Getting to Ought From Is

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Billy Shears
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Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Billy Shears »

A few months ago, you-know-who made a blog post about how you need religion in order to have a basis in morality. I’m sure the readers here have heard his argument several times and I won’t bother trying to paraphrase it. I responded with some references on ethics, including Sam Harris’s book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. You-know-who dismissed that book out of hand saying that it has been proven that you can’t get from “is” to “ought” and that therefore Sam Harris is a simpleton.

I’m not a fan of Sam Harris in the same way I’m a fan of, say, Sean Carroll or Steven Pinker, but I do agree with the basic premise of Moral Landscape and would like to point out the glaring fallacy of the you-can’t-get-to-ought-from-is argument, which is this:

In a strict philosophical sense, science can’t get you to what is either.

Science is based on the philosophy of methodological empiricism--we try to look at reality carefully and make inferences about the nature of reality based on those observations. This process has lead mainstream science to believe in the existence of some natural laws and models that can be used to understand, explain, and predict things. In a strict philosophical sense, any paper on science has an implicit set of unproven assumptions behind it (e.g. we assume reality exists, we assume the universe wasn’t created an instant ago, we assume there isn’t a trixter God meddling with experiments, etc.), and all scientific results are technically provisional and are based on all of those assumptions. But if better data or better explanations become available, scientific theories will be adjusted or discarded.

It seems that philosophers who get hung up on the you-can’t-get-to-ought-from-is argument don’t understand the fundamental nature of science--science doesn’t tell us what “is”, either.

On the outset, Harris clearly explains that his ethical framework is based on the assumption that ethical considerations should be based on the wellbeing of conscious beings, and he makes some strong arguments about why this assumption is a good one. Ultimately, all philosophy, including the philosophy of science, is based on a set of assumptions. Assuming that we should make ethical decisions based on promoting the well-being of conscious beings is a good assumption that fits nicely with the other assumptions science implicitly makes.
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Doctor Steuss
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Doctor Steuss »

Christians make up about 63% of the US Population, yet make up about 68% of prison populations in the US.

Conversely, atheists make up about 3.1% of the US population, yet make up about 0.1% of prison populations in the US.

Curious that the people who purportedly have no basis with which to have morals seem to be better at having morals.
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by drumdude »

Daniel Peterson’s morality is grounded in following a group of wealthy elderly businessmen, descendants of a polygamist cult of personality.

If he thinks that gets you an ought from an is, he’s welcome to believe that.

I tend to think an objective universal morality, if it exists, does not rest on “follow the Brethren” as its foundation.
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Res Ipsa
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Res Ipsa »

Hi Billy, I'm not sure I follow.

I don't think I'd say it's been "proven" that one can't get from is to ought. If it has, I'd love to see the proof. It is, however, fallacious reasoning to say: Is, therefore ought. That's referred to as the naturalistic fallacy. I've seen it used a fair amount in discussions about evolution or economics.

I don't think science should be confused with is or ought. Is and ought are states of facts. Science is a method of investigating facts. It seems to me that YKW's mistake was to equate science with "is". In doing so, he completely misunderstands the role that Harris says science can play in determining human values. He does not use science as a method to determine his ultimate ought: maximizing, or at least improving, the well being of conscious beings. Rather, having assumed this ultimate ought, he argues that science as a method can help us determine which supporting human values are most likely to move toward his ultimate ought. (It's been a while since I read any Harris, so please correct me if I've got that wrong.)

I wonder whether the counter argument you present doesn't prove too much. If science cannot tell us what "is," then how can it tell us whether a given course of action is likely to result in improving the well being of conscious beings? And if it can't, doesn't that undercut Harris's argument? Or, for Harris's argument, is it enough that science is the most reliable method we have of determining what is?
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Billy Shears
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Billy Shears »

Res Ipsa wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2024 6:20 pm
Hi Billy, I'm not sure I follow.

I don't think I'd say it's been "proven" that one can't get from is to ought. If it has, I'd love to see the proof. It is, however, fallacious reasoning to say: Is, therefore ought. That's referred to as the naturalistic fallacy...
Let me rephrase my point. In the universe of strict deductive logic, you can’t get from “is” to “ought.” Sure.

But if you apply that same standard of strict logic to science, can you get from real-world science to what literally is? I don’t think that can be done either. You can make inferences about what is, but you can’t deductively prove what is.

My point is this: just as not being able to get from science to is is irrelevant to real-world science, not being able to get from is to ought is irrelevant to real-world ethics. In the realm of practical ethics, dealing with observable reality, i.e. science, is relevant. The is-ought problem is not.
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Philo Sofee »

drumdude wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2024 6:05 pm
Daniel Peterson’s morality is grounded in following a group of wealthy elderly businessmen, descendants of a polygamist cult of personality.

If he thinks that gets you an ought from an is, he’s welcome to believe that.

I tend to think an objective universal morality, if it exists, does not rest on “follow the Brethren” as its foundation.
Spot on.
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Physics Guy
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Physics Guy »

I think two different "ought from is" issues can be confused.

One is just the point that the way things are isn't necessarily the way things should be. People really do sometimes argue that something must be okay, and doesn't need to be changed—or even should be defended—because it's somehow part of the natural order of things, or is what God intended, or something. Black people being slaves and women not getting votes have been defended that way. Nobody really thinks that every aspect of how things happen to be now must be right, though. If you take somebody's wallet, they'll find the resulting situation of you having their wallet to be wrong even though it's how things are. So you can point out to people that maybe slavery or lack of voting rights or anything else could be more like that transferred wallet than like the tilt of the Earth, a problem to be fixed rather than a condition to accept. What is may not be what ought to be.

