This article isn’t for the faint of heart. This will be a long conversation with regards to the issue of epistemic norms, ethical norms, and where we find them as categorical or hypothetical. For the distinction between categorical and hypothetical imperatives look above.
I see. I think there are ways to ground moral claims despite the is ought gap. But I am convinced that there exists a strong argument for moral realism.
what is that?
It’s the following argument: 1. Moral norms are not different in kind from epistemic norms. 2. Thus, any argument against objective moral norms will have an analogous argument against objective epistemic norms, and if one succeeds, the other one does as well. 3. But objective epistemic norms exist. 4. Thus there can’t be a successful argument against objective epistemic norms. 5. Thus there can’t be a successful argument against objective moral norms. 6. Thus objective moral norms exist.
You can frame such a norm in a hypothetical imperative, but surely denying the existence of it as an actual epistemic norms is unintuitive. Norms such as “we ought to believe that x cannot be both x and ~x”, “we ought to have reasons that justify our beliefs”, etc… all appear to be reasonable categorically. And if they are denied categorically, then hypothetical imperatives don’t appear to make much sense either. Concerning Cuneo’s argument here (Cuneo’s book goes into it), but the summary is something like “look, the general objections to moral norms are things like spookiness of aphysical facts, the difficulty in knowing normative statements, the inherent weirdness of normativity, epistemic normativity has those same problems. Plus, epistemic norms are about in some sense what it’s rational to believe, and moral norms are about in some sense what it’s rational to do.”
they’re not denied categorically (if i understand what you mean), they are redefined as hypothetical imperatives. and hypothetical imperatives cannot be valid without the conditional
I might be confused here. Take the norm: “You ought not believe both x and ~x” simpliciter. Is it considered to have a true-value according to the anti-moral realist? If so, is it true or false?
I suppose that would simply strike me as strange. It would seem this way to me and perhaps others is because the very nature of belief itself is to aim at truth. As long as I know something is not true, I can’t convince myself into believing that it isn’t. For example, I can’t believe that unicorns exist or that the earth is flat given my knowledge of the physical world and the scientific data to back the roundness of the earth. I am also incapable of believing two propositions that are explicitly contradictory such as “John was born in 1994” and “John was not born in 1994”. And because beliefs are inherently aimed at truth it seems that I ought not believe two explicitly contradictory statements. Any hypothetical imperative that would tell me otherwise would appear to be necessarily wrong. I will grant that the argument is not very effective on someone who does not hold to objective epistemic norms. But it does seem to be a convincing argument for those who do accept the existence of objective moral norms.
belief is aimed at truth, and that’s why the conditional (if you want x) is universal
the hypothetical imperative is sound when the axioms used to create descriptions of the world are valid
Hmm. I don’t follow the inference there from “belief is aimed at truth” to “that’s why the conditional (if you want x) is universal”. It appears to me that my desire to believe something true seems to have no bearing on whether or not I should believe explicit contradictory statements. Is there a reason why the conditional would play a factor?
it has no bearing when one does not know what is the nature of reality. so i guess we can appeal to the logical axiom of being self evident and the like, to justify that to believe something true must be in accordance with the logical axiom. let me modify the phrase. belief is usually aimed at truth, so the conditional “if you want to hold beliefs that accurately describe the fundamental nature of the world, then…” is somewhat universal. but sometimes beliefs are not aimed at truth, but aimed at comfort. some choose to deceive themselves of beliefs they know are false so that they could have a peace of mind (such as belief in karma)
Right sometimes people do choose to deceive themselves in this way. But I feel like I’d be hard-pressed to argue for the hypothetical imperative: “If you want to be comforted, then you ought to believe something you know to be a lie”. The aim of the belief itself seems to be truth, even if one has to start off “pretending” that the lie is true in order to deceive themselves. It’s always to convince themselves that something actually corresponds to reality here.
i would disagree. the aim of the belief itself, prima facie, doesnt necessarily need to be towards truth. but a belief, if it is strong, seems to suggest that the person who believes it think it is true
pragmatically speaking, if someone advocates for that view, i would laugh and handwave it
interestingly, they might even agree that my hypothetical imperative is sound, they just share different desire
I would too
In all of this however, I think we’re treating an aspect of hypothetical imperatives as universal.
