An Introduction to Philosophy Part 5 Ethics 1 - Transcript

Introduction to the Podcast on Morality

[0:03] Welcome my friends to the podcast on morality, hi it's Stef um it's kind of late so i'm going to do my first ever evening podcast and the lighting struck me as sort of unusual so i didn't mean to scare you but um we might as well start having a dive into the most essential topic in my opinion of philosophy as a whole which is the the question of ethics or morality and I use the term sort of interchangeably but I really do want to try and build a case for an objective and rational dare I even say it scientific form of ethics or justification for ethics but because it is such a contentious and difficult issue at least it is for me I'm going to take it very slowly and I really apologize in advance for the sort of slow motion sickness that we're going to get as we start to go through the question of ethics but it's such an essential topic that i don't want to take any assumptions i mean this is obviously quite a stretch there's going to be some assumptions i assume that you speak english and so on but i'm going to try and take as few assumptions as possible in the realm of trying to to bring down the beast of objective ethics without...

The Challenge of Objective Ethics

[1:29] Faltering or completely blowing my own foot off it may happen but i'd like to sort of take my best shot at it and in order to do that i'll need a little bit of patience from you a lot of some of the stuff that i'm talking about may at times seem to be a little bit esoteric but i would really like to not take things for granted when talking about ethics now the reason that i feel so strongly about this i'm not sort of just trying to make up things as far as the reason that i want to do this so carefully is because if you kind of get ethics wrong, really bad things happen in the world. That's sort of my opinion.

[2:09] And if you sort of look at something like statism, fascism, communism, or whatever, these are ethical theories that kind of miss the mark, right?
And when you miss the mark, you don't just sort of lose the arrow in the brush.
You sometimes bring down the lives of of 70 80 100 150 million souls and so i would really like to not make mistakes when it comes to ethics i think that the the proposition of ethical theories is kind of like the weapons of mass destruction of the philosophical world and i think it's something you have to be really really careful about when you put them forward if you make mistakes a lot of people tend to get When you have bad ethical theories that justify certain kinds of principles, especially around deference to authority and deference to governments and deference to certain kinds of religious institutions.

[3:04] Well, you tend to get some people killed.
So without wanting to sound overdramatic, I do take the question of ethics seriously.

Taking Ethics Seriously and Exploring its Implications

[3:16] Unbelievably seriously and I'll make a couple of jokes as we go forward because I don't want it to be oppressive but just so you understand it this is the most serious part of what it is that I'm trying to do and it's the part this is actually take two I'm going to take down take one because it wasn't my it wasn't consistent with what it is that I wanted to get across, the message was the same I just wasn't pleased with the way I put it across us but i really am going to try and get this right and i'm sorry if it seems a little tedious at times but trust me in this particular minefield the minefield of trying to define ethics we don't want to get anything wrong because as i mentioned before it's about the worst thing that any thinker can do is to put forward a system of ethics that is not rigorous and well thought out and logical and empirical and as we'll argue a little bit further down the road in the podcast series on ethics actually explains some things in the real world like the failures of communism uh the the material benefits arising from the industrial revolution um the reason that science stagnated under religion there's things that kind of you want to explain why was nazism so bad uh what's wrong with the concentration camp you think you kind of want to have ethical theories is that explain and to some degree hopefully predict the big events in human society but.

[4:37] Most importantly along with the empirical evidence you want to have conceptual rigor and logical steps so that having been said i'm going to try and go at a fair clip but i'm going to have to take some pauses to go over stuff i'm sorry if it gets a little teeth gritting i apologize in advance but we really don't want to misstep in this particular phase of our conversation We really, really don't want to, and I've been working on this stuff.

The Importance of Conceptual Rigor in Ethics

[5:06] For over 20 years and I think I've worked it out now to the point where I'm willing to go public so trust me if patience has been asked of you even more so was being asked of me by myself so, let's let's take a shot and see what we can do as far as being able to define a rigorous system of objective ethics without reference to gods or human authorities so of course we'll start with some definitions, just so that you know I'm not sort of cooking things up in my own kitchen, so to speak.
So let's have a look at wordnet.princeton.edu. Definitions of morality.
Concerned with the distinction between good and evil, or right and wrong. Right or good conduct.

