Mitchell’s Opening Statement: http://fontwords.com/2012/03/23/by-what-standard-opening-statement-debate-with-john-fensel
The question “how is morally justified?” takes any proposed theory, such as Mitchell’s Christianity and my secular rationalism, and derives the conclusion (morality is justified) to the individual premises that justify it. This debate is focused on asking “who has a better foundation for morality?”, so to answer this question I am going to derive the necessary premises for each of us to come to our conclusion “morality is justified”.
First, answering the question “what is morality in the first place?” is not as straightforward as it may seem. Once both Mitchell and my arguments are analyzed, I believe it’ll show that we both have very different ideas of what morality is. In philosophical terms, we both have very different ideas of what the necessary conditions for morality to exist are.
Mitchell’s Christian philosophy is well outlined in his opening statement, and I like the phrase he used, “covenant model”, to describe his position. The covenant model asks five questions that must be answered in order to understand morality. Notably, I wish to focus on these three questions: “Who is in charge here?”, “What are the rules?”, and “What do I get if I obey (or disobey)”?
In Mitchell’s Christian philosophy, the answer to “Who is in charge here?” is obviously God. This answer further describes the answers to “What are the rules?”-since God is in charge, the rules are God’s rules.
The problem for morality is such: why should I, a free agent, choose to accept God’s rules? There are necessarily, by the law of the excluded middle, only two options: I have a separate, justificatory reason for accepting God’s rules, or I do not have a separate, justificatory reason for accepting God’s rules.
If I have a separate, justificatory reason for accepting God’s rules, then morality is justified by something other than God’s rules. Meaning, I don’t have to accept God’s rules because they are the rules of the being in charge, but I should accept God’s rules for “X” reason. “X” could be that it helps me out, it helps humanity out, etc. But, if it is any of these possible reasons, than the justification for morality is not in God, it is in the justificatory reason.
The above solution would be unacceptable to a Christian like Mitchell, so I’ll leave it at that (if Mitchell ends up liking the above solution, I will go into greater detail about why it doesn’t work).
So the option Mitchell is left with is that we have no separate, justificatory reason for accepting God’s rules. Meaning, Mitchell is committed to claiming that we must follow God regardless of whether or not his rules are justified by an independent, third party criterion.
There are two unsolvable problems with this claim. First, if I am the sort of being that does not already accept that “I should follow God’s rules”, then I cannot be compelled to “follow God’s rules”. The problem with self-justifying claims (morality is following God’s rules, God’s rules simply should be followed regardless of what they are because he is God), is that they are dependent on you already accepting them in order to be compelling. Imagine that I am a hardline egoist, meaning I only accept “this action benefits me” as a compelling reason for action. If the two rules “only do actions that benefit me” and “follow God’s rules” demand conflicting decisions for a given action, then I will, as a hardline egoist, choose the action that follows the “only do actions that benefit me” rule.
So long as I am a free agent, I can autonomously choose whether “only do actions that benefit me” or “follow God’s rules” are compelling reasons for action. If I choose the former, there is no possible way for a Christian, like Mitchell, to compel me to “follow God’s rules” without alluding to an independent criterion that I already accept.
The second problem with having no justificatory reason for following God is that, if the rule “follow God” was compelling simply in and of itself, then it would justify literally anything God commands. In the Biblical understanding of God, this might seem acceptable to some (though I would disagree). However, even if we agree that the Biblical God is a decent ruler, his status as “God” cannot be sufficient to compel me to follow. To prove this, imagine an alternate universe where the supreme being “Bizarro God” has the same morally neutral factors as the Biblical God: he is omniscient, omnipotent, created everything, and demands being followed. However, the difference is that Bizarro God demands that people do seemingly horrible things: kill 90% of their infants as sacrifices, torture people on a daily basis, etc. The question is: are people in this universe sufficiently compelled to follow Bizarro God because of his morally neutral “God” status?
The answer is clearly: no, they should not follow Bizarro God’s commandments. But why? If anything morally neutral about the Biblical God is sufficient to compel us to follow him, then it would likewise be compelling for the alternate universe to follow Bizarro God. If Mitchell is to maintain that we are compelled to follow the Biblical God but are not compelled to follow Bizarro God, then he must allude to a necessary condition for morality that the Biblical God has but Bizarro God does not.