Essentially, I think when we reframe epistemic norms as solely hypothetical we are committing ourselves to the idea that “we ought to fulfill our wants or desires” or that “we sought to be motivated to act by our desires” or that “we should try to achieve our goals” and treating them like objective epistemic norms. Is there a way we can reframe epistemic norms as hypothetical imperatives without appealing to our desires, wants, goals, or motivations? Wait Nevermind.
i think we are only assuming the second, “we sought to be motivated to act by our desires.” but since it is hypothetical, i am not treating it as objective epistemic norms, im treating it as universal-enough norms
hypothetical imperatives is always about how to achieve a goal, if i am not mistaken. i would say that a desire/goal is a priori what we want to do
oh, no, i didnt agree to that. i agree to the second example you gave because it doesn’t contain an ought
“we are motivated by our desires” is basically tautological
I meant to say ought
oh. then no i wouldnt agree to it
Ok. What reasons would there be to act according to our hypothetical imperatives?
if our desire is in accordance with the imperative
So would you agree with the principle: I ought to do x if and only if I desire to do x
Correct me if I’m going in circles but is there an argument for that principle?
oh I know why. hypothetical imperative isn’t a proposition, it’s a command. so i should correct myself that there is a hidden premise, namely p1, and hypothetical imperative depends on the soundness of it
i need some reasons why good and rationality is related. also, i like your objections. let me think about them
A good reason would be to think that they belong conceptually to the same Person. For Christians, good and rationality are both aspects of the overall concept of God’s wisdom. And so, for Christians, thinking well is just part of living well, living in a way that honors God and so, by necessary extension, honors others.
i dont see there’s any reason for me to grant that
wisdom may connect rationality and good, but wisdom seems to be distinct with rationality or good
while im thinking about a response, can i ask you questions to try to understand how a moral realist view epistemic norms?
are epistemic norms self-evident? in what way are they representative of real features of the world? what are the features of the world?
Sure. I have some errands to run, so my responses will probably be a while coming.
i dont see there’s any reason for me to grant that
One reason why is the very reason we’re discussing. Namely, your alternative is untenable.
are epistemic norms self-evident?
My position is that humans know epistemic norms in virtue of their God-imaging nature and in virtue of our acquaintance with God as a result of His acts of revelation. Calling back to God’s wisdom, because we are aware of God, His perfect rational character, we have a normative archetype therein: to possess a God-reflecting character. We know God, therefore, we know the ultimate epistemic norm.
in what way are they representative of real features of the world?
On my view, epistemic norms have to do with God’s wisdom. Take for example the classical laws of logic or any set of inferential rules. I take these to be principles how to think like in a God imaging, God honoring manner.
what would you say are epistemic norms?
Response to problem 3: i think i would ground epistemic norms by their P1 being self-evident (in some sense, to disagree with a P1 is to disagree with an axiom) that doesn’t mean that the desire/goal will be the same for everyone, but it means that given the desire/goal, the epistemic norm is a valid command. anyone could propose an alternative norm. if the alternative norm stems from the same conditional of desire/goal, then the disagreement is with the fundamental axioms. if the alternative norm has a different desire/goal in mind, then it is merely a difference in what we strive for. i would bite the bullet and contend that justification, if normative, is essentially meaningless. i do not claim that we ought to follow a particular version of rationality, but that if we do not follow the same version, then little common ground can be found
How do you unpack self-evidence, @ayylien? I’m not sure what you’re referring to as an axiom here. However it is defined, though, self-evidence is an epistemic affair, not a metaphysical one. It would not “ground” epistemic norms. Rather, self-evidence is a way of explaining how we know them. The trouble with talk about “biting the bullet” with respect to different desires is that we have no reason to agree with your classification of desires/ends and their conditions. Perhaps on your view of rationality, avoiding fallacies is normative for anyone who intends to be rational, but since we have no reason to accept your view of rationality, we have no reason to accept that connection between fallacy avoidance as a condition either.
It becomes not a matter of whether one wants to be rational. It becomes a question of whether you prefer Ayylien’s dogma of rationality or Bob’s or Billy’s, etc. This reduces reason to a choice of social clubs, not a matter of fact that can be known.
