Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for March, 2010

A Critique of Moral Objectivity Extrapolationism

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 29, 2010

A critique of this moral philosophy.

Objections to the First Postulate

If an objective morality exists, then all rational beings are obligated to follow it.

One might object to this postulate by arguing the difference between “should” and “have to”; that is, moral rightness and moral obligation. It could be argued that an objective morality only determines what is the morally right thing to do, and not what one’s moral obligations are; therefore, there is no obligation to follow an objective morality.

This makes it clear that we need a stronger definition of “morality”. We could simply define morality as the set of rules defining which actions are right and/or which actions we are obligated to perform; I think that for a morality to be complete, it must contain some of both. But even considering that some or even most of the moral laws may be regarding what is right rather than what we are obligated to do, we are still obligated to follow these laws. That is, we are bound by this obligation to judge moral worth by moral rightness and wrongness — even with “should” and “should not” rather than “have to” and “have not to”.

Objections to the Second Postulate

In the absence of an objective morality, all rational beings are obligated to follow whatever morality is closest to objective.

The most obvious objection herein is that all rational beings are not obligated to follow whatever morality is closest to objective; rather closest to all rational beings are so obligated. And which subset of rational beings is so obligated? The most obvious seems to be the subset that the near-objective morality applies to. This logic, however, sends us in a circle. It follows that people are only obligated to follow this morality if it serves their own interests. In essence, people are obligated only to serve their own interests. This conclusion is remarkably different from the original one. Still, though, it is not a completely amoral system, as people still have an obligation to themselves. This may in fact be a version of actual morality that most people practice in their day-to-day experiences.

This problem seems somewhat difficult to overcome. The second postulate will be true if we also assume that there must be some universal morality that applies equally to all rational beings; but I see no reason to assume the existence of such a system of morality.

A second objection is that there is no obligation to follow a morality that is anything short of objective. I don’t like this objection as much though, because it can be boiled down to the statement that the only morality is an objective morality. There is no reason to believe that subjective morality cannot be binding.

These are the objections that I have come up with. One of the objections remains unresolved.


Posted in Ethics, Utilitarianism | Leave a Comment »

The Suitcase Dilemma

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 27, 2010

I heard a rather interesting dilemma from a rather surprising source: it was in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. It goes something like this: (paraphrased)

You are walking down the street when you come across a suitcase full of money. No one is around; no one will know what you do with it. Do you:

a) keep the money,
b) buy gifts for your loved ones,
c) give it to the poor, or
d) turn it over to the police?

Edward, being the amoral monster that he is, chose (b). Everyone else said that the answer was (d). I noticed, though, that any option is arguable.

A Utilitarian would say that the money should be given to the poor, as they are the ones who most need it. A Libertarian, on the other hand, would say that the money should be turned over to the police so that it can be returned to its owner. By Libertarian morality, property ownership is very important, and it would be theft to give the money to the poor.

Choice (b), although seemingly altruistic, is actually completely selfish. The poor need the money a lot more than your loved ones do, so as long as you’re giving away the money you should give it to the poor. But if you give it to your loved ones, this will increase your personal standing and will help the people who help you. True altruism is helping strangers.

And choice (a) is just selfish. Everybody knows that.

Posted in Ethics, Moral Dilemmas, Utilitarianism | 1 Comment »

RE: Seize the Day

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 24, 2010

Apparently, if you make a grid representing days in a year, it looks like you don’t have very much time left to live.

In any event, confronting the grid and contemplating its meaning is a sobering experience for me. You cross out a square with each day passes, and no power in Heaven or Earth can bring that day back for you. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And when another year has passed, all the squares will be crossed out, irrevocably lost. You move on to another grid.

Sure, you could cross out one square per day. But why do that? I think that, instead of making a grid for a year using days as squares, we should make a grid using seconds as squares. After all, it only takes about a second to cross off a square. So if we then made a grid representing a lifetime, what would it look like? If each square had a length and width of one centimeter, it would take over 90 seconds to walk from one end of the grid to the other. I wanted to upload a picture of such a grid, but it was nearly 70 megabytes.

Life is long. Savor it.

Posted in Philosophy | 5 Comments »

Heinz Dilemma

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 24, 2010

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.

Should Heinz have broken into the store to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

What do you think about this, and what is your reasoning?

