Sam Harris on objective morality

Since objective morality is The Topic That Won’t Die here at TSZ, I think we need Yet Another Thread to Discuss It.

A Sam Harris quote to get things rolling (h/t walto):

There are two mistakes I see moral subjectivists making. The first mistake is believing in the fact-value dichotomy. The second mistake is conflating moral philosophy and psychology, suggesting that our psychology ought to be the sole determinant of our beliefs.

I’ll only address the fact-value dichotomy mistake here. Subjectivists typically exaggerate the gap between facts and values. While there is a useful distinction to be made between facts and values, it’s usually taken too far.

Let me explain. Facts in science are held in high epistemic regard by non-religious people, including me. But scientific facts are theory-laden. And theory choice in science is value-laden. What values inform choices of scientific theory? Verifiability, falsifiability, explanatory value, predictive value, consistency (logical, observational, mathematical), parsimony, and elegance. Do these values, each taken alone, necessarily make or prove a scientific theory choice correct? No. But collectively, they increase the probability that a theory is the most correct or useful. So, as the philosopher Hilary Putnam has put it, facts and values are “entangled.” Scientific facts obtain their veracity through the epistemic values listed above. If I reject those epistemic values (as many religious people do), and claim instead that a holy book holds more epistemic value for me, does that mean science is subjective?

I maintain the same is true of morality. Moral facts, such as “X is right or good,” are at least value-laden, and sometimes also theory-laden, just like scientific facts. What values inform choices of moral belief and action? Justice, fairness, empathy, flourishing of conscious creatures, and integrity (i.e. consistency of attitudes, beliefs, and behavior between each other and over time). Do these values, each taken alone, necessarily make or prove a moral choice correct? No. But collectively, they increase the probability that a moral choice is the most correct or useful. So again, as the philosopher Hilary Putnam has put it, facts and values are “entangled.” Moral facts obtain their veracity through the values listed above (and maybe through other values as well; the list above is not necessarily complete).

Now, the subjectivist can claim that the moral values are subjective themselves, but that is no different than the religious person claiming scientific values are subjective. The truth is that we have no foundation for any knowledge whatsoever, scientific or moral. All we have to support scientific or moral knowledge is a web of entangled facts and values, with values in science and morality being at the core of our web. Our values are also the least changeable, for if we modify them, we cause the most disruption to our entire web. It’s much easier to modify the factual periphery of our web.

If we reject objectivity in morality, we must give up objectivity in science as well, and claim that all knowledge is subjective, since all knowledge is ultimately based in values. I reject this view, and claim that the scientific and moral values listed above provide veracity to the scientific and moral claims I make. Religious people disagree with me on the scientific values providing veracity, and moral subjectivists disagree with me on the moral values providing veracity. But disagreement doesn’t mean there is no truth to the matter.

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543 thoughts on “Sam Harris on objective morality

  1. dazz: Can I just define objective morals to mean “whatever I say is right” and subjective morals to “whatever you say is wrong”? It would make life so much easier

    You could but then I would just ask you why your perspective should be valued more than everyone else’s

    We know how popular those sorts of questions are around here 😉

    peace

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  2. fifthmonarchyman: You could but then I would just ask you why your perspective should be valued more than everyone else’s

    peace

    I hope you noticed I was being facetious there

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  3. dazz: I hope you noticed I was being facetious there

    I did

    thank you for the laugh

    peace

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  4. dazz:

    Can I just define objective morals to mean “whatever I say is right” and subjective morals to “whatever you say is wrong”? It would make life so much easier

    That seems to be Erik’s approach. Fifth’s is the slightly more subtle “whatever I say is revelation is objectively right”, and walto’s is “whatever sentient beings desire (as filtered through the ‘aggregating function’) is objectively right”.

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  5. walto: FWIW, I do think that that some values are a function of mental states–those involving well-being in particular. I don’t have that position with respect to moral values. I think they are in some sense created by sentient beings, but I don’t think they can be derivable in the same manner as prudential values.

