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  1. Joseph Raz on the Problem of the Amoralist.Terence Rajivan Edward - 2013 - Abstracta 7 (1):85-93.
    Joseph Raz has argued that the problem of the amoralist is misconceived. In this paper, I present three interpretations of what his argument is. None of these interpretations yields an argument that we are in a position to accept.
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2013-06-11
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This was a solid paper guys I really must commend you for the excellent work. With that said, I do agree with you about Raz's arguments. They seemed to possess little to no substance whatsoever and his argument of self-interest towards the end seemed to be more of a forfeiture of his premise than anything else. I will at least credit him for attempting to untangle the knots in this complex field we call moral philosophy but I had some major objections while reading. Please do correct me if I speak ignorantly or from a misinformed position.

1. Raz says to be moral is to see value in others and one's self. This value is derived from the virtue of being a person. Are we to take it that the recognition of this value disregards how we cultivate that value through action which subsequently has consequences? If I see value in someone, but still decide to take away their life because I perceive myself to be more valuable, am I moral or not.

2. A refutation of point 1 would be that to see value in others and one's self is to act in accordance with that value. To always respect the value of yourself and others through your actions. There are two obvious retorts to this. 1.) How do we objectively qualify respect? and 2.) Who or what dictates this qualification? This is why I myself wonder how many Atheists are Amoralist. I am an Atheist but I am working on a new theory of morality (abandoning my previous works). Now someone might reply to the first contention that respect would qualify respect as acts that provide no injuries to others or the self. Fair enough, but we hit a roadblock with the second contention (that I hope my theory could potentially overcome). If it is another human being or institution such as government asserting this qualification and thus, the nature of morality resistance will be met. Morality can only truly be dictated in a uniform fashion by a being who is ontologically superior to Man (God) and even then it is not guaranteed because of the issue of free will. This, in my eyes, is why ethical relativism and Amoralism are the dominant ethical philosophies.

3. The Severely Limited Life Argument- To me this point was a mess. First of all, who is to say that the severely limited life was not something created by choice by the Amoral agent in question? Secondly, it would be impossible to establish a causal relationship between morality and life restrictions because of my contention in point 2. Unless we permit that there exists a being who is Ontologically superior to Man (Again God and insert Anselm's Ontological argument here) whom because of this superiority can mandate universal principles of morality for all to be compelled to follow, then we can't reasonably say that not being moral causes these restrictions. This is why I believe the Theistic arguments taking place are so critical, because it also ties into moral Philosophy in my opinion.

4. The self-interest argument-  Just reference point 3 again really. The Amoral agent in question would have never subscribed to Amoralism to begin with if not for a self interest. This assertion by Raz makes any leg that was supporting his arguments immediately crumble. This to me is also a problem with most Theistic arguments regarding God. It strays away from the rational and scientific and more towards an emotional/circumstantial argument.

In closing I want to say that if there is anything I believe Raz should be commended for it is taking the focus of moral philosophy away from actions and there consequences and focusing instead on another source. To me, if we are to make any progress in moral philosophy we must forget about focusing on these two forces. They are relative and as such can provide no credible basis for what morality is. I am working on a new basis as we speak I hope to have something released within a few months. Keep up the excellent work gentlemen.

2013-06-19
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Reply to John LeGore

I’ve always been puzzled by the phrase “to be moral” in moral philosophy. What does it mean? It makes me think of things like New Year's resolutions, or boy scouts doing good deeds. Is that right?

DA


2013-06-20
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Reply to John LeGore

Thanks, John, for recommending my paper. It was a surprise to me and I am glad you found it rewarding.

Regarding your first and second points, I think it is important to realize that Raz does not actually endorse the view that the mark of having morality is believing that each person is valuable in themselves. It is just convenient for proceeding with his discussion to adopt a provisional criterion.

If I remember correctly, there are two views on the mark of morality which Raz eventually suggests/implies: (i) the mark of having morality is believing that each person potentially has qualities which endow them with value in themselves; (ii) the distinction between moral and non-moral values is an arbitrary distinction - it does not cut the domain of values at the joints - meaning that there is little philosophical point trying to define the domain of morality. There is an inference in the second view which is open to question and the two views are compatible.

I think you are ultimately interested in evaluating whether this famous statement from Dostoevsky is true: if God does not exist, everything is permitted. You can skip past a lot of definitional work for addressing this question.

I do not think I will be participating in this discussion, as I am on holiday at the moment. I hope this does not sound rude. Hi to Derek, as well.


2013-06-21
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Hi to you Terence

I thought I should perhaps add that my question was meant quite seriously. Moral philosophy is not in my bailiwick but I often feel that moral philosophers somehow assume that "to be moral" is a clear and meaningful phrase. I think it is extremely vague – verging on the meaningless (which is probably why I tend to fill the gap with clichés like boy scouts). Every morality surely has a "content" and "to be moral" for person A might be – often is – quite  immoral for person B.

Presumably, then, those who use the phrase must be thinking about a kind of meta-morality – a reason why one should adhere to some moral system whatever it might be. But assuming one found an answer to that question (and how one might escapes me), what possible use could it be? Detached as it would be from any specific moral code, it could never provide the slightest moral justification for any specific action.

DA


2013-06-22
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Reply to Derek Allan
Yes, I agree that if the problem of the amoralist is understood in such a way that it would be solved by giving a successful argument to endorse some kind of moral system, whatever it may be, its significance is very questionable.

