objective morality, for the umpteenth time

Another discussion of objective morality has broken out, so I thought I would provide a home for it.

579 thoughts on “objective morality, for the umpteenth time

  1. fifthmonarchyman:
    I would go a step farther than KN or walto and say that the statement “plaid is evil” will necessarily be either be true or false.

    It can’t be both or neither

    peace

    Why can’t it be neither? Do all assessments inherently include a moral component?

  2. walto,

    It’s a difficult subject, as your platitudinous “challenge” notes.

    The subject isn’t particularly difficult, though you obviously find it so. What’s difficult (and impossible, in my opinion) is not to comprehend the subject, but to justify a chosen moral criterion as objective.

    Haha. Not because of YOUR lame criticisms.

    Good. Then you’ll be able to respond to them. Here are some of them:

    However, the Hume issue is important. It gets at the heart of what we’re discussing here, which is why I keep emphasizing it.

    You claim that we sense what is objectively right or wrong via our consciences and emotions. For example:

    All my aversion to child sacrifice does is, in conjunction with my axiom that emotions are evidence-providing intentional experiences, is provide me evidence that it would be wrong to sacrifice children.

    In your model, there is a causal chain leading from the aggregated desires of sentient beings at any given time* to your perception of the fact that child sacrifice is objectively moral or immoral. If your position is compatible with the causal closure of the physical world, as you say, then this chain is completely physical. At some point in the chain a physical fact — an ‘is’ — becomes an objective ‘ought’, unless your final perception — that child sacrifice is or isn’t objectively wrong — is an illusion.

    Your position, as it stands, is incompatible with Hume’s (and many others’) view of the is/ought distinction.

    *Simultaneity is relative, of course, so this leads to the question, “Any given time in whose reference frame?” And since the causal chain is physical, presumably it’s only the sentient beings in our light cone that can have an impact on our objective moral sense.

    ETA: I commented on this earlier in the thread:

    I quote this here because it highlights a second problem that moral objectivists face. Not only do they have to justify the existence of objective morality; they also have to explain how we access it (if we even can).

    An objective morality that exists but is inaccessible isn’t worth very much.

  3. And:

    Regarding the aggregating function, where does it happen, and how is it accomplished physically? Is it inside each of us, or outside somewhere? Are the desires of all sentient beings beamed to the aggregating point or points? Is it just the sentient beings within our light cone whose desires are aggregated? How do our consciences query the aggregating function to determine whether something is objectively moral?

  4. walto:

    keiths: “Barack Obama has eight legs” is about an objectively existing entity, but it’s not an objective statement.

    Of course it is. Even Robin would agree on that, I think.

    Mmm…sorry to disappoint you Walto, but I agree with Keith on that. It’s not an objective statement, at least, not based on how I define “objective”.

    It’s objective and false.

    Objectivity, to me, has nothing to do with whether something is true or false or even necessarily whether it can be assessed. And, it has nothing to do with whether a bunch of people agree with it or not. Objectivity, as I understand, is all about specific entailments. If there are no entailments to a given claimed phenomenon, then said phenomenon is not objective.

    The statement, “Obama has eight legs” could only be the result of an individual assessment. Thus, it must, by definition, be subjective.

    But I take it if you think it’s not objective, then in order for a claim to be objective on your view, it has to be true. What else?

    I’ll leave that to Keith, but to me, no, the truth or falseness of an assessment has nothing to do with its objectivity.

  5. And from another exchange in that same thread:

    Flint:

    As usual, this discussion confuses me. There are several strategies organisms use for survival. Two basic strategies are to have few offspring but guard and nurture them carefully (and expensively), and to have very large numbers of offspring few of which will ever reach reproductive age (and do no parenting at all beyond fertilization). And there are hybrids of these, like the octopus that guards a large number of eggs for a few months until they hatch, and then dies.

    I think it’s unavoidable that those who adopt the first approach, like humans, to regard the avoidable loss of a single offspring as morally objectionable. And if humans used the second strategy, stressing over the loss of even most offspring would be a waste of time.

    I don’t see any moral objectivity here. I see only attitudes consistent with the optimal survival strategy, as a function of reproductive approaches.

    keiths:

    Yes, and it’s symptomatic of another problem with walto’s model — the lack of selective pressure for the ability to sense objective morality, assuming the latter even exists.

    Evolution “cares” only about what gets genes into future generations. It doesn’t care about objective morality, so there is no reason to expect that our consciences have evolved to be accurate diviners of objective morality. A false or purely subjective sense of morality is perfectly fine by the lights of evolution — all that matters is that it promotes reproductive success.

