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: Actually I think the connection between object and objective is actually very important and hints at the essence of what it means to be objective.

    Cognition involves an observer, an object that is observed and a signal that connects them in some way.

    To be objective is to exist independent of the me the observer.

    Objective reality is the reality that exists independent of my observation.

    If you deny objective reality what you are really doing is denying a reality that exists independent of you.

    In the same way if you deny objective morality what you really are doing is denying the existence of a morality that exists independent of your judgement.

    peace

    That’s all as may be. The problem is that if some objects are objective, what are the other ones?

  2. walto,

    The key is to NOT rig the game–either so that there MUST be objective moral truths or that there CAN’T be. Both you and keiths have axes to grind.

  3. walto: The problem is that if some objects are objective, what are the other ones?

    I think that all objects are objective.

    Some objects are physical
    Some objects are conceptual
    Some objects are moral

    If an object is not objective then it’s actually not an object at all but part of the subject.

    peace

  4. walto: Both you and keiths have axes to grind.

    We all have axes to grind.
    In some sense yours is different than keiths.
    In another other more fundamental sense your axes are the same

    walto: The key is to NOT rig the game

    I think the “key” is to leave ourselves open to new ideas and understandings and perspectives and not lock ourselves into our own little mental ghetto.

    I don’t think it is a game but I do think it is “rigged”.
    I don’t have any control of that I’m not the one who rigged it.

    The best you and I can do is to try and learn to abide by the rules.

    peace

  5. walto: I DO try to ignore your more cuckoo remarks, FMM. I mean, I realize you can’t help it anymore.

    I do the same when it comes to you walto.

    It’s that sort of conscious deference and
    obligingness to folks who don’t think like we do that makes across the aisle discussion possible even enjoyable at times

    peace

  6. walto,

    You don’t quite have the idea.

    I can see what you’re aiming at, but you’re missing your target.

    The question in this thread is whether objective morality exists. If it doesn’t, then all morality is subjective.

    You are classifying Melania’s judgment (“It’s objectively evil to wear plaids with stripes”) as an objective judgment. That’s questionable to begin with — it seems like the epitome of a subjective judgment to me! Her judgment is about objective morality, but that doesn’t make the judgment itself objective.

    But even if you were right, it isn’t objective in the sense that matters in this thread.

  7. walto,

    You don’t want to make it impossible even to assert that there’s such a thing as objective morality.

    I don’t. Remember, that’s exactly what Melania does in my example!

  8. walto,

    You haven’t responded to my criticism of this:

    walto:

    I believe the following conception of subjectivity meets all the criteria set forth above:

    T is a theory of prudential value=def. According to T, there are no value judgments P such that (i) P is true, and (ii) there is no person S for whom P is a subjective judgment.

    keiths:

    That doesn’t make sense to me, either in terms of moral or prudential values. You’re saying that a value judgment has to belong to someone in order to be subjective. But why? Why wouldn’t “it’s morally wrong to wear plaids with stripes” count as a subjective value judgment, even if no one believes it? It’s certainly not objective.

  9. I think the “key” is to leave ourselves open to new ideas and understandings and perspectives and not lock ourselves into our own little mental ghetto.

    fifth,

    You are comically self-unaware. Your presuppositionalism is your own “little mental ghetto”.

  10. walto,

    The key is to NOT rig the game–either so that there MUST be objective moral truths or that there CAN’T be. Both you and keiths have axes to grind.

    How am I “rigging the game”?

  11. fifth,

    Cognition involves an observer, an object that is observed and a signal that connects them in some way.

    That’s silly. Planning is a form of cognition, for instance, and it can be done without an observed object or a “signal” connecting the observed object to an observer.

  12. keiths,

    You combine two things that should be kept separate:

    ‘Plaid + stripes is evil’ being objective and ‘Plaid + stripes is evil’ being true. There should be four possibilities, (ob T; ob F; sub T; sub F) but you jumble them all up.

  13. keiths:
    walto,

    How am I “rigging the game”?

    Besides requiring that to be objective a judgment must be true, you also require that it must be demonstrably true.

  14. keiths:
    walto,

    You haven’t responded to my criticism of this:

    walto:

    keiths:

    I do think a judgment must belong to someone in order to be subjective. I also think it must belong to someone in order to be objective. Judgments are like that: they have to be made (judged) by someone. I mean, you could say that a society judges that x is evil, but that’s really short for something. Like ‘the nation voted for a dipshit.’