[5:52] Ethical motive. Motivation based on ideas of right and wrong.
Wikipedia puts it this way morality is a system of principles and judgments based on cultural religious and philosophical concepts and beliefs by which humans determine whether given actions are right or wrong these concepts and beliefs are often generalized and codified by a culture or a group and thus serve to regulate the behavior of its members.

The Significance of Conformity to Morality in Societies

[6:30] Conformity to such codifications may also be called morality, and the group may depend on widespread conformity to such codes for its continued existence.

Defining Ethics: Logic and Empiricism vs. Authority

[6:44] And there's a couple other definitions that seem rather abstruse.
Strong atheism shows the study of action, right or wrong, and ethicsscoreboard.com says, a system of determining right and wrong that is established by some authority, such as a church, an organization, a society, or a government.
Well, of course, I'm going to oppose any definition of ethics put forward by authorities and instead say that what we need to do is be logical and empirical.

[7:14] And so, basically, it's the distinction between good and evil.
There is not a whole lot about logic. There's a lot about authority, and there's a lot about culture, and a lot about cultural inheritances, which, of course, is generally how most of us first encountered and were taught ethics.

[7:33] But I would like to try and propose something a little bit more rigorous than that which has been handed down through the ages, and say that there's a very strong difference between ethical theories and theories of matter.
And the difference is not objectivity and subjectivity. It's a little bit more sophisticated than that.
So let's first of all look at something which we often call laws, laws of physics, gravity, the inverse square law, E equals mc squared, laws of physics.
Now laws of physics exist and operate independent or independently of human preferences right i throw myself off a cliff i do that little flintstones hang in the air and much though i may will not to fall by golly i'm going to fall and so if i wish to understand reality material material objective sensual reality, then I need to be a sort of receiver of information.
I need to codify the information that comes in through the evidence of my senses, turn it into logical principles, and so on.

[8:47] So, the laws of physics operate independently of human consciousness.
We can all fairly much understand that.
The laws of...

[9:01] Ethics, though, if even such laws exist, they do not operate independently of human consciousness, right?
So, ethics don't exist in the real world, right?
I have a toothbrush. I have a toothbrush. This toothbrush, bonk, bonk, exists in the real world.
But ethical theories ethics do not exist in the real world there's a fairly famous distinction that's in the realm of philosophy which is called the is-ought dichotomy which is a sort of fancy way of saying you can't get a should from an is you can't get an ought from an is you can't get that things ought to be a certain way based on how things actually are it's like saying that the the law of gravity or the acceleration of an object towards Earth ought to be 10.8 meters per second per second rather than 9.8 meters per second per second, it wouldn't really mean anything, to say that the laws of gravitation ought to be different than what they are.
It would be completely meaningless because all we're trying to do is figure out what they are, what they ought to be.

[10:16] It doesn't really mean anything. thing now philosophy in the realm of of morality though is very much focused around the ought you ought to do this because it's good you ought not to do that because it's bad this is good this is evil you should do this you shouldn't do that it really does divide human actions into uh i guess good neutral and evil so the question is how do you get a should from an is right so think of it it this way, if you don't mind.
So some rock is bouncing down a mountainside, and you're sitting there, and you're going, okay, fall to the right, fall to the right.
Oh, you gotta fall to the right.
It doesn't really make any sense, right? It's going to fall.
However, it's going to fall.
The willing isn't going to do anything, unless maybe your willing is so strong you throw yourself in its path or something.
But there's no place that the rock falling down a mountainside, there's no place that it ought to land, right if it's bouncing down a house if it's bouncing down a mountainside a big boulder and it's bouncing towards your house you might will like crazy for it not to hit your house.

