Sam Harris, Popper and Morality

Sam Harris wrote a book called The Moral Landscape (TML), which is about a secular moral philosophy. It sucks. I’m going to contrast his position with Popper’s, which also has some flaws.

Harris claims that we should accept the idea that morality is about the well-being of sentient creatures and depends on “events in the world and states in the human brain” (p. 5). He then claims that if we accept this idea philosophers who claim you can’t derive an ought from an is have missed the point.

Chapter 5 of The Open Society and Its Enemies pdf, Kindle is about why Popper considers it impossible to derive values from facts. Different people can see the same facts and come to different moral judgements and so morality can’t be derived from facts. This is correct as it stands but there is more interesting stuff in the notes.

OSE Chapter 5 Note 18

The hope of getting some argument or theory to share our responsibilities is, I believe, one of the basic motives of ‘scientific’ ethics. ‘Scientific’ ethics is in its absolute barrenness one of the most amazing of social phenomena. What does it aim at? At telling us what we ought to do, i.e. at constructing a code of norms upon a scientific basis, so that we need only look up the index of the code if we are faced with a difficult moral decision? This clearly would be absurd; quite apart from the fact that if it could be achieved, it would destroy all personal responsibility and therefore all ethics.

Popper claims scientific ethics is absurd but doesn’t explain why. I think the problem is that if you claimed to have a scientific derivation of morality that wouldn’t get you anywhere because that just raises questions that can’t be answered by your theory. Are you doing the science correctly? And why would it be right to judge this issue using science? And what counts as science in the first place and why? Also progress would be impossible if it were true. Progress involves inventing new ideas that won’t be on the approved list because those ideas and the practices required to criticise and understand them don’t exist yet. So if there is such a list then all progress of any kind will have to end.

Or would it give scientific criteria of the truth and falsity of moral judgements, i.e. of judgements involving such terms as ‘good’ or ‘bad’? But it is clear that moral judgements are absolutely irrelevant. Only a scandalmonger is interested in judging people or their actions; ‘judge not’ appears to some of us one of the fundamental and much too little appreciated laws of humanitarian ethics. (We may have to disarm and to imprison a criminal in order to prevent him from repeating his crimes, but too much of moral judgement and especially of moral indignation is always a sign of hypocrisy and pharisaism.) Thus an ethics of moral judgements would be not only irrelevant but indeed an immoral affair. The all-importance of moral problems rests, of course, on the fact that we can act with intelligent foresight, and that we can ask ourselves what our aims ought to be, i.e. how we ought to act.

This seems a bit muddled. Are we supposed to judge the criminal’s actions or not? I would say if we’re going to lock people up we should have made sure to judge their actions bad enough that we want to prevent him from acting that way by force.

Popper talks of “too much” moral judgement. I think this refers to something like a real problem but the problem is people making moral condemnations without understanding the issues or the situation the person in question faced. In other words, it’s not a problem of moral judgement but a problem of lack of judgement: that is, a lack of carefully considering the problems involved.

An example of not understanding more problems: many people in the UK say the US ought obviously to ban guns to stop mass shootings at cinemas and that sort of thing. Those people fail to understand the context. It is perfectly possible to use a gun properly, i.e. – don’t shoot people, or only shoot them in self defence. So if you ban guns you deprive people of an item that can be used in a legitimate way, including defending people from being shot up at a cinema. This is a bad idea. There are other relevant moral issues too.

Nearly all moral philosophers who have dealt with the problem of how we ought to act (with the possible exception of Kant) have tried to answer it either by reference to ‘human nature’ (as did even Kant, when he referred to human reason) or to the nature of ‘the good’. The first of these ways leads nowhere, since all actions possible to us are founded upon ‘human nature’, so that the problem of ethics could also be put by asking which elements in human nature I ought to approve and to develop, and which sides I ought to suppress or to control. But the second of these ways also leads nowhere; for given an analysis of ‘the good’ in form of a sentence like: ‘The good is such and such’ for ‘such and such is good’), we would always have to ask: What about it? Why should this concern me? Only if the word ‘good’ is used in an ethical sense, i.e. only if it is used to mean ‘that which I ought to do’, could I derive from the information ‘x is good’ the conclusion that I ought to do x. In other words, if the word ‘good’ is to have any ethical significance at all, it must be defined as ‘that which I (or we) ought to do (or to promote)’. But if it is so defined, then its whole meaning is exhausted by the defining phrase, and it can in every context be replaced by this phrase, i.e. the introduction of the term ‘good’ cannot materially contribute to our problem. (Cp. also note 49 (3) to chapter 11.)

Note 49(3) to Chapter 11 of OSE:

Essentialism and the theory of definition have led to an amazing development in Ethics. The development is one of increasing abstraction and loss of touch with the basis of all ethics—the practical moral problems, to be decided by us here and now. It leads first to the general question, ‘What is good?’ or ‘What is the Good?’; next to ‘What does “Good” mean?’ and next to ‘Can the problem “What does ‘Good’ mean?” be answered?’ or ‘Can “good” be defined?’ G. E. Moore, who raised this last problem in his Principia Ethica, was certainly right in insisting that ‘good’ in the moral sense cannot be defined in ‘naturalistic’ terms. For, indeed, if we could, it would mean something like ‘bitter’ or ‘sweet’ or ‘green’ or ‘red’; and it would be utterly irrelevant from the point of view of morality. Just as we need not attain the bitter, or the sweet, etc., there would be no reason to take any moral interest in a naturalistic ‘good’. But although Moore was right in what is perhaps justly considered his main point, it may be held that an analysis of good or of any other concept or essence can in no way contribute to an ethical theory which bears upon the only relevant basis of all ethics, the immediate moral problem that must be solved here and now. Such an analysis can lead only to the substitution of a verbal problem for a moral one.

The idea that morality is about “the immediate moral problem that must be solved here and now” is at best a bad formulation. You need moral principles to judge what you should do in a particular situation because otherwise all you have is a pile of competing claims and no way to sort them out. The best construction I can put on what Popper said here is that each situation has some unique aspects and we have to think on our feet to apply moral principles to that situation and no definition of the good could contribute to such thought. Presumably that’s what he meant but he didn’t state it clearly.

In TML Sam Harris claims that morality can be derived from facts about human wellbeing and we can understand those facts by looking at how the brain lights up when a person is happy. This invokes all of the bad ideas Popper criticised above. He defines morality as being about wellbeing but this just evades the question of what counts as wellbeing and why. And why is the way a person’s brain lights up the relevant issue? Harris claims that this is because thought is instantiated in the brain, but by that logic the vast bulk of knowledge is about paper or electronic information storage devices since most knowledge is instantiated in those forms.

At any particular time you’re going to have some areas of your life you find unsatisfactory. To make your life better you have to find out why these aspects of your life are unsatisfactory and solve the relevant problems. That’s an epistemological problem, which has nothing to do with brain chemistry.

Indeed, if a person is solving problems then his brain chemistry has to be explained in terms of the morality of how to solve problems. He will be thinking about what is required by epistemology (and other stuff too, like physics or economics or aesthetics or whatever) and his brain chemistry will instantiate the relevant ideas.

Most of TML is spent discussing moral issues without tying them to brain states or explaining them in terms of brain states in any substantive way. Rather, the discussion of brain states gets in the way of openly discussing moral standards in some cases. For example, on p. 94 he claims that looking at the brains might help us understand whether we should choose to throw one person in the path of a moving train to save five more. If the best thing you can think of to do involves shoving somebody under a train you ought to consider that you don’t actually understand the problem too well and shoving somebody under a train under those circumstances would be stupid or criminal.

And as I noted in discussing Popper’s objection to scientific ethics above, if there was some particular scientific theory that provided the answers to all ethical questions, then progress would be impossible. It’s not clear to me how Sam Harris would avoid this. Once we understand how the brain works do we understand all of morality? If so, then all progress will end when that happens.

Just one final note, I think TML is crap not just because it’s so badly wrong but because there is so much in it that is silly. There are so many points where Harris should have said “okay, there’s something badly wrong here, I’m writing stuff that’s just complete crap.” Take, as an example, the bit on p. 71 where he discusses Parfit. According to Parfit if we were to aggregate utility then it might be better to have one person who is really happy to a world where there are billions of people who are just a little bit happy. But we have to aggregate utility, claims Harris, so we have to think about such “paradoxes”. You don’t have to think about aggregation. You have to think about solving problems. If you solve a problem you make things better. If you don’t solve problems you don’t make things better. End of story. And how could you possibly be put in the position of making a decision between the sorts of scenarios Parfit discusses? How could you be in a position to decide whether there will be one person who is very happy or billions who are slightly less happy? You would either have to be a mass murderer or a tyrant who controls whether people get to have children.

TML is abysmal. Read David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, William Godwin, Karl Popper or Thomas Szasz instead.

UPDATE: What I said above is wrong in an important respect. Ethics doesn’t have a basis in problems or anything else including principles, but both problems and principles are important. Ethics can’t be based on problems because problems only come up in the light of a clash between different pieces of moral knowledge. So the knowledge has to be there before you can have the problem. If you’re going to solve the problem rather than just paper over it then the moral knowledge involved should be made explicit enough to be criticised.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

35 Responses to Sam Harris, Popper and Morality

  1. mranon says:

    TML may be horrible, but this post is flat out abysmal.

  2. mranon says:

    There are more problems than there are non-problems. Popper was not strong on morality. Nor are any of your favorites. At least the quotes are accurate.

    • Popper was good enough that I could use his writings to help point out a serious problem with what Harris is trying to do. You haven’t provided any solution to that problem. The philosophers I listed at the end of the article have stuff to say about moral philosophy that is far better and more interesting than anything in TML. Deutsch’s chapter on optimism in BoI is substantive moral philosophy, as is a decent part of the dialogue chapter. Ayn Rand’s best material is almost entirely extremely sophisticated moral philosophy. Likewise for William Godwin. And Thomas Szasz wrote a lot about personal responsibility and the excuses give for evading it, which is relevant to moral philosophy. You have offered no substantive criticism of any of them.

      • mranon says:

        Obviously you’ve drank too much of the libertarian cool aid. Ayn rand is certainly not sophisticated a bad writer and terrible philosopher and confused on most everything. Thomas Szasz has absurd ideas about mental disease that have been falsified, and is an “objectivist” or whatever those crazy randians are called. Deutsch is a genius, but not an expert in morality. Popper also a genius but was confused on a lot of things (it took him ages to believe in evolution) about definitely confused about facts and values, as a lot of moral philosophers still are. If you believe there’s a fact value dichotomy then do you think values are not a fact of the universe? If so what are they? By this reasoning could they even exist? Popper wouldn’t even call them conjectures….

