The morality thing again….

A propos my banning from UD, Dr.Jammer (aka Jammer at UD) wrote at AtBC:

As for the discussion of morality, kairosfocus was right on the mark. Liz put up a valiant fight, but her argument for morality ultimately boiled down to argumentum ad populum.

If the members of NAMBLA (I suspect a few of you are card-carrying members) decided to start their own nation, with their own set of laws, and they all determined pedophilia to be not only legal, but moral, would that make it so? According to Liz’s reasoning it would.

With no ultimate source of objective morality, morality becomes nothing more than a popularity contest. It’s might-makes-right. That majority opinion becomes the might, and they decide what is right.

Even worse are the non-democracies, where might isn’t represented by the majority, but by a small section of the elite. This is what we witnessed in the early 20th century with the eugenics movement, where the elite decided that it was moral to decide who could and could not reproduce. That’s one of the more tame examples.

kairosfocus’ point isn’t that we can’t reason to right and wrong. We can, in large part because morality (seems to be) an attribute inherent to most human beings, which acts as our guiding light, so to speak.

His point is that the might-makes-right mentality that arises when one denies an objective, ultimate source of morality, is often a very dangerous thing. A look through any history book will confirm that he is correct.

I’ll post my response in the thread.

135 thoughts on “The morality thing again….

  1. Elizabeth,

    Elizabeth: Only if you agree to the second!But I thought you were rejecting that definition of “objective”.

    Are you saying that morality can be agreed on by indepenent observers?

    If so, I definitely have not understood your earlier definition!

    How does my explanation of what “objective” means in reference to the moral good indicate that it cannot be agreed upon by independent observers?

    Answer: it doesn’t, and there’s certainly no reason to say that it is “clear” that independent observers cannot agree upon it.

    BTW, some observers agree that you do not argue in good faith.

  2. William J Murray:
    Elizabeth,

    How does my explanation of what “objective” means in reference to the moral good indicate that it cannot be agreed upon by independent observers?

    Well, I’m glad to here it doesn’t. But what puzzles me is, by your definition, what there is about “morality” to observe.

    Answer: it doesn’t, and there’s certainly no reason to say that it is “clear” that independent observers cannot agree upon it.

    BTW, some observers agree that you do not argue in good faith.

    Yes, I’m aware of that. I find it odd, but I do agree that it seems to be objectively true 🙂

    FWIW: I always post in good faith. I am often wrong, but never intentionally mislead.

  3. If the intention is purely self-interest, we do not call the decision a moral one.

    We?

    Sez you.

    From Amazon.com:

    Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It

    Loving Life demonstrates that morality is a matter not of divine revelation or social convention or personal opinion — but, rather, of the factual requirements of human life and happiness. Biddle shows how a true morality is derived logically from observable facts, what in essence such a morality demands, and why it is a matter of pure self-interest.

    In fact, there are several moral philosophies that argue that morality is or should be based on the recognition that ultimately it is out of pure self-interest. Many new age philosophies advocate doing whatever you would do regardless of perceived consequences, that morality is simply obeying one’s impulse on the faith that they are your necessary directives and will result in a joyful and happy life. Others, such as Ragnar Redbeard, advocate a pure might-makes-right moral basis.

    In my book Unconditional Freedom, I argued exactly what you claim no one argues – that “whatever I want to do and can do” is exactly what I should consider my personal moral guideline.

    But, there is no way to argue with those who by definitional fiat and assumption of universal agreement with their position simply impose their convenient view of “what morality is” onto a debate about whether or not those specific concepts can be logically reconciled.

    When you must use logical fallacies to reconcile X and Y, X and Y cannot be logically reconciled. You are still, of course, free to believe whatever you wish, whether or not those beliefs are logically reconcilable.

  4. William J Murray: “No, I’m saying that you cannot have your cake and eat it too; if X (torturing children for personal pleasure) is held as wrong in every case and circumstance, then it cannot rationally be regarded as a subjective wrong.”

    Consistency and/or consensus, do not make an opinion ..objective..

    What makes an opinion ..subjective.., is the source.

    Show me how anyone can escape their own subjectivity.

