Rather missing the point here

California could become the first US state to ban 3D-printed guns after a politician said he will introduce a proposed law against the devices.

It\’s really rather difficult to ban something that people can make at home.

79 thoughts on “Rather missing the point here”

  1. Funny that you could make the same thing with not much more than a dremel, but no one seems to have seen the need to ban that.

  2. I don’t see a problem with having different laws for different classes of firearm, as is in fact the case already.

    David Moore>

    As far as I know the police both here and in the US take a particularly dim view of pop/zip-guns. I believe it’s a specific aggravating factor in sentencing here to have made an improvised firearm, but I don’t have a source for that. The logic is the same.

  3. @Dave that is not an aggravating factor in sentence (which is anyway not in he police gift).

    The court looks at a variety of factors – criminal record/real or imitation/loaded or unloaded/what the D did with the weapon etc.

    It also looks at the D’s intention; it would be hard but not impossible to argue that making a gun didn’t show some nefarious intent (some engineer might do so as an intellectual exercise, for instance) but I think impossible to argue that possessing a loaded Mac10 didn’t do so.

  4. “It’s really rather difficult to ban something that people can make at home.”

    Ok let’s try this again.

    Difficult? No – its easy to ban anything. impossible to enforce? Maybe.

    Marijuana can be grown at home but its reasonably difficult to get away with it as nowadays (in the US) anamolous heat emmissions from your home, abnormally high electric bills, or even frequenting a hydroponics supply store is enough probable cause for a search warrant.

    As for guns, well undetectable home manufacture has been possible for longer than anyone who’s alive has been around. 3d guns don’t change that, just bring the cost down (eventually) so that its attractive to the masses.

    Banning it won’t have any effect – just look at all the countries that have strong gun control regimes and try to find one in which homemade guns aren’t available.

    http://improguns.blogspot.com/

    is a link to a bunch of pictures of “improvised” guns. I use the quotes because some of those guns are commercial quality-could-be-sold-in-stores types.

    Heck one picture is of a haul from an Irish “factory” that had been making guns for loyalists for 20 years (according to the caption anyway).

  5. Interested>

    I’m aware the police are not responsible for sentencing. That bit should have had an ‘also’ or something.

    The point with regard to how strictly it is treated is to do with the ease of obtaining some weapons. If you make it particularly illegal to possess a home-made gun, people are less likely to do so. Some will be put off having a gun at all; others will go and obtain a proper gun through illegal but more easily monitored channels; some will, of course, continue to make and use homemade guns.

    It’s obviously not some wonderful panacea, but it’s reasonable enough to have differential treatment. Clearly, we do already treat firearms differently depending on how they’re obtained: if you do things legally and comply with all the necessary conditions, it’s completely legal to own a gun; the same gun, owned illegally, will send you to jail if you’re caught with it.

  6. Agamammon>

    Does ‘banning’ murder prevent it totally? No. Does it prevent some murders? Clearly, even if just through the risk of being caught and sent to prison.

  7. Well, murders are detectable without having to allow police the unfettered privilege of going through your stuff whenever they want.

    Oh it also has a victim, something that gun *manufacturing* doesn’t.

    Couple of reasons why banning murders can be effective while gun bans may not be.

  8. If they work out that they should ban 3D printers, will they work out that they need to ban CNC machines too. They could all potentially make guns. But the whole it’s not guns that kill, its people thing just zips over the heads of officials in California, the nutty state.

  9. Agamammon>

    I don’t think anyone’s advocating treating printing a gun like murder. (OK, I’m pretty sure some idiot gun-control-nut somewhere is advocating precisely that, but we can leave them out of things.) It was just an analogy. I have no doubt that specifically banning gun-printing or printed guns won’t make much difference, but it’ll make some.

    The main reason it’ll make very little difference in this case is that it’s California we’re talking about.

  10. Dave.
    You really do need a reality check, here. People who possess or wish to possess illegal firearms do not actually give a monkeys about the law. That’s pretty well by definition. They’re required to further another illegal activity. (And armed self defence is regrettably an illegal activity in our wonderful, joined up world.) They would prefer an Uzi. They will settle for a zip-gun.