    So if you want to refer to the object of the judgment (as fmm sometimes seems to), I’d use ‘propositions’ or ‘statement’ or ‘assertions. But I reserve ‘judgment’ for sentient activities for purposes of clarity.

  15. walto: But I reserve ‘judgment’ for sentient activities for purposes of clarity.

    There are three things involved in all “sentient activities” in this case we have.

    1) the subject —–me
    2) the object —-plaids + stripes
    3) the connection—– my moral Judgement

    If three can be wrong then two is objective.
    If three can’t be wrong then two is not actually separate from one and is therefore subjective.

    peace

  16. walto,

    You combine two things that should be kept separate:

    ‘Plaid + stripes is evil’ being objective and ‘Plaid + stripes is evil’ being true. There should be four possibilities, (ob T; ob F; sub T; sub F) but you jumble them all up.

    I’m afraid the confusion is on your end.

    As I noted above, Melania’s judgment is about objective morality, but that doesn’t make it objective.

    Here’s another example. Suppose someone examines some photographs and decides “Barack Obama has eight legs”. That person is making a judgment about an objectively existing entity — Barack Obama — but the judgment is anything but objective.

    Both judgments fit your definition…

    Melania’s judgment is objective just in case she can’t be sure she’s right about it.

    …but they are not objective. Your definition is incorrect.

    And again, even if your definition were correct, it would tell us nothing at all about whether objective morality exists. It misses the mark.

  17. keiths:

    That doesn’t make sense to me, either in terms of moral or prudential values. You’re saying that a value judgment has to belong to someone in order to be subjective. But why? Why wouldn’t “it’s morally wrong to wear plaids with stripes” count as a subjective value judgment, even if no one believes it? It’s certainly not objective.

    walto:

    I do think a judgment must belong to someone in order to be subjective. I also think it must belong to someone in order to be objective. Judgments are like that: they have to be made (judged) by someone…

    So if you want to refer to the object of the judgment (as fmm sometimes seems to), I’d use ‘propositions’ or ‘statement’ or ‘assertions. But I reserve ‘judgment’ for sentient activities for purposes of clarity.

    That doesn’t make sense. Just as we can speak of an assertion that no one has ever made, we can speak of a judgment that no one has ever rendered.

    Your definitions need some serious revision.

  18. You’re just using terms differently than I am. I say Melania’s “plaid +stripes is evil” is an “objective judgment”; you say it’s not objective (how could it be?!). But you’re talking about the object, while I’m talking about the type of judgment she is making.

    Same thing with “a judgment that nobody has rendered.” The term “judgment” can refer either to the act or the object. I think this is all clear from the context. I can understand your posts, at any rate. However, it should not be necessary to disambiguate in each instance, as one has to do with your remarks here. IMO, it’s better to pick one sense and stick with it: staying clear about what is meant by “judgment” rather than waffling back and forth between the two as you have done throughout this thread.

    As I’ve said, I believe it’s useful to allow objective judgments to be false as well as true. You have found you can rig the game against objective morality by requiring that something is “an objective judgment” only if it is demonstrably true. I have made no arguments in this thread either that any of what I call “objective judgments” of value are true, or that they can be shown to be true. I have said that you want to rig this game, because it is insufficient for you to claim that nobody has made the slightest case here that any objective value judgments are true. You prefer to simply deny that anything could BE an value objective judgment.

    If you think I’m wrong about this, I’d like to hear what you think might count as a false or mistaken judgment of objective value.

  19. walto,

    I don’t know how you managed to decouple truth from objectivity, particularly in a thread about objective morality.

    What do you think objective morality is? The whole point of disputes over objective morality is to establish what is truly right or wrong, independent of individual, subjective opinions and judgments.

  20. Hey man, you asked me to post the subjectivity def from my paper, something that was not written for this (kind of silly, really) thread. If you want to stick with your equivocating ways, be my guest!

  21. walto,

    Hey man, you asked me to post the subjectivity def from my paper, something that was not written for this (kind of silly, really) thread. If you want to stick with your equivocating ways, be my guest!

    Hey man, you volunteered it as if it were relevant! You clearly thought it was, but it isn’t. Your odd definition of ‘objective’ doesn’t work, and even if it did, it wouldn’t apply to objective morality.

