Monday, August 31, 2015

Prospective vs. Retrospective Judgements & What Oughtn’t Happen


Should modernists treat rightness and shouldness interchangeably? What about praiseworthiness and goodness; any interchangeability taking place there?

To answer appropriately, the first step is to deflate the longstanding polarity between deontological and teleological accounts of wrongdoing. Much of this gets inflated by the arguers’ misstep in not homing in on ultimatums modeled after many-worlds thought experiments, ideally the sort I’ve set up here:

 


  •  World A: Tom has been boozing it up throughout the day. Aggravated that his final two-six has run dry, he chucks it out the window despite the intense likelihood of it falling on a random passerby and causing serious harm. Tom lives on the 20th floor of a high-rise in the heart of a metropolis, so the infliction of risk here is weighty. Dozens of passersby saunter by his building on a minutely basis, but he pays no mind to this. Impulsiveness has a way of getting the better of him whenever he’s agitated. Blowing off steam is all he cares for at the moment. By sheer luck, his irresponsibleness ends up harming no one. The two-six lands straight into a dumpster nearest to his building. No one saw or even heard the two-six clash with the squishy items in the dumpster, as the collision coincided with a short-lived lull in pedestrian presence and vehicular traffic. Tom is one lucky bastard. His act was inexcusably inconsiderate, despite not having harmed –– or so much as perturbed –– anyone. Even so, Tom’s unconcern for others ran so deep that he couldn’t have even bothered peeking out the window to check if the bottle had maimed someone’s cranium.

     


  • World B: Tom is enjoying an ordinarily relaxing evening on his balcony. Looking to unwind from a hard day’s work, he pours himself a drink from the same two-six, but is startled by an aggressive crow. The crow charges speedily at him and he instinctually swings his arms upward to protect his face, losing grip of the two-six in the process. The bottle flies past his balcony’s barricade and, after picking up considerable freefall momentum, collides with a random passerby’s exposed cranium. This lands the passerby in the intensive care unit with permanent disfigurements and brain damage. The accident effectively ruins this person’s life. Tom wastes no time following up and feels tremendous guilt once informed of the man’s condition.


 

These are useful for particularists or anyone fatigued by introductory “What is morality?” discourse. Once the moral agent/patient interplays are spelled out as plainly as above, consensus around normativity ceases to be illusive and attempts to puncture it come across as moral residue.

Theorists of the modernistic bent should be able to agree that, all else being equal, World A ought to have happened. That is, we should strive to bring about A if the only alternative is B, ceteris paribus. Taking this route doesn’t entail shying away from the fact that A carried all the makings of wrongness as pointedly as it did (with B carrying none). Recall that, after chucking the two-six in A, Tom goes about his business free of regret. His carelessness constitutes a moral blameworthiness of sorts, and yet, in and of itself, it tells us nothing about where A stands in relation to the moral fortunateness vs. unfortunateness axis. Traditionalistic ethicists have too often been incurious about the moral worth of this axis, whereas I allege that its displayed spectrum is what ultimately matters more.
 
 

You can refer to textbook-style thought experiments which are more intriguing and complex, but then you’d be obfuscating my endpoint. No one disputes that Tom acted improvidently in A, and blamelessly in B. Notable point being; the deployed ultimatum shares few (if any) characteristics with the breed of moral dilemmas that boomed in use around the Enlightenment, and now seem tritely prototypical. Seeing as not every telic vs. deontic vs. aretaic schism makes for a crowd-splitting moral dilemma, we can formulate rightness (praiseworthiness) and shouldness (goodness) separately and situationally.
 
Talks of “rightness” or “praiseworthiness” would still be gleaned by the acts, motives and characterological tendencies of the human agent privy to reason, compassion, deliberation, forethought, et cetera. I've no bones to pick with this, insofar as it only sets out to establish rightness or praiseworthiness at a practical, non-normative ground-level.

Goodness vis-à-vis shouldness, meanwhile, is to be discerned per the introduced fortunateness vs. unfortunateness axis. Once this takes hold, the modernist can actually start being modernistic with her ethical theorizing, noting that the “moral gridlocks” we keep hearing about (applied even to A vs. B) can be averted once the arguer explains how folk-judgements establishing “wrongness” and sentiocentric-judgements establishing events that “ought not have occurred” may function as isolated verdicts.

Just reflect on how rarely you’ve seen an "introduction to ethics" lecture astutely structured after examinations of many-worlds ultimatums. I’m still waiting on one to pop up in scholarly settings exported online, or even in middle-brow YouTube videos. If you’re a few steps ahead of me and have seen it, please link to some examples in the comments. I'll be right here, not holding my breath. We instead get lectures on (the triteness of) moral edifices and their (prognosticator-problem endowed) species of thought experiments where rightness/praiseworthiness/goodness/shouldness are lockstep and claims to the contrary are perceived as being distillatory of rightness, praiseworthiness, goodness and shouldness (or are simply unheard of).