    I swear I’ve read this like 20 times… and I still don’t get it. Not saying I disagree, I just don’t understand. So moral values are not a function of mental states, we create them. But wouldn’t that process involve some kind of “mental states”?

    Seems pretty obvious I don’t understand what “mental states” means in this context

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  6. keiths: Fifth’s is the slightly more subtle “whatever I say is revelation is objectively right”

    not quite, my take is whatever conforms to God’s nature is objective right. It’s completely up to him if he want’s to reveal himself to us.

    We are blessed that he does.

    FYI I think that walto’s and Eric’s understandings are completely compatible with mine. It’s Just that walto can’t account for why his approach is objectively right and Eric has yet to say.

    peace

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  7. keiths: fifth, to Patrick:

    “So, if morality is subjective why should you care what people like me do?”

    Keiths: That’s as goofy as saying “If beauty is subjective, why should you care if the neighbors build a cinder-block tower that blocks your view of the valley?”

    You seem to be mixing beauty with morals there. Caring about others subjective preference of beauty (of the view) is a moral question. The neighbor would say “why should I care if you think it’s wrong to block your view, if that’s just your subjective opinion?”

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  8. dazz,

    It’s an analogy.

    Fifth is arguing that if morality is subjective, then one can never complain that someone else is acting immorally.

    That’s as silly as saying that if beauty is subjective, then one can never complain that someone else has built something ugly.

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  9. keiths:
    dazz,

    It’s an analogy.

    Fifth is arguing that if morality is subjective, then one can never complain that someone else is acting immorally.

    That’s as silly as saying that if beauty is subjective, then one can never complain that someone else has built something ugly.

    When you “complain” someone else has built something ugly, and he responds “well, I like it” do you think there’s any reason to say that you are right? Or would you just shrug and say, “well, if you like it, have at it”

    Now if we’re talking about a moral statement like “someone has thrown his new-born to the fireplace because he thought it was the right thing to do” and you complain that it’s morally wrong, do you think there’s any reason to say that you are right? Or would you just shrug and say, “well, if you think it’s right, have at it”

    I think it should be immediately obvious that the analogy fails big time

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  10. walto:

    In case, with all the blither-blather, anybody missed my answers to keiths’ questions:

    <snip>

    My response to walto’s non-answers can be found here.

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  11. dazz,

    When you “complain” someone else has built something ugly, and he responds “well, I like it” do you think there’s any reason to say that you are right? Or would you just shrug and say, “well, if you like it, have at it”

    Now if we’re talking about a moral statement like “someone has thrown his new-born to the fireplace because he thought it was the right thing to do” and you complain that it’s morally wrong, do you think there’s any reason to say that you are right? Or would you just shrug and say, “well, if you think it’s right, have at it”

    You’re making my point for me.

    There needn’t be objective standards of beauty in order for us to complain about ugly things, and there needn’t be objective standards of morality in order for us to complain about immoral actions.

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  12. keiths:
    dazz,

    You’re making my point for me.

    There needn’t be objective standards of beauty in order for us to complain about ugly things, and there needn’t be objective standards of morality in order for us to complain about immoral actions.

    That’s not the point. You’re equivocating “complain”. Beauty is a matter of preference, you may “complain” but because it’s a subjective matter you would presumably not be inclined to say that your subjective criteria of beauty should be binding to others.

    In the moral realm “complaining” would imply that you think a moral fact like “we shouldn’t burn our babies” is binding to others (because that’s what “we should…” means). But that can’t happen if it’s just a matter of personal preference

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  13. dazz,

    In the moral realm “complaining” would imply that you think a moral fact like “we shouldn’t burn our babies” is binding to others (because that’s what “we should…” means). But that can’t happen if it’s just a matter of personal preference

    Sure it can. Did you read this comment?

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  14. Now is a good time to address walto’s goofy response to that comment:

    I saw your post above that for something to be moral it has to be “strong” and that your distaste for this or that food isn’t strong enough. That’s hilarious. Do you really want to add that to the list of silly things you are saying about this stuff? (Before you answer–add some maggots to the broccoli and see if it’s now strong enough to compare with some subtle moral judgment about telling Jeff what Sue said.)

