Sunday, April 9, 2017

is there moral knowledge?

 picasso's DA, 1907

is there moral knowledge? this is an epistemological question of great importance.

without moral knowledge it becomes difficult to evaluate human actions. for example, in criminology we have varying degrees of culpability: 1- homicide (of which first degree murder and felony murder are the most serious) followed by, 2- second degree murder, followed by 3- voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter which are less serious. To establish these standards has taken more than ten centuries. how do we adjudicate these differences? we ascribe responsibility, given different criteria for the carrying the action. the problem is how to define these facts.

so, back again at the top: are there moral facts? the answer seems affirmative. but THESE ARE NOT HARD FACTS like "two points make a line" or "the sum of two internal angles in a triangle = 180º."

let's propose the following formula:

moral judgment  = facts + moral norms

moral norms are the generally accepted rules of most societies. there is an historic/evolutionary argument to be made for moral norms, since late homo erectus and homo sapiens.

the main point is that the human species could not have survived in groups without some degree of moral norms. these norms presupposes human society.

moral facts


"fact" here is not your "2+2=4" or "H2O is water" facts. these are softer facts. take a look at these propositions:

gender is a softer fact than sex, 
democracy is better than tyranny
Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso is a masterpiece of Cubism
Charlie Parker is perhaps the best alto sax player of the bebop era
Veuve Cliquot is a very good champagne

what makes a moral fact?


moral facts = best consensus! + the inter-subjective notes of the matter. 

here is a diagram:



process of consensus: see that the info is negotiated via cause/effect inter-subjectively from the outside into consensus and from consensus into BC. BC's main property is that it's more reliable, more resistant to to and fro from the outside

take picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon (DA, hereon). we'd examine the painting's formal qualities, the new style it spurred (Cubism), as well as the painting's reception (pro and against among critics, artists, curators, gallerists of early 20th century) and its influence in subsequent 20th century art. this intersubjective notes explain the consensus, which takes time to build. consensus and best consensus cannot be produced overnight.

or take shakespeare's Hamlet. the reception of Hamlet is not a hallucinogenic experience going on for 400 years! (click here for how Hamlet build consensus). if you ask a critic, a stage director, or a writer why Hamlet is a masterpiece, she'd point to specific properties IN Hamlet: formal structure, plot development, dramatic power, universal themes, relevance for the history theater, influence in other cultural forms such as philosophy, film, etc.

the best consensus provides the best explanation for these "notes." this slow layer-upon-layer of reasons through the centuries become a formidable value accumulation. the term "masterpiece" simply describes the process.    

this is when i made a distinction between saying: 1. I hate Hamlet and 2. Hamlet is not a good play. 
there are ostensible differences here to note:

1. is a personal opinion, which one is entitled to; 2. is a statement of "fact" that goes against the best consensus.

 2. is actually insurmountable. to prove 2. one would have to produce an argument to defeat 400 years of consensus. 

from 1. to 2. there is an enormous value/gap, which the counter would have to defeat. is "Hamlet is a masterpiece" defeasible? yes, but very unlikely. why? the approval layers during of all these years are way stronger than one person's counter.

Emily brought the idea of the CANON and a professor's defense of the CANON that she didn't agree with. me neither, and i said that it's incorrect to claim that Hamlet's good because of the CANON. Hamlet's good because of the "facts" pertaining Hamlet, which is why it is in the CANON not the other way around.

consensus is a process that happens in time. 

consensus is NEVER static. it's a dynamic process where each hamlet read, discussed, and presented is different than the previous one. numerically speaking there is only one hamlet, qualitatively there are many. this is how the work becomes canonic (or part of the canon of a civilization).

consensus lends itself to best consensus. BC is just the best of the previous consensus. "best" is important because it is more reliable. less subject to negotiation with plain info.

BC is not what makes Hamlet good. Hamlet is good because of "facts" in Hamlet. what consensus and BC do is flesh out these "facts." 

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