New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

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Daniel McKay
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New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Daniel McKay » Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:39 am

I am a PhD student who is working on an entirely new normative theory and, as part of that, I am looking for people to point out any problems with my arguments or any objections I should deal with to my theory. Previously I have posted links to chapters but that is quite a lot to read in order to contribute so instead I'm going to make some abridged versions of my case for my normative theory in this post. If you disagree with anything I say, or can think of an objection to the theory that comes out of it, please let me know. If you make good points I will respond to them in my thesis and reference you however you prefer.

To be clear, this is a very short summation of the arguments present in my first thesis chapters, if you would like to read them in more detail, I can link you the chapter itself.

So, let's dive straight in to the arguments:

I take as my starting assumption that morality, if it exists at all, is the way in which persons (by which I mean free, rational, conscious agents) ought to be or act, where ought is understood in a categorical and universal sense. With this assumption in hand, we can begin to ask what that way might be, or to put it another way, what is of moral value, by considering what it is to be a person. As a way in which persons ought to be or act would apply to all potential persons, not merely us as humans, we cannot use contingent facts about ourselves as humans as the basis for moral value. So moral value cannot be grounded in something like happiness, as we can imagine persons that do not experience happiness. What then could be a basis for moral value? We can consider what is shared by all persons in order to come up with possible candidates and what we find is that all persons have free will, so the capacity to make choices, and also understanding, the capacity to understand their choices. This joint capacity for both understanding and making choices, which I will from now on be referring to as freedom, is not only shared by all persons, it is also not shared by anything that is not a person. There are no things which are not persons, free, rational, conscious agents, which can understand choices and make them freely. This capacity is, in a very real way, what it means to be a person, a moral agent. For this reason, this seems to be our best candidate for moral value. Though it is possible there are other candidates and indeed other things that are of moral value, they will not be discussed here as I do not know what they could be.

So, our candidate for moral value is freedom, but freedom over what? As this morality is objective and universal, it is presumably not the case that it makes conflicting recommendations, or made no recommendations at all, in almost all practical situations, which would seem to be the case if all choices were of equal value. However, if the freedom that matters is the freedom to make one's own choices, the choices that relate to those things that belong to the person; their mind, their body and their property, then morality would be functional. Also, there is something conceptually odd about the idea of being free to make someone else's choices for them, against their will. For these reasons we can say that what is of moral value is the freedom of persons over those things which already belong to them; their mind, their body and their property. As a quick note on property, I should say that I have not yet seen a really good justification for how we come to own unowned property in the first place. If it turns out we cannot truly own property, and it is instead just a useful construct, then we can remove it from our list of things that our ours and treat it purely instrumentally.

So, we have our candidate for moral value, but we don't know what form our moral theory should take. To determine this let us first consider whether we ought to be concerned with the actions people perform or the character traits they exhibit. We might well want to be virtue ethicists of a kind, but many of the traits we might want to consider desirable in persons can't be shared by all potential persons, and those that can, such as being free and rational, are already shared by all free, rational agents, so it isn't clear how we could say a person ought to be. So instead we ought to focus on actions, but do we focus on the consequences of our actions or the form our actions take? We may want to be deontologists and say that people ought to only act in certain ways or according to certain maxims. But the problem with this is that maxims are always arbitrarily defined, in that a maxim that says "don't kill" could be made better if it included an exception for when the person you are killing is trying to kill you and you are defending yourself, but it could be made even better by including an exception for cases where killing that person prevents the death of five others who are in morally similar circumstances, and so on and so on until our maxims describe the situation we are in and what to do in it perfectly. This of course leads to the distinction between acting and letting happen, and it isn't clear how we can draw a clear distinction between something that happens because you did something and something that happens because you stood by. Without having a strong way to morally distinguish action from inaction, it seems we ought to be consequentialists.

So, we have a consequentialist theory with the ability of persons to understand and make their own decisions as the measure of moral value. This means that when acting we ought to ensure we do not violate the freedom of others over their own choices, unless we must do so in order to prevent a greater violation of freedom which could not be prevented without at least this much of a violation occurring, and we have some degree of obligation (which I discuss in it's own chapter but won't get into here) to prevent or reduce such violations. What this means in practice is that determining what to do in a moral situation is not a matter of weighing happiness, following strict and unchanging rules or considering what kind of person acts in a certain way, it is a matter of allowing persons to make their own choices. To give a few examples of practical implications:

* Lying can be wrong in some circumstances such as fraud where it denies the person the ability to understand the choice they are making, but it is not wrong in most circumstances.
* Adultery (assuming there aren't any STIs involved) is a personal issue, not a moral one.
* Parents do not have a right to decide what happens to their children, rather they have an obligation to protect their child until it is capable of making its own choices and to act in its best interests when they must make decisions for it in the interim.
* The role of a government is to first protect its people and then to act in their interests especially when making decisions regarding shared property.
* Nothing can ever be offensive enough that we ought to violate the freedom of a person to say it.

