I just wanted to know if any of you are Anarchists or Communists. If you are I would like to add you to my friends and ask you to join my Anarchist group. If you aren't either then talk to me anyway so I can make you one. ;)

Tags: Anarchy, Communism

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What you're saying is that you base your ethics on the consequences, rather than any principles or ideals. Your morality, in that case, is completely situational. You would find nothing wrong with lying, cheating, stealing, murder, torture, abuse, or otherwise so long as the end result is "good" in your opinion.

In that case, you would feel justified murdering your neighbour and stealing his possessions in order to better provide for your family. The end result is that your family has a better life. So, killing your neighbour must be moral in your opinion.

I find this philosophy repugnant.
The utilitarian principle is that the correct action is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. Among consequential systems, it is altruistic because it does not permit the interests of the moral agent to be considered to a greater degree than the interests of any other party affected by the action.

It establishes a model for moral reasoning of a scale, comparing in magnitude and extent the benefit against the harm resulting from an action, to all of the people affected by it. There are a lot of nuances to this felicific calculus, but there may very well be cases, even when we know the consequences of an action quite completely, that people may reasonably disagree over which candidate action would lead to the greatest total surplus of benefit over harm. But at least consequentialism forces the disputants to limit the discussion to the only question of moral importance, the actual affect of the action in people’s lives. Since the consequences are real-life phenomena, consequentialism provides an objective basis for moral reasoning.

If one person murders, tortures or abuses another, he causes acute harm. This cannot be balanced by the minor benefit of “providing better” for a family.

Do you maintain that there are times when the moral action will clearly produce greater harm and less benefit to people than an alternative action, which you consider to be less moral? If so it would be interesting to discuss your examples.
I think that the ‘end’ or ‘purpose’ of providing medical care to everyone is a very laudable one, but the decision requires realistically analyzing the risks and likelihood of failure. If the government goes bankrupt and we have in the end a public health crisis, we would have to call it a very bad decision. So, the end does not justify it. But if the consequence of the policy is indeed a dramatic improvement in public health, then it was a good policy. Moral value is determined by consequences.

I disagree, In your example, providing universal healthcare is, as you said, a laudable goal. The goal would remain laudable even if attempt to bring it about failed horribly or made things worse. In that case, just because the end result was not what we wanted, does not make what we wanted bad.
It's just means that our course of action was wrong.

By “Desire Utilitarianism,” I presume that you mean that you consider an act to be good if a person wants good things to result from his action.

Partly yes, but you should read the link I provided for your presumption is misunderstanding it.

I disagree, because I think a person must be responsible for the consequences of his actions. He has to account in his moral calculus not just the value of the intended result, but also the likelihood and consequences of failure.

That is not opposite to someone being good because he wants to bring good about. If someone has false beliefs (i.e they have not taken into consideration the likelihood of success and consequences of their actions) and they did not take steps to remedy their false belief, then they are moraly culpable for that, not for their original good intention.

But we shouldn't get into specifics on morality in this discussion I believe.

I think that strict Act Utilitarianism, basing moral judgment on actual consequences, is the most objective ethical system

I think this link might be what you need: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2006/09/desire-utilitarianism-v...

[...snip...]But I suggest that you read Chapters 1 and 2 of Manifesto.

I've already read the manifesto but I am still not getting where you are getting at with this...

But prior to the invention of slavery, the captives would have been killed. So it doesn’t trouble me terribly to say that slavery was a moral advance.

Perhaps, but it does not make slavery moral.
Db0 wrote on July 23, 2008
In your example, providing universal healthcare is, as you said, a laudable goal. The goal would remain laudable even if attempt to bring it about failed horribly or made things worse. In that case, just because the end result was not what we wanted, does not make what we wanted bad. It's just means that our course of action was wrong.

If the consequence of the policy is government bankruptcy and a public health crisis, then it is a bad policy. You are playing a shell game by evaluating the goal rather than what was accomplished. When deciding a policy, as with deciding an action, we must consider not only what we want to accomplish, but also risks and the likelihood of failure. If it works out badly, as in the example, then the policy was wrong, no matter how laudable its intent.

