An Introduction to Philosophy Part 5 Ethics 3 - Subjective? - Transcript

Introduction to the Importance of Logic in Ethics

[0:08] Stef, welcome to the next version of Ethics. We've got the magic hat of moral explanation, which we will be using shortly.
Just wanted to give you a taste of it first so it doesn't startle you.
And what I'd like to chat about now is we've already talked about how preferential behavior, preferred behavior exists everybody displays it in one form or another thus the question is if we're going to put together theories which claim to organize and explain a human behavior then we really it is incumbent upon us to actually come up with logical explanations for this kind of stuff we can't just sort of make make rules up and say that for bob this is the preferred behavior and for sue this is the preferred behavior because if we want to explain things within the world things that exist, like gravity, like preferred behavior.

[1:00] Things which we can observe and see in the real world, we do need to be logical, we do need to be empirical, we have to apply logical, scientific, rational.

[1:09] Empirical observations and theories to the description and prediction of the phenomenon that we're describing.
Now, what we then talked about was, if I want to come up with a theory called an ethical theory, a moral theory, a moral proposition, a thou shalt, a you ought to, and so on, then I'm no longer in the realm of opinion.

[1:29] If I just say, I think everyone should speak Esperanto, that's just an opinion.
I'm not going to enforce it. It's not binding upon anyone else.
It's just, you know, I'd like you to buy or donate to me. I take donations at
I'd like some donations. it's not a moral absolute but it's something that i would prefer it's not something i'm putting forward as an ethical theory i'd like to but can't sort of see my way to do it anyway so the moment that you say something about ethics it's exactly the same as moving from an opinion to a scientific proposition it's exactly the same thing as trying to put forward a mathematical proposition a scientific proposition a logical proposition you now are bound by empirical verification the scientific method logical and logical consistency and so on so ethics is to opinion as science is to opinion or science is to religion an ethical theory is something which is must be universal otherwise it's just an opinion the moment that you say an ethical theory is universal.

[2:39] You are required for, it is required for that theory to be valid.
You've moved out of the realm of opinion and into the realm of scientific propositions.
It now must be logical and consistent, universal, independent of time and place, reproducible, the effects of it can be predictable, and so on. So, so, That's something that's sort of very important to understand. Ethics is a theory.

Optional Nature of Ethics and its Universal Requirement

[3:04] Ethics as a practice is totally optional, as the scientific method is optional, as eating well is optional.
Just because lots of people eat badly doesn't mean that the science of nutrition is completely subjective.
It's an optional thing. If you want health, then you should eat well.
And it doesn't mean that everybody who eats badly is automatically going to die within five days. it doesn't mean that everybody who eats well is going to automatically have perfect health and live to be 95.
It's not the way that biological systems work. Biological systems have lots of unknowns, lots of variables, lots of gray areas, and so on.
And we'll talk a little bit about sort of what that means as far as ethical theories go in just a moment.
But the moments that you put forward an ethical theory, it's a proposition which must be universal, otherwise it's just an opinion.

[3:57] It must be universal, it must be testable, it must be logical, it must be empirically verifiable, and so on.
So this is sort of the core thing that I'm saying about ethics.
Sure, ethics are optional.
Sure, you can get by with neither much of an ethical theory or any sort of ethical behavior, if we can determine an ethical theory and your behavior deviates from it.
You can absolutely run through life eating nothing but chocolate, lazing around on the couch, not thinking, not speaking.
You can do all of those things. It's just that most people don't.
Most people do act, and I do believe that ethics is the very strongest and most powerful powerful theoretical construct that exists within the world.
I think that human beings are naturally drawn towards ethics because everybody justifies everything that they do according to ethics.
So everybody always pursues ethics. Everybody is fascinated by ethics.
Bad people, when they want to gain control of a society, always focus on ethics.
And so to me, ethics is the most important human theory.
It leaves the scientific method, medicine, health, health, nutrition, any of those other theories. It leaves all of those in the dust.
It is the core, core moral, sorry, morality is the core motivating theoretical structure that is within human beings' minds and souls and hearts and consciousnesses.
It is the most important theory that exists in the world, and it is the one that is the least rigorous and the least logical, and that to me is a desperate, desperate shame.

