“Ideal Observer” Ethical Subjectivism

Roojen presents it as follows: "An action is right iff it is disposed to elicit approval from an observer who was fully nonmorally informed, impartial, disinterested, omnipercipient, consistent, and otherwise normal, in normal conditions."

So, let Smith say that action X is right. Jones feels it is not right. Smith proclaims: "You, Jones, are not being an ideal observer. If you were, then you'd feel as I do." Jones replies: "You pathetic worm! How dare you insult me so gravely? It is you who are failing to be the ideal observer!" Their disagreement cannot be resolved on this version of subjectivism any better than on simple subjectivism.

This "theory" is probably best explained as an attempt by the philosopher advocating it to elevate his own ego to the status of the "fully nonmorally informed, impartial, disinterested," etc. judge. The philosopher imagines himself to be the supreme legislator, and any who disagrees with him is a contemptible villain. The philosopher is always right and his will is law.

If the main appeal of subjectivism is its affirmation of the practicality of morality, then the ideal observer theory seems to destroy it quite thoroughly without adding much of value.

Gay “Progress”

From liberation to respectability (present stage) to superiority?

The Ramsey-Lewis Method

Fisher presents it as follows: "Imagine that we are trying to define 'neutron,' 'electron,' and 'proton' but in a way that does not rely on any theoretical physics. ... The basic Ramsey-Lewis method is to tell a story something like this":

There is one kind of thing, and another, and yet another; instances of the first of these orbit a clump of instances of the other two; instances of the first and the second are attracted to each other; instances of the first repel each other, as do instances of the second; instances of the third exhibit no attraction or repulsion to other instances of its kind; some strange force keeps the members of the second kind together in a clump despite their mutual repulsion; and so on.

So, we can apparently name the first thing a1, the second thing, a2, and so on. Having listed their properties and relations, we then rename a1 to electron, etc.

First of all, notice that we link names with things by ostension. This, we say pointing at an object, is going to be called a1. We are focusing on a real elementary particle. This seems less tractable for moral terms. Regarding "right," "wrong," "good," "evil," what object whose essence we want to grasp are we pointing at?

Second, we only know that a1 is in fact different from a2 once we have ascertained that they have different properties. We subject various particles we can't yet distinguish to many different empirical tests and see if they react to these tests differently. An assertion like "there is one kind of thing, and another, and yet another" is part of the conclusion of the Ramsey-Lewis method not its premises. For moral terms, we are supposed to distinguish between our m1 and m2 by conceptual analysis. But it seems to me that in the beginning our m1 is simply undefined, and the project cannot even get started. If, however, we assume that m1 is distinct from m2, as right is distinct from wrong, then one, this begs the question against both non-realism and non-naturalism; and two, why bother with the Ramsey-Lewis method rather than simply describe the nature of moral terms?

Never Deny, Seldom Affirm, Always Distinguish

This scholastic maxim makes a good deal of sense.

Why never deny? Because you cannot reject a conclusion by showing that it fails to follow from the premises. You may destroy another philosopher's argument by showing it to be invalid or unsound, but that does not mean that a better thinker could not devise a superior argument that would lead to the same conclusion. There is always the possibility that any conclusion is true; it's just that no one as yet has defended it adequately.

Now you can only refute arguments that are affirmed. In order to pay back, in a manner of speaking, to people whose arguments you have grappled with, you may be called upon to state your own notions and put yourself on trial. Let other philosophers have at you and judge your contentions. You want to do this favor to others sparingly and affirm only what you think are the most well-defended conclusions. Don't affirm easily disposed of nonsense.

And to always distinguish is pretty much the daily grind of a philosopher.

Mackie, 3: A Note

If I say, "the taillights are red," what is the truth-maker of this proposition? Clearly, it is my subjective experience of the color red. It is somewhat obscure whether "the accident of redness subsists within the substance of the taillights." It's hard to say whether redness "really" exists "out there." But the proposition "the taillights are red" is made true because it corresponds to the fact of my sensing the color red.