        Anyways Ill bite and say a few things that I think are wrong. “He defines morality as being about wellbeing but this just begs the question of what counts as wellbeing and why. And why is the way a person’s brain lights up the relevant issue?

        First off beg the question means “is circular reasoning” not “raises the question”. Harris uses conscious states of “wellbeing” which i read as pleasure or positive emotional states. The reason is fairly obvious brain states produce conscious experiences, and there are brain states that produce positive conscious expereiences. As for “why” he brings up that there is no reason to ethically care about rocks or any non-conscious beings because they do not have experiences. And uses the thought experiment of the worst possible misery for everyone as an example of something we would all call “bad” and if you agree that is bad, makes the argument you are on board with improving wellbeing as ethical. As far as I can tell everything he says here is completely sound.

        Your analogy in this bit is also false. “Harris claims that this is because thought is instantiated in the brain, but by that logic the vast bulk of knowledge is about paper or electronic information storage devices since most knowledge is instantiated in those forms.”

        No paper contains knowledge without something to interpret it. While a brain does produce consciousness. Harris would also look at the states of the computer that is conscious and search for its wellbeing also. A better analogy would be brain states are a scientific measurement ( a crude one) of conscious pleasure, just as length measured by a ruled is a measure of dimension or extension in space. Brain states are what you would study from science at least at this moment, because they are telling you under what situations wellbeing is increased and decreased, and rather than being reported subjectively through consciousness they can be measured objectively through brain scans.

        • Rand was not a libertarian, nor am I. Libertarianism is a loose political coalition, not a philosophy. And many libertarians have bad ideas, e.g. – supporting the welfare state, opposing the American civil war. I don’t want to identify with crap like that.

          If you know of a criticism of Rand or Szasz that makes some arguments, as opposed to making unexplained statements about them being bad, then I would be interested in reading it.

          Also Szasz wasn’t an objectivist, but he was a libertarian.

        • Brain states are not particularly relevant for understanding how to improve the world. Lots of knowledge is not instantiated in brain states, and so you can’t understand what’s happening unless you look at stuff other than brain states. You say that a paper has to be interpreted by a brain, but this doesn’t solve the problem. You still have to understand what’s going on by consider in the brain state and the paper. And what matters is not the brain state per se, but the content of the ideas that the brain state instantiates. This is a matter of a complex set of ideas and problems that can’t be summed up by some number.

          More generally, you have to consider the consequences of ideas and institutions when trying to understand morality. For example, there may be some fact of the matter about whether the stimulus was a good idea but you can’t work that out from brain states.

          You say that you can somehow scientifically measure pleasure with brain states. But you don’t address any of my arguments that the explanation would go in the opposite direction: from morality to brain states, not the other way round.

          I have changed “begs” to “evades”.

        • “If you believe there’s a fact value dichotomy then do you think values are not a fact of the universe? If so what are they? By this reasoning could they even exist? Popper wouldn’t even call them conjectures….”

          You can’t work out morality from facts, but then the same is true of factual theories, e.g. – the laws of physics. All knowledge, including moral knowledge, is created by conjecture and criticism. Facts are used for criticism, not for deriving or proving stuff (see Popper’s and Deutsch’s criticisms of inductivism) and so morality doesn’t follow from them.

  3. mranon says:

    I’d rather just make fun of Rand, because its strange that she is so popular. No academic takes her seriously anyways, her theories are quite naive and she isn’t really worth worrying about.

    You say “brain states arent relevant for improving the world” and that you need to look at other things. You seem to think that it is KNOWLEDGE that matters here. But thats not what Sam Harris is talking about, he is talking about morality being based on conscious states of wellbeing. You are assuming epistemology or knowledge takes priority. Why? Epistemology is not the basis of his morality, and frankly it would be a strange basis for anyone’s morality. The reason we care about epistemology is because it helps us avoid suffering and get closer to wellbeing, not for the value of epistemology itself. Although of course many find joy in knowing what is true, this isn’t the case for most, and it still occupies a lower rung than the basis of wellbeing and suffering does.

    You make a similar error thinking its the content of the ideas not the brain states that matter. If you literally mean ideas as in propositions this is very off base. If you mean conscious states, ok thats closer. Sam is arguing that the conscious states matter, and you are right it doesn’t matter that its in the brain ultimately, but since that is where our consciousness currently resides it does in fact matter at least for the time being.

    “More generally, you have to consider the consequences of ideas and institutions when trying to understand morality. For example, there may be some fact of the matter about whether the stimulus was a good idea but you can’t work that out from brain states.”

    If there is no effect on brain states, then the procedure would be neutral in terms of maximizing wellbeing. There is no reason to do it, and perhaps a reason not to because it wastes time. I agree that you have to measure institutions, but you measure institutions BECAUSE they have an effect on brain states. Better public education is better because of how it changes brain states.

    “You say that you can somehow scientifically measure pleasure with brain states. But you don’t address any of my arguments that the explanation would go in the opposite direction: from morality to brain states, not the other way round.”

    I was only criticizing one paragraph, if I did the whole thing it would take ages. In short, on one reading of what you wrote yes Sam Harris requires us to know how to solve problems that don’t involve brain states (that is part of the science) but this is fairly obvious and he agrees with that.

    On the other reading of what you said.The reason it does not make sense to go from morality to wellbeing is he believes morality is based on consciousness, therefore you have to know how the brain of a given organism interprets certain stimuli. This make morality relative to the species or algorithm instantiating the conscious states, and so to divorce morality from it would fail. This does not mean morality is not objective, it just means that morality is dependent on the type of creature. For instance maximizing wellbeing for a house fly might be done by having them live in a septic tank, while that is almost certainly a nadir for human wellbeing. Since wellbeing is dependent on the type of brain of the organism, it will be impossible to get morality first, although perhaps there are some universals like reducing suffering and increasing wellbeing.

    “You can’t work out morality from facts, but then the same is true of factual theories, e.g. – the laws of physics. All knowledge, including moral knowledge, is created by conjecture and criticism. Facts are used for criticism, not for deriving or proving stuff (see Popper’s and Deutsch’s criticisms of inductivism) and so morality doesn’t follow from them.

    This is a wrong reading of Deutsch and Popper. For instance the fact, (of course there were a great many) that caused Einstein to forumulate his theory of relativity was that the speed of light was invariant. Facts infleunce theory and neither Deutsch or Popper would ever disagree with that, it would be absurd not to. They are criticizing empiricism, the dumb a-theoryless use of facts, not the use of facts to make theories.

    Again you did not address my question. Is a value not a fact? If it is not, then can it exist in the universe? Either values exist or they don’t. But they can’t be real entities in the universe unless they are facts instantiated in the brain. The fact/value dichotomy has a lot more problems than this, ill talk about them if you answer this first question.

    • Claiming to have a knock down criticism of Rand, or to know of such a criticism, while declining to provide it doesn’t make sense. If you can provide such a criticism, it would make sense to do so since that would allow us to move on to more interesting issues. If you can’t provide such a criticism, then you should not think that Rand is beneath you since you have no actual answer to her ideas.

      Knowledge is a necessary prerequisite for preventing suffering or for anything else you want to do. To take one example, after 1918, various regions under Soviet rule underwent massive famines in which millions starved to death and there are recorded instances of people eating their own children. There is absolutely no way of understanding what went wrong by looking at brain states. It was an issue of political economy. As a result, having the right epistemology is necessary for understanding moral philosophy. It’s not the foundation of moral philosophy since knowledge has no foundations, but it is necessary for understanding moral philosophy and it is not a matter of brain states.

      >> You can’t work out morality from facts, but then the same is true of factual theories, e.g. – the laws of physics. All knowledge, including moral knowledge, is created by conjecture and criticism. Facts are used for criticism, not for deriving or proving stuff (see Popper’s and Deutsch’s criticisms of inductivism) and so morality doesn’t follow from them.
      >
      > This is a wrong reading of Deutsch and Popper. For instance the fact, (of course there were a great many) that caused Einstein to forumulate his theory of relativity was that the speed of light was invariant. Facts infleunce theory and neither Deutsch or Popper would ever disagree with that, it would be absurd not to. They are criticizing empiricism, the dumb a-theoryless use of facts, not the use of facts to make theories.

      Quotes from BoI contradict your position, but not mine.

      “Experience is indeed essential to science, but its role is different from that supposed by empiricism. It is not the source from which theories are derived. Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guessed.” BoI, p.4

      “Certainly you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can’t derive a factual theory from an is either. That is not what science does. The growth of knowledge does not consist of finding ways to justify one’s beliefs. It consists of finding good explanations. And, although factual evidence and moral axioms are logically independent, factual and mora explanations are not. Thus factual knowledge can be useful in criticising moral explanations.” BoI, p. 120

      > Again you did not address my question. Is a value not a fact? If it is not, then can it exist in the universe? Either values exist or they don’t. But they can’t be real entities in the universe unless they are facts instantiated in the brain. The fact/value dichotomy has a lot more problems than this, ill talk about them if you answer this first question.

      A value is an explanation of what you ought to do under some set of circumstances. For example, if property rights are a value, then you ought not to take property to which you don’t have the relevant right. If your value is morally correct, then it will eliminate crappy options. In that sense it will correspond to a true answer to the question “What will make my life less crappy?”

      But the explanation for that value will not refer solely, or even primarily, to your brain state in the vast bulk of cases. Rather, it will refer to stuff taking place outside your brain. For example, if you are an architect and you design a building that falls down in an earthquake and kills people, then whether you are at fault for this will depend on issues like the following. Did you discuss your design with other people who pointed out flaws? Did you look at the geology of the area to find out if an earthquake was probable? Did you do calculations of whether the building would stand up? And the right way to do all that stuff will not refer to brain states either.

  4. mranon says:

    Did you hear about Ayn Rand’s lover who she stopped liking because he didn’t listen to some song or something she was in love with? Strange woman. And bad philosophy. I like bringing it up because it seems to annoy you. Its fun. I mean no harm.