In addition to downplaying the criterial role of moral fortunateness vs. unfortunateness, the trouble with rank-and-file introductions to ethics is their tendency to invite polemicists and disinvite conversationalists. Regular readers are already familiar with how disparagingly I view these presentations, so I won’t belabour the gripe. There’s reason to be confident in the conceivability of a “Master Key” presentation that sets out to reach modernist sensibilities regarding normativity (now centering on shouldness/goodness, not rightness/praiseworthiness). Nothing stops the modernist from conceiving prospective and retrospective wrongdoings as classificatory rather than as eliminatory. From there, the theorist is afforded the requisite room to tolerate more wrongness/blameworthiness under a state of affairs that ought to have occurred and less rightness/praiseworthiness under a state of affairs that oughtn’t have occurred (not unlike with A vs. B). This only sounds self-contradictory because, confusingly, moral verdicts have always been portrayed as eliminatory instead of classificatory, without justification. Because prospective and retrospective judgements have the cognitive capacity to operate as twofold judgements without the call for mutually-cancelling overridingness, we can ensure against catastrophic outcomes per sentiocentric overviews while accommodating innocuous components of folk morality into those same overviews. (Note: My use of sentiocentric is not a placeholder for Moral Naturalism any more than my use of folk is a plug for non-naturalism, but more on that in a future post.)

It should go without saying that consequentialists presented with A vs. B are concretely on board with the “B oughtn’t occur” adjudication. The ideal consequentialist arrives at this by stressing B’s moral unfortunateness overwhelming whatever shred of unfortunateness arose in A, while openly acknowledging the Tom-directed wrongness in A.

This is where absolutist theories latch onto outdated worries about the character of consequentialist thought, and how its grounding stands to undermine the role of prospective sordidness apparent in A. I see no basis for such inferences. Shouldness inciting A into effect doesn’t translate to a whitewash of the accompanying ill-will on the part of the agent, given the earlier point about classificatory (contra eliminatory) judgements.

Tom is quite the moral fool in A, but a lucky fool at that. He is 100% fool-proof in B, but unfoolishness here comes with the baggage of a mangled skull… surely there’s no slippery slope deluging that which privileges fortunateness over rightness through telic evaluations. I suppose one way to take umbrage with this is by believing that the central role of morality lies in agent-relative procurements of self-idolatry, which is as dubious as any Divine Command Theory. Third-person judgments run afoul of such setbacks and mesh with the 'equal-concern' practices of modernity.

So then, what of the non-consequentialists (or worse, those who identify as anti-consequentialists) and their treatment of an ultimatum like this? So far every deontologist –– or traditionalistic ethicist of aretaic persuasions –– I’ve encountered, when presented with A vs. B, did not push back against the “B oughtn’t occur” ruling despite emphasizing the prospective maleficence beamingly present in A. Wise move, but is it indicative of how most deontologists or aretaic traditionalists think about the ultimatum being toyed with? It could easily be true that the trend I speak of is just down to my not having had the opportunity to engage the big boys in the non-consequentialist tradition. I’m iffy on that though. It may be undue optimism on my part, but I’m unable to wrap my head around even the gratuitously ardent anti-consequentialist being presented with A vs. B and actually uttering something along the lines of: “Yes, World B contains no wrongdoing and should swing into effect if weighed against World A where the wrongdoing actually betides. Prospective and retrospective verdicts are eliminatory, not classificatory, and particularistic attempts to parse them are nonsensical. It’s moral ineptitude to even try.

By taking exception to final shouldness rulings in favour of A, one saddles one’s judgement with B as the follow-through, which should seem baffling to everyone. Can the reader point to anyone in the anti-consequentialist camp –– past or present –– who’d cite the lack of intentional agentic wrongdoing in B as the basis for why B should actually materialize… intensive care unit and all? I can’t, and this attests to the strength of consequentialist theories whenever noxiousness looms on account of unfortunateness.
 
Maybe I’m mistaken to think that inconveniencing deontologists or aretaic traditionalists with B’s fallout suffices in giving them cause to pause. If this is indeed my error, I’ll nod along to all charges of callousness levied at them going forward. I don’t consider this to be in the cards, because anecdotally, emphasis on B’s injurious outcome has led the ones I’ve bickered with to retreat from the catchall framing of deontology, in the vein of “It’s about the moral status of the act itself, not the consequences of the act”. Instead, the interlocutor, when put on the spot, adopts the refreshingly cautiousThat’s a straw man of deontology; deontologists can be pluralists and take into account some consequences”. (Examples @ 1:04:45 & 1:07:30 & 1:10:00 & 1:11:30).

If reverting to pluralism is as common as anecdotes suggest –– and as the hyperlinked podcast shows –– then pluralistic deontologists need to stop self-identifying as non-consequentialists (and esp. as anti-consequentialists), for if this newfound caveat is taken seriously, it severs ties with Kantian absolutism, which in turn earns them a title like quasi-consequentialist. I can’t in good conscience object too harshly to a quasi-anything, as I’m still heavily drawn to particularism, meaning quasi-consequentialism is fine in my book. Avoidance of absolutism and monism is what I’m really after, and new&improved deontic theories allowing for a give-and-take between outcomes and duties can manage this.

This give-and-take, however praiseworthy, does pose a potentially unanswerable question; where exactly on the continuum does a “deontic” theory with some telic adjustments blend into an otherwise “telic” theory with some deontic adjustments? The trickiness with planting such a flag in non-arbitrary ways only flatters the particularist’s framing of ethics, as I’ve come to find.

Whether a definitive line –– superior to all other lines –– is illusory or not, parting ways with absolutism remains an “all or nothing” move if I’ve ever seen one. There’s no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” and there’s no such thing as quasi-absolutism in ethics. Acts like murder, torture, rape are unwaveringly impermissible and should never be carried out irrespective of extenuating circumstances (absolutist view), or they are globally justifiable as a lesser-of-evils based on the morally understandable goal of securing against even more unfavorable outcomes (non-absolutist view). What can possibly be worse than murder, torture, rape? Well, the occurrence of murder, torture and rape tenfold, for starters. If ethicists are going to be serious about reconciling telic and deontic theories, the project will only takeoff by applying non-absolutist iterations of the latter. Absolutists objecting to this are moral fetishists looking to roadblock the project by tarnishing the consequentialist catalog altogether. Fuck ‘em.

