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Entries in Value Theory (3)


Truth, Belief and Moral Reasons

The point of making moral claims is to tell others and ourselves what we should or should not attempt to do. To accomplish this we produce statements about the shoulds and should nots which amount to reasons, i.e., providing our interlocutors (or ourselves) with information whose possession amounts to a source of motivation (a desire and a decision, when that becomes possible) to act. There are many sorts of reasons for acting, of course, including belief in the efficacy of the act for bringing about something we want (or which we believe we should want) or belief in the desirability (for whatever reason) of the act or object of the act, itself. Reasons stand at the heart of moral claims. And they imply a demand for justification because no reason stands alone. It's always part of a string of justifications: do this because of that, because of something else, etc. But reasons come to an end. If they did not, we would always be arguing (with others or ourselves) and never acting. At some point we must agree that something is reason enough or else the process is never ending and cannot result in action.

Sometimes we just stop the process of justifying arbitrarily. We grow tired, either explicitly or implicitly, and finally act, or desist from acting, without demand for further reasons. And many actions we take are done with no prior consideration of explicit reasons at all. We just act -- and perhaps compile and report our reasons after the fact. Actions are not dependent on reasoning to be actions although deliberating about what we should do and then doing it (or not) represents a large class of our actions as human beings. Those actions which we deliberate about, seeking for, and adducing and evaluating reasons, before acting, are the ones that are generally relevant to moral considerations. Actions performed instinctively, reflexively or mechanically (perhaps by habit or conditioning) fall outside the realm of moral consideration (except to the extent that we can address and alter our habits, conditioning and so forth). Morally relevant actions are those which we have the capacity to think about and weigh our alternatives before and during the acts themselves.

But to think about our actions in this way implies something else, namely that there is a potential for our beliefs about them to be correct or incorrect, true or false, thus worthy of our attention and action or not. . . .

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Logic, Value and Our Moral Claims

When we think about language, logic seems to be an intrinsic part of what we have in mind. It’s logic, after all, i.e., the rules of relations between expressions of thought as realized in language, that make any language intelligible. This seems so because, without such rules built into it, language could not do its job.

To the extent that language is about referring, either by describing or naming (i.e., using words to point out or point at things), logic (the rules by which we put our referring terms together to accomplish the foregoing in complex ways which succeed as communication) is indispensible. And so logic seems an indispensible element of any language that we recognize as a language.

Of course, language consists of more than just the complex process of asserting things about other things. It includes doing things like signaling and expressing our emotional states for the benefit of others (so they will see and react to those expressions) and it’s this aspect in our languages that we find, in various forms, in the broader animal kingdom of which we are a part. Language also includes other types of things we can do with our words such as voicing imperatives (do this, don’t do that) which seem to depend, at least in part on, our assertoric capabilities (the capacity to describe and name things). Language is plainly multi-faceted and at least one more thing we do with words, in the context of speaking a language, is to evaluate the things we make assertions about. Indeed, even the assertions themselves, when these are taken as referents (depictable elements in the world) in their own right, are subject to valuation by us.

Unlike logic, however, which we seem to take on faith, seeing little reason to trouble ourselves about justifying it as part of language, valuing appears to occupy a different niche in our thoughts about language and what we do with it . . . .

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The Problem with Properties

When we use a term like “property” in relation to things having them, we suppose we know what we mean. What we have in mind in these cases is just some feature (or features) of a thing which, along with other features, combine to make it what it is. That is, we suppose that a property is that element or aspect of a thing which possesses it – along with every other element or aspect of it which then, if all are specified in full, would convey to an interlocutor the complete picture of the object in question. The property of a thing, in this sense, is any of its parts or elements which are accessible to us via the senses, either directly or indirectly.

Synonyms for the word “property” in various contexts include words like “feature,” “quality,” “aspect,” “element,” “constituent,” “characteristic,” “part,” and so on. None of these may be precisely the same as what we mean by “property” in every case for some are more specific, or refer to physical elements of a thing only while others have a more abstract reality. The idea of a “feature,” for instance, suggests something that may belong to a thing but is not an intrinsic part of it, i.e., something temporarily connected to the thing in question. A “quality” of a thing seems to suggest an evaluative or evaluated fact about it. An “aspect” conjures the picture of a particular appearance of something, depending on the viewer’s perspective and to speak of a thing’s “characteristic” suggests something not quite physical, something more like an effect the thing has on its observer, i.e., something it’s prone to produce in observers. The word “element” suggests some basic constituent part of the thing while the term “constituents,” itself, suggests parts, albeit not necessarily basic ones (i.e., something that is non-reducible to anything more basic than itself). . . .

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