Category Archives: Metaethics

I have some good ideas on this one. Should I write a book?

Foundation of Morality

It would seem that if Smith hates Jones, then Smith has a reason to try to harm Jones. And if Smith on the contrary loves Jones, then he has a reason to work zealously for Jones' sake, since the beloved is "another self," and their wills unite and their hearts indwell in each other through charity. Finally, is Smith is indifferent toward Jones, then he should be willing to use Jones for his own advantage and profit from his existence and actions within society as part of social cooperation, free market, etc.

But in each case, Smith would seem to receive his reward in full. Even in the second case of love, Smith freely rejoices in Jones' happiness. Whence then morality?

The answer is that the causal relation between feelings toward others and deeds toward them goes both ways.

Thus, Smith's hatred for Jones can cause Smith to injure Jones. But injuring Jones likewise deepens Smith's hatred. If Smith on the contrary "forced himself" to do good to Jones, then his hatred for Jones would likely diminish. Enough of such seemingly "unmotivated" good deeds, and Smith might rid himself of hatred for fellow men completely.

Similarly, it's not just that charity toward neighbor causes good deeds; but good deeds tend to increase one's charity, though not necessarily in an obvious fashion.

In this sense, natural morality involves the intellect purifying the will of violent hatred. It suppresses, often through prodigious effort and painful self-abnegation and penance, existing vicious desires, substituting at first "indifference," non-aggression, abstinence from vengeance, and willingness to cooperate within society for mutual benefit. Therefore, morality motivates not through a desire but through a purely intellectual grasp of one's duty which commands that certain desires be purged from the soul.

Christian morality goes further and enjoins not just peaceful self-interested cooperation but active love for fellow men. It therefore demands that one grow in charity throughout his whole life. Again, a Christian may not feel any particular charity at first, but through holy works, this charity is sure to increase; that's how the world and human beings work. The motivation is an understanding of one's grace-enhanced moral duty, not any desire. If the motivation for a good deed is 100% existing charity, then moral progress might not occur. St. Thomas even divides people into beginning, proficient, and perfect in virtue:

For at first it is incumbent on man to occupy himself chiefly with avoiding sin and resisting his concupiscences, which move him in opposition to charity: this concerns beginners, in whom charity has to be fed or fostered lest it be destroyed;

in the second place man's chief pursuit is to aim at progress in good, and this is the pursuit of the proficient, whose chief aim is to strengthen their charity by adding to it;

while man's third pursuit is to aim chiefly at union with and enjoyment of God: this belongs to the perfect who "desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ." (ST, II-II, 24, 9)

For some reason, this elementary dynamics, long well-understood in the Christian world, seems to escape modern moral philosophers. For example, Lester uses the strange and objectionable term "altruism" and, though defining it reasonably as "an interest in other people... as ends in themselves," fails to connect it to love of friendship.

Duties to Self?

There are no duties to self; there are rather 2nd-order desires whose satisfaction partly builds and partly reveals one's personality.

Interpersonal duties are perfect: one must never steal; acting on 2nd-order desires is an imperfect imperative in Kantian terms; one is at times permitted not to seek self-perfection.

No particular personal virtue must be pursued, even imperfectly, since one needs to specialize even regarding character, in the way that one must not commit any crime.

Duties by their nature must be done regardless of desires; 2nd-order desires compete for satisfaction with 1st-order desires. In other words, duties motivate by demanding that wicked desires be suppressed; it's always an individual choice whether to seek the satisfaction of incompatible 2nd- or 1st-order desires.

Mea Culpa on Metaethics

I previously figured that the metaethics proper regarding the human nature trinity (intellect, will, power) was cognitivist, desire-driven, and externalist. And I defended that view with some eloquence.

Moreover, I correctly identified the external reasons for being just: charity, progression in virtue and narrow happiness, and fear of punishment.

But that implies that a proposition like "stealing is wrong" does not have any necessary or conceptual connection with the motivation not to steal. And indeed the connection is not 100% obvious, but I now think it most certainly exists.

