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Why is UPB behavior preferable?

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The UPB book tries to determine what is universally preferable behavior. But for what reason is UPB behavior preferable? Basically, there are two possible answers:

 

A) It is preferable because we should prefer it (or indirectly, it is preferable because it is the only way that leads to a result that we should prefer). This implies it is our moral obligation to do it.

 

B) It is preferable, because it is required to reach a particular goal. If this is the meaning of UPB, then there are again two options:

B.1) The particular goal is shared by everyone. This does not seem to be the claim of the UPB book. People have different desires.

B.2) The particular goal is not shared by everyone. This means the behavior might not be preferable for those people that do not share this particular goal. If this is the correct interpretation of UPB, then to say a behavior is universally preferable makes no sense unless a particular goal is specified. For example, if we say "being on time" is a universally preferable aesthetically positive action, the question is: Assuming which particular goal?

 

Because the UPB book has been written by Stef, I would like to know what he intends to be the meaning of UPB: Is UPB is what should prefer (as a moral obligation, regardless of our goals), or is UPB what is preferable assuming a particular goal? I can see support for both positions in the UPB book, so I am unsure. If the answer is that UPB behavior is only required for a particular goal, then the second question would be, which goal(s)? Assuming the goal of understanding the intended meaning of the UPB book, it would be preferable to have a definite answer to these questions.

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B.2) The particular goal is not shared by everyone. This means the behavior might not be preferable for those people that do not share this particular goal. If this is the correct interpretation of UPB, then to say a behavior is universally preferable makes no sense unless a particular goal is specified. For example, if we say "being on time" is a universally preferable aesthetically positive action, the question is: Assuming which particular goal?

It's this one.

 

The reason you are having a problem here is because you are equivocating between different senses of the word "prefer" or "preference". Having a subjective preference for chocolate over vanilla is not what the "preferable" in UPB is talking about.

 

From the book:

Now that we understand the nature of self-defeating arguments, we can turn to the question of preferences.

 

Preferences are central to any methodology claiming to define the truth-value of propositions. The scientific method, for instance, is largely defined by innate preferences for logical consistency and empirical verification. For science, the premise is: if you want to determine a valid truth about the behaviour of matter and energy, it is preferable to use the scientific method.

 

In this sense, “preferable” does not mean “sort of better,” but rather “required.” If you want to live, it is universally preferable that you refrain from eating a handful of arsenic. If you wish to determine valid truths about reality, it is universally preferable that your theories be both internally consistent and empirically verifiable. “Universally preferable,” then, translates to “objectively required,” but we will retain the word “preferable” to differentiate between optional human absolutes and non-optional physical absolutes such as gravity.

 

Similarly, if ethical theories can be at all valid, then they must at least be both internally and externally consistent. In other words, an ethical theory that contradicts itself cannot be valid – and an ethical theory that contradicts empirical evidence and near-universal preferences also cannot be valid.

 

Thus in ethics, just as in science, mathematics, engineering and all other disciplines that compare theories to reality, valid theories must be both logically consistent and empirically verifiable.

 

If you want to have valid moral propositions, then it is preferable that they be logically consistent and universalizable. In other words, the goal is to have moral propositions. Toward that goal certain things are preferable, and in the same sense that it is preferable to submit your scientific theories to particular standards, summed up as the "scientific method". UPB actually contains within it the scientific method as a subset of this broader logical framework, but it's also a convenient analogy as you see here.

 

As an addendum to the book (not in place of it), here is a good explanation of the problem UPB is trying to solve, what constitutes a solution and how UPB achieves this:

FDR1776 Sunday Call In Show - Universally Preferable Behaviour (UPB) October 31 2010

http://media.freedomainradio.com/feed/FDR_1776_sunday_show_oct_31_2010_UPB.mp3

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It's this one.

 

One of the problems is, if that's correct, then to say a behavior is UPB only makes sense when a goal is specified. And yet, in the vast majority of cases in the UPB book, no goal is specified.

 

The reason you are having a problem here is because you are equivocating between different senses of the word "prefer" or "preference". Having a subjective preference for chocolate over vanilla is not what the "preferable" in UPB is talking about.

 

The equivocation (if any) is done in the UPB book, as the quote below shows. I am only trying to understand its meaning. (Edit: removed confusing quote)

 

If you want to have valid moral propositions, then it is preferable that they be logically consistent and universalizable. In other words, the goal is to have moral propositions.

You are talking here about the preferableness of applying the UPB method. But what I am talking about is UPB in the sense of universally preferable behavior such as non-murder, and being on time, and why such behavior is preferable.

 

The referenced FDR episode does not address my question, but it does raise a new one. Around t=11:30, Stef says that aesthetically preferable actions, such as being on time, are not universally preferable. But in the UPB book, APAs are universally preferable. Is this a mistake, or has UPB theory changed?

 

Maybe I need to explain what has led to my question. As far as I understand, UPB theory implies that we have the obligation to not murder. I understand libertarian theory means no unchosen positive obligations, at least no enforceable ones, but there are negative obligations. To my surprise, in a previous thread two prominent FDR members implied there is no obligation to be moral, but only if you want to be virtuous/good, then you ought to be moral. I strongly disagree. Everyone has the obligation to do nothing that is evil. One of the goals of this topic is to seek confirmation if UPB theory (as intended by Stef) implies the obligation to do nothing that is evil, or if this is denied.

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One of the problems is, if that's correct, then to say a behavior is UPB only makes sense when a goal is specified. And yet, in the vast majority of cases in the UPB book, no goal is specified.

Yes it is. It's to have valid moral theories / propositions. I just explained that. You even quoted it where I said that.

 

It is UPB to abstain from murder, theft, rape, fraud etc. That is to say that it is preferable (objectively required) that you do not murder if you want behavior to be moral (logically consistent and universal).

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Is the following interpretation correct? UPB = behavior that complies with all possible logically consistent universal normative rules. These normative rules apply regardless of our goals, because otherwise that would violate universality. But UPB theory does not claim we should keep these rules, it only identifies behavior with certain characteristics.

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To add just a ditty to Kevin's already excellent response. UPB is a formula for evaluating universal moral theories.

