Saturday, January 18, 2014

Morriston's New Paper on Skeptical Theism

Morriston, Wes. "Skeptical Demonism: A Failed Response to a Humean Challenge", in McBrayer, Justin and Trent Dougherty (eds.). Skeptical Theism: New Essays (OUP, forthcoming).

1 comment:

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi EA,

Thanks for the link. Very interesting read.
I think the argument has bite, though I think some distinctions between moral and non-moral good and evil might strengthen it further.
On that note, Morriston outlines an argument against demonism and against the indifference hypothesis on footnote 26.

The argument seems to imply some sort of motivational internalism with regard to specifically moral judgments, and furthermore than an omnipotent, omniscient being would be also a moral agent. But it seems to me that the combination of those hypotheses is false, due to arguments like the following one:

Let's say that there is an extraterrestrial being Z (who may be either carbon-based, or an advanced AI, or a cyborg), originally designed by some other aliens, members of some sort of alien doomsday cult, who decided to make a monster that would destroy their civilization – before committing suicide.
After being made, Z wiped out the aliens of that species – he was far more intelligent than they were, even though they were already more intelligent than humans -, and then modified itself, became even much more intelligent, powerful, etc., and set out to find and destroy other civilizations – which is what it enjoys the most, given its preference structure -, and also to find other, less intelligent beings capable of suffering, which (given Z's preference structure) Z enjoys torturing and killing, even if not as much as it enjoys wiping out civilizations.

It would seem to me that Z is possible.

But then, Z would have no inclination whatsoever to promote the welfare of others, and in fact, given its preferences, it would be irrational for Z to promote the welfare of others, except perhaps sometimes as a means to achieve its goal later (i.e., like helping some members of a civilization so that they give Z info it uses later to wipe out their civilization more efficiently).
That is not because of Z's lack of knowledge about anything, or because of any errors, but simply because of its preference structure.

It is debatable whether Z is a moral agent, given its lack of a moral sense and given its alien mind. But we have two options, it seems to me:

a. Z is a moral agent. Then, if Z has a moral obligation to promote the welfare of others, given its preference structure, Z would still not care, and further it would be irrational of Z to fulfill that obligation. And if someone else (say, Bob) told Z that it has such an obligation, Z may properly reason: “If I do not have a moral obligation to care about the welfare of others, then Bob is mistaken. And if I do, then given my preferences, it would be irrational of me to fulfill that obligation. I still do not care.” Z would remain completely unmotivated.

b. Z is not a moral agent. Nothing it does is immoral.

An omniscient being with a similar preference structure would know whether it has such an obligation. But it would also know that it would be irrational of it to fulfill it, and would feel no motivation at all.

So, it seems to me that if a. is the correct analysis of Z (and similar hypothetical entities), that seems to block Morriston's argument in the footnote. If it's b., then the indifference hypothesis is not affected, and the Demon hypothesis also survives at least if one understands it so that Demon might not be a moral agent, even if committed to causing horror, misery and generally suffering. Granted, that Demon looks slightly different from Morriston's hypothesis (he talks about Demon's moral character), but Morriston seems to be working under the hypothesis that any sufficiently intelligent (and perhaps free) being is a moral agent, in which case a. above would apply.

In any case, aside from the issue of whether such a being would be a moral agent, have a moral character, etc., it seems to me the footnote argument does not succeed in ruling out the existence of that sort of entity.