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Post 20

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - 1:08amSanction this postReply
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Hi Chris.  Welcome to the conversation.

Let me start off by saying I'm not trying to defend Schwartz in general, and since I haven't even heard this lecture by him, I don't think I can say that I'm defending him on this issue.  But at least from the quotes I've seen, I think I can understand the point he's getting at, and I think it's an important point.

You commented that once we pin down the proposition to a specific meaning, we can determine its truth-value.  I agree.  Were you referring to my comments on the other thread when we were talking about the arbitrary?

Now you think the socialist/collectivist answer is a clear-cut case of a conclusion that's true despite the false premises.  I think the unrealistic argument in favor of it might be masking the complexity underneath.  For me, the "love is good" is a clearer example.  If you take the statement to be all but meaningless, then it's easy to say that you're agreeing with the "selflessness" arguer.  But saying "love is good", especially after a logical syllogism, implies that there's a specific way in which love is good.  And that's where the fundamental disagreement shows up.  Only by trying to phrase it as "love is in some way good, but I posit no actual reason for supporting that position" can both sides agree.  But then it's so content-free and arbitrary, it's worthless.  For us, when we say love is good, we're saying that is is an objective value in our lives, and we have reasons for supporting that belief.  The selfless arguer also has a specific meaning in mind.  And we certainly do disagree.  And further, he certainly is wrong.

Let's just try to concretize what the arguer is saying.

1.)  He says love is selfless.  He believes that love is actually not in your self-interest.  An understandable reason for believing that is that people who are in love with someone else will often go out of their way to do things for the other person.  So he might think it's in your interest to be loved by others, but not to love others.  We would argue that he's incorrect, but that he's at least referring to the same concept that we use for love (same referents...just a different conclusion about them).

2.)  He says selflessness is good.  He accepts unquestioning the altruist ethics.  And selflessness can be considered good, because it says your motivations are not aimed at helping yourself.

3.) The final conclusion is that love is good.  But by good, he doesn't mean that's it's valuable to our lives.  He's stating that love is moral.  But he means that it is moral under an altruistic ethics.  And again, it's false.  Only by ignoring his actual meaning and understanding of the phrase, and abstracting those details away, could we claim his statement is true.  He's not only incorrect in his understanding, but when you take what he really means by the conclusion, you can see see it's false.

That point needs to be clear before we can continue.  If you take the conclusion "love is good" to be so content-free and generic that both the Objectivist and the selflessness arguer agree, then there wouldn't be a problem.  But I think you can only do that by abstracting the idea away from the individual's actual understanding.  You'd have to ignore their actual meaning and context and focus on the similarity in words to describe it.

Is the correspondence theory applicable to words alone?  Or is it only applicable to an actual idea, understood by a thinking individual?  I don't think there's any argument.  It's evaluating the correctness of an actual idea.

If you can see that, then you can ask whether this is an isolated case or if there's a larger pattern here.  Is there a reason why this particular case worked like this?  Is there something specific to it that isn't present in other cases?  Is it possible that arriving at the conclusion by incorrect means affects the meaning of the conclusion, and that can actually make it a false conclusion?  Certainly this is the case in the love example.  Is this generally applicable as Schwartz seems to be saying?  Or is it an isolated event?

I haven't heard the lecture, so I don't know whether Schwartz makes a more compelling argument for believing this is always true.  Certainly in the love example, I think his conclusion is right.  How about in the Christian murder example?  I also agree with Schwartz in that example.  Certainly when we say murder is wrong and the Christian who bases his belief on God's will says murder is wrong, we're saying two very different things.

To be clear, we have to distinguish the Christian who has grasped implicitly good reasons why murder is wrong, and is just defending his position by reference to go with the Christian who has not grasped any secular reason for not killing, and only does so because God tells him not to.  We can't conflate these two.  While the former may argue for his position incorrectly, we can say that we are actually in agreement with him.  That is, we believe the same thing.  But we have next to nothing in common with the latter type.

As for the socialist/collectivist argument, as I said, the warped argument confuses the matter.  The conclusion, without reference to the arguer, seems to be correct.  But the arguer is completely confused.  He's stated that socialists are all collectivists, but it's impossible to understand what he means by these terms, at least given his argument.  Why does he think all socialists are atheists?  For the logical syllogism to work, he has to think there's a necessary connection there.  Similarly with the atheists being collectivists.  The result is so bizarre, we have to ignore whatever possible meaning he attributes to the conclusion.

So going back to the big picture.  The correspondence theory is a method of judging statements about reality.  But it's not just the words that are judged.  It's the meaning behind the words.  If we try to rip the conclusion from the context of the person who believes it, we can say that it's true.  If we look at the specific meaning, at least in some cases, we find that the statement isn't true, even though at first glance it sounds true.

Let me also make another point, in case people feel that we have to reject this theory because of the implications.  Schwartz may think he can "deny any agreement between himself and those (such as non-Objectivist libertarians) who appear to share his conclusions but not his premises." (Bill's words).  I don't think that statement is correct, even if Schwartz's vital principle argument is correct.  First, because there are many roads to correct knowledge, and people don't always need to explicitly identify what road they've taken.  Also, because while one may have bad philosophical premises, those premises must actually be part of the derivation of the idea for its meaning to be corrupted.




Post 21

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - 3:42pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Joe,

You wrote,
The conclusion "Love is good" actually has a very different meaning for the person making the argument.
It can have a different meaning, depending on what a person means by the term "love." I thought I made that distinction in Part 1 of the article.
When dealing with concepts, we know we can always go look at the referents of the concepts. If we did the same with the proposition, we would notice that the arguer would use radically different referents than we would. They would look at a sacrificial love and say it's an example of love being good. We would disagree. And thus we would argue that their final statement is actually false (as well as their argument being false).
Again, arguments are not true or false; propositions are true or false. Arguments (and their conclusions) are valid or invalid. So, when you say that the "final statement" (i.e., the conclusion of the argument) is false, are you referring to the conclusion as a proposition or as a deduction from the premises? If the first, then you would say that the conclusion is either true or false, depending on whether or not it corresponds to the facts; if the second, then you would say that it is either valid or invalid, depending on whether or not it adheres to laws of logical inference. You need to be clear on which concept -- truth or validity -- you're referring to, when you evaluate the conclusion.
Forget what you think Schwartz means by love. Can you see what I'm getting at? If just the statement "Love is good" has radically different referents, doesn't it mean that one view is false?
Yes, of course! I thought I made that clear in the article. But, as I also stated, the meanings of the terms in the conclusion are determined by their meaning in the premises. A term can't mean one thing in the premises but another thing in the conclusion; otherwise, the argument commits the fallacy of equivocation.
If we take that to be the thrust of Schwartz's argument, it makes sense (although we'd still have to decide if it's universally applicable).
But it's not the main thrust of Schwartz's argument. The main thrust of his argument is that false premises necessitate a false conclusion, which is incorrect. As I illustrated, a true conclusion can validly be derived from false premises. Of course, if you mean something different than I do by the terms in the premises, then (if you're consistent) you're going to mean something different by the conclusion. That's obvious. But it's not the gist of Schwartz's argument.
We could say that by understanding the argument made, we can see how their final statement means something entirely different from it's face value. We might then make the more aggressive statement that if they actually derived the conclusion from false statements, the end result at least partially contains those false premises, and so is false.
This is not correct. The conclusion contains (or reflects) the meaning of the terms in the premises, not the truth or falsity of the premises. The conclusion can be true, even if the premises are false. All that is required for the truth of the conclusion is that it correspond to reality. I've already given an example to demonstrate this.
But we can take it step by step. You say:
Observe that there is a difference between the proposition, "(Selfish) love is good" and the proposition "(Selfish) love is good, because...." The first proposition is true, while the second could be false.
Let's look at this in more detail. If someone said "love is good", would you dare to tell them that you completely agree? I certainly wouldn't.
Joe, in the very statement you quoted, I was careful to specify the kind of love. I said selfish love! So you know the kind of love I'm talking about.
Love certainly can be good, but the context would matter a lot, wouldn't it?
Yes! I have never denied that; in fact, I've stressed it repeatedly.
If they made a blanket statement like that, we'd have to rule it as false.
Why do you say that, when the statement, "Selfish love is good" is clearly true?
So at least in this case, the statement "love is good" needs to be limited and applicable in certain contexts.
Yes, if it's simply the statement "love is good," but if the meaning is clear, as in the statement "Selfish love is good," then the statement is limited and applicable only in certain contexts.
By looking at the person's argument that makes this conclusion, we can see that their choosing a context and scope that make it false. Once again, the meaning of the conclusion needs to be understood before it can be evaluated. And by seeing the false arguments, we understand enough of the meaning of the conclusion to dismiss it.
Again, arguments are not false; propositions are false. Arguments are valid or invalid. Of course, the meaning of the conclusion needs to be understood before it can be evaluated! I don't know anyone who has ever disputed that.
But in this quote, you used the term 'selfish'. So let's assume that for now (although I'm not convinced) that the conclusion means that.
It doesn't necessarily mean that; it depends on what the term "love" means in the premises!
You argue the first statement is true, but the second may not be.
Let's be clear what we mean by the "first statement" and the "second statement." I think you may have inadvertently dropped the context here. Remember, the first statement says "Selfish love is good." The second statement says "Selfish love is good, because..." The second statement incorporates a reason, which may render the statement false, depending on what that reason is. That's all I was saying.
Is the first one true? Objectivism doesn't have a theory of propositions, but I think if it is anything like how we treat concepts, we can look at what are the referents of the statement. It's making a statement about reality, in this case a generalized statement, and we can look at the specific examples. So as I said before, I think we can argue that the first statement is factually wrong. And in fact, we can know that it's wrong because they came to the conclusion in a way that makes them choose incorrect referents.
What conclusion are you referring to here?
So while the statement "(selfish) love is good" might be able to refer to a statement about reality that we would agree with, this example highlights the need for understanding the context and meaning of the proposition. It just means that a statement like that can have more than one meaning, and to judge it, we need to know what the meaning is.
Of course. I didn't think this was ever at issue. I'm still not sure why you thought it was.
And this explains why I'm hesitant to discard the "because" part of the statement. Saying "love is good" connects these two concepts, but without understanding what kind of connection is meant, we can't judge the validity of it.
You mean that we can't judge the truth of it, not the validity. "Validity" refers to the conclusion's derivation from the premises, not to its correspondence with reality.
We can't figure out what the referents are. We can see that it's a statement, but we don't really know what it means.
Yes, the reasons for the conclusion (i.e., the premises) alert you to the meaning of its terms. If you know the meaning of the terms in the premises and there is no equivocation in the argument, then you can know the meaning of the terms in the conclusion. But the conclusion still does not include the premises, which is why we the call it a "conclusion"; we're concluding something from the premises.
You say:
It is very important not to confuse an argument with its conclusion. What you're saying is a conclusion is really an argument containing a conclusion.
Actually, I thought I was saying that the conclusion contains some amount of the argument.
Let's be very clear: it doesn't contain the premises in the sense of including them as part of the proposition forming the conclusion; the conclusion is a derivation from the premises. In other words, the conclusion doesn't restate the premises, which is what you were suggesting. Rather, it is implied by the premises.
But I don't think I'm confusing the argument with the conclusion. I'm not trying to judge the conclusion based on whether it was properly derived from it's conclusions.
You mean from its "premises." :-) But you were equating the argument with the conclusion when you said that the conclusion is "Love is good, because...." Here you are saying that the conclusion is the conclusion plus the premises, since the "because..." clause constitutes the premises.
That would be a mistake, and I agree that we would call it "invalid" in that case.
I wouldn't say it's "invalid," just that the proposition would then include more than simply the conclusion.
But I'm not even suggesting that the argument is invalid. I'm just saying that the meaning of the conclusion, the referents which it describes, are based on the initial premises. It's not the argument that's wrong. The meaning of the conclusion is wrong.
I don't follow you. Do you mean to say that the conclusion isn't true? Of course, the meaning of the conclusion is based on the initial premises. That's the very point I made in Part 1 of the article. Joe, my analysis is somewhat technical. So, for clarity's sake, you need to be careful how you phrase your comments. It also helps to have some familiarity with deductive logic and its terminology. Kelley's text on logic, The Art of Reasoning is a good primer.
You say:
The meaning of the conclusion depends on the meaning of its constituent terms, whose meaning is itself determined by their meaning in the premises.
This might be the major difference in our lines of thought. I don't think you can just take the constituent terms, slap them together, and say that's the meaning of the conclusion. The conclusion connects these constituent terms through a specific means. The person making the conclusion means something in particular.
Again, I'm not sure I follow you. If the meaning of the terms in the conclusion is the same as their meaning in the premises, then what is meant by the terms in the conclusion is what is meant by them in the premises. This meaning is preserved quite irrespective of whether or not the premises are true or even whether or not they imply the conclusion.
Maybe this is a technical disagreement. Maybe you're saying that technically, the conclusion is only stating that there is a relationship between love and good, and doesn't at all say or mean anything about the specific kind of connection. So even though it was generated by seeing a specific connection, the conclusion actually makes a more generalized statement?
If you understand the meaning of the terms in the conclusion and what it is saying, then whatever it states, that's what it states. Wherever you're going with this, I think you've lost me. :-)
That doesn't really make sense to me. If they generated the conclusion by a specific means, it seems that the "love is good" is referring to that conclusion. Otherwise, it would be like them following the logic, coming to a conclusion supported by the logic, but then stating "We can see that there is indeed some connection between love and good, and that love must at times be good, but we make no statement about why that's the case or how exactly love is good". It's only this super generalized statements where the referents are not just abstracted, but completely dropped, that we could then say "Why yes...they came to a true conclusion through false premises!".
Again, you've lost me. I don't know what it is that you're saying here.
You then add an example of your own:
All socialists are atheists. (False)
All atheists are collectivists. (False)
Therefore, all socialists are collectivists. (True)
This one is more difficult because it's harder to understand how someone would make this argument, and thus it's harder to see what the conclusion is referring to for them. It has to be more than just statistical. They have to have reasons for supporting these premises. Maybe they think socialists are atheists because a belief in god is somehow incompatible with socialism. And maybe they think that all atheists are collectivists because a belief in god is necessary to be an individualist. So then they make their conclusion that socialists can't be religious, and so they can't be individualists. So the connection made is via their godlessness, and not through their shared anti-individualism. The conclusion centers around the belief that atheism is the connection.
Yes, "atheism" is the middle term.
Do we agree with that? No.
You don't agree with their reasons for saying that all socialists are collectivists, but you do agree with the proposition forming their conclusion that all socialists are collectivists.
So again, only taking a very sterile view of their conclusion, as if they're just words and not meaning anything deeper, can we say that it's correct.
I don't know what you mean by "sterile." The conclusion means what it means, irrespective of the truth or falsity of the premises and irrespective of the validity or invalidity of the deductive process. The conclusion doesn't state the premises and it doesn't mean the premises. It means the conclusion.
But if we understand that they mean something entirely different than we do, we'd have to say that we disagree. We don't disagree with every possible meaning of the statement. We just disagree with their meaning.
No, we don't. We agree with their meaning. They mean the same thing by the proposition forming the conclusion that we do.
So if we take the statement at face value, assuming it's not referring to any specific kind of connection, but just simply stating the existence of a connection, only then could we say that it's true.
But that's all the proposition forming the conclusion does state. Qua proposition, it doesn't state that the premises are true or even that they imply the conclusion. It simply states that all socialists are collectivists, which is true. Qua inference, it also purports to imply the premises, and since it does so correctly, we can say that it's valid as well. But there is nothing in the conclusion, either in terms of its truth or its validity, that implies the truth or falsity of the premises. Indeed, the premises are identified as false based precisely on the assumption that the terms "socialist," "atheist" and "collectivist" mean what they normally mean. It is precisely because these terms reflect normal usage that it is false to say that all socialists are atheists, and that all atheists are collectivists. Therefore, since the terms in the conclusion must mean the same thing as those in the premises, the conclusion that "All socialists are collectivists" must itself reflect normal usage and, accordingly, is just as true as its premises are false.
But, and this gets into your second article discussion of the arbitrary, the statement becomes arbitrary. Only be assuming there's no reason for stating it or there's no knowledge which it's based on can we say that's it's true.
Why do you say that? The conclusion is true if and only if it corresponds to reality, and since the conclusion in this case does correspond to reality, it is true, regardless of the fact that the reasons for it (i.e., it's premises) are false.

