Emotive Realism

In some earlier posts I have been clearing the way for presenting the metaethical view that I defend (The Meaning and Use of ‘is True’, Truth, Justification, and the Quasi-Realist Way, Meaning and Justification, Reason and the Nature of Obligation, and A Simple Argument for Moral Realism). What I want to do now is to introduce Emotive Realism which is supposed to be a way of combining classical emotivism with moral realism.

The basic idea is simple enough. When I say that something is right/wrong/good/bad I express my moral sentiment in just the way that the classical emotivists thought and at the same time I assert (that is express my belief) that my moral sentiment is the correct way to feel about the person/act in question. As an example, when I say something like ‘suicide bombing is wicked’ I express my moral condemnation of suicide bombing; that is I express my moral feeling about suicide bombing. This is the illocutionary act. It is successful just in case you recognize that I intend to be expressing my moral condemnation. I also at the same time express the belief that moral condemnation is the correct attitude to have towards suicide bombing. I (usually, but by no means always) do this with the perlocutionary goal of trying to get you have the same attitude. Whether we are successful in this perlocutionary goal has no bearing on whether or not we are successful in our illocutionary act. In other words, you may ‘grasp’ the attitude that I express (namely that I morally disapprove and think this is the correct way to feel) without your thereby coming to share my attitude.

There are of course bells and whistles that have to be added to the theory (like an account of the semantics of moral sentences) which I intend to talk about later. But here what I want to point out is that this kind of theory is in principle compatible with any theory of justification. The issues of justification, on this view boils down to answering the question ‘is the belief that I express ever true?’ The answer to this question could be ‘no’ in which case you would have something like Ayer’s version of emotivism. It could also be ‘yes’ at which point we have further questions, like is the truth of the belief robust or not? If we say no to this question then we would have a version of expressivism like Blackburn’s. But it should also be clear that we can say ‘yes’ to this last question, in which case we would have an emotive realism and the belief will be true in virtue of the correct theory of moral justification.

A Simple Argument for Moral Realism

 OK so I am back! Vegas was a blast (though I am broke-as-a-joke now, I didn’t win anything!!!) and I learned a lot…I will definately be posting on some stuff inspired by the conference later…though for now if I hear the word ‘consciousness’ one more time I may loose my mind :)

There seem to be obvious cases of moral statements that are straight-forwardly true. So for instance, ‘Hitler was evil’ certainly seems to be a true statement about Hitler, for that matter ‘smashing the heads of babies for fun is wrong’ and ‘barring special circumstances, promises should be kept’ also look like they are obviously true. From these considerations a simple argument for moral realism can be formulated.

Granted that there are things that are totally and obviously right (i.e. all moral theories will agree that these things are morally good), and that there are things that are totally and obviously wrong (i.e. all moral theories will agree that these things are morally bad), it looks like what we have is a continuum. Since each end point of the continuum is well defined, it would seem that there must be an answer to the in-between cases like eating meet and abortion, though of course we may not know the answer as of yet.

49th Philosophers’ Carnival

is here.

Somehow I got two posts (under the Euthyphro and the Gorgias, my two favorite Socratic dialogues!) in this one, even though I only submitted one :)

Speaking of the Carnival, Philosophy Sucks! will be hosting the 50th edition due out July 16th…the theme, with apologies for blatantly ripping off the name of a certain blog and for shamelessly catering to my own interests, will be Mind, Meaning and Morals (all broadly construed). So c’mon submit something!

Is There Such a Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness?

Pete has Ch. 4 of his book-in-progress up over at the Brain Hammer, entitled The Neurophilosophy of Consciousness. His stated goal is to discuss

philosophical accounts of state consciousness, transitive consciousness, and phenomenal character that make heavy use of contemporary neuroscientific research in the premises of their arguments.

This is because he defines ‘neurophilosophy’ as the bringing to bear of concepts from neuroscience to solve problems in philosophy, as he says

neurophilosophical work on consciousness proceeds largely by bringing neuroscientific theory and data to bear on philosophical questions such as the three questions of consciousness.

But it is unclear to me in what sense a theory of consciousness can be neurophilophical at all.

