Scope of Ethics

Pages

AuthorTopic: Scope of Ethics
By Committee
Member # 4233
Profile #25
Well then, why don't we throw utilitarianism and Pareto-efficiency in as objective guidelines?
Posts: 2242 | Registered: Saturday, April 10 2004 07:00
Agent
Member # 8030
Profile Homepage #26
As far as the Golden Rule:

I interpret this in a rather simple way. I hate gifts (strange child that I am), but others do. I simply say "If I did think that way, how would I want to be treated?" I'm certainly nowhere near applying this 100% of the time, but it's a concept I try to live by.

--------------------
Decca Records - "We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out."
Posts: 1384 | Registered: Tuesday, February 6 2007 08:00
BANNED
Member # 13806
Profile #27
Excuse me, Mr. Excalibur, but you may find an objection on this very topic somewhere prior. Or perhaps you hadn't noticed? No worries, take your time. :)

Mr. Drew: I believe the inimitably snide Thuryl was applying reductio to the GR along similar lines of the example I had provided earlier. Are you perhaps implying that game theory is the only alternative to the GR? I'm not quite sure what your sarcastic quip was supposed to have meant.
Posts: 134 | Registered: Sunday, February 3 2008 08:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #28
quote:
Originally written by Diprosopus:

You misunderstand. I'm saying that the GR is a crappy formulation that's best understood as part of the CI-- namely, contradiction in the will.

Anyway, the golden rule is such a blithely ineffective moral code that it's no longer worth discussing, and religion is a total non-starter for any discussion about ethics, so this tangent is over.

Heh. Try this sort of response as the professor in an undergrad seminar, and it might actually work.

Not in a graduate seminar, though.

--------------------
Listen carefully because some of your options may have changed.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
BANNED
Member # 13806
Profile #29
I was hoping I didn't have to revisit my examples. I'm impressed with the liberty you took to rewrite my examples, although perhaps I wasn't sufficiently clear. :( Replace the instance of "hurt" in the sadist's original proposition with something along the lines of "puncture" or "scald" or some other act that leads to pain in people who can process it but wouldn't in the sadist herself. The dilemma I posed with the first example is simply this: If the GR is set to the means by which the agent obtains a favorable outcome, then our nerveless agent in question is permitted to stab as she sees fit. If it's limited to the means by which an agent might do unto another which would obtain an outcome favored by the other, then I pose the dilemma (as does Mr. Thuryl) of the two foes who request that you assist them in fighting the other.

There must be some mitigating factor which determines the scope of the GR, and I'm unsure what that scope would begin to look like, other than the first prong of the CI test: That is, that we oughtn't contradict our own will. Until I receive a formulation of the GR which doesn't fall prey to either of these dilemmas, then I am simply going to file the GR away as a part of the CI as I had stated explicitly before. To argue otherwise, I need a solid definition of the GR, and until we obtain one, I'm not sure where this discussion would proceed. :o

[ Sunday, February 10, 2008 23:34: Message edited by: Diprosopus ]
Posts: 134 | Registered: Sunday, February 3 2008 08:00
Post Navel Trauma ^_^
Member # 67
Profile Homepage #30
I've wondered before about Pareto efficiency in morality. The problem with it, as far as I can see, is that since any action could have consequences that you don't forsee, it's likely that almost any action is Pareto optimal.

--------------------
Barcoorah: I even did it to a big dorset ram.

New Mac BoE
Posts: 1798 | Registered: Thursday, October 4 2001 07:00
By Committee
Member # 4233
Profile #31
...or rather that pareto-optimal results are impossible to predict. I don't think we can get around the fact that people will almost always make decisions based on imperfect information.
Posts: 2242 | Registered: Saturday, April 10 2004 07:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #32
The GR is not 'it's okay to do unto others anything you want, as long as you wouldn't mind it being done to you'. It's stated in terms of what you actively want others to do to you. And what you want to do to others does not come into it at all. So its prescriptions are unaffected by sadism or high pain threshold. The scenario in which the GR might seem to advocate hurting other people is masochism, not nerveless sadism.

A nerveless sadist might well hurt others while fulfilling the CI, however, if they were willing to endorse as universal the principle that anyone can do anything they want to anybody else, as long as they wouldn't mind it being done to themselves.

As far as I can see, any principle whatever can fulfill the CI, as long as you're willing to have it apply to everyone. The CI is a rule for making any principle of individual action moral (according to Kant), by adding the codicil 'and that goes for everyone.' So no particular principle of individual morality can ever be deduced from the CI alone.