- Bill




Post 22

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - 5:35pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

After so much back-and-forth with so little agreement between us on the infinity thread, it pleases me to find that I follow you completely on this thread and also agree with you.




Post 23

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - 5:43pmSanction this postReply
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That's funny, Jon! Jesus, I'm surprised you didn't pass out before you finished this last post of mine, 'cause I almost did! Zzzzz.

- Bill



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Post 24

Thursday, August 31, 2006 - 12:24amSanction this postReply
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Bill, sorry for the delay in response.  My day job is keeping me very, very busy, and I find little time or energy at the end of the day.

Instead of responding line by line, I prefer to try to take the underlying disagreement and address it.  If you'd prefer that I also respond line by line, let me know.  But I think there's enough confusion that we need to look at the bigger picture.

I think we're talking past each other, and it's possible the examples we're using aren't helping.  You've been focusing on the referents of proposition, and showing that the statement is literally true given the proper referents.  But this is missing my point, and from your description, seems to miss Schwartz's point (my opinion...again, I haven't heard his speech).  So let me try to show a few different examples of the basic idea.

One example that was given was someone who believes that murder is wrong because God says so.  Or let's put rephrase to say that he accepts whatever his religious leaders tell him.  They tell him murder is wrong, so he thinks it's wrong.  Now when he says "Murder is wrong", you can say that his statement corresponds to reality.  And it would, if the statement were taken out of the context of his own beliefs.  What he really thinks is that murder is wrong as long as his religious leaders say it is.  He only accepts the statement in a limited context.

If we stick with just evaluating the proposition "Murder is wrong", then we can say it's true.  But that's not a full statement of his belief.  It's an abridged version of it.  When we understand the context of his belief, we may learn that there's a lot more to it.  He may mean that murder is wrong, until he's told otherwise.  Or maybe he thinks killing infidels doesn't count as murder.  Or maybe he thinks it's a minor offense, but drawing pictures of Mohammad is far worse.  Or he may mean it's only wrong on certain holidays.  The fact that his final statement sounds like something we would say does not make it true.

You keep focusing on whether the concepts that make up the proposition are the same as what we mean, and then judging it from our own knowledge and perspective.  But he may really mean the same thing by 'murder' and 'wrong' as we do, and yet the statement clearly means something different.  We can go ahead and define them as "intentionally killing innocent people" and "something we should not do".

The context of his knowledge is important.  We can't simply evaluate the statement he makes at the end.  His final statement is a representation of his belief, but it only states some aspects of it.  This is where the whole contextual nature of knowledge has to be evaluated.

Just look at how the context of his beliefs impacts the meaning of the statement.
1.)  The degree of the wrongness of murder.  Without context, we can get a sense of the degree, and whether it's appropriate.
2.)  What exceptions there might be to the statement.  While he may think murder is wrong, he may have different views of what constitutes murder.
3.)  The context tells us under what conditions the statement is true.  Do lifeboat situations change things?  For him, if his religious leader changes his mind, that changes things.
4.)  To say something is wrong  implies some kind of standard of value.  That provides us insight into how strong of a statement it is and how each individual example compares to it.

Does the context of the statement matter?  Certainly in real life it does.  I'm not interested in evaluating the merits of a statement that only partially reflects a person's understanding/belief.  The question isn't whether a statement taken out of context is true or false. 

What if we were to try to show that it's true that murder is wrong.  We'd have to refer to a specific moral theory.  We'd have to describe carefully what is murder.  We'd have to connect murder to wrongness by showing exactly why it's wrong, and how wrong it is.  Only within this precise context can we say the statement is true. And yet when someone makes the statement, you want to ignore whether he upholds the same context and evaluate the statement on its own merits.  Can it be done?  Should it be done?  If they don't share the same context, is their meaning correct? 

In the "love is good" example, we have the same problems.  It can only be judged with a specific standard of value, and only under specific conditions.  And yet when they reject those conditions, standard, and the rest of the context, are they really correct?

In the socialists are collectivists argument, is it true?  Can someone be a socialist, upholding government ownership of all property, for other reasons (like thinking he'll be better off).  He doesn't have to believe that the collective is the source or recipient of value.  He just has to decide he wants it anyway.  Only by narrowly defining the context can we say the statement is true.  And then we'd find that the person in question doesn't share that context, because he arrived at the conclusion via some false view of atheism.

In fact, the more I look at this whole thing, the more convinced I am that Schwartz is right.  "The context is the why, and it determines the what; it determines what it is that we grasp about reality as we form knowledge."  If it determines the "what", then the meaning actually is different.

Your argument against the "Thou shalt not kill" ends with:
“Murder is wrong unless God should demand it,” then that conclusion would be false, but it would be false because it does not correspond to reality, not because bad reasons happen to be given for it.
But Schwartz's point was that the bad reasons behind the conclusion made the conclusion mean "Murder is wrong unless God should demand it".  Sure, it should be judged on its own correspondence to reality.  But it's the real meaning that should be judged, not some abbreviated description that ignores the context.  Similarly with the "Love is good" argument.  The real meaning is "(Selfish) Love is good because it's selfless!".  They would judge the strength of the goodness by the perceived selflessness of it.

You focus on a very, very, narrow context. You focus on what the meaning of the terms in the conclusion are.  I argue that the conclusion has more context than just that.  And only by ignoring it can you suggest that they're coming to a correct conclusion.  The most you can say is that the way they phrase their conclusion, removed from the context of their understanding, is sufficiently devoid of meaning that we can apply our own correct context and this new modified version will be correct.

There's the further question of whether the "vital principle" is always true, but given the examples so far, they all support it.




