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Moral nihilism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Posted: July 1, 2016 at 2:34 pm

This article is about the meta-ethical position. For a more general discussion of amoralism, see Amorality.

Moral nihilism (also known as ethical nihilism) is the meta-ethical view that nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong. Moral nihilists consider morality to be constructed, a complex set of rules and recommendations that may give a psychological, social, or economical advantage to its adherents, but is otherwise without universal or even relative truth in any sense.[1]

Moral nihilism is distinct from moral relativism, which does allow for actions to be right or wrong relative to a particular culture or individual, and moral universalism, which holds actions to be right or wrong in the same way for everyone everywhere. Insofar as only true statements can be known, moral nihilism implies moral skepticism.

According to Sinnott-Armstrong (2006a), the basic thesis of moral nihilism is that “nothing is morally wrong” (3.4). There are, however, several forms that this thesis can take (see Sinnott-Armstrong, 2006b, pp.3237 and Russ Shafer-Landau, 2003, pp.813). There are two important forms of moral nihilism: error theory and expressivism[1] p.292.

One form of moral nihilism is expressivism. Expressivism denies the principle that our moral judgments try and fail to describe the moral features, because expressivists believe when someone says something is immoral they are not saying it is right or wrong. Expressivists are not trying to speak the truth when making moral judgments; they are simply trying to express their feelings. “We are not making an effort to describe the way the world is. We are not trying to report on the moral features possessed by various actions, motives, or policies. Instead, we are venting our emotions, commanding others to act in certain ways, or revealing a plan of action. When we condemn torture, for instance, we are expressing our opposition to it, indicating our disgust at it, publicizing our reluctance to perform it, and strongly encouraging others not to go in for it. We can do all of these things without trying to say anything that is true.”[1] p.293.

This makes expressivism a form of non-cognitivism. Non-cognitivism in ethics is the view that moral statements lack truth-value and do not assert genuine propositions. This involves a rejection of the cognitivist claim, shared by other moral philosophies, that moral statements seek to “describe some feature of the world” (Garner 1967, 219-220). This position on its own is logically compatible with realism about moral values themselves. That is, one could reasonably hold that there are objective moral values but that we cannot know them and that our moral language does not seek to refer to them. This would amount to an endorsement of a type of moral skepticism, rather than nihilism.

Typically, however, the rejection of the cognitivist thesis is combined with the thesis that there are, in fact, no moral facts (van Roojen, 2004). But if moral statements cannot be true, and if one cannot know something that is not true, non-cognitivism implies that moral knowledge is impossible (Garner 1967, 219-220).

Not all forms of non-cognitivism are forms of moral nihilism, however: notably, the universal prescriptivism of R.M. Hare is a non-cognitivist form of moral universalism, which holds that judgements about morality may be correct or not in a consistent, universal way, but do not attempt to describe features of reality and so are not, strictly speaking, truth-apt.

Error theory is built on three principles:

Thus, we always lapse into error when thinking in moral terms. We are trying to state the truth when we make moral judgments. But since there is no moral truth, all of our moral claims are mistaken. Hence the error. These three principles lead to the conclusion that there is no moral knowledge. Knowledge requires truth. If there is no moral truth, there can be no moral knowledge. Thus moral values are purely chimerical.[1]

Error theorists combine the cognitivist thesis that moral language consists of truth-apt statements with the nihilist thesis that there are no moral facts. Like moral nihilism itself, however, error theory comes in more than one form: Global falsity and Presupposition failure.

The first, which one might call the global falsity form of error theory, claims that moral beliefs and assertions are false in that they claim that certain moral facts exist that in fact do not exist. J. L. Mackie (1977) argues for this form of moral nihilism. Mackie argues that moral assertions are only true if there are moral properties that are intrinsically motivating, but there is good reason to believe that there are no such intrinsically motivating properties (see the argument from queerness and motivational internalism).