I think I would disagree with premise (2) of your argument from yesterday. We could fail to do what we desire, we could have “conflicting desires”, or we could be convinced otherwise in such a way that we never perform the action that would satisfy that once-held desire. Now, the argument as you put it isn’t valid. But perhaps that can be fixed easily and overlooked. However, I want to address something else concerning epistemic norms as hypothetical imperatives. I was scrolling through some old posts on the r/askphilosophers subreddit concerning epistemic norms and moral norms. This thread here is one that discusses defining epistemic norms as hypothetical imperatives: https://www.reddit.com/r/askphilosophy/comments/2p076d/what_is_your_best_argument_for_moral_realism/cmsf6x6/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf Essentially, what one reddit user points out is that one who is framing epistemic norms as hypothetical imperatives in this way is implicitly committing themselves to the categorical imperative:
“One ought to perform the necessary means to one’s ends”
It seems to be the case that for every epistemic norms that we phrase as a hypothetical imperative, we do so in such a way that we accept the claim that:
“For every desire x, if we desire to do x, then we ought to do x”
It seems as though there isn’t a way to justify this claim, without accepting the former categorical imperative: “One ought to perform the necessary means to one’s ends”. Indeed if this imperative is not true (in at least some cases), then there seems to be no justification for hypothetical imperatives of any sort. But if that’s the case, epistemic norms can’t be framed as hypothetical imperatives in the first place.
ah yeah, i think what i mean was we can either appeal to P1 being self evident or use some ontological theories to ground P1 (which i am unsure of. i havent read much about ontology). as to wether we have or have no reason to agree on views of rationality, im not sure if i have an answer. it depends on if i understand how the moral realist claim that they have access to what is objectively rational. you seem to derive epistemic norms from some established metaphysics, such as the existence of god, the characteristics of god. what is the line of reasoning that goes about establishing these metaphysical claims? are you a foundationalist or coherentist? do you assume epistemic norms at first and come to these metaphysical conclusions?
im not sure if i have made this clear, im not even sure if this is what ive thought of since the beginning. but i think a hypothetical imperative is just an command form of P1. (i admit, hypothetical imperative does seem quite queer now that i thought more of it) and so i would not affirm
“One ought to perform the necessary means to one’s ends”
instead i would say that
Hypothetical Imperative commands: “Perform the necessary means to your end”
it depends on this modified P2:
If you desire x state of affairs (your desire of x being the greatest desire), then you would try to actualize x state of affairs (by definition)
if you did not end up trying to actualizing x, then your desire for x is by definition not the greatest desire
but HI does not follow from P1 and P2, since it is a command. so you probably wont get a construction of exactly what HI is from me
“One will attempt to perform the necessary means to one’s ends”
if one did not attempt, then either one has no ends or one’s end is brought by other necessary means
I would reject that modified P2. Because I think one could fail to attempt to actualize x, even though it’s their greatest desire to do so if he or she experiences akrasia. Also, I‘m not sure how we can reframe epistemic norms as hypothetical imperatives if hypothetical imperatives only command me to “perform the necessary means to your end”.
well, that’s because you think that epistemic norms actually have an use. I think what a moral antirealist would say is that people talk about epistemic norms as if they are useful, because (as the antirealist would point out) they assume that their interlocutor has the same goal in mind
i take P2 to allow for a failed attempt to actualize a desired state of affairs. but there would be an attempt nonetheless, otherwise the desired state of affairs is not of the greatest desire
The goal here I presume is to justify the principle that:
One ought to do x if and only if I desire to do x
If that’s the case, then I’m still not sure how “perform the necessary means to your end” (as a command) justifies that principle. There seems to be zero connection. With regards to P2, it seems possible that one’s will can be so weak such that he or she is incapable of even attempting to actualized their greatest desire.
i would agree with that principle there if we do not mean it like a proposition, but a command also. do you get what i mean?
I’m not sure that I do. Commands just are a kind of proposition (unless you’re referring to state of affairs here). Let me see. My reasoning is this: If the principle there has a truth-value, then it is either true or false. If it’s true, then merely “perform the necessary means to your end” doesn’t justify its truth. If it’s false, then there is no true statement about epistemic norms. The only way I see this principle as a command and not a proposition is if it has no truth-value. However, if it has no truth-value, then it is meaningless. It is a command without meaning. But if it is a command without meaning, then it isn’t an hypothetical imperative.