    Of course, walto is carefully ignoring the parts of my comment that are inconvenient to him:

    What makes some of my subjective preferences moral preferences? Their strength, plus my feelings about whether they should apply to others.

    I may not like rum raisin ice cream, but my dislike isn’t that strong, and I certainly don’t think that others should be prevented from eating it. It harms no one, as far as I can see.

    On the other hand, my disapproval of murder is extremely strong. It harms the victim, the victim’s family and friends, and society in general. I prefer to live in a society where murder is absent. I want others to refrain from murder, and I am willing to see my preference (which is shared with the majority of my fellow citizens) imposed on those who disagree, via the government’s power to prosecute and imprison murderers. None of this depends on murder being objectively wrong.

    [Emphasis added]

    If walto wants maggots in his broccoli, he’s welcome to them, though I strongly prefer my broccoli senza vermi.

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  15. dazz, to walto:

    I swear I’ve read this like 20 times… and I still don’t get it. Not saying I disagree, I just don’t understand. So moral values are not a function of mental states, we create them. But wouldn’t that process involve some kind of “mental states”?

    Since walto is claiming that he hasn’t reversed himself, we can go by what he wrote in the earlier thread.

    There, he said that it is the aggregated desires of sentient beings — a state of affairs, in other words — that determines what is and isn’t objectively moral. He also said that if there is a “sea change” in those desires, then objective morality changes accordingly.

    Since he accepts the causal closure of the physical, that means that objective morality depends on a purely physical state of affairs — the physical states of all the beings whose desires are being taken into account.

    He further claims that objective morality is detectable by the conscience. This creates some serious problems for him, as I pointed out in that thread:

    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?

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  16. walto’s model also runs afoul of the is/ought distinction:

    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.

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  17. fifthmonarchyman: yep and If you want to understand what “moral” means pondering the difference between those that are and those that are not would be a good place to start.

    That seems to be the opposite of what you said, but I agree it would be a good enough place to start.

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  18. keiths: What makes some of my subjective preferences moral preferences? Their strength, plus my feelings about whether they should apply to others.

    Haha. They’re moral judgments just in case they’re moral judgments. The strength criterion–which I figure you now understand is silly–has the benefit of not being useless. We know moral judgments are…uh…moral judgments. As much of the rest of this post is a misrepresentation (whether intentional or not, I don’t know) I’ll leave it. But the main point is that not all value judgments are moral judgments, because not all values are moral values.

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  19. dazz: walto: FWIW, I do think that that some values are a function of mental states–those involving well-being in particular. I don’t have that position with respect to moral values. I think they are in some sense created by sentient beings, but I don’t think they can be derivable in the same manner as prudential values.

    dazz: I swear I’ve read this like 20 times… and I still don’t get it. Not saying I disagree, I just don’t understand. So moral values are not a function of mental states, we create them. But wouldn’t that process involve some kind of “mental states”?

    Seems pretty obvious I don’t understand what “mental states” means in this context

    Couple of issues here (at least one of which relates to keiths’ confused charge regarding the Is-Ought distinction. First, as I just mentioned in another post, not all values are moral values. So, e.g., the fairly popular position called “desire-satisfactionism” (which I’m sure is discussed on SEP and/or Wikipedia) is attractive to me with respect to aesthetic and prudential values (the latter regard what makes our lives good for US), but, IMO, it’s much harder to make it work for stuff like justice. I don’t know how to do so, anyhow.

    Now, the mental state biz. Hedonist utilitarians, e.g., believe that all goodness is a function of pleasure–the more pleasure, the more more goodness. That’s a mental state theory of the good. Some desire-satisfactionists take the same view: the satisfactions ARE the goods. Period. But, as I believe I mentioned in the thread keiths is talking about. Mental states like desires could CREATE the (again prudential) values without BEING them. That is, the values are simply artifacts, like, say, statues. They wouldn’t exist without the intentions, but they are not, themselves the intentions.

