Title: Anti-Morality, Truth And Peace: Beyond Kant And Others — A New Theory.
(Replacing Moral Philosophy, And Morality Or Ethics, With
An Epistemic, Science-Based Theory.)
Key Words: Moral, Philosophy, Ethics, Epistemology, Science, Skepticism, Scepticism, Rationality.
Author: Kym Farrand, 2004.
(Philosophy Department, Flinders University, South Australia)
DEAR READERS: After reading “Anti-morality” on this website, you may be interested in the following possibly applicable note:- The whole book might not fit on this website. This site’s software may have replaced colons, quote marks and maybe other text with symbols such as â€™. Footnotes/endnotes and/or italics might not visible. (This sentence should be in italics, with either a footnote or endnote here: .) Footnotes/endnotes discuss some points further. Italics can make sentences more obviously meaningful. You can see italics, footnotes/endnotes and all the book, with no symbol-replacements, via:-
I’ve tried to keep the book clear, simple and short enough to appeal to undergraduate students. And at least the gist of it should be understandable by persons with a reasonable general education but no previous experience of formal philosophy.
The book is somewhat written at two levels. The whole book should suit students in their second and subsequent years at university. The other level is more elementary. Here, a few chapters and sections are designated as optional, i.e., they can be ignored by readers only wanting a mostly positive discussion which is as simple as is possible, consistent with not oversimplifying. Footnotes can also be ignored by such readers, unless they want further explanation of a point made in the main body of the text, and because the footnotes often raise complex issues (or give references regarding such issues).
Any unfamiliar terms and ideas in this Introduction are further explained, in an elementary way, soon after it.
The book investigates whether we can have an epistemically justifiable moral theory. That is, can we have a moral theory we can know is justified? (‘Epistemics’, or epistemology, concerns what and how we can know.) If a theory is not epistemically justifiable, what is it? (‘1+2=7’ is not epistemically justifiable: it is not knowledge What do we think of such statements? We think they are false, or wrong, i.e., unjustifiable. What would we be doing if we based our lives or any practices on them? We would be doing something unjustifiable.)
I argue that it seems likely there is an epistemically justifiable theory concerning how one should live — but that it is not a moral theory. That is, it has no moral concepts in its foundation. It is a theory discoverable by investigating what ‘epistemically justifiable’ means, and looking at the implications of that. Its foundation consists entirely of epistemically-based concepts.
The negative aspect of this book is its anti-moral argument. It argues that all existing moral theories are too problematic. This is largely because no moral theory can be known to be true or close to the truth. That is, they are all epistemically unjustifiable:-
Quine & Ullian point out that to believe a statement, S, is to believe that S is true. (To ‘true’ I often add ‘or close to the truth’. The reasons for this are explained soon.) What else could ‘believe’ mean? (E.g., to believe S is false is to disbelieve S.) So a justified belief is a belief which has been justified as true or close to the truth. That is, a justified belief is knowledge, namely a justified true (or close to true) belief.
Thence, if someone believes a moral theory, they believe that the theory is true or close to the truth. If the theory is also justified, namely via evidence, then the theory is known to be true or close to truth. That is, ‘justified’ really means ‘epistemically justified’, i.e., known to be true or close to the truth. This equivalence is often implicit or not fully recognised. In sum, epistemic justifiability is, at least implicitly, basic or crucial regarding moral theory , or regarding belief in a moral theory.
This book makes that equivalence explicit, and develops the in-part unrecognised implications of this. Epistemic justifiability is the main focus of this book. That is, it asks, ‘What evidence is there for the theories people live by?’
This focus involves what Socrates said is the most important issue regarding our lives, namely ‘How should one live?’. So, plausibly, the most important issue for us in life involves the epistemic justifiability of what we do — in what can be called the ‘how-should-one-live sphere’.
I’ll use that term to include what has traditionally been called the moral (or ethical) sphere. However, as this book rejects moral theories, seeing them as epistemically unjustifiable, I’ll call that sphere the ‘so-called moral sphere’ — and suggest replacing that term with ‘the how-should-one-live sphere’, or, because it concerns all intended practices, ‘the practical sphere’.
The book’s main body starts with the negative, anti-moral argument. However, the book is mostly positive: it later argues for a way out of the problems discovered by that negative investigation.
To defend in detail the book’s negative criticisms regarding all existing moral theories would take far longer and be more complex than the book should be. Many skeptics, taken as a group, have already criticised all moral theories in devastating detail. Or, equivalently, the holder of moral theory T1 has devastatingly criticised other theories, and the holder of one of those theories has devastatingly criticised T1 and other theories; and so on, across the whole range of theories. (Here, writers such as Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Hegel, Bernard Williams, Alisdair MacIntyre, John Mackie, Kant, Elizabeth Anscombe, John Rawls and James Rachels can be referred to for detailed criticisms .) Some criticisms are implausible, but overall there seems to be sufficient points made against each moral theory to conclude that all are too problematic.
