The Instigator
JonathanCrane
Con (against)
Winning
6 Points
The Contender
calculatedr1sk
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points

Sam Harris' 'The Moral Landscape'

Do you like this debate?NoYes+1
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...
JonathanCrane
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/17/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,133 times Debate No: 34858
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (11)
Votes (2)

 

JonathanCrane

Con



Ave.

Topic: Sam Harris's 'The Moral Landscape''
Position: Con/Against
Category: Philosophy
Rounds: 4
Voting Period: 2 Weeks
Time to Argue: 48 Hours
Argument Max: 8,000 Characters
Vote Comments: Yes

I am taking the Con position. It is my burden to show that Sam Harris has not offered a sound moral ontology. It is the burden of Pro to show that Sam Harris has offered a sound moral ontology. The winner of the argument will be the side that demonstrates their case beyond a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, if 51% of the evidence favors one side, that side should win arguments.

There are four rounds in this debate. The first round is for acceptance of the rules and framework. Pro will also give his opening statement in that round. I will present my opening statement in the subsequent round, and the next rounds will be devoted to rebuttals. Pro should leave the last round blank, as he was allowed an extra round.

The voting period will be two weeks.

Each side will have forty-eight hours to post each round. The maximum number of characters is eight thousand.

Using pictures in order to demonstrate concepts is allowed. General expectations of conduct should be followed.

A sound moral ontology must demonstrate an objective moral right and wrong, using true premises and logically valid formulations.

Objective moral values are propositions about right and wrong that are true in every possible world regardless of opinion.

Vale.
calculatedr1sk

Pro

First, I’d like to thank you readers for your interest. The Young Dr. Crane and I have been looking forward to this exchange for some time, and so I also want to express my appreciation for his patience, and thank him for instigating the debate. I lastly thank Dr. Sam Harris for making this debate possible by his contributions to philosophy and neuroscience, and humbly admit that my writing will no doubt pale in comparison to the author whose shadow I dare to stand in.


As I am arguing in favor of the proposition Harris formulated in his book, let me first establish that it is unreasonable for me to be tasked with the defense of any positions which he himself has not taken. Allow me to quote page 26 of The Moral Landscape:


“I hope it is clear that when I speak about “objective” moral truths, or about the “objective” causes of human well-being, I am not denying the necessarily subjective(i.e., experiential) component of the facts under discussion. I am certainly not claiming that moral truths exist independent of the experience of conscious beings—like the Platonic Form of the Good 4—or that certain actions are intrinsically wrong. 5 I am simply saying that, given that there are facts— real facts—to be known about how conscious creatures can experience the worst possible misery and the greatest possible well-being, it is objectively true to say that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, whether or not we can always answer these questions in practice.”[1]


Con’s demand that I be able to show “objective moral values about right and wrong apply to every possible world” may miss Harris’ point, because by his own admission Harris would have nothing to say about possible worlds which do not contain or impact conscious beings. Even for those worlds which do contain conscious beings, Harris does not claim to know what those moral truths happen to be, or claim that we may ever be able to know the answers to all moral truths – he simply argues that moral truths do exist. An example he uses to help make sense of the difference between “answers in practice” and “answers in principle” is to invite the reader to imagine the set “birthday wishes” consisting of every silent birthday wish ever made in the history of humanity. He asks, “Will we ever be able to retrieve these unspoken thoughts? Of course not.” But goes on to observe that this doesn’t mean the wishes never existed, or that true and false statements can’t be made about them (imagine the claim that they were all made in Latin, which is specific, but surely false).


Harris argues that “a concern for well-being (defined as deeply and as inclusively as possible) is the only intelligible basis for morality and values” and compares the science of morality with the science of health. While the definition for what constitutes “good health” may be vague, medical science can nevertheless tell us there there are truths to be known about health. What constitutes a “healthy food” may be ambiguous and complex, but there is clearly a difference between a food, even an “unhealthy” one like chocolate cake, and a poison like arsenic. Likewise, there are differences in the conscious experience of sentient beings.


There are two premises Harris (and I) must defend. 1) some people have better lives than others. 2) these difference relate in some lawful and not entirely arbitrary way, to states of the human brain and to states of the world. To do so, Harris defines what he calls “The Bad Life” and “The Good Life”.


The Bad Life


You are a young widow who has lived her entire life in the midst of civil war. Today, your seven-year-old daughter was raped and dismembered before your eyes. Worse still, the perpetrator was your fourteen-year-old son, who was goaded to this evil at the point of a machete by a press gang of drug-addled soldiers. You are now running barefoot through the jungle with killers in pursuit. While this is the worst day of your life, it is not entirely out of character with the other days of your life: since the moment you were born, your world has been a theater of cruelty and violence. You have never learned to read, taken a hot shower, or traveled beyond the green hell of the jungle. Even the luckiest people you have known have experienced little more than an occasional respite from chronic hunger, fear, apathy, and confusion. Unfortunately, you’ve been very unlucky, even by these bleak standards. Your life has been one long emergency, and now it is nearly over.


