Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Proving a negative

Rate this topic


Black Wolf
 Share

Recommended Posts

Ayn Rand's position on the arbitrary is: you are not called upon to prove a negative.

That's her stance on what exists, but why if you were to say, for instance, "Being gay is immoral"

Are you called upon to prove negative morality?

Your question is a little confusing.

Are you asking "can we disprove a moral statement", or "prove the negation of a moral claim"?

I think it is possible to if enough context is given. While I can't disprove that there aren't rainbow colored elephants in the widest context (anywhere in the universe), I can disprove the idea that there are any in my room. This is because I know that there are things there which would exclude the possibility of a rainbow colored elephant being there.

So for instance, someone may say "If you swim to a shore after your boat sinking, and the person who owns the beach or island refuses to allow access, the only moral option is to drown". We can say something about this scenario in the negative.

However if someone arbitrarily, without context states "X is immoral", and when we ask why the answer "prove me wrong", we can dismiss them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ayn Rand's position on the arbitrary is: you are not called upon to prove a negative.

That's her stance on what exists, but why if you were to say, for instance, "Being gay is immoral"

Are you called upon to prove negative morality?

Proving a negative falls more in line with "A god exists, and you cannot prove that a god does not exist." The onus of proof lay with the assertion of the positive "a god exists" in this example. "Proof that a god does not exist" is the attempt to prove a negation.

Morality, when clearly identified and defined, clearly establishes the crucial difference between moral and its antonym, immoral. After that, determining to which camp 'being gay' belongs in comes down to identitfying and defining what 'being gay' is, and how it fulfills the criteria for being moral/immoral. That being said, lively and cheerful versus dull and gloomy appear to be descriptions of characteristics, rather than moral evaluations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, let;s say somebody, without provocation asks you "prove the morality of X", can they be dismissed?
What do you mean by "without provocation"? What would constitute "provocation"? Do you mean "asks you, without having any reason to believe that you claim that X is moral, and with no obvious ulterior motive such as preparing you for a debate tournament"?

If it is reasonable for the person to believe that you judge X to be moral, then it is reasonable for the person to request you to provide the proof that you discovered to the effect that X is moral. If you do not actually hold that X is moral, then you must dismiss the request as being founded on a false presumption. If you do hold that X is moral, then you must determine whether providing the proof which you discovered would be a value to you (if your interlocutor is an 8 year old, you should probably dismiss the request and find out who put him up to this gag). The fact that a person makes a request of you to do something that you can do does not mean that you have a duty to due so, or that you are "called on" to do so (meaning, "morally obligated").

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, that's what I mean. It was part of an argument about whether or not "science can an answer moral questions".

How's this for a response: "The rule that you can't prove a negative only applies to arbitrary explanations of what exists. It doesn't apply to questions of right or wrong. In fact, to determine that something is "wrong", you must prove that there exists a harm outside of what is normally practiced, so it can be reasonably concluded that you are called upon to prove that something is immoral."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"The rule that you can't prove a negative only applies to arbitrary explanations of what exists. It doesn't apply to questions of right or wrong. In fact, to determine that something is "wrong", you must prove that there exists a harm outside of what is normally practiced, so it can be reasonably concluded that you are called upon to prove that something is immoral."
There are a million so-called rules that you can't prove a negative. Almost all of them are just plain wrong, and some of them are as silly as saying that you cannot prove a sentence that contains the word "not" in it. I am not speaking of just moral questions, I am speaking of scientific questions. The only such rule with validity is that ignorance is not proof of non-existence, that is, the claim "I know of no evidence that X exists" is not proof that X does not exist. This is self-evident -- if one has no knowledge on a matter, and given that a proof is "knowledge showing that a conclusion is certain", lack of knowledge does not constitute knowledge.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Taking this to be a query about logic, I want to point out that there are three ways to relate something to the issue of morality: that it is moral, immoral, or irrelevant. The logical context which this creates means that asking someone to "prove so-and-so is immoral" is not an attempt to prove a negative.

-- Mindy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Taking this to be a query about logic, I want to point out that there are three ways to relate something to the issue of morality: that it is moral, immoral, or irrelevant. The logical context which this creates means that asking someone to "prove so-and-so is immoral" is not an attempt to prove a negative.

-- Mindy

My previous post was somehow truncated while I was editing it, and my corrected post wasn't "allowed." I didn't actually make that post.

-- Mindy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your example includes a type of category error related to your use of the word "negative".

You cannot prove a negative in the metaphysical sense if the domain of existence is beyond your perceptual means. For example, it is clearly not possible to prove that Darth Vader does not exist in a galaxy far, far away without having simultaneous knowledge of every far, far away galaxy in existence. Thus, you cannot prove the negative existence of something that could arbitrarily exist anywhere in the universe.

On the other hand, you can evaluate the truthfulness of the statement "x is immoral" because the word "negative" when used in this context does not relate to negative existence but rather to negation of the good (i.e., something is bad or evil, the opposite of good). The evidence to support or refute such a claim can be ascertained because the standard of morality is man's life on Earth. This is an area of research that should be accessible to anyone who understands the consequences of "x" within the context of one's own moral code of values.

That's my take on it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 11 years later...
On 7/12/2010 at 5:42 PM, Teflon said:

Your example includes a type of category error related to your use of the word "negative".

 

You cannot prove a negative in the metaphysical sense if the domain of existence is beyond your perceptual means. For example, it is clearly not possible to prove that Darth Vader does not exist in a galaxy far, far away without having simultaneous knowledge of every far, far away galaxy in existence. Thus, you cannot prove the negative existence of something that could arbitrarily exist anywhere in the universe.

 

On the other hand, you can evaluate the truthfulness of the statement "x is immoral" because the word "negative" when used in this context does not relate to negative existence but rather to negation of the good (i.e., something is bad or evil, the opposite of good). The evidence to support or refute such a claim can be ascertained because the standard of morality is man's life on Earth. This is an area of research that should be accessible to anyone who understands the consequences of "x" within the context of one's own moral code of values.

 

That's my take on it.

Yes, make sense. 

It is possible to prove negative claims, but only for stuff that we know exists (positives). For example, if one claims that there is no apple in the top desk drawer of a desk then all one needs to do is to open the top desk drawer indicated in the claim and examine it for its contents.  Finding no apple therein would provide sufficient evidence under ordinary circumstances to verify or confirm the negative claim that there is no apple in the top desk drawer. 

People conveniently use silly examples like this, to prove that it is possible to prove "a negative", but the desk, the drawer, nor the apple, are negatives, they are positives because we know that all three items metaphysically exists, so we can say that there is a 0.00001% of probabilities to find an apple inside the drawer of an unknown desk, and it would actually be provable, but is impossible to prove something when there is no previous evidence of its existence, so, to say, we will find a unicorn inside the desk drawer, that's a 0% chance of finding it, so, no matter how many times you search inside desk drawers around the world, a unicorn will never be found inside a desk drawer.

Proponents of "proving a negative is possible" will only be able to prove that proving a negative claim is possible only for metaphysical animated and inanimate objects with previous evidence of their existence, but when you are searching a unicorn inside a desk drawer, they will just tell you, keep trying until you find it.

Super silly. 

Edited by logart
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...