Saturday, December 31, 2016

Refining Welfarism & Moral Fallibilism

Refining Welfarism & Moral Fallibilism

A Renewed Look At Interests And Judgments

Semi poetic opener:

"Ask not what we can do for goodness, ask what goodness can do for us"

But more contentiously:

"Ask not what victimizers can do for rightness, ask what rightness can do for victims"

Now soak in the reversal:

"Ask not what goodness can do for us, ask what we can do for goodness"

And the corollary:

     "Ask not what rightness can do for victims, ask what victimizers can do for rightness"

The first set of quotes is foundationally suitable. That is to say; when reason-giving and explication bottoms out, the initial set of quotes can be declared superior to the inverted set. The ideal analyzer may declare them as superior even if the only way to get there is by fiat. No doubt, fiat is analytically icky, but rarely is it taken to be an invalidator of virtues like intellectual candor. Do candid types arrive at intellectual honesty through something other than fiat? If so, what exactly? How might we prove to someone that they ought to value intellectual honesty over the competition?

You might think that a truth-seeker proclaiming the superiority of intellectual honesty –– and with it the inferiority of intellectual dishonesty –– is disanalogous to my proclaiming the initial set of quotes as superior to the inverted set. But what makes these proclamations disanalogous? Empiricism? Come now. It can't be that. The call to science is itself a non-empirical endeavour. Denial of this manifests in the circularity of a truth-seeker applying evidence to dissuade someone against their apathy or hostility towards evidence.

When it comes to intellectual honesty, the only real competitor is intellectual dishonesty. Value the former, disvalue the latter. Simple as. The fiat, however icky, is left standing. The verdict stands tall despite its offputtingly unempirical [evaluative] origin. So it is with the above quotes, notably the first set. The only competition in town, after all, is the second set of quotes. The reversals. And they seem rather backwards, for goodness and rightness aren't persons or relational entities that can be harmed/benefitted in the first place. They are communicational tools, they are doxastic tools, and tools of all stripes should not be aggrandised as Something More.

To view them as something more makes me harken back to the theologian who holds that something is good because God wills it, not that god wills it because it is Good. Any such theologian confuses The Map for The Territory. The second set of quotes strike me as being guilty of the same.

If you are nodding along so far, we likely enjoy adequate overlap on core suppositions and other noteworthy things. If 'backwards' seems harsh, and you would rather see the second set of quotes declared reasonable by fiat, you will encounter harshness in what's to come.

The four quotes are fictional, for the record. A playful spinoff attributable to this unforgettable quote. This disclaimer is probably unnecessary, but including it can't hurt.

Priorities In Motion

At the risk of philosophic tackiness, I propose that everyone rank their primary areas of inquiry based on how interesting and underdiscussed each area is considered to be by the ranker. This should probably be done annually.

We're nearing the end of 2016, so here's my rank-ordering for the year:

I. Axiology

II. Morality

III. Realpolitik

IV. Metaphysics

V. Epistemology

Axiology > Morality > Realpolitik > Metaphysics > Epistemology

I. Axiology is at its best, so I contend, when it concerns itself not so much with investigations of moral or aesthetic value, but rather with enclosing or reducing gaps between duelling criterions of goodness. This settled, hyper-detailed systematizations of The Good take over with no apologies. The systems I take most seriously in this writeup contain the sort of blueprints that make them inseparable from creaturely interests. This may be too heterodox a picture of 'goodness' for some, and that's more or less the point. I look at some of the alternatives towards the end, but devote less time to them.

II. Morality = Resolving or dissolving rivalling criterions of rightness and/or betterness.

III. Political Methodology = Actively securing civility-upkeep by pacifying competing theories of fairness, justice, equality, desert... ideally in line with the criterions of axiology and morality.

IV. Metaphysics... too many items to mention here, but notably Determinism vs. Indeterminism.

V. Epistemology = Resolving or dissolving competing theories of knowledge-acquisition and belief-justification.

If your interpretations or priorities vary drastically from what I've put together here, let me know. I'm eager to revise and accommodate possible missing pieces.

This is a regular blog post, so some type of commitment to briefness seems appropriate. Thus, everything below contains "I. Axiology" only. I plan to add "II. Morality", "III. Realpolitik", "IV. Metaphysics" and "V. Epistemology" in the near future, as separate posts. As you may have guessed, I am in the midst of writing a book. The five sections I'm outlining here will comprise the book's five chapters. Axiology will be chapter one, such that the posts' chronology isn't merely tokenistic. I'm looking to have each chapter (in the works) undergo constructive criticism so that all five are in topnotch condition when the time comes to have them formalized.

Goodness Rightness

Axiology is not a highfalutin term for morality, nor is morality a redundant term for axiology. To speak of ethics without axiology, as public intellectuals are prompted to do, is to confine your commentary and worldly ire to behavioural and agential boundaries. Being preoccupied with the agent as well as the patient, to the equal degree that I have been, is an altogether different affair. Imagine having peculiar taste buds that dispose you to relish apples and oranges evenly. So much so that the two are not distinctive to the tongue in any way. Their unique tastes are blended together from the outset. When apples and oranges taste identically from day one, perceiving them as distinct items on the shelf becomes more and more difficult with the passage of time. After a certain point, their separateness is chalked up to a color-adjusted abstraction. The purchaser's papered acknowledgement of the difference is relegated to background noise.

