Moral Judgment and Moral Standards

Consider the following argument:

1. One would be rationally entitled to make moral judgments about the institutions and practices of cultures distant from us in space or time only if one had reliable epistemic access to some transcendent (culture-independent) moral standard against which such institutions and practices could be evaluated.
2. But no one has reliable epistemic access to a transcendent, culture-independent moral standard.
3. Therefore, no one is rationally entitled to make moral judgments about the institutions and practices of cultures distant from us in space or time.



The Christians here will dispute (2), which they are of course free to do. But I’m really interested in (1). Is (1) true? 

Could one be rationally entitled to make moral judgments about the institutions and practices of cultures remote from us in space or in time without having any reliable epistemic access to some culture-independent moral standard?  (This could be either because there is no such standard or because no one has reliable epistemic access to it.)

Please note: my interest here is not whether we do in fact make such judgments, but the conditions under which we would be rationally entitled to those judgments.

 

 

70 Replies to “Moral Judgment and Moral Standards”

  1. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    Love it. I ask for a definition of “objective’ and you reply using ‘subjectively’ once ‘objectively’ twice and ‘objective’ three times! I’m asking what you mean by those terms, not wondering whether you can type them.

    Awesome stuff.

  2. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: This debate isn’t going the way you’d like,

    What debate? You mean you hocking about geese and everyone else chuckling? That’s a debate?

  3. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    Your main error in the other thread was to think that if a moral statement purported to be objective, then it actually was a statement of objective morality.

    Thus, according to you, Melania’s silly claim…

    It is objectively immoral to mix plaids and stripes.

    …is a statement of objective morality!

    That isn’t what people mean by “objective morality”, obviously.

    What they do mean is captured pretty well by the Wikipedia article you quoted:

    According to the ethical objectivist, the truth or falsehood of typical moral judgments does not depend upon the beliefs or feelings of any person or group of persons. This view holds that moral propositions are analogous to propositions about chemistry, biology, or history, in so much as they are true despite what anyone believes, hopes, wishes, or feels. When they fail to describe this mind-independent moral reality, they are false—no matter what anyone believes, hopes, wishes, or feels.

  4. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    Yes that’s a better definition, as it allows a claimto be both objective and false, something that you have denied is possible countless times. If you now allow this, Hurrah! You aren’t entirely hopeless.

    So now the question is, are moral claims–whether true or false–generally objective?

  5. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    Yes that’s a better definition, as it allows a claimto be both objective and false, something that you have denied is possible countless times.

    A moral claim that (under ethical objectivism) is objectively false is not an instance of objective morality.

    I’m not sure why you’re having so much trouble with this concept. Again, your error is in treating claims that purport to be instances of objective morality, like Melania’s proclamation…

    It is objectively immoral to mix plaids and stripes.

    …as if they actually were instances of objective morality. That doesn’t follow.

    When someone asks whether objective morality exists, they’re not asking whether people make claims that purport to be about objective morality. That’s obvious, and there’s no need to ask that question.

    When they ask whether objective morality exists, they want to know whether objective moral truths exist.

    And if you ask someone to give examples of objective morality, they’re not going to list claims that they take to be false, like “Murder is A-OK and always permissible.” They’re going to list what they take to be moral truths.

  6. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    walto,

    A moral claim that (under ethical objectivism) is objectively false is not an instance of objective morality.

    I’m not sure why you’re having so much trouble with this concept.Again, your error is in treating claims that purport to be instances of objective morality, like Melania’s proclamation…

    …as if they actually were instances of objective morality.That doesn’t follow.

    When someone asks whether objective morality exists, they’re not asking whether people make claims that purport to be about objective morality.That’s obvious, and there’s no need to ask that question.

    When they ask whether objective morality exists, they want to know whether objective moral truths exist.

    And if you ask someone to give examples of objective morality, they’re not going to list claims that they take to be false, like “Murder is A-OK and always permissible.”They’re going to list what they take to be moral truths.