Just as governments are responsible for the consequences of their policies, people are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Let us suppose someone offers a neighbor child a peanut brickle dessert, and he declines; but, certain that he will like it, she tells him it is something else. The boy has an allergic reaction to the peanuts, and has to be hospitalized, or dies. The woman is not free from responsibility because she thought the child would like the dessert if she didn’t tell him it had peanuts. She is responsible for the consequences of her actions. She may have never considered that he may have an allergy, but her failure to consider that risk is a moral error.

Db0 continued:
(George Kane wrote) I think a person must be responsible for the consequences of his actions. He has to account in his moral calculus not just the value of the intended result, but also the likelihood and consequences of failure.

(Db0 replied) That is not opposite to someone being good because he wants to bring good about. If someone has false beliefs (i.e., they have not taken into consideration the likelihood of success and consequences of their actions) and they did not take steps to remedy their false belief, then they are morally culpable for that, not for their original good intention.


Again, you are confusing the moral evaluation of an action with the evaluation of intent. Admittedly, sometimes people act with the intent of producing harm. This is the consequentialist’s definition of evil. But in most cases, the actions that we have to judge were taken with benevolent intentions.

There are two problems with limiting the moral valuation of an action to its intent, as you propose. The first is that it negates personal responsibility, or more generally, the responsibility of moral agency. It obviates the moral calculus, and excuses harmful actions as long as the person was well-meaning.

If indeed the moral quality of an action lies solely in its intent, then you are wrong to hold a person morally culpable for false beliefs. In Desire Utilitarianism, ignorance is a virtue, since it would permit well-intended action to be unfettered by doubt.

The second problem is that basing moral valuation on intent rather than consequences eliminates the objective basis for ethics. We can only be objective when we limit our consideration to actual consequences in peoples’ lives.

But we shouldn't get into specifics on morality in this discussion I believe.

Db0 continued:
(George Kane wrote) I think that strict Act Utilitarianism, basing moral judgment on actual consequences, is the most objective ethical system

I think this link might be what you need: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2006/09/desire-utilitarianism-v...


I stated the failures of Desire Utilitarianism above. If you have counter-arguments I would like to discuss this in more detail.

Db0 continued:
I've already read the manifesto but I am still not getting where you are getting at with this...

You asked me to elaborate on the claim that the driving force of history is class struggle. I’ve provided a brief exposition of historical materialism.

Db0 continued:
But prior to the invention of slavery, the captives would have been killed. So it doesn’t trouble me terribly to say that slavery was a moral advance.

Perhaps, but it does not make slavery moral.

Since the choice was between killing captives and enslaving them, I would then have to ask if you regard killing them as the morally preferable course.
Wow! You're amazing. You know how the entire history of civilization WOULD have turned out, had slavery not been an option?

How about, maybe people would have learned to cooperate more productively and on a larger scale? How about people would have engaged in earlier technological invention? How about people would have used more efficient tools?
Historical materialism is probably familiar material to most of the participants in this particular discussion folder, Skylar.

Cooperation was the principle productive relationship in primitive communism, which corresponded to the collector-gatherer stage which lasted thousands of years. It was irrigation agriculture which created the conditions in which slave labor was both possible and uncapped undreamed of productivity.
If the consequence of the policy is government bankruptcy and a public health crisis, [...], then the policy was wrong, no matter how laudable its intent.

I agree that when deciding a policy we should consider what we want to accomplish as well as the risks but if one does not consider them, then he is morally culpable for that (not considering). It does not mean that his goal is wrong. Since the goal remains correct people can modify their actions in light of new information and hopefully achieve it.
That does not mean that the person who made it fail because he did not consider all the risks gets to go unpunished.

Just as governments are responsible for the consequences of their policies, people are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Let us suppose someone offers a neighbor child a peanut brickle dessert, and he declines; but, certain that he will like it, she tells him it is something else. The boy has an allergic reaction to the peanuts, and has to be hospitalized, or dies. The woman is not free from responsibility because she thought the child would like the dessert if she didn’t tell him it had peanuts. She is responsible for the consequences of her actions. She may have never considered that he may have an allergy, but her failure to consider that risk is a moral error.

That person would then be moraly responsible for lying, not considering the implication and finally for the damage to the child. Any court of law will recognise the original good intent and reduce the sentence accordingly.

