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Saturday, May 05, 2018

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Questions of clarification:

(1) "I grant that the principle is not self-evident, but I consider it evident." What do you mean? That it is obvious to YOU but for the sake of argument you grant to the opponents that it is not obvious?

(2) Do you define aporias as that which is "simply insoluble by us"? (My understanding is that Aristotle did not take aporias as insoluble but rather as points of departure to be solved.

Bill,

I like the paper. Thanks for posting it. It’s akin to (but more substantive than) the response I was mentally constructing as I read through The Human Predicament.

I agree with your thesis that Benatar’s position is inconsistent. I also agree with the GOC, that the Hybrid solution is incoherent, and that if there is a solution, the battle is between the Platonic-theistic and the Nietzschean solutions. And I agree that the Platonic-theistic option is more plausible than the Nietzschean.

I suppose the Benataran could respond by rejecting your definition of ‘really possible.’ He could construe the ought-implies-can principle as “ought-implies-conceivably-can” or “ought-implies-strictly-logical-possibility.”

He could then revise the tetrad:

1. The quality of life is objectively bad for all and ought to be other than it is.
2. What ought to be is what one can conceive without strictly logical contradiction.
3. If naturalism is true, then it is not conceivable without strictly logical contradiction that human life be other than it is.
4. Naturalism is true.

And then he could deny (3). But he’d need to provide a good argument for his conceivabilist construal of the o-i-c principle.

Another option: one could try to construct a Platonic-atheistic solution according to which objective moral standards are abstract objects in a non-theistic reality (e.g., see Erik Wielenberg's position). But that position would be hard to square with naturalism, since abstract objects are not spatiotemporal. (There are problems with holding that objective moral standards are abstract objects in a world w/o God, but I won't mention those. I've gone too long already!)

Thanks, Dan.

Ad (1). Good question. I don't have a worked out theory of the distinction. But there is a distinction here. I am now looking at a tree in good light; I am not drunk, etc. It is evident that the intentional object exists. But it is not self-evident that it exists. (Run the usual Cartesian/skeptical arguments.)

The principle in question is that if a state of affairs ought to be, then it is possible. N. Hartmann denies this. Is he embracing a contradiction? I don't think so. So I don't claim that the principle is self-evident; I make the weaker claim that it evident.

Ad (2). I think there are problems that are insoluble by us. These I call aporias in the strict sense. An aporetic polyad may or may not be an aporia in the strict sense.

Thanks, Elliot.

It's clear that Benatar has 'wiggle room.' As you suggest, he could grant me that what ought to be must be possible, but claim that logical possibility suffices.

Then the debate would shift to the nature of possibility. Suppose you have a heavy tire iron and you place it in a bucket of pure water. Will it float? That's not (really) possible. But it is 'logically possible.' So much for 'logical possibility.' Nothing is really possible unless it is logically possible; but if S is merely logically possible, it does not follow that it is really possible.

Would you please cite the Wielenberg article?

Suppose there is no God, but there are abstract objects such as Justice and Omniscience. It ought to be that each of is just in all of his dealings all the time. Therefore this is really possible. But this is not really possible because on naturalism there is no agent with the power to bring it about. Therefore, either naturalism is false, or it would not be better if we were all wholly just.

Benatar's inconsistency is that he wants to maintain both that naturalism is true and that it would be better if we knew everything, were morally perfect, felt no pain, could breathe water like fish . . .

Regarding what is evident, your example of looking at a tree seems to be a case of a properly basic belief formed on the basis of experience. One could be a brain in a vat stimulated to believe that he’s looking at a tree. But it’s more reasonable to accept on the basis of experience that the intentional object (the tree) exists.

For more on the evident, maybe Chisholm’s view will help:

“An evident proposition … is such that one has more justification for believing it than for withholding it. And the evident has this further feature: for any two propositions, if one of them is evident then believing the one that is evident is at least as justified as withholding the other – whatever epistemic status the other may have.

p is evident for S = Df For every proposition q, believing p is at least as justified for S as is withholding q.

