Morality

Imagine you traveled back in time and met Bob the Caveman. And imagine you tried to tell him about cars. "They're made out of metal...umm, it's like rock but harder, and they are empty inside, and they have wheels...these are like feet, and they go really fast and they are powered by fire. They can cover a day's walk in the time it takes to eat a meal." Bob might find this a bit far out, but it's within the realm of possibility.

Now, imagine you tried to tell him that people drive them around according to very strict rules, and though there are millions, going very fast, they rarely hit each other. Everyone follows little bits of paint on the ground -- that you have to look for to notice -- and obeys colored lights. Now Bob would laugh. How could so many people be so organised, with very little enforcement, just some signs, lights, and paint!? How can they, when two lanes merge, weave cars together one by one -- acting in unison with total strangers? How can they take turns at a stop sign, and let pedestrians walk in front of them? How does anyone ever manage to change lanes in heavy traffic? The amount of consent created over driving, is far more amazing than the cars themselves.

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Relationship Theory

Premise: Jack and Jill have a relationship.

Challenge: Name one obligation Jack has to Jill. "To act rightly," does not count, as all people should do that all the time anyway.

My Solution: Can't be done. Details of some physical events needed. (Comment if you have another...)

Conclusion: Relationships, in and of themselves, do not create obligations.

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Numbers exist. My computer exists. I can touch my computer, but not a number. Prima facie, their must be at least two kinds of existence. I go with physical and explanatory.

A cave exists in both ways. There is the physical existence of various elementary particles at various points in space at a given time. And there is the explanation that it is a cave.

If Jack and Jill go to the park, there is the physical movement of their atoms to the park, and the explanation that friends are having a picnic. The physical description doesn't even know the location titled "park" is a public place with grass and trees. It just has coordinates in space.

Anyway, what this entry is really about is Relationship Theory:

Premise: "Relationship" is an explanatory term. It does not describe a physical event.

Obligations are explanatory. They also cannot be deduced from pure logic (because they depend on things in the real world). What they are, is when certain events happen, what is right to do changes; obligations are alternations in the moral landscape. For example, agreeing to meet David at the park, changes the moral landscape by making showing up at the park the right thing to do in scenarios where it otherwise would not have been.

Premise 2: To be true, explanations of why an obligation exists must, at least indirectly, refer to something physical.

Conclusion: Relationships, in and of themselves, do not create obligations.

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Morality

Here is one of the best general theories about morality:

If a moral theory fails by its own standards, it is wrong.

Combined with some epistemology like "If two moral principles contradict, they can't both be right," we can reject many, many bad moral theories.

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It was suggested that the US flag shouldn't be used as a pro-war symbol. The person who suggested this is explicitly pro-American and anti-war. So, if they don't have to go together, how can it be right to use the first to support the other?

The problem with this objection, thus far, is that it has no content!! For any two propositions A and B, using A to show support for B, could be objected to on the basis that someone could support A and not B. But we know that's not right because propositions can (via some explanation) support other ones.

So, to make the "don't use the flag to support the war case," what's needed is to demonstrate that the explanation connecting the two is wrong (not simply to have someone support the flag and not the war, because that person may be wrong/inconsistent).

Anyway, a simple reason that supporting America implies supporting the war, is that the war will make America safer (Iraq funds and supports terrorism). Or in reverse, the anti-war position of wanting Americans to die is not consistent with being pro-America.

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Have faith in your values. Don't expect people to disagree. True ideas win arguments. True ideas win converts. True ideas get popular. Good values reward you. Bad values "reward" their holders (no need to do anything to them).

And as to "rewarding" holders of bad values -- it's a form of imposing one's values, and thus needs a non-arbitrary, non-reversible justification.

To explain "Don't expect people to disagree" this comes up a lot with parenting. Like people will ask "What if my child wants to commit murder?" Well, why the fuck would he want to do that? You're right that murder is wrong, aren't you? Yes, you are, so why expect child to disagree..? Comes up with the pro-death people too, who think it'd be wrong to waste extra life watching TV, but expect people to do it...

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premise: good values make their holder's life better
premise: people want nice lives
conclusion: people hold values they think are good

scenario: X thinks Y has bad values (X and Y are people)

Applying the conclusion to the scenario, we discover that: Y considers his values to be good

premise: X and Y have different values
premise: different values can't both be right
conclusion: X or Y (or both) are wrong

So, if Y knows at least one of them is wrong, and considers himself right, he must consider X's values to be wrong.

