Re: Modern Physical theory as a basis for Ethical and Existential Nihilism

From: Benjamin Udell <>
Date: Sun, 25 Jan 2004 14:00:31 -0500

Stathis is right. The moral axiomatic system will have to show that in moral/ethical issues we must allow ourselves to be guided by facts & logic. **But even if it succeeds in showing that, one already has to have agreed to be guided by facts & logic in order to be guided by the moral axiomatic system's argument.** One can read the dialogue (I forget which one) in which Socrates argues with somebody who believes that might makes right. Socrates engages his interlocutor into following the facts & logic enough to follow his (Socrates') arguments. But in the end Socrates fails to convince him because in the end his interlocutor will not yield to facts & logic. One can hold Socrates' particular arguments to be faulty but still see how it could all happen. Now, one may argue that up to a certain point it is impossible to ignore facts & logic without being insane. That is true. But only up to a point. Otherwise we wouldn't have the saying, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt.". (I
deed, logic & facts are sometimes difficult to heed, & we have to be sometimes quite toiling & active in order to receive them, get them right, & heed them -- to _allow_ them to determine us, our understanding & behavior, in ways that they would not otherwise do, & often against pressure for us to do otherwise.)

- Ben Udell

>Stathis Papaioannou wrote:

>Let me give a clearer example. Suppose I say that I believe it is a good and noble thing for the strong to oppress the weak, even to the point of killing them; and that if I were in charge I would promote this moral position in schools, through the media, and with changes to the criminal law, so that eventually it becomes accepted as the norm. How are you going to argue against this? You can't point out any errors of fact because I haven't made any empirical claims (other than the trivial one that this is what I in fact believe). You may try to point out the dire social consequences of such a policy, but where in the above have I said anything about social consequences? Frankly, I don't care what the effects of my policy are because I consider the destruction of weaklings in as painful a manner as possible of the greatest importance, and if God is just, I believe that I will go to heaven for having stuck to my moral principles. I know that many people would be horrified by
hat I propose, but I am certainly not the only one in history to have thought this way!

>The point is, you cannot argue against my moral position, because I don't present any arguments or make any claims. All you can do is disagree with me and state an alternative moral position.

>Wei Dai wrote:
>>Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>>>If I stop with (a) above, I am simply saying that this is how I feel about suffering, and this feeling is not contingent on the state of affairs in any actual or possible world [there, I got it in!].
>>(a) as stated is ill defined. In order to actually reason with it in practice, you'd have to define what "activity", "cause", "net", "human", and "suffering" mean, but then it's hard to see how one can just have a "feeling" that statement (a), by now highly technical, is true. What about a slightly different variation of (a), where the definition of "human" or "suffering" is given a small tweak? How do you decide which of them reflects your true feelings? The mere presense of many similar but contradictory moral statements might give you a feeling of arbitrariness that causes you to reject all of them.

>>Difficulties like this lead to the desire for a set of basic moral axioms that can be defined precisely and still be seen by everyone as obvious and non-arbitrary. Again, maybe it doesn't exist, but we can't know for sure unless we're much smarter than we actually are.
Received on Sun Jan 25 2004 - 14:04:22 PST

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