The other issue is the philosophical problem of whether one can ever or in general deduce an imperative statement from indicative statements. This is a broader and more difficult issue than the wallet-versus-Earth issue, but it's also more abstract. Fewer people are going to care about this one.

The two issues have some overlap but they're different. If you somehow found a reliable logic for deducing obligations from facts, you'd still have to figure out how to apply it correctly in order to conclude that you have an obligation to return that stolen wallet but not to re-tilt the Earth. And you can motivate people to change things that have been that way for a long time, without having to invent general empirical ethics.
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by High Spy »

Billy Shears wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2024 7:35 pm
Res Ipsa wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2024 6:20 pm
Hi Billy, I'm not sure I follow.

I don't think I'd say it's been "proven" that one can't get from is to ought. If it has, I'd love to see the proof. It is, however, fallacious reasoning to say: Is, therefore ought. That's referred to as the naturalistic fallacy...
Let me rephrase my point. In the universe of strict deductive logic, you can’t get from “is” to “ought.” Sure.

But if you apply that same standard of strict logic to science, can you get from real-world science to what literally is? I don’t think that can be done either. You can make inferences about what is, but you can’t deductively prove what is.

My point is this: just as not being able to get from science to is is irrelevant to real-world science, not being able to get from is to ought is irrelevant to real-world ethics. In the realm of practical ethics, dealing with observable reality, i.e. science, is relevant. The is-ought problem is not.
This post ought to be thought to be from one of greater forum rank than Nursery. Then again it is your 38th post, and the number 38 hath been shown to symbolize tribute as per discoveries made on the heels of OP, wherein we did God’s will as we ought to be doing.

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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Doctor CamNC4Me »

Last week I was in Asheville, NC doing some work for some people I unfortunately can’t talk about due to an NDA (that’s “Non-Disclosure Statement” for Mr. Shades), but that’s beside the point. I was staying at a Hotel Indigo, the King Balcony Suite of course, and I was still ruminating about the huckster and shyster, Stephan A. Schwartz - trying to wrap my mind around the sheer notion that someone as ‘well-read’ like dowsin’ Dan Peterson believes in his claims!

As I shuffled around the hardwood floors in my Softstar Fireside sheepskin slippers, from room to room I I kept thinking to myself, “I’m looking at the hardwood floors and notice the grainy texture, I look out the windows with an almost 360 degree view of Asheville and notice the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains, I breathe in the crisp mountain air from my balcony and feel the exquisite coolness in my lungs, I look at my separate living, dining, and sleeping spaces and notice their fine craftsmanship, but I still can’t ‘see’ how a man who claims to consume books at a rate of 257 tomes per year (it’s true, look it up) believes in the absolute fraud that is remote viewing!

It boggles the mind!

I had to go downstairs to cool my mind. I ordered “a coffee” not understanding I would get an impeccably brewed java, sourced from single-origin, fair-trade coffee beans meticulously handpicked during optimal lunar phases in a secluded valley, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a region nestled in the heart of Colombia renowned for its fertile soil and optimal microclimate. The precision-roasted coffee, crafted by a distinguished fourth-generation artisan using a Probat G120 drum roaster, imparted complex notes of a caramelized fig and subtle undertones reminiscent of aged cedar forests. I contemplated the intricate flavor profile, orchestrated by a cutting-edge La Marzocco Strada AV espresso machine, an epitome of Swiss precision engineering gracing his sanctuary and thought, “This is good!”

And yet, I was still troubled. How could someone so infused with the written word still be so goddamn stupid? And abruptly, an unexpected quantum leap in a predetermined system governed by stochastic processes, a paradigm-shifting revelation emerged, “He doesn’t actually read! And when he does read, it’s absolute retarded garbage by people like Schwartz!”

To say I was gobsmacked, well, is to truly understate what I’m conveying!

“Daniel C. Peterson is a fraud?”, my caffeine-gassed mind asked. “He’s a fraud, and no one gives two flying "F"s about his decades-long affair with plagiarisms, broken promises, and academic baldasheries?!”

Well. I mean. Gosh, I’m at a loss for words. Daniel. C. Peterson. A braggart who claims to read, doesn’t read hardly at all! Huh! Who woulda thunk? Because the only way someone who believes in remote viewing is if they’re a damn gullible yokel who thinks putting on a bowtie makes them look classy (don’t ask, bad pre-puberty experience with Laralee Jean at my Middle School Sadie Hawkins dance).

Anyway. Wow. Dowsin’ Dan truly is a dope. Huh. What world this is.

- Doc
Last edited by Doctor CamNC4Me on Thu Feb 01, 2024 10:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Getting to Ought From Is

Post by Physics Guy »

I'm surprised by a growing admiration for this Peterson-persona. If your lot in life is to eat a lot of nicely peeled grapes, well, this is the kind of wide-eyed appreciation with which you should be chomping them down.

Me, I splurged on some fancy Nespresso capsules that come in a box of five instead of ten, and cost about a whole buck apiece. I brewed one up and tried as hard as I could to taste those promised notes of orange blossom, but it was iffy at best. It's probably my sinusitis.

A sensitive palate would probably have been wasted on me anyway, because I wouldn't have noticed it enough. But I'm starting to cheer for Doc Cam's Balcony Suite guy. I feel like he's out there savoring the good life for me. Glad to know somebody's doing it.
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