  5. William J Murray,

    So, in your argument, “better morality” means “more popular morality”; if it is the common aspiration of enough people who have a shared recognition of the need to, say, wipe out the Jews or torture all heretics into submission or own slaves or start up an eugenics program or obliterate homosexuals, then it is by principle a “better morality”.

    Not at all – the opposite of what I said. One can only decide for oneself what is the ‘better’ or ‘worse’ morality. This strawman notion that you concoct – if there are lots of people doing something it stops being ‘immoral’ – is not what I am saying at all. But we share common genetic and cultural heritage. We can recognise that our personal sense of morality is likely shared by others, just as is our personal sense of ‘red’ or enjoyment of Mozart – not by everyone, but by a significant proportion. But it doesn’t really matter if no-one does; one is not appealing to the majority, but recognising the likely fact that, from shared genes and culture, the majority happens to share one’s own core moral values. They share the opinion that ‘good’ consists of X, Y and Z, while bad consists of A, B and C, not because they have discussed it, but because they have the same genes and cultural experience. Of course, because of cultural transmission, we cannot completely divorce ourselves from the values of others. But these ideas that you drum up – that anyone ever thought it MORAL to kill Jews, or rape kids, or whatever, is a misapplication of the reductio ad absurdum. People don’t dream up novel moralities, and then canvass support for them until they have critical mass. Unless they write them in a book and then tout it as objective guidance from a Higher Power. And whichever approach was taken, my own moral sense is largely ‘fixed’ at my stage of life, and I would not be going along with them.

    You see, in a morality based on an objective good, what is right is right regardless of what is popular or what most people “recognize” as being right, which gives one the axiomatic authority to challenge any supposed moral truth regardless of who makes it or where they claim it came from, and regardless of how many people think it’s a good idea to beat their children or kill everyone in the neighboring tribe.

    And, as others point out, this founders on locating any sense in which ‘good’ can reliably be located as an objective part of reality to which humans can go for guidance. Suppose we could ‘personalise’ this objective sense in some way. An Oracle exists to whom you can always go to get the low-down on Right and Wrong, and it always gives the True answer according to objective moral standards.
    “Tell us, O Oracle, is contraception wrong?”.
    “Yes”.
    “What about in countries rife with AIDs?”.
    “er… No, just countries without an excess of AIDs”.
    “What about countries whose population is growing at such a rate that they can’t feed them?”.
    “er … OK, not those”.
    “What about individuals whose lives would be blighted by more kids?”.
    “Tough. Anyway, you shouldn’t be having sex for pleasure – that’s morally wrong”.
    “Why?”
    “Just is – you’re asking for objective standards, not rationale, dimwit!”

    An Oracle making universal pronouncements without consideration of practicalities and consequence is no use at all. Unless you supply this oracle with sufficient information to make a judicious decision fit for circumstances, you aren’t going to get any practical advice out of it.

    “But, under your maxim of “appeal to a shared recognition in others” about what is a lesser or greater “worthy” reason to do something, there is no means by which to dissent from what is popularly considered to be moral behavior.

    Of course there is. You just dissent. It’s freethinking – by its very nature, neither popularity NOR authority (even this impersonal ‘objective standard’) guides the choice. I am not making appeal to shared recognition. I am simply locating that as the closest approach to any kind of ‘objective morality’ in the world. Subjective morality is me, objective morality is the collective subjective morality of lots of other individuals with very similar genetic and cultural makeups. If they all decide to burn Jews, I won’t be joining them.

    Subjective morality always boils down to might makes right.

    No, it doesn’t; that is just an increasingly annoying slogan.

  6. As usual, I’m too late for the party. But let me say something anyway, in hopes of contributing.

    I think we should distinguish between “objective” and “absolute.” A statement is objective if its truth-value (being true or false) does not depend on any particular set of beliefs or desires that someone has. A statement is absolute if its truth-value is immune to revision. So, scientific theories are claims that are objective, but not absolute. If we can accept that statements can be objective without being absolute — as any good fallibilist would, with regard to empirical statements — then the way is clear to posing the question: “can moral statements be objective without being absolute?” And there, I propose the answer is “yes”.

    I say that because moral principles (“It is wrong to treat another rational being as a means to an end”, or “it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering”) are clearly objective, in the sense that we acknowledge its binding force over our actions. The principles are not arbitrary and they are not expressions of mere feelings. But they need not be absolute; there were previous societies which had no notion of such principles, and while we may fervently hope that knowledge of such truths will never die out, there is no guarantee. (Any more than there is with science.)

