Preliminaries

Here are some general assumptions that I make about the world:

-I cannot choose my beliefs, and you can’t either.
This seems self-apparent to many people. If it is not apparent to you, try willing yourself to believe that “2+2=27” is true.
Most of the time, when people talk about “choosing to believe” they do so in the context of a theological debate. It is also a common retort among freshman philosophy students when they are faced with the problems of radical skepticism or determinism. I take it as uncontroversial that many people are capable of ignoring very compelling information so that they can maintain a position, but this is choosing to remain ignorant, not choosing to believe.

-Science is the best method we have for learning about the world, for predicting what will happen in the future, and for explaining why events occur.

It’s rather futile to give evidence in defense of this position. If you’re the type to be convinced by evidence, it is most likely that you hold this position already.

-There is a distinction between fact and value. (This is also known as the “is/ought gap”)

Natural facts help to explain why we believe that an object is beautiful or a person is morally righteous, but facts about the world do not make beauty or morality; we do. This means that we cannot resolve debates about value with appeal to empirical facts alone. I think any possible resolution to a debate about value rests upon appeal to beliefs about good and bad that are commonly held. Insofar as incompatible assertions about value cannot be resolved by appeal to stronger or “higher order” commonly held values, they cannot be resolved at all.

-Value is subjective.

This doesn’t mean we can’t make generalizations about what is good- quite to the contrary, moral justification generally requires that we do- but it does mean that appeals to absolutes of value are highly suspect. Any value that is universal is such because of a particular relationship between human beings and the world that is incidental. For example, it may be the case that all human beings believe that brutally killing healthy infant humans is wrong, but the universality of this value does not boost it from subjective to objective status. Rather, all human beings believe that killing infants is wrong because all human beings share remarkably similar biological traits, one of which is a strong nurture response to baby humans.

-Mere descriptions never yield prescriptions; justification is also required.

Though this point may seem obvious given the fact/value distinction, I hasten to make it explicit because many figures in contemporary social theory make obvious mistakes when moving to statements of description to prescriptively-loaded conclusions. It is my contention that social theories which abstract from a simplistic understanding of human nature to a prescriptive conclusion about a just political state, grossly distort the relationship between science and moral justification. These theories are problematic because they fallaciously conflate a description of the state of the world with a prescriptive statement about justice, morality, or some other value. This conflation is known as the naturalistic fallacy.

Side Note:
I expect Jim agrees with the positions stated above, however, there are some ways in which our views about value differ which may or may not be relevant for this blog. My view is that the foundation of morality consists of the rights claimed and the obligations held between two or more persons.* Thus, it makes very little sense in my view to speak of the moral obligations that an individual has to himself. Jim’s view of value is founded on the observation that each of us is the sole originator of value within our own lives. Thus, in Jim’s view it makes very little sense to talk about a person’s obligations outside of what he himself values.

-Liza

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