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UPB doesn't really describe behavior so much as propositions which inform behavior: explicit or implicit "should's". This can be particular moral arguments or entire moral theories.

 

If I ought to act in a certain way, the logic that I use to justify that is evaluated using the standards of universality and logical consistency. UPB the book tells us why these standards are used (to establish objectivity) and gives a lot of examples of how it can be applied in ways that aren't immediately obvious (coma test, two guys in a room, etc), and how it can be used to confirm what we already know intuitively about murder, theft, rape, etc.

 

It need not be a written / verbal moral argument. Since thought always precedes purposeful action, UPB looks at that thought (conscious or otherwise). If someone were possessed by a demon and they weren't purposefully acting, we couldn't reasonably hold them morally responsible for acting in the ways they do. And the act of cutting someone's throat might be to murder them or to perform an emergency tracheotomy. Behavior itself cannot be evaluated using UPB.

 

UPB includes within it a way of evaluating propositions which aren't specifically moral. Moral evil describes propositions which if carried out would justify the use of violence to prevent: murder, rape, theft, etc. Other propositions can be logically inconsistent or violate universality, but do not justify the use of violence to prevent (e.x. being late to a meeting). These fall under the umbrella of vice / virtue. Other propositions do not imply any "ought to"'s and are considered morally neutral (e.x. reading a book).

 

The "preferable" refers to how we determine these things: what is objectively required to meet the dual standard of logical consistency and universality. Is it objectively moral, immoral, vice or virtue?

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The "preferable" refers to how we determine these things: what is objectively required to meet the dual standard of logical consistency and universality.

 

If a moral theory is logically consistent and universal, is it then always accepted as valid within UPB theory? Or are there additional requirements? In other words, is this dual standard a necessary or sufficient condition?

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If a moral theory is logically consistent and universal, is it then always accepted as valid within UPB theory? Or are there additional requirements? In other words, is this dual standard a necessary or sufficient condition?

You are missing the point I think. UPB is not the theory, merely the formula for evaluating (moral) theories.. But loosely speaking yes, a consistent (moral) theory would be UPB.

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You are missing the point I think. UPB is not the theory, merely the formula for evaluating (moral) theories..

I know there is a distinction between the UPB method and the ethical theories it evaluates.

 

By the way, UPB = Universally Preferable Behavior. Wouldn't it be a good idea to reserve the term UPB for behavior, when confusion with the UPB method or UPB theory is possible?

 

But loosely speaking yes, a consistent (moral) theory would be UPB.

In physical science, consistency is only a minimal requirement, and to establish a theory, empirical evidence is also required. The UPB book also speaks of empirical evidence, but I have never understood how this could be applicable to moral theories. A moral theory does not predict any behavior, except that it must be possible to do it, since "ought" implies "can". So how can it be tested empirically? Some UPB quotes:

"UPB thus first asks: is the proposition logical and consistent? UPB then asks: what evidence exists for the truth of the proposition? To keep this book at a reasonable length, we will in general deal mostly with the first criterion of logical consistency. For the second criterion, we shall rely for evidence on the universal prohibitions across all cultures against certain actions such as rape, theft, assault and murder." (UPB, p.47)

"an ethical theory that contradicts empirical evidence and near-universal preferences also cannot be valid " (UPB, p.32)

"If communism succeeds relative to its stated goals, theories based on the universal validity of property rights are incorrect." (UPB, p.46)

Why in the world would the success or failure of communism have any effect on the validity of property rights?

 

In order to use the dual standard of logical consistency and universality as the only tests for moral theories, without empirical verification or any other test, then the following would be needed: (in my opinion)

1) Make sure the universality-requirement has not removed any ethically relevant aspect.

2) When all non-contradictory moral theories are combined into one theory, show that the number of moral theories that pass the test is exactly one.

3) Show that moral nihilism is false.

Then it logically follows that the one remaining ethical theory is indeed the correct description of morality.

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By the way, UPB = Universally Preferable Behavior. Wouldn't it be a good idea to reserve the term UPB for behavior, when confusion with the UPB method or UPB theory is possible?

It is about behavior. There's no such thing as a moral proposition that doesn't involve any acting. Thought crimes are not immoral under UPB.

 

It is concerned with "oughts", even if that "ought" is not specifically moral. You ought not murder people, and you ought use the scientific method when evaluating empirical facts about the world.

 

In physical science, consistency is only a minimal requirement, and to establish a theory, empirical evidence is also required. The UPB book also speaks of empirical evidence, but I have never understood how this could be applicable to moral theories. A moral theory does not predict any behavior, except that it must be possible to do it, since "ought" implies "can". So how can it be tested empirically?

You're wrong about the requirement for empiricism for establishing theories. It's definitely a plus, but not required. Praxeology and catallactics are other examples of a priori based theories. Empirical evidence supports these sciences, but it does not provide it's basis.

 

One way that you test UPB empirically is in the same way you test macro-economics empirically: by looking at broader historical trends, see how logically consistent they were in these different senses and see how well these societies do.

 

If ethics were simply a matter of what "works", that would be utilitarianism, and that is irrational for many reasons we can go into. Suffice it to say that it's principles we're concerned with, and in this case, principles that are derived a priori starting from first principles.

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I know there is a distinction between the UPB method and the ethical theories it evaluates.By the way, UPB = Universally Preferable Behavior. Wouldn't it be a good idea to reserve the term UPB for behavior, when confusion with the UPB method or UPB theory is possible?

And get rid of "preferable," I find it so confusing.

1) Make sure the universality-requirement has not removed any ethically relevant aspect.

This is just another way of saying, are you sure you accept all the steps deriving UPB? I think you're just asking for a formalized reiteration. If there's a problem with universality, it should have showed up sooner. Or put it another way, provide one credible example of a moral principle that breaks universality and you've broken UPB. Gordon's critique tried, but failed to understand. His counterexample was "one ought to respect one's parents." But this is not a counterexample because for it to be true it must be true when applied to every person as the "one." The moral agent is always the subject, universality doesn't require us to apply it to the objects of the sentence.

2) When all non-contradictory moral theories are combined into one theory, show that the number of moral theories that pass the test is exactly one.

Why combine them? Or by combine, do you just mean their union can be treated as a single theory? Why bother?

