Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Noesis' critique of UPB

Noesis raised at least two interesting questions about UPB. Can some form of moral nihilism (moral anti-realism?) pass the UPB tests? And did Stef beg the question when defining some of his jargon, instead of deriving his results from logic as he claims?

page 31

Noesis, on 01 Feb 2011 - 01:10 AM, said:
It is simply begging the question, [...]
Noesis has a point, but could have made it very simply. UPB as Stef has defined it prejudged any moral theory that involves violence (either in the violation or in the enforcement) as necessarily part of ethics, not neutral or even aesthetic. Universality requires it to be all or nothing, either always required or always proscribed. Can he really get all this from the norms implicit in argument? Or do we need additional restrictions, and an argument supporting them? 

How do we define moral nihilism in the context of UPB? Noesis wants to just say "morality is subjective." But that is not a moral proposition, eligible for testing by UPB. We can't say moral nihilism is "all violence is aesthetic or neutral" by definition. Maybe Noesis should not be so quick to accept the UPB framework?
Noesis, on 01 Feb 2011 - 10:18 PM, said:
The argument for neutrality goes like this: "Inflicting your will, or not inflicting your will on anyone is always (morally) right." [Keep in mind the definition of morality is: a [/size]principle concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.[/size]]
Every possible action is either a case of inflicting to not inflicting your will. So we can simplify this to "Every possible action is always right." Not sure how to plug that in to the 2 guys in a room test. Does this mean they are obligated to be doing everything all the time? Have we re-introduced positive obligations?

Noesis's definition of morality does not match Stef's (subset of UPB that is enforceable). She also either does not notice or intentionally ignores the unusual sense in which Stef uses the word "preference." Unless I am wrong, for Stef, preference is limited to items within the feasible choice set. So, although in some sense I may prefer to fly to Paris, by Stef's definition I do not prefer flying to Paris if I am not flying to Paris (or I've at least bought a ticket). This also undermines her thought experiment where she acts without or against her preferences. As long as she is consciously acting and has a set of feasible choices, her action reveals her preference. She can place herself in circumstances where her choice set is restricted, but that doesn't get her what she wants. Common usage allows us to use the word "preference" in either way, so that it makes sense that I would prefer something that I cannot actually choose, but Stef is using the word in the more narrow sense, and it is Noesis who is equivocating, not Stef, in this case.

"Inflicting your will, or not inflicting your will on anyone is always (morally) right." This statement means that one of 3 possibilities exists, that is, one option, or the other is right, or both are right. If Noesis meant to say both are right, we should replace "or" with "and" in the statement. The original statement is ambiguous.

Let's assume Noesis meant that both options are always right. "Inflicting your will [and] not inflicting your will on anyone both are always (morally) right." Does that make a difference? Within UPB, this means "nothing violates UPB." My version of Noesis's claim is "Morality is objective, but everything is permitted, no enforcement is required. It's all good."

Noesis, on 31 Dec 2011 - 08:38 AM, said:
[from page 13...]
[quoting Nima]"Arguing against the conceptual existence of UPB requires engaging in a debate. But once someone engages in a debate to convince another person, he inevitably implies that all people at all times and at all places should rather prefer truth to falsehood."
No, that's completely false (and absurd). Anyone should be able to clearly see that debating doesn't imply this. [...] For example, if I say that you cannot use UPB to prove the truth of a MORAL CLAIM, and that doesn't mean that I'm saying you cannot use UPB to prove something else (like the logic behind a framework purporting to prove that you can use the said framework to prove a moral claim). See the difference? "UPB" is just a fancy way of saying "logic". 

Habermas and Hoppe also use the performative contradiction idea, so "absurd" goes too far. Maybe controversial would be a better description, or arguable. Noesis's first statement sounds like she is not willing to consider the idea seriously enough to actually understand what Stef is saying. One of the secrets of wisdom is, if an intelligent person says something that seems absurd, it is highly probable that you misunderstand them.

[Nima gives a version of Stef's definition of morality]

Quoting Noesis:
I don't accept this definition. The reasoning in support of this definition is flawed. It assumes that violent infliction is what morality should be about, before morality has been proven as a legitimate category for any actions, never mind only some. [...] what does behaviour that can be avoided have to do with morality, without begging the question that morality exists[...]

Noesis raises a valid concern. Has Stef begged the question, has he cooked his assumptions and definitions in such a way that the system gives unjustified answers? But because she is unwilling to engage with Stef's derivation of these concepts, her argument boils down to "no, you're wrong!" That is, she does not show us the actual problem, she just asserts that it exists.

Another person might suspect that Stef has actually derived his definitions and assumptions from the performative contradiction, and Noesis just doesn't understand the ideas she criticizes. On one hand, I am tempted to forgive her, because Stef's explanation is difficult to follow, and the forum posts responding to her criticisms fail to clarify the issue. On the other hand, she is not very specific in her requests for clarification. Instead of saying "Where does this definition come from?" she says something more like "You can't do that!"

Ultimately, I may agree with her that Stef has pulled a fast one. But I want to do my due diligence before making my decision.


Thomas said...

Noesis claims that "Do whatever you want if you can get away with it" (paraphrase) passes the UPB test. Therefore, everyone should do whatever they want if they can get away with it.
Here's my reply, attempting to speak from Stef's perspective. When a moral proposition passes the UPB tests, that means we are justified in enforcing it. This is true for all such moral claims. So, the fact that this moral claim passes the test means we may enforce it. So, whenever we catch someone doing something that either they don't want to do, or something they can't get away with, we are justified in enforcing the rule. We are also justified in enforcing any and all other rules that pass the tests. By this interpretation, Noesis is correct but has not shown what I think she intended to show.
Or perhaps I should re-paraphrase Noesis as saying "Anyone can do anything." Then her rule seems to pass the tests but justifies no enforcement. But again, for her to establish that her claim fails to justify enforcement of anything is not the same as establishing that enforcement is never justified. All the claims that pass the tests can establish justifications for enforcement.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

What if Noesis replied that the moral proposition "It is wrong to enforce moral propositions" passes the UPB tests? Or, "Not enforcing UPB is UPB."