So there’s no need to repeat the attacks on all existing theories in detail here. For the purposes of the book, some attacks below are detailed. Others are not, because they are not so relevant to those purposes, or detailed criticisms made below can be adapted to apply to them.
Below there are representative explicit criticisms of non-Kantian theories, and there is much implicit criticism of them. Kant’s theory is discussed in some detail. Kant is used partly as a case study of the problems with all moral theories, and partly because he supplies effective criticisms of various alternative theories. So, in discussing Kant, representative explicit or implicit criticisms of other theories will be made.
The concentration on Kant is mainly because some aspects of his theory, and criticisms of other aspects, suggest how it might be revised so as to solve all epistemic problems with moral theories as far as is practicable — namely by rejecting and replacing moral theories.
Those revisions give us a new theory, unrecognisable as Kantian, applicable to what is normally seen as the so-called moral sphere. (This sphere obviously concerns acts such as murder, lying, selfishness and sex, but can also be defined broadly enough to include areas such as politics, law and economics. Also, where the authority or basis for a moral theory is believed to be religious, biological or whatever, those religious etc beliefs can be included in the sphere.) The new theory is also applicable beyond that sphere. The new theory is holistic. That is, it concerns all intended practices, e.g., in science, art, politics and sport, as well as in what is traditionally often seen as the moral sphere. The sphere covered by this theory is the broadest possible ‘how-should-one-live’ or ‘practical’ sphere.
So a more accurate term for the new theory is ‘a holistic practical theory’. This theory will be contrasted with moral theories. Only the former, I’ll argue, is epistemically justifiable.
Kant sometimes calls his theory concerning the so-called moral sphere, a ‘practical theory’. This is partly why I’m using the term ‘practical’ for the new theory, as his theory is partly based on a principle applicable beyond what is traditionally called the moral sphere. Yet Kant’s theory is not a holistic practical theory of the type discussed below. Kant does not go far enough, I’ll argue — not far enough to be epistemically justifiable. His theory is a mix of (1) what has traditionally been called a ‘moral theory’ and (2) epistemic ideas applicable outside of any such moral theory. (2) gives us scope to develop further those ideas, to help give us the holistic epistemic practical theory advocated below.
In this book, terms such as ‘moral theory’ will mean a prescriptive theory based at least partly on some moral concept(s). Moral concepts include: fairness, justice, freedom, selfishness, power, patriotism, virtue, well-being, happiness, equality and Kant’s ‘respect for persons’.
That holistic epistemic practical theory is not based on any moral concept. So, via the above definitions, it is not a moral theory.
Next, Part I’s attacks on all moral theories. Then, Part II will argue that moral theories can be replaced by an epistemically justifiable theory. (For readers primarily interested in the positive arguments, or the new theory, or readers only wanting a mostly positive discussion which is as simple as is reasonable, Part I could be ignored — except for Part I, Chapter I, Section 1. Part II, along with that section, stands on its own sufficiently for it to be understandable. Similarly, for readers not interested in the concentrated discussion of Kant, the discussion of non-Kantian theories implies sufficient criticisms of Kant’s moral concepts, and for such readers or readers only wanting a mostly positive but somewhat negative discussion which is as simple as is consistent with not oversimplifying — Part I’s chapters/sections with titles stating they concern Kant can be ignored, except that, for readers interested in criticisms of moral theories in general, Part I, Chapter 3, Section 1 gives some such criticisms as made by Kant. That section tends not to discuss Kant’s theory as such, or presuppose knowledge of Kant’s theory. The theory argued for in Part II was originally developed independently of Kant, and can be understood without any knowledge of Kant.)
PART I: EPISTEMIC PROBLEMS WITH MORAL THEORIES: NO THEORY CAN BE KNOWN TO BE TRUE OR CLOSE TO TRUTH.
PART I, CHAPTER 1: GENERAL EPISTEMIC PROBLEMS WITH NON-KANTIAN
THEORIES — A PRELIMINARY DISCUSSION.
PART I, CHAPTER 1, Section 1: Knowledge, The Moral Regress And Problematic Circularity.
The Introduction implied that skepticism or nihilism is appropriate regarding moral theories and, hence, moral values and concepts. This chapter supports that suggestion by arguing that all moral theories involve an epistemically problematic regress, or an attempt to stop the regress via an epistemically problematic circular assertion. This needs more explanation. Firstly here, ‘X is epistemically problematic’ means X has a problem concerning knowledge:-
E.g., X could be the statement, ‘It is true that the sun goes round Earth’. An epistemic problem here is that X claims to be knowledge, but X is not knowledge. We cannot know X is true or close to truth.