    “Knowledge is a necessary prerequisite for preventing suffering or for anything else you want to do” Yes, and so is motivation (emotions). Emotions preceded knowledge, evolutionary and if we did not have emotions that drove us to gain knowledge, we would not ever gain it. Unless you are talking about knowledge in terms of “genes” but I would call that information and not knowledge. . Sam Harris certainly requires science, and is basing his theory on the ability for us to gain knowledge. That doesn’t mean the foundation for morality is knowledge, the foundation for morality is on Harris’s view conscious experiences of wellbeing. Knowledge helps you to solve problems, so is vital but not primary.
    In his view more wellbeing would outweigh more knowledge, in fact perhaps preclude some sorts of knowledge if that knowledge was going to be used to reduce wellbeing. I am sure that you are very hesitant to accept that view given your admiration of Deutsch.

    On Harriss view a universe in which maximum wellbeing is achieved is far better than a universe in which there is immense knowledge but it is unconscious. Do you agree? I do.

    You quote Deutsch “Experience is indeed essential to science, but its role is different from that supposed by empiricism. It is not the source from which theories are derived. Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guessed.” BoI, p.4

    This is what I meant. Facts influence theory, but empiricism is wrong. Perhaps I shouldn’t have sad facts are used to “make” theories, but I thought it was implied that they were nowhere near the sole basis of creating theories. This quote seems to corroborate my position that you were misreading Deutsch, not contradict it.

    I don’t think Deutsch is correct here:
    “Certainly you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can’t derive a factual theory from an is either. That is not what science does. The growth of knowledge does not consist of finding ways to justify one’s beliefs. It consists of finding good explanations. And, although factual evidence and moral axioms are logically independent, factual and mora explanations are not. Thus factual knowledge can be useful in criticising moral explanations.” BoI, p. 120

    If you can’t derive an ought from an is, then you can’t have an ought at all. What is the ought coming from? Something that does not exist? You clearly can, and DO get oughts from is. For instance if you have the IS of having a goal of responding to my comment, then you OUGHT to type out your thoughts. But if you don’t have that goal then you will not have any ought. Goals are Is’s and without goals you have no reason to have an ought.
    That they are Is’s does not mean they are not theories. If i have a theory in my mind that is still an IS about my mental state.

    I take it if you believe that a value is an explanation, then it is something that does exist in the universe? To say that values are not facts about peoples minds or feelings seems obviously false. But I don’t think you are right in calling a value an explanation. A value is closer to a motivation, or desire or goal than an explanation. While the ought is the explanation if you wish to call it that, or solution of what you should do given the value you have.

    But the explanation for that value will not refer solely, or even primarily, to your brain state in the vast bulk of cases. Rather, it will refer to stuff taking place outside your brain. For example, if you are an architect and you design a building that falls down in an earthquake and kills people, then whether you are at fault for this will depend on issues like the following. Did you discuss your design with other people who pointed out flaws? Did you look at the geology of the area to find out if an earthquake was probable? Did you do calculations of whether the building would stand up? And the right way to do all that stuff will not refer to brain states either.

    This is true, none of those things require science about brain states, but that doesn’t mean they don’t effect brain states. The reason to build a building is to effect brain states, so if the construction of a building negatively impacts a brain state, then it is less moral than if it positively impacts one. On harris’s view we should learn these types of things only to the degree that they affect brain states. What is the purpose of having knowledge of construction, if there are no conscious beings?

    • >Did you hear about Ayn Rand’s lover who she stopped liking because he didn’t listen to some song or something she was in love with? Strange woman. And bad philosophy. I like bringing it up because it seems to annoy you. Its fun. I mean no harm.

      You keep saying Rand’s philosophy is bad, but you haven’t explained why. And your remark about Rand’s lover is so far from reality that it betrays both ignorance of the facts and a lack of interest in them.

      Wanting to annoy me, or anyone else, is a bad motivation for posting. You’re making your happiness contingent on my psychological state, because if I’m not annoyed then you’ve wasted your time. And you can’t reasonably expect to be able to control me. So then you’re wasting your time on trying to make my life worse, rather than learn stuff that could make your life better. You would understand this issue a lot better if you had actually read one or both of Rand’s novels. If you want to understand something about what you’ve missed out on then watch this short clip from the film version of “The Fountainhead” and think about which of the characters is better:

      > “Knowledge is a necessary prerequisite for preventing suffering or for anything else you want to do” Yes, and so is motivation (emotions). Emotions preceded knowledge, evolutionary and if we did not have emotions that drove us to gain knowledge, we would not ever gain it.

      You don’t seem to understand what I’m talking about when I discuss knowledge. As explained in chapter 4 of BoI, knowledge is information that causes itself to continue to be embodied when it has come into existence. So emotions are examples of knowledge since either they evolved by natural selection to help copy genes, or they evolved culturally to copy themselves. In either case, they are knowledge.

      > You quote Deutsch “Experience is indeed essential to science, but its role is different from that supposed by empiricism. It is not the source from which theories are derived. Its main use is to choose between theories that have already been guessed.” BoI, p.4
      >
      > This is what I meant. Facts influence theory, but empiricism is wrong. Perhaps I shouldn’t have sad facts are used to “make” theories, but I thought it was implied that they were nowhere near the sole basis of creating theories. This quote seems to corroborate my position that you were misreading Deutsch, not contradict it.

      Facts don’t influence theory. They eliminate some theories and not others. This idea of influence is bad epistemology for reasons explained in chapter 13 of BoI.

      > I don’t think Deutsch is correct here:
      > “Certainly you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can’t derive a factual theory from an is either. That is not what science does. The growth of knowledge does not consist of finding ways to justify one’s beliefs. It consists of finding good explanations. And, although factual evidence and moral axioms are logically independent, factual and mora explanations are not. Thus factual knowledge can be useful in criticising moral explanations.” BoI, p. 120
      >
      > If you can’t derive an ought from an is, then you can’t have an ought at all. What is the ought coming from?

      It’s a guess.You seem to be stuck on the idea that you have to derive morality from something, but this is just not so. You don’t have to derive morality from anything, anymore than you have to derive any other knowledge from anything. You guess and then criticise the guesses.

      >This is true, none of those things require science about brain states, but that doesn’t mean they don’t effect brain states. The reason to build a building is to effect brain states, so if the construction of a building negatively impacts a brain state, then it is less moral than if it positively impacts one. On harris’s view we should learn these types of things only to the degree that they affect brain states. What is the purpose of having knowledge of construction, if there are no conscious beings?

      The relevant issue is not brain states, but the abstractions they instantiate and how they are related to other abstractions and to the laws of physics, biology, epistemology and so on.

      Lots of this stuff is covered at least in part in BoI, but you don’t seem familiar with the arguments, e.g. – you didn’t notice that your demand for something from which morality is derived is a justificationist demand. You might want to read BoI carefully and comment on it on the Fallible Ideas list, where there are people who are familiar with it and can explain stuff you don’t understand:

      https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/fallible-ideas/info.

  5. mranon says:

    “your remark about Rand’s lover is so far from reality that it betrays both ignorance of the facts and a lack of interest in them. ”

    The absurd lengths to which such thinking can go is demonstrated by Rand’s pronounced judgements on her followers of even the most trivial things. Rand had argued, for example, that musical taste could not be objectively defined, yet, as Barbara Branden observed, “if one of her young friends responded as she did to Rachmaninoff … she attached deep significance to their affinity.” By contrast, if a friend did not respond as she did to a certain piece or composer, Rand “left no doubt that she considered that person morally and psychologically reprehensible.” Branden recalled an evening when a friend of Rand’s remarked that he enjoyed the music of Richard Strauss. “When he left at the end of the evening, Ayn said, in a reaction becoming increasingly typical, ‘Now I understand why he and I can never be real soul mates. The distance in our sense of life is too great.’ Often, she did not wait until a friend had left to make such remarks” (p. 268).

    http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/the-unlikeliest-cult-in-history/

    If you truly believe that it is possible to control whether or not my happiness is in part derived from other peoples emotional states, ive got a bridge to sell you.

    I fear you have taken Deutschs views as a dogma and are not thinking clearly at all. Refuting my arguments by saying Deutsch said X is not a refutation its an appeal to authority and it is useless.If you are going to be dogmatic and not respond besides appeals to authority there is no reason to continue the conversation. You have revealed yourself as a closet creationist. Hopefully you will look at arguments, rather than continue your appeals.

    “You don’t seem to understand what I’m talking about when I discuss knowledge. As explained in chapter 4 of BoI, knowledge is information that causes itself to continue to be embodied when it has come into existence. So emotions are examples of knowledge since either they evolved by natural selection to help copy genes, or they evolved culturally to copy themselves. In either case, they are knowledge.”

    You didnt respond to my argument. Regardless SCIENCE is different from knowledge if you use knowledge that way. It is silly I think to use it that way, information is encoded in genes, and science and knowledge are known by conscious creatures. Anyways this is just you dodging my questions about emotions and consciousness and the point that wellbeing has priority over knowledge.

    “Facts don’t influence theory. They eliminate some theories and not others. This idea of influence is bad epistemology for reasons explained in chapter 13 of BoI.”

    Deutsch doesn’t say it, and certainly doesn’t believe it. Even if he does he is wrong. Facts do influence theory. I gave as an example Einstein using the unvarying speed of light to formulate the theory of relativity. You have taken his anti-empiricism as being against testing and using information in any way besides falsification. This is an absurd reading. If you are going to disagree say so not by reference to Deutsch or popper, but through a counterargument.

    “The relevant issue is not brain states, but the abstractions they instantiate and how they are related to other abstractions and to the laws of physics, biology, epistemology and so on.”

    This is not a refutation of what I said, its a changing of the subject. You disagree with what the relevant issue of morality is, but you haven’t shown sam harris view to not have to do with brain states as you claimed earlier. It is not an argument against a book if you are just saying this morality is wrong because I have this other morality.

    Nothing I said was justificationist. If it were justificationist, calling it justificationist is not a refutation. First you would have to say how it was, and then show how justificationism was false. You did neither.

    If you don’t at least engage, with the argument then this will be my last response.

    • I’d be careful about citing the Brandens since they did a lot of bad stuff to Rand, like taking money from her for a project they never delivered. This was at best incompetence on their part. They have an interest in making rand look bad to minimise their own guilt. Did what they describe happen the way they described it? I don’t know, and neither do you. I think rand was not sufficiently fallibilist, but that flaw is shared by virtually every other philosopher bar Popper and some of his followers. I could describe other flaws and merits of rand but you seem kinda close minded, so I think it would be a waste of time. Also judgement of art is not totally irrelevant to judgement of other issues. See dd’s discussion of the statues on Easter Island for an example that has not been ripped out of context. So I think it is not necessarily wrong to cite artistic taste as part of an overall criticism of some person’s ideas.

