Re: [sl4] normative language is rational

From: Stathis Papaioannou (
Date: Mon Feb 16 2009 - 04:57:38 MST

2009/2/16 Dimitry Volfson <>:

> It is still rational - if the weighting does not come out of thin air. And
> you can connect your actions (maybe contributing money to an ad campaign to
> stop the death penalty) to your scheme - which also does not come out of
> thin air, but through consideration of what exists in the real world. And
> possibly, relating your experience of the real world to another person, can
> recalibrate their weighting schemes; -- persuasion.

But in the end peoples' reasons might only seem good reasons to
themselves, not to anyone else. I might understand that the murderer
did it because he thought it was OK to kill, and I might even
understand what life experiences or peculiarity of neurophysiology led
to this belief, but that doesn't mean I think his views are right or
rational; and he thinks the same about my views on the subject. We end
up just having to agree to disagree.

> Rational and Absolutely Right, are not the same things. For the most part we
> cannot know what is absolutely right.

I would say there is no such thing as Absolutely Right.

> Consider again the simple idea of 1 + 1 = 2. It does not come from thin air,
> nor is it the only possible scheme. Arithmetic is about counting. If you
> want to know how many marbles you will count if you place one marble on the
> ground and then place another marble on the ground, then 1 + 1 = 2 is a
> useful shortcut to actually moving the physical marbles and then proceeding
> to count them.
> But if you want to know how many molecules you have as a result of combining
> X-number of molecules of type A, with Y-number of molecules of type B; then
> arithmetic does not usually hold; 1 + 1 = 1 (or even 2 + 2 = 1) may be the
> correct answer, the correct shortcut scheme.

The difference is that in scientific discourse the axioms themselves
are not usually at issue, and if they are they aren't really axioms.
There's not a lot of point in my criticising your statements about
chemistry on the grounds that when you say "carbon", I understand that
as referring to the element with seven protons, not six. If indeed we
realised that our use of language differed in this way we could
quickly clear up the misunderstanding and either reach agreement or
else disagree on a matter of fact, not definition: "*given* that
carbon is the sixth element, then propane molecules have three carbon
atoms". But the same process in ethics or aesthetics may yield vacuous
results: "*given* that capital punishment is wrong under any
circumstances, then it is wrong to execute mass murderers".

Stathis Papaioannou

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