Universally Preferable Behaviour – A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics

posted by Nima

April 13, 2010 · Posted in Philosophy 

Universally Preferable Behaviour – A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics by Stefan Molyneux from Freedomain Radio is, next to Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty, probably the most remarkable book on morality that I have ever read.

Rothbard heavily relied on the conclusions of Natural Law philosophers as a basis to mount his framework upon and derives ethical rules, an “ought”, from man’s nature, an “is”.

Stefan Molyneux completely rejects this approach. Instead he points out that there is in the realm of human behavior really no such thing as absolute, unconditional and universal “oughts”. There is nothing in the pure nature of humans that requires that they be peaceful and good to each other, in the sense that there are indeed physical laws that require that, say, a rock fall down to earth.

One more important thing he points out is this: The main task we need to surmount in terms of establishing a scientific moral framework, is not to evaluate individual actions per se. What we need to evaluate is rather rules regarding actions. The problems of this world are not the petty burglar or killer. Virtually everyone understands the immorality in their acts intuitively. The most dangerous thing are rather ideas about behavioral rules held in people’s minds, general concepts that justify hugely immoral acts under the cloak of morality.

Thus, Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) is not a framework for evaluating specific actions, but rather one for evaluating behavioral rules.

Understanding Universally Preferable Behavior

Here is how I understood the chain of reasoning. I am mostly taking this from the book, and injecting my own thoughts where I deem appropriate:

1. Reality is composed of objects in the universe, all of which have certain natures, meaning certain specific, and delimitable inputs on them and certain interactions between them yield certain specific, and delimitable outputs (events). These events are, all other things being equal, reproducible or consistent.

2. Logic is the set of objective and consistent rules derived from the consistency of reality:

- Identity: A = A – An object/event is that object/event and not another object/event. A rock on earth is that rock on earth, and not a tree at the same time.

- Non-Contradiction: A AND non-A is false – A proposition that states that something is a thing/event and not that thing/event at the same time is always false. A thing can’t be a tree and not a tree at the same time. An apple can’t fall downward and upward at the same time.

- Excluded middle: A OR non-A is true – A proposition about a thing/event is either true or false. A thing is either an apple or not an apple. An apple either falls down or doesn’t fall down. There is nothing in-between.

3. Validity: A human’s statement about objective reality is a theory. A theory that complies with the 3 laws of logic is valid.

4. Accuracy: A theory that is confirmed by observable evidence in reality is considered accurate.

5. Truth: A theory that is both valid and accurate is true.

6. Preference is the level at which a human being places the desire to perform an action in relation to the desire to perform other actions at any given moment in time. For example at nighttime one prefers sleeping over running. But on the next morning one may prefer running to sleeping. Preferences only exist in people’s minds, meaning they are subjective. Observable human actions, however, are the objective manifestations of subjective preferences. When someone can be observed running then he is showing by his very action that he set out to run because he preferred the act to that of sleeping.

7. Preferable Behavior: When somebody says that some other human being should do something he is making a statement about preferable behavior.

8. Universally Preferable Behavior: When somebody says that all people at all times and at all places should do something, then he is making a statement about universally preferable behavior (UPB), he is proposing a “universal rule”. In short: UPB is any behavior that all humans at all times and at all places should follow. Arguing against the conceptual existence of UPB requires engaging in a debate. But once someone engages in a debate to convince another person, he inevitably implies that all people at all times and at all places should rather prefer truth to falsehood. Once he starts advancing arguments and reasons as to why he is right, then on top of that he affirms that everyone should base his beliefs on universal standards of validity and accuracy. He also affirms that using the same language as your conversation partner is universally preferable. It is impossible to attempt to refute UPB without affirming it in the process. Thus the act of debating and arguing implicitly and inevitably affirms the conceptual existence of UPB.

(I would actually suggest that the commonly known term “Ethics” is a good substitute for the word “UPB”. Molyneux, meanwhile, equates “Ethics” to “Morality”. This is just about semantics, but it does seem to make sense to me and it helps put existing terminologies into context with this new approach.)

9. Morality is defined as the examination of all those universal rules where avoidance of the inflicted effects of the behavior in question would require the use of violence or considerable effort, for example “It is universally preferable to murder.”