Moreover, the other property must also be flipped: I reject the Humean theory of motivation in regard to metaethics.

Now "theft is wrong" is an abstraction. To understand and prove this statement, we reduce it to concrete self-interest. We have to, because it is the essence of human beings that they aim at ends.

There is an analogy here to other abstractions, such as high-level programming languages. The C++ language completely abstracts from hardware events such as electric currents flowing through the processor. It is impossible, as in beyond human powers, to write a non-trivial piece of software in machine code. Human-readable languages are different from 0s and 1s not just in degree but in kind, as enabling such a profession as "computer programming" and discipline of computer science. Of course, a program will be translated into machine code via a compiler which is just another program. But while the very first (and primitive) compiler had to be written in machine code (or assembly language), each next more sophisticated generation of C++ version N could be written mostly in C++ version (N - 1) and other high-level languages. A modern C++ compiler is precisely an instance of non-trivial software that is far too complex to try to write in machine code. This is an example of how abstractions are genuine game-changers.

We can rewrite (1) "theft is wrong" as (2) "it is one's duty not to steal." But it is the meaning of "duty" that it "must" be done irrespective of desires. It restricts the ends one can legitimately aim at. One cannot, if he has a duty, pursue goals that conflict with the duty, and in fact it makes no sense to talk of "duties" if that is not accepted. So, understanding the concept of duty and accepting that one has a duty not to steal immediately by virtue of the meaning of term "duty" compels one to abstain from stealing.

In other words, proposition (1) does not express a desire, like "vanilla ice-cream is good"; nor somehow creates or elicits a desire, but instead motivates by destroying certain desires, by making them illegitimate. The duty cuts off desires, such as a desire to profit by a wrongful act, at the root. If one finds in himself a desire to steal yet recognizes that stealing is wrong, then he is by that very fact led to suppress the desire ASAP. The truth of (1) motivates by telling each person which desires he ought not to act on; which desires defile the soul and hence are to be purged from the heart. The intellect must cleanse the will of evil through ruthless self-discipline, penance, prayer, and whatever other means are requisite.

We can see that the Humean motivation theory does not apply to (1). Men are motivated by the flaring up of desires, but moral duties motivate by eliminating desires.

The correct metaethics then is cognitivist, duty (and not desire)-driven, and internalist.

The theory of the the virtue trinity (self-knowledge, self-love, self-creation and self-discovery) must also now be adjusted. I thought the Humean theory of motivation did not apply to it, because it involved acting on 2nd-order desires. But those are still one's own desires. Further, the virtue trinity is externalist for two reasons.

Regarding character, because one has to specialize even in regard to which virtues to cultivate. Becoming virtuous is an imperfect duty; unlike not stealing which is perfect. It may be true in some sense that good character traits form a unity: a cowardly man is not prudent; nor a foolhardy man, courageous. But the choice still needs to be made at least at each moment, and the final product of this self-making will probably not feature a perfectly well-rounded, harmonious, and maximally developed character.

Regarding self, even if one correctly judges that temperance is a virtue (so we are still cognitivist), one need not automatically choose to satisfy the 2nd-order desire of becoming temperate as opposed to a 1st-order desire to indulge in wild sex orgies. Each person is free to adjudicate these conflicting ends according to his own counsel.

In nature, the moral law is outside, commanding one to obey regardless of his own wishes, and even to eradicate those wishes; in virtue, the vision of one's best self is inside, presenting a choice of whether, when, and how to achieve it. The choice between 2nd-order desires of what sort of person one wants to become and 1st-order desires is more momentous than the choice between 1st-order desires in the non-cognitivist, desire-driven, and internalist narrow happiness trinity, but it's entirely one own nonetheless.

Hume, Property, 2

Hume distinguishes nicely between

three different species of goods, ... the internal satisfaction of our mind, the external advantages of our body, and the enjoyment of such possessions as we have acquired by our industry and good fortune.

[I] We are perfectly secure in the enjoyment of the first.

