it is not possible to know whether or not categorical imperatives exist
My contention is that it is not possible to know whether categorical imperatives exist.
Thank you Pro for posting this challenge. I'm excited to see where this debate takes us.
I accept all your definitions and would like to add two of my own:
Def 1 - Possible: Something that can happen. Having precedent or parallel comparison.
Def 2 - Not Possible: Not able to be, exist, or happen.
Also in regards to the "special rule" I will point out that as Pro has taken on a shared burden of proof and must show it is not possible to know whether or not categorical imperatives exist. This seems like an near impossible task. Pro must prove that you cannot prove that categroical imperatives exist and must simultaneously prove that you cannot prove that they also don't exist. Good luck to my opponent!
Pro states in their definitions that "a proposition is a categorical imperative if performing the action implied by it, produces results that are objectively good or that the action is objectively good in and of itself."
My arguement goes as follows:
P1) Human well being is the objective metric we use to determine moral actions.
P2) There is precedent for moral actions resulting in human well being.
c) Human well being is a catagorical imperitive and it is known to exist.
Premise one should come as no surprise to anyone. Humans are a social species. Societies that work together survive. Societies that don't work together don't survive. It is in everyones best interest to pursue human well being. This is backed up by the objective science of Theory of Mind and Cognitive Empathy.
Premise two is demonstrable in a million different ways. However, just to give one example, yesterday I saw someone walking across the cross walk and I slowed my car down so that I did not hit them. This was an objective moral action. Me applying my breaks promoted human well being. Please note that human well being is a descriptor of reality. It describes something that really exists.
This completely refutes the proposition that it is not possible to know whether or not categorical imperatives exist as we do know that they do exist.
Pros first premise is fundamentally flawed. They state, "If two worlds are indistinguishable from one another and one of the worlds has something in it that the other does not, it cannot be known whether the thing exists or not."
This is entirely rediculous. If one world has something in it that the other world doesn't have then, by default, that thing exists. If you and I are identical and I have something that you do not have then the thing I have must exist. If the opposite is true, and the two worlds are truly indistinguishable from one another then they would both have the exact same things in them. And, if they both have the exact same things in them, it would follow that if one world did not have something in it then you would know the other world does not have that thing in it either. To say otherwise would violate the Law of Noncontradiction.
Pro then goes on to argue in their second premise that we can't tell the difference between a world with catagorical absolutes and a world without catigorical absolutes. I am currious as to how Pro has come about this knowledge. Has Pro seen worlds with catagorical absolutes and also worlds without catigorical absolutes so that Pro can judge that they are indistinguishable?
(This is philosophy 101; in order for a premise to support a conclusion the premise must be known to be true. Conclusions cannot be based on unproven claims. And pros second premise is purely conjecture. There is plenty of room for opinion in these debates but the one place opinion absolutely shouldn't be is in a premises. Pro needs to either put forth evidence for p2 or concede that it is not a valid premise).
If Pro could say that cotigorical absolutes do not exist in one world then Pro would know they do not exist in both worlds. The arguement put forth by Pro that it is not possible to know whether or not categorical imperatives exist is defeated by his own premises. Either things are known to exist or things are not know to exist. And, in the catagory of things not known to exist, it is not possible to determine whether or not they are knowable until we discover their existance. For things which have not been descovered, we do not yet know if they are knowable or unknowable.
To give an example, it is not known if life exists on the planet Mars. We neither know that "there is life" nor do we know that "there isn't life." We disbelieve both propositions simultaneously. This is known as the null hypothesis - disbelief is the default position. To move from "we don't know if there is life" to "we know there is life" would require evidence. And, to move from "we don't know if there is life" to "we know there is no life" would also require evidence. To prove that it cannot be known if "there is life" and also prove that it cannot be known that "there isn't life" would require proving that there exists no evidence "for life" and also there exist no evidence "for no life" on the entire planet. To prove that there exists no evidence for either proposition is a truly daunting task and would require a thorough search of all of Mars.
Likewise, Pro must simultaneously prove that there is not in existance - anywere - any evidence for "categorical imperatives" and must also prove there is not in existance - anywhere - any evidence for "no categorical imperatives."