The taster is still capable of phoning in accurate remarks about the disjunction, but he does this mostly out of reputational concerns. The fact remains though that apples and oranges are technically different fruits, just as axiology and morality are technically different disciplines (if I may call them that). This flag planted, some of my previous posts on ethics effortlessly jumbled the two, just as the above taster jumbles applies and oranges. I will atone for that jumbling here.

When you find yourself in an evaluative mood, look squarely to the middle section for guidance and classification. If you're in a strikingly different mood, one yearning to cast towering judgments on agential affairs, perhaps even deontic affairs, look to the top section for guidance and classification. Accordingly, axiological questions/answers will be amoral with respect to their expository grounding. What the enterprise of Moral Judgment chooses to do with them from there on out is for professional and armchair ethicists to sort out.

The evaluator is not concomitantly the judger, and the judger is not necessarily working atop an evaluative scoreboard. When I'm in the mood to evaluate, I fixate on the acceptability or unacceptability of a given state of affairs. If I'm itching to cast judgments, I fixate on the acts, motives and general behavior of fellow humans, dubbing individual outputs as right/wrong or better/worse.

Internalizing discontinuities between the good and the right is easier said than done. This is certainly the case for those who promote suffering-focused ethics. For all I know, my coming to grips with this discontinuity was more of a slow-burn process than my blotchy memory presently has me thinking. There are several ways to speed up the process, assuming you even care to. One way is to recurrently posit a world where idyllic bliss-for-all is at its apex while pure viciousness makes its way into the hearts of everyone who draws breath. A masterfully proficient serendipity, this state of affairs.

The good/right discontinuity can be inverted so that nonstop hellishness is reserved for all persons despite agential virtuousness being everlastingly universalizable. This flipped case would have to entail a bad/wrong discontinuity. No matter how you slice it, a kind of disjointedness between the good and the right starts to seem palpable. This doesn't mean that we are barred from arguing that the good is prior to the right, it just means that the good does not categorically engulf the right.

Nothing in our conceptual repertoires makes these "≠" cases impossible or implausible. This is one technique you can use to internalize good/right discontinuities; picturing them at their most trenchant. Another technique might be to recall the following on a daily basis:


Fortunateness ≠ Praiseworthiness

Unfortunateness ≠ Blameworthiness


Goodness ≠ Rightness

Badness ≠ Wrongness

A brisk nod to these "≠" pointers will prove insufficient however. To make the most of what's being put forth here, cognitive internalization of the discontinuities is a must. I want the "≠" symbol incised onto the mind, much like the crucifix has been with the minds of the devout. Momentary lip-service, or type-service, simply won't do. If I believed otherwise, I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of setting up niftily illustrative diagrams:

Take the fairly banal statement "Reality doesn't prescribe" as a starting point. Supplement it with "All prescriptions are notional". Pile on any other zinger you feel astutely conveys the factuality of descriptive/prescriptive segmentations. Attempts at pushback will consist of word-games and stock sophisms, typically rehashed from the confused past. Rarely do such manoeuvers leave the initiated in a speechless state. Indeed, there is no ought-making feature to any fabric of reality as we know it. However, none of this erases the reality and recognisability of interests qua interests. To outmanoeuver the non-descriptiveness of a moral judgment, simply fess up to its non-factual origins. This is not enough to undercut the evaluative status of interests. The trueness of interests is not up for grabs.

Condemnatory thoughts and utterances aim to capture rightness by shedding light on perceived wrongness. Interests, when realized, imperceptibly map onto goodness. If this much is allowed, it follows that the infamous is/ought gap is not the gap anyone should wage analytical wars over. A duly gapped take on interests and judgments persists in the wake of it. Reframing the matter in this way alleviates the speaker of moral dogmatism without obliterating realist understandings of intermediately 'good' and 'bad' states of affairs, shaped by earthly interests. The unbridgeable gap, in this respect, is the good/right gap.

Judgments, be they prescriptive or proscriptive, are uniquely ought-inducing. Interests observably carved into the world. We do not judge the existence of an interest, we detachedly spot it. Its presence is as spottable as the existence of the external world is. The evaluator can proceed in this fashion and still rebuff naïve realism, as I happily do. The indirect realist doesn't hold back on the external world's existence, for Indirect Realism parts ways with Direct Realism only in its affirmation of the perceptual intermediaries that arise between perceivers and objects. The lacuna at play is almost trivial and poses no real problem for our interest-spotting capacities, and certainly not for interest-manifesting realities. Such problems are posed by the lacunas of Idealism, Phenomenalism and Solipsism, but that's a separate post.

If you follow me in analogizing consciousness and perceptiveness to a blank paper for writing on, you will require a pen for certain assignments and a pencil for others. We might say of all STEM assignments that they mandate Penned Work, and of all philosophical assignments that they mandate Penciled Work. One is entitled to more boldness than the other. When our fallible ideas are penciled in, all we need to modify them –– or rid ourselves of them altogether –– is the eraser. With pens, only whiteout will do. Whiting out previous works is a chore. Positivists and Verificationists know.

The axiological-pencil doesn't come with an eraser on the back, which cannot be said of all pencils. Any moral-pencil is deflated by the monstrous size of its eraser. The starkest contrast between interests and judgments is observable here. Moral judgments being ontologically erasable at all times. Interests being... recognizably interests; etched in phenomena. Inerasable, as long as someone is drawing breath.

Moral judgments are chained to conative and affective mentation, meaning the judger's pencil is always at odds with an eraser that's attached to some other judger's pencil. Judgments being notoriously fast-paced compared to nonjudgmental/empirical modes of mentation. While mind-dependency cannot on its own devastate the possibility of moral wisdom, it should at least cast doubt on every thick version of metaethical realism; the belief that morality is truth-apt and falsity-apt (distinct from morality-as-thinly-wise + immorality-as-thinly-unwise).

