What I Stand For Part One: Axiology

I’ve developed several controversial positions during my 51 years of existence, and certainly over 6 years of blogging. But I’ve also neglected my own blog in favor of spicing up the blogs of others. I’ve found it too fun (and educational) to stay away from the blogs of others long enough to write content for my own. Apparently I haven’t yet felt enough motivation.

Recently however I met a quite intelligent and motivated young blogger who might help me out of this rut. We haven’t yet had many deep discussions, and I’ve only read a handful of his posts, though I’m certainly impressed!

In a post recently he asked if anyone would like to debate him to help provide content for his new YouTube channel.  Link   I thought about this and then offered to write a post regarding my central thesis that he could interview me about for his show. He’s accepted, and you’re now reading the post that I propose for us discuss.  (We’ve done the video and you’ll find it at the end of this post).
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What’s known as “philosophy” might be said to have formally existed for two and a half millennia in the western world. Furthermore what’s known as “science” might be said to have emerged from philosophy three or four centuries ago. While the substance of philosophy might be referred to as “academic” rather than “practical”, harder forms of science have provided understandings which have utterly transformed our species.

But what about softer varieties of science, or the fields which aim to help us better understand ourselves? These fields have remained relatively primitive, and I suspect largely because they’re naturally more vulnerable to the sorts of things which philosophers have been unable to straighten out.

Consider for example the hard science of physics. Diverging metaphysical positions do not seem to exist here, since without accepting the metaphysics of “natural causality”, such exploration makes very little sense. Furthermore note that the topic of value (or “axiology”) lies well beyond its scope, and so standard uncertainty here shouldn’t impact the field. The only significant impediment to physics given philosophical uncertainties, may be epistemological. This is to say that modern physics may be somewhat harmed given that philosophers have not yet formally agreed upon any structural guidelines from which to do science.

A far more serious situation however may exist for psychology. How might we effectively grasp the nature of something which “values”, and yet have no basic conceptual agreement regarding what’s valuable? Add to this clear epistemological failures in the field (given an ongoing reproducibility crisis), as well as metaphysical influences which aren’t always “natural”.

So in these regards the softness of this science should not be surprising. I propose one principle of metaphysics as well as two principles of epistemology from which to potentially improve science in a general sense, and certainly fields such as psychology. For this post however the focus will be on my single principle of axiology.

Observe that before life existed on our planet, nothing should have been “valuable” to anything. And would the emergence of life itself create valuable existence? For example, do trees value their existence? Though some may believe this, it’s clearly a fringe idea.

What about brains? Does such a machine in itself cause existence to be valuable? Instead I’d suggest that value exists by means of something which certain types of brains do. To be explicit, I believe that value exists given brain production of qualia, sentience, utility, valence, affect, pleasure/ pain, or whatever term is being used to represent what personally matters. This seems to be the stuff that provides life with purpose, also known as teleology.

Observe that if this does happen to be the case, then the value of existing may functionally be defined as nothing more than the existence of this specific stuff. How good/bad will my life be to me before I die? Add up my positive valence and subtract my negative valence over this period, and that should be a pretty good conceptual answer. How good/bad will my life be to someone else? That would depend upon how good/bad I cause them to feel. How good/bad is the existence of a given city over a certain period of time to that entity as a whole? Add up the positive valence and subtract the negative valence of each sentient constituent over that period. Conceptually this is an extremely simple idea.

The field of psychology has not yet reached this conclusion however, and I consider this to largely explain why it hasn’t yet developed any experimentally successful broad theory regarding our nature. (Conversely the “side science” of economics has developed reasonably successful general theory regarding our nature, though its theory is founded upon the just mentioned premise.)

One significant reason that the “central science” of psychology has not yet been able to take such a step, I think, is because of the social tool of morality. This is to say that social pressure exists for us to be perceived as people who do positive rather than negative things for others.  This lies in opposition to the idea that we’re all self interested products of our circumstances, as I propose.

To potentially help help take some of the pressure off psychologists who would otherwise be inclined to go this way, I believe that a respected group of philosophers will need to accept a version of my single principle of axiology. It states:

It’s possible for a machine which is not conscious (like a brain), to produce a punishment/ reward dynamic, or a type of stuff which constitutes all that’s valuable to anything, anywhere. Just as electricity powers the computers that we build, and neurons power the brains in our heads, this is the stuff which powers the conscious form of function by which existence is perceived.

Note that while it’s quite standard for people to consider what’s moral as a welfare proxy, my own perspective is quite different. I consider what’s moral to exist as what a given society tends to approve of, and so essentially exists as a mechanism of social influence. As for welfare itself, I consider this to exist as the positive to negative valences which are felt by a given sentient subject.  These are two very different ideas! Furthermore mixing them up should make it difficult for humanity to intelligently lead its various lives, as well as structure its various societies.

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4 – 21- 20 update

Liam and I had our discussion on Saturday and he’s just posted it.  I was obviously quite nervous!  Beyond a  few brain farts I guess it went okay.  It was certainly good practice, and  plan to be more composed in the future.

5 Comments on “What I Stand For Part One: Axiology”

  1. Liam says:

    Interesting post; I’ll email you and we can set up recording our discussion.

  2. Well, I’m definitely going to have to watch this. I’m pretty familiar with your views, but I’ve never seen you make them in person before.

    • Likewise Mike. Given the vast amount of dialogue that we’ve shared for several years, that would be quite interesting to me as well. Not that I think you should feel any need to change your game. It would simply be very interesting to your friends in general, and surely others. For me however, it’s long past time for a change. We’ll see.

  3. […] In the first installment of this series I addressed a topic that’s been important to me since I was a teen. It was then that I realized that each and every one of us are self interested products of our circumstances, and in contrast with our standard righteous moral assertions otherwise. I decided that the reason we deny and denounce our nature in this regard is because “selfish” is exactly what we are. Thus we rightly reason that others will tend to treat us better if we can convince them that we consider our happiness to largely depend upon their interests. Here outwardly denying our personal selfishness can ironically be the selfish way to go. (It’s essentially salesmanship 101. Have you ever met a successful salesperson who didn’t portray themselves to have their customers’ interests in mind while at work?) […]

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