3) Show that moral nihilism is false.

Either moral nihilism is a moral principle eligible for the UPB test or it is a meta principle, just a claim that the whole UPB project is pointless. If it is a moral principle, it is incorporated by testing. If it fails the test, it does nothing to UPB and is false. If it passes the test, it does nothing to UPB, because it does not prohibit anything, so there is no way to violate it, it neither adds nor subtracts any behaviours. If it is a meta-principle, the entire derivation of UpB stands as a refutation of moral nihilism.

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The moral agent is always the subject, universality doesn't require us to apply it to the objects of the sentence.

 

By reformulating a moral propositions, the non-universality can seem to switch from the moral agent to the objects of the sentence. For example compare:

A) For those who drink alcohol, the rule applies: Don't drive.

B) The following rule applies to everyone: Don't drive after drinking alcohol.

 

UPB theory does place a (universality) requirement on the objects of moral propositions. Two examples:

1. The discussion about not eating fish (p.90)

If, on the other hand, eating is moral, then it cannot be moral to eat a cabbage, and immoral to eat a fish, since that is a violation of universality, insofar as the same action – eating – is judged both good and bad.

What is happening here is that it is implicitly assumed, incorrectly IMO, that what is eaten is ethically irrelevant, and therefore should be excluded from moral propositions, because of the universality rule.

 

2. The discussion about the sleeping man (p.74). In this case, it is argued that it is not ethically relevant if we are asleep or awake. I consider this a correct application of the universality rule.

 

Sometimes, not only objects, but also moral agents are excluded from UPB. This is not done in the UPB book, but on this message board, it has been suggested several times that moral rules don't apply when threatened by a third-party. To me, this is a violation of the universality rule.

 

As the situation is now, it seems to me that the universality rule is not very well-defined, used selectively, derived using a weak analogy with physical sciences, and in some cases leading to incorrect conclusions about morality. To advance the discussion further, I would recommend the following:

- Define in a formal way what exactly is the universality rule, such that it can have consensus support among the main proponents of UPB, and that it is possible to determine objectively whether a moral proposition passes or fails this universality test. Whether a moral proposition passes the test should not depend on how we formulate it, but only on the meaning of the proposition.

- Test various moral propositions, such as don't steal, using this universality rule

- Specify the logical derivation of the universality rule in a formal way, using a sequence of logical steps, such that it can be tested whether its derivation is logically sound. Or if it needs auxiliary axioms, let these assumptions be explicitly specified.

 

Why combine them? Or by combine, do you just mean their union can be treated as a single theory? Why bother?

Yes, their union can be treated as a single theory. Why bother? Because theoretically, there can be multiple internally logically consistent ethical theories, that contradict each other. For example, maybe both communism and capitalism are logically consistent and universal. Logical consistency is only a minimal requirement. To use an analogy, if we know that a house can logically be built in only one way (only one logically consistent ethical theory), and we know we must build a house (nihilism is false), then we know we must build a house in this particular way.

 

If it fails the test, it does nothing to UPB and is false. If it passes the test, it does nothing to UPB, because it does not prohibit anything, so there is no way to violate it, it neither adds nor subtracts any behaviours.

As I understand the UPB method, it categorizes behavior by showing other possibilities are impossible (e.g. murder cannot be good or neutral, so it must be evil.) If moral nihilism would be valid, then the neutral category cannot be excluded, and it would be no longer be possible to establish that any behavior is evil.

 

If it is a meta-principle, the entire derivation of UpB stands as a refutation of moral nihilism.

I would like to understand how this refutation works. A quote from the UPB book, in which a nihilistic moral proposition is rejected:

Note that I cannot propose that “personal preferences may be violently inflicted upon other people, since that is a violation of UPB, which states that moral rules must be absolute and universal – if they are not, they fall into APA territory, and so cannot be inflicted on others.)

Why is this seen as a moral rule, although the word "may" is an allowance, not a rule. Because it involves force?

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Sorry for the awkward quoting, my iPad ate the embedded quotes.

By reformulating a moral propositions, the non-universality can seem to switch from the moral agent to the objects of the sentence. For example compare:A) For those who drink alcohol, the rule applies: Don't drive.B) The following rule applies to everyone: Don't drive after drinking alcohol.

I'd say UPB says a is confusing and B is more clear, or perhaps, that. B demonstrates that A is actually about a universal principle. Stef never used my "subject/object" distinction, maybe he has a better way of putting it.Perhaps you can help me find a better way to express my thought. My thought is, universality means that the moral agent making a decision before acting stands for any and all moral agents, and no valid moral principle can subdivide that category. However, it does not similarly limit the recipient of action. The restrictions I face with regard to sexual activity are the same as all other moral agents. But we will not apply the same rule to a child as we would to an adult, with regard to sexual activity. With regard to an adult, consent is the primary moral factor. With regard to a child, consent is not really possible. (This ignores the issue of how we distinguish adults and children.) Maybe there is a fudge factor there in the concept of consent, as children automatically do not consent, despite what words may come out of their mouths.Self-defense is another example, where I may treat persons differently according to the activity they are engaged in. UPB categorizes the action from the standpoint of the actor, and the characterization is the same for all moral agents. 

UPB theory does place a (universality) requirement on the objects of moral propositions. Two examples:1. The discussion about not eating fish (p.90)What is happening here is that it is implicitly assumed, incorrectly IMO, that what is eaten is ethically irrelevant, and therefore should be excluded from moral propositions, because of the universality rule.

So is it okay for me to eat the corpses of murder victims, who were murdered for the purpose of selling them as food, so long as I don't participate in the actual murders? It's not the first time I've disagreed with something in the book. The question is, do we consider that a shallow error, a misapplication of the basic idea, or a deep error, a necessary and accurate application? The book has a number of shallow errors. See pages 40-42. 

Sometimes, not only objects, but also moral agents are excluded from UPB. This is not done in the UPB book, but on this message board, it has been suggested several times that moral rules don't apply when threatened by a third-party. To me, this is a violation of the universality rule.

I think a lot of things get said on the board that Stef would not and need not endorse. I know I've done it. In this case, I think he will go along with it. I can't find an example specifically addressing his, but in several places in the book he discusses the prerequisite of choice and on page 91 he says

where there is no choice – where avoidability is impossible – there can be no morality.