I had some material on the question "Why should I be moral?" when I first started writing on the problem, which considered this interpretation of it.

A worry I had is that maybe some moral systems are so bad, i.e. their prescriptions sometimes lead to horrible acts, that it is unclear whether it is better to be guided by them or simply behave without being guided by any morality (a worry that relies on taking some other moral prescriptions as objectively true beforehand).

2013-06-24
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Hi Terence

Yes I agree.

The term “amoralist” is in itself very problematic, isn’t it? What would such a person be like? An Aztec amoralist would presumably have been someone who looked on with indifference while thousands had their hearts ripped out with stone daggers. Whereas a modern Westerner who did that would doubtless be arrested for complicity in mass murder.

Which suggests that, in any absolute, “acultural” sense, the idea of an amoralist is as vacuous as the phrase “to be moral”.

DA


2013-06-25
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Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Actually, on reflection, I can see an argument for investigating whether the amoralist can be argued into some moral system, with no restrictions on which system.

Let us define an amoralist as a person who does not believe in any moral system and whose behaviour is not guided by any moral system. If there is no moral system that an amoralist can be argued into - such that for them to reject the argument would be irrational - it may well be concluded that all moral systems are unjustified. This conclusion is an important philosophical result. And so someone might defend the problem of the amoralist, when interpreted as a task of arguing the amoralist into some moral system, any system will do. Considering this problem is worthwhile for evaluating whether all moral systems are unjustified, they will say.

One might try to solve the problem or one might reject the problem as actually a pseudo-problem, by identifying a false commitment of it. So far I do not think we have achieved an adequate case for pursuing the second option, despite this interpretation of the problem looking dubious at first sight.
Terence


2013-06-27
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 Hi Terence

I’m not sure I follow your argument completely, so correct me if I seem to be missing the point.

I take the core of your argument to be the statement  “…If there is no moral system that an amoralist can be argued into - such that for them to reject the argument would be irrational - it may well be concluded that all moral systems are unjustified…”

I suppose there might be two objections to this.

(1)   (A rather frivolous point probably): One might imagine that there could be a moral system which has not yet occurred to the amoralist or his interlocutor – which the former might accept if he knew about it.

(2)   (A more substantial point but one that, I suspect, might not appeal to you): Is it really the case that a moral system is justified just because it is rational?  Because, in fact, when we look back at human history, the most powerful and widely accepted moral systems – including the Christian one on whose remnants we still largely rely – are not notably rational at all. Perhaps morals are, in the end, driven by something deeper than reason?

DA



2013-06-28
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Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

I  was hoping my last reply was clear, but a reference to the 'domain of morality' in an earlier post to John was not. Anyway, imagine a person who says this:
(a) The problem of the amoralist, as I understand it, is the problem of providing a good argument to an amoralist for believing in some moral system, with no restrictions on which system.
(b) This problem is philosophically significant, because if it cannot be solved, there is no justified moral system.
I have cut out reference to 'rationality' here, but it is the same basic problem as in my last reply.  I don't think we are yet in a position to dismiss it as a pseudo-problem.

Your first point is a good question: how can we ever say that there is no justified moral system, because we may not yet have conceived of every system? One answer is that someone can point to an essential feature of any possible moral system (e.g. some behaviour is prohibited), and offer an argument for saying that nothing with this feature could be justified. A different response is that, even if your question hangs over us, there are people who think that their particular moral system is justified and for them, the problem matters still - they still need to give the amoralist an argument for their system. (Not sure about the reasoning here!)

Your second point is about the significance of emotions in the acceptance of moral systems. There are different ways in which this point might enter into evaluation of the problem. One response is to say all moral systems are therefore unjustified. Another response is to argue for a conception of justification that allows emotions to contribute to justification. I  am attracted to this second response, but don't ask me to establish it! Usually the problem of the amoralist involves a conception of justification that excludes emotions from contributing epistemically, and this second response will involve rejecting the problem when it involves such a conception.

The remarks in this post need elaboration, but I will hopefully leave the discussion now, though I have returned home. Formulating some advanced points is quite hard work! I should say that I like your historical examples and I recently read a fascinating paper of yours on the origins of the sub-discipline of aesthetics.

Very best wishes,
Terence


2013-06-29
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Hi Terence

Thanks for these additional remarks – which all seem very sensible to me.

Just an added thought on the reason/emotion point. Suppose that we were able to demonstrate to amoralist, Mr A, that moral system X was not only rationally justifiable but in fact the only system that is, or could ever be, rationally justifiable. And let’s even suppose that amoralist Mr A agrees 100% with this conclusion and can find no fault whatsoever in our reasoning.

But then let’s suppose that, despite all this, Mr A informs us that he is not going to adopt moral system X but remain what he is – an amoralist. And when we ask him why, he simply says: “What has reason got to do with morality?” And he even gets a little bolshie and accuses us of making a “fetish” out of reason.

What do we do with Mr A? He's got us over a barrel, hasn't he?

(Please don’t feel you need to reply. I note that you mention you may have to leave the discussion.)

DA

PS. Glad you enjoyed my “Is aesthetics based on a mistake?” paper. One day I hope to develop the argument more fully – because I do think modern aesthetics is based on a mistake, or rather several…