"Murder is wrong" cannot be rescued in this manner. Murder is not wrong because I am in the process of subjectively making a judgment of its wrongness. This statement must be proven differently, e.g., as indicated in the previous posts.

Mackie, 2

Fisher interprets Mackie as proposing three arguments against moral realism.

Argument 1. Mackie thinks that moral values, even if they were objective and categorical, would have to be accessed by a mysterious special faculty which he calls "moral intuition":

None of our ordinary accounts of sensory perception or introspection or the framing and confirming of explanatory hypotheses or inference or logical construction or conceptual analysis, or any combination of these, will provide a satisfactory answer to how we might access moral values.

But of course the enigmatic faculty has been known since time immemorial as wisdom. What is wisdom? St. Thomas answers: "it belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause. By means of that cause we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes, and according thereto all things should be set in order." But setting things in order means grasping the relations between them, in particular, between God, men, and nature. Thus, we can say that the master / slave relation is less just than the tax-lord / tax-serf relation which in turn is less just than the relations between members of a capitalist society. The relation between man and nature is for man to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen 1:28) Relations can be equality, hierarchy, or complementarity. And so on regarding the highest causes in particular genera such as medicine or architecture, or the cause that is simply the highest, which is God.

The senses of balance of permanence and change, of unity and complexity are also part of wisdom.

So is grasp of unity, truth, beauty, and indeed goodness. Thus, another definition of wisdom is "knowledge of good and evil."

Argument 2. Mackie's reasoning that moral values do not exist is that "if there were objective moral values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe."

Surely, values as such are not strange. I like ice-cream. That's a value that can make ice-cream, if I choose it, a physical good, i.e., when ice-cream is loved, and it ought to be.

Nor are metaphysical goods strange. One is commanded to love his neighbor as himself. A human being is and ought to be loved. Judgment of a human being as valuable in himself or metaphysically good compels our emotions, or would always if we were not sinners. Thus, "you shall not kill" your neighbor is a proposition whose reasonableness constitutes an objective-real moral value. It is objective because mind-independent: everyone is obligated to love their neighbors. It is real, because the goodness of a human being which generates our metaphysical-moral duties inheres in him.

Moreover, "you shall not kill" is not just a famous divine command. It is also a proposition of natural law and can be rigorously proven.

Argument 3. Fisher phrases it as follows: "Mackie challenges the moral realist to explain why, if there are objective moral values, different people, groups, and cultures have different moral codes."

First, the moral codes do not differ that much. Some differences are clearly due to the difficulty of positive science. For example, ethics, especially its branch of political philosophy, depends intimately on economics. And economics is not yet fully worked out and is full of controversies anyway. Everyone may know the facts but differ as to their grasp of the law.

Fisher has a counter to that. "For although there is a variety of views in science, we think that if people knew all the facts and reasoned correctly, then they would agree. Yet the same is not true in the moral case. Arguably, in the moral case two people can agree on all the facts and reason correctly but still have different moral views."

This isn't 100% right. Reasoning correctly is reasoning wisely, and wisdom is the last and most precious intellectual virtue. A lot of people are simply foolish. Not everyone's opinion is worth heeding. "The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame." (Prov 3:35)

Non-Realism: Mackie’s Error-Theory

Miller describes it as "the claim that the positive, atomic sentences of [moral] discourse are systematically and uniformly false."

Now "murder is wrong" and "it is not the case that murder is wrong" cannot both be true; that's a point of logic not ethics. Hence the "positive, atomic" qualifier. Both "murder is wrong" and "murder is right" are false. How can this be?