If Y is epistemically justifiable, only then is Y knowledge or so close to truth that it would be epistemically unreasonable to doubt it. E.g., Y could be ‘Earth goes round the sun’. There is so much evidence for this that anyone knowing the evidence would be unreasonable to doubt it. If some statement, S, is not knowledge, it is epistemically justifiable to be skeptical or nihilistic about S. (Skepticism is justified if there is insufficient or no evidence to either confirm or disconfirm S. Nihilism is justified if there is sufficient evidence to prove S wrong.)
By ‘knowledge’ I mean ‘justified, true belief’, namely belief which is true and justified by sufficient evidence. It is not enough to just believe. Centuries ago, when most believed the sun orbits the Earth, this did not make it true that the sun orbits the Earth. And if a belief is true or close to truth, this is not enough to make the belief knowledge. A prehistoric cave-dweller may have believed that humans would invent a way to fly, but because planes and similar had not been invented in prehistoric times, that person did not know that. This is because that person had no evidence. It is (sufficient) evidence which justifies a true belief for us, making it knowledge. Similarly, consider someone today (2004) who believes there are billions of planets on which there is life, in each galaxy. It may be true. Let’s suppose it is. But we do not yet know it is true, because we do not have any evidence (justification) that it is true. We might find evidence of life on some nearby planet(s). But, if we do, this is not evidence that there is now life on billions of other distant planets. We cannot yet observe any such evidence. We lack the resources to investigate.
The definition of knowledge as justified true belief is widely accepted among scientists and philosophers, but as a somewhat loose or slightly vague (though useful and meaningful) definition. There is some controversy. E.g., there is some uncertainty concerning how much evidence is sufficient. (E.g., in previous centuries most believed that standing on Earth and seeing the sun (apparently) moving round oneself from East to West was sufficient evidence that it is true that the sun orbits Earth.)
The type of knowledge this book is primarily concerned with is ‘practicable’ or ‘sufficiently practicable’ knowledge . This is discussed further in later chapters, after a suitable context has been developed. The present chapter is only a preliminary discussion, and this book is primarily intended for undergraduate students of morality. So, for now, as with defining ‘knowledge’ as ‘true, justified belief’, I’ll “paint with broad strokes” instead of in detail. What then, broadly speaking, is ‘practicable knowledge’?:-
We can reliably or predictably practice many things. To the degree we can accurately do this, to that degree we have ‘sufficiently practicable knowledge’. Here we are to that degree close enough to truth for our practical purposes. E.g., we can have sufficient knowledge to fairly reliably do such very difficult things as control diabetes and land spacecrafts on the moon. When we can predict a moon-landing on the basis of a scientific theory, and the predictions are reliably confirmed, the theory is, for the practical purpose of a moon landing, epistemically justified or unproblematic . Here too, the definition I’m using of ‘knowledge’ or ‘epistemically justified’ is somewhat loose or approximate, in that it can include the notion ‘close to the truth’. Here, we can plausibly said to have (sufficient practicable) knowledge if a spacecraft lands ‘sufficiently’ close to the point predicted by the theory used — namely sufficiently close so there is no impracticability regarding what the scientists aim to achieve, e.g., to collect certain types of moon rocks. So a theory might not be exactly confirmed in that the spacecraft lands, say, 30 metres from where the theory predicts. But this error of far less than 1 percent over the distance from Earth to the moon means that for practical purposes the theory used is sufficiently close to the truth. Here we have sufficiently justified (evidenced), sufficiently true belief, i.e., sufficiently practicable knowledge. The evidence justifying the physics theory used to direct the spacecrafts includes the fact that the spacecrafts reliably land sufficiently close to where the theory predicts. So the theory is knowledge.
That is temporarily enough discussion of what I mean by ‘(practicable) knowledge’, ‘epistemically justifiable’ and related notions. The next paragraph begins an application of such notions to moral theories. Again, the above discussion of those notions is a simplification. They are explained further in various contexts below.