If it is now evident to you that the sun is shining, then, given this definition, we may say that you are at least as justified in believing that the sun is shining as you are in withholding any contradiction …”

“It is possible that there are some propositions that are both evident and false.”

(Theory of Knowledge, Third Edition, pgs. 11-12)

Elliot,

Thanks for citing Chisholm. 'There is a tree that I now see' might be an example of an evident proposition that is false.

If I seem to see a tree, it is evident that there is a tree that I see. But it is not certain. For if I seem to see a tree it does not follow that there is a tree that I see.

Chisholm distinguishes between the certain and the evident on p. 178 of Person and Object:

D.D.5 h is evident for S =df (i) Accepting h is epistemically preferable for S to withholding h and (ii) for every i, if accepting i is epistemically preferable for S to accepting h, then i is certain for S.

This is a weay of cashing out my distinction between the evident and the self-evident.

Bill,

I agree that whatever is really possible (as you use the term) is logically possible, but that it’s not the case that whatever is logically possible is really possible. It’s logically possible for me to use my legs to leap to Mars to verify if there is water there, but I hope the astronomer doesn’t blame me for not accomplishing the jump!

Regarding Wielenberg, here is what I have:

Wielenberg’s In Defense of Non-natural, Non-theistic Moral Realism (Faith and Philosophy 26:1, January 2009, 23-41)

https://philpapers.org/archive/WIEIDO

Angus Menuge’s review of Wielenberg’s Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism. (Faith and Philosophy Vol. 33:2, April 2016, 249-253)

A recent debate between William Lane Craig and Erik Wielenberg, in which Craig posed several objections to Wielenberg’s position, and Wielenberg defended.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iVyVJAMiOY

Transcripts and audio of Craig’s summary of and commentary on the debate:

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/moral-debate-with-erik-wielenberg-part-one/

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/moral-debate-with-erik-wielenberg-part-two/

Dear Bill,

some ideas:

(1) There are at least two "ought to be's" to be distinguished: the "ought(1) to be" of obligation and the "ought(2) to be" of counsel/desirability. It is perhaps obvious that the former, stronger one implies "can", but almost obvious that the latter one does not. A starving child ought(2) to be fed; but sometimes, given the circumstances, it is plain impossible. A debt ought to be paid in due time, but it cannot, if you're broke, etc. But, unfortunately, it seems that BOB is defensible only in the weaker sense of ought(2) to be (if only because ought(1) seems to make sense only agential-wise). That is fatal for the argument.

(2) Another way out for Benatar: suppose "better" and "worse" are not defined in terms of "ought", but in terms of natural(istic) desires: say, according to a kind of utilitaristic calculus, i.e. A is a better state of affairs than B iff in A the average rate of satisafction of all desires is greater than in B. Thus, even if anything close to the 100% general satisfaction were impossible (as can be granted), the evaluation is not based on that impossible and imaginary ideal, but on the very real, objective, and mostly unsatisfied individual desires themselves.

(3) Another argument for Benatar: There might be a fallacy of composition involved: maybe each and every desire can be satisfied individually (even naturalistically), i.e. there is a perfectly attainable ideal "good state" in relation to each and every desire, but it is still impossible to satisfy all of the desires at once. Thus we have a set of perfectly naturalistically possible ideals that set up the standards for each desire, and so we can say even from a purely naturalistic perspective that we are very miserable if we can jointly satisfy only a few of them.

(4) The interim upshot: It seems to me that insofar as one is forced by his naturalism more unsatisfied than satisfied desires, one is justified in giving in to antinatalism. The problem is the incoherence of naturalism itself, since, given metaphysical necessity of God's existence, natural desires imply the possibility of their satisfaction, but that is impossible in naturalstic frame, ergo naturalism is false.

