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  1. #1

    Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Sam Harris thinks so. If you have yet to see his TEDTalks on whether "science can answer moral questions" click here.

    Here is his reasoning:

    _____

    How can you derive an “ought” from an “is”?

    A response to David Hume (or the Hume of popular imagination).



    The 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume famously argued that no description of the way the world is (facts) can tell us how the world ought to be (values). Hume’s argument was actually directed against religious apologists who sought to deduce morality from the existence of God. Ironically, however, his reasoning has since become one of the primary impediments to linking morality to the rest of human knowledge.

    The Worst Possible Misery for Everyone
    (Getting from “is” to “ought” 1.0)


    FACT #1: There are behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which potentially lead to the worst possible misery for everyone. There are also behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which do not, and which, in fact, lead to states of wellbeing for many sentient creatures, to the degree that wellbeing is possible in this universe.

    FACT #2: While it may often be difficult in practice, distinguishing between these two sets is possible in principle.

    FACT #3: Our “values” are ways of thinking about this domain of possibilities. If we value liberty, privacy, benevolence, dignity, freedom of expression, honesty, good manners, the right to own property, etc.—we value these things only in so far as we judge them to be part of the second set of factors conducive to (someone’s) wellbeing.

    FACT #4: Values, therefore, are (explicit or implicit) judgments about how the universe works and are themselves facts about our universe (i.e. states of the human brain). (Religious values, focusing on God’s will or the law of karma, are no exception: the reason to respect God’s will or the law of karma is to avoid the worst possible misery for many, most, or even all sentient beings).

    FACT #5: It is possible to be confused or mistaken about how the universe works. It is, therefore, possible to have the wrong values (i.e. values which lead toward, rather than away from, the worst possible misery for everyone).

    FACT #6: Given that the wellbeing of humans and animals must depend on states of the world and on states of their brains, and science represents our most systematic means of understanding these states, science can potentially help us avoid the worst possible misery for everyone.

    FACT #7: In so far as our subsidiary values can be in conflict—e.g. individual rights vs. collective security; the right to privacy vs. freedom of expression—it may be possible to decide which priorities will most fully avoid the worst possible misery for many, most, or even all sentient beings. Science, therefore, can in principle (if not always in practice) determine and prioritize our subsidiary values (e.g. should we value “honor”? If so, when and how much?).

    FACT #8: One cannot reasonably ask, “But why is the worst possible misery for everyone bad?”—for if the worst possible misery for everyone isn’t bad, the word “bad” has no meaning. (This would be like asking, “But why is a perfect circle round?” The question can be posed, but it expresses only confusion, not an intelligible basis for skeptical doubt.) Likewise, one cannot ask, “But why ought we avoid the worst possible misery for everyone?”—for if the term “ought” has any application at all, it is in urging us away from the worst possible misery for everyone.

    FACT #9: One can, therefore, derive “ought” from “is”: for if there is a behavior, intention, cultural practice, etc. that seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, one ought not adopt it. (All lesser ethical concerns and obligations follow from this).

    _____

    Do you agree? Thoughts?

  2. #2
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    I like his arguments because they are either correct, or will fail in a useful way.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Though not presented in the same manner, there's a recent thread devoted to this topic here: http://www.justusboys.com/forum/showthread.php?t=300403

  4. #4

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by zoltanspawn View Post
    Though not presented in the same manner, there's a recent thread devoted to this topic here: http://www.justusboys.com/forum/showthread.php?t=300403
    I was aware of that thread when I made this. Most people weren't really addressing the is-ought dilemma though.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    To a certain extent he's engaging in the practice of getting a desired result by defining his terms to fit it. If, in fact, the words mean what he defines them to mean, his conclusion is sound.

    But they don't. Most people would consider that "ought" means "what one should do even if it results in pain or disaster". Most people would define "bad" in terms of it being something wrong, regardless of misery. So to a substantial degree he's supporting his argument by redefining his terms into ways not in common use (if at all).

    His definition, further, is sloppy. "The worst possible misery for everyone" is not subject to definition, and thus neither is his "ought". There will be numerous enough definitions that it is doubtful that any single one would reach double-digit percentages. Many questions arise: by "everyone", do we mean those outside our social group? do we mean those in the political opposition? those in other nations? do our enemies count? what about murderers and other criminals? Very importantly, what about future generations -- do they count?

