Review of Laughingman’s Debate With Stefbot
Stefan Molyneux recently had a debate with my friend John (laughingman0X) on youtube, which was video recorded using oovoo and consequently put up on Stefbot’s channel on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZQSUFGbEqI&feature=player_embedded). As was to be expected, Molyneux barely directly addressed a single point or argument that was presented to him. Laughingman brought up many of the same concerns that I have, such as the context-dropping and misleading way in which Molyneux uses “self-ownership”, the mind/body problem and the incompleteness of an internal consistancy standard for ethics. It doesn’t seem like Molyneux wants to meaningfully address such concerns so much as use them as a starting point out of which to build a segway into another context or an implied misrepresentation.
Molyneux uses a definition of self-ownership that is not the same definition that the vast majority of libertarians use. He defines it as a physiological fact of personhood or purposeful action with one’s body. In libertarianism, the concept is generally concieved of as a broad negative rights/entitlement claim; the right of self-ownership. However, Molyneux is using the term purely descriptively (as “the fact that you control your own spine”), while libertarians generally use it in a prescriptive context, although sometimes appealing to it as if it were descriptive in order to prove it as a prescription (such as is the case with Hans Hoppe’s “argumentation ethics”, which is misleading).
Stef did the exact same sleight of hand on the self-ownership question as he did for me. He refuses to address the is/ought gap and the actual argument, and merely repeats that he doesn’t believe in rights, then goes on to conflate biological or physiological facts with ethical claims. It’s as if he wants UPB to seem like it’s just descriptive. But that’s not ethics! Where is Stefbot getting any ethics at all, any “oughts”,if all he is doing is a scientific description of traits? I’ve yet to see him actually put foreward a theory of ethics or a justification for any particular ethical proposition; he mostly just acts like he’s engaging in a scientific analysis. It’s almost as if he purposefully avoids having to actually put foreward an ethical theory by falling back on such a scientific and descriptive mask.
Part of what’s confusing about Molyneux is that he wants to treat UPB purely descriptively while simultaneously using it to valididate or invalidate moral propositions. He claims to not believe in rights or entitlement claims and clearly wants UPB to be regarded as a descriptive tool of natural science. At the same time, he wants to treat it as a method applicable to ethics; the ultimate method, in fact. In this way, Molyneux conflates moral propositions with scientific descriptions of traits, and he constantly is making analogies to such scientific descriptions in a discussion or debate about ethics. If anyone questions UPB as an ethical methodology, he tends to respond by acting as if they are questioning the scientific method itself, which is misleading and context-dropping.
Stefbot’s analogy to the theory about mammals (in which someone claims that mammals are both warm-blooded and cold-blooded) was a false analogy. Laughingman’s example was someone who believed in pacifism and supported the state simultaneously. Stef’s analogy does not hold because in laughingman’s example neither pacifism or statism are proven or disproven in themselves, they are only shown to contradict eachother when put together and that the person who does so suffers from cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy. The context of Stef’s example is a description of traits, which is not laughingman’s context, which is the compatability between moral propositions. Stef also refused to actually address the mind/body problem or explain how he concieves of self-ownership in the context of epistemology and metaphysics.
Molyneux was also being misleading with his example of a guy putting a hat on not having any change in properties, and hence on this basis he rules out the moral proposition that guys with hats on can kill while guys without hats on cannot kill. Once again, he very obviously is conflating a description of properties with moral claims. It might be arbitrary and absurd to make the proposition, but the proposition is not meant to be a description of traits. To say that it is inconsistant or not universal because humans do not change properties when they put a hat on is to completely miss the point, because the moral proposition is not necessarily claiming that! Hence, Molyneux has to switch the context to a description of traits in order to try to maintain his point about universality.