The first application of that discussion of knowledge is the following discussion of an epistemically problematic moral regress:-
When someone states that something, e.g., not murdering, is valued by their moral theory, we can ask, “How do you know?”. (Or, equivalently, “What evidence do you have for this?”) If they try to justify their statement, we can ask the same of their alleged justification — and so on, never reaching a fundamental premise which is epistemically unproblematic or knowledge. That is, ‘regress’ means something like ‘moving backwards or down’. Here we move from a moral argument’s conclusion, e.g., ‘Don’t murder’, down to its foundation, the fundamental premise of the argument or theory. Consider the following regress:-
Suppose Frank states, “Jones was wrong to murder Harrison”. You say to Frank, “How do you know?” The next step in the regress is Frank’s answer: “Because no-one ought to murder”. You ask, “How do you know?”. Frank answers, “Because murder takes away a person’s right to life”. Here Frank can try to stop the regress by making a fundamental claim. Suppose he claims there is a fundamental right to life. That is, he has regressed to what he believes is the foundation for all his other, previously-mentioned claims concerning murder. This is his basic reason for not murdering. Yet here too you ask, “How do you know persons have a right to life?”. Frank might say, “We are born with such rights”. This is just a way of re-stating, ‘Persons have a right to life’. So this and any other repetition takes him no further. You can enquire “How do you know?”. Here, or at some other equivalent point in the regress, Frank will simply say something like: “We just do have that right. I just know (or believe) we do.” Here, if you keep asking, “How do you know?”, and Frank answers, you keep getting that same answer, or something equivalent. (Equivalently, you could ask, “If you know this, you must have evidence for it, because knowledge is a belief for which you have sufficient evidence. So please tell me the evidence.”)
In sum, Frank tries to end the regress by merely asserting, without evidence, that there is some firm ground or premise on which to base his moral theory. In that there is no epistemically justifiable way to stop a moral regress, a moral regress is, from an epistemic viewpoint, an infinite regress, i.e., an unstoppable regress. It is only epistemically justifiably stoppable by evidence sufficient to show that the argument or theory is fundamentally based only on knowledge. But with morality, any attempt at an epistemically justifiable stopping point fails. As I’ll argue shortly, the regress descends into an epistemic vacuum.
Various claims other than ‘A right to life’ could be asserted as a reason for not murdering. E.g., ‘Murder takes away the victim’s freedom; we are all fundamentally naturally free, and this ultimate good ought to be preserved.’; and ‘Murder normally makes other people unhappy, including the victim’s relatives and friends; and we should always only do what normally makes most people happiest’. But any such moral claim or argument, namely statements involving a term such as ‘ought’ or ‘should’, is ultimately only an assertion, a belief without evidence. What evidence, what epistemic justification, is there for the claim that we should always only do what normally makes most people happiest? There can be evidence for part of some such argument, but not for the whole argument or its moral foundation and conclusion. E.g., there is ample evidence that, e.g., if solitary psychopaths murder much-loved persons, this on-average makes more people unhappy than it makes happy. But this is a factual issue, a quite different issue from the moral issue of whether we ought to always only do what makes most people happiest . And so on, for all other moral claims concerning murder, and for all moral claims concerning everything else, e.g., sex.
Regarding science, a parallel situation would be, e.g., to assert that some herb will cure disease D, without ever seeking evidence regarding whether the herb can cure D. Or it could be like people widely believing that the herb will cure D, but only because those people would feel happier if the herb cured D. What would make us happy regarding some scientific issue has nothing to do with whether any assertion concerning the issue is true. Such assertions would not be called knowledge. And so on, for all other possible parallels here. In sum, in science’s sphere it is irrational or epistemically questionable to simply assert that a belief is true unless there is sufficient evidence (justification) for the belief.
But why compare science with morality? A moral theorist could say this is inappropriate because the so-called moral sphere is separate from science’s sphere, and that each sphere has its own way to justify theories. However, in the so-called moral sphere, any of countless mutually-conflicting moral theories is (allegedly) justified according to itself . Points mentioned in the Introduction are relevant here:-
To believe something is to believe it is true or close to the truth. What else could ‘believe’ mean? (E.g., to believe S is false is to disbelieve S.) So a justified belief is a belief which has been justified as true or close to the truth – as opposed, e.g., to being (allegedly) justified by some moral standard. That is, a justified belief is knowledge, namely a justified true (or close to true) belief. Thence, if someone believes a moral theory, they believe that the theory is true or close to the truth. If the theory is also justified, then the theory is known to be true or close to truth. That is, ‘justified’ really means ‘epistemically justified’, i.e., known to be true or close to the truth.
Relatedly, because ‘believe’ means ‘believe true’, to believe X inherently means to think that one knows X. (Truth alone is that which we can know. E.g., we cannot know that 1+2 is 7; here we can only know that 1+2 is 3.) And the concept ‘know’ is an epistemic issue. So every moral and other belief is inherently an epistemic issue. That is, every belief’s justifiability inherently and only means its epistemic justifiability. The question, ‘Can this belief, e.g., a moral theory, be justified?’, means ‘Can it be epistemically justified?’.
These concepts are inextricably interrelated, or equivalent. E.g., to believe that a moral theory is justified is to believe it is true that it is justified, that one knows it is justified and hence true. Here the unavoidable issue of epistemic justifiability arises again.
