The Instigator
Cody_Franklin
Pro (for)
Winning
8 Points
The Contender
OMGJustinBieber
Con (against)
Losing
3 Points

The Normative Contingency Thesis (NCT) is a compelling objection to Moral Realism.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
Cody_Franklin
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/9/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,627 times Debate No: 25094
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (15)
Votes (3)

 

Cody_Franklin

Pro

I've finally decided to open this up to any and all challengers. Everyone knows me, my argument, and my method. All that's missing is someone to take up the fight. As a consequence of this openness, Con may begin presenting arguments for realism/against the NCT in Round 1, or may choose merely to accept and defer argumentation until Round 2. I leave that decision to my opponent, who may not be penalized for opting to argue in R1.

The Normative Contingency Thesis, or NCT, can be explored in some of my previous debates on moral realism [http://www.debate.org...] [http://www.debate.org...]; however, I will formulate it briefly here:


Moral realism entails a justificationalist approach to affirming moral propositions. Value judgments and normative conclusions (e.g. "life is valuable", "murder is wrong") are contingent on logically prior propositions ("Do not murder" --> "Murder is wrong" --> "Life has moral value"). These chains of derivation can be traced back to one or more "first principles" from which the remainder of the system may be deduced. Succinctly stated: the problem of regression threatens the tenability of moral realism. However, the contingency inherent to the justificationalist structure can be regressively applied to the first principles, as well. According to the NCT, the contingency of both moral propositions and the meta-ethical first principles which found them require a rejection of moral realism, which is understood as follows:

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.


So, for this debate, the phrase "compelling objection" can be taken to mean that, if one were metaphysically constrained to affirm or reject realism on the basis of arguments presented in this discourse, the normative contingency thesis would provide an overriding impetus for rejection. In other words: just having read this debate, you'd side with me, rather than with my opponent, on the issue of realism.

Good luck to whomever accepts.
OMGJustinBieber

Con

I'll defer to Pro to make his case.
Debate Round No. 1
Cody_Franklin

Pro

Okie dokie.

Based on R1, most of the groundwork for my case has already been laid. First, recall the definition of realism:

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.

In particular, the realist's commitment to the third proposition is what's damning, because therein lies the origin of the justificationalist structure that makes the position untenable. This is due to...

Normative Contingency

Nobody will contest that moral propositions require justification--like epistemological questions, moral propositions require an underlying substance for validation. If one claims, for instance, that one ought not murder others, the curious individual might be inclined to ask, "Why?" The answer might be something like "Because murder is wrong", or "Because human life is valuable". Bridging the is-ought gap requires making explicit the hidden value judgment that unites some factical condition about the world with a normative claim about how that that world ought to be adjusted, and how its inhabitants ought to behave. This, I think, is uncontroversial. Just as nearly any epistemologist considers "justified true belief" to be at least necessary conditions for claiming knowledge, nearly any ethicist--in which group I'm sure my opponent, either by choice or by the circumstances of having to defend realism--will acknowledge the parallel burden of justification which rests on parties to an ethical discourse.

Where other ethicists stop--and where I forge on--is the spot at which contingency seems to end. In epistemology, there is always some concern about infinite regress--asking "Why?" an infinite number of times when presented with any justification. Naturally, this leads to a problem--if all propositions require justification, but all justifications are swallowed in an infinite regression, what is left? As all roads are said to lead to Rome, so too do all propositions eventually reach a space where justification is no longer possible--you reach assertions, circularities, but never bona fide certainty. This, I contend, is an inherent flaw in justificationalist attempts to advance propositions, and it inheres just as surely in epistemic justificationalism as in moral realism. When you sufficiently scale back any derivational system of ethics, you reach some kind of "first principle" which gives rise to the network of deductions beneath itself. This, for most ethicists, is the spot where contingency seems to end.

What happens, however, if you put that last meta-ethical proposition on trial? What is discovered about it? Well, you discover that it is also contingent; however, it is a different sort of contingency than that which characterizes the deductions contained in the system. Rather than being contingent upon some prior proposition or meta-ethical statement, it seems to be the last statement in the chain. So, upon what could it be contingent? The conditions of regress in epistemology may be helpful here:

  1. Infinite regress: given proposition P1, justify with P2. Justify P2 with P3, P3 with P4, ad infinitum. In other words, if all propositions require justification, the chain of exteriorities required to continue justification will stretch out infinitely.
  2. Vicious circularity: two propositions, A and B, rely upon each other for justification, establishing an endless loop of other-justification. That is, “A can be justified by reference to B; B can be justified by reference to A.”
  3. Axiomism: some particular proposition—P—at the "end" of a justificatory chain is asserted as self-evidently true, or is taken as given/assumed. “Given X, Y.” Alternatively, “X is useful/non-X is inconceivable; therefore, act/reason as if X.”