  11. Dave –

    It *will* make a difference, just that the difference will be law-abiding people will be less armed than criminals.

    Bans on drugs have done nothing to stop drugs from proliferating (indeed they’re easier to get and more potent and in more variety than they were 40 years ago).

    The problem with banning activities that don’t actually have victims is that it really *doesn’t* reduce the occurence of that activity – just drives it underground where abuses and real crimes are hard to detect.

  12. Actually some people who wish to possess illegal firearms do care about the law. For some of them the benefit of ownership is lower than the risk of being caught and banged up for a long time. Were the penalties for illegal firearm ownership less severe more of them would own illegal firearms.

    We need the penalties to act as enforcement in lieu of an intrusive and expensive police force constantly searching your property, internet activity and so on. Arguably the freer the society the harsher the penalties have to be. I’d definitely have not cleaning up after your dog carry the death penalty.

  13. And really, the whole gun ban thing is nothing about stopping hardened criminals getting guns, it’s about not having society so awash with the damn things that they end up being used by accident, negligently, or to solve heated arguments that didn’t have to end in a death.

    The cold dead hands brigade have a point of sorts about freedom, but it’s at the cost of the freedom of rather a lot of unnecessarily dead people.

  14. BiS>

    “People who possess or wish to possess illegal firearms do not actually give a monkeys about the law.”

    Not awake yet? It’s not respect for the law, but a disinclination to go to prison, that’s the deterrent.

    JamesV has really explained it much better than me.

  15. Except that all James is saying is that this will make a society where the guns are in the hands of criminals and law-abinding people are killed accidentally, negligently, or in heated arguments with blunt instruments or swords/knives.

  16. Agammamon>

    I don’t think anyone here has given their opinion on correct levels of gun control, apart from you. The point is that given some level of gun control, it is not irrational to have differing penalties for different types of weapon depending on the differing threats they pose.

  17. @Dave
    A time zone in front of you, I’ve likely been awake longer. In all senses.

    For a start let’s factor out all those who’s desire to possesses a weapon is to cuddle it on dark nights & sing songs to it. They have no intention of using it, so whether they possess it is immaterial. (Although it’s accepted they could inadvertently become a source of weapons dissemination)
    Otherwise, if a weapon is required, it is required for a purpose now. The likelihood of attracting penalties for possession are an uncertain prospect in the future. There’s a simple balance for mitigating this. The ease of availability (judged by current need)/the vulnerability of the weapon to discovery by the authorities. (It’s always possible to stash it somewhere it’s unlikely to be discovered/ discovery will provide no connection to the owner.) Ergo the risks of possession will always be less than the advantages.

  18. @Dave – as is often the case with you, you say one thing, and then, when your logical errors are pointed out, you claim you didn’t say that, or mean it, or something.

    The police *don’t* take a particularly dim view of pop/zip-guns.

    This doesn’t even make any kind of sense. They just send out the lads with the MP5s when they get a call. Once the gunman is nicked, or shot, they simply collect evidence for the court or inquest. The court takes the view.

    But even supposing the cops did take a view, which would they be dimmer on?

    A homemade converted BB gun which will fire badly-made rounds 50ft with a high degree of inaccuracy, or a 9mm Glock? I know which I’d be more worried about.

    It isn’t a specific aggravating factor in sentencing here to have made an improvised firearm, regardless of your unsourced belief in that.

    I don’t know what you mean by some weapons being ‘particularly illegal’.

  19. BiS>

    There’s the risk of being caught, and the prospective sentence. If people are more likely to be caught, or will receive a longer sentence if caught, for any given crime, on the margin there will be some for whom committing the crime is no longer worthwhile.

    “It’s always possible to stash it somewhere it’s unlikely to be discovered”

    But rarely possible to gain any advantage from it under those circumstances. I can’t follow your ‘ergo’, I’m afraid. The (criminal) advantage from owning a gun can often be pretty minimal.

  20. Interested>

    You picked up on something I wasn’t clear on, and I corrected it for you. What’s the problem with that? It’s part of communication.

    “I don’t know what you mean by some weapons being ‘particularly illegal’.”

    In general, that some weapons are more illegal than others – that is, attract stricter penalties. Specifically, in that context, we’d be talking about more invasive police powers and/or harsher sentencing.

    “The police *don’t* take a particularly dim view of pop/zip-guns.”

    In fact, they do. If they get a vague report about pop-guns they’ll actually do more investigation than with proper guns because they’re worried about kids who think they’re ‘gangsta’ picking up the habit of making them. They take real guns pretty seriously too, but the focus in that case is more on preventing supply – something that’s impossible to do with pop-guns.

    Obviously if they get a specific call about a gunman on the street they just send out the armed police to shoot him.

  21. @Dave

    > If they get a vague report about pop-guns they’ll actually do more investigation than with proper guns

    What??? The??? Fuck???

    There are whole national (and international) squads and teams set up to deal with those who buy, sell and use actual weapons. The Met’s Serious and Organised Crime Command has this as one of its key targets.

    There are precisely no national (or international) teams set up to deal with vague reports of kids with pop guns.

    Sure, they might send a PCSO round to have a nose.

    > They take real guns pretty seriously too, but the focus in that case is more on preventing supply

    What??? TF again

    I can just imagine a TITAN DCI briefing his troops – Lads, we’re not really worried about the firearms that are already here, what we’re all about is stopping any more coming in. And next week, I’ll be driving a Volvo V70 up and down the M6.

    Added to which, the phrase ‘more illegal than others’ is a ridiculous oxymoron.

    You’re talking bollocks, I’m afraid.

  22. Dave, what you’re repeatedly failing to appreciate is the judgements made are by the people who make the judgements, not you. They don’t need to make sense to you.

    On another matter. But relevant.
    In a recent thread, you seemed to be surprised to find me as someone who is what you describe as a ‘moral relativist’. Anyone who has much to do with different cultures is wise to be. My companion here would kill you, or indeed me, as a matter of expediency. She wouldn’t see it much of a moral issue, unless it was in relation to her rather different views of morality. That’s the culture she grew up in. If we go & live there, it’s a fact I will be wise to recognise. Morals do not travel well.

  23. Interested>

    Since you seem entirely unable to understand anything I say, whether that’s my fault or yours there’s little point me replying. Perhaps it would help matters if you stopped picking random phrases and responding to them entirely out of context. Normally people quote a few words to show what they’re responding to, but it seems those bits are all you’re remembering by the time you’ve copied and pasted them.

    BiS>

    “Dave, what you’re repeatedly failing to appreciate is the judgements made are by the people who make the judgements, not you.”

    You might as well say the same about someone describing marginal utility. In fact, this basically is marginal utility, only the price is the risk of prison rather than money.

    On the subject of moral relativism, I was more surprised than anything else. It seems out of character. What you describe, though, just sounds like you don’t know the difference between right and wrong.

    Would you say – Godwin alert – that pushing people into the gas chambers at Auschwitz was not wrong because it was acceptable under the prevailing culture?

  24. There’s been a staggering amount of incoherent handwaving in the mainstream media’s reporting of this development.

    But then that’s par for the course when it comes to 3-D printing. The mainstream media’s bespoke position is incoherent, ill informed and hysterical handwaving.

    3-D printing will undoubtedly change a lot of things, but until somebody comes up with a way of 3-D printing the ammunition, firearm production is not likely to be one of them. And, if you look at the comments on a great many gun aficionados sites, these devices are likely to be for the foreseeable future dependent on components that can’t be 3-D printed and quite dangerous to the user.

  25. Of course people will still get killed with blunt instruments, but fewer people will get unnecessarily killed in societies with fewer guns.

    Really I’d have expected a better understanding of marginal effects here. Sure, by controlling firearm ownership we can neither eliminate illegal firearm ownership or deaths from either firearms or blunt instruments, but we can reduce them thus. That’s a benefit. The costs are some reduction in freedom to own firearms and possibly some people suffer some crimes that would have been deterred by the wielding of a firearm. Question is simply whether the benefit is worth more than the cost. And to me the individual freedom to go about not being threatened by a society awash with guns wins over the freedom to own guns.

