Category Archives: ethics

Ethics Oppositions

What comprises an ethical decision according to theory?

For the Consequentialist the crux is always in determining and executing the best consequences.*  This means that making a consequentialist decision involves two steps.  First is to imagine different possible futures and evaluate them.  Once the evaluation is done, the consequentialist chooses the future scenario that maximizes the ‘Good’ (or what have you) and works towards realizing that scenario.  Being moral is having skill in figuring out the best future and achieving that future.

The task in Deontology is to obey rules and imperatives.  To follow a rule is to understand the rule, when it applies, and how you should act to be in accordance with it.  Being moral is understanding imperatives and comporting yourself to act according to them.

In Virtue Ethics the goal is to be virtuous.  We become virtuous by habit: by habituating ourselves in certain ways we change ourselves into the person we wish to become.  Being moral is having undertaken the work to become the person we wished to be.  Once we are the virtuous person we wish to be, whatever we decide to do is the moral thing.

From this short sketch we can set up some interesting oppositions.  The first thing to notice is that both Deontology and Virtue Ethics are concerned with how an agent has changed themself in order to act morally.  A virtuous person has habituated themself according to their idea of excellence and a deontologist has comported themself to act according to the rules.  Though the target of the change is different, the act of self-change is common to both theories.

Virtue Deontology Line

A consequentialist, however, is less concerned with changing themself and more interested in how they can effectively change the world.  It doesn’t really matter to the consequentialist how the best scenario is achieved, so self-improvement is less important than world-change.

Virtue Ethics, Deontology, Consequentialism Opposition

Consequentialism and deontology have something in common that virtue ethics does not.  The two modern ethical systems both have an abstract standard for deciding what is moral.  Consequentialists have a calculation of the good and deontologists have rule systems to obey.  Both calculating the good and following a rule system can be thought of as an objective, independently evaluable procedure.  Living the life you want to lead according to your virtues, does not require following an independent abstract procedure.  It is, instead, based upon an understanding of human life.

Virtue Ethics, Deontology, Consequentialism Opposition with focus change

As you can see by the way I have set up the opposition, I left a space at the bottom for an ethics in which is similar to consequentialism in that it looks to change the world, and similar to virtue ethics in that it is humanistic.  Very recently I have been working on something I call Charity Ethics, and I believe it fills out the opposition nicely:

Virtue Ethics, Deontology, Consequentialism, Charity Ethics Opposition

Charity Ethics is based upon increasing our empathy for others.  To increase our empathy we have to act charitably towards each other; only by acting charitably do we have the opportunity to find common ground.  So the fundamental decision of charity ethics is how to be more charitable so that we can find more common ground and hence become more empathic.

Like consequentialism the thing that needs to be changed is the world: we have to practice charity and find new ways to be charitable.  Although the end goal of this practice is to become more empathic, this is not part of the ethical decision procedure- it is a consequence.

Charity Ethics is also humanistic like Virtue Ethics.  Instead of using an abstract standard, each person must find ways to engage charitably with other people (and other organisms, potentially).  It is through this charitable engagement with others that ethical decisions can be made and evaluated.

Lastly consider the remaining dimension, from the upper left to bottom right, which is a property that Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism agree on but oppose both Deontology and Charity Ethics.  Perhaps there are other properties, but I lighted upon what I call ‘alienation.’  Alienation is how the ethics prioritizes individuals and groups.

full opposition chart

Both consequentialism and virtue ethics are very accepting of an individualistic perspective.  Under consequentialism a person is to maximize of the ‘good,’ which takes no account of personal, family or other social relations.  An agent decides the best possible abstract outcome and acts accordingly.  Likewise, virtue ethics is focused upon living an excellent life, which may mean different things for different people.  How to live excellently is a personal decision and, hence, may not include personal, family or social relations.

Opposing this individualism is solidarity.  A deontologist will likely take personal, family and social relations into account as part of their obligations.  A parent will have an obligation to their child over the well-being of other children.  Similarly Charity Ethics requires other individuals, else there would be no one to be charitable with.  Moreover, since a person will have greater opportunity to help a child or friend, or close social group, these personal relations can be prioritized.

This opposition cross is based upon the ethical decision making under different theories.  The similarity between Virtue Ethics and Deontology, with regard to how both seek to change the self, while Consequentialism is based on changing the world, is something I had never before considered.  It might be a trivial issue, but, since it came directly from the question about making ethical decisions, it seems more significant.  Also, Charity Ethics being a humanistic ethical theory that focuses on changing the world is nice both in the sense that it is new and different, and also that it fills out the chart in direct opposition to Consequentialism.  The value of the chart will ultimately depend on the significance of initial question, but, even if we disregard it, this diagrammatic approach still provides some interesting ways to analyze the ethical theories.

