A Quick Inverted Qualia Objection to Richard Taylor’s Naturalist Foundation for Moral Rules

Richard Taylor, in his debate with William Lane Craig, says the following: “You don’t like your bones broken. You don’t want to bleed. You don’t want to be assaulted. You don’t want to be stolen from. Nobody does. That is objective. And from those objective facts, we are perfectly capable of devising rules.”[1] I have a counter-example—from the notion of ‘inverted qualia’—to this naturalist foundation for moral rules. First, I shall outline what I mean by ‘qualia’ and ‘inverted qualia.’ Secondly, I shall show how this is relevant to Taylor’s argument. Thirdly, I shall briefly respond to two objections and lastly I shall, hopefully, show how if my analysis is correct, Taylor’s argument is probably false (or at least subject to an important, defeating counter-example).

Suppose that P (some person) has inverted qualia. For definitional purposes, I take qualia to exemplify the phenomenal character of consciousness; thus, inverted qualia refers to a phenomenal character of consciousness—the felt-like character of experience—not as it normally functions, but as a malfunction (or inversion of the way qualia normally goes). So, for instance, upon seeing a pine tree in the backyard, the visual sensation of a tomato arises; but, upon seeing a tomato, the sensation of a pine tree occurs (Locke first gave examples on these lines). Or, upon what is supposed to smell like freshly baked cinnamon rolls, the sensation of tuna arises; however, when the sensation of tuna arises, the sensation of smelling freshly baked cinnamon rolls arises (and so on). So, P has inverted qualia if and only if the phenomenal character of some experience of consciousness is inverted.

Taylor’s argument can be schematized as follows:

(1) Human beings do not like x i.e., x causes suffering.

and therefore

(2) It ought to be a rule that x is prevented

I suggest that this line of argument is invalid. If Taylor’s argument is to be understood as an attempt to make an ethic objective, the ethic’s foundation cannot reside in human being’s not liking x. Here is why. Suppose that P (some person) has normally functioning qualia and P* (some other person) has inverted qualia. Now, Taylor’s ethical foundation is claiming to be objective, that is, independent whether anyone thinks it is true or false. So, here is a dilemma for Taylor. P endures some suffering S while P*, when affected by S, endures a sensation of pleasure S*. Thus, an ethic which is rooted in human suffering will be arbitrary for two reasons. First, it is arbitrary in that qualia might be different than it is. For instance, instead of feeling pain when stricken by a sword, this might be pleasurable in some other possible world. Secondly, it is arbitrary in that some human beings (in the actual world) might not have the relevant ability to feel, for instance, empathy (given a malfunction in their experiences of qualia). The problem is that when Taylor asserts that it is rooted in human suffering, he fails to recognize that if some person had an inverted qualia, they still ought to be bound by relevant moral laws. But, if these moral laws are necessarily dependent on human suffering, those with inverted qualia are not bound by the laws (or at least are unjustly so). I can anticipate two objections to my analysis.

It could be objected that I am being unfair to Taylor for two reasons. First, it might be claimed that Taylor is not claiming an objective ethic, and, secondly, it could be argued that Taylor is merely claiming an ethic which would make sense out of the relationship between suffering and moral rules. With respect to the former objection, if Taylor’s view was deflatable to subjectivism, I do not see how he can make sense out of moral responsibility. For instance, ‘you ought to do x’ is normatively taken to denote a claim which is universal and binding on all persons (not just some—unless his view is deflatable to cultural relativism (in which case my inverted qualia argument still applies)). With respect to the second objection, Taylor’s argument on this interpretation becomes, where T is some point in time:

T1 P suffers S

T2 Therefore, P (or anyone who suffers relevant sensations of pain) devises a rule to prevent S

There are two problems here. First, this is probably a false cause fallacy (or a post hoc fallacy). It is not a historical fact that human suffering was the foundation for moral values and duties (even if it provided a good reason to want to have rules preventing human suffering). Nietzsche devised such a genealogical history and was still unable to establish the historical basis of his account upon which his critique rested. So, it is probable that ethical truths are independent of persons and their respective suffering. For instance, if stealing caused some pleasurable sensation, it seems normal to assume that stealing still should not be performed. Or, if helping someone caused much distress and harm unto oneself (there are a plethora of cases like this in World War II), it would still be good independent of circumstances to help the person in need. Secondly, my argument from inverted qualia prevents this type of objection in that suffering is not a reliable source of moral rules (given that inverted qualia would change moral rules—and then Taylor’s ethical foundation cannot be seen as ‘objective).

In this paper I hope my counter-example against Taylor’s naturalistic account of the foundation for moral rules is adequate.

[1] This essay (i) ought to be taken as rough and informal, (ii) for fun—essentially, (iii) not indicative of Richard Taylor’s full view in ethics and (iv) merely intuitions regarding his informal quote during the Q&A with William Lane Craig. This passage is found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-basis-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-taylor-debate#section_1 Retrieved on March 31, 2016.



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