  26. @Dave – I’m not picking anything out of context.

    You said – and it’s there in black and white, you dummy – that the police do more investigation re a vague report of pop guns than ‘proper’ ones, and that most of the effort as regards proper weapons is aimed at stopping importing.

    I pointed out this was bollocks, and why.

    This is rather typical of your MO. You make an insupportable argument, in confused terms, and walk away when proved wrong. Way to go!

  27. @ JamesV

    > And to me the individual freedom to go about not being threatened by a society awash with guns wins over the freedom to own guns.

    That argument works here in the UK, where weapons are fairly rare. It doesn’t work in the USA where they aren’t. The horse has bolted there, I think.

  28. Dave
    Marginal utility can only be correctly assessed by the one utilising the margin. All else is speculation.

    I’d never dream of trying to define what’s universally right or wrong. They’re not concepts that can be considered in isolation from circumstances.

  29. This is all rather likely to end in Darwinism. You’ve built yourself a magnum. Slide the round into the imperfect chamber of your printed plastic revolver, and pull the trigger.

    Your starter for 10.

    What happens next?

  30. I’ve given considerable though to using 3D printers to producing working firearms. There are actually two routes which utilise the 3D printer’s benefits. Providing an ability to manufacture objects without necessarily having the required skills to do so.
    1) is the wholly 3D printed weapon. It’s probably possible to design & manufacture, but the design does have to derive from the inherent advantages of the printing technology. Not be an attempt to replicate something derived from conventional tech. It won’t produce assault rifles but it might produce a short range lethal weapon.
    Route 2) involves using 3D printing as part of the manufacturing process. A gun is essentially a tube with a bullet in it. The only technical requirement is to select the correct tube & insert the cartridge. It’s manufacturing the firing mechanism that’s challenging. Being able to directly print that or use printing as part of the manufacturing process greatly simplifies the procedure.
    In the latter route, laws about what can & cannot be printed are going to be bugger all use. The firing mechanism on a gun isn’t a unique design. There’s dozens of designs, for all sorts or common articles, use exactly the same principles.

  31. The most interesting – or problematic – thing about 3D printed guns is the fact that they are made of plastic.

    I can’t see anyone with access to a decent revolver, never mind a Glock/Sig whatever, ever wanting one.

    Maybe in 25 years’ time, when they are as reliable, the lightness etc.

    But in the meantime, if you want to get on board an aircraft or into somewhere else fitted with metal detection equipment, and you don’t mind much about range or stopping power per round fired, and there’s more than one of you to carry disassembled parts aboard (shape recognition being a major factor in modern scanners), I can see the point.

  32. by and large it’s not that hard to make a firearm if you want one. The sten gun was made out of a pipe and a bedspring and famously only took five man hours to make. What stops most peopls doing is is presumbly that it’s less hassle, if you are the kind of person to whom the risk of five years’ imprisonment is worth it in order to own one, to just buy one from your mate. Even in the UK you wouldn’t need to work too hard to convert a decommissioned weapon.

    I submit that the kind of person who has access to a 3D printer and would like a 3D gun is less of a problem to society than the kind of person who would like a Tec-9 and knows a man who sells them.

  33. “The costs are some reduction in freedom to own firearms and possibly some people suffer some crimes that would have been deterred by the wielding of a firearm. Question is simply whether the benefit is worth more than the cost. And to me the individual freedom to go about not being threatened by a society awash with guns wins over the freedom to own guns.”

    Sources? Facts? Anything aside from your prejudices? For it seems to me that you value your freedom to go about unthreatened by guns a lot more importantly than the freedom of people “who suffer some crime” (obviously unimportant ones, although actually suffered) because they cannot defend themselves. I have been in the USA a fair few times, I have even lived there a year or so, but not once have I felt threatened whilst walking about.

    Many more people are likely to die in swimming pools accident.

  34. @ interested, there is still the small problem of the ammunition to smuggle onboard.