There are two problems with limiting the moral valuation of an action to its intent, as you propose. The first is that it negates personal responsibility, or more generally, the responsibility of moral agency. It obviates the moral calculus, and excuses harmful actions as long as the person was well-meaning.

I am not limiting the moral evaluation of an action to its intent.

If indeed the moral quality of an action lies solely in its intent, then you are wrong to hold a person morally culpable for false beliefs. In Desire Utilitarianism, ignorance is a virtue, since it would permit well-intended action to be unfettered by doubt.

As I said, I suggest you read what DU actually is. I am not a proponent of it so I do not want to misrepresent it.
Shortly, no. In DU, ignorance is not a virtue.

The second problem is that basing moral valuation on intent rather than consequences eliminates the objective basis for ethics. We can only be objective when we limit our consideration to actual consequences in peoples’ lives.

No, we can never be objective as far as I understand because what we think is a good consequence, someone else might consider a bad consequence.

DU otoh, does consider that there are objective rules for morality although it goes more into meta-ethics for that.

I stated the failures of Desire Utilitarianism above. If you have counter-arguments I would like to discuss this in more detail.

As I said, I am just considering DU (as I am also considering Desire Fulfillment) so I will not argue for it. I think that you would benefit from reading about it however.

You asked me to elaborate on the claim that the driving force of history is class struggle. I’ve provided a brief exposition of historical materialism.

I don't see it. As I said, the driving force of history is time.
I don't see how class struggle is driving progress. Yes the slaves were stuggling against the masters and the bourgoise against the feudal lords etc, but that did not drive progress.

Since the choice was between killing captives and enslaving them, I would then have to ask if you regard killing them as the morally preferable course.

I would consider not going to war as the morally preferable course.
Db0 wrote on July 24, 2008:
I agree that when deciding a policy we should consider what we want to accomplish as well as the risks but if one does not consider them, then he is morally culpable for that (not considering). It does not mean that his goal is wrong. Since the goal remains correct people can modify their actions in light of new information and hopefully achieve it.

Well, not necessarily. People are not computing machines that can perform an exhaustive moral analysis before undertaking any action. If one does not consider risks that he should, you would consider him morally culpable even if the risk factor does not materialize. Let us suppose that you send your young son to the store. There is minute yet real risk that he may be kidnapped. You might consider the risk, and decide that the possibility is so negligible that the risk is acceptable. More likely, though, you won’t think about it for an instant, and that is perfectly reasonable. But in your analysis, he is morally culpable.

My position is much simpler, that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

Db0 continued:
That does not mean that the person who made it fail because he did not consider all the risks gets to go unpunished.

I do not consider punishment to be at all the important reason for a moral system. The reason is to create a process for moral reasoning, to permit one to decide if he is doing the right thing or the wrong thing.

Punishment should also be determined according the utilitarian principle. One should decide “what punishment, if any, will produce the greatest good?”

Db0 continued::
As I said, I suggest you read what DU actually is. I am not a proponent of it so I do not want to misrepresent it.

If neither of us advocates Desire Utilitarianism, then there is no point to discussing it. Please read my references to it as an inquiry to learn your positions. Do you believe that a person is responsible for the consequences of his actions? It appears that you do. Do you believe that there is an objective basis for ethics? It appears, from your next answer, that you do not. I would ask as a follow-on, that if ethics can never be objective, in what respect can one say that it is valid? On what basis can you argue for one moral system opposed to any other?

Db0 continued::
No, we can never be objective as far as I understand because what we think is a good consequence, someone else might consider a bad consequence.

If we ask one person to evaluate the harm and benefit of an action to everyone affected, you are right that the conclusion will be subjective, from the perspective, preconceptions and biases of the person making the judgment. Rather, the answer should come from a survey of all of the people affected, to learn whether he was harmed or benefitted, and to what degree. Each person is in the best position to answer that question for himself, not for others.

Admittedly this is completely impractical. We are not going to be spending all of our time conducting surveys. But it does provide the framework for moral discourse, and an objective basis for working out disagreements over whether an action was good or bad.

Db0 continued:
I don't see how class struggle is driving progress. Yes the slaves were stuggling against the masters and the bourgoise against the feudal lords etc, but that did not drive progress.