What Molyneux either fails to understand or refuses to admit is that moral propositions generally are not meant as scientific descriptions of traits, and that if one were to seriously stick to his method of absolutely clinging to a test of internal consistancy alone then there is nothing particularly illuminating with regard to the validity or invalidity of the actual content of a given proposition beyond its consistancy with itself or its consistency relative to other propositions. In fact, in the absence of any other ethical methodology or theory, UPB should actually lead us to moral nihilism precisely at the point at which this becomes aknowledged, since we are left without any criteria for meaningfully analyzing the content of the values themselves.
Molyneux doesn’t seem to understand that universality by itself is not enough. He harps incessantly on about the need for propositions to be universal, and proceeds to act like that’s all there is to it. The problem is that universality is only one aspect or criteria, which reveals very little by itself. It’s simply naive to act like universality is the only criteria for ethics. It tells us absolutely nothing about what the moral propositions actually mean or imply, even if they are universally applied. UPB doesn’t tell us anything meaningful at all beyond that “principles must either be true or false”, “principles cannot contradict eachother” and “principles cannot contradict themselves”.
We’re going to need a lot more than such simplicities to develope a sound ethical theory, and the idea that one has developed a “science of ethics” by merely insisting on consistency is to totally miss the meat of ethical theory and reduce it to nothing more than a test of consistency. But I don’t only want to moral theories to be consistant, I want them to be correct, and you need more than consistency to be correct. This “universality for its own sake” is contextless and oversimplisitic, and the reasons for this should be fairly obvious upon reflection. All that Molyneux is saying is that “moral propositions should apply to everyone”, and even if we agree with this it still tells us nothing about which moral propositions should apply, I.E. it tells us nothing about the validity or unvalidity of the moral propositions in themselves. This is why UPB is really quite empty of content.
from youtube: Stef did the exact same sleight of hand on the self-ownership question as he did for me. He refuses to address the is/ought gap and the actual argument, and merely repeats that he doesn’t believe in rights, then goes on to make a UPB argument for rights by conflating biological/physiological facts with ethical claims. It’s as if he wants UPB to seem like it’s just descriptive. But that’s not ethics!
Reflections of UPB: A Total Critique of Molyneux
UPB; i.e. “universally preferable behavior” is an attempt by Stefan Molyneux to form a universal standard of validation that applies not only to: hard sciences, mathematics, and the like, but also to “moral theories.” Thus, Molyneux applies the same standards for consistency that are the necessary and sufficient condition for things like: physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics, to MORALITY. Thus, UPB is a kind of unified epistemological theory of consistency.
Molyneux’s main aim and/or goal of using Universally Preferable Behavior is: “morality;” i.e. he seeks to use UPB as an all-encompassing tool to validate (or invalidate) moral theories.
In Molyneux’s own words in his introductory video to UPB he says:“There is a universally preferable measure of beliefs called truth, proof, evidence, and rationality.”
Adding: QUOTE “Truth requires logical consistency and/or empirical evidence.”
As such, Stefbot uses a universally applicable standard for truth claims, which he then applies to what he terms the: “moral” and “physical sciences.”
Molenux, (by his own admission) fully rejects Plato’s forms, and alsodoesn’t believe that there are any types of morals that exist, either: floating somewhere in the universe, or that are derived from a god or gods. Thus Molyneux notes a sharp distinction between physical objects and moral theories, believing the latter to not exist. Thus for Molyneux, morality flat-out does not exist.
Yet this is curious, as, Stefbot’s methodological approach to truth; i.e. UPB almost assuredly implies the meta-ethical standpoint of OBJECTIVISM. In other words, it seems that for Molyneux, the truth-values of moral claims can be determined INDEPENDANTLY of the subjective or intersubjective preferences of a group or individual. This becomes apparent when we look at his fixation on the consistency and UNIVERSALITY of morals, as this is the very essence of UPB.
This can be further demonstrated by Molyneux’s own words when he says:
“Morality IS: Any theory that attempts to describe and define universally preferable behavior; judged as “true” or “false” first by internal consistency, and then by general evidence.”
