Friday, July 29, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Differing moral opinions do not negate the existence of objective moral values


Your last email about the moral argument provides a smooth transition into the next part of the argument. Premise 2 states that there are objective moral values. One of the primary arguments against objective moral values is the fact that cultures have differed in their moral views. I don't know if that's what you were getting at, but I figured it was worth saying something about. Before I go into why I think there are objective moral values, I first want to give a few responses to that argument.

First, it just doesn't follow that because two people have a disagreement that neither is right. People once differed on whether the earth was flat or round, but the earth didn't become shapeless as a result. People may differ on whether or not there are any objective moral values, but it doesn't follow that there is no answer to the question. The fact that people may differ on morality has no bearing on whether objective moral values exist or not.

Second, as C.S. Lewis demonstrated in the appendix to The Abolition of Man, cultures have agreed far more on morality than they have disagreed. It appears that there are some moral values that are universally held.

Third, all it takes for it to be true that objective moral values exist is that there is one objective moral value. We could grant that all other moral views are subjective, but if there is just one moral value that is objective, than the second premise in the moral argument is true.

So basically, the fact that cultures may have some differences in moral opinions doesn't mean there are no objective moral values. However, their differences do raise another issue. If people differ on their moral opinions, that may demonstrate that objective moral values are not universally known.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Moral differences do not show that morals aren't universally known


At 7/31/2005 4:31 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Well I think the argument comparing moral values to the earth is different. For one, the argument that the earth was flat was based on a perception and an articulation of the obvious. The world appeared to be flat, so it must be. The earth MUST be the center of the Universe. Then, upon reaching certain testable hypthesis by sailing around the world and such, that hypothesis could be tested.

Not only is the hypothesis that moral values are objective untestable, I think that the notion that moral values are objective share more in common with the argument that the earth is flat than the idea that it is round. It is more obvious and understandable to people that right and wrong is CLEARLY something that transcends opinion, it is a higher law. If people no longer viewed morality as objective, why, they might just stop following all these subjective moral values!

I dont think that any moral value can be proven to be objective beyond the "feel" test... doesn't it "feel" like certain things MUST be wrong universally, like rape and child molestation? And I think that as compelling as feelings are, they cannot be the basis of a rational discourse.

Finally, while it is true that differences in morality between cultures doesn't mean there may exist a few universal features of morality, that could very well be a result of the common origins of many cultures.

For example, some aspects of Sanskrit bear similarities to Latin, and that bears similarities to other languages as well. Does this mean there exists "one" objective language in the world? One could say that the variations in languages dont detract from the universal language's existence.

But doesn't it seem more likely that the commonalities of language (and culture, and values) are more the result of a common origin, which was the product of environment, circumstance, geography, and necessity, than they are of a universal, objective language?

At 7/31/2005 5:34 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I think you missed the point of the comparison. Whether the shape of the earth or the existence of moral values can be proved is irrelevent to the point I was making. I was merely making the point that just because two people (or cultures) disagree on something, it doesn't follow that there is no objective truth to the matter.


At 8/01/2005 12:09 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam I agree with your point from the example. I was trying to extend your example to make other arguments, such as the untestability of objective morality, the desire to have an objective truth (in an increasingly subjective world), and the likelihood that similarities between cultures dont establish an objective truth but rather a common cultural origin (Sumeria?).

However, your example points out something else too.

Lets say these two individuals are debating over whether the Earth is a Cube or a Triangle.

We know that there exists an objective truth that the earth is round, but neither position the two argue over remotely resembles the objective truth.

Even if we accept the idea that "objective truth" exists apart from a debate, that doesn't mean we know what the objective truth is, because of our limitations. We were lucky to realize the earth is round based on navigation and astronomy, but how will we realize what Gods objective morality is? By the subjective study of politics, ethics, philosphy, and everything else?

We cannot merge the metaphysical objective truth with the rational world of logical discourse!

At 8/01/2005 12:44 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


How we know morals is something I'll get into later. Just hang in there.



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