How can certain things be proven to be inherently bad and other things proven to be inherently good?
I'll give Laura an absolute criterion for "certain" things being inherently bad. Here we go: given the
normal definitions of numbers, we know what "2" means, and what "4" means. We also know what
the operation of addition is, symbolized by "+", and the symbol, "=". So we know what "2 + 2 = 4"
means, as normally defined. So, here's an inherently bad thing: "2 + 2 = 5, given the normal
definitions of those terms". An inherently good thing: "2 + 2 = 4, given the normal definitions of those
terms". As you can see, there are literally an infinite number of both inherently good and inherently
bad things. Of course, it all depends on anotherdefinition (aside from "thing"), i.e., "inherently". I
actually have no idea as to what that means, in the above question. But I can't think of any other
meaning that would let me do what I've just done, i.e., give well-defined and concrete examples,
unless we assert that there are moral properties of things that inhere in them. I am, of course,
employing a non-moral use of "good" and "bad" here, which is also something not specified in the
Well, well... nitpicking aside, what canwe do with this question? Cite all the various philosophers who
a) doassert the reality of moral properties, vs. b) those who assert the intrinsic opposition of "is" and
"ought", vs. c) those who assert that both a & b are false? Well, that's an old and tired one, which I
don't feel like pursuing... not to mention that it would take much more space than I want to fill here.
Now, one interesting aspect of the above, which may or may not have been intentional, is the way it's
posed: "how" can we prove.... "How" is an intriguing way to put it... not "can" we prove, but "how".
How do we prove things? Usually, we proceed through straightforward deductive methods... or in
some formal systems, we can use inductive proofs, if we can show that the series which cannot be
enumerated does follow some rule or formula which can, or does converge to some final value or
statement. But we certainly can't say that latter of morality. We could do the former (deductive), but
then of course we're tied to our assumptions... which we can't prove, at least by these methods.
However, we could be classical phenomenologists, say, and take "proof" to imply the apodicticity of
eidetic intuition... right? And indeed certain British moral philosophers around the turn of the century
liked something like that kind of "proof". Well, I don't think that it is at all valid (not to mention, for
example, Levin's extended refutation, etc...).
So, for morality, we've got deduction, which doesn't work in this case. Induction, which we laugh at
scornfully. Intuition, which we sneer at (unless we're phenomenological believers... and they're still
around). There's religion... but that takes us back to deduction, and justifying our assumptions,
doesn't it. What about this: I speculated previously about philosophical positions, schools,
agreements... to the effect that in a great many cases, philosophers agree more by default than
anything else. That is, whole schools, once hotly debated, now are collecting dust on library shelves
because philosophers simply consider the questions, answers, debates... irrelevant, unimportant, and
probably not even good enough to be termed "wrong". This is a form of induction, when you come
down to it, isn't it, which seems very similar to some of Kitcher's analyses of the processes of
scientific validation. Does this get at anything "inherent", or does it merely reflect current cultural
values? Well we know the postmodernist answer to that one, don't we. But some of those books have
been collecting dust for a longtime, on lotsof library shelves.
It seems to me that some sort of consensual procedure is going on here. Is it a valid one? Does it
reflect any sort of universal,at least, universal human, values? My feeling is that it does. And so,
then, the question is, is there an interesting and reasonably rigorous way to pursue what might be
another way of "proof", or at least a particular variety of induction? In addition, does this address the
"how" question? Is the way to address moral problems to go on and on about them, and then see
which of the rants survive the next century or so? Actually, unsatisfying as this might be to any
contemporary ranters, it might be just the way to go. Get the opinions and arguments out, let them
simmer while a couple of generations go by, and see what's left in the pot, so to speak. This is, after
all, what we do with works of art, isn't it. Perhaps then we need to consider philosophical arguments
to be closer to art than mathematics...
Steven Ravett Brown