Well that should be more than enough to get this debate in gear. I eagerly await Pros response.
my opponent has misunderstood the special rule. I did not mean that I would have to prove the null hypothesis rather, I have to prove the 'not-x' claim and also have to criticize the 'x' claim while my opponent would do the opposite. we both share the burden of proof, as opposed to it being on just one side. I placed this rule because I have seen arguments in the past where people would not argue the positive claim because they felt that all they had to do was argue the null hypothesis against the negative claim, the special rule was placed as a way to avoid that state of affairs. I apologize to my opponent if the wording of the rule seemed ambiguous.
defense of p1)
con has misunderstood my first premise. the term 'indistinguishable' should have been taken to mean 'unable to tell the difference'. though often used synonymously with the word 'identical' the nuances between the word are extremely important in this case.
my opponent says that if two worlds are indistinguishable from one another then they have the same things in them. this is only the case if the term 'indistinguishable' is being used to mean 'identical', but its not. indistinguishable in this case means that an observer could not tell that they were different. however, the inability to discern whether or not two things are different does not mean they are not different. whilst it is true that to have the ability they must be different, the fact that they are different does not necessarily mean that you have the ability to tell that difference.
also, the first premise does not say that [given the condition] the thing in those worlds does not exist (as con implies), it says [given the condition] the thing 'cannot be known to exist'. knowledge in this case, is being used as a sort of epistemic modality (and 'cannot' implies the modality of possibility).
defense of p2)
my opponent makes a rather unique claim " For things which have not been discovered, we do not yet know if they are knowable or unknowable". simplified, my opponent is saying that we cannot know whether or not something is unknowable. however, my opponent will remember that knowledge is justified true belief. so there are three ways something cannot be knowable.
1 its cannot be justified. (the case im advocating)
in cases like these the way to find out whether or not something is knowable is to tell whether or not they have a criterion for justification. often times certain claims have no criterion for justification, and thus cannot be justified (and therefore cannot be known). an example would be in cases referring to the ability for something to break the laws of logic. if something can break the laws of logic, then the principle of explosion follows, and all statements become both true and false. (because the law of non contradiction doesn't apply to at least 1 case where the entity who can break the laws of logic exists). thus we cannot tell whether or not cups exist, or whether or not words exist, because the truth values of statements like 'this is a cup' or 'words exist', cannot be given reliably. another example is the one I gave, something having the property of imperceptibility. you cannot be justified in believing something exists if it is imperceptible.
2 it cannot be believed
put simply if there exists something that is impossible to believe, then it cannot be known due to the definition of knowledge.
3 it is not true
again I am advocating for something being unjustifiable, but if something is not true, even if you are somehow able to believe it justifiedly, (which I would contend is not possible, but that is not in the scope of this debate) then you cannot know it, since it is not true and therefore not knowledge.
what I have to do is show that you cannot justify the belief that categorical imperatives exist. to do so, I need to show that there is no criterion by which you could justify that belief. I have done so in my original defense of the second premise.
because all imperatives can be formulated as normative statements, there is a finite set of things you can use to justify them being true. the methods used to show a hypothetical imperative as true do not apply to categorical imperatives (since there is no condition for them to be true). as there exists no condition for truth, then there exists no method of discerning whether or not a given imperative is categorical. this is the point of both my second premise and my original defense of it. you cannot justifiedly belief that one premise is categorical over another. thus you cannot tell the difference between a world with categorical imperatives and a world without them, they are indiscernible.
con also says that I must have seen a world without categorical absolutes and a world with categorical absolutes to tell the difference. con seems to misunderstand the possible worlds approach to argumentation. the point of hypothesising a possible world is to give an 'all things equal'(ATE for short) scenario. I gave the example of ATE except the existence of an imperceptible horse in a room, ATE except chairs in a room and ATE except the existence of categorical absolutes. I then described how a traveler would (or would not) be able to discern between the two worlds. there is a room that has chairs in one world and another room that does not. I used that as the base example to show how (hypotheticaly) a traveler could tell the difference between worlds if they were discernible. then I used the invisible horse example, and demonstrated how though there was something true about one world that wasn't true about the other, the fact that the worlds were ultimately indiscernible despite the given truth made it defintionaly impossible to know that truth. then I demonstrated that categorical imperatives, like the imperceptible horse, were similarly, imperceptible and thus any world wit categorical imperatives would be indiscernible to a world without them.