I interpret is as meaning, UPB defines the lines of what is moral and immoral, not the appropriate response to a particular violation. If someone holds a gun to your head and makes you do something evil, you have violated UPB, but Stef would not condemn you in the same way he would if you participated willingly. This obviously opens up a question of degree, how credible and certain does the threat against you need to be before you get a pass? Maybe I am copping out, but I consider this to be in the lifeboat category, an interesting thought experiment that no one will ever face. 

As the situation is now, it seems to me that the universality rule is not very well-defined, used selectively, derived using a weak analogy with physical sciences, and in some cases leading to incorrect conclusions about morality. To advance the discussion further, I would recommend the following:- Define in a formal way what exactly is the universality rule, such that it can have consensus support among the main proponents of UPB, and that it is possible to determine objectively whether a moral proposition passes or fails this universality test.

Do you have a candidate?

Whether a moral proposition passes the test should not depend on how we formulate it, but only on the meaning of the proposition.

Should I interpret this to mean, UPB should be abandoned because it treats propositions differently according to their formulation, rather than their meaning?

- Specify the logical derivation of the universality rule in a formal way, using a sequence of logical steps, such that it can be tested whether its derivation is logically sound. Or if it needs auxiliary axioms, let these assumptions be explicitly specified.

I'd love to have some derivations clarified. I'm pretty sure Stef would say it is a waste of his time, as the benefits accrue mainly to academic types who will not be persuaded in any case. He's leaving stuff like that for us. 

Yes, their union can be treated as a single theory. Why bother? Because theoretically, there can be multiple internally logically consistent ethical theories, that contradict each other. For example, maybe both communism and capitalism are logically consistent and universal.

can you formulate communism and capitalism so that they pass the tests? I see UPB as defining a set of behaviors that are categorized as evil/prohibited, everything else is by assumption allowed. New propositions either add to the set, or do not. I suppose it <i>would</i> be awkward if enough propositions passed that everything was categorized as evil. Do you think you can do it?

If moral nihilism would be valid, then the neutral category cannot be excluded, and it would be no longer be possible to establish that any behavior is evil.I would like to understand how this refutation works.

I read you as claiming moral nihilism is an incompatible rival meta-ethical theory, that moral nihilism and UPB cannot both be true. In that case, for MN to be true, some step in the derivation of UPB must be false, erroneous.

A quote from the UPB book, in which a nihilistic moral proposition is rejected:Why is this seen as a moral rule, although the word "may" is an allowance, not a rule. Because it involves force?

Stef doesn't refer to it as a moral rule. The fact that it is not a moral rule helps it flunk the UPB test.Maybe your confusion come from flipping between treating MN as a moral proposition, or a characteristic of moral propositions, and treating it as a meta-ethical principle on the same level as UPB?The question I have after reading Stef's quote is, where is the clear, careful derivation of all these UPB nuts and bolts? UPb has a <i>lot</i> of jargon and moving parts, some of which are derived clearly from the performative contradiction, some of which just appear in the text as an exercise for the motivated reader. I consider myself pretty motivated, but I have not been able to put the puzzle together yet.

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Found some time to respond to your response.

 

My thought is, universality means that the moral agent making a decision before acting stands for any and all moral agents, and no valid moral principle can subdivide that category.

 

So a question is, are actor distinctions admissible in UPB? Property rights, when formulated abstractly, are universally applicable to all moral actors. But a property right opponent might argue as follows: The owner (capitalist) of property may do whatever he wants with it, but the non-owner (a proletarian) has to ask permission. So he would argue that there are different rules for different actors in this case, in violation of universality. And then we could respond: But everyone has the right to homestead and acquire property through trade etc., so it is not a different rule. But the other side remains unconvinced. Similarly, if someone proposes the rule: Obey state laws, this might seem universal, but we might argue that it is not universal, because it incorrectly makes a distinction between the rulers and the ruled. But then the democrat replies: But everyone has the right to form a political party, and try to get elected etc. Do you see the parallel? So those who agree with a rule, see it as universal, those who disagree with it, see it as non-universal. Can this be resolved within UPB?

 

Should I interpret this to mean, UPB should be abandoned because it treats propositions differently according to their formulation, rather than their meaning?

 

Does UPB treats proposition differently according to their formulation? I don't think so.

 

I'd love to have some derivations clarified. I'm pretty sure Stef would say it is a waste of his time, as the benefits accrue mainly to academic types who will not be persuaded in any case. He's leaving stuff like that for us.

 

It would be nice if one ore more UPB experts would do this. Everyone else could then critically examine it. It could resolve many doubts and misunderstandings around UPB.

 

can you formulate communism and capitalism so that they pass the tests?

 

For capitalism, this is already done in the UPB book. For communism, that's difficult, but if you don't mind, lets instead examine the following egalitarian principle: People should not use more than a proportional share of the available resources. Not fulfilling this rule cannot be universalized. It is impossible that everyone uses more than their proportional share. It also fails the "two guys in a room" test. Suppose there are two apples in the room, then they cannot both eat two apples. Someone might say: but it's not force, but neither is non-violent theft.

 

In that case, for MN to be true, some step in the derivation of UPB must be false, erroneous.

 

I would be very interested to see and examine a step by step derivation of UPB, that shows that moral nihilism is false.

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I would be very interested to see and examine a step by step derivation of UPB, that shows that moral nihilism is false.

 

 

UPB does not concern someone's thought process (moral nihilism).  It only concerns behavior, thus the name Universally Preferable Behavior

 

Here is a very easy way to look at UPB:

 

Universally preferable behavior describes preferred behavior that can be universalized without contradiction.  Yes, there are lots of preferred behaviors, but only some behaviors (in terms of ethics) can be universalized without logical contradiction

 

Don't rape people = preferable behavior that can be universalized (think two guys in a room).

 

Rape people = preferable behavior (by some characters in society) that can't be universalized.

 

Only that "preferable behavior", which can be universalized without contradiction,  is valid as a moral principle.  This is because moral principles, by definition, must be universal.

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It is preferable because it is a concept which contains only preferable behaviors. The theory being preferable is a consequent of being comprised of behaviors which are preferable.