The Good Life


You are married to the most loving, intelligent, and charismatic person you have ever met. Both of you have careers that are intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding. For decades, your wealth and social connections have allowed you to devote yourself to activities that bring you immense personal satisfaction. One of your greatest sources of happiness has been to find creative ways to help people who have not had your good fortune in life. In fact, you have just won a billion-dollar grant to benefit children in the developing world. If asked, you would say that you could not imagine how your time on earth could be better spent. Due to a combination of good genes and optimal circumstances, you and your closest friends and family will live very long, healthy lives, untouched by crime, sudden bereavements, and other misfortunes.


(pages 16-17)


It seems clear that both premises would be defended by an honest analysis of these examples. Compare this kind of example with our inquiries into the science of economics. While the utility assigned to a single good is arbitrary in a vacuum, utility provided by one good can be compared in a meaningful way to another. Ceteris paribus, a new Audi can reasonably be expected to provide higher utility to a consumer than a rusted out, broken down, beat up used Audi. Can con pretend that lives can't be compared in a similar fashion? I invite Con to convincingly argue that either premise 1 fails and one life is not better than the other, or that 2 fails and the quality of these lives has absolutely no relationship to their brains and to states of the world. If he cannot do this, then both premises stand, and the rest of Harris’ argument will follow from there. At that time, I will have been able to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that Sam Harris has offered a sound moral ontology which demonstrates objective (true regardless of individual opinions) moral right and wrong and follows from the use of true premises and logically valid formulations.


1) http://skepdic.ru...


Debate Round No. 1
JonathanCrane

Con

Ave.

In his opening round, Pro gives us two premises. He asserts that these two premises alone are all he has to defend in order to win the debate. I think there is much more that has to be defended than this. The first premise and the second premise, on their own, do not support a conclusion which affirms Harris' ontology. For one, you have to defend the statement that the well-being of conscious creatures is the basis of morality. You also have to find a way to connect is statements with ought statements. Pro will have to do much more than defend the two premises he stated.

Dr. Harris has given us no reason to make a moral distinction between the 'good life' and the 'bad life'. Yes, it is true that the two lives are different in the context of who is feeling more pleasure. We are not given any reasons to associate misery with moral good/evil or pleasure with moral good/wrong.

The is-ought distinction is extremely harmful to Sam Harris’ moral ontology. The is-ought distinction is a meta-ethical problem articulated by Scottish philosopher David Hume. It states there is a difference between descriptive statements (what is) and normative statements (what ought to be). Science may tell us what is harmful to the well-being of conscious creatures, but this does not mean we ought to act any differently. It is a descriptive statement, not a normative one.
[1]

Sam Harris has used three different arguments against the is-ought distinction. The first argument is that facts about maximizing well-being relate to states of the brain. This is true, but this does not give us any reason to think that we have a moral obligation to maximize well-being. Dr . Harris also points out that objective knowledge has values built into it, like respect for evidence and logical consistency. This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. Sam Harris is using a definition of ‘’value’’ that is different from the meaning of the word ‘’value’’ when we talk about ‘’moral value’’. Finally, Dr. Harris argues that facts and beliefs about values come from the same place in the brain, so there is no gap between them. This argument fails because the origin of a thought in neuroscientific terms has nothing to do with the meta-ethical content of the thought.

The second problem is that occupying a peak of well-being is not equivalent to moral good. Dr. Harris admits that evil people can be just as happy as good people.[2] William Lane Craig has demonstrated that this fact destroys Harris' ontology. "This implies that we can conceive of a possible world in which the continuum of human well-being is not a moral landscape. The peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people. But this entails that in the actual world the continuum of well-being and the moral landscape are not identical either. For identity is a necessary relation. There is no possible world in which some entity A is not identical to A. So if there is any possible world in which A is not identical to B, it follows that A is not in fact identical to B. Since it's possible that human well-being and moral goodness are not identical, it follows necessarily that human well-being and moral goodness are not the same, as Harris has asserted. By granting that it's possible that the continuum of well-being is not identical to the moral landscape, Harris has rendered his view logically incoherent.’’ [3]

This is a powerful argument which demonstrates that Harris's ontology is not a moral landscape, but is just a continuum of well-being. The failure of Dr. Craig's argument would still not demonstrate that peaks on the moral landscape are equivalent to moral good. Pro has to give us reasons to believe that they are equal. If no sound reasons can be given, then Harris' ontology is still nothing but a continuum of well-being.


Dr. Harris has argued that we should define good as 'that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures'. [4] Asking 'Why is it good to support the well-being of conscious creatures' is then like asking 'Why is supporting the well-being of conscious creatures supporting the well-being of conscious creatures?'. This is a word game rather than an actual philosophical reason to equate moral good with well-being. You can't affirm that to be true on the basis of a tautology. It's an extremely weak argument that doesn't prove anything, because it begs the question that you can define good in such a way, which is the whole controversy in the first place.