The Fallacy of Blaming Luck for Misfortune

[11:39] People in New Orleans, they didn't want Katrina to hit.
But when the boulder does hit your house, it's not evil.
It's just like they should have done something differently. It's not like you put it on trial or something like that.
It's bad luck, right? A rock happened to hit your house.
So there's no ought. There's no should in reality.
And then what people do with that generally is they make a rather large mistake.
I'll put it forward as a rather large mistake you obviously can make up your own mind but this is sort of how I think of it.

[12:16] Just because, principles do not exist in the real world does not mean does not mean, that those principles are subjective or irrational or whim based I'll give you an example that you're probably familiar with the scientific method, of observation, reproducibility, logic, deduction and so on the scientific method does not exist in reality, it's not inscribed on the surface of atoms like like one of those signatures in a microchip.
It's not spread out in the sky, spelled out by clouds.
It doesn't exist in reality.
Gravity exists within reality. The law of gravity does not exist within gravity itself.

Numbers and Units of Measure as Human Inventions

[13:29] Rocks fall to the earth. 9.8 meters per second per second is a purely human invention.
Meters don't exist in the world it's just unit of measure right i mean it doesn't exist in the real world numbers don't exist in the real world right five discrete oranges exist in the real world but the number five does not exist in the real world so these are all things which do not exist in the real world, but exist as ideas or principles within the human mind.
But there's nobody out there who's got any kind of intellectual credibility who would say that the scientific method is purely subjective.
It's whatever you want it to be.
I'll just give you a moment. It's really important to understand.
Nobody is going to say that although five doesn't the number five doesn't exist in reality that six discrete physical oranges are exactly the same as five discrete physical oranges right.

The Real World vs. Ideas: Objective or Subjective?

[14:40] Nobody's going to say that because the law of gravity doesn't exist in the real world, that whether you say it's 9.8 or 10.8 or 6.8 meters per second per second, it's exactly the same. No. No.
Just because ideas that we have within our minds do not exist in the real world does not mean, does not mean that those ideas are purely subjective.
And open to them being whatever we want them to be.
But that's not the case at all. Now, I'm going to make the case, however successfully or not, of course, it's completely up to you.
Well, okay, maybe it's not completely up to you, but whether it's true or not, I think it's true.
Whether it's true or not, certainly don't accept it. I might say so, work through the rigor of the thinking yourself.
But I'm going to make the case that ethics...
Is exactly the same as the scientific method.

The Foundation of Ethical Theory

[15:48] Follows the same principles, has the same kind of justifications, has to be logical, has to be universal, has to be consistent, has to be reproducible, has to be predictive, and so on.
Any valid ethical theory has to be logical and empirical because both ethics and the scientific methods are products of philosophy.
The kind of philosophy, the truth, the accurate philosophy that we've been talking about for the last half dozen or so podcasts.
The reality of external matter, the way that we receive it through the senses, the way that it builds logical concepts and ideas within our minds that always have to be validated and tested against the evidence of the senses.
Our mind can error. Our mind can make errors.
And in order for something to be true, it has to be validated relative to external matter.
So I'm going to try and make the case, and slowly and perhaps painfully at times, I'm going to try to make the case that ethics is not subjective.
Ethics is perfectly logical. Ethics is empirical.

The Optional Nature of Ethical Theories

[17:04] One of the big differences, of course, about an ethical theory, relative to a law of physics is the fact that it's optional.
And don't worry, I'll get into defining ethics and all of that as we go forward, but I just sort of want to get over some of the initial hurdles that a lot of people have in this realm.

[17:28] So the fact that ethical rules don't exist in the real world gives people uh the impression a lot of times that ethical rules are totally subjective okay fair enough i think we've talked about that now the second major problem that people have with ethical theories is that they They think that they're subjective because they're optional, right?
So let's say I come up with a rule that I'm sure we could all agree on.
Rape is bad. Well, I'm not saying accept that.
I'm just saying that this is one that maybe we can at least agree on as a principle before we go into all of the syllogisms around how we get there.
But let's just say that I come up with a theory that says rape is bad, right?
Well, a lot of people will look at the world and say, there's tons of rapes going on.
How can you call it an ethical rule when so many people don't even believe in it?
Or believe in it in sort of name only?

