Principia Ethica by Moore

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 3/19/2015

It appears to me that in Ethics, as in all other philosophical studies, the difficulties and disagreements, of which its history is full, are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to the attempt to answer questions, without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer. 
All ethical questions fall under one or other of three classes:
  1. What is good?
  2. What things are good in themselves or has an intrinsic value?
  3. What kind of actions ought we to perform or what is the right action to do? (Practical Ethics)
Moore argues that a great part of the vast disagreements prevalent in Ethics is to be attributed to failure in analysis and in differentiation between the 3 questions. Unless we know what good means, unless we know what is meant by that notion in itself, as distinct from what is meant by any other notion:
  1. We shall not be able to tell when we are dealing with Good and when we are dealing with something else, which is perhaps like it in some aspects, but not the same. 
  2. We can never know on what evidence an ethical proposition rests. We cannot favor one judgment that this or that is good, or be against another judgment that this or that is bad.
By the use of conceptions which involve both that of intrinsic value and that of causal relation, as if they involved intrinsic value only, philosophers found in answering questions 2 and 3, an adequate definition of Ethics and not that they are defined by the fact that they predicate a single unique objective concept. This what Moore calls the "Naturalistic Fallacy", i.e equating a property with a thing that has a relation to this property, ex. this property possess the thing (Good possess pleasure so Good is pleasure) or equating a means with a property as an end (an action which is a means to pleasure is Good so Good is pleasure). Accordingly we face two problems with Philosophers' ethical systems:
  1. Confusing Question 1 with Question 2 in which the casual relation is "Possession"
  2. Confusing Question 1 with Question 3 in which the causal relation is "Means"
The source of this confusion, is that Good is undefinable. Good is a simple notion, just as yellow is a simple notion; that it isn't composed of any parts, which we can substitute for it in our minds when we are thinking of it because they are the ultimate terms of reference to which whatever is capable of definition must be defined, there is no relevant evidence whatsoever which can be cited from any other truth, except themselves alone. Therefore, we cannot define "Good" by explaining it in other words; we can only point to an action or a thing and say "That is good." It can only be shown. We can only show a sighted person a piece of yellow paper and say "That is yellow." So just as you cannot explain "what yellow is" to anyone who does not already know what a color is, you cannot also explain what good is. So Good is self-evident. By saying that a proposition is self-evident, we mean emphatically that it is appearing so to us, is not the reason why it is true: for we mean that it has absolutely no reason
Consider yellow, for example. We may try to define it, by describing its physical equivalent; we may state what kind of light-vibrations must stimulate the normal eye, in order that we may perceive it. But a moment’s reflection is sufficient to show that those light-vibrations are not themselves what we mean by yellow. They are not what we perceive. The most we can be entitled to say of those vibrations is that they are what corresponds in space to the yellow which we actually perceive.
There must be an indefinite number of such undefinable terms; since we cannot define anything except by an analysis, which when carried as far as it will go, refers us to something, which is simply different from anything else, and which by that ultimate difference explains the peculiarity of the whole which we are defining: for every whole contains some parts which are common to other wholes also.
Every one does in fact understand the question "Is this good"? When he thinks of it, his state of mind is different from what it would be, were he asked Is this pleasant, or desired, or approved? It has a distinct meaning for him, even though he may not recognize in what respect it is distinct.
Moore proposes a method to know what degree of value a thing has in itself, that we should see it as if it existed in absolute isolation, stripped of all its usual accompaniments.

The First Problem (Equating a property with a thing that possesses this property)

One philosopher, for instance, will affirm that good is pleasure so we need to choose actions which maximize our pleasure. Another may say that good is that which is desired so we need to choose actions which fulfill our desires; and each of these will argue eagerly to prove that the other is wrong with no result because if good is defined as something else, it becomes pragmatic in nature or more specifically relativistic. Then it is impossible either to prove that any other definition is wrong or even to deny such definition. If we were bound to hold that everything which was yellow, meant exactly the same thing as yellow, we should find that we had to hold that a yellow piece of paper is exactly the same thing as a lemon or any yellow thing you like. We could prove any number of absurdities.

He then discusses a few concepts that show the mistakes of the philosophers whose ethical statements fall in the category of the first problem.

Organic Unity

It has just been said that what has intrinsic value is the existence of the whole, and that this includes the existence of the part; and from this it would seem a natural inference that the existence of the part has intrinsic value. But the inference would be as false as if we were to conclude that, because the number of two stones was two, each of the stones was also two or in reverse all the parts of a picture may be meaningless unless they are put together thus making the whole meaningful. We may admit, indeed, that when a particular thing is a part of a whole, it does possess a predicate which it would not otherwise possess, that it is a part of the whole. Thus, to take a typical example, if an arm to be cut off from the human body, we still call it an arm. Yet an arm, when it is a part of the body, undoubtedly differs from a dead arm. So in considering the different degrees in which things themselves possess a property, we have to take account of the fact that a whole may possess it in a degree different from that which is obtained by summing the degrees in which its parts possess it. This what Moore calls the principle of Organic Unity.