I think i might be misunderstanding what the debate is. I’m a bit lost. what is the use of epistemic norms under moral realism? are epistemic norms used to select which theory of justification is the best? i think a moral antirealist can select the most adequate theory of justification without using any normative language
The use of epistemic norms here is just that they are not different in kind from moral norms such that if we accept the existence of one then we need to accept the existence of the other. With regards to justification, I believe what Jimmy said earlier rings true. That is, justification is defined in terms of epistemic norms. So I’m not sure how one can have justification without them.
can you give an example of an usage of epistemic norms? specifically, how epistemic norms are used in relation to theories of justification
I’m not exactly sure what you mean here. When you mention theories of justification are you referring to things like internalism, externalism, etc…?
yeah, and foundationalism, coherentism, etc
I’m not sure what “P1” is here. Are you referring to an argument you or Bestchamp made? Or are you saying the first premise of arguments in general?
as to wether we have or have no reason to agree on views of rationality. . .it depends on if i understand how the moral realist claim that they have access to what is objectively rational.
My contention that if all epistemic norms are hypothetical, then we cannot assess whether they are, does not depend on knowing how a moral realist accounts for the objectivity of [epistemic] norms.
you seem to derive epistemic norms from some established metaphysics, such as the existence of [G]od, the characteristics of [G]od.
Correct. The metaphysics are not established by reasoning. We acquire knowledge of Christian metaphysics as a result of God’s revelation, His acts of self-disclosure. We can reason about this revelation. Indeed, we can argue for it, but we do not reason to it from without. As far as “usage” of epistemic norms, any definition of justification [or its subtitutes] involves epistemic norms. For example, if you define knowledge as true justified belief, where justification amounts to a “sufficient reason,” then you have set up a criterion what counts as knowledge: an epistemic norm. Following the criterion, the norm, produces or conduces knowledge, while “disobeying” it does not.
I’m not very familiar with those theories. I haven’t found myself home to any of them yet. But I would say the general idea is this:
1. One must have a principled reason to believe any fact x, if he or she is to be justified in believing x.
2. Without objective epistemic norms, there are no principled reasons to believe x.
3. Without objective epistemic norms, no one is justified in believing x.
Method y achieves x., for the HI
if you desire x, you ought to do y it seems to me that a moral realist is just going to claim that an (categorical) epistemic norm is true based on some normative features of the world. but to the antirealist, it lacks justification. the antirealist can can say that
Method y does achieve x(perhaps even take it as a foundation for their epistemology), and it is up to others to decide if they desire x. for example, say that we want to know what are sufficient reasons in being justified with holding a belief. a way to approach constructing what constitute a sufficient reason is to arbitrarily (or follow your intuitions) pick an epistemic norm. then see if the epistemic norm can construct an epistemology that has the most explanatory power. we can apply the theory to what we think is true and see if we are justified in holding them. granted, some might be dissatisfied with the theory of justification because it does not allow for, say, astrology to be justified. but even if the theory is espoused by a moral realist, there would not be much different about the discourse. a moral realist is going to say that the astrologist is not justified in holding the claim, because the epistemic norms demands such conclusion. an moral antirealist is going to say that the astrologist is not justified in holding the claim, provided that if the astrologist wants to know true things, they should not expect astrology to be true. another way is this (perhaps it’s not much different).
first adopt a coherent (and somewhat explanatory) view of metaphysics, especially ontology and phil of mind. it follows that from these theories there is a way which we can accurately access the metaphysical view. so these theories which we adopt as our foundation allows us to construct some P1s. and epistemic norms follows. i think it’s clear that the antirealist’s project has a circularity here. P1 comes from things we assumed are true, and after we constructed P1 we justify the things we know are true with the hypothetical epistemic norm that comes from P1. but it’s not clear to me if the moral realist’s project is any better. what can a moral realist do when one disagrees with their epistemic norms? surely, their epistemic norms justifies their metaphysical position, and their metaphysical position allows for their epistemic norms.
I think we should also entertain the idea that epistemic norms and moral norms might differ not just in categories, but ontologies. i want to ask: as moral realists, what makes them differ in categories? suppose if the action of killing has the property of wrongness. does the act of naively believing has the property of being unjustified? sure, they differ in categories because the properties are different. if that’s how you ground norms, then how do different properties allow for normative claims? what do they have (ontologically) in common despite their differences? I’m guessing your moral realism are probably different. but you know what I’m getting at
method y achieves x.