The case against 'The Moral Landscape' can be summarized as this: Science can tell us what is, but it can never tell us what ought to be. There are no good reasons to equate moral good with peaks on the moral landscape, and there are good reasons to think the contrary. In the end, Harris' ontology is just a measurement of human well-being, and has nothing to say about morality.

References
1: http://tinyurl.com...
2: Harris, Moral Landscape, 190.
3: http://tinyurl.com...
4: Harris, Moral Landscape, 12.

Vale.
calculatedr1sk

Pro

I think Con misunderstands my statement regarding the two premises outlined in round one. I realize there is still work ahead of me, but claimed that the rest will flow logically. If these two stand, and I’d argue that they have, then we’re well on our way.

First: Russell Blackford poses a very similar challenge that Con has, drawing on the idea of the Is – Ought distinction from Hume. Harris stands ready to defend.

Again, the same can be said about medicine, or science as a whole. As I point out in my book, science in based on values that must be presupposed -- like the desire to understand the universe, a respect for evidence and logical coherence, etc. One who doesn't share these values cannot do science. But nor can he attack the presuppositions of science in a way that anyone should find compelling. Scientists need not apologize for presupposing the value of evidence, nor does this presupposition render science unscientific. In my book, I argue that the value of well-being -- specifically the value of avoiding the worst possible misery for everyone -- is on the same footing.” [2]

Thomas Nagel provides this additional support to Harris’ thesis:

“Even if this is an exaggeration, Harris has identified a real problem, rooted in the idea that facts are objective and values are subjective. Harris rejects this facile opposition in the only way it can be rejected -- by pointing to evaluative truths so obvious that they need no defense. For example, a world in which everyone was maximally miserable would be worse than a world in which everyone was happy, and it would be wrong to try to move us toward the first world and away from the second. This is not true by definition, but it is obvious, just as it is obvious that elephants are larger than mice. If someone denied the truth of either of those propositions, we would have no reason to take him seriously...

The true culprit behind contemporary professions of moral skepticism is the confused belief that the ground of moral truth must be found in something other than moral values. One can pose this type of question about any kind of truth. What makes it true that 2 + 2 = 4? What makes it true that hens lay eggs? Some things are just true; nothing else makes them true. Moral skepticism is caused by the currently fashionable but unargued assumption that only certain kinds of things, such as physical facts, can be "just true" and that value judgments such as "happiness is better than misery" are not among them. And that assumption in turn leads to the conclusion that a value judgment could be true only if it were made true by something like a physical fact. That, of course, is nonsense.” [2]

The idea that we ought to respect evidence is ontologically built into the value system of the project of science itself. “First, do no harm” is woven into the very fabric of medical intuition. Similarly, that it is “morally correct” to attempt movement towards what he calls “the-best-possible-world-for-everyone” and away from “the worst-possible-world-for-everyone” is similarly a self-evident ontological truth that must be either accepted or rejected by its own merit, without evidence. There is no equivocation, and no difference between this and other disciplines, even mathematics, which require the same kinds of leaps. Even if we were to modify the calculus of what constitutes “well-being” by extending the timeline to account for the existence of an afterlife, this does not change the underlying truth that “morality” by any meaningful definition of the word can only be expressed in terms describing our intentions toward the mental state of conscious creatures, which hypothetically to a theist could either be blessed with happiness in heaven or cursed with misery in hell.

If any wordplay is afoot, it is Craig who is guilty by re-defining “good” as “whatever God tells us it is”. This attitude can lead to psychopathic outcomes, as it justifies all manner of violence, murder, and needless cruelty by completely decoupling morality from the impact it has on the happiness or misery of conscious creatures such as humans. Craig cannot offer the sound moral foundation that he pretends to. If you doubt the absurdity of the Divine Command Theory, let me know and we can explore that next round.

Second: The Craig attack against premise 2 is simply misrepresenting Harris’ position, as Craig often does. Here is Harris' actual quote:

It is also conceivable that a science of human flourishing could be possible, and yet people could be made equally happy by very different “moral” impulses. Perhaps there is no connection between being good and feeling good—and, therefore, no connection between moral behavior (as generally conceived) and subjective well-being. In this case, rapists, liars, and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints. This scenario stands the greatest chance of being true, while still seeming quite far-fetched. Neuroimaging work already suggests what has long been obvious through introspection: human cooperation is rewarding.12 However, if evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it. It would no longer be an especially “moral” landscape; rather it would be a continuum of wellbeing, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks. [3]

As I hope readers will notice, Harris is not arguing that rapists, liars, and thieves actually do experience the same depth of happiness as saints, but rather is pointing out that if this could be proven to be the case through neuroscience, it would be one way of falsifying his view. Craig and Con are basically just agreeing with Harris on this, and then pretending that Harris has admitted something which he has not!

Advancing the Case

Having defended both premises from Con’s attack, Harris will do us the honor of taking his case to the next stage.

