CosmicSkeptic on Objective Morality (2): Pleasure and Morality

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This is the second of a two-part series in which I assess CosmicSkeptic’s (a.k.a. Alex O’Connor) claim that he can make morality objective. A crucial part of O’Connor’s argument is that human behaviour is completely determined, so my first article argued against O’Connor, that we are meaningfully free. This article will address O’Connor’s claim that ultimately the only thing we desire (and which we must desire) is pleasure, before critiquing the way he brings this all together into a theory of an objective morality.

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CosmicSkeptic on Objective Morality (1): Freewill

A friend recently brought to my attention a very interesting YouTube video of a talk called The Good Delusion given by Alex O’Connor, owner of the CosmicSkeptic blog and YouTube channel of the same name, in which he was making the case for an objective morality. O’Connor believes he has devised a way to make morality objective; that is, a morality based on ‘is’ rather than ‘ought’ propositions, thereby overcoming the insurmountable hurdle Sam Harris mysteriously continues to bang his head against of getting the latter (an ‘ought’) from the former (an ‘is’). Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons for thinking O’Connor hasn’t succeeded in his goal, hence the reason for this article. Because one of the premises in his argument concerns freewill (specifically, the claim we don’t have any), in order to disprove his claim in its entirety, I will also need to address this notoriously thorny topic. This first article then will argue, against O’Connor, that we do have freewill, while the second article will reject his broader claim that morality can be objective.

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A Few Thoughts on Immigration

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In recent years, the issue of immigration has become one of those polarising topics which seems to have the power to divide countries right down the middle. The cosmopolitan left call for more immigration, sympathising with the plight of people born in less fortunate circumstances than them, while the nationalistic right support barriers and walls, fearing an erosion of national identity. In this article, I will briefly look at two issues that seem fairly central to this topic; generalisations and nationalism.

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Our Ambiguous Relation to Suffering

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Pleasure is good, suffering bad. Could any statement be less controversial, or more obvious, than this? In fact, it is so intuitively obvious that it appears as the foundational axiom for religions (Buddhism), moral systems (utilitarianism), and some areas of science (psychology), as well as underwriting the way we interact with and think about other people. But is it possible we are at least partially wrong about this fundamental human preference? In this article, I will explore just this possibility.

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From Heidegger to Sartre – A Brief Comparison

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Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre share much in common. In addition to the fact that both were heavily influenced by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, while Sartre was a prisoner of war in World War II, he read Heidegger directly, finding much that would later make its way into his own writings. However, despite the similarities, their overall aims (and therefore the arc of their respective philosophies taken as a whole) were very different. This means that these shared themes and concerns sometimes appear with slightly different nuances in the two philosopher’s writings. This article will identify and briefly explore some of these ideas.

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To Be Is To Be Perceived – George Berkeley

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Is matter real? Do objects only exist in the mind of a perceiver? 18th century philosopher, George Berkeley, answered ‘no’ to that first question and ‘yes’ to the second. In his A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, he claimed that esse est percipi, or ‘to be is to be perceived’; a thing only exists if a mind perceives it.

Berkeley’s idea seems unlikely today and even in his own era, he had a hard time finding converts. While tempting to ridicule, especially in the specific form Berkeley imagined it, there is nevertheless the glimmer of something deeply insightful in his philosophy. In this article, I will try to convince you of this.

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Dan Dennett – Self as a Centre of Narrative Gravity

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Dan Dennett’s 1992 article entitled “The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity” (available online here) is one of his earlier attempts to argue that the self isn’t real; specifically, that it is a fiction created by human beings who don’t know any better. The route he takes to get there is a somewhat jumbled, confused batch of mixed metaphors, semi-relevant thought experiments, and false implications. In this article, I will try to unravel the tangle Dennett gets himself into and in doing so, resist his conclusion.

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