The third condition, axiomism, seems to be the name of the game. Certain moral propositions are taken to be irreducible or axiomatic. Yet, this approach seems problematic. Drawing on the work of Kurt Gödel, all non-trivial axiomatic systems always have to refer to something exterior to themselves for validation--they cannot, colloquially speaking, "prove themselves". This, on my view, produces an interesting answer to moral irreducibility by extending the justificationalist quest beyond the limits of whatever is taken to be ethically axiomatic.

One immediate problem with taking the axiomist route in ethics is the inability to distinguish reducible moral propositions from irreducible ones--if you have an ethical structure which is generically normative but absent of content, the axiomist approach conceivably allows one to supplement the "normative skeleton"--the generic normativity which has no content to transmit, and which is what realism seeks to defend in principle--with any meta-ethical content. If one is committed to the notion that ethical axioms have no justification but their own self-evidence, it seems essentially to be "deuces wild" on what kinds of meta-ethical assumptions we accept as long as we regard them as "self-evident". Hence, one could say something like "Well, if we just define morality as human flourishing, then we obviously have some clear answers", but that's precisely the problem--you could hypothetically define morality as more or less anything, or just collectively assume that a certain set of moral propositions is true, but this misses the point. Recall the third criterion of realism:

3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion.

This, I think, is where the axiomist approach fails. Sticking to the Godelian formula, I think that, while first principles are asserted as axioms, they are actually contingent on the discursive fiat of the speaker(s). If a party to a moral discourse makes a meta-ethical assumption, and the rest of the group agrees with it, then it remains unquestioned and de facto axiomatic. But, especially given the interchangeability of meta-ethical "axioms", fiat and collective subjectivity don't pass the "objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion" test. So, if at any point Con tries to define morality phenomenally--"If we just understand morality as..."; "This is how most ethicists reason anyway..."--then he can't win the debate because he's advocating constructivism, the view that normative constructs can be useful/preferable (although untrue), not realism.

So, to sum up the case:

1. As with epistemology, ethical propositions require justification.

2. So, systems of ethical derivation are contingent on logically prior normative and meta-ethical propositions.

3. As with epistemology, justificationalism is structurally vulnerable to infinite regression, leading to circles, unjustifiable propositions, or claims to self-evidence/irreducibility.

4. First principles, which spawn systems of moral derivations, function as axioms in those systems; however, these propositions are easily interchanged, making it difficult or impossible to distinguish the reducible and the irreducible. These meta-ethical assumptions, rather than being objective/mind-independent, are actually contingent on subjective agreement; but, since realism requires objectivity/mind-independence, the normative contingency thesis seems to be a compelling argument for rejecting moral realism/justificationalist ethics.

tl;dr You can keep asking people to warrant their ethical beliefs, and they'll eventually come down to some meta-ethical linchpin, e.g., "human life has value", which we have no reason to accept as true. They'll say it's useful, or that it "just is" true, or that it's true if you just define morality in a way that makes it so, but regression/contingency shows that even first principles are quick hide behind their natural subjectivity when put to the test.

OMGJustinBieber

Con


I want to thank Pro for the time and effort he put into making his case.


First, let me remind the reader that my job is not to defend moral realism. Rather, the resolution is whether the NCT is a compelling rebuttal of the moral realist position. On these grounds, I think it fails and I remain unimpressed with the critique.


The bulk of Pro’s argument is a critique of axioms as essentially not a valid source of self-verification. Pro is kind enough to offer the tl;dr version in his last paragraph for the lazy reader, but my response will be direct and simplistic.


In sum, my response is that Pro is arguing against the validity of the propositions needed to make his own case. In presenting his own case, Pro does not argue in a vacuum or from a point of dogmatic “beyond questionability” but presents a case which presupposes a network of its own first principles. I contend that first principles are necessary for discussion of whatever nature – even the expression of skepticism. In short, skepticism requires its own first principles from which it begins. As Wittgenstein writes “The questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn” [1].


In fact, Pro’s very first statement is reminiscent of one of those first principles: “Nobody will contest that moral propositions require justification--like epistemological questions, moral propositions require an underlying substance for validation.” It should be clear that Pro begins with his own set of first principles, and from these concludes that any first principle leading to objective morality is unfounded. I just disagree.