I'll give an example related to Theodicy; courage and compassion seem to involve essentially a cognition of something evil or ugly. In the case of courage, the object of the cognition may be any kind of evil; in the case of compassion, the proper object is pain. These virtues involve a hatred of what is evil or ugly and if so, there are admirable things, which may be lost, if there were no cognition of evil. Once we recognize the principle of organic unities, any objection to this conclusion, founded on the supposed fact that the other elements of such states have no value in themselves, must disappear. It might be the case that the existence of evil was necessary, not merely as a means, but analytically, to the existence of the greatest good. But we have no reason to think that this is the case in any instance. So the right action entailing the suppression of some evil impulse, is necessary to explain the plausibility of the view that virtue consists in the control of passion by reason.
Accordingly, the truth seems to be that, whenever a strong moral emotion is excited by the idea of rightness, this emotion is accompanied by a vague cognition of the kind of evils usually suppressed or avoided by the actions which most frequently occur to us as instances of duty; and that the emotion is directed towards this evil quality. We may conclude that a specific moral emotion owes almost all of its intrinsic value to the fact that it includes a cognition of evils accompanied by a hatred of them

The Open Question Argument

For it is the business of Ethics, I must insist, not only to obtain true results, but also to find valid reasons for them. The direct object of Ethics is knowledge and not practice; and any one who uses the naturalistic fallacy has certainly not fulfilled this first object, however correct his practical principles may be.
Moore proposed a test to see whether goodness is identical to X. He called it The Open Question Argument which depends on our common sense and that Good is self-evident.
X is not identical to goodness if the question, “Is X good?” is open. 
Applying it in a few examples:
  1. The question, “Is pleasure good?” is open and meaningful. It makes sense to wonder about this.
  2. The question, “Is pleasure pleasure?” seems settled and pointless. It doesn't make sense to wonder about this; the answer is trivially “yes.”

The Second Problem (Equating a property with a thing that is a means to this property)

It is plain, that any answer to the third question is capable of proof or disproof, the kind which is capable of exact definition. Such evidence must contain propositions of two kinds only: it must consist of truths with regard to the results of the action in question of causal truths, and universal ethical truths of our self-evident class, but philosophers have always missed the first part. 
  1. The existence of the means has no intrinsic value; and its utter annihilation would leave the value of that which it is now necessary to secure entirely unchanged.
  2. Whatever definition we reach through this notion, will always be false because we limit the scope of "Goodness" to conduct only. Good conduct is a complex notion: all conduct is not good; for some is certainly bad and some may be indifferent. On the other hand, other things, beside conduct, may be good; and if they are so, then, good denotes some property, that is common to them and to conduct; and if we examine good conduct alone of all good things, then we shall be in danger of mistaking a property which is not shared by those other things for the property that defines "Good". So we will always have a wrong definition.
  3. It is wrong to even claim that we can judge a thing to be good as a means is universally true, because:
    1. An action may be said to be impossible solely because the idea of doing it does not occur to us. In this sense, then, the alternatives which do actually occur to a man would be the only possible alternatives; and the best of these would be the best possible action under the circumstances.
    2. We are making a judgment with regard to its causal relations: we judge both that it will have a particular kind of effect, and that that effect will be good in itself. We cannot even discover hypothetical laws of the form. Exactly this action will always, under these conditions, produce exactly that effect. 
    3. We require to know that a given action will produce a certain effect, under whatever circumstances it occurs. But this is certainly impossible. It is certain that in different circumstances the same action may produce effects that are utterly different in all respects upon which the value of the effects depends.
    4. Hence we can never be entitled to more than a generalization—to a proposition of the form. This result generally follows this kind of action; and even this generalization will only be true, if the circumstances under which the action occurs are generally the same. This is in fact the case, to a great extent, within any one particular age and state of society. However, when we take other ages into account, in many of the most important cases, the normal circumstances of a given kind of action will be so different that the generalization which is true for one will not be true for another. 
    5. We require to know not only that one good effect will be produced, but that, among all subsequent events affected by the action in question, the balance of good will be greater than if any other possible action had been performed. In this respect, ethical judgments about the effects of an action involve a difficulty and a complication far greater than that involved in the establishment of scientific laws. For the later we need only to consider a single effect; for the former it is essential to consider not only this, but the effects of that effect, and so on as far as our view throughout an infinite future.
    6. There is certainly no more than a probability that what is better in regard to its immediate effects will also be better on the whole. An ethical law has the nature not of a scientific law but of a scientific prediction: and the later is always merely probable, although the probability may be very great.
    7. Since it is impossible to establish that any kind of action will produce a better total result than its alternative in all cases, it follows that in some cases the neglect of an established rule will probably be the best course of action possible.
    8. Virtues are habitual dispositions to perform actions which are duties, or which would be duties if a volition were sufficient on the part of most men to ensure their performance. And duties are a particular class of those actions, of which the performance has, at least generally, better total results than the omission. They are, that is to say, actions generally good as means: but not all such actions are duties; the name is confined to that particular class which is often difficult to perform because there are strong temptations to the contrary. We must be able to prove that the disposition or action in question is generally better as a means than any alternatives possible and likely to occur; and this we shall only be able to prove for particular states of society: what is a virtue or a duty in one state of society may not be so in another.
It follows that universal propositions of which duty is predicate, so far from being self-evident, always require a proof, which it is beyond our present means of knowledge ever to give. 
Judgments of intrinsic value have this superiority over judgments of means that, if once true, they are always true; whereas what is a means to a good effect in one case, will not be so in another.