    On that view, which I remain sympathetic to, people, by desiring things, create value. No sentient things, no values. But once they’re created, they exist. There’s nothing particularly “subjective” about them. (I’m just taking “subjective” here to entail something like “whoever believes it is right.”) It’s interesting to note that taking a “people create values” view makes one, like Ockham and other Divine Command theorists, a “voluntarist.” The want (or command) makes the values. Although in my case–like Hobbes’–there’s no divinity in the picture.

    But I’m not so thrilled with the “satisfaction” side of the process. I mean, I think the values get created by the wants, but I don’t know about the satisfactions either being or creating the GOODS. That doesn’t seem to me to work as well for reasons that I won’t go into here (partly because it would take a long time and partly because I don’t really understand what’s going on).

    With moral values, our intuitions of justice complicate matters even further. We may say that this society has way more goods in it than that one but that it is nevertheless much less moral without contradicting ourselves. And as critics of utilitarianism like Nozick have pointed out, it doesn’t really matter what goods we choose. Make them pleasure or knowledge or even Platonic ideals, there are problems with aggregations of them to making morality. As he put it “side-constraints” are necessary to prevent just taking them from a few innocent via, say, organ harvesting, to produce tons of goods for everybody else.

    But where do these constraints come from? Here, too, claims of subjectivity seem wrong, because–complaints on this thread to the contrary–the fact that we argue about them is a problem for subjectivity claims (at least if we mean something sensible by “subjectivity”). It doesn’t seem that moral judgments are either expressions of emotions–like grunts of displeasure–or statements of preferences. They are claims that it would be (morally) good that such-and-such were to occur. Claims that may be mistaken. But this objectivity doesn’t mean either that they are the sorts of propositions that (even) keiths may be sure of. Nor does it require that any Oughts are derivable from Is claims here. (Neither prudential nor aesthetic values involve Oughts.) Remember, even if Mill tried to provide a proof of his “principle of utility,” others might just stick an axiom or two there, and that would make the ought follow only because we’ve added these axiom(s). But with moral values–unlike with prudential, and possibly aesthetic values–I myself have no idea what it (or they) might be.

    Anyhow, I hope this helps. I find it complicated myself. I find most areas of philosophy complicated.

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  20. walto,

    One important point to be emphasized here that I really like: if we are to mean anything sensible by “subjective”, then moral claims cannot be subjective, because if they were, they could not be claims. Put otherwise, there is something deeply incoherent with the notion of “subjective claims”.

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  21. To paraphrase Reid, ‘subjective’ is often just used as an expletive.

    However, as you know only too well, KN, on this board what is called philosophy is largely a matter of sloganeering. Moral objectivity stinks of God so it is, you know, BAD or GOOD.

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  22. walto: Anyhow, I hope this helps. I find it complicated myself. I find most areas of philosophy complicated.

    Thanks so much, Walto. At the very least I hope I’ll learn from this to not be too cock sure about complicated stuff I don’t understand. Will take my time to try to get it and Google those references before asking more questions

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  23. As i’ve said before, you’d make a hell of a philosophy student, dazz. Aside from being smart, you’ve got that Socratic sense that you don’t know much–partly because it’s complicated enough to have confused other smart people for millenia. That’s pretty rare.

    Note to mods: sorry about the ad hom nature of this post.

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  24. walto:

    However, as you know only too well, KN, on this board what is called philosophy is largely a matter of sloganeering. Moral objectivity stinks of God so it is, you know, BAD or GOOD.

    Right. And whenever someone tries to point out that to say that moral judgments are objective is just to say that moral judgments can be true or false, or that the objectivity of moral judgments has nothing to do with anyone’s favored holy books or senus divinitatis, they look at you like you’ve grown two heads.

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  25. fifthmonarchyman:

    Preventing same sex partners from being able to marry, to benefit from the same tax benefits as heterosexual couples, and to have the same legal rights to be with each other in the hospital objectively harms those people.

    1) not according to the very definition you provided because no physical injury is inflicted

    You cut context, like you so often do when it doesn’t fit what you wish people had said. The physical injury was only the first definition.