This necessary condition must be that we consider Biblical God’s commandments to be good, but Bizarro God’s commandments to be bad (as this is the only difference between the two). However, this runs into the same problem as earlier: if God must command only good commandments to be sufficient for us to follow him, then we are ultimately only following the rule “do good things”, where “good” is defined by something other than “whatever God commands”.
The commonly proposed solution that Christians offer to the above problem is that the “good” that we allude to is an intrinsic part of God in some way. So our God cannot command a bad law, because “good” is simply part of God. This, however, runs into the exact same problem: God’s nature is “good” by what standard? If it is by a third party standard, then we run into the same problems. If there is no third party standard, then the concept of “good” is circular and provides nothing. What God commands is good, and what is good is simply what God commands. This logic could also apply to Bizarro God: what Bizarro God commands is good, and what is good is whatever Bizarro God commands. The only way to avoid this unacceptable conclusion is to provide an independent criterion, outside of God, of what is good-and Mitchell would not be willing to do that.
Here’s where Christian morality is left: God’s morally neutral status as God (encompassing factors such as omniscience, omnipotence, creating things, etc.) is both necessary and sufficient to justify morality. Morality is simply following whatever God commands, and you don’t need a reason to follow God because his status as God is already sufficient to compel you to follow him. The problem is, as I showed, if these morally neutral factors are both sufficient and necessary to justify morality, then Bizarro God’s commandments are also morally compelling.
Now I want to transition to how I think morality can be justified. To do this, consider the standard argument for ethical egoism:
1. People only value themselves when they are acting.
2. There is no way to compel people to act in a way contrary to what they value. (Ie there is no way for people to be obligated against what they value)
3. People are only obligated to act in self interest.
Premise 1 is psychological egoism (a claim about the way things are, not the way things should be). Premise 2 is strongly dependent on the “inferring an ought from an is” challenge.
Conclusion 3 is ethical egoism (a claim that people should only act egoistically).
The argument is logically valid, in that if people accept both premises 1 and 2, they have to accept Conclusion 3.
To refute the conclusion, we have to reject one of the premises. The “inferring an ought from an is” challenge in Premise 2 is hard to refute, though many have tried. Basically, the challenge asks: how do we derive a normative claim “you should do x” from a factual, descriptive claim “x promotes y”?
I think the only route to solve this problem necessarily lies in our own personal values. Meaning, to infer a normative claim at all, we need to ask: what are the sources of normativity? (Sources of Normativity happens to be the title of a great work by Christine Korsgaard, from whom I derive a lot of my arguments)
As Korsgaard argues, we derive every normative conception from the fact that we are reflective beings. Since we are reflective, we are capable of looking at desires and evaluating which are good reasons for actions and which are not. Meaning, if I naturally have a desire to eat healthy and naturally have a desire to eat a bunch of donuts, I can reflectively evaluate each desire and decide which desire should lead me to action. To be able to do this process, however, I must find value in something. I cannot choose one desire over another without valuing something, unless I am committed to have no reasons for actions. If I am committed to having reasons for my actions, then I must find value in something.
Since I must value something, I am obligated to adhere to those values if I am to maintain my reasons for action. In this way, we can solve the “ought from an is” distinction. However, this does not refute Premise 2 of the above argument. In fact, it supports the truth of Premise 2. Where disagreement could eventually lie is in Premise 1, or the claim of psychological egoism.
So here’s where my secular rationalism is left, and where I do not yet have a complete understanding of how to proceed. We are left with two potential choices, one where morality is justified, and one where it is not:
1. People are naturally egoistic (psychological egoism). Morality cannot be justified in any real sense.
2. People are not naturally egoistic, and they value other people in this actions. This value ultimately justifies morality.
I have an attempt to justify 2 over 1, but it is complicated and I need time to work out all the kinks before I put it forth. For the purpose of this debate, all I want is for this claim to be accepted:
If people are not naturally egoistic, then we can justify morality. This justification necessarily lies in our reflective values. It cannot lie in values of any other beings, since I am free, I can choose my own value system over any other value system. This includes God’s value system, and thus God cannot be used to refute the egoist’s challenge.
