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Lukas_Gloor comments on 1. What Is Moral Realism? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: konrad 24 May 2018 01:15:34PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for writing this up in a fairly accessible manner for laypeople like me. I am looking forward to the next posts. So far, I have only one reflection on the following bit of your thinking. It is a side point but it probably would help me to better model your thinking.

And all I’m thinking is, “Why are we so focused on interpreting religious claims? Isn’t the major question here whether there are things such as God, or life after death!?” The question that is of utmost relevance to our lives is whether religion’s metaphysical claims, interpreted in a straightforward and realist fashion, are true or not. An analysis of other claims can come later.

Do you think analyses of the other claims are never of more value than analyses of the metaphysical claims?

Because my initial reaction to your claim was something like "why would we focus on whether there is a god or life after death - it seems hardly possible to make substantial advances there in a meaningful way and these texts were meant to point at something a lot more trivial. They are disguised as profound and with metaphysical explanations only to make people engage with and respect them in times where no other tools were available to do so on a global level."

I.e. no matter the answer to the metaphysical questions, it could be useful to interpret religious claims because they could be pointing at something that people thought would help to structure society, whether the metaphysical claims hold or not.

Thus, I wonder whether the bible example is a little weak. You would have to clarify that you assume that people sometimes actually believe they are having a meaningful discussion around "what's Real Good?", assuming moral realism through god(?), as opposed to just engaging in intellectual masturbation, consciously or not.

If I do not take those people (who suppose moral realism proven through bible) seriously, I can operate based on the assumption that the authors of such writings supposed any form of moral non-naturalism, subjectivism, intersubjectivism or objectivism, as described by you. Any of which could have led to the idea of creating better mechanisms to enforce either the normative Good, the social contract, or allow everyone to maximally realise their own desires by creating an authority ("god") that allows to move society into a better equilibrium for any of these theories.

In that case, taking the claims about the (metaphysical) nature of that authority to be of any value of information/as providing valuable ground for discussion seems to be a waste of time or even giving them undeserved attention and credit, distracting from more important questions. Your described reaction though takes the ideas seriously and I wonder why you think there is any ground to even consider them as such?

I think this concern is somewhat relevant to the broader discussion, too, because you seem to imply that we can't (or even shouldn't?) make any advances on non-metaphysical claims before we haven't figured out the metaphysical ones. Though, what you mean is probably more along the lines of "be ready to change everything once we have figured out moral philosophy", not implying that we shouldn't do anything else in the meantime. Is that correct? If so, this point might get lost if not pronounced more prominently.

Comment author: Lukas_Gloor 25 May 2018 04:18:40PM *  1 point [-]

Probably intuitions about this issue depend on which type of moral or religious discourse one is used to. As someone who spent a year at a Christian private school in Texas where creationism was taught in Biology class and God and Jesus were a very tangible part of at least some people's lives, I definitely got a strong sense that the metaphysical questions are extremely important.

By contrast, if the only type of religious claims I'd ever came into contact with had been moderate (picture the average level of religiosity of a person in, say, Zurich), then one may even consider it a bit of a strawman to assume that religious claims are to be taken literally.

I think this concern is somewhat relevant to the broader discussion, too, because you seem to imply that we can't (or even shouldn't?) make any advances on non-metaphysical claims before we haven't figured out the metaphysical ones.

Just to be clear, all I'm saying is that I think it's going to be less useful to discuss "what are moral claims usually about." What we should instead do is instead what Chalmers describes (see the quote in footnote 4). Discussing what moral claims are usually about is not the same as making up one's mind about normative ethics. I think it's very useful to discuss normative ethics, and I'd even say that discussing whether anti-realism or realism is true might be slightly less important than making up one's mind about normative ethics. Sure, it informs to some extent how to reason about morality, but as has been pointed out, you can make some progress about moral questions also from a lens of agnosticism about realism vs. anti-realism.

To go back to the religion analogy, what I'm recommending is to first figure out whether you believe in a God or an afterlife that would relevantly influence your priorities now, and not worry much about whether religious claims are "usually" or "best" to be taken literally or taken metaphorically(?).

Comment author: konrad 08 June 2018 12:32:27PM 0 points [-]

Thanks, this makes sense.

As someone who spent a year at a Tennessean high school surrounded by Baptists, I understand your experience. I just ended up with a different conclusion: no one is interested in the metaphysical questions because they have to be settled if you want to continue living your "normal" life. What looks like interest in the metaphysical questions is a mere self-preservation mechanism for the normative ethical claims and not to be taken at face value.

To me, it seems faulty to assume any believer "reasons" about the existence of god, their brains just successfully trick them into thinking that. That's why I felt it was weak as a metaphor for anti-realism vs realism. So from an outside view your metaphor makes sense if you take believers to be "reasoning" about anything but felt to me like it was more distracting from the thing you meant to point at, than actually pointing at it. The thing being:

I think it's going to be less useful to discuss "what are moral claims usually about." What we should instead do is instead what Chalmers describes (see the quote in footnote 4). Discussing what moral claims are usually about is not the same as making up one's mind about normative ethics. I think it's very useful to discuss normative ethics, and I'd even say that discussing whether anti-realism or realism is true might be slightly less important than making up one's mind about normative ethics. Sure, it informs to some extent how to reason about morality, but as has been pointed out, you can make some progress about moral questions also from a lens of agnosticism about realism vs. anti-realism.