Addressing the Challenge of Ethics being Objective

[5:23] So, of course, when you put forward the idea that ethics is objective, or ethics are objective, that ethical theories have to be logical, can be proven, and can be non-subjective, then you will often get, and I've of course had this countless times, you will often get people coming back and saying, oh yeah, what about abortion?
What about, there was one posted on the board recently where somebody said, yeah, well, my girlfriend thinks it's bad to shoot a deer, I think it's good to shoot a deer, we disagree, so how can it be objective.
You have nothing but disagreement about the question of abortion, So how can ethics be considered to be objective?

Ethics: Biology vs. Physics

[6:07] Well, I'm sort of going to take two responses to that. The first is to say that ethics describes, predicts, is part of the world of biology, not of physics, right?
There's no such thing as ethics for a dust particle.
There's no such thing as ethics for a rock or ethics for a river.
Those are just physical entities, neither good nor evil. They just do what they do.
They don't have consciousness. They don't have free will, blah, blah, blah. So you can't come up with ethics in the realm of physics.
You can only come up with ethics in the realm of biology, and more specifically, only within the realm, pretty much, let's just sort of take this for granted for the moment, if you don't mind, for human beings.
We can talk about ethics of monkeys or sea slugs or whatever another time, but right now, we're just going to focus on the fact that the majority of ethical theories pretty much are focused on the actions, thoughts and actions, motivations of human beings.
Now, once you get a theory, that is part of the world of biology, the theory simply does not have to have the same amount of rigor as it would have to if it were a theory in the world of physics.

Exceptions in Physics and the Universality of Theories

[7:22] As we've mentioned mentioned before, if you have a theory that says everything falls down, even one exception to that theory means that your theory is not correct, not fully correct, certainly not taking everything into account, right?
So if you say everything falls down, you come across the helium balloon, then the fact that everything falls down now has an exception to it, and of course exceptions are the way that science advances.
So if you can find an exception to an existing rule, if we found something that went faster than light, or approach the speed of light without gaining mass, then obviously the theory of relative Einsteinian theories would be in trouble.
So, in physics, a single exception invalidates the universality of the theory.
So, that's the world of physics, because there's no free will, variable randomness, and so on.
And in the world of biology, however, things are quite different.
I'll give you sort of an example. example.
Biologists have the definition of something called a horsey, to use the Latin phrase.
So we have in the world horsies.
Horses have four legs, one head, one tail, and so on, right?
Now, every now and then, some freaky biological occurrence will happen wherein a horse is born with two heads.

The subjectivity of biology and deviations within biological systems

[8:45] Does this mean that the science of biology is completely subjective and irrelevant?
That it's all just opinion? Because there are deviations within biological systems?
Human beings, you know, most of us have five toes. Every now and then, you will come across somebody, I think Elvis was one, with webbed toes or six toes.
This doesn't mean that there's no such thing as a human being, and that there's no definition between a human being and a sea anemone, or a human being and a dust mite, right?
So within the realm of the division of species into genuses and into the zoological classifications, there are such a thing as zoological classifications, although there are such things as mutations.

[9:29] We don't say, when a horse is born with two heads, oh my god, that's it.
There's just no way that there's nothing to do with everything's random, there's no such thing as a science of biology. we say, okay, that's a deviation from a standard, and we know that there's a standard like a horse is born with one head and so on.
Yeah, freakily enough, you'll get a horse born with two heads from time to time.
That's a deviation from a norm, and we're all aware of that, we're all comfortable with that, that all makes sense.
So the fact that there are deviations within the realm of biology, the fact that there's random factors around, you could say random if you'll excuse the term, for genetics, for free will, and so on, does not mean that there's no such thing as any scientific truths that can be talked about or any rational truths that can be talked about with regards to human beings.

The Subjectivity of the Word "Horse"

[10:18] When you hear the word horse, assuming that you're not thinking of somebody talking like this, when you hear the word horse, you have a different picture in your head.
I think of a nice brown chestnut horse. Maybe you think of a palomino or a white horse or whatever.
Maybe you think of a pegasus or a unicorn. I don't know.