Looking forward to reading all the ways in which you disagree with me.
Thanks for your time.
Dan.

BradburyPound
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby BradburyPound » Mon Jan 09, 2017 1:00 am

I think your entire aim is hopeless.
There are very good and quite obvious reasons for this. Moral systems are formed by cultures. Where we might be convinced to ignore the contingencies of our personalities, each of us is situated in highly complex unbounded cultural influences, and cultures are in themselves contingent of historical and unique circumstances.

Where would you even start? The likelihood is that you are going to start with you own moral assumptions based on peri-christian moral norms. Even if you try to unpack them, where does that get you, except to detach yourself from your own bias; that basis of your opinion; the very lifeblood of your point of view. And without a point of view you are struck dumb.
You can't even divest yourself of your cultural and historic assumptions to even ask what is the purpose of morality; or how could you even define it?

I did not read your whole argument, but stopped at your main goal. I'm going to guess that you are probably some sort of theist who assumes that under all the chaos of human behaviour lies a designer? IF not where are you going to find your universals?>

Dalek Prime
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Dalek Prime » Mon Jan 09, 2017 10:18 pm

Daniel McKay wrote:I am a PhD student who is working on an entirely new normative theory and, as part of that, I am looking for people to point out any problems with my arguments or any objections I should deal with to my theory. Previously I have posted links to chapters but that is quite a lot to read in order to contribute so instead I'm going to make some abridged versions of my case for my normative theory in this post. If you disagree with anything I say, or can think of an objection to the theory that comes out of it, please let me know. If you make good points I will respond to them in my thesis and reference you however you prefer.

To be clear, this is a very short summation of the arguments present in my first thesis chapters, if you would like to read them in more detail, I can link you the chapter itself.

So, let's dive straight in to the arguments:

I take as my starting assumption that morality, if it exists at all, is the way in which persons (by which I mean free, rational, conscious agents) ought to be or act, where ought is understood in a categorical and universal sense. With this assumption in hand, we can begin to ask what that way might be, or to put it another way, what is of moral value, by considering what it is to be a person. As a way in which persons ought to be or act would apply to all potential persons, not merely us as humans, we cannot use contingent facts about ourselves as humans as the basis for moral value. So moral value cannot be grounded in something like happiness, as we can imagine persons that do not experience happiness. What then could be a basis for moral value? We can consider what is shared by all persons in order to come up with possible candidates and what we find is that all persons have free will, so the capacity to make choices, and also understanding, the capacity to understand their choices. This joint capacity for both understanding and making choices, which I will from now on be referring to as freedom, is not only shared by all persons, it is also not shared by anything that is not a person. There are no things which are not persons, free, rational, conscious agents, which can understand choices and make them freely. This capacity is, in a very real way, what it means to be a person, a moral agent. For this reason, this seems to be our best candidate for moral value. Though it is possible there are other candidates and indeed other things that are of moral value, they will not be discussed here as I do not know what they could be.

So, our candidate for moral value is freedom, but freedom over what? As this morality is objective and universal, it is presumably not the case that it makes conflicting recommendations, or made no recommendations at all, in almost all practical situations, which would seem to be the case if all choices were of equal value. However, if the freedom that matters is the freedom to make one's own choices, the choices that relate to those things that belong to the person; their mind, their body and their property, then morality would be functional. Also, there is something conceptually odd about the idea of being free to make someone else's choices for them, against their will. For these reasons we can say that what is of moral value is the freedom of persons over those things which already belong to them; their mind, their body and their property. As a quick note on property, I should say that I have not yet seen a really good justification for how we come to own unowned property in the first place. If it turns out we cannot truly own property, and it is instead just a useful construct, then we can remove it from our list of things that our ours and treat it purely instrumentally.