    Now, there’s an important point of dis-analogy: science is objective (but not absolute) with respect to our experiences of the natural world. What is the corresponding ‘object’ of morality? What is morality objective *about*? Here I would say that it is objective about who counts as “one of us”, as a member in good standing of the moral community. The major revolutions in morality — the paradigm cases of moral progress — can be understood as cases where groups previously excluded from the moral community fought for inclusion. Whereas scientific progress is made possible by new experiments and techniques, moral progress is made possible by new exercises of empathy and imagination, and a good deal “we’re not going to take it!” from members of the previously excluded groups.

    But, while science and morality are importantly different, I think we should say that “objective, but not absolute” holds for both.

  7. I might add the observation that morality, for the individual, is simultaneously subjective and objective. It ties up with “the free will thing”.

    An action that strikes me as immoral is not just one that I choose not to perform, but one I feel some kind of restraint over. I consider that restraint to be sourced by my internal programming – possible genetic predisposition to favour some behaviours over others, and a definite cultural predisposition (underlain by different genes) to belong in my society – being ‘immoral’ loses respect. One is restrained not just by the possibility of external sanction – prison, ostracism, censure – but by an internal sense that would require effort to overcome, just as one would need to make a significant mental effort to kill oneself just to prove a philosophical point on nihilism when one is actually perfectly happy.

    If one is theistically inclined, one might ascribe this sense of restraint to a God whispering in your ear, and therefore regard it as much more objectively ‘True’ than the sensations to which the atheist would ascribe it. And the theist would add the extra layer: that failing to listen to that voice, or to give that ‘inner voice’ more food for thought on the less ‘obvious’ moral positions, such as [insert favourite things-you-think-God-would-rather-people-didn’t-do here], will lead to dire sanctions on the Day of Judgement.

    Still, in both cases, they are taking a subjective position (I experience a personal sense of morality) and an objective one (that sense seems to supervene upon my freedom of action).

  8. William J Murray:
    Whether or not there is a god, and whether or not morality actually describes an objective good, we must choose to either believe it does, or that it does not. It is my contention that choosing the latter belief has necessary logical consequences that are existentially unacceptable to any reasonably sane person.

    While it is certainly possible to hold the academic, intellectual position that morality is subjective; it is IMO impossible for non-sociopaths to employ such a maxim in any practical manner in day to day life, work, relationships, and conversation. IOW, while one may intellectually believe that all behavioral “good” is subjective, they cannot physically function as if that is true (which might count for indirect evidence that morality attempts to describe an objective good).

    It’s like trying to think and act as if one doesn’t have free will. It just cannot be done by any reasonably sane person.

    I don’t see the point in holding a belief that one must act, in day to day life, as if that belief is false.

    OK, this is interesting. Don’t want to get my hopes up because I’ve thought once before that I understood what you meant and it turned out I didn’t.

    Still running around today but hope to get back to this before bed.

    Cheers

    Lizzie

  9. OK:

    William J Murray:
    Whether or not there is a god, and whether or not morality actually describes an objective good, we must choose to either believe it does, or that it does not. It is my contention that choosing the latter belief has necessary logical consequences that are existentially unacceptable to any reasonably sane person.

    So are you saying that whether or not there is some kind of morality written in, as it were, to the fabric of existence such that some behaviours are necessarily rewarded and others punished, it is necessary for sane people to believe that this is true?

    While it is certainly possible to hold the academic, intellectual position that morality is subjective; it is IMO impossible for non-sociopaths to employ such a maxim in any practical manner in day to day life, work, relationships, and conversation. IOW, while one may intellectually believe that all behavioral “good” is subjective, they cannot physically function as if that is true (which might count for indirect evidence that morality attempts to describe an objective good).

    It’s like trying to think and act as if one doesn’t have free will. It just cannot be done by any reasonably sane person.

    I would agree in the case of free will.

    I don’t see the point in holding a belief that one must act, in day to day life, as if that belief is false.

    And I agree with this too, possibly even more profoundly than you do 🙂

    However, it seems to me that what you have done is to make stone soup.