    A definition with so many possible meanings and questions is hardly a definition useful for anything except conversation while drinking or daydreaming.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  6. #6

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    To a certain extent he's engaging in the practice of getting a desired result by defining his terms to fit it. If, in fact, the words mean what he defines them to mean, his conclusion is sound.

    But they don't. Most people would consider that "ought" means "what one should do even if it results in pain or disaster".
    I don't think Sam would contest to that at all. Here's what he's said:

    "...I asked whether subjecting children to “pain, violence, and public humiliation” leads to “healthy emotional development and good behavior” (i.e. does it conduce to their general wellbeing and to the wellbeing of society). If it did, well then yes, I would admit that it was moral. In fact, it would appear moral to more or less everyone—just as slitting open a child’s belly to perform an emergency appendectomy seems obviously moral to anyone who understands the purpose of this procedure. The patent immorality of corporal punishment relates to the sense that it is clearly bad for children, both in the moment and in the long run (along with the fact that it is generally the product of anger, rather than benevolence, on the part of the brute holding the paddle)."

    Understand that he is talking about (in my initial post) the worse possible misery for everyone not merely doing something even if it may result in pain or disaster. If you think the word "ought" allows you to say, "Maybe we ought to seek the worst possible misery for everyone," this expresses pure confusion. How is it even conceivable that we ought to seek the worst possible misery for everyone? What could "ought" mean in this case?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Most people would define "bad" in terms of it being something wrong, regardless of misery.
    The error that you're committing here is that you think Sam is defining bad in terms of misery. He is not.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    His definition, further, is sloppy. "The worst possible misery for everyone" is not subject to definition, and thus neither is his "ought". There will be numerous enough definitions that it is doubtful that any single one would reach double-digit percentages. Many questions arise: by "everyone", do we mean those outside our social group? do we mean those in the political opposition? those in other nations? do our enemies count? what about murderers and other criminals? Very importantly, what about future generations -- do they count?

    A definition with so many possible meanings and questions is hardly a definition useful for anything except conversation while drinking or daydreaming.
    Sam has responded to critics who have raised the question of ambiguities:

    "Of course, goals and conceptual definitions matter. But this holds for all phenomena and for every method we use to study them. My father, for instance, has been dead for 25 years. What do I mean by "dead"? Do I mean "dead" with reference to specific goals? Well, if you must, yes -- goals like respiration, energy metabolism, responsiveness to stimuli, etc. The definition of "life" remains, to this day, difficult to pin down. Does this mean we can't study life scientifically? No. The science of biology thrives despite such ambiguities. The concept of "health" is looser still: it, too, must be defined with reference to specific goals -- not suffering chronic pain, not always vomiting, etc. -- and these goals are continually changing. Our notion of "health" may one day be defined by goals that we cannot currently entertain with a straight face (like the goal of spontaneously regenerating a lost limb). Does this mean we can't study health scientifically?

    I wonder if there is anyone on earth who would be tempted to attack the philosophical underpinnings of medicine with questions like: "What about all the people who don't share your goal of avoiding disease and early death? Who is to say that living a long life free of pain and debilitating illness is 'healthy'? What makes you think that you could convince a person suffering from fatal gangrene that he is not as healthy you are?" And yet, these are precisely the kinds of objections I face when I speak about morality in terms of human and animal well-being. Is it possible to voice such doubts in human speech? Yes. But that doesn't mean we should take them seriously."

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Oughts are in most cases the main building blocks of Human missery.

    Whether this is "thou ought not be gay" to all people "ought" to be blonde and blue eyed - oughts have a lot to answer for.

    As this is a male gay sex site - the oughts I would single out are those that have limited guys ability to experience love and truly enjoy thier body (for what little time we've got it in good working order).

    That may sound like a hedonistic idea of life - but I'd also overlay this with the central idea of many religions - that you "ought" to try to do good to other people whenever you can.
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    To a certain extent he's engaging in the practice of getting a desired result by defining his terms to fit it. If, in fact, the words mean what he defines them to mean, his conclusion is sound.
    If he's only doing that to a certain extent, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what he is doing beyond that extent.

  9. #9

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Here's a really good excerpt from Sam to get the debating juices going:

    "So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

    So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is exactly like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good. We need not enter either of these philosophical cul-de-sacs."

