?"
Debate Round No. 2
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

Responses:

>> "I made the statement as an intellectual one, not an emotional one. I know you can be above straw mans, so please refrain from saying the meaning I intend is other than it is when you know better :)."

It's not a straw man. Moral propositions like "shooting someone in the head is wrong" are emotive statements. A complete moral proposition like "Bill shot Susie in the head and that was wrong" contain a descriptive and an emotive portion. When you generalize the statement to remove the specific descriptors, the statement can only retain the emotive portion.

>> "Consensual pedophilia I would say boo to. I'd rather people not engage in it..."

... which perfectly makes my point above...

>> "...it's inaesthetic and generally icky. But I don't think it's wrong."

So in your opinion, you don't believe that pedophilia is morally wrong... you have an emotive response of ickyness that you attribute to pedophilia. My opponent also indicates that there is a difference between ickyness and wrongness... I hope he deigns to provide us a definition of some kind because we're still working with subjective concepts...

>> ""Wrong" is a descriptor of actions that reduce the odds of having one's life to live."

Endangering one's life to save another is therefore morally wrong.
Smoking is therefore morally wrong.
Drinking is therefore morally wrong.
Driving your car, flying, walking down stairs, skydiving.... anything that statistically has a nonzero chance of killing you is therefore morally wrong.

I think this definition is inadequate.

>> "Good-conducive to having one's life to live."

Killing everyone with any infectious disease is therefore good.
Preventing as many other drivers from being on the road is therefore good...
Etc...

Same problem.

>> "Obviously, in the context of the goal of life, there are MANY good things. Therefore, "The good," since "the" is a definite article, HAS no meaning without further context"

Fair enough... by "the good" I'm asking for a general principle that can be used to determine what is good and what is bad, but you've pretty much answered that question already...

>> "A moral proposition about any action consists of stating of the answer to the question: "Does this action, in fact, further the end I am seeking?""

I'll take this as you defending pure subjectivism.

*********************************************************************

Readers, my opponent has refined his case for morality to defending pure subjectvism - the notion that what is moral is what furthers the end one is seeking, and by corollary, that which does NOT further one's own ends is immoral.

There are several problems with this position.

1) It is impossible to act both morally and altruistically.

2) Many actions that are necessary and/or lack moral import are deemed immoral by this standard (For example, if the set of desired ends includes "stay alive" it is immoral to drive a car because you could be killed).

3) Some actions carry the peculiar status of being moral and immoral (For example, if the set of desired ends includes "stay alive" and "go to work" it would be immoral to do anything that reduces either of these... making it immoral to drive to work because it reduces your chances of staying alive, but moral to drive to work because it increases your chances of getting there).

4) Subjectivism lacks an evaluative method for moral propositions. By this I mean that if "good" is "that which furthers my own ends" then it makes no sense for an actor to ask himself if what he wants is good, because everything the actor wants is by definition good.

5) It removes an actor's ability to make generalized propositions about events that carry (or might carry) moral import. For example, if Bob states "shooting people is wrong" and Jeff states "shooting people is right" - they both cannot logically be correct unless you add the caveat "in my opinion" to each statement. Thus, if two subjectivists disagree about the same situation, one can make the case that subjectivism does not successfully refer to a real event - only to the actors' opinions ABOUT the event... in which case subjectivism fails as a moral model entirely.

*******************************************************************

I contend, that, as stated in the first round, because of these problems, we should endorse non-cognitivism as a moral theory, even if not as a moral practice.

AFFIRMED.
Ragnar_Rahl

Con

"
It's not a straw man. Moral propositions like "shooting someone in the head is wrong" are emotive statements. "
No, they are not. There is no emotional component in my saying that. You are not the authority one what emotions if any I express when I make a statement, I am. Incidentally, "someone" is more general than the statement I made.

"
... which perfectly makes my point above...
"
No it DOES NOT, because you clipped off the end of the sentence.

"
So in your opinion, you don't believe that pedophilia is morally wrong... you have an emotive response of ickyness that you attribute to pedophilia. My opponent also indicates that there is a difference between ickyness and wrongness... I hope he deigns to provide us a definition of some kind"
I already did it. Try to edit this stuff out when you read on and realize your claim is answered right below what you're answering, that's twice in a very short space.