For instance, here is how he charecterizes Churchland’s account of what a conscious state is,

Paul Churchland articulates what he calls the “dynamical profile approach” to understanding consciousness (2002). According to the approach, a conscious state is any cognitive representation that is involved in (1) a moveable attention that can focus on different aspects of perceptual inputs, (2) the application of various conceptual interpretations of those inputs, (3) holding the results of attended and conceptually interpreted inputs in a short-term memory that (4) allows for the representation oftemporal sequences.

How is this neurophilophical? To be sure, Churchland goes on to talk about how this could be implemented in a connectionist neural architecture, but the actual theory of what a conscious state is isn’t much different from standard higher-order accounts. It involves being aware of myself as being in a certain state. Nothing neurophilosphical here! And his account of the what it is linke-ness just involves appeal to the representational content of sensory states, again nothing specifically neurophilosophical about this.

The same can be said about Prinz’s AIR model, which Pete quotes a summary of,

When we see a visual stimulus, it is propagated unconsciously through the levels of our visual system. When signals arrive at the high level, interpretation is attempted. If the high level arrives at an interpretation, it sends an efferent signal back into the intermediate level with the aid of attention. Aspects of the intermediate-level representation that are most relevant to interpretation are neurally marked in some way, while others are either unmarked or suppressed. When no interpretation is achieved (as with fragmented images or cases of agnosia), attentional mechanisms might be deployed somewhat differently. They might ‘‘search’’ or ‘‘scan’’ the intermediate level, attempting to find groupings that will lead to an interpretation. Both the interpretation-driven enhancement process and the interpretation-seeking search process might bring the attended portions of the intermediate level into awareness. This proposal can be summarized by saying that visual awareness derives from Attended Intermediatelevel Representations (AIRs). (p. 249)

Again, it is difficult to see how Prinz is doing anything more than discussing a possible implementation of the transitivity principle, which is not neurophilosophical. Pete does note that Prinz does not WANT his theory to be an implementation of the transitivity principle, but the challenge is to explain how it isn’t, not merely indicate that one wants it to be different.

Pete himself makes this clear in his summary of the three positions.

Churchland, Prinz, and Tye agree that conscious states are representational states. They also agree that what will differentiate a conscious representation from an unconscious representation will involve relations that the representation bears to representations higher in the processing hierarchy. For both Churchland and Prinz, this will involve actual interactions, and further these interactions will constitute relations that involve representations in processes of attention, conceptual interpretation and short term memory. Tye disagrees on the necessity of actually interacting with concepts or attention. His account is dispositional meaning that the representations need only be poised for uptake by higher levels of the hierarchy.

So, in so far as these are theories of consciousness, they are the standard ones. Now, I am not denying that these guys are neurophilosophers in the sense that Pete means; they do appeal to detailed neuroscience in the premises of their arguments. But I don’t see how the neuro stuff is supposed to be a theory of consciousness. As I have said, it looks like spelling out ways of implementing the two standard (first-order/higher-order) representational theories of consciousness.

The challenge then, is to spell out a neurophilosophical theoryof consciousness that is distinct from these standard theories which are not themselves neurophilosophical.

I Necessarily Exist

In several earlier posts I introduced and defended what I call Frigid Stipulation as an alternative to Rigid Designation (Introducing Frigidity, Applying Frigidity, What Kripke Really Thinks). The basic claim is that in natural languages (as opposed to in thoughts)there are no logically proper names at all, no singular terms what so ever. Every sentence with what looks grammatically like a singular term is really a disguised quantifier at the level of logical form and truth conditions and so can be analysed via Russell’s theory of descriptions.

Aside for the argument that I gave for frigidity from the fact that the truth conditions of sentences with so-called rigid designators in them change depending on who the speaker had in mind, there are also all kinds of well-known problems with construing linguistic names as logical constants, in fact with the whole idea of logical constants in the first place. These problems range from the normal ones about identity and existence statements, and belief attributions involving co-referential terms, to the bizarre logical result that we can prove that any given individual exists as a matter of first-order logic. The proof is actually quite simple and takes the form of a reductio of the assumption that the individual in question does not exist.