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    If he's only doing that to a certain extent, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what he is doing beyond that extent.
    I knew I should have added it at the time; for the life of me, I can't remember what I had in mind.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by poolerboy View Post
    Here's a really good excerpt from Sam to get the debating juices going:

    "So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

    So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is exactly like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good. We need not enter either of these philosophical cul-de-sacs."
    That's good but he should have said culs-de-sac.

    But I won't quibble.

    Well, yeah, I just did, didn't I?

  12. #12

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    That's good but he should have said culs-de-sac.

    But I won't quibble.

    Well, yeah, I just did, didn't I?
    lol

    *slaps bankside upside the head*

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    That's good but he should have said culs-de-sac.

    But I won't quibble.

    Well, yeah, I just did, didn't I?
    evidently it's bi-textural - it swings both ways.

    Main Entry: cul–de–sac
    Pronunciation: \ˈkəl-di-ˌsak,…
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural culs–de–sac … also cul–de–sacs


    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cul-de-sac

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by TX-Beau View Post
    evidently it's bi-textural - it swings both ways.

    Main Entry: cul–de–sac
    Pronunciation: ˈkəl-di-ˌsak,…
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural culs–de–sac … also cul–de–sacs


    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cul-de-sac
    Given that it is a French word at origin, it is obvious that we should consult an English dictionary. And by English I mean British.

    From Oxford:

    cul-de-sac
    /kuldsak/

    • noun (pl. culs-de-sac pronunc. same) a street or passage closed at one end.

    — ORIGIN originally a term in anatomy: from French, ‘bottom of a sack’.
    There is only one plural form. Oxford politely alludes to its "anatomical" origin - perhaps a little too politely, and a little too alludey - so for clarity, if I may be a little more colloquial in my translation: "arse-end of the bag."

    Or if you will, arse-ends of the bag. Both what it is and what it ought to be.

    See what I did there? Bankside: King of return-to-topic segue.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    LOL

    What's the quote

    ...America and England - two nations divided by the same language...

    Anyway we in America are the KINGS of the cu-de-sacs!!

    I must insist on Webster.

  16. #16

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    Given that it is a French word at origin, it is obvious that we should consult an English dictionary. And by English I mean British.

    From Oxford:



    There is only one plural form. Oxford politely alludes to its "anatomical" origin - perhaps a little too politely, and a little too alludey - so for clarity, if I may be a little more colloquial in my translation: "arse-end of the bag."

    Or if you will, arse-ends of the bag. Both what it is and what it ought to be.

    See what I did there? Bankside: King of return-to-topic segue.
    COLOUR <--yes I went there.


    Now gents, could we?

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by poolerboy View Post
    lol

    *slaps bankside upside the head*
    Is it possible to slap someone downside the head?

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Sorry poolerboy. I know we have lurkers who find these conversations intense sometimes so I'm hoping that a bit of humour in these kinds of threads will encourage participation.

    That being said, what if it didn't matter? Perhaps morality is just pragmatically adaptive and it has escaped the winnowing effect of natural selection. Here's a study:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...y-reveals.html

    I don't think that undermines Harris, in fact, but it does provide some interesting context that no matter how we conceptualise this intellectually, our brains may be biased in favour of certain judgements.

  19. #19

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Is it possible to slap someone downside the head?
    You might be onto a kōan.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    Sorry poolerboy. I know we have lurkers who find these conversations intense sometimes so I'm hoping that a bit of humour in these kinds of threads will encourage participation.

    That being said, what if it didn't matter? Perhaps morality is just pragmatically adaptive and it has escaped the winnowing effect of natural selection. Here's a study:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...y-reveals.html

    I don't think that undermines Harris, in fact, but it does provide some interesting context that no matter how we conceptualise this intellectually, our brains may be biased in favour of certain judgements.
    I've always thought that ethics and morals are evolutionary survival behavior. We humans are communal creatures, we always have been. Our numbers and our cooperation make us strong. We survive through community, through group dynamic. We do not do so well as lone individuals explicitly thinking only about ourselves.