Neither the GR nor the CI, nor anything else I can think of, can provide a closed formulation of morality whose interpretation for all possible cases is both unambiguous and unobjectionable.
As Wittgenstein undertook 'with the help of an intelligent joiner [carpenter]' to frustrate any general definition of 'chair', I think any of us could come up with bizarre scenarios which would make any such formula prescribe abominations. And if pressed, I bet one could invoke Gödel's theorem, with actions formalized as propositions and morality as the well-formed property, to prove that sufficiently powerful morality theories will always leave the morality of some actions undecidable.

--------------------
Listen carefully because some of your options may have changed.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Nuke and Pave
Member # 24
Profile Homepage #33
It sounds to me like the two statements: A: "Treat others the way you'd want to be treated." and B: "You should always act according to principles that you believe should apply to everyone else as well." are equivalent.

A => B
One of conclusions of Statement A is "If I don't want others to think badly of me for doing something, I shouldn't think badly of them for doing that thing" Which means "I can think badly of others for doing something only if I am ok with them thinking badly of me for doing that thing." Which means "I should always act according to principles that I believe should apply to everyone else as well."

B => A
One of conclusions of statement B is "If I think it's wrong for others to do something, I shouldn't do it either." This means that "I shouldn't do to others things I wouldn't want them to do to me. This means "I should treat others the way I'd like to be treated.

So A=>B and B=>A, which means that A<=>B. (Either rule can be derived from the other.)

[ Monday, February 11, 2008 14:04: Message edited by: Zeviz ]

--------------------
Be careful with a word, as you would with a sword,
For it too has the power to kill.
However well placed word, unlike a well placed sword,
Can also have the power to heal.
Posts: 2649 | Registered: Wednesday, October 3 2001 07:00
Off With Their Heads
Member # 4045
Profile Homepage #34
Diprosopus: I think you're being excessively physical with your interpretation of the word "do." Your sadist who cannot feel pain still shouldn't harm other by the GR, because the physical action of cutting (or whatever) is only one component of the action. Another component of the action is causing harm. While this person might not mind being cut in exactly the same fashion as he would cut someone else, he would mind harm, whether that harm came in the form of physical pain or whatever.

To take Excalibur's example and run with it: I might give my mother a country album even though I would never want her to perform exactly the same physical action (giving me a country album) in return. I would nevertheless be obeying the GR, because I would be giving her something that she would want (she likes country), which is something that I would want her to do to me as well.

One needs to examine not merely the physical action being performed but all of the ramifications of the action in order to analyze it under the GR.

--------------------
Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

Kelandon's Pink and Pretty Page!!: the authorized location for all things by me
The Archive of all released BoE scenarios ever
Posts: 7968 | Registered: Saturday, February 28 2004 08:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #35
quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

One needs to examine not merely the physical action being performed but all of the ramifications of the action in order to analyze it under the GR.
But if you're going to interpret it that broadly, how does "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" differ from "do unto others as they would have you do unto them"?

--------------------
The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
Shaper
Member # 247
Profile Homepage #36
Ethics don't exist. Nothing is wrong or right, everything is simply "different".

Edit: However, if I had to choose an ethical theory, "Act Utilitarianism" seems to make the most sense, no matter if it is a bit difficult to quantify pain and pleasure.

[ Monday, February 11, 2008 21:19: Message edited by: VCH ]

--------------------
The Knight Between Posts.
Posts: 2395 | Registered: Friday, November 2 2001 08:00
Law Bringer
Member # 335
Profile Homepage #37
It's hard enough to quantify that I think two-level utilitarianism is probably necessary. Rule utilitarianism is practicable but inflexible, and act utilitarianism is correct but frequently impossible to actually determine. Two-level utilitarianism gives you the best of both.

—Alorael, who of course must admit that this works great as a personal code of ethics and poorly as a general system. If every violation of the rules must be analyzed, the rules are no more than rules of thumb and what you really have is act utilitarianism with presets.
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
BANNED
Member # 13806
Profile #38
I chose the nerveless sadist precisely because he wouldn't actively want to be stabbed. The masochist would technically be reading the GR literally by stabbing other people, but that sort of example is unrealistic because the masochist might as easily harm himself, and why would someone want to stab other people if she won't derive any pleasure for it anyway?