In sum, to coherently investigate the believability of a moral theory can only mean to investigate whether it is epistemically justified. (With this, all believers in a moral theory do at least implicitly believe their theory is epistemically justifiable. This book tries to develop a practical theory which actually is epistemically justifiable, partly by thoroughly and explicitly investigating what ‘epistemically justified’ means. Even if that argument claiming an equivalence between ‘justified’ and ‘epistemically justified’ is not sound, the book can be seen as investigating whether we can have an epistemically justifiable practical theory.)
Now the notion, ‘X is epistemically justified’, is clearly applicable in science’s sphere. So, if a moral theory is to be justified, namely epistemically justified, that scientifically applicable notion must also apply in fundamentally the same way, or an equivalent way, in the so-called moral sphere. Otherwise there would be incoherence or a contradiction, within knowledge as a whole. Yet points above suggest that the notion ‘X is epistemically justified’ cannot be applied to moral theories.
This suggests that moral theories can never coherently be said to be justified. The rest of Part I will argue further that they can never be justified, i.e., in any meaningful, coherent or epistemic sense. They can only be problematically believed to be justified.
Next here, consider the fact that there are mutually-contradictory moral theories, each claiming to be justified. A coherent definition of ‘justified’ includes the notion that if one theory is justified, then theories (or parts of them) conflicting with it are not justified — because of the same evidence. The same evidence confirms that theory and disconfirms any theory conflicting with it — as with modern evidence concerning ‘Earth goes round the sun’ versus ‘The sun goes round Earth’. A theory cannot be justified by evidence or a claim which contradicts the evidence or a claim (allegedly) justifying a conflicting theory. What if mutually-contradictory scientific theories were all justified, or knowledge, in the way that believers in mutually-contradictory moral theories believe their theories are justified? If so, we would know both that the sun orbits Earth, and that Earth orbits the sun. In other words, the alleged ways to justify moral theories are not epistemically justifiable. Those ways are merely beliefs.
Summing up recent points:- They suggest there is an at least indirect epistemic reason to compare attempts at justification in morality with justification in science, and that morality fails here. (But much more needs to be said. It will be later shown that there are other epistemically justifiable reasons for comparing them, and that morality definitely fails.)
An epistemically unquestionable basis or foundation for a moral theory can never be arrived at. A moral theory rests on what its believers only imagine to be firm ground. It rests on nothing substantial at all, or an epistemic vacuum. In other words, they rest on nonsense — as in a extension of Jeremy Bentham’s argument that (alleged) fundamental moral rights are “nonsense on stilts”. That is, moral theories are nonsense parading pretentiously as knowledge or truth. E.g., it is widely believed that there is a right to life, a right to liberty, and so on. Such foundational beliefs are as if they were pulled out of the air — or out of a vacuum, which is of course impossible, because there is nothing in a vacuum. Knowledge is supported by evidence. Moral notions cannot even be epistemically justifiably supported by metaphorical stilts, because such stilts must rest on the firm ground of evidence, not on a vacuum.
With this, arguments above suggest that what believers in a moral theory see as justification of their theory is problematically circular. And if a problematically circular argument can verify one moral theory, then another such circular argument can verify an opposing moral theory. What is problematic circularity?:-
Frank’s fundamental assertion, his (and any) attempt to stop a moral regress, involves problematic circularity. The circularity is due to Frank ultimately only saying that you ought not to murder because you ought not to murder. He claims that we ought not to murder because murder is wrong. But something one believes is morally wrong is something one believes people ought not to do, and vice versa. So all Frank is saying is that murder is wrong because murder is wrong. This is equivalent to saying that most healthy leaves look green because they have something in them which causes them to look green; i.e., they are (caused to look) green because they are (caused to look) green. Or, rain is falling because water is falling from clouds in drops; i.e., rain is falling because rain is falling. This is meaningless in that it is only repetition. It explains and justifies nothing.
The form of that argument is circular, i.e., it states that C is D because C is D, or that X is X because X is X. The meaninglessness here regarding justifying a moral claim means that here there is an epistemic vacuum. Using the same circular form, we can validly say, e.g., that red is 4 because red is 4, leaves are normally blue because leaves are normally blue, the moon is marshmallow because the moon is marshmallow, and so on. If such a circular argument can justify murder being wrong, it can justify anything, including the opposite: ‘Murder is right because murder is right’.