I did not address the dialectic, which may help conceptually. A given state of affairs (Thesis) contains a conflict or contradiction (Antithesis). The resolution of that contradiction (Synthesis) beomes the Thesis of the next dialectic. In historical materialism, the state of affairs and the contradiction are represented by the class relationships by which the society produces its material basis for existence.

Slavery produced the agricultural excess that supported enormous population growth, urbanization, specialized labor, and empires with large armies (Thesis). But slavery represents a continuous conflict, since the slaves are exploited by their masters who own the product of the slave labor (Antithesis). Rebellion is futile while there is a strong central government and army. But, once civil authority was weakened, slavery could no longer be sustained against rebellion. A new relationship of production was therefore needed, more efficient because the workers became responsible for their own sustenance, serfdom (Synthesis). This feudal system of production was the new Thesis of historical development. The contradiction created by the exploitation of serfs led to some of them escaping domination by the land and landowners to independent life in the cities. The accumulation of wealth by these bourgeoisie was the Antithesis of this dialectic. The resolution of the contradiction led to the overturn of the feudal system, the rise of the market economy, and a new contradiction, between profit and wages. The resolution of this conflict is what will cause the demise of the market economy in the current historical dialectic.

As the Wikipedia article on Historical Materialism notes, “Historical materialism as an explanatory system has been expanded and refined by thousands of academic studies since Marx’s death. Although Marx said he was only proposing a guideline to historical research, by the twentieth century the concept of historical materialism became a keystone of modern communist doctrine.”

Your explanation that “time drives history” does nothing to identify the dynamic forces in operation. All previous economic systems were quite conservative, so life changed very little from one generation to the next. Only in the modern epoch is change readily apparent, because of the continuous revolution of the means of production generated by the market economy.

Db0 continued::
I would consider not going to war as the morally preferable course.

Are you a pacifist in all situations, then? Do you think that a nation should defend itself against invasion?

In early 2003 I was in an online discussion with Christians. I stated that the decision of whether or not to invade Iraq was probably the most significant moral decision in recent American history. I asked how this would be decided by those who believe in bible-based morality.

The first answers that I got told me that the bible recognizes that some wars are justified. “All right,” I responded, “but how would the bible guide the current president in the decision he is making?” I was derided as intellectually dishonest for requiring from the bible some specific reference to Iraq and the United States. I responded that that was not at all what I was asking for. Rather, if the bible is their ultimate moral guide, show me how it provides guidance for moral reasoning on the question of whether to go to war.

No one had an answer for me. One person said that that is not the type of moral question the bible addresses, that it is concerned instead with how the individual can find salvation for his soul. I responded that a moral system seems glaringly incomplete if it provides no guidance on the most important moral questions.

On the other hand, I think that consistent pacifism is very admirable, but impractical.
Well, not necessarily. People are not computing machines that can perform an exhaustive moral analysis before undertaking any action.

I am not saying that we should. That would be crippling. I am only saying that a person who has failed to consider risks that are obvious or he should be aware (say like Bush ignoring environmental scientists) then he is culpable.

If one does not consider risks that he should, you would consider him morally culpable even if the risk factor does not materialize.

I agree.

Let us suppose that you send your young son to the store. There is minute yet real risk that he may be kidnapped. You might consider the risk, and decide that the possibility is so negligible that the risk is acceptable. More likely, though, you won’t think about it for an instant, and that is perfectly reasonable. But in your analysis, he is morally culpable.

Not really. The risk in this case if miniscule. Thus the condemnation falling to the parent is also miniscule. In this case the parent would be already punishing themselves enough (through mental anguish). Also since our condemnation is to promote actions that we need that person to do, it would make no sense to condemn them for they would never willingly allow that to befall their child and by becoming overprotective (of their other children say) would make a bigger problem.

My position is much simpler, that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

You do not take into consideration their intentions. A great example of how this is failing:
From the Atheist Ethicist: An act of rape might produce good consequences. The victim might be motivated to study the psychology of rape and come up with a way of treating sex offenders so as to drastically reduce the number of rapes. These would be good consequences. The act-utilitarian theory would then have to say that this particular rape was a “right action.”