Or, to show this more clearly, another example: Let us say that I propose to give 50% of my wealth to an incredibly wealthy person. Under the GR, I certainly wouldn't be doing it for the explicit purpose of having that wealthy person give 50% of her wealth to me; that would be foolish, and would violate the initial reasons why the GR appealed to us, namely immediate practicality.

The masochist stabbing others has no motive to stab others by the GR since reading the GR in that way renders it totally absurd. The example of the nerveless sadist at least places a minimal practical expectation for how to act. The GR oughtn't disallow us from doing things we want, and so I chose an example which would motivate the agent. Note that I didn't say that the GR under the first reading I considered commanded the agent to harm others, merely that it permitted him to. That the harm the sadist proposed inflicting was non-injurious: This means that the sadist would only afflict himself with a minor annoyance. Both examples would eventually fall to the same critique, but I wanted to produce an example that drew out the "GR isn't physical" criticism more discreetly. Of course, I spelled it out afterwards anyway, so I'd just as soon not revisit the particulars of an example, but I do hope my points have crystallized more distinctly in your mind. :)

As for grandiose systems of morality: If they are inevitably susceptible to abominable examples, perhaps you deny the abominations in the world. It's easy to be moral in times of plenty under any system, but moral codes are defined by the dilemmas which they answer.

Zeviz, sir, I cannot but notice that you're hinting at the same point I've been trying to make to Student of Trinity. Your formulation of the CI is incomplete, but it's also incomplete in the way I had described previously.

And to Kelandon, the Greek scholar: I'm aware of the contradiction in my first objection; it was a straw man by design which I erected simply to anticipate someone else's potentially building it thereafter. Thuryl's riposte, meanwhile, invites you to the dilemma I posed in my second example.

Welcome to the discussion, Mr. VCH! Are wristcutters teaching ethics courses nowadays? ;) If you would so much as humor me: Even if you pursue that which is good (i.e. what you want) first, is it inconceivable to say that it's right to pursue that which is good? You seem to be advocating ethical egoism. Read about it, you sympathize with it. :D

Also, if you don't believe in right or wrong, why would you care about anyone else's utility?

Mr. Eggs, it strikes me that even if politicians' ideals are contrary to the fundamental assumptions which underlie utilitarianism, politicians (in their facility as politicians) must be act utilitarians. We might simply say that being a politician places one in a constant "critical state."
Posts: 134 | Registered: Sunday, February 3 2008 08:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #39
quote:
Originally written by Diprosopus:

Even if you pursue that which is good (i.e. what you want) first, is it inconceivable to say that it's right to pursue that which is good? You seem to be advocating ethical egoism.
I never met anyone who needed ethics to convince him to be an egoist.

--------------------
The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #40
To get the CI from GR, you need at least a few additional assumptions:

1) Thinking badly about people because they have committed a given action counts as doing unto them as far as the GR is concerned.

2) You must formulate moral principles for everyone, not only for yourself, and automatically think badly of anyone who violates a moral principle that you think should apply to them.

These may be reasonable assumptions, but they are not in the GR per se. In my picture of Jesus's moral theory, for instance, 2) was explicitly denied (the injunction against judging). If you are simply never allowed to think badly of other people, then even if thoughts do count as actions in accordance with 1), still no conclusions follow about your moral principles applying to other people.

So the GR does not imply the CI. Neither does the CI imply the GR without further assumptions, such as (probably with others as well)

3) If I don't want someone to do something to me, then I further believe that it is wrong for them to do it.

This 3) is not trivial. For instance it means that I can never have preferences which I acknowledge as being less than rights. Jesus's moral theory also rejects 3), I believe. If I accidentally damage someone's property, I consider that they have a right to take compensation from me. Naturally I would still prefer that they do not take compensation from me, at least if they can afford the loss more than I can.

So the GR, without 3), requires me to forego taking compensation when others wreck my stuff, at least if I can afford to; but it does not require that I believe this forebearance should be general law, as the CI would. Maybe in fact it should, and this is a victory for the CI; but that would be more than the GR implies.

If it helps to clarify the context of my remarks, I should say that I see only negative value in this kind of hairsplitting moral logic. That is, I think it can serve to discredit invalid conclusions. I do not think it can suffice to generate a satisfactory general theory of morality. So I'm not going to try to prove the validity, consistency, or general goodness of the GR or anything else.

