Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Naturalistic fallacy in moral reasoning

During debates regarding various moral issues one often hears a certain kind of argument which might go like this:

Action X is unnatural / artificial  therefore it is morally wrong.
Action Y is Natural / normal therefore it is morally right

This line of thought is a well known mistake of reasoning which is labelled as the "Naturalistic fallacy" . A naturalistic fallacy occurs when the arguer asserts that since something is unnatural therefore it is immoral . However the rightness or wrongness of an action has nothing to do with how the world in fact is (factual) . Morality pertains to the ideal world i.e regarding how it ought to be (prescriptive).  Right or wrong are  prescriptive statements not factual ones . For example even if human beings infact behave selfishly doesnot mean that we ought to behave selfishly.

we can easily think of a lot of counter examples to show that this form of reasoning is a fallacy:

Consider the example of unnatural and artificial behaviours that we all treat as morally good if not necessary. Clothing is not naturally grown on our body , it is an natural act that we mould materials to cover our body. similarly Housing is not naturally grown out of the ground . We artificially construct them. Again , when we perform a heart transplantation surgery we are committing one of the most unnatural acts one could ever perform . Yet all of these would never be judged as immoral (atleast by sane people) . Infact in order to truly live naturally we would have to go back to living like cavemen using self crafted  bows and spears to hunt.

Similarly , consider  instance of natural events that all of us would judge as immoral had they been committed by a human agents : cancer, premature death (or any form of death infact), natural disasters. Clearly no one will argue that since all these events are natural therefore they are also morally preferable in the sense that we should encourage there occurrence and  even celebrate them. Similarly suppose it was discovered that paedophilia is genetic i.e. some humans are by there very nature attracted to children , such a discovery would mean that paedophilia is completely natural but that obviously that doesn't mean that paedophilia would therefore be morally admissible .

One common instance of this fallacy is when evolutionary biology is forced onto how we ought to behave : for example arguing that since evolution follows the principle of "survival of the fittest" therefore it follows that any evolved species must also follow similar rule in its moral consideration (i.e. Social Darwinism) . Clearly this doesnot follow . Another instances of when Marriage Equality is resisted based on the fact that "its not natural".

Let us stop extracting morality from how things really are and focus on how things ought to be like.

PS: for a more detailed exploration of this fallacy see this.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

God and Desirability of Purpose

During debates on the existence of Gods one sees the question of purpose of life being raised quite often (take example of Lowder vs Fernades debate , audio can be found here ). The idea being that if there is no God then life would be utterly meaningless and purposeless. But I find this extremely puzzling - not the actual question of purpose of life ofcourse (that itself is quite a genuine question) but what confuses me is why  such a question being raised in discussion aimed at assessing God's existence?

Suppose one were to concede the maximum  that without god there simply cannot be any purpose of life and nihilism is the only option for the atheist. What follows from that? It seems quite obvious that the only conclusion one could establish from this concession is that : therefore atheism is depressing.

But surely that's an irrelevant conclusion. Reality has no obligation towards us to make us feel good . It might be that perhaps reality may  indeed turn out to be quite depressing. The mere fact that a belief makes us happy, content and provides psychological / emotional comfort is itself no reason to conclude that the belief is true.  All of us can think of a million examples of cases where a lie might make us feel happy and truth can make us depressed. There are a large number of truths which we may find undesirable such the death of our close relatives or failure in a particular task , yet we don't declare them as false merely for that reason of being emotionally painful. The desirability of a belief is completely independent of its truth .Therefore it follows that the question of "what is the meaning of life" , while it might be an interesting puzzle for humans to ponder (perhaps the most important),  it is completely irrelevant as an objection against atheism in the context of God's existence. It is nothing more than an emotional argument.  

If it is indeed the case that life is absolutely meaningless then the correct rational attitude towards this is to face our situation with courage and humility rather than to take refuge from it in comforting lies.. However  I believe the concession that without god nihilism is our only option itself is quite an exaggeration. While one may not have any ultimate  and cosmic purposes without god  that doesn't stops us from assigning a subjective purpose to it. More on that in later posts.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Puzzle of Consciousness

‎"When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote... of a soul?" (Lanning - I, robot)

Here's is a thought experiment to demonstrate why in my opinion , self-awareness and consciousness is such a mysterious phenomenon:

Imagine i attach my laptop with a accelerometer type sensor that can measure impact force e.g. the kind used in car test crash dummies.  Then i write a little program that basically generates  screaming voices depending on the threshold of the impact on the sensor . Higher the impact more painful sounding is the scream . afterwards  I proceed to punch the sensor again and again and hence my computer starts screaming .But in this scenario i think everyone would agree that the computer isn't really genuinely "feeling" pain and aware of it in the same sense as say a human would have been .... it merely behaves as if it is self-aware yet it is not really self aware. for example it doesn't ask "why i am being hurt ? ". It would be absurd to attribute any self aware to it.

But now fast forward to 1000 years in the future where we have managed to create robots with exactly the same level of emotional and intellectual complexity as the human brain posses . Now if i  proceeded to brutally beat that robot and as a result the robot starts crying and screaming , again , just like the case of my computer , we should still technically say that the robot isn't really self-aware of the pain . its just random codes behaving as if it is self-aware. i.e it doesnt posses an inner subjective sense of self which can experience the pain.
Here is where the puzzle arise . As per physicalism  which seems to be supported by   science atleast in the context of mind-bran relationship,  aren't humans also like extremely complex robots ? if so then why is it that such a robot need not be self-aware yet we are?  what is the thing that causes that difference ? THAT  is the fundamental  puzzle of consciousness .  

In this post i am merely attempting  to  lay out the problem . The relevant solutions are to be left for a later time i am afraid.