    Then again, a few cutters can also be enough to accomplish the same thing.

  35. It’s really rather difficult to ban something that people can make at home.

    Explosives, drugs, kiddie porn.

    There’s a continuing naive idea that technology can overwhelm the law by making it unenforcable. “The internet will route around censorship” and all that. What people seem to fail to understand is that the law doesn’t stop people doing things. It just imposes a penalty if they’re caught. The law doesn’t stop me killing someone. It just punishes me if I do, and they find out I’ve done it.

    In the case of easily manufactured/distributed goods which are declared internal contraband, that means that millions do them, and some few are caught, and made an example of. Hence, it is a kind of lottery. I smoked some dope as a young ‘un. I thought the chance of getting caught was small, and I never was caught. That’s how it works, or doesn’t work, take your pick. The capacity to do something does not negate the law enforcing it.

  36. Dave @27

    Would you say – Godwin alert – that pushing people into the gas chambers at Auschwitz was not wrong because it was acceptable under the prevailing culture?

    “Was not wrong” under whose moral system? Under the current one in our culture, it is wrong. Under the one prevalent in Nazi Germany, it wasn’t. You seeem to be implying that there is some sort of objective “right and wrong” that can give us an objective answer on the matter, and we know that there is no such thing, something which philosophers at least have known since at least David Hume.

  37. James V:

    You ARE in a land awash with guns. Its just that the political scum control them all and you don’t meet them usually if you are a good little lad.

    Leaving aside obvious stuff like being shot because you are carrying a chair leg –say you decide that you have paid enough council tax and will pay no more. You ignore the paperwork that arrives. Soon a couple of bluebottles turn up to install you in the states zoo. In your life–what’s the line–you have developed a particular set of skills–and you put both rozzers in hospital . Next time 12-14 turn up. You are Kwai Chang James V and you put all of them in hospital for a good long stay. The next lot will have guns. That is how it works.

    You can say, fine, rule of law and all that. But with political scum things don’t stay stable. The state attracts the very worst elements humanity has to offer. Soon or later they decide that they want more of your money or your freedoms than you want to lose. Sooner or later they try to solve problems by getting rid of people they don’t want or whom they can blame for the mess the polits themselves have made. Sometimes they want rid of millions. It is then you really find out what it means for them to have the means to kill when you don’t. Millions have found out–for the little time they lived after the state brought them that knowledge.

  38. @Monoi

    Easier to get the rounds aboard than the weapon.

    Part-ceramic, secreted somewhere smelly, would be a start…

    I used to think this sort of thing was out of the reach of the obvious terrorists, but with State-sponsorship, and technological improvements etc who knows.

  39. Ian B’s claim that philosophers are all Moral Relativists, and have been since Hume, is very far from the truth.

  40. Actually JamesV is in a land awash with guns even if you only count the ones in private hands.

    Firearms last a long time and recent estimates put the number of unregistered guns in Europe way above the number of registered guns. Particularly in Germany, where I believe JamesV is based.

  41. @PaulB:

    I read Ian B’s comment as stating that philosophers have been aware of the concept of Moral Relativism since the time of Hume, not that every philosopher since then has personally subscribed to the view, which would be an obviously stupid thing to say.

  42. PaulB

    I didn’t say that. I said that philosophers have known about moral subjectivism since Hume. There have been occasional attempts to get round it, (John Searle tried, Ayn Rand tried), but none have succeeded.

    There’s a very simple answer to those who want to be moral objectivists; just ask them to derive their moral system (whatever it is) from some objective basis. They never can. It’s impossible.

    What people tend to do as a dishonest way around it is to pick something or other that most everyone (or at least their audience) find repugnant- nazi gas chambers are very popular here- and use that as a basis from which to argue “therefore there is an objective moral standard because we all agree about this”. This doesn’t actually answer the point, but among dishonest debaters can be enough to win the day, on emotional grounds.

  43. Ian B, is your statement that there is no objective basis for morality a subjective or an objective statement?

    If the latter, please provide logical proof.

  44. An objective one. Properly stated, Hume’s Law ought to read something like

    “There are no objective facts about values, except this one”.