"
Endangering one's life to save another is therefore morally wrong."
Yep (unless of course that other is highly valuable to one's life, in a manner that justifies the risk).

"Smoking is therefore morally wrong."
Yup, the science seems to say that.

"Drinking is therefore morally wrong."
The science tells us THAT is heavily dependent on dosage however.

"
I think this definition is inadequate.
"
Oh? Do you have, hehehe, a statement that proves it "false?"

"
Driving your car, flying, walking down stairs, skydiving.... anything that statistically has a nonzero chance of killing you is therefore morally wrong."
How utterly simplistic. Someone who never engages in any of these things will not live very long on average to someone who does. Paralysis is not a survival strategy. One has to balance the benefits for the goal with the losses.

"
Killing everyone with any infectious disease is therefore good."
Again, simplistic. Engaging in such a campaign means you have embarked solo to start a war with millions of people. OBVIOUSLY this is not a situation you are likely to survive now is it?

"
Preventing as many other drivers from being on the road is therefore good..."
How? Again, probably by starting such a war. Bad idea.

"
I'll take this as you defending pure subjectivism.
"
No. "Whatever I say goes" as a view of morality is not compatible with "I seek the goal, but nature dictates how that goal may be achieved." The morality (the code of action for achieving a given end) exists in the interaction between the agent and that external-- e.g., it is neither subjective, nor intrinsic, but objective.

"It is impossible to act both morally and altruistically.
"
This is a problem? How so?

"Many actions that are necessary and/or lack moral import are deemed immoral by this standard (For example, if the set of desired ends includes "stay alive" it is immoral to drive a car because you could be killed).
"
Obviously not if the driving is on net beneficial, which in fact it generally is. In any case, surely you realize the distinction between having a life and living one's life ? :) (it's expressed often by the statement "live a little"), the latter being the terminology I used?

"Some actions carry the peculiar status of being moral and immoral (For example, if the set of desired ends includes "stay alive" and "go to work" it would be immoral to do anything that reduces either of these... making it immoral to drive to work because it reduces your chances of staying alive, but moral to drive to work because it increases your chances of getting there)"
He who does not work generally will not eat. Obviously, then, this is a fake conflict. The odds of death are higher if you fail to drive to work than if you rive to work.

"then it makes no sense for an actor to ask himself if what he wants is good"
This is not a problem. "Good" only has meaning in the context of a preexisting goal. It's like saying it's a problem with cars that they don't replace you as the driver.

"
5) It removes an actor's ability to make generalized propositions about events that carry (or might carry) moral import. For example, if Bob states "shooting people is wrong" and Jeff states "shooting people is right" - they both cannot logically be correct unless you add the caveat "in my opinion" to each statement."
Opinion has nothing to do with it, because again what I am endorsing is not subjectivism. Goals are what is relevant. The goals prior to morality may be subjective, but the morality itself is not. If they disagree on goals, it makes no sense for them to discuss morality at all of course-- they are both right, because their statements are made in irreconcilable contexts. Of course, again, anyone who disagrees with the goal of living is not going to be here to dicuss the matter. In any case, truth is to be judged for it's truth-- not for abilities you wish it gave you.

"Thus, if two subjectivists disagree about the same situation, one can make the case that subjectivism does not successfully refer to a real event - only to the actors' opinions ABOUT the event..."
If one person looks at a car from above, and another looks at a car from below, are they not right at differing descriptions of it's visual appearance? The appearance isn't even an opinion-- just a statement made from a different preexisting context.
Debate Round No. 3
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

Responses:

>> "There is no emotional component in my saying" [shooting someone in the head is wrong]

If the statement is purely descriptive, pray tell what the truth value of the moral proposition is... your subjective consideration of the matter as true or false is not sufficient to make it objectively so - only true "FOR you." And of course, truth by its very nature cannot have such subjectivity built into it. Furthermore, whether or not something is emotive is completely independent of the CONTENT of the emotions expressed.

>> "Oh? Do you have, hehehe, a statement that proves it "false?""

Equating that which is good with that which fulfills the actors subjective ends begs the question of what is good. If you state that what is good is what advances the subjective ends of an actor, "good" becomes a tautology - what I want is good and what is good is what I want. Circular.

