431. Setting Up Metaethics

431. Setting Up Metaethics

This post explains what the actual questions are that metaethics has to answer and which features our metaethical theory should have:

…So what we should want, ideally, is a metaethic that:

  1. Adds up to moral normality, including moral errors, moral progress, and things you should do whether you want to or not;
  2. Fits naturally into a non-mysterious universe, postulating no exception to reductionism;
  3. Does not oversimplify humanity’s complicated moral arguments and many terminal values;
  4. Answers all the impossible questions.

I’ll present that view tomorrow.

So far so good, there isn’t much to add.

The mystery of morality is in some ways similar to the problem of free will:

…To dissolve the puzzle of free will, you have to simultaneously imagine two levels of organization while keeping them conceptually distinct.  To get it on a gut level, you have to seethe level transition—the way in which free will is how the human decision algorithm feels from inside.

In the case of morality, once again there are two levels of organization, seemingly quite difficult to fit together:

On one level, there are just particles without a shred of should-ness built into them—just like an electron has no notion of what it “could” do—or just like a flipping coin is not uncertain of its own result.

On another level is the ordinary morality of everyday life: moral errors, moral progress, and things you ought to do whether you want to do them or not.

And in between, the level transition question:  What is this should-ness stuff?

But the mystery of morality is also much harder:

Award yourself a point if you thought, “But wait, that problem isn’t quite analogous to the one of free will.  With free will it was just a question of factual investigation—look at human psychology, figure out how it does in fact generate the feeling of freedom.  But here, it won’t be enough to figure out how the mind generates its feelings of should-ness.  Even after we know, we’ll be left with a remaining question—is that how we should calculate should-ness?  So it’s not just a matter of sheer factual reductionism, it’s a moral question.”

Award yourself two points if you thought, “…oh, wait, I recognize that pattern:  It’s one of those strange loops through the meta-level we were talking about earlier.”

And if you’ve been reading along this whole time, you know the answer isn’t going to be, “Look at this fundamentally moral stuff!”

(Don’t worry. The next posts won’t be “copy-and-paste-stuff” like this one.)

Leave a Reply