[II] The second may be ravished from us, but can be of no advantage to him who deprives us of them.

[III] The last only are both exposed to the violence of others, and may be transferred without suffering any loss or alteration; while at the same time, there is not a sufficient quantity of them to supply every one's desires and necessities. (3.2.2)

I think that [II] permits us to argue that each person owns his own body.

Hume makes another brilliant point a little later in the text.

After men have found by experience, that their selfishness and confined generosity, acting at their liberty, totally incapacitate them for society; and at the same time have observed, that society is necessary to the satisfaction of those very passions, they are naturally induced to lay themselves under the restraint of such rules, as may render their commerce more safe and commodious.

To the imposition then, and observance of these rules, both in general, and in every particular instance, they are at first induced only by a regard to interest; and this motive, on the first formation of society, is sufficiently strong and forcible.

But when society has become numerous, and has increased to a tribe or nation, this interest is more remote; nor do men so readily perceive, that disorder and confusion follow upon every breach of these rules, as in a more narrow and contracted society.

Ah-hah. In a small society (SS), then, such as one that consists of just Crusoe and Friday under normal conditions of moderate scarcity, Friday's every act to benefit from cooperating with Crusoe will also happen to be just according to the laws of a large society (LS). For example, if Crusoe and Friday divide their labor such that Crusoe specializes in catching fish; and Friday, in gathering berries; then as far as Friday is concerned, Crusoe for him is just a remarkable if mysterious machine, Crusoe-Matic 9000, that efficiently converts berries into fish. It would be foolish for Friday to try to break CM-9000 and grab the few fishes inside without depositing the requisite amount of berries. He won't find any more in there the next day, and the machine may up and zap him with an electric bolt while he sleeps. The fact that Friday must respect the CM-9000's manual of operation is just a fact of nature. Call this fact "natural law" and the fishes that appear in the machine every day for use by Friday, Crusoe's "property."

As society grows "to a tribe or nation," it becomes large and theft of all kinds may becomes profitable. The harm to society as a whole from an individual act of injustice is negligible, yet it benefits the thief considerably. Thus, we need the institutions of justice in LS to threaten punishment to lawbreakers in whose place in SS mere self-interest sufficed.

I think this works much better than the labor theory of property [1], [2].

Hume’s Metaethics

He is a non-cognitivist and even emotivist, as is clear from passages like:

To have the sense of virtue, is nothing but to feel a satisfaction of a particular kind from the contemplation of a character. The very feeling constitutes our praise or admiration.

We go no farther; nor do we inquire into the cause of the satisfaction. We do not infer a character to be virtuous, because it pleases: But in feeling that it pleases after such a particular manner, we in effect feel that it is virtuous.

The case is the same as in our judgments concerning all kinds of beauty, and tastes, and sensations. Our approbation is implied in the immediate pleasure they convey to us. (3.1.2)

However, later on in the same chapter he proposes a powerful objection to his own theory.

Remember that the proper metaethics is (1) cognitivist, (2) actuated by duty not desires, (3) internalist. But the proper conception of physical goods is (1') non-cognitivist -- a thing's goodness (for me) is expressed in my enjoyment of it, (2') driven by 1st-order desires, and (3') also internalist, wherein the connection between judgment and motivation is that the motivation to pursue a pleasure causes the judgment "it is good" to be true.

If, following Hume, we mistakenly deem metaethics to be non-cognitivist + desire-driven, then how do we tell apart metaphysical goods (say, the nobility of charity or the wickedness of murder) from physical goods (say, the pleasure of eating ice-cream or the awfulness of the screech of monkeys)? "If virtue and vice be determined by pleasure and pain, these qualities must, in every case, arise from the sensations; and consequently any object, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational, might become morally good or evil, provided it can excite a satisfaction or uneasiness." Hume's first reply is that the pleasures and pains associated with virtue and vice are "peculiar" and presumably uniquely different from any pleasure produced by a merely material object.