Posted in Ethics, Moral Dilemmas, Utilitarianism | 9 Comments »

Lowering the Voting Age: You’re Missing the Point

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 23, 2010

One of the most prominent arguments against lowering the voting age is that young people will vote irrationally. They might vote for radicals. Or Muslims. Or even *gasp* atheists. Proponents of a lowered voting age respond that most youth are unlikely to vote irrationally; most will simply follow the ideologies of their parents, and anyway, people who don’t know anything about voting probably won’t vote anyway. And these proponents are completely missing the point.

It does not matter whether young people are likely to vote for radicals, Muslims, atheists, or whichever group of supposedly crazy people you want. They live in this country and many of them pay taxes, so they get the right to vote. And this means that they have the right to vote for anyone. Would you make it illegal for adults to vote for radicals, or for Muslims, or for atheists? Or if you found that, for instance, women were more likely to vote for radicals, would that justify making it illegal for women to vote? Absolutely not! The right to vote means that you have the right to vote for whoever you want, even if it is not a rational choice. If you want, you can flip a coin to decide who to vote for. That’s your right as a taxpaying citizen. The fact that you can make intelligent decisions is not what gives you the right to vote. What give you the right to vote is that you must live in this society, under this government, and so you get a say in this government’s decisions.

Anyone who says that youth should not vote because they will vote a certain way, or anyone who responds by saying that youth will just vote for whomever their parents vote for, has the mind of a tyrant. It seems perhaps more than merely curious that Joe Citizen wants to prohibit youth from voting because of their potential tendency to vote for radical candidates — the candidates that he personally does not like. Joe would hardly say that youth should not be allowed to vote because there is a chance that they will vote for his candidate. No, it’s always the other candidate that is the “irrational” choice. Why not just make it illegal to vote for anyone besides the candidate that you personally like best? One man’s irrationality is the next man’s reason. No matter what a person’s reasoning is, they still have a right to vote as long as it is out of their own free will. “They will vote irrationally” really means “they will vote with different reasoning than mine.”

Perhaps I am exaggerating. After all, Joe Citizen has no problem with letting other people his age cast their votes into the ballot. But Joe is holding a double standard. If someone votes for a particular option or candidate, there must be a reason. Maybe adults are united in disagreeing with young people’s reasoning, but that does not make their reasoning wrong. In a democracy, any sort of reasoning is correct.

It is arguable that these youth’s potentially foolish voting decisions will affect the whole country. That’s true, but so will YOUR decisions. They have just as much a right to invoke folly on the nation as you do to invoke reason on it.

Posted in Politics, Rant | 3 Comments »

An Argument Against Lowering the Voting Age, and Why It Stinks

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 21, 2010

Inspired by this page.

A common argument against lowering the voting age is that it isn’t a burden to wait a few years. Denying youth the right to vote isn’t the same as denying women or racial minorities, according to opponents, since in a few years young people will grow up and be able to vote. Why go through the trouble to lower the age to 16 when after two years they’ll be able to vote anyways? Were it that simple, then perhaps, but it isn’t.

Would it be acceptable to limit the right to vote to those with a certain income, reasoning that it is a flexible standard, those will less income must only work harder or wait till they too make enough to vote? No it wouldn’t.

This author is correct in his conclusion, but I do not like his supporting logic. His analogy to income is somewhat different. Simply increasing your income is not guaranteed, and requires hard work; aging is guaranteed and in fact requires very little effort. Still, though, saying that it isn’t a burden to wait a few years is a rather terrible argument. What if people were not allowed to vote from ages 25 to 30? They only have to wait “a few years” to get through that period. But besides the complete pointlessness of the restriction, it would be wrong. People aged 26 to 30 are completely capable of voting and they must live within the system and pay taxes. The same logic applies to people aged 14 to 18, or 16 to 18, or whatever lower voting age we would use (I rather like 14).

The original author stated, “Denying youth the right to vote isn’t the same as denying women or racial minorities, according to opponents, since in a few years young people will grow up and be able to vote.” The main problem here is that denial should not be the default response. The default response should be enfranchisement. Any time someone living within the system is not allowed to vote, there must be a very good reason for it. Young children, for instance, would be too easily persuaded by malicious people to vote for one candidate or the other. But what about older children? They live in society, so they should get a vote. It’s that simple. It is an injustice to prevent someone from voting unless there is a very good reason for it. Therefore, opponents of lowering the voting age should not be arguing that it’s not a big deal; rather, they should be arguing that it is a big deal, because people under 18 are incompetent.

