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MORAL REALISM AND INFINITE SPACETIME IMPLY MORAL NIHILISM

by Quentin Smith

http://www.qsmithwmu.com/moral_realism_and...entin_smith.htm

I conclude that his paper has no value based on his conclusions (lol). This guy makes my head spin. Though the paper is lengthy it is by no means boring (if you can bare with the philosophical jargon).

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The performance of an action is morally indifferent if and only if the performance of that action neither increases nor decreases the amount of value in the universe. An action is empirically possible if and only if it is consistent with the boundary conditions (intuitively, the arrangement of particulars) and the laws of nature in the actual world.

Moral realism is true if and only if particulars possess value nondependently upon whether conscious organisms believe they have value. Global moral realism is true if and only if all organisms, inanimate mass and energy, and space and time, and states of these entities, have value nondependently upon whether conscious organisms believe they have value.

Nothing but rank intrincicism. (And I mean rank in every possible meaning of the term.)

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Guest heusdens

The issue adressed here, that an infinite state of affairs in an infinite universe, implies moral nihilism, is a rather peculiar statement.

Where do moral values come from then, since they do exist?

If being alive or not being alive is arbitrary, if there would not be acts that a living organism commits, that would increase it's chances of survival, based on evolution theory, such an organism or species, would not even exist.

The origin of living matter, it's ability to seperate itself from the environment, and act according to changes in the environment, and also the changes that occur to the organisms/species over long periods of time, have contemplated into living organisms that wilfully act in order to increase their chances of survival in a changing environment.

Moral values are just an extention to this willfull and intentional actions a living organism as a species performs, in order to increase it's chances of survival.

The existence of such morals require that there is consciousness, and that not only the living organism performs such willfull and intentional actions, but also is consciouss of them.

Without mentining the historic roots of moral values, how they developed over time and came into being, one can not understand morals.

The writer of this silly argument however implicitly adapts to the point of view that moral values must have come from some other source, outside of the real world, and not just the source of moral values, but in fact the source of everything that exists. The only problem with this is of course, is that such a source can not and does not exist, and therefore the argument is incorreect.

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Yes, the conclusion is wrong. But does that mean there is nothing of value to be gained by analyzing it?

On the contrary, knowing how someone's concepts lead to bad conclusions can be useful for thinking about the nature of arguments.

This is important because Objectivist logic goes beyond conventional logical analysis by studying the concepts presupposed by an argument.

Here are his basic claims:

1. Particulars possess value independent of whether anyone believes they have value.

2. Units of value can be summed.

3. Nothing has value if actions don't affect values.

4. A person is morally obligated to perform some action if the consequence of that action increases positive value or prevents the decrease of positive value.

5. If the time is infinite, then any net impact on a value is zero.

=IC*: Nothing has value in an infinite universe.

6. Time is finite.

=FC**: Things have value in and of themselves.

Let's analyze the concepts.

Premise 1 presupposes a concept of value (moral intrinsicism) which goes against the cognitive basis of values.

Premise 3 presupposes a concept of value which is incompatible with moral intrinsicism and therefore premise 1.

Now for conventional analysis, i.e. of the logical structure.

His instrumental conclusion is incompatible with premise 1.

His final conclusion proposes what he has already assumed, i.e. he commits the fallacy of circular reasoning.

----

* Instrumental Conclusion

** Final Conclusion

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From a quick glance, his argument seems to be corrent, and logically valid. His essential point is that IF moral realism is true AND aggregate value theory is true AND time is infinite THEN moral nihilism is true (ie of the form (A & B & C) => D). He isnt actually claiming that A B and C are true, only that D is a necessary consequence if they are.

In truth however, moral realism is false, and aggregate value theory seems semantically meaningless.

Edit: at a more detailed glance his argument contains hidden premises, and seems logically false in a few areas (all of which seem to come from his conception of infinity):

1) Unstated assumption: He assumes that time is both objective and metaphysically discrete. The second is almost certainly false, and I'm not sure about the first.

2) Unstated assumption: He also supposes some kind of non-determinism, since he talks about 'other possible universes'. Strict determinism implies that talk of other 'possible universes' is semantically meaningless, since things could not be different from how they are.

3) Logical error: since time is probably continuous (taking units of planck time to be an epistemological classification rather than a metaphysical one), the carinality of the set of all 'moments of time' wouldnt be alpha-zero anyway, so saying that it could be mapped onto the set of integers is false.

4) Unstated assumption: He assumes its possible to talk about "cubes of empty space", in which _nothing_ exists.

5) Unstated assumption: He assumes space is objective and metaphysically discrete.