Hume will then say than a wine, music, and man are good because they cause pleasure but for different qualities; thus, wine is good for its flavor; music, for its harmony; and man, for his virtue. But there is a problem. Wine and music are my bitches. They exist solely for my pleasure and are thrown away with contempt and indifference or even hatred when I find them tiresome. On the other hand, a girl is not a mere device that assists my masturbation. A human being is not a consumer good. At the very least, then, we must acknowledge that good wine is good physically, and a good man is good metaphysically. Hume is indicating that the goodness of both is, despite this obvious distinction, fully derivative from the pleasure they cause to us. This is plausible for wine. But wouldn't the man still be good, such as charitable or brave or loyal to his friends or cause even if I never knew of him? Isn't it in fact a test of my moral goodness to admire him for these virtues? I am not at this moment distinguishing between subjective vs. objective goodness, though this is a worthy subject in its own right; merely between judgment that is obtained from sentiment in physical good vs. sentiment that is obtained from judgment in metaphysical good. For the former, I love X, and then and because of it, X becomes good. For the latter, Y is good, and then I had better love Y (or else).

In addition, (1) "theft is wrong" means (2) "it is one's duty not to steal." But it is the meaning of "duty" that it restricts one's goals. One cannot, if he has a duty, aim at ends that conflict with the duty, and in fact it makes no sense to talk of "duties" if that is not accepted. So, understanding the concept of duty and accepting that you have a duty not to steal immediately by virtue of the meaning of term "duty" compels you to abstain from stealing. Proposition (1) motivates by cutting off certain desires at the root, such as desire to profit by a wrongful act. It motivates not by creating a desire but by destroying certain desires, by making them illegitimate. If one finds in himself a desire to steal yet recognizes that stealing is wrong, then he is led to suppress the desire posthaste.

Hume's second argument is problematic, as well. He writes that the peculiarity of the feelings that virtue excites in us lies in their nature of pride / humility and love / hatred. I have written that the former are aspects of self-love. Regarding the latter, hatred for a fellow man is unnatural, as in, never justified, thereby being below human nature; at the same time loving another human being is impossible without divine grace which is above nature. (Thus, falling in love is due to the bestowal of grace; and mothers, too, I think, are given grace to love their children.) Since his book is a treatise on human nature as opposed to beastliness or deiformity, Hume is not allowed to invoke hatred or love in his arguments.

Essence of Moral Ought

Hume criticizes philosophers for sliding in their writings indefensibly from an "is" to an "ought."

Suppose then that you tell me: "You ought not to kill."

To which I reply: "Who are you to tell me how to live? Maybe I feel like killing someone. In fact, I am right now going to go kill Smith, collect his insurance, and then enjoy a nice cake and a cup of coffee to celebrate and laugh at your presumptions."

To which you reply: "If you do that, I'll take your life."

And this makes me pause right away. For, as pointed out already below, I am not facing the choice of killing Smith and getting rich vs. letting Smith live and staying poor. It may well be that my moral scruples will prevent me from committing murder. Or they will not. I'd then weigh the pleasures involved and decide on the most profitable course of action.

No, here I am threatened with the loss of my very life. A dead man cannot enjoy his ill-gotten money or eat cake and drink coffee. Mises makes a similar point in regard to the ideological choice between capitalism and socialism:

A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society.

Similarly, a man who chooses between committing murder and moral behavior does not choose between two equally reasonable occupations or avocations; he chooses between life as a branch nourishing and being nourished by the vine of society and being cut off from the social body as though a gangrenous foot for the sake of the whole. He chooses between life and the electric chair; ultimately between heaven and hell.

This is not a free choice but a necessity imposed upon us by society and by God. One cannot desire as a result to do otherwise than as he ought and in so doing thwart the anti-Humean.