It remains unclear how this proposition combined with desire x results in normativity. You’d need to defend that idea. Hence, my first objection.
but to the antirealist, it [“an (categorical) norm is true based on features of the world”] lacks justification.
As I pointed out, the trouble is that anti-realism undermines justification simpliciter. Without categorical epistemic normativity, “justification” is unintelligible. So the anti-realist complains about justification by playing the realist game.
a way to approach constructing what constitute a sufficient reason is to arbitrarily (or follow your intuitions) pick an epistemic norm.
By definition, if our norms are arbitrary, then the so-called appeal to “explanatory power” as well as our concept of “explanatory power” are both just as arbitrary. “Explanatory power” is an epistemic norm which we would be arbitrarily defining and appealing. Who says that norm is coherent or valid/applicable/appropriate/whatever in the first place? You can’t say epistemic norms are arbitrary and then smuggle in the epistemic norm of “explanatory power” as if it’s magically non-suspect to arbitrariness. If epistemic norms are arbitrary, all our beliefs are arbitrary. That is the biggest trouble with your anti-realism.
these [metaphysical] theories which we adopt as our foundation allows us to construct some P1s.
It has not been established that normativity follows from conditionals (“P1s”), or conditions combined with desires. Neither have you established that epistemic norms are possibly all hypothetical. You’d need to answer @Bestchamp27‘s allegation that there is a hidden categorical: “For any hypothetical norm, if the desideratum obtains, one ought to fulfill the conditions.” You’d also need to answer my objection that we cannot adjudicate what rationality or justification is without a categorical epistemic norm.
So far it seems like you’re glossing over the objections and just restating antirealist dogma.
P1 comes from things we assumed are true, and after we constructed P1 we justify the things we know are true with the hypothetical epistemic norm that comes from P1.
If you mean, you justify hypothetical norms by appealing to them, that’s logical circularity. You’d be conceding that antirealism entails fallacious reasoning. That’s pretty open-and-shut.
what can a moral realist do when one disagrees with their epistemic norms?
I don’t see any objection here. People disagree about all kinds of facts. Disagreement without a factual impetus is what’s weird, not disagreement about facts. This is a problem for antirealism.
my idea of normativity(which might be misguided) is that if P1 is sound and one follows what they desire, a HI that tells people how to achieve what they desire will be convincing to them. setting aside antirealism undermines justification. my point was that with categorical epistemic norms, the most you can justify such norms is through the norms themselves, which is circular. im not sure what you take “explanatory power” to be. what I mean by it is: say person A and B both agree that a set of propositions S is true. person A posits a theory of justification (which contains epistemic norms) person B posits another. they evaluate, base on their own epistemic norms, if S could be justified. for example, if a norm is that an axiom must be self evident, then their own evaluation of S tells them what can and cannot be an axiom. and from the axioms there arises rules and facts that one can use to explain more facts, until the persons are able to explain all of S. if A realizes that the theory of justification cannot allow him to know some proposition, then either A add to his theory of justification or throw out the proposition. since both desire to know S, the theory of justication they end up using will hopefully be explanatory of S. they self-correct until their theory of justification corresponds with the propositions they think are true.
my idea of normativity. . .is that if P1 is sound and one follows what they desire, a HI that tells people how to achieve what they desire will be convincing to them.
For sake of charity, I get the sense you worded this slightly wrong. I think you meant to say, “HI tells people how to achieve what they desire” simpliciter. I don’t think you want to make it contingent on conviction, because that reduces straightforwardly to subjectivism. If I’m reading you correctly, then you’re biting the bullet of my first objection. This is not normativity at all. This is just a statement of conditions, like procedural directions on a new toy.
my point was that with categorical epistemic norms, the most you can justify such norms is through the norms themselves, which is circular.
A logical circle is involved in appealing to a hypothetical norm to justify it. That is, you must use as a premise of the argument for a hypothetical norm, a statement of said hypothetical norm. This is not the case with a categorical norm. Suppose God archetypes for, commands, and designs humans to reflect His rationality. Now the question is raised why we ought to be rational? The question presupposes rationality. If the question is motivated by a commitment to avoiding errant beliefs, then it presupposes said divine norm. If the question is alethically indifferent, then the question isn’t a question at all. So you hardly have to involve fallacies to justify categorical epistemic norms.