    This is also a good point for you to admit you were wrong about the meaning of the word.

    2) If we use your definition then a teenager is harmed by an ear piercing and an old man is harmed when he gets a tooth pulled for a set of dentures.

    And? Are you trying to compare that with preventing two people from enjoying the benefits of marriage solely because of your ridiculous beliefs?

    3) when we talk about injuries that are “deliberately inflicted” we are definitely in the realm of morality or else deaths from traffic accidents would be treated like homicide.

    The harm caused to same sex couples, women, and school children by laws based on your religious beliefs is real. Unlike your religious claims it is demonstrable. Would you care to address that or are you just going to dance around and avoid addressing the negative impact your unsupported beliefs have on others?

    I also note that you have not clarified what you mean by “objective morality”.

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  26. Kantian Naturalist: Right. And whenever someone tries to point out that to say that moral judgments are objective is just to say that moral judgments can be true or false, or that the objectivity of moral judgments has nothing to do with anyone’s favored holy books or senus divinitatis, they look at you like you’ve grown two heads.

    Can you point to the definition of “objective” you’re using? At least one theist here claims it means that morality comes from his preferred god. I see a couple of atheists equating objective with empirical. When I personally say that I consider morality to be subjective I mean that my morality derives from my values and, at the end of the day, there is no external metric for comparing my values to those held by someone else, because the metric becomes part of the values. What exactly do you mean by it?

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  27. walto: It doesn’t seem that moral judgments are either expressions of emotions–like grunts of displeasure–or statements of preferences. They are claims that it would be (morally) good that such-and-such were to occur. Claims that may be mistaken. But this objectivity doesn’t mean either that they are the sorts of propositions that (even) keiths may be sure of. Nor does it require that any Oughts are derivable from Is claims here. (Neither prudential nor aesthetic values involve Oughts.)

    I like the idea that moral values are expressed in ought-claims, and that as claims, such expressions have objective purport — they have a truth-value independent of what anyone happens to believe or desire. In short, to say that moral values are objective is to say that one can be mistaken about what is morally right (or wrong): he may believe something to be morally wrong but it isn’t, or he may believe something to be morally right but it isn’t.

    When we’re talking about the objectivity of moral judgments, this is the very heart of the matter: is it possible for someone to be mistaken in his or her moral judgments? If yes, the moral values are objective; if not, then they are subjective.

    “I like coffee ice cream” is subjective not just because it is an expression of my preferences, but because I am considered as having privileged first-person authority about my own preferences. It’s not the kind of utterance for which “how do you know?” or “what’s your evidence?” would be an intelligible response.

    As for the rest, I was following along nicely until the sentence in parentheses. Prudential and aesthetic values don’t involve oughts? That seems wrong.

    Me: “I really should prepare for class.”
    Friend: “Why bother?”
    Me: “Well, because I want to do well in the classroom and I want my students to appreciate learning.”

    That seems like a prudential value informing an ought. I ought to prepare for class because of what I prudentially value.

    The difference between moral oughts and non-moral oughts is that moral oughts implicitly apply to everyone who is a relevantly similar circumstance. A solider has the non-moral oughts that she must follow as a soldier, but she has those obligations by virtue of being a member of the armed forces. A moral ought attaches ‘universally,’ as it were, independent of one’s vocation, occupation, or any other contingent facts.

    At any rate, that’s the Kantian view, and I think there’s something to it. It’s not entirely acceptable as is, but I think there’s something there. In particular I think the connections between universality, impartiality, and justice are of the utmost importance.

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  28. Patrick: Can you point to the definition of “objective” you’re using? At least one theist here claims it means that morality comes from his preferred god. I see a couple of atheists equating objective with empirical. When I personally say that I consider morality to be subjective I mean that my morality derives from my values and, at the end of the day, there is no external metric for comparing my values to those held by someone else, because the metric becomes part of the values. What exactly do you mean by it?

