Re: virus: Normativity and Meaning

Sun, 21 Feb 1999 19:33:13 -0800

David McFadzean wrote:

> ><<Joe Dees>>
> >
> ><<People who make normative declarations such as "corporations should
> >pay more taxes" are asserting something about the existent state of
> >affairs; that it compares unfavorably with their ideal (utopian)
> >hypothetical SOA in the described respect.>>
> >
> >
> >Hey, that's good. That gives normative statements truth value without
> >recourse to "moral facts." Still, it seems to me that most people do
> It does, but then all normative statements are true, even ones that
> express logically opposite goals.
> person A:
> "corporations should pay more taxes" = "In my ideal SOA, corporations
> would pay more taxes" = true for person A

and for anyone who knows what A's ideal SOA is.

> person B:
> "corporations should pay less taxes" = "In my ideal SOA, corporations
> would pay less taxes" = true for person B

and for anyone who knows what B's ideal SOA is.

The goals of the people making these two statements are in opposition to one another, but the two statements are not contradictory when understood to be comparing a state of affairs in the world to the speakers ideal SOA. This certainly muddies the waters of everyday conversation, but there is no paradox or logical barrier here.

> >believe that there are moral truths. Even people who are amenable to a
> >liberal dose of cultural relativism generally insist on a bedrock of
> >universal rights and wrongs. Again, this is my perception, and my
> >perceptions are heavily filtered.
> I think you are right in that my views would be in the minority. You
> haven't mentioned which way you would swing on the issue. Still undecided?

"Still undecided" seems to imply that I'm under some pressure to cast my lot either "yea" or "nay" on the existence of moral truths. I don't feel any pressure to do so. Take the following normative statements:

In terms of how I plan to live my life, it doesn't matter if my three normative statements are true or false (or have no truth value at all). I'm going to proceed as if they're true.

Call the acceptance of my three statements a life strategy. Game theory may well support the claim that my strategy is an adaptive one, but it's possible to imagine an environment in which a pattern of unconscious behavior that produces acute suffering for one's neighbors would have the highest utility. I'd like to think that I would stick with my preferred strategy, but it's hard for me to commit to that because I think that in the real universe, my strategy really is an adaptive one.