10. Aesthetics is defined as the examination of all those universal rules where the inflicted effects of the behavior in question can be avoided without the use of violence and without considerable effort, for example “It is universally preferable to be on time.”

11. The UPB Framework is the process of examining the truth (validity+accuracy) of moral and aesthetic rules. This means that, just as physical or mathematical theories, any true ethical theory needs to be logically consistent (valid) and empirically verifiable (accurate).

Application of Universally Preferable Behavior

Thus there are in general 3 categories that statements about preferable behavior may fall into: morality, aesthetics, or other (all those statements that do not refer to universal, but rather personal preferences). We are here not concerned with those statements that fall in the category other, but mostly interested in morality and to a lesser degree aesthetics, where we have to keep in mind that the differences between the two may not always be black and white, but rather on a fading scale.

Rape: Rape clearly involves the use of violence. Thus any statement about universally preferable behavior involving rape falls into the category of morality. The statement “It is universally preferable to rape.” fails the test of logical consistency. If there are two persons in a room, the statement can’t apply to both people at the same time. One person needs to do the raping, the other needs to be raped. But then the person who is being raped can’t himself rape the other person. Thus the only valid moral statement regarding rape is “It is universally preferable NOT to rape.” or put differently “Rape is immoral.”

Murder: Murder clearly involves the use of violence. Thus any statement about universally preferable behavior involving murder falls into the category of morality. The statement “It is universally preferable to murder.” already fails the test of logical consistency. If there are two persons in a room, the statement can’t apply to both people at the same time. One person needs to do the murdering, the other needs to be murdered. But then the person who is being murdered  can’t himself murder the other person. Thus the only valid moral statement regarding murder is “It is universally preferable NOT to murder.” or put differently “Murder is immoral.”

Theft: Theft involves the use of violence. Thus any statement about universally preferable behavior involving theft falls into the category of morality. The statement “It is universally preferable to steal.” again fails the test of logical consistency. If there are two persons in a room, the statement can’t apply to both people at the same time. One person needs to do the stealing, the other needs to be stolen from . But then the person who is being stolen from can’t himself steal from the other person. Theft also implies the theory that property rights are invalid. But if property ownership rights are invalid it is logically inconsistent to prefer to violently obtain ownership over property, since it is supposedly invalid. Thus the only valid moral statement regarding theft is “It is universally preferable NOT to steal.” or put differently “Theft is immoral.”

In the same manner, many other behavioral theories can be examined using the UPB framework.

Moral Conclusions Regarding Universally Preferable Behavior

The book concludes via this analysis that our political institutions are founded upon inherently and blatantly immoral premises. The idea that “A government is a moral or necessary institution.” by necessity implies that theft is a fundamentally moral action which, as we all know, simply cannot hold.

The military, a group of people sent to another country in green costumes to murder individuals who never attacked them, is of course also an institution founded upon blatantly immoral ideas that are riddled with logical inconsistencies.

The conclusion that I and many other people like Molyneux himself have thus come to is of course that the only moral system is that of voluntaryism.

Summary

I believe that that the genius in the UPB framework lies in that it fundamentally and flawlessly explains our natural appreciation for the inherently reciprocal nature of the relation between all elements in the universe, and humans in particular. Logical consistency demands the acknowledgment of this relation. We feel emotionally repulsed against theories about human behavior that fail to recognize this reciprocity, but have been struggling for millennia to explain precisely why that is so.

The UPB framework beautifully integrates the economic concept of value preference into ethics. As far as I know it was the Austrian school’s accomplishment to fully recognize and consistently integrate the notion that value is never an objective or absolute measure, but rather a subjective and ordinal scale where the differentiating operator is simply “better” or “worse”, but nothing like “good” or “bad” or “+/- 100 happiness points”, etc. In that same fashion Molyneux looks at human behavior as nothing but a choice of one action over multiple other actions, and establishes that moral rules are not behavioral absolutes, but rather optional statements about preferable choices, the validity of which, however, remains absolute subject to the laws of logic and proof.

It is my opinion that in this first version, formally and aesthetically Molyneux has unfortunately failed to make this book a pleasant read, in particular for newcomers. The amount of terminological confusions and inconsistencies (I pointed out some here), the abundance of repetitive metaphors, the unnecessary repetition of certain established proofs, and the seeming lack of a consistent and traceable thread at times, really made this relatively short book a tough read for me. To put things into context: This is coming from a guy (me) who enjoyed reading Mises’ Human Action, Socialism, and Theory of Money and Credit with great pleasure! I listened to the audio book twice and read the PDF again before I even remotely felt like I was able to ask qualified and helpful questions.

