The Myth of Subjectivity

by Ben Albahari 29. November 2009 15:27

When I first created TakeOnIt I only had questions about how the world is rather than how the world ought to be. That meant that I'd have questions on Global Warming or whether Michael Jackson molested children, but not on the morality / legality of abortion or drugs. I thought that opinions about how the world ought to be (rather than is) were subjective in that they couldn't be shown to be right or wrong. High on my favorite drug (coffee kids) I realized I was mistaken. How we think the world ought to be is actually a summary, manifestation, and most insidiously even a disguise, for how we think the world actually is.

We inevitably justify how the world ought to be with opinions on how the world is. People who believe abortion is wrong have beliefs about souls and consciousness. The following is a statement by the Vatican about how the world is:

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

People who believe drugs are wrong have beliefs about their comparative health risks. In fact, even if the anti-drug advocate had never even actually thought about the comparative health risks of drugs, they'd generate those beliefs on the fly, or later find evidence to match their expectations.

This is because the reverse is true too: how we think the world ought to be permeates how we think the world is. This is why so many people who believe in God don't believe in evolution. In an encouraging example of the darwinian benefits of logical thinking, the four-wived Mohammed Yusuf doesn't even bother denying it:

If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.

The more an issue about how the world ought to be matters to us, the more we connect it to how we think the world actually is.

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Comments (1) -

Buck Farmer
Buck Farmer United Kingdom
12/14/2009 3:27:50 PM #

So let's say I believe that if you obey all the doctrines of the Church you will be gifted with an eternity of unimaginable bliss...

...and let's say you believe that this is false. That the only bliss you can have is here in the finite now.

These are both 'is' beliefs and are entirely insufficient to get to an 'ought' belief[i]

Both of us may believe that we ought to maximize our total lifetime bliss but we will behave differently because we have different 'is' beliefs, even though our 'ought' belief is the same.

Likewise, we might both believe that if we obey the teachings of the Church we will ge given an eternity of bliss...

...but we may disagree on whether an eternity of bliss is what we should be striving towards.

I might for example believe that what I ought to do is leave as lasting a mark on the sublunar world as possible and that what happens in my afterlife is morally irrelevant to my decisions.

In that case my choices will be very different from someone looking to maximize his bliss even though we have the same 'is' beliefs.