Yet the oddity of Stefbot’s theory doesn’t stop there, as he seems to either believe in (or acts like he believes in) OBJECTIVE MORAL REALISM. The very idea of UPB is essentially the expression of this fact. Universally preferable behavior implies that: in actuality, thereare moral claims that are true INDEPENDENTLY of any individual or group’s preferences. What also confirms his “objective moral realism” is the fact that he seems to accept many of the fundamental premises of this type of realism; i.e. Moral Cognitivism.
UPB can only be a validator or invalidator of moral theories and/or useful if and only if MORAL COGNITIVSM is true, which, UPB assumes that it is. By moral cognitivism I mean: the philosophical belief that ethical/moral claims are indeed statements and therefore can have a true value (i.e. they can be true or false) and can have truth conditions (i.e. they can have necessary and sufficient conditions for being either true or false).
In addition to this, UPB could only be useful if and only if moral realism was true, as, it would make no sense to validate or invalidate non-cognitive ethical propositions, or to weigh the truth/consistency claims of what would be recognized as false propositions, with a false framework.
Molyneux also claims to have: “slain the beast of individual relativism, cultural relativism, and nihilism” thus presumably Molyneux must be a Moral Cognitivist, who accepts Objective Moral Realism (as we’ve essentially ruled out all other meta-ethical positions he could take).
Thus, in accordance with this viewpoint: ethical propositions must be made true by objective features of the world, which are independent of subjective opinion. Hence, Molenux attempts to formulate a foundation for an elementary standard of universal truth on the basis of: logical and scientific qualifiers. It is these types of qualifier that (in his view) are necessary to determine the validity of such moral claims (the same type of methodological reasoning being also applicable to science).
Stefbot says:“Truth is universally preferable to falsehood; [and] It is universally preferable to replace false ideas with true ones.”
Adding: QUOTE: “UPB is simply a recognition of this basic reality; UPB is reason, science, evidence, etc.
Yet this merely begs the question: Why is it the case that truth is universally preferable to falsehood?
This premise, part of the very intellectual foundation of UPB theory immediately fails the: FACT/VALUE distinction. In other-words, Stefbot is falsely attempting to state: “values” as universal facts. This is a simple category mistake, but nevertheless a significant one, with devastating implications on the intellectual merit of UPB.
While it is indeed true that values exist in material reality, they do so only as a subjective or inter-subjective opinion/brain-state of an individual, contingent upon their nature, composition, construction, socialization, alignment, etc. In-short this entails that the current values of individuals are derived from the immediate de-facto biological condition of their minds, which were derived from a synthesis of nature and nurture; yet this fact does NOT transmute such “values” or any other type of moral theories derived from them, into a UNIVERSAL TRUTH OR FALSEHOOD. Indeed to even phrase it that way is false, deeply misleading, and a category mistake of epic proportions.
Typically in the human experience, truth is universally preferable to falsehood for two reasons:
First: human beings have an innate naturalistic propensity toward truth, as, when an untruth is pointed out in our worldview, we experience cognitive dissonance i.e. psychological stress caused by the realization of two mutually exclusive beliefs. As such, both individuals and society in their own social spheres (at least somewhat) VALUE truth; but they do not pursue truth to pursue truth, they pursue it because they VALUE it.
Second: Truth generally allows for a greatly increased means to pursue one’s own self-interest; i.e. if we can understand and apply things we know about the world and ourselves, we will inevitably have a greater means of pursuing our own naturalistic self-interest.
Thus it appears that: right from the beginning, Molenux has (by implication) unknowingly smuggled in consequentialism into his theory; i.e. (in this context): the pursuit of one’s own self-interest by striving for the best means to actualize our values, thus producing preferable consequences; this fact is in stark contrast to the deontological ethics Molyneux claims to advocate. Moreover if Molyneux denies this, then he’s merely begging the question as the statement: truth is universally preferable to falsehood isn’t truebecause truth is universally preferable to falsehood, this is circular reasoning.