Where we are left:
The covenant model, proposed by Mitchell, cannot compel me to act against my own self-interest and follow God. The only possible way to compel me to follow God is through the covenant’s question ”What do I get if I obey (or disobey)”? If God punishes disobedience and rewards obedience, then the egoist’s rule “do what is in my best interest” can be satisfied by obeying God. If this is the case, then the covenant model defines morality simply in terms of self interest. Morality, under this understanding, is a meaningless concept-we act the way that is best for ourselves, and God’s commandments play a role in what is in our best interest because of heaven/hell/punishments/rewards.
The rationalistic model can potentially compel me to act against my own self-interest. If successful, then morality requires people to value others for their own sake, which I believe is necessary for morality to have any meaning.
I’m going to be doing a debate with my friend Mitchell on how morality can be justified. Basically, I’m arguing that morality can be justified through religiously neutral reasoning, while he is arguing for theistic morality. The rules for the debate are listed on his blog: “http://fontwords.com/2012/03/16/by-what-standard-a-proposed-debate-with-john-fensel“.
Ultimately this will end up in a 10,000 word debate that we’ll both post once completed on our respective blogs.
I think this debate is best framed as “how is morality justified?”. The best way to approach this question is from a logical standpoint, where we look at what should be necessary for morality, and what would be sufficient.
Potentially necessary conditions for morality:
-The negative condition of egoism (meaning egoism is not true). This is a practical rather than a normative claim, meaning I am arguing that “people are not naturally egoistic” is necessary for morality. If people are naturally egoistic, and we only value ourselves in our actions, then morality cannot exist. If people are not naturally egoistic, then morality potentially exists.
-If you wish to make the claim “God is a necessary condition for morality” (meaning morality doesn’t exist without God), then you need a necessary condition for morality that God has that could not be achieved without God. I argue that there is no such condition.
Potentially sufficient conditions for morality:
-This is where I will openly admit to not having a complete argument. I think the question “is morality justified?” is still unanswered, and I have only an incomplete attempt so far. But, I will introduce what I have. The goal to justify morality is to show that people naturally obligate themselves to “not egoism”. If I can successfully show that people cannot truly choose “egoism”, and I can show that people become obligated by their own practical identities (as Korsgaard aims to do), then I argue morality is justified. So there are two conditions that would be jointly sufficient to justify morality:
1. People naturally have the practical identity “not egoism”.
2. People are obligated by their practical identities.
-I contend that, if the above argument is ultimately unsuccessful, nothing would be sufficient for a justified morality. This argument has a few claims: first, notably, is that individual people are the ultimate judge of what they do or do not do. This means that, when two value systems (the rough approximation of what people value) are conflicting, an individual is justified in choosing his/her own over any other. I think this truth is a logical necessity-one cannot prefer one system over another without a third, separate value system to compare the two-and the same problem exists for comparing the first and third, and so on (til infinite regress).
From the above, I note that any concept of “should”, brought about completely, by an outside perspective, is lost.
Finally, I contend that it can be proven that there are no such conditions that God has that would be sufficient to justify morality.
Ron Paul is a surprisingly popular candidate, whose followers generally claim things like “the media is ignoring Ron Paul”, “Paul is the only one who can save our government”, etc. The point being, his followers are pretty devoted and adamant about their position. I will note that Paul gets less coverage on average than less qualified candidates (like Newt Gingrich), so they are right in that sense. But, what I want to address is the idea that Ron Paul and his ideology are a solution to our government’s problems.
First, I want to point out Ron Paul’s ridiculously low success rate at pushing bills through Congress (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ron-pauls-house-record-stands-out-for-its-futility-and-tenacity/2011/12/23/gIQA5ioVJP_story.html). If you’re a voter looking for someone to lead and achieve success through compromise, Ron Paul isn’t the guy.
But, it would be illogical to claim “Ron Paul is wrong” because of that. It could be the case that Paul is right on the issues, and the rest of Congress is corrupt. So, to discuss this idea, I first want to go over a couple of his ideas:
First, Paul has some ideas I agree with. Ending the war on drugs, for one, would do the country a lot of good. Severely downsizing our military, and having a lot less military presence in the world, would also be good for the country (though I do not take it to the extreme that Paul would likely prefer).