Post 25

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 1:02amSanction this postReply
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Joe, you wrote,
I think we're talking past each other, and it's possible the examples we're using aren't helping. You've been focusing on the referents of proposition, and showing that the statement is literally true given the proper referents. But this is missing my point, and from your description, seems to miss Schwartz's point (my opinion...again, I haven't heard his speech). So let me try to show a few different examples of the basic idea.
Let me stop you here, Joe. It does not miss Schwartz's point. I have listened to his speech, transcribed it in it's entirety, gone over it carefully, and given exact quotations. What you see is precisely what he said.
One example that was given was someone who believes that murder is wrong because God says so. Or let's put rephrase to say that he accepts whatever his religious leaders tell him. They tell him murder is wrong, so he thinks it's wrong. Now when he says "Murder is wrong", you can say that his statement corresponds to reality. And it would, if the statement were taken out of the context of his own beliefs. What he really thinks is that murder is wrong as long as his religious leaders say it is. He only accepts the statement in a limited context.
Once again, the premises or reasons for the conclusion are not part of the conclusion itself. If they were, the conclusion wouldn't be a conclusion from the premises. The conclusion in Schwartz's example is not, "Murder is wrong, because God says so." The conclusion is, "Murder is wrong." The reason is, "because God says so."
If we stick with just evaluating the proposition "Murder is wrong", then we can say it's true. But that's not a full statement of his belief. It's an abridged version of it.
What do you mean by "his belief"? Of course, it's not a full statement of his ethics. But that's not what's at issue. What's at issue is only a specific part of his ethics, namely, his conclusion that murder is wrong.
When we understand the context of his belief, we may learn that there's a lot more to it. He may mean that murder is wrong, until he's told otherwise. Or maybe he thinks killing infidels doesn't count as murder. Or maybe he thinks it's a minor offense, but drawing pictures of Mohammad is far worse. Or he may mean it's only wrong on certain holidays. The fact that his final statement sounds like something we would say does not make it true. You keep focusing on whether the concepts that make up the proposition are the same as what we mean, and then judging it from our own knowledge and perspective. But he may really mean the same thing by 'murder' and 'wrong' as we do, and yet the statement clearly means something different.
I don't agree. If he means the same thing by "murder" as we do, then he will apply the concept in the same way -- to the same concretes. If his application differs from ours, then his meaning will be different as well.
We can go ahead and define them as "intentionally killing innocent people" and "something we should not do".

The context of his knowledge is important. We can't simply evaluate the statement he makes at the end. His final statement is a representation of his belief, but it only states some aspects of it. This is where the whole contextual nature of knowledge has to be evaluated.
Again, what do you mean by "his belief." What belief are you referring to?
Just look at how the context of his beliefs impacts the meaning of the statement.
1.) The degree of the wrongness of murder. Without context, we can get a sense of the degree, and whether it's appropriate.
2.) What exceptions there might be to the statement. While he may think murder is wrong, he may have different views of what constitutes murder.
I thought you said that he can mean the same thing by "murder" and "wrong" as we do, and still mean something different by his statement. Now you're saying that he may have different views of what constitutes murder. But if he has different views of what constitutes murder, then he doesn't mean the same thing by it.
3.) The context tells us under what conditions the statement is true. Do lifeboat situations change things?
That depends on what he considers murder. Look, I don't dispute the fact that what he means is important in determining whether his statement is true or false. I never have, but why couldn't we mean the same thing by the conclusion, but have different reasons for accepting it?
For him, if his religious leader changes his mind, that changes things.
I agree. So, assume for the sake of argument that the religious leader doesn't change his mind.
4.) To say something is wrong implies some kind of standard of value. That provides us insight into how strong of a statement it is and how each individual example compares to it.

Does the context of the statement matter?
For what? Of course, it matters in deciding what the person means by his statement. I have never disputed that.
Certainly in real life it does. I'm not interested in evaluating the merits of a statement that only partially reflects a person's understanding/belief. The question isn't whether a statement taken out of context is true or false.
Again, what understanding or belief are you referring to? A particular ethical conclusion or the person's entire code of values? You say, the question isn't whether a statement taken out of context is true or false. That depends on what you mean by "context." If by "context," you mean the reasons for the conclusion, then the question is, "Is the conclusion true or false?", not "Is the conclusion in combination with the premises true or false?"
What if we were to try to show that it's true that murder is wrong. We'd have to refer to a specific moral theory. We'd have to describe carefully what is murder. We'd have to connect murder to wrongness by showing exactly why it's wrong, and how wrong it is. Only within this precise context can we say the statement is true.
Yes, because you can only know that a statement is true, if you can verify it. But we're not talking about knowledge here; we're talking about truth. Remember, these are two different concepts.
And yet when someone makes the statement, you want to ignore whether he upholds the same context and evaluate the statement on its own merits.
Yes. Why is that a problem for you? There is no contradiction here. As Objectivists, we can know that murder is wrong, because we can prove it. The theist cannot know that murder is wrong, because he cannot prove it. But that doesn't mean that his conclusion is false. As I've stressed repeatedly throughout this dialogue, he can believe in a true conclusion for false reasons. Again, we have to be careful here to distinguish between truth and knowledge. A theist can uphold a true conclusion, without knowing that it's true.
Can it be done? Should it be done? If they don't share the same context, is their meaning correct?
It can be, depending on what you mean by "correct."
In the "love is good" example, we have the same problems. It can only be judged with a specific standard of value, and only under specific conditions. And yet when they reject those conditions, standard, and the rest of the context, are they really correct?
Again, what do you mean by "correct" here? "Correct" can mean either true or valid. In which sense do you mean it? If you mean it in the sense of valid, then the answer is no; but if you mean it in the sense of true, then the answer is, yes, a conclusion can be true, even if the reasons for it are false.
In the socialists are collectivists argument, is it true? Can someone be a socialist, upholding government ownership of all property, for other reasons (like thinking he'll be better off). He doesn't have to believe that the collective is the source or recipient of value. He just has to decide he wants it anyway. Only by narrowly defining the context can we say the statement is true. And then we'd find that the person in question doesn't share that context, because he arrived at the conclusion via some false view of atheism.
Joe, assume for the sake of argument that all socialists are collectivists (even if you think they might not be); assume further that a person believes this, because he thinks that all socialists are atheists and that all atheists are collectivists. In that case, wouldn't he hold a true conclusion for false reasons?
In fact, the more I look at this whole thing, the more convinced I am that Schwartz is right. "The context is the why, and it determines the what; it determines what it is that we grasp about reality as we form knowledge."
I agree that what Schwartz says here is true. In fact, I stated as much in the second paragraph of Part I, when I wrote, "In general, Schwartz’s point about the relevance of context to knowledge is well taken. It is certainly true that a proposition arrived at for the wrong reasons or inferred from false premises does not constitute knowledge. Schwartz is also correct that the meaning and identity of a conclusion depends on its context."
Your argument against the "Thou shalt not kill" ends with:
To be sure, if instead of 'Murder is wrong,' the conclusion were that 'Murder is wrong unless God should demand it," then that conclusion would be false, but it would be false because it does not correspond to reality, not because bad reasons happen to be given for it.
But Schwartz's point was that the bad reasons behind the conclusion made the conclusion mean "Murder is wrong unless God should demand it".
It's true that the theist believes that murder is wrong unless God should demand it, but that doesn't mean that when he says "Murder is wrong," he necessarily means that "murder is wrong unless God should demand it." He could simply mean that "Murder is wrong (right now)," because God forbids it. You see, we have two distinct propositions here:

Proposition 1: "Murder is wrong (now)." And the reason the theist gives for accepting that proposition is that murder is forbidden by God.
Proposition 2: "Murder is wrong unless God should demand it."

These are two separate propositions, both of which the theist accepts as true. But in the example Schwartz gives only Proposition 1 -- "Murder is wrong (now)" -- is the conclusion, and it is one that Objectivism would agree with (assuming, of course, there were agreement on the kinds of killings to be classified as murder).
Sure, it should be judged on its own correspondence to reality. But it's the real meaning that should be judged, not some abbreviated description that ignores the context. Similarly with the "Love is good" argument. The real meaning is "(Selfish) Love is good because it's selfless!".
No, that's not the meaning of the conclusion; you're mixing the premises in with the conclusion again. Remember, the conclusion does not include the premises. If it did, it wouldn't be a conclusion from the premises.
There's the further question of whether the "vital principle" is always true, but given the examples so far, they all support it.
I don't think so! :-) But, hey, I'm not stingy with examples. Since they're a dime a dozen. Here'a another:

Bill Gates is a banker. (False)
All bankers are billionaires. (False)
Therefore, Bill Gates is a billionaire. (True)

There is certainly nothing in the context of this syllogism to suggest that since the premises are false, the conclusion must mean something false. As we have seen, the meaning of the terms in the conclusion is determined by their meaning in the premises, and in this case, the premises can be construed in quite ordinary terms.

For example, assume that by the term "Bill Gates," one means the person whom we all know as the chairman of Microsoft and that one is simply mistaken in thinking that he is a banker. (One may have just met Gates and gotten his profession wrong; still, one knows who the man is; one can identify him.) Similarly, assume that by the terms "banker" and "billionaire," one means what these terms normally mean and is simply mistaken in thinking that all bankers are billionaires. One's conclusion that "Bill Gates is a billionaire" will then mean exactly what it would mean if it were validly derived from true premises, and it will then be just as true as if it were validly derived from true premises.

Indeed, the premises in this syllogism are identified as false precisely because their constituent terms mean what they normally mean. It is because the terms "Bill Gates," "banker" and "billionaire" reflect normal usage that it is false to say that "Bill Gates is a banker," and that "All Bankers are billionaires." Therefore, since the terms in the conclusion must reflect their meaning in the premises, the conclusion that "Bill Gates is a billionaire" must itself reflect normal usage and, accordingly, is just as true as its premises are false.

In order for the conclusion to be false, it would have to mean something different, in which case, the premises would in turn have to mean something different. But then one could no longer say that the conclusion is derived from the original premises, since it would then result from a different set of premises, i.e., from those with a different meaning.

So, if you didn't find my previous counter-examples convincing, maybe this one will do it for you. But not to worry; there's more where that came from! ;-) I do want to stress, however, that I continue to regard my previous counter-examples as sound, despite your demurral.

- Bill





Post 26

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 3:07pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

When I say you're missing Schwartz's point, I mean that you're not appreciating the way in which false premises or a false reason for believing something can actually change the final meaning of it.  If you're merely trying to argue that in some cases, the vital principle doesn't hold, that would be okay.  I think Schwartz is making an important and true point about how false premises lead to an actual different (and false) conclusion, even though it may appear to be correct at first glance.  If you want to argue that this is only true in some contexts, and try to identify those contexts, that'd be great.  But in your quest to reject the vital principle, you keep overlooking blatant examples of his insight.  Let's continue so I can try to show you what I mean.
Once again, the premises or reasons for the conclusion are not part of the conclusion itself. If they were, the conclusion wouldn't be a conclusion from the premises. The conclusion in Schwartz's example is not, "Murder is wrong, because God says so." The conclusion is, "Murder is wrong." The reason is, "because God says so."
Once again, the argument is not that they have to arrive at the conclusion in the correct way (which would be an argument about knowledge, not truth).  The argument is not that you have to have the correct reason for the argument, but that false reasons lead to an actual different conclusion.  Again, if you want to say that's not true all of the time, then lets go there.  But so far, you seem to be arguing against that belief itself.