 

If this sounds confusing, I can expand upon this if requested. Typing on a tablet, which does not work very well for long posts.

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Why are there so many threads on this forum which demonstrate that almost no one who has read the book and watched the videos don't understand UPB?

 

I know I don't understand UPB, and I've spent so much time on it.

 

Stef needs to dumb it down for us.

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...are actor distinctions admissible in UPB?

I don't understand the jargon. If you mean, is the moral status of an action different depending on whether a cop is doing it or an ordinary person, I'd say no.I made a long detailed answer to your post and the damn iPad ate it.

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The owner (capitalist) of property may do whatever he wants with it, but the non-owner (a proletarian) has to ask permission. So he would argue that there are different rules for different actors in this case, in violation of universality.

 

He could make that argument but he would be incorrect. The rule is you can do what you wish with your own property, not you can do what you wish with any person's property. Someone would need to ask permission only when they are not the owner or do not already have the owner's permission. There is no violation of universality there.

 

So those who agree with a rule, see it as universal, those who disagree with it, see it as non-universal. Can this be resolved within UPB?

 

Those who argue against UPB are affirming it by doing so, meaning that you can't say it is non-universal without adhering to universality to do it, specifically: 

  • Admitting that both of us exist
  • The senses are valid
  • Language has meaning
  • Truth is preferable to falsehood
  • Truth is objective
  • Debating is the best way to resolve disputes

Why are there so many threads on this forum which demonstrate that almost no one who has read the book and watched the videos don't understand UPB?

 

I know I don't understand UPB, and I've spent so much time on it.

 

Stef needs to dumb it down for us.

 

It's certainly challenging but Stefan has done a great job of avoiding jargon in his book. If he tried to simplify it any further it would lose its meaning. I'm sure if you started a thread asking about some part of it there would be people such as myself who would be happy to clarify it for you. It took me a long time to understand it but that had more to do with propaganda getting in the way I think. The idea itself is actually a lot simpler than it seems, it's the implications of it that short circuits our brains.

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The twelve principles of Universally preferable behavior
Based on the following premises:
  • We both exist.
  • The senses have the capacity for accuracy.
  • Language has the capacity for meaning.
  • Correction requires universal preferences.
  • An objective methodology exists for separating truth from falsehood.
  • Truth is better than falsehood.
  • Peaceful debating is the best way to resolve disputes.
  • Individuals are responsible for their actions.

I present to you the twelve principles that compose the framework of Universally preferable behavior -- or, if you want to, a secular theory of morality. If you want to find out whether a moral principle is true, all you have to do is apply them to the moral principle and you'll know right away:

  • Reality is objective and consistent.
  • “Logic” is the set of objective and consistent rules derived from the consistency of reality.
  • Those theories that conform to logic are called “valid.”
  • Those theories that are confirmed by empirical testing are called “accurate.”
  • Those theories that are both valid and accurate are called “true.”
  • “Preferences” are required for life, thought, language and debating.
  • Debating requires that both parties hold “truth” to be both objective and universally preferable.
  • Thus the very act of debating contains an acceptance of universally preferable behaviour (UPB).
  • Theories regarding UPB must pass the tests of logical consistency and empirical verification.
  • The subset of UPB that examines enforceable behaviour is called “morality.”
  • As a subset of UPB, no moral theory can be considered true if it is illogical or unsupported by empirical evidence.
  • Moral theories that are supported by logic and evidence are true. All other moral theories are false.

Using them, you can verify that the most obvious moral principles are, in fact, obviously true:

  • Initiating aggression (use of force) is wrong.
  • Stealing is wrong.
  • Rape is wrong.
  • Murder is wrong.
  • Fraud is wrong.
  • Lying is wrong.

https://rudd-o.com/archives/the-twelve-principles-of-universally-preferable-behavior

 

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It is preferable because it is a concept which contains only preferable behaviors. The theory being preferable is a consequent of being comprised of behaviors which are preferable.If this sounds confusing, I can expand upon this if requested. Typing on a tablet, which does not work very well for long posts.

Kevin's post above (first reply to OP) gives a better explanation of the sense in which Stef uses "preferable" in the title.

UPB does not concern someone's thought process (moral nihilism). It only concerns behavior, thus the name Universally Preferable Behavior.

Actually, the tests operate only on moral propositions. Moral nihilism can be formulated as a moral proposition. It passes the tests in that form. But it has no effect on UPB, it does not increase or decrease the set of prohibited behaviors, because it doesnt prohibit anything. Or it fails due to avoidability.It probably makes more sense to formulate moral relativism as a denial of the derivation of UPB. In that case, see Robert's post above for the standard response.

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I found this summary informative -

The first two lists contain assumptions Stef derives from the act of arguing. The last list has some conclusions. How does Stef derive the tests and categories of UPB from these assumptions? Are there additional assumptions? Avoidability draws the line between ethics and aesthetics, why is that? What does it really even mean?

a property right opponent might argue as follows: The owner (capitalist) of property may do whatever he wants with it, but the non-owner (a proletarian) has to ask permission. So he would argue that there are different rules for different actors in this case, in violation of universality.

What do you think of this analogy? X sees a mugger rob someone, pulls a gun and shoots the robber as the robber runs away. Y sees a jogger running down the street and shoots him. Are we treating X and Y differently if we punish Y but thank X? Does that break universality, or is that simply 2 different outcomes of the same rule in different circumstances?

And then we could respond: But everyone has the right to homestead and acquire property through trade etc., so it is not a different rule. But the other side remains unconvinced. Similarly, if someone proposes the rule: Obey state laws, this might seem universal, but we might argue that it is not universal, because it incorrectly makes a distinction between the rulers and the ruled.

"Obey state laws" is not a moral proposition according to UPB, it lacks the quality of unavoidability. Also, it is vague. Each of the laws to which it refers would need to be formulated as moral propositions and tested on their own. Or does it just mean, "obey the rulers, whether or not their commands are moral"?

But then the democrat replies: But everyone has the right to form a political party, and try to get elected etc. Do you see the parallel? So those who agree with a rule, see it as universal, those who disagree with it, see it as non-universal. Can this be resolved within UPB?

