Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Euthyphro Answered by Analogy to Poetry

Like any arrogant SOB, at first I thought I'd come up with a unique solution to Euthyphro's dilemma. Turns out, I sort of have, but this is hardly rare. The trolley problem, Mary's room, Euthyphro, every philosopher has their own take on these things. I'm thinking I should collect all of mine into a diagnosis card, for the purpose of allowing rapid evaluations of me to be accurate. Find out the philosopher's intellectual lineage at a glance.

Initial version.

The strict logical answer is that gods like the pious because they're pious, as making them pious by liking them violates causation.
However, with actual liking in practice both come into play and feed into each other, as one can predict from general principle. It's weighted somewhat toward virtue, away from popularity.

If meter is good because people like it, then I suggest thinking about the generalized form of the following factor:

Things are sometimes liked because others like them. In this first fork, that makes the poem good. There is no such thing as a poem, that everyone likes, that sucks.

If people like meter because it is good, then they can fail to appreciate a good poem...but that poem is always appreciable.

This second fork implies that poems are good in ways that other things are not: poems are a unique form of wealth instead of yet another form of generalized wealth. Liking due to others liking it hardly stems from anything about poetry per se. Second, if the likeable trait is found also in, say, sand, it's probably not particularly poetic per se. Thus I can say that someone who likes bad poetry or music is not appreciating the art - I can only guess at what they're actually appreciating.

Moreover, no, in fact taste is not relative or subjective. Either poems offer unique wealth or they don't. Either a particular poem exemplifies that unique wealth or it doesn't. If they do and it does, and someone doesn't appreciate it, then they don't like and/or understand poetry, period.

Still, I do suspect this view uncharitably disparages the 'good because liked' view, and also makes untrue discriminations. I will think about it some more.


Using this framework, it becomes obvious that saying poetry is good because people like it violates locality.

I have a poem on Alpha Centauri. No one likes it. Then someone on Earth starts to like it. It instantly becomes good on Centauri. My evaluation goes from right to wrong but there's no possible way I could know.

If so, poems can be neither good, nor bad - rather a person's experience of the poem is good or bad. All you can say is some individuals like it, and perhaps predict based on similarity that other persons will like it. (The gods' experience of an individual is as pious or impious, and it is meaningless to claim that individuals are pious or impious.)

It has other problems with causation, too.

If it is predictable in principle when someone likes it, then it must be caused by the properties of the poem. If it isn't, then it violates causality. (Randomness does not solve this.) I believe this constitutes a reconstruction of a standard answer to Euthyphro: if the god changes their mind, but the individual doesn't change, for piousness to change means that piousness isn't a property of the individual.

More comprehensively, the prediction is based on the properties of the poem...and the rest of the observer's environment.

If there is any (unique-to-poems) contribution from the poem at all, then one can be mistaken about the poem and thus whether you like it, and thus whether it is good. And then taste is absolute.

At which point I suggest there are interesting implications for God. He can un-sin people by changing his mind. However, he's still bound by the laws of logic - he cannot make one person a sinner and another not due to the same action. This is very surprisingly restrictive because all the implications must also not contradict.

[Turns out Jesus isn't believed to be able to change the laws of logic.]

So I can just assume that it is impossible to make all free-willed agents non-sinners, no matter how the world is arranged.

Except...Jesus could use the null set, which has no contradictions. Now imagine what could make it impossible for Jesus to choose the null set.
A necessary antecedent: harm is bad by definition. The only question is whether harm can be said to meaningfully exist. I feel it's easy to show that it does: consciousness exists and doesn't like stuff. Anything which causes the not-liked stuff to happen matches the definition of 'harmful.'
I'm assuming Jesus can't use the null set, but if so, it can only be because the things not chosen would remain harmful. To be a sin and simultaneously not harm any consciousness is contradictory.
This means 'sin' reduces to 'unwise,' for Christians. Often just self-destructive, and definitively self-destructive for anyone who cares about not sinning against others. Which in turn implies morality is discoverable without God even if God exists. Even assuming the man is pious because God likes him implies that it's a property of the individual. The individual can then be investigated independently of religion. Which was Plato's point in the first place.