As for the hyperlinked podcast; it's sophistic of Tamler to kvetch about straw while in the same breath drawing from absolutist versions of deontology –– which by definition disallow any weighing of negative outcomes against deontological commitments, no matter the severity of the outcome. Pluralism my foot. Guy wants to have his straw man accusation and eat it too.

Even when deontic theories are irreligious from head to toe, their traditionalistic advocates will not view, say, natural disasters luridly impacting sentient beings as events ripe for normative boos. This is our history in ethics, and it's why you get so many people who to this day cannot conceive of normative yays vs. boos unless “free will” (indeterminism/libertarianism) is embraced from the outset. “Ought implies can” and so on. The theorist who looked beyond Humancentrism 101 was the aberrant.

Enter determinism, and the Folk formulations begin to seem suspect (at least by modernists). Posit incompatibilism, and they look profoundly amiss, to the point where moral absolutism –– casting certain acts as verboten regardless of context weight –– is on par with DCT in its zealotry.

The explosion of sentiocentric consequentialism’s popularity as a rival theory to humancentric common-sense morality correlates with determinism gaining ground in public arenas. That’s not to say that determinism is a prerequisite for consequentialism (or indeterminism for non-consequentialism, for that matter) but to deny the correlative effects is to sport a blindfold.

I’m exultant over sentiocentric theories making headway in vital quarters; recognizing animals as moral patients in and of themselves, rather than as accessories through which we humans get to flaunt our moral merit or lack thereof. But the more folky attributions of wrongness can be preserved –– determinism and all –– even if they come at a cost to some categories of undesirable outcomes. I am in rare company when it comes to this, but viewed from an altered A vs. B ultimatum where the difference in B is that the two-six only startles the passerby (falling right in front of him rather than colliding with his head), it seems somewhat credible to contest “B ought not occur” as a ground-level given. Thus we can allow for some overridingness flattering to non-consequentialist theories if the consequence entails trivial levels of hardship (i.e. being startled) and never non-trivial levels (i.e. landing in the intensive care unit). There are admittedly epistemic issues with this, at least if we try hair-splitting the trivial and non-trivial.

So, to appropriately answer the original question with a resounding “No”, I'll freely remind myself that ethical value was traditionally measured not by establishing how the world ought to be for moral patients (sentient beings) and then endeavoring to bring about such a world. Rather, it was about the motives and virtues of moral agents (human beings). Accordingly, wrongdoings and concomitant oughtn't rulings could only be hurled at something a human said or did. Obviously this reads like moral myopia today, as non-human caused hardship (i.e. wildlife predation) is still hardship worthy of stoppage. Thus my pluralistic modernism and promulgation of “rightness =/= shouldness” reasoning.
[Add on 2015-09-23: The same is commonly referred to as Dual Consequentialism, already hyperlinked above]

Make no mistake, formulations of rightness [under Dual Consequentialism] would still be rooted in praiseworthiness, just as wrongness would remain rooted in blameworthiness. My purpose here was to explain how none of that has any bearing over goodness overlapping with fortunateness per se and badness with unfortunateness per se (dictated deterministically). This needs to be the baseline because goodness and badness are used, at least on my readings, to refer to general states of affairs, disconnected from agents' actions or motives. When discussing the latter, we'd do well to continue tracking rightness and wrongness as a sort of moral know-how. So even when causality is the name of the game, the case for social censure still holds, thus rightness merits praiseworthiness and wrongness merits blameworthiness. After all, we need to be dissuaded against acting improvidently, seeing as we're seldom bestowed with the sort of moral fortune Tom takes for granted in World A.

 
And no, this was not about Act vs. Rule Consequentialism, since Rule Consequentialism can either be:




  • (2) A rule so rigid to the point where it’s as uncompromising as moral absolutism. Rule Consequentialism that’s absolutist is hardy consequentialist; it’s crypto deontology.

 
Every “act vs. rule” debate I’ve seen has centred on moral tactfulness; a cost/benefit analysis regarding rigidity and flexibility in decision making. Strictly a “Human beings aren’t prognosticators, so how do we act?” scuffle, nothing more. And even this might not be a problem due to the oft-excluded middle; Two-Level Consequentialism. Some think that this synthesis makes the case for non-consequentialism operating as a refuter of unmodified Act or Rule consequentialisms, but at most it's an expander.


 

Endnote: Contrary to the vibe the post gives off early on, I wasn't trying to suggest that we can panoramically assert the existence of vindicatory moral dilemmas; conundrums wherein rightness, praiseworthiness, goodness and shouldness all happen to line up under solitary verdicts (contrary to overused ones about organ transplants or trolleys… telltale signs that, should a final ruling be paraded around a large enough swath of ethicists, bifurcation will follow and resolvability will die. Rinse and repeat. Yawn and repeat).


28 comments:

  1. With those strong written and analytical skills of yours, you would be a great lawyer! Have you ever considered entering such a profession?

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    1. "you would be a great lawyer!"