Obedience to Laws: Gravity vs. Morality

[18:35] And sort of what they're doing is they're comparing the fact that obedience, quote, obedience to the law of gravity, is not optional.
I can choose to throw myself off a cliff. I can't choose to throw myself off a cliff and not fall down. So you may not have a hang glider or something.
So obedience, for want of a better word, conformity is better.
Or conformity to the laws of gravity is not optional.
Conformity to the laws of morality is clearly optional.
Even if you say rape is the best thing ever, there's lots of people who don't rape, no matter what rule you come up with.
As far as ethics go, there's always going to be people doing the exact opposite.
So relative to the law of gravity, isn't it just kind of random and subjective and just a whole bunch of made up stuff well it's possible I'm not going to make that case.

The Power of the Scientific Method

[19:40] But let me use the scientific method again if you want to understand the world if you want to understand the nature and property behaviors of matter and energy, do you pray do you run tarot cards do you consult your horoscope do you try and get psychic waves from your dog, do you cut open chicken and spread the entrails around and try and read words do you look at tea leaves, do you take drugs, no you use the scientific method, that's the only way that human beings have ever been proven to find out anything valid and predictable and useful and logical and empirical and reproducible about the world we live in.

[20:32] But, of course, throughout most of human history, throughout 99.999% of human history, we didn't use the scientific method at all. We used all those other methods.
There used to be a trial in the Middle Ages. Oh, trials again, very loosely put.
And this is where the expression trial by fire comes from.
If I was accused of stealing your chicken, chicken, then what I had to do was I had to reach into a fire and pull something out.
And so, of course, I'd get these horrible burns, and it's the Middle Ages, so of course there's nothing but filth and disease and squalor.
And if I got sick, then God was telling the world that I was guilty of the crime.
Like if I got an infection, and then of course I got gangrene and would die in agony in a couple of weeks, then that would be how they would determine whether or not I had stolen the chicken, and they used to do this also they'd put an iron bar in a boiling vat of water and you'd reach in and if your boils and blisters and burns got infected then you were a crook and if they didn't get infected or of course in the.

Torture and Trials: Non-Scientific Methods of Determining Truth

[21:46] Spanish Inquisition when they were going after the witches then they would say that they'd grab some woman and Are you a witch?
No. Well, the devil must be telling her to say no, let's torture her until she says yes. Finally, she says yes.
Oh, okay, great. Then she is a witch, right?
Sort of a null hypothesis there, right?
So the scientific method for determining truth and falsehood about physical reality has not been employed throughout most of human history.
There are lots of people right now in the world who don't try and figure out physical material reality using the scientific method.
They pray, they ask their friends, they make things up, they have visions, they take drugs.
So throughout most of human history and even in a lot of the world today, the scientific method is optional.
You don't have to use the scientific method. You can use it, you cannot use it, you can use the opposite, whatever.

Optional vs. Subjective: The Scientific Method Debate

[22:58] However, just because the scientific method is optional does not mean that the scientific method is subjective.
You don't have to use the scientific method.
But if you want to understand reality, you do have to use the scientific method.
You don't have to use a map to get someplace that you don't know how to get to. You can just drive around randomly and blindly and hope for the best.
But if you do actually want to get where you're going, it's probably going to be a good idea to consult a map.
Does that mean because maps are optional that maps are completely subjective?
Of course not. Of course not.