[ Tuesday, February 12, 2008 00:07: Message edited by: Student of Trinity ]

--------------------
Listen carefully because some of your options may have changed.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Off With Their Heads
Member # 4045
Profile Homepage #41
quote:
Originally written by Diprosopus:

And to Kelandon, the Greek scholar: I'm aware of the contradiction in my first objection; it was a straw man by design which I erected simply to anticipate someone else's potentially building it thereafter. Thuryl's riposte, meanwhile, invites you to the dilemma I posed in my second example.
Your "second example," i.e., "then I pose the dilemma (as does Mr. Thuryl) of the two foes who request that you assist them in fighting the other"? I can't find the antecedent to this statement in this topic, so I can't say for sure what you're talking about, but the GR doesn't imply that you must enslave yourself to the whims of others. If you're in a situation of helping one person to the disadvantage of another or helping the second to the disadvantage of the first, then a reasonable application of the GR is that it prohibits helping either one, since by doing so you would be doing to the other something that you wouldn't want done to yourself.

I've heard it stated that you can derive basically all the rest of morality from the GR (and some common sense), but I've never attempted to do it until now. It may indeed be possible.

--------------------
Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

Kelandon's Pink and Pretty Page!!: the authorized location for all things by me
The Archive of all released BoE scenarios ever
Posts: 7968 | Registered: Saturday, February 28 2004 08:00
Shaper
Member # 247
Profile Homepage #42
quote:
Originally written by Eggs don't belong on panels:

It's hard enough to quantify that I think two-level utilitarianism is probably necessary. Rule utilitarianism is practicable but inflexible, and act utilitarianism is correct but frequently impossible to actually determine. Two-level utilitarianism gives you the best of both.


Interesting, I was unaware of two-level utilitarianism. Lol as alway there's a third, "lets take the best of this and that" choice.

quote:
Originally written by Diprosopus:


Welcome to the discussion, Mr. VCH! Are wristcutters teaching ethics courses nowadays? ;) If you would so much as humor me: Even if you pursue that which is good (i.e. what you want) first, is it inconceivable to say that it's right to pursue that which is good? You seem to be advocating ethical egoism. Read about it, you sympathize with it. :D

Also, if you don't believe in right or wrong, why would you care about anyone else's utility?


I don't understand the wrist-cutter reference. Any way, who or what says that what I pursue is good? Who or what decides what is good? What is good? All these things are so subjective. Good is a word that only has the meaning one puts into it. People have many different meanings for good. It may mean killing terrorists to one person or harbouring terrorists to another person. Therefore good is not concrete and cannot exist. Actions exist, actions are amoral. If I stab a man it is an action. But it is not good nor is it evil. Yes, it is inconceivable to say that it's right to pursue that which is good. Both "right" and "good" are too subjective. It's neither right nor wrong to pursue anything.

Evil and good are not nouns.

As for the Utilitarianism thing, I simply picked the model that seemed the most clear-cut. I can't say I follow that model or any other one really. However, I was tempted by Adam Smith's "invisible hand".

Perhaps I am amoral.

[ Tuesday, February 12, 2008 01:34: Message edited by: VCH ]

--------------------
The Knight Between Posts.
Posts: 2395 | Registered: Friday, November 2 2001 08:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #43
quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

Your "second example," i.e., "then I pose the dilemma (as does Mr. Thuryl) of the two foes who request that you assist them in fighting the other"? I can't find the antecedent to this statement in this topic, so I can't say for sure what you're talking about, but the GR doesn't imply that you must enslave yourself to the whims of others. If you're in a situation of helping one person to the disadvantage of another or helping the second to the disadvantage of the first, then a reasonable application of the GR is that it prohibits helping either one, since by doing so you would be doing to the other something that you wouldn't want done to yourself.
At this point, I don't think that we can go much further without distinguishing between the positive and the negative formulation of the Golden Rule.

The positive formulation, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", does indeed seem to run into a paradox in the case of the two foes requesting assistance. If we make the reasonable assumption that there is a moral duty to avoid placing oneself in a situation where every available option is morally wrong, then the only way out of the paradox seems to lie not in changing the "do unto others" part but changing the "do unto you" part. That is, the GR implies a moral duty to not want outside assistance if you find yourself in a fight, because wanting such assistance could place you in a situation where you would have mutually exclusive moral obligations to assist others. I'll leave it to you to decide how plausible you think such a duty is.