    See here: by “objective” I mean “what someone could be mistaken about”. In putting the point this way I’m following an old line of thought (from Royce to Davidson, in fact) that a claim is objective just in case the truth-value of the claim is independent of the desires and beliefs of the person making it, such that it is possible for the person making that claim to be mistaken.

    Conversely, to say that morality is subjective is just to say that expressions of moral value (“it is wrong to humiliate other people”) are, just like expressions of gustatory preference (“I like coffee ice cream”) either always true (because of the indefeasible character of first-person authority) or neither true nor false (if one adopts a theory of truth according to which only objective claims can be true or false).

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  29. Kantian Naturalist,

    You make a good and interesting point. I don’t think of those as ‘oughts’–I guess because I pump morality into oughting, but you’re right that it’s hard to deny that these are oughts (that either can or cannot be derived from IS statements):

    You should keep that car maintained.
    I should have studied.
    We ought to be open-minded about that course.
    I shouldn’t have farted at the meeting.
    Etc.

    Again, it seems (relatively) easy to derive these from IS statements if we throw in the appropriate axioms–which we can get from auto maintenance manuals or Hints from Heloise. But it’s much harder to find appropriate axioms with moral claims, I think. They’re so…..all over the place!

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  30. KN,

    One important point to be emphasized here that I really like: if we are to mean anything sensible by “subjective”, then moral claims cannot be subjective, because if they were, they could not be claims. Put otherwise, there is something deeply incoherent with the notion of “subjective claims”.

    The apparent contradiction is easily resolved if you remember that to a subjectivist, every moral claim is made within a subjective moral system.

    Take my example of Buford and the Canadian Geese. Are Canadian Geese objectively evil? No, of course not. Are they evil to Buford? Yes. In his subjective moral system, they are the height of evil.

    If Buford is a subjectivist, then when he claims that the geese are evil, he is making a claim about geese within his subjective moral system, while not claiming that his system itself is based on objective moral truths.

    Is it objectively true that the geese are evil, full stop? No.

    Is it objectively true that the geese are evil according to Buford’s subjectively chosen moral system? Yes.

    This also applies to your own moral system, which is based on the criterion of human flourishing. Let’s say that X promotes human flourishing.

    Is X objectively moral, full stop? No.

    Is it objectively true that X is moral within KN’s subjectively chosen system, in which human flourishing is the ultimate good? Yes.

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  31. keiths: The apparent contradiction is easily resolved if you remember that to a subjectivist, every moral claim is made within a subjective moral system.
    Take my example of Buford and the Canadian Geese. Are Canadian Geese objectively evil? No, of course not. Are they evil to Buford? Yes. In his subjective moral system, they are the height of evil.

    Suppose geese are anathema in Buford’s “subjective moral system” but, unaware of this, he claims they’re OK. Is he wrong, or does his claim alter the system? In other words, can he ever be wrong?

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  32. Kantian Naturalist: Conversely, to say that morality is subjective is just to say that expressions of moral value (“it is wrong to humiliate other people”) are, just like expressions of gustatory preference (“I like coffee ice cream”) either always true (because of the indefeasible character of first-person authority) or neither true nor false (if one adopts a theory of truth according to which only objective claims can be true or false).

    Beward Pedant and keiths throwing some shit at you for posting this! :>{ I mean, gustatory preferences aren’t…..”strong” are they?

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  33. KN,

    When we’re talking about the objectivity of moral judgments, this is the very heart of the matter: is it possible for someone to be mistaken in his or her moral judgments? If yes, the moral values are objective; if not, then they are subjective.

    I mostly agree, with a couple of caveats:

    1) It’s possible for subjective moral judgments to be mistaken in that they can conflict with one’s moral values due to errors in reasoning or intuition. In other words, when something goes wrong in the process of getting from one’s values to a final moral judgment.

    2) It’s possible for subjectively chosen moral values to clash, indicating a mistake. Think of that discussion we had in which you made human flourishing the ultimate value, forgetting that you also value the flourishing of other sentient creatures.

