Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Morality debate, part 6 of 11

Cheetah's closing statement

ephphatha questions what the motivation is to act in accordance with subjectivity, and then tells me I show weakness for offering an answer! In fact, I didn't say that people should only be moral if they're personally motivated. I'm not sure where he got that idea, since I specifically stated that if people chose not to follow the moral code they would be considered immoral. Another strawman.

ephphatha implies that moral systems cannot be valid unless there is obligation to follow it, which makes it objective. I disagree that obligation stems from objectivity, and ephphatha certainly didn't explain that leap in logic. The moral agents may agree, implicitly or explicitly, thus creating an “obligation,” and that is not objective. Still, it is not objectively moral to follow society's code, there is only an obligation due to the participation of the agents, and motivation due to the incentives/disincentives put in place. The question is, what obligation is there in an objective system? An obligation to ourselves? Well, then psychopaths must never act immorally, because they do not feel an obligation to themselves to act in what we might call a “moral” way, which, under ephphatha's scenario, means there is no valid moral system.

He again tries to “prove” nothing at all exists. As I said before: useless argument. Witness: either nothing exists or everything everyone proposes exists does actually exist. The Pet Psychic senses thoughts of animals. Far be it from us to deny her! A schizophrenic senses that he's god. Who are we to say his senses are wrong? I sense that I have a special power to cure cancer and insist that the NIH give me vast amounts of funding. Don't ask for evidence! All senses are equal to ephphatha! But, that's not the way the world works, and we should either agree to work within our system, or give up discussion. There is such a thing, whether it's only “senses” or not, that we call evidence and agree will qualify certain experiences/research for acceptance. Measurement of the universe qualifies. Nothing in OMV does.

I'm amazed by ephphatha's “written on the mind” hypothesis. I personally didn't have the fact that triangles are three-sided objects “written” on my mind. I had to learn that in school. I also learned through experience that when two things contradict each other, there is a conflict that needs to be resolved. This is one component of critical thinking, which many say schools aren't teaching well enough nowadays. Similarly, morals weren't “etched in my mind” but were taught to me by my family and through interaction in my society. And again, this is why subjectivism is more parsimonious than objectivism. Because it doesn't require some unsupported idea (the idea that some facts are etched in minds, while others have to be learned). It stems from the a priori knowledge that there are processes in society that create this, and other, systems.

For a third time, and although I have provided rebuttals twice, ephphatha insists that, in subjective morality, people cannot pass value judgments on others. I had hoped ephphatha would address my responses so I could see what he thought was amiss, but instead he responds with the same argument, as if I had never even attempted to respond. I will refer the reader back to my first and second posts for a refresher.

The only one of the five reasons ephphatha listed that addresses the undermining of the idea that moral dispute is valuable in a subjective system is the third one. All the others address subjectivity specifically, and are variations on ideas we've already discussed. For the record, I don't think it's moral if a man risks his life to save a drowning person. It's noble, but if he chose not to do it, I certainly wouldn't call him immoral. And we do talk about utility and interest in moral discussion. We talk about what value we place on things. I think war for oil is immoral because I've been raised to believe in sovereignty, property rights and that lives have value above oil (plus more reasons). That's not objective. Other societies don't have those same values, but we can certainly talk about why developing those values is in someone's best interest, and therefore make a moral judgment on those values. But, back to the third argument. The third says there's no principled way to resolve conflict in moral subjectivism. Nevermind that ephphatha ignored my proposal that moral dispute is useless in objectivism, because there's no realistic way people who disagree based on something “etched in their minds” can come to an agreement if their minds are differently etched. In reality, there is both a principled and realistic way to address dispute in moral subjectivism. It's through discussion, documentation of differences and unveiling of facts, leading to judgments by the agents. I don't see what is “unprincipled” about these types of efforts.

Ephphatha says that you cannot get ought from is, which requires us to start from a moral premise. Actually, ephphatha didn't prove this at all. Why can't we get ought from is? Society “is” interested in facilitating the interaction between humans. Society “has” decided, through its moral agents, that X is unacceptable to society. We “ought” to follow those codes of conduct since we implicitly agreed as members of that society to do so, and since we will suffer repercussions if we don't, which again, “is” not in our best interests as biologically-driven organisms. And, finally, we “ought” to because we were taught to.

Now, the Nazis again. I would like to see what people say about us, 10,000 years from now, when they consider how we treat non-human apes. I would like to see what people think about us 100 years from now, when they consider how we treat homosexuals. If those future societies decide homosexuals have equal value and rights as the rest of humans, they have made a moral judgment that is subjective. Maybe in the future, research may convince people that apes are so valuable and intelligent that they deserve the same rights humans enjoy. This has been the trend over human civilization. Rights have been extended in gradations to more and more people and even animals (think ASPCA). The point is, those future humans, past humans and us present humans have placed value on certain other things/organisms. Humans really don't have objective value. The only way you or I have any value is by being assigned value by a moral agent, perhaps ourselves, perhaps another human being, even a non-human, since we all know apes, dogs and cats can ascribe value to “their” humans. But, that value is there because of the subjective experience of another moral agent.