Once we conceive of “the worst possible misery for everyone,” then we can talk about taking incremental steps toward this abyss: What could it mean for life on earth to get worse for all human beings simultaneously? Notice that this need have nothing to do with people enforcing their culturally conditioned moral precepts. Perhaps a neurotoxic dust could fall to earth from space and make everyone extremely uncomfortable. All we need imagine is a scenario in which everyone loses a little, or a lot, without there being compensatory gains (i.e., no one learns any important lessons, no one profits from others’ losses, etc.). It seems uncontroversial to say that a change that leaves everyone worse off, by any rational standard, can be reasonably called “bad,” if this word is to have any meaning at all. We simply must stand somewhere. I am arguing that, in the moral sphere, it is safe to begin with the premise that it is good to avoid behaving in such a way as to produce the worst possible misery for everyone. I am not claiming that most of us personally care about the experience of all conscious beings; I am saying that a universe in which all conscious beings suffer the worst possible misery is worse than a universe in which they experience well-being. This is all we need to speak about “moral truth” in the context of science. Once we admit that the extremes of absolute misery and absolute flourishing—whatever these states amount to for each particular being in the end—are different and dependent on facts about the universe, then we have admitted that there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality. 22[4]


References

2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com...

3) Page 125

http://skepdic.ru...

4) Pages 31-32

http://skepdic.ru...

Debate Round No. 2
JonathanCrane

Con

Ave.


I want to make a preliminary note about how I’m organizing this round. Brackets with things like ‘’N1’’ in them stand for ‘’Note one’’. I created a section at the end of the debate called ‘’Notes’’ if you want to understand my reasoning behind that statement. You don’t have to read them unless you’re curious. Brackets with a single number in them correlate to the references page, as I’m sure you learned.


In my opening statement, I gave two arguments against the moral landscape. These two arguments will comprise the bulk of my criticism. The first argument was the is-ought distinction. The second was argument was that moral good is not equal to the moral landscape. If these arguments, or even one of them, can stand, then the moral landscape is not a sound moral ontology. [N1]


RationalWiki notes that ‘’The is-ought distinction is sometimes misconstrued to mean that facts are totally disconnected from ethical statements, or that there is no relationship at all between is and ought. As can be seen, Hume does not argue this position, but states that a factual statement (or "is") needs to be combined with an ethical principle or assumption before an ethical statement (or "ought") can be derived.’’ I think it’s important to keep this misconception in mind when reading Pro’s arguments. It seems to me that many of them make this mistake. [1]


Pro quotes Sam Harris to show that is and ought can be connected. The argument is that objective knowledge presupposes values such as a respect for evidence and logical consistency. I already answered this argument in my opening statement, so the only thing I can do is repeat my criticism. This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. [2] Sam Harris is using a definition of ‘’value’’ that is different from the meaning of the word ‘’value’’ when we talk about ‘’moral value’’. [N2]


Pro says the idea that we ought to respect evidence is built into science. This is not a moral ought, however. This just means that, if you want to do science, you have to respect evidence. It does not relate to moral right and wrong at all.


I agree that, once you grant the assumption ‘’moral good is about the well-being of conscious creatures’’, then it’s morally good to move everyone to the best possible world rather than the worst possible world. The assumption, however, is false. [N3]


An important part of Harris’s ontology is that there is an actual distinction between the good life and the bad life. I conceded that there is definitely a difference between the way these two people feel. One is miserable, and the other one feels great pleasure. The problem is that we are not given any reasons to associate misery with moral good/evil or pleasure with moral good/wrong. Pro seems to skip over this criticism in the last round. The only thing he says that even touches this argument is a few sentences from the Thomas Nagel quote. In this quote, he asserts that the difference between the good life and the bad life is obvious. I concede that it’s obvious in the context of how each person is feeling, but we still don’t get any reasons for thinking that they’re different in a moral sense. The remainder of the quote is irrelevant because it doesn’t relate to anything I have said in this debate.


Pro attacks William Lane Craig and divine command theory. I’m not going to respond to this because it’s a red herring. [3] This debate is not about the truth of divine command theory. We are not even debating theistic morality. This is strictly about Sam Harris’ moral ontology. [N4]


It turns out that I slightly misquoted Harris. He didn’t explicitly state that evil people can actually be just as happy as good people. The error is mine, not Dr. Craig’s, and it’s irrelevant anyways. It doesn’t matter if evil people are not as happy as good people in the actual world. It matters if evil people could be as happy as good people in some possible world. Because, if there is some possible world where moral good is not equal to the moral landscape (peaks of well-being), then there is no possible world where moral good is equal to the moral landscape, otherwise the law of identity would be false. This premise was not disputed by Pro in the last round. We can conceive of a possible where the peaks of well-being are occupied by evil people who take pleasure in the suffering of others. This premise was not disputed by Pro in the last round. Since there is a possible world where moral good is not equivalent to the moral landscape, there is no possible world where moral good is equivalent to the moral landscape. This was not disputed by Pro in the last round. Ergo, Sam Harris’ moral landscape is not a moral landscape, but just a measurement of well-being. This is truly a knockdown argument against Harris’ ontology, and I have to admit to thinking that Pro’s response was too short and ineffective. Which premise does Pro dispute, and why? That’s what I’d like to have answered in the next round.


