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: [snipped] > > ...Between "ought" claims and ordinary value judgments there > is at least as much of a logical gap as any between is's and oughts. > [snipped] > > ....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) etc. 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). etc. 3. Derive the 'ought' component via the syllogism: PREMIS: 'Given that one chooses to be rational, CONNECTIVE then MORAL MAXIM: one ought to 'Love (value) their neighbor as they love (value) themself'. 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. http://www.rationology.net