Subject: Re: [evol-psych] "ought" can be plausibly derived from an "is"?
   Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 14:08:36 -0500
   From: "Phil Roberts, Jr." 
     To: "Hill, David" 

"Hill, David" wrote:


> ...Between "ought" claims and ordinary value judgments there
> is at least as much of a logical gap as any between is's and oughts.


> ....If someone could derive significant moral conclusions
> from factual descriptions, plus an appropriate functional analysis of a
> Darwinian sort, plus a few unchallenged axioms, that would be worth doing,
> however you characterize the several sorts of premises involved.

In an earlier post I offered a formula for deriving a prudential 'ought' 
from an epistemic 'is'.  I think it might be helpful to attempt the
same thing again for a moral ought, and then go back and
take a look at what sort of premises underly that ought.

1.  Assume that 'being rational' is NOT a matter of 
      'being efficient' (means/end theory)
      'being logical' (computationalism)
      'being self-interested' (egoism)
      'being happy' (pragmatism)
      'being strategically logical (game theory)
      'following a universalizable maxim (Kant)
      'fullfilling one's desires' (hedonism)
      'maximizing global happiness' (utilitarianism)
    but simply a matter of
       'being able to "see" what is going on'
    with the metaphor unpacked to 
       'being rational' = 'being objective', not only cognitively,
          but valuatively as well.

2.  Corroborate the epistemic credentials (the "is" component of the ought 
    derivation) of the above "theory" in terms of its ability to maximize 
    explanatory coherence better than any of its competitors (means/end, 
    egoism, etc.).
    For example:

    a. The theory can "explain", at least in a conceptual framework not 
       available from the perspective of competing theories, both the 
       excessive altruism and the emotional instability (volatility in 
       self-worth) observable in homo sapiens, in that they can both 
       be construed as two different sides of the same valuative  
       objectivity coin (an equalizing of value between the interests
       of others and one's self).  Since in the above theory, rationality 
       correlates with valuative objectivity, homo sapiens would be 
       construed as having become MORE RATIONAL than the predicted norm 
       (ruthless selfishness).  While this doesn't offer us an immediate 
       causal account of the anomalies in question (altruism and emotional 
       instability), it certainly offers one a new conceptual framework 
       for thinking about them which, in turn, might lead to an improved 
       causal account (e.g., they are maladaptive byproducts of the 
       evolution of rationality).
    b. The theory can shed new light on a number of rationality paradoxes
       such as Newcomb's Problem, Prisoner's Dilemma, etc., in that all
       such paradoxes stem from the assumption that rationality is a 
       strategic attribute

    c. The theory can circumvent the logical paradoxes of rational 
       irrationality, similar to the example offered by Derek Parfit 
       on page 12 of 'Reasons and Persons'.

    d. The theory can explain the chaos of the Cohen symposium on
       rationality ('The Behavioral and Brain Sciences', 1981, 4, 
       317-370) by sharpening the distinction between logic and
       reasoning (I wouldn't go into this here).

    e. The theory can offer intersubjectively reproducible empirical 
       evidence (feelings of worthlessness) that mother nature's most
       rational species is beginning to show signs of "standing outside 
       the system" (Lucas) corroborating the Lucas and Penrose position 
       on the implications of Godel's incompleteness theorem (i.e., minds 
       are not machines).  (again a bit too complex an issue for 
       explanation in this particular post).


3.  Derive the 'ought' component via the syllogism: 
        'Given that one chooses to be rational, 
        MORAL MAXIM:
        one ought to 'Love (value) their neighbor as they love (value) 

  Notice that this moral maxim does not contain any values in the 
  maxim itself.   It merely states, given that one values X 
  such and such an amount, then one ought to value Y such and such 
  an amount.  But that does not mean that the ought doesn't have 
  underlying premises.  Indeed, it would seem to have both a 
  cognitive AND a valutive premis.  The cognitive premis is that 
  the underlying theory of rationality is "true", and the valuative
  premis is that the individual in question values rationality.  
  And quess what?  I don't think this is actually MY theory of
  rationality, in that I suspect the maxim itself rings a bell in 
  just about anyone capable of reflective thought.

  My conclusion then.  Moral oughts are entailments of an implicit 
  theory of rationality we humans have been subconsciously entertaining
  for the past several thousand years (as evidenced by the widespread
  acceptance of the moral maxim) and as such is entailed by the 
  implicit cognitive premis that our shared theory of rationality is 
  "true" and the shared valuative premis that rationality is itself of 
  intrinsic worth, or at least of sufficient worth to warrant that 
  humans will often sacrifice their well-being, and at times their 
  very lives (e.g., self-incinerating Buddhist monks) in the pursuit 
  of moral objectives.

Phil Roberts, Jr.

P. S.  These arguments are developed in greater detail in my 
paper, 'Rationology 101', available at my website.