At the very end of my opening statement, I showed that Harris was trying to equate moral good with well-being on the basis of a tautology. I didn’t see any response from Pro to this argument. [N5]


The entire section called ‘’Advancing the Case’’ doesn’t need to be addressed. If I can defend the two arguments from my opening statement, then nothing from that quote will matter.


References

1: http://rationalwiki.org...

2: http://rationalwiki.org...

3: http://rationalwiki.org...


Notes

N1: If you have an argument with true premises and valid logic which leads to the conclusion that Harris’ ontology is wrong, then the failure of your other arguments does not matter.

N2: This is demonstrated by the following quote from my opening statement: “Dr . Harris also points out that objective knowledge has values built into it, like respect for evidence and logical consistency. This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. Sam Harris is using a definition of ‘value’ that is different from the meaning of the word ‘value’ when we talk about ’moral value’.’’

N3: This is by way of the fact that there is a possible world where moral good is not equal to the moral landscape.

N4: This is fairly obvious. When was anything about theistic morality mentioned in R1?

N5: A quote from my opening statement: ‘’Dr. Harris has argued that we should define good as 'that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures'. [4] Asking 'Why is it good to support the well-being of conscious creatures' is then like asking 'Why is supporting the well-being of conscious creatures supporting the well-being of conscious creatures?'. This is a word game rather than an actual philosophical reason to equate moral good with well-being. You can't affirm that to be true on the basis of a tautology. It's an extremely weak argument that doesn't prove anything, because it begs the question that you can define good in such a way, which is the whole controversy in the first place.’’


Vale.
calculatedr1sk

Pro

Con has essentially staked his entire case on two premises identified this round. Let's see how he fares.

Consider Con’s own source [5]. Go directly to the paper cited by rationalwiki, and you will find this:

"An essay by Sober (1994) entitled "Prospects for an evolutionary ethics" provides an excellent account of the naturalistic fallacy from a combined evolutionary and philosophical perspective. According to Sober, Hume would regard the following argument as deductively invalid:

Torturing people for fun causes great suffering (factual premise)
Torturing people for fun is wrong (ethical conclusion)

However, if we supply an additional premise, the argument can be made deductively valid:

Torturing people for fun causes great suffering (factual premise)
It is wrong to cause great suffering (ethical premise)
Torturing people for fun is wrong (ethical conclusion)

More generally, a factual statement must be combined with an ethical statement to derive an ethical conclusion. Hence, ought cannot be described exclusively from is.
The word "exclusively" is a crucial part of the naturalistic fallacy. If we remove it, the statement "ough cannot be derived from is" implies that the facts of the world have no relevance to ethical conclusions. This is an absurd..." so on and so on.
[6]

Con has inadvertently demolished his own argument, and all but admitted to us that “Is - Ought” actually poses no serious challenge whatsoever to Harris, because Harris has augmented facts with general (and rather obvious) ethical principles.

Using a set of commonly accepted set of values and principles, like respect for evidence, first do no harm, etc… is necessary to do medicine. Using a set of commonly accepted set of values and principles, like it is right to avoid movement towards the worst possible world for everyone, is necessary to do the kind of moral science Harris advocates. I see no difference in how “value” is used differently in this context, so I don’t know what else to say to Con except that we’ll have to agree to disagree.

I am beginning to suspect Con might be so confused about Craig’s claims of equivocation that he’s throwing it out there just in the hopes that maybe we’ll buy it. In order for Harris to be guilty of equivocation, there would have to be at least two considerably different definitions of morality, and Harris would be trying to pull a fast one on us by subtly trying to swap in one meaning for the other. So then… where is Con’s other definition of “moral good”? Con has already consigned theistic morality to being an invalid red herring and not within the context of this debate - so it’s gone – along with it any DCT tools, rusty and broken as they are, to help cast doubt against my case. What’s left then? If “moral good” is not to be understood as something akin to “that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures” then I would very much like to know what else you could possibly suppose the definition should be.

“…if there is some possible world where moral good is not equal to the moral landscape (peaks of well-being), then there is no possible world where moral good is equal to the moral landscape, otherwise the law of identity would be false.”

Fine showmanship. However, as per usual, Craig is misrepresenting his opponent’s position. By extension, Con is attempting to use Craig’s sword to slash at the straw man which only vaguely resembles Harris, and which certainly has nothing to do with any of the arguments which I have presented in this debate [7]. If he wants more of an answer than that from me, then I’d be delighted to provide one in my final round, even if it means forgoing conduct. For this, all Con must do is show me the citation where Harris’ claims, in the context implied by Craig, that “moral good is equal to the moral landscape.” I won’t be holding my breath.

Let’s revisit the two premises Con actually needs to defeat:

1) some people have better lives than others. Affirmed. Con has already conceded this. His objection that it doesn’t really matter because it still doesn’t get us to morality was also overcome in our discussion on Hume.