Side Note: Oddly, a handful of semantic forms of realism snuck into metaethics during the latter stages of the Twentieth Century. These might be ignorable realisms, but they are said to have gained appreciable notoriety. I'm not so sure. On anecdotal counts, semantic-only realisms are staunchly underrepresented, especially once you venture outside (the academic bubble of) metaethics. At any rate, these recalibrations of 'moral truth' bear minimal resemblance to their classical predecessors, and are more akin to philosophical programs, i.e. Blackburn's quasi-realism. Programs that disavow metaphysical moral reality every bit as much as generic antirealisms do. In that sense, I see no reason to boycott what they're selling. The Deflationary Theory Of Truth seems to be doing some of the legwork here, programming 'moral realism' semantically much in the way representationalists and dispositionalists are free to program 'color realism' into validly projected terminological use. The deflationist appreciates thinness-over-robustness in other talks touching on (indirect) realism. I'd be shocked if supporters of deflationist-adjusted realism in metaethics came anywhere near a relative majority of meta-theorists, much less an absolute majority. The lion's share of metaethical realists are (on my readings) no truth-deflationists. They fixate on moral metaphysics and moral ontology, unapologetically forgoing thin conceptualizations in favour of thick ones. [End Note]

Is axiological realism doomed to draw from the same metaphysical dubiousness? Not in the slightest. The moment interests qua interests are accepted as provably descriptive, axiology is free to count itself among truth-apt domains. At least, in the foreseeable future. Axiologists may, then, dispense with antirealist leashes just as the trendoid does with any piece of outmoded attire. Keep just one set of interests neatly non-rivalrous across two or more parties (easily achievable) and axiological antirealism becomes axiological obscurantism. Shoo.

When a set of interests turn rivalrous, realist talk loses some or most or all of its justificatory force. But it is not axiological realism that must be surrendered at this juncture. It is instead metaethical realism that shall go, seeing as the axiologist has unjustly been recruited to play ethicist. The ethicist is the idealized resolver; the tiebreaker. If axiologists are cornered with assignments urging them to resolve tradeoffs, they are no longer just axiologists.


The moral dilemmas that continue to haunt my brain bear similarities to distributive dilemmas, and resolving them concretely should not be the axiologist's trade. When you wrap your head around just how difficult lifeboat-style decisions can be in principle, the assignment is analogous to solving a postulatory unempirical puzzle. Chapter 2 supplies exhaustively detailed arguments as to why this is so.

Tradeoffs mandate contemplating, calculating and ultimately justifying a winning set interests under crudely imbalanced tug-of-war schemes (i.e. in accordance to betterness and worseness, for scalar theorists). Here the axiologist is past the point of merely establishing the good. Any post-established stage of interest-weighing shoves the spectator into the role of the moral decider, oceans away from goodness tout court. The original plausibility, and indeed provability, of interests qua interests remains unblemished, despite ensuing (moral) complications borne of tradeoff irresolvability.

Permit me now just one more painless analogy in two easily digestible parts. (1) axiology straightforwardly representing a written exam that procures the measure of a pupil's attained knowledge. (2) morality representing a percentage point that arbitrarily demarcates between a "passing grade" and a "failing grade". i.e. 49.9% makes for a "failing grade" whereas 50.0% makes for a "passing grade". The pupil's exam score and knowledge level is on the whole gatherable, despite the unempirical arbitrariness of our Pass/Fail frontiers.

As long as the exam is not forged along 'Multiple Choice' lines, crafty guesswork will not do the pupil any good. The specificity of traditional 'Essay' testing methods does wonders here. The epistemic purpose of the exam is served, in the realest sense of real. Nothing turns on its head due to the undeniable arbitrariness in settling on a minimally adequate "score threshold" that makes a passing grade passable and a failing grade failable. A certain performance level is picked, for no reason other than one has to be picked. As with axiology, recalling the initial amoral features of the task is always a thought away. Nothing turns on its head.

If the reader wishes to pass on my splintered approach to axiology and morality, fair enough. I can still, rather stubbornly, provide a backup framework that integrates the two and retains the gist of my point (on paper). Embed axiology into the first half of the North American alphabet, and morality into the second half.

Axiological Realism  =  A B C D E F G H I J K L M

Metaethical Antirealism  =  N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Nothing turns on its head during evaluations of letters A through M.

Everything is descriptively moot when it comes to letters N through Z.


I'll wrap up this (introductory?) section with an example that popularized the topic, if somewhat sloppily: A trip down memory lane to 2010 sees The Moral Landscape screaming out for some kind of mention. What did Sam Harris accomplish with TML? Did he shed light on some of the hardest, most complex moral stalemates and reset them for public consumption? Did he set out to debunk oppositional theories so as to show moral utterances producing true/false verdicts for layfolk to chew on? Did TML give off any indication that its author even considered such a task obligatory? I'm afraid not.

What Harris did in 2010 was articulate perfectly that every sentient brain has interests of some sort. Harris' big mistake was titling the book "The Moral Landscape" as opposed to "The Axiological Landscape" and applying moral rhetoric to non-agential circumstances, i.e. cosmic misfortune generating the "Worst Possible Misery For Everyone" versus cosmic fortune generating Something Way Better.