[10:36] But when we have an image in our head of the word horse, we all have a different image.
Even if you think of a brown horse, it's not going to be exactly the same brown horse. It's not going to have the same background. I always think of one in a field or whatever.
And so when I use the word horse, and you use the word horse, or you hear it, we both have different images, but we still know we're talking about the same thing.
You don't think that I'm talking about like a rain cloud, or a zebra mussel, or something.
So although there is not the same degree of precision, and there is not the same degree of absolutism, and there's not the same intolerance of exceptions in biological theories, as opposed to physical theories, theories around physics, where one exception invalidates the theory, in biology one exception, or a number of exceptions, does not invalidate the theory.
So I just sort of wanted to point that out, that in the realm of biology there are a number of deviations or exceptions that are allowed in that world.
And so asking for the same degree of precision and certainty and absolutely no No exceptions in the biological world is irrational, of course.

Difference between Child and Adult

[11:49] Now, another sort of way of looking at this, or another example of this, is that we're all pretty comfortable with the idea that there's a difference between a child and an adult.
So, biologically, physiologically, and so on, you know that I'm not five years old and talking to you because I've got a voice that's not squeaky, I have a forehead that's shiny, I have height, and I have an intellectual kind of, hopefully, an intellectual kind of ability that is slightly beyond what a five-year-old can manage.
So when you look at me, you don't confuse me with a five-year-old.

[12:32] Now, we also have a process called puberty, which involves lots of naughty bits and lots of hormones.
And puberty is a process. So we know that a five-year-old has not gone through puberty.
We know that I myself have gone through puberty. In fact, it was last week.
And so we know that there's a difference. And puberty is a process.
There's a before and there's an after.
Now, puberty is not one second, right? Puberty took, I don't know, it takes like six months or a year or whatever it takes.
I can't really remember, but puberty is a process.
There's a before and there's an after, but there's no one single day or one single moment that we call puberty. Bang!
Puberty is just like it's a bell curve and it trails off and so on and hits some people later, some people earlier, and so on.
So the fact that there's a gray area around being a child and being an adult does not mean that there's no difference between being a child and being an adult. I mean, this we all sort of understand.
We know that a child is prepubescent. We know that a 20-year-old is postpubescent.

Gray Area: When Does Puberty Define Adulthood?

[13:42] So we know that there are distinct differences. But in any particular moment, let's say the puberty starts at 12, right?
At 12 years old and one month is that person an adult or a child at 12 years and two months, right?
There's no particular area where we say, day.

Defining the Transition from Child to Adult

[13:59] Okay, at 11.59, that is a child, and at 12 o'clock, that's an adult.
I mean, we may make those distinctions from a legal standpoint, like at the age of 18, you're considered to be whatever, whatever, mature, morally responsible, or whatever.
But there's no particular moment where something goes from prepubescent to post-pubescent, but there's still a difference on either side.

The complexity of moral responsibility and intelligence levels

[14:22] So, if we accept that as a sort of a basic fact, that there are certain things which are processes, processes, which are not black and white, but which are not totally subjective.
I mean, we can accept that, I think, from an intellectual standpoint.
We also would look at a human being who had an IQ, say, of 70, right?
Somebody who was really, really below the curve, as far as intelligence goes, and say that that person may have, may have, I mean, just not saying that this is the case.
It's just we may have arguments that would say this person is slightly less morally responsible than somebody with an IQ of 100, 105, sort of around the average.
But there is no like, okay, when they have 10 billion brain cells, they are totally moral.
I have no idea how many brain cells there are, so sorry if I got the number wrong. If they have 10 billion brain cells, they're totally morally responsible, right?
If one brain cell gets taken away, now they're totally not responsible for their ethical behavior or for whatever, right?
There are certain people who have an IQ, say, of 70 or 75, who we would not necessarily expect that they would be, that there's a huge problem with them not going out and getting a job and getting a career and getting married or whatever it is that is generally the accepted norm.