Pro interestingly comments “As all roads are said to lead to Rome, so too do all propositions eventually reach a space where justification is no longer possible--you reach assertions, circularities, but never bona fide certainty.” I ask: Is bona fide certainty the only grounds for a defensible belief? I have my reasons for believing in moral realism, but again the debate only concerns whether the NCT is a compelling critique. If Pro can at least allow – as he should if he wants to maintain the (relative) coherency of his own argument – the validity of some first principles that he cannon immediately dismiss any moral first principle as he does the same in other philosophical fields.


My job is not to convince the reader or Pro of moral realism, just that any attack on first principles will inevitably collapse under the weight of its own instability. In his doubt, Pro presupposes certain acceptable standards for truth and the grounds for doubting (i.e. what is legitimate to doubt, namely, moral first principles and what is not – that assertions require justifications.)


In conclusion, Pro appears to be a zugzwang here. I ask:is the adoption of all pre-justification first principles illegitimate? If Pro answers “yes” he has clearly made his own case completely untenable which should warrant not only a “Con” vote but a serious revision on Pro’s behalf of his own philosophical beliefs. However, as already mentioned if Pro can allow for the validity or legitimacy of some of these first principles he would be unjustified in any immediate dismissal of the moral realist position at least on the grounds of the NCT. Indeed, the very nature of reason is grounded in intuitive “first principles.” It does us no good to attack them. Back to you, Pro.


[1] Wittgenstein, On Certainty sec. 341.


Debate Round No. 2
Cody_Franklin

Pro

R3 Theme: Queen, "We Will Rock You".

I want to sincerely thank Con for the best challenge I've gotten on this subject in a long time.

I'll be first out of the gate to accept Con's reasoning. I preempted a defense of moral realism, and he chose instead to focus solely on normative contingency. That appears a sound option to me, so we'll be focusing on the nature of the objection--rather than on realism per se--for the remainder of the round.

One of Con's central objections is an analogy between the first principles invoked in moral derivations and the first principles upon which I make my case (e.g., the law of identity). He suggests that there is an inconsistency, since I cannot reliably be said to discard first principles when I myself am using them to construct an argument. In reply, I introduce

The Truth/Provability Dichotomy and the Ethics-Epistemology Disanology

Recalling the peculiar Godelian formula I played in R2, we know that all non-trivial axiomatic systems (e.g., logic, realist ethics) must gesture to some kind of exteriority to justify themselves, being unable from within to prove their own completeness and consistency. As I suggested, this exteriority, for ethics, is the discursive fiat of the speakers. People have to posit and agree to certain meta-ethical presuppositions which make moral derivations possible. Recall further that Con has not objected to any of this--not to the idea that realism entails justificationalism, or that justificationalism requires objective meta-ethical content.

This is where the difference between truth and provability comes into play. When, in response to infinite regress, the nihilist claims "I know nothing", Con suggests, citing Wittgenstein, that there is nevertheless a certain set of first principles required to make that skepticism expressible. This is entirely true, but it does nothing to help Con's case. Looking at the Godelian structure of justificationalism, one can say that there is always a point at which a proposition may be true, but not provable. Even the notion of identity, which founds logical discourse, falls victim to this constraint--though we may assert and commit to its truth--for good reason--we cannot "prove" that identity is true. In this way, the set of all true propositions shows itself to be larger than the set of all demonstrably true propositions. This is why both moral realism and Con's analogy to epistemology fail. For the nihilist, "I don't know" cannot be countered by questions about how he knows that he knows nothing--the nihilist is not making an argument or attempting to prove that he knows nothing; rather, he is exposing a fatal flaw in the structure of justificationalism which makes certainty impossible. Really, what is being communicated is that the nihilist commits to to the truth of the proposition that he knows nothing while being unable to demonstrate it, since the only condition that would demonstrate nihilism to be true is that it cannot be proven.

So, as Con notes, I do accept some first principles in making my arguments. I accept, for instance, that A is A, that you cannot have A and non-A, and that you must either have A or non-A. I can't "prove" them to be true, because the rules of inference which would permit me to do so are grounded in the very thing I'm attempting to prove. So, I assert that they are true, as does my opponent, because neither of us could avoid invoking these principles in argument. To even speak presupposes the law of identity. Perhaps there is some possible world in which these rules do not apply, and to which our own incredulity and epistemic limitations deny us access; however, the parallel that Con attempts to draw with realism doesn't seem to stick.

