Daily Archives: February 11, 2015

Less disjointed thoughts on moral epistemology

I really need to re-read Hume because it’s the basis of my thoughts on why using logic is problematic when discussing morals. Here’s a link to Wikipedia on the is-ought problem. I’m fine linking to wikipedia as a summary because I fucking read Hume many times and wrote essays in college. Anyway, is and ought are two different things and there’s no way to derive ought from is. And here’s the wikipedia article on Hume’s Fork:

The apparent gap between “is” statements and “ought” statements, when combined with Hume’s fork, renders “ought” statements of dubious validity. Hume’s fork is the idea that all items of knowledge are either based on logic and definitions, or else on observation. If the is–ought problem holds, then “ought” statements do not seem to be known in either of these two ways, and it would seem that there can be no moral knowledge.

It’s only a problem if you accept the way Hume structures knowledge. And I don’t, of course. If you believe in the supremacy of logic and an epistemology of true-false, then Hume’s fork is a problem. You can’t derive moral knowledge.

That’s why I think those who insist on the primacy of logic during moral arguments are silly. They think they’re being logical, but if you follow the logic all the way though, they’re standing on nothing. They’re like the Coyote chasing the Road Runner off a cliff. Meep meep.

Another important component of morality is skin in the game. It’s an elegant solution to principal-agent problems — usually much better than inventing regulations and bureaucracies, which can be gamed and captured. In Roman times, if a guy built a bridge, he had to sleep under it before people used it. That’s skin in the game. If a money manager tells you a stock is great, but never buys the stock herself, then she has no skin in the game. You should feel comfortable telling her to fuck off.

That’s the problem with logic and being dispassionate when arguing morals. It usually means you have no skin in the game. Dispassion indicates disconnection; it’s a moral thought experiment where you remove yourself from the equation. It’s even easier if it’s not a thought experiment and the moral matter doesn’t affect you at all. If an obvious injustice isn’t stirring righteous anger within you, then perhaps you shouldn’t have a say.

You have to go even further than saying that these people have no skin in the game. They do have skin in the game, but because they benefit from the existing power structures. These lived realities of existing structures matter more than moral arguments from first principals, which is another case where logic comes up short. To explain this, I have to transition from moral epistemology to political epistemology. This will have to come in future post(s).