Consider that "protons are green" is false, and, while "protons are not green" is true, "protons are blue" is also false. "Triangles are clever" is false, but so is "triangles are dim-witted." Color (green, blue) cannot be predicated of protons, nor level of intelligence (clever, dim-witted) of triangles. Similarly, moral judgments (wrong, right), according to Mackie, cannot be made of actions. Actions are just not the sort of things that can be judged. So, Mackie denies that it makes sense for people to make moral judgments or, for that matter, express feelings, though he is a cognitivist. Should anyone make a judgment of murder to be wrong (or right), he would be as mistaken as someone who imagines triangles to be clever (or dim-witted). It seems we have arrived at a version of non-realism without the need for the non-realist to be a materialist.

"Wrong," etc. do not necessarily become meaningless; it is possible that they remain of use in other contexts, such as "X is the wrong means to your end"; just not in the moral context.

Mackie then says that the reason for the discipline of ethics is to help promote social cooperation. Moral judgments, though not true, are useful. I presume this means that, for example, while we cannot assert that murder is wrong, we can still outlaw it and punish murderers.

Now of course, even someone who insists that some moral propositions are true can agree that ethical reasoning can be of use to society. Far be it from moral realism to be unconcerned with social cooperation and the human civilization that we're trying to build. But he can object to Mackie that even if society will not collapse from widespread acceptance of Mackie's error-theory, much of valuable human experience will be lost if we refuse to render moral judgments or good and bad, right or wrong, just or unjust.

So, the words "right," "wrong," etc. become pretty useless. Well, let's employ them creatively by defining "right" (or "good" or whatever) as "socially virtuous" or "tending to further social cooperation," and "wrong" as "anti-social" or "tending to retard it."

One possibility is that these definitions make all positive, atomic moral propositions, including "murder is wrong," have seemly truth values, in which case the "error-theory" is nothing of the sort. Mackie would then have accomplished a reduction of the content of moral judgments, but this reduction must be justified in a separate argument.

The other is if "murder is wrong" and its fellow propositions are still all false, then "murder injures social cooperation" would be as false as "murder furthers social cooperation" by definition; consequently, no pragmatic public policy would follow from such nonsense. Mackie would then need a different explanation of what the point of moral discourse is.


Hallucinations are a corruption or sickness of the intellect wherein it lapses from objective-ideal which is its nature to subjective-ideal which is rather the nature of feelings.

Bernie Was Right

Nobody cares about "those damn emails." Hillary is crooked, but her crimes are silly and trivial. And the state should have no secrets, anyway.

Government Branches’ Secondary Powers

I wonder if we can say the following:

The first task of the executive branch is to enforce judicial decisions, but it can also act as a lawgiver by setting rules for use of public properties, such as roads or parks.

The legislature, besides its main function, can also judge the executive branch. A bill of attainder cannot be passed against a private citizen but can be used against a bureaucrat. The legislature has the power to investigate and prosecute corruption among the authorities. It can, for example, impeach and remove the mayor or president from power.

And judges, beside, well, judging, command the officers of the law.

Rule of Law, 3

As I have blogged in several posts, the citizen is governed according to the principle "whatever is not explicitly forbidden is permitted," while a cop or bureaucrat, according to the principle "whatever is not compulsory is implicitly forbidden."

Citizens are members of a civil association governed by adherence to the same system of law; cops are part of an enterprise organization of the executive branch of the state governed by a common purpose.

Regarding the citizens, the law, of all 3 kinds of natural made by God, positive made by the people or legislature, and administrative made by the authorities, is addressed to the judges and promulgated to the people. Of course, natural law need not always be explicitly promulgated, since it is written on people's hearts, and everyone knows it. Moreover, the punishment can always be guessed to be proportional to the crime; however, if in certain cases such punishments are awkward or inconvenient to deal, a penal code even for natural law needs to be promulgated. As such, laws are incentives to the people; they say: "if you want to avoid being punished, do not murder."

But it is judges who decide syllogisms such as:

1) Major premise, law: If anyone murders, then he shall be punished with 10-20 years in prison.
2) Minor premise, facts: Smith murdered Jones.
3) Conclusion, judicial verdict: Therefore, Smith is to be punished with 14 years in prison.