Types of Ethical Theories

Moore distinguishes between theories which consider goodness to consist in relation to something which exists here and now, from those which do not. According to the former (Naturalistic Ethics), Ethics is an empirical or positive science: its conclusions could be all established by means of empirical observation and induction. But this is not the case with (Metaphysical Ethics).

Naturalistic Ethics

This system substitutes for "good" a single property of a natural object or of a collection of natural objects; and in thus replacing Ethics by one of the natural sciences. In general the science thus substituted is one of the sciences specially concerned with man, owing to the general mistake of regarding the matter of Ethics as confined to human conduct. For example, Psychology has been the science substituted as by Mill's Utilitarianism. Moore doesn't deny that good is a property of certain natural objects but he says that good itself is not a natural property. It will always remain pertinent to ask, whether a feeling itself is good; and if so, then good cannot itself be identical with any feeling. Unlike pleasure for example, "do you feel pleasure?", this is the difference between a noun and an adjective.
Well, my test for these too also concerns their existence in time. Can we imagine good as existing by itself in time, and not merely as a property of some natural object? 
He examines one of the most famous of ethical maxims, which recommends a life according to nature, i.e what we ought to do is live naturally. That was the principle of the Stoic Ethics and also reappears in Rousseau. By applying the Open Question test, it is always an open question whether anything that is natural is good, so they aren't the same. For example are we advised to imitate savages and beasts or that we should take a lesson from a cow?
That which reasoning would fairly lead a man to choose, cannot be had by creatures that don't reason.

Evolutionary Ethics

These teachings maintain that, we ought to move in the direction of evolution merely because it is the direction of evolution. This is a classical ("is - ought" Problem by Hume), where "All items of knowledge are either based on logic or on observation (matters of fact expressed in "is" statements), then "ought" statements (matters of value) do not seem to be known in either of these two ways, we can't deduce "ought" statements from "is" statements. So morality doesn't have any objective standard.

It was very natural to suppose that evolution meant evolution from what was lower into what was higher. But this opens the door for arguments like the following one:
  1. We had shown a tendency to survive the lower, such as the North American Indians. We can kill them more easily than they can kill us. 
  2. What we think higher may in fact be lower; let's assume an alteration in the environment (the gradual cooling of the earth, for example), may be then a quite different species from man, a species which we think infinitely lower, might survive us. 
  3. The judgment that evolution has been a progress is itself an independent ethical judgment; so we cannot use it as a datum from which to infer details. It can only rest on a belief that somehow the good simply means the side on which Nature is working, which is naturalistic fallacy.
So we can't even say that evolution is good or even a progress. In viewing that pleasure is the sole good, and that to consider the direction of evolution is by far the best criterion of the way in which we shall get most of it, Herbert Spencer commits three naturalistic fallacies: 
  1. Equating good with pleasure.
  2. Equating good with whatever in the direction of evolution. For example higher or evolved with better. 
  3. Equating good with the acts conducive to life, in self or others, and bad with those which directly or indirectly tend towards death.


