Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Will, Free and Otherwise

with 7 comments

I’m going to just sort of wander around today.  For one thing, I writing from school, where I’m supposed to be having office hours.  Actually, I am having office hours.  It’s just that nobody is here, and nobody is going to be here.  So I’ve got to think of something to do with myself.

To respond to Lymaree, first–“minimizing pain to conscious beings” is not a moral rule.  It’s a goal-statement–a teleogical premise.  Once you have that premise, you can THEN devise moral rules that will bring you closer to realizing it.

But the moral rules will have an objective basis in human nature.  If you study human nature, you will eventually find out what rules you need to install to make it more likely that people will reach the goal of “minimizing pain to conscious beings.”

To go back to the bridge–there are objectively based rules for building a bridge, but the decision to build a bridge does not need to be itself objectively based. 

I’ve said it before–what most of you have a problem with is not the objective basis for morality, but the objective basis (or lack of it) for teleology.

And, I’m sorry, I don’t find that a legitimate objection to the fact that morality has an objective basis.  Morality is rules for individual behavior, and those rules will be objectively derived from human nature or they will be wrong (and unworkable).

But we don’t say that there is no objective basis for the rules of engineering because the decision about what to build–bridge, house, road, gigant unicorn statue–is not compelled by those rules, or by any rules.

Teleology–the decision to build a bridge instead of a road, to build a healthy human being with long life in a society that provides him with science and technology–is another issue.

And I don’t think it’s as arbitrary as most of you want it to be. 

But it’s a different discussion.  It has nothing to do with whether or not morality (moral rules) have an objective basis.

That said, morality is about the individual and politics is about societies.  Of course, individual morality will impact the way a society functions.  It has to.  A society in which most people feel that rape is morally justifiable will function differently than one in which it is considered unjustified in any case, no matter what the laws are.

But.  A society very often must a) not legislate moral wrongs and b) actively tolerate moral wrongs in order for it to function well. 

For instance–

A society that desires to be a nation of free people cannot use its government to enforce the use of the blood and skin and bone (actual physical body) of one person for the use and benefit of another against that first person’s will.

That’s the functional definition of slavery.  And, of course, they can try it–but they screw themselve up badly in the long run when they do try it, they retard their own progress (see history, universally–no slave state has ever developed significant science of technology), and they eventually come to a point where the contradiction kicks their butts.

See Gettysburg.

But if the government cannot compel me to put my body to the use of my neighbor for the sake of his need for a new kidney, it equally cannot compel me to put my body to the use of a fetus in my womb. 

The analogy is exact–either I’m a free human being whose body may not be used without my consent, or I’m a thing to be put to the use of other people whether I like it or not.

But although that is, I think, an unassailble politic argument against government interference in the decision of a woman to abort a pregnancy, it is not a moral argument in favor of abortion.

In fact, I could make a very good moral case that abortion is never justified except possibly to save the physical life of the mother, and even then I think it would be iffy.

There are lots of cases like this, most of them considerably less contentious than abortion–and lots of cases in which the law deals with areas that are morally neutral.

The perceived morality or immorality of something should never be the reason for enshrining it, or enjoining it, in law. 

That’s why, if you’re going to talk me out of my support for gay marriage, you’re going to have to convince me that it would in some way endanger the functioning of the Republic, not that homosexuality is morally wrong.

I’ve got no idea if I’m being clear.

I often think I am, only to find later that I seem to be talking right past people. 

I’ll get to the teleological thing later–but “I do not see any objective way to decide that we want a humane society instead of a cannabilistic one” is NOT evidence against the objective basis for morality.

Morality–moral rules–are means.

Teleology is about ends, and that above is a statement about ends, which is a different issue.

But not quite so random as it appears.

But more on that later.

Let me recommend a book:  The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America, by Daniel Hannan.  I’m having a very good time with it.

And remember.  If you have trouble making COMMENTS and get that “Invalid Registration Status” message, or any other one, e-mail me and we’ll fix it on this end.

Written by janeh

November 16th, 2010 at 10:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Will, Free and Otherwise'

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  1. There is a difference in terminology, as someone suggested a while back. You’re using ‘moral rules’ to mean individual rules which may direct behaviour to a desired end. I wouldn’t use ‘moral’ in such a general sense – determining which ends are right is to me absolutely essential for a moral rule. If you aren’t doing that when you select and test your rules for human behaviour, you are doing politics or psychology or sociology or something. Maybe anthropology. What you’re doing might be extremely useful – even essential – for a modern state – but it isn’t morality and the derived rules aren’t moral ones. Not according to my definition of the terms, anyway, and it strikes me that in such a debate it’s useful to have a terminology that includes teleological assumptions and one that doesn’t. Confusion arises when the same term is used for both.

    And I just wondered how we know that an advanced state can’t have slavery. None have had so far, but correlation doesn’t equal causation, and we certainly don’t have a really large sample of advanced cultures or states to examine. And certainly, historically, some of the slave-holding societies have been the most advanced of their time and place.


    16 Nov 10 at 10:54 am

  2. Actually, we do know, and it’s more than correlation.

    The reason is twofold: first, the requirements for developing a scientific society are very rigid. You need a society in which the individual matters more than the group, for instance, because scientific advances occur when someone bucks the conventional wisdom and insists on doing things his own way. If your society discourages that, your progress to science, never mind in it, is going to be severely hampered.

    But the real reason slave societies do not and will not develop into scientific ones is simple: for the people who matter, they don’t have to.

    Why should I bother inventing the automobile if I’ve got an endless, cheap source of transportation by slave-carried reclining litter is always available?