    And the two strategies you highlight — few offspring and a large investment in each versus many offspring and little or no investment — also pose a challenge for walto in this sense: his aggregating function aggregates desires across all sentient beings. How does that work? Do the mass reproducers have a moral say in how the heavy investors treat their offspring? Vice-versa? Is it species-restricted? Do the mass reproducers of Alpha Centauri, who outnumber us by many trillions, get to determine what is and isn’t objectively moral here on earth?

    It’s a bit ad hoc, to put it mildly.

    None of these problems arise with subjective morality.

  6. Robin: Of course it is. Even Robin would agree on that, I think.

    Mmm…sorry to disappoint you Walto, but I agree with Keith on that. It’s not an objective statement, at least, not based on how I define “objective”.

    Objectivity, to me, has nothing to do with whether something is true or false or even necessarily whether it can be assessed. And, it has nothing to do with whether a bunch of people agree with it or not. Objectivity, as I understand, is all about specific entailments. If there are no entailments to a given claimed phenomenon, then said phenomenon is not objective.

    The statement, “Obama has eight legs” could only be the result of an individual assessment. Thus, it must, by definition, be subjective.

    I’ll leave that to Keith, but to me, no, the truth or falseness of an assessment has nothing to do with its objectivity.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this at all. This entity has 2 legs is objective, but this entity has 8 legs is not, but it’s not a function of one being true?

    I have no idea what you mean.

  7. I see you’re repeating the same lame objections that I’ve responded to many (many!) times previously, keiths. Your comments haven’t actually improved with age or repetition (they actually seem even a little lamer to me now, if that’s possible), but that’s neither here nor there. We know that quoting yourself is a big thrill producer for you, and I have no interest in you not getting your rocks off! Go for it! Maybe you’ll find someone yet to “answer your challenge”!

    But I still have a question for you. What do you mean by “objective”? Just true? Or true and something else? If the latter, what?

  8. walto:: It’s a difficult subject, as your platitudinous “challenge” notes.

    keiths: The subject isn’t particularly difficult

    Haha. OK, ethics is simple. Got it.

  9. walto,

    I see you’re repeating the same lame objections that I’ve responded to many (many!) times previously, keiths. Your comments haven’t actually improved with age or repetition (they actually seem even a little lamer to me now, if that’s possible), but that’s neither here nor there.

    That’s great news, walto. The fact that they’re so lame means it will be falling-off-a-log easy for you to refute them.

    Have at it. I’m sure the readers will benefit from your incisive refutation.

  10. walto, quoting Wikipedia on ethical objectivism:

    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.

    I completely agree with that definition, which is quite standard. It clashes with yours.

    Can you find any examples of philosophers who see objective morality and moral objectivism the way you do?

  11. Robin: Why can’t it be neither?

    If a statement is intelligible and is about the world outside my mind it’s either true of false.

    Robin: Do all assessments inherently include a moral component?

    I certainly think all statements about objective reality do.

    “I hate plaid” is an assessment of sorts but it’s a subjective assessment so it probably does not include a moral component.

    peace

  12. walto: I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this at all. This entity has 2 legs is objective, but this entity has 8 legs is not, but it’s not a function of one being true?

    I have no idea what you mean.

    “Obama has eight legs” is some kind of claim, statement, or assertion. Assertions, whether true or false, are always subjective. “Grass is green” is a subjective assertion too. It happens to be true in most cases, but subjective. Assertions about reality cannot be objective as far as I can tell.

    Grass being objectively green has nothing to do with people noticing or commenting on it. Grass being objectively green has to do with green grass creating inherent entailments in this world that any number of people, using the same tools and standards, will discover consistently, repeatedly, and predictably.

    Using the same tools and units of measure, everyone on this planet will find that Obama has two legs regardless of any arbitrary comments on the number of legs some folk claim Obama has.

  13. fifthmonarchyman: If a statement is intelligible and is about the world outside my mind it’s either true of false.

    I certainly think all statements about objective reality do.

    “I hate plaid” is an assessment of sorts but it’s a subjective assessment so it probably does not include a moral component.

    peace

    To me, “plaid is evil” is no different a type of assertion than “I hate plaid” and has no moral relevance one way or another.

  14. keiths: 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.

    I agree that if they’re true, they’re true regardless of what anybody believes, just like props of science. The question is what they are if they’re false.