John Stuart Mill holds that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end. The fallacy in this step is so obvious. The desirable means simply what ought to be desired. Desirable does necessarily mean what it is good to desire; it is no longer plausible to say that our only test of that, is what is actually desired. Mill tells us that we ought to desire something (an ethical proposition), because we actually do desire it; and that is not an ethical proposition at all; it is a mere tautology. If desirable is to be identical with good, then it must bear one sense; and if it is to be identical with desired, then it must bear quite another sense.
The whole object of Mill’s book is to help us to discover what we ought to do; but in fact, by attempting to define the meaning of this ought, he has completely debarred himself from ever fulfilling that object: he has confined himself to telling us what we do do. 
Mill’s view that some pleasures are superior to others in quality, brings out the fact that if you say pleasure, you must mean the one thing common to all different pleasures, which may exist in different degrees, but which cannot differ in kind. If as Mill claims that the kind of pleasure is to be taken into account, then you are no longer holding that pleasure alone is good as an end, since you imply that something else, something which is not present in all pleasures, is also good as an end. 
The illustration I have given from colour expresses this point in its most acute form. It is plain that if you say Colour alone is good as an end, then you can give no possible reason for preferring one colour to another. Your only standard of good and bad will then be colour; and since red and blue both conform equally to this, the only standard, you can have no other whereby to judge whether red is better than blue. It is true that you cannot have colour unless you also have one or all of the particular colours: they, therefore, if colour is the end, will all be good as means, but none of them can be better than another even as a means, far less can any one of them be regarded as an end in itself. 


Then he criticizes another doctrine of Hedonism, which is Egoism, by pointing out that the Universal Good can't be private nor just belong to me. The only reason I can have for aiming at my own good, is that I should have something, which, if I have it, others cannot have. But if it is good absolutely that I should have it, then everyone else has as much reason for aiming at my having it, as I have myself, this leads to Altruism and not Egoism. Not all what I desire is Universal Good. A single man’s happiness should be the sole good, and also that everybody’s happiness should be the sole good, is a contradiction which cannot be solved by the assumption that the same conduct will secure both: it would be equally contradictory, however certain we were that that assumption was justified.
Everything must be either a part of universal good or else not good at all; there is no third alternative conception good for me.

Metaphysical Ethics

It is quite certain that two natural objects may exist; but it is equally certain that two itself does not exist and never can. Two and two are four. But that does not mean that either two or four exists. Yet it certainly means something.
These systems of Ethics are characterized by the fact that they describe the Supreme Good in metaphysical terms; i.e in terms of something which they hold to exist, but not in Nature, in a super-sensible reality or an eternal reality like Kant's Kingdom of Ends. The connection of goodness with will according to Kant's Categorical Imperative, is that "what is good is always also willed in a certain way", and that "what is willed in a certain way is always also good." Every truth must mean somehow that something exists; and unlike the empiricists, they recognize some truths mean that something exists not here and now but in an eternal reality. On the same principle, since good is a predicate which neither does nor can exist, they are bound to suppose that what it means to "belong to the real world", is that goodness is transcended or absorbed in reality.
The problems with these systems are:
  1. They do not recognize that the question "What is good?" is a different one from the question "What is willed?" in a certain way.
  2. Metaphysics may have an impact on practical Ethics—on the question "What ought we to do?"— it may be able to tell us what the future effects of our action will be: what it cannot tell us is whether those effects are good or bad in themselves. Because they don't answer the question "What is good in itself?"
  3. If it is true that the sole reality is an eternal, immutable Absolute, then it follows that no actions of ours can have any real effect, and hence that no practical proposition can be true. 
  4. If what is willed in a certain way was always good, then the fact that a thing willed in this certain way, would be a criterion of its goodness. But we must in the first place be able to show that certain things have the property Good, and that the same things also have the other property that they are willed in a certain way. And secondly we must be able to show this in a very large number of instances, if we are to be entitled to claim that these two properties always accompany one another: even when this is shown, it would still be doubtful whether the inference from a general case to a fact would be valid, and it is almost certain that this doubtful principle would be useless. 
  5. The supposition that when I say, "You ought to do this," I must mean "You are commanded to do this."


In the last chapter, he discusses the idea of the appreciation of beauty, he says that by seeing the beauty of a thing we commonly mean the having an emotion towards its beautiful qualities; whereas in the seeing of its beautiful qualities we mean the actual cognition or consciousness of any or all of an object’s beautiful qualities. In anything which is thought beautiful by any considerable number of persons, there is probably some beautiful quality; and differences of opinions seem to be far more often due to exclusive attention to different qualities in the same object, than to the error of supposing a quality that is ugly to be really beautiful. When an object, which some think beautiful, is denied to be so by others, the truth is usually that it lacks some beautiful quality or is deformed by some ugly one, which engage the exclusive attention of the critics.

Notes on Secular Ethics

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 3/17/2015

Logical positivist philosopher A. J. Ayer stated in Language, Truth and Logic (1936) that moral judgments are pure expressions of feeling. They are unverifiable and cannot be true or false. Also Hume's fork, the idea that all items of knowledge are either based on logic and definitions, or else on observation, makes morals unknowable. If the is–ought problem holds, then "ought" statements do not seem to be known in either of these two ways, and it would seem that there can be no absolute moral knowledge.