You will find a lot of criticisms of this book on the net that were written by people who clearly had no real interest in the subject and who deem it necessary to immediately jump on all the terminological weaknesses and inconsistencies that this book is riddled with, rather than being curious and looking beneath the surface. Then there are other criticisms by people who were absolutely and 100% dedicated to understanding the book, but who, in my humble opinion, missed the core aspect of UPB: That it is, just like the scientific method, a scientific framework to examine the validity and accuracy of theories, not of actions, for the simple reason that it is impossible to examine the validity of an individual action.

I think that the actual content, the idea, and the conclusions, when properly understood and connected, are revolutionary, groundbreaking, eye-opening and ingenious. Anybody who is interested in the field of ethics should read this book very carefully and not despair if it doesn’t all get to him as easily as baking pie right away.

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33 Responses to “Universally Preferable Behaviour – A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics”

  1. Kevin K on April 14th, 2010 4:57 pm

    “8. Universally Preferable Behavior: When somebody says that all people at all times and at all places should prefer one thing over another, then he is making a statement about universally preferable behavior (UPB). Arguing against the existence of UPB implies, from the viewpoint of the person making the argument, that all people at all times and at all places should prefer the idea that UPB doesn’t exist. Arguing against UPB implicitly accepts its existence. Thus it is impossible to refute the existence of UPB.”

    I don’t see how refuting UPB requires universal acknowledgement of its non-existence. It is quite common for people to accept non-reality as fact – look at any religion. Human preference is not perfectly rational, so it is reasonable to suppose that somebody, somewhere may prefer to believe UPB exists even if it doesn’t, meaning its refusal does not require universal preference.

    This is not to say that UPB cannot exist, just that the above proof is not logically sound.

  2. Nima on April 14th, 2010 6:04 pm

    @Kevin K

    Thanks much for your feedback.

    Let me make sure I understand your point right.

    Your first point is: Arguing that UPB doesn’t exist does not mean that the person uttering the statement implies that everyone SHOULD believe that UPB doesn’t exist?

    I would need an example of how that would work.

    On the next point: I am not saying that human preference is necessarily perfectly rational.

    This one I don’t understand at all: “somebody, somewhere may prefer to believe UPB exists even if it doesn’t, meaning its refusal does not require universal preference.”

    I didn’t really say that its refusal requires universal preference. You seem to be referring to personal preference here, right? So you are saying somebody somewhere might personally prefer to believe that UPB exists or doesn’t exist? Absolutely! But that is not arguing about the truth of the statement “UPB exists”. It would rather be a personal preference, such as “I prefer to eat chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream”. Clearly personal preferences do exist, but they fall in the category “other” which is not the scope of the topic at hand.

    Here is what I am saying:

    Anyone who argues and tries to convince me that UPB does not exist, necessarily implies that, from his own point of view, everybody else SHOULD believe that UPB does not exist, rather than that is does exist. Otherwise what he’d be doing would not be arguing the validity and/or accuracy of UPB. This does not mean by any means that everyone else WILL believe that UPB does not exist, only that the person arguing thinks that it is preferable that everyone else believe that his theory is true.

  3. Danny on April 15th, 2010 12:01 pm

    Thanks for the heads up about your review, Nima. I see that you posted your comment on one of my earlier commentaries on the book, so I wonder if you have seen my more thorough critique of the book here: http://libertarian-left.blogspot.com/2009/04/critique-of-stefan-molyneuxs-ethical.html

    In my critique, I think I offer some reasons for going back on some of the things you’ve said here, but I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. Thanks again for getting in touch, and please feel free to let me know if you think my analysis is off-target.

  4. Kevin K on April 15th, 2010 2:10 pm

    OK, I think I understand it a little better now. You are saying that to argue that UPB doesn’t exist, I must prefer everyone to believe that it doesn’t exist. Assuming that I prefer everyone to be rational (which I do), then this makes sense. But UPB was defined in (8) as a statement that everyone ought to hold a certain preference, which is different from a personal preference that everyone hold a statement to be true.

