‘Despite all its weaknesses, democracy is still the best form of government compared with all other forms of government that have been tried in human history.’ Which of the following is False about this sentence.

A) Suppose ‘the best form of government’ means ‘the form of government that is most effective in implementing policies that benefits people’. Whether the sentence in this question is meaningful according to logical positivism depends on whether the ‘benefits’ implied in the previous sentence are observable.

B) Suppose ‘the best form of government’ means ‘the form of government that is most successful in upholding objective moral values’, i.e. moral values whose truth/falsity is independent of the view of any individuals or groups. Whether the sentence in this question is meaningful according to logical positivism depends on whether the effectiveness of implementing policies in line with what most people in a country believe about moral issues, as reflected in surveys of beliefs about these issues, is observable

C it is not meaningless according to pragmatism

D although it is meaningful according to pragmatism, it is not because this sentence is true by definition.

This question tests us on the understanding of Logical Positivism (LP) on "verifiability criterion of meaning" on whether a sentence is meaningful. Well i thought I understood what LP meant, that one can in principle come up with an observable situation that shows the truth/falsity of a statement, and by observable situation, we meant it in a way that there are finite observations which is publicly verifiable.

I have trouble choosing whether it is A or B (note there are 2 other choices which I immediately eliminated), Both sentences said something about observable, but option A did not really say anything about effectiveness, so even though benefits are observable, we cannot test the truth/false of this sentence because we do not what is really effective. So I am more inclined to choose B since it is made clear. However, I am not totally sure, anyone has a better explanation?

  • Not an answer, but I feel the best form of government will depend on the situation. A lot of terrible mistakes have been made in the name of imposing the 'best' form of government or as Churchill puts it, 'the least worst'. . – PeterJ Oct 21 at 10:33
  • I couldn't answer without seeing the two choices that you have already eliminated. I'd also like to consider the source of this question. – Bread Oct 21 at 12:15
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    Could I request that you change your question title to better reflect that your question is about a feature of a discussion about democracy, rather than a question about democracy itself? – Paul Ross Oct 21 at 12:32
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    @Bread hi I have added the options and this is an past year exam question set by a professor in a university. His module is mostly based on Harry gensler intro to logic book. – ilovewt Oct 21 at 12:46

I agree with you.

You can see Thales' example (page 45) : provide an "operational" definition that suggests a way of testing.

B) suggests to use "surveys of beliefs" as a practical method to test effectiveness, while A) does not suggest any way to measure "benefits".

Thus, it is False that "A is meaningful according to logical positivism".

A) Suppose ‘the best form of government’ means ‘the form of government that is most effective in implementing policies that benefits people’. Whether the sentence in this question is meaningful according to logical positivism depends on whether the ‘benefits’ implied in the previous sentence are observable.

A is a true statement because it is reasonable to assume that any benefits of a government's policies to the people should be observable. And in order to be observable, of course they would first need to be well-defined.

According to Queensland Government Chief Information Office, the definition of "observable benefit" is as follows:

By use of agreed criteria, specific stakeholders will decide, based upon their experience or judgement, to what extent the benefit has been realised. A client satisfaction survey is a typical example of an observable means of benefits measurement.

So in accordance with government policy a social service benefit is first defined by established criteria, and then for follow-up its success is gauged using a client satisfaction survey.

B) Suppose ‘the best form of government’ means ‘the form of government that is most successful in upholding objective moral values’, i.e. moral values whose truth/falsity is independent of the view of any individuals or groups. Whether the sentence in this question is meaningful according to logical positivism depends on whether the effectiveness of implementing policies in line with what most people in a country believe about moral issues, as reflected in surveys of beliefs about these issues, is observable

B is a false statement because "objective moral values’" are "moral values whose truth/falsity is independent of the view of any individuals or groups", so they have no correlation with what the majority (or anyone, for that matter) believes about them. The logical conclusion is that governments cannot really define, establish, uphold, or measure the effects of -- objective morality.

And Nietzsche implies that:

...to explain a person's moral judgments, one needn't appeal to the existence of objective moral facts: psycho-physical facts about the person suffice. Thus, since non-evaluative type-facts are the primary explanatory facts, and since explanatory power is the mark of objective facts, it appears that there cannot be any value facts. Moral judgments and evaluations are “images” and “fantasies,” says Nietzsche, the mere effects of type-facts about agents.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy (First published Thu Aug 26, 2004; substantive revision Wed Oct 7, 2015)

Therefore all morality that comes from people is entirely subjective, so cannot be characterized as "objective morality".

C is true, therefore would not be the correct answer to the test question.

D is also true so also was not the correct answer.

A is mosly true -- LP advocates might end up concluding that "best form of government" is too vague to test for. But if they did consider "most effective in implementing policies that benefits people" as equivalent to "best" they do accept logic tests too, not just empirical tests. For an empirical test to be valid, the benefits would have to be observable, and observability is essential for them to make an empirical statement meaningful.

B is clearly not true. It has multiple strikes. Logical Positivism rejects metaphysics, including morality, so LP would not accept a definition of "best" that involves morality. Then the statement asserts morality is an objective reality -- again contrary to the LP view that such a claim is meaningless. Finally, it then equates "moral values whose truth/falsity is independent of the view of any individuals or groups" with "what most people in a country believe about moral issues", which is the "view of a group", hence contradicts the statement's own internal definition. With three strikes vs either reasoning or LP, statement B is a very false statement.

It has to be B, because A is either true or, if it is meant to be false, it is extremely poorly written. (There is more than one flavor of logical positivism and under some of them a statement about "effectiveness"/"benefits" could have a meaning - for example, an emotive meaning - without observability, but if this is the answer they're fishing for they're doing a terrible job.)

The simplest way to understand why "B" is false: neither the original sentence, nor the suggested analysis of it ("upholding objective moral values") is indexed to the beliefs of the citizens about moral values. But the proposed truth-condition does rely on the latter, which is a non sequitur . This is a special instance of the idea that you need to reference X in at least one premise to infer any conclusion about X.

Now, this isn't a kill-shot because some varieties of logical positivism (especially those most influenced by pragmatism) endorse ordinary-language analysis, e.g. "'X' means what the people who are likely to hear 'X' would ordinarily take 'X' to mean"; and people who have this view certainly would argue that if "X" means "a government that upholds objective moral values", then both what counts as a "value" and, for that matter, who counts as "the government" should be resolved wrt what the population tends to think about that question. Given that wrinkle, I wouldn't say B is false, taken in isolation. But your teacher seems to be trying to contrast logical positivism with pragmatism so this probably isn't the insight she has in mind.

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