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The Contender
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The Open Question Argument by G.E. Moore

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/27/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,901 times Debate No: 25853
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




Resolution: The Open Question Argument is a compelling objection to Moral Naturalism
No Semantics Arguments
No Ad hom
No intentional fallacies
5 rounds
BOP on the Pro
Please post case first round


I accept the debate. For reference, the debate shall only be 3 rounds (seeing as that's the number of rounds are in this debate - post a comment if I am blind). The debate is strictly no plagiarism, with 7 points lost by anyone who does plagiarise. I shall defend the Darwall-Gibbard-Railton formulation of the Open Question Argument, which goes as follows:

Premise 1: If X is good, then X will in itself motivate an individual to pursue it.

Premise 2: A cognitively sound and competent speaker of English (or whatever language the OQA is made in) can understand that Action X* produces X, yet not pursue X*.

Conclusion: X is not (analytically equivalent to) good.

The argument's conclusion, then is to show that no moral property is identical to a natural property[1].

I'll await my opponent's rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 1


There are really many problems with my opponent"s case which are and are not limited to:
1. No justification of each premise.
2. Presupposes an internalist theory of motivation, which my opponent fails to justify.
3. Frege distinction between sense and reference
Premise 1: If X is good, then X will in itself motivate an individual to pursue it.
Premise 2: A cognitively sound and competent speaker of English (or whatever language the OQA is made in) can understand that Action X* produces X, yet not pursue X*.
Conclusion: X is not (analytically equivalent to) good

The biggest problem of my opponent"s case is that it fails to justify anything and therefore gives us no reason to adopt the argument. Suppose I were to tell you adopt Substance Dualism, and furthermore I provided a argument to support it such as the Argument from Reason by C.S.Lewis. If I simply provide premises in order to accept this conclusion but failed to explain the reasons why each premise is true then I have not provided adequate evidence to accept the argument. The intuitiveness of standard deductive argument is irrelevant when dealing with meta-ethical problems. One should assume that anyone could understand the argument as provided. Furthermore the problem with not explaining each premise can be explained in Zeno's Paradox. Imagine that Achilles and a tortoise were racing and the tortoise was given a slight head start. Now most people would say well Achilles will win. But in order for Achilles to win he has to catch up with the tortoise he has to reach where the tortoise started and by that time the tortoise has moved, and then he has caught up with where he was before, by then the tortoise would have moved by then, this paradox suggests (if taken to a extreme) that all motion is impossible. In response to this, Diogenes the Cynic simply got up and started walking showing how it was wrong but Diogenes did nothing because he couldn"t explain why it was wrong. Similar to my opponent case even IF(and that"s a big if) his argument is to be accepted, then we have no adequate explanations of the implications of such a argument.
The next problem is that even if the premises" were written out and given reasons to believe the open question argument, this formulation while not begging the question assumes that Moral Internalism is true and is given supremacy. The fact is that my opponent failed to justify that morality is naturally appealing. If the internalist theory of morality is true then in moral psychology there exist no amoral people However,amoral people exist. Hitler for example clearly knew the idea of morality(many example are shown in Mein Kampf(my struggle)) but he wasn"t naturally motivated to be good or moral. The fact is that there is nothing self-contradictory about suggesting that someone my not to be personally inclined toward morality. Even if we accept internalism then we face the problem that to argue for special motivational effects is to commit to the fallacy of special pleading. Understanding of science doesn't naturally motivate one to do science.
So my argument against this argument is:
Premise 1. If the internal theory of truth is true, no amoral people exist.
Premise 2. Amoral people exist.
Therefore, the internal theory of truth is not true.

There are some more objection but as my opponent has yet to post but bare essentials of his case so as my opponent has failed to meet his BOP:

Vote Con :)


To make it clear, what my opponent has run is the Fregean fiat to the argument - meaning in short that two words that are tautologically the same, such as H20 and Water, refer to two completely different ideas. Further, he then runs a criticism of internalism: the theory that, when we act, we are motivated internally, rather than moved externally (distinct from the determinism/free will debate). Finally, and that which shall be addressed first, he claims that I have not justified any of the premises.

Validating the argument

There is no doubt of the validity and consistency of each premise. Each one is internally consistent (meaning it does not contradict itself): there is no internal contradiction in any of the premises. An internal contradiction would be a premise that is necessarily false: for example, "I punched a seven" or "All bachelors are women".

A valid argument is one that logically necessitates the conclusion. The argument is a modus tollens. Meaning the argument takes the following form:

P necessarily imples Q.
Q is false.
Thus, P is false.

This is the same flow as the argument. Thus, we can conclude the argument is logically valid. Of course, this is not questioned. The important point is then the truth of the two premises (as the conclusion necessarily follows if the two premises are accurate).

The First premise: Internalism, amorality, and Wikipedia

Now, I mention wikipedia here because my opponent seems to use phrases very common to wikipedia's rebuttal here. This is not a criticism, of course: it simply highlights a problem my opponent had with Moore. That is, I think it highlights an agreement with me that the first formulation is somewhat question-begging. I say somewhat, to be clear here, as the argument itself is difficult to access the merit behind it. The new formulation is very reasonable. The first premise, then, without further ado.

"If X is good, then X will in itself motivate an individual to pursue it."