2) these differences relate in some lawful and not entirely arbitrary way, to states of the human brain and to states of the world. Affirmed. Con gambled his entire debate on Craig’s “knockdown”, and lost his bet, for he provided no other substantive attack against premise 2. To drive home my point, the claim that electricity relates to heat in a lawful and not entirely arbitrary way is not the same as making the claim that electricity is equal to heat.

Since Con did not respond to my Advancing the Case section, all the arguments contained within stand. I have met the necessary conditions to show that Sam Harris did offer a sound moral ontology, while at the same time, Con has landed no effective blow against my argument, and his own position has crumbled.

I thank the readers for their attention, and I thank my opponent once more for a debate I’ve very much enjoyed, and hope it is the first of many such occasions.

References

5) http://rationalwiki.org...

6) http://evolution.binghamton.edu...

7) http://rationalwiki.org...

Debate Round No. 3
JonathanCrane

Con

Ave.


I don’t understand what implications Sober’s paper is supposed to have. I don’t disagree that you can make an ethical conclusion if you combine a factual premise with an ethical premise. I even quoted as much as in the previous round. The problem is that science cannot establish an ethical premise like ‘maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures’’ on its own. The only way for science to establish an ethical premise is if you define science in a way that’s completely foreign to what science actually is. There also aren’t any good reasons to accept the ethical premise in the first place, even outside of science, other than appeals to the obviousness of its truth. Incredulity, however, does not an argument make. It doesn’t matter if Sam Harris or Pro think that it’s obvious to accept that ethical premise. There are a myriad of false propositions that are obvious to many people. A relationship does not exist between truth and obviousness.


I only see one argument from Pro that does not appeal to obviousness. Pro says ‘’If moral good is not to be understood as something akin to ‘that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures’ then I would very much like to know what else you could possibly suppose the definition should be.’’ This is just a classic argument from ignorance. Pro is asserting that moral good is that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures by way of the fact that nobody else has offered a definition of moral good. Your definition of moral good does not become true just because nobody else has offered a definition of moral good. Things aren’t true just because a negation has not been offered.


Pro says that he doesn’t understand why Sam Harris is using ‘’value’’ and ‘’ought’’ in a context that is different from morality. I’ll try to explain why.


TheFreeDictionary notes four uses of the word ‘’ought’’[1]:

1. Used to indicate obligation or duty: You ought to work harder than that.

2. Used to indicate advisability or prudence: You ought to wear a raincoat.

3. Used to indicate desirability: You ought to have been there; it was great fun.

4. Used to indicate probability or likelihood: She ought to finish by next week.


If you say that ‘’If you want to do science, you ought to respect evidence and consistent logic’’, then you are referring to definition three. It is desirable, when doing science, to respect evidence and consistent logic. You are describing a requisite for doing science, not a moral obligation, so are not using ought in the moral sense of definition one. Consider the statement ‘’If you want to drink water, you ought to have hands’’. This is just describing a requisite for drinking water. It’s not morally wrong to lack hands. Respecting evidence and consistent logic works in the same way.


At this point, it may seem like I’m repeating myself. I apologize for this. It’s just that Pro hasn’t given me anything to work with other than ‘’let’s just agree to disagree’’.


The first premise of Pro’s argument is that someone people live better lives than others. Pro falsely claims that I conceded this. In no place did I agree that some people live better lives than others. The only thing I conceded was that the two people in each life felt different emotions. How does that I mean I also conceded that one lives a better life? Also, there is still the problem I brought up in the last two rounds, which Pro has ignored. Why should we think that there are reasons to associate misery with moral good/evil or pleasure with moral good/wrong? There’s nothing but static from Pro on this point.


Finally, we come to Dr. Craig’s argument, which makes use of modal logic to disprove Harris’ ontology. Here are the premises for context.


1: If there is some possible world where moral good is not equal to the moral landscape (peaks of well-being), then there is no possible world where moral good is equal to the moral landscape. (Supported by the law of identity.)

2: We can conceive of a possible where the peaks of well-being are occupied by evil people who take pleasure in the suffering of others. (Supported by the existence of psychopaths.)

3: Since there is a possible world where moral good is not equivalent to the moral landscape, there is no possible world where moral good is equivalent to the moral landscape. (Logically follows.)

4: Ergo, Sam Harris’ moral landscape is not a moral landscape, but just a measurement of well-being. (Logically follows.)


I asked Pro to state which premise he disagreed with and why. The only premise Pro responded to was the first one. The other three have gone untouched for the entire debate. If I can defend the first premise sufficiently, then the rest of the argument goes through.