You keep focusing on whether the concepts that make up the proposition are the same as what we mean, and then judging it from our own knowledge and perspective. But he may really mean the same thing by 'murder' and 'wrong' as we do, and yet the statement clearly means something different.
I don't agree. If he means the same thing by "murder" as we do, then he will apply the concept in the same way -- to the same concretes. If his application differs from ours, then his meaning will be different as well.
Let me clarify this.  By murder, he may mean "killing an innocent person" and by wrong he may mean "something we shouldn't do".  Now clearly his overall ethical beliefs will affect what he considers an innocent person.  And "something we shouldn't do" implies a context as well.  While he may use the same words and same definitions, the overall meaning is affected by its context.

But there's a more significant point here.  The point Schwartz makes is that the meaning is affected by the false premises leading to it.  The person who thinks God demands us follow rules in all situations will think it applies to every situation.  That does change the meaning. Because it's not wrong to kill/murder in every context, just in normal contexts.

To choose an example that would highlight this.
God says lying is wrong.
God is always right.
Therefore, lying is wrong.

And in typical Objectivist tradition, when a murderer asks you where your family is hiding, suddenly the "lying is wrong" is no longer applicable to us, but still is to them.  Notice I'm not arguing that their reasoning to get to a correction conclusions was somehow invalid.  I'm arguing that their conclusion is actually false.  It may coincidentally be true in some contexts, but that doesn't make it correct.

2.) What exceptions there might be to the statement. While he may think murder is wrong, he may have different views of what constitutes murder.
I thought you said that he can mean the same thing by "murder" and "wrong" as we do, and still mean something different by his statement. Now you're saying that he may have different views of what constitutes murder. But if he has different views of what constitutes murder, then he doesn't mean the same thing by it.
I gave definitions for the terms, such as killing innocent people.  But obviously the context of his beliefs will affect what that means as well.

But this doesn't help your point.  You're claiming that even though his premises are false, he came to the correct conclusion.  But since his premises affect what exactly he means by the terms in the conclusion, that also affects the meaning.  Certainly in the religious case, if they believe that homosexuals (or atheists, or heretics, or infidels) are not innocent, then their conclusion is actually different.  But that's just one of many ways in which the false premises can actually change the final meaning of the conclusion, and thus make it false.
That depends on what he considers murder. Look, I don't dispute the fact that what he means is important in determining whether his statement is true or false. I never have, but why couldn't we mean the same thing by the conclusion, but have different reasons for accepting it?
I think this is the most important thing you've said in your response.  I think we can probably can have different reasons (or at least I can't see an argument that convincingly proves that we have to have the same reasons).  Or even no reason.  But the point I'm concerned with is whether false premises have the power to change the conclusion.  That is, in some cases, false reasons don't lead to the same conclusion.  They affect it in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle ways) until it actually has a distinct meaning.  For those religious people who think murder is wrong, their conclusion really has a complex, contextual meaning that is false.  While it may lead to the right actions most of the time, the conclusion itself is false.  It's no different from saying we shouldn't kill another human being.  While in most circumstances that works well in practice, there are situations where it's entirely false and destructive.

For him, if his religious leader changes his mind, that changes things.
I agree. So, assume for the sake of argument that the religious leader doesn't change his mind.
If we do, we're limiting the context of his statement until it more thoroughly overlaps with ours.  But let's take the pacifist.  If we limited the context of applying his pacifist principle to only peaceful situations, would we say that he's correct?  That we're in agreement?  I don't think so.  We don't agree with his overall principle.  If we only judge that principle in the context where it happens to lead to positive results, aren't we assuming upfront that his principle actually is wrong overall?

Similarly, if we assume the religious leader doesn't change his mind, we're not proving that his conclusions that murder is wrong is the same as ours.  We're showing that under limited circumstances, we happen to agree on the particulars.
You say, the question isn't whether a statement taken out of context is true or false. That depends on what you mean by "context." If by "context," you mean the reasons for the conclusion, then the question is, "Is the conclusion true or false?", not "Is the conclusion in combination with the premises true or false?"
I agree that we're judging the conclusion as true or false.  The premises don't matter in themselves.  Nor are we judging the validity of the logical argument.  The conclusion is all that matters.  But the conclusion is a statement that's formed in a particular way.  The method of forming it affects the final product.  It only appears to be the same as what we believe.
What if we were to try to show that it's true that murder is wrong. We'd have to refer to a specific moral theory. We'd have to describe carefully what is murder. We'd have to connect murder to wrongness by showing exactly why it's wrong, and how wrong it is. Only within this precise context can we say the statement is true.
Yes, because you can only know that a statement is true, if you can verify it. But we're not talking about knowledge here; we're talking about truth. Remember, these are two different concepts.

I remember.  I've read Kelly's Art of Reasoning.  I'm familiar with the topic.  But you missed my point here.  I'm not trying to show what it requires for us to know something is true.  I'm trying to show what context is required in order for it to be true.  If a person takes the statement but without the required context for it to be true, it isn't true.  They will apply it in the wrong situations.  They will have different referents than we do. If a statement requires a very specific context in order to be true, then when a person lacks that context, the statement isn't true.

Another example of this.  Say we argue there's nothing wrong with killing an innocent person in a war when you're targeting a real threat and the innocent person is in the way.  Now, when someone says "killing innocent people is okay", would we say that he's correct?  It has nothing to do with whether he "knows" it or not.  It's all about whether his conclusion is true or false.  But to know that, we have to know the context.  If his context isn't correct, his statement is false.

Again, what do you mean by "correct" here? "Correct" can mean either true or valid. In which sense do you mean it? If you mean it in the sense of valid, then the answer is no; but if you mean it in the sense of true, then the answer is, yes, a conclusion can be true, even if the reasons for it are false.
I mean true.  But here you're generalizing your statement in a way that avoids our argument.  You say that a conclusion can be true, even if the reasons for it are false.  You're leaving the door open for it to be possible.  But the question is whether the false premises in these examples do alter the meaning of the statement.  By claiming that the conclusions are true, you're arguing that the vital principle is entirely false.  But if you admit that in many, many cases, the premises actually lead to a different conclusion, then the argument is not whether his vital principle is true or false, but under what contexts is it true.  In other words, you can disagree with his generalization while appreciating his insight and seeing that in some circumstances, it's true.

Again, what do you mean by "correct" here? "Correct" can mean either true or valid. In which sense do you mean it? If you mean it in the sense of valid, then the answer is no; but if you mean it in the sense of true, then the answer is, yes, a conclusion can be true, even if the reasons for it are false.
By making these assumptions, wouldn't I merely be judging his conclusion within the contexts in which we happen to agree on particulars?

Proposition 1: "Murder is wrong (now)." And the reason the theist gives for accepting that proposition is that murder is forbidden by God.
Proposition 2: "Murder is wrong unless God should demand it."
Again, isn't the first just narrowing the context until we happen to agree on the particulars?  Of course we will end up agreeing on some particulars.  Just as we would agree with the person who thinks homosexuals should be killed in some limited contexts (when they also happen to be murderers).  But aren't we playing word games at that point?

It seems to me that the more context matters in defining the meaning of a statement, the more difficult is it for false premises to lead to a correct conclusion.  When you remove the need for any context to identify the meaning of it (like breaking it down into particulars), then you Schwartz's vital principle no longer applies.  For him, the false premises change the meaning of the statement.  But if the statement can only have one meaning, since it's so specific and doesn't require a larger context, then the false premises can't change it.

So when you narrow the context so much, you're moving towards the point where his principle can't kick in.  You're not proving that his principle is false all the time.  Just that it only applies in specific contexts.  If I can ever identify a place where the false premises can change the meaning of the conclusion, you can just narrow it further.
Sure, it should be judged on its own correspondence to reality. But it's the real meaning that should be judged, not some abbreviated description that ignores the context. Similarly with the "Love is good" argument. The real meaning is "(Selfish) Love is good because it's selfless!".
No, that's not the meaning of the conclusion; you're mixing the premises in with the conclusion again. Remember, the conclusion does not include the premises. If it did, it wouldn't be a conclusion from the premises.
No.  The person making that argument would conclude that the more of a sacrifice the love is, the more "good" it is.  The conclusion does not stand in isolation from the premises.  As Schwartz said and you seemed to agree, ""The context is the why, and it determines the what; it determines what it is that we grasp about reality as we form knowledge." 

Your last example:
Bill Gates is a banker. (False)
All bankers are billionaires. (False)
Therefore, Bill Gates is a billionaire. (True)

Again, as I've said, by making the last statement context-independent, you haven't proven that Schwartz's insight is false.  You've just moved to an area where it can't be true.

But I'm not Schwartz.  He might have argued all knowledge is contextual, and so his principle applies universally.  I wouldn't say that.  I would say that the principle applies more in propositions that need a lot of context for them to be true.  The more context needed, the more unlikely that getting at it through false premises will lead to the conclusion.  In practice, it would almost never be the case.  Usually faulty premises lead you to completely wrong conclusions.  But even when there's a superficial appearance of correctness, often the meaning will be different precisely because the means of arriving at it were false. 

The same general ideas goes for arbitrary statements.  The more context needed for a statement to be true, the more difficult it is to arrive at it through arbitrary means.  One could make an arbitrary principle in ethics that needed a very specific context to be true, and include the context in the arbitrary statement.  But it's unlikely.





Post 27

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 8:17pmSanction this postReply
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Joe wrote,
The point I'm concerned with is whether false premises have the power to change the conclusion.
False reasons don't change the conclusion, because they're reasons for the conclusion.
That is, in some cases, false reasons don't lead to the same conclusion.
False reasons for what don't lead to the same conclusion? False reasons for the same conclusion, or false reasons for a different conclusion? You see the problem? If you mean false reasons for the same conclusion, then they must lead to the same conclusion, because that's what they're reasons for. If you mean false reasons for a different conclusion, then it's true that they don't lead to the same conclusion, because they lead to a different conclusion. But what does that prove? Nothing as far as I can see.

You write,
For those religious people who think murder is wrong, their conclusion really has a complex, contextual meaning that is false. While it may lead to the right actions most of the time, the conclusion itself is false. It's no different from saying we shouldn't kill another human being. While in most circumstances that works well in practice, there are situations where it's entirely false and destructive.
If what you're saying is that the reasons for a conclusion can sometimes be a clue that the meaning of the words in the conclusion is different than one might initially have thought, then I agree. But that is not what Schwartz is saying. At least it's not his only nor his most important point.
[L]et's take the pacifist. If we limited the context of applying his pacifist principle to only peaceful situations, would we say that he's correct? That we're in agreement?
Correct about what? In agreement about what?
We don't agree with his overall principle.
If it's his overall principle that's at issue, then yes, we don't agree.
If we only judge that principle in the context where it happens to lead to positive results, aren't we assuming upfront that his principle actually is wrong overall?
But what is the pacifist's principle? It's that we should never use violence to defend ourselves against violence. There is no context in which the application of that principle leads to positive results. Refraining from using violence in self-defense for reasons of expediency is not an application of the pacifist's principle. But I think I see the point you're making. You're saying that by the conclusion "Murder is wrong," the theist means wrong in cases that differ from those in which Objectivism would say it's wrong (e.g., the theist might say that abortion is murder, whereas Objectivists would not). So, even though the words "Murder is wrong" are the same, the meaning of "murder" is different. I agree, and if this were all that Schwartz were saying, I would have no quarrel with him.
I'm not trying to show what it requires for us to know something is true. I'm trying to show what context is required in order for it to be true. If a person takes the statement but without the required context for it to be true, it isn't true.
What do you mean by "required context"? Do you mean the required context of knowledge? If so, then you are talking about what is required for someone to justify the statement, not what is required for it to be true. Its truth doesn't depend upon anyone's ability to justify it; it depends only on whether or not the statement corresponds to reality. If it corresponds, then it is true; if it fails to correspond, then it's false.
They will apply it in the wrong situations. They will have different referents than we do. If a statement requires a very specific context in order to be true, then when a person lacks that context, the statement isn't true.
No, the statement is still true; the person just doesn't understand it well enough to apply it properly. For example, Rand's principle of egoism, according to which one's own happiness is one's highest moral purpose, is true. The fact that a person lacks the proper context to justify and understand it does not mean that for him, her principle is false. Truth isn't relative or subjective. Rand's principle isn't true for the person who understands it, but false for the person who doesn't.