    Which is just fine. You start with the stone – the proposition that there is an objective morality/free will – you then accrue many benefits (ethical systems/self-efficacy) and finally enjoy the soup. All we seem to be arguing about is whether or not to dispense with the stone.

    I don’t see that it is necessary, in either case. It’s not that morality and free will are illusory, it’s just that there seems to me no good reason to suppose that they predate human beings. I think they are human constructs, and no less real for that. If it helps to think of them as the stones that we add first to the stockpot, fine, but we don’t actually need the stones, they are just a handy place to start.

    Still contemplating a response to your other post, but RL is rather involved at the moment, so may not be able to give it the thought it deserves until the weekend.

  10. Which is just fine. You start with the stone – the proposition that there is an objective morality/free will – you then accrue many benefits (ethical systems/self-efficacy) and finally enjoy the soup. All we seem to be arguing about is whether or not to dispense with the stone.

    I already know you consider the premise of an objective good unnecessary. Do you think presenting an analogy about an unnecessary thing falsely presented as necessary added something to the debate?

    To use your analogy, you bring me soup without a stone and say “Look! I made stone soup!”

    And I ask you, “Where’s your stone?”

    You reply, “You don’t need a stone to make stone soup!”

    I say, “You don’t need a stone to make soup, dear, but you need a stone to make stone soup.”

    You don’t need to believe in the premise of an objective good to believe it is always wrong in every circumstance to torture children; you just need that premise to rationally justify such a belief. Otherwise, your stone soup has no stone, any you’re pretty foolish running around calling soup with no stone “stone” soup.

  11. William J Murray,

    I have a question.

    I get the feeling from you, but I may be wrong, that in your view, a belief in an “objective good” is not necessary for what we consider good behaviour, but necessary for rationally justifying our belief in the existence of that “objective good”.

    What is the reason for the belief in that “objective good”?

    In other words, what would we do with the knowledge that an “objective good” actually exists?

    I don’t think from what I have read from you that the belief is an end in itself.

    So, where does it take us?

  12. I would say most people innately, to varying degrees, sense the difference between right and wrong and apply it in a fairly decent manner in their life. They can do this with or without their belief system being rationally coherent.

    The only reason to accept that an objective good exists is, if one believes X is always wrong in every circumstance, then one can rationally justify that belief. IOW, the argument only matters to people that care about having a rationally consistent belief system.

    Presumably, what one would do after accepting that an objective good must exist, is to rationally discern how that could be possible, in terms of ontological premise.

    But, apparently to some, sound rational justifications and rational coherency of beliefs are nothing more than a stone in stone soup. They are happy walking around claiming their views are rationally sound and justified, but cannot describe such justification.

    “Some observers agree” and “it seems to me”, appeals to consensus and throwing out convenient, question-begging, consequent-affirming definitions is not a stone upon which one can build a rational worldview, unless of course one has conveniently redefined “rational” to mean “whatever I think rational means”.

    Elizabeth and others have redefined “stone” to mean “soup”; and so whatever collection of beliefs seems right to them, and seems to work, and seems to be agreed upon by enough observers, is to them the definition of “rational”, and they need not justify it any further than to appeal to things which are logical fallacies.

    It doesn’t matter if the stone is not necessary to make soup; it doesn’t matter if sound logical premises are not necessary to make a functioning, practical collection of beliefs. If one doesn’t have a stone, it is not stone soup; if one doesn’t have sound, sufficient, rational premises and logical coherency/consistency, they do not have a rational belief system.

  13. William J Murray: I already know you consider the premise of an objective good unnecessary.Do you think presenting an analogy about an unnecessary thing falsely presented as necessary added something to the debate?

    To use your analogy, you bring me soup without a stone and say “Look! I made stone soup!”

    And I ask you, “Where’s your stone?”

    You reply, “You don’t need a stone to make stone soup!”

    I say, “You don’t need a stone to make soup, dear, but you need a stone to make stone soup.”

    You don’t need to believe in the premise of an objective good to believe it is always wrong in every circumstance to torture children; you just need that premise to rationally justify such a belief. Otherwise, your stone soup has no stone, any you’re pretty foolish running around calling soup with no stone “stone” soup.

    OK, well, can you answer the question I posed in the same post?

