Wednesday, February 22, 2023
As most of you probably know, I started a substack a few weeks ago. So far I have kept both blog and substack going, although most of my posts have been on the latter. The question is whether there is any reason to continue to do so. Are there readers of the blog who can't, or for some reason prefer not to, read the substack? Are there people who would find the blog but not the substack?
Of my two recent posts here, one was a new idea that I wanted to get some response to before revising it for the substack. The other was an announcement of a planned speaking trip. I will put that on the substack as well, but was concerned that some people might be reading only here.
Suggestions? I've been running the blog for eighteen years so feel reluctant to shut it down, but I'm not sure there is any good reason not to. I would still leave it up so people could read all posts, at least until I find a good way to set up the old posts as an archive.
I am going to be in Lisbon on April 22nd and 23rd, speaking at Oxford about a week later, probably Dublin at some point, flying home about May 4th. If anyone would like to set up a talk sometime between April 23rd and May 4th and is prepared to pay my expenses let me know.
Hume's law or Hume's guillotine is the thesis that, if a reasoner only has access to non-moral and non-evaluative factual premises, the reasoner cannot logically infer the truth of moral statements. (Wikipedia)
I do not claim that I can infer the truth of ought statements from is statements but I claim that it would be possible to do it if a suitable set of is statements turned out to be true, hence that Hume’s law is not true in the sense in which it is usually imagined to be, as a conclusion depending only on logical argument not on factual claims.
My argument starts with intuitionism, the philosophical position that holds that just as humans have senses such as sight and hearing that imperfectly sense physical facts so we have a moral sense that imperfectly senses moral facts. For a book length exposition see Ethical Intuitionism by Michael Huemer, for a short sketch, including my response to obvious counterarguments, Chapter 61 of The Machinery of Freedom.
The argument for intuitionism, beyond the fact that it describes how most people feel about morality — that certain acts really are wicked — is consistency. We believe that our physical senses are not lying to us about physical reality because what they report usually passes all the consistency tests we can subject them to, consistency both between information reported to us by sight, hearing, smell and touch and between the observations of physical reality made by different people. It is possible that it is all an illusion — what I know about what other people perceive ultimately reaches me through my senses, which could all be lying to me — but it is the best evidence we have available. If moral perceptions are similarly consistent, if almost everyone, given a sufficiently well described situation and action, will have about the same moral response, that would be evidence that there is a moral reality out there which we are perceiving.
Whether that situation exists, whether almost everyone has about the same moral perceptions, is a fact of reality, a non-moral fact. Suppose it does. One might still reject the conclusion on the basis of an alternative explanation. Perhaps there are no moral facts, just moral beliefs, consistent because they were produced by biological evolution hard wiring into us beliefs that cause us to behave in ways that lead to reproductive success, or societal evolution producing societies that indoctrinate their population into the set of moral beliefs that that make a society more likely to survive.
This alternative explanation, however, is subject to factual tests. One could imagine evidence showing that some widely held moral belief did not contribute to reproductive success or societal survival. I do not claim to have any such evidence but it is at least logically possible. If it existed, and if we observed consistency across humans of moral judgement, that would be evidence for a moral reality that humans could perceive; their common perceptions would be evidence of moral facts just as ordinary perception is of physical facts. Hence it is logically possible to deduce ought from is.
It may be that moral nihilism is correct, that intuitionism and other forms of moral realism are wrong, that the necessary facts are not true, but they could be. Hume’s law is not a claim about what facts exist but about the logical impossibility of deducing moral facts from physical facts and I believe I have shown that it is false.
I have shown the possibility of evidence, not of proof, but that is true of all our factual beliefs. I cannot prove that the sun will rise tomorrow or that the Earth is round, I can only offer very strong evidence for those claims. I believe that the is-ought claim as commonly understood, certainly as I understood it, applies to evidence for moral facts as well as to proof of moral facts.
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
The 2022 Human Freedom Index is out, combining ratings on economic and personal freedom. The ten freest countries, in order, are: Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
The U.S. is 23 out of 166.
The page has a scatter plot showing nations rated by economic and by personal freedom. On the live version you can hover your cursor over any dot and see what country it is. There may be a way of doing that here but I don't know how so added names for some of the interesting ones.
The country rated lowest on economic freedom is Venezuela, the highest Hong Kong SAR, slightly higher on both dimensions than Singapore. Lowest on personal freedom is Syria, highest Sweden.
Perhaps not surprisingly, freedom has declined almost everywhere since the previous year.