I believe those two lines of logic, about causality and about the null set, are independent, which means I've found a consistency. Which means it probably has integrity.


Gabe Ruth said...

Man, you're wordy. But you pick the right things to highlight, which is appreciated. The last highlight, that's the question we all want the answer to, init? If those superstitious guys are right in practice, should I take their theory seriously? If they turn out to be right in theory as well (or even facing in the general direction of Truth), will only accepting the practical aspects have negative consequences?

Regarding sin as an unwise act, I would suggest a slightly more general/objective formulation: sin is that which will reduce one's freedom to choose the good in the future.

Alrenous said...

The words all convey subtleties. If you already know the subtleties, they are indeed unnecessary.
I'm glad the highlighting is working, thanks for letting me know.

I would call that less general, though indeed more objective. By 'unwise' I basically mean self-destructive. But let me first confirm my understanding.

Are you working previous to or under the assumption of morality? Are we talking 'good' as in not-effective or as in not-evil?

Gabe Ruth said...

I knew you would quibble with good, but I was in a hurry. I mean from a utility maximizing standpoint. Not sure what you mean by not-effective. This does presume objective reality, an external standard, that utility is not ultimately subjective.

Alrenous said...

It's not meant to be a quibble. I ask because I need to know the answer.

By not-effective I basically mean not-utility-maximizing.

It sounds like it would be better to say you mean 'good' in a similar sense to 'consumer good.'

I think you're suggesting what I'm trying to mean.
'Unwise' and 'lesser freedom to choose the good' both amount to self-harm.
Harm is anything with reduces your resources. Something that wastes your time, money, health, materials, etc. Choosing the good requires resources.

Are you suggesting the existence of a morality-specific resource?

Gabe Ruth said...

I meant you were right to quibble. Not a complaint.

The belief is that the good is utility maximizing, if utility is not considered subjectively. The only resource of the kind you would accept is experience (logic would require more knowledge than we can have), though, and since personal experience can only be interpreted subjectively, we are still in the dark. If one were capable of not deluding oneself, morality would be discoverable. But since we can rationalize any experience to allow ourselves to continue to choose sin, morality is considered to be subjective.

Alrenous said...

I thought of something I missed. What if sin the the interaction between what God thinks and a human's properties? How does that work out?

I can rationalize, but I can also detect rationalization. I can closely approximate not deluding myself. I think the only significant prerequisite is genuinely wanting to not self-delude. (Works out on double-check.)

By 'more objective' I think I mean more precisely definable. I don't think the formal objective/subjective distinction is useful here. Two reasons.

First, suppose you think an act is a sin. Your thought that it is a sin is objective relative to me. You can't be wrong about it, but I can. It's subjective and objective simultaneously.

Second, utility cannot be objective, at base. It always has to be defined in terms of serving the values of subjects. The passions precede reason and reason is there to serve them.

Gabe Ruth said...

"What if sin the the interaction between what God thinks and a human's properties?"

That sort of works with a thought out view of the Absolute. But when you put it that way it betrays a view of God as an arbitrary tyrant, like the Olympian model.

I think you're very optimistic about self-delusion, but for do-it-yourself epistemology you need that attitude. It's not the worst one in the world given the current state of conventional wisdom about reality, but you've got to be awfully hard on yourself, and if you were really honest you'd probably never trust yourself.

Do you mean I can't be wrong about what I think? I don't think that's saying much, and it says nothing about my objectivity with regards to what is a sin. If I tell you something is a sin because I've done it before, and although at first it worked out great for me in the end it led to misery for many, including myself, is that what you mean? I am telling you it had negative utility for me, and since utility is subjective, and I say it has negative utility, it is objectively a sin from my view? And you can agree, but since you haven't tried it yourself and are trusting me, it remains subjective (and thus possibly an error, not a universal truth) from your view, especially if others saying I'm a crazy superstitious loon.