      On citing DD I’m not appealing to authority. What I’m saying is you’re not familiar with epistemology and as a result you’re making lots of mistakes. I don’t see why I should have to reproduce material that already exists and that you have not understood. If you read it and make an attempt to understand it and then point out what you see as specific flaws then a discussion will be worthwhile, but you have not yet done that. I will provide a small indication of what you’re missing out on, but unless you’re willing to do some reading and thinking on your own it doesn’t make sense for me to make much more effort.

      Your only specific claim is that the fact of the invariance of the speed of light motivated special relativity. I think it is best to maintain a clear distinction between experimental results and ideas like the invariance of the speed of light under changes of reference frame. The problem is that people often mix up experimental results with guesses about what is happening to bring about those results and this has led to a lot of confusion. For example, lots of people describe observations in cosmology as saying that the expansion of the universe is accelerating but this is not accurate since there are other possible explanations, like inhomogeneities in the distribution of matter changing redshifts. See the work of David Wiltshire on the timescape cosmology for one such explanation. How is the relevant to the particular example of Einstein? There were people who wanted to interpret Lorentz contraction as a dynamical phenomenon rather than a consequence of invariance of the speed of light. For some history on this see papers and a book on relativity by Harvey Brown who does philosophy of physics at Oxford. Ascribing contraction to the invariance of the speed of light was a guess on Einstein’s part about how to explain the world including the results of various experiments. The fact you cite is a sophisticated guess about how the world works. Experimental results are a different kind of guess, they are a guess about what happened at a particular place and time under particular circumstances. The guesses people make about what those results mean do not follow from the results themselves. Einstein’s example illustrates this. So when you say the speed of light is a fact you can’t mean anything like that you can work out what’s true from an experimental result.

      This illustrates a problem with justificationism. It is always the case that you can come up with more than one account of what happened to produce any particular set of events. Some of those accounts may be ad hoc, but if you’re going to take experimental results as the sole standard of judgement that is irrelevant since ad hocness is not an experimental result. Any other facts you take as the sole standard of judgment will have a similar problem, namely they are only relevant to judging issues in the context of an explanation. The relevance of those fans can’t be that they imply an explanation, but rather that they are consistent or inconsistent with some proposed explanation.

      My remarks about knowledge replied to a para in which you said that emotions preceded knowledge, but this is not true. Emotions are an example of knowledge, and your emotional responses can be understood, criticised and changed like any other knowledge if they are set up badly. So if somebody feels bad that might be a result of bed preferences, or it might be a result of mistreatment of the person who feels bad. What’s important is the explanation for the feeling. The feeling might refute some explanations and not others, but that’s not the same as implying this or that explanation or policy. As such, nothing that purports to provide insight into feelings, such as brain scans, can provide a basis for morality.

  6. mranon says:

    Btw, you do realize that Deutsch was saying in BoI (for the most part) was philosophy right? Not science.

    • That’s not relevant to the truth or lack thereof of the arguments in boi.

      • mranon says:

        It is. Science is better subject to falsification than is philosophy. Therefore more deserving of more epistemic warrant.

        • The idea that you should be interested in falsification is itself a result of an extended philosophical argument. What matters for the status of an argument is just whether it stands up to criticism, regardless of the source.

          Some philosophical arguments are largely untested conjectures for which we can imagine that there might be alternatives. For example, DD’s guesses about how creativity evolved. There is no problem of principle with imagining that he might be wrong about that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an alternative. But note that the same would be true of many scientific ideas. For example, there are many measurements that are difficult to do and where it easy to imagine that the figures obtained might be wildly inaccurate because you have misunderstood the measurement.

          Other philosophical arguments are a lot more integrated with the rest of our knowledge. Trying to overturn such arguments would take down a lot of other ideas, including many scientific theories. As a result, you can’t rank them as being lower in status than the scientific theories with which they are integrated.

          For example, the idea that there is an objective reality is philosophical. You can’t experimentally test whether the world stops existing when you don’t perceive it. But if realism was false, all our existing scientific knowledge would also be put in jeopardy. So you can’t say that realism is somehow worse than scientific knowledge.

          Popperian epistemology is in the same position as realism. To take it down you would have to discard logic, and the theory of evolution. The logic of the evolution and Popperian epistemology are the same. You can’t start out with the right answer to a question, or the right adaptation. Rather variants of previous answer/adaptations have to be generated and then tried out either by actual use or by working out their consequences. You can’t take down one without undermining the other.

  7. mranon says:

    Thank you for your reply, it was much better than the prior one.

    “On citing DD I’m not appealing to authority. What I’m saying is you’re not familiar with epistemology and as a result you’re making lots of mistakes”

    You have cited him as authority. And saying “im not familiar with epistemology” is not the same as I don’t agree with you on epistemology.

    “So when you say the speed of light is a fact you can’t mean anything like that you can work out what’s true from an experimental result.”

    I agree with that entire paragraph, the invariance of the speed of light still requires an interpretation. What I do not agree about is what you said earlier…

    Facts don’t influence theory. They eliminate some theories and not others. This idea of influence is bad epistemology for reasons explained in chapter 13 of BoI.

    I decided to e-mail Deutsch because I believe he accepts an interpretation closer to mine, that facts DO have an effect on theory generation, and indeed are essential to it. (This does not preclude facts from being theory-laden).

    His reply and my question here: Jason: Am i correct, that while facts are not the main influence, they still play a role in some theory generation, not only in falsification?

    Deutsch: They do, but only the role that dreams, misconceptions, hopes, etc can also play. To suggest problems. To set off a creative process. But no one can tell what fact an experimental result represents until after they have interpreted it — which has to be via a theory.

    Deutsch’s answer is perhaps closer to your uselessness of facts interpretation than to my my belief (I think fact matter more, but do not deny they are always interpreted) However, he does believe that facts have an influence. So if you will take my own personal argument from authority here, you should abandon that reading of Deutsch and allow for some influence of facts in the generation of theories.

    I don’t want to get into an argument about epistemology here, so lets shelf it, but I think Deutschs view that facts play only a tiny role is probably incorrect. He is right that every fact requires an interpretation.

    I don’t have any issues on your paragraph on justificationism. But you have not said how any of what I have said is a justificationist account, as you claimed before.

    “My remarks about knowledge replied to a para in which you said that emotions preceded knowledge, but this is not true. Emotions are an example of knowledge, and your emotional responses can be understood, criticised and changed like any other knowledge if they are set up badly. So if somebody feels bad that might be a result of bed preferences, or it might be a result of mistreatment of the person who feels bad. What’s important is the explanation for the feeling. The feeling might refute some explanations and not others, but that’s not the same as implying this or that explanation or policy. As such, nothing that purports to provide insight into feelings, such as brain scans, can provide a basis for morality”

    Above I said that the use of the term “knowledge” in this way is confusing. It is not how most people use it. It is a way that is “Easy to vary”. I also think what we call knowledge is irrelevant to the conversation. The truth is emotions pre-date scientific knowledge or knowledge of conscious creatures. And THAT is the issue we are discussing, not whether or not “knowledge” is stored in the genes. Your idea that emotions can be changed is unlikely to be psychologically true of all cases. Perhaps some. It may be true with sufficient neurological technology. Lets not get into free will though.

    This gets us back closer to the issue that we should have been discussing this entire time, instead of pedantry about Deutschs beliefs. You seem to believe that morality takes the pursuit of science as its basis or at least some type of epistemology. This is the issue that is at stake. Harris disagrees, and I do too. And if you are going to refute Harris you have to show why it is that science or philosophy is a better foundation for morality than conscious wellbeing. (Don’t use the term knowledge or if you do clarify what you mean, because it is confusing) Above I asked you for your opinion on a thought experiment, you ignored it.
    I’ll ask again:

    On Harris’ view a universe in which maximum conscious wellbeing is achieved is far better than a universe in which there is a universe with maximum knowledge but it is unconscious. Which do you prefer?

    I’d also like a proper response to my questions about facts and values rather than a brushing them off by calling them justificationist, without a justifcation. Although they are less important to the question of harris’s morality. I can anticipate that you will criticise the fact that I am using facts or ises. But we agree that there is an objective reality out there, only that humans will not necessarily know it. So there are facts about the universe we just don’t necesarily ahve access to them. I think you may think my account is justifications because the account I am taking is one of morality only being objective only relative to its species. Sam Harris does not believe in an objective morality without species. If you disagree you must point out reasons why, a reference to Deutsch who believes in abstract universal morality wont do it. Make the case that morality can be objective, or even exist without conscious creatures.

    If you can’t derive an ought from an is, then you can’t have an ought at all. What is the ought coming from? Something that does not exist? You clearly can, and DO get oughts from is. For instance if you have the IS of having a goal of responding to my comment, then you OUGHT to type out your thoughts. But if you don’t have that goal then you will not have any ought. Goals are Is’s and without goals you have no reason to have an ought.
    That they are Is’s does not mean they are not theories. If i have a theory in my mind that is still an IS about my mental state.

    (Again nothing about the FACTS or the Is’s above means they are not interpreted or theory laden if it is a human, this does not apply to the facts or is’s of objective reality)

    I take it if you believe that a value is an explanation, then it is something that does exist in the universe? To say that values are not facts about peoples minds or feelings seems obviously false. But I don’t think you are right in calling a value an explanation. A value is closer to a motivation, or desire or goal than an explanation. While the ought is the explanation if you wish to call it that, or solution of what you should do given the value you have.

    • > His reply and my question here: Jason: Am i correct, that while facts are not the main influence, they still play a role in some theory generation, not only in falsification?
      >
      > Deutsch: They do, but only the role that dreams, misconceptions, hopes, etc can also play. To suggest problems. To set off a creative process. But no one can tell what fact an experimental result represents until after they have interpreted it — which has to be via a theory.
      >
      > Deutsch’s answer is perhaps closer to your uselessness of facts interpretation than to my my belief (I think fact matter more, but do not deny they are always interpreted) However, he does believe that facts have an influence. So if you will take my own personal argument from authority here, you should abandon that reading of Deutsch and allow for some influence of facts in the generation of theories.