    In other words, “everyone should prefer =/= everyone should believe”. At least, I don’t see how they could be the same.

    It is also possible we aren’t thinking of the same thing when we talk about ‘preference’. In (6) you define it as a measure of desire for some action relative to other possible actions. I would instead define preference as a measure of desire for some condition relative to other possible conditions. For example, I prefer having more money over having less money. To say you prefer an action, means you prefer the condition resulting from that action to the condition if nothing happens, or if another action is taken instead. I prefer working, because I expect I will end up with more money than if I don’t. I prefer running over sleeping in the morning, because since at that time the I desire the expected fitness from running much more than the expected energy from additional sleep. I’m not sure if this is really relevant to the discussion, but I decided to bring it up anyways.

  5. Nima on April 15th, 2010 4:11 pm

    @Kevin K

    Exellent points that you are bringing up. Just a few comments:

    everyone should prefer =/= everyone should believe

    I would disagree here. Believing something is in itself a preference over believing everything else. I would rather say that “everyone should believe x” is tantamount to “everyone should prefer to believe x over y,z,…”

    I don’t think you would need to prefer everyone to be rational. All I am saying that if the proposition you are making is that “X does not exist” is a true statement, then you are by necessity implying that everyone should rather prefer to believe “X does not exist” over “X does exist”, otherwise your arguing would be completely meaningless, and would actually not be arguing. Even if somebody is from your viewpoint irrational, you would still be implying that it would be preferable for him to be rational and support your thesis.

    I would instead define preference as a measure of desire for some condition relative to other possible conditions.

    I agree here. My definition above is a subset of the one you are proposing. I am applying the overall concept of value preference to the particular instance of action, since my main point here is to relate preference to behavior.

    I fully agree that your definition is more encompassing and accurate, but it doesn’t change the nature of UPB.

  6. Jesse on April 18th, 2010 3:45 pm

    I love this summary. Very well done!

    To me it seems clear that to argue against universal ethics is a contradiction because one would be implicitly saying \one OUGHT not believe X\, thus creating a preferable state of human behavior.

  7. Luke on April 20th, 2010 9:28 am

    Great review! UPB blew my mind a few years ago and I’ve been steadily recovering ever since. It’s basically only gone and solved the entire problem of ethics, in one foul/beautiful/mind-bending swoop!!! :)

    You have an excellent, clear writing style. I think you’ll probably find many people get ’stuck at’ or disagree with point #8 in your review. Quote: ‘Arguing against the existence of UPB implies, from the viewpoint of the person making the argument, that all people at all times and at all places should prefer the idea that UPB doesn’t exist.’

    The nihilists/relativists dislike this juicy factoid. They’ll protest something like, “but it’s only my personal *preference* when I argue/disagree, no ethics implied!” or “well you’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean you *ought* to change your mind!” etc; which is all kinds of dishonest of course, but also sadly logically flawed. UPB shreds this relativism/nihilism to bits.

    Anyway, fantastic summary! Hurrah!

  8. Nima on April 20th, 2010 10:41 am

    @Luke
    Luke, thanks so much for your feedback, I really appreciate it.

    Yes, I agree absolutely. Many people will object to #8, because I did myself initially.

    But I realized that the only tricks one could pull in order to “refute” it would be semantic and dishonest wordplays.

  9. Will Moyer on April 20th, 2010 12:49 pm

    Great and concise summary. I totally bookmarked this for future reference, whenever I need a UPB refresher.

    I think you are right about UPB the book being a little hard to follow. It wasn’t until Stef made some videos about it, like “Ethics Reloaded” that it really started to click for me.

    One thing I definitely didn’t get the from just reading the book was that UPB evaluates theories not actions.

    But UPB — although simple once you get it — is a hard and complex thing to initially wrap your head around, so I don’t think it’s entirely Stef’s fault. I think a lot of the confusing “inconsistencies” or metaphors arose because he spent so much time addressing and explaining concerns and trying to create a lot of different ways to approach the theory. (Like the five different proofs for UPB section.)

    I think a call between you and him about the book would be fantastic.

  10. Cody Dodd on June 18th, 2010 1:18 pm

    Great article! Conciseness is what the UPB book needs :). Thanks for this.

