Sunday, January 19, 2014

UPB Jargon

Here are some terms used in the context of UPB that sometimes have special meanings. Quotes from Stefan Molyneux's book "Universally Preferred Behaviour" are in italics.

Universal: A rule that is universal applies to all moral agents at all times and at all places. I discuss that at length in another post. And here I discuss the source of strong universality. Also see page 43.

Morality and ethics: Stef uses these words interchangeably, but his meaning is distinct from common usage. These words refer to the UPB category dealing with violence, either when the violation of UPB involves physical violence, or when the enforcement mechanism may include violence. They are not avoidable, not consensual. Ethics violations involve unwilling participants, victims.
UPB defines the boundary between ethics and aesthetics according to whether or not all participants are willing participants. I was having a problem dealing with fraud and theft, because they need not be violent. Fraud is sneaky theft, theft that is hidden, so the victim is not aware of being victimized until too late. There is a fine line between fraud, where I intend to fool you, and buyer's remorse, where you fooled yourself.
Morals are a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify universally preferable human behaviours, page 40. Those preferences which can be considered binding upon others can be termed “universal preferences,” or “moral rules," page 40. Ethics is the subset of UPB which deals with inflicted behaviour, or the use of violence. Any theory that justifies or denies the use of violence is a moral theory, and is subject to the requirements of logical consistency and empirical evidence, page 49. Morality is defined as an enforceable subset of UPB, page 76. The subset of UPB that examines enforceable behaviour is called “morality,” page 125.

inflicted, violently inflicted: Stef also uses "forcibly inflicted" sometimes, so these phrases seem to have distinct meanings. If I inflict something on you, I do so without your consent. You have not participated in the choice. Why talk about inflicting, rather than consent or choice? If I do not use violence or force, what do I use? Deception?
Force violates the moral requirement of avoidability, page 118. This capacity for escape and/or avoidance is an essential characteristic differentiating aesthetics from ethics, page 50. preferences for logic, truth and evidence, which are also binding upon others (although they are not usually violently inflicted. Page 40. Ethics is the subset of UPB which deals with inflicted 
behaviour, or the use of violence. Page 48. (Are they synonyms or is he making a composite class composed of two sorts of things?) Wherever ethical theories are corrupt, self-contradictory and destructive, they must be inflicted upon the helpless minds of dependent children. Page 60.

Avoidable: Stef uses this word in the ordinary way, but I included it because it plays such an important role, yet seems hard to objectify. Perhaps I am overstating this. Avoidable stuff happens only if everyone participating has given consent. Why did Stef use the idea of avoidance instead of consent?
Non-violent actions by their very nature are avoidable. Page 48. This capacity for escape and/or avoidance is an essential characteristic differentiating aesthetics from ethics. Page 50. For the moment, we can assume that any threat of the initiation of violence is immoral, but the question of avoidance – particularly the degree of avoidance required – is also important. Page 51.

Aesthetic: Universal preferences that have no element of violence, that are avoidable. In at least one place, Stef also includes non-universal personal preferences in this category. I find that a bit confusing, but I try not to worry too much.

Binding: I read that as "the rule applies". I am tempted toward confusion because "binding" seems to have more of a connotation of "consequences are guaranteed to occur." But this cannot be the case. Stef seems to use it to deny choice, personal preferences do not bind anyone, but logical necessities, etc. cannot be chosen arbitrarily. 
The fundamental difference between statements of preference and statements of fact is that statements of fact are objective, testable – and binding, page 22. Ethics as a discipline can be defined as any theory regarding preferable human behaviour that is universal, objective, consistent – and binding. Naturally, preferential behaviour can only be binding if the goal is desired. If I say that it is preferable for human beings to exercise and eat well, I am not saying that human beings must not sit on the couch and eat potato chips. What I am saying is that if you want to be healthy, you should exercise and eat well. [...] It is true that if a man does not eat, he will die – we cannot logically derive from that fact a binding principle that he ought to eat. page 30. We all know that there are subjective preferences, such as liking ice cream or jazz, which are not considered binding upon other people. On the other hand, there are other preferences, such as rape and murder, which clearly are inflicted on others. There are also preferences for logic, truth and evidence, which are also binding upon others (although they are not usually violently inflicted) insofar as we all accept that an illogical proposition must be false or invalidThose preferences which can be considered binding upon others can be termed “universal preferences,” or “moral rules.” Page 40. 
Enforceable preference vs. unenforceable preference: This seems obvious, but is it? Unenforceable preferences cannot involve violence, either in the violation or the enforcement. To inflict such preferences forcefully is itself a violation of UPB. But what exactly does it mean when Stef discusses enforceable preferences? Presumably, force can be used to enforce rules without violating UPB. Stef does not say much about that. During one podcast, I think he said it is an implementation issue. Here are the only mentions in the book:
We will use the term aesthetics to refer to non-enforceable preferences – universal or personal – while ethics or morality will refer to enforceable preferences. Page 48.
In some cases, Stef uses "enforceable preferences" to mean "violent preferences" or "preferences that can only be satisfied by use of violence." There's an awkward (for me) discussion of this at the end of this thread. Thanks to FDR member cynicist for help.
Universal preference, preference: In common usage we may choose something from the feasible alternatives, while preferring something else. For Stef, personal preference is always about which item from the feasible choice set actually gets chosen. By "universal preference" Stef means a universal "ought," a moral principle that is universal and objective. A person's personal preference and the corresponding universal preference (moral principle) need not match, e.g. an embezzler may calmly decide he prefers to rob his employer, but the "universal preference"/moral principle is that he should not steal.
"Stealing could be universally preferred. In other words, everyone in the world could wake up tomorrow and just decide to become a thief. It's not likely, but it's possible. But [...] stealing cannot be universally preferable."  So, "universally preferred" means everyone actually does prefer it, "universally preferable" is a jargon phrase which means more or less everyone ought to prefer it and make choices as if they preferred it, although they may not actually prefer it or make choices as if they did.
In ordinary speech, Preference gives a ranking. Given a set of choices, a preference determines which alternative is chosen. UPB wants a set of prohibitions. Stef says almost nothing about what you ought to do, discussing instead what you should be punished for. Using the word "preference" as jargon introduces confusion and ambiguity. This is really universally allowed behavior, or universally prohibited behavior, maybe universally enforced behaviour
Evil: That which we can enforce against. Good usually just refers to the avoidance of evil, but without clearly distinguishing it from morally neutral actions. Self-defense cannot be “evil,” since evil by definition can be prevented through force. Page 87

Opposite: Stef doesn't actually use a different definition for this word, but he uses it in a context that confused some of his critics. For example, he begins by examining several possible categories (always good, sometimes good, positively aesthetic, personally preferred, neutral, etc.) He uses some of his other definitions to narrow down the range of possibilities to consider, so that only 2 possibilities remain. In that context, it is a bit confusing but not technically incorrect to use "not X" and "the opposite of X" interchangeably. Given the narrow context of the discussion, where he considers only two possibilities, "not X" and "the opposite of X" both refer to the same concept.

No comments: