Michael Robert Caditz

Response to William Cronon

Our professor correctly states that Cronon deserves careful consideration. Indeed, to dismiss his work out of hand solely because of how he is financed would be to commit a genetic fallacy.

So here we go.

Please see the attached file, which is a quote from Cronon, p.69 and is a lecture slide.

In the quote, I believe Cronon is suggesting that to say humans are contaminating wilderness is a contradiction, in that wilderness is (ontologically) a human entity. But I believe the contradiction arises from equivocation (a logical fallacy) on the word wilderness. Let me explain.

It seems to me that the term wilderness in Cronon's piece has two meanings which he uses interchangeably. The first sense of wilderness is the romanticized, subjective human creation that Cronon artfully articulates and criticizes as being historical fantasy.

The second sense of wilderness is that of the objective, physical phenomenon (i.e., trees, soil, animals and their biomes), of which a (small) portion remains (more or less) intact as it was before human impact.

When Cronon argues that wilderness is a "product of civilization" he is referring to the former subjective sense of wilderness. But in the predicate of the sentence where he says that "[wilderness] could hardly be contaminated by the very stuff of which it is made," he is using wilderness in the latter objective/physical sense.

But if we distinguish between the two senses of wilderness, the claim makes no sense to me:

The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that [physical wilderness] is not quite what [subjective wilderness] seems. Far from being the one place on earth that stands apart from humanity, [subjective wilderness] is quite profoundly a human creation . . . [physical wilderness] is not a pristine sanctuary where the last remnant of an untouched, endangered, but still transcendent nature can for at least a little while longer be encountered without the contaminating taint of civilization. Instead, [subjective wilderness] is a product of that civilization, and could hardly be contaminated by the very stuff of which it is made.

If there were never a human being, then physical wilderness would exist nonetheless; however subjective wilderness, the sense of wilderness Cronon finds most flawed, would not. Therefore, because the two senses of wilderness have distinct ontologies, they must be distinct things. Thus, it seems to me that arguing for protection of physical wilderness from further human impact does not entail contradiction, because humans created subjective wilderness--not physical wilderness.

Now, let's discuss one sense of wilderness at a time, rather than mixing them together. With respect to physical wilderness, it seems correct that indigenous peoples lived in many areas we now call "wilderness" (e.g., Yosemite) for thousands of years. But the fact that we even can consider those areas as possible wilderness underscores the fact that relative to the impact Europeans have had on biotic communities in a few hundred years, indigenous peoples lived largely environmentally sustainable lives--despite comparatively small-scale practices of clearing land, etc. Indigenous peoples did not cause global warming. They did not deposit plastic in the oceans. They did not cause extinction of multiple species nor did they cause the disappearance of range bison and grizzly bear from North America south of Montana.'

With respect to subjective wilderness, that cultural views have changed over time seems a reasonable claim. Europeans' view of wilderness have changed dramatically as they developed technology (and they possess the metaphysical commitments consistent with using that technology) to "conquer" the wilds. They sought to expand their territory and monetize natural resources while making their lives safer and easier--upon the lands to which they then claimed ownership (over the dead bodies and destroyed societies of the existing inhabitants). Once those goals were achieved, wild nature was no longer the enemy, but was spiritualized and romanticized as an anecdote for the dehumanization of industrialization--hence the efforts to preserve the last remaining wilderness (which Cronon now asserts doesn't exist).

So what is Cronon's conclusion? From the undisputed fact that European cultural views of wilderness have changed it neither follows that there does not remain at least some objective wilderness worth preserving; that wilderness is a mere fantasy; nor that we might as well turn remaining old growth forests into tree farms. It also does not follow that because Yosemite once had indigenous people living there, that it is forever disqualified as wilderness. Nor is the moral injustice of removing people from the land on which they lived, only to bring them back seasonally as theatrical props, relevant to the question of preserving the Valley.

Any comments? I'm open to disagreement, agreement, praise, or even condemnation!