With discourse, we cannot avoid logic--if we attempt to speak, think, reason, communicate, perceive, or even sense, there is an underlying supposition that "things are what they are", i.e., that identity holds. So, it seems like we have a pretty good reason to put our confidence in it, even if we're definitionally prohibited from proving it to be true. So, we default to identity as our way of operating in the world. And, remember the constraints I laid out in R1: predicting that neither side could have a claim to certainty, I worded the debate to concern whether normative contingency is a "compelling objection", defined to mean that, based on what's presented in this debate, supposing you're metaphysically constrained to affirm or reject realism, you would default to rejecting realism based on my arguments. Now, in Con's analogy, we see that things like identity and excluded middle are impossible to avoid in reasoned discourse, so we have to default to those. But there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason to default similarly to realism.

As the definition notes, the realist is committed to the idea that there are mind-independent moral facts which validate normative propositions. The problem, though, is twofold:

a) unlike the "laws" of logic, meta-ethical propositions are easily interchangeable. There are many different meta-ethical worlds we could construct, and many different normative worlds we could build on top of that, with no real way of determining which one is true; yet, while I cannot avoid assuming logic to be true in discourse, I can avoid assuming meta-ethical propositions to be true in moral discourse Hence, while axiomism might be a semi-useful route in epistemology, the same cannot be said for ethics. So, while both epistemology and ethics are contingent in the manner I've described, the philosophical defaults to which you are in each case lead are quite different. In epistemology, you sort of have to default to logic; in ethics, it seems like contingency leads you to default to a rejection of moral realism (since the justificationalist structure of realism entails certainty claims).

b) Con's case is an ipso facto concession. Rather than objecting to the notion of contingency, or trying to defend realism, he opts instead to argue that my case undermines itself. But, one of the criteria for realism being true is that moral propositions are justified by mind-independent features of the world. If his response is that my case is undermined by my own subjectivity with respect to "taking logic for granted", then it's still equally the case that realism is undermined by the subjectivity which posits a meta-ethical claim for others to accept.

I mean, look. The whole point of the NCT is that you can get moral realists to backtrack on their moral frameworks to the level of meta-ethical propositions. But, since realism relies on mind-independent features of the world for verification, and the only things which produce the value-axioms (which supposedly come from the world) are the individuals who posit them/the other parties who agree, normative contingency is fundamentally devastating to the realist thesis. Even if you want to cover your basis and exclude the notion that realism is patently false, which is a good move to make, the constraints of this debate only require that I make a compelling case for nihilism, i.e., that I convince you to default against realism, to win.

Your turn, Biebs. Thanks again.
OMGJustinBieber

Con

Pro and I are on the same page here: the debate concerns the NCT rather than any defense of moral realism per se. Pro rightly admits he has first principles which he operates on, and it seems now his task is differentiate or rather validate his own first principles over the first principles that lead to a form of moral realism.

Another thing, Pro refers to “my case” which I believe is essentially just a deconstruction of his case. This is evident when Pro writes that my argument is true “but it does nothing to help Con’s case.” My case is entirely in response to Pro’s and we need to keep this in mind. With that said, Pro brings up some fascinating points with this argument that I have a lot to say about.

Proof/Truth

Pro argues for sharp divide between truth on one hand and provability on the other. This leads to an interesting comment on nihilism that threw me for a loop:

For the nihilist, "I don't know" cannot be countered by questions about how he knows that he knows nothing--the nihilist is not making an argument or attempting to prove that he knows nothing; rather, he is exposing a fatal flaw in the structure of justificationalism which makes certainty impossible. Really, what is being communicated is that the nihilist commits to to the truth of the proposition that he knows nothing while being unable to demonstrate it, since the only condition that would demonstrate nihilism to be true is that it cannot be proven.”

Let me first mention that in breaking down a case you are invoking what you believe to be true and exposing what one believes to be either logical – formal or informal – fallacies in that argument, among other things. Pro mentions “the truth of the proposition…” would this not imply certainty? Can we be certain that there is no certainty? Or can certainty only be gauged in percentage terms? Can we certainly accept non-certain conclusions? Pro justifies the position based on its ability to expose a flaw in justificationalism. “Exposing a flaw” implies appealing to objective standards of logic. Really, what Pro seems to be stressing here is the inability to have proof which I’ll return to later. I want to get back to the original thesis of the NCT. Let’s revisit it as phrased in Pro’s tl;dr in R2:

“You can keep asking people to warrant their ethical beliefs, and they'll eventually come down to some meta-ethical linchpin, e.g., "human life has value", which we have no reason to accept as true. They'll say it's useful, or that it "just is" true, or that it's true if you just define morality in a way that makes it so, but regression/contingency shows that even first principles are quick hide behind their natural subjectivity when put to the test.”