Here is a version of the proof that Rosenthal once presented in a Quine class I had with him.

(1) Proof by reductio that Saul Kripke exists: ((Ex) (x=SK))

            1. –(Ex) (x=SK)                     assumption for reductio

            2. (x) –(x=SK)                       equivalent to 1.

            3. (x) (x=x)                            axiom of identity

            4. (SK=SK)                             UI of 3.

            5. –(SK=SK)                           UI of 2.

            6. (SK=SK) & -(SK=SK)       4., 5.

As you can see, we derive the contradiction that Saul Kripke is both self-identical and not self-identical from the assumption that he does not exist and the axiom of identity with just two uses of universal instantiation. So we can prove that any given object exists as a matter of first-order logic with identity. But surely that is absurd! We may be able to live with the result that some object or other exists (Ex (Fx)), which naturally follows in standard first-order logic, but we cannot live with the fact that we can prove that any given particular object exists.

Even worse it seems to me that we can give an analogous proof that the object in question necessarily exists!

(2) Proof that Saul Kripke necessarily exists: □Ex (x=SK))
                1. ◊ –Ex (x=SK)          assumption for reductio

                2. ◊ (x) –(x=SK)         equivalent to 1.

                3. (x)□ (x=x)               modal axiom of identity

                4. □ (SK=SK)               UI of 3.

                5. ◊ -(SK=SK)              UI of 2.

                6. –□ (SK=SK)              equivalent to 5.

                7. □ (SK=SK) & -□ (SK=SK)           4,6

But surely this is even more absurd than the last! How can I necessarily exist? These kinds of results offer good reason to adopt frigidity.

Reason and the Nature of Obligation

There has been some interesting discussion over at Think Tonk (The Supernaturalistic Fallacy) and Common Sense Philosophy (The Supernaturalististic Fallacy…?) about naturalism and the foundation of obligations. In particular the issue is whether or not naturalism has the resources to accomodate moral realism. I think that its does, and am sympathetic to the supernaturalistic fallacy.

The view that if God did not exist then all things would be permissible is familiar and quite common, and just about as wrongheaded as a view can be. The senisble view is not that God’s commands make something moral, but that he commands us to do what is moral (uh, the Euthyphro question…hello?)…that this is actually what most theists have in mind already can be seen by answering the following question: Could God command us to rape? For, if He did, then raping would be morally acceptable, right? The answer is a resounding ‘no! He would not command us to do that!’ But why not? The reason is that God would not command us to do something immoral. So, what role does God play? Well, He sets up the system of rewards and punishments that are supposed to get us to actually do what is right. But that is very different from His making the things to be right or wrong in the first place! Now how do we know what we ought to do? The answer is simple; via the use of reason.

This kind of position has had a long and venerable history in Western philosophy. Locke very clearly has this kind of view in mind in the Essay. Consider this passage from Book IV

Where there is no property, there is no injustice, is a Proposition as certain as any Demonstration in Euclid: For the Idea of Property, being a right to any thing; and the idea to which the Name Injustice is given, being the Invasion or Violation of that right; it is evident, that because these Ideas being thus established, and these Names annexed to them, I can as certainly know this Proposition to be true, as that a Triangle has three Angles equal to two right ones. Again, No Government allows absolute Liberty: The Idea of Government being the establishment of Society upon certain Rules or Laws, which require Conformity to them; and the Idea of Absolute Liberty being for any one to do whatever he pleases; I am capable of being certain of the Truth of this Proposition, as of any in Mathematicks.

We start with the definitions of the concepts and deduce the moral propositions in just the same way that mathematicians start with definitions and deduce theorems. So for instance from the fact that I say ‘I promise to pay you back’ combined with the definition that promising just means that you have placed yourself under an obligation it follows that you ought to keep the promise. This just is Searle’s famous derivation of an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ (Searle 1964) which Locke anticipates before anyone even thought there was such a problem!