Defining Ethics: Objective vs Subjective

[23:55] So, just because ethical theories don't exist in the real world doesn't mean that they're subjective in whatever you want them to be.
Just because ethical theories are ignored and rejected by a lot of people doesn't mean that they're subjective in whatever people want them to be.
So let's start with a little sort of bit of rigor and I appreciate you sort of sitting through that I just kind of wanted to get a few things out of the way I haven't, like I'm very aware I haven't proven anything yet I'm just sort of trying to lay a sort of foundation here and so, I'll just do a little bit longer and we'll not obviously be able to cover all of this in one sitting but But when it comes to ethics, we do kind of have to define what they are.
For me, defining them as like trying to understand right and wrong is kind of circular.
It's kind of tautological. It doesn't really help that much.
So I'm going to sort of put a case forward in the next few minutes for a definition of ethics that we're going to work with. I hope that it works for you.
Because if it doesn't, then, you know, it's going to be a much more fun keeping on listening, unless you want to see the silly gags I start off the podcast with sometimes. times so.

[25:14] I'm going to put forward a definition of morality that I don't think is too controversial but the consequences are going to be quite interesting, there definitely is in the realm of morality a core concept of preference of of preference of.

[25:37] And preference is a very interesting word, and it's obviously very common and important within human life.
So I'll sort of give you three scenarios of preference, and I'll make the case that only one of them is sort of really morality, and we'll sort of get into some theories in the next podcast about why this might be the case.
Okay, scenario number one, I'm sitting there doing my taxes, and you're just standing around whistling while I'm trying to do my taxes, and after a while, I kind of get like a facial tick and I'm like, would you mind not whistling while I'm trying to do my taxes?
It's really distracting.
And this is difficult and boring enough that whatever, whatever, right?
So I think that I'm definitely stating a preference. I would rather you didn't whistle while I'm doing my taxes.
Rather not be doing my taxes. I'd rather not have to pay taxes.
But we'll get to all of that as we get a little further after.
We'll get to politics after we do ethics. But it's going to be fun.

Expressing Preference: Whistling While Doing Taxes

[26:33] Is just going to take a, you know, we have to cross a little bit of desert here to get there.
So that's an expression of a preference, but I don't think that there's many people who would say that it's evil for somebody to be whistling while I'm doing my taxes.

[26:48] I'm sort of saying, can you be a little considerate, not of a universal preference, but of just kind of like, I mean, maybe some people like other people whistling while they're doing the taxes. They find it relaxing.
There's a really good whistler or something, I don't know. but it's just my particular preference right right like i hire some painter to paint my study i'm gonna say i'd like you to paint it rust blood red because it'll look good on youtube or something, i'm stating a preference and if he doesn't pay you know if he doesn't paint it the right color i might sort of get mad at him i might not pay him i'm probably not going to say that the man is you know stone evil and a moral violation of the first order or anything like that.

Preferences and Compromises in Relationships

[27:30] Now there we have the realm of preference but it's kind of subjective it's kind of like would you mind just doing this for me i'm not going to call you evil if you don't i'm just you know would you mind being a little bit considerate of my kind of tics right if you're married you you know something about your partner's tics or the things that they like and the things that they don't like not always rational but you sort of make your compromises.

[27:53] Now, let's look at another situation around preference, which might be considered a little bit more universal, but not necessarily evil.
Now, I don't know why nature made male testicles feel like anthills for a good portion of the day.
I don't know why anthills are required in the production of sperm, but men have been known to scratch.
Certainly, I've got to keep my hands up here at all times.
And so your wife may come to you and say, you know, I'd really, really prefer for it if you didn't go digging around the old anthills when my mother-in-law was sort of staring at you right it doesn't really make her feel that her princess is being taken care of by a real knight and probably there are a few wives out there who appreciate you digging for gold when the mother-in-law sort of see her mother sort of standing there in front of you in front of you, so it's a little bit more universal than whistling while i'm doing my taxes but it's still not the the same as good and evil you don't get thrown in jail for uh you know giving yourself a good old scratch right so from that standpoint we have sort of a pretty pretty subjective preference don't whistle while i'm doing my taxes we have something that's a little bit more objective don't scratch your genitals while my mother is staring at you and then of course we start to get into stuff like you know don't murder don't steal don't rape you know all of that kind of stuff fraud is a sort of minor category of of uh of theft and we get into all of this in a while.