      That's as backhanded a compliment as can get. Maybe you didn't mean it that way, so I'll just point out that I don't have enough genuine passion for law to justify the time/money necessary to major in it. My interest in law extends to my predilection to vote responsibly, and no further.

      I enjoy the low-stress gig I have at the moment. It affords me plenty of time to keep tabs on my many non-monetary intellectual pursuits without repercussions. Bankruptcy is the only thing that'd motivate me to seek the sort of prestigious career that's a time-sink in terms of other interests, and that's just not in the cards right now.

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  2. What you're describing sounds like it can be covered by dual consequentialism. Assuming you're familiar with this, why go down the "particularism" route at all? It just leaves you open to "anything goes" attacks.

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    1. I'm aware of dual consequentialism (it's actually hyperlinked in the post... keyword search "isolated" & the link takes you to the IEP's section on DC. An irritably short section, mind you).

      "why go down the "particularism" route at all?"

      Because extremely rare and bizarre cases mandate abandoning even dualistic consequentialisms, as they are *always* guided by a deference to goodness/shouldness over rightness/praiseworthiness. So even in cases where a goodness-to-badness differential is infinitesimally closer to goodness, whereas the rightness-to-wrongness differential is monumentally off in the direction of wrongness, dual consequentialism holds that such a state of affairs *ought to happen*. This doesn't sit well with me.

      For a decent example that's probably not as rare as one might instinctively assume, consult the "right to offend" dilemma from my post on particularism (caricaturing The Prophet Muhammad = hurt feels > other benefits). If you can't find it, let me know & I'll paste it here.

      "It just leaves you open to "anything goes" attacks"

      Have you read Dancy's "Ethics Without Principles"? If so, I shouldn't have to explain why such lines of attack pack no punch.

      The more interesting point of contention is whether an ideal dual consequentialism has what it takes to tenably navigate through particularism in a likeminded way (or whether particularists are equipped to meet consequentialist demands). I have misgivings, but I also know that there's a paper out there by a reputable organization whose author argues that particularism and consequentialism are compatible after all. I should track it down.

      Edit: Found it: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=3372704

      (the abstract anyway)

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    2. Curious to know how you would argue for animal rights under moral particularism. I know when I am arguing against meat eaters, I appeal to principles. Just interested to know how you would do it.

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    3. Ted,

      I'd start by specifying that I'm not a proponent of animal rights but rather of animal welfare. It may come across as a purely semantic distinction, but it actually carries much weight in terms of how different ethical systems deal with the issue. Had wild animals been granted "rights" in any meaningful sense, how would this not spell the end of hunting?

      Perhaps you think hunting is always impermissible & needs to be discontinued, but I don't see much of a problem with it in particular cases... esp. those involving isolated, low populations. Consider the extreme case of a starving person with no vegetarian alternatives in sight. It's certainly not inconceivable, so it's worthy of our attention. If you want to brush it aside because of how rare it seems, then posit a less extreme case where the person is just really hungry & has no vegetarian alternatives in the immediate future (say a span of 24 hours). Here hunting marks the quickest way for the hungry human to feed himself. The ultimatum being; a quick bullet to the head of an animal versus a full day of prolonged hunger for the human. Which outcome generates more disvalue? The murder (early death) of an animal in the wilderness, or the prolonged hunger for the human? What moral clarity is brought about through the insertion of any pro tanto principle here? I don't see any. I see a rather odd case that needs to be evaluated per its own configuration of moral features.

      But yes, I'd say the human's interests take precedence (provided the killing is painless & instantaneous). If you go with rights-theory, the animal has intrinsic rights & cannot be used as a means, ever. I'm content to evaluate the interests of animals in the wild through crude hedonism (as opposed to theories like preferentism) so assuming you can get on board with that, I don't see any room for disagreement.

      In that sense, mine is a relaxed veganism that opposes, through pointedly scalar judgements, the torture of animals via factory farming, not the eating of meat/dairy per se. You can see how a scalar framing would make for a poor fit when it comes to anyone enamored by "rights" talks.

      My formulation of human rights follows the same baseline, in that I regard even my own rights as merely instrumental to my actual interests. Rights can't have intrinsic value. There are pragmatic reasons for respecting rights, but that's where it ends.

      For rights-theorists (ethicists who elevate rights to non-instrumental status) violating a right is morally verboten. Obviously consequentialists will disagree, and I'm finding that particularists need not disagree with consequentialists over the ins-and-outs behind their mutual rejection of such rights-theories.

      I suppose the takeaway from all this is that particularism and scalar consequentialism aren't all that different in their ethical reasoning. It's about identifying "worseness" and "betterness" on the moral spectrum, and in doing so, leaving principle-worship to the absolutists to play with.

      Does that seem sensible?

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    4. "Perhaps you think hunting is always impermissible & needs to be discontinued, but I don't see much of a problem with it in particular cases..."

      I believe it is morally excusable to hunt animals in a life or death situation but I myself could never do it. That said, am I correct in assuming that you would not find it problematic for a human being to cannibalize another human provided it was necessary for one's survival?

      "I see a rather odd case that needs to be evaluated per its own configuration of moral features."

      So how would you evaluate that specific case you brought up?

      "But yes, I'd say the human's interests take precedence (provided the killing is painless & instantaneous)."

      But why do human interests take precedence over the animals? There seems to be an implicit principle that you are using here.

      "In that sense, mine is a relaxed veganism that opposes, through pointedly scalar judgements, the torture of animals via factory farming, not the eating of meat/dairy per se."