As mentioned, first principles are the starting points of reason. No one is claiming that they are discovered or proven in the scientific sense. Pro writes “…which we have no reason to accept as true.” Pro uses his own first principle certainties to counter first principles that he doesn’t believe in. That’s fine, much of philosophy is after all an attempt to grasp onto an underlying metaphysical reality. Pro’s task here is to be able to mark his own first principles as fundamentally superior to the first principles that form his nihilism. Let me first say that this goal already sounds bizarre in light of Pro’s view that nihilism is a rejection of truth or objective better-ness (Pro will certainly object, I won’t pretend to really understand his methods.)

Assorted objections

a) I reject a sharp distinction between logic and ethics. There are numerous different types of logic, and unfortunately logic is not a field I’m particularly educated in but it’s undergone enormous changes in the past century. Pro cites 3 basic ethical propositions earlier in the response (see Aristotelian logic) and 2 of those have been challenged by other logical systems often containing varying levels of truth values rather than a strict binary system. The law of identity (A=A) is the “logical certainty” we’re left with.

With ethics you do have widespread shared universal intuitions on certain subjects, and you can debate the use of the word “objective morality” from an academic standpoint but there’s absolutely a generally shared conception of the proper ends of moral philosophy. All else being equal, rational individuals would like to see human beings as free, intelligent, healthy, and self-actualized even if these concepts entail very different things to people.

b) Let’s revisit the thesis stated in the title: “The NCT is a compelling objection to moral realism.” You are Pro and I am Con. I am not responsible for defending moral realism per se. I am also not forced to reject the notion of normative contingency which I accept in description – really the question is whether the NCT is a compelling objection. Nothing more, nothing less.

Lastly, Pro writes “But, since realism relies on mind-independent features of the world for verification, and the only things which produce the value-axioms (which supposedly come from the world) are the individuals who posit them/the other parties who agree, normative contingency is fundamentally devastating to the realist thesis.”

And why can’t these individuals be right? Does nihilism not attempt to grasp onto underlying truths (or facts or non-truths? I still haven’t figured it out) about the universe?

Conclusion

I want to present some of my moral ideas and tie them back into the discussion. I believe in a telic view of human nature. That is to say, that there is a certain proper path that humans can develop toward that can lead to a sense of self-actualization or just living well. Of course this isn’t a scientific view, and I know that Pro sharply rejects any notion of a teleological view of human nature. Our respective differences are derived from differences in first principles, and since these first principles comprise the basis of our worldviews it’s nearly impossible to have a rational discussion about them. Perhaps literature can illustrate certain themes (Pro might be more partial to existentialism) but in the end its our own best ideas – which may be either true or false – to grasp onto an underlying metaphysical reality.

Pro objects that mine are unfounded while refusing to examine his own. In order for Pro’s case to work he must show that the NCT is a sound criticism in terms of its moral content and that his first principles are essentially more objective sound than mine (note the odd relationship with nihilism.) If Pro simply concedes that everything is subjective and wallows in skepticism he can’t possibly make his case and fulfill his BOP.

As for Godel, he too relied on first principles to make his conclusions that all non-trivial axiomatic systems cannot verify themselves but furthermore this isn’t what realists are saying. Rather, it’s this intuitive view or possibly a “best guess” that validates it as with Pro’s demands for bona fide certainty and high verification standards. I hope I addressed it all and if I missed anything make sure to remind me in R4.

Back to you, Pro.


Debate Round No. 3
Cody_Franklin

Pro

R4 Theme: Mozart, "Carmina Burana".

For character reasons, "first principles" --> "FPs".

I'd like to pick a fight with the notion that my "task" is to differentiate or "validate" my use of logic vis-a-vis FPs in ethics. One, the idea of "validating" FPs is self-defeating. Two, as much as I accept contingency (regression) in ethics, so too do I accept it in epistemology--hence the nihilism. So, as justificatory claims ultimately fail in epistemology, so too do foundational meta-ethical claims fail in ethics. But, I'll move along: Con chews below on the truth/provability dichotomy; however, he eschews, critically, consideration of defaults which are not not only philosophically important, but also key to the victory conditions for this debate.