  21. #21

    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by TX-Beau View Post
    I've always thought that ethics and morals are evolutionary survival behavior. We humans are communal creatures, we always have been. Our numbers and our cooperation make us strong. We survive through community, through group dynamic. We do not do so well as lone individuals explicitly thinking only about ourselves.
    Exactly. And evolution can also explain, albeit indirectly, altruism that lies beyond the explanation that you've given, like when we see a female dog adopt a litter of kittens who have no mother. Here, interspecies adoption doesn't assist in the survival of the species. However, that maternal instinct certainly does. The fact that a hog was taking care of tiger cubs is a side effect of her own instinct to take care of small creatures that nuzzle close to her. For 99.9% of the time, those small creatures would be her own offspring, and thus she would be perpetuating her genes. In this case, she isn't, but the genes that give her this instinct are shared with other hogs in her species, and contribute to the propagation of hogs as a population.

    Of course there are many folks who dislike a description of morality as a side effect, let alone the byproduct of evolutionary biology. I never understood why that should diminish our perceptive value of it.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    I finally got the video to play through without stopping.

    I think he's playing to Western sensitivities to a fair degree. I'll concede him that ground, though; we tend to think of ourselves as the most advanced, and that's the audience he's addressing.

    But it does make him subject to the question of why our view of what is best for people should have standing. He does a tidy job of showing that all sorts of things we condemn are wrong because they do result in human misery, and that's about as far as he gets -- or, I think, can get.


    I'd rather go from is to ought by starting with an observable fact of human existence: each person owns himself.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    I'd rather go from is to ought by starting with an observable fact of human existence: each person owns himself.
    We might own ourselves in theory - but our individual continued survival is totally dependend on a highly complex organised society. Discussions of "ought" and "is" are a form of intelectual masturbation - meaningless against the fragility of our own existence.
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    We might own ourselves in theory - but our individual continued survival is totally dependend on a highly complex organised society. Discussions of "ought" and "is" are a form of intelectual masturbation - meaningless against the fragility of our own existence.
    Not at all.

    Beginning with the fact of self-ownership, a system of ethics suitable for a complexly organized society can be derived. And as they are ethics that are defensible on an intellectual/rational basis, they are therefore useful.

    For example, all individual rights derive from self-ownership, and it is honoring individual rights that distinguishes an advanced society. In contrast, just and fair systems of interpersonal interaction can also be derived, and it is those who sustain a society.


    edit:

    Further, a code of personal responsibility arises directly from self-ownership -- and the foundation for mental health, education, criminal corrections, and more.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Beginning with the fact of self-ownership, a system of ethics suitable for a complexly organized society can be derived. And as they are ethics that are defensible on an intellectual/rational basis, they are therefore useful.
    Does an Ant own itself? - obviously yes? (if not who owns it) so what does that say about the organisation of thier hive society?

    So in practical terms - self-ownership may be a totally meaningless concept
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    Does an Ant own itself? - obviously yes? (if not who owns it) so what does that say about the organisation of thier hive society?
    I doubt that an ant even has a self to own.

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    So in practical terms - self-ownership may be a totally meaningless concept
    In practical terms, the fact of self ownership provides ethics, political guidelines, even mental health principles.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    I doubt that an ant even has a self to own.

    In practical terms, the fact of self ownership provides ethics, political guidelines, even mental health principles.
    The Buddhist concept is that even an ant has a “self” to own.

    In fact Ants are very similar in physical complexity to human beings – with very much the same brains, eyes, ears, nervous systems and internal organs etc as we have. Just they don’t grow as big.

    In fact the genetic “blueprint” to build an ant is similar in size to that for humans at around 3 billion DNA base pairs (or about 750MB of data).

    I’d argue that there are no absolute “Oughts” – these are purely a construct of human perception and ideas – and certainly can’t be derived from any “Is”
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    I'm not sure ants have evolved to have any awareness of self.

    HINT: Star Trek's "Borg" were not the product of an original imagination.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    The Buddhist concept is that even an ant has a “self” to own.
    And that is relevant... why?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    In fact Ants are very similar in physical complexity to human beings – with very much the same brains, eyes, ears, nervous systems and internal organs etc as we have. Just they don’t grow as big.
    Only in a VERY broad sense! The brain isn't nearly as complex, the eyes are a lot different, their equipment for receiving sound hardly qualifies as ears.
    The complexity is probably a couple of orders of magnitude less than humans'.

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    In fact the genetic “blueprint” to build an ant is similar in size to that for humans at around 3 billion DNA base pairs (or about 750MB of data).