The only objection to premise one that Pro gives is to ask ‘’Why does moral good have to be equal to the moral landscape?’’. This should be very easy to prove. For one, if moral good is not equivalent to peaks on the moral landscape, then there’s nothing good about bringing people from the bad life to the good life, as Harris asserts. Secondly, if moral good is not equal to peaks on the moral landscape, then there is no difference between harming the collective well-being and improving it. Thirdly, you should consider an action like charity. Charity would bring us closer to peaks on the moral landscape, because it helps the well-being of conscious creatures. If moral good is not equivalent to bringing us closer to the peaks of well-being, then there’s nothing good about charity by implication. There’s no way for Harris’ ontology to make any sense if moral good is not equivalent to peaks of well-being, or doing actions that us bring us closer to peaks.


So, if Harris’s ontology is to make any sense, moral good has to be equal to the moral landscape (peaks of well-being). But there are possible worlds where evil people occupy the peaks of well-being rather than good people (psychopaths). Therefore, there is no possible world where moral good is equal to the moral landscape (law of identity). If that’s true, then Harris is just measuring well-being, and isn’t saying anything about morality.


Pro suggests that he will respond to Craig’s argument in the last round. I think this is very improper. Is he implying that he had a rebuttal to Craig’s argument in mind, but decided not to post it until the last round of the debate, so that I wouldn’t have a chance to reply? I think any new arguments brought up in the last round should cost conduct points, and should also be considered impermissible. Hopefully, I’ve misunderstood Pro somewhere. I’m not too optimistic, however, because he even said that his last round actions would cost him conduct points.


Harris tries to connect is and ought by using words in non-moral contexts. He also asserts that science can determine human values, when there is nothing within science that cannot establish an ethical premise. There is also the problem with modal logic, which Pro has barely tried to answer during this debate. I believe that these fatal problems are not answered sufficiently enough to give Pro the preponderance of evidence. Thus, a Con vote is the most justified.


Vale.


References

1: http://www.thefreedictionary.com...

Debate Round No. 4
11 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
Con's closing:

Agrees that you can get morality from a fact and another moral premise, but points out that science can't give you the moral premise. Claims the obviousness of moral premises doesn't not amount to an argument. (that's an irrelevant point).

Says Con's definition of morality is an argument from ignorance (because nobody can think of a better one).

On equivocation, points out four different meanings of 'ought,' then applies them to the debate.

Does not concede first premise; repeats his point about the is/ought fallacy.

Repeats Craig's argument as premises and conclusion, claims Pro only responded to first premise: "1: If there is some possible world where moral good is not equal to the moral landscape (peaks of well-being), then there is no possible world where moral good is equal to the moral landscape. (Supported by the law of identity.)"

Gives reasons for why on Harris' view, moral good must equate to peaks of well-being.
Posted by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
Pro's closing:

Further explains the is/ought fallacy and claims Harris didn't commit it because he combines is statements with ethical principles. (but what about the ethical principles? harris is supposed to be giving us an account of morality from facts alone).

Pro misconstrues the basis upon which Con accuses Harris of equivocation. Con claimed the equivocation was on "value" not the definition of "morality."

Insinuates that the only possible meaning of "moral good" is "that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures." (If that's true by definition, then it's a tautology. But if it's synthetic, then this won't work).

Insists that Craig misrepresented Harris because Harris does not equate the moral good with the moral landscape.

Closes by pointing out that Con affirms both of Pro's premises.
Posted by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
Con's rebuttal:

Clarifies is/ought fallacy.

Accuses Harris of equivocation when comparing the value of truth/evidence in science and moral values.

Agrees with Nagel that there's a difference between well-being a misery, but claims there's no reason to think they're morally different. (Ignores Nagel's epistemological point).

Rightly points out that attack on Divine Command theory is a red-herring.

Clarifies Craig's argument about the law of identity and possible worlds.

Claims Pro didn't respond, but ignores Pro's claim that Craig misrepresented Harris.

Claims Harris equated well-being with good on the basis of tautology and that Pro ignored that point.
Posted by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
Pro's rebuttal:

The value of well-being is analogous to the value of truth in science. (attempt to bridge is/ought gap).

Thomas Nagel says it's just obvious that well-being is better than ill-being, but his confused about what Harris' argument is. Harris equates the two whereas Nagel acknowledges a distinction.

Nagel also says that we don't need anything to make a moral value true anymore than we need anything to make 2 + 2 equal 4.

Pro confuses moral epistemology with moral ontology. He argues that morality is just obvious, but that addresses epistemology. The debate is over ontology.

Pro makes an irrelevant attack on the Divine Command theory in response to Craig.

Pro claims Craig misrepresented his view, but I don't see that he did. What Craig did was show, using Harris' own confessions, that Harris' argument is fallacious.

Quotes Harris at length saying that since misery is bad and well-being is good, that morality is encouraging well-being and not encouraging misery. Not much of an argument. It still seems to commit the is/ought fallacy. Of course he's right that science can tell us something about what promotes well-being or misery, but that doesn't get us anywhere near morality.
Posted by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
Con's opening:

Rightly points out that conclusion doesn't follow from premises. There's no "ought" that can be derived from the premises.

Raises is/ought against Harris argument.