      Let's say we were able to eliminate the torture of animals in factory farms and, furthermore, provide them with a life of relative comfort (at least until their death), would it be wrong in your view to slaughter those animals for their meat?

      p.s. Is this really the antibullshitman from YouTube?

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    5. To be clear, it's not about human vs. non-human weighing of interests. I'd apply the exact same standard to a non-human animal predator going after non-human animal prey if the predator had the ability to kill its prey painlessly (the way humans presently can... but that's happenstance). I'm far more concerned with the abatement of wild animals' hunger (via hypothetical painless predation, in an illustrative case) than I am with safeguarding against the early death of the prey. To prioritize securing against the early death comes at the cost of predators enduring prolonged bouts of hunger throughout their lives, which entails far more non-trivial suffering.

      Why should it be any different when it comes to a similarly situated human who is hungry & has the tools to kill painlessly?

      Whether you or I would be able to go through with it or not is an aside. Can't say if I'd be able to carry out the killing myself. I've never been in such a situation. I do know that starvation is a hell of a motivator.

      "am I correct in assuming that you would not find it problematic for a human being to cannibalize another human provided it was necessary for one's survival?"

      If I'm to make an informed verdict, I'd need to know the details of those involved, namely the fallout, i.e. how the cannibalism impacts those who were close to the victim vs. how the absence of cannibalism impacts those who were close to the human who starved to death. I lean toward the former just because starvation is one of the worst, most drawn out ways to die.

      "So how would you evaluate that specific case you brought up?"

      Already did. If animals only have hedonic interests, as I believe is the case, then the painless killing would be better and the prolonged hunger would be worse. By how much? Depends on the level of one's hunger.

      "But why do human interests take precedence over the animals? There seems to be an implicit principle that you are using here"

      They don't. And no, I'm not. That's why I offered the case stipulating the painless killing. If killing is painful, the magnitude of the harm endured by the animal supersedes the magnitude of the human's discomfort (prolonged hunger), so I'd rank such killing as worse & would tell the human to just wait the extra 24 hours until a veg meal surfaces.

      You're still framing ethical questions in terms of "right vs. wrong" even after I brought up scalar consequentialism as my baseline; evaluating dilemmas on a "better" to "worse" spectrum in place of the traditional binary.

      If you're looking for some sort of non-consequentialist verdict from me on the question of animal "slaughter" (by which I assume you meant painless killing, as that would follow from my initial reply), I can't offer you one, since there's no sense in applying non-consequentialism to non-human species. As mentioned in my first reply, I evaluate the interests of animals through ethical hedonism (qualia only), and that's a teleological view. With humans capable of forming preferences/dispreferences, I think preferentism is the way to go. So that's that.

      "p.s. Is this really the antibullshitman from YouTube?"

      Yeps. Isn't it obvious? I've had this blog for over five & a half years and have plugged it numerous times in YT vids.

      I don't recall any Teds from YT, so if you know me from there, what's your YT channel? Or were you a lurker?

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    6. What's the difference between a preference and what you refer to as a dispreference? Under preference utilitarianism, desires and preferences are understood to be the same thing.

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    7. It's the upshot of the same contrast between harms & benefits as classically understood. Originally with Bentham, experiencing pleasure was the benefit and experiencing pain was the harm. Under prerefentism, the fulfillment of an individual's idiosyncratic preference is what constitutes a benefit while the violation of an individual's idiosyncratic dispreference is what constitutes a harm. So fulfilled global preferences result in the individual's life having gone well and can be dubbed beyond neutral on the whole. Failure to avoid global dispreferences means the individual's life hasn't gone well and can be dubbed below neutral on the whole.

      I've always tried to avoid using desire utilitarianism because the word has a strong connotation to crude needs or "DNA induced drives" which are indistinguishable from animalistic ones. Such is not what preferentism aims to safeguard when establishing human interests... unless we're talking about the minority of humans who do see their interests as 100% interwoven with plain experiential states.

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  3. I will need some freetime to reasonably digest your tangents, time to process everything ,more time to understand whether I agree with your hypotheticals, support things I agree & critique what I don't. I probably agree with your moral dilemmas. I really think American culture has been sanitized of nearly all moral dilemma issues usually presented in industrialized countries' popular entertainment venues, and systematically desensitized to injuring people or understanding relationships to consequences whatsoever. Wow. You really thought this out thoroughly! lolz

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    1. Thanks for the feedback.

      Yeah unfortunately much of this stuff isn't exactly, shall I say, easy reading (unless the reader is habituated to it) the way your average political or "current events" based blog is. It can be dry, but I try my best to make it a bit snarky around the edges, thus consumable to the reader who exhibits just enough interest to click the post, but not enough interest to plow through the articles I usually hyperlink as my references: Like with particularism:

      http://www.iep.utm.edu/morlpat/

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-particularism/

      I enjoyed the hell outta both articles, top to bottom, but I often find with people who are under the impression that they're interested in roughly the same, just end up yawning a few minutes into the article.

      Let me know if you have any questions I might answer so to assist with the "processing" as you put it.

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  4. ILoveTheAntiBullshitMan!!!!October 14, 2015 at 4:04 PM

    I think... I think I love you

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  5. I just saw this comment on a Inmendham video. Is what this guy saying true or is it horse shit?

    "Ironic ABM is commenting on abuse. I've hung out with him in person here in Vancouver and he scared me a number of times with his aggressive outbursts. He is also ignorant and bigoted against sex workers and trans persons. I'll be making a video about this in the near future to expose him."