    As for equivocation, you are the one arguing that Melania’s judgment — “It’s objectively evil to wear plaids with stripes” — is an objective judgment. That’s loopy, and it depends on an equivocation.

  22. keiths: The whole point of disputes over objective morality is to establish what is truly right or wrong, independent of individual, subjective opinions and judgments.

    As indicated, you prefer to use these terms in such a way that no judgment can be objective unless it is true; I just note again that that’s rigging this issue in much the same way that FMM wants to. Above, for example, you say the number of Obama’s legs is an objective matter. But the reason you think that is that there’s a decision procedure you like for determining whether a judgment regarding whether some number for Obama’s legs is true or false. In this way, you “epistemologize” the entire matter.

    The thing is, whether or not some proposition is objective should not be a function of whether you happen to like the procedure for determining whether or not it is true. That’s just a confusion–and a postivistic one at that. It’s much better to allow that there may be true or false objective judgments, just as there may be true or false subjective judgments. E.g., I may say that it’s true that I enjoy mozzarella cheese: that’s a subjective claim whether or not it’s true. I may say that plaid + stripes is evil for everybody, whether or not anybody agrees with this claim or not. I may even say that I don’t really believe this, but that I’ve found it out from somebody I trust. That’s an objective claim that seems to me false. I can tell it’s objective in several ways–first, it has nothing to do with anybody in particular; second, I concede I could be wrong about it. These show that I’m not making a subjective claim. But in your rigged plan, it must be subjective, simply because you don’t think it’s true.

    Anyhow, you can continue using words just as you like as far as I’m concerned. I’ve said my piece here.

  23. keiths: Your odd definition of ‘objective’ doesn’t work, and even if it did, it wouldn’t apply to objective morality.

    Right, according to your version of “objective morality” (which cannot be true), my version of “objective” doesn’t apply to it. Classic keiths. Aloha.

  24. walto,

    You’re doing exactly what you criticized FMM for in the other thread: ignoring the standard meaning of a term and insisting on your own idiosyncratic definition.

    By your definition, both of these are statements of objective morality:

    It’s immoral to wear plaids with stripes.
    It’s moral to wear plaids with stripes.

    …and both of these are objective statements about Barack Obama:

    Barack Obama has eight legs.
    Barack Obama has two legs.

    You’re missing something crucial, which is the link between objectivity and truth.
    Objectivity is not independent of truth. Here’s Wikipedia:

    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.

    Here’s the IEP:

    The terms “objectivity” and “subjectivity,” in their modern usage, generally relate to a perceiving subject (normally a person) and a perceived or unperceived object. The object is something that presumably exists independent of the subject’s perception of it. In other words, the object would be there, as it is, even if no subject perceived it. Hence, objectivity is typically associated with ideas such as reality, truth and reliability.

    The perceiving subject can either perceive accurately or seem to perceive features of the object that are not in the object. For example, a perceiving subject suffering from jaundice could seem to perceive an object as yellow when the object is not actually yellow. Hence, the term “subjective” typically indicates the possibility of error.

    [emphasis added]

    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.

  25. It’s obvious that people make claims about objective morality. The question in this thread is whether objective morality actually exists, and if so, what it says.

  26. walto,

    Same thing with “a judgment that nobody has rendered.” The term “judgment” can refer either to the act or the object.

    No, ‘judgment’ refers to the act, not the object being judged — unless, of course, the object being judged happens to be a judgment.

    Barack Obama is not a judgment, but “Barack Obama has eight legs” is a judgment, and an incorrect one.

  27. As for “rigging the game”, do you think science “rigs the game” by requiring that conclusions be demonstrable? Why should assertions regarding objective morality get a free pass?

  28. walto,

    I may say that plaid + stripes is evil for everybody, whether or not anybody agrees with this claim or not. I may even say that I don’t really believe this, but that I’ve found it out from somebody I trust. That’s an objective claim that seems to me false. I can tell it’s objective in several ways–first, it has nothing to do with anybody in particular;

    It does have something to do with particular people: namely, that small and odd group of folks who, like Melania, think it’s objectively immoral to wear plaids with stripes. No one else believes it!

    …second, I concede I could be wrong about it. These show that I’m not making a subjective claim.