We The Creatures will always opt for something way better, seeing as we tend to not be myopically masochistic. But this fate is a cosmic procedure, not a decisional one. When it comes to grand impacts like these, we are not in the driver's seat. The "Something Way Better" world is clearly a more fortuitous world, axiologically speaking. Morally speaking, we know nothing of it. Harris could delve into more detail in his next big offering, but I'm not holding my breath. Based on recent podcasts and interviews, Harris' metaethical faith persists to this day. This is most unfortunate, because his intent was and remains pure; dispelling tired assumptions about irreligion and nihilism marching in lockstep. And I do mean tired assumptions.

Materialists needn't rely on the super-specialness of Metaethical Realism to quell unfounded fears about their unseemly ability to slide into moral apathy or worse, for it is chiefly through axiological disregard –– the unreasonableness of which I just covered –– that moral disinterest sets in. And so the abovesaid fears exemplify philosophic rashness, usually bolstered by theological supernaturalism. This preternatural affectation –– much like mysticism, transcendentalism or irrationalism –– does diddly squat in undermining welfare-guided axiologies.

Axiological Welfarism = Criterion Of Goodness (over Badness)

A systematized handling of welfare must, on my reenergized view, be construed as a twofold program for establishing human and nonhuman interests according to naturalistic and materialistic understandings of the world. Show welfare-minded axiologists the classificatory menu above and they will land on a single flavour of welfarism. I believe anything less than two flavours is bound to sell humans or animals short, while anything beyond two postures or overcomplicates matters.

As such, two welfarisms will prove better than one:

Readers familiar with my earlier works will have predicted this balance act between hedonism and preferentism. This duality arises out of a partitioning of what I like to call Broad Welfarism (foundational preferentism) and Narrow Welfarism (foundational hedonism). The broadness of preferentism fits well with the nuts and bolts of civilizational life (the reflective pockets of it, anyway) while the narrowness of hedonism is appurtenant to the nuts and bolts of Darwinian life (instinctual life).

Note that Anti-frustrationism wasn't sent packing, nor was it given the green light, because it comes across as too much of an offshoot –– arguably a synthesisation –– of hedonism and preferentism, both of which have already been selected. The paragraph above summarizes why hedonism and preferentism are best when they're kept apart rather than conjoined. That's strike one for any theory offering up a merger of the two. Antifrustrationism is more than a hybrid theory though; it attributes an axiological asymmetry to fulfilled/unfulfilled + created/uncreated preferences (and, one would think, to positive/negative hedonic states) such that badness (disvalue) of lives reigns and goodness (value) is nowhere to be found. Deprivationalism evidently checkmarks many of the same boxes. The validity/invalidity of these asymmetries is not germane to the purposes of this chapter. Even if Antifrustrationism or Deprivationalism are shown to be valid in some crucial sense, their input can only be constitutively fitting when our attentional zest is turned to pre-natal evaluations. Contrarily, this chapter aims to evaluate goodness/badness for extant persons only. The interests of "the unborn" will be considered in Chapter 2. For now, I'll stick with hedonism and preferentism as advertised, keeping in mind that we need not accept Antifrustrationism or Deprivationalism in order to understand with clarity that the so-called "unborn" cannot be harmed by remaining unborn, regardless of how full or empty the world happens to be at any moment.

Worse yet, treating Antifrustrationism as being more valid than plain Hedonism or plain Preferentism are (not just for pre-natal hypothetical patients, but for post-natal fleshspace patients as well) opens the door to the stringency of global promortalism. The longer you exist, the more frustrated your preferences become, day in and day out, with nothing good to show for it. No matter how minimally frustrated one's preferences are, the one-sidedness holds. It is possible to bypass this stringency without embracing global anti-mortalism or life-affirmation; simply downgrade conventional pro-mortalism so that its reach is local/particular rather than global/universal. If you decline and it remains steadfastly global, the luckiest person who ever lived would have been benefitted by an earlier death, since even he was unable to escape the frustration of some preferences or a subset of preferences. No matter who you are or how well your life goes, premature death must be welcomed on this view.

It can be argued that pro-death inferences of this stripe stem from inordinately wooden interpretations of Antifrustrationism. I will not engage objections from interpretive leeway at this time, and will simply take it as a given that global promortalism is the ideological cousin of Antifrustrationism commonly understood. Considering that I have criticized non-local promortalism –– aka promortalism-for-all –– numerous times over the years, I will proceed from here without the (ostensible) baggage of Antifrustrationism.

On that note, the renewed classificatory overview:


Hedonism vs. Preferentism vs. Asceticism vs. Perfectionism vs. Objective List Theories

[The remainder of this chapter scrutinizes the bottom three theories. Unfortunately, it will have to be published as a separate post. I made one too many adjustments and the chapter ran incredibly long as a result. Here's hoping that this is the only chapter I will have to split into multiple posts in the interest of brevity.

Part Two will be posted in a few days weeks months. I will provide a "Follow Up" link to it right here. If you have positive/negative feedback on any of the above, feel free to comment now. The rest of the chapter doesn't enhance any of the arguments put forth so far, so reading the rest is not necessary if you care to remark on anything from here.]


  1. Very nice blog. Unfortunately it's a little too verbose and redundant. I'm afraid your disability with simplification is further more the leading issue towards success with getting your points out to a larger population. On the other hand, your also too SJW. Much of your content has implicit frameworks around a more matriarchal approach as opposed to a classic pre-feminist approach.

    1. Those are some interesting interpretations.

      If I ever do a post on Applied Ethics or something procedurally useful, then I'll worry about all-too-generalizable comprehensibility and pizazz. This post is exclusively about axiology and realism, miles away from stuff like Applied Ethics. I don't mind not reaching mass audiences with it. The movers & shakers within EA have already done great work in popularizing Applied Ethics. There's no shortage of it.