You say that if they lack the proper context, they will apply the statement or principle in the wrong situations, which implies that the principle itself is true, but is being wrongly applied. The fact that it's being wrongly applied doesn't make it false. You're committing the same error as the Objectivists when they define truth as "the recognition of reality." Truth is not the recognition of reality; knowledge is the recognition of reality. Truth is correspondence to reality.
Sure, [a conclusion] should be judged on its own correspondence to reality. But it's the real meaning that should be judged, not some abbreviated description that ignores the context. Similarly with the "Love is good" argument. The real meaning is "(Selfish) Love is good because it's selfless!".
No, that's not the meaning of the conclusion; you're mixing the premises in with the conclusion again. Remember, the conclusion does not include the premises. If it did, it wouldn't be a conclusion from the premises.
No. The person making that argument would conclude that the more of a sacrifice the love is, the more "good" it is. The conclusion does not stand in isolation from the premises. As Schwartz said and you seemed to agree, ""The context is the why, and it determines the what; it determines what it is that we grasp about reality as we form knowledge."
Again, to say that the conclusion depends on the premises is not to say that it includes the premises. As a proposition, the conclusion is still separate from the premises.
I'm not Schwartz. He might have argued all knowledge is contextual, and so his principle applies universally. I wouldn't say that. I would say that the principle applies more in propositions that need a lot of context for them to be true.
Let's be very clear. A proposition is not just a sentence. It is the idea expressed by the sentence. Therefore, it makes no sense to say that a proposition may need a lot of context in order to be true. Whatever idea constitutes the proposition expressed by a sentence, that idea is either true or false. It doesn't become false, because someone lacks enough context to understand it.
The more context needed, the more unlikely that getting at it through false premises will lead to the conclusion. In practice, it would almost never be the case. Usually faulty premises lead you to completely wrong conclusions. But even when there's a superficial appearance of correctness, often the meaning will be different precisely because the means of arriving at it were false.
Actually, there are many true conclusions that are arrived at from false premises. For example, the founding fathers thought that our rights stemmed from God, but they still believed in basically the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we do. Indeed, Rand credits the founders with having identified both the nature of these rights and the purpose of government, which is to secure and protect them. Granted, the broader the context, the more chance there is for disagreement, but in many, normal everyday activities, most people agree with Objectivists. They agree that robbery is wrong, murder is wrong, cheating is wrong, etc.
The same general ideas goes for arbitrary statements. The more context needed for a statement to be true, the more difficult it is to arrive at it through arbitrary means.
You mean the broader the application of the principle, the more difficult it is to arrive at it on the basis of false premises. Yes, I agree. But for many narrower contexts, people can agree on essentially the same idea for different reasons.

- Bill






Post 28

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 4:49pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

You seem so close to understanding me, and yet so far! I'm about ready to give up. I'm not sure what the barrier is here is. I think I need to skip around your post a little.

"But I think I see the point you're making. You're saying that by the conclusion "Murder is wrong," the theist means wrong in cases that differ from those in which Objectivism would say it's wrong (e.g., the theist might say that abortion is murder, whereas Objectivists would not)."

Let's just stop here. This is one major point and one you shouldn't discard so quickly. I take this to be the real insight Schwartz is dealing with. The fact that theist came to the conclusion "murder is wrong" through a false method does in fact change the final meaning of his statement. It can change the meaning of the terms (although that's just one way in which it can change the meaning).

You go on to dismiss it because the terms mean something else, and so the conclusion is not the same. But that's not a reason to dismiss it. That's part of what I've been saying this whole time. The conclusion actually is different, even though it's worded the same. Instead of not counting as an example, it is a perfect example. Schwartz isn't arguing that if someone comes to a conclusion that corresponds to reality, it's false because he got there wrong. He's saying that it doesn't correspond to reality at all. And he goes on to explain why that's the case. It doesn't correspond to reality because it actually means something different from how we read it. It's meaning is tied to how it was arrived at.

If your only point is to say that if they arrive at a true conclusion through false means, it's still true because it corresponds to reality, there's no argument between us (nor, seemingly, with Schwartz). But his insight is that the false means usually leads to a different meaning that doesn't correspond to reality. If you want to argue with him about that always being the case, I'm fine with that too. He doesn't prove it's always the case. But you seem to be going further by arguing against his examples and insight that the false premises actually lead to a different result. That's our point of disagreement.

At least in the murder example, you seem willing to admit that the conclusion, while sounding correct, is actually quite different. I hope you can see it's because the means of arriving at it are actually wrong.

Moving on. You say "If what you're saying is that the reasons for a conclusion can sometimes be a clue that the meaning of the words in the conclusion is different than one might initially have thought, then I agree."

No. That's not what I mean, although it is true. If we understand the conclusion to be an integration of the premises, and not just an arbitrary statement that comes after them, we can see that it builds on them. They define it and explain it. It's not just sometimes that they give us a clue to the meaning of the conclusion. They always do, if it is the conclusion.

Also, it's not just that the terms themselves can have different meanings. That's just one way in which a proposition relies on context. Any amount of the context can be different. For instance, the religious person might end up with the same concept of 'murder', referring to the same thing we do in all cases, but the context of his "murder is wrong" is "as long as my religious leaders say it is". Even if he uses the terms in the same way, there's clearly a difference between what he's saying and what we're saying. The referents for his proposition as a whole are different from ours, even though the referents for the concepts may be the same.

"But what is the pacifist's principle? It's that we should never use violence to defend ourselves against violence."

Actually, I would say that it's "never use violence". The way you describe it, there's no (or little) overlap. Much more the way I describe it.

"Refraining from using violence in self-defense for reasons of expediency is not an application of the pacifist's principle." It may not be an application. That seems orthogonal to this discussion. All he has to do is phrase it in a general way like "violence is wrong", and suddenly in some very specific contexts, it is true.

I said, "I'm trying to show what context is required in order for it to be true. If a person takes the statement but without the required context for it to be true, it isn't true."
You asked, "What do you mean by "required context"? Do you mean the required context of knowledge?"

No. I mean the context for the statement to be true. Take the pacifists "violence is wrong". There may be contexts in which their statement is true. But if they mean it to apply in all situations, it's false. Notice that the referents for the words are the same. 'Violence' means what we think it does. 'Wrong' means what we think it does. But in order for the statement to be true (not knowledge...but for it to actually correspond to reality), it must be stated within a specific context in which it's true. The point is that when someone arrives at a conclusion through false premises, it's entirely likely that they are not meaning the correct context when they state the conclusion. And so their statement actual means something different. And in fact, it's actually false.

This is not about knowledge. It's about the truth of the final statement. Without the proper context, the statement is not true. The reason you might think this has to do with knowledge is because when context is so important for the truth of a proposition to be determined, it's unlikely that the context is rigorously defined if the speaker doesn't correctly have knowledge of it. It's more difficult for a statement to be placed in the correct context if the speaker doesn't understand what that context is. And that's interesting because it shows the more complicated the context that's required for a proposition to be true, the less likely you'll get there through arbitrary or false means. But the truth of the proposition is still only defined by it's actual meaning and if that corresponds to reality.

You said "No, the statement is still true; the person just doesn't understand it well enough to apply it properly." I wasn't just referring to whether they could apply it correctly without the knowledge. I'm actually getting at whether the meaning of the statement can be considered true without the required context. If the person doesn't qualify the statement with the correct context (and he probably won't if he doesn't know what the correct context is), the statement is not true.

"For example, Rand's principle of egoism, according to which one's own happiness is one's highest moral purpose, is true. The fact that a person lacks the proper context to justify and understand it does not mean that for him, her principle is false. Truth isn't relative or subjective."

I agree that it applies to him, even if he doesn't understand it. That wasn't what I was saying. His knowledge or lack thereof doesn't negate the truth. We agree. My point was that if he makes a statement without being able to specify the context in which it's true, then his meaning is actually false. He isn't able to carefully define the context so that the statement can correspond to reality. And so his statement is too broad, and therefore false.

I said "If a statement requires a very specific context in order to be true, then when a person lacks that context, the statement isn't true." You followed with "No, the statement is still true". My first sentence was if a statement requires a very specific context in order to be true. Are you suggesting that context doesn't matter for evaluating the truth of a statement? Or did you miss that part?

This seems like such an obvious point. Statements often require context in order to be true. If I say "I want ice cream", of course it doesn't mean I want to be drowned in it. If I say "the sun is shining", I don't mean it's shining everywhere on the plant. I assume this is not controversial?

Later you say "Again, to say that the conclusion depends on the premises is not to say that it includes the premises. As a proposition, the conclusion is still separate from the premises."

I know we're going round and round on this one. Not sure it's worth pursuing much further, but I'll give one more try.

The conclusion is not unrelated to the premises, even as a proposition. We don't judge the proposition based on whether the premises are true or false. That part is fine. But since the conclusion is an integration of the premises, its not a separate thing. Since he arrives at the phrase "love is good" through a mistaken view of love being selfless, it does affect what he means at the end. He would judge a more sacrificial love as being better. Just like concepts can have borderline cases, so can a proposition, and the borderlines would be different for him. The strongest examples of his meaning would not be the same as ours. We would find a case of love that truly embodied selfish benefit. He would find a case that maximized the cost, or perhaps the benefit to the other person. At some point, we'd say that the sacrifice is too high to call it "good" anymore, while he'd still think that it's good.

All of this is the case with this example. His final statement may appear to be correct if we don't look at these things, but it's actually different from ours and actually false. And it's because he arrived at it through false premises that the meaning was different. The final statement is still being judged by it's own correspondence with reality. It's false on its own merits.

You say,"Let's be very clear. A proposition is not just a sentence. It is the idea expressed by the sentence. Therefore, it makes no sense to say that a proposition may need a lot of context in order to be true. Whatever idea constitutes the proposition expressed by a sentence, that idea is either true or false. It doesn't become false, because someone lacks enough context to understand it."

Good, good. We agree. Now we just need to get you to see that the idea being expressed is actually false and that it's not just coincidentally false but is in fact false because it was arrived at incorrectly. And before you think I'm arguing about knowledge again, I fully realize that its truth is measured by its correspondence with reality, and agree. That defines it as wrong. But doesn't answer why it is that he didn't happen to arrive at a correct conclusion instead. The reason he arrived at a conclusion that doesn't correspond to reality is that he used false premises.