[15:40] If somebody has an IQ of 120 and is living at home when they're, I don't know, 30 and don't have a job or whatever, we would say, well, that person may be lacking in ambition or may have certain psychological blocks or whatever you might say about it, but it would be a deviation from what we would expect.
Somebody who's got an IQ of 70 or 80, if they're living at home at the age of 30, we would say, well, I can sort of understand that.
We have kind of different judgments, but it's not like that's just like a black and white thing.
Again, we may define that in terms of law, but it's not like IQ 100, total moral responsibility, IQ 90, total 80, 79, poof, no responsibility, 79.999, or whatever.
So there are certain gradations that are common in the biological world.
And we're pretty comfortable with that. And we kind of understand that there's kind of like a subjective, semi-subjective kind of gut feel areas that are complicated.

Gray areas and subjectivity in moral questions

[16:32] And this is the same thing that's true with moral questions, and we're not going to get into a lot of them right now because we still need to define something about what morality is and how to process or understand ethical questions, but we would generally say that going and stabbing a kid would be a bad thing to do, right?
I mean, you certainly can't say that it's a good thing to do, right? Because if you don't have access to a kid, you can't then be moral or a knife.
So we generally would say going and stabbing a kid is a bad thing to do.

[17:03] So the initiation of, you know, the use of force against a child or whatever is a bad thing to do.
Going up and stabbing an adult is a bad thing to do, but stabbing an adult is maybe not a bad thing to do if that adult is coming at you.
We'll talk about self-defense later, but if that adult's coming at you wanting to shoot you and you can stab them or whatever, right, then that may be a a morally defensible thing.
Maybe not so much if you've taunted them and keyed their car and insulted their wife and provoked a fight, and then the guy comes at you and you stab him, then it gets a little bit more ambiguous. Again, these are pretty rare situations.
But, you know, let's be honest that there's no degree of precision and absolutism and no exceptions whatsoever in the realm of morality, because morality is a biological concept. It's a biological construct.
You simply can't apply the same rules, because biology has lots of randomness built into it.
You've got free will, you've got mutation, you've got lots of other things that are going on.

[18:05] You have dysfunction, you have whatever, right? So within the realm of ethics, there are gray areas.
Totally comfortable with that. Every single biological science has gray areas.
Still does not mean that biology is a totally subjective science, which has no possibility of rational classification or understanding. standing.

Gray areas in the realm of abortion and varying moral judgments

[18:23] So, in the realm of abortion, and again, I'm not going to sort of try and prove or disprove, I've got an article around this on my website, but I'm not going to sort of get into the proof or disproof of abortion, blah, blah, blah, but I think it's fairly safe to say that fewer people would have problems with the morning-after pill, right, the RU486 pill, where you may have, possibly had implantation, or sorry, you may have possibly have conception.

[18:49] The sperm's gotten into of the egg.
We don't know if it's implanted or not yet. You take a pill, which thins out the lining, I think, of the uterus so that the egg can't implant.
We wouldn't say that that's morally the same as strangling a baby after it's been born, right?
Just, I mean, I'm not going to make the logical case for it.
I'm just going to ask you to look at your gut, right?
Aristotle said, and I think he's quite right, he said that you can come up with ethical theories and you can do this, that, or the other, if, however, your ethical theory can prove that rape is a good thing or, or the initiation of the use of force, I'll just call it murder, is a good thing, then you've kind of, just based on your gut feel for these things, you've kind of probably made a mistake.
So let's just say that fewer people, I'm not going to make the argument for either one being morally good, I think we can all go with strangling the baby is kind of evil, but fewer people are going to have problems with taking a pill to possibly prevent the implantation of a maybe fertilized egg.
Egg, fewer people are going to have moral problems with that, and more people are going to have moral problems with strangling a baby that's out of the womb and, you know, sitting in its crib and so on.

[20:00] And so, there's obviously a gray area around which there's a general kind of consensus in the realm of abortion, right?
Few people who, and especially those who aren't religious, few people are going to have problems with taking a morning-after pill, and more, many, many more people are going to have problems with strangling a baby.
And there's reasons for this.
I mean, I won't get into it all right now, but this is not just subjective.
But there's no moment, even if you accept the morning-after pill argument that that's, you know, it's impossible, it's a maybe, it's a potential life, you're just preventing cells from forming, it's not a viable human being, nobody else could conceivably take care of that, you can't take it out of your womb and put it into somebody else's in the same way that you can give up a baby if you don't want it for somebody else to raise.
Ways you could go into all of these sorts of arguments but basically if you don't have a problem with somebody taking a morning after with a woman taking a morning after pill but you do have a problem with somebody strangling a baby right there's a continuum somewhere in there right so you don't have a problem uh at day one of aborting or preventing pregnancy or whatever not even knowing what the case is but you have a problem with strangling a baby somewhere in there.