The second form, which one might call the presupposition failure form of error theory, claims that moral beliefs and assertions are not true because they are neither true nor false. This is not a form of non-cognitivism, for moral assertions are still thought to be truth-apt. Rather, this form of moral nihilism claims that moral beliefs and assertions presuppose the existence of moral facts that do not exist. This is analogous to presupposition failure in cases of non-moral assertions. Take, for example, the claim that the present king of France is bald. Some argue[who?] that this claim is truth-apt in that it has the logical form of an assertion, but it is neither true nor false because it presupposes that there is currently a king of France, but there is not. The claim suffers from “presupposition failure.” Richard Joyce (2001) argues for this form of moral nihilism under the name “fictionalism.”

The philosophy of Niccol Machiavelli is sometimes presented as a model of moral nihilism, but this is at best ambiguous. His book Il Principe (The Prince) praised many acts of violence and deception, which shocked a European tradition that throughout the Middle Ages had inculcated moral lessons in its political philosophies. Machiavelli does say that the Prince must override traditional moral rules in favor of power-maintaining reasons of State, but he also says, particularly in his other works, that the successful ruler should be guided by Pagan rather than Christian virtues. Hence, Machiavelli presents an alternative to the ethical theories of his day, rather than an all-out rejection of all morality.

Closer to being an example of moral nihilism is Thrasymachus, as portrayed in Plato’s Republic. Thrasymachus argues, for example, that rules of justice are structured to benefit those who are able to dominate political and social institutions. Thrasymachus can, however, be interpreted as offering a revisionary account of justice, rather than a total rejection of morality and normative discourse.

Glover has cited realist views of amoralism held by early Athenians, and in some ethical positions affirmed by Joseph Stalin.[2]

Criticisms of moral nihilism come primarily from moral realists,[citation needed] who argue that there are positive moral truths. Still, criticisms do arise out of the other anti-realist camps (i.e. subjectivists and relativists). Not only that, but each school of moral nihilism has its own criticisms of one another (e.g. the non-cognitivists’ critique of error theory for accepting the semantic thesis of moral realism).[citation needed]

Still other detractors deny that the basis of moral objectivity need be metaphysical. The moral naturalist, though a form of moral realist, agrees with the nihilists’ critique of metaphysical justifications for right and wrong. Moral naturalists prefer to define “morality” in terms of observables, some even appealing to a science of morality.[citation needed]

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Dr. Charles Kay Egoism

Posted: March 23, 2016 at 10:44 pm

Egoism is a teleological theory of ethics that sets as its goal the benefit, pleasure, or greatest good of the oneself alone. It is contrasted with altruism, which is not strictly self-interested, but includes in its goal the interests of others as well. There are at least three different ways in which the theory of egoism can be presented:

Psychological Egoism This is the claim that humans by nature are motivated only by self-interest . Any act, no matter how altruistic it might seem, is actually motivated by some selfish desire of the agent (e.g., desire for reward, avoidance of guilt, personal happiness). This is a descriptive claim about human nature. Since the claim is universalall acts are motivated by self interestit could be proven false by a single counterexample.

It will be difficult to find an action that the psychological egoist will acknowledge as purely altruistic, however. There is almost always some benefit to ourselves in any action we choose. For example, if I helped my friend out of trouble, I may feel happy afterwards. But is that happiness the motive for my action or just a result of my action? The psychological egoist must demonstrate that the beneficial consequences of an action are actually the motivation of of all of our actions. But why would it make me happy to see my friend out of trouble if I didn’t already care about my friend’s best interest? Wouldn’t that be altruism?

Ethical Egoism This is the claim that individuals should always to act in their own best interest. It is a normative claim. If ethical egoism is true, that appears to imply that psychological egoism is false: there would be no point to saying that we ought to do what we must do by nature.

But if altruism is possible, why should it be avoided? Some writers suggest we all should focus our resources on satisfying our own interests, rather than those of others. Society will then be more efficient and this will better serve the interests of all. By referring to the interests of all, however, this approach reveals itself to be a version of utilitarianism, and not genuine egoism. It is merely a theory about how best to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number.

