Cheating with stipulative definitions

I’ve been trying to argue with Sam Harris about his latest map for how to get from is to ought. It’s a list of 9 putative facts, which are true enough as far as they go, but I keep pointing out that the list doesn’t really confront the difference between avoiding the worst possible misery for oneself and avoiding the worst possible misery for everyone. No one’s paying any attention, but it keeps me out of trouble.

Russell discusses the same post.

The trick is to avoid cheating with stipulative definitions and to avoid relying on human psychology or human institutions. You are supposed to derive that I really, really ought to do X without relying on any of those short-cuts. That is the sort of derivation that so many people want, as its a derivation that will transcend subjectivity or semantics or culture. If you do the job, you’ve made normativity “objective”.

Cheating with stipulative definitions is exactly what Francisco Ayala has been doing, as I pointed out a couple of days ago:

‘Religion and science are not properly understood by some people, Christians particularly.’ In other words he is right by definition, because he gets to define what religion and science properly understood are, and the fact that they are not like that in practice is not evidence that he is wrong but just…that pesky Scots fella again.

Must play fair. That’s an ‘ought.’

28 Responses to “Cheating with stipulative definitions”