Re: "Morality?" - Composite Reply

Delmar England (
Wed, 08 Oct 1997 20:36:10 -0400

The following appeared in another recent post:

>I think both Delmar England and John Clark have totally missed the point
>of the first part of Greg's post. That, or they're refusing to follow
>his flexible use of "objective".

I follow, but don't accept, because I do not see objective reality flexing
in sync with the *"flexible use of "objective"*, which is necessary for the
language usage to conform to reality. There is language usage that describes
reality; then again, there is language usage that presumes to create it.
Although not necessarily by conscious intent, this practice is widespread
and usually accepted without question. Given my conclusions and beliefs
regarding language usage, I'm obliged to question. (Details can be found at ("The Anatomy Of Language")
(You may also wish to see "The Principles Of Epistemology" which is the
basis for "The Anatomy Of Language.")

Mr. Yudkowsky, I thank you for the response and bringing focus upon
important elements of the discussion . However, I could not help but notice
that you did not addresss the fire and water illustration. This is central
to the issue as it identifies the reference for the meaning of the terms,
good and bad. As pointed out, the question of reference of individual or non
individual casts the issue of "morality" into two entirely different
perspectives. I hope you will provide me with your conclusions and viewpoint
of the illustration and its implications.

At 08:38 PM 10/7/97 -0500, you (Eliezer S. Yudkowsky) wrote:
>Delmar England wrote:
>> As I see it, the issue and focal point is this: I see the
>> concept, morality, as definitively and inherently attached to the
>> illusory, but much believed concept, superior being; a concept of
>> many variations often far removed from formal religion.
>> Consequently, the derivative concepts, inferior being,
>> subordination and rule are anti individual and inevitably
>> culminate in hostility and violent conflict.
>Flaws in attacks on "objective morality" can usually be detected by
>substituting "reality" for "morality".

A fine substitution I would say, and not at all flawed.

>The same religions attach the concept
>of "objective reality" to God (or similar entity), first by stating that God
>is objectively real, and second by stating that God created reality and has
>absolute control over it.

Right, but that's not the end of it. There are many who reject in detail,
then with a label change or two swallow the whole.

>This doesn't mean that the concept of "objective
>reality" is indefeasibly predicated on the existence of God.
I didn't say it is. I said it is predicated upon the idea of a superior
being not necessarily only the "god" of formal religion. The focal question
is as you have indirectly indicated is whether the concept, morality, has
any definitive basis in ANYTHING existing independently of human individual.
The fire\water example illustrates the conclusion that it does not.

I hate to get into a dissertation on language, but I feel obliged to
explain, at least briefly, why I don't accept some of your language usage.
We have a circumstance of immutable natual laws that are not influenced by
mind. Let's call this condition, circumstance, whatever, objective reality.
A lot of what you say appears to agree with this conclusion and definition.
An actual definition ALWAYS differentiates. So, although mind itself is an
objective phenomenon, the characteristic of volition, choice, personal
preference, etc, is differentiated from objective by the term, subjective.
In short, definitively, the term, objective, means that which exists
independently of mind, and therefore, is not dismised nor altered by mind,
i.e., by wishes, hopes, beliefs, nor personal preferences. In contrast,
subjective, means that which is dependent upon mind, which is derived from
individual mind, would not exist except for mind. I find this describes,
defines and differiantiates objective from subjective and provides a
reference upon which to make determinations of objective or subjective.

While original invention or selection of a specific symbol to represent a
specific aspect of reality is arbitrary, if the use of such a specific
symbol is to represent a specific aspect of reality in a true and conforming
fashion, must it not do so consistently lest we lose its reference on which
its definitive meaning depends? The key and operative term here is
DIFFERENTIATE. That's really the reason there's more than one word in a
language system isn't it. Language usage absent differentiation is mentally
and linguistically the melding of different aspects of mind and matter and
abandonment of definition and connection to reality. Quite often, it is the
melding of subjective and objective without awareness and calling the end
result "objective truth."

In focus are the terms, objective and subjective with definitive meanings
set forth above. From the definitions, it follows that objective must be
something that mind may discover, but does't not create. In formal religion,
the alleged discovery of "God" fits the criteria of "objective morality",
but is negated because the alleged discovery is myth, i.e., a mental
invention thought to be discovery. Through many and varied forms, this is
really the basis for all claims of "objective morality", though the false
nature of such claimed discoveries is not always as highly visible as the
claim of divinity. Still the motivation, epistemology and psychology are
fundamentally the same.