So, we have our candidate for moral value, but we don't know what form our moral theory should take. To determine this let us first consider whether we ought to be concerned with the actions people perform or the character traits they exhibit. We might well want to be virtue ethicists of a kind, but many of the traits we might want to consider desirable in persons can't be shared by all potential persons, and those that can, such as being free and rational, are already shared by all free, rational agents, so it isn't clear how we could say a person ought to be. So instead we ought to focus on actions, but do we focus on the consequences of our actions or the form our actions take? We may want to be deontologists and say that people ought to only act in certain ways or according to certain maxims. But the problem with this is that maxims are always arbitrarily defined, in that a maxim that says "don't kill" could be made better if it included an exception for when the person you are killing is trying to kill you and you are defending yourself, but it could be made even better by including an exception for cases where killing that person prevents the death of five others who are in morally similar circumstances, and so on and so on until our maxims describe the situation we are in and what to do in it perfectly. This of course leads to the distinction between acting and letting happen, and it isn't clear how we can draw a clear distinction between something that happens because you did something and something that happens because you stood by. Without having a strong way to morally distinguish action from inaction, it seems we ought to be consequentialists.

So, we have a consequentialist theory with the ability of persons to understand and make their own decisions as the measure of moral value. This means that when acting we ought to ensure we do not violate the freedom of others over their own choices, unless we must do so in order to prevent a greater violation of freedom which could not be prevented without at least this much of a violation occurring, and we have some degree of obligation (which I discuss in it's own chapter but won't get into here) to prevent or reduce such violations. What this means in practice is that determining what to do in a moral situation is not a matter of weighing happiness, following strict and unchanging rules or considering what kind of person acts in a certain way, it is a matter of allowing persons to make their own choices. To give a few examples of practical implications:

* Lying can be wrong in some circumstances such as fraud where it denies the person the ability to understand the choice they are making, but it is not wrong in most circumstances.
* Adultery (assuming there aren't any STIs involved) is a personal issue, not a moral one.
* Parents do not have a right to decide what happens to their children, rather they have an obligation to protect their child until it is capable of making its own choices and to act in its best interests when they must make decisions for it in the interim.
* The role of a government is to first protect its people and then to act in their interests especially when making decisions regarding shared property.
* Nothing can ever be offensive enough that we ought to violate the freedom of a person to say it.

Looking forward to reading all the ways in which you disagree with me.
Thanks for your time.
Dan.

I don't like oughts. Especially in an amoral universe where they are just someone's dictates, according to their preferences. I have my own preferences, and they won't take a backseat to someone elses.

Daniel McKay
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Daniel McKay » Tue Jan 10, 2017 2:05 am

No, I am not a theist or a dualist of any kind.

I would also not like oughts in an amoral universe, except for the rational kind I suppose, but I don't think we have an amoral universe.

Londoner
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Londoner » Tue Jan 10, 2017 6:20 pm

Daniel McKay wrote:We can consider what is shared by all persons in order to come up with possible candidates and what we find is that all persons have free will, so the capacity to make choices, and also understanding, the capacity to understand their choices...So, our candidate for moral value is freedom,...

For these reasons we can say that what is of moral value is the freedom of persons over those things which already belong to them; their mind, their body and their property.


That we have freedom (if we do) would just be a fact about humans, like their having limbs or emotions. But to say we have 'the capacity to understand their choices' is to put us at a remove from that freedom. Now the subject is not the freedom as such, but our understanding of how we have used that freedom, the particular choices that we have made.

To put it another way, if I do have freedom over my mind, body or property, that is simply a fact. That I should have that freedom will have to come from somewhere else. And because it is from 'somewhere else', it will make that freedom conditional. And that is, of course, what we see, most obviously we have different ideas about what makes something your property, or what rights ownership confers and so on.

BradburyPound
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby BradburyPound » Tue Jan 10, 2017 7:47 pm

Daniel McKay wrote:No, I am not a theist or a dualist of any kind.

I would also not like oughts in an amoral universe, except for the rational kind I suppose, but I don't think we have an amoral universe.


That there are morals is true. So in that sense the universe is moral. However, remove the humans and all morals are removed from the universe; QED the universe as such it amoral

Define Moral and you will see that this is true.

Daniel McKay
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Daniel McKay » Wed Jan 11, 2017 4:20 am

Bradbury: I think I would agree that if you remove all persons (not only humans) from the universe then there would be no morals, as I think morality is the way in which persons ought to be or act so it can't exist without persons, but you seem to mean something rather different from this. You seem to be referring to cultural moral codes or moral intuitions or something of that nature. Would that be fair to say?

Londoner: I wasn't saying that the fact that one does have freedom means one should, rather I was saying that what one should have must be something one can have and the best candidate for that we have is freedom (by which I mean the ability to understand and make choices).