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SVG file of the opposition

Posted in ethics, philosophy. Tagged with .

Charity and OOPs

Given an Object Oriented Ontology ethics can present a problem.*  It is not obvious how to fit ethics into an object oriented view: even if objects have ethical properties, ethics itself has to be considered just as arbitrary as any other property.  One could, of course, hold some Deontological, Consequentialist or other ethical viewpoint, but this position would have to be justified on other grounds, since O.O.O. is silent on the matter.  Hence having ethics as an ad hoc ontological addition is a problem because it shows that Object Oriented Philosophy is inherently lacking an important part of human experience.

To achieve a more comprehensive viewpoint, while still being object oriented, a different ethical strategy must be taken.

Consider that the objects of our reality are both overdetermined and underdetermined (overmined/ undermined in Harman-y terms).  This means that no matter how we think about our reality, there are multiple underlying phenomena and multiple overarching phenomena that can be understood to govern every part of our world.  Often this is used to develop an argument supporting O.O.O., but I want to develop a different consequence.

By permanently securing multiple fundamental reasons for every phenomenon, no single reason has ultimate sway.  We must, in principle, be ontologically humble.

This means that however much we learn about ourselves, there will always be more, multiple explanations, theories, and phenomena; we are forever interesting to ourselves.

To live with the expanding enormity of human experience, while never being able to fully come to terms with it, then we must forever re-explain and rediscover those unknown parts of ourselves.  To do this we need charity.  Charity for others, charity for ourselves, and charity for that which we do not understand, because we already know we do not fully understand. Having charity — extra time, patience and effort — when we explore (speculate on?) our reality lets us extend our experience into the unknown (the chaos, if you will), even in the face of theories that should completely determine phenomena.  This gives us the opportunity to explore ourselves, others and other ways of life, to find new objects and phenomena, and new ways to be charitable, ad infinitum.

Therefore the same dilemma that Object Oriented Philosophy presents as its ontological support, also yields support for a concept of charity.

Charity, as described, has ethical teeth.  Determining the charitable thing to do in a given situation tracks, at least to my mind, a typical normative ethical stance.  Like deontology it can be seen as having space for moral indifference and praiseworthiness: not all acts are governed by charity, though certain actions can be seen as especially charitable.  Also it has built in brakes.  The principle of ontological humility prevents us from naively applying our personal understanding of charity to others, which means it would be wrong, for example, to donate one person’s organs (without their permission) to save others.

Granted, more work will have to be done to flesh out these ideas, but my hope is that this outline shows that charity can provide a promising start to an integrated ethics within Object Oriented Philosophy.

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* I’m not sure how it happened, but my metaphysics has lead me to a similar position as the Object Oriented Philosophers, at least ontologically.  So for the course of this post, I’m wearing my Object Oriented Philosopher Hat.  My apologies if the arguments above are unique to my theories and not OOP in general, though this post makes me suspect I am not that far off.

Posted in ethics, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Holy crap, it’s The Matrix for chickens

No, really:

http://io9.com/5885510/holy-crap-its-the-matrix-for-chickens

[Sent to me by my brother. Thanks bro!]

Posted in ethics, philosophy, products, technology. Tagged with , , .

the lowest desires of modern people

… Another alternative would have been to give you what’s called a popular scientific lecture, that is a lecture intended to make you believe that you understand a thing which actually you don’t understand, and to gratify what I believe to be one of the lowest desires of modern people, namely the superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science.

This quote is from the beginning of Wittgenstein’s “A Lecture on Ethics” or whatever the untitled transcript of the talk he gave to The Heretics Society is called.  I’ve seen this part of the lecture omitted; admittedly it has little to do with his later arguments.  However, I always felt that this barb was something interesting.

The quote has little force as an argument: it is merely his opinion that a superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science is bad.  No contradictions or other nonsense is pointed out, nor does it even evoke a parallel between those he is disparaging and some accepted foul thing.

But it is clear, concise and otherwise totally unlike everything else that Wittgenstein is known for, while touching upon the topics of belief, understanding, science, and desire.  Odd, no?

What the quote is, is a smear; it is an insult:  Calling something a lowest desire, without reason, is merely to insult it.  What’s going on here?

Say I have a superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science.  So what?  If the latest scientific research has little to do with my profession, say I’m a restaurateur, then what harm is there in having a passing interest in what other smart people do?  It might even be considered commendable that I make such an effort.