Molyneux (using the same general line of reasoning) also claims that: QUOTE “In a moral argument we already accept the value of UPB: – a universal preference for truth over falsehood, reason over inconsistency.”
This is a colossal non-sequitur, as it does not follow from the fact thatbecause I am arguing with you, that I’m either: 1) being honest with you in regards to truth, as I may be dishonest with you, and intentionally rejecting truth. Also, it does not follow from the fact that I’m arguing with you that: 2) I value, appreciate, use or even accept truth, as I may in-fact not value truth, I may decide not to use it, and I may even despise it. Statements like these are merely an attempt to sucker people into agreeing with Molyneux, as no individual in their right mind would claim to accept: falsehoods over truth in the middle of an argument; plus, most people view themselves as pursuing truth.
There is also another perplexing contradiction in Molenux’s viewpoint. As, if morals do not exist in the universe, or as any sort of form or relation in reality, but are (in reality) contingent upon the application of one’s own values, then, to invoke notions of morals or moral theories indicates OBJECTIVE MORAL ANTI-REALISM. In other-words, if we apply Molyneux philosophical framework consistently, then: ALL moral claims must be equally false as they unwittingly assume a moral framework that does not exist. Moral statements in Molyneux’s context are non-referential, they do not refer to anything that is in the world, and therefore they are false. –Its like saying: “the current leader of Nazi Germany is very hairy;” this statement is false because it presupposes both: a current leader of Nazi Germany, and a state of Nazi Germany that obviously do not exist.
Molyneux would probably respond to my claims of inconsistency by the following analogical reasoning: numbers and the scientific method don’t exist, they are not objects, and have no property of existence, however, this does not mean they aren’t useful/true because although they are abstract, they nevertheless refer to a means by which we can pursue truth.
However, this analogy falls apart at the seams, because, it compare the scientific method and numbers to morals. The problem here is a severe disconnect in properties between concepts, which is the why the analogy fails.
First, the scientific method refers to a method, a system, a relation, that one can apply to data (an object which exists in some tangible or intangible form). Second, the use of the concept of numbers pertains to the use of the system and/or relation we call: “quantification.” I.e. abstract representations of real objects, useful for determining a certain amount of objects, and relations between certain amounts of objects. Both of these concepts have a referent; i.e. when someone says the word number, they refer to quantification, a kind of possible relation/method which exists in reality (albeit not as a “thing”). The scientific method also refers to a relation. Morality in Stefbot’s usage has no such referent.
Yet, suppose we invoke the concept of “morality” which according to Stefbot IS NOT:
1)”Empirical (“this man stabs you, is that bad?”)”
2)”Determined from effect (this moral rule leads to great benefit)”
3)”A Cultural custom”
4)”An observation of human habits”
5)”A biological drive”
6) “A practical or functional necessity”
Now, suppose these statements made by Molyneux are true, suppose morals don’t exist in any of these previously stated forms, or even at all. If this is the case then: how could a moral framework exist for them to interact within?! The answer: it’s not possible.
Molenux’s position is completely analogous to that of a: MORAL NIHILIST. Hence, if we apply Molyneux’s viewpoints consistently, we ultimately defeat Molyneux’s position by sheer contradiction; as, if we act more Molyneuxian than Molyneux, we end up with the moral nihilist (i.e. moral-anti-realist) position that he denies.
But let me elaborate this point further. Molyneux says:
1) “A rock falling is bad” – makes no sense to science.
2) “Only blue rocks fall” – is a testable observation
3) “Mass Attracts according to F = GMm/r2 is a testable universal theory.”
Yet to equate these claims with morality is to equate an abstractionwith a referent to an abstraction without a referent (i.e. to equate a floating abstraction with a valid abstraction).