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    1. The pissant you quote from plays the reliable bigot card anytime an argument starts slipping away from him. Said card doesn't work with me, which frustrates him, so now he feels the need to make it public. It's really just him trying to inject some drama in his otherwise empty life.

      "he scared me a number of times with his aggressive outbursts"

      That's because in church boy's la-la land, arguing in a spirited manner = aggressive outbursts. (though I doubt he believes his own phrasing, considering his willingness to overlook it when it comes to Inmendham... the guy who has the actual impulsively aggressive outbursts)

      I merely raise my voice when someone tries to cut me off mid sentence. Aside from HeroinChickenshit, I've never once scared anyone with my enthusiasm and intolerance for interruptions.

      Now, since you infested this thread with churchy's false accusations, I'll just paste my clarifications to someone who replied to him in the original thread:

      AntiBullshitMan 1 second ago
      +machida58 "How is he ignorant and bigoted against sex workers?"

      Because I endorse the very same pro-legalization policies favored by the majority of individuals who are involved in the sex industry. Clearly, I must be stopped.

      See, unequivocally backing the full-scale legalization of sex-work is just not enough for the overgrown man-child you're replying to. To have his ultra PC sensibilities decipher you as anything other than a bigot, you must also hold yourself to a strict non-judgmentalism in how you approach the issue from a non-policy standpoint, because lord knows that prostitutes who go on to regret their involvement in the industry is one of those inconvenient realities that oughtn't be discussed, ever. "You're killin' my buzz" and all that.

      Same with trans folk: I've had the same argument with him for a couple of years now, and he's hell bent on conflating criticisms of trans theory with cis bigotry(!) against trans people. This spurious move is meant to leave gender constructivists playing defense by definition and I simply refuse to accept the set-up. Our dispute on this is nothing new. We've been having it since we first met back in 2012. He chose to make it public now because he's bored with his life and feels the need to stir shit up. It's the same reason he tried to tone police me in my own apartment; to stir up trouble where none exists.

      HC is a colossal pseudo-intellectual, a well-known drama-queen, and the go-to example of what's wrong with the hypersensitive, identity politics obsessed crowd.

      I'd like to see him try to expose me, because he's the one vulnerable to exposure and I'm the one who has the actual dirt on him. One wrong move from him... one sloppy paraphrase of my arguments... and the gloves will be off on my end.

      And I love how I'm the baddie here, while the guy who ties himself in knots trying to deny infant pain gets a thumbs up from him simply in an attempt to spite me. Hilarious.

      http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/21/babies-feel-pain-like-adults-mri-scan-study-suggests
      Show less

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    2. I can't believe I almost fell for his drivel. Thanks for clearing that up. Now if you could just explain why you are liking videos that most people would consider to be racist.

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    3. Those videos being...?

      If you're referring to The Merchant Minute playlist on my main channel, not much to explain there. I've always enjoyed ethnic humor when delivered in its caricaturist and impressionist tenors. Pretty sure "most people" are able to distinguish between racial prejudice and ethnic humor. If not, that's a sad state of affairs.

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    4. You lying piece of shit. You're a fucking racist who got caught and now you're trying to make excuses.

      Peace out shithead.

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    5. Yeah I got caught by my own decision to create a playlist, displayed publically on my channel, consisting of blatant caricaturist videos that even blockheads who find unedited Tom&Jerry cartoons racist wouldn't get pissy over.

      Go spread some hashtags on twitter or something.

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  6. Hi, I've just seriously started to delve into normative ethics, and I'm getting tripped up by pesky nuances. I remember you posting a YT comment about how someone likely would handle a mentally impaired person shouting nigger differently than a person of full mental capacity. Is this an explicit example of moral particularism, or would this go into account regarding most ethical systems?

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    1. I don't recall ever using that as an example of particularism. It's inadequate because racial slurs uttered by mentally unimpaired people aren't morally problematic by default. They can be perfectly in line with particularism and with most isolated ethical systems covered by Principlism/Generalism. This is because no (irreligious, non-hedonic) system of ethics prescribes placing restrictions on utterances of any slur, even when some slurs are deemed unacceptable by hypersensitive folk who need to watch a Carlin bit on taboo words.

      Particularism is just the concession that no one single ethical system (fertilized by first principles) is fit to resolve every fathomable moral dilemma, or even every straightforward day-to-day case.

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    2. Thank you for your reply. I also respect that you responded to me in such an analytic calm manner, as I was embarrassed as soon as I posted the comment noting it was a bad example. But could you perhaps give me another example? Maybe I'm completely missing the mark here but i've read your link to moral-particularism from the stanford encyclopedia all the way through and am still confused. bizarre circumstances occur all the time.

      Perhaps a boat crashes but only has a certain carrying capacity on the safety rafts that can't carry all passengers on the boat. If you don't go with the children and woman first rule of thumb, or better yet no women or children occupy the boat that seems like a time when generalism wouldn't be applicable(?)

      Or maybe regarding the red button vs immortality pill preference? For example I agree with you that if immortality pills were available that people should be able to take them if such is their preference, but if I had both immortality pills and a red button at my disposal would I really comb out who wants a pill and who doesn't with all the suffering that would occur in that time frame? Probably not.

      I guess what I'm asking is their such thing as a soft-generalist? Because it seems to me that peculiar situations are bound to happen to some degree. Or am I just conflating particularism with odd circumstance?