>> "The morality (the code of action for achieving a given end) exists in the interaction between the agent and that external-- e.g., it is neither subjective, nor intrinsic, but objective."

If the actor sets the goals, then the goals are subjective, and if the means to those goals are evaluated by the actor in terms of what the goals are, then the means are subjective as well. If the code is external to the agent, then the criteria for determining what is good must also be external to the agent and be able to be expressed without egocentric terms that refer to the agent... So "conducive to having one's life to live" cannot be among these principles because it incorporates the self-interest of the actor and is expressed in egoistic terms (one's). So I suppose we're back at the beginning -waiting for a definition of good.

>> "Goals are what is relevant. The goals prior to morality may be subjective, but the morality itself is not."

WHAT morality? My opponent has yet to espouse this objective moral system you insist exists to evaluate the means to these goals. But then he states that discussion of morality is impossible because two actors can both be right. This is obviously false, because no two conflicting opinions about an objective state can both be correct.

>> "If one person looks at a car from above, and another looks at a car from below..."

Disanalogy - we're talking about two people with the same perspective disagreeing about the moral import of a situation.

******************************************************************

Of course it's a little late for my opponent to begin outlining his moral system... but my main criticism is that the criteria for what is good in this system isn't really removed from the goals and desires of the actor.

With no acceptable definition of good, theoretically, at least, rational persons should recognize that non-cognitivism is the appropriate method of engaging moral propositions.

AFFIRMED.
Ragnar_Rahl

Con

"
If the statement is purely descriptive, pray tell what the truth value of the moral proposition is... "
Already did. ""Does this action, in fact, further the end I am seeking?"""
If the answer to that is yes, then the statement "It is wrong" is false, if not, the statement "it is wrong" is true.

"your subjective consideration of the matter as true or false is not sufficient to make it objectively so - only true "FOR you."
My attempting to shoot you in the head DOES objectively lead to you and many others being motivated to respond in kind, and DOES objectively contradict the end I've laid out.

"Furthermore, whether or not something is emotive is completely independent of the CONTENT of the emotions expressed."
Independent on WHETHER there is content?
How, exactly, can a statement be emotive yet express no emotions?

"
Equating that which is good with that which fulfills the actors subjective ends begs the question of what is good. If you state that what is good is what advances the subjective ends of an actor, "good" becomes a tautology - what I want is good and what is good is what I want."
This makes use of he straw man fallacy. There is no "What I want is good" component involved in what I've said. It is eminently obvious that if the statement of the good follows from a goal-- then your goal has no reference to any previous standard of the good. It lays solely at the beginning of the argument, not at the end. "The good" has no meaning without a predefined goal in the argument, a predefined goal that is not itself subject to moral evaluation.
Unless, of course, you were simply meaning to express equivalency by "is" rather than justification-- in which case EVERY DEFINITION OF EVERY WORD IS INVALID BY YOUR ARGUMENT. Every definition of every word can be reversed-- if A is B then B is A. Is this a tautology? Well sure, but tautology is just another word for logical truth. Declaring a point tautological is admitting that it is true insofar as it is tautological :).

"
If the actor sets the goals, then the goals are subjective, and if the means to those goals are evaluated by the actor in terms of what the goals are, then the means are subjective as well."
This is not true. The fact that it is up to the subject whether they wish to live or wish to die does not alter the fact that where they point their bullets has objective consequences regarding these courses of action. You can seek whatever you want, but nature dictates what paths lead to your goal.

:If the code is external to the agent, then the criteria for determining what is good must also be external to the agent
My car is external to me, as are the laws of physics which determine how it operates (If I had a car anyway :P). Does that mean that I can't decide where I bloody well want to drive? No. I can drive a number of different locations, arbitrarily-- but for any of those, I must obey nature's dictates about what the path to get there is. "Morality," essentially, is the most effective route to get to whatever destination you choose.

:and be able to be expressed without egocentric terms that refer to the agent...
No code of action expressed without reference to an agent can ever be followed. The very notion is a contradiction.

:waiting for a definition of good.
Already gave you mine. What you seek. The good is what you seek. There is no preexisting "good" outside of that, the notion of good is useless to one who doesn't seek anything anyway.