I do not consider punishment to be at all the important reason for a moral system. The reason is to create a process for moral reasoning, to permit one to decide if he is doing the right thing or the wrong thing.

Nor I. I just used "punishment" as generic catch all for the action that should be taken against people who take an immoral action.

Punishment should also be determined according the utilitarian principle. One should decide “what punishment, if any, will produce the greatest good?”

Agreed.

Do you believe that there is an objective basis for ethics? It appears, from your next answer, that you do not. I would ask as a follow-on, that if ethics can never be objective, in what respect can one say that it is valid? On what basis can you argue for one moral system opposed to any other?

Just a disclaimer: I generally do not waste too much time in meta-ethical questions like these for they tend to get too "technical".
To answer your question: I would consider ones moral system better when the actions resulting from this morality lead to a better world. Since the "better world" is still somewhat subjective (for example, one would consider a "better world" to be one where everyone is christian and no gays exist) it is up to convincing people that my version of a better world is indeed correct.


Admittedly this is completely impractical. We are not going to be spending all of our time conducting surveys. But it does provide the framework for moral discourse, and an objective basis for working out disagreements over whether an action was good or bad.

But you are going into moral relativism here. If the majority agrees that an action was good, then that action was good? I disagree and indeed, in many cases, it was the minority which defined the morally correct action.
Grrrr @ character limits

I did not address the dialectic, which may help conceptually[...snip...]by the twentieth century the concept of historical materialism became a keystone of modern communist doctrine.” Your explanation that “time drives history” does nothing to identify the dynamic forces in operation. All previous economic systems were quite conservative, so life changed very little from one generation to the next. Only in the modern epoch is change readily apparent, because of the continuous revolution of the means of production generated by the market economy.

Right, thanks. That made sense.


Are you a pacifist in all situations, then? Do you think that a nation should defend itself against invasion?

I am not a pacifist. However I do not consider initiation of aggression as moral.
I also do not believe that nations should exist and thus no wars should have to be waged between them. I find that nations are just another way to promote exploitation.
Db0 wrote on July 24, 2008
You do not take into consideration their intentions. A great example of how this is failing:

From the Atheist Ethicist: An act of rape might produce good consequences. The victim might be motivated to study the psychology of rape and come up with a way of treating sex offenders so as to drastically reduce the number of rapes. These would be good consequences. The act-utilitarian theory would then have to say that this particular rape was a “right action.”


I agree. No action is good or bad in itself, but only as it produces harm or benefit in peoples’ lives. An example that I have used is that arranged marriages were once common, to create alliances between families and states. Now, let us suppose that in those times, a particular arranged marriage was needed to avert a war, that would have led to hundreds of deaths. The bride in this case is physically repulsed by her groom, but there is an attendant in the marriage chamber to ensure that the marriage is consummated, and the bond between the states established.

The bride is not a willing participant, so it would fall into the modern definition of rape. But as it prevents a war, and saves the lives of hundreds, it is a good thing. This is the proper line of moral reasoning, and a case in which an emotional response would be tragically harmful.

I cannot think of a modern situation in which rape would be good. I think that in the case you provide, it would be ridiculous to assert that the rapist’s decision to rape was the product of consequential reasoning.

Db0 continued
I would consider ones moral system better when the actions resulting from this morality lead to a better world. Since the "better world" is still somewhat subjective (for example, one would consider a "better world" to be one where everyone is christian and no gays exist) it is up to convincing people that my version of a better world is indeed correct.

I don’t think that we are all that far apart here, but you are embracing a more subjective and indefinable concept in “better world” than I could accept. I am restricting the scope of the “better world” to increasing the benefit and decreasing the harm in peoples’ lives. And I am not permitting the “better world” to be determined from one person’s perspective. Each person is the best judge of whether he has been harmed or helped, and by how much.

The most important thing is that we are agreeing here that moral value is determined by the results of actions. In your hypothesized case, a deluded ruler may believe that it would be a better world if everyone is a Christian and there are no gays. And so, to bring this about, he implements an extermination policy, or compels people to convert their beliefs and sexual orientation on threat of death. Consequential reasoning to results would not permit this. Even if this ruler’s vision of a better world were true (even though I, like you, consider it ludicrous), what determines the moral value of his actions are their results, not his intent.