      This is different. Certain topics should never be oversimplified, even if that means they are never easily digestible for the larger population. Philosophy is under no obligation to be fun or easy. Imagine if this expectation was extended to STEM.

      "Much of your content has implicit frameworks around a more matriarchal approach"

      Ah, so you didn't even skim the post. Nice.

      Care to quote a paragraph or sentence in particular? To actually connect these dots you believe are connectable, you'll have to show how any part of the post relies on the politicization of a given group's identity. I'd love to see you pull this off.

      Matriarchy & feminism are organizational & socio-political ideologies. This post is apolitical (even amoral). No such thing as 'Feminist Axiology'. I'm afraid feminism vs. masculinism doesn't cut that deep. If you wish to shoehorn feminism into what I'm doing, you'll have to wait for Chapter 3 (Political Philosophy) and get creative from there.

  2. Interesting post, ABM, happy new year. I agree with the anonymous poster here, I thought it was a bit too verbose; or maybe I'm just dense. I'll have to go back and re-read everything you have written and post a more thorough response later.

    Anyway, you asked readers to provide their own ranking of philosophical topics based on their interests. Here are mine:

    I: Axiology (specifically population axiology; re: Parfit, Arrhenius, et al; although I focus a little on transitivity and the ontological status of value itself)

    II: Existential bitching

    III: Ethics (specifically procreative, population, and environmental)

    IV: Meta-philosophy (specifically the methodology of metaphysical theorizing and the relationship between scientific and philosophic inquiry, re: C.S. Peirce and Wilfred Sellars [log + and verificationism are gross], but also meta-ethics)

    V: Metaphysics (specifically pragmatist metaphysics [pragmatism tend to be anti-epistemological, or at least anti-foundationalist; re: fallibilism + instrumentalism], esp. Peirce; re: Peircean pan-semiosis, tychism and cosmic entropification)

    V: Philosophy of Religion ("creation" has important implications for ethical and axiological theories, and I lean towards some kind of [impersonal, classical, non-religious] theism anyway while remaining agnostic at the moment [atheism is, in my view, too epistemically ambitious and more often than not inadequately formulated (i.e. unforgivably, pathetically misinformed) as a (understandably) reactionary antithesis to a socially-cancerous religious smorgasbord]. Currently I am focusing the most on medieval Scholastic theological metaphysics, esp. Aristotle + Aquinas. I see the Problem of Evil as the greatest threat to most conceptions of God.)

    VI: Continental philosophy (esp. phenomenology, re: Husserl, Heidegger, et al, but also Deleuze)

    I'm curious as to what your plans are for your book. Writing a book is no easy task.

    Re: Harris, it's good to hear that you're not a blind worshiper of his amateur anti-intellectualist antics in philosophy, of which include TML as a shitty re-hash of utilitarianism 101 with science-y sparkles and nothing particularly innovative or even convincing at that.

    I'll see if I can't post a reaction to the OP some time in the future.

    1. Hey Darth. Thanks for stopping by. Happy 2017.

      "the ontological status of value itself"

      Snarkishly dubbed 'spooky value' by strict naturalists & materialists, and rightly so. The next part of this 'chapter' rejects value simpliciter, arguing that all value is value for. If you think this sells value short, you probably disagree with welfarism in all its forms. Should be a fun disagreement.

      "Existential bitching"

      Thank you for not calling it Existentialism. Existentialists bitched, but rarely (never?) connected the dots to global solutions or suffering-focused ethics. Life's problems were always humancentric & ultra-personalized. Pep-talk philosophy. Of course, there's room for different things. If existentialists stayed in their own corner, I wouldn't mind any of it. But they have a knack for interfering. Many discussions on actual cures get diluted by their "here's a philosophical coping mechanism" pseudo-solutions. (i.e. Nietzsche's shitty disavowing of Schopenhauer)

      "I lean towards some kind of [impersonal, classical, non-religious] theism anyway"

      This is probably psychological. Every esoteric theism I've run into carries zero insight just comes across as a word game. It falls into the same trap of answering the question by further obscuring the puzzle's missing pieces. Is what you're talking about any different? Is there a theism that answers something without piling on identical questions by the very nature of its answer?

      "atheism is, in my view, too epistemically ambitious and more often than not inadequately formulated (i.e. unforgivably, pathetically misinformed"

      Bold talk. Point me to a devastating critique of atheism that actually steel-mans it. Keep in mind that atheism & fallibilism are perfectly compatible:

      A particular atheist may court an entirely different (general) epistemology, i.e. dogmatism. But that's no strike against atheism per se.

      Now, I'm actually sympathetic to theological noncognitivism, or even ignosticism, so I can imagine legit critiques of 'atheism' from those angles. But that approach does the opposite of what you'd (seemingly) like to see done to atheism. It basically holds that atheists give the concept of deities too much credit by consciously disbelieving in Them. There might be something to this. We're not in control of our beliefs, so it's impossible to internalize this view. It might even be unfair to ask atheists to do so, since conventional theism continues to be prevalent in so many parts of the world. Huge doxastic implications there.