    You have it backwards regarding the possibility of error, as the IEP article points out:

    Hence, the term “subjective” typically indicates the possibility of error.

  29. keiths: You have it backwards regarding the possibility of error, as the IEP article points out:

    Hence, the term “subjective” typically indicates the possibility of error.

    That’s interesting. What article? Can you provide a link? Thanks.

  30. walto, regarding Melania’s plaid/stripes claim:

    …second, I concede I could be wrong about it. These show that I’m not making a subjective claim.

    keiths:

    You have it backwards regarding the possibility of error, as the IEP article points out:

    Hence, the term “subjective” typically indicates the possibility of error.

    walto:

    That’s interesting. What article? Can you provide a link? Thanks.

    Here you go:

    Objectivity

  31. The IEP author is kind of all over the place with both “subjective” and “objective” but among the fairly wide variety of uses one finds there is this:

    …many philosophers have maintained that subjective knowledge in this sense has a special status. They assert, roughly, that knowledge of one’s own subjective states is direct, or immediate, in a way that knowledge of anything else is not. It is convenient to refer to knowledge of one’s own subjective states simply as subjective knowledge. Following this definition, objective knowledge would be knowledge of anything other than one’s own subjective states.

    That’s basically an interpretation of the term that works for me. I understand there are others.

  32. walto,

    I think I can see where you got off track. You were originally thinking about prudential values, and you were considering statements such as “I enjoy pasta”.

    A person has privileged access to his or her desires, likes, and dislikes. It would be very odd for someone to sincerely say “I enjoy pasta” and be wrong about it. You took that to mean that subjective claims are the ones about us that we can’t be wrong about.

    On the same basis, you concluded that objective claims are the ones about something “out there” that we can be wrong about. Hence this:

    …second, I concede I could be wrong about it. These show that I’m not making a subjective claim.

    In short, you were saying “if it’s about me, it’s subjective, and I can’t be wrong about it” and “if it’s not about me, it’s objective, and I can be wrong about it.”

    But that’s simply not true. I have a childhood friend who, before his medications were properly adjusted, thought he was the second coming of Jesus (it didn’t help that his parents are named Mary and Joseph). It was a belief about himself, it was subjective, and it was clearly incorrect.

    The difference between a subjective judgment and an objective judgment is not a function of the object of the judgment. It depends on the nature of the judgment itself.

  33. Relating that to the topic of the thread, you took Melania’s claim to be objective merely because it was about objective morality, and not about her.

    That’s not enough. Someone who thinks that Michelangelo’s David is an ugly sculpture is making a subjective judgment, not an objective one, even though the object of the judgment is a real thing out there in the world.

  34. Note that my test for subjectivity ISN’T whether it’s about me or not, partly for the very reason of the crackpot. Furthermore, we don’t want to prejudge the question of whether some claim like “Plaid is evil” is objective by simply saying “It’s not about ME, it’s about PLAID, for God’s sake.” I mean, YOU think that’s subjective, right?

    So I suggest another test: whether it’s passing strange that one could be wrong about it (in the same way it would be strange if one were wrong about whether one liked pasta). In that way, “Plaid is evil” can’t be automatically deemed to be objective.

  35. Anyhow, as I’ve said several times, you needn’t fret. You can be perfectly comfortable that my usage doesn’t make “Plaid is evil” either true or knowable. Furthermore, I make those who are absolutely sure doing no more than making subjective claims. The point is I’m not trying to pull a fast one to sneak in “objective morality” on you.

  36. walto,

    Anyhow, as I’ve said several times, you needn’t fret. You can be perfectly comfortable that my usage doesn’t make “Plaid is evil” either true or knowable.

    I’m not “fretting”. I’m just pointing out that

    a) your definitions are poor and nonstandard;

    b) even if they actually were correct, they wouldn’t apply to the topic of this thread; and

    c) they therefore contribute nothing to answering the question “Does objective morality exist?”

    You can pull a fifth and insist that “objective morality” means what you want it to mean, and that everyone else is wrong; but since you’ve (rightly) criticized him for that, I would suggest that you correct your misunderstanding instead.

  37. walto,

    So I suggest another test: whether it’s passing strange that one could be wrong about it (in the same way it would be strange if one were wrong about whether one liked pasta).