Now Wittgenstein is saying that my earnest effort is nowhere near commendable, but all the way at the bottom, the basest, of desire.  Since he accusing “modern people” it is not just ‘me’, but everyone.  This is insulting and unwarranted.

However, this isn’t exactly what Wittgenstein was after: he disliked superficial curiosity in scientific discoveries not because of the impulse of people to learn and take interest in others, but because it made people believe that they understood a thing which actually they didn’t understand.  Understanding difficult things is an accomplishment, and scientific research is difficult. In enjoying a superficial curiosity about the latest discoveries of science, he is accusing us of feeling a sense of accomplishment when we have done nothing to merit it: he is accusing us of mental masturbation.  Ouch.

We can also now understand why this criticism is “modern”.  Before  modern times, there was no way to have a “popular scientific lecture”: only in the last century or so have we had the communications technology and an available public which allows for such a thing.  You couldn’t expect feudal peasants to leave their farms or be educated enough to appreciate such a lecture.  But by November 1929, the date of this lecture, mass media was in full swing with the wide distribution of newspapers and books, and the start of national radio broadcasts.  Only with widespread media distribution did the danger of popular science becoming a narcotic exist.

Wittgenstein saw that with the modern increase in information distribution capability came a danger of intellectual drugging of the population.  It disgusted him that people would take pleasure from the feeling that they understood difficult theories with which they only had the most superficial engagement.  Unfortunately he had no argument or solution to prevent this, and so he resorted, as we all do when we are out of good arguments, to insults.

One can only think that the internet has made this an even more pervasive problem.  It blows our information distribution capability off the charts.  And we are, unsurprisingly, completely addicted to it.  It’s too bad dear Ludwig never really commented more on modernity, he seems to have been rather perceptive.

Posted in ethics, internet, philosophy, science, wittgenstein. Tagged with , , , , .

Truth is… and other short thoughts

Truth is whatever you are willing to wager your sanity on.  This works because sanity is relative to people, so if you are willing to wager your sanity on something, so should other people.

Deontology has a problem because no one can definitively tell you what it is to follow a rule.  So deontologists can’t fault others for appealing to unexplained concepts without undermining their own argument.

Whereas the meanings of particular words may be conventional and subject to historical accident, there are distinctions that the words create that are not conventional.  If logical operators are conventional, but must exist is every possible world (you must define the world using such operators), then conventional loses its meaning: it ceases to be a convention and is instead a necessity of the universe.

The concept of structure in ‘structural realism’ is ontological, causing problems for ontic structural realists.  By calling the theory structural, structural realists are attempting to exploit the concepts associated with ‘structure’ from areas other than philosophy of science.  This means that the term is not being used ontically because the concept of structure is taken to have real properties.  So at every turn ontic structural realists are appealing to an ontological concept.

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oh and information aesthetics is back from break! woohoo!

Posted in ethics, language, logic, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy, science.

A note on ethics: Mutual Enrichment

Our ethical responsibility is to do our best to enrich the lives of others and to give others the opportunity to enrich us.

Everyone understands what it is to have an enriched life: everyone has had a friend, learned something of worth, or made the world a better place at some point (even by accident).  Moreover, once you understand how your life has been enriched, then you understand how you could act in a similar manner for someone who is now in the position that you were in.

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Since I doubt anyone will read the few sentences above and simply agree that I have a good theory, I suppose some benefits of this theory should be mentioned*:

  1. Like deontology and unlike consequentialism, mutual enrichment only governs a limited number of actions: when you have an opportunity to enrich a life then you should, but if not, no big deal.  Consequentialism can be a bit overbearing in the sense that it can place ethical value on every single act as part of some great equation to increase happiness; deontology and mutual enrichment can find some acts meritorious/immoral and others as ethically neutral, which is less stressful.
  2. Like deontology and consequentialism, but unlike virtue ethics, mutual enrichment gives you a better strategy for making decisions: you consider what has enriched your life or you believe will enrich someone’s life, and then attempt to act in such a way to provide enrichment.  By appealing to experience and knowledge that a person already has, there is no need to worry about what a virtuous person would do, or what exactly counts as virtuous.
  3. Like virtue ethics and unlike deontology or consequentialism, mutual enrichment focuses on moral development, friendship, culture and moral wisdom.  I believe this to be a benefit because it is a more personal relationship to ethics than the ‘formulaic’ theories, which I find a bit detached.  Even more than virtue ethics, mutual enrichment focuses on personal relationships and may then have more resources to give guidance in such situations, and also on culture as a major factor in enrichment.  Insofar as culture and tradition are enriching, these things may be appealed to in decision making.
  4. Unlike all the other theories handling of contrary intuitions, i.e. conflicting deontological commitments, deciding which consequences are the best consequences or deciding which virtue takes priority in a particular situation, mutual enrichment uses personal experience as a guide so there is less conflict.  You do what you know.  In the instance of no personal experience, then the person’s best judgment based upon his or her knowledge and tradition may be appealed to.  However, if the person has no experience in a particular situation, then he or she cannot be blamed for inaction, but should be praised for rising to such an occasion if he or she were to do so.