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  34. keiths:
    KN,

    I mostly agree, with a couple of caveats:

    1) It’s possible for subjective moral judgments to be mistaken in that they can conflict with one’s moral values due to errors in reasoning or intuition.In other words, something goes wrong in the process of getting from one’s values to a final moral judgment.

    2) It’s possible for subjectively chosen moral values to clash, indicating a mistake.Think of that discussion we had in which you made human flourishing the ultimate value, forgetting that you also value the flourishing of other sentient creatures.

    OK, this is a much better explanation of “objective-subjective” than your earlier business about “actual state of affairs,” ability to be “sure” of, and “strength.” You’ve now put it more traditionally as a type of relativism. But if moral systems may be complicated and we may be often mistaken when we make moral claims, it’s a little odd to insist they are subjective. Better to just call them relative, I think.

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  35. walto,

    Yes, the conflation of relative with subjective (and absolute with objective) is the root of many of the problems here.

    I’m fine with a certain degree of relativism, as long as it is parsed precisely. But relativism about conceptual schemes is consistent with objective statements internal to those schemes.

    (Note: I think Davidson was wrong about the scheme/content distinction.)

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  36. walto,

    OK, this is a much better explanation of “objective-subjective” than your earlier business about “actual state of affairs”…

    You’re confusing objective morality with subjective morality. What I’m talking about in that quote is subjective morality. Hence my use of the word “subjective”.

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  37. Sorry, but…don’t you mean by “objective” not “subjective” and by “subjective” not “objective”? And so we can use, not strong, not able to be sure of and not an actual state of affairs as marks of subjectivity on your (idiosyncratic) view (which I hope you have dumped by now)?

    That’s what makes your last post so funny. You’re a corker, you are.

    ETA: And an excellent poker player, I’ll bet!

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  38. walto,

    You’re also confusing ‘subjectivism’ with ‘relativism’ again. I explained this to you in August:

    walto,

    As I understand it, subjectivism IS a form of relativism. Maybe it’s YOU that hasn’t gotten that over the past five years or so.

    The difference is simple and easy to understand. William is taking the relativist tack here:

    Thus, if a group feels like it is a moral good to exterminate Jews, then your “disapproval” is misplaced and irrational because logically, by your own standard, they are behaving morally when exterminating Jews.

    He is arguing that the group cannot be judged by anyone else’s subjective standard.

    Allan rightly rejects this:

    My judgement on whether another group’s behaviour is ‘wrong’ does not depend on what they think. It is not whatever-the-group-thinks-is-right-is-right. But my view is, of course, informed by my own culture’s norms.

    Subjectivism does not imply relativism.

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  39. Yeah, you were confused back then (with your “explanation”–for which, THANKS!) and you’re apparently still confused.

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  40. But the good thing is—we’re still fighting! That’s the goal, right? Your raison d’etre. You got everybody to agree with you….but that was just no fun!

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  41. walto,

    I disagree with your proposed model of objective morality. Let’s talk about some of its problems.

    I wrote:

    Since walto is claiming that he hasn’t reversed himself, we can go by what he wrote in the earlier thread.

    There, he said that it is the aggregated desires of sentient beings — a state of affairs, in other words — that determines what is and isn’t objectively moral. He also said that if there is a “sea change” in those desires, then objective morality changes accordingly.

    Since he accepts the causal closure of the physical, that means that objective morality depends on a purely physical state of affairs — the physical states of all the beings whose desires are being taken into account.

    He further claims that objective morality is detectable by the conscience. This creates some serious problems for him, as I pointed out in that thread:

    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?

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  42. I love it when you quote yourself. Especially when you do so with approbation! Anyhow, I leave the field now–exhausted. You can quote yourself to your heart’s content without any further “tells” from me!

    Do so with SURENESS & STRENGTH though! As if your constant correctness is an ACTUAL STATE OF AFFAIRS!

    But at least for now, I must bid you a fond adieu, turning my attention to someplace with a roughly equal return in satisfaction and usefulness. The NCAA Tournament.

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  43. Here’s hoping the game takes the edge off your grumpiness.

    My questions will be here when you return.

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