:WHAT morality? My opponent has yet to espouse this objective moral system you insist exists to evaluate the means to these goals.
The only succinct expression of a "system" for following a complex goals-- is that you must evaluate the alternatives you come across, see what consequences each course of action likely results in, and take the course that leads to the greatest rational expectation of fulfilling the goal. I can give examples of how this works and have.

:But then he states that discussion of morality is impossible because two actors can both be right. This is obviously false, because no two conflicting opinions about an objective state can both be correct.
Taken out of context. I said that discussion of morality between people with INCOMPATIBLE GOALS are-- not impossible, I didn't say that, but don't make sense as they won't resolve anything. If two people are playing on different football teams, will discussion settle their differences? No. Does that mean one of them is wrong about morality? No, both realize they have to try their hardest to defeat the other given their goal, both are correct about this. They don't have differing opinions about an objective state-- they are concerned with different objective states. Both, if they think about it, agree that the other person is correct about their situation, given their goals. Both agree on the same basic laws which make up their code of morality. They are just following that code to get to different destinations. Their choice of destination is no more determined by morality than your choice between Palm Springs or New York is determined by the nature of roads, yet this makes neither morality nor roads things without objective reality to them.

:Disanalogy - we're talking about two people with the same perspective disagreeing about the moral import of a situation.
Precisely speaking, these people, if they actually do exist (if they have actually chosen contradicting goals) can hardly be said to disagree at all. They are fighting, not arguing.

I can't remember who said this about what country, but it boils down to something like this. "He and I are in perfect agreement. We both want to rule the country."

"
With no acceptable definition of good, theoretically, at least, rational persons should recognize that non-cognitivism is the appropriate method of engaging moral propositions."
Even were my arguments false, how on earth could any judgement of any course of engagement be deemed appropriate, when no purpose may be pursued and no notion of appropriateness has any meaning? :).
Debate Round No. 4
12 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by RaulzIzMe 7 years ago
RaulzIzMe
One could say that in the context of the entire physical universe that all moral propositions have no truth value, as long as a deity or supernatural force either does not forcefully opine or does not exist to do so. If you agree with the idea of the neglectful or non-existant Deity, morality then is a human idea only useful to us, unless of course there are beings out there like us, who are capable of such cogniscience but either way moral statements would have no universal value. However, we do in fact exist with some sort of programming, does this imply a preference of morality by the universe? Our general behaviour seems to place staying alive as the main priority and couple that with it usually being better to have more people than less people, as long as the population is sustainable, then a moral code is required for efficient and wasteless interaction. But one could imagine that life could have been created without the survival imperative and most like died out. Hmmm....you philosphers have it rough, thats why I stick to phyiscs.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
A person can objectively have a tail, and yet not every other member of the species need have one.

Anyone who didn't set or follow goals would be wholly outside the subject matter of morality. This does not emancipate anyone else from it :).

A moral action is a means, made moral in term of the end, not the other way around :).
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 7 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "I think Con successfully made the case that actions relative to the nature of the species are objectively defined."

They can't be objective unless they hold natural for ALL members of a species... i.e. if we find a homo sapien who doesn't set and follow goals, the objectivity fails. Granted this is a high bar, but I think a far more important problem that I tried to address but didn't do so very well is that you can't really define a moral action as an ends in terms of the means.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
I actually give a tie. Both sides did a pretty good job at fleshing out the elements of what R_R was advocating, but I don't think it really touched upon the resolution: the merits of non-cognitivism.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
"straw mans"!!?? Should be "straw persons"

I think Con successfully made the case that actions relative to the nature of the species are objectively defined.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 7 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Shhh!! I'm actually a cognitivist.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
@JCMT:

Are you a non-cognitivist semantically, psychologically, or both (which most are)?
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
Fair nuff :)
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 7 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
nah - you've got time - just wait till Saturday evening to post your next round
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
*Facepalm* Sorry, I read the original several days ago, remembered the idea, and assumed the text was the same.

hmm... forfeit the round, use up part of my time afterward to post your r2 in comments, and let the voters have my blessing plus the fact I'd be an utter hypocrite not to bless it to treat it as though it were posted normally?

And vote against me for conduct of course
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RaulzIzMe
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