Monday, August 08, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Should we trust our moral intuitions?

There was one severe weakness I found in the book, though. Koukl and Beckwith established to my satisfaction that just about every normal mentally healthy person, deep down inside, believes in objective moral values. Experience with dialoguing with relativists has confirmed it for me, and I have very little doubt at all. But the fact that we all BELIEVE in objective moral values doesn't necessarily entail that they exist. We could all be wrong. So the weakness I saw in the book is that it didn't really address the issue of whether or not we should trust our moral perceptions. But you can't really expect it to. The book wasn't particularly deep philosophically. It was just an introductory sort of book written for the masses--very basic.

In one chapter, Koukl argued that moral intuitions are similar to our intuitions about other things, like our immediate awareness of our sensory perceptions. While I agree that both are known by intuition (that is, they weren't infered from anything prior), I think there's a subtle difference between our immediate knowledge of our perceptions, and our knowledge of morality. I think I went into that in an earlier email where I broke intuitions into three categories--things we know due to first person subjectivity, things we know because they are rationally grasped, and things we know because that's simply the way we are (i.e. it's human nature). I think Koukl would've made a much better argument if he had compared our knowledge of morality to our knowledge of the external world. That's why I argued the way I did in my earlier email. We can know immediately that we have sensory perceptions, emotional perceptions, and moral perceptions. But how do we know that any of these perceptions correspond to something outside of our own brains? The only way we can know that is human nature. Our brains, whether designed that way, or evolved that way, are just build in such a way that unless we become philosophers and begin denying the obvious, we just naturally assume these things. It's human nature to do so. We assume we have emotions because there really are other people we're connecting with, and not just drones. We assume we have sensory perceptions because there really is a world out there to be percieved, and it's not all just a dream. We assume we have moral perceptions because there really is a difference between right and wrong, and it's not all just a matter of personal or cultural preference.

I think Koukl just sort of takes that for granted. He figures if he can get a person's moral intuitions to rise to the surface, then that's all that needs to be done. Tactically, I think he's right in the case of most people. But a more sophisticated thinker is going to point out, as you have, that while we may have moral emotions or intuitions, that doesn't necessarily mean that they correspond to anything outside our own heads.

I think the bottom line for you is to be honest with yourself. You have these moral instincts just like the rest of us do. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you think they're accurate. Should you trust them? Do you believe them? Or do you honestly just think they're all illusory? That's something you just have to answer for yourself.

Did I tell you I started a blog? I was thinking at some point I might post some stuff from some of the conversations we've been having. It has caused me to put my thinking cap on and write some stuff I might not otherwise have thought about.


Conversations with Angie: Angie questions Greg Koukl's assumptions


At 8/08/2005 8:31 PM , Blogger 2Tal said...

Unfortunately I don't feel I have the intellectual or philosphical prowess to engage this topic on a level many would consider to be adequate. I personally think the "torturing babies" example may be somewhat confrontational to relativists especially when challenging them to be honest with themselves. As a Christian it is tempting to simply say relativists are blind like everyone else apart from grace and therefore they cannot help but to dodge and suppress any signs that their view may be incorrect. I mean, if Christ is the way, truth, and the life and the one who sets people free, as the scriptures claim, than it seems anything outside of him can only be only be error, deception, and death.

At 8/09/2005 3:12 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I think some people do, as Paul said, "Suppress the truth in unrighteousness." Some people simply don't want there to be objective moral values, because that interferes with their personal autonomy. These people stick out like a sore thumb when they claim relativism for themselves and objectivism for everybody else. That is, they consider themselves to be free from moral obligations, but they expect everybody else to be moral. Greg Koukl pointed this out very succinctly in his book on Relativism where he showed the self-refuting nature of saying, "Don't push your morals on me." On the one hand, the person doesn't want any morals pushed on them, but at the same time, they're pushing their morals (that it's wrong to push morals) on the other person.

I think the strong desire to be autonomous, free from moral restraint, free from a God, free from responsibility, accountability, etc., is, for some people, what drives their moral relativism.

J. Budziszewski makes this same point in his article, "Revenge of Conscience," where he says we all know right from wrong, but wish we didn't. Being a relativist is like putting your hands over your ears and saying, "la la la la" to try to drown out the voice of your conscience.

Koukl's tactic in bringing up issues like "torturing babies" is a way to force the relativist to hear. It's hard for anybody, no matter how committed they are to relativism, to deny that torturing babies for fun would be wrong whether anybody agreed with it or not.

At 8/09/2005 5:40 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Here's a question:

Are we capable of accepting the possibility that torturing babies is not wrong?

In other words, can humanity accept the possibility of a relative universe, view itself in an extremely limited and humble way. Or are we so arrogant that we cannot exist outside a Creator that made us for the some important purpose, and governs our lives with an important list of rights and wrongs.

Maybe human beings are incapable of being alone, or accepting the lonliness.

Maybe we had to have God, because we are like birds admiring ourselves in a mirror - we are fascinated by ourselves so much that it must be so important, so real, that God himself created us.

At 8/09/2005 9:57 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I'm willing to accept the possibility that torturing babies is not wrong. In fact, I'm willing accept the possibility that nothing is wrong or right. But then again, I'm also willing accept the possibility that I was created five seconds ago complete with memories of a past that never happened. Again, just because it's possible doesn't mean I find it reasonable to believe. I don't find it at all reasonable to believe that torturing babies for fun is not wrong.

Whether it's arrogant or not to think a creator made us with a purpose and gives us morality is completely irrelevent, so I don't even concern myself with whether it's arrogant or not. I'm only interested in whether or not it's true.

I wrote a blog on the arrogance fallacy if you're interested in having a look-see.



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