    Here it is again:

    So are you saying that whether or not there is some kind of morality written in, as it were, to the fabric of existence such that some behaviours are necessarily rewarded and others punished, it is necessary for sane people to believe that this is true?

  14. So are you saying that whether or not there is some kind of morality written in, as it were, to the fabric of existence such that some behaviours are necessarily rewarded and others punished, it is necessary for sane people to believe that this is true?

    I would never make a statement about something so vague and poorly defined as someone’s “sanity”. Also, the ramifications of behavior in a moral system that refers to an objective good cannot be described as “rewards” or “punishments”; those terms which imply arbitrary consequences.

  15. Interesting that Jammer mentions history as proving his position: Considering his pedophilia example, history indicates a wide array of ancient cultures practiced and considered it normal and entirely moral. History teaches that what is considered moral is relative to time and place; it is the sense of morals which is timeless. His confusion is typical of religionists…

  16. William J Murray,

    William J Murray: Presumably, what one would do after accepting that an objective good must exist, is to rationally discern how that could be possible, in terms of ontological premise. ”

    Imagine if you and I were to observe two people that neither of us know. Judging them only from their behaviour, how would we know which one was a believer in an objective good and which wasn’t.

    That is the point really of my question about where does it lead.

    If we can’t tell from their behaviour which is which, what is the point of accepting the existence of an objective good?

    If we can see different behaviour, what is it that would be different?

    What I’m leading to is if the whole world accepted an objective good, what would be the difference if any?

    There has to be a pay-off somewhere, and I don’t mean that in a crass way, but there must be a benefit of some sort, otherwise, why accept the existence of that objective good at all?

    If there is no benefit, I don’t see the reason for its acceptance.

  17. William J Murray: I would never make a statement about something so vague and poorly defined as someone’s “sanity”.

    Really? So this:

    William J Murray:
    Whether or not there is a god, and whether or not morality actually describes an objective good, we must choose to either believe it does, or that it does not. It is my contention that choosing the latter belief has necessary logical consequences that are existentially unacceptable to any reasonably sane person.

    …was written by your evil twin, then?

  18. If there is no benefit, I don’t see the reason for its acceptance.

    Because it is possible for someone with irrational beliefs concerning morality to lead a relatively moral life doesn’t mean it is more likely, nor does it mean that they are as competent in doing so as those with a firm, rational basis and a logically coherent worldview.

    Fundamental beliefs drive behavior; eventually, to some degree, the belief that there are no necessary consequences to immoral behavior and that all that which is called “good” is subjective is going to affect behavior in a corresponding manner.

    The belief that there are necessary consequences and an objective good also, at some point, fundamentally affects behavior. Although this is a rather obvious point, various research conducted concerning moral and ethical behavior supports that how one is conditioned or influenced to believe about what morality is (from god, not from god, subjective, objective, etc.) dramatically affects behavior.

  19. Well, I guess I would, then. Sorry about that. My bad.

    And I don’t need an evil twin – I have all the capacity for evil behavior as anyone else.

    I don’t consider sanity and rationality necessarily the same thing; most people IMO have at least some, and in most cases many, irrational beliefs. Certainly sane people (IMO) can carry many irrational beliefs and have lousy axiomatic principles. I have some irrational beliefs, and of course I consider myself sane.

    I have no idea where one would technically draw the line between a sane and a not sane mind; so that argument would be hard to make in any middle-ground, gray-area case.

    My point about “reasonably sane” would have been better made had I written “reasonably open-minded & rational”.

    Again, my apologies. For those keeping score, that’s Madbat089: 1, Meleagar: 0 I appreciate you keeping me on my toes.

  20. Meleagar used to be my name on UD before I switched to my actual name. It’s also the name I use on other forums, so pardon the schizophrenic slip.

  21. William J Murray,

    William J Murray: “Fundamental beliefs drive behavior; eventually, to some degree, the belief that there are no necessary consequences to immoral behavior and that all that which is called “good” is subjective is going to affect behavior in a corresponding manner.”

    That statement implies negative feedback to behaviour that goes against an objective good.

    If you are a resident of the Middle East for example, pork is frowned upon, so much so that it made its way into an absolute moral code that guides your actions whether you are Jewish or Muslim

    We have two cases of an objective good calling for the same behaviour, and that is avoiding a food which was difficult to consume safely in that environment.