What I want to focus on are two of Ron Paul’s goals that would be disastrous for the country- stopping the government from providing or regulating healthcare, and abolishing the income tax.
A. Keep government out of healthcare
To note, Paul on his campaign site does say “Guarantee that what is taken from taxpayers to pay for Medicare and Medicaid is not raided for other purposes.” This implies that he is okay with the continuation with Medicare and Medicaid, which is contrary to libertarian positions (I would ask, however, if Paul truly wants to keep them or if he knows that voters are strongly in favor of those programs). What he is clearly against, however, is government mandating that you have insurance (Affordable Care Act) and a publicly funded healthcare system (real universal healthcare). To disprove these ideas, we have to look at the central problem with having uninsured patients:
Imagine a United States citizen is in need of life-saving surgery, and would die without it. This citizen does not have insurance and does not have money to pay the surgeon.
Do we (the collective American taxpayer):
1. Let the patient die.
2. Pay for the surgery with tax money.
3. Mandate health insurance/create universal healthcare so the situation won’t happen in the first place
The situation was brought up by Wolf Blitzer in a debate last year, in which the audience cheered to the idea of “let the patient die”. Paul’s answer, effectively, is the same: let ourselves take care of our own health, and if we can’t afford it, either we don’t get the surgery or it is up to private institutions (like the church) to foot the bill. But, unless you think that churches and other charities can support 100% of all uninsured people, there are going to be cases where “let the church help” is not a solution.
In those cases, what do you think we should do? If you answer #1, then you agree with Paul. However, I strongly doubt that even a significant minority of people would agree with answer #1. It’s anti-compassion, anti-Christian, anti-morality. The reason that a significant minority/potential majority of people effectively answer #1 is because it has become acceptable in politics to not address a question. However, by not answering the question, you effectively agree with “do nothing”. As far as I know, Paul is the only Republican candidate so far that has been willing to address the question and been honest about what his policy would entail.
So why would anyone want to prefer #1 to 2 or 3? Paul’s argument for it is dependent on you accepting the libertarian philosophy of the purpose of government (which I’ll get into at the end of this post).
B. Abolishing the income tax.
Paul notes in his section on the economy that we should be “ Eliminating the income, capital gains, and death taxes to ensure you keep more of your hard-earned money and are able to pass on your legacy to your family without government interference.”
It goes without saying that in order to abolish the income/capital gains tax, we would need to cut almost all federal spending. Look at the distribution of government income here: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/background/numbers/revenue.cfm (I’m assuming that Paul does not want to get rid of the payroll tax as he does not explicitly say he would, though it might be an end goal of his to eliminate all federal income). If Paul was successful in eliminating these taxes, more than half of government income would be gone. Even worse, what is left (payroll taxes) funds Social Security, another program that libertarians would want to get rid of, but would be political suicide to endorse.
Basically, Ron Paul would be left with two choices (if he was successful in eliminating those taxes): either severely weaken Social Security by taking from its funds, or let all other federal government programs collapse. Both of these are clearly unacceptable to a non-libertarian: society needs Social Security, and eliminating programs such as federal student aid, crisis relief, etc. would have disastrous effects.
(Clarifying note: Paul considers a flat tax as preferable to our current system, which would be obviously regressive but not as disastrous as having no federal income. However, Paul explicitly states that he would most want “ Restraining federal spending by enforcing the Constitution’s strict limits on the federal government’s power would help result in a 0% income tax rate for Americans.”)
So, why should the government only operate as an institution of minimal defense? If we are capable of affording certain programs, like universal healthcare and financial aid for students, then why shouldn’t we as they clearly provide huge benefits to struggling people?
The answer that Ron Paul would give, as he would for the healthcare debate, is that it is not the government’s role or purpose to provide those things.
Ron Paul’s positions ultimately come down to the validity of the libertarian argument for the purpose of government. I don’t think he would disagree with that statement either: his campaign seems to be more about promoting his ideology than trying to get elected.
