Thursday, December 24, 2015

9 brief criticisms of UPB

Molyneux quotes are in italics.
1) Self-defense also cannot be required behaviour, since required behaviour (“don’t rape”) can be enforced through violence, which would mean that anyone failing to violently defend himself could be legitimately aggressed against. However, someone failing to defend himself is already being aggressed against, and so we end up in a circular situation where everyone can legitimately act violently against a person who is not defending himself, which is not only illogical, but morally abhorrent. (Page 87) But self-defense is violent, unavoidable from the standpoint of the aggressor being defended against. Therefore it falls in the category of ethics, and is either prohibited or required, according to the argument Molyneux gives in UPB. So if it is not required, it is prohibited. Or is it special somehow, related to enforcement? In effect, the entire UPB book is a justification of self-defense and rule enforcement. Molyneux should have made it clear how this works.

Enforcement requires justification, because it takes a different form in ordinary life than it does in debate. In debate, rules are enforced by pointing to infractions. Violations of the rules weaken a debater's case, sometimes demolish it. We don't put people in jail for making a mistake, we just don't believe them. People don't enforce debate rules by means of physical punishment. Debate is an ideal world of nonviolence. How does Molyneux base enforcement on the ideal of debate? He ignores the question.

2) Preference gives a ranking. Given a set of choices, a preference determines which alternative is chosen. UPB needs a set of prohibitions. Molyneux 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 equivocation. UPB is really universally prohibited behaviour, maybe universally enforced behaviour.

3) Do I believe the coma test? Why shouldn't a man in a coma be treated as if he had reverted to infancy, or as an animal or rock would be treated, on a temporary basis? How can we draw conclusions about ordinary persons this way? An infant needs a guardian, and so does a man in a coma. If either an infant or a man in a coma were somehow able to injure another, the guardian would be responsible, not the infant, and not the man in the coma. Does Molyneux excuse the infant only, or both, or neither?

4) Any Positive obligation must be constantly being fulfilled at all times? I am able to cobble up an elaborate explanation of this idea of Molyneux's, but I am still tempted to count it as a reductio ad absurdum. That is, if I can reason to that conclusion, some of my assumptions must be wrong. The fact that the argument is so elaborate is a danger sign. At the very least, Molyneux needs to explain this better, because it is a very surprising result. He treats it almost as obvious. He bases the idea on universality. Why not think of a positive obligation in analogy to a gas tank, you have to fill it up before it gets empty?

5) Do I care about the 2 guys in a room? Molyneux's critics love to try to twist that scene, for instance, trying to show that it is not logically impossible for the 2 to be mutually obligated to kill each other. If we accept the success of the move against moral obligations based on the coma test, why is the 2 guys test even useful? There is nothing that I can consciously be doing at all times, because I have to sleep. So why would it matter if there were additional absurdities or logical impossibilities if there were two of us? If we have already established that there are no positive obligations, what does this test accomplish?

6) Can we derive a moral truth using UPB? It makes sense to reject a moral proposition that contains logical contradictions or physical impossibilities, and call that "false." But if a moral proposition passes the tests, does that prove it is true? Are we sure we have eliminated all the sources of falseness? He does not so much derive or prove rules as eliminate some. Actually, this would be a respectable accomplishment in itself (if successful), but he pushes it further than he can justify.

7) Molyneux talks about the hypothetical imperative as "if you want X you must do Y or use Y." But the way he uses it, the Y is always a negative, "not steal," "not murder," "not rape." He is clear about what you must not do, vague about what you must do. In fact, he denies that you must do anything. Stef's version of the hypothetical imperative should be, "if you want X, you should not do Y."

8) Molyneux begs the question with most of his example tests. Murder is defined as wrongful killing. There is no difficulty proving that wrongful killing is wrong. The difficulty arrives when we try to draw a clear line between wrongful killing and other sorts, such as legitimate self-defense, accident, etc. Molyneux does not draw this line.

9) Words based on the idea of validity (valid, validate, validity, etc.) are used almost 200 times in the text. Sometimes it can be interpreted as logical validity, others as validity according to the UPB system. In some other contexts it is used in a confusing way, to signify correctness in general or accuracy or something like that. How can a concept or idea be valid or invalid, without reference to a standard of validity? For example: If this “null zone” is valid, then no logical proposition can ever hold. (Page 14). If he means "true," why not say it? 

As you may have noticed, none of these criticisms is deadly to UPB. The fact that Molyneux has made mistakes doesn't disprove his idea. It just means Molyneux has failed to give us good reasons to think he is right.

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