A few important distinctions: Mutual enrichment is not simply nourishment or pleasure.  We are not enriched by merely eating; having a good meal with family can be enriching, but it is not the consumption of food alone that does this.  Nor is mutual enrichment simply pleasure.  Getting stoned may be fun, but everyone recognizes that, fun as it may be, it is not considered enriching.

If anyone can think of any problems please do tell.  Until something better comes along or someone skewers it, this is my working ethical theory.

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* Much thanks to Dr. Richard Brown for inspiring me to write anything.  You can have my steak when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

Posted in ethics, philosophy. Tagged with , .

K*nt F*cker

I was at a bar on Friday.  One of my friends says, “Hey Noah, there’s another philosopher here, come talk.”  So I go and chat.

She wrote a MA thesis on Levinas.  But somehow we got to ethics.  I started making fun of virtue ethics, which she believed in.  Something about me saying she had tomatoes being cultivated in her head got her riled up.  Since I had said I was unimpressed with Singer earlier, she figured me for a deontologist.

“You love rules.  You love following rules.. You looove Kant.  You want to fuck Kant.  You want to fuck Kant!”

This was said in a progressively louder voice, with the last sentence being heard by everyone.  For some reason it turned heads and made her friend think it was time to leave.

But not before I got her number.

Posted in ethics, philosophy, random idiocy. Tagged with , , , .

Part 2 of the Preterphysics: Metaphysical Ontology

What follows is the second part of my metaphysics, which includes the basic outline of just about everything in this world: nature, science, ethics, language and more.  Again it is impossibly short, but the overall structure is correct, so you get a flavor of how I think about everything non-preterphysical.

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1
Metaphysical Ontology



1.1
Undisciplined Substances


To be disciplined is to take other people’s ontological position into consideration. Since it is impossible, without being crazy, to do otherwise, what is meant by `undisciplined’ is the minimal position: to take other people’s ontological position into consideration as little as possible.


1.1.1
Objects, Processes and Nature


Objects cannot exists alone. To observe an object, to recognize its existence, requires observing some process that the object is part of. Rational beings can lose their rationality; the process of losing rationality identifies a rational being, because the process could not occur without the existence of one.

Objects and processes are what make up Nature.


1.1.2
Words, Descriptions and Language



Words cannot exist alone; they are inseparable from descriptions. For a word to exist is for that word to be part of some description. Without being part of a description, a word is indistinguishable from anything else.

Words and descriptions are what make up Language.


1.1.3
Commitments, Values and Responsibility


Commitments cannot exist alone; they are inseparable from values. Values are how commitments are ranked. Without values all commitments are equal, and hence non-existent.

Commitments and values are what make up Responsibility.


1.2
Disciplined Substances

When you take other people into consideration when considering substance, then you have disciplined substance.


1.2.1
Science, Art and Craft


When we describe objects and processes in a disciplined way then we are describing nature scientifically. This means that the objects and processes are described in a way that is not limited to a particular person or place.

Craft is a level of discipline that is not as universalized: when you describe nature such that it refers to a group of people or various places, then you are describing craft.


1.2.2
Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric


When we describe words and descriptions in a disciplined way then we are are talking about the language’s grammar. This means that the words and descriptions are described in a way that is not limited to a particular description. If we are describing features that all languages have, then this is called logic.

Rhetoric is a level of discipline that is not as universalized: when you describe grammar such that it refers to a group of words or descriptions, then you are describing rhetoric.


1.2.3
Ethics, Worldview and Society


When we describe commitments and values in a disciplined way then we are talking about ethical responsibilities. This means that the commitments and values are described in a way that is not limited to a particular person or place. If we are describing features that all ethics have then this is a worldview.

Society is a level of discipline that is not as universalized: when you describe ethics such that it refers to a group of commitments or values, then you are describing a society.


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.79. On 10 Nov 2008, 14:59.

Posted in art, epistemology, ethics, language, logic, metaphysics, mind, ontology, philosophy, preterphysics, science.

Psychopharmacological Enhancement

The only ways to enhance the mind is to learn or evolve. Since evolution is out of our hands, all that is left is to learn.

Drugs that purport psychopharmacological enhancement do not do what their name states: they may change certain psychological factors but there is no drug that will make you smarter. This would be to eat from the tree of knowledge.