So, to clarify, a purpose of government is an explanation of why government exists. Basically, why do we allow ourselves to be subject under this entity that can restrict and punish our decisions? When discussing this, a lot of philosophers from various ideologies use the concept of a social contract, where we all collectively gather together to agree upon the need for government. Most philosophers think this is purely hypothetical, as more of a “what would we do if we did have to actually make the contract” idea, where the purpose of government is dependent on the philosopher (Rawls justifies government with the idea of justice and concludes on social liberalism; Locke justifies government with the ideas of life, liberty and property and concludes on libertarianism; Hobbes justifies government by being scared of everybody and concludes on absolutism).
So the question becomes: what should be the purpose of government? For the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on Locke’s idea that the focus should be on life, liberty, and property. This means that the state of libertarian government that guarantees these three things is preferable to a state of no government.
So, why is this preferable? I’ll go through each value one at a time. First, the focus on life. This is pretty uncontroversial-securing the right to life is important for government to do, and this requires some government in the forms of public security (police) and a judicial system of sorts. Social liberals and libertarians can both agree that government should protect people’s lives, so the differentiating claim between social liberals and libertarians isn’t here.
Next, the focus on liberty. In the simplest sense, this means that the government should allow its people to have the most rights compatible with each other as possible. In theory, both social liberals and libertarians agree on this.
Here’s the difference, where libertarians get it wrong: libertarians largely focus on the idea that rights involve negative duties (defined as negative rights). Negative rights are rights that other people not do something to you: like the right not to be killed, not to be harmed, etc. This contrasts with positive rights, which are rights that other people do something to/for you, such as: the right to healthcare, right to food, etc. Libertarians argue that government should protect negative rights, but it’s not meant to promote positive rights.
The problem, as noted by Henry Shue, is that there is no legitimate concept of truly negative rights. Even the most basic (right not to be killed) necessarily entail positive duties of others. After all, do you really have a right not to be killed if there is no protection or judicial system that punishes murderers? In order for you to actually enjoy the right not to be killed, you need others to contribute through taxes to a government that can enforce these rights.
What’s left, as Shue argues, is only “mixed rights” that entail both positive and negative duties. If the government is supposed to truly promote liberty, why only promote some liberties and not others?
This leads to the next part, the focus on property. When it comes down to it, the focus on property is what most distinguishes libertarianism from other ideologies. As Shue showed, however, a right to property is not a negative right. You do not truly have a right to your property if there is no one else to protect your possessions and no reparations for those who steal from you. You need positive contributions from others to support a system that protects your rights.
Further, the idea that property should be focused on is inherently illogical. After all, why is property valuable? Physical items are in all cases only instrumentally valuable. An artificial heart is only valuable because it can save a life, the life itself is what is intrinsically valuable. So, what is the value that justifies the instrumental value of property? There are only two possible answers, both of which contradict the libertarians philosophy: quality of life (in the loosest sense) and liberty.
Quality of life involves concepts like being alive, health, happiness, and other intrinsic values other than liberty. If property is instrumentally valuable in bringing about those things, and government is ultimately justified by protecting property, then government would be justified in bringing about anything that brings about the positive intrinsic value. In simple terms, if government should protect property lives because it makes our lives better, then the government should do whatever it takes to makes our lives better (provided that there is no mitigating negative consequences).
If property derives its value because it is a liberty, then government should promote as many possible liberties as it can. This would include a right to healthcare, right to sustenance, etc. that a libertarian would reject. If liberty is the intrinsic value that is ultimately worthwhile, then it would be arbitrary to choose certain liberties but not others (as there is no further value that can weigh competing liberties against each other).
So what we’re left with: there is no justified reason to define property as the purpose of government. If a property right is valuable at all, and worth being supported by the government, then other rights such as healthcare would similarly be justified.
Final note: the real debate left would be-which rights are worth promoting, as every right is a mixed right that entails contributions/sacrifices from people? If the system to decide this is non-arbitrary, there must be a value that can weigh competing liberties against each other. The only possible value is the loose sense of “quality of life”, which would ultimately demand rights that the government promotes that would contradict libertarian claims.
What this ultimately means for Ron Paul: his positions are ultimately founded in an illogical purpose of government.
Why this is important: If Paul were successful in implementing his ideologies, we would have millions of people without healthcare again and millions of people would suddenly be without financial help that they desperately need. Students in college would be forced to drop their education, as there would be no federal loans that could help them pay for tuition. If we’re going to let a political philosophy justify eliminating these clearly beneficial programs, it had better be justified. And clearly, it is not.