      I haven’t said that facts are useless. I said their role was to eliminate ideas. In DD’s reply he claims they are interpreted as problems in the light of an explanation. My position is that any problem should be understood as eliminating an idea. It will sometimes be the case that a slight variant of that idea will answer the problem, but I think it should be clearly understood that the variant is not the same as the original idea. It is important to be very clear about changes of position.

      You are not being very clear about what you agree with DD on wrt this issue. Do you think facts play a role other than elimination of errors in the light of an explanation? Your stuff about getting ought from is seems to indicate that you think there is some other role, but you’re not being clear about what that role is, so it is difficult to make any progress on this issue.

      > If you can’t derive an ought from an is, then you can’t have an ought at all. What is the ought coming from? Something that does not exist? You clearly can, and DO get oughts from is. For instance if you have the IS of having a goal of responding to my comment, then you OUGHT to type out your thoughts. But if you don’t have that goal then you will not have any ought. Goals are Is’s and without goals you have no reason to have an ought. That they are Is’s does not mean they are not theories. If i have a theory in my mind that is still an IS about my mental state.

      A fact may be interpreted as giving rise to a moral problem. For example, the failure of socialist policies to produce the promised utopias in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea etc. poses a moral problem for socialists. Why did their policies fail? Should those policies be rejected and if so what should replace them?. Note that this is not deriving an ought from an is. To get the ought they have to guess about what’s wrong and then try to sort out the guesses. And different groups have come up with different ideas about what went wrong. Some socialists think that what went wrong was that the state got involved and if worker’s cooperatives were voluntary everything would be alright. Others think that something like liberal democracy as practised in the West is the right approach. And there are many other options, e.g. – wholesale rejection of the state in favour of anarchocapitalism. And this diversity of responses results in part from different factual explanations of the problems of the Soviet Union etc.

      The reason why I say you are justificationist is that the only way in which you can derive an ought from an is involves treating some fact as a foundation from which you can derive a moral theory. You have shown that moral theory is true or probably true using that fact: you have justified that moral theory. And this alleged justification suffers from the same problem as all other justifications. To make an argument you have to use rules of inference and some source material. But there is no guarantee of the correctness of the facts or the rules. So those alleged facts and rules are conjectures, and so is every conclusion that is “derived” from them.

      >> “My remarks about knowledge replied to a para in which you said that emotions preceded knowledge, but this is not true. Emotions are an example of knowledge, and your emotional responses can be understood, criticised and changed like any other knowledge if they are set up badly. So if somebody feels bad that might be a result of bed preferences, or it might be a result of mistreatment of the person who feels bad. What’s important is the explanation for the feeling. The feeling might refute some explanations and not others, but that’s not the same as implying this or that explanation or policy. As such, nothing that purports to provide insight into feelings, such as brain scans, can provide a basis for morality”
      >
      > Above I said that the use of the term “knowledge” in this way is confusing. It is not how most people use it. It is a way that is “Easy to vary”. I also think what we call knowledge is irrelevant to the conversation. The truth is emotions pre-date scientific knowledge or knowledge of conscious creatures. And THAT is the issue we are discussing, not whether or not “knowledge” is stored in the genes. Your idea that emotions can be changed is unlikely to be psychologically true of all cases. Perhaps some. It may be true with sufficient neurological technology. Lets not get into free will though.

      People do change their emotions as a matter of fact. Many people become less idealistic as they get older. Many people initially hate beer, but then decide they like it. We don’t need advanced technology for stuff that almost everybody does. Scientific knowledge is separated from that kind of knowledge mostly by three issues. (1) Scientific knowledge is tested by experiment. (2) Some scientists in their scientific work have higher standards for what they accept as unproblematic than people do when they deal with their emotions. (3) As you have noted, emotions are related to what people want.

      You say that is is confusing to use knowledge for information in genes. I disagree for two reasons. One, the processes by which genetic and memetic knowledge arise both involve variation and selection, and the reason for this is the same in both cases. Namely, the process that creates knowledge doesn’t have the answer at the start so all it can do is create variations on current knowledge and then select among them to try to improve on previous variants. Second, the standard theory leads to lots of confusion, like you thinking that emotions can’t be changed despite the fact that people can and do change their emotions. This is because you’ve put emotions in a separate compartment from other knowledge, rather than seeing them as a slightly different kind of knowledge that can be changed if you know how, and there is a reason to change them.

      > I take it if you believe that a value is an explanation, then it is something that does exist in the universe? To say that values are not facts about peoples minds or feelings seems obviously false. But I don’t think you are right in calling a value an explanation. A value is closer to a motivation, or desire or goal than an explanation. While the ought is the explanation if you wish to call it that, or solution of what you should do given the value you have.

      Values can’t be clearly separated from explanations, since a person needs an explanation in order to act on his values. For example, a person might decide that he values sex because he feels a particular emotion when he has sex. “Sex makes me feel good” is an explanation (an account of what happens in reality and why), albeit a crappy explanation. He may then have an additional explanation on top of that for what he is going to do about that value. For example, he may decide to have sex because he wants to feel good, or he may deny himself sex to punish himself.

      > You seem to believe that morality takes the pursuit of science as its basis or at least some type of epistemology. This is the issue that is at stake. Harris disagrees, and I do too. And if you are going to refute Harris you have to show why it is that science or philosophy is a better foundation for morality than conscious wellbeing. (Don’t use the term knowledge or if you do clarify what you mean, because it is confusing) Above I asked you for your opinion on a thought experiment, you ignored it.

      No. Moral knowledge has no basis. Nor does any other type of knowledge. It is not justified by or derived from anything. Nor can it be.

      Moral knowledge is knowledge about how to make choices. To make choices in a non-stupid way you have to create knowledge. So epistemology is part of moral philosophy. Understanding epistemology properly is a necessary part of living well. Epistemology is not the foundation of moral philosophy because moral philosophy has no foundations. Rather, you start with traditional moral knowledge and look for problems with it. You then make guesses about how to solve those problems and subject the guesses to criticism. If you solve a problem you have made your life better. There may be some occasions on which some measurable quantity is relevant to whether you have succeeded in solving a moral problem, e.g. – the amount of food you can afford. And it may be the case that you feel some sensation you interpret as happiness or whatever after you solve a problem. But what made your life better is solving the problem: the sensation is a result of that. It is not the case that you can understand what made your life better just by looking at the sensation. And so sensations or amounts of food or whatever are useful only as tests of moral ideas, not as material from which moral ideas are derived.

      > On Harris’ view a universe in which maximum conscious wellbeing is achieved is far better than a universe in which there is a universe with maximum knowledge but it is unconscious. Which do you prefer?

      There is a lot of knowledge that can’t arise without the creation of explanations. For example, knowledge of how atoms behave within microkelvins of absolute zero. And explanatory knowledge can’t arise except by having entities that understand what an explanation is, understand what explanations they hold, have means of gathering information about the world and so on, i.e. – conscious creatures. So even if I thought there was some meaningful measure of well being, this question would pose a false dichotomy.

      • mranon says:

        I think your lense of epistemology for examining every issue is muddling the conversation. You’ll see why in my responses. Your use of knowledge and explanations in every single instance allows you to respond to a question on one dimension by switching to the other. This is why vague definitions are very bad.

        “I haven’t said that facts are useless”
        Yes you have you said they were useless in generating new theories. In the above quote Deutsch disagrees. And I disagree more strongly, but I don’t even know why we are talking about this. It is not as relevant as you think it is.

        “You are not being very clear about what you agree with DD on wrt this issue. Do you think facts play a role other than elimination of errors in the light of an explanation? Your stuff about getting ought from is seems to indicate that you think there is some other role, but you’re not being clear about what that role is, so it is difficult to make any progress on this issue.”

        Yes, I think theory laden facts influence theory generation. So does Deutsch as he said.

        “Your stuff about getting ought from is seems to indicate that you think there is some other role, but you’re not being clear about what that role is, so it is difficult to make any progress on this issue.”

        There is a problem here. And I think it is partly because you are very concerned with epistemology. There are two ways something can be called a fact. It can be an objective state of the universe, or it can be the result of a scientific process.
        I have been talking about objective states of the universe, and you have been talking human reasoning. This may be why there has been little progress in our conversation.

        It is clear that objective states of the universe have to be present in order for someone to
        feel they “should” do something. In this sense it is fairly obvious that facts of the universe do determine values, and that values have to be produced by some sort of physical reality.

        “To get the ought they have to guess about what’s wrong and then try to sort out the guesses.”

        That they perceive anything wrong has already revealed that they have values. In a emotionless society no one would have an issue with communism. Emotions are the is, dissolving communism is the ought.

        The reason why I say you are justificationist is that the only way in which you can derive an ought from an is involves treating some fact as a foundation from which you can derive a moral theory.

        Again you bring up epistemology. Im not talking about epistemology, im talking about objective facts about the physical universe, that people have certain values and motivations that cause their desires. Since reality is the only thing that can cause anything. The only reason people ever feel they ought to do something is because a certain state of their brain has some sort of goal or desire in it. Without goals, there is no reason to favor any ought over any other ought. It is not justificationist, it a psychological explanation.

        “You say that is is confusing to use knowledge for information in genes. I disagree for two reasons. One, the processes by which genetic and memetic knowledge arise both involve variation and selection, and the reason for this is the same in both cases”

        Elephants and redwoods evolved through the same process of evolution. Should we call them the same thing? Discussing things in terms of having the same shared process can be useful, but it is not useful at all in our discussion. In fact it has been confusing and lets you dance between information in genes and conscious scientific knowledge. This is not a good thing, they are very different. Do genes have an epistemology, what about evolution? Do humans? Im fairly confident the second does but not the first. If you are going to use knowledge in a confusing way, be explicit by what you mean.

        “Second, the standard theory leads to lots of confusion, like you thinking that emotions can’t be changed despite the fact that people can and do change their emotions. This is because you’ve put emotions in a separate compartment from other knowledge, rather than seeing them as a slightly different kind of knowledge that can be changed if you know how, and there is a reason to change them.”

        I don’t want to waste time on this. As I said before, you are wrong empirically unless you interpret me in an insanely literal way. For instance, try change your sexual orientation. And I dont mean behaviorally, I mean emotionally. Good luck! Try to enjoy the taste of feces. Maybe it is eventually possible but it certainly isnt easy. Evolution wouldn’t allow us to change our emotions to that degree, and the fact is mostly we cant, besides a little at the edges. We are more constrained thank you think.