    Why invent the dishwasher if I have slaves to wash dishes for me?

    Scientific civilizations have to have some things to exist at all, and slave civilization not only lack those things, but must lack them to remain slave societies.

    Which is why most present-day quasi-slave societies are not themselves scientific civilizations. They just buy science from actual scientific civilizations, and sometimes–see Saudi Arabia–they buy both the science and the people to operate it.

    As to the moral and the teleological: morality is, in fact, a set of rules for private behavior. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is morality, not politics.

    This is the case even though you and I might not agree on the teleological principle behaind it.

    But whatever our teleological principles, the rules that follow will in fact be moral rules and will in fact be objectively based in what we know about human nature.

    If you assume freedom of the will–or largely freedom of the will–then you will always be free to choose any teleogical principal you want and to attempt to build your life on objectively derived rules to meet that end.

    But not all teleological principles are created equal. Different ones will result in different kinds of human lives and different societies growing out of those different kinds of lives.

    You’re free to pick what you want, but not to escape the consequences of your choice.

    And once we know the consequences, the choice between teleological principles isn’t random, either.


    16 Nov 10 at 11:31 am

  3. It’s easy to claim that of course slave states can’t become modern scientific civilizations and give quite logical reasons – but that’s a world away from proof, and is based on a sample of exactly one modern scientific civilization – which hasn’t actually been modern and free and all that very long anyway. I mean, you may well be right, but I don’t see that you can prove it. And even the claim that the powerful will see no need for change is nothing more than a claim. The rich and powerful often like new toys and new economic systems that make them more money, and if they’re going to be fighting wars with the neighbours, they’re going to be strongly motivated to invent powered vehicles and new types of projectiles and easy ways to communicate at a difference.

    What we really need is a bunch of civilizations at more or less the same technological level, some of which had slave-owning and some of which didn’t, and watch them over a few centuries. I keep thinking some periods of ancient Rome might qualify, but I don’t know enough about the history to be sure.

    I think we all tend to think our own civilization will endure and develop…but it might not. It might be just a flash in the pan, and the reasons for its development and eventual destruction not properly understood. It’s really difficult to get the necessary mental distance when I’m part of the system I’m studying, but I need that to decide what contribution, if any, a focus on the individual or an absence of slavery makes to scientific innovation. I have a vague impression that all that stuff about paradigm shifts and newbie outsiders making all the innovative leaps that was so central when I learned the little I know of the philosophy of science is now considered a bit passe.

    And I’m more than ever convinced that you and I are not using the same meaning for ‘moral rules’, which makes discussing them rather pointless. If you simply called them ‘rules’ or ‘rules of behaviour’ I might agree with a lot of what you say.


    16 Nov 10 at 1:42 pm

  4. Hmm–would you say the 10 commandments are moral rules? And what are moral rules if not rules for behavior?


    16 Nov 10 at 2:03 pm

  5. They’re rules for behaviour that have some outside or larger justification – in the case of the ten commandments, God’s orders. I could conceive of moral rules based on the idea that rationality was the highest good, and the more rational the more moral something was. Or perhaps based on a moral statement – do onto others etc in one of its many forms. But there has to be a ‘behave this way because you should, and you should because this God or aspect of humankind is a greater truth that that of individual and this way of behaving derives from that understanding’. It’s kind of like the intersection of individual behaviour and something better; ‘should’ and not ‘must’. And ‘getting an advanced society like ours’ doesn’t strike me as being sufficiently universally applicable or a sufficiently unqualified good to base a moral ‘should’ on. It’s circular. We, creatures of this society, can’t conceive of anything more basic to humanity, of anything greater to aspire to, than the society that created us. Talk about idolatry and navel-gazing!

    I like living in a Western society, don’t get me wrong. But if the bit of it I happen to be living in is the be all and end all of human existence, sufficiently perfect to guide all our decisions and behaviours, to form the basis of all the rules for a future society…I won’t support that claim. It makes no sense to me. We’re a civilization; better than a lot of others in lots of ways, worse in some ways (we did spawn the political movements that led to quite a range of modern terrorism). And our story isn’t finished yet. That’s too temporary and too imperfect to form the ideal on which to base moral laws.

    Now, if we want to simply identify, support or establish some legal codes that help modern democracies work smoothly and well, that’s important work. But we can’t find their moral justification in the society we design them for.


    16 Nov 10 at 2:55 pm

  6. Automobiles and dishwashers are engineering and not science. Much of the 19th century science was done in Germany which was never considered a bastion of liberalism.

    The basic science of the scientific revolution was done by people who were not in it for the money. The engineering of the Industrial Revolution was driven by the desire to get rich.

    And ancient Rome had quite a high level of technology – highways, bridges, aqueducts and sewers come to mind.


    17 Nov 10 at 12:06 am

  7. Sigh.

    Yes, I know the difference between science and engineering.

    But the objective basis of the rules for engineering something is the science behind it.

    And as for Rome–gee, well advanced technologically, were they?

    They had the germ theory of disease and antibiotics and safe childbirth for women and…

    No, of course they didn’t.

    They got so far and no farther–it’s only a “high level of technology” compared to other societies that didn’t have a very high level of technology.

    Once you look at an actual scientific civilization, it’s nothing.

    The “high levels of technology” achieved by the early slave states were…actually, pretty low levels of technology.

    You can indeed get your society to a certain level, “high” relative to, say, the stone age.

    But it’s not actually high next to any truly scientific society, and no scientific society has ever existed as a slave state.


    17 Nov 10 at 6:09 am

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