Most consciously and emotionally equate the term, objective, with
scientific, true, valid, etc. Combine this with the general underlying
conditioning toward subservience and consequent feeling of need to "validate
by reality" one's personal choices, and presto, the term, objective, is
called in to do "double duty". When convenient, the term, objective is
presented as meaning to exist independently of mind. This provides "absolute
credibility." As the wind shifts to personal values. the term, objective, is
often verbally and emotionally connected to individual mind and subjective
choice - from which it is originally necessarily detached to provide the
"absolute credibility." To wit: Loss of differentiation and definition;
meaning the usage does not conform to objective reality; meaning not true.
A self-supporting illusion as it were that is dependent on non definition.
(To "save Christianity", Thomas Aquinas, "reconciled reason and faith." This
magic was accomplished by not defining, i.e,, by not connecting either term
to the objective reality. To my dismay, this practice has not changed over
the centuries and is much in evidence in this day.)

(To evaluate objectively is to determine what is AS IS independently of
one's personal valuations. Since no one is infallible, the everpresent
question is whether one does or does not succeed in such efforts. )

>Likewise, religions state that their morality is objective and that God gets
>to define objective morality. This does not mean that objective morality
>requires a God; it means that the religion in question thinks so.

In formal religion, how many thousands of denomination labels exist implying
difference in beliefs. If we ignore the facade variations and go to the
directive radical of each, what do we find? They're all the same! The
common denominator, regardless of label and claims of difference, is the
subordination of human individual to an expressed and\or implied superior
being. This is the actual definition of religion, per se. By reference to
this actual definition, does it not logically follow that any belief system
that expresses or implies a human individual as subordinated property of a
non human superior being is no less religion than the formal variety? (Its
not the subjective label on a bottle of lethal poison that will kill you.
Its the objective content. - And you're no less dead if the label reads
"Health Elixer").

What of the phrases, "values of society", "public welfare", "national
interest", "government does", as only four of a horrendously long list of
concepts that express and\or imply the subordination of individual to a
superior being? Separation of church and state? Quite a joke. How does
"state" exist except by thought and action treating "State" as a volitional,
valuing, acting, supreme god to which each and every individual is subordinated?

Like formal religion, governmental systems come under a wide assortment of
labels implying a fundamental difference which doesn't exist. To be sure,
there are surface differences in political form, and method of
implementation, but at the nitty gritty definitive radical level,
"government" is simply a synonymn for initiation of force and coercion. The
initiation of force and coercion may be politicized,organized, centralized,
and canonized, but the subjective labels and arbitrary claims do not erase
the root meaning of the term, nor the destruction that is certain to be
derived from the practice. One of the points that I'm trying to make here is
that when I say the concept, objective morality, depends on the concept,
superior being, I am not saying that it will be highly visible, nor
recognized by most, nor admitted for it may not be of a conscious
designation. However, if we eliminate human individual as the basis for
"objective morality", what logically remains except a volitional, valuing
superior being?" To be more precise, what remains is a 'feeling' that
something superior to individual exists. Do we not need an external
"something" volitional thing to create an "objective morality?"

>> The concept,
>> morality, itself presumes to set an alleged natural standard, and
>> thus presumes to displace individual preference. This is the root
>> premise of subordination and rule. If peace and harmony is the
>> goal sought, this belief system is bad news.

>The key fallacy is not the assumed existence of objective morality, but that
>your particular morality is objective.

The latter claim does not come about EXCEPT by the initial fallacy,
objective morality. (And I don't claim "objective morality", or any other
variant of the illusion.)

>>Science is the middle path between the harsh tyranny of unquestionable "truth"
>and the useless undisprovability of "subjective" reality.


>Science states that
>there exists an objective reality, but we do not know what it is. My ethical
>system makes the same statement with respect to morality.
The first statement presumes to grasp objective reality as a whole in
contradiction of a mind's requirement for limitation and difference; so, of
course, "we do not know what it is", for none can grasp infinity. As for
claiming to know that "morality" exists, but not knowing what it is, this
seems to indicate that the alleged "objective morality" is not derived from
an explainable differentiated aspects of an objective reality, but rather a
feeling whose origin and cause in not necessarily derived from any fact at all.

