Normative Irreducibility

Some background:

peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2007 … .html#more

One conundrum occuring to me at the moment is the question of how one can successfully frame the irreducibility of normative properties if, in fact, things like “rightness” and “wrongness” are to be seen as natural (ie: non-metaphysical) phenomena. Perhaps it’s a naive line of reasoning, but when uncontroversially natural phenomena such as color or sound are reducible to the activity of waves in interaction with certain physical detection mechanisms in the eye or ear, then why should we posit that moral properties are somehow privelaged to remain immune to similar reductive analyses with regards to, say, social dynamics in interaction with the psychology of a given agent?

I too think it makes sense to say that a person ought to to care about the consequences their actions will have for others and that such a fact gives us normative reasons to act in certain ways. However, I think of that ought as arising from a social ecology (so to speak) with roots in psychological facts about what people tend to find desirable. The term “wrong” might not retain all the same semantic cache’ if we break it down into the component facts that (1) broadly speaking, people find acts labelled “wrong” to be undesirable, and (2) that it is usually conducive to an individual agent’s own ultimate ends to act in ways which most people find desirable; but whatever meaning is lost in the process seems to me to simply be an artifact of the semantic impact that arises from having a single, seperate word (“wrong”) with which we can summarize all the manifold normative dynamics that actually take place when someone is deliberating on how to act. In other words, it’s merely an aesthetic element that is lost, like when we break down the term “ugly” or “beautiful” into the component physical characteristics that instantiate either of those judgments . . .

I’m sometimes reminded of the debate over “qualia” in philosophy of mind while thinking about the posited irreducibility of normative properties. Basically, at some point in the discussion an impasse is reached, whereby one side insists that “what it’s like to__” is a substantive reality over and above whatever physical contingencies give rise to said sensation, while the other side maintains that firing neurons are all that’s required to explain the “what it’s like”.

Part of my contention is that even if one accepts that natural contingencies simply are all that’s required to explain normative reasons, that doesn’t necessarily require us to change how we think about which actions are good and which are bad, it merely simplifies the explanation as to why we think that way.

Perhaps it comes down to the question of whether telic desire precedes the good or if the good precedes telic desire (or, at least, OUGHT to precede telic desire) - I currently think that if we are careful about how we talk about desire and desirability, then we can solve a lot of confusion by simply positing that “the good” and “telic desire” are at root alternate descriptions of the same phenomena.

moral statements are all false. that is why they cannot be reduced to necessities or lesser causes. normative statements such as “rightness” and “goodness” are just expressions of personal opinion and intent of the speaker; they do not SAY anything about reality ITSELF.

of course, we could reduce such statements and beliefs to thought-energy, mental brain phenomena of a quantum/biological nature, but thats not really what youre getting at… the CONTENT itself, the moral “ought” or informative-declarative-command claims behind them, is what you are getting at… and these are all empty, subjective personal interpretations, and so “reduce” to nothing more than the personal experiential-genetic dispositions and pre-judices of the speaker.

the non-irreducible (more, even, the non-reducible) nature (physical-causal content reduction, that is-- disregarding the above paragraph) of moral beliefs should be a clue that there is nothing real, nothing substantive, in them at all.

thanks for the response, 3X

can we say they are aesthetic judgements? for instance, is there anything substantive, iyo, about the judgement that something is, say, beautiful or ugly? If we break those judgements down (reduce them, as it were) to the actual component physical characteristics that instantiate the phenomena of ugliness or beauty, then how much, if anything, are we losing?

sure, aesthetic judgments can be broken down into component parts, just as moral beliefs can, but in the same way, this is only then telling us something about the speaker, not about reality beyond the speaker.

beauty and ugliness are relative only to the subjective interpreter and valuer. that which is a value (such as beauty or moral goodness), presupposes a valuer.

theres nothing “unREAL” about aesthetic or moral statements of belief, its just that the reality exists only within the speaker himself, and his statements cannot be extended to anything objectively beyond himself, or to others… the beauty or moral goodness does not reside IN REALITY, it resides IN THE SPEAKER, in HIS reality, i.e. his mind.

Ah - but what other reality is there but the experience of the valuer?