6) Logical error: Since space probably isnt discrete, you cant talk about 'alpha-zero' units of space either, or map cubes of space onto integers.

7) Logical error: "Now it follows that I cannot increase the value of the universe at time t1 by performing action A, since aleph-zero + 2 = aleph-zero". Even if 2 functions tend to the same limit, they may be do so at different rates and one may be larger than other after any finite number of iterations. For instance, |n+2| is greater than |n| for all finite n, even though both tend to infinity. His statement is only mathematically correct if you talk about time in the limit, which is nonsense in this context.

8) Unstated assumption: He also assumes that space is seperable from time. Certain modern scientific theories would disagree.

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...argument seems to be corrent, and logically valid. His essential point is that IF moral realism is true AND aggregate value theory is true AND time is infinite THEN...

What do you think you mean by "logically valid?"

Whatever the word is, for deduction from false or arbitrary premises, surely "logic" is not it!

"If god exists, then he would want me to be King." -- Bearster

"No he wouldn't, he would want ME to be King!" -- John Smith

What the hell can one say to "logic" like that?

God doesn't exist, and so there isn't any way to say well, if he *did* exist, *then*... He doesn't. A isn't not-A.

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What do you think you mean by "logically valid?"
Moving from premises to conclusions via properly applied logical reasoning. The truth value of the premises' dont matter when talking about validity (in logic), validity is a property of the argument structure itself, not the individual statements.

Essentially a valid argument is one in which the conclusion could be reached from the inputted premises by a Turing machine programmed to recursively apply the rules of logic. Not all valid arguments have true conclusions, and not all arguments with true conclusions are valid.

Examples:

Valid (but false) argument:

Premises: All men have two heads

Premises: Bearster is a man

Conclusion: Bearster has two heads

Invalid argument (with true conclusion):

Premises: Some men have one head

Premises: Bearster is a man

Conclusion: Bearster has one head

Valid (and true) argument:

Premises All men have one head

Premises: Bearster is a man

Conclusion: Bearster has one head

Whatever the word is, for deduction from false or arbitrary premises, surely "logic" is not it!

Of course it is. Perhaps youre using 'logical' as a synonym for 'rational', but even then youd be incorrect. Its perfectly possible to rationally/'logically' deduce/induce arguments and courses of actions from premises which you were justified in believing, but later discovered were false. Take risk analysis or weather forecasting for instance (or any of the multitude of other disciplines which centre around making predictions based on incomplete and possibly incorrect information).

Youre essentially dismissing all forms of hypotheticals, or any predictive system with reasonable power.

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Most textbooks distinguish between arguments that are "valid" (the conclusion is true if the premises are true) and "sound" (the conclusion is true because the premises are true). I dislike this terminology. Better to refer to the latter as "valid", and the former as "formally valid." The only thing "valid but unsound" arguments have going for them is that they look like good arguments. Granting them the title of validity gives them too much credit.

This is closely related to the distinction between logic as a formal system and logic as the art of non-contradiction. Formalization of logic is a means to an end: that is, non-contradictory identification of reality. An argument is not valid, strictly, if its premises contradict facts of reality. It can be formally valid, but it doesn't achieve the end of logic.

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Most textbooks distinguish between arguments that are "valid" (the conclusion is true if the premises are true) and "sound" (the conclusion is true because the premises are true).  I dislike this terminology.  Better to refer to the latter as "valid", and the former as "formally valid."  The only thing "valid but unsound" arguments have going for them is that they look like good arguments.  Granting them the title of validity gives them too much credit.

Its just semantics; youre attaching too much emotional meaning to the word 'valid'. What is important is that there is a significant difference between an argument that is false because of incorect logical reasoning, and one that is false because it has been correctly deduced from false premises. We require a distinct name for each type argument here to the aid clarity of thought, and for whatever historical reason the validity/truth naming dichotomy has arisen to cover this. Call the first a 'quaxor' arguement and the second a 'gruzor' instead if you like, it makes no difference really - its just a name, and whats important is that each one has a different name so we can tell them apart.

This is closely related to the distinction between logic as a formal system and logic as the art of non-contradiction.  Formalization of logic is a means to an end: that is, non-contradictory identification of reality.  An argument is not valid, strictly, if its premises contradict facts of reality.  It can be formally valid, but it doesn't achieve the end of logic.
Well 'non-contradictory identification' is certainly an important aspect of formal logic, but I wouldnt say that its the sole end goal - formal logic can be used for many more things than simple non-contradictory identification, especially when you move into more interesting modern non-aristotlean logics. Fuzzy logic is useful for predictions based on incomplete information, and has many uses within artificial intelligence that I dont think I'd class as simple 'non-contradictory identification' for instance.