    You’re not getting this at all. As I understand “objective” a claim is objective just in case one’s own feelings or perspective alone can’t make it true or false. So, if morality is subjective, Buford’s claims can be made true by his feelings. You don’t seem to think that they are, and yet you deny that moral judgments are examples of objective claims.

    As I tried to explain to you long ago, what you really believe is an epistemic matter–that there is no decent evidence for moral claims. (And we’ve argued about that in the past, too.) Maybe you’re right about that, and maybe not, but if you are, it shows that you do not actually think that morality is subjective. Those who are subjectivists, say, emotivists like Stevenson, hold that honestly made moral claims are true, BECAUSE they are subjective.

    In a word, you’re very confused about this stuff. And I obviously can’t make it any clearer for you. Sorry, but I’ve tried and tried to no avail. It’s simply too important for you to insist that moral claims are generally both subjective and false–perhaps because you’ve said so so many times and hate so much to be wrong about anything.

  7. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    You’re confusing two ideas:

    a) the idea that if there is an objective moral standard, then moral claims can be judged against that standard; and

    b) the idea that any moral claim that can be judged against such a standard is itself an example of objective morality.

    While (a) is correct, (b) is not. Claims that fail to meet the hypothetical objective standard are not examples of objective morality.

    I explained this above:

    When someone asks whether objective morality exists, they’re not asking whether people make claims that purport to be about objective morality. That’s obvious, and there’s no need to ask that question.

    When they ask whether objective morality exists, they want to know whether objective moral truths exist.

    And if you ask someone to give examples of objective morality, they’re not going to list claims that they take to be false, like “Murder is A-OK and always permissible.” They’re going to list what they take to be moral truths.

  8. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    So, if morality is subjective, Buford’s claims can be made true by his feelings. You don’t seem to think that they are, and yet you deny that moral judgments are examples of objective claims.

    You’re confusing objective and subjective morality. Buford’s “feelings” — or, more properly, his moral opinions — don’t make his claims instances of objective morality, and so his claims are not true if taken that way. They are, however, true statements of Buford’s subjective morality.

    This is not difficult to see. “Canadian geese are objectively evil” is false (as far as any of us know, anyway). “Canadian geese are evil, by my [Buford’s] subjective moral standards” is true.

  9. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto:

    In a word, you’re very confused about this stuff.

    Oh, the irony.

    And I obviously can’t make it any clearer for you. Sorry, but I’ve tried and tried to no avail. It’s simply too important for you to insist that moral claims are generally both subjective and false–

    Again, you’re confusing objective and subjective morality. Subjective moral claims that masquerade as instances of objective morality, like Melania’s claim…

    It’s objectively immoral to mix plaids and stripes.

    …are false. But if Melania says instead…

    By my moral standards, it’s wrong to mix plaids and stripes.

    …then her claim is true (assuming she’s not lying about it).

    The first claim purports to to be a statement of objective morality, and it’s wrong. The second claim is a statement of subjective morality, and it’s true (if she’s not lying).

    –perhaps because you’ve said so so many times and hate so much to be wrong about anything.

    When I make mistakes, I acknowledge and correct them. However, I won’t pretend to be wrong in order to placate you or assuage your insecurity.

    You’ve admitted that this is a weak area for you:

    But I’m afraid I’m not willing to hazard much on morality anymore. I’d like to think it’s somehow derivable from the prudential values (David Sobel has an interesting paper on that subject), but, if it is, I doubt I’m the guy for the job.

    Why are you so reluctant to admit your mistakes in an area of acknowledged weakness for you?

  10. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    As I tried to explain to you long ago, what you really believe is an epistemic matter–that there is no decent evidence for moral claims. (And we’ve argued about that in the past, too.) Maybe you’re right about that, and maybe not, but if you are, it shows that you do not actually think that morality is subjective.

    Same error. You’re confusing objective and subjective morality.

