Dialog:Book:Universally Preferable Behaviour/4

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This is a debate concerning Book:Universally Preferable Behaviour/4 by Stefan Molyneux.

Coma test is invalid

Intuitively, it is hard to imagine that any theory ascribing immorality to a man in a coma could be valid. Any ethical theory that posits a positive action as universally preferable behaviour faces the challenge of “the coma test.” If I say that giving to charity is a moral absolute, then clearly not giving to charity would be immoral. However, a man in a coma is clearly unable to give to charity, and thus would, by my theory, be classified as immoral. Similarly, a man who is asleep, or has no money to give – or the man currently receiving charity – would all be immoral.

Yeah, that's intuitively "hard to imagine", but there are two ways to avoid ascribing immorality to people in comas: have no such moral rules for anyone...or just say, like any sane moral philosopher, that moral agents necessarily have to be able to comprehend moral rules.

Obviously there's no need to avoid moral rules that might make moral nonagents immoral...since they can't be immoral.

Stefan's lack of imagination in this kind of way is unfortunately quite common. He'll create from scratch a burning rhetorical building that you have to exit, he'll show you one way out of it, and it will seem quite reasonable since using that exit is preferable to the absurdity of remaining where you started.

The problem is that there are usually multiple exits out of it. The preferred one will eliminate the absurdity that led him to think that the burning rhetorical building existed at all.

-- Mr. C

True, one can easily solve any number of moral dilemmas by adding exceptions to ethical rules. And in this case, the exception probably contributes to solving the problem which the moral system was intended to address. Nathan Larson (talk) 22:03, 13 October 2012 (MSD)

Subjective vs objective is badly misunderstood

It may seem that these virtues should fall into the realm of aesthetically positive behaviour, such as being on time, but I for one have far too much respect for the traditional virtues to place them in the same category as social niceties. The reason that they cannot be placed into the category of universally preferable is that, as we mentioned above, the framework of UPB only deals with behaviours, not with attitudes, thoughts, states of mind or emotions. The scientific method can process a logical proposition; it cannot process “anger” or “foolhardiness.” These states of mind are not unimportant, of course – in fact, they are essential – but they cannot be part of any objective system for evaluating ethical propositions, since they are essentially subjective – and therefore unprovable – states of being. Thus UPB can only deal with objectively verifiable actions such as murder, assault and so on.

This is a very basic and obvious philosophical confusion. Zeus as an entity is subjective, since it is a fantasy that has no objective reality. My mental states, particularly emotions, are entities that occur in objective reality rather than within fantasy. In fact, the technology to read brain states is advancing quite quickly.

This is not a minor philosophical error, since he says that they are subjective in the sense that requires they be unproveable. Zeus is and will always remain unproveable. Emotions won't be for long. It's not even an irrelevantly technical error, since his reasoning about reality from that was completely false. He shouldn't claim to be a philosopher if his major works include these kinds of basic confusions (and no, I didn't use UPB to get that should, since that should has a coherent reason, UPB is thoroughly incoherent, and thus UPB cannot be the reason).

Was the reasoning underlying the scope of UPB supposed to be solid (so to speak, since very basic philosophical concepts are confused in it) for only the few remaining years we lack the technology, after which we'll have to modify it (either to justify retaining the scope or to broaden it) because emotions will be verifiable?

-- Mr. C

I think it will take quite awhile to develop technology that can "verify" human emotions, much less assess the implications of those emotions, with a high level of precision and accuracy. We can already measure certain vital signs and make an educated guess as to whether the person is having a fight-or-flight response; and of course, just by looking at a person's body language, you can often tell whether he seems sad, angry, happy, etc. But that's a far cry from being able to understand the full effect of those emotions on the person's thoughts and actions. Nathan Larson (talk) 22:27, 13 October 2012 (MSD)