    I’d be interested in seeing your summary of Real-Time Relationships by Stef. Not sure if that is your area of interest though.

  11. alex on October 6th, 2010 3:46 pm

    With you concise summary I don’t come to the conclusion “It is universally preferable NOT to rape.” . Since it only proves that it is not universally preferable to rape. That does not exclude the possibility that rape is not subject to universal preferences. For example it is my preference to eat my pie. But it cannot be universally preferable to eat my pie, since there is only one. Jet is is not immoral to eat my pie, since I am eating it and that is fine.

  12. Nima on October 7th, 2010 12:08 am

    Alex, thanks for the feedback.

    Let me give you my take on it:

    Eating your pie doesn’t fall under the category of morality in the first place for two reasons:

    1. “Your pie” takes the statement out of the realm of universality. Clearly your pie is of limited size. Thus any statement you make about preferable behavior involving your pie is outside of universality.

    2. Whether you eat or don’t eat your pie, none of the two options would have to be avoided via the use of violence or considerable effort. It would simply suffice for you to put it in your mouth or to refrain from doing so, respectively.

    Thus, while it’s not universally preferable, that doesn’t immediately make it immoral.

    In the case of rape it’s very different. Just take the following statement through that same grinder:

    “Everyone, at all times and at all places should rather NOT rape than rape others.”

    1. Is it a universal statement? Yes, because it proposes a general rule about preferable behavior that is binding on all people at all times and at all places.

    2. Does it fall in the realm of morality? Yes, because the option of raping, if the victim tried to avoid it from happening, would have to be avoided via the use of violence or at least considerable effort.

    Only then would you test #3, meaning it’s logical consistency. In this case there arise no logical inconsistencies with saying that all people should refrain from raping.

    In that sense, and only in that sense, can we conclude that rape is immoral.

  13. [...] particular I borrowed from Stefan Molyneux’ Universally Preferable Behavior and from Mises’ Human Action. The flowchart below is the [...]

  14. Nima on December 17th, 2010 12:22 pm

    Here’s another video I posted, responding to a critique of UPB:

  15. Noesis on December 31st, 2011 8:36 pm

    I have posted a critique of this summary (and UPB by extension, of course) here:

    http://board.freedomainradio.com/forums/p/29310/260599.aspx#260599

  16. [...] does one define morality? Do we all have different morals? Is there universally-preferable behaviour, or is all moralising just opinion? These are difficult questions, and will likely be debated for [...]

  17. Chaz0218 on June 20th, 2012 4:14 pm

    Why can’t two guys in a room be stealing from each other at the same time? This seem possible. Both of them must by definition *prefer* not to be stolen from, but the actions themselves can take place, correct? I also feel that Alex’s comment has not been fully addressed. Why does whether or not something has to be avoided through violence or considerable effort bring it into the realm of moral actions?
    I derive UPB in a different manner. No one can prefer certain things to happen to them by definition (ex. being raped). Therefore other behaviors are UPB (ex. not raping). My central question is, how does UPB imply a *should*. In other words, why *should* I act in accordance with UPB.

  18. Nima on June 20th, 2012 5:01 pm

    Why can’t two guys in a room be stealing from each other at the same time? This seem possible. Both of them must by definition *prefer* not to be stolen from, but the actions themselves can take place, correct?

    The actions can take place in a rather bizarre manner, but the point is that the principle that everyone should steal at all times and at all places is self contradictory. The whole concept of advocating theft, that is denying someone else’s ownership of property, implies that you’re advocating ownership on the part of the thief, the opposite of theft. So in order to perform the supposedly preferable act of stealing one has to act in complete opposition to it, and what’s more the OTHER person should not steal from you in that moment, so then theft would be universally preferable while at the same time not preferable for a certain group of people. But that’s a logic fail, aka a contradiction.

    I also feel that Alex’s comment has not been fully addressed. Why does whether or not something has to be avoided through violence or considerable effort bring it into the realm of moral actions?

    That’s simply a classification that I’m applying which is in my opinion helpful. If it’s not, then you can suggest a better one. I mean, I don’t go to biologists and ask them why they named one animal lizard and another one cow, and one of them cold blooded and another warm blooded, if that makes sense?

    I derive UPB in a different manner. No one can prefer certain things to happen to them by definition (ex. being raped). Therefore other behaviors are UPB (ex. not raping).