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Proposal: ban those who use the logical fallacy which I hereby name the argument from "it's just semantics".

How is pointing out that a particular argument is debating lingustic usage, rather than reality, a fallacy?

If you dont want to be accused of arguing semantics, maybe you should stop doing so?

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I'm with you feldblum...

This is not the first time poohat has argued against identifying concepts, while hiding under the guise that he is merely argueing that the definition of a word is unimportant (see the abortion topic in ethics/aesthetics).

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So, how do I add my creation to the Bureau of Investigation of Grievous Epistemological Logical Fallacies (big elf) crime-list?

And, pointing out that your opponent is just debating semantics is the single biggest indicator that, instead, you are.

And, reclassifying what your opponent is debating from reality to linguistic usage and then knocking him for debating linguistic usage is indeed a fallacy - the straw man fallacy.

Spell-check: linguistic; arguing.

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And, reclassifying what your opponent is debating from reality to linguistic usage and then knocking him for debating linguistic usage is indeed a fallacy - the straw man fallacy.

This however was a semantics debate. The point was abuot what word should be used to describe an argument which involved correct logical deductions from false premises.

On a sidenote, the desire to classify valid debate techniques that you personally dont like as being 'logical fallacies' is what gave us hideous creations like the Intentionalist Fallacy.

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Proposal: When talking about whether a certain conclusion can be derived from given premises, use "deducible" or "deducibility".

This will avoid confusion between different conceptions of validity.

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the desire to classify valid debate techniques that you personally dont like as being 'logical fallacies'

Undefineing a word in order to undefine/invalidate what that word refers to is hardly a "valid debate technique."

Validity is a concept that had meaning before this arguement began. An attempt to erase that meaning is no less than an attempt to disguise another concept behind that meaning.

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Undefineing a word in order to undefine/invalidate what that word refers to is hardly a "valid debate technique."

Validity is a concept that had meaning before this arguement began. An attempt to erase that meaning is no less than an attempt to disguise another concept behind that meaning.

The term validity' has (to the best of my knowledge) always been used since its inception to refer to a correctly deduced logical argument regardless of the truth values of the premises, which is how I initially used the term in this thread. I am not the one who tried to 'undefine' the word here, I simply mentioned the pointlessness of substituting a completely different linguistic sound to refer to the exact same concept.

I dont really care which word you use to describe "a correctly deduced logical argument", and debating which word is 'best' to use is a fairly textbook example of 'arguing semantics'. I'll continue to use the standard-usage adjective 'valid' however.

Proposal:  When talking about whether a certain conclusion can be derived from given premises, use "deducible" or "deducibility".

This will avoid confusion between different conceptions of validity.

Its not quite the same thing though. Validity is a property of the argument, whereas deducibility would be a property of the conclusion.

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poohat:

Your definiton of "valid" is completely meaningless, and so was your arguement about the "validity" of moral nihilism. As a result, everything posted since this first post of yours, is completely meaningless also.

MinorityOfOne's post was an attempt to point this out... he said:

The only thing "valid but unsound" arguments have going for them is that they look like good arguments.

You pretended that this was a semantic arguement by lumping it in with the rest of his post (which did deal with semantics). The above, however, is not a semantic arguement and may not be dismissed as such.

The point is, poohat, that your entire arguement is irrellivent to the topic at hand.

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Look, I can see where you're coming from. But there's a limit to how far one ought to go in accepting stipulated definitions. (In fact, I think they're half the reason that a lot of contemporary philosophy is practically unreadable by anyone who is not a trained scholar.) Take, for instance, the term "bright". Ok, we all know what it means. But Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and a bunch of other people have co-opted it to mean "athiest".

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0...,981412,00.html

This is stupid. They introduce a new word just because it has connotations they like. Well, if that's ok, why don't we stop calling ourselves "Objectivists" and start calling ourselves "superheroes" -- where "superhero" is defined, of course, as "Objectivist"?

I don't know that this is how "valid" came to have the meaning it has with respect to logic, but it's had a similar effect. If it were called "formally proper" or something like that, people wouldn't think of valid but unsound arguments as being half as important as they do. The focus might well be more on connections to reality, rather than connections between concepts.