So we discover that when X declares that Y's values are wrong, what we are really looking at is a two-way dispute. X and Y are fallible. X does not have authority. So, to impose his values on Y, X needs more than to feel really sure. He needs some non-arbitrary explanation of why it's right for him to impose his values. And it must pass a simple test: it can't work in reverse. As X can claim authority, so can Y. As X can claim feeling sure, so can Y. As X can claim divine inspiration, so can Y. etc

(A non-reversible justification for value imposing is "he's attacking me" which gets us self-defense)

What does this have to do with the pro-death people objecting to TV reruns? Well, before they try to impose their anti-rerun values on others, they need a non-arbitrary, non-reversible justification. They don't have one.

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Here we find a perfectly decent article on why anti-aging research and medicine are good. However, one bit stuck out at me. The author writes:

I seriously doubt that people granted longer lives will fritter away their extra time watching reruns of Gilligan's Island (though some might, and it would be their business). Instead, they may well engage in longer-run projects such as ecological restoration or space exploration.

The problem, is the parenthetical. The author considers it none of his business what people do in their private lives, to the point that he doesn't consider any options wrong.

There is a common idea, which asserts that the public domain is objective, but the private domain is subjective. It's wrong to rape people, to give speeches inciting murder, and to run a red light. But in your private life, anything goes. Watch whatever TV you want, in whatever amounts. Be productive, or not. It's a matter of taste.

Now, this idea has been fruitful. It allowed us to have law and order, without curse-word-police and productivity-police stationed within our homes, telling us to expand our vocabulary and sleep less, or perhaps to stop drinking beers, or whatever.

However, from a philosophical point of view, the idea is simply not true. Choices can be wrong. Whether they are in the public or private domain doesn't matter.

Returning to the article, the author was arguing against people who feared immoral behavior. And he told them that, in the private sphere, he endorses immoral behavior as everyone's right. And his best defense against the possibility of immorality is that he doubts anyone will do it. What he should have said is something like, "If watching Gilligan's Island is the wrong thing to do, why will people want to spend their time on it?"

More on this last bit in next entry.

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Replying to a comment by Sharon Ferguson from the thread about gender stereotypes:

I can tell none of you have children.

Just because some people choose to keep their personal lives, and especially their children's personal lives, private, does not mean they do not have children.

As to Authority of Experience, it's not valid. The truth of a statement, depends only on it's content. If an idiot says something true, it's still true. If an "authority" says something false, it's still false. How do we tell which is which? Argument about the subject matter, not about the speakers.

I knew I was having a girl. I painted her room BLUE.

Sounds perfectly reasonable. I like off-white myself.

One of her many gifts was a Tonka truck. For five years, it was kicked around her room, ignored. Finally was given to her baby boy cousin, who knew exactly what to do with it. My daughter always sneered at it.

The whole point of being a subtle, powerful, devious, gender stereo-type meme, is that you can overcome blue paint, and a few trucks. In fact, many gender stereo-type memes are so highly evolved, that they still win out vs. parents who intentionally try to go against the stereotypes.

My daughter loves to laugh and jump and play and climb. But she is particularly concerned when someone gets hurt or knocked down or when someone tries to bully her. Call it personality.

I will, thank you.

Call it genes.

Genes code for various things, including perhaps the structure of one's brain. However, just like many computers made of different parts, behave the same way, so too do human brains despite structural differences.

But babies in general know from the start what they like. And girls tend to like dolls. And boys tend to like trucks.

This is an assertion that I'm wrong, but not an argument.

I was what you consider a tomboy. I was thoroughly disinterested in barbie dolls. When I got older though I did want to collect porcelain dolls...look but dont play with them. I always felt silly trying to feed milk to an inanimate object. But I have never considered myself anything less than feminine.

The gender stereotyping thesis does not say that every last person will act according to the stereotypes. It says they are subtly and not-so-subtly encouraged (and sometimes forced, coerced, ordered) to do it, by parents and others.

I should say what needs to be looked for is MERIT. there are some things women CANT do...and some things men cant do.

There are differences in physical body makeup, but needn't be any in personality. I agree employers and bosses should look for merit.

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About stains: if it won't come out, it won't come out *on you* and is thus nothing much to worry about. (Unless you go somewhere fancy.)

