Alan makes an Earnest
attempt to respond to my Ethical Trilemmas
, but I fear I’m not quite following him (and worry that he’s not quite ‘getting’ me). He did helpfully update his post with this clarification:
As I reflect on what I wrote, I fear I may have given a wrong impression about the importance of ethical behavior. I do value such behavior highly; when I described ethical systems providing guidelines rather than obligations, my intent was to focus on how those systems can help me choose what to do to satisfy my values, as well as help me evaluate the choices of others. This distinction also recognizes that an “ought” is not a “can’t help but”; that is, that alternative actions are possible, which is therefore consistent with allowing multiple ethical systems to inform decisions.
The more I ponder this, though, the less sure I am that I understand what he means. [Read more] for my stumbling attempts at asking clarifying questions…
First of all, I do accept Alan’s quibble that:
* Ernie is comparing the “transcendent mathematical nature of the universe” to a “transcendent moral purpose for the universe”. Why not the “transcendent moral nature” —
Fair enough. If we can ever reach agreement that there is a moral nature to the universe, then presumably we can start trying to characterize it and determine whether there is anything that qualifies as “purpose.”
However, before that I think we need to go back to our foundational statement:
I. “Belief in Truth is inherently Good.”
Even though we both affirm this, I am beginning to suspect we have very different understandings of what that means. To help address that suspicion, let me ask Alan a few (hopefully simple) questions:
a) Do you consider (I) a statement about objective reality, or of personal preference?
To use our earlier terminology, is this (i) a “real” statement which is objectively true or false, or is it merely (ii) an “imaginary” statement whose truth-value is dependent on the speaker?
b) Why do you believe (I) is true?
In particular, is this (i) a non-continent (“religious”) belief, or a (ii) empirically-motivated (“scientific”) belief?
c) How universally do you think this statement holds?
Do you consider it (i) a foundational statement, which is necessarily true everywhere, or (ii) a contextual statement, that is only true in certain circumstances?
d) How strongly do you believe in (I)?
Is this (i) something you’d bet your life on, (ii) merely an abstract proposition with no real-world consequences, or (iii) somewhere in between. If (iii), then how much would you bet on it?
e) How does (I) relate to alternate statements, such as:
* II. The Pursuit of Happiness is inherently Good
* III. Helping Others is inherently Good
Are these three statements (i) inherently consistent, (ii) occasionally overlapping, but often in conflict or (iii) utterly incommensurate?
As you might have noticed, I placed my preference first, and where I suspect you might stand last. However, as mentioned before, I honestly don’t know your position on these matters, or even whether you think these questions (or the suggested answers) well-formed. So, I hope you will forgive the pedantic nature of this inquiry and use it as a template for clarifying the points raised in whatever manner you deem most effective.
— Ernie P.