So for Locke, we have the obligation to keep our promises (even in the state of nature) but that does not give us a reason to keep them. Thus it is important for Locke that God exist and that there be a system of reward and punishment in the afterlife in order to give us the motivation to do what we determine to be right with our reason. This is evident from what Locke says in Book II of the Essay

Of these Moral Rules, or Laws, to which Men generally refer, and by which they judge of the Rectitude or Pravity of their Actions, there seem to me to three sorts, with three different Enforcements, or Rewards and Punishments. For since it would be utterly in vain, to suppose a Rule set to the free actions of Man, without annexing to it some Enforcement of Good and Evil [read: Pleasure and Pain], to determine his Will, we must, where-ever we suppose a law, suppose also some Reward or Punishment annexed to that Law. It would be in vain for one intelligent Being, to set a Rule to the Actions of another, if he had it not in his Power to reward the compliance with, and punish deviation from his Rule, by some Good and Evil, that is not the natural product and consequence of the action it self. For that being a natural Convenience, or Inconvenience would operate of itself without a Law. This, if I mistake not, is the true nature of all Law, properly so called.  (Ch. XXVIII, 6)

These three sorts of moral rules are first divine law, second civil law and third the law of opinion (ibid. section 7). Each of these kinds of laws comes with it its own kind of punishment and rewards and so we have motivation to obey each kind. So we use reason to determine what the moral laws are and what counts as moral and immoral but we still need something that ‘determines the will’ else the law will be ‘utterly in vain’.

Of these three it is the divine law that is the most important as it via the divine law that “Men judge whether their actions are Sins, or Duties”.

The Divine Law, Whereby I mean, that Law which God has set to the actions of Men, whether promulgated to them by the light of Nature, or the voice of Revelation. That God has given a Rule whereby Men should govern themselves, I think there is no body so brutish as to deny. He has a Right to do it, we are his Creatures: He has Goodness and Wisdom to direct our Actions to that which is best: and he has Power to enforce it by Rewards and Punishments, of infinite weight and duration, in another Life: for no body can take us out of his hands. This is the only true touchstone of moral Rectitude; and by comparing them to this Law, it is, that Men judge of the most considerable Moral Good and Evil of their Actions; that is, whether as Duties, or Sins, they are like to procure them happiness, or misery, from the hands of the ALMIGHTY. (ibid section 8) 

In the state of nature we are able to rationally deduce the moral law, but we as yet have no reason to abide by it. God, knowing how we are built and so knowing that we need some motivation to follow the law, was kind enough to set up a system of rewards and punishments to provide the necessary motivation.

This way of reading Locke has him in close agreement with Hobbes. For Hobbes a law is a command from someone who has the right to command us (Ch. 15 paragraph 40) and so what he (Hobbes) has been calling laws of nature are more properly called “theorems concerning what conduceth to the conservation and defense” of ourselves yet, “if we consider the same theorems, as delivered in the word of God, that by right commandeth all things; then they are properly called laws,” and this is exactly the way that Locke unpacks the moral law. God has the right to command us, as we are his creatures and he has the goodness and wisdom of what is best for us and so we can know that the law is for our own good. The law being for our own good gives us some reason to follow it, but, just to make sure, God has set up the powerful motivation system of eternal punishments and rewards. So whereas Hobbes argues that we need a strong Earthly authority to punish those who transgress the law, Locke has a strong authority in the form of God. 

It is in Chapter 14 of Leviathan that Hobbes defines the concepts of obligation, duty, justice and injustice let us look closely at what he says.

Right is said to be laid aside, either by simply renouncing it: or by transferring it to another. By simply RENOUNCING; when he cares not to who the benefit thereof redoundeth. By TRANSFERRING; when he intendedth the benefit thereof to some certain person, or persons. And when a man hath in either manner abandoned, or granted away his right; then he is said to be OBLIGED, or BOUND, not to hinder those, to whom such right is granted, or abandoned, from the benefit of it: and that he ought, and it is his DUTY, not to make void that voluntary act of his own: and that such hindrance is INJUSTICE, and INJURY, as being sine jure; the right being before renounced, or transferred. So that injury, or injustice, in the controversies of the world, is somewhat like to that, which in the disputations of the scholars is called absurdity. For as it is there called an absurdity, to contradict what one maintained in the beginning: so in the world, it is called injustice, and injury, voluntarily to undo that, which from the beginning had been voluntarily done. The way by which a man simply renounceth, or tranferreth his right, is a declaration, or signification, by some voluntary and sufficient sign, or signs, that he doth so renounce, or transfer…and the same are the BONDS, by which men are bound, and obliged: bonds, that have their strength, not from their own nature, (for nothing is more easily broken than a man’s word,) but from fear of some evil consequence upon the rupture. (p227; emphasis added))