To act on reason alone, gives justification to both Kant’s Morals and Nietzsche’s ethics. Both are totally opposite to each other. In his legendary Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein Argued that All propositions are of equal value from our point of view. Anything transcendental can’t be said because there is no perspective external to the world from which we can talk about the world or its contents generally. For Wittgenstein, ethical `propositions' are absolute judgments of value of the form, ethics pervades all of life; Thus, we cannot talk about ethics since logical language can only reflect the world, any discussion of the mystical that which lies outside of the metaphysical subject's world, is meaningless. Actions are not good or bad because of their consequences, but because of the overall attitude toward life that they embody.
6.41 The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: in it no value exists—and if it did exist, it would have no value. If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the case is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world, since if it did it would itself be accidental. It must lie outside the world.
Rousseau says we need an absolute principle (God) to make our ethics absolute:
“Reason alone is not a sufficient foundation for virtue; what solid ground can be found? Virtue we are told is love of order. But can this love prevail over my love for my own well-being, and ought it so to prevail? Their so-called principle is in truth a mere playing with words; for I also say that vice is love of order, differently understood. Wherever there is feeling and intelligence, there is some sort of moral order. The difference is this: the good man orders his life with regard to all men; the wicked orders it for self alone. The latter centres all things round himself; the other measures his radius and remains on the circumference. Thus his place depends on the common center, which is God, and on all the concentric circles which are His creatures. If there is no God, the wicked is right and the good man is nothing but a fool”.
Yet they are self-evident. Even studies show that babies are capable of ethical judgment, so how is this possible?

God is the Source of Morals

Religious people claim that God has favored us with faculties above all other beings.
“What being here below, except man, can observe others, measure, calculate, forecast their motions, their effects, and unite, so to speak, the feeling of a common existence with that of his individual existence? What is there so absurd in the thought that all things are made for me, when I alone can relate all things to myself? The more I consider thought and the nature of the human mind, the more likeness I find between the arguments of the materialists and those of the deaf man. Indeed, they are deaf to the inner voice which cries aloud to them, in a tone which can hardly be mistaken.”
Among those faculties, the natural law which is prescribed to us by the Creator in the constitution of the nature with which he has endowed us. It has the form of instinct and emotion thus it isn't controlled by us.
“The morality of our actions consists entirely in the judgments we ourselves form with regard to them. If good is good, it must be good in the depth of our heart as well as in our actions; There is therefore at the bottom of our hearts an innate principle of justice and virtue, by which, in spite of our maxims, we judge our own actions or those of others to be good or evil; and it is this principle that I call conscience.”
In this article we will try to investigate if it is possible of moral judgment to exist without God’s influence?

Evolutionary Ethics

Some evolutionary biologists believe that morality is a natural phenomenon that evolves by natural selection. In this case, morality is defined as the set of relative social practices that promote the survival and successful reproduction of the species, or even multiple cooperating species.

Descriptive evolutionary ethics is empirical research into moral attitudes and beliefs (humans) or moral behavior (animals) in an evolutionary framework. The underline principle that guides evolution is self-preservation (survival and reproduction). According to the theory of evolution, every living organism formed meaningful associations between stimuli (visual, taste) and their effects (dangerous, poisonous) because such associations are vital to survive and reproduce. For Example, in the Paleolithic environment of our ancestors, incest led to the very real problem of genetic mutations from close inbreeding.

A key issue of has been how altruistic feelings, behaviors and selfless acts could have evolved when the process of natural selection is based on the multiplication over time only of those genes that adapt better to changes in the environment of the species. As Rousseau puts it:
“Self-interest, so they say, induces each of us to agree for the common good. But how is it that the good man consents to this to his own hurt? Does a man go to death from self-interest? No doubt each man acts for his own good, but if there is no such thing as moral good to be taken into consideration, self-interest will only enable you to account for the deeds of the wicked; possibly you will not attempt to do more”
That led to expansion of the previous principle to include: theories of reciprocal altruism (both direct and indirect, and on a society-wide scale), “Kin Selection”, which is the evolutionary strategy that favors the reproductive success of an organism's relatives, even at a cost to the organism's own survival and reproduction or the survival of a more general group, not restricted to relatives, known as “Group Selection”. It is obvious that more is to be gained by cooperating with others than by acts of isolated egoism. One man with a rock cannot kill a buffalo for dinner. But a group of men or women, with lots of rocks, can drive the beast off a cliff and - even after dividing the meat up among them - will still have more to eat than they would have had without cooperation. As human beings, we are social animals. Our sociality is the result of evolution, not choice. Natural selection has equipped us with nervous systems which are peculiarly sensitive to the emotional status of our fellows.  It is in our nature to seek happiness for our fellows at the same time as we seek it for ourselves. Our happiness is greater when it is shared.