On the one hand you reject the objectivity of values, but at the same time you seem to rely on a conception of reality as not-subjective.

values and reality are not synonymous.

i reject the objectivity of values, yes, because a value cannot exist without a valuer; however, reality itself CAN and DOES exist independent of valuers, of experiencers.

as values are CREATED by man (the valuer), they cannot exist WITHOUT man, i.e. subjectivity. but, even though our PERCEPTIONS of reality are in this same way subjective, reality itself (that which we perceive) is objective in itself, and independent of human interpretation: reality exists whether we experience/perceive it or not.

we are not gods “creating” reality as we see it; it exists regardless. however, values DO NOT exist regardless of human perception-- this is the crutial difference.

In order to make that plausible, you would have to be able to describe reality without referring to sensory input, without terms based on experience.
This is the basic problem of epistemology as I see it (and to which a more opportunistic thinker would cling to satisfy a completely solipsistic approach to knowledge) - all of reality as we know it is determined by the properties of our body.
So does it really exist beyond our experience of it? Possibly, probably, energy exists, but that is more or less all that can be said about it - or can you say more?

In any case, the valuer, the experiencer, is extremely important in defining what ‘is’.
Your objection to Nietzsches claim that a recurring combination of particles similar to the combination that makes up you is you still needs explanation.
What kind of objective reality is there to you that is not only known in terms of subjective experience?

When you state that reality in itself is objective, what follows is that in itself, it cannot be known.

of course. reality cannot be known from a position outside of ourselves or our senses. this is just a truism.

we cannot sense what we cannot sense; we cannot know something without a means to that knowledge, i.e. without a way of perceiving and interpreting it-- and since our perspective of perception is always finite, and always includes a process of imprinting order or meaning from within ourselves, there will always be a “false” aspect to our knowledge… there will always be a part of reality which we cannot access or know about directly via senses. but, this false aspect itself, we can understand as knowledge OF OURSELVES, which can still be very rewarding in exploring and understanding.

theoretically, i think we could still gain an objective knowledge of reality, if we were to, say, take every possible perspective separately, and sum them, and then derive the differences between each perspective which entail across the summation… this, along with intimate psychological and physical knowledge of our human sensation and perception processes, could give us a picture of reality as it is, independent of ourselfs… of course, then how could we understand this picture, without our understanding-process itself (i.e. how could we perceive it?) and, of course, even so, this is probably still practically impossible in any large-scale sense. on smaller-scales, heisenberg comes into play and still robs us of our ability at absolute knowledge. so, yes, absolutely objective knowledge is probably for all practical and theoretical purposes impossible to us.

HOWEVER, this does not mean that there is no objective reality. there is something that we perceive, by definition of what it is to have a perception… to perceive is to perceive SOMETHING, a percept, something necessarily beyond (to some minimum necessary degree) the perceiving-function itself. perception is a synthesis of external and internal, as external data is taken inside and interpreted, given meaning, by means of associations, relations, ordering within the mind.

knowledge is always such a synthesis. this means that true knowledge independent of subjectivity is impossible (i.e. it is impossible to perceive without perceiving), but it also means that there is something that we perceive, something external to us-- an independent reality, outside us, existing regardless of our existence or perception of it.

spatial-temporal location.

I agree with this, but not necessarily with the proposition that this renders all moral statements or even all moral judgements false . . . can you elaborate on the connection there? aren’t subjective judgements part of objective reality?

Possibly, but this would still only amount to a comprehensive human perspective.

On the next question - the premise is that the recurring combination is a recurrence of the entire universe as it is, including it’s history; spatial-temporal location would be the same, or at least impossible to distinguish through experience - impossible to know as different.

Good post about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, by the way.

I personally wouldn’t reduce color to light waves or eye mechanics, nor would I reduce sound to air waves or ear mechanics. I call these causes of color and sound. Maybe the same ought to be said of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I do believe there is a reductive relation between color, sound, and morality too, and brain states, but I think it works to opposite way from what most materialists believe. The brain reduces to the mind. The mind is irreducible. Color, sound, morality, and all other subjectively experienced ‘feels’ are irreducible along this line. That doesn’t mean that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can’t be reduced along a different reductive line, namely from a general label or broad metaphysical concept to more base desires and impulse (i.e. pleasure and pain), or perhaps emotions like the fear of being punished, or perhaps a belief system one has been taught and still clings to, or perhaps a set of values that defines one’s identity and is therefore defended in the name of the ego.

so, Gib, are you saying that brain is like an epiphenomenon of mind? is mind like the substrate of reality, then?

wouldn’t that, by extension, mean that the mechanics of light in interaction with the body to produce color sensations are themselves the RESULT of color sensations - or am i reading you wrong? because you also say that the mechanics are the cause of the sensation, so . . .

personally, i see the sort of reductive relationship i’m talking about here as a two way street - so that brain would reduce to mind but mind would also reduce to brain, because the reality is that the two are really equivelent - all these identifications would be contingent - you can preserve the “FEEL” of the phenomenon simply by positing that it is an intrinsic part of the phenomenon - but all sides of the phenomenon can be explained in terms of (or, reduced to, as it were) various component parts by changing the words we use to describe it - normativity can be described in terms of natural contingencies just as certain types of brain activity (specific neural firing patterns, particular biochemical reactions, e.g) can be described in terms of sensations felt in the mind . . .