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W.D. Ross's Intuitionism

I would like to coin the term copout objection to Ross’s intuitionist theory of morality. It is actually a variation of the too little guidance objection discussed in the texts, with my own twist.

We might argue that Kantian ethics is too rigid, in that its absolutist edicts sometimes lead to conclusions which are hard to accept, e.g., that we should tell the truth to an inquiring would-be murderer no matter the consequences.

On the other hand, utilitarian ethics seems to go to the other extreme, in that it suggests we might have to perform outrageous acts, such as harming innocent people, if the consequences of doing so will be of benefit to a greater number of people.

Ross seemingly wants to land himself in the middle, by asserting that the agent should contextualize each situation and decide for herself what to do.

But I see this as a withdrawal, or copout, from the dilemma posed by the two poles of strict deontology and act utilitarianism. It seems to me that Ross’s plan is no plan. Why am I learning about ethical systems? I want guidance. I want to obtain a method to determine what the most justifiable action is in a problematic situation. Ross’s answer seems to be, “Figure it out yourself.”

Not to overstate my case, it’s true that Ross claims that there are intuitive prima facie duties which are self-evident. But again, if there are such self-evident duties, why am I learning ethics? Further, that there are self-evident duties seems to presuppose either moral realism (a priori moral facts) which is but a theory; or two, that I have been educated in a culture similar to Ross’s. The former entails my acceptance of but one philosophical theory on the ontology of morality. The latter entails cultural bias, I believe.

I seek a first-hand rationality-based system as a moral compass, not a deferment to third-party theories or phenomena with which I may not recognize. That’s why Ross’s copout disappoints me.

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Arguments in Practical Ethics

1. The truth of the conclusion of a sound argument is necessary (guaranteed), whereas the conclusion of an inductive argument is not.

2. Every premise of a sound argument must itself be necessary, i.e., the conclusion of a sound argument.

3. Practical ethics entail arguments in which at least one premise is not the conclusion of a sound argument (e.g., “stealing is wrong,” “racial discrimination is unjust,” “people deserve autonomy”).

4. Therefore, ethical arguments are not sound (By 1, 2, and 3).

5. An argument which is not sound may be weak or may be strong.

6. The truth value of an argument which is not sound cannot be determined.

7. The truth value of a practical ethical argument cannot be determined. (By 4 and 6).

8. However, a normative ethical argument may be weak or may be strong (By 4 and 7).

9. A sound argument is best, followed by a strong argument then lastly by a weak argument.

10. The best we can achieve in practical ethics is a strong argument (By 4, 8 and 9).

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On Kant's Moral Theory

Kant considered his conception of morality to be synthetic a priori knowledge, much like he claimed are the physical laws of nature.

By synthetic as it applies to morality, I mean that Kant believed that the predicate categorical imperative (which to every rational being is bound) is not contained within the subject (the rational being himself).

By a priori I mean that Kant believed the categorical imperative is derived and understood via rational thought, not by observation. Thus, Kantian ethics is consistent with the meta-ethical doctrine that ethics is a prescriptive, not a descriptive (empirical) matter.

Being a priori also suggests that morality is objectively true and necessary rather than subjective and contingent. In other words, Kant’s formulation of morality is intrinsic to the world prior to human experience and it’s not contingent on agreement or opinion-- and there’s no way to escape one’s prescriptive moral duty as explicated by the categorical imperative. Descriptively, however, we can say that one acted immorally or failed to fulfill one’s duty.

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Is Morality Objective?

I believe there are many examples where given a particular context, different ethical theories would point to very different behaviour as being morally correct. The "inquiring murderer" counter-example to Kantian ethics (see below) comes to mind. Kant said explicit that there's a strict obligation to tell the truth in every situation.

In contrast, several other theories (e.g., W.D. Ross, utilitarianism) would likely suggest that protecting the intended victim as the morally correct action.

My question is, therefore: If we reject all forms of ethical relativism, and we assert that morality is objective and universalizable, then is it not the case that lying to the murderer is either objectively right--or, objectively wrong? If so, how would one determine which is the case? In other words, how is objective morality knowable in the face of competing moral theories?