    What if someone prefers getting killed? Does that make murder right? I think the fact that some individual prefers for certain things not to happen to him may be a good start but it doesn’t ultimately prove why a theory of universally preferable behavior is valid or not, if that makes sense?

    My central question is, how does UPB imply a *should*. In other words, why *should* I act in accordance with UPB.

    UPB is a framework used to establish or deny the validity and accuracy of theories, nothing more and nothing less. Whether you decide to act in accordance with it or not is up to you, in the same sense that you can perform a raindance rather than listen to a meteorologist. Your theory would be invalid, but there are no magical “should” gamma rays or forces in the universe that make you do one thing over another =)

  19. Chaz0218 on June 23rd, 2012 12:24 am

    “The actions can take place in a rather bizarre manner, but the point is that the principle that everyone should steal at all times and at all places is self contradictory. So in order to perform the supposedly preferable act of stealing one has to act in complete opposition to it, and what’s more the OTHER person should not steal from you in that moment, so then theft would be universally preferable while at the same time not preferable for a certain group of people. But that’s a logic fail, aka a contradiction.”

    -This actually makes a lot of sense. I think it is important to not conflate a universal should with universally preferable behavior.

    “What if someone prefers getting killed? Does that make murder right? I think the fact that some individual prefers for certain things not to happen to him may be a good start but it doesn’t ultimately prove why a theory of universally preferable behavior is valid or not, if that makes sense?”

    -You misunderstand what I mean by the concept of murder. My definition was unpreferred killing. I think helping someone kill themselves would euthanasia or assisted suicide. If you re-examine what that implies… Being murdered is universally unpreferred therefore not murdering is upb. Even if you don’t want to use that definition of murder, isn’t the concept still valid? (I’m taking this right from Steph anyway if memory serves.)

    “UPB is a framework used to establish or deny the validity and accuracy of theories, nothing more and nothing less. Whether you decide to act in accordance with it or not is up to you, in the same sense that you can perform a raindance rather than listen to a meteorologist. Your theory would be invalid, but there are no magical “should” gamma rays or forces in the universe that make you do one thing over another =)”

    -So, if I know that doing rain-dances will have no effect on bringing rain, and I do it anyway, I don’t really have an incorrect theory, do I? In the same way that if I say this is universally unpreferable and I do it anyway, I am still totally correct in word and deed. There is still no ought from that is… not that there is anything wrong with that. Am I off-base?

  20. Nima on June 23rd, 2012 2:53 am

    OK, I understand now what you meant with the murder argument and I think it actually very much as an argument along the lines of UPB.

    So, if I know that doing rain-dances will have no effect on bringing rain, and I do it anyway, I don’t really have an incorrect theory, do I? In the same way that if I say this is universally unpreferable and I do it anyway, I am still totally correct in word and deed. There is still no ought from that is… not that there is anything wrong with that. Am I off-base?

    What I meant was you doing a rain dance and believing it’ll change the weather, but I think you got that point. And yes you can recognize that something is universally unpreferable and still do it, there is indeed no ought from that or any other is, so I think you’re totally on-base :) There is nothing right or wrong with an action, in the same sense that there is nothing right or wrong with a rock falling down to earth. But THEORIES about behavior or matter can be right or wrong, if that makes sense?

  21. Chaz0218 on June 23rd, 2012 10:19 am

    “But THEORIES about behavior or matter can be right or wrong, if that makes sense?”

    Theories that attempt to claim that something is universally preferable can be correct or incorrect. I think the mistake that most individuals (including myself) have made is to say that because something is universally preferable, you ought to do it. This (from my understanding) is a non-sequitor.
    I do appreciate your article. UPB (the book) was quite a confusing read even the second time.

  22. Nima on June 23rd, 2012 11:49 am

    Yes, you’ve totally got it my friend, very few people do! :)

  23. Chaz0218 on June 24th, 2012 1:49 am

    Ok, cool. I do want to make absolutely sure that I understand what you meant by “UPB is any behavior that all humans at all times and at all places should follow.”

  24. Nima on June 24th, 2012 3:03 am

    It really means all that I said there. Basically, anytime somebody advances the claim that everyone at all times and at all places should follow a certain behavior, he’s making a UPB (an ethical) claim.

  25. Mr. C on October 19th, 2012 7:44 pm

    The main problem with UPB’s justification is that it relies on the idea that, when one argues about ethics, one implies that everybody should prefer truth. He presents arguments in which his opponent will say that he should accept some argument or another.

    Perhaps Mr. Molyneux has only experienced this sort of debate and is reasoning from his limited experience, but it’s quite obvious once you think about it that no shoulds are necessary when presenting flaws in UPB.

    It can easily be said that it’s not that he should prefer truth or that he should accept any arguments here, but it’s just that he’s already claimed to prefer truth, and if this is the case, he will consequentially (not obligatorily, but consequentially) accept what I’m saying here.

    In that way, there is no implied should. Instead, there is an explicit and valid disclaimer of all shoulds.

    And if Mr. Molyneux simply rejects this, it’s merely an empirical demonstration that his claim to prefer truth was a false one. Similarly to the above, this doesn’t mean he should change that: it’s just a mere statement of fact.

  26. Nima on October 19th, 2012 9:04 pm

    But there is an implied should that applies to everyone else, anytime you make a truth claim.

  27. Mr. C on October 21st, 2012 8:57 am

    No, I’m pretty confident there isn’t.

    I can make valid arguments on ethics that rely solely on ‘is’ statements without any ‘ought’ statements. No one has to accept the arguments, even though they would be valid.

    If you feel a push that you should accept valid arguments, that will be your values pushing you to do so rather than anything implied by the other person. This can be seen most clearly when those values are missing, as when sociopaths are implored to act empathetically.

    And, as Mr. Molyneux and some of his followers miss the fact that the value of accepting true arguments is shown to be missing from them when they reject arguments just because there’s no ’should’ pushing them to accept them.

  28. Nima on October 21st, 2012 1:54 pm

    Would you like for me to list all the ’shoulds’ implied in your comment above? =)

  29. Mr. C on October 21st, 2012 11:03 pm

    Sure, however, let me make it a bit more difficult by removing some ambiguity in the term ’should’ :)

    If I offer a chocolate bar to someone who clearly likes chocolate, it isn’t that I’m saying that he should eat it. It’s that his values will lead him to eat it quite apart from any shoulds. In fact, if he doesn’t eat it or even if I’ve misjudged his preferences, there’s nothing wrong that’s happened in any moral sense.

    If you list any shoulds, I’d like for you to show how what they refer to cannot correctly be thought of as mere appeals to demonstrated merely personal preferences like the above. To meet this request, you’d have to show that I’m saying that there’s something wrong in a moral sense with rejecting what I’m offering (in other words, that the person should accept it).

  30. Pat on February 19th, 2013 9:03 am

    Be great to have you analysis of UPB in relation to property rights or ownership, if you ever had time. Great work thus far.

  31. Nima on February 19th, 2013 3:00 pm
  32. Can atheists be moral? on September 19th, 2014 11:47 am

    [...] act of debating and arguing implicitly and inevitably affirms the conceptual existence of UPB. Universally Preferable Behaviour – A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics It is a argument that takes time to understand. There is a reason it has taken so long to figure [...]

  33. IMP1 on July 3rd, 2015 7:39 am

    > 8. Universally Preferable Behavior: When somebody says that all people at all times and at all places should do something, then he is making a statement about universally preferable behavior (UPB), he is proposing a “universal rule”. In short: UPB is any behavior that all humans at all times and at all places should follow.

    My immediate response to this is “okaaaay… but there surely isn’t a behaviour that is *always* optimal”, but we’ll continue, and I’ll quash any initial misgivings.

    > Arguing against the conceptual existence of UPB requires engaging in a debate. But once someone engages in a debate to convince another person, he inevitably implies that all people at all times and at all places should rather prefer truth to falsehood.

    Whoa there. What? I infer that he implies that at least one person in at least one time in at least one place should rather prefer truth to falsehood. How are you getting the ALLs? Sometimes being true isn’t worth the effort, when you can be ‘close enough’. Nobody’s estimates of PI are *true*, but attempting to make them true is a waste of time.

    > Once he starts advancing arguments and reasons as to why he is right, then on top of that he affirms that everyone should base his beliefs on universal standards of validity and accuracy. He also affirms that using the same language as your conversation partner is universally preferable.

    Again, where is the “universally” coming in?

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