Truth and Provability

I think Con misses the point of the truth/provability dichotomy, particularly the Godelian motif of the proposition which we believe to be true, but have no way of proving. The axioms required for reasoned discourse, for instance, are things to whose truth we commit without a concurrent capacity to derive those things (since they're the very things which permit derivation in the first place). Similarly, the "contention" of nihilism, though it cannot be properly so-called, is that there is an inherent flaw/limit condition in the justificationalist search for truth. For every system S, there is always a limit to what can be justified due to reliance on some unjustified assertion. I.e., every chain of justification can be regressed to a place where justification is no longer possible. Hence why, if one considers nihilism, which is really a statement about the limits of justification, "you can't prove nihilism", i.e., "justify your objection to justification", isn't useful. Like an asymptote, you can get really close to the limit, but you can never touch it. No matter how many normative models you shut down, or how many meta-ethical assumptions you deny, if nihilism is true, then it's definitionally non-provable. You can only expose the flaw and provide examples, which is inherently inductive. This is important because, when defining in R1 what a compelling objection entails, the idea of "defaults" is key. In discourse, plenty of people have a "default" about what the burden of proof is, e.g., "Whoever is making the positive assertion has BOP". In my daily life, I default to dealing with the world as if it was externally real, even if I can't be sure. As Hume noted, I've no way of knowing that the sun will rise tomorrow--but I commit to it anyway, developing the expectation that the sun will rise. I could be wrong one day, waking up to find the sun missing, but, for now, it seems to be a useful thing to commit to.

Hence, when I ask you whether you find my "case" compelling, I'm asking whether you would, given only the content of this debate, reject realism by default. You already accept plenty of conclusions based on very immanent/difficult-to-avoid defaults, like "sense data is reliable" or "logic holds". I suggest a similar default to nihilism--I mean, even on the face of it, there would be no reason to default to realism. For things like logic or external reality, as I explained in R3, the choice of defaults is at least modified by immanent data. With realism, you only have people making easily-substitutable assertions about foundational values, and asking you to accept normative and meta-ethical truth based on their assertion that it's true. If deep talk on nihilism hasn't convinced you, I suspect a quick digression to the prima facie case against defaulting to realism at least makes you suspicious, which in turn should open you up to the idea of wholesale rejection.

So, Con takes up some of this challenge after revisiting my R2 blurb on contingency. I think one interesting move he tries to make is claiming I'm using my "FP certainties" to counter FPs in ethics. On the one hand, I don't claim certainty in the logical FPs. While I think that the performative unavoidability of logic vis-a-vis the easy avoidability of moral axioms is a pretty good reason to default to reason, I think, on the other hand, that, since moral realism can only be meaningfully considered as content of reasoned discourse, you could theoretically fire the nihilism ray at logic and its rules of inference, as well--however, at that point, you'd still vote against realism because you're still playing the contingency card--yet, rather than rejecting realism by inductive default, your default is modified by the fact that you're throwing out the tools required to even make the notion of realism coherent and discussable. At its core, normative contingency is a statement about regression, and, regardless of which brand of normative contingency you choose, you end up in a world in which you default to non-realism, whether that means suspending judgment or making an inductive commitment against normativity. Considering The Biebs' reply, you just have the option of taking the scenic route to get there.

For now, let's continue on the trail blazed by Con, and consider the remainder of his commentary.

Assorted Replies to Assorted Objections--A Discursive Smorgasbord

1. The interesting logic stuff aside (which I'm not entirely sure is relevant, though it is kind of intriguing), I think the bit about intuitions is a little off in a couple of ways:

a. I don't think intuitions are nearly so homogeneous as is claimed. You could always retreat to a level of vagueness in which it seems homogeneity manifests. For instance, "everyone has an intuition to pursue the Good." Well, okay, but that doesn't really tell us anything, or give us detail about how self-same moral intuitions are over time or across cultures and people. The fact that there's such a diverse moral landscape on a site like this suggests that intuitions, even if somewhat evolutionary (which is probably likely), are modified by discourse and thought to such an extent that they aren't entirely useful.

b. More importantly, recall the definition of realism I'm committed to beating:

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.

Even if Con's generally correct about shared intuitions, the realist is committed to objectivity, not collective subjectivity. We could just define ethics in such a way that target intuitions are the feature of the world which validate ethical discourse, but it just begs the question against substitutability and contingency, since I could confound the whole thing by defining it to match whatever preconceived intuitions I already had. Seems like a post facto justification dreamed up to validate what we already think.

2. "Why can't these individuals be right?" doesn't really respond to contingency. "Rightness", on the realist view, implies justification. The point is that they reach a space where they can't demonstrate their rightness, so they just take their argument as an axiom and encourage others to follow suit. But you could literally do that with any ethical FP--the only constraint is whether people will agree with you or not, since "practicality" or some such consequential appeal is usually the hidden cipher of their claims to self-evidence. "Deny X, the results are repugnant; therefore, assume X".