Another way of showing that such circular arguments are epistemically problematic is to show they involve ‘begging the question’. If Frank begs the question, the argument he uses to allegedly prove X assumes that X is already proven. It uses a statement as the alleged evidence for the statement. X is believed to be the evidence for X, for itself. A non-analytic statement , such as ‘Murder is wrong’ or ‘Murder is right’, is epistemically justified only if there is sufficient evidence for it outside of the statement, e.g., in publicly observable reality. That is, empirical evidence, or an argument soundly based on such evidence, can justify the premise or foundation of an argument. E.g., the evidence for why healthy leaves tend to be green relates to the well-evidenced fact that evolution tends to select those chemicals which are most useful regarding survival-necessary events in plant physiology, namely, here, photosynthesis and related events. We can observe that it is (close to) the truth that the most useful chemicals here look green . We cannot do anything like this for any moral statement, e.g., ‘Murder is wrong’, ‘Murder is right’ or ‘There is a right to life’.
In sum, a problematic regress is unavoidable regarding moral theory because any attempt to stop a regress here fails due to the attempt involving mere assertions, without evidence, and the assertions involve a circularity which is problematic because it involves begging the question. There is an epistemic vacuum here.
Another way of describing morality’s problems here is:-
An act, X, can be believed to be justified because it comes under some theory, T, which advocates some value or concept, V. E.g., Joseph can believe that the act ‘Freely express your opinion whenever you like’ is justified because he believes in a moral theory which values (his) freedom above all else. But, instead of that particular X, and that value, (i.e., freedom,) innumerable other, mutually conflicting acts and values or concepts can be substituted for X and V. Every possible moral theory can thereby be covered. Joseph believes his X is justified. But this only means he at least implicitly thinks X is justified relative to V.
A different X, e.g., ‘Say only what will not hurt someone’, can be believed justified because it comes under V1, ‘Never hurt a person’. And ‘Say only what is true’ can be believed justified because it comes under V2, ‘Always be honest’. The latter two Xs (and hence Vs) can conflict with Joseph’s ‘total free speech’ X (and V). (Joseph’s false opinion concerning Sally, e.g., ‘Sally is a child molester’, can hurt Sally. A true statement, coming under V2, e.g., ‘Larry, everyone who knows you dislikes you; they only politely pretend to like you’, can hurt. Under V1, free expression of such honest statements would be believed unjustified.)
A central point here is that any act can appear justified, relative to some evaluative standard — and that the epistemic problem here is whether that standard can be epistemically justified. Sharing can appear justified via the standard, ‘fairness’. But can fairness be epistemically justified ? Being (apparently or believed) justifiable relative to some value or standard has nothing to do with whether the standard itself really is epistemically justified. If epistemic justifiability in the so-called moral sphere was achievable relative to some moral standard, we would still be left with the following epistemic problem: which standard, among fairness, selfishness (and hence a type of unfairness), unselfishness, freedom, authority/obedience, honesty, dishonesty, equality, inequality, and so on, is the one we can all know is the true standard? If we cannot know, and it seems we cannot know, then if an act among mutually-conflicting acts is justifiable via or relative to some standard, any act at all is justifiable..
If this was the case in science, the situation would be ridiculous. It would be impossible. It would, e.g., be epistemically justified and practicable knowledge that a stone you let go of a metre above the ground will move towards the ground, towards the sky, go sideways or remain suspended in mid-air. In maths, e.g., ‘1+2’ could truly be 7 or 43, etc, or a dog’s bark, a pancake, and so on. Clearly, epistemic justifiability cannot involve mutually-contradictory things being true or close to the truth.
In the so-called moral sphere, if mutually-conflicting acts or theories are all somehow justifiable, we might as well toss a coin to choose among them. We could not know that just one act or theory among them is justified. We could not know that we should do this rather than that act. (And, often, if we committed one act we believed is as justified as the contrary act, this would rule out the contrary or alternatives to that act. E.g., if Jean murders Jim, this rules out not murdering him.)
So, the epistemic situation regarding morality is as impossible as justification relative to simply any standard would be in science. As Part II will argue further, science has just one ultimate or most general standard, a standard which rules out the justifiability of conflicting theories, via the standard involving observation . E.g., we can observe what happens to stones we let go of. Theories in science are only justifiable relative to that single, ultimate epistemic standard, i.e., relative to sufficient evidence.