Now we are able to explain the emergence of a few moral virtues in the name of “Group Selection” as:
  1. Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. We have evolved a deep sense of empathy and sympathy for others as we imagine ourselves in their position and what a situation would feel like if it were to happen to us. This foundation underlies such moral virtues as kindness and mercy.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism, in which “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” This eventually evolved into genuine feelings of right and wrong over fair and unfair exchanges leading to ideals of justice and rights.
  3. In-group/loyalty, related to our long history as a tribal species able to form shifting coalitions. We evolved the propensity to form within-group amity for our fellow tribesmen and between-group enmity for anyone in another group. This foundation creates within a tribe a “band-of-brothers” effect and underlies such virtues as patriotism and self-sacrifice.
  4. Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. We evolved a natural tendency to defer to authority, show deference to leaders and experts, and follow the rules and dictates given by those above us in social rank. This foundation underlies such virtues as leadership, fellowship and respect for traditions and authority.
  5. Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. We evolved emotions to direct us toward the clean and away from the dirty.
But also we face problems like
  1. It allows for propositions of the following kind: The human species can survive more efficiently, if we let severely physically and mentally handicapped infants and children die. Therefore: we ought to let severely physically and mentally handicapped infants die or Eugenics which is a social philosophy advocating the improvement of human genetic traits through the promotion of higher reproduction of people with desired traits (positive eugenics), and reduced reproduction of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics) like what Nazism did or the acceptability of the use of human embryos for stem cell research.
  2. It doesn't explain virtues which have nothing to do with survival of a living organism or his group, like beauty and the feeling of transcendence, mainly the Aesthetic judgment.
  3. It doesn't explain acts of altruism done by a living organism outside of his group.
  4. There is no meaning for the phrase "moral ought", If I'm strong and able to survive better by abusing the weaklings of the group, why I'm ought to follow ethics proposed by the group to shackle me? There are no valid reasons for me to follow them. Each should create his own morals (Nietzsche) which leads to Ethical Relativism. Without an ontological absolute grounding (a God for example), morals become pragmatic in nature leading to subjective reasoning instead of an objective one.
  5.  Moore’s Open Question Argument (Good is undefinable, can only be shown and neither described nor deduced)

The "Open Question" Test

British philosopher Moore (Principia Ethica) demonstrated that all systems of naturalistic ethics, including evolutionary ethics, are flawed.

The property of 'goodness' cannot be defined because it is simple and has no parts. It is one of those innumerable objects of thought which are the ultimate terms of reference to which whatever is capable of definition must be defined. That there must be an indefinite number of such terms is obvious, on reflection; since we cannot define anything except by an analysis, which, when carried as far as it will go, refers us to something, which is simply different from anything else, and which by that ultimate difference explains the peculiarity of the whole which we are defining: for every whole contains some parts which are common to other wholes also. There is, therefore, no intrinsic difficulty in the contention that good denotes a simple and indefinable quality. There are many other instances of such qualities.

Any attempt to define “goodness” (X is good if it has property Y) will simply shift the problem (Why is Y-ness good in the first place?). Therefore, we cannot define "good" by explaining it in other words, we can only point to an action or a thing and say "That is good." It can only be shown. Similarly, we cannot describe to a blind person exactly what yellow is. We can only show a sighted person a piece of yellow paper or a yellow scrap of cloth and say "That is yellow."

Yet a mistake of this simple kind has commonly been made about good. It may be true that all things which are good are also something else, just as it is true that all things which are yellow produce a certain kind of vibration in the light. Consider yellow, for example. We may try to define it, by describing its physical equivalent; we may state what kind of light-vibrations must stimulate the normal eye, in order that we may perceive it. But a moment’s reflection is sufficient to show that those light-vibrations are not themselves what we mean by yellow. They are not what we perceive. The most we can be entitled to say of those vibrations is that they are what corresponds in space to the yellow which we actually perceive.

A test of whether goodness is identical to X:
X is not identical to goodness if the question, “Is X good?” is open.
Applying it in a few examples:
  1. The question, “Is pleasure after all good?” is open and meaningful. It makes sense to wonder about this.
  2. The question, “Is pleasure pleasure?” seems settled and pointless. It doesn’t make sense to wonder about this; the answer is trivially “yes.”
So all of the complex candidates will fail the test, but not all of the simple candidates will fail.

And it is a fact, that Ethics aims at discovering what are those other properties belonging to all things which are good. But far too many philosophers have thought that when they named those other properties they were actually defining “good”; that these properties, in fact, were simply not other, but absolutely and entirely the same with goodness. This view Moore calls the naturalistic fallacy.