However drugs may be able to let you do things that you were unable previously, but this is nothing mysterious. If you do not breath enough oxygen, you will not be able to run. You get enough oxygen, you will be able to do more things. Now is oxygen a performance enhancing drug? It depends: the World Anti-Doping Agency recently ruled on oxygen tents (tents that vary the amount of oxygen inside) because using these tents can affect red blood cell counts. This example illustrates two things: that there is nothing inherently special about any particular chemical, be it oxygen or a newfangled drug, and secondly, that drugs only affect intermediary situations, not the final outcome.

The first point is that there is no moral dimension associated with the chemicals themselves. If it is possible to use the most fundamental of chemicals required for our survival in a way that could be seen as inappropriate, then any other chemical could be equally accused. If any chemical can be equally accused, then there is nothing unique about any individual chemical that makes its use morally wrong.

The second point is that drugs only have a specific range of effects. In the above example, the oxygen tents affect red blood cell count. An increased red blood cell count can be used to boost endurance, but this benefit will only appear under certain situations. The tents themselves do not increase endurance: they merely increase red blood cells. If a different drug was consumed to weaken the muscles, then the two ‘drugs’ would counteract each other and there would be no change in ability. Therefore it is not a drug that gives people an ability, such as endurance, but a drug may change how an ability is expressed.

The question is (and always was), “What do you want?” Since drugs have no moral dimension nor imbue the user with unknown (super-human) ability, the only issue is of fair play. Fair play in terms of other people and with your own goals. If you want to be able to lift heavy things, then you can use a machine, you can use drugs or you can work hard. Using a machine or drugs is to use someone else’s technology to assist whatever ability you have. If you use discipline to achieve the same results, then the technology that is being used is your own. Therefore if you are trying to play fair with others, then you have to ensure everyone has access to the same technology, be it machine or drug. If you are trying to achieve something yourself, then only you know whether or not using drugs makes a difference.

As we learn what is safe(r), we are going to have a fun future. Nothing changes our natural born ability or the hard work we have put in, but that has never stopped us from trying. Better drugs are on the way and this means options will be open to us that weren’t possible in the past. Good luck, be safe, have fun.

Posted in biology, ethics, evolution, fitness, mind, philosophy, technology. Tagged with , , , , .

The Terminator Television Show

There is a television show coming out in the new year called “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”. At first I was massively excited. My father said that he thought it is taking place in between the first and second movies when Sarah was learning to be a hardcore bad-ass. I thought this was a brilliant idea: someone traveling through Mexico and the U.S. with a baby engaged in what amount to ostensibly terrorist activities. All sorts of questions about our society and terrorism would get brought up and, instead of the usual ‘us versus them’ situation, we would be rooting for the terrorist on our own soil. Any casualties/collateral damage would always be a decent person just doing their job: no one could foresee the rise of the machines. And what ends would Sarah go to when faced with a serious problem – she is working to save the future of humanity and she is the only one who knows it. We know she won’t shoot through a kid to kill the father, but that leaves a lot open, and she is under a good deal of stress. Never mind having a baby/toddler along for the ride who will grow to be the messiah.

Then I saw a recent commercial and it was a bunch of pretty 20 somethings in some US city. No crazy military types, no terrorist training, no her struggling to provide for a kid while keeping free of any public records, no Mexico, no her trying to convince people she isn’t psychotic. Granted, they were blowing something up in the commercial, but then I saw that there were multiple new terminators. Back to ‘us versus them’.

I’ll still give it a chance but my expectations are much lower now.

(update: caught the tail end of a new commercial in which I heard some female say, “You pack the bombs, I’ll make pancakes.”  Some potential…)

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On the subject of TV there is one other point that is very important. CBS is channel 2. NBC is 4. Fox is 5. ABC is 7. I really have trouble accepting other channel lineups. They don’t count. I know this is ridiculous but I don’t care.

I surmise I feel this way because the news is exciting around here (NYC area) and the anchors are awesome. When I leave the area the stations just don’t have the same feel.

Happy birthday to Jim Rosenfield of CBS 2 news (December 18).

Other matters of some concern:

Boston Legal is the only scripted show I (somewhat regularly) watch. Those characters are my heroes. No ‘reality’ TV unless This Old House counts. NFL football/MLB baseball depending on season. I once had a logic midterm during the world series. Forget studying. So we convinced the teacher not to give us the test, the morning of the test. Not postponed, canceled. He pulled the test from his bag to pass out and we got him to change his mind. This was in a (Leiter-rated) grad school. Damn right we were that good.

Posted in art, ethics, philosophy. Tagged with .
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