A common defence of a morality here is to claim that there is one true standard by which a morality (or act or value) is justifiably assessed, and it is ‘Goodness’, or ‘Right’ . This involves asking, ‘Is the X advocated by this moral theory truly good (or right)?’. Points above imply that this defence has implicitly the same basic problems as the moral arguments discussed above:-
Push the defender here down a regress and all we end up with is a vacuous, problematically circular argument such as ‘X is good because X is good’, ‘X is good because ‘good’ means ‘doing X’, and if one does X this means one is good’, i.e., ‘Good is good’, or ‘We should do X because X is right, and we should do what is right because that which is right is what we should do’, i.e., ‘We should do what we should do’, i.e., ‘Right is right’. In sum, ‘good’ or ‘right’ is at least implicitly merely asserted to be X, and, circularly, vice versa. This again allows X to be contradictory things, e.g., ‘Never abort foetuses’ and ‘Abort foetuses if the mother wishes’. The alleged standard, the abstract term ‘goodness’, or ‘right’, when given specific, practicable definition, ends up being just another relative moral standard among many. With this, as with Frank and the regress above, the defender can ultimately only assert something like ‘X simply is good’, along with an epistemically vacuous answer if you ask, ‘How do you know X is good?’.
(Emotion-based defences of a moral theory, such as ‘X is right because I (or we all normally) feel it is right’, are discussed later, partly via Kant’s criticisms of such theories and defences. Such defences are argued to have the same basic problems discussed in the present chapter. Points in this chapter can be adapted to apply to them.)
Concluding this chapter:-
A moral theory which is (allegedly) justified relative to some standard is a moral theory which is (allegedly) justified via a problematic circular argument. Yet this is all moral theories can do. Hence they are all epistemically problematic. With this, the form of this circular argument, if it could justify, would justify mutually-contradictory acts or theories.
Some circular arguments are not epistemically problematic. This is because any sound argument, i.e., an epistemically justifiable argument, namely with a valid form and true premise(s), contains its conclusion in its premise(s). E.g., consider the sound argument: ‘All plants, to survive, need to photosynthesise. P1 is a plant. Therefore, if you want P1 to survive, ensure it gets sufficient light (and water etc).’ This is circular because P1 in the conclusion also belongs within the notion ‘plants (i.e., P1, P2, etc)’ in the premise. The argument could be restated as ‘P1 and all other plants need light because P1 and all other plants need light’. However, this circularity is not epistemically problematic because there is sufficient evidence outside the statement, ‘All plants need light (if they are to survive)’, for the statement. The evidence is in publicly observable reality. Every observed plant denied light for a certain period has not survived . So that statement is justifiable — relative to the observation and related sound arguments involved in science, i.e., relative to the standard, ‘Sufficient evidence’.
Suppose that an argument, a theory, which is not a moral theory, can solve the problems moral theories have — and be epistemically justifiably applicable in the so-called moral sphere. Suppose this theory is based at least indirectly on the fundamental or most general standard of science. This would surely be a sound practical reason to compare morality with science. This book argues there is such a theory — and that there is a sound argument, and hence necessarily circular argument, but not epistemically problematic argument, which epistemically justifies that standard and the theory based on it.
In sum:- Moral arguments are all unsound: they do not have premises which are true or close to truth. They are not epistemically justifiable. Moral theories are too problematic. Science is epistemically justifiable, and may be able to help here, at least indirectly.
However, much more needs to be said here. This chapter is only making preliminary points. As the book develops, I’ll argue further that there is no evidence for the fundamental premise or basis of any moral theory.
PART I, CHAPTER 1, Section 2: Philosophical And Related Psychological And Social Issues.
The above suggests that, to believe a moral theory is to believe something for which there is no evidence. That is, there is nothing we can know here (except the meta-knowledge that there is nothing we can know here). I’ve argued that this is a major philosophical problem. It is also a major psychological problem and can lead to major problems for societies. (I’m writing this book as a philosopher, psychologist and sociologist.):-
Morality was defined above broadly enough to include all political, legal, economic and similar concepts. So this chapter so far suggests that the foundations of every past and present society’s (political, legal, economic etc) institutions are imaginary. It suggests they are nonsense on stilts, or unsound, and epistemically unjustifiable. This applies to any individual’s socially-acquired moral reasons for actions. This can include such things as someone’s reasons for not murdering, and includes the reasons for a legal system’s prohibition of murder. (Later I’ll argue that murder is unjustifiable, and that a certain type of society is justifiable, though because of reasons (evidence) other than any moral reasons.)
Many societies, regarding some issues, consider people who believe something for which there is no evidence as insane. They are said to be delusional or hallucinating. E.g., a person who believes they see a duck on a chair, when no-one else can, would be considered insane in at least most societies. Yet if most in such a society believe in some moral theory, they tend not to be considered delusional or insane. Because nearly everyone believes some moral theory, it’s usually not seen as psychologically or epistemically problematic. Within a society this is universally so regarding the society’s view of a person who believes the main theory believed in that society. (Something similar applies regarding religious belief.)