(5) It seems to me that the rejection of naturalism provides at least two different ways of escape to Benatar's argument: (1) there is an Unseen Order relative to which this world and we in it are objectively defective (but that does not of itself relieve us from antinatalism), or (2) there are some non-naturalistic goods that outweigh the naturalistic bads. Given that, it seems that a strong case can perhaps be made that human life is generally bad _as far as naturalistic goods and bads are concerned_; however, once you allow counting in non-naturalistic goods and bads, it becomes most difficult to evaluate the balance (let alone achieve evidence), given the problematic epistemical accessibility of the non-naturalistic goods (and bads).
It seems to me, then, that it can only be plausibly conceded that "The quality of life is objectively bad for all _taking into account merely naturalistic goods_", not that it is objectively bad simpliciter.

(6) It seems to me that your notion of real possibility is stronger than PPA warrants. You say that if S is really possible, then there is an agent that can actualize it. Why not "then there can be an agent that can..."? (And what does the "can" mean? Is it an immediate capability (potentia proxima), like to be capable of moving my finger now? Or a mere remote capability (potentia remota) suffices, like to be capable of playing Bach's B minor fugue - but only after 2 months' strenuous practice? This is a complex matter and very vaguely treated in your text.). It seems to me that for a possibility of X to obtain to be real there suffices a really-possible existence of an agent that would be remotely capable of actualizing X. (This would be a recursive, not circular, definition: ultimately you need an actual agent for every chain to ultimately ground the possibility). This weaker notion of real possibility is still _ultimately_ grounded in the causal powers of actual agents, it just does not require them to be immediate.

(7) This gives Benatar another opportunity for defence: perhaps _now_ there are no agents capable of actualizing an accpetable state of affairs, but there _could have been_: perhaps if some indeterministic quantum chances came off differently (the only possible source of contingency in a naturalistic world I can think of), life would be much more bearable than it is. So again, there is a way how to conceive a sufficiently real possibility of a better world in purely naturalistic terms.

Lukas,

Thank you for your detailed and excellent comments. I will go through them seriatim in separate responses.

There are of course numerous senses of 'ought'. A pessimist might say, 'It ought to be that nothing exists.' He is not thereby expressing a mere desire, or giving counsel. He is stating how things objectively ought to be. My point is that, necessarily, if it ought to be that nothing exists, then it is really possible that nothing exists.

Do you deny that? Why? It strikes me as evident.

Here is BOB:

BOB. If state of affairs S is objectively better than actual state of affairs T, then S ought to be instead of T.

Are you perhaps confusing BOB with GOC?

Can you clarify your point? I don't understand it.

On to your 2nd comment.

I grant that my wishes and desires are objective facts about me. That I desire X is an objective fact about me even if what I desire, X, is impossible. Consider desires for what is nomologically impossible, e.g., that I never have to defecate because everything I eat is used up. Similarly for urination and drinking. No need to urinate. Add no need to sleep. That'd be great! More time to read books and write philosophy and play chess.

That it would be objectively better if we didn't need to urinate or defecate or sleep cannot be shown to be the case from the fact that one has the desire to be free of these 'chores.'

Do you agree? If not, why not?

Bill,

my "ought(2)" is not subjective. It means that it is objectively desirable '(but not necessarily obligatory) that S. I grant BOB in this very sense: i.e. "If S is objectively better than actual state of affairs T, then it is objectively desirable that S be instead of T." But I reject BOB in the sense "If state of affairs S is objectively better than actual state of affairs T, then it is obligatory that S be be instead of T".

And I contradistinguish the GOC: I grant that "It is obligatory that S" implies "it is possible that S"; but I reject that "It is objectively desirable that S" implies "It is possible that S". Why? Because there are obvious counterexamples: sometimes it is objectively desirable but impossible that a starving child be fed, e.g.

And this weaker (but still objective) "ought" suffices, meseems, for Benatar's purposes.

I grant that from the fact that one has a desire to X does not follow that X is objectively better than not-X. But I say that from the fact that one has a natural desire to X follows that X is objectively better than not-X. A natural desire is one rooted in the nature of a thing, i.e. one following necessarily from what the thing is. I don't know of any other way how to convincingly ground the objectivity of values.