An alternative formulation of ethical egoism states that I ought to act in my own self-interesteven if this conflicts with the values and interests of otherssimply because that is what I value most. It is not clear how an altruist could argue with such an individualistic ethical egoist, but it is also not clear that such an egoist should choose to argue with the altruist. Since the individualistic egoist believes that whatever serves his own interests is (morally) right, he will want everyone else to be altruistic. Otherwise they would not serve the egoist’s interests! It seems that anyone who truly believed in individualistic ethical egoism could not promote the theory without inconsistency. Indeed, the self-interest of the egoist is best served by publicly claiming to be an altruist and thereby keeping everyone’s good favor.

Minimalist Egoism When working with certain economic or sociological models, we may frequently assume that people will act in such a way as to promote their own interests. This is not a normative claim and usually not even a descriptive claim. Instead it is a minimalist assumption used for certain calculations. If we assume only self-interest on the part of all agents, we can determine certain extreme-case (e.g., maximin) outcomes for the model. Implicit in this assumption, although not always stated, is the idea that altruistic behavior on the part of the agents, although not presupposed, would yield outcomes at least as good and probably better.

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NSA wins key ruling in years-old phone and Internet spying lawsuit

Posted: February 11, 2015 at 3:50 pm

The EFF’s “Team Jewel.”

The case, known as Jewel v. NSA, was originally brought by the EFF on behalf of Carolyn Jewel, a romance novelist who lives in Petaluma, California, north of San Francisco. For years, the case stalled in the court system, but it gained new life after the Edward Snowden disclosures in 2013.

Despite the NSA’s victory in its partial summary judgment, there are a number of issues left to be adjudicated in Jewel.

The judge’s ruling only concerned Upstream Internet surveillance, not the telephone records collection nor other mass surveillance that are also at issue in Jewel, Kurt Opsahl, an EFF attorney, told Ars, referring to the governments program to capture data directly off of fiber optic cables.

We will continue to fight to end NSA mass surveillance, he added.

US District Judge Jeffrey White, in his 10-page order, found that the lead plaintiff lacked standinge.g., she was unable to show that she specifically was surveilled. Beyond the question of standing, the court found it was not able to evaluate her claims without violating national security.

As Judge White wrote:

Based on the public record, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs have failed to establish a sufficient factual basis to find they have standing to sue under the Fourth Amendment regarding the possible interception of their Internet communications. Further, having reviewed the Government Defendants classified submissions, the Court finds that the Claim must be dismissed because even if Plaintiffs could establish standing, a potential Fourth Amendment Claim would have to be dismissed on the basis that any possible defenses would require impermissible disclosure of state secret information.

The standing issue here is similar to a 2013 Supreme Court decision known as Clapper v. Amnesty International. That case found that the plaintiffs (such as Guantanamo Bay lawyers) who had strong evidence to believe that they were being spied upon but could not demonstrate it to the Supreme Courts standard, could not bring their case.

During a December 2014 hearing in federal court in Oakland, California, Judge White heard arguments from both sides in his attempt to wrestle with the plaintiffs July 2014 motion for partial summary judgment.

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Posted: December 11, 2014 at 10:41 am



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Posted: September 17, 2014 at 10:48 am



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Libertarians reality problem: How an estrangement from history yields abject failure

Posted: May 19, 2014 at 11:41 am

It has long been customary to divide the Republican Party into three camps: big business or Wall Street Republicans, the religious right and neoconservatives or national security Republicans. The third group, it must be admitted, somewhat unsteadily combines neoconservatives proper (such as William Kristol) with old-fashioned defense hawks (such as Donald Rumsfeld), but perhaps this is the Republican big tent we keep hearing about.