The argument works for a string of smaller crimes, as well, and not just for first-degree murder. A judge needs to find a deterrent sufficient to cause a criminal to reconsider his lifestyle. As a result, punishment must be ratcheted up each time the criminal is caught and found guilty. The first time Smith steals a car, he gets probation. The second, 1 year in prison. The third, 5 years. At some point the judge will wonder whether Smith is a mad dog who refuses to heed any incentive. In such a case, the judge must protect society from further harm by condemning Smith to death or life imprisonment.

This ties in with my earlier posts about "small" and "large" societies. In the former, such as the Crusoe-Friday society on their deserted island, injustice is directly irrational and makes no sense from the purely self-interested "economic" standpoint of the potential criminal. In the latter, crime becomes unprofitable through threat of punishment by the state.

Regarding interpersonal morality, I favor (a) cognitivism, (b) Humean theory of motivation, and (c) externalism. But I've written on this before.

Hume: Is Reason a Slave to Passions?

Refer to the following table:

Part intellect power will
Part wisdom duty charity
Pre-temperament Barely Human (higher) humanity Monster
Gender yang fruit yin
Part character self-creation / discovery ideal
Temperament (approved of) personality Guardian Idealist
Gender fruit yin yang
Narrow Happiness
Part plan execution enjoyment
Temperament Rational Artisan (true) happiness
Gender yin yang fruit

Hume is correct that reason (plan-making - yin) is a slave to passions (procuring of enjoyment, fruit), but only in the narrow happiness trinity. There, the reason is indeed reduced to cranking out means to arbitrarily chosen ends.

But narrow happiness is the last human end. Before one can pursue it, he must attain the first end or "higher humanity" in the nature trinity and the second end of "approved-of personality" in the virtue trinity. Things are different there.

Yang uses yin in order to produce fruit. Thus, for nature, an evil will or hatred for fellow men results in one's committing crimes against person and property. Criminals are hanged and lose their lives. There is no pursuit of virtue or narrow happiness for corpses. Hence, one must so bend the desires with his reason as to obtain the nature of willing good to other citizens in order to avoid prison or execution. Then the person will be socially free and able to live his life as he pleases and seek his own personal ends.

The intellect straightens out the will for the sake of survival, bodily and even ultimately spiritual.

For virtue, intellect is the fruit, understood as self-knowledge and peace with the sort of person one is. A virtuous person feels no shame for who he is nor regrets for what he's done. The yang-will, understood as self-love drives the yin-duties to build a permanent character. Here, the natural and primordial passion of self-love serves the self-making of a person and the end of knowing oneself, since unexamined narrow happiness is not worth pursuing.

One wills to follow a dutiful routine which turns into habits which turn into character for the sake of calm, luminous, and confident self-knowledge.

Without a "big picture" like this, disputes between Hume and his opponents will be unintelligible.

For example, when Hume writes that "it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger," we initially get stunned from the apparent plausibility of a proposition so outrageous. The solution to the puzzle is to notice that desiring the destruction of the whole world is evil, and if Hume attempted this, he'd be killed physically by his intended victims who would defend themselves and perhaps even go to hell. He won't get the chance to enjoy his success. As a result, before Hume could scratch his finger, an innocent desire belonging squarely to narrow happiness, he'd have to purify his own corrupt will by some kind of penance. There is no pleasure in this, to be sure. But a necessity would lie upon him, as he cannot will his own death. He'd have to upgrade his temperament from Monster to something better first.

Attraction of Relativism

The plausibility of moral relativism may lie in the fact that each person most ordinarily is a member of numerous civil associations. Thus, I am a member of my family, I am Catholic, I am a philosopher, I live in Pheasant Run in Akron, Ohio, I play Hearthstone on occasion, and so on. The rules for dealing with fellow members of these communities differ from one to another. I treat my next-door neighbors differently from fellow philosophers. Then people rush to judgment that all interhuman law is "just" a convention.

In each of these associations, other members are closer to me than complete strangers. But is it really the case that complete strangers have no claim on me at all? A little reflection shows that they do. "You shall not kill" commands each person not kill precisely strangers. Rules of this sort are known as natural law. Each person is free to associate with those he likes and to love them more than strangers and to acquire special rights and duties that go beyond basic justice, but natural law is still no joke, specifying as it does the minimum consideration other people ought to be given.