You go on to say "Actually, there are many true conclusions that are arrived at from false premises. For example, the founding fathers thought that our rights stemmed from God, but they still believed in basically the same rights to life"

There are a few arguments one could make there. Those that were deists may have believed that God gave us our nature, but they identified the rights as being part of that nature. In other words, they actually did arrive at them through proper means.

But even those who go on to argue that rights are from God are open to debate. Do they accept the arguments emotionally, and are simply rationalizing God's participation? I expect that's true of "most people".

I believe the idea of rights, at least in the fuzzy sense most people believe them (they may not know the term, or have generalized their beliefs, but think that murder is wrong, theft is wrong, etc.) is something that's pretty easy to appreciate in life. Formulating it precisely and justifying it are much more difficult, but that's true of most philosophy, isn't it? Understanding why we do things, and determining if they're justified or not, is quite a task. But people do those things before they understand it. You have a moral code because you need one, not because you think that you need one.

It gets even more complicated when a concept is formed by the correct method (as rights probably were), but then they're taken over by religion. They can shortcut the reasoning process by just spitting out the results and saying "because God says so". The conclusion weren't arrived at through false premises at first. They're just adopting the reasoning of other people.

In that sense, they're really just adopting it as an arbitrary statement. And that overcomes most of the hurdle of arriving at the right conclusion through false premises, as you can get a lot closer by copying. Then when they justify it by saying "God says so", it retains it's quality as an arbitrary statement.

Of course, if they go on to try to actually justify it through some religious views, like saying we have souls from the time of conception, then you start seeing differences develop. The more they do that, the bigger the differences.











Post 29

Thursday, September 7, 2006 - 11:16pmSanction this postReply
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Joe, you wrote,
If your only point is to say that if they arrive at a true conclusion through false means, it's still true because it corresponds to reality, there's no argument between us (nor, seemingly, with Schwartz).
But, you see, it is Schwartz’s point that false premises cannot yield a true conclusion.
But his insight is that the false means usually leads to a different meaning that doesn't correspond to reality.
No, his claim is that false premises always lead us to a different meaning that doesn’t correspond to reality. Recall his “vital principle” which states that “a seemingly right conclusion arrived at via the wrong reason is the wrong conclusion.” He doesn’t say “is usually the wrong conclusion.” He says, “is the wrong conclusion.” And he uses that fallacious principle to argue that libertarians cannot be genuine advocates of liberty, because they arrived at their support for liberty via the wrong reasons. Moreover, as we have seen, Rand would have disagreed, for she states: "One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy—only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials)…if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours.” (Emphasis added)
If you want to argue with him about that always being the case, I'm fine with that too. He doesn't prove it's always the case.
But he argues that it’s always the case, which is a serious mistake, because it places him and those who agree with him like Peikoff at odds with the very philosopher they claim to be defending.
But you seem to be going further by arguing against his examples and insight that the false premises actually lead to a different result.
Yes. There’s nothing about false premises that makes them special in this regard. True premises can lead to a different result just as well as false premises can. All that is necessary is that the premises mean something different. For example, consider the argument:

1) All murderers deserve to be punished.
2) Scott is a murderer.
3) Therefore, Scott deserves to be punished.

If we assume that the name “Scott” denotes Scott Dyleski, then it follows that both the premises and the conclusion are true.

Now consider the same argument with the exception that the name “Scott” denotes Scott Peterson instead of Scott Dyleski. Here as well, both the premises and the conclusion are true. Yet the conclusion in the Peterson example differs from the conclusion in the Dyleski example, not because the minor premise is false, but because the meaning of the minor premise in the Peterson example differs from its meaning in the Dyleski example, which illustrates that it is not the truth value of the premises that determines the difference in the meaning of the conclusions, but simply the difference in the meaning of the premises themselves.

Suppose now that instead of denoting Scott Dyleski or Scott Peterson, the name "Scott" denotes Scott Kriens (CEO of Juniper Networks). In that case, both the minor premise and the conclusion will be false.

Similarly, suppose that the name "Scott" denotes Scott Adams (Creator of the Dilbert cartoon). Here too, both the minor premise and the conclusion will be false. Yet the conclusion in the Adams example differs from the conclusion in the Kriens example, not because the minor premise is false for Adams but true for Kriens (since both minor premises are false), but because the meaning of the minor premise in the Adams example differs from its meaning in the Kriens example, which again illustrates that it is not the truth value of the premises that determines the difference in the meaning of the conclusions, but simply the difference in the meaning of the premises themselves.
At least in the murder example, you seem willing to admit that the conclusion, while sounding correct, is actually quite different. I hope you can see it's because the means of arriving at it are actually wrong.
No, that’s not the reason. Granted, the conclusion could be different, if the reasons for it are different, but the difference does not depend on the premises being false. True premises could also yield a different conclusion. Nor is the conclusion necessarily different simply because the means of arriving at it are wrong (or contain false premises).
Moving on. You say
If what you're saying is that the reasons for a conclusion can sometimes be a clue that the meaning of the words in the conclusion is different than one might initially have thought, then I agree.
No. That's not what I mean, although it is true. If we understand the conclusion to be an integration of the premises, and not just an arbitrary statement that comes after them, we can see that it builds on them.
Who said that the conclusion is simply an arbitrary statement that comes after the premises? Certainly not I! No valid conclusion following from the premises is an arbitrary statement that comes after them. To the extent that a conclusion is validly derived (even if from false premises), it is necessarily an integration of the premises.
They define it and explain it. It's not just sometimes that they give us a clue to the meaning of the conclusion. They always do, if it is the conclusion.
I agree. I didn’t say that the premises sometimes give us a clue as to the meaning of the conclusion. I said that they can sometimes be a clue “that the meaning of the words in the conclusion is different." Of course, they wouldn't give us that clue if the meaning were the same. :-)
Also, it's not just that the terms themselves can have different meanings. That's just one way in which a proposition relies on context. Any amount of the context can be different. For instance, the religious person might end up with the same concept of 'murder', referring to the same thing we do in all cases, but the context of his "murder is wrong" is "as long as my religious leaders say it is". Even if he uses the terms in the same way, there's clearly a difference between what he's saying and what we're saying. The referents for his proposition as a whole are different from ours, even though the referents for the concepts may be the same.
I don’t think this is correct. If the referents for the concepts are the same, then the referent for the proposition is the same. If the religious person ends up “with the same concept of ‘murder’, referring to the same thing we do in all cases” as well as the same concept of “wrong,” and his conclusion is that “Murder is wrong,” then he holds the same view of the wrongness of murder as we do.

I wrote, “But what is the pacifist's principle? It's that we should never use violence to defend ourselves against violence.” You replied,
Actually, I would say that it's "never use violence". The way you describe it, there's no (or little) overlap. Much more the way I describe it.
Yes, I agree; I was (inadvertently) highlighting the difference between Objectivists and pacifists.

I wrote, “Refraining from using violence in self-defense for reasons of expediency is not an application of the pacifist's principle." You replied,
It may not be an application. That seems orthogonal to this discussion. All he has to do is phrase it in a general way like "violence is wrong", and suddenly in some very specific contexts, it is true.
The proposition “Violence is wrong” is also not precise enough to be given an unequivocal meaning, since (as any logic book will tell you), if you want logical precision, you need to specify “some” or “all.” The pacifist holds that “All violence is wrong.” That is what defines his position.
I said, "I'm trying to show what context is required in order for it to be true. If a person takes the statement but without the required context for it to be true, it isn't true." You asked,
What do you mean by "required context"? Do you mean the required context of knowledge?
No. I mean the context for the statement to be true. Take the pacifists’ "violence is wrong". There may be contexts in which their statement is true. But if they mean it to apply in all situations, it's false.
But since the pacifist's principle is that “All violence is wrong," there are no "contexts" in which the principle is true.
Notice that the referents for the words are the same. 'Violence' means what we think it does. 'Wrong' means what we think it does. But in order for the statement to be true (not knowledge...but for it to actually correspond to reality), it must be stated within a specific context in which it's true.
Again, the principle “Violence is wrong” is ambiguous. We don’t know precisely what is being asserted here. If the principle were “Some violence is wrong,” then that principle is not true in some contexts but false in others. It is true, period. The same for the principle “All violence is wrong.” That principle is not true in some contexts and false in others. It is false, period. Whatever a proposition is – whatever the words in the sentence expressing it mean – that proposition is either true or false. Period. Context has nothing to do with its truth or falsity. To be sure, its actual identity may be unclear, but whatever the proposition is, it is not true in some contexts and false in others.
The point is that when someone arrives at a conclusion through false premises, it's entirely likely that they are not meaning the correct context when they state the conclusion. And so their statement actual means something different. And in fact, it's actually false.
If by “correct context” you mean “correct conclusion,” then I don’t see how you can say that “it’s entirely likely” that they’re not stating the correct conclusion, that it means something different and that it’s actually false. How do you prove any of that? Speaking of arbitrary statements, yours seems entirely arbitrary to me.
I said "If a statement requires a very specific context in order to be true, then when a person lacks that context, the statement isn't true." You followed with
No, the statement is still true.
My first sentence was if a statement requires a very specific context in order to be true. Are you suggesting that context doesn't matter for evaluating the truth of a statement? Or did you miss that part? This seems like such an obvious point. Statements often require context in order to be true. If I say "I want ice cream", of course it doesn't mean I want to be drowned in it. If I say "the sun is shining", I don't mean it's shining everywhere on the plant. I assume this is not controversial?
All you seem to be saying here is that a person has to understand the meaning of a statement in order to evaluate it as true or false. I agree; I also agree that it's not controversial, as I can't imagine anyone's disagreeing with it.
Later you say "Again, to say that the conclusion depends on the premises is not to say that it includes the premises. As a proposition, the conclusion is still separate from the premises."

I know we're going round and round on this one. Not sure it's worth pursuing much further, but I'll give one more try.

The conclusion is not unrelated to the premises, even as a proposition.
I didn’t say it was unrelated to the premises. Where did you get that idea? I said, it didn’t include the premises.
We don't judge the proposition based on whether the premises are true or false. That part is fine. But since the conclusion is an integration of the premises, its not a separate thing.
Again, what I meant by saying that the conclusion is “separate” from the premises is that as a proposition, the conclusion does not include the premises. For instances, suppose the premises are: “Socrates is a man,” and “All men are mortal.” What is the conclusion? The conclusion is: “Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” The conclusion is not: “Therefore, Socrates is mortal, because Socrates is a man and all men are mortal."

I wrote, “Let's be very clear. A proposition is not just a sentence. It is the idea expressed by the sentence. Therefore, it makes no sense to say that a proposition may need a lot of context in order to be true. Whatever idea constitutes the proposition expressed by a sentence, that idea is either true or false. It doesn't become false, because someone lacks enough context to understand it." You replied,
Good, good. We agree. Now we just need to get you to see that the idea being expressed is actually false and that it's not just coincidentally false but is in fact false because it was arrived at incorrectly. And before you think I'm arguing about knowledge again, I fully realize that its truth is measured by its correspondence with reality, and agree. That defines it as wrong. But doesn't answer why it is that he didn't happen to arrive at a correct conclusion instead. The reason he arrived at a conclusion that doesn't correspond to reality is that he used false premises.
No, that’s not the reason. The reason is that he didn’t use premises that yield a true conclusion. After all, he might have used a different set of false premises, and arrived at a true conclusion, just as he might have used a set of true premises and arrived at a true conclusion. The mere fact that the premises that he did use were false is not the reason that his conclusion is false. As I previously demonstrated, false premises do not necessitate a false conclusion.