my opponents argument is reminiscent of Sam Harris' point of view regarding morality, which I (to a small extent) disagree with. I agree that given the hypothetical 'if we use well being as a metric, then we ought to perform certain actions' but that is a hypothetical set of imperatives, not a categorical one. that is my main criticism of Sam Harris' arguments, and I thought it necessary to note that it will be relevant to my criticism of my opponents argument.
criticism of p1)
I agree with the statement 'well being is an objective metric' but I do not agree that we use it to determine moral action. there are many people who use the word of god (or what they perceive to be the word of god) to determine moral action, and who would even say suffering is morally desirable (such as in fasting in Abraham religion, various extreme piercing and personal evisceration in African religions etc). that we can derive objective measurements from a metric like well being does not say anything about the objective nature morality, as there will still be vast groups of people who disagree with the definition of morality.
a potential retort would be that since many people agree that harm and well being is the measure of morality that many agree upon, people who disagree are irrelevant; not unlike flat earthers who disagree with what it means for something to be in the field of physics. the problem with such a retort, is that there is no standard theory of morality, (like physics or biology). though there are vast secular moralities there are equally vast if not grander theistic moralities, like the moralities of Islam and Christianity which represent nearly 3/7s of the worlds population. at best, the differences between moralities are not comparable to standard scientific practices, but to mathematical practices, where there are different mathematics, like e Euclidian and parabolic geometries, but even that analogy is problematic, since the discrepancies between the axioms of those fields are not controversial like they are for morality.
criticism of p2)
premise 2 is problematic as it assumes premise 1. (that well being is the metric used for morality)
whilst I have no issue with the idea that there are actions that are conducive to human well being, that moral actions are defined as actions that result in well being is a controversial claim that is inherent in p2. at best, I think this premise is ambiguous.
I have no issue with the fact that human well being is an actual descriptor of reality, as my opponent draws attention to in his defense. whilst many people may agree that human well being is desirable, that does not mean they will agree that 'good' in the moral sense, is equateable to 'desirable'. again, the example of Abrahamic religions come to mind, sex outside of marriage may be 'desirable' but it is not 'good'. (at least from there perspective). as there is no metric that is agreed upon by which morality is to be considered, there can be no 'objectively good' state of affairs. further, even if we were to agree upon such a metric, that would only show that morality itself is a man made construct and thus 'subjective'. as there would always be the hidden conditional 'if it is agreed that moral good means well being then you ought to do things that are conducive to the well being of others'.
Codedlogic forfeited this round.
it is a shame that my opponent forfeited the previous round. I hope he returns. as my previous argument was rather long winded, (I nearly hit the character limit) I will not provide any further arguments until my opponent returns.
Pro has once again failed to demonstrate the truth of his 2nd premise. Pro made the claim that, "a world with categorical imperatives and a world without categorical imperatives are indistinguishable from one another."
Pro has failed to provide any supporting evidence for this claim. Worse, this is circular reasoning. Pro is attempting to use their conclusion as one of their premises for their arguement. It's equivalant to saying we know God wrote the Bible because it says so in the Bible. This is NOT a valid form of arguementation. For a second time now, Pro needs to provide evidence for their second premise or thier entire arguement fails.
And, thus far, Pro has completely failed to put forth a logical arguement for their position.
Now on to my arguement. Pro attacks my first premise claiming that it is contraversial. This is not a vaild arguement for refuting the premise. Just because things are contraversial does not mean they false. For example, the scientific theory of evolution is contraversial and many people have a problem with it. But it is none the less demonstrably true. Likewise, human well being as the basis for objective morality is not accepted by every single person. But things do not have to be accepted by every single person to be true. Universal acceptance of a claim is not required to know something is true.