For most of our everyday actions, the consequences are immediate and readily apparent. But bringing about an all-Christian, all-heterosexual world must occur over a very long time, and will require the concerted actions of many people. The risks of failure are unforeseeable, and the likelihood of success small. One can never justify imposing extreme and manifest harm to people by the hope of widely dispersed benefits that entail unknown risks and low probability of success. Basing moral reasoning on actual consequences imposes modesty on us, because we cannot foresee all of the consequences of such a policy. That is why we must refrain from inflicting harm.

Db0 continued
(George Kane wrote) Admittedly this is completely impractical. We are not going to be spending all of our time conducting surveys. But it does provide the framework for moral discourse, and an objective basis for working out disagreements over whether an action was good or bad.

(Db0 replied) But you are going into moral relativism here. If the majority agrees that an action was good, then that action was good? I disagree and indeed, in many cases, it was the minority which defined the morally correct action.
I think that you are defining ‘majority’ here in terms of what people want, which has not been put at issue. Moral value is determined by each person deciding whether he is helped or harmed, and to what degree.

Yes, in my concept moral value is always relative to consequences. Usually, however, the term ‘relativism’ refers to cultural relativism, that moral value is whatever a particular society says it is. But I do not hold that view at all. I believe that the utilitarian principle should be used to determine whether an action is good or bad. Of the different answers proposed by different societies, some are much better than others.
I agree. No action is good or bad in itself, but only as it produces harm or benefit in peoples’ lives

No, I disagree wholeheartedly. Your examples are creating impossible situations in order to justify moral consequentialism but all of these examples can be countered by other moral systems as well. Similar to the example of living in Germany, hiding a Jew from the Nazis and having one of them at your door asking you if you are hiding a Jew. The moral action is of course to lie about it, even though lying it morally condemnable most of the time. The reasons to do so is not because the consequences of are better, but because your intentions are correct.

In your example above, if the war was truly unavoidable in every other way then it would be morally wrong not to marry that person if you were to save thousands of people from death. Of course your example, by itself, puts us into a generally immoral situation that is unlikely to occur today so imho there is no point in using modern morality to explain it. It would be better if you could apply your examples to something current.

I cannot think of a modern situation in which rape would be good. I think that in the case you provide, it would be ridiculous to assert that the rapist’s decision to rape was the product of consequential reasoning.

But are you not then judging him by his intentions instead of his consequences?

The most important thing is that we are agreeing here that moral value is determined by the results of actions. In your hypothesized case, a deluded ruler may believe that it would be a better world if everyone is a Christian and there are no gays. And so, to bring this about, he implements an extermination policy, or compels people to convert their beliefs and sexual orientation on threat of death. Consequential reasoning to results would not permit this.

But why are you always going into extreme situations? Aren't people who push for the dissolution of gay rights as morally culpable as the insane ruler? Just because they do not posses the power to act on it somehow absolutes them from their immorality? Aren't a million voices that through the tyranny of the majority achieve the same result, even without extermination, wrong? Even if they are the majority that say that they are not?

Basing moral reasoning on actual consequences imposes modesty on us, because we cannot foresee all of the consequences of such a policy. That is why we must refrain from inflicting harm.

This modesty is not at all dependent on consequentialism. One should also be cautious when they cannot foresee the consequences of their actions precisely.

Yes, in my concept moral value is always relative to consequences. Usually, however, the term ‘relativism’ refers to cultural relativism, that moral value is whatever a particular society says it is. But I do not hold that view at all. I believe that the utilitarian principle should be used to determine whether an action is good or bad. Of the different answers proposed by different societies, some are much better than others.

In that case then Act Utilitarianism is already restricted in its choices. It is not about finding the objectively moral action in any situation but rather only the lesser evil and then call it moral.
When you think your only choices are slavery or death, you choose slavery. When you think your only choices is forced marriage or rape, you choose forced marriage.

You moral prescription prevents you from thinking outside the box and finding the best moral action in any situation. You are shackled to using only the choices you are aware of.
However it is obvious that in most situations there are actions that you are not even considering and indeed you can't unless you have a morality that allows it.

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