Of course, there are other major philosophical issues involved: I think this is a more a symptom than a cause. But that's still no reason to support it. To give another analogy: what if I were to say that, within my writings, I shall refer to Ayn Rand's arguments as "true arguments" -- but using a stipulated definition for "true arguments"? Sheesh. :P

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Right, Halley. In a sense I am discussing semantics, but there are times when one ought to discuss semantics. Rand was right to discuss the semantics of "selfish". Why? Because we think in language, and so words matter. There are some aspects of language that are totally optional, but not everything about language is optional. Proper grammar, for instance, is not optional. And when you're going to stipulate a definition for a word, it creates cognitive chaos if you entirely ignore the standard definition. One rule of objective communication: respect your reader's context. Language is heavily automatized, and if you define a term in a way that is utterly contrary to standard usage (without good reason), you will succeed only in confusing your reader.

If you want proof of this, go talk to some Freshman in a logic class.

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Your definiton of "valid" is completely meaningless, and so was your arguement about the "validity" of moral nihilism.  As a result, everything posted since this first post of yours, is completely meaningless also. 
Its not meaningless, it has a clear and unambigious meaning, which has been posted several times in this thread. Rand arguing the semantics of 'selfish' was completely different, since her point was that the word 'selfish' referenced a hodgepodge of distinct and unrelated concepts without any clear unity, hence making the concept of 'selfishness' (in standard usage) invalid.

I would agree that this thread has deteroriated rapidly since my first post though.

Look, I can see where you're coming from. But there's a limit to how far one ought to go in accepting stipulated definitions. (In fact, I think they're half the reason that a lot of contemporary philosophy is practically unreadable by anyone who is not a trained scholar.).
Most advanced fields of study generally evolves its own vocabulary over time. I agree that modern philosophy does tend to take this a bit too far, however you have to realise that someone who hasnt studied philosophy for a significant period of time simply isnt meant to be reading academic journals, any more than a non physicist should be reading peer reviewed journals on quantum physics. Academics generally write for other academics, who they assume are familiar with the problems tackled and terminology used. When academic philosophers write for the general public, the terminology is (normally) toned down to an understandable level (or introduced gradually).

On a sidenote, even Objectivism (to a lesser extent) has its own non-standard approaches/phrases/nomenclature which an outsider would find completely baffling. A newcomer attending something like the TOC's 'advanced seminars on objectivism' would probably be almost as baffled as a non-philosophy student trying to make sense of kripke's rigid designators, or whatever.

I don't know that this is how "valid" came to have the meaning it has with respect to logic, but it's had a similar effect. If it were called "formally proper" or something like that, people wouldn't think of valid but unsound arguments as being half as important as they do. The focus might well be more on connections to reality, rather than connections between concepts.
Have you considered that the term 'valid' might actually have been initially created to describe 'sound' logical arguments, and then filtered down into common usage from there? I dont know personally, I've no idea if the term 'valid' was co-opted from general usage by logicians, or vice versa. Personally when I hear the word valid, I normally assume its being used in its logical sense.

If you want proof of this, go talk to some Freshman in a logic class.
I really dislike hit and run attacks like this. If you think that formal logic is somehow fllawed (I think thats what you were getting at, although I could be wrong), I'd be interested in hearing why.

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I could be wrong on this, but I've always thought of words as nothing more than identifiers and expressions which we use to convey our thoughts, judgement, and utilize volition.

However, if the words our in fact ours, that does not discount the fact that they are important as being a means to something more for the benefit of the user. Basically, I'm implying that words don't have meaning, it's our thoughts that utilize those words that do matter and have far greater importance than the words that convey those thoughts.

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I could be wrong on this, but I've always thought of words as nothing more than identifiers and expressions which we use to convey our thoughts, judgement, and  utilize volition. 
Well often different words/phrases can identify the same existent/concepts, but have different semantical meanings. To use the classic RAW example, if you went into a restaurant and were offered 'a bloody hunk of meat chopped off a castrated bull' you might not find it too appealing, whereas a 'hamburger' may do more to whet your appetite.

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True, but the fact remains that words don't change the identity of the obect. In your above example, you could use both references in an ATTEMPT to change the identity of the hamburger. It still doesn't change the fact that it indeed is still a hamburger and what it used to be.

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I'm sorry poohat. What I meant to say was this: Your definition of the word "valid" is meaningless in relation to reality. By that definition, the word makes no implications as to the conclusion which is the topic of this discussion. In any case, your arguement remains irrellivent.

As for this:

...her point was that the word 'selfish' referenced a hodgepodge of distinct and unrelated concepts without any clear unity, hence making the concept of 'selfishness' (in standard usage) invalid.

this is simply not so. Her point was that the word 'selfish' was being used to provoke an emotion about one thing while actually referring to another. The usage of the word selfish was quite well planned, not by any means a hodgebodge.

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