Where this leaves us: Paul would be a terrible president because he would, without rational justification, harm the lives of millions of Americans in the name of the libertarian philosophy of government.
I’ve talked a bit before about the nature of reasoning, and I think it’s best described as the ability to link truths to other truths. A really simple example would be reasoning from the truth that “it is raining” to “it is not not raining”.
I’ve briefly talked about how this provides an initial problem-how do we come to our first truths? Here we have to introduce the concept of “a priori knowledge”, that we can know without experience and without needing other truths. There might be only one piece of a priori knowledge (I exist), or more, but it at least provides a starting point to derive other truths from.
Value, however, is a different matter entirely. I’ve seen a lot of debates about the idea of “objective value”. This, almost by definition, means nothing. If value isn’t from a subjective viewpoint, what is doing the valuing? Is anything valuable to an atom?
The very concept of value entails that there is some entity that judges something to be a positive thing, whether intrinsically or instrumentally. Think of it-if no life in the universe existed, would anything be truly valuable?
Here’s the problem: how can we reason from objective truths to subjective value? The simple answer: we can’t. The long answer: seriously, we can’t.
The disconnect between objective truth and subjective value is similar to the “you cannot infer an ought from an is” discussion. The ought from an is discussion is about morality, and it basically claims that you cannot infer a normative statement like “you should do x” from any objective statement such as “y is the case”. I feel this boils down to one idea: we are each the ultimate decider for our own actions and viewpoints. It isn’t possible for their to exist an objective value outside my own subjective value system that could override my own judgments.
The answer to both, I argue, lies in the possibility of subjective value systems that people do not actually choose for themselves. Basically, people already value certain things, and then we can infer what people are obligated to do from the things they already value. We can infer an ought from an is, because the is involves subjective value rather than objective facts.
To clarify, the reason we need certain values that we did not choose is that reason cannot provide us with a justification for value in and of itself. So, consider the idea that I should value humanitarian work. I cannot derive “I should value humanitarian work” from only “this is what humanitarian work is”. I need something along the lines of “I value x”, “humanitarian work promotes x”, therefore, “I should value humanitarian work”. You then can take the question back to “x”. Why should I value x? Either I have no reason to (and I just do value x), or there must be some value y where “I value y”, “x promotes y”, and therefore “I should value x”. If the latter option is correct, then do the process again, and you’ll eventually either reach a value that has no reasons for it, or start an infinite regress. Since an infinite regress is impossible, there must be some value we hold for no real reason if we are to have any values at all.
Christine Korsgaard goes into this idea, and argues that the fact that we act at all proves that we are obligated to value ourselves as an end. After all, if we didn’t value ourselves, why would we act to promote that value?
What I am ultimately hoping to prove is that we already, in fact, have the value that we should value others. As I mentioned in my last post, it is impossible to derive “value others/morality” from “I only value myself”. If morality is to exist at all, then there must be a “I value others” trait that we have and do not need nor have reason to choose.
Ethical egoism is the doctrine that in all cases, people should only do what benefits themselves. The effect on others, regardless of degree, is meaningless to you. In terms of this post, being an egoist means already accepting the premise that you are the only end worth pursuing. In logical terms I’ll call this a person having already accepted the premise “P”.
Morality, as I have argued for before, necessitates that people value others solely for their own sake. Meaning that to me, you have at least some level of value as an end in yourself (benefiting you is valuable for your sake, it is not dependent on how it affects me). Since this means that you cannot only value yourself as an end, it is the negative condition of P, or simply “not P”.
Now here’s the logical problem in trying to establish moral obligations for an ethical egoist (this is the standard case you have to look at if you’re trying to justify morality in general). Since egoists already accept the premise “P”, you have to find a way to argue from ”P” to “not P”. This is logically impossible. It’s exactly like trying to derive “its not raining” from the premise that “it is raining”. It’s just not going to work.
So we’re left with three possible options: morality is impossible to justify, morality does not in fact require “not P”, or egoists do not in fact already have the premise “P”.