    For you they can’t be objective, their status somehow changes. We already know that you think objectivity entails truth. What you don’t say is if it requires anything else. Are the false sciientific claims objective? Do they only become objective after they’ve been confirmed? If so, what were they before?

  15. Robin: “Obama has eight legs” is some kind of claim, statement, or assertion. Assertions, whether true or false, are always subjective. “Grass is green” is a subjective assertion too. It happens to be true in most cases, but subjective. Assertions about reality cannot be objective as far as I can tell.

    Grass being objectively green has nothing to do with people noticing or commenting on it. Grass being objectively green has to do with green grass creating inherent entailments in this world that any number of people, using the same tools and standards, will discover consistently, repeatedly, and predictably.

    Using the same tools and units of measure, everyone on this planet will find that Obama has two legs regardless of any arbitrary comments on the number of legs some folk claim Obama has.

    This stuff is very heterodoxical. That’s why you’re extremely hard to understand. I’m wondering if keiths is planing to take you to task for using terms strangely. Beware!!

  16. Robin: To me, “plaid is evil” is no different a type of assertion than “I hate plaid” and has no moral relevance one way or another.

    Not only is it not objective, it’s not even a moral claim! I give up.

  17. walto: Not only is it not objective, it’s not even a moral claim!I give up.

    Are volcanoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes that wipe out people or cities or whatever other beloved man-centric artifacts one chooses “evil”? Do you really find it logical and/or sensible to view statements like “the devastation that hurricane wrought was just evil” as actually being a moral claim? If so, I have no way of approaching some kind of understanding of what you mean by “moral” or “morality”.

    To actually assess a moral condition, to me, requires a component of intent on the part of some actor. Plaid, as far as I can tell, has no intent about anything. Thus the statement, “plaid is evil” cannot be a moral claim.

  18. Robin: Plaid, as far as I can tell, has no intent about anything. Thus the statement, “plaid is evil” cannot be a moral claim.

    You know, sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland here.

  19. walto,

    But I still have a question for you. What do you mean by “objective”? Just true? Or true and something else? If the latter, what?

    Why do you keep asking me to repeat myself? I’ve told you very clearly that I go with the standard definition, and I’ve quoted that standard definition to you from two sources, Wikipedia and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    I’ve also made it clear that I go with the standard definition of “objective morality”. I’ve agreed with the Wikipedia definition of “ethical objectivism” that you quoted, and I’ve described “objective morality” in my own words, more than once. Here’s one instance:

    When we speak of objective morality, we are talking about whether something is objectively right or wrong, independent of a person’s biases. Melania thinks it’s wrong to mix plaids and stripes, and she even thinks it’s objectively wrong, but that doesn’t transform her statement into a statement of objective morality.

    You’re going to have to make an effort, walto.

  20. keiths, regarding the Wikipedia definition of “ethical objectivism”:

    I completely agree with that definition, which is quite standard. It clashes with yours.

    Can you find any examples of philosophers who see objective morality and moral objectivism the way you do?

    walto,

    You’ve taken the odd position that a statement like Melania’s…

    It’s objectively evil to wear plaids with stripes.

    …is an instance of objective morality.

    KN and I have taken a more reasonable position: namely, that Melania’s statement purports to be objective. That doesn’t make it an instance of objective morality, by any stretch.

    Can you find any examples of philosophers who see objective morality and moral objectivism in the odd way that you do?

  21. Again, you’re urging us to use

    a) a poor and nonstandard definition of “objective morality”;
    b) that, even if it were legit, doesn’t capture the relevant meaning; and
    c) which therefore cannot help us answer the question we’re addressing in this thread, which is whether objective morality (in the standard sense) exists, and if so, what it says.

    The standard definition has none of those problems. Why on earth would we use yours instead?

  22. walto,

    Also, don’t forget to respond to this:

    walto:

    I see you’re repeating the same lame objections that I’ve responded to many (many!) times previously, keiths. Your comments haven’t actually improved with age or repetition (they actually seem even a little lamer to me now, if that’s possible), but that’s neither here nor there.

    keiths:

    That’s great news, walto. The fact that they’re so lame means it will be falling-off-a-log easy for you to refute them.

    Have at it. I’m sure the readers will benefit from your incisive refutation.

  23. Robin,

    Plaid, as far as I can tell, has no intent about anything. Thus the statement, “plaid is evil” cannot be a moral claim.

    The statement “plaid is evil” needn’t be construed as a statement about an agent. It can be shorthand for something far less bizarre (though still odd), like “It’s evil to wear plaid.”

