Thursday, June 18, 2009

the righteousness of null-A

The final issue of interest with null-A is the idea that genuinely logical people are moral people. This can be seen in "The Null-A Continuum" by references to evil acts as insane and various implications that the hero does the good thing because it is the sane or rational thing. But in reality logic and rationality cannot possibly produce morality. There are two reasons for this: the non-reducibility of moral propositions to non-moral propositions, and the requirement that to be morally good, one must intend to be morally good.

What I mean by the non-reducibility of moral propositions is that you cannot reason to a moral conclusion without moral premises. You cannot reason, for example
(1) Joe needs help.
(2) Ben has the ability to help Joe.
therefore
(3) Ben should help Joe.
The word "should" is the only word with moral force in the argument. The argument is not valid (as a matter of logic) as can be seen by another (clearly false) argument with the same form
(4) Joe needs heroine.
(5) Ben has the ability to give Joe heroine.
therefore
(6) Ben should give Joe heroine.
The meaning of "need" is arguably different in (4) than it is in (1), but I am just copying the form of the argument, not the meanings of the words. I could have picked words with entirely unrelated meanings, so a slight change in the meaning of one word does not matter.

You might have an intuition that the first argument is true, at least under some circumstances. Why? Well, presumably you think that if someone needs help and you have the ability to help, then you should do so. Let's call that idea GA1 for "Goodness Axiom 1" (we'll ignore all the complex qualifications that would need to be added for a really true goodness axiom). Now let's add GA1 to the original argument and see what we get:
(1) Joe needs help.
(2) Ben has the ability to help Joe.
(GA1) For all people X and Y, if X needs help and Y has the ability to help X then Y should help X.
therefore
(3) Ben should help Joe.
This is a valid argument but look at that little word "should" in GA1. That is a moral term. We have used logic to combine specific facts with a general moral judgment to get a specific moral judgment. But we did need the general moral judgment to begin with.

This is always the case. There is no way for logic to get from completely non-moral facts to moral facts --you have to start with moral facts of some sort.

But let's suppose that someone comes up with a logical theory GT that seem to have the same effect as morality. For example, suppose that the purely logical considerations of GT lead someone to GA1, and not only to GA1 but also to other goodness axioms like
(GA2) For all people X and all puppies Y, X should not kick Y.
(Ga3) For all people X and all kittens Y, X should not throw Y out the second-story window to see if Y lands feet first.
Suppose that GT actually seems to include all goodness axioms. Let's suppose that Ben wants to always be logical and so he always carefully reasons out his actions using logic and always ends up abiding by the goodness axioms because they are a part of the purely logical system, GT. Would this make Ben a good person? I'm not asking if it would Ben a good neighbor, or a nice guy to have around; I'm asking if Ben is morally good.

If someone sticks a knife in your throat, is that good? Well it depends on motivation. If the person who does it is performing a tracheotomy to save your life then it is good, but if the person does it to kill you then it is evil. And it is only the intention that counts. If a doctor slips and accidentally kills you while trying to save your life, his action in trying to save you was morally good. If someone tries to murder you and accidentally saves your life, his actions are still evil. In judging whether a person is good or not, you do not look at his actions or on their outcomes, but on his intentions.

So now you know what I'm going to say about the hyperlogical Ben. Ben is not motivated by the desire to be good; he is motivated by the desire to be logical. It does not matter what his actions are or what the consequences are. Ben only wants to be logical, so if it were logical to kidnap, kill, and eat babies then he would do that. The logical theory GT, no matter how close it is to real goodness is unlikely to be exact. At some point Ben will find a situation where logic leads one way and good leads another way, and because of his motivation, he will chose the evil act.

FOOTNOTE: By the way, "should" is not a true predicate and neither "should" nor other moral concepts can be handled by normal logic. You need a special kind of logic called deontic logic to deal with such subjects. But the issues are purely formal ones, and deontic logic is not a different form of reasoning from regular logic.

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