[21:11] The flip switches and it goes from not immoral to immoral, right?
Or even if you think it's immoral to take the morning after, it's less immoral.
Let's just say it's less immoral to take a morning after pill if you're not religious with the soul and this and that.
It's less immoral to take a morning after pill than it would be to strangle a baby after it's been born.
It also would be, I think, pretty immoral to kill a baby right before birth, right?
It's coming down the birth canal, you inject it with something thing and it dies that to me is a pretty bad thing to do is the baby can survive you can give it up it's you know it's a viable life outside of your body and blah blah blah so somewhere in there and we have a general consensus i think around 16 or 20 weeks it was somewhere in there it becomes not good to abort the baby and that's not one second right it's not like ah at 19.9999 weeks it's It's perfectly morally acceptable to abort a baby.
20 weeks, one second later, it becomes totally evil, right?
We recognize that there are gray areas which need negotiation, which need social consensus, which I would say need a distinct absence of political coercion, but we'll get into that as we move forward into the realm of politics.

[22:24] But the fact that there are gray areas, that people disagree on ethics, that there's stuff that kind of can't be sorted out, doesn't mean that ethics is totally subjective. scientists, even physicists, disagree on the interpretation of certain results, or certain model of the universe.
Just read up on superstring theory or certain forms of quantum mechanics to realize that there's an enormous amount of quite contentious debate within the scientific community.
People disagree, and there are grey areas even in the realm of physics.
This doesn't mean that the scientific method is completely invalid, because disagreement occurs and there are grey areas which haven't been worked out yet.

The Interference of Religion and State Education

[22:59] And, of course, there's two very, very fundamental things which have interfered with, or I would say warped, or undermined, or in some cases even destroyed, people's capacity for clear moral reasoning.
One, of course, is religion, and the other, of course, is state education.
We'll get into that as we go forward.

Influence of Religion and Education on Ethical Theories

[23:43] One becomes perfectly rational. And we, of course, have these very strong influences on not exactly helping people clear up their own ethical theories.
Religion and state education, whether at the public school or sometimes, I think, even more dangerously at the graduate school level, there's a lot of subjectivism, there's a lot of whim-based stuff, there's a lot of what does the Bible say and this kind of stuff.
So the fact that people disagree when we have these very irrational approaches to understanding ethics.

[24:17] Is pretty much guaranteed, right? The fact that people disagree about ethics, given that we have these institutions which promote irrational thinking, completely certain, completely inevitable.

[24:28] People disagreed a whole lot more about the world, the physical reality, the properties and behavior of matter and energy, in the Middle Ages, prior to the scientific revolution.
Tons of disagreement about everything, because they were all just making stuff up and not validating with it, and running off to particular religious texts, or running off to the Pope to ask his opinion.
So, of course, there was no empirical verification, no objective logic that could be brought to bear on the situation that people would accept, right?
The concepts within their own mind were not considered subordinate to the evidence of the census and the rigors of logic.
Logic so yeah they just ran around making up all this stuff constant disagreements endless religious wars one of the reasons why people gave up on the unity of church and state was because for about 100 years after the uh after luther created the schism within the catholic church and you broke into protestants and the baptisms and galens and calvinists and all these sorts of people was that you had uh you know millions of people getting killed uh from religious wars and so people kind of gave up on the idea for about 100 years people got kind of tired of this and said, you know, we've really got to separate the church and the state because this really doesn't work so well.

Lack of Objective Standard Leads to Conflict and War

[25:33] So during that whole time, yeah, there was no consensus. There was lots of argument.
There was lots of disagreement about ethics and people were willing to kill people for it as they are in the modern world.
When people disagree about ethics, when they don't have reason and empiricism to mediate their disputes, the guns, the knives, the swords, and sometimes the airplanes come out and wars and terrorism and all this occur.
Absolutely completely inevitable when you don't have an objective standard that two parties agree on to resolve their disputes.