    I’d argue that there are no absolute “Oughts” – these are purely a construct of human perception and ideas – and certainly can’t be derived from any “Is”
    The oughts that can be derived from is tend to be in the form of "if... then" statements. From self-ownership, ethics arise from the expectations we have of how we want others to treat us, and the recognition that if we want them to treat us that way, then we should treat them the same way.

    The sort of oughts that can be derived as Sam Harris proposes are similar, but tend to rely also on empathy to a certain extent. Still, it tends to boil down to "I wouldn't want to be treated that way, so I'd better not treat others that way." From there it becomes very much a cultural thing; he's already got a value established for judging things, namely that human well-being is of greater importance than other things. How can that be used to critique someone who says that human righteousness is more important than well-being? Or that honor is more important? The answer is that it can't, really: he's made a choice of values, and they've made a choice of values, and neither is anything more than a personal preference.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    The Buddhist concept is that even an ant has a “self” to own.
    And that is relevant... why?
    Boy - aren't you USA Christians arrogant!
    It is relevant because it is part of the Buddhist belief system – in which all life is sacred.
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    Boy - aren't you USA Christians arrogant!
    It is relevant because it is part of the Buddhist belief system – in which all life is sacred.
    Are you contending that this belief is an "is"?

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Are you contending that this belief is an "is"?
    It is clearly an "IS" for some people (buhdists) from which they then extrapolate some "OUGHTS"
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsianDream View Post
    It is clearly an "IS" for some people (buhdists) from which they then extrapolate some "OUGHTS"
    Okay.

    But it's hardly an "is" of the sort in the opening vid -- that's where I was hung up.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Okay.

    But it's hardly an "is" of the sort in the opening vid -- that's where I was hung up.
    The reaility is that all "Oughts" are just subjective - I'd definitely not defend Bhudist ideas as being rational or based on any evidence
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Harris recently held a contest inviting critics to rebut his work in the form of an essay. The winning entry is here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/t...cape-challenge

    In short, the author distinguishes science and reason. He suggests that the conceptual axiom of 'well-being' can't be empirically supported (and that as a presupposition it doesn't find analogues in comparative fields).

    Harris will reply sometime soon.
    pro bonobo

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    The author is quite correct --he spends more time saying what I said in the beginning: Harris has to define "well-being" subjectively, because there's no scientific way to do it, and then he has to find some way to derive "well-being" as the moral basis indicated by science.

    It's more likely that fertility is a scientific value than a nebulous "well-being"...which is going to be defined differently by just about everyone.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by zoltanspawn View Post
    Harris will reply sometime soon.
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/c...-the-landscape
    I am, in essence, defending the unity of knowledge—the idea that the boundaries between disciplines are mere conventions and that we inhabit a single epistemic sphere in which to form true beliefs about the world. This remains a controversial thesis, and it is generally met with charges of “scientism.” Sometimes, the unity of knowledge is very easy to see: Is there really a boundary between the truths of physics and those of biology? No. And yet it is practical, even necessary, to treat these disciplines separately most of the time. In this sense, the boundaries between disciplines are analogous to political borders drawn on maps. Is there really a difference between California and Arizona at their shared border? No, but we divide this stretch of desert as a matter of convention. However, once we begin talking about non-contiguous disciplines—physics and sociology, say—people worry that a single, consilient idea of truth can’t span the distance. Suddenly, the different colors on the map look hugely significant. But I’m convinced that this is an illusion.
    Americans need to keep their guns so they can protect themselves from gun violence just like Nancy Lanza did. And like Chris Kyle did. And like Gabby Giffords did. And like Tom Clements did. And like Michael Piemonte. And Joseph Wilcox.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    The author is quite correct --he spends more time saying what I said in the beginning: Harris has to define "well-being" subjectively, because there's no scientific way to do it, and then he has to find some way to derive "well-being" as the moral basis indicated by science.