>> In the real world of
>> individual and subjective value, the term value always asks the
>> question: value to whom for what purpose. Value is not something
>> existing independently of individual and inherent in a thing or
>> circumstance. To speak definitively of value is to say that
>> someone ATTRIBUTES value to a thing or circumstance, a set of
>> conditions as it were. If an individual attributes value to a
>> particular goal, desires a particular set of circumstances, how
>> can this valuation be subjected to the determination as right or
>> wrong? Can it be evaluated as means to itself?
>May I paraphrase?
>"Any 'rational' goal is simply a rational means to some other, not necessarily
>justified goal. Therefore, there are no 'inherently rational' goals. All
>goals are the result of other goals, and value cannot be derived except from
>value. The objective value of any goal, therefore, is zero."
I don't mind paraphrasing IF it stays with the program. I'm afraid your's
doesn't. The first thing you throw in is the term, rational, qualifying the
concept, goal. This is neither expressed nor implied in my assertions.

>This logic is absolutely irrefutable.
>The problem is that it's wrong.
>If anyone ever figures out why, their name will live forever.

"Natural paradox" is a euphemism for contradiction denied. The dilemma in
focus is of your own creating.

By volitional nature, an individual seeks goals, period. This talk about
rational and irrational is just subjective value judgment stuff thrown in
with the belief and pretense that the call is made from objective criteria.

>goals are the result of other goals, and value cannot be derived except from
>value. The objective value of any goal, therefore, is zero."
Aside from the contradiction, objective value, I see a lot of goals here,
but no means. Combine this omission with the fallacy, objective value, and
its little wonder you find the problem unresolvable. Fact does not serve to
validate fiction. Once again, definition, comes to the rescue.

First question, what is a goal? If an actual definition conforms to
objective reality, it logically follows that an actual definition is also
100% consistent in time and application. So what fits to define the term
goal? How about: A goal is a desire to exchange one set of circumstances for
a different set of circumstances. Will that get it?

Every day and all day, you and every conscious functioning individual
continually pursue and achieve goals. This is not always of a consciouss
nature, but it is no less pursuit of and achieving goals. It is only when
focus is required that one is inclined to name a goal. What set of
circustances you name as a goal is arbitrary. The means to achieve it are
not. Suppose you desire to quench your thirst. Possible means is you getting
a drink of water by your own direct efforts, or having someone bring it to
you. While there is no objective right or wrong regarding your choice to
quench your thirst, there are objective requirements to achieve this end.
They are called means.

Suppose you desire to live. Since you are already alive, this is not a goal.
Means are what you seek to sustain the value of life held. Again, there is
no right or wrong regarding your choice to value life, but there are
objective requirements to sustain the value held. Goals do not turn into
other goals, nor does means turn into goals. There is cause and effect, but
the concept, goal, is a matter of personal preference and arbitrariry
designation as to what set of circumstances you wish to come about. Whatever
the objective circumstance or potential objective circumstance, attributing
value is still and always a matter of subjective preference not subject to
proof or disproof as right or wrong.
To put it another way, to attribute value to a real or potential objective
circumstance does not make the objective circumstance an "objective value."
It is still an objective circumstance whether you value it or not. It has no
value or purpose in itself. If it did, the value and purpose would still
exist if there were no one on earth. The objective circumstance is objective
(existing independently of mind). Your attributing value to it is subjective
(dependent upon mind). Clear?

In literally every claim of "objective value" I have encountered apart from
the formal religion variety which openly claims "God" as "objective value"
cause, the claimant manages to bring in a personal value and pretend that it
is objective discovery. Some, like Rand, go to great lengths to "prove" this
discovery. The "ought from is" fantasy. Others just toss it in without so
much as a by your leave. Once the personal value is enthroned, the focus
shifts to means to achieve it. The problem is, those that insert their
personal prefernce and call it objective make no distinction between ends
and means, the former being a matter of subjective choice; the latter being
a matter of objective criteria. Contrary to much popular language usage,
ends and means are not the same. The former is ALWAYS subjective. The latter
is ALWAYS objective.

Delmar England