Thursday, October 25, 2012

comment on UPB page 44-45 universality

In mid page 44, Molyneux begins discussing universality. A moral theory "must be applicable to all people." So no one can be exempt. He makes no mention of different circumstances. Can a "universal" moral principle specify circumstances where different sorts of behaviour are required or prohibited?

Molyneux often uses physical metaphors. He makes analogies with "all rocks must fall down." But what about the behaviour or state of water, which is a solid at low temperatures, a gas at high temperatures, and a liquid in between? A complete physical theory would explain all these phenomena in combination, and in some sense be universal. But the theory must predict/explain different sorts of results for experiments  regarding water performed at different temperatures and air pressures. Can a moral theory include descriptions of different prescriptions and proscriptions that depend on the circumstances of the persons involved?

If I used logic to derive a moral rule, and nothing in the derivation referred to circumstances or specifics other than that the rule applied to a human, we could generalize it to all humans. Actually, a moral rule would need to refer to the moral agency of the subject, since moral rules cannot apply to babies or incapacitated persons.

What sorts of circumstances might change the application of a moral rule? Ownership? Can I use deadly violence to defend someone else who is in danger from an aggressor? In another part of the book, Molyneux states that moral rules should apply to persons in a coma, yet not to persons with diminished intellectual capacity.

Is there some transformation that we can perform on my imperftect, circumstance driven rules, to turn them into universal rules, in the way that we might consider a universal theory of water to include information about ice and steam?

1 comment:

David Burns said...

Since all human beings share common physical properties and requirements, proposing one rule for one person and the opposite rule for another is invalid – it is like proposing a physics theory that says that some rocks fall down, while others fall up.
An analogy can illustrate a point, but hardly counts as an argument. What if I created a globe made of molten rock using nanotechnology, and then filled it with hydrogen or helium, so it floats? Actually that is just a quibble, as the principle could be restated more carefully, in terms of gravity and mass.
The real question is does he analogy necessarily fit? Might not there be something about morality of persons that is not as consistent as mass and gravity? Making the analogy does not prove anything.

Human beings share common physical properties and requirements, therefore strong universality. I am not sure this follows. Also, assume someday we will encounter aliens or transhumans, and hence must apply morality to moral agents that do not necessarily share these properties and requirements, is strong universality defeated?