A question can arise whether people can "by convention" agree to renounce some of their natural rights. For example, while normally assault is everywhere prohibited, two boxers can agree to beat each other up in the ring for money to entertain spectators. I think there are some fairly remote possibilities where each member of a community can vote away their natural rights, but usually such arrangements are moral perversions and are avoided.

Ideal Subjectivism, 2

Note the rider in the previous post: "nonmorally informed, impartial, ..." This causes ethical subjectivism to be different from the divine command theory of morality, because God is presumed to be perfectly moral, whatever that means exactly.

As a result, many different ideal observers can still disagree because each is an idealization of a particular individual whose own personal judgments determine right and wrong; it's just that a judgment 1) no longer belongs to him as he is right now but to some nebulous far-out ideal counterpart, and 2) is purified perhaps of some especially egregious "irrationalities," whatever that means, as well.

As a result, even the ideal subjectivists' moralizing will differ; though they will all be alike non-morally, they will still differ in their moral outlook, sentiment, and grasp of the issues.

“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.

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?

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.

States and Acts

For nature, the state is relations, and the acts are duties.

For character, the state is virtues; the acts consist in cultivation of the best self.

For narrow happiness, the state is arts; and acts are "human actions," executions of plans to satisfy desires.

All states are habits (from Latin habēre, to have), but in different directions.

Relations have you (you are in relationships, literally); virtues are you; and you have arts and techniques.

Re: Why It Is Good to Be Good

I'm rather in awe how much identical stuff I and John H. Riker have discovered independently.

A dominating feature of his work is the idea that one's friends act in the capacity of "self-objects." The ideal existence cannot be the Thomistic contemplation of God or even sciences, because each person, far from being self-sufficient, is in fact "fragile, interdependent, and needing a trustworthy matrix of self-objects."

This makes it particularly aggravating that he does not define or give examples of the work performed by a self-object. My guess is that a self-object does things like: agree with, sympathize with, praise, encourage, argue with, fraternally correct, offer acceptance to, etc. a subject. E.g.:

"And he, like, takes out a handkerchief and blows his nose into it."
"Eww, gross!"
"I go: that's what disposable tissues are for!"
"You don't see that every day."
"I know, right?!"

Read that out loud, and you'll feel a certain communion going on.

His reasons for being ethical is that a bad person cannot do two things: 1) he cannot empathize with other people, therefore have true friends, therefore enjoy and himself supply self-objects relations; 2) he cannot create a self and so find true happiness.

In my terminology, that translates into 1) that a bad person cannot progress from hatred of others to indifference to love for them or himself be truly loved in the nature trinity, 2) that he cannot create his own personality and through that find narrow happiness (such as because such people "have unjust souls that are anarchically controlled by whims"), therefore true happiness when nature, virtue, and narrow happiness are combined.

I was influenced by St. Thomas' description of love as involving union, mutual indwelling, ecstasy, and zeal. I am further in full and passionate agreement with 1 Cor 13. But if we add Riker's insight of what a loving friend does for another, i.e., perform self-object services, than we see exactly what crucial goods a bad person cuts himself off from.

Ethics: Some Definitions

Character = a harmonious union of a number of well-defined and known virtues: courage, prudence, humility, magnanimity, modesty, justice, etc.

Self = a collection and solidification of permanent pleasures, interests, loves, projects, and life's works.

Personality = character + self = the virtue trinity.

Persona = social roles, such as one's job, public accomplishments, objects of pride.

Character is built, self is discovered.

It may be asked, if one (though not the overriding) purpose of life is soul-making, why would not God create us with perfect character and full self-knowledge? Because the process of character-building and self-discovery is everlasting. There is no such thing as a fully completed human soul. Might as well start at zero.

Id = desire (potency) / enjoyment (act) in the narrow happiness trinity.
Ego = intellect + power in the happiness trinity.
Superego = demands of natural law in the nature trinity and self-imposed ideals in the virtue trinity.