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Inspired by a comment on the last Relationship Theory thread:

Most of the time, I focus much much more on saying true things than saying a lot. There are notable exceptions, and it's important to try and say a lot when one wants to create new knowledge. But when explaining things I already know, or just talking randomly, my strong tendency is to be sure to get things right. One result is that, sometimes I say very little, or say things that seem trivial. "Horribly bad thing X, is awful, don't do it," or the like.

Anyway, the thing is, I think people often try to read a bit too much meaning into some of my writing. Really, most is not intended to be controversial. If you read my views on most issues, and go "duh" and agree, I'll be very happy, and you probably did not miss the point.

Also, sometimes I say things that are true, but often misused and abused in arguments for bad stuff. I know quite well that just because some people misuse a truth, doesn't make it any less true, and rely on this. Sadly, I'm often frustrated by people conflating the truth with the common assumptions about what it means. So, umm, don't do that (lol).

You may wonder about the use of a bunch of uncontroversial truths. One point is simply that although they really ought to be uncontroversial, and are among reasonable people, many aren't actually very popular :-/

The other is really a general approach to explaining things: start with simple, true statements to sketch out what the answer to some problem has to look like. Rule out the absurd and inconsistent, and maybe figure out on what continuum(s) and controversial "fact"(s) we must make a judgment on. So, basically, start with what we know. Then, look for a powerful explanation that fits with what we know (that will be controversial, and is what opponents ought to be arguing with).

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Just read a Den Beste piece here. It was going along nicely, getting stuff about right, and then out of nowhere came:

It's true that all powerful nations eventually decline

which just makes no sense at all. It seems to say that moral behavior will invariably self-destruct, which is to deny that morality exists. (Or I suppose it could deny that morality can lead to being powerful, which also basically means denying morality exists.)

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Here are some things that shouldn't be associated together, but often are:

Saddam staying in power and peace.

Capitalism and greed.

Commitment and sex.

Love and sex.

Morality and opposing kinky sex.

Morality and opposing "naughty" words.

Morality and God.

Leftists and caring.

"Disciplining" (read: hurting) children and love.

Spanking and learning.

Time-outs and learning.

School and learning.

USA and police state.

Israel and police state.

Tolerance and moral relativism.

Other Websites and Better Than Mine.

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Please Steal Some Oil For Us

by Staff Writer

"French oil companies, unlike US ones, are actually government owned. Or to put that another way, the French government unlike the US one, is actually oil-owned," the anonymous tipster whispered. This was just the beginning of an interesting phone call.

A little work turned up some interesting facts. It turns out that France is very reliant on oil imports, especially from the Middle East, and has none of its own oil. If the oil stops flowing from the Middle East, France would have a serious problem. In fact, France has the most to gain of any Western country from the resumption of a cheap and stable oil supply under a docile Iraqi leader.

The Washington Post reported(1): "It's pretty straightforward," said former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has been one of the leading advocates of forcing Hussein from power. "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them." But he added: "If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."

The French establishment, still bitter about the loss of their North African colonies to the Arabs, cares about Arab oil not the Arab people. My anonymous leak said the whole anti-American attitude by the French is a media facade. "We see eye-to-eye with the Americans on nearly everything. But we need Middle Eastern oil, so we are forced to maintain the public image that appeals to the Arabs. By controlling the oil, they control us." He told me that most of the populace disagrees with many of the articles in the French press, but is sophisticated enough to read between the lines.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation was a phone call my anonymous source overheard. "I was going to his office, and I didn't realize he was in the middle of an important phone call. He didn't see me, and I stood outside the door to wait." The man being overheard is a top French government official, though I cannot disclose his name or specific position. He was speaking to a US diplomat. The content of the phone call is really amazing: "Please steal some oil for us, when you attack Iraq. We really need it." My source could not believe his ears! This was so important he felt compelled to share the information with the American press.

To return to the introduction, although it may not be literally true, the oil companies do have significant influence in the highest levels of the French government. They very much need a war on Iraq, but at the same time must keep the right image so that the entire Middle East continues to sell oil to France. It is a tricky double-bind, but the French are handling it impressively. Indeed, they had me fooled...until I got a phone call yesterday.

(1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18841-2002Sep14.html

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If ya didn't get it, this is a joke. I wrote it September 2002. Ran into it again just now.

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