The second claim in Molyneux quote refers to: the color and the relationship (in this case a descent) of an object with color; the third claim refers to: a material relationship by which mass attracts. However, what does the first claim refer to in logical positivist i.e. Molyneuxian terms? The answer: nothing. As (according to Molyneux) we cannot appeal to: empiricism, consequentialism, culture, values & biological drives, or practicality; thus we are left with a vacuous statement referring to a floating abstraction. Such would be a useless an unthinkable way of dealing with moral terms.
Stefbot says: QUOTE: “Since material reality is objective, and behaves in a rational and predictable manner… A statement that is “true” must describe something that is objective, rational, and predictable.”
Adding: “Those thoughts which are designed to define truth must be: rational, objective, and predictable.
Since we’ve already established that by the Molyneuxian criteria necessary for valid moral theories cannot exist in any form in reality (or even as a relationship), moral statements cannot (per Molyneuxian reasoning) behave in a rational, objective, and predictable manor. Hence, UPB applied to morality as a validator or invalidator for moral theories is self-defeating if it is an attempt to avoid nihilism, the meta-ethical that Molyneux finds himself within, if applied consistently.
Now, the question may arise as to why in the debate I claimed that UPB (applied to morals) only proved hypocrisy and not inconsistency. To illustrate here my poorly described point, suppose I hold two mutually exclusive moral propositions to be true at the same time. Suppose for instance that I claim: Killing is ALWAYS wrong in any circumstance; but I also hold that: the STATE is justified in killing.
This seems to be an obvious and blatant contradiction in the moral theory I hold. And UPB would maintain that I have invalidated my theory by my utterance of such a contradiction; Molyneux equates UPB with a kind-of “souped-up” version of the law of non-contradiction stating: QUOTE “If you say: there is no such thing as UPB, you are contradicting yourself.” Thus, according to UPB, my moral theory would be false.
But wait a minute, since morals do not exist as things unto themselves, or in any other form/relation, and are ultimately contingent upon a particular application of one’s own values, how might I call such a thing false by contradiction? I really can’t, as I’m not dealing with propositions that can be true to begin with; as (per Molyneuxian criteria) morality cannot be: empirical, determined, cultural, observational, biological, or practical/functional, then, (if we apply Molyneux consistently) this translates moral statements into framework errors. If one claims that: one ought to kill, and one ought not to kill, this is equivalent to saying: one ought to build 3-sided squares, and one ought-not to build 3-sided-squares. Such is unthinkable, a totally non-cognitive proposition to begin with, it’s an error. Thus, to claim inconsistency in this instance is to claim inconsistency in a framework for proving truth that was false to begin with. In a sense it is a contradiction, but not in the context Molyneux was describing, as the inconsistency was the framework, not necessarily the propositions.
Molyneux also seems to believe that totally arbitrary factors in a moral theory make it self-contradictory. For instance, the example used in the debate was: suppose someone claims that killing is wrong, but claim that individuals who wear green hats (i.e. soldiers) are exempt from this rule. Stefbot points out the stupidity of this commonplace claim, remarking on the fact that the individual who wears the added clothing doesn’t experience any meaningful qualitative differences, even the quantitative differences are negligible. Thus he gages this claim as arbitrary and rationally unsubstantiated, insisting that is contradictory with reality and thus false.
The fact that the moral framework UPB has lain out for us as the necessary and sufficient condition for valid moral theories (aside from hypocrisy) is false, this example proves no contradiction. Granted, the person claiming that someone wearing green clothing is exempt from the rule of killing is 100% an unsound claim, a claim that has no meaningful basis in reality. However it is not self-contradictory; as, it lays out an exception to the thou shall not kill clause, which (although totally arbitrary) saves it from being contradictory.
All of this being said: Stefbot has successfully been able to prove individual hypocrisy in the views of persons who hold two mutually exclusive moral proscriptions to be true. And in terms of a moral debate this is a very useful and effective tool; as, cognitive dissonance is the fundamental key which results in people altering their belief systems. Hence, in terms of furthering a debate; Universally Preferable Behavior (as it pertains to establishing individual hypocrisy) is incredibly useful.