This passage is strikingly similar to Locke’s view. First notice that he here agrees with Locke’s definition of injustice as the violation of a right. Once you transfer or renounce a right you no longer have that right and so hindering the person who now has the right is an action without right  (sine jure: without right) and by hindering them you are now violating that person’s right and so acting unjustly.

This suggests a way of reading this passage which puts Hobbes in line with Locke’s account in the Essay. When I make a covenant I thereby acquire an obligation to perform it in virtue of my voluntarily transferring a right. I can see this by the use of my reason, and in fact deduce that not to do it results in a contradiction. But this does not give me any reason to fulfill that obligation. In order to fulfill that obligation I need some other kind of motivation, and Hobbes says that there are “but two imaginable helps to strengthen it. And those are either fear of the consequences of breaking their word; or glory and pride in appearing not to need to break it.” (p229) This second ‘help’ Hobbes doubts can be relied on. It is fear of the consequences of breaking their word that we should count on. As he says,

The passion to be reckoned upon, is fear; whereof there be two very general objects: one, the power of spirits invisible; the other, the power of those men they shall therein offend. Of these two, though the former be of the greater power, yet the fear of the later is commonly the greater fear” (ibid)

So this is our motivation for performing what we have contracted to do in much the same way as in Locke’s account of why we do what we ought, but it is not the source of our obligation. The source of our obligation is the fact that we have made it known by signs that we intend to enter into a covenant; the obligation stems from the “force of our words”but again, this does not give us a reason to fulfill it even though not doing so results in a kind of absurdity. This suggests that we can make binding promises in the state of nature but that we will have no reason to perform them unless we have a very strong fear of what will happen should we not do so which is exactly what Locke argues.

So God is not the source of morality, He is the enforcer of morality…so if he does not exist the worse case scenerio is that people may not have very strong motivating reasons to do what they ought to do…but so what? As Kant rightly pointed out, someone who acts morally solely to get rewarded (or to avoid punishment) is not really acting morally in the first place….so the existence of God may actually be a hinderance to morality….

Consciousness is Not a Relational Property

I’m Back! At least for the next five days until I go to Vegas for the ASSC on Friday for some more HOT Fun in the Summertime!

Wow, what a trip!!! Toronto is much nicer than I thought it would be, and the East Coast is truely beautiful this time of year (the highlight for me was the saltwater pool in Kennebunkport…almost like being in the ocean in Hawaii, or Jamaica or something, nice!)…but it is good to be back in Brooklyn…

Anyways, here is the passage from p. 211 of Consciousness and Mind that I mentioned in the previous post (Consciousness, Relational Properties, and Higher-Order Theories)

Since there can be something it’s like for one to be in a state with particular mental qualities even if no such state occurs, a mental state’s being conscious is not strictly speaking a relational property of that state. A state’s being conscious consists in its being a state one is conscious of onself as being in. Still, it is convienent to speak loosely of the property of a state’s being conscious as relational so as to stress that it is in any case not an intrinsic property of mental states.

’nuff said? This is the real reason that Rosenthal’s view is not targeted by objections like Pete Mandik’s Unicorn argument, or the common objection from the possibility of the HOT occuring in the absence of the first-order state, or as I argued, from Uriah’s charge that higher-order theories, like Rosenthals’s, that claim that the first-order state does not acquire a new property (i.e. of being a conscious state) are committed to the claim that consciousness is epiphenomenal.

I agree that the confusion is due mostly to Rosenthal’s ‘loose way of speaking’ and his reluctance to disabuse people of this intuitive picture of the higher-order thought theory. This is at least in part because this way of thinking of the theory agrees better with our common sense conception of how things like this should work. This, as I have already said, is yet another reason to prefer K-HOTs to Q-HOTs.