[26:00] Then you're going to end up with endless war, conflict escalation of power subjugation of the innocent, corruption of children, all of these sorts of things are going to go on this is an ideological war that's going on that's fundamentally irrational, So, the fact that people disagree is inevitable, because we think about ethics in such an irrational manner, and we appeal to culture, to history, to gods, to devils, to priests, to popes, to the state.
We get all of this irrational stuff taught to us, so of course there's going to be an enormous amount of disagreement in the realm of ethics, just as there was about the realm of science before the scientific method was brought to bear on the physical facts of reality.
So, So this is sort of a, sorry, slightly long way of saying it, but it's such a common, such a common objection that I think it's worth spending a few minutes on, and I hope this has been useful to you.

[26:52] It is absolutely inevitable that there are gray areas in the realm of ethics.
It's absolutely inevitable that people are going to disagree about ethics, just as there are gray areas in biological sciences and some, based on incomplete information or incorrect interpretation or questions about interpretation, just as there are inconsistencies, disagreements, and gray areas in the realm of physics.
Physics, this does not make any kind of requirement or objectivity, requirement for logic or classification of objectivity within the moral realm, it doesn't make that impossible.
It took, what, 400 years to solve Fermat's last theorem. I think it was solved, I read the book.
But it took 400 years or so to solve Fermat's last theorem, and so there was this whole gray area, unsolvable prompt, people disagreed with how to approach it.
It didn't mean that the science of mathematics or the logic of mathematics was completely invalid because something hadn't been solved.
So I just think that's a very important thing to understand.
So when you start talking about the need for logic, the possibility of objectivity and rationality within the science of universally preferred behavior that we call ethics, the fact that people disagree, the fact that there are gray areas, lots of contention and so on, all it means is that people aren't being rational.
That's all it means it doesn't mean that rationality is invalid if everybody eats so much that they gain weight it doesn't mean that nutrition is invalid.

Exercise and Health: Personal Choice vs Objective Truth

[28:22] If nobody exercises and gets flaccid and osteoporosis, it doesn't mean that exercise as a preferred behavior is completely invalid. It just means that people aren't choosing to follow it.
It doesn't mean that it's invalid. It doesn't mean that the prescriptions of behavior which will result in good health are then completely subjective and you can make anything up that you want.
You can choose to run off a cliff. You can't choose whether you fall or not.
You can choose to not eat well and not exercise. you can't choose the effects that that's going to have on your physiology.

[28:54] You can choose not to be rigorous in your thinking, not to be philosophical, not to subject yourself to logic and the scientific method and empirical verification.
You can choose all of those things, but you can't choose that you then stay mentally healthy and happy.
You can choose to fill your mind with garbage, just as you can choose to fill your body with junk.
And I don't say this from any sort of purist standpoint, point, I just had a bag of chips for lunch.
But at least I'm not saying that if I only eat a bag of chips all the time, that I'm going to be healthy, right?
I mean, it's not like we can't tell a little white lie or anything.
There's great things which we can do.
Some days I don't even go to the gym, and I don't even eat that well, but that's okay.
At least I don't think that I'm following a science of nutrition when I do that, right?
I'm recognizing that I'm deviating from that so i don't get a sense i'm some sort of purist here so i'm spending this is a lengthy way to talk about this but it's such a common objection it's absolutely inevitable that people will then say well there's abortion there my girlfriend thinks that i shouldn't shoot bambi and i think that i should and so on yeah all of these things are questions and they need to be answered we need to focus on them as as um as human beings i was going to say as a society but but that doesn't exist, of course, as we know from the one on metaphysics and epistemology.

The Importance of Theory and Opinion

[30:14] So, this is very, very important. If you are going to propose a theory that is going to be considered more than opinion, if you say, we should tax people to help the poor, just sort of an example, we'll get into this when we get into politics, but if you're going to say, well, we should tax people to, I mean, if it's just an opinion, then it's you, like you coming up to me and saying, you know, no, I really like the new Jessica Simpson video, right?
Okay, that's nice, nice to hear. It doesn't mean that I have to like it, doesn't mean that anything's binding on me, doesn't mean that I consider that it is true, that it is a good video, whatever, right?

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