However, UPB does nothing more. And people who advocate its usage should claim nothing more. If we accept its fundamental premises, and apply them consistently, we accept the nihilism we were attempting to avoid in the first place; negating the very point of UPB.
So what may we conclude from this? It seems that unless Molyneux significantly reduces his claim that UPB is the “solution to the problem of objective ethics,” downplays its importance, and labels it what is actually is: a tool to prove hypocrisy in a debate or analysis; then, the only “beast” Molyneux will have slain is himself. Furthermore, he should come to terms with the nihilism implied by his position, and either admit it or alter his position in order to avoid it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv4ZZUrU27c (video introduction to meta-ethics)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CueDiner6t0 (Stefbot Quotes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8nB2FjS8AQ (Stefbot Quotes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZQSUFGbEqI&feature=channel_page (Stefbot quotes & the video I’m responding to)
Is Stefan Molyneux A Moral Nihilist In Denial?
That’s essentially what this ultimately seems to boil down to. Keep in mind that during my “debate” with Molyneux, he claimed that he doesn’t believe in either “rights” or “oughts” of any sort. He even said that there is no way to prove that you “ought” or “ought not” to do something. Well then why the hell is he talking about ethics, since ethics is a question of what you “ought” and “ought not” to do? Furthermore, if he doesn’t believe in “rights”, then what the hell was his “proof of property rights” video about? Either he’s lieing or he is hopelessly confused and in denial of his own internal contradictions.
Furthermore, it seems rather obvious that Molyneux constructed UPB as an attempt to escape moral nihilism, and he himself even claims that he literally “started with nothing”. My reasons for connecting Molyneux to moral nihilism go beyond this, however. I’ve come to the realization that the logical conclusion of his UPB should in fact be moral nihilism, because it can tell us nothing about the validity of the values themselves (it can only make an analysis of compatibility between values and the consistency between one’s values and one’s actions, but it ultimately does not tell us what one “ought” or “ought not” to do; and hence it is amoral in practise).
In fact, this point is particularly illuminated by the fact that a good deal of the people who have recently turned on Molyneux (which is made up of some people in the youtube anarchist community) have dived straight into hardcore moral nihilism. This is not purely coincidental. It makes sense because they are merely taking UPB to its logical conclusion, since at the end of the day it involves no actual ethical theory at all. In the absensce of any other ethical theory, once one takes UPB to its logical conclusion and realizes that it cannot actually prove or disprove any sort of moral claim, one is left with nothing.
The consequence of this has been a split with Molyneux and his followers on one side and a bunch of former Molyneux followers turned moral nihilists on the other side. As for me personally, I don’t strictly fall on either side of that divide, since I reject both UPB and moral nihilism – fortunately, I have been fairly aquainted with ethical philosophy outside of just UPB to the extent that I don’t accept a dichotomy between accepting UPB and being a moral nihilist. On one hand, I agree with a lot of the criticisms of Molyneux and UPB. On the other hand, I do not agree with the hasty conclusion of moral nihilism. It seems short-sighted and oversimplistic that upon the rejection of one particular theory (UPB), one should run straight to moral nihilism.
Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that Molyneux is preaching both moral nihilism and moral realism at the same time. If someone speaks positively of “rights” and “oughts”, Molyneux goes on his usual tangent that “rights don’t exist” and makes arguments that sound a lot like that of a moral non-cognitivist. On the other hand, as soon as someone proceeds to critisize UPB, suddenly Molyneux defensively acts like a moral realist and proceeds to appeal to science and empiricism as if they validate UPB or as if UPB literally is science and empiricism. This is oppurtunistic, inconsistent and confusing. Does Molyneux advocate libertarian ethics or not? There’s no way to be sure, because he perpetually switches positions in order to “win” a debate.