      "while remaining agnostic at the moment"

      I'm now reminded of that post you wrote a few months ago... on the alleged impossibility of "agnostic atheism"... that was a mess. You were cautious in it, so I can't argue step-by-step right now (unless I go back to it, which I won't be doing). I can just start off with a basic question:

      If accuracy (on the question of God) guaranteed you a great future, and inaccuracy guaranteed you a torturous future, would it Make Sense to just flip a coin? If epistemic latitude is off limits on this issue, then flipping a coin seems about as good a strategy as any. I don't believe for a second that you'd let a coin-toss determine your answer in real time, with the stakes as high as they are. I wouldn't. Being open to the possibility that truth can in some instances be stranger than fiction, is just more fallibilism. It doesn't impact our assessments of local questions/answers & their likelihoods. To not flip the coin, and instead answer "No God" in real time, is to be agnostically atheistic. For sound reasons.

    2. "TML as a shitty re-hash of utilitarianism 101"

      It's not though. TML didn't propose maximization or minimization. It didn't propose intra-welfarist conflict resolutions of any sort. It establishes a theory of the good, & nothing else. Utilitarianism is not an axiology, it's a theory of the right. An aggregative scheme. Welfarism is the axiology. Utilitarianism doesn't tell us what to maximize/minimize or what to value/disvalue. It tells us how to handle whatever it is that we've already determined is valuable. TML does the opposite; it totally sidesteps aggregative & distributive problems, but tells us what a given utilitarian would need to maximize/minimize, or what a given prioritarian would consider as the driving factor behind why someone is "the least well of person in the world". The 3rd diagram in this post makes that clear. It's why my advice was "Should've titled it The Axiological Landscape, not The Moral Landscape"

      "it's good to hear that you're not a blind worshiper"

      Do you consume AlterNet hit pieces or something? If we go by public commenters, very few of his supporters fit this bill. I keep close tabs on most everything Harris does & see volumes of criticism on specific issues from followers who enjoy his work. He explicitly encourages it, & is one of the few public figures who seems genuinely happy to be corrected. It's all over the comment sections, if you care to look. With hyper-ideological outlets like AlterNet, Salon, etc... you'll get a distorted picture. Discredited "hive mind" smears. If dissenting supporters make their case convincingly, he retracts the mistake in the next podcast (or blog, or tweet).

      I like his interactive approach, & wish some of the more polished philosophers would do the same. Not as often as he does (he does it too much), but at least a fraction of the time. I can appreciate the interactive element while acknowledging its costs (i.e. redundant political talk). Again, with you, I think it might be psychological in part. You want prominent atheists to tackle someone's pet theory on theism. They want to tackle theism as it is commonly understood & as it commonly impacts most people.

      I want to see Harris tackle suffering-focused ethics. He tackles it by devoting a sentence or two to the creationist wing of suffering-focused ethics (as explained in my vid "Harris & MacAskill disappoint on population ethics"). Sure, it's annoying, but no way is it something to write anyone off over.

      I've noticed that some people just can't stand the man on a personal level, which would be fine if they admitted to themselves that this is what it boils down to. Many who believe him to be a bigot are so dethatched from charitable readings, they retweet satirical articles calling him a white nationalist. Glen Greenwald did this roughly a month ago. When you can't tell reality from satire, it's time to reassess. But the Greenwalds of the world seem incapable of it. Don't be a Greenwald.

      "amateur anti-intellectualist antics in philosophy"

      Anti-intellectualism is not an unwillingness (or inability, for that matter) to be an intellectual purist first & foremost. Understand that purism, along with other reputational worries within academia, has historically been a roadblock to effectiveness. Don't expect that to change anytime soon. By your metric, there are a few dozen True intellectuals & everyone else is a phony. I believe there's a spectrum, & this should never be downplayed. Philosophically, Harris is something of a middleweight. Expecting him to be a heavyweight is expecting too much, seeing as he's always been heavily into politics, neuroscience, meditation/spirituality, etc. It's good to be well-rounded. Most philosophical giants aren't. It makes them less effective, & they don't care. Fair enough. Some would rather walk the tightrope.

    3. 1/2
      "Should be a fun disagreement."

      Indeed, there does seem to be quite a lot we disagree on, lol. All in good fun.

      "Existentialists bitched, but rarely (never?) connected the dots to global solutions or suffering-focused ethics. Life's problems were always humancentric & ultra-personalized. Pep-talk philosophy."

      Indeed, it is helpful to understand the historical background for this kind of philosophizing to see why it's primarily phenomenological. I don't think you give enough credit to Nietzsche, though; perhaps you got a shitty interpretation of him from YouTube? His idea of an Ubermensch, amor fati, all that is not necessarily Nietzsche claiming this is possible but merely claiming that if one is to affirm life in all its horror and glory, one would have to do these sorts of things and be this sort of person. The future, for Nietzsche, is "whatever we want it to be" - he's not really advocating one single path, rather he focused more on laying waste to the "nauseating" teleological drive of Christianity and co.

      But yes, I generally agree that existentialism has failed to provide any holistic guide to sentient welfare as a whole.

      "This is probably psychological. Every esoteric theism I've run into carries zero insight just comes across as a word game."

      Well, I haven't offered any arguments yet, so don't put the cart before the horse. I can tell you now that my curiosity with theism is most definitely not psychological anymore than your atheism is psychological. I'm reminded of Nagel's quote (unfortunately often bastardized by creationists) that he doesn't want God to exist, and would prefer a universe devoid of any divinity. This happens to also be my opinion as well; I would much rather there not be a God than there be one. It's just that I find atheistic criticisms of theism missing the mark by a mile. But this is probably all empty words to you as I haven't provided any arguments to support my claims. So stay tuned in the future, or alternatively look into classical theism with a charitable attitude.