The truth or falsity of the minor is decided by the jury. The major on its own has no power; only the conclusion, the sentence does. The laws are inputs to a judge. The syllogism is an essential step, even if "obvious." The judge has some discretion to tailor the punishment to the specifics of the case, but any sufficiently wise person can understand why a competent judge decided in a particular manner. The verdict then orders the cops and jailers to punish the criminal. We can say that law is an indirect command to the executive branch to inflict punishment.

And this is the essence of the rule of law: that cops and bureaucrats must always await orders from a judge before they can act. They are fundamentally unfree; we can even say that they trade their freedom for power. Unlike private citizens, they cannot act in search of their own happiness: they are obliged mostly just to sit there and do nothing until a judge has need of them. But also unlike private citizens, when they finally spring into action, they do something that no citizen can lawfully do.

Laws then are incentives to the people, and indirect, through the mediation of the priestly judicial aristocracy that uses them in legal syllogisms, commands to the enforcers.

There are two types of "rule of law" then.

One forbids a finite list of things to a citizen with all other things remaining permitted. It involves things like private judiciary, due process, and lack of dirty tricks such as bills of attainder.

The second requires a finite set of duties of a cop with all other things staying forbidden. It means subservience of the executive branch to judges directly and to the law indirectly. Any exercise of police power must be done according to "the book" and formally justified.

The Essence of Elections

Which groups of 1) crony capitalists and 2) lumpen-proletarians will become the main tax-eaters?

Rawls: Conclusion

Contractarianism is an intriguing approach to ethics, but unlike what Rawls imagines, it still yields laissez-faire capitalism as its political economy and ethics.

Rawls on Envy

Assuming society is not divided into rigid castes and the lack of government fetters and restraints that would prevent some from succeeding in certain ways, a person's destiny is in his own hands. If he fails repeatedly, he may come to feel self-loathing and self-contempt. These feelings are unsurprising. But there are two ways of ameliorating them: one can continue to try to lift himself up or try instead to pull others down.

Rawls mentions a zero-sum society where one person's gain is another's loss. There is no way to lift oneself up without in the process pulling others down. He claims that here justice demands equal distribution of primary goods. Perhaps. Let me make a weaker claim: there is a reason 1) to outlaw competition between members of such a society as producing a net loss for everyone and because of that, 2) to maintain a very rigid social hierarchy. On the one hand, envy would be natural in such a society and could not be constructively dealt with. On the other hand, envious feelings might not arise at all to the extent that each member feels that his place in the scheme of things is assigned to him from birth until death as if by fate and that he is not expected to justify himself anew every day. He resigns himself to the will of the gods. He cannot improve his own position, but neither can he, in the process of trying to improve it, fail. Envy is checked at the source.

The horror of envy is shown in a different scenario: prolonged failure injures my self-respect and sense of self-worth so much that I don't care if I suffer a loss, if only the better-off suffer an even bigger loss. Thus, if Smith and Jones have utilities A = (50, 100), then Smith's envy can be manifested in his desire to obtain B = (40, 70).

Smith can then try to justify his envy by claiming that B is more equal than A and that this equality is in the interest of justice itself. Perhaps Smith is deluded, and his mind is clouded by envy, but I agree with Rawls that Smith's concept of justice must be evaluated on its own merits. Only if his version of egalitarianism is unjust can we condemn him of the sin of envy.

Even Rawls, I think, would judge this type of envy as contrary to the difference principle and to his system as a whole.

Another possibility is simply that Smith wants to loot Jones, to steal money from him, and justifies his crime by saying that the "transfer," whether initiated by Smith personally or through a political process, will make him and his victim more equal which will be just.

Once again, Smith's defense needs to be given careful attention; only if it does not work can we say that Smith is a thief.