I see the parallel. Everyone must obey the rule, but the rule categorizes persons or things according to a scheme or circumstance (trading or voting) that is not part of the rule itself.

Does UPB treats proposition differently according to their formulation? I don't think so.

Maybe we are interpreting those words differently. I've lost the context, don't know how to answer. Maybe I was saying that one proposition that does not qualify somehow may be edited/polished by someone who understand the intent until it does qualify?

examine the following egalitarian principle: People should not use more than a proportional share of the available resources. Not fulfilling this rule cannot be universalized. It is impossible that everyone uses more than their proportional share. It also fails the "two guys in a room" test. Suppose there are two apples in the room, then they cannot both eat two apples. Someone might say: but it's not force, but neither is non-violent theft.

This does not qualify as a moral proposition under UPB, due to lacking unavoidability. I think this is very clever, though. Reformulate this with some unavoidability and Stef will be squirming. 

I would be very interested to see and examine a step by step derivation of UPB, that shows that moral nihilism is false.

Noesis started an incredibly long thread on that topic. I would give a link but then my ipad would probably eat this post. In another post in this thread I outlined my understanding of the moral nihilism idea in the context of UPB. As for a *well organized* derivation of UPB, good luck. I've never seen one.

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I don't think Stef will squirm with any reformulation of the "two apples" problem. You've just discovered Economics.

The two apples situation sounds more like strict egalitarianism than economics. Square4 should probably ask, why is the ordinary property rights issue part of ethics (not avoidable) but egalitarianism isn't?How about a really silly example, like the moral principle "everyone ought to commit suicide." Does that pass or fail?

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The two apples situation sounds more like strict egalitarianism than economics. Square4 should probably ask, why is the ordinary property rights issue part of ethics (not avoidable) but egalitarianism isn't?

 

Questions of how to handle scarcity are definitely economic questions. Dealing with scarcity is a fundamental economic question. Any particular approach to answer the question is really an economic theory.

 

Not trying to be pedantic, it's just that a *lot* of effort has been expended on determining what to do about scarce resources or goods.

 

The two apples egalitarian problem you listed was, essentially, "two apples, two men, no one should use more apples than their fair share." If there are enough apples for everyone, it's not a scarce resource. It has an effective price of zero. Why would either of them care if someone got two apples? Are they the only thing to eat?

 

If there are not enough apples for everyone it will have a non-zero value, and the actors in the system will rationally negotiate in their own self-interest to get enough apples for their own use. However, this particular problem doesn't posit anything else other than two apples in the room. It is incomplete.

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Questions of how to handle scarcity are definitely economic questions.

So does that mean they are not moral questions? If so, should property rights be tossed out of UPB?

Dealing with scarcity is a fundamental economic question. Any particular approach to answer the question is really an economic theory.

If it can be formulated as a moral proposition, it qualifies for the UPB tests. Stef thinks "don't steal" qualifies. I think Square4's "don't consume more than your proportional share does not. Am I playing fair?

Not trying to be pedantic, it's just that a *lot* of effort has been expended on determining what to do about scarce resources or goods.The two apples egalitarian problem you listed was, essentially, "two apples, two men, no one should use more apples than their fair share." If there are enough apples for everyone, it's not a scarce resource. It has an effective price of zero. Why would either of them care if someone got two apples? Are they the only thing to eat?

All these are interesting questions, but not relevant to the question Square4 is asking, does his proposition pass the UPB test, and if not, why not?

If there are not enough apples for everyone it will have a non-zero value, and the actors in the system will rationally negotiate in their own self-interest to get enough apples for their own use. However, this particular problem doesn't posit anything else other than two apples in the room. It is incomplete.

Square4's use of the two apples has thrown us off. I think he really intended to ask, can his egalitarian principle pass the "2 guys in a room" test of UPB. He threw in the apples to make it concrete, perhaps, but confused the issue by making it too concrete and non-universal. Square4 wants to formulate a moral proposition like "no one should consume more than their proportional fair share of scarce resources" and submit it to the UPB tests. I claim UPB would categorize it as aesthetics, not ethics. Am I right or wrong?It would definitely pass the 2 guys test. But it's "opposite" (Don't consume your fair share of scarce resources) would also. Or would the "opposite" be "consume more than your fair share of scarce resources" or "consume less than your fair share of resources" or even "consume whatever you will"? Would it pass the coma test? Someone in a coma uses a lot of resources. What is their proportional fair share?

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My point was that no reason was given for even wanting the apples, let alone distributing them, or even for saying that there weren't enough for everyone...

 

There's no point in asking "How does UPB say the apples should be distributed" without understanding the economic situation, so you can see what is forced and what is a choice.

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My point was that no reason was given for even wanting the apples, let alone distributing them, or even for saying that there weren't enough for everyone...

I think the apples were tossed in just to make the 2 guys test more clear, which doesn't work, because a) nothing universal about it and b) it's no longer the same moral principle Square4 originally proposed. 

There's no point in asking "How does UPB say the apples should be distributed" without understanding the economic situation, so you can see what is forced and what is a choice.