In any case, this neat three-part logic was roiled by two events in 2008: the Great Recession and the election of Barack Obama as president. The latters decision to respond to the crisis with a fairly traditional mix of demand-side remedies some tax cuts, some increased spending ignited a fire storm on the right. CNBCs Rick Santelli is often fingered as the principal arsonist. On Feb. 19, 2009, outraged by Obamas plan to assist homeowners caught up in the collapse of the housing market,Santelliwent on air to unburden himself of the following ideas:

The spark had been struck; the Tea Party roared to life. Five years later it has remade American politics, largely through its impact on the GOP. Profoundly alienated from the modern American state, which it regards as a bureaucratic embodiment of foreign social-democratic ideals, intensely ideological, intransigent and scornful of compromise, the Tea Party has used its electoral success in the South and Midwest and its power in primaries and caucuses to impose sharp limits on the policy options available to GOP politicians. Rick Santellis wildfire consumed immigration reform and an extension of unemployment benefits; it flared into a government shutdown and crept perilously close to two debt defaults.

One consequence of the Tea Party ascendancy has been a new prominence for the term libertarian. In many ways this is unfortunate. There is reason to believe that any connections between libertarianism and the Tea Party are tenuous at best. A recentstudyfound that 60 percent of libertarians do not identify with the Tea Party, while only 26 percent of Tea Party supporters think of themselves as libertarians. (Fully twice as many affiliate with the religious right.) Still, animpressionpersists that the Republican Party is increasingly animated by the spirit of John Galt. I think there are mainly four reasons for this.

The first is that some conservative activists, quick to sense the electoral (and financial) potential of the Tea Party, moved quickly to associate its concerns with their own, often quite different, agendas. (The absurdist theater that swirled around DickArmeysdeparture from FreedomWorks is apposite here.)

A second more important source of confusion is that libertarian, as a rubric, offers Republicans certain rhetorical advantages. It suggests theyreforsomething and not just against the Democrats, and that this something is related to liberty. (And it performs this latter function while avoiding the hated epithet liberal.) It also serves an irenic purpose insofar as it gestures at common ground for Tea Partyers, the religious right generally, and Wall Streeters. If these factions can agree on anything, its that they want less government meaning lessliberalgovernment and this is easily elided into the claim that they want more liberty. As long as no one inspects the logic too closely, this Were all libertarians now line can seem helpfully plausible. Which brings us to the fourth reason, a national media always ready to exploit the helpfully plausible in its constant search for the appealingly (or is it appallingly?) simple.

So one increasingly hears certain prominent Republicans referred to as libertarians or as members of the partys libertarian wing.Ted CruzandPaul Ryanhave been identified as such at one time or another, as have (with slightly more reason) bothPauls, Ron and Rand. This, again, is a mistake. As Ive arguedelsewhere,no important Republican politician is a libertarian. Still, perceptions are important in politics, and there is certainly no doubt that real libertarians belong noisily, busily belong to the Republican coalition.

Given this, all of us have an interest in understanding the nature of libertarian thought, and in knowing whether it forms the basis of a workable politics. Michael Lind has written brilliantly about these issues (here,for example) in the context of practical politics. I want to take them up in a more theoretical light. I will focus on the central concept of libertarian thought the idea of personal freedom and argue that it cannot be coherently explained on libertarian grounds. I will also argue that a libertarian society, if fully realized, would be actively hostile to the development of free selves. Libertarianism, in other words, cannot give a persuasive account of its own core concept. Its as close to self-refuting as a political theory can be.

* * *

Some criticisms of libertarian thought are unwarranted. For example, it issometimesalleged that libertarians lack concern for others, or are motivated only by greed, or embrace a crass, materialistic ethic. Libertarians think such charges are based on a simple confusion. Their intent is to advocate for liberty, they say; what free people choose to do with their liberty is an entirely separate matter. I think this reply is conclusive if it is meant to rebut the claim that libertarians, because they value freedom, must also value the content of every free choice. (In other contexts, as I will argue below, it is much less conclusive.) That claim really is a confusion. I do not have to approve of pornography simply because I endorse the First Amendment. Similarly, I do not have to approve of choices to be selfish or shallow because I favor economic and political liberty. Liberals, who are often on the receiving end of this kind of attack from conservative critics, should think twice before directing it at libertarians.

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