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A murderer comes to your door asking if the person he intends to kill is in the home. According to Kant’s theory, it would be wrong to lie and say that he is not. 

Is Ethical Cultural Relativism Plausible?

One of the significant objections to ethical cultural relativism is exaggerated. This objection entails challenging the ambiguity around the word culture. Can a culture be comprised of just two people? Can a corporate work environment be a “culture”?

The objection goes as follows. If a “culture” of two people embarks on a career of hacking into servers and stealing personal identities, is that morally permissible under a doctrine of cultural relativism? If in a particular corporate culture sexual harassment of female employees is common and tolerated, does that make such behaviour permissible? The answer is probably “no” in both cases. Therefore, cultural relativism is not a reasonable theory of ethics.

My response to this objection is that it conflates behaviour with morality. In neither example, I suggest, do the participants believe that their actions are moral. They are neither fulfilling moral obligations nor engaging in morally permissible behaviour relative their respective cultures when they steal or when they are abusive to others. They are at best amoral (oblivious or indifferent to morality), or at worst behaving in a manner they know is morally wrong. Identity thieves are likely in it for the money, and workplace abusers likely are playing power politics. Their reasons have nothing to do with a culturally relative moral standard.

If I have overcome this objection to ethical cultural relativism, then the possibility remains that there are at least some bona fide moral standards that vary from one culture to another, and that the model of objective universalizable morality may not itself be universalizable.

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What is a "Brain State"?

My intention is to describe a complete picture of a physical human brain at theoretical point in time, wherein all of the relevant variables are known. From this complete blueprint, in theory, an identical brain could be manufactured if the technology to do so were available.

Now, one might question whether such a complete blueprint were possible without knowing path variables and extrinsic variables that influenced the brain. One may not be able to obtain a complete description of a physical object without knowing the values of path variables, e.g., where it was located previously, or distance traveled. In other words, an isolated snapshot in time reveals state variables, but not path variables. Likewise, external forces might be influencing a particle such that without knowing extrinsic variables, one would not have complete information about an object by discovering intrinsic variables alone.

The distinction between path variables and state variables is illustrated by an automobile odometer, which performs a transformation of a path variable (distance traveled) to a state variable (the odometer reading). Thus, the odometer gives us a more complete picture of the automobile at a point in time. Such information might be valuable in predicting how much longer the car will last before repairs are needed.

The Brain as Transformative

I have a similar claim regarding the brain (although a brain is obviously more complex and arguably more capable than an automobile odometer): The brain has the capability of transforming path variables into state variables; and extrinsic variables into intrinsic variables. The former is a function of memory—events may temporarily or permanently alter the physical configuration of the brain and thus may be retrievable. This is what one expresses when saying “I remember such and such.” To understand how a person would be debilitated if her brain had no capability for transforming path variables into state variables, imagine a person without memory stuck in a maze with distinguishable paths. Without the innate ability to keep track of paths already tried, she would be doomed to repeating the same mistakes multiple times until she found the way out by sheer luck.

The ability to transform extrinsic variables into intrinsic variables is a function of sense perception. External stimuli intercepted by the sense organs transform the physical structure of the brain such that relevant external events might be inferred by examining the physical brain.

Therefore, because of these transformations performed by the brain, it may not be necessary to know path or extrinsic variables to obtain a complete picture of the brain state at a moment in time. State and intrinsic variables may be sufficient (and are in theory discoverable by physical examination of the brain). I am not claiming that the brain retains a memory of every past encounter or responds to all external stimuli. But the unretained information, in that it does not influence behaviour, is irrelevant to the arguments which reference brain state that I will develop later.

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“Free Will” as Self-Contradictory

Michael Robert Caditz

Alas, I have come to believe that the term free will is self-contradictory, if will is understood as Will, the entity inside me which makes decisions. I cannot simultaneously be both free and have a godlike Will directing me. For if I am truly free, nothing is determining my actions, including a decision-maker within. If something is governing my actions, whether that be a voice within me or a deterministic force outside me, I am not free, but rather enslaved.