[29:19] But then we have something that's a little bit more like it's not just kind of like a preference it's not just kind of like a cultural thing like on sundays we put caps on our heads and we do this or you know we always eat fish on friday or you know those are preferences uh but not sort of universal ethical moral absolutes they're just kind of like nice to haves and then there's like like the have-to-haves, like don't kill, don't rape, don't steal, that kind of stuff.

Distinguishing Preferences, Morality, and Universal Ethics

[29:46] Again, I'm not saying that I've proven any of those moral propositions, I'm just trying to divvy up and give us a way of working with the definition of these things.
So the way that we're going to work with morality as we sort of start to move forward into building a good case for starting up with a moral theory is we're going to define morality as universally preferred human behavior.
Universally preferred human behavior.

[30:26] Now, the universally is very, very important here, because that's where you can see that we're going to try and deploy some aspects of what we've been talking about in terms of truth and falsehood, knowledge and ignorance, things we know, things we don't know, all the stuff that we worked through with epistemology, metaphysics, epistemology, and knowledge, that when I say universal, you know that I'm talking about principles derived from the behavior of matter and energy, which are universal, consistent, and so on.
And before we end this I just sort of want to well we'll get into some really juicy stuff in the next podcast but I think it's important to understand universally preferred behavior does not mean that everybody prefers that behavior, it doesn't mean that everybody prefers that behavior.

[31:14] But what it means is that if you claim the behavior is preferable and you claim that it's universal, then certain consequences are going to follow.
Because it's not a scientific theory to say you know, this toothbrush will fall down.
You heard the sound, right? It's not a scientific theory to say this toothbrush will fall down.
It is a scientific theory to say mass attracts mass according to these ratios and these properties and these attractions and these velocities and so on.
These gravity wells and that is a scientific theory once you abstract something into a general principle then it becomes a scientific theory, now the reason that we know that something like we wear, we eat donuts on Thursdays that's just our cultural heritage that's not considered to be a universal absolute that's binding on other people so when morality is put forward as a universal good when you say that people should behave in such and such a manner.

[32:23] Then you do have to have there are certain consequences that flow out of putting forward a moral theory that differentiate it from a mere opinion, because if it's a mere opinion, you know, I think people should not eat those Hawaiian donuts with the multicolored sprinkles on top.
It's just an opinion. It doesn't mean that anyone's really going to, oh, that's interesting. I'm going to go have a donut that I want.
It doesn't mean anything to anybody else.
If you put forward a theory, though, that says people should behave in such and such a manner.

[32:53] Then you are automatically accepting a whole bunch of things and then you have a requirement because you're trying to convince other people, you have a requirement for certain sets of logical principles and consistencies which we'll kind of get into in the next podcast but before we do that the first thing that we need to figure out and we'll figure it out in the next podcast the first thing that we need to figure out is does preferred behavior even is it even a valid concept does it again i told you i wasn't going to take anything for granted here when i say that morality is universally preferred behavior i don't even know that this universally preferred behavior exists, right? I could say that morality is a square circle.
We could do all the reasoning we want, but if the square circle doesn't exist or is logically impossible, what have we done? We're just wasting time.

[33:41] So what we'll do in the next podcast, it will try and figure out whether preferred behavior, we'll start with preferred behavior, then we get to universally preferred behavior, whether it even exists at all, because if it doesn't, then this definition of ethics isn't really going to do us much good.
Now is it? Thank you so much for listening. As always, I really appreciate it.
I hope that you don't mind the tentativeness with which I'm going to approach this topic, but boy, oh boy, I don't believe in hell, but if I did, it would be absolutely chock-full of philosophers who made mistakes about ethics, because they are the misery and ruin of mankind, so I'm not trying to add my own small contributions to this problem, I'm trying to add solutions to this problem, not yet another set of complications and messes which result in a pile of corpses.
So, I hope that you don't mind the tentative message. It's a very good reason.
And I hope that you will join me for the next series. Thank you so much for listening.

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