Moore pointed out that the view that "we ought to move in the direction of evolution simply because it is the direction of evolution" was invalid because it was an example of the naturalistic fallacy, that is the fallacy of defining 'the good' by reference to some other thing, and in this case we define Good by the direction of Evolution, but isn’t proved that Evolution is good in the first place.

Because of his hostility to ethical naturalism Moore denies that ethical knowledge is a matter of empirical inquiry. But he is equally hostile to Kant's rationalist thesis that fundamental ethical truths are truths of reason. Instead he holds that ethical knowledge rests on a capacity for an intuitive grasp of fundamental ethical truths for which we can give no reason since there is no reason to be given.

As a result of the previous, Group Selection, became more abstract to include all humans with the addition of a goal ensuring their welfare. Also the study of Normative evolutionary ethics flourished which aims at answering the previous question by defining which acts are right or wrong, and which things are good or bad in an evolutionary context. It is not merely describing, but it is prescribing goals, values and obligations. For example eugenics is a form of normative evolutionary ethics, because it defines what is "good" on the basis of genetics and the theory of evolution.

Humanist ethics

They are a set of universal morals based on the commonality of human nature, and that knowledge of right and wrong is based on our best understanding of our individual and joint interests. The humanist ethics goal is a search for viable individual, social and political principles of conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility, ultimately eliminating human suffering. Humanism affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. So ethics become a law whose purpose is “the flourishing of conscious creatures".

So a pair of scissors that cannot easily cut through paper can legitimately be called "bad" since it cannot fulfill its purpose effectively. Likewise, if a person is understood as having a particular purpose, then behavior can be evaluated as good or bad in reference to that purpose. In plainer words, a person is acting "good" when that person fulfills that person's purpose.

This Humanists solution to the Evolutionary ethics problems, resulted in the following:
  1. The First problem was solved.
  2. The Second problem remains in-explainable.
  3. The Third problem remains in-explainable.
  4. Problem four was partially solved by putting morals it in the form of law applied on all society’s inhabitants. People will fear punishment by law of the society, instead of believing in an absolute good. so "moral ought" is equated with "following the law". The law is the new absolute source of value (God). But as a result, the problem was just moved to higher level, instead of each man creating his own morals, now we have each society to create its own morals according to its culture, which eventually leads back to Ethical Relativism. Without an ontological absolute grounding (a God for example), morals become pragmatic in nature leading to subjective reasoning instead of an objective one.
  5. Problem five remains valid.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 3/08/2015

Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley marked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
The media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture's intellectual and social preoccupations. It is recreated by every new medium of communication—from painting to the alphabet to television. Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility. Which is what McLuhan meant in saying the medium is the message.
"Is the Iliad possible, when the printing press and even printing machines exist? Is it not inevitable that with the emergence of the press, the singing and the telling and the muse cease; that is, the conditions necessary for epic poetry disappear?" ~ Karl Marx
What people watch, and like to watch, are millions of moving pictures, of short duration and dynamic variety. It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate these requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business. Television has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television, i.e takes the form of entertainment. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
Walter Lippmann, wrote in 1920: "There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies."
The published word is invested with greater prestige and authenticity than the spoken word. What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write. The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by editors. It is easier to verify or refute, and it is invested with an impersonal and objective character. The written word endures, the spoken word disappears; and that is why writing is closer to the truth than speaking. To these people, reading was both their connection to and their model of the world. The printed page revealed the world, line by line, page by page, to be a serious, coherent place, capable of management by reason, and of improvement by logical and relevant criticism. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response. This is the difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in an image-centered culture. It is also the difference between living in a culture that provides little opportunity for leisure, and one that provides much, which can be invested in reading and spending time thinking.
"More than any other device, the printed book released people from the domination of the immediate and the local; . . . print made a greater impression than actual events. . . . To exist was to exist in print: the rest of the world tended gradually to become more shadowy. Learning became book-learning." ~ Lewis Mumford
As a culture moves from orality to writing to printing to televising, its ideas of truth move with it. Every philosophy is the philosophy of a stage of life, Nietzsche remarked.
I refer specifically to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of anything. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth." The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. Iconography thus became blasphemy so that a new kind of God could enter a culture. 
One sometimes hears it said, for example, that there is more printed matter available today than ever before, which is undoubtedly true. But from the seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century, printed matter was virtually all that was available. There were no movies to see, radio to hear, photographic displays to look at, records to play. There was no television. Public business was channeled into and expressed through print, which became the model, the metaphor and the measure of all discourse.
Television does not ban books, it simply displaces them.
The printed word had a monopoly on both attention and intellect, there being no other means, besides the oral tradition, to have access to public knowledge. Public figures were known largely by their written words, for example, not by their looks or even their oratory. It is quite likely that most of the first fifteen presidents of the United States would not have been recognized had they passed the average citizen in the street. To think about those men was to think about what they had written, to judge them by their public positions, their arguments, their knowledge as codified in the printed word. But now, you cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content. In a world of television and other visual media, "political knowledge" means having pictures in your head more than having words. Almost certainly those whose looks are not significantly enhanced by the cosmetician's art have no future in politics. Indeed, we may have reached the point where cosmetics has replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control.
At the first debate between Douglas and Lincoln in Ottowa, Douglas responded to lengthy applause with a remarkable and revealing statement. "My friends," he said, "silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms." 
How television stages the world becomes the model for how the people stage it. For on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words. The way in which the photograph records experience is also different from the way of language. Language makes sense only when it is presented as a sequence of propositions. Meaning is distorted when a word or sentence is, as we say, taken out of context; when a reader or listener is deprived of what was said before, and after. But there is no such thing as a photograph taken out of context, for a photograph does not require one. Television is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation. Each "headline" stood alone as its own context. The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that the eye never rests, always has something new to see.
The idea, "is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required . . . to pay attention to no concept, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time." He goes on to say that the assumptions controlling a news show are "that bite-sized is best, that complexity must be avoided, that nuances are dispensable, that qualifications impede the simple message, that visual stimulation is a substitute for thought, and that verbal precision is an anachronism."
When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, "Let me think about that" or "I don't know" or "What do you mean when you say . . . ?" or "From what sources does your information come?" This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television. In other words, in doing away with the idea of sequence and continuity in education, television undermines the idea that sequence and continuity have anything to do with thought itself.
Terence Moran, lands on the target in saying that with media whose structure is biased toward furnishing images and fragments, we are deprived of access to an historical perspective.
"Knowing" the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. In fact, it is quite obvious that TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any implications, for that would require viewers to continue to think about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending to the next story that waits panting in the wings. Theirs was a "language" that denied interconnectedness, proceeded without context, argued the irrelevance of history, explained nothing, and offered fascination in place of complexity and coherence. Television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend it, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification. Short and simple messages are preferable to long and complex ones; drama is to be preferred over exposition; being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions about problems. Whereas in a classroom, one may ask a teacher questions, one can ask nothing of a television screen. The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with "giving off" impressions, which is what television does best. Television's strongest point is that it brings personalities into our hearts, not abstractions into our heads. We do well to remember that President Nixon did not begin to come undone until his lies were given a theatrical setting at the Watergate hearings.
Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?
It comes as the unintended consequence of a dramatic change in our modes of public conversation. But it is an ideology nonetheless, for it imposes a way of life, a set of relations among people and ideas, about which there has been no consensus, no discussion and no opposition. Only compliance. Public consciousness has not yet assimilated the point that technology is ideology.
In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours.
Television made information into a commodity, a "thing" that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning, it made relevance irrelevant. Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This suggests that the new technologies had turned the age-old problem of information on its head: Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use. This is called disinformation, which means misleading information—misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information—information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.
"We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. . . . We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough." ~ Henry David Thoreau
For example, in the 1890's advertisers adopted the technique of using slogans. At about the same time, jingles started to be used. Now almost all television programs are embedded in music. But what has music to do with the news? It is there for the same reason music is used in the theater and films to tell the audience what emotions are to be called forth and to create a mood for entertainment. Many newscasters do not appear to grasp the meaning of what they are saying, and some hold to a fixed and ingratiating enthusiasm as they report on earthquakes, mass killings and other disasters. Viewers would be quite disconcerted by any show of concern or terror on the part of newscasters. The viewers also know that no matter how grave any fragment of news may appear (for example, on the day I write a Marine Corps general has declared that nuclear war between the United States and Russia is inevitable), it will shortly be followed by a series of commercials that will, in an instant, defuse the import of the news, in fact render it largely banal.
The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products. 
Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country— these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research. This is the lesson of all great television commercials: They provide a slogan, a symbol or a focus that creates for viewers a comprehensive and compelling image of themselves.
Bernard Shaw's remark on his first seeing the glittering neon signs of Broadway and 42nd Street at night. "It must be beautiful, if you cannot read".
Moreover, changes in media bring about changes in the structure of people's minds or changes in their cognitive capacities. Stauffer et al. found in studying students' responses to a news program transmitted via television, radio and print, that print significantly increased correct responses to questions regarding the names of people and numbers contained in the material. Stern reported that 51 percent of viewers could not recall a single item of news a few minutes after viewing a news program on television.
Robert MacNeil's observes that "Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World."