All 4 now,

- Bill

(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/07, 11:37pm)




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Post 30

Sunday, September 10, 2006 - 3:26pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

I give up.  I think you're missing the point, but it seems clear we're not getting anywhere.  Here is where I think we cannot make progress.
At least in the murder example, you seem willing to admit that the conclusion, while sounding correct, is actually quite different. I hope you can see it's because the means of arriving at it are actually wrong.
No, that’s not the reason. Granted, the conclusion could be different, if the reasons for it are different, but the difference does not depend on the premises being false. True premises could also yield a different conclusion. Nor is the conclusion necessarily different simply because the means of arriving at it are wrong (or contain false premises).
The point you won't acknowledge, even in this clear example of the religious person "opposing murder", is that it was precisely because because his means were wrong that his conclusion was false.  It was precisely because he derives his belief from the arbitrary whim of god (or his religious leaders) that his conclusion was different.  You put your statement in terms like "Nor is the conclusion necessarily different..." (emphasis mine), and that leaves you able to ignore the entire point.

On top of that, you keep making this assumption:
I don’t think this is correct. If the referents for the concepts are the same, then the referent for the proposition is the same. If the religious person ends up “with the same concept of ‘murder’, referring to the same thing we do in all cases” as well as the same concept of “wrong,” and his conclusion is that “Murder is wrong,” then he holds the same view of the wrongness of murder as we do.
Emphasis mine.  Check your premises.  You seem to think the concepts "murder" and "wrong" form the entire meaning of the proposition.  And this example disproves it. He may have the same meaning for those two terms, and yet his conclusion is false.  He absolutely does not have the same view of wrongness of murder as I do (I'll let you speak for yourself).

While you insist that his view is the same (despite his inability to label war time or lifeboat scenarios as exceptions, or that he only thinks it's wrong as long as his religious leaders say so, or the fact that he has to treat it as an intrinsic value or moral rule instead of an objective value and moral principle), there's no way we can move forward.  As long as you ignore the clear differences, I wouldn't expect you to be able to discuss the reasons for the differences.  And if you don't do that, you're missing the entire point of what Schwartz is saying.

I'll wrap up my thoughts then.  Schwartz makes an important point (even if he may have gone too far) by emphasizing the importance of context to the truth of a statement.  He makes a powerful insight that when you arrive at a conclusion through a false method (including false premises), the final meaning can actually be different even if the words mean the same.  This insight emphasizes how the way you arrive at a conclusion forms the context by which you understand it (and therefore how you mean it).  While superficial similarity may exist, the context is usually so different that in practice it actually does mean something else.  There's a direct connection here between the false method of arriving at the conclusion, and the way in which the conclusion is wrong.

What's the big picture point?

The context by which a person understands a statement is not irrelevant.  Without the proper reasons for it, their views are often going to be different.  A case we've seen often is the "libertarians" who view rights as an intrinsic value (see Robert Bidinotto's article on this site).  While we may appear to agree (we classify the same things as rights, we define it the same, and we all say we should respect them), the difference is night and day in the right contexts.  They reject self-defense if it were to inadvertently violate the rights of an innocent person, even if your life depends on the action.  It is precisely because they arrive at the conclusion in a false way that the conclusion itself is false (although seemingly correct).

Another example is Marxists who defend free speech.  They may mean something very close to what we do when they're not in charge, but when they gain any power at all, they support violent repression.  If we were to ignore their false methods of arriving at the "true conclusion", we could fool ourselves into believing they are allies, long enough to have our throats slit.  If we ignored the fact that their "agreement" only exists within very specific contexts, we would be fools.

Or how about those people who think Christianity is a peaceful religion that opposes murder and oppression here in the US?  If we ignore how they came to their semi-capitalist beliefs, we might persuade ourselves into allowing them to control the country.  Does anyone really think they'd continue to be peaceful when they had the power to enforce their beliefs?

All of these are cases where their conclusions, if taken at face value, may seem okay.  And all are examples where if someone recognizes that they arrived at these conclusions through false means, and that the false means actually change the meaning of the conclusions by changing the context, they would recognize that we really aren't in agreement at all.  And all are example's of Schwartz's insight.  To reject that insight means to pretend that we really are in agreement with the intrinsicist libertarians, the marxists free-speechers, and the Christian theocrats.  We'd be rejecting the contextual nature of knowledge.




Post 31

Monday, September 11, 2006 - 12:05amSanction this postReply
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Joe, you wrote
The point you won't acknowledge, even in this clear example of the religious person "opposing murder", is that it was precisely because because his means were wrong that his conclusion was false. It was precisely because he derives his belief from the arbitrary whim of god (or his religious leaders) that his conclusion was different. You put your statement in terms like "Nor is the conclusion necessarily different..." (emphasis mine), and that leaves you able to ignore the entire point.
Joe, when you say, "It was precisely because his means were wrong that his conclusion was false," you imply that wrong reasons (i.e., false premises) logically necessitate a false conclusion. You are saying, in other words, that it was the falseness of the premises that were responsible for the false conclusion, such that if the premises are false, then the conclusion must be false. Do you not see that that is what you are saying? And if that is not what you intended, could you restate your point so that it avoids this implication? I'm not saying that false reasons cannot imply a false conclusion; I'm saying that they don't have to. You seem to be arguing that they do.
On top of that, you keep making this assumption:
I don’t think this is correct. If the referents for the concepts are the same, then the referent for the proposition is the same. If the religious person ends up “with the same concept of ‘murder’, referring to the same thing we do in all cases” as well as the same concept of “wrong,” and his conclusion is that “Murder is wrong,” then he holds the same view of the wrongness of murder as we do.
Emphasis mine. Check your premises. You seem to think the concepts "murder" and "wrong" form the entire meaning of the proposition. And this example disproves it.
If the religious person ends up with the same concept of "murder", referring to the same thing we do in all cases, as well as the same concept of “wrong,” again referring to the same thing we do in all cases, then how could his conclusion that "Murder is wrong" not be the same as ours? You say that "this example" disproves it. What example? The example in which the religionist would be willing to commit murder if God demanded it? Granted, if he thought God did demand it, then his view of the wrongness of murder would be different from ours. But right now, it's the same, because he doesn't believe that God is demanding it; quite the contrary; nor does he believed that God will demand it. So, at present, he holds the same belief about the wrongness of murder as we do. To be sure, if the conclusion at issue were that "Murder is wrong unless God should demand it," then it would be different from ours." But the conclusion that we were considering was simply the one which says that "Murder is wrong," period. If you recall, this is a point that I stressed several posts ago. We have to be very clear on precisely what conclusion we're referring to.
He may have the same meaning for those two terms, and yet his conclusion is false. He absolutely does not have the same view of wrongness of murder as I do (I'll let you speak for yourself).
That depends on which view you're talking about.
While you insist that his view is the same (despite his inability to label war time or lifeboat scenarios as exceptions.
I don't think war is an excuse to murder people. Do you? The innocents who are killed unintentionally in wartime retaliation are murdered by the aggressors who forced their victims to defend themselves. Many of the religious soldiers who are defending themselves against Islamic terrorists recognize that principle in the same way that we do. As for lifeboat situations being an exception on which Objectivists and religionists disagree, I'll let Rand address that: She writes:"It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence." ("The Ethics of Emergencies," VOS, p. 47, pb.)

If Objectivists believe that murder is okay in a lifeboat emergency and Christians do not, that doesn't mean that they can't agree on the wrongness of murder in normal situations. Some Christians may not agree even here, if they believe that abortion is murder, but not all Christians hold this view.
As long as you ignore the clear differences, I wouldn't expect you to be able to discuss the reasons for the differences. And if you don't do that, you're missing the entire point of what Schwartz is saying.
I don't think so. I'm willing to acknowledge differences in the views of Objectivists and religionists that are based on differences in their reasons. All I'm saying is that the differences in those reasons don't necessitate a difference in what actions each considers morally appropriate, especially if the prohibition against murder pertains to normal circumstances.
I'll wrap up my thoughts then. Schwartz makes an important point (even if he may have gone too far) by emphasizing the importance of context to the truth of a statement.
If you mean that context is important in determining the meaning of a sentence, I agree. But I wouldn't say that it's important in determining whether a proposition is true or false. A proposition isn't true in one context, but false in another. It's true or false, period.
There's a direct connection here between the false method of arriving at the conclusion, and the way in which the conclusion is wrong.
There may be, if the conclusion is false, but there needn't be.
What's the big picture point?

The context by which a person understands a statement is not irrelevant. Without the proper reasons for it, their views are often going to be different. A case we've seen often is the "libertarians" who view rights as an intrinsic value (see Robert Bidinotto's article on this site). While we may appear to agree (we classify the same things as rights, we define it the same, and we all say we should respect them), the difference is night and day in the right contexts. They reject self-defense if it were to inadvertently violate the rights of an innocent person, even if your life depends on the action.
True, some non-Objectivists libertarians may hold to this view, but certainly not all, nor is it necessitated by the absence of an Objectivist philosophy.
It is precisely because they arrive at the conclusion in a false way that the conclusion itself is false (although seemingly correct).
Again, the conclusion is false, because it does not correspond to reality, not because it was arrived at on the basis of false premises, for as we have seen, false premises can imply a true conclusion.
Another example is Marxists who defend free speech. They may mean something very close to what we do when they're not in charge, but when they gain any power at all, they support violent repression. If we were to ignore their false methods of arriving at the "true conclusion", we could fool ourselves into believing they are allies, long enough to have our throats slit. If we ignored the fact that their "agreement" only exists within very specific contexts, we would be fools.
But they don't agree with us! Marxists don't believe in free speech and never have.
Or how about those people who think Christianity is a peaceful religion that opposes murder and oppression here in the US? If we ignore how they came to their semi-capitalist beliefs, we might persuade ourselves into allowing them to control the country. Does anyone really think they'd continue to be peaceful when they had the power to enforce their beliefs?
Aren't they in power now? In any case, it's not how they came to their beliefs that's important here; it's what beliefs they actually hold. Of course, they believe in censorship and the restriction of free speech. But we know that anyway; we don't have to know how they arrived at these views, even if their conclusions were the result of their religious premises.
All of these are cases where their conclusions, if taken at face value, may seem okay.
Huh?! I don't think their conclusions seem okay, even when taken at face value.
And all are examples where if someone recognizes that they arrived at these conclusions through false means, and that the false means actually change the meaning of the conclusions by changing the context, they would recognize that we really aren't in agreement at all. And all are example's of Schwartz's insight.
What you're saying here is obvious, and I'm sure that Schwartz would agree with it, just as I would, but this is not his main point.
To reject that insight means to pretend that we really are in agreement with the intrinsicist libertarians, the marxists free-speechers, and the Christian theocrats. We'd be rejecting the contextual nature of knowledge.
But we don't agree with these people, to begin with, so I fail to see how your examples illustrate Schwartz's principle, even if it were valid, which it isn't.