Perverted Cocksuckers Seek Special Privileges

It's the essence of "gay rights" and of the civil rights movement in general.

Update. Case in point.

The Role of the State

Suppose Smith assaults and beats up Jones.

Insofar as Smith commits a sin, he wounds his own soul. There is only one party with a problem: Smith. The state cannot save Smith from himself and does not punish Smith as a form of involuntary penance to grant him forgiveness and restoration.

Insofar as Smith does unjust harm to Jones, there are two parties to the dispute. Smith tears the proper relations between himself and Jones, as in, the bonds of civic friendship and brotherhood of men. If Jones sues Smith, then the state may help him to obtain restitution, but once again the state has no power to reforge or repair these bonds. As Jesus says,

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.

Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.

Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Mt 5:25-26)

How can both Smith and Jones exist together in the communion of saints marked by both superior charity and justice, when Smith's debt to Jones has not been paid? The state can in turn beat up Smith, but that alone cannot reconcile Smith and Jones.

Finally, insofar as Smith damages social cooperation and the smooth functioning of the market process, there are three parties involved in the ugly situation: Smith, Jones, and the rest of society. Smith can't be allowed to disrupt the thread-fine symbiotic harmony that thrives within the market economy. It would only encourage him and other like miscreants to continue to terrorize the citizens, thereby undermining their sense of security of their property rights. Deterring aggression by punishing Smith is now fully within the power of the state. Since Smith, too, is a citizen, his punishment should not be excessive but such that the marginal cost to him of an extra beating or month in prison is just outweighed by the benefit to society of the extra crime deterred.

Who Is the Worst Off?, 2

All deviations from initial equality must benefit the worse- (or worst-) off, according to the "difference principle" outlined by Rawls.

But who are these miserable sons of bitches? We can only find that out by examining an actual society. Let's have a laissez-faire free market operate in some country for a long period of time, say, 100 years. At some point we take a snapshot of the economy. We locate the rich people and call them the "better-off" and the poor people and call them the "worse-off."

Question: does it make sense at that precise moment immediately to invest the government with massive new powers to begin expropriating, confiscating, and transferring wealth and incomes from the better-off to the worse-off?

Obviously, "distributive justice" must occur on the level of social institutions. A poor man who robs a rich man on the street at gunpoint does not by this criminal act demonstrate the workings of the difference principle.

Neither do paroxysms of theft by government seem to have the requisite permanence and generality. The just tax regime must always exist; it can't be turned on and off like a spigot to deliver "justice" to the populace. It seems like mob justice to me.

But in that case, identifying the worse-off becomes problematic. A system that features large numbers of people on government dole will have different people as the worse-off and better-off. For example, let a certain man perceive an opportunity to make a great investment that under freedom would make him a millionaire and one of the better-off; as things actually are, he is deterred from investing by the taxes that preserve the risk of the investment but diminish the reward. By missing this unique chance, he remains poor all his life and thus is one of the worse-off. Another man is born not especially bright but with a great talent for sports. Under taxes, he vegetates on welfare all his life. Under unhampered capitalism, he takes his destiny into his own hands, rises to the top, becomes champion, and earns a lot of money, thereby raising himself into the ranks of the better-off.

It seems therefore, that no "objective" determination can be made of who "won" and who "lost" in the "natural lottery." The people who win and lose will only be revealed once we exit the original position and watch them, empirically, in action, hustling and fighting, scratching and biting. The choice of the principles of justice changes who will be high and who, lowly.

As a result, Rawls is tasked with comparing the utilities of the worse off in different societies, such as in order to actuate the difference principle, interpersonally. I am not 100% sure this point explodes the principle, but it's food for thought.

Economic Stages and the Original Position

The stages of economic development are each characterized by its own key social / ideological innovation.

