Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Morality debate, part 4 of 11

Cheetah's first rebuttal

ephphatha says that objective morals refer to the thing (rape is wrong) while subjectivity refers to one's feelings about the thing. Actually, objective morality ostensibly refers to one's belief about the objective morality of the issue (rape is wrong according to an objective standard), whereas subjectivity refers to one's feelings or cultural perceptions (rape is wrong according to my feelings or according to how I was raised). The key difference is really where someone's feelings originate, not what they are judging. In both cases, they are judging the act of rape, but their judgment on it originated differently.

ephaphatha questions why an individual would be motivated to follow the subjective morals of the society. What ephphatha does not say is this presupposes that people would have motivation to follow an objective morality. Obviously, if an objective morality does exist, they don't have enough motivation to do so, because people are doing things various other people call immoral all the time. So, if this is a problem, it applies equally to both philosophies.

However, the claim that it's a problem for subjectivity isn't a problem at all. As I stated in my previous post, humans develop many ideals, including what is and is not moral, in order to facilitate society. There is no objective standard that following them is moral. It is simply in our best interests, as humans forming a society, to follow certain codes that have been developed. If people choose not to follow the agreed upon standard, we call them immoral, and really, we are labeling them as members that do not operate well in our civilization, and often will disincentivize that behavior for them (shunning, intimidation, etc.). Here's an analogy: Most people don't pee in their pants. This is not some transcendent moral philosophy, but our society has developed the idea that peeing in one's pants is not appropriate, for various reasons. But, this is totally subjective, so according to ephphatha's idea, why should anyone follow it? That's where the idea falls apart. As we can see here, and with morals, there are disincentives to act outside the cultural norm and morals. Some people still choose not to follow society's ideals, in which case they will probably suffer some sort of punishment.

ephphatha does not feel the need to know the origins of an objective moral code. As an example, we know the universe is there, but we do not know its origins. True, but with the universe, at least we know it is there. We have physical evidence, such as the observance of stars and the effect they have on other objects; we have replicated experiments so we know that different people are perceiving and discovering the same thing. With an objective morality, we have no proof it exists, no replication of experiences between people, so this is not a good analogy. It doesn't mean objective morality doesn't exist, it is just significantly different than observing the universe, which is physically present. In other words, ephphatha is using faith to argue for moral objectivity. Believing in something for which there is no evidence.

In fact, ephphatha's conclusion in the first post rests entirely on faith. ephphatha falsely equates the experience of moral objectivity to the experience of consciousness/external reality. Actually, the external world is something we can do experiments on. I can touch my computer and describe it and if you did the same, you would feel the same thing. We have physical, corroborated, independent evidence of the existence of our existence, but we do not have any such thing with objective morality. One person might tell you rape is not wrong, another person might tell you that they were raised to believe it is wrong. And there is no physical evidence to back any of this up. So, this is not an accurate analogy at all precisely because ephphatha is trying to compare something with physical properties to something that is not physical. And, as for the age-old idea of us all being created 2 minutes ago with intact memories, it's fun to think about, but will lead us nowhere in conversation. We have accepted scientific principles in this world (even if it was just created 2 minutes ago) with which the evidence of existence and the universe conform, but with which objective morality does not. Perhaps you can find a different analogy?

In addition, what use is an objective morality if we do not know the nature of it? We will never know if we are correctly implementing it. We will never know if we are drawing the line based on a false faith, or if our opponents are correct in drawing the line differently. We must just take on faith that what we are doing is “right.” And, if that's what we are doing, I don't think this discussion is of much use. Faith is fine for religion, but doesn't enter into science, skepticism or philosophical discussion. It just puts a stop to discussion when we get to the irreducible idea that it is our faith in it that makes it so.

ephphatha claims that engaging in moral dispute and dialogue betrays that we believe an objective line exists. Absolutely not. It means that we believe we can come to a rational agreement after careful thought and consideration. Why debate and dispute an objective morality, when no one knows where the line is, and there is no evidence to prove it is where one advocates it is? It would simply be a bunch of people saying, “I believe it is here.” “No, I believe it is two degrees to the left.” Whereas in a subjective morality, discussion and debate is critical to air the rational reasons for a line to be drawn, to identify all sides of the issue, and to (hopefully) come to a reasonable solution.

Again, ephphatha mischaracterizes subjectivism by claiming that there is no line at all. Although I addressed this in my first post, I will restate it: in subjectivism, there can be just as many lines drawn as in objectivism, but those lines are drawn as a result of agreement or compromise by the moral agents involved (family unit, society). Subjectivism does not deny that there can be established “rights and wrongs,” only that they come from other than human perception and will. If ephphatha continues to use that as an argument against subjectivism, I won't be able to respond, since it is a strawman.

By restating the abolitionist and Nazi arguments, ephphatha has also ignored more of my previous post. That there can be moral improvement (judged by the society), that one can use rational reasons to criticize other culture's morals, etc. Again, these are strawmen, and unless ephphatha has a disagreement with how I claim this operates under subjectivity, then this line of argument is useless.

subjectivity is superior to objectivity
It's perfectly logical for humans to evaluate what's in their best interest, to teach their children how society has developed and operates, etc. This doesn't preclude a person believing strongly in morality, and indeed, given what we know about sociology, anthropology and psychology, is a more reasonable assumption or more parsimonious, than acting as if there is something magical that guides us all in the general direction of right and wrong (though not quite perfectly, else we'd all agree).

The bottom line is, we know parents potty train their children, we know they teach them to share, we know they teach them that arbitrarily hurting an innocent person is wrong. We know that these kind of rules were developed to facilitate society. Why do we need, then, to explain morality through some magic objective code? That's superfluous.

The biggest problem with objectivity is that it is not parsimonious, while subjectivity is. Subjectivity uses behaviors and ideas we know exist in human society and that also are used for other purposes, to explain how our system of morality was developed and operates. That's parsimony. Objectivity ignores readily available explanations and chooses to instead claim that there is an objective code, for which there is no evidence but one's own perception, to explain it. Humans also used to think god was mad and set off volcanoes, or hurricanes, etc. Now that we know what causes volcanoes and hurricanes, we do not think god directly causes them because he is mad. Given the available evidence, we have a more parsimonious solution. Objectivity rests on similar faith, and the assumption that no behaviors and methods that we currently know about humans are sufficient to explain morality. In fact, I am claiming that the behaviors I have described here and above are sufficient, plausible, and supported to explain our moral behavior, and that that is a much more parsimonious explanation than objectivity. So, does ephphatha disagree that what I have proposed is a plausible explanation for moral behavior? If so, why? If not, how am I incorrectly characterizing subjectivity as more parsimonious than objectivity?

Part 5


At 2/28/2009 5:04 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

This is interesting so far. I haven't forgotten that I said I'd post on this topic, but now I'm glad I delayed doing so in order to argue about the nature of truth with a Rorty fan.

At 2/28/2009 5:26 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I'm glad somebody finds it interesting. I think I'll post the next part now.


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