More or less, but I wouldn’t call brain an epiphenomenon; more like a material representation.

I’m not sure I understand your question, but I did say that the mechanics are the cause of the sensation, and that might sound confusing, so let me explain. In my metaphysics, all physical systems, including the brain, including light waves, reduce to experience (more or less equivalent to qualia), but they reduce to it in two ways: 1) they reduce to the sensory experience we have of physical system (this is classic idealism), or 2) they reduce to their own experiences to which we have no access (this is a form of panpsychism). In regards to the latter, we can think of those physical systems as we know them to be represenations of the experiences they reduce to. So if a fire gives off light, and that light enters our eyes, and our eyes transduce the energy of the light to electric signals that stream towards our brain, that physical process can be thought of as a representation of the manner in which the initial experience (the qualia) that the fire reduces to transforms and morphs (just as the phsyical process transforms and morphs). Every transition from one stage of the physical process to the next represents a transformation in the quality or the character of the experience. The last stage of the physical process is the reception of the electric signal at the occipital cortex (our visual brain), and that represents the experience transforming into sight - or more specifically, the perception of a physical object. The process goes on from there to transform the experience into other qualities (such as thought, emotion, memory, etc.) just as the physical signal will go on to be processed by deeper regions in the brain.

So I’m sort of an idealist who believes in an outer world, but I don’t believe the outer world to be the material one as we perceive it (that’s the ‘outer world’ within our ‘inner world’). I believe the outer world consists of other experiences, the qualities of which are beyond our ability to imagine, but nonetheless bring about the ones we have. So if by ‘physical system’, you mean what we perceive, then I say it reduces to sensations. If by ‘physical system’ you mean what’s actually out there, then I say it reduces to other kinds of experiences of which we have no ability to imagine but nonetheless give rise to the ones we’re familiar with.

I don’t mean to present this as a matter to be argued over; rather, I want to show that there are alternatives to the classical materialistic reduction that’s so often assumed about the relation between mind and brain.

Yes indeed.

Yes, changing the words we use to describe it. That indeed can change the way we think about it. But it sometimes warrants a bit of caution. We sometimes lose something when we reduce, or change our terminology, something essential that would cause a great deal of misconception if it were absent. For example, one could argue that the experience of pain can be reduced to C-fibres firing in a specific pattern in the brain, but then one is liable to ask “Why does pain matter?” That is, it’s hard to see what makes pain so undesirable and important to avoid if it’s just a bit of neural matter. So something gets lost: the importance of avoiding pain.

and this premise is exactly what is flawed. the ENTIRE history will never, and can never, be exactly the same. how could it? the recurrence will always come after the one preceeding it, and therefore will always be different spatial-temporally than those universes which preceeded it.

it doesnt matter if all the particles and matter in the universe take a configuration X now, at this instant, and then in some 500 trillion billion years the universe suddenly assumes this same configuration X again… it has now, SUBSEQUENTLY, assumed configuration X after the previous universe did– i.e., the history of the new ‘recurred’ universe X will always have the history of the previous universe X plus 1 recurrence cycle.

sequence can never be duplicated exactly. any configuration X which comes after a previous configuration X (the definition of a “recurrence”) will always be the history of the previous configuration, with the additional sum of a new cycle (i.e. movement away from X initially, and then, after a certain amount of time and change have passed, reconfiguration into X)… this additional sum prevents the new configuration from EVER being EXACTLY the same as any other previous configuration of the universe, even if it happens to be an X configuration.