        Values can’t be clearly separated from explanations, since a person needs an explanation in order to act on his values

        What about insects? Do they need an explanation to act on their values? Below you said explanations require consciousness, so don’t use that route. Some animals act not because they have scientific theories they are elaborating on but because genes cause their behavior. You can call this knowledge if you care to, but that doesnt mean that they have an explanation in their minds. People too, have values and dont have explanations for all of them sometimes they arent sure why they did them. And many like your sex example are merely post-hoc rationalizations of values that they had already. Im sure you will proceed to jump from psychology to epistemology in a confusing way. But dont make that category error.

        No. Moral knowledge has no basis. Nor does any other type of knowledge. It is not justified by or derived from anything. Nor can it be.

        ?????? What about the existence of conscious creatures? Or science? Or philosophy? It is not derived by humans? Here you have made the epistemology category error you have made several times. The basis of moral knowledge for humans requires the existence of humans. As does the existence of science on earth.

        Moral knowledge is knowledge about how to make choices. To make choices in a non-stupid way you have to create knowledge. So epistemology is part of moral philosophy. Understanding epistemology properly is a necessary part of living well. Epistemology is not the foundation of moral philosophy because moral philosophy has no foundations. Rather, you start with traditional moral knowledge and look for problems with it. You then make guesses about how to solve those problems and subject the guesses to criticism. If you solve a problem you have made your life better. There may be some occasions on which some measurable quantity is relevant to whether you have succeeded in solving a moral problem, e.g. – the amount of food you can afford. And it may be the case that you feel some sensation you interpret as happiness or whatever after you solve a problem. But what made your life better is solving the problem: the sensation is a result of that. It is not the case that you can understand what made your life better just by looking at the sensation. And so sensations or amounts of food or whatever are useful only as tests of moral ideas, not as material from which moral ideas are derived.

        Agreed epistemology is important for finding solutions in moral philoosphy. Nevertheless you are again making a category error. Is moral knowledge not founded on the existence of conscious states of creatures? If so please describe why we should be concerned about the ethical issues surrounding the behavior of rocks. Morality PRESUMES conscious creatures, like Icthyology PRESUMES the existence of fish. Perhaps there is no foundation of biology? Maybe biology is the study of stars? What you are describing is a method of solving problems, not an explanation of morality. This is not how we discuss problems in science, we discuss whether or not the claims that have been made are true or not. Much of your review of Sam Harris just ignores his views and just talks about epistemology. And this is why it was a bad explanation of why we should prefer your view over his.

        “There is a lot of knowledge that can’t arise without the creation of explanations. For example, knowledge of how atoms behave within microkelvins of absolute zero. And explanatory knowledge can’t arise except by having entities that understand what an explanation is, understand what explanations they hold, have means of gathering information about the world and so on, i.e. – conscious creatures. So even if I thought there was some meaningful measure of well being, this question would pose a false dichotomy.”

        Here you are assuming that knowledge has to be produced by conscious creatures. This is an empirical question and your position is unlikely to be true. Computers are not conscious, and it is not hard to imagine computers becoming better at solving problems than humans are without them becoming conscious. Either way it is a thought experiment, it doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics. So answer the question? Which universe would you prefer?

        • > Elephants and redwoods evolved through the same process of evolution. Should we call them the same thing? Discussing things in terms of having the same shared process can be useful, but it is not useful at all in our discussion. In fact it has been confusing and lets you dance between information in genes and conscious scientific knowledge. This is not a good thing, they are very different. Do genes have an epistemology, what about evolution? Do humans? Im fairly confident the second does but not the first. If you are going to use knowledge in a confusing way, be explicit by what you mean.

          I said that knowledge is information that when put in a particular environment tends to preserve itself, which means that an elephant is not knowledge since it is not information. Do genes have an epistemology? There are parts of epistemology that are relevant to genes. For example, biological evolution doesn’t copy a genotype unless it can give rise to a phenotype that can make copies of the genotype. If an animal dies without breeding that’s the end of the line for the particular genotype. This implies limits on what sort of knowledge can be instantiated in genes, described in detail under my discussion of limitations on non-explanatory knowledge creation. There is a lot of discussion of these issues in BoI, particularly chapter 4.

          > Yes you have you said they were useless in generating new theories. In the above quote Deutsch disagrees. And I disagree more strongly, but I don’t even know why we are talking about this. It is not as relevant as you think it is.

          If we disagree about how relevant X is, then X is relevant to our disagreement. At most one of us can be right about this.

          > There is a problem here. And I think it is partly because you are very concerned with epistemology. There are two ways something can be called a fact. It can be an objective state of the universe, or it can be the result of a scientific process. I have been talking about objective states of the universe, and you have been talking human reasoning. This may be why there has been little progress in our conversation.

          Morality is about how to make decisions. In other words, morality is about reasoning about what we should do next. So you can’t cleanly separate morality from questions about how to reason.

          > Again you bring up epistemology. Im not talking about epistemology, im talking about objective facts about the physical universe, that people have certain values and motivations that cause their desires. Since reality is the only thing that can cause anything. The only reason people ever feel they ought to do something is because a certain state of their brain has some sort of goal or desire in it. Without goals, there is no reason to favor any ought over any other ought. It is not justificationist, it a psychological explanation.

          It often happens that a person has two conflicting goals. When this happens, one or both of those goals must be wrong. The only rational way to decide what to do next is to critically discuss those goals. Now it may be the case that people do not often critically discuss their goals. It does not follow from this that a person should not critically discuss his goals. And given the enormous numbers of people who are kill themselves quickly or slowly as a result of such conflicting goals, this ought to be a matter that concerns you.

          >> This is because you’ve put emotions in a separate compartment from other knowledge, rather than seeing them as a slightly different kind of knowledge that can be changed if you know how, and there is a reason to change them.”
          >
          > I don’t want to waste time on this.

          If you don’t want to discuss matters about which we disagree, then stop replying.

          > As I said before, you are wrong empirically unless you interpret me in an insanely literal way. For instance, try change your sexual orientation. And I dont mean behaviorally, I mean emotionally. Good luck! Try to enjoy the taste of feces.

          You don’t seem to be very good at reading comprehension. I said you can change your preferences if there is a reason to do so. Unless you think some sexual preferences are objectively morally worse than others, then there is no reason why a person can or should change such preferences. Likewise for your other suggestion.

          > Maybe it is eventually possible but it certainly isnt easy. Evolution wouldn’t allow us to change our emotions to that degree, and the fact is mostly we cant, besides a little at the edges. We are more constrained thank you think.

          Biological evolution of humans allows a few trials of new phenotypes with a generation time of more than a decade. You can change your ideas in the light of an argument on a timescale of the order of one second. Biological evolution doesn’t have much of anything to do with the way people deal with their emotions. The real reason why people find it so hard to deal with lots of stuff is that they suck at thinking. This is not particularly surprising: being good at something requires having practice at doing it, and most people have basically no practice and are actively discouraged from practicing. Most children are ordered around and expected not to object or even to ask questions about the instructions they are given. So why would it be surprising that they suck at thinking?

          > What about insects? Do they need an explanation to act on their values?

          Insects don’t have values. They are robots programmed by evolution to make copies of genes, and nothing more. A machine that is constructed in such a way as to perform a particular task need not understand anything about that task or the process by which the knowledge for performing that task was created. An insect is a machine that lacks understanding and motivation.

          > People too, have values and dont have explanations for all of them sometimes they arent sure why they did them. And many like your sex example are merely post-hoc rationalizations of values that they had already. Im sure you will proceed to jump from psychology to epistemology in a confusing way. But dont make that category error.

          A person does need an explanation of how and why he is doing something in order to do it. A person will often lie about his motivation for doing something. That lie might take the form of saying “I don’t know why I did that.” A person may also be mistaken about the connection he imagines between what he intends to accomplish and the actions he is taking. But he has to have a goal and a way of achieving it in mind.

          > Agreed epistemology is important for finding solutions in moral philoosphy. Nevertheless you are again making a category error. Is moral knowledge not founded on the existence of conscious states of creatures? If so please describe why we should be concerned about the ethical issues surrounding the behavior of rocks. Morality PRESUMES conscious creatures, like Icthyology PRESUMES the existence of fish.

          Part of the subject matter of morality involves states of conscious creatures. And without conscious creatures there are no decisions to make and no need for morality. But moral explanations involve many issues other than conscious states. And conscious states are not a foundation from which you can derive everything else about morality.

          > What you are describing is a method of solving problems, not an explanation of morality. This is not how we discuss problems in science, we discuss whether or not the claims that have been made are true or not.

          Morality is about how to live, which in turn means it is about how to solve problems. There are ways to discuss moral ideas as being true or false, which amount to asking questions like: Will doing X actually accomplish goal Y? Is it possible to accomplish goal Y, or does the attempt to do so break the laws of physics, biology, epistemology, economics, etc.?

          >> There is a lot of knowledge that can’t arise without the creation of explanations. For example, knowledge of how atoms behave within microkelvins of absolute zero. And explanatory knowledge can’t arise except by having entities that understand what an explanation is, understand what explanations they hold, have means of gathering information about the world and so on, i.e. – conscious creatures. So even if I thought there was some meaningful measure of well being, this question would pose a false dichotomy.
          >
          > Here you are assuming that knowledge has to be produced by conscious creatures.

          No. Your sentence implies that all knowledge is created by conscious creatures. What I was saying was that a lot of knowledge can only be generated by judging them as explanations, not that all knowledge has this character.

          > This is an empirical question and your position is unlikely to be true. Computers are not conscious, and it is not hard to imagine computers becoming better at solving problems than humans are without them becoming conscious. Either way it is a thought experiment, it doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics. So answer the question? Which universe would you prefer?

          You seem to imagine that you know what would happen under some alternate set of laws of physics without working it out. Without a specific explanation of what sort of laws of physics would give rise to a universal knowledge creator that is not conscious, I don’t see any need to reply to what you say. It’s a bit like somebody who says “Look, I know there’s a load of specific knowledge about the laws of physics that say perpetual motion machines won’t work. But isn’t it conceivable that there might be some imaginable set of laws of physics under which such machines can be built. And isn’t it possible that we are actually living under that conceivable set of laws of physics? So shouldn’t you carefully consider whether I have made a perpetual motion even if I can’t explain how it works?”