      "Bold talk. Point me to a devastating critique of atheism that actually steel-mans it. Keep in mind that atheism & fallibilism are perfectly compatible:"

      Yes, indeed they are, but fallibilist atheism is NOT "agnostic atheism". There's literally no point in calling oneself an agnostic atheist, because 1.) nobody cares how "strong" you disbelieve in God, and 2.) agnosticism is a separate belief and to ignore the possibility that someone might not have any belief at all is to beg the question horribly. Agnosticism is NOT fallibilism, I don't know where this idea came from.

      If you really want a decent argument against atheism, I would recommend you take a look at Edward Feser's blog and search for "new atheism" and stuff like that. He is a Catholic philosopher. Please note that I do not condone his idiotic political views or his harmful ethical views. Separate the substance from the shit, basically.

      "But that approach does the opposite of what you'd (seemingly) like to see done to atheism. It basically holds that atheists give the concept of deities too much credit by consciously disbelieving in Them."

      I think atheists typically are too confident in their views. If you're talking about a magic sky daddy who zooms around the atmosphere with his magic wand of power, then of course I'm an "atheist" in that sense. The problem is that this is obviously a mischaracterization of many more rigorous views of God (re: classical theism a la Aristotle + Aquinas and co.), i.e. a straw man only held by the most uneducated and unintelligent specimens on the globe, and it's misleading to say this is the only perspective to take.

      So yes, I would actually rather you be ignostic or apatheistic and not bother with the theological debate rather than be an uncompromising atheist to a clowned conception of God.

    4. 2/2
      "TML does the opposite; it totally sidesteps aggregative & distributive problems, but tells us what a given utilitarian would need to maximize/minimize, or what a given prioritarian would consider as the driving factor behind why someone is "the least well of person in the world". The 3rd diagram in this post makes that clear. It's why my advice was "Should've titled it The Axiological Landscape, not The Moral Landscape" "

      TML sidesteps these problems (so much for science answering moral problems...) while simultaneously not doing science to affirm that welfare is what we ought to focus on. This is a major criticism of his book: he uses a weird and overly-broad conception of "Science" in order to make his argument work. It's ad hoc; the definition is tailored to the argument. Yet anyone who isn't knowledgeable about the philosophy of science of science in general is just going to eat this up, because they don't know any better.

      I see Harris as a person who rose to popularity with his critiques of organized religion, and then used this as an anchor to push his pseudo philosophical "enlightenment" (for a heavy price, at that...). There is a disconnect between what Harris claims and what is actually going on in the philosophical circles.

      Now, I'm not opposed to people trying to do philosophy on their own; we're doing it right now. What I am opposed to is the obnoxiously arrogant attitude Harris has (which so many of his fans seems to just love) - that "I'm a neuroscientist, muh meditation, suck it" - and his blatant anti-intellectualism (in TML for ex. he flat out calls moral philosophy "boring" and not worth studying).

      Someone over at the /r/badphilosophy sub summed it up perfectly: Harris has some ideas and he presents them as if they are completely new and never-before-seen (how science can determine human values! wow!), and then professional philosophers try to show him what's wrong with his views and how he hasn't really provided anything new to the philosophical landscape, he gets all defensive, moves the goalposts, and claims victory.

      I mean, seriously, if Harris' views were really that great, you would think he would be more prominent in the professional philosophical community. But they're not. He's ridiculed as being a pseudo-intellectual (his neuroscience isn't impressive, either). His book on free will (rather expensive for its short length) doesn't add anything to the debate. The only times he's cited in the philosophical literature are in negative contexts. To ignore this essentially would require you to believe that thousands of professional philosophers are, for some reason, opposed to the brain-pickings of this super-genius. A conspiracy of sorts.

    5. 3/3 (thought it would fit in the second post, my bad)

      Harris is guilty of a lot of things, including using neuroscience (a VERY young field) to "prove" things, despite the fact that the things he's talking about have already been talked about for the past forty-some years (I'm not exaggerating). In essence, Harris is misleading many people by pretending to be some kind of trustworthy authority on these sorts of things when he's not. Anyone can do philosophy, sure. Not everyone can do it well, and Harris more often than not does it poorly.

      I don't expect you to simply take my word for it, as I just argued that Harris does exactly this. If you want more information on why I have such a negative opinion of Harris' "pop-philosophy", the easiest method by far would be to hop over to the /r/askphilosophy subreddit and search "Sam Harris". There's a metric tonne of stuff there, written by folk that have been in the philosophy business for many years as professionals and graduates alike. Alternatively, for a more satirical approach, /r/badphilosophy likes to circlejerk about him as well.

      If you want an actually-good defense of moral realism in a consequentialist, welfare-oriented sense, look no further than Henry Sidgwick. "The Point of View of the Universe" is a great book, edited by Singer.

      "By your metric, there are a few dozen True intellectuals & everyone else is a phony."

      Absolutely not, I'm not sure where you got this from. I study philosophy produced by those trained to be philosophers and those who make their living teaching and expanding the field.

      Effectiveness is not what is at issue here. True, academia can be esoteric, I won't deny that. But this doesn't mean more "effective" (i.e. dumbed-down) philosophy is "more right".

      "It's good to be well-rounded. Most philosophical giants aren't. "

      I'm not sure why you would say this. Most philosophical giants, on the contrary, have been heavily involved in both science and philosophy, or politics and philosophy. The greats tend to be those who find a way to make philosophy useful in other domains.