(Long side note: there is the possibility of the “should” route. Meaning, an egoist may already have the premise P, but we can say egoists have moral obligations because they should have “not P”. I find this route has one of two undesirable conditions: either morality means nothing, or it asks to do something impossible. Egoists who already accept P have the rational value system of P, meaning that options and choices are considered using a value system that only values yourself. We can either say you have to change your value system, or that you don’t have to change and should just acknowledge the superiority of another value system [ie morality]. However, both options allude to a possibly “objective” third value system that can compare P and not P, which doesn’t exist [and even if it did, it would have the same problem. How do you prefer the third system to P? Do you need a fourth to compare the third and P? And so on until an infinite regress] Since this is impossible, morality then becomes an optional set of rules that people can or cannot follow based on a whim. The concept of “should” is entirely lost.)
I’ll go over each of the possible options to find its plausibility:
1. Morality is impossible to justify.
-This is a potential solution, though obviously we don’t like it. Human societies are obviously better if morality is justified, so we want there to be a justification for morality. Further, none of the commonly brought up reasons for the lack of morality are convincing. It’s obvious that if ethics do exist, humans have to be the ones to make it (ethics are not ingrained in physical laws, as there is no concept of “should” or obligation for physical objects). This makes a lot of people uncomfortable for similar reasons that people still hold onto the concept of an immaterial soul-factual, physical explanations never seem as convincing or “special” as immaterial, vague ones. This results in a lot of people thinking there has to be some objective, outside of humanity ethical rules in order to be justified. But, how would this be justified in any way? Higher powers (why does power allow people to make ethical rules)? Not being human (obviously not enough)? Higher ability to reason (then wouldn’t the reasoning be there to justify morality)?
I’ve gotten into a couple long-winded side notes, but I felt they were necessary. Basically where we’re at: there isn’t a compelling argument for egoism yet, but there is yet to be a convincing one for morality as well.
2. Morality does not require “not P”.
-I find this option easy to think, but it reduces morality to nothing. If I am not required to value others at all, then I will always act in an egoistical way. I will only act along the rules of morality if they happen to coincide with what is in my rational self interest. Meaning, I will only refrain from killing you is if it’s in my best interest not to kill you. However, this means morality says nothing more than “do what you want”. If this were the case, then morality truly means nothing. If this were all morality could be, then we fall back into option #1. In this case, humanity has to structure strict laws that punish harm, so that the “moral” action is the egoistical action in as many cases as possible.
3. Egoists do not, in fact, already have the premise “P”.
-This is the route I am trying to take, which was strongly proposed by Christine Korsgaard in “Sources of Normativity”. I won’t get into how this could work entirely, because I haven’t made a completely convincing case yet. In effect, the argument is ultimately aimed at proving that people, due to their nature, already value others to some degree. Human nature might heavily involve higher cognitive functions, which might be relevant since it seems that the higher cognitive ability animals have, the more “morality” they seem to entail.
The next step in this route (if I can successfully show that people already have the value “not P”) is proving that people should keep the value “not P”. So an egoist could respond: I may already have the value “not P”, but why can’t I just reason that I should choose “P”? The only possible response is that the egoist cannot in fact choose “P”, when they already have the value “not P”.
Some line of though that could support this claim: as I will argue in my next post, we cannot reason our way to values. We only have values, and can use reason to determine what those values entail (this argument has to do with the idea that value is only subjective, and reasoning cannot determine subjective value. I’ll argue more for it in my next post). If this route is true, then an egoist cannot actually reason from “not P” to “P” for the same reasons I cannot reason from “P” to “not P”.
Finally, the egoist might respond: is morality really justified then, if I have no choice whether or not to value P? My response, at least so far, would be that: there comes a point where “I” has to be defined. While I would have to do more work to prove it, I think any concept of “I” is going to necessarily include certain values, which would include “not P”. Therefore, there is no way for “I” to be distinguished from “not P”, “not P” is simply one of the identities that makes up who I am as a person (Korsgaard’s argument is along these lines). It is clear, however, that people have to have some free control over their actions in order for morality to be justified. So, that free will could be in whether or not the individual chooses to listen to “not P” or not, and since the individual in fact does hold “not P”, we can justly hold him/her accountable for acting outside the confines of “not P”, or in effect, outside morality.