  24. walto: You know, sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland here.

    😉

    That is often my feeling as well.

    I chalk it up folks being so emotionally attached to the conclusion that they have reached that they are simply unable to see the flaws in the argument that got them there.

    That is why I find exploring presuppositions to be so interesting. I would guess that the difficulties in this topic are the result of un-examined presuppositions.

    making our presuppositions explicit might help to illuminate the process that gets us to the conclusions we reach.

    peace

  25. Keiths, there are no definitions of ‘objective’ in either of the articles you cited, just some rambling and sometimes contradictory ‘explanations’.
    They’re both pretty bad, as the wiki article conceded. A friend suggests there’s a good discussion of these issues in the SEP piece on scientific objectivity, but I haven’t read it myself.

    So, no, you have neither defined ‘objective’ yourself nor provided a definition from anywhere else. Furthermore, you won’t simply tell us what you think it implies other than truth (if nothing else, that would mean that either every subjective claim is false or that some subjective claims are objective claims).

    If you don’t really know what you are trying to convey when you use the word, you should just say so: it would save time.

    Otoh, I both gave my own and provided every adjectival dictionary.com def, which I believe are kind of lurching in the right general direction. Not one makes truth either necessary or sufficient.

    As for reposting lame nonsense that you’ve bestowed here a dozen times or more previously (in a nice fmm imitation!), you may do it forever, as far as I’m concerned.

    I’m afraid you’ll have to tell us what you mean by ‘objective morality’ when you say that there isn’t any, or it’ll have be taken as something akin to ‘Objective morality–yuck!!!’. Which—–OK!!!!

  26. keiths:
    Robin,

    The statement “plaid is evil” needn’t be construed as a statement about an agent.It can be shorthand for something far less bizarre (though still odd), like “It’s evil to wear plaid.”

    Yes, of course. But then we’re right back to how someone could go about establishing that as an objective morality assessment. What’s the entailment for wearing plaid that provides the repeatable, predictive, and consistent evidence that wearing plaid is bad.

  27. Robin: we’re right back to how someone could go about establishing that as an objective morality assessment.

    Right. Back to the difference between being and being known.

  28. fifthmonarchyman: making our presuppositions explicit might help to illuminate the process that gets us to the conclusions we reach.

    Absolutely. But in my experience here, people would rather fight.

  29. walto: Right. Back to the difference between being and being known.

    I have no idea what this means.

    ETA: Just to note, to me, objectivity has nothing to do with “knowing” or “being” or whatever; it’s about consistency.

    Morality, to me, has nothing to do with “knowing” or “being” either. So what is this “knowing” or “being known” refer to?

  30. It means there’s a difference between something being true and something being known to be true.

    I think I’ll leave you to discuss this with keiths.

  31. walto:
    It means there’s a difference between something being true and something being known to be true.

    I think I’ll leave you to discuss this with keiths.

    Fair enough. Good chat Walto.

    I’ll simply note that to me, “objective” has nothing to do with truth values, known or otherwise, so I’m still at a loss as to what you mean. But it does show that we clearly have completely different concepts for “objective”.

  32. Robin: Fair enough. Good chat Walto.

    I’ll simply note that to me, “objective” has nothing to do with truth values, known or otherwise, so I’m still at a loss as to what you mean. But it does show that we clearly have completely different concepts for “objective”.

    Thanks, Robin. And welcome back. I’ll be curious to hear what keiths thinks about your independent-of-truth-value version of objectivity.

    Cheers.

  33. walto,

    I note that you’re still avoiding my questions. Let’s talk about why.

    First, this one:

    Can you find any examples of philosophers who see objective morality and moral objectivism in the odd way that you do?

    The answer, of course, is “no”, but you don’t want to admit that, so you avoid the question.

    Next, this one:

    Again, you’re urging us to use

    a) a poor and nonstandard definition of “objective morality”;
    b) that, even if it were legit, doesn’t capture the relevant meaning; and
    c) which therefore cannot help us answer the question we’re addressing in this thread, which is whether objective morality (in the standard sense) exists, and if so, what it says.

    The standard definition has none of those problems. Why on earth would we use yours instead?

    You don’t want to answer that question, either, because you know I’m right. Your definition is poor and nonstandard, and it misses the target completely. There’s no reason to use it, and every reason to use the standard definition. You know that, but your bruised ego won’t allow you to say it. Which only makes the problem worse, of course.