That may be tough to understand and to swallow for some people that don't want to admit they aren't objectively “special.” But, my argument for subjective morality doesn't require that you buy into that particular idea anyway. All it asks is: why would you believe something mysterious and partially veiled is “etched in your brain,” an idea with which most of us are totally unfamiliar, placed there through an unknown power, with unknown properties and values, when it is more reasonable and parsimonious to realize that the moral codes which we ascribe to in our family unit, in society, and in this increasingly connected world, are a product both of our biological drives and our social conditioning?

Most of this post centered around digging deeper into objectivity, only to understand that it does require a lack of rigorous questioning and belief in, essentially, magic. ephphatha simply insists that the former scenario presents no problems for a reasonable person. And I say that, if this is so, we all ought to believe in ESP, that schizophrenics are gods and that I can cure cancer. ephphatha tries to dismiss the idea that any proof is required for his theory but only succeeds in proving that no proof is required for anything, ever, as long as someone, somewhere, senses something that is “etched on their brain.” Indeed, we do need to be honest with ourselves. An objective reality is not impossible. However, the knowledge and evidence that we have simply does not support this at this time. We don't need magic to explain why we do what we do. We have more parsimonious explanations. So, until that changes, it is most reasonable to subscribe to the subjective morality system as I have described it here.

Thanks again for the debate. I'll look forward to hearing WeirdBrake's thoughts on this debate specifically and I also hope that others on this board will be interested in putting differing thoughts forward for consideration on the subject of subjective vs. objective morality (and all its variations) as a whole.

Part 7


At 3/04/2009 9:47 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Do we comment yet, or is there still a summation by the moderator?

(You’d be surprised who still lurks, eh?)

At 3/04/2009 10:00 AM , Blogger Sam said...

If it's up to me, I'd rather have your comments before I post what the moderator said just so you won't be influenced by the moderator.

I'm not at all surprised that you still lurk. I've always considered you my biggest fan. :-)

At 3/04/2009 1:56 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Ah…and I didn’t want to be repetitious by reiterating what the other participant(s) said.

You presented what I see as a fairly standard Objective Moral position. Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you—there is a reason it has common elements.

One question that came to mind, as I read your presentation was this: What makes a particular moral claim “objective”? I can’t quote a specific portion as to what I am getting at, but I received the overall impression if a number of people agreed to a certain moral claim—it becomes “objective.”

For example, we often see the use of holocaust. What if 10% of the people who have ever lived agree holocaust is immoral--does that make it immoral? Or does it make 90% of the people incorrect? What if it was 20%? 50%? 100%?

See, under a subjective moral scheme, 100% of the people who have ever lived can agree 100% as to a certain moral claim--and it is still subjective! We just all happen to agree to it. It does not transcend or become “objective” simply by the number of people who agree to it.

I would think (but could be wrong) you would agree that the number of people who agree or disagree with a moral claim is not what makes a moral “objective.” But if that is so—why bother talking about what every one agrees or disagrees on a morality?

If morality is objectively determined by a source other than human impression—it must be moral or immoral according to that source regardless of what humanity claims. If morality is determined, for example, by a God who declares eating strawberries on Tuesday is immoral—even if all of humanity (100%) says eating strawberries is not immoral—I would think you are still stuck with eating strawberries is objectively immoral.

And yes, I understand you may have been making the point that since a majority of people consider certain moral claims (rape is immoral, charity is moral) this demonstrates or indicates there is an objective morality—this equally is problematic.

It leaves us with the question of why is there commonality (albeit not universality). A theist might claim it is because a God instilled a conscience within humans—a conscience we interpret as an “objective” standard of morality. A naturalist might claim it is hard-wired in our DNA—a consistent chemical reaction we utilized to find patterns and commonality. An anthropologist might claim it is a social function.

Yet this leaves us looking for the answer as to how to determine what is the “objective” standard—God? DNA? Society?

Sorry I went on so long. To capsulize —What makes a particular moral claim “objective”?

At 3/04/2009 6:31 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Dagoods, thanks for your response. What makes something "objective" is that it is true or false independently of whether people believe it or not. So I agree that even if 100% of all people agreed that something was right or wrong, it wouldn't make it so.

But that seems to be what you thought I was arguing, which means I wasn't clear enough. What a bummer! I try so hard to explain myself as clearly as I can. It's frustrating when I fail!