Endgame

Con can say it as he likes--agree to disagree, best guess, intuition, practicality--at the end, though, the big impact of regression in ethics is a default rejection of realism based on rejection of meta-ethical axiom claims. Nihilism functions as a limit condition that always pops up in moral derivations, and the serious way to reckon with that is to start from a default position of skepticism regarding moral foundations. If you buy that, you respond to regression by making nihilism your starting point, which means you go Pro.

To Con, it's been an honor and a pleasure. Thanks. :)
OMGJustinBieber

Con

I thank Pro for the constructive debate.

Truth/Provability

Justificationalism is a topic that I haven’t directly taken up until now. As we see, Pro’s nihilism entails that certain truth standards have not been met and that FPs are ultimately unable to be “validated.” In this sense, we can see that nihilism contains positive claims – it seems to assert that one cannot truly believe in all sorts of objective standards until certain proofs have been met. In essence, it just seems to set the bar much higher than many of us would.

Now, as we have seen, Con likes to doubt. However, he’s admitted that his argument and his nihilism is derived from FPs although he believes that they’re unable to be validated. Still Pro is a nihilist as opposed to simply nothing or purely agnostic towards everything. i.e. the difference between “there are no objective morals” and “I can’t comment on whether there are objective morals because the criteria is unclear.” Given Pro’s FPs and his BoP, it would seem his task is to validate these FPs as somehow more logical than the FPs that comprise my belief system. However, Pro objects to this. As this is the last round, I feel it’s important to re-focus the case on the original topic and in doing so I’ll unfortunately have to drop several points that simply are not relevant to the case at hand.

Pro’s case places a large emphasis on the flaws of the justificationalist method. I take it these are “objective” or real flaws, Pro? We see how much we have to give Pro even in the process of his doubts. Pro is still playing the game, he’s still making positive assertions about the nature of truth and verification standards. Additionally, since Pro is the one making the case the BoP rests on him. However, I believe I’ve exposed some glaring internal inconsistencies that render his case null before it even gets off the ground.

This entire debate Pro’s believed that he can argue from a position beyond doubt, or a position that he believes is doubt embodied – nihilism. Nihilism really consists of a number of claims such as that there are no objective moral truths, there is no objective reality, etc. As mentioned, these claims all contain positive content relating to standards of belief. When Pro asserts nihilism he’s asserting it as a kind of de facto truth although he denies the ability to ever prove it despite the counter-intuitive implications. After all, to say there is a “flaw” in a system is to presuppose that the concept of “flaw” is meaningful and objective. Pro cannot possibly rely on subjective flaws or else his case falls apart completely.

Once it’s been established that Pro’s position has positive content the rest of his case falls fairly quickly. Pro already doesn’t believe he can validate his FPs – if I ever admitted such a statement it would be death to my position. Pro now plays the usual game of asking justification for the FPs that underlie moral realism while conveniently neglecting the FPs that underlie nihilism (or in any case saying that despite them being unable to be validated that he still believes in them and so forth.)

If I’m reading Pro right he seems to believe the FPs he believes in are trivial and follow simply from the nature of logic and language use. I completely disagree, nihilism has its own web of FPs that are far from any immutable logical truth.

Defaults and Certainty

I have never understood why Pro believes that logic demands that our philosophical defaults can be determined by a strictly reductionist analysis (“nihilism ray”). It simply doesn’t make sense to me, but unfortunately this is the last round and I will not get a reply. My other contention is that certainty is unavoidable, and Pro ignores the string of certainty questions I asked him either in R3 or R2. Certainty must be admitted to on some level. Pro insists there is no certainty, is he certain of that? No? Then there is certainly the possibility for certainty? A continuing string of “no” just leads to complete philosophical paralysis much, much deeper than nihilism which actually does asserts metaphysical claims.

Objectivity

Pro has repeatedly stressed the seemingly impossible standard that must be met for this word’s meaning to be realized. As mentioned, I simply believe moral realism to be the case rather than claiming any 100% certainty standard to it, as Pro does with his nihilism. This feel or this sense of a shared intuition serves as a justification, it’s just not one that Pro accepts – just as I don’t accept a strictly reductionist analysis of logic, ethics, etc. is necessarily rational. Pro and I can both provide our reasons for a given belief, but after that it’s up to the individual.