I understand that, objectively speaking, it is different. The point is that you are taking a birds eye view.
When you consider strictly the experience of the recurring constitution of particles (existence of which has been demonstrated to be anything but necessary in the other thread) it would be hard if not impossible to define it as different.

how can you strip the definition of any and all objective meaning?

to define is not only to “experience as”; to define is to understand objectively, to set within limits, to understand that which entails out of necessity. yes, IF (as you say, certainly it is not a necessity) it is the case the X constitution recurs identically as X[2], then we can understand that the INDIVIDUAL SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCES of all parts of X[2] are the same in every way to those of X-- this is only because the elements/totalities/entities of X[2] do not have memory of X, and therefore have no recollection within themselves of the “plus one” which has entailed previously.

but this plus one HAS entailed. when we are trying to understand WHAT a thing is, we dont limit ourselves merely to our perception of it; we dont just look at HOW it is EXPERIENCED by this or that, but WHAT IT IS, as objectively as possible (limited necessities, or typically mathematical analysis)… in the case of eternal recurrence of X into X[2], we cannot just willingly ignore the fact that X[2] has a different causal history, a different causal chain, a different spatial-temporal quality, of its parts as well as its whole. while we can say “this or that part of X[2] will act in an identical manner as this or that part of X”, this does not preclude our saying that this or that part of X[2] is of a different identity than this or that part of X (i.e. that it is not the SAME, identical, exact thing), stemming from the difference in spatial-temporal qualities (and thus, also causal history) between the two.

I want to counter that with another question: how can you strip the definiton from all subjective meaning?
Because that is what you do when you admit that the experience is exactly the same, but that this does not matter to the definition.

Keep in mind that we are talking about a human experience when the Eternal Recurrence is concerned. To my understanding, you are attributing disproportionate importance to the very few things we can know only objectively. In other words, you definitions are more Platonic than I can allow for myself.

On another note, according to Sauwelios’ ER, the combination of particles has already recurred an infinity of times (no beginning, no end to time) - if we assume that, also the temporal difference doesn’t exist. (an infinity of occurrences has come before in either case)

‘Reason is the circumference of energy’ as William Blake puts it.
I agree with this order of epistemic priorities. Experience is the profoundest form of knowledge. Definitions are derivative.

Granted, if we do not reason from the position that there already have been infinite occurrences, there is a theoretical difference.

not so. i already admitted that subjectively, the experiences and actions of the individuals in X and X[2] are the same.

also not so. i am merely pointing out that regardless of how similar TWO things are, they will never be ONE thing.

an infinite, and an infinity+1, are not identical… they are both infinite (unending sequences), this is true, but they are not the SAME unending sequence:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5…, and
2, 3, 4, 5…
are not the same infinite sequence, because (1) obtained in the first sequence, but not the second.

this also goes to show how the concept of infinite as an ACTUALITY, as an existent, extended thing beyond mathematical abstraction, is meaningless. nothing extended can be “unending”.

there is a great deal that we know about that is not from experience, unless you count the experience of internal conceptualization (infinite is one such example, as is the eternal recurrence itself). definitions are NOT, i repeat NOT, derivative of experience, not necessarily.

the definition of eternal recurrence, for example, as the infinite cycling of matter-energy. also the definition that an infinite chain of causality X, and another infinite chain of causality X[2] in which an additional event occurs that did not occur in X, can both be infinite (unending) and also different from each other… this understanding of the definitions of these various hypothetical universes is not derived from experience, except, as i said, the experience of conceptualization and mathematical abstraction.

yes, we can still understand a difference between universe 1 (infinity<--------event X------->infinity) and universe 2 (infinity<--------event X–>event Y[this does not occur in universe 1]---------->infinity), even if we assume that time never had a beginning or end. these two different universes exist along the same line of cycling time, where universes are born, reconfigure and exist, then die, and new ones are born again, over and over… this unending cycle can have no beginning and no end, but there can still be differences between the INDIVIDUALLY EXISTING, FINITELY EXTENDED universes along the timeline: and even if two of these universes end up having the exact same configuration of matter-energy, they exist along different moment of the timeline, and so they are not the same universe. they are TWO different universes, existing at different points along an unending timeline, and so are by definition TWO universes. they are not the same universe, they are two universes with the same structure.

that is the only point i am making, that two identical things, are two identical things… not “one” thing, but two. and of course it comes with the caveat that we assume eternal recurrence is even possible, which it is not (see my argument about entropy).

I understand all your points.
Without going again into the infinity discussion, which is per definition a fallacy, it suffices now for me to say that your understanding of what is real, actual, seems fundamentally different from mine.

To me, two identical bodies in an identical context, environment, are in reality the same.
That there are two of them doesn’t make them different from each other.
They do not stand in relation to each other.
They cannot be observed separately.

But then the ER isn’t knowledge but a prediction.
I referred to definitions of known things.
First comes the experience, which is getting-to-know, then comes the definition.