Now, this premise presupposes internalism. To be clear here, as my opponent seems to not pick up on this, our morality has to come from either inside ourselves, or outside ourselves. Meaning, when one knows of a moral thing, either one is necessarily motivated to do it, or they are not. The former is internalism, and the latter is externalism. The presupposition itself needs justification, and so I shall provide it.

Firstly, presuppositionalism makes intuitive sense. We go after what we think is moral. That is, when I give to charity, I give to charity because I see it to be moral. That doesnotmean that I do whatever is moral by necessity: I see a lot of charities, and I do not give all my money to them, even though I'd see it as a moral action. I am motivated towards it, but other motivations - narcissism, for example - motivate me not to do it. The criticism of amorality is that some people know what is moral, yet have no inclination to do them. However, this position is absurd and nonsensical: what we see as moral is, by necessity, what we are inclined to do: we by necessity see being moral as a good thing. We are motivated to do what we see as good. Thus, we are motivated to behave morally. Further, we have never seen, experienced, or observed a truly amoral person. Hitler, the layman's standard of amorality, strongly believed in nationalism and fascism as a political ideology that will save Germany, and saving the German nation was the internal motivation driving Hitler. Taking Machiavelli, the philosopher's standard of amorality, was equally driven by pragmatism and nationalism.

In fact, these things make internalism sensical: internalism says the reason why we act is because we are motivated to do them. That is,thereasons for action must be able to explain one's action; and only internal reasons can do this. One only acts in a certain way if one has the relevant desire. Meaning, we may, for example, not stealif and only if we follow a moral system that says we cannot. The externalist claims somewhat bizzarely that our beliefs do not effect our actions.

The internalist argues, then, that if we think X is good, then we will be motivated to pursue X. To take examples, if we think stealing is bad, we will be motivated to not steal. If we think pleasure is good, we will be motivated to give to increase pleasure. This idea is in fact quite a simple one, which is why many are internalists. It's not that the first premise presupposes internalism as such, but more that, if you accept internalism, you by tautology accept the first premise. Conversely, by accepting the existence of amoral people, we have to reject internalism. As previously shown, however, there are no examples of amoral individuals, and further there is no argument my opponent poses to state amoral people exist.

Of course, ignoring my opponent's lack of reason for believing in externalism, suppose it for a moment. This means that our actions are determined by forces outside of our control. In fact, all of our actions are caused by events before even our existence: our acts which are the consequences of the laws of nature are surely out of our control. Thus, there can be no moral responsibility, and thus no morality, and thus the conclusion of the original OQA - that no moral property exists [in nature] is affirmed. This is the vicious nature of the criticism.

The second premise: Consequentialism, Singer and Drowning Children.

"To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child so far outweighs the cost of getting one"s clothes muddy and missing a class, that they refuse to consider it any kind of excuse for not saving the child. Does it make a difference, I ask, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do.
Once we are all clear about our obligations to rescue the drowning child in front of us, I ask: would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost " and absolutely no danger " to yourself? Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no moral difference to the situation. I then point out that we are all in that situation of the person passing the shallow pond: we can all save lives of people, both children and adults, who would otherwise die, and we can do so at a very small cost to us: the cost of a new CD, a shirt or a night out at a restaurant or concert, can mean the difference between life and death to more than one person somewhere in the world " and overseas aid agencies like Oxfam overcome the problem of acting at a distance."[1]

That analogy is very long, but is a very important one by Singer. We know, or many of us do, that pursuing general interest is the good, X. We know that giving all our wealth to charity, X*, produces general interest, X. But we do not give all our money to charity, X. Ihopethat I am, as well as Singer and countless others, cognitively sound and competent at the english language (As a native speaker, I'd be worried if I were not!) But this fulfils all characteristics of the second premise. This can be applied to any value of X. Thus, premise 2 is naturally affirmed.

Conclusion and Miscellanious

As long as the two previous premises are true, then one must accept the logically necessary conclusion. Not much else is needed to be said here. To go further, my opponent's other points become moot. Frege's criticism - which my opponent barely asserted - holds no weight, for it criticises no premise. In short, my opponent must falsify a premise explicitly to make his argument stand.

I thank my opponent for their response, and await their rebuttal.

1 -
Debate Round No. 2


I apologize that I will not be posting this round. I am not conceding just didn't have the computer over the weekend.
Thank you for understanding :)


I understand my opponent's difficulty in not getting enough time to propose a counterargument. I request that the audience judges the debate as commonly imagine: either by judging normally, or judging without regard to conduct. If my opponent wants to do this debate again in the future, I shall look forwards to it.

Vote PRO! :P
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Stephen_Hawkins 6 years ago
SP, it's a common reformulation nowadays, for those who accept that the primary formulation of Moore's argument leaves something to be desired on the pragmatic grounds. I hope to expound on it in the debate, though I am playing devil's advocate in this debate, and show strength in this reformulation. If you look up "Towards the End of Ethics" or "Toward le fin de ethic" (I think that's the name), it is a great enunciation of the ideas.
Posted by socialpinko 6 years ago
S_H, I've never heard of that formulation. When I had this I was planning on defending Moore's formulation. Should be interesting to watch.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by InVinoVeritas 6 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: FF, and Con's counters refuted.