But you see why it won't do to call sin subjective. You can, but then it's the same thing as anti-utility (I'm sure there's a perfectly good word for what I'm trying to say already). Sin must mean something different, which is what we're after. The contention is that a sin is always, everywhere, and for everyone, not-utility-maximizing (ultimately). That which reduces freedom is one possible heuristic that has been floated, which I happen to like.

Are you one of those "reason was invented to win arguments" people? That's one of the dumbest assertions I've ever heard, BTW. Man may have developed skill in making reasonable sounding arguments for this purpose, but reason what not invented. Reason is a tool for understanding what we perceive. It does not serve the passions. The passions can deceive us and motivate us to use reason for silly things, but that is not the same thing.

Alrenous said...

Re: God interaction. Ah, right. Either he's in control or he's not. If he is he could dodge sin and thus pre-emptively redeem sinners. If not, it is a necessary property and thus subject to investigation regardless of God's existence.

DIY epistemology is the only real kind, it turns out. Everything else is a generalized ad authoritam fallacy.

If you don't verify epistemology for yourself, not only are you vulnerable to hacking, even if you're choosing a good authority you're likely to receive the wisdom mistakenly.

"but you've got to be awfully hard on yourself, and if you were really honest you'd probably never trust yourself."

I do have to be hard on myself. However, having done it, the latter statement is obviously twisted. Where did you get it from?

Hopefully I can illustrate:

Do you trust that you shouldn't trust yourself? Isn't this non-trust a thought you think?

Did you invent the idea? Shouldn't you mistrust the inventive capacity?

Did you read about the idea? Shouldn't you mistrust your perception of those words?

This almost certainly has to be the genesis of post-modernism. Fundamentally, you have to trust something about yourself. You actually don't have a choice.

Even if you did, the rational conclusion would be that you can't know anything. But this contradicts the evidence.

If I decide to make tea, I succeed. I know to boil water, how to steep a bag, and achieve a delicious drink. That much, I can trust.

What else is like tea? Lots else. So much that some of it can be used to DIY more epistemology. Epistemology is ultimately the study of how I succeed at making tea. And then bootstrapping to the stars.

It is true I could be wrong about literally everything. Perhaps my tea is somehow illusory tea. But the chance is infinitesimal, and the reality is so similar the error doesn't matter anyway.

"I don't think that's saying much, and it says nothing about my objectivity with regards to what is a sin."

If sin is composed in part by what you think is sinful, it's very important.
Utility is determined by value to individuals. Value is subjective, but if you perceive a thing as valuable, you can't be wrong about that.

"I say it has negative utility, it is objectively a sin from my view?"

It is objectively sin for anyone who has the same relevant properties. Values.

And if I have different properties, and therefore conclude it isn't really a sin for you, I'm simply wrong. This is similar to the Christian weaker brother principle. (Romans 14, apparently.)

"Sin must mean something different, which is what we're after."

Such a key point. We intuitively require sin and morality to be qualitatively unique.

But if it wasn't, I would conclude it doesn't exist. That was a possibility.

""reason was invented to win arguments" people? That's one of the dumbest assertions I've ever heard, BTW."

Made me chuckle. Hehe.

Reason is in general used to win arguments. However, if you've ever studied psychology, you'll know that actions follow from beliefs. Verification: perform cognitive therapy on yourself and watch your behaviour change.

Reconciling these two facts is giving me a headache. (I like these kinds of headaches, though.)

I'll start by being wordy. Arguments don't change people's minds. But their minds are not irrelevant to their actions.

Either ethnoepistemology teaches facts that allow success, or it doesn't. To the extent it does, it is reasonable.

Apparently it just doesn't include learning by hearing arguments.

Alrenous said...

"It does not serve the passions. The passions can deceive us and motivate us to use reason for silly things, but that is not the same thing."

Hume: "It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger."

Me: "There's no reason the entire human race shouldn't decide to get up, get a cup of coffee, and march en mass into the ocean."

Go ahead. Try to find what's wrong with these statements. I do have all day, as a matter of fact.