          My reason for thinking that universal knowledge creation without explanations is impossible is the following. There is one way to try out an a piece of knowledge without an explanation. The knowledge has to provide a recipe for constructing a device that copies that knowledge in some environment. There is a lot of knowledge that can’t be created along that line since intermediate stages of generating the knowledge require that the knowledge in question should not be able to construct such a device. For example, a lot of knowledge of quantum mechanics had no practical application for a long time, likewise with general relativity. And neither theory contains knowledge about how to make a printing press, which was required for making copies of QM and GR. So QM and GR would both have failed that test. And in fact neither would ever have been developed if judged by that criterion. Rather, they were judged by the standard of whether they could explain the results of experiments, whether they were consistent and so on.

  8. mranon says:

    Epistemic warrant is just jargon for it being more open to falsification and since it is testable or tested it being more likely to be true. or closer to true.

  9. mranon says:

    “I said that knowledge is information that when put in a particular environment tends to preserve itself, which means that an elephant is not knowledge since it is not information”

    You are missing the point of the example. The point is defining a thing through the process creates it is not always a useful way to discuss things.

    “There are parts of epistemology that are relevant to genes”

    This doesn’t answer the question. Do genes have an epistemology?

    “Morality is about how to make decisions. In other words, morality is about reasoning about what we should do next. So you can’t cleanly separate morality from questions about how to reason.”

    This is not what Sam Harris believes. He believes it is about wellbeing. Saying that morality is about reasoning about what we should do next does not refute him it just shows your preference. You will have to show that it is about answering problems rather than conscious wellbeing. Harris does not disagree with the fact that morality entails solving problems about what we should do next, but believes this is secondary. If you believe it is primary, you must show why we should care more about it than wellbeing. Saying morality is about X is not a refutation, its just an opinion. It is true that they morality and problem solving cant be separated but that is also true about physics and problem solving, chess and problem solving, and pretty much every other field. To say that chess is solely about problem solving would be to forget the entire board, the pieces and the rules. It would miss the entire essence of chess. This is true of morality too, yes problem solving is important but not always. Morality does not always ask you to solve problems, but make choices. For example say you desires to make money. You could do this by mugging someone or by getting a job. Both are solutions that are well known, but here morality is more about not hurting someone than solving a problem. If in fact you had a complete science, and every problem was solved then morality would be purely about the choices of whether or not something hurts someone else, not about solving a problem. Im aware that you reject thought experiments, but that is your own idiosyncratic belief that hinders your ability to think. You are alone in this, philosophers use thought experiments constantly.

    “You don’t seem to be very good at reading comprehension. I said you can change your preferences if there is a reason to do so. Unless you think some sexual preferences are objectively morally worse than others, then there is no reason why a person can or should change such preferences. Likewise for your other suggestion.”

    Questioning my reading comprehension abilities and then proceeding to ignore the point of the paragraph is the epitome of irony. The point is, you can’t change whatever you want to. People have had very good reasons to change their sexuality, gays have been persecuted for ages, stoned, burned, and generally ostracized. Yet they didn’t. Alan Turing had good reason to change his sexual preference, yet he did not, and I suspect could not. Homosexuality in terms of preference, not behavior is not a choice, and to think it is shows you are incredibly ignorant of human psychology and evolutionary biology.

    “The real reason why people find it so hard to deal with lots of stuff is that they suck at thinking. ”

    Have you taken classes in college about psychology? Or animal behavior? You seem to be fairly ignorant of the field. What you said is empirically false. There are many good books you could read, I can tell you some if you want to learn. But it is really important that you take your ideas about human nature from falsifiable theories, many of those in philosophy are bad and have been falsified or are not falsifiable. You seem to be unaware of the findings of evolutionary psychology completely.

    “Insects don’t have values. ”

    How do you know? They certainly behave as though they do. Flys seem to value shit. All insects seem to value eating, and all insects seem to value mating. Saying as you did they don’t have motivations is something no biologist that I know of agrees with. I think you may be confused here because you think values are explanations. No one but you goes by that definition, and you would have to show it. Most people think values are things they care about or are motivated to do things for.

    “A person does need an explanation of how and why he is doing something in order to do it. A person will often lie about his motivation for doing something. That lie might take the form of saying “I don’t know why I did that.” A person may also be mistaken about the connection he imagines between what he intends to accomplish and the actions he is taking. But he has to have a goal and a way of achieving it in mind.”

    No, a person does not. Do babies need an explanation for why they suckle? Do you need an explanation for why your knee pops up when a doctor hits it with a hammer. Can you give me an explanation of the physics of your musculature control when you type? People SEEK explanations, but usually have desires first. No one would need to explain hunger if it did not first occur to them that they were hungry or that hunger was a possible. You don’t seem to understand the vital role that emotions play in life. If humans did not have emotions, or they had complete control of them, they would instantly die. They would not be motivated to solve problems related to reproduction or survival. Again a basic understanding of evolutionary psychology especially a fundamental understanding of the function of emotions would help you a lot here. Maybe read Steven Pinkers How the Mind Works.

    “And without conscious creatures there are no decisions to make and no need for morality.”
    That insect you called a robot before does not make decisions? For instance a fly has not decided to run away from my swatting? The fact is the process you use to make decisions is very similar to that of the fly. If you don’t understand this, again read some neuroscience and psychology.

    “But moral explanations involve many issues other than conscious states. And conscious states are not a foundation from which you can derive everything else about morality.”

    Harris’s claim is that you are wrong, that the reason to study non conscious states is because it improves conscious states. You have not disproved this, but you have tried.

    Morality is about how to live, which in turn means it is about how to solve problems. There are ways to discuss moral ideas as being true or false, which amount to asking questions like: Will doing X actually accomplish goal Y? Is it possible to accomplish goal Y, or does the attempt to do so break the laws of physics, biology, epistemology, economics, etc.?

    You could have equally written:
    Morality is about how to live, which in turn means it is about conscious creatures. Because that logically follows as well. You here even assume that it only applies to conscious creatures, for it does not seem to apply to insects in your view. If it is about conscious creatures, the question is WHICH problems are relevant in the target domain? For morality Harris is arguing its solving problems about wellbeing. You have not really addressed his claim once.

    You seem to imagine that you know what would happen under some alternate set of laws of physics without working it out. Without a specific explanation of what sort of laws of physics would give rise to a universal knowledge creator that is not conscious, I don’t see any need to reply to what you say.

    This is just a blatant dodge. First off, I think we have very good reason to believe that you do not have to be conscious to generate knowledge. and that reason comes from computers. Most researchers in AI believe that we can have computers that are not conscious that generate knowledge far more rapidly and better than humans do. So it is not even asking for you to guess about a situation in which the physical laws differ. You have taken the idea that knowledge generating creatures must be conscious as a DOGMA, it has not been proven or demonstrated to be true at all, it is merely a conjecture.
    Second, thought experiments are done by physicists and philosophers daily in which they imagine physical laws that differ. If you are so opposed, i will tell you what the laws of physics are they are precisely the same as those we have in this universe except they allow unconscious beings to solve questions of science explanation and knowledge.
    Watch as you precede to dodge again.

    “My reason for thinking that universal knowledge creation without explanations is impossible is the following.”
    The question isn’t about them not having explanations its about consciousness. Computers that are unconscious could plausibly generate a lot of explanations and knowledge. You are denying this merely because it would force you to answer a thought experiment which makes your account of morality look likely to be false.

    Again nothing In Harris’s account discounts the idea of looking for explanations and for knowledge, or the importance of epistemology. Saying harris doesn’t find these things vital is wrong. They are just not the ONLY thing which seems to be your strange argument. It is like saying astronomy is only about finding explanations, not about stars, galaxies and quasars.

    • >> I said that knowledge is information that when put in a particular environment tends to preserve itself, which means that an elephant is not knowledge since it is not information
      >
      > You are missing the point of the example. The point is defining a thing through the process creates it is not always a useful way to discuss things.

      Biological explanation also requires explanation for the same reason as human knowledge: they are both examples of adaptive complexity. A small change in biological knowledge makes it unsuitable for copying genes. A small change in an idea often makes people unwilling to copy it.

      > This doesn’t answer the question. Do genes have an epistemology?

      Your question is unclear. Genes do not understand epistemology if that is what you’re asking.

      >> Morality is about how to make decisions. In other words, morality is about reasoning about what we should do next. So you can’t cleanly separate morality from questions about how to reason.
      >
      > This is not what Sam Harris believes. He believes it is about wellbeing. Saying that morality is about reasoning about what we should do next does not refute him it just shows your preference. You will have to show that it is about answering problems rather than conscious wellbeing. Harris does not disagree with the fact that morality entails solving problems about what we should do next, but believes this is secondary. If you believe it is primary, you must show why we should care more about it than wellbeing. Saying morality is about X is not a refutation, its just an opinion. If you believe it is primary, you must show why we should care more about it than wellbeing.

      It’s not just an opinion. Solving problems unambiguously makes the person whose problem was solved better off. But there is no way of measuring wellbeing, and so all of Harris’s ideas are totally unchecked and uncheckable speculation. You may say “we can measure it by looking at the brain” or something like that. This claim is false for several reasons. First, brain scanning typically measures averages over fairly large regions of brain, so it is not tracking the fine details of the flow of information between neurons. So you can’t even claim to understand that issue properly in situ. Second, since we have no theory of how exactly the brain instantiates those ideas, it’s difficult to know the exact reason why the brain is lighting up in one way rather than another. Third, there is no particular reason to think thoughts are implemented the same way in every person’s hardware. The brain is capable of universal computation, so there are bound to be lots of different ways in which ideas that appear similar on some level could be implemented.

      Nor is there any reason to think there is any measure of wellbeing. Different people want qualitatively different things. Some people like to go on biology field trips into swamps, some people like doing maths, some people like doing sales. Some people like haute cuisine, some people prefer pie and chips, some people like curry. The only test of whether a person wants X rather than Y is whether, when offered a voluntary choice between X and Y, the person takes X. In general the person prefers X because it solves some problem. Like he might feel bad that his father died of cancer and want to study cancer to try to prevent such problems in the future. That’s not something you can measure against somebody else wanting to do maths because he wants to make lots of money by coming up with better financial models.