The negative formulation, "do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you", clearly does not prevent you from simply walking away if two people on opposite ends of a fight both ask for your assistance. However, the problem is that it's far too restrictive, and denies the possibility of asymmetric social relationships. Psychotherapists give advice to their patients, but don't want to receive advice in return: in fact, it's actively discouraged, and for very good practical reasons. You can kind of work around this problem with a heavily nuanced and situation-dependent definition of "do unto others", but then you've lost the simplicity that made the rule appealing in the first place, and you may as well become a utilitarian and be done with it.

--------------------
The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
Law Bringer
Member # 6785
Profile #44
To the trolls keeping this topic alive -

See Bernard Gert here for an examination of failures to the Golden Rule, Hillel's Rule, and the Ten Commandments as moral principles.

Not that this will decrease the discussion.
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #45
If the trolls are the only people keeping the topic alive, it's not really trolling.

EDIT: Gert's theory of morality has its own problems. If morality depends on the judgement of an impartial rational person, then we'll never find out what's moral and what isn't, because no such person has yet been found to exist. Even by Gert's rather idiosyncratic and strained definition of rationality, there's good evidence that everybody is irrational at least some of the time -- and it hardly needs to be said that nobody is ever impartial.

The problem with all deontological theories of morality, in fact, is that they assume that people have reasons for acting the way they do, and that those reasons are knowable. This is patent nonsense: there's a wealth of empirical evidence that our minds routinely invent reasons for doing things because we already want to do them. Only rarely do we decide what we want to do based on what we have the best reason for doing. Holding people to account for the reasons behind their actions is an exercise in pointlessness, because usually they don't know, even when they think they do. The mind is, at its base, a loose aggregation of conflicting drives and desires; we try to work out why we do what we do after the fact, and mostly we fail.

[ Tuesday, February 12, 2008 03:34: Message edited by: Thuryl ]

--------------------
The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
Law Bringer
Member # 6785
Profile #46
That's the advantage of situational ethics in that you can always justify your actions even if you do different ones when the same problem occurs. Other ethical systems will always have exceptions or you can find an absurbist reduction to make them fail.
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #47
quote:
Originally written by Randomizer:

That's the advantage of situational ethics in that you can always justify your actions even if you do different ones when the same problem occurs. Other ethical systems will always have exceptions or you can find an absurbist reduction to make them fail.
Well, yes, an ethical system in which you can always justify your actions is awfully convenient, but as a society we'd surely rather have an ethical system in which some actions aren't justifiable.

--------------------
The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
Nuke and Pave
Member # 24
Profile Homepage #48
quote:
Originally written by Student of Trinity:

To get the CI from GR, you need at least a few additional assumptions:

1) Thinking badly about people because they have committed a given action counts as doing unto them as far as the GR is concerned.

2) You must formulate moral principles for everyone, not only for yourself, and automatically think badly of anyone who violates a moral principle that you think should apply to them.
...
So the GR does not imply the CI.
I agree that assumption #1 is necessary. However, if assumption #2 is wrong, both GR and CI would lead to an empty set of rules for others, so the result would still be the same. (CI, as I understand it, doesn't say that you have to formulate rules for others. It just says that if you do make rules for others, you better follow them yourself, which is the same as conclusion I get from GR applying assumption #1.)

quote:
Neither does the CI imply the GR without further assumptions, such as (probably with others as well)

3) If I don't want someone to do something to me, then I further believe that it is wrong for them to do it.

This 3) is not trivial. For instance it means that I can never have preferences which I acknowledge as being less than rights. ...
You are probably right here. I was able to come up with the same conclusions from both GR and CI in all examples presented in this thread, but that involved so many steps that chances are I made some invalid assumptions along the way.

--------------------
Be careful with a word, as you would with a sword,
For it too has the power to kill.
However well placed word, unlike a well placed sword,
Can also have the power to heal.
Posts: 2649 | Registered: Wednesday, October 3 2001 07:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #49
quote:
Originally written by Zeviz:

However, if assumption #2 is wrong, both GR and CI would lead to an empty set of rules for others, so the result would still be the same. (CI, as I understand it, doesn't say that you have to formulate rules for others. It just says that if you do make rules for others, you better follow them yourself, which is the same as conclusion I get from GR applying assumption #1.)
I don't think you can believe that a moral rule you follow yourself needn't be applied to others and still call that rule a categorical imperative. If you believe that the categorical imperative really exists, then by definition you believe that it applies in the same way to everybody, regardless of who they are or what circumstances they're in. That's what the "categorical" part of "categorical imperative" means.

--------------------
The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00

Pages