  45. @Ian
    There was a bloke I met many years ago, put that ever popular “nazi gas chambers” argument into context. He was a guard at a concentration camp. But, as a Lithuanian POW captured with the Red Army (into which he’d been impressed after capture by the Soviets), he had a very limited choice. It amounted to which side of that piece of wire he preferred to be.
    I couldn’t even attempt to fathom the rights & wrongs of that one.
    He was fortunate/unfortunate enough to die before the ‘war crimes’ circus got round to him, after spending much of the post war years as a miner in the UK pits.
    As Kurt Vonnegut said “so it goes”

  46. IanB: ethics is a large and difficult field. I think that most philosphers would accept that they cannot produce a formula which distinguishes right from wrong by pure reason, but they would not conclude that morality is therefore purely subjective, as you seem to imply. Most philosophers would, I think, say that the Nazi gas chambers were wrong, and not just as a subjective judgement.

  47. Most philosophers would, I think, say that the Nazi gas chambers were wrong, and not just as a subjective judgement.

    Objectively? How do they derive that? Where from? Personal taste?

    In which case, it’s subjective.

    Also, bear in mind that probably the most common value in human ethics prior to the modern era has been, “it is immoral to kill members of your own tribe but positively encouraged to kill members of competing tribes”. And steal their stuff. And those women sufficiently desirable for rape, slavery, wifery or concubinage.

    What we’re interested in is where these “most philosophers” can get “Nazi gas chambers are wrong” from, in an objective manner, regardless of how they may *feel* on the subject. Because that is the basic Humean point; that our ethics derive from our feelings (“sentiments” in the language of his time) not from some external objective standard.

  48. *There are no objective facts about values, except this one*

    OK, prove it. And no black swan arguments that no one has been able to to provide a logical basis for morality.

  49. Luke, you want me to prove a negative?

    You know that fallacy, right?

    It’s the responsibility of that person who asserts an objective morality to demonstrate where they have derived it from, as with anyone making any positive assertion. Nobody can spend an eternity disproving an infinitude of erroneous claims. All that a moral objectivist has to do is prove *one* claim.

    If you can’t do so (which I know you can’t), I winz.

  50. We’re not going to solve Ethics here. But on the epistemological question: it’s a big jump from “X is not proven” to “X is false”, and Ian is not justified in taking it.

  51. Ian, do you advance libertarianism as morally superior to the alternatives? If so, on what basis? If not, why are you a libertarian?

  52. Maybe it’s easier then to reduce the pithiness of the assertion to, “No X is proven, and no X can be proven”.

    You only need to show one instance in which an ethical standard is imbedded somewhere in nature to win this, Paul. Any suggestions?

  53. Edward,

    Personal sentiment. I would prefer a freer society. Other people would prefer a more authoritarian one. I can’t prove them wrong, and don’t even try. I don’t think my preference is morally superior. It’s just my preference, and I do my best to convince others to share it. That’s all.

  54. Ian, fair enough, but on what basis do you try to convince others given that I know you eschew (and for a libertarian I think this is tactically correct) utilitarian or pragmatic arguments?

  55. Ian B

    “Luke, you want me to prove a negative?

    You know that fallacy, right?”

    I am not certain if that is a fallacy or not. You certainly cannot know whether or not I know that it is a fallacy (assuming it is, which I do not know).

    I will accept it is often difficult to prove a negative. But if you are asserting that is objectively impossible to prove a negative, you are yourself making a positive assertion. You can probably guess what is coming next. Please prove that you cannot prove a negative.

    I promise I’ll stop if you answer, whether or not I agree.

  56. @monoi, it’s an opinion, a view. An argument based on the costs and benefits of action (banning stuff) weighed up against the costs and benefits of inaction (not banning stuff).

    I’m well aware there are plenty who disagree with my view, but it’s worrying that a lot (not all) of those who do reach an opposing conclusion by considering only the costs of banning and the benefits of not banning.

  57. And being an opinion, and your having requested a citation, I refer you to the cognitive processes taking place in my frontal lobes.