      Thank you in advance. Also I very much enjoy your blog as a newer reader. I don't have much of a budget to buy books at the moment and it's quite resourceful.

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  7. Damn... you've read the entire SEP article and you're still unclear? Really?!

    Try the IEP one: http://www.iep.utm.edu/morlpat/

    You don't need more examples from me, you just need a good ol' reductionist overview:

    When I think of ethics-as-principles, what springs to mind immediately is moral absolutism in the form of Kantian ethics. A Principlist/Generalist who subscribes to deontological axiology tends to go on about the wisdom behind propositions like "The ends don't justify the means". The particularist looks at the same statement and asks: What exactly are the ends and what exactly are the means?

    Generically, let's say the means/ends dynamic revolves around harm reduction (the ends) achieved through promise-breaking (the means). So then, reducing normative ethics to first principles leaves little room for hybrid theories; ones where promise-breaking would be encouraged should the broken promise advertently lead to an avoidance of severe suffering, but not mild discomforts.

    On the other hand, if you go with plain consequentialism, there'd be no compartmentalization between severe suffering and numerous mild discomforts. Both would fall under one class of negative consequence (harm). It's only the particularist (or a dual consequentialist) who can manage some leeway here. No such leeway for strict plain consequentialists or deontological absolutists.

    Another problem with Principlism/Generalism is the whole "What are moral properties reducible to; natural or non-natural properties?" debate. The metaethical naturalist is inclined to think that inconsequential promise-breaking is 100% morally benign, so long as it remains truly inconsequential in the long haul. To the naturalist, the only thing makes promise-breaking anything other than morally benign is its negatively impacting that which can ultimately be reduced to a natural property.

    The standard Kantian is a metaethical non-naturalist and thinks goodness/badness aren't reducible to natural properties (i.e. not reducible to preferences/dispreferences, or pleasures/pains). Same with rightness/wrongness, never reducible to the natural. So, to follow-through, such an ethicist will hold that it just doesn't matter how much harm is guaranteed to averted through promise-breaking... in the end, breaking a promise is still seen as immoral, and is to be discouraged.

    The other big one for Kantians is: As long as an individual human will be used as a means to a given end, such a means/ends package-deal is impermissible, no exceptions. Moral daftness 101, and the non-naturalistic principle of the matter only reinforces it.

    I'd say a "soft generalist" is just a particularist. Moral principles must remain invariable if we are to avoid terminological black holes. When compromised out of other (usually pragmatic) concerns, they're not really principles anymore, by definition. Thus the moral calculus is more of a "bottom-up" deliberation than a "top-down" one.

    "I also respect that you responded to me in such an analytic calm manner"

    But I'm always analytic & calm & nice & all that good stuff. Always, except when I'm on YouTube. Then I'm a monster.

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  8. Clearly World B is the one that should occur, if World A is the only alternative. I have no idea why anyone would waste their time arguing differently. Your moral positions are so bizarre and aberrant that I find it hard to just relate at any level to what you write.

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    1. You think World B should occur? That's the one where the two-six crushes the passerby's skull and lands him in the intensive care unit. In World A, the two-six simply falls into a dumpster and harms no one. I'm going to assume that you wrote 'B' due to a typo or a misreading of what went on in the two worlds being compared. The entire point was to explain why 'A' should occur when 'B' is the lone counterfactual; something traditionalists in ethics (esp. deontologists) would contest, given their 'commonsense' view that normative properties cannot depend on actual consequences but rather on praiseworthiness (over blameworthiness). With my example, World A does in fact contain less praiseworthiness than World B, despite being far more axiologically fortunate than B, and thus normatively superior to B.

      Now, if there was no typo, and assuming you didn't misread anything, let me address this:

      "I have no idea why anyone would waste their time arguing different"

      Because World B contains the actual negative (a severe one) with all else being equal, and sensible ethical judgments are intended to first & foremost guard against identifiable negatives. Scrutiny of moral agents often coincides with this, but when it doesn't (due to moral luck/inadvertent consequences), such scrutiny becomes background decoration.

      "Your moral positions are so bizarre and aberrant"

      This is rich considering you (1) misread the comparison, or (2) didn't misread it and actually believe that B should occur, intensive care unit & all. Nothing bizarre about saying A should occur.

      "I find it hard to just relate at any level to what you write"

      I'll condense it further, then: It makes no sense to demarcate morality & axiology. This means; the more morally fortunate world is the better world. The less morally fortunate world is the worse world. A is better than B. Rights theorists, virtue ethicists, deontologists and numerous other proponents of Commonsense Morality would have you believe that whenever blind 'Moral Luck' improves an outcome, the moral state of affairs remains unchanged. I'm saying the most important moral features are ones that shed light on how fortunate or unfortunate the impact on moral patients is, irrespective of how praiseworthy or blameworthy people happen to have been in the intervening time.

      The importance of praising & blaming moral agents is limited to motivational concerns; a sort of moral know-how. These need to be understood as pragmatic, non-normative features of ethics.

      This shouldn't be controversial, especially for fellow determinists... people who understand that a sentient being's hardship stemming from Natural Law is ultimately indistinguishable from hardship resulting from a human brain's decision to hurt another sentient being.

      I can see how this modernist account of ethics might strike metaphysical libertarians as bizarre, but you?

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  9. "I'm going to assume that you wrote 'B' due to a typo or a misreading of what went on in the two worlds being compared."

    No, I did not make a typo or misread. I have read the world A and world B descriptions carefully. To me it seems clearly evident that world B is preferable.