Posted in Politics | 9 Comments »

Moral Objectivity Extrapolationism

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 21, 2010

“Moral Objectivity Extrapolationism” is what I am calling a moral philosophy that I explained briefly in an earlier post. I will now be further solidifying this moral philosophy.

This philosophy is based upon two primary postulates.

1. If an objective morality exists, then all rational beings are obligated to follow it.
2. In the absence of an objective morality, all rational beings are obligated to follow whatever morality is closest to objective.

Rational beings are obligated to follow an objective morality, but non-rational beings are not. Non-rational beings cannot make moral decisions in the same way, so they cannot be expected to follow an objective morality. This is not to say that they should not be treated as worthy of moral respect; it is entirely possible that this objective morality dictates that rational beings treat non-rational beings kindly. However, that is irrespective of the main point.

An objective morality can be more precisely defined as a morality that applies regardless of perspective. Such a morality would appear true to every rational being, at least after rationally considering it. It is self-evident that such a morality should be followed by all rational beings.

The second postulate may require some explanation as well. First, one may call into question what it means for a morality to be “closest to” objective. Given the definition of morality, the most obvious solution seems to be that the closest thing to objective morality is that which encompasses as many perspectives as possible. So what viewpoint is this?

First, what is the greatest moral goal from an individual’s perspective? All that and individual wants, needs, and deserves can be summed up in something that Kant once proposed. Although I generally disagree with Kant, I do agree on one thing: rational beings should be treated as ends, and not simply as means. This means that their wants and needs should be respected as the wants and needs of an individual.

From this point on, Kant’s and my reasonings diverge. To return to my postulates, let us remember that the closest thing to objective morality is that which encompasses as many viewpoints as possible. Combine this with the logic borrowed from Kant, and we can see that the ideal morality is one that respects as many people as ends in themselves as is possible. Therefore, the ideal morality is one that respects as many people as ends as can be done. This generally means that other rational being should be treated fairly and with respect. We should avoid doing harm to others, as it is harmful to them as an end. But in a situation in which we are faced between letting a large amount of harm come to pass or causing a small amount of harm (letting many die or killing a few), such as in the Trolley Problem, it is better to kill a few as this is more respectful to people as ends. It is not relevant whether I am disrespecting a person as an end, but only that this person is being disrespected.

Soon, I will write a critique of this morality.

Posted in Ethics, Utilitarianism | Leave a Comment »

Thought of the Day: Fights

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 11, 2010

When boys get in fights, it’s called immature. When men get in fights, it’s called war.

Posted in Ethics, Humor | 4 Comments »

The Trolley Problem in the Context of Killing and Letting Die

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 9, 2010

You are perhaps familiar with the Trolley problem. It is a question of whether you should kill one to save many. Most people say that yes, you should flip the switch, killing the one but letting the five live. Some people say that you should not. Perhaps the most compelling argument for this latter position is a deontological one. This argument states that each person is an end in himself and not just a means to an end. It would therefore be disrespectful to the one person to use him as a means to save the five.

Whether or not this argument can apply relies on the distinction between killing and letting die. Let us assume for a moment that killing is worse than letting die; let us assume that if you let someone die when you could have prevented it, you are not responsible for the death. In that case, it is not disrespectful to allow the five people to die; they were going to die anyway, and you did not cause their death. But it is disrespectful to kill the one person to save the other five, because you are directly causing the death.

Now let us assume that killing and letting die are equivalent when all else is equal. If you are able to prevent a death but you don’t, you are just as responsible for the death as if you had killed the person yourself. In this case, you are responsible for the five people dying even though you didn’t directly cause it, simply because you could have prevented it. In this light, the trolley situation is somewhat muddled. No matter what you do, you are disrespecting at least one person as an end. From there I can see two stances. It is arguable that it does not matter what you do since either way you are treating someone as a means rather than an end. It is also arguable that it is better to be respectful to more rational beings than to fewer, so you should kill the one rather than let the five die (remember that here we are assuming the equivalence of killing and letting die).

If we are upholding moral duty, it matters greatly whether or not letting die is equivalent to killing. It is thus important to examine killing and letting die in the context of scenarios that it may not seem to be directly related to.

Posted in Ethics | 2 Comments »

Article of the Day: Sam Harris on Sarah Palin and Elitism

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 7, 2010

This political article is from a couple of years ago, but it is still relevant, and I quite like it. I don’t have a lot to say about it, but I do agree with much of what is said. Elitism is underrated.

Posted in Article of the Day, Politics | 1 Comment »

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