I have been having a very nice discussion with the Semantic Terrorist on my post A Simple Argument for Moral Realism. I thought I would move the discussion to the front since the post was from alomost a year ago. ST gives detailed responses to the seven points I made in response to him; I won’t respond to them all (though all are worth responding to) since I want to honor ST’s request to focus on the issue he (?) is interested in…but I can’t resist saying a couple of things about some of the side issues…
R. Brown’s point #1: “I never said that [Kant’s] categorical imperative was a truth. What I said was that it allows us to generate truths.”
As far I can tell, no one ever literally generates any truth. Rather we discover certain truths; or, in some cases, mistakenly believe that we do.
I do, of course, understand how one’s discovery of a given truth can lead to the discovery of other truths by deduction. What you seem to be saying, however, is quite different; and I genuinely don’t understand how one can reasonably believe that a mere command can lead to the discovery of any truth at all. [Note: it’s necessary to distinguish between the command (or imperative) itself, and such facts as so-&-so issued such-&-such a command on a certain date to a certain audience.] At any rate, my key point here is that, since commands are not propositions, no command can logically imply any truth.
Logical implication is a truth-preserving semantic relation. So if there’s no truth at issue to begin with then there’s no truth to be preserved by any inference that can be made from it. Indeed, I claim that you can no more cogently infer any truth from a command than you can cogently infer a truth from a cow, or a rock. That being the case, it’s not clear to me what you mean in saying that we can generate moral truths from Kant’s categorical imperative.
Well, I don’t really see why you think this, and you certainly haven’t given any argument for it. So, I like Hare’s view expressed in chapter two of The language of Morals. He there convincingly argues, to my mind, that we can have a logic of imperatives. So, take his example
1. Take all of the boxes to the station
2. This is one of the boxes
3. Therefore, take this to the station
This is clearly a valid inference even though it has an imperative as one of its premises. This is very differnt from the case of rocks or cows, so I think that your argument is a non sequiter
R. Brown point #2: “I was hasty when I said that some actions are contradictory, what I meant, as I suppose you well know, was that some actions cannot be willed without contradiction…”
That’s hardly a significant improvement on your first (goofed-up) claim; for I clearly can will to perform immoral acts. In order for me (or any other non-cognitivist) to take this claim seriously you must first explain what it’s supposed to mean for an ACT OF WILLING to be contradictory. And good luck with that; for ‘tis an obvious logical truth that every act of willing is an act; and so you’re right back in the same pile of crap that you attempted to crawl out of.
Yes, you surely can will an act even if it is contradictory, just as you can believe P and ~P, but that does not mean that there is no contradiction involved. In the Kantian case there are two senses of contradiction at play. One is the sense in which the act you are trying to perform would be impossible to perform if your maxim were universalized. So, take stealing. If it were a universal law that when one wanted something one just took it stealing would be impossible. The other sense of contradiciton is the sense in which I contradict a natural tendancey or desire of rational beings. So, when I try to use someone as a means only I contradict my desire not to be used as a means. The basic point is the same, as Kant points out, when we break a moral rule we recognize the universal nature of the law but try to make an exception for ourselvesm which is oc course nonsense.
R. Brown point #3: “I do, in fact, think that [Kant’s] categorical imperative universalizes to all vertebrates.”
No doubt that sounds nice to vegans and such, but I don’t believe for a second that you really mean it. After all, some moral obligations concerns friends qua friends; and you are not really a friend to all vertebrates — except perhaps in some goofy and insubstantial metaphorical sense.
Huh? I do really mean it…and I don’t get this objection at all….
In any case, my point was that Kant’s categorical imperative is wide open to the objection that too much depends upon how a particular token act is described; and that every token act can be correctly described as falling under several different type acts. For example, Ted Bundy’s act of raping his first victim can correctly be described as (i) the act of raping a woman, (ii) a man’s first act of raping a woman, (iii) the act of Ted Bundy’s raping some woman, (iv) the act of some (male) vertebrate’s placing his (presumably erect) penis into some (female) vertebrate’s vagina either against her consent or at least independently of her consent, etc., etc., etc. Obviously, some descriptions are more complete, or more informative, than others. But how are we supposed to figure out which description is the so-called “right” one? Is it just a matter of consensus? Is it just a matter of opinion?
I agree that this is a hard problem, and as I have argued in most cases this is exactly what moral debate boils down to; trying to figure out how best to describe a certain act. But in this case all of the descriptions involve raping, and that raping is wrong is an analytic truth. The ones that don’t explicitly involve raping involve explicit mention of violation of consent, so in this case there is no interesting problem about description.
R. Brown point #7: “What makes it true is that it follows from the correct moral theory. The [correct moral] theory takes account of the facts and organizes them in an appropriate way; what else would you expect a theory to do?
“George Bush is a transsexual” follows from “George Bush is a sexy transexual”; but that hardly shows that George Bush is a transsexual. It’s foolish to say that a proposition is true because it is implied by a theory. And to say that a proposition is true because it is implied by a correct theory only raises the issue of what makes the theory correct. (George Bush is male because the individual, George Bush, exemplifies the property of being male ; not because someone has come up with a correct theory that implies that George Bush is male.)
The question is not what a theory is supposed to do, but whether any moral theory is the sort of thing that could be correct in the first place. It’s all well and good for you to at least halfway agree with me that correct theories are made true by facts; but you need to actually identify facts that make particular moral claims true. (And you haven’t done that yet. Instead you just keep on talking about how moral truths are made true by [correct] moral theories.)
Well, this is where my constructivism kicks in. What you say is true about George Bush because ‘being male’ is not a constructed property, but ‘being right’ is. The correct moral theory is the one that best captures the goal of morality. The goal of morality is to allow rule-governed cooperation and in order to do that it has to take account of certain basic facts about persons. Among these are included autonomy, that we feel pain and dislike it, etc. The categorical imperative is a constructed principle that reflects our interests and which allows us to see that certain actions are impermissible from a certain standpoint; the moral point of view. Now, you may not like normative constructivism but it does provide a nice answer to all of your worries. We do not have to posit any MORAL facts. All we need are natural facts seen from a certain point of view.