    6. RE Harris:

      (Figured that writing up a storm wouldn't have been useful. If you can't spare the hour, that's fine. I'll write out objections some other time)

      "This happens to also be my opinion as well; I would much rather there not be a God than there be one"

      There are additional factors to consider though. I'd ask "What type of God?" or "What would His existence do (or not do) for our interests?". I don't see how anyone can bypass such questions & answer 'yes' or 'no' unconditionally. It's always conditional, so it's understandable to wish for a God that (ultimately) benefits the harmed, or ultimately sees to it that the careless grasp their moral errors. In terms of desirability or undesirability, there's no one-size-fits-all. With benevolent gods, I'm a reluctant atheist. The less benevolent the god, the less reluctant I'll be.

      "no point in calling oneself an agnostic atheist, because 1.) nobody cares how "strong" you disbelieve in God"

      Plenty of people do, actually. Even you, just a couple of paragraphs down:

      "I think atheists typically are too confident in their views"

      This directly ties to the strength-level of disbelief. Also, I didn't imply that Fallibilism is agnosticism.

      "agnosticism is a separate belief"

      Yes. By analogy: When someone calls themselves a Democratic Keynesian, they're giving you their political & economic positions. With Agnostic Atheism, it's the epistemic & ontic positions. It's no more complicated than that.

      "to ignore the possibility that someone might not have any belief at all is to beg the question horribly"

      Who ignores this? How does it tie into what you wrote just before? People who don't have any belief at all aren't implicated by the conversation. There's an infinite number of hypotheses & positions all humans have never & will never consider. So what? What bearing does it have on what's being considered?

      "If you're talking about a magic sky daddy who zooms around the atmosphere with his magic wand of power"

      Atheists typically counter the concept of a Personal God, which need not be nearly as cartoonish as that. But it's still clear that there's no equal-footing in terms of onus. I ask this at the end of my video; Does this 'Classical Theism' argue in favor of an Impersonal God? If so, how does it differ from Deism?

      I've not come across any atheist who treats Deism & Theism as though they're equally improbable or equally mockable. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing anyone laugh off arguments for the impersonal god. But that's down to deists being few in number compared to theists. At the end of my vid, I make a point about arguments tracking proportionality of belief. I analogize it to you having written solid posts on AN, but you've never set out to refute Bryan Caplan's defenses of natalism (considered to be some of the best). This doesn't undermine your work on AN. What you critique is precisely what the overwhelming majority of natalists need to hear. Ditto with Personal God hypotheses.

      I'll try to read the Feser guy later today when things settle down. Is there a specific post, though? I want the post that argues for an equal footing in terms of onus (or worse, that the onus is on the atheist).

    7. "I would actually rather you be ignostic or apatheistic and not bother with the theological debate"

      First, it's the ontological debate, not the theological debate. A theologian might have polished ontological arguments, none of them would rely on theological underpinnings. Secondly, I don't bother with it, as you'll inevitably notice from this log's archive & my YT channel's backlog. I brought it up here in response to you bringing up religion.

      "I don't think you give enough credit to Nietzsche, though; perhaps you got a shitty interpretation of him from YouTube?"

      No, I read Genealogy and Beyond Good & Evil years back. Before that I listened to that recap of his works narrated by Heston. Perhaps I should go back to some of it, but the political/civic defeatism in his works was obvious. And the aforementioned bit on Schopenhauer.

      "The future, for Nietzsche, is "whatever we want it to be" - he's not really advocating one single path"

      Way too much reverence for personal creativity, arguably at the expense of other values. Perhaps it was appropriate for the time. Right now, in the West, the internet has made it so that people's creative juices are flowing like never before. Plenty are off doing their own thing. The price for it is that, organizationally, and thus politically, the most uncreative & arguably thoughtless people are inheriting the legal world. In a nutshell, Nietzsche's central message seems a death knell for civic life.

  3. ABM, good man!

    I think some of your readers, myself included, would greatly appreciate your views on the topic of contemporary deism. What do you make of the case of, philosopher and atheist A. Flew and his self-revocation of his atheism and late-life turn to deism?

    If you have addressed this issue or general topic in a past post, can you link to it?

    Thank you so much for your kickass product and dedication to your blog, human beings and sentients in general.

    I really hope, and I'd like to think I speak for other readers here as well, that you continue to keep it real, don't do the "monetizing thing", retain your passion for truth and decency, and I feel that, incredible as it may seem, may make you rich and successful in tge future, beyond the average, feeble imagination, you may find some rich entity who would reward you a quite modest compensation for all your dedicated work towards helping sentience stuck at grasping at straws, trying to help the cosmic dumb beast grow some decency.


    1. Late reply here, just saw this now.

      Well, it's not really a reply. I've never heard of A. Flew as I don't go out of my way to keep up with contemporary deists. For what it's worth, I believe the desist is burdened by the same onus problem as the theist is. If Flew managed to untie that knot, I guess I can set aside some time for his argument. Feel free to link his arguments. If it takes an entire book though, I probably won't get back to you in a long time as I'm behind on pretty much everything as it is.

      Monetization never crosses my mind. Clickbait has removed what little productive discourse took place within the bounds of YouTube's larger channels a decade ago. It's all cottage industry now.

  4. Hey ab,

    Do you still use your Reddit account? I left a message for you there.

    1. I never opened a reddit account. I rarely even lurk reddit. Just leave the message here or PM me on YouTube.

      It's so obvious that the "antibullshitman" user over there isn't me. You should have figured this out because the guy is tacky enough to refer to himself as a "high value male". Douche-chills through the roof right there.

      It's kind of annoying, now that I think about it. If he's going to use my username while remaining faceless, he should at least culturally appropriate parts of my gimmick.