Morallity is based on human well being. This has been emperically established by Theory of Mind, Cognitive Empathy, and Moral Inferential systems. Human well being is the metric used by every civilization to support tribal and societal health. It is an objective reality.
Those who claim that morality comes from God believe in a subjective morality. Allow me to explain. If I say palmagranites are good because I like them - I am making a subjective claim. It is entirely dependant upon my personal preference. However, if I say palmagranites are good because they contain anti-oxidants - that is an objective claim. It can be verified outside of my personal experiance.
Likewise, if things are good because God likes them - then morality is subjective. But if things are good because of the effects they have in the real world on human well being - then morality is objective.
My arguement stands.
How would P1 be able to justifiably assign a truth value to C (justifiably believe C is true)?
hypothetical imperative h(C) is in X, Y and Z.
While I appreciate the effort that went into creating such a monster you really could have boiled the whole thing down to a single sentence: Everything that someone desires is subjective and thus conditional. Of course, the problem with this line of reasoning is that it’s demonstrably false Just because some desires something does not mean that it is subjective and thus conditional.
For example, I desire to breath. This, however, is not subjective nor is it conditional. It is based upon the physical reality of my biology. I have to do it. I don’t have a choice. I can try to hold my breath but my subconscious will override my conscious mind. I can chain myself to the bottom of my pool but my body will eventually breath in water even though my mind tells it not to. Breathing is an unconditional ought. The only way I can stop breathing is when I am physically unable to do so.
And this directly ties into my argument for human well being. Cognitive Empathy and Theory of Mind are neurologically etched into our minds. It is the result of millions of years of evolution as a social species. This should come as a surprise to no one. Societies that work together survive. Societies that don’t work together don’t survive. Human well being is encoded in our DNA. It is the instinct from which all our moral systems are derived.
We all do this every day. Often without the need to think about it. Things that cause human well being are considered good. Things that cause human harm are considered bad. Not everyone always agrees on what the best way to affect human well being is. But none the less, its pursuit is a categorical imperative
defense and attack:
"Everything that someone desires is subjective and thus conditional."
this is not the message I was trying to get out. I acknowledge that our desires are based on our biology. my 'rube Goldberg machine' was to show that I didn't actually have to go into an alternate world to obtain premise 2. as I stated, it was really just a overly complicated version of my earlier shorter defenses of my second premise. the whole section was even called the 'rehashing of the defense of premise 2'.
I have already agreed that we can make objective measurements about human well being, and presently, I will agree that all of our desires are not purely 'subjective'. that they are based on our biology. however, in conceding that, I can also say that my enjoyment of apples is not 'purely subjective', that its based in some sense on my biology, and even (when talking about the individual sugars and nutrients) in my genes. that these things are objective is however, besides the point.
this debate is about the knowablity of the existence of categorical imperatives. the knowablity of universal and unconditional moral obligations. we may be "impelled" by our biology to favor certain flavors and smells over others, and more strongly impelled to prefer the joy of our fellow humans over their suffering, but the question is not whether we feel a empathetic impulse toward or against certain actions, it is about whether we are "obligated" to do said actions. more specifically, whether or not that obligation exists without condition and is simply a feature of our universe.
surely you would agree that we have the ability to resist the less basic biological impulses. no matter how hard we try we cannot resist the urge to breath (I would call that a biological compulsion), but we are capable of, say, training ourselves to enjoy certain flavors(acquired taste). though not as easily as acquiring taste, we are capable of dulling our sense of empathy. so the question becomes, are we obliged not to do so? specifically, are we categorically obliged not to do so and can we even know the answer to that question, if their is one?