    If someone like Melania claims that it’s objectively immoral to mix plaids and stripes, then of course it’s an epistemic matter, independent of Melania’s opinion, and we should demand evidence. It would be idiotic to simply take her word for it.

    On the other hand, if she simply says that it’s immoral by her subjective standards, and she’s being sincere and is in her right mind, then her claim is true.

  11. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: an example of objective morality

    While you steadfastly refuse to define what you mean by objective, it’s quite clear that you don’t use it in anything like the way I do. The expression of yours I quote above makes no sense to me at all. When you say ‘objective’ there, I take it you must just mean something. Like ‘true.’ As I’ve said numerous times, that’s not what I mean by it.

  12. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: When I make mistakes, I acknowledge and correct them.

    You’re hilarious. I hope you realize that.

  13. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    walto,

    Same error.You’re confusing objective and subjective morality.

    If someone like Melania claims that it’s objectively immoral to mix plaids and stripes, then of course it’s an epistemic matter, independent of Melania’s opinion, and we should demand evidence.It would be idiotic to simply take her word for it.

    On the other hand, if she simply says that it’s immoral by her subjective standards, and she’s being sincere and is in her right mind, then her claim is true.

    Wrong, wrong and wrong. I mean as I use these terms. What are ‘subjective standards’?

  14. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    You’re pulling a fifth, insisting that we use your idiosyncratic definition of “objective morality” instead of the accepted meaning.

    You rightly criticized fifth for idiosyncratically redefining “claim” and “assertion” instead of using the accepted meanings. Don’t be hypocritical. If it was wrong for him, it’s wrong for you.

    As I commented in the earlier thread:

    Your definition of objective morality is idiosyncratic and nonstandard, so it’s no surprise that you can’t find any philosophers who share it. In any case, it fails to address the actual question being raised by this thread.

    Walto-objective-morality clearly (and trivially) exists, because people make claims about objective morality. Yawn. That’s obvious, and it misses the point entirely.

    The real question is whether objective morality exists, and if so, what it says.

    Your definition, besides being idiosyncratic, simply doesn’t work. Accept your failure and move on.

  15. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    walto,

    You’re pulling a fifth, insisting that we use your idiosyncratic definition of “objective morality” instead of the accepted meaning.

    You rightly criticized fifth for idiosyncratically redefining “claim” and “assertion” instead of using the accepted meanings.Don’t be hypocritical.If it was wrong for him, it’s wrong for you.

    As I commented in the earlier thread:

    I love it when you quote yourself. It’s so……keithsian!

  16. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    I love it when you quote yourself. It’s so……keithsian!

    Why reinvent the wheel?

  17. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    Your insistence on idiosyncratic definitions doesn’t just impede communication — it impedes your own understanding. You confused yourself so badly that you actually ridiculed your own position:

    walto:

    …or foolishly insist that we shoul all continue to use ‘objective’ in such a way that ‘I have the flu’ may be both an objective claim and false?

    keiths:

    Dude, you just mocked your own position!

    If you want to get a handle on this subject, you really ought to let go of the walto-specific terminology.

  18. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    walto,

    Why reinvent the wheel?

    Especially when you’ve “prevailed” by already invented a frictionless one!

    (It’s Trumpianism that’s prevailed, really.)

  19. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    walto,

    One reason you won’t let go of your idiosyncratic definitions, I suspect, is that you’ve committed to them in a paper that you’re already circulating for publication. It would be painful for you to admit the problems with that paper, withdraw it, and revise it.

    You quoted a part of that paper in an earlier thread. It included this definition of “subjective judgment”:

    P is a subjective judgment of some person Si only if (i) Si believes P, and (ii) necessarily, for all persons S, if S believes that P, then it would be passing strange if not-P.

    That definition clashes with many examples of normal usage. For example, suppose someone decides that Charlize Theron is of Filipino descent, based on the fact that “she looks Filipino to me”. That is clearly a subjective judgment, but it’s not “passing strange” that the judgment is false. (Theron is a South African of European descent).

    Your definition just doesn’t work.

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