    The situation changes in Northern Europe where pork could be kept, handled and consumed safely.

    The objective good is not threatened by the consumption of pork and that restriction is not found in moral codes for the people of that area.

    The problem is that an objective good varies in different locales.

    How do you nail down a moving target like that?

    If we look at moral codes adopted by different groups, almost all have an objective good that is presumed to be global in scope which forbids behaviour that would be completely benign in some locales but clearly dangerous in others.

    Today, all around the world, Jews and Muslims are not supposed to eat pork, even though it is no longer something that goes against an objective good, in this case, survival.

    Who is responsible for updating that moral code?

    Where do I or any other member of a group, provide my input to the maintainers of the code?

  22. William J Murray:

    I would never make a statement about something so vague and poorly defined as someone’s “sanity”. Also, the ramifications of behavior in a moral system that refers to an objective good cannot be described as “rewards” or “punishments”; those terms which imply arbitrary consequences.

    As madbat pointed out you did, of course 🙂

    And thanks for your clarification. Let me rephrase my question, then:

    Are you saying that whether or not there is some kind of morality written in, as it were, to the fabric of existence such that some behaviours are necessarily rewarded and others punished, it is necessary for reasonably open-minded and rational people to believe that this is true?

    That the belief, whether or not it is a true belief, is a necessary one for “reasonably open-minded and rational people” to hold?

  23. William J Murray: “Some observers agree” and “it seems to me”, appeals to consensus and throwing out convenient, question-begging, consequent-affirming definitions is not a stone upon which one can build a rational worldview, unless of course one has conveniently redefined “rational” to mean “whatever I think rational means”.

    I’m guessing “appeals to consensus” is directed towards a point I was making. I protested at the time, and I’ll protest again, with diminishing hope that it will get through, that I am NOT ‘appealing to the consensus’. That is akin to saying I appeal to the consensus in order to find out what I should consider a beautiful woman to look like. Beauty is subjective – the eye of the beholder and all that. But we can recognise a consensus – the same people tend to be thought beautiful. I would not consider it rational to believe that there is an objective standard of beauty – even before there were people, Beauty existed as some kind of perfect standard. And I consider morality in the same light. Before there were any children to torture, I do not think that there was an objective moral standard prohibiting – should such beings happen to evolve – the torture of children.

    One has a personal sense of morality (like beauty) that is subjective. We can compare notes with other individuals and find that we do (or do not) coincide upon a particular aspect – that is the objective fact of moral behaviour and thought in others. What we cannot do is interrogate your mythic “objective standard” to gain any useful guidance whatsoever. I tried to suggest the “Moral Oracle” as a way of illustrating this – even if there was somewhere we could go to get real, objective ANSWERS on moral questions, it could not provide useful advice without context. But we cannot even do that. We are stuck with our OWN moral sense as the first port of call. You seem to think that people ALWAYS need guidance from outside. If I will not subject myself to “external morality”, I must therefore be looking for guidance from a consensus (and that way lies the dread “might makes right”). No. Or should I say, NO. False dichotomy.

    Morality (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. Surprisingly, this does not lead to me deciding that raping kids and burning jews is my moral duty – any more than I decide to try fancying men for a while, or preferring flat chests.

  24. Perhaps an analogy with evolution would be apt. Moral authority is a characteristic of populations. Laws are created amidst the jostling of individual desires and appetites. Moral sensibilities can be seen as genes (or memes) that do not blend, at least not much and not rapidly.

    The behavior of societies integrates the desires of the population, but the individuals remain discrete, or nearly so.

    Many moral laws are purely tribal — what is permissible to eat and wear, for example. Who you can sleep with. People have been imprisoned and executed for violating codes that seem trivial to other tribes.

    A few moral codes seem nearly universal, but only as applied to members of one’s own tribe. The percentage of people who apply all their moral codes to all living things is vanishingly small.

  25. William J Murray:

    And I don’t need an evil twin – I have all the capacity for evil behavior as anyone else.

    …the evil twin bit was a joke…

    My point about “reasonably sane” would have been better made had I written “reasonably open-minded & rational”.

    So this would result in:

    “Whether or not there is a god, and whether or not morality actually describes an objective good, we must choose to either believe it does, or that it does not. It is my contention that choosing the latter belief has necessary logical consequences that are existentially unacceptable to any reasonably open-minded and rational person.”