    Third, this one:

    walto:

    I see you’re repeating the same lame objections that I’ve responded to many (many!) times previously, keiths. Your comments haven’t actually improved with age or repetition (they actually seem even a little lamer to me now, if that’s possible), but that’s neither here nor there.

    keiths:

    That’s great news, walto. The fact that they’re so lame means it will be falling-off-a-log easy for you to refute them.

    Have at it. I’m sure the readers will benefit from your incisive refutation.

    Again, no mystery why you won’t respond. You got caught lying again. The objections aren’t “lame” at all. They’re cogent, and you can’t refute them now any more than you could when I first raised them.

    Your already-bruised ego certainly won’t allow you to admit that, so you persist in the dishonesty.

    Good philosophers learn from their mistakes. You spend your energy on denial and dishonesty instead.

  34. walto,

    Keiths, there are no definitions of ‘objective’ in either of the articles you cited,

    As if you can’t get from a clear definition of “objectivity” to the corresponding definition of “objective”.

    Why are you playing dumb, walto? (Rhetorical question.)

    As for what “objective” means beyond simply “true”, it’s right there in the Wikipedia definition I already quoted:

    Objectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings.

    [emphasis added]

    The bolded part is key. Melania’s judgment regarding plaids and stripes gives no sign of being true outside her own biases and idiosyncrasies. Neither does the assessment “Barack Obama has eight legs.”

    “Barack Obama has two legs” does seem to be true, outside of any observer’s biases, feelings, or idiosyncrasies.

    We’re therefore justified in regarding the latter as an objective statement, but not the previous two.

  35. keiths,
    If that’s the best you can do, fine. But it’s not a definition, either of “objective” or “objectivity.” Sorry.

    Is this what you’re going for?–

    P is objective = P is true and is “outside of anybody’s biases”?

    I mean, at least it’s a try!

  36. I’ve already answered yours, you’ve never answered mine! Just take a deep breath, try to relax, and give it a shot!

  37. keiths: Melania’s judgment regarding plaids and stripes gives no sign of being true outside her own biases and idiosyncrasies. Neither does the assessment “Barack Obama has eight legs.”

    Also, what is a “sign of being true”?

  38. walto: keiths: Melania’s judgment regarding plaids and stripes gives no sign of being true outside her own biases and idiosyncrasies. Neither does the assessment “Barack Obama has eight legs.”

    Also, what is a “sign of being true”?

    Do your posts on this thread have the “sign of being true”? Are they objective (if true) or do they reflect your “biases and idiosyncrasies”? How can we tell? What makes you so sure that Melania’s claim is different from those you have made on this thread in any important respect?

    Give us the sign!!

  39. walto,

    I’ll leave it to you to figure out why we regard “Barack Obama has two legs” as true (and thus objective), while we take “Barack Obama has eight legs” to be false and (highly) subjective.

    Hint: It’s not difficult.

    Meanwhile, the questions you are avoiding will still be there if, at some point, you summon the courage to address them.

  40. keiths,

    As we can glean from this that, on your view judgments may be more or less subjective, (since they can be Highly so), I’m wondering if you think things can be more or less objective. Is Melania’s view about plaid just a little bit objective or not objective in the slightest? How about your claims here? (Highly objective, no doubt. Tippy-top objective!) If someone thought Obama had three legs instead of eight, would that be less highly subjective?

  41. walto,

    I realize that your ego is hurting, but you need to let this go. 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.

  42. Robin:

    But then we’re right back to how someone could go about establishing that as an objective morality assessment.

    walto:

    Right. Back to the difference between being and being known.

    Which brings up one of the problems with your earlier, failed attempt at describing a system of objective morality:

    Yes, and it’s symptomatic of another problem with walto’s model — the lack of selective pressure for the ability to sense objective morality, assuming the latter even exists.

    Evolution “cares” only about what gets genes into future generations. It doesn’t care about objective morality, so there is no reason to expect that our consciences have evolved to be accurate diviners of objective morality. A false or purely subjective sense of morality is perfectly fine by the lights of evolution — all that matters is that it promotes reproductive success.

    If there’s no selective pressure for our consciences to sense objective morality, then why would they do so?

  43. So much sound, fury, and repetitive bluster, so little substance. Why not just say you have no clear idea of what “objective” means and have done with it? That way your (many) readers won’t have to take your countless repetitions of ‘There’s no objective morality, I tell you!’ to mean ‘keiths thinks objective morality is so yucky.’

    But I mean, guess you might get an ‘Ewwww’ at that — so maybe all your red-faced hollering is worth it after all. Yeah–never mind. Have at it.

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