Square4 was asking about UPB. UPB is about morality, it does not specifically get into economics. "Don't steal" gets approved because it passes the UPB tests, not because it has beneficial economic implications. We can use the beneficial economic implications as additional evidence in favour, I suppose, but many moral principles do not have any obvious economic dimension. Perhaps you are suggesting that UPB should be expanded to have some special provisions for economic proposals. I don't think this would be an improvement.Perhaps you want to discuss economic aspects of Square4's proposal. That might be interesting, but does not respond to Square4's question and intent. Square4 is looking for a flaw in UPB. A similar approach would be to ask whether some form of the communist credo "from each according to ability, to each according to need" might pass the UPB tests. This would be a serious blow to UPB, not merely because it is economic nonsense, but because then UPB would be approving moral propositions that contradict each other, and logical consistency is one of the primary goals of UPB.You do raise an important issue, though, "what is forced and what is a choice." I think this is what Stef is getting at when he uses "avoidability" to distinguish between ethics and aesthetics. This is not totally clear to me. He discusses this in the book, but I am not really sure what the justification is or how to apply the concept in each case. UPB seems to ignore voluntary contractual interaction, so long as there are no disputes. It is all about exceptions, situations where one person does the choosing for both, imposes a decision on the other, which the other cannot avoid or consent to. So should we look at Square4's proposal as imposing a system on everyone, or as a claim that someone violating the principle is imposing on others?Was I too hasty claiming it fails the avoidability issue? By making it an enforceable rule, violators can no longer avoid? On one hand, if we use this as a model, we can promote any issue to the category of ethics just by making a rule enforceable. That is, if there is not an enforceable rule about egalitarianism, how much I consume is not part of ethics. Can the enforcement satisfy unavoidability? I wish I could say this more clearly, I am confusing myself and so I wonder if anyone reading this has a clue what I am trying to say.Another example. Does "Don't smoke pot" pass the UPB tests? I see Stef as dismissing this as aesthetics, as anyone who doesn't want to smoke pot is able to avoid smoking pot. If I take my hybrid Square4 approach, "don't smoke pot" gets promoted to the category of ethics *because* there is an agency enforcing the rule, and now some people cannot avoid the enforcement. But in that case, maybe the proposition needs to mention the enforcement, became "enforce the rule 'don't smoke pot'"? Why does this formulation fail the UPB tests?This would be a problem for UPB, as we could replace 'don't smoke pot' with pretty much anything. Fails the coma test?We could criticize it for too much abstractness, that the rule depends too much on interpretation of the words of the rule, which are not specified. But this is a general problem for UPB. "Don't murder." Where is the line between murder, accidental killing, and assisted suicide? Not specified. "Don't steal." Different societies have different rules of property (what is unowned, how can property be transferred, when can property be considered to have been abandoned, etc.), so what counts as stealing? All these concepts have some wiggle room. How much wiggle room is too much?

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"Obey state laws" is not a moral proposition according to UPB, it lacks the quality of unavoidability. Also, it is vague. Each of the laws to which it refers would need to be formulated as moral propositions and tested on their own. Or does it just mean, "obey the rulers, whether or not their commands are moral"?

 

Can the same be said about the principle of private land ownership? Do we have to evaluate separately each rule that the land owner sets for visitors, or can something in general be said about it?

 

Square4 wants to formulate a moral proposition like "no one should consume more than their proportional fair share of scarce resources" and submit it to the UPB tests. I claim UPB would categorize it as aesthetics, not ethics. Am I right or wrong?It would definitely pass the 2 guys test. But it's "opposite" (Don't consume your fair share of scarce resources) would also. Or would the "opposite" be "consume more than your fair share of scarce resources" or "consume less than your fair share of resources" or even "consume whatever you will"?

 

To avoid the difficulty of determining what is the opposite or negation of a behavior (there was a long thread about this), it is easier start with a moral rule, such as "Do not steal", determine what is the violation of it (stealing), and then test if this violation can be universalized. Similarly, for the rule "Do not consume more than proportional", the violation is "consuming more than proportional", and this cannot be universalized.

 

To calculate what is proportional, we have to know what are the available resources, and divide this by the number of persons. The "available" resources can be defined in a number of ways: we could take the resources of the earth, a community, or a room (for the two-guys-in-a-room test). Whatever we choose, as long as the available resources are a definite set of things, using more than a proportional part of it cannot be universalized.

 

Would it pass the coma test? Someone in a coma uses a lot of resources. What is their proportional fair share?

 

A man in coma uses oxygen involuntary. It is conceivable that this amount of oxygen would be disproportional. But if an action is involuntary, it is not really your action, but that of your body, and similar to a rock falling, it is outside of morality.

 

Does "Don't smoke pot" pass the UPB tests?

 

The violation of this rule is smoking pot. It is possible for everyone to smoke pot at the same time, while not resisting that others smoke pot. Since the violation can be universalized, I think the rule would not be accepted in UPB.

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Can the same be said about the principle of private land ownership? Do we have to evaluate separately each rule that the land owner sets for visitors, or can something in general be said about it?

 Good point. I think I can still use the "avoidable" issue though. Mr. Burns's mansion is a lot more avoidable than "the state". Still, property is sort of a blank check. 

To avoid the difficulty of determining what is the opposite or negation of a behavior (there was a long thread about this), it is easier start with a moral rule, such as "Do not steal", determine what is the violation of it (stealing), and then test if this violation can be universalized.

I think that only works in the simple cases, where it's "always do this" or "never do this". Not sure I can back that up. 

[...]To calculate what is proportional, we have to know what are the available resources, and divide this by the number of persons.

The fact that this is constantly changing, and in fact changes as a result of each person's consumption (and birth and death), makes this impossible. Does that disqualify it? Does UPB need a separate test to reject rules that are simply infeasible? 

The "available" resources can be defined in a number of ways: we could take the resources of the earth, a community, or a room (for the two-guys-in-a-room test).

Nope, that breaks universality. And we'd better include any intelligent space aliens in our calculations. 

Whatever we choose, as long as the available resources are a definite set of things, using more than a proportional part of it cannot be universalized.

But it's not definite. Even conceptually, there are undiscovered resources, subjective valuations, and fluctuations due to consumption, spoilage, changes in production, technological innovation, etc. It's a mess.   

A man in coma uses oxygen involuntary. It is conceivable that this amount of oxygen would be disproportional. But if an action is involuntary, it is not really your action, but that of your body, and similar to a rock falling, it is outside of morality.

I was thinking more about the labor that is expended keeping him alive.Your statement is an argument against ever using the coma test, not an argument for this proposition passing the test. Pretty much everything the man in a coma does is like a falling rock, so if that was an excuse nothing would ever fail the test, would it? Stef's idea is, the man in a coma is not excused from morality, so propositions that categorize coma victims as evil get rejected. OTOH, UPB does excuse infants from morality, I think. That seems a bit inconsistent.  

The violation of this rule is smoking pot. It is possible for everyone to smoke pot at the same time, while not resisting that others smoke pot. Since the violation can be universalized, I think the rule would not be accepted in UPB.

I think you missed my point. If we can promote anything to the category of ethics just by enforcing it, UPB becomes nonsense. Does UPB rule that out somehow? Maybe if I really understood the relevance of avoidability I'd know.