Londoner
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Londoner » Wed Jan 11, 2017 12:22 pm

Daniel McKay wrote:Londoner: I wasn't saying that the fact that one does have freedom means one should, rather I was saying that what one should have must be something one can have and the best candidate for that we have is freedom (by which I mean the ability to understand and make choices).


That is to objectify 'freedom', treat it is if it was a thing in itself.

Once a choice is realised, that might create something, but a choice-not-made is not a thing. What you describe as 'freedom' is simply an absence. It is like the word 'future', it describes all the things that do not yet exist, but it is not a place, we cannot go there.

You say 'freedom' is 'the ability to understand and make choices'. But I can only understand a specific choice, I cannot understand an unformulated choice, or 'choice' in the abstract. True, I do not have to act on a choice, but I do have to formulate it. I might consider the morality of killing my wife, without having actually done it, but I cannot consider the morality of a void, the morality of 'not yet having decided to do anything'.

And I would repeat that the word 'understand' begs the question. If I can understand, or fail to understand, an action, then I my morality would not be about the 'ability to choose' that action, but my judgement of that action. As it must be, since my ability to choose is just a neutral fact. After all, one could equally argue that it is a fact about humans that they have 'reason' and 'emotion' and 'fear' and so on. Why aren't these equally worthy candidates to base our moral system on?

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Hobbes' Choice
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Hobbes' Choice » Wed Jan 11, 2017 3:23 pm

Londoner wrote:
Daniel McKay wrote:Londoner: I wasn't saying that the fact that one does have freedom means one should, rather I was saying that what one should have must be something one can have and the best candidate for that we have is freedom (by which I mean the ability to understand and make choices).


That is to objectify 'freedom', treat it is if it was a thing in itself.


This is a common enough error of thinking, mostly found in 'realists', who tend to mistake abstractions as real things. Moralists, especially those of a religious kind make the same mistake with good, evil and their whole moral system to the detriment of humanity.

HexHammer
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby HexHammer » Wed Jan 11, 2017 5:36 pm

Daniel McKay wrote:We can consider what is shared by all persons in order to come up with possible candidates and what we find is that all persons have free will, so the capacity to make choices, and also understanding, the capacity to understand their choices. This joint capacity for both understanding and making choices, which I will from now on be referring to as freedom, is not only shared by all persons, it is also not shared by anything that is not a person. There are no things which are not persons, free, rational, conscious agents, which can understand choices and make them freely. This capacity is, in a very real way, what it means to be a person, a moral agent. For this reason, this seems to be our best candidate for moral value. Though it is possible there are other candidates and indeed other things that are of moral value, they will not be discussed here as I do not know what they could be.
I stopped here at your "free will" it's clear you haven't read up on any scientific articles on this area. For the rest ...tl;dr.

Daniel McKay
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Daniel McKay » Thu Jan 12, 2017 1:54 am

Londoner: I am saying that people should be able to understand and make specific choices, or rather choices with regards to specific things. I never suggested one needs to understand the morality of a void.

Hobbes: It isn't a mistake of the realist to think that moral statements actually refer to something; that "good" or "right" is a characteristic that actually applies. It is their (by which I mean our) contention as realists.

Hex: I am always puzzled by people who comment tl;dr. And I'm not really sure how I could summarize this in a shorter form while still conveying the basic information.

Londoner
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Re: New normative theory (also a PhD thesis)

Postby Londoner » Thu Jan 12, 2017 10:01 am

Daniel McKay wrote:Londoner: I am saying that people should be able to understand and make specific choices, or rather choices with regards to specific things. I never suggested one needs to understand the morality of a void.


As I understood it, you say 'our candidate for moral value is freedom' and that you think 'freedom' is some property of humans: ' We can consider what is shared by all persons in order to come up with possible candidates and what we find is that all persons have free will..'

I am saying that 'freedom' is not a thing in itself, to say that we 'have' free will is to allow language to mislead us into thinking of it as something concrete. But it is not, as a word it describes the possibility of choice, but it is not itself a choice, so there is nothing to value.

It is like trying to 'count number'; that word 'number' is not itself a number. We cannot do maths without numbers, but we cannot do maths with 'number'.

If instead you want to understand the morals of 'specific' choices, i.e. made choices, then you are back at square one, looking for a set of moral criteria to apply. That there might have been a time in the past when that particular choice had not yet been made, (when there was still 'freedom' ) is not useful, since that must be equally the case with any choice.

That is why I do not think you can make a moral candidate out of freedom.


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