  58. Monoi, James V. I do not have stats at my finger tips, and can’t be bothered to look them up, but doesn’t the US support both your points?

    Relatively low rates of crime compared with similar but less gunned up places, but lots more homicides. Some being murders, and/or accidents to children, but some being hunting accidents or suicides, which are much easier to justify as a cost of freedom. The natives seem to accept a few deaths as being worth it, though they differ on how many (no one is trying to introduce British style gun laws).

    My own (evidence free) view is that the US is a staggeringly law abiding country (they only cross the road when the green man shows) and that explains both the low crime rate and why they have a surprisingly low death rate considering the number of guns. We should all be marvelling at how few Americans get shot, not why so many do. Ditto Switzerland.

  59. Luke,

    This stuff really is very hard to explain in an argumentative setting, since the other person (that’s you that is) isn’t interested in the truth of the matter, but in winning (or at least not losing) the argument. But I’ll try.

    The best way perhaps to look at it is that ethics (“oughts”) inherently imply goal direction; i.e. they are purposive. But we know that nature is not purposive. It simply is and has no “ought” about it. It simply exists.

    People define purpose in terms of a context. If we ask, what is this machine for?, we are asking what service it provides to something else. A contraption whose wheels merely spin around is serving no purpose or goal [1]. But the universe has no external context, and thus nature (that which the universe is) has no external context. It thus cannot be described as purposive.

    Faith offers a way out; the universe’s purpose is defined by God, and thus that which is ethical is that which serves God’s purpose. This served as the basis of ethics for many centuries. However, we now face the question of God’s purpose and, since He has no external context, we find that God is not purposive either; therefore his own purpose and thus ethics are arbitrary, and we are back where we started.

    If the greater thing is not purposive, the parts thereof cannot be purposive either (the thing that spins the shaft that turns the wheels that makes them spin). Mankind is part of the universe (nature) and thus cannot be purposive either, and thus cannot have an objective ethics, but merely local preferences to himself. Thus we know that the reason that no objective ethics has never been discovered is that it is inherently impossible. Even if a purpose were discovered by the proven existence of God, we are forced to realise that God Himself is just spinning his wheels.

    If it’s of interest, I myself don’t much like this. Like untold numbers of others, I once spent much effort trying to prove that my ethical preferences can somehow be proven superior to those of others, and was rather saddened to finally reach the point of realising that this is just impossible. None of us like the idea that there is no meaning of life. But that’s just how it is.

    All we have is the is.

    [1] Its purpose may be of course entertainment or aesthetics. This is still serving an external context.

  60. Ian>

    It’s trivial to postulate an objective standard of morality. It might be a stupid standard of morality, but it’s easy enough to do.

    You appear to be engaged in an argument much the same as ‘I can’t prove I’m not imagining anything’, except that you’re going for ‘I can’t prove anything is right or wrong’. Those lines of argument have always struck me as intellectual wanking.

    Perhaps I’m missing something. How would you define true and false, in the objective sense you mean?

    If we talk about a mathematical proof, or a hammer, as being better or worse, what do we mean by it? That it’s more or less fit for purpose. So what’s the purpose* of morality? Only if it serves none can it have no objective basis.

    (*Purpose may be the wrong word there. I’m talking about why we have it.)

  61. Ian B, The problem with self made rule that I would stop winding you up is that I can neither agree or disagree with your response. I can however thank you for taking the time to give a considered answer. So thank you.

  62. “If the greater thing is not purposive, the parts thereof cannot be purposive either”

    Eh? So a hammer has no purpose because god doesn’t exist? I must have misunderstood what you mean there, because it seems obvious to me that the purpose of a hammer is to increase the efficiency of hitting things, but not obvious from that that god exists and has a purpose – and yet if the hammer’s not to be an object with a purpose in a universe without a purpose, then that must be so.

  63. Dave,

    No, I actually said that the hammer has no purpose even if God exists. It is the distinction between having a purpose in the objective, universal sense compared to the local, subjective sense.

    It has purpose to the man because he has a subjective desire to hit something, for his subjective purposes. But that is as far as you can go.

