Łukasz Stafiniak commenting on Reboot: Defining Morality:
Is it a mildly normative ethics statement (a “golden commandment”), or a metaethics ground-making for a deconstructionist descriptive ethics program? I think your earlier posts point more towards “conciliatory normative” stance, and then your metaethics task is to derive that from an ought-is bridging assumption involving the concept of goals. But then your current post invokes the metaethical rhetoric that smells like “proof by assumption of thesis”.
It’s a definition. I often refer to definitions as “stated assumptions” but in this case it is the target of an upcoming proof.
Of course, it does immediately lead to a (more than mildly) normative ethics statement. Or, indeed, it actually is a Kantian Categorical Imperative when phrased as “Act only according to that which maximizes the long-term probability of maximal cooperation”.
As a definition, it is ground-making but my intent is not merely a “deconstructionist descriptive ethics program”. My aim is to construct a prescriptive and proscriptive program with the widest possible applicability.
I prefer to think of my stance as more coherent and congruous with “reality” than conciliatory (since the latter term has connotations of appeasement as well as reconciliation).
I’m also not too thrilled by the phrasing “ought-is bridging ASSUMPTION”. To me, the belief that there is an insurmountable (or even, difficult) *gap* between is and ought is an assumption itself, based upon a misinterpretation of Hume. Hume objected to the UNSUPPORTED (and surreptitious) transition from is to ought saying:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.
Indeed, I would contend that it is IMPOSSIBLE for there to be a gap between ought and is because ought is DERIVED from two particular instances of is. If you have a desire or goal (my goal or desire IS), your *ought* IS that which is most likely to fulfill that goal. Hume’s entire (valid) objection is to the unstated introduction of an assumed goal or desire.
So let’s get rid of all assumptions. I’m going to limit my defense of morality to those entities which have goals and/or desires and are, at least, minimally effective in fulfilling them. It is a FACT that in order to be minimally effective at fulfilling goals and/or desires, the entity must have a goal/desire to fulfill it’s goals/desires. Thus, that entity’s *ought* is that which is most likely to fulfill it’s goals/desires.
Or, another way to state it (with assumptions), I am assuming goal/desire-directed entities of, at least, minimal effectiveness when I talk about morality — so there is no Humean is/ought divide.
Note, however, that I do *not* believe that all oughts are moral oughts. That would be extending the boundaries of morality far beyond the normal conception of it. Moral oughts are those which fulfill the goal of cooperation — which is a goal because it increases the probability of fulfilling virtually any other non-conflicting goal/desire (i.e. cooperation is a “universal” subgoal). The fact that there can be goals and desires which truly conflict with cooperation is why enlightened self-interest is not a synonym for morality (as shown in this post) although they are identical in the vast majority of cases.
I am fully aware that, clearly, I still need to show/prove that a goal of cooperation is necessary and sufficient to explain the agreed-upon conception of morality (without including too much that isn’t generally believed part of morality). There is no attempt at “proof by assumption of thesis” here.