jack: (Default)
[personal profile] jack

Axiology, morality and law

I'm not sure how standard this is? But Scott described a three-way breakdown between axiology, morality, and law. Axiology being "which actions are right and which are wrong". And morality being a set of rules for "which principles should you follow, such that you have correct axiology as often as possible"? Partly from a "I can't evaluate each situation from scratch" standpoint, and partly a "we need rules that let us coexist with other people even when we disagree" standpoint. And law being "which principles should be codified and imposed on people".

And if there's an overwhelming axiological imperative, that can override morality (eg. in general you shouldn't do something bad in order to promote a greater good, but if the good is REALLY REALLY REALLY good and you're REALLY REALLY REALLY sure, maybe you should make an exception and feel really bad about it later). And an overwhelming moral imperative can override the law.

But that it's definitely useful to have a law, even if it's not perfect, and to have a morality, even if there are cases where it doesn't work perfectly.

And many moral dilemmas are essentially, "do you have a precise cut-off for when a general principle should override the immediate benefit in a particular situation" (spoiler: no, if it was codified it would already be a principle).


I assume this is one of the cases where everyone who's read more philosophy than me says, oh yes, that's obvious, we just didn't explain it clearly before because you didn't know to ask. And also one of those where Scott's not exactly completely right, but brings up important principles I wasn't previously thinking about.


Confusingly, this was brought up in the middle of a post about offsets which I thought was interesting but imperfectly explained.

He's talking about when you can make up for a bad thing by doing more good things.

He disagrees with someone elseweb, who says "you can do it for small bad things but not for big bad things". I'm with him so far.

He uses the example of carbon offsets, which is where I'm confused, because to me that's not offsetting the morality, that's offsetting the *action*. If you emit some carbon and then capture it again, I don't think you can cancel that out entirely before considering its moral weight at all. (Whether the carbon offset WORKS as advertised might be a trickier question.)

Then he goes on to say, you can't usually offset morality, because keeping moral rules is useful for its own sake (in cultivating the habit of doing so, in setting a good example, in a stable society), so if you break one, doing more good things is better, but doesn't really make it ok.

But he theorises that doing something forbidden by axiology but not covered by a more general rule in morality, *could* be offset by unrelated good actions. And that sounds like a reasonable guess but I'm far from sure.

Date: 2017-08-29 12:20 pm (UTC)
aldabra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aldabra
I did a Moral Philosophy paper at Oxford and it wasn't current then (but that was mumble decades ago). In particular we did an essay on supererogation, and I think this is an *excellent* analysis of supererogation, which wasn't mentioned.

And I haven't come across it before in random spodding either. But I'm not very good at directed and exhaustive spodding, so it may have been there.

I thought he chickened out of the "but what about hiding Jews" question, where his analysis comes up with the wrong answer by assuming laws are generally good. And he didn't really address what you do when morality is in conflict with axiology, rather than just not going far enough. Should we not have civil rights movements because they damage community cohesion?

Date: 2017-08-29 12:56 pm (UTC)
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
From: [personal profile] wildeabandon
I don't think that "what actions are right and which are wrong" come under axiology as Scott was defining it, but under morality. Axiology is about how we value different states of the world, and morality is about the actions that take us from one state to another.

The carbon example isn't great because of how fungible C02 is - technically if you're taking a plane and then planting some trees it's not exactly the same set of molecules as there would be if you did neither so in some sense you're not completely offsetting the action. But it does look a lot more like you are than you would be with things like people and animals that are less fungible.

Date: 2017-08-30 06:54 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
I think there's various aspects to the definition there. I'd say, "axiology is about good and bad, broadly defined. Morality is about right and wrong, narrowly defined" except that somewhere in the middle there seems to be supererogatory stuff, which I'd say is about moral goodness rather than rightness.

Derek Parfit has a nice turn of phrase: "wrong in the senses of being unjustifiable to others, blameworthy, and an act that gives its agent reasons to feel remorse and gives others reasons for indignation.".

I'm unhappy about "forbidden by axiology"; I think if there's something with as much bite as forbidding involved then it's definitely a moral question - especially[1] if the forbidding is backed up with an implicit or explicit "or else". Axiology can disapprove or say that something's bad or suboptimal.

The meta-problem: too many words, too many layers, too much disagreement about how many layers there are and which things go in which layers, way too much disagreement about which words bind to which things. With considerable effort and ability an author can come up with a consistent model of what things there are and how the words relate to those things, but as soon as they try getting into a discussion with anyone else the whole edifice starts to come apart. Especially on the internet.

[1] Possibly "forbidding" necessarily implies an "or else", even if only at the level of the faintest pang of conscience or something.