Re: Science and Philosophy

Dan Fabulich (
Fri, 10 Sep 1999 14:01:20 -0400 (EDT)

On Thu, 9 Sep 1999 wrote:

> So I don't see that the potential existence of E* gives us any reason to
> follow any particular ethical system today.

Your argument is excellent. Moreover, it is in agreement with my own. :) I do not argue that you should, in fact, follow ethical theory E over ethical theory E'. That would in effect be saying that I've proven that you should follow A over B, without knowing what A or B actually are.

Rather, I argue that the possibility "E* does not exist" should have no effect AT ALL on ANY decision you make, including your choice of ethical theories. Thus, it's always safe to assume E* exists, though not necessarily safe to assume that E is a good approximation of E*.

Similarly, we can assume that good reasons exist for supporting one ethical theory over another, since the reverse claim drops out of the equation in a similar way. And good reasons for supporting those reasons. And good reasons for supporting those reasons. ...

This argument shows that skepticism can be refuted on any given level of argument; that we can/should assume that there is an arbitrarily long chain of correct reasoning which leads us to the correct final conclusion, but it does not tell us what those reasons are, or what the correct conclusion is.

> Isn't it possible that studying ethics is objectivelly bad, according to
> E*? How can you justify any course of action, not knowing what E* says?

My argument doesn't attempt to show that you should study ethics, but rather that you should believe that there is a correct way to rank decisions; that it really does matter what you decide.

> This all smacks of Pascal's wager. He worshiped God so that he would be
> rewarded if God existed, knowing that all was pointless anyway if God
> didn't exist. The flaw is that he may be worshiping the wrong God. It
> seems that your reasoning is in danger of the same loophole.

I am familiar with Pascal's wager; the difference between Pascal's wager and my argument is significant. He argued that one should worship the Judeo-Christian God, falsely believing that the only two choices available were to worship the Judeo-Christian God or to worship nothing at all.

If I had an analogous argument, which I don't, I would argue instead that there is a correct answer to the question of worship, but I would not purport to know what that answer is. It could be Christianity, atheism, Gnosticism, Buddhism, etc. But despite the plethora of possible answers, an argument like my ethical argument would attempt to show that there is, in fact, a correct answer. No more, no less.


-unless you love someone-
-nothing else makes any sense-

e.e. cummings