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OK, you are making a number of valid objections to the proportionality rule. So here is my new attempt, and lets see if it passes the tests now: People should not use more than a proportional share of the land area of the earth. This is a resource that is almost constant in quantity, and it is feasible to estimate with a reasonable amount of accuracy. It is about 149 million km2. Divided by the earth's population, this is about 20,000 m2, which would then be each person's proportional share. The value difference between various land areas are disregarded in this rule, to avoid subjectivity, instead each square mile is treated equally. Any new person that comes into being or arrives on earth is allocated a proportional share; others have to make room in that case.

 

The "available" resources can be defined in a number of ways: we could take the resources of the earth, a community, or a room (for the two-guys-in-a-room test).

 

Nope, that breaks universality. And we'd better include any intelligent space aliens in our calculations.

 

Would you think it still brakes universality, when we apply a rule to all possible areas and subareas in the universe (including all rooms)?

 

Your statement is an argument against ever using the coma test, not an argument for this proposition passing the test. Pretty much everything the man in a coma does is like a falling rock, so if that was an excuse nothing would ever fail the test, would it?

 

It would not. Positive obligations still need to be conditioned on ability, otherwise they fail the coma test. A man in coma does no action, so he complies with all rules that forbid something, but he violates all rules that ask a positive action unconditionally. Secondly, if unconscious actions are not excluded from morality, violating NAP can also become unavoidable. For example, it is possible that someone suddenly gets a seizure, and hits another unintentionally. So this argument is needed to prevent NAP from being rejected as a moral rule.

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People should not use more than a proportional share of the land area of the earth.

Define "use". Land is not a commodity, where one unit can costlessly replace any other. Deserts are not like mountains are not like valleys, etc. Many land uses involve a large number of people sharing or benefiting from the land use, e.g. apartment buildings, office buildings, highways, parks, factories. Actually, almost all land uses create a shared benefit.

 

Do all these objections reflect on the proposition, or does UPB fail by not addressing them?

 

I can, of course, fall back on my standard objection, that probably Stef would claim your proposal qualifies as aesthetics rather than ethics. So, why does "don't steal" qualify as ethics, but this proportionality idea does not? Maybe "don't steal" should not qualify. I could pretty much guarantee that I never get mugged or have my pocket picked if I hire a troop of bodyguards to go everywhere with me. I can avoid having customers shoplift in my store by hiring a bunch of security personnel to follow customers around and keep an eye on them. Not really practical... But how do we draw the "avoidability" line?

 

This is a resource that is almost constant in quantity, and it is feasible to estimate with a reasonable amount of accuracy. It is about 149 million km2. Divided by the earth's population, this is about 20,000 m2, which would then be each person's proportional share. The value difference between various land areas are disregarded in this rule, to avoid subjectivity, instead each square mile is treated equally. Any new person that comes into being or arrives on earth is allocated a proportional share; others have to make room in that case.

Doesn't sound feasible. But does UPB require feasibility?

 

Would you think it still brakes universality, when we apply a rule to all possible areas and subareas in the universe (including all rooms)?

I think universality requires that the scope includes the universe. Maybe for practical purposes we could limit it to planet Earth, but definitely not a room.

 

It would not [make coma test trival?]. Positive obligations still need to be conditioned on ability, otherwise they fail the coma test. A man in coma does no action, so he complies with all rules that forbid something, but he violates all rules that ask a positive action unconditionally.

Stef rejects all unchosen positive obligations, perhaps for this very reason. A quick search of the text doesn't show me where this comes from, either he does it without using the word "obligation" or I picked it up somewhere else. Maybe someone can help me out?

 

Secondly, if unconscious actions are not excluded from morality, violating NAP can also become unavoidable. For example, it is possible that someone suddenly gets a seizure, and hits another unintentionally. So this argument is needed to prevent NAP from being rejected as a moral rule.

I think we could probably quibble with the meaning of the NAP, that it excludes unconscious actions. But you may be onto something. I've always had a funny feeling about the coma test. What is the difference, for our purposes, between a toddler and a coma victim, other than that a toddler can move her/his body? If a coma victim is not excused from the limitations of morality, why should a toddler be excused (or an Alzheimer's victim, or a lunatic, etc.)? (Or, same thing, if a toddler is excused, why not excuse a coma victim?) If a coma victim is excused, then the coma test is B.S.

 

[added later]

Here's a quote from page 65 of the UPB book that I hope speak to UPB requiring deasibility. (I say "hope" because the context doesn't make it perfectly clear that my interpretation applies.)

 

Each morally preferable action must by its very nature have an opposite action – because if it does not, then there is no capacity for choice, no possibility of avoidance, and therefore no capacity for virtue or vice. If I propose the moral rule: “thou shalt defy gravity,” then clearly morality becomes impossible, immorality cannot be avoided, and therefore the moral rule must be invalid.

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Define "use".

 

Retry: People should not use exclusively more than a proportional share of the land area of the earth. (added the word exclusive, because otherwise violating it can be universalized by sharing land). About the other objections: they seem to be about values and human customs, which are not considered objective in UPB.

 

I can, of course, fall back on my standard objection, that probably Stef would claim your proposal qualifies as aesthetics rather than ethics.

 

It is still interesting to know if something is an aesthetically preferable action (APA), because in UPB theory this means it is universally preferable (but not enforceable), and it would be placed in the same category as being on time, and honesty, etc. things that are in high regard. For which purpose are APAs preferable? In analogy with Kevin's response, the goal for which APAs are preferable (or objectively required) would be the goal of confirming to consistent and universal aesthetical propositions.

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Retry: People should not use exclusively more than a proportional share of the land area of the earth. (added the word exclusive, because otherwise violating it can be universalized by sharing land). About the other objections: they seem to be about values and human customs, which are not considered objective in UPB.

Yes, I suppose the point has nothing to do with whether the proposal really makes sense or not, just does it pass the tests, and if so, does that create some sort of contradiction? Well, as long as we are quibbling, now I can own the entire planet Earth, so long as it all qualifies as "shared." And I still have a problem with avoidability. 

It is still interesting to know if something is an aesthetically preferable action (APA),

APAs confuse and bore me, so I mostly don't think about them. Maybe it would be simpler to say they are about good manners and reciprocity.

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