I have no problem admitting that we can know whether or not we are biologically impelled to do things. that we have an 'impulse to desire'. this desire however would still simply be conditional to whether or not we have evolved to have it. it would be an objectively real desire produced by an objectively real biology, but there would be no objectively real categorical obligation. (or if there was, the biology of the matter would have nothing to do with it).
put in the form of my 'rube Goldberg machine':
even if all people in the world agreed that performing some action 'x' is morally good, and we all agreed on that because of some biological state 'y' that we all shared, that would have nothing to do with whether or not the statement '0x' (you ought to do x) was categorically true. it may be the case that "y -> 0x" is true, but if it is not also the case that 'y V 0x' is true (where V is being used as the inclusive disjunction) that is to say '(~y V 0x)&(y V 0x)' then '0x' is not a categorical imperative, because its truth is wholly contingent on the truth of some other state 'y'.
premise 2 stands, and thus my conclusion.
you will remember my opening argument.
p1) if 2 worlds are indistinguishable from one another and one of the worlds has something in it that the other does not, it cannot be known whether the thing exists or not.
p2)a world with categorical imperatives and a world without categorical imperatives are indistinguishable from one another.
c)it cannot be known whether categorical imperative exist.
and you will remember cons opening argument:
P1) Human well being is the objective metric we use to determine moral actions.
P2) There is precedent for moral actions resulting in human well being.
c) Human well being is a categorical imperative and it is known to exist.
the debate has been filled with 2 key debate points. my second premise and cons first. rather ingeniously, con has formulated his previous round such that in defending his 1rst premise he necessarily deconstructs my 2nd premise. this is the reason I called the previous section of this round 'defense and attack'.
I am convinced that I have properly defended my second premise, and with cons last round, I imagine he will be convinced he has defended his premise as well, so I will leave it to the voters to decide who has won.
I would like to thank con for this enjoyable debate. though it is a shame we could not have explored the topic further, I had a great time debating. if we ever find ourselves debating some other topic, I'm sure the debate will be just as enjoyable, so if it happens, I look forward to it.
Both of us agreed to use this definition for this debate. However, unable to defend their position, Pro has tried to redefine the debate by saying this debate is about the knowability of, “whether or not (an) obligation exists without condition and is simply a feature of our universe.”
But that’s NOT what this debate is about. We are NOT debating whether or not morality is “a feature of our universe.” However, what we ARE debating is whether or not we can know if actions are objectively good.
By way of example, we know the temperature of the earth’s core. We also know that if the earth were larger or smaller that temperature might be different. But, just because the earth “could” be larger or smaller, it in no way impacts the knowability of the cores temperature at its present size. We make objective determinations about reality as it is. Just because things “could” be different doesn’t mean objective truths are not knowable.
Por then goes on to make the same fallacious argument by saying, “this desire (morality) would still simply be conditional to whether or not we have evolved to have it.”
Pro is arguing that since evolution is “conditional” then the knowability of moral actions must also be “conditional.” This is a false equivocation.
It would be like saying it is unknowable if “standing upright” exists - because bones are a product of evolution and if evolution hadn’t given us bones we wouldn’t be able to “stand upright” therefore its existence is unknowable. This argument is not valid in the slightest. And yet this is the EXACT argument Pro is making. Simply substitute “standing upright” with “categorical absolutes” and “bones” with “morality”:
Whether or not “categorical absolutes” exist is unknowable - because morality is a product of evolution and if evolution hadn’t given us morality we wouldn’t have “categorical absolutes” therefore its existence is unknowable.
This arguement is not logically valid.
A more simply analogy would be that I know that my car is blue. I “could” have painted it red. But whether or not its color “could” be a different in absolutely no way effects the fact that I can objectively determine its color now. It’s color is knowable. Likewise, categorical imperatives are knowable. It doesn’t matter if the imperatives “could” be different in some other reality.
In closing, Pro has failed to demonstrate that it is not possible to know whether or not categorical imperatives exist. Pros entire argument hinged upon the claim that "a world with categorical imperatives and a world without categorical imperatives are indistinguishable from one another." However, Pro was unable to demonstrate this to be true.
Conversely, my position is that the existence of categorical imperatives is knowable. I supported my case by showing that human well being is the objective metric used for determining moral actions. And, in accordance with Pros defintion of Categorical Absolutes, we know that we can produce actions that are objectively good. As such, we know that Categorical Absolutes exist.
I would like to thank Pro for setting up the challenge and putting so much time and effort into their responses. I would welcome another debate with you and hope to see you on the battlefield soon.