If I cannot have both freedom and Will, then which will I sacrifice? If I choose to keep freedom and sacrifice Will, how will that look? Perhaps like a leaf floating freely on a pond, or a feather blowing freely in the air—subject only to the laws of nature and the dynamic, indeterminate future suggested by quantum physics. I understand now that Will is not necessary for my freedom. Rather, Will constrains freedom. Nature itself gives me freedom, and there is no contradiction between the laws of physics and my freedom—they are one in the same. The many illusive attempts at compatibilism notwithstanding, the solution is staring us in the face, and is simple: Nature gives humans freedom, in complete harmony with science.

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Absolute Free Will

Michael Robert Caditz

Some suggest that a human has a high, if not complete, degree of control over events to the extent they affect her, decisions she makes, and her own biological processes. This is sometimes associated with spirituality and religion. One interesting website promotes “universal laws” combined with free will and asserts: “You will be the master of your own fate if you understand how these laws operate.” Further, “Most people think their lives are run by luck and co-incidence. It is not. It is run by how they think and feel - by how they communicate with the Universe through their vibrations” (Loken).

The popularized Law of Attraction suggests something similar: Simply put, the Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. It is believed that regardless of age, nationality or religious belief, we are all susceptible to the laws which govern the Universe, including the Law of Attraction. It is the Law of Attraction which uses the power of the mind to translate whatever is in our thoughts and materialize them into reality. In basic terms, all thoughts turn into things eventually [emphasis original]. If you focus on negative doom and gloom you will remain under that cloud. If you focus on positive thoughts and have goals that you aim to achieve you will find a way to achieve them with massive action. (Greater Minds)

There even exists a physical immortality movement, which suggests that through willpower one can alter DNA and prevent death:

Physical immortality is a very sophisticated high speed system and once you change to it you can never go back to the old, you become used to quality and everything else is primitive. As we evolve to a higher life, the death life starts to look like a dinosaur. We have to let it all go and let ourselves be made over to a new way of being. Everything will change because everything about living physical immortality is different. It is a change of consciousness, a change of body, a change of interaction, a change of priorities. I'm not just talking about self-development or becoming a better person, that's just more of the old system, I am talking about rewriting human DNA, a biological shift from death to immortality. (People Unlimited Inc)

Greater Minds. What Is The Law Of Attraction? Open Your Eyes To A World Of Endless Possibilities. 2013-2020. 13 September 2020.

Loken, Camillo. One Mind - One Energy. 2009-2018. Web. 13 09 2020. .

People Unlimited Inc. LIVING PHYSICAL IMMORTALITY. 7 May 2011. 13 September 2020. .

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What is Free Will?

Michael Robert Caditz

Free will is commonly thought of as the ability to make choices which have not been predetermined. For example, I have two job offers. Being a rational and logical person, I consider the advantages and disadvantages of each, e.g., salary, benefits, location, working conditions, and opportunities for advancement. I carefully consider the importance of each variable. I “make up my mind” and accept one job. In this scenario, I believe that I have exercised my free will, because I could have chosen differently. It was not my experience that my choice was predetermined. Indeed, if it had been predetermined, then why did I waste my time and energy with rational analysis? Another example: I sit down at my favourite restaurant and the hostess hands me a menu. I do not refuse the menu on the belief that my choice is predetermined. Rather, I carefully look over the menu and choose the most appealing items.

Behaviour Versus Action

Philosopher Alexander Rosenberg lists free will amongst the most thought about issues: He states that “many of the questions of metaphysics are known to most people. For example, Is there a God? Is the mind just the brain, or something altogether nonphysical? Or, Do I have free will?” (2). Indeed, Rosenberg makes a distinction between mere physiological behaviour, such as blinking; and the action of winking, over the latter of which we have psychological control. The implication is that actions are undertaken by choice, i.e., free will. Further, Rosenberg says that action is what concerns social [in contrast to physical] scientists (35).

Rosenberg, Alexander. Philosophy of Social Science. Fifth. Boulder: Westview Press, 2016. Print.

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