    My most fundamental objection to this statement is: there is nothing dictating that “we must choose to believe” anything about this objective good you speak of. We can instead choose to follow the evidence where it leads us. Instead of having a “belief” about what morality actually describes, we can investigate it, describe it, and then deal with it according to the evidence. For example very much along the lines of what Allan Miller just described above.

    For those keeping score, that’s Madbat089: 1, Meleagar: 0

    Keeping score? Of what? I don’t engage in discussions for winning anything other than new insights… what are you hoping of scoring and winning here?

    I appreciate you keeping me on my toes.

    You’re welcome – I expect you’d do the same for me!

  26. Ellizabeth,

    What I said was:

    Whether or not there is a god, and whether or not morality actually describes an objective good, we must choose to either believe it does, or that it does not. It is my contention that choosing the latter belief has necessary logical consequences that are existentially unacceptable to any [reasonably open-minded and rational] person.

    Obviously, people who are reasonably rational and open minded can hold either belief (objective or subjective based morality), as I’ve said repeatedly, but the necessary logical ramifications of subjectivism-based morality are not ramifications that any reasonably rational and open-minded person could tolerate.

    Most people, IMO, have largely unexamined beliefs and premises (for whatever reason), and are unaware they hold irrational beliefs, or are unaware of the rational consequences necessitated by their beliefs. They are just largely unconcerned about it. So, they can believe that morality refers to a subjective good, AND believe that it is always wrong, in every circumstance, to torture children for personal pleasure.However, those are rationally irreconcilable beliefs.

    If, however, someone said that it is moral in some circumstances to torture children for personal pleasure, or that “might makes right” is as good a moral maxim as any other, or that it is entirely moral from the perspective of those who believe in such to torture heretics, own slaves, or put gays to death for being gay, they would correctly deny such statements and assert that such were erroneous views of morality.

    It’s my contention that those are the necessary logical ramifications of a morality based upon the premise that “good” is a subjective commodity, and that they are not acceptable to reasonably rational, open-minded people. They appear to not be acceptable to you or else you wouldn’t try to redefine morality in a self-serving, question-begging manner to be able to deny those possible subjective interpretations of “what is good” via definitional fiat.

  27. Morality (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. Surprisingly, this does not lead to me deciding that raping kids and burning jews is my moral duty – any more than I decide to try fancying men for a while, or preferring flat chests.

    However, if morality is in the eye of the beholder, then if a person considers it moral to rape kids and burn jews, it is – via your premise – by definition “moral” for that person. Also, if one actually acted in life in this manner, then they would have no basis for objection to anyone’s particular moral view, much less a basis for attempting to stop them, other than “might (of some sort) makes right”.

  28. I must therefore be looking for guidance from a consensus (and that way lies the dread “might makes right”). No. Or should I say, NO. False dichotomy.

    Will-to-power of one’s own personal sense of morality is still “might makes right”.

  29. William J Murray: What I said was:

    Whether or not there is a god, and whether or not morality actually describes an objective good, we must choose to either believe it does, or that it does not. It is my contention that choosing the latter belief has necessary logical consequences that are existentially unacceptable to any [reasonably open-minded and rational] person.

    If we continue to read that post of yours, we somehow get from
    morality does not describe an objective good
    to
    morality refers to a subjective good
    and, from there, to
    it is entirely moral from the perspective of those who believe in such to torture heretics, own slaves, or put gays to death for being gay

    There seem to be some huge leaps in the argument, leaps that are not obviously justified by the assumptions.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world of empirical observations, theists who presumably do believe in an objective morality have tortured heretics, owned slaves and put gays to death.

  30. Will-to-power of one’s own personal sense of morality is still “might makes right”.

    I’m sorry, I didn’t really follow that – two slogans for the price of one. I’m not sure where you are heading (it seems to be in two different directions at once). Are we looking for rationality in moral sense for society at large, or for the individual?

    You keep arguing on that an individual would be irrational to believe in subjective morality, because of the “might makes right” issue. Yet, all it means is that individuals respond to their own moral sense. How is “might” implemented, here? It is true that, in a wider sense, individuals might wish to push their personal morality upon others. But I don’t see any greater irrationality in “because I said so” than “because it says so in this here Manual of Right Morality”. You aren’t quite saying that, of course – you are saying that there is a real standard “out there” somewhere. It is not clear how we are supposed to access it, beyond just “believing in” it.