    "The entire point was to explain why 'A' should occur when 'B' is the lone counterfactual; something traditionalists in ethics (esp. deontologists) would contest, given their 'commonsense' view that normative properties cannot depend on actual consequences but rather on praiseworthiness (over blameworthiness)."

    I think that as determinists we both agree that blameworthiness is a completely and absolutely useless standard. The actions of TomA and TomB are both the result of cause and effect, not of any responsibility to which we can attribute blame.

    "Because World B contains the actual negative (a severe one) with all else being equal, and sensible ethical judgments are intended to first & foremost guard against identifiable negatives."

    But all else is clearly not equal. TomA is clearly a sociopath, while TomB is clearly not. Obviously I would rather live in a world with one less sociopath than a world with one more sociopath, even if that means someone is the victim of a freak, unpredictable accident. The better world would be the one without a sociopath and without the freak accident, but that wouldn't be much of a discussion at all.

    "This is rich considering you (1) misread the comparison, or (2) didn't misread it and actually believe that B should occur, intensive care unit & all. Nothing bizarre about saying A should occur. "

    It is bizarre to think that B should occur, if we consider it in isolation, yes. But we are presented with a scenario where either A or B must occur. In that scenario, I would think it far more bizarre to say that yes, a complete sociopath who is so unconcerned with others' welfare that they chuck a fifth out the window of a 20 story building, should exist.


    "This means; the more morally fortunate world is the better world. The less morally fortunate world is the worse world. A is better than B. Rights theorists, virtue ethicists, deontologists and numerous other proponents of Commonsense Morality would have you believe that whenever blind 'Moral Luck' improves an outcome, the moral state of affairs remains unchanged. I'm saying the most important moral features are ones that shed light on how fortunate or unfortunate the impact on moral patients is, irrespective of how praiseworthy or blameworthy people happen to have been in the intervening time."

    While I am no consequentialist, and in practice we don't know what the outcomes will be and as such will never be confronted with an A-or-B scenario, I do agree that, with the sort of perfect knowledge you've presented, outcome does make a difference. Obviously I would rather no one get brain damage than to have someone get brain damage. If the scenario was set as being between no brain damage or brain damage, it would be obvious that A is the better outcome.

    "This shouldn't be controversial, especially for fellow determinists... people who understand that a sentient being's hardship stemming from Natural Law is ultimately indistinguishable from hardship resulting from a human brain's decision to hurt another sentient being."

    Yes, of course I agree that blame has no place in the evaluation here. I am a determinist, as you say. However, that does not mean I necessarily think that from a moral standpoint all suffering is equal. Either way, I am not sure how this applies to the scenario, since there's only one observed instance of suffering (the passerby in B).

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    1. I've studied sociopaths and even befriended three of them back in the 2000s. I can safely say that they're not blatantly reckless with others like TomA is in this hypothetical. Nothing stops a sociopath from understanding that harming others directly can get them into legal trouble. That should settle the first inferential dispute here. But more importantly:

      "But all else is clearly not equal. TomA is clearly a sociopath, while TomB is clearly not. Obviously I would rather live in a world with one less sociopath than a world with one more sociopath, even if that means someone is the victim of a freak, unpredictable accident."

      Guess I should've made it more clear that Tom is no sociopath. I figured there was enough of a hint in there, what with "Impulsiveness has a way of getting the better of him whenever he’s agitated. Blowing off steam is all he cares for at the moment". This is textbook escapism, not to be confused for a sadistic yearning to inflict harm on others. I threw in the booze factor for good measure, which can result in an extreme lapse of judgment from otherwise decent people (if your anecdotal observations are anything like mine). Regular folk have these lapses frequently, and it's circumstantial, not genetic. With sociopaths, it's built-in and permanent.

      So at best you can say that TomA is worse because he has some measure of recklessness to him, while TomB as far as we know does not. How is the differential sufficient enough to tolerate the crushed skull in B as a package-deal?

      This gets into temporary amorality vs. full-time immorality. If you intermingle the two, the overwhelming majority of people qualify as sociopaths. Natalism similarly leads to recklessness with other people's welfare, but the average natalist is not a sociopath. The average natalist is just reckless on one topic, mostly due to a lack of exposure to arguments zeroing in on procreative worst-case-scenarios. So picking B is like saying a world with one less would-be procreator is worth the guaranteed crushed skull. I'd much rather have a natal do-over than experience the two-six colliding with my cranium. I doubt I'm alone on this.

      "However, that does not mean I necessarily think that from a moral standpoint all suffering is equal"

      It's not equal when we have (1) dissimilar pain thresholds in victims, and (2) consenting vs. non-consenting sufferers. Like letting two UFC fighters go at it enthusiastically, versus forcing two slaves to go at it coercively. Quite the difference.

      These two caveats aside, suffering is best thought of as equal. Hence 'equal-concern' as the template for modern ethics. The only remaining objections are levied by proponents of ethical egoism or agent-relative theories. They take issue with the mere notion of impartiality in ethics. I 100% endorse impartiality, all else being equal.

      "I am not sure how this applies to the scenario, since there's only one observed instance of suffering (the passerby in B)."

      It applies because people are blameworthy or praiseworthy based on how their actions line up in accordance to foreseeable consequences, not actual consequences. So actual harm isn't necessary for reasonable blame to take effect, though it often overlaps with it. Actual harms/benefits are in the business of 'shouldness' while foreseeable goodness/badness is in the business of motivation.

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