My argument doesn't depend on everybody agreeing that certain things are right or wrong. I appealed to things like the holocaust because I figured most, if not all, of the people reading the debate would agree that it is wrong even though some people (the Nazis) thought it was okay. All I needed to establish my case that objective moral values exist is just one example of an objective moral value. I was trying to get people to see that if they do some reflection, they'll discover that they ALREADY believe in objective moral values.

I was, however, trying to establish that everybody (except the mentally ill) perceives morality in a way that it seems objectively true to them. If there were 100% agreement that actions require moral justification, then I think that WOULD establish that belief in morality is natural. It's something that's built into us. And when people don't have these moral perceptions, they are mentally ill.

That's one step of the argument. The next step in the argument is that since we know morality in the same way we know that our senses are giving us true information about the world, then if we trust our cognitive faculties about the reliability of our senses, then we should also trust them about the reliability of our moral intuitions.

If not for space limitations, I would've gone on to name several different things we know in the same way--the uniformity of nature, the reliability of our senses, memories, causation, etc. All of these things have certain elements in common that they also share with our knowledge of morality: (1) these items of knowledge occur automatically in all people with normally functioning minds, (2) even people who deny that these things correspond to reality still perceive them in the same way everybody else does, (3) it's possible that we could be wrong about these things, and (4) it seems prima facie unreasonable to deny these things. I argue that our sense of morality fits into this category and is, therefore, on the same epistemic level with these things.

I stick to this analogy to answer objections. For example, we can sometimes be wrong about particular morals, which is evident in the fact that people disagree on morality, and people change their minds about moral issues. But we can also be wrong about what we remember, wrong about what we see (e.g. hallucinations, mirages, illusions, dreams, etc.), we commit the fallacy of false cause, and we make hasty generalizations. Since being wrong about these things doesn't cause us to doubt the uniformity of nature, causation, our sensory perceptions, and the reality of the past, then being wrong about particular moral issues shouldn't cause us to doubt that there's any objective moral law either.

That's my contribution to the argument for objective morals. Most people who write about this subject basically argue that everybody already believes in objective morals. They figure that's enough. Why try to prove something people already agree with? All that's needed is to get people to admit they already believe. But they don't go on to demonstrate that the belief corresponds to reality. My contribution is to take that extra step, and I do it by making our sense of morality analogous to our knowledge of all these other common sense notions.

I guess if I were to state my position as succinctly as possible, I'd say morality is just common sense, and we should affirm the obvious unless we have good reason to deny it.

At 3/04/2009 8:09 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

If you don't mind then, I'll include myself in the 'we'.

I think your arguments were more clear and had better structure than your opponent's, so if I had been judging the debate, I would have found in your favour, even though I disagree with your position.

At 3/05/2009 12:53 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Thanks Psiomniac.

At 3/05/2009 2:07 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...


Brown-noser! Besides, it is too late—Sam has already picked me as his biggest fan. ME! I win! *grin*


Some Christians refer to the debate as between absolute morality and relative morality. Others refer to it as a debate between objective morality and subjective morality. I dangerously presume these generally are interchangeable terms in the other person’s mind. (I personally disfavor the terminology of “objective vs. subjective” morality and prefer “absolute vs relativism” as I see a difference, but I am not quite sure others do.)

I don’t want to fall into a problem here. Would you say Absolute Moral Values are the same as Objective Moral Values? If not—what do you see as the difference?


Oh, and your summation here clarified your position.

At 3/05/2009 2:22 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Dagoods, I think most people use "objective morals" and "absolute morals" interchangeably, but I do think there's an important distinction. I wrote a blog about that here.

At 3/06/2009 8:06 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

I think I have it straight.

(I apologize for being so pedantic; but I am finding in this absolute/relative/objective/subjective discussion we very often do not fully understand the other’s position. I want to be certain I do understand yours.)

I believe you are saying this:

Using our Nazi asking about the hidden Jews scenario…

Absolute Moral Values Position: Lying is always immoral. However, we re-define the word “lying” so that telling a Nazi you are not hiding Jews is no longer a lie. By definition. Therefore, since it is not “lying”—the morality or immorality of the statement never comes into play and whether a “Lie” is moral or not is actually irrelevant in this situation. Since, by definitional fiat—it is not a lie.

Objective Moral Values Position: Lying is always immoral unless it fits an exception. We believe telling the Nazi, “No Jews Here” is technically a lie—it is not immoral since it is one of the exceptions in the rule “Lying is Immoral unless it fits an exception.”

Do I have that about right?

At 3/06/2009 11:18 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Yes. I'm not saying that's what everybody means when they use the words, but that's is what I meant.


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