Thus, the first innovation, the state, puts an end to autarkic total war. The isolated families come together to form a tribe. The state (perhaps exemplified by the entire community) is more powerful than any individual or identifiable subgroup within the tribe, and each is deterred through fear of punishment from inflicting unjust harms on fellow men. Tribal wars persist, but the foundation for peace is laid. Everyone is equal before the "law" and alive, though everyone is still equally a loser mired in abject poverty.

With slavery comes division of productive activities. In our primitive tribe there were no business firms of any sort; there were no economic differences between members at all. Now some men offer to their fellows to work for them as slaves, receiving subsistence -- but still higher than autarkic -- wages, thereby organizing an enterprise to produce something. They also may acquire the ability to capture and guard many unwilling slaves obtained through raids upon neighboring nations. Prisoners of wars between tribes are no longer murdered outright but are enslaved and put to work. Each slave-owner produces different things and trades with other slave-owners. Wealth creation for a few skyrockets.

The problem is that slave labor is deeply unproductive. The third innovation inaugurates the transition to feudalism and serfdom: division of labor. Each serf pays a tax to the tax-lord but is free to specialize and work wherever he pleases and accumulate as much wealth as he can, subject to the taxes. Each worker now has an incentive to be as productive and competent as he can. The great variety of individual talents and natural environments ensures that labor will be minutely divided within firms and factories. The spectacular efficiency of this device brings vastly increased prosperity to many.

Capitalism is marked by the final improvement: freedom of entrepreneurship. With it, all productive and creative forces of society are finally fully unleashed to the enormous benefit of all members who now enjoy fast improvement in their standard of living, whatever (temporary) positions within social cooperation they hold.

This has bearing on Rawls' theory of justice. Once again I wondered, where do the goods to be distributed equally in the original position come from, such that any deviation from this equality shall then be permitted only if it is in the interest of the worse-off?

Perhaps our stage 2, a tribe with a state qualifies. Let's say every week the men venture out to hunt a mammoth whose meat is then divided equally among the households. How should this society evolve?

The answer has been suggested: it should implement the foregoing innovations step by step or even all at once. But each innovation greatly increases the speed at which the standard of living grows for some, and the last one, entrepreneurial capitalism, maximizes this speed for everyone, both worse-off, medium-off, and better-off.

Rawls' fanatical and preposterous interventionism to "correct" capitalism simply is not in the picture according to this interpretation of the choices extant in the original position.

Justice at Its Most Basic

There is a form of prisoner's dilemma here: if Smith is just, then it pays Jones to be unjust in order to take advantage of Smith's pathetic naïveté and gullibility; if Smith is unjust, then Jones can best protect himself from Smith's wickedness and rapacity again by being unjust himself. And vice versa. As a result, both end up unjust and nipping social cooperation in the bud, whereas their collective well-being would be far greater if both were just.

Smith Just Smith Unjust
Jones Just (10, 10) (-50, 50)
Jones Unjust (50, -50) (-10, -10)

Hence the need for a state that would punish an individual for his own injustices. The punishments, like certain luxury taxes, are meant to be avoided by all members of society in order to shift the equilibrium to everyone's benefit to (10, 10).

Obsession with Perfect Bodies?

What a strange thing for the Pope to inveigh against! I walk around town, and I don't see "normal" people who are (vainly) pouring time, money, and effort into honing their physiques.

I see large numbers of morbidly obese people who are uninterested in improving their bodies at all!

There is a chick working at my nearby CVS. I contemplated asking her, as I was paying for my purchase, "Why are you so fat? You're hideous; I wouldn't have sex with you even if you were the last woman on earth! In addition, you're going to have huge health problems. Don't these things bother you?" Only politeness prevented me from carrying out this experiment. (Would she be "offended"? Or answer truthfully?)

In addition, surely, health and physical beauty are great goods. Of what direct use is ugliness to either God or men?

Pope Francis follows the pattern of condemning temporal goods as insignificant or unseemly without explaining how spiritual goods are supposed to arise in their absence.