Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Russel Blackford did a couple of interviews last night about his reponse to Harris's Moral Landscape book. In clarifying/refining what he said on the radio, on his blog he said:

At the same time, both interviews provided opportunities to defend David Hume, and to point out that science cannot determine our deepest values or the totality of our values, even if we otherwise accept the Harris analysis, since that analysis presumes a value of "the well-being of conscious creatures" rather than showing how this is an empirical finding. Thus, TML leaves Hume's point about the is/ought distinction unscathed: Hume never denied that you could derive an "ought" conclusion if you include in your argument an "ought" premise, such as "we ought to value/pursue/maximise the well-being of conscious creatures". His point was that you cannot derive a conclusion containing the relation "ought" solely from premises that do not contain it, but only the relation "is". So, he said, some explanation is required as to where the "ought" relation comes from or how propositions containing it are justified.

I still think this is misguided. The idea that you cannot derive an ought conclusion if you only have is relations in the premises. Yes, given a set of circumstances (is) anything I come up with (ought) right this instant is probably clouded by my own value system which is a product of my life so far. It's likely not universal. It's quite possibly wrong. It doesn't mean that there isn't an ought or more likely many oughts that one can derive, each of which would be an acceptable action. He even touches on it a few paragraphs later.

I explained how well-being may not be just one thing but a mixture of things that we do in fact value - though some of us may weight some of these things differently from others, with no further truth as to who is "correct" to do so

If you start from assuming that we are seeking the well being of concious creatures, then it is likely that given any is situation, there are multiple oughts or a mix of oughts that can be derived. Thus "landscape". I don't think Harris is asking the world to find the one correct action in a given situation that will increase well being. Rather, he is suggesting that we should be search the landscape and finding those actions which are do promote well being and seperating them from those that don't.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Train of thought.

The argument that we have no way of being able to verify universal truths means that we have to treat all belief systems equally has annoyed me for quite some time.

For one thing, it leaves no place for a graduated system, the idea that some ideas are less wrong than others. The difference between calling a tomatoe a vegetable and calling it an automobile for instance. Greta Christina at alternet, not somehwere I normally browse, but after reading this, maybe somewhere I should, has another reason to dislike it. One that I rather like. The reason that is. It's an old post, but I've only just found it and I think it's worth talking about.

The seed of the argument comes from people that she has encountered, that despite evidence to the contrary will still take their belief system over objective reality. The exasperation in her writing is heartwarming, her frustration obvious. In asserting that there is no way to prove a set of beliefs 100% correct, her opponents are giving equal footing (at a minimum) to objective reality, otherwise known as that big 'ol thing, the Universe. Which of course begs the question as to why the universe is more important than what is in your head. Your head specifically that is.

This lack of perspective is ... worrying. In day to day life, people do care about how the world works, one of the examples that Greta gives is the leaving a building from a high window, people don't generally think that their own beliefs trump the physical reality around them. Or at least, those that do are fairly quickly removed from the gene pool. On a lesser level though, say turning the tv on by throwing a rock rather than using the remote. Some would object that this deference to the physical world is important and that insistance on the validity of spiritual beliefs doesn't affect the real world and thus it doesn't matter wether the believer believes them or not. Homeopathy puts that idea to rest. As Greta says, human beings tend to be hard wired to believe what they already believe, it takes work to step back and critically evaluate your life. No one aspect of a persons life is privledged, that it should not be submitted to rational enquiry, to ring fence an area as such is to assert it's primacy over the world as a whole. And if it is important to find out how our world works so that we can operate it in better, then privledgeing one aspect of ones life is a subversion of that.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Now that was fun.

McGinties. I'd heard rumours. Most of them invovling excessive drunkeness and generall debauchery. And there was some of that, though not as magnificaent as in past years apparently. i found the whole thing rather catharitic though. It has been a fairly shitty week, but two days of listening to talks before having a decent feed and having a few drinks with a bunch of scientists and continuing to talk science (and random other shit) until roughly 2 in the morning. All rather grand really. Had several swims after 10, with the phophoescent algae in full bloom as we swam through them. All large amounts of fun. Keeping the eyes open for the talks the next morning was a tad tricky, and a few of the more important bits may have been missed, but on the whole, a grand time was had. Paul O'Mailles talk was notable, looking for changes in the active site of lyases that activate terpenes. As was David Chagne's talk on the (new?) Myb transcription factors that have been found. Fun and games. :)