The argument for such norms is that without them, you cannot even make sense of skepticism about them. That is, you can easily argue for them transcendentally – no question begging involved.
if A realizes that the theory of justification cannot allow him to know some proposition, then either A add to his theory of justification or throw out the proposition.
is the norm you’re sneaking into the scenario. Who said that A and B agree you must either update or throw out item x if it cannot be explained by their respective epistemologies? That itself is an epistemic norm. And so, if all epistemic norms are hypothetical, so is that norm, and then so are A and B hopelessly left disabled from adjudicating that norm itself.
You’re not grasping how far the rabbit hole goes. If all epistemic norms are hypothetical, there is literally no difference between shared opinions and justification. Justification becomes a meaningless adherence to one particular social construct about what we animals name “justification” and what we boo down as “not justified.” That’s it.
Epistemology reduces to a question about when apes happen to “ooh ooh, ah ah” in agreement or pound each other in the dust out of arational motivatoins.
But epistemology is not after mere agreement. We’re after facts! We want true beliefs, principles that help us think in truth conducive fashion, methods that provide true-belief acquiring procedures, etc. All of this is abandoned if all epistemic norms are hypothetical. Instead, it’s just, “Do you agree with me? If not, that’s the end of discussion.”
What are your thoughts on the argument?
[The argument states the following:]
P1. If moral realism is false, there are no categorical norms.
P2. If there are no categorical norms, all epistemic norms are hypothetical.
P3. If all epistemic norms are hypothetical, epistemic norms are arbitrary, de facto.
P4. If epistemic norms are arbitrary, knowledge is impossible.
P5. If moral realism is false, knowledge is impossible.
C: Moral realism is true (viz. not false).
P1 rests on the notion that if one is obliged to some state or action x ipso facto, then it is simultaneously a fact of the matter that one ought x and x is an objective value incumbent upon humanity. In other words, categorical norms, if they exist, must be moral norms. P2 is analytical, and P5 is entailed by the truth of the former premises. P4 is intuitive, so I’ll wait for it to be challenged.
P3 is the real controversy. Its justification lies in the fact that any adjudication of a hypothetical norm inevitably depends on the whims, intentions, agreement, or other act of volition on the part of its subject. We could clarify and defend this with one further (and quite simple) argument.
P1. If x is a hypothetical norm, x is not inherently incumbent upon its subjects.
P2. If norm x is not inherently incumbent upon its subjects, it is voluntary.
C: If x is a hypothetical norm, x is voluntary (i.e. dependent on the above-mentioned exercise of will to be incumbent).
i think P1 might not be needed. categorical norms could be problematic for one’s ontology, but if denying certain categorical norms is self defeating, then such categorical norms are necessary in the ontology. categorical norms in general would still remain problematic. and since the denial of other categorical norms may not be self defeating, moral realism could still be false
Are there any norms other than epistemic or moral that could be categorical?
im not aware of any
Hmm. I’m not either. Perhaps the argument could just remove the first two premises then so as to state:
P1. If epistemic norms are hypothetical, then epistemic norms are arbitrary, de facto.
P2. If epistemic norms are arbitrary, then knowledge is impossible.
P3. If epistemic norms are hypothetical, then knowledge is impossible. (From 1 and 2)
P4. Knowledge is possible.
P5. Therefore, epistemic norms are not hypothetical. (From 3 and 4)
I imagine that you’d take issue with either (P1) or (P2).
Where would you attack this argument?
that’s basically what we’ve been discussing, tho I’m not sure if it got anywhere
The argument might be reformulated and minimized:
P1. If all epistemic norms are hypothetical, no meta-beliefs in epistemic norms are justifiable. P2. If no meta-beliefs in epistemic norms are justifiable, knowledge is impossible.
P3. Knowledge is possible. C: Some epistemic norms are categorical.
The self-refutation comes when we appeal to norms contingent on our epistemic evaluations in order to justify the claim they are norms of epistemic evaluation. That’s why the original argument used the term “arbitrary:” we need epistemic norms to evaluate them, but we cannot evaluate hypothetical norms with themselves.