    It's more likely that fertility is a scientific value than a nebulous "well-being"...which is going to be defined differently by just about everyone.
    The multiple conceptions of well-being are explicitly embraced by Harris in his description of a field of infinite peaks of well-being. There is nothing subjective about well-being just because there are multiple versions of it. That would be like saying a quadratic equation has no answer - or that the answer is a matter of opinion or taste - because it does not resolve to just one answer.
    Last edited by bankside; June 14th, 2014 at 08:09 AM.
    Americans need to keep their guns so they can protect themselves from gun violence just like Nancy Lanza did. And like Chris Kyle did. And like Gabby Giffords did. And like Tom Clements did. And like Michael Piemonte. And Joseph Wilcox.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    I was shocked, shocked, when I saw that Mr. Born didn't win the 20K.
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by zoltanspawn View Post
    I was shocked, shocked, when I saw that Mr. Born didn't win the 20K.
    Really? Cause having read his essay...
    Americans need to keep their guns so they can protect themselves from gun violence just like Nancy Lanza did. And like Chris Kyle did. And like Gabby Giffords did. And like Tom Clements did. And like Michael Piemonte. And Joseph Wilcox.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    Really? Cause having read his essay...
    What a charitable attitude you have to Sam's adjudication, and what a skeptical one I have. I think Sam's probably completely immovable, and it was done as a kind of tacky promotion. (Though I admit, I'm tacky enough myself to have enjoyed it.)

    I would've enjoyed reading the runners-up, too.
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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Did anyone think that Sam Harris was really serious about giving away $20,000? Of course not. It's a no-risk publicity stunt. He can simply say that he was not swayed whether he was or not (I doubt the essay had any effect). All he has to do to reply is dig out sections of the original book and rewrite them to fit.

    I personally enjoyed both the essay and Sam's reply, probably because I don't care about morality at all. And the reply was very well-written. It probably read a lot easier than the lengthy book it was (most likely) sourced from.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    The multiple conceptions of well-being are explicitly embraced by Harris in his description of a field of infinite peaks of well-being. There is nothing subjective about well-being just because there are multiple versions of it. That would be like saying a quadratic equation has no answer - or that the answer is a matter of opinion or taste - because it does not resolve to just one answer.
    The multiple answers to a quadratic equation are not contradictory -- many answers to "What is well-being?" are inherently so.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    Really? Cause having read his essay...
    It destroyed Harris.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    by the only conception of “better” that makes any sense
    According to whom? This is subjective.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    The multiple answers to a quadratic equation are not contradictory -- many answers to "What is well-being?" are inherently so.
    No.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    It destroyed Harris.
    It didn't even touch Harris.
    Americans need to keep their guns so they can protect themselves from gun violence just like Nancy Lanza did. And like Chris Kyle did. And like Gabby Giffords did. And like Tom Clements did. And like Michael Piemonte. And Joseph Wilcox.

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    I don’t believe that any sane person is concerned with abstract principles and virtues—such as justice and loyalty—independent of the ways they affect our lives.
    There's his escape hole: anyone who doesn't agree with him isn't sane, and so doesn't count.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Nice pronouncement, but it's subjective:

    However, the well-being of the whole group is the only global standard by which we can judge specific outcomes to be good.

    And this effectively concedes that it's all subjective:

    In the end, however, we must work with intuitions that strike us as non-negotiable

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    Quote Originally Posted by bankside View Post
    It didn't even touch Harris.
    Harris admits the criticism Born is making:

    Again, I admit that there may be something confusing about my use of the term “science”: I want it to mean, in its broadest sense, our best effort to understand reality at every level...
    I think most of us will not think of science in such spacious terms.

    If Harris only intends his ML to be a part of the very long conversation that people have had for millenia about ethics, in its broadest sense, then Born is only repeating what Harris himself says: we may deliberate coherently about ethics.

    However, if we take the more common, less spacious, meaning for science as something making justified truth claims through empiricism, then Born is identifying a real problem. Harris' ethics may or may not still work, but it isn't working by means of science.
    pro bonobo

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    Re: Can you derive an "ought" from an "is"?

    I think Harris is making a sustainable empiricist claim.

    It is possible to differentiate between plausible candidates for a moral course of action by their effects. The effects are subject to observation (or extrapolation), and the observations can reveal which courses of action are more morally effective. Effectiveness is not measured against an arbitrary standard assumed a priori, but against a standard constructed through empirical iteration.
    Americans need to keep their guns so they can protect themselves from gun violence just like Nancy Lanza did. And like Chris Kyle did. And like Gabby Giffords did. And like Tom Clements did. And like Michael Piemonte. And Joseph Wilcox.

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