    But either way, if one is simply looking for a way to behave, one can just as readily work it out for oneself as subscribe to an outdated, inflexible and frequently arbitrary set of notions sitting outside oneself. Subjugating one’s own opinion beneath that of the writers and interpreters of Moral Advice manuals does not appear to be more [open-minded and rational]. The writers and interpreters of these manuals would coerce you by suggesting that, if you don’t follow these rules, you will be judged and punished. That is a different issue, and one you steer clear of expressing explicitly, but only if that were true would it be more rational to follow the guidance than ignore it.

  31. William J Murray: However, if morality is in the eye of the beholder, then if a person considers it moral to rape kids and burn jews, it is – via your premise – by definition “moral” for that person. Also, if one actually acted in life in this manner, then they would have no basis for objection to anyone’s particular moral view, much less a basis for attempting to stop them, other than “might (of some sort) makes right”.

    Please, WJM, tell us what YOUR basis for objecting to anyone’s particular moral view is, including your basis for trying to stop them. It appears from what you have written so far, that all you have is your BELIEF that certain behaviors are (objectively/subjectively) moral and others are not. Please explain how trying to push this BELIEF of yours onto others whose perception of which behaviors are (objectively/subjectively) moral and which are not differs from yours, is NOT what you call “might (of some sort) makes right”.

  32. William J Murray: However, if morality is in the eye of the beholder, then if a person considers it moral to rape kids and burn jews, it is – via your premise – by definition “moral” for that person.

    Nobody says “I consider it my moral duty to rape kids”. More typically, they suspend their morality, or simply lack the capacity for empathy that prevents us from harming others. If someone genuinely feels that such behaviour is moral, then I guess, for them, it is. You and I would agree it isn’t, but this fictitious person is not interested in our morality. I come along and say “I think that is wrong”, and you come along and say “this book (or the Morality of the Universe) says that is wrong”. Which of us has the stronger rational basis for our attempt to dissuade? You might be able to persuade them that they will burn in hell for it, in which case you have certainly trumped me. But that is not what is being debated. You are arguing that it is irrational for me to hold the view that morality is purely a subjective sense, like beauty, because some people might not necessarily agree with my values, and I have no means to persuade them to beyond force or appeals to ‘better nature’ (‘better’ in my opinion: the opinion I might hope to persuade them to share).

    Also, if one actually acted in life in this manner, then they would have no basis for objection to anyone’s particular moral view, much less a basis for attempting to stop them, other than “might (of some sort) makes right”.

    Nonetheless, I would stop them, so I guess I would have a basis. I would not sit there stewing in philsophical dilemmas; I would act. It would be a betrayal of my personal, subjective moral sense to stand idly by.

    And of course, let’s not forget that a lot of morality is concerned not with the kind of hyperbolic horrors that you try and conjure up, but with things that aren’t all that problematic. If people want to masturbate, or have homosexual sex, or live ‘in sin’, or gamble, even if I found those things morally reprehensible, and some can have adverse consequences, I think consenting adults would be well within their rights to tell me to mind my own business.

  33. I think a lot of these dilemmas could be avoided if people were to recognize a distinction between “morality” and “ethics”. Morality, as I perceive it, is the sociocultural set of mores, taboos, traditions and expectations for behavior between people within a particular culture, while ethics is more a product of the universal human trait of empathy, and the recognition of and respect for the humanity of others.

    In some cases, morality trumps ethics, and causes us to do “what is right” while conflicting with what is humane. Huck Finn’s moral quandary about whether to help Jim escape from slavery was a good illustration of such a distinction.

    From this point of view, morality is definitely subjective — and assigned by society. Ethics, on the other hand, is a bit deeper. It’s discovered rather than assigned. Our knowledge of ethics grows along with our understanding of human needs and responses. I think of it as objective, even if it’s not necessarily intuitive. It’s universal to the extent that humans share a single human nature, and derives not top down from divine fiat, but bubbles upward from our common humanity.

    Under this vision, the Aztec religious culture is an example of a society that was highly moral, but almost certainly not ethical.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.