>> But I reject BOB in the sense "If state of affairs S is objectively better than actual state of affairs T, then it is obligatory that S be be instead of T".<<

But that's not what I said! I am invoking a distinction one finds in N. Hartmann and Max Scheler between the ought-to-do and the ought-to-be. If I ought to do action A, then I am obliged to do X, whether morally or legally. But if a state of affairs S ought-to-be, it do not follow that anyone is obliged to bring it it about.

>>but I reject that "It is objectively desirable that S" implies "It is possible that S". Why? Because there are obvious counterexamples: sometimes it is objectively desirable but impossible that a starving child be fed, e.g.<<

That is not a counterexample.

If a particular child C ought to be fed, then C ought to be fed by someone. If C ought to be fed by someone, it is possible that C be fed by someone. It is possible that C be fed by someone if it is possible that there be someone who feeds C. And that seems true.

You are forcing me to think hard, Lukas, which is good!

>>But I say that from the fact that one has a natural desire to X [it] follows that X is objectively better than not-X. A natural desire is one rooted in the nature of a thing, i.e. one following necessarily from what the thing is.<<

Have you studied Philippa Foot's *Natural Goodness*? Similar to what you are saying.

Some animals, following their natural desires, eat other animals alive. So a lion's eating of a lamb is objectively better than his not eating of the lamb?

So some animals' eating other animals alive is an objectively better state of affairs than no animals' eating other animals alive?

Following up on 1:41, don't you believe that nature herself is fallen and that in the prelapsarian state there was no such horrendous & horrifying predation as occurs in our fallen world?

If so, it cannot quite be the nature of some animals to eat others alive, can it?

Lukas @ 4:23:

>>(4) The interim upshot: It seems to me that insofar as one is forced by his naturalism [to accept] more unsatisfied than satisfied desires, one is justified in giving in to antinatalism. The problem is the incoherence of naturalism itself, since, given metaphysical necessity of God's existence, natural desires imply the possibility of their satisfaction, but that is impossible in naturalstic frame, ergo naturalism is false.<<

The trouble with your approach is that you presuppose the existence of God. Benatar will accuse you of begging the question, since if God exists then naturalism is false. And if God exists then the case for anti-natalism is severely weakened.

I think my approach is superior. I try to expose an internal inconsistency in Benatar's system. I try to show that naturalism is logically inconsistent with the generalized ought-implies-can principle.

Bill:

So some animals' eating other animals alive is an objectively better state of affairs than no animals' eating other animals alive?

I would say that ceteris paribus, a state where more natural deisres are satisfied is better than a state where less are satisfied. But of course, you cannot just focus on the desires of the lions but also on those of the lambs. Besides, I don't want to imply that all desires are of equal value or importance, or that all are commeasurable. A state in which a lion is fed is better, ceteris paribus, than that in which it is starving. But I don't know whether it is worse that a lion starves or that a lamb gets killed and eaten.

Yes, nature is fallen but the effects of the fall could not have affected the very essences of things in the strict sense (since they are possessed necessarily). I think it is quite difficult, though, to draw the line between the "truly natural" and the consequences of the Fall, form within the fallen world. Maybe it is quite natural for a lamb to be hunted down by a lion, one day. Maybe it looks horrendous to us only because we anthropomorphize the lamb. I simply don't know. But a lamb does not have, for all we know, the natural desire to live forever.

(More later)

>>Yes, nature is fallen but the effects of the fall could not have affected the very essences of things in the strict sense (since they are possessed necessarily)<<

It is because of the Fall that man must die. Death is a punishment. Do you conclude that man is not by nature mortal? On the other hand, if man is by nature mortal, how could he have existed in the prelapsarian state?

Bill,

Do you conclude that man is not by nature mortal?

The possibility of death is natural. Its (relative) necessity is not.

As for the prelapsarian state, according to the Catholic view it was not purely natural but man was from the beginning given important supernatural graces, including the grace of "immortality", i.e. protection from pain and death. (I guess that the hypothetical purely natural prelapsarian state would be something like Tolkien's elves.)