End game

My claim all along has been that there is a certain incommensurability between worldviews when it comes down to first principles. As the starting points of reason, they’re notoriously difficult to sort out rationally in discussion. Pro agrees he has FPs, but seems to believe it’s not important to justify his FPs or that they’re apparently beyond validation – the claim is especially peculiar in light of his demand that I justify my FPs with some deeper reason beyond “I’m throwing in with it” or “it seems right.” Isn’t this exactly what Pro is doing? Can Pro cite an immanent logical rule that leads to nihilism? Of course not, and the demand itself is silly. Moreover, to doubt FPs is, as already mentioned, to invoke FPs. Even if we grant Pro the benefit of the doubt on this objection, it certainly applies to his nihilism and entire position and serves as a metaphorical shot in the foot to the objection.

Debate Round No. 4
15 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Eitan_Zohar 4 years ago
Eitan_Zohar
Looking back, I would say that I probably didn't understand this well enough to vote reasonably accurately.
Posted by MouthWash 5 years ago
MouthWash
Just needed some information on nihilism.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 5 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Lol. That's good to know. Why were you reading back on this particular debate?
Posted by MouthWash 5 years ago
MouthWash
I think I just gave this the 1,000th view.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 5 years ago
Cody_Franklin
"Pro's says "nihilism is not making an argument". This means that nihilism does not speak to anything and so it says nothing; ergo, it says nothing about Con's position. It is equivalent to not answering a question or replying with a contradiction or a meaningless set of words like "delicious purple fantastical" or "sdfagqrvreg". As such, Con's objections stand."

Well, I'm not going to challenge your vote because I think that would be petty, but, if you would like to argue that in a PM or something, I have some objections to that reasoning.
Posted by tBoonePickens 5 years ago
tBoonePickens
Excellent debate! I think Con should have hammered away on Nihilism which was the crux of Pros objection to Con's points. Pro said "nihlism is not making an argument" precisely! It's not a claim and that's because "I know nothing" is a contradiction; it is an exercise in meaninglessness; it conveys no knowledge. And as such it cannot refute Con's point. Nihilism, so defined, is the pointless point, the square-circle.

Also, the Law of Identity is a tautology and requires no proof because it proves itself: it is self-evident and cannot be denied. Denying the Law of Identity creates a contradiction, and from that ANYTHING follows; ergo Cons position follows as well as Pros as well as neither as well as...
Posted by OMGJustinBieber 5 years ago
OMGJustinBieber
Apparently I need to brush up on my debating skills. R4 was rushed and I thought the voters could go either way but I didn't expect it to be so one sided. I did interestlngly find myself in the position of out doubting the nihilist though.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 5 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Thankfully--or, hopefully--self-selection bias will bring us the best voters.
Posted by Wallstreetatheist 5 years ago
Wallstreetatheist
I doubt this will receive votes without encouraging a few voters to do so; I'll ask bluesteel, Danielle, and YYW.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 5 years ago
Cody_Franklin
One structural thing about the debate, for voters: while I point in R1 to a metaphysical constraint to affirm/reject realism, which would entail Con trying to defend realism, voters can kind of reject framer's intent if they want. The debate ended up being really interesting/engaging even though Con didn't try to affirm realism, and I don't think it's fair to penalize him just because the debate became centered around contingency per se.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by tBoonePickens 5 years ago
tBoonePickens
Cody_FranklinOMGJustinBieberTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro's says "nihilism is not making an argument". This means that nihilism does not speak to anything and so it says nothing; ergo, it says nothing about Con's position. It is equivalent to not answering a question or replying with a contradiction or a meaningless set of words like "delicious purple fantastical" or "sdfagqrvreg". As such, Con's objections stand.
Vote Placed by MouthWash 5 years ago
MouthWash
Cody_FranklinOMGJustinBieberTied
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Reasons for voting decision: This was (no offense to Con) the most one sided debate I've read in a long time. Con trapped himself by accusing the NCT of being circular. Pro adequately demonstrated the difference between requiring 100 percent proof of axioms and requiring reasonable doubt. Con would have done better by mounting some sort of defense of realism.
Vote Placed by ScottyDouglas 5 years ago
ScottyDouglas
Cody_FranklinOMGJustinBieberTied
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Reasons for voting decision: This was pretty one-sided by my read. I do say that both made a good argument of it but Pro basically had Con almost agreeing with His side. The only real defense after round 2 was a circular argument which in small parts could be true but was not clearly shown to be true. Pro had obviously covered all corners in the debate and is deserving of victory. Con really gave no substancial defense. Good read.