The delusion regarding morality is plausibly more severe than insanity regarding something like an imagined duck on a chair. There is at least a possibility that it is true that a duck could be on a chair, because there are real ducks, which can sit on real chairs. But it is not even possible for a morality to be true or known to be true. So the delusion regarding morality is like a delusory belief that chairs can grown wings, become part duck, and fly away. We could see a duck on a chair, but not a flying duck-chair. Seeing morality as based on a firm foundation is a widely-accepted major delusion. Here, the familiar is the strange. That is, the statistically normal is epistemically strange: the commonly-believed is objectively unbelievable.
In sum, again, skepticism or nihilism regarding morality seems appropriate.
This is a major philosophical problem because we must at least implicitly use some action-guiding theory each time we intentionally act. Underlying each intended act or practice, X, there is an at least implicit theory . (This claims either (i) that it is justified to do X rather than Y, so X is a duty; or (ii) that it is justified that X is as permissible as Y, so it’s not unjustified to do X rather than Y. It is impossible to intentionally do something without a reason, because there is at least implicitly the reason that you think you are duty-bound or permitted to do it. And if this is not your fundamental reason, there is an at least implicit fundamental reason or justification for that reason — discoverable via a regress.) A reason for an act is a theory. A philosophical problem here is: if we can only base our intended practices on some moral theory, and all moral theories are unjustifiable, what do we do, and why?
The epistemic appropriateness of moral skepticism or nihilism can also be a major social-psychological problem. This is because widespread moral doubt or nihilism involves people seeing no justifiable reason for anything they or others do. They see only a moral vacuum. This can mean hopelessness, with life seeming pointless. People can despair. It can also mean some thinking there is no reason not to do any act they feel like, e.g., rape. Such views and associated feelings mean that many persons cannot feel at peace, and that society is not at peace.
This book is partly an attempt to deal with those related major problems. (Here, in relation to the previous paragraph’s last sentence, is one reason why the word ‘peace’ is part of the book’s title.) I’ll call the central issue here ‘the moral vacuum problem’. The book is also partly an attempt to persuade all who believe in some moral theory to rationally examine that belief, and to thereby stop believing. That is, I’ll argue that all need to see there is a moral vacuum, and that this is a problem — the solution to which lies outside of moral theory.
To not see there is a moral vacuum will be argued to be another major problem. This I’ll call ‘the problem of moral belief’. This is believing in some moral theory, which means believing without evidence. It means one believes one knows some moral theory to be true or objective, though no-one can have such knowledge.
Another social-psychological problem of moral belief is that countless persons, due to believing in some moral theory, have hated, imprisoned, tortured or killed other persons. When there is war between societies, at least one moral belief tends to be crucially involved. Nazism’s belief that (alleged) Aryans were superior and had the moral duty or right to enslave or kill others is but one example here. Such beliefs are, epistemically speaking, false, i.e., irrational. Psychologically speaking, such beliefs are among the most dangerous sociopathic types of moral and hence delusory beliefs.
If all such beliefs can be shown to lack evidence, this is partly what is needed to solve that problem — ending the potential for such conflicts or war . (This is another reason why the book’s title includes the word ‘peace’.)
Another epistemically-related social-psychological and philosophical problem with moral beliefs is that they tend to be gullibly just taken for granted, via their social source (e.g., parents or a religion) being trusted unquestioningly. In other words, the problem is that there tends to be no individual epistemic autonomy here. That is, each unquestioning believer (1) tends to simply allow some other person(s) to instil the belief in the believer; and (2) does not check for themselves, as a free rational agent, whether there are other, independent, epistemically justifiable reasons for believing. (With this, un-autonomous millions have been willing to obey others’ commands to kill or die for their unquestioned and hence imaginarily firm beliefs.) With that lack of autonomy goes a partial lack of personal responsibility for what one believes and, thence, intentionally does.
In conclusion here:- Human psychology and society involve an epistemically problematic tendency — namely to not reflect critically and sufficiently deeply in certain areas. The so-called moral sphere, in that it involves the question, ‘How should one live?’, is the most important area here. According to many moral beliefs, trust among persons is a worthwhile, justifiable thing. But for persons to blindly trust or be influenced to trust any social (e.g., peer-group) source of a moral belief is epistemically unjustifiable. Epistemic autonomy is epistemically justifiable, because it means seeking independent evidence for beliefs. Never questioning moral beliefs or their sources can lead to conflict among persons and societies, and great suffering. Informed moral disbelief, or a rationally critical anti-moral theory, is an aspect of the epistemic autonomy needed to solve such problems. And epistemic autonomy regarding morality is not very difficult, because one merely needs to conduct an honest enquiry into the social source’s claims, asking whether there is evidence for them. Pushing the source down a regress is useful here. It would soon become clear there is no evidence. Similarly regarding enquiring into any moral beliefs oneself has. (Similarly concerning religion.)
The rest of the book is at the URLs given at the start.
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