    You already suggested that test, in the excerpt from your paper that you posted:

    To be wrong about a self-directed prudential value claim must be taken to be tantamount to being wrong about “I enjoy pasta,” “That looks red to me,” or “I am thinking.” No doubt, strong cases have been made that assertions of that sort still may be mistaken, due, perhaps to language malfunctions, conceptual confusions or the like (see, e.g., Russell, Peirce, Sellars and other fallibilists on this matter), but they can be wrong only in so peculiar a way that we may call such occasions “passing strange.” They are not, in any event, the sorts of claims that can be shown to be false by scientific investigation. I will take this difficulty of controversion to be a mark of legitimately subjective propositions—including those involving self-directed prudential value claims.

    [emphasis added]

    My friend believed he was Jesus. It was not “passing strange” for him to be wrong about that. Therefore, by your definition, his claim was not “a legitimately subjective proposition”!

    Your definition is broken, walto. The paper needs a serious rewrite.

  38. Your formal definition is broken for the same reason:

    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.

    Let P be my friend’s judgment that he is Jesus Christ. He believes it, so it satisifes condition (i). But it would not be “passing strange” if P were false, so it fails to satisfy condition (ii). Therefore, by your definition, P is not a subjective judgment.

    The definition is obviously broken.

  39. walto: You can be perfectly comfortable that my usage doesn’t make “Plaid is evil” either true or knowable.

    God (if he exists) would know the veracity of that proposition and could reveal it if he chose to. Correct?

    peace

  40. walto:

    You can be perfectly comfortable that my usage doesn’t make “Plaid is evil” either true or knowable.

    fifth:

    God (if he exists) would know the veracity of that proposition and could reveal it if he chose to. Correct?

    If it were objectively true or false, and if God were omniscient, then yes — God would know. But on what basis could it be claimed to be objectively true or false?

  41. keiths:
    walto,

    My friend believed he was Jesus.It was not “passing strange” for him to be wrong about that.Therefore, by your definition, his claim was not “a legitimately subjective proposition”!

    Exactly That wasn’t subjective. Just false.

  42. keiths: If it were objectively true or false, and if God were omniscient, then yes — God would know. But on what basis could it be claimed to be objectively true or false?

    Bam. Finally coming around.

  43. Re my friend’s claim to be Jesus, walto writes:

    Exactly That wasn’t subjective. Just false.

    It was subjective and false. Come on, walto.

    You’re doing your best fifthmonarchyman imitation, and that’s not good.

  44. Of course ‘I’m jesus’ is objective and false. ‘I think I’m Jesus’ would be subjective and (maybe) true.

    I think that’s just ordinary language. We can determine empirically that he’s not Jesus. It’s kind of like ‘I wrote Shakespeare’s plays; my wife and I wrote his sonnets.’ Objective, false and loopy.

    Can you really not distinguish between ‘I’m Jesus’ and ‘I believe I’m jesus’? Can’t you see that the first could be true and the second false?

  45. And actually it’s you doing the fmm imitation on this thread. You have been almost since your opening post.

  46. walto,

    This is embarrassing. You’re actually denying that my friend’s psychotic belief was a subjective belief.

    No wonder this thread is baffling you!

    Let me say it again:

    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.

  47. Keiths, I know that in your world insult and repetition are good substitutions for argument but….not in my world. I’ve already explained this matter to you more times than I should have had to. I also read the ‘authority’ you quote-mined. I understand that you want it to be simply impossible that there be objective moral judgments. Fine, be bizzaro world fmm if it makes you happy.

    Anyhow, if you have nothing new to say on the issue, I think we’re done again.

  48. walto,

    I also read the ‘authority’ you quote-mined.

    Now you’re making bogus quote mining accusations? What happened to you, man?

    We were just congratulating you on the publication of your paper, and less than two days later you’re already falling apart and making false accusations because someone points out some errors you’ve made. WTF? You couldn’t keep it together for 48 hours?

    I understand that you want it to be simply impossible that there be objective moral judgments.

    No, I don’t want it to be impossible. I just want people to justify their claims regarding objective morality, in the same way that I want them to justify their claims regarding other matters of fact, including scientific ones. You think we should just take Melania’s word for it when she tells us that it’s objectively immoral to mix plaids and stripes? Of course not. Her statement is a claim about objective morality, but without some justification on her part we have no reason to think it’s true, or that objective morality even exists.

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