Power-Nihilism Vs UPB: Molyneux vs Stillwell

As some of you already know, last night I had a debate with Stefan Molyneux of “freedomainradio”. The debate is linked here. 

I and many others thought the discussion went well, although there are always things I could have articulated “better” or points I could have made but didn’t. This can be said of any debate. I didn’t want to come across too aggressive or rude, I so exercised restraint through the first half of the debate. If people think you’re an ass hole, it doesn’t matter how cogent your arguments are, they won’t listen.
During the latter half of the nearly 3 hr discussion, I became more forceful and I pressed him on some very crucial errors he makes in his book while arguing for his “Universally preferable behaviors” thesis.
I think if you watch the debate in its entirety, you’ll see that I demonstrated that UPB is not the “holy grail of philosophy” he once so arrogantly proclaimed it to be, not a form of moral realism, but rather merely one more system of hypothetical imperatives.

Below are some notes I made in preparation for the debate.

Notes for debate:

[Opening remarks]

Moral nihilism is a series of views in moral skepticism, but in general, moral nihilism is the view that objective moral values and duties don’t exist. That absolute morality doesn’t exist (depending upon what is meant by that. That only subjective reasons (oughts) exist. That prescriptive (normative) morality is subjective, that there are no moral imperatives only hypothetical imperatives. That all “oughts” are either implicitly or explicitly contingent upon if clauses (subjective goals). For example in his book Neo-nihilism Peter Sjostedt-H says quote “An unconditioned (by an if-clause) ought is a contradiction because a means (an ought) necessarily implies an end (an if). Thus all moral prescriptions never express facts but really, often unwittingly, express the desire of one person or people to change the behaviour of another. Morality as such is power play”

However, some more extreme moral nihilists even reject this. Some moral nihilists, state that moral terms and sentences are non cognitive utterances (J.F argued for this which makes him a non cognitivist), while error theorists claim that moral language is false (see J.L Mackie’s “Inventing right & wrong”). There are also hybrid theorists who think that moral language is either false or non cognitive depending upon specific contexts. 

For example, a non naturalist uses moral language in a cognitive sense and thus his usages would be propositional and therefore mistaken or at best un falsifiable. 

[An arrogant quote from a video Stefan made concerning UPB]

You said in a video speaking of your upb thesis quote “it is the holy grail of philosophy that has been sought since the time of Socrates.. I believe I have done it!”

[A quote from a video Stefan made in response to Rationality Rules]


“If can’t get an ought from an is… you are getting an ought from an is which is you ought not talk about getting an ought from an is”

No! Humes isn’t making a prescription! He didn’t say that you ought not get an ought from an is, he is simply making a factual statement that one cannot logically deduce an ought from an is. It is simply a non sequitur.  It’s like saying 1+1 = 2 which isn’t a prescription but a mathematical fact. 1+1=2 doesn’t say 1+1 ought = 2, it’s just saying that is does = 2. 

[The following are more points and arguments I made during the latter half of the debate]

In your response video upb debunked you also said that “if people believe that the moon isn’t made of green cheese, they are objectively wrong and they should correct their beliefs according to reality”

But you cannot logically deduce what people ought to believe from the fact that reality is a certain way. This is an is ought fallacy. 

In your book on page 35 you state “If you correct me on an error that I have made, you are implicitly accepting the fact that it would be better for me to correct my error. Your preference for me to correct my error is not subjective, but objective, and universal.”

But this is incorrect. I am not implicitly accepting the fact that it would be categorically better”, because it isn’t a fact that it would be categorically “better” nor that you ought to make a correction. I’m merely assuming that you have a subjective preference for truth over falsehood, at least, if only for the sake of discussion. 

on the same page you also state “You don’t say to me: “You should change your opinion to mine because I would prefer it,” but rather: “You should correct your opinion because it is objectively incorrect.” 

But this is an is ought fallacy, you cannot logically deduce an ought from the fact that that an opinion is incorrect. However one could cogently argue that if one wishes to have as many true beliefs as possible, one ought correct incorrect opinions and beliefs. But that’s not an objective universal moral ought, merely a kantian hypothetical. 

Furthermore claiming that “Truth is universally preferable to falsehood; [and] It is universally preferable to replace false ideas with true ones.” begs questions like why is it the case that truth is universally preferable to falsehood?

Richard Garner in his book Beyond morality notes

“Few are aware how great th[e] step from the “ed” to the “able” is. Something that is “desirable” deserves to be desired. It has certain features that demand a positive evaluation from those who see clearly. Other phrases that express the same idea are “intrinsically good,” “good as an end,” “good in itself,” “valuable,” and “worthwhile.” Moralists trade in these notions, but the amoralist [or moral nihilist] will insist that while there are many sensible uses of “good” and “desirable,” the categorical, non-conventional, non-hypothetical, uses adopted by moralists are devices we can and, [if clause] given that we want to avoid deception, ought to do without.”


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