Friday, August 18, 2006


Polical Debate III

Since we are getting along in comments once again, I figured we could shift over to a new post.

Quick points:

Travis agreed with Nathan
Student is seeking some rent
Jenna is going with her gut

Okay, now that we are all on the same page, let us continue the discussion with the following comments:

I appreciate a good Cost/Benefit Analysis and empirical research. Although they are both flawed in various ways, I appreciate the attempts to explain the world around us. Empirical research can never explain causality and is too technical to reach a significant audience. CBAs are overly simplistic and really serve no other purpose than to provide direction in political decision-making. Even with that said, they are both attempts to measure and interpret events and actions in some objective fashion.

They are not perfect, and I do not expect perfection, but I do appreciate the attempt.

Have at it...


I agree 100% with your point on CBAs and empirical research.
Add to the list that Nathan agreed with Student, particularly in his last comment to Travis, whom I was having trouble coming up with a decent response to.

We all take certain things as "given." Student questions those assumptions. So do I.

I have come to terms with my assumptions upon the crutch of revelation.

Can we all confess our crutches?

Does having a crutch make us "weak."

No, because everyone has one.

Haha well thanks Nathan.
Personally, I would like to see a better proof than Rothbard's that the right to life, liberty, and property are in fact inescapable truths dictated by the nature of man.

I agree that his argument is lacking. It would hold true even if 99% of the population committed suicide since none of them would exist any longer to argue that life is bad.

But I feel like we have not even agreed on some fundamentals such as:
1. There is an objective moral truth.
2. That truth applies to all humans at all times.

Maybe then we can move on and try to figure out the proof.
I dunno if there is objective moral truth.

Aye. Personally, I'm not sure if there are objective answers to moral questions.

The best book I've found on the subject is Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity by Judith Jarvis Thomson and Gilbert Herman.

It presents probably the best recent arguments I've seen for both moral relativism (by Harman) and moral objecitivty (by Thomson).

Originally I read the book trying to find foundations for my already established belief that there were objective moral truths, but the more I read and think on the matter I'm not sure I was right.

What are morals anyways? Some sort of characteristic or feature like color? If so, why can't we see/hear/touch/smell them? Do we have a moral 6th sense that allows us to observe moral truths? If so, how do we settle moral disagreements (i.e. how do we know who has the best "moral sense")?

It all sounds very mystical to me.

A different approach might be to approach morals as being derived from our emotions (or sentiments). This is the approach taken by David Hume and his friend Adam Smith.

For a quasi-brief explaination of their moral philosophies see below:

Click here

Click here

Now, I'm not convinced either way, yet. But I think Hume and Smith have a reasonable start.
Now, my problem with my statements in the above posting is that many individuals use CBAs and empirical research as "proof" rather than as an aid in argument.

I think in government, policy, news, and in many areas of research this tends to happen.

I agree. Too often, people look at a single empirical and study and say "welp, that's that".

A single empirical study never "proves" anything. Even a collection of studies can only point us in the direction of the truth.

This is the frustrating thing about science. The most important questions are empirical in nature, but our means at answering them (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) are finite and imperfect.

If there is anything a scientific education should provide, it's that certainty will always elude you. There's nothing wrong with a little humility.
I agree, and see a parallel with "moving towards certainty" and "moving towards equilibrium." I doubt we will ever get to either, but arrival is not the point. (ha!) The process is what is important. Tweak the process and leave ends to themselves.
Even if there aren't many objective moral truths, can't we agree on some?

For example, a right to life? Is this fundamental? If not, why?

I, for one, believe there is an objective moral truth and that this truth applies to all humans at all times.

I also think that objective moral truth status should also be extended to include "self-ownership," but I'm sure I'll see some debate on that one.

What makes you think the right to life is an objective moral truth? it maybe a belief that you hold very strongly, but others do not. So how would you convince them that they are wrong?

If you cannot, what makes you think your taste for the right to life isn't any different than your taste for plumb-pudding or strawberries on crepes?
I don't know how to convince people that they are wrong. That's what we're trying to figure out here. I suppose I could appeal to authority (religion) or use reason. Obviously, it does not necessarily work.

But, just because people don't believe, doesn't mean it's not a moral truth.

Ex: Even if you very strongly believe that there is no gravity, you will still die if you jump out of a plane without a parachute.

Similarly, if the "killing is wrong" is a moral absolute, it's still absolute whether you're Mother Theresa or the Unabomber.

P.S. Plum Pudding, not Plumb Pudding. The latter sounds like a sewage problem.

Damn it! I knew I should have googled it. I've never had plum pudding. I just thought the sentence sounded cool, like something G.K. Chesterton would say. He wasn't a moral relativist, but he could write really well (I'm re-reading his "man who was thursday"). Oh well. So much for that idea.

Anyways, you're right that believeing something doesn't make it true. I was only framing the question in a way that I think gets at the heart of the matter. If moral truths are objective and derived from reason, then we should be able to convince any reasonable person that our moral code is correct.
Yeah...instead of blogging, I should be reading Ethics of Liberty right now, but I'm being really lazy.

After I've read more, maybe I'll be able to convince you. I've got my fingers crossed.
"Even if there aren't many objective moral truths, can't we agree on some?"
We can agree on any that we want to. The ones we agree on should be all that we base our civil law upon.

Gravity always seems to "fall" into these arguments. (Ha!)

G.K. Chesterton: I was looking for a quote from him for this thread earlier today, couldn't find it. The gist was that sometimes the most practical man to have around is someone who is completely impractical. IOW: The guy who works the lever on the machine may have very little understanding of how the machine operates. The engineer does. But it is impractical to have the engineer working the machine. When it breaks down, we need the impractical guy to fix it.

We should all spend our time teaching ourselves as much as we can about liberty. This is what will change the world. - To paraphrase Leanard Read.


I look forward to it. :)

I am also working my way through the Ethics of Liberty, so I'm sure we;ll have a lot to discuss.
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