Raises the Craig objections. Well-being and morality are not identical because there are possible worlds in which the peaks of well-being are experienced by morally evil people.
Posted by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
Not that anybody is interested or anything, but I took some notes while I read this debate to aid in my memory as I wrote my RFD. Here are my notes:

Pro's opening:

"Objective moral values are propositions about right and wrong that are true in every possible world regardless of opinion."

What about possible worlds that don't have people? (Pro rightly brought up this point)

Harris' own explanation of what he means by "objective morals" is unclear.

The debate is off to a bad start. Pro should not accepted if he didn't agree with Con's definition. They should've hashed that out before getting started. The definition was a stipulation of the debate. It wasn't up for dispute.

Neither "the good life" nor "the bad life" have anything to say about moral obligations/duties.

Pro's case:

Premise 1: some people have better lives than others.

Premise 2 these difference relate in some lawful and not entirely arbitrary way, to states of the human brain and to states of the world.

Conclusion: If he cannot do this, then both premises stand, and the rest of Harris" argument will follow from there. At that time, I will have been able to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that Sam Harris has offered a sound moral ontology which demonstrates objective (true regardless of individual opinions) moral right and wrong and follows from the use of true premises and logically valid formulations.

His conclusion doesn't seem to follow at all, and the meaning of the second premise is unclear.
Posted by phantom 4 years ago
phantom
=RFD Part 2=
Pro tries to criticize Craig's moral ontology as a way to refute Craig's rebuttal of Harris. This obviously fails as Craig's moral beliefs are not in any way correlated with his objection to Harris. This is an obvious mistake on pro's part and quite poor debating.

The problem with pro's other counter to Craig was obvious to me when I first read it and I was glad to see con brought it up. It doesn't matter if neuroscience shows good people are happier than evil people in this actual world. It just matters that evil people could have been happier in a different world. -Note, while pro showed he did not have to prove Harris's ontology held true in every possible world, he only showed that by way of saying a world in which conscious creatures didn't exist would be devoid of morality. This doesn't apply to this particular point, however. The falsity of it would violate the law of identity anyway.

Con never conceded premise 1, as pro states for some reason.
Arguments to con for reasons stated. Con won most of the points in the debate.
Posted by phantom 4 years ago
phantom
=RFD Part 1=

First off, since it was brought up in the beginning, pro's right that he doesn't have to defend objective moral values that exist in all possible worlds, since that is not exactly Harris's position. Harris admits that worlds where no conscious creatures exist would lack moral truths.

Con says Harris has given no reason why we should associate misery with moral evil or pleasure as a moral good. Pro/Harris often associated emotions like pleasure and happiness with moral goodness without sufficient warrant. Pro's continual appeal to "what appears obvious" was annoying and didn't offer a very convincing argument, but more on that latter.

Con presents the descriptive/normative problem with The Moral Landscape, in that Harris tries to use a descriptive field (science) to a deduce normative facts. Science can answer what is but not what ought to be. I've always felt this was a big problem with Harris's moral ontology, but I'll be open to pro's refutation.

I'm not inclined to agree with pro's first defense against the is/ought problem with the Moral Landscape. As con points out, Harris equivocates with the word value and tries to use values like respect for logic and evidence as an answer to how moral values can enter into science as well. This is an equivocation fallacy, as con notes. Con sets out the different ways "value" tends to be used and showed how pro commits the equivocation fallacy. Furthermore, the quote pro uses from con's source is meaningless. The problem with Harris's moral ontology is that science by itself can't deduce moral norms, not that scientific statements can't be combined with moral ones to deduce a moral statement.

Con doesn't need to offer his own moral theory. Pro's making an argument from ignorance there. Nothing about con having offered no theory makes Harris's theory correct. Besides, it's not part of con's burden in the debate to provide an alternative theory.

Continued...
Posted by phantom 4 years ago
phantom
You're not supposed to continue the debate in the comments.

I'll try to vote on this latter.
Posted by calculatedr1sk 4 years ago
calculatedr1sk
One last thing, I misunderstood you to have conceded premise 1. Apologies.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by philochristos 4 years ago
philochristos
JonathanCranecalculatedr1skTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 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:30 
Reasons for voting decision: I think it's pretty clear that Harris' argument commits the is/ought fallacy. Pro attempts to avoid the fallacy by saying Harris combines factual statements with a moral statement to arrive at a moral conclusion. But there's no moral statement in either of Pro's two premises. Pro claims Craig misrepresents Harris because Harris doesn't equate morality with peaks of well-being, but then turns around and claims that the only possible definition if morality IS well-being. If that's the DEFINITION of morality, then Harris IS making a tautological claim, and Craig was right to raise the identity problem in possible worlds. Con also showed that Harris committed the fallacy of equivocation, but Pro was confused about what word was being equivocated on. Not all values and oughts are MORAL values and oughts, so it wasn't "morality" that was being equivocated, but "value" and "ought." Aside from a few miscommunications, that was a pretty good debate.
Vote Placed by phantom 4 years ago
phantom
JonathanCranecalculatedr1skTied
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 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:30 
Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments. (Comments 4 and 5)