Personality grounds pursuit of happiness, because one seeks the happiness made proper to himself by his self. These pleasures will not be undone in the future. But both virtue and happiness trinities are in a flux, at the very least in constant development. So they may be aligned well at t1 and misaligned later at t2. Ideally, the process of harmonizing pursuit of 1st-order pleasures with development of personality (and in addition with improvement in nature such as learning to love) is always proceeding and effective.

The key advantage of getting a self is that without it, commitments to long-term projects are problematic, because of the spiritual chaos in one's heart. It makes no sense for me to embark upon complex and long endeavors, if today I like X, tomorrow I dislike X. I begin a task and abandon it only a little later. I'm a "quitter." So my pleasures are of a primitive kind capable of being immediately satisfied: food, sex, games, and the like.

Moreover, while a long-term goal is being achieved, all one does is pay the costs of it. The revenues lie far in the future. A person without a self, even if he resolved to see a project to its end, may find the present pain unjustified by the future pleasure and again, quit.

Development of self is organic, as change-amidst-permanence, so there is always a core self, even if it grows more interesting and complex with time.

Vertical Splitting and Time

Following St. Thomas, we can construct a very fast and loose hierarchy of life-forms.

At the bottom are single-celled organisms that merely "live."

On the next level are plants who possess only the "nutritive" or "vegetative" soul; they "grow." Moreover, such organisms are multicellular and sport different organs.

Then there are animals like oysters that have senses but are immobile.

Then we have higher animals who "transcend space," i.e., who can move about, like parrots and lions.

Up at the very top, we have humans who as rational animals transcend both space and time, i.e., are 4-dimensional, operating in all 4 periods, past, present, future, and timelessness.

To quote from my book,

... seeking narrow happiness by a vicious person is nugatory. For if later on in life Smith decides to "become a better person," whatever exactly that entails for him, then he may have to reject, abandon, and purge those very desires that he struggled so valiantly to satisfy, making all his previous efforts entirely vain.

In other words, suppose Smith once felt that drinking himself into a stupor and wallowing in his own filth like a pig was a fine way of living. Then he wakes up and tries to pull himself together. Here's the thing: recalling his past pleasures will not be a happy experience for Smith but rather full of shame and pain. The pleasures will be despised, and Smith will want to forget his past. It's as if his past is condemned, and his very life thereby shortened.

Such will be the fate of all people without a coherent self.

Vertical Splitting

This means in psychology that "the only way one can both retain a sense of self-worth and engage in the immoral activity is to split off the part of himself that carries his self-image from the part that is performing the action. When persons engage in vertical splitting they are conscious of what they are doing but disavow its reality or its wrongness." (Riker, 100)

In Summa Against the Keynesians, I make this conflict the centerpiece of the virtue trinity formation, i.e., when a person does not approve of what he enjoys and does not enjoy what he approves of. In the book it may be expressed in a somewhat formulaic manner, but then it is an economics not psychology treatise.

Therefore, when a personality grounds the pursuit of happiness, it must be that one strives for all and only those ends which he morally approves of.

Do Humans Have Intrinsic Worth?

This question comes down to whether humans are metaphysically good, in which case if they are, then they ought to be loved. Which is certainly the case.

Note the difference with physical goods.

It is not true that vanilla ice-cream has any claims on us such that it ought to be loved; it is perfectly Ok if one can't stand ice-cream. Moreover, if one does like it, and he chooses it at the expense of other goods, then it straightforwardly ought to be.

Whereas no non-existing human being ought to be.


metaphysical good = is and ought to be loved
physical good = is loved and ought to be.

Update. Humans can be physical goods to each other insofar as one person may be useful to another. Thus, in choosing between applicants for a job, an employer may think that one ought to be working for him, while the rest are set aside. The new employee and the boss are physical goods (with unique properties) to each other.

But this fact is in addition and accidental to both men being great metaphysical goods in themselves.