      > It is true that they morality and problem solving cant be separated but that is also true about physics and problem solving, chess and problem solving, and pretty much every other field. To say that chess is solely about problem solving would be to forget the entire board, the pieces and the rules. It would miss the entire essence of chess. This is true of morality too, yes problem solving is important but not always. Morality does not always ask you to solve problems, but make choices. For example say you desires to make money. You could do this by mugging someone or by getting a job. Both are solutions that are well known, but here morality is more about not hurting someone than solving a problem.

      You think mugging solve the problem of getting money? You go up to somebody in the street, take out a knife and demand his wallet. If you don’t kill him, he may report the theft to the police. If you do kill him, then the police will be after you for murder. So then you have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life. And of course, there is always the possibility that the person you tackle will be willing and able to defend himself. In addition, the person who you mug would not be inclined to cooperate with you in the future, unless he is an idiot. Another problem with mugging somebody as a way of getting money is the following. If you can’t voluntarily persuade anyone to give you money, then there is a serious problem with your knowledge of how to live. Property rights are not an arbitrary fiat. They were invented to solve problems about how to manage transfers of property from one person to another. Your suggested “solution” of mugging people doesn’t solve many problems, and brings up a whole load of problems. Since it has a problem, it is eliminated as a potential solution.

      >> You don’t seem to be very good at reading comprehension. I said you can change your preferences if there is a reason to do so. Unless you think some sexual preferences are objectively morally worse than others, then there is no reason why a person can or should change such preferences. Likewise for your other suggestion.
      >
      > Questioning my reading comprehension abilities and then proceeding to ignore the point of the paragraph is the epitome of irony. The point is, you can’t change whatever you want to. People have had very good reasons to change their sexuality, gays have been persecuted for ages, stoned, burned, and generally ostracized. Yet they didn’t. Alan Turing had good reason to change his sexual preference, yet he did not, and I suspect could not.

      Alan Turing had a good reason to change his preferences? Really? I thought the British government just threatened him with physical force, and maliciously drove him to suicide. I didn’t know that they actually had an argument refuting the idea that homosexual behaviour is not any better or worse than heterosexual behaviour. I presume there is such an argument because the alternative is that you think a threat of physical violence is a good reason to change your position, i.e. – your position is might makes right. And I wouldn’t attribute that position to you unless you openly say that is your position.

      > Homosexuality in terms of preference, not behavior is not a choice, and to think it is shows you are incredibly ignorant of human psychology and evolutionary biology.

      Evolutionary biology isn’t relevant to homosexuality among humans for reasons I have explained previously, and which you have not answered.

      >>The real reason why people find it so hard to deal with lots of stuff is that they suck at thinking.
      >
      > Have you taken classes in college about psychology? Or animal behavior? You seem to be fairly ignorant of the field. What you said is empirically false. There are many good books you could read, I can tell you some if you want to learn. But it is really important that you take your ideas about human nature from falsifiable theories, many of those in philosophy are bad and have been falsified or are not falsifiable. You seem to be unaware of the findings of evolutionary psychology completely.

      I have books written by evolutionary psychologists. Their theories are not falsifiable, since there is no way to tell apart behaviour that evolved by natural selection and culturally transmissible behaviour correlated with genes. For example, if you are short sighted you may wear glasses and there are cultural ideas associated with that which could change your behaviour and that of others. In addition, studies claiming correlations between genes and behaviour in humans are methodologically flawed in many ways, see “The Trouble With Twin Studies” by Jay Joseph.

      >> Insects don’t have values.
      >
      > How do you know? They certainly behave as though they do. Flys seem to value shit.

      Flies do not act as if they value shit. For example, if flies valued shit, then they would be interested in having conversations about to increase the amount of shit in the world. They would join in the global economy and offer to pay for shit. And they would do productive stuff that would make it worthwhile for us to offer to provide them with more shit, e.g. – by selectively breeding cows for shit flies find better than standard cow shit. But flies do none of this. Rather, flies are little robots that are programmed to sense certain chemicals that emanate from shit and fly in the direction in which they increase and then eat stuff that matches some set of chemical specifications, or something like that.

      You talk elsewhere about flies moving away from fly swatters as an example of decision making. This is not making a decision, it is enacting a program that can’t create new knowledge and so can’t make decisions. The fly does not and cannot carefully consider whether moving away from fly swatters is a good policy. A person can reconsider any proposed policy.

      >> A person does need an explanation of how and why he is doing something in order to do it. A person will often lie about his motivation for doing something. That lie might take the form of saying “I don’t know why I did that.” A person may also be mistaken about the connection he imagines between what he intends to accomplish and the actions he is taking. But he has to have a goal and a way of achieving it in mind.
      >
      > No, a person does not. Do babies need an explanation for why they suckle?

      I would guess so, though it’s kinda difficult to tell as they can’t speak. Some babies refuse to suckle for all sorts of reasons, e.g. – they don’t like the mother’s perfume. So babies do reconsider the policy of suckling on some occasions. So they are capable of understanding what’s going on at some level and refusing to suckle.

      > Do you need an explanation for why your knee pops up when a doctor hits it with a hammer.

      That’s not under my control. I can’t enact a preference about whether to move my knee or not when the doctor hits it.

      > Can you give me an explanation of the physics of your musculature control when you type?

      I can explain why I want to type. I can change my typing to improve it. The implementation details are not currently very relevant to my preferences. They might become so if I develop RSI or something like that in which case I might learn about how the relevant muscles work.

      > People SEEK explanations, but usually have desires first. No one would need to explain hunger if it did not first occur to them that they were hungry or that hunger was a possible.

      If a person wants to eat, then there is some reason he wants to eat. That explanation might be as simple as I’m hungry, or it might be something else.

      > You don’t seem to understand the vital role that emotions play in life. If humans did not have emotions, or they had complete control of them, they would instantly die. They would not be motivated to solve problems related to reproduction or survival. Again a basic understanding of evolutionary psychology especially a fundamental understanding of the function of emotions would help you a lot here. Maybe read Steven Pinkers How the Mind Works.

      My position was that people could change their emotions if they had a reason to do so. And people often do change their emotions when they have a reason to do so that stands up to criticism. For example, some people go on hunger strike. Other people choose to commit suicide by not eating.

      >> You seem to imagine that you know what would happen under some alternate set of laws of physics without working it out. Without a specific explanation of what sort of laws of physics would give rise to a universal knowledge creator that is not conscious, I don’t see any need to reply to what you say.
      >
      > This is just a blatant dodge. First off, I think we have very good reason to believe that you do not have to be conscious to generate knowledge. and that reason comes from computers. Most researchers in AI believe that we can have computers that are not conscious that generate knowledge far more rapidly and better than humans do. So it is not even asking for you to guess about a situation in which the physical laws differ. You have taken the idea that knowledge generating creatures must be conscious as a DOGMA, it has not been proven or demonstrated to be true at all, it is merely a conjecture.

      No.I have already said that evolution generates knowledge, which contradicts your assertion that only conscious creatures create knowledge. What I have said is that explanatory knowledge can’t be generated except by creatures aware of the content of explanations. Are you going to engage with my actual position or ignore it?

      > Second, thought experiments are done by physicists and philosophers daily in which they imagine physical laws that differ. If you are so opposed, i will tell you what the laws of physics are they are precisely the same as those we have in this universe except they allow unconscious beings to solve questions of science explanation and knowledge.
      Watch as you precede to dodge again.

      Yes, physicists sometimes try to imagine physical laws that differ and work out their consequences. They don’t just say “Well, maybe there’s some set of laws of physics in which X is true”. They actually work out what would happen if X were true. And they do so in detail. For example, there is a literature on what would happen if the speed of light changed over time in cosmology. But no physicist worth his salt would say the laws we currently have are wrong and refuse to provide any details.

      Philosophy thought experiments are sometimes okay, but they very often do what you’re doing. That is, they say something or other is true, but don’t work out all the consequences of that assertion. For an example see https://conjecturesandrefutations.com/2015/03/28/philosophical-thought-experiments/.

      > Again nothing In Harris’s account discounts the idea of looking for explanations and for knowledge, or the importance of epistemology. Saying harris doesn’t find these things vital is wrong. They are just not the ONLY thing which seems to be your strange argument. It is like saying astronomy is only about finding explanations, not about stars, galaxies and quasars.

      I didn’t say that they are the only thing. I do say there is no measure of wellbeing.

  10. mranon says:

    Im sorry, I have tried but we are just too far apart for it to be worth either of our time to have this discussion. If you would be so kind, please permanently delete my comments.

  11. mranon says:

    By comments I mean every single comment I have made.

    • Why? You don’t think anybody could learn anything by reading the discussion?

    • Also, you have learned more than you seem to think. For example, you have a fundamental disagreement with me and I think with DD on epistemology. If you think what I said about evolution creating knowledge is wrong, then you disagree with BoI chapter 4. In addition, you are hunting for a foundation for morality, and looking for foundations is wrong headed for reasons explained in FoR and BoI. It follows from this either you are wrong, or DD and I are wrong, or both. I would advise you not to paper over this and try to forget it. The way to improve is to understand different ideas than the ones you currently have and either adopt or refute them. You cannot expect to improve without doing that sort of thinking. Why would you want to destroy records of this progress that you could read over later to try to understand the issues better?

  12. mranon says:

    I was unaware that I couldn’t delete my own comments. I did not feel I learned anything nor the argument was useful, we weren’t even talking about the same things. I’d prefer my comments or my name was deleted.

  13. mranon says:

    I have requested you delete my comments. It is not polite or caring to share my ideas without my consent. Please delete all of my comments.

  14. the idiot, Jason Silverman, @jasosilver, https://twitter.com/jasosilver , outed himself[1] on Twitter after begging to have the discussion anonymized.

    if it was my blog, i don’t think i would have anonymized it. i think Alan made a mistake there. why edit what’s posted?

    he tried to use this discussion – which he wanted deleted, and which I didn’t participate in – as his example of having previously made a serious attempt to discuss and reason with me (to excuse his refusal to discuss his current false ideas today – which for some reason he approached me about even though he didn’t want to discuss). in the discussion here, Jason opens with a flame against Alan’s post (“abysmal”), and continues with a variety of other flames, e.g. about cool aid and Rand’s sex life.

    in a moment of letting his guard down, he even admitted “I’d rather just make fun of Rand”.

    it’s interesting and important how broken people are. what’s to be done?

    [1] https://twitter.com/jasosilver/status/760293310883782656

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