There is another point that should not be overlooked here and that is that Schwartz isn't even consistent in the application of his vital principle, as he argues that Ludwig von Mises is defender of liberty, even though Mises disagrees with virtually every major philosophical underpinning of the Objectivist politics. (See Part 3 of my article for further details.)

- Bill





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Post 32

Monday, September 11, 2006 - 7:30amSanction this postReply
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Joe R.,

Most or all your support of Schwartz's "vital principle" have used moral examples. I suggest considering it with non-moral examples such as I did here. Now I give an even simpler non-moral example to show the absurdity of Schwartz's "vital principle."

Barry Bonds hit .355 in 2004.
.355 > .350
Ergo, Barry Bonds hit > .350 in 2004.

The conclusion logically follows from the premises and is true (corresponds to reality). However, the first premise is in fact false, because Barry Bonds hit .362 in 2004. This is a case of deriving a true conclusion using a false premise. Accordingly, it refutes Schwartz's "vital principle."

Schwartz's entire argument is based on equivocation. Again, his example is:

Love is based on selflessness.
Selflessness is good.
Therefore, love is good.

If "love" means the same in the conclusion as it does in the first premise, then the conclusion  logically follows from the premises. Schwartz's entire argument is based on "love" meaning something different in the conclusion, i.e. equivocating. As I wrote in my earlier post, many logic texts have a way of handling syllogisms like this -- the distinction between valid and sound. The distinction easily accommodates disagreement with this syllogism. It is valid but unsound -- the latter because the premises are false. Using Occam's Razor I relegate Schwartz's "vital principle" to the trash can. If "love" in the conclusion does not mean the same as it does in the first premise, then the syllogism is both invalid and unsound.




Post 33

Monday, September 11, 2006 - 10:14amSanction this postReply
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This thread has gotten bogged down in tedium. Let me ask a question that I think cuts the heart of the matter: Is it possible for a non-Objectivist to hold a belief in capitalism identical to that held by Objectivists?

Peter Schwartz says no. He says that only a person who subscribes to Objectivism en toto genuinely believes in individual rights and a free society. Anyone else can only uphold that belief superficially, because his false basic philosophy necessarily makes his conception of capitalism and freedom different from the Objectivist conception.

What's important to note here?

We know that Ayn Rand didn't agree with this position (that's not an argument from authority, just a point of fact). We know this because in her life there were people whom she did consider genuine defenders of capitalism and political allies (i.e., Isabel Paterson, Barry Goldwater, Ludwig von Mises) but whom she knew weren't Objectivists. We also know this from her own statement that a candidate can hold the right essential political viewpoint despite having a wrong basic philosophical viewpoint.

Since Objectivism corresponds to reality, non-Objectivists can't make a *fully philosophically consistent case* for capitalism, which AR maintained was the only way to save America from its gradual descent into socialism. However, that doesn't prove that some non-Objectivists don't genuinely believe in the same capitalist system that Objectivists do, even though they hold earlier philosophical contradictions that make them poor spokespersons for capitalism and freedom.



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Post 34

Monday, September 11, 2006 - 10:44amSanction this postReply
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Merlin, I know my posts were long, but I already accepted that when the conclusion is so concrete that it doesn't require any additional context, the "vital principle" breaks down.  And I explained that it's because the vital principle is not a hard and fast rule that magically makes all conclusions false.  There's a specific method by which the false premises or false methods leads to a false conclusion, and that seems to be related to the amount of context required for the conclusion to be true.  If your goal is to show that his principle doesn't apply in some situations, you can walk away feeling good about yourself.  But I'm discussing the means of the principle, the reason why the false premises sometimes lead to false conclusions.

As for the love example, you are assuming as Bill did that the word love changes in the argument.  I think that's a straw man, and a really convenient way to dismiss it.  I think you can hold to a consistent use of the term love throughout, and it shows the whole point.

Bill, on the example of the religious person opposing murder, you still imply that he is correct, even though he upholds it as temporarily true and as an intrinsic value.  Is it any wonder that you can't see why the false premises have, in this case, led directly to the false conclusion?  There's no possible way to go further with you on this discussion, Bill.  We can't discuss the principle when in every example of it, you ignore the differences in meaning.  I think the whole argument hinges on this.  For those watching, they'll have to make up their own minds about whether the religious person really is saying the same thing as I am when he says murder is wrong.  He'll have to decide if the intrinsic nature of his belief changes the meaning, or whether the temporary nature of it makes it sufficiently different.  I say it does.  I think that in practice, those upholding an intrinsic value will act differently than those who uphold it as an objective, relational value.  Those who uphold rule-based morality will act different from those who uphold a principle based morality.  And while in some contexts it may have a similar result, that's just superficial.  If I'm right, it shows there's something to Schwartz's point.  If in spite of all that, they still think the religious person is in actual agreement with us about murder being wrong, all I can say is that I understand why they won't appreciate Schwartz's point.




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Post 35

Monday, September 11, 2006 - 5:47pmSanction this postReply
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Joe replied to Merlin,
As for the love example, you are assuming as Bill did that the word love changes in the argument. I think that's a straw man, and a really convenient way to dismiss it. I think you can hold to a consistent use of the term love throughout, and it shows the whole point.
Joe, we are not "assuming" that its meaning changes; we have direct, explicit, incontrovertible evidence that it changes -- evidence based on Schwartz's very own words. Did you read Part 1 of my article?? If you did, you would have seen that evidence. There is no "strawman" in our rejoinders, because the word "love" does in fact change from the premises to the conclusion. According to Schwartz, both the premises and the conclusion are false. Recall his statement:
The first two propositions [i.e., premises] pose no problem. Each is categorically false. Love is not selfless; it’s selfish. Likewise, selflessness is not good; it is bad. So those two are false. That’s clear. What about the third—what about the conclusion, ‘Love is good’? Isn’t that one true? And the answer is no, it is false. Now how could we say it’s false? Why should it matter that the first two premises are false? The conclusion should still be considered true… Well, it’s false because the context reveals that what the conclusion is referring to in reality is not the same thing that (say) Objectivism would be referring to when it says the same words, “Love is good.” What those words in this syllogism’s conclusion really mean is this: “An emotional attachment which is of no selfish value to either party is good.” …Now is that statement true? No, that is a false statement.
So, if as Schwartz says, the first premise is"categorically false," on the grounds that "love is not selfless; it's selfish," then the first premise is using "love" in the selfish sense of that term. But then he says that the meaning of "love" in the conclusion is "an emotional attachment which is of no selfish value to either party," which is a selfless sense of "love." So, it's a bait and switch. He switches the meaning of "love" from selfish in the first premise to selfless in the conclusion, which is the fallacy of equivocation. Merlin and I are not refuting a strawman, Joe. Schwartz really does equivocate, and he does so in a very blatant and obvious manner.
Bill, on the example of the religious person opposing murder, you still imply that he is correct, even though he upholds it as temporarily true and as an intrinsic value.
Let's be very clear here. "Correct" is a bit misleading. I didn't say or imply that he was "correct"; I said that his conclusion was true. Obviously, he's not correct in basing it on religious premises.
Is it any wonder that you can't see why the false premises have, in this case, led directly to the false conclusion? There's no possible way to go further with you on this discussion, Bill. We can't discuss the principle when in every example of it, you ignore the differences in meaning. I think the whole argument hinges on this. For those watching, they'll have to make up their own minds about whether the religious person really is saying the same thing as I am when he says murder is wrong. He'll have to decide if the intrinsic nature of his belief changes the meaning, or whether the temporary nature of it makes it sufficiently different. I say it does.
Joe, your conclusion that murder is wrong is temporary too, because you would be perfectly willing to surrender it, if you thought it was logically flawed or unjustified. Yet, the fact that you could conceivably change your mind and come to believe that murder is justified is no reason to conclude that you don't at present believe that murder is wrong. Neither is the fact that the theist could change his mind and believe that murder is justified (if he thought that God approved of it) a reason to conclude that he doesn't at present believe that murder is wrong. The fact that it's possible for an Objectivist's or Christian's belief to change does not mean that it is not his or her belief.

As for the intrinsic nature of the Christian's belief, you are again referring to the reasons for the belief, not to the belief itself. True, for the intrinsicist, the good is not relational, whereas for the Objectivist it is, but the conclusion that murder is wrong doesn't address this metaethical issue. It simply says that one should not commit murder, which is something on which both the Christian and the Objectivist would agree, albeit for different reasons -- the Objectivist, because it doesn't serve man's life; the Christian, because it doesn't respect God's wishes.
I think that in practice, those upholding an intrinsic value will act differently than those who uphold it as an objective, relational value. Those who uphold rule-based morality will act different from those who uphold a principle based morality.
Why would they act differently, if the rule applies in every case in which the principle applies?
And while in some contexts it may have a similar result, that's just superficial. If I'm right, it shows there's something to Schwartz's point.
You keep saying that there's something to Schwartz's point, but you continue to misrepresent what that point is. Schwartz is not saying simply that the reasons for a particular view can affect its content. If that were all he was saying, then I would have no quarrel with him. He is saying more than that: He is saying that in all cases, false premises imply a false conclusion.

- Bill



Post 36

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - 10:48amSanction this postReply
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"In fact, he says that a conclusion based on false premises does not even have the same meaning as it would if based on true premises"


I think Schwartz is right about this. When Che Guevara says freedom does he not mean something entirely different then when Jefferson says it?

Obviously Che is wrong (false premises) and Jefferson is correct (true premises) they are using the same word yet the meaning is different.



Post 37

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - 10:49pmSanction this postReply
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I wrote, "In fact, he [Schwartz] says that a conclusion based on false premises does not even have the same meaning as it would if based on true premises." Jeff Meek replied,
I think Schwartz is right about this. When Che Guevara says freedom does he not mean something entirely different then when Jefferson says it?

Obviously Che is wrong (false premises) and Jefferson is correct (true premises) they are using the same word yet the meaning is different.
Let me see if I understand your argument, Jeff, by giving some examples of what I think you're saying:

Che Guevara says:

(Collectivist) Freedom is a good thing. (False.)
We have (collectivist) freedom. (False.)

Conclusion: We have a good thing. (False.)

And Thomas Jefferson says:

(Individual) Freedom is a good thing. (True.)
We have (individual) freedom. (True.)

Conclusion: We have a good thing. (True.)

You're saying that in the first syllogism, the conclusion (which is based on false premises) does not have the same meaning as the conclusion in the second syllogism (which is based on true premises), because the word "freedom" means something different in each case. Therefore, what Schwartz says is true.

The problem is that Schwartz is not saying what you're saying. He's saying that no conclusion based on false premises can have the same meaning as it would if based on true premises. He's saying that false premises necessitate a false conclusion. And it is this idea that I am challenging.

Consider the following argument:

Individual freedom is based on self-sacrifice. (False.)
Self-sacrifice is good. (False.)

Conclusion: Individual freedom is good. (True.)

And compare it to this:

Individual Freedom is based on self-interest. (True.)
Self-interest is good. (True.)

Conclusion: Individual freedom is good. (True.)

Does the first conclusion, which is based on false premises, have a different meaning from the second conclusion, which is based on true premises? No, they both have the same meaning. The fact that the premises are false does not mean that the conclusion must be false. Nor does it mean that the conclusion must have a different meaning than it would if based on true premises.

- Bill



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