  64. Perhaps I’m missing something. How would you define true and false, in the objective sense you mean?

    Because that is the nature of facts. A statement about reality either is, or is not, true. “The Earth orbits the Sun” is true, “The Earth orbits Venus” is not true. One is true, the other false.

    This presumes certain assumptions; primarily that the universe exists and you are not a brain in a jar, experiencing artificial reality, for instance. If that is the actual truth, we must qualify our statements with “within the artifical reality, X is true and Y is false”.

    This is Hume’s basic point. You can make objective statements about nature. You can’t jump from there- what is– to what ought to be.

  65. “A statement about reality either is, or is not, true.”

    That’s not a definition of truth, though. I’m interested to see how you’ll define it in a way that is non-subjective according to what you’ve been saying.

    “[A hammer] has purpose to the man because he has a subjective desire to hit something, for his subjective purposes. But that is as far as you can go.”

    I really don’t follow the distinction you’re drawing between subjective and objective, there. The man doesn’t even have to exist for a hammer to be a tool for hitting things with. What is a tool, if not an item for achieving a purpose?

    ” You can make objective statements about nature.”

    Like ‘morality is a tool used by humanity’? (That may be untrue, but it’s objective.)

    If morality serves a purpose, then it’s a tool just like a hammer. To say that something is good or bad is to say that it’s morally correct or incorrect, where moral correctness would mean furthering the purpose of morality.

    If, as I’d say, morality serves a similar purpose in society to money – something that enables us to live and work together in large groups so we all get richer – then it’s obvious that anything which furthers that purpose is good, and anything which works against it is bad.

  66. Dave
    Go back to your hammer for a second. We can all agree a hammer is a hammer & what it does. Or can we? I can think of a tradesman’s toolbox that would contain an implement you would be very unlikely to recognise. But it is in fact a hammer & that’s what its user calls it. Conversely I can think of another toolbox contains what you would immediately recognise as a pair of pliers. Except that’s not what they are or what they’re used for.
    In both cases the items are defined subjectively.

    If morals are a tool, what is morally preferable & what they can be used for can only be defined by the user. Like the pliers, it depends what the user’s aims are.
    ……………………………
    something that enables us to live and work together in large groups so we all get richer

  67. blip
    That’s a whole bunch of assumptions for a start. There are societies that would define those aims as immoral. Certainly some of the more enthusiastically religious ones.

  68. BiS>

    Whether I estimate a meter-rule to be a meter or three feet long is subjective. Whether it is in fact a meter long is not.

  69. Dave
    Whether it is considered a rule or not is the subjective part. To others it’s simply a piece of wood.

  70. “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning…”

    “To the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

    Any other hammer quotes? Max Boyce? Or was that leeks? MC Hammer?

  71. Plato of course puzzled over what makes a hammar a hammer, and came up with the idea that it has an “essence of hammer”. The answer of course was, it’s a hammer if someone thinks it’s a hammer, and only to that person who thinks it’s a hammer.

    On Dave’s misunderstanding-

    It’s certainly true that a certain moral or ethical code is a set of rules intended to achieve some particular collective goal. The problem then becomes deriving what your goals ought to be. And those reduce to subjective preferences.

    An interesting fairly extreme example is those people who believe that humanity shold become voluntarily extinct in order to save the planet. Most everyone would disagree with them; but you can’t prove that mankind should continue to exist. All we have is that most of us would prefer that it do so.

  72. “It’s certainly true that a certain moral or ethical code is a set of rules intended to achieve some particular collective goal.”

    I’d say it’s a set of rules that _does_ achieve some particular thing. Goal might be the wrong word.

  73. “..but you can t prove that mankind should continue to exist. ”

    Unless of course one holds to the strong anthropomorphic concept, in which case the universe only exists because we are here to observe it. And begs the question whether philosophers should continue to exist.

  74. Not to play necromancer and raise a dead thread but . . . .

    “Question is simply whether the benefit is worth more than the cost. And to me the individual freedom to go about not being threatened by a society awash with guns wins over the freedom to own guns.

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