Bill,

Suppose you and a little child are on a barren island. There is nothing to eat. The nearest other human is hunderds miles away. The child is starving. It ought to be fed just now or else it dies soon. I grant it is logically and metaphysically possible that the child be fed just now (since it is possible that someone e.g. had decided to visit the isalnd and arrived just now with food). But there is presently no agent (except God) who can bring it about that the child be fed. Therefore it is not "really possible" in your sense. The state of affairs that the child be fed just now is not actualizable in your sense.

What I am saying is that either your concept of possibility is broad enough to include the feeding of the child, but then it is also broad enough to include a reasonably blissful state of man, much better than the present state, or it is as narrow as to exclude the feeding of the child, but then it is also too narrow and strong to be implied by objective desirability.

In other words: that human life be such that our natural desires are satisfied much better than as a matter of fact they are (I grant that being amphibious etc. is excluded, but I assume there is enough misery even if we exclude these kind of fantastic deprivations) is on the same general level of possibility as that the child on the desert island be fed. It is now causally impossible to achieve but had things gone differently, it could have been achieved (even assuming naturalism). There is nothing in naturalism to exclude the possibility that we are just very unlucky not to be achieving goods we ought to achieve, there being nothing inherently impossible in our achieving them - just like the poor child is just very unlucky to to find itself in the circumstances that exclude its being fed, without there being anything inherently impossible in its being fed.

Still another way to put it: The impossibility that would disqualify a hypothetical better state of affairs S from being objectively deisrable must be necessary, inherent to that state of affairs. But the impossibility rooted in a mere contingent unavailability of an agent capable of actualizing S is not necessary and inherent to S. Therefore, the impossiblity rooted in a mere contingent unavailability of a capable agent does not disqualify S from being objectively desirable. You would have to say that an agent is necessarily unavailable: but that is a much stronger claim, hardly to be demonstrated to follow from naturalism with respect to many of the proposed "oughts".

See latest post for a response.

Good discussion, very challenging.

Bill,

"If there ought to be less animal pain in the world than there is, then it must be really possible that there be less animal pain than there is. By contraposition, if it is nomologically impossible that there be less animal pain than there is, then it is not the case that there ought to be less animal pain than there is."

At this point of the paper, why the sudden switch from real to nomological modality?

"In the case of the usual run of aches, pains, maladies and miseries to which our mortal flesh is heir I should think that they are nomologically necessary if we are to have animal bodies at all."

Ditto.

Also, that sounds like an inductive argument for real or nomological necessity of regular pain in the flesh. Then why not make an inductive argument for real necessity of laws of nature? (I discuss such arguments in two papers for Studia Neoaristotelica.) But then why speak, as you do, of "(contingent) laws of nature"? (Though in one of those papers I eventually tend to the view that the laws are contingent, for theistic reasons.) And why do you need to classify them as contigent in the first place?

"The really possible is grounded in the causal powers of actual agents. For if a state of affairs is really possible, but there is no actual agent having the power to actualize it, then it is not possibly actual"

Duns Scotus, Scotists such as Lukáš, and surely some others accept something like that principle but I am far from sure about it. Theists like Swinburne, too (an everlasting being such as God, which could not be caused to exist, would still seem really possible to me, even if He never existed; sure, conceivability is no guarantee of real possibility but it still is some evidence of it). And not just theists like Swinburne: cf. http://agora.metaphysica.skaut.org/scotus.htm

I think you've failed to acknowledge that there are two contexts in which the word "objective" can be used. One use, of course, describes the physical world of facts that exists independently of the human mind. But there is a second use, though it is laymanistic and unofficial. We invoke the term "objective" to describe those views and propositions that, in a rational sense, cannot be contradicted, except out of spite, as in the wilful contrarianism of the relativist, the postmodernist, and all manner of purposely contentious cretins. Hence, there is external objectivity and *rational* objectivity. I believe Benatar is using the term in the rational sense.

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